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The midnight club, p.2
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       The Midnight Club, p.2

           Christopher Pike
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  CHRISTOPHER PIKE notice. Also, Ilonka had been told by others that she did have an accent—understandable since her mother had mainly spoken Polish at home before she had died. Ilonka had never known her father. He had disappeared before she'd left Poland.

  "Where did you grow up?" Kathy asked.

  "Seattle. You're from Portland?"

  "Yes. I go to the same high school as Kevin." Kathy glanced about. "Does he know I'm here?"

  "I think so. I can check if you'd like."

  "Would you please?" Kathy shivered and lost her happy face. "I have to admit this isn't my favorite place to be. I'll be glad when Kevin's better and able to come home."

  Ilonka almost laughed, and she would have if she hadn't been so close to crying. She wanted to shout at the girl. He isn't coming home. He's not your boyfriend. He belongs to us now. We're the only friends he really has, the only ones who understand what he is going through.

  He belongs to me.

  But she didn't say anything because Kevin would be upset.

  "I hope it's soon," she said, turning to leave.

  It was at that moment that Kevin came through the door.

  Seeing Kevin, even seeing him every day, it was always his eyes that drew her attention. They were brown, large and round, powerful without being intimidating. They sparkled with humor as well as intelligence. The rest of him wasn't too bad, either, even though he looked terribly ill. His hair was

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB brown and curly, soft as an infant's, despite the hint of gray that had crept into it in the last two weeks. She didn't know how it had survived the rigors of chemo, which she knew he'd been through, but perhaps he had lost the hair and it had grown back. She'd never had the nerve to ask, thinking it would draw attention to her wig.

  Kevin had been a track star only six months earlier, the past spring, and he had the build for it, broad shoulders, long firm legs. She heard he'd come in third in the mile in the state championships, and occasionally he talked about the Olympics and great runners he admired. He also talked about painters he admired—Da Vinci and Raphael and van Gogh. That he was both an artist and an athlete intrigued her.

  Yet neither of these was the reason she loved him. It had to do with something that couldn't be seen, something that couldn't even be talked about. Yet, perhaps, it could be remembered. She did indeed have an interesting story ready for that night's meeting of the Midnight Qub.

  She remembered her first meeting with Kevin. She had been at the hospice two days before he arrived. She had found him sitting in the study by a roaring fire, wrapped in a red flannel robe and curled up in a chair with a book on his lap. She hadn't known at the time but, with his condition, he was sensitive to the cold. Spence, who shared a room with him, often joked that Kevin must be preparing them both for the fires of hell with the temperature he kept in their room.


  Anyway, he looked over as she had entered the room, and she never forgot how his eyes just stuck to her face, and how hers had done the same. They must have stared at each other for a good minute before either spoke. In that minute Ilonka both found and lost something precious, a friend more dear than all the gems in all the wide world. "Found'' because she had loved him at first sight, and "lost" because he was obviously a patient and was presumably going to die. He had said the first words.

  "Do I know you?"

  She had smiled. "Yes."

  She smiled as he entered the waiting room now. He had on the same red flannel robe—his favorite —under a dark blue down coat. He had on black boots as well, and she worried that he planned to go outside. His face was gaunt, his color poor. He looked sicker than he had the previous night, and even then she was anxious when she said good night that she might not see him again. He didn't smile as he usually did when he saw her but coughed instead. Behind her she could hear Kathy getting up.

  "Ilonka," he said. "What are you doing here? Hi, Kathy."

  "Kevin," Kathy said, her voice strained. It was obvious the sight of him shocked her.

  "I heard you were looking for me," Ilonka said. "I came looking for you."

  He moved farther into the room, his walk unsteady. She wanted to reach out a helping hand but


  didn't know how he would react, especially with Kathy so close. Kevin was for the most part easygoing, but she had noted on a couple of occasions that he was sensitive to embarrassment.

