To Feel Alive

Louise has never been lucky in life, losing her best friend and mother within a year, and now has a Dad who barely recognises her existence. All she has left is Cody, with whom her relationship is strictly friendly, and a small but successful business where she anonymously helps girls decide whether a boy is worth dating. But one day she receives an email from Maisie, the most popular girl at school who she tries to avoid at all costs, asking for her help. The choices that follow will make life as she knows it unrecognisable.

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10. Chapter Ten

 

“Can you go get me some ice cream, Lou?” Lily asked, curled up on the sofa as we watched another episode of Desperate Housewives. We were racing through the box-sets and putting Cody through the trauma also whenever he was home.

“Get it yourself, lazy bitch,” I replied, on the opposite side of the sofa. I was far too comfortable having finally reached the ultimate position where your head has sufficient support that your neck isn’t strained whilst your view of the television is not impaired.

“I’m ill. I’m on strict instruction to rest,” she said, and I could hear the grin laced within her voice. She never took her illness seriously and only pulled it out when she actually felt completely fine. When she needed genuine help, she refused it. It was a strange system.

“You’ve also been told to cut down on the carbs and sugar and have more protein; glucose feeds cancer cells!” I said. My awareness of this condition had gone up by roughly five hundred percent in the last year. Prior to Lily’s diagnosis, I’d known the colour of the Breast Cancer charity ribbon and that it was a result of a mutation. Oh, and that if you had it, it kind of sucked. How knowledgeable of me.

Everything feeds cancer cells,” Lily sighed. “Anyway, I’ve got chemo tomorrow; if I want ice cream, I’ll have it!” Lily said defiantly. “MUM!” she yelled, and Tessa came hurrying in from the kitchen in her art apron, stained with paint splodges of every shade.

“Yes, Lily?”

“I want ice cream,” she said, without looking up.

“Say please, you insolent bitch,” I added, whacking her skinny calf.  Lily had never been anything but slim, but now there was nothing of her.

“Please,” Lily said sarcastically. I’d only been partly joking; Lily’s manners, though never impeccable, had become considerably worse with this last bout of chemotherapy. Apparently it was a side effect, but I thought that was just what the doctors told you to give the cancer teens reason to be selfish twats. They’d earned it, I guessed.

“Any for you, Louise?” Tessa asked, and I nodded.

“Yes please.” A few minutes later she sped back in with the bowls, handing me the one with a noticeably larger portion which Lily quickly noticed - Tessa quietened her by telling her if she’d moaned she would take the bowl right back and give her fruit instead.  

“Ice cream’s fab really, isn’t it?” Lily said, sitting up and taking a large scoop with her spoon.

“It’s pretty amazing,” I said, never having given much thought to it.

“No but really! It’s frozen but soft, and sweet and smooth without being too thick like cream. And there’s all these different flavours, and colours. I was surfing the web the other day and I saw photos of these Italian ice cream parlours and it’s like they’ve got a frickin’ rainbow out on display! And they don’t just put them out in standard tubs like they do over here; the ice cream is in these swirly patterns and they put fruit on top and drizzle it with sauce!”

Lily was obviously getting carried away by a food we typically took for granted, and we’d never before questioned the quality of John and Paulie’s sundaes. However it was refreshing to see her actually being passionate about something other than a TV series, which had been her one and only fixation since her treatment begun.

As she spoke enthusiastically about ice cream, she simultaneously ate her own without pausing for breath, and then moaned out to Tessa for an extra blanket as she’d been overcome by a sudden coldness.

“You know what, I may not be able to go to Italy and try their ice cream but I want to try more varieties. Not just chocolate or vanilla or strawberry. The most adventurous we’ve even had is mint chocolate chip!” she said seriously as she hugged her blanket around her and shivered.

“You want to try all those random ones like banana and hazelnut?”

“Yuck! And yes I do!” she said determinedly, the glimmer returning to her eyes like Cody’s did when he got excited about something; a rare occurrence now. “But other ones; expensive ones, that come in posh, cylindrical tubs, not in the cheap rectangular ones. The ones you can tell by looking at will be in a class above the rest.”

“You know your parents are putting all the money they have right now into your treatment?” I added cautiously.

“Right now, I’d rather have ice cream. Ice cream makes me feel good and treatment makes me feel like crap.” She stared at the screen intently but I could see from her eyes that she wasn’t really watching and merely locating a fixed point to become lost in.

“Fine,” I said, decisively. “Every time I come to visit you, I will not allow myself through the door unless I am armed with a new tub of curiously strange, frozen, creamy dessert. And we will try them together. We’ll keep our favourites for when I forget and we’ll throw away the disgusting ones. And, in the end, we’ll choose our top ten, and have our own little shop in your kitchen, and it’ll be just like being in Italy, okay?”

Lily’s face broke out into a grin and all she could reply was a breathy, enthused, “Yes!” before throwing herself on top of me and laying her head into my lap.

We sat in those positions for the rest of the episode, comfortable with each other’s presence and content with the idea of our make-shift Italian dessert parlour. If I was being brutally honest, it sounded like a pointless, time-consuming and expensive task, but seeing Lily get excited about something again was worth it. And it just seemed like something we would do. Something normal best friends did with each other, and at that point, I was desperate for anything that would provide even a faint sense of normality in our crazy, overturned lives.

And for a long time after Lily’s death, I’d found comfort in reverting back to our top ten list that I had now memorised, going through the ice cream flavours we’d chosen together and remembering how much enjoyment Lily had gotten from doing that. The way she’d laid in her hospital bed at death’s door before finding a sudden burst of energy as I revealed a tub of new ice cream from my bag, and how we’d sat outside on the grass in summer surrounded by bowls containing samples on her days off from treatment. In her final few months, ice cream had become our saviour; our one thing that kept us both going. Our very own Italy. 

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