Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Malignant Part 20

I am standing at the sink in the kitchen cleaning the dishes from mom’s and my homemade macaroni and cheese dinner when I hear the doorbell ring. I glance over at the clock without removing my wet hands from the sink. It’s 7PM, so it can’t be Brandon. Mom begins to wheel herself around the counter.
            “I’ll get it,” she says.
            I watch her propelling herself forward with her hands on the wheels. She is very slow, but she’s moving.
            “Alright,” I say.
            The doorbell rings again.
            “Coming,” my mom says from around the corner.
            I stand still to listen. After a few moments, I hear the door being unlocked and opened.
            “Hi Brandon. Come in,” my mom says. “Reese is in the kitchen.”
            “Thanks, Mrs. Lane.”
            As I’m turning to grab the towel to dry my hands, Brandon walks into the kitchen. He is dressed more nicely than usual. Instead of a t-shirt, he is wearing a dark navy polo under a brown leather jacket. Black tennis shoes have taken the place of flip flops. And his hair is actually styled.
            “Hi,” I say. “You look nice.” I smile. He does look nice.
            “Thanks,” Brandon says. “I borrowed my dad’s jacket.” He grins at me. “I know I’m early, but I thought we could run to Kmart and get some cheap candy before we go to the theater.”
            “Oh, that sounds great,” I say. “I’d love to get some Junior Mints or Raisinets.”
            “Great,” he says. “Are you ready?”
            “Um, yeah. Let me brush my teeth and get a jacket.”
            “Ok. I’ll be outside.”
            I nod and walk down the hall past my mom, who is smiling at me. I don’t want to keep Brandon waiting. I pass the bathroom into my room. My t-shirt and flip flops no-longer seem worthy attire for our trip to the movies. I open my closet and stare at my clothes for a moment before pulling out my blue ruffled top. I take off my t-shirt and pull on the top. I look at myself in the mirror. The blue makes my eyes stand out, or so my mom says. Then, I slide that closet door closed and open the other side. I don’t really have any nice shoes. Maybe I can convince Mom to take me shopping this weekend. I slide my feet into a pair of black ballet flats. Then I grab my olive green jacket and turn to walk back to the bathroom.
            When I walk outside a couple minutes later Brandon is standing beside his mom’s minivan waiting for me. She smiles at me as I walk toward them.
            “Hi Reese,” Mrs. Matthews says. “You look very pretty!”
            I smile and try to keep from blushing.
            “Thanks,” I say. “I heard we were going to Kmart?”
            “Yeah, it was Brandon’s idea.”
            “Alright,” I say.
            Brandon motions for me to slide into the middle seat of the van. Once I’m seated, he slides in beside me.
            “You can sit in the front if you want,” I say.
            Brandon smiles at me. “Naw, this is fine,” he says.
            Mrs. Matthews starts the car and drives us around the corner to Kmart. Brandon and I run in. I grab the biggest bag of Raisinets they have, and a box of Junior Mints. Brandon grabs sour gummy worms and an Abba-Zaba. When we get to the checkout, I pull out my wallet, but Brandon stops me.
            “I’ll get them,” he says.
            “Oh, are you sure?” I ask.
            “Yeah, no problem,” he says. “I just got my allowance so I’m set.” He takes the candy from me.
            “OK, thanks,” I say. This sure feels like a date. He’s wearing nice clothes, sitting beside me in the car, and now he’s buying my obscenely large bag of candy? Why didn’t I grab the smaller one? I feel bad that he’s spending $10 on candy for me. But by this time Brandon has checked out, so we walk out of the store and back to the minivan.
            When we pull up to the theater, it is 7:20 and there is quite a line to buy tickets.
            “Do you think we’ll make it?” I ask.
            “Well, I figure we’ve got an extra 10 minutes because of all the previews they show,” Brandon says. “We’ll be fine.”
            “OK, kids,” Mrs. Matthews interjects. “I’ll be back in a couple hours. Have fun.”
            “Thanks,” I say.
            “Thanks Mom,” Brandon says.
            Mrs. Matthews smiles at us and pulls from the curb.
            Brandon and I join the line and wait. After ten minutes of awkward conversation, we get up to the front of the line.
            “Two for The Wedding Caterer,” Brandon says.
            “What? I thought we were going to see World War 3.0,” I say.
            Brandon just smiles. “Would you rather see that or Michael Vartan?”
            I smile back. “The Wedding Caterer it is!”
            Brandon purchases the tickets and then holds the door for me as we walk into the theater.
Brandon and I are sitting in the middle of our row with our feet propped up on the bars in front of us. I can hear Brandon chewing on his Abba-Zaba but I don’t dare look at him. Reese Witherspoon and Michael Vartan’s characters are kissing. I know that my face is bright red. I didn’t think about how embarrassing it would be to see a movie like this with Brandon until the lights began to go down. I looked around the theater and noticed that the only people in the theater were couples and groups of senior adult women.
            I glance over at Brandon to see if he’d noticed, but he just smiled at me and flipped his hair.
            “I think this movie is going to be awesome,” he said.
            “Oh yeah?” I said.
            “Yep. Totally.” He smiled at me and ripped open his bag of gummy worms.
            I glance over at Brandon. He’s got a chunk of Abba-Zaba in his mouth, but he smiles at me even so.
            I smile back. I look down at the arm rest between us and look at his hand. I wonder what it would be like to reach over and grab his hand. Would his hand be huge compared to mine? Would it be warm or cold? I bet he has nice, warm hands. I push that thought away and look back toward the screen.
Brandon and I sit still while the credits roll and the other people in the theater walk out.
            “What did you think?” I say.
            Brandon turns toward me slightly. “It was cute,” He says. “I liked Michael Vartan’s dog. It was awesome.”
            “Yeah, it was a cute dog,” I say. “The agility training was cool too.”
            “Did you like it?” he asks.
            “Yeah, I did,” I say. “The end made me feel all fuzzy inside.” I smile. I love it when movies do that.
            “Fuzzy?” he asks as he stands up.
            “Yeah. You know, when a movie ends all cute and happy, I like it,” I say. I stand up too.
            “Alright. Fuzzy. Got it.” He motions for me to go first toward the aisle.
            Mrs. Matthews is waiting in the minivan when we exit the theater. She smiles and waves at us. She waits until we’ve shut the van door and buckled up before speaking.
            “It’s cold out there,” she says. “It makes me thankful we can go home to a warm house.”
            “Yeah,” I say. “And warm flannel pajamas.” I smile.
            “Flannel pajamas?” Brandon asks. He’s sitting beside me again.
