Saturday, December 27, 2008
It wasn’t that I expected it to be hard to find it or anything, but I think I was expecting something bigger. The last clue seemed like the most important. Shouldn’t it be at least a little bit flashy?
But no. Of course it was the most unexpected thing imaginable.
The first goal I checked had nothing. When I got to the other side of the field nothing on the new goal stood out immediately. But there was a soccer ball sitting beside the post.
When I picked it up for further inspection, I found the initials JC on one white patch. It was my soccer ball. I flipped the ball over. There was a pink Post-It note stuck to it. In black pen, it said;
Mom’s keys should be answer enough.
What did mom’s keys have anything to do with this?
I raced back for the bikes, not even waiting for Eliot of Jeremy to get back, and took off for the house. Why would Cam need keys to hide? Where could she have gone that needed keys?
Two blocks away from home, I heard someone shouting behind me. “Jove!” I glanced back. Jeremy was standing up and pumping hard on the pedals, pounding them as if it would force the bike faster.
“Wait up, man!” Eliot was close behind him.
I didn’t stop until I’d made it to the front yard, leaped from the bike before it stopped rolling, bounded through the house to the back door where the key rings were kept, and pulled mom’s keys from the rack. Jeremy and Eliot came just as soon as I’d caught my breath.
Since they hadn’t read the note yet, I shoved it at them and began shifting through the keys.
Jeremy nodded after he’d read the note. “She’s smarter than I thought she was.”
“Mmm.” I continued my search. What was missing? I knew that there were supposed to be five keys. One for the house, one for her work, one for he car, one for the garage, one for—
“The storage garage!” Jeremy punched the air with his fist, shouting, “Eureka!”
We were on our bikes and down the street before Eliot could even get past the fact that Jeremy had actually yelled “eureka”.
He caught up to us before we got to the end of the third block. “You think she’s at your storage garage?” His breath was coming quick and sharp, as though it hurt to breathe.
The air was growing steadily colder and I shivered. “Yeah,” I said, “it was the only key that was missing.”
Jeremy’s eyes were bright and wide against the dark air that blasted us as we raced down the street. “And we haven’t used it for a couple months now,” he added. “It’d be an ideal place for a hideout.”
We rode in silence the rest of the way. When we got into the country and turned onto the side road that led to the rental storage garage unit, I was just beginning to see my breath. It came in soft puffs and flew back into my face as I pedaled.
The crunch of gravel began when we entered the lot. I stopped in the light of a streetlamp at the corner of the lot and put my foot down to steady the bike.
“You want to find her yourself,” Jeremy whispered as though he might disturb something if he were to talk normally.
I realized that he meant it as a statement before I objected. “Yeah,” I said. “It seems like—“
“She wants you to find her. We’re unneeded at this point,” Eliot said as he smiled. “We’ll wait here.”
I stepped off my bike, smacked the kickstand down with my heel, and noticed for the first time that I was shaking. My fingers, with nothing to hold onto, quivered at my sides.
They stayed behind like Eliot said they would as I made my way down the row of ten or so garages.
My shadow fell in front of me gradually, keeping pace with my every step. My fingers continued to twitch, so I clenched them into fists to keep them from knocking against my legs.
Our garage was the second to last in the row. There was a garage door that opened up for easy access, but there was also a door to the left of it. It was just as big as a normal door. When I reached for the handle, my fingers stopped shaking. I knew then that Cam would be in there.
The doorknob turned when I tried it. Sure enough. I pushed the door open hesitantly with my shoe. Nothing of interest immediately caught my eye.
I stepped through the door. There, in the middle of the room, was an old metal fire pit raised up on three legs. There was a fire in it, of all things. A couch and an old chair had been arranged around it, but weren’t right beside it, in case sparks happened to leap from the fire.
On the couch, there was a small person huddled in a blanket, eyes staring into the flames. Her long blonde hair wasn’t anything like Cam’s short brown hair. I realized that I’d also been looking for Gwen along with Cam.
There was someone else sitting in the chair. “Cam?” I stepped towards the middle of the room, my hands clenched again to stop the shaking.
The girl in the chair looked up. It was Cam, her bright green eyes speaking more than she’d ever really said to me in her life. She leaped from the chair, the blanket she’d had wrapped around her shoulders falling to the floor, and nearly tackled me right off my feet.
“Hey, girl.” I hugged her and smiled. It was the first time I’d hugged her since the diagnose.
“I knew you would look for me,” she whispered into my shoulder, squeezing me as though I were a stuffed teddy bear.
“Why wouldn’t I,” I asked. “You’re my sister.”
She shrugged and released me to step back. “I’ve been a jerk to you. And I was scared that you wouldn’t want to talk to me anymore, since I haven’t been . . . talking to you.”
“No,” I said. “I’ll always talk to you. Even when you don’t want me to.”
She grinned and tapped me on the shoulder with her fist. “Good thing you found us today too, cause it was getting stuffy in here.” She glanced back at Gwen. “And we only had one more days worth of food.”
“Lets get you home then,” I said. “Your mom has been worried about you,” I told Gwen.
She shrugged. “It’s good for her. I’m always the goody-two-shoes around here anyway—thought I should do something rebellious for once.”
We got them home soon after seven that night. Jeremy and I rode with Eliot to his house and then went to Brad’s to drop off the bikes. No one would answer the door, so we chained them to a tree in his backyard.
When we got home, mom didn’t say anything to us about Cam being home. Neither of us mentioned it either.
Cam told me later that she and Gwen had still been able to go to school, filthy as they were. She said it wasn’t worth missing school over and the teachers would have noticed if their absences had been called in.
