Authors: Lurlene McDaniel
“You alone?” Jeff stepped from around the line of horses.
Startled, Katie wondered if he’d heard any of her conversation with Amanda. She fervently hoped not. Amanda would be embarrassed to tears if he had. “Are you?” she countered.
“I’ve got something to ask you.” He stepped closer, glancing in all directions. “And a favor.”
“What is it?”
“Put in a good word for me with Lacey Duval. I think she’s something else.”
in Lacey? But I saw you with Amanda.”
“Amanda’s just a kid. Lacey’s great-looking, and I’ve always had a weakness for blondes.” Jeff grinned. “What’s wrong with liking Lacey?”
“Nothing’s wrong with it,” Katie replied, feeling as if everything was wrong with it. She simply didn’t want it to be true. Hadn’t she just spent thirty minutes hearing Amanda pour her heart out about her hopes for her and Jeff? “Why don’t you just go after Lacey yourself? Why involve me?”
“I have two sisters. I know how you girls stick together, and that one good word from a friend can go a long way toward opening a girl’s eyes to some guy who’s interested in her.”
Katie almost asked,
“What makes you think Lacey’s
but she thought better of it. Instead, she tried a different tack. “Lacey kind of keeps to herself. She didn’t even want to come here this summer, but her doctor insisted. Maybe she’s not the girl for you. Have you looked around? There’re other girls. Maybe you can give another girl a try.”
He shook his head. “No other girl appeals to me like Lacey. Face it, this place is ideal for someone like me. Health problems don’t exactly attract the babes in the real world.” He motioned toward the picnic tables, where almost everyone was seated eating burgers and hot dogs. “Not much competition either. Most of the guys are a lot younger.”
“Just because your girlfriend back home broke up with you—”
“It took forever just to get her to date me,” Jeff said soberly. “And our big romance lasted until I had a bleeding episode and ended up in the hospital. She dumped me real quick.”
“She didn’t have much character,” Katie insisted, taking personally the sting of his former girlfriend’s rejection.
“Rejection is a way of life when you’re different—when you’ve got problems other kids don’t understand. Your experience with Josh is one in a million. So, will you help me with Lacey?”
“Let me get this straight. You figure that since there’s not much choice out here, then Lacey may find you appealing. That you’re better than boredom?”
“That’s why I like you, Katie. You catch on real fast. Look around.” Jeff gestured toward the backdrop of
misty blue mountains. “Can you think of a better place to keep a girl’s undivided attention? Lots of scenery. Nothing to do but play. No distractions. Lacey has nothing to do but pay attention to me.”
“I’m not sure that will matter one bit to Lacey. She’s kind of determined to keep to herself.”
“I love a challenge.”
Jeff was refusing to be put off, which distressed Katie. How could she divert his attention from Lacey and direct it toward Amanda? “I still think you should go after her without my help.”
“Are you telling me you won’t help?”
Katie felt torn. She liked Jeff and Amanda both, and didn’t want to see either of them hurt. Yet, how could she help the one without sabotaging the other? “Why don’t you try it on your own? If I have to get involved, then maybe I will.”
Jeff looked disappointed. “I was hoping you’d put in a good word for me.”
Katie chewed on her bottom lip. “If I talk Lacey into it, how will you know if it’s you she likes? Dating somebody shouldn’t be as a favor to someone else.”
“I can live with it.”
Katie slugged his arm playfully. “Oh, you! Come on, give yourself a chance. Go for it on your own.”
Jeff studied her thoughtfully, then put his arm around her shoulders. “All right. I won’t put you on the spot. You’re a good buddy. And the only one willing to do laps in the pool with me at six every morning. I’ll see what kind of progress I can make on my own with Lacey.”
Katie walked with him back to the picnic tables, feeling relieved. She figured she’d gotten out of Jeff’s request without betraying Amanda’s confidence. She only wished Jeff would forget about Lacey and give Amanda half a chance.
Later in the afternoon, they chose up sides for softball. Katie was captain of one team, and Jeff the other. She selected Lacey first, mostly to keep her off Jeff’s team. Jeff chose Amanda, and the younger girl fairly glowed as she trotted over to his side.
By the time the game was over, Katie wished she’d been less charitable. Lacey couldn’t hit the side of a barn, and Amanda had slugged in three home runs. “We trounced you guys,” Amanda crowed as they rode back to the stables at Jenny House in the twilight.
“Don’t rub it in,” Katie said. “I’ve always been a poor loser.”
Amanda leaned closer to Katie and whispered, “Jeff picked me for his team. That must mean something. What do you think, Katie? Do you think I have a chance with him?”
Amanda sounded so thrilled that Katie didn’t even try to burst the younger girl’s bubble about her hopeless crush. Up ahead, she saw Jeff rein in his horse beside Lacey’s and hoped that the lengthening shadows in the woods would hide the sight from Amanda.
Why couldn’t life be simple? she wondered. Why were people always drawn to what they couldn’t have? She sighed, deciding that the problem was as
old as time, and would never have an answer. At least, none she could come up with.
This is the longest summer of my life. I know it’s only been three weeks since I left you at Jenny House, but even with my job, time drags. Your dad’s helped me plenty, and I’ve already worked my way out of my mailroom duties. I went out with one of the reporters on his rounds (he covers the police beat), and that was fun. I don’t think I’d like being a reporter, but being a cop seems interesting
Sounds like you have your hands full with those roommates. I can’t answer your question as to why a guy ignores a girl who’s nuts about him to go after one who isn’t. Maybe Jeff’s just a slow learner. He’s not coming on to you, is he? I mean, I can’t figure how any guy could appreciate any other girl when you’re around. (If this guy makes any moves on you, I’ll come there personally and deal with him. Make sure he keeps his hands off YOU.)
