He found Taylor sitting on a low wall. Derry is the only remaining completely intact walled city in Ireland and one of the finest examples of a walled city in Europe. The walls are completely intact and form a walkway around the inner city.
He stood there staring at her for a moment. She sat with her back against the wall. The sun shone down on her, making her hair shine. Her knees were pulled up to her chest and her book was propped up against her legs. She was engrossed in her story and did not notice the gentle breeze playing with her hair.
He pulled his ring from his finger and when she perceived a movement in front of her, she looked up. He stepped toward her and then sat down next to her.
When his arm brushed against hers, she squirmed away awkwardly, without making it obvious. Although he stopped her from walking in front of the bread delivery truck earlier, she did not expect him to actually come looking for her.
He asked softly. “I recognized your bracelet. It’s a Cancer awareness bracelet, isn’t it?”
She glanced down at the plastic armband around her wrist. She did not know what to say.
He looked out across the wall to view the layout of the original town which still preserved its Renaissance style street plan.
She started to stand up. “I better get home.”
He wanted to put his hand on her forearm to stop her from going, but he did not. “Please don’t go because of me. How did you find out you were sick?”
He was being very forward. Usually, people tended to shy away from the subject of cancer. She looked back at him bothered.
He smiled friendly. He did not look like a kidnapper or a serial killer, and he did save her life, so she sat back down again. She had not spoken to another person, besides her mother and Dr. Dunne, for what seemed like forever. Maybe she could sit here for a while and talk with him, just to get her mind off Monday. As soon as she told him every detail, he would definitely leave her alone. People always did.
She sighed softly, letting the air blow over her bottom lip. She took a deep breath. “My first sign that something was not quite right was a constant pain in my back and neck. No matter how many pain pills I drank, the pain never really went away. The pain started when I was fifteen, and we thought it was stress or something silly like that. Also, I always felt tired. I would go to school, come home and sleep until dinner, do some homework and then go back to bed. Then, I noticed my vision do weird things. The images would flicker when I looked too far to the left or the right.” She laughed softly. “It was very weird and scary all at the same time. One morning I woke up and the entire left side of my body was numb, with a funny sort of needles and pins kind of feeling. Every time I went to the doctor, they couldn’t find anything wrong. First they thought it was my blood pressure, then anaemia, bell’s palsy, and the list goes on and on. At one stage, they even thought it could be MS. Eventually, when my doctor ran out of ideas of why I had the constant pain, dizziness, numbness and being too tired to even go to school, he sent me to a neurologist. I went for my first MRI and was diagnosed.” Embarrassed she looked at him. “Does that satisfy your morbid curiosity?”
He looked back at her, and she wondered where she had seen him before. She had the distinct feeling she had seen those very same, bright green eyes somewhere before. He looked very familiar.
He asked interested, “What did they diagnose you with?”
She smiled patiently and settled back against the wall. She fingered the pages of the book on her lap as she said, “I was diagnosed with a chordoma tumour.” She stopped for a moment and glanced at him to see if he knew what she was talking about. He did not, so she explained, “It’s technically a bone cancer and it is a very rare form of cancer. Only about one in a million people get it.” There was another glance, and then she continued, “To explain in big words, a chordoma is a rare type of cancer that develops from the notochord. The notochord forms the spine in a developing baby in the womb. After about six months, most of the notochord is replaced by the bones of the spine. However, small amounts of the notochord may remain and these can sometimes develop into a chordoma.” She stretched her neck a little and he could see the tension in her shoulders as they pulled up. “My chordoma was allowed to grow for so long that it had pushed itself inside my skull and it is now resting against my brain, making it both a brain and bone cancer.” She laughed sarcastically, at a joke she shared only with herself. “It is a miracle I can walk or even sit here in the sun today.”
Troubled he asked, “What have the doctor’s done? They must be able to make you better, can’t they?”
She looked at him overwhelmed. “I have had two surgeries to remove most of the tumour. There is, of course, Proton Beam Therapy, which is a type of radiotherapy effective in treating chordoma, but it is not an option, because it’s not yet available here, and my mum cannot afford it anyway.” She pulled at the skin around her chewed thumbnail. “It will only be available here from about twenty-seventeen, but by that time I may no longer be available. Besides, it’s too late for me and I have accepted it.” She added softly as if she was talking to herself, “I’ll be okay.”
“You must have been so scared.” He looked at her concerned.
“I was just so relieved that somebody finally figured out what was wrong with me. I cried for days from sadness, fear, and relief.”
“Yeah, cause being so tired all the time wasn’t just my imagination. After three months of self-pity, I stood up, on trembling legs, and decided to live, however many days I have left, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.”
Daimhin reached for her. He pushed his index finger under the silicone bracelet on her arm. He read the words: No one fights alone.
Taylor looked down at his finger touching her.
Softly he asked, “What did your parent’s do?”
“My mother was devastated, but she has been so strong for me. I don’t think I would have been able to do any of this if not for her. I couldn’t have asked for more and she never ever left me once.” She wiped her hand across her eye quickly to wipe away a stray tear. Now was not the time to get emotional. “She nags me to get out of bed, and after each operation she pushed me to take those first steps again. Other times though, she would just sit with me when I cried. I would have liked to get better, not just for me, but mostly for her.”
