Eight Months Earlier

Akira packed her final articles of clothing before taking one more look at her lifelong bedroom: Marvel and DC comics flooded her bookshelf, figurines of various TV show characters lined both window sills while leaving no room for anything else, a keyboard resting on the edge of her bed still there from the last time she played, and a dresser whose drawers were all half open and rid of most of the clothes inside. She mentally prepared herself for the journey ahead and pulled a single suitcase out the door behind her.

She called a cab from her doorstep and waited for ten minutes before the black and white vehicle stopped at the front curb honking a short two-note tune. Akira hopped in the back and ordered the driver to a location. Strapping her seatbelt, she whistled the melody of a song sung in her native language.

The drive to her mother's care center was a lengthy 30 minutes, and Akira paid a generous tip as an apology for the moose nearly costing the man a windshield. The building was remodeled a bit since the last time Akira had been there. New windows and paint, among other things, were added for style when everything else was previously there without company. It had been a month since Akira was there visiting her mother.

Room 201 was Elliott's. When Akira entered, she was lying on her bed with a popsicle in her hand, humming quietly to herself before she noticed her daughter enter the room. Each of the girls made hugging the other a priority.

"Thank you for coming to see me today, Akira." She said with a yawn. "I haven't been too tired."

"You don't have to thank me for seeing you, Mama. The pleasure is truly mine." Akira said, looking around the larger room she had been put into. "Nice room."

"It is nice...isn't it?" Elliott said with a chuckle. She tapped her pulse oximeter on the railing of the bed. "Oh, just look at you...my beautiful daughter. You have grown so much."

"Oh, bless, Mama."

"I am so grateful to have you as my daughter. Never forget me, Kiki."

"Don't talk like that, Mama. You aren't going to die." Akira said, lightly squeezing her hand in hers. "You're gonna live until you're eighty...especially after I find that silver bullet for you."

"Akira, please...don't risk your life for me. Enjoy your time while you still have it."

"I'm not gonna sit here and watch this cancer gnaw at you like this...I have to do something. I'll do anything for you."

"Promise me you won't do something so foolish. I cannot rest easy knowing you're going to climb a mountain for the sake of my health."

"Stop talking about resting easy. You're going to be fine. Have some faith in me, please."

Elliott looked over at the only window in her room and chuckled to herself. "If your father were here...he would be so proud of who you are. Ever since you were a little girl, you wanted to be just like him. He talked about the Endurance Trek, you talked about the Endurance Trek. You did whatever you could to make him happy."

"Yeah...right up until he abandoned us." Akira said immediately after, facing the television with her arms crossed. "Looks like all that begging and pleading was for nothing."

"Akira, he did what he thought was best."

"What he thought was best? What does that mean? Are you taking his side? Who abandons their family and practically disappears without a trace for the fueling of his own ego? That is not something a father should do. A father stays with his family and loves them, cherishes them through thick and thin...he doesn't go run off for research or whatever the hell it was."

"Akira."

"Sorry." She said quickly. "Still, though, I lost all hope in him ever returning when I was a kid, and I'm just so thankful you never gave up on us as a family, as well."

"I agree that your father took the wrong path, whatever it may have been, but he is only doing what his mind tells him. In a very similar way, you are just like him."

"Don't compare me to that runaway."

"I'm not saying you would do something to harm your family, but you would do something despite the odds because you think it's the right thing to do. You have his courage, his hard working mindset. It is a nice asset to have when you know how to control it."

"Well, I won't go running off to the Ises right now." Akira said, uncrossing her arms and demonstrating with her hands. "I'm gonna train a whole bunch and wreck that track course. You're gonna be so proud of me when we're sitting in the living room together, bonding over some hot chocolate and memories. I'm gonna-"

"Akira, Honey." Elliott grabbed her daughter's hand out of the air and kissed the top of it. "You don't have to save my life to make me proud. You are such a talented young woman...I couldn't wish for anything or anyone more. I am the luckiest mother alive."

"Mama, you've done so much for me my entire life...let me return the favor and do something for you. I will never be able to repay you for the life you've given me."

"You don't have to." Elliott smiled kindly. "It was my pleasure."

"But that's the thing." Akira responded hastily. "It would be my pleasure to save your life. It's the most I can do for either of our situations, because if you die, I will not be able to go on. You're all I have. I'll cry for weeks...years, even."

Elliott laughed. "Not that long."

"Mama, if I don't get your blessing on this, I'll never be able to go. Please, if you know this is for the best...for both of us, let me go."

"You don't have to do it for me-"

"Listen to me, please! I love you way too much to let you go just like that! I am going to help you one way or another...if you can understand your husband leaving, you can understand this. You have to."

"Akira...you don't know how much this hurts. I am tired all of the time...my body is constantly aching. The anguish I am going through is nothing to be tampered with...I do not need to add any mental instability on top of it. If you really care for my health, let me die with as little pain as possible."

"I'm not trying to bring you pain-"

"Just let it go, Akira." Elliott caught her breath after her previous run with words. "I will be fine...you will be fine. You're gonna meet a loyal, handsome man to have a family of your own with. You will be fine without me."

