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Noggin(12)
John Corey Whaley

“Tell me you’ll get to go back as a junior.” Kyle shoved pizza into his face.

“Sophomore. I missed way too much the first time. I don’t have the credits.”

“Shit. Well, I have epically bad news, then.”

“What? Don’t say it. Do not say it, Kyle.”

“Lasetter.”

“Damn it. Kill me now.”

“Turns out that isn’t so easy.”

“No kidding. I can’t believe she’s still there. I guess I just thought hell would’ve opened up and taken her back by now.”

“She made Audrey cry last year. Twice,” he said.

“Audrey. Wow. Your little sister’s in high school? Holy shit.”

“Yeah. She’s seventeen. She’s older than you now, dude.”

“This gets so much weirder every day.”

“Have you seen Cate yet?” he asked. We both knew the conversation would turn to her sooner or later.

“Not yet. Maybe she doesn’t know.”

“Everyone knows, Travis. I talked to her last week—she’s pretty freaked out.”

“She is? She told you that? I know it’s weird. I know. But it’s me, Kyle. Why wouldn’t she just be happy?”

“She is, Travis. Of course she is. It’s just . . . well, she’s been seeing this guy for a while, you know. They’re engaged.”

“Mom told me,” I said. “You know him?”

“Met him once. We all had dinner. He’s a good guy. So there’s that,” Kyle added.

“There is that.”

“You gonna try to reach her?” he asked.

“Eventually. I have to, don’t I? Doesn’t she want to see me?”

“There’s no way, no matter how long it’s been or how different she is, that she wouldn’t want to see you. You know that.”

“And you?” I said. “Why’d it take you so long?”

“Scared, I guess. Your mom called before they flew to Denver, and my first thought was, What if they bring him back and then he dies all over again? I couldn’t deal with that, Travis. Not again.”

“So you decided to wait it out and see if I’d make it?”

“Well, it sounds a lot worse when you put it that way.”

“I understand, I guess.”

I did understand. He had been there for all of it, for every treatment and its often-violent aftermath. He’d seen my family’s small glimmer of hope squashed over and over again by doctor after doctor, bad results after bad results. He’d told me once, after I’d been through another round of especially painful chemo, that he didn’t understand why I had to get so sick to try to get better, why they had to keep almost killing me to save my life. He’d been so angry that day that he’d kicked a hole in the bathroom door at his house when he’d gotten home.

Kyle Hagler had been my best friend since kindergarten, since the day a game of tag at recess had turned dangerous after Holly Jones decided she couldn’t go home without a kiss from me. I was darting across the playground with her at my heels when Kyle ran up and planted one right on her lips.

“There!” he yelled. “Now go away.”

“She your girlfriend now?” I asked him afterward.

“Holly Jones? She’s everybody’s girlfriend,” he said.

Then in fifth grade Kyle and I skipped guidance class, which was just an hour every Wednesday where we had to watch movies about not doing drugs and having low self-esteem—you know the ones. We skipped class to sit behind the gym and share a pack of peanut butter crackers. This was us being pretty rebellious.

“If someone ever told me they didn’t like peanut butter crackers,” he said, “I’d never speak to them again.”

“What if they had a peanut allergy, though?”

“Doesn’t matter. Take a Benadryl, wussies.”

“I don’t think that’s how it works,” I said.

“People only say they’re allergic to things because they don’t like them. It’s all a big scam anyway,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve been allergic to lettuce since I was six.”

“Exactly.”

I knew, by the time we were freshmen, that Kyle was allergic to girls. It wasn’t in any obvious, stereotypical way, but he was my best friend and I knew him better than anyone. Around the time I started dating Cate, Kyle started acting pretty weird and apologizing for hanging out with us all the time and not having a life of his own. It was strange. Kyle had never been the type to apologize for anything.

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