The boys expected to find the hospital in chaos, with nurses and doctors rushing frantically around Grady. Instead, they walked into sterile white indifference. Grady, pale but otherwise looking the same as always, smiled at them from his bed.
Grady’s mother was there too, her enormous girth swallowing the chair beneath her as she held her son’s hand. She turned to smile at the boys, tears glimmering in her eyes.
“I knew you’d be here,” she said. “Such good friends.”
The boys squirmed, awkwardly picking at their clothes or running hands through their hair. Compliments were foreign to them, so the rare praise that they received left them feeling like animals in a zoo.
Grady saluted crisply. The boys, still shuffling around in discomfort, saluted back.
“Mom, can I talk to the guys alone for a bit?”
“Of course, honey,” Grady’s mother said.
She grabbed hold of the gurney and struggled to her feet, grunting and sucking in air as she went. Once standing, she waited a few moments to catch her breath. On her way to the door, she patted Doug’s arm.
“Good boys,” she said.
The friends blushed and hung their heads.
Jason shut the door behind the woman and they all gathered around Grady.
“Good job getting cancer, dumb ass,” Wes said.
The moment the words left his mouth, he looked confounded that they’d come out of him.
The others laughed uncomfortably.
Grady forked up some scrambled eggs from the plate beside the bed and flicked them onto Wes’s shirt. He took a breath and spoke authoritatively, like an Army officer from a World War II movie.
“Men, the fact of the matter is that I’ve got a tumor in my brain the size of a ping pong ball, and there’s cancer in places that I can’t even pronounce. It’s inoperable, and I’m going to die.”
He waited, trying to catch each of their gazes. No one would look back at him. Every random object in the room seemed to suddenly captivate them.
Grady dropped the military talk.
“Turns out the headaches and stomach aches and all that weren’t from any drugs. The doctor said I must have an incredible pain tolerance. I was like yeah, buddy, I know.”
Jason smirked. “You should have told him about the time you broke your arm on the stairs and kept right on skating for two hours.”
They all laughed and nodded at each other proudly.
Wes finally picked the egg off his shirt. “How long you going to be in here?”
“I’m leaving in a couple hours. They want me to stay to do all these treatments that have basically no chance of actually working. My mom can’t afford any of it, even if she won’t admit it. But it doesn’t really matter, because that’s not how I want to live the rest of my life. If I only have a little time left, then I don’t want to spend it in this hospital.”
A few moments of tense silence passed before Wes clapped his hands together. “Alright, this is what we do. We get a bag of the finest weed in the county, right? We take it out to the woods and we just get stoned sideways. I mean, right out of our heads and into the stratosphere, you know? And we just stay out there like that.”
His voice trailed off on the final words. The plan didn’t sound as good out loud as it had sounded in his head.
Grady laughed but waved the idea off. “No, man. One day in here is like fifty years, and I’ve been thinking about a lot of things. Like, what a crappy big brother I’ve been. Crappy everything, really.”
He choked on the last words and the other boys’ eyes filled with terror at the possibility that he might cry right in front of them but, thankfully, he managed to gather himself. “I haven’t done one positive thing with my whole life, man. Not one.”
“You’re only seventeen,” Jason said.
“That doesn’t matter. It never did. I don’t have any more time to think like that. Yeah, it’s not fair that I got cancer and that I’m going to die and all that, but what difference does it make that it isn’t fair? There isn’t any time for excuses and there never was. Not really. It just seems like there is when you’re not sick.”
The boys brooded over the words. They were all around the same age as Grady.
Jason finally broke the silence. “Well, then what are we going to do about it?”
Grady recaptured the Army officer voice. “Men,” he said. “We’re going to make us a movie.”
Copyright 2020 Jeff Suwak
Continue to Part 3