Visiting Alice was a necessary evil, a bittersweet daily bus to a glass prison. Carlisle saw him off every day, a hand on his shoulder as support while they waited for the elevator. His foster father had quickly become a source of stability in his life, guiding him through the expansive hospital and ensuring he didn’t get lost among the hallways. He wasn’t Alice’s doctor, but they all knew enough about her prognosis to know that this time was important. Carlisle brought Jasper to work with him every morning and buzzed him into the isolation ward without a second thought. No one ever stopped them. No one ever asked them to leave.
The isolation ward wasn’t a particularly grim place. Jasper might call it festive. Alice certainly would. The nurses regularly decorated the walls, indicating the season for those who would miss them. Faux trees had green leaves replaced with orange ones, and then went bare during the winter. Snowflakes were taped to windows liberally, and bright presents were stacked at each door, waiting to be disinfected and re-packaged. Jasper always stopped to look, trying his best to memorize what he saw so he could better answer Alice’s questions about what, exactly, the rest of the hospital looked like.
Alice greets him at the window, grinning widely. She’s still in her nightgown, and her short hair is wild. Unkempt. Having unkempt hair is a privilege that Alice doesn’t take for granted. Jasper wonders if the nurses ever offer to brush it, wonders if Alice even has a comb. It takes him a moment to realize that Alice is frowning at him, and that he’s frowning back.
Sorry. Jasper mouths, smiling at her. Nice hair. Alice’s giggle is easy to imagine, even if he can’t hear it.
Guess what? Alice is shouting, but the glass is too thick for him to hear it. They’ve been talking like this for months, though, and Jasper has become adept at lip-reading. Nevertheless, he’s not perfect, and Alice’s next words come out too fast for him to understand. She frowns again before running back to her desk and scribbling something on a blank piece of paper. There’s no IV attached to her port, Jasper notes, nothing to tether her to the room. This sort of freedom is new, and Alice is taking advantage of it. She skips back to the window and slaps the paper against the window.
I can walk today!!!
Jasper’s smile widens. He traces the words with his fingers and points to it.
Really? Jasper can’t help but mouth, not because he doesn’t believe Alice, but- Well, three months in medical isolation feels like a lifetime. Weeks spent in chemo, a bone marrow transplant, and the resulting recovery has left both of them feeling like this is normal. That this will continue to be normal, even though it’s not true. Alice is still alive, and the bone marrow transplant has been successful. It’s hard to believe that she’s still the same person she was then, that she’s in the same body that was trying so hard to kill her just a few months prior.
Really! Alice confirms, pulling a chair up to the window and sitting down, letting the paper drop to the floor. Jasper sits down, too, and Alice starts scribbling on a new piece of paper. They talk for the next few hours, mouthing words and writing on paper until her doctor, surrounded by nurses and a wheelchair, arrives. It’s a big day, she tells him. The nurses offer him disinfectant, gloves, and a mask. Alice won’t be able to walk for very long, they warn him. She’ll be tired, hence the wheelchair. She’ll need support. She’ll never be the same girl that he once knew. Jasper can’t bring himself to care.
Alice is different, Jasper reflects as the nurses dress her for her outing. She’s quieter, most certainly, and more apprehensive. She doubts herself more often, often relying on others to confirm reality. She eats less and enjoys food less. Her parents come around less.
It takes Alice just a few minutes to ask for the wheelchair, and Jasper doesn’t mind pushing her around. She’s still unwilling to go back into her room, so they end up in front of the Christmas display, Alice pointing out how inaccurate Jasper’s descriptions have been. Finally, she asks.
“Can I see them?” Alice’s small voice breaks through the regular hum of the hospital. Jasper nods. It’s a request she makes on a daily basis, or at least as often as he visits (which is every day). This is the first time she’ll be able to see his scars in person, matching puncture wounds on the back of his hips that are a testament to his dedication to her life. Bone marrow transplants are new, risky, and not particularly safe. Convincing his foster parents to go along with it was one thing, and convincing Alice’s parents to make the investment, to hope for a cure, was an entirely different battle. Ultimately, it took Carlise’s generosity to ensure that Alice would receive the treatment, something Jasper still can’t believe he was willing to do. All of it seems so far away, now, beyond the walls of the isolation ward that Alice will be leaving soon. She traces his scars with a gloved hand. “Did it hurt?”
“I was asleep,” Jasper pulls his shirt back down. “Show me yours?”
Alice’s scar is slightly more impressive, a C shaped scar that borders her right ear. Her new hair covers it completely, so she has to pull her hair up to show him.
“Cool, huh?” Alice giggles, showing off the thin line of scar tissue. “Do you remember when I got it?” Jasper nods.
“Do you?” He asks, knowing the answer already. She’s asked him this question before.
“No. Do you think I’ll remember it one day? It would be cool to remember.”
“I’m not sure. Probably not. You might not want to remember, anyway. It wasn’t any fun.”
Alice doesn’t seem convinced, but she doesn’t press. They spend the rest of their hour outside in front of the display. The nurses come to find them once their time is up, and Carlisle picks him up when his shift is over. There will be a day when Alice leaves the hospital. They discuss Jasper’s plans to move into an apartment with her at the dinner table that night, a future that didn’t exist last year. Or last month. A future that started today, with Alice’s quarantine officially over.