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Left Behind

Guest Jen

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Story Title: Left Behind
Type of Story: Short/Medium fic
Main Characters: Dex, April + Walkers
BTTB Rating: T
Genre: Angst, Hurt/Comfort
Does story include spoilers: No, AU from 5773 onwards
Any warnings: Mild language, Mentions of character death, illness (although I can not guarantee the medical accuracy of this fic)
Summary: It starts, like most things, in the most unnoticeable way.

A/N: I really shouldn’t have written this. But I did. It began when Dex made a bucket list and wouldn’t leave me alone.


fic: Left Behind

All things he never did are left behind

All the things his mama wished

he’d bear in mind

And all his dad had hoped he’d know

- Left Behind, Spring Awakening

Part 1

It starts, like most things, in the most unnoticeable way.

He’s been working late at the hospital, trying to keep his mind off April, and yet Dex keeps checking his phone every two minutes to see if she’s texted him. She hasn’t.

So he puts his head down to try and make a dent in the mountain of paperwork Julie has left for him to do. She says its because Dex is efficient and is the only one on the staff who will actually do it properly and as a result she won’t have to go back later and check it, hence saving the hospital time and resources. But Dex gets the feeling she’s just trying to make him feel better.

Steph has been hanging around too. And if anything she’s kicked it up a notch.

“What’s this?” Steph asks, snatching a manila folder out from under Dex’s nose.

“Patient notes,” Dex replies distractedly, his fingers hovering over the keyboard, momentarily stalling. He glances back over at the page he was previously working from. It’s gone, and Dex looks up at Steph, who’s frowning down at it.

She raises her eyebrows at him. “You’re seriously doing this?”

“It’s my job.”

She wrinkles her nose, “You work too hard,” she says, and tosses the file carelessly back on top of the pile. Dex snatches it up quickly.

“It doesn’t go there.”

Steph makes a face at him, but Dex misses it. He’s glances between the three piles he’s made on the desk – one for outgoing notes, one for updating the database, and one for waiting results – all but boxing himself in in front of the computer. He holds the file, pauses; if only he could remember where this one came from.

Steph sees his hesitation and dives in. “You need a break,” she tells him. She comes around the other side of the Nurses’ station, running her hands up his arms, pressing down in between his shoulder blades. She drops her voice, “I know a way to make you relax.”

Dex doesn’t know when this became a thing. A thing that they do when they are at work and Dex knows it’s wrong, and yet when Steph takes him by the hand and leads him to a supply cupboard at the end of the hallway, near the corridor that leads to radiology, Dex doesn’t find himself saying no.

He goes home with a headache, and Steph’s lipstick smeared into the collar of his work shirt and wants to drop face-first into his bed and sleep for the rest of eternity. But he makes himself shower, put on his pyjamas, eat some left-overs from the fridge and brush his teeth before going to bed, because he knows his body will thank him in the morning.

A few nights later, he jolts awake in the dark, his whole room spinning, and Dex grabs onto his mattress to stop himself falling. He feels hot, even though his brain tells him from somewhere that it’s mid June. He’s kicked off his covers, rolled up his pyjama pants and lies on his back, squeezing his eyes shut and waiting for the room to stop whizzing by.

He makes himself breathe, focus on taking air in and out, doesn’t move or jiggle about on top of the covers, and tries to get that reasoning part of his brain – the one he’s so fond of – to list all the reasons why he’s not going to fall, most in part, due to the fact that the room is not spinning.

It’s a stress reaction, he tells himself. He’s been working too hard and not getting enough sleep or drinking enough water and his body is now trying to balance itself. Maybe Steph was right.

It’s like talking himself off the ledge of a tall building, the reassuring mantra of you’re okay you’re okay you’re okay, until he feels his heart rate begin to slow, the pounding becoming fainter, more regular inside his chest, and his eyelids start to become heavier, lulling him back to sleep.

In the morning when Dex’s alarm goes off, he wakes second by second, minutely becoming aware of the fact that he’s now lying on his stomach, has tucked his pillow tightly into his chest and is drooling. As he blinks open his eyes and sits up on the edge of his bed, he waits an extra moment - making sure the floor isn’t going to disappear under him - before standing. He still has a headache, and he’s a little jittery from the shock of the night, but he’s okay.

Today is not the day when Dex is prepared for Steph to be trying to coerce him into skipping some of his older patients so they can get a bit of extra time together.

“They’re going to die anyway,” she says, apropos of nothing, and Dex stares at her in shock.

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.”

“What? Oh, I didn’t mean it like that. We’re all going to die eventually, which is why we should make the most of what we’ve got right now.”

She steps forward, coyly traces a finger up his bare arm, sliding it under the sleeve of his polo shirt, but Dex bats her hand away. “Stop,” he insists.

Steph huffs a bit and snatches the clipboard out of Dex’s hand. “Fine,” she says, “I’ll go and bore myself to death instead,” and then she’s turning on her heel and disappearing down the corridor.

Dex stands stunned for a moment, when a musical ding! comes from his pocket and Dex pulls out his phone.

From April: I’m sure my anatomy lecturer hates me.

It shouldn’t be weird, April texting him seemingly out of nowhere to tell him about her day, but it sort of is. Dex is still getting used the fact that they aren’t dating, are trying to be just friends, because they need to grow as people and not be dependent on each other and a whole bunch of stuff that Dex thinks is sort of stupid. Because he loves April, probably always will, and yet they can’t be together. Not like this, not right now.

He tells himself that they both need time. Time to be apart, time to figure out themselves, before they can be a ‘them’ again.

To April: If it’s Prof Lester then that’s just his face. Don’t take it personally.

From April: Not Lester. Adam – heard of him?

To April: Nope. Sounds like a douche.

Dex is exhausted by the time he starts to do his final rounds. He doesn’t even realize he’s standing outside of Mr Carter’s room, staring at absolutely nothing until Steph waltzes past, nudging him very deliberately in the side. Dex blinks himself back into the present, and Steph turns back around, while Dex rubs at his forehead. He’s got a clipboard in hand, remembers trying to read Mr Carter’s last set of observations when things began to blur. His eyes had slid out of focus, glazed over, and Dex now feels the beginning of a headache coming on.

“You okay?” Steph asks, more wary than actual concern in her tone.

“Uh, yeah,” Dex replies, distractedly. The pain behind his eyes is slowly growing and he’s more than considering whether he can slip into the nurse’s kitchen and steal several painkillers.

Steph glances over her shoulder, makes sure they’re alone, before she takes a step closer.

“You’re not going to bite my head off again, are you?” she asks, and Dex recalls how he snapped at her earlier. He doesn’t know why he feels like that was his fault, but somehow, Steph makes it seem like it was.

Dex takes a long, deep breath in through his nose, tries to focus. “S-sorry about before. Just stressed, I guess.”

“Apology accepted,” Steph replies, inching her way closer, the hint of a smile on her lips. She’s not touching him, but Dex feels the grip on his clipboard turn lax. Steph stares up at him through her thick lashes, drops her voice to barely above a whisper. “Now we get to make up.”

They end up in the supply closet again, the edge of a shelf pushing on the back of Dex’s neck. They’re kissing and kissing, Steph’s hands grabbing at Dex’s butt through his work pants, and Dex trying desperately to just hold on. There is something frantic, a little manic about their movements, Dex pulling their lips apart, letting his head drop back, eyes close and pant into the stale air.

At any moment someone could open the door, walk in, absent-mindedly needing a bucket or mop and could discover them both in a less-than put-together state. But Dex is feeling the warmth of Steph’s body pressed up against his, legs placed deliberately between his, as she begins to drag her fingers up and under his shirt. The only thing Dex can feel, the only sensation he registers is the way her nails scratch at his skin, distracting him from his exhaustion, how absolutely wrecked he was before. He can’t stand it any longer, the way his body feels like it’s going to vibrate out of his body, and Dex grabs at Steph’s face, angling their mouths back together, although he’s so far gone that it’s more mouthing and breathing than actually kissing. Then Dex feels Steph’s fingers wrap around the hair at the nape of his neck, the slight pull as she drags her teeth along his bottom lip, tugging it into her mouth, and Dex can’t control the high-pithed noise that escapes.

Dex wants to stop, knows that he needs to stop, because he is not the type of person who does this. He doesn’t break the rules, doesn’t get in trouble, and was panicked at the mere thought of getting a detention in high school. He always completes his job with the utmost efficiency and dedication, and wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that. But he feels himself slipping out of that frame of mind, is too far gone that he just doesn’t care about being caught or people finding out.

“We should fight and make up more often,” Steph tells him as Dex readjusts his shirt, tucking it back into his pants.

We shouldn’t do anything,” Dex tells her, and even though he should be infinitely more relaxed now, his head is still pounding, pain pinching right behind his eyes. If anything he feels dirty, wrong is someway, his own skin fitting him incorrectly and he doesn’t know why.

Steph scoffs. “Get real. I’m like, the best you’ve ever had. Betcha April never gave you a handjob between rounds when you were together.”

Dex can’t reply, feels his cheeks flame and needs to just get out of there as fast as possible. He retches open the door to the storeroom and disappears out into the bustle of the afternoon changeover of the hospital.

Getting home is a mission; Dex’s headache intense and persistent, vision blurring around the edges and by the time he gets his key in the front door – after missing the first three times – he almost collapses in the entryway.

His dad is there when he gets home, sitting in his favourite armchair reading the local paper.

“How was work?” He looks up and sees Dex lurch through the front door. His head is down, shoulders slumped, eyebrows knitted closely together and he sits up immediately. “Dex, are you alright?”

Dex waves him off. “Tired,” he mumbles, heading straight for the kitchen. They keep their cold and flu medication in a cupboard above the microwave and Dex grabs the first packet he can get his hands on.

“Are you sick?” his dad asks from behind him, concern evident.

“M’fine,” Dex slurs.

“Dexter, if you’re coming down with a cold then you can’t go into work tomorrow.”

Dex fills a glass of water, gulps down a mouthful before swallowing two pills, then chases them down with the rest of the water. He makes himself roll his shoulders back, stand up a little taller before he turns back to face his dad.

“I’m just tired, dad. Work is k-kind of full-on right now.” Dex hears the stutter slip out before he can correct himself. It’s one of the residual effects of the crash, but Dex can normally control it. He doesn’t let himself slip up, makes a conscious effort to not let anyone know that there was once something wrong with him – that he was so scrambled he couldn’t even say his own name.

Sid obviously notices, pauses himself, watching Dex carefully. “Don’t over-work yourself,” Sid tells him. “You don’t have to prove anything.”

Dex shrugs. It’s not that he’s trying to prove anything, but Dex knows how much Sid wanted him to be a doctor. How, when Dex said he wanted to go into nursing, it was sort of like a slap in the face. Dex has always felt like he needed to make it up to him, to make him proud.


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Part 2

It goes on like this for a while.

Dex waking up in the middle of the night with a splitting headache that makes him want to rub at his scalp, keep his eyes firmly closed and slink away from any source of light. He looks through his lashes, keeps his head down as he gets up and trudges to the kitchen, swallows down a couple of Aspirin, enough to allow the pain to dull and let him get back to sleep.

He works, does his job, still passes Steph at the nurses’ station and ends up groping her inside a small, dark room when no one’s watching. He texts April sometimes, she keeps sending him updates about this Adam character – he marked her down on her first assignment because she used the wrong spacing or something, but he also asked her out for coffee – and at the end of the day Dex slumps through the door, eats what he can stomach, takes another few Aspirin just so he’ll be able to fall asleep.

It’s the middle of the night, darkness engulfing his entire room, when Dex wakes in a cold sweat. He can’t even open his eyes fully, for the blinding pain that’s gripping him. His head feels like it’s in a vice, being squeezed for all it’s worth, his whole stomach churning with it. He sits up, blindly staggers for the bathroom and barely makes it onto the tiled floor before he’s kneeling at the toilet and vomiting.

The muscles in his stomach clench, and his whole body shakes while he tries to just keep breathing through his nose as he throws up anything his body can muster. He stays on his knees, gripping the toilet bowl with white knuckles, eyes watering; heart beating rapidly inside his chest for several long minutes after he thinks it’s over. He doesn’t dare move, for fear of triggering himself off again; even though he can feel his knees starting to tremble from the strain.

Finally, he takes one long, steadying breath in and out, lets his knees go from out under him, and he sits, exhausted, on the bathroom floor. He stays there; head resting against the wall, eyes closed, focuses on just breathing, listening to the house settle back into silence, absently wondering if he’s woken his dad, his sister. But no one comes. His family is notoriously deep-sleepers.

Definitely the flu, Dex concludes, as he slowly gets up from the floor. He brushes his teeth, rinses his mouth and tiptoes back to bed, slinking down under the covers.

When he wakes again, this time there is sunlight streaming between the part in his curtains, and Dex rolls over, not wanting to face it. His head feels heavy, twinging with a migraine right above his eyes, but as he rights himself, sits for a few moments on the side of the bed, he figures he’s okay to go to work.

Dex must be an exceptional talent, because Steph sees Dex first thing when he arrives, dumping his backpack in the staff change room, putting his valuables into his assigned locker. This part is almost like he’s never left high school; being trapped before the first bell by someone he doesn’t really want to talk to.

“So, I know you’ve got a split double today, and your dad is working later, so I was thinking maybe we could take things away from here,” she says, casually as anything as she pulls her hair back into a ponytail. Dex looks at her blankly. “You know, old-school style? I’ll even let you buy me lunch after if it makes you feel like a gentleman.”

Oh, Dex thinks.

They’re not in a relationship, he’s pretty sure they’re not even dating because apart from fooling around in claustrophobic cupboards, Dex has never taken Steph anywhere. That was why it started in the first place. After April – it still feels weird to think about her in the past tense – Dex wasn’t interested in anyone else. He didn’t want to go to movies or dinner and try and fall for someone else just to prove he could, because it would feel like cheating, somehow.

Steph was there, and keen, and seemed to enjoy what they were doing. And best of all there were no strings attached. Dex never saw himself as a one-night stand type of guy, and what he’s doing with Steph isn’t that, he tells himself. They’re two consensual adults doing what adults do, so where’s the harm in that.

But now she’s hinting at going back to Dex’s house, which seems far more confronting than whatever they were doing before while still on hospital grounds, even though that breaks exponentially more protocols and rules.

“N-no, thanks,” Dex replies, trying to keep his tone even. Even though he took three Aspirin before he arrived this morning his head is still spinning, making everything just that much harder to focus on, with the constant stabbing. He’s filled a drink bottle with some red sports drink he made from a powder, hopes that if he keeps sipping at it, eventually it will go away.


“Not today,” Dex repeats. He closes his locker, goes to leave the staff room when Steph steps in front of him.

“Are you turning down sex? Because this is a totally one time offer.”

Steph thinks this ultimatum should make him want to drop his pants right there and then and have his sordid way with her, but she’s a terrible nurse and on more than one occasion Dex has had to revisit patients to check on them because he knows Steph has been making up their results. She’s been his rebound, something easy – in more ones than one – that actually made him feel good about himself, but his confidence doesn’t need protecting anymore. So thanks, but no thanks.

Steph is staring at him with wide eyes, and it’s only after a moment’s careful consideration that Dex realizes he’s actually said all that stuff out loud. To Steph’s face. And for the first time, Dex starts to see the cracks in Steph’s tough-girl, ‘I-couldn’t-care-less’ attitude. But Dex is just so tired, can barely keep standing, that he just silently closes his locker and walks out.

Dex has trouble concentrating for the rest of the day. His headache hasn’t resided like it normally does; if anything, it’s gotten worse. He wanders into Mrs Cavanaugh’s room to see if she needs anything and someone has obviously been in there before him and pulled back all the blinds. The midday sun is streaming in through the window and the entire room is swimming in light. Dex squints against it, has to close his eyes and turn and leave because he just can’t be in there. His head is pounding with a greater intensity and Dex is wondering if he’s caught some sort of weird vampire virus off one of the patients when he looks up and sees Steph coming straight at him.

