Prologue – Signs

~~April 10th, 2005. Monday, 7:00am~~

My life was...short. But, before I knew I was going to die, I had a really exciting, fun-filled life. Both my parents were still married to each other and deeply in love, unlike most couples in this modern day world. My twenty-seven year old sister was married with two children of her own. Her oldest son, Cody—my nephew—was three years old, and her younger son, Mark, was about three months old. Both were the most precious baby boys I had ever laid my baby blue eyes on. I could not have asked for more wonderful nephews. My sister's husband—my brother-in-law—was the most annoying brother I could have ever imagined. Not that I didn't love him. I did, and we had tons of fun—in the form of fighting—together. But he could sometimes act like my age instead of his. But, all in all, we got along fairly well, with the exception of a few faux fights here and there. My twenty year old brother was off to seminary—a school where one learns to become a priest—at one of the academically hardest schools in the entire continentalU.S., The Pontifical College of Josephinum, up in the north:Ohio.

I was a very excellent student in junior high; I was a straight A student. Not a single B that year. I had been invited into the Beta Club—which was an exclusive club at my school that only allowed students with the average of ninety-five and above to join. I was in the eighth grade, and it was halfway through the year when I found out the most horrifying news: I was diagnosed with a new form of leukemia.

I had a lot of friends, but only four best friends that I could always be found hanging out with. I was also a great basketball player, Coach Hugh would put me on the court as a center, forward, or guard. And I loved gymnastics; Floor and Vault were my favorite sections of the sport. My whole life had been about being active. I had joined the swim team when I was very young, and then quit once I realized that I didn't really enjoy it. Soon after, I joined the dance team, gymnastics, and cheerleading. I eventually stopped dance because the teachers were holding back my skills, and cheerleading kept giving me strep throat, so my doctors told me I needed to stop. I even joined band in fourth grade, but hated it. I realized then that I was only doing gymnastics and I needed to do more sports, so I joined the basketball team later. And in early eighth grade, my four best friends and I signed up for softball, and because of my speed, the coaches were having my slap—which means you take a few steps toward the ball right before you swing. I had been a natural at every sport I did. My parents told me that my sister and I had had that gene, but it had skipped over my brother. I was also in the Girl Scouts since Kindergarten, so that helped me with being a better person. And sometimes I altar served at my local Catholic Church, but the thick cassock and surplus always made me sweat, and put me on the verge of fainting. Sign One.

My life was perfect...until that fatal day when I found out I was going to die.

It was just another average Monday morning; I got up and got ready for school, starting the daily routine. Step One: Take a shower, Step Two: Brush my teeth, Step Three: Put my uniform on, Step Four: Roll my skirt twice, Step Five: Leave my shirt untucked, Step Six: Blow-dry my hair, Step Seven: Put my make-up on, Step Eight: Be out the door before seven twenty a.m. You may wonder...what about breakfast? Yeah, I didn't do that. I couldn't eat early in the morning or I would puke, and it wasn't a pretty sight...or taste, if you ask me. Sign Two. So, there were eight simple steps to my daily routine, and never once did I stray from a single one of them. My life was always in order, but don't get me wrong; my life was as fun as it could ever be.

That should have been a clear sign. Not eating breakfast; puking if I did eat breakfast. But I was too wound up in my 'perfect' life to even care. I never noticed that I started loosing weight...a lot. I lost thirty pounds from seventh grade to eighth grade. I thought that it was just my growth spurt, but I should have realized that I hadn't grown an inch. That was kind of a major signal to, you know, go to the doctor's and see if I had some sort of sickness. But I didn't.

I was at school by seven thirty a.m. I walked over to the eighth grade table, where we sat before school started, and began talking about last night's party Ashley had had. It had been a blast with all of the eighth grade boys and even some freshman boys from the high school down the street. And, man, did they know how to crank up the music and dance all night. My feet had begun to ache when I had finally arrived home, which was unusual because I had been a dancer since I was four years old. Sign Three. Weakness was never part of my routine, I should have realized it, but I didn't.

My stomach gave an unusual grumble. No way was I hungry. I couldn't be hungry. I had never once eaten breakfast since before I could remember, and now on this ordinary Monday morning I was...hungry? No uh, no way. So not possible. This was not apart of my routine. When did I ever incorporate hunger in the morning into my schedule? I didn't. So, why was my stomach grumbling? Sign Four.

