Authors: Lurlene McDaniel
“You know you do.”
Amanda jumped up. “Thanks a million-zillion, Lacey. I’m going right downstairs and see if anyone notices.”
“Wait. You need a spritz of perfume,” Lacey declared. But when Amanda picked up a bottle off her own dresser, Lacey snatched it away. “Not that stuff. It’s a little girl’s perfume. Here, try this.” She handed Amanda a fancy spray bottle of a fragrance that Katie had seen featured in only the best department stores.
Amanda spritzed it on, filling the air with the heady aroma of roses and jasmine. “Thanks again.”
“I just hope this guy’s worth it,” Lacey called as Amanda bounded out the door.
When Katie and Lacey were alone, Katie said, “That really was nice of you.”
Lacey shrugged self-consciously, as if the act of kindness somehow embarrassed her. “It wasn’t anything. I mean, who couldn’t like Amanda? She’s so”—Lacey hunted for the right word—“enthusiastic.”
“You really do know a lot about makeup. How come?”
“I work on the theater productions at school doing makeup. Of course, stage makeup is a whole other thing, but it works on the same principle. It changes flaws. Turns mistakes into assets. Too bad we can’t use it on our insides.”
Katie had begun to see another side of Lacey and wondered if her attempts at snobbery weren’t her way of protecting herself. As far as she could see, there was nothing flawed about Lacey’s outward appearance. “You mean you’d use it to cover up your diabetes? But covering it up wouldn’t make it go away.” Diabetes wasn’t something that showed on the outside. Still, the illness
to have some effect on Lacey’s self-image.
“Life stinks, doesn’t it?” Lacey’s mouth formed a straight, hard line.
“I don’t think so. Maybe it hasn’t worked out exactly the way I planned so far, but I love life.” She remembered her long days in isolation at the hospital, and her episode of rejection. Her doctor had credited her “unshakable will to live” in part with her survival.
“We’re different then, Katie,” Lacey said. “I don’t see anything at all to recommend living. Especially living with a disease and parents who—” She stopped abruptly.
“Forget it.” Lacey flipped her mane of long blond hair. “I’m going downstairs and see how my little makeover is doing.”
She spun and left the room, leaving Katie to stare after her, puzzled. And inexplicably afraid for her.
ATIE MULLED OVER
her and Lacey’s conversation as she walked downstairs. She didn’t think she’d ever figure the girl out. One minute, Lacey was helpful and outgoing; the next, pulled back and close-mouthed. Who could deal with such a person?
By now, the lobby below was deserted. The band had packed up and gone, and the food had been removed to the rec room. As Katie started toward the staircase leading down to the sound of laughter, she noticed that the “Happy Birthday” banner had partially fallen. She crossed to the fireplace and rehung it, and when she stepped back, she glanced up at the portrait of Jenny.
The lights in the room had been dimmed, and the flickering flames of the fireplace cast the hearth in a yellow-orange glow. Most of the portrait was
smudged by the gloom of shadows, but Katie could make out the pale arch of Jenny’s brow and her eyes, with their sad, sweet expression.
“Are you partied out?”
“Mr. Holloway! You startled me.”
“Sorry. I was passing through and saw you looking at Jenny.” His gaze traveled up toward the face of the portrait. “I often get sidetracked by her picture myself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood here looking at her … and remembering.”
“She must have been special to you.”
“She was.” He didn’t volunteer any more information, and Katie lacked the courage to pump him for it. He turned to her and smiled. “Your friend Chelsea is totally involved with the virtual reality game. I think you’ve created a monster.”
“I feel sorry for her. She wants so much to participate in life, but isn’t physically able. The game seems like a partial solution.”
“VR’s an interesting concept, all right. I wonder about it, though. It isolates … cuts people off from ‘actual reality,’ which is much more interactive. Are you having a good time this summer?” Richard changed the subject.
“Oh yes. I’m glad I came.”
“We are too. You know, you’re very good at this.”
“At being a friend to the girls in your room.”
Katie felt a warm flush creep up her neck. She started to tell him she wasn’t very good at all. That so far, she was in the middle of a hopeless love triangle that she couldn’t navigate. She glanced back up at
the painting of Jenny. “You told me once that she had friends who made a difference in her life. What ever happened to them?”
“Along with Jenny, two others died. I lost track of the fourth. Her name was Kimbra—she’d lost an arm to cancer.”
Although she’d never known Jenny’s friends, the news depressed Katie. “Jenny signed her One Last Wish letter ‘Your Forever Friend.’ I read it a million times, trying to figure out who JWC was, and I struggled with those words every time. What’s a ‘forever friend’ to people who are going to die, Mr. Holloway?”
He didn’t answer right away, and when he did, his voice was soft and low. “Do you believe in heaven, Katie?”
“I sure do,” she said with a small laugh. “When I thought I might die, I wanted to go someplace besides the cold, dark ground. Heaven’s supposed to be a pretty special place.”
“Jenny believed in heaven too. And she believed that when she got there, her parents would welcome her. I guess to her, a ‘forever friend’ is one who waits for you in heaven. In Forever. And for Forever.”
The explanation sounded beautiful to Katie. And it made perfect sense. Then she remembered her dilemma with Amanda, Jeff, and Lacey. “It’s getting through the here and now that’s the hard part,” she said with a sigh.
