Last Hit is finally on sale at the iTunes store! Link here. Don’t forget that Snow Kissed is on sale and includes a wonderfully steamy story featuring Noah and Grace (Nathan’s parents).
Charlotte, Nick and I go to the Halloween party. Charlotte insisted when Nick and I suggested we just have an x-box tournament and hand out halloween candy to the kids in the building.
She is Peter Pan which she says fits her short haircut. Somehow Nick got to be Hook and I got shoved into wings and scratchy tutu. I drew the line at tights and makeup though. A dozen different girls and a couple of guys have stroked their hands down my legs making me wish I’d chosen a longer skirt. It is like bare legs and a short skirt are an invitation for people to touch. I’d have to make sure Charlotte never wore a short skirt again.
“What’s this thing made of?” I ask Charlotte bringing her another cup of punch. Claudia Amsden’s condo was full of people although Charlotte and Nick were a couple of the youngest ones here.
“Tulle,” she says.
“It’s scratching my tool,” I joke but when I see Charlotte flush I want to curse myself at making such a stupid joke in front of her. “Sorry,” I mutter and sit down next to her.
“Sorry I blush so easy?” she says taking a sip of the punch. She tries to hide a grimace but I see it. My parents have said that her chemo and radiation can screw with the taste buds. By the look of Charlotte, I wonder if there is anything that she enjoys eating anymore. Before she got sick, she was slender but muscular. Now, her bones are becoming more and more prominent but I know if I say anything it will make her feel bad so I bite my tongue and pretend I don’t notice. I’m doing a lot of that lately. Pretending to not see that she doesn’t eat or that she’s throwing up a lot or that she looks exhausted all of the time.
We both survey the crowd. Most of the girls are wearing the barely-there version of some costume like a police uniform was transformed into a shirt that buttons only at the waist and hot pants with platform heels or a construction uniform that was transformed into jumpsuit that was unzipped to the belly button and ended just slightly below the girl’s ass. Surprisingly there are a number of guys dressed up like me, fake cross dresser. A couple of guy’s wearing wonder women costumes and one guy who is dressed up as fake Katniss Everdeen. We all look like fools but it’s halloween. I think we’re supposed to look silly. Or sexy.
Charlotte looks neither silly nor sexy. Instead, the slight flush that had appeared earlier has faded and her skin looks almost translucent with a slight green tint to her complexion. I wonder if it is from the costume. The glass in her hand shakes lightly and she cups her other hand to steady it. Even her mouth looks tired, as if she doesn’t have the energy to show any emotion. All the signs worry me but I know that if I suggest leaving, Charlotte will be even more distressed. Nick and I worked on her for the last three weeks to get her to come with us.
“Can I find you a quiet place?” I ask.
She glances around and then nods shortly revealing exactly how poorly she feels. If she had any resources left, she’d say she was having the best time of her life. I want to lift her in my arms and carry her out of her but I allow myself just to help her to her feet. She leans heavily against my arm and again, I tamp down the urge to sweep her up and carry her away. Across the room, I see Nick rise from his seat but I give him a short shake of my head. Grace isn’t going to want to see both of us Jacksons rushing to her side. He gives me a reluctant nod and sits back down.
Down the hall I find an empty guest room and give in to the urge I’ve been fighting. Sweeping Charlotte into my arms, I carry her to the bed. She doesn’t even protest, only sighs with relief. I lay her down on top of the comforter and her head lolls to the side. She isn’t even awake. Panic sets in. There’s no way she fell asleep in the time it took to enter the room and for me to place her on the bed. I tap her cheeks lightly, the cheeks that are waxen and cold.
“Charlotte.” My voice is loud and insistent but she doesn’t respond. I slap her a little harder but she still lies like she’s out cold. Fear is chasing down my spine as I lean over and place my head on her chest. Her heart is beating, but I don’t know if the pace is normal or too slow or too fast. It feels fast. I place my fingers over my own pulse at the base of my throat and count. God, what did I learn this past summer about CPR? Count the beats for fifteen seconds and then multiply by four but fuck, my heart is racing. I press my fingers hard against Charlotte’s neck and count. About thirty beats go by in the fifteen seconds. Charlotte’s heart feels like a bird.
