This story is by M.A Castillo, who was part of Write Summer camp for young writers. You can find all the stories by Write Summer writers here. If you’re a young write age 7 to 14 and would like to participate in Write Summer camp, you can find out all the details here.
I close the door to my house and take a deep breath.
After six months of constant checkups in the hospital, my parents and doctors agreed it was safe for me to go back to school. But with careful measures. Even if I don’t want to.
I had attended the same school for years. But ever since my diagnosis of Cystic Fibrosis arrived, it has been awkward to cross the front doors. I need to carry a tank with me and wear a mask. Those things don’t look well amongst the others, I wished my parents could see that.
I push away my worries and steel myself. I take small steps even though my tank moves without a problem and the street is plain. But I arrive at school too fast anyway.
People usually arrive late. Since I’m here early, the number of people waiting in the front doors look small.
A knot forms in my chest and I get the urge to turn back and cry, but that would make me a coward. I don’t want more attention drawn to me. The only option is to stay where I am.
I sit on one of the staircases and look around for a few minutes. Kids laughing, flower pots overwhelming the landscape… all boring things. So I decide to look inside my bag for something. To reach it I have to push my tank away, and I do.
The only “fun” things I find are a pencil and paper, but they’ll do.
I try to draw something but end up writing the first thing that comes to mind,
Five Things to do Before I Die
I know it will happen soon. Six months of ongoing appointments and meds prove it. It’s not fun to think about, but I can’t ignore it. Might as well face it.
I finish writing the list.
—Go to a carnival
— Win all prizes at a stand
—Eat as many ice cream flavors in a cone as possible
— Go to a beach on sunset
— Make a friend
Any normal teen would have done these. But not one with a disease and my parents. The list sounds like a dream, but my parents sent me here for a reason. You’re there to learn, to have a happy life! I am not.
Not everyone dies from Cystic Fibrosis, but I am exposed to infections. A few months ago, a mild infection almost killed me. But they proved coming back to school was safe. I am gonna die, however, I have to stay. For my parents.
I stash the list in my pocket and look up. Now it seems like High School. People are everywhere laughing and pranking each other, talking. Like normal people. I hadn’t heard anything, but I usually never do.
It begins to get crowded, but no one comes close to me. People who think I’m weird, and friends I pushed away. Their stares feel glued to me and I decide to leave.
I stand up in a rushed motion and my bag drops everything in it.
How did I forget to close it?
People looking at me turn their frowns upside down. When I kneel to pick things up, someone rushes over me and turns my tank over. Now that makes everyone laugh.
It’s a few people, but their laughter echoes inside my ears and makes everything spin. I can’t get up. I don’t have the strength to do it.
A blonde girl with tanned skin stoops next to me as I start getting caught on my breath. Even though the tank is pumping, I am short of breath.
The girl begins laughing. When she stops for a whiff, she talks.
“Why’d you come here on a Friday, Ava? You’ll have to catch up on the week’s work, and I don’t think your tank can help you,” she keeps on laughing while I can’t breathe. But the bell rings and she runs.
Everyone leaves and laughs as they pass. I don’t bother looking at them, I focus on breathing, and when the episode passes, I push my curls away and get up.
I’m surprised it didn’t take long, but next time it can be longer and can send me to the hospital. People can’t see me that way.
I take out the list and take my tank with me.
There is a carnival on the pier. I decide to go there since it is my first checkpoint. My tank gets stuck in crevices in the pier’s wooden floor, but after a tussle, I get to the carnival. It took me two hours to get here, it is nine, but of course, no one is here. Though the carnival is open, so I go in.
Sad clowns and bored workers are not amusing to watch. And thus I end up sitting in the cafeteria for four hours with a worker happy to have a customer. Soon, it is noon and more people arrive, so of course, she leaves.
“Enjoy your day!” she says. But that won’t happen.
I carry my tank with me for one more hour and decide to leave. I’m too bored to go and play something, and I’m sure winning all the prizes won’t be fun by myself.
I am about to cross the gates when a boy with dark hair and pale skin grabs me by my arm.
“Careful with your tank.” He says without stopping.
I want to shout but he shoots me a warning look and I don’t. I recognize him from somewhere.
We push people and I carry my tank to the bathrooms, where he finally stops.
I pull away from him and raise an eyebrow but all he does is stare at me.
“Who are you?” I demand.
“Name’s Liam, sixteen. You?”
“Ava…sixteen.” He looks like an excited puppy and I am weirded out by that.
“So first item in your list is a carnival, here we are, and the second is win all the prizes, so which stand are we—”
“How do you know about my list?”
