Authors: Lurlene McDaniel
“Me too. I don’t know what I’d do without you, Katie. Whenever I think about last summer, about how you were so close to dying …”
She didn’t allow him to complete his sentence. “Every day is new, every morning, Josh. I’m glad I got a second chance at life. And after meeting the people here at Jenny House, after making friends with Amanda, Chelsea, and even Lacey, I want all of us to live forever.”
He grinned. “Forever’s a long time.”
She returned his smile. “All right, then at least until we’re all old and wrinkled.”
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Copyright © 1993 by Lurlene McDaniel
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A Bantam Book/November 1993
First Laurel-Leaf edition January 2004
believe her eyes. She peered out the car window at the building of wood and glass and river rock that rose majestically out of the clearing in the North Carolina mountain woods. Her heart hammered in anticipation.
“Do you suppose that’s it?” her father asked. “It’s an impressive-looking place to spend the summer.”
“More like a resort than a dorm for sick kids,” her mother added.
They had almost missed the small sign on the highway marking the turnoff for Jenny House, and her father had driven onto the property and along the rustic road cautiously. Beside her in the backseat, Josh glowered at the building lined with decks that jutted out over the back of the mountain. “You can
change your mind,” he reminded her. “You don’t have to stay the whole twelve weeks.”
They had argued about it ever since the invitation had come in May. But a letter promising to reveal the identity of JWC—the mysterious benefactor who had given Katie the one hundred thousand dollars that had helped, in part, to pay for her very expensive heart transplant operation and anti-rejection drug maintenance program—had been an irresistible lure. “I have to meet JWC,” Katie told Josh as her father parked the car. “And all my doctors approve of my coming. I’m fine now, Josh. Besides, you’ve got a job at the newspaper office. You’ll see, the time will fly. I owe JWC a lot.”
“The original letter said there were no strings attached to the money you got.”
“This is a different kind of string, Josh. Like the one I owe you for donating your brother’s heart. I can’t explain it. It’s something I have to do.” She understood how hard it was for him to let her go for the summer. After all, it was his brother Aaron’s heart that was beating in her chest. And ever since her transplant operation, she and Josh Martel had become inseparable. It wasn’t easy for Katie either. She loved Josh. It would be tough to be apart from him all summer.
“You don’t even know what you’ll be doing here,” Josh grumbled.
“According to the invitation, I’ll be with a group of sick teenagers.”
“But what if you get sick again? What if you have
another episode of rejection? When I think about the last time—”
Katie placed the tips of her fingers against his lips to silence him. This had been a running argument throughout the two-day drive from Michigan to Jenny House. “But I
it, Josh. I pulled through. I’m fine and I’m here. And I plan on staying.”
Katie crossed the wooden deck and entered the building. Inside, the facility smelled as fresh and new as it looked. A vaulted, beamed ceiling soared upward, and polished dark oak floors gleamed in the light streaming through plate-glass windows. Sitting areas with colorful rugs and groupings of furniture gave the gigantic room a cozy living-room atmosphere. A wall of solid river stone flanked one wall, where a mammoth fireplace was centered. Over it stretched a mantel made of a two-foot-thick beam of solid oak.
Above the mantel hung a painting that made Katie stop short. She gazed up at a black-haired girl wearing a velvet gown of midnight blue. The girl’s eyes were bright blue, her expression wistful, as if she knew some sad secret. She looked real enough to step down from the canvas.
“Wow,” Josh said softly, coming alongside Katie. “Who’s that?”
“Maybe I’d better keep an eye on you this summer if every pretty girl is going to cause that kind of a reaction,” Katie teased. “But you’re right. She
gorgeous.” Josh’s face turned as red as his hair.
Katie’s parents were talking to a receptionist behind
a brass-railed registration desk on the other side of the vast room. “Let me call our director,” the receptionist said, picking up the phone, as Katie and Josh walked over.
Moments later, a man emerged from a corridor. He was tall, slim, and blond, and wore an impeccably tailored navy blue suit. Although he was near her father in age, Katie thought he was one of the most handsome men she’d ever seen.
