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Authors: Lurlene McDaniel

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BOOK: No Time to Cry
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Eight

“D
O I look all right? Is my hair messed up?” Dawn asked. She sat in the waiting area of the offices of Dr. Marcus Douglas, Executive Director of the Columbus hospital where she’d spent so much of her last three years undergoing cancer treatments. Both Katie and her mother were with her.

“You look fine,” Katie assured her. “Very pretty in that shade of green.”

Dawn smoothed the skirt of her best dress. “Couldn’t you find out what this is all about?”

Katie shook her head. “Every floor of the hospital is buzzing with some kind of theory, but no one knows anything definite.”

“I’m sure it’s something exciting,” her mother added. Dawn couldn’t imagine why she’d been summoned, and no amount of thinking or talking about it had turned up any possibilities. What could the hospital possibly want with her?

Just then the outer office door opened. A cameraman from a local TV news station stepped inside. Another man and two women, apparently reporters, followed. Dr. Douglas’s secretary stepped forward, offering the guests a broad smile. “Welcome. I’ll tell Dr. Douglas that all of you have arrived.”

Moments later, the inner office door swung open and several distinguished-looking men and women emerged. A round of introductions was made. The mayor was there, as well as several other politicians and hospital department heads. A man with a thick silver hair stepped up to her and held out his hand. “Hello, Dawn. Remember me? Franklin Chase. We met at Mrs. Hodges’s funeral service. I’m her attorney, and I’m handling her estate.”

Dawn smiled and shook his hand. Dr. Douglas ushered the entire troop into his spacious office. Sunlight flooded the room through banks of windows along one side. At one end of the room, a table held a scaled-down model of the hospital. “This way,” Dr. Douglas said, and he led the way to the model.

Dawn crowded around the table with the rest of the guests and studied the model, fascinated. It reminded her of an elaborate dollhouse, complete with miniature shrubs, lampposts, and parking lots. Then, off to one side of the model, she saw a sleek, modern-looking addition.

Dr. Douglas said, “It gives me great pleasure to announce that, thanks to the generosity of our benefactor, we will build the Marlee Hodges Cancer Treatment Center.”

When the applause died down, Dawn could hear the shifting of the camera crew as they filmed. Tears filled her eyes as emotion swept through her. So that was what Mrs. Hodges had decided to do with her money—to fund a much-needed treatment center in honor of her granddaughter. She had wanted so badly for Marlee to be cured, and although Marlee couldn’t be cured, she had dedicated her wealth to a center for other cancer patients in the hope that they could.

Dawn felt her mother’s hand slip into hers and squeeze.

“That’s right,” Mr. Chase, the attorney, added. “It was Amanda’s wish that a special unit be built and dedicated to Marlee—a unit to treat even more kids with cancer.”

“We definitely need the space,” Dr. Douglas said. “This addition will give us one hundred more beds and several outpatient areas, as well as the newest, most technologically advanced equipment available to treat all forms of cancer in children.”

“When will it be opened?” one of the reporters asked.

“We’ll break ground on Easter weekend. The facility should take about eighteen months to complete.”

Dawn hardly heard other questions. She kept gazing down at the scale model, thinking about Marlee. Marlee was such a puzzle. She had wanted so much to be part of the gang, yet she was so aloof—sometimes downright mean. She would probably have had something smart aleck to say about the whole project. But Dawn knew that Marlee would have been very pleased; the smart remarks would have been her way of covering her pleasure.

“. . . Dawn Rochelle.” At the sound of her name, Dawn started. Mr. Chase was smiling, and everyone was looking at her, including the man with the TV camera. “Dawn, I know you must be very curious as to why you were invited today.”

“Yes, sir,” she said, feeling her heartbeat accelerate.

“It was Amanda Hodges’s wish that you say a few words at the groundbreaking ceremony.”

Dawn swallowed hard. Her? Say something with a bunch of important people watching? She was thinking of a way to get out of it, when Mr. Chase added, “More than that, she also wanted you to help gather artifacts that will be placed in a special box. This box will be sealed and buried beside the building’s cornerstone and will act as a kind of time capsule. It won’t be opened for one hundred years.”

An excited buzz went through the room.
A hundred years!
“But—but what will I put in it?”

“That will be left entirely to your discretion. Mrs. Hodges felt that when it is opened, people from the twenty-second century should have a glimpse of what was important to young cancer victims of today. She wanted you to be in charge of the project, Dawn, because of your kindness to Marlee and because of your own fight against leukemia.”

Dawn was speechless. She didn’t know what to think. For one thing, she certainly didn’t feel qualified for such an important task—she didn’t want to be responsible for selecting the items to be sealed inside some time capsule. And for another, she wanted to forget about her cancer, not be reminded of it. Frantically, she searched for a way to beg off. Then she saw her mother’s face, glowing with pride. And Katie’s, beaming with pleasure.

Dawn’s objections died on her lips. Against her will, she heard herself say, “I’ll do it.” A flash went off in her face, and several of the dignitaries stepped closer to her. Her head was swimming, her stomach tied in knots, but she managed a smile for the hard, round eye of the TV camera.

