“Well, look who finally decided to show up.”
“It’s only been… what? Five hours, since school let out? You know, we’ve been here that whole time.”
The harping of the twins outside his door snapped Jack’s attention back to the sketch pad he was trying to keep balanced against his legs. He cringed at what he’d done to a perfectly good page. He flipped the page, and made a note never to attempt to draw with whatever the pain killer was they’d given him.
“Oh, no, missy. You’re going to have to wait in line. Only two at a time. His sisters are in there right now, and we’re next.”
Jack glanced to his left. Charlotte hadn’t turned a page since the exchange outside had started. Looking over to his right, he saw Hannah roll her eyes, and stalk to the door.
“Girls. This is a hospital. Patients other than Jack are trying to rest and recover.”
Nearly identical voices cascaded one over the other offering apologies.
“Oh. Hey, Beth. Did you find what you were looking for? Come on in, we’ll trade.”
Hannah stepped out of the room, and Beth slipped in behind her, amidst hurriedly-shushed squeals of protest.
“You’re still awake.”
“They wouldn’t let me sleep,” Jack said, waving a hand at his sister, and then at the door. He yawned.
“It took longer than I thought to get this thing modified.” Beth untucked her scarf-sling from around her neck, and set the rumpled bag of flour carefully on the chair Hannah had been using. The bag plopped over on its side with a puff of flour, and Beth gave a resigned sigh.
“That flour child has seen better days,” Charlotte said.
“I have the lab partner from Hell.”
“No, I have the lab partner from Hell,” Jack said, nodding towards the door.
Beth pulled a cloth-wrapped bundle from her coat pocket, set it on the rolling tray by Jack’s bedside. She plucked at the knot, and unfolded the corners.
“You brought my dreamcatcher?”
She looked up. “In your condition, as doped up as you are, you’re going to need this.” She picked it up, and tied the top of the loop closed over one of the arms of the IV rack. The bells chimed as the hoop came to rest against the metal post.
Jack squinted up at the familiar-but-impossible-to-follow pattern of brown and gray threads. Something glimmered between the carefully woven threads.
Beth smoothed a hand through her hair.
“And you’re going to need those, too,” she said. She glanced over at Charlotte. “Do you think we could…?”
Jack’s sister looked up from her book. “I can stay or you can have one of the twins join you. If you two want to get all kissy-face, I won’t tell, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Beth waved the notion away. “It’s not that. There’s plenty of time for that when Jack gets home.”
Jack’s neck twinged again as he turned to give Beth the same look he’d shot his sister.
“So easy to get him all wound up, isn’t it?” Charlotte asked.
Beth giggled, then cleared her throat, squared her shoulders.
“Just like the arrangement back home— you get this since I can’t be nearby. It should shield you at least as well as I did when they brought you here. I had to add a little bit to it because of the distance.” She traced her finger along several of the golden strands twined through the gray threading of the dreamcatcher.
“It’s just a night in the hospital,” Charlotte said. “You make it sound like he’s going to war or something.”
“It’s a night alone away from home while he is vulnerable.”
“Vulnerable to what?”
“Yeah,” Jack said, shifting a bit. “Vulnerable to what?”
Beth seemed intent on her hands, which fidgeted at the metal rail along Jack’s bed.
“Beth?” he prodded, after the silence stretched an uncomfortable length.
She drew a deep, shaking breath. She glanced at Charlotte. Swallowed. When she spoke, she looked directly at Jack.
“There’s something wrong with the Veil. It’s weakening, wearing thin where it shouldn’t be. Tears haven’t mended properly. Around you, Jack, it’s….” She bit her lip.
“Yeah, what?” Charlotte leaned forward, elbows on her knees.
“It’s frayed. Unraveling.”