            “Oh yes,” I say. “They’re mint green with ice cream cones all over them. My mom taught me how to sew and I sewed them all by myself.” I stare at him with a slightly challenging expression. I know my pajamas might be a bit childish, but I don’t care.
            “Awesome,” Brandon says. He smiles.
            I relax back into my seat. I’m thankful that he doesn’t think me kiddy for having pajamas with ice cream cones all over them.
            “I wish I had waffle pajamas,” he says.
            All three of us laugh at this.
            “I’ll have to see if I can find some waffle fabric,” Mrs. Matthews says. She smiles at us in the rear view mirror as she pulls the minivan away from the curb.
            “So how was the movie?” she asks.
            “I really liked it,” I say. “I might go see it again.”
            “It wasn’t bad,” Brandon says.
            “I’m glad,” Mrs. Matthews says.
            We drive the rest of the way in silence.
            Once we pull onto our street, I sit forward.
            “Mrs. Matthews, you don’t have to drive up to my house. I can get out and walk from your house.”
            “Oh that’s okay Reese. I don’t mind,” she says.
            “No, really. It’s fine,” I say.
            “But it’s so cold. It’s no trouble,” she says.
            “Well, okay,” I say. I sit back.
            Mrs. Matthews drives the minivan four houses past her house to mine. She makes a U-turn and parks in front of the walkway.
            I look past Brandon toward the front door. The porch is dark, but I can see a light in the hallway through the blinds in the window.
            “Thanks, Brandon,” I say. “The movie was great. And thanks for the ride, Mrs. Matthews.” I smile at her.
            “Any time,” Mrs. Matthews says.
            I unbuckle and open the door on my side of the minivan.
            “See you,” I say to Brandon as I hop out of the van. I slide the door shut and begin walking around the front of the van.
            Mrs. Matthews rolls down her window and leans toward me with a smile.
            I stop walking to hear what she has to tell me.
            “You know, you two look so cute together,” she says.
            I control the urge to take a step back as my face heats.
            “Aw, Mom,” Brandon says, but I can hear the grin in his voice. I can’t look at him.
            My stomach flips.
            “OK.” I don’t know what else to say. “Good night.”
            I walk around the front of the minivan as quickly as I can. I can hear Brandon sliding open the door on his side of the minivan.
            “Wait, I’ll walk you to the door,” Brandon says as I step onto the sidewalk.
            “No, that’s okay,” I say.

            Without looking at him, I run to my front door and pull my keys out of my purse. I open the door, throw myself inside, and slam it before I can think better of it. I lock the dead bolt before I peep through the peep hole. Brandon is standing beside the van looking toward my front door. Mrs. Matthews must have said something because he turns, shrugs at her, then gets back into the minivan. He slides the door shut and the minivan moves off down the street.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Malignant Part 19

As I enter the greenhouse, I notice that most of the students are already seated. I must be late, even though I didn’t hear the bell ring. It must have rung while I was in the bathroom.
            Mr. Liddle is standing near the podium at the front of the classroom. He smiles at me as I sit down next to Brandon, then he continues talking.
            “As I was saying, the semester is almost over. I want you all to start thinking about what you’re going to write in your paper about your growing project. Think about why you chose the plant you did. Did you think it would be easy or hard to grow? What have you learned about growing the plant you chose in the last three months? What challenges did you face?” Mr. Liddle looks at me as he says this. He grabs a stack of papers off the podium and divides it into two piles. He hands one pile to a student at our table and the other pile to a student at the other table.
            “Here are the details about your papers,” Mr. Liddle says. “This includes all of the topics I want you to address in your paper, as well as basic information like formatting and such.” Once everyone has a paper in hand, he continues. “I’m giving you the rest of this period to begin writing down your thoughts on your paper. I don’t mind if you talk while you write, but do it quietly please.” He smiles once more, then moves and sits behind his desk.
            I stand up and walk over to where my fern is sitting. I bend over so that the plant is at eye level. Most of the aphids are gone, but there are still small clusters of them near the ends of the fronds. When I blow on the plant, these remaining bugs don’t move. I pick up the plant slowly and walk over to Mr. Liddle’s desk. He looks up at me as I approach.
            “Hi, Reese,” he says. “What’s up?”
            “I used that plant remedy on my fern yesterday, and it looks like the bugs are dead,” I say. “But there are still some near the ends of the fronds on my fern. What should I do?”
            “Mind if I take a look?” Mr. Liddle asks.
            I shake my head and hand him the little fern.
            “Hmm,” he says as he looks at the plant. “It looks like these little guys are dead, so I would just take a pair of pruning clippers and clip off the parts that still have bugs on them. It won’t cause your plant any harm, and then it’ll be pest free. You know where the clippers are?”
            I nod. “Yeah. Thanks, Mr. Liddle,” I say.
            “No problem,” he says.
            I turn and walk toward the cabinets where the spray bottles and other gardening supplies are kept. I see the pruning clippers as soon as I open the cabinet door.
            I notice Mr. Liddle walking toward me as I reach to grab a pair.
            “Don’t forget to sterilize those with some rubbing alcohol before and after you use them,” he says. “If you don’t do that, there is the possibility that the plant will catch any infection that remains on the clippers.”
            “I will. Thanks,” I say.
            Mr. Liddle smiles at me, then walks back to his desk.
            I grab a bottle of rubbing alcohol in addition to the pruning clippers, then walk over the the classroom sink to get to work.
The bell rings just as I’m finishing cleaning up my fern. I put the supplies back in their places in the cabinet and move over to the sink to wash my hands. Out of the corner of my eye, I see one of the other girls in class approach Brandon at the table where we sit and say something to him I can’t hear from across the room. She smiles widely and he smiles back. He flips his hair and she giggles. My stomach flip flops. I wonder what they’re talking about? Just as I realize I’m staring at them, the girl glances over at me and we make eye contact. I snap back toward the sink and wash my hands without looking in that direction. I grab a paper towel and dry my hands as I turn back toward the classroom. Brandon and the girl are still talking. I want to leave without going over there, but my backpack is sitting right at Brandon’s feet. I breathe in deeply and take slow steps toward the two. As I approach, I notice that they look more uncomfortable now than when the conversation began. He has his hands in his pockets and she has her arms crossed across her chest. They wrap up their conversation as I approach. As the girl walks past me, I notice that she isn’t smiling now. She’s actually frowning a little. She doesn’t look at me as we pass each other.
            “Hey, who was that?” I ask as I reach down to pick up my backpack.
            “Amanda,” Brandon says. “She’s in my pre-calculus class.” He looks at me without offering any more information. His face is blank.
            “So,” I say, “what did she want?” I smile at Brandon and he smiles back.
