“Well, look who’s finally awake,” Jack’s mother said, marking her place in the book and setting it on the small table by the hospital bed. She got up, and placed her fingers over his wrist, looking at her watch.
“Do you know what day it is?” she asked.
“Friday, unless I slept a whole long time.”
“The second. I mean, the first Friday, which is the second…” He sighed. The throbbing in his head wasn’t helping.
“What did you have for breakfast this morning?”
“I didn’t. I was late for the bus, remember?”
His mother leaned over, and Jack was suddenly staring straight into the bright flare of her penlight.
“Ow, Mom, you could warn me before you do that.”
“Pupils are good,” she said. “How about your shoulder?”
Jack winced as he tried to shrug. The pain lanced up his neck, into the back of his head, which throbbed all the harder.
Jack wiggled all ten.
Jack’s mother sighed, and a weary smile crinkled up the corner of her eyes. She smoothed his hair back with a cool, steady hand.
“You had us worried there, for a while.”
“So… I’m okay?”
“Now that you’re awake, it looks like you’re out of the woods.”
“It’s nothing, Mom,” he said, as the question crossed her face. “Sort of an inside joke.” He chuckled again.
“Maybe I’d better have them do that CAT scan just in case…”
Jack’s doctor came in a few minutes later, and did the same things and asked the same questions. He looked over Jack’s medical chart, added some notations in addition to those that Jack’s mother had made, and snapped the file shut.
“Don’t say it, Margaret.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it. You’re the doctor, after all.”
“I’ll have the nurse bring something for that headache, Jack,” the doctor told him. “It’ll make you sleepy, but it’s all right, you can sleep if you want to. We’re keeping you over night for observation and do a few more X-rays in the morning. Sound good?”
Jack remembered just in time not to shrug. “You’re the doctor,” he said.
“At least one of you actually means that. I’ll see you in the morning, Jack. You can buzz the nurses if you need anything.”
Jack’s mother patted his hand and then followed the doctor out. He took the two pills the nurse brought him a little later, closed his eyes, and drifted off to a deep, dreamless sleep.
* * * * *
He blinked, staring through a foggy haze at the nurse who’d brought him the two pills. It took several tries before he could focus on her.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but… you have a visitor, and she is very adamant about seeing you.”
“Adamant was a vocabulary word last year,” Jack mumbled. He yawned. Which set the pain in the back of his head off, but it was away off, through more hazy fog, and if he didn’t think about it, it was almost like it wasn’t even there.
“Did she actually use that word?” Jack asked, his thoughts starting to drift together through the fog.
“Actually, I think she said ‘imperative.’”
“Okay,” Jack said, blinking more sleep from his eyes. “Um, as soon as I can figure out how to sit up…”
The nurse worked a button on the side of the bed, and raised Jack into something closer to a sitting position. She poured him a cup of water, placing it on the rolling tray before she left.
The door hadn’t even finished easing itself shut before it swung open again.
Jack set the cup down, and again had to strain a bit to focus.
“Great,” he said, rubbing his eyes with his right hand. He looked down, patting at the side of his bed. “Where’s that stupid button?”
Another blur of brown-and-red and Patty scooted up to his side, pressing the controller into his hand.
“Here you are, Jack. Do you need anything? Can I get you anything? I was so worried! I didn’t leave your side the whole time at school and—”
The crackling intercom interrupted Patty. “Yes, Jack? Is everything all right?”
“Whatever you gave me for this headache, please don’t use it on me again.”
“What’s wrong, Jack?”
“I think I’m seeing double,” he said.
He heard double squeals, as the girl beside him and the nearly-identical one at the foot of his bed both broke into giggles. A giggle crackled over the intercom as well.
“Take it easy on him, girls,” the nurse said. “Jack, you behave.”
The giggling drowned out his gentlemanly reply.
“I was so worried, Jack,” Patty said, again.
“She was so upset, Jack,” Patty’s sister said. “I had to spend the second half of my day just being with her.”
“I wanted to go with you on the ambulance, but your mother wouldn’t let me.”
“But I went with you to the infirmary. Do you remember that?”
“She held your hand the whole time.”
Jack was getting a bit dizzy, looking between the girls. Their brown coats and hats were identical, as was the style and cut of their deep red hair. Only the frames of their glasses gave one away from the other: Patty’s glasses were rimmed with gold, the lenses elongated; her sister wore a lighter, rounder silver frame.
They’d been in his classes since kindergarten, and up until fourth grade, were indistinguishable — and they reveled in confusing teachers, parents, and classmates. Up until then, Jack had just always thought of them as a pair: The Quincy Twins. Even with the glasses, it wasn’t until this past year that he’d actually split them up in his thoughts, and that was just because otherwise Beth called them Quincy “A” and Quincy “B.” He’d had to struggle to recall their first names: Catherine and Patricia.
In kindergarten, their cubbies were labeled “Catty” and “Patty.” They got him in trouble when he drew a kitten on one, and a hamburger on the other.
“Jack.” A warm hand closed over his. Fur from the cuffs of Patty’s coat tickled his wrist. The bed rustled as the twin leaned closer. She smelled like cinnamon and vanilla. “You’re not listening to me again.”
Jack shivered at the breathy whisper in his ear, dragging his eyes open. He was beginning to think that visitors weren’t such a good idea after all.
“I’m listening,” he said. He stared at a spot in the corner of the room, so he wouldn’t get seasick looking from one to the other.
“I got here as soon as school let out.“ She wasn’t leaning as close, but still close enough for Jack to catch the hint of cinnamon on her breath. It was the sharp, spicy cinnamon. Fiery. That was the word Jack was thinking of…
“So here I am—”
“We are.” From the foot of the bed.
Patty glared at her sister. “Here we are, your very first visitors.”
Jack murmured something noncommittal. Besides strawberries, Beth usually had more of a brown sugar and cinnamon scent about her. Much more mellow than Patty’s fire.
“He doesn’t look happy to see you, Sis.”
“Of course he is! Aren’t you, Jack?”
The sudden silence in the room washed over Jack like a cool breeze. He almost hated to disturb it, but when it began to stretch too long, he heard Patty sucking in a breath.
“Well…” he said, clearing his throat. Even that made his head throb, the pain registering over in the distant, hazy corner of his mind. “It was certainly… unexpected.”
Catty’s eyes went wide behind the silver frames. Patty’s eyes did the opposite, and Jack saw her back straighten in the seat beside his bed.
“What kind of friend would I be if I wasn’t here, by your side when you’re hurt?”
“Yes, what kind of friend would just… disappear on you when you needed her?”
Jack closed his eyes. He was too tired to even start counting. “I think I need to get more sleep. Thanks for dropping by.”