Our fun weekend with Gia eventually had to come to an end, but rather than it being bittersweet it was simply sweet. We knew we’d be back together before we would know it. Summer break would arrive soon and we would have plenty of time to hang out together. Luckily, Gia seemed a lot more relaxed heading back to her campus. We all needed some quality time and it certainly helped all around.
Next on my agenda was heading back home for the weekend. I talked to Mom almost every day. Whether it was for an hour or sending a quick text—we always communicated. With my workload being a bit lighter than usual, I figured it would be nice to head back home for a bit. I could pick up my favorite snacks, and of course, do my laundry. I was hoping that Dani would also come along, but she already made plans with Otto (of course).
As it turned out, our late night visitor wasn’t some random solicitor, but Otto. He couldn’t wait another moment of Dani thinking he wasn’t interested in her and finally decided to make it official. Dani and Otto were finally dating.
I honestly should’ve put my money on that relationship.
“Are you sure you’re not coming this weekend?” I asked while stuffing my laundry into my backpack. Dani, of course, was already getting ready to head out. “I’m bound to see your family at some point.”
“I told Mom that I have a project to finish up, so I’ll probably head back home next week.” She turned around and allowed for her hair to fall at her shoulders. “Kinda bummed you can’t make it this weekend. And you,” she said pointing to Sabin who was laying on my bed. “I’m surprised you’re not going with Alma. Her Mom adores you.”
Sabin sighed and hugged one of my pillows close against his chest. “Yeah, I wish I was, too. I’m really behind on my business class due to my absences, so I’m getting a chance to catch up.”
Dani shrugged and walked past me to pick up her bag. “Well, Otto and I will be at the schools film festival. Sabin, you’re always welcome to join.”
She held up her hand to her lips and jokingly talked aside to me. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure he’s staying loyal.”
“Oh shut it,” Sabin exclaimed before rolling off the bed to make his way to me. “I am always yours, Alma. Hope you know that. Don’t let Dani fill your head with lies!” He smirked before kissing the top of my head.
“Of course I believe you. Dani loves to mess with me, but that’s also why I love her.”
As I looked around the room, I did a count of what else had to be done. Aside from gathering my laundry, all that was left was for Sabin and I to make it to the train station so I could catch the Amtrak. I admit that I was sad that Sabin wouldn’t be there with me, but at least texting him would still be an option. I knew he’d help me get through the long train ride back home.
“You got everything?” He asked quietly before leaning over to rest his head on mine.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“It’ll be a great time,” he assured me. “It’s your family. You love them.”
“And I love you,” I smirked. “I hope you get some time to rest, too. I know how you get when you’re playing catch-up. Please eat and get enough sleep.”
Grinning, Sabin leaned down and planted his lips on mine. “You always take great care of me, but have a fun weekend. You deserve that, too. Can you do me a favor?”
“Can you seriously stop by Dani’s family’s diner? Their pastries are like crack. Been craving them.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at that before getting out of the car. “You got it, buddy.”
“Literally love you even more for this,” he announced before sending me off with one more kiss.
My train ride was long, as expected. Our tickets were stamped and I had to do was keep my mind occupied for the next few hours. While there was no special event going on at home, I figured it would be a nice time to stop by. I missed being at home without the chaos of party planning. Mom would always be in such a frenzy, so I was hoping to have a nice relaxing weekend with my family.
Finally, I was home.
“Hello?” I called into the house. “Anyone home?”
I walked inside and noticed that the house that I was used to definitely went through plenty of changes. And I thought that only humans went through a mid-life crisis. Needless to say, my childhood home went through more remodelling that I ever expected. I mean, the living room? There was another room right next to the kitchen. Was I really gone that long?
Before I could even think about venturing upstairs, I heard the hushed muttering from the kitchen.
“I didn’t expect anything else, you know?’
“Oh, stop it.”
In the kitchen, Mom and Aunt Arecia were chatting softly. I was still able to make something out, but it wasn’t enough to join in on the conversation. Rather than commenting on the new decor in the kitchen, I was more excited about the fact that Aunt Arecia was there. Between her being super mom and overall awesome human being, it wasn’t often that I saw her while I was at school.
“Um, hello?” I smirked. “Sorry to be intruding, but just wanted to say hello!”
“Alma?” Mom’s smile was spread thinly.
Aunt Arecia shot out of her seat quickly and rushed to me. “Oh my! What a surprise!”