            “Actually,” he says with a chuckle. “She asked me to the Sadie Hawkins dance.”
            “Oh,” I say. This admission makes me feel a little jealous. But why should I be jealous? Brandon is my best friend, not my boyfriend. I don’t even like him. Right?
            “Well, what did you say?” I ask. I can guess the answer based on her demeanor at the end of their conversation.
            “I said no,” Brandon says. “I don’t like Amanda that way, and going as friends to a dance would just be awkward.”
            “You’re probably right,” I say. I have no idea. I’ve never been to a dance. In junior high, Brandon and I both agreed that the after school dances in the cafeteria were lame. Last year, as freshmen, we were too busy doing loads of homework to have time for dances. This year, I don’t have time for dances for a different reason. My mom needs me to take care of her.
            “Yeah,” Brandon says. He nods.
            I sling my backpack over my right shoulder and we walk out of the classroom together.
As we walk through the quad toward the cafeteria to get our lunches, Brandon turns to me.
            “Hey,” he says, “want to go to a movie this weekend? World War 3.0 comes out tonight at midnight, but I can wait until tomorrow night.” He smiles at me and I notice what a nice smile he has. I mentally push that thought away and consider the movie.
            “I’ll have to ask my mom, but I don’t think so,” I say. “I don’t want her to be home alone or anything.” That’s true, mostly.
            “Oh, alright,” Brandon says. “Let’s hurry into the cafĂ© before all of the pizza bread is gone.” He starts walking again toward the cafeteria. After a moment, I hurry to catch up with him.
As soon as I get home from school, I rush into my mom’s room. I know that Shelley is gone because I didn’t see her car in the driveway.
            “Mom,” I burst out. “Brandon asked me to the movies for tomorrow night and I’m not sure if I want to go. I told him no because I thought you’d need me here.” I take a deep breath and plop down on the bed next to my mom. She sits up slowly and I realize that I must’ve woken her up with my outburst. Now that I’ve slowed down, I realize that the lights aren’t on in her room, although the curtains are open and some light is coming into the room.
            “What, Reeses? Brandon asked you to the movies?” Mom speaks slowly as she adjusts her pillows behind her back.
            “Oh, I’m sorry I woke you up,” I say. “We can talk about this later.” I stand up to leave the room and my mom puts her hand gently on my arm.
            “That’s alright, Reeses. Let’s talk now.” She smiles at me and pats the bed beside her. “Sit down and tell me what happened.”
            I sigh deeply and plop back onto the bed. I kick off my shoes and scoot up beside my mom with my back against the wooden headboard.
            “Well, after horticulture class, a girl named Amanda asked Brandon to the Sadie Hawkins dance. He said no because he doesn’t like her like that, but the idea of him going to the dance with her made me a little jealous. I don’t know why because I don’t like Brandon like that. He’s my best friend,” I say. I look at my mom to see what she is thinking. She is smiling and her eyes are twinkling.
            “Reeses, are you sure you don’t have feelings for Brandon? He’s an awfully nice boy,” she says.
            “I don’t think so,” I say. “But he is kind of cute,” I admit.
            Mom smiles again. “Yes he is,” she says.
            I start fidgeting with my hair. “There’s more,” I say.
            Mom nods at me to go ahead.
            “During lunch time he asked me to go to the movies with him, like I mentioned earlier. I don’t think it’s a date or anything, but it scared me so I said no. I told him you needed me here,” I say.
            “Well, I don’t think you should have lied to him about it,” Mom says, “but if you don’t want to go, that’s fine. You don’t have to. He’ll understand that. But if you decide you want to go, that is fine too. I can get cozy on the couch and watch a Doris Day movie or two just fine without you.” Mom smiles at me and I smile back.
            “Thanks, Mom,” I say. I sit completely still on her bed. If she doesn’t need me, it wouldn’t hurt to go to the movies, would it? It’s just a movie. All I have to do is sit beside Brandon in the theater. I don’t even have to talk. That can’t be a date. We aren’t even going to dinner or anything first.
            “I think, if you don’t mind, that I’ll see if he still wants to go to the movies,” I say. I stand up.
            “I think you should,” Mom says. She smiles at me. “Now wheel that chair over here and let’s make us some butternut squash soup for dinner. Doesn’t that sound great?”
            “Delicious,” I say. I take the few steps over to the wall and push the chair to the edge of the bed. Mom scoots the best she can and swings her legs over the side of the bed. I take her hand as she stands for a moment before shifting her weight into the chair. Once she’s settled, I push her out of the room and down the hall toward the kitchen.
            “Is it alright if I call Brandon before we make dinner?” I ask.
            “Sure, honey. Go call him right now,” Mom says.
            I push Mom around the corner into the kitchen then head back into her room to make the call. It’s silly, but I don’t want her to hear me on the phone with Brandon.
            I pick up the phone and dial the number.
            “Hello? This is the Matthews residence,” Mrs. Matthews says.
            “Hi, Mrs. Matthews. It’s Reese. Can I talk to Brandon for a minute?”
            “Hi Reese. He’s helping me peel potatoes, but I think he can spare a minute,” she says.
            I can hear the smile in her voice.
            “Brandon,” I hear her say on the other end of the line, “Reese is on the phone. Wipe off your hands and come talk to her.”
            After a moment of muffled sound, Brandon comes on the phone.
            “Hi Reese. What’s up?” he asks.
            “Nothing,” I say. “So, you’re peeling potatoes, huh?”
            “Yeah,” Brandon says. “I requested scalloped potatoes for dinner so Mom put me to work. I don’t mind though,” he finishes.
            “Scalloped potatoes sound good,” I say. “We’re having butternut squash soup for dinner.”
            “That sounds good too,” Brandon says.
            There is an awkward pause on the line. I don’t know how to begin so I just plunge ahead.
            “So I talked to my mom and she said that if I want to go to the movies I can go. So, do you still want to go see the World War 3.0 movie tomorrow night?” I say.
            “Sure,” Brandon says. He laughs over the line. “I thought you were calling to give me some bad news, but a movie sounds great. I already checked, and the movie is playing at 7:30. Why don’t you come over here after dinner and my mom will drive us over there? How does that sound?”
            I smile. “That sounds good,” I say. See? It’s not a date. No dinner. And his mom is driving us! I exhale loudly.
            “Are you OK?” Brandon asks.
            I realize I must have breathed right into the phone. “Yeah, I’m fine,” I say. “Just breathing.”
            “Oh, alright then,” Brandon says. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”
            “Yeah,” I say. “See you tomorrow.” I hang up the phone slowly. It’s not a date, but I am grinning. A movie sounds just about right. I prance back down the hall toward the kitchen to help Mom with dinner.