Later, when the interviews were over and the pictures had all been taken, Dawn, her mother, and Katie retreated to the hospital coffee shop. “Oh, Dawn, I’m so proud of you!” her mother gushed.

“What will I say? What will I put in the time capsule?”

“You’ve got five months to think about it,” Katie replied. “I’m sure you’ll come up with something that’s absolutely perfect.”

Five months didn’t seem long enough. Five
years
hardly seemed time enough.

“Mrs. Hodges wouldn’t have selected you if she hadn’t been confident of your ability,” Dawn’s mother said, scooting away from the table to get another cup of coffee.

Once she had walked to the coffee machine, Katie gazed at Dawn with a thoughtful expression. “What is it?” Dawn asked.

“I was just wondering if you ever gave any more thought to coming to the survivor support group I told you about.”

Immediately, the sprawling tree with painted leaves along the corridor wall sprang to Dawn’s mind. She glanced down at the half-empty cup of hot chocolate. “I’ve been busy.”

“Perhaps meeting with some of these people, others like you, could give you some ideas for your project. I know for a fact that they’re meeting three weeks from today—”

“Oh, I can’t. That’s the night of the big Christmas dance.”

Katie looked disappointed, but brightened and asked, “Are you going with anyone special?”

“No. Rhonda and I volunteered to help the photographer. We have a sled all decorated with bells and artificial snow. We think it’ll make a good backdrop for memory photos.” She didn’t add that Jake would have been the only boy she’d have wanted to go with, and he was taking Sharon.

“There’s another meeting after New Year’s,” Katie suggested. “How about coming in January?”

“Maybe,” Dawn said evasively. “I’ll see. I mean, who knows what the New Year will bring?” But privately she knew why she wasn’t giving a straight answer about attending the meetings. It was more than putting the past behind her. It was more than not wanting to hash over her past experiences with cancer, to dredge up old memories and mourn the loss of old friends. Deep down, inside the deepest part of her heart, in spite of all the encouraging lab reports from her doctors, she wasn’t a hundred percent sure she could call herself a survivor and a winner. With the ongoing tests and medications and the possibility of a relapse, she simply wasn’t
sure
.

Nine

“D
OESN’T everything look wonderful?” Dawn asked Rhonda as they stood together in the gym.

“It’s hard to believe we were still running around hanging snowflakes and icicles at four this afternoon,” Rhonda said with a chuckle. “Looking at you now, one would never know.”

Surprised, Dawn looked down at herself. The dress she wore belonged to Katie. It was an incandescent green color that shimmered in the dim light. She’d worn her hair long, clipped back on one side with a green bow. With Rhonda standing next to her in a brilliant red dress, Dawn thought they complemented each other quite well.

The gym looked like a winter wonderland. At the main entrance, twin igloos stood on either side of the doorway. Tables draped in white paper and adorned with centerpieces of Styrofoam snowmen ringed the dance floor. The refreshment table was heaped with frosted Christmas cookies, chocolate brownies, bowls of red punch, and a large frosted gingerbread house. Lights had been lowered and colored candles glimmered from every table. A mirrored ball spun overhead, reflecting light on the dancers below.

“I wish I were with someone special,” Rhonda said with a sigh.

“There’s always next year,” Dawn told her, determined not to let Rhonda start feeling sorry for herself because she didn’t have a boyfriend. “Come on. The photographer’s setting up his gear.”

They wove their way around the tables where groups of kids sat, all decked out in satin, lace, and suits. Dawn forced herself to not look for Jake and Sharon. She didn’t want to start feeling sorry for
herself
either.

The photographer gave them each a task. It was Dawn’s responsibility to make certain that names and addresses were correct on cards of couples wanting photos of themselves and that each card was filed to coincide with the correct frame of exposed film.

The sleigh looked picture-perfect with its leather bench seat and dark wood sides. The runners were decorated with tiny twinkling lights. It looked so inviting that couples began to line up early for photographs. Dawn went to work and in no time was completely involved in her job.

She began to notice that many kids spoke to her by name, which surprised her. If she hadn’t been so busy, she might have tried to figure it out, but the line for photos kept growing longer, and she found herself taking information as fast as she could write.

“Macka,” a boy’s voice said from above her shoulder. “Jake Macka. Hi, Dawn.”

Dawn almost dropped the pencil. Jake wore a charcoal-gray suit and white shirt set off by a red silk tie. He was smiling, but Dawn couldn’t shake the image of the hurt expression she’d seen on his face at the cemetery.

“And Sharon Lewis,” Sharon cooed from beside him. Sharon was dressed in pure white. Her hair sparkled with gold glitter but was stiff with hairspray. Her smile seemed forced and a little too perfect.

“Proofs will be mailed in two weeks,” Dawn said as she wrote their names on the cards. She handed them each a form to give to the photographer and tried to look the other way when they stood together in front of the sleigh, arms around one another for the camera.

