Nine Years Ago
With a moan, I turned my head away from the television. A sob was already trapped in my throat even before the vomit made its way into my mouth. I wretched until I was dry heaving then rested my head on the hospital bed while Mary Beth rubbed my back soothingly with one hand and held a cool washcloth to my face with the other. Moaning, I just lay there, wishing the nausea away.
I’d had a chemo treatment that morning—my second this week—and these violent bouts of vomiting were a bonus to all that chemical fun. While other teenage girls my age were worried about blemishes, finding a date for the homecoming dance, or even if she was going to pass her calculus final, I had other things on my mind. Like staying strong just a little longer until a bone morrow donor was found.
Fortunately, a matching donor had finally been found. It had only taken a little over a year to find one, and only then because my brother and his band had made a public appeal because time was quickly running out…
The chemo I’d had today was only a taste of what I would be getting in the morning before the doctors took bone marrow from my donor and put it into me. And after that it was a wait and see game. Wait to see if the transplant would help… Or if I would die, because this was the last option.
Over the last two years I’d gone through all the stages that a person of any age would go through when the doctors informed them that they had an aggressive form of cancer. Denial, anger, grief. You name it, I’ve felt it. But in the last few months, I had finally accepted that this illness might kill me.
I was sixteen years old. My life might not have always been perfect, but I’ve always felt loved. I’ve always had what I needed, and in the last few years I’ve been given everything I’ve ever wanted. So, if I did die I was going to go knowing that my life had been a good one.
There was just one thing I desperately wanted while I could still ask for it. And tonight, before I was transferred from this hospital room that had been my home for the last six weeks into an isolated room where only the nurses and doctors would be able to enter, I was going to ask. Beg if I had to.
With that thought firmly in mind I raised my head and took the washcloth from my adopted mother. Mary Beth took me in when my father died. She and her husband could have let me go into foster care, but when they gained custody of my brother—their nephew—ten years ago, they had asked for me too. Since I’d had no other family except for Liam, it was either go with them or into the system. Mary Beth, having always wanted a daughter but unable to have more children after the birth of her only son, had spoiled me rotten from that day on.
“Here, baby. Rinse out your mouth.” Mary Beth offered me a cup of water and I took it gratefully. Swishing some water around in my mouth I spit it out in the bucket beside my bed then did the same to the mouthwash she handed over.
“When will they get here?” I whispered because my throat was aching from all the vomiting I’d done over the last few hours.
Mary Beth glanced down at her watch then over at the door. “They called from Chattanooga. So they should be here anytime now, baby.”
I bit my lip and glanced at the clock. It was nearly nine at night. If my brother and his bandmates didn’t get here soon then I wasn’t going to get to see them tonight and I knew that I wouldn’t get to see them in the morning. Which meant that I would only get to see anyone through a window for the next few weeks. No human contact. Anxiety over not getting to see my brother—and other people—made my stomach turn over and tears stung my eyes.
With most of her face covered with a mask to keep from breathing her germs on me, Mary Beth leaned forward and pressed a kiss to my temple through the paper barrier. “They will get here, Marissa. I promise.”
I couldn’t speak through the knot of tears in my throat so I nodded and kept my eyes on the clock. Liam and the band had been touring for the last two months. Tabloids have been giving him and his band, OtherWorld, grief for not being with me while I was so sick, and I knew that it was killing him not to be here with me. I wanted him here so badly that my heart couldn’t help but cry. But I also knew that OtherWorld and touring was his job and without that job my treatment wouldn’t have been what it was. There would have been no money for the team of specialists that had been taking care of me day and night. No money for the crazy expensive chemo treatments or the pain and nausea medication.
The tour had ended last night, and OtherWorld’s tour bus had been driving since the last concert ended to get them here.
“How about a movie?” Mary Beth offered as she lifted the DVD box that held my favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz. Bless Mary Beth, because she had sat and watched that movie with me a million times since I’d been diagnosed with leukemia two years ago.
I forced a smile and nodded as she placed the movie into the DVD player that Liam had had delivered the day after he found out I had been admitted into the hospital. Along with the DVD player had been a stack of my favorite movies, including The Wizard of Oz and a few other Judy Garland movies, and a huge teddy bear. The teddy bear hadn’t been from Liam, and even though I’d given up sleeping with stuffed animals years ago, I’d slept with that bear every night until my first chemo treatment and Mary Beth had to take the bear home.
The house had just fallen on the witch when my hospital room door opened with a suddenness that made me jump. Raising my head, I found four men in masks, scrubs, and booties over their shoes. I sat up and a grin broke across my face for the first time in what felt like forever. I took the four of them in, recognizing them all even though most of their faces were covered.
Axton was the first one. He was leaner than the rest, but he was taller than two of the four. His hazel eyes crinkled at the corners, but I could see the concern in their depths. That concern was mirrored in the other three men’s eyes. Behind him stood Zander, whom I recognized because his hands were inked up just as much as the rest of his body. The word OTHER was across the knuckles of his right hand while the word WORLD was across the knuckles of his left. As always, Devlin was right beside his best friend. Dev was the second tallest of the band, but even if he weren’t I would still know it was him from his dark tan, those unique aquamarine eyes, and his long nearly black hair pulled into a ponytail and stuffed under a surgical cap.
The man behind the first three pushed forward and Mary Beth stood to let him take her place on the edge of my bed. Liam’s arms wrapped around me carefully, as if he was afraid to break me. I swallowed another lump of tears and closed my eyes to keep them from spilling down my face as my brother held me close.