As the seasons passed, Dr. Mack continued to treat Ash’s parents as well as he could. He ran test after test, with inconclusive results. He pored over research on rare diseases until his eyes grew too tired to stay open. He consulted with the CDC, and with specialists around the world, who suggested everything from rare cancers to autoimmune diseases. No one had any solid ideas to help him reach a diagnosis.
Meanwhile, Mohana and Shariq Chowdhury grew sicker every day. Both were wan and underweight, and afflicted with dizzy spells, itchy rashes, and chronic pains that came and went suddenly. Both were too weak to stand for more than a few seconds at a time. And neither could keep down solid foods, and had to be fed intravenously. At long last, Dr. Mack found a combination of medications which, for a while, seemed to help the strange symptoms improve. Mohana managed to put on some weight, and Shariq gained enough strength to walk around the hospital.
And then…disaster. Without warning, Mohana collapsed. The medical staff rushed to save her, but her major organs had begun to fail. Before a transplant could even be considered, she was dead.
Not quite two days later, Shariq Chowdhury passed away of similar complications.
When Ash heard that his parents had died, he fell silent. He did not sob like his sisters, or yell obscenities at the doctor like his brother. He stared into the void, eyes dull, hearing nothing, saying nothing. During the days that followed, he spent all his time alone at the deserted old playground in his neighborhood.
He was there the evening before the funeral, sitting on a swing and twisting slowly from side to side. Its rusty chains groaned and screeched, groaned and screeched.
“So this is where you’ve been,” said Cami’s soft voice from behind him. Ash did not turn. “I’m sorry about your mom and dad,” she said, sitting on the swing beside him. When Ash did not answer, Cami stopped talking. She just sat with him in silence as the moon rose in the sky.
On the day of the funeral , the sun shone too brightly, and the sky was far too blue. There were too many people crowded around the graves of Ash’s parents, sobbing and broken-hearted for the loss of two kind and brilliant people. Ash wanted to run away. But he could not. He could not escape the heavy, black mass that was building and building inside of him. Until at last, as he forced his eyes to look down at his parents’ names engraved on matching tombstones, the mass exploded, releasing his grief in thick, rolling waves.
“I couldn’t s-save them,” he said between shuddering, gulping sobs. “I couldn’t s-save them. I c-couldn’t…” He sank to the hard ground and felt Cami’s hands on his back as he gave himself over to grief.