Authors: Lurlene McDaniel
“I wanted this bed anyway,” Amanda replied cheerfully, crossing to one of the beds on the other side of the room. Katie could have kissed her.
The man heaved the suitcases onto the bed. “Your folks are talking to Mr. Holloway, the director. You want to come tell them good-bye?”
Lacey tossed her long blond hair, and Katie thought she saw tears glistening in the girl’s eyes. “Tell them good-bye for me. That is, if they stop going for each other’s throat long enough to hear you.”
Although Lacey was acting disagreeable, Katie felt pity for her. It was hard enough coping with health problems without having to deal with warring parents
too. Her own parents’ arguments had always centered on her stubborn insistence to run track after her transplant, but she’d never doubted that they cared deeply for one another. “Look,” Katie said, “I know this isn’t much fun for you, but in a way we’re all in the same boat. I had plenty of other things I could have been doing this summer. I left a terrific boyfriend back in Ann Arbor. How about you? Do you have a guy?”
Lacey swiped at her eyes and sat on the bed. “No one special.”
Amanda spoke up. “I’d love to have a boyfriend, but all I’ve done for the past year is go in and out of the hospital. Not a cool place to meet guys.”
“You never know,” Katie replied. “That’s where I met mine.”
“In the hospital? How? Is he sick too?” Amanda flooded her with questions.
Katie couldn’t help smiling. “It’s a long story.” She wished Lacey were as agreeable and pleasant as Amanda. She shot Lacey a sideward glance to check her interest level. Lacey was plucking at the bedspread and ignoring them. “And it’s a great story too. I’ll be glad to tell you later. Maybe once our other roommate arrives. Why don’t you unpack—put your stuff away.”
Amanda set right to work. Lacey maintained her sullen expression. Still, she eventually began to open her suitcases and put away her things. Katie had never seen such an array of cosmetics, hair gear, and perfume bottles as Lacey put out on one of the dressers.
“Do you use all that stuff?” Amanda asked, her large, expressive eyes wide with curiosity.
“All the girls at my school use makeup. It’s cool.”
“My mom won’t allow me to wear makeup yet. She says I have to wait until ninth grade—which is like
Katie hoped Lacey had the good sense not to comment on Amanda’s lack of sophistication. Lacey crowded the bottles closer together. “I’ve been wearing makeup since I was eleven.”
“But you’re so pretty,” Amanda declared. “Why do you need so much?”
Lacey was noticeably taken aback by Amanda’s comment, and Katie figured that the small, dark-eyed girl could charm the skin off a snake and never know it.
“I wonder where our other roomie is,” Katie interjected, diverting both girls’ attention.
“If she’s smart, she stayed home,” Lacey muttered.
A rap on the door made them turn. A brown-haired woman peered anxiously through the doorway. “Is there a Katie O’Roark here?”
“That’s me.” Katie stepped forward.
“They told me downstairs that you were in charge.”
“Well, I’m sort of supervising. But I’m not really a boss or anything.”
“I’m Chelsea’s mother.” The woman came into the room, followed by a man carrying a frail, sickly girl.
“I can walk, Dad,” Chelsea kept repeating, obviously embarrassed.
“No use expending too much energy,” her father
said. He placed her on the one empty bed as if she were a fragile piece of glass. Katie did think Chelsea looked delicate enough to break. Her lips held a slightly bluish cast that made Katie’s stomach constrict. She knew what it was like to have a bad heart and struggle for every breath of air.
“Are you all right, honey?” Chelsea’s mother felt Chelsea’s forehead, then clung to her hand.
“I’m fine,” Chelsea mumbled. She cast the other girls an apologetic glance, then looked again at her mother. “Dr. Hooper told you it was all right for me to come. I’ll be all right.”
Chelsea’s mother wrung her hands together. “I just hate leaving you. A summer is such a long time for you to stay away.”
“I agree,” Lacey said indifferently.
