Authors: Sarah Wylie
Not all days are good. Some days she’s pasty and frail and small and I’m too weak to look at her, and other days, even if she’s fine, the smell of bleach and illness and family members and residents who haven’t bathed in days crowds her hospital room, pushing us into corners, often separate.
Some days, she talks about dying and I have to tell her she can’t talk like that. I can say from personal experience that it sucks.
And we have a deal that she’ll try not to. She’ll try really really really hard. And she has. But if she fails, I have to figure out some way to forgive her. And if I fail—on the days I forget how to be strong for her—she has to figure out some way to forgive me.
We play cards or watch the game show channel. We listen to music and watch bad reality TV. I sneak in popcorn and soda, but not too much, because we’re both trying to live now.
She’s doing okay. Better than most people expected, and far better than I expected. It’ll be a few weeks before she can come home.
I told her I wouldn’t let her in. Not without her skull and crossbones, her loud, angry music that makes the house tremble, and those PRECIOUS SOCCER SHINS.
* * *
It’s funny. If anyone was going to give me the silent treatment, to hold against me what I did or tried to do, I figured it would be Jena.
But my mom was the one who barely spoke or even looked at me after I got home from the hospital. She would go quiet and press her lips together until they formed a long, thin line.
Even now, she still can’t quite look at me.
I don’t think she’s ever going to forgive me.
I’m not entirely sure whether it’s for my part in what happened to Jena that night or my part in what happened to me. I’ve been too afraid to ask.
So I usually slip past her, carrying my plate upstairs to my room when Dad is working and Mom’s home from the hospital resting, and it’s just the two of us.
Tonight, though, I wake up and find a glimmer of moonlight casting shadows on my face. I went to bed early, so it’s probably before midnight.
I can’t get back to sleep and, after a few more unsuccessful attempts, I get up and go down to the living room.
I’m not expecting to find her there, wrapped in all of Jena’s blankets, a steaming mug in her hand as she stares off into space.
I’m not expecting to hear her voice, soft and inviting in contrast to the darkness in which I hide.
“You’re not sleeping,” she says.
At first, I contemplate just turning around and going back to bed, because that would be easier, and I don’t stay for hard things. Or so says my track record.
But this time, I dig my feet in and pull my voice out and answer. “You’re not, either.”
“Sometimes,” Mom says, “I have trouble sleeping.”
I want to say, but don’t.
“Usually, a cup of decaf helps. Other times, I’ll read.”
“Read,” I repeat, as if the word is foreign. Everything else came to mind: pray, write, research, have an affair, commit crimes, play online games.
“Yes.” Mom nods, a faint smile just visible with the small amount of light in here. “Dark, gory horror stories.”
“They must really improve your sleep.”
She laughs softly. “Sometimes, it’s just good to know that someone out there has it worse. And there always is that someone.”
I can’t see her very well, but nonetheless my eyes are boring into the figure in front of me, puzzled, confused.
“So why aren’t
sleeping?” Mom asks.
“I just couldn’t.” I realize now, standing here, that I was wrong. It’s not eleven o’clock at all. It has to be the wee hours of the morning.
“Have you watched the DVD yet?” She draws a sip from her cup.
I’d forgotten all about it. The DVD we got three days ago from Whitaden, holding my one and only claim to fame: my commercial. We shot it two weeks ago. Though both the leg brace and arm cast came off last month, I wasn’t exactly in peak condition and my injuries—including an unfortunate chipped front tooth—nearly cost us the job. I suspect this, too, is part of the reason Mom’s been so angry. See, it turns out Whitaden doesn’t take too kindly to its actors launching themselves off high places. But it does pay to have actor-turned-director friends.
“Nope. Not yet,” I tell her.
There’s a slight pause. “Do you want to?”
Five minutes later, we’re sitting in front of the television, waiting for the DVD to start. Maybe it’s her coffee or the fact that it’s spring. My brain is convinced it’s her nearness, her warmth, the fact that I miss my mother in more ways than I can say and I don’t want her to hate me and I don’t want to lose her, too. Not if I don’t have to.
For some reason, I blurt this out: “I’m sorry.”
For a second, I think she’ll just ignore me. But suddenly, the TV goes black and she turns to me.
Mom sighs. “I’m not angry with you, Danielle. I just don’t know how to express enough of the things I have to say to you.”
I chew my inner lip. Nibble. Nibble. Nibble.
“There aren’t guarantees on anything. I’m sure you’ve had plenty of time to think about this, but there are millions of ways to die. Millions and millions. And at any moment, anything could go wrong and it could all be over. For any of us.”
“I just didn’t want to have to watch her die anymore.”
“I know,” Mom says. “But she nearly had to watch
There’s a sniff and I realize Mom is holding back tears. “The hardest part of all of this is how helpless I feel. I want to take all your pain and bury it, keep it far away, where it can’t reach you.”
