The Lives we Live

Entry for the Young Movellist of the Year competition.
Who are we? What comes after us, the human race? And how do you put a value on a single, human life?
And so begin the wonderings of childish, fourteen-year-old Cassie Clarke, who, when she learns that her best friend Mika is dying, attempts to help him achieve 'eternal happiness.'
In pursuit of happiness, she discovers things that shouldn't be possible, the identity of her father, how to let go, and that joy isn't obtained through bucket lists and grand plans.
In fact, happiness is found in the simpler, more unexpected places in life.

[Does contain some adult language.]

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2. 58 Days

 

It started with a headache. A tiny little ache. In maths, I believe. I thought he was just angry with me for bugging him so I left it alone.

 

It’s odd.

 

Mika doesn’t get ill. Like seriously, apart from the odd cold, it doesn’t really happen. So when he kept getting headaches, which slowly turned to migraines, and to the point where it hurt to move his head at all, I didn’t say anything. Because he didn’t. Usually if he wants to tell me something, he will. He won’t hang around. That’s how we work, me and Mika. We keep out of each other’s personal lives and everything goes a lot smoother.

 

He didn’t tell his mum. So I didn’t. I didn’t even ask him.

 

Why?

 

Why didn’t I?

 

It’s so dumb. I could’ve prevented this.

 

And now my friend is dying.

 

There’s nothing I can do.

 

Mika’s mum dropped me off, and I hugged Mika goodbye. Mum made me hot chocolate and ordered Chinese Takeaway for dinner. She even let me stay up late and watch extra repeats of doctor who.

 

And no matter how many times she or Bailey hugged me; I still went to bed feeling numb.

 

And sick.

 

Sleeping was a nightmare. Literally. I dreamt I grew wings and learnt to fly. Mika grew wings, but there was something wrong with his – they were all burnt, and scratched, and withered. And either he was too determined to join me, or didn’t hear me scream, because he tried to fly, and he couldn’t. And I had to watch him fall.

 

There was nothing I could do.

 

I wake up screaming. I’m sweating like a pig so I climb out from underneath from my duvet and grab my phone, which, I shamefully admit, lies next to my bed like every other generic teenage girl. I text Mika.

 

After a few seconds of worry I realise it’s two in the morning and he’s unlikely to reply because he’ll be asleep.

 

I almost want to laugh at my inner anxieties.

 

But, almost ten minutes later, just after I’ve managed to calm down and relax, my phone buzzes quietly. I clumsily fumble around, trying to find it in the dark. My hand closes around it and I open the new message. I recall my own frenzied message. I’ve texted him ‘Don’t try flying anytime soon, okay?’

 

Surprisingly, his reply doesn’t question my sanity, but merely agrees he shouldn’t try flying, and questions my sleeping habits. I text him back telling him sleep isn’t very easy after today, and he replies one last time, recommending that, as it is Monday tomorrow, and the government insist we go to the wreck that is our school, I could at least try to close my eyes.

 

The more he tries to make my life normal, the worse I feel, because now I know.

 

He has a month, maybe two, at best, and then he’s gone. Forever.

 

---

59 Days

 

“So, I’m guessing you slept well?” Bleary-eyed, aching, and generally moody, I turn to my best-friend and give him the nicest possible smile I can.

 

He mock-flinches, then laughs. “What a shame, my best friend turned into a zombie.”

 

I yawn, and wait for him to take a seat next me before slouching onto him. “Just you wait! I could eat you at any moment.”

 

“Yes, I can totally see you starting an apocalypse in this condition.”

 

We sit for a while, until our form tutor dismisses us and we part ways for classes. I try all of my usual stunts to avoid crowds, the ever-present danger of being squished to death by pimply adolescents, and the general fear of every teenager that uses less than one percent of their brain, which, by the way, happens to be a lot of them. Seriously, if you knew how many kids at my school seemed to have an absence of clear thought and common sense, you’d be terrified.

 

A voice rouses me from my thoughts.

 

“Hey Bitch!”

 

I don’t stop because even though I know, I have this feeling that whoever it is, is talking to me, I don’t want to be caught up in something.

 

“Don’t walk away from me, Bitch!”

 

I can’t take anymore of it, so I turn around quickly. Maybe too quickly. I need to remember that I’m still at school, and any teenager that displays emotion, even enthusiasm, is mocked for all eternity. I find the owner of the voice to be a short, fair-haired girl.

 

Ah, of course. Courtney. The Barbie that turned hipster.

Seriously, it really wouldn’t surprise me if she came in wearing a t-shirt that read ‘I LOVE HIPSTERS!’