"Didn't eat breakfast again this morning, did ya?" Maria asked. Maria was my oldest and best friend. We had been friends since the third grade when we had been playing two separate games during recess and suddenly ran into each other. Once he had finished yelling at one another to watch where the other one was going, we realized we both had blue eyes. And then BAM, we were besties.

"You know I never eat breakfast," I said, shrugging it off.

"It's very unhealthy, you know, not to eat breakfast; it's the most important meal of the day," Sally, my other friend, stated. We had been friends since the fourth grade. We had been total opposites back then. She was a basketball player—I hadn't joined yet—and I was a gymnast and a dancer. We were the total antithesis of each other sports-wise. But then as we got to know each other as lab partners one week, we realized that we both did cheerleading, and CLICK, we were BFFs.

"Blah, blah, blah, you guys have given me this lecture a hundred times," I accused.

"And we are going to keep giving it to you until you listen. Eat breakfast," Sarah replied, my newest BFF since sixth grade. She had come to our Catholic school from a public elementary school. She was physically the opposite of me. She had black hair and brown eyes, where as I had blonde hair and blue eyes. But as soon as I introduced myself in the annoying way I did—I was very hyper back in the good, old days—SMACK, we were friends for life, if not forever. She also played basketball along with Maria, Sally, Ashley, and me. She and I were both naturals when we joined in sixth grade together.

"I'm never hungry in the morning. That's just how I am."

"Well, you should change that unbeneficial habit soon, you know, this could be a sign. Some illness or disease. Maybe a tumor," Maria rambled on. And oh, she was so close. She had almost hit a home run, but stopped shy just of third base.

My stomach rumbled again.

"Here." Maria pulled a banana out of her brown lunch-bag, "Eat now." She was always the one to help out a friend in need.

"Maria, I am not hungry. If I were, I would take that banana and swallow it whole, but I don't want it right now."

"I know what it is," Sally said. "It's another one of your stupid diets, Kelly; you are skinny enough."

"It's not one of my diets, besides those things only last about a day. I am truly not hungry." And it was true. This wasn't a diet. I had been on one about a week ago trying to lose a pound or two. I hated my weight. I wasn't fat, but my height made me so darn heavy.

I was about five point eight and a half and weighed one hundred and ten pounds. Ugh, I was one of the tallest girls in my class. There were only two other girls taller than me. But I hated being tall because A) I felt like a giant compared to my friends, and B) all the cute guys were short. They hadn't hit their growth spurts yet, not until high school, and that was only a year away. I couldn't wait...

The bell rang, and we headed off to class together. We were missing one person. Ashley. But she usually arrived late, so we weren't too worried about her.

"You will need your English Lit and Theology books this morning," our teacher, Mrs. Pea, called out.

We had a very small school, only eighteen kids in our eighth grade class, and about four hundred ranging from Kindergarten to eighth grade. And as soon as I was out of this small, secluded, Catholic school, I was heading into high school where the big cats ruled. Again, I was ecstatic and I could barely wait to go.

"Her classes are so boring," Sally complained.

"Tell me about it," Sarah grumbled, getting her Theology book from her locker.

Oh, God, I couldn't breathe, I couldn't see. My stomach hurt like crap, and black spots were clouding my vision. I leaned over and used my desk as support. This had happened to me a few times before. But, it had been happening more frequently than before. And the pain hurt a lot worse than it used to. I didn't know what was exactly wrong, but before, it had been so subtle that I hadn't bothered telling my parents because I hadn't thought it was a good idea. And when it started coming more often, I had begun to think that maybe I needed to tell someone, my sister—who I always looked up to—if not my parents. But, then I had basketball practice everyday after school, gymnastics on Thursdays, and softball on the weekend. Then I had homework and tests to study for when I got home. So, I always forgot about the temporary pain and blindness whenever I was around my parents.

Breathe, I ordered myself, breathe!

"Kelly, are you okay?" Maria asked. She sat right next to me—which was always a good thing because then we could talk and gossip during class or pass notes—but today it was not a good thing because I really didn't want to get her involved in my situation. She always had the knack of being the better person and telling the truth no matter how hard it hurt. She sounded close; she was probably standing next to my desk. "KELLY!"

My head was spinning, and I shut my eyes, even though when I opened them all I could see was black. I plopped down in my chair with a hard thud and rested my head on my hands. Soon enough the pain began to subside and I could see things when I opened my eyes again. The first things I saw were Maria's face, an expression of deep concern on it, Sally's shocked look, and Sarah's worried gaze.

