|Publisher:||Kids Can Press, Limited|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.10(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
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Last night had been a good night, one of the best Sasha has had in weeks. Her body is still frail, her cheeks sunken in and her eyes rimmed with dark circles under a nearly bald head, but she'd had a ton of energy. Even though it was a school night (for me, at least), Sasha had declared it Best Friends Movie Night.
The thing about having a best friend dying of cancer? Your parents let you do almost anything you want, including spending days at a time away from home and letting your grades slip from A's to C's. I wouldn't exactly call it a benefit, though. My best friend has to be dying to get these privileges.
We'd spent the night in the Cades' home library, which has become Sasha's temporary bedroom ever since the cancer weakened her body too much for her to walk up stairs. In the corner of the room, on top of the built-in desk, the television plays the DVD menu screen from Sixteen Candles on a loop. We must have fallen asleep watching it.
I sit up on the brown leather couch, my body aching to go back to sleep, but Sasha's phone alarm is blaring throughout the small, book-filled room.
"I want to tell Daddy bye before he goes to work," she'd said last night, setting her alarm for six thirty. Her voice was frail and barely more than a gasp of air. "One of these mornings will be my last, and I don't want to miss the chance to see him."
I think my stomach knows before I do. An uneasiness swells up inside of me as I yawn, get up and reach over Sasha's hospital bed to grab her phone. Silencing her alarm, I notice the three dozen text messages that filtered in overnight. There are 124 students at Peyton Colony High School, and every single one of them considers Sasha a friend. But I am her only best friend. We are attached at the hip. Left to my own devices, I would probably be more of a loner, spending my time with only Sasha. But she's got a personality that attracts everyone, and because of that, we are often invited to parties, school dances and the popular lunch table.
There has been more than one rumor that we might be lesbians. We ignore them. I have a boyfriend, after all, and Sasha would be way out of my league.
When Sasha's cancer diagnosis hit the school, devastation rocked the entire senior class. Sasha had always been well liked, but after that, she was like royalty. Everyone wanted to sit with us at lunch and take pictures with Sasha as if they were old pals just standing near the lockers between classes. It didn't matter what menial thing was going on, all of her new best friends wanted to document it on Instagram. While I rolled my eyes and wondered where these girls had been the time Sasha broke her leg and I had to carry her books from class to class, Sasha just smiled and treated everyone with kindness.
Once all the chemo and radiation were over and her diagnosis became the big T — terminal — all of her newfound friends became just as attached as the freaking tumors. A few weeks ago, when she quit school altogether, she was no doubt the most popular girl in our tiny Texas town. I was happy just hanging out in her shadow, although some of the tragic fame trickled onto me, too. I was the best friend, after all, and everyone wants to know the dying girl.
Now I am in my pajamas, staring her in the face.
And I know it. I just know.
I don't need to check for a pulse, or watch her faded Zombie Radio T-shirt to see if it moves with the rise and fall of someone alive and breathing. There is something in her face that tells me. She looks peaceful, at rest.
I stand there for a long moment, Sasha's phone in my hand, my feet cold on the wooden floor. I even think about going back to sleep, like that time I saw Dad putting Santa's presents under the tree, forever shattering the illusion that magic was real. Pretend it never happened and maybe it never did.
"Sasha," I whisper, then bite down hard on my lip. A desperate act in futility. Wake up.
I even hold my breath in anticipation, stupid as it is.
At the foot of her bed, Sasha's golden lab, Sunny, is also awake. His head rests on top of her foot, and his eyes slide over to mine, holding my gaze for the longest moment. Dogs are intuitive. He's known longer than I have. Probably from the second it happened. He'd fallen asleep on the floor because Sasha was in too much pain to cuddle with him last night, but now he's up here on her bed.
I sit on the edge of her bed and touch her hand with my shaking fingers. It is cold as ice — no, colder. The lump in my throat sinks to my stomach and scorching hot tears of anger flood to my eyes. The back of my throat burns acidic, and — though my heart pounds — I swear I can't breathe.
We all knew this was coming. For months now we've known the lymphoma would kill her. Sasha and I had planned her funeral down to the minute. The six hottest guys in school are her pallbearers and her white, glittery casket is already custom ordered and in stock at Hayes Funeral Home. I've written a beautiful eulogy that references not one but three of our favorite movies. We have known the outcome of this journey for months and knew it would happen soon.
So why do I feel so blindsided?
I pull my feet up on the bed and curl into myself, my hand still on top of Sasha's frigid, lifeless flesh. Sunny lifts up and makes his way across the blankets, settling himself between his human and me. I rest my head on top of his fur and close my eyes. It hurts so bad, so much and for so long.
Movement in the hallway startles me out of my nearly catatonic state. I glance at the phone in my hand to see that only eleven minutes have passed since I woke up on the worst day of my life.
"Mrs. Cade?" That's really all I have to say. There is no misinterpreting the tone of my voice.
