“Because there’s no one else I’d want to go with. Plus, well, I kind of got the idea from your mom.”
He nodded. “When we were painting, I asked her what she was looking forward to with you. You know, like your wedding someday, or your college graduation, or things like that. And she mentioned school dances. So, I wanted her to have that experience.”
My eyes filled up with tears as I stopped swaying. “You did this for my mom?”
“Yeah, I mean, it seemed really important to her.” He paused and cringed a little. “But I mean, just to be clear I did it for me, too. I really wanted to dance with you, Ellie.”
My mouth parted and my sigh fell between my lips as I went back to swaying with him. I rested my head on his shoulder and breathed him in. “Grey?”
“Would it be all right if I kept you forever?”
When my parents picked us up, we dropped Greyson off first, and when he was out of the car, Mom turned around and gave me the biggest grin. “So, how was it?” she asked.
I sighed, and I was certain she could see the stars in my eyes and the cheese in my smile.
Her grin widened as if that moment was the happiest moment she’d ever lived. “Yeah?” she asked.
I sighed, smiling with the kind of delirium that could only be described as happiness.
One day during the first week of November, I walked home from school, and when I headed inside, I was surprised to see Mom and Dad sitting in the kitchen. “Hey, I thought you had a doctor’s appointment,”
Mom rubbed her tired eyes. “We decided to miss it.”
“Miss it? You can’t just miss treatment like that, can you?”
Dad frowned. “We actually came to the decision to stop treatment, Eleanor. After getting some results back, we realized this was the best choice.”
“Well, what do we try now? What do we do?”
“Honey, I’m tired,” Mom confessed. “I’m so tired, and nothing we’re trying is working. I’m only getting worse, and I don’t want to spend these days feeling like this. I just want to be with you and your father.”
“You’re giving up?”
“No. I’m giving in. We’ve exhausted all of our options.”
I went quiet. I didn’t know what they wanted me to say. I didn’t know what to even think.
Dad rolled his shoulders back and cleared his throat. “I asked Paige what she wanted, and she said the water. We found a nice place on the beach down in Florida. It’s beautiful, Ellie.”
“You want us to go to Florida? For how long?” I asked.
Mom smiled. “For however long we’re able to be down there. I know that changes things for you. You’d have to switch schools during your senior year, and things with Greyson—”
“Whatever you want,” I blurted out. Mom had worry in her eyes about hurting me, and I couldn’t let that be her fear. My biggest concern was her. “Whatever you want, Mom.”
Wherever she wanted to be, I wanted to be there, too.
“A cancer vacation?” Greyson asked as we sat on the top step of his porch.
“Yeah, that’s what my dad called it. It would be a family trip to Florida for a few months because Mom’s treatment is over.”
His eyes widened with hope. “Because it worked?”
He lowered his head. “I’m sorry, Ellie.”
“Yeah, me too. Her dream has always been to take a trip to the ocean, and well, it looks like now is the only time that will be possible.”
He was quiet for a while.
Then he said, “That’s good for her. She deserves that.”
I was quiet next.
“I’ll probably have to finish senior year down there.”
“Oh. Yeah.” He grimaced and rubbed his hands against his legs. “Is it selfish of me to ask about us?”
No, it wasn’t. I’d been wondering the same thing. Truth was, after everything with Mom, Greyson had been the next thing to cross my mind.
“We’ve never really talked about us since my mom got sick.”
“Yeah, but it just kind of felt like we were…I don’t know, just us, you know?”
I knew exactly what he meant. It was as if we didn’t need labels to describe whatever it was we had between the two of us.
We just were.
It was that simple.
“I’ve been thinking about asking you to be my girlfriend, you know,” he told me. “And I mean, just because you live in Florida for a while doesn’t mean you can’t still be that until you get back home.”
I wanted to be selfish about it. I wanted to ask him to wait for me, wanted to do the long-distance thing for a while, but I also knew that was wrong. Greyson had just begun his senior year. He was going to play his last high school basketball season. He was going to want to go to school dances and participate in different activities and go to his last ever prom, and I couldn’t be a part of any of that with him.
I didn’t want to get in the of any of it. I didn’t want to stop him from living his final year of high school to the fullest because he felt he couldn’t because of me.
