If You'll Have Me

Marina didn't know if you got to choose who you fall in love with, who ends up taking a little piece of your heart with them when they leave. If someone had asked her, she didn't think she would have chosen Harry Styles, and she doesn't know if he’d have chosen her. But standing here, looking back through the crystal clear lens of hindsight, she likes her choices.

Loosely based off the fantastic novel A Fault In Our Stars by John Green.

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1. Chapter One

 

I both loved and hated the cancer ward. I loved being there for the kids who had no one to listen, and the ones who didn’t know what to say in the first place. To know I could help them in some infinitesimal way kept me going when I lay awake at night wondering what the hell I was meant to be doing with my life.

It was in the cancer ward that I met Harry Styles on January 17th, a gray evening that promised nothing spectacular. 

I picked up his file from where it’d been dropped on my desk, weighing the thing in my hands. It was heavy, heavier than normal. My fingers itched to open it, but I resisted, knowing that it was better to go into a first meeting with no expectations.

I entered his hospital room with my normal cheery smile on my face, preparing to meet my new patient. He was laying half-upright in his bed, his bright green eyes glued to the laptop sitting on his thighs, his face drawn and pale. He had a lovely halo of brown curls that arced around his face, the one side slightly matted down like he’d slept on it.

“Hello.” I said, drawing my clipboard to my chest and trying to portray a friendly attitude. “I’m Marina.”

He didn’t move, barely blinking. “Hello. You here to make me all better?”

I wasn’t deterred, I’d gotten this kind of reaction before. I found that while everyone wanted someone to listen, no one really wanted to open up. “I’d just like to talk, making you better would only be a pleasant side effect.”

He flicked his eyes up towards me, his face still blank. “You aren’t the first you know.”

I nodded. My supervisor had briefed me on the boy’s tendency to send therapists running, but I liked to think I was made of sterner stuff. “So I’ve heard.” I walked tentatively over to his beside, pulling up a chair. “Do you mind if I sit?”

He shrugged. “Go ahead.”

I slid into the patched up arm chair, crossing my legs underneath me and watching, trying to get a feel for him. He, on the other hand, was studiously ignoring my presence, staring at his screen like if he tried he could burn a hole through it. 

He looked small in his blankets, strong shoulders dwarfed by a pile of pillows and a comforter wrapped up around his waist. He had an air of defeat about him, like he’d looked into the future and accepted his fate. He wore death like a cloak, letting it seep into his pores.

“Do you want to talk, or should I just sit here for the hour?” I asked conversationally, leaning my elbows on my knees and training my eyes on him. 

He made a noncommittal mumble, running his finger slowly over the trackpad. 

I nodded, accepting his answer. If he didn’t want to talk, there was nothing I could do to make him, no matter how much I wished I could. “Okay.” I slid open my messenger bag, pulling out my tattered copy of The Great Gatsby from the big pocket.

I opened it to one of the dog eared pages, letting myself sink into its oft read paragraphs. I’d read it for the first time in a freshman English class and had been sucked in by the metaphors and the way the words slid together almost like poetry. It still had my messy pen scribbles asking silly rhetorical questions in the margins, which was evidently annotating and would ‘help me understand the novel.’

The hour passed quickly, with not a word spoken in the dim hospital room. It wasn’t the most groundbreaking first meeting I’d ever had, and I sincerely hoped I was up to the challenge of Harry Styles. I stood as the digital clock by his bedside clicked to nine, shoving my book back into my bag and closing the flap. 

“I’ll see you next week, Harry.” I said, giving him a small smile. I was about to turn and leave when he spoke, his lips barely moving as he mumbled the words.

“I like that book.”

I paused, slightly caught off guard. “Me too.”

He gave the tiniest nod. “So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight.”

I tried not to let my jaw drop the littlest bit as I watched him. He was quoting at me. This fucking kid who’d spoken no more than ten words was quoting Gatsby at me like it was the most normal thing in the world. “It’s beautiful.” I finally stammered out, and I wasn’t sure what exactly was beautiful but something was and it was clouding my brain.

“I know.” 

I stared at him for a long moment, waiting to see if he’d say anything else before turning slowly to leave, barely remembering to call a goodbye over my shoulder as I walked out.

January 24th - Day 8

I hadn’t spent all week with his words rolling around my head. That would be stupid. I hadn’t been looking forward to Tuesday and I certainly hadn’t counted down the hours until eight o’clock.

As I walked into the hospital room I felt the oddest mix of hope and a persistent nervousness. Harry glanced up at me as I walked in, but quickly returned his eyes to the screen in front of him, his expression unchanging.

“Hello.” I said, taking the seat by his bed without any prompting. The pilled blue fabric was rough, but the chair was comfortable and big enough that I could curl up in it, tucking my legs over to one side. 

He nodded once by way of greeting, appearing to have settled easily back into his policy of ignoring my very existence. I let out a sigh. I’d been expecting it, but I’d been hoping this would be easier.

