Chapter One


Dessy surveyed the hospital room once more, taking in all the details, or lack of them. Usually hospital rooms overflowed with flowers and cards stating generic "get-well-soon" phrases, but this particular one wasn't. It seemed as though no one really knew or cared about Sandra's condition. Of course, it wasn't like Dessy was here because she cared; it was pretty much community service. That morning in second period Geography Mrs. Rider asked if one or two people would be so kind as to take Sandra her yearbook since she was sick and couldn't pick it up on her own. The entire class had even signed it, so now the back pages were littered with brightly colored endearments and concerns.

Like anybody actually means them, Dessy thought. They don't even know her, how can they act like they care? Its disgusting.

She had forgotten Nina tagged along until Nina nudged her in the ribs, the tense silence making her uncomfortable. Dessy flashed her a sharp glare, the kind known at her school to send her classmates running away. It was Nina's fault they were here, anyway. As soon as Mrs. Rider asked if anyone would take Sandra's yearbook to her, Nina's hand shot up and she declared that she would happily bring Sandra the yearbook. But Nina had forgotten she didn't have a car, which was why Dessy had been bribed into driving her here.

Nina was having second thoughts about spontaneously volunteering now as well. The first half of the drive she'd been her usual bubbly and happy self, chatting on and on about how excited she was to be a member of the art club. In fact, she almost caused an accident when Dessy drove past Wal-Mart and Nina screamed, "Stop the car! We should buy a bear and a card!"

After Nina purchased a cheesy get well card covered in silver sparkles (Dessy had to talk her out of the care bear one, reminding Nina politely but firmly that not all fifteen-year-olds still found those things "cute"), and after she purchased a plain white stuffed bear with pale pink paws and a heart-shaped nose, they got back on the road and Nina wilted. Dessy couldn't tell why. Nervousness from seeing a sick person, maybe.

It didn't matter, what mattered is now the two friends found themselves in this empty looking hospital room. The blinds were drawn, allowing only tiny slits of natural light to shine through. The overall effect was utterly depressing, and it seemed to be tainting Nina's usual happy-go-lucky mood, but Nina quickly recovered by forcing her smile just a bit more, so at least she could look cheerful.

The only good thing the place offered was properly functioning air-conditioning, a blessing in the beginning of summer ninety-degree heat. Even so, Nina's chestnut brown hair was now in a high ponytail on top of her head to keep it off the back of her neck. Luckily, Dessy didn't have to worry about long hair on the back of her neck bothering her. She had a short, pixie cut with jagged ends that framed her heart-shaped face.

"My name is Sandra." Sandra tried to sit up a little bit in the hospital bed. It seemed difficult for her, as she wore a look of strain the entire time. Dessy couldn't help but notice Sandra's sunken cheeks and ghostly pale complexion. "You two haven't really said anything since you came to visit me, so I thought maybe you didn't know what to say. So I thought maybe you guys didn't even know my name, and that's always a good place to start, right?"

Nina smiled, nodding her head in excitement, thankful for the broken silence. "Yeah! How silly of us, where are our manners, not introducing ourselves? I'm Nina-" Nina gave Dessy a meaningful look after Dessy didn't immediately introduce herself as well.

"And I'm Dessendra," Dessy muttered, her mood becoming worse by the second. People would most likely find her rude, feeling so irritated by visiting a sick classmate. The hairs on her arm stood on end just by thinking about the people who pretended to care about someone only because it seemed like the "polite" thing to do. If people found her lack of concern for Sandra rude, that was fine, in her opinion. At least she didn't fake concern like so many others.

"We came to bring you a huge stuffed bear from Mrs. Rider's class. Oh, and your yearbook. They just came out today," Nina chirped, with more enthusiasm than was appropriate for the given situation, in Dessy's opinion.

"Oh, that's so nice," Sandra said, her face beaming as she eyed the teddy bear like it was worth a million dollars.