Once the photo was taken, Jake and Sharon stepped out of the bright lights. Dawn resolved to ignore them and the crazy way her heart was thudding. From the corner of her eye, she saw Rhonda approaching, carrying two cups of punch. Somehow, when Rhonda was directly in front of Sharon, she tripped and spilled bright red liquid all over the bottom of Sharon’s dress.

“You idiot!” Sharon cried. “Look at what you did!”

Rhonda gasped, set the cups down on the registration table, and exclaimed, “Oh, goodness! Klutzy me. I’m so sorry.” She hastily tried to wipe off the dress with a blank registration card.

“Get away from me,” Sharon demanded, shaking the soggy, stained hem of her dress while glaring at Rhonda.

“You should wash it off right away,” a helpful bystander offered.

Sharon’s face was the color of the punch as she told Jake, “I’m going to try to undo some of this damage. Wait for me at our table.”

Dawn thought she sounded awfully bossy. “I’ll hang around,” Jake mumbled, and Dawn could have sworn he was attempting not to laugh out loud over the incident.

Rhonda fanned herself with the crumpled card as they all watched Sharon stalk off in a huff. “It was an accident,” Rhonda said, her eyes wide with innocence. “She didn’t have to bite my head off.”

Dawn knew she saw mischief in Rhonda’s eyes and vowed to ask her later whether it was really an accident. Rhonda hauled Dawn out of the chair. “Take a break,” she said. “Let me do this for a while.” She held up the empty cup. “Maybe you’d better get us another drink. I’m positively parched.”

Jake took Dawn’s arm. “Come on. I’ll walk you over to the refreshment table.” They were skirting the edge of the dance floor when Jake stopped and said, “Let’s dance.”

“But I should get back.”

“Rhonda’s handling things. You can take time for one dance.” He put his arms around her. “You look lovely tonight,” he said. “And your hair looks so soft.”

Dawn was glad she hadn’t weighted it down with hair spray, so it still looked and felt soft and natural. “I’m really sorry about Sharon’s dress,” she said.

“I’m really sorry about Sharon.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look, Dawn—I didn’t
want
to come with her. I sort of . . .” Jake studied his toes. “Well, I sort of got tricked into it. I’m sorry.”

Dawn took a deep breath and added, “And I’m really sorry about that afternoon at the cemetery, too.”

“Ancient history,” he said. “I forgot all about it.”

He might have forgotten, but she hadn’t. “I felt bad about the way I acted. I should have said something before now, but . . .” She let the sentence trail off, embarrassed and tongue-tied.

“I know about your friendship with Marlee.”

“You do? How?”

“Rhonda.” He gestured toward the photo table. “I cornered her and talked her into telling me.”

“She never said a word to me.” Dawn was shocked and a little angry, too. She knew what a gossip Rhonda could be. She hated knowing that Rhonda and Jake had discussed her and her private feelings.

“Please don’t be mad at Rhonda,” Jake said, as if sensing how she felt. “I would have rather have heard the story from you, but you were so upset at the funeral, I wasn’t sure how to bring it up again.”

Dawn’s anger passed, but she wasn’t sure what to say next. Jake must have sensed how she was feeling. He held her a little closer and said, “That was a pretty cool article about you in the newspaper. My mom said you were on TV, too, but I didn’t see it.”

“Well, it wasn’t really about me. It was about the new cancer wing of the hospital.”

“All I know is that Mom showed me the paper, and there you were on the front page. Everyone in school saw it, too.”

That explains why all these people act like they know me
, Dawn told herself. “Well I’d rather be in the paper because I did something great,” Dawn told him. “Like kicking the field goal that put Hardy into the state playoffs.”

“And missing the one that knocked us out of the championship,” Jake added ruefully. “So what are you going to say at the ground-breaking ceremony?”

“I only wish I knew.” Dawn noticed that the music had ended, but Jake was still holding her close. “I guess it’ll be like a term paper—I’ll figure it out the night before it’s due.”

He laughed, making her feel clever. “You have a busy Christmas break planned?” he asked.

She couldn’t tell him about Brent coming and didn’t want to mention her upcoming appointment for a daylong visit to the clinic. “My brother’s graduating early from Michigan State, and my family’s going up for the ceremony. How about you?”

“My family’s going out to visit my grandparents. We’ll be gone until New Year’s Day.”

She felt the keen edge of disappointment and told herself she was being silly. She couldn’t wait to see Brent, couldn’t wait to talk to him, spend time with him. So why did her emotions get so confused whenever she was with Jake? “I’d better get that punch before Rhonda sends out a search party,” she said.

Jake walked her to the refreshment table, picked up a full cup, then walked her back to the table where Rhonda was happily writing names and flirting with every cute guy. “It’s about time,” said Rhonda. “I thought the two of you had been kidnapped.” She gave Dawn a sly wink.

“We wanted to make sure we didn’t trip and spill any on the way.” Dawn turned to face Jake. “So, I guess I’ll see you in January.”

“I guess so.” Jake caught her hand. “Have a great Christmas, Dawn.”

“You, too, Jake.” Dawn watched him walk away, feeling a letdown she couldn’t explain.

BOOK: No Time to Cry
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