Friday, it rained all day. The kids filed into their classrooms at Carson Elementary soaking wet.
"The bus just had to be late today," Gosalyn said, shaking out her umbrella.
"Hey, watch it!" Leslie cried. "You're getting me wet!"
"Waiting for the bus wasn't much of a picnic, either," Montgomery replied. He grabbed a tissue from a nearby box and proceeded to dry off his antlers. His rain hat didn't cover them, and he had left his umbrella at home.
"I'm drowning in the rain," Ronnie sang, as he came dancing into the coatroom. "Just drowning in the rain . . . . ."
"How do you turn him off?" Julie asked.
"I'm still looking for the switch," Bobby replied
"I keep going, and going, and going . . . . ." Ronnie said, imitating the Energizer bunny.
The bell rang, and the kids went to their seats. They were a little surprised to see that Leland wasn't back yet, but they were even more surprised to find that Mrs. Lee wasn't in the room, either.
"I wonder where Mrs. Lee is," Montgomery said.
"Maybe she's sick," Woolma said with a shrug. "Maybe we'll get a substitute."
"All right! A sub!" Bingo shouted, excitedly. He smiled, and pulled a slingshot out of his desk. "I can't wait!"
"Bingo, do you always play pranks on substitute teachers?" Jennifer asked.
"Of course, I do!" Bingo shouted. "It's a tradition!"
Everyone groaned. Bingo started to load his slingshot when the door opened. Mrs. Lee came through the door. Everyone looked at her. Something wasn't right. They could tell.
"Guys, I have some news," she said. Then she noticed something. "Bingo, what do you intend to do with that slingshot?"
"Uhh, put it back in my desk and not give it a second thought," Bingo said, immediately stashing his slingshot. He started to blush as some of the kids snickered at him.
"Okay, okay, settle down," Mrs. Lee said. "Anyway, as I was saying, I just got some news from Mr. Forrester, the principal . . . . you may have noticed Leland hasn't been here for a few days."
"That's the understatement of the year, Mrs. Lee!" Ronnie shouted. Several kids laughed.
"That's enough, Ronnie," Mrs. Lee said. "The reason for Leland's absence is because he's in the hospital."
Silence. Dead silence. Not one kid in the class spoke. They all just stared at Mrs. Lee as if she were completely crazy. No one asked why Leland was there. Mrs. Lee cleared her throat, and started the day's lesson.
At lunch, the kids got together at their assigned lunch tables to talk about what had just happened.
"Can you believe it?" Gosalyn asked. "The hospital! Wow, I wonder what he's got?"
"I think it's appendicitis," Woolma said.
"Well, I think it's tonsillitis," Billy commented.
"I think you're all wrong," Catchum said. "It's gotta be mono. Why else would he miss an entire week of school?"
"I have an idea," Montgomery said. "Why don't some of us go visit Leland and see for ourselves?"
"Good idea," Gosalyn said. "Rampart General Hospital isn't all that far from here, anyway."
The others agreed. That afternoon when school let out, Gosalyn, Montgomery, Lilly, Catchum, and Julie went to Rampart General Hospital to visit Leland. It was still raining a bit, but not as heavily as it was that morning.
"I don't like the hospital," Julie said. "It's a scary place."
"Yeah, but most of the time, it's cool," Gosalyn said, as she and her friends went up to the front desk.
"Can I help you?" the nurse working there asked.
"We're looking for Leland Lizard," Gosalyn said. "Our teacher said he was here."
The nurse checked over some things, and then found the information the kids were looking for.
"He's in pediatrics," she said. "That's the fourth floor, and he's in room four seventeen."
"Thank you," Lilly said, as she and the others made their way towards the elevator.
It was a pretty quiet ride up. No one really knew what to say, not at least until they got to room 417. When they did, Montgomery was the first one in. The room was dark, and the blinds were closed.
"Is he in there?" Gosalyn asked.
"Yeah, but I think he might be asleep," Montgomery replied.
"Well, then, wake him up!" Catchum said. "I'm dying to know what he has!"
"Didja have to use that word?" Julie groaned. "Especially in here?"
Catchum shrugged. Montgomery shook his head, and flipped up the light switch. Then, he and the others walked closer into the room.
"Leland?" Gosalyn asked. "Are you awake?"
Leland stirred, and woke up. He yawned, and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. He looked around, and saw his classmates standing there.
"What are you guys doing here?" he asked.
"Mrs. Lee told us you were in the hospital, and we decided to come visit," Lilly said.
"Sorry we didn't bring you anything," Julie said. "We didn't have time."
"Boy, you must have been really, really, really sick to end up in the hospital!" Gosalyn shouted. "I saw your mom carry you out of school last week."
"Well . . . ." Leland said, a little hesitantly. "Yeah, I am really, really, really sick."
"I knew it!" Catchum shouted. "I knew it, I knew it! It's mono, isn't it?"
"No, it's not mono," Leland said. He began to play around with the IV tube in his arm, making sure not to pull it out. He finally looked up at the others and took a deep breath.
"I have cancer," he said.
The other five kids just stood there. They didn't know what to say. It was the same dead silence that filled the classroom when Mrs. Lee told them Leland was in the hospital. Finally, Lilly spoke up.
"Cancer?" she asked.
"You're kidding right?" Catchum asked.
"Catchum, does it look like he's kidding?!" Gosalyn asked, glaring at Catchum.
"How'd you get it?" Julie asked.
"The doctors don't know," Leland said. "Nobody knows why anyone gets cancer."
"Except maybe lung cancer," Gosalyn said. "And that's when people smoke too much. What kind of cancer do you have, Leland?"
"Leukemia," Leland replied. "That's cancer of the blood. That's why I got all those bruises, and that's why I was tired all the time."
"So how long are you gonna be stuck here?" Catchum asked.
"Awhile," Leland replied. "The doctors said it's going to take a long time before they get rid of the cancer. I have to get all kinds of tests and treatments and needles and stuff."
"Needles?" Julie asked. She hated needles as much as Leland did. "Ewwww."
"Don't the tests hurt?" Lilly asked.
"Some of them do," Leland said. "But they numb your skin before they do the tests. Especially with the bone marrow tests and the spinal taps."
Julie began to look a little green. All this talk of needles was starting to make her a little sick.
"I thought they just gave you chemotherapy and that's it," Gosalyn said.
"That's part of it," Leland said. "I got my first chemo treatment this morning. It wasn't any fun. It hurt as the needle went in, and I got really sick to my stomach."
"Eeeuuuwww," Julie grimaced again.
"Well . . . ." Catchum said. "There's one good thing about the chemo, I guess."
"What's that?" Leland asked.
"It makes your hair fall out, right?"
"You don't have that problem. You don't have any hair to begin with."
Catchum began laughing over that, and the others glared at him.
"Catchum, that wasn't funny," Lilly said.
"Well, it's true," Catchum shrugged. Everyone else groaned.
Before anything else could happen, Dixie walked into the room, carrying a syringe.
"Sorry to break this up, kids, but I have to give Leland an injection," she said.
"I get a lot of these," Leland said. "Do I have to get it, Miss McCall? It hurts!"
"I know it hurts, but it has to be done," Dixie said.
"Is my mom here? Can she come in while you do this?"
"No, I'm afraid your mom left already. She'll be back later."
Leland groaned. Dixie cleaned off Leland's arm, and was ready to push the needle in, but Leland quickly drew back, and shook his head violently.
"No!" he yelled. "No, please don't do it! Please don't do it! I can't take it, I can't take it!"
Leland began to squirm just then. Dixie had a hard time trying to get the needle in. Nothing she did was going to calm him down.
"I need a distraction," she said. "I wish his mom were here!"
Julie understood Leland's tendency to squirm. She squirmed a lot too, when she had to get a needle. But Leland was practically thrashing about, doing all he could to avoid a shot. So she walked over to the other side of the bed, and told Leland to look at her, and to keep on looking at her.
"Guess what happened in school today?" she asked.
"What?" Leland asked, sniffling a little.
"It was raining really hard this morning, and Ronnie came in singing 'I'm drowning in the rain . . . .' to the tune of 'Singing in the Rain.' It was really funny. And Mrs. Lee wasn't in the room this morning, like she usually is. So we thought we had a substitute. Bingo took his slingshot out of his desk and was ready to fire it, and Mrs. Lee walked in. She asked Bingo what he was going to do with the slingshot, and he put it back in his desk. Boy, was he embarrassed."
Leland laughed over that, and over Ronnie's "Drowing in the Rain" bit. Julie told him a little more about what happened at school. It was the perfect distraction. Dixie was able to get the needle in without Leland putting up a fuss, although he did let out a yelp of pain as she did, which Dixie was used to from him, anyway.
"There we go," Dixie said. "Thank you very much, Nurse Olsen."
"You're welcome very much, Nurse McCall," Julie said, giggling.
"Now you kids better wrap up this visit," Dixie said as she was leaving the room. "Leland needs to rest."
"We won't be long," Montgomery said. "Hey, Leland, is it okay if we tell the other kids why you're here?"
