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Authors: Lurlene McDaniel

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BOOK: No Time to Cry
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Ten

R
OB Rochelle graduated from Michigan State University on the third Saturday in December during a ceremony held on the campus. Dawn sat with her parents and Katie in the stands, watching with awe and a sense of pride. The University Chancellor, dressed in the distinctive dark robe and colored hood that designated his academic position, led the dignified procession of professors, graduates, and baccalaureate students. Stately music played over the sound system while Dawn’s gaze followed the long line of black graduation caps down the aisles to the front of the auditorium.

Because Rob had told them his approximate location, Dawn was able to pick him out of the steady stream of bobbing flat, black hats and dangling green-and-white tassels. A lump rose to her throat as she watched him.
Rob, my big brother
. Without him and his gift of bone marrow, she would certainly be dead.

Hi, Squirt
. His pet name rang in her ears. His was the first face she remembered seeing when the doctors had resuscitated her. He had looked ghastly pale and terrified. She would remember the look always, because she’d never seen him look that scared before. She hoped she never had to see such an expression on his face again.

Her mother reached over and squeezed Dawn’s hand as Rob’s name was called. Dawn held her breath as he crossed the stage, took the offered diploma, shook the chancellor’s hand, and walked back to his seat. From the corner of her eye, she saw her mother dabbing her eyes with a tissue and her father smiling broadly.

She knew that she had a long way to go before she would get a college diploma.
Besides, you don’t even know what you want to study,
she reminded herself. A shadow of doubt flickered across her mind.
Will I even be alive?
Would Rob’s bone marrow continue to function? Was her battle with cancer truly over? Dawn refused to speculate. Anything could happen in the next few years.

“Wasn’t it fabulous?” Katie asked when the ceremony was complete. They were waiting in the crowded lobby for Rob to find them.

“I can’t believe my baby boy’s all grown up,” Dawn’s mother said with a sigh.

“Mom, he’s hardly a baby.”

“You’ll both always be my babies,” she insisted.

Dawn watched the crowds surging around them. Suddenly, she caught sight of a small blond woman posing for photographs nearby. She jabbed Katie in the ribs. “That’s her! There’s Darcy Collin, the girl Rob used to be engaged to.”

Katie’s eyes narrowed as she studied Darcy. “She sure is pretty,” Katie said. “No wonder Rob fell in love with her.”

“Looks aren’t everything,” Dawn reminded her, wanting to find a way to make her feel better. “She’s not half as nice as you are.”

“I remember when Rob and Darcy broke their engagement. You were in isolation, fighting for your life when it happened. He was awfully depressed.”

“He told me how you talked to him. And you’ve helped him get over her totally,” Dawn replied with a confident smile. “You have nothing to worry about.”

“I really care for Rob.” Katie cast a long glance toward Darcy who was talking excitedly with several people. “But when I see how pretty she is . . .”

Dawn immediately thought about Sharon. “Why do we always feel inferior whenever a prettier girl comes around a guy we like?”

Katie arched her brow. “Is there somebody in your life you’ve never mentioned to me?”

“Not exactly. I mean there’s a guy at school who makes me crazy sometimes. But then Brent’s coming next week, and I know I like him. And—and—” she threw up her hands in frustration. “I don’t know what to think. How can I like two guys at the same time?”

“It isn’t hard,” Katie said with a laugh. “You’re lucky you have choices. Tell me about the boy at school.”

Dawn wished she’d never brought it up. The crowds around them were beginning to thin out, and she didn’t want her parents overhearing her. She saw that they were in a conversation with several other parents. Hesitantly, she said, “His name’s Jake, and I’ve known him since fifth grade. I had a crush on him. You know—elementary school stuff. But I’ve been through so much these past few years, he could never understand. Brent does, though, because he went through it with Sandy, and he was a counselor at camp. I like the comfortable way he makes me feel.”

“Have you ever given Jake a chance to understand?”

“I don’t know how to talk to him about it. It’s like I have two separate lives. One of me has been through all this stuff with cancer. The other me is just a regular person who’s almost sixteen and trying to get on with her life. It’s hard being in two worlds at once. I . . . I’m not sure I want to involve Jake in the cancer world.”

“Maybe that’s a choice he should make.”

Dawn was uncomfortable with the discussion. It was difficult to put her doubts and feelings into words. “It probably won’t matter anyway. I think he might like somebody else.”

Katie gave Dawn a compassionate look. “You know, before I met Rob, I was dating a guy pretty seriously.”

“You were?”

“Tony and I were a steady item. I even thought about marrying him.”

“Do you still like him?”

