“Did Amy accompany you to the doctor’s office?” George asks his daughter the second she walks in that evening.
Alex turns her head the other way and softly hums. Rick Spencer and her father decided it’d be preferable for her to see a doctor. There’s been a persistent infection under her arm for a while now – Alex is sure it’s from shaving – and the overly energetic girl has been feeling tired for ages. She wakes up in a cold sweat from time to time and hasn’t eaten in days. Uncle Aaron is worried too, but he’s just a pediatrician. His suggestion was for her to see a colleague of his. A ‘big people doctor’, as Eli likes to tease him.
Alex, on the other hand, insists it’s just stress-related. School, modeling, growing up – it takes a lot of her. She’s been doing this for almost three years now. Of course she’s tired. Either she’s working, flying to three different cities in one week or catching up on her school work or she’s skipping every night that’s left by having extremely hot sex with Amy. Seriously, even after three years, they keep going at it like bunnies. And not once has she complained. Above all, Alex goes to extreme measures to keep all of it hidden for her girlfriend. Because who would want a weak girl anyway?
“I haven’t told her,” Alex shrugs. “She’s got a big paper due in order to make it into that amazing school. She’d only worry about me for nothing.”
But her father immediately notices that something’s wrong. Normally, Alex would ramble about some weird doctor and its unconventional examining methods. Or she’d describe in a detailed way how fans would ask her for autographs just minutes before talking off her clothes in the nearby room. Now she just remains quiet. He knows her well; he raised this perfect angel. She sits down on the big couch in the living room and starts tapping her fingers on top of the armrest. This stupid habit of her has always annoyed George.
“You didn’t go, did you?” he growls.
Alex, feeling caught, heaves an annoyed sigh and immediately explodes.
“I’m fine, okay? I didn’t go to that stupid doctor’s appointment because I am so far behind with school work, so I went to see Jules to help me explain math. You don’t need math in front of the camera, but guess what: you need it to graduate.”
Her father feels completely unimpressed. It’s been a while since he lashed out at her, but this concerns her health and she just ignores the facts that should seriously worry her.
“Alex. Are you kidding me? You can barely keep your eyes open anymore, lately. You don’t eat, you’re losing weight and the color of your skin is just plain grey.”
“Don’t go there, Dad. I’m fine,” his daughter insists, getting fed up with the constant comments lately. “I am tired, yes. But it’ll pass. I’m going to get me some vitamins and once school’s out and I can focus on modeling full-time, you’ll see that it’s just the amount of pressure that’s doing this to me. I am young. What could possibly be wrong with me?”
While she says it, deep breaths need to keep her focussed. It hurts the man to see his little girl like this. It’s not like he hasn’t tried to rationalize what’s going on. Obviously, she’s lost weight. Not that she had a few pounds to miss anyway. And her skin does look grey-ish, unhealthy even. Rick Spencer noticed the same thing last time he saw her and both men discussed it, out of genuine concern. That’s why they insist she goes to see a professional. But Alex won’t listen. All she worries about is how she’ll combine her next exams with the simultaneous photoshoots.
“Please, daddy, drop it. If it doesn’t get any better by the end of this week, I’ll go see the guy, I promise. But I need to read this book tonight, before I fall asleep from exhaustion and I can’t find the energy to fight with you. Please?”
She is indeed, holding a book in her hands by the time she gets up from the couch. George knows that the personality of his wife got a non-negotiable upgrade when it went from the first generation to the next. There’s no way in hell he’s going to win this fight without dragging Alex with her hair into that office. So he’ll give her another week until that happens.
The door bell rings. Nobody even wonders who it is: it’s Amy. Always Amy. Seriously, someone should just give her a key. The girl enters the house and goes straight for her girlfriend, kissing her sweetly on the lips. Alex’s eyes remain closed for a while, like she’s processing the glow of warmth passing through her body. They are so nauseatingly sweet around each other, it still makes George roll his eyes every night.
“Time for dinner!” granddad announces.
His grey hair is combed back nicely and he’s wearing a plaid shirt today. Amy informs him she likes the look, which makes the old fart blush. The rest of the family, Eli, David and uncle Aaron join in as well, and the group sits down at the massive dinner table. Truth is, Amy secretly likes this big family meetings. She loves the energy in this house, though, right now there’s something wrong with the interaction between some members of the pack.
“Are you okay?” she whispers to Alex, carefully trying to figure out where all the tension is coming from.