"Yeah, go ahead," Leland said, feeling very sleepy all of a sudden.
"We'll come back another time," Julie said. "Maybe on a day when you don't have to get a treatment."
Leland nodded, and closed his eyes. The kids turned off the light, and walked out of the room. Then they started on their way home. Not one of them knew what to say.
Saturday morning turned out to be pretty boring at the hospital. Leland was watching the Saturday line up on Channel 8, and his roommate, Derek Kelso, was playing solitaire with a deck of cards. Derek was a nine-year-old with green eyes, and he wore a New York Yankees baseball cap and glasses. He didn't have any hair. It was a result of his chemotherapy. He and Leland never really talked to each other. Either Derek or Leland would have a treatment, and then end up sleeping all day. At least Leland slept all day. Even when he didn't have a treatment, he slept all day. Derek looked up from his cards, and pushed his glasses up.
"Whatcha watching?" he asked.
"Monster Monkeys From Outer Space," Leland answered. "But I can barely hear it. The speakers on these TV's are too small."
"I know what you mean. And have you ever tried watching TV here on the weekdays in the daytime? Especially channel eight? If I see one more episode of Barfy the Big Blue Salamander, I'll scream!"
"I'm usually asleep by then. Or else I'm getting a treatment."
"Yeah, I know."
Things were quiet just then. Leland played around with his IV tube. Then he turned to Derek.
"How long have you been here?" he asked.
"Since last October," Derek answered.
"Boy, that's a long time!"
"I know. But the doctors say I'm doing better. I think I'm getting close to remission."
"Yeah, when I first came in, I felt really sick. All I wanted to do was sleep."
"Kinda like me?"
"Yeah, a little bit."
Things hit another lull. Leland played a little more with his IV tube. Then he looked over at Derek.
"Does your family come and visit?" he asked.
"My mom and my dad alternate coming in when I have a treatment," Derek said. "And I have a fifteen-year-old sister who comes in every now and again, and then I have an eleven-year-old brother who doesn't."
"My mom comes in on treatment days," Leland said. "My dad comes in on weekends sometimes, and my brother doesn't come at all. He's six. My dad doesn't come on weekdays, because he has to be at work. He's on the news at five o' clock on channel eight."
"I watch Channel Eight Evening News when nothing's on. Is your dad the guy who's hair always looks lopsided?"
"Yep. It's not his real hair. It's fake. That's why it looks lopsided sometimes when he's on TV. When my brother and I were younger, we heard our mom refer to our dad's hair as a rug, and for the longest time, we thought he took the living room carpet and wear it on his head to work."
Derek cracked up over that. Then he climbed out of his bed, and brought the cards over. He was well enough to do that. Leland wasn't. The two of them got into a marathon game of Go Fish. They were in the middle of their third game when Marcia and Link came into the room.
"Hi, sweetie," Marcia said.
"Hi, Mom," Leland said. "Did you guys meet Derek?"
"No, we haven't," Link said. "Hi, Derek."
"Hi, Mr. Lizard," Derek said. "You look different without your rug."
Marcia was trying, unsuccessfully, not to laugh. Link looked pretty darn embarrassed. Leland, however, was cracking up. He had to cover his mouth to hide his laughter. Unfortunately, the hysterical laughter turned into a coughing fit, and nearly threw up from coughing so hard.
"Okay, Leland, take it easy," Link said. "Calm down. Just relax."
Leland calmed down, and stopped coughing. He lay down in his bed and moaned. Derek got off Leland's bed and went back to his own.
"Sorry about that, Mrs. Lizard," he said, a little sheepishly. "I didn't mean it."
"It's not your fault, Derek," Marcia said.
"These things happen," Link nodded. "So what have you guys been doing all day?"
"Nothing," Leland groaned. "Did Greg come?"
"No, we dropped him off with the Olsens before we came over," Marcia said. "He didn't want to come."
Leland nodded slowly. Even doing that took a lot out of him. Obviously, it was time for him to take a nap. That was a good thing, because Dr. Taylor came into the room.
"Okay, Derek, time for another blood test," she said. "And then we have to do a CBC."
"Okay," Derek replied. "I've been getting these since October. I'm used to them."
"You're lucky," Leland said. Then he realized what I said. "I mean, you're lucky that you're used to them, and . . . . well, no, that's not what I meant, either. Uhhh . . . ."
"It's okay, Leland," Derek said. "I know what you meant."
Dr. Taylor smiled, and took Derek out of the room for some more testing. Leland let out a mix between a moan and a whine, mostly from just feeling miserable. Marcia pulled a book out of the bag she was carrying, and started reading it to Leland. It was about all he was up for.
Sunday was a low point. Leland had another chemo treatment, and his blood count was down. He threw up about three times during the chemo treatment, and two more times after it was over. That was in the morning. In the mid afternoon, Dr. Brackett wanted to give him another spinal tap. Link was there, holding him down for that, but Leland still squirmed a little.
"His mother has a better way with this than I do," Link admitted.
"Well, where is his mother?" Dr. Brackett asked, as he finally managed to position the needle in the right place. Leland winced, and moaned.
"She's with Greg," Link said. "We're trying to give the boys equal time, but I tell you, it's not easy!"
Dr. Brackett nodded. He had seen this before. He finally managed to get what he needed, and Link picked Leland up off the table, and carried him back to his room. Dr. Brackett followed, and re-inserted the IV.
"There we go," Link said. "You need anything, pal?"
"I'm thirsty," Leland said.
"No sweat," Link replied. "I'll get you some juice, and be right back."
Leland nodded, and Link left the room. Derek climbed out of his bed and walked over to Leland's.
"What did Dr. Brackett do this time?" he asked.
"Spinal tap," Leland said, tiredly. "Even though they numbed my back, it still hurt. I hate needles."
"So do I," Derek said. "When I get over this, I hope I never see a needle again!"
Leland nodded. A moment later, Link returned with a cup full of apple juice. Dixie was right behind him, but she was there to do a routine check on Derek. Leland took the cup, but was having a hard time getting the juice in his mouth. He ended up spilling most of it. He hadn't done that since he was four. He had been doing that a lot lately, though.
"Whoa, hold it there, pal," Link said. "You're making a mess. I haven't seen you do that with your juice since you were a little guy."
"Sorry," Leland said.
"Don't worry about it, Mr. Lizard," Dixie said. "It's normal for children to start regressing to a younger age. I think I have a solution to this problem, though."
Dixie took the cup, and left the room with it. Link shrugged, and started to help Leland clean up a little.
"This isn't easy, is it?" Link said.
"Nope," Leland replied.
Dixie returned a few minutes later, with what looked like a toddler's sippy cup. Link looked a little confused.
"You expect a ten-year-old to drink out of that thing?" he asked.
"It'll be easier than sucking it through a straw at this stage," Dixie replied. "Try that, Leland."
Leland took the cup, and began slurping the juice through the spout. It was a lot easier than trying to use the regular cup, although he hadn't used a sippy cup since he was four or five. He forgot which. But he didn't care. At least he didn't spill any of it.
"Well?" Link asked.
"I think this works better," Leland said.
"Yeah, he's getting more in his mouth this time," Derek said. "If he uses the regular cup, he spills it all over the place."
Link laughed over that. He was glad Leland had a roommate with a sense of humor.
Monday rolled along. Neither of the boys had a treatment that day. Leland slept for most of the day. Derek was feeling energetic and he wanted to get up and around. But instead, he spent the day entertaining Leland whenever he was awake. He was reading him a book of corny jokes he had when Dixie came into the room.
"Hi guys," she said. "Leland, do you feel up to some visitors?"
"Okay," Leland said.
"Hi, Leland!" Julie called as she and Montgomery came into the room. Dotty and Ronnie were right behind them.
"Montgomery and Gosalyn told us all about it," Dotty said. "Are you okay?"
"Well, sort of," Leland said. "I still feel lousy, but the doctors said that all this chemo stuff and needles are going to help me."
"Hi," Derek said, waving to the others. "I'm Leland's roommate."
"Hi, Leland's roommate," Ronnie teased. "I'm Leland's classmate."
"Hi, Leland's classmate," Derek said. Everyone laughed.
"I like him," Ronnie said, pointing his thumb to Derek. "He's got potential. Stick with me, kid, and I'll make you as famous as Murray Sledgebaumer."
"Who's Murray Sledgebaumer?" Derek asked.
"See what I mean?" Ronnie said. "I can't make you famous at all."
Everyone groaned. Nobody really understood Ronnie's sense of humor, but he did manage to get a laugh out of everyone whenever he was around. Ronnie then decided to pull out all the stops. He took off his regular glasses, and pulled a pair of Groucho Marx glasses out of his backpack, and put them on. Then he pulled a candy cigar out of his backpack, and began walking around the room bent over slightly, and waving the cigar, like Groucho Marx.
"Say the secret woid and the duck comes down," he said, doing his best Groucho Marx impression. "And the secret woid is Quack, because that's what most doctors around here are!"
"Oh brother," Montgomery said, but he was laughing.
"I went to the doctor the other day and I said, doc it hurts when I do this," Ronnie continued, and he began flapping his arm up and down. "The doctor said don't do that!"