            She takes one look at me and says, “So, you’ve got a date tomorrow night, I take it?” She smiles.
            I laugh. “It’s not a date,” I say, “but I am going to the movies.”

            “Right,” she says. “It’s not a date.” She winks at me and I smile right back.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Malignant Part 18

The ring of the doorbell wakes me up. I’ve fallen asleep in the living room floor. I sit up slowly and look over at my French book. How much of my homework did I finish? Nevermind. I don’t care about that.
            The doorbell rings again.
            I stand up slowly, straighten my shirt and hair, and walk toward the door. I look through the peephole. It’s Brandon, and he’s got a tray of cookies in his hands.
            I open the door.
            “Brandon,” I say. I smile. “What’re you doing?”
            He smiles right back. “I come bearing gifts. I brought snickerdoodles and Monopoly. Care for a game?”
            “Sure,” I say as I try to suppress a laugh. “Come in! I’m at a stopping point in my homework so a break sounds nice.” I step aside and let Brandon into the house.
            “Have a seat,” I say.
            “Reese?” Mom calls from her room.
            “Hold on,” I say to Brandon. “I’ll go check on her.”
            “Go ahead,” he says. “I’ll get us set up.”
            I nod and walk down the hall toward Mom and Dad’s room. I walk into the room and wait for a moment so my eyes can adjust to the dark. I look around for the sewing chair but don’t see it. In its place, I see a wheelchair. Shelley must have brought it today. I close my eyes and breathe in deeply. Then I walk toward the bed.
            My mom is sitting up in bed looking at me. She reaches over and turns on the lamp on her night stand.
            “Who’s at the door, Reeses?” she asks. “Is it Brandon?”
            “Yeah. He’s brought snickerdoodles and Monopoly.” I smile and Mom smiles back at me.
            “That’s so sweet,” she says.
            “How’re you feeling, Mom?” I ask. I sit on the edge of the bed next to her.
            “I’m feeling fine,” Mom says. She pats my leg with her left hand. “I’m a bit hungry thought. Would you mind heating me up some soup?”
            “I can do that,” I say as I nod. I stand up. “What kind of soup do you want?”
            “If we have any beef with vegetables and barley, I’ll take that. Otherwise, chicken noodle sounds good.”
            The phone rings. I reach over and pick it up.
            “Hello, this is the Lane residence,” I say.
            “Hey, kiddo,” Dad says. “How’re you?”
            I can hear over the line that he is driving.
            “I’m fine,” I say. “I’m about to get Mom some soup.”
            “Oh, well, I just picked up a pizza,” he says. “I thought you two might like some takeout tonight.”
            “Oh,” I say. Pizza? What time is it? I glance over at the clock. It’s 6:30. I put the phone away from my mouth. “Hey, Mom,” I say. “It’s Dad. He picked up a pizza. Would you like that, or do you still want soup?”
            Mom smiles. “Pizza is fine,” she says.
            I put the phone back up to my mouth and speak. “OK, Dad. Pizza sounds good. Is there enough for Brandon? He’s here too.”
            “Sure, Reese. There’s enough. I already ate so I won’t be having any. I’ve got some work to do anyway.” He sounds disappointed, but maybe I’m just imagining it.
            I shake my head. “Alright. I’ll tell Mom,” I say. “Bye.”
            “Bye, Reese. See you soon,” Dad says.
            I hang up the phone.
            “Dad’s bringing pizza home but he already ate. He said he has work to do.” I shrug.
            Mom stops smiling. She doesn’t speak for a moment, but when she does, she whispers, “That’s fine. I know he’s got a lot of work to do for the city.” She looks at me. “Reese, can you hand me my book? It’s on the table next to my recliner.”
            “Sure,” I say. I walk over to the recliner and pick up the book. It’s the latest Karen Kingsbury novel. My mom loves Christian fiction books because she says they’re inspirational.
            “Thanks, Reeses,” she says. “Have fun with Brandon.”
            I nod. “Thanks, I will. Call if you need anything.”
            “I will,” Mom says. She smiles at me again and I leave the room.
            As I walk into the living room I see that Brandon has already set up the Monopoly board on the floor. He’s also gotten both of us glasses of milk and napkins from the kitchen. The snickerdoodle plate is sitting on the ottoman.
            “Hey Brandon,” I say as I head back toward the living room. “My dad is bringing pizza home. Sound good?”
            “Sure. I already had dinner, but I could go for a couple slices of pizza.”
            “Cool,” I say. I plop down on the floor by the Monopoly board and grab a cookie. “Let’s get started. I’ll be the thimble.”
            A few minutes later, Dad walks in the door with two pizza boxes in his hands.
            “Hey guys,” he says. “I hope you’re hungry. I went a little crazy and got two pizzas. One is cheese, like Reese likes, and the other is supreme.” He smiles at us as he walks past us into the kitchen.
            Brandon and I both hop up and follow him into the kitchen.
            Dad puts the pizza boxes down on the stove. Then he reaches up into the cabinet and gets four plates out.
            “Reese,” he says, “why don’t you go ask your mom which kind of pizza she wants? And ask what she wants to drink too.”
            “OK,” I say. I turn and walk down the hall to get Mom’s order.
            Once I get back to the kitchen, I see that Dad has put Brandon to work icing the glasses for our dinner.
            “Mom wants one slice of each and iced tea to drink,” I say.
            “Sounds good,” Dad says. He grabs one slice of each type of pizza and puts them on a plate.
            Brandon reaches into the refrigerator and pulls out the tea pitcher. He pours a full glass and hands it to me.
            Dad turns, sees this, and puts his hand out to take the glass. “I’ll take it to her,” he says. “You guys go ahead and help yourselves.”
            Dad leaves the kitchen and walks down the hall toward my parents’ room. He closes the door behind him.
            I turn to Brandon and shrug. “Oh, well. Let’s eat,” I say.
            “Yeah,” Brandon says.
            We grab our food and drinks and head into the living room. Just as we sit down, the door to my parents’ room swings open with force and my dad storms out. He stands in the doorway looking back toward Mom. “I don’t have time to sit and eat, Carol,” he says with a raised voice. “I was just trying to do something nice. It’s never good enough.” He stomps down the hall toward his office and I hear a door slam.
            I stare down at the floor as my eyes fill with tears. I’ve never heard my dad yell at my mom before. I begin shaking as I stand up. I walk toward my mom’s room, but as I draw closer I can hear quiet, muffled sobs coming from within the room. I don’t dare peak into the room. I don’t know what I would say to her. As I turn back toward the living room, the tears stream down my cheeks.