“You’re Katie O’Roark,” the man said. A smile lit up his face and made his emerald eyes sparkle. “I’m Richard Holloway.”
“From the Wish Foundation?” She recognized his name from the check she’d been given by JWC.
“Actually, it was my father who administered the bulk of the Foundation’s funds,” Richard explained. “He died a while back.”
Remembering her manners, Katie made a round of introductions. “Why have I been invited?” she asked after Richard led them to one of the comfortable sofas. “Your letter only said I’d be with other kids my age and that I was a guest. So when can I meet JWC? Who
“Everything will be explained tonight,” Richard replied. “This is the first time Jenny House has opened its doors, and we’ve invited five other teens who, like yourself, have received Wish money and have lived. You’re the first one here, but the others should be arriving all afternoon.”
Richard’s comment caused a chill in Katie. It was an admission that she was one of a fortunate few still
alive. “Your letter said there would be
“The other guests will be arriving tomorrow.”
“How many?” Katie’s dad asked. He was a newspaperman, a sports writer, but Katie saw his reporter’s instincts taking over. Even though he’d tried for over a year to discover the identity of JWC, he’d been unsuccessful, and Katie was certain that he’d insisted on driving her to Jenny House as much to satisfy his own curiosity as to make certain his daughter would be safe for the summer.
“Thirty kids between the ages of twelve and sixteen from all over the country.”
“That certainly doesn’t seem like very many for a place this size,” Katie’s mother commented.
“It’s our very first summer of operation,” Richard explained. “We thought it best to start small and work our way into larger groups. Plus we want to maintain a homey atmosphere. One of the things that sets Jenny House apart from other facilities of its type is that we’ll be open year-round with a full-time staff—both professional and medical. It’s our hope that kids who visit will come back at any time they feel the need to get away. Jenny House is a place to rest, have fun, make new friends.”
“So you’re more than a summer camp?”
“Much more. We’re not just for kids with specific diseases. Any sick teen is welcome on a doctor’s recommendation. Plus it’s free. It was the wish of the house’s benefactor that no one ever need pay in order to stay.”
“Then JWC isn’t the person responsible for this place?” Katie asked. She was a little disappointed, wondering if she’d
get information about the One Last Wish benefactor. She seemed no closer to knowing anything about JWC than she’d been at home in Ann Arbor.
“Jenny House is supported by an endowment from a widow, a former client of my father’s. Sadly, she died right before this facility was completed. She left me in charge.” Richard smiled and stood. “Why don’t you get settled in, Katie? I’m being summoned to the phone.”
At the desk, the receptionist was gesturing to him. He asked one of his assistants, Penny Carson, to show Katie and her family around the grounds.
They rode in a golf cart and saw riding stables, a lake with boats, tennis courts, a softball field, and a picnic area. Walking trails, leading through cool green woods and panoramic views of distant mountains, made Jenny House even more spectacular. Back in the main lodge, they visited a clinic, a gym, an indoor pool, a cafeteria, and a game room filled with video and table games. On each of the upper floors, there were spacious dormlike rooms and a central kitchen and living area, as well as a large rec room.
“This is where you’ll be staying,” Penny told Katie, leading her inside a sunny room decorated in green and white with hot pink accents. “You’ve been assigned three roommates. You’ll learn more tonight at the special meeting, but right now you get first dibs on the beds.”
Katie selected the one nearest the window and asked her dad and Josh to bring up her stuff. “This is sort of an experiment, isn’t it?” Katie asked when she and Penny were alone.
“In a way, yes. But it’s a very controlled one. Our staff includes two nurses, a psychologist, a gang of support workers—and of course, Mr. Holloway.”
Penny added, “I’m the activities director, and I’ve spent over a month here getting ready for our grand opening. I’ve never seen anyone so determined to give sick and hurting kids a refuge as Mr. Holloway. I understand he left a successful law practice in order to take on this job. He’s trying to fulfill someone’s dream, but believe me, it’s become his dream now. And after you’ve spent time around Jenny House … well, take it from me, it will become
Later, in the parking lot, Katie said good-bye to her anxious parents. “It’s a lovely place, but if you decide you don’t like it, we’ll come get you,” her mother said.