The wooden boards nailed to the tree shifted and squeaked as Dylan scaled them to the top. Lifting up her left hand, she pushed open the hatch revealing a small dusty room with cobwebbed corners and splintered floors. As she pulled herself into the wooden room her arms wobbled like cooked spaghetti and her knees scraped the edge of the wooden boards but it was worth it to be up there one last time. 

The pictures that hung on the walls were slanted, cracked, and beautiful. Her lips turned up in a smile as she crawled over to the corner facing the window or rather just a rectangular hole in the wall with one crooked shutter smacking the branches on the outside of the treehouse. There was a gentle breeze drifting in and out of the room chilling her legs and blowing her hair, half chocolate brown and half cherry red, into her face. She brushed it away, pulled it down to her chin, closed eyes and sighed trying not to think about the horrors of tomorrow. 

About a minute later a faint noise of someone knocking against wood brought Dylan back to reality. A bit startled, she looked to her left to find a dirty blonde head poking up into the room. 

“Hey,” he spoke. “I hope I didn’t scare you.”

“No, you didn't.” Dylan replied, staring at the sky seemingly uninterested. The two of them sat there in silence for a few moments unsure of what to say.

“Why are you here Neil?” Spoke Dylan interrupting the growing tension and awkwardness. 

“Well that's no way to greet your best friend.” The smile on his face brought one to hers as she turned her head away from the painful daze.

“I’m sorry...I just haven’t been myself since the appointment.” 

“I know.” Neil’s infectious smile faded to a sympathetic frown. 

Dylan turned back and glued her grey eyes to the wall and began picking the chipped white paint off of the old wood. Her mind was blank and racing at the same time.

“Is that what I think it is?” Neil said fixated on the dark blue framed picture almost falling off the wall. He brought his legs up from the hole in the floor and stepped towards the old image, creaking the floor planks. Grabbing it off of the rusty nail, he held it in his palms and laughed.

“I can’t believe it! This picture has to be like eight years old!”

“Yeah, it is” Said Dylan, still slouched in the corner. 

“Wow, I would’ve only been eleven and you were ten.” He sunk down across from his friend. “The years have really gone by fast.”

Dylan sighed and stared at Neil looking completely hopeless. Her hands fell away from the wall and found the pockets on her ripped jean shorts. Neil set the picture on the ground and stared back, finally addressing the elephant in the room.

“I know it's hard, D.” His voice almost whispered.

“No, you don’t.” Her eyes were dead serious and her tone was raspy. “You don’t know anything about how hard this is, no one does.”

“You're right, I have no clue about how any of this feels but I wish that I did. I wish it would’ve been me instead.”

Dylan’s eyes began to water and her hands started to shake nervously. She stared down at them and shoved them under her arms. Her knees rose to her chest scraping the bottom of her black sneakers on the wooden floor as the gorgeous sun shone down on her trembling body.

Neither of them said a word for about fifteen minutes as if the silence would make it all go away. They just sat there in each other's company listening to the birds chirping, children playing a few houses down, and the wind blowing that damn shutter against the tree. The quiet was calming but unnerving, only letting their minds build up the pain.

Neil drifted back to the moment  and felt his heart sink as he watched his best friend go numb in the corner of the only place he’s ever felt at home.

“It's going to be okay, Dylan.” She turned away from the wall and stared at his pale, sharp face with nothing to say. “I know you don’t think that now but...I just...you have to believe that everything is going to be fine.” There was a hint of desperation in his voice.

Dylan closed her eyes and sighed “what reason do I have to believe that I am going to be fine.” She said calmly as she pushed herself upright straightening her back against the wall. “There is nothing out there telling me that I am going to be fine.”

"Well you have to find some reason to believe that you'll be okay." His eyes were large and searching hers for a glimpse of hope. "What other choice do you ha-"

"I have cancer Neil!" Dylan shouted loud enough for the dog walkers on the street to hear with her arms shot up towards the sky.

"I know." Neil rubbed his hands over his face as if trying to wipe away the moment then dropped them to his thighs. He stared back at his dying friend watching her eyes become a waterfall pouring down the rocks of her cheeks. Within a few seconds she looked hysterical. 

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" Cried Dylan shaking her head back and forth covering her eyes with her palms. "I just don't know what to do.”

“Just calm down, D.” His voice was shaky and unconvincing. Even he knew that his words were no help at this point. 

After a moment of hesitation, Neil picked himself up off the splintered wood, crawled across the treehouse, and wedged his body in between Dylan and the chipped wall. She could feel his warmth against the side of her body and leaned into him with her hands still shielding her eyes. Her head pressed into the left side of his green Adidas t-shirt wrinkling the logo as his arm fell onto the back of her black hoodie. The two of them closed their eyes and tried to pretend for as long as possible that none of this was happening. 

“Neil,” Dylan spoke up weakly. “If I don’t make it-”

“Stop.” Neil interrupted sternly. “Don’t say that.”

“We can’t avoid this conversation.” Her eyes began to well up. “This is stage three, I don’t think i’ll make it.”

“You’re a strong person, Dylan, I know you’ll make it.” His tone was comforting and the words rolled off his tongue with hope. The birds chirping outside their little home reminded her that she was still alive and her life was not over yet. She refused to let a cruel disease crumble the last bits of joy away though her mind was still stained with worry.

“I'm scared.”

“Me too.” Neil’s eyes drifted over to the picture of the two of them, smiling without care sitting in the newly built treehouse, on the floor then to Dylan lying against him. He stared as long as he could finally acknowledging that forever was coming to an end sooner than he ever thought possible. “Lets not think about that right now. Just stay here with me until you have to go.”

July 18, 2020 02:18

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