Music – My Immortal – Evanescence
When I open my eyes, all that welcomes me is white. It spans before me and sweeps down, the ceiling merging into the walls because there is nothing else to focus on, just the same blank, despairing color.
I hate it, I always have. The shade makes me feel cold and alone, eerily deserted. I want to bring my hands up and wrap them around my body but the silly needle that binds me to the machine stops me. As I stretch my right hand into the air, the drips move backwards through the plastic cord and the terrible haze of white breaks through the red. It is unnerving knowing that the only thing colorful in this room is my blood.
Even my face is a sickly pale white. My eyes, usually such a riveting electric blue, have faded into an opaque grey. My blonde hair is thin and balding, windswept around my face in frenzied tangle. Even my fingernails that were long and pink when I entered this room, had been nibbled straight to the end.
I recognize the hushed tones of the nurses, the snap of a gurney being raised, and desperate sobs. Hospitals are a strange place. They bring such joy to people as new life is created in the same moments that another's is taken.
I need to get up and move. The right cheek on my backside has gone to sleep, and I know its partner is ready to follow. The tape is reluctant to leave the hair on my arm but I bite my lip and tear it off. Watching the thin fiber of metal slide so easily back sparks a smile in me. Are they always that long, or am I just special? There's a little bit of blood surfacing, and I am worried it will continue to bleed. It will go away hopefully. This is not the first time I have ripped needles out of me.
I decide I want to stand up. My little toes, that have become skeletal like the rest of my body, wriggle with excitement at the thought of finally being put to use. My legs however, have decided that they are not on my side today, and won't take the weight of my body as I slip of the bed. I hit the floor hard. It retaliates with a small carpet rug – the damning color of white – and my hands are rewarded with a stinging carpet burn. Hospital wins this round. Perhaps, lying on my belly is a good idea – I am surprised that it offers more comfort than the cot. I wriggle my hips and creep towards the door, freedom only inches away.
It's too quiet in here, the rustling sound from my nightgown shifting across the floor sounds way louder than it really should be. I don't mind the quiet, but being here makes me desire to hear anything other than nurses gossiping and clipboards rattling. I've been rather tolerant considering the noises from the other patients. Bad-tempered men coughing, nurses shuffling wash cloths over surfaces with pine. And it's not the nice pine fresh kind of clean they use. It's the: you-have-germs kind of clean. The type that reminds you are diseased and unwanted, even though they keep tabs on you to make sure you don't escape.
This place is gross, masked by the scent of bleach, antiseptic and a metallic tang from stainless steel in the open air. With difficulty, I push myself up with my hands and pull my legs into a kneeling position. I take a deep, shaky breath and get to my feet. I wobble for moment and take a small step forward. And then another, and then another until I am standing in the doorway.
The ding of an elevator reaching the floor rings out in my ears. It is refreshing to hear something different this time. A nurse wanders passed me with a cart and the questionable food on the trays clatter softly. She looks at me with a confused expression, wondering if I should be up and walking. I don't give her a chance to open her mouth and continue stumbling down the hallway. I pass room after room full of sickly looking teenagers both younger and older than me. I am sixteen and can remember taking relentless trips to that same room over a span of six years yet everybody here is still a stranger to me. I do not know any of these patients' names, or how they came to be here, but each depressed expression and miserable glance fills my heart with sadness.
Intercoms call out codes and machines whirl loudly. The elevator doors swoosh open and doctors and nurses flood the scene, lifting a weak girl onto a stretcher and wheeling her down the hallway past me. The wind that passes by with their movements makes a shiver creep down my spine and my hair fall over my face. I rub a clammy hand across my forehead and continue down the hall.
A loud wheezing cough makes me jump and my eyes sweep the white hallway, searching for a face. Inside the next room, a boy with raven black hair looks at me. His skin is pasty white and his eyes dark and gloomy. A nurse tends to his bed, fluffing up his pillow and pulling over new crisp sheets. From the chair he sits in, his green eyes meet mine under his long lashes, almost brightening at the thought of a visitor. I hastily look away and let my hair drop back over my face and keep walking, in my peripheral, I see his weak smile fade.
"Ellie!" A voice barks from behind me. I spin around quickly and look at the nurse guiltily. She is old enough to be my nana and has thick russet curls and sparkling violet eyes. She reaches out with an age-spotted hand and touches my wrist gently. "You should be in bed. You aren't well."
I'm going to get worse if I stay here. I'll be driven raving mad.
"I had to…get…up." I say, stumbling over the words. It feels strange to talk after being silent for so long. How long was I asleep? Has a miracle cure been invented in my absence?
"Come on, I'll escort you back to your room." No, I do not want to go back there. They think by putting me in the same room 419 each time I end up here makes me feel more at home. Really, it makes me feel more like a prisoner. In my mind, the room only represents pain and misery with a touch of boredom. Still, I am weak and my legs are beginning to tire. I grab hold of her arm tightly and she helps me back down the corridor. Yep, my brilliant escape plan has been thwarted by an old woman and tense leg muscles.
She helps me back into bed and pulls the sheets over me. I wrestle them off and frown at her. She tries to keep her sweet smile and offers me a plastic cup of water. After I had thrown a glass cup across the room on my last visit, the nurses have taken note not to let me have anything that could be used as a weapon.
The door opens and Momma steps inside, holding my five year old brother by the hand. They both are teary eyed and flustered, having the exact expressions they had when I was first diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. After my episode in the bathroom, Momma broke every speeding limit to get me here.
I rub my eyes and sit up slowly, hating how much it hurts to move. She let's go of Bailey's hand and he runs over to me, his chubby fingers gripping the cot tightly. I smile weakly and lift my hand to touch his, showing him I am still alive.
"I missed you Ellie," He whispers, unable to hide the sob that escapes his lips. "You were snoozing so long."
