from TILL DEATH DO US PART
Excerpted from As Long as We Both Shall Live by Lurlene McDaniel Copyright © 2003 by Lurlene McDaniel. Excerpted by permission of Laurel Leaf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
“That guy’s staring at you again, April.”
“April Lancaster didn’t need Kelli to tell her that the boy on the far side of the hospital’s patient rec room was looking at her. She could almost feel his gaze. She had been in the hospital for two days and he’d been stealing glances at her every time she ventured out of her room. “Ignore him,” April whispered to Kelli. “I do.”
“But why? He’s cute. Even if he is too skinny for my taste.”
“This isn’t a social club, Kelli. It’s a hospital. I didn’t come here to meet guys.”
“Well, I say why let a good opportunity slip away?”
April shook her head. “You’re impossible.”
Her best friend grinned. “I’m only trying to cheer you up. Take your mind off this whole thing. And if you meet a cute guy in the bargain, then what’s the harm?”
April pointedly twisted in the lounge chair so that her back was to the boy. She didn’t want to be stared at, and she certainly didn’t want to meet some guy who was sick. She figured he had to be sick; why else would he be a patient in this huge New York City medical complex?
Kelli interrupted her thoughts. “What is going on with you? Medically, I mean. When can you leave?”
The last thing April wanted to do was dwell on the frightening possibilities as to why she was in the hospital. “I’m only here for testing,” she said. “I’m sure I’ll be out by the end of the week.”
“But by then spring break will be over. We leave tomorrow, and the weatherman said an inch of fresh powder is falling in Vermont as we speak. This might be the last chance for a ski trip this year.”
April and her friends had been planning the trip for weeks. It was supposed to be part of her birthday present. And since it was their senior year, it would be their final spring break together as a group. “I can’t help it,” she said gloomily. “Even if my doctor releases me earlier, my parents won’t let me go.”
April didn’t want to say. Not while there was so much speculation about the origins of her numbing headaches. The headaches had built in intensity for the past several months, causing her to get dizzy, even sick to her stomach. When she’d passed out from the pain in school two days earlier, her parents had hustled her out of their Long Island community and into a hospital in the city. The headaches could still be nothing.
Or they could be the other thing. The “thing” she had decided not to discuss with Kelli. “Oh, you know my parents. They fall to pieces if I have a hangnail. Besides, Dad won’t let me drive from New York to Vermont by myself.”
Kelli chewed her bottom lip. “I could wait till you’re released. Then you and I could drive up together.”
“No way.” April shook her head. “Kelli, I appreciate it, but you go on with the others.”
Kelli slumped in her chair, crossed her arms, and pouted. “It won’t be the same without you there. This is our last spring break together.“’
April sighed, feeling disappointed too. “Maybe we can do something together our first spring break from college next year.”
“Fat chance. We’ll all be scattered to the ends of the earth.”
“I’m sorry,” April said softly, her eyes filling with tears.
Kelli scooted forward and seized April’s hands. “Don’t cry. I’m such a jerk for making you feel worse than you already do. Tell you what, we’ll go to the shore this summer when all this is behind you. You’ve always liked the beach better than the ski slopes anyway. I’ll talk to the others while we’re away and devise a plan. What do you say?”
“Okay. Maybe we can go right after graduation, before we have to pack up for college.” April did love the beach, the rolling ocean waves, the warm sand and bright sun. “Thanks for thinking of it, Kelli. You’re a real friend.”
Kelli beamed her a smile. “We’ll call you from the ski lodge.”
April nodded. “Don’t break a leg.”
Suddenly a male voice burst upon the two girls in the lounge. “There you are, April.”
April looked up to see Chris Albright, the senior captain of their high-school soccer team. They’d been dating for a few months, ever since Christmas, but she hadn’t expected him to pop into the hospital the day before spring break. She was glad she’d taken the time to put on her sweats and wasn’t wearing a hospital gown.
“I couldn’t find you in your room,” Chris continued. “One of the nurses told me to check in here. You feeling better?”
Chris had caught her when she’d fainted in English class. Literally.
“Nothing to report,” she said. He straddled the arm of her chair and took her hand in his. From the comer of her eye, April saw the patient who’d been ogling her lean forward. She turned her full attention to Chris. “I didn’t think I’d see you until after the break.”
