February 21st, before
Another day, another visit with my sister, another round of the silent treatment. She’s barely looked up from her phone since she saw me walk in the door of her hospital room.
Every round of treatments, she looks less like the vivacious little sister I grew up playing dolls with and more like a hollowed-out shell of her old self. She’s pale and painfully thin, and she sleeps so much I find myself staring at her wondering if this’ll be the time she doesn’t wake up. But when she’s alert and I’m around, she uses her limited energy to ignore me. I don’t know which is worse.
“I’ll leave you alone,” I finally say, pushing out of the lumpy chair by her bed.
“Wait, Brin.” She drops her phone onto her sheets. “Don’t go.”
Swallowing, I turn. She’s five feet away, but I feel like there are oceans between us. And maybe there are. We’re living completely different lives. Or—I’m living, and she’s surviving.
“Tell me something,” she says, tilting her head to the side. She doesn’t have her wig on today, just a pink bandana, tied in the back. She calls it “cancer chic” and hates the look as much as she hates the hospital gown.
“Like what?” I ask, but I sit back down. She doesn’t believe me when I say it, but I want to spend time with Brittany. I miss her laugh and her smiles. I miss her friendship.
“Anything. Tell me about the last time Dad was a jerk, or what the gossip is at school, or who Stella’s making out with.” She gives me a weak smile. “Anything. Just talk to me.”
I bite my lip and study her. “I’m still seeing that guy I told you about.”
She smiles, actually smiles at me, which she hasn’t done in way too long. “Are you ever going to reveal the identity of this mystery man?”
“Marston Rowe.” I’m nearly giddy at just the sound of his name from my lips. He’s my favorite secret.
Brittany gasps. “The ex-con?”
“Oh my God, that was a rumor. He got in a little trouble and was put on probation, but he’s never been to jail.”
She shrugs. “Still. Bet he’s more interesting than Roman.”
I bite back a laugh, but my smile falls away when I admit, “I’m in love with him.”
“Aww! Brinley! Oh my God!” She’s all smiles. “I told you those machines work!”
“What machine—are you seriously going to use my relationship with Marston as a way to justify your obsession with those fortune-teller machines?”
“Remember the fortune you got this summer? It said, and I quote, This is the year you find great love—right when you need it most.”
“The fortunes are all generic. It’s a total money grab.”
“So you wouldn’t call this great love?”
I draw in a sharp breath. Because I would, but I never realized love could be so scary. “If Mom and Dad knew . . .”
She grabs my hand and holds it so tight it hurts. “Don’t let them rule you. You see what happens when they get to make the choices?” She waves a hand, indicating her chemo-ravaged body. “This.”
I shake my head. “Britt, they’re trying to save you.” My eyes brim with tears because I know where this conversation is going, where she’s taken it before, and it hurts to even hear her ask.
“They’ve been pumping me full of poison for years. I just want to be done, Brinley.” She shakes her head slowly. Her big eyes look almost cartoonish on her gaunt face. “And they won’t let me go.”
“Tell the doctors again. Maybe they’ll listen if you ask to stop the chemo. Maybe if—”
“They won’t. I need to do it myself, and I need your help.”
I crawl into the bed beside her, tears rolling down my face. “I don’t want to lose you. You’re the only family I have that sees me.”
“Don’t look for that from Mom and Dad. Go to Stella. Go to Marston.” She strokes my hair. My little sister, sounding so wise. My dying sister, comforting me. “We make our own family.”
* * *
“I don’t want to move,” Brinley says, her head on my chest, her legs tangled with mine. “Can we stay here forever?”
I look at the clock. It’s nearly four in the afternoon, and she and I have had a rare full weekend afternoon alone together. “Not forever, but you aren’t expected home for another few hours.”
Aunt Lori is at the Knoxes’ all day, and I managed to weasel out of catering duties. Brinley told her parents she’d be at the library studying for her chemistry final. I hate that she has to lie so much to be with me, but we both know they wouldn’t bend on this. Asking for permission would only lead to them keeping a closer eye on her, and her parents—her father, particularly—are too controlling as it is.