Authors: Lurlene McDaniel
“Too bad.” Josh stifled a yawn, and Katie insisted he go up to Jeff’s room, get some sleep, and meet her in the cafeteria for supper.
“Tell Jeff I sent you.” She raised on her toes and kissed Josh quickly. “Get plenty of rest. You’re going to need it.”
She offered a flirtatious smile. “Promise.”
By suppertime, everyone at Jenny House knew about Josh’s surprise visit. “It’s so romantic,” Amanda said with a sigh as they sat eating in the cafeteria. “I wish I had a boyfriend like Josh.”
“You’re lucky, Katie,” Chelsea added. “Not only about Josh but about your heart too.”
“There are easier ways to meet guys,” Katie told them both with a laugh, but she couldn’t have been happier.
When Josh joined them at the table, Jeff was with him. She introduced Josh to her friends, and while they ate, he entertained them with stories of his summer job. Katie thoroughly enjoyed hearing how he was spending his summer, but she couldn’t help noticing
the covert looks Amanda kept giving Jeff.
How could the guy be so blind as not to notice?
The rest of the evening and the following morning flew past. Katie and Josh took a long run through the woods together and swam laps in the pool. They played standard video games, along with a three-way match with Chelsea on the VR game, which Josh proclaimed “awesome.”
“This is the most fun I’ve ever had,” Chelsea confided at game’s end. Bright spots of color made her cheeks glow, and Katie thought the girl had never looked healthier.
Josh put his hand on Chelsea’s shoulder and said, “It’s only the beginning. Once you get your new heart, we’ll have a foot race.”
At noon, a team of horses was hitched to a huge hay wagon, and everyone at Jenny House piled in. They sang songs and stuffed straw down one another’s shirts all the way to the lake, and once there, those who felt up to it played a softball game while the staff laid out an old-fashioned picnic including an enormous cake decorated with frothy white frosting, blue and red icing flags, and sparklers.
Katie and Josh took a canoe out on the lake and paddled every twist and turn of the shoreline, and when they were positive they were out of sight of the others, Josh took her in his arms and kissed her. The canoe dipped precariously, but Katie didn’t care if it capsized. Kissing Josh was worth getting doused. “Let’s go for a walk,” Josh urged, shoving the canoe into soft mud along the far shore and climbing out.
“We’ve got to get back for the fireworks,” Katie reminded
him. “It’ll be dark before long, and we’ve got a long way to paddle back across the lake.”
“We won’t be late,” he promised, helping her out.
They walked back into the woods, where the air was still and the occasional sound of laughter from the other side of the lake broke the quiet. “I’ll never forget today,” Katie said. “I’m so glad you came to see me.”
He held her close. “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.”
Suddenly, Josh silenced her. “Do you hear something?” Katie listened. From nearby, she heard the sound of whispering, but the shadows lengthening through the trees obscured her ability to see who was talking. “Maybe we’d better split,” Josh said.
“Maybe we’d better check it out,” Katie countered. “Just in case someone needs help.” She listened closely, but the whispering had stopped.
“Doesn’t sound like anyone’s in trouble to me,” Josh said.
“We’ll just peek,” Katie insisted, really curious
now. She sneaked toward the sound of soft giggling and rustling leaves. She rounded a tree trunk and saw two figures in the muddy light. The couple were wrapped in one another’s arms and kissing. She felt Josh come up behind her and press against her back.
The couple broke their embrace just as the waning rays of the setting sun shot one final burst through the leaves. Katie’s eyes grew wide, and her heart wedged in her throat. For there in the red-gold shimmer of dusk stood Jeff with his arms locked lovingly around Lacey Duval.
ATIE FELT GLUED
to the ground as shock, disbelief, and anger swept over her.
How could Lacey do this to Amanda?
Josh tugged on the back of her shirt. She glanced over her shoulder and saw him motion for them to slip quietly back into the woods. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t simply walk away and pretend that she’d seen nothing.
She resisted, and Josh became more insistent. A branch snapped beneath his foot, causing Jeff and Lacey to break their embrace and turn toward the noise. “Who’s there?” Jeff demanded.
Feeling like a peeping Tom, Katie cleared her throat and came out from behind a tree. “Don’t panic. It’s only me and Josh.”
Jeff grinned and pulled Lacey closer. “At least it’s not a bear.”
Lacey stepped away and straightened her clothes. “We … um … we thought we were alone.”
“Surprise,” Katie said, none too kindly.
Josh looked apologetic. “We didn’t mean to barge in.”
“It’s getting late anyway,” Lacey added. “We need to start back.”
“We have a canoe down by the lake,” Josh said.
“We walked around,” Jeff replied.
Katie wanted to wipe the silly grin off his face, but felt powerless. Hadn’t he been trying to get Lacey to notice him for weeks? Suddenly, she turned to Josh. “Why don’t you guys take the canoe, and Lacey and I’ll walk back together.”
Jeff and Josh looked as if she’d lost control of her senses. “Why would we want to do that?” Jeff said.
“I don’t think it’s a smart idea for us to come out of the woods with lipstick all over our faces,” Katie replied, thinking quickly. “We’re leaders, and Mr. Holloway might not approve. I don’t think we should offend him.”
Jeff nodded. “Maybe you’re right.”
Josh shrugged. “They saw us leave together.”
“Please,” Katie said.
“All right … if you think it’s best.”
Once the boys had started toward the lake, Katie glared at Lacey and barked, “Come on.” She headed down the ever darkening trail, and Lacey had to jog to keep up.
“What’s your hurry?” Lacey asked.
“It’s getting dark, and I don’t want anyone worrying about us.”
“We’re not babies.”
Katie continued her fast clip through the woods surrounding the lake. “I don’t want to miss out on the fireworks either.”