            Brandon stands when I come back into the room.
            “You’d better go,” I say. I can’t look at him. I stare at his feet.
            “No, it’s fine,” he says. “Let’s play the game.”
            “No,” I say. “Please go. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
            “Oh, OK. I’ll go,” Brandon says. He walks past me toward the front door.
            I follow him.
            He opens the door and turns to look at me.
            “Are you OK?” he asks.
            I nod. “I’m fine,” I lie.
            Brandon nods then closes the door behind him.
            I turn the lock slowly, then walk back into the living room. I look over the pizza plates and cookie plates on the ottoman, and the Monopoly game set out on the floor. I want so badly to bend down, pick up the plates, and throw them at the wall, but I don’t. Instead, I bend down and pick up the pizza plates. I walk quickly into the kitchen and open the cabinet door under the sink. I toss the pizza into the garbage bag and then set the plates down roughly on the counter. The clank of stoneware on the tile echoes down the hall. I stand still, but I don’t hear any movement. I walk back into the living room, pick up the plate of cookies, and go to my room. I turn on the lamp on my nightstand and move around the bed to sit down in the dark. I know that if anyone looks in, he or she can’t see me. I lay on the ground and grab a cookie. I eat it. Then I eat another. And one more. Just one more.
I wake up to the sound of crickets coming from my phone. I roll over and pick it up. It’s 6:00 AM, or time to get up. I lay back down, close my eyes, and wonder how I got into bed. I must have gotten up off the floor in the middle of the night and crawled into bed, but I don’t remember. I stretch my legs and realize that I’m still wearing my jeans and socks. Also, my breath reeks. My teeth feel gritty and dirty. The cookies! I roll over and crawl to the side of the bed near the wall. There is the plate, only half filled with snickerdoodle cookies. I must have eaten eight or ten cookies last night. Sheesh. No cookies for me today.

            I swing my legs over the side of the bed and over to my dresser. I open the drawers and pull out underwear, socks, and a new pair of jeans. Then I walk across the room, open the closet door, and stare at my clothes. Nothing is sticking out to me. I’ve worn all of these shirts a million times. After several minutes, I settle on a lavender turtleneck. I pull it out of the closet and walk back to my dresser. I pick up my other clothing items, open my door, and walk down the hall to the bathroom to shower. I move slowly and deliberately. I have plenty of time.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Malignant Part 17

I glance at the clock. English is almost over. I sigh as I glance around the classroom. Mrs. Hall has given us time to read silently so that everyone in class can earn the eight reading points they need for the second quarter. I’m sitting at Mrs. Hall’s computer in the back of the classroom. Since I already have eight reading points for the quarter, I’ve spent the hour in class writing a reading comprehension test for Shakespeare’s play The Tempest for extra credit. I’ve made the test easy so that whoever takes it will be able to pass without having a deep understanding of the text. I know that most of the questions I’ve typed are much too simple. I hope Mrs. Hall accepts my effort, because I don’t really care about Shakespeare or The Tempest as I sit staring at the computer screen while I try to think of questions regarding the text. I only care about getting home so I can help Mom.
            The bell rings. I save the document on the desktop of Mrs. Hall’s computer with the title “Shakespeare’s The Tempest Reading Test” so that Mrs. Hall can find it later when she has the time to look it over. I lean over, pick up my backpack, and slide out of the orange, plastic chair. As I walk out of the room I see Brandon waiting for me. He’s leaning against a pole outside the classroom.
            “Ready for Mr. Liddle?” he asks.
            I shrug. I don’t have the energy for conversation right now. I don’t have the energy for much of anything.
            “Alright,” Brandon says. He smiles at me, and we begin walking across the quad toward the back of campus.
            Once inside the greenhouse, Brandon and I set our backpacks down at two seats along the wooden table nearest the door. I walk over to the window where my fern is sitting. The plant’s branches are not upright like normal. Instead, they look droopy, and maybe even a little bit sad. The plant looks as exhausted as I feel. I pick up the plant slowly and look closer at it. As I look closely at it, I can see that it is covered with tiny green bugs.
            “Gross,” I say. I set the plant down quickly so that none of the tiny bugs get on my clothes. The bugs are covering every inch of the plant. I blow a burst of air at the plant, but none of the bugs budge. Aphids. I recognize them because I’ve seen them before on the leaves of the birch tree that stands in our backyard at home.
            Mr. Liddle walks up beside me and studies my plant.
            “Hi Reese. It looks like your fern has aphids,” he says.
            “Yep,” I say. “How should I get rid of them?”
            “How about this,” Mr. Liddle says. “Instead of doing today’s homework, why don’t you do a little research on how to get rid of aphids. Write a page about it and bring it to me tomorrow. We’ll start trying methods on your list and see how each one works. Think of it as an experiment.” He smiles and walks across the room toward another student and his plant.
            I close my eyes and furrow my eyebrows. Mr. Liddle wants me to experiment on my plant? What if the aphids suck my poor plant dry in the mean time? Why can’t he just tell me how to get rid of these disgusting bugs. Doesn’t he know I don’t have time to do research, or the will power to force myself?
            “Alright, everyone,” Mr. Liddle speaks loudly to draw our attention. “Let’s all have a seat so we can begin.”
            I turn from my plant and trudge over to where Brandon is sitting. I plop down next to him, fold my arms on the table, and prop my head on my hands. Mr. Liddle is speaking, but I’m not listening. I’m trying to drown out his voice by thinking of nothing. Nothing.
I walk into our house. It’s bright because the sun is pouring into the windows on the west side of our house, and yet the air is icy cold. I exhale slowly and imagine that I can see my own breath. I drop my backpack on the ground by the wall as I walk toward the kitchen. The thermostat is set at 68 degrees. I turn the knob to bump it up to 72F. Then I round the corner into the kitchen. There is a pile of dirty dishes in the sink that extends onto the counter. The scrubby brush is sitting on top of the pile and the soap bottle is standing with its lid open on the counter. I glance at the pad of paper by the phone. There is a page of grocery items written on the pad in blue ink in my mom’s cursive-ish handwriting. This list has been growing for the past week and yet my father hasn’t volunteered to go to the grocery store. Jerk. He’s no help at all. He leaves me to do all of the housework while he’s out beautifying the city. I feel the anger settle like a weight in my chest. It makes my insides feel tight. I clench my teeth. I don’t have time for anger right now. I have work to do. I turn to leave the kitchen.
            “Mom?” I call. I hear no response. “Shelley?” I call, but then I remember that Shelley was only going to come for an hour or so this morning. She had personal matters to attend to, Mom had said.
