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And yet— I cut a glance to him, and his eyes were still on me. It occurred to me why they call it eye contact. I walked into the circle and sat down next to Isaac, two seats away from the boy. I glanced again. He was still watching me. Look, let me just say it: He was hot. A nonhot boy stares at you relentlessly and it is, at best, awkward and, at worst, a form of assault. But a hot boy. I pulled out my phone and clicked it so it would display the time: The circle filled in with the unlucky twelve-to-eighteens, and then Patrick started us out with the serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
The guy was still staring at me. I felt rather blushy. Finally, I decided that the proper strategy was to stare back. Boys do not have a monopoly on the Staring Business, after all.
So I looked him over as Patrick acknowledged for the thousandth time his ball-lessness etc. After a while the boy smiled, and then finally his blue eyes glanced away. He shrugged. Patrick continued and then finally it was time for the introductions.
I know you're facing a challenging time. I'm seventeen. And it's looking like I have to get surgery in a couple weeks, after which I'll be blind.
Not to complain or anything because I know a lot of us have it worse, but yeah, I mean, being blind does sort of suck. My girlfriend helps, though. And friends like Augustus. He was looking at his hands, which he'd folded into each other like the top of a tepee. He was twelve. He had leukemia. He'd always had leukemia. He was okay. Or so he said. He'd taken the elevator. Lida was sixteen, and pretty enough to be the object of the hot boy's eye. She was a regular— in a long remission from appendiceal cancer, which I had not previously known existed.
She said— as she had every other time I'd attended Support Group— that she felt strong, which felt like bragging to me as the oxygen-drizzling nubs tickled my nostrils. There were five others before they got to him.
He smiled a little when his turn came. His voice was low, smoky, and dead sexy. I had a little touch of osteosarcoma a year and a half ago, but I'm just here today at Isaac's request.
I'm sixteen. Thyroid with mets in my lungs. I'm okay. Fights were recounted, battles won amid wars sure to be lost; hope was clung to; families were both celebrated and denounced; it was agreed that friends just didn't get it; tears were shed; comfort proffered.
Neither Augustus Waters nor I spoke again until Patrick said, "Augustus, perhaps you'd like to share your fears with the group.
Let's return to you and your struggles. You said you fear oblivion? Patrick seemed lost. My parents were my two best friends. My third best friend was an author who did not know I existed. I was a fairly shy person— not the hand-raising type. And yet, just this once, I decided to speak. I half raised my hand and Patrick, his delight evident, immediately said, "Hazel! Becoming Part Of The Group. I looked over at Augustus Waters, who looked back at me. You could almost see through his eyes they were so blue.
All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this"— I gestured encompassingly— "will have been for naught. Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever.
There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that's what everyone else does. Peter Van Houten was the only person I'd ever come across who seemed to a understand what it's like to be dying, and b not have died. After I finished, there was quite a long period of silence as I watched a smile spread all the way across Augustus's face— not the little crooked smile of the boy trying to be sexy while he stared at me, but his real smile, too big for his face.
At the end, we all had to hold hands, and Patrick led us in a prayer. You and You alone know us as we know ourselves. Guide us to life and the Light through our times of trial.
We pray for Isaac's eyes, for Michael's and Jamie's blood, for Augustus's bones, for Hazel's lungs, for James's throat. We pray that You might heal us and that we might feel Your love, and Your peace, which passes all understanding.
And we remember in our hearts those whom we knew and loved who have gone home to you: The world contains a lot of dead people. And while Patrick droned on, reading the list from a sheet of paper because it was too long to memorize, I kept my eyes closed, trying to think prayerfully but mostly imagining the day when my name would find its way onto that list, all the way at the end when everyone had stopped listening.
Augustus Waters pushed himself out of his chair and walked over to me. His gait was crooked like his smile. He towered over me, but he kept his distance so I wouldn't have to crane my neck to look him in the eye. It kind of helps? And he said, It doesn't work that way,' and I was, like, 'Yeah, I realize it doesn't work that way; I'm just saying I'd rather be deaf than blind if I had the choice, which I realize I don't have,' and he said, 'Well, the good news is that you won't be deaf,' and I was like, Thank you for explaining that my eye cancer isn't going to make me deaf.