"Mama…" Akira's eyes welled with tears as she began to cry.

"It feels painful now, but a few weeks after I'm gone...you'll remember this moment and laugh at your opaqueness. You are stronger than life...you can overcome anything. I believe in you, Akira. You have always been my little niviak. You leaving before me would just be the worst thing that could ever happen to me...literally."

"Alright, fine." Akira sighed. "I'll take the suitcase home...I won't go."

"Are you telling me the truth, Akira?"

"Yes, Mama. I will just sit at home and wait for the ukalaitchuk call."

"Behave, child."

"Sorry." Akira was an avid listener when it came to her mother correcting her way of speech like that. "I just hate the idea of leaving you in this hospital bed to stay. You know that."

"You wouldn't be human if you didn't." Elliott said. "You just have to come across the point of fact, which is...well, things are the way they are for a reason. We cannot blame anyone but our ancestors...you understand where I come from, don't you?"

"Our ancestors…" Akira paused. "What does that have to do with your bone cancer?"

"Cancer is genetic...a lot of things we cannot change are genetic." Elliott coughed a few times. "You thought I was going to be philosophical or spiritual...weren't you?"

"I did." Akira said. "I was about to call you a Lakota."

"You weren't!" Elliott gave Akira a playful slap on the hand. She laughed it off and laid her head back on the pillow. Her face rested. "You are my daughter, Akira...you wouldn't tell this to anyone, would you?"

"Tell what to anyone?" Akira asked, sitting down for the first time to listen to her mother speak.

Elliott took a long, deep breath of air. "A few things, actually. I have to get these off of my chest before I pass on."

Akira didn't bother to correct her mother's negativity. "Go ahead."

Elliott glanced up at the television as if something on it was reminding her of what to say. Akira looked up, too. "Akira, can you turn that down? I need you to listen as clearly as possible."

"Okay." Akira turned the TV off with the remote and looked back at her mother. "Alright, Mama. I'm listening."

"Good…this first one isn't about me, but I thought you were entitled to know, anyway." She started, looking over at the closed door to make sure it was indeed closed. "Your father...you might remember him as a great storyteller when you were a young one. He loved to give you books to read...including the list before he made his final departure. He wasn't always in his right mind."

"What do you mean?"

"He was horribly forgetful. Horribly. He would read you a different story every night...or, at least he was supposed to. Don't you remember how many times he read you that Dekka book?"

"At least five times." Akira recalled. "I was always awake until the end."

"Yes...well, every time he read that book to you after the first, he swore up and down that he had never read it to you before."

"Oh, maybe he was just joking around. He always joked around."

"No...it was bad, Akira. He would get angry at me for saying it. I'm not sure if that affected his decision to leave, 'that' being his memory, but...I can't figure out what made his memory so viciously wrong."

"Alright...I can live with that one. What's the next?"

"Yes...you can live with that one." Elliott said. "The next one. You always wanted to know how much you weighed and I feared it would hurt your self-esteem. You weighed 10 pounds and nine ounces when you were born."

"I what!? What the hell was I, a bowling ball?"

Elliott chuckled. "We called you 'Kilo' sometimes."

"Funny."

"Yes, it was." She replied earnestly. "Akira...there is something more important you need to know. I'm going to need you to be understanding regardless of how you feel...I read your journal a few years ago."

Akira's face flushed. "You what?"

"It was lying out on the dining room table when you went to get me some firewood one day...I had a peek."

"Well, how much did you read?"

Elliott grabbed her hand again. Akira's stomach dropped. "I know you're gay." Akira's eyes widened larger than Elliott had ever seen them. She felt her daughter's hands start to feel wet. "You're getting clammy, Kiki."

"Mama! That was something you weren't supposed to know!" Akira felt her face heat up in the moment. "I wrote it in there to privately shame myself, not-"

"I know, Akira. I know." Elliott said.

"That-...Mama! That was private! Nobody was supposed to know that, at all! I didn't even want to know. Who did you tell? Is that why Uncle Humi left early?"

"Akira, relax. Why would your uncle leave because of your sexuality? It is nothing to be ashamed of."

"Surely he left because of that...he was a loving uncle for the longest time."

"Akira, he never knew. I read that after he had already moved out...please don't be too upset. No one knows but me, okay?"

"Please don't be disappointed, Mama. I like men too."

"Akira, why would you think I'm disappointed? That is so silly of you. As I said, you're gonna look back on this and laugh at yourself."

Akira cleared her throat and checked the time on her watch. "I think I should be going here soon, Mama. I've gotta get home and cry my sadness out in the sink."

"Oh, Kiki." Elliott smiled, reaching in for a final hug. "Don't you ever forget about me."

"Mama, please. You know I would never." Akira kissed her cheek and stood back up with the handle of her suitcase in her hand. "I'll talk to you soon, okay?"

"Of course, Akira."

"Alright!" Akira opened Elliott's room door, looking back and giving her one more smile. "Bye, Mama. I love you."

Elliott blew her a kiss. "I love you too, Akira."