I let out a small laugh and ruffle his sun-streaked tresses. He glares with mock fury and swats my hands away, giggling. "Nice jammies," I comment. He is wearing a dark top with an orange rocket ship and matching pants. On his feet, the Scooby-Doo heads on his slippers bob up and down as he teeters over the cot.
"Yours are nice too." He laughs, pointing at the horrifying hospital gown. I groan and pinch his cheeks gently. He lets out a small, high pitched squeal and runs to the metal chair near the window. He climbs it and stands up waving his stuffed monkey in the air playfully. The nurse shoots Momma a warning look and steps out of the room.
"How long was I out?" I whisper to her. Momma looks at me sweetly. Her eyes have circles under them and her dyed-brown hair is messy around her face. She looks incredibly tired.
"Two days," She sniffles and caresses my cheek with a featherlike touch. "How do you feel?"
"My head hurts," I admit. But that's because I smacked it on the floor during my valiant prison break.
She stares at me worriedly and opens her mouth to call back the nurse. I grab her hand and shake my head.
"When do I get to go home?" I ask, praying that my stay will be short-lived.
She smiles meekly. "They need to run a few more tests." Oh, great. That was a kind way of saying I was going to be gouged with more needles. "But then you can come back home straight after." She adds before I can groan.
"Ellie is coming home?" Bailey asks, hopeful. "Is she? Is she?" Momma walks over and pats his hand, calming him down.
"She will soon," She mutters soothingly. Her eyes are on mine. "I promise,"
After the nurses have stuck several more needles into my arm and taken my blood, I rest dazedly in the coat with a bandage wrapped around my arm. Momma sends Bailey to the vending machine for snacks, desperately trying to keep him from growing bored like I already was. I sit with a tray on my lap and a deck of cards in my hands. In Momma's hands, she flips through one of the old magazines the nurses brought over. The date on it is from over a year ago.
"Cecilia Fray?" Dr. Martin steps into the room, a grim expression on his handsome face. He is one of the new doctors which I met only briefly as they wheeled me into the ER. He has long brown curls that reach below his ears and dark mahogany eyes that seem like a bottomless pit. Momma, thinking the same thing, flushes and stands up.
"Yes?" She asks nervously.
He gazes over at me and waves at the door. "May I speak with you outside?"
Uh oh. That doesn't sound good.
She looks just as flustered as I do. "I suppose so." She says.
I watch her leave anxiously and snatch the magazine off her chair. I flip through the pages, gazing at each picture. Brad Pitt cheats on Jen Aniston? Now I know that this is old news. I slap the magazine down and continue dealing out the cards. Seconds pass and Momma returns with a sad smile.
"What?" I say, immediately knowing that the news isn't in my favor.
"They want to keep you here for a little while longer." She murmurs, her eyes searching anywhere but my face. "For observation."
"How long?" I prompt.
"A week at least." She admits sheepishly. "The results weren't as good as we'd hoped."
Dang it. Two points for Dallas Hospital.
Bailey wanders back into the room, his hands full of Kit-Kats, chips and juice. "Is Ellie coming back home with us?" He asks excitedly.
Momma bends down and picks up the snacks he dropped. She puts them back on the pile, touches his cheek and murmurs "Sorry, sweetie. I've got bad news."
As nightfall closes in, the room grows dark and the miserable white turns to grey. Momma took Bailey home hours ago and now I sit poking a disgusting looking Jell-O with a plastic spoon. Also stacked on my food tray is a small serving of bland chicken that smells funny and 'mashed' potatoes that are too chunky to even be considered as 'mashed.' I reach under the canvas cover of the mattress and pull out a concealed candy bar Bailey snuck to me. I smile covertly and peel away the wrapper, readying myself to finally eat something remotely delicious when the door creaks open.
I fumble with the bar and it clatters to the floor out of my reach. Despite the hospital being exceedingly sterile, once it touched the white – it is deemed bad, in my mind.
I squint through the harsh lighting that flitters through the open doorway. The old nurse shuffles inside and switches on the lights. I groan and fall back against my pillow.
"Ever heard of a thing called privacy?" I snap.
"Sorry honey," She murmurs sincerely. I cringe as pills click together from the disposable med-cup in her hands. "You need to take these before you go to sleep."
"What for?" I ask grumpily.
"They'll help stop the bleeding." She answers kindly. The rubber soles of her shoes squeak against the floor as she advances towards me. "Please take them."
I outstretch my hand and she plops two into my palms with gloved fingers. I sigh and screw the lid of my water bottle. They have a disgusting bitter taste and smell revolting but I manage to keep them down. The nurse crosses the room and picks something off the ground.
"You haven't been eating any of these have you?" She asks skeptically. I shake my head vehemently and fall back against the soft pillow. "Good," she continues. "Nothing but sugar. They shouldn't have even stocked these in the vending machines if you ask me."
"I didn't ask you." I reply bluntly. She stares at me briefly with a frown and then leaves the room. I moan, shut my eyes, and focus extremely hard on drifting away to anywhere that isn't here.
When dawn begins streaming through my window, I open my eyes and reach for the deck of cards that have fallen off the bed. The nurses bring in breakfast - goopy looking oatmeal – and I swat them away. My stomach aches and I feel nauseous so I find they are the perfect targets for my annoyance. Again the room is quiet and lonely, and I feel somewhat isolated. Outside my room, the voices of patients is louder and I feel smug knowing that I am not the only one giving them trouble.
The door opens and I am ready to yell at the old nurse – whom I have now named Bug Eyes (due to the immense swelling of her eyes when her temper rises) – when I realize that it is not her. It is the boy from the room down the hallway. The one with the dark hair and golden specked eyes.
He looks at me smiling, and staggers into the room. Although he seems happy, I can see the veins in his neck and muscled arms, and see that horribly ashen skin, greying with illness. I open my mouth to shoo him away and close it again. This is the closest I've come to meeting another patient. A sane part in my awfully troubled mind tells me to savor the moment.