  "I wanted to talk to you about a couple of things," he said. "But we can talk later." He stepped past her and turned his attention to Kathy, and the simple act was like a sword in Ilonka's side, "How was the drive up?" he asked his girlfriend.

  Kathy forced a grin, failing to erase the fear in her eyes. She was not a complete fool. She could see how sick he was. Ilonka stood there for a moment feeling completely unwanted. She watched as they hugged, as they kissed. Kathy took his hand and led him toward the front door. It was then that Ilonka wanted to run after him and zip his coat up all the way, and fix his scarf, and tell him how much she loved him, and ask why he didn't love her and what was he doing with this girl who didn't love him. But instead she fled from the waiting room.

  A few minutes later she was at the opposite end of the hospice in an empty room that was small and could have been a nursery before the mansion was converted. Here the windows looked directly out over the wide grassy lawn that led to the ocean cliff. The waves were a fury today, the foam splashing thirty feet in the air each time a swell pounded the rocks. Hand in hand, Kathy and Kevin walked toward the cliff, their hair tossing in the cold wind Kevin looked so thin that Ilonka thought he might blow away.

  "If you let him get wet he'll get pneumonia," she


  muttered. "Then he'll die and it will be your fault." She added, "Bitch,"

  "Ilonka," a voice spoke at her back.

  Ilonka whirled. It was Dr. White, her benefactor and the head boss. Dr. White had the perfect name because his neat mustache and beard were as white as first snow and his round pink features made him look Uke a good old country doctor, if not Santa Claus himself He never wore white, as most doctors did, but dark wool suits, gray and blue, and tweed hats outside that complemented the sturdy wooden cane he was never without. He limped into the room now, hatless, cane in hand, and sat on an easy chair that had been set near the foot of the bed that took up a good part of the room, sighing with relief as he did so. His right leg was badly arthritic. He had broken it as a young man, he told her, while running from the bulls in Pamplona. He removed his gold-rimmed glasses and gestured for her to have a seat on the bed. His arrival had startled her and she wondered if he had caught her swearing at Kathy. She sat down.

  "How are you, Ilonka?" he asked. He was always kind to her, going out of his way to get her anything she needed. With so many patients under his care, she didn't know why she deserved his special attention, and yet she was grateful for it. Only the day before Dr. White had brought her a bag of books from a used-book store in Seattle. He knew how much she loved to read.

  "I'm feeling great," she said, though she had to fight to keep her voice steady. Her grief over seeing

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB Kevin with Kathy continued to burn inside her, like a second cancer. "How are you, Dr. White?"

  He set his cane aside. "I'm the same as I always am: happy I can help you young people, and frustrated I cannot help more." He sighed once more, "I was just at State in Seattle and I met a girl about your age who could have benefited from being here. But I had to turn her down because we have no more room."

  "What about this room?" Ilonka asked.

  "There will be two extra beds in here by tomorrow morning, and then three new patients I already promised places." He shrugged. "But it is an ongoing problem. I don't want to trouble you with it." He paused and cleared his throat. "I came here to talk to you about the test you wanted me to schedule for you tomorrow."

  "Yes. Have you scheduled it?"

  "Yes, I have. But
I was wondering if you want to put yourself through it. You know these magnetic resonance scans take forever and you have to stay cooped up in that narrow box."

  Ilonka felt a lump in her throat to go with the hole in her heart. It was not turning out to be a good day. "Are you suggesting that the test might be a waste of time? I really am feeling better. I think my tumors are definitely decreasing in size. I've been taking all the herbs I asked you to get for me: Chaparral, Red Clove, Pardo Arco. I've read all the literature on them. They do work in a lot of cases, especially with cancers like mine."

  Dr. White hesitated before speaking, yet his eyes


  didn't leave her face. He was used to dealing with difficult cases and didn't flinch about confronting them directly. Really, she was breaking the fundamental agreement of a hospice by requesting additional tests. A hospice was a place to go to die with as much comfort and dignity as possible. It was not a hospital where you went expecting to get well. He had told her as much when he had brought her to Rotterham.

