Here are a few pictures of the butte that the reservoir is named for (can you see the elephant?), and some scenic views to give you a feel for this lake in the desert.
Warning: These chapters are spoilers, so don't read until AFTER you've read Cupcake Girl!
*A year after I wrote Cupcake Girl, my sister re-read the novel and questioned whether Lexie would be so quick to forgive Max when he apologizes. I wrote five additional chapters so Max could apologize again and make amends for not being there throughout Lexie's ordeal. Rather than changing the story, they offer additional insight into what could have happened in the few weeks before the novel's conclusion.
In the end, I decided that the new chapters interrupted the flow of the book and dragged the tension out a little too much, so I did not include this section in the novel. Rather than reprinting scenes that currently appear in the book, I briefly summarized them, preceding my comments with an asterisk (*). The following scene is what could have happened right after Max apologizes to Lexie with his comic book. Hope you enjoy these chapters!
I only planned to stay a few minutes after Lexie fell asleep, but she looked so adorable and peaceful that I lingered longer than I should. My mom and Mrs. Duncan were still talking when I got downstairs.
Mrs. Duncan was saying, "Oh, Anne—I can't tell you how much that would help me right now. When I realized how soon Kirk was leaving, and how intense Lexie's radiation schedule will be over the next few weeks, I thought my only option was to quit my job."
They stopped talking when they noticed me, so I said, "Sorry to interrupt. Lexie fell asleep a few minutes ago, so I guess I'll see if I can make it to the last part of practice. Are you coming now, Mom?"
"Maybe I'll catch up to you in a few minutes," she replied.
"Thanks for coming, Max," Mrs. Duncan said. "It means a lot to Lexie."
"I'm glad that she's doing better. Is it okay if I stop by tomorrow? I'm usually done running at around 6:00."
"She's usually tired in the evenings, but you can come for a little," she replied.
"Okay—see ya tomorrow." I stepped outside and almost ran into Kirk coming up the stairs.
"Hey Max," he said. "You're just the guy I wanted to talk to. You gotta minute?"
"Sure," I replied. "What's up?"
"I think it bugged Lexie that you weren't around for any of her chemo treatments."
Leave it to Kirk to replace the sense of relief I was feeling with a nice helping of guilt to rub in my face. I tried not to sound too defensive when I admitted, "I know. I mean, that makes sense."
"But you could probably make it up to her. Her mom's got that new job and everything, so she's going to have a tough time getting Lexie to her radiation appointments now that I'm leaving. Lexie shouldn't feel as sick as she did with chemo, but she needs a driver and needs some support. You plannin' on being around for that?"
"Yeah, definitely," I said without hesitation.
"Her appointments are every afternoon, five days a week. They're probably right during your cross country practices. You still plannin' on being around?"
Kirk's eyes bored into me with an unspoken challenge, and I have to admit that this time I hesitated. After a few seconds he added, "Renae can't get home until around 5:30, at least not if she wants to keep her new job. How 'bout you—can you be there?"
"When do the treatments start? My season is over in like, two and a half weeks—less if I don't do well at district."
"Treatments start on Monday and go every day for the next six or seven weeks. So if you really want to help, it looks like you're going to have to make a choice."
"Yeah, I guess so," I responded as I processed his words. "Thanks for telling me, and thanks again for everything you did for Lexie."
"Sure, man. See ya tomorrow."
It felt like I carried my stomach home in my shoes as I trudged home. Could I really give up cross country this close to the end of the season? Could I let my team down and give up my chance to run state? Then again, how could I not?
The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to be there for Lexie while she did radiation, even if that messed with my running season.
But then I thought about telling Coach Gillrie and felt sick. Lexie would understand that I wasn't available until the season was over, wouldn't she? And from the conversation I'd just walked in on, it sounded like my mom was going to drive Lexie to her appointments, anyhow.
I had completely talked myself out of helping until I got home. Once in my room I was frozen with indecision. I texted my dad and tried to call a few times but there was no response. I could talk about it with my mom when she got home, but wished I could get some advice right then.
I paced in my room for a few minutes and almost without thinking about it I was on my knees. After several minutes of talking through the pros and cons of quitting, I asked God what He wanted, and I suddenly knew what I had to do. It was such a weird feeling—on one hand I felt calm and on the other hand I was really nervous, almost scared to act on the answer I'd received.