“Seems as if there’s plenty of fireworks right here.”
Katie whirled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Lacey stopped and studied her icily. “It means you’re treating me as if I’d committed a crime or something. What’s your problem? You’ve been on my case for weeks about ‘joining in,’ and the minute I do, you act as if you’d like to drown me.”
“I just didn’t expect to see you with Jeff, that’s all.” It occurred to Katie that Lacey really might not know what was going on.
“He’s been flirting with me for weeks. I just took him up on it.”
“Are you telling me Jeff’s a game for you? A fun way to pass the time?”
“What’s wrong with that? I’m not interested in marrying the guy. I’m just having a little fun.”
Katie felt like exploding. Instead, she took a couple of deep breaths before saying, “He likes you, Lacey. Don’t play with his feelings. Don’t jerk him around.”
“Who are you? Mother Teresa? For crying out loud, I took a walk with him in the woods and let him kiss me. Stop treating me like a criminal!”
Lacey walked off in a huff, and all at once, Katie realized that she had overreacted. No wonder Lacey was peeved at her. She hurried to catch up. “Wait a minute. I didn’t mean to come across so bad. I’m really not mad at you.”
“You could have fooled me.” Lacey’s voice sounded thick, as if she might be struggling to hold back tears.
“There’s just a lot going on you may not know about.”
By now, they had rounded the edge of the lake, and Katie could see the glow of a bonfire ahead. Everyone at Jenny House was gathered around, roasting marshmallows and waiting for the fireworks to begin. In the middle of the lake, she could make out a barge from where the fiery spectacle would be launched, and coming through the dark water, she saw Josh and Jeff paddling the canoe, aiming for the shoreline and bonfire.
“Wait, Lacey. Before we get back to the party, I need to tell you something.”
Lacey turned, but refused to look Katie in the eye. She crossed her arms and stared down at the ground. “So tell me.”
Katie’s mouth felt dry as cotton. “It’ll mean breaking a promise I made to someone.”
“Are you going to tell me or not?”
“Remember how you helped Amanda with her makeup? How much she was aiming to impress some guy?”
Lacey’s head rose, and her gaze locked onto Katie’s. Slowly, Katie saw the dawn of realization spread across Lacey’s pretty face. “Are you telling me the guy she’s been trying to impress is Jeff?” Katie nodded. “I didn’t know.” Lacey looked stricken. “You’ve got to believe me. I had no idea.”
“I believe you,” Katie said. All the fight had left her, and she felt drained and weighed down by a jumble of emotions. A part of her had expected Lacey to be blasé about the situation. To shrug it off.
“I wouldn’t do anything to hurt Amanda. I honestly wouldn’t. Not her,” Lacey added insistently.
“I said I believe you.”
“I don’t think Jeff has a clue about the way Amanda feels,” Lacey said.
“She doesn’t want him to know.”
“So what should I do about him?” Lacey asked.
“Do you like him or not?”
“I like him all right. I don’t go around kissing just any guy. But I don’t like him enough to hurt Amanda.”
“But he likes you.”
“I’d rather hurt him than her,” Lacey said, running her hand through her long blond hair. “I told you once that I don’t like hanging around sick people. And so the last thing I want is a guy who’s a hemophiliac. Besides, he lives out west, and so after this summer, what are the odds I’ll ever see him again?”
Katie could find no fault with Lacey’s logic, even though it rubbed her wrong. “Jeff won’t understand your dumping him. And we can’t force him to like Amanda either.”
“That’s not my problem,” Lacey said. “And right now, I’m tired of talking about it. I’m going to find Amanda and sit with her for the fireworks. Are you coming?”
The abruptness of Lacey’s change from concern to indifference baffled Katie. Would she ever be able to
figure out this girl? “I’ll join you, but let me grab Josh first.”
Katie and Josh sat with her roommates on a blanket spread out facing the lake. Jeff tagged along, and the hopeful expression on Amanda’s face when he asked to sit with them made Katie’s heart ache.
“I think you should sit with the guys in your room,” Lacey said coolly.
Jeff stopped short. “But I wanted to be with you all.”
Amanda scooted aside and patted the blanket beside her. “We’ll make room. There’s plenty for all of us.”
As Jeff settled in between Amanda and Lacey, Lacey stood. “Then I’ll go sit with the guys from your room,” she said. And without a backward glance, she walked away. Jeff stared, speechless, but only Katie realized how deeply he’d been wounded. Jeff gave her a questioning look, but she avoided his gaze and pressed herself against Josh’s side, wishing that the ground would swallow her up and put her out of her misery.
The sound of popping and the sight of a starburst of color in the night sky overhead made her look upward. She felt Josh’s arm tighten around her waist and his lips brush her ear. “I love you,” he whispered, and at that moment, nothing else mattered to her. Tomorrow would have to sort itself out. Tonight the world was ablaze with color, and she was safe in Josh’s arms.
* * *
Early the next morning, Katie and Josh packed up his car, then went for a long walk. “I don’t want you to leave,” she told him.
“And I don’t want to go. But let’s look on the bright side—there’s more of the summer behind us than is left in front of us.”
“True. I’ll be coming home in about six weeks.”
“I’ll try to hold out.”
When they returned from their walk, they went to the cafeteria for breakfast. The smell of waffles and warm maple syrup made Katie’s stomach grumble. “Some of the drugs I take every day make me extra hungry,” she explained by way of apology.
Josh laughed. “I don’t take any medicine, and I could eat the paint off the walls.”
They got their food and found a table to themselves. “Listen, don’t let this stuff with Jeff and Lacey and Amanda get you down,” Josh said.
“Has Jeff said anything to you?”
“He tried to. Tried to ask why he and Lacey were going great until you took a walk with Lacey. I told him you had nothing to do with it and he’d better not hassle you.”