Critically acclaimed author Melissa Kantor masterfully captures the joy of friendship, the agony of loss, and the unique experience of being a teenager in this poignant new novel about a girl grappling with her best friend's life-threatening illness.
Zoe and her best friend, Olivia, have always had big plans for the future, none of which included Olivia getting sick. Still, Zoe is determined to put on a brave face and be positive for her friend.
Even when she isn't sure what to say.
Even when Olivia misses months of school.
Even when Zoe starts falling for Calvin, Olivia's crush.
The one thing that keeps Zoe moving forward is knowing that Olivia will beat this, and everything will go back to the way it was before. It has to. Because the alternative is too terrifying for her to even imagine.
In this incandescent page-turner, which follows in the tradition of The Fault in Our Stars, Melissa Kantor artfully explores the idea that the worst thing to happen to you might not be something that is actually happening to you. Raw, irreverent, and honest, Zoe's unforgettable voice and story will stay with readers long after the last page is turned.
Livvie woke up with a fever Sunday, and she missed school Monday. Monday night when I talked to her she said she’d be in school Tuesday morning, but then she texted me and said she’d woken up with a fever again and her mom was taking her to the doctor.
I called Livvie at the start of lunch Tuesday, but she didn’t pick up the phone. I was standing by my locker, finishing leaving her a message, when Mia Roberts turned down the corridor.
Mia was the girl on the soccer team I knew the least. She’d been new freshman year (before coming east she’d lived in L.A.), and unlike the rest of the team (who hung out pretty much exclusively with one another), Mia hung with a lot of different people. And she didn’t just not hang out exclusively with the team; she also looked nothing like the other girls we played with, all of whom—whether white or black, Asian or Hispanic, freshmen or seniors—were very . . . American looking. Clean-cut. Like, you could use any one of them in photos for an anti-drug campaign.
But Mia’s hair was bleached white except for the tips, which were blue. When she wasn’t wearing her soccer uniform, she wore black pretty much exclusively, down to black motorcycle boots or Doc Martens.
“Hey,” she said. Today she was wearing a pair of black leggings with lace at the bottom and a black tank top. Her dark eyes were heavily made up with black liner.
“Hey,” I said. I put my phone in my bag.
“You heading to lunch?” Mia asked. I nodded, and she gestured for me to accompany her. “Let’s do it.” She was chewing gum, and while I watched, she blew a small bubble, then cracked it loudly between her teeth.
I fell into step beside her. “I love cracking my gum. It drives my mom batshit when I do it, though.”
“Well, your mom’s not here now, is she?” Mia reached into her bag and pulled out a pack of Juicy Fruit.
I eyed the pack suspiciously. “I don’t know. Sugar gum. Kind of a gateway drug, isn’t it?”
“Try it,” she said, wagging the pack at me. “The first slice is free.”
I reached for a piece, unwrapped it, and popped it in my mouth. “Oh my God,” I said as the fruity taste exploded on my tongue. I had to close my eyes for a second to savor the experience. “This is the first nonsugarless gum I’ve had in years.”
“I know, right?” said Mia, smiling triumphantly. “The dentist loves me. My mom says I’m sending his kids to college.”
“It’s worth it,” I assured her.
We passed a circle of football players, including Calvin and Jake. Each guy was surrounded by a healthy harem of cheerleaders. Jake looked up, saw me, and waved. I waved back. Calvin glanced my way also, but even though we were both at the Grecos’ practically every day, his glance slid over me as if I were some exchange student he’d never seen in his life.
Inwardly I rolled my eyes at what an ass he was.
“So,” said Mia, “how come you don’t do soccer anymore?”
“Um, because I so totally sucked at it?” I offered.
Mia laughed, but she didn’t correct me, which I appreciated.
“Does that mean you went back to dancing again?” she asked.
Here was concrete proof of how little anyone outside the dance world understood it. I imagined a universe in which Olivia and I had randomly decided to take a year off from dancing and then—equally spontaneously—decided to return to it. I let myself see the two of us as Mia must have seen us. In control. Masters of our destiny.
