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 Post subject: CHAPTER 82: To forgive and forget
PostPosted: Fri Sep 20, 2013 8:43 pm 
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Posts: 4989
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Took quite a while, this chapter. Been rather busy lately, and not a lot of spare time available. Also got wrapped up in a bunch of other projects, some of which I needed (or wanted) for this chapter. Sorry for the long wait, and I really hope it's worth it.


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CHAPTER 82: To forgive and forget
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The next day Erica successfully avoided her mom the entire morning, grabbed enough slices for bread for breakfast and lunch once she heard the shower running in her parents’ bathroom, and snuck out the door. For the first time ever she was the first person at the bus stop, though once the school bus arrived the bus shelter was crammed with noisy kids and teens. She found a seat near the entrance in the middle, and as soon as the bus stopped outside her school, she sat ready and was the first one off.
After the argument with her friends the day before, she was careful to avoid all unnecessary contact with them. She knew of course that she would have to make up to them, but it still felt too early. Juanita’s glare still shot daggers, and Martin didn’t say a word to her. Even June seemed to realize she didn’t want company, and stayed as far away as she could, even with them having desks beside each other.

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The timetable was really boring, starting out with double Math, adding another pile of homework to what she already had to deal with. At least the first half had some geometry in it, and she had one of her geometry tests returned with an A, but the E on the one concerning algebra didn’t do anything to cheer her up.

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It mostly got worse from there, with Biology and World History, two of her least favorite subjects, and topped off with double English. The English teacher droned on and on about one of Shakespeare’s plays, but Erica didn’t even care to listen, and probably paid less attention than anyone else, except for one of the boys at the front who had actually fallen asleep on his desk.
After four tries of waking up the sleepyheads and two unsuccessful and really bad Shakespeare jokes, the teacher gave up trying to seem bothered, and continued the droning without caring who paid attention and not, except for throwing in a comment that it was relevant for their upcoming English exam. There would probably be revenge later, probably in the form of a ridiculously difficult surprise-test.
Erica honestly couldn’t care less.

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The final class was Art, but while Erica usually liked it, she couldn’t concentrate. The ballet pose of the wooden figure she was supposed to draw just didn’t manage to hold her attention, despite the pink tutu that looked very out of place on the broad, flat-breasted upper body of the figure.

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“An exercise in the flows of satin,” the teacher had called it, a slight blush shining through her makeup, but everyone knew it was to hide the certain female parts that someone had drawn on it with a waterproof marker before the previous lesson. Erica almost felt sorry for it, having gone through a complete gender change in just a week, from broad-chested and rather manly to Play-Doh breasts and a pink tutu, probably taken from a Barbie doll. Did wooden dolls have feelings? She hoped not.

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She came as far as to sketch out the main form, but her mind wandered again, and she ended up spending the rest of the lesson doodling cartoon figures in the back of her sketch book.
The teacher didn’t even notice, as she had more than enough with keeping the rest of the class in order.
Martin, as usual, saw it fit to paint anything else than his canvas, and a couple of the other boys made their imagination run away with them and painted the figure naked, with varying results and several annoyed glances from the teacher.

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It was fairly easy to see that exam-time was just around the corner. Three months or so left until the start of summer. One month left until the spring ball, and she didn’t even have a date, just like the Christmas ball, which she had barely even been allowed to attend.
She liked to go dress-shopping with Lily and her mom, because her sister had such a good taste and her mom had the money. This year Lily had barely even been allowed to leave the house, much less go shopping, because of her crappy immune defense. Everything else had gone to pieces, and Erica had not had money to go shopping for dresses on her own. Her mom had mentioned Erica might as well use one of her old dresses, because this year she had no time to buy, let alone make one. Everyone knew that you just did not wear the same dress twice. She’d ended up babysitting Lily and Aidan the night of the ball. No dress and no date would not have been much fun anyway, she’d tried to say to herself, although her feelings had not wanted to listen.
Once the final bell called, Erica was the first one out, glad to be rid of school for the day.

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She didn’t take the school bus home, however. Only homework awaited her there, and it didn’t tempt much. Instead, she wandered around aimlessly, looking at shop windows without really seeing them.
After a while, she found herself in the park outside a fenced building in the outskirts of the town center.

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The pond beside the fence was silent, only some ducks swimming lazily along the shore, towing a gang of newly hatched ducklings after them, the little ones looking as if they were still unsure of whether the water would carry them or not. One of them lagged behind, and suddenly it twirled around in the water so only its bottom stuck up.

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For a moment Erica was afraid it would drown, but it did another underwater loop and found its way right side up again. If ducks could look surprised, this one sure did, giving off a couple of squeaky rubber-duck quacks before it sped up and paddled after its siblings.
Erica crouched down beside the shore, absently observing the ducklings, wishing her life could be as carefree as theirs.

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The adults swam closer, probably hoping she had some bread crumbs for them.
She fished out her lunch bag, and saw mostly to the ducks’ disappointment that she’d eaten most of her lunch already. She broke the leftover crusts into little pieces and emptied the bag over the water, but only a few sorry crumbles hit the surface.

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The ducks threw themselves over the scraps, but once they had realized she wasn’t going to feed them any more than this, they sent her grouchy quacks and swam away, tail feathers bristling.

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The little ones squeaked louder than their rubber lookalikes, and sped up after their parents.

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Erica got up, and moved slowly toward the fenced building. There was no visible gate, but she knew she had to go through the building to get to the garden.
The smell of freshly moved grass hung light in the air, the daffodils creeping along the fence, having skirted the lawnmower’s path by a hair, reminding her once again that her sister loved flowers and probably wouldn’t have the chance to enjoy them this year. Maybe not ever again, judging by how things had moved along lately.
She pressed the intercom button at the entrance door.
A female voice answered, slightly twisted by the grating of the speakers. “Hello?”
“It’s Erica Brooks. I thought I’d visit my grandparents.”

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“Sure, come on in!”
The door clicked open, and Erica went inside. The woman in the office just inside the door smiled at her. Erica sent her a polite smile, though only out of habit. She’d not felt happy enough for a proper smile for days.
“Hi, Leslie.”
“Hi! Been a while since I saw you. Theodore is out in the garden, and I think Tiana is there too, but she keeps wandering off. Last night we found her up in the day room. Good thing we’ve got security locks on the main door... Anyway, there haven’t been many visitors for them lately. I think they’ll appreciate it.”

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“Probably. I did mean to visit them earlier, but it was sort of difficult to find the time. My sister and all...”
Leslie nodded apologetically. “I understand.”
No, you don’t, Erica wanted to say, but she kept quiet.
“How is she then? Your sister?”
“Coma. She’s very unstable.”
Leslie gave her a sympathetic smile. “Poor thing. She’s in our thoughts.”
Erica wished that for once people could ask how she was. “I’m sorry to hear about your sister and all, but how are you doing in all of this?” But no. The focus was on her sister, as usual. She had nothing to complain about compared to her sister. The only one who had even bothered asking was Lily’s nurse, of all people.
“Are you coming back soon?” Leslie asked, pulling Erica away from her thoughts. “We could really need some extra volunteers around here, and not only your grandparents misses you. Mrs. Henderson keeps going on about you, too.”
“I’ll think about it,” Erica said with a fake but hopefully credible smile, and moved for the door, not really wanting to talk any more.
Leslie let her through the office area, which had another set of locked doors at the end of it.

