That’s the tenative title for my WIP (work in progress). My dad came up with the idea when he was battling cancer. I’ve been toying with it for a while, but just haven’t been able to write it yet. Partially, because I was afraid I wouldn’t do it justice. The other reason I couldn’t write is because I didn’t know my main character (MC). More accurately, I was trying to make him something he wasn’t. I kept trying to write an adult MC, and it hit me a few days ago that he’s not an adult. He’s a teenager. There really isn’t any other explanation other than he just is. So I finally committed words to paper and pounded out a first chapter. I decided to post it for you. There is some mild language; that’s just how the characters talk. Hope you enjoy.
The cold room smelled like antiseptic, bleach, and stale urine. Flynn tried hard not to wrinkle his nose in disgust. No one looked up as he entered. They were too absorbed in their magazines or muted talk shows on the two small television screens bolted to the walls at opposite ends of the room. Or too dejected to notice the newcomer.
“Just have a seat Mr. Price,” the nurse said. “Dr. Johnson will be with you shortly.”
Flynn gave her a tight-lipped smile and crossed to an empty chair. The stiff fake leather creaked as he sat down. Fortunately, the waiting room population was sparse enough that he didn’t have to sit next to anyone.
He thumbed through a sports magazine but the glare of the florescent lights hurt his eyes. Flynn tossed the magazine aside and flopped his head back against the wall. His knit toboggan made for a thin cushion, but better than nothing. Not like he had any hair left.
Just last year his hair had been thick and curly. The delight of teenage girls everywhere. They would “ooh” and ”ahhh” and ask to touch it, or braid it, or even just run their fingers through it. Flynn, of course, put up little resistance. He’d let them do as they wished, all the while thinking about which of them he’d ask out for that weekend.
Picking up girls had been easy then. Now, he had trouble getting one to give him the time of day. Without his golden curls and buff physique, the girls didn’t seem to notice him anymore. Flynn supposed he wouldn’t date him now either. Who wants to saddle up with a scrawny, bald kid who’s dying?
“Price. Flynn Price,” a nurse called from the doorway.
Flynn’s eyes fluttered open. He didn’t know how long he’d been sitting there, he didn’t keep track anymore, but the waiting room had mostly emptied out. He stretched and stood, intentionally avoiding the clock as he followed the nurse to the exam room. When your clock is running out, you don’t keep track of the exact hour and minute. It’s depressing.
“Dr. Johnson will be right in,” the nurse said. She flipped a red flag up on the wall outside the door and disappeared.
Flynn sat in the only chair in the room. He refused to sit on the paper covered table unless he had to. His eyes scanned the posters dotting the walls, all proclaiming that he should “ask his doctor” about this or that drug. Same as every other exam room he’d ever been in.
He wondered who the hell came up with them. They always portrayed some man or woman with a big smile plastered on their face doing something stupid like cycling or gardening. The sort of people who’d never had a need for the particular drug they were hocking. Flynn wanted to punch all of them in their stupid faces.
Just when he thought he’d been forgotten, the door opened. Dr. Johnson’s thick frame obscured the light momentarily as he flipped through Flynn’s chart.
“Ah, Mr. Price,” he said, snapping the chart closed. “How are we feeling today?”
Flynn hated the camaraderie doctors always tried to force. “How are we feeling?” Like they were one person. He wanted to give a smart-ass answer, but bit his tongue. This guy didn’t look like the sort who would understand sarcasm.
“Like I’m dying,” he said instead.
Dr. Johnson frowned slightly and pulled a small stool on wheels out from under the counter. “How is the Neorenidine working for you? Any side effects?”
Flynn crossed his arms and leaned back. “Other than nausea, loss of appetite, double vision, chronic cough, hair loss, vertigo, and migraines? Just fine doc.”
Dr. Johnson clicked his pen and scribbled something on Flynn’s chart. “Any pain in your kidney or leg?”
“Leg’s been numb, but that’s nothing new.” Flynn shrugged. “Kidney’s as fine as it can be with a thirteen centimeter tumor growing on it I guess.”
The doctor stopped scribbling and looked up at Flynn. “We really need to schedule your surgery. The sooner you take that kidney out the sooner you’ll—“
“I’ll what? Get better?” Flynn laughed. “Sure, and rainbows come from unicorn farts. You know the odds as well as I do, doc. There is no getting better. Why subject myself to a pointless surgery?”
