Tuesday, August 12, 2008

FORTY-EIGHT

The next ten days passed alarmingly fast. Sid's ankle was slowly starting to get better, so he had graduated to a walking cast and was beginning physical therapy. His mood improved with his ankle, too; he even apologized for forcing me to call Christopher.

"I should have let you take care of that on your own," he said quietly as he stroked my hair. We were lying in bed, and I had thought he was asleep.

"It's fine," I replied without asking him what he was talking about. I knew exactly what he meant. "I had to do it eventually…"

"Are you happy?"

I snuggled in closer to him and smiled. "Very."

"I'm sorry I've been so grouchy lately. This injury is just so frustrating. I wake up every morning and hope that it's magically healed overnight."

I chuckled and rubbed my hand over his abs. "The trainer said you're healing well, though."

"I'm still not allowed to travel," he replied bitterly.

"You will be soon. They just want to make sure your ankle can handle being in the walking cast."

"Maybe it's better that I'm stuck in Pittsburgh…" his voice trailed off and he wrapped both his arms around me. "Let's watch the game with Connor tomorrow night."

"Sure." Sid and I had both been trying to spend as much time as possible at the hospital with Connor. We knew his days were limited…we visited him every day, and each day he looked worse and worse. He could barely go five minutes without being overcome by a coughing fit, and I noticed he was coughing up more blood.

I pushed the unpleasant thoughts out of my head and tried to concentrate on Connor's infectious personality as I drifted off to sleep. Although I knew I would soon have to say goodbye to my young friend, I tried not to think about it. I wasn't sure how I would handle it.

***

I was making breakfast for Sid the next morning when my cell phone vibrated on the kitchen counter. I glanced at the ID and felt the blood drain from my face.

"What's wrong? Who is it?" Sid asked.

"Connor's mother," I replied quietly. His anxious, nervous expression mirrored my own as I flipped my phone open. Mrs. Fisk rarely called either of us, and with Connor's condition rapidly deteriorating we had every reason to believe she was calling with bad news. "Hi, Mrs. Fisk," I greeted, trying to keep my voice even.

"Hi, Karine. I hope I didn't wake you." I noticed her voice was shaking slightly.

"No, no, we've been awake for a while now," I replied as I leaned against the counter, bracing myself for whatever news she had.

"Oh, good. Do you…do you think you and Sidney could come to the hospital? Connor…he's not doing well. This…he…he might only have a few hours left," she said quietly.

"We'll be right there." I snapped my phone shut and met Sid's uneasy stare. "We need to go to the hospital," I said. I wanted to go upstairs and get dressed, but my body wouldn't cooperate. I was rooted to the spot…my head began to spin and I closed my eyes. Tears ran down my cheeks, but I didn't wipe them away.

"Karine," Sid said gently as he wrapped me in a hug, "you knew this was going to happen eventually." His voice was shaking with emotion and he was holding me very tight. This was just as, if not even more, hard for him as it was for me.

"That doesn't make it any easier," I choked.

***

"Hey, guys," Connor greeted us weakly, yet happily, as Sid and I entered his already crowded hospital room. It looked like most of his family and friends were here to say goodbye to the affable sixteen-year-old. A few eyes widened in surprise as they recognized Sidney, but no one drew attention to him. We were all here for Connor. "Geez, Karine, you look miserable," he said to me as Sid and I walked to the side of his bed.

I smiled sadly in reply and rested my hand on top of Connor's. I noticed he was wearing Sid's jersey—he wore it during every Pens game, but I couldn't help but wonder if he would be here to see the game at 7:30 tonight. I shuddered at the unpleasant thought.

"How's the ankle?" Connor asked Sid.

"It's getting better," Sid replied awkwardly.

"Do you think you'll be playing soon?"

"Hopefully by the end of the month. I'm going crazy sitting at home."

"Yeah, I know how that is," Connor replied with a grimace. "By the way," he looked at me, "Chloe's fiancé finally realized Carla was trying to sabotage their relationship. Not that it matters, because Carla shot Chloe and he went to Amanda."

"Thanks for the update," I said with a smile as he recapped the latest story line in the melodramatic soap opera.

Connor nodded and began coughing violently. Sidney's rested his hand on the small of my back as we waited for the fit to pass. When Connor was finally done coughing, the tissue he had been holding to his mouth was stained red with blood.

"Sorry," he said softly. "Hey, Karine, I have something for you." He opened the drawer in his side table and produced a picture.

I smiled as I held the five by seven photograph in my hands. It was a picture taken during the Rangers game I had taken him to in January. I remembered Connor handing Uncle Mario his camera and asking him to take a picture of us…I had planted a kiss on his cheek at the last moment, causing him to be wearing a shocked expression in the photograph. I flipped it over and read the caption Connor had scrawled on the back: "Don't worry, I won't tell Sid you're cheating on him with me."

Sid and I both laughed at the inscription. "I'd probably share her with you," Sid joked with Connor as he wrapped his arms around my waist.

"Sure, now you tell me," Connor replied sarcastically.

"That was a fun day," I said quietly as I stared at the picture in my hands. The difference between the Connor in the picture and the Connor lying in the hospital bed was heartbreaking. He was so sick when I took him to that Rangers game, but he still looked a hundred times better than he did now. I unsuccessfully tried to blink away the tears that were forming in my eyes.