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It was sort of tempting to come back. She could need something to do after school, and she missed the old lady very much.
The 93 year old Mrs. Henderson had in her youth travelled to several places Erica could only dream of visiting, either alone or with her late husband. She used to tell amazing stories, and Erica suspected the frail, old woman found it just as entertaining to tell them as Erica found them interesting to hear. She was not entirely sure that everything was true, as she suspected the old woman exaggerated quite a bit. It didn’t matter, as the stories were far better than books. Mrs. Henderson probably found it exciting to talk with someone from the newer generations; someone to awe for stories long since lived.
Erica was the only one Mrs. Henderson had from outside of the nursing home. No one else visited her. She had no children, and no living relatives or friends.
The woman’s mind was still sharp as a knife, her memory as good as ever. Erica could only imagine how alone she felt, being cooped up with a bunch of old people where most could barely even remember their own names.

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The complex had small apartments at the first and second floor. They were meant for those who could no longer live in their own home out of various reasons, but at the same time could manage quite a lot on their own. Her grandpa lived in one of those, still able to take care of himself a little, and still appreciating some privacy, even if he needed help from the nurses for things like showering and such.
The ones who needed around-the-clock caring were in the upper floors. Her gran had recently been moved to the third floor, where the people who had severe degrees of dementia lived in spacious bedrooms with belonging bathrooms, and could wander around much as they pleased within their own wing. It was a nice place, really, with nurses available 24 hours a day, and at the same time keeping a homey feeling in the rooms and apartments. Even if the outer doors were locked to keep the residents on the third floor from running away, it felt much less like a prison than the old nursing home where her great-granddad had lived for the last few years of his life.
Warm sunlight caressed her face the moment she stepped out into the garden. Sure enough, her grandfather sat on a garden chair, keeping his eyes on one of the women who were out exploring the flower beds.

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He didn’t notice Erica at first, so she took the opportunity to enjoy the fresh air and the secluded area that was so cut off from the busy world outside. The high walls around the building shut out most of the noise from the traffic, and almost made it feel like a tiny bubble of silence. There were not many other places in the town center where birdsong could actually be heard over the traffic noise.

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The garden was a colorful place. The strong reds, purples and yellows of the tulips, crocuses and daffodils brightened up, and made a little patch of spring in the otherwise grey world outside the fence.
A few grey-haired people wandered aimlessly around in the garden, and some of them, Erica guessed, probably had no clue where they were. The more or less immobile residents sat in wheelchairs or garden chairs. A lot of them were too fragile to walk around, but she appreciated that the personnel let them enjoy the nice weather. She almost missed going on trips around the water with them. Perhaps she should go back to doing volunteer work again. She’d done so ever since she was thirteen, mostly here and at the pediatric floor at the hospital, but with Lily and all she’d not managed to be around all the old and sick people. They all reminded her of her sister in some way.

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Theodore saw her, and his slight frown broke into a cheerful grin.
“Erica! That’s a seldom sight! Come here and give your grandpa a hug!”
Erica couldn’t help herself. She ran into his outstretched arms like a little child. He embraced her, and for the moment it lasted, she felt protected, sheltered. His strong arms, surprisingly muscular for his high age, still carried a promise that no harm could ever happen to her, like all those times when she was a little child, running to him for a skinned knee or, more often, as protection against her siblings’ pranks.
“So how did I deserve the honor of a visit from my beautiful young princess?”
Erica sat down in the closest chair, moving away some knitwork someone had left there.
“It’s school. And mom. And Lily. And...” She sighed, and her shoulders slumped. “I just needed to get away from everything.”

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“I kinda figured. So how is Lily anyway?”
“Worse. Coma.”
He didn’t need to ask her how she felt. He took her hand, and looked into her eyes, but didn’t say anything. It didn’t matter. Anything that could be said was said in that gesture. He of all people knew how much the situation ruined her.
“Theodore! You’re flirting with that girl, aren’t you?”
An old, greying woman suddenly stood over them, a fierce glare in her eyes. In her hands were tulips, roses, daisies, and several other spring flowers, arranged into a beautiful bouquet. Somehow in her cloud of memory loss she had not quite forgotten she’d worked as a florist in her younger years.

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“Tiana, this is Erica,” Theodore explained in a patient tone, almost as if to a child. “She’s your granddaughter.”
Tia frowned, and cocked her head a little, staring at Erica as if she’d never even seen her before. “I don’t have grandchildren.”
“Yes, you do!” Erica argued.
The empty stare Tia returned somehow made Erica feel like an insignificant nobody. There was not even a single spark of recognition in those eyes. Tia might as well have forgotten she ever had any grandchildren at all.
Tia turned her attention back to the bouquet. A smile appeared, as if she’d already forgotten everything about Erica.

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Maybe it had been a bit too long since she’d visited them. True enough, the last time her gran had confused her with her mother all the time, and the time before that she’d insisted Erica was a childhood friend of hers. At least she had remembered Erica’s face, if not where she had her from. Not too long ago she’d actually remembered she had a granddaughter, although she’d had troubles remembering Erica’s name. Most of the time she’d treated Erica nice. To see those eyes so empty of recollection... It hurt more than Erica wanted to admit.
Theodore removed his hand. “Don’t bother, Erica. Tiana is in one of her moods. Thinks she’s in her twenties today, and she’s probably in her forties tomorrow... She’s been like this for a while now, getting worse every day.”
He stared after Tia while she skipped away in the awkward way on can only manage with legs stiff from arthritis.

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Something dark lurked in Theodore’s eyes. Sadness, Erica guessed.
“I’m lucky those days she even remembers we’re married, let alone those days she remembers me. Today we’re just barely engaged, I think. Last night she thought she was ten years old. That wasn’t easy. Screamed that she wanted to go home to her mother every five minutes. I showed her a picture of Peter the other day, and she started screaming someone had taken her baby. It wasn’t even a baby picture.”
“Must be difficult.”
“Not so much now. I’m getting used to it. To be honest, it was worse when she was still living in our old house. Back then I was terrified. I’m just glad she got a place here. There’s more for her to do, even if she ruins the flower beds as soon as the flowers spring out. At least I can keep an eye on her, and I don’t have to worry she’ll burn down the house or something. The nurses take care of the running after her, fortunately.” He patted the side of his leg. “This ol’ hip isn’t good for much now.”
Erica tried to picture her grandpa limping after Tia, and giggled a little. But the cheerfulness didn’t last.

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Up until four years earlier, Theodore had been quite active. Unfortunately he’d fallen and broken his hip while fixing the head sail of his boat, and had ended up spending several weeks at the hospital, instead of them going sailing every day that summer, like he had promised Erica. She’d looked forward to that summer. But two hip replacements and several infections later, it became clear his hip would never be the same.
Erica had tried to persuade her father to take up sailing, but since both he and Tony got seasick even on the calmest water, it was a lost cause. In the end, the boat had been sold both to pay off the hospital bills, but also because no one beside Erica had any wish in taking care of the boat. She’d been devastated the day they told her they were going to sell it. The boat had so many good memories in it. Almost every single summer since she was six, unless her parents had laid any other plans, she’d spent her days on that boat, learning to sail, learning to feel how the winds changed around her, while her grandfather told her stories of his younger days. For the most part it had only been the two of them, even if Lily on occasion had joined in, too.
Erica had tried to talk them out of selling the boat, but there was no way her parents would have let her go on boat trips without a responsible adult there. She’d been sure her grandpa meant to leave the boat to her, but she’d figured out later that her parents had overruled his wish. She still had not gotten quite over it.
“So why didn’t any of you come around at Christmas? Peter called and said Lily was coming home, so I hoped you would take a little trip. Didn’t hear anything from any of you after that.”

