He grumbled some more, sounding conflicted. “You think you can skip? The doctor said I shouldn’t be driving myself after chemotherapy, and I ain’t got anyone else to take me. Lance normally takes me, but he’s off at some hippie music festival or some shit.”
It was the first time since I’d learned that he was sick that he’d actually admitted to having an illness. For some reason that made it more real to me. He really was sick. He really was fighting for his life.
“I can do that.” I nodded. I’ll do anything.
He cocked an eyebrow and poured a cup of orange juice. He slid it over to me. I thanked him. “You know how to drive stick?” he asked.
* * *
Of course I didn’t know how to drive stick. Aunt Denise had helped me get my driver’s license in Alabama, but she hadn’t taught me to drive stick. Every other second Dad was cursing as I jerked us back and forth. “Jesus, Levi! I thought you knew how to drive stick? Switch the gear,” he ordered.
“I just didn’t want you to have to go by yourself,” I said.
Jolt. Stop sign. Five inches past the stop sign. Jerk. Stop. Holyshitwe’regoingtodieeee.
“Well, that’s dumb. You should know how to drive. What the hell has your mom been teaching you down there?” He ran his hand against his chin. “I guess I’ll have to show you, seeing as how you can’t do shit right. In the meantime, just try not to kill me before cancer does me in.”
“I would like that,” I said, nodding. “I would like you to teach me.” He would’ve never admitted it, but I thought he kind of liked the idea too.
* * *
A nurse sat Dad in an open room and hooked him up to a machine that dripped liquids into his body. He hollered at them for missing his veins, calling them idiots, but the nurses remained unfazed by his attitude. I sat next to him in a chair, wondering if it was working, if those chemicals were saving him. Then I remembered what Aria’s mother had said about stage four lung cancer, and I tried my best not to get my hopes up.
I liked how Mrs. Watson was honest with me, but comforting at the same time.
There was a small table with graham crackers and juice boxes of which I helped myself. Dad scolded me, telling me the snacks were only for the sick people, but Nurse Maggie told me that family was welcome to the treats, too.
About thirty minutes later, a girl from school walked in with her mom. I figured she was in my shoes, helping her mom out, but when she was the one sitting down in the chair and being hooked up to the machines, I realized I was nothing like her.
Her skin was pale, ghostly, but she didn’t look sad. Not even scared. The same couldn’t be said about her mother. Her mother was terrified as she held her daughter’s hand.
“It’s okay, Mom,” the girl said, a large smile on her lips. “It will get better after this.”
She was comforting her mother while she was living some of the darkest days of her life.
I tried not to pay attention to her, but every now and then I would glance over.
* * *
“Where were you yesterday?” Aria asked at the bus stop. Simon was normally the first one to the corner, but he wasn’t anywhere to be seen yet. I was certain he would be there soon enough.
I smiled at Aria and held my backpack straps. “Did you miss me that much?”
“No,” she huffed, kicking her shoe in a circular motion. “We were supposed to work on our project in art class yesterday and try to figure out what we were going to do, that’s all. Now we’re a day behind everyone else because of you.”
“Hold your horses, missy. I didn’t go ’round blaming you when you missed school for a week.”
“That was different,” she whispered, her moving shoe coming to a halt. “I had the flu, and I sent you a message with what books on abstract artwork to check out from the library.”
“Isn’t it called morning sickness?” I asked.
“I’m not answering that,” she replied, rubbing her fingertips against her eyebrows. She wasn’t wearing any makeup this morning and looked perfect. If I hadn’t known any better, I might’ve thought she was make-believe.
“Why not?” She kept so much to herself, it didn’t seem fair. I wondered often about who the father of the baby was, but it wasn’t my place to ask. If she wanted me to know, she would’ve told me. But then again, maybe she didn’t know that I was available to listen. “You can talk to me, ya know…about the pregnancy, if you need someone to talk to. I’m not even sure if you ever talk about it, but I want you to know that if you need a person to speak to, my ears are available for the conversation.”
Her nose wrinkled up, and she slapped her forehead as the school bus pulled up. “Geez, Levi! It’s hardly seven in the morning and you’re already annoying me. This isn’t boding well for how our day with one another is going to go.”
My lips turned up into a bigger smile. She was so cute when she was bitchy. “Too early for baby talk?”
“Way, way too early. A lifetime too early. Like, if we died, came back to life, died, came back to life again, died again, and came back again, it would still be too early to talk about it. You understand?”
“So…we’ll resume the baby conversation around lunchtime today?”
“Why are you so freaking crazy?”
“Because my mama raised me that way,” I replied, allowing her to step onto the bus before me. “Which brings me to my next question: can I eat lunch with you and Simon? I mean, I know we normally have some hardcore staring contests from across the cafeteria, but I reckon we could continue our staring contests at the same table.”