Please Don't Die (13 page)

Jeff smiled. “You’re such an optimist, Katie O’Roark.”

She returned his smile. “Friends?” She held out her hand.

“Friends,” he said, shaking it. “Have a good run.”

She waved, and jogged toward the woods. She ran up the trail, enjoying the exhilaration of physical exercise. A summer breeze cooled her skin and rippled through her hair. She wished Josh were with her, and remembered the times he’d met her at the high school track and helped her train for the Transplant Olympics. She missed him terribly and found herself almost looking forward to school’s starting. Even though it would mean leaving Jenny House behind.

Katie rounded a bend in the trail and stopped. A
sound had caught her attention. Puzzled, she held her breath and waited. There! It came again. Back in the trees, someone was crying. Carefully, Katie threaded her way through the thicket, following the sound of soft sobbing the way a bird follows a trail of bread crumbs.

She stepped into a clearing, and there, huddled on the ground, she saw Lacey. Her face was buried in her hands, and she was crying as if her heart were breaking in half.

S
eventeen

“L
ACEY!”
K
ATIE CRIED
. “What’s wrong?” She jogged over and stooped down on the grassy ground.

Lacey scrambled to wipe her eyes with her fingertips. “I—I thought I was alone,” she mumbled, her voice thick with tears. “I really want to be by myself.”

“No way,” Katie declared, suddenly angry. “You always brush me off and sneak away. Well, not this time, Lacey Duval. Like it or not, I’m your friend, and I’m not going to get lost. This time, you’re going to talk to me.”

Lacey looked shocked by Katie’s outburst, but she didn’t pull back. “There’s nothing to say.”

Katie released an exasperated squeal and grabbed Lacey’s shoulder. “Listen up! I know something’s wrong. Something more than being broken up about
Amanda. Talk to me, Lacey. Tell me what’s going on.”

Lacey took a deep, shuddering breath, and a look of helpless resignation crossed her face. “It’s Jeff, of course.”

“Jeff? What about him?” A strange feeling stole over Katie, and she saw herself, Lacey, and Jeff again in the hospital waiting room earlier that afternoon. The tension had been so thick, she could have cut it with a knife, but because of Lacey’s insulin reaction, because of concentrating on Amanda, she’d let her suspicions about Lacey and Jeff slip away. “He means something to you, doesn’t he?” she asked.

Lacey nodded. “I’d give anything in the world if he didn’t, but he does.”

“Hey, he’s a great guy. What’s so wrong with your caring about him?” Lacey only shrugged. Katie searched for a way to keep her talking. “Is it because of Amanda?”

“A little.”

“Are you afraid that if you act like you care about him, he’ll ignore her? Jeff won’t do that. Amanda’s important to him, and he’d never hurt her.”

“I’m all mixed up inside. I should have never let him kiss me.”

Katie smiled. “Fireworks, huh?”

“Rockets,” Lacey confessed.

“Fireworks and rockets are nice,” Katie kidded.

“Is that the way you feel about Josh?”

Lacey’s question made Katie pause. Josh was the first real boyfriend she’d ever had, and he’d come to her in such a peculiar way. By now, being with Josh
was comfortable and familiar. It was knowing what he was thinking before he even spoke. It was anticipating his moods and feelings whenever they were together. “Maybe not rockets,” Katie admitted. “I don’t know … it’s just that Josh has always been there for me. I can’t imagine my life without him.”

“Well, my life was perfectly fine until Jeff wandered into it.”

“He hardly wandered. He’s had his eye on you since day one.”

“What?” Lacey sat bolt upright. “You mean the two of you have discussed me? Talked about his feelings for me?”

Katie felt her face flame red and wished she could have eaten her words. She mumbled, “He wanted me to fix the two of you up.”

“Well, thank you very much for sharing, Katie.”

Katie didn’t want Lacey to pull her usual stunt of running off instead of talking things out. She held fast to Lacey’s elbow. “I owe you an explanation. First of all, it wasn’t a conspiracy. I was caught in the middle. Amanda liked him. He liked you. You liked—” She shrugged. “Who knows? Until Josh and I stumbled across the two of you on the Fourth of July, I was refusing to help him at all in your behalf. I told him he was on his own.”

“He made out all right.” Lacey’s tone was sarcastic.

“Stop acting that way. Face it, the thing you’re most mad about isn’t that I knew something you didn’t, but that you responded to Jeff. That you care for him.” Katie could tell she’d scored points by the expression on Lacey’s face. She continued. “What
you have to figure out now is what you’re going to do about it.”

“Nothing!” Lacey said emphatically. “Absolutely nothing.”

She stood, and Katie bolted upward beside her. “Explain.”

“It’s difficult to explain.”

“I have an IQ higher than a mushroom. Try me.”

Lacey turned to face Katie. Her expression was determined and lofty, the one that she used to push people away from her. “I will
not
be involved with a guy who’s sick. Back home in Miami, all my friends are healthy and fine. My diabetes doesn’t get in the way because I don’t allow it to. I want to be around regular kids. Kids who aren’t worried about medicine and hospitals and doctors and sickness!” She fairly spat out the last word. “Kids who aren’t going to die!”

Lacey’s anger made Katie step back, as if she’d been physically shoved. “You’re not going to give Jeff a chance because he’s a hemophiliac? That’s dumb. And prejudiced,” she added hotly. “And you’ve made me feel like a freak too.”

Lacey tossed her mane of long blond hair. “Grow up, Katie. We’re
all
freaks.”

Too stunned to respond, Katie watched Lacey stalk off into the surrounding woods. She stood alone while around her, shadows crept and lengthened until they closed off the daylight altogether. And although the evening air was heavy and damp with summer humidity, she shivered.

