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The first time my sister was hospitalized was before my brother was even born. I was too little to remember. But, growing up, she had always had a difficult time managing her diabetes.
Mom took good care of her. But as we grew older, spending more time on movie sets without Mom, Meghan started having trouble. When I started Hartfield, I quickly found out how poor her diet actually was.
More than once, I had visited my sister in the infirmary. But, the doctors were usually able to get her levels back in a few hours. She had never gone into a coma before.
I stood in the doorway, letting my parents and brother enter the room first. She looked so fragile and pathetic. She also looked younger than Walter. Her red hair was a matted mess and she was so thin, I worried I would snap a bone if I looked at her the wrong way.
Walter didn’t seem to notice. He sat on the edge of her bed and gave her a long hug.
“I was so worried!”
She patted his back. “I’m fine. Really.”
He shook his head as he sat up. “If you were fine, you wouldn’t be here.”
She rolled her eyes. “Everyone is over reacting.”
Mom spoke in a stern voice. “You were in a coma, young lady. That is not something to be taken lightly.”
I could sense a fight brewing. I whipped out the green velvet sack I had stowed in my bag. “Who’s up for a game of Weddas?”
Mom glared at me. “You’re not going to even say hi to your sister? She nearly died.”
Meghan again rolled her eyes. “Don’t exaggerate.”
I shrugged. “She told me not to talk to her. I’m just following her wishes.”
The truth was, i was afraid of breaking her if I got too close. I would talk with Meghan when my parents weren’t around.
Mom didn’t seem happy with me. She pointed to me and my brother. “You boys go find a waiting room. Do NOT leave this wing.”
“I wanna stay here,” Walter whined.
“Fine. I’ll go play Weddas by myself.” I headed out the door. My brother was right behind me.
He glared at me as we made our way down the hall. “How could you be so aloof?”
I turned to him, angry tears forming in the corners of my eyes. “You don’t think it kills me to see her like that? To know she nearly died? To see that even after everything she’s been through, she’s still not ready to take care of herself?”
“Then why not tell her?”
“Because the last thing she needs right now is me yelling at her. And I’m too angry at her to talk nice.”
I stormed down the hall until I found a lounge, tossing the game on the coffee table in the middle of the room. I wiped away the tears before Walter found me.
“Sorry, man. I was just—”
I waved a dismissive hand. “It’s fine. The whole situation has us all on edge.” I gestured towards the game. “Let’s take our minds off it.”
Walter shrugged and knelt by the table. I sat on the floor opposite him. We had already set up our racks and selected our letters when Dad appeared.
“May I join you?”
I handed him the bag of letter tiles and he settled himself between us.
“So, your mother and I have been talking. Who’s first?”
I pointed to Walter. He was busy staring at his tiles. Was he even listening to Dad?
“She would like to stay here with Meghan.”
Walter placed five letters on the table to form the word prime. “At the hospital? You mean overnight?”
Dad shook his head. “No. She needs to come home and rest tonight.” He turned to me. “She doesn’t want to go back to Hawaii.”
I looked at him with wide eyes. “I have a contract.”
Dad nodded. “You’re old enough we don’t need to be on set with you. How would you feel if I returned with you?”
“But, the band. I thought you guys were really busy.”
Dad nodded. “I want to fly my brothers out so we can finish working on the stuff we’ve been trying to get out.”
“So, you’ll be working all day. Like when we were in LA?”
Dad nodded. “Would that be okay with you?”
Honestly, it wasn’t. I shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. I’m gonna go grab a soda downstairs.”
Dad nodded. “Okay. Don’t leave the building and come right back.”
Walter started to get up. “I’ll come with you.”
I shook my head. “Nah. I got it.”
I saw Dad lay a hand in Walter’s arm. He must have realized I needed to be alone.
I found the elevator and headed down to the lobby. On my way, I thought about what Dad was asking me.
Mom had been acting since she was six years old. She knew this business better than our agent. I had never filmed a movie without her on the set, even if she wasn’t staring in it with me.
For the first week of this latest movie, she had been on the set daily. Even after I got a car and could drive myself, she showed up for at least part of the day.