Everyone in the room started laughing over that old joke, and they groaned at the same time. That was one of the oldest, corniest, worst jokes in the book. Ronnie continued his routine.
"Once I went into a doctor's office, and I said to the doctor," he said. "Doc, you gotta help me. The doctor said, sorry, we don't do plastic surgery."
Everyone groaned again. It was music to Ronnie's ears. He loved groaners, even when his jokes made absolutely no sense at all.
"I knew a lady who had her face lifted so many times, she thought she was an elevator," Ronnie said.
"Ronnie, cut it out," Montgomery said. "Your jokes aren't making any sense now."
"Yeah, maybe I should cut it out," Ronnie said. "Anybody got a pair of scissors? I'll just cut it right out. But it'll probably grow back anyway."
That did it. Everyone started laughing. Leland ended up having another coughing fit from laughing so hard, like he did on Saturday. He suddenly clapped his hand over his mouth, and began breathing heavily.
"Julie!" he shouted. "Julie quick, hand me that bucket down there."
Julie immediately grabbed the bucket laying near the bed and gave it to Leland, and not a moment too soon. The minute Leland got the bucket, he began to throw up. Montgomery raced out of the room to find a doctor or a nurse or something.
"I know my jokes make you guys sick," Ronnie said. "But this is over doing it, don't you think, Leland?"
Leland didn't answer. He just threw up. Derek began explaining things.
"His medicine makes him sick," he said. "Sometimes, on a day when he doesn't have to get his chemo, he still gets sick. It happens a lot when he laughs too hard, which is why we try not to make him laugh."
"Oh," Ronnie said. His cheeks began to turn a little pink. "Sorry, Leland. I didn't mean it."
Leland didn't answer. He finished throwing up, and practically flopped back down in his bed. Tears were streaming down his face, and he was crying a little. Montgomery returned with both Dixie and Dr. Taylor.
"Okay, Leland, calm down," Dr. Taylor said. "It's all right."
"I'm going to get some saline," Dixie said to Dr. Taylor. "Get him hydrated."
"Good idea," Dr. Taylor said. "And bring some apple juice or ginger ale, too."
Dixie nodded, and left the room. Dr. Taylor then checked Leland's blood pressure and his temperature.
"It's okay, Leland," she said, as Leland whimpered and sniffled a bit.
Dixie returned with the saline, and attached it to the IV tube. Then she handed Leland a sippy cup of apple juice, which he promptly began slurping.
"What's with the sippy cup?" Dotty asked. "The only person I know who still uses those is my two-year-old brother."
"Sometimes, it's easier to get fluids into people through ways they've outgrown," Dixie said. "Every time we gave him a regular cup, Leland would get more on him than in him. And he had a lot of trouble getting his juice through a straw, too, so we just tried a sippy cup, and apparently, it's been working for him."
Dotty nodded. Dr. Taylor adjusted the IV and then started to leave the room to make her rounds. Before she left, she turned to the kids.
"I think it's best if you all left now," she said to them. "Leland needs a lot of rest. He tires out very easily."
"Okay," Julie said. "Leland, we'll come back and see you tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay," Leland said. "But don't come Wednesday. I have a treatment Wednesday, and I'll be asleep after I get it."
Julie nodded, and she and the others left. Ronnie took off his Groucho Marx glasses, and put on his regular ones.
"I'm really sorry, Leland," he said before he left. "I hope you're not mad. I promise I won't do my comedy schtick next time I visit."
"It's okay, Ronnie," Leland said. "I needed a good laugh."
Ronnie smiled, and left the room. Once he caught up with the others, they left the hospital, and started for the ball field.
"What are we going to tell Jerry?" Julie asked. "And Mike?"
"Beats me," Ronnie said. "Maybe we shouldn't tell them anything. Let them find out themselves. Besides, I don't think Coach has noticed Leland's been gone."
"Mike has," Julie said. "Too bad practice was cancelled on Friday because of the rain. We could have told them then."
"Maybe we'll get lucky," Dotty said. "Gosalyn might have told her dad, and then her dad could have told Mike and Jerry. They do work at the same studio, you know."
The others nodded, and made their way to softball practice. Julie wanted to tell Mike and Jerry about Leland, but in the back of her mind, she didn't want to, either. She didn't want to be the one to bring them bad news.
By the time the kids got to the ball field, practice was in full swing, although Mike and Jerry were deep in conversation over at the bench.
"You're kidding me," Jerry said.
"Seriously, I'm not," Mike said. "Carole told me herself."
Julie stopped for a second. She knew Mike's stepmother was named Carole. And she also knew Carole was a nurse at Rampart General Hospital.
"Maybe they do know," she whispered to Dotty. The kids just stood there and listened to the conversation.
"Is she sure?" Jerry asked.
"The doctor did all the tests," Mike said. "Carole said each one came out positive."
"So what are you gonna do?"
"Probably just let nature take it's course. It's no big deal. Things like this happen every day. Why am I so surprised?"
"Yeah, I guess you're right. Things happen when the time is right, and there's nothing that can be done about it."
"That's true. But it's probably what my sixth sense was pointin' to."
"Hey, Mike?" Julie said, coming over. "You already know what happened?"
"Yep. I know."
"When did you find out?"
"Yesterday afternoon. Carole was home that day, and she told me all about it."
"Aren't you a little upset?"
"Upset? No. Well, maybe a little. If I had my way, I woulda had him neutered. But it's not up to me."
"Neutered?!" Julie was a little shocked Mike would say such a thing.
"But it's like I told Jerry," Mike continued. "When the time comes, the time comes. I'll be ready. Incidentally, how'd you know?"
"I saw it for myself," Julie said.
"Last Friday. On that rainy day when practice was cancelled."
"Jules, you are a very brave kid. Havin' to watch that happenin' . . . . sheesh. In any case, it had to happen sooner or later."
Now Julie was beyond confused. She would think that Mike and Jerry would have a little sympathy over the matter, but it appeared that the two of them were treating the situation like it wasn't anything to worry about it.
"Aren't you worried?" she asked.
"Heck no!" Mike shouted. "So my cat mated with Phyllis's cat and now she's gonna have kittens. What's there to worry about?"
Now Julie understood. Mike was talking about his pet cat, Cookie, and Phyllis's cat, Sebastian. Cookie was pregnant with kittens. But Julie was still a little confused over something.
"Did Gosalyn mention anything about . . . ." she started, hesitating a little. "The hospital?"
"No, she didn't," Jerry said. "Why do you ask?"
"Oh . . . . no reason," Julie said, and she ran out to the field.
Mike and Jerry glanced at each other and shrugged. After awhile, Mike's sixth sense began to act up again, but he couldn't figure out what in the world it was doing.
"Maybe I oughta drop in on Carole," he said. "It's really drivin' me nuts!"
"Maybe it's a migraine or something," Jerry said.
Mike nodded, and left the field. He went straight to Rampart General to see his stepmother about getting examined.
"Hi, Dixie," Mike said, when he reached the front desk. Dr. Brackett was standing there, looking through some of the medical charts.
"Hey, what's up, Doc?" Mike asked, and then he laughed.
"Very funny, Nesmith," Dr. Brackett said.
"What brings you down here, Mike?" Dixie asked.
"Well, my sixth sense is givin' me some trouble," Mike said. "I came in to get my head examined."
"About time," Dr. Brackett said. "I've always said you needed to get your head examined."
"Boy, did I walk into that one," Mike said.
Dixie shrugged, and took Mike into an examining room. She told him Lynn would come in to do a CAT scan. Not only did Lynn do a CAT scan, but she also did an MRI. She checked all the X-rays, and sighed.
"Everything in your head checks out normal, Mike," she said. "Well, normal for you, anyway."
"Darn it!" Mike shouted, snapping his fingers. A little clap of thunder sounded, and a tiny bolt of lightning zapped Lynn.
"Ouch!" she shouted. "Mike, how many times do we have to tell you to think before you snap!"
"Sorry," Mike shrugged. "I forgot that my battery's active. But it drives me crazy when my sixth sense gets cryptic on me! It's tellin' me somethin's up, but it won't tell me what!"
"If you ask me, it's a witch problem," Lynn replied. "And you should see your witch doctor."
Mike thought about it, but then shook his head. He didn't have a regular "witch doctor" for these sort of things, and he didn't particularly like visiting the Other Realm. So he just up and left. Before he did, though, he went to drop in on Quackerjack, who had been volunteering in pediatrics. The minute he got to the fourth floor, his sixth sense began to act up a little more than it usually was acting.
"Whoa," he said, holding his hand to his head. "Hey, knock it off! There's no sign of trouble!"
"Hi, Mike," Quackerjack said, walking over. "What are you doing here?"
"I was in to have my head examined," Mike said. "They didn't find anythin', so I came up to see what you were up to."
"Well, I was just about ready to leave. My shift is over."
"So how's volunteerin' goin'? Are these kids monsters?"
