Please Don't Die (11 page)

Lacey blinked back tears. “I guess I did make a funny.”

“Mr. Holloway said he’ll bring us to visit tomorrow,” Katie said, smoothing Amanda’s forehead like a mother trying to comfort a child.

“That’ll be good. I don’t know what else they’re planning for me.” Her eyes were closed, and a tear slipped from the corner, unnerving Katie.

“You feel better,” Chelsea ordered fiercely. “I want to see you smiling when we come back.”

“Tell Jeff hello for me,” Amanda whispered.

Lacey caught Katie’s eye and told Amanda, “I’ll take care of it personally.”

Mr. Holloway signaled them from the doorway, and so they said their good-byes and let Amanda’s parents take their places with their daughter.

Outside, darkness had fallen. Once they were in the car and driving along the expressway, Richard said, “I know all of you are concerned about Amanda, but unfortunately there’s not a whole lot to
report yet. Results of the lab work will be studied before decisions can be made.”

“What kinds of decisions?” Katie wanted to know.

“Whether to fly her home or keep her where she is.”

“You mean she might be able to stay?” Katie felt a flare of hope and glanced at Lacey and Chelsea on either side of her in the backseat.

“It’s a possibility.”

Katie felt Chelsea squeeze her hand and Lacey nudge her. “And we can go see her every day?”

“f 11 see to it that a car is made available to shuttle you to and from the hospital. And while I don’t think that every kid at Jenny House should tag along, it will be okay for a few of her closest friends to accompany you. Just not all at once.”

Katie could almost hear the wheels turning inside Lacey’s head after Mr. Holloway’s pronouncement. She told herself to have a serious talk with her about the plans Katie knew Lacey was concocting concerning Jeff and Amanda. “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure everyone understands and that things go smoothly,” Katie told the director.

“That would be a good sign, wouldn’t it?” Chelsea asked. “I mean, if they leave her right where she is, things must not be as serious as they thought.”

“Perhaps,” Richard said. His tone was noncommittal, but Katie could see his eyes in the rearview mirror. They looked troubled. And very sad.

“Amanda likes
me?
But she’s just a kid. I never gave her any reason to think that I liked her—I mean I
like
her, and I’m really sorry she’s in the hospital. But I’ve never liked her in a boy-girl way. How did she get that idea?” Jeff asked Lacey and Katie once they cornered him at Jenny House.

On their arrival, Chelsea had been totally exhausted and had gone straight to the room. But Katie and Lacey had fielded questions about Amanda from the other kids and grabbed Jeff for a private talk in one of the smaller lounges next to the game room.

“Never mind how she got the idea, she just has it,” Lacey replied.

Katie almost reminded her that it was Lacey who’d fueled Amanda’s hopes and made implications about Jeff’s having deeper feelings for the younger girl. Instead, she ignored Lacey and said, “Jeff, it doesn’t matter how Amanda got her crush on you. Believe me, she has one.”

“Why didn’t you say something to me before?”

Katie felt her cheeks redden as Jeff stared hard at her. She knew he was remembering all the times he’d asked her to fix him up with Lacey. He was obviously feeling like a fool, feeling that Katie had somehow deceived him. “She begged me not to, so I didn’t,” Katie explained. “I was just being her friend.”

“I thought you were my friend too.”

His words stung, and Katie squirmed.

Lacey blurted, “For crying out loud! Will the two of you resolve that issue later? We’ve got plans to make.”

Jeff leaned back into his chair and studied Lacey. “What kinds of plans?”

“I think you should go and see her,” Lacey said.

“I would have done that anyway.”

“I mean, see her and act like you care.”

“I do care.”

Lacey looked exasperated, and Katie tried to make herself invisible. “You know what I mean,” Lacey snapped.
“Really
care. Like a guy would care about a special girlfriend.”

Katie heard herself say, “Jeff, it would mean a lot to Amanda. Right now, she’s hurting and depressed and hopeless. You’re the only one who could change her mental outlook.”

Jeff glanced from one to the other. “Let me get this straight. The two of you have decided that for Amanda’s emotional health, I should fake undying love.”