Every morning, they would get on the bus to go to school like everything was normal. Then when they got back to town, they would walk out to the garage and stay there until the next day.
I told her I was glad they were able to take care of themselves after all that. But I also told her “No more hide-and-seek.”
From now on, we’ll be talking to each other like real siblings.
Friday, December 26, 2008
All four of us were on our knees, digging, before we actually found Cam’s money. It was buried eight inches deep and two inches away from the cement that held the post in the ground. Our hands looked as though we’d sorted through a months worth of compost.
What we’d dug up looked like a little cardboard jewelry box—one that had been plastered with pink, blue, and white tissue paper like paper mache. On the lid, there was a slip of ripped up paper taped to the top. On it, in tiny printed letters, was scrawled
Jeremy smiled and handed it to me. “If that isn’t all the evidence you need, I don’t know what else there is. She definitely wants you to find her.”
I stared at the words for a minute or so before Eliot slapped me on the back from impatience.
“Open it, man!”
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to open it. It was more that I couldn’t. Why would she leave anything for me, when I’m the one who she was running away from in the first place?
When I worked up the courage to pull the lid off, a wad of dollar bills popped out at me.
“Geez, she rob a bank or what,” Brad asked. Jeremy gave him a look.
I pulled the wad out and handed it to Jeremy. “Count it.” There was something else in the bottom of the box—a folded note.
Jeremy separated the bills into three piles and gave one to Eliot and Brad each. “Help,” he said.
As they counted, I unfolded the note and read it. It went
i know your probly tired of looking for me by now but this is important. i dont know how to tell you that I still love you as my brother and it seemed like this was the only way that didnt include me telling you myself. i dont have words like you do. and i guess you figured out by now that i read your blog. ellie told me about it. it made me realize how much of a jerk ive been to you since the cancer diagnose. im sorry. anyway, there are only two more clues that you have to find. think you can make it?
p.s. jeremy should know what to do with the money. it will take you to the next clue.
When I looked up, I realized the others were done counting.
“You’ve read that, like, three times over,” Eliot said. “Done yet?”
Jeremy smiled before I could answer. “We’ve got a little over thirty bucks here. Thirty-four, isn’t it, guys?”
Brad and Eliot nodded.
“But what are we supposed to do with it,” I asked Jeremy, unable to hold back.
He shrugged. “How should I know?”
I held the note out for him to see. “This is how.”
He read over it once and shrugged again. “I dunno what she means by that.”
Eliot snatched it from him.
“But don’t you have any idea,” I asked Jeremy. “There’s got to be something. Anything.”
“What about when you said that she told you that she had enough money for a costume,” Brad said.
Eliot nodded slowly as he set the note down. “It does say that Jeremy would know. Why else would she tell you about getting enough money for a costume if she wasn’t going to spend it on herself?”
“Well . . .” Jeremy stood and walked a quick circle around the STOP sign. “She said something about wanting to help you buy food for the dogs—“
I was up and to my bike before he’d even finished the sentence. “We’re going to our house. Hurry.”
By the time we got there and to the animal’s shed, it was starting to get dark out.
“How long do you think she was prepared to stay hidden,” Brad asked. “Cause if it wasn’t more than a couple days . . . she’s gotta be starving by now.”
Jeremy’s fists began to ball up, but I grabbed his arm. “She’ll be fine,” I said. “Don’t hit him again.”
Eliot and Brad headed back to Brad’s house to get the dogs and bring them back while Jeremy and I searched the dog’s area of the shack.
I was rummaging through a cupboard as I went through the basket of dog treats when Jeremy yelled, “Found it!”
It was a small pink Post-It note with two words written on it with blue ink pen. Goal Post.
“The soccer field,” I said. Jeremy nodded.
We waited until Eliot and Brad got back with the dogs, got them settled on the shack and headed for the field.
“So you think the final clue is at the soccer field,” Brad said.
“Yup,” I said.
Jeremy rode at my side, smiling.
“What is it,” I asked him.
“I was . . . so worried that she’d actually run away. And then we find out its all just a game.” He laughed a little. “I could hurt her.”
“We all could. Except mom, maybe. She’s in denial for sure.”
“It’ll be okay now,” I said.
Eliot rode up behind us, gripping about Brad being too heavy again. “Are you two done with your heart-to-heart yet, cause it’s getting kinda cold out here and I’m tired.”
I scowled at him. “Sure. You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”
Brad sighed. “My mom probably wants me home for dinner.” He hopped off Eliot’s pegs and staggered a little before catching his balance.
Eliot scoffed. “Yeah, right.”
Jeremy shrugged. “Whatever.” He continued on but I stopped beside Eliot.
“You sure, man? We could call her, tell her you’ll be late—“
I noticed that a bruise had begun to form on his jaw where Jeremy had hit him.
“Okay,” I said and rode off, wondering if he’d say anything. Eliot followed.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
“Uhh,” I said.
Jeremy looked back and cursed under his breath. I almost yelled at him for cussing, but Eliot
interrupted my train of thought.
“We could get a map from my car.”
Brad laughed. “You mean your grandparent’s car.”
Eliot huffed. “But still. I’m the only one who ever drives it anymore.”
“Fine,” I said.
After we’d gotten the map and looked up Prospect, we found that it was about half a mile west of Jeremy and I’s house.
“You’d think they’d be more original in their hiding,” Brad said. “It’d make it more fun.”
Jeremy socked him in the jaw for that and Brad stumbled back, shocked at the anger in Jeremy’s usually calm eyes.