"Not all of them. I usually hang out in the playroom they have set up on this floor. Some of the kids come in. Not all of them do, though. Some of the kids that have more serious illnesses sometimes sleep all the time. Sometimes, cancer patients don't even leave their rooms unless they're getting a treatment."
"Must be terrible bein' a kid with cancer. I wouldn't know if I could go through that stuff. Havin' my hair fall out and all that, sheesh."
"I know what you mean, but we aren't really ones to talk about that, you know?"
"I dig, Quacky, I dig."
Quackerjack began talking about what he had been doing lately as he and Mike walked down the hall. Mike suddenly stopped as they passed room 417. He took a couple of steps back, and looked into the room. The side of his head began throbbing.
"What's wrong, Mike?" Quackerjack asked.
"I think this is what my sixth sense has been pointin' to," Mike said. "Stay out here, okay?"
"Sure," Quackerjack said.
Mike went into the room, slowly. The lights were turned out and the blinds were closed. He got a good close look at the figure sleeping in the hospital bed as he walked in. It took all the self control he had not to shout out.
"Holy motherapearl," he said. "No wonder Leland hasn't been at softball practice lately. I'll have to ask the kids why they didn't tell us."
Mike stood there for a moment, and resisted the urge to grab Leland's medical chart to look at it. He knew he could get into serious trouble if did that. But he didn't necessarily want to ask Carole, Dixie, Lynn, Joe, or Dr. Brackett about this. Especially not Dr. Brackett. As he was contemplating what to do, his sixth sense began pounding at his skull.
"Okay, okay, okay!" he shouted. "This is what you were tellin' me! No need to pound it into my system!"
"Mike, who were you yelling at?" Dixie asked, walking into the room.
"My sixth sense," Mike replied. "I know it seems really stupid, but . . . . that's what I was doin'."
"I see," Dixie said. "You weren't looking at the charts, were you?"
"No, I swear," Mike said. He had been caught by Dixie looking at patients' medical charts before, and had gotten lectured not only by Dixie, but by Carole, Dr. Brackett, and his father. He swore he would never do it again.
"Then what are you doing in here?" Dixie asked.
"Well," Mike said. "After my CAT scan and MRI, I came up to see Quackerjack, 'cause I know he had been volunteerin' in pediatrics. We walked by this room here, and I thought I recognized someone, so I came into check, and yeah, here's Leland. He's on the softball team Jerry and I coach. I had been wonderin' why he hadn't been comin' to practice."
"You mean you don't know yet? Nobody's told you?"
"No, nobody's told me. My sixth sense was drivin' me crazy, and it really started wreakin' havoc on my head a few minutes ago, and then you walked in."
"I'd like to tell you, Mike, but you'd have to bring it up with Leland's mother first, or Leland himself, if he were awake to tell you."
"Yeah. Whatever it is, though, it must've really hit the kid hard! I'll see you later, Dix. I've got to get goin'."
Dixie nodded, and Mike left the room. Once he was gone, Dixie looked over at Leland, and adjusted his IV.
"More than you know, Mike," she said. "More than you know."
Mike immediately called Jerry the minute he got home from the hospital.
"You know why Leland hasn't been showin' up for softball practice?" he asked.
"No, why?" Jerry asked.
"He's in the hospital."
"The hospital? What's he got?"
"I don't know. Dixie wouldn't tell me. Somethin' about patient confidentiality or somethin'. I guess we'll have to call Lee's mother and find out for ourselves."
"I'll do that. After all, I am the coach. I'll call Mrs. Lizard, and then call you right back."
"Okay, thanks, Geat."
Jerry hung up the phone, and then went to look for the information he had for the kids. He had their names, addresses, and phone numbers stored, as well as some health concerns for some of the kids. He looked through the list he had (which was in alphabetical order, which made this a little easier), found the Lizards' phone number, and went back to the phone.
"What are you doing?" Linda asked, as she walked into the kitchen.
"Looking into something Mike saw at the hospital," Jerry said. "He went in for a CAT scan, and brother, what he found out!"
Linda didn't think that sounded so good, but she didn't ask. Jerry was already dialing the phone. She would ask when he hung up. After about two rings, somebody picked up the phone.
"Mrs. Lizard?" Jerry asked. "This is Jerry Blavat. I coach the softball team your son Leland is on."
"Okay," Marcia said, not really sure what was going on.
"The reason I'm calling is that Leland hasn't been to any practices lately, and my friend, Mike, who is also the assistant coach, dropped by the hospital today, and saw Leland there. We were just wondering if he was okay. I mean, I do have records of any health problems of the kids, and, uhh . . . ."
"Well . . . . uhhh, I don't really know how to say this, but . . . . I guess you should know, since Leland is involved in a team sport. I'm afraid that Leland has been diagnosed with leukemia. I thought one of the other kids would have told you, since they have been visiting him in the hospital."
"Leuk . . . . . oh my lord."
For once in his life, Jerry was at a complete loss for words. Linda stared at him as if he had just lost his mind. It took about half a second for him to get his wits back.
"Mrs. Lizard?" he asked. "I'm still here. Uhhh, is there anything I can do? I mean, I'm no doctor, but . . . ."
"No, that's okay," Marcia said. "I'll take you up on that offer another time, Mr. Blavat. Thanks a lot."
Jerry hung up the phone and sat down. He ran his hand through his hair and took a deep breath.
"Whoa," he said. "I was clearly not expecting that!"
"What's going on, Jerry?" Linda asked.
"I'll explain later," Jerry said. "Gotta call Mike."
Jerry picked up the phone again, and dialed Mike's number. Mike had a similar reaction.
"WHAT?!" he yelled. "Leukemia?! Are you sure?!"
"His mother told me herself," Jerry said. "I couldn't believe it, either."
"That's gotta be what my sixth sense is pointin' to," Mike replied.
"Yeah, but why?"
"Well, I looked it up after you and I hung up the phone. Apparently, my sixth sense will act up if somethin' is wrong with someone I know well. And since I've been the assistant coach for the Gems, I've gotten to know those kids pretty well, and the fact that Lee was in that Christmas Carol movie we did awhile back . . . ."
"Yeah, that makes sense, I guess. Actually, Mrs. Lizard was a little surprised that nobody told us before now."
"I guess the kids didn't want to be the ones to bear the bad news."
Jerry agreed. He and Mike talked for a little while longer, and then hung up. Mike took a deep breath, and just sat there for a moment or so.
"Something wrong, Mike?" Phyllis asked, noticing the gloomy look on his face.
"Why is it whenever I expect the unexpected," he said. "The unexpected happens, and I don't expect it?"
Phyllis didn't know what in the world Mike was talking about, so she just dropped the subject.
The next day, Mike went back to the hospital. He hoped Leland would be awake this time around. He was, but he looked terrible. Marcia had him in her lap, and she was rocking him back and forth, rubbing his back. Leland was practically in hysterics. Dixie was in the room as well, looking disgusted.
"Don't worry, Mrs. Lizard," she said. "I promise Dr. Fredrickson will not be handling Leland's treatments from now on."
"I hope not," Marcia said, a little angrily, but her anger wasn't towards Dixie.
"Did I pick a bad time to come?" Mike asked, leaning in the doorway.
"Oh, hi, Mike," Dixie said. "Mrs. Lizard, this is Mike Nesmith. I'm sure he and your son have already met."
Marcia just nodded. She didn't pay too much attention. Leland didn't seem aware Mike was in the room.
"What just happened here?" Mike asked.
"Leland had a chemo treatment today," Dixie explained. "He wanted Kel, but he's in surgery, and then he asked for Dr. Taylor, but she has the day off today, as does Joe, but Joe doesn't handle oncology, and normally, neither does Kel, or Lynn for that matter."
"Well, where was Lynn?"
"Lynn was busy, too. So we called in Dr. Fredrickson."
Mike didn't know Dr. Fredrickson all that well, except that he was a young doctor who sometimes worked in pediatrics with Carole from time to time.
"If I had known ahead of time, I would have waited for Kel," Dixie sighed. "Or postponed the treatment until tomorrow."
"So what happened?" Mike asked.
"First, Dr. Fredrickson had to find a vein, and Leland's veins are pretty small. We did everything to get one to just pop out, if you will, but it didn't do much good, so Dr. Fredrickson just put the needle in as far as it would go. Leland is one of those kids who absolutely can not take a needle."
"He screamed so loud it sounded like a siren," Marcia replied. "I tried to tell him that he was hurting Leland, but all he said to me was 'I know what I'm doing. I am a doctor after all.' I wanted to slug him!"
Mike nodded. Clearly, he knew he had found a doctor to like even less than Dr. Brackett, but he didn't say anything. Before he could, Dixie continued the story.
"And that's not all," she said. "All Leland was scheduled for today was the chemo treatment and a CBC."
"What's a CBC?" Mike asked.
"Complete blood count," Dixie explained. "And Dr. Fredrickson, being the genius that he is, decided not only to do both of those, but also a bone marrow test and a spinal tap!"
"All of those in one day?!" Mike shouted, incredulously. "What kind of a doctor is he?!"