“People beat the odds every day. You’re only eighteen. It’s at least worth a shot.”
Flynn leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. “I’d rather spend my last days enjoying them. Not in some hospital bed with a catheter shoved up my penis and my food coming through tubes, you catch my drift? I’ve got Stage IV Renal Cell Carcinoma doc, I think it’s a little late for the bright sunny perspective. Now, if there’s nothing else,” Flynn said, standing, “I think I’ll be on my way.”
Dr. Johnson took off his trendy black glasses and rubbed his nose. “I’m going to leave you on the same dose of Neorenidine. I know the side effects are…less than desirable, but if you stick with it a little longer I think it will do some good. We’ll call in your prescription. I want to see you again next month, okay?” He held out a yellow piece of paper.
Flynn took it and tugged open the door. “Sure, if I’m still here next month.” He let the door close behind him before the doctor could respond and headed to the counter at the end of the hall. He got in line behind an old lady. Her tuft of gray hair was virtually non-existent, but Flynn couldn’t help but feel jealous. This broad had to be at least in her seventies and still had more hair than him.
When it was his turn, he approached the closest window and handed the nurse his insurance card and the yellow slip of paper.
“Co-pay?” she asked.
Flynn sighed and pulled out the check his mother gave him before he left. She had wanted to come with him, but Flynn convinced her that she couldn’t afford to take the time off work. Which was true, but the main reason was that Flynn didn’t want to hear her begging him to have the surgery.
The nurse took the check and typed something into the computer.
“Isn’t there anything else we can do?” a woman cried from down the hall.
Flynn tried to ignore her.
“We can’t afford that much surgery!” she yelled again.
Flynn refused to let himself look. He didn’t want to see the poor creature the doctors were trying to force into needless procedures.
“Is there anything else?” he asked the nurse behind the counter.
“Just a sec, I’m looking for available times to schedule your follow-up.”
“But we don’t have insurance!” came the wail again. “You mean to tell me that my husband is going to die because he needs surgery we can’t afford?”
This time Flynn couldn’t help himself. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a slender woman standing in the hallway. She appeared to be in her early forties. A gaunt man stood beside her, trying to calm her down.
“I will not keep quiet Reggie. It’s not fair.”
Flynn couldn’t hear what the man said to her, but whatever it was must have worked. She hitched up her purse and spun away from the short doctor she’d been talking to. Flynn turned around before she could catch him staring.
“Will March eighteenth work for you, Mr. Price?” the nurse asked.
“Huh? Oh, yeah sure,” Flynn said. The nurse wrote the date on a reminder card and slid it through the window.
“See you next month,” she said with a smile.
“Yeah…” Flynn replied. The woman who’d been yelling stood behind him in line, arms crossed, ignoring the man Flynn presumed to be her husband. The man looked similar to Flynn. Thin frame, hollow cheekbones, sunken eyes. The look of a dying man.
Flynn pocketed the card and hurried out of the office to the elevator. He pressed the down button several times, as if that would speed it along, then watched the numbers light up over the elevator doors.
He felt relieved when he heard the grinding gears and dinging bell that signified the car’s arrival. He hopped in and pressed the button for the first floor, but not quick enough. A hand poked through the gap between the doors right before they closed.
“Come on, honey. Just a little further. Are you sure you don’t need a chair?” the woman from the hallway said.
“I’m fine, Candace,” the man said. He sounded like he’d just run a marathon.
Flynn pressed back into the corner and tried to avoid the man’s eyes as he slid into the elevator. The bright light bounced off the man’s smooth bald head.
“I’m just trying to look out for you,” Candace huffed.
“I know, dear.” He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze then looked over at Flynn. “So, what’s your poison?”
“Ex…excuse me?” Flynn gulped.
“Your poison? What have these ass clowns got you on?” The man smiled. “I’m on Reprodil. It’s supposed to be to my lungs what Fix-a-Flat is to a tire, but so far it’s just falling flat.” He chuckled at his joke but Flynn didn’t laugh.
“Reggie,” Candace said in a low voice, “that really isn’t funny.”
