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Fighting For Normal

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Sloane Deshazo, a cheerful and healthy teenager who loves playing volleyball, shares a close bond with her twin brother and harbors a crush on a childhood friend. Her life is full of joy and excitement until she receives a devastating diagnosis: a rare and aggressive form of cancer. As Sloane confronts grueling treatments, battles her own body, and faces an uncertain future, her world turns upside down. Loneliness, fear, and anger become her companions, but amidst the struggle, she discovers unexpected sources of hope, love, and inner strength. She learns to appreciate every moment of happiness and beauty in her life while fighting tooth and nail for her survival. She realizes that normality is not about what you do or own but who you love and who you are. Sloane shows that cancer does not define her, but her courage and determination do. Though she fights for normal, she is mostly fighting for herself.

When Pops and Pizza Save the Day

Ugh, Bernard’s wet nose nudged my cheek, dragging me from a dream that felt way more real than this crummy reality. My head pounded like a bass at a concert gone wrong, and my throat felt like sandpaper. Sweat plastered my hair to my forehead, even though chills wracked my body.

“Bernard,” I croaked, my voice a pathetic rasp. Nausea threatened to erupt, sending me scrambling to shut my eyes and clamp a hand over my mouth. The light filtering through the cracked door felt like a spotlight on my misery.

Then came the creak of the door, followed by a shaft of light that stabbed at my already throbbing head. Pops’ voice, usually dripping with playful sarcasm, was laced with pure worry. “Sloane Liliana,” he started, dragging out my full middle name the way he only did when I was in serious trouble. This wasn’t good.

He settled on the bed beside me, engulfing me in the warmth of his presence. That familiar scent of sandalwood and spices that usually comforted me was cut with a new edge – the scent of panic clinging to him like cheap cologne. His hand brushed my cheek, sending a jolt through me despite my fever haze. I cracked open an eye, meeting his worried gaze. “What’s wrong, sunshine?” he whispered, his voice thick with concern.

Suddenly, the dam broke. Tears streamed down my face as I buried it in his chest, letting out a choked sob. His arms wrapped around me, a desperate attempt to hold back the storm brewing inside. “I don’t feel good, Pops,” I hiccupped, clinging to his shirt like a lifeline.

“It’s okay, Sloanie,” he murmured, his voice a soothing balm. “Maybe you just have a bug. You’ll be fine. But seriously,” he added after a beat, the worry still clinging to his voice, “what’s going on with you? You never get sick.”

Before I could reply, Stetson’s bedroom door banged open across the hall. Shouldn’t he be downstairs already, chugging those weird protein shakes he’s obsessed with? Instead, he walked in, backpack slung over one shoulder, twirling his keys. “Yo, Sleeping Beauty - ” He cut himself off when he saw Pops, his eyebrows arching in that annoyingly smug way. My twin. Three minutes older than me, with his dirty blonde hair in a low fade, dazzling blue eyes, and that infuriatingly perfect grin.

“Is Sloane okay?” Stetson asked, his usual sarcasm momentarily replaced by a flicker of genuine concern.

“She’s running a fever, bud. Won’t be going to school today,” Pops replied, a hint of worry in his voice despite his casual tone.

“Bummer. Need me to swing by the office and let Ms. Troyer know? Maybe pick up her assignments?” Stetson offered, already regaining some of his swagger.

Pops nodded. “That’d be a huge help, Stet.”

A familiar grin spread across Stetson’s face. “Consider the ice queen charmed,” he quipped, a mischievous glint in his eye.

Stetson tossed a “Get well soon, sis” over his shoulder before the door clicked shut, leaving me alone with Pops. Exhaustion washed over me, a heavy wave threatening to pull me under. Pops’ heartbeat became my anchor, the steady thump-thump creating a comforting rhythm. My eyelids fluttered shut, and I drifted into a fevered sleep.

When I woke again, the room was hushed, a stark contrast to the comforting weight of Pops that had been beside me. Afternoon sunlight painted a faint stripe across the closed curtains. I pushed myself up, a lingering fog of sickness still clinging to me. With a quiet sigh, I opened the door and stepped into the hallway, a flutter of hope guiding me forward.

Immediately, a joyous bark and the thump of excited paws echoed through the house. Bernard, our fluffy white Samoyed, tore toward me, tail a blur of happiness. With a surprised yelp, I caught him mid-leap, his paws colliding with my chest and a shower of eager licks washing over my face.

A grin bloomed as I buried my fingers in his thick fur. “Hey there, buddy,” I murmured, scratching behind his ears. “Missed you too.” Bernard, a surprise sixteenth birthday gift from Pops, was a constant source of unconditional love.

He trotted at my heels as I descended the stairs, the rich aroma of coffee teasing my nose. Pops was in the living room, a soft smile gracing his face as he watched a nature documentary, the hushed sounds of birdsong barely reaching my ears. Our spacious living room was a familiar haven – the slate sofa and matching loveseats hugged a glass-topped wooden table, facing the fireplace, while the loveseats angled towards the flat-screen TV above the mantel. Warm hardwood floors, walls the color of old parchment, and the vibrant green leaves of a potted travelers palm created a welcoming atmosphere.