"Not a very good one," Marcia said, a bit bitterly. "He would not allow me to hold Leland down for the spinal tap, which, clearly, he needed to be held down. He always has to be held down for the spinal taps!"
"Leland's a bit of a wiggler when it comes to needles," Dixie explained.
"Hey I can relate," Mike said with a nod.
"I do not want that man coming near my baby again," Marcia practically growled. "It's going to take all day to get him to calm down."
"He won't," Dixie assured her. "I'll make sure of it."
And with that, Dixie left the room. Mike walked over to the bed and sat down next to Marcia. He put his hand on Leland's shoulder.
"Hey, Lee," he said. "It's me, Mike."
"Lee?" Marcia asked, looking at Mike as if he were nuts. "You call him Lee?"
"Well, yeah," Mike said. "I thought Leland was sort of a clunk of a name for a kid, so I just call him Lee. It's easier."
"I see," Marcia said. She didn't say that Leland had been named after Marcia's grandfather. She never called Leland by any nickname, because she had always liked the name. Leland didn't particularly care what anyone called him, although Mike was the only one to ever call him "Lee."
Leland started to calm down, and he turned towards Mike.
"Hi," he said. "When did you get here?"
"A few minutes ago," Mike replied. "Dix told me about all those needles. I can relate. I hate needles myself."
"Oh yeah. When I was a kid, I tried hidin' from my mother when it was time for my vaccinations. I was scared to death of needles! I still am to an extent."
Mike nodded. Leland was amazed. Never, not even in the back of his mind, would he think Mike Nesmith would be scared of anything. He had seen Mike in action, when it came to his magic powers. Whenever he used them, he was fearless. But that only showed that nobody was perfect, and Mike was only human, after all.
"I think I'll leave you boys alone," Marcia said, standing up. "I need to go stretch."
Marcia put Leland on the bed, and then left. Mike made himself comfortable and turned to Leland.
"Want to swap hospital stories?" he asked.
"You were in the hospital?" Leland asked. "When?"
"A lot," Mike said. "See, I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia awhile ago. That's low blood sugar. I've gotten the hang of handlin' it, but when I was first diagnosed, I knew nothin' about it, so I ended up in and out of the hospital a lot. Also, I had my tonsils out right after the Monkees hit it big."
"What happened then?"
"Some nurse stole 'em. I don't have the slightest idea what she did with them. I can just see them on Ebay now."
Leland laughed at that. Somehow, the thought of a nurse selling someone's tonsils on the Internet was kind of funny. He and Mike talked for awhile, mostly swapping hospital stories. Leland didn't have much to talk about, since he slept most of the time. As a matter of fact, he looked like he was going to fall asleep any minute. Mike stood up.
"Okay, I think I'm gonna hit the road," he said. "You look ready for a nap."
"Okay," Leland said, drowsily.
Mike pulled the blankets up to Leland's neck, and headed for the door, turning the light off behind him. He started closing the door, but then stopped, leaving it open a crack. Then he headed down to the elevator. He met Dixie on his way.
"Just out of curiosity," he said. "How effective is this chemo stuff?"
"We just have to wait and see," Dixie said.
"I guess so. I really hate to say this, but Leland . . . . well, this just looks like it's just suckin' the life out of that poor kid."
"I know. But there are new medical advances these days, and a lot of kids who contract leukemia do get over it. Leland's roommate is close to remission."
"Well, that's good, I guess."
The elevator doors opened, and Mike stepped in. He pushed the button for the lobby and started down. He stopped at the front desk, where Carole was working.
"Hi, Mike," she said.
"Carole, can I ask you somethin'?" Mike asked.
"Sure. What is it?"
"Why do kids have to suffer? I mean, they're our future, you know? Why do such horrible things like terminal illnesses have to happen to them? What did they do to deserve that kind of sufferin'?"
Carole didn't answer. She thought about it for a moment, and then smoothed Mike's bangs with her hands.
"Because God works in mysterious ways," she said. "I know it isn't fair, but life isn't fair. It's rough when something happens to someone you know, and you think why them? Why couldn't it have happened to someone else? But you know what? Sometimes, things work out for the best."
"Thanks, Carole," Mike said, with a nod. "Strangely enough, I feel better."
And with that, Mike left the hospital.
Days went by. Leland was getting more chemo and more treatments, which meant more needles. Derek was getting them too, but he was doing better than Leland was. Julie and Montgomery always popped in, but they were usually accompanied by some of the other kids in the class.
One day after school, Julie and Montgomery came by. Leslie and Bobby were with them this time.
"Hi, Leland," Montgomery said. "Where's Derek?"
"Another treatment," Leland said.
Things hit a lull. Nobody really knew what to talk about. Montgomery and Julie had been coming in every chance they could, but they were running out of things to talk about.
"Boy, you guys were right," Bobby said suddenly. "He does look terrible."
Leslie nudged Bobby in the ribs for that. Then she cleared her throat, and put a wrapped box on Leland's bed.
"We brought you something," she said. "It was Bernice's idea, but she couldn't come with us to give them to you."
Leland unrapped the box and found peanut butter cookies with bits of Reese's peanut butter cups in them.
"Lolly supplied the peanut butter cups and Bernice baked them." Julie said.
"Uhh, thanks, you guys," Leland said. He didn't want to come right out and say that the smell of the cookies was starting to turn his stomach. He hadn't been eating much since he had been on chemo. But he wasn't going to say that to the others. And he was determined not to throw up in front of his friends again.
"You'd better start eating those," Bobby said. "You're skinnier than Mike and Jerry!"
"Bobby!" Leslie shouted.
"Well he is!" Bobby protested. "Honestly, Leland, you really don't look like yourself."
"I know I don't," Leland said. "My little brother finally came in to visit, because Mom and Dad couldn't get a baby-sitter. He came in and the minute he did, he screamed."
"I can understand that," Bobby continued. "You know what Mike said to Jerry at practice the other day?"
"Bobby, don't tell him!" Leslie hissed.
"Yeah, it'll just scare him," Montgomery said.
"Mike is right, though," Bobby said. "He does look like the chemo stuff is sucking the life right out of him. I mean, look at him, he's a walking skeleton!"
"Bobby!" Montgomery, Julie, and Leslie shouted, in perfect unison.
"Well, don't you guys think so?" Bobby asked.
"Oh brother," Julie sighed. "We gotta go, Leland. We'll see you later."
"Sorry, Leland," Bobby said. "You know sometimes I think before I act."
"It's okay," Leland said. "But you're right."
The kids left the hospital then. Julie went straight home after that, and let herself in. She found her little brother, Tommy, playing in the living room with Greg.
"Hi," she said.
"Hi, Julie," Tommy said.
"What are you guys doing?" Julie asked. "Playing cards?"
"No," Tommy said, as if what the boys were doing was the most obvious thing in the world. "We're playing Deck Duel."
"Oh one of those stupid trading card games they turned into a Japanese cartoon," Julie said, rolling her eyes.
"Deck Duel is not stupid!" Greg shouted.
"Whatever you say," Julie said, walking past the boys. "By the way, Greg, Leland's about the same as usual."
"Good for him," Greg mumbled, and he put a card down on the floor. Tommy put one of his down, too.
"I thought you'd be curious," Julie said with a shrug.
"Well, I'm not," Greg said, and he put another card down. "I win."
"Darn," Tommy said. "Best two out of three."
"You're on!" Greg shouted, and he and Tommy began collecting their cards. Julie sat down on the couch and watched them.
"You know, it looks like he's gotten skinnier," she said. "He doesn't eat much these days, does he?"
"I don't know," Greg said, laying a card down. "I'm not my brother's keeper!"
"I was just wondering, sheesh!" Julie shouted.
"Is that all you ever talk about?" Greg asked. "My stupid older brother? Ever since he got sick, that's all anybody ever talks to me about!"
"Really?" Julie asked.
"Yeah," Tommy said, nodding. "The whole school knows Leland's sick. Every day, Mrs. Lawrence asks him how he is."
"And so do most of the kids," Greg grumbled. "I'm tired of hearing about it. Mom and Dad talk about it all the time, too! It's like I'm invisible!"
"That's why I never talk about Leland," Tommy said.
"But don't you even care?" Julie asked Greg.
"No," Greg responded. "Why should I? I don't care what happens to stupid old Leland!"
Julie nodded. Then she went upstairs to find her mother, Diane, who was in with Julie and Tommy's new baby sister, Alexis.
"Hey, Mom?" she asked. "How come Greg resents Leland so much now? I've seen them together before, and they used to get along pretty well."
"Well, honey, sometimes, things change when situations like this happen," Diane said. "I mean, Tommy got very sick, and everyone asked you how he was, or if it seemed Dad and I were paying most of our attention to him, and things like that, how would you feel?"
"Not so good, I guess."
"Right. I know Leland's a friend of yours, and it's hard not to talk about him, but I think it would be best if you refrain from giving Greg the updates. I really don't think he wants to hear them."
"I gotcha, Mom."
Julie left the room to do her homework. She got started on it, and sighed. She wondered if things would ever be normal again.
A few more days passed. Mike was at the hospital again, dropping in on Leland. For once, he was awake and alert, and glad to have some company, since Derek had a treatment that day.
