“You had to stay behind when all your friends graduated?” Amanda asked. “I wouldn’t like doing that.”
Katie thought of Melody, her best friend, who would be a freshman at Boston College in September. “Sure, staying back a grade is hard for me. But I’ll keep in touch with them, and I didn’t stay behind because I flunked. I just missed too many days of school to be advanced.”
“It took you a year to recover from your transplant?” Chelsea asked, a frown on her thin face.
Katie decided against telling her about the episode of rejection that almost took her life and the long recuperation period that had followed. “Oh, it takes a while to get back on your feet,” she said simply. “But I’ll always be glad I got a new heart. It was worth all the hospital time, all the discomfort. I mean, look at me now.”
“I hated missing school when I was in the hospital,” Amanda offered. “I got diagnosed with leukemia when I was in third grade and relapsed in fifth. I just got out of the hospital a few months ago because of complications, but at least I finished seventh grade with my class.” She grinned. “Partly because
my dad works for a TV station, and he arranged to have a camera set up in my classrooms so I could attend classes even though I was home in bed. I couldn’t stand it if all my friends got passed and I had to stay behind.”
“What about you, Lacey? Has your diabetes messed up your school life any?” Katie asked.
Lacey tightened the lid on her bottle of fingernail polish and scooted off her bed. “Just because I have to take insulin doesn’t make me sick. I don’t have any health problems. I never miss school. In fact, none of my friends even know about my diabetes. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to brush my teeth.”
With that, she flounced into the bathroom and shut the door firmly behind her. Katie stared after her, feeling put down and shut out from anything to do with Lacey Duval.
Katie woke with a start. The room was dark, and she saw no trace of dawn through the partially drawn window shade. As she wondered what had disturbed her, her gaze was drawn to a hairline crack of light coming from beneath the bathroom door. She heard muffled sounds from inside and was instantly awake.
Her first concern was for Chelsea. Had all the talk about a heart transplant upset the younger girl? But when she peered across the room at Chelsea’s bed, she saw that Chelsea was still sound asleep. In the bed next to Chelsea’s, Amanda also slept soundly. That left only one person.
Katie eased out of bed and tiptoed to the bath
room. She pressed her ear to the door and heard Lacey fumbling around. Katie rapped lightly. “Are you all right?”
“Go away.” Lacey’s voice sounded quivery.
“I’m coming in,” Katie said. She pushed open the door and found Lacey sitting on the floor, breathing erratically. Her face was the color of paste, and she was trembling. “What’s wrong?” Quickly, Katie crouched beside her. “I’ll call for some help.”
“No!” Lacey’s tone was sharp. “I’m having … a … reaction. Open this.”
Katie took a small foil packet marked “Instant Glucose” from Lacey’s shaky hand. She tore it open, removed two flat round tablets, and watched Lacey shove them into her mouth, then flop weakly back against the outside of the tub.
Anxiously, Katie waited. In a minute, color began to return to Lacey’s face, and her breathing grew slower and more regular. Finally, Lacey mumbled, “It’s over.”
By now Katie was trembling. “What’s over? What happened?”
“I told you, I had an insulin reaction.” Lacey struggled to her feet. Katie tried to help, but Lacey pushed her away. “It’s just something diabetics have to learn to live with,” Lacey said. She bent over the sink and splashed cold water on her face. “Your blood sugar gets too low, and you need to eat something sweet to get it back up. Now I’ll eat some crackers so it won’t happen again. I’m telling you, I’m okay.”
In fact, she did look perfectly fine. “You should have told me,” Katie said. “I could have helped you.
Someone should know how to help you when you get sick.”
“I can help myself,” Lacey replied. “I would have been fine.”
Katie wanted to argue with her that she
been doing fine, but she didn’t want to risk waking the others with an argument. “Whatever you say.” Katie returned to her bed and jerked the covers up to her chin.
Minutes later, she heard Lacey slide into the bed next to hers. Katie lay silently in the dark, seething, when Lacey’s voice floated to her in a soft whisper. “Uh—thanks,” Lacey said.
“You’re welcome,” Katie answered curtly. Then she turned herself away from Lacey and toward the wall.
