One Tiny Lie
Eric frowns. "But what if-"
"Nope!" I shake my head. "There is no 'what if.' Got it? How about we don't plan on dying. We plan on living. Deal?"
They look at each other and then Eric says, "Can I plan on not kissing a girl?"
The heavy cloud in the room suddenly evaporates as I burst into laughter, on the verge of tears for so many reasons. "You can plan whatever you want as long as it involves you growing old and wrinkly. Shake on it."
Their eyes light up as they slip their little hands into my proffered one in turn, like we're making a secret pact. One that I think I need as much as they do.
I help the twins build a battleship, an aircraft carrier, and a torture chamber-Eric's idea-out of LEGOs. They chatter back and forth, bickering occasionally, exactly as I would expect twin brothers to act. It's so normal that I almost forget that both of these boys are in a hospital with cancer. Almost. But that unease in my chest lingers, and no amount of giggles seems to dissolve it.
I'm surprised when four hours has passed so quickly and a nurse pokes her head in to tell the boys it's time for them to tidy up and get back to their room. "Are you coming back again?" Eric asks, his eyes wide with the question.
"Well, I was thinking about coming back next Saturday, if that's all right with you."
He gives an indifferent shrug, but after a moment I catch the sidelong glance and the grin.
"Okay then," I stand, ruffling his hair. "See you next weekend, Eric." Turning to Derek, who's offering me a shy smile, I now notice the redness around his eyes and his slouched posture. Four hours in here has tired him. "See you next weekend, Derek, right?"
"Yes, Miss Livie."
With a small wave to Diane, I slowly make my way out to the hallway where a woman with dirty-blond hair pulled into a messy ponytail stands.
"Hello," she says. "I'm Connie-their mother." Her eyes-shadowed with darkness from lack of sleep-flicker toward the boys, who are arguing over which box a specific piece of LEGO should go in. "I was watching you with them. I . . ." She clears her throat. "I don't think I've seen them smile so much in weeks. Thank you."
"I'm Livie." I offer her my hand. Hers is rough and strong. I notice that she's in a waitress uniform, so I suspect she just got off of work. I'd imagine she's working a lot these days with the medical bills she's facing. That's probably why her skin looks drawn and the most she can offer me is a sad, worn smile. The thought makes my heart ache for her, but I push it aside. "Your little men are lovely."
I see the infamous pursed lips as she stares through the window at them again, seemingly lost in thought. "They're still babies to me," she whispers, and I watch her blink back the sudden glossiness in her eyes. "Will you excuse me?" I watch her as she walks into the room, replacing the pinched face with a beaming grin full of hope and happiness.
"So?" I hear Nurse Gale ask from behind me. "How was your first day?"
"Great," I murmur absently, watching the boys as they each grab one of their mother's outstretched arms. She's a small woman but she manages both of them at once, squeezing them tight. Even when Eric starts wiggling out of her grasp, she doesn't relent, holding on for another moment, her lids pressed together firmly. Squeezing them like she never wants to let them go. And I can't help but wonder if every hug feels like one of the last hugs she'll have.
What if it is? What if I show up one weekend to find one of them . . . gone? It's not as if I've come in blind, not expecting that. But now there are little faces and voices attached to that possibility. I suppose I'll cry. I'll have to accept it. And I'll move on. But if I do this, if I become a doctor, how many more times will I stand in a window and watch parents cling to their children? How many more times will I make deals that fall through? Will I ever become immune to this sick feeling in my stomach?
Standing here with all of these thoughts swirling through my head, my eyes suddenly widen in shock. I realize that this is the first time in nine years that I've ever considered becoming a doctor as an "if" versus a "when."
"A bit overwhelming," I admit with a sigh. "I got lost trying to find my classes on Thursday and Friday. Ended up walking in just as the professors introduced themselves. Almost went epileptic." I'm never late to class. I knew this campus was huge but I hadn't realized quite how big. I've mapped out the routes to the rest of my classes to avoid all potential seizures in the future.
"Yikes. But, you had your volunteer thing today. How was that?" Kacey's last words are blurred by Mia's shrieks and what sounds like our friend Ben's maniacal laughing in the background.
"It was good. There are these two boys-"
"Hold on, Livie." I hear muffling, like she's covering the receiver with her hand. "Guys! I'm talking to Livie. Can you just . . . vamoose!" A second later, screams of "Hi, Livie!" flood the phone as they run by, making my heart swell and then immediately constrict. Uncovering the phone, Kacey says, "Sorry, Livie. You know how Saturday nights get."
I smile wistfully. Yeah, I know exactly how Saturday nights get. The eight-person dinner table in the spacious kitchen is never enough for everyone. It's always us plus Trent and usually a few friends from Penny's. Occasionally our old landlord, Tanner, comes. Right now, Storm is probably clearing the table and Dan is washing dishes-if he's not out arresting Miami's criminals. It's a mishmash of misfits and yet . . . it's family. It's home.
I sigh as I glance around at my tiny dorm room. It's clean and nice, but I wonder when the novelty of it will wear off-when it will feel like I belong here.
"So, how was the hospital? You met two boys?" Cupboard doors slam in the background, which tells me that Kacey's on tidy-up duty while she talks to me. She's a tornado when she steps in the kitchen.
"Yup. Twins. Eric and Derek."
"Seriously?" I can almost hear my sister's eye roll.
I snort. "I know. They're really cute."
"And are they . . ." She doesn't say the words. She doesn't have to, and my stomach clenches tightly all the same.
I swallow. "Prognosis is good." I don't know that, but I say it anyway because it will make both of us feel better. The long commute home gave me a chance to decompress and evaluate. I acknowledged that the first day in a children's hospital with sick-possibly dying-kids was bound to pull on a few heartstrings. Of course it'll get better. I'll probably also freak out the first time that I face a cadaver in med school. Everyone does. It's normal. It doesn't mean I'm not meant to be there or that I can't hack it. By the time I arrived back at my dorm room tonight, the cloud hanging over me was all but gone. My bitterness with Stayner, though, had increased tenfold.
Kacey sighs. "Well, that's good." I hear the screech of the oven drawer opening and I grin, knowing what's coming next. Sure enough, there's a loud slap, followed by a yelp. I'm laughing as Kacey shrieks, "Dammit, Trent!" because I know that he caught her bent over and distracted and Trent just can't seem to stop from slapping her butt playfully every chance he gets. A few seconds later, there's a noisy kissing sound near the phone and Kacey's giggle.