So I thought I would do something a little different and weird for awhile. I don't know how long I'm going to do it for, but what better place to do it then here :) Well from reading this blog you might have come to the conclusion that I want to become a writer when I grow up. I don't know how long I've wanted this, but it's been my dream for a long time. So when I found a website that has free short story prompts on it I thought I would give it a try. I'm a little nervous though, I usually don't like people to read my stories. So here I am starting Short Story Saturdays with a story I wrote for an assignment when I was a sophomore in high school. I hope you like it. :)
The Beginning of the End
It was cold out, just like it was exactly a year ago from today. The crisp fall air made me shiver just a little bit as I got out of the car. She wasn’t really hard to find. The orange and brown fallen leaves crunched under my feet as I made my way toward her. Tears welled up in my eyes the minute I saw her, memories I had been trying to keep locked away for so long came flooding back with more vividness then before. Despite the damp ground from the recent rain, I sat down in front of her. The smell of the lingering roses filled my nose along with the strong scent of the wet dirt. Only then did I let myself look at her, the white tombstone with her first and last name carved in it. There she was, my best friend, all I had left of her was a white tombstone and the memories of the years past that I haven’t let myself think of and for some reason could never forget. But I finally did it; I came here after exactly a year of grief and anger towards Ashley. I know it isn’t fair of me to be mad at my best friend for something she couldn’t even control, but without her, I was alone and afraid. She was the brave one not me. I didn’t want to think about the past before, but now I was ready, ready to remember.
My memory floated back to a little more than a year ago. I was sitting on the stiff hospital bed; I was shocked to see my best friend’s life just dwindling away at the young age of only seventeen. I had gotten a call just two days earlier that Ashley had stopped responding to the cancer treatments that she had been receiving since we were both twelve. I hadn’t seen her since last year on account of the fact that she lived in Colorado and I had moved away to California. Ashley’s long brown curly hair had thinned and was almost gone, her usually tan skin had turned pale and pasty, and she had lost weight. She stirred awake and her feet nudged my thigh as she turned over and opened her eyes.
“Well, I say Ashley! You sure don’t look like what you did when I left last year.” I said, trying to keep my smile steady and not to let the tears escape. Ashley smiled at me and let a little laugh escape her pale lips. Even though she looked as pale and lifeless as a porcelain doll, her face was still lit with her familiar smile. She was handling this better than I was. She sat herself up and pulled the covers to her chin to keep herself warm even though the warm wasn’t very cold. Smiling, she asked me how I was and about things we had discussed before on the phone and through letters. But there was a time when we couldn’t beat around the bush any longer.
“Ashley come on, we can’t avoid it any longer. What do the doctors say?” Ashley sighed and ran her hand threw her disappearing hair. When she realized there wasn’t much there to run her fingers over she brought her hands back down and held them in each other still quietly deciding how she was going to tell me this piece of news.
“The Doctor says I’m not responding to treatment anymore and that I have to just leave the hospital and wait to die.” Her face showed an expression that I had never seen on Ashley’s face before, so rare it almost took me a minute to figure out what it was. And then it hit me, it was fear, she was scared. Which scared me, Ashley had always been so calm throughout her whole leukemia treatments. Even when her hair started to fall out and she was getting sick a lot, she still did everything with a smile and endeared. But this was it, it was nearing the end, and that just scared her.
My mind flashed back to reality as I heard children squeal in the nearby park and two women huffing by as they went for an afternoon jog. I tried to recall what happened after I visited Ashley in the hospital. The St. Mary’s Hospital had been her home for the past seven months. Everyone loved her there; all the nurses knew her name and would talk to her all the time. That was another thing about Ashley I missed; no matter how busy she was she always put aside her life to help with anyone’s problems and give them advice. She told me all about the nurses who would talk to her about their problems. She was excited to come home, but now that I think about it, a part of her knew that coming home was a step that much closer to the end. That is what was making her so scared.
That night after supper Ashley and I sat on the porch swing outside. Ashley had a green blanket wrapped all the way around her so that just her feet and head stuck out from each end. It was weird how different she looked; almost weak, like it took all her effort just to stand up. We sat in silence watching the stars and sipping hot chocolate. The porch swing creaked as I rocked it back and forth with my foot. I could tell that Ashley was tired, but she also had something on her mind.
“What is it you’re thinking about? I know there is something.” I nudged her ankle lightly with my toe so she would look up as she started to speak. She smiled at me as she explained her thought out loud.
“Isn’t there something that you always wanted to do before you died? Like something that you thought that could be your purpose in life?” I took a sip of hot chocolate as I carefully chose a good answer for this question. I mean any other day this would just be a conversation starter, But today it was a serious question. That brought us that much closer to the end.
“Well yeah I mean doesn’t everyone?” I asked curious to where she was going with this.