Katie felt like slugging her. “I know why they put Chelsea in my room,” Katie offered. “You see, I had a heart condition once too. So, I’ll know how to look out for her.”
“That’s what we’ve been told,” Chelsea’s father said, but her mother failed to look relieved. He took his wife’s elbow. “Come on, Lorraine. This prolonged good-bye isn’t healthy.” He stooped and kissed his daughter’s cheek. “You’re going to do fine. And we can be here in a matter of hours if you need us.”
A staff worker entered and deposited Chelsea’s luggage. “I need to help her put her things away,” her mother said. “I don’t want her straining herself.”
“I can do it, Mother,” Chelsea insisted, scooting off the bed and hauling her suitcase off the floor.
“Don’t do that!” Her mother hurried to help her lift the piece of luggage.
It took several more minutes before Chelsea could get her parents out of the room, but once they were gone, she turned toward the others and said, “Sorry about that.”
“What’s their problem?” Lacey asked. “Haven’t you ever been away from home before?”
“No,” Chelsea replied. The look on her face was sincere. “But don’t worry. I’m not as helpless as they want me to be. I’ve got a lousy heart, but I can still manage. I promise not to be a drag.”
Katie was reminded of how freaked out her parents had been when her heart disease had incapacitated her. She’d hated the way her mother had hovered over her and made her feel like an invalid, so she understood Chelsea’s frustration completely. “We’ve all got parent problems,” Katie said, giving Lacey a sidelong glance. “It goes with the territory. But we’re all looking forward to having a fun summer.”
Lacey snorted, and Katie shot her a warning look. Amanda stepped up to the foot of Chelsea’s bed. “I can’t wait to go exploring. Will you be able to go with us?”
“If I pace myself. I just have to be careful not to exert myself too much.”
“No problem of
Lacey said. “This place is nothing but a big Back to Nature experience.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
Lacey rolled her eyes. “I’m used to parties and fast
cars. The crowd I run with would go nuts with all these trees and squirrels.”
Amanda giggled. “You made a joke. Trees … squirrels … nuts … That’s funny.”
Lacey didn’t look amused, but Katie was once again taken by the younger girl’s quick mind and cheerful disposition. “Listen, Lacey, we’re all in this together. Why not make the best of it?”
“I told you, I’m not used to hanging around with sick people. I’m not sick!”
Katie wished she knew more about diabetes. “I’m not either,” she said levelly. “So all the more reason for us to have a good time.”
“You’re not the boss around here.”
“I said I wasn’t.” Katie could feel her temper rising. “But I plan to spend the summer here, and I plan on having fun.” She glanced from Amanda to Chelsea.
“Me too,” they said in unison.
Katie shrugged. “Majority rules. We’re all going to have fun.”
Lacey made an exasperated grunt and marched into the bathroom. She slammed the door behind her. “Is it something I said?” Katie asked innocently. Chelsea and Amanda laughed, and Katie added, “Look, she’s just having a hard time adjusting. Let’s give her plenty of space. She’ll come around.”
Katie wasn’t at all sure Lacey would and wondered if she could endure a whole summer with someone like Lacey. Then she watched Chelsea shuffle over to a dresser, her arms full of clothes. She realized that every breath the girl took was an effort. How could
she abandon someone who was trying as hard as Chelsea? Or someone as sweet as Amanda?
What have I gotten myself into?
she wondered. How could she possibly make a difference in any of these girls’ lives?
I know it’s only been twenty-four hours since I last wrote, but I just want you to know that I miss you and think about you all the time
Not much has changed since my last letter. I’ve been here four days, but it seems longer. Lacey is still being a pain. Amanda is all sweetness and light and so adorable, I’d like to take her home with me. You know how I’ve always wished I had a sister. But with my luck, I’d probably get one like Lacey. (Sorry—that isn’t nice.)