“I’m so glad I stopped by today! Wow! I missed you!” I exclaimed and threw my arms around her.
We soon traded compliments that were sweet enough to give a child a cavity. But I couldn’t help it! Aunt Arecia was one of my heroes next to my mom. No surprise there–they were the best sibling duo.
“This is such a wonderful surprise,” she said again. “But I’m sure that you’d like to say hello to your mother. I’ll be in the living room, okay?”
When my aunt made her way to the living room, I figured I’d snag a few moments with Mom. After all, I made the trip to have some bonding time with her. She seemed surprised to see me despite me sending her multiple text messages accompanied by a flurry of gifs. I suppose her sisters visit kept her from checking her phone for the majority of the morning. Bright side was that I made it while they were actually at home and not out somewhere.
“So, I see you guys also remodeled the kitchen and every other inch of the house?” I pointed out. “Must admit I was worried I was breaking and entering–without the breaking.”
Mom’s exhale was long, but she confirmed. “I suppose we made some changes. The house needed some freshness. I’m sorry for the surprise..”
“I-uh–I didn’t see your text that you were coming over this weekend. I must have not gotten the notification.”
I had to admit I was a bit amused that Mom was so down about not getting my messages. She was a kind soul. That much was true.
“Hey, it’s okay! It happens. I just wanted to see you and I had some free time this weekend. Sadly, Sabin couldn’t come, but he sends his best wishes.”
Mom nodded and turned away to grab the tea kettle. “It’s okay, love. I’ll just get some drinks ready for us. Why don’t you go catch up with your aunt before she has to head out to pick up your uncle..”
I couldn’t say no to that.
“School is going well, I take it?” Arecia asked when I plopped down on the couch.
Her eyes looked more sunken than usual, but their spark was still there. Ah, the glow of our ancestors was definitely still there.
“Of course. It’s been tough, but I think it’ll be a good end to the semester. Just a bit nervous about what comes after graduation. This whole adulting shindig is not exactly that easy.”
Arecia bowed her head and nodded. “It absolutely isn’t.”
“But what about you?” I asked excitedly. I had been away for months and it felt like I had missed years. I wanted to know everything, every detail.
Before she answered, she spent a good moment studying my expression. Her sincere smile tightened before it began to fade.
“What’s going on?”
“Your mom didn’t tell you, did she?” Arecia sighed. “Guess this makes your visit that much more of a surprise to everyone. I thought…”
“Thought what? Tell me what?” I didn’t like waiting for news. My anxiety wasn’t something I often doubted.
I could hear Mom stirring her creamer in her coffee from the kitchen. The silence in the living room was so strained that I was beginning to feel restless. I reached out to touch my aunt’s shoulder. Were things not okay between her and her husband? Were her kids okay? I couldn’t think of anything else–it was driving me crazy.
“Mom? What’s going o–”
“My cancer is back.”
The lump in my throat dropped to the pit in my stomach. As she began to explain, her voice began to fade. Her lips kept moving, but my mind was replaying each moment we experienced as a family when my aunt went through her first rounds of chemo. Support poured from every member of our family and while it was difficult on her, she pulled through. She went into remission. The light in her eyes returned.
I looked at her again and fought the quiver in my lips. The light was indeed still left in her sunlit eyes. She had strength that even my mom didn’t have. Mom even knew that–she admitted it on many occasions.
“Alma?” Aunt Arecia started. “I’m sorry,” she smiled, “it’s not exactly light news that you want to hear when visiting home during a stressful time in your life.”
“That’s nonsense,” I sniffled. “Tell me, when do you start chemo? I’ll be there. Every appointment. You won’t be alone.”
She shook her head. “Honey…”
Mom was already in the living room, but wasn’t saying anything. Not a word. Why was I just hearing about this? I wasn’t some distant relative who just popped in for the holidays. I was the damn heiress of this stupid family and one of the most special people in my life was hurting–again!
Aunt Arecia was looking at Mom before she got up from the couch. “I will not be going to treatment anymore, love.”
“W-what?” I stuttered.
She was smiling, but how could she?
“It has spread quickly and it is much too advanced for me to even consider treatment. Plus, I felt more dead than alive when I was in chemo. You saw me, Alma. You all saw me. I’m trying more medicinal routes now, but I’ve fought my fight. I’ve–”
“N-No!” I cried out before flinging myself onto her.
“I’m not fooling anyone, especially myself. I’m enjoying each day that I have with the people that I love. Please don’t cry…” She begged.
