This story is by Jones Rose Moynihan and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I’m coming home, I’m coming home
Tell the world I’m coming home
Let the rain, wash away, all the pain of yesterday
I know my kingdom awaits, and they’ve forgiven my mistakes
I’m coming home, I’m coming home
Tell the world I’m coming home
‘Coming Home,’ by Skylar Grey.
I quickly hug my parents, my dad holding me tight, choking me half to death.
“Hey, hey! I’ll be fine, you guys!” I exclaim, laughing. They let out an exhausted breath and I smile.
“Remember to take your pills and call us and the doctor if anything starts hurting, okay, baby girl?” my dad says, bending down to hold my shoulders and look at me with such a serious expression that I almost explode into laughter again.
“Yeah, yeah. I know the drill!” They turn to each other with exasperated expressions.
“Charlie, if you need anything, you know the hotel’s number, right?” Maya says, and I nod.
My father and stepmom, Maya, are taking a day-long trip to a local hotel, so I can hang out with my best friend because they have finally decided I’m old enough at sixteen that I can stay home alone. I’m a victim of stage four metastatic lung cancer. The doctors revealed it, ten months ago, and just 19% of those diagnosed at stage 4 survive more than 12 months. There’s no cure. I’m paralyzed by a mistreatment and can’t move my legs. My mother passed away from lung cancer four years ago, and that loss still hurts... but I can’t do anything about that now. I wave my dad and Maya away, watching them get into the car and drive into the distance. I’ll miss them, but frantically wheel into the house.
I hurry to my room, and my best friend from the hospital, Lylah, who has cystic fibrosis, a disease that attacks her lungs, nearly falls off my bed, shocked at my sudden appearance. With our illnesses, our doctors thought it would be a promising idea for us to get some one-on-one time. Unfortunately, we must stay six feet apart because of Lylah’s disease. We giggle, until she grins at me and exclaims, “We can do anything! Your parents aren’t here, so we can binge Netflix until, like, three in the morning!”
That sends us into another fit of hysterics. I grin, happier than I’ve been in a while.
We scamper, well, she scampers, and I wheel, the ancient floorboards complaining under my chair, to the living room. I snatch up a pillow and Lylah runs to the kitchen after a moment of thought.
I hear the hiss of the kettle, and guess she’s making hot chocolate. Then, of course, because Lylah’s obsessed with popcorn, the microwave beeps. I run my hand over my smooth head, staring at my glossy reflection in the mirror next to the TV. My body is small and skinny, my clothes billowy. My skin, a deep black, is ashy, my normally alight caramel eyes dull and unfocused. I wince, and Lylah comes out of the kitchen, juggling a bowl of popcorn and two cups of hot chocolate in her arms. Her long, snowy white hair and apple green eyes obscured by purple glasses give her a young, carefree look. She’s not exactly on death’s door like I am, but she’s not expected to live a long life, either.
That’s part of the reason we wanted to have this night together so bad. She’s undergoing a new treatment next month and the idea of a last night together was such a fantastic opportunity we planned all of this out for weeks.
“Something wrong?” Lylah asks, getting as close as she can without passing six feet. She’s very maternal, having three younger siblings, and she always makes me feel better.
“…Not really?” I say, but it comes out a question, and Lylah, plops down on the floor.
“You sure? You know I’m here if you want to talk.”
I smile down at her. She truly is my flashlight in the dark. I grab the remote off the couch’s arm and toss it to her.
“What do you want to watch first?”
A few Harry Potter movies later, Lylah’s sprawled across the couch, glasses askew and snoring like a lion. A few Dorito bags are all over the room, the hot chocolate empty, or spilled on the floor.
I start up the fifth movie, and Lylah jerks awake.
“Wha-what did I miss?” She exclaims, fixing her glasses.
I shrug. “Diggory dying, blah blah blah. I started up the fifth a few seconds ago, don’t worry.”
She slumps back down, holding up a thumbs-up. I snicker a bit, and she chucks a pillow at me. I gasp, letting the pillow land in my lap, a victim of Lylah’s terrible aim, an idea hitting me like, well, a pillow thrown by Lylah.
“Lylah! We should totally build a pillow fort!” I yell, punching my fist in the air. She laughs and nods, pausing the movie.
Since I can’t really help a ton, I grab supplies and make a blueprint. After a few minutes, we finish the fort.
Holding up a big, fluffy blanket are walls of pillows, and we moved the coffee table and instead have two beanbags from my room placed six feet apart. (Luckily for us, the table’s light.)
Lylah props herself up on one of the beanbags, unpausing the movie. She can’t lay all the way down, or the mucus in her throat will cause her to choke. It’s horrible, because cystic fibrosis is crazy rare, and she’s one of the best people I know. Life isn’t fair sometimes.
We fight sleep for as long as possible, stuffing our face with popcorn, but you can’t fight it just as much as you can death.
The next morning, we wake up to the TV screen dark, Lylah collapsed in her beanbag and me in my chair.
Lylah yawns and stretches, before breaking out into a cough, spitting out blood, which is a bad sign. I quickly roll into my bedroom, grabbing her vest. See, the vest shakes the mucus out of Lylah’s lungs, so she can expel it by coughing. I toss it to her, and she gratefully puts it on and hooks it up to a machine we set up last night. I let her do her thing and wheel into the kitchen, yawning. My phone beeps from where it’s charging on the counter. A text from Dad.
[Dad, 8:14 AM] how was your night with Lylah?
I groan. “Lylah, they’re already checking in. I bet you five that they’re going to be here soon!”
[Dad, 8:16 AM] Maya was worried, so we are going to be there sooner than expected. Around an hour, tops. We… got your report. If you think you can handle it, it’s attached. Or you could wait for me and we could read it together.
I relay half of the news to Lylah, and she yells back from the living room, her voice vibrating. “Well, they aren’t getting here until later, right? We’ve got some time.”
A link is attached. I try not to think about what it means, and after clicking on it and reading through it, I set my phone down, shaken. I put toasted bread on plates, along with strawberries, and bring them out to Lylah. She’s taking off her vest, but hurries when she sees food.
“They’re going to be here in like an hour.” I say, taking a bite of food.
“Well, I’m glad we got this night together.” Lylah says through a mouthful of strawberry.
I look down. Lylah understands, simply by the look on my face. “You got a report back, didn’t you?”
At any hospital, reports could be the one thing that breaks you, leaving you as speechless as a newborn child, or the thing that makes you squeal with joy like a sixteen-year-old getting a car for their birthday. In my case, it was the former.
Lylah wraps her arms around me. “Charlie… I’m so sorry.”
My dad and stepmom arrive here in about an hour, and we softly cry together before heading to the hospital, bringing Lylah with us, and as always, staying apart. The doctors launch into a long presentation full of statistics and graphs, trying to explain the reason behind the news. I sit between Lylah, who’s crying, and Dad, who is tight-fisted and pale. It must be hard, hearing his daughter has the same fate as his wife.
A week later, I’m being wheeled into the emergency room on a stretcher, having collapsed at home. Maya’s crying beside me, Dad sobbing while holding her. I can barely move, but reach out a hand. I gasp a little as the doctors press me against an operating table, hearing the soft beep of my heartbeat grow slower and slower.
I’m finally free, unrestrained from Earth’s limitations, and I’m coming home. But Dad doesn’t have to worry- I’ll say hi to mom for him.