Chemotherapy and Fries

This is not a cancer story.

Cancer has affected the lives of so many but there are some people who think it's impossible that it will ever affect them. When Holly's best friend is diagnosed with it she tries her hardest to help her friend. But all of her work crumbles when her best friend decides that she can't handle it. Cancer victims are always said to be strong and courageous; it's wrong to assume.

But it is a story about cancer.

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1. Office Chairs and Wakes

                   2010

Best friends for life. That’s what she had said. But what does that mean? What does that mean when she’s dead? Dead too soon for them to be best friends forever; there isn’t a forever when one of you is dead. At first she hadn’t believed it. Of course she knew that Eleanor had been diagnosed with cancer and was terminal; a ticking time-bomb Eleanor had said when Holly first saw her after being told. Yet she’d been certain that her best friend would pull through. She’d always pulled through before and what did a few bad cells do to affect that? Everything as it turns out, she thought bitterly. Holly had always thought that somehow Eleanor would live and they’d grow old together just like they’d planned, before the blasted diagnosis. Her best friend hadn’t though, hadn’t even let herself be killed by the cancer. Instead she’d stood upon the office chair she had sat upon when she first whispered to Holly that she was going out with Dean. Stood upon it and tied a noose around her neck. And then she’d jumped and swung, her legs kicking as she took her final breaths.

 

Holly had lost count of how many times she had imagined her best friend swinging, slim legs writhing in disobedient protest still tan from the wish holiday she had just returned home from a few days before. Eyes squeezed tight shut, fists clenched and nails she had always bitten down to stubs pressing into her palms. Neck constricted and being rubbed raw by the tight rope that had slowly choked her life away, a lot quicker than the cancer had. Her older brother had found her, walking into the room holding a letter addressed to Eleanor; her results letter that she had never read. The scream wasn’t something that had come from the twenty-one year old ever before and a scream no one who heard it would forget. People assumed Holly was lucky that she hadn’t been there to witness it. But she didn’t think she was lucky at all. If she had been there she might have heard something and been able to get to her friend before it was too late. She might have been there before Ellie could have even thought of doing it. It didn’t happen like that though and now her best friend was six feet under and she was at the wake, trying to celebrate her friend’s life. Something she would make illegal if she ever became Prime Minister. Why would anyone want to go through the pain of celebrating someone’s life when they wouldn’t be able to live that life any more? You should say goodbye before the person dies. There were even chances to with Eleanor because you knew she was going to die and thus it was inevitable that you’d have to at some point. Holly had never brought herself to do it though; make it an immovable certainty that she would then have to accept.

 

“You alright?” Her head snapped around at the question, asked quietly from behind her. It was a stupid question. How the hell could she be alright when she was attending her friend’s wake? She supposed other people didn’t understand this though. They hadn’t known Ellie as she had. But then she saw who it was and she realised that they weren’t being stupid or uncaring; they were trying to make normality somewhere no normality belonged. It was Dean, Eleanor’s boyfriend who had loved Ellie irrevocably, Eleanor’s boyfriend who had also become Holly’s friend.

“No. But then I’m not supposed to be alright.” The bluntness of her words was unnecessary but Holly was tired of people asking her how she was handling it. Even though she knew Dean hadn’t mean it like that. She sighed, turning around to face him properly. “Sorry. But everyone keeps asking how I’m holding up and I have to be polite and all I want to do is punch them and ask them who they would be holding up if there best friend, who had cancer, had just killed herself.” They rushed out, the words melting together as she was finally able to say what she’d wanted to say to someone all day. Dean nodded and Holly knew that he was being sincere and that he understood perfectly. After all he was going through the exact same thing, even if it was on a lesser level. Not everyone believed that two teenagers could love each other as much as Holly knew Eleanor and Dean did, had.

“I want to get out of here but I feel that that would be disrespectful to her family.” He titled his head to Eleanor’s parents, Mr and Mrs King, who were seated near the picture of Eleanor that had been blown up and framed by someone for this occasion. Her two brothers, Anthony and Lewis, circled the room, accepting people’s condolences with terse but polite nods.

