Everyday Angel #1:New Beginnings

By: Victoria Schwab

“Ready …” said Gabby, stretching. “Set …”

She got halfway through the word go! before her brother, Marco, took off.

“Cheater!” she shouted, sprinting after him.

The woods behind their house grew up instead of out; trees densely piled onto hills like the one Gabby and Marco Torres were racing up now. Marco was older by three years, but Gabby was quick on her feet and knew the shortcuts. Marco always took the paths, but Gabby climbed the un-paths, the places where roots and rocks made stairs up the side of the forest.

“Come on, Gabs!” His voice rang out through the trees. “Keep up!”

Her lungs burned as she ran, twigs snapping under her shoes. She had never beaten him to the top. Even when he didn’t cheat. But maybe today … She caught a glimpse of his bright blue T-shirt cutting between trees, and she sped up. She was so focused on catching him that she didn’t see the fallen branch until it snagged her sneaker and sent her stumbling to her hands and knees on the damp ground. She sprung back up, but by then, she’d lost him.

His laughter rang out, and she sprinted on until she burst through the tree line, breathless, and grinning. “Marco!” she called. “I won!”

But Marco wasn’t there. She stood at the top of the hill, catching her breath, waiting for her brother to get there and give her some line about letting her win. She waited, and waited, and waited.

“Marco?” she called nervously, looking around the field.

The hill was suddenly too still and too dark. The laughter that had followed her through the woods before reached her again, but it was twisted and wrong. It was her brother’s voice, but he wasn’t laughing anymore, not at all.

He was coughing.

Gasping.

Choking.

And that’s when Gabby woke up.

She wasn’t standing on a hilltop but slouched in a stiff hospital chair next to a bed. In the bed, Marco was doubled over, coughing. A nurse rubbed his back with one hand and adjusted his IV with the other.

“Hey there … Gabby,” Marco said between coughs. “Sorry … didn’t mean … to wake you.”

“It’s okay,” Gabby mumbled, rubbing her forehead. “Bad dream. Are you all right?” she asked as Marco settled back against his pillow, his face flushed.

“Right as rain,” he said, still struggling for air. “Don’t tell anyone, though,” he whispered loudly. “I don’t want them to kick me out.” The nurse toying with the machine laughed a little, and Gabby managed a thin smile. Marco was always joking.

But the coughing fit had clearly winded him. He looked tired. These days, he always looked tired. Gabby knew it was because of the bad.

When the doctors explained Marco’s condition to Gabby, they didn’t call the sickness by its proper name. They referred to it only as the bad, as if she didn’t know how to search the Internet and find out what the bad really was. Now she knew the proper term — osteosarcoma — but still found herself thinking of it as the bad. Not because she wanted to dumb it down, or make it seem smaller, but because it was easier for her to picture the thing attacking her brother’s body not as a many-syllabled word but as a monster.

Monsters could be fought. And Marco was fighting.

He looked at her and frowned his big-brother frown and said, “You were supposed to go home last night.”

Gabby glanced down at her crumpled clothes and thought about how wrong it felt to call the new apartment home. Home was a place in the country with wooded hills and laughter and a healthy big brother. A place Gabby seemed to get back to only in her dreams. And as bad as the hospital was, the apartment was worse. It was a ghostly shell, empty and dark — their mom spent every free minute in the hospital with Marco.

“I like it better here,” Gabby said, picking up the cheerful tone he’d dropped. “And the food’s good. Way better than Mom’s.”

Marco chuckled carefully. “That may be true …” he said, letting out a sigh, “but you can’t keep sleeping here. Not with school starting tomorrow.”

Not just school, thought Gabby. A new school.

Grand Heights Middle School.

The thought of starting seventh grade there filled her with a mixture of fear and hope. When Marco had first gotten sick last year, everything had changed. Not just for him but for Gabby, too. Suddenly she couldn’t go anywhere without being smothered by everybody’s concern. Teachers, classmates, friends — their pity became like a low wall around her life. People wanted to look over and say hi, but the wall stopped them from getting too close. That was the weird thing about sickness. Even when it wasn’t contagious, people kept their distance.

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