Authors: Lurlene McDaniel
Katie groaned. “I was afraid he’d think it was all my fault.”
“You let Lacey set him straight. She doesn’t strike me as the type to mince words.”
“She isn’t. But I hate to see Jeff hurt. He’s a really nice guy.”
“Somebody’s got to lose, Katie. Don’t get in the middle of it.”
She started to say she already was in the middle
when Lacey came rushing up to their table. Her face looked white, her eyes frightened. “Katie, come quick!”
“It’s Amanda. Mr. Holloway just had her taken to the hospital.”
ALM DOWN, PLEASE
. I can’t answer any questions with all of you talking to me at once,” Mr. Holloway insisted, standing behind his desk facing Katie, Lacey, and Chelsea.
“We’re calm,” Katie said, knowing it was a lie. She glanced at the others, who with their eyes gave her permission to be the spokesperson. “We just want to know what’s happened to Amanda.”
“She didn’t collapse or anything,” Richard assured them. “But the results of her most recent blood work looked bad. I called her family, who called her doctor, and he wanted her taken over to the hospital that’s overseeing the welfare of Jenny House kids. She’ll have the best of care until her parents can get here.”
“If her parents are coming right away, then it must be pretty bad,” Katie commented.
“It’s standard procedure,” Richard said. “Once they confer with the doctors, a decision will be made as to what to do.”
“We want to go see her,” Chelsea blurted out.
“As soon as we can,” Lacey added.
“I don’t know—”
“Please.” Katie interrupted. “She’s all alone until her family arrives. I know she’s scared.”
“One of our staff is with her.”
“It’s not the same as having us. We’re her friends.”
Richard glanced from one to the other, and Katie crossed her fingers and held her breath. “It’s an hour’s drive.”
“Can’t someone from the staff take us and wait with us until her parents come?”
“They have to make flight arrangements. You could be at the hospital most of the day. I have your welfare to consider too.”
Katie felt that she and Lacey would be fine, but she was concerned about Chelsea, whose bad heart left her with little reserve energy. “Maybe we all don’t have to go,” she suggested.
“You’re not leaving me out,” Chelsea insisted. “I’ll be at a hospital, for crying out loud. What safer place?”
Richard took a deep breath and nodded. “Come on. I’ll drive the three of you and send the staffer back here. We’ll wait together until Amanda’s parents arrive.”
* * *
The hospital was part of the North Carolina university system. It was an enormous redbrick building, surrounded by asphalt parking lots that shimmered with heat waves. Once inside, Katie saw clusters of people scurrying across the busy lobby. Many were dressed in white lab coats, but most reminded her of college kids back in Ann Arbor. Thinking of home brought Josh to her mind. Because of the rush to see Amanda, she’d given him a hurried good-bye kiss before he’d driven away. He’d promised to call to check on news of Amanda.
As Katie and her friends crossed to a gleaming row of elevators, Richard explained, “Because this is a teaching hospital, there’re classrooms and several auditoriums on the lower floors. This place has some of the newest and best medical equipment around. Plenty of fine medical minds here too.”
Katie knew he was trying to assure them that Amanda was in good hands, but all she wanted was to see her friend with her own eyes. They took an elevator up to the oncology floor and followed directions given at the nurses’ station to Amanda’s room. Richard paused to speak with the Jenny House staff member outside Amanda’s door while the girls hurried inside.
Each of the four beds held a patient. Amanda’s was nearest a window. She lay curled into a ball under the sheets. Her wig had been removed, and a bright bandanna was wrapped around her head. A few wisps of hair poked out. As they approached, Amanda scooted up and grabbed a tissue. Katie could tell that she’d been crying hard. “What are you
all doing here?” Amanda asked in a thick, quivery voice.
“You didn’t think we’d let them take you off without saying good-bye, did you?” Katie said.
Fresh tears brimmed in Amanda’s eyes. “Oh, Katie, I want to go back to Jenny House.”
“It’s just for a little while, Mandy,” Chelsea offered.
“But they’ve called my parents. Don’t you see? My leukemia’s come back.”
“That’s bad, isn’t it?”
“This is my third relapse. During my last one, they told me that every relapse makes it harder to retain another remission. I’ve only been out of the hospital six months since my last problem. This is awful, Katie. The worst.”
“That’s why you’re in a hospital,” Lacey declared. “So that these brilliant doctors can figure out what to do next for you.”
“A bone marrow transplant is my only hope. I’ve been entered in the national bone marrow directory for a year, and they’ve not found a compatible donor for me yet.”
Katie understood completely what it was to wait around for a donor. To jump every time the phone rang, wondering if it was the hospital. To wear a beeper and pray it would go off, announcing that a donor had been found. “Don’t get discouraged.”
Amanda blew her nose. “How long can you stay?”
“Mr. Holloway said we can wait until your parents arrive.”
“You won’t have to be alone for a single minute,” Chelsea added.
“But you all have stuff to do at Jenny House.” Amanda peeked at Lacey. “And I know how much you all hate hospitals.”
“Well, it’s not so bad,” Lacey said. “Especially when you’re only a visitor. We’ll manage for a while—case the place for you. Make sure they treat you like a VIP.”
Amanda managed a smile. “I’m a Very Important Patient, all right. I’ve already had a team of interns check me over and poke me.”
“Any cute ones?”
Amanda’s smile broadened. “A few. But none as cute as Jeff.”
“You like Jeff?” Chelsea asked, giving Katie an I-told-you-so look. Katie recalled that Chelsea had been the first to spot Amanda’s interest in the guy.