I threw my uniform in my duffle bag and steeled myself for a conversation with my coach that I never thought I would have.
I could hardly wait to see Lexie the next day, and rushed to her house right after lunch. There was a post-it note on her front door that said, "I'm in my studio—come on up," so I knocked, waited for her to call down a welcome, and then headed upstairs.
I actually didn't know that Lexie had a studio, so I tentatively walked to the old playroom and knocked.
"Hey—you're early! Give me like, two more minutes, okay? I'm so close to being done."
Lexie was sitting at a large art desk under the window, and was totally absorbed in the sketch she was doing. I tried to speak, but without turning around she raised her hand and said, "Stay right there—I don't want you to see this yet."
Was she already working on the illustrations for Cupcake Girl and Strong Man Take on Canceritus? Man she was good.
I did as I was told, and used the time to survey the room. It was so different since the last time I'd been there as a child, but she'd been right in calling it her studio. Art supplies cluttered the desk and an easel dominated one corner, with an unfinished portrait of a little blond girl who I instinctively knew was Emilie. One entire wall was covered with drawings and paintings that were clipped onto rows of metal wire strung across the walls like clothesline.
Several pieces were quintessential Lexie, but others grabbed my attention with a style I didn't recognize as hers. I could hardly believe how her artwork had deepened and progressed—she'd moved way beyond comic art and was exploring new styles with impressive skill.
I got lost for a minute in all the color and detail, but finally focused my attention on a single pastel of our island at sunset. The eye-catching part of the drawing was literally an eye. She had drawn the top part of her own face at the bottom corner of the paper. The fragment of her self-portrait was staring right at the viewer like she'd photo-bombed the drawing. But it was just a quarter of her face—with her dark bangs brushing an arched eyebrow over her one beautiful but sad violet-blue eye.
I was so lost in that expression that I almost didn't notice the tiny swimmer in the lake, splashing out away from the fragment of Lexie's face and toward the island.
My increasing melancholy was interrupted by Lexie announcing, "All done—wanna see?" She spun around in her seat and proudly displayed a pencil-drawn sketch of a guy dipping a girl in an old-style dance move. She gasped in surprise when she recognized me, and quickly dropped both her smile and her sketchpad.
"Max! Oh, I didn't know it was you," she said. She had quickly recovered her smile, but it seemed a bit more forced than it had been seconds before.
"Hey—sorry if I startled you. I guess I did just kind of walk into your house . . ."
"No, I mean, I left that note on the door, and of course I knew you, or, someone, was there . . ."
I could feel an awkward pause looming, so I rushed in and said, "Wow—you look great. How are you feeling today?"
"I'm doing lots better, thanks." Another pause.
"I've gotta say, your studio is awesome. The last time I was in here we were playing with Justice League action figures. And it seems like you had a whole bunch of stuffed animals in that corner." She smiled but didn't respond, so I continued. "And your artwork is amazing! Can I see what you just finished working on?"
"Oh, it's nothing, really." She didn't seem too eager to show me, but I took a few steps closer anyhow, so she reluctantly handed it over.
The couple in the picture was drawn comic-book style, and was definitely Lexie and Isaac at the Homecoming dance. The picture told a perfect story of Lexie's shoe flying off as Isaac dropped her into a dip. The shoe was suspended in mid-air several inches above Lexie's bare foot, and Lexie had drawn herself with this great look of surprise on her face. Isaac was wearing a slight smirk as he glanced at the flying shoe.
Lexie relaxed a little when I grunted a brief laugh, and said, "That probably doesn't make sense unless you were there . . ."
"No—it makes perfect sense. The dance dip, the shoe flip—see? It's so good it inspires poetry."
She smiled and took the drawing back, not really meeting my eyes. I cleared my throat and asked, "So, I guess you were expecting Isaac, not me—right?"
"Actually, I thought you were Kirk. He said he'd stop by to check vitals and to make sure there aren't any more signs of internal bleeding. But how about you—don't you usually have practice after school anyhow?"
