Jeff and Chelsea arrived around one. Amanda’s parents still hadn’t returned, which suited Katie fine. She wanted Amanda to have Jeff’s undivided attention. “Hi,” he said, coming to the side of her bed.
“Hi,” she returned shyly. Katie thought Lacey had done a superb job of making Amanda’s skin look rosy and glowing.
He pointed to the bag hanging from the IV stand, with the long tube stretching to the back of Amanda’s hand, where the IV needle was inserted. “Lunch?” he asked.
She giggled. “Hamburgers and french fries are a lot better.”
“Tell you what, when you get out of here, I’ll take you to the nearest hamburger stand.”
“It’s a firm date.”
Amanda’s eyes fairly danced. Chelsea cleared her throat. “Remember me?”
Amanda looked flustered, then reached out and gave Chelsea a hug. “How are
Katie was touched. Only Amanda would think to inquire about someone else’s health while she was the one so sick. “I’m great. But lonely. I don’t have anyone to talk to before I fall asleep at night.”
“But I don’t have to listen to you two whispering in the dark,” Lacey said in good-humored jesting.
Katie was well aware that Jeff was refusing to acknowledge either her or Lacey. He pointedly ignored them both. “I brought you a present,” he told Amanda.
Delight spread over her face. “You did? What?”
He placed a small paper sack in her hands. “Open it and find out.”
Katie saw that Amanda’s fingers were trembling as she opened the sack and pulled out a small, tissue-wrapped object. She unfolded the tissue and lifted a colorful paper mobile of the sun, the moon, a sprinkle of stars, and a rainbow. Each dangled from a separate string and fluttered when Amanda puffed on it. “This is so neat,” she said.
“Here’s what you do with it.” Jeff took it, looped it over the top of her IV stand, and let it dangle and sway. “Now you can see the lights of the sky without ever leaving your room. A nurse taught me this trick when I was just a little kid. I had to go into the hospital for transfusions whenever I had a bleeding episode, and boy, did I hate it!”
Amanda nodded in agreement. Jeff continued. “It
was bad enough being stuck with needles, but being confined to bed for days on end was the worst part. So, this nurse taught me how to ‘escape’ by hanging mobiles on my IV stand. I would lie there and watch them move for hours. There was nothing else to do.” He grinned. “So, now you can go over the rainbow if you want.”
A feeling of déjà vu crept over Katie with Jeff’s last words. Hadn’t it been only yesterday that she’d wished Amanda could escape to the same place?
“I love it,” Amanda said, gazing up at the mobile. “Thanks.”
He bowed from the waist. “There are others where that came from.”
“From me.” Jeff’s words made Amanda smile her beautiful smile, and Katie wanted to throw her own arms around him for making Amanda so happy. Yet she knew better than to say a word.
It was Lacey who broke the spell. “I need to leave for a minute,” she said.
Katie took one look at her and went cold with alarm. Lacey’s face was the color of paste, and she looked wobbly. Katie knew instantly that Lacey was having an insulin reaction. She swiftly went to Lacey’s side and put her arm around her, saying as nonchalantly as possible, “I’ll go with you. We’ve hogged Amanda all morning. It’s time to share her. Back in a bit,” she called over her shoulder as she helped Lacey out of the room as discreetly as she could.
Katie got them to a lounge area and settled Lacey
on the sofa. By now, Lacey’s breath was coming in gasps, and she was as white as a sheet. “How can I help?” Katie asked urgently.
“S-sugar …” Lacey mumbled.
Katie tore over to a table where someone had set up a coffee station. She grabbed several packets of sugar, ran back to Lacey, ripped them open and sprinkled the contents on her friend’s tongue. Lacey’s head lolled back against the sofa, but she sucked on the sugar, and slowly, color began to return to her cheeks.
Katie’s heart pounded. She took Lacey’s hand. It felt cold and clammy and was trembling, but after several minutes, the shaking stopped. Lacey raised her head. Although her eyes looked glassy, she managed a weak smile. “I guess I forgot to eat lunch.”
Katie’s voice quivered as she spoke. “I’ll run down to the cafeteria and buy you something.”
“Thanks for covering for me,” Lacey said.
