Nate is gone when I wake up. He was restless last night but I pretended to sleep. Cowardly I guess. I was afraid he had regrets and I didn’t want to hear them. I had no regrets. Sitting up I enjoy the pull on my muscles. The muscles in my upper back are tight from clutching his shoulders and between my legs I’m sore in places I didn’t realize got sore. My lips curve up in a sly smile. I feel so knowledgeable this morning. Like every risque joke ever told finally makes sense.
In the short time it takes to roll out of bed and pick up my phone from the nightstand, I’m already missing him. When mom laid out exactly why going to this specialty clinic in Europe made sense, I bought into it totally. I’d only be gone for a short time. The boys wouldn’t feel responsible for me if I overextended myself. And, maybe most importantly to me, they wouldn’t see me if I totally loss my memory or forgot how to walk.
The brain stem radiation and chemotherapy may result in the loss of gross and fine motor skills, they warned me. I might have to relearn how to even hold a fork or how to walk or catch a ball. Gingerly, I cupped the back of my head. Fluid is collecting there. We’re watching it and by “we” I mean mom, dad and my team of doctors. None of the Jacksons know. I don’t want them to. It’s rare for an older kid to get hydrocephaly or “water on the brain” and even rarer for it to develop months after the craniotomy.
“You’ve always been special,” Dad joked weakly when the doctors told us that they’d never seen a case like mine. That’s the real reason I’m going to Switzerland—to be studied and treated by an international team of experts and—more than likely—to have a permanent drainage tube installed in the back of my head.
Dr. Mosher said that there were plenty of functioning adults that had permanent shunts. It just meant no contact sports and no activities where I could fall on my head and break my shunt. In other words, no gymnastics. He suggested volleyball. I was too numb by then to respond so I shook my head and he probably took it for agreement.
But all that seems like a distant memory now. Usually I’m on my phone first thing in the morning, checking in to read my texts from friends at school. Right now I’m too busy examining my body.
My face doesn’t look different. I guess I thought I’d be able to see some outward sign that I no longer was a virgin. My hair is still short and my skin looks its general pale tone from lack of exposure to the sun. There are faint bruises on my hip bones and a few marks on my collarbone but Nate was apparently careful not to leave anything too incriminating. I’m both disappointed and relieved.
I flick off the Do Not Disturb on my phone and there about twenty text messages. Three of them are from Nathan. I skip the rest.
Nathan: You pushed me off the bed when I tried to kiss you good morning. Miss you already.
Nathan: U still sleeping? RU OK? Text me. On my way to class but will check phone.
Nathan: Charlotte. For real. Text me.
I stop and take note of the time. It’s almost noon. I’ve slept for hours. No wonder he’s worried. I send him a response right away.
Charlotte: I just got up. Don’t know why I’m sooooo tired. 😉
He texts me immediately as if he’s been waiting.
Nathan: Christ. Gave me a heart attack. I won’t live until graduation at this rate.
I giggle at his exaggeration. I can just picture his serious face but his eyes would be smiling at me.
Charlotte: Can’t have that now that I’ve just learned exactly why all the North Prep girls are chasing after you.
Nathan: There are other girls at North Prep. I only see you.
Oh. my. god. He slays me. I clutch my phone to my chest and the mirrored reflection shows that I’m wearing the silliest, stupidest, biggest grin ever.
Charlotte: You need to come to my room immediately after school.
Nathan: Nope. Meet me at MY room at 3:45.
Nathan: Because when you’re gone I want to lie in that bed and be surrounded by our memories.
I want to stick Nathan in my suitcase and carry him with me. My resolve wavers but a press of a hand against that soft spot on the back of my skull reminds me that my primary goal is to get better so that all my tomorrows are spent with Nathan, having a family, growing old together, making new memories.
Charlotte: I love you. Too much. Like my heart isn’t big enough to hold it all.
Nathan: My heart is big enough for both of us. I’m always going to take care of you C-girl.
Charlotte: Hurry back.
I can’t erase my smile and it’s the thing that gives me away. Both my parents are in the kitchen when I finally leave my bedroom. Normally it’s just one of them during the day and often they only pop in to check on me and then they’re gone for a few hours doing work stuff. Mom’s cheeks look flushed and Dad’s wearing a smug and very satisfied grin. I recognize that grin. It’s…holy shit, my parents are home for a nooner.
“Sleep well, dear?” Mom asks, her tone completely cool despite the tinge of red around her cheeks.
“Yup,” I say. “Nathan’s a big comfort.
Dad coughs and shifts around with some discomfort as if he’s still trying to hide that sex exists in this world. I wonder if he was a horndog before he met my mom. I bet he was and that’s why he’s all embarrassed now. Past sins and all. He should be grateful I’m in love with his best friend’s son. And I tell him so.
“You should be happy it’s Nathan and not some random jerkface from school.”
“We are,” Mom answers and shoots Dad a repressive look. He merely grunts.
Inside the refrigerator I find the makings for a sandwich. Humming, I assemble bread, turkey, a couple slices of bacon and tomato along with lettuce, cheese and mayonnaise. I’m ravenous and it takes me almost no time to demolish half the sandwich.
There’s a weird silence and when I look up from my plate I see both parents gaping at me.
“What?” I ask wiping a finger along the side of my mouth. “Do I have mayo on my face?”
Mom smiles but her lips are trembling with some kind of repressed emotion. Dad clears his throat and this time he talks for both of them. “It’s just nice that you have your appetite back.”
I take a big bite of the second half of my sandwich. “Um, okay. But it’s because of Nathan, you know,” I say slyly, “he’s always on me to eat more.”
I hadn’t had much of an appetite before but now? Now I do. And I’m going to need to have a lot of fuel for the next two weeks that I have left with Nathan if last night was any indicator. My big ass grin is back but I hide behind my food this time.
My parents stare at me but eventually their faces grow big smiles too.
“Nate’s welcome any time,” Dad says as he watches me finish the last of my meal.
Even if it means that his baby is having sex I mentally translate. I’ll let Nathan know he can sleep under the covers tonight.
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