মুখ্য Five feet apart
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I loved this book, it's well written and easy to understand for a wide range of ages. The topics to books talk about are meaningful and strong and allow the reader to learn about CF and the effects it has on the lives of those diagnosed with it as well as showing you the camaraderie and friendships that blossom from it. truly an amazing read and 100% recommend.
01 April 2020 (04:05)
This is a very light and beautiful kind of book ... But a little strange too I mean Stella meets will for like the first time and goes making him schedule and everything ... Bahh
31 July 2020 (05:15)
As a boy I spent hours at the public library reading the Rainbow Fairy books. It's great to read them again.
03 September 2020 (09:10)
I recommend! Its the right amount of romance, drama and CUTENESS! It literally made me cry.. But its amazing I read this over and over and over again!
11 February 2021 (18:22)
I also recommend the movie its amazing!
12 February 2021 (17:58)
So sad T-T
26 February 2021 (23:09)
stop giving fucking spoilers in your reviews
05 March 2021 (16:02)
hey bad word stop it ??
08 March 2021 (04:03)
Great book!!! A little bit like John green’s book, fault in our stars. 10/10 would recommend! And “Sam” just don’t read the reviews?
08 June 2021 (16:15)
For Alyson —R. L. We dedicate this book, and the movie, to all the patients, families, medical staff, and loved ones who bravely fight the battle against cystic fibrosis every day. We hope the story of Stella and Will helps to bring awareness to this disease and, one day, a cure. —M. D. and T. I. CHAPTER 1 STELLA I trace the outline of my sister’s drawing, lungs molded from a sea of flowers. Petals burst out from every edge of the twin ovals in soft pinks, deep whites, even heather blues, but somehow each one has a uniqueness, a vibrancy that feels like it’ll bloom forever. Some of the flowers haven’t blossomed yet, and I can feel the promise of life just waiting to unfold from the tiny buds under the weight of my finger. Those are my favorites. I wonder, all too often, what it would be like to have lungs this healthy. This alive. I take a deep breath, feeling the air fight its way in and out of my body. Slipping off the last petal of the last flower, my hand sinks, fingers dragging through the background of stars, each pinpoint of light that Abby drew a separate attempt to capture infinity. I clear my throat, pulling my hand away, and lean over to grab a picture of us from off my bed. Identical smiles peek out from underneath thick wool scarves, the holiday lights at the park down the street twinkling above our heads just like the stars in her drawing. There was something magical about it. The soft glow of the lampposts in the park, the white snow clinging to the branches of the trees, the quiet stillness of it all. We nearly froze our butts off for that picture last year, but it was our tradition. Me and Abby, braving the cold to go see the holiday lights together. This photo always makes me remember that feeling. The feeling of going on an adventure with my sister, just the two of us, the world expanding like an open book. I take a thumbtack and hang the picture next to the drawing before sitting down on my bed and grabbing my pocket notebook and pencil off my bedside table. My eyes trav; el down the long to-do list I made for myself this morning, starting with “#1: Plan to-do list,” which I’ve already put a satisfying line through, and going all the way down to “#22: Contemplate the afterlife.” Number 22 was probably just a little ambitious for a Friday afternoon, but at least for now I can cross off number 17, “Decorate walls.” I look around the formerly stark room I’ve spent the better part of the morning making my own, once again, the walls now filled with the artwork Abby’s given me through the years, bits of color and life jumping out from clinical white walls, each one a product of a different trip to the hospital. Me with an IV drip in my arm, the bag bursting with butterflies of different shapes and colors and sizes. Me wearing a nose cannula, the cable twisting to form an infinity sign. Me with my nebulizer, the vapor pouring out of it forming a cloudy halo. Then there’s the most delicate one, a faded tornado of stars that she drew my very first time here. It’s not as polished as her later stuff, but somehow that makes me like it more. And right underneath all that vibrancy is . . . my pile of medical equipment, sitting right next to a hideous green faux-leather hospital chair that comes standard for every room here at Saint Grace’s. I eye the empty IV pole warily, knowing my first of many rounds of antibiotics over the next month is exactly an hour and nine minutes away. Lucky me. “Here it is!” a voice calls from just outside my room. I look up as the door slowly creaks open and two familiar faces appear in the small crack of the doorway. Camila and Mya have visited me here a million times in the past decade, and they still can’t get from the lobby to my room without asking every person in the building for directions. “Wrong room,” I say, grinning as a look of pure relief washes over them. Mya laughs, pushing the door open the rest of the way. “It honestly could’ve been. This place is still a freaking maze.” “Are you guys excited?” I say, hopping up to give them both hugs. Camila pulls away to look at me, pouting, her dark-brown hair practically drooping along with her. “Second trip in a row without you.” It’s true. This isn’t the first time my cystic fibrosis has taken me out of the running for some class trip or sunny vacation or school event. About 70 percent of the time, things are pretty normal for me. I go to school, I hang out with Camila and Mya, I work on my app. I just do it all with low-functioning lungs. But for the remaining 30 percent of my time, CF controls my life. Meaning when I need to return to the hospital for a tune-up, I miss out on things like a class trip to the art museum or now our senior trip to Cabo. This particular tune-up just happens to be centered around the fact that I need to be pumped with antibiotics to finally get rid of a sore throat and a fever that won’t go away. That, and my lung function is tanking. Mya plunks down on my bed, sighing dramatically as she lies back. “It’s only two weeks. Are you sure you can’t come? It’s our senior trip, Stella!” “I’m sure,” I say firmly, and they know I mean it. We’ve been friends since middle school, and they know by now that when it comes to plans, my CF gets the final say. It’s not like I don’t want to go. It’s just, quite literally, a matter of life or death. I can’t go off to Cabo, or anywhere for that matter, and risk not coming back. I can’t do that to my parents. Not now. “You were the head of the planning committee this year, though! Can’t you get them to move your treatments? We don’t want you to be stuck here,” Camila says, gesturing to the hospital room I so carefully decorated. I shake my head. “We still have spring break together! And I haven’t missed a spring break ‘Besties Weekend’ since eighth grade, when I got that cold!” I say, smiling hopefully and looking back and forth between Camila and Mya. Neither of them returns my smile, though, and both opt to continue looking like I killed their family pets. I notice they’re both holding the bags of bathing suits I told them to bring, so I grab Camila’s out of her hand in a desperate attempt to change the subject. “Ooh, suit options! We have to pick out the best ones!” Since I’m not going to be basking in the warm Cabo sun in a bathing suit of my choice, I figure I can at least live a little vicariously through my friends by picking out theirs with them. This perks them both up. We eagerly dump their bags out on my bed, creating a mishmash of florals and polka dots and fluorescents. I scan Camila’s pile of bathing suits, grabbing a red one that falls somewhere between a bikini bottom and a single piece of thread, which I know without a doubt is a hand-me-down from her older sister, Megan. I toss it to her. “This one. It’s very you.” Her eyes widen, and she holds it up to her waist, fixing her wire-frame glasses in surprise. “I mean, the tan lines would be pretty great—” “Camila,” I say, grabbing a white-and-blue-striped bikini that I can tell will fit her like a glove. “I’m kidding. This one’s perfect.” She looks relieved, grabbing the bikini from me. I turn my attention to Mya’s pile, but she’s busy texting away from the green hospital chair in the corner, a big smile plastered on her face. I dig out a one-piece that she’s had since swim class in sixth grade, holding it up to her with a smirk. “How’s this, Mya?” “Love it! Looks great!” she says, typing furiously. Camila snorts, putting her suits back in the bag and giving me a sly smile. “Mason and Brooke called it quits,” she says in explanation. “Oh my god. They did not!” I say. This is news. Amazing news. Well, not for Brooke. But Mya has been crushing on Mason since Mrs. Wilson’s English class sophomore year, so this trip is her chance to finally make a move. It bums me out I won’t be there to help her make a killer ten-step “Whirlwind Cabo Romance with Mason” plan. Mya puts her phone away and shrugs casually, standing and pretending to look at some of the artwork on the walls. “No big deal. We’re going to meet him and Taylor at the airport tomorrow morning.” I give her a look and she breaks out into a huge smile. “Okay, it’s a little bit of a big deal!” We all squeal with excitement, and I hold up an adorable polka-dot one-piece that is super vintage, and right up her alley. She nods, grabbing it and holding it up to her body. “I was totally hoping you’d pick this one.” I look over to see Camila glancing at her watch nervously, which is no surprise. She’s a champion procrastinator and probably hasn’t packed a single thing for Cabo yet. Besides the bikini, of course. She sees me notice her checking her watch and grins sheepishly. “I still need to buy a beach towel for tomorrow.” Classic Camila. I stand up, my heart sinking in my chest at the thought of them leaving, but I don’t want to hold them up. “You guys have to get going, then! Your plane is at, like, the ass crack of dawn tomorrow.” Mya looks around the room sadly while Camila twists her bag of suits dejectedly around her hand. The two of them are making this even harder than I thought it would be. I swallow the guilt and annoyance that come bubbling up. It’s not like they’re the ones missing their senior trip to Cabo. At least they’ll be together. I give them both big smiles, practically pulling them to the door with me. My cheeks hurt from all this fake positivity, but I don’t want to ruin it for them. “We’ll send you a bunch of pictures, okay?” Camila says, giving me a hug. “You’d better! Photoshop me into a few,” I say to Mya, who is a wizard at Adobe. “You won’t even know I wasn’t there!” They linger in the doorway, and I give them an exaggerated eye roll, playfully shoving them out into the hallway. “Get outta here. Go have a great trip.” “Love you, Stella!” they call as they walk down the hallway. I watch them go, waving until Mya’s bouncing curls are completely out of sight, suddenly wanting nothing more than to be walking out with them, off to pack instead of unpack. My smile fades as I close the door and see the old family picture pinned carefully to the back of my door. It was taken a few summers ago on the front porch of our house during a Fourth of July barbecue. Me, Abby, Mom, and Dad, goofy smiles on all our faces as the camera captures the moment. I feel a swell of homesickness as I hear the sound of the worn, rickety wood of that front step, creaking underneath us as we laugh and get close for the picture. I miss that feeling. All of us together, happy and healthy. For the most part. This isn’t helping. Sighing, I pull myself away, looking over at the medicine cart. In all honesty, I like it here. It’s been my home away from home since I was six, so I usually don’t mind coming. I get my treatments, I take my medicine, I drink my body weight in milk shakes, I get to see Barb and Julie, I leave until my next flare-up. Simple as that. But this time I feel anxious, restless even. Because instead of just wanting to get healthy, I need to get healthy. For my parents’ sake. Because they’ve gone and messed up everything by getting divorced. And after losing each other, they won’t be able to handle losing me, too. I know it. If I can get better, maybe . . . One step at a time. I head over to the wall oxygen, double-checking the flowmeter is set properly, and listen for the steady hiss of the oxygen coming out of it before I pull the tube around my ears and slide the prongs of the cannula into my nose. Sighing, I sink down onto the familiarly uncomfortable hospital