AA-meetings – Chapter 13: Alternative Plan

Alternative plan


There is only one feeling that absorbs her completely. It is pain. Utter pain of constantly throwing up and feeling like her body is under attack. Her muscles and gullet hurt from the constant vomiting. Her essence is gone, her determination is destroyed.

“Oh, God, make it stop,” Alex prays to the ceiling while backing away from the tray she just dirtied completely.

She’s exhausted and she hasn’t even left the bed in days. Her dad is standing nearby, helplessly observing her every move. The warm pajamas she’s wearing still aren’t enough to stop her from shaking like crazy. It’s fever. It’s always fever. Her fingers push back the hat that’s supposed to cover her bald head. 

“I can’t throw up anymore. There’s nothing left inside of me but I just can’t stop,” she whispers desperately. “Make it stop.”

How the human body works will always be a mystery to her. George walks over to her and takes away the tray to throw it with the other three that are already in the garbage bin. It kills him how nothing he can do will help his little girl feel any better. His fingers caress her forehead.

“The doctor said the drugs take a while to kick in, Alex,” he reminds her.

But that’s not any good right now. This feeling needs to go away, like, immediately. Of course she knew that it was going to be hard. One of the hardest things she’d ever have to go through. But once it started, it felt like it was too much to handle. Her hair started falling out fast, string after string. She cried a lot when that started showing. Because Alex is a proud woman. Her hair is actually one of the things that made her model career so successful. Her body is her work temple. Now it’s being demolished, ripped down to its core. She’s just a ghost right now. Alex would kill to be in front of a camera. And to smile. And to swirl her hair.

“Why me, daddy? Why am I sick and not David or Eli? Why not that jerk down the street?”

She doesn’t wish the disease upon them. She just wonders, because it all seems unfair to her. George can’t answer that, though. He’s a brilliant arts teacher, he wins all the awards for his knowledge. But this little question, he can’t answer.

“Trust me, Alex, I’ve been asking myself a lot, lately.”

A nurse walks in to check her vitals and for a minute, the room enters a state of silence. Luckily, the nauseous feeling has disappeared. At least for now. Her chemo isn’t exactly a success. Doctor De Weerdt, just as brilliant as doctor Brewer and Cullers predicted, is in fact an absolute expert when it comes to her disease. But if only he could just make all of this stop, with a simple pill or an radiation. Alex’s body isn’t reacting very well to all the bad stuff they keep injecting her with and that worries George immensely.

“David’s coming today. He’ll be glad to see you,” he happily announces, to cheer up the mood.

But Alex isn’t so appreciative of company. Part of her is happy that she’s in Belgium, simply because it’s very far away from everyone that might recognize her. The policy in this hospital is amazing. Apart from the doctors and the nurses, nobody knows she’s here. They are required to keep that information to themselves and up until now, it’s working. To the rest of the world, she just disappeared. But David’s been calling and FaceTiming her every day since she got here. He’s worried sick about his little cousin, the oh-so fierce model that can’t stand to feel fragile for just one moment.

The truth is, David’s always been more than just a cousin to Alex. Apart from Amy, he’s her very best friend. They talk about things Alex can’t talk to Amy about. Like relationship struggles and annoyances that would upset the blonde. Or this hidden cancer debacle. He handles it all so very perfectly. So at ease, while the boy, in fact, terrified.

David walks in so quietly that it takes a while before Alex notices his presence. She’s halfway dozed off to sleep, staring out the window. Belgium’s a pretty country, so it seems. There are a remarkable amount of old buildings and castles and if it weren’t for the loss of appetite and taste, she’d stuff herself with the delicious food they have here. And beer. Lots and lots of beer in this country.

When she finally recognizes the person standing next to her bed, holding onto fake flowers bought in the souvenir shop, a faint smile appears. Today has been a hard one, David can tell. He bends over to embrace his cousin and whispers a silent hello.

“How are you?” he asks.

He smells like home. Not that she has a fine working scent lately, but he sure does smell like home.

“I’ve been better,” she smirks.

“I bought you flowers. I heard you can’t actually keep them in your room, so I asked for fake ones.”

Alex appreciates the gesture: “That’s remarkably sweet of you.”