“Do you think we could talk this time?” I asked, pushing a little in the hopes of maybe getting something back.

“What’s to talk about.” He replied, the words coming out more like a statement than a question.

“You could tell me about yourself.” I offered, refusing to believe that he was really this prickly to the core. I could get him to open up, I knew it.

“Someone didn’t do their homework.” He smirked, nodding at the file in my hands.

“I don’t like going in with preconceived first impressions. I’d prefer to hear it from you first.” I replied, trying not to let his attitude get to me. He had cancer for God’s sake, he was allowed to be a little insolent. 

He seemed satisfied with my answer. “Well let me fill you in. You’re here because I’m depressed.” He said the word with such malice, a sort of mocking annoyance, like he’d heard it a million times and hated it more with each repetition. “Because apparently, having a fucking brain tumor and six months left to live at nineteen is something I’m supposed to be happy about.”

“No one said you had to be happy about it.” I replied, my heart going out to the boy. Six months. Six months and his body would stop. “But it seems to me like you’ve given up.”

He looked at me, his stare deadpan. “I wonder why that is.”

I bit my lip. “It’s not how many years you have, it’s what you make of them.”

“You don’t know what it’s like, do you? To know that you only have about one hundred and eighty days left, to be able to count down the hours until you die? To know that no matter what you do, it’s still going to happen? I’m already dead, Marina. I was dead the day they diagnosed me.” He’d grown resigned, his huge green eyes filled with a tremendous sadness. “I’m going to lose myself, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”

I shook my head slowly at his response, a bit overwhelmed by his sudden admission. I understood a lot about dying, not because I was but because I’d seen it again and again. There were a lot of people who had no idea what death was like, but I was never one of them. “Since I started doing this I’ve seen seven kids die. I can list their names, what they had, what they looked like, and the day they left through the back door.” I gave him a hard look, hoping I was getting through to him. The first layer of the shell always the hardest, breaking through to those who’d become jaded and tired years ago, but I was hopeful. “Believe me when I tell you that I know what it’s like.”

“What’s it like?” His mouth was set in an insubordinate line, his eyes daring me to respond.

I took a deep breath, and obliged. “It’s like watching someone slip through your fingers, no matter how hard you hold on. I don’t know what its like to die, Harry, but I know what it’s like to watch someone’s heart stop. And I know that I can’t save you but goddamnit if I don’t try.”

He cocked his head at me, his words low and rough. “It’s like falling.”

“What?” I asked, almost unsure whether or not he’d spoken at all.

“Dying. It’s like falling.” He smiled, though the expression held no joy. “And you can see the bottom and you know you’re going to hit it. Hard.”

My breath caught. “That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the fall.”

He shrugged, sinking back into his pillow. “I suppose so.”

I leaned forward in my chair. “Is there anything you want to talk about?”

He shook his head, not meeting my eyes. “No.”

I stood up, accepting his answer. The worst thing I could do now was press him. We’d actually gotten somewhere this week and I was beginning to feel cautiously optimistic. Harry Styles wasn’t going to be the easiest to crack, but I knew I could do it. “Okay. See you next week, alright?”

“You’re leaving?” He asked, and I thought for a moment that maybe there was a trace of sadness in his voice, though that may have been wishful thinking.

“If you don’t want to talk anymore, I’m not going to bother you.” I smiled at him. “If you think of anything you want to talk about between now and then, you can ask one of the nurses for my number. Call anytime you need me.”

He nodded, not replying. It was only when I got to the doorway that his voice stopped me, clearer and more alert that it had been only a minute ago. “Have a nice night.”

“Have a nice night?” I asked, my voice teasing. “You sound like you’re bagging my groceries.”

He shrugged, his lethargic expression blossoming into a filthy kind of smirk. “Well I was checking you out.”

I slapped a hand to my mouth, unable to stop the giggle that escaped me. “That is completely inappropriate!”

“I’m sure you’ll survive.” His eyes seemed to sparkle and I got the tiniest glimpse of the boy he probably could have been, charming, cheeky, and helplessly adorable. I decided that if it was the last thing I ever did, I’d make him smile like that again. 

I smiled back at him. “Have a nice night, Harry.”

He nodded at me, biting his lip. “Have a nice night, Marina.”

January 27th - Day 11

I was woken up at 2:35 by Liam’s hands shaking my shoulders. I looked up at my flatmate through bleary eyes, barely able register what was happening as he shoved my buzzing phone into my hands. “Stop leaving your goddamn phone in my room.” He said, his words sleepy and annoyed.

“Sorry.” I mumbled, more amused by his irritation than anything. He’d be over it by the morning. I pressed the green call button, holding the speaker to my ear and smiling sleepily as Liam flipped me off, trudging back towards his room. “Hello?”

A voice, soft and low, greeted me. “I woke you, didn’t I?”

