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"As for you, my galvanized friend, you want a heart. You don't know how lucky you are not to have one. Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable."
The Wizard of Oz, speaking to the Tin Man
I have always refused to let my heart be broken.
During one of the first meetings of the Sisterhood of the Dropped Stitches, our counselor, Rose, brought us this quote. We were just getting to know each other, but we already could see that we each had our own way of dealing with tears. Lizabett Macdonald, the youngest of us at fifteen, cried the easiest. Both Marilee Davidson and Carly Winston, the two oldest at nineteen and eighteen, would blink back their tears for as long as they could and then they'd let them fall. As for me, sixteen-year-old Becca Snyder, I never cried. Not ever.
The four of us were all teenagers when we got our cancer diagnoses, and everyone expected us to constantly spill our emotions and our tears. I hated that. I knew I had emotionsthe fear of death made that very clear but I had no intention of giving in to them, not even when everyone started to think I really was the Tin Man.
In my opinion, we didn't need to dig into our feelings and cry; we needed to figure out the rules to survive this thing that was eating us alive. It was bad enough that Rose had organized us into a knitting group; I refused to go all girlie with the tears.
I couldn't think when I was crying.
Seven years have passed since we first read that quote, but right now the rest of the Sisterhood is staring at me the way they did that nightlike I, Becca, am their very own personal TinMan. Only this time they're all flushed and proud because they think I've reached inside my tin-man armor and found a heart beating with romance.
I wish it were that simple.
I carefully set down my knitting needles. We're sitting around the table at one of our weekly Sisterhood meetings and I need to set everyone straight on my love life, or lack thereof. "Mark Russo is not my boyfriend. Not even close. He's my boss. Big difference. The only reason I mentioned how he looks is because of the girls."
I've learned over the years that most people don't see things in black and white like I do, and I'm trying to be sensitive to that. Sometimes I wish I could just follow my heart, but I can't. For me, boss and boyfriend don't mix at the best of times, and, with my life right now, I can't see myself dating anyway. It's not that I'm worried about dying or anythingall of the sisters have been official cancer survivors for years now. No, the problem with me and dating right now is just my life.
The judge who is in charge of my summer internship is on vacation and so am I, but once she gets back in town, I will be super-busymuch too busy for even a casual boyfriend. Especially when I start law school this fall. I've worked too hard to get into law school to let it go up in smoke. That's the way I am. Logic always comes before emotions with me.
"He's not your boss. You volunteer at that shelter," Marilee says smugly as she sets down her knitting needles, too. At twenty-six, she's the earth mother in our group. She's warm and giving and so happy these days that her goodwill just overflows. She's in love with her boyfriend, Quinn, and she wants the rest of us to find true love, too. She probably doesn't even notice that I'm out of my league here. It's not that I don't want to find my true love; it's just that I can't seem to make the emotional connections.
"And," Marilee continues gleefully. "I've never heard you call any man handsome before."
"I'm just repeating what the girls say. That's all."
I volunteer at a homeless shelter for teenagers in Hollywood; I'm a big sister to the girls there. It's not as noble as it sounds. I started volunteering at the place several months ago because I needed a "good citizen" reference for my application to law school and working at the shelter seemed more interesting than picking up trash along the 210 freeway. I got my acceptance letter from Loyola Law School a week ago and have been planning my goodbye speech to the girls ever since. I haven't given it yet; but I'm just waiting for the right moment.
Of course, the right moment might find me quick enough after what I did today. My goodbyes might all be said for me with the wave of a pink slip. Come to think of it, I wonder if volunteers are given pink slips.
"Mark is enough of a boss that he can fire me." I don't need to get in touch with my emotions to figure that one out. "And he just might." I've finally worked my way around to the point of the conversation. "I broke the biggest rule in the place this afternoon, and he's strict with rules."
I'm twenty-three years old and getting fired doesn't scare me. What sends shivers down my spine though is that Mark might insist on updating the reference letter he sent to the law school admissions department. No aspiring corporate lawyer needs a piece of paper in her academic file that says she can't be trusted to obey the rules, especially when the rules apply to underage minors who are homeless. They are what's known as a vulnerable population in legal circles. Picking up trash along the 210 freeway is beginning to look more attractive all the time. At least there wouldn't be any way for me to torpedo my career.
"I can't believe you broke any rules," Carly finally says. "Your middle name is Rules. You live for rules."
I've always felt a little in awe of Carly because, if I'm the Tin Man, she's Dorothy with the ruby slippers. Everyone loves Carly, and I can't blame them. Carly is this San Marino girl with long, flowing blond hair and a face that makes guys turn around. I mean that literally. One-hundred-and-eighty degrees. I've seen it happen. And, it's not just her face. You just know you can trust her. People would line up to follow Carly down a yellow brick road even if they didn't know where she was headed. And I would be the first in line to follow.
I look at Carly now.
"Believe it," I tell her. "Because I broke the biggest rule in the place."
The four of us in the Sisterhood gather every Thursday night in a diner that Marilee's Uncle Lou owns. We moved on from fighting our cancerme with my bone tumor, Carly with her Hodgkin's disease, Marilee with her breast cancer and Lizabett with the tumor in the muscle of her leg. And now we are trying to figure out how to fill in the holes in our lives that came from being sick for so long. Our old counselor, Rose, can't meet with us always, but the meetings with the Sisterhood are the most important part of my week. I think it's the same for the rest of the sisters.