Pain-transferring voodoo, not cancer.
I slip my arm around her. “I know.”
My heart throbs and aches and, for once, it’s not for myself. It’s for all of us. It’s for everyone who knows what it’s like to be helpless, to have to watch on the sidelines, to be paralyzed, literally unable to do anything.
“She’s doing good, though,” Mom says, brightening a little. “Really good.”
“Yeah,” I agree.
“She’s not like us, you know.”
For a second, I think she means what I’ve always thought she meant—Jena wasn’t in the accident and we don’t know if she has nine lives. Most likely, she doesn’t.
That’s always what I’ve thought it meant. We have more, she has less.
Jena Baby’s not like us.
But this time, it hits me that maybe that’s not what Mom means at all.
like us. She fights and she kicks and she won’t let you get away with anything. She’s weak, but not defeated. Small, but not invisible. Sick, but not dead.
We’re not allowed to give up.
Mom dabs at her eyes. “Enough of this. Ready to watch your groundbreaking debut?”
I can’t help but roll my eyes. “I’d hardly call it that.”
She presses the remote, and it starts.
A girl whose dragon breath socially annihilates her the first day of high school. But then, enter Whitaden. And her whole world is changed. Suddenly, she has friends, a hot boyfriend, and everything she ever wanted in life.
Mom claps and grins when it’s over, looking proud and excited, her eyes twinkling and the crinkles beside her eyes seeming less alien on her face and more like they belong there—they look like footprints from a journey.
As Mom plays it “just one more time,” I stare at the screen. At the girl with the mahogany hair, the hazel eyes, the sparkling white smile, and the newly capped tooth.
I don’t know the girl in the commercial. Not the way she cocks her head to the side and grins like her world isn’t in danger of falling off its axis, of tilting from right to wrong, from up to down.
I don’t know how she gets up each day and lives it.
For now, that sorry tooth is all we have in common, but I’m getting to know her.
She seems friendly enough, like she brushes her teeth and like she also appreciates a good joke.
I’m pretty sure I’ll like her.
She looks a lot like my sister.
Thank you to my agent, the indomitable Suzie Townsend, for your unwavering belief in this book and in my writing. You are the very best. Margaret Ferguson, your insight and attention to detail are unmatched. Thanks for your hard work and for transforming
All These Lives
from a manuscript into a real, live book.
Thanks to Meredith Barnes, Sara Kendall, and Jacqueline Murphy. Thanks also to Susan Dobinick and the fabulous team at Farrar Straus Giroux.
Dr. Golsteyn and Dr. Sheila Pritchard, thank you so much for sharing your expertise with me. Any mistakes are all mine.
Many thanks to every one of my writing friends: Jeanette Schneider and Suzanne Hayze. Lisa and Laura Roecker, for braving through that early draft. Mariah Irvin, because who else would I talk misbehaving celeb assistants, good books, writing, and life with? Shannon Messenger, your enormous talent is matched only by your heart. Serenity Bohon, thank you for caring about the little and the big things, and for teaching me to do the same.
Thank you to my blog readers, for finding my corner of the Web and coming back. I like you better than a million Twizzlers.
I get to share 2012 with the über-talented Apocalypsies. The world doesn’t have my permission to end this year; I can’t wait to read all your books.
Thanks to Ms. Eck and Mrs. Matteoti, who taught me to love words. Mrs. Enslin, thank you for everything, especially the butterfly clips.
A big thank-you to all my family and friends. Bek, for realizing how long forever is. Kate, I’m blessed to know you.
Thank you to my mom and dad. I’ll probably never know how much you’ve given. I love you, always.
Thank you to my extraordinary sisters. The jury is still out on the whole multiple lives thing. But if, somehow, we got to do this whole thing again, I’d a) demand supreme cartwheeling abilities, and b) pick you and you and you. Every time. Not because we have the same (questionable) sense of humor. Not because you’re always game for a Twizzler run … or three. Not because you told me to keep going, to always keep going, and this book would still be five pages long without you. Not because—but that, too. I love you, you know. And I’m only slightly resentful that you’re all taller.
God, thank You for blessing me beyond words. Thank You for never letting go.
Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers
175 Fifth Avenue, New York 10010
Text copyright © 2012 by Sarah Wylie
All rights reserved
First hardcover edition, 2012
eBook edition, June 2012
The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
All these lives / Sarah Wylie. — 1st ed.
Summary: Convinced that she has nine lives after cheating death twice as a child, sixteen year-old Dani tries to forfeit her remaining lives in hopes of saving her twin sister, Jena, whose leukemia is consuming their family.
ISBN 978-0-374-30208-5 (hardcover)
ISBN 978-1-4299-5495-2 (e-book)
[1. Near-death experiences—Fiction. 2. Sick—Fiction. 3. Cancer—Fiction. 4. Sisters—Fiction. 5. Twins—Fiction. 6. Family life—Fiction.] I. Title.