Home > Eastern Lights (Compass #2)

Eastern Lights (Compass #2)
Author: Brittainy C. Cherry






Ten years ago

Seventeen years old



Every grand story began with a once upon a time. It didn’t even have to be a grand story. The mediocre ones began the same way, too. At least that was how mine began.

Once upon a time, a young boy was scared shitless about losing the person he cared about most.

I once had a teacher who taught me that there are two things in life a person can never prepare for, no matter how hard they try. Those two things are love and death.

I’d never been in a romantic type of love, but I knew the love between a kid and his parent. It was due to that love that I’d experienced the fear of death. It seemed as if for the past few years, I’d been swimming in a pool of sorrow that’d appeared out of nowhere. I wasn’t prepared for it at all. The past few years of my life, my search engine was filled with thoughts no kid should ever have to consider.

What happens if your only parent passes away?

What is the likelihood of a person surviving stage three cancer?

How much money do you need to make to pay for experimental treatment?

Why don’t all people get the same treatment for cancer?

Not to mention the number of jobs I tried to apply for to help my mom with the bills. I even started up a few of my own companies just to help make ends meet. Mom hated that I worked so much. I hated that she had cancer. We’d call that an even deal of hatred.

I put on a brave face for the rest of the world, being the charmer I’d always been. Everyone in my small town knew if they needed a decent laugh, a good friend, or a great worker, they could come to me. I took pride in being the hardworking class clown of sorts. Hell, I needed it, because if I wasn’t being goofy or a workaholic, I was overthinking. And if I overthought, I’d drown.

I never revealed my pain to anyone. I figured if they knew how bad I hurt, they’d worry about me. I didn’t need anyone worrying about me at all—especially my mother. She had enough on her plate as it was, and the last thing she needed was to be concerned about me being concerned about her. Still, that didn’t keep her from worrying about me. That’s what mothers do when it comes to their children, I supposed. They worry.

Our relationship was a forever loop of us checking in on one another. Mom was my partner in crime in that way—we worried about each other’s worries. Wash, rinse, repeat.

“You can come in with me,” Mom said as we waited in the lobby of the doctor’s office. “You’ve been with me through every step of this, both times, so I want you in the office with me, no matter what.”

I swallowed hard and nodded my head. Even if I didn’t want to go in, I’d never leave her alone.

I hated how the waiting area smelled, like mothballs and peppermint patty candies. Years back when Mom was first diagnosed with cancer, I’d stuff my pockets with those candies when I came with her to the doctor’s office. Now, just the smell of them made me want to heave.

We were waiting to see Dr. Bern to get the results of Mom’s last round of testing to see if the chemotherapy had worked, or if the cancer had spread throughout her body. Needless to say, my stress level was through the roof.

“Mrs. Roe? You can come back now,” a nurse said, smiling toward us. Even though my mom had divorced my lowlife father years before, she’d held on to his last name. I’d told her to change it, but she told me she had received the best thing from having that last name—me. Plus, she loved how we were still tied together with our last names matching.

Mom was a softy like that.

As we walked into the office, I hated how familiar everything felt to me. No one should ever have to become familiar with a doctor’s office. I hated how I’d sat in that waiting room when I was ten, eleven, and twelve. I hated how I was forced to do the same thing again when I was fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen.

I called ages thirteen and fourteen the wonder years, when my happy was really happy and my sad hardly visited me at night. All I wanted for my future, for Mom’s future, was more wonder years.

I hated the nerves that built up within me from the memories that led us to that office. I hated everything about that building, from the crappy chairs to the harsh lighting. The carpet had stains that had probably been put there in the nineties, and there was a good chance Dr. Bern was over two hundred years old. Dude didn’t look a day over one hundred, though. I had to give him props for that.

Mom never complained about it, though. She never complained about anything really. She was just thankful she had a doctor who looked out for her, even when the insurance companies didn’t. I wondered what it was like for rich people. Did their hospital waiting rooms have cappuccino machines? Were there mini fridges with chilled drinks? Did they get asked for their insurance card before they received treatment?

Did the receptionist look them up and down when they learned they were on government assistance?

Did the cancer leave their bodies faster than it left the bodies of the poor?

How different would Mom’s life have been if we came from money?

We sat down.

I felt nauseous.

“Think positive thoughts,” Mom said, squeezing my kneecap, as if she knew I was slipping into my place of doubt and anger. I didn’t know how she did that. I didn’t know how she knew when my mind was floating away from me, but she always had known. A mother’s gift, I guessed.

“I’m good. Are you good?” I asked.

“I’m good.”

The thing about my mother—even if she wasn’t good, she’d lie and say she was, because she didn’t want to put any stress on me. I never understood that. There that woman was, going through her second round of cancer, and she was still more worried about my well-being than her own.

I supposed moms are kind of like that—superwomen even when they are the ones in need of being saved.

The clock ticked abusively loudly as we waited for Dr. Bern to join us in his office. My fingernails couldn’t have been any shorter with the way I was chewing at them, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t focus on a damn thing until I knew the results of Mom’s labs.

“Are you getting excited for your birthday carnival?” Mom asked, nudging me in the arm. She was talking about my eighteenth birthday festival that was going to be over the top and ridiculous, but truthfully? No, I wasn’t excited. I wouldn’t be until those results came back, until I knew she was going to be okay.

Anyway, I lied. I pushed out a smile, because I knew she needed it. “Yup, so excited. It’s going to be amazing. Everyone in town is coming. I even think I convinced Jax to stop by.”

Jax was my boss, and I was his pain in the ass, also known as his bestie. Most people in town didn’t understand the grumpy dude, but I did. He’d been dealt a shitty hand in life, but he had a better heart.

The thing about Jax was he didn’t exactly know we were besties, because he was a bit slow on the arrival of truths, but he’d come around to the idea. I was like a fantastic fungus—I grew on people.

“Of course he’ll come. He loves you,” Mom agreed, because even through Jax’s annoyed expression around me, she saw how much he liked me.

That, or we were both insanely in denial.

Dr. Bern came into the room, and I tried my best to assess his thoughts based on how he moved. Was he coming to deliver bad news or good? Was there a heaviness that sat on his chest or not? Was he going to be the devil or an angel that afternoon?

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