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                Life has a funny way of getting what she wants. You can plan, you can try to avoid conflict and change any way you want, but in the end, from the day you are born to the day you die, you are life’s bitch, and she will always make it a point to prove it to you.

 

                Take me, for instance. Three years, eight months, and fourteen days ago, I was a fifteen year old going into sophomore year enjoying my last month of summer. At five foot three, I wasn’t exactly the tallest guy in the bunch, but I wasn’t the shortest either. I had dark brown hair, a tan complexion and hazel eyes so bright they looked gold in the sunlight. I lived with my mom and two sisters, one older, one younger. I had plenty of friends and good grades and felt pretty good about my life altogether.

 

                Which is why, on that day three years ago, I missed the first of many warning signs of what was to come by just being carefree, happy-go-lucky me.

 

                And who could blame me? The weather that day was glorious, sun shining with a cool breeze flowing outside. I stretched as I rose from my bed. Checking the clock told me it was 9:38, meaning my older sister, Skylar, was already off to work. She was going into senior year, and at 18, she was beautiful: long, dark, brown hair like mine, deep brown eyes, almost chocolate in color, and a stunning figure. Sky and I were close, as close as siblings can get without it being weird, that is. I looked up to her as a role model ever since my dad died from a rather unique disease.

 

                You see, all cells are made to grow and then after a certain size is reached, split into two new cells. Simple biology. It helps us grow, replenish dead cells, and live normally. Something happened in my dad though. He contracted a disease the doctors dubbed Billows Syndrome. The disease prevents cells from splitting and induces more growth than is normal in a cell, causing certain cells to expand at different rates. Depending on where in the body the virus attacks, the disease may or may not be fatal, the doctors concluded, but it spreads easily and is extremely painful.

 

                When my dad got it, it started in his upper arms, making them balloon out until he looked like Popeye on spinach. The doctors had no idea what was happening or what was causing it, but my dad was in a constant state of pain, and though he bore it silently, it showed on his face. He suffered through it, even going back to work for a couple weeks before he passed out at the office. An ambulance was called and he was brought to the ER immediately. The disease had spread to his heart.

 

                Despite their best efforts, nothing the doctors could do would have been able to save him, which is why, two days later, he passed away, his heart having expanded to the point that his ribcage could not contain it and it burst.

 

                I was inconsolable. For days, I lay in my bed sobbing until there were no more tears left in me, and then slipping into a fitful sleep that didn’t last; nightmares of the hospital and my dad’s death jolting me back awake to start sobbing all over again.

 

                Skylar was there for me the entire time, holding me as I sobbed into her shoulder, then watching over me as I slept. Even at fifteen, she was able to help me through that sorrowful time, despite the grief she felt, sometimes crying with me, sometimes just holding me silently. Days after, when the pain of losing him had numbed to a dull throb, she would go on walks with me and just talk with me; recalling fond memories we had of him: singing songs he used to play on for us on his guitar, telling some of his old jokes and helping me put aside the grief for a while.

 

                My mom’s reaction to my dad’s death was awe-inspiring. She never shed a single tear, at least not in front of my siblings or me, but instead focused every ounce of her being into finding a cure for the disease that had claimed her husband’s life. At first, her research was an obsession: for days on end she would work tirelessly at the lab, searching for a way to destroy the Billows virus. But somewhere along the way, an assistant of hers showed my mom’s research and findings to a panel of government medicinal researchers who offered her a job, turning her desperate measure to cope with losing my dad into a career that paid triple what she made teaching medicine at the community college she used to attend.

 

                Because of the odd hours she worked, I never knew when she’d be home, so it was not surprising that morning to find a note from her that read:

 

About to make a breakthrough at the lab.

Won’t be back till late.

Pizza money is on the counter

Love You, Mom

 

 

                That meant it was just me and my younger sister Madison left in the house. Madison was thirteen, but she was also the same height as me; a fact she never seemed to tire of reminding me of. With bouncy blond hair that matched her bubbly personality, she loved to tease me about this and that, our equal heights negating any sense of inferiority she might have felt by our age difference. Despite the teasing though, we got along well enough, shooting playful banter back and forth almost constantly.

 

                That morning was no exception. As I sat down across from her with my bowl of cereal, she grinned at me, “Nice bedhead, shorty.”

 

                Seeing her messy curls, I shot back, “Sure you weren’t the one that broke the mirror in the hall bathroom? Just looking at your morning glory is frying my eyes.” (I was the one who had broke the mirror, but hey, ammo is ammo in a game of wits.)

 

                She stuck her tongue out at me then walked to the sink to rinse her dishes. As she did so, she flipped on the radio, humming softly along to the words. I finished my bowl of cereal, listening to the sound of my sister’s humming. I walked over to the sink to bus my dishes, rinsing them then walking to the front door. I called over my shoulder, “Headed to the mall! Don’t kill yourself while I’m gone!” Little did I know my sister would soon be the least of my worries.

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