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John Corey Whaley

My parents took a little less convincing than I’d thought. They loved me. I was dying. This was a way for me to not be dying anymore. It was weird how simple it all became once the decision was made. I never thought knowing my actual expiration date would make a difference, but it did. It made a difference to us all. The few people who got to know we were doing it had a hard time understanding why, but in the end I think maybe they all needed the relief of letting go just as much as I did. So I let go. We let go. And then I came back. Holy shit, I came back.

• • •

It was good being back for just about as long as it took for my parents and Dr. Saranson to explain that I was attached to someone else’s body. Then they had to go ahead and sedate me again because I kept clawing at my neck and ripping out my IV. The next time I woke up, my wrists and ankles had been restrained with cushiony little straps, and the looks on my parents’ faces had worn a bit, like they’d forgotten how to sleep. These looks were much closer to the way I’d remembered them.

After a few days passed, and by the time I was finally allowed to speak, I was ready to have things explained more thoroughly and able to promise them that I wouldn’t freak out and try to separate myself from my new body. You know, just your everyday sort of situation.

“The good news, Travis, is that you’re back,” Dr. Saranson began. “You’re completely healthy, and now you’ll get to live your life the way you were supposed to.”

“And the bad news?” My voice was scratchy, raspy even.

“It isn’t bad news, so much as it’s a little strange and will take some getting used to.”

“The body, you mean?”

“Yes. Your body, Travis. It belongs to you now.”

“Where’d it come from?”

“A donor. A sixteen-year-old young man, like yourself, who we couldn’t quite save.”

“What happened to him?”

“Brain tumor,” Dad said quietly.

“He knew this would happen. He wanted to save someone else’s life, and that’s why you’re here.”

“His family? Do they know about me?”

“They do. It’s up to them to make contact. You know, if that’s something they might want in the future. Nice people. Didn’t want what Jeremy did to be a secret. They were proud of him.”

“But you’ll decide if you ever want to meet them or not,” Dad added.

“Jeremy?” I asked.

“Yes. Jeremy Pratt,” Dr. Saranson said. “Good kid.”

“How long was I gone?”

“Five years last month,” Mom said.

“Five years?” I asked, stunned.

“Science moved a lot faster than we could’ve predicted,” Dr. Saranson said with a smile.

“Well, I knew you guys couldn’t have aged that well over twenty years or something,” I joked.

“Hey now,” Dad said. “Don’t be so sure about that.”

“Are . . . are there others?” I asked.

“There’s one other. A man named Lawrence Ramsey from Cleveland. We brought him back six months ago, and he is already enjoying his life again.”

“He was in a Ford truck commercial last week,” Dad said, rolling his eyes.

“And you know, Travis, there’s probably going to be a point when you’ll need someone to talk to—someone who knows a little bit about what you’re going through. I’d say Lawrence would be up for that when you’re ready.”

“Okay. I’m not sure I’m ready for anything right now, though.”

“Right. Of course. Your situation is a unique one, and it’s possible and very likely that things are going to be pretty weird for a while. But you’ll go back home and go back to life as normal.”

“The way it was before you got sick,” Mom said.

“Yes. You’ll get back home, you’ll go to school, you’ll make new friends. It won’t be the easiest thing in the world, but you’ll prove it can be done, right?”

That’s when it hit me that Cate and Kyle wouldn’t be Cate and Kyle anymore. They’d be these older versions of themselves that I’d have to learn about and get used to. They’d have forgotten things about me by now, especially things about the healthy version of me. They watched me die and then kept on living. I wondered if they had it in them to try again.

And new friends? I didn’t want new friends. I had plenty of friends. I had a girlfriend. I had a best friend. Cate Conroy was probably sitting by the phone at her house on Twelve Oaks Road waiting to hear if I was okay or not, and Kyle Hagler was most likely on his way to her house so they could drive to the airport and get to me as soon as possible.

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