Katie flushed. It sounded so cold and artificial the way he said it. For an instant, she was angry with Lacey for sucking her into the whole mess. But the moment passed when she realized that she didn’t totally disagree with his analysis. If only he could see Amanda and how bad she was hurting! “Look, I know you think we’re using you—”

“And lying to Amanda,” he added.

“But it’s not what you think.” Stubbornly, Katie pressed on. “Come to the hospital tomorrow and visit her. You’ll see how she reacts when you’re there, and then you’ll understand why we’re doing this for her. And why we’re asking you to do it for her.”

“That sounds fair,” Lacey declared. “Can’t you give it a trial run? What could it hurt?”

Before Jeff could answer, one of the younger boys
poked his head through the doorway and shouted, “Hey, Katie, there’s a Josh on the phone for you.”

Katie jumped up. She’d forgotten that Josh was headed home and that he’d promised to call for an update. “Tell him I’ll be right there.” She turned toward Jeff and asked, “What do you say?”

“All right,” he said slowly, but Katie saw the set line of his jaw and a gleam of anger in his eyes as he answered. Lacey stood as if to leave the room with Katie, and he grabbed her wrist. “Just a minute. I want to talk to you.”

Lacey looked helplessly at Katie, who knew her presence was no longer wanted in the room. She shrugged and stepped out the door. As far as she was concerned, Lacey was on her own now.

“What do you want?” Katie heard Lacey ask.

As she stepped into the corridor, Katie heard Jeff say, “What about us?”

“Us?” Lacey repeated.

Katie paused.

“Us on the Fourth of July,” Jeff said. His voice sounded cold. “Us on our walk. Us kissing in the dark. What did all that mean? Or do you kiss every guy who tells you you’re beautiful and makes an idiot out of himself over you?”

Katie heard Lacey reply, “So long as Amanda’s sick, there isn’t any us.’ There’s only
her.”

“And then?” Jeff asked.

“And then we’ll all go home.” Lacey used her frostiest voice. “You to Colorado and me to Miami. End of story.”

Katie bolted down the hall, making it to the stair
well just as Lacey rushed from the room. Katie heard Lacey go to the elevator and punch the button. She pressed herself flat against the wall, feeling guilty for having lingered and heard more than she should. She held her breath until she heard the elevator doors slide open. She heard the doors begin to close and almost breathed a sigh of relief until the sudden sound of Lacey bursting into tears filled the quiet hall. The sound caused Katie’s stomach to constrict. Why was Lacey crying? She’d gotten Jeff to do exactly what she wanted, and now tears?

The sound grew muffled as the elevator doors closed completely, but the echo haunted Katie all the way up the flight of stairs.

F
ifteen

T
HE NEXT MORNING, WHEN
K
ATIE AND
L
ACEY
arrived at Amanda’s room, she was sitting up in bed, fiddling with her wig. She smiled when she saw them, but Katie could see dark circles under her eyes and skin that looked pinched and drawn. “I’m glad you’re here, Lacey,” Amanda said. “I can’t do a thing with my hair.”

Lacey flashed a big smile and held out her hands. “Give it to me, and I’ll see what I can do.”

“How are you feeling?” Katie asked.

“The terrible headache’s gone, but I won’t lie—I still feel rotten. Where’s Chelsea?”

“Yesterday wiped her out, so she’s resting. But she says she’ll be here this afternoon to visit.”

“And that’s not all,” Lacey said as she combed and styled the wig. “Jeff’s coming too.”

“Are you serious?” Amanda’s eyes grew wide. “But he can’t! I mean, look at me! I look awful.”

“Have no fear, Lacey’s here,” Lacey announced, giving the wig a final pat. “There, all done. Why don’t you put it on later—closer to Jeff’s visit?”

“Stick it on my wig stand for now.” She pointed to a Styrofoam head on the dresser. A vase of red roses also stood atop the dresser. “From my daddy,” she said, when Katie asked about the flowers.

“Where are your parents anyway?” Katie asked.

