“Sure,” he said, blowing on the tips of his fingers protruding from his cut-off gloves. She stepped forward, wrapped his scarf more closely around him, then stepped back and laughed girlishly. Her eyes twinkled; her curly hair escaping from beneath her hat, topped with its cheerful pom-pom. Her cheeks were pink from the cold.
They were walking in the park, their steps the first to mar the newly-fallen snow. The park was abandoned; everyone else was at home, parked in front of their radiators, sipping hot chocolate and reading the Sunday comics. Not Lara and Alex. They had bundled up as their parents had ordered, but how could anyone stay inside on a day like this? A day where the glorious cold bit at your cheeks and stung your tongue and made you feel clear-headed and strong.
They were the best of friends. They hadn’t been at first, apart in elementary school, separate classes, different interests. Alex played trombone; Lara didn’t play any instrument and liked computer games. Alex was good at math; Lara was good at English. Alex was a bit of a joker, a bit cruel at times; Lara was soft-hearted to a fault. Their friendship had started off when Alex insulted her and she had gone home crying. That night, an angry Lara was surprised to see her mother enter the room with the telephone. Cuddled into her big white teddy-bear, she listened as her mother said, “It’s for you.”
“Lara,” a sulky voice stated into the phone.
“Yes?” she asked, taking in her pink room, still playing her hands along the comforting fur of her white teddybear.
“It’s Alex. I’m sorry.”
She could hear his mother’s voice in the background urging him to be more specific in his apology. She smiled through her tears. “Really,” she said coolly, making sure to pay him back as he deserved.
She could hear his tones of deep disgust. “Yeah, sorry for hurting your feelings.”
“You can say sorry,” Lara answered, “but I won’t forgive you until you mean it.”
She could tell Alex had muffled the phone by cupping his hand over the mouthpiece. She smiled as she heard him angrily tell his mother that Lara was being a brat and refusing to forgive him. She couldn’t quite hear what his mother said in return.
“Lara,” Alex said again, into the phone.
“Yes?” she asked sweetly.
“I’m sorry.” She could hear his mother coaching him. “Really. I won’t do it again.”
“You don’t mean it,” Lara answered, “but I guess it’s good enough for now.”
For a while, Lara and Alex were the fiercest competitors. Once switched into the same class, they had to outdo one another at everything. Lara studied hours for math tests just to best Alex and he, alternatively, spent more time than ever before on his spelling. Their parents were a little concerned over the rivalry. The mothers talked, then went out for coffee together to discuss their kids. After a while, they determined they could change this competition into a playdate. The first one was forced.
“I don’t want you here,” Lara said argumentatively, clutching her beanie-baby dragon. “Go home.”
“You think I don’t want to go home?” Alex answered. “You’re a girl. I don’t want to play with you.”
Lara was startled into tears and began yelling. Alex just turned his back on her and started playing with the legos.
Not an auspicious beginning.
After a while, Lara was curious to see what Alex was making. “Show me what you’re building,” she ordered, ever the boss.
“No,” Alex said, and continued.
“It’s my house and my legos,” Lara argued.
“It’s my building,” Alex said.
Lara tried to get around him and reached for the toys. Alex wouldn’t let her, shading his building from her approach. Angry, she kicked out and finally succeeded in swiping her hand through the legos. The whole building collapsed. Alex didn’t cry; he didn’t even move.
“I’m sorry,” Lara whispered.
He shrugged. “I was building a castle for your dragon,” he said.
Lara held her dragon tight and watched Alex through remorseful eyes.
They were older now, fifth-graders working on a science fair project. They had decided to build a robot. They would each contribute the materials and Alex would figure out how to put them together.
Lara found some cardboard boxes, toilet paper rolls, two liter soda bottles, paper towel rolls, an empty canister of her grandfather’s Metamucil fiber supplement and shopping bags.
Alex found an empty bottle of laundry detergent, three rolls of Reynolds aluminum foil, an empty videocassette case, an expired bottle of medicine, blue cellophane and some empty pill bottles from his grandparents’ house.
Their mothers provided them with rubber bands, tape, scissors, glue, paper clips and those plastic report covers with only two prongs instead of the usual three.
They were at Lara’s house; they’d spread newspapers over the basement floor. Alex was assembling the boxes.
“I want the two containers of Metamucil for legs. I’ll stick them inside of those two shoeboxes,” he pointed. “We’ll tape them down, maybe glue them. Then a box on top of the Metamucil legs. Another box for the head. Actually, wait, maybe we’ll use the soda bottles for legs- we’ll cut off the bottoms- and the Metamucil for the arms. That would work better.”
“I’ve got plastic gloves upstairs,” Lara volunteered. “We could blow them up like balloons and stick them onto his arms.”
“And I can use the caps of these containers for the arms,” Alex thought aloud. “We could color eyes onto them. Actually, we’d need construction paper. Do you have?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Lara said as she ran up the stairs, almost colliding with her mother.
“I’ve cut up some apples for you guys, and I’ve also got cookies and milk,” her mom said. “I’m going to put them on the table downstairs.”
“Sure, thanks Mom,” Lara said as she opened her bottom desk drawer, searching for construction paper. There were lots of scraps floating on top but she wanted to find the big pieces of paper, which meant searching through the whole mess. She finally pulled out a brand-new package, looked guiltily at the scraps and slammed the drawer shut. “I’m coming, Alex!” she sang out, and padded across the floor and down the stairs.
“Wow!” she said, because he had already figured out how to mount the soda bottles on top of the shoeboxes. “That’s great.”
“They’re not sturdy enough,” Alex answered, his brow furrowed. “Not sure what to do to make them better, though. I was thinking maybe to take Lincoln Logs or K’nex or even Tinker Toys and kind of build a platform within the pop bottles.”
“So that they’ll stand up on their own?”
“Well, what should I do while you’re doing that?”
“Why don’t you start covering the boxes in tin foil? After all, we’re going to have to do that anyway.”
They worked seriously for a while, every so often getting up to take another piece of sliced apple on a toothpick or eat another chocolate chip cookie. Lara covered boxes with tin foil, taping them and then taping on the underside so it wouldn’t show. Alex, meanwhile, puzzled over the problem of the legs. He tried Tinker Toys first, but they didn’t work. Then he tried to stuff paper towel rolls inside of the pop bottles, slitting the rolls up the side before attempting to force them in. Finally, he gave up.
“I can’t do it, Lara,” he said softly. “I don’t know how.”
