Faded Rose | A Short Story by Kayla Binner
This story was submitted for the 2015 Winter Quarter Short Story Contest. While it wasn’t a finalist entry, the judges enjoyed it, and felt it merited being shared with the community. Congratulations, Kayla!
When Kacy Landon walked into the white halls of Clarendale Hospital one beautiful fall day, she had the air of someone sentenced to a lifetime in prison.
Her pretty face was turned down in an ugly scowl. Her hands clutched a book so tightly that her fingers were turning white. Every inch of her, from her tense shoulders to her black Converse sneakers striking the speckled tile harder than normal, screamed that she would rather be anywhere else but there.
However, as it was, she could not escape her fate. In order to pass Sister Mary’s class, she and her classmates were required to spend time ministering to people at the hospital, soup kitchen, or prison. Kacy just happened to get stuck with hospital duty.
Kacy made her way to the receptionist’s desk. A young woman with mousy brown hair pulled back in a high ponytail typed energetically on the keyboard in front of her.
The light from the computer monitor reflected off the pair of silver glasses perched precariously on the end of her nose. Kacy stood there awkwardly. She didn’t want to interrupt the receptionist, but at the same time, she didn’t want the visit to take any longer than the required hour.
Luckily, she was saved from her internal battle when, sensing a presence hovering at the edge of her vision, the lady looked up. When she caught sight of Kacy, she practically beamed.
“Hello! Are you here for Sister Mary’s assignment?” Her voice was as cheerful as the rest of her, and it grated on Kacy’s nerves.
“Yes,” Kacy said sharply. As soon as it came out of her mouth, she regretted how mean it sounded, but it was too late to fix it. “Where do I go?”
The receptionist’s smile was a little less bright after that. She civilly gave Kacy a visitor sticker to attach to her shirt and then told her where to go. As Kacy turned and started walking away, however, she thought she saw a slight frown darken the lady’s face.
A short elevator ride and a few wrong turns later, Kacy found herself standing stock still in front of the door that led to her final destination.
Her eyes found the small plastic sign hanging on the wall beside it. Children’s Cancer Ward it read in strong, straight letters.
For a long moment, she stared at that sign. She knew that she had to go in, but it was as if an invisible string were tied to her, holding her back. Her arms felt like lead weights hanging uselessly by her sides. She had no desire to open that plain brown door.
“Well? Aren’t you going to go in?” an acerbic voice asked.
Kacy turned, startled, to see a nun standing there. The woman was at least seven inches shorter than her and about fifty years older, but she still made an imposing figure with narrowed eyes and hands planted firmly on her hips.
“Yes, I am,” Kacy said snidely, quickly composing herself. She crossed her arms and glared right back at the older woman. “I’m just taking my time about it. You don’t have to be so snippy.”
The nun stormed over, her face thunderous. “Look here, little missy,” she said with an angry jab of her finger. “There is a little girl in there waiting for you to read to her. You better wipe that frown off your face and get yourself in there. Otherwise, go home. Little Rosie has enough to worry about without you going in there looking like you would rather stick pins in your eyes than read to her.”
Kacy took an unintentional step back, her eyes wide at the outburst. “I’m sorry; I just don’t know what to expect. I’ve never actually dealt with anything like this before.”
The nun’s fierce gaze softened. “I felt the same way when I first came here. It’s so hard to think of these poor little dears having cancer. However, it’s part of God’s plan that they are this way, and we can’t fight Him. All we can do is try our very best to make it better for them. Now, go on in there and read to her. Her room is the third one on the left.”
Kacy opened the door and slipped inside, her pride still stinging from the nun’s rebuke. I deserve it, though, she thought guiltily. These kids can’t help that they have cancer.
Her pulse quickened as she walked down the empty hallway. When she finally stopped in front of the door to the little girl’s room, her heart was about ready to leap out of her chest.
Kacy took a deep breath and focused on the small, handmade sign that hung on the door. It had the young girl’s name painted on it with the gentle strokes of a child not yet used to handling a paintbrush.