I fumble in my pocket and call my dad but he doesn’t answer. Uncle Bo’s phone just rings and rings too. Then I remember that they are hosting a party at Dad and Aunt AM’s offices for clients. Scrubbing my hand over my mouth, I rifle through a bunch of options. Calling 911 seems extreme. Charlotte would be so pissed at me if I drag EMTs to break up Claudia’s party. But fuck, fuck, fuck. She’s non responsive.
Giving her another chance, I shake her lightly. Nothing. There’s a bathroom attached to the room. I race inside, gather water into my hands and leaving the faucet running, I run back and drop the water onto Charlotte’s face. Still nothing. My heart in my throat I type in the emergency number. But I wait. A second. Then two. Charlotte lies there, her heart racing looking like a waxen doll.
Hesitating only one second more, I press send. “I’m sorry Charlotte but I’d rather have you hate me than for you to be dead.” I kiss her cold cheek and then run out to get Nick.
“Charlotte’s sick. I’ve called 911.” Before I can get the rest of my words out, Nick runs into the bedroom. I hear him shout Charlotte’s name. I pull Varner, a friend of mine and a defensive lineman on our team, aside. “Charlotte’s sick. EMT is coming. Make sure they get up here ASAP.”
Varner claps me on the back and says, “On it, brother.” I don’t waste another minute and head back to Charlotte. Inside Nick has her in his arms. His eyes are wide and a little red. “Has she said anything?” But I can see it’s a useless question. Charlotte’s arms hang down by her side like there is no life in them.
“No,” he answers and hugs her closer. I want to be hugging Charlotte too but I need to keep an eye out for the EMTs. Each minute seems to drag by but later I realize that the EMT services arrive quickly. Claudia’s address is a wealthy one and there are no delays for rich people.
The EMTs won’t allow either Nick or I to ride to the hospital in the ambulance. We catch a cab and it is on the way to the hospital that I finally get dad on the phone.
“What’s wrong?” he barks into the phone.
“Charlotte,” I choke out. The emotions of the evening are catching up to me and my throat is thick with them. My dad doesn’t hesitate.
“Where should we meet you?”
“Hospital,” I say.
This time there is a moment of silence before I hear my dad curse. “Which one?”
“We’ll be there.” He’s gone before I can say another word.
“She going to be okay?” Nick asks, his voice sounds small and scared. I put my arm around him and that he allows it, that he actually puts his head on my shoulder like he used to when we were younger, makes me feel horrible. Guilty and sick inside.
“Yeah,” I say trying to overcome those feelings, trying to put on a good front. “Charlotte is a fighter. Stronger than both of us.”
Because Charlotte can’t die. She can’t die and leave us. I won’t allow it to happen. Charlotte belongs in this world, with me. With all of us but mostly me. Inside my head I’m screaming and praying and bargaining.Please, please, please, I say silently, I’ll do anything. Anything.
By the time that we arrive at the hospital, Charlotte is nowhere to be seen and no one is telling two teenagers anything. We wait in the lobby for our parents and hers to arrive. They burst through the doors. AM and Bo run past us to the desk. Dad stops in front of us.
“What happened?” He commands. Bo turns toward us. He looks big and menacing.
“We were at the party and she looked tired. I thought she needed to lie down so I took her to the guest room but by the time we got there she must’ve passed out.” I ran through the next events. “I tried to rouse her but she wouldn’t come to. I called you both but there was no answer.” I hear Aunt AM’s voice catch and then a cry. Mom rushes over and places an arm around Aunt AM’s shoulder. My gaze swings back to Dad. “I call 911.”
Uncle Bo steps forward and squeezes my shoulder with his big hand. I’m almost as tall as him, almost as tall as my dad, I realize almost absently. “You did good, son,” Uncle Bo says and gives Dad a chin nod.