She’s stalking down the corridor, hands clenched in fists at her side, and doesn’t look away. She’s pulls up mere inches from his face and says in a hiss, “If you ever say anything about my work, I will bring you down with me.”

At first, Dex is confused, watching as Steph storms off in the direction she came; what could Steph have as ammunition against Dex? He does his job, well, in fact; he is notorious for working overtime when the hospital is particularly busy, so she’s got nothing. And then it dawns on him; for the better part of a month he’s been hooking up with a girl at work. And this girl, Dex is now realizing, is not about to sweep this under the rug and forget about it.

How could he have been so stupid? Dex doesn’t understand how this could have happened. Correction, he knows, how it happened – objectively speaking. He and April decided to spend time apart, and she was getting on with things at uni, and Dex continued to live his boring existence. That is, until Steph propositioned him one day and Dex threw caution to the wind and went for it.

Now, he’s paying the price.

Bright, white specks of light swim in front of his vision and it’s like his heart has jumped into his throat for the way he feels every beat it makes. His head feels like it’s splitting in half, someone using a grater inside his skull, and there is little he can do as his knees give way from under him and he falls, the world going black.


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Part 3

As Dex comes around, he feels someone gripping his shoulder, squeezing it, and calling his name. His first instinct is to roll over, but his body makes itself loud and clear, aching from the muscles in his legs, his neck, even his jaw. He groans, struggles to sit up, and a firm hand just pushes him back down.

“Just rest, Dex. You’re okay.” It’s his dad, and Dex wonders how Sid ended up finding him, tries to recall what happened before he ended up … wherever he is. The floor. It’s hard, cold under his arms and cheek as he turns his head experimentally to the side.

He must doze off again, because for a second time he feels himself waking, this time blinking his eyes open and he’s in a bed, no longer on the floor, but staring up at the concerned face of his father. There’s movement out of the corner of his eye and Dex sees Nurse Julie coming around from his other side, clipboard in hand.

“Welcome back,” Sid says. “How do you feel?”

Dex takes stock; he wiggles his toes, fingers, and they tingle a bit. His shoulder still hurts but - as Dex slowly puts together what he thinks has happened - that must have been where he hit the floor. Then his head makes itself known, the headache that’s been plaguing Dex, and it’s come to the point that he doesn’t really remember how long it’s been since he hasn’t felt the nagging pain in his head.

“Li-like someone’s taken a mallet to my skull,” Dex croaks.

Sid glances across at Julie, who scribbles something down on his chart, saying,” I’ll get some pain relief sorted out, and Doctor Young will want to do a scan.”

“Is that really necessary?” Sid asks.

“Standard procedure following a seizure of this nature, I’m afraid,” Julie replies.

“I had a seizure?” Dex’s voice is still hoarse, throat dry, but even in this state both Julie and Sid turn to look at him.

“You don’t remember?” Julie asks.

“I wasn’t feeling well,” Dex says, slowly, piecing it together, “But I thought I must have just fainted.”

“Have you been taking your medication?” Sid cuts in.

Dex blinks back. “What? Yes, of course.”

“I know you’ve been busy with work and coming home tired, but that’s no reason to start missing –”

Dad, I haven’t missed anything, I swear.”

Sid still looks a bit distressed, but concedes, “Alright, Dex. I believe you.” He then turns to Julie, “How long will we have to wait for the scan?”

“Could be an hour or so, but I’ll try and get them to rush it through,” Julie tells them both. She gives them a strained smile before replacing Dex’s chart on the end of the bed.

“What about my shift?” Dex asks.

“I don’t think that’s the most important thing right now,” Sid says, followed by Julie who adds, “Don’t stress about it. I’ll get a fill in. But I’ll save the filing for when you’re back on your feet.” She smiles at him and Dex returns it, albeit a little wearily.

His eyelids are getting heavier, the room slowly blurring out of focus. Sid drags a plastic chair up to Dex’s bedside and Dex narrows his eyes. “What are you doing?”

“If this is going to take an hour, then I don’t want you waiting by yourself.”

“Don’t you have to work?”

Sid glances down at his watch, then back up to his son. “I’ll change my shift. This is more important.”

“Dad, I’m fine. You don’t need to babysit me,” Dex says around a yawn.

“Rest,” Sid tells him, and he too settles into his chair. Dex doesn’t have the strength to argue.

He feels better after dozing away most of the afternoon. Julie came back with some medication that made Dex’s head swim, gave everything a slightly dull feeling, made him relax so that he barely registered being taken down for his scan.

By the time he wakes enough to realize what’s going on, Indi and Sasha have arrived as well. They’re hovering by the window of his room, their dad talking to them in a hushed tone.

“Didn’t realize I needed an audience,” Dex slurs, still a bit groggy from sleep.

They all look over at him, and Sasha is the first to move closer. “Hey, you’re awake.”

“Apparently you’ve been keeping watch,” Dex replies, sitting up a bit. He feels much more like himself, more alert than earlier.

Even after the accident when Dex first started having seizures and they didn’t know what was causing them they always made him exhausted, made everything a little off-kilter for the rest of the day. He normally remembers the feeling leading up to them too. Like a little warning bell in his mind, he could feel when one was coming on; could manage to find a chair to sit in or get himself to the floor so he wouldn’t do any serious damage. He didn’t make a habit of having seizures, but knew they were par for the course after the crash. Then they gave him some medication, a little white pill he took daily to keep them away, give his brain a chance to breathe and he settled into normalcy. It’s been a while since he’s had one – with the way his luck goes, was maybe even due to have some sort of setback – but something about today seems different.

He can normally remember the events leading up to a seizure, would come back to himself embarrassed and tired, but all right. There was no need to go the hospital if he hadn’t hurt himself while he was out of it.

His dad never made a big deal of Dex’s seizures. Even when he wet his pants and didn’t realize, Sid would just let him rest before helping him clean up, would never involve Indi or Sasha. But they’re here now, in the corner of his hospital room, and Dex is wondering if they know something he doesn’t.

The more he thinks, the more the differences start to line up. He tries to recall what he was doing before the seizure, but can’t. Knows he got to work this morning and was feeling a bit off, but it wasn’t a pre-seizure kind of feeling. He doesn’t remember most of his shift, what he did, who he visited, and has no idea who initially found him.

There’s a knock on the door and Dr Young enters. Dex has worked on the same shift as him a few times. He’s not that much older than Dex and they’ve always had a good working relationship, able to have a bit of a joke and banter in the middle of the graveyard shift. But when he walks in this time, his face is serious, the master of professionalism, doesn’t even register that he and Dex are more than just patient and doctor; colleagues.

He pauses by Dex’s bed, looks at Dex’s extended family. “I need to ask Dex a few questions about the lead up to his seizure today.”

“Julie already did this,” Sid says, Dex can hear the tiredness in his voice.

Dr Young gives him a strained look. “I just have a couple more questions.”

“I can’t tell you much,” Dex says, “I don’t remember what happened.”

Dr Young turns to Dex, asks, “What is the last thing you do remember?”

“Uh,” Dex thinks, “Arriving at work this morning, being at my locker. After that …” He trails off, is wracking his brain to try and put something together that makes sense. There shouldn’t be this big a gap in his memory. That’s not the way it works.

Dr Young makes a note, “Right, and how were you feeling leading up to the seizure?”

“A bit tired, I guess, I didn’t really sleep last night. I had a headache,” Dex tells him.

“And how long have you been having headaches?”

“Who said he was having headaches?” Sid interrupts, and Dex groans.


“Dexter, I’m just concerned,” Sid says.

“Can we just let Dex answer the question?” Dr Young continues.

“I don’t know,” Dex says with a deep breath, “A month or so?”

“A month?” Sid repeats. “Why haven’t you said anything?”

“Because I didn’t think it was a big deal,” Dex admits. He looks to Dr Young, “It’s not a big deal, is it? I figured it was just the flu or something.”

“Any other symptoms?”

Dex hesitates, his stomach churning; he’s getting that feeling of not wanting to say the wrong thing. That maybe, if he tells the truth he’ll be in trouble. His dad’s a doctor, if he finds out Dex has been puking in the middle of the night and waking up with cold sweats and living on a concoction of Poweraide and Apsirin he’s going to be furious.

It took forever for Sid to finally let up on being Dex’s personal watchdog after the accident. He wouldn’t let Dex leave the house, and if Sid had to go out – fetch dinner, pick up Dex’s medication – he wouldn’t leave Dex alone. Sasha or Indi or April or even Romeo would need to take the shift. It was smothering, claustrophobic and Dex does not want to go back to that again.

“Been a bit dizzy,” he finally admits. “First thing in the morning, but it goes away by lunchtime.”

Dr Young then turns to Sid and Dex’s sisters, asking them, “Has Dexter been acting differently lately?”

“Different how?” Indi questions.

“You mean, weirder than normal?” Sasha adds.

“Any changes in personality, strange behavior, things that seem out of character,” Dr Young clarifies.

“He’s been tired a lot, irritable, I’ve barely been able to have a conversation with him,” Sid says, although he seems reluctant.


“When he’s tired his stutter returns,” he talks directly to Dr Young like Dex isn’t in the room.

“I’ve been working,” Dex explains. “People get tired when they work, that’s why it’s called work.”

“Anything else?” Dr Young asks, ignoring Dex’s indignant noise.

“He broke up with April,” Sasha pipes up and if looks could kill Sasha would be lying on the floor of the hospital room from the glare Dex is giving her. “What? You’re so head over heels with each other it’s actually cavity-inducing. There had to be some crazy reason for you to think breaking up was a good idea.”

If Dex wasn’t currently hooked up to an IV he would lunge across the bed and tackle Sasha to the ground. “We’re on a break! And it was a joint decision –”

“Okay, anything else?” Dr Young interjects. He glances from Sasha to Indi to Sid and finally to Dex. "Irrational decisions, risk-taking behavior?”

Dex thinks of Steph and his blood runs cold.

“Dexter?” Dr Young prompts.

Dex shakes his head. He can’t tell them.

“So, are you going to tell us what’s going on?” Sid asks and Dr Young appears to steel himself.

“I got the results of Dex’s scans back and it seems the tumor is pressing against his …”

Dr Young keeps talking, explaining its size and location and aggressive treatment options, but Dex’s mind is like a record with a scratch. It keeps skipping, catching on the word tumor and he doesn’t even realize his vision has blurred until he tries to swallow and can’t.

He feels like he’s falling.

Indi looks pale, gaze trained carefully to the ground. Sasha is holding her hand to her mouth, eyes wide and staring. Sid’s eyebrows are knitted together, wrinkles seeming deeper, as if in the space of five seconds he’s aged another ten years. He turns to Dr Young, all business and seriousness, “So where do we go from here?”

“We need to be proactive with this. I want to book Dex in for surgery first thing tomorrow morning, then follow that up with chemotherapy,” He pauses, and realizing Dex’s lack of response, now turns to him. “We can make all the recommendations in the world, but you’re nineteen, Dex. The decision about how we deal with this has to be yours.”

There is silence and Dex doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do. Indi still won’t look at him; he can see the tears in the corner of Sasha’s eyes, the way she’s biting down on her lip to stop herself openly sobbing. His dad watching him, trying to gauge Dex’s reaction; he doesn’t have one. He’s turned into a doctor again, not a father worried for his son, but a professional, someone who deals with this sort of thing all the time. This is just a small blip on his medical radar.

Dex doesn’t feel like any of this is real. He wouldn’t be surprised if someone pinches him and he wakes up from whatever crazy dream he’s having. He’ll be in his bedroom, wiped out from several long and tiresome shifts, but all in one piece, not staring down the barrel of brain surgery.

Indi vaguely excuses herself and moves past Dr Young to step out of the room. Sasha has given up, finally started to openly cry.


“I have c-cancer?” Dex looks up at them in disbelief.

This doesn’t happen, shouldn’t be happening. He’s nineteen, he’s studying at university, and he’s got a job, one he’s passionate about. He has plans for a future – of growing old and starting a family – but all of that seems premature now that the reality of the situation is beginning to settle in.

“We’ll fight it,” Sid tells him.

“I have cancer,” Dex repeats.

“I know this is a lot to take in all at once, but time is not a luxury we have,” Dr Young says, “I need a decision.”

“Okay,” Dex says, barely registers what he’s agreeing to.

“Okay?” Dr Young confirms.

Dex nods, “Okay.”

Dr Young nods, writes something in his own notes and tells Sid that he’ll book Dex in first thing in the morning. “No sense in making him wait any longer than we need to,” he says and Sid agrees. He then dismisses himself from the room, leaving Dex alone with his family. As soon as he is gone Sid slumps into the chair beside Dex’s bed.

“How does this happen?” Sasha asks to no one in particular. It’s not a question any of them can answer. Sid reaches out a hand, which Sasha accepts and he gives it a reassuring squeeze.

“I need to call your mother,” Sid says, and it takes Dex a moment to realize he’s talking to him.


“She needs to know what’s going on, Dex.”

“What’s there to tell her?”

“Dexter,” his father sounds tired, voice flat and Dex sees the dark circles under his eyes, a slight redness, as if he’s been rubbing them when Dex hasn’t been looking. He doesn’t elaborate, and Dex knows what he’s thinking. There’s a hanging doubt in the air, and unspoken uncertainty about what the future holds.

Someone is going to cut into Dex’s brain. Dr Young had started to explain the risks before Dex tuned out; memory loss, lack of coordination and fine motor skills. In the worst case scenario there could be paralysis, or … He never did finish that list. For all the positive thoughts Sid has tried putting out there, he can’t hide the fact that he’s been thinking the same thing as Dex – what happens if something goes wrong?

Indi comes back in, eyes blackened with streaks of mascara, and she moves to stand by the window. She stares out of it.

“What do we do now?” Sasha asks finally.

“Go home,” Dex says, breaking through the silence. His entire family turns to face him, “There’s nothing you can do.”

“No,” Sasha says with a shake of her head, voice quivering slightly like she might cry again, “No, I want to stay with you.”

“Sash,” Dex says, “Dad, tell her. You guys should go.”

“Girls, you should go,” Sid says, and if there was someone who Dex needed to understand his need for them to leave, it should be him. Then he sighs, stands from his place at Dex’s bedside, “We’ll go home, get some dinner and I’ll come back later.”

“Dad, you don’t need to –” Dex starts at the same time Sasha objects, “No! We’re not going!”

He holds up a silencing hand, “Dex needs to rest and you need a break,” he tells them.

Sasha is teary-eyed as she leans over to give him a hug before she goes. She asks him another several times whether he’s going to be okay. “I’ll be fine,” Dex replies automatically, because he doesn’t want to think too hard about how not fine he actually is.

Indi has already waved goodbye, scurrying out the door in a hurry and Dex doesn’t want to think about what she’s feeling at the moment. He can feel his own tears stinging the corner of his eyes as Sid gives him a reassuring pat on his leg through the blankets of the bed and closes the door behind him.

Once they are gone, the room is quiet. He leans back on his pillow, feels his chest begin to heave at a more rapid pace and tries to just focus on this one water stain on the ceiling, as if that will stop himself from crying. He’s held it together for so long – since the diagnosis, which was now several hours ago – because he couldn’t fall apart. He lay there with his entire family staring at him like he was some sort of fragile kitten and couldn’t do that to them. Because crying, actually feeling the weight of the tumor in his head, would be like admitting defeat.

Even though Dex is feeling pretty defeated right now.

This shouldn’t be happening, he shouldn’t be here, and despite the logical, still-working part of his brain – the bit that hasn’t been taken over my mutated cells that want to kill him – says that’s not going to happen, Dex is still holding on to some thin string that says there’s been some awful misunderstanding.

