Nocturnal (The Noctalis Chronicles #1) by Chelsea M. Cameron
My parents take me out to dinner the night they tell me my mother is going to die. I should have suspected something was up when they said we were going to Bolero. That should have been a red flag, with glitter and flashing neon lights on it. Bolero wasn't the kind of place we'd go if there wasn't a reason or a special occasion.
“We have something to tell you,” Mom says, using the same words parents use when they tell you you're going to have a sibling, or your grandmother has died or you're not going to get to go to Disney World after all. Any one of those things would be better than this.
I poke at my asparagus with hollandaise while my parents hold hands and try to tell me things are going to be fine, when really the world is falling apart. My fork scrapes against the china of the plate and the sound makes my teeth hurt.
I look up to make sure the restaurant hasn't collapsed around us. Destroyed in some apocalyptic earthquake. Instead, there are tables of people smiling and laughing, clinking wine glasses and trying not to spill anything on the white tablecloths. Two tables away, a teenage boy steals a kiss from a giggling girl. They can't be more than fourteen. I watch her hand knock against a glass and he catches it before it tips over. I wish I was her. I wish I was anyone else.
“We're going to take things one day at a time. Treasure each moment.” My mother is full of quotes that she dispenses like a pharmacist hands out pills. A penny saved is a penny earned, knowledge talks; wisdom listens, better to light a candle than curse in the darkness. She has one for every situation, even this one.
“It is always darkest before the dawn,” she says.
She reaches across the table for my hand, giving it a squeeze. I try to smile, but can't make my face muscles care enough to try. I look down again at my plate of food, wanting to throw it across the room. I want to cry, to scream, to toss the table over and destroy the entire place. Set it on fire and watch it burn. I will never be able to eat here again, that's for sure.
“We don't have an exact time table, but it looks like it's going to be about six months. So, we have plenty of time for hiking and camping, and I'll get to see my tulips bloom one more time.” She winks at Dad. I want to scream at her.
“But what about –" My father puts his hand on my shoulder to stop me. I resist the urge to glare at him. That's the way he is. Don't get upset. Don't show your weakness. Must be strong for her. We can't show our cracks for fear that she'll be the one who breaks. It's such a load of crap. He and I don't mesh. Mom is the cream in the middle of the Double Stuff Oreo that is our family.
“We've tried all we can, Ava. At this point, anything else would do more harm than good. The best thing to do now is to enjoy our time and not regret what we can't fix.” I clamp my lips down on all the vitriol I want to spit at him. He smiles at her and she beams back at him, as if it's their wedding anniversary. He brushes some of the hair from her wig behind her ear. It's a shade redder than her real hair, which is a deep brown.
“We thought we'd have this one night out as a family and then we can sit down and plan out what we'd like to do.” Like we'd won the lottery and had all this free time.
“I don't care.” I use my fork to attack a piece of ravioli. God, I'm never going to eat ravioli again without thinking of this. My stomach churns as I sweat, droplets running down my back. Shock, I think distantly.
“I'll be right back.” My ballet flats slip quickly over the thick carpet of the floor. None of the other diners look up at me. They're too absorbed in each other and food and candlelight to notice me. As soon as I'm out of sight of their table, I run to the bathroom.
The ravioli burns as it comes back up my throat. Why did they let me eat and then tell me?
Thankfully, the bathroom is empty. I wish I'd brought a toothbrush, or some gum. My face is ugly pale in the dim light. I've worn my curly black hair twisted back, which is good, since it doesn't fall in my face when I'm puking. I wash my hands and try to get my body to stop shaking. My green dress has water spots on it, and I use a paper towel to try and dry them.
My mother is going to die. And there's nothing I can do about it.
Wobbling, I make my way back to the table. I see them before they see me and I pause for a second to watch. Mom leans into Dad, her fingers twist around his, their wedding rings glint in the candlelight. He says something in her ear and she covers a laugh with her hand. It makes me want to throw up again, but I force myself back to the table.
“Are you okay, Ava-Claire?” She's the only one who calls me that. The first was a name she'd picked out of a baby book the week before I was born. The other was her own, and my grandmother's.
“I'm fine.” My voice is barely a whisper, my throat and heart sore. When I finally look up again, I see the things I always try not to. The wig she wears to cover her naked scalp. The veins on her hands and arms ruined from so many IV's. Her yellowish pale skin. The swelling of her delicate cheeks. The weight she'd lost on her willowy frame.
I see her now. Her broken body that has been through far too much. The chemicals they'd poured through her veins that were supposed to destroy, but they couldn't destroy the cancer. Couldn't accomplish the one thing they were supposed to do. I fiddle with my water glass, sliding it over the tablecloth. It leaves a water ring.
I don't cry. My tears had been wrung out of me when she'd first gotten sick. I'd stopped drinking so much water, in an attempt to stop producing them.
“Ava? Are you okay?”
No. I'm not.