Authors: Lurlene McDaniel
Dawn staggered to the bathroom, convinced that a warm shower would make her feel better. But when she shed her nightgown and looked into the mirror, her heart wedged in her throat. A fine red rash covered her arms and torso. She started shaking so violently that she had to grab hold of the sink for support.
Dawn knew what the rash meant. She’d read too many pamphlets and booklets following her transplant. A rash was often the very first sign of bone marrow rejection.
Text copyright © 1993 by Lurlene McDaniel
All rights reserved. International copyright secured. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means— electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., except for the inclusion of brief quotations in an acknowledged review.
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Cover photo and design by Michael Petty/Petty Productions.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data available.
Manufactured in the United States of America
eISBN: 978-0-7613-6809-0 (pdf)
eISBN: 978-1-4677-2794-5 (ePub)
eISBN: 978-1-4677-2793-8 (mobi)
EY, Dawn . . . Dawn Rochelle! Wait up.”
At the sound of her name being called in the jammed hallway, Dawn stopped suddenly and was almost mowed over by a group of kids hurrying to classes. She flattened herself against the bank of lockers and waited for her friend Rhonda to struggle through the crowd.
“Is this a mob scene or what?” Rhonda half-shouted above the noise.
“I never expected the first day of high school to be so crazy,” Dawn admitted. “I think everybody’s lost—even the seniors.” Since she and Rhonda were only sophomores, they had expected to be hunting for every room on their assignment cards. But Hardy High was brand new, and no one had attended classes there yet. Everyone seemed to be bewildered by the maze of halls and doors that all looked alike.
“According to the info packet, green room numbers mean science; red, math; brown, language; blue, the arts—”
“Enough already!” Dawn interrupted her friend. “Let’s see if we have any classes together before the first bell rings.”
They compared their schedules. Dawn was disappointed that the only class she and Rhonda shared was a final period driver’s education class. They wouldn’t even be in the lunchroom at the same time. “I hate to admit it,” Rhonda said, “but I miss our dinky old junior high school.”
“Me, too. At least we knew our way around.”
“And we knew everybody, and everybody knew us.”
Dawn glanced around at the kids bustling through the hallway and realized that, except for Rhonda, she didn’t know a soul. In June, she’d been looking forward to attending a school where she could be anonymous, where most of the kids wouldn’t know what the previous three years of her life had been like. She was tired of kids whispering behind her back and pointing to “that girl who has cancer.”
Now, after the long summer she’d been through—her experience at cancer camp as a counselor, her months of being a friend to Marlee, one of girls in her cabin, of visits to see Marlee in the hospital and watching the young girl die—now she longed to put the past behind her and be a normal girl with a normal life. That is, if there were such a thing for a victim of leukemia.
“I’m glad we’re taking driver’s ed together,” Rhonda said.
“I’m just glad your parents are letting you get your permit at all,” Dawn answered. Rhonda could have gotten her permit last year when she was a freshman, but her parents made her wait until she brought her grades up.
The blast of an electronic bell warned that classes would soon begin. Dawn quickly glanced at her card. “I’ve got English upstairs. Do you suppose that’s a brown room number?”
“Beats me. I’m trapped in biology. Definitely green.”
Both girls laughed. “See you last period,” Dawn called as Rhonda scampered off.
Dawn made her way to the stairwell. She clutched her new notebook to her chest and tried to stay out of everyone’s way. A group of boys wearing letter jackets—football players, she guessed—sauntered past her. One of them gave her the once-over, and her cheeks flushed bright red. His interest made her feel good in one way, but in another way, she wondered what his reaction might be if he knew she’d had cancer.
She thought of her brother, Rob. He’d played football once, but a knee injury in his sophomore year had ended his career. Now he was at Michigan State finishing his senior year. He was graduating early, in December, and Dawn was sure he’d be coming home. After all, Katie was still here, and anyone could tell that Rob was head-over-heels in love with nurse Kate O’Ryan.
“Watch where you’re going!”
The sharp words drew Dawn up short. “Sorry,” she mumbled, steering clear of a girl who was busy arranging information on a bulletin board.
“Probably sophomore sludge,” Dawn heard the girl mutter under her breath.
Dawn tossed her head of thick auburn hair, attempting to shake off the girl’s hurtful words.
Well, I wanted to start fresh
, she told herself.
Guess I’ll have to put up with an insult or two
By the time she hooked up with Rhonda in the driver’s ed room that afternoon, Dawn was relieved to see a familiar face. So far that day, she’d gotten lost twice, and it was hard not to feel overwhelmed by all the new faces. Although she’d seen a couple other former classmates, always at a distance, she realized that the juggling of the school district lines had truly put her and Rhonda in another world, but in a way she was relieved. Now she couldn’t have a bunch of people asking her about her health all of the time.
