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Everyone Needs A Little Hope
“I can’t believe your making me do this.” I stopped short of the hospital, Tina, my foster mother, five feet ahead of me. “I mean, this is the worst form of punishment…”
“Look” Tina backed up and faced me, square on. “It was either stay in juvie, or do some community service. Which sounded better to you, Cecilia?”
Right now, juvie seemed better. At least I wouldn’t have to walk inside the hospital.
“It won’t be that bad” Tina said, her voice softening. “You’ll be working in the cancer ward, with Melanie. She’s very nice, she’ll tell you exactly what to do.” She tucked a strand of chocolate brown hair behind her ear. “Painless.”
Cancer ward. Fear took over my body, but I shook it off. It had been eight years since I’d even set foot in a hospital. I was fine. I would be fine. I just had to act like I always did, like nothing ever bothered me. Like seeing people with cancer was just like seeing my school teachers.
But it wasn’t. It just wasn’t. All I could think of was eight years ago, my mother’s limp body in the too white room, under the too bright lights. I remembered my aunt’s tight, dry hand in mine, my older sister’s sturdy one in my other. Back when my hair was short and blonde, when all my dresses were from Goodwill, when Adeline still wanted to be my sister, when Aunt Bethany was willing to take care of me.
But that was eight years ago. Before I’d tasted beer or kissed a guy, before I smoked and before I dyed my hair the color of catsup. Before Aunt Bethany made a call and told social services she couldn’t take care of me anymore.
After my mother’s death, Adeline and I had both moved in with our rich aunt. Adeline didn’t speak, she didn’t make friends, and she didn’t do anything. I was the opposite. I partied every night, downed beer like water, went through boys like candy. As soon as Adeline’s first semester at NYU started, she left and never came back. After my first encounter with the police, Aunt Bethany called and sent me to Tina.
It wasn’t any better. I still made friends with the wrong people, got my tongue pierced and wore all black. I drove drunk, breaking two laws (I wasn’t old enough to drive), and I started stealing. That’s what landed me in juvie. I had lost all control when I lost my mother, I had lost my life. And here I was, trying not to let it bother me.
The inside of the hospital’s smell hit me like it did eight years ago- the sickening smell of death. It hardly mattered that babies were being born, or that lives were being saved. It was the sole memory of my mother’s body in that bed that haunted me.
Tina and I crossed under a sign reading CANCER CENTER, and my stomach flew to my throat. I clenched my fists and followed her to the front desk.
“Hey, Mel” Tina smiled at a blonde haired, blue eyed, young nurse. The woman smiled back and extended her arms.
“Is this Cecilia?” she asked, giving me a look as if I might bite her.
“Yes” Tina said, “This is my foster child, Cecilia Craft.”
“Cece” I interrupted. “I prefer Cece. Like letter C, letter E, letter C, letter E…”
“Okay!” Melanie jumped in, still looking at me. Taking in my black combat boots, my fishnets, my dirty old jacket some guy lent me that I had never returned, and the black flower clip that adorned my catsup hair.
Tina left, leaving the two of us. I focused on her, not letting the bald headed kids walking around with their IV’s get to me.
“Well I was going to have you do something different…” Melanie said, tapping her finger against her cheek, “but I think I’ll have you…follow me.”
We walked down the hallway, some doors open, some closed. Some had laughter from televisions coming out; others had the humming of machines. I bit my lip to keep myself from crying. I hadn’t cried in eight years.
“This is Hope’s room.” Melanie stopped outside a door at the very end of the hallway. “She has…no one. No family at all” she closed her eyes for a moment. “She has a very serious form of leukemia. She really needs a friend.” She touched my shoulder. “I just need you to be her friend.”
“Is she…” I started to ask, feeling a weird feeling of stinging in my eyes. I wiped it away.
“We don’t know. I woman found her alone in the park one day, and brought her in. She had cuts and bruises all over her. We had no idea she had cancer until…well we found a weird lump in her.” Melanie shook her head. “Just…please. Be her friend.” She patted my shoulder, leaving me to go greet her alone. I sucked in a breath and put my hand on the brass knob, and turned it.
Her eyes were closed, and her mouth hung open, drool coming out onto her pillow. She couldn’t have been more than ten years old. She had bits of red patches on her head, I’m guessing that was what was left of her hair. I bit my lip so hard blood came out.
I moved closer to the bed, noticing the room had no balloons or candy, no cards or flowers. It was just plain white and bland. Nothing like my mother’s room had been.
I swallowed, kind of loud I guess, because her eyes shot open. She rubbed one and stared at me.
I wished I didn’t look like I did in that moment. I wished I was wearing pink or yellow or something happy….
“Who are you?” she asked, her words sounding scratched.
“My name’s Cece” I said, “I came to visit with you. I’ll be visiting with you a lot.”
She sniffed. “Why do you have that thing in your nose?”
My hand drifted to my nose ring. Self consciously, I took it out and stuck it in my pocket. Hope smiled.
“I’m Hope.” She said, propping herself up on one elbow. “I’m eight and a half years old. My birthday’s in April. My mommy called me Hope when I was born ‘cause she didn’t think I’d make it. She and my daddy weren’t nice people. They stole. Daddy hurt me sometimes.” She snuggled under her comforters. “The last thing she said to me was, ‘everybody needs a little Hope.’”
I was so baffled by her story I didn’t say anything.
“What about you?” she asked, like she was generally interested.