  "But, Ilonka," he said gently, "your cancer had already spread through much of your abdomen before you started on the herbs. Now, I am not knocking natural treatments—in many cases they have produced excellent results. But in those cases it has almost always been when the disease is in its early stages."

  "Almost always," she countered. "Not always."

  "The human body is the most complex organism in all creation. It doesn't always behave as we expect. Yet I feel tomorrow's test will be an unnecessary hardship for you."

  "Is the test expensive? Will you have to pay for it personally?"

  Dr. White waved his hand. "I am happy to pay for anything that will make you feel better. Money is not the issue here. Your well-being is."

  "But how do you know that I'm not better? Only I know how I feel, and I tell you the tumors have shrunk."

  Dr. White nodded. "Very well, let me examine you."

  "Now? Here?"


  "The door is closed. We are alone. I want to do a gross examination of the abdominal area. Before you came here I could feel the tumors with my fingers. I want to see if I can feel them still." E>r. White moved to his feet. "Please pull up your shirt and unbutton your pants. You can lie back on the bed as I examine you."

  Ilonka reluctantly reached for her pants button. "But this will be a superficial examination. We have to see inside me to know what's really going on."

  "True. But at least it will give us an idea. Come, Ilonka, I'm not going to hurt you. Lie down and let's see what we have."

  Ilonka undid her pants and pulled up her shirt. She carefully eased herself back onto the bed. The strength had gone out of her stomach muscles; it hurt to flop back. Dr. White sat beside her on the bed and touched her near her belly button, his fingers spreading out, probing. His hands were warm—as always, he had the healing touch—yet the contact made her stiffen.

  "Not so hard," she whispered.

  "I scarcely touched you," he said.

  She drew in a sharp breath. "You're right, it's fine. It doesn't hurt that much. Not really at all."

  "But the area is very sensitive." His fingers probed lower, over her scars. She had been operated on three times, and the last incision had yet to heal. His fingers could have been scraping raw nerve.

  "I pulled a muscle there the other day, I think."

  "I want to press down here a little." His hands

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE were midway between her belly button and her genitals, just below her last scar.

  She was sweating. "Do you have to?"

  "Breathe slowly and deeply."


  "Sorry. Did I hurt you?"

  "No. I'm fine. How does it feel?"

  "Very lumpy. Very stiff."

  She forced a laugh as a drop of perspiration fell into her eye. "You wouldn't be any better off if they had cut into you as many times as they cut into


  Dr. White got up. "You can pull up your pants." He turned his back to her and returned to his chair. But he did not sit down. He picked up his cane instead and leaned on it. He waited while she put her clothes back together. Finally he repeated, "The area is very sensitive."

  "But the muscle tissue has been cut and sewn together many times. Naturally it is sensitive. Can you really tell the difference between a lumpy muscle and a tumor?"

  "Yes. The tumors are still there, Donka."

  That took her back a step, about a hundred of them. She nodded weakly. "I know that. I didn't say they weren't. I'm just saying that they're smaller, and I believe a scan of the area will bear that out."

  "If you honestly feel you need the test I will take you to the hospital tomorrow."

  She held his eye. "You feel it will be a waste of time?"


  "I feel it will be an unnecessary hardship for you."

  "I want the test.*' She stared out the window.

  Dr. White did not respond immediately. He glanced out the window, too, in the direction Kathy and Kevin had walked. The two young lovebirds were not visible at the moment, and for that Ilonka was grateful. She glanced at the doctor. There was a faraway look in his eyes.

  "Did I ever tell you you remind me of my daughter?" he said.

  "No. I didn't know you had a daughter. What's her name?"

  "Jessica. Jessie." He tapped his cane against his right foot, as if forcing himself to return to the present. "I'll come for you at ten o'clock. Maybe we can go to McDonald's afterward."

  She didn't want to tell him that she was avoiding junk food. "Thank you, that would be wonderful."

