The feast is quite a feast. Two hams, several dishes of vegetables, mashed potatoes, baskets of rolls. I take a seat next to Gabriella but I don’t say anything. I just glare at her plate, making sure she eats enough. But she only takes about half a plate’s worth.
I sip my apple cider and process this. She can’t go back to bulimia because I’m here. But maybe she finds that she can, since all I’ve done was sleep for a long time and I’m not around to see the pattern. Maybe she skips lunch.
We all hug goodbye to the families, and stroll to the car down the lane. These people must fit like, eight at a time.
“That was a good dinner,” Gabriella says, rubbing her stomach.
“Even though you didn’t eat much.” She stops walking.
“I had a lot of food.”
“You had half a plate. Most people had seconds. And you didn’t even have dessert.”
“Where are you going with this?” Gabriella lets go of my hand.
“Cerah told me about your bulimia in college. How you needed me.”
“Well, you didn’t have anything tonight.” I unlock the doors.
She stands at the other side. “I didn’t feel good enough. The girls, they told me I wasn’t perfect. There was no one who would tell me something better. Every time I called you, you never answered. You were the only person that could cheer me up. And now I don’t feel good enough again, because I’m so afraid I’m not perfect for you.”
“Gabriella, you’re always perfect to me. Don’t ever think otherwise. ”
She’s crying. “I don’t want to lose you.”
I pass the front and pull her in. “You won’t ever lose me,” I whisper.
And it’s true. If I die, I will always find a way to be with her.
My doctor returns a week after New Year’s for my checkup. I’ve been taking my medication like clockwork. I’m tired of being tired and coughing.
“You look well,” Doctor Shelton notices.
“I don’t feel like it.” Since the 27th, I’ve been back in bed and Gabriella feeds me soup.
“If you continue to take your meds, you might be in remission in a few months.” Instantly I perk up.
“That soon?” I shift on the cold table.
“Yes, since we got you early. It’s not a guaranteed clear of leukemia, but you will be a lot healthier than you are now.”
“All right!” I’m getting so excited, letting my hopes rise, but it’s a halfway promise I will hold on to.
“You’re in your second cycle. Six cycles left and you might be all better.” Shelton pats my knee. “You’re set.”
Gabriella’s not in the office today. She had work. I pay my bill and before I leave, Shelton hands me a small bottle.
“These are for when you feel really bad. They’re extra strong painkillers and not to be used more than once a week. Use them for the worst.”
“Thanks,” I say, and glance at it. It’s light, and probably not many pills. It must be really strong.
Since I feel like I can go outside for a while, breathe in fresh air that’s not mixed with chicken noodle soup and tomato soup and all the soup flavors in the world, I venture out to the tree house. But I’m still so weak that I just sit at the trunk, pull out my i-pod, and listen.
The cords amaze me. It takes noise from one port to your ears, fills your brain with melodies of all sorts- sweet, soft, beautiful. Just one little thing can block out the world. I let the lyrics wash over, run through my veins, inspire me. And suddenly, I remember that I was once a photographer. I took thousands of pictures of anything. And Crystal, my dead sister, believed in me when I didn’t believe in it myself.
I push myself off the ground, find my camera buried in the trunk, and let it consume me. I’ve forgotten how exhilarating it is to click a button, to capture angles, to create stories. It’s been years since I’ve picked up this camera again. It’s nearly a dance I’m twirling in, spinning around to new scenes and wonderful crunchy leaves and brown trees. Waltzing around to the beat of the wind, to the drums of my music.
Why have I neglected this all this time? I don’t feel sick. In fact, I feel light as air.
At dinner I ask to borrow Gabriella’s computer. She hesitates, but then she sees my faded bag.
“You got pictures,” she says.
“Lots, too.” I grin widely. This spreads to her face. I go to upload and every single shot is new, a different tale, beautiful winter colors. It’s so contagious, to see my creations. I have an urge to pull up the website Crystal made. I don’t know what to expect.
Gabriella moves her chair besides me and holds my free hand. We’re going to look at this together. The homepage shows the top viewed pictures, starting with a spider web coated in morning dew, the forest’s path marked by our trail, a sky tinged pink and orange, sepia water droplets falling from a fountain into a smaller puddle. And then the last one, of us. Crystal and me.
Apparently every photo has a comment section. The top five have seven thousand comments each, praises and admiration. Most ask where have I been and why am I not updating.Because Crystal did this, not me,I think.Because I never realized my pictures actually made a difference.
“See, they love it.”
“All thanks to Crystal,” I murmur, and my eyes well up. My sister made this happen. She made me a mildly famous photographer to thousands of strangers across the nation. Maybe it diffused further. And I never got to thank her for it.
“We don’t have to do this now,” Gabriella rubs my back. “You don’t have to do anything to it.”
“No, I want to. Can’t leave my fans hanging.” We laugh quietly. Have I really inspired these people? Have I amazed them and made them stop and stare for two seconds, forgetting their world, and fall in love with this scene I captured? I spend the whole night updating the biography, which Crystal had written in my point of view, giving me very generous adjectives. I announce that I have leukemia but it’s not absolutely deadly yet, and I plan on posting more pictures. I finish uploading today’s and join Gabriella in bed, feeling accomplished.
I am finally recognized.
Every day I make it a mission to get a set of photos before I grow weary. More people comment and spread word about the website, what an incredible photographer I am, how I actually notice the finer details. Some days I don’t feel like going out the apartment so I grab random objects from the kitchen, or little figurines Gabriella collected when she was little, and set them up in an artistic way.
I’m in my final cycle of medication in June and Doctor Shelton has made an appointment for me. She measures my blood, takes an x-ray, and comes back with surprising results.
“Charlie, your cycles are done.”
“Yes, I’m glad.”
“And your x-ray proves that you’re now in remission.”
A huge smile shoots up. I even start to laugh happily. “Oh!”
“You’ll still take a round of pills every so often to ensure it won’t come back quickly, but you’re free. You shouldn’t feel tired anymore.” Shelton hands me my papers. “These are yours to keep. As celebration.”
“Thank you.” I can’t wait to mail this to my parents. They’ll be ecstatic.
I nearly jump on Gabriella. “I’m free!”