“Charlotte, it’s not nice to tease the company we’ve invited over,” Jack’s mother said.
Charlotte set down the fork full of lemon meringue pie. “Mom, Beth isn’t company. She’s practically family. So it’s okay to tease, right?”
“Excuse me,” Beth said, her face a bit gray, and she rushed to the downstairs bathroom.
“What?” Charlotte asked, glancing around as the rest of the family glared at her.
“Since Beth can’t have any pie, can I have hers?” Ellie asked.
“What did I tell you, Jack?” Hannah asked. “Bad influence.”
Jack shook his head, poking absently at the slice of pie on his own plate. Lemon meringue was one of his favorites, but it just didn’t taste as good tonight.
Beth emerged not so much gray as pale, and she pointed towards the couch.
“I… think I’ll just lie down,” she said.
“Beth, if this doesn’t clear up by morning, we will be taking you back,” Jack’s mother said.
“They said once it’s all out of my system, I should be back to normal. I hope that was the last of it. It wasn’t as blue this time,” the girl said, with a smile that looked more like a grimace.
“That’s what you said the last couple trips,” Charlotte said. “And your version of ‘normal’ isn’t exactly— Ow!” She glared. “Jack kicked me!”
“That was me,” Jack’s mother said.
Charlotte hunched her shoulders, and turned her attention back to her plate of pie.
Jack busied himself clearing the table, then volunteered to take care of the after-dinner dishes.
“Jack, you don’t have to—”
“No, Mom. I do. It’s the least I can do, after what you did for Beth today. She was so scared, at lunch. I couldn’t—”
“I know, Jack,” his mother said, picking up one of the plates and drying it. “But you didn’t have to resort to something quite so dramatic.”
“How was I supposed to know she’d react to the goop that way?”
“It was ‘contrast agent,’ not ‘goop.’ I suppose I should be the one thanking you, for saving the hospital’s MRI scanner.”
“She said the other machines caught fire.”
“There was some smoke, from the first ultrasound machine. And some fireworks from the other one, but no fire.”
“She won’t… get in trouble for that, will she?”
Jack’s mother picked up another plate. “No, Jack. The hospital has insurance for that sort of thing. And besides, how could they ever prove it was her?”
“So you don’t think it was a freak accident then?”
“Coincidence only stretches so far, Jack.”
He let the sink drain, then started refilling it.
“Do you think—”
“I think that Beth is a very sweet girl. And a very good friend to you. I’m glad you gave her a chance.”
“I’m more interested in what you think, Jack.”
Jack scrubbed at one of the pots, his forehead creased as he worked. He finally lifted the pot out, and rinsed it in the other side of the sink.
“I think you’re right, Mom.” Then, after a pause, he added “Except about that whole ‘sweet’ thing. You haven’t seen her play dodge ball.”