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.

Join the Discussion

This article has 815 comments. Post your own now!

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.
Your Mom said...
Jan. 13, 2012 at 11:29 am
Pumpkinscout said...
Jan. 13, 2012 at 3:10 pm
That's really rude...please don't say things like that.
Fia-fia said...
Jan. 3, 2012 at 6:14 pm
"yea, i guess" please next time write a comment that is useful, constructive, or helpful, or perhaps just a compliment to the writing. Saying "i guess its ok" is slightly rude; and to use this comment to adversities your work is also rude. Would you like someone to advertise their work on ur comment page? Please just think about what your comments.
swcricket98 said...
Dec. 23, 2011 at 11:15 am
Loved this. Great job.
abnormal said...
Dec. 22, 2011 at 10:50 pm
Really great story. Only thing: I felt like it moved too fast in the Cancer revealing part. I wish it was longer!!!!
-Forever_Myself- said...
Dec. 22, 2011 at 9:58 pm
I loved this. I became sad when I got to the Cancer part. Sigh..
definitelygchll said...
Dec. 22, 2011 at 7:59 pm
I loved it! Keep writing!
KendalAnnJ said...
Dec. 22, 2011 at 12:00 pm
Someone else made a good point about the beginning line. This story proves that the first sentence could be the most important. I was definately drawn to it the minute I read the mysterious and attractive sentence about the eyeliner. Great job! :)
KendalAnnJ said...
Dec. 22, 2011 at 11:57 am
This was absolutely WONDERFUL. Great story.
RyssaMaeIsHere said...
Dec. 22, 2011 at 10:10 am
Okay.. well... I LOVE IT!
awensman95 said...
Dec. 22, 2011 at 12:17 am
Your story sad but really amazing :) keep it up 
Soni-kay said...
Dec. 21, 2011 at 12:53 pm
Omg this poem caught me off guard i would have never thought she had cancer. It was really good. Great Job! 
dm1723 replied...
Dec. 22, 2011 at 2:34 pm
funny cuz its not a poem. but ur right. it is a surprise.
prettylittlewriter said...
Dec. 8, 2011 at 4:29 pm
I just cried. This was so amazing. I thought at first she was a materialistic bullimic or something, but when we find out she has cancer it completely changed my perspective. Audition for OCHSA
prettylittlewriter said...
Dec. 8, 2011 at 4:28 pm
Oh my gosh, I literally just cried. At first I thought she was a materialistic bullimic or something, but when I found out she had cancer it completely changed my perspective. I love this story so much and I'm so glad I had time to read it. You're really talented you should audition for OCHSA!!!!
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