Mistakes happen, he tells himself, because the other option is still too scary to face. Old people get cancer. People who smoke and drink and do drugs get cancer. They’re the ones who die before they’re twenty. Not nerdy, university students who have always done the right thing. He flosses and remembers to water the plants when his dad forgets, and has never not worn his seatbelt. So how is it that it is him that is staring down the barrel of his own mortality?

The tears begin to blur his vision and Dex quickly tries to wipe them away, but they don’t stop. As soon as he can see again, there are more tears there to replace them. His chest heaves unsteadily as Dex tries to breathe, but even that is difficult when a sob escapes and then there is absolutely nothing Dex can do to stop it.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Part 4

University is a lot harder than April thought it would be. She’s not only navigating a campus that is almost as big as Summer Bay in its entirety, but she’s dealing with professors who don’t respond kindly to you putting up your hand in the middle of lecture theatres. It’s a completely different kind of atmosphere than she’s used to, and she’s doing it alone.

At the moment she has a break between her lectures; her next tutorial is at 2 o’clock that afternoon, so April has taken to finding a quiet corner of the lawn to do her prescribed reading. She knows she’s in the fewer than ten percent who actually do their reading before they come to lectures, but April is a straight A student, and just because her lecturer may have some sort of chip on his shoulder, that doesn’t mean she’s going to give up her perfect record and start slacking off.

She doesn’t need Dex watching over her shoulder or holding her hand through this.

Even though at the end of a long day she wants nothing more than to go home and call Dex and bitch it out at him down the phone line. She knows he would come over if she called him and needed a study partner. He would still know all the right things to say when she was stressing out about upcoming assignments, but she can’t do any of the things she wants to, because her and Dex are no longer together. They’re trying to be just friends.

April keeps texting him – friends text each other, it’s fine, really – but recently he hasn’t been replying. In fact, now that she thinks about it, she hasn’t heard from Dex all day. Maybe he’s doing a lot better at the whole ‘giving-each-other-their-own-space’ thing than she is for him.

A shadow passes over the textbook April is reading, stops, and April looks up at the source of the person who is blocking her light.

“So, you’re one of those students,” Cameron Adam observes. Her anatomy lecturer tilts his head trying to read the heading of the chapter April has just started reading. “You actually do the reading I set.”

April shrugs at him. “Why set it if we are not supposed to do it?”

He smiles, “My own amusement, mostly. And also to give me something to ask in the exam.”

“I don’t think that’s very professional.”

“Don’t you?” Cameron raises a questioning eyebrow. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

April sighs. She seems to have acquired this talent – of putting her foot firmly in her mouth whenever she’s around him. Dex would make a joke; brush the whole thing off as nothing more than playful banter and not April questioning the professional integrity of her lecturer.

“Don’t worry,” Cameron says with a sigh, and then he does something bizarre; he actually sits down on the grass beside April. He kicks out his legs, leans back on his hands, “It’s actually quite endearing. I’m a bit wounded that you think so little of my lecturing skills, but I’ll get over it,” then he grins.

April is going to blame the sunshine for the rush of heat to her cheeks.

“You know,” Cameron says after a while, “You never did give me an answer about that coffee.”

April blinks at him, squints a little into the sun, “You were serious about that?”

“Why would I ask if I wasn’t genuine?”

Something flutters inside her, and April has to take a breath. She’s not used to this; the direct approach. Particularly coming from someone like Cameron Adam who seems way above and beyond anything April has ever considered. He’s a professional, graduated top of his cohort, worked in some of the best hospitals in the state, and he’s barely reached his mid-twenties. He’s everything April wants to be.

“I have so many questions about your work,” she gushes, “If you have the time I’d love to pick your brain about it.”

“I can do more than that,” he says with a sly wink. He then shifts, reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet. He hands over a small card, and April stares down at it. “My number. “

“Oh,” April is unable to hide her surprise, “Thanks.”

This is all a bit bizarre. In April’s world it’s the equivalent of having your favourite pop star hand over their address and telling you to just stop by anytime. She doesn’t quite know what to do now. Does she offer her number too? Immediately put it into her contacts list? Slip it into her pocket and not look at it again?

“Is this weird?” Cameron asks, suddenly.


“You look uncomfortable.”

“Oh, no,” April says, trying to hide her nerves, “No, I’m not – It’s just – I’m.” She stops, gathers her thoughts. “I didn’t think you liked me,” she confesses.

Cameron is watching her carefully, observing in a way a doctor would before making a diagnosis, “What makes you think that?”

“You only gave me a Credit on my first assignment, either completely ignore me in class or purposely pick on me to answer impossible questions,” April says in a rush.

There’s a moment’s pause before Cameron says, “I see.”

“And now you’re offering me coffee, so forgive me for finding this whole thing confusing.”

“Do you know why I’m so harsh on you?” Cameron asks. April shifts uncomfortably. She did not sign up to have her lecturer sit down beside her just so he can list all the reasons why April isn’t going to make it as a doctor. “Because you think you know it all,” he doesn’t give April a chance to protest before he’s ploughing forward, “But you have potential. You do the prescribed reading and think that’s enough to make you a good doctor, but you need more experience. It’s one of the downsides of living in a small town. You might be the cream of the crop in Summer Bay, but once you get out into the world you might only be skim milk. Unless you work hard and realize the fact that you have a lot to learn.”

April looks down, picks at a blade of grass. “You don’t hold back, do you?”

“One of the traits you’re going to need to pick up if you want to make it.”

April feels a hand on her knee, sees Cameron reaching out and resting it there gently. He has soft hands, April notices, and although her first reaction is to shy away from the touch, she doesn’t.

“I meant what I said,” Cameron adds, “You have a lot of potential.”

It’s at that moment that April’s phone interrupts them, a shrill ringing and April is frantically looking through her bag trying to find its source. She pulls it out and sees Indi’s name in block letters illuminated on the screen. April shoots an apologetic look at Cameron who just gestures at the phone for April to answer it. He’s removed his hand now, gone back to just leaning back on the grass, angling his face towards the sun.

Hitting the call button, April holds the phone to her ear, “Hey Indi, what’s up?”

“Hi, um, April,” Indi’s voice is strange down the other end of the line. Her usual perky nature is dampened, sounding flat, distant and April is immediately on edge. Indi never sounds like this.

“Is everything okay?”

April glances at Cameron, who at least appears to not be eavesdropping.

Indi gives a shaky laugh. It’s not genuine. “Not exactly.”

“Indi you’re starting to scare me. What’s going on?”

“It’s Dex,” Indi says, and April’s stomach absolutely drops. Nothing good can come from that tone. “You need to come to the hospital.”

April is already on her feet, shoving her textbook into her bag, hoisting it onto her shoulder. Cameron looks up, startled by her sudden shift. She glances back at him, although she’s listening to Indi on the phone at the same time. It’s all sort of hard to take in at once. Overwhelming is the word that comes to mind.

She places a hand over the mouthpiece, “I have to go.”

He waves her off, “No worries,” and April is already walk-jogging across the oval and towards her car when she hears Cameron’s voice call, “Let me know about the coffee!”

April barely focuses on the road as she drives to the hospital. She hears Indi’s voice over and over in her head, the words tumor and brain surgery bouncing around like a tennis ball off a brick wall, not making sense, only a lot of noise. She tries to align that with Dexter; bright and nerdy and charming and it doesn’t make sense. She can’t make it make sense.

When she gets to the hospital she parks the car slightly askew and all but runs through the emergency entrance to where Indi said she’d be waiting. She’s leaning against a wall, shoulders slumped, head down but she looks up as April slows herself to a walk to meet her.

“What’s happened? Is Dex okay?” April blurts out.

April can see the glassy look in Indi’s eyes, she glances up towards the ceiling, blinks, shakes her head. “Dad and Sasha are in there now, but I couldn’t stay. Does that make me a terrible person?”

“No,” April replies, “No, it doesn’t.”

“I just couldn’t stay in there and listen to them talk about surgery and chemotherapy and all that other stuff.” There’s a quiver in her voice, and Indi takes a steadying breath, still doing her absolute best not to cry. “I feel like I’ve failed,” her voice cracks.

“Failed? Why?”

“I’m his big sister. I’m supposed to protect him, and now …” she trails off and this is where she blinks and can’t hold back the tears. Indi quickly wipes them away, but her face is beginning to go red and April reaches out and pulls her into a hug.

“This isn’t your fault,” she tells Indi, “It’s not.”

“I feel like I’ve let him down. If I’d known something was wrong earlier I could have done something. If I’d actually spoken more than two words to him in the last week I would have noticed and then we wouldn’t -- he wouldn’t …”

“Dex isn’t going to blame you for any of this.”

She feels Indi nod and the girl’s pull away. Indi rubbing at her eyes, smudging her make-up and April takes a breath too.

“Do you want to see him?” Indi asks and of course, April nods.

April follows Indi down the labyrinth of corridors and hallways, silently trailing behind. She takes a right and halts in front of the rest of her family who are hovering outside a closed door.

“He kicked us out,” Sasha tells them, and April can hear the hurt in her voice.

“He just needed some space,” Sid explains.

“How is he?” April ventures and the way Sid’s face crumbles is enough to send April’s heart straight into the pit of her stomach.

“Holding it together,” he tells her.

“Can I go in?”

Sid nods, says, “He may not be very receptive to more people.”

April understands, places a careful hand on the doorknob and turns it, pushes it open.

Of all the things April thought she was going to have to face in going through that door, this is not what she was expecting. Dex is falling apart, whimpers and cries leaving his mouth and his whole body is shaking from the force of it all. He’s trembling, and something takes over. She surges forward, doesn’t even think about it, and wraps him up in her arms.

Dex doesn’t object, leans into her touch and tries to physically bury himself in the crook of her neck, his sounds of distress muffled by her skin.

She’s studying to be a doctor, she should be able to hold it together, but with Dex sobbing into her chest, there’s little April can do to stop her own tears. She quickly wipes them away, pretends they weren’t there, because someone needs to be strong for Dex. She can’t let herself fall to pieces too.

Finally, Dex has stopped crying, he’s still making little noises occasionally – hiccoughs, sniffles, a couple of deep breaths – as he tries to reign himself in. She wants to be able to do something, to fix it somehow. Isn’t that what doctor’s do? Fix people? But all she feels is helpless, because Indi could only give her pieces of information, she doesn’t understand herself what’s really going on, so April had to form her own conclusions in the car on the way over.

But regardless of how much she thought she knew, this is so much worse. This is Dex, her Dex, and she wants more than anything to tell him it’ll be okay, that it will all work out and he’ll be fine. But she doesn’t know that. She doesn’t know anything. She’s a little girl posing as a medical student and right now her boyfr -- friend has a tumor and she’s never been more terrified.

Dex gives one last steadying sigh and leans back; his whole body seems wrung out, using his fist, rubs at his right eye. He then makes eye contact with April for the first time.

“Hey,” he says, shakily.

“Hey,” she replies.

And then -- what else is there to say?

“Don’t you have uni?”

“More important things to do.” They’re silent, April sitting awkwardly on the side of Dex’s bed, one foot on the floor keeping her propped up, the other bent at a slight angle for balance. She doesn’t dare move. “Indi called me.”

“So that’s where she went,” Dex says to the blanket over his lap.

He’s picking at some invisible thread, a nervous habit; April sees the way his hands are still shaking slightly. She ventures, “She said the surgery was in the morning.”

Dex seems to flinch at the word, but tries to hide it, just keeps adjusting, readjusting the blanket. He nods, a little jerk of his head that at least acknowledges the question.

“Maybe you could just do it,” Dex confesses, still looking down. His voice has gone again, a little thicker than normal, heavier. April sees him blink a couple of times in rapid succession, making himself not cry, even though she doesn’t care if he does. She would be a bigger mess than he currently is if the roles were reversed.

April forces a laugh, it sounds wrong, “You wouldn’t want me doing it. We haven’t got to neurology yet. That’s a third-year thing.”

“I don’t care.” She sees the tiniest droplet leak out of the corner of Dex’s eye and April doesn’t even think. She leans forward, presses her lips to Dex’s forehead.

For a moment, it’s like they’re together again, as DexandApril; a package deal. Not Dex and April – too many spaces between. But she knows she can’t bring that up now. It would look like pity and fear, wanting to get back together. To say, screw becoming independent people when we may not get a chance to. Pretend, that if they get back together then everything else will disappear as well. It doesn’t work like that, and Dex knows it.

There’s a knock on the door and it’s Julie poking her head around the corner, “Sorry to interrupt, but visiting hours are over and Dex needs some rest.”

Dex’s eyes widen as April goes to stand and leave. She looks down, sees how he’s got one hand gripping a handful of blanket, the other firmly around April’s wrist.

April turns back, “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“P-promise?” She doesn’t know if the stutter is his brain or just nerves.

April nods, gives him another kiss, this one on his cheek, and Dex finally releases her from his death-grip.

Outside Sid, Sasha and Indi are still there, even though they were supposed to leave ages ago.

“How is he?” Sasha asks immediately, rushing forward to meet April as soon as she closes Dex’s door behind her.

April shrugs, “Scared.”

He’s not the only one, she thinks.

There’s nothing more they can do, so they walk out together. No one says anything; just reluctantly walking away from the room and down the corridor. There’s enough space that they can each be as isolated as they feel, and yet still be a unit. Be there for one another, even if it’s still at an arms distance. April has to resist every instinct to just turn around and make a bolt straight back towards Dex’s room, to press her ear against the door just to make sure he’s sleeping and not crying again. She imagines this is what being a parent is like. Glancing over at Sid she sees him keep his expression blank, cold, strong as they exit through the emergency doors and into the car park.

Bianca knows something is wrong the moment April comes through the door at Irene’s. Out of the corner of her eye she sees the table set, smells something faintly of chicken cooking in the oven, but everything blurs as she feels the tears begin to swell up behind her eyes. Bianca is up off the lounge in an instant, taking long strides across the lounge room to engulf April in a body-crushing hug. She keeps saying, “Talk to me, tell me what’s going on, April talk to me, you can tell me anything,” over and over, but April can’t speak. Her heart is in her throat, an inexplicable lump that refuses to budge, and when Heath hears the noise from the other room he comes storming in.

At the two girls huddled together, Bianca holding April in tightly, he’s already presuming the worst, asking, “Did someone hurt you? I swear if anyone so much as laid a finger I’ll –”

April shakes her head vehemently, tries to swallow so she can just get something, anything out.

“It’s Dex,” she croaks.


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Part Five

Heath brings April a glass of water under Bianca’s instruction.

She doesn’t know why, but that’s always been her family’s go-to solution. And April doesn’t understand it, but after a few sips she’s actually starting to feel … something. Not fine, or even okay, but marginally less hopeless than she was when she left the hospital no more than an hour ago.

“Dex’s dad’s a doctor, they’ll call in all sorts of favours to make sure he pulls through,” Heath says, in way April assumes is supposed to be comforting.

Bianca interjects, “I think what Heath’s trying to say is that, Dex is young and he’s strong. He’s going to be okay. You might just have to patient, that’s all.”

April looks down at her glass, traces a finger around the lip of it.

Patience is something April has always prided herself in having. She doesn’t make impulsive decisions or throw caution to the wind. She plans and waits and doesn’t mind being the last one in line if it means the people around her are happy and content. But this kind of waiting is agonizing. She barely sleeps that night and can only stomach a slice of toast for breakfast, which she eats as the sun is just beginning to come up.

Although visiting hours don’t start until nine in the morning, April knows that if she speaks to Julie she can sweet talk her way into Dex’s room earlier than that. Julie always did have a soft spot for Dex when he was – is she corrects herself – working at the hospital.

April glances down at her phone, swiping her finger across the screen to make it alight. It’s only half past six and she’s wondering if she stops off at the diner first and has a coffee that it might help pass the time and calm her nerves.

Footsteps trod faintly from the stairs and Irene is descending, typing up her dressing gown. “Wow, girly. You’re up early.”