I feel so fortunate that an intellectual giant like yourself would deign to operate on me. All right, I should go. Monica's waiting for me. I gotta look at her a lot while I can. Augustus Waters turned to me. He shook his head, just looking at me. I enjoy looking at beautiful people, and I decided a while ago not to deny myself the simpler pleasures of existence.
Augustus plowed through: Like V for Vendetta Natalie Portman. It's your autobiography, so far as I can tell. Honestly, he kind of turned me on. I didn't even know that guys could turn me on— not, like, in real life. A younger girl walked past us. She smiled and mumbled, "Hi, Augustus. Memorial was the big research hospital.
He nodded. The conversation seemed over. I tilted my cart onto its wheels and started walking. He limped beside me. With me. At my house," he said. You could be an ax murderer. Osteosarcoma sometimes takes a limb to check you out. Then, if it likes you, it takes the rest.
I followed him upstairs, losing ground as I made my way up slowly, stairs not being a field of expertise for my lungs. And then we were out of Jesus's heart and in the parking lot, the spring air just on the cold side of perfect, the late-afternoon light heavenly in its hurtfulness.
Mom wasn't there yet, which was unusual, because Mom was almost always waiting for me. I glanced around and saw that a tall, curvy brunette girl had Isaac pinned against the stone wall of the church, kissing him rather aggressively. They were close enough to me that I could hear the weird noises of their mouths together, and I could hear him saying, "Always," and her saying, "Always," in return. They'll always love each other and whatever.
I would conservatively estimate they have texted each other the word always four million times in the last year. It was just Augustus and me now, watching Isaac and Monica, who proceeded apace as if they were not leaning against a place of worship. His hand reached for her boob over her shirt and pawed at it, his palm still while his fingers moved around.
I wondered if that felt good. Didn't seem like it would, but I decided to forgive Isaac on the grounds that he was going blind. The senses must feast while there is yet hunger and whatever. I'm trying to observe young love in its many- splendored awkwardness. He flipped it open and put a cigarette between his lips. Oh, my God, you just ruined the whole thing.
The cigarette dangled unlit from the unsmiling corner of his mouth. Oh, my God. Let me just assure you that not being able to breathe? Totally disappointing. It tightened his jaw. He had a hell of a jawline, unfortunately. I stepped toward the curb, leaving Augustus Waters behind me, and then I heard a car start down the street. It was Mom. She'd been waiting for me to, like, make friends or whatever. I felt this weird mix of disappointment and anger welling up inside of me. I don't even know what the feeling was, really, just that there was a lot of it, and I wanted to smack Augustus Waters and also replace my lungs with lungs that didn't suck at being lungs.
I was standing with my Chuck Taylors on the very edge of the curb, the oxygen tank ball-and-chaining in the cart by my side, and right as my mom pulled up, I felt a hand grab mine.
I yanked my hand free but turned back to him. It's a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don't give it the power to do its killing. Mom was just idling. The big, goofy, real smile. Tapped the window. It rolled down. Whether stopping or starting, everything happened with a tremendous JOLT. I flew against the seat belt of his Toyota SUV each time he braked, and my neck snapped backward each time he hit the gas. I might have been nervous— what with sitting in the car of a strange boy on the way to his house, keenly aware that my crap lungs complicate efforts to fend off unwanted advances —but his driving was so astonishingly poor that I could think of nothing else.
We'd gone perhaps a mile in jagged silence before Augustus said, "I failed the driving test three times. My doctors say most amputees can drive with no problem, but. Not me. Anyway, I go in for my fourth driving test, and it goes about like this is going. Augustus slammed on the brakes, tossing me into the triangular embrace of the seat belt.
I swear to God I am trying to be gentle. Right, so anyway, at the end of the test, I totally thought I'd failed again, but the instructor was like, Your driving is unpleasant, but it isn't technically unsafe. The light turned green. I braced myself. Augustus slammed the gas.
I knew osteosarcoma was highly curable, but still. There are a number of ways to establish someone's approximate survival expectations without actually asking. I used the classic: A year behind, though: I'm a sophomore. No one likes a corpse, after all. But in the end I told the truth. I told Augustus the broad outline of my miracle: I didn't tell him that the diagnosis came three months after I got my first period. You're a woman. Now die. It was, we were told, incurable. I had a surgery called radical neck dissection, which is about as pleasant as it sounds.