mattress, and take a deep breath. I reach for my pocket notebook to read the next thing on my to-do list and keep myself preoccupied—“#18: Record a video.” I grab my pencil and bite it thoughtfully as I stare at the words I wrote earlier. Oddly enough, contemplating the afterlife seems easier right now. But the list is the list, so, exhaling, I reach over to my bedside table to get my laptop, sitting cross-legged on the new floral comforter I picked out yesterday at Target while Camila and Mya were buying clothes for Cabo. I didn’t even need the comforter, but they were so enthusiastic in helping me pick something out for my trip to the hospital, I felt bad not getting it. At least it sort of matches my walls now, bright and vibrant and colorful. I drum my fingers anxiously on the keyboard, and squint at my reflection in the screen while my computer starts up. I frown at the mess of long brown hair and try to smooth it down, running my fingers through it over and over. Frustrated, I pull my hair tie off my wrist and resort to a messy bun in an attempt to look halfway decent for this video. I grab my copy of Java Coding for Android Phones off my bedside table and put my laptop on top of it, so I don’t show some serious under chin, and can have a shot that’s remotely flattering. Logging on to my YouTube Live account, I adjust the webcam, making sure you can see Abby’s lung drawing directly behind me. It’s the perfect backdrop. I close my eyes and take a deep breath, hearing the familiar wheeze of my lungs trying desperately to fill with air through the sea of mucus. Exhaling slowly, I slap a big Hallmark-greeting-card smile on my face before opening my eyes and pressing the enter key to go live. “Hey, guys. Is everyone having a good Black Friday? I waited for snow that never came!” I glance into the corner of my screen as I turn the camera toward the hospital window, the sky a cloudy gray, the trees on the other side of the glass completely barren. I smile as my livestream count goes steadily past 1K, a fraction of the 23,940 YouTube subscribers who tune in to see how my battle with cystic fibrosis is going. “So, I could be getting ready to go on a plane to Cabo for my school’s senior trip, but instead I’ll be spending this holiday at my home away from home, thanks to a mild sore throat.” Plus, a raging fever. I think back to when I got my temperature taken on intake this morning, the flashing numbers on the thermometer blaring out a strong 102. I don’t want to mention it in the video, though, because my parents will definitely be watching this later. As far as they know, I just have a nagging cold. “Who needs two whole weeks of sunshine and blue skies and beaches when you can have a month of luxury right in your own backyard?” I rattle off the amenities, counting them on my fingers. “Let’s see. I’ve got a full-time concierge, unlimited chocolate pudding, and laundry service. Oh, and Barb talked Dr. Hamid into letting me keep all my meds and treatments in my room this time! Check it out!” I turn the webcam to the pile of medical equipment and then to the medicine cart next to me, which I’ve already perfectly organized into alphabetical and chronological order by the scheduled dosage time I plugged into the app I made. It’s finally ready for a test run! That was number 14 on today’s to-do list, and I’m pretty proud of how it turned out. My computer dings as comments begin rolling in. I see one mentioning Barb’s name with some heart emojis. She’s a crowd favorite just as much as she’s my favorite. Ever since I first came to the hospital more than ten years ago, she’s been the respiratory therapist here, slipping candy to me and the other CFers, like my partner in crime Poe. She holds our hand through even the most bone-crushing grips of pain like it’s nothing. I’ve been making YouTube videos for about half that time to raise awareness about cystic fibrosis. Through the years more people than I could have ever imagined began following my surgeries and my treatments and my visits to Saint Grace’s, sticking with me through my awkward braces phase and everything. “My lung function is down to thirty-five percent,” I say as I turn the camera back to me. “Dr. Hamid says I’m steadily climbing to the top of the transplant list now, so I’ll be here for a month, taking antibiotics, sticking to my regimen . . . .” My eyes travel to the drawing behind me, the healthy lungs looming over my head, just out of reach. I shake my head and smile, leaning over to grab a bottle from the medicine cart. “That means taking my medications on time, wearing my AffloVest to break up that mucus, and”—I hold up the bottle—“a whole lot of this liquid nutrition through my G-tube every night. If any ladies out there are wishing they could eat five thousand calories a day and still have a Cabo-ready beach body, I’m up for a trade.” My computer dings away, messages pouring in one after another. Reading a few, I let the positivity push away all the negativity I felt going into this. Hang in there, Stella! We love you. Marry me! “New lungs can come in at any moment, so I’ve got to be ready!” I say the words like I believe them wholeheartedly. Though after all these years I’ve learned to not get my hopes up too much. DING! Another message. I’ve got CF and you remind me to always stay positive. XOXO. My heart warms, and I give a final big smile for the camera, for that person fighting the same fight that I am. This time it’s genuine. “All right, guys, thanks for watching! Gotta double-check my afternoon and evening meds now. You know how anal I am. I hope everyone has a great week. Bye!” I end the live video and exhale slowly, closing the browser to see the smiling, winter-formal-ready faces on my desktop background. Me, Camila, and Mya, arm in arm, all in the same deep-red lipstick we’d picked out together at Sephora. Camila had wanted a bright pink, but Mya had convinced us that red was the color we NEEDED in our life. I’m still not convinced that was true. Lying back, I pick up the worn panda resting on my pillows and wrap my arms tightly around him. Patches, my sister, Abby, named him. And what a fitting name that became. The years of coming in and out of the hospital with me have certainly taken their toll on him. Multicolored patches are sewn over spots where he ripped open, his stuffing pouring out when I squeezed too hard during the most painful of my treatments. There’s a knock on my door, and it flies open not even a second later as Barb busts in holding an armful of pudding cups for me to take my medication with. “I’m back! Delivery!” When it comes to Barb, not much has changed in the past six months, or the past ten years for that matter; she’s still the best. The same short, curly hair. The same colorful scrubs. The same smile that lights up the entire room. But then an extremely pregnant Julie trails behind her, carrying an IV drip. Now that’s a big change from six months ago. I swallow my surprise and grin at Barb as she places the pudding at the edge of my bed for me to sort onto my medicine cart, then pulls out a list to double-check that the cart has everything I need on it. “What would I do without you?” I ask. She winks. “You’d die.” Julie hangs the IV bag of antibiotics next to me, her belly brushing up against my arm. Why didn’t she tell me she’s pregnant? I go rigid, smiling thinly, as I eye her baby bump and try to subtly move away from it. “A lot’s changed in the past six months!” She rubs her belly, blue eyes shining brightly as she gives me a big smile. “You want to feel her kick?” “No,” I say, a little too quickly. I feel bad when she looks slightly taken aback at my bluntness, her blond eyebrows arching up in surprise. But I don’t want any of my bad juju near that perfect, healthy baby. Luckily, her eyes travel to my desktop background. “Are those your winter formal pics? I saw a bunch on Insta!” she says, excited. “How was it?” “Super fun!” I say with a ton of enthusiasm as the awkwardness melts away. I open a folder on my desktop filled with pictures. “Crushed it on the dance floor for a solid three songs. Got to ride in a limo. The food didn’t suck. Plus, I made it to ten thirty before I got tired, which was way better than expected! Who needs a curfew when your body does it for you, right?” I show her and Barb some pictures we all took at Mya’s house before the dance while she hooks me up to the IV drip and tests my blood pressure and O2 reading. I remember I used to be afraid of needles, but with every blood draw and IV drip, that fear slowly drifted away. Now I don’t even flinch. It makes me feel strong every time I get poked or prodded. Like I can overcome anything. “All righty,” Barb says when they get all my vitals and finish oohing and aahing over my sparkly, silver A-line gown and my white rose corsage. Camila, Mya, and I decided to swap corsages when we went stag to the formal. I didn’t want to take a date, not that anybody asked me anyway. It was super possible that I would need to bail the day of, or wouldn’t feel well halfway through the dance, which wouldn’t have been fair to whomever I could’ve gone with. The two of them didn’t want me to feel left out, so instead of getting dates of their own, they decided we’d all go together. Because of the Mason developments, though, that doesn’t seem super likely for prom. Barb nods to the filled medicine cart, resting a hand on her hip. “I’ll still monitor you, but you’re pretty much good to go.” She holds up a pill bottle. “Remember, you have to take this one with food,” she says, putting it carefully back and holding up another one. “And make sure you don’t—” “I got it, Barb,” I say. She’s just being her usual motherly self, but she holds up her hands in surrender. Deep down she knows that I’ll be absolutely fine. I wave good-bye as they both head toward the door, using the remote next to my bed to sit it up a little more. “By the way,” Barb says slowly as Julie ducks out of the room. Her eyes narrow at me and she gives me a gentle warning look. “I want you to finish your IV drip first, but Poe’s just checked in to room 310.” “What? Really?” I say, my eyes widening as I move to launch myself out of bed to find him. I can’t believe he didn’t tell me he’d be here! Barb steps forward, grabbing my shoulders and pushing me gently back down onto the bed before I can fully stand. “What part of ‘I want you to finish your IV drip first’ did you not get?” I smile sheepishly at her, but how could she blame me? Poe was the first friend I made when I came to the hospital. He’s the only one who really gets it. We’ve fought CF together for a freaking decade. Well, together from a safe distance, anyway. We can’t get too close to each other. For cystic fibrosis patients, cross-infection from certain bacteria strains is a huge risk. One touch between two CFers can literally kill the both of them. Her serious frown gives way to a gentle smile. “Settle in. Relax. Take a chill pill.” She eyes the medicine cart, jokingly. “Not literally.” I nod, a real laugh spilling out, as a fresh wave of relief fills me at the news of Poe being here too. “I’ll stop by later to help you with your AffloVest,” Barb says over her shoulder as she leaves. Grabbing my phone, I settle for a quick text message instead of a mad dash down the hall to room 310. You’re here? Me too. Tune-up. Not even a second goes by and my screen lights up with his reply: Bronchitis. Just happened. I’ll live. Come by and wave at me later. Gonna crash now. I lean back on the bed, exhaling long and slow. Truth is, I’m nervous about this visit. My lung function fell to 35 percent so quickly. And now, even more than the fever and the sore throat, being here in the hospital for the next month doing treatment after treatment to stem the tide while my friends are far away is freaking me out. A lot. Thirty-five percent is a number that keeps my mom up at night. She doesn’t say it, but her computer does. Search after search about lung transplants and lung-function percentages, new combinations and phrasing but always the same idea. How to get me more time. It makes me more afraid than I’ve ever been before. But not for me. When you have CF, you sort of get used to the idea of dying young. No, I’m terrified for my parents. And what will become of them if the worst does happen, now that they don’t have each other. But with Poe here, someone who understands, I can get through it. Once I’m actually allowed to see him. * * * The rest of the afternoon goes by slowly. I work on my app, double-checking that I worked out the programming error that kept coming up when I tried to run it on my phone. I put some Fucidin on the sore skin around my G-tube in an attempt to make it less fire-engine red and more of a summer-sunset pink. I check and double-check my “At Bedtime” pile of bottles and