“Of course you can!” she answered heatedly and came over to him. She squatted down beside him, peering intensely at the legs. “Okay, how about this,” she ventured after some thought. “Don’t use the soda bottles for the legs. Let’s use the TinkerToy containers themselves. I’ve got two sets, after all. And they would be sturdy. We could even leave them filled up with the parts.”
“Lara, you’re a genius!” Alex exclaimed. “Of course that will work. Okay, so we’d better cover them with tin foil. Pass me a roll?”
They remained absorbed in their work for the next half-hour or so, until Alex jumped up with a look of delight. “It’s going to work!” he said, and shoved the TinkerToy legs beneath the box. “It’ll work!”
“His legs are enormous, though,” Lara said, and giggled.
Alex looked at them and started laughing, too. “Yeah, you’re right; it’s gonna look pretty funny.” He smirked. “Just imagine what Ms. Myrtle’s gonna say; we’ve got an obese robot on our hands!”
“Oh,” Lara protested, still laughing, “an obese robot! What did it eat, oil or something?”
“No, stupid, that’s the Tinman.”
“Maybe it’s a cross between the Tinman and Jabba the Hut.”
“Yeah, it’s Tinmanna!”
“No, that’s too girly; it’s Jabbaman.”
“You’re the girl; you can’t say Tinmanna is too girly. That doesn’t even make sense.”
“Oh, come on Alex, don’t you think it’s girly?”
“Yeah, okay, Jabbaman is better.” He picked up some TinkerToy sticks and started making a sword. “I shall fight thee, Jabbaman, to protect Princess Leia.”
“Last I checked, my name was Lara, not Leia.”
“Well, it’s not like I’d protect you.”
“In that case, I’m not going to get you out of the carbon freeze, Hans Solo.”
“Ha, it’s not like you get me out anyhow. Wait…let me think about that a second…”
“I’m just going to leave you to go off and die, so there.”
“Hey, not like I mind; I’m all cool with Jabbaman. Doublecrosser and all that, I’ll just join his side.”
“Sure I would.”
“No, you’d just pretend to be on his side in order to trick him and free me.”
Alex shrugged, grinning wickedly. “If that’s what you want to believe, go ahead.”
“I know you,” Lara stated firmly. “You wouldn’t abandon me.”
Alex looked very serious for a second. “No, of course not, Lara. I wouldn’t abandon anyone.” Then he smiled. “Come on, let’s finish with our obese robot.”
The robot was a success. It was quite a trick to maneuver it up the stairs, but when the two of them put their minds together, they always managed. Halfway through building it in the basement, they realized they’d have to take it apart to get it up the stairs. Alex detached the robot’s tinkertoy can legs and took them upstairs. They gently cradled the rest of the robot and went up the stairs, Lara leading, looking over her shoulder because she was walking backwards, Alex following and calling up to her when to step. They made it to the car and put the beast inside.
“Come to school early tomorrow and help me set it up?”
“Deal,” said Alex, smiling.
“Okay, now we have to actually write the report.”
“No problem,” answered Alex. “You illustrate the cover page; I’ll write the report.”
Lara looked concerned. “You’re sure that’s fair?”
“Yeah, positive,” Alex answered. “Ms. Myrtle won’t mind; we both built the thing, didn’t we?”
“Hmm,” said Lara. “How about I also write a story? Like, you can write a report but maybe for some extra-credit kind of thing, I’ll write about the robot? Then we’ll both have done some of the writing. Then Ms. Myrtle for sure won’t mind.”
“Fine, that’s cool,” Alex answered and dashed downstairs again.
Lara’s mom shook her head. “He’s always running, isn’t he?” she remarked softly. “Think he’ll ever calm down?”
“Nah,” Lara said. “Don’t think I’d like it if he did, either.” She then went upstairs to get her crayons and notebook paper; she was going to write a story.
It was seventh grade and they were going on the mandatory trip to Springfield. Only two years, but they’d taken such different paths. Alex was popular. He was surrounded by people who all wanted to be just like him; he exuded the kind of easy confidence that other people envied. It was strange, because he was pretty smart, but the smarts seemed to only add to his allure.
He was the fastest runner in the grade. He had put the school’s track team on the map, even though he couldn’t actually win medals until high school. But everybody cheered for him and were pretty impressed when he made it into the local newspaper.
Lara was jealous of all the people who surrounded him. She felt like he didn’t have time for her anymore. Plus, she wasn’t any of the things that he was. She wasn’t really good at running or brilliant at math or otherwise accomplished. She was good at English, sure, but what did that matter in the scheme of things?
So she didn’t expect Alex to hang around her locker one day and say, “Lara, I’d like you to be my buddy for Springfield.”
She was surprised. The school had required them to have a mandatory buddy system for the day; they’d have to stick together and make sure that their partner was with them at all times. She actually thought it was kind of stupid. At least it was better than what they’d done when they were in nursery, where they’d all been tied along a jump rope and the teacher led them, singing and chanting, down the halls to get their graham crackers and apple juice.
“Why?” she asked, and it came out more accusatory than she had intended it to be.
He honestly seemed surprised by her tone. “Well, because you’re my best friend,” he said matter-of-factly.
“I’m your best friend?” she sneered. “What about Greg and Peter and Alicia and Dawn?”
He rolled his eyes. “Who are you kidding?” he asked, casually leaning on one foot. “Sure, I hang out with them, but what do you care? You know you’re my best-“ his eyes widened. “You don’t know!” He looked at her closely and she turned, pretending she was putting a book away in her locker. “Come on, there’s no way you thought I’d trade you in for them?”
“Leave me alone, Alex,” she said, grabbing her coat and her backpack. “I’m going to miss the bus.”
“Forget the stupid bus. This is important.” He caught at her jacket. “Lara, we’re always friends, okay? You shouldn’t think we’re not just because I hang out with some other people.”
“Okay, I understand,” Lara said nastily. “Either I’m stupid or I’m just jealous. Any more options?”
“Or I’ve been a jerk,” he said, shrugging his shoulders in that lazy way of his. “I’ve ignored you and you feel hurt.”
“Oh, so now I’m hurt!” she fired back. “Because you’re so important that you could actually hurt me.”
“Lara, that’s not what I’m trying to say,” he protested, “you’re not being rational.”
“Rational!” she shouted, trying to make up for what she lacked in reason by adding volume. “I’ll tell you what’s rational- I’m going to miss the bus.” She started running down the hall.
He caught up in no time. “I’ll let you get on the bus, if you want, but only if you promise to call me tonight. I want to talk to you.”
She shook her head noncommittally.