“I’ll always
like
him.” She put her hand on Dawn’s arm. “He’s a wonderful friend. But I don’t love him.”

Rob had thought he was in love with Darcy, but their love hadn’t worked out. Dawn found it all very confusing. “How do you know whether you’re in love with somebody or not?”

“It sounds corny, but you just
know
.” Katie offered a smile. “Love isn’t
only
body chemistry, you know. It’s a lot of other things.”

“So what should I look for?”

“I’m hardly an expert,” Katie said with a laugh. “But I do know that love is patient and trusting. It doesn’t hold a grudge when somebody hurts you, and most of all, it endures. The Bible says that love is greater than even faith and hope. That sounds pretty big to me.”

“I wonder if I’ll ever find it. And if I do, I wonder if I’ll recognize it.”

“You have plenty of other things to do first,” Katie said. “You have school to finish and a career to plan. I think you even have to get your driver’s license first.”

Dawn burst out laughing. “I guess you’re right. I don’t have to settle on anyone right now.” She glanced toward Darcy, who was walking off with a good-looking, dark-haired man. “And you don’t have a thing to worry about. You’re the one Rob thinks about, talks about, probably dreams about.”

“I’d better be,” Katie said with a grin. “I know he’s the one I think about.”

* * * * *

Dawn fidgeted with the curtain at the living room window and peered out into the cold darkness. She’d been anticipating Brent’s arrival all day. He’d called around suppertime to say he was about an hour away. She glanced at the mantel clock and wondered why time seemed to be moving so slowly.

Behind her, the Christmas tree twinkled and glittered with decorations. A few packages lay underneath, including the one with the thick, cable-knit sweater she’d bought for Brent. The scent of bayberry and evergreen hung in the room, and Christmas music played softly from the CD player.

She was more nervous than she’d ever imagined she’d be. She hadn’t seen Brent since June when camp ended. They had stood together on a cabin porch, watching the rain pouring down, and he’d taken her in his arms and kissed her. She could still recall the soft feel of his lips on hers.

A bright beam of headlights swept across Dawn’s face, startling her. Out the window, she saw a car in her driveway. Her heart thudded in renewed anticipation—Brent Chandler had arrived.

Eleven

D
AWN waited for Brent to ring the doorbell. She didn’t want to seem too anxious, after all. When she opened the door, the icy December air rushed inside, but she hardly felt it. Brent was dressed in jeans and a leather jacket. His blond hair spilled low on his forehead and his slow, easy grin warmed her. For a moment they stood looking at one another.

“Don’t I even get a hug?” Brent drawled.

She threw herself into his arms. “I’m so glad you’re here!” She pulled him into the coziness of the living room. “Are you all right? Did you have a good trip? Do you want a soda?”

“Whoa,” he said with a laugh. “One thing at a time. “Yes, yes, and not right now.” He held her at arm’s length. “You sure look pretty, Dawn.”

In spite of herself, she blushed. It was as if no time had passed since they’d last seen one another. At that moment, her parents, who’d stayed out of the way in the kitchen, came into the room. Dawn made a round of introductions.

“We’ve heard a lot about you,” her father said, making Dawn feel self-conscious. She didn’t want Brent thinking that all she’d done was babble about him.

“We’re glad to have you stay for a few days,” her mother added. “Your sister meant a great deal to Dawn, and we will always cherish her memory.”

“Thank you,” Brent murmured.

Dawn wished that they hadn’t mentioned Sandy, especially when she saw a look of sadness cross Brent’s face. “Let me show you where you’ll be staying,” Dawn said hastily.

“Can I help you bring your things in?” her dad asked.

“I’ll get them. There’s not much—a duffle bag and a big, wrapped box.” Brent winked at Dawn. “The box is for under your tree.”

Eventually, she was able to lead the way down to the basement to the rec room. Just off the rec room, her dad had transformed an area into a guest bedroom and bath. She pointed to a plate of cookies on a small table next to the bed. “I baked these myself, in case you get hungry in the middle of the night.”

He sampled one of them. “They’re delicious.”

“How’s college?” she asked.

“If it weren’t for having to go to classes and studying, I’d like it just fine.”

She laughed. “Isn’t that what college is all about?” She remembered what he’d told her last summer. “Are you still planning on being a doctor?”

Brent gave a little shrug. “Pre-med looks like it’s going to be a lot tougher than I thought. I’m not sure I’m cut out for it.”

For some reason, Dawn felt disappointed. She had wanted him to be a doctor and to treat kids with cancer. “What else, then?”

“It’s too soon to tell. There are so many courses freshmen have to take that it’s hard to think about a major this early on.” He gazed down at her. “How’s high school?”

