Hotshot - Ahren Sanders
Goddammit, I hate this place, I think to myself as I walk down the hallway. Even the dozens of pictures framed on the walls can’t mask the dread.
No one likes hospitals, but I loathe them, especially this one. They say it has the best pediatric oncology program in the area, but I want Nick to be in the best program in the country, not the area. My phone dings in my pocket, alerting me that it’s time for Nick’s treatment, so I move faster. My chest tightens at the thought of him sitting alone.
When I round the corner, I see one familiar face. Nurse Evie gives me a bright smile and waves me back. I scurry through the doors and stop to wash my hands before following her.
“Crenshaw, he’s been excited about you coming all morning. As soon as your mom left, he started in about you coming home from college.” She pats my arm lovingly. “He hasn’t shut up.”
“He just wants to win my money.” I take the stack of cards from my back pocket. “But today is a new game. He’s going to learn Gin Rummy.”
“He’ll love that. Really love that.” She gives me another smile.
Nick is already in his chair with a nurse working on his catheter when I walk in. He gives me a fist pump, and I run my hand over his now bald head before sitting.
“What’s up, fighter?”
“Well, I’m hoping after the treatment, you can spring me.”
“No can do. Doctor told Mom it would be at least tomorrow before you can go home. I’m here as long as you want, though. Thought we could learn some new games.” I place the cards on the table between us and lean back to slide the curtain closed.
“Leave it open today,” he tells me as another nurse comes in and starts the process of cleaning his lines and drawing his labs.
I look around, trying to find anything to watch but the woman poking and prodding him. My throat starts to close, and I swallow down the emotions swelling inside.
This is not fair.
Life is not fair.
He’s fourteen, for God’s sake. He should be worrying about what he’s doing on fall break, not cell counts and hemoglobin levels.
“If you don’t stop, you’re not coming back,” he says through clenched teeth, the nurse drawing blood.
“Stop what?” I struggle to sound normal.
“I see it, Ren. You’re easy to read. Mom and Dad can barely hold it together. I need you and Mathis to be stronger.”
“You’re our baby brother. It hurts us to see you like this.”
“I get it, but can you try?”
“Yes,” I agree, guiltily.
“Let’s get this party rollin’! Did you save me a seat?” a melodic, sweet voice sings behind me.
I turn and watch a beautiful young girl, who looks about Nick’s age, plop in the recliner next to us. She drops a bag, and Nurse Evie starts prepping her for chemo. Nick gives her a chin lift, and then she turns to me. The instant our eyes meet, my heart lurches and skips a beat. One dimple dents into her right cheek, highlighting her whole face. I can’t move. My eyes are trapped in her gaze. Never have I seen the unique color staring back at me—a mix between grey and ice blue. It’s hypnotic.
“Ren!” Nick hisses until I break the trance and look back to him. “Stop staring.”
“It’s okay, Nicky. Everyone has a different reaction. I should have worn a hat.” The girl speaks softly, the earlier joy vanished.
Nicky? Reaction? What the hell?
She moves her small, bony hand to her head, which is covered in a pink skull bandana. Then it hits me; she thinks I was staring at her lack of hair. I open my mouth to explain, but Nick speaks over me.
“No, it’s not okay. I didn’t ask him to come to be a total dickhead.”
Both the nurses shush him as the girl starts to giggle.
Finally, I clear my mind and find my words. “I wasn’t looking at your head. It’s your eyes. I’ve never seen any so unique, so incredibly exceptional.”
She starts to blush. “Which brother are you?”
“Lizbeth Hastings.” She offers her hand, and I shake it gently. “Nicky told me a lot about you.”
I raise an eyebrow at my brother and mouth ‘Nicky’ to him with a questioning glance. He doesn’t answer but shrugs without care and settles back as his treatment starts. I stay quiet and watch Nurse Evie do her assessments. When she’s done, she runs her hand over Lizbeth’s bandana covered head