Then radiation. Then they tried some chemo for my lung tumors. The tumors shrank, then grew. By then, I was fourteen. My lungs started to fill up with water. I was looking pretty dead— my hands and feet ballooned; my skin cracked; my lips were perpetually blue. They've got this drug that makes you not feel so completely terrified about the fact that you can't breathe, and I had a lot of it flowing into me through a PICC line, and more than a dozen other drugs besides.
But even so, there's a certain unpleasantness to drowning, particularly when it occurs over the course of several months. I finally ended up in the ICU with pneumonia, and my mom knelt by the side of my bed and said, "Are you ready, sweetie? And I remember wanting not to be awake.
Everyone figured I was finished, but my Cancer Doctor Maria managed to get some of the fluid out of my lungs, and shortly thereafter the antibiotics they'd given me for the pneumonia kicked in. I woke up and soon got into one of those experimental trials that are famous in the Republic of Cancervania for Not Working. The drug was Phalanxifor, this molecule designed to attach itself to cancer cells and slow their growth. It didn't work in about 70 percent of people.
But it worked in me. The tumors shrank. And they stayed shrunk. Huzzah, Phalanxifor! In the past eighteen months, my mets have hardly grown, leaving me with lungs that suck at being lungs but could, conceivably, struggle along indefinitely with the assistance of drizzled oxygen and daily Phalanxifor.
Admittedly, my Cancer Miracle had only resulted in a bit of downloadd time. I did not yet know the size of the bit. But when telling Augustus Waters, I painted the rosiest possible picture, embellishing the miraculousness of the miracle.
So I'm taking classes at MCC," which was our community college. I shoved his upper arm playfully. I could feel the muscle right beneath the skin, all tense and amazing. We made a wheels-screeching turn into a subdivision with eight-foot-high stucco walls.
His house was the first one on the left. A two- story colonial. We jerked to a halt in his driveway. I followed him inside. A wooden plaque in the entryway was engraved in cursive with the words Home Is Where the Heart Is, and the entire house turned out to be festooned in such observations. True Love Is Born from Hard Times promised a needlepointed pillow in their antique-furnished living room. Augustus saw me reading. They were making enchiladas in the kitchen a piece of stained glass by the sink read in bubbly letters Family Is Forever.
His mom was putting chicken into tortillas, which his dad then rolled up and placed in a glass pan. They didn't seem too surprised by my arrival, which made sense: The fact that Augustus made me feel special did not necessarily indicate that I was special. Maybe he brought home a different girl every night to show her movies and feel her up. He was tall— almost as tall as Gus— and skinny in a way that parentally aged people usually aren't.
Strong, too. In the darkest days, the Lord puts the best people into your life. I like the freaking Encouragements. I really do. I just can't admit it because I'm a teenager. She was small and brunette and vaguely mousy. Also I don't, urn, eat meat? We'll vegetarianize some," she said.
Gus opened his mouth to respond but then stopped himself. His mom filled the silence. Living room. I followed him down carpeted stairs to a huge basement bedroom. A shelf at my eye level reached all the way around the room, and it was stuffed solid with basketball memorabilia: There were also lots of signed balls and sneakers.
He bent at the waist and snatched up V for Vendetta. All at once, I couldn't figure out why I was methodically tossing a spherical object through a toroidal object. It seemed like the stupidest thing I could possibly be doing.
Anyway, for the longest time, I just kept sinking free throws. I hit eighty in a row, my all-time best, but as I kept going, I felt more and more like a two-year-old. And then for some reason I started to think about hurdlers. Are you okay? I wasn't trying to be suggestive or anything; I just got kind of tired when I had to stand a lot. I'd stood in the living room and then there had been the stairs, and then more standing, which was quite a lot of standing for me, and I didn't want to faint or anything.
I was a bit of a Victorian Lady, fainting-wise. I don't know why. I started thinking about them running their hurdle races, and jumping over these totally arbitrary objects that had been set in their path. And I wondered if hurdlers ever thought, you know, This would go faster if we just got rid of the hurdles.
