By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire. Brilliant ruby reds, bright golds, and fluorescent oranges danced across the trees, giving the illusion of flickering. It has been so long since I’ve smelled the fresh, clean air of autumn. A long time since I’ve smelled any fresh air, actually.
“Are you alright, Eliza?” Noah asked, putting an arm around my shoulders to comfort me. He had been there through it all. The falling, the diagnosis. I don’t know if I could have done it without him. If I didn’t have Noah, there would be nothing else to live for. About two years ago, I had been on a bike ride with Noah, when suddenly my head had begun to spin and I passed out while still on the bike. I had woken up a few days later in the hospital, scared out of my wits. Noah had been there, holding my hand when the doctor told me I had leukemia. And that I would most likely not survive. 14 was too young to die. Now I am 16, and I have an estimated two more days to live.
“As well as I can be,” I say, weakly, looking up at his dark blue eyes. I had met Noah when I was in elementary school, and we had been good friends ever since.
I look up at the seemingly infinite blue sky, wondering at how I’d never noticed just how beautiful it was before. I had never noticed how detailed each ridge and dip in the clouds were. I had never noticed how warm and bright the sun was. Oh, the things we take for granted.
Noah tightened his grip around my arm as he led me down the path. The hospital staff had decided it was okay for me to get outside in my last few days. My last. Few. Days. Those words. Four words can carry so much sorrow and fear. For me, for the hospital staff, for Noah. I can’t imagine life without him. And now he will have to live life without me. I want to comfort him, tell him I’m not afraid. But I’d be lying. To him, and myself.
“Here, let’s go over here,” Noah says, pulling me over to a rock so I can sit down and rest my tired, aching body. As I sit, I notice that my fingers and toea have begun to go numb. It must be the chilly autumn air. I look over and see that Noah is trying to hide the tears in his eyes.
“You don’t have to be strong for me, you know,” I say, giving his hand a weak squeeze. Noah squeezes back gently and doesn’t say anything for a moment.
“I know, Eliza, I’m sorry,” his low voice seems to be trying to tear itself apart as he speaks. His tears are coming faster now and I have to swallow a lump in my own throat.
I gaze out at the landscape of autumn leaves. I can see people, running and laughing with each other. It must be wonderful to have the strength to run. I can hardly remember what it’s like. The numbness is beginning to spread up my arms, and I suspect it’s from how hard Noah is squeezing it. I shift, and he loosens his grip, though it doesn’t help.
“Remember,” Noah says shakily, “when we did that play about Peter Pan in fourth grade?” I laughed remembering how I had wanted to be my favorite character, Wendy. Instead, I got the part of a lost boy and Hailey Gillman got the part. I was furious and on the night of the play, when Hailey was walking out on stage, I unbuttoned the back of her costume, so far down that you could see her underclothes. No one had noticed until it was too late, and Hailey never got over it. After the show, my mom had yelled at me so loud that I’m sure the people all the way across the world could have heard it.
“Her face, when she noticed,” I say, cracking up.
“Yeah! It was a mixture of I just drank spoiled milk, and what is that smell?” Noah said, laughing as well. Then his face suddenly changed. He stopped laughing and looked at me.
“What?” I said, thoroughly confused.
“I shouldn’t be laughing. Not now,” Noah says, looking away. I lift my hand and turn his chin to face me.
“Now is the exact time when you should be laughing. Let’s enjoy our last few days together,” I say, kissing him on the cheek. Noah nods. We sit there for a while longer, sharing each other warmth. The numbness has now overtaken my arms and is spreading through my chest. I don’t kid myself now. I know I am dying. And that I only have a matter of minutes left.
“Noah,” I say, grabbing his face in my hands and turning it towards me, pressing my forehead into his and closing my eyes. We share the air between us, our breaths are one. “I love you,” The numbness is now spreading across my chest, creeping up my neck. I press my lips against his, fighting for feeling, though I know it won’t return to me. I open my eyes, staring into his. At that moment, an understanding passes between us. He knows that I am dying. Tears fill his eyes and he kisses me. His fingers run over my hairless head and wrap around me. I circle my arms around his neck. He pulls away and looks at me.
“Please don’t go, Eliza,” Noah says, his voice cracking. “I can’t live without you,”
“It’s okay, Noah,” I say, pressing my forehead against his again.
“No, it isn’t,” he says. Tears are now streaming down both of our faces. I hug him tightly, trying to ignore how the numbness seems to be dulling my mind, causing my thoughts to become sluggish. My hands begin to tremble and my arms feel weak. There is black in the corners of my vision. I know it is almost time.
I run my fingers through his hair and give him a weak smile, “I love you,” I whisper. The last thing I see before the darkness takes over are his deep, blue eyes.