“Couldn’t sleep.”

Irene hums in some sort of agreeance, doesn’t bother to argue or berate April for it. She moves around the kitchen, filling up the kettle and putting it on to boil as April continues to sit at the counter. She doesn’t take much notice of Irene as she potters about, opening and closing cupboards, taking and replacing bits and pieces from the fridge. All April can do is stare at her phone screen, watches the numbers flick over to 6:34 and blink in predictable intervals.

Her call log tells her that she hasn’t received any calls since Indi, but there’s a text sitting unanswered from Cameron that she hasn’t been able to face.

April feels Irene pause in front of her, reluctantly looks up from her phone, and sees her place a steaming cup of tea in front of her.

April sighs, “Irene.”

“Look, I’m not going to pretend that this is easy but if you want to be there for Dex then you’re going to need your strength. So, drink.” She points at the cup and doesn’t look away until April reluctantly takes it with both hands and sips at it.

April raises her eyebrows in an, ‘Are you happy now?’ way and Irene nods, says again, “Drink.”

She does, mostly because it’s something to do, and the warmth is comforting.

At 8:00 am and under the proviso that she will drive carefully, Irene lets April leave for the hospital. It turns out she’s not that early after all, with Dex’s family already milling about outside his room.

“They’ve moved the surgery up,” Indi tells her when April gets to them.

“This is a good thing, right?” Sasha asks, “The sooner he’s in there, the sooner he’ll get out?”

Sid doesn’t nod, he’s looking over paperwork in his hands, shuffling it about into a different order, but he stops when a balding man in scrubs walks up to them, holding out his hand introducing himself as Doctor Mason. “I’ll be performing Dexter’s operation this morning. Sid, how are you and your family holding up?”

Sid glances at the girls around him, “We’re hanging in there.”

“I realize this has all happened so suddenly, but I just wanted to reassure you that my team is one of the best and we’ll be doing everything we possibly can to make sure Dex has the best shot at recovery.”

“What’s going to happen?” Sasha asks.

“I’ve already seen Dexter this morning, given him the run down about what we’ll be doing. The procedure will be a few hours, we’ll try to remove as much of the tumor as possible, and we have a room where you are welcome to wait.” Doctor Mason’s pager begins to beep and he quickly dismisses himself from their group. “I will come and speak with you when the surgery is over.”

“You girls are welcome to go in and see him, I just need to speak with Julie about something,” Sid says, looking past them and towards the nurses’ station. He leaves them alone and they watch him go, already bailing up Nurse Julie and presenting her with the papers he was reading when April arrived.

“He’s not …” Indi starts, trying to explain. She can’t finish, but April finds herself nodding anyway.

Sasha knocks first and they let themselves into Dex’s room. He’s sitting up in bed, propped up by a couple of pillows and he doesn’t even look up at them when they walk in.

“Hey, Dex! Are you the nurses’ favourite patient yet?” Sasha asks, overly bright and cheerful.

It takes April a moment. She’s still a bit caught up in Dex being in a hospital bed rather than running around all over the Walker household, flitting from one thing to the next because his mind is too busy to ever focus on just one thing. But then she notices what has caught Dex’s attention. It’s a pair of clippers and Dex has is eyes trained to them like they’ve got him in some sort of trance.

“Dex?” Sasha ventures.

“Dad’s just looking at paperwork,” Indi tell him, “Boring stuff, I’m sure he’ll be in soon.” She looks towards the door, as if waiting for him.

“Are you nervous?” Sasha asks, and April can sense her hesitation towards the topic, but Dex doesn’t seem to even register the question, his eyes remaining focused on the clippers on the tray lying on the table above his bed. “You don’t have to be, we’re all going to be here for you, and dad says Doctor Mason is really good. He’s from a big hospital in the city and everything …” She trails off as Indi places a hand on Sasha’s arm, silently halting her.

“Dex, is there something you want us to do?” Indi says, trying a different tact to illicit a response from her brother. “Did you want to … uh, did you want to do that yourself or …?”

She trails off, finishes by shaking her head and April can tell they’ve both run out of things to say, small offerings as some sort of final attempt at normalcy.

“Can we have a moment?” April asks, even though she knows she doesn’t have any right to it. She doesn’t have claim over Dex anymore than he does of her, but Sasha and Indi seem to be floundering and she’s offering them an out. “Maybe you can go and find your dad?”

Indi and Sasha share a look and Indi nods. Before she goes Sasha reaches out a hand and brushes it along the side of Dex’s bed, then she follows Indi out the door.

April takes a steadying breath before she steps closer to Dex’s bedside. Dex continues to stare and she sees the way he’s holding himself, the strain in his neck and shoulders as he keeps himself upright. There’s a slight tremor in his hand as he keeps them bundled into fists, keeping them deliberately in his lap.

Slowly, April pushes the tray away from Dex, and she watches him blink as he realizes the object that he’d been so focused on has moved. It takes a moment, and April doesn’t want to think about time – about how Dex used to be so quick on the uptake, and now it seems like a second is forever for Dex to come back to himself – before the room comes back into focus and Dex seems to realize for the first time that someone else is there.

“I think you freaked out your sisters,” April tells him and Dex looks towards the door, and she lets him understand first.

“I didn’t m-mean to.”

“I know.” She looks towards the clippers, “You looking to give yourself a makeover?”

Dex eyes them wearily. “A nurse brought them in this morning. She offered to do it but I told her no. Said I wanted to do it myself.” Dex shakes his head, “I couldn’t do it.”

“That’s okay,” April says.

“Is it completely shallow?” Dex asks, “Like, I realize that within the next hour I’m going to have someone with their hands in my brain, or something, but the only thing I’m struggling to get past is losing a bit of hair prematurely.”

“It’s not shallow,” April tells him, “You’re allowed to worry about that stuff.”

“It’s just all happened so fast, that I think,” Dex is talking to his lap and April reaches out and places a hand over the top of his, “that if I could just hold on to this one thing - this one stupid thing - that maybe the world will slow down enough so that I’ll just be able to catch my breath.”

April sees the dark circles under Dex’s eyes, the obvious signs of lack of sleep, but he’s oddly calm, muted by the fluorescent lighting and bleached-coloured walls and sheets.

“Will you do it?”


“Will you …” Dex nods towards the clippers, “Cut my hair?”

“Are you sure?” April doesn’t know why she’s whispering, but Dex nods.

Dex slides out of bed, hesitating as his sockless feet touch the cold floor and he takes a couple of wobbly steps into the upright chair located next to the bed. Dex tilts his head forward, “Ready as I’ll ever be,” he says.

Dex’s hair is short and black, flat behind his left ear from where Dex has been lying. April remembers waking up next to that head of hair, the way it used to stick up in all directions after she had run her hands through it, teasing it up from the back and the way Dex used to try to flatten it down. She’d lean in and kiss him, still smiling and blissful from the night before, and pretty soon they’d both forget how messy their hair was.

Now, she finds herself combing her fingers through it, trying to remember that feeling when it was just them and no one else in the world and they were convinced they were invincible. Dex leans back into April’s touch and she cups the back of his head before she takes the clippers into her right hand and switches them on, the buzzing of the shearers blocking out all other noise.

Neither one of them speak until the last of Dex’s dark locks have fallen to the floor. April switches off the clippers and puts them aside.

“What’s the verdict?” Dex breathes out, and April pretends she doesn’t hear the slight tremor in his voice.

April feels a lump in her throat at the sight of Dex’s hair in clumps on the linoleum floor. Up until this point April thought she has realized what Dex was going to be going through, but now it feels more permanent somehow. She can’t put his hair back, can’t pretend that things aren’t going to change for them all, and knows this is only the beginning.

But hair grows back; that’s what April tells herself, and Dex will get better and slowly things will return to normal. That’s the thing she holds on to as she leans down and places a kiss to the top of Dex’s shaved head.

When Indi, Sasha and Sid return they’re a little shocked and Sid says, “Well, you certainly didn’t waste any time.”

Dex shrugs, replies, “May as well embrace it. I’d like to think at least some of this is on my terms.” Sid helps Dex get back into bed, adjusts his pillows, and April watches the way he keeps reaching up to touch his head, running his fingers over the smooth surface where his hair used to be.

Sasha shuffles beside April, her previous over-exaggerated positivity drained and she looks like she’s on the verge of tears, maybe coming to her own realization too. Dex notices, “Sash, please don’t cry again. This,” he gestures to his hairlessness, “Isn’t a big deal. You just have to promise me something.”

“What?” Sasha asks thickly.

“Don’t mix me up with Justin Timberlake,” Dex replies, the ghost of a smile on his lips and Sasha lets out a single barking laugh before she can stop herself. Immediately her smile turns to shock and she’s slapping a hand over her mouth. But Sid is wearily smiling too, and Indi steps forward to give her brother a hug.

“I hope they remove your terrible sense of humor while they’re in there,” she tells him.

And Dex huffs, “Someone has to be the comedic side of this family.” Over Indi’s shoulder April sees the way he grips on tighter, returns the hug. “It’s better for everyone that it’s not you.”

Indi steps back with a playful nudge at Dex’s arm and then Sid is placing a reassuring hand on Dex’s leg through the blanket. “You’ll be fine,” he tells him, “Doctor Mason knows what he’s doing.”

“That’s comforting,” Dex deadpans, but Sid just squeezes his leg before Dex’s eyes fall to April. It’s like the entire room realizes she’s still there, and they’re all waiting for what is going to happen next. April knows what they’re expecting, what they want her to say – the three words she’s thinking right now. But the reason she wants to say them is not because she doesn’t think Dex knows, of course he does. It’s because she’s worried she might not get another chance. It’s the doubt that’s creeping in, the shadow of a time not long from now when she won’t get the opportunity to say it to Dex ever again.

So if she says them, how she feels about him (has always felt about him) then it’s admitting defeat. It’s acknowledging that things may not go to plan and Dex will know that.

“April,” Dex says, reaching out his hand. She takes it, feels the way it trembles slightly in her grasp and it’s the way he says her name. The way it rolls off his tongue in the most natural way, and even though she’s heard it so many times – knows what it sounds like gravelly first thing in the morning or gasped in the heat of passion or screamed at the top of his lungs – it still makes something inside her skip, makes her heart flutter.

April can see the wide-eye anticipation in Dex’s face, the nerves and terror that is peeking out from behind his stupid jokes, and she hates the way his face crumbles just that little bit when she doesn’t say what he expects.

“I’ll see you later,” she tells him in the most certain way she knows how.

And April sees Dex open his mouth to say something else, but Julie is coming in through the door and telling them that they are ready for Dex in the theatre.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Part Six

It feels like a lot longer than two weeks, and April realizes that she’s maybe being a little intense, but after the surgery it was strictly family only at the hospital and then Indi texted her to say that Dex had got an infection so he’ll be a little longer in ICU and she’ll let her know when she can come in and see him. After three days when April had heard no news she resorted to calling Sid direct. He was short, terse and gave her very little information regarding Dex’s progress. If anything it sounded as though he was trying to put April off. You don’t need to be sitting around a hospital all day; you have your studies, April. I’m sure you can find something to do. He’d tell her that Dex was constantly sleeping or that his head was taking a little longer to heal than they originally had hoped so it’s not a good time, not yet.

So now she’s hovering at the door of the farm, Dex having been brought home that morning, which April only found out about through Irene, who saw Sasha at the Diner. She doesn’t want to think about how she might be being shut out, so she stands up straight, squares her shoulders and adjusts the parcel under her arm before knocking.

There’s a pause and April hears scrambling and footsteps on the other side of the door before it opens and Sasha is standing before her. “April!” she exclaims, and then hushes her voice, “Hey, how are you?”

“How’s Dex?” April asks.

Sasha nods, “Better.” She seems to think, considers something, then says, “I wish you could have come to the hospital. Everything was just kind of … full on.” She shrugs a little, then adds, “Dex was asking about you.”

“Really?” April can’t hide the hopefulness in her tone. Even if Dex’s family had been forgetting about her, it’s comforting to know that Dex hasn’t. But her stomach is still in knots as she asks, “Can I see him?”

“Oh, yeah. Dad is just setting him up in his bedroom.” Sasha steps aside and lets April into the house, and as they make their way down the hallway and towards Dex’s room April glances into the kitchen. She sees plates and dishes in the sink, a saucepan on the stove and into the lounge room there’s blankets and pillows scattered across the couch, as if someone has been sleeping there.

Dex’s door is open, Indi standing just inside the doorway, hovering and April only sees Sid’s back as he is bent over something on Dex’s bed. It’s only when he stands and steps back that April sees that what Sid was previously hiding from April’s view was, in fact, Dex.

He looks so small, surrounded by pillows and tucked into his covers. His head is pale, skin tinged yellow, and he has a strip of gauze covering the incision from the surgery near his right ear. His eyes are closed, but they flutter open as Sid moves back asking, in a very slow, even voice, “Dex, do you need anything?”

Dex seems to think about shaking his head, the slight jerky movement making him squeeze his eyes shut, shiver a little and Sid places a hand on his son’s shoulder. “Okay, okay. Easy.”

This is not the Dex that April knows. He’s not quiet or shy, always moving, thinking, feeling, and now in the space of a short couple of weeks he’s been reduced to a shadow of himself. Dark circles surround his eyes and every little movement seems to take unreasonable effort. Under Sid’s comforting hand he takes a breath, blinks his eyes open and lets them wander around the room. She can tell they are still sleep-ridden, or just already exhausted from just getting home, but they settle on April for the first time and Dex’s face breaks into a smile.

Sure, his grin is a little lopsided, face more gaunt, but that is the Dex she loves.

“Hi,” April ventures, “How are you feeling?” Stupid question, she berates herself.

“B-b-better now,” he croaks and April tries to return his smile.

The rational part of her brain; the part that goes to lectures for medicine knows that it will take time before Dex is back to normal. He may have physical therapy, need work on his fine motor skills, balance, until he’s back in a place that is even comparable to where he was before. But the other part of her brain; the bit that still believes in fairytales and happily ever after’s and won’t look under her bed for fear of monsters, is disappointed. The naïve girl insider her had hoped that the surgery would fix Dex completely. She’d let herself consider the idea that he’d bounce back in days and then they would just be able to put this whole thing behind them and get on with their lives.

She wants to probe Dex for more information, ask about his memory and coordination and side effects, because she didn’t get to be there afterwards. April feels like she missed that part, as stupid and selfish as that sounds. She’s not his girlfriend, she knows that, but Dex is like her family. When her and Dex were dating April always knew her place in the Walker family. The way she would sit next to Dex at Friday night dinner and trade shoes and nail polishes with Indi, talk boys with Sasha and press Sid for every medical story he had. But it’s different now. Not just because they’re broken up, although she assumes that has something to do with it, but because Dex’s family are forming a shield around him, wanting to protect him, and April doesn’t know how she fits.

So she wants to talk to Dex, ask him everything he remembers and what the doctors said, so she can then go home and get on google and find out more, but Dex’s eyelids are already getting heavy and he’s clearly struggling to keep them open.

“If you need anything just ring,” Sid insists, gesturing to a little golden bell he’s placed on Dex’s bedside cabinet. April also notices the water in a plastic bottle with a pop-up lid and the assortment of small pill bottles in a multi-coloured row. “Dex needs his rest,” Sid says to the rest of them, and that’s their cue to leave, Dex already dozing off, head lolling back against the pillows.

Back in the kitchen April remembers the package she’s been carrying since she arrived.

“These are for Dex,” she explains, placing the comic books on the kitchen counter as Indi puts the kettle on, “When he’s up to it, obviously.”

Sid doesn’t reply, just makes his way straight into the lounge room and sinks into his armchair, the cushions creaking under his weight. He pulls out a manila folder from his briefcase on the floor at his side and begins sifting through the paperwork inside.