pills. I reply to my parents’ every-hour-on-the-hour texts. I gaze out the window as the afternoon fades and see a couple about my age, laughing and kissing as they walk into the hospital. It’s not every day you see a happy couple coming into a hospital. Watching them holding hands and exchanging longing glances, I wonder what it would be like to have somebody look at me like that. People are always looking at my cannula, my scars, my G-tube, not at me. It doesn’t make guys want to line up by my locker. I “dated” Tyler Paul my freshman year of high school, but that lasted all of a month, until I came down with an infection and needed to go to the hospital for a few weeks. Even just a few days in, his texts started to get further and further apart, and I decided to break up with him. Besides, it was nothing like that couple out in the courtyard. Tyler’s palms were sweaty when we held hands, and he wore so much Axe body spray, I would go into coughing fits every time we hugged. This thought process is not exactly a helpful distraction, so I even give number 22, “Contemplate the afterlife,” on my to-do list a try, and read some of Life, Death, and Immortality: The Journey of the Soul. But, pretty soon, I opt to just lie on my bed, looking up at the ceiling and listening to the wheezing sound of my breathing. I can hear the air struggling to get past the mucus that takes up space in my lungs. Rolling over, I crack open a vial of Flovent to give my lungs a helping hand. I pour the liquid into a nebulizer by my bed, the small machine humming to life as vapors pour from the mouthpiece. I sit, staring at the drawing of the lungs while I breathe in and out. And in and out. And in and . . . out. I hope when my parents come to visit over the next few days, my breathing is a little less labored. I told them both that the other one was taking me to the hospital this morning, but I actually just took an Uber here from the corner a street over from my mom’s new place. I don’t want either of them to have to face seeing me here again, at least until I’m looking better. My mom was already giving me troubled looks when I needed to put my portable oxygen on just to pack. There’s a knock on my door, and I look over from the wall I’m staring at, hoping it’s Poe stopping by to wave at me. I pull the mouthpiece off as Barb pops her head in. She drops a surgical face mask and latex gloves onto a table next to my door. “New one upstairs. Meet me in fifteen?” My heart leaps. I nod, and she gives me a big smile before ducking out of the room. I grab the mouthpiece and take one more quick hit of the Flovent, letting the vapor fill my lungs the best I can before I’m up and moving. Shutting the nebulizer off, I pick up my portable oxygen concentrator from where it’s been charging next to my bed, press the circular button in the center to turn it on, and pull the strap over my shoulder. After I put the cannula in, I head over to the door, pulling on the blue latex gloves and wrapping the strings of the face mask around my ears. Sliding into my white Converse, I push my door open then squeeze out into the whitewashed corridor, deciding to go the long way so I can walk past Poe’s room. I pass the nurses’ station in the center of the floor, waving hello to a young nurse’s assistant named Sarah, who is smiling over the top of the new, sleek metal cubicle. They replaced that before my last visit six months ago. It’s the same height, but it used to be made of this worn wood that had probably been around since the hospital was founded sixty-some years ago. I remember when I was small enough to sneak past to whatever room Poe was in, my head still a good few inches from clearing the desk. Now it comes up to my elbow. Heading down the hallway, I grin as I see a small Colombian flag taped on the outside of a half-open door, an overturned skateboard keeping it propped slightly open. I peer inside to see Poe fast asleep on his bed, curled into a surprisingly tiny ball underneath his plaid comforter, a suave Gordon Ramsay poster, positioned directly over his bed, keeping watch over him. I draw a heart on the dry-erase board he’s stuck to the outside of his door to let him know I’ve been there, before moving off down the hallway toward the wooden double doors that will take me to the main part of the hospital, up an elevator, down C Wing, across the bridge into Building 2, and straight to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. One of the perks of coming here for more than a decade is that I know the hospital just as well as I knew the house I grew up in. Every winding corridor, or hidden staircase, or secret shortcut, explored over and over again. But before I can open the double doors, a room door swings open next to me, and I turn my head in surprise to see the profile of a tall, thin boy I’ve never seen before. He’s standing in the doorway of room 315, holding a sketchbook in one hand and a charcoal pencil in the other, a white hospital bracelet like mine wrapped around his wrist. I stop dead. His tousled, dark-chocolate-brown hair is perfectly unruly, like he just popped out of a Teen Vogue and landed smack in the middle of Saint Grace’s Hospital. His eyes are a deep blue, the corners crinkling as he talks. But it’s his smile that catches my eye more than anything else. It’s lopsided, and charming, and it has a magnetic warmth to it. He’s so cute, my lung function feels like it dropped another 10 percent. It’s a good thing this mask is covering half my face, because I did not plan for cute guys on my floor this hospital stay. “I’ve clocked their schedules,” he says as he puts the pencil casually behind his ear. I shift slightly to the left and see that he’s grinning at the couple I saw coming into the hospital earlier. “So, unless you plant your ass on the call button, no one’s going to bother you for at least an hour. And don’t forget. I gotta sleep in that bed, dude.” “Way ahead of you.” I watch as the girl unzips the duffel bag she’s holding to show him blankets. Wait. What? Cute guy whistles. “Look at that. A regular Girl Scout.” “We’re not animals, man,” her boyfriend says to him, giving him a big, dude-to-dude smile. Oh my god. Gross. He’s letting his friends do it in his room, like it’s a motel. I grimace and resume walking down the hallway to the exit doors, putting as much space as possible between me and whatever scheme is going on in there. So much for cute. CHAPTER 2 WILL “All right, I’ll see you guys later,” I say, winking at Jason and closing the door to my room to give them some privacy. I come face-to-face with the empty sockets of the skull drawing on my door, an O2 mask slung over its mouth, with the words “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” written under it. That should be the slogan for this hospital. Or any of the other fifty I’ve been in for the past eight months of my life. I squint down the hallway to see the door swinging shut behind the girl I saw moving into a room down the hall earlier today, her scuffed white Converse disappearing onto the other side. She’d been by herself, lugging a duffel bag big enough for about three fully grown adults, but she actually looked kind of hot. And, let’s be honest here. It’s not every day you see a remotely attractive girl hanging around a hospital, no more than five doors down from yours. Looking down at my sketchbook, I shrug, rolling it up and stuffing it into my back pocket before heading down the hallway after her. It’s not like I have anything better to do, and I’m certainly not trying to stick around here for the next hour. Pushing through the doors, I see her making her way across the gray tile floor, waving and chatting to just about everyone as she goes, like she’s putting on her own personal Thanksgiving Day Parade. She steps onto the large glass elevator, overlooking the east lobby, just past a large, decked-out Christmas tree they must’ve put up early this morning, long before the Thanksgiving leftovers were even eaten. Heaven forbid they leave up the giant turkey display for even a minute longer. I watch as her hands reach up to fix her face mask while she leans over to press a button, the doors slowly closing. I start climbing the open stairs by the elevator, trying not to run into anyone as I watch it chug steadily to the fifth floor. Of course. I run up the stairs as fast as my lungs will carry me, managing to get to the fifth floor with enough time to go into a serious coughing fit and recover before she exits the elevator and disappears around a corner. I rub my chest, clearing my throat and following her down a couple of hallways and onto the wide, glass-encased bridge leading to the next building. Even though she just got here this morning, she clearly knows where she’s going. Judging from her pace and the fact she apparently knows every single person in the building, I wouldn’t be surprised if she were actually the mayor of this place. I’ve been here two weeks, and it took me until yesterday to figure out how to sneak safely from my room to the cafeteria over in Building 2, and I am by no means directionally challenged. I’ve been in so many hospitals over the years, figuring out how to get around them is what counts as a hobby to me now. She stops short under a set of double doors reading EAST ENTRANCE: NEONATAL INTENSIVE CARE UNIT and peeks inside before she pushes them open. The NICU. Odd. Having kids when you have CF falls into the super difficult category. I’ve heard of girls with CF bumming hard over it, but going to stare at the babies she might never have is a whole other level. That’s just fucking depressing. There are a lot of things that piss me off about CF, but that’s not one of them. Pretty much all guys with CF are infertile, which at least means I don’t have to worry about getting anyone pregnant and starting my own shit show of a family. Bet Jason wishes he had that going for him right now. Looking both ways, I close the gap between me and the doors, peering inside the narrow window to see her standing in front of the viewing pane, her eyes focused on a small baby inside an incubator on the other side. Its fragile arms and legs are hooked up to machines ten times its size. Pushing open the door and sliding inside the dimly lit hallway, I smile as I watch Converse girl for a second. I can’t help but stare at her reflection, everything beyond the glass blurring as I look at her. She’s prettier close up, with her long eyelashes and her full eyebrows. She even makes a face mask look good. I watch as she brushes her wavy, sandy-brown hair out of her eyes, staring at the baby through the glass with a determined focus. I clear my throat, getting her attention. “And here I thought this was gonna be another lame hospital filled with lame sickies. But then you show up. Lucky me.” Her eyes meet mine in the reflection of the glass, surprise filling them at first, and then almost immediately changing to something resembling disgust. She looks away, back at the baby, staying silent. Well, that’s always a promising sign. Nothing like actual repulsion to start off on the right foot. “I saw you moving into your room. Gonna be here awhile?” She doesn’t say anything. If it wasn’t for the grimace, I’d think she didn’t even hear me. “Oh, I get it. I’m so good looking you can’t even string a sentence together.” That annoys her enough to get a response. “Shouldn’t you be procuring rooms for your ‘guests’?” she snaps, turning to face me as she angrily pulls her face mask off. She takes me off guard for a second, and I laugh, surprised by how up-front she is. That really pisses her off. “You rent by the hour, or what?” she asks, her dark eyes narrowing. “Ha! It was you lurking in the hall.” “I don’t lurk,” she fires back. “You followed me here.” It’s a valid point. But she definitely lurked first. I pretend to be taken aback and hold up my hands in mock defeat. “With the intent of introducing myself, but with that attitude—” “Let me guess,” she says, cutting me off. “You consider yourself a rebel. Ignoring the rules because it somehow makes you feel in control. Am I right?” “You’re not wrong,” I shoot back before leaning against the wall casually. “You think it’s cute?” I grin at her. “I mean, you must think it’s pretty adorable. You stood in the hallway an awfully long time staring.” She rolls her eyes, clearly not entertained by me. “You letting your friends borrow your room for sex isn’t cute.” Ah, so she’s a real goody two shoes. “Sex? Oh, heavens no. They told me they would be holding a slightly rowdy book club meeting in there for the better part of an hour.” She glares at me, definitely not amused by my sarcasm. “Ah. So that’s what this is about,” I say, crossing my arms over my chest. “You have something against sex.” “Of course not! I’ve had sex,” she says, her eyes widening