“I can’t go off and leave my girlfriend holed up in the hospital.”
Kelli who was out of Chris’s line of vision, did an exaggerated swoon that made April giggle. Chris was the catch of their school. April was nuts about him, but she tried not to show it. Clingy girlfriends were a turnoff.
“What’s so funny?” Chris asked.
“Nothing. I’m just glad to see you.” She laced her fingers through his.
“What’s up, Kelli?” Chris asked.
“I came to say goodbye too,” Kelli told him. “Actually I was trying to persuade April to sneak away with me and leave her doctor a note about coming back after spring break.”
“Makes sense to me,” Chris said. “Have they told you anything yet?”
April told Chris what she’d told Kelli. Once again she omitted the information that she didn’t want anyone to know. The headaches can’t be related, she told herself. “So, I guess I’m stuck here until they complete all the tests,” she finished aloud.
from FOR BETTER, FOR WORSE, FOREVER
At the top of the hill, a girl, her red hair gleaming in the sun, stood gazing out at the sea. As she lifted her eyes skyward, she turned and spun in a circle, her arms flung out straight and wide.
She stopped spinning, reached into the pocket of her shorts, and took out a red balloon. She put it to her lips and blew, filling it up so that it rounded out. She tied it off, then reached back into her pocket and pulled out a long thin yellow ribbon. She tied one end securely to the balloon’s knotted tail.
As a balmy breeze blew from the sea, she unleashed the ribbon and the balloon flew upward. She shielded her eyes from the glare of the sun and watched as the air current
caught the balloon and pulled it so that it rose until it became a tiny red dot lost against the endless blue sky.
Brandon Benedict couldn’t believe what he was seeing. A girl—a beautiful girl—with hair so fiery red that it glistened in the sun like sparks from a fire stood shielding her eyes as a red balloon sailed upward into the vibrant blue sky high above the island of St. Croix.
He’d gone hiking alone in the green hills. What an odd thing to discover. She hadn’t seen him, so he stayed behind some bushes, out of her line of vision. She appeared to be conducting a private ritual.
Brandon decided not to intrude, but when his heel crushed a dry branch, its loud crack made the girl whirl and catch sight of him. He heard her gasp, then shout, “What do you want?” Her fists were clenched and he thought that she might strike him.
“Why are you spying on me?”
“I wasn’t spying.” Her angry gaze bore into him, and he felt defensive.
“Why are you up here?”
He felt his anger rise as he replied, “It’s a free country, you know. I was just out hiking. Sorry if I ruined your day.”
Now she looked less angry, more embarrassed. “I thought I was alone.”
“And now you will be.” He turned and started back down the hill.
“Wait!” she called after him. Her voice was gentler now. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell at you. You just surprised me, that’s all.”
His irritation vanished and he turned back to her. Her blue eyes were heavy with sadness. He felt it like an electric current. He recognized that sadness. Even now, he could feel the darkness of his own pain, but he shook it off as he smiled. “I’m Brandon Benedict. I live on St. Croix. I hike up in these hills a lot. I had no idea anyone was up here. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“My parents have rented that house.” She pointed and he saw the white barrel tile of a roof below. “I’m April Lancaster.”
“You’re renting the Steiner place? I’ve grown up here. I know most every house and its owners on this side of the island,” he explained. “The Steiners were regulars at the Buccaneer Golf Course until Mr. Steiner had a heart attack. They moved back to the States. I work at the Buccaneer. After school and during summers, I mean. But I guess I’m telling you more than you probably want to know.”
She offered a tentative smile. It pleased him immensely. “It’s okay. Actually, we’ve been here three weeks and I haven’t met a soul.”
“You’re kidding! You’re so pretty. I—I mean, all you have to do to meet people around here is show up in Christiansted.” He waved in the general direction of St. Croix’s largest city. “There’s nightlife down there.”
The veil dropped over her eyes again. “I’m not into partying.”
He itched to know what would make such a pretty girl so sad and isolated. “Everything around here is low-key. Even our parties. Where did you come from, anyway?”
“New York. Long Island, actually.”
“How long will you be staying?”
She shrugged. “As long as it takes.”
“As long as what takes?”
“Forget it,” she answered quickly, then added, “we don’t have a time limit on our visit. Maybe until the weather turns horrible.”
From the Paperback edition.