 

“Hello, Courtney.” I try to seem as friendly as possible. I practiced it with Mika a billion times. He says I have an attitude problem, and even if she’s a bully and a prat, I need to be nicer to her. At least then, ‘I would make friends.’ I think part of me and Mika’s friendship is our mutual dislike of each other’s faults. It sounds like a terrible idea, but nobody’s perfect, and we seem to be doing pretty well, so maybe our ‘hate-each-other’s-traits’ plan works well. Or, maybe it’s just our friendship that works in general.

 

Then I remember that in a month or so, that’s all going to be all over. I’m going to have to let go. And that right now, I have to concentrate on the hipster Barbie in front of me.

 

She walks up to me, followed by several of her minions, and stands in front of me like I’m the most annoying thing in the world. Which I am, probably, since her world is tiny, considering it revolves around her.

 

“You!” She points a perfectly manicured finger at me.

 

“Me?” I pose, pouting like my life depended on it.

 

Infuriated, the pinkie-red demon in front of me squeals in frustration.

 

I laugh, and then smile at her. “No, seriously, what have I done?”

 

She stares at me for a moment, before making a frighteningly realistic impersonation of an alligator. Seriously, her smile stretched so wide I had to resist the urge to make a batman-joker reference, probably something along the lines of, ‘And now, I’m going to make this pencil . . . disappear!’

 

“You ruined a perfectly cute boy. He was third on my list of dateables, shame on you!” Her minions begin to laugh at me, but stop when I can’t contain my own giggles.

 

“What?” She squeaks.

 

But I can’t stop. This is hilarious!

 

“What!” She squeaks even louder.

 

I stop laughing, partly to catch my breath, and partly because I owe the squeaking pink hamster in front of me an explanation.

 

“Okay, Okay, I’m sorry. Firstly, I haven’t ruined anyone, and I have no idea what you’re talking about!”

 

She exhales loudly and the minions copy her.

 

“We’re talking about Mika, you idiot.”

 

I stop smiling.

 

“Oh, well, me and Mika aren’t going out. But, secondly, what are ‘Dateables?’ They sound like mutated vegetables.”

 

“The dateables are boys I’d totally date. I mean, I won’t, because I have a boyfriend, but it’s always good to have a plan B.”

 

I find myself loathing the shell, the remains, what’s left of this girl. There could’ve been a person in that head once! Not some brat with a fake-American accent.

 

I sigh. “Okay, no, sorry, there’s a list of ‘dateables’ in the school?”

 

“Yes,” she fiddles with her hair, “I created it.”

 

It takes every ounce of strength not to puke all over this superficial girl. I thought I was generic, but no, she’s just making her stereotype proud! She sighs dramatically before gesturing at me to continue.

 

“Well, thirdly, I’m going to be completely honest here . . .”

 

Now she looks vaguely interested.

 

“Yes?”

 

I look her straight in the eyes, before speaking the truth.

 

“You look like a pink hamster when you’re angry.”

 

It takes a full second for what I’m saying to register.

 

Her voice is dangerously low. “Was that an insult?”

 

I bite my lip. You see what I mean? Less than one percent of the brain being used here, definitely.

 

“I don’t know if I should tell you. Maybe use that thing they call a brain to work it out.”

 

And then, spotting a teacher at the end of the corridor, I turn and flee at breakneck speed to languages block. Internally, my thoughts are continual streams of OhmygodOhmyOhmygod and IjustdidthatIjustdidthatIjustdidthat.

 

I’d never been so reckless, or brutally honest! Yes, it felt good, but I felt overheated and also, reckless in a bad way. As in, I know I’m going to regret doing that later.

 

But still, I just told Barbie (a very mild version) of what I think of her.

 

And it feels brilliant.

 

---

Although I came in late, the teacher seemed fairly unbothered. The rest of the lesson was uneventful. I spent most of the hour remembering how to order chips in a French restaurant (a most useful skill). As soon as the bell rang for lunch, I grabbed my bag, ran for the door, burst into the corridor, only to meet none other, than Mika.

 

“Oh, Mika, thank god! Guess what I-”

 

“I didn’t think you were that dumb.”

 

I faltered. “What?”

 

He grabbed my hand and dragged me down the corridor. When we finally reached a slightly less crowded, noisy place, he spun me round to face him.

 

“How could you be so dumb?”

 

“W-What?”

 

“Oh, don’t pretend you don’t know!”

 

I look at him, confused.

 

“It’s all around the school! You started a bloody catfight with Courtney!”

 

I smiled sheepishly but he didn’t laugh.

 

“Look,” he rubs his eyes, trying to look more adult and mature by pretending to be tired with me, “I know you don’t like her. I get that. Neither do I. She’s a freaky, Barbie-doll stalker, and yes, she’s very ‘bitchy,’ but making enemies at this school is a very, very dumb thing to do.”