Katie stood and dug in her pocket for the five-dollar bill she’d stuffed in that morning. “No problem.”
Suddenly, Jeff’s voice cut sharply through the air. “All right, you two. What are you up to now?”
ACEY DUCKED HER
head, and Katie felt an intense desire to protect her. “We’re not up to anything,” she said. “We were just leaving you and Amanda alone together.”
“Don’t you mean Amanda, Chelsea, and me?” Jeff’s eyes narrowed as he studied Lacey’s face. “You look like you don’t feel good.”
“I’m perfectly fine.”
Jeff stepped around Katie, lowered himself to the sofa, and took Lacey’s hand. “You’re cold as ice.” She tried to pull away, but he refused to let go. “What’s wrong?” His tone softened.
“A little insulin reaction,” Katie blurted, although Lacey shot her a look that said to hush up. “Well, there’s no use pretending,” Katie exclaimed. “It’s a fact of your life.”
“Are you all right?” Jeff’s voice was edged with concern.
“I told you, I’m fine. I forgot to eat lunch, and my blood sugar got a little low. It’s nothing.”
Katie saw that Lacey’s face was pinched with pain, and she realized that the reaction had given her friend a headache. “I was headed down to the cafeteria for a sandwich,” she told Jeff.
Jeff stood. “I’ll go. Stay with her, Katie.”
“But Amanda—” Lacey started.
“Will be fine until I get back,” he interrupted.
“I’m not an invalid,” Lacey insisted. “I’m not really sick.”
“You have diabetes,” Jeff said. “It has its own set of built-in problems. Stop pretending nothing’s wrong with you.”
“And you stop treating me like a baby.”
“Then stop acting like one.”
Katie felt caught in their crossfire. “Just go get her something to eat,” she interjected. “She needs food.”
When he’d hurried off down the hall, Lacey flopped her head back against the sofa and said through clenched teeth, “I
diabetes! I really hate it.”
Katie saw a tear of frustration squeeze from the corner of Lacey’s eye. “I understand,” she said in total empathy. “I remember how I hated it when my heart got the virus that destroyed it. All my life, I was perfectly healthy, and then—BAM!—without warning, this virus moves in and eats away at my heart. I couldn’t even walk across the room without gasping for air.”
Lacey sniffed. “It must have been awful.”
“They told me I was going to die. I was only sixteen. I sure didn’t want to die.”
“That’s what going to happen to Chelsea, isn’t it?”
“Without a transplant, probably so,” Katie said ruefully.
“No, it doesn’t,” Katie replied emphatically. “Life is wonderful. Especially when you have to fight so hard for it.”
Lacey stared up at the ceiling, her mouth forming a bitter line. “If only I’d never come here this summer.”
Her comment shocked Katie. Of course, Lacey had been a pain at first, but she’d turned out to be a good friend to Amanda, and in spite of everything, Katie liked Lacey immensely. “You seemed to be having a better time lately,” she said. “I thought you were enjoying being at Jenny House.”
“That’s the problem.” She closed her eyes. “I didn’t want to care about any of you. I really tried hard not to. But ever since that day Amanda took us up on the mountain to watch the sunset …”
So, Lacey had felt something extraordinary that day too, Katie thought. “Well, like it or not, you’re here,” Katie told her. “We’re all in this together.”
“Why did Amanda have to get sick?” Lacey whispered. “Why did Jeff—” Lacey stopped abruptly.
“Go on,” Katie said.
Katie studied her closely, then felt a dawning sensation spread through her. “Wait a minute—”
Before she could complete her thought, Jeff came loping up to them. “I hope you like tuna salad. It’s all they had.” He thrust a cellophane-wrapped sandwich into Lacey’s hands. “And I got you a soda too.”
“Thanks,” Lacey mumbled. He shifted awkwardly from foot to foot while she pulled off the wrapper. She snapped, “I can eat this without an audience, you know.”
“Feel free,” Jeff countered. He glared at her, and for a moment, Katie thought he was going to yell. He didn’t, but with much control, he turned toward Katie and said, “Katie, she’s all yours. Stay with her—in case she chokes. I’ll be in Amanda’s room.” He turned on his heel and marched off down the hall.