“Don’t you ever say that looking for my lost sister is funny again,” Jeremy yelled at him. Then he stalked off to his bike and pulled it up from the lawn.
“Um.” Eliot and I stared at Brad’s split lip and he scowled. “That was a cheap shot.” He whipped the blood away with his wrist and shrugged as though it didn’t hurt.
I followed Jeremy and got on my bike. Before I followed him down the street, I glanced back at Brad.
He waved me off and got on Eliot’s pegs, ready to go. “Whatever,” he muttered.
To say the least, I was glad Jeremy socked him one. He’d deserved it. For one, he was out of line.
For another, I’d wanted to hit him for a long time. It bugged me that he’d think that looking for my missing little sister was fun. I was terrifying, to tell the truth. Every turn down a different street, I half-expected her to be there, only strewn to the side of the road, dead from being hit by the nearest car.
I tried my best to shake the disturbing images from my mind as we rode toward Prospect. What were we supposed to find when we got there, anyway? Her?
No such luck.
When we got to 121 Prospect, we came upon an empty, weed-infested lot.
“Well.” Eliot stepped into the calf-deep tangled grass and looked around. “That was worth every back-breaking pedal with Lard, here, riding on the back pegs.”
Brad came up behind him, ready to tackle, when I sighed. “But she wouldn’t lead us here for nothing . . . right?”
“If that was even what she meant to do,” Jeremy said.
“True,” Brad piped up. “We could have been wrong from the start.”
Eliot tramped through the lot, looking at the ground, or what he could see of it, the whole time.
“Maybe she left a clue?”
“Start looking,” I told the other two, agreeing with Eliot.
We combed through the lot several times before flopping down on the sidewalk, ready to give up.
“There’s got to be a better way to do this,” Brad said.
Jeremy nodded. “You’d think a girl would leave easy clues to find!”
“Obviously, she isn’t as stupid as you thought she was, Jeremy,” I retorted coldly. Just because she was a girl and his sister didn’t mean he had to belittle her.
Then something at the edge of the field caught my eye. There was a systematic patch of weeds missing.
I scrambled to it on my knees I was so excited and leaned over it. It resembled a rectangle, but in dirt, the weeds pulled away from the ground to reveal the dir beneath. The rectangle formed an arrow with the two meeting sidewalks on Prospect and McKinley Ave.
“Found it!” I pumped my fist in the air and whirled on my knees, ready to see the great sign from God that my sister had meant for me. But . . .
There was little more than a STOP sign.
Jeremy was crouched beside me now, staring at the arrow. “How disappointing,” he muttered, still looking the ground but knowing that my elation had been completely deflated.
“Well that stinks,” Eliot said, now on his knees in the grass beside the arrow. “It doesn’t point to anything—”
“Except the STOP sign,” Brad finished for him.
I stood and went to the sign—walked a full circle around it. “Nothing,” I said.
“We could have been wrong from the start,” Brad pointed out. “Would she really lead us to an empty field and then expect us to find this,” he motioned to the arrow, “that points at a random sign?”
Jeremy stood and huffed aloud, his eyes still on the arrow. “Well . . . yeah.”
I nodded. “The contact in her phone. That’s me, you guys. The god Jupiter was called Jove sometimes.”
They all stared at me.
“Then why,” Eliot finally said,” did you not tell us this before?”
I shrugged. “Thought it was stupid to say. That’d she’d want me to find her, I guess. Since she’s been hiding from me since the . . .”
Suddenly, Jeremy dropped to his knees by the sign post and started pawing around at the base, digging away at the dirt and weeds.
“What are you doing, weirdo?” Brad nudged him with his foot, but Jeremy kept working.
“Help me here, man,” he muttered as he dug, his fingers already filthy. I got down on my knees again and started at the other side of the pole. Eliot and Brad just stood where they were, staring at us like we were out of our minds.
“What are you even looking for,” Eliot asked, his voice on the edge of a you’re-insane-and-I-knew-it-all-along tone.
Jeremy sighed and sat back. “The other day, Cam mentioned that she’d gotten enough money for a costume, but that she didn’t want to spend it on a costume.”
“And you think she buried it,” Brad asked, crouching down beside us.
Jeremy shrugged. “Pretty much.”
“By a STOP sign,” Eliot said.
I grinned. “Some treasure hunt.”
Friday, December 19, 2008
After Brad had locked the dogs in his garage (he called them a nuisance) and had gotten Jeremy and I each a bike from his basement, we were ready to go.
“Get anything from her cell phone,” I asked Jeremy.
He was busy flipping though contacts and old messages. But he shook his head. “No . . . nothing.”
Eliot scowled and grabbed the phone from him. “Man, you don’t know squat.” He clicked through a menu or two, then stopped. “Here, it says “Oct. 21”. That’s the day she left, right?”
We both nodded. Brad leaned against the side of the house, watching us.
“She got four messages that day. See?” Eliot pointed to a new screen as he turned the phone to face me.
Jeremy grabbed it back and read through the messages. “There’s this one . . . it says, ‘she fell for it. meet you at park at five.’”
Brad smiled. “Sounds like she’s got a partner in crime.”
“Then this other kid must be missing too!” Jeremy glanced at the sender’s number and dialed it into his own cell. “Guess we’ll find out.”
While we waited for him to get off the phone Eliot ran his fingers through his hair and I paced. Brad stayed against the house, thinking I would assume.
“Uhh,” Jeremy came up behind me. “This is my brother. Repeat what you just told me.” He shoved the phone at me and I pressed it to my ear.
“This is Cam’s brother?”
“Yeah, I’m Jove.”
“Your brother Jeremy says that Cam has gone missing.”