as the words tumble out of her mouth. “It’s fine—” That is the biggest lie I’ve heard all year, and I’m practically surrounded by people who sugarcoat the fact that I’m dying. I laugh. “ ‘Fine’ isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, but I’ll take common ground where I can get it.” Her thick eyebrows form a frown. “We have nothing in common.” I wink, having way too much fun pissing her off. “Cold. I like it.” The door bangs open and Barb busts through, making both of us jump in surprise at the sudden noise. “Will Newman! What are you doing up here? You’re not supposed to leave the third floor after that stunt you pulled last week!” I look back at the girl. “There you go. A name to go with your little psych profile. And you are?” She glowers at me, quickly pulling her face mask back over her mouth before Barb notices. “Ignoring you.” Good one. Ms. Goody Two Shoes has some spunk. “And clearly the teacher’s pet, too.” “Six feet at all times! You both know the rules!” I realize I’m too close and take a step back as Barb reaches us, coming into the space and the tension between us. She turns to look at me, her eyes narrowing. “What do you think you’re doing up here?” “Uh,” I say, pointing at the viewing window. “Looking at babies?” She’s clearly not amused. “Get back to your room. Where is your face mask?” I reach up to touch my maskless face. “Stella, thank you for keeping your mask on.” “She didn’t five seconds ago,” I mutter. Stella glares at me over Barb’s head, and I give her back a big smile. Stella. Her name is Stella. I can see Barb’s about to really ream me out, so I decide to make my exit. I’ve had more than enough lecturing for the moment. “Lighten up, Stella,” I say, sauntering to the door. “It’s just life. It’ll be over before we know it.” I head out through the doors, across the bridge, and down C Wing. Instead of going back the long way, I hop on a much shakier, nonglass elevator, which I discovered two days ago. It spits me out right by the nurses’ station on my floor, where Julie is reading over some paperwork. “Hey, Julie,” I say, leaning on the counter and picking up a pencil. She glances up at me, giving me a quick look, before her eyes swing back down to the papers in her hands. “Just what were you up to?” “Eh, roaming the hospital. Pissing off Barb,” I say, shrugging and twirling the pencil around and around in my fingertips. “She’s such a hard-ass.” “Will, she’s not a hard-ass, she’s just, you know . . .” I give her a look. “A hard-ass.” She leans against the nurses’ station, putting a hand on her super-pregnant belly. “Firm. The rules matter. Especially to Barb. She doesn’t take chances.” I glance over to see the doors at the end of the hallway swing wide open again as Barb and the goody-goody herself step out. Barb’s eyes narrow at me and I shrug innocently. “What? I’m talking to Julie.” She huffs, and the two of them walk off down the hallway toward Stella’s room. Stella fixes her face mask, looking back at me, her eyes meeting mine for a fraction of a second. I sigh, watching her go. “She hates me.” “Which one?” Julie asks, following my gaze down the hallway. The door to Stella’s room closes behind the both of them, and I look back at Julie. She gives me a look that I’ve seen about a million times since I got here. Her blue eyes fill with a mix between Are you crazy? and something very close to care. Mostly Are you crazy? though. “Don’t even think about it, Will.” I glance down at the file sitting in front of her, the name jumping out at me from the upper left-hand corner. Stella Grant. “Okay,” I say like it’s no big deal. “Night.” I stroll back to 315, coughing when I get there, the mucus thick in my lungs and throat, my chest aching from my excursion. If I had known I was going to be running a half marathon all around the hospital, I might’ve bothered to bring my portable oxygen. Eh, who am I kidding? I check my watch to make sure it’s been an hour before pushing open the door. I flick on the light, noticing a folded note from Hope and Jason on the bleach-white standard-issue hospital sheets. How romantic of them. I try not to be disappointed they’re already gone. My mom pulled me out of school and switched me to homeschooling with a side of international hospital tourism when I got diagnosed with B. cepacia eight months ago. As if my life span wasn’t already going to be ridiculously short, B. cepacia will cut off another huge chunk of it by making my shitty lung function deplete even faster than it already has. And they don’t give you new lungs when you have an antibiotic-resistant bacteria running rampant inside of you. But “incurable” is only a suggestion to my mother, and she’s determined to find the needle-in-a-haystack treatment. Even if it means cutting me off from everyone. At least this hospital is half an hour away from Hope and Jason, so they can come visit me on a regular basis and fill me in on everything I’m missing at school. Since I got B. cepacia, I feel like they’re the only ones in my life who don’t treat me like a lab rat. They’ve always been that way; maybe that’s why they’re so perfect for each other. I unfold the note to see a heart and, in Hope’s neat cursive, “See you soon! Two weeks till your Big 18! Hope and Jason.” And that makes me smile. “Big 18.” Two more weeks until I’m in charge. I’ll be off this latest clinical drug trial and out of this hospital and can do something with my life, instead of letting my mom waste it. No more hospitals. No more being stuck inside whitewashed buildings all over the world as doctors try drug after drug, treatment after treatment, none of them working. If I’m going to die, I’d like to actually live first. And then I’ll die. I squint at the heart, thinking about that fateful last day. Somewhere poetic. A beach, maybe. Or a rowboat somewhere in Mississippi. Just no walls. I could sketch the landscape, draw a final cartoon of me giving the middle finger to the universe, then bite the big one. I toss the note back onto the bed, eyeing the sheets before giving them a quick whiff to be safe. Starch and bleach. Just the regular hospital eau de cologne. Good. I slide into the squeaky leather hospital recliner by the window and push aside a heap of colored pencils and sketchbooks, grabbing my laptop from under a bunch of photocopied 1940s political cartoons I was looking at earlier for reference. I open my browser and type Stella Grant into Google, not expecting much. She seems like the type to have only the most private of Facebook pages. Or a lame Twitter account where she retweets memes about the importance of hand washing. The first result, though, is a YouTube page called Stella Grant’s Not-So-Secret CF Diary, filled with at least a hundred videos dating back six years or so. I squint, because the page name looks weirdly familiar. Oh my god, this is that lame channel my mom sent me a link to a few months ago in an attempt to rally me into taking my treatments seriously. Maybe if I’d known she looked like that . . . I scroll down to the first entry, clicking on a video with a thumbnail of a young Stella wearing a mouthful of metal and a high ponytail. I try not to laugh. I wonder what her teeth look like now, considering I’ve never seen her smile. Probably pretty nice. She seems like the type who would actually wear her retainer at night instead of letting it collect dust on some bathroom shelf. I don’t think mine even made it home from the orthodontist. I hit the volume button and her voice comes pouring out of my speakers. “Like all CFers, I was born terminal. Our bodies make too much mucus, and that mucus likes to get into our lungs and cause infections, making our lung function de-teri-orate.” The young girl stumbles over the big word before flashing the camera a big smile. “Right now, I’m at fifty percent lung function.” There’s a crappy cut, and she turns around on a set of stairs that I recognize from the main entrance of the hospital. No wonder she knows her way around here so well. She’s been coming here forever. I smile back at the little girl even though that cut was the cheesiest thing I’ve ever seen. She sits down on the steps, taking a deep breath. “Dr. Hamid says, at this rate, I’m gonna need a transplant by the time I’m in high school. A transplant’s not a cure, but it will give me more time! I’d love a few more years if I’m lucky enough to get one!” Tell me about it, Stella. At least she’s got a shot. CHAPTER 3 STELLA I pull on the blue AffloVest, snapping it into place around my torso with Barb’s help. It looks an awful lot like a life vest, except for the remote coming out of it. For the quickest moment I let it be a life vest, and I stare out the window, picturing myself in Cabo on a boat with Mya and Camila, the afternoon sun glowing on the horizon. The seagulls chirping, the sandy beach in the distance, the shirtless surfers—and then, despite myself, I think of Will. I blink, Cabo fading away as the barren trees outside my window swing into view. “So, Will. He’s a CFer, then?” I ask, though that’s obvious. Barb helps me clip the last strap into place. I pull at the shoulder of the vest so it doesn’t rub into my bony collarbone. “A CFer and then some. B. cepacia. He’s part of the new drug trial for Cevaflomalin.” She reaches over, flicking the machine on and giving me a look. My eyes widen and I look over at my giant tub of hand sanitizer. I was that close to him and he has B. cepacia? It’s pretty much a death sentence for people with CF. He’ll be lucky to make it a few more years. And that’s if he’s as dedicated to his regimen as I am. The vest begins vibrating. Hard. I can feel the mucus in my lungs starting to slowly loosen. “You contract that and you can kiss the possibility of new lungs good-bye,” she adds, eyeing me. “Stay away.” I nod. Oh, I fully intend to do just that. I need that extra time. Besides, he was way too full of himself to be my type. “The trial,” I start to say, looking over at Barb and holding up my hand to pause the conversation as I cough up a wad of mucus. She nods in approval and hands me a standard-issue pale-pink bedpan. I spit into it and wipe my mouth before talking. “What are his odds?” Barb exhales, shaking her head before meeting my gaze. “Nobody knows. The drug’s too new.” Her look says it all, though. We fall silent except for the chugging of the machine, the vest vibrating away. “You’re set. Need anything before I hit the road?” I grin at her, giving her a pleading look. “A milk shake?” She rolls her eyes, putting her hands on her hips. “What, am I room service now?” “Gotta take advantage of the perks, Barb!” I say, which makes her laugh. She leaves, and I sit back, the AffloVest making my whole body shake as it works. My mind wanders, and I picture Will’s reflection in the glass of the NICU, standing just behind me with a daring smile on his face. B. cepacia. That’s rough. But walking around the hospital without a mask on? It’s no wonder he got it in the first place, pulling stunts like that. I’ve seen his type in the hospital more times than I can count. The careless, Braveheart type, rebelling in a desperate attempt to defy their diagnosis before it all comes to an end. It’s not even original. “All right,” Barb says, bringing me not one but two milk shakes, like the queen she is. “This should hold you over for a bit.” She puts them on the table next to me, and I smile up at her familiar dark-brown eyes. “Thanks, Barb.” She nods, touching my head gently before heading out the door. “Night, baby. See you tomorrow.” I sit, staring out the window and coughing up more and more mucus as the vest does its job to clear my airways. My eyes travel to the drawing of the lungs and the picture hanging next to it. My chest starts to hurt in a way that has nothing to do with the treatment as I think of my real bed. My parents. Abby. I pick up my phone to see a text from my dad. It’s a picture of his old acoustic guitar, leaning against a worn nightstand in his new apartment. He spent the whole day setting it up after I insisted he do that instead of take me to the hospital. He pretended not to be relieved, just like I pretended Mom was taking me so he wouldn’t feel guilty. It’s been a lot of pretending since the most ridiculous divorce of all time. It’s been six months and they still can’t even look at each other. For some reason it makes me want to hear his voice so badly. I tap on his contact info and almost press the green call button on my phone, but decide not to at the last second. I never call the first day, and all the coughing that the AffloVest makes me do would make him nervous. He’s still texting me every hour to check in. I don’t want to worry my parents. I can’t. Better to just wait until morning. * * * My eyes shoot open the next morning and I look for what woke me, seeing my phone vibrating