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“Sorry about that. Lily suddenly got worse. Pneumonia, and then it turned out she also had leukemia. Blood cancer,” she added, to her grandpa’s blank look.
“Poor little thing. More chemo, then?”
“Yeah. She wasn’t getting better, but I donated bone marrow for her a couple of weeks ago. It’s supposed to replace hers, because hers doesn’t work anymore. We’re hoping it will make her better.”
“Is it working?”
“Not so far, but it’s still a bit early, I think. It just doesn’t seem like she’s getting better, with the coma and all.”
“Poor thing... Goodness knows she’s been through enough already.” Theodore glanced at Erica. “All of you, that is.”
Theodore was silent for a while, eyes on his wife, who now was busy gathering the rest of the flowers off an already mangled rose bush.
“Tiana’s youngest sister had cancer. Did you know that?”
Erica shook her head. “Didn’t even know she had a younger sister.”

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“Maybe not so weird. She died when she was only fifteen. Incurable, they said. Back then most cancers were incurable. Anything that couldn’t be operated on, that is. They didn’t have chemo or transplants or anything. Tiana and I had just gotten married, and she was pregnant. She was devastated, and on top of it all ended up losing the baby. We almost split up, but somehow managed to stay together. Divorces weren’t exactly popular back then, which was probably one of the main reasons. Tiana didn’t want to have more children, didn’t want to risk losing any more people she cared about, I guess. Then there was the Second World War and all. Peter was... sort of an accident, not long after the war. We were going on forty, and... well, we thought we were too old, but Tiana got pregnant even so. When he met your mom we’d already passed sixty, getting too old to keep up with the two. We went out with Jenna’s parents once, and people probably thought we were their parents. We were old enough for it, that’s the worst.”
“I didn’t know. About Tia’s sister, I mean.”
He looked sad. “I don’t think Tiana wanted anyone to know. I doubt she has even told your dad. Not of the baby and not of her sister. Peter grew up blissfully unaware he could have had a sister or brother, and had no knowledge of his aunt. Tiana had plenty of other siblings, so I guess no one questioned it.”
He fell silent, apparently lost in thoughts.
Erica leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes. In the shadow where they sat the temperature seemed just right, and for a moment she could pretend she was on a beach somewhere far, far away.
“Is everything alright, Erica? You know, apart from Lily? You’re usually not this silent when you’re here.”

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She opened her eyes.
“It’s nothing.”
“You sure? Because this nothing of yours seems to me like it is something.”
Before she could answer, the soft, triple click--click-click of a lone crutch slightly out of synch with high heels interrupted the silence.
“Why the long faces?”
Erica looked up, into a smiling woman’s face.
“In my days we used to say that if your face hung like that, it would get stuck.” Mrs. Henderson said, and leaned so heavy on her cane that Erica was afraid the woman would topple over.

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She pulled over a chair and without any warning plunged headfirst into another of her wild stories, this one about a hot-air balloon trip that ended with Mr. and Mrs. Henderson plus their dog, Maximus, having to herd over fifty sheep into an enclosure. Theodore laughed heartily, Mrs. Henderson smug as always.
Erica knew they enjoyed each other’s company perhaps much more than they should. Every time they were together they almost seemed to be flirting a little. Not openly, but through small hand touches, the secretive looks and the more than friendly smiles. Perhaps not so weird. They were apartment neighbors, after all, and they had become good friends.

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Thankfully, Tia didn’t seem to mind. She’d wandered off to one of the larger flower beds, having been distracted by some newly sprung out tulips. Erica wondered what was going on in her gran’s mind. Perhaps she thought she was in a flowery meadow, picking a bouquet for her fiancé.

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“You’re unusually silent today, Erica. Is something wrong?”
She looked up at Mrs. Henderson, and sighed. “Everything is wrong.”
“This isn’t just about your sister, am I right? Don’t tell me you’ve managed to tickle the sleeping dragon again.”
Erica blinked. “Huh?”
“She means your mom,” Theodore said with a little chuckle.

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Mrs. Henderson nodded. “Indeed I do. In my younger days, I lived a few houses down the road from her parents’ house for a few years, and if my memory serves me correct, your mom was about as temperamental as a lemming. Or perhaps rhino is more fitting. I don’t think any lemming ever came close to your mom’s outbursts. Come to think of it, her garage band also kept the volume up, often until past midnight. When she moved away for college the neighborhood turned almost uncomfortably quiet. That’s when I decided to take up traveling again. Couldn’t manage the quiet, I guess.”
Erica had never thought her mom was the type to have her own band. She’d always thought of her mom as rather boring.
“Your mom was nice enough when she was in a good mood, though. I guess your dad calmed her down a bit. From what I gather, she’s much less lemming but still a bit temperamental at times. Anyway, outside of the volunteer work, you often come here when you are unhappy with your mom, and every time you hang your head like that. So what’s the matter this time?”

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“She’s just... I don’t know. There’s always something nowadays. Work. Aidan. Lily, you know. Always Lily. Mom is pissed off at me for every little thing, even if I don’t do anything at all.”
Mrs. Henderson peered at her over the rim of her glasses.
“Have you tried talking with her?”
“Well, sort of. Or... no, not really. It kind of ended in yelling. But she never has time to listen.”

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Theodore stroked her cheek.
“You know what I think? I think you need to talk with someone. And I don’t think that someone is your mom. I’m not even sure if that someone is me.”
“You mean a shrink or something?”
He shook his head. “Not necessarily. Just someone who knows what they’re talking about. Someone who can help you get through this. Knowing your dad right, I think he has more than enough on his mind already, and likewise with your mom. Not that you should not say anything to them, because I think that might be a good idea, but... I don’t think they’re the right ones to go to. To be honest, I don’t think they understand you well enough. Or maybe they’re just not trying hard enough.”
“I think what Theodore is trying to say is that you need someone to talk with who actually listens to you,” Mrs. Henderson shot in. “Maybe someone who understands your situation, not as a parent, but as an outsider. Or maybe someone to share experiences with.”

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Erica suddenly remembered the brochure.
“Lily’s nurse gave this to me.” She handed the brochure to Theodore.
He looked it over. “I think it’s a good idea.”

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Erica gave it a dubious stare. “I don’t know.”
“Back when we figured out Tiana had Alzheimer’s, the nurses tipped me about a support group. It was tough knowing I was losing her more and more, and it was tough for her to handle the memory loss. It really helped talking to someone in the same situation. Perhaps you should give it a try? Looks like there’s a meeting today.” He put the brochure down on the table, and slid it over to her. “It doesn’t hurt.”
Erica stared at the words on the brochure without really seeing them.

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Theodore put a finger under her chin, pushing it gently up until their eyes were level. With a thumb he dried away the tear that had dripped down along Erica’s cheek.
“I don’t like seeing my little girl sad. Try it out, for your own sake.”
Erica smiled up at him.
“And if you don’t like it, then you always have me and Mr. Chatterhead here,” Mrs. Henderson said in a much too grave voice.

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Theodore snorted, and crossed his arms in a quite exaggerated way.
“I’m the talkative between the two of us? Now, that’s a new one!”
Erica couldn’t help herself, and started laughing. Theodore joined in, and soon they were all doubled over in a laughing fit. A couple of nurses frowned at them, probably wondering what was so funny. It only made Erica laugh harder.

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After the laughter subsided, Mrs. Henderson insisted Erica should go get an ice cream from the freezer in her apartment. Erica didn’t say no, and came back with ice creams for all three of them. For a little while they sat chatting about trivial things, enjoying the sun, and licking up their ice cream cones before they melted completely.
Once the ice creams were devoured, she said good-bye and gave hugs to both of them.

