Alex has six months to live.
Molly has six months to save him.
Molly Corbett can’t stand seeing her childhood pal Alex Gibson destroy himself. He’s gone from straight-A student to rebel without a cause. With so much at stake, some serious interference is called for—or at least Micromanaging Molly thinks so. Alex needs to get back on the path to the Ivy League. But the harder Molly pushes Alex, the harder he pushes back.
Alex has a secret. Well, two secrets.
Number one: He has terminal melanoma. With six months to live, Alex hasn’t got a second to waste. And hanging around hospitals when his friends think he’s cutting school definitely counts as wasted time. Instead, he’s going to drop out, surf, drive fast cars…and finally put secret number two out there. He’s in love with Molly and he’s going to tell her before it’s too late.
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Well, that's my hope, anyway!
Alex and Molly's story is very special to me because it's so close to home. Far too many of my friends and family have endured various forms of cancer, including melanoma. To honor them, I'm donating 50% of profits from the sale of LIVE FAST, DIE YOUNG to CanTeen, a charity supporting teens dealing with cancer.
Praise for LIVE FAST, DIE YOUNG
"Edgy, yet wonderfully tender, LIVE FAST, DIE YOUNG sent me to reader heaven!"
— Tina Ferraro, author the ABCs of KISSING BOYS
"Uplifting and moving!"
— Anna Campbell, multi-award-winning author of historical romance
"I'm so impressed with how Vanessa can pack so much emotion into such a short space. A quick read, and immensely satisfying."
— Pintip Dunn, New York Times bestselling author of FORGET TOMORROW
- "Vanessa Barneveld has captured the mindset and thought processes of the characters and real life teenagers. It is a cute, short story." — Michelle Randall for Readers Favorite
- "You do feel like you’re in the mind of young teenagers." — Gill, Goodreads/NetGalley reviewer
- "I cried a lot! I knew it's going to be something worth reading and I was right. The story of love and death at a very young age of seventeen will break your heart to pieces." — Sabina, Goodreads/NetGalley reviewer
- "It's written very well, and the characters have a very realistic teen vibe to them." — Bobbie, Goodreads/NetGalley reviewer
- "This was a really sweet book. If you are coping with a tough issue, such as cancer, with a teenager, this would be a good book to have them read to understand some of the little stuff behind the big stuff." — Evie, educator/NetGalley reviewer
- "A nice blend of humor and emotion, with a realistic teen voice." — Soren, Ripley's Booklist
- "Tender love story. This is a heartwarming tale of two teenagers and how they deal with life's curve ball. I really hated for this book to end." - NanaCav, Amazon reviewer
- "A short story with a big impact." — Sue Holmes @Crushingcinders, Amazon reviewer
Around six the next morning, I find Mom sitting at the island bench in the kitchen. She looks pretty chill for someone who just laid on a breakfast of fruit salad, yogurt, sautèed mushrooms and kale, unbuttered whole-wheat sourdough and two eggs, sunny-side up. A thick, football-field-green smoothie sits in a tall glass by the blender. Great. More kale.
“Hey, Alex!” She smiles over her coffee mug and pats the stool next to her. “Sleep well?”
I shuffle onto the seat and stare at the food. “Have I died and gone to buffet heaven?”
My mother winces at my choice of words, then makes a big effort to put on a happy face like she always does. “I want you to keep your strength up. You don’t have to eat all of it. Just most of it.”
“And you don’t have to go out of your way to make this for me. I mean, thanks. A lot. But I don’t have much of an appetite.”
“Oh, I’m having some, too,” she says in an overly bright voice. With her fork, she scoops up a tiny portion of kale, hardly enough to fill a mouse’s belly.
Since my diagnosis a few months ago, Mom hasn’t been eating much either. This doesn’t stop her from testing all the “cancer-fighting” recipes she finds on Pinterest. Baking is therapy, she says. I call it a waste of food. Fortunately, the family next door is more than happy to take excess lentil loaf off our hands.
Every hour of every day, I wonder what will happen to Mom after I go. She’ll be all alone. Dad moved back to Australia after the divorce. He’s making custom surfboards, connecting with old friends, so I know he’ll be okay. Mom’s literally got no one. Except the perpetually hungry neighbors and her five employees. Yet another reason why I shouldn’t die so young.
It’s crazy. Why does it have to be like this? Maybe the doctors got it wrong. They’re not infallible. They’re not gods. They can’t predict the exact number of months, days, hours, and seconds a person has left on Earth.
Then again, I’ve peeked at my medical records. I know it doesn’t look good for me. With the help of a counselor I’ve gotten to the stage of mostly accepting that I’m headed for a dead end. I’ve even started giving some of my stuff away. The iPad Dad gave me is now Molly’s. Mom won’t have to go through boxes of my middle-school clothes after I’m gone because I’ve already dropped them off at Goodwill. The cobalt-blue board I learned to surf on? I’m giving that to a kid down the street whether he likes it or not.
