“It’s bad, Gabby. It’s not going away. There doesn’t seem to be anything they can do for me anymore. They think I’m going to die.”
“Oh, Mandy! This is so hard for me. How hard must it be for you? I don’t know how you’re coping, I seriously don’t.” Gabby was wringing her hands between her thighs, scratching white lines with her fingernails into her dark indigo jeans.
“I think I’ve kind of known it was going to end up this way for a long time. I’ve kind of accepted it. But it’s really hard on my mom. She’s devastated, she doesn’t know what to do. She was okay when we had some hope. When we were doing the treatments, things were much, much better. But since we got the test results yesterday, she’s been in a shell, afraid to come out.”
“How long are they saying you have before you relapse this time?”
“This year sometime, unless there’s a miracle. Mom’s on the computer now, trying to dial one up,” she added with a small chuckle.
“She won’t give up Mandy, you know that.”
“I know. This is so much harder on her than it is on anyone else.”
“You’re her baby. Her only baby. You’re all she has.”
“I know. She says that all the time and it’s starting to grate on me.”
“Well, let’s not dwell on it. Let’s find ways to have some fun, to take your mind down to the vegging-out level. How about a movie and a sleep over? Mom’s fixing tacos for dinner. You couldn’t eat them before, but now you can.”
“Yeah, I can for a while. Sounds good. Let me go ask Mom.”
Together the two girls got up off the front stoop and went into the large Victorian house with the wraparound front porch. They found Mandy’s mom just where Mandy had said she’d be, in front of the computer.
Ever since Mandy had been diagnosed, Michele Moore had been frantically looking for the cure. Every newspaper article, every web site, every hotline was researched completely in hopes that it would lead to the answer.
“Mom, is it okay if I eat dinner at the Grissen’s, then go to the movies and spend the night with Gabby?”
Michele looked up and smiled. “Sure, honey. Just make sure you keep warm and don’t share your popcorn. Remember you can’t afford a cold or the flu right now. That’ll give me a chance to do some more research on-line.”
Mandy bent over and gave her mom a kiss on the cheek. “Don’t work too hard on this Mom, it’s probably not going to pan out. I’ve accepted it. Why can’t you?”
Michele wrapped her arms around Mandy and tears filled her eyes. “I just can’t. You’re my little girl, you’re all I’ve got. I have to look out for you the best I can.”
“I’m not so little, Mom. I’m sixteen.”
“Yes, I know exactly how old you are. I was there when you were born remember?” she chided. “It was a frosty cold morning. I didn’t even want to get out of bed, but you kept kicking me. I thought you were trying to kick your way out. I made it to the hospital with only forty minutes to spare.”
“And Daddy came right from the airport, just in time to see me wail,” Mandy added with a sheepish smile. It was a story she’d been told often over the years.
The mention of her father sobered them all up. It was still hard for Michele to believe he was gone; that he’d died six years ago piloting a commercial jetliner that had been improperly designed. For a handful of better quality and more strategically-placed rivets, her husband, and Mandy’s father would still be here today. He would be here helping her deal with this latest round of bad news.
“C’mon Mandy, let’s go,” Gabby said as she tried to pull her along. She knew what it was like when Mandy and her mom were reminded of her dad. ” ‘Bye Mrs. Moore. Mom will call you tonight.”
“Bye Gabby. You girls be good. And no R-rated movies, you hear?”
“Yes, Mom, we know.”
And how they knew! Mandy thought. Her Mom harped about sex and violence in the movies all the time. She was a really nice lady, but one of the strictest moms on the planet as far as Gabby and Mandy were concerned.
While the girls watched Maid in Manhattan at the local mall and munched on popcorn and gummy bears, Michele Moore surfed the Web.
She took a break to reheat some leftover Roast Pork Lo Mein and to make a pot of her favorite Chai tea. Then she was back again on her iMac. She was trying desperately to find the clue that would cure her daughter’s illness. She knew without a doubt that the answer was there, she just wasn’t sure that she’d find it in time. And now they were running out of time.
God, how awful she felt in the doctor’s office yesterday when he told them the news. The feeling of dread she felt at that moment was worse than the dread she lived with after they called about Kevin’s plane crashing. She had just begun to drag herself up out of the mire of that, when Mandy had fallen sick.
Juvenile Myelomonocyctic Leukemia . . . curable to a point, but then steadily debilitating once a relapse occurred. And she relapsed in June, right after the school year. What an awful summer they had.
Thank God they didn’t have to worry about money. The airline had been generous, thanks to her attorney, and what was even better, was the survivor’s benefits allowing her to keep their hospitalization. The money spent on Mandy’s treatment was well into the hundreds of thousands. By the time this was all over, they would top a million for sure. No doubt about it. And that was if she died. If she lived, who knew?
