Are you in pain?
She gives me a suspicious look, then stands up and takes off her coat. Shes wearing a very short red dress. It matches the handbag shes dumped on my floor.
Are you going out? I ask her. Have you got a date?
She shrugs, goes over to the window and looks down at the garden. She circles a finger on the glass, then she says, Maybe you should try and believe in God.
Yeah, maybe we all should. The whole human race.
I dont think so. I think he might be dead.
She turns round to look at me. Her face is pale, like winter. Behind her shoulder, an aeroplane winks its way across the sky.
She says, Whats that youve written on the wall?
I dont know why I let her read it. I guess I want something to happen. Its in black ink. With Zoey looking, all the words writhe like spiders. She reads it over and over. I hate it how sorry she can be for me.
She speaks very softly. Its not exactly Disneyland, is it?
Did I say it was?
I thought that was the idea.
I think your dads expecting you to ask for a pony, not a boyfriend.
Its amazing, the sound of us laughing. Even though it hurts, I love it. Laughing with Zoey is absolutely one of my favourite things, because I know weve both got the same stupid pictures in our heads. She only has to say, Maybe a stud farm might be the answer, and were both in hysterics.
Zoey says, Are you crying?
Im not sure. I think I am. I sound like those women on the telly when their entire family gets wiped out. I sound like an animal gnawing its own foot off. Everything just floods in all at once like how my fingers are just bones and my skin is practically see-through. Inside my left lung I can feel cells multiplying, stacking up, like ash slowly filling a vase. Soon I wont be able to breathe.
Its OK if youre afraid, Zoey says.
Of course it is. Whatever you feel is fine.
Imagine it, Zoey being terrified all the time.
But she cant. How can she possibly, when she has her whole life left? I hide under my hat again, just for a bit, because Im going to miss breathing. And talking. And windows. Im going to miss cake. And fish. I like fish. I like their little mouths going, open, shut, open.
And where Im going, you cant take anything with you.
Zoey watches me wipe my eyes with the corner of the duvet.
Do it with me, I say.
She looks startled. Do what?
Its on bits of paper everywhere. Ill write it out properly and you can make me do it.
Make you do what? The thing you wrote on the wall?
Other stuff too, but the boy thing first. Youve had sex loads of times, Zoey, and Ive never even been kissed.
I watch my words fall into her. They land somewhere very deep.
Not loads of times, she says eventually.
Please, Zoey. Even if I beg you not to, even if Im horrible to you, you must make me do it. Ive got a whole long list of things I want to do.
When she says, OK, she makes it sound easy, as if I only asked her to visit me more often.
You mean it?
I said so, didnt I?
I wonder if she knows what shes letting herself in for.
Excerpted from Before I Die by Jenny Downham Copyright © 2007 by Jenny Downham. Excerpted by permission of David Fickling Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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