My name is Jennifer M. Eaton and today I am hosting the YA Scavenger Hunt, where you can win a set of TWENTY paperback books!
There are nine teams playing, which means you can enter to win all 180 paperback books that are up for grabs!
NEVER BEFORE SEEN SCENE and Casting List for FOREVE KINDA LOVE
There’s that stench; the one where the sick are kept, where the smell of antiseptic overpowers everything. A smell so clean that even viruses tremble at its tang. I’ve never really liked hospitals, but Hudson promised to take me out for ice cream when his shift ends. And I’m not one to resist ice cream. Crinkling my nose, I scan the area, stepping toward the nurse’s station in the Operating wing.
Dawn, the unusually chipper old nurse, greets me with a smile. She’s seen me here several times.
“Waiting on Dr. Lovelly again?” she asks.
I nod, throwing a grin of my own. “We’re going for Ice cream.”
“Youngins,” she responds. “Enjoy it while you can, Heath. Once you get to be my age . . .”
She continues on and on and on about how being in her sixties ruins so many of the things in life—food in particular. It’s not like I haven’t heard it before, so my mind drifts toward the length of the hallway, while I smile and nod at her ranting.
I watch a few nurses hustle from room to room, probably making their rounds, while others linger in a corner, whispering and giggling like the girls at school do. Most of the nurses here know me, since I’ve had this standing ice cream outing with my brother every week.
I excuse myself from Dawn and walk to the waiting area where Hudson said he’d meet me. When I enter the room, I immediately notice a girl—someone I haven’t seen before. It doesn’t really surprise me to see new faces; after all, people come and go to visit. But there’s something different about this girl.
I adjust the strap of the book bag on my shoulder and walk into the room, heading toward my usual spot in the corner to start working on my homework. She doesn’t move or acknowledge me, so naturally, I’m annoyed.
Her light, yellowish-blonde hair is pulled up in a tight bun, and she runs the end of her zip-up hoodie’s sleeve across her eyes, then her nose. Her thighs and knees are bandaged in white gauze. The creamy skin on her legs is blotched with bruises, and she’s dressed like a ballerina, glitter covering her body and hair.
A few doctors and nurses come by and talk to her. Once in a while, they even offer her food, candy, a pillow and comforter . . . she nods and accepts, never touching any of it after they leave.
I wonder what happened, and where her parents are.
Another thirty minutes pass. Hudson should be out in another fifteen or so. Sighing, I pack up my schoolwork before heading to the coffee shop, in need of a distraction. I order a small hot chocolate with extra whip cream. Taking a slurpy sip from the cup, I pay the barista.
As I pass the flower shop, I notice Damask roses in full bloom are on display, and I can’t stop the upward tilt of my lips. I remember how I used to bring one to my mom while she was in the hospital, and all the times it had made her smile. So I pay for a single pink rose and head back toward the waiting room, to the girl with gray eyes.
“Hi,” I say, coming to a stop before her. I drop my bag on the floor. “I’m Heath.”
Her head tilts up toward me. Her red-rimmed, glassy eyes stare back vacantly as she runs the back of her hand under her runny nose. I try not to cringe at how defeated and fallen she looks. Her cheeks are decorated with bright pink splotches and glisten with the tears that probably haven’t stopped falling since she got here. She pulls her legs to her chin and places her head on it, away from me.
Okay, so maybe she doesn’t want to talk.
I sit next to her and extend the rose in a peace offering. “My mom said there’s nothing in this world that chocolate or flowers can’t cure.” I’m not sharing my chocolate. “You seem like a flower girl,” I say, pointing to the white daisies tucked into her bun.
She turns toward me again and takes the peace offering. Then nothing. Not a smile, not a thank you. Nothing.
Wow. Okay. Maybe Mom was wrong.
After few long minutes of silence, I try again. “I hear this year’s fair has a circus coming to town.”
She continues to stare at the rose in her hand.
“Do you like the zoo?” I love the zoo. Especially the lions and tigers.
She doesn’t answer me, but I continue to talk to her, mostly about the zoo and animals. I even try to animate my arms and make faces, to see if any of those ridiculous gestures will make her smile.
I finally give up and look away. After a few minutes, I look back to say my goodbye.
That’s when I realize that her eyes are closed, her arms are tightly wound around her knees, and her face is at peace.
No wonder she wasn’t talking, you idiot. You bored her to sleep.
I smile. At least I managed to do something. I take a sip from my cup, then another. It’s empty in no time. I shoot it into the waste basket a few feet away and mock a silent cheer when I make it in. I wonder what’s taking Hudson so long. The girl is sound asleep, leaning on me. Not wanting to wake her up, I rest my head back and sag my body, getting comfortable. Soon, my eyes feel heavy and flutter closed. Just for a second.
They snap open again at the angry voice coming from my right. I crane my neck to see who it is and feel the girl snuggling into my shoulder. She stirs a little, and her brows mush together.
“Where’s my wife? Cara. Cara!” the man screams. The girl beside me jolts out of her seat, her entire body trembling. Noticing her for the first time, he turns and marches forward, angry as a lion, sad as a big, brown-eyed yorkie.
I push up from my seat. A need to protect the girl from this stranger stirs inside, but before I can react, he’s in front of her.
“Where’s Mommy, baby girl? What happened? Carrigan, sweetheart, talk to me.” He takes her by the shoulders and shakes her out of her stupor.
Tears spill down her cheeks, and snot drips from her nose as she wails.
“Carrigan Ace, what happened to Mommy?” he demands.
Crying is her only response.
“Mr. Casper?” a woman, Dr. Park, calls from the waiting room doorway.
He turns his attention to her, his shoulders slumped. It’s like he already knows, even before the message is relayed to him.
“I’m sorry . . .” Dr. Park starts.
Mr. Casper puts his hand up and walks backward, away from us. “Don’t . . . don’t say it.” Then he storms forward, right into her face, and his voice cracks like he’s trying to support the weight of the world on his shoulders. “Don’t you say it.”
Then he turns toward his daughter—toward us. Tears roll down his cheeks, and his body goes slack in defeat as he falls to the floor, letting out a heartbreaking wail. Dr. Park calls for help, probably calling for those drugs they give people to knock them out.
The girl, Carrigan Ace, hides behind me, her body trembling as soft whimpers escape her. I take her hand in mine and step in front her, shielding her. I feel her fingers wrapping around mine. Her sobs filter into my ears and everything inside me breaks for this girl I just met.
“Ace.” I turn around and sit us down. I hesitate at first, but then wrap my arm over her shoulder, holding her hand with the rose in my other all the while. Then, I do the only thing I can think of: I pull her into me, like my brother had done with me many times after Mom died.
I take a deep breath. “Shhh, everything will be okay. I promise.”
I surprise myself when I say it.
I don’t make promises lightly. But I know, deep down in my heart, that she’s special somehow. She’s worth it.