The sign helped Kacy to calm down. After all, this was only a little girl. What did she have to be nervous about?
Kacy turned the handle and walked inside.
The first thing she noticed about the room was the artwork. Beautiful copies of religious paintings hung on the walls instead of the usual flower themed pictures. Then her eyes lit on the hospital bed to the right.
A picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus hung above it. Our Lord’s eyes were warm as He looked out over the little girl sleeping beneath Him.
Kacy’s eyes fixed on the little girl, and a small gasp escaped from her lips before she could stop it. The little girl couldn’t be any older than six, but an ugly red scar stretched from her ear to the top of her bald head.
Brain cancer, Kacy thought numbly. This little girl has brain cancer.
Just then, Rosie opened her eyes. They were a beautiful shade of blue, and still sparkled with life despite her illness. Her pale lips curved up in a happy smile that seemed out of place considering her circumstances.
“Are you Kacy?” The question was tentative, but filled with such hope that it made Kacy’s throat clench with emotion.
She nodded dumbly, unable to form a coherent sentence.
Rosie motioned to a chair that was set next to her bed. “You can sit there. My mom usually sits in it, but she can’t come to visit very often because our house is too far away from the hospital. It’s okay, though. I still get to Skype with her.”
“Really?” Kacy asked. While Rosie may have had cancer, it was apparent that she was still every bit as lively as other girls her age.
Rosie nodded, a wide grin still lighting up her face. Kacy went over to the seat and sat down, trying her very best not to stare at the scar marring the young girl’s smooth head. Instead, she found herself looking at the small side table beside the bed.
On it was a small painted vase filled with dried up roses. Leaning up against the vase were two plastic prayer cards. One depicted a saint that Kacy didn’t recognize: a nun, with a crown of thorns encircling her head, gazing tenderly at the small wooden cross she was holding.
The name on the bottom of the card identified her as St. Rose of Lima. The other was as familiar as the first was vague. It showed Mary, the Mother of Jesus, standing upon a bank of pristine white clouds. Her hands were outstretched, and a halo of stars circled her head.
“The roses are from Fr. Jake,” Rosie said. Kacy turned, startled, to see the young girl looking at her. Her bright blue eyes were pools of intelligence. “He always says that I’m his little rose.”
Kacy merely gave a ghost of a smile. She just wanted to start reading and get the required hour over with. She didn’t want to stay any longer than necessary with this sweet little girl, for fear of becoming attached to her. Who knew how much time Rosie had left.
“So, I brought you a book called Watership Down,” Kacy said. She picked up the book to show Rosie the cover. “Apparently, it’s about rabbits. The title is a little confusing, though, isn’t it? At first I thought that a ship was going to capsize.”
Rosie giggled, a sound as pleasant as warm summer air.
Bolstered by the sound, Kacy cleared her throat dramatically and opened the book. “Watership Down, by Richard Adams,” she read. “Introduction…”
Once she started reading, everything else faded away. Kacy forgot about how much she had been dreading the assignment. Instead, she entered into the world of rabbits with a trusty companion by her side, one who giggled at all the right spots and asked questions about words she didn’t understand.
In fact, Kacy was so absorbed with her reading that she didn’t even notice the nurse who had slipped quietly into the room and was watching the animated storytelling with a small smile on her face. Then, far too quickly, the moment was over.
“Excuse me, miss,” the nurse said as she stepped forward into view. “I’m afraid that it’s time for Rosie’s treatments now.”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” Kacy stood up quickly, feeling as if she had been caught doing something wrong. “I didn’t realize that. Otherwise, I would have left earlier.”
“Please don’t apologize,” the nurse said. She smiled. “You two looked like you were having a very good time. I wish I could have let you go on for longer.”
“Thank you, Kacy,” Rosie chirped. Her blue eyes glowed.
“You’re welcome,” the teenager replied. She was genuinely smiling for the first time since she walked through the hospital doors. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Rosie.”
When Kacy left the Children’s Cancer Ward with the grin still on her face, the nun was waiting for her.