She wanted to bite her tongue. A man as important as Mr. Holloway didn’t need to be burdened
with silly stuff like crushes and puppy love. “No problems. I mean, not in the real sense of the word. I guess I just want everybody to be happy. Stupid, huh? No one can be happy all the time.”
“You’re right about that. But I understand where you’re coming from. Jenny was that way too. She tried her best to make people happy. That’s why giving her money away was important to her.”
“I’ll never forget the day I got that letter and check. I stashed most of the cash in a savings account after my folks and Josh and I flew home from the Transplant Olympic Games. The money’s there for when I need it. For my anti-rejection medications. For college. Although I’m still hoping for a track scholarship, it’s nice to know my going to college doesn’t depend on whether or not I get one.”
The firelight reflected off Richard’s blond hair and turned his eyes a golden green. “You know, Katie, of all the kids here, you most remind me of Jenny.”
“I do?” His assessment pleased her immensely. Jenny Crawford was fast becoming Katie’s ideal.
“Absolutely. She was smart and caring and …” His gaze again traveled upward to the portrait, its frame gleaming in the glow of the fire. “… and she died too young.”
Katie suddenly felt like an intruder, and could think of nothing else to say. That was the bottom line for most of the kids at Jenny House—they were all facing a premature death. “I should get back to the party,” she said.
“Go have fun,” Mr. Holloway replied.
As she left him, she experienced a deep sense of
melancholy. For him. And for a girl she’d never known, but who had the power to reach beyond the grave and touch all their lives with her gift of love.
“I really got some attention when I came back to the party last night.” Amanda started talking before she set her breakfast tray next to Katie’s in the cafeteria the next morning. “Some kids didn’t even recognize me.”
“He looked real hard at first, then asked, ‘Is that you, Mandy?’ When I told him yes, he asked what was different—isn’t that just like a guy? He knows something’s changed, but he acts as if he’s gone blind. So I told him Lacey had given me a few makeup pointers, and then he was all ears. He asked me a bunch of questions.”
Katie’s heart sank as she imagined Jeff’s line of questioning. “I can’t picture a guy interested in makeup application techniques.”
Amanda giggled. “Not that, silly. He wanted to know how Lacey acted about doing it. If we had a good time. If she gave me lessons … stuff like that. He asked if I would bring her over so he could talk to her.”
“I was going to. I looked all around for her, but I guess she never came back to the party. Did she stay in the room?”
“No. She left the room right after you did. I came down and wrestled the VR game away from Chelsea. It was way past her bedtime. So, tell me. Did Jeff
make a move on you?” Katie half hoped that Amanda would say yes.
“No.” Amanda set her glass down and looked momentarily downcast. “But he walked me up to my room after the party was over. We talked and were the last ones to leave.” She brightened. “That must mean something, don’t you think so, Katie?”
Katie had taken a long morning walk rather than do laps in the pool because she hadn’t wanted to run into Jeff, concerned that his version of the night before would be different from Amanda’s starry-eyed one. “Don’t ask me. Who knows how a guy’s brain functions. Except for Josh, I’ve never even been interested in knowing.”
Amanda glanced up at the clock. “Oops … I’ve got an appointment in the clinic for blood work.” She stood and picked up her tray. “Listen, do you think you and Chelsea and Lacey can go someplace with me this afternoon? After Chelsea gets up from her nap, I mean.”
“Just someplace special I want to show all of you. We’ll need the horses, so could the three of you meet me at the stables?”
“I don’t know what the others have planned.”
“Please, Katie, ask them. If you ask, they’ll say yes.”
“I don’t think I have that much pull—”
“Three o’clock at the stables,” Amanda insisted hurriedly. “I’ve got to go. See you there.”
Katie watched Amanda skitter away, wondering what could be so important to her. Later, she asked
Chelsea to come. She hesitated. “I’m not a good rider.”
“You did fine before. We’ll all be together. This is important to Amanda.”
Katie watched Chelsea’s internal struggle with fear play across her face before she finally overcame it and said, “All right. Since it’s for Mandy.”
When she asked Lacey, who was spending the day alone in the room reading, the pretty blond gave her a bored look. “I don’t have anything better to do. I guess I can come.”
Katie almost replied, “Don’t
do us any favors,”
but she swallowed the words. “See you at the stables,” she said, and left the room.
HERE ARE YOU
taking us?” Lacey called out. Amanda’s horse led the way on a path winding ever upward through the lush green woods.
“You’ll see!” Amanda replied over her shoulder. “It’s not much farther.”
“I hope not,” Lacey grumbled. “My fanny’s getting sore.”
Ignoring Lacey’s bad humor, Katie glanced at Chelsea. “You doing okay?”
“Fine. Actually, it’s good to be out in the fresh air.”
“Yeah—a girl can’t spend every waking minute with virtual reality,” Katie kidded.
“So, I’m slightly addicted,” Chelsea said with a laugh. “I can’t help myself. When I put on that helmet, when I become a part of another world … well, it’s so much fun. I feel like I’m on the holodeck
of the starship
. I can have fun without exerting myself. I wish I had a VR game at home.”
“I understand they’re pretty expensive.”
“But a lot less scary than thinking about getting a new heart.”
Katie sympathized with Chelsea. No matter how much fun she was having this summer, no matter how “lost” she became in a make-believe world, she still had to face the harsh realities of her medical problems. She would still have to “go on the beeper,” the process of being on twenty-four-hour call while waiting for a compatible heart to become available. “You can do it,” Katie said. “If I did, so can you.”