HE RIDING TRAIL
wound through woods of sunlight-dappled leaves and patches of vibrantly colored wildflowers. Katie breathed in the cool summer morning air and squeezed her knees against her horse’s flanks, making him accelerate his plodding pace. She drew alongside Chelsea, whose big chestnut mount appeared to be half dozing along the leaf-littered trail. “How’re you doing?” she asked.
“Super.” Chelsea gave a contented grin. “If my horse can stay awake.”
“He does look comfortable.”
“And to think I was scared he’d take off running with me in the saddle.”
Both girls laughed, and Chelsea’s horse pricked up his ears. “Careful,” Katie warned. “Let’s not wake him.”
Ahead of them on the trail, Katie watched the swaying rounded rump of Amanda’s horse. The girl was chattering away at Jeff McKensie, the seventeen-year-old from Colorado who was a hemophiliac. Of all the kids who’d received Wish money, Katie liked Jeff best. She’d met him down at the indoor pool doing laps on their first morning at Jenny House. “One of the few safe exercises for a bleeder,” Jeff had explained. “Contact sports are too dangerous. We could bleed to death if we’re hit too hard.”
Jeff was blond, tall, and slim, with eyes that changed from blue to gray according to what he was wearing. Katie swam laps with him and grew fond of him, talking freely about track and running and Josh. “My girl and I broke up right before I came,” Jeff told her that first morning.
“Me too. I understand, though. Hooking up with a bleeder doesn’t make for a good long-term relationship, if you know what I mean. Hemophiliacs are always at risk. If not from injury, then from blood transfusions contaminated with hepatitis or worse.”
Watching Jeff and Amanda on the trail ahead of her gave Katie pause. Looking at them, no one would ever suspect that they both carried deadly disorders inside their bodies. “Looks like our little Amanda is having a good time,” Katie heard Chelsea say.
“Jeff’s a nice guy.”
“I hope our little romantic roomie doesn’t get any ideas,” Chelsea commented.
“Look at the way she’s looking at him. If he were
an ice-cream cone …” Chelsea let the sentence trail.
“You’re right,” Katie agreed. “How did I miss it?”
“I’m a trained observer. I’ve spent my whole life on the outside looking in. I’ve gotten pretty good at reading people.”
Katie felt sorry for Chelsea. Her bad heart had truly kept her out of life’s mainstream, and considering how her parents all but suffocated her, it was no wonder. “How about you, Chelsea? Have you ever liked one special guy?”
“Where would I meet one?”
Chelsea’s eyes met Katie’s, and the depth of sadness and longing in them made a lump rise in Katie’s throat. “You’ll find someone special someday,” she said. “You’re only fourteen.”
“I’ll be fifteen soon.”
“You will? When? We should have a birthday party.”
“But Lacey can’t eat birthday cake.”
“I have a feeling Lacey does pretty much whatever she wants to do.”
“She’s not as tough as she pretends to be.” Chelsea shifted in the saddle, and her horse snorted, as if protesting the movement.
Katie shook her head. “I’m not so sure.”
“I am. Us people watchers can’t be fooled. She was hanging on every word of your story about you and Josh. I have a feeling Lacey just wants to be liked.”
“She has an odd way of showing it. She could be nicer.” Even as she spoke, Katie felt a pang of guilt. She shouldn’t be voicing her opinion of Lacey to
Chelsea. Especially since she was supposed to be a role model.
The line of horses drew to a halt.
“What’s up?” Chelsea asked.
Katie craned her neck. “Looks like a large clearing ahead. I guess that’s where we’re having our picnic.” The line began to move again, and soon Katie had passed from the cool interior of the woods into an enormous sun-drenched meadow. Tall grass brushed the bellies of the horses. At the far end of the field there was a concrete shelter with tables and benches. The aroma of barbecue drifted on the summer breeze.
She heard Jeff shout, “Let’s go!” and saw him dig his heels into the sides of his horse. The animal broke into a gallop toward the shelter. Soon, many of the group had urged their horses into a run through the field.
