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A Story by Nico Maguire

Laura was a ticking time bomb I knew I couldn't defuse. My brain was telling me to walk away while my heart was falling head over heels in love with her.

I first met Laura in the winter of my sixteenth year. The leaves had long fallen from the trees, and the air carried a frost that was broken with the slightest quiver of a breath. A thin film of snow had covered the browning grass, something that hadn't happened in my small town for a long time, and something that would cease to happen for another thirty years. The unexpected fall of snow in the early months of winter left many families unprepared for the weeks of hibernation and many cups of hot tea. This meant that on the frosty Saturday morning when families found themselves with a windscreen covered in a layer of unwavering ice, the local mall and department store alike was filled to the brim with expectant shoppers. This also happened to be the very event my family had dragged me from the warm covers of bed to attend. The shelves were stripped bare in mere hours, families prepping themselves for a long icy winter, and according to many trusted weather channels, 'many more long, icy winters to come.' This, a common occurrence with news channels, was incorrect. But this did not stop the average shopper from filing in to line after line only to pay hundreds of dollars for clothes that, after being worn one crisp afternoon, would cease to see the light of day at the back of a stuffy wardrobe under a pile of 'Girlfriend' magazines. I, on the other hand, did not follow this trend; finding myself slumped over in a chair store after store with the common line up of husbands and fathers who had given up on holding bags and craved a break. The current store, a small boutique in the west-end of town with a horrible line-up of snooty, french cashier women and horribly overpriced clothing items had a particularly bad seating arrangement. The red leather love-seats only emphasized the under-lying tackiness and fake accents of the store, while making you beg that your mother/sister/wife would just choose one article of clothing so you could escape sitting next to the overweight man in his forties that had a tendency to rub his shoulder against yours. Luckily, the gods must have spared me this day, as the current cast of characters that sat uncomfortably close to me was wearing thin, taking a seat with an exasperated sigh only to be pulled out of the chair again by a pretty young thing who could only be described as a 'gold-digger.' The last one in the line-up however took me by surprise, a petite, fragile-looking girl with a collection of thin, matted hair that sat awkwardly on her head. Eyes are often described as windows to the soul, but her two black holes swimming in a sea of blue were closed, blinds drawn and boarded over. It took me a while to notice the tubes that ran from her nose, and to a machine that sat against her side, the one that wasn't facing me. She sat with her back straight, something uncommon in these boutiques, as men often sat hunched over, with their elbows pressed against their knees, wishing that just once they could go home early to watch the game. She look at me and smiled, the sweet smile that lit up the room, even if it seemed to be laced with a poisonous sadness. I smiled back, turning my head away so it didn't look like I was staring at the machine that was obviously a prime conversation starter. I felt a soft hand on my shoulder when I turned away, it felt cold and soft, like a damp sponge; something that would have felt almost uncomfortable if it had come from anyone but her. 'My name is Laura,' she smiled when I turned back around, the seat pushing us closer together, her breath brushing against my neck and the tubes twitching every time she moved. 
'Nick,' I breathed back, barely audible over the voices that echoed through the store and the occasional pang of the change tray at the register. Her cold hand had dropped to mine now, sitting promptly against my intertwined fingers that lay on my lap. As she talked, the nubs in her nose moved, and though she was probably talking about something wildly interesting, my attention was fixed on the tubes that ran in to the opening of her nostrils. The skin on her face was the same pale white, all of her veins visible through the skin like it was transparent. Even though her hair was messy, and it looked like it was thinning; and her skin seemed that it was ready to flake away from her muscle, she was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen, and that I would ever see until the final breath that I took. A deep red flushed over her cheeks when I drew my hands away from underneath hers and her hand lightly brushed my thigh, and when she spoke again the colour in her cheeks faded, making her seem whiter than before in comparison. She nudged her face towards mine, and I noticed her waiting for a response from me.