“Exactly, I know what I want to do with the rest of my life. I want to help people. I mean I know that I don’t have that much more time to live but I think I know a way to help people who really do need it.” Ashley got up from the porch swing slowly and walked into the house to talk to her mom about her sudden plans. But all I could think of was she was going to do, and how long it was going to take her to do it. Because whether I wanted to believe it or not, Ashley didn’t have a lot of time left.
I can’t really remember the car ride or even the visit to the local orphanage. My mind was filled with the haunting of what would happen when Ashley was taken away from me. She was my best friend. I loved her like she was my sister. I trusted her with everything including my life. What was I going to do when I didn’t have that anymore? All I could think about was the end and how horrible it was going to be once it ended. I sure didn’t want to think about that. But for some reason those thoughts just wouldn’t leave my head.
Ashley loved the kids at the orphanage, she played with them and taught them games and told stories. She did everything that they asked to do with her. She even explained why her hair was falling out to one little girl that had asked. She looked scared that she might even catch the disease. But she just smiled and handed her a doll and read another story to the children.
“She really does have a knack for children, doesn’t she?” The Orphanage owner came and said to me as I was watching Ashley. I turned to the woman; she was a pretty lady that had aged beautifully. She wore her hair on top of her head and had smile wrinkles around her mouth and eyes. I smiled at her, proud of my best friend. I was proud Ashley was here, that she didn’t mope around when she knew her end was near, she did the one thing she always wanted to do with her life. She didn’t give up when life told her to. She kept going until she wasn’t going to be able to.
“Do you think your friend will be able to start coming every couple days and working here? We need a spot and she would be a perfect person for the job.” I don’t really know why but for some reason the innocent inquiry of the women made me want to cry. And instead of not letting the tears fall, I just let them stream down my face and fall off the tip of my nose.
“I don’t know you’ll have to ask her about that.” I replied trying not to let my crying escape in my voice. The woman looked startled and began to comfort me. But I just wiped away my tears and gave her a smile to reassure her that I was fine. Then Ashley came up and said it was probably time to go. But could we please see Mrs. Rosin in her office. I guessed that was the orphanage owner. When we had made it into her office, Ashley immediately started to explain why she had come here and that she wanted to help. Out of her coat pocket Ashley drew an envelope. She explained that it was her college fund, savings, and spending money. She said she didn’t really need it anymore so she thought it could go to a better cause. This just caused my heart to swell up more with pride for my best friend.
I let a sigh escape my lips and I shifted my position. Leaning against a tombstone isn’t the most comfortable situation. This was the part of the story I would have gladly forgotten, but I couldn’t. It was the main scene in every nightmare and dream I saw at night. But it had been a year and the only real way to get over something is to accept it. So I sighed, closed my eyes and kept remembering the story. The memory always comes as a blur; I can never make out the important details. Just snippets, like not seeing her as I looked up from unlocking my car, yelling for someone to call 9-1-1, they all come as flashes of worry anxiousness. I can see the flash of the red and blue lights out of the corner of my eye as I sit over Ashley’s body trying to give her mouth to mouth. A paramedic pushes me aside and gets her strapped to a stretcher and into the ambulance. I jump in after him and move so I’m holding Ashley’s hand in mine. It wasn’t until now I realized I was crying. I was whispering her name and trying to get her to listen but she just couldn’t. Later I remember the hospital room, similar to the one that I first found her in at the beginning of my trip. She looked so much worse than that though. How could I have not noticed how bad she was getting? I shouldn’t have let her go to the orphanage. I held her hand and sat beside her. The beeping of the different machines in the room was slowing down a little each time. Suddenly Ashley woke up and looked at me with a smile on her face.
“Well I guess this is it,” even at the brink of death she still had a smile on her lips.
“Don’t talk like that; you’re going to be okay.” But as much as I wanted to believe that, I couldn’t.
“No, this is it. But it’s okay.” I couldn’t stop my tears were enveloping me so I could barely see her now.
“Your going to be fine Karly, You’ll be okay without me I promise. I’m ready to go.”
I didn’t even try to stop my tears as I squeezed her hand. “How can you say that? It’s over, it’s the end.”
No. There aren’t any endings in life, just brand new beginnings.” And with that she drew in her last breath and let it out.
“No, no, Ashley? Ashley!” The panic stayed in my voice even though I knew she wasn’t going to be back. She was gone, she reached the end. Or the beginning of the end. Her death had haunted me for months. Never could I get over the missing piece that left when Ashley died. But now, a year later, I was done. Done feeling sorry and sad. Because that’s not what she would’ve wanted.
I leaned forward and wrapped my arms around the cold damp tombstone. I traced my finger in the engraving and did something I had not been able to do for awhile, I smiled.
“Okay Ashley, today is the end of feeling sorry for myself and mad at you, and the beginning of trying to live my life more like you. With the need to help people, and living every moment to the fullest.”
“Because you know,” I said with a smile on my face as I got up. “In life there are no endings, just brand new beginnings.”