He had it all figured out. He knew where he was headed, knew what he would never have, and now he knew how he would spend his last year of high school.
He skims through the middle school yearbook until he finds her. Natalie Anderson. The girl he'd thought of for as long as he could remember. Before he got sick, she'd been his fantasy. He had thought about asking her out a couple times, but when he finally got the courage to do it, he started changing.
At first it was just night sweats and headaches. Then, his muscles starting aching as well, and he started losing his breakfast. That's when he found the first lump under his arm. Scared, he'd told his dad. He'd been taken to the doctor, where his father's worst fears were confirmed: he had cancer. He sat there, not moving or speaking, just sitting, all his dreams going out the window.
After the first round of chemo, he became angry at everything. He started watching her, seeing how perfect she was and how oblivious to everything she was. He started to hate her, too.
His dad tried to distract him as best as he could, coming up with a plan to rebuild an old yellow truck. He though the truck was hopeless. The thing was falling apart and it looked like it'd never run. But, the more he and his father worked on it, the more he came to love the truck. And still, he watched Natalie Anderson's rise in popularity.
Night and day, he worked on the truck. He went to school, went to chemo, and started going to therapy after his father caught him holding a razor blade in his hand. He hadn't been trying to kill himself, only to try and forget.
Al was alright, he supposed, if a little too caring. The summer before senior year, he'd talked to Al, opening up only as much as was needed. And when he went home to his empty and cold room, he thought about how to make his last year of high school one that he wouldn't mind remembering.
When he woke up this morning, he had no idea that he was going to end seeing Al, only that he now knew what he was going to do.
Smiling to himself in the mirror, he sees her face in his mindset. Yes, by the end of this year, he would make her see the truth of her ignorance. It didn't matter how smart or beautiful she was... She didn't know that she'd become his concrete goal.
He walked into chemistry, seeing her sitting down at the lab station. With a small smile to himself, he walks over to her.
"Well, if it isn't Natalie Anderson, Miss Debate queen," he says, with a smirk. She places the beakers on the table.
"Zetterstrom?" She asks and he gives a nod.
"Haven't lied to ya this far, I'm not gonna start now." He notices how she smells of vanilla and flowers and closes his eyes for a second, taking it in. In six years, this is the closest he'd been to her, and it was staggering. He knew from pictures that she'd aged into a pretty girl, but in person? Oh man.
"You gonna help?" She asks him and he smiles and goes to turn on the Bunsen burner. She blows out the match he'd just lit and turns it off. "We don't need that for this," she continues.
"Look, you're not gonna be disagreeable, are you?" The look she gives him could have frozen water.
She turns back to the lab and he smiles to himself, even though his body aches. Gritting his teeth, he counts to thirty before releasing a breath.
The bell is almost like a relief, until he realizes he'd made no progress. With a sigh, he goes home. Thankfully his dad isn't there and so he goes into his room and picks up his pill bottles, taking them into the bathroom with him. He fills up a glass of water and opens up the bottles, taking one out of each and setting them down on the counter.
Standing there, he looks at the different colors and sizes of the pills, wondering once again, what would happen if he didn't take them and flushed them down the toilet. He sighs and shakes his head, grabbing one at a time and knocking them down with a sip of water. When the last one goes down, his eyes squeeze shut as a flash of pain goes through him. Taking deep breaths, he wills the pain away. By the time it passes, his hands have a faint tremor in them.
When he looks out the window, he sees it's gotten dark outside. He decides to go the cliff, hoping he might see her at The Brick. A foolish hope, but one he couldn't suppress.
The drive to the cliff seems so short, and yet so long. As he sits on the rock, his legs dangling off the edge, he watches the happy party-goers and a rush of envy fills him. Those goddamn kids had no idea how perfect their lives were. Especially her. He catches a flash of her blond hair in the firelight and is drawn to it.
She is the most selfish of them all, cocky and coy. He watches as she flirts with the transfer student, Rick Marquez, and jealousy aches his heart. He had no reason to be jealous over her, none. But it hurt all the same. Watching her smiling made him hate her all the more.
When the rain started, he still sat in his truck, wondering why he cared if it rained. A little rain wasn't what was going to kill him. Staring up at the sky, he allows a single tear to slide down his cheek, swallowing down the aching of his heart. Gripping the steering wheel, he can't help but remember his mom, wishing she were here so he could talk to her. He missed her.
He sighs once more before backing away and driving back home. When he gets there, his father is cooking something on the stove, but, unsurprisingly, he has no appetite.
"Keith," his father calls.
"Yea, Dad?" He asks.
"You hungry?" He catches the glimmer of hope in his father's eyes, and hates it.
"Yea, sure. But unless you wanna stick around for the aftershow, I suggest I don't," and with that he turns and walks away, ignoring his father calling his name. He slams his door closed and kicks out of his shoes, shrugging off his jacket before lying on the bed. The clock to his left says 9:54pm and he lets out a sigh. Grabbing his MP3 player from the nightstand, he plugs in his earphones and plays music, staring up at his ceiling.
2 weeks later
It'd been two weeks, two fucking weeks, and he was in no better mood than before. Except when he saw her. She brought out a light inside his darkness and it scared him. They talked during class occasionally, but still she refused to hang out with him after school.
"Come on, I'll pick you up at 5." She laughs and shakes her head.
"I can't, I'm busy."
"It's not a date, partner." She turns to look at him and he steels his heart. Her eyes seemed greener in this lighting, making her face brighten. He had to get a hold of himself.
"Maybe." She says, and with a smile, turns and walks away.
Sighing, he heads to his next class. When school ends, he gets in his truck and drives over to where she and her new boyfriend, Marquez, usually hang out. He holds up a sign and watches as she talks to him about something. He drives away, unsure of his decision.
When 5:00 rolls around, he has his truck parked across the street from her house. He wonders if she'll make an appearance. When she does, he can't tell if he's happy or angry that she did. But then she gets in the truck and he is relieved that she did. He had six months until graduation. Six months until he'd never see her again. He was going to make the most of it...Or die trying.
Unbeknownst to his thoughts, Natalie was having some pressing thoughts of her own. Who was Keith? Why was he not like other people? She had a boyfriend, so why did seeing Keith send butterflies through her stomach? She didn't know and, glancing over at the smile on his face, at the moment she didn't care. She was going to try something new. What was wrong with hanging out with Keith?
He was refreshing. He made her forget all her worries throughout the day, which should have warned her, but she ignored it, determined to figure him out.
"So, partner, where to?" His answering smile was dazzling.
"The sky's the limit."