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On the way out, she also waved at her gran. Tia waved back, a slight frown creasing her brows, as if she just waved back out of habit, and not because she actually knew Erica.
How was it to not recognize people around you that you had known for most of your life? To slowly wither away without being quite aware of it happening? To not even recognize your own granddaughter? Maybe it was even worse for Tia than for those around her, to barely even recognize someone she’d lived together with for the past 60 or so years, someone she was even married to?

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She hoped she would never know, although with the gene pool that made up her family, maybe this would be her one day, waving to a grandchild without recognizing them.


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_________________
There are things that we don't want to happen but have to accept,
things we don't want to know but have to learn,
and people we can't live without but have to let go.

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 Post subject: Re: CHAPTER 82: To forgive and forget
PostPosted: Fri Sep 20, 2013 8:43 pm 
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Erica walked along the streets for a while, and found herself outside the hospital again. She thought of visiting Lily, but knew it was in the middle of the danger-zone around where her mom went off work, so better not risk it. The brochure poked her thigh again, and she took it up.

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Perhaps it didn’t hurt to try it. Just once. To see if she was comfortable with it. If they sat around in a ring all the time, crying and talking about disease and whatever, she could easily drop it.
She headed for the entrance.
At the pediatric floor she was outrun by a toddler on a tricycle, wearing his birthing suit and nothing else. His mom ran after him waving with a diaper, yelling “come back, Tim!”

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The toddler shrieked with laughter, threading even faster. The mom muttered a few not-so-well-chosen words, and sped up after him.
Not long after, a couple of kids in wheelchairs raced past her going the other way, toward a makeshift finish line made up by two empty IV-poles, laughing all the way.

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If one wanted entertainment in the hospital, this was usually the place to go. The sickest kids stayed in their rooms, of course, but those who were just sick of staying there always found something to do, much to the nurses’ annoyance.
Thankfully, the pediatric cancer ward was at the other end of the floor. That was one big depressing place. Kids with puffy faces from steroid treatments, or so thin and frail they barely could keep themselves upright, or missing limbs, or dragging poles filled with poisonous-looking IV-bags, and the ones who constantly carried cardboard bowls to puke in ... Erica preferred the regular ward; there was no doubt about that. After Lily’s year the cancer ward, she hoped she would never have to set her foot there again.
She headed for the office wing. The support group would be held in one of those rooms. She found the room furthest in. While the brochure had said “Therapy room (305)” there was no real need for descriptions. The wall leading up to the door was decorated with a large, colorful poster, covering most of the wall. The poster had lots of white clouds on a blue background, and each cloud held a name. Some also held a date, in smaller writing.

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Colorful flowers brightened up the poster, giving it a cheerful look, but for some reason Erica got the feeling the purpose of the poster was not so cheerful. There were several empty spots, and room for adding more names.
“It belongs to the cancer support group,” someone said behind her. “They’ve named it ‘the wall of fame’. This way the children won’t be forgotten.”
Erica turned around.

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A pleasant-looking woman in blue, flowery scrubs, so unlike and blissfully different from the regular scrubs everyone else wore, smiled at her.
“I’m Nina. Pediatric occupational therapist when I’m at work, and in my spare time I help run some of the support groups. Am I right in guessing you’re Erica?”
Erica stared at her. “How did you...?”
Her smile widened a little. “I know your brother from some of his stays here, and I worked with your sister a few times while she was in the regular cancer unit. The family likeness is striking. Besides, one of Lily’s nurses mentioned we might get a new addition to the sibling group.”
Nina held out her hand, and Erica shook it.

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Erica turned to the poster again. One of the last clouds held a name she recognized. Annie Myers, date of death in the early fall the previous year. Although she’d never known the girl’s surname, she was fairly sure it was the same Annie that her sister had gone on and on about for months after, even if she’d barely met the girl.
“Do all the kids end up here?”
“Only those who have been regulars at the support group meetings. It is to honor them when they’re suddenly not there anymore. The others tend to deal with it much easier, since they know their friends, and in a lot of cases themselves, won’t be forgotten. There’s no room for all the kids, sadly. We’d need a much bigger wall for that.”

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It was a sad poster, knowing the kids were no longer alive. Would Lily’s name end up there if she didn’t make it through? Probably not. As far as Erica knew, her sister had not attended the support group.
Erica turned away from the poster. “I thought I’d try out the sibling support group. Just... you know, to see how it’s like.”
Nina smiled. “I’ll add your name to the list. My colleague Marcie runs it today. They meet in about an hour, so if you want to get something to eat, you still have time for it. The meetings tend to drag out a bit, and the servings are rarely any more substantial than cookies and lemonade.”
“Thanks.”

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Erica went to the cafeteria, the big one where they served hot food.
After an endless queue, she managed to get herself a warm lunch, some kind of casserole. It tasted alright, but after a while she realized she was only poking the food from one side to the other with her fork, her mind occupied with trying to figure out what to say and what to keep to herself. She didn’t want to plump out with just about anything.

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She glanced up at the clock, and realized the meeting started in less than ten minutes. She stuffed her mouth with the last few bites and hurried to clean up after herself, chewing while moving, before she walked as fast as she could without running toward the elevators. When she finally reached the therapy room a clock on the wall insisted there was still one minute left.
Erica stared at the door for several minutes, until she gathered up a few scraps of courage and knocked on the door.

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“Come in!” someone said on the other side.
Erica opened the door, anxiously stepping into a large, colorful room. It looked a whole lot more like a preschool room than a therapy room, with all the toys, drawings and figures made from colorful paper.
“Ah hello! You’re Erica, right? Come sit down!”

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The woman, Marcie, was bright and cheery, with a nice, welcoming smile.
Several kids and teens sat in a ring in the middle of the floor. She’d feared this. The last she wanted was any kind of group therapy.
“We’re several new today, so we’ve arranged a little get-to-know each other session. Just find yourself a spot in the ring and then we go on.”
A girl smiled up at Erica, and moved over to make space. Erica immediately liked her smile.
“I’m Marina,” the girl whispered.
Erica smiled back. “I’m Erica.”

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“Now when we’re all here,” Marcie continued, ignoring the whispering, “I thought you could say your name and the main reason you are here, both for introduction purposes but also to get it out of your system – who wants to start?”

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Not me, Erica thought. Luckily someone else spoke up first.
They each said their name, and added their reasons. Some, Erica assumed, had been there for a while. Several had sick siblings, while a few had sick parents.
A boy sitting directly opposite to Erica said, “My name is Nick, and my brother has severe autism. He can’t speak and goes nuts if we try to touch him.”

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The girl next to him continued. “I’m Natalia, and my sister was born with cystic fibrosis. About a month ago she got much worse, and the doctors say she needs new lungs. She’s on the transplant list now.”
“I’m Joey, and my sister has cancer in her bones. A while ago the doctors had to amputate her leg. They thought the cancer was gone, but only a couple of weeks ago it came back. She might lose the other leg now.”

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A girl named Juliette sat next to him. Her brother had battled lymphoma for five years. “He’s been through a lot of chemo. He was in remission for almost a year, but a couple of weeks ago it came back again.”
A small boy, Erica guessed his age to be around nine or so, looked on the verge of tears. “I’m Greg, and mom has cancer. She’s not... She’s...”