David lays them on the nearby mobile cabinet. She asks him to help her sit up straight and he does. It shocks him to see her this weak. Her muscles tremble as she repositioning herself.

The room isn’t really welcoming. It’s a hospital room, just like they come in America. But George hung up some pictures of the family to help her remind of the things waiting for her back home. Amy’s not one of them.

“Just flew in?” Alex asks, with just enough words to not exhaust herself further.

He nods. The boy came straight from the airport to see her.

“You look surprisingly good. Apart from the grey skin color and the puffy eyes, I’d say you could pass for a famous model.”

She coughs and smiles. The charmer. She’s not feeling like a supermodel right now, though. She feels like a wreck, that hasn’t realized it’s dead yet.

“Dad went to the house to get changed for some guest lecture about Picasso this evening. He’s looking forward to it. I’m glad.”

“Takes his mind off of things, right?”

Alex nods.

“And you, what do you do to keep yourself entertained?” he wonders.

He’s seated on the bed now, right next to her. Secretive eyes lurk at the red hat she’s wearing. It’s covering up a lot, but not enough to make it visible that all her beautiful, dark hair is gone. Even her charismatic flair, so natural to her, seems fainted.

“I puke a lot. Perfected that art,” she jokes softly. “And I read a lot of fashion blogs when I’m not too nauseous. Or I FaceTime with annoying boys in America.”

David can’t help but realizing just how brave she is. How she takes this cancer and kicks the living shit out of it, even though she’s enduring a couple of punches herself. It makes him way too emotional to keep up the act of supportive rock for too long.

They talk about things back home. About the graduation ceremony Alex missed. How David proudly waved his diploma in the air. Alex graduated as well, George and the school sorted something out actually. She just couldn’t attend, due to lying in a hospital bed all day, somewhere across the world. But o matter what the cousins talk about, they are careful enough to not mention Amy. It’s like knowing about her frightens Alex. Like it would completely tear her down to hear just how mad and sad Amy just might be. Or even worse: how happy. That’d actually kill her.

Out of nowhere, she starts crying. Because thinking about it again does that to her. When she got on that plane, she shed tears for hours thinking about what she was leaving behind. Luckily, a hard reality check was waiting for her when she got off and checked into the hospital. See, chemotherapy has an effect on people: you don’t get a second to brace yourself. You get smashed by it. It all depends on how badly you react to it. Sadly, Alex got the worst kind.

“What’s wrong? Are you hurt?” David ask all concerned.

He quickly checks if he’s not sitting on a tube or something. But Alex shakes her head softly and sobs in a childish way.

“I’m sorry, I’m just really emotional since I started treatment.”

He understands. Of course he does. His warm hands cup her palms. She looks so sick, she feels so unnaturally cold and simply exhales her disease. He doesn’t recognize her at all.

“You’re not feeling very warm for someone who’s having a fever,” he tells her.

“I haven’t felt warm in months,” she confesses.

Her stay over here takes longer than anyone anticipated. Soon after her first round of a light version of chemo, she had to check back in for a new one. A heavier one. Ever since she set foot in this hospital, shivers have been running up and down her spine. She feels cold, all the time. She’s shaking and trembling like it’s freezing. Except it’s not. Belgian winters aren’t that cold. And it’s pretty warm in this room. David even took off his hoodie a minute ago.

“How is she?” Alex suddenly utters hesitantly, completely blocking all her motives not to.

David looks up to her and feels his heart racing.

“She’s okay,” he tells her, hoping it’ll assure her.

This can only be about one person. They both know exactly who it is. No confusion possible. But hearing she’s okay brings a lot of confusing feelings to Alex’s troubled mind.

“I only ever feel warm when I’m around her, you know. I’m the kind of girl that turns up the heating a bit, just to make sure I won’t get cold. But when I was around her, I never was.”

David heaves a frustrated sigh and nods.

“And when are you planning to get back? You have to return at some point, no?”

His cousin turns her exhausted eyes away from him and starts staring out of the window again.

“I don’t know, David. I’ve started to realize what a dick move I pulled on her. Lying in bed all day makes your brain start working.”

She heaves an all-consuming sigh and bites her painful teeth for a while. Life’s so screwed up right now, there aren’t even words for it. They face each other again.