“She isn’t at your house?”
There was an uncomfortable silence.
“Well . . . no. My daughter was supposed to spend the night at your house two nights ago. She never came home, and I thought she must have stayed longer.”
“Your daughter? What’s her name?”
“Okay, Miss . . .”
“Okay, Mrs. Cramer, we’re going to try and find my sister and your daughter. Please don’t call the police yet.”
“I won’t. Gwen has never been in trouble before . . . and she’d never run away—“
“We’re pretty sure she did,” I interrupted. “But please, we’ll call you again if we find anything.”
There was silence and a bit of static at the other end, but the she said, “Thank you Jove. Goodbye.” Click.
I snapped Jeremy’s phone shut. “We’ve got two runaways. Cam and her friend Gwen.”
Jeremy nodded. “Sounds like they planned it ahead of time.”
Brad sighed. “There aren’t many places two thirteen year olds can run away together . . .”
“Not really,” I said.
“Might as well start looking,” Eliot muttered. “We’re not going to get anywhere like this.”
Jeremy was looking through Cam’s contacts again.
“Hey . . . Jove, look at this.” He held the screen up fro me to see. He’d highlighted a contact that said “Jupiter”.
That stopped me cold. Jupiter . . . Phoenix had told me that Jupiter was sometimes called “Jove”. I could feel my eye widen at the thought.
Could she have known that I had a blog all this time? And actually read it?
“What’s the number?” Brad took it from Jeremy and recited “121-37767328”.
“That can’t be right,” he said as he looked at it closer. “There’re way too many numbers.”
Eliot sat down on the pavement and crossed his legs Indian-style. “But numbers can mean letters too. Try that.”
We all set to work on our own phones, trying to figure out what it could be—if that was even it.
“The ‘121’ can’t be a word. An address number maybe?” Jeremy looked up at me and I nodded.” Yeah, try the other eight letters now.”
“A street name,” Brad mumbled. He ran inside to get a piece of paper.
He came back with a pen and notebook with letters already scrawled over the front page. “Here, this is what I have so far.”
“You’re ridiculous,” Eliot laughed. “Prospect is the only street possible out of those combinations!”
“Then let’s get over there!” Jeremy was already on his borrowed bike and flying down the street before we could even get on ours. Brad rode the pegs of Eliot’s bike since he’d lent both his bikes to me and Jeremy.
All I could think as I pounded the pedals, standing up to force the bike forward, was “You’d better be there Cam.”
It seems that today, I remembered that I haven’t seen Cam in two days. When I asked Jeremy about it he said, “She’s been staying at a friend’s house.”
I asked mom about it. She said the same thing.
“But have you heard from her? Has she called . . . why has she been gone so long?”
She gave me a look. “Since when are you so worried about your sister? You’ve been neglecting her ever since you got back.”
The anger that rose in my chest at what she’d said almost exploded in the nastiest string of words I could ever think of, but I bit my tongue instead.
“Is it a crime to worry about my sister,” I retorted, and then slammed the back door, headed for the animal’s shack. She didn’t follow. I was glad she didn’t.
I got the dogs ready for their walk as they bounced excitedly around my legs, temporarily tangling me in a mess of leashes. After I got them sorted out and we’d left, I decided that I would go look for her. But first . . . I had to get something.
There was a skinny tree in front of our house. I tied the dogs’ leashes to it and ran inside. I hadn’t gone in Cam’s room in forever, but I knew that she kept her cell phone under her pillow. (I’ve helped mom play “Tooth Fairy” on several occasions.)
So the first thing I went for when I got to her room was her bed. Her cell phone was there. For a second, I couldn’t believe it. My fingers began to shake as I pulled it from under the pillow.
It was hers alright. A palm-fit US CELLULAR. A nice, little silver LG camera phone—a flip-phone.
I got dizzy just looking at it. Why I’d thought that it might still be there, when she wasn’t, I don’t know. She never goes without her phone. I mean never ever. It’s her life, basically.
At that point, I wasn’t sure what to do. So I yelled for Jeremy.
“Jeremy!! Get in here!”
There was the sound of pounding feet, a thud, then harsh breathing.
“Geez, man, don’t give me a heart-attack like that again—“
I turned around, still holding the phone. His face ran pale. “Oh my God.”
He grimaced. “Sorry.” His breathing slowed as he leaned against the doorjamb and rubbed his knee. “Tripped on the stairs, dangit.”
“We have to go. Now.” I stuffed the phone in my pocket and pushed past him. “Something’s wrong.”
“But we can’t—“
“Yes we can. Mom won’t do anything about it. We will.”
I took the stairs down two at a time and bounded out the door for the dogs. By the time I had them untied, Jeremy was beside me.
“We’re getting Eliot and Brad too.” I tossed him my phone. “Call em. Then check Cam’s phone for messages.”
We got to Brad’s house before Eliot. Since it was about halfway between our houses, he said it’d be easier for him to meet us there.
Jeremy was just getting through with telling Brad what had happened when Eliot rode up through the yard on his bike. “Hey, where’s the fire?” All Jeremy had told him over the phone was that we needed him. Soon.
“No fire,” I said. “We think Cam . . . ran away.”
He hopped off his bike and dropped it on the lawn. “Sounds like she is the fire.”
Jeremy glared at him. “Try having your sister run away and your mom not even care.”
“You forget,” Eliot said, his index finger in the air as if he were stating a fact. “I have no siblings. And I live with my grandparents.”
I rolled my eyes. “Come on guys, this is serious.”
Brad stood from where he’d been sitting on the step. “Then what are we waiting around here for?"