“Your girlfriend missed a doctor’s appointment today. She doesn’t seem to care,” uncle Aaron explains before the young girl has a chance to talk.
He’s been worrying about his niece too. But that’s just how the men in this house are. Every time Alex is on her periods, they’re about to drive to the Emergency Room. It drives the only female part of this family insane. She once cut her knee during a fall. All five of them drove her to the hospital that night.
“Oh, baby,” Amy pouts compassionately while rubbing Alex’s upper arm. “Why didn’t you ask me to take you?”
“Because I’m fine,” a slightly irritated Alex assures her with a soft smile. “Now eat your veggies.”
Amy mocks her words and taps her invisible hat: “Yes, mom.”
Father and daughter went to see the doctor four days later. A worn out and defeated Alex magically didn’t object anymore. She came up to him Friday night when Amy wasn’t around. She was out filming some wedding. Her eyes were swollen, her skin felt dry and her body was weak. Her voice trembled the begging word ‘Dad’ and once she was ready to let him take her to a professional, he called in some favors through Eli and took her to the hospital. The minute she admitted to feeling sick, her entire perseverance caught up with her. The young woman, eighteen years old, felt close to fainting once all the anger and frustration found a way to exit her body.
George explained the changes in his daughter to the man in the white vest. The doctor asked her questions and she answered them in an honest way. He drew some of her blood and checked the infection under her arm. Then he tested her reflexes and her general response to superficial examination. Hoping he’d say some reassuring words, she kept staring at him while he kept a strict face. This was just an unnatural form of exhaustion, right? But the doctor disagreed. His experience had taught him enough over the years to recognize a sick person when she walked into the room. Even after explaining her tight schedule, he remained certain that something must be wrong. Sadly, even the rationalizing didn’t even work on Alex anymore. She had finally reached her breaking point.
“Honey, why did you miss the first appointment?” George asks, less pressuring than before, while they sit in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.
It’s been a day since they were here. Alex got some rest and somehow, that made her feel better instantly. Amy slept at her own place and Alex refrained from telling her girlfriend what was going on over the phone. Besides, the blonde had been filming the wedding all night long. She was probably still asleep right now.
After going through the first tests and exams, Alex is now dropping her guard. She’s been too afraid to admit her anxiety.
“Because something inside of me feels off,” she admits with a scared, little heart. “I know myself inside out – this body is what pays the bills. It’s work. I have to know it, understand it, if I want to succeed in my career. So I know – I am one hundred percent certain – that there’s something wrong with me. And if I went to see the doctor, he’d find out. And it’d be real. And I don’t want it to be real.”
George detects sincere fear behind her eyes and shakes his head to calm her down: “It’s going to be fine. I promise.”
But all this fighting, all these emotions, they aren’t Alex’s kind of thing. Saying it out loud suddenly backfires enormously and, right now, her nerves are tingling out of proportions.
“This isn’t the fucking swing, okay?” she snaps defensively. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, dad.”
The lashing surprises her father. He doesn’t move a muscle, while trying to figure out what to say, as Alex’s name suddenly reverberates through the room. A nice receptionist asks her to walk into the doctor’s office. The test results are in. Positive thinking brings Alex to the point where the doctor will stand up in a few minutes and prescribe her some vitamins. She can’t bring herself to think about anything else – anything less positive. There’s just no time to be sick. Her schedule won’t allow it.
The nice man, doctor Brewer, asks her to sit down to discuss the results. She does as she’s told. Her nervousness translates in annoyingly tapping the sides of her chair. George quickly orders her to stop. While readjusting the glasses on his nose, the tall man in front of the extraordinary pair flips through some papers. His posture is strict and reserved. In all honesty, nearly every doctor on the planet acts that way.
“Alex, my famous supermodel patient,” he starts of with a bragging, gentle smile.
Alex appreciates the cute compliment and smirks subtly. It must be rare for a doctor to see one of his patients in her underwear before she actually appears in his office. But his softened up attitude quickly disappears.
“I’m afraid I have some doubts about your blood values. See, I would really like to see you again this week. Preferably tomorrow, actually.”
George immediately picks up on the troubling side of things: “What is wrong, doctor?”
Unlike her father, Alex remains sitting numb in the uncomfortable chair. Her positive mentality didn’t help, so it seems. Still, it comes as no surprise that the results are less than admirable. Like she said, she knows her body.
“I’m not sure what we’re dealing with, but as we all can see, Alex here isn’t feeling very well. There are some anomalies in her blood – things that seem off, and sadly enough, not just slightly. We must examine it further, to be sure. I don’t mean to trouble you, certainly not, but I assume we all want to know what’s going on with you, don’t we, dear?”
