Man, I really keep pissing Spencer off.
I don’t do it on purpose, I swear!
“Don’t flatter yourself, Ashley. It was your sister who called me and said that she’d be in town to see one of her favorite bands and wanted to meet up. I had no idea that you’d be there. I had no idea that you were even in California, or even alive for that matter. And if I had known, I definitely wouldn’t have come. So don’t make this out like I was looking for you. That couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Yeah, I knew all of this already.
I said my argument was weak, right?
“But you,” she accused. “You show up at my house in the middle of the night like some stalker. You have a lot of nerve.”
Do I? I don’t think so. I can’t even look at her. I just keep twisting my fingers in my lap.
Her ire seems to dissipate some as she continues. “Look, whatever closure you think you need by coming here tonight, just let it go and move on with your life. I have.”
I close my eyes and exhale. She doesn’t understand that it’s not possible for me to do that.
“You don’t owe me an apology or an excuse, and I don’t need either. You left.” I hear the rustle of the robe as she shrugs carelessly. “There’s really nothing more to talk about. So, if you’re finished, I think we should call it a night.”
I snap my head up. “No.”
“Yes,” she argues seriously.
“I’m not finished, Spencer.”
She’s already standing. “Well, I am. I have been for years.”
I stand as well. “No, you still don’t get it.”
“Yeah, I think I really do,” she sighs, heading for the door again.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck…
I have to say something, so why can’t I just say it, just get it out there? Were Kyla and Kate wrong? Had I been right? Was it really crazy to think that Spencer would care after all that I’ve put her though, after all of this time?
She’s almost to the door and something in me has this need to stop her, if only to just be near her a little while longer, even if that is the case.
“Aplastic Anemia,” I blurt out, surprising both of us.
Well, she’s stopped moving, so that’s something. But there’s a really dumb look on her face.
“A plastic knee, whata,” she asks.
I slump back onto my chair and stare at the carpet while I recite what the doctor told me just before graduation, the same thing that I read over and over again on a google screen when I got home as I tried to understand why I was going to die.
“Aplastic Anemia – a condition that occurs when your body stops producing enough new blood cells. Usually associated with exposure to drugs and harmful chemicals.”
Spencer’s not moving and I can’t look at her. But it’s out there now. Finally…
She walks to the chair right next to mine and sits. “Ashley, what are you talking about?”
I’m getting frustrated with myself and so I take it out on Spencer. “I was sick at prom but it wasn’t just the flu, or asthma, or allergies. I mean, how many times did I fall asleep during class like I had narcolepsy? How many times did going up steps make me winded? I was dying Spencer, and I still might.”
Her face is unreadable, like so many emotions are processing that she can’t get a grip on which one to go with.
“You’re dying,” she asks tonelessly.
I throw a hand up, my frustration even worse. “I don’t know! I should have already, but then some things happened and I’m still here.”
“W-wha… what happened?”
I laugh humorlessly. “When, which time?”
“The beginning,” her tone is low and serious.
Fuck, it’s always square one, isn’t it? Life doesn’t go backwards, it goes forwards, right? So why am I always reliving the past?
God, I was so tired of feeling like shit and going to the doctor. It felt like I’d practically pitched a tent in the waiting room over the last month as they did this test and that test to try and figure out why I was so tired, why my allergies were so bad, why I had issues breathing. But they didn’t seem to have any answers.
The last time that I had been here they had jammed a needle the size of a harpoon in my hip. I was still sore.
Needles gave me the heebie jeebies and this one was the mother of them all. I mean, I never had allergies or asthma before…
And was that needle really necessary?
I sat in the office waiting for the next round of torture like always, but usually I had Christine with me. She was running late today. She was late getting off of work and had to stop at the school to pay for my cap and gown.
“Ashley Davies,” the nurse called.
I stood and followed her through the door, stopping at the little weigh station to learn that I was still five-foot-four, one hundred and twenty pounds, and running a bit of a temperature. She then led me to a little exam room and took my blood pressure. It was a little low, just like always. I mean seriously, they knew all of this already.
“The doctor will be with you in a moment,” she said but I knew that meant another hour, so I slumped in my chair and pulled out my cell phone.
Spencer had texted.
The doctor knocked softly before entering and I texted Spencer again.
“Hey there, Ashley,” Doctor Simmons said with a plastic smile.
He situated himself on the low roll out chair in front of the computer next to me.
“She’s running late,” I explained.
“Ah,” he said, nodding a couple of times in contemplation.
Something about the way that he flipped through my chart nervously and avoided eye contact made my skin crawl.
He was quiet, too quiet…
“So,” I said. “What’s up? Is it allergies, asthma, what?”
He smiled that plastic smile again. “Oh, I think it’s probably best to wait for Christine to get here before we go over the results.”
I felt a frown coming on. “Why?”
“Well, it might be better to explain things just once.”
That was ominous, and there was that tight-lipped smile again. Or, was it a grimace?
His bedside manner sucked. I mean, did I mention the needle?