"Hello," He says. He has a deep husky voice laced with a sick cough. "My name's Noah,"
I smile welcomingly and gesture for him to come inside. "I'm Ellie; it's nice to meet you."
He stumbles over and sits down on the chair beside my bed. I pick my cards up and continue shuffling. "You want to play?"
He grins again and I pause shuffling because he has a beautiful smile – crooked with cute dimples.
He takes the cards out of my hands, his fingers lightly brushing against mine. My stomach trembles. "Ever played Go Fish?"
I shake my head and he smirks, clearly amused that I have never heard of such a game. He deals out five cards to us both and places the pile in the middle. He holds them under his nose and looks at me. "Do you have any sevens?"
I glance at my cards and turn them around to show him. "I have three actually."
He laughs and pushes my cards away. "You're not supposed to let me see them!"
Whoops. "Oh," I mutter embarrassedly, blushing.
He sighs and goes through the rules with me as we play a total of ten games. I, miraculously, am able to win three of them, though I have a creeping sensation Noah has caught on that there was cheating involved.
"So why are you here?" I finally ask. The whole two hours he'd been here I had been waiting for the perfect chance to probe. Mainly because I wanted to compare how miserable our lives were.
I am amazed to hear that he suffers from a similar cancer I have. "No way," I murmur. "Really?"
"Yeah," He says, a hint of sadness crammed into his voice. "I was diagnosed a year and a half ago." That would probably explain why I hadn't seen him around as much as the other patients.
"I've been here for a while now." I tell him, glad to meet somebody who understood what I was going through. "I was dragged here after an accident in volleyball. I got hit in the nose and wouldn't stop bleeding. Freaked Momma out pretty bad."
"I passed out during Geometry." He says with a small smile. "All I remember is praying to get outta that damn test. Didn't think much of it at the time."
I nod understandably and smile. "Who would have thought school could be such a bad omen." He laughs and turns as Nurse Bug Eyes walks in carrying a tray with two Jell-O cups. She places it down in front of us, shooting a suspicious glance in my way, and leaves briskly.
"What was that?" He asks slyly. "She gave you the death stare."
"I think she remembers me throwing the Jell-O at her last month." I shrug, prodding it with my spoon.
"You're insane." He chuckles. I smile and fold my hands over my chest.
"I like to call it genius." That earns me another grin.
We gobble our snacks, complaining about the taste simultaneously, and Noah begins shuffling the deck of cards again.
Suddenly, life in this dreary hospital seemed to grow so much brighter.
Over the next three weeks, Noah makes it a priority to stop by my room. We sit together for hours, laughing and exchanging life stories while playing more Go Fish which feels like a routine now. Momma brought in Bailey's old walky-talkies and we station them in our rooms so we can talk to each other after the lights are dimmed at night. One day, we put them in Bug Eye's office while she was filing documents and frightened her so much she was almost sent to the fun room with the cushioned walls for hearing voices in her head.
I learn that Noah attended Smokethorn High – the same school I went to. It doesn't surprise me that I hadn't bumped into him there before. He'd transferred two years ago, during the period where I had been under intense medical care. Noah tells me about his sister Kate who just got married and is living in the Bahamas and tells me about how she is studying to become a veterinarian but is stressing under the exams. I tell him about Bailey and his dreams of becoming president so he can order people to stop fighting and find us a cure. That brought another cute smile out of him.
Noah reaches into the packet of sugar free jellybeans he smuggled from the vending machine. "What's your favorite color?" He asks.
"Violet." I say.
"Hmm, fresh out of violets but hey, there's purple." He laughs. I open my mouth as he swirls his hand around searching for an angle. He aims for my mouth and hits my nose. We both burst into laughter as it falls onto the tiles, a little purple dot in a white abyss.
Suddenly, my stomach lurches. Noah moves from the chair and stumbles to my bedside, gripping the railing tightly.
"Ellie?" He whispers. "Are you alright?"
My hand drops to my stomach and I gasp heavily. I close my eyes. "Just give me a sec,"
Noah places his hand on mine and I let him. His touch brings me comfort and makes me feel safer. I open my eyes and stare deeply into his, finding it hard to turn away.
Noah sits slumped in the chair, watching me intently. My stomach trembles again and with each gasp he leaps out of his chair and tries to get to the nurse. I tell him to stay and that it will pass. Truth is, I feel safer with him near.
Noah pats my hand and nibbles delicately on a jellybean. I lie on my side, facing him with a smile. My forehead drips with sweat and my eyelids feel extremely heavy. Still, I am too uncomfortable to fall asleep.
I groan, wrestling to get the sheets off me. Instantly he is there, pulling them away and helping me sit up. Nausea sweeps through my body and I double over, moaning.
"Ellie, maybe I should get the nurse." He says for the hundredth time. I have absolutely no desire for Nurse Bug Eyes to run in and stab another needle into my arm.
"I'll be fine." I insist, reaching for his arm.
And then it happens, before I can do anything, blood splatters from my mouth and I vomit onto the floor. Tears roll down my cheeks as I heave again, more leftovers from breakfast spilling onto the white.
On the bright side I won't be complaining about the color for a while.
I look up through hazy eyes and see my blood has splattered Noah's clothes. I expect him to run and cringe like my brother does when I vomit, but instead he reaches for my hand, screams for the nurse, and holds on tight.
I sob while more bile rises in my throat and soaks my gown. Before I am aware of what is happening, Noah reaches for me, pulls me off the bed, and carries me into the bathroom. He stumbles under my weight, his muscles weakened by illness, but still manages to get me to the toilet. He holds my hair as I heave again, traces of blood begin lessening.
"Go," I moan. "You shouldn't have to see this."
He shakes his head and touches my cheek softly. "While I'm here, I will always take care of you."
I turn around and he unravels the toilet paper and wipes my face. His hands are gentle and caring, not like Nurse Bug Eyes.
I close my eyes and let out a shaky whisper "Thank you."