“Promise!” he said and it sounded like an order.
“I promise” she bit out and raced outside, catching the bus in the nick of time.
Lara cradled the phone in her hands, ignoring Alex’s repeated phone calls. Every time it buzzed she looked at it guiltily, thinking that she should answer. But she was angry and spiteful and wanted him to see what it was like to be ignored.
He probably hadn’t meant to make her feel ignored, she decided, chewing on her eraser. He probably meant well. Still, she wasn’t inclined to talk to him.
She heard the doorbell ring and felt a sinking feeling in her stomach.
“Lara!” her mother called. “Come downstairs; it’s someone for you.”
She slipped her feet inside her slippers and took a quick look at her hair in the closet-door mirror. She patted it down, smoothing it nervously, then walked down the stairs.
Alex stood just inside the door, a pile of books in his hands.
“I came over to study with Lara,” he told her mother sweetly. “We have a test in English and I need her help.”
Lara nodded her head shakily; her mother looked mildly annoyed. “Why didn’t you mention that earlier, Lara?”
“Slipped my mind,” she lied. “Forgot. It won’t take too long.”
“Okay, well then, Alex, do you want anything to eat? To drink?”
“No, I’m fine, thanks.”
He followed Lara up to her room.
As soon as she closed the door she spun around angrily. “What are you doing here?” she hissed. “What did you tell your mother?”
“Same thing I told your mom, that we’re studying for a test.”
“I don’t like lying to my parents!”
“Then why didn’t you pick up the phone?”
She didn’t meet his eyes, found a post-it note and started flicking the sticky side with her fingernail. He stopped her.
“You should have talked to me, then we could have done this the easy way. Look. I’ve got a bunch of people I hang out with. That doesn’t mean I like them all. Even if I do like them, that doesn’t mean I don’t like you. You have to be fair.”
“I don’t have to be anything,” Lara retorted, swinging around on her swivel chair, kicking her legs up and down. She turned to her desk, took out a notebook and opened it, pulled a pencil out of a compartment in her desk lamp.
“Fine, so don’t be fair,” Alex said, and his green eyes glittered. “Look. I didn’t mean to make you feel like I don’t like you. We’re best friends. At least, I think you’re my best friend.”
“Really?” Lara asked quietly.
“Yes, really. So can you accept that I’m sorry? Just come up to me in school and I’ll make sure to include you in whatever we’re doing,” he laughed, “even if it’s something stupid.”
Just come up to him in school. She laughed. “You think that’s easy?” she asked scornfully. “We live in different worlds, you and I. You’re popular and I-“
“You’re pretty and bright and people like you more than you think. Stop wallowing, Lara. Self-pity never works.” He stood up, forced his hands into his pants. “Great. See you tomorrow.”
She resisted the urge to shout at him. “Goodnight, Alex,” she said politely.
“He’s leaving so soon?” her mother asked, confused, as she saw Alex pound down the stairs, Lara standing atop them.
“Yeah, it’s not so much a test as a quiz. Don’t worry, we’re fine.”
“Okay,” Lara’s mother said doubtfully, walking Alex to the door. “Did you bring a coat?”
“No, no, I’m fine,” he grinned, and jogged outside. Lara’s mother looked through the window curtains until she saw him get into the car; content, she then went back to the kitchen to finish the book she was reading.
Alex played in the band at eighth-grade graduation; Lara was valedictorian. Alex had looked at her with wide mocking eyes and had punched her in the arm when he heard the news, “Way to go!” She had smiled, glad he was happy for her. Truth be told, she was nervous about her speech and would rather have melted into the crowd, would have been especially glad to have no distinctive talent.
She stood up there under the bright lights, unable to see anyone, holding her speech in her trembling hands. She licked her lips and coughed apologetically, then tried to speak. She couldn’t. She tried to steel herself, to say the words, but she was scared. Then she thought of Alex, sitting behind her somewhere, encouraging and supportive and willing to help her and she made herself talk.
She had written the speech herself but it had been checked by the school to be sure they approved. She wrote about her memories of eighth grade and of all the grades, doing her best to focus on all the students, the whole class, rather than the few people she treasured. She wanted to make sure she was fair, make sure she was kind. She talked about the different clubs and committees and what made their graduating class different than any other.
“It has to be the episode with the brownies,” she said, and smiled. “That sounds interesting, doesn’t it? The episode with the brownies? Here’s what happened.
“George,” and she shot an appreciative look to her side, in his direction, “was pretty sick at home; he got the flu and wasn’t able to come to school for a good two weeks. So one day there was a party in class and we all got these brownies. They were these huge big brownies, not the normal kind, not little squares sliced off some big sheet cake, but really big ones that could fit a small plate. They were covered in chocolate icing and decorated with a yellow smiley face and we were allowed to have seconds if we wanted. I don’t really remember why we had that party, but it was probably the best one we had all year.
“Anyway, so the thing was, each of us wanted our own brownie, obviously, but we also thought about George and the fact that George was sick. And we wanted George to get his brownie, too, since they weren’t ordinary brownies; they were really good brownies. So someone went up to the teacher and asked her for another brownie for George. And someone else just took a second brownie and pretended it was for himself, but was really thinking to give it to George.
“What happened was pretty strange but pretty great- each one of us ended up going to George’s house with a brownie. His mom was pretty confused; she asked us whether we’d all been sent over with so many brownies? But the fact was that everyone in our class had thought of him and how he was missing out so they had decided to either bring him a brownie or stop by to visit or just to check up on how he was doing. Because that’s the kind of class we have. A really good class with really good people who care about others.
“Now, I know that sounds pretty sappy. And I don’t mean to say that we’re angels or anything like that. Of course we’re not. Of course we get into trouble and give our parents grief and fight with our siblings or don’t do our homework. We do all of that. But I think it really says something about our class that we all separately decided to go over to George and to try to make his day a bit better. We’ve got a good group of people here.
“And now we’re going to high school. So we’re parting ways and changing directions and I’m sure each of us are a bit scared because we’re worried we’re going to lose our friends, the friends we’ve had for so long. We’re excited but we’re scared. So I’m not going to say that we’re not going to lose our friends, because how could I know? And I’m not going to say that high school’s going to be fine and happy and everything’s going to be great. But I am going to say that it’s been great to have met everyone in this class and to have been here with all of you, even though we’ve had our fights or misunderstandings. But when it comes down to it- well-“ and she turned around, “I just hope that my high school class is going to be as great as you guys were.”
She paused, took a breath.
