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I can't let dying, keep me from living. Even weeks after meeting the older teen, Glenn's words kept replaying in Noah's head over and over again. At first, he had thought it was the dumbest thing he had ever heard. Of course dying would keep a person from living. That was the definition of dying, right? But now, Noah wasn't so sure. Maybe he'd meant, dying didn't mean his life was over quite yet.
Was that what Noah was doing, allowing his impending death to keep him from living? If he was completely honest with himself, that was exactly what he had been doing. In the past two weeks since he had learned of what he was now calling his 'expiration date,' Noah had sat at home and done nothing but feel sorry for himself and re-read some of his favorite comic books.
He couldn't help but wish his life was like those graphic novels. That maybe he could be bitten by a radioactive insect or have the power to heal from any wound just like his favorite heroes. But it was not meant to be, and no amount of wishful thinking was going to change that. With a deep sigh, Noah got ready to head to the hospital for yet another lethal dose of radiation. He didn't see the point anymore, but it seemed to make his mother happy to see him putting up a fight. So he did exactly that.
"Noah, hey," Glenn greeted the younger boy with another painfully enthusiastic smile. Feeling sick to his stomach and weak from the treatment, Noah responded with a merger nod of his head. Afraid that if he opened his mouth, he might empty the contents of his stomach all over the hospital rec room."I didn't think I'd see you here again anytime soon. Last time we talked you seemed to be throwing in the towel."
Noah took a deep breath trying to settle the torrential storm happening within his stomach.
"I have, but putting me through this torture seems to make my mom happy. So here I am," he said once he felt confident that he wouldn't throw up. "What has you here again?"
"Never left," Glenn replied with a shrug. Noah stared at him wide eyed.
"Never? So you've been here for the last two weeks?" He asked shocked.
"Technically, I've been here for the last four months. I'm what you might call a lifer," Glenn explained.
"A lifer. You know someone who lives the remainder of their life at the hospital."
Noah knew Glenn was sick, but he hadn't thought he was that sick. After he had met him, Noah had googled Cystic Fibrosis out of curiosity. And though it was considered a fatal disease, the average life expectancy was thirty-one years old. Glenn couldn't be older than eighteen, twenty at most.
"Oh, I didn't realize. Sorry," Noah apologized, feeling horrible for prying. Now that he was paying more attention, he couldn't help but notice the definite wheezing coming from Glenn, and the smoker's cough that made an appearance every ten to fifteen minutes. Glenn chuckled.
"There's nothing to be sorry for, I chose to stay here. It's better than my parents having to watch another of their children slowly whither away. Plus, I get to meet all kinds of people here, and they give me jello with every meal. What's not to love?"
Noah couldn't contain his laughter. He had had the displeasure of eating the gelatinous goo this place passed off as jello, and it was most definitely not a perk.
"How do you do that?" He questioned before he could stop himself.
"Have such a positive outlook on everything? I mean, we got the short end of the fricken stick. We're going to die before we even get a chance to live," Noah said becoming angry all over again.
"Have you gone out at all since you got the news?" Glenn asked ignoring Noah's question and his outburst.
"No, but what's that have to do with anything?" Even though he knew his irritation was misplaced, he couldn't seem to stop himself from taking it out on Glenn. Walking closer, Glenn put out his hand.
"Come on, get up," he said, nodding toward the door. Getting up was the last thing Noah wanted to do right now. He still felt sick not to mention completely exhausted, but out of curiosity, he found himself grabbing onto Glenn's hand and pulling himself off of the uncomfortable sofa.
"Where are we going?" He asked, having a hard time keeping up with Glenn as they walked down one of the hospital corridors.
"You'll see, but first, we need to make a quick pit-stop," Glenn replied not slowing down. "Wait here." He slipped into one of the rooms before reemerging carrying a large, very old camera. "Okay, got it. Let's go."
"Don't you need to ask before you leave?" Noah questioned eyeing the nurses' station.
"Nope," Glenn answered shaking his head. "I'm eighteen. So, legally I can pretty much come and go as I please, sort of. Why do you need to get permission from your mom or something?" He stopped to wait for the younger boy's reply.
"Nah, She'll be tied up with the doctors for hours. I usually just hang out in the rec room until get done. She won't even notice I'm gone."