“It doesn’t matter now if you know,” Amanda said. “Yes, I like him, and he’s been nice to me, but I was beginning to catch on that he didn’t like me. Not like a girlfriend. No guy ever does.”
Katie and Lacey exchanged glances. “Are you giving up?” Lacey asked. “Honestly, didn’t I teach you anything? A girl doesn’t just give up over every little setback.”
“I’d say that knowing he doesn’t like me and landing in the hospital are two major setbacks,” Amanda replied. Suddenly, she punched her pillow and buried her face in her hands. “This stinks! It really stinks.”
Katie felt helpless. “Everyone back at Jenny House
is worried about you. And everyone is pulling for you. Lots of them said to tell you hi.”
“Especially Jeff,” Lacey blurted out.
Amanda glanced up at her. “He did?”
Katie wished she could clamp her hand over Lacey’s mouth. Giving Amanda false hope about Jeff wasn’t smart. “Is there anything you want from the room?” she asked, attempting to change the subject.
“Not really. I guess as soon as my parents come and make the arrangements, I’ll have to go back home. They’ll come and clean everything out of the room.” Amanda’s expression turned forlorn. “I’ll really miss you all. You’re my best friends. You all understand what it’s like being sick. My friends back home never did.”
“Hey, you aren’t out of here yet.” The comment came from Richard Holloway, who’d come alongside Amanda’s bed. His smile was warm and friendly.
“You know I don’t want to leave,” Amanda told him. “Jenny House is the best place in the whole world.”
“That’s nice of you to say. And once you get back on your feet, I want you to come back. We’re open year-round.”
Just then, a team of doctors swept into the room. One announced, “Sorry to break up the party, but we have to take Amanda downstairs for testing.”
“How long will these tests take?” Richard asked.
“A couple of hours.”
Katie hoped Mr. Holloway wouldn’t make them leave. “I’ll treat all of you to lunch,” he said, allaying
her fears. “There’s a nice place in town. Real cloth napkins,” he joked. “Then we’ll come back.”
“We’ll see you soon,” Katie told Amanda. Once they were out of the room, she caught Lacey’s arm and let the others go on ahead. “I’m wondering if it’s wise to make Amanda think Jeff feels something for her when he doesn’t.”
“Don’t worry about it. That’s what she needed to hear. Didn’t you see how she perked up when I told her?”
“Yes, but it wasn’t exactly the truth.”
“Jeff will do whatever I ask him,” Lacey insisted. “And it’s not like we’re being cruel or anything. Right now, Amanda needs hope. And something to keep her mind off what’s happening to her. I think Jeff is the perfect diversion.”
“You can’t go around manipulating people’s lives, Lacey.”
Lacey jutted her chin and pulled her arm from Katie’s grasp. “Don’t preach to me. I know what I’m doing. It won’t hurt either Amanda or Jeff. I know he’ll cooperate, and it’ll make her feel better. It’s the only thing I can do for her right now, so I’m doing it.”
“Hurry up,” Richard called. He was holding open the elevator doors. Lacey dashed forward, and Katie had to jog to keep up. A part of her felt what Lacey was doing wasn’t right, but she was forced to concede that under the circumstances, it didn’t seem wrong either. She told herself she’d go along with the charade. Just so long as no one got hurt.
ATIE NOTICED THAT
none of them ate much lunch even though the restaurant was every bit as fancy as Mr. Holloway had promised. She watched Chelsea pick at an elegant salad and Lacey nibble on gourmet soup and crackers. Mr. Holloway noticed too. He said, “You three should eat. I don’t know when we’ll be getting back to Jenny House tonight.”
“Every hospital has a cafeteria,” Chelsea said listlessly.
“And since we’ve all eaten in them, we know that’s not where we want to dine tonight, don’t we?” he asked.
Katie offered a wan smile at his attempt to lighten their moods. “If Amanda goes home soon, can we keep in touch with her?” she asked. “You know, like call her from Jenny House every couple of days.”
“I don’t see why not,” Richard said.
“I could help pay for the calls,” she added, thinking of her remaining Wish money.
“That won’t be necessary. We’ll cover the costs. Where is her home anyway? I know I should remember, but I’m trying to keep track of so many …” He didn’t finish his apology.
“Kansas,” Chelsea said.
“Like Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz,” Lacey commented tonelessly. “You know—over the rainbow.”
The comment brought Amanda’s bright, cheerful face to Katie’s mind, her bubbly personality and enthusiasm. A persistent lump clogged her throat, and she sniffed and pushed her plate aside. “I’m finished,” she said.
“Ditto,” Lacey said.
Chelsea nodded in agreement.
Mr. Holloway didn’t insist anyone eat any more. “Then let’s head back.”
Silently, they drove to the hospital. Katie gazed absently out the window, wishing with all her heart that they could be headed over the rainbow, instead of into the land of reality that awaited them behind the gleaming glass doors of medical science.
When they got to Amanda’s room, her parents were with her, looking worried and haggard. They hovered around her bed, as if their presence might ward off the gremlins of cancer that had attacked her. In her bed, Amanda looked pale and weak. When her parents stepped into the hall to talk to Mr. Holloway, Katie, Chelsea, and Lacey clustered around her.
“Was it awful?” Chelsea asked. “The tests, I mean.”
“ ’Fraid so,” Amanda whispered. “Have you ever had someone punch a needle into your spine? I hate the spinal taps worst of all. They give me such a headache.” Her words were so faint, Katie had to lean in to hear them.
Lacey took Amanda’s hand. “The fiends. Shall I have them shot?”
Even in her pain, Amanda managed a smile. “You made a joke. Shot by a needle, shot by a gun … get it?”