Michele’s fingers clicked on the mouse and she followed window after window as new links opened with more information. It was ten o’clock and her eyes were getting tired when she stumbled onto a web site detailing umbilical cord blood research regarding juvenile myelomonocyctic leukemia. Her eyes flew across the page as she tried to absorb everything. She read it again, and again. Then she printed darned near the whole damned site. Could it be? Could you really do this?
She turned off the computer, grabbed her mug of now-cold tea, took the printed papers off the printer ledge and went to her bedroom. Then she sat up in bed reading everything all over again until two in the morning.
From what she was reading, if what she was reading was true, Mandy’s best chance for survival would be if they could develop an injection made from umbilical cord cells taken from a sibling. Rich cells that came from the umbilical cord that was routinely discarded after a baby’s birth. Mandy had no sibling. Even if she did, they wouldn’t have thought to save the cord. However, another idea tumbled around in Michele’s head until she finally had to say it out loud just to find out if it sounded as crazy to her ears as it did floating around in her head. I could have another baby. I could have a baby for Mandy.
Yes, it sounded crazy. Absolutely! She dropped the papers to the floor and took another sip of her tea. Would she ever get to drink it hot again? She turned off the bedside lamp, then she turned on her side and faced Kevin’s side of the bed. She always did that when she was troubled. At times, she actually talked to his pillow. But this time, she knew what she was thinking was nuts! And he’d probably tell her so if he could. As she stared past the bed and out the window, she saw the porch lights on Gabby’s house go out. She knew they were on a timer and apparently it was now 2:13 A.M.
She let her mind wander, hoping it would purge some things so she could actually get some sleep tonight. Last night, she hadn’t been able to sleep at all. Magically, she fell asleep which allowed her subconscious to take over her troubles for a while.
“That was a great movie,” Gabby whispered to Mandy who was in the bed next to hers. “Makes you believe that even a maid can find her Prince Charming . . . just like Cinderella.”
“Yeah. But you should always be who you are. It’s too hard to carry off anything else.”
“It was nice of her friends to try to help her though, and her son.”
“That’s what friends do.”
“I wish that I could find a way to help you.”
“Maybe you can.”
“How?” Gabby asked, forcing herself up on her elbow, her eyes bright with hope.
“I’ve got an idea bouncing around in my head. Let me think it over for a while, see if it gels. Let’s get some sleep. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
“You can say ‘good’ night, you know.”
“Nothin’s going to be ‘good’ until you’re better. Face it. I’m not sayin’ ‘good’ night, ‘good’ morning, or ‘good’ afternoon anymore.”
“God, you’re stubborn!”
When Michele woke early the next morning, she refrained from moving. She was afraid if she moved, she would forget everything that had come into her head in the middle of the night. Everything she had said to Kevin and everything he had said to her.
Her hand reached out to stroke his pillow and she whispered, “I have to do all I can to save her Kevin, I know that’s what you would want. And I know that right now you’d be doing everything in your power to make me pregnant so we could save our little girl. Now just tell me how I can save her.”
Her head lifted a little off the pillow and she saw the picture on his night stand. The picture of Michele and Kevin and Stephanie and Michael. It had been his favorite. They’d been skiing at Michael’s lodge. It had been such a happy time for all of them. Kevin hadn’t died in a plane crash and Stephanie hadn’t died in a car crash, leaving Michele and Michael to pick up the pieces and carry on. Michael was Kevin’s twin brother.
Michele sat bolt upright and stared at the photo. His identical twin brother. Ohmygod! Would he? Could they? Jeez, what an odd thought!
She shook her head and ran her fingers through long auburn tresses that were tangled from tossing and turning. Nah. It would never fly. He’d never agree. Still . . . .
She walked into the bathroom, turned on the shower, and stood in front of the mirror looking at her reflection.
Like anyone would want to lay on top of her and impregnate her. Look at yourself, she admonished. Stringy hair, sunken cheeks, bags under your eyes, and a swollen, red nose from crying. Michael, don’t you want to do it with me? she mocked as she drew off her nightgown and tossed it to the floor. The body wasn’t bad, it could still entice, but Lord, the face and hair needed some work! She stepped into the shower and turned the dial to make it as hot as she could stand it. Her eyes focused on her hand and the finger where she still wore Kevin’s ring. And when was the last time she’d had a manicure?
As she hung her head under the pulsing stream, she laughed. Michael would never want her. She wasn’t his type. But still . . . there were other ways to get pregnant these days that had nothing to do with sex.
For Amanda, she would do it. She knew that she would do anything. Now, how to get Michael on board with this little plan? He’d loved his brother greatly; he had been devastated when Kevin had died. Maybe he’d do it for Kevin, if not for her . . . if not for Amanda.