'W-what was that?' I asked, my eyes locking with hers and her face dropped when she noticed I hadn't been listening.
'The bracelet,' she said, moving her pale hand back over to my wrist where a series of multicoloured beads sat. This amount of contact would have been awkward if she weren't such a beautiful girl.
'My sister, Kate, is battling thyroid,' I smiled, but I knew that she could tell the solemn look that I had attained.
'Lung,' she said bluntly, rapping her fingers against the side of her machine, and stifling a laugh.
'One of the, uh, every surgery has a bead thing.' I had suddenly become extremely awkward, talking about my sister who was so close to my heart to this girl who I knew nothing about.
At that moment my mother was at my side, asking questions with the speed of a drill and pulling me away from the intimately close conversation I was having with Laura.
'When can I see you again?' I called back, feeling like a Shakespearean protagonist being pulled away from my mother with a bone breaking claw latched around my arm.
'I spend a lot of time at Rain's?' she called back, her voice quivering at the end to make it sound like she was asking a question.
Before I could process what was happening I was strapped in to the car, my face plastered with a goofy smile on the whole ride home.
The next time I saw her was two weeks later at Rain's Childrens Hospital. The unfortunate name seemed to fit nicely with the spirit of the children in the hospital, the crust of the large building being a set of lovely, pastel-coloured walls; while the feeling of dread and sorrow was widespread within the small rooms. Kate had gone through another round of unsuccessful treatment, and our whole family had gathered in to the small waiting room of Rain's to see her. This had become a monthly ritual, the squeaking of 'Get Well Soon' balloons and silent weeping from my emotional Aunt June who was seated in the corner. I stepped out of the oxygen-deprived room to get some air, when I spied a familiar pale face leaning against a pastel-pink wall and talking to a short, plump, pick faced woman who I knew as 'Nurse Rachel.' I stepped behind her, staying still and just listening to Laura's sweet voice for a few minutes before Nurse Rachel piped up.
'So nice to see you here, Nick.' She spoke in a welcoming tone, Laura turning to me with pale skin and big blue eyes to open up the conversation to me.
'I'm so sorry to hear about your sister,' Rachel continued, not noticing that neither Laura, nor I were paying attention to a word she was saying, and instead staring and smiling at each other.
'Why're you here?' I asked in the direction of Laura, and Nurse Rachel discovered just how much she was intruding and wandered off to behind her desk.
'Lung,' she responded, tapping herself on the chest, and I realized that she didn't often talk about the cancer that riddled her, and often only used that one word. 'You?'
'My sister is um... not good.' I replied, earning a sad smile from Laura, her hand drifting to my arm and squeezing lightly.
We stood in silence like this for a few minutes, her hand on my arm and her blue eyes locked on to mine before Nurse Rachel behind us finally broke the silence. Her plump face was red, her makeup had found it's way to her rosy cheeks; and the bun of hair that once stood above her head was drooping to the side. She looked like in the five minutes since we had last saw her, she had had a death in the family. Unfortunately for me, my guess was second to none.
'Your family wants to see you.' She whispered, her voice barely audible as she wiped away a forming tear, her mascara smearing across to her ear. She looked downright awful.
Somehow in the moment I knew, and before my brain could register what I was doing I was down the hall, my legs taking me faster than I ever thought they could, and in record time I was back in the crammed waiting room that was now filled with silence.
My mothers eyes were the first to meet my own, and she raced over to me; looping her arms around mine and sinking her head in to my neck.
'The chemo made it worse.' She sobbed, squeezing me tighter and taking a sharp breath after every word. 'There is nothing they could do.'
I lost feeling of my legs, collapsing to the ground in a fit of tears as darkness enveloped me. We all knew that this day was coming soon, every sobbing member of the family knew we were delaying the inevitable, but every day you tell yourself that you have one more.