And with that, they both continued toward the hospital exit.
Noah followed Glenn to a nearby bus stop, still unsure of where the older boy was taking him. But it's not like he had anything better to do. One of the perks of dying was that Noah didn't have to attend school anymore or worry about getting in trouble. If he worried his mom, then he might be in for a stern talking to which almost always ended with her in tears. If she cried this much while he was still alive, how many tears would she shed once he was dead?
"This is our stop," Glenn said pulling the yellow cord to notify the driver. Noah was happy for the distraction from his current thoughts. He looked around the small neighborhood a little unsure of what they were doing in such a derelict looking area. The houses were all in different states of disrepair and police sirens could be heard off in the distance. Not exactly somewhere he would go even if he was in the best of health.
"Umm...what exactly are we doing here?" he asked worriedly walking a little closer to Glenn.
"Enjoying life," he replied inserting a cartridge into the prehistoric camera. Noah couldn't understand how hanging around such a depressing place could qualify as enjoying life, but he certainly wasn't going to say that, in case Glenn lived there or something. The older boy was the closest thing that he had to a friend since first learning of his disease, well unless he counted his mother, which he didn't.
Glenn raised the camera to his eye, pointing it in the direction of a small brick house. Crabgrass filled the front lawn which had not seen the underside of a lawnmower in some time, and more than a few discarded beer cans. Noah tried to see what Glenn might be focusing on, but nothing stood out as picture worthy. It was more of a scene that people refused to notice.
"Got it," Glenn said moments after the flash went off. "Come on, we have one more stop before we have to head back," he announced handing Noah the photo. Noah watched as the picture slowly appeared before his eyes. It was a little boy. He hadn't noticed him, standing just behind the screen door. The boy, who was in a stained white t-shirt two sizes too big, was waving at them with a huge smile. Looking up now, he realized the boy was still there staring at him with a big goofy grin plastered on his tiny face. Noah gave a quick, awkward wave before following Glenn down the street.
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"Do you know him?" He asked once he caught up to Glenn.
The boys stopped, Glenn resting against a large maple tree while coughs racked his body. Noah watched helplessly as his friend struggled to get his breathing under control.
"But then why did you take a picture of him?"
Glenn straightened himself, his face still red from coughing.
"Because that right there, is the perfect example of enjoying life," he said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"How do you figure that? The boy's family is clearly poverty stricken, and he lives in a dump. How on earth is that happy in the slightest?" He held the photo in question up to Glenn's face as if it proved his point.
"Look at him, though. He doesn't care what clothes he wears or the size of his home. He's just happy seeing friendly faces pass by his window."
Looking at the picture again, Noah couldn't deny that the boy did indeed look happy in spite of everything.
The boys continued walking along the empty street until they reached an open field surrounded by towering apartment buildings, which were not in any better condition than the houses a few blocks away. This time instead of merely taking a picture of the field, Glenn reached into his back pocket and pulled out an already developed polaroid picture, held it out in front of him, and snapped another photo capturing the older picture within the new one.
"And what does this picture show?" Noah asked, now sincerely interested. Glenn fanned the picture in his hand before handing it over.
"What do you think?"
Noah analyzed the photograph. The original was of a snowman, the background matching the surrounds of the newer picture flawlessly, but what could it possibly symbolize?
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"I don't know. The difference a season can make?" he guessed. Glenn smiled his green eyes shining.
"I didn't even think of that," he admitted. "Not bad, but I was thinking more along the lines of potential. As-is it's just an empty field, but with a little snow, it becomes a winter wonderland with endless possibilities." His voice was full of excitement.
"Man, how old are you, like fifty?" Noah asked laughing. Glenn joined in the laughter nudging him with his shoulder.
"Hey, I can't help it if I'm wise beyond my years," he said putting Noah in a headlock and playfully mussing the younger boy's hair, before releasing him and running towards the bus stop. Noah, still laughing, chased after his friend.
As they arrived back at the hospital, both were in high spirits. Noah was barely feeling the effects of the radiation he received earlier that day.
"So, same time tomorrow?" Glenn asked. Noah didn't need to be back for another week, but today had been the most fun he had had in weeks and the closest to ordinary he had felt in forever.
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