My hands grip the edges of the dryer as I slide off with a jerk. "Will?" I say as I take a step toward him.
The light from the kitchen casts a shadow across his face but I can see his jaw-it's clenched. His eyes are full of shame as he looks at me apologetically.
"Will? Tell me. Do the rules still apply?"
He doesn't have to answer me-I can tell by his reaction that they do.
"Lake," he says quietly. "I had a weak moment, I'm sorry."
I shove my hands into his chest.
"A weak moment? That's what you call this? A weak moment?" I yell. "What were you gonna do, Will? When were you gonna stop making out with me and kick me out of your house this time?" I spin and turn out of the laundry room and make my way through the kitchen.
"Lake, don't. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. It won't happen again, I swear."
I stop and turn toward him. "You're damn right it won't! I finally accepted it, Will. After an entire month of torture, I was finally able to be around you again. Then you go and do this! I can't do it anymore," I cry. "The way you consume my mind when we aren't together? I don't have time for it anymore. I've got more important things to think about now than your little weak moments."
I cross the living room and open the front door and pause. "Get me the measuring tape," I say calmly.
"Wh-what?" he says.
"It's on the damn floor! Get me the measuring tape!"
I hear his footsteps fade as he walks to the laundry room. He retrieves the measuring tape and brings it back to me. As he places it in my grasp, he squeezes my hand.
"Don't make me the bad guy, Lake. Please."
I pull my hand away from his. "Well you're certainly not the martyr, anymore."
I turn and walk out, slamming the door behind me. I cross the street and don't look back to see if he's watching me. I don't care anymore.
I pause at our entryway and take a deep breath as I wipe my eyes. I open the front door to our home, put a smile across my face, and help my mother make her very last Halloween costumes.
“Ain’t it like most people
I’m no different
We love to talk on things
We don’t know about.”
-The Avett Brothers, 10,000 words
Will and Caulder end up going out of town after all. Mom and I spend most of Saturday and Sunday putting the finishing touches on the costumes. I let my mother know about Will's schedule and how we'll be helping them out more. As pissed as I am, I don't want Caulder and Kel to have to suffer. Sunday night when Will gets home I don't even notice; because I don't even care.
"Kel, call Caulder and tell him he can come over and put his costume on," I say as I drag Kel out of bed. "Will has to leave early anyway. He can get ready over here."
It's Halloween, day of the cancerous lungs. Kel runs to the kitchen and grabs the phone.
I take a shower and finish getting ready, then wake my mother up so she can see the end results. After she gets dressed, under instruction from Caulder and Kel, she closes her eyes. I walk her into the living room and position her in front of the two boys.
"Wait!" Caulder says. "What about Will? He needs to see us, too."
I usher my mother back into the hallway as I run to the front door, throw on my boots and go outside. He's pulling out of his driveway so I flag him down. I can see by the look on his face that he's hoping I've forgiven him. I immediately cease any false hope.
"You're still an asshole, but your brother wants you to see his costume. Come in for a second." I return to the house.
When Will walks in I position him and my mother in front of the boys and tell them to open their eyes.
Kel is the right lung, Caulder is the left. The stuffed material is shaped so that their arms and head fit through small openings and the bottom is open to their waste and legs. We dyed the material so that it would reflect dead spots here and there. There are larger lumps protruding from the lungs in various places-the tumors. There is a long pause before Will and my mother react.
"It's disgusting," Will says.
"Repulsive," my mother adds.
"Hideous," I say.
The boys high five. Or, rather, the lungs high five. After we take pictures, I load them up in the jeep and I drop the pair of lungs off at school.
I'm not even halfway through second period when my phone starts vibrating. I pull it out of my pocket and look at the number. It's Will. Will never calls me. I assume he's trying to apologize so I put the phone back in my jacket. It vibrates again. He's calling again. I turn and look at Eddie.
"Will keeps calling me, should I answer?" I say. I don't know why I'm asking her. Maybe she's got some great advice.
"I dunno," she says.
On his third attempt, I press the send button and put the phone to my ear. "Hello?" I whisper.
"Layken, it's me. Look, you've got to get to the elementary. There's been an incident and I can't get through to your mom. I'm in Detroit, I can't go."
"What? With who?" I whisper.
"Both of them, I guess. They aren't hurt; they just need someone to pick them up. Go! Call me back."
I quietly excuse myself from the classroom. Eddie follows me.
"What is it?" she says as we walk into the hallway.
"I don't know. Something with Kel and Caulder," I say.
"I'm going with you," she says.
When we arrive at the school, I sprint inside. I'm out of breath and on the verge of hysteria when we find the office. Kel and Caulder are both sitting in the lobby.
