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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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This article has 748 comments. Post your own!

confusion said...
Apr. 2, 2011 at 10:41 pm:
I do not understand. What are the bruises on her arms and why won't she eat?
PiaHainzCiavelli replied...
Apr. 9, 2011 at 3:08 pm :

she has cancer


confusion replied...
Apr. 10, 2011 at 10:58 am :

I know she has cancer. I'm not stupid! lol. Anyway, still, I know people with cancer and they eat like everyone without cancer. just saying.... I do like it though


leaf44 replied...
May 2, 2011 at 2:52 pm :
Chemotherapy and other cancer treatmeants can cause upset stomach (why she can't eat) and some cancers can cause bruising as a side affect.
connfusion replied...
May 2, 2011 at 5:25 pm :
OMG! I have had chemotherapy and you only have a stomach ache for maybe an hour after the infusion, but whatever. I loved the story. It really brought out emotion. Can't wait to read more of your stuff. btw, maybe make it into a book?
Kell_Bell13 replied...
Jun. 29, 2011 at 9:15 am :
Its different for some people. Sometimes, they get stomach aches even after chemo. It depends on the type of cancer, and the dosage of chemotherapy.
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tikapeek97 said...
Apr. 2, 2011 at 5:38 pm:
wow that was great, you did a great job
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ohheyyyelli said...
Apr. 2, 2011 at 4:51 pm:
The beginning isn't clear. It sounds like the character self harms, and also sounds like they could have an eating disorder. But then I started to get it and it was really good[: I just wish it were longer!
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PerfectMGymnast This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 2, 2011 at 4:26 pm:
wow! this was amazing!!! great job!! :)
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MaryKate said...
Apr. 2, 2011 at 3:17 pm:
This is such an awesome story! Worthy of attention. Maybe you could make it longer? Add a little romance in there? But then you would snap his heart in two...
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xMeadowx said...
Apr. 2, 2011 at 2:23 pm:
I love this, and it really makes you think. I've read this over a few times before. 
My boyfriend has cancer and I can really feel the way the characters in the story do because of it. Thank you for the great story :)
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sailerc This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 2, 2011 at 10:25 am:
At first I thought this was a story about an eating disorder, but near the end I started to get that it was about cancer. Really good job, I love it!
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karlsssThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Apr. 2, 2011 at 9:15 am:
this is amazing! At the beginning, I didn't know what you were trying to lead up to. But all great writers have the ability to keep people reading and you certainly did so. Well done, I look forward to reading more.
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HorseLover said...
Apr. 2, 2011 at 6:33 am:
At the beginning, I really didn't know where you were going with this--then I started to get it. Amazing job!! I've never read anything like this!
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Fate98 said...
Apr. 2, 2011 at 5:28 am:
wow this is so good. i loved it. At first i didn't know where it was going when you said she has so many brusies, it wasn't where i thought it was going. Very very well done
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Q'Ristien B. said...
Mar. 23, 2011 at 4:00 pm:
This is like my 5th time reading this . It's GREAT !:)
Alia_Tan replied...
Mar. 27, 2011 at 11:32 pm :
I loved the story! It was kind of like suspensful in a way, even though it was so short. At first, you can only guess why shes worried about her complexion so much and why she has so many brusies. And at the end, the story swiftly changes from wonder to sympathy. I loved your story :) Great job!
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Sandra said...
Mar. 15, 2011 at 9:36 am:
I love this story! So interesting and amazing! Good word choice!
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LiveInTheMoment said...
Mar. 14, 2011 at 6:25 pm:
This was a well written piece, and it had so much emotion behind it. I can definitely relate to this. My mom has cancer, and I haven't told anyone I know yet. I don't want pity glances and sympathy hugs. I want people to like me because I'm me. I loved this piece. Please write more, I'd love to read more articles from you. This article was an eye opener and brought tears to my eyes. Beautiful8)
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cascadeblanche said...
Mar. 11, 2011 at 8:13 pm:
I can so relate to this. I have lupus, and I get the same treatment as cancer- chemotherapy. I know how it's like to try to hide what I have. This story is marvelous. :)
knowhowyoufeel replied...
Apr. 2, 2011 at 10:43 pm :
I have lupus too. I finished my chemotherapy a year  ago. It's good to know I'm not the only one. Good luck with yours. :)
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