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
It falls perfectly on a Friday, so the junior high is having a dress-up day. Dress up for a dollar. Ellie is all for the idea, while Cam is still undecided.
From what I’ve heard from Ellie, Cam says it’s dumb that she has to pay to dress up. I heard her complaining to mom that she didn’t have enough for a costume either. But mom wouldn’t give her the money.
Jeremy says it’s all just stupid junior high stuff.
“I remember that. So dumb.” He laughed at the idea of dressing up. “Like we’re little kids again!”
“That isn’t always a bad thing,” I told him.
But Ellie jumped at the idea. She’s even going so far as to making her own costume, since she learned how to sew in her Home Ec. class. She plans on creating a bird costume.
“With feathers and everything!” Her eyes radiated excitement at the thought.
I drove her to the Wal-Mart about half an hour away so she could buy her feathers and material.
When they didn’t have the shade of green she’d wanted, we had to look for another color.
“How about yellow,” I suggested.
“And look like Big Bird?” She rolled her eyes at me and poked my shoulder. “You know I can’t do that.”
We gave up on the yellow. So we had to settle for blue and purple, and a darker green feathers and material. She said that she’d be able to work it into the costume so that it would look like she was a multi-colored tropical bird.
“Whatever works,” I said.
Monday, December 15, 2008
“That’s fine.” Iggy hadn’t crossed his arms since we’d left the hospital doors. I took that as a good sign.
I took the blanket from him and put it down, then helped Iggy out of his chair and onto the blanket. I sat beside him and flopped back, the grass tickling me through my cap.
“Whew!” My heart was still beating faster and harder than it had in a long time.
Iggy was silent for a minute or two, then said, “Man, can you ever run. Even when you’re sick!”
“Ha. My little sister used to say I should go out for track.”
“You have a sister?”
He fell back beside me, his hands forming a pillow behind his head. “I haven’t been outside in . . . since the surgery.”
“When was that?”
“Almost a month ago.”
I wasn’t sure what to say, so all that came out was a muted, “You’re crazy.”
He laughed, but it sounded forced. “Yeah, really.”
We were both silent until the sun had set and darkness had settled, the stars just beginning to pinprick the night sky.
“You’re crazy too.”
“How’s that?” I turned my head a bit, eyes straining in an attempt to see his face in the dark.
“You actually talked to me after the surgery. Most of the nurses tried,, but I always glared them
down or didn’t do anything at all.” He sighed heavily. “I was such a jerk . . .”
“But you aren’t anymore,” I said, looking back up at the stars.
“I was to you. I am. Still, really.”
“I don’t mind. It makes things more interesting. Frustration sometimes, but then again, I always did like a challenge.”
“So you still want to help me, even though I’m a wreck?”
I laughed at that. “Everyone’s a wreck, dude. Everyone. And if we didn’t help each other, where would we be?”
“True. But still. After all I’ve put you through. I still get prosthetic legs, so it isn’t like I’ll be wheelchair-bound the rest of my life but—“
“It’s a coping strategy, Iggy. Don’t say you shouldn’t have felt sorry for yourself. It just takes different people different lengths of time to recover from something.”
“Like cancer. You don’t seem like it hurt you much.”
A snort escaped my nose. “Yeah, right. My friend dies of cancer, and you tell me I seem unchanged. You didn’t know me before it.”
He was quiet for only second, then said, “You’re still cooler than anyone I’ve known. Despite everything.”
I smiled to myself and nudged him with my elbow. “And you aren’t too bad yourself, once I got past the onion-exterior.”
“Thanks.” He paused, thinking about what I’d said. “Wait a minute . . . hey!”
Next thing I knew, my mouth was full of a clod of grass, dirt, and whatever other worms and muck that could fit into Iggy’s hand.
“Don’t think you being nice to me brings on any exception to the rule!”
All I could do was laugh through my mouthful of (once dirt) mud, sputtering to get it all out.
“You’re one crazy kid, Iggy.” I managed to say before I had to roll away to avoid another handful of crud headed for my mouth.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
I smiled to myself. It hadn’t taken much convincing to get him out of his room after he’d ended up in mine. It was seven in the evening (the same day I’d met Iggy’s father) and we’d gotten permission to go outside after dark. When it actually happened, it was . . . sometime in late August.
“You know I’m not going to like this,” he muttered.
“Say whatever you want, you stubborn bull.” I nudged the side of his head with my elbow. “You just don’t want to admit that you’re actually happy I’m dragging out of that old room.”
He grunted, clearly disinterested—which was good, in a way. It meant he’d recovered from the shock of his dad showing up out of nowhere, drunk, and with a hangover of all things.
The doors slid open and he grabbed the wheels of his chair, as though he were afraid of rolling right out of the elevator.
“Oh come on. It’ll be fine.”
“But my legs. People are gonna stare at them. “
“We already went over this,” I huffed, then took hold of the handles on the back and pushed the wheelchair out before the doors closed again.
We’d covered his legs with a blanket from his room, but we both knew it wouldn’t be enough to cover up the fact that half of them were missing. Needless to say, Iggy was scared of other people’s reactions.
So instead of making him worry more, I leaned down and whispered in his ear so none of the passing nurses could hear me. “We could go fast, if you want.”
He was quiet for a second, then smiled slightly. “Really fast?”
“If you want.”
“You’re on.”I took the handles in my hands the best I could and muttered, “brace yourself.”
Then we were off, racing down the hall, Iggy barking a “HONK, HONK” at anyone who might be in the hallway.
“Faster,” he yelled to me, pounding the armrest as though he were a little kid again, demanding to go faster in a shopping cart through a parking lot.
