Patrick and Veronica were sent back to class and I was placed in a small room to wait and, thankfully, things began to normalize. The working printer in my head finally finished plotting out its print job and fell silent. The EMTs arrived to flick their lights and run their test but like before, there was nothing for them to find and now I am left, alone and cold, waiting for my mother in the small room with its bare white walls.
I feel hollow. The whole thing has become mist-filled and dreamlike as I sit on the edge of the cot dangling my feet rerunning it, watching it again like a spectator watching it happen to someone else…“Blood pressure moderate. Pupils large but responsive,” the uniformed man at my bedside reports. “Miss, are you currently taking any medications?”
Me, “No.” The black cuff tight and scratchy on my arm.
The guy standing behind him marks something down in his book. “Are you experiencing any unusual smells or tastes?”
The EMT beside me shoots his partner a sideways glance before he continues, “Last night or this morning did you take any drugs that might have caused this reaction?”
“No, I don’t do drugs. I'll pee in a cup if you want.”
Over his shoulder the other one asks, “Do you ever hear voices or see images that you cannot explain?”
My voice disappears as the image of the sparkling woman with her glowing halo of gold and the lake with its starry, night-lit sky blaze bright in my brain but I only give wide eyes and a shake of my head.
The first guy finishes with a last flick of his light. I draw back and cross my arms. “Guys, I told you! I've been through all the tests. I have a migraine variant.”
The EMT who took my vitals smiles. “You're a slim girl. I bet you're a vegetarian.”
I'm still frowning when I nod.
“I'm betting your sugar levels are low. Quickest way to fix it is by eating a banana.”
“Rachel Sparrow?” I quit replaying the scene in my head and glance up to see the nurse's aide hovering in the doorway. “Your mother is here.”
I quickly gather up my things and flee the small room. As soon as I round the corner I hear her voice. “But she's had an episode like this before. Her doctor calls it a migraine variant—”
“I understand, Mrs. Sparrow, but this is not something we are equipped to deal with. It has been decided that it would be in Rachel's best interests for her to stay at home so you can monitor her condition and she can rest.”
Mom’s voice shifts. “I don't understand. My daughter has an explainable neurological event and you are suspending her?”
“Suspending? No. Rachel is in good standing. Think of this as a leave of absence, a short period of time in which you may keep an eye on your daughter as she rests and recovers.”
“What are you talking about?” I can hear the exasperation edging into Mom's voice as she begins again, “As I explained before, there is nothing for her to recover from—”
“Well, now that is a mute point. The decision has been made. Your daughter has the rest of the week off. She can work from home. I will make arrangements with her teachers to have someone drop off her homework.”
While the nurse's stern tone would have me backing down, I know it’s only a matter of seconds before it will have mom sputtering. I rush around the corner but there is nothing to fear, because the moment Mom sees me, she dismisses the nurse and folds me into her arms. “Rachel.” I breathe in her soft scent taking comfort in her quiet strength before I let her hold me out to look into my eyes. I wait while she makes her own assessment. “You okay?”
“I’m fine.” I twist my lips into a small smile as her eyes study mine. “Just a little tired.”
The nurse hasn’t moved. She is an unwanted witness. She makes a noise and I dart my eyes to see the smug, unbecoming expression fix on her face. She shoots my mother a winning glance but Mom's eyes are still on me. Mom must like what she sees because she doesn’t say anything else but only links her arm through mine before she leads me out of the building.
Outside it is warm. The desert holds its heat, but as we pass the dozens of staring windows, I shiver under the weight of a thousand imagined eyes on my back.
When we reach the car, Mom pulls the door open for me and coos and fusses as I settle inside. “Really Mom, you don’t have too. I'm fine,” I say but I’ve lost my focus and now my words stick and slur.
Her eyes hold mine for a moment before she says, “Maybe we should stop by the doctor's.”
Hospital memories leap up fresh in my mind. “Don't you dare!” I snap. And this time I work to sound normal as I fumble with excuses, “Really, I am just tired. I skipped lunch. I think my blood sugar must be low. The EMT told me I should eat a banana.”
The low blood sugar excuse fits with her worry over me not getting enough protein and iron due to my vegetarian diet and she gives me a little nod. “Okay, then why don't we stop and get you something to eat?”
“That sounds great.” My relief whooshes out in a sigh when she closes the door and goes around to get in the driver's side.
I am pleasantly surprised when she takes me to Oregano's. I follow her in, eyes to the ground because everything is too bright and my eyes just don’t seem to be working quite right. I keep my breath even as I try to act normal, pretending everything around me doesn’t appear hyperreal, because I know that if Mom catches on, she’ll have me quick sitting in a hospital room. So I’m already acting when we get to the counter and I become sharply aware of the darkness the cashier is wearing around his shoulders like a cape. I’m not sure what it is. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Still I am careful to hold my eyes away, fake smile pasted on my face. I dart my eyes up when I have to but don’t let them settle or stop on anything as we order a large spinach salad to split and my favorite pizza, the Aunt Margherita.
Mom is passing me my drink when I see it, from the corner of my eye. The shadow cloak thing lifts its chin to boy’s ear. The boy’s features go slack as he drops his head to listen. The sight sets a violent shiver to crash through me and I have to grab the glass with both hands to keep it from spilling. “I’m going to get a table.” My voice is too sharp but it only earns a nod from my mother. I turn my back and choose the table farthest from the counter, one with a window that overlooks the parking lot where I can sit with the sun leaking in.
Mom follows me over. She settles in and she surprises me by putting away her phone. “Do you want to talk about it?”
I am saved by a girl with our salad. She detours mom with a handful of napkins and our forks. Still my eyes are flashing when she passes me a plate. Then my stomach rumbles as if on cue. I stab a large crouton and Mom watches while I fork it into my mouth. “You really okay?”
I don’t even bother to swallow before I reply, “I told you I was.”
She turns her attention to her glass of iced tea but I know she’s watching, wanting to know if she should be worried or not.
I roll my eyes. “It was just, you know, embarrassing.”
“Like last time?”
“Not as bad but still mortifying. I mean it happened right in the middle of Biology.” The whole thing crashes in bright and vivid to replay in my head and I drop my fork and put my face in my hands.
When I look again she is frowning, the crease deep between her brows. “Any idea what might have triggered it?”
I shake my head even as my thoughts slide to the sparkling woman and the daymare about the lake.
I dart my eyes to her. “No idea.” I reach for my fork and spear some leaves. “Is there really a trigger?”
Her lips pull thin. I know she’s worried but instead of digging she reaches for her glass and takes a long drink. I stab more spinach with my fork. I don’t lift my eyes again until her glass clinks as she sets it back on the table. There is a hint of a smile on her mouth when she asks, “Do they still think I’m a witch?”
I snort and she rolls her eyes and says under her breath, “They’re simpletons, the whole lot of them.”
I laugh because it’s true and there is nothing witch-like about my mother. That title was given to her because she owns and runs a metaphysical bookshop. In truth she is just a sharp business woman and she looks and acts the part. I mean she’s good at it, really good. She figured out the market and kept our little shop going strong even as most of our competitors tanked.
“Margherita?” the guy at the counter booms.
She turns, “That’s ours.” And the pizza comes fragrant and steaming. I smile at mom as I bite into the gooey goodness.