She looked smug, and rightfully so. “Well, there, little missy. You look a whole lot happier than when I first saw you. Are you still upset about having to come and read?”
“No, not at all,” Kacy said with a shake of her head.
“Good. I’m glad you enjoyed yourself. By coming in willingly to read, you will do a world of good for Rosie, that’s for sure,” the nun said. “Well, then, dear, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
The next day, Kacy was right on time. The day after that was the same. For the whole week, she arrived promptly at three-thirty, and then stayed past the one hour mark. Rosie absolutely loved it.
Each time she saw Kacy step into her room, book in hand, the child’s face lit up with delight. Oftentimes, they wouldn’t start reading right away. Instead, Rosie would tell Kacy about her day, and then would beg to hear about the older girl’s experiences.
During this time, Kacy learned a lot of things about the girl with cancer. She discovered that Rosie’s dad was simply a name to her, her mother lived too far away to visit often, she had two brothers and three sisters, all older than her, she absolutely adored stained glass windows, and she had a firm love of Jesus and Mary.
Sometimes during the week, when Kacy arrived in the room, she would find Rosie lying back in bed with her eyes closed, her mouth silently moving as the Rosary beads slipped through her fingers.
The teenager would stand and wait until she was finished. Whenever this happened, Kacy was always impressed. She was a Catholic and went to a Catholic school with nuns for teachers, but she didn’t necessarily pray the Rosary much. When her dad was home on weekends, he would gather her family to pray a few decades together, but she never really thought much of it.
It truly made an impact on her to watch Rosie, who had a very severe form of brain cancer, pray so earnestly. As a six year old, that was impressive enough, but to pray with such a terrible disease?
That was the purest devotion.
Throughout the week, however, no matter how happy they were, or how healthy Rosie seemed, the storm cloud of cancer was always looming in the background.
The nurse often came in to take Rosie away for treatments, apologetically sending Kacy away before she was ready to go. Then there was the little girl.
Every day that Kacy went to visit her that week, she noticed that Rosie was getting paler and paler. Her blue eyes started to lose their sparkle. She started to fall asleep in the middle of Kacy’s reading, and then would wake up five minutes later looking confused.
Kacy started to get worried. She was beginning to think of Rosie as her little sister, and didn’t want anything bad to happen to her.
Then, the last day scheduled for Sister Mary’s assignment came.
Kacy walked in through the front doors of the hospital without hesitation and went over to the receptionist’s desk.
“How are you, Kacy?” Alice greeted her with a smile. Kacy had asked for her name the second day she visited Rosie. She figured that she might as well learn everyone’s name, as she would be seeing them all week. “Nice weather outside, isn’t it?”
Kacy nodded. She gratefully received the customary sticker from the receptionist and attached it to the front of her coat.
She had become so used to having the sticker on that she often forgot to take it off. Her mother always made a point to jokingly tease her whenever another sticker made its way back home.
“Thanks, Alice,” Kacy said. “I’m going to miss seeing you.”
“I’m going to miss you too, girlie,” the receptionist said. She pushed her glasses up and smiled again. “Rosie is so lucky to have you.”
When Kacy arrived at the Children’s Cancer Ward, Sister Elizabeth, the nun she had met on the first day, was waiting for her.
“I’m sorry, dear, but you won’t be able to see Rosie today.”
Kacy looked at Sister Elizabeth in shock. “What? Why? Is Rosie okay?”
“It’s okay, honey. There is nothing to panic about,” the nun said, holding her hands up. “She just had to go in for surgery today. The scans from yesterday showed that she has another tumor, and so they’re going to remove it. Don’t worry yourself; it’s a routine operation. She’s had this done before, so she knows what to expect.”
Kacy thought back to the red scar disrupting the smoothness of her little friend’s head. “When will she be done? I can stay and wait until she comes out.”
Sister Elizabeth shook her head. “She just went in about fifteen minutes ago. It will be a while before the operation is over, and she won’t be up for visitors afterwards. You don’t have to make the time up, though. I told Sister Mary about your extra time spent here, and she told me to tell you that you have completed the assignment.”