But I couldn’t go any faster, knowing that we were already going to be in trouble. I figured that helping Iggy find his life again made up for any punishment we would get.
Now that I think about it, I can only imagine what anyone passing by must have thought. A bald, wild green-eyed boy with a navy blue cap on, pushing a wheelchair at high speeds through the hospital, the younger boy ( who still wasn’t very young) in the chair, slapping the armrest for all it was worth, yelling “honk, honk,” and “faster!” every other second, a white blanket with blue stripes flapping to both sides, exposing his stub-legs with their folded-up pajama pants for all to see. And for the first time, in a very long time, their eyes smiling wider than the grins plastered across their faces.
At least that what I see. It’s crazy, to say the least.
After we reached the lobby (it was a straight shot from the elevator, so we raced down the whole hall), I slowed to a walk and smiled at the secretary and receptionist. They both stared at us like we were looney-bins.
We left through the doors, the secretary calling after us, “Be back by eight!”
We weren’t back until 9:30.
Monday, December 8, 2008
As I sat up and stretched out my stiff legs, I took a quick glance around the room. A tiny warning buzz went off in the back of my head.
Iggy wasn’t in his bed. And the wheelchair was gone from beside it.
He hadn’t left his room once since I’d met him. No way he’d leave now! I jumped up and bounded for the door. Where would he have gone; there was no where for him to go. Why’d he leave?
When I stuck my head out the door, I almost fell over. There was a man standing right in front of me, stunned at my sudden appearance.
“Who’re you,” he slurred lazily. His eyes were half-open and hos shoulders were drooping even more. He looked about to collapse. I didn’t answer him, because the instant I opened my mouth to respond, the distinct smell of alcohol hit me. Hard.
Instead of words coming from my mouth, it was last night’s dinner that ended up all over the floor.
“Ergh,” I muttered and hurried down the hall in search of a nurse. My knees shook as I peeked into one room after another. In the fourth room I checked, she was there, taking a patients temperature.
She looked up the instant I stepped into room.
“Jove? Something wrong—“
I pointed towards the door and collapsed against the wall, my knees buckling beneath me. “Drunk guy in the hall.”
Her eyes widened and she whispered, “My Lord. Not that awful man again.” To the kid in the bed, she said, “I’ll be back,” and rushed from the room.
I stumbled out after her, my strength recovering slightly. (Just a forewarning. Chemotherapy and the smell of beer don’t mix well. At all.)
When I caught sight of the nurse again, all I could tell was that she’d panted herself in the doorway of Iggy’s room, eyes fierce. “I’m not asking you to leave, Mr. Nole. I’m telling you.”
The man staggered to one side and spit at the floor. “I can see ma’ boy any time ah want, lady. Get outta ma’ way.”
She didn’t budge, still glaring him down. Right about then, a doctor started down the hallway. Fast. I leaned against the wall, too nauseated to keep myself standing any longer.
The doctor took hold of Mr. Nole’s arm. “Sir, please come with me. We can get you something for that headache you’ve got.”
“Ah wanna see ma’ boy. Don’t got no headache.”
“A hangover, then. Sir. You can see Indigo after you’re feeling better.”
At this, Mr. Nole seemed to relax and allowed himself to be led down the hall, away from Iggy’s room.
And it was then that I let myself slide down the wall, afraid I’d barf again. The nurse hurried to my side and crouched beside me. “I’ll get a wheelchair. You stay put.”
After she’d gotten it and helped me into it, she wheeled me to my room. She helped me into bed, gave me something to help me sleep and I was out.
“Dude, you sleep forever . . . dude. Hey. Wake up! Dude! Hey! Jove!”
“Mmm.” I rolled over and opened my eyes the tiniest bit. “What’d you want?”
It was Iggy, sitting in his wheelchair, scowling at me with arms crossed. “You’ve been asleep almost all day. Time you got up, don’t you think?”
“Not really.” Everything came back to me in an instant and I suddenly blurted, “Where were you this morning?”
“Huh?” His jaw fell open and he sat there like that, eyes extremely dull-looking and slack-jawed.
“When I woke up . . . and you were gone. Then that guy came and—“
“That ‘guy’ was my dad.”
That shocked me enough to stay quiet, but only for a moment. “He was—“
“Drunk. Nothing new.” Iggy shrugged. “He’s showed up like that before. Almost hurt one of the doctors trying to get to me.”
“An alcoholic, then?”
“Where were you, though?”
He looked down at his lap and smiled sheepishly. “Under my bed. I collapsed the wheelchair and stuffed it under with me.”
“He’s scary when he’s drunk.”
And that’s what we left it at. The disappearance of Iggy had been solved.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Maybe only make him even more bitter.
So I had to figure out a way to bring him back to life without putting too much pressure on him.
Thing was, I wasn’t sure how to do that.
I finally decided to start in on him slowly, and work my way towards what made him tick. Just maybe . . .
“So how old are you, Iggy? Really.”
He gave me a look and crossed his arms. “Fourteen. Why the heck would you want to know?”
I ignored him and kept talking. “Have any siblings?”
“Sister . . . brother?”
He glared at me. “Looking for a girlfriend or something?”
“You just keep telling yourself that. How old?”
I nodded. “You talk to her much?”
“Not really.” Iggy looked down at his lap and fiddled with his folded up pant-leg. “She lives in France . . .”
“That’s pretty far away.”
He nodded. “Yeah. She always hated the States. And thought Dad was too controlling. When she turned eighteen, she moved out and ran away to Chicago.”
“She didn’t go to school after high school?”