noisily on the floor, having free-fallen off the table. I squint at the drained milkshake glasses and mound of empty chocolate pudding cups taking up practically the entire space. No wonder the phone fell off. If we’re 60 percent water, I’m closing in on the remaining 40 percent being pudding. I groan, reaching over the bed to grab my phone, my G-tube burning with the stretch. I gently touch my side, lifting my shirt to unhook the tube, surprised that the skin around it is even redder and more inflamed than it was before. That’s not good. Irritations usually go away with a little bit of Fucidin, but my application yesterday didn’t seem to make a difference. I put a bigger glob of the ointment on it, hoping that will clear it up, and add a note to my to-do list to monitor it, before scrolling through my notifications. I have a couple of Snaps waiting from Mya and Camila, looking sleepy but happy as they boarded the plane this morning. Both of my parents texted me, checking in to see how I slept, if I’m settled in, and saying to give them a call when I get up. I’m about to answer the both of them when my phone vibrates, and I swipe right to see a text from Poe: You up? I shoot back a quick message seeing if he wants to have our usual breakfast date in twenty, before putting the phone down and swinging my legs over my bed to grab my laptop. Less than a second later my phone buzzes with his reply: Yees! I grin, hitting the nurse-call button by my bed. Julie’s friendly voice crackles through the speaker. “Morning, Stella! You good?” “Yep. Can I get breakfast now?” I ask, turning my laptop on. “You got it!” The time on my laptop reads 9:00 a.m., and I pull the med cart closer, looking at the color-coded clumps I laid out yesterday. I smile to myself, realizing that this time tomorrow, after I get the beta version of my app fully up and running, I’ll be getting a notification on my phone telling me to take my morning pills and the exact dosages of each that I need. Almost a year of hard work finally coming together. An app for all chronic illnesses, complete with med charts, schedules, and dosage information. I take my pills and open Skype, scanning the contact list to see if either of my parents is on. There’s a tiny green dot next to my dad’s name, and I press the call button, waiting as it rings noisily. His face appears on the screen as he puts his thick-rim glasses over his tired eyes. I notice that he’s still in his pajamas, his graying hair jutting out in every direction, a lumpy pillow propped up behind him. Dad was always an early riser. Out of bed before seven thirty every morning, even on the weekends. The worry starts to slowly wrap itself tighter around my insides. “You need a shave,” I say, taking in the unusual stubble covering his chin. He’s always been clean shaven, except for a beard phase he went through one winter during elementary school. He chuckles, rubbing his scruffy chin. “You need new lungs. Mic drop!” I roll my eyes as he laughs at his own joke. “How was the gig?” He shrugs. “Eh, you know.” “I’m glad you’re performing again!” I say cheerily, trying my best to look positive for him. “Sore throat doing okay?” he asks, giving me a worried look. I nod, swallowing to confirm that the rawness in my throat has started to subside. “Already a million times better!” Relief fills his eyes, and I change the subject quickly before he can ask any more treatment-related questions. “How’s your new apartment?” He gives me an over-the-top smile. “It’s great! It’s got a bed and a bathroom!” His smile fades slightly, and he shrugs. “And not much else. I’m sure your mom’s place is nicer. She could always make anywhere feel like home.” “Maybe if you just call her—” He shakes his head at me and cuts me off. “Moving on. Seriously, it’s fine, hun. The place is great, and I’ve got you and my guitar! What else do I need?” My stomach clenches, but there’s a knock on my door and Julie comes in, holding a dark-green tray with a pile of food. My dad sees her and brightens up. “Julie! How’ve you been?” Julie puts down the tray and presents her belly to him. For someone who insisted for the past five years that she was never having children, she seems ridiculously eager to be having children. “Very busy, I see,” my dad says, smiling wide. “Talk to you later, Dad,” I say, moving my cursor over to the end-call button. “Love you.” He gives me a salute before the chat ends. The smell of eggs and bacon wafts off the plate, a giant chocolate milk shake sitting on the tray next to it. “Need anything else, Stell? Some company?” I glance at her baby bump, shaking my head as a surprising swell of contempt fills my chest. I love Julie, but I’m really not in the mood for talking about her new little family when mine’s falling apart. “Poe’s about to call me.” Right on time, my laptop pings and Poe’s picture pops up, the green phone symbol appearing on my screen. Julie rubs her stomach, giving me a strange look before flashing me a tight-lipped, confused smile. “Okay. You two have fun!” I press accept and Poe’s face slowly comes into view, his thick black eyebrows hanging over familiar warm brown eyes. He’s gotten a haircut since the last time I saw him. Shorter. Cleaner. He gives me a big ear-to-ear smile, and I attempt to grin back, but it ends up looking more like a grimace. I can’t get the image of my dad out of my head. So sad and alone, in bed, but the lines of his face still deep and filled with exhaustion. And I can’t even go check on him. “Hey, mami! You are looking WORN,” he says, putting his milk shake down and squinting at me. “You go on one of your chocolate pudding benders again?” I know this is where I’m supposed to laugh, but I seem to have used up my pretending quota for the day, and it’s not even nine thirty yet. Poe frowns. “Uh-oh. What’s wrong? Is it Cabo? You know sunburn is nothing to play with anyway.” I wave that away and instead hold up my tray like a game-show model to show Poe my lumberjack breakfast. Eggs, bacon, potatoes, and a milk shake! The usual for our breakfast dates. Poe gives me a challenging look, like I’m not getting away with that subject change, but he can’t resist holding up his plate to show me the identical meal—except his eggs are beautifully embellished with chives, parsley, and . . . Wait. Freaking truffles! “Poe! Where the hell did you get truffles?” He raises his eyebrows, smirking. “You gotta bring ’em with, mija!” he says as he moves the webcam to show me a med cart that he’s converted into a perfectly organized spice rack. It’s filled with jars and specialty items instead of pill bottles, sitting under his shrine to his favorite skateboarder, Paul Rodriguez, and the entire Colombian national soccer team. Classic Poe. Food, skateboarding, and fútbol are by FAR his three favorite things. He has enough jerseys pinned up on his wall to fully clothe every CFer on this floor for a poor-playing, no-cardiovascular-strength B-team. The camera swings back to him, and I see Gordon Ramsay’s chest peering out from behind him. “But first—our appetizers!” He holds up a handful of Creon tablets, which will help our bodies digest the food we’re about to eat. “Best part of every meal!” I say sarcastically as I scoop my red-and-white tablets out of a small plastic cup next to my tray. “So,” Poe says after he’s swallowed his last one. “Since you won’t spill, let’s talk about me. I’m single! Ready to—” “You broke up with Michael?” I ask, exasperated. “Poe!” Poe takes a long sip of his milk shake. “Maybe he broke up with me.” “Did he?” “Yes! Well, it was mutual,” he says, before sighing and shaking his head. “Whatever. I broke up with him.” I frown. They were perfect for each other. Michael liked skateboarding and had a super-popular food blog that Poe had followed religiously for three years before they met. He was different from the other people Poe had dated. Older, somehow, even though he had just turned eighteen. Most importantly, Poe was different with him. “You really liked him, Poe. I thought he might be the one.” But I should know better; Poe could write a book on commitment issues. Still, that never stopped him on the quest for another great romance. Before Michael it was Tim, the week after this it could be David. And, to be honest, I envy him a bit, with his wild romances. I’ve never been in love before. Tyler Paul for sure didn’t count. But even if I had the chance, dating is a risk that I can’t afford right now. I have to stay focused. Keep myself alive. Get my transplant. Reduce parental misery. It’s pretty much a full-time job. And definitely not a sexy one. “Well, he’s not,” Poe says, acting like it’s no big deal. “Screw him anyway, right?” “Hey, at least you got to do that,” I say, shrugging as I pick at my eggs. I can see Will’s knowing smirk from yesterday when I told him I’d had sex before. Asshole. Poe laughs midsip of his milk shake, but he sputters and begins to choke. His vital monitors start beeping on the other side of the laptop as he struggles for breath. Oh my god. No, no, no. I jump up. “Poe!” I push aside the laptop and run into the hallway as an alarm sounds at the nurses’ station, fear in every pore of my body. Somewhere a voice shouts out, “Room 310! Blood oxygen level is in free fall. He’s desatting!” Desatting. He can’t breathe, he can’t breathe. “He’s choking! Poe’s choking!” I shout out, tears filling my eyes as I fly down the hallway behind Julie, pulling on a face mask as I go. She bursts through the door ahead of me and goes to check the beeping monitor. I’m scared to look. I’m scared to see Poe suffering. I’m scared to see Poe . . . Fine. He’s fine, sitting in his chair like nothing happened. Relief floods through me and I break out in a cold sweat as he looks from me to Julie, a sheepish expression on his face as he holds up his fingertip sensor. “Sorry! It came unplugged. I didn’t tape it back down after my shower.” I exhale slowly, realizing I’ve been holding my breath this whole time. Which is pretty hard to do when you have lungs that barely work. Julie leans against the wall, looking just as shocked as I am. “Poe. Jeez. When your O2 drops like that . . .” She shakes her head. “Just put it back on.” “I don’t need it anymore, Jules,” he says, looking up at her. “Let me take it off.” “Absolutely not. Your lung function sucks right now. We’ve gotta keep an eye on you, so you need to keep that damn thing on.” She takes a deep breath, holding out a piece of tape so he can tape the sensor back on. “Please.” He sighs loudly but reattaches the fingertip sensor to the blood-oxygen sensor worn on his wrist. I nod, finally catching my breath. “I agree, Poe. Keep it on.” He glances up at me as he tapes the sensor onto his middle finger, holding it up to me and grinning. I roll my eyes at him, glancing down the hallway to the asshole’s room: 315. The door is tightly closed despite the commotion, a light shining out from under it. He’s not even going to poke his head out to make sure everybody’s okay? This was practically a floor roll call, as everyone opened their door to double-check that everything was fine. I fidget and smooth my hair down, looking back over at Poe in time to see him raise his eyebrows at me. “What, you trying to look good for someone?” “Don’t be ridiculous.” I glare at him and Julie as they shoot curious looks in my direction. I point at his food. “You’re about to waste some perfectly good truffles on a bunch of cold eggs,” I say, before hurrying off down the hallway to finish our breakfast chat. The more space between room 315 and me the better. CHAPTER 4 WILL I rub my eyes sleepily, clicking on another video, my half-eaten tray of eggs and bacon sitting cold on the table next to me. I’ve been up all night watching her videos, one after the other. It’s been a Stella Grant marathon, even with the lame CF content. Scanning the sidebar, I click on the next one. This one’s from last year, the lighting ridiculously dark, except for the bright flash of her phone’s camera. It looks like a fundraising event, held at a dimly lit bar. There’s a huge banner dangling over a stage reading: SAVE THE PLANET—SUPPORT EARTH DAY. The camera focuses on a man playing an acoustic guitar, sitting casually on a wooden stool, while a curly-brown-haired girl sings. I recognize them both from all the videos I’ve watched. Stella’s dad and her sister, Abby. The view spins onto Stella, a big smile on her face, her teeth as white and even as I predicted. She’s wearing makeup, and I cough in surprise at how different she looks. It’s not the makeup, though. She’s happier. Calmer. Not like she’s been in person. Even the nose cannula looks good on her when she smiles like that. “Dad and Abby! Stealing the show! If I die before I’m twenty-one, at least I’ve been in a bar.” She swings the camera to show an older woman