When the red haired Nurse finally comes charging to the rescue, I am slumped in the corner of the bathroom in Noah's arms. He strokes my thin blonde hair and twirls it around his fingers. My vision is blurry and my mind is swimming. The only thoughts worth listening to were the ones telling me how much he cares for me – and more importantly, how much I care for him.
"Oh my!" Bug Eyes shrieks, looking at the mess. She runs towards us and stares at Noah, realizing I am too dazed to speak. "What happened?" She barks.
"Can't you tell?" He says angrily, clenching his fists. I can feel his muscles tense under me. "Where were you when she was spilling blood?"
Bug Eyes folded her arms over her chest and cringes, realizing we are both covered in vomit. "Go to your room and clean up." She hisses at him. Noah pulls me to my feet as two men mender in with a stretcher. His arms tremble as he carries me to it, laying me down gently.
"I'll see you soon." He whispers, touching my flaming cheeks. I watch him leave, unable to move a muscle. Everywhere hurts and my voice is inaudible when I try to tell him to stay with me.
"Ellie?" Bug Eyes says frantically. She grips the stretcher and takes my temperature. "Are you in pain?"
Considering I've just literally puked my guts up, yes I really am.
I manage a small nod and she waves the men off. They carry me through the ward with teenagers staring at another poor soul who will be examined. Dr. Martin meets us down on the floor below and I am wheeled into a unbearably familiar room. He touches my cheek and pulls out another god damned needle.
I twitch and wriggle my way around him, finally finding strength in my legs. I kick out at the nearest doctor and send him stumbling backwards. Dr. Martin frowns and the nurse I kicked holds my arms and legs down.
"Don't worry Ellie," Dr. Martin murmurs soothingly. Despite his kind words, I do worry. I struggle in his iron grasp as the needle plunges down. "You're going to be okay." His warm voice and dark eyes fade as darkness consumes me.
When I wake up, I am lying on my side and feel warm all over. Sleepy. There is somebody sitting next to me, a little boy, and I have to blink twice to realize it's Bailey. What is Bailey doing in this beautiful meadow? No, wait, I'm not dreaming anymore…I am somewhere else…
"Emergency room." I must have looked confused. I tilt my head and find Noah sitting next to my brother. In their hands they hold the paws of Bailey's stuffed monkey, swinging it playfully between them.
"Hi Noah," I say in a slow, lazy voice. It sounded funny so I decide to say it again. "Hi Noaaaaaahh."
He chuckles and reaches out to ruffle my hair. "Yeah, ha-ha. You're as high as a kite. Your Mom came down as soon as they hauled you into surgery."
It took a moment for me to realize what he'd just said. "Momma?" I whisper, lifting my head. "Ow! No, not good."
"Doc had to give you anesthesia to calm you down." He explains. "You're clumsy when you're drugged up. Fell right off the gurney you did."
I pluck at the hideous hospital gown and sigh. "Why are the spots all swirling?" I whisper.
He leans over with Bailey and they share a look of confusion.
"They aren't moving Ellie." Bailey says.
"Oh no," I cry out. The swirling dots grow larger and darker, swirling around me and pulling me with long tendrils. "Don't let them get me!" I yell, trying to move away from the darkness.
I look at Noah and Bailey. How can they sit there and watch them get me?
Bailey rolls his eyes. "I think she's gone round the bend."
Noah chuckles and leans towards me. I reach out, grappling for something to keep me from falling into the darkness. It is his warm hand that I reach for. "Its okay Ellie," he says in a peaceful voice. "Close your eyes. They won't hurt you." And I do. I close my eyes and everything fades into a yellow haze like I was lying in sunlight.
Waking up is not fun. There are no hazes, druggy yellow or swirling dots. Only pain. I whimper and burrow my head under the rosebud pillow, trying to escape the pain, but it chases me close behind.
The drugs have worn off.
I blink and slowly sit up, something strange pulling at my memories.
Since when are my pillows pink?
I look around the room and gasp. The wallpaper is violet covered in dreamy clouds and the carpet is flecked with grey and purple. There is color! Barely anything white stood in my vision now except for the floral decorated cupboards across from me. Still this room was as cozy as I remembered it.
I slip out of bed and stumble downstairs, gripping the banister for dear life. Downstairs, the familiar theme song for Rory the racing car – A favorite morning program of my brother's – drifts through the house. I grin widely and continue stumbling towards the kitchen. The smell of baking pie crusts and brewing tea is a greater exchange for bleach and anesthetic. Momma hovers over the stove, stirring what appears to be a broth. I walk up to her and gently hug her.
"Oh – Ellie, how are you feeling?" She asks quietly.
"Better," I tell her. "Much better. It's good to be home."
"I thought so." She agrees. "Considering the stories I heard from Nurse Nancy."
"Who?" I ask wearily.
"That older woman, you know, the one with the reddish brown hair?"
Oh…. "You mean Bug Eyes." I sigh.
"Whoops, did I say that out loud?" I smirk and give Momma a kiss on the cheek. "Cut me some slack, you didn't have to eat the Jell-O."
"Bailey tried it." She nods. "He didn't quite fancy it either."
"Well I would fancy I mug of tea." I laugh, mimicking her tone. She puts her hands on her hips and smiles sheepishly. "Pass me a mug please."
When I've poured myself a hot steaming mug of Green tea, I sit up at the bench and stare at her while she cooks.
"Who was that boy Bailey was playing with at the hospital?" She asks casually.
"Um," I say, trying desperately to rekindle the memories before the slipped away. "Noah." I smile brightly.
"He's a nice boy." She says. "I spoke to his mother the other day. He goes to Smokethorn too, you know?"
"Really?" I ask, hinting that she was repeating what was already known.
"Oh," She mutters. "I suppose you two know each other then."
"Yeah," I agree. "He's a good friend." I take a tentative sip of tea and ask her "Can you take me back to the hospital?"
"I can but," She hesitates. "I thought you hated it there."
