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I notice someone grinning at me. It's just the gnome. The gnome with a broken red hat and his ugly little smirk. It's like he knows. He knows I'm over here, too scared to go over there. He's taunting me. Just as I'm about to shut the curtain and let him win, I notice someone pull up in our driveway. Eddie.

I open the front door to Will’s house and wave as she gets out of her car. “Eddie, I’m over here!” She looks at me, back toward my house, then back at me with a confused look across her face before she crosses the street.

Great. Why did I just do that? How am I going to explain this?

I step aside and hold the door open for her as she enters, eyeing the living room curiously.

“Are you okay? I’ve called you a hundred times!” she says as she plops down on the sofa. She props her foot up on the coffee table and starts removing her boots. “Whose house is this?”

I don’t have to answer her. The family portrait hanging on the wall in front of her answers for me.

“Oh,” she says. That’s all she says about it, though.

“Well? What happened? Did she tell you who he is? Do you know him?”

I walk to the couch, step over her legs and take the seat next to her.

“Eddie? Are you ready to hear my version of the stupidest thing I’ve ever done?”

She raises her eyebrows and waits for me to spill it.

“I was wrong. She’s not seeing anyone, she’s sick. She has cancer.”

Eddie places her boots beside her and brings her feet back up to the coffee table as she leans back against the couch. She has two completely different socks on.

“Man, that’s unreal,” she says.

“Yeah, it is. But it’s my real.”

She sits there for a moment, picking at her black fingernails. I can tell she doesn’t really know what to say. Instead of saying anything, she just leans across the couch and hugs me, right before she bounces up.

“So, what’s Mr. Cooper got to drink around here?” She walks to the kitchen and opens the refrigerator. She grabs two glasses and fills them with ice and brings them back to the living room where she fills them with soda.

“Couldn’t find any wine. He’s such a bore,” she says as she hands me my drink. “So, what’s her prognosis?”

I shrug. “I don’t know. I left right after she told me last night. It doesn't sound good, though. I haven’t been able to face her.”

I turn my head toward the window and look at our house again. I know it’s inevitable. I know I’ll have to face her; I just want one more day of normalcy.

“Layken, you need to go talk to her.”

I roll my eyes. “God, you sound just like Will.”

She takes a sip of her drink and returns it to the coffee table. “Speaking of Will.”

Here we go.

“Layken, I’m trying so hard to mind my business. I really am. But you’re in his house! You’re wearing the same clothes I dropped you off in last night. If you don’t at least deny there’s something going on, then I’ll have to assume you’re admitting it.”

I sigh. She’s right. From her standpoint, it seems like more is going on than there really is. I don’t have a choice but to be honest with her or she’ll assume the worst of him.

“Fine. But Eddie, you have to-”

“I swear. Not even to Gavin.”

“Okay. Well, I met him the first day we moved here. There was something there, between both of us. He asked me out, we went out. We had a great time. We kissed. It was probably the best night of my life. It was the best night of my life.”

She’s smiling now. I hesitate before I continue. She can tell by my body language that it’s not a happy ending and her smile fades.

“We didn’t know. Until my first day of school, I didn’t know he was a teacher. He didn’t know I was in high school.”

She stands up. “The hallway! That’s what was going on in the hallway!”

I nod.

“Oh my god. So he ended it?”

I nod again. She falls back onto the couch.

“Shit. That sucks.”

I nod again.

“But you’re here. You spent the night,” she grins. “He couldn’t hold back could he?”

I shake my head. “It’s not like that. I was upset so he let me stay here. Nothing happened. He’s just being a friend.”

She slumps her shoulders and pouts, making it obvious she was hoping we caved.

“Just one more question. Your poem. It was about him, wasn’t it?”

I nod.

“Nice,” she laughs.

She’s quiet again, but not for long. “Last question. I swear. For real.”

I look at her, letting her know it's okay to continue.

“Is he a good kisser?”

I smile. I can't help but smile. “Oh my god, he’s so freakin' hot!”

“I know!” She claps her hands and bounces on the couch.

Our laughter fades as the reality of the moment returns. I turn and look out the window again and gaze at our house across the street while she takes our glasses to the sink. As she’s walking back through the living room, she grabs my hand and pulls me off the couch.

“Come on, we’re going to talk to your mom.”

We? I don’t object. There’s something about Eddie that you just don’t object to.

12.

“With paranoia on my heels

Will you love me still

When we awake and you see that

The sanity has gone from my eyes?”

-The Avett Brothers, Paranoia in B Flat Major

Chapter Twelve

Eddie has never been inside my house before. You wouldn't know that by watching her bounce through the front door. She's still pulling me along behind her when we walk inside. My mother is sitting on the sofa, watching this stranger scamper toward her with a smile on her face, dragging her angry daughter behind her. I have to admit, the surprise on my mom's face is gratifying.