The fantasy was awesome, which may explain why I lied to her. “Nah. I was kind of over dance.”
“Got it.” We turned down the hallway toward the cafeteria. It was more crowded here, with some people shoving to get in and others shoving to get out.
“You know,” said Mia, turning to me, “freshman year I was überintimidated by the two of you.”
I practically choked on my gum. “You were?”
“I was!” Mia imitated my tone exactly, then laughed. “Is that so surprising? You’re both tall and gorgeous. And you disappeared into Manhattan after school every day.” We stepped into the river of kids headed to the cafeteria. “I saw you once at The Nutcracker when my mom and I took my niece. I mean, I didn’t see you see you. Like, I couldn’t pick you out. But your names were in the program.”
I shook my head, as much at the idea of Mia’s being at the ballet as at the thought of her searching for us in a sea of dancers. “That’s so weird. I mean that we were on your radar like that.”
Mia raised an incredulous eyebrow at me. “It’s not weird, Zoe. You and Olivia were famous. I figured you were way too cool to hang out with regular people like me.”
“Really? You thought we were cool?” I squeaked, so uncool that both Mia and I laughed. She held open the door to the cafeteria and I followed her in. As we joined a table, I composed a text in my head to Livvie, telling her about how cool and terrifying the population of Wamasset had once found us.
I was irritated that Livvie didn’t respond to my text, which was, frankly, hilarious. Wasn’t she just sitting in the waiting room of Dr. Weiss, our pediatrician? Or sitting at Driscoll’s Pharmacy waiting for her mom to fill a prescription? Or sitting and waiting for me to call her? I didn’t stay home sick from school all that often, but when I did, that was my routine. The bell rang, ending math, our last period of the day, and Mr. Schumacher nodded in my direction. “You’ll give Olivia the homework.”
“Sure,” I said, then muttered under my breath, “if she ever texts me back.”
I went to my locker and slowly made my way outside. It was sunny but way cooler than it had been that morning, and I shivered, wishing I’d worn a jacket. The football team was heading out to the field all the way on the other side of the campus. I considered asking Jake if he knew where Olivia was, but the team was so far away I couldn’t even figure out which of the uniformed guys he was.
Just as I decided it wasn’t worth bothering, since Jake wasn’t going to have any idea anyway, my phone rang. Livvie! Finally. I dug my phone out of my bag.
But it wasn’t Livvie. It was some 212 number I didn’t recognize. This was getting so annoying.
It was Livvie. But why was she calling me from an unfamiliar number?
“Livs!” I was so glad to hear from her I wasn’t even mad that she hadn’t called me back earlier. “Where have you been all day? Whose phone are you calling from?”
“My phone’s out of juice. Zoe, I have to tell you something.”
Olivia’s voice sounded thin, as if she were calling from far away on a line with a bad connection. It didn’t help that it was super noisy in front of the school, where all two thousand members of the student body seemed to have chosen to gather before heading off to their afternoon activities. I pressed my free hand to my ear, trying to hear better.
“Where are you?” I moved away from the crowded concrete circle by the front entrance and onto the lawn.
“Zoe, I’m . . . I’m at the hospital.”
“The hospital?” For some reason, I thought of the twins. Could one of them have been in an accident? The possibility made my heart drop. Tommy and Luke could be super annoying, but they were also adorable. Last year, when they were in second grade and neither of them had their front teeth, Tommy would pronounce Zoe “Thoe.”
“I’m sick, Zoe,” said Livvie.
“Wait, you’re sick?” I was still thinking about the twins. “Hang on a second . . . what?”
“I’m at UH,” said Olivia. University Hospital was only a few blocks from the Fischer Center, where NYBC was located. We’d driven by it every day on our way to and from dance classes and performances, its glass towers telling us we were just minutes from our destination or that we’d begun the journey home.
“But you were just at the doctor’s office.” I knew, even as I said it, that it was a stupid thing to say. It wasn’t like there was no way to travel from the doctor’s office to the hospital.
Olivia’s voice was freakishly precise. “The doctor found a bruise on the back of my leg,” she said.