“Not all it’s cracked up to be. Hardy’s so big, a person gets lost.”

“No excitement at all?”

She puckered her brow. “One thing.” She told him about the new cancer wing dedication and her role in it.

“I’m impressed.”

“Don’t be. I’ll probably embarrass myself by going blank when I have to stand up there and give my speech. Not to mention coming up with something important for the time capsule.”

He took a bite out of another cookie. “So what’s the game plan for my three-day visit? You going to show me around Columbus?”

“I’ve got lots of places to take you. Don’t worry, you won’t get bored.”

“I never figured I would be.” His blue eyes glowed, and he reached out and ran his thumb along her cheek. A shiver of delight shot up her spine. “Not for a single minute.”

* * * * *

The next day Brent drove around Columbus with Dawn pointing out special sights. In the late afternoon, they stopped by the largest mall, crammed with Christmas shoppers hurrying from store to store. A gigantic tree stood near the entrance of the food court. They stood and watched a tiny train run along its track around the tree.

They skirted a long line of small kids waiting to sit on Santa’s lap and miraculously found an empty table. “You hold our place, and I’ll get us some drinks,” Brent told Dawn.

She was watching clusters of people scurry past when, to her surprise, Rhonda called to her. “Help!” Rhonda flopped dramatically onto a chair. “My mother’s holding me prisoner and won’t let me go until we’ve bought something for every relative on her list.” She straightened. “What are you doing here? I thought you’d be off alone with Brent.” She looked around. “Where is he, anyway? I want to see this hunk with my own eyes.”

Dawn thought Rhonda was acting overly dramatic. “He went to get us something to drink.”

“Is it great having a guy drive all the way from college to visit you? What’s it like having him
sleeping
under your roof?”

“Slow down.” Dawn glanced up. “Why don’t you ask him for yourself? He’s right behind you.”

“Ask me what?” Brent wanted to know.

Rhonda fairly shot out of the chair, almost knocking Brent backward. “Oh—sorry! I . . . I didn’t see you. Hi. I’m Dawn’s best friend.”

Rhonda appeared so flustered it was hard for Dawn to keep from laughing. “This is Rhonda. I’ve mentioned her to you in my letters.”

Brent grinned. “You take my drink, and I’ll get another.”

“No, no,” Rhonda said. “I—um—was just leaving.” Behind Brent’s back, she made a face like a panting puppy, again almost causing Dawn to burst out laughing.

All at once, Rhonda jumped up and down and started waving. “Yoo-hoo! Sharon!” she yelled across the crowded food court. “Why look, Dawn. It’s Sharon Lewis.”

Dawn turned in time to see Sharon and a group of her friends. Sharon glanced coldly from Rhonda, then to Dawn, then to Brent. Her mouth almost dropped open. Dawn groaned and buried her face in her hands. Rhonda was obviously trying to get Sharon to notice Dawn and Brent together.

Sharon tossed her head and marched off into the crowd.

“Gee, maybe she didn’t see us,” Rhonda said with a silly grin. “Oops—my mom’s signaling to me. Got to run.” She waved good-bye and made her way toward the Christmas tree.

“What was that all about?” Brent looked puzzled.

Bemused, Dawn shook her head. “Believe me, Rhonda defies explanation.”

He took a long swig from his cup. “So, she’s your best friend?”

“I’ve known her since the fifth grade, and she’s pretty much always been there for me.” She stopped herself short, realizing whom she was talking to and why he might be asking.
Sandy had been her best friend
. She didn’t want Brent to think her disloyal. “Not like Sandy, though. Look, all this noise is giving me a headache. Why don’t we head for home?” Dawn grabbed her cup and purse and stood up.

Slowly, Brent rose beside her. “Sure,” he said. “This place is bugging me, too.”

He was quiet all during supper. She wasn’t sure how to break through his silence. She wasn’t even sure if anything was wrong. But she felt anxious, as if they were somehow out of sync.

Dawn slept fitfully and awoke very early. She saw a stream of light beneath her door and heard someone moving downstairs. Slipping on her terry robe, she padded down the staircase. In the living room, the Christmas tree lights had been turned on, and Brent was sitting on the sofa, staring moodily at the tall evergreen.

“Is something wrong?” she asked, coming into the room.

“I didn’t mean to wake anyone,” he said guiltily.

She sat beside him on the couch. “What’s wrong, Brent? Please tell me.”

He turned his face toward her, and she saw his sadness instantly. He said, “I can’t stop thinking about my sister.”

BOOK: No Time to Cry
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