with the same long brown hair sitting next to her in a bright-red booth. “Say hi, Mom!” The woman waves, giving the camera a big grin. A waitress passes by their table and Stella waves her down. “Ah, yes. I’ll take a bourbon, please. Neat.” I snort as her mom’s voice screams out a “No, she won’t!” “Ahh, nice try, Stella,” I say, laughing as a bright light comes on, illuminating their faces. The song in the background ends and Stella begins clapping manically, turning the camera to show her sister, Abby, smiling at her from the stage. “So, my little sister, Stella, is here tonight,” she says, pointing directly at Stella. “As if fighting for her own life isn’t enough, she’s going to save the planet, too! Come show ’em whatcha got, Stella!” Stella’s voice comes through my speakers, confused and shocked. “Uh, did you guys plan this?” The camera swings back to her mom, who grins. Yep. “Go on, baby. I’ll film it!” her mom says, and everything swings out of focus as Stella hands over the phone. Everyone in the room cheers as she pulls her portable oxygen concentrator onto the stage, her sister, Abby, helping her maneuver up the steps and into the spotlight. She adjusts her cannula nervously as her dad hands her a microphone, before she turns to the crowd and speaks. “This is a first for me. In front of a crowd, anyway. Don’t laugh!” So, naturally, everyone laughs, including Stella. Only, her laugh is filled with nerves. She looks over at her sister warily. Abby says something to her that the microphone just barely picks up. “Bushel and a peck.” What does that mean? It works, though, and like magic the nervousness melts away from Stella’s face. Her dad starts to strum away at his guitar and I hum along before my brain even consciously registers what they’re singing. Everyone in the audience is swaying along too, heads moving left and right, feet tapping with the beat. “Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord . . .” Wow. They both can sing. Her sister is rocking this clear and strong and powerful voice, while Stella’s is breathy and soft, smooth in all the right ways. I hit pause as the camera closes in on Stella’s face, all her features coming alive in the glow of the spotlight. Carefree, and smiling, and happy, up there onstage next to her sister and her dad. I wonder what made her so . . . uptight yesterday. I run my fingers through my hair, taking in her long hair, the shadow of her collarbone, the way her brown eyes shine when she smiles. Her adrenaline gives her face a twinge of color, her cheeks a bright, exhilarated pink. Not gonna lie. She’s pretty. Really pretty. I look away and—wait a second. There’s no way. I highlight the number with my cursor. “A hundred thousand views? Are you kidding me?” Who is this girl? * * * Not even an hour later, my first post-all-nighter nap was interrupted by a blaring alarm down the hall, and then my second attempt was foiled later by my mom and Dr. Hamid busting into my room for an evening visit. Bored, I stifle a yawn and stare out at the empty courtyard, the cold winds and the forecast of snow driving everyone inside. Snow. At least that’s something to look forward to. I rest my head against the cool glass, eager for the world outside to be covered in a blanket of white. I haven’t touched snow since the first time my mom shipped me off to a top-of-the-line treatment facility to be a guinea pig for an experimental drug to fight B. cepacia. It was in Sweden, and they’d been perfecting this thing for half a decade. Clearly, it wasn’t “perfected” enough, because I was out of there and back home in about two weeks flat. At this point I don’t remember much from that particular stay. The only thing I remember from most of my hospital trips is white. White hospital sheets, white walls, white lab coats, all running together. But I do remember the mountains and mountains of snow that fell while I was there, the same white, only beautiful, less sterile. Real. I’d been dreaming of going skiing in the Alps, lung function be damned. But the only snow I got to touch was on the roof of my mom’s Mercedes rental. “Will,” my mother’s voice says, sternly, cutting right through my daydream of fresh powder. “Are you listening?” Is she kidding? I turn my head to look at her and Dr. Hamid, and nod like a bobblehead even though I haven’t heard a single word this entire time. They’re going over my first test results since I started the trial a week or so ago, and as usual, nothing’s changed. “We need to be patient,” Dr. Hamid says. “The first phase of clinical trials on humans started just eighteen months ago.” I eye my mother, watching her nod eagerly, her short blond bob moving up and down at the doctor’s words. I wonder how many strings she had to pull and how much money she had to throw away to get me into this. “We’re monitoring him, but Will needs to help us. He needs to keep the variables in his life to a minimum.” Her eyes focus on me, her thin face serious. “Will. The risks of cross-infection are even higher now so—” I cut her off. “Don’t cough on any other CFers. Got it.” Her black eyebrows jut down as she frowns. “Don’t get close enough to touch them. For their safety, and yours.” I hold up my hand in mock pledge, reciting what could probably be the CF motto by this point, “Six feet at all times.” She nods. “You got it.” “What I’ve got is B. cepacia, making this conversation null and void.” That’s not going to change anytime soon. “Nothing is impossible!” Dr. Hamid says enthusiastically. My mom eats this line up. “I believe that. You need to believe it too.” I pair an over-the-top smile with a thumbs-up, before turning it into a thumbs-down and shaking my head, the smile slipping off my face. It’s such bullshit. Dr. Hamid clears her throat, looking at my mom. “Right. I’ll leave this to you.” “Thank you, Dr. Hamid,” my mom says, shaking her hand eagerly, like she just managed to sign a contract for her most burdensome client. Dr. Hamid gives me a final thin-lipped smile before leaving. My mom spins around to look at me, her blue eyes piercing, voice biting. “It took a lot of effort to get you into this program, Will.” If by “effort” she means writing a check that could send a small village to college, then she definitely put in quite a bit of effort just so I could be a human petri dish. “What do you want? A thank-you for shoving me in another hospital, wasting more of my time?” I stand up, walking over to face her. “In two weeks I’ll be eighteen. A legal adult. You won’t hold the reins anymore.” For a second she looks taken aback, then her eyes narrow at me. She grabs her latest Prada trench coat off the chair by the door, pulling it on and glancing back to look at me. “I’ll see you on your birthday.” I lean out the doorway, watching her go, her heels clicking off down the hallway. She stops at the nurses’ station, where Barb is flipping through some papers. “Barb, right? Let me give you my cell,” I hear her say as she opens her purse, grabbing her wallet from inside. “If the Cevaflomalin doesn’t work, Will may . . . become a handful.” When Barb doesn’t say anything, she pulls a business card out of her wallet. “He’s been disappointed so many times already, and he’s expecting to be disappointed again. If he’s not complying, you’ll call me?” She flicks the business card onto the counter before tossing a hundred on top of it like this is some fancy restaurant and I’m a table that needs to be fawned over. Wow. That’s just great. Barb stares at the money, raising her eyebrows at my mother. “That was inappropriate, wasn’t it? I’m sorry. We’ve been to so many . . .” Her voice trails off, and I watch as Barb takes the business card and the money off the counter, meeting my mother’s gaze with the same look of determination she gives me when she’s forcing me to take some medicine. “Don’t worry. He’s in good hands.” She presses the hundred back into my mother’s hand, pocketing the business card and looking past my mother to meet my eyes. I duck back inside my room, closing the door behind me and tugging at the neck of my T-shirt. I pace over to the window, and then back over to sit down on my bed, and then back over to the window, pushing back the blinds as the walls start to close in on me. I need to get outside. I need air that’s not filled with antiseptic. I throw open my closet door to grab a hoodie, pulling it on and peering out at the nurses’ station to see if the coast is clear. No sign of Barb or my mom anymore, but Julie’s on the phone behind the desk, in between me and the exit door that will take me straight to the only stairwell in this building that leads to the roof. I close my door quietly, creeping down the hall. I try to duck down lower than the nurses’ station, but a six-foot dude attempting to stay low and sneak around is about as subtle as a blindfolded elephant. Julie looks up at me and I press my back up against the wall, pretending to camouflage myself. Her eyes narrow at me as she moves the phone away from her mouth. “Where do you think you’re going?” I mime walking with my fingers. She shakes her head at me, knowing I’ve been confined to the third floor since I fell asleep by the vending machines over in Building 2 last week and caused a hospital-wide manhunt. I put my hands together, making a pleading motion and hoping the desperation pouring out of my soul will convince her otherwise. At first, nothing. Her face remains firm, her gaze unchanging. Then she rolls her eyes, throwing me a face mask before waving me along to freedom. Thank god. I need to get out of this whitewashed hell more than I need anything. I give her a wink. At least she’s actually human. I leave the CF wing, pushing open the heavy door to the stairwell and taking the concrete steps by twos even though my lungs are burning after just one floor. Coughing, I pull at the metal railing, past the fourth floor, and the fifth, and then sixth, finally coming to a big red door with a huge notice stamped onto it: EMERGENCY EXIT. ALARM WILL SOUND WHEN DOOR IS OPENED. I grab my wallet from my back pocket, taking out a tightly folded dollar that I keep in there for moments like these. I reach up and wedge the bill into the frame’s alarm switch so the alarm doesn’t go off, then I open the door just a crack and slide through onto the rooftop. Then I bend down to put my wallet in between the door and the jamb so it doesn’t slam shut behind me. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way before. My mom would have a heart attack if she saw I was using the Louis Vuitton wallet she got me a few months ago as a doorstop, but it was a stupid gift to give someone who never goes anywhere but hospital cafeterias. At least as a doorstop it gets used. I stand up, taking a deep breath and automatically coughing as the cold, harsh winter air shocks my lungs. It feels good, though, to be outside. To not be trapped inside monochrome walls. I stretch, looking up at the pale-gray sky, the predicted snowflakes finally drifting slowly through the air and landing on my cheeks and hair. I walk slowly to the roof’s edge and take a seat on the icy stone, dangling my legs off the side. I exhale a breath I feel like I’ve been holding since I got here two weeks ago. Everything’s beautiful from up here. No matter what hospital I go to, I always make it a point to find a way to get to the roof. I’ve seen parades from the one in Brazil, the people looking like brightly colored ants as they danced through the streets, wild and free. I’ve seen France sleep, the Eiffel Tower shining brightly in the distance, lights quietly shutting off in third-floor apartments, the moon drifting lazily into view. I’ve seen the beaches in California, water that goes on for miles and miles, people basking in the perfect waves first thing in the morning. Every place is different. Every place is unique. It’s the hospitals I’m seeing them from that are the same. This town isn’t the life of the party, but it feels sort of back-roads homey. Maybe that should make me feel more comfortable, but it’s only making me more restless. Probably because for the first time in eight months, I’m a car ride away from home. Home. Where Hope and Jason are. Where my old classmates are slowly chugging their way to finals, shooting for whatever Ivy League school their parents selected for them. Where my bedroom, my freaking life, really, sits empty and unlived in. I watch the headlights of the cars driving past on the road next to the hospital, the twinkling holiday lights in the distance, the laughing kids sliding around on the icy pond next to a small park. There’s something simple in that. A freedom that makes my fingertips itch. I remember when that used to be me and Jason, sliding around on the icy pond down the street from his house, the cold sinking deep into our bones as we played. We’d be out