"Yeah." I turned around and faced the wall, saying, "But I think I did recognize a picture of me in your gallery. Right here." I pointed to the tiny figure of the swimmer and Lexie smiled half-heartedly but didn't say anything. I looked more closely at the other drawings on the wall and spotted another pastel of a crowded hallway at school and me at the very end. This one caught my eye since the top left corner was filled with another close-up of a girl's lip and chin.
"Wait—it's a puzzle, right?" I scanned the wall and found a third pastel. This piece had the other side of Lexie's sad eye in the bottom left corner. The rest of the drawing was a scene at a cross country meet, with me as this tiny little blurb in the distance, running in the opposite direction.
I looked everywhere for the fourth picture, but couldn't find it. I finally asked, "Do you mind if I take these down and look at them?" Lexie just shook her head, so I carefully unclipped each of the three drawings and arranged them on a small table.
Sure enough, when the three pictures came together they formed almost all of Lexie's face. The expression was sad, and still looked fragmented and broken even though the pieces had been joined.
"Where's the fourth picture?" I quietly asked.
Lexie flipped through her sketch book and hesitantly walked toward the table. "It's not done yet. I mean, it's drawn; I just haven't done the color yet." She set the pad in the space for the fourth picture and admitted, "I actually haven't seen them together yet, so I probably didn't get the proportions right on the face."
There I was again, a tiny figure holding a surfboard in the distance, with tire tracks marking the sand and getting bigger the closer they got to Lexie's lip and chin. Once again, my back was towards her.
Just like the sketch of Lexie and Isaac at Homecoming captured the silliness of the moment with the shoe, the four pictures joined loosely together conveyed the estrangement and pain I'd caused over the past few weeks. Though Lexie had taken artistic liberties, I could clearly recognize each of the four scenes: that first night she was home when she was working on her poem out by the rock before my swim training; the day she'd tried to talk to me but I'd rushed off to my cross country meet; the day at school when Tyson had asked her to Homecoming; and finally, the night we'd gone out to the island on the surfboard before Kirk had driven away with her in his truck.
It was disturbing to see myself receding into the background in each picture, as if I was deliberately turning away from her. But it was worse to see an artistic representation of what it had done to Lexie. Her face was at the center of the four pictures, but was it split into four pieces that didn't quite fit back together. Some of the corners of the paper were slightly curled and the proportions weren't perfect—it was obvious the damage that I'd done.
"Lexie, I'm so sorry I haven't been there for you," I almost whispered.
"Don't, Max. You've already apologized," she said, scooping the pictures into a stack and flipping the sketch book back to her most recent drawing. "I actually never intended for you to see those. It's just my way of . . . dealing with things."
"But the pictures are dead-on. I hate to admit it, but they totally capture the way I've treated you since you came home. I have turned away so many times when you were—"
"Broken," she said.
"No, no. Not broken. Strong, and beautiful, and kind, and talented, and—"
"Max, don't. Please. You've been my best friend since, basically since birth, but maybe we should just stay that way." Her voice softened but her words still cut. "I really meant what I said out at our island: I've changed, Max. I am not the person I was before I left last summer. And I know that I wrote you those sappy letters, but I'm kind of confused right now. I need a friend way more than I need a boyfriend."
Her words were an emotional sandstorm, randomly spitting and stinging. She just wanted to be friends; she had changed since she wrote the sappy letters about always liking me; she didn't want me as her boyfriend.
Disappointment rose in my throat until I remembered how many times I was willing to do anything or make any compromise just as long as we could be friends again.
"Honestly, I just feel lucky that you even want to be my friend. I know that you're different, and I know that things have changed. I could see it in your eyes the first day you got back, and since then there's even more depth, more courage, more light. Actually, I guess what I want most is just the chance to get to know you again. That is, if you'll put up with me."
She exhaled a deep sigh and gave a half-smile. "I guess I'll try. Especially since there seem to be a few undiscovered secrets about your identity as well, Mr. Elephant Man slash Homecoming Prince."
"Okay, but you have to promise to never, ever call me anything remotely like that again. Seriously—I would rather that you refer to me as Stupid Man. That title is hard on the ego but at least I deserve it. But really, Homecoming Prince? Ugh."
She laughed at my disgusted expression but then looked up at me and really smiled. "That's a kind of hard choice—Elephant Man . . . prince . . . superhero. I don't know . . ."