Eddie pulls me to the couch and pushes my shoulders down until I'm seated next to my mother. Eddie proceeds to take a seat on the coffee table directly in front of us, posture straight, head held high. She is in charge.

"I'm Eddie, your daughter's best friend," she says to my mother. "There, now that we all know each other, let's get down to the nitty gritty."

My mother looks at me, then back at Eddie and doesn’t respond. I actually have nothing to say either. I don't know where Eddie is taking this so all I can do is allow her to continue.

"Julia, right? That's your name?"

My mother nods.

"Julia, Layken has questions. Lots of questions. You have answers." Eddie looks at me. "Layken, you ask questions and your mother will answer them." She looks at both of us simultaneously. "That's how you do it. Any questions? For me, I mean?"

My mother and I both shake our heads. Eddie stands up. "Alright then. My work here is done. Call me later."

Eddie steps over the coffee table and heads for the front door, but spins on her feet and comes back to us. She wraps her arms around my mother's neck. My mother looks at me wide-eyed before she returns the hug. Eddie continues to squeeze my mother's neck for an unusually long time before she finally lets go. She smiles at us, hops over the coffee table and walks out the front door. And she's gone. Just like that.

We both sit in silence, staring at the front door-confused as to where exactly things went wrong with Eddie. Or where exactly they went right. It was hard to tell. I glance back at my mother and we both laugh.

"Wow, Lake. You sure know how to pick 'em."

"I know. She's great, huh?"

We both settle into the couch and my mother reaches over and pats the top of my hand.

"We better do what she says. Ask me a question, I'll answer it best I can."

I cut right to the chase. "Are you gonna die?"

"Aren't we all?" she replies.

"That's a question. You're supposed to just answer."

She sighs, like she's hesitating, not really wanting to answer.

"Possibly. Probably," she admits.

"How long? How bad is it?"

"Lake, maybe I should explain it first. It'll give you a better idea of what we're up against."

She stands and moves to the kitchen and takes a seat at the bar. She motions for me to sit with her as she grabs a pen and a sheet of paper and starts to write something down.

"There are two types of lung cancer. Non-small cell and small cell. Unfortunately, I have small cell, which spreads faster."

She is drawing a diagram. "Small cell can either be limited or extensive." She points to an area on a sketched pair of lungs. "Mine was limited. Which means it was contained into this area." She circles an area of the lungs and makes a pinpoint. "This is where they found a tumor. I was having some symptoms a few months before your father died. He had me go in for a biopsy and that's when we found out it was malignant. We researched doctors for a few days and finally decided our best course of action would be a doctor we found here in Michigan-in Detroit. He specializes in SCLC. We decided on the move before your father even died. We-"

"Mom, slow down."

She lays down the pen.

"I need a minute," I say. "God, it feels like I'm in science class."

I rest my head in my hands. She's had months to think about this. She talks about it like she's teaching me how to bake a cake!

She patiently waits as I get up and go to the bathroom. I splash water on my face and stare at my reflection in the mirror. I look like complete crap. I haven't even glanced in a mirror since before I went out with Gavin and Eddie last night. My mascara is smudged under my eyes. My eyes are puffy. My hair is wild. I wipe the makeup off and brush out my hair before I go back to the kitchen and listen to her tell me how she's going to die.

She looks up at me as I walk back into the kitchen and I nod, giving her the go-ahead.

"A week after we decided we were moving to Michigan to be closer to the Doctor, your father died. I was so consumed with it, with his death and the arrangements and everything. I just tried to push what was going on with me out of my mind. I didn't go back to the doctor for three months. By that time, it had spread. It was no longer limited small cell, it was extensive."

She looks away, ashamed. Her voice lowers. "I blamed myself-for your dad's heart attack. I knew it was the stress of the diagnosis that caused it." She stands and walks to the living room and looks out the front window.

"Why didn't you tell me? I could have helped you, Mom. You didn't need to deal with all of it on your own."

"I know that now. I was in denial. I was angry. I was hoping for a miracle, I guess. I don't know. The days turned into weeks, then months. Now we're here. I started Chemotherapy again three weeks ago."

"That's good, right? If they're giving you chemo then there's a chance it'll go away."

She shakes her head. "It's not to fight it, Lake. It's to manage my pain. It's all they can do now."

I drop my head in my hands and cry. It's amazing how many tears one person can have. One night after my father died, I had cried so much I started to become paranoid I was doing damage to my eyes, so I googled it. I googled 'can a person cry too much?' Apparently, everyone eventually falls asleep and stops crying in order for their bodies to process normal periods of rest. So no, you can't cry too much.

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