I felt a hand against my leg, the only part of me that hadn't curled in to a shaking fit. I wanted nothing more than for it to be Kate's hand against my leg, telling me that everyone was okay and that I could curl up in her arms and fall asleep. I instantly felt hollow, like any more pressure on me would shatter me in to one million unrecognizable pieces, only to be brushed away in the wind and for me to be forgotten. The hand on my leg moved to cup my face, and my eyes fluttered open to find my detestable Aunt June taking me in to her arms. In a time of crisis, you find that the people who despise you the most, the people who just last week called you a 'good for nothing rash on society' are the ones who feel the need to comfort you to display themselves as the caregiver. I struggled out of the hug, standing on shaking legs and moving over to the doctor who, through all of this, was standing in the corner with his head down.
'When can I see her?' I huffed, wiping a line of mucus from underneath my nose.
'She is in, if I must say, a bad state. Seeing a loved one like this is often... traumati-'
'When can I see her?!' This time I was more forceful, my voice shaking as I stood, unmoving in front of the oncologist.
He sighed, moving over slightly to reveal a baby blue door littered with children's fingerpaint art and collages; one of which I was sure belonged to Kate.
I strode through the door, moving to a bed that still held the deceased body of my sibling. They had yet to dispose of her, throw her out like a piece of trash that would soon be forgotten. I wouldn't let that happen to her.
I took her in my arms, her cold body lifeless under my weight. Despite her five year head start on me, I was still taller and built larger than her. I pressed my lips to her cheek, slamming my face multiple times against hers as I wept in to her profile. My mother was soon behind me, placing a hand against the small of my back but making no attempt to stop me as I cried harder than I ever had before into the dead arms of my sister. I stayed there for over an hour, my mother soon wrapping her arms around both of us and whispering 'It's going to be okay,' over and over. After saying goodbye to the lifeless body of Kate, I found myself in the hall, slumped against the ground as countless numbers of people who were feeling the same amount of pain as me shuffled past. I only looked up when I felt a familiar cold hand sit against my own.
Laura slumped down next to me, hitting the ground with an 'oof' and leaning her head against my still-damp shoulder.
'It's hard,' was all she said, but somehow it helped more than anything a doctor could have said to me. Laura was feeling the same pain that Kate had felt, and one day her family would have to experience what I was feeling now.
'I hate the doctors. I hate everyone who said she would be okay.' I took a deep breath, 'I f*****g hate cancer.'
Her hand found it's way behind my back and she held tightly on to me.
'They said they could fix her.' I hissed, leaning my head against the top of hers and sobbing weakly in to her matted hair. I could see the transparent yellow tubes that ran from her nose and to the metal machine that still sat next to her, and when she talked the nubs would shuffle from side to side.
'I want to go outside now,' was all she said, pushing herself away from me and pulling herself to her feet. I stayed slumped over myself until she spoke again. 'And I want you to come with me.'
We made our way out from the bustling hospital to the crisp air of outdoors, the wind hitting me like a wave as Laura took my hand and guided me to a lonely park bench. I sat on the wooden seat, but Laura found her way to the ground, sitting at the start of a large stone mural.
'Every patient who comes through here gets a spot. You put your hand in the drying cement. As soon as someone passes away it's just a way to remember them.' As she said this she smiled at the ground, pressing  her hand in to a spot that fit almost perfectly. 'This is my spot.'
I shuffled off the bench and on the ground next to her, our knees barely brushing as I looked out over the sea of dented stone.
'Where was K-Kate?' I asked, stumbling at her name and pursing my lips.
She pointed to a spot that was halfway in the mural, and I began the arduous task of crawling over to where my sisters hand print lay. Laura was close behind me, weighed down by her nose-tube machine but still able to crawl closely beside.
I stopped when I reached her mural, her small hand print dwarfed by my own hand as I tried to feel her touch one last time. There were already fresh flowers by her prints, a bunch of yellow posies that looked suspiciously similar to those held by Aunt June and her husband. 
'I come where when I lose a friend.' She whispered, 'Considering my only friends are the people I meet there, that happens often.'
She laughed at that last part, but I knew that it was only to hide the tears. I wonder if she ever knew Kate.
Before I knew it I was in her arms, crying in to her shoulder as she held me tightly.
'This is my happy place.' she whispered in my ear.
'You're my happy place.' I said back, feeling her cold hands intertwine with mine as we sat still together.
'I hate you,' Laura laughed, dropping the Playstation controller and lightly punching my arm. I sat with another goofy grin on my face, wrapping my arms around her, and pulling her in tightly despite the fact she was grumbling and pushing me away. 