“I saw that!” I shouted, remembering the bruise from when I’d slept over Saturday night. It was dark purple and spidery, and I’d almost asked her about it, but then we’d started talking about something else and I’d forgotten.
Livvie continued. “Well, she saw it and she asked how I’d gotten it, and I said I didn’t know, and then she found this other one on my arm—on the back—”
“I didn’t see that one,” I admitted. Why was I interrupting her? I pressed my lips together to get my mouth to stop asking questions.
“It’s there,” Olivia told me, as if I’d doubted her. “I saw it in the mirror. Anyway, then the doctor started asking about the bruises, and how long I’ve had the fever, and then my mom said that I’d been really tired lately and she asked if maybe I could be anemic. And Dr. Weiss said she wanted us to go to the Med Center.”
The Med Center was a cross between a doctor’s office and an emergency room. They had X-ray machines and doctors and stuff, but I didn’t think you would go there if you were having a heart attack. “Yeah,” I said, “I know where that is. Remember when my dad stepped on a nail last summer? My mom and I took him.”
Looking back at that conversation, I can’t help wondering: Did I know? Did I know what was coming, and did I think that as long as I wouldn’t let Livvie say the words, they wouldn’t be true?
“They took blood,” she went on. “And they found abnormal cells.”
“Abnormal cells,” I echoed.
“Abnormal cells,” she repeated. “And they said they wanted us to go to UH so they could do a bone marrow aspiration. That’s when they take some bone marrow out of your pelvic bone with a needle.”
“A needle? Oh God, Liv.” I clutched my arm in sympathy, even though I knew that wasn’t where your pelvic bone was.
“My dad came,” Livvie said. Her voice caught for a second, but she didn’t cry. “He came to meet us, and the doctor said that they’d found blasts in my bone marrow.”
“What does that mean?” I whispered.
“They admitted me,” she went on, ignoring my question, “and they put in this thing called a central line. It’s so the medication gets right into your body.”
“The medication?” My voice was a whisper.
“I have leukemia, Zoe.”
“But that’s . . . that’s impossible.” It was impossible. I knew it was impossible. How could Olivia have leukemia?
“There’s a . . . I mean, there has to be some mistake. How could you be getting medicine already?” Somehow that was the most implausible part of what she’d told me. I’d slept at her house Saturday night. She’d been fine. I’d talked to her this morning. Eight hours later she was in the hospital and getting medicine? How could they even diagnose what she had that fast?
“It’s true, Zoe.” Olivia’s voice quivered. I heard a voice in the background, and Livvie said, “My mom wants me to get off the phone. The doctor just came in. Can you come? I need to see you.” It sounded like she was starting to cry.
“I’m on my way,” I said, my voice fierce. Then I said it again, as if maybe she would doubt me. “I am on my way.”
“Okay,” said Livvie. “Love ya.”
We always said Love ya. We ended every phone call, every chat, every conversation the same way.
See you tomorrow. Love ya.
Gotta go. Love ya.
My mom’s calling. Love ya.
I have leukemia. Love ya.
“I love you, Livs,” I said, my voice nearly breaking on her name.
“I love you too, Zoe,” she answered. I could hear that she was crying. And then she was gone.
I stood on the edge of the lawn, the phone still pressed to my ear. Cars pulled in and out of the parking lot, and kids tumbled from the building, taking the stairs two at a time as they raced into the liberty of the afternoon. The sky over my head was almost painfully blue, the grass a bright and vivid green. It was a crisp, beautiful, perfect fall day.
All that beauty was completely wrong. The sky should have been black, the grass withered, the students wailing with grief. Olivia is sick! I wanted to howl. What are you people doing? My friend is sick! It was impossible—the sky, the cars, the kids walking around as if it were a day like any other day. Nothing made any sense.
Before I could start screaming, I turned and raced for home.
Melissa Kantor lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her family. Her most recent book, "Maybe One Day," tells the story of two best friends and what happens when one of them gets sick with a life-threatening illness. "When I was in my twenties, my father was diagnosed with leukemia. I always wanted to write about what happened to him, but it took me two decades to write this book. I think I needed that time to figure out what I wanted to say."