“You called my teacher?” Kacy asked, her mind spinning. She couldn’t believe that her time with Rosie was already over.
When she first arrived at the hospital that fateful day, she had no idea that, just a short week later, she would be wishing that she could stay longer.
“Yes, I did. I was trying to catch you before you left to come here, but she said that you had already left.”
“Alright,” Kacy said. Her fingers played with the wrapping of the present in her hands. “Could you do something for me, though?”
The nun cocked her head to one side. “Yes, I can, Kacy. What would you have me do?”
“Would you mind giving this to Rosie when she’s out of surgery? It’s a book of famous stained glass windows,” Kacy said, handing Sister Elizabeth the present.
The nun took it gently. She looked up at the teenager with a small smile. “I wouldn’t mind at all. Thank you, sweetheart. I’ll make sure she gets it.” Then she jokingly turned Kacy around and pushed her towards the entrance. “Now, run along. I wouldn’t want your mother worrying about you.”
“You called her, too?” However, the nun was already gone.
As Kacy stood alone in the sterile white hallway and thought about Rosie, she realized just how much the little girl had affected her. She couldn’t just walk out of Rosie’s life now.
The next day was Saturday. As Kacy walked down the hall to the receptionist’s desk at eight in the morning, she felt very out of place. It was strange to arrive in the morning, as she usually visited directly after school.
There were also more people. A mom and dad with two little kids walked past her, smiles on their faces as they went to visit a loved one.
Kacy figured that the person they were visiting was most likely on the mend, and would be free to go soon. For all she knew, the family was on their way to take the person in the hospital back home.
She wished she could say the same for Rosie.
The receptionist at the desk was a different lady, an older one with silver hair and a scowl deepening her features. Kacy cautiously asked for a visitor sticker, unsure as to how she would be received.
Thankfully, Kacy’s irrational thought that the lady would refuse to give her one was unfounded. However, the receptionist still shoved it at her angrily, as if handing over the sticker was ruining her day.
Kacy walked away feeling humbled. She remembered all too clearly her rotten mood on the first visit to the hospital.
Now she realized how much she must have affected the happiness of everyone around her. It was not a good feeling, realizing how rude she had been.
Saying that Sister Elizabeth was surprised when Kacy sauntered into the Children’s Cancer Ward was an understatement. She looked as shocked as if Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton had just walked in through the door.
“What do you think you’re doing here, you scamp? I thought that you were done with your assignment for school.”
“I am,” Kacy answered with a smile. She waved Watership Down at the nun. “However, I figured that I couldn’t leave Rosie hanging. We’re almost at the end, and she has really been enjoying it.”
The nun nodded, a slow grin spreading across her face. She obviously knew that Kacy was using the book as an excuse to see Rosie again. “We wouldn’t want her to miss out on the ending, now would we? Go right on in, dear. She’s sleeping right now, but I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if you woke her.”
Kacy expressed her thanks and then made her way to Rosie’s room. She couldn’t wait to see her bright blue eyes again, and listen to her cute little laugh whenever something struck her as funny.
As soon as she walked into the room, though, she felt as if something was wrong.
Rosie lay in the hospital bed, her head lolling back on her pillow. A huge white bandage covered her head. In her petite hands was the book that Kacy had purchased for her. When Kacy got closer, she saw that it was opened to the picture of a stained glass window depicting Christ Ascending gloriously into Heaven.
Looking down at the little girl, Kacy suddenly realized how small and fragile she seemed. Rosie was paler than ever, her face as white as a bleached bone. Her ashen lips were slightly parted as she slept.
“Hey, Rosie,” Kacy whispered, gently shaking Rosie’s bony shoulder. “I came to finish the story for you. Do you want to see how it ends?”
It was then that Rosie opened her eyes. She did it slowly, as if her eyelids weighed too much for her to lift.
Underneath, her blue eyes were cloudy and disoriented. When she saw Kacy standing beside her bed, a small smile lifted up the corners of her mouth.