  He turned. "Goodbye, Ilonka."

  "You take care of yourself. Dr. White."

  When he was gone Ilonka went once more to the window to search for Kathy and Kevin. It was as if they had wandered too close to the edge of the cliff and fallen and been swept out to sea. She couldn't find a trace of them anywhere. Yet she wasn't really worried for their safety. Kathy was young, pretty, and rich. She had much to live for and wouldn't take unnecessary chances.

  Ilonka headed back to her room. Along the way she stopped at the nurses' station and asked Schratter for Tylenol 3. Her abdomen hurt where


  Dr. White had touched it. Everything hurt, especially her soul. Schratter gave her a half-dozen pills and asked if she wanted anything stronger. But Uonka shook her head because she wasn't like the others—she didn't need hard narcotics. Yet when she was in her room, lying on her bed not far from the dozing Anya, she tossed all six of the pills in her mouth and chased them down with a glass of water. She usually took only two at a time. The pills took anywhere from twenty to thirty minutes to take effect. She lay back and closed her eyes. It was four in the afternoon. She would sleep for a few hours and then wake up, fresh for another meeting of the Midnight Club. It was all she had to look forward to.

  Before she passed out she prayed she would dream of the Master.

  And he did come to her, later, and told her many things.

  But it was only a dream. Maybe.

  Chapter H —

  It was Sandra Cross who awakened Ilonka Pawluk, and not Anya Zimmerman. Ilonka's first moments of consciousness were disorienting. Her room was dark and she couldn't see who was shaking her, if it was even a human being. Also, she didn't feel as if she were all the way back in her body. She was still walking beside the Nile, beside the wise one, under the shadow of the pyramids— the sun thousands of years younger than the sun she knew. Instinctively, she slapped aside the hand on her arm. It was only then that she heard Sandra's voice.

  "Did you hit your mother every morning when she came to wake you for school?" Sandra asked, her shadowy form sitting back on the bed away from Ilonka. She didn't sound angry—Sandra never did.

  "My mother never had to wake me," Ilonka said, her heart racing. "I was always up before her. What time is it?"

  "Almost midnight, time to rock 'n' roll."


  "No. Really? God, how could I have slept so long?" Then she remembered her mouthful of pills. She sat up and pushed aside the blankets. "Where's Anya? How come she didn't get me up?'-

  "She told the rest of us that you were sleeping so deeply she didn't want to wake you. But Kevin thought you'd be upset if you missed the meeting."

  Ilonka smiled at the thought of Kevin's concern for her. But her smile didn't last long. She reached over and turned on the light. The glare blinded her for a moment. Then she was sitting face to face with Sandra Cross.

  It was traditional at Rotterham to define people by the disease they had. At least most of them did, and Ilonka was no exception, although she tried not to. Sandra had Hodgkin's—terminal to be sure, even though she looked relatively well. Indeed, Sandra was the plumpest patient in the whole mansion, which was not to say she was overweight, only not emaciated. Sandra had wavy orange hair that turned red if the light was favorable, hazel eyes that would never pass for green, freckles that didn't miss the sun, and a mouth she was forever trying to stretch with lipstick. She was pleasant, but simple, a member of the Midnight Club only because she wanted to be, not because of the wonderful stories she told. In fact, Sandra had yet to relate a single tale, but she assured everyone that a masterpiece was on its way. Ilonka had her doubts, although she didn't mind Sandra's presence in the group. They needed at least five people present to feel they were talking to a group.


  "How are you feeling?'' Sandra asked.

  "Why is it that everybody here always asks everybody else that same question?"

  Sandra chuckled. "Because we all look like we need asking.'*

  "You don't." Ilonka squinted at Sandra. "Why not?"

  "You ask that as if I've discovered a secret passageway out of here."

  Ilonka smiled dreamily. "Wouldn't that be a wonderful story? That there existed a secret door in this place, and if you could find it, and walk through it, you would come out into the real world completely well. Hey, why don't you tell that story?"

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