Okay, today is it. I am totally going to tell her today. We’ve been going out for a year. I’ve got to stop being such a pussy about this, and just tell her. But I won’t tell her. I won’t use words. I’ll just let it happen. We’ll do our homework. Then, we’ll be talking, and then I’ll have to go soon, so we’ll kiss. And then there will be some touching and I’ll let it happen.
By the time I get to her building I’m totally sweating. Cool down! What if she laughs? What if she doesn’t say anything, but I know she’s just, just totally grossed out. What if she dumps me?
I almost turn around in the parking lot. It’s busy today. Change-over, rush-hour, shift change. No-one notices me as I slip in. I don’t even bother checking in with the tired out lady at the front desk anymore. Everyone knows me on Shelley’s floor, too. I just go straight to her room.
Shelley’s room-mate, Kate, isn’t there. Bonus! (not bonus! This thing might actually happen) and there you go, I’m totally sweating nervous again when I see her.
It’s been a good day, her colour is good. She smiles.
God, I love it when her eyes light up when she sees me. Shelley’s only half as big as when we first started dating. The chemo’s totally done a number on her appetite. She’s one part cancer patient, one part anorexic patient. And ten parts the girl who’s going to be the only person who knows the one thing I really hate about myself. The one thing I’ve never told anyone. The one thing I’ve never ever told anyone.
I’ve been staring at her for like a minute. She knows something’s up.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, sorry,” cover up. Act normal. “Sorry.” I pull my chair up beside her bed. My spot. “It’s just so good to see you. Today sucked. Literally sucked chunks of nasty chunky suckiness.”
“Why, did Anna-Maria Tate tell the year-book committee she was changing prom night again?”
I smile. Shelley’s been out of school for a whole year, but she’s a facebook junkie. She knows about stuff at school before I do, and I spend every day there.
“Whatever. Did you do your math?” Shelley does e-learning. The teachers are pretty hip about putting our lessons online anyway. I could probably skip most of the year and still pass if I checked the lessons online.
There’s a cloud there. She’s just like the weather, this girl. The whole room can chill by ten degrees when her mood changes.
She’s quiet. She kind of talks to the window, not me. “Just tests. Had to do a lot of tests today.”
I’m such a dick. I have this secret this fucking secret that’s killing me inside and here she is, actually being killed from the inside. I should just tell her. I’m gonna tell her. I talk to my hands, clenched in my lap, sweating buckets.
“Listen, Shelley. I…there’s something I want to tell you. I’ve been wanting to tell you for a long time.”
I look up. She turns her head away from the window, back toward me. Her eyes have captured the light and clouds and wind from outside. Her eyes are like giant round blue windows in her winter white face. She’s white, white like hospital sheets.
“Don’t break up with me Kyle. Please don’t break up with me.”
And that’s it. Forget the homework and talking and getting close to time to go and some kissing and maybe some touching. Forget it. I’m ten steps ahead, on her bed, she’s in my arms. My feather. My ice patterns in a winter puddle. My high up, horse-tail clouds, running away in the atmosphere.
I tell her she’s crazy. That’s not what I meant at all. But I don’t use words. I convince her with every part of my body we can touch together on this stupid cot of a bed.
I didn’t even notice that my shirt was off. How did that happen? I don’t know how far we would have gotten, but we stopped when she touched it. She paused. I froze. She touched it again. There, on my back. Just below my left shoulder blade. A thick rug of fuzz. She pulled away, frowning at me.
I’m frozen. I’m sweating. I’m scared. Suddenly, I think maybe my face is as white, maybe my eyes are as big with fear, as hers were a few minutes ago.
Shelley smiles a little bit. Mischievous. “Kyle, what is that?” She leans forward and touches it again. I’m frozen. I’m terrified. Oh my god. Oh my god she is going to laugh.
I pull away. Where is my t-shirt? Where the fuck is my t-shirt?!
“No, wait. Kyle. It’s okay. Just, let me see it.”
I’m scrambling. I’m pulling away. Where the g-d-h-e double freaking hockey sticks is my t-shirt!?
“Kyle. Hey.” She’s gentle. My face is in her hands. Her eyes are in mine, her mind is in mine. She’s a pool of calm. I can breath. I can do this. Breath.
“It’s okay.” Gently, slowly, she turns me. I’m facing the door. She is looking at my back. She is looking at it, at the birth mark that wasn’t a big deal, no-one even really noticed it really, until I hit puberty, and it started growing hair. And I haven’t gone without a shirt for the past 3 years. Shoot me, shoot me, shoot me. I’m a freak. I’m a walking freak show, man.
She’s been looking at it for a long time. It’s been forever now. I’m still looking at the door. She’s still looking at my back. Her hands run over the hairy patch of massive weirdness. A duckling. Who the FUCK has a hairy birthmark on his back that is undeniably in the shape of a rubber fucking duckie? I put my head in my hands.
She’s turned me around. I’m miserable. It’s over. She’ll never be able to look at me without dying of laughter. But she’s kissing me and kissing me and kissing me.
“I love you.” She breathes it, like a hug of pure energy it surrounds us. I pull away. It’s been out there for a whole year, this feeling, but we’ve never said it.
“What, it took the power of the magic hairy duckie to make you finally say it?”
And then we’re laughing. We are laughing so much, it turns into that ridiculous crying laughing that only stupid girls do in grade five. Kate comes in and we just laugh louder. I mean, Kate, the nurses, everyone is used to us making out. Shelley’s never going to get any privacy in this hospital, but it doesn’t mean she has to be deprived of being seventeen.
“Whoa. Is that a….is that a birthmark?” Kate’s never seen me with my shirt off. Shelley starts laughing again, right from her belly through her whole soul. I friggin’ ignore Kate and I lie down beside my girl because all this laughing is getting her weakened right out, I can tell. Our laughter slowly dies down and we lie there, holding hands, the giggles still coming in now and then like little waves after the storm has died down. It feels good to have my shirt off. I haven’t gone without a shirt for three years. I’m free.
Shelley was with me for three more weeks. It was the best three weeks we ever had. Sure, it sucked. She was in so much pain. And when they gave her morphine she kind of wigged out, but I could always bring her back with the power of the magic hairy rubber duckie. I feel kind of bad, because her parents kind of left us alone a lot. They didn’t spend as much time with her in those last weeks as I did, but they knew we were having fun.
Now I wear my shirt off all the time: soccer practice, swimming, at the beach. People stare, and point, and laugh behind my back. I just look up the clouds and smile.