The shuffling of her house shoes stops, starts and then stops again. "Raquel?"
All she says is my name, but I know she knows. The world suddenly feels so small. We are two people who loved this dead girl, and at this moment, we are the only two people on earth with this pain.
Mrs. Cade calls for her husband, and I hear her sobs before they walk into the library. Sunny rests his head on top of Sasha's chest. I hold on to Sasha's hand, somehow still seeking comfort from my best friend. I can't face her parents alone. I don't want to see their faces when they learn for certain what I already know to be true.
Sasha Cade has died, and no matter how much we prepared for it, the pain might kill us, too.CHAPTER 2
It was a couple weeks ago, on one of Sasha's bad days. Her parents had just moved in the hospital bed so that she could live out her remaining days at home with family and not in some sterile, chemical-smelling hospital with pitying nurses and doctors who all have frown lines on their upper lips from delivering bad news all day long.
I was eating a bag of pizza-flavored Combos and had just sucked all the filling out of one of them. That memory seems trivial at first, but after I recall it, every little detail comes back almost like it just happened. I can practically feel the empty pizza Combo in my fingers, Sunny sitting at my feet, eagerly hoping I'll drop some on the floor.
Sasha grimaced at my snacking choice. Food was her enemy now that she felt sick all the time and only occasionally sipped on chocolate milk. "I wonder what they'll do with my dead body," she said, looking at the sparkles in her nail polish.
"What?" I nearly choked on my pretzel shell. "They'll bury it, Sash. We've kind of spent the last few weeks planning the whole ordeal."
She shook her head. "No, not that. Like, when Mom and Dad walk in and find me dead in here, surrounded by all these old law books and stuff —" She motioned toward the dark wood bookshelves of Mr. Cade's library. "What happens to my body? Do they just pick it up and dump it in a bag or something?"
No longer hungry, I crumpled up the Combos and gave her a look. "You're really morbid."
She shrugged and tugged the blanket up to her shoulders, the fabric outlining the thin contours of her body. Before, she was curvy and dark skinned and beautiful. Now she was, well, dying.
"Your parents will call 9-1-1, probably," I said, looking toward the high ceiling as I considered it. I'd never found anyone dead before, so it wasn't like I had prior experience. "The paramedics will come and they'll put you on a stretcher and roll you into the ambulance. Then I guess you'll go to the morgue, or something."
"And then you'll get started on making my funeral awesome," she said, her chapped lips stretching into a grin. Her bony finger pointed at me. "Don't let Mom talk you into roses or carnations or some shit, okay? I want wildflowers and sunflowers. Lots of 'em."
"I got you," I said, glancing over at the binder on the nearby table. It had all of our funeral plans laid out with sticky notes and color-coded instructions. Sasha had even written her own obituary for the newspaper, but I hadn't seen it yet. I stiffened my shoulders and pointed my nose up. "I'll say, 'Mrs. Cade, I know your daughter is dead but I'm in charge here. No fucking roses!'"
Sasha choked out a laugh. "See? You're morbid, too."
Now that Sasha is dead and we did wake up to find her body, I'm not sure if the 9-1-1, call-an-ambulance thing actually happened in that order. I don't know how they plan to move her body.
I don't stick around long enough to find out.
* * *
When I pull into my driveway, it's almost as if everything is normal. I sit in my car, staring at the white bricks of our old ranch-style house, a world apart from the lakefront mansions in Sasha's neighborhood. My hands shake on the steering wheel. Mom's Corolla sits next to my car, meaning she hasn't left for work yet. Dad is gone, like always. Truckers have weird schedules and I never know when I'll see his semi parked on the gravel driveway off to the side of our garage.
If I sit here long enough, the engine idling, radio DJs rambling their morning show routine, I can almost pretend this is any other morning. I'm sitting here because I'm about to back out of the driveway and head to school. I'm just Raquel Clearwater, a senior at Peyton Colony High, and it's the middle of August on a typical Monday.
I blink, and the vision fades away. My heart breaks through that momentary absence of emotion, and I am raw again. I don't know what I expected to happen the day Sasha died. I guess I knew there would be tears, but part of me thought maybe I'd be a little optimistic about it all. Death would mean she wasn't suffering anymore. She could be at peace. I guess I thought it wouldn't hurt this bad.
I cut the engine and grip my keys so hard they dig painfully into my palms. The sun is rising and the school bus screeches to a stop in the distance. People are heading off to work and the planet is spinning just like it always does. Funny how your soul can be ripped in half and yet the world still looks exactly the same.
The front door opens before I get to it, and Mom steps out in a navy pencil skirt and a white blouse that's not very good at hiding the stomach pudge she hates so much.
"Oh, honey," she says, and I walk right into her open arms. She's shorter than I am now, since I got Dad's tall genes and she got Grandma's miniature ones, but her hug is just as comforting as when I was a little girl.