there for hours, having contests to see who could slide farther without falling, chucking snowballs at each other, making snow angels. We made the most of every minute until my mom inevitably showed up and dragged me back inside. The lights flick on in the hospital courtyard, and I glance down to see a girl sitting inside her room on the third floor, typing away on a laptop, a pair of headphones sitting overtop her ears as she concentrates on her screen. Wait a second. I squint. Stella. The cold wind tugs at my hair, and I put my hood up, watching her face as she types. What could she possibly be working on? It’s a Saturday night. She was so different in the videos I watched. I wonder what changed. Is it all of this? All of the hospital stuff? The pills and the treatments and those whitewashed walls that push in on you and suffocate you slowly, day by day. I stand up, balancing on the edge of the roof, and peer at the courtyard seven stories down, just for a moment imagining the weightlessness, the absolute abandon of the fall. I see Stella look up through the glass and we make eye contact just as a strong gust of wind knocks the air right out of me. I try to take a breath to get it back, but my shitty lungs barely take in any oxygen. What air I do get catches in my throat and I start to cough. Hard. My rib cage screams as each cough pulls more and more air from my lungs, my eyes starting to water. Finally, I start to get control of it, but— My head swims, the edges of my vision going black. I stumble, freaked out, whipping my head around and trying to focus on the red exit door or the ground or anything. I stare at my hands, willing the black to clear away, the world to come back into view, knowing the open air over the edge of the roof is still barely an inch away. CHAPTER 5 STELLA I slam open the door to the stairwell, buttoning my jacket as I book it up the steps to the roof. My heart is pounding so loud in my ears, I can barely hear my footsteps underneath me as I run up the steps. He has to be crazy. I keep picturing him standing there at the edge of the roof, about to plummet seven stories to his death, fear painted onto every feature of his face. Nothing like his previous confident smirk. Wheezing, I make it past the fifth floor, stopping just a moment to catch my breath, my sweaty palms grabbing at the cool metal railing. I peer up the stairwell to the top floor, my head spinning, my sore throat burning. I didn’t even have time to grab my portable oxygen. Just two more stories. Two more. I force myself to keep climbing, my feet moving on command: right, left, right, left, right, left. Finally the door to the roof is in sight, cracked open under a bright red alarm just ready to go off. I hesitate, looking from the alarm to the door and back again. But why didn’t it go off when Will opened it? Is it broken? Then I see it. A folded dollar bill holding down the switch, stopping the alarm from blaring and letting everyone in the hospital know some crazy guy with cystic fibrosis and self-destructive tendencies is hanging out on the roof. I shake my head. He might be crazy, but that’s clever. The door is propped open with a wallet, and I push through it as quickly as I can, making sure the dollar bill stays securely in place over the switch. I stop dead, catching a real breath for the first time in forty-eight stairs. Looking across the roof, I’m relieved to see he’s moved a safe distance away from the edge and hasn’t fallen to his death. He turns to look at me as I wheeze, a surprised expression on his face. I pull my red scarf closer as the cold air bites at my face and neck, looking down to see if his wallet is still wedged in the doorjamb before storming over to him. “Do you have a death wish?” I shout, stopping a more-than-safe eight feet away from him. He may have one, but I certainly don’t. His cheeks and nose are red from the cold, and a thin layer of snow has collected on his wavy brown hair and the hood of his burgundy sweatshirt. When he looks like that, I can almost pretend he’s not such an idiot. But then he starts talking again. He shrugs at me, casually, motioning over the edge of the roof to the ground below. “My lungs are toast. So I’m going to enjoy the view while I can.” How poetic. Why did I expect anything different? I peer past him to see the twinkling city skyline far, far in the distance, the holiday lights covering every inch of every tree, brighter now than I’ve ever seen them as they bring the park below back to life. Some are even strung across the trees, creating this magical pathway you could walk under, head back, mouth agape. In all my years here I’ve never been on the roof. Shivering, I pull my jacket tighter, wrapping my arms around my body as I move my eyes back to him. “Good view or not, why would anyone want to risk falling seven stories?” I ask him, genuinely wondering what would possess someone with defective lungs to take a trip onto the roof in the dead of winter. His blue eyes light up in a way that makes my stomach flip-flop. “You ever see Paris from a roof, Stella? Or Rome? Or here, even? It’s the only thing that makes all this treatment crap seem small.” “ ‘Treatment crap’?” I ask, taking two steps toward him. Six feet apart. The limit. “That treatment crap is what keeps us alive.” He snorts, rolling his eyes. “That treatment crap is what stops us from being down there and actually living.” My blood begins to boil. “Do you even know how lucky you are to be in this drug trial? But you just take it for granted. A spoiled, privileged brat.” “Wait, how do you know about the trial? You been asking about me?” I ignore his questions, pushing on. “If you don’t care, then leave,” I fire back. “Let someone else take your spot in the trial. Someone who wants to live.” I look up at him, watching as the snow falls in the space between us, disappearing as it lands in the dusting under our feet. We stare at each other in silence, and then he shrugs, his expression unreadable. He takes a step backward, toward the edge again. “You’re right. I mean, I’m dying anyway.” I narrow my eyes at him. He wouldn’t. Right? Another step back. And another, his footsteps crunching in the freshly fallen snow. His eyes are locked on mine, daring me to say something, to stop him. Challenging me to call out to him. Closer. Almost to the edge. I inhale sharply, the cold scraping at the inside of my lungs. He dangles one foot off the end, and the open air makes my throat tighten up. He can’t— “Will! No! Stop!” I shout, taking a step closer to him, my heart pounding in my ears. He stops, leg floating off the edge. One more step and he would have fallen. One more step and he would have . . . We stare at each other in silence, his blue eyes curious, interested. And then he starts to laugh, loud and deep and wild, in a way so familiar, it feels like pressing on a bruise. “Oh my god. The look on your face was priceless.” He mimics my voice, “Will! No! Stop!” “Are you fucking kidding me? Why would you do that? Falling to your death isn’t a joke!” I can feel my whole body shaking. I dig my fingernails into my palm, trying to stop the trembling as I turn away from him. “Oh, come on, Stella!” he calls after me. “I was only fooling around.” I pull open the rooftop door and step over the wallet, wanting to put as much space as possible between us. Why did I even bother? Why did I climb four stories to see if he was okay? I start running down the first few steps, reaching up to realize . . . I forgot to put on my face mask. I never forget my face mask. I slow down and then stop completely as an idea pops into my head. Climbing back up to the door, I slowly pull the dollar bill off the alarm switch, pocketing it as I fly back down to the third floor of the hospital. Leaning against the brick wall, I catch my breath before pulling off my jacket and scarf, opening the door, and strolling to my room, as if I’ve just been off at the NICU. Somewhere in the distance, the roof alarm goes off as Will opens the door to get back inside, distant but blaring as it echoes down the stairwell, reverberating in the hallway. I can’t help but smile. Julie tosses a blue patient folder onto the desk behind the nurses’ station, shaking her head and murmuring to herself, “The roof, Will? Really?” Good to know I’m not the only one he’s driving crazy. * * * I gaze out the window, watching the snow fall in the fluorescent glow of the courtyard lights, the hallway finally dead silent after Will’s hour-long reprimanding. Glancing over at the clock, I see it’s only eight p.m., which gives me plenty of time to work on number 14 on my to-do list, “Prepare app for beta testing,” and number 15, “Complete dosage table for diabetes,” before I go to bed tonight. I check my Facebook quickly before getting started, a red notification for an invite to a Senior Trip Beach Blast this Friday night in Cabo popping up. I click on the page and see that they used the description I’d drafted back when I was still organizing this, and I’m not sure if that makes me feel better or worse. I scroll through the list of people going, seeing Camila’s and Mya’s pictures, and Mason’s (now sans Brooke), followed by pictures of a half dozen other people from my school who have already replied with a yes. My iPad begins to ring, and I see a FaceTime call coming in from Camila. It’s like they knew I was thinking about them. I smile and swipe right to accept the call, almost getting blinded when the bright sunshine of whatever pristine beach they’re sitting on bursts through the screen of my iPad. “Okay, I’m officially jealous!” I say as Camila’s sunburnt face comes into view. Mya lunges to stick her face over Camila’s shoulder, her curly hair bouncing into the frame. She’s wearing the polka-dot one-piece I helped her pick out, but she clearly doesn’t have time for pleasantries. “Are there any cute guys there? And don’t you dare say—” “Just Poe,” we say at the same time. Camila shrugs, fixing her glasses. “Poe counts. He is CUTE!” Mya snorts, nudging Camila. “Poe is a thousand percent not interested in you, Camila.” Camila punches her playfully in the arm, and then freezes, squinting at me. “Oh my god. Is there? Stella, is there a cute guy there?” I roll my eyes. “He is not cute.” “ ‘He’!” The two of them squeal in delight, and I can sense the waterfall of questions that’s about to pour over me. “I gotta go! Talk to you tomorrow!” I say while they protest, and hang up. The moment on the roof is still a little too fresh and weird to talk about. The page for the Cabo beach party swings back into view. I hover over “Not Going” but I can’t bring myself to click on it just yet, so instead I just close the page and pull up Visual Studio. I open the project I’ve been working on and begin to sort through the lines and lines of code, already feeling my muscles loosen as I do. I find an error in line 27, where I put a c instead of an x for a variable, and a missing equal sign in line 182, but aside from that, the app finally looks ready to go for beta. I almost can’t believe it. I’ll celebrate with a pudding cup later. I try to move on to completing the dosage table for diabetes in my spreadsheet of the most prevalent chronic conditions, sorting through varying ages and weights and medications. But I soon find myself staring at the blank columns, my fingertips tapping away at the edge of my laptop instead, my mind a million miles away. Focus. I reach over to grab my pocket notebook, crossing off number 14 and trying to get the feeling of calm that usually comes from finishing to-do list items, but it doesn’t come. I freeze as my pencil hovers over number 15, looking from the blank columns and rows on my spreadsheet back down to “Complete dosage table for diabetes.” Unfinished. Ugh. I chuck the notebook onto my bed, restlessness and unease filling my stomach. Standing up, I walk over to the window, my hand pushing back the blinds. My eyes travel to the roof, to the spot where Will was standing earlier. I know he was his usual self when I got up there, but I didn’t imagine the coughing, and teetering. Or the fear. Mr. “Death Comes for Us All” didn’t want to die. Restless, I walk over to my med cart, hoping that moving on to “Before-bed meds” on my to-do list will help calm me down. My fingers tap away on the metal of the cart as I look at the sea of bottles, and then out the window again at the roof, and then back at the bottles. Is he even doing his treatments? Barb can probably force him to take most of his meds, but she can’t be there for every single dose. She can strap him into his AffloVest, but she can’t ensure he keeps it on for the full half hour. He’s probably not doing all his treatments. I try to go over the meds in order of when I take them, shuffling them around on the cart, the names all blurring together. Instead