“I bet they want to get out as much as we do.” More so, she added in her head.

“I bet. Maybe we could sneak out?” Dean suggested, eyes looking everywhere but at the picture of his dead girlfriend. It was then Holly registered it as one he had taken, two months before the fatal diagnosis. It was in the local park; Eleanor was sitting on one of the swings laughing at something out of the frame. Laughing at Holly who was on the neighbouring swing, telling them about something she couldn’t now bring to mind. Dean had just gotten the camera, courtesy of an early birthday present from his grandma, and was testing it out. After had had taken the shot Eleanor had realised what he was doing and leapt off the swing, racing towards him. Dean had taken off though, not wanting to get his precious camera hurt by his girlfriend’s oncoming tackle. Clearly, despite her efforts, the picture had never been deleted. Holly was grateful. It was one of the last pictures taken of her before the illness sprung and took away the liveliness that always danced in her eyes. Of course there were other nice pictures, during the illness, but all of them had Eleanor’s shaved head and tired eyes features. Two things she would never want the attendants of the wake to see.

“Yeah, if we want our parents to kill us.” Holly diverted away from the picture, returning her gaze to the tall boy in front of her. “It’ll be over soon, hopefully.”

 

It wasn’t. For another three hours Holly and Dean sat at a table near the side, trying to avoid everyone else. Yet the mourners always seemed to find them and give them their condolences, trying to speak of happy memories that Holly didn’t have the heart to recall. She didn’t want to. Before it could end they got up though and walked to where all of the Kings were now sat and joined them, the family opened readily to accept them. It seemed that they also knew that the two understood their grief, a lot more than anyone else attending anyway. They sat in silence for a while before Mrs King suddenly started to cry and Mr King tried to put his arm around her, only to have it pushed away.

“I’m sorry. But I wanted to say thank you to you two.” Holly moved her eyes up from her lap, slightly shocked and confused. “You did so much for her... more than I could have done. You made her happy and I just wanted to say thank you. To both of you. I know you both loved her, even if no one else does.” And she gave a smile to Dean and Holly before burying herself in her husband’s arms, shoulders shaking slightly. Dean and Holly looked at each other and it was obvious to Holly that Dean hadn’t expected that either. She knew that Mrs King was grateful that neither of them had abandoned Ellie when she was diagnosed – she also knew that it would have been impossible for either of them to abandon her; neither of them wanted to – but she hadn’t known just how grateful.

“You made her happy too.” Dean spoke gently, trying to console the broken woman. “You all did.” His eyes swept the rest of the King family before he pushed his chair back and stood. “I guess you want to be left alone.” A pointed look at Holly made her stand up swiftly as well and she opened her mouth to say something to them, as Dean had, but found that nothing came. None of them seemed to expect her to say anything though and Anthony and Lewis stood too, coming round the table. Lewis shook Dean’s hand and Anthony pulled Holly into a hug, his eyes a tiny bit wet. Holly returned the hug, arms not quite wrapping completely around his back like his did around hers, but still pressing into him tightly. Then Anthony shook Dean’s hand and Lewis hugged Holly, somehow managing to squeeze her even tighter than his brother had.

“Thank you.” He whispered as he took his arms from her, stepping back and smiling weakly.

“She loved you, you know.” Again she blurted the words out, looking from the boys to Ellie’s parents as she did before turning and walking quickly to the ladies toilets.