I lean into her embrace, burying my face in her hair, inhaling the scent of her summery bodywash. For the first time since I woke up this morning, something other than sorrow wiggles its way into my soul.
"How did you know?" I whisper.
She pulls back, holding my shoulders. Tears fill her eyes, threatening to ruin her makeup. "Sue just called me. She wanted to make sure you would be taken care of today, so don't worry, honey, I'm not going to work."
I make this half-snort, half-sobbing noise somewhere deep in my throat. Mrs. Cade's daughter is dead and she's worried about me. Mom leads me into the living room and allows me to cry on her shoulder for I don't know how long. The ache in my chest is deep, hollow and somehow powered with a fuel that never seems to run dry. I cry and cry, and it doesn't go away. Nothing makes this easier.
Deep down I feel shame for wanting it to be easier. I keep thinking if I cry a little longer, maybe I'll cry myself out and I'll feel better. When my eyelids are so heavy they're nearly swollen shut, I sit up and brush my choppy hair out of my eyes. Mom's work shirt is soaked, the entire shoulder wet and clinging to her skin. I can see the anchor tattoo on her shoulder, visible through the white fabric. Little details like this seem to matter to me. They are all pieces of life that Sasha will never ever get to experience again.
"God, I'm sorry," I mutter, wiping at my eyes. "You want to go and change?"
Mom's hands slide to her knees and she peers at me with red eyes, tear lines of mascara running down her cheeks. "Don't worry about me, Raquel."
Each breath hurts. As much as I tell my brain to stop, it keeps drudging up some random memory of Sasha and me: playing Queens of the Playground at recess, flirting our way into free tokens at the arcade, the time some creepy guy wouldn't stop hitting on me at the Fourth of July parade and she slapped him right across the face. Each new memory brings forth a tidal wave of tears and a pain in my chest that feels as though the Grim Reaper has shoved his staff right into me and is dragging it down, breaking each rib just for the thrill of it.
By noon, Mom feels comfortable enough to leave me alone while she makes lunch, not like I want to eat any of it. But when she sets a bowl of her famous tomato soup in front of me, along with a grilled cheese sandwich, I'm suddenly starving. Eating feels wrong, given that Sasha can't eat anymore, but I can practically hear her sarcastic laugh, telling me to stop being stupid.
Rocki, Rocki, Rocki. Don't be a drama queen — that's my job.
"How are you doing?" Mom asks softly as she dips her spoon into her soup.
I shrug. "I thought I had prepared for dealing with this. I thought —" The bite of grilled cheese now feels like cardboard in my mouth. "I thought it wouldn't hurt as bad if I planned ahead."
"That's not how death works, honey." Mom's lips form a flat line, then they curve upward. "I remember your first grade field day," she says with a little laugh. "Remember when you and Sasha won the three-legged race? You've pretty much been inseparable since then."
I smile as the knot in my stomach twists in on itself, making one more loop that tugs into place just above my belly button.
After lunch, I tell Mom I need some alone time and she reluctantly stays on the couch while I walk away. I can hear my phone blowing up from my backpack, but I ignore it. By now, surely the whole school knows.
I wander outside, curling my toes over the edge of our pool. My reflection peers up at me, and I sit on the ledge. The concrete is hot from the Texas heat and it burns my butt, even through my leggings. I dunk my feet into the water, soaking my leggings up to the knees. Too late, I bend down and scrunch up the fabric, revealing my pale knees. We didn't spend much time outside this summer, so I am woefully lacking in the tan department.
Sasha had said on more than one occasion that when she was gone, she would try to reach out to me in this spiritual, metaphysical way. "Keep an eye out," she had said. "And I don't mean like a cold draft in the room or some dumb butterfly landing on your shoulder. When I reach out to you from beyond the grave, you're gonna know it's me."
"What, like you'll appear as a ghost?" I said, snorting.
"Maybe," she mused. "But when I visit you, you'll know it. You'll be able to hold on to it."
"Should we have some kind of sign?"
She thought it over for a moment. "No. I'll make it so obvious that you won't need a sign. You'll just know it's me, saying hi to you from the afterlife."
"You have a lot of faith in me," I said.
She grinned. "Maybe I just have faith in my own abilities."
I close my eyes and listen to the gentle swish of the pool water, the soft hum of the creepy pool suction thing as it makes its way across the bottom, cleaning off all the dirt. I take deep breaths and exhale slowly, trying to yoga my way into being peaceful and open to the spiritual realm. If Sasha tries to reach out to me from her afterlife, I want to be able to feel it.
Several moments pass and nothing happens.
I keep my eyes closed, grateful that for once since I woke up today, I'm not crying. I picture Sasha as an angel, her long, dark hair back and flowing in waves around her shoulders. I get all theatrical with it, picturing her smiling at me from atop her heavenly cloud, her bright new angel wings enormous and perfect.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Last Wish of Sasha Cade"
Copyright © 2018 Cheyanne Young.
Excerpted by permission of Kids Can Press Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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