By the end of his explanation, the doctor has switched from father to daughter. Alex silently nods, staring at her own fingers. She can’t have this right now. It just can’t be happening to her. Nothing bad ever happens to her.
“What kind of examinations are we talking about?” George curiously asks.
The man is worried sick. Alex has never been the girl that got sick. She played outside, in the middle of the pouring rain for hours, when she was little and didn’t even sneeze once after walking in. The girl has always been incredibly healthy.
“Well, I would like to schedule a biopsy of that little lump under your arm,” he starts.
But Alex frowns, completely unaware of the seriousness about all of this: “It’s just an ingrown hair. I have them all the time.”
The doctor bites his lower lip and shakes his head to express his doubts: “It seems like a lot more than that, Alex. Anyway, we’ll take some X-rays while we’re at it. Maybe a CT or an MRI. Just to be sure. You do have health insurance, right?”
Alex nods, but consequently shrugs: “My uncle Eli is very determined on getting us proper healthcare. But even then, I’ve earned quite enough to cover a few tests.”
All these tests sound scary, even to a normally unconcerned Alex. The doctor goes back to explaining the test results and the translation of the terminology into simple English words. The girl doesn’t listen to most of it, really. Her thoughts are with Amy, probably asleep right now. In her mind, the perfection of the blonde’s face appears, like a bulletproof memory. Even with all that’s happening, that girl is the first thing on her mind. How is she going to tell this to her? How can she explain that even a doctor is concerned about her health? Amy has expressed her worry about Alex’s deteriorating well-being a few times in the last couple of weeks, just like the rest of the family. If anyone would notice a difference, there’s no doubt Amy was first. But Alex brushed it off as a cold, or stress, even a vitamin shortage. And Amy believed her. After that, Alex tried harder to keep it hidden. It worked.
The girls are inseparable, always have been. Despite the troubled double bookings and efforts to keep school and work combined, the blonde has persistently tried to attend as many events as possible, just to keep her girlfriend company during the lonely hours – or to help her study. So yes, Alex has been hiding quite some symptoms and personal feelings concerning the constant tiredness or her sudden, unintended loss of weight. When she only ate half a sandwich, she quickly hid the other part in the garbage bin, under some other trash. And the little lump that bothers dr. Brewer honestly felt innocent. All the girls have them.
But, just like every person on the planet, even a model can get insecure. So when the Latina put all the symptoms in one equation, her concern took the upper hand of her. And it’s because she loves Amy so dearly, she loves the sight of her sleeping face in the darkness and the way she smells when they share a shower, that she’s determined to find out what’s wrong with her.
Suddenly, Alex’s phone starts beeping. It’s Rick Spencer, with the details of their next job. She reads the time, the place, the hour. New York. Again. Then she sees the money she’ll earn by posing in front of the camera. Her heart skips a beat. Normally, she’d turn around and enthusiastically yank her father’s sleeve to fill him in on the details. This time, she doesn’t. The two men are still talking with each other, about the process of further examination, to find out what’s wrong with Alex.
But she can’t seem to listen. Everything around her happens in another dimension, like she’s not completely part of it. There are voices and medical terms floating through the air, yet she doesn’t understand any of it. She does pick up on the data, though. First test in two days, another one that same afternoon. MRI on Thursday and come back in on Friday.
“I can’t come in on Friday,” she numbly objects, first time she’s saying anything in over ten minutes. “I have to fly to New York. There’s a big shoot.”
Her calm hand shows them the message on her phone. But both the doctor and George look at her in a worrying way. That’s when Dr. Brewer decides to share his less subtle opinion.
“Alex, your blood levels are off the chart. Despite numerous things, you have a high white blood cell count, which is very alarming. In some cases, especially with your symptoms, these things indicate cancer. Understand well that I’m going to set you up with a hematologist. You need to be here on Friday, you understand? You need a biopsy and scans.”
The word came out. That one word that changes an entire life. Cancer. Alex’s throat compresses and her breathing chokes. The second the C word reverberated, her fingers started trembling and George has noticed. The poor man’s overwhelmed with the premature diagnose, but notices just how serious the well-respected man seated in front of him is. That’s when he understands: Alex needs to be here on Friday.
A dazzled George sets the time and date. Rescheduling his classes can’t take too much of an effort, he’s sure. But Alex’s mind starts to flip out, though. Everything except the important things flash in front of her eyes. After a couple of seconds, she gets up to grab her back and gesture at her father to leave.