"So how's the chemo goin'?" Mike asked,
"Not so good," Leland said. "But Dr. Brackett said that I was making progress. But I still don't know how long I'm gonna be here."
Mike nodded. He decided to change the subject.
"Did Julie tell ya my cat was pregnant?" he asked.
"No," Leland said.
"Yeah, she got together with Phyllis's cat, and they made kittens. My dad's makin' me and Phyllis get 'em fixed after this litter, though."
"What are you going to do with the kittens?"
"Well, I'd keep them, but Pop and Carole said that we have too many pets already, so I'll probably give 'em away or somethin'. Maybe I can talk them into lettin' me keep one of the kittens."
Leland nodded. He knew Mike could talk to animals, which is why he had so many pets. It drove Warren, Carole, and Phyllis absolutely crazy, and were starting to put their feet down when it came to some of the animals Mike had brought home.
Mike talked a little more about things that were going on at the ball field when Carole came into the room.
"Hi guys," she said.
"Hey, Carole, what's up?" Mike said.
"Just doing a routine check," Carole replied. "Making my rounds. You might want to cut the visit short, Mike. Bob called, and he wants you at the studio ASAP."
"Okay," Mike said. "I'll drop in on ya another time, Lee."
Leland nodded, and Mike got up and left the room. Carole went with him. A few minutes after they left, Nurse Jody came back with Derek and got him settled.
"So how did it go?" Leland asked.
"Great!" Derek shouted, happily. "My blood counts are up."
"I wish mine were. They're still down."
"Don't worry. They'll get up soon enough."
"I wish I had your optimism."
The boys talked for a little while, and then Leland took another nap. Derek didn't mind it. He just picked up a book and started to read it.
Another week went by. Mike and Jerry had scheduled a ball game with a rival team, the Cubs, that day. Most of the kids on the Cubs were in Mrs. Field's fifth grade at Carson Elementary school, and a lot of those kids were downright mean. Especially Maureen Sullivan and her snobby friends (though they weren't on the baseball team), and Jimmy Andrews and his friends. Julie's cousin, Danny Miller, was on the team as well, and he could be a real jerk sometimes, but not all the time. There was only one kid on the Cubs team that was nice to the other kids, and that was Brian Nicholls. He had a crush on Julie.
"Hi, Julie," he said, walking up to Julie, who was taking some practice swings with a bat.
"Hi, Brian," Julie said. "Good luck today, although I think you'll probably cream us like you always do."
"You never know," Brian said with a shrug. "Good luck to you, too, by the way."
"So how's Leland?"
"Not so good. He sleeps a lot and he's gotten really skinny."
Brian nodded, and went back to his team. Jerry was going over a few things when Mike showed up carrying a cardboard box, and he had a camera bag slung over his shoulder. Reggie and Micky were right behind him, carrying their own camcorders. Jerry looked at all three of them oddly.
"What's with the video cameras?" he asked.
"We're gonna film the game," Reggie said. "My friend, Kenny's, coming by, and he's gonna help us film."
"Yeah, we thought Leland would like to see the game," Mike said. "He's been gettin' pretty bored in the hospital. He told me all he had to do was his homework, but he hasn't been feelin' up to workin' on it."
"Poor kid," Jerry said. He felt a little guilty that he hadn't been in to see Leland yet, but his schedule had been so hectic lately, he hadn't found the time. He went and told both teams and the Cubs' coach that Mike, Reggie, and Micky were going to film the game, so there was going to be a short delay before they could start. As he was walking back, he bumped into Mike, who nearly dropped the box he was carrying.
"Whoa, watch it!" Mike shouted. "I've got some irreplaceable stuff in this box!"
"Sorry," Jerry said. "So how long is this going to take?"
"It all depends when Kenny shows up with the equipment."
"I thought the equipment was in the box. You said you had some irreplaceable stuff in there."
"Well, yeah, it's irreplaceable, but it ain't camera equipment."
"What have you got in there, anyway?"
Mike smiled, and put down the box. Then he opened it, and motioned for Jerry to come and look. When the Geator looked, he groaned.
"You didn't!" he shouted.
"I did," Mike said. He reached into the box and pulled out a black kitten. "Cookie had the kittens, and Dad, Carole, and Phyllis told me to take them to the game and see if I could pawn them off on some of the kids. Except the black one. They're lettin' me keep the black one."
"Of course. What witch, or half witch, would be complete without a black cat?"
Both he and Mike laughed over that, and Mike put his kitten back in the box. All the mewing attracted a crowd, and soon people were standing over the box, cooing over the eight kittens.
"Awww, they're so cute!" Julie shouted. "I want one!"
"No, Julie," her mother said. "I told you before you can't have a cat."
"Why not?" Mike asked. "The kid digs cats."
"I know, but we have two dogs," Diane replied. "Plus, my husband is allergic to cats."
"I get it," Mike said. "Whenever you want, Julie-baby, you can come to my place and play with my cats."
"Okay, thanks," Julie said, cuddling with a white kitten with black spots.
Pretty soon, all the kids had gathered to look at the kittens. Mike smiled sneakily and pulled his camcorder out of the bag.
"You brought those kittens to keep them occupied while you, Mick, and Reg set up, didn't you?" Jerry asked.
"Yeah, you caught me," Mike said. "They're just gonna get bored waitin' for us to get everythin' set up."
Jerry nodded, and decided to help the guys set up the cameras. After awhile, Reggie's friend, Kenny Donaldson, came backing into the parking lot, driving the Channel 8 news van. Reggie had talked him into bringing some more equipment and tripods over.
After about twenty minutes, everything was set up. Mike hooked up the announcer's microphone to a set of amplifiers Kenny had brought over, so all the cameras would be able to pick up the sound.
"We all set?" Kenny asked.
"Good to go," Micky replied. "Lights, camera, action!"
Finally, the game got started. The kids groaned, and put the kittens back in the box. They didn't want to stop playing with them. Mike promised they could play with them a little more after the game.
Every time the Gems played against the Cubs, the Cubs would always cream them. It didn't do much for Zipper's morale, since he was a bad loser. However, things were a little different this time around. Mike and Jerry noticed that there were fewer errors when fielding. The Cubs noticed this as well.
"We can't let a team that has girls on it beat us!" Jimmy shouted. The Cubs happened to be an all boy team.
"Right," Danny replied. "Everyone knows girls can't play baseball."
"Oh come on," Brian said. "The girls on the Gems are pretty good."
Half the team looked at Brian as if he were crazy, but said nothing. The game continued. By the end of the game, the Gems won, thirty-six to twenty-nine. Hardly anyone could believe it, especially the Cubs.
"Good game, you guys," Brian said, as he and some of the others on the Cubs walked over to the Gems.
"Thanks," Julie said.
"You guys played better than you usually do," Danny commented. "I'll admit, I'm impressed."
"That's 'cause you didn't have Leland Lizard to mess you all up," Jimmy replied.
"Yeah," his best friend, Charlie Flynn, replied. "He's the worst player you guys have!"
"In fact," another friend of theirs, Gary Benton, said. "Maybe it's a good thing he got sick. You'll finally win some games for once!"
"Yeah," Jimmy laughed. "Maybe you guys will get lucky, and Leland will stay sick. Or better yet, if you're really lucky, maybe he'll . . . ."
Gosalyn didn't let Jimmy finish his sentence before she lunged at him, and tackled him to the ground. She kneeled on his stomach, and began shaking his shoulders, practically beating his head on the ground.
"Take it back!" she yelled.
"Never!" Jimmy shouted.
"TAKE IT BACK!" Gosalyn shrieked.
Jimmy refused. Gosalyn looked like she was about to kill this kid! Luckily, Mike and Drake ran over, and both of them pulled her off of him.
"Whoa, whoa, cool it there, Gos!" Mike shouted. "I know you redheads have terrible tempers, but that takes the cake!"
"But you didn't hear what he said!" Gosalyn protested.
"Later," Drake said.
And that was all there was to that. Jimmy and his friends left the ball field while Brian followed the others to the kittens. While going there, Gosalyn filled Drake and Mike in on the fight. Needless to say both of them were completely shocked.
"He said what?!" Mike yelled.
"Well, he was about to," Gosalyn said. "But I pounced on him before he could finish, but I knew what he meant. And I don't care if you ground me, Dad, Jimmy deserved it!"
"After hearing what Jimmy said, I don't know if I'm going to ground you or not," Drake said.
"Some people," Mike grumbled, shaking his head.
"Yeah, a lot of the kids in Mrs. Fields' class haven't been too nice," Julie said. "Maureen Sullivan told me to stay away from her since Montgomery and I go to the hospital a lot. She says that I'll catch cancer from Leland and give it to her, but that's not true."
"Maureen Sullivan is an airhead," Gosalyn replied. Not one person spoke up against that statement.
All seemed to be forgotten when the kids reached Mike's box of kittens. Mike reached in, pulled out the black one and held it so none of the kids would accidentally take it. A bunch of kids gathered around, all saying that their parents said they could have a kitten. Mike handled it on a First Come First Serve basis. There were only four kids he knew who took kittens, and they were Leslie, and two of Gosalyn's friends, Ellen Armbruster, Keisha Johnston, and Holly Stone.