"What's wrong?" Sally asked.

"Nothing, I'm fine," I insisted. I really didn't need them on my case, especially after this morning's episode before school.

"You know what fine stands for," Maria chime in. "Freaked-out, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional."

"'The Italian Job,'" I replied, playing our little game. If someone said a quote from a move, you had to be the first one to remember which movie it was from.

But I didn't really have time to argue with Maria right now. I knew that this little incident—my falling into my chair—was going to be around school and spreading rapidly, so I was going to need a cover story. Thank God that I had four periods to think of one because right now I was completely blank with what to tell everyone.

The whistle blew, and I felt the cool wind blow by me as I sped up the court. We were outside the school, in the basketball parking lot. Yeah, tell me about it: my school was so cheap that they couldn't even afford a real gymnasium. So, the basketball players were forced to practice outside in the freezing cold winter weather or the blistering hot springtime weather. But no matter how cold or how hot, I still loved basketball with all my heart. And I would never give it up. I used to tell myself that "I would give basketball up on the day that I died". Ironic how things like this happen.

I was the fastest girl on the team. Even though I was the third tallest, about a head taller than the shortest girl, I could outrun everybody, well except Melissa. She and I always tied whenever we had suicides—a running punishment. She was our best offensive player, and I was the best defensive player. When we were together, we were unstoppable on the court. Our team was undefeated as of now.

Coach Hugh blew her whistle when I stole the ball from the blue-jersey team and threw the ball to half court where Melissa had managed a fast break, leaving her wide open for a lay-up. For the fifth time. Perfect. We had been scrimmaging for a while now, and I knew it was time for Coach Hugh to transfer players. She liked to switch us out and even up the teams when one team was dominating the other. The first to switch to the other team was either Melissa or me, which successfully made the teams even.

"Kelly, switch to the blue team," Coach Hugh instructed.

"Coach!" Melissa and I both whined. "That's not fair. We were in the zone."

"Life isn't fair." And, boy, was she right.

I grumbled as I switched with one of the blue team members before we began again. The points were less numerous on our team, and the steals had decreased on Melissa's team. After about another half hour of our struggling to beat the other team, Coach blew her whistle and called us in for our final huddle of the day.

"Okay, so, tomorrow, be atSt. Joseph's gym by five thirty. That'll give us an hour to warm up and get our game on. Melissa, Kelly, which jersey do you want to wear? Blue or gold?" The coach always allowed the team captains to choose.

Melissa and I looked at each other for a split second before we telepathically understood what the other one wanted, "Gold." We both said at the same time. The gold uniform enhanced both Melissa's and my golden blonde locks of hair.

"Okay, gold jersey, everyone. Practice Wednesday after school. And Thursday's practice has been postponed due to an assumption of ninety percent chance of rain. Everybody got it?"

"Yup," we all answered.

"Good, see you bright and early at school tomorrow." Coach stuck her hand in the middle of the circle, and Melissa and I waited for everyone else to put their sweaty hands on top of hers before we rested our hands on the very top. At the same time, Melissa and I shouted, "Eagles on Three. One, Two, Three: EAGLES!"

Oh, crap. Black spots were beginning to cloud my vision. My legs were cramping up. My head was starting to spin. My breathing was coming more rapidly. I rocked back on my heels and hoped to God that this would pass quickly and silently. I hadn't exactly given anyone an absolute answer about what had happened during first period, mainly because I had entirely no idea what had happened. And I still didn't know what was going on with me today. I must have not gotten enough sleep last night or something. I had gone to bed at eleven forty-five just like any typical night, but I had woken up multiple times during the night. Maybe that was why I was all woozy today and kind of off my game during practice, but still, nonetheless; I was good, if not great.

"Kelly, you okay?" Melissa asked.

Shoot, she had noticed that I had closed my eyes tightly shut, and was rubbing my temples with my fingers, which were slightly tingling. Then again, I guess, you'd have to be blind not to notice. I heard the entire team's footsteps stop and no doubt they had turned around to look at me curiously.

"I'm...fine," I said through gritted teeth as the pain in my stomach increased.

"Oh, my God, Kelly, stop saying that. You're obviously sick!" Maria said, running next to me. But, I couldn't hear anything else, my eardrums weren't functioning properly.

And then, suddenly, without any sort of sign that it was going to happen, I fainted. But right before I blacked out completely, I felt my head hit the hard cement of the parking lot. Sign Five.

~Chelsea Elizabeth