“There’s a big test tomorrow. I need to go home now and study,” she tells them.
The men both understand that she’s shocked. Too shocked to think straight. George gets up on his feet and while his bald head reflects the bright lights in the room, he takes her by the hand.
“All right, kiddo. We’ll go home. You go study for that test and in two days, we’ll come back. Okay?”
She nods as if it’s a simple schedule thing. Like her regular pedicure, moved up by a day. She silently says her goodbyes to the doctor and walks out of the room with the attitude a model’s expected to maintain. George shakes dr. Brewer’s hand, apologizes for the weirdness taking place and follows his daughter to the car.
By the time they arrive home, it’s raining. Alex has stared out of the window of the car for minutes, not saying a word. Her father never tried to change that situation.
“Is there really a test tomorrow?”
Her dreamy eyes point to him and she softly nods. A Science test.
“Amy’s been studying for it since last Monday,” she explains.
George knows what that means: Alex, on the other hand, hasn’t even touched the book. It would be a surprise if she even found the book tonight.
“Can we not mention this when she gets here? I don’t want to upset her. I don’t really want to upset anyone,” she tells her father.
The man agrees, keeping a few concerns about the plan to himself. Alex should be the one coming out with this news, just like she came out about her sexuality when she felt ready for it.
There’s only one thing Amy should be focussed on right now, and that’s school. Any day now, the acceptance letters from the universities around the country should start coming in. Amy applied to a lot of them, just to assure herself there’ll be options. Options she gets to discuss with her girlfriend. Her amazing grades will get her in anywhere, no doubt. And so it’s the chance that something in her perfect score results will change after hearing the news, the potential small chance of having cancer, that withholds Alex from telling her the truth right now.
The science test took place. So did the scans, the biopsy and the further blood analyze. Apart form all of the medical appointments, Alex did a catwalk and had two photoshoots. On Thursday, right after walking out of a painful visit with the hematologist, George dropped her off at Spencer & Riddick’s, where Rick organized a meeting to discuss further projects and gigs. He knew what was going on, and much to Alex’s pleasure, he ignored it just as much. No one had to know, not until it was diagnosed. Alex remained completely focussed and calm during all of it. She went in, she got through it and she walked out – no matter what meeting or appointment it was. But most of all, she kept it all from Amy. The blonde’s first letter of acceptance came in the mail just days ago. She was ecstatic. And Alex couldn’t bring herself to break the lovely girl’s heart. Their lives, ever since they found themselves in love with each other, had been going absolutely perfect. They were still as crazy about one another, still as much in love, still as grateful to have found this kind of love. Graduation was coming and so were their dreams and goals. Nothing, not even in their wildest dreams, could’ve come in the way of it.
David was furious when she asked him not to say anything to her girlfriend. How was he supposed to lie to one of his best friends? He did it anyway, it was up to Alex to come clean about the hard things that were potentially waiting for her in a near future. But in the meantime, he acted irritated and touchy around his cousin. Like the big secret he had to keep was too much to ask for. They all worried about the diagnose she would receive shortly and since Amy was always around, no one had the chance to express their feelings properly. The joyful atmosphere in the house quickly turned cold and agitated. The smart blonde picked up on it, but every time she asked about it, someone had an answer ready for her.
Seven days after the initial meeting, father and daughter returned to the bright white office of doctor Brewer. Accompanying the man was doctor Henry Cullers, the hematologist they briefly met after being requested to conduct a second opinion. It was the same man that told them the bad news. Hodgkin disease. That’s what was wrong about her. Lymphoma. Blood cancer. The reason behind all the tiredness, the waking up in cold sweat, the little lump, why she didn’t eat as much anymore and lost so much weight. George held his little girl’s hand while the doctors explained everything to them. But no matter how many words they used, Alex didn’t understand. She didn’t understand why all of it was happening … to her. She was only eighteen years old. She was supposed to move on to college after high school, or pursue her modeling career. Chemotherapy wasn’t one of the scenarios. Losing all of her hair wasn’t one either. The girl didn’t talk at all, during the appointment. It was George who asked the important questions. Plan of treatment, options, the best doctor in the country to take care of her – things like that. Just like before, Alex remained in her chair, trying to process the shock. It was real now. So very real and, yet, it felt completely unrelated to her.
“Doctor Cullers gave me some names of the top specialists for this disease,” George explains on their way home.