"Well, that'll made Dad and Carole happy," Mike said.
"What are you going to name your kitten, Mike?" Drake asked.
"I don't know yet," Mike said. "Somethin' will hit me, though."
Drake nodded, and he and Gosalyn left the field.
The next day, Gosalyn came by the hospital with the tape of the ballgame. When she got there, she saw Leland sitting up, coloring in a coloring book. Derek was getting a treatment.
"Hi," she said. "I take it you're feeling better."
"Oh, hi, Gosalyn," Leland said, looking up. "Yeah, my blood counts are up a little today. How was the game yesterday?"
"We decided to let you see for yourself," Gosalyn said, holding up the tape. "Mike, Reggie, and Micky taped it for you. And Mike brought his kittens to the game. He let me have one of them."
"Cool," Leland said. He was quiet for a minute. He glanced at the door, as if he expected to see someone coming. When he didn't, he looked at Gosalyn.
"Can you do me a favor?" he asked.
"It depends on the favor," Gosalyn said. "I won't take your needles for you."
"No, it isn't that. My friend, Derek, he's a big fan of your dad's. He told me one of his biggest dreams is to meet him. I was wondering if you could get him to come by sometime."
"I'll have to ask my dad, but I don't think he'd mind. Bob's got nothing for Dad and his friends to do down there anyway."
"Thanks, Gosalyn. But don't tell Derek about your dad, okay? I want it to be a surprise."
Just at that moment, Dixie and Derek came into the room. Even though Derek had another chemo treatment, he was a bit energetic.
"Derek's blood counts are up," Dixie reported.
"Remission, here I come!" Derek shouted.
"We'll see," Dixie replied.
"Hi, Derek," Gosalyn said. "Leland was just talking about you. I'm Gosalyn. Wanna watch a baseball game?"
"Okay, sure," Derek said. "I love baseball!"
Gosalyn put the tape in the VCR and the three of them sat down to watch. Gosalyn did some of the play by play, and pointed out some errors the Cubs had made.
"You guys didn't make too many errors this time around," Leland noticed.
"Yeah, well . . . ." Gosalyn said. She had to choose her next words carefully. She didn't want to come right and out and say that Jimmy Andrews had been right about the Gems winning the game because Leland wasn't around, since he was the one who made a lot of errors when it came to ballgames.
"That's 'cause I wasn't there, wasn't it?" Leland asked.
"Well . . . ." Gosalyn said, hesitantly.
"You don't have to go on, Gosalyn. Everyone knows I'm the worst player on the team. I'm surprised Jerry hasn't cut me yet."
"Leland, you're not that bad. You just don't hit very well. Or throw straight. Or catch very well. But you're a good runner."
"What good is that if I can't hit, pitch, or catch?"
Gosalyn said nothing, and went back to the ballgame. She left after the tape was over. She had a feeling if she staid any longer, she'd end up putting her foot in her mouth.
"You play baseball?" Derek asked.
"Yeah," Leland said. "A friend of Gosalyn's dad coaches the team. It's mostly kids and my class, and Lilly Cat's sister and some of her friends. Some of us are really good, some of us aren't. Actually, most of us aren't. But Jerry likes a challenge."
Derek nodded, and began to fold paper airplanes out of a pack of construction paper he had. He and Leland spent most of the afternoon tossing them back and forth to each other.
A couple of days went by. Tuesday afternoon, Gosalyn came by. Leland and Derek noticed she was talking to someone in the hallway.
"Stay out here, okay?" she said. "Don't come in until I tell you."
"Who's she talking to?" Derek asked.
"Probably her dad," Leland said.
Gosalyn came into the room just then, carrying a crate of some kind.
"What's that for?" Derek asked.
"You'll see," Gosalyn said, putting the crate on the floor upside down. She swung her backpack off her shoulders, and rummaged around in it. She pulled out a small tape player, and a cassette.
"Gosalyn, what are you doing?" Derek asked.
"You'll see," Gosalyn said.
"Leland, what's she doing?" Derek asked again.
"I don't know," Leland shrugged, although he knew darn well what Gosalyn was doing.
Gosalyn put the tape in the tape player, and then put the player on the table. Then she rummaged around her backpack again, and pulled out her hairbrush. Then she pushed the play button on the tape player, and a drum roll came out of it. She jumped up on the box and held up her brush as if it were a microphone.
"Are you ready to rock?" she asked.
"Gosalyn, what are you doing?" Derek asked, getting frustrated.
"Just go with it, Derek," Gosalyn said, resetting her tape. Then she started her announcer bit again.
"Rampart General Hospital is proud to present," she said, pausing for dramatic purposes. "The one, the only, Darkwing Duck!"
Nothing happened. Gosalyn let out a groan, and ran to the door.
"Dad, that's your cue!" she shouted.
"Sorry," Drake said, coming into the room. "I'm not used to those big introductions."
Derek's jaw nearly hit the floor when he saw Drake standing there. When he got his wits back, he looked at Gosalyn.
"Is this the real deal?" he asked. "Or is this like an impersonator?"
"No, it's the real deal," Gosalyn said. "My dad's Darkwing Duck, but his real name's Drake Mallard. Darkwing Duck's just his stage name."
"That's why Gosalyn's last name's Mallard," Leland said.
"Were you in on this?" Derek asked.
"Uh huh," Leland nodded. "You said you were a big fan, so I asked Gosalyn to ask her dad to come in."
"And here I am," Drake said. He put down his guitar case, and opened it up. He rested it on his knee and began tuning it up.
"So what are you favorite tunes?" he asked Derek
Derek smiled, and began to list off a lot of Drake's repertoire, which he was glad to perform then and there. He drew a big crowd outside the room as well, doctors, nurses, and patients. Drake sat there and played everything he had. That took a couple of hours, but that was okay. When he was done, he stood up, and signed Derek's poster for him.
"Thanks," Derek said, a bit awestruck. "That was really awesome!"
"Glad you liked it," Drake said. "Listen, you guys, I've got to get going."
"Okay," Leland said. "Thanks for coming by, Mr. Mallard."
"No problem," Drake said. "And, as my cousin often says, catch you on the flip, you guys."
And with that, Drake and Gosalyn left. Derek turned to Leland and smiled.
"Thanks, Leland," he said. "I guess it pays to have connections, huh?"
"Sometimes," Leland replied. "And sometimes not. I guess this time, it did."
"Yeah, well, in any case, you and Gosalyn and her dad have just made my life. Thanks a lot."
Another week went by. Derek had left the hospital. His hunch had been right. He was in remission. Leland was still getting chemo treatments and tests. The room seemed empty without Derek, and Julie and Montgomery only came by every other day, due to all the treatments he was getting. His parents were in and out a lot, as well.
By the beginning of September, Leland felt like a pin cushion, being poked with needles, nearly day in and day out. But there was good news to that. He was going to be released over the weekend.
"Your blood counts are up," Dr. Brackett said. "The chemo has gotten a lot of the cancer out of your body, and a lot of things have checked out normal."
"Does this mean I'm in remission like Derek?" Leland asked.
"Not yet. You're still going to have to take pills and come in every now and again for treatments."
"Will I ever go into remission?"
"You might. You're doing very well. It wouldn't surprise me."
Leland nodded. He was going to be glad to finally get out of the hospital. He had missed so much school, he was actually looking forward to going back! Marcia and Link had called Mr. Forrester, Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Kent, and the school guidance counselor, Ms. Harper, and told them Leland was coming back to school the following Monday. They had a conference on Friday.
"We've researched rights we have," Link said.
"I'm well aware of the students rights, Mr. Lizard," Mr. Forrester said, nodding. "You just tell us what you need, and we'll do everything we can."
Marcia nodded, and gave Mr. Forrester a list she had made, as well as a letter from Dr. Lang, Dr. Taylor, and Dr. Brackett. Basically, the letter told Mr. Forrester (who immediately made copies for Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Kent) that Leland was well enough to attend school, although he was not allowed to attend gym class, as the doctors (and Link and Marcia for that matter) didn't want Leland to tire himself out, as he still tired easily. There was also a list of considerations, like actually being allowed to sleep in class if he needed to. Mrs. Lee nodded once she finished reading the note.
"I think this can all be arranged," Mrs. Lee said with a nod. "You and your husband don't have anything to worry about, Mrs. Lizard."
"We'll take care of everything," Mr. Forrester said with a nod.
"Thank you," Marcia said, and she and Link left the school.
On Saturday, Leland returned home. Mrs. Cole was baby-sitting for Greg. She met them at the front porch.
"I really don't know how you do it, Marcia, I really don't," she said.
"I'm so sorry," Marcia said. "Greg has become a real handful lately. I can only hope things go back to normal soon."
Leland hoped the same thing. He took a deep breath, and walked into the house. Greg was sitting on the living room floor, reading a comic book.
"Greg, guess who's home?" Marcia said.
Greg looked up, and turned his attention to his comic.