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The girl next to him wrapped her arms around him. She didn’t look much better off. She was several years older than him, and it looked like they knew each other well. Once she’d calmed him down a little, she continued. While her voice was slightly steadier than Greg’s, there was still some struggle in it, as if she was fighting against tears.
“I’m Liz, Greg’s sister. What he was trying to say is that the doctors don’t think mom has more than a couple of months or so left.”

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The girl next to Erica, Marina, spoke up.
“I’m Marina, and about a year ago my brother got cancer in his kidneys. The doctors aren’t very positive, but he’s getting chemo and all that, so we’ve not given up yet.”

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Then it was Erica’s turn. She felt slightly awkward, and was absolutely sure her face was red as a tomato.
“Hi, I’m Erica. About a year ago my sister got brain cancer. She got treatments for it, and was almost rid of the tumors, but then the doctors figured out she also has leukemia. A couple of weeks ago she had a bone marrow transplant to treat it, but then she got an infection. She’s in a coma now, and we’re not sure if she’s going to survive. There’s also her twin brother. He’s got a muscle disease and a heart defect. We’ve kind of always known he’s not going to live very long. So... yeah. Things aren’t exactly looking bright at the moment.”
A few more kids presented themselves. Beatrice, whose brother also had leukemia. Next to her sat Abe, who had a father with ALS, which he explained was some kind of disease that caused paralysis.

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Catherine sat next to him. Her baby sister had been born with a severe heart disease, and needed a new heart. Her sister was currently in the NICU while waiting for the heart, and her parents were with the baby a lot. It wasn’t hard for Erica to understand some of that frustration. Her own mom had been gone for the most part of Aidan’s first year, and while Erica didn’t remember a lot from back then, since she’d been around three, she had grown up knowing how it was to not have her mom around most of the time.
The last one was Jackson, whose older brother had an inoperable brain tumor.
“He can’t talk much because the tumor is eating up the speech center in his brain or something, and he’s moody all the time. He’s kind of a pain to live with, to be honest. I know I should feel sorry for him and all, but it’s hard when he’s being a pain in the behind like always. The only big difference is that he can’t say nasty things to me any longer, which is kind of nice. He’s probably going to die, but the tumor grows slow, so we’re kind of stuck with him for a while longer.” He blushed a little, and looked around. “That sounded awful, didn’t it?”

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“Try living with my brother for a week,” Nick said with a snort. “I know people say those with autism can be smart and all, but all Robert does is to tear down things and throw tantrums. He doesn’t talk, and doesn’t even pretend to understand what we’re saying. Mom and dad have tried everything to make him able to communicate with us. I don’t think he wants to. He’s nine, still in diapers, and behaves like a baby. It’s like having a baby brother forever. The worst thing is that my parents don’t really care much about me anymore. They yell at me all the time, for nothing at all! Sometimes I just want to run away.”

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“After my sister was born things kinda got a bit bad,” Natalia said. “She’s always sick, and because of that mom sometimes looks at me and my brother as if we’re bacteria bombs. Things might get even worse if she gets the transplant. Everything is about my sister. If I get good grades at school, mom barely even cares. Mom and dad fight sometimes. I heard dad say something about getting divorced the other day. It doesn’t really feel like we’re a family anymore, almost like we just happen to live in the same house together.” She looked down at her hands, playing nervously with her fingers. “I’m really scared. I don’t want to lose her. I don’t want to lose dad, for that matter.”
“I know that feeling,” Juliette shot in. “Our house is the place where my parents sleep when they’re not at the hospital with Josh. Even when they’re home, everything is about him. After Josh got sick again, dad kind of lost it. He goes crazy over all these little things, especially when I do something. Doesn’t even have to be something wrong. Mom walks around like a zombie when she’s not at the hospital. Sometimes I’m kinda jealous at Josh. I don’t want cancer, of course, but... you know, everyone feels sorry for him. He gets gifts all the time, and doesn’t have to go to school if he doesn’t want to. When he does, everyone treats him like a hero, as if he’s some kind of superman for going to school once a month or so. No one really cares how I feel. It’s like I’m not even entitled to be emotional because I’m not sick.”

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Marcie looked at each and every one of them.
“Dealing with a sick parent or sibling can be a challenge. There is no right way to feel, but no wrong way, either. I say that as long as you don’t do stupid things, you’re entitled to feel how you feel.”
“Even anger?” Nick asked.
Marcie nodded. “Even anger. It’s alright to be angry. Sometimes you have every right to be angry, or sad. But no matter how difficult things might be, you are allowed to feel happy. If good things happen, no matter how small, happiness will help you get through things.”

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“Like when Josh gave me a hug yesterday? I felt so sad, but when he hugged me, I sort of felt alright again.”
“Just like that, Juli.” Marcie smiled.
“I don’t always know how to feel,” Marina said. “Sometimes I just feel lost. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I just want everything to be normal again. Funny thing is, I don’t even know what normal feels like anymore. My brother is in and out of the hospital. If he’s out, he still has to go back for dialysis and cancer treatment several times a week. Dad died when I was little, so I’m kinda like an extra mom for my youngest brother.”
Erica nodded. “I’m not even sure if my life has ever been normal. I’ve always been the odd one out in my family, ever since my younger siblings were born. They’re twins, and were born too early. I was just three, but I sort of remember mom never really being there. It was always dad who made dinner, who took us to school or kindergarten. My brother is always sick. There’s no cure to what he has, and he only gets worse. He uses a wheelchair, so whenever we’re out together he gets these weird stares from other people. They treat him odd, as if he’s stupid. But he’s not. He’s the smartest kid I know about! He solved my entire math book out of boredom once when he was ten. And that was before he solved our older brother’s math book. When my sister got sick, too... I don’t know. I was used to the whole being ignored thing, but it’s a hundred times worse now. Sometimes it’s almost as if I might as well not exist, for all my parents care. I love my sister, even if she used to be the most annoying person I know about. She’s funny, she’s nice, and... I don’t want her to die. I’d do anything for her to live. A couple of weeks ago I donated bone marrow to her. It feels like the only useful ting I’ve done.”

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Joey stared at her. “Wow! Really? I don’t think I would have dared that. Did it hurt?”
“I slept through it, but I was a little sore after. The scary part was when they gave it to my sister. We didn’t really know if it would help cure her, as it might as well have killed her if her body rejected it. It still can. She fell into a coma not long after, and we don’t know if she’ll wake up. I’m scared that she’s even sicker because of me. I... I guess I feel a little guilty. I don’t want to be the reason she dies.”

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Marcie smiled. “It was very brave of you, Erica. Not everyone would have dared. Transplants are tricky, and I don’t think there is any reason to feel guilty if it doesn’t work. Rather the opposite. It’s not up to you or to your sister. You’ve given her a new chance, and her body has to decide whether it wants to grab the chance or not.”
Beatrice spoke up, her voice a little shaky. “My brother only got chemo, but he got well again, at least the first time. And then he had a relapse half a year ago. The doctors wanted to do a transplant, but they couldn’t find a donor. Last week the doctor said my brother probably is going to die, because the chemo no longer works.” She burst into tears. “I can’t do anything! I feel helpless all the time.”
Before she knew what she was doing, Erica wrapped her arms around the girl. She didn’t say anything, not knowing what to say, but the girl’s sobs grew weaker.

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“You can’t always do something,” Marcie said to all of them. “But you can try to understand, and you can be there for them. Sometimes parents seem to forget they have other kids than the one who is sick. More so when that child is dying or when they need a lot of care. They sometimes hurt so much inside them that they forget that the other people around them are hurting, too. They don’t feel like have enough energy for the sick child, and certainly not for the other child. They may snap at you or think you can handle more than you really can. Chores, helping to take care of the child... They forget that you are children and need stability. There’s more than enough chaos already, more than enough to handle.”