 

“That’s really cliché, Mika.”

 

He sighed. “I know it is. But please,” he leaned in and spoke quietly, “We both know I’m not going to be around for ages. I shouldn’t even be at school. I’m only bothering because of you. I shouldn’t have though, because if all you’re going to do is go ruin things for yourself, I don’t want to be around to watch or deal with that.”

 

I’m filled with a silent anger.

 

“Oh, I’ve ruined it? How so? Because I can’t make friends? Because I’m ‘antisocial?’”

 

“No,” He sighed, “It’s not that, Cassie. It’s just . . . we both know you’re . . . y’know . . .”

 

I have no intentions of holding back.

 

“A nerd? A geek? A freak? So what? That’s never bothered you before! What the HELL is your problem?”

 

He puts his finger to his lips, trying to quieten me.

 

“Please, Cassie, people are staring!”

 

I look around. Strangers throw us passing glances.

 

“So what?”

 

“Well, I don’t want you to embarrass yourself, or me.”

 

“Oh really? Is that it? Wow, great friend.”

 

“Well, I’m just being honest. We both know you’re not great at making new friends, and this-”

 

“How DARE you! If you weren’t my best friend, and you weren’t DYING, I would be so angry at you right now!”

 

I make sure to shout the words dare and dying, partly for effect, and partly because more people heard.

 

“Shhh!” He tried to get me to shut up, but I did him a favour and walked off before we did anything else. I had hoped I’d just leave it and it would get better. That would make me a lot happier. Maybe we’d both cool off and then like each other again soon, though truthfully, I was terrified I’d messed it up. I can’t be angry at him, he is dying, and he’s been my friend for seven years. He’s the most feminine guy I’ve ever met, he’s my best friend, and I think I might be a little bit in love with him. In that best-friend-way.

 

I know I’m losing my best friend to a brain tumour. If it was a person, or something in a physical form, I would hurt it so badly it would leave us alone forever.
 

But this is something I can’t deal with, or hurt, or beat, or defeat.

 

It’s inside him and there’s nothing I or he or anyone can do.

 

 It’s killing me to watch it killing him.

 

---

58 Days

 

After our argument, I didn’t speak to Mika. We walk to and from school together; every day, always have done, since we were seven. And honestly, walking home yesterday, alone, was worse than the argument itself, because I was walking all on my own, so I was silent, so I didn’t have anyone to speak to, so that left me a lot of time for thinking, so all I could think about for forty-five minutes was Mika.

 

That frigging boy just wont get out my frigging head and it’s frigging annoying, and I’m not sure how many more times I can fit the word ‘frigging’ into a sentence. At least I don’t actually swear. I’ve heard a whole lot worse at school, or when Bailey stubs his toe.

 

Bailey actually made me tea when I got home. It was nice. Really creamy (plenty of milk and sugar) and warm. I told him all about Mika, and he agreed that Courtney was a horrible person, and Mika was being an idiot, and that Mika would come around.

 

I told him that he better because he’s only got 58 days to do it, and Bailey just smiled, and made us some instant noodles. Yes, they’re not healthy, but they’re quick, and quite tasty. Then we found mum’s secret biscuit stash, took it up to my room, and played Twister, even though Bailey is bigger than me, so it’s unfair.

 

Bailey’s alright for a brother. Well, a half-one anyway. We’ve got different dads, neither of which stuck around for very long, so we know it’s important to stick together. Mum had Bailey when she was younger, and Bailey’s nineteen now. He’s a whole five year’s older than me, and I still win at twister.

 

So sometimes, being little isn’t so bad.

 

After five games of Twister, me and Bailey tidied everything away, and he went out to see Jessica. That’s his girlfriend. She’s nice, but I don’t really know her. From what I here though, she’s very pretty, and she wants to be a vet.

 

Sound’s like every little sister’s dream, doesn’t she?

 

I sat on my bed and read Grimm’s fairytales while Bailey was gone. Mum came in some time later, and made tea, and after dinner we had the usual evening ritual of washing-up, pyjamas, and doctor who repeats until bed.

 

I was dreading going to bed.

 

I would have nightmares.

 

Nightmares of Mika. Except now I can’t text him and make myself feel better.

 

But my sleep was not filled with images of my friend’s death, but in fact, that of a girl’s. And it took me all of the morning after to figure out who she was.

 

Her name was Fiona, and she was seven years old. The only reason I knew her, was because she was running across our school field to meet her brother, who was in my year, when she crossed the main road, got hit by a car, and died instantly.

 

I remember it on the news, the road safety awareness people, talking in our assemblies, and her brother Kris, who stopped coming to school.