“Thank you so much,” she said, looking out at the audience but meaning her class. “Thank you for being who you guys are. Thanks for being my friend,” (she said this as though to everyone, but she really meant Alex). “And, well, thanks for not using the Vitamin C song in the slideshow, because I think it’s been overused by now.” The audience laughed appreciatively and she concluded, smoothly transitioning and allowing the principal to speak and later, the slideshow to play.
“That was great,” she heard a whisper behind her and turned to see Marie smiling appreciatively. “That was really great. You made your speech interesting.”
“Well, you did still have to hear it at rehearsal,” Lara said apologetically.
“Yeah, but that’s okay. It was pretty good.”
Lara smiled and watched as the audience looked at a slideshow that she couldn’t see from her seat on the stage, waiting for the graduation party.
And that is how they came to be here, on winter vacation, walking together in the abandoned park and looking at the sun’s cold light upon the radiant snow. Their feet crunched snow; each of them shod in brand new boots. They walked arm in arm, hand in hand, laughing and playing and smiling up at one another and drinking in the cold air of winter. They looked at the naked trees; their grim sleek black branches gracefully extended overhead, and they mimicked them, dancing about. He pushed her down so she fell in the snow and she got right back up and threw snowballs at him. He tried to duck and dodge them but eventually he couldn’t any longer, and grabbing the hat off her head, he stuffed it with snow and pulled it back on. Shouting gleefully, she grabbed some snow and shoved it down his collar so it went down his back; he arched upwards and pulled her hood so she was forced to come closer or choke. He grabbed a fistful of snow and feathered it, letting it trickle over her eyes, the cold water momentarily blinding her and she laughed and wriggled, trying to get free of his grasp. She was firmly caught by her hood, however, and couldn’t unzip it because he was holding it, so instead, she dug her feet into the snow and kicked up, releasing a great fine spray that covered them both. He let go for an instant; she shoved and he fell backward; she sprang upward and grabbed a ball of snow, throwing it right in his eyes. He blinked and coughed and she laughed, a tinkling laugh as she ran to hide behind the slide. He followed, flailing his arms blindly and she laughed again, moving toward the monkey bars and then she stopped for a second to make sure he was okay and laughing, she went back to him and helped brush the snow from his hair.
In a moment he pushed her down and she was on the ground, but exhausted, collapsed there. “Let’s make snow angels,” she suggested, and began waving her arms and legs. “On woodchips?” he asked, “That won’t work” but did the same and then they got up and raced over to what would be the soccer field but was simply a wonderland of pure snow. They lay down, then, and looked up at the blinding light of the sun, shading their eyes with their hands, trying to focus on clouds. It was cold but they were warm and finally their laughter began to ebb away and they were quiet, thoughtful, lying exhausted in the snow.
“I’ve missed you,” she said, then colored prettily, a brilliant flush that deepened the pink of her already wind-chilled cheeks.
“You can’t miss me,” he laughed, “we go to the same school!”
“Yes, but you know what I mean,” she said, waving her hand a bit, then letting it fall back to the ground.
Yes, he did know what she meant. They weren’t in the same classes; the levels were tracked, and while she was in Telescopic for most everything, he was in Honors for some classes. Of course, he was in Telescopic for math, while she was only in Accelerated, a blow to her pride but he liked being better than her at something. Of course, she thought he was better than her at most everything; she’d always been impressed he could play an instrument and he was always able to make her laugh. Strange qualifications for a friendship, he thought, as he shook his head almost wryly and she reached for his gloved hand.
“Your fingers must be cold,” she said matter-of-factly, looking at the tips. She slipped off her mittens (he laughed whenever he saw them; in ninth grade and wearing mittens? But she’d keep them till they wore out, he knew) and reached for his hand, began to chafe it in order to warm it.
“Your hands are colder than mine!” he exclaimed, but that didn’t surprise him; Lara was always cold, even when there was no reason to be. She just smiled and he smiled back. She had snow in her hair and her hat was askew, so he reached out a hand to set it back on her head and suddenly he felt close to her and wished the day would never end.
She knew what he felt and echoed the desire. “Let’s do something else today,” she said. “Something wonderful. Something grand.”
“I know,” he said, “let’s clean ourselves up and then let’s go to the museum.”
“The museum?” she questioned, wrinkling her nose thoughtfully. “You like museums?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll make it fun,” he promised, and she knew he would.
After a forced lunch of tomato soup and maccaroni, the two of them set out again. They told their parents they’d take the train downtown to get to the museum; they both had their cellphones so their parents didn’t mind. The snow was light and not that dangerous; their parents expected the trains to run smoothly.
They stood on the platform, hopping up and down, waiting for the train to arrive.
“So what’s new?” Lara asked, then laughed at herself for asking such an inane question.
“What’s new?” Alex echoed, looking out at the tracks. “Let’s see. What’s new. Other than my having recently creamed my best friend at snowball fights, I can’t think of anything.” He winked at her. “Or wait, let’s see. Hmm, there was that thing with Mr. Turkle…”
“What thing with Mr. Turkle?” she asked, leaning forward and smiling.
“Well, you know Mr. Turkle,” Alex said, and deepened his voice. “He talks like this all the time. Plus he’s got that shiny bald head. So we’ve all been wondering where he’s from and what his life story is; you know, so I made a bet that I could get it out of him. Now, everybody’s been trying to get him off tangent this past semester, and nobody’s succeeded. He just says, in that deep voice of his, “Mr. Bennet” or “Mr. Syler” and looks really disappointed in you. Don’t know how he does it, actually. You’d think nobody would listen.
“Anyway, so I said I’d get his life history out of him. So I bet all the kids that I could do it.
“And did you?” Lara asked, her eyes shining with anticipation.
“Do you doubt it?” Alex rejoined, and pretended to give her a very sad look. “Why, you have wounded me, Lara, by doubting my infallible reputation. I feel myself melting…me-e-lting.”
“Stupid boy,” she said and swung her bag at him. He ducked. “Okay, so what happened next?”
“What happened next?” he hemmed. “Hmm, let’s see. What happened next…”
“Come on already!” she interrupted. “Hurry up!”
“All right, so what happened next. Well, what happened next was I arranged for a little-diversion, shall we say, something to occupy Mr. Turkle’s attention. You know, the usual ruckus and mess. I figured he’d respond with something from his past, and since I more than figured he had served in the army, was hoping for something along those lines.”
“And?” she questioned, curious.
“And that’s exactly what he did. He actually ended up yelling at all of us, telling us what ungrateful kids we were and citing his army days. It was great. Plus everybody had to pay up.” He chuckled.
