Thursday, December 30, 2010

Valentine's Day, V

A quiet knock on his bedroom door brought Jack back from the very edge of sleep. It was dark outside — not quite nightfall. Had he been dozing that long? He sat up — slowly — waited for the room and his stomach to settle. The medicine his mom had him take when he got home always did that.

He pushed himself up from his bed, reached over to click on the desk lamp to the first setting, and shuffled to the door.
“Hey,” Beth said, standing on the lowest step of the short flight up to his room. She’d changed from what she wore to school that morning, trading the maroons and purples for several layers of blue. She was also wearing the garland, touches of glitter sparkling in the light seeping up from the downstairs. She was steaming.
Jack blinked, and then noticed the tray she held: a bowl of soup and a mug of what smelled like cider.
“I didn’t order any room service,” Jack said, through a yawn, but his stomach betrayed him with a low grumble. He backed away, opening the door, and Beth walked carefully past him. The soup, he noticed, barely sloshed in the bowl. She set the tray on the desk, and turned Jack’s chair, holding the back of it for him.
“How’s  your head?” she asked, quietly.
Jack sat, sniffing at the soup. Chicken noodle. He picked up the spoon, and it shook, chattering against the edge of the bowl. The medicine did that, too. He set the spoon down, rubbing his hands over the steaming bowl, instead.
“Sore, but not pounding.”
Beth perched on the edge of Jack’s bed, chin on her knees, watching him.
“What?” he asked, when she kept watching.
Beth waved a hand. “Eat.”
Jack tried the spoon again. It didn’t rattle quite so much, and after half a dozen spoonfuls, the trembling eased.
“So,” he said, turning to look at the girl.
She stretched out a foot, and turned the chair back towards the desk. “Eat. Then we can talk.”
“I’m not even very hungry.”
“That’s the medicine. You still need to eat. And drink. That stuff dehydrates you.”
After a few more spoonfuls, Jack asked “So how much trouble are you in?”
Beth sighed. “I have to write an apology for calling the Vice Principal all those things. In-school suspension for the next week.” She shrugged. “It could have been worse.”
“A week? That’s pretty harsh.”
“No, I insisted on it,” Beth said with a smile.
Jack shook his head, slowly. “Maybe Patty’s right. Maybe you are crazy.”
“Think about it, Jack. They keep me under lock and key, keep their eye on me the whole day. If anything else happens, well… How can I be in two places at once?”
“What did your dad say?“
“He was more worried about whether or not I erased enough of the graffiti on your locker.”
“I took care of the part you missed,” Jack said.
Beth’s shoulders relaxed, and a smile flickered at her lips.
“Thanks, Jack.”
He shrugged, carefully.
Beth’s smile collapsed into a frown. “What was she thinking?
“Who else, Jack?” Beth flopped back on Jack’s bed. “She has no idea what she could have done.”
“What… could… she have done?”
“One letter, Jack. Just one letter off.”
“But what….”
“What happens if Something from the Otherwhere comes to school, Jack?”
“They can’t do that, can they?”
“They can do anything they want. The only reason They haven’t is because They haven’t found me there. I get lost in the crowd.
“But if enough people saw my name… That’s just more fingers pointing the way towards me. When enough start pointing in the same direction, one of Them will notice.”
“I’d like to see the school try to explain that one to the PTA,” Jack said with a smirk.
“It’s not funny, Jack! People could get—“ Beth sat up.
“What?” Jack asked. “I was only kidding. It’s no big deal, I erased—“
“People could get hurt,” Beth said, and sat up straighter. The golden motes in her eyes sparked in the weak lamplight.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“You told your mom you slipped on some snow at school.”
Jack swallowed, concentrated on another few spoonfuls of broth.
Beth stood up, slowly, eyes intense as she gazed… not at Jack, but around him.
“You didn’t slip. Not on snow.”
The spoon rattled against the side of the half-empty soup bowl.
“You didn’t, did you Jack?”
“I’m okay. The headache will be gone by tomorrow, and—“
Beth stood very still, but her breathing was anything but calm. A small fist clenched at her side.
“I told her!” The words came out almost like a growl.
“Beth, I’ll be fine, really—“
“No, Jack, you won’t. She Invoked your name, didn’t she? And you didn’t slip. You Slipped.”
Jack closed his eyes, rubbing at them again. They still throbbed. “I don’t know. Patty said to wait, and everything got—“
“Topsy-turvey? Everything going white? That’s what you told your mom, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Look, I’ll stay home tomorrow, have her take me in for another one of those scan things. Will that make you happy?”
“It won’t do any good,” Beth said. “They won’t find anything.”
“Ha ha,” Jack said.
A smile flickered at Beth’s lips, and some of the rigidity seeped from her stance. “I didn’t mean it like that.” She took a deep breath, then leaned closer to Jack.
He blinked, but the bright spots in his vision weren’t on the insides of his eyes.
“Your hair,” he said, reaching towards one of the locks.
It grew steadily brighter as his fingers got nearer. He squinted against the light, even though it wasn’t much brighter than the lamp. The pain in his neck gave a twinge.
Beth took his hand in both of hers, squeezing.
“Jack, what you described to your mother is what it’s like crossing the Veil.”

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