    

And I dreamt I was running behind her, screaming, pulling her out of the road. But as I gripped her arms, and yanked her away from her collision course with the car, I felt something come free, like pulling stuffing from a cushion. Her empty body slammed onto the road, and people came screaming, running, and crowding around her, whilst I was shouting, ‘Look, here she is, she’s safe, she’s fine!’

 

But no one could hear me, and no one cared. I had the little girl in my arms, looking fine, and yet, there was also a dead little girl on the tarmac.

 

There were two little girls, but no one could see the one that I was holding.

 

 Then the little girl opened her mouth and started beeping, and I realised it was my alarm going off.

 

I woke up feeling shaken, but not scared. I got ready for school, said bye to mum and nudged the hung-over Bailey (who had passed out on the couch) as I left.

 

And the walk to school wasn’t too bad, because instead of thinking about Mika constantly, I had the little girl on my mind. Yes, it was very upsetting, but I hadn’t known the little girl. Like I said, and will keep saying – you don’t think twice about death, until something terrible happens to you, and you’re affected by it. But it was her eyes – the dead girl’s eyes were empty, but the “alive girl,” in my arms, had eyes that were very much alive, and were practically sparkling with energy. And I don’t know why, six months after her death, my brain had brought her up in my dream. Subconsciously or not, it was weird. Freaky.

 

And I was thinking so much about the little girl, I didn’t notice Mika. I walked straight into him, looked up, and then had to awkwardly look down, step away, and nod to him politely, before walking off.

 

“I’m not going to apologise.” He calls after me quietly.

 

“Why?” I call back to him. I don’t even sound angry. I’m being so sincere right now.
 

“Because I haven’t done anything wrong.”

 

I nod, biting my lip. I turn my back to him and carry on walking.

 

“Fifty-eight days, Mika. It’s not a very long time to make a choice, so make sure you make the right one.”

 

I carry on walking. Yes, today will be lonely, but that’s okay. Solitude is worth it. Just to make sure that Mika knows he’s crossed a line.

 

I’m sure he can go and make some new friends, being talented at music, having nice eyes, teeth, and hair, and generally being friendly. What I really mean is I’m sure he can make popular friends. With better hair, teeth, and eyes. Funny male friends. Pretty female friends. Friends who aren’t me.

 

I’m sure he’ll be fine. I know that I won’t.

 

Because deep down, conflicting against every reason I’m arguing with him, avoiding him, doing this, is a small bit of me that agrees with him. I do have an ‘attitude problem’ and I’m grumpy, cynical, and sarcastic at times. I’d like to think I’m funny, witty, and bubbly to make up for it, though. I agree with him because I know I’m terrible at making friends. I’m great at losing them though.

 

But I’ve never lost Mika before. Friends come and go. Mika doesn’t. And we’ve bickered, yes, but never argued, not properly. And now I’ve lost him and I don’t want to swallow my pride to get him back.

 

I grit my teeth and sit separately from him in form. Thank god, I don’t have any classes with him. I guess that’s why we spend so much time together outside of school.

 

The day passes slowly, and much of my lunchtime is spent hiding in a corner in the school library, drawing scenes from Grimm’s Fairytales. At the end of the day, I almost make it out of the main building, but then I see Courtney, re-styling her hair, with a load of her minions. I think there are two more than last time. What, do they hang around long enough to clone themselves? I turn the other way, walking swiftly. I shouldn’t have stayed that long after English, talking to my teacher about the bloody homework.

 

Okay, it’s fine, I’ve found the other exit out of the main building, it’s fine, you’re fine, and you’re safe-

 

A dull thud. It takes a second for the pain to bleed through, and then my vision goes white for a second, my head reeling, spinning, and aching. When my vision comes back to me, I lean on the wall, and turn around.

 

Courtney’s there, with one of her followers holding . . . a metal flask? My head connects the dots and I realise that the painful bump on the side of my head didn’t come from nowhere.

 

I open my mouth to say something but she lifts her finger to her lips, smiles, and then gestures to her followers. They knock my over, and the floor rushes up to meet me. I feel them kick me in the side a few times, before grabbing my arms and legs, pulling me sideways, as if not quite sure where they’re taking me, before moving me forward. I count their steps, ignoring the burn of their finger’s rubbing against my wrists and ankles. I also can’t see where I’m going. If I try to look up, they shove my head down. We’ve been going for two minutes but it feels like hours. I experiment – I try to struggle, and one of them brings the flask down, full force, onto my gut. I resist the urge to vomit all over myself. I want to curl up in a ball but my muscles feel raw, and everything is hurting.

 

I close my eyes. Don’t scream, don’t struggle, it’s going to be fine.

 

It’s going to be fine.

 

It’s going to be fine.

 

It’s going to be fine.

 

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