"Then let's go with 'friend,'" I said. My stomach dropped when I said it, and I was disappointed that she seemed just fine with it. But I couldn't give up that easily, so I added, "And if you ever remotely change your mind, I'll be here . . ."
*After this scene, Max drops off the invitation to homecoming, sits in on Lexie's discussion with the missionaries, and talks to his parents about investigating the church.
I went to church with Lexie for the first time on Sunday, and the whole thing was actually pretty nice. Lots of people came up to Lexie and told her that they'd been praying and fasting for her. Afterwards I asked the missionaries what that meant and learned that some of those people—even the really old ones—had gone without food for a full day so Lexie would get better. I was blown away that they would care for her that much. You just had to look at Lexie to see that the prayers and that priesthood blessing had helped.
Lexie was at school on Monday morning, and I could hardly believe the ease with which she answered questions and downplayed the illness. I caught snatches of her responses to the questions she was bombarded with:
"I've been struggling with anemia for a while . . . Yeah, not having enough iron in your blood can make you really tired, and I guess in extreme cases you can pass out . . . It's really not that bad when the remedy is to eat a thick, juicy steak . . ."
After a few minutes, the class must have decided that anemia wasn't all that interesting, and by the end of class people had stopped asking questions altogether. I still had one, so I leaned over with a slight smile and whispered, "Anemia, huh? Clever."
"It's true," she said defensively. I smiled and sat back. She leaned closer and whispered, "My iron levels have been down for months, so it's really only a half-lie."
"Well I would call that a 'half-truth.' Nicely done," I whispered back. Mrs. Larsen glared and we turned back to another endless chapter on poetry analysis.
I'd spent the weekend convincing my mom to let me come with her to Lexie's radiation appointment that afternoon, and pulled the truck up to the front of the school right after lunch. Lexie was so surprised to see me in the driver's seat that she stood outside, even when I ran around to open the door for her.
"Max? What are you doing? I thought your mom was coming—?"
"Actually, I will be your chauffer for the day. But we'll pick my mom up before heading over for your appointment."
She was still hesitant about getting in the passenger seat. "But, don't you have class?"
"Actually, I dropped it. Don't worry, though—it was just weight training. It's not like Strong Man really needs that class anyhow."
"Right, because you're so totally ripped—" she said with a smile.
"Exactly. How much stronger could I really get anyhow? You don't want to mess with perfection." Lexie rolled her eyes and I continued, "And you were right about not needing that many credits to graduate. When I met with the school counselor last week it destroyed my confidence in the entire system. I hadn't realized that they were slipping extra classes into our schedules for senior year. It was almost as bad as that time I caught my mom blending up cauliflower to add to the mashed potatoes."
"So you dropped your weight training class so you can drive me to the hospital? But that still doesn't make any sense. Even if you don't have your last class, there's not enough time to get back here for cross country. I mean, aren't you training for district right now?"
"Jump in and I'll explain on the way." When she still seemed reluctant, I said, "Come on—I don't want to make you late for your appointment."
She got in and said, "Okay, Max. Explain."
"I actually wasn't kidding when I said that I'm totally free. I have no other obligation but to spend time with you. Oh, and maybe do a little chemistry homework, but only when you're with the doctor."
"Wait a minute. Are you telling me that you quit cross country? We're less than what, two weeks away from district, and you just quit?"
"Yep. I'm at your disposal."
"But Max, you pretty much just have to show up to be the district champion. And I think you've got a really good shot at placing at state, too. You can't just quit."
"Actually, I already did."
"Oh, and I'm sure that Coach Gillrie was thrilled to hear that you quit the team so you could go hang out in some hospital waiting room."
"Well, I wouldn't exactly say he was thrilled. But it's not like I told him why. I just told him that I had my reasons and I quit." I couldn't tell if Lexie was totally exasperated by me or slightly pleased, so I changed the subject. "So, are you nervous about radiation?"
"Not really. I've already done it, so I basically know how I'll respond."
"While you were in Houston?"
"No—it was here in T or C. I did it for a couple of months last spring while you were doing swim team. And it wasn't that bad. It just made me kind of nauseous, and kind of tired."
"And did it help? I mean, if this is your second time doing it, do they think it will work this time?"