“Doc, I’m eighteen now. She doesn’t have to be here.”
He flipped through my chart as if looking for confirmation and then sighed, closing it and setting it on the countertop with an odd sense of finality.
“Well,” he started. “That bone marrow sample that we took confirmed what I suspected from your lab results. You have a rare condition known as aplastic anemia. What that means is that your body is having a hard time fighting off infections because it’s not replacing blood cells like it should.”
“So, how do I fix it?”
He sighs. “We can do a few things to help: medications and blood transfusions. But the best course of treatment is a bone marrow transplant.”
Why did this sound so serious? I mean, transfusions, a transplant?
“I need surgery?”
He nodded. “A transplant, yes, preferably from a donor who’s a blood relative.”
I didn’t have any blood relatives except for Kyla, and she was just a kid. Surely she needed her own… stuff. And mom, I hadn’t seen her since CPS took us.
The doctor continued, “But, if we can’t get a blood relative, we can still put you on a list…,” but I wasn’t really able to focus on what he was saying.
The world was sort of shrinking in on me.
Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait…
“What happens if I don’t get the transplant,” I interrupted him.
“Ashley,” he said gently. “You’re young and in perfect health. There are a variety treatments available to help and-“
“Doc, just spit it out.”
He was really starting to irritate me.
His eyes were kind as he took one of my hands in his own. “I know that this isn’t easy, but I want you to understand that we can and will do everything in our power to-“
He was doing it again, sidestepping the question. And that’s when it hit me.
“Am I going to… die?”
My voice had been unreasonably quiet but it was still enough to stop his rambling.
“Without the proper treatment, it’s a possibility, yes.”
And just like that, it was out there. It was out there and I wanted him to take it back.
I mean, “Why…?”
It was a rhetorical question, but he answered anyway. “There are several causes, but given your background, I’m convinced that it was exposure to methamphetamine, or more the chemicals used to make it, that triggered the disease.”
That smell, I still remembered it. I’d never forget it. I just hadn’t known that it was the smell of my own death.
“H-how long do… I have,”
My mind was whirring with questions that really had no answers. I had no idea how I was getting any of them out.
“With treatment, there’s no telling. You could live a long life.”
God, could he just stop already?
My voice was scathing. “And without?”
“Ashley, it’s important to remain positive and look at our options. It’s not time to give up yet, not at all.”
“Just tell me how long I have, already!”
He released my hand and leaned back with a sigh. “As of the current stage, which is fairly advanced, and without treatment, you’re looking at six months to a year.”
Six months, maybe a year…
I was supposed to go on the road with my band, maybe go to college. I wasn’t supposed to have anything figured out yet because I was supposed to have time to figure it all out.
I was supposed to get married to Spencer, have a life, a family with her.
And all of those dreams were gone in an instant, stolen from me by the very person who gave me life.
“Look,” he said. “We should wait for Christine to get here. Then we can go over the treatments available-“
The volume of my voice startled both of us.
“You can’t tell her,” I whispered.
He shook his head. “She’s your guardian and you’re on her insurance. She’ll help you get through this, you’ll see.”
“No,” I shook my head. “I forbid you to tell her. I’m eighteen now. You can’t unless I allow you to, right?”
I thought that was true. I mean, I knew enough from sex-ed to know that you could have an abortion at sixteen without anyone contacting your parents.
He sighed. “That’s true. I’m obligated to keep your information confidential, but you need to understand that she needs to know, that there are options. This isn’t necessarily a death sentence. We can help you.”
I shook my head again. “No, I don’t want anyone to know. I’m telling you that now. No one gets to know.”
About this time, Christine was escorted into the room by the nurse. Neither of us looked at her, instead I held his gaze. He needed to know that I was serious.
He nodded once before breaking eye contact.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Davies,” he greeted her pleasantly. “We’re all done here.” He looked to me with that fake smile. “I’ve just gone over the results with Ashley. I’ll give you two a moment alone.”
He looked at me pointedly. “If you have any questions or change your mind, call me immediately.”
I nodded, my resolve unwavering. And with that, he was gone. My head was swimming, my stomach roiling, I still couldn’t catch my breath, but somehow, I found a way to smile at Christine.
Christine… this would kill her.
I had gone into the attic once when I was around fourteen and stumbled upon a box of photos that contained her, a really handsome man, and a young girl. I’d also found a newspaper clipping detailing a tragic car accident with a drunk driver.
I hadn’t taken much to piece it all together, even though we’d never spoken about it. She’d already lost her family, her daughter, once. I wasn’t going to do that to her again.
“Hey,” I croaked out, clearing my throat and standing. “It’s all good. The doctor said that it’s just allergies and I can take some over-the-counter stuff to help with the symptoms.”
I had no idea what over-the-counter item that might be, and for a moment I didn’t think she was going to buy it, but then she hated doctor’s as much as I did. And anything was better than the truth.
She nodded at me, a small exhale of relief released from her.
“Alright then,” she said. “Let’s settle the bill and go on home. We can stop at Walmart on the way.”