“You know, I lie here, crying like a little girl and puking my guts out and … sometimes that’s a nice distraction.”

David frowns his confusion away and remains silent.

“It’s weird, but it keeps my mind off her,” the girl explains. “I can’t drive myself crazy thinking about who’s she’s kissing right now. Or whether or not she’s thinking of me.”

But David shakes his head and tries to remind her of the important things in this room: “Alex, all you have to do right now is get better. Everything will be fine after that.”

But the fright and genuine desperation flashing from her expression shakes him up.

“It won’t, David. I’m smart enough to realize when I screw things up.”

“Alex …” he sighs.

“No. It’s okay. As long as she’s happy, she can hate me all she want.”

It’s true. Through Amy’s eyes, she must be the most horrible person in the world. Maybe she is.

“There’s always a way to make things right,” David claims.

But he’s wrong. Not everything is a fairytale. Not to Alex.

“At best, I’ll have to stay her for another year. Monitoring, actually defeating this monster, check-ups, …” she starts explaining. “After that, who knows.”

“Promise me you’ll come back home, please,” her cousin pleads with anxious green eyes.

He can’t imagine never seeing his best friend again. In fact, he’s just as lost without her back home as Alex is here, without Amy.

“I promise,” she softly whispers.

But she’s not sure if that’s the truth. Going back home scares her more than death itself.

After another decent throwing up, Alex has faded off to sleep. This chemotherapy is demanding a lot of her energy. The poison they inject you with not only destroys the bad cancer cells, it also targets the good that’s left inside of you. After a while, you start balancing between life and death. And hours and days just become blurry moments.

George walks into the room and his face lights up the second he recognizes his nephew. They hug it out for a minute and David tells him how much the rest of the family misses their metaphorical lost limbs.

“You look good, boy,” George decides.

David nods appreciative and sits down on one of the red chairs next to the little white table across Alex’s bed.

“How is life after high school?”

His nephew shrugs, which makes his curly hair wiggle and pulls a weird face.

“College isn’t that great, but I have to get my journalism degree.”

His uncle knows the true desire of the young man in front of him: making money by traveling and blogging about the food. One of the reasons why David was so excited to visit his sick cousin, was to taste Belgium’s finest goods. They have amazing chocolate in this country, an waffles and french fries the Americans can only dream of. Some of the best restaurants in the world are located here. It’s food heaven. And beer heaven.

“I’m trying to get an internship into a newspaper company, so I can write about the culinary things,” he elaborates.

George promises to ask around in the world of influential people. That makes David smile appreciative. Uncle George has always had his back.

Alex seems to be having some kind of bad dream, because she starts to make growling noises. Maybe it’s just the sick feeling that lingers over her. George joyful expression fades instantly. He’s been her every free second, watching over her, like it’d matter.

“Look at her. Ironic, isn’t it?” David whispers, hoping it’ll keep her fast asleep. “She’s a world famous model. Everyone’s dying to know her.”

George nods and sighs: “And she’s literally just dying to live.”

The two men look at each other for a second before turning their heads back toward the bed. She looks so skinny, so pale. It’s like she’s a ghost. This is the most beautiful person in the world to them. She makes money by people staring at her. And now she’s nothing more than some bones and fainted muscles.

The older man gets up on his feet and silently takes a hard cover notebook off Alex’s night stand. He hands it over to David and softly smiles.

“I’m not supposed to go through her stuff, but it fell open the other day when I was cleaning up the tissues and bottles of water,” he excuses himself.

David flips open the notebook. The first few pages are just drafts about fashion things, like a catwalk she watched to support her famous friends. Next, his eyes stumble upon a short list. It’s the things she’s dreaming about doing someday, when she gets out of here. She literally calls it her bucket list. Alex’s bucket list.

  • Get arrested once
  • Kiss in the rain
  • Get a puppy
  • Have a threesome
  • Get married
  • Milk a cow
  • Get a tattoo
  • Die in the arms of the one I love

George is standing behind him right now and leans over his shoulder to have a look.

“Weird list,” David smiles while reading it once again.

“Weird girl,” George assures him.