My feet won’t move fast enough as I run to them and hug them.
"Are y'all okay? What happened?"
They both shrug.
"We don’t know," Kel says. "They just told us we had to sit here until our parents came."
"Ms. Cohen?" someone says from behind me. I turn around and there is a slender woman with red hair looking at me. She's wearing a black pencil skirt and a white dress shirt. She looks more like a librarian than a principal. She gestures her hand toward her office and Eddie and I follow her.
The woman walks into her office and takes a seat at her desk, nodding to the chairs in front of her. Eddie and I both sit.
"I'm Ms. Brill. I'm the principal here at Chapman Elementary. Principal Brill."
The curt way she's speaking to me and her hoity toity posture have immediately turned me off. I already don't like her.
"Are Caulder's parents joining us?" she asks.
"Caulder's parents are dead," I reply.
She gasps, then attempts to control her reaction by sitting up even straighter. "Oh, that's right. I'm sorry," she says. "Is it his brother? He lives with his brother, right?"
I nod. "He's in Detroit, he can't make it. I'm Kel's sister. What's the problem?"
She laughs. "Well, isn't it obvious?" She gestures out her office window to them.
I look at the boys. They're playing rock-paper-scissors and laughing. I know she's referring to their costumes, but she's already lost my respect with her attitude, so I continue to act oblivious.
"Is rock-paper-scissors against school policy?" I ask.
"Ms. Cohen," Principal Brill says. "They're dressed as cancerous lungs!" She shakes her head in disbelief.
"I thought they were rotten kidney beans," Eddie says.
We both laugh.
"I don't think this is funny," Principal Brill says. "They're causing a distraction amongst the students! Those are very offensive and crude costumes! I don't know who thought it was a good idea, but you need to take them home and change their clothes."
My focus returns to Principal Brill as I slowly turn around and lean forward, placing my arms on her desk.
"Principal Brill," I say calmly. "Those costumes were made by my mother. My mother, who has stage four small-cell lung cancer. My mother, who will never watch her little boy celebrate another Halloween again. My mother, who will more than likely experience a year of 'lasts.' Last Christmas. Last birthday. Last Easter. And if God is willing, her last Mother's Day. My mother, who when asked by her nine-year-old son if he could be her cancer for Halloween, had no choice but to make him the best cancerous tumor-ridden lung costume she could. So if you think it's so offensive, I suggest you drive them home yourself and tell my mother to her face. Do you need my address?"
Principal Brill's mouth is gaped open as she shakes her head. She can't respond. I stand up and Eddie follows me out the door. I stop short and spin around and walk back into her office.
"And one more thing. The costume contest? I hope it's fairly judged."
Eddie laughs as I shut the door behind us.
"What's going on?" Kel asks.
"Nothing," I say. "Y'all can go back to class. She just wanted to know where we got the materials for your costume so she can be a hemorrhoid next year."
Eddie and I try to contain our laughter as the boys make their way back to class. We head outside and as soon as we open the doors, we explode. We laugh so hard, we cry.
When we get back in the jeep, I have six missed calls from my mother and two from Will. I return their calls and assure them the situation has been resolved without sparing any details.
Later that afternoon when I pick the boys up from school, they sprint to the car.
"We won!" Caulder yells as he climbs in the backseat. "We both won! Fifty dollars each!"
“Well I've been locking myself up in my house for some time now
Reading and writing and reading and thinking
and searching for reasons and missing the seasons
The Autumn, the Spring, the Summer, the snow
The record will stop and the record will go
Latches latched the windows down,
the dog coming in and the dog going out
Up with caffeine and down with the shot
Constantly worried about what I've got
Distracted by work but I can't make it stop
and my confidence on and my confidence off
And I sink to the bottom I rise to the top
and I think to myself that I do this a lot
World outside just goes it goes it goes it goes it goes it goes...”
-The Avett Brothers, Talk on Indolence
The next few weeks come and go. Eddie helps out with watching the boys until Will gets home on the days I take my mother to her treatments. Will leaves every morning at six-thirty and doesn't return home until after five-thirty. We don't see each other. I make sure we don't see each other. We've resorted to texting and phone calls when it comes to Kel and Caulder. My mother has been pressing me for information, wanting to know why he doesn't come around anymore. I lie and tell her he's just busy with his new internship.
He's only been to the house once in the past two months. It was the only time we've really spoken since the incident in the laundry room. He came to tell me he was offered a job at a Junior High that starts in January.
I'm happy for him, but it's bittersweet. I know how much the job means for him and Caulder, but I know what it means for Will and I, too. Deep down there was a part of me silently counting down the days until his last day of internship. It's finally here, and he's already signed another contract. It solidified things for us, really. Solidified that they're over.