“It’s okay.” There was a reason I usually tried to keep my phone on my bedside table. Being a therapist wasn’t exactly a part time job, it was about being there no matter what for the people who needed you, and late night calls were just part of the job description. 

“I’m sorry. But you said-” He paused, and I heard the muffled sound of blankets rustling on the other line. “If I needed to talk…”

I sat up, running a hand through my disheveled hair, pulling up a pillow and setting it against my headboard. “That’s what I’m here for. What do you want to talk about?”

“I kindof just wanted to hear your voice.” 

A fuzzy kind of warmth grew in my chest, a smile curling across my lips. “Well here I am. What do you want to talk about?”

He made a soft noise with his lips that slowly slid into words. “Tell me about yourself.”

I didn’t usually talk about my life with my patients. It wasn’t a rule or anything, but they didn’t often ask and I didn’t tell. But Harry had asked and it was late and I suddenly wanted to tell him, to whisper my secrets through the wire and into his ear. “I was born on June 24th, 1995. I have two brothers and I grew up in America. I moved here to pursue a career in teenage therapy, as there are no programs in America where they'll let an 18 year old speak to other children around their age about pulling through, ya know?”

Harry made a small mhmm into the receiver and I closed my eyes, feeling suddenly that he was with me, or that I was with him, or that the essences of our bodies were intertwined somewhere our bodies could never visit.

“My mother’s name is Samantha. I have a flat mate named Liam, who has a girlfriend named Danielle and gets angry when I leave my clothing around the apartment. Which I do. A lot.”

He snickered. 

“When I was twelve…” I paused, wondering if this was the best idea. I tried not to talk about that morning, when the doctor had come in with a stern expression and talked to my mother in hushed tones and she’d looked at me and just cried. In many ways it had been the most important day of my life, the day that turned me into me. “I was diagnosed with lymphoma.”

I let the words hang in the air for a moment, feeling my voice dry up to a whisper. “They caught it fairly early, but I spent a year heading in and out of the hospital. I lost all my hair. I got down to 98 pounds. But I don’t think I ever thought I was going to die. Even when I was bald and tired I never really gave up. I couldn’t, my body refused even when my mind had. I think maybe some part of me knew I had to hold on.”

“Is that why you do all this?” He asked slowly, and I wished I could see his face, to read the emotion there. 

“I guess so. I just want to help someone. I know I can’t save the world but if I could save someone, if only for a little while, then it would all be worth it.”

I stopped, out of words. He didn’t reply, the soft static of his breathing the only sound in the room. 

“I think maybe you’re saving me, Marina Lucas.” He murmured, and my heart seemed to skip into my throat, his words cocooning me in the darkness like a promise. 

I tried to say something, but my replies died in my throat. I clutched the receiver in my hand, managing a strangled kind of thankyou.

“You haven’t read my file yet, have you?” He asked, his voice conversational, as if he had no idea the effect his words had on me.

“Not yet.” I’d planned to go over it with him next Wednesday when I’d see him again.

“Read it.” I detected a sleepy note to his voice, like he was teetering on the brink of exhaustion. 

“Okay.” I wondered what I’d find in between those thick manilla pages, what secrets he was hiding in the head of his.

“Marina?” 

“Yes?”

“Can you sing?”

I paused, considering the question. I’d sung at a few talent shows in my day, but I didn’t consider myself a singer. “A little.”

“Sing me to sleep.” 

“What song?” I needed something soft, a lullaby to hum over the phone lines.

“Anything you want.” There was a smile in his words, warm and nearly tangible. There was something about him that calmed me, soothed my often frazzled brain and made everything okay.

I took a deep breath, starting to sing in a soft voice, not wanting to wake Liam. I was fairly sure I was off pitch and my voice slid uncomfortably up to the high notes, but I had a feeling Harry didn’t mind and so I didn’t either.

When you try your best but you don’t succeed, when you get what you want, but not what you need.” I let my eyes drift closed, sliding back into the folds of my sheets. “When you feel so tired, but you can’t sleep, stuck in reverse.”

When the tears come streaming down your face, when you lose something you can’t replace, when you love someone but it goes to waste, could it be worse?

I stared up at my ceiling, the notes treading the line between song and whisper. And when I spoke them they weren’t just words but promises. “Lights will guide you home, and ignite your bones, and I will try to fix you.”

I continued the song, the lyrics descending into a soft humming as I lost track of the phrases and was left with nothing but the chorus and my promise. I wasn’t sure how long I lay like that, sending little pieces of myself down the phone line, but when I stopped he didn’t protest.

“Harry?” I asked softly, but there was no response from the other side, just the steady inhale and exhale of his breath. “Have a nice night.”

I thought about hanging up, but in the end I just rolled onto my side, set the phone on my pillow next to me and soaked in the rhythm of his breathing.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

Sleep overtook me.

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