He realizes that his daughter didn’t exactly listen to the conversation that had taken place just minutes ago. She had her mind on other things.
“There are a few in America. But he said the foremost expert lives in Europe. The best one in Belgium. You know your mom and I met in Belgium, right?”
The second he said it, his mind brought back memories of this wife. The beautiful Latina woman that was raised in that little country in Europe. Her parents moved there from Columbia to ensure a brighter future. When she met George, on one of his academically driven journeys around the world, her live changed. They fell in love, they married and bought a house in America. And after giving birth to Alex, complications led to her early death.
George’s wife is dead. And now his daughter is on the verge of dying too. Shaking hands hold the steering wheel. His little girl notices, but doesn’t react on it. Amy is coming over in an hour. She’s determined to tell her the truth. Now that it’s written on paper, she can’t run around in circles anymore.
The first person they run into in the house is David. When she tells him the diagnose, his eyes widen in fear. A few moments pass, where the rest of the family gathers around to learn the truth as well, and the tension that has been there for days vaporizes immediately. Eli starts crying and runs upstairs to hide in his room, while granddad sits down to wrap himself in silence for twenty minutes straight. But David, much like his father, has a more irrational reaction to all of it. He starts yelling, about how none of it is fair, grabs his jacket and leaves the house. A still very calm Alex lets him. She looks up to her father and uncle, who are discussing the options the doctors just explained, and counts down the minutes for Amy to arrive.
“How are you feeling about all of this, kiddo?” uncle Aaron ultimately asks.
Alex shrugs and stares at a vase in the distance: “I am ready to jump out of a window. But then again, we’re on the ground floor. I’d catch a nasty bruise, at most.”
Her way of saying it all doesn’t matter now. Whether she’s heartbroken or mad, calm or hysterical, it won’t change a thing. Fact is that she’ll have to start fighting very soon. Better to keep your head straight while it happens.
Alex decides to go and find Eli in his room. The boy is startled, completely in shock after hearing the diagnose. When she opens his bedroom door, she finds him crying. Funny, she hasn’t cried yet. Her fingers offer him some tissues he hesitantly accepts.
“It’s not contagious,” she jokes, but as to be expected, Eli’s not too thrilled to laugh over the comment.
Then she sits down next to her cousin and puts her hand on his upper leg. A small talk reassures him how fine it’ll all be in the end. It’s going to be hard, but great endings require though fights. She even uses gaming metaphors to calm her younger peer down. When he starts asking about Amy, she shuts up, though. This part hasn’t been orchestrated perfectly in her mind yet. Eli notices how her eyes soften up when her name pops up and suddenly sits up straight, facing Alex.
“How do you know someone loves you? No, seriously, like you and Amy, how do you know she loves you?”
The boy has never been in love before. Sometimes he wonders if that is normal. Alex starts smiling dreamily and shrugs, not sure how to explain that amazing feeling creeping up on her every time she sees that gorgeous best friend of hers.
“I know because she stares at me creepily when I fall asleep. And when I wake up, she’s got her head snuggled up against my collarbone and my arm feels numb from her entire body weight. She studies hard because I always gloat with pride whenever she gets an A. After school, when there’s this two hours break between us, I know she tries really, really hard – like, it takes all of her – but exactly five minutes after leaving that parking lot and after she has kissing me with such intensity, I get a text about how much she’s missing me already. When we go to the restaurant, she holds the door open for me and she helps me get on my coat when we leave. She’s not afraid to tell me when I’ve got spinach stuck between my teeth. In fact, she does it so nobody will make fun of me. And when I am uncertain about something and I stare at it too long, she gets it, puts her hand on top of mine and calms me down, so I can make the right decision.”
Eli softly smiles, while rubbing the little bits of grey-ish hair that color his black hair back. Mouse. The little grey mouse. But Alex is still stuck in her memories, so it seems.
“I know she loves me, because the only time I ever feel magical, is when she’s around me,” she eventually concludes.
“Love is the whole and more than all,” Eli suddenly whispers, while closing his brown eyes.
Impressed by the words, Alex starts smiling.
“Are you quoting E.E. Cummings to me?”
“I may be a simple gamer, but I know my books,” a proud young man explains.
The doorbell rings. They can hear it reverberating from the ground level. Amy must be early. Suddenly, Alex starts feeling anxious. Not about her disease, but about confronting the love of her life, her best friend.
“Don’t tell her anything before I have, okay?” she asks her cousin, before getting up in a hurry.
