I kept my lips sealed, because if I opened my mouth to say anything, I was going to cry. And I didn’t want to cry. Not in front of Blake or Archer or any of them.
“Okay.” Blake drew the word out as we started down the hall. “This should be fun.”
“Don’t talk,” Archer said.
Blake made a face but remained quiet until we stopped in front of closed double doors like the kind you see in hospitals. He smacked a black button on the wall, and the doors opened, revealing Sergeant Dasher.
He was dressed as he had been before, in full military uniform. “Glad you could finally join us.”
That nervous, crazy-sounding laugh bubbled up my throat again. “Sorry.” A giggle escaped.
All three guys sent me a look, Blake’s the most curious, but I shook my head and took another deep breath. I knew I needed to keep it together. I had to pay attention and keep my wits about me. I was way beyond enemy lines. Freaking out and getting pummeled with onyx wasn’t going to help me. Neither was breaking down in hysterics and finding a corner to rock in.
It was hard—probably the hardest thing I’d ever done—but I pulled it together.
Sergeant Dasher pivoted on his heel. “There’s something I would like to show you, Katy. I hope this will make things easier for you.”
Doubtful, but I followed him. The corridor split into two halls, and we headed down the right one. This place had to be massive—a massive maze of halls and rooms.
The sergeant stopped in front of a door. There was a control panel on the wall with a blinking red light at eye level. He stepped in front of it. The light went green, there was a soft sucking noise, and the door opened, revealing a large square room full of doctors. It was a lab and waiting room in one. I stepped through, immediately wincing at the smell of antiseptic. The sight and smell brought a wave of memories back.
I recognized rooms like this—I’d been in rooms like this before.
With my dad when he was sick. He’d spent time in a room very much like this one when he was receiving treatment for cancer. It paralyzed me.
There were several U-shaped stations in the middle of the space; each one displayed ten recliners that I knew would be comfy. Many were occupied with people—humans—in every stage of sickness. From the optimistic, bright-eyed newly diagnosed to the frail, barely even aware of where they were, and all of them were hooked up to fluid bags and something that looked nothing like chemo. It was clear liquid, but it shimmered under the light, like Dee used to when she faded in and out.
Doctors roamed, checking bags and chatting with the patients. Toward the back were several long tables where people peered into microscopes and measured out medicine. Some were at computers, their white lab coats billowing around the chairs.
Sergeant Dasher stopped beside me. “This is familiar to you, isn’t it?”
I looked at him sharply, only vaguely aware that Archer was glued to my other side and Blake had stepped back. Obviously he wasn’t as talkative around the sergeant. “Yes. How do you know?”
A small smile appeared. “We’ve done our research. What kind of cancer did your father have?”
I flinched. The words cancer and father still carried a powerful punch. “He had brain cancer.”
Sergeant Dasher’s gaze moved toward the station nearest us. “I would like you to meet someone.”
Before I could say anything, he stepped forward, stopping at one of the recliners that had its back to us. Archer nodded, and I reluctantly shifted so that I could see what the sergeant was looking at.
It was a kid. Maybe nine or ten, and with the sallow skin tone and bald head, I couldn’t tell if it was a boy or girl, but the child’s eyes were a bright blue.
“This is Lori. She’s a patient of ours.” He winked at the young girl. “Lori, this is Katy.”
Lori turned those big, friendly eyes on me as she extended a small, terribly pale hand. “Hi, Katy.”
I took her cold hand and shook it, not sure what else to do. “Hi.”
Her smile spread. “Are you sick, too?”
I didn’t know what to say at first. “No.”
“Katy’s here to help us,” Sergeant Dasher said as the little girl pulled her hand back, tucking it under the pale gray blanket. “Lori has grade four, primary CNS lymphoma.”
I wanted to look away, because I was a coward and I knew. That was the same kind of cancer my father had. Most likely terminal. It didn’t seem fair. Lori was way too young for something like this.
He smiled at the girl. “It’s an aggressive disease, but Lori is very strong.”
She nodded fervently. “I’m stronger than most girls my age!”
I forced a smile I didn’t feel as he stepped to the side, allowing a doctor to check the bags. Her bright baby blues bounced among the three of us. “They’re giving me medicine that’ll make me get better,” she said, biting down on her lower lip. “And this medicine doesn’t make me feel as bad.”
I didn’t know what to say, and I couldn’t speak until we stepped back from the girl and moved to a corner where we weren’t in anyone’s way. “Why are you showing this to me?” I asked.
“You understand the severity of disease,” he said, turning his gaze to the floor of the lab. “How cancer, autoimmune diseases, staph infections, and so many more things can rob a person of his or her life, sometimes before it really gets started. Decades have been spent on finding the cure to cancer or to Alzheimer’s to no avail. Every year, a new disease arises, capable of destroying life.”