Soon the world at the hospital became more real to her than the one outside. She hurried there from school and never hurried home. She formed relationships she couldn't have outside. Professional people were dedicated people; so were sick people. She began to shed high school "friends" for friends who "knew where it was at." She preferred adults to teenagers because teen things confused her. She preferred sick adults to healthy ones because she could take illness better than she could take anything else. It was becoming the only thing she knew how to do.
Angela had been handled day and night. She had been cut and sewn; strapped and clamped-‑was swabbed, scrubbed, shaved, and sponged; stuck; "scoped"; dressed, and bandaged. Her only connection to the world outside of herself was one big surgical finger.
She collected a few issues of Playboy and Vogue from the waiting room and read them at night. "I wasn't a Bunny, but I still liked what I saw when I looked at myself in a mirror. I had a good figure." What it was good for was still part of the mystery. She knew doctors liked what they saw. She had gotten used to that already and liked the attention. It made her feel sexy while at the same time she could claim total innocence. She knew she had good legs, the value of which her brother Philip had once explained to her: "It's not legs themselves, but what they lead to." Right now, they led nowhere. "I had large brown eyes, high cheekbones, a small straight nose, and a mouth that my back issues of Playboy taught me was sensuous."
Dr. Monroe D. Dowling had a young daughter of his own. He had other young patients, many of them. His experience with teenagers convinced him that they needed to be told quickly. He had seen too many renounce their families and disappear when they discovered no one had been "honest" with them. But the Ambrosias made the rules and he had to play by them.
Angela was willful and erratic. Her body was maturing rapidly; she was wildly immature. He gained her confidence with that first bone‑marrow extraction‑-swift and painless. He acquired more: her admiration, her gratitude, her untested, undeveloped feelings. Her parents stood firm. She flirted outrageously with the doctor, who recognized that she was flirting with sex, flirting with life, and-‑if he failed to get through to her in some significant way‑-flirting with death. He had to make certain that she take the situation seriously without discovering the seriousness of it. He encouraged her-‑a little flirting of his own.
She used to look in the mirror and wonder what it would be like if she didn't have any scars on her stomach. "I spent a fortune trying different cosmetics to make my scars lighter. The real reason I got Playboy was to see a normal stomach. I could stare at a picture of one, or the real thing, for an hour. Still, I was lucky. I looked good in negligees, and whatever I had that I couldn't get rid of, I could hide."
She had yet to have her chance to be a girl, but she was accepted as a woman among the other women in the hospital, every one of whom was older than she was and dying. Knowing life would never be the same for them again, they lived by talking it, particularly the sex part of it. It was all beyond her, and all she learned at the time was that unfulfilled women were raunchier than Playboy.
What she never learned was that she had leukemia. For four years she'd been in and out of hospitals and had had countless operations. During that time Angela had believed every lie. She cooperated, preserving her ignorance.