“Not until she moved to Italy when she was twenty. She quit after two years and moved to France.”
“For the last year, then?”
He sighed. “Dad isn’t sure where she is anymore . . .”
“Yeah. Scary, huh?”
I stared at him for a moment. “You mean you haven’t heard from her in a year?”
A tiny nod. “We aren’t sure if she’s even . . .” He fell silent and bit his lip.
“Alive . . . ?” I finished hesitantly, unsure of what he was about to say.
“Yeah,” he whispered.
I wasn’t sure what to say. And he surprised me by speaking first.
I glanced at him. “For what?”
He shrugged and said, “You gave me a reason . . . to live. I’m not going to be like her. I don’t want to run away from my problems. Not like she did.”
“But you shouldn’t make it your reason to live just because it was her reason not to.”
He rolled his eyes and stopped his ever-moving wheelchair right in front of me. “Can’t accept a simple thanks, can you?”
I smiled slightly. “Guess not.”
So I guess I saved him after all. But he did most of the saving himself. I just needed a confidence boost from Gabe.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
But I met a man the day after Iggy told me about his diagnosis. And I’m positive he was a guardian angel.
(Don’t call me crazy yet. I still haven’t gotten to the story!)
I was sitting in the lobby, trying to get away from my stuffy room, and was in the process of deciding whether to read a Time magazine or a Nick when this guy sat beside me.
At first, I didn’t look up, but something didn’t feel right. Everything was too . . . calm. When I finally looked up, I came face-to-face with the most peaceful looking man I’ve ever seen. Don’t get me wrong. He sure didn’t look like what I’d imagined an angel would, maybe the exact opposite of that actually.
His hair was black—about shoulder-length—and pulled back into a ponytail. Eyes of the lightest gray made his face seem paler than it would have been had they been a more vibrant color. A small scar fell just below his left earlobe and stretched to the bottom of his jaw. And he was smiling slightly at something he was reading in the National Geographic he’d picked up.
When he noticed my eyes on his face, his lips twitched into a smile and he gave me a side-glance.
I wasn’t sure what to say, and I was so shocked that he’d spoken to me the two magazines in my hands fell to the floor with a plomp.
He set NG down and turned in his chair to face me. “Something wrong?”
“Course not,” I said as I fumbled for the magazines, trying to regain my thoughts.
“You’re a patient here, aren’t you?” The man glanced over my clothes and I nodded. But how could he know so easily if I was wearing loose jeans and a hoodie?
He must have seen the question in my eyes, because he nodded at the cap. “The hat, kid. Covers the bald head, keeps people from staring.”
“Oh, yeah.” I nodded. “You’ve got that down, alright.”
His smile disappeared and he leaned back in the chair, head no resting on the wall. “Someone gave that to you.”
“Statement. And yes.”
I looked him over a little more and realized he couldn’t be much older than in his mid-twenties. And his eyes gave nothing away. Unlike most people, I couldn’t read them.
“Who?” He still stared at the opposite wall as he spoke, eyebrows wrinkling together as he thought something through.
He got a funny grin on his face at that. “Girlfriend?”
“Heck no!” Why was I telling this guy the details of my life anyway? “A girl and only a friend.”
“Why so defensive?” He glanced at me again. It was unnerving the way he did that.
I couldn’t help but give him the evil-eye. “She died.”
The smile dropped from his face and his eyes fell away from mine. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“That’s what everybody says, you know. After someone dies and they didn’t really know the person.”
“Glad to be informed I’m part of a majority.”
I glared at him and turned away. “No you aren’t. What makes you different than all the others who’ve told me they were sorry to hear my best friend died—but didn’t know her?”
“I’m here talking to you.”
That stopped my sudden anger towards the man in its tracks. “Very true,” I managed to choke from my throat. A lump had formed unexpectedly and I hated the thought that I might actually cry in front of this man.
“Something else is bothering you.” Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him lean forward in his chair and prop his head up with his fists, elbows on knees. He was looking at me from the side again.
“Yeah,” I said, looking away from him. “A friend of mine . . . he lost both legs from Osteosarcoma. He can’t walk.”
“As would be the normal prognosis for ‘no legs’.”
His hint at humor fell to deaf ears and I continued. “And he’s stopped believing in life.”
“He . . . doesn’t see anything worth living for, then?”
Prolonged silence ensued, but I kept hopeful that he would just understand that I needed answers.
And he did.
“Just because he has lost sight of that which is good does not mean he cannot be brought back to the light.”
I wasn’t really looking for an answer like that, so I said, “English, please".
He laughed softly and said, “A life lost has yet to be regained. You can do it, Jove.”
When I realized he’d said my name and looked over at him, he wasn’t there anymore. It was all I could do to scramble from the chair and stumble to the hall. He wasn’t there either.
Where could he have gone in two seconds?
I hurried to the front desk and asked the secretary if she’d seen the man I was talking to leave. She only shook her head. “You were talking to someone? I never saw him . . .”
I stumbled away, confused. Had it all been in my head?
When I got back to my room, I opened the window shade to look down at the parking lot and there he was, head tilted to the sky, eyes closed as the sun fell on his seemingly statue-like chiseled features.
With no regard for what he might be doing, I flung the window open and yelled, “Hey!”
His eyes opened slowly and found me after a moment of searching. His lips twitched into a smile.
“What’s your name?”
Something struck me. “As in Gabriel?”
Gabe nodded and called in farewell, “good luck, Jove!”
“Wait!” I waved frantically as I tried to keep him in one place. “How’d you know my name?”
But he’d already turned and started down the lot, disappearing before he had a chance to see my waving arms.