I had a weekend between when they scheduled the amputation and when it happened. My own little glimpse of what Isaac is going through. I liked Augustus Waters. I really, really, really liked him. I liked the way his story ended with someone else. I liked his voice. I liked that he took existentially fraughtfree throws. And I liked that he had two names.
I've always liked people with two names, because you get to make up your mind what you call them: Gus or Augustus? Me, I was always just Hazel, univalent Hazel. I have nephews, from my half sisters.
But they're older. They live in Chicago. They are both married to very fancy lawyer dudes. Or banker dudes. I can't remember. You have siblings? I was diagnosed when—" "No, not your cancer story.
Your story. Interests, hobbies, passions, weird fetishes, etcetera. I know so many people like that. It's disheartening. Like, cancer is in the growth business, right? The taking-people-over business. But surely you haven't let it succeed prematurely. I struggled with how to pitch myself to Augustus Waters, which enthusiasms to embrace, and in the silence that followed it occurred to me that I wasn't very interesting. Think of something you like. The first thing that comes to mind. From, like, hideous romance to pretentious fiction to poetry.
I don't write. This tells me so much. You read a lot of capital-G great books, don't you? My favorite book, by a wide margin, was An Imperial Affliction, but I didn't like to tell people about it. Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books like An Imperial Affliction, which you can't tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.
It wasn't even that the book was so good or anything; it was just that the author, Peter Van Houten, seemed to understand me in weird and impossible ways. An Imperial Affliction was my book, in the way my body was my body and my thoughts were my thoughts. Even so, I told Augustus. Augustus spun around to a stack of books beneath his bedside table. He grabbed a paperback and a pen. As he scribbled an inscription onto the title page, he said, "All I ask in exchange is that you read this brilliant and haunting novelization of my favorite video game.
I laughed and took it. Our hands kind of got muddled together in the book handoff, and then he was holding my hand. He stood, and pulled me up with him, and did not let go of my hand until we reached the stairs.
We watched the movie with several inches of couch between us. I did the totally middle-schooly thing wherein I put my hand on the couch about halfway between us to let him know that it was okay to hold it, but he didn't try.
An hour into the movie, Augustus's parents came in and served us the enchiladas, which we ate on the couch, and they were pretty delicious. The movie was about this heroic guy in a mask who died heroically for Natalie Portman, who's pretty badass and very hot and does not have anything approaching my puffy steroid face.
As the credits rolled, he said, "Pretty great, huh? It was kind of a boy movie. I don't know why boys expect us to like boy movies. We don't expect them to like girl movies. Class in the morning," I said. I sat on the couch for a while as Augustus searched for his keys. His mom sat down next to me and said, "I just love this one, don't you? This is an old argument in the field of Thinking About Suffering, and its stupidity and lack of sophistication could be plumbed for centuries, but suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate.
He played me a couple songs he liked by a band called The Hectic Glow, and they were good songs, but because I didn't know them already, they weren't as good to me as they were to him. I kept glancing over at his leg, or the place where his leg had been, trying to imagine what the fake leg looked like. I didn't want to care about it, but I did a little.
He probably cared about my oxygen. Illness repulses. I'd learned that a long time ago, and I suspected Augustus had, too.
As I pulled up outside of my house, Augustus clicked the radio off. The air thickened. He was probably thinking about kissing me, and I was definitely thinking about kissing him. Wondering if I wanted to. I'd kissed boys, but it had been a while. I put the car in park and looked over at him.
He really was beautiful. I know boys aren't supposed to be, but he was. Waters," I said. I felt shy looking at him. I could not match the intensity of his waterblue eyes. There was an endearing nervousness in his voice.
I smiled. But I'm willing to wait all night and much of tomorrow. I grabbed the book from the center console. Spoiler alert: The price of dawn is blood. It wasn't An Imperial Affliction, but the protagonist, Staff Sergeant Max Mayhem, was vaguely likable despite killing, by my count, no fewer than individuals in pages.
So I got up late the next morning, a Thursday. Mom's policy was never to wake me up, because one of the job requirements of Professional Sick Person is sleeping a lot, so I was kind of confused at first when I jolted awake with her hands on my shoulders.