“That’s such a long shot!” she said, smiling. “What if he hadn’t done it?”
“Let’s just say,” Alex smirked as they boarded the train, “I would have made something happen. I always do.”
They got to the museum and entered, paying their student-discounted fees and walking past the giant T. Rex. It was Member’s Day, and as both of them were members, this meant they got the tour of the parts of the museum most people never got to see.
They walked up above and saw where the researchers worked, the interns and public relations people; the scientists had a completely different section with labs and rooms full of interesting information. They walked through several of these rooms and saw researchers holding giants snakes or mutant crabs and even some protuberant white fishlike creature. Lara refused to touch that one but Alex stuck his hand deep within the jar, grinning with satisfaction. They moved onward and got to the woman skinning rats. She explained that she was going to stuff the rats’ skins. Alex looked closer at the pink bodies but Lara, disgusted, turned away.
That’s when they saw a sign proclaiming that “Blood and Guts” lay ahead and “Beware of Gore.” “Oooh, c’mon,” Alex said and Lara, not wanting to be considered scared, followed.
The stench rose as they reached the room. Lara walked in and had to push through the crowd of people to get to the front. A lion! They had a lion on the table, a dead lion, the researcher explained, from the Vinebrook Zoo. They were dissecting it; Lara could see their hands were steeped in gore. Why weren’t they wearing gloves? Apparently the dissecters needed to use their hands; gloves weren’t an option. She stepped forward and tentatively reached out to stroke the fur. Around her, camera phones flashed. “Oh, this is so my new Myspace picture!” someone cried as the dissecter held up the head of the lion, completely detached from its body. Lara turned and saw that Alex was enthralled by the sight. “That’s so cool,” he breathed, taking in the tin buckets and the bloody bones.
“We’re going to let ants eat the meat off the bones first, then we’ll soak them in a cleaning solution,” the man in charge continued. “The idea is that we’ll save these bones and then if anyone is researching a particular kind of lion, well, they can come down hear and take them out of storage.”
Lara understood the logic behind this but was still a bit disturbed by the sweating, teeming mass of people who were all straining to get a look at the mutilated beast. She turned uncomfortably to Alex. He saw her glance and smiled, “C’mon, let’s get out of here,” he said. “Let’s ride the coal mine train.”
Lara beamed. They’d ridden the coal mine train since the time they’d been children; that was one of the most famous exhibits here. You went up an elevator and went into the dark, then went into a miniature coal mine. Everyone was piled into a coal mine train that really moved, traveling through the dark past tiny red lights that lit up the blackness. Some kids were scared the first time they went. Not Lara. She had wanted to go again and again.
She took Alex’s hand and the two of them got into the elevator, accompanied by dozens of little kids chattering excitedly and holding on to their parents’ hands. Alex and Lara looked at each other and laughed. Of course, they weren’t really supposed to be riding the train, not at their age. But nobody was here to see them; nobody was here to tell. They joined hands, ducked their heads and sat on the train, walking into the blackness.
Once the bells clanged and the train chugged off, Lara spoke over the shouts of the many excited children. “Thanks, Alex,” she said, raising her voice in order to be heard. She clung to his hand.
“No, Lara,” and she could tell from the movement that he had positioned his face toward her, “thank you.”
And then she felt the lightest touch as he pressed his lips to the top of her hair and kissed her in the dark. He kissed her hair and then her cheek and finally faintly brushed her lips, so lightly that she might have imagined it. Her cheeks flamed in the dark but there was no one to see.
By tenth grade, it was common knowledge that the two of them were officially a “couple.” Some had expected it; some hadn’t known them well and didn’t particularly care. But Lara walked on air that first semester, knowing that Alex was there and would take care of her, that nothing she could do would be wrong with him to protect her.
They were still in different classes and Lara sometimes wondered whether he felt embarrassed because she was in higher ones than he was. But he laughed easily and smiled and just said that everyone had their particular gifts and his happened to be math and track. He had advanced in track, had put their school into State and was going to run in the finals, possibly make Nationals. Of course, she cheered him on, as did his teammates. He engaged in all the sports rituals, the dunking and hazing and slapping on backs and training; he created playlists on his iPod to help him warm up and stretch out and he’d constantly run, always run, simply for the fun of it.
“I feel better when I’m running,” he told her simply. “I feel more like me.”
She nestled her head against him and smiled. The thing she liked best about Alex is that he would always just be- be as he was or as he wanted to be. There were some kids in the class who were trying to imitate movies in their relationships; they showed off all the time and pretty much made out in homeroom. She didn’t like that; they were flaunting their relationships in her face. She and Alex were more private and Lara felt safer that way.
He twined his hands through her hair, smiling down at her. “You and your curls,” he said, smiling and she grinned back, then easily stood up. “Come on, let’s go,” she said, putting her hands on her hips and swinging her backpack up. “Want to do anything over the weekend?”
“Can’t,” he answered, and grimaced. “Haircut and shopping, mom’s rules.”
“Aw,” Lara said. “Well, too bad for you, then. Maybe I’ll give you a call when your day’s over.”
“I’d like that,” he said, and stood up. She laughed at his gym uniform, at the absurd shorts they had to wear. “I’m glad I just have to take P.E.,” she said. “I’d have a hard time looking good in orange and black.”
“This is where I’m supposed to say you’d look good in anything,” he answered, swinging his backpack up over his shoulder. “That’d be stupid, though, seeing as you’d just contradict me anyway. So you can consider me as having said whatever the appropriate thing might’ve been.”
“Silly,” she said, and watched him plug his earbuds into his ears, turn up the sound on his iPod. “All right, then,” and she turned and began her walk to the bustop; he had to go back to practice.
She watched him make it to Nationals, cheered on the stands alongside everyone else. She hugged people she didn’t know, threw her arms around them and danced up and down with joy. As soon as he had finished receiving congratulations from his coach and parents and everyone who had the right to him first, she ran over and threw her arms around him. She noticed that he was panting, still sweating but euphoric. Then a strange expression came over him.
“What is it?” she asked, instantly alert.
“Oh- nothing,” he said and smiled back at her, grinning. “Just a spasm. Happens sometimes.” He gulped down some water, took a half-drunk bottle of Gatorade and proceeded to empty it.
Sweaty, dirty but triumphant, she watched him, glowing with pride. He was going to take the team bus back, of course, and she’d take her car. But maybe they could celebrate later, after he was done with the necessary congratulations offered by his teammates. Later tonight, she thought.