It was hard not to cry. How was it that she was keeping her cool and I was crumbling before her. She was insanely strong and I couldn’t imagine my life without her.
Fighting the urge to cling to her, I stepped back and wiped my eyes roughly till I felt my skin grow hot from the pressure. “How are you feeling?” I finally asked. “I mean, are you hurting?”
She shook her head slowly. “I have my good days and my bad days. I take it one day at a time.”
“But,” I whimpered. “I don’t want to miss anything anymore…”
“Of course, love,” Aunt Arecia nodded and kissed the top of my head when she embraced me. “Don’t you worry. I’m not giving up. I have to see you graduate and open up that flower show, right?”
I sniffled. “Y-yes.”
As I stood, still petrified from the news, I watched Aunt Arecia make her way past me to saw goodbye to Mom. They whispered something and before I knew it, Aunt Arecia was out the door.
After she left to go pick up her husband, I didn’t say a word to Mom. I grabbed my bag from the hall and retreated upstairs to where I hoped my room would still be. Luckily, it was. Sure, there were some changes that were made to it, but the bits that really made it my room were still there. I needed some familiarity to think about what happened earlier that afternoon.
It was a nightmare.
It couldn’t be right.
All my worries that I had about growing up and moving out…
How could I say all that?
My loving aunt wasn’t even thinking of that anymore. She wasn’t getting treatment anymore. I couldn’t comprehend the reason when I knew so many people loved her. Her kids, her husband. Us.
It was insanely painful to think about losing a loved one. Grandpa passed away and it was painful enough being at his funeral. But Arecia? No! I couldn’t even think of that. She was a fighter; she was strong; she wouldn’t give up.
I swiped the thought from my mind and swayed in my seat until I heard my bedroom door creak open.
I didn’t have to turn around or even ask to know it was Mom standing behind me. The aura was tense and guilt-ridden.
“Can we talk?” she whispered. Her voice was hoarse as if she spent the last hour crying.
Honestly, I didn’t want to, but I wasn’t about to kick her out of a room in her own house. Technically, I was just a visitor now, so I got off the swing and dragged my feet to my bed. At least the soft covers would comfort me.
“I made sure we kept your room as close to the original as possible,” she said. She never was too good at breaking the ice. This was no excuse and I wasn’t going to let her just brush it aside.
“Why didn’t you tell me, Mom?”
What small talk she wanted to make was not going to happen.
“I tried,” she admitted. “I drafted message after message and tried to bring it up during phone calls, but Alma-” she whimpered. “How could I when I can barely bring myself to admit this is happening? She’s my sister. My only sister. My best friend.” I heard her voice crack before she collapsed at my bed. “I spent all this time trying to convince her to go to treatment.”
I quickly sat up and reached out to touch her hand. “Why won’t she?”
“She was miserable in chemo…”
“But she beat the cancer,” I pleaded.
Mom nodded. “Believe me, I tried. Your dad tried. Your uncle tried. We all did, baby. We all did.”
Hearing that still didn’t make me feel better, but I heard the pain in her voice. I did feel bad for assuming she was keeping the news from me, but it was impulse. It hurt and I knew I needed to take it out on someone. She had a point. Aunt Arecia was truly a strong woman and a weak person could never make the decision to just live out the rest of their remaining days.
“I’m sorry, Mom…”
She nodded and wiped the stray tears from her cheeks. “I am, too. It’s not how I wanted your visit to go, believe me. We’ll figure this out, but we have to respect her decision…”
Mom nodded. “As much as it pains me.”
“What about Grandma Atoli and Grandpa Crescendo?”
Mom shook her head. “They’re not taking it well, which is to be expected. What parent wants to outlive their child? Anyway,” she sniffled and got off the bed. “I just wanted you to know I didn’t want to hide this. It’s just something I haven’t come to terms with yet. I love her and she has been my rock since forever. I can’t think of a world without her.” Mom kissed the top of my head and exhaled slowly. “I’m going to speak with your father. Just please try to get some rest…”
When Mom left, I wandered around my room until the emptiness finally began to annoy me. My old books, my plants–everything began to make me cringe and despise the space I was in. I walked out of my room and down the hall where I could hear the faint sounds of laugher.
I knocked on the door and entered.
“Hey Kaden,” I started. “Can I join you?”
He looked past his shaggy hair and nodded, patting the empty space on the couch.
The moment I sat down I felt some relief even when it involved watching ridiculous stunt videos with my brother.
“So, you heard.”