Pops glanced up, his smile widening as he waved me over. I snuggled into his side, resting my head on his shoulder. With a feather-light touch to my forehead, Pops declared, “Seems like that fever’s finally broken, sunshine. Feeling better?”

Relief washed over me. “Much better,” I sighed. Pops stroked my hair with a familiar tenderness, planting a gentle kiss on my temple.

“Hungry?” he asked.

A tiny rumble escaped my stomach. “A little,” I admitted, though the thought of food wasn’t exactly exciting

Pops nodded, grabbing the remote and switching over to Friends. The volume kicked up just as Joey launched into a dramatic tale, and a familiar sense of ease washed over me as I laughed at the onscreen chaos. Bernard hopped onto the couch, curling up beside me, his warmth a comforting weight.

Halfway through the episode, the door to the garage burst open and Stetson stomped into the living room. Chandler trailed behind him, a bottle of ginger ale dangling from his fingertips. The bright citrus smell filled the air.

“Almost forgot this!” Stetson tossed my packet of makeup assignments at me with a playful smirk. I caught it, a small groan escaping my lips. Makeup work was the last thing I needed. “Now, off to the glamorous world of burgers and shakes. Gotta run, Sloane!” His voice rang out as he sprinted up the stairs.

Chandler strolled over, a playful glint in his eyes. “Can’t stay long, got work too. But,” he raised the bottle of ginger ale, “thought this might help.”

“How’s the superbug treating you?” His voice held genuine concern.

I took a careful breath, the ginger ale swirling with a spicy scent. “I’m okay,” I managed, my voice a hoarse whisper. I could feel the cool condensation against my fingers, the sensation strangely grounding. “Just a little under the weather.”

Chandler’s eyes softened, crinkling at the corners the way they did when he was worried. “Get some rest,” he urged, his voice low and soothing. It sent a flutter through my stomach I tried to ignore.

I offered him a small smile. “I will. Thanks, Chandler.”

Heavy footsteps thundered down the staircase, startling me. Stetson burst into the room, his cheeks flushed and a sheen of sweat on his forehead. “Ready to roll?” he asked, his eyes darting from me to Chandler and back.

Chandler nodded, throwing me one last lingering look before turning to follow Stetson. As the door slammed behind them with a finality that made the silence buzz in my ears, Pops stretched. A cavernous yawn split his face as the Friends credits rolled. “Alright, pizza time. What’ll it be, sunshine?”

“Buffalo chicken,” I said automatically. Pops dialed Domino’s, rattling off the order – one buffalo chicken, one deluxe, and two orders of stuffed cheesy bread. After confirming the total and delivery time, he hung up.

“One more episode?” I asked, tilting my head towards the TV. Pops nodded, grabbing the remote and pressing play as he settled back on the couch. He hummed along to the familiar theme song, and we were halfway through the episode when the doorbell rang.

Bernard bolted from the couch and sprinted into the kitchen, barking like a maniac. “Sounds like someone else is home,” Pops chuckled as he got up to answer the door. Sure enough, Dad’s voice drifted in from the entryway, followed a moment later by Dad and Uncle Jake strolling into the living room.

“How’s my girl feeling?” Dad asked, bending down to wrap me in a hug and plant a kiss on my forehead.

“Better,” I managed a smile. Dad swiveled towards Pops, who teetered on the brink of a cheesy breadstick apocalypse with two giant pizza boxes and a bulging paper bag. My stomach roared in hungry anticipation. Dad took over with a quick hug and a kiss that made Pops blush a little – it always made me giggle. The cardboard moaned under the weight of our feast as Dad set it on the coffee table.

“That smells incredible,” I admitted, mouth already watering.

Dad chuckled and ruffled my hair. “Hold your horses, kiddo. I need to change first, then we can dig in.” He headed upstairs as Uncle Jake and Pops disappeared into the kitchen. Uncle Jake returned with three beers, Pops following with paper plates and napkins. Uncle Jake plopped one in Pops’ hand and set his and Dad’s on the coffee table. He scooped me up and settled onto the couch, wrapping his arms around me in a warm hug.

“Missed you, munchkin,” he said.

Uncle Jake wasn’t a real uncle, but he and Dad had been inseparable since middle school. Living close by meant he and his son, Chandler, were constants in our lives.

Pops and Uncle Jake chatted about Uncle Jake’s day off – apparently, he’d spent it fishing and smelling of sweat and lake water. Dad walked back downstairs, now in a faded navy t-shirt, khaki shorts, and blindingly white socks. I swear the man owned twenty pairs in identical shades. He flicked off the TV and grabbed his beer. I snatched a slice of buffalo chicken and a cheesy bread, dipping them in ranch dressing before taking a giant, satisfying bite.