“I saw it in school,” he says, “now for the important—”
He stares at me in disbelief but when I don’t say anything he keeps on talking.
“You have a bucket list, carry a tank, wear a mask, I am leaving the town tomorrow. As far as I know, we both got little time and want to have fun. I saw you leaving and bored, so you didn’t do the list you cared about today and I want to help you. Deal?” He talks so fast and trembles, I am convinced he’s a chihuahua in human form.
“Is your family related to Chihuahuas?”
“It is.” He responds with a hint of sarcasm. “So…,” his voice changes and sounds like pleading for help.
He doesn’t think I’m vulnerable, and his help would be good…
“Fine,” I say. “I don’t know you, or how you know I had this list, but fine.”
“Great,” his eyes light up and once again he grabs my arm and runs. I grasp my tank, but the pier floor isn’t apt for it to roll around. So I muster up strength and lift it off the ground, hitting a man on his hip. He protests, and when Liam looks back and laughs at him, my face turns around and lets out a small laugh as we run. After getting away from him we reach a stand where we stop and crack up.
“I feel bad for him,” I say when I regain my breath. I usually shouldn’t run and laugh, my lungs aren’t incredible, but the rush felt great. And laughing like this feels amazing after all the time I’ve spent bored. Not today, but in months.
“I do too,” Liam turns around and scans the game before us. “Your first checkpoint. Let’s try here.”
It is an aiming game, darts, and a target. It seems like the perfect game. I don’t need as many stuffed animals as the ones lining the walls… but there are two of us.
“That was amazing!” I say, slumping my bag over my shoulder. I kept my part of the stuffed animals in here, Liam gave his away to kids.
“We did the first thing on your list, and it was awesome.” His face is so lit up I want to smile even more.
After we settled on the stand we paid and begun to throw the darts. Liam had a terrible aim and almost landed darts on the lady working in the stand. After we began winning everything, the lady looked horrified. For some reason, we couldn’t stop laughing and it felt nice to do that. Liam was a stranger, but he didn’t feel like one.
“Wait for me,” Liam mumbles and runs somewhere. I stay put but when I realize I am smiling too much, I change it.
It was fun to play the game, but I can’t get attached to Liam. He’s leaving tomorrow, and after that, I’ll be back to having no friends. For as amazing a friend might be, I can’t tie strings.
I wait and after some time see Liam approach with two large cones. I suppress a laugh and smile instead.
“Did you read the whole list?”
“I like to observe people.”
I raise my eyebrows and nod in acknowledgment. He smiles and for a second I worry he’s thinking of me as a friend. But I ignore it and take my cone.
We walk away from people so I can take my mask off without problems, but we stumble against the guy I hit earlier. He grunts and seizes our shirt’s collars and pushes us out. He has a tag. He’s the director of the carnival.
Liam and I don’t say anything until he leaves. And when he does, I press my lips together to prevent a laugh.
“C’mere.” Liam mumbles.
I follow him licking my ice cream.
We reach the beach. It is sunset now, When we sit I take my mask off and begin licking fast. In public, I shouldn’t leave it down for too long.
“Okay, I might be weird, but I’m glad I saw you and the list.”
“That was fun,” I admit. I shoved my friends in a corner six months ago. They don’t deserve to be in pain when I die, they could cry. however that’s it. Better for all of us. But Liam and I had only been hanging out for an afternoon and had so much fun. We laughed at little things, screwed up, he bought my dream cone. I miss that. Liam started to feel like…
I let my cone fall to the sand. I can’t be close to him. I can’t.
“Sorry, I have to go. Bye. Good luck.”
I pull my mask on and ignore Liam’s questions as I struggle to maneuver the tank in the sand.
I can’t have a friend. And even less one that’s moving. We’ll both get hurt.
I didn’t want to, but I told my parents about my day when I got home. They were very forgiving, but now today, my mom insists on talking about Liam.
“Honey you miss him. Face it, you got a friend. He’s moving, but it doesn’t mean you can’t talk,” my mom’s smile comforts me. I realize I should talk to him. But to hide my excitement, I shrug.
She sighs and leaves the kitchen, but then the doorbell rings.
I go for it and open the door to find Liam.
“Either you are a very good stalker, or I’m deaf.”
“It’s just finding your house and I have Chihuahua skills.”
I let out a laugh and he hugs me. It’s surprising, but I hug back. It’s relieving to see him.
“I have an email, so write someday,” he hands me a paper.
“Too bad we didn’t finish the list,” I say.
“We did. You found a friend.”