“Kerry! Psst, Earth to Kerry...”
Kerry started and looked up as Simone nudged her gently. “Hey, you okay?” Simone whispered.
“Me? Yeah. Of course. I...I'm fine.” Kerry straightened up and pushed her hair out of her eyes.
Simone nodded but the frown remained on her face. Kerry knew that Simone wasn't fooled. Her friend could see that she was troubled.
“Talk to you later,” Simone said and gave her a hip bump since her hands were full. Kerry watched Simone carry the laden tray to the back of the restaurant and turned back to the table. No doubt Simone had noticed her standing at the same spot and moving her cloth up and down a spotless tabletop with a dazed expression on her face.
Taking a deep breath, Kerry turned and saw a few of the other waitresses watching her and whispering among themselves. They quickly averted their eyes and pretended to be busy with their chores when she approached the counter.
But Kerry couldn't be bothered about what they were thinking and saying about her. Those women always found someone to gossip about. It was as if they had nothing better to do with their lives and their time. Talking about other people seemed to be what they did best.
Kerry didn't have the time or energy to indulge in mindless gossip and small talk.
There was already too much on her mind and her plate.
As she was about to grab the coffee pot, Simone appeared at her side and pulled her away. “Leave it,” Simone hissed. “Let the other girls refill the coffee pot. You are in no state to handle hot coffee in a fragile glass pot.”
“What?” Kerry huffed, highly offended. “I...”
Simone shook Kerry's shoulders gently. “What is it?” she asked softly. “You're not here, Kerry. Your body reported for work this morning, but your mind is somewhere else. What's going on, Kerry?”
Kerry closed her eyes and took a painful breath. She wanted to tell her friend everything. Instead, she only managed a single word. “Tia.”
Simone's grip tightened on her shoulders as she muttered incoherently. Simone was the only one at work who knew about Tia's condition. Kerry just couldn't bring herself to tell anyone else about her sister's illness. She didn't want to be fodder for gossip.
“But...you told me that Tia's responding well to the chemotherapy,” Simone said, squeezing her arm. “Tia's getting better, right? Where is she now? Is she...”
Kerry bit her lip and met her friend's worried gaze. “Tia's at home. She's okay.”
Simone nodded but said nothing. They both knew the truth. Tia was not okay.
Her sister had cancer.
Tia was only eighteen years old and she should be out having fun and living large like every other eighteen-year-old.
Instead, she was battling an insidious, internal enemy. The enemy was lying low for now. But Kerry knew too well that the cancer could rear its ugly head at any time and strike her brave, beautiful sister down without warning.
Kerry knew that the odds were against them. She kept her hopes and spirits up for Tia's sake, but she knew. She'd spoken to the doctors, the families of other cancer patients, and she'd done her research. And she saw what the cancer did to her beautiful baby sister.
Before Tia got sick, she was so active, vibrant and strong. She was still strong. God, no one was stronger than Tia. The girl was so brave, and she remained cheerful and independent even though she was sick. She refused to stay in bed the whole day and insisted on helping out around the house.
Kerry remembered the first time she had gotten home after work and realized that Tia had been doing some light chores around the house. She had washed the dishes, swept the floor and done some laundry. A blazing row had erupted between the sisters, and Kerry had screamed herself hoarse.
“What do you expect me to do, just lie in bed and wait to die?” Tia had tried to reason with her.
“Yes! No! Just...don't do anything! What if you fall? What if you feel giddy all of a sudden or...”
“What if, what if, what if! This isn't life, Kerry! I'm not living the life I want, but I am still living. I am not dead. I sleep so many hours already, and I'll sleep when I'm dead. But I. Am. Not. Dead!” Tia had screamed back. “I am still alive! Or have you forgotten that?”
Kerry had broken down and crumpled into a heap. She didn't even know what she was doing any more. It was Tia who put her arms around her and assured her that everything would be all right. Tia was the strong one, not her.
She was the big sister, yet she couldn't even take care of her baby sister. Kerry wanted to wrap Tia up in cotton wool and protect her from all the pain and suffering in the world. But pain was a part of life. So was cancer and death. It wasn't fair. It just wasn't fair!
Tia couldn't go out of the house, but she didn't want to be a burden to anyone. She didn't want anyone putting their lives on hold to stay by her side. Besides, they needed the money. “Go to work, Kerry. You can't stay at home with me all day. I'll be fine, really,” Tia had insisted.
So when Kerry was at work, a neighbor would check in on Tia every few hours. And Tia diligently texted Kerry throughout the day to assure her worrywart big sister that everything was fine at home.
“Kerry...” Simone's voice broke into her thoughts. “Talk to me.”
Kerry took a moment to focus on her friend. She kept seeing her sister's face and hearing the voice of Dr. Arun in her mind.