Pops pulled Dad close, slinging an arm around his shoulders. They always acted like lovesick teenagers half the time, a sappy little display I couldn’t help but find amusing. “How was your day?” he asked.

Dad sighed, the lines on his face deepening. He told us about his case – a young man accused of robbery and assault. Seemed like even when Dad wasn’t wearing his suit, the weight of his job followed him home. The kid swore he was innocent, but there was a prior record, a witness who identified him, and a DNA match. Five years behind bars was the verdict. Honestly, it always made me feel a little uneasy when Dad talked about his work.

As the last greasy wedge vanished, Pops and Uncle Jake swooped in, a whirlwind of clearing plates and rustling napkins. The end of pizza night always felt abrupt.

“Sloane,” Dad’s voice cut through my post-pizza haze, “time to hit the books. Head upstairs.”

Ugh. Homework. The dreaded word that could s*ck the joy out of any evening. I glanced at the stack of worksheets on the side table, a wave of nausea washing over me as I took in the endless equations and maps. Maybe, just maybe, I could charm my way out of this. I let out a halfhearted whine, hoping to appeal to Dad’s softer side.

But his gaze remained unwavering. “Upstairs. Now."

Uncle Jake chuckled, a low rumble in his chest. “Guess that’s my cue,” he said, rising from the couch with a gentle squeeze of my shoulder. “Thanks for the pizza, guys.” He winked at me and disappeared out the front door, leaving me face-to-face with the inevitable.

I trudged towards the stairs, a string of grumbles escaping my lips. Up in my room, the door shut behind me with a soft, final click.

My bedroom was an oasis of soft colors. The teal walls, the coral comforter on my queen-sized bed, even the gentle glow of my nightstand lamps—everything felt soothing. I sank onto the bed, inhaling the fresh, clean scent of my sheets mixed with the subtle vanilla of my candles and a lingering hint of perfume from my vanity. A navy beanbag chair and a cream-colored shag rug added a cozy touch. Volleyball decorations and pictures of friends and family were scattered around the walls.

I sighed, my gaze falling on the taunting homework packet. Might as well get started. With a groan, I began tackling Pre-Calculus.

Just as I started to decipher the first problem, my phone buzzed to life. Noelle’s name flashed on the screen. I grinned and answered the video call.

Noelle, my best friend since kindergarten and my next-door neighbor, appeared on the screen. Her golden blonde hair fell around her face, framing sparkling sapphire blue eyes and those perfectly sculpted cheekbones.

“You could’ve just walked over,” I teased.

A blush crept up her cheeks. “Yeah, but Stetson said you were sick, and I didn’t want to disturb you.” She tilted her head. “How are you feeling?”

“Not bad,” I admitted, “Just buried under a mountain of homework.”

Noelle cringed in sympathy. “Glad I’m done with that nonsense for the night.” Despite her bubbly personality and stereotypical ‘dumb blonde’ reputation, Noelle was brilliant — 4.0 GPA and honor society proved it.

For the next hour, she filled me in on all the juicy school gossip I’d missed. Her stories about the new boy and the dramatic happenings in class had me laughing despite my homework woes.

Just as we were fully engrossed, my bedroom door creaked open. Dad poked his head in. “It’s getting late, kiddo. Wrap that up soon and finish your homework.”

A familiar wave of annoyance washed over me, but I forced a smile. “Okay, Dad, I’ll be done soon,” I chirped, hoping he couldn’t hear the underlying groan.

Reluctantly, I said goodbye to Noelle, her bubbly chatter fading away as I ended the call. With a defeated sigh, I dove back into the homework abyss. Pre-Calculus was a nightmare of numbers and equations that made my brain ache.

Time seemed to drag on endlessly. Every time I glanced at the clock, only a few minutes had passed. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, I scribbled the answer to the last Pre-Calculus problem. A small victory, but I still had Physics to conquer.

As I delved into the complexities of motion and energy, my eyelids grew heavy. The numbers blurred, and my focus wavered. A glance at the clock startled me – 11 pm already! With renewed determination, I pushed through the exhaustion and tackled the last of the Geography questions.

Back in the Saddle (But Still Wobbly)

Perched on this damn bar stool, I'm fighting back a wave of nausea. The vanilla perfume I sprayed on this morning – so fresh and pretty then – is now a sickening cloud around me, mixing with the smell of bacon frying. My sundress, the one with the tiny flowers that seemed so perfect, feels like a lead blanket now. The belt is a noose around my waist. Why didn't I just wear my sweats? I think, feeling stupid for even trying to look cute.

The gold necklace digs into my collarbone, the bangles on my wrist jangle obnoxiously, even my earrings feel heavy. Ugh, this whole "put together" thing is just so much effort right now.

"Hey, sleepyhead," Dad's voice boomed from across the island, disrupting my pity party. He effortlessly flipped pancakes onto a plate, a goofy rendition of U2's "With or Without You" barely audible under his breath. The "World's Best Dad" apron hung crookedly across his crisp white shirt and navy slacks. Honestly, with his tousled dirty bl


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