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Perfect This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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The eyeliner makes the dark circles less pronounced. The lip gloss hides the trembling. The ponytail conceals missing patches of hair. The Abercrombie sweater covers bruises. I might look at bit thinner, but everyone will ask about my new diet. My hair might not shine the way it used to, but the pink ribbon will distract curious eyes. One hour of preparation and I look like myself. One hour of preparation and no one will know. One hour out of 24. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it – wasting a twenty-fourth of my day on a lie. But then I see my wispy hair and baggy eyes, and I have to do it.

Checking my makeup one last time, I push my sleeves up, though not past my elbows. I slip on a cute pair of flats – heels are too dangerous with shaky legs – and grab my Hollister bag. Padding downstairs, I inhale the scent of waffles and syrup.

“Morning, Mom,” I call.

“Morning, baby,” she chirps. “Did you sleep well?”

“Better than I have been.”

She sighs, and her eyes look a hundred years old for a minute. “Any improvement is good,” she says half-heartedly.

“Of course.”

“I made waffles.” Her offering.

“Thanks, Mom. Smells delicious.” My offering.

I sit at the table and she hands me a plate. The thought of all that food turns my stomach, but I force a smile and thank my mother again. She busies herself at the sink and fills the silence with chatter. When she turns around, she takes in the waffles still on my plate, only missing a few bites. I smile apologetically.

“I’m not very hungry this morning.”

“You’ll need your strength for this afternoon.” She bites her lip. She doesn’t like to bring it up over breakfast. I eat another bite.

“I packed your lunch.”

“I’m 18, Mom. I can pack my own lunch. You have more important things to do.”

She reaches for the paper sack. “But now I know you’ll have something to eat. And you need to eat, okay? You have to keep your strength up.”

Sighing, I take the bag. I know this peanut butter and jelly sandwich won’t be eaten, not any more than the one yesterday or the day before. And even if I do eat it, I’ll just throw it up later. Anything consumed after 11 ends up in a plastic basin at 4:07. It’s just the way it works.

“Hon, have you thought about what I said the other day?” she asks.

I shrug noncommittally.

“Sweetheart, you can’t hide this forever. Eventually you’re going to miss school and people will start asking questions.”

“Mom, I have two months left of high school. I can make it ’til then. I’m class president and probably valedictorian. I was voted ‘Most popular,’ ‘Most fun to be around,’ ‘Best smile,’ and ‘Most likely to succeed.’ I’m the girl who’s got it all together. People don’t want to know that the girl who’s got it all together, doesn’t have it all together. People don’t want to know that girl is dying!”

“Honey, don’t say that. You’re not dying.”

“Yes, I am. I have cancer. You heard Dr. Morrison. I have maybe a year left. But that means I can graduate and then never see those people again. I’ll die and they’ll feel sorry for me, but at least I won’t have to endure their pity.”

“But …,” she tries to interrupt.

“Mom, listen to me. I don’t want to be the girl everyone looks at and whispers, ‘Look at her. Poor thing, she has cancer.’ I can’t handle that. I want to be normal. Just for these last two months.”

“Okay,” she whispers. “Okay. Just remember, it’s okay if you don’t have it all together. Sometimes things just fall apart and there’s nothing we can do.”

“Thanks, Mom.” I grab my bag and lunch and kiss her on the cheek. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” my mom replies. This exchange, once taken for granted, is now a vital part of every morning, every afternoon, every night. Three little words, followed by four more, have come to mean more than an entire conversation. They bridge all gaps and disagreements, because we both know there is now a finite number left.

Keys in hand, I open the door and blink in the early morning sun. My silver car waits in the driveway and as I walk toward it, I check my reflection in the tinted window. Perfect.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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4qui133 said...
Jan. 13, 2012 at 11:50 pm
says you, whose user name is what it is. if you had cancer, or if you knew what it was like to be the subject of looks and whispers, you'd watch your mouth.
@jerk above me replied...
Jan. 13, 2012 at 11:58 pm
really? would I? At least Im not a nerd. Besides, no one has cancer these days. -smirk-
Fakesmile replied...
Jan. 15, 2012 at 7:18 pm
Not only did i want to jump into the screen and slap you for saying that, but i want you to know that you're being incredibly rude. And if you're only on here to be hurtful then people will start to ignore you fast.So don't get used to all the hatelful attention. Once you write something and some one else judges it, try to not be so mean.
Fakesmile replied...
Jan. 15, 2012 at 8:26 pm
Y do u hav to b so hurtful an comment on everything I hav to say?!
Fakesmile replied...
Jan. 16, 2012 at 2:17 pm
cock said...
Jan. 13, 2012 at 11:21 pm
yea i agree with can you NERDS be reading this wen u can do other stuff. at least read better quality garbage then this!
bums said...
Jan. 13, 2012 at 11:16 pm
how can u fools read this garbage? Why not play games? This SUX! losers
4qui133 replied...
Jan. 17, 2012 at 6:51 pm
why not get a life? this piece is a five star. any of your work available for comment?
iHEARTtraveling said...
Jan. 13, 2012 at 8:19 pm
This is a really good story. It's very good that you are focusing on something realistic, something that a lot of people would shy away from. However, the description was a little confusing because at first I thought that this girl was abused and neglected. Overall, though, it's really good!!
ArabianDressage said...
Jan. 13, 2012 at 7:58 pm
This is amazing, absolutely lovely!! Keep the awesome work up!!
_Zavery_ said...
Jan. 13, 2012 at 7:34 pm
That's crazy. How can anybody dislike this perfect piece of fiction??? Made me cry. And at least tell me how the heck this is rubbish =
u suck said...
Jan. 13, 2012 at 11:14 pm
cause u have read it. eew
Sarah_G said...
Jan. 13, 2012 at 4:00 pm
I think this is really good. It's definitely realistic and believable, and it really tugged at my heartstrings. Great work!
4qui133 replied...
Jan. 17, 2012 at 6:56 pm
how did a simple short story about cancer get caught up in some sort of Neo Nazi cyber war? SarahG: thank you for sticking up for this piece. it is really well written and deep.
Pumpkinscout said...
Jan. 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm
I personally loved this story. It almost made me cry! Keep writing!
Pumpkinscout replied...
Jan. 18, 2012 at 12:15 pm
I completely agree. Thank you you said that very nicely, and I'm glad that rude person got their comments removed.
Jelly_Bean said...
Jan. 13, 2012 at 10:24 am
I liked your story, but I think you introduced cancer into it too fast.
JustKeepRowin replied...
Jan. 13, 2012 at 8:09 pm
I agree! I feel The "I have cancer" card has been played too much in Literature. This story made it work but, it just throught out the conflict and then ended.
PreciousUnique said...
Jan. 13, 2012 at 9:46 am
this was kinda good... I got hook'd on it by the first sentence....keep up the good work..
Pumpkinscout said...
Jan. 13, 2012 at 3:13 pm
Wow. Could you please go spew rudeness elsewhere? Comments like this don't belong on Teen Ink. Teen Ink is for people who read and write and draw, etc. and then give polite, constructive comments on other people's work. If you feel that there could be improvement, then make specific statements to that effect. Don't just bash.
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