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Changing the Ending

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Alfred Hallam is about to turn 15, and Alfred Hallam is about to die of tuberculosis.

It crept up on him slowly, like the Second World War was starting to creep up on the rest of London. Slowly, the illness infected the boy, taking ahold of his lungs and spreading to the rest of his body. Violence and hunger poisoned the world. 

Alfred didn’t know it was too late until he was quarantined behind a dingy curtain. A makeshift prison tucked away in a corner of the tube station. 

Alice Spencer, his bestest friend and the girl who had pined over him for 15 years was opposite of the curtain, cradling a children’s book to her chest. 

They were both alone and afraid again. Their families were dead. Their homes were destroyed. They came into the station together, but they would end apart. 

Some time passed. Too much time. Not enough time. Time Alice cherished, and time Alfred prayed would end already. 

Now, Alice was stroking Alfred’s sweat-matted hair, smiling sweetly to her friend and re-telling their childhood story by heart. She knew it all by heart, she insisted. The Red Cross nurse disproved her point, but never managed to break her spirit. Death would do that to the young girl instead. 

Alfred Hallam’s death. 

He was quite obviously reaching the end, coughing up blood into his sleeve as though he were trying to paint white roses red. Alice’s brain connected all the too-real pieces to bits of her childhood. She found goodness in it all. 

But how could she find any goodness when the light she’s always loved so dearly was dimming before her eyes? And how could she ever light it again when the wick was gone?

Alfred clutched Alice’s arm with one of his hands, tight as can be. For him, anyways. Alice knew he was weakly, stubbornly holding on. His grip faltered and his eyes shone with a dull, helpless sort of look.

“Allie,” Alfred interrupted, voice barely a whisper. It was watery, and Alice couldn’t determine whether that were from the liquid in his lungs or the tears in his eyes.

This was the end. She knew it. Alfred knew it. He had come to terms with it all, but she did not. 

And, still, she stopped her reciting and creating, looking down to Alfred with shiny pupils instead. 

“Yes, Alfie?” She returned, still petting his hair and forcing up a tiny smile. For him. Always for him. 

“I can’t finish the story.” He muttered, offering a weak little curl of his lips. 

Alice sucked in a sharp breath. The air was stale and there was a heavy lump in her throat. 

“We’re gonna finish it. Together. Like we always do.” She insisted. 

“Alice, no.”

“Alfie...”

“Please, Al-“ Alfred was wheezing a bit, trying to hold on a little longer. Alice could feel his hand falling. 

“Yes, love?” 

“I can’t finish. I won’t.” Boldly,- Alfred was never bold- he forced himself upright, just enough to pump the last of his adrenaline and tighten his hold on Alice. She gasped and wrapped an arm around him, supporting him. She could feel the hard bone on her palm. Alfred was so frail it hurt Alice like no other. 

“Careful, Alf.” Alice warned tearfully. 

“Always.” He smiled, pulling her palm closer. She held his cheek, stroking the clammy skin on his face with her thumb. Alfred tilted his head into the soothing touch. The room felt cold. So cold. But Alice was warm. 

“Please hold on a little longer.” Alice begged, hopeful and soft. Alfred gave a shake of his head, grabbing her palm now. 

Alfred gave the lightest, butterfly kiss to Alice’s hand. She bit back a sob. 

“I love you, Alice.” He whispered, tears finally rolling down his face. 

Alice choked on bile. Still, she managed to croak out an, “I love you, Alfred. So much. Too much.” 

Alfred folded her fingers over her palm, pushing her hand away. Alice sniffled, holding it to her heart. 

In a moment of foolish love, she leaned down, kissing Alfred’s forehead. 

“Goodbye, Alfred.” She whispered.

After another few minutes, he had erupted into a fit of loud, wet hacking. And then, silence. 

Alice Spencer wailed, and Alfred Hallam died smiling.