“Sure it is.” He squeezed her hand again. “They’ve taken almost everything else from me, they won’t get my sense of humor too.” He winked at Flynn. Flynn managed a weak smile.
“This is hardly a time to be laughing,” Candace said. “With as much as we have to worry about—“
“It’s the exact time to be laughing.” Reggie slipped a thin arm around Candace’s shoulders. “Let it go. We’ll figure everything out.”
Candace sighed and leaned into Reggie’s chest, but not too much. The elevator creaked to a stop on the first floor. Flynn hung back and let Reggie and Candace leave first.
“I’ll get the car,” Candace said, hitching up her purse and taking off across the lobby and into the wet parking lot before Reggie could object. Reggie shrugged and turned to Flynn.
“She’s a little high strung but she means well. She’s just stressed.”
Flynn kept his eyes on his feet and crossed the lobby.
“You never told me your poison,” Reggie called after him.
Flynn paused at the automatic glass doors. “Neorenidine.”
Reggie nodded and flashed a knowing smile. “Had a friend on that once. Stage Three?”
Reggie’s smile faded. “Sorry, man.” He made a sweeping gesture with his hand. “Enjoy it while you got it.”
“That’s the plan,” Flynn said.
“Me too, man. Me too.” Reggie approached the door and looked through the rain splattered glass. “Enjoy it while you got it,” he muttered to himself.
Flynn took a timid step towards Reggie. He wanted to leave, but something drew him to this strangely happy man.
“What about you?”
Reggie met his gaze. “Me? Stage Three Lung Cancer, baby. Seems my lungs are a popular area for tumors to hang out.”
Flynn faced the glass and watched the rain puddle in a hole in the parking lot. He didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t understand how this man could have such a light outlook on his condition. Especially considering what he overheard upstairs.
“It’s hard for you to accept isn’t it?” Reggie asked. “Hell, it was hard for me to accept for a while and I’m only forty-three. I couldn’t imagine being a kid.”
Flynn shrugged. “You get used to it I guess.”
“Except you’re not.”
Flynn turned to Reggie and raised an eyebrow.
“You’re not used to it,” Reggie said. “Let’s face it. This shit sucks. Right now, you’re supposed to have your whole life in front of you. Hell, I’m supposed to have like half of mine in front of me. Instead, bam! Cut off like a puppy’s testicles. That’s why you gotta enjoy it, man.” He clapped a hand on Flynn’s shoulder. “Don’t sulk around. Enjoy every second.”
Headlights washed over them as Candace pulled up to the doors. Reggie shoved his hands in his pockets.
“Well, it was nice talking to you.” He stepped on the black matt and the doors whooshed open, bringing with them the chill of the evening.
“Hey, wait!” Flynn called, without knowing why. Reggie paused half way out of the door. Rain drizzled inside causing Flynn to shiver. “What are you going to do?”
“Yeah, I…um, couldn’t help but overhear.”
“Ah.” Reggie shrugged. “The only thing I can, I guess. Die.” Then he rushed out into the rain and jumped into the waiting car. Flynn could hear the thwap, thwap of the windshield wipers before the doors slid closed.
He felt a twinge of guilt as Reggie’s last words rang in his ears. Die. And here he stood with plenty of insurance and no desire to use it. It didn’t seem fair. He didn’t know what he could do about it though.
Flynn pulled his jacket tighter and stepped out into the cold, wet evening. He didn’t seem to feel the frigid water as it splashed around his ankles. In fact, he didn’t seem to feel much of anything. He was so lost in thought that he almost missed his bus.
He wished he could do something to help Reggie. But he was just a kid. A dying kid at that. About as useful as a sack of moldy potatoes.
Flynn eased his aching body down on a tattered bus seat and pulled his hat low over his eyes. He couldn’t waste time worrying about some guy he met on an elevator. He had his own problems. Like explaining to his mom that he declined surgery…again.
That was a conversation he’d be fine avoiding. Maybe she’d still be at work when he got home. He could disappear in his room and go to sleep. At least pretend. When the bus arrived at his stop, though, he saw the light on in the living room window.
“Damn it,” he said to himself and wondered if he could hop back on and ride the bus around for a while. By the time he turned around the bus had already closed its doors and was pulling away from the corner. With a deep sigh, Flynn mentally prepared himself then plunged into the dark entrance hall of his apartment building.