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laughter (and the moments after)

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It’s been a couple of months now since they found out. They’d travelled up north as soon as they could, greeted with tears, lingering hugs and silences that none of them could fill. His mum had put on as brave a face as she could for him and Martyn, talking through all the medical side of things, trying to catch them up to speed with all that they knew without falling off the rails into full blown despair.

She had greeted him and Dan at the door, ushering them inside, fretting they’d catch a cold, just like always. The house had smelled of her baking and Kath had sat them all down for some tea and cake, clearly trying her absolute best to make something good and okay in the face of this nightmare.

It had only taken a couple of hours of attempting to keep face for her to break. Having them all there knowing that it will never be the same again, they will never have those light-hearted, carefree, happy moments without having to face the crushing reality of their lives now.

Kath was midway through talking about some doctor and chemo slowing down the inevitable when she let out the first choked sob. Watching his mum, His Mum, hearing her make such a desperate, sad noise—that was what finally flipped the switch in Phil to knowing that this was all really, actually happening.

They sat there, him, and his little family quietly grieving the future. His mum turned and buried her face in Nigel’s shoulder and all Phil could do was watch.

--

Phil had spent much of his time lost in a whirlwind of anxious thoughts of the future, and what was waiting for them all. He would take himself away so as not to worry his parents too much, so as not to cause Dan alarm, this was just how his brain worked, and he still needed to let himself stew in it enough for it all to sink in.

He spiralled through thoughts and scenarios of what his father would look like on his deathbed—pictured what everyone would look like at the funeral, the speeches that would be made, who would cry—he thought of the moment immediately after his dad died. Of the phone calls they would have to make to everyone who knew him, of listening to them cry and give condolences down the phone.

He thought of his mum—His mum—She was—is— losing her partner—her life partner—they were supposed to be together for longer—they were supposed to have more time. His parents are so in love, and this is all like a bomb dropping on them and the peaceful life they’ve had these past few years. What would—fuck— what would he do if this was happening to him and Dan? How is his mum managing to hold it together at all?

Phil had a moment of pure fear then. This will happen to him and Dan one day, maybe not like this, not for a long time, but one of them is going to die before the other, and the survivor will—well, have to survive. More tears add to the steady stream pouring down Phil's face. This is too much. He just needs to turn his brain off from all these horrible, horrible thoughts.

And so he’d gone back to the others, trying to make everything else louder than the doom talk in his head.

--

They tiptoed around the house while they were there, all acting as if keeping quiet would somehow keep what was happening at bay. As if – if they simply didn’t mention it again, didn’t speak the truth, rather acted as if nothing was different at all, then perhaps they could maybe forget.

But his dad was so weak already. No longer the man Phil remembered from his childhood, but a frail imitation. He couldn’t stand for more than a minute, the immense pain he was in only being kept at bay by the morphine and the steroids.

He couldn’t paint, or go outside, or do any of the things he used to enjoy.

There was laughter in the time they were there, but with it always came a deathly silence in the moments after where they all collectively remembered. Remembered why they were there. Any joy they had found seemingly crushed out of them with this knowledge.

They looked at photos of years gone by, of moments where they weren’t plagued by the knowledge of the future, photos of his mum and dad happily together, all of them acutely aware that it would never be like that again, they could make the most of the time they had left, but it would never be the same.

And every time his parents managed to go on a small walk, holding hands just like they always did, that these would be the last times. Their days were numbered. And Phil wishes—he wishes so much that he could go back in time and make sure that he made the most of all those years that he took for granted, and he knew that he would make the most of those left.

--

When him and Dan had reached the day they were meant to leave, Phil was terrified. Terrified that this was the last time he would see his dad walking, healthy-ish, not yet completely defeated by the pain, the tumours. Terrified that something could go horrifically wrong, and this was the last time he would see him ever. Terrified that by the time he came back his dad would be nothing like himself, would look even more different, wouldn’t be able to laugh, wouldn’t be the man Phil has known his entire life, and instead be an empty shell of himself.

He spent the whole of the train journey back squeezing Dan's hand far too tightly and trying desperately not to think. No more thoughts. No more thinking of Dad dying or Dan dying or anyone dying—Phil just wants to freeze time. When he has something so inevitable in the future, he can’t help but feel like time is slipping past him even faster, leaving him grasping at thin air, desperate for it all to just stop.

But it doesn’t. The clock keeps on ticking, and Phil feels as though he's hurtling into chaos.