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“This group is supposed to be a place where all of you are heard and seen. It’s also a place where you’re allowed to put away bad things for the moment, so you don’t have to think about it. Here you can cry all you want, and get all your emotions out. It’s even alright to be angry. Speaking of that, I’ve got the best anger management in the world over at the bench.” She broke into a wide grin. “Cookie dough!”
Everyone cheered.
Marcie got up from the floor. “Follow me, everyone! The kitchen is waiting.”

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There were smiles all over when they got up from the floor and marched after her. Several of the youngest had a happy spring in their walk, as if at the mention of cookies they’d lightened several tons.
Erica followed the others, and saw that Marcie was very much true to her words. She’d brought all ingredients needed to bake cookies, including lots of chocolate.

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Marcie wrote up the recipe on a blackboard, and handed out everything they would need. It only took about five minutes before the first flour war broke out. Marcie didn’t seem bothered at all, but joined in heartily, and threw floor around just as much as everyone else. She’d brought plenty of flour, as if expecting it.

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Once the worst warfare died down, they did manage to make several plates of cookies. They were in every shape and size, as Marcie had encouraged them to be creative, and some were drowned in icing.
“Round cookies are boring. If you want to make kitty or alien cookies, go ahead!”
She was right in cookie dough being the best anger management. After banging loose on the dough for quite a while, along with throwing dough all over the room, there wasn’t one sour face to see. They were all smiling and laughing, happy for the opportunity to just be children.
An hour later they sat and lay all over the floor, eating cookies straight from the oven.

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Erica picked the chocolate nose off her kitten-cookie, which in all honesty looked more like a melted snowman, and took a bite. It tasted delicious! It struck her then that the worrying thoughts about Lily had disappeared somewhere between the first throw of dough and when she’d had half a bag of flour emptied over her head by Marina. For a precious hour or so, her worries had been washed away completely. She held no animosity against Marina, whom she now was resting her head against. Marina ate what might be a pig cookie, although Erica wasn’t entirely sure. It could just as well have been a fair try on a dog. Or horse.
Once most of the cookies were eaten, and Marcie had informed them of the time and place for the next meeting, they said good-bye, and left. Erica headed for the women’s toilets, so she could remove the dough and flour she’d not managed to brush off. She got a few strange looks, but she was too calm and happy to bother.

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The meeting had been nothing like what she’d expected, and she sent a silent thank-you to Fay, remembering to tell the nurse of the meeting the next time she saw her. She would most definitely go to the next. She’d already gotten to know a few of them a bit better, in between the dough war. These were all people who understood some of what she was going through, and Marcie was really nice. It felt relaxing, knowing she didn’t have to put up an act that everything was fine.
She stepped out of the women’s toilet, and collided straight into the person she least wanted to meet.


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_________________
There are things that we don't want to happen but have to accept,
things we don't want to know but have to learn,
and people we can't live without but have to let go.

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 Post subject: Re: CHAPTER 82: To forgive and forget
PostPosted: Fri Sep 20, 2013 8:44 pm 
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Erica came out of the ladies’ room just as Peter returned from the men’s room. She wasn’t the only one I’d bumped into unexpectedly. Peter had picked up Aidan, and we’d bumped into each other in the hallway of the entrance, the two of them on the way in and me on the way out from the changing room.
“So that’s where you are!”
Erica stared at me, and was her face expression shocked, or was I completely mistaken? Either way, she did not look much happy to see me, or perhaps any of us.

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Her hair had a lumpy streak of white and brown in it. I reached out and pulled off some of it. Dough?
“What on Earth have you been doing?” My voice came out slightly more accusing than I intended.
She seemed a little flustered, and her eyes moved as if she was looking for a way out.
“Nothing.”

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Needless to say, I didn’t believe her, but she quickly changed the subject.
“Aren’t you at work?”
“My shift is just over. Bit of overtime today. Thought I’d drop by Lily before I go home.”
“Oh. Right.” She sounded disappointed. Maybe she was still trying to avoid me.
“Why don’t we go up together?” Peter must have sensed a confrontation on the way, and put a hand in the small of Erica’s back, guiding her away from me.

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Erica looked as if it was the last thing she wanted to do, but followed even so.
When we came up there, the curtains in Lily’s room were all drawn.
“I’m sorry, but you can’t go in right now,” the nurse at the nurse desk said. “They’re probably done with her in half an hour or so.”
“Maybe we should go get something to eat while we wait?” I suggested.

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There wasn’t full agreement, but there was not much else to do, so they trailed after me to the cafeteria. The main dinner service was over, but there was still some food to find. We ate in silence, barely speaking a word to one another. Erica sipped to her juice, mostly ignoring the omelet I’d bought for her, insisting she had already eaten.
Peter glared at his bowl of soup as if the stare alone could make it vanish. As for Aidan, he absently poked his egg-and-bacon toast with the fork, his mind somewhere else.
Only I had an appetite, though I realized I’d eaten less the previous day than I normally ate just for breakfast. The egg and bacon disappeared, if slowly, and the coffee might not taste delicious, but the caffeine was a sorely needed boost.

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Aidan was the first to break the silence. “Can we go back to Lily now?”
“As soon as you’ve eaten a few more bites. You need the energy.”
He mumbled something I didn’t quite catch, but he obediently took another bite.
After more than half of the food was eaten, we took the elevator to Lily’s floor.
Dr. Adler was just on her way out of Lily’s room together with a few others, probably in the middle of the evening rounds.

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She exchanged a few words with one of the other doctors, and then came over to us. The first thing I noticed when she removed the face mask was her smile. It wasn’t a big smile, but from all the serious faces of late it was a pleasant sight, and ignited a spark of hope in me.
“I’ve got some good news for a change. Her white count has jumped up to point one, and I just had it confirmed they’re fresh cells made from the new stem cells. There are no cancer cells in her bone marrow or spinal fluid, and the last samples from a couple of days ago are until now the cleanest I’ve seen from her. There are also other positive changes in her blood work. If she is lucky now, it means the bone marrow has started to engraft.”

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I couldn’t help myself and hugged her. Those really were good news, and these days even the tiniest step forward was welcome.
“Thank you!”

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Adler smiled apologetically when I let go of her.
“Usually we have a little celebration when this happens, but seeing as Lily still isn’t in any shape to party yet, I think we better wait a bit. While she’s on the right track, she’s far from out of danger yet.”
The news certainly brightened our moods, and we decided to celebrate a little in the cafeteria, for the first truly good news in several days. Aidan and Erica wanted ice cream, their appetite having suddenly returned in full. Peter insisted on strawberry pie, while I went for chocolate cake. While eating, I called Tony, who was ecstatic over the news, and then my parents.

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“... so Dr. Adler thinks it’s a positive sign that shows she is recovering,” I said, and took a bite from the cake. Delicious! For the first time in nearly three weeks, food actually tasted good!
“That’s my girl!” Dad exclaimed loudly in the background.
Mom sighed, and I could almost hear the rolling of her eyes in her voice.
“He’s doing his happy-dance.”
“Seriously? He still does the happy-dance?”
She sniggered, “oh yes, the happy-dance! Haven’t seen him do that since Lily got her brown belt. Still got two left feet, but it’s nice to see him happy. He’s been moping around too much lately.”

