Sticks and Stones and Rising Voices


She swam in him. She drank him in as if he were ice water in a drought. Her arms encircled his body and they stood leaning into each other in the doorway of the bedroom. She could feel his spine through his t-shirt. She could feel his heart beat against her own. She turned her ear to his chest to listen closely. He smelled older to her.

"I hate you seeing me like this." he said.

His voice echoed inside him.

"Me too." she replied, hugging him tightly.

Ione lead Ewan by the hand to the bathroom. The tiles were freezing against their feet despite the steam. She kissed him and he kissed her back. She lifted the t-shirt from his body and he pulled the buttons of her top apart. In the days before they had decided to spend as much time together as they could, partially for Ewan's benefit. They washed each other's hair and bathed one another and they hummed their song.

Ewan's family wanted to celebrate his birthday at their home an hour away. They said it would be best for him, and Ione didn't argue. She wanted him to herself that day, like most days, but she didn't want to be selfish. So she scrubbed his sickly body and shampooed his thinning hair and kissed him where she could.

They dressed to match. She wore a spring green dress and he wore his best suit, recently tailored, with a light green tie. They were coupled. Ione drove and Ewan held her hand from the passenger's seat. The small dolphin shaped keychain jingled with every bump and turn and punch of the break. Every few minutes Ione would glance over to Ewan and he would be staring straight ahead into an unseen space. The world around them transitioned from the sandy beaches and lean palms to the rocky roadsides and leafy pines of the north, splashing their own vibrant shade of green back at them.

His mother, Elise and Brand, and a single Cooper were waiting for them on the front porch of the house. Everyone hugged and kissed each other's cheek and escorted them up the hill and into the house. It was just as clean and sparkling as Ione remembered it last. Sans Keegan.

They sat for a late lunch of barbecued chicken and greens on the back deck, overlooking the acres of pasture below. The late summer breeze stirred the trees and grass and hair. Ione skimmed a finger across Ewan's forehead, nudging several strands of hair back into place with the others. He grinned his goofy grin.

"I think I like you." he said.

"Good, 'cause you're stuck with me." she replied.

"Ewan." Elise called. "Take a walk with me."

Ewan took Elise's arm and kissed Ione before heading down the sloping steps of the hill and out to the nearest pasture. They were identical aside from the six inch difference.

Ione closed her eyes and breathed in the country. It was a sweet place of solitude.

"How are you two doing?" his mother wondered.

"Better. We're as good as we can be right now." she said.

"You're the first he's brought home since he was diagnosed." Cooper said.

Ione's cheeks flushed. She hadn't known.

"You must be something special, Ione." he said.

"Of course she is." his mother smiled.

It was a sudden yelling that shook them. A sound that could not be mistaken. Mama! MAMA! Ewan's mother jolted to her feet. Ione saw the fear in her eyes.

"Brand, call 9-1-1. Coop, come on."

Elise's yelling didn't stop. The others rushed around Ione and she slowly stood scanning the pasture. Her eyes followed Cooper and his mother as they ran to Elise and Ewan. She couldn't breathe. It was caught inside of her. Her skin went cold and she dared not move. There was something different. Something wrong. Cooper carried him up the hill. It wasn't the same.


"They have been worrying about you."

Ione sat in the stiff-backed hospital chair with her knees pulled to her chest. The salt had seeped from her, resting like a film on her skin and turning a sour taste in her mouth. She blinked slowly. Every bit of the day still struggled to sink in.

He came to sit beside her. He smelled like the sea.

She opened her palm to reveal a brilliant silver ring.

"He was... After everything, he was..." she waivered.

He closed his eyes and ran a hand over his exhausted face. Her hair had fallen flat from sweat and worry. Her dress no longer fit as it should. Her voice no longer strong.

"You were different for him." he said.
"You were his light in the darkest of times."

She looked to Noah and could not decide what to feel. She didn't want to feel. Not now. Not anger. Not sadness. Not love. Her chest felt heavy. Her fingers trembled as she pushed the ring back into its box. She took his hand and rested her head on his shoulder.

"Will you stay?" she asked.

He nodded. He sighed and squeezed her hand and his voice cracked, "Yeah."