Taken aback, Katie could only mumble, “What’s wrong with the two of you? Why do you always end up fighting?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Lacey insisted. She gathered up the sandwich and soda. “I’m going to eat this in the bathroom.”
“I’ll meet you in Amanda’s room
Stunned, Katie watched Lacey hurry to the ladies’ room. She shook her head, attempting to clear it, to make sense of Lacey’s renewed hostility. “I’ll never figure that girl out,” she muttered under her breath, and forcing Lacey and Jeff out of her mind, she returned to visit with Amanda.
“Do you really think he likes me?” Amanda asked when she was alone with Katie, Chelsea, and Lacey. “He stayed around all afternoon, didn’t he?” Lacey
asked. “You think a guy like Jeff hasn’t got anything better to do? Of course he likes you.” Katie flashed Lacey a look that said to cool it, but the pretty blonde ignored her. “He’s stuck on you.”
“And just when things are looking up for me, I have to go into isolation. This is so unfair.” Amanda pounded her small fists into the mattress.
“The mobile is dynamite,” Chelsea commented, fingering the rainbow. “When I get stuck in the hospital again, will you make me one?”
“Who do I look like—an expert in origami?” Amanda wore a small pout on her mouth.
They all burst out laughing, and when Amanda’s parents arrived at the room a few minutes later, they were still making jokes and giggling. When it was time to leave, Amanda’s mother walked Katie, Lacey, and Chelsea to the elevator, took each of their hands, and said, “Thank you for being such good friends to our little girl. I can’t tell you what it means to us to see her smiling.”
Katie noticed the worry lines on Mrs. Burdick’s face. “This new drug is supposed to do the trick, isn’t it?” Katie asked. “I mean, after a few weeks on it, she’ll be better again, won’t she?”
Mrs. Burdick leaned wearily against the wall. “Frankly, we don’t know what to expect. They told us that it’ll make her very sick. You see, it’s highly toxic.”
“Toxic? But that’s like poisonous.”
“In a way it is poisonous. The trick is to poison the cancer cells and leave the other cells as unaffected as possible.”
“How can they do that?” Chelsea wanted to know.
“I don’t believe they can. Everything gets poisoned.” Mrs. Burdick rubbed her temples. “I don’t mean to depress you three. I only want you to be prepared.”
“Prepared for what?” Katie asked, feeling a chill go through her.
Mrs. Burdick blinked back tears and said, “For anything.”
By the time they arrived back at Jenny House, Chelsea was too tired to eat dinner in the cafeteria, so Katie brought a plate for her up to the room. Lacey disappeared immediately after dinner, and once Chelsea was settled, Katie felt wound up in knots. She changed into her running shoes and started out the front door. On the porch, Jeff caught her arm. “Where’re you off to?” he asked.
“I need to run. It’ll be light for another couple of hours, so I’m running the woods trail.”
“Did Lacey recover from her reaction?”
“Listen, I didn’t mean to shout at her today.” He shook his head and clenched his fists. “That girl drives me nuts. She’s cold. She’s hot. She’s indifferent. I don’t know how to act around her.”
“I don’t have any answers for you, Jeff.” Katie felt sorry for him. And sorry for her part in deceiving Amanda at his expense. She liked Jeff and wanted to make things right between the two of them again. “I’m sorry that I got involved in this whole scheme with Amanda. I didn’t mean for it to get out of hand. But she really likes you, Jeff, and because she thinks
you care about her … well, it makes her feel better. And gives her something to think about besides what the doctors are doing to her.”
“Katie, that’s not a problem. I admit, I was ticked off when I first found out how you and Lacey were manipulating everything, but after being with Amanda today, I’m not mad about it. Poor kid.” He ran his hand through his thick blond hair. “She’s got a lousy few weeks in front of her. If I can help take her mind off of it, then I will. Besides, she’s so sweet, how could I not like her?”
Katie felt a wave of relief. Only a guy like Jeff, a guy who’d lain in a hospital bed himself, could be so understanding. “When this is all over with, you can write her a couple of times, then do a slow fade-out. She’ll get busy in school and get interested in a guy more her age. You’ll see. It’ll work out.”