Eastern Lights Page 2

I called ages thirteen and fourteen the wonder years, when my happy was really happy and my sad hardly visited me at night. All I wanted for my future, for Mom’s future, was more wonder years.

I hated the nerves that built up within me from the memories that led us to that office. I hated everything about that building, from the crappy chairs to the harsh lighting. The carpet had stains that had probably been put there in the nineties, and there was a good chance Dr. Bern was over two hundred years old. Dude didn’t look a day over one hundred, though. I had to give him props for that.

Mom never complained about it, though. She never complained about anything really. She was just thankful she had a doctor who looked out for her, even when the insurance companies didn’t. I wondered what it was like for rich people. Did their hospital waiting rooms have cappuccino machines? Were there mini fridges with chilled drinks? Did they get asked for their insurance card before they received treatment?

Did the receptionist look them up and down when they learned they were on government assistance?

Did the cancer leave their bodies faster than it left the bodies of the poor?

How different would Mom’s life have been if we came from money?

We sat down.

I felt nauseous.

“Think positive thoughts,” Mom said, squeezing my kneecap, as if she knew I was slipping into my place of doubt and anger. I didn’t know how she did that. I didn’t know how she knew when my mind was floating away from me, but she always had known. A mother’s gift, I guessed.

“I’m good. Are you good?” I asked.

“I’m good.”

The thing about my mother—even if she wasn’t good, she’d lie and say she was, because she didn’t want to put any stress on me. I never understood that. There that woman was, going through her second round of cancer, and she was still more worried about my well-being than her own.

I supposed moms are kind of like that—superwomen even when they are the ones in need of being saved.

The clock ticked abusively loudly as we waited for Dr. Bern to join us in his office. My fingernails couldn’t have been any shorter with the way I was chewing at them, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t focus on a damn thing until I knew the results of Mom’s labs.

“Are you getting excited for your birthday carnival?” Mom asked, nudging me in the arm. She was talking about my eighteenth birthday festival that was going to be over the top and ridiculous, but truthfully? No, I wasn’t excited. I wouldn’t be until those results came back, until I knew she was going to be okay.

Anyway, I lied. I pushed out a smile, because I knew she needed it. “Yup, so excited. It’s going to be amazing. Everyone in town is coming. I even think I convinced Jax to stop by.”

Jax was my boss, and I was his pain in the ass, also known as his bestie. Most people in town didn’t understand the grumpy dude, but I did. He’d been dealt a shitty hand in life, but he had a better heart.

The thing about Jax was he didn’t exactly know we were besties, because he was a bit slow on the arrival of truths, but he’d come around to the idea. I was like a fantastic fungus—I grew on people.

“Of course he’ll come. He loves you,” Mom agreed, because even through Jax’s annoyed expression around me, she saw how much he liked me.

That, or we were both insanely in denial.

Dr. Bern came into the room, and I tried my best to assess his thoughts based on how he moved. Was he coming to deliver bad news or good? Was there a heaviness that sat on his chest or not? Was he going to be the devil or an angel that afternoon?

I couldn’t read him.

My stomach was twisted up, and all I wanted was to know what was written on the papers he held gripped in his hands.

“Hello there. Sorry for the delay.” Dr. Bern’s brows were knitted closely together, and his forever grim expression weighed heavily on his features. His shoulders were always hunched, and I knew exactly what that meant.

He had bad news.

The cancer wasn’t gone.

Had it remained the same? Had it spread to different locations in Mom’s body? Was she dying? How long did she have to live? How many more days would I be able to spend with her? Would she see me graduate college would she see me find success would she—

I glanced over at Mom, and tears were rolling down her cheeks. I blinked a few times, uncertain of why she was crying already, why she was falling apart. I looked at Dr. Bern, realizing I’d zoned out for a bit, contemplating the amount of time I had left in the world with my mother, my person, my best friend.

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