Dessy couldn't help notice how weak Sandra's voice was. Weak and light, little more than a whisper. The wind could have carried the words away so easily. Nina must have noticed to, but if she did she gave no sign of concern about it.

Nina reached into her pink backpack covered with rainbow pins, care bear pins, and smiley pins. It honestly looked like a rainbow exploded on her backpack. After rummaging through her backpack for a good two minutes ("There's where yesterday's math homework is" "Dessy, here's the colored pencils I've been meaning to return to you!" "Funny, I don't remember putting this necklace in here"), she pulled out a yearbook. A look of absolute horror contorted her features as she noticed a few of the yearbook's pages wrinkled from being jostled around by the various objects in her backpack.

"Dessy!" Nina cried, a single word that screamed, "what do I do?" She tried desperately to smooth out all the deep wrinkles some of the thick glossy pages had attained. One page had been bent in half and now had a slight tear in the bottom corner.

Dessy sighed, and handed Sandra the big white bear she'd been holding since they arrived, much to her extreme displeasure. Sandra's eyes lit up at the big stuffed creature, and Dessy then pitched in helping Nina smooth out the wrinkles of the yearbook's pages.

"Okay, here you go," Dessy said, handing the now only minimally damaged yearbook to Sandra, who opened it to read all the get well wishes from her fellow classmates.

"Thank you, Nina and Dessy."

"I'm majorly sorry about wrinkling a few of its pages." Nina hung her head, not even able to meet Sandra's eyes.

"I didn't really-want the yearbook anyway, so its okay if a few pages are a little creased," Sandra admitted, but she still eyed the yearbook so happily. She skimmed through a few pages, and the noise the pages made filled the room. Her bone thin fingers trembled with excitement, and her eyes seemed to gloss over with tears of joy. "I took this picture," she whispered softly and pointed her finger to it. Nina rushed over to examine it. "So you're a photographer?" Nina asked, any initial awkwardness from talking to Sandra vanished.

"I'm not that great-" Sandra smiled, with a pale pink hue surfacing beneath her sickly pale cheeks.

"But this picture is great!" Nina exclaimed, a wide grin spreading from ear to ear, leaning over the bed to see it clearly. Dessy couldn't help but think Nina was being a little more eager than was appropriate.

"I like to think-that I'm more of an-observer."

"What do you mean?"

Sandra faltered a moment. She tucked a long, dull blonde strand of hair behind her ear, but encouraged by Nina's enthusiasm, she continued. "I know everyone's name in my grade, but they usually don't know mine."

She prayed they wouldn't see her as a stalker, the whole time trying to remain calm as she rhythmically flipped the pages, until she discovered all the classmates signatures on the final two pages.

Nina's eyes sparkled with joy as Sandra finished reading everything signed in the back of the yearbook with a fragile but happy smile. Sandra smoothed out the pages just a little more and, then, as if setting a precious treasure down, she placed the yearbook lightly on her empty beside table.

"That's so cool, Sandra! That you know everyone's name like that!" Nina decided to give her a quiz to see if this was indeed true. She pulled out her own yearbook that she decided to purchase earlier that day-it too had acquired a few battle wounds from her backpack-and covered up the names of the students along the side of a glossy sheet, and pointed her jewelry-covered fingers to pictures of different students.

"Who is this?" she asked again and again, and Sandra always knew the name and a little something about them ("That's Caleb Benson, he doesn't really like talking to people so he spends all his free time in the library" "Avril Jung, she's a cheerleader but she's really nice, I think" "Wade Thompson. He has a serious sister complex, because he is always with Maria Thompson anytime they get out of class").

Dessy's mind wandered as Nina and Sandra's little game continued. She couldn't help but recall over and over again just how lightly, how very carefully, Sandra had handled the yearbook as she placed it on the table beside her. It was like Sandra thought it might crumble to pieces the second the wrinkled paper touched the shiny, cold surface of her bedside table. More than that, it was as if the consequences of that yearbook crumbling out of existence were too awful to even think about. Dessy wondered if that book was the equivalent of a life line to Sandra. Or at the very least, a tiny ray of hope in this empty, gloomy hospital room.