David’s fingers stroke the imprints the pen left. Like he’s remembering the way she writes. The next page shuts him up, though. It’s all pictures of Amy and Alex, glued to the paper. In some of them, they look like perfect angels, barely six years old. In others, they hold each other’s hand or kiss. This book is meant to remain a secret to everyone else around, that much is clear. Alex isn’t keen on letting people in when it concerns her feelings. Except Amy. Amy holds the only key to that private room.

“She calls them AA-meetings,” George tells his nephew, while pointing at a description Alex obviously wrote near one of them. “Not sure what it means, but when she’s at her worst, they calm her down.”

David knows exactly what it means, though. He took that picture of them when they were absorbed into their own dimension for a millionth time. The girls could act like they ignored you while they were sitting right next to you. Except it wasn’t intentional. They actually just forgot about the rest of the world once they started looking into each other’s eyes or had one of their private conversations. They breathed each other and, not once, they needed another person. Secretive, anonymous to the others, meant for addicts. AA-meetings.

The memories suddenly stir up a lot of emotions inside of David. Remembering just how happy a simple smile from Amy could make her, upsets him incredibly. And now she’s here, hoping that being away from Amy will protect the blonde from the bad things in this world and he’s not okay with that.

“Uncle. If for some reason she won’t … she won’t make it, you’ll have to let me call Amy,” he utters too afraid to hear the effect of the words.

George turns his head to his daughter again and puts his hand on David’s shoulder.

“I already have her number on speed dial, son.”

It’s pretty cold for San Francisco. Normally, you’d catch a warm breeze around this time of year, but for some reason, when Eli arrives in town, the weather decides to tone it down a notch. The nervous boy is standing in front of one of the most impressive universities in the world. Stanford. It’s very green out here. The massive, impressive buildings are surrounded by fields and the architecture of this place reminds him of a church.

While checking his watch every five seconds, he patiently awaits the arrival of his good friend, Amy. Though they never really hung out a lot, Eli keeps her in high esteem. She’s kind, she’s sweet, she’s unbelievably beautiful. And though their interests never really matched, she always tried to have a decent conversation with him. One time, she challenged him to a game of Counterstrike. She lost. Obviously.

His hair is nicely combed back. Except for the little grey spot, that keeps living its own life, despite the use of gel and wax. It’s the first time they’ll see each other ever since Amy started studying here. They didn’t really keep in touch. In fact, the second Alex left without any explanation, Amy refrained from spending all her days at the house, which was to be expected. Eli missed her. A lot actually. Now he’s about to change that.

The second his name reverberates, he recognizes the voice. It’s her. With an impressive twirl, he faces her and her genuinely happy smile warms his heart. Alex was like a sister to Eli. She’s gone now. Amy was joined to her hip, that made her a sister as well.

She runs over to him and throws herself in his arms. They hug for a while and express their excitement about seeing each other again. For a devoted gamer, this boy sure does like to come out once in a while.

“You look great, Mouse,” Amy tells him while rubbing his hair.

Her blond hair is slightly shorter. He has done some research about girls getting over a breakup, sort of to prepare himself for spontaneous outburst of tears and sorts. Cutting hair is one of the coping mechanisms, but that’s just a girl thing he’ll probably never understand. His friend looks skinny and tired. But, that doesn’t change the fact that she’s gorgeous.

“You look pretty as always,” he compliments her.

She heaves a relieved sigh and presses both hands in her waist: “Mouse!”

He giggles. Clearly, she can’t believe he’s actually here. Her hand grabs the sleeve of his brown vest and he gets dragged along to a nearby building across the road of the university. It are dorm rooms, something he never set foot in before.

“This is impressive, Amy,” he tells her.

She knows. Even after spending a few months here, she gets surprised every single time the realization of where she’s at hits her.

“How are the classes?”

She sighs and gives away the reason why she looks so tired: “Hard. Like, really, really hard. But they are amazing. The things they teach you here. The equipment you get to use. It’s magical.”

“No,” Eli amusingly corrects her, “it’s Stanford.”

They both laugh as Amy opens the door of her room and walks in first. In the left corner, Eli recognizes her favorite stuff, nicely organized on cabinets and night stands. In the right corner, a bomb might have exploded. Clearly, her roommate isn’t the tidiest person in the world. It could’ve easily been Alex’s.