Mom hooked me up to a portable tank and then reminded me I had class. I mean the book. I shrugged. I brought some paperwork. Anyway, time to face the day, young lady. Also, today is My mom was really super into celebration maximization.
That was an idea. I texted Kaitlyn, took a shower, got dressed, and then Mom drove me to school. My class was American Literature, a lecture about Frederick Douglass in a mostly empty auditorium, and it was incredibly difficult to stay awake. Forty minutes into the ninety-minute class, Kaitlyn texted back. A wesomesauce. Happy Half Birthday. Castleton at 3: Kaitlyn had the kind of packed social life that needs to be scheduled down to the minute. I responded: Sounds good.
Ill be at the food court. Mom drove me directly from school to the bookstore attached to the mall, where I downloadd both Midnight Dawns and Requiem for Mayhem, the first two sequels to The Price of Dawn, and then I walked over to the huge food court and bought a Diet Coke. It was 3: I watched these kids playing in the pirate-ship indoor playground while I read.
There was this tunnel that these two kids kept crawling through over and over and they never seemed to get tired, which made me think of Augustus Waters and the existentially fraught free throws. Mom was also in the food court, alone, sitting in a corner where she thought I couldn't see her, eating a cheesesteak sandwich and reading through some papers.
Medical stuff, probably. The paperwork was endless. She saw me the moment I raised my hand, flashed her very white and newly straightened teeth at me, and headed over. She wore a knee-length charcoal coat that fit perfectly and sunglasses that dominated her face.
She pushed them up onto the top of her head as she leaned down to hug me. Kaitlyn just happened to be an extremely sophisticated twenty-five-year-old British socialite stuck inside a sixteen-year-old body in Indianapolis.
Everyone accepted it. How are you? Is that diet? She sipped through the straw. Some of the boys have become downright edible. Like who? She proceeded to name five guys we'd attended elementary and middle school with, but I couldn't picture any of them.
He's such a boy. But enough about me. What is new in the Hazelverse? But I didn't really have much to brag about, so I just shrugged. I've gotten kinda into it. It's a series. Shall we shop? As we were shopping, Kaitlyn kept picking out all these open-toed flats for me and saying, "These would look cute on you," which reminded me that Kaitlyn never wore open-toed shoes on account of how she hated her feet because she felt her second toes were too long, as if the second toe was a window into the soul or something.
So when I pointed out a pair of sandals that would suit her skin tone, she was like, "Yeah, but. Oh," she said. Then she grabbed a pair of strappy hooker shoes and said, "Is it even possible to walk in these? I mean, I would just die— " and then stopped short, looking at me as if to say I'm sorry, as if it were a crime to mention death to the dying.
I ended up just picking out some flip-flops so that I could have something to download, and then I sat down on one of the benches opposite a bank of shoes and watched Kaitlyn snake her way through the aisles, shopping with the kind of intensity and focus that one usually associates with professional chess.
I kind of wanted to take out Midnight Dawns and read for a while, but I knew that'd be rude, so I just watched Kaitlyn. Occasionally she'd circle back to me clutching some closed-toe prey and say, "This? I didn't go home, though.
I'd told Mom to pick me up at six, and while I figured she was either in the mall or in the parking lot, I still wanted the next two hours to myself. I liked my mom, but her perpetual nearness sometimes made me feel weirdly nervous. And I liked Kaitlyn, too. I really did. But three years removed from proper full-time schoolic exposure to my peers, I felt a certain unbridgeable distance between us.
I think my school friends wanted to help me through my cancer, but they eventually found out that they couldn't. For one thing, there was no through. So I excused myself on the grounds of pain and fatigue, as I often had over the years when seeing Kaitlyn or any of my other friends.
In truth, it always hurt. It always hurt not to breathe like a normal person, incessantly reminding your lungs to be lungs, forcing yourself to accept as unsolvable the clawing scraping inside-out ache of underoxygenation.
So I wasn't lying, exactly. I was just choosing among truths. I found a bench surrounded by an Irish Gifts store, the Fountain Pen Emporium, and a baseball-cap outlet— a corner of the mall even Kaitlyn would never shop, and started reading Midnight Dawns.
It featured a sentence-to-corpse ratio of nearly 1: I liked Staff Sergeant Max Mayhem, even though he didn't have much in the way of a technical personality, but mostly I liked that his adventures kept happening.
