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Authors: Angie Stanton

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Love & Romance

Dream Chaser (24 page)

BOOK: Dream Chaser
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“So where are your mom and dad?”

“Visiting my Grandma in Vermont. They were going to her cabin up in the mountains. That’s probably why my dad didn’t get my call.”

Eli gazed around the room. “You know this place has barely changed since I was last here.” He took in the school art projects taped to the wall, the stacks of organic living magazines in the corner, and the jungle of plants near the window. “It’s like a time warp, other than all the broken pottery in the other room.”

“Yeah, things never change much around here.”

He spied the black box in the other room. “That isn’t a…”

“Coffin? Yes. Breezy is going through a vampire stage, so Dad built her a mini coffin to play in.”

“I love your Dad. How’s he doing?”

“The same.
Happy and content.
His latest project is growing his own cultures for yogurt.”

Eli raised his dark blond eyebrows.

“The fridge looks like a science experiment. Hungry?” I offered.

“Not for yogurt. Got any more brownies?”

“No, but I have leftover Chinese.”

“Deal.” He got up, held a hand out, and pulled me up. “She should be out for a while, so I don’t think you need to worry too much."

We went into the kitchen where I pulled out the leftovers. We ate in the living room and watched Twinkie sleep. I breathed a huge sigh of relief knowing I didn’t have to be alone because Eli, who I trusted, had come to help.

 

 

 

Chapter 27

 

An hour later, Twinkie whimpered. I crawled on the floor next to her. “It’s okay, girl,” I whispered and touched her long fur.

Eli stretched out on the floor next to me and put a comforting hand on her.

“Do you think I should give her more
valium
? I don’t want her to have another seizure, they’re horrible.”

“I don’t know. Let’s give it a few minutes and see how she does. Maybe we should stagger the medicine, so she doesn’t get totally wiped out again.”

So we lay on the floor with one hand on Twinkie and our heads resting on throw pillows. We lay in comfortable silence and I had to say it seemed just like the old days.

Twinkie’s whining got worse, and I could tell the seizures were trying to fight their way out. Eli got the pill while I scooped some peanut butter. She licked it down right away, which sort of broke my heart. I couldn’t bear to see her suffer so much, but drugging her to oblivion didn’t seem right either.

After a few minutes, she calmed down. This time she didn’t turn into a limp dishrag. Exhausted from the stress of the day, I lay down next to her. The next thing I knew, a blanket covered me and another pillow appeared. I opened my eyes long enough to see Eli settle in beside me. I smiled and drifted to sleep.

Twinkie whined off and on all through the night. Whenever it got really bad, we would give her a single pill, but never more than one at a time. When morning
came, I woke nestled up against Eli
with his arm draped over me. I liked it there. He smelled like sleep and warm blankets, and the weight of his arm reassured me that I wasn’t alone. Just like when we danced, he always had my back. How could I have shut him out all that time? What an idiot I had been.

Morning light shone through the window. I listened to Eli snore
softly,
content to lay in his arms all day. Then Twinkie whined. I twisted to check her. Her front leg twitched, but at least it wasn’t a grand mal seizure like before. The seizure twitches were gaining strength despite the meds. She’d had a rough night, and I knew what had to be done.

Eli woke, and peeked at me through sleepy eyes. His mouth turned into a smile. He realized how close we were and stretched out, moving his arm over his head. Underarm hair peeked out of the edge of his t-shirt.

“How’s she doing?” His morning voice sounded low and gravely. He rubbed his hand over his face.

“I don’t know. She’s twitching, but that’s it.” I inched away, not sure he welcomed my body attached to his side like a refrigerator magnet. I looked at Twinkie; her tail gave a meager little wag. Then it stopped, and her body stiffened, but not too much. Tiny spasms shook her. Nothing big like last night, but a constant reminder of her torment.

“Hang in
there
girl, it’ll all be over soon.” Tears welled in my eyes, and I hugged her stiff little body. Thankfully it didn’t last long, maybe a minute. The meds were still helping.

“We should give her another one,” Eli said.

“Yeah, and let’s see if she needs to go out. Twinkie, want to go outside!” I said in the chipper voice we always used. She responded by sitting up on her front paws, but her back end didn’t move. She tried again, but couldn’t get up.

“Here, let me help.” Eli jumped up and gently lifted her hips to a standing position, but as soon as he tried to release her, her legs slid out from under her at awkward angles. Sadness filled his eyes. “I’ll carry her.”

So he pulled on his coat and slipped on his boots and carried Twinkie to the backyard. I followed to help. He set her in the newly fallen snow and her back end collapsed. We tried a couple times more, but there was no way she could walk or even hold her own weight.

Eli hefted her back into his arms and carried her inside by the wood stove. I brought her water dish and had to hold her head so she could drink, which seemed to make her happy. As we gave her another pill, the phone rang. I startled, and shared a look with Eli. “I hope that’s my dad.” Eli gave Twinkie a dollop of peanut butter as I went to answer.

“Hello.”

“Hey kiddo, how’s she doing?” Dad asked in a calm concerned voice.

“It’s really bad.” I couldn’t help it; I started to cry. I turned my back so Eli wouldn’t see. “The seizures won’t stop, and now she can’t walk.”

I went into the pantry and talked to Dad for a few minutes. We agreed what needed to be done. I came out and hung up the phone, but my hand wouldn’t let it go, I didn’t want to lose the connection to Dad and face reality in the next room.

Eli’s hand covered
mine,
the heat of his body warmed me. He removed my hand from the phone. I dropped my head and couldn’t hold it back any longer. I turned toward him, and he nestled me in his arms as I bawled.

He stayed by my side as I called the pet clinic and arranged a time to bring Twinkie in. We opened a can of tuna to give her a special last meal. His phone rang. He pulled it out and frowned.