"Hi," he said a little distantly. Leland figured he'd get this response from his brother, but he didn't say anything. He just walked into the living room and sat down on the floor.
"Can I see that when you're done?" he asked.
"No," Greg said. "I don't want your cancer germs all over it!"
Marcia sighed. She could tell this was going to be a bit of an adjustment.
On Monday, Greg and Leland left for the bus stop. Leland was feeling a little self conscious about returning to school. He had lost a lot of weight while he was in the hospital, and he had IV scars all over his arms and hands. He looked terrible. He wondered what the kids were going to say. He would find out soon enough.
"Hi, Leland!" Lilly called out.
"Hi," Leland said, a little timidly.
"Boy, I bet you're glad to be out of the hospital," Bingo said.
"Yeah, I am," Leland said. "I'm a little nervous about going back to school, though."
"Don't worry," Montgomery said. "You've kept up with the homework. I'm sure you'll ease back into it."
Leland nodded. The bus came, and the kids climbed on. Immediately, Leland felt tense. All of the kids on the bus were staring at him. He sat down in the back of the bus, since Greg had apparently found a seat next to Tommy, and the two of them began talking instantly. Greg was avoiding Leland like the plague.
When the bus pulled into the school, the kids rushed off, except Leland. He gripped the straps of his backpack and took a deep breath. He walked onto the playground, and just stood there for a moment or so. A lot of the kids stopped what they were doing and just stared. Before anything could happen, the bell rang, and the kids filed into the school.
When Leland got to his classroom, he saw Mrs. Lee taking things out of his desk. He also saw all of Lilly's things on top of her desk, and all of Sharon's things on top of her desk, too. The other kids walked in and sat down. Sharon and Lilly looked at their desks oddly, and were about to sit down when Mrs. Lee came over, carrying Leland's books and things.
"Hold it," she said. "I'm doing some rearranging here. Sharon, I want you to move to Lilly's desk. Lilly, I want you to move to Leland's desk, and Leland, I want you to move to Sharon's desk."
Sharon and Lilly picked up their stuff, and moved to where Mrs. Lee directed. Then she put Leland's stuff on Sharon's desk. Leland sat down there and began putting his books and folders into that desk.
"How come you're moving them around and not the rest of us, Mrs. Lee?" Bernice asked.
"It's kind of complicated, Bernice," Mrs. Lee replied.
Normally, Mrs. Lee would have just had Leland and Sharon switch, but one of her classroom rules was kids with glasses had to sit in the front row, and Sharon, Ronnie, and Braker wore glasses, which was why she also had to move Lilly.
"Well, I'd kind of like Leland to sit closer to the door," Mrs. Lee answered. "For awhile at least."
Bernice nodded. She didn't understand any of it, but she nodded anyway.
The day went on as a usual day of school would, with one exception. A lot of the kids just could not get over how different Leland looked. Leland tried not to notice, but he could tell his classmates were tense around him. After all, he had gotten extremely skinny since March, and there were all the IV scars on his arms and hands. It wasn't easy for him to concentrate on his classwork.
Lunchtime rolled around. When Leland entered the cafeteria, all eyes were on him. Everyone just stared at him. A silence fell over the room, which was pretty unusual for the school cafeteria. Leland just gripped the handle of his lunchbox, and made his way towards the table he usually sat at. Bingo, Zipper, Catchum, and Rocco immediately stopped eating their own lunches, for some odd reason. Leland sort of tensed. He could tell the others were a little tense as well.
"What's the matter?" he asked at last.
"Well . . . . ." Catchum said. "How do we put this?"
"You look like something the cat dragged in," Bingo said. Zipper gave him a hard nudge in the ribs with his elbow.
"Yeah, I know," Leland said. "It's the drugs."
"I don't know why they let you come back to school," Catchum replied. "You still look sick."
"Well, I am still sick," Leland said. "But not sick enough to stay in the hospital anymore. I have to take pills now."
The others nodded but they didn't say anything. They just went back to their lunches. Recess followed, as usual. Unfortunately, Leland didn't have much to do. He couldn't play basketball with some of the boys from his class, since he tired too easily, and kickball was out of the question as well. So he just walked around, trying to figure out what he could do. He walked over to the swing set, thinking maybe he could swing for awhile, if he didn't go too high. But before he reached them, two girls from Mrs. Fields's class, Penelope and Paulette Pig, raced over and blocked him off.
"Just where do you think you're going?" Paulette asked.
"Well . . . ." Leland started, feeling a little intimidated. The Pig Sisters liked to bully the kids, especially the smaller ones.
"You can't play on the swings," Penelope said. "You'll only contaminate them!"
"No, I won't," Leland said. "Everybody told me that you can't catch cancer."
"That's what they want you to think!" Penelope shouted.
Somehow, Leland didn't want to hang around the swings with the Pig Sisters there. So he went to look for something else to do. As he was walking across the blacktop, he saw Maureen Sullivan and her snooty friends playing a hand clapping game. They saw Leland coming, and immediately started whispering and giggling. Leland picked up bits and pieces of the conversation.
"I thought he was funny looking before, but look at him now!" Brittany Kline said.
"Can you believe it?" Muffy Van Barron asked. "I hope that never happens to any of us. Ew!"
"It won't," Corrie Harrison said, patting her hair. "We're too perfect to get leukemia like Leland."
"He probably got it because he was too stupid to avoid it," Carlene Winters said.
"That's true," Maureen said. "Everybody knows that Leland Lizard is the dumbest kid in the entire school. It's amazing he ever made it to the fifth grade!"
All the girls laughed hysterically. Leland felt his face flush. He picked up his pace a little, and walked away from them as fast as he could. The girls knew he had heard them, and they giggled harder.
Leland walked over to the jungle gym. He figured maybe he could just sit around there for awhile. However, fate was not with him. Jimmy and his friends were all over it.
"Halt! Who goes there?!" Jimmy shouted.
"Oh, it's Leland," Charlie said.
"Scram, Lizard," Gary said. "We don't want your germs all over the jungle gym! Other kids play here, too, you know!"
Saying nothing, Leland walked away. This was not going to be easy, he knew that. As he walked around the playground, he spotted Greg and Tommy playing Deck Duel. It was all the two of them ever played lately. Leland took a deep breath and walked over to them. He figured Greg would let him hang out. After all, when Greg first started kindergarten, none of the other kids would play with him. Leland dropped everything he was doing at the time and came over to play with his little brother. Surely Greg would do the same.
"Hi," he said.
"Hi," Greg said, not looking up from his cards.
"What are you guys doing?" Leland asked.
"Playing Deck Duel," Tommy said, as he laid one of his cards down. Greg took a quick glance at his, and then put one of his on top of Tommy's.
"Can I play?" Leland asked.
"No," Greg said, flatly.
"Because I don't want you to play with me."
And that was all Greg had to say. He put another card down, and waited for Tommy to make his move. Leland just stood there, a little shocked. Never in his life had he heard Greg say that he didn't want to play with him. Usually, he begged Leland to play with him. Greg finally looked up at his brother, and glared at him.
"Well, what are you waiting for? Christmas?" he asked.
Leland, too shocked to say anything, turned, and slowly walked away from Greg and Tommy as they continued their game of Deck Duel. He walked up to the steps, and sat down, waiting for the bell to ring. He didn't have anything else to do. Julie, who had been jump roping with Tina, Gretchen, and Leslie, looked over, and dropped her end of the jump rope, and started walking towards the steps.
"Hey, we're in the middle of jumping!" Gretchen protested.
"Well, Leslie can turn the rope for awhile," Julie said, with a shrug.
Leslie and Gretchen, who had been jumping at the time, shrugged. Leslie picked up the other end of the rope, and began turning it so Gretchen could continue jumping.
Montgomery had been playing basketball with Rocco, Braker, and Zipper, when he saw Julie walk by. He looked in the direction she was going, and dropped the ball to follow.
"Hey, Montgomery! We were in the middle of a game!" Zipper shouted. "Where are you going?"
"You guys can play one on one on one," Montgomery said, and then he walked off.
Zipper, Braker, and Rocco shrugged, picked up the ball, and began playing one on one on one, like Montgomery suggested.
Montgomery and Julie walked over to the steps and sat down.
"Hi, Leland," Julie said. "What's up?"
"I'm waiting for the bell to ring," Leland said, a little dejectedly.
"That doesn't sound like a fun recess to me," Montgomery replied.
"Well, I can't do much of anything else," Leland replied. "My mom said I couldn't play basketball or kickball, because I get tired too easily. And the other kids won't let me do anything else. But I guess my mom wouldn't let me play on the swings, or climb on the jungle gym, anyway."
"I saw you talking to your brother and my brother," Julie said. "Usually, you play with Greg when he doesn't have anyone to play with."
"He doesn't want to play with me," Leland said. "He's mad 'cause I get all the attention these days. And the other kids won't let me near them because they think I'll give them leukemia."
Julie and Montgomery glanced at each other. They have never heard of anything so ridiculous in their entire lives! But before they could say so, the bell rang, and the kids filed inside to their classrooms.