There were always more bad guys to kill and more good guys to save. New wars started even before the old ones were won. I hadn't read a real series like that since I was a kid, and it was exciting to live again in an infinite fiction. Twenty pages from the end of Midnight Dawns, things started to look pretty bleak for Mayhem when he was shot seventeen times while attempting to rescue a blond, American hostage from the Enemy.
But as a reader, I did not despair. The war effort would go on without him. There could— and would— be sequels starring his cohorts: I was just about to the end when this little girl with barretted braids appeared in front of me and said, "What's in your nose? These tubes give me oxygen and help me breathe.
Let's try. I focused on my breathing as Jackie handed the tubes back to me. I gave them a quick swipe with my T-shirt, laced the tubes behind my ears, and put the nubbins back in place.
I returned to the book, where Staff Sergeant Max Mayhem was regretting that he had but one life to give for his country, but I kept thinking about that little kid, and how much I liked her. The other thing about Kaitlyn, I guess, was that it could never again feel natural to talk to her.
Any attempts to feign normal social interactions were just depressing because it was so glaringly obvious that everyone I spoke to for the rest of my life would feel awkward and self-conscious around me, except maybe kids like Jackie who just didn't know any better. Anyway, I really did like being alone. I liked being alone with poor Staff Sergeant Max Mayhem, who— oh, come on, he's not going to survive these seventeen bullet wounds, is he?
He lives. CHAPTER FOUR I went to bed a little early that night, changing into boy boxers and a T-shirt before crawling under the covers of my bed, which was queen size and pillow topped and one of my favorite places in the world.
And then I started reading An Imperial Affliction for the millionth time. AIA is about this girl named Anna who narrates the story and her one-eyed mom, who is a professional gardener obsessed with tulips, and they have a normal lower-middle- class life in a little central California town until Anna gets this rare blood cancer.
But it's not a cancer book, because cancer books suck. Like, in cancer books, the cancer person starts a charity that raises money to fight cancer, right? Also, Anna is honest about all of it in a way no one else really is: Throughout the book, she refers to herself as the side effect, which is just totally correct. Cancer kids are essentially side effects of the relentless mutation that made the diversity of life on earth possible.
So as the story goes on, she gets sicker, the treatments and disease racing to kill her, and her mom falls in love with this Dutch tulip trader Anna calls the Dutch Tulip Man.
The Dutch Tulip Man has lots of money and very eccentric ideas about how to treat cancer, but Anna thinks this guy might be a con man and possibly not even Dutch, and then just as the possibly Dutch guy and her mom are about to get married and Anna is about to start this crazy new treatment regimen involving wheatgrass and low doses of arsenic, the book ends right in the middle of a I know it's a very literary decision and everything and probably part of the reason I love the book so much, but there is something to recommend a story that ends.
And if it can't end, then it should at least continue into perpetuity like the adventures of Staff Sergeant Max Mayhem's platoon. I understood the story ended because Anna died or got too sick to write and this midsentence thing was supposed to reflect how life really ends and whatever, but there were characters other than Anna in the story, and it seemed unfair that I would never find out what happened to them.
I'd written, care of his publisher, a dozen letters to Peter Van Houten, each asking for some answers about what happens after the end of the story: But he'd never responded to any of my letters. AIA was the only book Peter Van Houten had written, and all anyone seemed to know about him was that after the book came out he moved from the United States to the Netherlands and became kind of reclusive.
I imagined that he was working on a sequel set in the Netherlands— maybe Anna's mom and the Dutch Tulip Man end up moving there and trying to start a new life. But it had been ten years since An Imperial Affliction came out, and Van Houten hadn't published so much as a blog post.
I couldn't wait forever. As I reread that night, I kept getting distracted imagining Augustus Waters reading the same words. I wondered if he'd like it, or if he'd dismiss it as pretentious. Then I remembered my promise to call him after reading The Price of Dawn, so I found his number on its title page and texted him.
Price of Dawn review: Too many bodies. Not enough adjectives. Hows AIA? He replied a minute later: So I called. It's six hundred fifty-one pages long and I've had twenty-four hours. I'm already on Requiem for Mayhem. So, okay, is the tulip guy a crook? I'm getting a bad vibe from him. When can I see you? Flirting was new to me, but I liked it. This old woman gave a lecture wherein she managed to talk for ninety minutes about Sylvia Plath without ever once quoting a single word of Sylvia Plath.
