I gulped and walked in, smiling. The little boy was thin - too thin. He had no hair but he was wearing a chemo rag on his head. He had several tubes in his bruised arms. His hospital bed was covered in colorful blankets and teddy bears. There were some bouquets on the window sill. A woman was passed out in a chair by his bed and I assumed it was his mother.
When Ethan saw us, his eyes widened and his pale face broke into a grin.
"You're Artemis Kilgore!" he said and I nodded with a smile. "Mommy! Mommy wake up!" The woman woke with a start and looked around blearily. She rubbed her eyes and cleared her throat. "Mommy, it's Artemis Kilgore!"
The woman was still half asleep.
"Don't be silly, Ethan," she yawned. "Artemis Kilgore is too busy to come here."
"Actually, I'm not," I said softly.
Her jaw dropped. She immediately stood to her feet and started straightening her rumpled clothing. She looked around for her bush while Ethan stared at me in wonder. Deidre pushed on my back toward them. I shook the mom's hand.
"My name is Patty," she breathed. "This is my son, Ethan."
I beamed at the little boy and sat in the other chair. "Hi Ethan."
"I can't believe you're actually here! Is Deidre here, too?"
I looked over my shoulder and she walked over, smiling. I held her hand as Ethan stared at her, his jaw hanging open.
"Wow! I can't believe you're both here!" he said, kicking his feet in excitement. "I've followed your whole career, Artemis! And I've read all about you, Deidre! Is it true you were homeless for ten whole years?"
"Yeah," she nodded.
He beamed at his mother. "See? We have a chance, too!" He looked back at us and, when she knew he could see her, his mother sobbed quietly. "Why are you here? It's the middle of the night! You should be sleeping."
"So should you, little guy," I said and, for the first time, his smile faltered.
"I can't sleep," he said finally. "I don't feel good and I hurt a lot."
Deidre bent down in front of him, holding the invitation up. He beamed again when he saw it.
"Ethan," she said, "how did you make this?"
"Mommy helped me," he said. "I told her what I wanted and we tried to make it with some regular paper. It was hard. Then a really nice person named Larry came to visit! He said he could make it real!"
"We wanted to tel you that this is the one we've picked," I said softly.
His blue eyes filled with tears. "Really? You're using my design?" We nodded. "But... you're having a big fancy wedding! This was just for fun."
"Well," Artemis said, "you and your mother are invited to the wedding if you'd like to come."
"I don't know," he said. "Mommy doesn't like me going out in cold weather. We don't have a lot of money anymore."
I looked at Patty and made a gesture with my head.
"Hey, Artemis, why don't you tell Ethan about the video games we just started producing?" I said and he nodded.
I went to the hallway with Patty. Our mothers had already gone back there. They were holding onto each other and crying. As soon as the door closed, Patty fell to her knees and cried openly. Though she could only be in her mid 30's, her brown hair was streaked with grey and she had worry lines like I did.
I hugged her and waited for her to calm down. I cried a little, too. Ethan was only ten years old. His cancer was advanced and, if they didn't raise enough money for the treatment, he wouldn't make it. They had an online fundraiser but, after looking into it on the way here, they weren't doing well.
"Thank you for telling him in person," she choked out. "This-This is a-a-a good last memory."
"How long?" my mom whispered.
"Six months," she answered, accepting a handful of tissues from Evelyn.
They had sat on the floor with us. I got on my butt and crossed my legs.
"I saw the online fundraiser," I said and she looked at the floor in shame.
"At first we had enough money," she explained. "We were-we were a pretty wealthy family. Then my little boy was diagnosed with cancer." She stopped to cry some more. "My husband couldn't handle the pressure and left us. I told Ethan that he's traveling for work. The money is running out fast."
"What's the treatment?" Evelyn asked.
"It's a new laser procedure," she answered. "It has a 95% success rate of curing the cancer. It's unheard of for someone's cancer that is as advanced as his."
"How much is the procedure?"
She closed her eyes wearily. "$60,000."
I leaned back at the steep fee. How could a life-saving procedure cost so much?
"How did he find out about us?" I asked.
"The first magazine that came out was the one with you at the light park," she said and I nodded, remembering. "We had gone through that light park before and we wanted to see it again. We couldn't go because.... The Chases came to visit with pictures and he asked about you guys. After that, we went online and read up on you. He loves the story. Then he read about Deidre." She smiled at me. "You're a huge inspiration to him."
"Why can't he leave the hospital?"
"He's too weak. He'd need constant supervision, five blankets, a nurse to make sure his vitals stay constant and to administer care if they're not, and he gets embarrassed. Even if he didn't, we couldn't afford all that extra care."
"Deidre, go back in there with Artemis," Evelyn said in a stern voice and I hurried to obey.
I shut the door and smiled. Ethan was giggling at a joke Artemis had told. I watched them for a second. Artemis was leaning forward, resting his elbows on his legs to talk to Ethan. He was smiling and he had put his jacket on Ethan's legs. I walked forward and he smiled at me.
"Hey, Deidre. We were just talking about you."
Ethan beamed. "He was telling me about when you went to the party!"
I laughed. "He loves telling that story."
"Have you seen that guy since?"
"Nah," I said. I leaned forward and put my hand to my mouth as if telling a secret. "I think he's hiding from me."
Ethan giggled and the door opened once more. Our moms came in. Patty had composed herself but I could tell it was with difficulty. She coughed a few times as she went to his other side.
"Hey, Ethan baby," she whispered and he smiled at her. "Would you like to go to their wedding next month?"
His jaw dropped as he looked around at us.
"But I thought I couldn't leave," he said.
"Don't worry about that," Evelyn said. "We'll talk to your doctor. Will you be our special guest?"
"Special guest? What does that mean?"
"That means, if you want to," I said, "you get to bring our rings to us."
Ethan looked like he was getting a second Christmas. He kicked his feet again and beamed at us.
"I'd really, really, really like to!" he said. "What flavor is the cake? Can I get a suit?"
I laughed. We spent the rest of the evening talking to Ethan and his mother until his doctor walked in. When the doctor saw the room full, he looked disapproving until he realized who it was. Evelyn ushered him out and Ethan's smile faltered. He kept straining his neck, trying to hear and see what was going on.
Five minutes later, the doctor walked in.
"So, I hear you get to be the ring bearer at a wedding next month," he said.
The smile on Ethan's face was radiant.