Friday, October 2, 2009

Not fine at all

“Beth? Dear, it’s your turn.”

She blinked, jerking her chin up, staring blankly at the game board. She yawned. “Sorry, I haven’t been sleeping very well this week.”

“Is everything all right?” Jack’s mother asked.

Beth stifled another yawn. “Well, it should be now.” A frown furrowed her forehead. “Just in time for… that,” she said.

“I wish mine were so dead-on precise,” Charlotte said.

Jack got to his feet. “I’ll just get your pills ready, Beth.”

“Sorry,” she said, rolling the dice and moving her marker across the board.

“Two red ones, Jack,” his mother said.

Beth grimaced. “I don’t like the red ones.”

“You have to take them tonight. Remember, we have that appointment in the morning.”

Beth chewed at her bottom lip.

Jack counted out the regimen of pills — back up to nearly a full medicine cup. He looked out the kitchen window, at the darkness beyond. Out there, somewhere, the moon was doing its thing, and according to Beth, things would get unpleasant some time before dawn.

His mother was having her stay the night, and they were going to the hospital again in the morning, so the doctors could reassess her “condition” and run more tests.

He filled up a large glass with water, and tried not to slop too much over his hand as he made his way back to the table.

His sisters didn’t comment as he parceled out the medicines, vitamins, and supplements, and Beth didn’t make too much of a fuss, even when it came time to take the two red pills. She sighed a little deeper when Jack fished them from the bottom of the cup, but didn’t complain.

“I think it’s time we called a wrap on the games tonight,” Jack’s dad said, and Beth blinked awake again.

“No, I don’t want you to cut things short because of me,” she said, glancing around the table.

“It’s okay,” Ellie said, patting the girl’s hand. “This time you get to be the sleepyhead instead of me!”

“I have some reading to do for English, anyway,” Charlotte said.

“I’m not carrying you over there,” Jack said.

“I don’t remember asking you to,” Beth snapped.

“I thought I might have to a few times tonight.”

Beth pushed herself sharply to her feet, her chair scooting back several inches on its own. “I can make it there just fi—” Her eyes flared, anger brightening them, dimming just as suddenly as her knees buckled.

“Oh boy,” she mumbled, as Jack caught her. He gave a gasp when she didn’t recover, and he found himself having to support her weight full-on.

Then his dad was there, scooping the girl up, and laying her down on the couch as if she didn’t weigh much of anything.

Jack’s mother was at the girl’s side, penlight flashing back and forth. It seemed the girl was barely settled and Hannah was already working the blood pressure cuff.

Jack looked from Beth’s place at the table, over to the couch, and then down at his hands. Then one of Ellie’s hands slipped into his, and she tugged at it.

“Come on, Jack. People in the way need to get out of the way,” she said, pulling him towards the stairs.

* * * * *

“I’m fine,” Beth said, for the fourth time.

Jack looked over at his mom.

“She’s worn out. A good night’s sleep is just what she needs. Now off to bed with you.”

Jack took the stairs slowly.

“No middle-of-the-night visits up stairs, young lady,” Jack heard his mom say. “I mean it.”

He slept fitfully, catching fragments of the dark candle-filled vault between stretches of dreamless sleep.

He awakened once, just before the Witching hour, but Beth apparently took his mother’s warning seriously, for there was no familiar tap at the door.

He woke again, sitting bolt upright, his whole body tingling with a tension he couldn’t place. He listened, certain he’d heard his name called. But the only sound was the thrumming purr of the furnace.

He got up, and was halfway down the stairs before he’d finished shrugging into his bathrobe.

Beth was asleep, curled on her side. But something wasn’t right — she had two blankets and still shivered, and her hair was damp, pressed all against her forehead and around her face. And though her cheeks were flushed the palest of pinks, her lips seemed bloodless as her teeth chattered.

Jack didn’t have to lean very close to feel the heavy warmth radiating from the girl, or to hear the short, shallow rasp of her breathing.

He turned around, and charged up the stairs.

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