“It’s my mom. I better take this before it turns into a national crisis.” He stepped away. “Hello, Mother.” He looked at me and frowned. “I’m at a friend’s.” He listened as his mother ranted so loud I could hear her across the room. He pushed a hand through his hair.

“I know. I’m sorry.” He glanced at me and shook his head as the ranting continued. “I’m at Jason’s. He had an emergency and needed a hand.” He rolled his eyes.

“No, it won’t happen again. It was late, and I didn’t want you to worry.” More yelling could be heard. “Oh shit, I totally forgot. Yeah, I’m on my way.” He ended the call.

“I’m so sorry, but I’ve got to go. I’ve got an exam in AP Lit at eight. I can’t blow it, or my life will be a living hell. And if I don’t get a 4.0, my dad threatened to cut off my college money, and I need to get the hell outta there.”

“Okay, go.” I grabbed his coat as he slipped on his boots. “I’m sorry they put so much pressure on you.”

“I’m a
McAvoy
. This is how we live. I don’t get a choice.” He pulled his coat on. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay taking Twinkie in? I can come back after my exam.”

“I’ll be fine. Thanks for offering.” I gave him a half smile, because we both knew I wouldn’t be fine. In a way, it would be better if it
was
just me.

He nodded, then went over to Twinkie and talked to her softly. When he got up, his watery eyes met mine. “Hang in there. Call me anytime.”

I nodded.

“I’ll see you at rehearsal. Okay?”

“I’ll be there.”

A sudden awkwardness sprang up between us, reminding me how distant we’d been up until a few days ago. Last night was a huge step in repairing our friendship, but we still didn’t know what to do with it. Was it possible to get back what we once had? I hoped so.

“Go! You’re going to be late.”

“All right.” He paused at the door. “Good luck today.”

“Thanks.”

He disappeared out the door, leaving me alone, my dying dog at my feet.

 

*
  
*
  
*

 

Saying goodbye to Twinkie and putting her to sleep was the most horrible thing I’ve ever
been
through. I couldn’t bear the idea of going to school.

Back at home, I took Twinkie’s collar and gathered up the rest of her stuff and put it in a box. I couldn’t look at it. I stuffed the box in a closet for Mom and Dad to figure out what to do with.

Mom called and we talked for a long time. She said taking the day off school was perfectly fine. I didn’t mention I would miss a history exam. She offered to come home to be with me, but I told her not
to
. They just got to Grandma’s, plus I’d be busy with school and rehearsals the whole time anyway. I cleaned up the broken pottery and put the house back together. I folded up the afghan and hugged it close. The hint of Eli’s scent gave me a little comfort.

 

*
  
*
  
*

 

That night after rehearsal, I tried Jilly again. If my friendship with Eli could start to heal, maybe Jilly would be ready too.

“Hey Jilly, I heard you guys rocked it. I’m so glad. I knew you could do it.”

Actually, I heard they didn’t rock it. A guy from the show said his sister cheered for Memorial, and he heard the Capital Flyers barely made the finals. Anna fell out of her sit pose,
which is the easiest position ever. And Brittany blew her
Scorpion move
. Ms.
Klahn
went ballistic and made them run laps around the school before she’d let them on the bus to come home.

After that call, I finally understood how Eli must have felt when I abandoned him all those years ago. I didn’t like it. It sucked not having anyone to talk to. I had been such a jerk.

 

 

 

Chapter 28

 

By rehearsal the next day, I’d cried myself out. A long shower and careful makeup erased the outward signs of my grief. It seemed like a week since she’d died, not one day. The distraction of the show helped me push my sadness over Twinkie to the back of my mind. Life moved on and I rode the fast train with the show. The good news, things were looking up.

I sat in the front row with the other principals. It’s the position of power. Position is a funny thing. When I started the show, I always stayed in the back of the crowd, mostly because I didn’t have a clue what I was supposed to be doing, but partly because I hadn’t earned it.

Now, I knew my stuff inside and out, and I wasn’t ashamed to be seen in front. If they criticized me now, it’s because I screwed up and deserved it.

The tables were turned. Now they were screwing up, not me. Probably because they weren’t working 24/7 like I was. They might be keeping their GPAs up, but I knew every line of dialogue and every song and every dance step.

Eli and I sat in the front row with Jason and the other principals watching Tyson walk back in forth. Anyone with a brain could see how stressed out Tyson was. He kept pushing his fingers through his hair and chewing on his fingernails. But did the other kids shut up and listen? No, of course not.

“We are
ten
days from opening. It’s time you stepped your game up.” He paced in front of us. The cast filled the first four rows of the house.

Eli pressed his knee against mine. We felt terrible for Tyson. This was his dream, and half the cast wasn’t taking it seriously.

“Everyone should be off book and for
pete
's
sake, learn the words to the songs! I know you have school and homework, but at some point, you have to make a choice. Are you going to pull together and put on a kick ass show, or go home and play video games?”

Behind me, I heard kids grumbling.

“And how many more times must I talk to you about emotion? I want to see emotion in everything you do up there. Every song. Every dance. I don’t care if you’re front row or back! No more breaking character." Tyson faced us with weary eyes. His own conviction kept him going. "When you step on that stage I want to see passion and enthusiasm, not the lackluster indifference you’ve been delivering. You’re tired and I’m tired, but we’re heading into the final week, and it’s going to be a ball buster. You have no idea what’s about to hit, and you better be ready.” He looked from one cast member to the next hoping they heard and understood his message.

He shook his head. “Okay, enough lecturing, I see you’ve tuned me out anyway.
Time for a little show and tell.
Maybe that will motivate you.” He looked straight at the front row. “Eli, Willow. Take the stage. They haven’t seen
your fight number.”
BOOK: Dream Chaser
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