Noticing I haven’t touched a single morsel, Mom says, “Will you at least have the kale, broccoli and goji berry smoothie? You don’t even have to chew. Close your eyes and drink it.”
Speaking of acceptance... Yeah, Mom’s adamant that five doctors on two continents are wrong and that I’ll make a miraculous recovery. All we need is faith and love and kale.
I would rather eat broken glass mixed with cyanide, but for Mom, I guess I can manage this. Forcing a smile, I sip chunks of raw broccoli that slipped by the blender’s blades. I’ll check over the blender later, make sure it’s working okay.
“After breakfast, I’m taking you to that appointment you missed yesterday,” she says quickly.
Feeling guilty, I look away. She didn’t hammer me for skipping out on seeing this “amazing herbalist-slash-psychic-healer.” Still, I know she was disappointed in me. “What about work? You’ve missed a lot of days because of me.”
“It’s fine. Things are slow anyway.” Her voice is two octaves higher than usual. She’s lying. The real estate biz in this corner of SoCal is booming. Foreclosures have brought in the flippers—the people who swoop in on bank-owned properties and fix them up for a profit.
“But you need those commissions.” Silently I add, To pay my medical bills.
Another reason to feel guilty. I’m aware of how much my cancer is costing my parents. Flights to a melanoma specialist in Sydney and more hospital follow-ups here don’t come cheap. My folks tell me not to worry about that, but ironically I’m old enough to figure out that dying young is expensive.
And now Molly’s pushing me to apply to Yale.
I can’t blame her. She knows it’s been my dream since forever to go to Yale, get a medical degree, become a pediatrician. But it’d be a waste of time and money for me to even try to follow that dream.
I grimace at the olive oil oozing from the barely touched kale and mushroom thing.
Waste. Sure is the theme of the day. Of my life, even.
“Alex, look at me,” Mom says in a much firmer tone. “I don’t want to lie to you. Money is tight, but we will manage. We always do. I have investments and savings. Your last days should not and will not be about how we’re going to pay for things. So for the last time, money is not your problem. Dad and I have got this.”
She puts up a palm to stop me from going on. “Nope. Not another word about this. What I do want to hear from you is that you’ll make this appointment. Today. Ten-thirty.”
Glancing at the clock on the oven, I say, “So I’ve got time to surf.”
“Or go to first period,” she suggests carefully.
“You really want me to spend my final days at school? The doctors said I don’t have to go.”
My teachers, the principal, they all know what the deal is. Pretty soon I’ll be too weak to even get out of bed let alone make it to homeroom. My parents have argued about this over and over.
Mom cups my hands in hers. I can tell by the look in her eyes that it rips her up inside to make me choose between enjoying the time I have left and doing what normal kids should do. “You love school, remember? You can hang out with your friends. Including Molly.”
“People will know something’s wrong when I can’t do stuff like P.E. anymore. They’ll ask questions. And there’s another thing. I don’t want people to watch me die slowly.” Or quickly. ’Cause six months is pretty fast no matter what kind of spin you try to put on it.
I catch my reflection in the shiny glass of the oven door. My cheeks look less full than they did a few months ago. I’ve lost muscle, but apart from that I look okay. I’m over the shock of losing my hair. Everybody fell for my excuse about why I shaved it off. All in the name of charity. That was Dad’s brilliant idea. Course the truth was it fell out in clumps during chemo. Shaving off the wispy leftover bits of hair was a necessity. And because I was in Australia at the time, none of my friends got to see me without eyelashes and eyebrows. I looked like an alien. Had she seen me looking like that, Molly would have figured everything out.
“Tell them the truth. The people who love you would want to help, honey. If you let them.”
“No.” I swig more of the craptastic smoothie. “I don’t need anyone’s help.”
She sighs. “Does Moll-Moll know yet?”
“Mom, she’s the last person I wanna tell.”
“I think you’re making a mistake. Please confide in her. She’s your best friend.” Her voice is barely audible. “You need all the support you can get.”
“I’m handling it, Mom.” To prove how well I’m handling it, I take a double hit of kale—first in sautèed form, then in smoothie form. The stuff tastes like bile. “You know, this kale is really giving me a ton of energy.”
Mom beams at me.
“So I’m going for a surf down at the cove now.”
The smile wipes from her features. “Alex...”
“Mom...” I flash her a smile and slide off the barstool. “I’ve gotta do this while I can still stand up on my board.”
Looking defeated, she nods.
“All right, but pick the closest surf break to the lifeguard tower. Meet me back here at no later than nine.” She has to yell because I’m already halfway upstairs. “And remember to put sunblock on.”
At the stair landing, I hesitate. It’s too late for sun protection now. Too late for everything.