And that is how I met an angel.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
When I got to his room I was greeted with an open door.
“Wow. Am I actually welcome today,” I asked after I’d dumped the art supplies on his desk.
He grunted and swung the wheelchair around so he could hop into it from where he sat in bed. “I thought I might as well let you in before you start bugging me.”
I nodded. “Good idea.” Then I set to work.
He scowled at me as he slid off the shorter-than-normal bed that was designed for him so he could get in and out of it easily without help. “What’re you doing?”
I ignored him and began chopping away at the construction paper.
“Stupid,” he muttered.
“Yup.” And I continued.
About a half-hour later, with him leaning over my shoulder the entire time, I was ready to begin my plan.
“You won’t go outside, right?”
He raised an eyebrow at me and sighed. “We’ve been over this.”
“Then the outside will come to you.”
Iggy huffed at me. “You can’t be serious.”
I stood and taped the first little square of blue onto the wall, then a small white cloud on top of it.
“Hey! Stop!” He shoved me out of the way and reached for the patch of color on the white-washed wall. But his hand fell short by a foot from the tape that held it to the wall.
“Take it down!” He strained for the paper, lifting himself off the wheelchair with one hand on the armrest, ever-reaching, but still fell short a few inches.
I felt bad for him, but decided I needed to keep pressing the matter. So I moved along the wall, taping up squares of blue and placed their own cloud on each. On the last square, I added a cloud and a large yellow circle. The sun.
Iggy had given up long before I’d finished with the taped squares all around the room, always just out of his reach, and now he was glaring at me with arms crossed over his chest.
“You’re an idiot,” he said, so sure of himself that I felt my smile waver.
I knew what I was doing was cruel, to a certain extent, but this kid needed to see what was still out
there. Not only what was going on right now, in his room that he refused to leave.
“I know,” I said. “But I’m not letting you hurt yourself more than this already has.”
I didn’t find out what had happened to his legs until three days later when he finally warmed up to me the tiniest bit.
Turns out he’s got a type of cancer, called Osteosarcoma, that affects the bones. The veins and arteries in his legs were threatened by the cancer, so they had to be amputated. There was no other way to save him than to remove both legs below the knees.
And he was still at the hospital because he was receiving treatment for the rest of the cancer in his upper legs that didn’t pose any life-threatening circumstances. So it was able to be treated normally.
But he would still never walk or run without prosthetic legs--or play football like he’d dreamed since he was ten-years-old. And that was why he wouldn’t leave his room.
“I can’t face everyone at school again.”
“What do you think they’ll say?”
“I don’t know.” He stared at the floor. “That’s why I can’t go back there.”
“But it doesn’t mean you should just give up, you know.”
He shrugged. “Doesn’t mean I should keep going either.”
At that point, I wasn’t sure how to prove him wrong. But I did know that he would have to find his own will to live. Without me, he’d have to find it.
I was just there to help him along.
Monday, December 1, 2008
And I didn’t have much time to mourn either. I went into a sort of depression after she died because of not being able to visit her and all. I didn’t leave the room and refused to watch “Lucy” DVDs. But I knew I would eventually have to return to myself. It didn’t feel right—being sad for her. She’d want me to be happy, right?
And it didn’t last long. Only two days after she died, one of the regular nurses, Susan, finally told me out-right that I needed to get off my tail-bone and do something.
“And if I were you,” she’d said, “I’d stop feeling sorry for myself and start spreading a little joy with the talent that I have.”
She only smiled. “Try starting with the boy in the room beside you.”
So she introduced me and this boy. And it turned out so much different than I’d imagined it would.
“I’m Jove,” I said, not sure whether I should hold my hand out to shake or not.
The boy stared at me with hard, cold eyes; gray eyes that could have only been meant for an old man. He couldn’t have been older than fifteen or sixteen. But he had lost both legs from the knee down.
Susan only smiled and nodded. “I’ll be back in a little while to check on you two.” Then she left.
I wanted to call after her, “Wait! Don’t leave me with this iron-faced kid!” But I bit my tongue and forced a smile.
We sat in an awkward silence for the longest time, until he said, “You aren’t going away, are you?”
I shook my head. “Might as well start with your name.”
He rolled his eyes. “Call me Iggy,” he huffed as he forced his clunky wheelchair around to face the window. I assumed it was my cue to leave. But I wasn’t about to be turned away. Not after I’d actually come out of my room to talk to him.
“Cool name,” I said.
“Not really. What else can you get from ‘Indigo’?”
“That’s really your name?” I stayed put where I was, in my own wheelchair about halfway in the room but not quite welcomed in yet. “That’s even cooler!”
That was basically the content of our first meeting together.
But I went back.
“I have leukemia.” It was the first thing I said the moment I got through the door the next morning. He only grunted in reply. This time he was in bed, seemingly enthralled in an old western movie.
“My best friend died three days ago.”
“She lived here. Her name was Phoenix Sky Ryder.”
“She made caps. Loved them too. Gave them to everyone she could find.”
“I have a lot. Want one?”
At first, nothing. Then he shook his head. “Already got one.”
“And the rock speaks,” I muttered.
He chucked a pillow at me. “Why don’t you leave if I don’t talk to you?”
“Because you need someone besides the voices in your head.”
Another pillow was whipped ninja-star-style at my face. I caught it.
“You know,” I said, “The fountain outside is a good place to get into trouble.”
“Not interested,” he said, eyes back on the T.V.
“I’m not leaving this room.”
I could see that he wasn’t budging in his decision. So I sighed. “Fine.”
But the next day, I was ready for him. And I had a plan.