Saving Becca, continued

They’re reluctant to leave the kids overnight with anyone other than family, but there are no available relatives close by. Finally, one lovely spring weekend, when Becca’s health has been stable for a few days, they get their chance. They drive the kids to upstate New York to stay with Sue’s elderly father, then head into Manhattan. They spend the day strolling and talking, eat a great dinner, relax in a hotel and sleep late the next morning. It feels like heaven. On the drive home, they hold hands, feeling recharged.

TONIGHT IS THE FRESHMAN dance at Holicong, a night for ninth-graders to celebrate the end of middle school. Becca has been looking forward to this June event for weeks. Miraculously, between infections, she’s completed the minimum requirements in all her school subjects with the exception of math, where she ran into tutoring problems. She’ll double up on her math courses in the fall, when she starts 10th grade at C.B. east. For now, she’s just happy to be leaving Holicong with her classmates, not a year behind.

She’s brought a special dress for tonight’s dance — a lavender gown with skinny straps and a bodice high enough to cover the tube in her chest, which, with enough tucking and wig tape, won’t be noticeable. Her last chemo treatment was about a week ago, and she’s feeling pretty good — a little tired, but no sign yet of infection. To conserve energy for tonight’s festivities, she stayed home from school today. Meghan got permission to keep her company, so they had their nails done this afternoon. Meghan’s are dark red. Becca’s are long, pearly white tapers, with a single lavender flower appliqué on her ring finger. The nails look incongruous on the girls, who are still dressed in baggy jeans and t-shirts.

As they change their clothes and primp in Bob and Sue’s master bathroom, however, the transformation takes place. Meghan dons a smashing suit of black woven-silk ribbon that her grandfather, a tailor, made for his wife dozens of years ago. Becca’s dress is a more girlish A-line, skimming her slim hips and dropping to the ankle-straps of her chunky white sandals. With her bald head gleaming in the bathroom light, she looks momentarily like a half-finished store mannequin come to life. As Sue helps her apply false eyelashes and pencil on eyebrows, Becca’s wonderful features re-emerge. She tussles with her wig for a few minutes, then catches its bangs in sparkly little barrettes. The overall effect is a startling reminder of how chemo has altered Becca’s appearance. For the first time in months, she looks like…herself.

Meghan’s folks arrive to transport the girls to a B. Maxwell’s restaurant where they were supposed to dine with two boys from their class, sort of a pseudo double-date. But Meghan’s “date” got grounded the day before, and Becca’s didn’t want to attend the dace without his buddy. The girls seem only mildly disappointed, though Meghan gets a little moony when her parents hand her an “I’m sorry” bouquet her date had sent to their home.