            “Mom?” I call again as I walk toward my parents’ room. I walk through the open door and find my mom lying on her bed with a throw blanket pulled over her legs and feet. Her eyes are open and she looks at me.
            “Hi Reese,” she whispers. She smiles.
            “Hey Mom,” I say. “How are you feeling?” I don’t want to know. I don’t want to hear. But I have to ask.
            Mom smiles again. “I’m fine,” she says. “I was in the middle of doing the dishes, but I got so sleepy I had to come lay down for a bit.”
            I smile at her. “It’s OK Mom. I’ll take care of the dishes. I’ll get the groceries too. What do you want for dinner?”
            “Honey, you don’t have to do that. It’s time for me to get up,” Mom says. She sits up slowly and swings her legs over the side of the bed. She looks at me.
            “Can you hand me my…” Her words fade away.
            I look around and see the cane lying on the ground. It’s my grandpa’s cane. It’s her cane.
            “Sure,” I say. I reach down, pick up the cane, and hand it to my mom. She grasps the handle in her left hand and tries to stand, but her legs buckle and she falls back onto the bed.
            “I’m OK,” she says. We both are quiet, I know that she can’t walk and she won’t say it.
            I try to make my face blank as I look at her. My chest feels heavy. I don’t know what to say. Just then, it comes to me—an idea. It’s a wonky but practical idea. I give Mom a half smile.
            “Stay here, Mom. I’ll be right back.”
            I walk out of her room and down the hall to the laundry room. I take the single step into the room and grab my mom’s sewing chair. This chair has brown tweedy fabric covering the back and seat. It also has a hidden compartment in the seat in which we hide the Canadian money we saved from the trip I took when I was three, some family jewelry, and my mom’s high school ring. This chair is the only chair in the house with wheels.
            I pick the chair up and set it on the main floor of the house. I place my hands on the back of the chair and push it down the hallway toward Mom’s room. The chair tries to turn to the right or left at some pushes, but mostly it goes forward. I smile. This might just work.
            “Okay Mom,” I say as I walk into her room, wheeling the chair on the hardwood floor. “Here’s your new mode of transportation,” I say. I smile at her.
            Mom smiles back. “What a clever idea,” she says.
            I position the chair right next to the bed. Mom slides off the bed and onto the chair with little effort. She pulls the chair forward with her legs and I step behind her.
            “Let’s go to the kitchen, shall we?” I say.
            “Let’s go,” Mom says.
            I wheel her down the hallway and into the kitchen. I stop her right in front of the dish washer. “How about I wash and you load?” I ask.
            “Deal,” Mom says.
            “Hey, wait,” I say. “I have something to show you.” I pull the hair tie off my wrist and set it on the counter. Slowly, I reach up and begin to French braid my own hair. It takes me several minutes to feel my way along, but I finish. I pinch my braid with my left hand and grab the hair tie with my right. I tie off my braid and turn for my mom to see.
            “Reese, that’s great,” Mom says. She smiles at me. “When did you learn?”
            I smile back. “I’ve been practicing in class. You know, during lectures and group projects.”
            “I’m proud of you,” Mom says. “It looks great. Now let’s get these dishes done.”
            “OK,” I say. I start to turn toward the sink, but find I have something to ask. “Mom, do you wish Dad was around more? That he would go to the grocery store and stuff? He’s being kind of lame.” I can feel the anger rising again.
            “Now Reese, we don’t talk badly about your father,” Mom says. “I do wish he was here though,” she says more quietly.
I don’t remember my homework assignment about researching aphids until I walk into the greenhouse the next day. I want to turn around and run away because I never forget homework assignments, but my feet won’t move. Brandon moves past me and sets his backpack down near our usual seats at the long table. I just stand and stare. He walks back over to me.
            “Reese, are you OK?” he asks.
            I shake my head. “No. I forgot my stupid homework assignment.
            “The one about aphids?” Brandon asks.
            “Of course,” I say. “I’m such an idiot.” I walk over to the table and plop down in my usual chair. Brandon follows me and sits beside me.
            “I should have stayed home today,” I say. I fold my arms on the table top and lay down my head with my forehead touching my wrists.
            “Hey, it’s no problem,” Brandon says. “I mentioned it to my mom last night and she told me a surefire way to get rid of most pests. Mix 2 cups of water, a few drops of phosphorus free soap, and a ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon extract. I brought some for you.” Brandon smiles as he leans over toward his backpack and pulls out a water bottle with yellow-tinged soapy water inside.
            “All you need is a squirt bottle,” he says.
            “Well, that’s a start,” I say. I lift my head and sit up. “Thanks Brand.” I pause for a moment, then speak again. “Do you think Mr. Liddle will care that I forgot to do my paper?”
            “No,” Brandon says. He stands up. “I think he keeps a few extra squirt bottles in the cabinet over there.” He walks across the room and opens one of the lower cabinet doors. Sure enough, there they are: extra squirt bottles.
I’m walking quickly through the crowd of people in the quad. I want to get out of here. I’ve become adept at weaving through the writhing mass without bumping into anyone. It helps that I’m short and thin and take up less space. I’m making my way toward my locker, where I’ve agreed to meet Brandon to walk home. Despite the cold, it’s a sunny day and a walk doesn’t sound that bad. Brandon called his mom at lunch to let her know he wouldn’t need a ride home today.
            When I arrive at my locker, Brandon is already there. He’s leaning against the wall of lockers and looking at his phone. He looks up when I stop next to him.
            “Hey, Reese,” he says. “Just let me finish my turn on Hanging with Friends and I’ll be ready to go.”
            “Whatever,” I say. “I’m not in a hurry.” I open my locker and lean my backpack against it. I unzip it and pull out several of my books. I don’t have much homework tonight so I deposit all of my books but my French and Algebra books into my locker. I zip up my backpack and sling it over my right shoulder. Then I close my locker door. I turn to Brandon.
            “Ready?” I ask.
            “Yeah,” he says. “I’ve just played the word ‘shrapnel’. Do you think my mom will get it?” He smiles.
            “She might,” I say. “It’s a unique word. But it might be tricky.”
            “Cool,” Brandon says. He slides his phone into his front right pocket and we begin the walk home.
            As we turn the corner onto our street, Brandon turns to me. “Hey, I need some new shirts. Want to come with me to Kohl’s later to help me pick some out?”
            I look at him and then at the ground. I’d like to get out of the house. I haven’t gone anywhere in weeks and I’m starting to get tired of looking at those walls. On the other hand, I can’t leave Mom alone all evening since Dad won’t be home. The bum.
            “Um, that sounds fun, but I can’t. I can’t leave my mom alone at home. Sorry Brand.” I shrug my shoulders and keep walking.