“Thanks, April,” Sasha replies on her dad’s behalf, “I’m sure Dex will appreciate it.”

“You know Dex; if he has to stay in bed for more than a day he’s going to go stir-crazy,” April says lightly.

“I’m still surprised Dad gave him that bell,” Indi adds, “He’s going to be ringing it every time he has an itch just to **** me off.”

“You know he’s going to come up with the most ridiculous stuff for us to do,” Sasha says, “We basically have to be his personal slaves.”

“I am not reading him bedtime stories,” Indi says.

“I draw the line at acting out scenes with his action figures,” Sasha says, scrunching up her nose in mild disgust. She then turns and point a finger at April, “You can take bathroom duty.”

“Why me?”

“Oh like you’ve never seen him naked before,” Sasha explains with a roll of her eyes and a wicked kind of grin. April laughs, giving a shrug that’s a bit like surrender.

“Although to be fair, I think Dex has the raw end of the deal,” Indi points out, and almost instantly the mood sobers. For all the joking about Dex making outlandish requests, they know it’s serious. All they did was drive him home from the hospital and he’s already exhausted. It could be months before he’s dancing in the kitchen and making breakfast; if at all.

April turns to Sid then, asking, “I thought the surgery was supposed to help his stutter. I noticed it before.”

Sid looks up from his reading. “It will, but he just had major brain surgery, his whole body is still recovering. Don’t expect miracles.”

“No, I’m not, I was just wondering when we might see some improvement.”

“When he sits up in bed by himself that’s an improvement; when he can remember his sister’s birthday that’s an improvement. If he can get through an entire day without forgetting a word he’s trying to say, then that’s an improvement,” Sid lists and there’s something like anger behind his tone and April feels her throat close, eyes begin to sting, but she can’t cry. She just can’t.

“Dad,” Sasha warns and Sid sighs, stops counting off on his fingers.

April breathes, says carefully, “Doctor Walker, I understand all of that, but I was hoping you would be able to actually tell me something.”

Sid puts the folder down on the table and stands up, facing the girls. The kettle whistles and Indi scurries over to it, busying herself with tea bags and milk and Sasha just shifts uncomfortably beside her.

“They couldn’t remove as much of the tumor has they had hoped. So, it’s still there. As soon as he can, he’ll be started on chemotherapy, weekly rounds to begin with. It’s going to make him sick, sicker than he is right now, and his hair isn’t even going to get a chance to grow back.” April feels a tear escape, quickly looks away. Sid isn’t saying it to be unkind, she tells herself, he’s telling her the truth. Just like she wanted. “The doctors are still considering radiotherapy too, depending on how effective the chemo is. But it’s going to be months, many months, and when Dex is unable to keep any of his dinner down, or forgets your name, are you still going to want to be here?”

The question stings, pierces something right next to her heart and April gasps. “Of course I –”

Sid cuts her off, “Because this is not something you can just decide to take a break from.”


The decision for them to take a break was mostly from Dex. He wanted to do the Grand Romantic Gesture, told her that if you truly love someone you have to let them go, or some other bull. She was furious at first, that Dex would throw everything they had away over his own selfish need to be independent. But then she understood; he was doing it for her as well. He never said he didn’t love her, not for a moment, but he needed to make sure that they weren’t together just because there weren’t any other options. Because they had been through so much already that it was an obligation to just stick it out. He was giving her the chance to go out and be her own person and then after some time they could make an informed decision about whether they should be together.

Now she hates him for that decision.

Because she has an out, she has an excuse not to stay and Sid isn’t holding her to anything. He’s giving her the option of leaving. But Dex doesn’t have that luxury.

She can’t eat, and Irene knows everything is wrong at the moment, so doesn’t even ask for specifics, just says, “Must be nice for Dex to be back home again.” April nods, distracted, pushes a few pieces of lettuce around on her plate. “I know after I was in hospital for my treatment there was nothing quite like being back in my own bed.”

If they were still together then it wouldn’t be an issue, there wouldn’t be a choice. They would be going through this together, end of story. But things are different now. Can she be there for Dex as just friends? Is this the sort of thing that friends do for each other? Do they bring thoughtful gifts and spend hours upon hours doing research into medical treatments and the most current research?

“Look, girly, I know this is hard on all of you,” Irene says, “But you need to keep your strength up. I can’t be worried about two of you.”

April glances up from her plate and gives Irene a small smile before she stabs a piece of carrot and pops it in her mouth.

“When you were sick,” April asks suddenly, “did it help? Having people around? Or did you just want to be left alone?”

Irene considers this, then answers, “Don’t get me wrong, some days when I was feeling really crook, I did not want a bar of anyone. But knowing that there were people in my corner, people who just cared, even when I didn’t want them to, made all the difference in the world. At the end of the day, it was way too hard to be going it alone.”


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  • 2 weeks later...

Part Seven

When Irene answers the door, the last person April expects to see standing on the other side is Sid.

“Sid,” Irene says, “What can we do for you?”

“Evening, Irene,” he replies, before glancing over Irene’s shoulder towards April at the dining table. “Can I speak with April, please?”

April immediately sits up, “Dex -?”

“Is asleep,” Sid reassures, holding up a calming hand, and April breathes. She hates living on edge, but nothing good can come from late-night house visits. Irene offers coffee, which Sid turns down, and they move to the lounge room to sit, Sid taking an armchair and April the sofa, while Irene busies herself in the kitchen and pretends not to be eavesdropping.

“Is everything okay?” April asks.

“Fine,” Sid replies, then amends, “Well, as fine as it can be I suppose, which is sort of why I needed to call over.”

April notices the way Sid leans forward in the chair, fingers laced together and resting on his knees. He’s sitting only halfway into the armchair, like he’s deliberately not allowing himself to get comfortable. He’s also keeping his distance, April sensing the apprehension and awkwardness in the room.

April has to try and make this right. If there is one thing Dex doesn’t need right now is his ex-girlfriend and his dad being unable to have a civil conversation.

“Look, Doctor Walker, I’m really sorry about –”

Sid holds up a hand, “April, please, I’m the one who came over to apologise.”

This catches April off-guard. “Apologise? What for? I was the one being way too pushy.”

“You had every right to ask about Dex. It wasn’t right of me to keep you in the dark. It also wasn’t fair of me to put you in a position where you felt you didn’t belong and had to make a choice. And for that, I’m sorry.” April doesn’t know what to say, fortunately, Sid is the one who fills the silence. “The truth is, that for a while I didn’t know myself how things were going to turn out. As a parent, you have to be the one who’s in control, the one who has to hold it together for everyone else, and admitting that I was powerless to what was going on was … well, it wasn’t something I was willing to admit.”

“Dex is strong,” April says, almost redundantly. But she needs to reassure herself of that, probably more than Sid.

“I know why you and Dex were wanting some space,” Sid continues, “I didn’t want you to feel like you were going to lose all that ground. There’s no sense in more people becoming infected by this than there already is.”

April knows cancer isn’t contagious; you can’t catch it like you can a cold. She never considered that it wasn’t just the person who had the disease that was suffering.

“I needed you to know that, but I could have been a lot more considerate in the way I said it, and for that I apologise,” Sid concludes.

“It’s okay,” April says, because she can’t just let them drift into silence again. Irene has stopped rustling about in the kitchen and is obviously trying to give them some space. But Sid stands anyway, begins making his way to the door, when he suddenly turns back to April.

“You know when Dex woke up, after the surgery, the first person he asked about was you.”

April’s heart actually speeds up, is still pounding hard after Sid has bid Irene goodnight and she’s closed the door.


Dex feels as though someone has taken a beater, shoved it through his skull and then turned it on. For a while, things seemed okay, but now, Dex is realizing he was probably just too drugged to notice.

He vaguely registers an egg timer going off somewhere in another room – also wishes he had the strength to tell his dad just how much he hates that noise – followed by the pitter patter of footsteps coming down the passage. There’s a soft knock on his bedroom door and then it slowly creaks open and Indi peers around the corner.

“Hey,” she whispers, noticing Dex is awake. He’s been sleeping on and off most of the day. He’s a little reluctant to admit just how exhausted he is feeling given he’s done so very little these past couple of weeks. Indi lets the door open a bit more, steps inside his room. “It’s time for your …” she trails off, nods towards the row of pill bottles lined up like soldiers.

Dex struggles a bit but manages to make himself sit up a little more as Indi pops the caps and puts two capsules in the palm of her hand before presenting them to Dex. He takes them, swallows them with a lot of water before settling back into the pillows.

There’s a question that’s been plaguing him for hours, but every time he thinks of it he’s just about to drift off to sleep. Then when Dex wakes, he’s forgotten it again. He struggles for a moment, tries to make the words sit in his head before he attempts to say them.

“Where’s A-april?”

Indi blinks for a moment, stalls from where she’s started straightening books on his over-packed bookshelf. She goes back to the books, “Uh, she went home.”

Dex knows something is wrong, can tell by Indi’s attempt as casualty. It took a while for Dex to make sense of days again, but in the hospital he did manage to piece together the fact that he saw April the morning of his surgery, she shaved his head, but didn’t see her since. Sasha assured him that she kept asking how he was even though she didn’t come and see him. Not that he blames her, really. Dex isn’t really in peak physical condition at the moment.

He knows she has uni and assignments, but can’t hide his disappointment. But he doesn’t have the right to make her be there, to sit vigil by his bedside and nurse him back to health. He has a family that’s doing that.

But he can’t hide the fact that he still misses her, wishes he could talk to her – properly – but that wouldn’t be the right thing to do right now.


“Gone out? He said he wouldn’t be long,” Indi spins around quickly, looking over Dex with scared eyes, “Is something wrong? Cause I can call him even though he’s only at Irene’s, but he’ll be home in like twenty minutes if you can wait…”


Indi glances down at her feet, “Yeah. I think he went to see April.”

Dex wrinkles his brow in confusion even though that hurts. Why would his dad be going to see April?

“C-can I ask you a favour?” Dex sounds like he’s on the verge of being drunk, his words still slurring slightly, taking a little longer to make sense. Indi nods and Dex stretches out his hand towards his bedside table where his phone is. “I need you to send a …” he knows this word, can’t make his brain find it, so he fumbles vaguely for where his dad put his phone next to his bed.

Indi gets it, “A message?” and Dex nods, cradles the phone in his hands. He doesn’t trust himself to make his fingers hit the right buttons, let alone for sentences. She takes the phone from him, adding with a smirk, “But I’m adding ‘Dex is a booger’ to the end of it,” and Dex tries to glare at her, but Indi just laughs and settles in to sit at the edge of his bed so he can see the screen over her shoulder.

It takes a while for Dex to get the wording right and for Indi to type it out on his phone, but he gives her a nod once it’s done. It was beginning to be a struggle and the more he agonized over those last few characters the more exhausted he began to feel, his medicine kicking in and making him want to drift off to sleep.

He tries to picture April getting the text – he double checked to make sure Indi said it was from him and not a booger – the small smile he hopes it brings and wonders if she’ll come and see him. He vaguely registers his dad coming home, the soft murmurs of conversation in the lounge room, but he’s too worn out to be bothered to even open his eyes and ring his bell and ask what is going on. What is the secret that Dex is being excluded from knowing?

So he keeps his eyes closed, drifting somewhere between being aware of his surroundings but too close to the soft, blurry edges of sleep to force them open when he hears the creak of the floorboard outside his room, the twist of his doorknob and knows it’s his dad that’s hovering there.

His dad has been doing that a lot. Just hovering, staying close by, making sure Dex is just breathing, it seems, because he’s scared Dex will one day forget. Maybe that’s what April is scared of too. That his brain – which has always been his greatest asset – will fail him and he won’t know who she is, or how he feels about her, and she will be nothing more than another stranger coming and going from his life. He can’t have her thinking that, because if there is one thing he is determined to hold on to it is April, even if it is as friends.

Dex shouldn’t feel nervous around April, but when she arrives it’s almost like they’ve both gone shy. He remembers the way she held him on that morning of the surgery, the way she could make him feel so safe and secure, like the whole world could be demanding to come in, but April would keep them away. He craves that feeling again, to just touch her and have her hold him again, feel the press of her lips to his skin, even though he has no right to ask for any of that anymore.

She stands in the doorway of his bedroom, hands nervously clasped in front, and Dex sits up a little straighter, because as ridiculous as it is, he still wants to impress her. April always was out of his league.

“Hi,” she says holding up her phone, “I got your text.”

“I-indi –“ Dex starts and April nods.

“Yeah, I know she sent it,” April says, and Dex lets his eyebrows arc up in surprise, “She sent me one too. From her phone, explaining.”

Dex nods, understanding, wishes they could skip past all this awkwardness, the polite formalities and get back to normal. Where they used to be able to just hang out and talk about nothing and everything all at once.

Dex carefully considers his words, doesn’t want to mess any of this up. It already seems too fragile, somehow. “You don’t have to stand there.”

April takes a cautious step into Dex’s room, glances down at his Star Wars bed cover, the lamp on his desk, textbook propped open with a pen because he was in the middle of reading, but her eyes keep coming back to him. He catches her looking at his head and he feels naked all of a sudden.

Dex shuffles a little in the bed, makes more room on the side so April knows she can sit there. He’s not made of china, won’t break if she touches him, even though he hoped she would know that from the message last night.

The bed sinks a little with her sitting on the edge, her hand grazing his where he has them resting in his lap. Then she does something even she seems shocked by, she reaches up and cups his cheek. Dex can’t break the contact, he’s not in a position to really pull away – which he doesn’t – but it’s her eyes that have him glued there, stuck under her thoughtful gaze.

“Does it hurt?” she whispers.

And Dex’s ability to use the proper English language has been shoddy at best recently, but with April looking at him like this he stands no chance.

“A bit,” he says, understatement of the year.

“You’re the bravest person I know,” April tells him and Dex feels himself flush with heat.

He certainly wasn’t brave when he woke from his surgery, and feeling so scared and confused by what was going on, who was shining lights in his eyes, calling his name, that he started to cry. The strangled, frightened cry that babies and kids have, because they haven’t learned to try and hide it.

Heroes are brave. They go out and fight the bad guys so that they might save other people. All Dex has been worried about is saving himself. He has never once felt like anyone’s hero.

She must see the slight panic in his eyes, the intensity of their closeness becoming overwhelming for both of them, because April gently pulls her hand away, lets it fall lightly onto the bed covers.

“I wanted to come and see you after the surgery,” April tells him. It seems like a confession of sorts. Dex doesn’t know why she’s admitting this, why he senses that she feels guilty that she didn’t.

Dex knows that he was in and out of consciousness for a couple of days in the beginning, but when he finally was awake enough to realize what was going on, could make out the faces of his dad and sisters gathered around his bedside, he knew there was something missing. Realised that something was April.

His brain was scrambled, fuzzy around the edges, like a jigsaw puzzle that’s been dumped on the floor, the pieces scattering on the carpet. Now he’s on his hands and knees trying to fit that back together. He knows the picture is familiar, something he’s seen before, but can’t quite seem to make it all go. Along the way a piece has gone missing, lost under the coffee table or swept up by the vacuum and Dex isn’t sure he’s going to see it again; whether the picture will ever be complete.

“It’s okay,” Dex says, “You didn’t have to.”

“I wanted to,” April insists, “It’s just …” She’s holding something back, Dex can tell. But he doesn’t really have the capacity or information to try to figure it out. She shakes her head a little, looks down at her hands that are smoothing out the creases in Dex’s covers, but doesn’t elaborate. She then nods, decides something, says, “I really liked your text.”

Dex quirks his lips, shrugs one shoulder, “A-ag-agonised over every word.” He snuggles down into the covers, looking over at April, says, “Read it to me.”

April doesn’t question his request, the fact that Dex may or may not remember what he sent to her not twelve hours ago, just pulls out her phone, opens up the message and reads, “There is a bell next to my bed for me to ring if I need anything. But I think it’s broken. I ring it and you don’t appear.” A smile stays on her lips the entire time.