"I did – I mean I do," I fumble for the right words. "But Noah's there." I can feel my cheeks burning already.
"Ah," She sighs. "You like this boy." It definitely wasn't a question.
I nod shyly and look to make sure Bailey isn't eavesdropping. "He understands me so well."
"Well," Momma says. "Apparently he really likes you too."
I beam at her and cross the room to grab her arms. "What? Really?"
"Yeah, his mom says you are all he talks about." She switches the stove off and jangles her keys. "Come on, let's go then."
Momma drops me off at the entrance and tells me she will pick me up later. I smile and wave, take a deep breath and enter the place I had once truly despised. Regular patients look shocked to see me back so early and Nurse Bug Eyes smile completely fades when the elevator stops on her floor.
"Relax red," I murmur. "I'm here strictly as a visitor."
She actually cracks a smile and lets out a cackle worthy of a cringe. "You can't be serious?"
I nod and she shakes her head, still laughing as she ducks into another room. I instantly feel sorry for whoever the kid is behind that door.
Noah beams when I come through his door waving a deck of cards. I sit on the other side of his bed, facing him.
"What are you doing back so soon?" He laughs. "I thought you hated it here."
I roll my eyes. "I think I finally found something to like about this place."
"Are you sure you're not cheating?" He raises an eyebrow and marks another dash on the whiteboard under my name. "You are getting way too good at this."
"I had a good teacher." I say, nudging his arm. He smirks and takes a sip of his water.
He begins dealing out the cards again and pauses. "There was something I have been meaning to ask you." He says nervously.
"Shoot away," I insist.
"The doctors say I can leave next Friday night. But only for one night." He begins. "I spoke to a friend from Smokethorn and he told me prom was on Friday. Do you want to go with me?"
My expression froze. Did I hear him correctly? Was Noah seriously asking me to prom?
"I'd love to go." I agree. The color slowly returns to Noah's face. "But if you only get one night outta here, why do you want to waste it with me?" I ask.
He smiles and takes my hand in his. "Ellie, any night with you is worth twenty years trapped inside this room." He tells me. I blush and shake my hair around my face, trying to hide. He reaches out with his hands and slowly brushes it away. "You are worth everything to me."
For the following week before prom, I visit Noah bearing gifts. We sit together and play Go Fish, throw jellybeans at each other, and try our hardest to aggravate Bug Eyes. Although Noah was in fine spirits, his face has turned ashen again and he looks sicker than I last saw him. He never talks about his health and I think it secretly frightens him. Which I can understand, it frightens me too.
Momma takes me shopping to find a dress but the reality of the outing does not match my dreams. Dresses that normal girls wear to proms bare the midriff or shoulders which is where my skin is riddled with scarring. They cling in all the wrong places. These dresses are made to showcase beautiful healthy girl's bodies, not to hide the lack of it.
The saleswoman hovers by Momma and takes the dress from me. "It's actually quite modest." She assures me. "It isn't too short and covers up a fair amount of cleavage."
"Will it cover this up?" I ask with a snap and pop open the buttons of my blouse to show off the Hickman catheter that was recently placed in the center of my chest. The saleswoman gasps before she can recover herself and blushes. "Oh," she murmurs faintly.
"Ellie..." Momma warns.
I hiss at the woman. "Now if you excuse me, I think I left a bunch of my hair in the change rooms."
"That's enough Ellie!" Momma snaps.
"Let's just get out of here," I shake my head. "We'll never find anything."
The car trip home is silent. When we pull in the driveway, Momma turns to me and touches my cheek. "Sweetie, just because your angry doesn't mean you have to be rude. She was only trying to help."
"Well she was being a bitch." I yell. "Did you see the way she was looking at my bald spots"
"Maybe she just liked the color of your hair," Momma suggests quietly.
"Yeah, sure," I say. "And maybe tomorrow I'll wake up and not be dying." I sigh and kick a stone across the driveway. "I don't know why I even agreed to go."
"Because you deserve to. Every girl that goes to this dance will be feeling the same nerves. So what, you've got a few scars. Nobody is going to even notice."
"I don't care what they think," I tell her. "I just wanted to look good, really good, for at least one night."
"Noah already think's you're beautiful darling,"
"Well I don't!" I cry, "I don't Momma, and maybe for once I do." I grab my hair and yank at it lightly. A strand comes out easily. "Look at this?" I cry. "It's hideous."
Momma raises her hands in the air and throws them by her sides. She chucks the keys onto the bonnet of the car and walks around the house, her heels clicking solidly on the pavement. Puzzled, I turn and follow her cautiously.
"What are you doing?" I ask wearily. She looks at me and wrenches open the shed door. I step inside and watch her rummage through a tool box, producing an old razor. "Momma?"
With one clean, swift movement, she drags it through the right side of her hair. Beautiful brown tresses hit the ground in a matter of seconds. "Momma!" I yell.
She places the razor on the bench and turns to look at me. "Now I'm partly bald too." She shrugs.
"Why would you do that?" I say,
"It's only hair Ellie." She tells me. "How do I look?"
"Silly," I murmur. "But still beautiful."
She clasps my hand and kisses my cheek. "We'll sew something," She says. "You can pick out the fabric and I'll make you a dress."
"You don't sew." I remind her.
"I used to." She shrugs. "I'll make sure you look beautiful, but you really already are."
Momma is sewing on the machine when I climb down the stairs Friday afternoon. She pulls the dress out and shows it to me. I gasp and step forward to hug her. It is beautiful.
"Let's try it on shall we?" She asks. I nod and follow her upstairs into her room. Momma usually never lets me borrow her makeup but tonight is special.
I step into the midnight blue which rustles softly as Momma helps me pull it up. She zips up the sides and at first, I think she has taken it in too much but then she hooks the clasp and I realize I can still breath. The bodice molds perfectly into me and melts into the full skirt. I run my hands over the silky material, spreading the filmy fabric in-between my fingers. "Wow," I murmur. "Can I see it?"