“I really like you, Grey.”
He kept his head down. “But?”
“I…” I swallowed hard, somewhat shocked that I was actually going to say the words I’d been dreading so much. “I just don’t think it’s smart to try to be in a relationship right now. You have such a great year coming up, and I don’t want to stop you from living it to the fullest. You deserve to be happy.”
“You make me happy.”
I wanted to cry.
I wanted to crawl into his arms and just cry.
I wanted to be childish about it. I wanted to stay in Illinois with him so we could be us, whatever it was that we were. I wanted ridiculous laughter and kung fu movies and Harry Potter references and Greyson.
I wanted Greyson so bad.
But sometimes a kid is forced to grow up faster than they like.
“I’m not going to be okay, Greyson. The next few months of my life are going to suck, and I’m going to cry, and I’m not going to be the weird girl who reads books at parties. I’m just going to be sad.”
“You shouldn’t have to be sad alone.”
I wished he weren’t a good guy. It seemed much harder to walk away from a good guy.
“You deserve more than this,” I said.
“So, you’re breaking up with me before you even give us a chance,” he whispered, his voice tight. “Just say it and get it over with.”
I stared at him. His hands were clenched tightly together and he tapped his foot repeatedly on the step. The more I waited, the worse it was going to be for the both of us, so, I parted my lips and spoke so softly, hoping he actually heard me. “I can’t be your girlfriend, Grey.”
He stood up quickly and nodded. “Okay.”
“Greyson.” I leaped to my feet, feeling my heart pounding against my chest. “Wait—”
“No, it’s fine. Really, Ellie. It was stupid for me to think anything other than this. I hope the move goes okay.” And with that, he went into his house.
No real goodbyes.
No true closure.
Just a slamming door.
I wanted to die.
The whole walk home, I moved with regret, but I knew it had been the right choice to make. If it had been the wrong one, it wouldn’t have hurt so much.
I walked into the house, and Mom was lying on the couch. She sat up a little, and I hated how long it took her to get comfortable. I didn’t want her to get up because of me but she always got up.
“Hey, Ellie. How did the talk with Greyson go?”
I smiled. It was forced and fake, and she knew it. “It was fine. I’m just going to lie down for a bit.”
She narrowed her eyes and looked concerned, but I turned on my heels and darted to my bedroom. I shut my door behind me and collapsed onto my bed. My arms wrapped around my pillow, and I buried my face into it. I silenced my cries, because I didn’t want my parents to feel bad. They were already going through enough; the last thing they needed was to feel like I was broken because we were moving.
I was, though.
As I cried, a hand touched my shoulder. I looked to my right and saw Mom standing there. She was skinny, fatigued, and sick, but she was still there.
She’s still here.
She wiped my tears with one finger and sighed. “Oh, baby…”
“I’m sorry, Mom. I’m okay.” I tried to promise her that I was fine, wiping my eyes. “You go rest.”
She didn’t listen, though. She climbed into bed with me and wrapped her arms around me. That made me cry even more because she was in pain and hurting yet still wanted to comfort me. It blew my mind how a mother could be the strongest person in a room, even at her weakest.
We moved the third week of November, after my parents figured out all the details for me transferring to a new school. Dad booked first-class tickets to Florida, even though Mom said it wasn’t worth it. It was as if Dad felt helpless so he was doing anything he could to try to make Mom a little more comfortable.
I was able to sit next to her on the flight, and the whole time I held her hand. She fell asleep pretty easily, and I was happy about that. Every time she’d awaken, she looked for my hand, and it was still in hers.
“Still here, Mom,” I’d whisper as she went back to sleep.
I’m still here.
FROM: [email protected]
DATE: November 23, 4:54 PM
You’ve been gone for a week, and it feels so weird without you here.
I’m a jerk, and I handled things really badly. I’m sorry. In my head, I just thought we could at least try to make it work. I haven’t felt like this about anyone before, and I just hate that you’re gone. I didn’t know caring about someone could happen so fast, and I’m just not sure I know how to shut off the caring. My life has been lonely for a while now. I thought lonely was the default option, though being lonely was normal. Even though I’ve always been surrounded by people, it’s as if no one really knew me. And then came you.