“I just don’t know what you see in her.”
Jack glanced back at Patty, who’d slowed her pace.
“See in who?”
The girl clucked her tongue at him, waving her hand to indicate the hallway ahead of them. “Blonde girl with the funny name? The one in the bad mood?”
“Beth,” Jack said. “You can say it.”
“You know her whole name but you never say it.”
“So… you knew it before the art teacher said it.”
“The substitute art teacher. And yes, I did. So?”
“So… you heard her dad. On that first day. ‘I insist you call her Beth.’ What’s so special about it?”
Jack shrugged, and a hot tingle surged up his neck. He stopped, swinging his bag from his shoulder.
Patty took two steps before she noticed Jack wasn’t beside her. She stopped, turning. “Jack?”
He took a deep breath, swinging his backpack over his right shoulder. Something was tingling under the left, a hot prickling feeling trying to creep up his neck.
“I bet she knows we’re talking about her,” Patty said. “And she’s got a little doll, with some of your hair on it, maybe even some blood, and she’s digging the needle in right now.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Jack said. Kyle’s jolt had rattled his teeth a bit, and he felt the beginnings of a headache starting to pool behind his eyes.
“They say she’s some kind of witch, you know.”
Jack laughed, and regretted it. The pain that was building behind his eyes burst, flooding into the back of his head, crashing in a wave against the spot he’d hit breaking Beth’s fall.
“Hey… Jack, I was kidding. I mean, that’s just what the other girls are saying. I don’t really believe it, of course… Jack? Jack? Why don’t you ever listen to me?”
He was listening. Or trying to, above the throbbing ring that beat against the inside of his head in time with his heartbeat.
He tried to tell that to Patty, but he couldn’t hear himself, and the ringing was louder, brought a heavy blackness with it before he could tell whether or not she’d heard him….
* * * * *
The dark was gone, replaced by a brightness against his eyelids. He tried to rub at his eyes, and tried to sit up, but a firm grip on his right wrist and the other hand on his shoulder kept him from moving. So he settled for opening his eyes.
Beth looked down at him, the fluorescent lights of the infirmary giving a silver sheen to her hair. Her eyes were very wide, very green. Despite the lighting, the gold flecks shone brightly.
“Lie still,” she said. And leaned harder against him when he tried to sit up again.
“You collapsed in the hall,” she said, anticipating his question. “They called your mom and dad. Your mom is on her way here.”
Jack looked down, past Beth, tried to get a look at the rest of the room.
“Where is everyone?”
“Patty’s here. She’s not hysterical any more, so they let her stay.” Beth smiled, and Jack followed her glance as best he could to his left hand.
She looked back up, and the smile was still there.
“What aren’t you telling me?”
“If everyone is here, then were are they? And why did you just look at my hand?”
“Patty is here, Jack. By the bed. She’s holding your left hand.”
Jack looked down. There was nobody there, and he couldn’t feel anything in his hand. He glanced back over to Beth.
She was blinking a tear from one eye.
“It’s been almost half an hour, Jack. You haven’t woken up yet.”