“Making arrangements to move to North Carolina until I can go home.”

“You mean, you’re staying?” Katie felt a rekindling of hope that Amanda would be treated and sent back to Jenny House.

“The doctors had a long talk with me and my parents earlier this morning. Since the prospects for a bone marrow transplant don’t seem too good, and since the usual chemos aren’t working for me, they want to put me on some new experimental drug,” Amanda explained.

Katie and Lacey exchanged long looks. “You mean you’re going to become a guinea pig?” Lacey asked.

“They call it devo chemo—developmental chemotherapy,” Amanda replied. “This hospital is one of a few that has permission from the government to use this stuff. It’s made from tree bark.”

“Go on,” Lacey said as if Amanda were putting her on.

“I’m not kidding.”

Katie recalled her physical therapist’s telling her how one of the anti-rejection drugs she was taking
had been discovered as a microbe in a Norwegian soil sample, and how, later, a scientist had developed it into a powerful immune-suppressant drug used for transplant patients. “It’s not so strange,” she told Lacey. “There are people who think that all diseases can be treated by natural compounds already in our earth and oceans. All we have to do is find them. Just think about the insulin you take.”

Lacey rolled her eyes in bored contempt. “I’d rather not, so spare me the science lecture.” She turned back toward Amanda. “So when are they starting you on this tree bark stuff?”

“Tomorrow.” Amanda sighed and stared out the window longingly. “But they have to put me into isolation to do it.”

Katie’s heart squeezed. She knew all about isolation, having spent weeks in it herself. The room would be no more than a big box without windows. It would be completely sterile—cleaned and filtered to remove all bacteria, which could kill if it touched a patient with a weakened immune system. It would have an airlock—double doors to keep out people and further guarantee against bacterial invasion. All visitors would have to wear sterile gowns, masks, and head coverings. To Katie, isolation was like being buried alive. “You ever been in isolation?” Katie asked carefully, hoping her aversion wasn’t showing.

“Once, when I was ten,” Amanda said. “I hated it.”

Lacey put her hands on her hips and snapped, “So you’re isolated. What’s the big deal? They’ll still let us in to visit you, won’t they?”

“Maybe,” Amanda said. “It depends.”

“Well you’ll have a phone, won’t you?”

“Probably.”

“Then there you go—they can’t keep us away.”

Amanda smiled. “You two are great friends.”

Katie felt her throat tighten, but refused to let Amanda see how upset she was. Lacey began rummaging in a drawer. “Here’s the bag of tricks—a makeup supply. I think I should start putting this stuff on for you,” Lacey said breezily. Katie could see that Lacey was also struggling to maintain control of her emotions.

“You know I don’t have much,” Amanda said. “Just the stuff you’ve given me.”

“I’ve got more in my purse.” Lacey pointed where it lay on the floor. “My survival kit. Your parents aren’t going to get weird about this, are they? I mean, they
will
let you wear makeup now that you’re stuck in this place.”

“I don’t think it’ll be a problem,” Amanda told her. “They pretty much want to help however they can.” She turned toward Katie. “I heard my daddy crying last night. He didn’t know I was awake, but I was. He was standing by the window, and Mom was asleep on a cot. It’s awful hearing him cry. I wanted to tell him I was all right, but I didn’t want him to know I heard him.”

Katie nodded solemnly. She figured they were all going to shed some tears watching Amanda go through the next several weeks. “I hope they can find a nice place to stay,” Amanda murmured. “The doctor told us that the hospital has some special apartments set aside in a nearby apartment building. It’s
for out-of-town families who have people stuck here for treatments.”

“How civilized,” Katie remarked without humor.

Amanda turned to Lacey. “All right, let’s get started on my makeup. I’ve seen myself in the mirror, and you’ve got your work cut out for you.”

Lacey bustled over to the bed and started laying out her bottles and compacts and makeup brushes. “When I finish, you’ll look like a princess.”

“I can’t believe Jeff’s coming to see me,” Amanda said quietly. “Just thinking about it makes me feel better.”

Lacey glanced quickly at Katie and set right to work.

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