He tells himself he doesn’t want them to be back together. Says that it’s unfair on April to drag her over to his house when he’s sick, is going to be sick for who knows how long, and ask for them to go back to the way it were. It’s like pushing toothpaste out of the tube and then wanting to put it back in. Impossible.

Dex saw the toll that being together put on April after Dex’s accident. They were still a couple then and April practically slept at the hospital night after night. She came to his appointments and cared for him at home, and while Dex appreciated it, probably survived the whole ordeal because of it, he saw the way it wore April down. The way she cocooned in on herself, on them, so that her life and Dex’s life were practically the same one. Inhabiting the same space, having the same friends, family, working on practically the same schedules. It wasn’t good for them – either of them – and Dex is not about to make the same mistake again.

He wrinkles his brow, feels the telltale signs of a headache coming on, and rubs at his head self-consciously.

“You okay?” April asks softly, her voice automatically easing some of the tension in Dex’s muscles.

Dex hums, “Headache.” He looks up at April, sees the weariness in her eyes and maybe she’s already thinking about yelling out to his dad or Indi because she’s worried that he’s about to relapse or something. “Distract me,” he tells her.

“Um, what?”

Dex leans back on the pillows. “Just distract me and I’ll be fine. How is uni?”

“Oh, um, uni is good. I have this research paper due at the end of the semester and it’s sort of kicking my butt.” Dex nods, and April continues, “I haven’t been an entire week yet without getting lost at some point. I don’t understand how an establishment with some of the brightest minds in the country could be so incapable of having a timetabling system that works. If you change the location of the lecture, don’t make me walk all the way to the building and then let me see the note that it’s been moved.” She sighs in frustration, glancing over at Dex who’s blinking at her slowly.

“Keep going. I’m going to have to live –” He stops, knows he was going to say something, finish it in a specific way. He’s heard his dad use this word so many times and right now he just can’t think of it. He grunts a bit as he turns his brain over for some sort of familiarity, tries to repeat the sentence in his head.

“Live vicariously through me?” April ventures, and Dex can sense her unease at filling in the blanks. He doesn’t know what she expects him to do – completely snap and yell at her because she’s pointing out something he should already know. He’s not going to do that. It just makes him a little sad, is all.

“Yeah,” Dex sighs. “That.”

“It’ll get better,” April insists. “Just give it a bit of time. It hasn’t even been a month since the surgery.”

“I thought we were not talking about me for once.”

April pauses, casts her eyes downward, not looking Dex in the eye, “It’s just all my stuff seems so trivial compared to yours.”

“No. No no, April,” Dex insists, reaching out for April’s hand. “You have to go and keep living your life. I don’t want you to hold anything back, okay? I will be out there with you in no time.” He thinks for a moment, “I might just have a bit of catching up to do.”

April nods, but Dex can see she’s still upset. “What’s wrong?”

“I just thought I would be doing this with you,” April replies, finally looking at Dex. It’s a simple enough sentence, one that really shouldn’t have the weight that it does. They’re both silent for a long moment and Dex doesn’t know how to come back from this. He thought he was doing a good job at not thinking about the gravity of it all, the weight of a tumor sitting inside him, potentially growing, and focusing on the fact that he just had to feel better for everything else to fall in place. He doesn’t know how he’s supposed to overcome the fact that even he wants April to go out and be amazing in the world, he’s going to be left behind.

But even before the cancer, that’s what Dex wanted. He wanted her to know who she was without Dex, to have a life separate to his before deciding if she wanted him in hers. But now, when it’s crunch time, Dex isn’t sure whether he can do it without her.

April told Dex he was brave, and maybe this is what being brave is.

“Is that Adam guy still giving you hell?”

April looks a little startled, confused for a moment, then has to bite back a small smile. “Cameron is … persistent.” Dex scrunches his nose, tries to work out whether Adam and Cameron are somehow related. He knows his brain is a little scrambled at the moment, but Dex is fairly certain he asked about Adam, not some guy called Cameron.

“Adam is his surname,” April explains, “Turns out he also has a human side. When he’s not singling me out in lectures and trying to embarrass me.” She looks away, fiddles with the edge of Dex’s blanket, “He, um, he told me he thought I had potential.”

“Funny way of showing it,” Dex mutters, but April is actually smiling.

“Yeah,” she agrees, “He asked me out to coffee.”

“W-what?” This stutter is not his brain being uncooperative.

April looks shy, a tinge of pink creeping into her cheeks and she determinedly does not look Dex in the eye.

“But it’s not a big deal. It’s not like it’s anything special. He’s just my lecturer and has all this experience and he’s done what I hope to do, but it’s nothing. I’m sure he makes the same offer to all his students.”

“What did you say?” Dex asks slowly.

“I didn’t really get a chance to reply,” April says, finally looking up, “Indi rang, so…”

She trails off at the end and Dex doesn’t need someone to fill in the gaps for him. She left her lecturer, who was offering some sort of coffee date-type scenario, to come and see Dex at the hospital.

“You should go,” Dex says suddenly.

“Go where? You want me to leave?” April looks hurt, and Dex quickly backpedals.

“No, not go from here, don’t leave yet. I meant you should go to coffee. With him.”

The look April gives him is somewhere between puzzled and concerned. “Are – are you sure?”

Dex gives her what he hopes is a reassuring smile. “I know what you’re thinking, and no, this is not a tumor thing. You should go to coffee with Adam Cameron, y’know if the opportunity ever arose.” He shrugs, “It’s just coffee, right?”

April blinks for a moment and Dex wishes he could tell what she was thinking. She seems to be considering this carefully, eyebrows furrowing a little in concentration, eyes trailing over Dex’s face and he can she see remains unconvinced. Finally, she says, “His name is Cameron. Cameron Adam.”

Dex gives her a dismissive wave with his hand, “Whatever. What kind of parents give their child a surname as a first name anyway?” and he finally gets a small smile in return. It feels like an achievement.

“I think you’ll find there are a lot of guys out there with the first name Cameron.”

“Yes, but he’s also got a last name that doubles as a first name, so how is that fair?”

“He’s probably forgotten,” April says, dismissively, “It’s not a big deal. He probably makes the same offer to all the first years; can pick them out for miles given the deer in the headlights look.”

“Is it that bad?”

“No, not bad. Just … a lot. All at once.”

“It’ll get easier. You’ll be running the show in no time.”

April huffs, “Says the guy who is practically a shoo-in for a permanent position at the hospital as soon as he graduates.”

As soon as it’s out April’s face freezes, the realization of what she’s said dawning on her.

“If I make it to graduation,” Dex says plainly.

April’s hands fly to her mouth, “Oh god, Dex, I didn’t mean it like that, I swear, I didn’t –”

Dex’s own hands reach out, automatically looking to touch her, “April, it’s okay, I promise. I’m fine, just a bad joke. I guess my sarcasm is a bit rusty.”

April’s hands find his, intertwining tightly, and Dex feels the realness of her; the warmth of her palm near his, the softness of her skin, her grip tight as if she’s actually scared to let go.

“All joking aside, I’m still here,” Dex assures her.

Looking up from their hands, the way they’ve slotted back together, April meets Dex’s gaze, “I’m glad.”


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Part Eight

It’s not a week later and April is on her way out of a tutorial, sliding her notebook into her bag, and not altogether looking where she is going. She’s trying to find her phone at the bottom, already thinking about sending a text to Dex, just to see how he’s holding up. She wanted to be there for him today, his first day of chemotherapy, but he had insisted that he didn’t need babysitting and April didn’t want to overstep their ‘just being friends’ boundary.

She’s a fraction of a second too late when she finally looks up, but she’s already bumped into the person heading straight for her.

“Oh, sorry!”

“You really should look where you’re going.”

The voice isn’t menacing. If anything it’s familiar, a hint of amusement and April looks up and meets the matching expression of Cameron.

“You’re lucky I asked for these to-go, otherwise we’d now be standing in a puddle of coffee. With me possibly giving you an emergency lesson on dealing with third degree burns.” The side of his mouth quirks upwards, so April knows he’s joking, but it’s just a lot to take in at once: Cameron standing in front of her on the top step of the narrow stairs leading up towards the library, two takeaway coffee cups in either hand. Someone nudges April from behind, doesn’t apologize as they edge their way past, and she realizes they’re sort of blocking the way.

“Oh, um, sorry,” she says again, moving out of the way. She takes a step back and Cameron steps in immediately behind her, guiding her back the way she came.

“Now, my lecture isn’t for another hour, so you can’t possible have anywhere else to be,” Cameron says. He falls into step next to her as they walk away from the library, and April finds herself being walked towards the low, limestone wall that overlooks a small car park.

Cameron sits down, waits for April to settle beside him, propping her bag up at her feet, before he hands her the cardboard coffee cup.

“I sent several non-threatening text messages,” Cameron says.

April stairs down at the lid of the cup, doesn’t take a sip, even though she can feel the heat radiating out, warming her hands as they cup it gently. It’s inviting, and she chances a glance at Cameron who is, fortunately, not looking at her. He’s chosen a spot on the other side of the car park to stare at, while he sips at his own coffee at regular intervals.

“I know,” April says finally, “I’m sorry I didn’t reply.”

“I figured that if you weren’t going to accept any of my invitations, and since you hadn’t outright denied them, I was going to have to hunt you down and force you to have coffee.” He looks over at her now, still nursing the untouched beverage. “If you don’t drink coffee yet you soon will. It’ll either be mid-year exams or your first graveyard shift that will get you. And once you get sucked in, you never turn back.”

“I do,” April says, “I do drink coffee,” and as if to prove the point she lift the cup to her lip and takes a sip. It’s warm, and milky, and Cameron gives her a small appreciative nod.

“So, what’s been occupying so much of your time? I did notice when you missed my lecture at the start of the week.”

The first few days after Dex was back home April had missed some of her classes, spending most of the day at the Walker house, hanging out in Dex’s bedroom marathoning episodes Doctor Who. And although it took them longer than it normally would - what with Dex continually falling asleep in the middle and April being under strict instructions not to wake him, and then having to jump back to the last place Dex remembered watching - they were already up to Ten, when Dex had insisted April didn’t have to keep watch twenty-four-seven. He wasn’t going to spontaneously combust if she wasn’t there.

She hasn’t talked about Dex with anyone outside her immediate family and friends: Irene, Bianca, the rest of the Walker’s, obviously. It’s not something you generally bring up in casual conversation and April doesn’t know whether Dex wants people knowing. Summer Bay is a small town; she doesn’t doubt most of the community knows through one grapevine or another. But it’s one thing to have people talk about it when you’re not there – she’d received many messages from Irene of people wanting to pass their well-wishes on to Dex – but something altogether different to bring it up with someone new, someone who is completely outside of it.

“You know that call I got, when you came up to me on the lawn? Well, my --” April hesitates for a moment, doesn’t know how to describe what Dex is to her, but it’s too late to back out now. She stares down at the lid of the coffee cup, lets the rumble of a car pass them by, before starting again. “My friend, Dex, that was his sister. Dex had collapsed at work.” She takes a steadying breath, then, “They found a tumor.”

Cameron doesn’t say he’s sorry, not that she expects him to. He doesn’t know Dex, has no idea of their history, what it would mean if suddenly he wasn’t there, how crushed April would be if anything happened to him. How this whole thing feels like one swift kick to the guts. That after everything they’ve been through they can’t just be left alone to live, without something else throwing them for a loop.

“Is he having chemo?” Cameron asks instead.

April nods, “First round today. I wanted to be there with him, but he insisted that I shouldn’t miss any more uni.”

“He’s a smart guy,” he comments, almost off-handedly. Cameron then puts down his coffee cup on the wall next to him and turns to face April. His face is serious, the kind of expression a doctor would need when delivering bad news. April’s heart automatically speeds up and he leans in a little, saying, “Look, I’ve seen cancer patients, anyone can study symptoms and treatments, but most people forget that it doesn’t just affect the person with it. It’s their family, their friends, who go through just as much. So if you need a break, just a breather, from whatever’s going on, know that I’m here. As a lecturer or a sounding board, or a friend, whatever you need. Okay?”

April nods because she doesn’t think she’ll be able to speak.


Dex has a lump in his throat that refuses to budge. His whole mouth feels like he’s chewing on a sock but thought of trying to drink anything makes his stomach curl.

His hand feels warm and he gingerly wiggles his fingers, watching the end of the IV disappear into it. He’s been trading texts with April. Or rather, battling autocorrect and his slow reflexes trying to keep up as she practically live blogs her day as she goes back to uni. He doesn’t know whether April’s trying to include Dex or distract him but it inadvertently feels like she’s rubbing it in his face that Dex should be there with her and he’s not.

There’s a knock on the door of his room, and Dex looks up to see Steph peer into his room. As soon as she sees him her eyes widen and Dex suddenly feels self-conscious. He glances back to his IV, the blanket tucked around his legs, the small cup of water on the tray next to him.

“So, it’s true,” Steph says, stepping into the room.

“Well, I’m not just doing this for ****s and giggles,” Dex deadpans.

Steph arcs an eyebrow at Dex’s candidness, “Seems like that tumor is eating away at your filter.”

Dex shrugs, not really having much more to add. He thinks back to the last time he saw Steph. On the day of his seizure he remembers talking to her in the locker room. Or rather, Steph making sexual advances towards him and Dex trying to dodge his way out of it. Something in the back of his mind tells him that he also saw her after that, but everything is still pretty hazy surrounding that particular day.

“So, I guess you’re not coming to be back to work for a while,” she says conversationally.

“Yeah,” Dex replies, wondering if she’s angling for something in particular, or if she’s just bad at small talk. He never really did talk to her all that much when they were hooking up. It was much more of a physical relationship than anything else.

Steph hovers just inside the door, hands clasped in front of her, eyes darting from Dex’s head to the IV, never really looking him in the eye.

“Was there something you wanted?” Dex ventures.

His dad is going to be back soon, he only popped out to speak to a doctor or make a call or something, and Dex knows his dad was never a fan of Steph. Or what Dex was doing with Steph, so he’s deliberately trying to avoid ever having to have that conversation with him.

“Uh, yeah,” Steph replies, reaching to adjust at her ponytail nervously. She takes a deep breath, before she says, “Look, it might have seemed like I didn’t care about you because all I wanted was to get a grope at your dick, but I do. It sucks that this is what you’re doing now.” Dex looks down, fidgets with his blanket, and Steph presses on, “And I know I sort of threatened your job because of how everything went down, but just know that I didn’t mean it. I wouldn’t have said anything if I’d known you were going to go and collapse in the middle of the corridor.”

“So, hang on,” Dex says, fingers rubbing at his temple, attempting to piece together Steph’s confession. “You’re sorry for trying to cause me to lose my job and think it’s your fault that I grew a tumor?”

“Don’t make it sound like that,” Steph huffs. “I just meant that, obviously you won’t be back to work for a while so I’m here to clear the air. It was what it was, and we can keep it just something between us.”

“You’re worried I’m going to go around telling everyone about what we did now that I don’t have a job to lose? I may have a brain that has something growing in it, but I haven’t completely lost my mind. I’m not exactly … proud of what we did, and I’m not making excuses, but I think it’s fair to say that I wasn’t thinking straight.” Steph reluctantly shrugs, looks away sheepishly and Dex sighs. He feels tired. “Don’t worry,” he assures her, “I’m not going to say anything.”

Steph nods once, “Well, thanks,” she says finally. She looks over her shoulder, back towards the door, “I should probably get back to it.”

Dex gives her a little wave and watches as Steph disappears out the door. As soon as the door clicks shut Dex lets his head loll back against the headrest of the chair with a dull thud.