“And your dad?”
“Left before I was born,” she said dismissively. The bitterness she felt at his betrayal of her and her mother had faded over the years, but she could not suppress it completely. “I have never heard from him.”
For an instant Daimhin flashed back to the day his own mother died, a scared, grieving little boy left with the cold, mean piece of work that was his father. Acid burned in the pit of his stomach as he squelched the memory. “We have that in common. Absent parents.” Quickly he changed the subject, “What about your friends?”
She laughed nervously. “That was the most difficult thing to do – telling my friends I had cancer. Now I have a hard time relating to people my age because I am going through something that has changed the way I look at life. I’m not as light-hearted and cheerful as they are. Also, I don’t go to school anymore, so I hardly ever see them anymore.”
“Why did you never get Chemotherapy?”
Dismissively she replied, “It does not work on Chordomas and I do not have a lot of options.”
“And? How are you feeling now?”
She smiled. He loved her smile, because her whole face smiled with her, even though she was so sick. Her eyes looked a little hollow, as if she had to endure too much in her short life.
“Up until a few months ago, I was so busy with hospital appointments, surgeries, a million different test, that at the moment I do not really know what to do with myself.” She looked away from him and stared at a couple walking by. They were holding hands and laughing. Wistfully she said, “Everybody has somebody, but me.” She glanced up at him embarrassed. “What I mean to say is that everyone else’s life goes on as normal and I feel as if I am nowhere. I am not sure how to explain where I am, but sometimes it feels pretty cold and lonely. My mum wants me to go to a support group for people my age, but I have never been ready to talk to people about what I have gone through.” She laughed ironically. “And here I am telling you everything.” She stood up quickly. “I have to go.”
It was time for lunch anyway. She could just image her mum’s disapproval if she found out she had skipped lunch and she was talking to strangers.
He stood up with her. “Come to lunch with me.”
“I have to go home. My mum will be wondering where I am and as it is I have been gone too long already.”
“Please, I just need to.” He looked around as if searching for the right thing to say. “Come and have lunch with me.”
She did not want to refuse him, she liked his company. It felt as if he was a kindred spirit, somebody she could talk to. He had an open honest face and she still felt as if she had seen him somewhere before.
He took her hand into his. He stroked the back of her hand with his thumb. Taylor focused on the path his thumb was tracing on her skin. She was unwilling to think about going back to the hospital on Monday and maybe never leaving it again. For a moment, she wished for more than the slight contact of his hand holding hers, that he would take her in his arms and hold her tight. She considered, it would not even have to be him because at that moment she only needed the comfort of somebody other than her mum holding her close and caring for her.
She laughed nervously. “I don’t even know your name?”
He smiled widely. “Daimhin. And you are?”
“Pleased to meet you, Taylor. So, come with me to lunch. We’ll stay in crowded areas if that makes you feel better.” He started walking with her hand still in his, and she felt as if she was being dragged along. Part of her wanted to go with him and be normal, another part of her did not want to get involved, to learn what it might feel like to want to be with someone forever.
They walked along the top of the wall in silence, but it did not feel uncomfortable. He led her through the arched gates into the walled city.
Seated in a fast food restaurant, Taylor managed to eat enough so that she did not have to feel guilty. Daimhin talked about the people sitting around them. He made jokes about them and Taylor could not help laughing at his close descriptions of them. When he told her what he thought each person did for a living, or if they were happy at home and in their relationships, she could see from their demeanour when she looked at them discreetly, that he could be right. Is that the reason why he came back to find her? Did she just look so sad and pathetic that he felt she needed somebody to talk to?
After they finished eating their meal, he offered, “I’ll walk you home.”
“No, really. You don’t have to do that.”
“Just to make sure you don’t walk into the traffic again.”
“Sorry, no bread trucks at this time of the day.” She laughed embarrassed.
“Come, let’s go.” He held his hand out to her.
She did not take his hand, but started walking out of the restaurant with him. He walked her home. They talked about books and movies. They did not talk about things they would want to do in the future.
In front of her house, he stood waiting for her to unlock the door and he had to use all his self-control to avoid grabbing her and pulling her into his arms. He made a focused effort to regulate his breathing as he wiped his damp palms on his jeans.
After she opened the door, she stepped up into her house, and then she felt his hand on her arm. She looked up to see him gazing down at her, his expression was unreadable.
Then his arms were around her, holding her close.
She hesitated. His warmth was soaking into her and his hands were spread across her back. Then she wrapped her arms around him, absorbing his strength. Tears pricked her eyes, her throat tightened and his comfort washed over her.
When he backed away finally, his gaze dropped to her tear stained eyes. Gently he brushed the tears aside with his fingertips. His hand lingered on her cheek. “Thank you for coming to lunch with me. I’ll see you again – at the wall?” He said softly before he turned on his heel and started walking away.
Caution warred with a gush of joy inside her. She was exhausted from the day and grappling with the confusing emotions she experienced since he asked her to have lunch with him and held onto her hand, refusing to let go of her.
After she said hello to her mother and evaded most of her invading questions, she went upstairs to her bedroom. She collapsed onto the bed for a quick nap, before dinner.