Dad leads both Nick and I away but we don’t want to go. We drag our heels, anxiously trying to overhear something but Dad is implacable and we do what he says. Mom comes over and holds our hands. It’s a little comforting but not much.
It seems like it is hours before we get nay news which I figure must be good. Finally someone comes out and speaks to Aunt AM and Uncle Bo. Whatever the news is I can’t hear because Dad is standing in front of Nick and I, like blocking us from getting to them. When Aunt AM collapse into Uncle Bo, I try to break away from my Dad but his big arm stops me.
The doctor walks over to us and Charlotte’s parents are right behind them.
“How long has she been vomiting at school?” The doctor asks Nick and I. We share another glance, a guilty one, that my mom reads instantly.
“Nathan and Nicholas Jackson, what have you been hiding?” she says sternly.
Nick pipes up immediately. “She didn’t want to say anything because she knew you would take her out of school.”
“I was making sure she rested too,” I stupidly say.
“Where?” Uncle Bo asks.
“The training room.” I look down at my shoes and realize for the first time that I’m standing here in a fucking tutu and wings. I tear the wings off and pull down the tutu so that I’m now just wearing gym shorts and a tank. Unfortunately, taking off the ridiculous costume doesn’t make me feel one ounce better. I shouldn’t have covered for her but how was I supposed to know that she was too sick to be at school. Maybe I should’ve known. Maybe all this is my fault.
Uncle Bo and Aunt Am move away and head with the doctor toward Charlotte’s room. I try to follow but again Dad stops me. “This isn’t something you can keep to yourself. It’s not like drinking my Scotch on New Year’s Eve and pretending you don’t know anything about it. Pretending like Charlotte isn’t sick doesn’t make her better.” I nod because I know if I don’t I’ll never get to see Charlotte again.
I’ve messed up bad. Dad’s face looks like a thundercloud and Mom looks like I’ve danced all over her heart.
“You and those Jackson boys,” Mom mutters. I’ve never heard her refer to Nate and Nick as the “Jackson boys.” Those guys are like her sons.
“Mom, it’s my fault. I begged them to not tell you.”
Mom closes her eyes, I guess praying for patience. “Your doctor says your throat looks like you ate a Brillo pad, it’s so red and sore. You must be vomiting daily, at least once or twice a day. I know you’ve been losing weight, but I thought maybe if I just kept quiet, you’d eat.”
I pressed my lips together to keep from crying. I was trying to be strong but obviously I’d gone about it in a stupid way.
Mom continued, “So now, you’re going to have to be fed intravenously until your weight gets back up. You’re dehydrated and undernourished. We can’t allow you to go back to school, either.” She presses her face to my fingers. “Baby girl, we love you and if you can’t take care of yourself then we’re going to do it for you.”
“I’m sorry.” My tears are coming and her tears are wetting my hand. “I’m so sorry. I was stupid. Please don’t blame Nick or Nate. Please.”
“We won’t.” Dad finally breaks his silence and sits on the other side of the bed. “Those two would break their arms off before they’d hurt you intentionally. But Birdie this is one reason we thought you might be better off leaving Chicago to get better. Those boys, they love you too much but they’re too young to know how to help you. You three are bumbling around like blind mice inside a big maze. It’s okay when you’re all healthy but like it or not, Birdie, you’re a sick little girl. You can get better but not by hiding stuff from us.”
I nod but Dad presses on. “You outta think what you are doing to those boys. Think hard because your illness could be distracting for them. Make it hard for them to study or focus on their other stuff because they’re too worried about you.”
He’s right. I look down at my sheet covered body. Tonight Nick and Nate had to be talked into going to the Halloween party. If I hadn’t insisted they would’ve stayed home. I can see it now. Every party or event or invitation would be weighed against whether I am well enough to go and if I’m not, they’d both stay home. They’d laugh and tell me that they’d rather be with me, but the truth is my illness will be making them prisoners just like it is holding me hostage. I won’t do that to them. To either of them. I love them too much. I don’t want them to miss even one thing because I am sick. That seems too stupid beyond words.
I squeeze my mom’s hand. “I’ve always wanted to go to Switzerland.”
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