"Not yet sweetie." She says softly. "Let me do your hair."
"But I want to look at the dress." I complain. "Not my hair!"
"Trust me darling," She soothes. "You will look even more gorgeous with your hair and makeup done."
I wrinkle my nose as a brush tickles under it, applying foundation. She hums sweetly and soothingly as she works away and I feel myself drifting happily. Her deft fingers wove a slender braid at my temple.
"I'm really enjoying this." She chirps. "You look beautiful. Noah is a very lucky guy." She continues weaving more braids through my golden hair. "You two have so much in common. It's like you're soul mates." She says. "But I'm getting ahead of myself aren't I? You're sixteen and you've gone through so much these past years. You really need to have fun at this dance."
"I feel already feel amazing in this dress." I tell her.
"You know, your father and I met at prom." She whispers. "It was a spectacular night. I think you will love it as much as I did."
"I thought you never had a date for prom?" I ask, remembering an old story she'd told me.
"No, I didn't." She agrees. "But I met him and we danced. It was love at first sight." I roll my eyes. Momma is such a hopeless romantic.
"Did dad not have a date too?" I ask.
"Oh he did." She laughs. "But that is a story you will never get to hear." She removes her hands from my hair and sighs.
She stands in front of me, hands on hips, studying her handiwork. "Yes," She murmurs. "You look absolutely dazzling. But it's missing something." I watch as she bustles around the room, combing through her jewelry box until her face lit up. "There it is!" She pulls a small white box out and holds it for me to look at.
Inside the box are two heavy silver hair combs with beautiful sapphires gathered together in intricate wreathed shapes atop the teeth.
"They belonged to your Grams." She says, placing them delicately in my hair. "She left them to you in her Will but I kept them, it was too hard to part with them." Momma slides the last pin into place and spins the chair around so I am facing the mirror.
At first I couldn't believe the girl staring out of the mirror is me. The midnight-blue makes my pale skin look creamy and perfect as silk. Momma's experienced hands have shaded the makeup perfectly so it covered the circles under my eyes and hid any evidence of the sickness that was slowly stealing away my life. My golden hair is pulled back from my forehead and fell in several braids of varying widths, flowing down my neck. She's added extensions to cover most of the balding and let some of it drape down my neck, hiding more scars. It reminds me of the way I saw women wear their hair in painting from the middle ages. It looked so elegant and stylish and framed my face perfectly. The combs glint as I turn my head from side to side, examining Momma's creation from every angle.
"Oh Momma," I sigh dreamily. "How did you do this?"
Tears well in her eyes and trickle down her cheeks. She's such a sap – in the best way of course. "Oh Ellie, I had a beautiful daughter that's how." She kisses my forehead and holds a hand to her lips. "You are the bravest person I have ever met."
"What about me?" Bailey says, stomping into the room. "Am I brave?"
"Oh yes," Momma replies with a wink. "Only somebody as brave as you could stand up to such horrible things such as The Black Knight." She whispers, pulling Bailey onto her lap. My brother has an obsession with Scooby-Doo and is convinced somehow that the monsters they fought had come to our house to take over. Luckily for us, Bailey was here to catch them while the Scooby gang was busy.
He turns towards me and smiles widely. "You look pretty Ellie."
"Thanks Bails," I giggle, messing up his hair. We walk downstairs and I curl up on the couch, slowly watching the clock and becoming anxious. Bailey stumbles towards me and holds out a picture story book for me to read with him.
His chubby finger darts down onto a ballroom scene with a young woman dancing in a beautiful gown. He looks up and smiles. "You're like Cinderella." He mumbles. "But with a cool brother."
I giggle and shake my head. "Cinderella ain't got nothing on me." I tell him.
"What do you mean Ellie?" The sound of footsteps alerts me to another presence in the room. I smile and look past Bailey to where Noah has caught my eye. Although he is dressed up and smiling, I can still see that his skin has become paler.
"Well, I have no fairy godmother, glass slippers or pumpkin coach. And I was still able to find my prince all by myself." I sigh.
"It was a team effort." Noah laughs. Bailey looks up at him and runs to hug him. Moments pass and it is Momma who rescues my prom date.
She shakes her head and smiles lovingly. "Leave the boy alone," She wags her finger and pokes him in the nose gently, sending him into spasms of laughter. I roll my eyes and kiss her goodnight.
"Have fun," She murmurs from over Bailey's shoulder. I can see in her eyes that she's scared something will happen while I'm gone and I know she wants to come with me but to my relief, she doesn't ask to. I'm already nervous enough without having a prying mother on my hands.
With a small glance in Noah's eyes, and the way he was staring at me, I feel as though I've just stepped into a fairytale. And all my worries that this isn't real and isn't happening suddenly vanish.
"Ellie," He says, stepping forward to take my hand. "You look…stunning."
"So do you." I reply with a smirk. "I guess it's a lot different than a hospital gown."
"You got that right." He says softly, still staring at me. I blush. Without those tragic hospital gowns, it was hard not to appreciate his muscular arms and broadened shoulders.
"I got you something," He reaches behind his back and reveals an elegant box. Inside he pulls out a gorgeous violet corsage and wraps it around my arm.
"You remembered," I breath, eyeing off it's beautiful color.
He smiles and pulls me towards him as we walk to the door. "Of course I did." He says softly.
"Wait!" Momma's cry echoes behind us. She runs back into the room armed with a camera. "I need photos."
We stand at the bottom of the stairs and pose for about twenty pictures before she is satisfied. As we are about to step back outside, she calls out again.
"Can I just get one more?" She pleads.
I groan and Noah winks at me. "I'm sure one more wouldn't hurt. Where do you want us?"
Momma beams. "Thank you Noah," She says and points to the stairs. "Ellie, get back up the stairs and walk down again. Noah, I want you staring at her like she's the most beautiful girl in the world.