"Yeah, it actually helped a lot. They were trying to shrink the tumors before my surgery, and I responded to it really well. Doing radiation this time around is hopefully just an insurance policy that they got it all and the tumors won't come back."
"That's a relief," I said as we pulled into my driveway. My mom was waiting for us, and spent the drive back to T or C drilling Lexie about the radiation process. Once there, I thought I would have plenty of time to get my chemistry homework done, but was surprised at how quickly Lexie finished her treatment.
Mom came with us back to Lexie's house that afternoon, but I could tell that Lexie was getting more and more tired the longer we stayed. My mom finally insisted that Lexie go upstairs and lay down, but before she did, Lexie smiled and said, "Thanks for being here, Max."
We got into a routine over the next few days where I drove Lexie to the hospital and then we hung out until her mom came home that evening. My mom stopped coming with us to the radiation appointments, but would usually stop by Lexie's house for a while in the afternoon so she could make dinner or help with housework.
Though there were times when Lexie didn't feel great or got tired, for the most part she felt pretty good. Her doctor wanted her to walk, so we usually went on a short walk before doing a little homework. Twice a week the elders came over to teach me the lessons, which lead to some really great discussions about the gospel. Sometimes my mom or Isaac joined us for the lessons, and most days Lexie and I read the scriptures together, which really helped me figure out the difficult language and process what I was learning.
After a couple of days, Lexie also started illustrating the comic book I'd given her, and she let me do the color. We also started writing a new one called Cupcake Girl Goes Radioactive, and I couldn't believe how fun it was to collaborate on a story together again.
Towards the end of Lexie's second week of radiation I got a call from a number I didn't recognize, and was surprised to hear that it was Coach Gillrie. He got right to the point, saying, "I know that you're not officially with the cross country team anymore, but the district race is this Saturday and I want you to run."
I was so caught off guard that it took me a minute to respond. "Yeah, I mean, yes! But what about your rule about not competing if you miss practice?" I hated myself for reminding him, and immediately wanted to take back my words.
"I hear that you've been practicing on your own, and under these circumstances, I've decided to make an exception. I'll let the rest of the team know, and I expect to see you on Saturday morning."
"I'll be there—thank you!" I could hardly believe it since Coach hadn't exactly been happy when I quit the team. I had no idea why he'd experienced such a dramatic change of heart, and wondered what kind of 'circumstances' would encourage him to make such a huge exception.
*At this point, Lexie tells Max that she'll go to homecoming with him and tells him that Jennefer is coming for her baptism.
"Did I call it or what?" Lexie asked as we drove home from her radiation appointment on Monday afternoon. "I think my exact words were, 'All you have to do is show up and you'll be District Champion,' and voila! I am good."
"Yeah you are," I agreed. "And I think I like it when you're right. Now you should make some amazing prediction about how I'm going to take state, too."
"Top five for sure," she said.
"You sure it's not top three?" I asked hopefully. She laughed, and I decided to change the subject. "But seriously, I've got a question for you. When Coach asked if I wanted to run, he said he was making an exception for me 'under the circumstances.' All last week I thought my dad had talked with him, but now I'm starting to suspect someone else. Was it you?"
"Guilty," she admitted.
"You talked to him? Wow—thanks."
"I figured that he deserved to know why you'd quit. I was thinking more about patching things up for track in the spring, but that was awesome that he let you run district."
"I know; I can still hardly believe it. But what exactly did you tell him? I mean, you've never really wanted the whole Grandma thing to be common knowledge—"
"I know; I still don't. I don't know why it's so hard for me," she said. We'd just pulled into her driveway when she exhaled and said, "There's something else that's hard for me, too, but I guess it's time." She responded to my quizzical look by saying, "Come on, it's inside."
Lexie kicked off her shoes when we got inside, and once we'd both dumped our backpacks, she walked over to the bookcase and pulled a leather-bound album off the shelf. She invited me to sit on the couch with her and slowly said, "I guess it's time for you to see Emilie, and maybe Grandma too."
*The rest of the book follows the original. Lexie shows Max the album and tells him about Emilie's death. Max prays about his decision to be baptized, then goes to the marina to tell his dad. He and Lexie do 'homecoming' on their island, and the book ends when Lexie and her mom are sealed to her father in the Albuquerque Temple.