“I’ve got the cutest guy in my French class,” Rhonda blurted the moment Dawn slid into the desk next to her. “How about you? Any hunks?”
“I didn’t notice,” Dawn confessed.
“You didn’t notice? Why not? Isn’t that what high school’s all about?”
“Silly me. I thought it was to take classes, get good grades, and prepare for college.”
Rhonda rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Maybe I’d feel that way too if I had a gorgeous guy like Brent Chandler waiting in the wings, but I don’t.”
“Don’t start on that. I told you he and I were only friends.” Brent had called her from West Virginia the week before to say that he was on his way to West Virginia Tech for freshman orientation. “You will write to me, won’t you?” he’d asked.
“You bet,” she had assured him. Brent was handsome and nice, and they’d had a wonderful time together at camp. But she wasn’t kidding herself. She figured that a high school sophomore couldn’t possibly hold much interest for him once he was settled on campus. Dawn knew that it was their shared memories of his sister Sandy that had brought them together in the first place. But, like Marlee, Sandy was dead. Sandy, her best friend ever. And Dawn was left to carry on with everyday life.
“Well, then, if you and Brent are only friends, all the more reason to check out the guys here at Hardy,” Rhonda insisted. “The first football game is Friday night, and there’s a dance afterward in the gym. I think you and I should go.”
“Are you asking me for a date?”
Rhonda gave Dawn a murderous look. “Very funny. I’m just saying it would be fun to go and hang around and check out the prospects. What do you say?”
“Can we talk about this later?”
A teacher entered the room and wrote “Mr. DeMarco” on the board, then explained, “We’ve got eight weeks of classroom work, then we’ll put it in practice in the driving area next to the school track. Each of you will drive solo with me, and if you pass all parts of the class, you can take your driving test when your birthday comes up.”
“Freedom,” she heard Rhonda sigh.
. Dawn wondered what it was like. Ever since she was thirteen, her life had revolved around leukemia. Hospitals, chemo treatments, remission, check-ups, relapse, a bone marrow transplant, more check-ups. She felt as if she’d spent forever fighting the monster that had invaded her body two and a half years before. But the battle scars were mostly on the inside. Surely, nothing showed on the outside now that she was going on sixteen and in total remission.
Her gaze darted around the room. Could any of the kids sitting in the class really tell what she’d been through by simply looking at her? And how would they treat her if they knew? She felt as if she’d been forced to grow up far too fast. She’d hardly had a chance to be a kid. Dawn promised herself right then that all that was truly behind her. She wanted her life back. And she didn’t want to share it with anything having to do with cancer.
OW was your first day?” Dawn’s mother asked the moment she arrived home from school.
“It was fine, Mom.” Dawn tossed her books on the kitchen counter and poked through the contents of the refrigerator.
“Don’t spoil your supper.”
“I won’t.” She took out an apple and bit into it, savoring the juicy sweetness. There had been times when she was so sick from chemo that she couldn’t keep anything down, and other times, when she’d been taking cortisone drugs, that she couldn’t get enough to eat.
“Tell me about it,” her mom coached.
“I got lost a lot. Rhonda and I have driver’s ed together. There’s a football game Friday night.”
“That’s it, huh?”
Dawn wished her parents didn’t expect her to spill her guts over every detail of her life. Didn’t they realize that she liked her privacy? Instantly, she felt ashamed. She still had to take certain chemo medications and immune-suppressant drugs to keep her body from rejecting Rob’s bone marrow. Her parents had stood by her through the worst of her ordeal. She knew she never would have made it without their support.
She smiled contritely. “Hardy’s awfully big, and I felt like a lost sheep most of the day. Except for Rhonda, I don’t have any friends. The juniors and seniors all seem to have their own groups, and new kids aren’t exactly invited in.”
“I’m sure they’ll warm up to you as time goes by. Are there any after-school activities that might appeal to you? Cheerleading?”
Dawn had been a cheerleader in seventh and eighth grade, but hadn’t been able to keep up with the practices when she was in and out of the hospital. “Cheerleading’s different in high school,” she said. “You have to try out in the spring.”
“Maybe next year,” said her mother. “Anything else?”
Dawn toyed with the stem of her apple. “I’m not sure what I want to do.”
“You’re taking college prep courses. Maybe there’s something fun for college-bound students.”
“I have no idea what I want to study in college. My future’s one big mystery.”
“Something will come along that you’ll like,” her mother said cheerfully. She picked up a potato from beside the sink and started peeling it as she talked. “By the way, Katie called to remind you of your clinic appointment tomorrow at four.”
Dawn felt the familiar twinge of apprehension. She’d been going for blood work regularly since her bone marrow transplant. And even though she had received a good report each time, she always felt a shiver of fear before every test. What if her white blood cell count was elevated? What if Rob’s bone marrow stopped working and her leukemia had returned? What if she had a severe episode of rejection?