"That shouldn't be hard." He murmurs in my ears. I elbow him and march back upstairs.
"When you're ready Ellie," Momma calls. Translation – get your butt down here already!
I take a deep breath and finally round the corner. My dress flutters around my feet and I try to remain smiling despite my annoyance. My gaze helplessly shifts towards Noah and I almost fall down the remaining stairs when I realize how perfect he looks.
After the flash goes off, I grab Noah's arm and yank him outside with me, not giving Momma another chance to intervene. His mom smiles graciously as I clamber into the backseat with him and I find myself smiling like I haven't smiled in years. I lean my head against his shoulder, close my eyes, and promise myself to remember every detail of this night.
The moment we step into Smokethorn High School gym, the memories come flooding back. I remember hitting the volleyball so high and listening to the crowd scream. And then Jessica Ashbury had lunged forward for the spike. The ball had hit my nose with enough force to hurt but not enough to make it bleed erratically. That was when the ambulance came. That was when I heard my life span had been shortened.
Noah grabs my hand and looks at me worriedly. "Are you alright?" He asks.
"I'm just thirsty." I lie. He pulls me along to a table inhabited by a Jamaican girl with slick black hair, and a red-haired boy with a tricksters smile. After rushing over to get us both drinks, Noah settles down next to me and wraps his arm around my shoulders.
"It's been a while Noah," The boy says, raising his paper cup in a toast. "How have you been?"
"It's been tough." He answers truthfully. "But I've had good company." I blush and feel their gazes settle on me.
"I'm Nathan," The boy says, extending a hand. "This is Kendra."
"Nice to meet you." I say anxiously. Noah smiles and places his hand on mine.
"Do you recognize anyone?"
I shrug. "Not really, I haven't been to school for a while." I admit.
He looks towards the dancing crowd and leans towards me. "Come on," He whispers. "This is our song."
"But…" I murmur, shyly. "I can't…dance."
He grins and grabs my hands, pulling me towards the crowd. I stand there shamefully, unsure of what to do. He chuckles, grabs my arms and puts them around his neck, and then stations his arms on my waist with soft pressure. Hero by Enrique Iglesias comes on.
"Would you dance, if I asked you to dance?" He whispers in my ears. He can sing?
"Would you run," I whisper. "And never look back?"
He laughs gently. "Would you cry, if you saw me crying?"
"And would you save my soul, tonight?" As the chorus finally began, I found myself listening to his words and dancing to his voice rather than the music. In his arms, I felt safe and that nothing could hurt me. I felt like a normal girl being sucked into a dream. I was amazed by how much fun I was actually having. My emotions were swept away with the movements in the dance until we were both panting and out of breath.
As a faster song begins to play, we amble across the dance floor towards the grass outside. He pulls me down with him and we lie there, entangled in each other's arms, staring up at the sky and the moon, and their spectacular shine. When I look at him, I can see myself mirrored inside his soul. Soul mates my Momma had said. We were one of the same, both burdened by a curse but still trying hard to live our days like they were our last. I turn on my side and touch his cheek softly.
"Noah," I whisper.
Before the words pass my lips, the tears slowly fall. "Are you afraid of dying?"
He looks at me and brushes a strand of hair behind my ear. "I don't know. I don't think so. I guess I haven't really thought about it. There are things I wonder about. Like what will happen when I go? Who will even go to my funeral?"
"I would," I whisper. "But I doubt it's you who will be the one getting buried."
"Ellie," He says, his voice almost pleading. "Don't think like that. Ever. You will grow up healthy and happy, start a family and grow old surrounded by those who love you. Don't give up just yet."
I purse my lips together and tilt my head towards his, my voice barely coming out as a whisper. "I…I love you."
He smiles and holds my hand in his. "Not as much as I love you."
Our lips meet, a long tender kiss filled with such raw emotion that I had never sensed before. This isn't just mere passion and teenager hormones – it was love. Every fear I had ever felt, all the pain I had gone through, simply melts away with his touch. We stayed like that, holding each other long after the music faded and the world disappeared, leaving us together as one.
Noah calls his momma and she picks us up halfway down the street where we have wandered to see the stars better. I lean against him in the car and my eyes slowly begin to drift, my eyelids growing heavy and weary. I am barely conscious to feel his arms wrap around me and carry me to the door. I can feel the shift in hands as my momma holds me more sturdily. Noah lets out a wheezing cough, says goodnight to us both and kisses me on the cheek. My eyes flutter and stare into his making them the last thing I see before darkness overcomes me.
When I wake up, Momma makes me oatmeal –way better Bug Eye's – and I sit in bed with Bailey curled up next to me. He cuddles his monkey with one arm and wraps the other around my shoulders. I place a kiss on his forehead, finish my breakfast, and sink back into the land of dreams.
Two days pass without seeing Noah and I am eagerly waiting to go to the hospital. Momma calls his momma to check if it's okay and she tells us that he needs to be left alone for a few days.
More days pass and I am getting concerned. I call his momma this time and she tells me herself that he needs rest. She tells me I can visit on Saturday. I am worried he does not want to see me. What have I done wrong?
On Thursday I am sitting on the rug with Bailey, watching a Scooby-Doo marathon when things take a turn for the worst. I remember getting up to get a glass of water and then the floor coming up to greet my face.
When I wake up, Momma tells me I fainted. She says my blood pressure is very low and I was having trouble breathing. That is when I see the oxygen tank next to me and that I am surrounded by damning white.
"Was I strapped to that thing in my sleep?" I ask grumpily. She nods and pats my forehead. Nurse Bug Eyes wanders in and tells my Momma they need more tests. I groan as she reaches for a needle.
As I come to, I see that I am alone. Momma has left a note, telling me she has taken Bailey home. My eyes scan the room and narrow in on the hidden walkie-talkie. Without hesitation, I reach for it.
The sound of static hits my ear and I cringe. A weak voice answers. "Ellie, what are you doing back here?"