Katie wanted to race her horse too, but the look of fright on Chelsea’s face stopped her. “I’m sticking with you,” Katie said. “There’s no hurry.”
Chelsea flashed her a grateful smile. “I … um … I’ve just never ridden before. I don’t want to do something dumb—like fall off and spoil the picnic for everybody.”
By the time Katie and Chelsea had plodded up to the shelter, the other horses had been tied and were grazing off to one side. Kids lounged around the tables, sipping sodas and talking. Several members of the staff were manning the barbecue pit and asking for hamburger orders. Once Katie and Chelsea had
dismounted and tied their horses with the others, they headed toward the shelter.
Amanda jogged up, her brown eyes sparkling. “I’m having such a great time. Did you see me riding with Jeff? He talked to me the whole time. Can you believe it? Only me.”
Katie could see how Jeff’s attention had affected the petite girl, and she didn’t want to throw cold water on her enthusiasm, but Jeff was four years older than Amanda. “Jeff’s a nice guy,” Katie said.
“He told me that you and he are friends.” She grabbed Katie’s hand and tugged impatiently. “Can we go for a little walk?”
“Don’t mind me,” Chelsea told them. “I’m going to get a cola and sit down.”
Impatiently, Amanda dragged Katie back toward the line of grazing horses. “So what do you think?” She dropped Katie’s hand and peered up at her.
“What do I think about what?”
“About me and Jeff.” Momentarily at a loss for words, Katie stooped and pulled up a pale yellow flower. “I mean, he’s your friend. Do you think he could like someone like me?” Amanda prodded.
“Golly, Amanda, I don’t know …”
“I’ve never had a real boyfriend, you know. My other friends have. But I’ve always been recovering from chemo—which isn’t exactly a turn-on for guys.”
“Gee, I didn’t even notice guys were alive for years,” Katie said. “But then, I was a late bloomer,” she added when she saw Amanda’s crestfallen expression. “Is it really so important to you to have a boyfriend?”
“Look at me. I’m almost fourteen and I look ten. It’s because of the chemo, you know.”
“No, I didn’t realize—”
“It’s stunted my growth. I’ll never catch up to my friends. Everybody’s wearing bras, and I’m flat as a pancake.”
“Everybody? Even the guys?”
Amanda offered a sheepish smile. “You know what I mean. I hate being a shrimp. When I put on lipstick, I look like a little girl trying to play dress-up. And it’s all because of my cancer.”
Katie felt a wave of pity. Inside Amanda’s childlike body was an almost-woman struggling to break free. Katie’s body had developed and changed, and she’d simply accepted it. In some ways, she’d resented it. The changes had slowed her ability to race, and soon she’d been unable to beat boys on the playground as she’d done for years. “I didn’t know chemo affected kids that way.”
“Well, it does. There’re lots of side effects. You get so sick, you can’t stand up. Your hair falls out. You get sores all over—you look really gross. It’s pretty nasty stuff. But that’s the way it has to be, because without it, you’d die in record time. I hate having cancer.”
Katie hadn’t heard the usually cheerful, upbeat Amanda sound so upset before. “I guess we’ve all wondered, ‘Why me?’ ” Katie said. “I sure did when my heart started giving out.”
Amanda gazed off toward distant mountains shrouded in blue haze. “I guess you must think I’m a real whiner.”
“Not at all. Even though my problem was different, I felt the same way. Without a new heart, I’d die. But I could only get a new heart if somebody else died. It was a heavy thought.”
“So maybe you can see why I’d like a boyfriend. After two relapses, I may be running out of time.”
The thought hit Katie like cold water. “But you’re fine now.”
“I was fine before I relapsed.” Amanda turned back toward the shelter. “I’m sorry I started talking about this stuff. I really want to have a good time today. I’d really like to go find Jeff and see if he’ll talk to me some more.”
“There are other guys here closer to your age.”
“So what? None of them is as hunky as Jeff.”
“Good luck,” Katie called as Amanda trotted off. Suddenly, she felt at loose ends, as if a dark cloud had scudded over the sun. Yet, when she looked around, the day was still beautiful, and the sounds of people having a good time floated through the clean, fresh air.