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“I’ve not ‘moped around’!”
“Yea you have, dear. You never eat chocolate spread straight from the box unless you’re in a bad mood. That’s moping. And there comes the pouty-face!”
“Madison!”
There was some more low-toned bickering in the background, muffled from mom’s hand over the speaker, which oddly enough cheered me up. Mom took the phone again. “Sorry about that.”
Several degrees happier than I’d been, I said, “Lily is still not out of the woods yet, but it really is the best news we’ve had the past few weeks.”

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“It sure is, Jenna. Now you all stay strong, and take care of yourselves. Get some sleep and proper food – all of you! Lily needs you strong when she’s ready to come home.”
“We’re trying our best, mom. And she won’t come home for a while yet, even if she wakes up soon. She’ll still have months of rehab.”

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There were some noises, and dad came on the phone, probably having won the fight over the receiver.
“You stay positive, Jenna! Lily has your willpower, and plenty of it. She’s probably back to karate-kicking boys twice her age before you can blink. Or chasing after them. She’s about the right age now, isn’t she?”
“Martin!” mom exclaimed in the background.

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“Just saying! Anyway, keep us updated, and let us know when we can visit. We miss her a lot.”
“I will.”
I hung up.
“Happy-dance?” Erica blinked at me, not noticing that the ice cream she’d had on her spoon had fallen down on the table five minutes ago. “Gramps, dancing? Didn’t he almost tear down every single thing on the dance floor in auntie Lizzie’s wedding or something?”

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“He did. He also stepped on Lizzie’s toes about twenty times during the father-daughter dance, and fell onto what was left of the wedding cake. We never let him forget that.”
Aidan and Erica looked at each other, and bent over laughing. Soon after, both Peter and I had joined in.

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The happiness was short-lived, though. Once back in Lily’s room, I could hardly get anyone to talk. Erica went back into her ‘ignore mom and everything she says’ mind state, with a secure grip on Lily’s hand, and Aidan sat staring at her as if he thought she would wake up just by mind power alone. Peter was equally mute, most likely with worry. As for the evening nurse, she came in so often I started thinking something was off.

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What else was the reason for complete vitals checks every half hour unless there was something wrong? Lily was on monitors, after all, and was the frequent testing for neurological signs necessary? But the nurse ensured me everything was fine, and that there was nothing to worry about. Well, she didn’t have a daughter in a coma now, did she?
We didn’t sit there for very long, only a couple of hours, but it was still dark when I managed to talk the others into leaving.

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Aidan and Erica still had homework, and by the looks of the pile I’d discovered on Erica’s desk when I‘d done my laundry round earlier that day, she had enough work for at least a month. Perhaps no wonder she was in a bad mood.


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_________________
There are things that we don't want to happen but have to accept,
things we don't want to know but have to learn,
and people we can't live without but have to let go.

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 Post subject: Re: CHAPTER 82: To forgive and forget
PostPosted: Fri Sep 20, 2013 8:45 pm 
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Erica stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around herself. She was deliberately procrastinating, not at all eager to start her homework, and taking a shower was the perfect excuse, since she still had traces of dough and flour in her hair when they got home. The mirror had gone foggy, so she wiped off a small area with her hand.
Her mirror image looked about as unhappy as she felt.

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With automated movements she blow-dried and then combed her hair while her mind flew elsewhere.
“Erica, stop hogging the bathroom! Get out of there!”

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“Five minutes!” she yelled back at her dad.
One would think that four bathrooms were plenty enough for the now four people who currently lived in the house, but everyone had their favorite, of course. This was only one big bathroom, which unofficially belonged to Aidan since it was handicap-accessible. The three others were too small for a wheelchair.
She poked her head through the T-shirt and pulled up her pants, and waited until she heard her dad’s footsteps down the hall before she went outside and walked as silently as she could over to her room, opened the door, hoping to be left alone for the rest of the evening.

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No such luck, of course.
“Aidan! What are you doing in here?”
Aidan turned away from her desk, where he had been sitting with his nose in her history book, taking notes in one of her notebooks.

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Aidan gave her a perfectly innocent face expression, which she had learned over the years usually was followed by one of his pranks.
“I was just giving you some pointers on the History essays.”

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“Give me that!”
Erica grabbed the book and skimmed the list he had made. His writing was really bad, but she still understood most of it. Some of the points were things she had not even thought of.
He was still looking way too innocent.
“Thought you might need it. Can’t say I envy you. Your pile of homework is worse than mine ever was. And with those test grades...”

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“You don’t have any rights to go snooping around in my stuff!”
“Then I guess you won’t mind if I tell mom you’re about to fail three, maybe four subjects? I’m sure she’ll love it!” His impish grin was almost scary.

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“You don’t dare!”
His grin turned into a more pleasant smile. “Don’t worry. I won’t. But you know, it doesn’t hurt to ask for a little bit of assistance.” He gave the pile another look. “Otherwise you’ll not pass your exams. I promise I won’t tell anyone I’m helping you, not even mom. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a whole lot more embarrassing for you to go this year twice than asking for help.”
Erica stared at him. “What makes you think you can help me? I’m years ahead of you.”

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He snorted. “I started High School Math before you even started High School. I’m at least four years ahead of my year with Math and a couple of other subjects. I was finished with required reading all up to High School in 4th grade...”
Erica frowned. “Really?”
“Tony gave me all of his old books. Besides, what do you think I’ve been doing when I’ve been stuck at the hospital all those times? Staring at the ceiling? The rest of the subjects are easy enough. I read a lot. Pretty sure I know more history than any college History teacher, and that’s without bragging. You know, mom always thought Lily helped me with homework. It was nearly always the other way around. She’s ahead too, just not as much as I am. We’ve just stuck around in the class because being three or four years younger than our classmates really doesn’t help on the social bit.”

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“I can imagine.” Erica sat down beside him and read through what he’d written.
“So what do you think about the pointers?” he said when she was almost done reading. “I know my writing is a mess, but that’s not something I can do anything with.”
“Looks good, although there are some things I’m pretty sure aren’t even mentioned in the book.”
He smiled. “You can borrow mine. It’s much better explained there.”
She studied him for a bit, still almost expecting some kind of prank. “Thanks. I think.”
He winked at her. “Can’t have you fail, eh? Everyone needs a bit of help at times. You. Even me. Do you need some Math help while I’m here?”
“Don’t you have any homework?”
“Nah. Finished it already.”

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“Already? Your pile was like three times bigger than mine!”
He just shrugged, and moved closer to the table.
Some two or three hours later, after Aidan patiently had explained everything over and over, things had slowly started falling into place. She’d gone from not understanding any of it to grasp not just the basics, but also how to use it for something sensible. Aidan was much better at coming up with real-life examples than any of her teachers. The last half hour Aidan just sat there giving her some hints and pointers when Erica had troubles with a certain piece, until Erica realized that she was doing most of the work on her own. She even got a pleasant surprise when she realized she was a whooping four pages beyond her current homework. Not much remained of the book, and unless she got some unpleasant surprises she thought she might actually nail the math exam this time. Perhaps not the top grade, but at least a C. Maybe even a B.

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Aidan finished looking over her final notes, and smiled. “You forgot dividing with ten on the second to last piece, but other than that everything is correct.”
“You should be a teacher, Aidan. My math teacher barely manages to explain how to add two and two. I’m not even sure if he can get it ri-ight...” Erica suddenly yawned. It had been a long day.
Aidan chuckled. “Sounds like my current substitute teacher. Pretty sure he can’t even teach a fish to swim. I have wondered where some of them get their papers... Anyway, you need more pointers on the history essay?”
“Nah, I think I’ll manage now. Thanks.”