'I'm never going to let you go,' I whispered in her ear, and she snaked her arms around mine.
'I never want you to.'
We stayed like this for a while, savoring each others company as the slight hissing of her oxygen machine continued in the background. I pushed the two tubes away from her mouth, parting them like curtains as I pressed my lips against hers. I felt her hand come up to cup my cheek, her pale skin no longer cold against mine as a rush of warmth flushed over me and my cheeks burned a bright red. I could feel her lips move, smiling against mine as she pulled away from me and sat back on the bed. We didn't talk for the rest of the time we played, but she kept her pale leg resting against mine.
I found myself in the ICU three weeks later. The world was spinning around me as I was piled in to an ambulance and then in a matter of moments I was slumped against another wall in another hospital. I was breathing heavily, almost animalistic as tears were falling freely from my face and making small puddles against the light blue tiles of the hospital floor. Two hours ago I saw my girl-something struggle with her breathing tubes, only to watch as she slowly suffocated as I was told to remain calm over the phone by a woman who's most terrifying encounter was loosing a twenty dollar pair of earrings. I had collapsed in a heap next to her, whispering to her that everything would be okay while she slowly lost her supply of oxygen. I wanted to leap in and be the hero to rescue her from her struggle, and from the cancer that riddled her; but in the back of my mind and on the other end of the phone, I was being told to leave her alone. My brain was telling me to run away from her, to leave her before she left me shattered with pain, her cold lifeless body in my arms. My sisters memory would no longer be in the past, hitting me like a truck as I relived the same moment again and again with two different people that I love. But I stayed, I waited until I herd the sirens and until the nurses were pulling me off her. I stayed with her on the ambulance as her eyes flickered up at mine and wondered why I wasn't there to save her in what we both thought would be her final moment. It was a fight between my love for her, and my undying thoughts of how she would be leaving me behind and torn once she was gone. It was a battle that wasn't being fought with guns and ammunition, but with a sweet girl wrought by diseases who's only wish was to love one last time. It was a war that I couldn't win. No one could win.
I stood with my head down in the rain as she walked with shaking legs to her car in the far end of the parking lot. She told me she didn't want me to see her like this, beaten and bruised by the cancer that had become her. I watched her anyway. The water felt cool against my hot skin, and it made every part of me ache from the two sleepless nights I spent outside Laura's hospital room door wishing that she would just wake up. I made my way over to her car, tapping on the glass of the window and watching it slowly roll down as Laura sat, unmoving in the back seat. I reached out and touched her face, turning it towards mine and leaning in through the window to kiss her. We were both soaking wet now, the rain pouring freely in to the open window and the water dripping off the half of my body that stuck awkwardly in to her car. I couldn't help but laugh at the cliche, smiling in to her like she used to do to me. Despite the coldness of her skin and the rain, I only felt warmth as she wrapped her arms around my shoulders.
'Never let me go,' she whispered in to my mouth, and now I could feel the tears that were trickling down her cheeks and latching themselves on to me.
'Never,' I whispered back in assurance, wrapping my hands awkwardly around her decaying waistline. 
She was the first to break the contact, moving back to her position with her head down, but I could still see the red that had flushed her cheeks. I watched the window slowly roll back up, the barrier between me and her becoming evident and I pressed a hand against the glass as the car started up. When the car rolled away, I stood there helplessly watching Laura disappear in the distance. That would be the last time I kissed her.
Two weeks later we found ourselves back in the hospital, the new round of chemotherapy destroying her down to bones and making her seem distant from those who loved her, mainly me. I was slumped against the wall, something that was happening far too often lately, but at least this time I knew that Laura was in a stable condition. I was muttering to myself when the doctor approached me, laying a rough hand on my shoulder and practically pulling me to my feet. I saw Laura's parents peering at me from behind the doctor, both with swollen eyes and puffy, red cheeks.
'The treatment has had a reaction with Laura's stoumach.'