Knowing they all understand me on the important things, even if they don't get me on romance, helps me make my confession. "I didn't set out to break any rules, you know that. It's just that some of the girls and I were washing the windows on the Melrose side of the building when a limo drove by. You should have seen the thing. The sunroof was open and this couple was standing up in formal clothesyou know, with the breeze blowing the girl's hair the way it does and the guy just leaning against the rim of the sunroof and grinning. He looked a little like Leonardo DiCaprio in a tux. Then the girl waved to us and the guy leaned over and kissed her. It was like a scene out of Titanic. Before the iceberg, of course."
Lizabett sighs. At twenty-two, she is the most romantic of all of us. She takes ballet lessons and cries at the movies. She has a reddish tinge to her short brown hair and has taken to wearing it in a halo of curls.
I look around the table and continue, "You should have seen the look on those girls' faces when I said the couple must be going to their prom. Right away, the girls started talking about dresses and asking what it had been like for me to be a normal kid and go to a prom."
I lift my eyebrow at the others. They are starting to understand. We all know I couldn't tell the girls what it was like to be a normal teenager; none of us could except for Marilee. We had been sick instead of poor, but we had a lot in common with those homeless girls. Marilee is the only one of us who discovered her cancer after she'd graduated from high school. The rest of us had missed out on most of the usual things like our proms.
I swallow. "I told them, of course, about the cancer and how it was. But then I thoughtwhy should they miss the prom like we did? It's not fair. There needs to be some justice in the world. There's no reason they shouldn't have an evening to remember. Not when they're healthy. So, I told them I would find them a prom to go to. Or something close to a prom with the clothes and the limo and the style."
"Wow," the sisters say in unison.
"I said it without really thinking," I tell them even though that revelation should not be necessary. Of course, I wasn't thinking. My knitting needles are on the table along with the ball of ugly beige yarn I'm using. I don't like the yarn even though it was on the free table at the yarn shop, and I was too practical to leave it there. It has been sitting at the bottom of my bag for months. Tonight I decided to pull it out. "So, that's what I did. And I can't back down. They trust me."
I wonder if anyone else is sitting here thinking that this is the reason why I shouldn't be allowed anywhere near my emotions. I'm better off as a Tin Man. When it's time for me to make decisions, I need to go with my head. I feel as miserable as that old ball of yarn. I should stick with rules. I understand rules. They work for me.
Of course, I know myself well enough to know it wasn't all sentiment that made me say I'd find the girls a prom. I've heard a lot of hard-luck stories, and I've never been moved to break any rules before. No, it was the injustice of it all that caught me up. It's not fair that some kids are always on the outside looking in. I don't want that for my girls.
"I don't suppose there's some way they can go to a prom?" Marilee asks after a moment. "Surely some of the kids at the shelter go to high school and"
I look at her. "Believe me, no one there goes to high school. We're lucky if they go through the program we have for them to get their GED."
"Well, maybe one of the local high schools will let the kids go to their prom as guests," Carly says.
"I doubt it," I say even though I hate to always be the pessimist.
"Oh, there's got to be a way," Lizabett says.
Like I said earlier, Lizabett is sweet. She actually believes I'll end up on the Supreme Court now that I've got my acceptance into law school. I don't tell her, but I'm touched that she's my champion. I figure she balances me out in the universe somehow. You know, the yin to my yang. The flying optimism to my earthbound reality.
"Your boyfr, I mean, your boss, Mark, will know how to get those kids into a prom," Lizabett adds with the blind confidence she sometimes has in people she hasn't even met. I happen to know she has a secret stash of superhero comic books and sometimes I think she's let them influence her too much. She continues, "All Mark needs to do is talk to a principal or someone."
That's like saying all Mark needs to do is turn into a superhero and save the world from destruction.
I no sooner think this then I remind myself that Lizabett is not alone. The girls at the shelter secretly think Mark is a superhero, too. That's how we got into this mess. I think he's the reason the girls are so caught up in dreaming about proms and limos. He's made them believe they're pretty enough to dream about things like that. Lupe, at fourteen, is missing a front tooth and Candice, only a year older, has a bottle scar on her left cheek. But Mark doesn't see those things and the girls forget them, too, when they're with him.
Plus, Mark has the kind of classic Italian looks that generally make a woman's heart flutter. Thick, dark wavy hair, warm brown eyes, a sculpted chin. Just the right amount of protective attitude.
I have to keep reminding the girls that just because Mark is single, that doesn't mean he would ever date anyone living at the shelter. He's not that kind of a guy. He doesn't even need to say he won't date anyone, it's just obvious. I don't bring up the age factor to the girls because they're a little sensitive about being young, but I know that's a double no-way for Mark.
I respect him for that. Well, that and the law degree he has from Harvard. He's not using it now, but he has it. I don't think the girls even realize what an accomplishment it is to graduate from Harvard Law.
When I'm around Mark, it's one of the few times I'm glad I have my Tin Man shell. Mark's a heartbreaker if I've ever seen one and I have no desire to wrap myself up in some romantic fog when I have my own law school to think about. I'm not planning to go to Harvard, but I'll need my wits about me at Loyola Law School, too. And a romance would only be a distraction. Not that I have to worry much about that with him anyway. It's hard to have a romance with someone who doesn't even talk to you except when politeness absolutely demands it.