“Well…. Both of the twins. And you’re still in one piece. I’m impressed, Jack-O.”
“Great. A pain in the butt to go with the pain in my neck,” Jack muttered.
Charlotte beamed, and clapped softly. “Well done, Oh Grouchy One.”
“I really am tired, Charlotte. So, if you’re just going to—”
“I’ll make it quick.” She leaned out the door. “Hey, c’mere Runt. See for yourself. He yet lives and breathes.”
A small, pigtailed head peeked around the door. Her nose was red, her eyes puffy. Ellie sniffled, blinked, and then the pout tucked itself away. She scampered into the room before Charlotte could grab her.
“Jack! You’re okay!”
He cringed, as her voice sent a spike of pain up into his head, and hot ice shivering down into his arm.
Ellie jumped up in the chair, leaning against the metal guard rail. She sniffled again. Looked Jack up and down with a critical — if red and watery — eye. Then she hoisted herself over the bar and flopped against Jack, hugging him.
He sucked in a sharp breath at the sudden assault, gritted his teeth and patted her back clumsily with his good arm.
“Hey, it’s okay. I’m going home in the morning. I’ll be—”
There was a chirp and flash from the doorway.
“Hannah? Little help, here?”
Another chirp and flash. Then Hannah was there, hoisting Ellie off of Jack and swinging her down to the floor.
“There. Now go back to Mom and Dad.”
Ellie gave one last sniffle, then ran to the door, where Charlotte caught her.
“Because the old, slow people will get jealous. It would be rude to show off in front of them.”
Ellie twisted back and forth at the waist, thinking it over. Then she gave a huge sigh. “Fine. It’s rude to be rude. Mrs. Taylor says so.”
“Is she still teaching? She was a fossil when I had her for kindergarten!”
“That’s very rude!”
Jack could hear them arguing even after the door swung shut after them.
“Well, Mom said you were going to live, but after that, I don’t know,” Hannah said, tugging the blankets back up along Jack’s left side.
“What was that all about?” Jack asked, wincing as he shifted a bit more upright.
“Charlotte told Ellie that you were dead. She cried halfway here. And then pouted and hiccuped the rest of the way once Mom and I finally got her settled down.”
“One of these days,” Jack said, “something really bad is going to happen to me, and Charlotte will be the one who has to go for help, and nobody is going to believe her.”
Hannah laughed — quietly.
Jack leaned back, took a deep breath, closed his eyes.
“Hey, no sleeping.”
Jack cracked an eye open. “They gave me something so I could sleep.”
“Beth said you’re not supposed to sleep until after she gets here.”
“Beth doesn’t have sledgehammers pounding on the back of her head, and hot iron spikes in her shoulder. And that’s what it feels like with the… whatever they gave me for the pain.”
“Well, normally, I’d say go ahead and sleep,” Hannah said.
Jack opened both eyes. Something in her tone made him shiver. “But…?”
Jack’s sister shrugged. “I don’t know. Something about the way she said it. The look in her eye... It’s like she gets with that spooky talk of hers. It’s kind of scary when she does that, Jack. Like she’s really a hundred years old instead of … what? Twelve?”
The door opened, and Charlotte came back in. She dropped her backpack by the other chair in the room, and dug out a book, which she handed to her sister, and then pulled out one for herself before plopping into the chair, leg over one arm.
“Two visitors at a time,” Charlotte said, as she paged through the paperback. She leaned over, looked up at Jack. “Or Hannah and I could leave, if you’d rather the twins keep you company.”
Jack glanced at the door. The top of a furry brown hat bobbed at the bottom of the small window.
He laid back, took a deep breath, and started counting ceiling tiles.