“Did you hear me?” her mother asked.
“Of course, I heard you.” Dawn said peevishly.
“I’ll pick you up from school at three-thirty and take you.”
“I can grab a bus.”
“Oh, honey, that’s silly. I’ll come and get you.”
Stop treating me like a baby!
Dawn had to bite her tongue to keep from saying it aloud.
“Katie wants to show you something,” her mother said, smoothing over the awkward moment. “She said she’ll bring you home.”
“What’s she want to show me?”
“She didn’t say, but she was eager for you to see it. I invited her to stay for dinner tomorrow night.” Dawn’s mother sighed. “I know she misses Rob as much as he misses her. Maybe seeing us will help. I was a little worried that he might not want to finish up at Michigan State because it would mean they’d be apart for four months.”
Dawn dropped her apple core into the trash. “Not too far apart,” she said. “Rob told me he’d be home once a month no matter what.”
“Love,” her mother mused with a smile. “Isn’t it wonderful? I can’t believe that this is the same boy who washed his face because some girl kissed him at a birthday party. Of course, he was nine then.”
Dawn suddenly remembered how badly Marlee had wanted to be kissed just once before she died. “
For real. Not like in my dream
,” she’d told Dawn. It seemed like such a small wish. Now it would never come true.
She wondered how Marlee’s grandmother was doing without her granddaughter around. Mrs. Hodges had raised Marlee and then lost her to cancer. Her own health was poor, and Marlee’s hospitalization had been difficult on her.
Dawn told herself she should call the elderly woman and say hello. She’d looked so lost and alone after Marlee’s funeral. But although Dawn went up to her room and even picked up the phone receiver, she didn’t call. This was her first day of school and the start of a brand new year. All she wanted to do was leave the past behind and look to the future.
* * * * *
The next morning, Rhonda called in a panic. “Can you believe it? I overslept. Anyway, you’ll have to walk to the bus stop without me. Mom will run me to school.”
“See you in driver’s ed,” Dawn replied, feeling slightly dismayed as she hung up the phone. She didn’t have anybody to sit with on the bus and wasn’t looking forward to boarding it alone.
! she told her self. After all, she’d never been one to travel in groups. It was another habit she’d missed out on because she’d been busy having cancer instead of collecting groups of friends. Being sick meant spending a lot of time by herself.
When she was thirteen and diagnosed with leukemia, she’d felt like a freak. She’d looked like a freak, too, after all her hair fell out and sores had broken out on her skin. She’d worn scarves and wigs to hide her baldness. In school, there had been plenty of kids who treated her as if she were contagious and stayed far away from her, but she’d had some good, loyal friends through it all. Rhonda had been one. Rhonda wasn’t a friend like Sandy, of course. Only someone who’d been through hospitalization and chemo could truly understand what life with cancer was like.
Sandy had been through it all, Dawn reflected. She’d been there when Dawn first found out about her own cancer— barely thirteen and suddenly thrust into a world of pain and fear and confusion. Sandy had only been in the hospital two weeks herself, but she was a pillar of strength and reassurance for Dawn. Always optimistic, always encouraging. They’d learned about leukemia together—about staying positive and battling the cancer cells through imaging. They’d been through chemo together; their hair had even fallen out at the same time!
Dawn sighed wistfully. She would always miss Sandy. It seemed so unfair that their time together had been so short.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the phone ringing again. She stared blankly at it for a moment before reaching over to answer it.
“Me again!” Rhonda’s cheerful voice snapped her back to the present. “Forgot to ask you—did you ask if you could go to the game and the dance Friday night?”
“Yep. I can go.”
“Good. We’ll have to figure out what to wear to impress the guys.”
“Don’t you ever give up about boys?”
“No way. This is my year. I can feel it.”
Dawn was still smiling to herself over Rhonda’s optimism while she walked to the bus stop. Overhead, the trees were still green, but Dawn could already feel the autumn in the air. In another few weeks, the weather would turn nippy, and the leaves would begin to change color.
She hadn’t gone far down the block when she began to notice a car following her.
It’s your imagination
, she told herself. But it soon became obvious that it wasn’t. The car was some weird shade of bronze. It was old, and its muffler was loud. Her heart began to beat faster.
The car pulled alongside her, and for an instant she considered bolting and running. The driver, a teenage boy, leaned across the passenger seat and slightly out the window. “Dawn?” he asked. “Dawn Rochelle? Is that you?”
Dawn stopped cold in her tracks and peered at him suspiciously. He looked familiar, but she couldn’t see his face very well. How did he know her name? Taking a step closer, she could see that he had black hair and deep brown eyes—the color of rich chocolate. Suddenly she realized why he looked familiar.
?” she whispered.
His face broke out into a dazzling smile. “Yup, it’s me—Jake Macka. Don’t you recognize me?”