They left, the boys grumbling the whole way up the stairs. When the living room was empty, I asked again. “So, do you want to go for a walk?”
Still looking at me carefully, he shrugged and grabbed his black hoodie from the floor. “Sure.”
I stood up and went to the closet to get my coat. He followed close behind. We said nothing else before walking out the front door. My stomach quivered nervously as I contemplated the conversation we were about to have.
I broke the silence once we were outside. “Want to go out back to the spot we talked last time?”
“Talk?” Hunter asked, his jaw tense. “I thought we were just walking?”
I cringed. “We can do both.”
He looked down at the ground and said nothing. My chest tight, I led the way nervously around the house and toward the path through the woods.
After a moment of walking on the woodchip covered path, I couldn’t take it anymore. I pressed my lips together and tried to steady myself, then said the words I’d been rehearsing in my head.
“Hunter, I really care about you, and I appreciate how you’ve been working on building a healthy relationship together with me. It means a lot.”
He thrust his hands into his the pockets of his hoodie and waited a beat to make sure I was finished. “I really care about you too,” he said.
He kicked the wet ground and sent a stone skidding along the dirt. “Who called?”
I took one more deep, anxious breath. “Ada.”
His eyes opened wide and his mouth opened then shut quickly. It was hard to tell if he was mad, shocked, or both. “Why does she have your number?”
I said nothing, but my vision blurred with unexpected tears. Not wanting him to see them, I turned my face away.
“And what the f**k is she doing trying to mess with us? What did she say, anyway? Was she a bitch?”
After wiping my eyes, I steadied myself and looked at him, my heart in my throat. “Hunter, you know what she said.”
“She’s always been jealous, ever since she and I broke up.”
“Why did you skip out on the test?” I asked. My hands were shaking.
He stopped walking. His eyes moved furtively back and forth like a caged animal as he looked at me nervously. Finally, he seemed ready to snap. He turned and whipped his leg viciously to kick a tree along the side of the forest path with his boot. Then he wound up and punched the tree’s trunk, sending a large chunk of bark flying.
“FUCK!” he growled, the sound coming from the back of his throat.
His outburst wasn’t loud, but it carried the intensity of a gunshot. Tears flooded my eyes and adrenaline surged through my veins. I backed away. “Hunter stop,” I choked out. “You’re scaring me.”
He turned to me, fists in a ball with his right hand bleeding. His eyes looked out of focus for a moment, then his expression melted and his shoulders slumped, defeated. “I’m sorry,” he said, breathing hard. “You know you don’t have to be scared of me. I’d never hurt you.”
He took a step toward me, then seemed to think better of it and stayed put, his eyes on the ground. We stood in the path, still fifty yards from where I had intended to have this conversation. Some robins sang and filled the painful silence. My heart pounded in my ears as I waited for his answer.
When he looked at me, I thought his eyes might be glistening, but I wasn’t sure. “If someone could tell you the exact day you were gonna to die, would you want to know?”
Shards of pain splintered in my chest.
“I mean from natural causes,” he added. “Like, if they could tell you when your body is gonna just stop working. Would you rather know, or find out when it happens?”
My breath caught in my throat as I thought about “natural causes.” My stomach felt like a rock.
He seemed to be waiting for my answer, but when he saw that I had none, he continued. “I can tell you what I think. I wouldn’t wanna know. Actually, I don’t wanna know, ‘cause I don’t have to pretend whether this is a real question. I’m pretty sure even though I have MS, I can still make that decision.”
The hair on the back of my neck was on end. I ran through his question again and again nervously in my mind. “Of course this is your decision,” I said unsteadily, though I looked him in the eye, “I just wish we could have talked about it.”
“What is there to talk about?”
“I mean, you haven’t even taken the test yet. Maybe it won’t be as bad as you think.”
He scoffed. “What? Like they’ll scan me and then suddenly I’ll be magically cured? I know better than that.”
“No, but you can’t just imagine the worst case scenario either. You have to stay positive.”
A sick smile crept over his lips, like he had his own personal joke about what I’d said. “Okay. Hey, I’m positive!” The smile left, and the look that replaced it was painfully earnest.
“Why are you mocking me?” I asked, feeling slightly hurt. “Positivity is really important for dealing with this kind of thing.”
“I’m sorry. I just don’t see the point of getting the test done if there’s only going to be bad news.”
“There must be a reason the doctors wanted you to do it. Is it possible that they can treat you better if they knew what was going on?”
He paused for a second, and then looked down to the ground, kicking a rock out of his way. “I—I don’t know. Maybe.”
“If they can, then I think you should give them a chance to help you.”
He took a couple deep breaths. It looked like he was trying hard to hold himself together.
Tears flowed freely down my cheeks. Watching him struggle with this broke my heart. “You know I’m committed to us whatever you decide. I’m just hoping you’ll let me help when you have to face this stuff.”
“And if—if things get bad? Will you still be there?"
“Of course. Of course I’ll still be there. I—” I swallowed, my mouth thick. “I’m terrified and I’m still trying to adjust to it, but I’ll be there for you.”
He shook his head and ran his hands through his hair. “Even if it gets really bad? Even if you have to deal with another early death?”
His words stabbed me to the core. He had always been there for me, I could hardly even think about what I would do without him by my side without sobbing, but I looked away for a moment and tried to keep it together.