She watched him scream and shout and dance around triumphantly, kicking up his heels and waving his arm around as though he held a flag.
“Lara!” someone called to her and she turned to see Marie, from way back in elementary school.
“Marie!” she shouted, surprised. “How are you?”
“Good thanks; how do you like your school?”
“It’s great, and yours?”
“Also great. I came because I heard Alex was running, had to see him, had a crush on him once, you know?”
“Oh,” Lara flushed, “really?” Perhaps Marie didn’t know…
“Yeah, but that’s all over” Marie shouted, potato chips falling as she tried to climb over the bleachers. “I know he’s yours now!”
Lara laughed. “It’s not like I own him or anything.”
“Right, right,” Marie laughed. She finally succeeded in reaching Lara. “Hey, so I was thinking, while he’s celebrating alongside the guys, what will you be doing?”
“Oh, I figured maybe stopping by the ice cream shop…”
“Mind if I come with you?”
“Not at all!” Lara exclaimed, delighted.
They exchanged directions and Lara gave the name of her favorite shop; they got into their cars and drove up.
Lara ordered a chocolate sundae; Marie went for a strawberry smoothie. They sat at the counter, looking up at the homey colorful signs that proudly displayed “Chocolate Swirl! Lemon Bonanza! Pina Colada Delight!” The room was painted in rainbow stripes; everything seemed loud and cheerful. Lara played with her sundae, digging deep and coming out with a piece of banana covered in chocolate and whipped cream, eating it delicately, wiping her mouth and then beginning the process again. Marie wouldn’t stop talking.
“So how have you been?” she asked and Lara noticed that she was wearing red high-heeled shoes. “I’ve been great, of course; high school’s amazing. I mean, there are all these cliques, you know, all these groups, the Jocks and the Goths and all the stereotypes but I fit right in with the artistic types, which was a bit of a surprise as I thought they’d be weirder than they are but they’re perfectly normal! Really, it’s great.” She sucked on her straw, some red liquid entering her throat. “And everyone’s in relationships, you know? I heard Greg got together with Lydia; can you believe that? Never figured the two of them for anything…I mean, he’s got a sister named Lydia! It’s just wrong to date someone who has your sister’s name, don’t you think?”
Lara smiled at Marie, pleased by her chatter. “Don’t know if it’s wrong,” she murmured, “but it’s certainly funny. He must get teased.”
“Oh, you have no idea! Teased like you wouldn’t believe. But he doesn’t mind. He really loves Lydia. Which brings me to the obvious,” here Marie leaned forward as though for a juicy piece of gossip, “Alex. How is he? How are you guys? Together at last! I always knew it was going to happen, much as a mismatch as it was, you the valedictorian and all.”
“Alex is smart!” Lara defended, unconsciously raising her voice and sneaking a guilty look at the store-owner, who smiled and raised his dishrag as though to suggest he absolved her of all guilt.
“No, no, of course he is. That’s not what I meant. You’re just a brain, you know? And he’s, well, almost a jock- on the track team and all, and so good at running- it’s a bit strange, you know? I don’t mean it in a bad way at all.” Marie’s face crumpled. “Oh, I’ve insulted you, haven’t I? I’m really sorry.”
“Not at all,” Lara said politely, though she really wanted to get up and leave. Marie sensed it and slipped a bill forward, overriding Lara’s protest.
“No, Lara, of course you want to go see him now. Go see him and well-“ Marie’s composure cracked for the merest second, “let him know I said hi!”
Sure I’ll do that, Lara thought to herself, but walked out of the shop and into her car, ready to go celebrate with Alex.
Turned out he wasn’t up to it, though. He was really tired he said apologetically and seeing how crestfallen she looked, he tried to make it up to her by promising her that they’d get together another time. At first she was upset, but then realized how selfish she was being. “No, go get your rest,” she said, a pleasant smile on her face. “Really. It’ll be all right.”
In school the next day, he still seemed pretty tired. She figured she’d better leave him alone for a bit. She backed off and he swore that he was getting plenty of rest at home, but she could see that he still seemed tired, fatigued. Every so often he’d grip his arm or his leg as though it pained him. She thought maybe he’d torn something but was too stubborn to tell anyone.
They fought, then, because she told him he was being stupid and ought to let someone know. “Nothing is wrong with me!” he shouted and she pushed him. He staggered back just a little bit and slammed into a locker. She clasped her hands over her mouth, “I’m so sorry!” He just gave her an angry look and moved on.
The next day she noticed him wincing whenever he sat down and horrified, realized that he had really bruised from that push into the locker. Surely that wasn’t normal. But she didn’t want to mention it because she felt so guilty about her part in it.
Life continued as normally as possible. She and Alex still got together, still hung out, but lately he was quieter, keeping himself more contained. She didn’t see him run as much; he walked more often. His coach would tell him to buck up and move and he tried; she could tell he was trying, but it hurt him to move too fast. Lara was scared, but she thought that he just needed rest. What could it be, after all?
It went on for some months. His parents insisted that he spend more time on his schoolwork, stay at home more often, have less time with Lara. She was fine with that if it meant he would feel better, stop walking around as though he were lethargic, tired for no reason.
She went to visit him one day and he croaked “Hello” as he opened the door. He was wrapped in blankets, held an ice pack to his head. She came inside and forced him back to bed, let him lie down and stroked his brow, changed the ice packs for him, sat by him and told him not to talk, just to concentrate on sleeping and letting his fever go down.
But he got progressively worse, despite the medicine and despite the ice packs until finally, terrified, she told his parents, who rushed him to the hospital.
She prayed that it was nothing serious. She prayed that nothing would happen that could ever hurt her or Alex. She heard that the doctors were going to subject him to a battery of tests but she hoped against hope that it was just an infection, easily curable, one that would go away quickly.
His parents told her what it was. They came to her, his mother sobbing, his father standing tall with the faintest tears in his eyes.
“He has leukemia,” his father said gruffly, trying to be gentle. “He has something they call ALL, Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. He has-“ and then his voice broke and Lara, horrified, simply stepped backwards and looked at them.
“No,” she said. “No. He doesn’t. The doctors made a mistake. You made a mistake. A-a-“ and she couldn’t get the words out and felt constrained, constricted, and turning, fled the waiting room and went outside into the air and the sunlight and swore to herself that nothing was wrong.
“It’s not leukemia. It can’t be. He’s perfectly normal. He’s perfectly fine. I would know if it were leukemia,” she told her mother, seated on the couch. She was talking into her legs, her face pressed against them so her mother wouldn’t see her tears, her voice curiously muffled. “He’s not sick, Mommy,” she said again and repeated it over and over. “He’s not!”