In the back of his mind Dex knew he was sick. He knew he had had surgery that made him tired and irritable, with a constant headache. He knew his family was walking on eggshells, making sure they never said the wrong thing, always were acting positive around him, when he’s pretty sure they wanted to dig a hole and bury themselves in it as much as Dex did. Over dinner, almost a week after Dex had returned home, Sasha had made an off-handed comment about something someone had said at school – Dex wasn’t really paying that much attention, just pushing his few peas and half a potato around his plate and making it look like he’d eaten – and finished with, “and I told him that I would rather die than go out with him.”

Slowly, Dex looks up, fork still loosely resting in his hand and Sasha’s eyes open comically wide, hand flying up to her mouth, already grappling with apologies, “I’m sorry, Dex, I didn’t mean it, I just –”

Sid is watching Dex closely, trying to gauge his reaction, while Dex places his fork carefully on the side of his plate. It rattles a bit, but everything is soon quiet before Dex replies, “I probably would have said the same thing if Travis McLaurin had asked me out too.”

Her eyes flick down, watch the edge of the table, as she whispers, “Please don’t die.”

“Wasn’t planning on it.”

But it’s only when Dex is gripping the side of the toilet bowl, knuckles an alarming shade of white against the yellow tinge of the rest of his skin, body aching, sweating, and he’s panting from exhaustion does the realization actually hit him. He’s sick.

He rests his forehead on the side of the bowl, letting the porcelain feel cool against his skin, eyelids fluttering closed and he swallows, tries not to taste the copper and bile in his mouth. He gropes blindly for the button to flush; doesn’t even know how long he’s been riding this cycle.

His whole body shakes and Dex feels his stomach turn over on itself. This is what he imagines being stuck inside a washing machine must feel like. The bile rises in his throat and Dex is forcing himself up onto his shaky knees and leaning over the side of the toilet as the nausea hits him. He wishes he surfed, because then he might be more adept at riding waves, but instead, Dex tries to keep himself grounded to the bathroom floor, feet skidding out from under him, exhaustion wracking his body as he struggles to remain upright.

The room spins, the only thing he smells is his own sweat and puke, and when he thinks he’s stomach is giving him a reprieve he clumsily sinks down onto the tiles, and rolls onto his side, eyes closing like he could fall asleep.

He doesn’t really register the knock on the bathroom door, but feels the fresh air infiltrate the small space as someone keeps it open and turns on the fan. There’s movement above him; the shuffling of feet, running of water and it’s only when Dex feels something cool and wet being pressed to his forehead that he forces himself to open his eyes.

April stares down at him, worry etched into her beautiful features, and when their eyes meet and she sees the recognition dawn on his face, forcing him a sad smile. “Hey.”

“I d-didn’t want anyone to see -” He cuts himself off, feels the telltale signs of another wave of nausea rising up, and Dex struggles to right himself, has April practically lift him up so he can throw up into the bowl and not onto the floor.

April doesn’t say anything, as Dex coughs and splutters, tries to wipe away the tears that have escaped from the sheer force of it all. He feels her gentle hand at his back, rubbing in small, comforting circles and Dex leans back into her touch, even though he knows his whole shirt must be soaked through with sweat.

His breathing evens out and heart rate starts to slow and Dex feels April’s steady hands guide him back so he’s leaning against her chest. He struggles to keep his eyes open, feels the cool touch of the washcloth again being placed on his skin, doesn’t even realize he’s shivering until April grabs a towel from nearby and wraps it around his shoulders.

They stay like this for a while, Dex not trusting himself to move, April not asking him to, even though the washcloth has long since tempered and Dex is starting to realize how cold he actually is. April’s hands remain firm on his, rubbing small circles into the bare sections of skin, venturing along his arms, down his legs and on his neck. She touches the nape of his neck, where his hair should be. He’s still mostly bald, but there are now little tufts of hair, reappearing in small dark patches and April hums in his ear, “It’s starting to grow back.”

“W-won’t really get a chance to,” Dex stutters while a shiver runs down the length of Dex’s spine. April just tugs him in tighter to her body.

“It could grow back curly,” she muses, “You might look like Darren Criss.”

Dex breathes slowly through his nose, “I have better abs than him.”


April runs a hand down his arm, feels the goosebumps there. Dex’s breath is slowing, becoming more even, deeper, his eyelids growing heavy with exhaustion.

“Dex?” April’s voice is soft, “Are you ready to try and move? Bed will be more comfortable for both of us.”

Dex nods, braces himself as he forces his eyes open and with April’s arms around him, tries to stand. His feet have fallen asleep since he’s been lying on the hard, tiled floor of the bathroom for so long, so it’s a struggle. The static clings to his ankles and toes, making it difficult to do more than shuffle and most of his weight be carried by April, back towards his bed.

She places him sitting on the side of the bed and it takes a moment for the room to stop spinning, but when it does he looks up at her and attempts to smile. It probably looks more like a grimace.

“All right, arms up,” April instructs.


“You’re soaked through, you can’t sleep in that,” she gestures to his wet shirt, and Dex is so tired, whole body aching, that he doesn’t have any energy to object. He lifts his arms obediently and April slides off his shirt in one movement. She hands Dex is clean shirt and while he’s putting it on, she tosses his dirty one in the laundry basket. “Okay, into bed.”

He’s been out of bed a while, the sheets feel like ice against his still slightly clammy skin, and he tugs up them until they are under his chin.

“Are you okay?”

Dex nods, “Just c-cold.”

“Scoot over,” she instructs and Dex wiggles his way across the bed, so he’s taking up most of the right side. April sits on the other, toes off her shoes, before sliding in under the covers and next to him. The next thing Dex feels is her toes, rubbing against the side of his leg, her arm wrapping around his waist and pulling him in flush against her body.

“I’ve never been the little spoon,” Dex comments and he hears the faint huff of laugh from behind.

“Now, sleep,” she tells him.

“Bossy,” Dex mumurs, but he snuggles further into the bed anyway, letting the warmth of April keep him cocooned between the sheets. As he begins to drift off he feels the faint touch of something soft, lips, to the back of his neck – that patch of skin between his neck and shoulder, and Dex thinks about the first time he and April slept together. Nothing even happened that time; it was just that sleeping, in the most innocent sense of the word, both of them tired after studying at Irene’s.

Back then he’d been too scared to touch her, particularly in such closer proximity to a mattress, but now it’s something akin to a familiarity. It won’t grow old, the feeling of April’s legs intertwined with his, her hand resting on his stomach, and her light, even breaths lulling him to sleep.


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Part Nine

They are sitting on the couch, both of them with their feet up on the cushions, watching an animal documentary. Well, Dex is watching; April is trying to get through her prescribed reading for her next lecture because she’s fallen way behind in her classes. She seems to be spending every free moment at the Walker farm – not that she minds, she’ll always spend every moment with Dex if she gets the chance – but Dex has also been very conscientious about asking how April’s classes are going. She thinks he’s feeling a bit guilty that he’s keeping her from them. So she’s got a book open in her lap, highlighter in hand, but she keeps getting distracted by Dex’s own commentary.

“I think I want a pet meercat.”

“Mhmm,” she replies, highlighting negative feedback system and re-reading the sentence.

“A whole army of meercats.”

“Okay.” She highlights homeostasis.

“And a warthog because then I could re-enact The Lion King.”

Homeostasis is a point of equilibrium

“You’re not even listening to me.”

“Hmm – what?” April looks up from her reading.

“You’re studying,” Dex states, nodding down to the highlighted passages.

“I can put it away if you want?” April offers.

“What? No, no don’t do that. If I’m annoying you, you should tell me to stop.”

“You could never annoy me.”

“Yeah,” Dex says with a huff, “Me stuttering words and puking up my guts isn’t annoying at all.”

“It’s been better,” April says, “The words. You haven’t dropped one in a while.”

Dex shrugs. She won’t tell Dex but she keeps track of those things. He has chemo on a Monday so Tuesday and Wednesday are the days when Dex is sick. The doctor’s have given him medication to help with the nausea but it does little, just means it only last a few hours before he sleeps the rest of the day away. On the calendar in her phone she marks the days when Dex forgets a word, because she likes to think that it’s helping. If he goes a week without forgetting something then it’s an achievement and the treatment is working. This whole ordeal won’t be for nothing.

April’s phone scitters across the table, screen illuminating brightly, and she sees Cameron Adam on the caller ID and reaches over to answer the call.


“Hey, April. What are you doing right now? I sort of need a favour.” Cameron’s voice is tense, much more stressed out than she’s heard him before.

“Is everything okay?” April ventures and Dex is shooting her a concerned look, attention gone from the television.

He huffs a laugh and she imagines him running a hand through his hair. His voice is strained, “Please just tell me you can meet me on campus in under half an hour?”

“Uh, I’m sort of in the middle of something,” April begins, but Dex is shaking his head, whispering, “If you have to go-”

April waves a dismissive hand in his direction, but Dex is insistent, “I’ll be fine.”

She looks over at him, covers the mouthpiece of her phone with her hand, “Are you sure?”

“Today is a good day,” Dex says, “I don’t need constant supervision.”

“I just feel bad leaving you.” Dex shoots her a look. She takes her hand away and talks back into the phone. “I can be there in twenty minutes.”

“April, you are a life saver!” Cameron all but yells in her ear and April is about to hang up when she hears, “Bring coffee!” before the line goes dead.

April looks downs at her phone, as Dex asks, “Who was that?”

“Cameron,” she replies, “He wants me to come in to uni. Some sort of emergency.”

Dex’s expression changes, something almost gloomy coming over him, “Right.”

She reaches out and puts a hand on his knee. “I can call him back if you want?”

“No, don’t do that,” Dex replies. Dex does this thing where he tries to sit up a little straighter on the lounge, as if to prove a point, but April can still see the dark circles under his eyes, the hollowed channels of his cheeks that weren’t there before. He’s tired, she can tell, but putting on a brave face for her.

Then, April gets an idea, she starts scrolling through her contacts.

“I said don’t call him,” Dex says tersely.

Without looking up, April’s thumb pauses over a name, “I’m not calling Cameron.”


April had sounded so desperate on the phone that Casey wasn’t really in a position to say no. He also gets the distinct impression that asking him to watch Dex is also some sort of coup – put both the troubled boys in one location to minimize the impact. Casey is being treated like a grenade at the moment; being handed around carefully, people side-stepping him for fear of getting too close or, in Heath’s case, poking and prodding and seeing whether he can set him off, waiting for the impeding explosion.

Dex hates the fact that his dad can’t go out without writing down all his contact information, putting Dex’s mobile phone next to him and work number on speed dial. He knows April has exams coming up and hasn’t had time to study as much as Dex knows she would like, not with spending practically every night at the farm house. She’s washed his sheets and made him tea and given him crackers to try and eat when his stomach is upset. He hates the fact that all this simple stuff is so hard, his fingers not always cooperating, words disappearing from his mind, and even though he’s done nothing but sit on the couch and watch tv, he’s been awake for five hours straight and is starting to feel tired again. He also hates that April doesn’t trust him enough to just put on a movie and nap on the lounge for the day; but he doesn’t blame her. He doesn’t really trust himself at the moment either.

Casey is now hovering in the hallway, just inside the door, and Dex can hear April talking to him, deliberately keeping her voice barely above a whisper.

“Like I said on the phone, Sid had to go to the hospital and Indi is working, and I can’t ask Sasha, and if there were anyone else …”

“Don’t worry, I know I’m not your first choice for babysitting duty.”

“Sid has his phone and the number’s on speed dial.”

“I do know how to use a phone. I’m not the one with the mush for brains.”

“He has to take two pills from the bottle with the yellow lid at 3 pm, but I’m going to try and be back by 4, but I don’t know how long this will take.”

“Four pills, red lid. Got it,” Casey replies, and Dex can picture April rolling her eyes, lips pressed into a thin line.

April sighs, resigned, “Just … don’t be an as-hole, okay?”

Casey is not an ass on purpose. He’s learned to be tough and a bit abrasive, direct when he wants something, but he had to. If you weren’t like this then you wouldn’t survive as a Braxton.

Dex adjusts his blanket, goes back to watching the tv, as April pokes her head around the corner, “Hey, I’m going now, are you sure you’ll be okay?”

Dex nods, and tries to force a smile. He’ll be okay, he knows he’ll survive a few hours without April, and he’s done a pretty good job and convincing himself that he doesn’t actually need her in the way he wants to.

April gives him a little wave and the front door clicking closed behind her, then Casey comes wondering into the lounge room.

He clasps his hands in front of him, “Looks like it’s just you and me know. Should we break into the liquor cabinet now or later?” Casey asks with a grin.

“I can’t have alcohol,” Dex explains, like maybe Casey missed the memo about him having cancer and everything.

“So, later then,” Casey decides. He then glances over at the tv, a dessert landscape presented in a panning wide shot and Dex watches as Casey hovers just inside the door frame.

“You can sit down,” Dex says. He’s taken up most of the lounge space now that April has gone; feet stretched out so he’s touching the arm rest at the other end, blanket placed over his lap.

Casey looks a little awkwardly around the room, and Dex thinks he understands. This is probably not how Casey thought he would be spending his afternoon. He and Casey have never been close; Dex knows that he came and visited him in hospital after his accident, the first time, but Dex hasn’t heard anything from him since his most recent admittance. Not that he blames him, really. Cancer tends to repulse people.

Finally Casey makes a choice that sort of surprises Dex; he decides to move towards Sid’s armchair, sitting down in it and propping his feet up on the low coffee table. His feet nudge a couple of Dex’s pill bottles with the soles of his shoes and he comments, “You could start a drug ring with all of these. I know a guy, if you’re interested,” Dex stares at him blankly, and Casey averts his eyes, “I mean, it’s a joke. I know you’re not …”

“It’s okay,” Dex says.

“What are we watching?”

He goes back to the tv; a cheetah has spied and antelope as is making a sprint towards the animal. There’s a flurry of legs and mouths and the antelope disappears into the long, yellow grass. Next shot, the cheetah has a very full belly and a satisfied smirk on its features. Dex’s stomach turns over and he has to take a careful breath in and out through his nose. It’s things like this that remind him it’s not okay.

“I don’t need b-babysitting,” Dex says, feels the slight stutter and knows he’s getting tired. He’s really been trying to be all right, for April. Because she doesn’t need to know every little twinge or tick that appears: another symptom of him losing himself to his own headspace.

“Course you don’t,” Casey replies automatically, and maybe it comes out a little condescending.”

“You don’t have to stay,” Dex says, a slight uncertainty in his voice. He can feel Casey’s eyes on him, as if surveying him, taking in every detail that’s changed; the bits that tell the world that he’s not the same as before.

Finally, he turns towards Dex, grins a little, saying, “Sure I do. April gets scary when she’s mad. I don’t want to be the one with the scrambled eggs in my head.”

Dex knows it’s meant to be a joke, easy the tension a bit, and Casey is obviously trying, to make it alright, but something stings inside and Dex keeps his eyes down. “Don’t.”

The smell of coffee repulses him, he has to spend five minutes sitting on the edge of his bed making sure the room has stopped spinning and his feet haven’t fallen asleep. He used to watch these documentaries with intense fascination, even the more gruesome, bloody parts. Now, all he thinks is how the circle of life continues, even though something is dead. The cheetah saw the antelope as nothing but prey, devouring every scrap of meat until it was nothing but a carcass. Did it all without any sense of guilt or shame, and doesn’t even register that it is no longer alive. It just gets on with its day. If things don’t work out, if all of this fighting is futile, then is Dex just sitting prey, waiting for the cheetah to come along? And if it strikes, will life go on without him as if nothing happened.

But April and his dad and his sisters are trying. They’re trying to make this as normal as possible, just one more hurdle they have to overcome. They keep saying things like they will fight, or get through it, but Dex has to wonder the cost. Can you win a fight with yourself? And if you can’t get around it and have to go through, what might you lose in the process?