“I sleep with June. He name sounds a lot nicer than she is in real life,” Amy explains. “Anyway, ready for lunch?”

She acts so natural around him. Like nothing has happened. But so much has happened. She seemingly walked away just as easily as Alex did. After the love of her life disappeared for reasons that are unclear to her, her visits abruptly stopped. At school, she distanced herself more and more from the boys that had been like brothers all her life. Aaron and granddad never actually saw her again. Truth is, it was too hard on her. Thinking about Alex made her cry uncontrollably the first couple of weeks. She fell asleep on a wet pillow and woke up in a fetal position in the morning because her dreams always made her believe someone was holding her at night. It had been the most horrible months of her life. All she did was study and focus on the drama class. Anything to take her mind off of Alex. That’s hard, given the fact that her face popped up in every magazine and on every billboard in town. That summer, she went traveling in Mexico, with Jules and Katy, two girls just as confused about Alex’s disappearance. By the time she was about to start her first year in Stanford, Amy felt relieved. Because this was an actual break from her reality. This was going away and never having to look back. There was so much work to be done that it absorbed every free minute of her time. And that was perfect to deal with the memories and the pain.

Eli, on other hand, knew the truth. He knew that Alex was sick and that she went away thinking that she could shield her girlfriend from the agonizing months that were to come. He also knew that Amy was left in the dark and he was ordered to keep it that way.

She had pleaded time after time at first, almost down on her knees – begging the boys to tell her where Alex was. They didn’t exactly lie to her, they just told her she was in Europe, working on her future. Apart form that, there wasn’t a lot of information they possessed. Alex completely shut everyone off, even her family. George told them most of the progress or setbacks of her disease. In a way, it was easier for Eli and David not to break around a clearly devastated Amy. But seeing her like that, that was horrible.

Eli heaves a sigh to clear the memories and reminds himself how great she’s doing here. His favorite girl in the world got into Stanford. That’s all kinds of awesome.

“Let’s get some food,” he proposes.

It was the initial plan anyway. He leaves all the planning and directions to Amy. Something tells him he wouldn’t even find his way back to the airport anymore. Not that it’s so complicated. He’s just not good at exploring new places.

They end up in a nice, cosy restaurant a couple of blocks away. Students hang out here a lot, so it seems. The normal conversations happen. The family gets discussed, Eli’s progress at school – or lack of. Amy goes on and on about life at university. How it’s so very different than high school. How everyone around her is passionate to succeed, because they all fought hard to get here. They all aspire the same goals. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to her, she says.

That makes Eli smile softly. Maybe Alex’s plan had some flaws, but by the looks of it, this part turned out right.

After a short break from talking, he notices how the suddenly quiet Amy plays around with her fork. Talking about high school brought her back to the past. She doesn’t like thinking about that part of her life. At the moment, she can’t afford to think about anything else but the future. It’s the only thing that brings her hope. The one thing that keeps her going.

“How’s Alex,” she suddenly dares to ask anyway.

Eli swallows down his piece of meat and looks at her. It’s painful to hide the truth from her. But it’s not up to him.

“She’s good,” he lies.

She’s lying in a hospital bed, puking her guts out twenty four seven and is bald, is what’s really happening. But he can’t say that.

“Too bad,” Amy scoffs, obviously embittered over the break up.

Eli sighs and puts down his cutlery momentarily. The grey stroke of hair reflects in the bright lighting in this place.

“You keep up a tough act when it’s about her,” he notices.

It’s not that she is angry. No, she skipped angry and every time Alex’s face or memory invades, she gets overwhelmed by feelings of utter disgust. Because that’s easier than missing her so hard. Being furious at her softens the pain. She can’t even help it. And if Eli was to ask whether she still loves her or not, it’d be hard to give an honest answer.

“She’s drugs,” Amy explains to him, like she’s thought about it before. “I was addicted from the second I tasted her. And I can’t find it again.”

It sounds so grown up, even for her. She could put it in a movie, it’d make a great line.

“So you’re telling me you’re an addict?” Eli tries to lighten up the mood.

But Amy’s not into joking when it comes to the girl that broke her heart: “And she’s toxic.”