            “Alright,” Brandon says. “No problem. Maybe this weekend then.”
            “Yeah, sure” I say. “Maybe Saturday.”
            As we approach my house, I see Shelley’s car in the driveway. I sigh. I don’t like being around Shelley. She’s nice, but she makes my mom’s cancer so more real. I can’t help but dislike her.
            We walk up to the front door.
            I turn to Brandon. “I’ll see you tomorrow, alright?” I say.
            “Sure,” he says. “See you in the morning.” He turns and walks down the walkway toward the sidewalk.
            I let my backpack down off my shoulder and begin to unzip the front pouch when the door opens and Shelley comes out. She almost bumps into me.
            “Oh, Reese,” she says. “I’m sorry. I was just leaving.”
            “It’s fine,” I say. I just stand there looking at her. I don’t know what else to say.
            “How was school?” she asks. She smiles at me.
            “Fine,” I say. “Thanks.”
            “Good,” she says. “I’m glad.” She turns to go, but after a couple of steps she turns back toward me. “Your mom is sleeping. She’s had a hard time today, so why don’t you let her sleep for a while?” She smiles again.
            “Alright,” I say. “I’ll do that. Bye.” I wave at her as I step into the house. I close and lock the door without watching Shelley retreat toward her car. I glance toward the hallway and see that Mom’s door is open but the room is dark.
            I walk into the kitchen, grab an apple, then move back toward the living room. I plop down on the floor in front of the ottoman and press my back up against it. It scoots away from me, so I lean against it until it sits flush against the sofa. It won’t scoot anymore now.

            I open my backpack and take out my French book. I’ll finish my homework then watch a movie or something. I’m so glad I don’t have much to do today. I suddenly don’t feel like doing anything but curling up on the floor and taking a nap.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Malignant Part 16

The sound of crickets wakes me out of a sound sleep. This night is the first since Wednesday that I haven’t been awoken in the night by visions of my mom’s dead body and long, endless hospital hallways strewn with black, open caskets, most of which are filled with creepy crawlies of all sorts.
            I roll out of bed and pick up a pair of jeans off the floor. I pull them on slowly, then walk over to my dresser. I open the top drawer, pull out a bra, and put that on as well. I walk over to my closet, pull out a sweatshirt, and pull it over my head. The hallway is beginning to grow lighter as the sun eases up over the horizon and begins to shed its rays into my world. Even so, the house is eerily quiet. I walk down the hallway and peek into my parents’ room. My dad’s side of the bed is empty, and my mom is still sleeping. I walk into the kitchen and see that my dad has left a sticky note on the front of the microwave.
            Went to work early today, it says simply.
            I open the cabinets, pull out a box of cereal, and open the top. I eat several handfuls of the slightly stale cereal before closing the top of the box and putting it back in the pantry. I walk over to the counter and write cereal on the grocery list. I wonder if Mom will be up to going to the grocery store? If not, I’ll have to go at some point this week, since we’re already out of milk, cereal, and bread.
            I walk back down the hallway to the bathroom. I take a hair tie out of the top drawer of the cabinets and pick up my brush off the countertop. I run my hairbrush through my hair quickly and twist it up into a messy bun near the top of my head. I secure it with the hair tie, then give a good shake of my head to make sure that the hastily done bun is going to stay in place. It does, so I put the brush down and pick up my toothbrush.
            Once I’m ready for school, I go back to my room, retrieve my backpack, and walk down to the kitchen. I walk up to the microwave and write went to school below his short missive.
            Mr. Matthews opens their front door shortly after I knock.
            “Well, good morning, Reese,” he says. He smiles at me.
            I give him a quick smile in return. “Is Brandon ready?” I ask.
            “He’s in the kitchen finishing up his cereal. Why don’t you join him?” Mr. Matthews says.
            “O.K.,” I say.
            I walk into the kitchen and plop down in a seat next to Brandon, who is wearing his favorite shirt today¾a red and blue striped polo. He smiles at me and says, “Hey.” Then he puts another spoonful of cereal in his mouth and chews.
            “Want to walk to school today?” I ask.
            He swallows before he responds to my question. “Sure,” he says. “But isn’t it cold out there?”
            I shrug in reply. I hadn’t noticed. Lately I’ve been cold all of the time, anyway.
            “Alright. Let me brush my teeth and I’ll be ready to go,” Brandon says. He pushes back from the table and stands. He puts his cereal bowl in the sink and runs a little water into it before he disappears down the hall to the bathroom.
            Today is going to be horrible. I know that all of the teachers and hall monitors will look at me sympathetically. Some may even ask how I am doing. Add to that the whispering of the other students and all I want to do is crawl back into bed and fall asleep. I wish everyone would just pretend that this isn’t happening to me. That is exactly what I intend to do. As if on cue, Brandon walks back into the kitchen. “Ready?” he asks. In addition to brushing his teeth, he’s put on a sweatshirt in the thirty seconds he has been gone.
            “How did you do that so fast?” I ask.
            He smiles. “Practice.”
            Once we walk out the front door, Brandon turns to me and says, “How are you? I haven’t heard from you since Wednesday night when you called.”
            I stop and look at him. Instead of pity, I see genuine concern in his eyes. “I’m fine,” I say. “Honestly, I’d rather not think about it.”
            “That’s fine,” he says.
            We walk the rest of the way to school in silence.
“Welcome back, Reese,” Mr. Liddle says as I walk into the greenhouse.
            “Thanks,” I say. I glance around. Oddly, none of the other students are here yet.
            Mr. Liddle walks across the room, between the two long tables, toward me. He stops a few feet away. “How’s your mom doing?” he asks. He has a knowing, concerned look on his face. As if he really knows what it is like to watch your mother waste away right in front of you.
            “She’s fine,” I say. I lift my chin a bit.
            Mr. Liddle’s eyes widen a little as if he is surprised at my clipped response, but he doesn’t look away. “I’m glad to hear that,” he says. I can tell by the dullness of his voice that he is not convinced. “Brandon took great care of your fern while you were out last week,” he says to change the subject. He nods at someone behind me.
            I turn around and see Brandon standing just inside the doorway of the greenhouse.
            “Thanks,” I say.
            “No problem,” Brandon responds. He walks over to one of the tables and takes a seat.
            Several students walk into the classroom behind him and take their seats as well.
            Mr. Liddle gives me a small smile and turns to walk back toward the front of the room. He sits at his desk, and opens his attendance book.
            I move to my seat beside Brandon and plop down loudly, not bothering to look up at the faces of those who turn to stare at me. I stare at the tabletop until the bell rings and Mr. Liddle completes his attendance sheet.