"Fainted," I tell him. "Are you okay? You sound bad."
He coughs heavily. "I'm managing." He sighs. "How do you feel?"
"Lousy," I say. "I thought you didn't want to see me."
"How could you think that?" He asks with astonishment. "Ellie, you are the best thing that's happened for me." I smile shakily into the receiver. There is the sound of muffled voices on his end and a door slamming. "I've got to go. Bug Eyes is back. I love you, don't forget it."
"I love you too," I barely get in before there is a click and he is gone. I close my eyes and lay back on my bed, smiling like an idiot in love.
I sleep for a whole two days and manage to keep down the Jell-O a nurse brings in. Momma hasn't returned from speaking with Dr. Martin and I am alone again. The white swirls around me and I cringe – hating it. I glance back at the walky-talky on the end of my bed. Grinning, I reach for it and put it to my ear.
"Hey Noah," I say cheerfully. "How about a game of Go Fish?"
There is no answer at the end of the receiver.
"Noah are you there?" I wait anxiously, praying to hear is warm voice welcome me to his side. There is still no answer and something pulls at my heart. Something is wrong.
Nobody can choose when tragedy will strike and how hard it will hit. That choice is never ours. I stumble from my bedroom and run down the hall, tripping and staggering against the walls.
"Noah?" I call out into the hallway. My heart plunges deeper and I double over catching my breath. "Noah!" I scream, waiting for him to reply. No response makes the hollowness in my stomach grow stronger and before I get to his room, I am already crying. For a brief second as I step into his room, I let out a shaky breath and steady myself. I can see his raven black curls flowing over his pillow.
But as I step closer, I realize that those eyes are hazel. The beautiful emerald green Noah's eyes were no longer exists in this world. I look up at Bug Eyes who is turning the walky-talky over in her hands and she spots me. As soon as her gaze reaches me, I collapse onto the floor, pounding the white tiles with all my power.
She hobbles towards me, grips my hands and tries to stop me from hurting myself. But I don't care. The pain is a distraction from the heart-wrenching thoughts tugging on my heart
I look up at her. Maybe this is wrong. Maybe he has just gone home.
But when she pulls me into a hug and begins stroking my hair I know the worst has happened.
"I am so sorry Ellie, he's gone." She snivels into my shoulder. "I thought you knew." My cries and screams echo around the room, bouncing off the walls. The poor boy in the bed, Noah's bed, looks up with a frightened expression.
'You're lying!" I yell at the nurse, hitting her with my fists. Tears stream from my eyes and drop onto the hospital gown. "Why would you lie?!" But I know she isn't lying. Some part of my heart just prays that she will smile and tell me that she is.
Momma is the one to take me back to my room. I kick and shriek at her while Bailey watches in tears from behind us. Everything around me seems to freeze in that moment. I do not want to move on.
Bailey crawls onto my cot and snuggles into my arms. Holding him close does nothing to ease the pain but it helps me calm down. I am too tired to cry and it hurts too much to think. I wrap my arms tighter around his body and kiss his forehead, dreading the moment when I will have to let go.
The funeral was a gloomy affair. People were swarming around me and his momma, telling us how sorry they were, asking us if there was anything they could do for us.
I wanted to scream at them that they could bring him back. They could make our friendship unbroken and make his family whole again. But they were only trying to offer their help and guidance. It was not fair to lash out at the people who were only looking to make you feel better.
I had to bury my head in momma's arms when they lowered him into the ground. I knew he wasn't there and that this was only a memorial of his life, but I had to leave as soon as they begun shoveling dirt over his casket. I wander away from Momma and go to the church to vomit. I am surprised when I feel a cold hand brush against my neck. I look up and see Noah's mom's grim face.
"He cared for you Ellie," She says quietly, a cry escaping her lips. "You were his whole world. Please don't forget him." She hugs me tightly and plants a soft kiss on my cheek before she leaves.
"What am I supposed to do without him?" I yell out. Noah had taken such huge a part of me with him that I didn't know if I could function without him there beside me. He had made me feel safe and learn to accept the way I was. He had made me happy, something I hadn't truly felt in years.
Momma took me back to our house; I couldn't stand going back to the hospital knowing he wasn't there. Bailey curls up in my lap, resting his little head in my chest. I hold him tight and sob into his blonde curls. Bailey looks up to me, idolizing me. I have to show him how to handle grief or he might never understand until a terrible time comes for him too. God, but it hurt so much. Why did he have to leave?
I want to be angry. But when Noah's face flutters in my mind I find the fete almost impossible. The following weeks I spend wandering in my bedroom hopelessly. I still can't come to terms that he is no longer around to look after me.
While I'm here, I will always take care of you.
But he wasn't here anymore. Momma brought in a CD player, saying music always helps. If anything I cry even more when Hero comes on.
"I can be your hero, baby"
"I can kiss away the pain."
"I will stand by you forever."
"You can take my breath away."
Bailey comes in, hearing my sobs. He steps into the room and sits in my lap. I smile sadly and rest my chin on his head. We sway to the sound of the guitar and Enrique's voice slowly humming the words that seem so lost to me now.
Suddenly my stomach lurches. Bailey jumps off my lap and stares at me. I pant with my breathing coming in heavy, struggling gasps. He looks at me and steps back as I streak to the bathroom, a hand clamped over my mouth. I feel so horrible that at first I don't realize he has followed me. I crouch over the toilet and vomit, my body racking with giant cries.
Bailey's cold fingers brush against my sticky neck and he pulls my hair up.
"What are you doing?" I moan. "Go away,"
"No Ellie. You are my sister." He murmurs gently with a proud smile. "While I'm here, I will always take care of you."
"Thanks, Bails." I say, my voice cracking up as I turn towards him. He unravels toilet paper and wipes away the muck from my lips. As I embrace him, Noah's face flitters through my mind again and I can't help but smile and realize that maybe he hasn't left me after all.