He promises. By the time she gets downstairs, Amy’s in the living room, talking to her father. Uncle Aaron is preparing dinner with granddad. Normally, a culinary-driven David was going to cook. But he took off and didn’t return.
Alex welcomes her girlfriend with a loving kiss and her heart skips a beat while remembering the way her lips taste. This makes it all better.
“Babe, I have to tell you something,” Alex immediately confesses, afraid that waiting too long might scare her too much.
But the seemingly ecstatic Amy starts jumping up and down with joy. She’s holding a letter in her hands and her entire body is shaking with excitement.
“Me first. Please, please, please. I want to tell you something first,” Amy begs her.
George seems slightly amused, clearly hiding his true feelings for as long as needed.
“I got invited!” the blonde suddenly shrieks, completely freaking out.
A confused Alex stares at her and frowns. To what?
“Stanford. I am shortlisted. I’m being invited to do an interview. At Stanford!”
Alex remains perplexed. It’s amazing news. A top school, George’s old school, one of the best in the country. When she looks over to her father, he forces himself to act exceptionally glad about it. They hug for a while and clearly, Amy can’t keep herself from jumping up and down with joy. Of course he’s proud of his daughter-in-law. It should be celebrated. But other things are playing right now. That’s why he makes eye contact with his daughter the second Amy flees to the kitchen to announce the great news to uncle Aaron and granddad. Alex’s eyes are numb and filled with doubt. She shakes her head to express her confusion. This cancer thing can’t ruin her amazing night, she concludes. It’ll have to wait. Just one more day. Just another twenty four hours.
“Hi,” a dreamy Alex whispers when she crosses Amy at her bathroom.
The cheerful Amy just can’t seem to stop smiling tonight. For hours, she has been talking about the amazing program that Stanford has to offer, about the pros of studying there, how it really puts you once step closer to the famous directors and editors in the movie world. Her eyes have been sparkling every second of every minute. It shut Alex up completely. And the rest of the family.
They all try to keep up a strong act. It works, for now.
“What? What is it?” the blonde suddenly interrupts the shameless staring of her lover.
Alex shakes off the nagging feeling inside of her heart and shrugs playfully: “Nothing … Just, nice, seeing you coming out of that room with clothes on for once. Adds the mystery.”
Her girlfriend wraps her arms around Alex’s waist and kisses the softness of her lips. Then Alex excuses herself for a second and walks into the bathroom herself. Once inside, hiding behind a locked door, she can’t refrain herself for hyperventilating any longer. Her breathing quickens erratically and only small gasps of air seem to fill her lungs. It takes her more than ten minutes to calm down again. All the possible scenarios of the upcoming events overwhelm her so much. Amy’s bright future prospects. Her own dramatic chemo treatment somewhere soon. They don’t match. No matter how good she tries to puzzle the pieces, they simply don’t match. She could die. Despite all the efforts and the medical possibilities, there’s a chance she won’t survive. And that scares her to the bone. So much that it takes her breath away. She isn’t ready. She’s too young.
Amy has put her hand against the other side of the bathroom door while calling her name.
“Are you okay? You’ve been in there for a while. If you’re gonna stay in there any longer, I’m going to start charging you rent,” she jokes.
Joy blinds her for potential weirdness. Her voice sounds innocent and bright. This girl is so pure of heart, it upsets the famous model even more.
Alex forces herself to laugh after heaving a big sigh: “You can’t. This is my house.”
The household changes in the blink of an eye. Everything revolves around Alex’s sickness from the moment things have returned to normal. As normal as it can get, that is. All they ever really talk about is treatment and chemo and doctors. The older part of the family is very keen on the new facility in Belgium where the expert concerning her cancer is located. But it seems really far away to Alex. Too far even. And so other things start to happen. More open conversations about feelings, boxing lessons to vent frustration, talks about the future. But when George decides to alter their nutritional habits, the three youngsters loudly object. He wants better food for his little girl and in a drastic decision, he throws out all the potato chips and candy.
Alex stands by and watches it happen, with her arms crossed. Clearly, she’s feeling very disappointed about it.
“I could’ve eaten that. It was on my bucket list, really,” she scoffs while staring at the garbage bin full of deliciousness.
But George frowns and objects: “That’s not funny.”
His daughter nods and has another melancholic look at her favorites: “I know, it’s tragic.”
“Alex!” George protests, but she can’t be bothered with his anger.
She has been thinking about things lately. Ever since Amy announced her big news, all Alex’s been thinking of was how her girlfriend would be allowed to follow her dreams without being affected by the seriousness of the cancer.