“Kacy?” she breathed.
Kacy dropped the book on the side table and leaned forward, her eyebrows pinched in concern. There was something strange about how sluggish Rosie was acting. It could have just been from the surgery, but Kacy couldn’t shake the feeling that it was something else.
“I’m here, Rosie.”
Rosie opened her mouth to say something else, but no sound came out. She looked exhausted just from speaking one word. Her eyes fluttered closed.
“Rosie?” Kacy’s voice was starting to sound scared. “Rosie, are you okay?”
She reached forward to take one of the little girl’s hands resting on the stained glass window book. It was as cold as ice.
“Sister Elizabeth!” Kacy cried out. “Sister Elizabeth, please come!”
God, please let Rosie be okay.
Sister Elizabeth rushed in, her black skirt whirling about her legs. Her face grew worried when she saw Kacy clutching Rosie’s hand. “Kacy? What’s wrong?”
“She won’t wake up.”
Kacy didn’t even notice the nun leaving, because at that moment, Rosie coughed a little. Her eyes flickered open the slightest crack. They focused on Kacy.
“Don’t worry, Rosie,” Kacy said. Her voice broke as tears started to pool in her eyes. “Don’t worry, everything will be okay.” She reached forward and caressed Rosie’s face with her free hand, attempting a watery smile. “Don’t you leave me, my little rose.”
Slowly, painfully, Rosie shifted her hand resting on the blanket until it was situated on top of Kacy’s. She gently squeezed it, her face serene. “Kacy,” the girl whispered with difficulty.
“Yes?” Kacy asked, choked up.
“My Rosary,” Rosie managed to get out.
Tears blurred Kacy’s vision as she clumsily took the Rosary from the side table and placed it in the waiting hands. Rosie’s fingers twitched, attempting to close around the smooth wooden beads.
She smiled blissfully. Kacy watched in horror as the little girl’s eyes drifted closed.
“No!” she cried out in anguish. The room seemed to be closing in on her, making it hard for her to breathe. “Please don’t go!”
“Thank you,” Rosie whispered, so silently that Kacy could barely hear her. A long, peaceful sigh escaped from her lips, her face relaxing into a look of content. Then, she was still.
Kacy let out a sob, burying her face in the blanket covering Rosie’s motionless form. Her shoulders shook uncontrollably.
She would never again see Rosie’s blue eyes sparkle when she walked into the hospital room. She would never again hear her sweet laugh, which always brightened her day. She had lost something that she had never expected to have—a little girl with such a pure heart that she remembered to pray even when she knew that she was dying.
Kacy didn’t hear the door swing open or the sound of footsteps as Sister Elizabeth and a doctor rushed into the room.
She barely felt the pressure of the nun’s soft hand on her shoulder when the doctor pronounced in a deep voice that Rosie had left this world for another.
Kacy felt empty inside. She had no energy to protest when Sister Elizabeth gently raised her to her feet and led her out of the room as the doctor carefully covered Rosie’s face with the blanket.
It all felt like a terrible dream, and more than anything, she just wanted to wake up.
Sister Elizabeth led her to an empty examination room where she could calm down. The nun looked at her, her lips quivering.
“Kacy, I want you to realize something,” she said, taking the girl by the shoulders. “Rosie was brought in with a large cancerous tumor just a month ago. After it was removed, she had to go through intense radiation and chemo treatments. Her mother struggled driving the distance here and back to bring Rosie in.” Sister Elizabeth’s kind eyes grew distant. “The poor lady did everything she could, but it was getting to be too much for her.”
“Why didn’t she just go to a different hospital?” Kacy asked. Her eyes still burned from crying, but at least she had finally stopped. “Why was it important that she come here?”
“This is the closest facility to their home that deals with what Rosie had,” the nun said. “Her mother had no choice but to bring her here if she wanted her daughter to live.”
“She didn’t live.” Kacy stepped away from Sister Elizabeth. “Despite all of that, she still died. I wish she never came here. I wish I had never known her, because then I wouldn’t feel like this.”