His head is pounding, has been all day, though he wouldn’t tell April or his family that. The room feels too bright, too light and he squeezes his eyes shut for a moment, lets his head droop back, because fighting is tiring.

He wants to turn the tv off, gropes around sort of blindly for the remote. He finds it buried beneath one of the cushions, can feel Casey’s eyes on him as he, with clumsy hands tries to aim it at the tv. It falls from his between his slightly numb fingers and clatters to the floor, catching on the edge of the coffee table as it goes, batteries spilling out onto the carpet. He lets out a frustrated, strangled groan.

This is what he has been reduced to; watching tv and struggling to change the channel. He used to be so much more, and it’s almost scary; the velocity at which he has fallen.

Casey is on his hands and knees, scooping up the batteries in his hands and replacing them in the remote. As he sees Casey do it, help in that simple way, Dex feels the hot, burn of tears threatening to spill over. He’s tired and aching and he doesn’t want it to be this hard. When April is around he feels like he needs to be positive – smile, breathe, act like nothing is nagging at him – but most of the time he feels like this; useless, pitiful, a complete wreck. He wants her to know he’s trying, but sometimes he just wants to give up.

Casey has silently refitted the batteries back in and is holding out the remote to Dex, offering to change the channel. He doesn’t want to anymore; doesn’t want to do any of this. Casey must see his stricken expression, and Dex blinks hard, makes himself look up and wills himself not to cry over this.

“Hey, Dex. Are you okay?” he asks slowly.

Dex shakes his head, then realizes, quickly changes it to a nod, and Casey just stares back, equally confused and concerned by Dex’s abrupt change.

“Do you want me to call April or your dad or –?“

Dex shakes his head, ferociously this time, knows that’s exactly what he doesn’t want. This is the first time since the hospital that he’s been left alone, albeit with Casey Braxton – who clearly has better things to do – and he’s not going to let his failing body ruin it. He also can’t have April think he can’t do this on his own. He needs to be able to do this without her.

“No? No, okay. Okay, um, what do you -?”

“D-drink,” Dex manages to choke out and Casey immediately stands and quickly scurries towards the kitchen. There’s a clinking of glasses and the running o water and Dex tries to just breathe slowly through his knows and slow his heart beat.

Casey has no idea what he’s doing and Dex is looking at him like he wishes he would just disappear. And it’s not like Casey hasn’t considered doing a run for it. He doesn’t know how to deal with people when they get emotional; his brothers really squashed that out of him that out of him from a young age. If his lip so much as quivered as a kid, Heath would promptly punch him in the ribs and tell him to stop being such a girl. Now, Dex is tearing up over something as inconsequential as a tv remote and Casey is so out of his depth.

He glances at the clock on the microwave as he runs the tap and gets Dex a glass of water and realizes he’s only been there 20 minutes. Two hours and ten minutes to go.

He holds out the glass to Dex and then goes to take it back because maybe he should have put a straw in it or something, while Dex’s hands fumble for the glass as Casey yanks it in the opposite direction. Water sloshes out over the rim, into Dex’s lap and onto the floor.

“God, Dex, I’m so sorry,” Casey apologises, already placing the glass on the table and frantically glancing around for something to mop up the mess. This is so much worse than the remote.

Dex knows that expression.

It’s the one that says, ‘poor little thing’. It’s the one that seems permanently on April’s face since she found him throwing up and almost passed out on the bathroom floor. It’s the look that makes him want to cry or punch something or throw up again, because he never used to have people look at him like that. Or if they did, he didn’t care.

Because he knew they were wrong. Dex was destined for bigger and better things than Summer Bay. Now, Dex doesn’t know what he’s doing from moment to moment, let alone months or years from now. Making plans for the future seems futile, somehow. It makes him angry; bitter as he feels the water seep into his pants.

Casey is staring at him, waiting for a reply.

“D-don’t,” Dex manages, throat dry.

“What?” Casey asks, expression turning from pitying to puzzled.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Dex says. Casey looks like he’s going to object, and it takes all of Dex’s concentration to keep going. He can’t string words together the way he use to – can’t do a lot of things the way he could before. “Don’t look at me like I’m – I’mma, I’m an –“ He wracks his brain, and Casey is patient. “Invalid.”

Casey looks uncomfortable. He’s avoiding Dex’s eyes, getting to his feet and Dex watches as he grabs a tea towel from the kitchen bench and begins to mop up the mess.

“I don’t,” Casey says to the floor, “I don’t think of you like that.

Dex – Dex doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t want to say that Casey is lying, but if the way he’s meticulously dabbing at the carpet with the now damp cloth, wiping the coffee table, pointedly not looking at Dex is any indication, he’s much more guilty about the whole thing that even Dex is. It’s a stark difference from the confident River Boy who waltzed in half an hour ago.

The floor is as dry as dry as it’s going to get, so he grabs Dex’s glass and goes to refill it. Dex is watching him carefully, taking in every movement, but his expression is soft.

This time he places the full water glass on the coffee table, nudges it forward slightly for Dex to take when he’s ready. The corner of his mouth twitches, goes up unevenly in a sort of smile.


Dex takes the glass between both hands and takes a sip before replacing it on the table.


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Part Ten

“I’m glad you decided to become a nurse rather than an actor, because your acting sucks, man,” Casey says.

Dex has been napping on the lounge, tv on low in the background. He forces his eyes open, blinks wearily at Casey. “Huh?”

“How come you’re pretending you’re okay in front of April?”

Dex sighs, “Am I really that --?” There’s a word for it – when everyone can see straight through you – he knows there is, can’t think of it, and grunts in frustration. Casey arcs an eyebrow in his direction.

“Don’t look at me, I dropped out of high school. I’ve got no idea what you’re trying to say, but yes, it’s that obvious.”

“If it’s so obvious, why hasn’t April said anything?” Dex asks, a little more ferocity in his tone that probably strictly necessary.

“Because she loves you,” Casey says simply, “She wants this whole thing to be okay, so she’s looking past the fact that you keep falling asleep in front of the tv, and your foot sometimes twitches and you look like a zombie with the way you completely zone out.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“Trust me,” Casey says, “I know about pretending. You force yourself to get up in the morning because you tell yourself it’ll be better, and then when it’s not it’s easier to just fake it because you think you can trick yourself into thinking that it is.”

Dex looks down at his hands, “I don’t want to make this harder than it is.”

“Look, I’m not judging you for it. God knows I’d be doing the same thing if it were me. I’m just saying, don’t bullsh-t me, okay?”

Dex nods. “Okay, this is officially a bullsh-t free zone.”

“So, how are you really feeling?”

“Tired,” Dex says, “Like, all the time. Headachy, this weird buzzing in my head; I haven’t been able to eat a proper meal and every time I try dad just gives me this sad expression that makes me feel like I’ve done something wrong.”

Dex fiddles with the blanket that’s in his lap. He hasn’t told anyone just how crappy he’s been feeling. He’s sure his dad knows, maybe Indi too, just how bad things sometimes get. But it hasn’t escaped Dex that Sasha is always out of the house on days after he’s had chemo. Hasn’t seen Dex sprawled on the tiled floor, unable to keep his own head up straight through sheer exhaustion. He doesn’t doubt April knows he’s faking on some level, but maybe she’s faking too. Pretending not to notice, just as much as Dex is trying to hold it together in front of her.

“So like sh-t, mostly,” Casey surmises and Dex nods.

Casey seems to take in Dex’s drawn face, dark circles underneath his eyes, and Dex uses his hands to hide a yawn. “I’m not very good company.”

“Have you used your brain thing to your advantage yet?” Casey asks, and Dex is confused.

“There is very little advan – advantageous about this situation.”

“You can totally get people to do whatever you want. You have the best in-built excuse ever. If I forget Tamara’s birthday then I’m in deep sh-t, but you could leave the stove on and burn the house down and then just say, ‘Oops. Cancer made me do it.’”

“I sleep for like, twenty-hours a day,” Dex tells him, because anything else seems like too much effort.

Casey shrugs. “Whatever, man. We can do something if you want, because no offense, your choice in tv shows sucks.”

Dex glances to the set, the credits of the documentary scrolling up the black screen. The motion makes him feel nauseous. He takes in a breath, then says, “Okay. What do you want to do?”

“You pick, I don’t care.”

“You’re doing it again.”

“Doing what?”

“Pitying me.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are. You just said my show sucked and now you’re letting me choose what we do next. That’s a bit like a double-edged sword.”

“It’s not pity. If your idea sucks, I will tell you. I’m just giving you the option, because I get the feeling April’s got you on a pretty short leash.”

“Don’t,” Dex says, using his elbows to sit up the lounge. “April’s doing her best.”

“You can’t tell me you don’t miss your freedom,” Casey points out, and Dex might have to take back the No Bullsh-t Zone they’ve established if it means Casey is going to point out so many truths.

He swings his feet down to the floor and the whole room suddenly tilts, and Dex hears the rushing in his ears. He feels a hand on his shoulder, “Woah, Dex. Are you okay? You’ve kinda gone all white.”

“Yeah,” Dex breathes out, “Just give me a sec.”

Casey doesn’t say anything, let’s Dex regain his balance before he tells him what he wants to do to pass the time.

Scrabble? Are you serious?”

“You said I could choose,” Dex points out.

“I also said I would tell you if your idea sucked.”

“I like Scrabble,” Dex says with a pout. “I haven’t played in ages, and I don’t dare bring it up with any of my family because they’ll just let me win. And besides, I’m not exactly in top form right now, so you’ll have a fighting chance.”

Casey seems to consider this a moment. Then sighs, reluctantly agreeing, “Fine. One game.” He stands, already heading for the cupboard underneath the tv, to find the game. “Where do you keep it?”

When Casey turns back, Scrabble box in hand, he sees Dex has got himself to the floor, sitting cross-legged on one side of the coffee table, a grin plastered across his face.

It’s only when they start playing and on his third move Dex manages a double word score with the letter Z included, that Casey realizes something, “You played me!”

Dex shrugs, using his phone to add up his score. “You’re the one who told me to use this thing to my advantage.”

Casey shakes his head, but he laughs too. However, the next time Dex isn’t looking Casey totally sneaks a peek at his tiles.


“So, you never really explained to me why you seem to be doing the marking for an entire department,” April says over her shoulder, eyes flicking from the stack of marked papers to the monitor.

“Because the entire faculty hates me,” Cameron laments. “And I’m the youngest, so I get stuck with all the jobs no one wants. Plus, Edwina had to go and get herself knocked up by her husband, so she’s off on maternity leave and Paul has been sent rural on some open education program. It’s amazing how an entire department of doctors and medical professionals can be such good procrastinators.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much marking in my entire life,” April comments, “And my sister is a high school teacher.”

“Anyone would think deadlines are just suggestions with the way these guys do their jobs,” Cameron says, gesturing to the pile of unmarked essays.

April moves the top essay to the side, finds the student number on the next one. “What kind of doctor literally leaves everything to last minute?”

“Ones that have a lackey like me to do their running around.”

“But you do it so well,” April says with a smile. She looks over her shoulder at Cameron’s slumped posture. He’s got one elbow on the table, shoulder’s rolled forward, eyes flicking over the page he’s reading. He stops, circles a word and then keeps reading.

When April had arrived and let herself into the building, she’d found Cameron in his office up to his eyeballs in piles of marking, looking every bit as frazzled as he sounded on the phone. April understood why he’d called her.

She’d sat him down and sorted his work into stacks: essays to mark, essays that had marks that needed submitting into the system, work that needed returning to students. They’ve been going at it for over an hour straight, and April has been so focused on her job that she hasn’t had time to think about the fact that she left Dex at the farm. With Casey.

“How’s your friend going?” Cameron glances up from the essay he’s marking, red pen poised between thumb and forefinger. “Dex, right?”

The realization is a little jarring, and April swivels around in the chair, spinning away from the computer screen. She sighs, “He’s doing okay. As okay as can be expected, I suppose. He’s putting on a brave face. For my benefit, mostly.”

“Well, of course,” Cameron agrees, and April arcs an eyebrow, shoots him a questioning look. “No one wants to be a burden. And there is something to be said for having a positive attitude.”

April’s brow furrows, “What do you mean be a burden? Do you think he’s not going to make it?”

Cameron rolls his shoulders back, eyes already focusing back on the paper splayed out on the desk in front of him. “I didn’t say that, don’t put words into my mouth,” he says dismissively, attention already gone from the conversation.

“Then what did you mean? Because that’s how it sounded.”

Cameron sighs, places down his pen carefully on the desk. “Cancer is one of those things where half of the battle is mind over matter. Your friend has gone from being able to do everything to having to be supervised twenty-four-seven. He’s not about to admit to you how far he’s fallen.” April bites the inside of her lip, and Cameron notices her expression. “I’m not saying he isn’t going to get better. But sometimes it has to get a lot worse first.”

“Last time I checked you weren’t an oncologist,” April mutters, and she’s not entirely sure where the anger has come from.

Cameron raises his eyebrows, sits back in his chair. “No one likes being out of control. And that’s all cancer is: One big battle for control.”

It’s possibly the most real and terrifying thing someone has told her. April needs control, she needs to know what’s happening and plan for when she doesn’t. But none of them – Dex, his family, April herself – know how this is going to end. She doesn’t know when Dex is going to forget a word, or when he suddenly falls asleep, or when he’s stomach is going to turn on him. It’s the worst feeling in the world; being out of control with no way of reeling it back in.

“You must really care about him.” Cameron says finally, eyes trained to April. “You spend so much time together. I remember seeing you at Orientation with him. I thought you were a couple.”

“You saw us? How could you recognize me?” April asks, but Cameron doesn’t reply. He just looks at her in the most unnerving way, like he’s trying to decipher some sort of code. April shakes her head, “We’re not – I mean, we used to be, but we’re not a couple, anymore.”

Cameron nods solemnly, and they fall into silence. April is about to turn back to the computer, try to get through the pile of marks before she texts Dex and see how he’s going with Casey, when Cameron says, “What do you say we finish this lot and then we call it a day? I don’t know about you, but I’m about ready to just give them all C’s and be done with it.”

“I don’t think that’s very ethical,” April points out, but they’re both smiling. “But I’m not going to say no.”

“You should let me take you out to dinner,” Cameron says and April cannot hide her surprise. Cameron laughs, “Don’t look so shocked. You helped me out, I want to say thank you.”

“You don’t have to do that,” April says with a shake of her head, she turns back to the computer.

“Why not? We’re friends, right? Why can’t one friend take another friend out for dinner?”

“I should really get back to Dex. I left him at home with someone, and I’m not entirely convinced they won’t have killed each other by the end of the day.”

There’s a shuffling of papers from behind, and April imagines Cameron flipping open another essay. Then she hears, “Remember what I said in the beginning? About needing some space? That’s not a bad thing.”

“I’m here, aren’t I?” April questions, spinning back around. Turns out, Cameron isn’t marking anymore. He’s moved the papers to one side and is resting his chin in his hands on the wooden desk. He looks younger, somehow. “Isn’t that enough?”

“It’s okay to take a break. Nothing is going to happen in a few hours.”

“You don’t know that!” April snaps. “Everything has already gone wrong, so what’s to say something else can’t happen.” She stands up, already moving to put on her jacket and grab her bag from the corner of the room. “I never should have come.”

Cameron is just as swift, pushing his chair away from the desk and coming around to meet her before she can disappear out the door. He places a hand on her shoulder, and looks straight into her eyes. “April,” he says, and nothing more.

April knows he can see the tears in her eyes, the ones that haven’t been shed. She’s scared that if she blinks she might start, and the last thing she wants is to cry in front of him. She’s tired, wants nothing more than to go back to the farm and curl up under a blanket and lay side-by-side on Dex’s bed, listening to him sleep. But Cameron is staring at her, watching carefully, and something stirs in her chest.

“I don’t want to leave him behind,” she whispers.

Cameron’s face relaxes, concern disappearing. “It’s just dinner.”


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