"Hey, don't cry," Connor replied softly. "Don't be sad I'm leaving, Karine, be happy we had this much time together. I've had a lot of time to think about this…there's something bigger waiting for me. I won't be in pain anymore."

I smiled and wiped away the tears. It was hard to be bitter about how unfair the world was when Connor was so optimistic. "You're an amazing person, Connor," I said through the tears. I rubbed his cold hand gently as he closed his eyes and smiled up at me.

"So, do I get one last kiss?" he asked. I let out a short laugh and bent over to press my lips against his forehead. "Dude, Sid…you're the luckiest guy on Earth. Don't lose her, okay?"

"I'll try not to," Sid replied as he pulled me close to him.

As Connor drifted off to sleep, I felt Sid's arms tighten around me. I rubbed his forearm and turned around to rest my head on his shoulder. We both knew Connor wouldn't open his eyes again.

***

The alarm clock told me it was close to one in the morning and I still hadn't slept yet. Once we returned home after spending all day at the hospital, Sid and I went to bed without talking much. I was trying to forget how Connor's heart monitor flat lining around four o'clock sounded, but the memory was still too fresh. It felt a giant hole had been ripped in my heart.

My body shook slightly as I sobbed. I was beyond trying to wipe the tears away—my face felt stiff and my breaths were coming in short, rattling gasps. I thought Sid was asleep but I noticed his breathing was slightly uneven as well.

I rolled over on my side to face him and found him with this eyes wide open and tears falling down his cheeks. I wiped his tears away with the pad of my thumb and he smiled bitterly. "I know exactly what Connor would say to me right now. 'Dude, you're in bed with the most beautiful woman in the world and you're crying?! What the hell?'"

I smiled and swallowed hard. "He's probably rolling his eyes at us right now. I miss him," I added quietly.

"He's in a better place," Sid reassured me softly. It sounded like he was trying to comfort himself as well.

I drew in a shaky breath and nodded. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine Connor happy and healthy, looking and acting like a regular sixteen-year-old boy. I couldn't help but smile at the pleasant image…although I would always miss Connor, I knew he was finally at peace. I only wished I would have explained to him how much he changed my life. That sixteen-year-old taught so much about perspective in the short month I had known him. He was the reason why I decided not to go to Paris. He showed me just how powerful love was, and he made me realize what was really important.

I stroked Sid's cheek with my thumb. I wouldn't dwell on whether I had made the right decision anymore. I knew I belonged here with Sidney. If things didn't work out between us, I would move on. But I would never, ever regret staying in Pittsburgh. I had stepped into unknown territory by admitting my feelings for Sid, and I was trusting him with my heart.

I lightly brushed my lips against Sid's. He owed more to Connor than he could ever possibly imagine.

***

Connor's funeral took place two days later. Most of Sid's teammates attended—they all wanted to pay their respects to the friendly teenager they had met the day I took him to the arena.

The funeral wasn't a sad affair…it was a celebration of his life, something I'm sure Connor appreciated. His best friend, Scott, gave the eulogy, and he captured Connor's sarcastic, likeable nature perfectly.

I felt completely at peace as Sid and I walked to his Range Rover after Connor was buried. I wasn't sad…even though Connor was gone, he would never be forgotten. I couldn't be selfish enough to wish he was still here; I knew he was in a better place. He was done fighting…he could finally relax.

"You okay?" Sid asked.

"Yeah," I replied quietly, my voice barely above a whisper. "Are you okay?"

Sid exhaled and pursed his lips. "I'm getting there."

10 comments:

Pensgirl87 said...

ok now I'm crying :( But I didn't feel as bad as I thought I would so thank you for that

KylieD said...

I agree with pensgirl. Couldn't have said it better...

Anonymous said...

this had me crying but not just cause conner died but it reminded me of the day my aunt died I was at home and I got a call saying she only had a few hours to live we were really close and I miss her a lot

Lauren said...

I was at the bedside of a nine-year-old girl who had leukemia when she died...this brought back a lot of tough memories, but also brought a smile to my face to remember all the times she made me laugh...thanks for helping us all to remember how precious time is with the people who mean something to us

Summer said...

Connor was inspired by my friend Tara, who was diagnosed with brain cancer two years ago. She died in May. This was hard for me to write, but therapeutic at the same time...I'm glad you all liked it.

L said...

I was in tears reading this!
It's such a sad thing for anybody to experience.

I absolutely love your story.
You're such a good writer!

Anonymous said...

awh, thats really sweet of you to inspire this story off of your friend.
it was really good, even though it made me cry.
you're an amazing writer and i love your story.

SparklyPurple16 said...

I actually had to stop reading in the middle of the chapter I was crying so much. This chapter brought back so many memories of when I found out that my grandparents died. Conner especially reminded me of my nana. And as Lauren said, it helps us remember the time we have with the ones we love.

Kennedy said...

Oh my goodness, I am sitting her crying right now. I love your story so much and I feel so dumb that it took me so long to find it. But I absolutly love it and you did an amazing job.

shannon said...

I just started reading this story this weekend and it is amazing. I was crying during this chapter...it was so well written and really made you feel like you were there..I felt like I knew Conner.