I'll Be Seeing You, page 1
“Janelle, I’m sixteen years old and I’ve never had a date,” Carley said. “Why do you suppose that is? Could it be because I’m not pretty? Why isn’t my wonderful personality taken into consideration?”
“Now you’re being sarcastic.”
“No. I’m being realistic. I’m never going to have a date. No guy’s ever going to ask me out anywhere in public.”
Janelle sighed heavily. “I know it seems that way now.”
“You bet it does.”
“Kyle might just be the one if you’d give him half a chance.”
“So long as he’s blind and so long as we don’t have to mingle with the rest of the world, Kyle and I can have a thing for each other. But the minute his vision clears, it’ll be over between us. Trust me. I know what I’m talking about.”
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Text copyright © 1996 by Lurlene McDaniel
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Reprinted by arrangement with Bantam Books
For Christy Brown,
a real winner
“He has made everything beautiful in its time.”
Other Books by This Author
“Give it a rest, Reba!” Carley Mattea said. Only her friend Reba Conroy could get excited about a new patient admitted to their floor. “We’re not Knoxville General’s social committee,” Carley added. She balanced on her crutches, flipped the gears on Reba’s electric wheelchair, and guided it backward toward Carley’s room. Her new friend was an incredible optimist. Carley couldn’t understand it.
“I heard his name’s Kyle Westin,” Reba reported. “I asked a nurse and she said he’s from Oak Ridge, like you. Maybe he even goes to the same high school. Wouldn’t that be a fabulous coincidence? You come to the hospital but end up making friends with a cool boy.”
“You’re all the new friends I want to make while I’m here, Reba.” Carley tried to smile sweetly. Reba was too much, talking about boys. A few days before, Carley had undergone surgery on her leg for a nasty break that had occurred the day after Christmas. An infection had landed her in the hospital on IV antibiotics. Carley wasn’t so sick that she was confined to bed, but she’d been bored stiff. Then Reba had rolled into her room and started a conversation. Now it seemed as if they’d known each other forever.
“I like making new friends,” Reba volunteered. “It’s fun.”
Carley had a totally different attitude about meeting new people. Actually, the only place she felt comfortable was in the hospital. People were used to kids with problems, so they didn’t stare at her as much. Sure, a broken leg was a common enough thing to see, but her face—that was a different matter.
Carley propped her crutches against a chair and struggled up onto her hospital bed, where she punched the TV remote control button. “Oak Ridge High School isn’t so small that I wouldn’t remember a guy named Kyle Westin, and I’ve never heard of him. Besides, I’m sure we’d never end up in the same crowd.”
“Would you please turn that dumb thing off? We have strategy to discuss.”
“Sure. Like how we can meet him … get to know him.”
Carley rolled her eyes. “I don’t want to meet him. He probably doesn’t want to meet anyone either.”
“He’s just been admitted. Give him a day or so. He’ll loosen up.”
“From the back he looks perfectly normal,” Carley said, turning up the volume with the remote control. “Believe me, Reba, normal guys aren’t interested in girls like me.”
The eighth floor of the giant hospital was reserved for adolescent patients with a variety of medical problems. With his face turned to the wall and his covers pulled up to his shoulders, there was no guessing what might be wrong with Kyle Westin.
Reba looked crestfallen, and Carley momentarily regretted dashing the fourteen-year-old girl’s good spirits. It’s for her own good, Carley told herself. Carley had learned early on that if she didn’t set her expectations too high, she didn’t get hurt. “Look, I didn’t mean to rain on your parade. I’m sure Kyle will become one of the ‘gang’ once he realizes that he’s a prisoner and there’s nothing he can do about it.” She leaned forward conspiratorially. “Unless, of course, he makes a rope out of his bedsheets and lowers himself out the window.”
Reba giggled. “You’re so funny.”
“Sure, a real comedienne,” Carley said without humor.
She liked Reba. The girl had been born with a type of spina bifida. She had a dwarflike appearance and used a wheelchair. But she had an effervescent personality and a sunny disposition. She had been hospitalized for corrective surgery to her abdominal area.
“Once Kyle gets to know you, Carley, I bet hell like you.”
“I told you, guys don’t like girls who look like me.” She almost used the word freak, but stopped herself.
“Maybe dumb, immature guys. My dad says that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
“Reba, get a grip. In the years between twelve and twenty, guys don’t think with their brains. Or see with their eyes. They see through the eyes of all their friends. And of their friends’ friends.”
Reba laughed. “Well, maybe Kyle will be different. Maybe he’ll like you for who you are.”
“Sure … and if cows could fly, we’d all be wearing football helmets.”
