That's What Friends Are For

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She stood in front of the mirror, brushing her long, straight blonde hair. Her green eyes reflected fear and anger back at her. She looked down at the brush, removed the large wad of hair and threw it out. She wiped her eyes and climbed onto her bed.

She held her squishy K pillow- K for Kate- in her lap. She fingered the memory foam inside the pillow, remembering how comforted she used to feel by it at night. She laid back on all her other pillows on her four poster canopy bed, closing her eyes. She lifted up her shirt sleeve to feel the gauzy patch that covered her bike wound. She moved her hand down a little further and felt the bandage that covered the brand new cut she had gotten earlier.

The knock on the door came just when she expected it. Clay was always on time. Never once had she said she couldn’t come over when Kate had called, saying it was urgent.

Clay Murphy, her best friend, entered without a “come in!” from Kate. She knew better by now.
She took in the pink room, all lit by candles (there must have been twelve) and the soft blue glow of her iHome, playing her country music playlist. Kate and country didn’t usually mix.

“Hey, Katie” Clay said, quietly, pushing a messy redish orangish braid off her shoulder and climbing on the bed next to her best friend. “What’s up?”

Kate didn’t respond. She was looking out the darkening window, where snow was falling softly. She had no idea how to tell Clay what she had to tell her.

“Can I change the music?” Clay asked, as a depressing Carrie Underwood song began to play.
Kate shook her head, rolling over to the side, still holding her pillow.

Clay bit her lip, her stomach crawling and her fingers starting tingling, like when she got a panic attack in school. “Kate, what’s wrong?” she asked, her voice urgent.

Kate sat up, throwing her pillow across the room, hitting her white wood dresser perfectly so her rack of earrings and necklaces rattled. She rolled up her shirt sleeve, exposing the bandages.


“This” she said, pointing to the higher one, “is where I feel off my bike three months ago.” She looked at Clay, who didn’t say anything. “And this” she continued, pointing to the lower one, “is where I got tested for leukemia. And guess what? It was positive!” She lay back down and buried her face in her pillows, crying.

Clay was silent. Her family was usually the one with the problems, not Kate’s. Kate had a genus for an older brother, graduating two years early from Harvard in June. Her sister drove her everywhere she wanted to go, all the time. She was the prettiest girl in the entire school, and she had the most gorgeous boyfriend. Her mother was a dentist and her father was a lawyer. If there was such a thing as a perfect life, Kate had it.

Clay, on the other hand, lived with a mother who seemed to be in a constant state of half sober, half drunk. Her father had run out when she was only six, leaving just Clay, her mother and her sister, Dylan. Dylan had run away last year, and last they had heard from her she was living with some guy in Vegas. Not that Molly, Clay’s mother, cared all that much anyway.

That was why Clay and Kate clicked so well. Each came from a completely opposite world, and when one entered the other’s, it was like leaving the planet for a minute.

But this was different. If anyone should have cancer, it was Molly, because of her smoker’s lungs. Not Kate. Not pure, beautiful, innocent Kate.

“Hey” Clay said quietly, taking her friend into an embrace, “it’ll be okay. I’m here.”


Two weeks later, Kate stared at herself once again in the mirror of her hairdresser’s shop. Now, she had no hair on her head, for it was all in her hands. The doctor had told her to cut it to a buzz, so it would be easier during the chemo. Nadine, her personal stylist, hugged Kate and let her sit there a few more minutes, taking in her new appearance.

Her hair looked golden and vibrant in her hands. This morning she had washed, dried and straightened it for what she knew would be the last time. Her sister, Lanie, had watched her, tears in her eyes.

Now, Kate hopped down from the chair, pushed open the door and hopped into Lanie’s car, not saying a word.
When they got home, Kate went straight for the drawer in the kitchen that held the plastic bags. She piled her hair into one, wiping tears away as she did. She took the bag upstairs.

She pushed open her bedroom door and there, on her bed, sat Clay.
Clay was wearing an old shirt Kate had given her once she’d outgrown it, and old Levi’s with a white paint stain on the thigh. Most noticeable, though, was Clay’s bald head.

Kate dropped her bag and covered her mouth with her hands. Clay weakly held up scissors and a bag of her own red hair.

“Why?” Kate asked, tears rolling down her cheeks.

“Because” Clay replied, trying to keep her own from escaping, “that’s what best friends do for each other.”

Kate choked out sobs as she wrapped her arms around Clay’s bald neck. Clay closed her eyes tightly, a few tears escaping, as she held Kate.

“I wonder what they’ll say to you at school” Kate sniffed.

“They’ll say, ‘Boy that Kate McKinley has one heck of a best friend’” Clay laughed.

“Or, ‘Boy that Clayton Murphy is one heck of a best friend’” Kate smiled back.
The two girls stood there, smiling and laughing at each other.

“We’re in this together, Katie” Clay said. “I told you I wouldn’t let you do it alone.”

“Thanks” Kate whispered, hugging her once again.





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