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John Corey Whaley

“Sharon, if there were something he wanted, he’d tell us, don’t you think?”

She ignored him, opting instead to continue talking to me and asking me what size pants I thought I needed now.

“I dunno,” I said.

“I’m thinking thirty-two thirty-four. You look a little bigger now. More filled out, I mean.”

“You guys didn’t save any of my old clothes?”

“No, honey. We gave most of them to your cousins. You know, Chase and Chad. The twins.”

“Wow,” I said. “They’re old now, I guess.”

“Fourteen last month.”

“They’re even worse now,” Dad chimed in.

“Ray,” Mom said. “They’re nice boys.” She sounded like she was trying to convince herself, too.

“Travis, believe me. They’re holy terrors,” Dad said.

“They’re . . . unique.” Mom slapped Dad on the arm, her smile unable to be stopped.

“Yes, Travis. They are unique. In that same way that serial killers are unique.”

“And now they’ve got all my clothes. Great,” I said, laughing.

By the time we found parking and were finally walking down the sidewalk, it was turning dark out and the lights from the insides of the large-windowed stores stretched at least halfway into the streets. For whatever reason, this made me remember going there with Cate and Kyle during one of my last healthy days. We had walked around, drunk coffee, and mostly played in the Apple Store while our phones recharged. Kyle had pretended to flirt with some girl at the Genius Bar, and Cate and I had made out by the iPods. It had been awesome, just a simple afternoon before everything got bad.

Several people noticed me before my parents and I even made it inside the store. They knew me from somewhere—that’s what their expressions said, at least. I even saw some kid snap a photo of me with her phone and run over to her friend and start whispering into her ear.

Mom kept piling clothes on me—T-shirts, jeans, pants, hoodies—everything she saw, basically. It was like we hadn’t really stopped moving from the moment we walked through the door to the time we’d made it to the dressing room. I could barely see over the clothes in my arms.

“These are pretty tight,” I said, walking out to model a pair of jeans for my mom.

“It’s the style.”

“I don’t understand. I can hardly move.”

“Do you want to try a bigger size?”

I tried the bigger size, and even though they were easier to button, they still hugged me all weird around the thighs.

“Are these girl jeans, Mom?”

“No, Travis. I told you. It’s what everyone wears now. Girls and boys.”

“We can just take him over to J. Crew and get him some more grown-up clothes, don’t you think?” Dad suggested. He was bobbing his head to the shop’s loud techno music while people all around us stared on in horror.

“He’s not a grown-up, Ray. He’s sixteen. He’s not going to school dressed like an accountant.”

“Yeah, Dad. I’ll go to school dressed in tight pants like a girl or I won’t go at all.”

He laughed, threw his hands up, and walked out of the dressing room area and into the store.

We finally found some jeans that fit better, that didn’t make me feel as exposed and all-around disgusting, and a pile of T-shirts and sweaters that I thought looked pretty good, but only because of my new body.

“You look so handsome, Travis. I mean, you’re, like, hot,” Mom said.

“Never ever say anything like that again.”

“I’m sorry, but you just don’t know. Seeing you like this, standing up strong, your hair starting to grow out. I’m just . . . this is so great, Travis.”

She hugged me, right there outside the crowded dressing room in front of all these strangers, and she had tears in her eyes when she pulled away. I forgave her for this. I let her have this moment because she’d earned the right to do all these things the day she let me go into that operating room and say good-bye to the world.

“Okay, wait right here. I want you to try one more thing.”

A few minutes later, once I was back in my own clothes again, she knocked on the door and handed me several turtlenecks and a couple of scarves. I gave her a look that would, I hoped, tell her these were not about to go onto my body, in style or not.

“Honey, I just think maybe you want to consider finding ways to . . . to not accentuate your neck, you know?” She had this look on her face like she knew she’d said something wrong.

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