Gramps has been doing little projects around the house. It takes him longer than it used to, but he gets the job done. He goes out to the cemetery every weekend to put fresh flowers on Gram’s and Aaron’s graves. He begged me to go with him. I did, but I really hated it. Not so much seeing Gram’s grave. I mean, she was pretty old when she died. But it tears me up to see Aaron’s. I still miss him, and I guess I always will. Then I remember that without his heart
there’d be no Katie in my life. And I can’t imagine that either. I don’t like thinking about it, so I’m not going back out there again
I guess that’s pretty much it from here. Try not to get too involved with Jeff and Lacey and Amanda. After this summer, you’ll all go your separate ways. I really miss you, Katie, and I wish it was August already
Katie ran her fingertips over Josh’s distinctive signature when she finished reading his letter. She
miss him. Of course, his suggestion that Jeff might be interested in her was ludicrous. It had been a week since the picnic, and all Jeff talked about was Lacey. And all Amanda talked about was Jeff—privately and only to Katie. Lacey didn’t say much of anything, but she did seem less belligerent. And she was taking her insulin shots on time.
Katie had grown sensitive to Lacey’s moods. She saw a marked disintegration in Lacey’s disposition whenever her blood sugar level dipped. And although Lacey didn’t have another insulin reaction, Katie did notice that she would discreetly drink some orange juice or nibble on a candy bar at different times in the day.
Katie tucked Josh’s letter in her drawer with the others from him and spied her calendar. She’d marked June 30 with a big red star, and the moment Chelsea ducked into the bathroom for a shower, Katie
grabbed Lacey and Amanda. “Chelsea’s birthday’s coming up,” she told them in a conspiratorial whisper. “Let’s throw her a party. One terrific party that she’ll never forget.”
“That’s a super idea!” Amanda bubbled with enthusiasm over Katie’s suggestion.
“What about you, Lacey? You want to help?” Katie asked.
Lacey shrugged. “I guess so. What have you got in mind?”
“I’d like to invite everybody at Jenny House. We could hold it down in the lodge and the game room. I’m sure if I ask Mr. Holloway, he’ll get us a cake.”
“We’ve got to do more than eat cake and hang out in the game room. What kind of a dumb party is that?”
“And I suppose you’re the party queen of Miami,” Katie shot back, none too kindly.
Lacey gave her a bored look. “I’ve thrown my share of parties. Even had a couple raided by the cops.”
“No lie?” Amanda’s eyes grew round as saucers.
“I don’t think that’s the kind of party I had in mind,” Katie said.
“No problem,” Lacey replied. “We’re so far out in the boondocks, the cops couldn’t find this place.”
Katie swallowed a retort. Why did Lacey continue to be negative about Jenny House? “So what great ideas do you have to make Chelsea’s fifteenth birthday memorable?”
“I think a western theme would work. We could have a hayride and dancing and maybe a little carnival down in the ree room—you know, simple games
like knocking over milk cartons and dropping clothespins into bottles for little prizes.”
“And balloons,” Amanda inserted. “And a big banner that says ‘Happy Birthday’ stretching across the fireplace.”
“And everyone will have to bring some corny gag gift.”
Katie had to admit that Lacey’s ideas were good ones. “How can we keep it a surprise from Chelsea?”
“She takes a long nap every afternoon. We can make the decorations during the week and put everything up on the afternoon of her birthday.”
“Maybe we can get a live band,” Amanda suggested. “With fiddles and banjos.”
“I’ll talk to Mr. Holloway,” Katie said. She liked Lacey’s plans, and Lacey did sound as if she knew what she was doing. Plus her usual look of boredom had left her face.
“I’ll start making a list,” Lacey said, grabbing a legal pad from off a desk.
“Making a list for what?”
The three of them turned to see Chelsea standing in the doorway, towel-drying her long brown hair.
ATIE EXCHANGED GLANCES
quickly with Lacey and Amanda. “For things we want to do while we’re here,” she said, thinking fast. “I want to go tubing down the river.”
“And I’m going to ask if there’s any chance I can bungee jump off one of the bridges,” Amanda said with a straight face. Katie and Lacey looked at her simultaneously.
“Bungee jump?” Lacey asked drolly.
“It’s a possibility,” Amanda defended her outlandish suggestion while turning beet red.
Chelsea sat on her bed. “You all don’t know how lucky you are. I can’t even consider doing such things.”
“When you get your heart fixed, you’ll be able to do them too,” Amanda told her.
Chelsea’s lips held a bluish cast, and her breath sounded rapid. Katie remembered vividly what it felt like to have her sick heart pounding so hard that she thought it might jump out of her chest. “Would you like to rest?” Katie asked, concerned for Chelsea.
“If I don’t dry my hair right away, it’ll turn into a giant frizz ball.”
“I’ll help you dry it,” Katie offered. “It won’t take long.”
“Um … we’ve got something we have to do,” Amanda said. “Don’t we, Lacey?”
“I need to talk to Mr. Holloway.” Lacey met Katie’s gaze with a look that said
“I’ll handle the arrangements for you.”
Katie was grateful for the way the two others pulled together to set the plan for Chelsea’s surprise party into motion. She expected as much from Amanda, but for Lacey, it was downright charitable.