of feeling calm, I feel more and more frustration, the anger climbing up the sides of my head. I struggle with the cap on a mucus thinner, pressing down on it with all my strength and trying to twist it off. I don’t want him to die. The thought climbs on top of the mountain of frustration and plants a flag, clear and loud and so surprising to me that I don’t even understand it. I just see him walking back to the edge of that roof. And even though he’s the actual worst . . . I don’t want him to die. I twist the lid sharply and it comes flying off, pills showering down onto my med cart. Angrily, I slam the bottle down, the pills jumping again with the force of my hand. “Dammit!” CHAPTER 6 WILL I open the door to my room, surprised to see Stella backing up against the wall on the other side of the hallway. After the stunt I pulled yesterday, I thought she’d steer clear of me for at LEAST a week. She’s wearing about four face masks and two pairs of gloves, her fingers wrapping tightly around the plastic handrail on the wall. As she moves, I catch the scent of lavender. It smells nice. It’s probably my nose craving anything that isn’t bleach. I grin. “Are you my proctologist?” She gives me what I think is an icy look from what I can see of her face, leaning to peer past me into my room. I glance behind me to see what she’s looking at. The art books, the AffloVest hanging on the edge of the bed from when I shrugged it off as soon as Barb left, my open sketchbook on the table. That’s about it. “I knew it,” she says finally, like she confirmed the answer to some great Sherlock Holmes mystery. She holds out her double-gloved hand. “Let me see your regimen.” “You’re kidding, right?” We stare each other down, her brown eyes shooting daggers through me while I try to give her an equally intimidating glare. But I’m bored as shit so my curiosity gets the better of me. I roll my eyes and turn to go rip apart my room looking for a sheet of paper that’s probably already in a landfill somewhere. I push aside some magazines and check under the bed. I riffle through a couple of my sketchbook pages, and even look under my pillow for show, but it’s nowhere to be found. I straighten up and shake my head at her. “Can’t find it. Sorry. See ya later.” She doesn’t budge, though, and crosses her arms in defiance, refusing to leave. So I keep looking, my eyes scanning the room while Stella taps her foot in the hallway impatiently. It’s useless. That thing is—wait. I notice my pocket-size sketchbook lying on my dresser, the regimen crammed into the back of it, neatly folded and just barely sticking out past the small pages of the book. My mom must have hidden it there so it didn’t end up in the garbage bin. I grab it, heading back to the doorway, and hold out the paper to her. “Not that it’s any of your business . . .” She snatches the paper from me before pressing back up against the far wall. I see her furiously looking at the neat columns and rows that I made into a pretty sick cartoon, imitating a level of Donkey Kong, while Mom and Dr. Hamid chatted. The ladders sit on top of my dosage information, rolling barrels bounce around my treatment names, the damsel in distress screams “HELP!” in the left-hand corner next to my name. Clever, right? “What is—how could you—why?” Clearly, she doesn’t think so. “Is this what an aneurysm looks like? Should I call Julie?” She shoves the paper back at me, her face like thunder. “Hey,” I say, holding up my hands. “I get that you have some save-the-world hero complex going on, but leave me out of it.” She shakes her head at me. “Will. These treatments aren’t optional. These meds aren’t optional.” “Which is probably why they keep shoving them down my throat.” To be fair, though, anything can be optional if you’re creative enough. Stella shakes her head, throwing up her hands and storming off down the hallway. “You’re making me crazy!” Dr. Hamid’s words from earlier surprise me by playing through my head. Don’t get close enough to touch them. For their safety, and yours. I grab a face mask from an unopened box of them that Julie put by my door, pocket it, and jog after her. I glance to the side to see a short, brown-haired boy with a sharp nose, and even sharper cheekbones, peering out of room 310, his eyebrows raised curiously at me as I follow Stella down the hall to the elevator. She reaches the elevator first, stepping inside and turning to face me as she hits the floor button. I move to step in after her but she holds up her hand. “Six feet.” Shit. The doors slide shut and I tap my foot impatiently, pressing the up button over and over and over again as I watch the elevator climb steadily up to the fifth floor and then slowly back down to me. I glance nervously at the empty nurses’ station behind me before sliding quickly into the elevator and jamming the door-close button. I meet my own gaze in the blurry metal of the elevator, remembering the face mask in my pocket and slinging it on as I ride up to the fifth floor. This is stupid. Why am I even following Barb Jr.? With a ding, the door slowly opens, and I power walk down the hall and across the bridge to the east entrance of the NICU, dodging a few doctors along the way. They’re all clearly on their way somewhere, so no one stops me. Gently pushing open the door, I watch Stella for a moment. I open my mouth to ask what the hell that was all about, but then I see that her expression is dark. Serious. I stop a safe distance away from her and follow her eyes to the baby, more tubes and wires than limbs. I see the tiny chest, struggling to rise and fall, struggling to continue breathing. I feel my own heartbeat in my chest, my own weak lungs trying to fill with air from my mad dash through the hospital. “She’s fighting for her life,” she finally says, meeting my eyes in the glass. “She doesn’t know what’s ahead of her or why she’s fighting. It’s just . . . instinct, Will. Her instinct is to fight. To live.” Instinct. I lost that instinct a long time ago. Maybe at my fiftieth hospital, in Berlin. Maybe about eight months ago when I contracted B. cepacia and they ripped my name off the transplant list. There are a lot of possibilities. My jaw tightens. “Listen, you’ve got the wrong guy for that inspiring little speech—” “Please.” She cuts me off, spinning around to face me with a surprising amount of desperation in her expression. “I need you to follow your regimen. Strictly and completely.” “I don’t think I heard that right. Did you just say . . . please?” I say, trying to dodge the seriousness of this conversation. Her expression doesn’t change, though. I shake my head, stepping closer to her but not too close. Something’s up. “Okay. What’s really going on here? I won’t laugh.” She takes a deep breath, taking two steps back to my one step forward. “I have . . . control issues. I need to know that things are in order.” “So? What does that have to do with me?” “I know you’re not doing your treatments.” She leans against the glass, looking at me. “And it’s messing me up. Bad.” I clear my throat, looking past her at the small, helpless baby on the other side of the glass. I feel a twinge of guilt, even though that makes no sense. “Yeah, well, I’d love to help you out. But what you’re asking . . .” I shake my head, shrugging. “Eh, I don’t know how.” “Bullshit, Will,” she says, stomping her foot. “All CFers know how to administer their own treatments. We’re practically doctors by the time we’re twelve.” “Even us spoiled, privileged brats?” I challenge, ripping the face mask off. She isn’t amused by my comment, and her face is still frustrated, distressed. I don’t know what the real problem is, but it’s clearly eating away at her. This is more than control issues. Taking a deep breath, I stop screwing around. “You’re serious? I’m messing you up?” She doesn’t respond, and we stand there, staring at each other in silence, something bordering on understanding passing between us. Finally, I take a step back and put on the face mask again as a peace offering, before leaning against the wall. “Okay. All right,” I say, eyeing her. “So, if I agree to this, what’s in it for me?” Her eyes narrow and she pulls her heather-gray hoodie closer to her. I watch her, the way her hair falls over her shoulders, the way her eyes show every little thing she’s feeling. “I want to draw you,” I say before I can stop myself. “What?” she says, shaking her head adamantly. “No.” “Why not?” I ask. “You’re beautiful.” Shit. That slipped out. She stares at me, surprised and, unless I’m imagining it, just a little pleased. “Thank you, but no way.” I shrug and start walking toward the door. “Guess we don’t have a deal.” “You can’t practice a little discipline? Stick to your regimen? Even to save your own life?” I stop short, looking back at her. She doesn’t get it. “Nothing’s gonna save my life, Stella. Or yours.” I keep going down the hallway, calling over my shoulder, “Everyone in this world is breathing borrowed air.” I push the door open and am about to leave when her voice rings out from behind me. “Ugh, fine!” I spin around, shocked, the door clicking shut. “But no nudes,” she adds. She’s taken her face mask off and I can see her lips twitching into a smile. The first one she’s given me. She’s making a joke. Stella Grant is making a joke. I laugh, shaking my head. “Ah, I should’ve known you’d find a way to suck all the fun out of it.” “No posing for hours on end,” she says, looking back at the preemie, her face suddenly serious. “And your regimen. We do it my way.” “Deal,” I say, knowing that whatever she means by her way is going to be a gigantic pain in the ass. “I’d say let’s shake on it, but . . .” “Funny,” she says, looking at me and then nodding toward the door. “The first thing you have to do is get a med cart in your room.” I salute. “On it. Med cart in my room.” I push open the door, giving her a big smile that lasts me all the way back to the elevator. Pulling out my phone, I send a quick text to Jason: Get this, dude: a truce with that girl I told you about. He’s been getting a real kick out of the stories I’ve been telling him about her. He cried from laughing over the door alarm incident yesterday. My phone buzzes with his reply as the elevator slows to a stop on the third floor: Must be your good looks. Clearly not because of your charming personality. Pocketing my phone, I peer around the corner to check that the nurses’ station is still empty before sliding off the elevator. I jump when a loud crash reverberates out from an open door. “Ow. Shit,” a voice says from inside. I peek in to see the dark-haired dude from earlier wearing a pair of flannel pajama pants and a Food Network T-shirt. He’s sitting on the floor next to an overturned skateboard, rubbing his elbow, clearly post-wipeout. “Oh, hey,” he says, standing up and picking up the skateboard. “You just missed the show.” “You doing stunts in here?” He shrugs. “No safer place to break a leg. Besides, Barb just went off shift.” Valid point. “Can’t argue with logic.” I laugh, raising my hand to do a small wave. “I’m Will.” “Poe,” he says, grinning back at me. We grab chairs out of our rooms and sit in our respective doorways. It’s nice to talk to someone around here who’s not mad at me all the time. “So what brings you to Saint Grace’s? Haven’t seen you here before. Stell and I pretty much know everyone who comes through.” Stell. So they’re close? I lean my chair back, letting it rest against the doorframe, and try to drop the B. cepacia bomb as casually as I can. “Experimental trial for B. cepacia.” I usually avoid telling CFers because they make it a point to avoid me like the plague. His eyes widen, but he doesn’t move any farther away. He just rolls the skateboard back and forth under his feet. “B. cepacia? That is rough. How long ago did you contract it?” “About eight months ago,” I say. I remember waking up one morning having more trouble breathing than usual, and then I couldn’t stop coughing. My mom, being obsessed with every breath I’ve taken my whole life, took me straight to the hospital to run some tests. I can still hear her heels clicking loudly behind the gurney, her ordering the people around as if she were the chief of surgery. I thought she was obsessive before the results came back. She always overreacted to every loud cough or gasp of breath, keeping me out of school or forcing me to cancel plans to go to doctor’s appointments or to the hospital for no reason. I remember doing a mandatory chorus performance back in third grade and coughing right in the middle of our shitty rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.” She literally stopped the concert midsong and dragged me offstage to go get a checkup. But I didn’t know how good I had it. Things are so much worse now than they were then. Hospital after hospital, experi