At this, Laura's mother burst in to tears again, sinking her head in to her husbands sweatered chest. 
'I-is she okay?' I choked back tears, running my foot in circles around the ground and trying not to make eye contact with either of Laura's parents.
'She is...' Laura's dad Michael said, stepping in and placing a firm hand against my shoulder. 'She is deteriorating slowly. The doctors have given her two weeks.'
His voice became high pitched at the end of it, slamming his strong arms around me and squeezing me tightly.
Her mother was at my side now, wrapping herself around the both of us, and we stood awkwardly like this for a while.
'I want to see her,' I muttered quietly, detaching myself from her two parents as I pushed my way past the doctor. I ran towards the door that I knew she was in, my eyes burning as the memory of a happy and healthy,(apart from the terminal cancer) Laura was quickly fading from my mind. When I got to the door I nearly tore it from it's hinges, running inside and taking her entire frail body in to my arms. I only realized now how much she was crying, her whole body shaking underneath me.
'I'll miss you,' was all she could say, banging her head against my chest and started to cry quite loudly now. We were both a mess, mumbling things that the other couldn't hear and every so often shaking our heads and screaming loudly. My legs had fallen to pieces a while ago, and I was now lying on her bed, my body pressed up against hers as I caressed her face. Everything that my head had told me not to do, I had done. I was emotionally attached to this girl, and in a matter of weeks she would be taken. 
After that we tried to cherish every minute of each other's company, but it was becoming apparent that she wasn't the same girl I met at the boutique months before. When I went to go her her two days after her diagnosis in the hospital, she was barely awake. Her breaths were deep and far between, and she barely acknowledged me when I first walked in the room.
'Laura,' I whispered, making my way over to her and embracing her in my arms. I no longer felt the warmth between us, the love I once shared being replaced by hurt and pain, and a general sense of regret. We sat together that day, but not once did she speak to me. I knew I was losing her to the disease, and so I tried to cherish any minute of her that I had left. I loved her too much to let go. Even though Laura was still here, even though she was sitting next to me and my hand was tightly against hers, I already missed her; and I still wished that I could have her back. I left early that day.
I made no attempt to see her the rest of the week. Her parents informed me with the odd phone call that she was still deteriorating, and I knew that if they had the chance to run away from her like I did, they would take it.
I got a call at 5am on a Saturday telling me she had passed away. It was exactly a week after her ordeal at the hospital. Exactly three weeks after I had kissed her in the backseat of her car, the rain pouring over us for the last time. It seemed everything eventful happened on a Saturday. I made my way slowly to Rain's Children's Hospital, but as much as I thought I would be able to face her family, I couldn't. I could just imagine her parents faces, the same looks that my mother had given me the day Kate passed. No one in my life was anything but a shell. We all mimicked accurate human response but with the explosion of two of the closest people to me, we were all hollowed from the inside out. I knew that I could stare in to Laura's mother's eyes and see Laura in them. I sat outside on the park bench, feeling a chill wind rush over me and wash away the broken shards of glass that were my soul. Kate's death had broken me, but it had been the death of Laura that shattered every last bone in my body to a pulp. 
But there I sat. I was next to the mural where Laura had taken me on the day of my sisters death. Already her stone was littered with flowers that I had no memory of seeing beforehand. It was like they had materialized from the shadows, and brought with them the memory of every person that Laura had injured in her explosion. I crawled towards her stone, pressing my hand against the outline of her's that was set in stone. Her memory would always be alive here, and her soul would always be cherished.
'This is my happy place,' I whispered to myself, mimicking Laura's accurate description of the beautiful memorial. 'You were my happy place.'

© 2014 Nico Maguire

Author's Note

Nico Maguire
I just want overall opinions on the story and feedback from those who are more experienced than me, which frankly, is everyone.

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Added on January 3, 2014
Last Updated on January 3, 2014
Tags: Cancer, Solemn, Sad, Laura


Nico Maguire
Nico Maguire

Wellington, New Zealand

I have things happening in my head that I want to share. more..