Afternoon sunlight filtered through the large window of Carley’s room, which looked out on the expressways of the large city. Flecks of snow clung to the outside windowsill, and although it was the second week in January, faint smudges of the words Merry Christmas could still be seen on t
Reba fiddled with the controls on her chair. “You’ve got to stop putting yourself down, Carley. Sure, your face is messed up, but at least you’re alive.”
“That’s what my mother tells me,” Carley said dryly. “It didn’t help when I was twelve. It doesn’t help now.”
A nurse stuck her head through the doorway. “There you are,” she said to Reba. “We’ve been looking everywhere for you. It’s time for afternoon medications. Come on back to your room.”
Reba made a face. “Do I have to?”
“Yes, you have to.” The nurse stepped into the room and tugged at the wheelchair. “You can visit Carley later. Your doctor wants you on bed rest before your surgery.”
“Go on,” Carley told Reba. “I’ll come down to your room after they deliver dinner.”
When she was alone, Carley switched off the TV. She elevated the head of the bed until she was sitting upright, crammed the bed pillow against the small of her back, and sighed. She’d start physical therapy (PT) on her leg soon. The process would be painful, but she could endure it. No use having two parts of her body messed up. Yet it didn’t seem fair to her that they could fix her leg but not her face. They could never fix her face.
Carley’s phone rang. “Hey, Sis,” the voice on the line said. “Are you driving the doctors and nurses nuts yet?”
“I consider it my sacred duty.”
Janelle laughed. “Listen, Jon is driving me over tomorrow after school. I’ve got a ton of work from your teachers.”
Carley had an instant image of her pretty eighteen-year-old sister and her boyfriend dragging in boxes full of homework. Today was Wednesday. “Don’t they ever let up? I’m stuck in the hospital. Who has any energy to study?”
“Getting your leg healed and functioning again isn’t a round-the-clock process,” Janelle kidded. “I’m sure you can find an hour or two to hit the books. Oh, Mom said that she and Dad will be over Saturday morning to visit. Is there anything you want me to bring when Jon and I come?”
Carley was looking forward to seeing her family. Her home in Oak Ridge was sixty miles from the hospital. With the distance to the hospital and everybody’s work and school schedules, daily visits were hard to fit in. “Could you bring new batteries for my cassette player? And some more of my Books on Tape. They help pass the time.”
“You should make friends while you’re there. Don’t clamp on that headset and ignore everybody.”
“I’m in the hospital. How many friends can I make in a place like this?”
“You never know.”
“Believe me, I know.”
Just as Janelle hung up, the supper trays arrived. After eating, Carley went down the hall to visit Reba, whose room was full of relatives. Carley ducked away before anyone could see her and stare or ask questions. She hobbled back to her room as quickly as she could on her crutches. She watched TV and finally drifted off to sleep.
Carley awoke sometime in the night from a bad dream and lay wide awake, staring up at the ceiling. She couldn’t recall the dream, only that it had left her heart pounding and her body damp with perspiration. She took slow, deep breaths to calm her heart but knew sleep wasn’t going to return anytime soon. She decided to walk down the hall to the nurses’ station at the far end. She was too antsy to stay in bed.
The corridor was quiet, and as usual for the night shift, it was dimly lit. She hopped out of her room and paused at the door to the room next to hers. It was the room of the boy Reba was so eager to meet, Kyle Westin. She wondered if he really was a hunk and where he went to school if he did live in Oak Ridge.
Carley didn’t know why she nudged open his door. She saw in the dim light that Kyle lay in the bed, still turned toward the wall. Carley wondered if he’d even moved since his check-in. Was he paralyzed? she wondered. The night-light, mounted on the wall at the head of his bed, was on.
She edged closer, the rubber tips of her crutches squeaking. She realized she had absolutely no right to be in his room, but she stopped beside his bed and leaned over, hoping to catch sight of his face. Unexpectedly he flipped to his back and cried out, “Who’s there? Who is it? What do you want?”
Carley was so startled, she dropped one crutch and attempted to hide her face with her open hand. She needn’t have bothered. In the soft light she saw that large gauze pads covered Kyle’s eyes. The pads were taped snugly to his temples and cheeks, and strips of gauze were wound around his forehead.
Kyle Westin couldn’t see her. He was blind.
“Who’s there? What do you want?” Kyle repeated.
“Don’t panic,” Carley whispered hastily. “I—It’s just me. I’m your neighbor. In the room next door. You know, a patient like you.”
“What are you doing in my room?”