Even as the words left her mouth, she knew that they weren’t true. From the look on Sister Elizabeth’s face, it was obvious that she knew, too.
“Dear, you have to listen to me. Your mind is being affected by grief. Please believe me when I say that you were a gift sent straight from God to her.”
“Don’t say that!” Kacy clenched her fists at her sides, trying to keep the sadness from overcoming her. “You don’t understand. Rosie was the gift. God gave her to me, not the other way around. He gave her to me and let me love her, and then He snatched her right back again.”
Sister Elizabeth moved in for a hug, and Kacy let her. She buried her face in the black habit covering the nun’s shoulder and cried as the good Sister patted her gently on the back.
“Rosie’s mom had to leave her here. She couldn’t afford to shuttle her back and forth, and so she entrusted her to the care of the Sisters of Mercy.” Sister Elizabeth sighed, her breath warm on Kacy’s ear. “You weren’t here when Rosie first came in. The poor dear was crying so hard, feeling as if her mother had abandoned her. No matter what the other nuns and I did, she remained so sad. And then, after just two weeks of undergoing treatments and being lonely, you arrived.”
“I thought that Rosie was always happy,” Kacy whispered. She thought back to the little girl’s brilliant smile, and the cheerfulness that always permeated her words.
Sister Elizabeth pulled away. She looked up at the girl and patted her on the cheek, smiling a little despite the tears in her eyes. “No matter what you choose to think, the truth is that you were more of a blessing than you could ever imagine. That little girl was able to spend her last days happy because of you, and she wasn’t alone when the Good Lord called her back home. Without you, that never would have happened.”
Kacy sniffed and wiped her eyes. She managed a small smile. “Thank you, Sister Elizabeth. I don’t know what I would do without you. If it wasn’t for you, I probably would have never walked into her room in the first place.”
Sister Elizabeth winked at her. “That’s what we old nuns are here for. Sometimes people just need a little nudge in the right direction.” She reached into the folds of her habit and pulled out the book of stained glass windows. The nun passed it to Kacy, who hesitantly took it. “I think that Rosie would have wanted you to have this. Now, go out there and continue being the kind of person that Rosie would want you to be: a strong, compassionate young woman selfless enough to walk into a hospital and read an extra day.”
From that day on, Clarendale Hospital was visited every weekend by a young woman named Kacy Landon and a group of fellow classmates.
They called themselves Rosie’s Readers and read to the patients being treated in the Children’s Cancer Ward. Soon, the group was joined by eager parents, along with others who had caught word of it. They spread like wildfire throughout the hospital, reading books and making friends with both patients and staff.
When asked one day by the local news reporters what inspired the creation of Rosie’s Readers, Kacy simply smiled and pointed up. “Everything that I do is to please God and to make a certain little girl up in Heaven smile. If they are proud, then my goal has been achieved.”
Then, politely excusing herself, she turned and entered the hospital.
As Kacy walked down the familiar Children’s Cancer Ward hall, a worn book of stained glass windows tucked securely under her arm, her thoughts wandered to the little boy she was visiting. Seven years old and scared, he was staying in her little Rosie’s old room, which had mysteriously started to smell like roses.
Kacy smiled and walked into the hospital room.
Her next angel awaited her.
About Kayla Binnert
Kayla Binner is a H.S. junior from Tunkhannock, PA. She has been homeschooled for the past eight years. Until 8th grade, she was fully enrolled in Seton, and continues using its thorough Literature courses. She has been involved in dance for the past twelve years, and also does volleyball, piano, and drama. She is an altar server, a CCD helper, and a choir singer at her church. Whenever she has a free moment, she finds a way to get lost in a good book, where she is blissfully unaware of her surroundings. The eldest of three children, she loves her two brothers, but is still glad when she gets to find a quiet place to read or write. She often gets inspired to write new things, but has a habit of not finishing her books before she moves on to the next idea. One of her goals is to self-publish a completed novel.