* * *

That night, Lacey surrounded herself with a wall of silence and went to bed early. Katie was grateful that poor Chelsea was too tired to notice Lacey’s behavior. As it was, Katie was concerned enough about Chelsea. Going to see Amanda daily was taking its toll on her. She determined to talk Chelsea into visiting on a less regular basis, or she’d be ending up in the hospital too. But it was Lacey Katie wanted to deal with first. So the next morning, when Chelsea had gone into the bathroom for her shower, Katie sat down on Lacey’s bed and shook her shoulder.

“Wake up, Lacey. Let’s talk.” Lacey rolled away from her. “Don’t try to fake me out,” Katie said. “I know you’re awake, and I’m not going away until we talk, so turn over and listen up.”

Slowly, Lacey rolled to face Katie. Her eyes looked red and puffy. “Leave me alone.”

“No way. I want you to know that I don’t hold anything you said to me last evening against you.” She thought she saw the slightest expression of relief flash across Lacey’s face. “It’ll take a lot more than being called a freak to chase me away.”

I—I’m sorry—

Katie held up her hand. “Not that it didn’t hurt my feelings. But I’m tough, so that’s not what really got to me. What blows my mind is that you think
you’re
a freak because you’re less than perfect like the ‘friends’ you talk about back home. Haven’t you heard? Nobody’s perfect.”

“You know what I mean. Not everybody’s sick. Or diseased.”

Katie winced. “You still don’t get it, do you? That’s
what Jenny House is all about. So we can come and be with people just like us. People who feel like we do. It was what Jenny wanted, you know.”

“You mean the girl in the painting?”

Katie nodded. “Mr. Holloway’s told me some things about her. Personally, I think there might have been something going on between them before she got sick. It was years ago that she died, but I can tell that she’s still pretty special to him.”

“As Amanda would say, ‘How romantic.’ ”

“Don’t be sarcastic. The point is, Jenny wanted to give kids like us a chance to have some fun and an opportunity to be supportive of one another. Even when someone acts as if she doesn’t want support.” Katie arched her eyebrows and drilled her gaze into Lacey’s so that she’d get her point.

“I care about you and Amanda and Chelsea,” Lacey declared. “You are all special friends to me.” She dropped her gaze. “Even though I don’t always show it.”

“But you
do
show it. You helped Amanda with her makeup, didn’t you? You gave Jeff to Amanda even though you really like him. That was pretty unselfish. It was nice of you.”

“Nice? Don’t say that. I can’t go around having people think I’m nice. Do you want to ruin my reputation?” Lacey raked her fingers through her tangled hair and put on a shaky smile.

Katie returned a smile. “I’ll promise to keep it a secret.”

“Keep what a secret?” Chelsea asked. She’d come out of the bathroom.

Katie and Lacey glanced at her, and both smiled. “That deep down Lacey is a marshmallow,” Katie said.

Chelsea waved her hand. “Everyone knows that.”

“Who is spreading such lies?” Lacey demanded, jumping out of bed. “I’ll scratch their eyes out.”

Chelsea grinned. “I’ll tell you on the way to visit Amanda.”

Katie cleared her throat. “Uh—maybe you should take it easy today.”

“No way. I know my limits, Katie. I know I’m pushing them now, but I want to see Amanda as much as I can. I promise to come back here after lunch and rest all afternoon,” she added when Katie opened her mouth to argue. “I—I just want to be around her. I don’t know why, but somehow I feel like I might not get another chance.”

Katie nodded, understanding perfectly Chelsea’s reasoning. She and Amanda were walking side by side down the same dark road, each in her own way. And no one could ever predict what tomorrow might bring. No one.

E
ighteen

O
VER THE NEXT
few days, Katie, Lacey, Chelsea, and Jeff had to visit her in isolation one at a time. They had to suit up in sterile gowns, gloves, and masks and couldn’t stay longer than ten minutes. Katie hated going into the room, because it reminded her too much of her experience, yet she never let Amanda know it.

The experimental drug was in a bag hung on an IV pole, and ran through tubing into an infusion pump attached to more tubing and a shunt embedded in Amanda’s chest near her collarbone. Jeff’s mobile hung beside the bag, adding the only bit of color to the pale green and white world. The first couple of days, Amanda tolerated the drug without side effects and her spirits remained high. But by day three, she felt nauseated, and the next day, no one could visit
with her except her parents because she was vomiting almost constantly.

“This junk is supposed to help her!” Lacey ranted while pacing the floor of the waiting room. They had come at the end of the week, only to be told Amanda was still too sick to receive visitors.

“Calm down,” Jeff said. “They said there would be a period of adjustment.”

Katie chewed her lip nervously. “She’s awfully sick, Jeff.”

“I’m scared,” Chelsea admitted. “I thought she’d be better by now.”

“Well, I think we should do something,” Lacey insisted.

“Like what? Knock down the door and rip out her IV?” Jeff retorted.

Katie hated to hear the two of them sniping at each other. Especially when she knew how they felt about one another. But Lacey wasn’t about to drop her guard around Jeff, and it was obvious that Jeff wasn’t going to allow himself to pine over Lacey. “Can’t you two stop arguing for one minute?” Katie asked. “Do you want the nurses to throw us out?”

“Sorry,” Jeff mumbled.

“Same,” Lacey said, turning toward the TV set that was broadcasting some game show on the other side of the room.

When Amanda’s mother came into the waiting room, they clustered around her. She looked so worn and haggard, Katie almost cried. “She any better?” Katie asked, knowing the answer even before Mrs. Burdick shook her head.

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