“Well” I said, “Um, I’m Cece, actually my real names Cecilia. I’m sixteen. My mom died from breast cancer when I was eight, and my dad ran away on a motorcycle when I was six.” I paused for a moment. “I lived with my aunt until she threw me out for being…bad.” I looked down at my chipped, black nails, still wishing I looked anything like this.
“You’re not bad” Hope said, “You’re good. I like you. You can be my best friend.” Her voice lowered to a whisper, “I’ve never had a best friend.”
I smiled back at her. “Okay.”
The next day I went back to Hope’s room, armed with colored posters and flowers and balloons for her room. The plainness had to be troubling. I also was wearing a pink sweater and jeans that I had found in Tina’s closet.
“You came back” Hope smiled, as I pushed open the door. “Wait, why did you change?”
“What?” I asked, putting the stuff down on the chair.
“You’re clothes. Yesterday you didn’t look like you’d be caught dead in pink.”
“Well…” I stuttered, “Um…”
“Don’t change what you wear because you think it will make me happier” she said, “Be yourself from now on. Promise?” she held out a weak pinkie. I took it and we laughed.
Over the next few weeks, Hope’s room looked more like a bedroom than a hospital room. I turned her on to some of my favorite music, and bought her posters of the bands. I gave her some of my old stuffed animals, and we watered our flowers every day. Being with Hope seemed to take an edge off me. I no longer felt like I needed to drink or smoke or do any of that to be happy. Being with Hope made me happy. Even when all my service hours had been clocked in, I still went back to visit whenever I could. She had really turned into my best friend.
It seemed odd, though. Hope seemed to be getting better some days, but she seemed to be slipping backward other days. I was scared when she didn’t remember my name at first one day, but in a minute it came to her and we conversed as usual. All the redish orangish hair patches were gone from her head now.
“Hey, girl, sorry I didn’t tell you I was going out of town, my sister asked me to come see her for Christmas break and…Hope?” I dropped my backpack and books on the floor, walking over to her bed. Her eyes were shut, and she had white gauzy patches all over, connecting to humming machines.
“Cece” Melanie opened the door and saw me there, a surprised look on her face. “Well, what a surprise.” She walked around my school stuff to Hope’s bed. “Um, I didn’t know that you were still coming”
“I haven’t been here in a week” I said, twirling a piece of my dyed back to blonde hair. “I was visiting my sister in New York for Christmas.”
“Oh.” Melanie put a jar of clear liquid down. “Well, uh, we won’t be needing you anymore, I’m afraid.”
“Why?” I asked, my eyes tingling.
Melanie looked at the bed and then back at me. “Cece…she’s almost gone.”
“No” I said, tears escaping my eyes for the first time. “No she’s not.” I ran to the bed and touched her hand. “No” I let a tear slip onto her skin.
“Cecilia” Melanie touched my shoulder. “I’m sorry. I never should have…I mean Tina just told me how your mother died and if I had known I would have never put you with someone who was so…”
“She changed my life” I said, wiped my eyes rapidly. “She changed me. Before I met her, I smoke, I drank, I stole…I did such bad stuff. She changed me” I wiped my nose. “She makes me happy for the first time since mom…” I looked at Hope again. “No.”
“I know” Melanie embraced me. “I can tell. I mean your hair, your clothes…no more all black.”
Her eyes now had a subtle glaze to them.
“No more all black.” I repeated, looking at Hope. I didn’t change for her. She changed me.
“Is there a chance, Melanie?” I asked, still letting her hug me.
“It doesn’t look good” she said, breaking away to check on the machines. “I’m so sorry.” She left me alone.
“Everyone needs a little Hope” I said, picking up her hand and squeezing it. “Everyone needs hope.”
“CECE! Where have you been?” I stopped dead in my tracks. Six weeks with no visits to the hospital, I had figured Hope had passed peacefully. But there she was, all four foot five of her, hands on her hips, Melanie’s hand on her shoulder.
“You left me for a very long time” Hope said, grabbing my hand, her gap toothed smile showing.
I looked at Melanie, alarmed. I had only came in to find Tina and there Hope was.
“She woke up the next day and seemed fine” Melanie said, shrugging. “I mean, we had her tested and…”
“I’m cancer free” Hope said, hugging me. “And guess what? Melanie’s adopting me!”
Melanie beamed as she put her hand on top of Hope’s head. Clear dots appeared in her eyes.
“It went through. They’re letting me.” She said, wiping her eyes. “I can’t conceive and once Hope was ready to be discharged and had nowhere to go they said there was no one better.”
Hope took both of our hands. “Melanie, can you adopt Cece, too?”
“No” I said, bending down, “Melanie doesn’t want me.”
“Who says?” Melanie said, beaming. “Who says I didn’t already?”
“What?” I asked, jumping up.
“Tina agreed to let me be your legal guardian” Melanie said. “I signed the papers and everything. You two are now my daughters.” She laughed, hugging us both.
“I didn’t think you’d mind”
I turned around and saw Tina there, dressed in her cat scrubs. She reached out to me. “I was going to send you to child services as you know”
I did know. Tina had told me she was getting too old to be a foster parent.
“When Melanie said she’d be happy to have the both of you, if they let her.”
“And they did!” Melanie laughed, now hugging Tina. Tears grew in my eyes.
“Cece” Hope said, taking my hands, “we’re sisters!”
“Sisters” I repeated, picking her up and kissing her on the cheek.
Now I’d always have Hope in my life.
Bossier City, Louisiana
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