The loveliest boy I know (the loneliest boy, I know) is fifteen years old and desperate.

He has crammed all his secrets into a saxophone and I listen to him play sometimes, when the weather's nice. He started bringing his sax out to the porch just last month and I don't know why, because Dylan is what my mom calls "a quiet sort of boy" and you'd think that the only place he'd practice is upstairs in his room with the door closed. But there he is, three houses down, playing what sounds to me like sad, private music, waking the old ladies up from their midday naps.

My mom tells me I don't understand music. Mom went to Julliard and she played the violin (she can't play anymore, on account of her arthritis; she can't love anymore, Dad used to say)—so she thinks she knows what's what. But she's wrong. I know she's wrong because not understanding music is like not understanding that birds can fly, or that if the sun hits the cobweb between the side view mirror and the passenger window in just the right way, you can see a thousand little rainbows, or that sometimes a person can be sad and happy at the same time.

I am thinking about birds and spider webs and people

(I am thinking about miracles)

as I walk by Dylan's house on my way to the library. He is standing on his rickety porch with his saxophone in his hands, and he's staring down at the single-reed mouthpiece like he's never seen the thing in his life. Usually when I walk by I say sounds good or you've really been practicing or hi and then he nods his head at me, lips still on the mouthpiece, fingers still fiddling, and I keep going. But he's not playing anything today so really I can only use the last of these greetings. Dylan looks so strange, though, standing there without any music coming out of him, so instead I say, "Hey Dylan. Aren't you going to play something?"

Dylan's head snaps up then. His eyebrows furrow. His mouth opens and closes, twice. For a moment his brown eyes are lostlittleboy eyes which is odd because he's almost two years older than I am and then he looks away. He says, to the prickly bushes that stand between us, "I've—I've been trying to play him a song but I can't, I can't, and now it's in his lungs."

Dylan's never spoken so many words to me in his life, or at least it feels that way because I don't know how to respond. I don't know what he's trying to say. I scratch my cheek and scuff my shoe on the gum-spotted pavement and then he bursts out, feeble and desperate, "My grandpa's got cancer and now they've found a tumor in his lungs. How's he ever gonna play the sax again if the cancer's in his lungs?" His voice breaks on the last word and my heart breaks a little too, like a word, or a world, or a boy with a sweet tooth and about a million freckles who spends his summer evenings on a rickety porch reading the newspaper to a sixty-four-year-old man, and sips a cola between pages, and smiles.

So I say, quietly, unsure, "My mom has arthritis and she can't play the violin anymore and she thinks I don't understand music but I think—" and I am going to explain my theory about spider webs and birds and all, but Dylan interrupts.

"Lily," he says, closing his eyes. "Lily, my grandpa is probably going to die so don't stand there and talk to me about finger pain, okay? I'm sorry about your mom but I just—please just don't, okay?" and if you have ever seen a boy in that moment he is broken, you will never forget him.

I say I'm sorry and I feel little and silly and ashamed. I'm sorry, I say again, and he knows what I mean. Then I look at the tiny flowers in the bushes for a moment and I take a deep breath and I say what I really want to say. I say, "I think you should keep practicing. I think you should keep working on that song. Because if your grandpa's lungs get better he'll be upset if you're so rusty you guys can't play together anymore." Then I walk away.

I've only gone a few steps down the block when I hear him. He blows such a blast of air into that saxophone that the dogs on the street begin to bark and the old ladies start coming out of their houses to stare at him and when I look back, his eyes are scrunched tighttighttight and his face is red and sweaty with the effort and after a full minute he starts to tremble, and in that high, wailing note you can hear hope and hurt and why and death and thank you and mothers and grandfathers and fingers and cola and lungs, and that's music. So I keep walking.

author's note

HI GUYS! welp i don't know quite what to say about this thinger, except that cancer's everywhere now and it's absolutely insane and world-destroying but always there is hope and a fight and music. and you'll/i'll maybe be seeing more of these characters because i like to live in the head of this lovely lily and there must always be a strange beautiful boy, so...

erm yeah i marked the status as complete because it is but i'm hoping this will turn into a collection YAYYAYYAY

in other news, i got through my first year of college about a month ago and it was exciting and difficult and great and i learned tons. NOW HOW THE HECK ARE YOU?