It’s poor Chelsea I worry about the most. She never complains, but I know she’s scared stiff. She’s told me that this is the first time she’s
from home. Can you imagine? But she’s had her bum heart ever since birth, and it’s not getting any better. She’s never even attended regular school. She’s been tutored and home-schooled all her life. She’s always got her nose in a book. She’s says it’s the only form of escape that her heart can take. (The black humor around this place is crazy)
The staff is fantastic. Mr. Holloway is always around, asking if we’re having a good time. There’s a trail ride and a picnic planned for tomorrow. The horses are supposed to be tame, but Chelsea is nervous. She really wants to go, but she’s afraid her heart might act up. Seeing her brings back my own experience. I
want to go through that again. So, I never forget to take my medications
Which reminds me—Lacey has to be reminded every day, morning and evening, to take her insulin shots. She truly hates them, but without them, she’ll get very sick. Hospital sick. You’d think that would make her afraid of not taking her shots, but it doesn’t
Well, I don’t want this letter to sound whiny (which it does), so I’d better close. Write soon. I love you a bunch
P.S. Did I mention that I miss you? Say hi to Gramps for me
“Are you writing to your boyfriend?” Amanda asked, coming up alongside Katie’s bed. She was dressed in a pink nightshirt that pictured a cuddly lop-eared rabbit on the front.
Amanda picked up the framed photo of Josh on the bedside table Katie shared with Lacey. “He’s so cute,” Amanda said. “Tell me how you met him.”
Katie saw that Chelsea had put down her book to listen. Lacey was doing her nails and pointedly ignoring the other girls. “I got his brother’s heart,” Katie began dramatically. Amanda’s eyes widened, and Chelsea closed her book and came over to Katie’s bed and sat down. Even Lacey appeared to be listening.
Katie went on to tell how Aaron had died on the football field of a brain hemorrhage, and how Josh and his grandfather had agreed to donate Aaron’s organs for transplantation. She described how Josh figured out who’d received his brother’s heart by reading a newspaper column Katie’s dad had written, and how Josh had begun to haunt the hospital in an effort to see her and to connect with his brother. “Josh was really grieving,” Katie explained. “But even though he knew Aaron was dead, he wanted to be with him. Somehow, knowing Aaron’s heart was beating inside me made him still alive.
“Anyway, once I met Josh, once I knew about his brother, I wanted him near me. I was so grateful for the organ donation, but after a while, I became grateful for Josh. He’s one in a million.”
Amanda’s brown eyes had filled with tears. “That’s
so romantic. Really wonderful, don’t you think so?” She turned toward Chelsea and Lacey. The blond Lacey shrugged, pretending indifference, but Katie could tell that the story had hooked her.
Chelsea asked, “Doesn’t it feel weird knowing someone else’s heart is beating inside you?”
Katie understood the girl’s interest, since she was facing a transplant in her future. “The transplant center has a support program—you know, shrinks to help you deal with such things. But of course, it bothered me. I don’t think about it at all anymore. Aaron’s heart is keeping me alive. I have Josh. I can run track again.”
“You run?” Chelsea looked surprised.
“I won a big race at the Transplant Olympics. Josh helped me train; he’s a runner too. And I’m on the track team at my high school.”
“I’ve never been able to run. I’ve always wanted to be able to run against the wind and feel it in my hair.”
“You’ve never run?” Lacey asked. “Not even when you were a kid?”
“I couldn’t.” Chelsea gazed down self-consciously. “I’ve never been able to do any kind of strenuous activity. My heart can’t take it. If I try, I pass out, and sometimes I end up in the hospital. I hate being stuck in the hospital.”
The room fell silent. Finally, Katie said, “My transplant gave me back my life. I can’t imagine not running track.”
“Are you the star of your team?” Amanda asked.
Katie laughed, which relieved the somber mood in
the room. “Hardly. You see, I missed most of my junior year because of my transplant. So did Josh, because he hung around with me so much. Anyway, we both repeated eleventh grade, and so we’ll be seniors in September. I didn’t get to graduate with my class this June, but I do get another shot at the women’s state track title next year, because I still have a year of eligibility.”