No, Alex didn’t just break her heart. She took it with her. And Amy has no idea where it is. She gets happy sometimes, when her friends cheer her up or when a paper gets graded positively. But something’s missing. That part that makes your heart jump out of excitement – that makes the feeling even better. That part that makes you care just a little bit more. That’s the part Alex ignited inside of her. And now it’s gone.

A week later, Eli’s talking to the other part of the infamous twin. It’s FaceTime-time. Eli can’t go to Belgium. He has to be at school. And it’s not like you fly over there for a couple of days. So they use the technology at its best. Whenever he has a free minute, he buzzes in. Alex answers the call most of the time, but when she’s feeling too bad, she declines. Eli gets that.

His joyful brown eyes stare at her face on his screen. She looks better than she did a couple of days ago.

“Where have you been, Mouse?” Alex teases him over the lack of contact they’ve had this week.

Eli hates that he has to lie to one person, so Alex will never be the second one.

“I went to San Francisco,” he summarizes.

She soon figures out why. He notices: her face freezes. You can’t fool HD technology. She stares back at him, while she’s comfortably sitting up straight in her hospital bed. Today, she didn’t throw up once. And for cancer patients, that is a thing to be proud of.

“Well, I’m doing better. Tomorrow, the results or my second round of chemo are in. I hope the values are relatively positive. That’ll make all of this a lot easier.”

But Eli’s only hearing a lot of cover-up-bullshit. He rolls his eyes and shakes his head. That shuts up his cousin immediately.

“Don’t you want to know about Amy?”

She stares at him, then licks her lower lip. Something tells her she shouldn’t. That’s why she didn’t ask, obviously.

“Depends on what you will tell me about her,” she answers in all honesty.

Eli smiles over this whole stage play where they block all the information out for the protagonists.

“I’m supposed to tell you she’s fine,” he mysteriously admits.

That’s what everyone keeps telling him. Poor sick Alex can’t handle the truth right now. The reality about the depressed, sad Amy might set back her healing process. Because in order to fight and defeat cancer, you need to be strong mentally. But even by lying, Alex is smart enough to know Amy isn’t exactly roaming the parties while throwing rainbows around.

“Eli,” Alex makes clear with a teasing voice. “You can’t lie to a cancer patient. Please, tell me the truth.”

Her cousin pats his lap and sighs, ready to give in. His room is dark, that hides a part of his concerned face.

“She’s a mess,” he admits, only to see Alex’s face waste away to a bundle of regret. “Really fucking angry at you. But how are you?”

Alex refrains from talking for a while and swallows away the tears that are about to explode outside of her. She knew David was lying, but it secretly helped that she could never be entirely certain.

“Close to dying,” she ultimately answers. “I’ll get over it. Tell me about her.”

Eli has started something and now she can’t stop. Somewhere deep inside, he was aware it would happen.

“Should I? You don’t seem to like talking about her.”

But Alex nods. She uses her sleeve wipe her eyes dry. Even over an internet connection, Eli recognizes her sad face.

“I think about her when I wake up and when I go to sleep. And all the seconds in between. I don’t need more encouragement. But I can’t help but ask,” she tells him.

“When you left,” Eli starts off, while tightly holding on to the desk his laptop is situated on, “she woke up and walked downstairs. There was nothing weird about the way she woke up, you see. You weren’t there and she assumed that you were downstairs already. But you left us with the shit job of explaining what was happening. Only, we had to lie, bend the truth in a way that you could never be the good guy in this story.”

Alex forgets to breathe for a while. Her eyes lower to her trembling hands. His words nearly kill her. But she has to learn the events that took place after she left.

“She cried for weeks, you know. She packed up her stuff with some friends and never returned. Granddad misses her like crazy. So do I, that’s why I visited her this weekend.”

He almost smiles over the memory of seeing her again.

“She has shorter hair now. It looks great. But everything looks great on Amy, right?”

Alex painfully smiles. Her eyes are puffy and her heart is racing. The level of jealousness hits her hard. Jealousness that he got to see her and she didn’t.

“Worst part is that after a week or so, people started to understand that you wouldn’t be coming back soon. They all stared at her at school. She was lost without you. I tried to help, so did David, but being around us probably hurt more than being alone.”

Alex’s left hand is now covering her dripping nose. She grabs a tissue and wipes it clean. Her eyes are swollen, but the tears aren’t streaming down her cheeks yet. She won’t let them.