 

Inside she rushed to a cubicle and locked it, falling onto the closed toilet seat and bringing her knees up to her chest. The girl figured that no one else had told them and that, right then, it was something they all needed to her. Yeah, but was it the right thing to say? At her wake for crying out loud. Goddamit Holly. Other thoughts congested in her head and she pressed her forehead to her knees, the material of her tights easily soaking up the tears that seemed to have been falling in a steady stream down her face since she turned away from the table. This was the first time she’d cried since Eleanor died. That had been three weeks ago. For some reason, no matter how guilty it made her feel, she hadn’t been able to cry. Now though the tears came readily, most likely smudging her mascara, along with the thoughts of what the King family must all think of her now. Sniffing she wiped her nose and tried to stem the tears, choking slightly as she battled with the salty water. Eventually she stopped and set her feet back down on the floor, black pumps scuffing the tiles. Holly soothed out her dress and stood, bracing herself by pressing her palms flat against the cubicle door. A few deep breaths later she opened the door and stepped out into the main toilets, checking to see if anyone else had come in before walking to the sink and attempting to amend her ruined make-up. She had no idea how long she’d been in there but it had only felt like a few mere minutes. You still can’t cry properly for her. Was all she could think as she used scrunched up toilet paper, dampened, to wipe away the clear smudges of mascara that now littered her cheeks.

 

Holly paused when she heard movement outside the door but no one came in so she continued, only finishing when there was no longer any trace of mascara. You still can’t cry properly for her. The thought came again and she pushed it down, reaching up to tug her hair down from the loose ponytail she had thrown it into. Eleanor always said she looked better with her hair down, framing her face. Any one else might have taken it to mean that she didn’t look nice with it up but Holly knew her friend was only being kind and allowing herself to feel as if she was pretty when, some of the time, she thought of herself as someone lacking beauty. Her brown waves had been flattened slightly by the ponytail and she ran a hand through her hair, trying to give it volume that didn’t come. “Useless,” she muttered, now flicking her hair forward, all the way over her head, and then back in another attempt and volumising it. This time there was some success and she quickly rearranged the parting, knowing she couldn’t add any more volume to it then the flick had, and flashing herself a smile in the mirror. Its aim was to make her more confident but it didn’t work because she could see straight through the smile to the scowl that had been resting on her face since her mother woke her up this morning. Except she had to hide that from everyone else, by either keeping a blank face or smiling. Except smiling at a wake wasn’t a fun thing to do. Attending a wake wasn’t a fun thing to do either. You still can’t cry properly for her. No. Shut up shut up, shut up. Holly shut her eyes and walked towards the door, opening them when she walked through it and right into Dean.

“You know I don’t remember you being someone who waited outside the ladies toilets.” She said dryly as she moved to walk around him.

“I don’t remember you being someone who cried.” He shot back, stepping to the side to stop her from passing. Holly sighed and looked up at him, raising her eyebrows.

“What? What do you want?”

“I want to know why you ran off crying.” Dean replied evenly, blocking her passing again as she made another attempt to dart around him.

“I don’t know... maybe because my best friend just died?” Liar. You still can’t cry properly for her and now you’re lying about it to Dean.

“You don’t cry Holly. I know you and you don’t cry.”

“People change.”

“Yeah, they do. But Ellie didn’t, not when she was diagnosed, not when she started chemo – not once did she change. And she especially never said anything about wanting to kill herself. So why did she do it?” Holly looked away. She didn’t know. She wanted to ask him why she had done it. Maybe he knew. But clearly he didn’t if he was coming to her for answers. And Holly couldn’t give them to him. She had no idea why Eleanor had done it. Had no idea she had even wanted to do it. Let alone be sad or depressed, or whatever you had to be, enough to do it. There’d been no clues until she actually hung herself. And then it was too late to ask why.

“I don’t know,” she whispered, shaking her head. “I want to know but I don’t and I can’t ask anyone because I can’t think of anyone else besides me or you who she would have talked to about... it. I don’t know why she didn’t talk to me. I was her best friend and she didn’t want to talk to me about it. I don’t know why she did it Dean, I just don’t know.” Somewhere she was feeling thankful that the conversation had moved away from her; however the direction it had taken now wasn’t one she was interested in discussing either. Especially with the only other person she knew shared, some of, her emotions.

“I guess she didn’t want us to know.” He said after a while, not looking at her either.

“I guess.” The brunette mumbled before walking past him and, this time, he didn't try to stop her.

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