She thought that if she could just say it strongly enough, fiercely enough, it would stop it, make it not be true. She was fighting it, fighting for him because she knew, even though she hadn’t seen him, that he was just lying there limply, weakly, he who had once been so strong, who had made it to Nationals.
“The doctors must have made a mistake,” she repeated dully and pushed back her limp hair, using her hands to wipe the tears from her face.
Her mother looked at her and her eyes radiated compassion. She didn’t say anything. She simply listened. “He’s not sick, Mommy,” she said again. “I won’t let him be sick. God wouldn’t let him be sick. It’s not true.” She stood up and angrily paced the room. “It’s not true, God help me, it’s not true!”
It was only at night, only when everyone else had gone away, that she turned to her pillow and sobbed her heart out, because what she knew, deep within herself, was that it was true and there was nothing she could do.
She came to see him. They were going to start the chemotherapy; there was a good chance it would help him. The problem, as it had been explained to her, was that the bone marrow wasn’t producing enough normal blood cells. That’s because the cells that would become lymphocytes were instead becoming cancerous, replacing the normal blood cells. His own body was killing him.
She didn’t know what to expect. She walked through the door and he was hooked up to tubes and machines, pale, ashen, but he still knew her. “Lara,” he said, his voice a little less strong than it had been, “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”
Her voice was shaking, her eyes filled with tears. “Don’t you dare be sorry,” she whispered fiercely. “Don’t you dare. I’m the one who’s sorry. I am so sorry,” and she struggled to be calm and not to cry, because she wanted to be strong for him.
“I brought you- I brought you a candy basket-“ she gestured inanely to the package beside her, the one with the cookies that so carefully said, “Get Well, Soon!” and “Feel Better, Alex!”
“Hey, I’m not dead yet,” Alex said, and laughed. She stared at him in disbelief. “How can you be laughing?” she asked, dumbfounded.
“Look, Lara,” he said, and patted the chair beside his bed. Dumbly, she took it and his hand as well. “I’m going to fight this damn thing as hard as I can. I want to live. I want to live for my parents and for you and most of all, for myself. I want to live to show other people that I can, that I can make it. So I’m going to take the chemo and the treatment and the pills and I’m going to be okay, I swear. I’m going to make it.”
She looked at his eyes and saw the sweat on his brow just because of the effort it took to make that speech. “I hope so, Alex,” she said, “because I love you.”
He looked at her and did not disturb the grave nature of the moment. Instead, in a dignified way, he took her hand, looked at her, and said as seriously as any man who ever vowed it to the woman he wanted to make his own, “I love you, too.”
The whole class came to see him. It exhausted him, the visitors, so they were only allowed in on the good days. His parents always made sure he had a bandanna over his head, covered in some way in order to allow for a sense of dignity. He smiled and laughed and cracked jokes, occasionally interrupted by fits of coughing or a doctor entering the room to throw everyone out.
Everyone in the class felt helpless. They tried in every way they could; they sent cards and flowers and candy baskets, they offered to make meals for the family members; they wanted to make some kind of difference, to show that they felt for their own. Lara noted all this, as did Alex, and the two of them laughed at it when the could. “Not such a special kid while I was healthy,” he’d joke, “but boy, you get sick, and everybody loves you!”
“You were special when you were healthy, too” she’d say, seeing him in all his many forms, building a robot with her or playing tag or naughtily drawing on the walls of her room with her magic marker set. “You know that.”
“Aw, don’t I even get to be a little bit normal, Ms. Lara?” he asked, pretending for all the world to be a naughty schoolboy.
She’d smile through her tears and think how ridiculous it was that regardless of the situation, he was cheering her up; he was making her smile. That only added to everything that was special about him, the way he cared about other people and could think about their pain even though he was in so much of his own.
“What do you think,” she once ventured, “about God?”
“God?” answered Alex. “Well, there’s that Calvin and Hobbes comic I like. There must be a God, because somebody’s out to get me.”
Lara shook her head, laughing, then sobered. “No, really, though,” she questioned. “Are you- angry with Him?”
“Angry? I was. Of course I was. How couldn’t I be? You wouldn’t have liked me much then, Lara, I cursed him out, called him every name I could think of. I hated God for a while. But there’s something to be said for the good side of this- for the people it brings together, for the love everybody shows me- there is”
“How can you say that?” she asked, appalled. “How can you say there’s anything good about this?”
“Listen to me, Lara. I’m going to make it. And even if I don’t-“
She stilled his lips. “Don’t talk about that. Don’t think like that- I don’t- I can’t hear it.”
“Really. I’m going to be okay.” He smiled up at her and beneath the shadow on his brow, the ashen skin and the way it was hard for him to breathe, she knew it was still him. She went over to the CD player and turned on one of his favorite mixes; she wanted to give him everything she could to help him and to make him better.
She led organized efforts, meets, talked to the local newspaper. They gobbled it up, local sports hero, amazing track kid, gets sick. It was all over the place. People came up to her in the hallways and expressed their sympathy. She wore shirts that said, “I’M A FIGHTER” or the Livestrong bracelets; she held a rally and became involved in all things cancer. She did the Walk for Breast Cancer; she conceived a mania for writing in the health section of the newspaper. She did everything she could to keep him alive.
And she prayed. She prayed to God, dealing with him. I’ll do this- I’ll be this- I’ll change my ways, I’ll give you anything you want, I’ll be anything you want me to be, if only you’ll spare me this, if only you’ll let him live. If you don’t want us to be boyfriend and girlfriend, fine, I’ll give him up, that too, God, if you’ll let him live. I swear. I swear I’ll be better and kinder and more tolerant and more considerate; I will do anything if you let him- if you only let him live.
She added his name to lists of anyone who would take him, gave it to churches and synagogues and Unitarian societies, to anyone and everyone who was willing to pray. She appeared in the newspaper as his supporter, telling everyone how wonderful and special he was. She did everything she could to help him.
One day, more out of anger with herself than out of a desire to pull a stunt, she shaved off all her hair.
“Lara,” he rasped when he saw her. “Your hair, your beautiful hair- your golden curls-“
“I know,” she said fiercely. “I know. But they’ll grow back. And I want to be-“ like you, she wanted to say. With you. Somehow able to help, somehow able to do more than what I’m doing, to be more than I am.