“Can you get her in?” she suddenly asks her father. “Sanford? Can you get her into the program?”
George stops going through the cabinets and turns around to face his daughter.
“It’s already done,” he tells her. “I talked to Samuel McLear yesterday. I showed them her work a couple of weeks ago. They really liked it. That, plus my recommendation, did the work.”
Alex nods silently and lowers her head. The puzzling never adds up.
“Okay. Than that’s how it’s going to go: Amy’s going to Stanford. And we’re going to Belgium,” she decides.
George is happy to hear how rationally she approaches her options, but can help wondering how much this will hurt his little girl.
When she walks into the living room a few seconds later, David’s seated in the large couch. His face is bruised. The normally calm and responsible guy went out three days in a row and got drunk each and every time. Uncle Aaron roamed from bar to bar, searching for his son. Last night, David threw up for hours. Even worse, the cousins find themselves in the middle of a silent war. The handsome young man is furious about the diagnose and can’t seem to wrap his mind around it. The fact that Amy’s being kept in the dark tears him apart as well. So he acts out, gets drunk and ends up in fights.
Alex can’t see him like this. She sits down next to him and heaves a big sigh, catching his attention. He drops his phone on the nearby pillow and awkwardly smiles.
“I’ve been your best friend ever since we were born,” he suddenly starts talking in a calm voice. “We’ve been living together as long as I can remember. I am scared, Alex. So scared and worried that it controls my life.”
She looks into his eyes and gets robbed of her breathing capacity for a while. It’s the first time they are discussing this. The first time their feelings are being shown.
“Sorry, I’ve been selfish. I – I didn’t mean to,” he continues softly, staring at the television in front of him. “You are my best friend and I’ve been massively blowing you off.”
“It’s okay,” Alex tells him.
Still, they’re not face to face. Looking at each other might be too emotional. So it’s MTV reruns for now.
“I was upset about it for a while but … You have the cancer card. You win,” he smirks, trying to change the atmosphere with a witty comment.
Alex has always appreciated his misplaced sense of humor. She crawls up to him and puts her head on his chest. The older boy wraps his arm around her shoulder.
“Fuck, I don’t want to use that card. I prefer to use my credit card,” she proclaims, riding along the funny side.
But David’s comical note suddenly backfires.
“How can you laugh about this?” he wonders.
After giving it a thought, Alex shrugs: “If I don’t, I’ll cry.”
“And have you cried yet?”
She shakes her head: “No. I have been panicking, though. Lots and lots of panicking.”
The eighteen year old boy gently strokes her shoulder and doesn’t realize his favorite song is playing on tv right now.
“I am really scared to die,” Alex confesses for the first time to anyone. “Like, it pops up randomly in my head all the time and it makes me feel like I’m about to choke … I don’t want to die.”
The room gets drenched into complete silence. Minutes pass and nobody says a thing. The programs change and background noises of George throwing out the kitchen supplies sometimes reach their ears. Out of nowhere, Alex confesses her big plans about going to Belgium and allowing Amy to study at the university of her dreams. It almost seems plausible.
“You have to tell her,” David suddenly whispers.
She knows immediately he’s talking about Amy.
“I can’t. You heard her, she has so many dreams to accomplish. She’s about to start that top of the notch education. If I tell her I have cancer, she’ll drop that opportunity in a heartbeat and I love that about her. But I would be a terrible person to take her big dream away. She has goals and worked long and hard toward them. This is her big change, maybe her only one. I don’t want her to miss out over something she never asked for.”
“So, you’re just going to leave?” David wonders, completely confused.
Amy nods determined and that’s when her cousin sits up straight to spit his gut.
“The two of you couldn’t be more different. She’s funny, cute, intelligent, …”
“Oh, thanks a lot,” Alex scoffs while interrupting him.
“No, it’s just: you’re all those things as well, but you’re awesome on a different level. You can be rash and hard, you are much more impulsive, less emotional, you’re though as hell.”
A soft, proud smile colors Alex’s face.
“But it doesn’t change the fact that the two of you are complementary, the perfect match. Whatever you can’t, she can. Whatever you won’t, she will. And that’s why I think you’re making a huge mistake.”
Alex sighs and shrugs, almost completely ignoring everything he just said.
“Maybe I am. But this feels right. For the first time in my life I’m not being selfish and it feels right.”
He closes his eyes for a second and shakes his head in disbelief.
