I hear rhythmic footfalls down the hall, and I let my head slip forwards, closing my eyes as if I am asleep. The door creaks open, and the principle’s strong perfume overwhelms me the moment she enters the room.
A loud whisper. “She’s asleep.” I think it’s my teacher.
The principal speaks in a quieter voice. “Something isn’t right about this. She’s never done this before.”
“Let’s wake her up,” my teacher says strongly, and I hear her walking briskly towards me. I close my eyes tighter, my heart thumping against my chest. I wish she would leave me alone. I wish she would wait until I wake up on my own. But no, she’s shaking me now, she wants me to wake up, but I can’t. I never want to wake up anymore.
The shaking stops suddenly.
“Why don’t we let her sleep?” the principal suggests, quieter this time. “God knows she needs it.”
“I have classes to teach in this classroom this evening,” the teacher snaps. “And I will not have her in here sleeping through them.”
“Yes, of course, but that’s not for another two hours. Trust me.”
There is an awkward silence, and I take a shaky breath, willing the world to stop spinning wildly around me.
“In one hour, we’ll come back and see what she has to say for herself,” the principal says firmly, and I hear footsteps exiting, and the door creaking shut behind them.
I look up blearily. The classroom is darkening, night is coming. The desks are neatly put into place, and the chairs pushed in behind them. The whiteboard has a series of equations on it that have not yet been erased. I suck in a deep breath, and turn around, grabbing my backpack off of the ground, and slipping my hand through the many pockets and grabbing out my phone.
My hands are trembling so violently I can hardly hold it. I jab the letters ‘needfreedom123’ into the passcode section, and flip through the contacts section. I want to cry, but my eyes are completely dry.
Clare Gray. Call.
I press the phone to my ear, squeezing my eyes shut and falling back against the chair. I can’t do this. I will never be able to do this.
The phone begins to beep.
“Alyssa.” A sharp hoarse voice knocks me backwards, and I struggle to breath, terror coursing through me. My heart is knocking violently at my chest, but I can’t let it out. Not to her. Not to Mum.
“Mum,” I whisper, clutching the phone so hard that my knuckles gleam white. “Mum,” I say again, louder this time.
“I know, Alyssa, your teacher called me explaining it. Now if you please, I have a meeting-”
She won’t understand. No one will ever understand. Everything is falling apart, tumbling down right in front of me, I can’t do it anymore. She thinks this is about my misbehavior. She won’t understand, won’t accept what I have to say. The phone slips from my fingers, and hits the desk, and I grab it and jerk it to my ear again.
“Mum,” I say, my voice rising. I leap up off the desk and stand there for a moment, clutching the phone with all of the strength I can muster. “Mum, this isn’t about that. I need to talk to you now. Right now.”
“Alyssa,” she says fiercely. “I told you I’m in a meeting. Can’t this wait until later?”
“No,” I cry, kicking the chair violently under the desk. “No, it can’t.”
“What is it then?” Her impatience slices through my misery, and bitterness courses through me.
I open my mouth to say something, but I can’t. The words have disappeared. I choke back bile, struggling to form the words, but I can’t. I just stand there wordlessly, emptily, silently, unable to say it. Unable to tell her anything.
“Come on Alyssa,” Mum cries, and her voice is so loud that she’s practically screaming. I stumble backwards into the wall, and crumple to the floor. My phone slips out of my fingers and hits the floor with a crack, and I bury my head in my hands and rock back and forth. I want to cry so bad now, but the tears refuse to come.
I close my eyes, letting the world swirl around me for a second, and then I open them again, gritting my jaw together in determination. I grab my phone, and jab the password into it, each letter I type ripping my heart into smaller and smaller pieces. “Mum,” I yell, and I clench my teeth together so hard that my jaw starts throbbing in pain. “Mum, I’m dying.”
I want her to say something, want her to comfort me, want her to tell me that it would all be okay, but there is only silence. Finally, in a deathly still whisper, she says, “What?”
The world is spinning wildly, I can’t hold on. I’m falling, I’m sinking. I collapse in a ball on the floor and say, “I got the results back from the doctor this morning.”
“Alyssa, stop this insanity right now. I don’t have time for this.” Her words slice right into my heart, and pain explodes over my body. I clasp the phone to my heart, closing my eyes and praying to myself that she’ll understand, that she’ll get it.
It’s not insanity, Mum,” I cry, banging my fist furiously against the wall. “It’s true, it’s true, it’s all true.” I’m shrieking now, pounding my and the sound of it echoing tauntingly back at me. I would do anything to cry right now.
“Stop making all that noise,” she screams, and I hear the sound of her banging down the receiver. Agony hits me like a tidal wave, and cold horror shoots through my blood. I yank the phone back, staring at her flashing name in terrified anguish. The phone gives a beep to tell me that she’s gone.
“I have leukemia,” I whisper in horror to myself, grabbing my knees and holding them so tightly that they begin to turn numb. “I have leukemia,” I say again, louder this time, throwing the phone on the floor with a yell. I can’t do it, my heart is thumping wildly, I can’t hold it in anymore. I’m screaming, I’m pounding my fists against the wall, I’ve never felt so alone. “I have leukemia,” I shriek, and I grab my phone and pound it against the wall wildly. The phone cracks, pieces of plastic flake off, and I leap up, stomping my feet furiously on the phone. “You don’t care, you don’t care what I have to say, leukemia, leukemia, leukemia.”
I collapse on the ground again, holding my head and sinking back against the wall, the fury suddenly draining out of me. I feel numbness race over my body, and overwhelming loneliness hits me right in the stomach. Words zip through my head, each one twisted and bitter, and my heart races within me. Acute lymphocytic leukemia...won’t live past twenty...bone-marrow test...swollen lymph nodes...biologic therapy...nothing we can do...live life while you can...I grab my stomach, gasping for air, drowning beneath a sea of memories.
I grab my phone, and stare at the shattered screen, clicking the on button furiously and squeezing my eyes shut, begging it to turn on. But the phone remains black. I throw it back onto the floor, and bury my head in my hands, rocking slowly back and forth, back and forth. My breathing slows, my heart stops thumping as wildly, and misery takes over, creeping at my heat and yanking any happiness that’s left away from me. I don’t know how long I sit there, listening with despair to the beating of my heart, but the minutes creep by, each one leaving me more miserable than before.
I find myself humming a song that Marya used to play when she was younger. She used to say that she liked the creepy feeling that it gave her. The words echo through my soul, and violent trembling seizes me. “If I die young,” I whisper hoarsely, and my voice cracks and I drop my head to my chest, choking back bile. I start again, “If I die young, bury me in satin, lay me down on a bed of roses…” I lean my head back against the wall, pulling my knees to my chest and staring at the stars twinkling from the skylight. “Sink me in the river at dawn and send me away with the words of a love song.”
Footsteps down the hall. My whole body tenses, and I stare at the door with narrowed eyes, clenching my teeth together and hoping that it won’t be Marya behind it. The words die from my lips.
The door swings open, and I turn around to see who it is, staring blearily up at the figure in the doorway. It’s the boy at my desk again. Anger burns through me, and I wish he would leave me alone. I’m not his concern.
He speaks, and his voice is husky and deep. “The Band Perry, huh?”
I stare at the ground beside me in silence.
Then he looks me directly in the eyes, and begins to sing.
“A penny for my thoughts, oh no I'll sell them for a dollar
They're worth so much more after I'm a goner
And maybe then you'll hear the words I been singin'
Funny when you're dead how people start listenin' “