When I got out of class, Mom was idling at the curb in front of the building. After a second, I said, "Wanna go to a movie? Anything you've been wanting to see?
We drove over to the Castleton theater and watched a 3-D movie about talking gerbils. It was kind of funny, actually. When I got out of the movie, I had four text messages from Augustus. Tell me my copy is missing the last twenty pages or something. Hazel Grace, tell me I have not reached the end of this book.
Call me when you can. Hope all's okay. So when I got home I went out into the backyard and sat down on this rusting latticed patio chair and called him. It was a cloudy day, typical Indiana: Our little backyard was dominated by my childhood swing set, which was looking pretty waterlogged and pathetic.
Augustus picked up on the third ring. Like the death cries of some injured animal. Gus turned his attention to Isaac. Does Support Group Hazel make this better or worse?
If you could drive in a straight line, it would only take like five minutes to get from my house to Augustus's house, but you can't drive in a straight line because Holliday Park is between us. Even though it was a geographic inconvenience, I really liked Holliday Park. When I was a little kid, I would wade in the White River with my dad and there was always this great moment when he would throw me up in the air, just toss me away from him, and I would reach out my arms as I flew and he would reach out his arms, and then we would both see that our arms were not going to touch and no one was going to catch me, and it would kind of scare the shit out of both of us in the best possible way, and then I would legs-flailingly hit the water and then come up for air uninjured and the current would bring me back to him as I said again, Daddy, again.
I pulled into the driveway right next to an old black Toyota sedan I figured was Isaac's car. Carting the tank behind me, I walked up to the door. I knocked.
Gus's dad answered. The sound. Can I carry your, uh, tank? Thanks, though, Mr. I was kind of scared to go down there.
Listening to people howl in misery is not among my favorite pastimes. But I went. Hazel, a gentle reminder: Isaac is in the midst of a psychotic episode. The screen was split between Isaac's point of view on the left, and Augustus's on the right.
They were soldiers fighting in a bombed-out modern city. I recognized the place from The Price of Dawn. As I approached, I saw nothing unusual: Only when I got parallel to them did I see Isaac's face. Tears streamed down his reddened cheeks in a continual flow, his face a taut mask of pain.
He stared at the screen, not even glancing at me, and howled, all the while pounding away at his controller. Not even the slightest hint that he was aware of my existence. Just the tears flowing down his face onto his black T-shirt. Augustus glanced away from the screen ever so briefly. I was wearing this just-past-the-knees dress I'd had forever.
Too in love with Monica, I suppose," which resulted in a catastrophic sob. He just wants to cry and play Counterinsurgence 2: The Price of Dawn. If you agree, head over to that power station, and I'll cover you.
If you have any sage words of feminine advice. Augustus nodded at the screen. Moments later, tracer bullets started whizzing over their heads. Augustus sighed. You're the one who suggested we hole up in the freaking power station. They crouched behind a wall across the street and picked off the enemy one by one. His shoulders rounded over his controller, slamming buttons, his forearms taut, veins visible.
Isaac leaned toward the screen, the controller dancing in his thin-fingered hands. The waves of terrorists continued, and they mowed down every one, their shooting astonishingly precise, as it had to be, lest they fire into the school. Isaac dropped his controller in disappointment. His dismembered body exploded like a geyser and the screen went red. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a cigarette, and shoved it between his teeth. Maybe that's the minute that downloads them an hour, which is the hour that downloads them a year.
No one's gonna download them forever, Hazel Grace, but my life bought them a minute. And that's not nothing. Isaac was wailing again.
Augustus snapped his head back to him. He leaned over Augustus to look at me and through tightly strung vocal cords said, "She didn't want to do it after. He nodded, the tears not like tears so much as a quiet metronome— steady, endless. He wiped his sopping face with a sleeve. Behind his glasses, Isaac's eyes seemed so big that everything else on his face kind of disappeared and it was just these disembodied floating eyes staring at me— one real, one glass.
Neither can you, but she doesn't haveto handle it.