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“I’ll go and get the book. I think I’ve already marked out the pages.”
He disappeared, and came back five minutes later with a colossal volume that was about the size of four bricks glued together.
“Is that a book?”
“Just some light reading. It really is interesting, believe me or not.”
“Looks more like a complete encyclopedia to me...”
He raised an eyebrow at her. “You really should read more, Erica.”

Image


Erica lifted the heavy volume from his lap up to the desk. It was the weight of four bricks, at the very least. Light? How had he even gotten that thing off the shelf?
“Why do you even bother, Aidan?”
“Reading? It’s supposed to be good for learning new things. You really should try it. Works like a charm!” His words dripped with sarcasm, but she chose to ignore it. She did read. Sometimes. When she felt like it. But mostly when she had to.
“No, I mean, why do you bother to read all this. Why do you bother with High School classes?” She left the unsaid question hanging in the air. Why did he bother being years ahead with school work when he might die any time?

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His smile disappeared, as if he’d read her mind.
“I’m losing my body little by little. In a few years I won’t be able to do anything on my own. I might not even be able to breathe. Being smart is the only thing my disease can’t take away from me. Knowing things is sort of a comfort. It’s something I can control. That’s why, Erica.”
She stared at him, unable to come up with a good answer.
“I’m sorry I asked,” she finally said.

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His smile returned. “Don’t be. I stopped feeling sorry for myself a long while ago. Doesn’t make me any healthier, so why bother? And someone has to help Lily with her schoolwork when she gets out of the hospital, and somehow I doubt her teachers will be able to.”
Erica chuckled. “She’ll never reach High School if she gets the teachers I had, that’s for sure!”
He nodded. “Besides, I can’t have my big sister dropping down just because her teachers are incompetent, or what? You’re smarter than you think.”
He winked at her, with one of those crooked smiles of his. “By the way, that last prank you thought Lily pulled at you wasn’t her. If Lily had been pissed off at you, she’d painted pink flowers and butterflies on it in permanent paint, not washable finger-paint...”

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“... because she knows I’d hate that?”
“Yeah. The intention was to annoy, not destroy. Although, don’t put salt on my cornflakes again. I’ve got better pranks than this, and I don’t think you’ll like any of them.”
“Sorry about that. But you did put a frog in my lunch box – again!”
“And you drowned my rain boots in the aquarium.”
Erica felt her face flush a little. Perhaps she wasn’t as innocent in this as she pretended to be.
“Maybe we should call it even.”
He smiled. “Probably for the best.”
There was silence between them for a few moments, until Aidan spoke up again.
“Mom is a bit worried about you, by the way. If the two of you don’t make up, she’ll probably start worrying you’re doing something illegal. You know her.”
Erica sighed. “She doesn’t even care.”

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“You didn’t hear her muttering all of yesterday while you were gone. What did you do last night, by the way? Mom called June, but she didn’t know where you were, and when she called Juanita – twice – she just hung up on her.”
“It was just a disagreement. Ish. Of sorts.”
Aidan stared into her eyes, and Erica wondered for a short moment if he had X-ray sight.
“Don’t push away your friends, Erica. It’s really not good for you.”

Image


Aidan turned to leave. It was only then, in the bright light from the hallway, that Erica noticed his face was much paler than usual.
“Are you alright, Aidan?”
He glanced over his shoulder. The light reflected in the tiny droplets on his forehead. Strange, as the early spring air had cooled down her room to a pleasant temperature. If anything, Erica thought her room was a little too cold now.
“Good night, Erica.”

Image


His smile seemed genuine enough, but there was something more in it. Sadness, perhaps.
He left without another word.
She’d never quite been able to figure out her little brother. To this day, he remained a mystery to her. Every time she thought she’d started understanding him, he surprised her yet again.
She jogged after him.
“Aidan, wait!”

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He turned the chair around.
“What’s wrong, Aidan? I can see something is bothering you.”
He looked away, stared at the wall as if her eyes were difficult to meet.
“It’s Lily, isn’t it?”
“It’s... kind of hard to explain.”

Image


“Try me.”
He stared at her for a long while, silent. Erica met his eyes without faltering. She’d always thought that looking into his brother’s eyes was like staring into an ocean. Waves of feelings crashed about all the time, but at the same time he had the calm of a sunny day devoid of even the slightest breath of wind. Lily’s eyes had the same color, but not the same feel. In hers there was always the slightly impish feel of winds from all directions at once. You sort of never knew what you’d get with her. Hundreds of balls in the air at the same time, not knowing which would stay in the air and which would fall to the ground.
Then he sighed.
“When we visited her today, it was almost as if she wasn’t really there.”

Image


Erica frowned.
“What do you mean?”
He just stared at her with those big, sad eyes of his, and she suddenly understood.

Image


“You mean you can’t...?”
He nodded.
“But that means...”

Image


He nodded again, and closed his eyes.
“Maybe it’s like the last time?”
“I hope so. I just can’t shrug off the feeling...” He sighed, looking about as lost as Erica felt.

Image


“Maybe I’m just worried. Good night, Erica. Sweet dreams. And... wake up tomorrow,” he added, almost as an afterthought.
Their eyes met for a second, and his piercing eyes made his words sound as if there were no guarantees she – or he – would. Shivers ran all the way down from the top of her head to the tip of her toes. Proper chills, with goose bumps and everything.

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The door to his room closed behind him, leaving Erica standing in the middle of the hallway, staring at the door without really seeing it.
“You too, Aidan,” she whispered into the empty hallway. “You, too.”

Image




*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-


Next chapter: When I get to it.

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 Post subject: Re: CHAPTER 82: To forgive and forget
PostPosted: Fri Sep 20, 2013 9:48 pm 
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wow great job Theraven

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 Post subject: Re: CHAPTER 82: To forgive and forget
PostPosted: Fri Sep 20, 2013 9:54 pm 
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*cry* Oh my gosh this is AWESOME!!!!! Although I feel that somehow Aidan could be right about how that could be the last time. You just can't kill Lily or Aidan(yet),I've grown too attached,I love them so much. Also great story. ::celebrate::

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Last edited by marielle38 on Sat Sep 21, 2013 4:59 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: CHAPTER 82: To forgive and forget
PostPosted: Fri Sep 20, 2013 9:59 pm 
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Damn it Raven, stop dangling hope in front of us and then snatching it away!
And on another note, this story is a lot more intense and interesting than a lot of published books out there...

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 Post subject: Re: CHAPTER 82: To forgive and forget
PostPosted: Fri Sep 20, 2013 11:44 pm 
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.... Is Aidan going to die? He's in a cold sweat, that's really never a good sign... </3

I feel like a kid, asking like that, but then again the idea of Aidan dying is really almost nauseating albeit inevitable. :(

I really love everything you did with Erica in this chapter, I think it was great. I love to see that no matter what, there is someone who wants to make the kids happy that way.

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 Post subject: Re: CHAPTER 82: To forgive and forget
PostPosted: Sat Sep 21, 2013 3:08 am 
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Katie, here is where there would be a big, huge spoiler if I were to answer your question. So I'm not going to do that. You just have to wait for the next...

I like writing from Erica's point of view. She's "the odd one out", and she doesn't get a lot of the limelight elsewhere. Thought she deserved to come out in the light a bit more. It's almost as if she has been living a life of her own, apart from the rest of them.

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things we don't want to know but have to learn,
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 Post subject: Re: CHAPTER 82: To forgive and forget
PostPosted: Sat Sep 21, 2013 4:45 am 
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Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh! I don't even know what to say right now! Just why, Raven? Why? Ahhh!

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