"That's amazing, Sandra! You really do know everyone in our entire class-everyone in our entire grade!" Nina's outburst interrupted Dessy's thoughts.

Again, that sheepish smile. Sandra wilted just a little bit. Her cheeks became paler, and her once enviously golden hair that had long ago lost its luster seemed to fade even more. She looked so fragile, even Dessy couldn't help but feel a small twang of sympathy for her at that moment.

"What about me?" Dessy asked without thinking, just out of an impulse to stop seeing that hurt expression.

Nina and Sandra looked at her confused.

"I mean, who am I, and what do you know about me?" Dessy clarified.

Sandra flashed her what Dessy could only interpret as a "thank you" and shrugged. "Dessendra Torrez. Everyone just calls you Dessy though." Sandra hung her head a little bit, as if uncomfortable with saying the next part. "You don't seem to really like socializing. You always go straight home after school and you only sit with Nina at lunch."

Dessy gave a little nod, approving of the quick analysis, though there was much more to it than that. It was a good thing Sandra only seemed to know the surface things about all her peers, the things anyone would see if they gave a person even the slightest bit of attention. As long as Sandra didn't know the things that truly defined Dessy as a person, she could handle Sandra's harmless assumptions. She couldn't help but wonder why Sandra took the time to learn a little bit about everyone in her grade, but she didn't feel like asking questions. Afterall, she didn't really plan on seeing Sandra ever again.

"Oh, me next, me next!" Nina's entire face lit up and she gave a little squeal. Her bright yellow earrings flew up and down as she bounced in her seat with excitement.

"Okay," Sandra said. "Nina Olsen. I don't think I've ever seen you without a smile on your face. Oh, and you love to act and sing. You were Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie last year."


"We should go," Dessy announced, a tone that implied it was more of an order than a suggestion. Nina gave a small pout before standing.

"You're truly amazing, Sandra," she repeated again.

"Amazing?" Dessy scoffed, unable to hold in the small waves of anger that had been pestering her ever since she first laid eyes on Sandra, so defenseless, so sick, so frail. It was sad, it was pitiable, but it was Sandra's fault.

She turned to face Sandra before she left, standing in the doorway of the off-white walls of the hospital room, trying to keep the uncomfortableness of being in the hospital, and the awkwardness of visiting this girl she barely knew, from overtaking her.

Hospitals smelled like death, people always said that. Dessy always believed it was more psychological than anything, that smell of death people claimed lingered in every hallway of a hospital. People died here, of course they would claim it had such a smell. To Dessy, it didn't have a smell besides the slight stench of antiseptic. It was sterile. It was neutral, neither good or bad, it just was what it was. It was a place people who were sick went to try and get better. But to make yourself sick, to tease death like that…

Sandra looked at Dessy, expecting something. Nina scooped up her backpack and joined her only friend. Dessy hesitated a final second before finally saying the words on her mind, unable to hold them in a second longer. "You're Sandra Princeton. The only thing I know about you is the same thing everyone in the school is talking about. You're in the hospital, being fed through a tube because you-you're the girl with an eating disorder."

Nina flashed Dessy a shocked look and grabbed her wrist, pulling her away, saying "sorry, I'm so sorry!" to Sandra the entire time. Five seconds after the duo left the room Nina returned in a rush, her cheeks red as she was so flustered. She quickly pulled out the silver sparkly card, which now resembled an awful attempt at origami since her math book sat on top of the card the entire time. She gave the card to Sandra with an obviously forced smile before turning to leave again.

She stopped at the doorway and faced Sandra, meeting Sandra's light green eyes for the first time. Sandra was smiling, but Nina could see her eyes wet with the threat of tears.

"I really, really, really am sorry for what Dessy said," she whispered before leaving.


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