            Once he is finished, he stands. “Alright, let’s all of us check on how our plants are doing. Go ahead. Get up, everyone,” Mr. Liddle says.
            I stand up slowly and walk over to the window where my tiny fern sits. I examine it slowly, looking for signs of scales. It appears to be insect-free, for which I am thankful. Picking scales off of the leaves for another class period does not excite me. Do I still need to rub the leaves with alcohol? I pick up my fern gingerly and walk across the room to where Mr. Liddle is examining another student’s plant. He finishes what he is saying and turns to me.
            “Can I help you, Reese?” he says.
            I hold out my little fern toward him. “Do I still need to rub alcohol on the leaves and everything?” I ask.
            “No, Brandon and I took care of that Friday.” He takes the plant from me carefully and looks it over for a moment before giving it back. “It looks pretty good,” he says. “I suggest you water it, give it a little fertilizer, and let it sit in that window. It’ll grow new leaves to replace the ones the scales destroyed.”
            I only nod in reply.
As I walk up to our house, I see that Mom’s nurse is still here. Her gold sedan is parked in the driveway. This is the nurse’s first day of checking up on Mom. My dad said this type of home care is called hospice care. I call it death care. It signals my mom’s choice to give up rather than seek further treatment.
            I recall our conversation from yesterday as I walk up to the front door. Mom asked me to come and sit on the edge of her bed to talk to her.
            “Reese,” she said. “I have something to tell you.”
            “What is it Mom?” I asked. I didn’t suspect that she was about to pronounce her own death sentence.
            “Reese, I’ve decided that instead of having chemotherapy and radiation, I’m going to undergo hospice care. Do you know what that is?”
            I stared at her and shook my head.
            She continued. “It means that a nurse will come each day to check on me, give me any medication the doctor prescribes, and make sure that I’m comfortable. I think she’ll be coming in the early afternoon before you get home from school.”
            “So, they can cure your cancer while you stay at home?” I asked.
            Mom’s eyes filled with tears as she looked at me and she shook her head.
            “No Reese,” she said. “They can’t cure my cancer while I stay at home.”
            “Well, then you need to go have chemo or radiation or whatever treatment it is that they use to cure cancer,” I said.
            “Reese,” Mom said again. “Reeses, Honey. The doctors can’t cure my cancer. It’s too far along.”
            I stood up abruptly as she was speaking.
            “What are you saying, Mom?” I asked.
            “Reese,” she said, “I’ve decided that I want to be home with you instead of at the hospital seeking treatment. I want to feel as well as I can in the time we have together before I...”
            “This is crazy!” I shouted. “You’re giving up. You’re just going to lay there until you... until you...” I couldn’t say what had been on the tip of my tongue. I wouldn’t say it.
            “Reese, I’m not giving up. This is the only way I can be here with you in the next few months. I would rather be here,” she said. I could tell by her wide eyes and pursed lips that she was pleading with me to understand. Instead, I shouted at her.
            “I don’t want to hear this! I’m going to the grocery store.” I turned away from her and stormed out of the room. I couldn’t believe that she was giving up. She was just going to sit at home and wither away instead of fighting for her life. Didn’t she understand that I needed her? I had never been to the grocery store by myself. What if I were to get caught driving without a license? What if the people at the grocery store were suspicious of a 15-year-old buying groceries and called the police? What was I to do?
            I grabbed the car keys off the counter in the kitchen and went into the garage. I pushed the button to open the garage door, unlocked the minivan, and slid into the driver’s seat. It took me several minutes to get the seat and mirrors adjusted so I could see all around the car and reach the gas pedals, but finally I did it. I took several deep breaths, put the key into the ignition, and started the car.
            I don’t want to relive the fear I felt when I drove past a police car without a driver’s license. Or about how overwhelming the grocery store was with its five types of milk and entire aisle full of different types of bread. In the end, I had grabbed a gallon of 1% milk, a random loaf of wheat bread, and a box of Apple Jacks and nearly ran to the nearest self-checkout kiosk.
            I take a deep breath, dig my house key out of the front pouch of my backpack, and unlock the front door. I look around. The house is well lit because someone has gone through the house and opened all of the curtains, blinds, and shutters. It must have been Mom’s nurse. I set my backpack down in the hall and walk into my mom’s room. A brown-haired woman in purple scrubs and a white sweater is sitting in the recliner in the corner of the room reading a newspaper. My mom is sitting up in bed reading a book.
            The two women look up as I walk further into the room.
            “Hi Reese,” my mom says. She smiles at me. Then she turns to the nurse. “Shelley, this is my daughter Reese. Reese, this is Shelley.”
            I turn to the nurse and nod my head. “Hi,” I say.
            “It’s nice to meet you, Reese,” Shelley says.
            I don’t reply. I didn’t ever want to meet this woman.
            Shelley stands up. “Carol, I think I’ll go now that your daughter is here.”
            “That’s fine,” Mom says. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” Mom smiles at Shelley and Shelley returns the gesture.
            “Bye Reese,” Shelley says as she walks past me.
            I turn to follow her. “I’ll let you out,” I say.
            “No, it’s alright,” Shelley says. “I can do that. Why don’t you sit with your mom for a bit?”
            I just stare at Shelley as she walks up the hall and around the corner to the front door. Once I hear the front door open and close, I turn to Mom.
            “I guess I’ll sit in the recliner and do some homework,” I say.
            Mom smiles at me and watches as I cross the room to the corner where her recliner sits. As I sit, I notice that the cushions are warm from Shelley’s touch. I curl my lip slowly at the thought of her, but then I force myself to relax. Once I’m seated with my backpack at my feet, my mom speaks.
            “Reeses,” she says.”
I look up at her and our eyes meet.
            Mom continues. “We have to talk about something. I was going to mention this to you yesterday but I didn’t have the chance.”
            Mom doesn’t say that it’s because I ran out on her; that I succumbed to my fear and left the room when she was trying to talk to me. She didn’t say that I had done exactly what my dad does every time Mom brings up the subject. This thought—that I had run away from a confrontation just like my dad—makes my stomach curl. I do not want to run out when a difficult situation comes up. I do not want to be that person. I take a deep breath.
            “OK,” I say, “let’s talk.”
            “My doctor has told me that, as I get more sick, as I near the end,” she pauses. I can see the tears welling up in her eyes and it causes my eyes to do the same. Mom clears her throat.
            “He has told me that my organs will begin to shut down. It might be scary for you to see me like that, so you can go to Brandon’s for a while if you’d rather not…”

            “No. I’ll stay with you, Mom,” I say. “I won’t leave.”