“This will break her heart,” he assures her. “You were talking about getting married last week. You even called that friend of yours in New York to design a ring. You were going to propose and now, you’re …”
Amy dreams about Stanford and editing. Alex only dreams about marrying the girl she loves. It’ll have to wait.
“It’s for her own good,” she explains, trying to justify the decision she has taken. “She just doesn’t realize it yet. So she can hate me all she want, as long as she becomes the best fucking editor in the world because of it, that’s fine by me.”
David gets up on his feet and expresses his sincere doubt about the whole plan by shaking his head.
“Alex, you can’t do this to her.”
“I know you don’t understand, David. And maybe I don’t understand it myself. But I have to do this,” she replies. “I have to give her the chance to live her life and follow her dreams, while I work on myself. While I fight for mine to keep. And trust me, it’ll break my heart too. But it’s going to be like I’ll spent all this time in a dark room, waiting to get better. And I won’t be able to see her, but I know she’ll be there with me.”
“And what am I supposed to tell her?” he asks her.
“Nothing. This is my thing, not yours. I’ll take the blame. And one day, I will fix it. I swear.”
Her eyes are tearing up. The realization of leaving her soon hits her harder than she expected. But nonetheless, she’s determined that this is the best solution. For both of them.
The girls share a perfect night, four days later. Amy doesn’t know it yet, but it’s their last. Alex has cooked for her, bought her presents and ran a bath for both to lie in for hours. They talk about Stanford and the next photoshoot of Alex that will actually never take place. Rick knows her modeling career will have to wait for a while. He’s just as shocked and affected by the devastating news as anyone else in Alex’s proximity. So he has called in some favors and arranged a beautiful place for George and Alex to live in Belgium. It’s near the hospital in Leuven, where the hematologist, doctor Bart De Weerdt, will oversee her treatment from now on. As soon as she’s declared healthy, Spencer & Riddick will be waiting for her.
Among other things, they really laugh a lot that last night. They joke around about fellow students and teachers, or how Alex fell down a chair one time during a photoshoot. Even though she slightly hurt herself, Amy just couldn’t stop laughing. It humors Alex, reliving these memories. Her eyes are focussed on her girlfriend’s perfect face for hours, while they are positioned on top of the bed and watching some tv shows.
“I am just in awe over you, babe. I can’t love anyone more than I love you. Like, everything, even your bad habits – I love them,” Alex suddenly admits, overly emotional.
But Amy, not realizing that this is the beginning of a goodbye, scoffs and shakes her head: “It might shock you, but there are also things about you that I don’t like.”
Playfully unaccepting that accusation, Alex starts smiling. You know that smile – the self satisfied, arrogant and kinda of evil smile.
“Yeah, not possible. I am perfect,” she explains.
But that comment only verifies Amy’s words: “Hm, exactly right there: your modesty. Such a pain in the ass.”
Her girlfriend nods: “You should see me when I get all cocky.”
A playful wink lightens up the mood. The girls automatically crawl closer toward each other. There’s not an inch left anymore, but it’s still too far away.
“You’re cute,” Amy whispers, after kissing the cheek of the gorgeous Latina.
“I can’t stop it,” Alex confesses.
It’s because she’s looking at her. How can you not look at that blonde goddess and appear to be melting?
They kiss and it’s both passionate and fierce. It quickly results in tender lovemaking, where they smooch every inch, adore every movement and taste every taste. It’s Alex’s way of saying goodbye. She pins the love of her life against the wallpapered wall across her bed and makes her come three times in a row. An overwhelmed Amy can’t understand where all of this is aggressive expression of love is coming from, but she lets Alex do to her body whatever she wants to do. Then, the duo ends up on the bed again. They are in each other’s arms and spontaneously start giggling. Alex puts her lips on top of Amy’s for the millionth time this evening and they start kissing again – it’s like they can’t get enough. After an hour, Amy tells her she’s feeling tired and she dozes off to sleep. That’s when her girlfriend starts to feel anxious. These are their last few moments. A bag is packed, it’s in the car right now. George is waiting for his daughter to come downstairs and leave.
She flees like a thief in the night a few hours later. She cries, pressing one hand tightly against her mouth, hoping the agonizing and heartbreaking sounds coming from the deepest part of her won’t wake up the gorgeousness that she calls her girlfriend. For the last time she stares at the hair that smells like vanilla and the face that reminds her of a fairy. For the last time she kisses the goddess on her forehead and tastes the sweetness of her skin. For the last time she whispers she loves her. And that she’s sorry. So very sorry.