He coughed again, this time more quietly. “I want you to be beautiful,” he said. “I- I want you to have your hair, to have your life, to not spend so much time with me-“
“I want to be with you!” she cried. “I want to do something- anything-“
“Don’t you see it’s killing you?” and his voice was angry. “I don’t need this- I don’t need you bitter, Lara; I don’t need you angry. I don’t need you shaving your head for me- I want you as you were, happy and healthy- I want you as you were before me.”
She cupped her face in her hands and tried to choke back her tears. “You’re not responding to the treatment,” she said, and her voice was the lowest of whispers.
“I know,” he said, raising one thin poor hand to cup her face. “But I want you to be happy- I don’t want this to get both of us. I’m going to do my damndest to fight it, but you have to help me- you have to promise you’re going to be okay.”
She shivered, trembled. “I- I can’t.”
“Please, Lara,” Alex said, and he looked much older than ever before. “Promise me that you’ll be okay.”
“I- I promise” she said, but she didn’t mean it. She was going to do whatever she could to save him from the death that was waiting for him, to pry him free of it and bring him back to the life that was his.
But he got worse, progressively worse. It had never been good to begin with; the cancer originated in his T-Cells rather than his B-Cells, already placing him in the higher risk category. They also caught it late; it had already begun spreading to his brain. Although they tried everything they could, after a time he did not respond to treatment. He lay on the bed, shriveled and shattered and broken, unable to speak, so tired. Anything more they would do would put him in more pain and it would not save him- so the doctors said. Their advice was palliative care, to make him feel as comfortable as possible.
Lara didn’t believe this. She believed that if she simply tried hard enough, was good enough, she could change it, change what was happening to him. She fought with his parents; they suggested that she speak to a psychologist but angry, she wouldn’t let them do anything to her. Her own parents, for her sake, tried to keep her away from Alex but she became even worse if she was apart from him for long.
She continued to deal with God, to promise him anything and everything that she could give if only he’d send a miracle, if only he’d save Alex. She’d sit by Alex for long periods of time, just holding his hand, hoping against hope that he would get better. When she went to school, she did poorly and imagined that everyone was looking at her.
She saw him awake one time; he was still but his eyes moved around the room, across the cards that dotted the walls, the cheerful plant in the corner. They met hers and stilled, with an effort he gave her his hands and gripped them as tightly as he could. He tried to speak but couldn’t; she motioned him to keep still. He tried again, working his lips as though to say something, but she simply leaned close to him and placed her arms around him, kissing his head and cheeks and lips. She could see that he understood and felt the pressure of her lips; he squeezed her hand again and she moved her cheek to him so he could faintly press his lips to her skin.
She talked to him for long periods of time, fantasies of how he would get better and the two of them would grow up and get married, having beaten the cancer, survivors, facing the world. But after a time she realized that what she was doing was cruel, and instead of pretending that everything was going to be fine, she gave way to her anger.
“F--- you, God,” she shouted one night, crawling with a hatred and anger that she couldn’t express. “Just f---- you. F---- you for doing this to him, for taking him away from us. He’s too young to die. He’s good. He never did anything to you! He did nothing, nothing!”And she collapsed in tears, angry, so angry, but unable to find any way to really express it.
And then she began to look at Alex as he was, at the life that he had, the fact that he was confined to the hospice room, there only waiting to die, and she began to change.
Because before she had only wanted to save him; she had bargained with God to let her have him and to let her keep him. She had been strong before, fighting, cutting off her hair, doing everything she could to prove that she would win. But now it was not about winning. Now it was about his pain.
And she began to pray that the torture would end, that the pain would stop- and that Alex would die.
It tore her up to do that. She loved him; she didn’t want to let him go. But she couldn’t stand to see him the way he was, so shriveled and tortured; his body hurt from the drugs and chemo and radiation, from every treatment that had failed. They drugged him up but he could do nothing; he could not engage in his beloved running or his playing; he could perhaps listen to CDs but couldn’t focus on them. And she didn’t want to keep him here like this; she couldn’t be so selfish.
So she prayed. She prayed for God to take him from her in the most painless, effective way that he could devise, to kill him softly, gently, to take him with a kiss. She sat by Alex and chafed his hand and ran her fingers over his skin, but every day she prayed that he would die and finally be at peace. Each cough hurt her; his pale skin and the cells she could imagine within, cruelly killing him, vied for her attention. She was with him whenever she could be, but she wished, somewhere within herself that he would die. She imagined a heaven for him, a place where he could be as free as he wished, where he could run forever, his body and skill restored once more.
Even if there were no heaven, he wouldn’t have to feel the pain, and that would ease her own pain.
So she prayed. Each night she fell on her knees and prayed that God would take him tonight, peacefully, kindly, that he would die in his sleep and leave this world for a better one.
It happened that way. One night, Alex passed from this world to another, from dust unto dust. Lara felt numb, but she had been hurting for so long that she didn’t know how to react.
“I want to see him,” she said and they took her to the hospice.
He looked at peace. His face was smooth, unlined; he was smiling in his sleep, as though he had seen something truly beautiful. She touched a finger to his cheek; it was cool.
She leaned forward and looked at him, tears gathering in her eyes. “I love you,” she said, and then, more quietly and more intensely, “You’re free.”
She turned from the room and went out, away from Alex and the peaceful way he died. She knew that wasn’t how she would remember him. She would remember his kindness, his wit, remember him coming over to her house with his pile of books, snow angels in the winter, the coal mine at the museum. She would remember him sprinting across the finish line, his moments of glory. She would remember his life.
And for him, because she had promised him and now knew the value of her promise, she would live on. And she would dedicate the beauty that would be her life to the good that was his.
But at the moment, she could not see, because she was blinking back tears, waiting in her parents’ car to be driven home. She looked out the window into the night and saw the blackness that awaited her, and tears slid down her cheeks and she tried to cry quietly but she could not and soon she was sobbing, heaving great gasps of air, shuddering sighs within the quiet of the car. She doubled over and retched, heaving air, and tried to fight a phantom pain, something that existed within her rather than outside her.
“Lara?” she heard her parents question as they came running back to the car. She shook her head and stepped outside and then, amazingly, she began laughing, laughing through her tears.
“He’s free,” she said, and her face was shining in the moonlight. “He’s free.”
Credits: A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks, the music video to Cancer by My Chemical Romance, Alan and Naomi by Myron Levoy, a lot of my childhood, my friend, my classmate Kit, The Merck Manual of Medical Information, the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the soundtrack to A Beautiful Mind (which I listened to while writing this), some description of teenagers inspired by Jodi Picoult's The Pact