“To everyone around here, you took off to launch your career. Uncle George is teaching in Belgium and you’re close to London to make things happen.”

It’s the cover story. It’s the one they came up with together.

“She can’t know I’m sick, Eli,” Alex eventually tells him.

It’s the most important goal in this entire journey to her. He nods and sighs away his frustration.

“I know. That’s why the last part is important to hear as well. She picked up the pieces and went to Stanford. And Alex, she’s so happy to be there. I saw a couple of her projects, they are amazing. She’s so talented, it’s surreal.”

Finally something that makes her feel less heartbroken. Alex smiles softly.

“And how does she feel about me? Does she still love me?” she wants to know.

Part of her knows this won’t turn out to be a hopeful answer. But she has to try.

“She’s really mad at you, Alex,” he reminds her. “She doesn’t even really want to talk about you.”

“But you did?” Alex intrudes him.

Her face looks kind of funny from this angle, but he’s not laughing.

“Just once. She hates to be reminded of you.”

He won’t tell her the entire story. Eli had tried to smoothen the path for his cousin. When the conversation in the restaurant evolved, he cryptically told Amy that however bad their breakup was, everything happened for a reason. And that one day, she would make up for it. But the bitterness that had taken control of the ever so sweet Amy was too strong. She didn’t believe him. In fact, she told him that she hoped Alex would burn in hell for what she did to her. Clearly, she was completely overcome by her emotions.

“I’m sorry,” Eli tells his cousin.

“Don’t be. I did this to myself. I have to live with this.”

But apart from all the girlfriend drama, there’s obviously this thing called cancer that Alex should pay a lot more attention to. Defeating these demonic cells really don’t depend on whether or not Amy is feeling happy or sad, it’s about determination and believing in the end result.

“Alex, stop. You need to stop,” he orders her through the webcam. “Think about yourself for a change. This Amy thing is tragic. It really is. But trust me, you are tragic on a whole other level. You need to focus on getting better. You have cancer, for God’s sake. Fight this bitch before you start worrying about anything else. Forget about this teenage romance for a while. She has too.”

Though she’s really getting the message, Alex can’t help but ridiculing it with a soft, sick smile.

“I love her, Eli. That’s where it begins. That’s where it’ll end.”

Sadly, it’s not just that simple. He knows that. She knows that.

“You’ll have to come up with a great excuse to make up for what you did. You can’t just solve this with a silent smile,” he tells her. “No matter how cute yours is.”

But Alex is confused and frowns: “What the hell is a silent smile?”

Eli throws his hands up, like she’s asking him to explain a completely ordinary thing.

“A smile when you’re silent.”

His cousin starts laughing and that warms his heart.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I was just calling that a smile,” she mocks his choice of words.

Eli’s unimpressed, though, and crosses his arms defensively.

“Look at you, half dead from chemo and still sassy as fuck.”

“I live for it,” she ironically clarifies.

The door of her hospital room opens and a few nurses walk in. That’s Eli’s cue to leave the conversation.

“I have to go, Mouse. I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”

He nods.

“Take care of yourself, Alex. See you tomorrow.”

She smiles and waves at him. The nurses are standing next to her and the cute blond one waves at him as well. That’s Alex’s favorite.

The laptop closes and she puts it aside. They’re here to check her vitals. They do that all the time, actually. Sometimes it’s annoying. Alex gets along with most of the nurses. The majority is still very young and secretly taking care of a supermodel kind of intrigues them.

Surprisingly, in Belgium, they all speak English like it’s their second nature. She’s in the part where the population speak Flemish. An hour drive from here you end up in the place where they talk a weird derivative of French. They call it Walloon.

As the nurses close the door behind them, Alex is left with nothing but the words Eli just told her. So it’s real now: Amy might really hate her. Indefinitely in the worst case. She looks at the pieces of the room she’s in, at the medical equipment next to her and attached to her skin.

Maybe it is too late to go back. Maybe she will never forgive her for what she did. But maybe all she needs is time. A lot of time to get over her feelings. A couple of months, some distance, some defining moments that – for a change – don’t include Alex Ochoa. After all the pain she caused, Alex should probably grant her that.

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