*This is my first week participating in Red Writing Hood. And even though I'm extremely self-conscious about putting my fiction on my blog, here it is.
Haley let her mind drift, let the sound of beeping monitors and bustling nurses fade into the background. She’d always been good at escaping. Mentally anyway. She’d tried escaping physically once, too, telling herself she was thirteen and strong.
But by the time she’d ripped the tubes from her nose and the I.V. from the back of her hand, the nurses had had her surrounded, reminding her that age meant nothing. Not to her fatigued muscles, not to her fragile bones--strong and vibrant only eight months before.
Mere mental escape hadn’t been enough on that night--the night before she could officially call herself a teen. Maybe, she’d thought then, if I could just make it home, Lacey wouldn’t feel guilty for leaving.
But she hadn’t even made it past the foot of her hospital bed, and her sister, Lacey, let her guilt keep her by Haley’s side. Lacey was three years older and they shared the same birthday, and every year, since Haley could remember, they'd spent them together. But this year, Haley wanted Lacey to let go, to live the way a sixteen-year-old should.
And Lacey just wanted her sister to get better.
So instead, Haley's arrival into teenage-hood--and Lacey’s sweet sixteen--had been spent in Haley's hospital room.
Instead of boys, music, and dancing had been tears, infection, and a catheter.
Instead of trendy clothes had been hats, and even a mildly attractive wig.
Now, staring out the blackened hospital window, she couldn't sleep, but took her thoughts elsewhere, somewhere far away and safe. Somewhere where she was healthy and strong. In that place, she wasn't poor, brave Haley, but beautiful, powerful Haley.
She absentmindedly drew her finger along the scar that stretched from the middle of her ribcage to just above her belly button, where it split and continued down both sides of her abdomen--branding her stomach with a twelve-inch upside-down “Y.” The raised skin was still sensitive, even raw in places, but she imagined it smooth, imagined that she hadn’t just been opened like a lily six months before.
She felt her hand over her smooth head and imagined hair, imagined braids and ponytails and the annoyance she’d feel when the wind would blow it in her eyes. She’d give anything to feel that annoyance again.
But instead she felt a draft against her uneven skull.
It used to be red, her hair. Fiery and full of light, as her mother used to say. And once upon a time, her freckles had matched. But now they seemed out of place.
Her eyes suddenly burned, and she set her jaw against the quivering. She was supposed to be strong. The strong, young cancer patient, smiling to give her mother the same hope she faked herself.
But her mother was gone and the nurses cackled outside her cracked door as though life wasn’t slipping away in the rooms around them. And for the first time in months, Haley felt free.
She let the tears spill, and they spilled as though they’d spent the last six months begging for release. She wanted to be pretty again. She wanted to dance like she used to, like gravity wasn’t her worst enemy.
She wanted her first kiss, and since she doubted she ever would, she imagined the way it would feel to have a boy’s lips against hers--maybe Mark’s, the boy whose name once decorated her hot pink binder.
Her mother entered the room then, catching her off guard, and as soon as she saw the tears drenching Haley’s cheeks, she dropped her purse and hurried toward her. Her mother could always cry at the drop of a hat, and usually Haley could soothe her.
But in that moment, Haley could only cry in the way her mother usually did. And when her mother’s arms encircled her, the warmth she’d been fighting against for months finally entered her soul, and she wept harder.
For the first time since the diagnosis, she took comfort from the same mothering arms that rocked her as a young child, and found that they gave her what she could no longer give everyone else--what she'd wanted to feel all along.
Though this is a work of fiction based on the The Red Dress Club prompt "What does your character want?" much of the inspiration for this post comes from my sister, who was a cancer survivor at the age of thirteen. Love you, Sissy.