She didn’t want to confess that she’d been acting nosy. “I thought I heard you make a noise as I was walking by toward the nurses’ station. I was checking to see if you were all right.”
He turned back toward the wall. “I’m not all right.”
Nervously she chewed her bottom lip. Leave, she told herself, but for some reason she couldn’t. “Do you want a nurse? I could push your call button. I mean in case you couldn’t find it since your eyes are bandaged.” She felt stupid mentioning the very thing he was surely most sensitive about. She hated it when small children pointed at her and asked, “Hey! What’s wrong with your face?”
“I don’t want a nurse,” Kyle said. “A nurse can’t help me.”
“Well, I’m sorry if I scared you.” She bent down to pick up the crutch that had fallen, then repositioned it under her arm. “So, I’ll just excuse myself—”
“What time is it?” He acted as if she hadn’t spoken.
“Um—it’s three o’clock.”
“Is it afternoon already?”
“Three in the morning.”
He rolled over to face her. “And you’re out roaming around?”
Although his eyes were bandaged, Carley saw that light brown hair spilled over the tops of the gauze strips wound around his forehead to help hold the eye pads in place. His cheeks were broad and high, his jaw square, his complexion smooth. He was as good-looking as Reba had hoped he’d be. “Couldn’t sleep,” Carley answered. “I had a bad dream.”
“I can’t sleep either.”
Silence filled the room, yet Carley still couldn’t make herself leave. He seemed so helpless, bewildered and lonely. She remembered when she was twelve, how terrified she’d been alone in the hospital. With doctors poking and prodding and machines and medicines that frightened her or made her sick. With pain in her face so intense, it had made her scream. “The nurse can give you something to help you sleep,” Carley told Kyle kindly.
“I don’t want to sleep.”
She understood that part too. She, too, had once been afraid to fall asleep. Afraid that if she did, she wouldn’t wake up. “Sometimes, it’s best just to give in and take extra pain medication,” Carley said. “It helps you stay mellow.”
“Who said I needed pain pills?”
“Just a guess.”
“I don’t want any pain pills. I hate the way they make me feel.”
“I know—like you’re in ‘la-la’ land. Sort of dopey and spaced out. But sometimes that’s not so bad because it helps make the time pass faster.”
He kept turning his head, as if fixing on her voice. She stepped closer so that he wouldn’t have to work so hard. “What’s your name?”
Carley hesitated, then realized that to her he had form and substance, but to him she was only a disembodied voice floating in a dark void. He was blind. He couldn’t see anything. She was safe. “Carley Mattea,” she said.
“I’m Kyle Westin.” Awkwardly he held out his hand. Too high, but she managed to reach and clasp his palm. He didn’t let go. “You’re right, Carley. I hurt a lot, but I don’t want any pills.”
“It’s okay to take them when the pain’s really b
“But I want to hurt.”
“You do? Why?”
“Because the pain reminds me that I still have eyes.”
Goose bumps appeared along her arms. The image of his strong male face without eyes unnerved her. “That’s an odd thing to say. I figured you did. I mean, why wouldn’t you? If you want to tell me,” she added hastily. She hated to be asked about her scarred, lopsided face.
“Some friends and I decided to make our own rocket fuel. You know, just to see if we could. It exploded in my face. Burned my corneas and my chest.” He pulled back his hospital shirt and she saw large bandages across his upper body.
She smelled ointments and cotton padding and winced, knowing how badly even a sunburn hurt. “Will the burns be all right?”
“They don’t think I’ll need skin grafts.”
He paused. “But they’re not sure if I’ll ever see again.”
She heard his voice catch and felt waves of pity for him. When she’d been younger, she’d suffered with headaches so severe that she’d passed out from the pain. And when the doctors had discovered a tumor in her left nasal cavity pressing against her brain, she’d had to have immediate surgery.
At the time, she’d overheard her parents talking in soft, frantic whispers to her doctor. They’d asked, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
And he’d answered, “It could be malignant and she could lose the left side of her face.”
She asked Kyle, “When will they know about your sight?”
“The eye specialist said that the corneas have to heal, and that can take two to three months.”
“So you have hope. That’s good.”
He sank back against his pillow. “I don’t feel real hopeful. I—I hate being blind.”
By now Carley had settled herself on the edge of his bed in order to take the weight off her leg, which was throbbing. She knew what hopelessness felt like too. It was waking up from surgery knowing that she’d been cut across the top of her head from one ear to the other and down the front of her face. It was knowing that in order for the tumor to be removed, she’d had to lose parts of facial bones, which could never be replaced. It was learning that although her left eye and her mouth had been left intact, her face was permanently disfigured and scarred.
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