And now she wasn’t going to be there. Neither was Dad. And it wasn’t his fault, really. I knew he had to work. It was my selfish sister’s fault. She couldn’t even take care of herself for one month.
I thought about the frail creature I had seen lying in that hospital bed. I sighed as I got off the elevator. I didn’t want to be mad at her. I wanted to help take care of her. And she needed Mom more than I did.
If only we had filmed over the summer. Dad wouldn’t have been as busy and Walter wouldn’t be in school. Us three guys would have had so much fun.
But, it wasn’t summer. I glanced out the cafeteria window. A potted plant in the courtyard was loosing its leaves. It was autumn. And I would have to go back to work alone.
We spent all day Thursday at the hospital. Walter and I played endless games of Weddas. Eventually, Meghan felt strong enough for a brief visit. Dad made Mom go to the cafeteria for a quick break while Walter and I sat with our sister. We sat beside her feet right at the foot of the bed.
I couldn’t take my eyes away from the tubes connected to her. Eventually, she interrupted Walter’s stories about school to point to the monitor beside her bed.
“It’s checking my sugar levels. Continuously. It automatically gives me insulin if I dip too low.”
I pointed to the tube in her arm. “Does it hurt?”
She shook her head. “Can’t even feel it anymore. They’re thinking about getting me a pump.”
Walter nodded to the machine. “Not that?”
“No. Like, a portable pump. One I always wear.”
“So, you would always have tubes coming out of you?”
She gave a small smile. “Hand me your phone.”
Walter did as instructed. She played with it a minute before passing it back to him. I leaned over the bed to look over his shoulder. According to the manufacturer’s website, the thing was smaller than her phone and could hide under her clothes. There was a tube, but it was easy to conceal. I smiled at Meghan.
“Would it help?”
She sighed. “I’m hoping it helps regulates my numbers enough that Mom realizes she doesn’t have to move in with me.”
I shook my head, wishing she could see the pathetic figure laying on the bed in front of me. But, arguing was useless, so I didn’t even bother.
“How’d your roommate take the news?”
“That I was here?”
“That Mom was moving in with you guys.”
I could see bafflement in her eyes. “What about Mom?”
I sighed. “Walter, I’ll be right back.”
I went to the nurse’s station. A man was working on a computer behind the desk. I pointed to Meghan’s room.
“Um, my sister’s on some sort of insulin pump, but she still seems really confused. I know that’s a sign of lower levels. Should I be worried?”
He barely glanced at me. “Where are your parents, kid?”
He sighed. “What’s the room number?”
“I don’t know.” I took a few steps back until I could see the plaque beside the door. “7104.”
The man fiddled with the computer. I could see concern flash across his face as he picked up the phone. “You go ahead back to the room. I’ll let the doctor know.”
When I got back to the room, Meghan was listening to Walter’s stories again. He sent me a concerned look. “Where’d you go? Everything okay?”
I shook my head. “Not really. Hey, Meghan. Did I tell you I went ziplining the other day?”
She shook her head. “Whoa. I’m a little dizzy.”
I squeezed her hand. “The doctor’s coming to check on you in a few minutes. Why don’t you tell me a little about Olivia. I haven’t met her yet.”
Meghan smiled. “We went to this amazing club the other night. Olivia hated it.”
“Yeah. I talked to you while you were there. It was really loud. Was it a live band?”
I kept Meghan talking until the doctor arrived. Every so often, I glanced at Walter. I could see the fear in his eyes. I could also see him trying to keep a mask of calmness for Meghan’s benefit.
Mom and Dad followed the doctor into the room. I grabbed Walter’s arm, pulling him out of the room. As soon as we were in the hallway, he jerked his arm free. “What just happened?”
I sighed. “Did you notice she was groggy? Confused?”
He nodded. “Yeah. It was really scary.”
“That happens when her insulin is low. As soon as I realized it, I told one of the nurses.”
“How’d you know? To do that?”
I frowned, jerking my head towards the lounge. Walter followed me, sitting beside me. “When Meghan and I started shooting Mighty Max, that was our first movie without Mom. I mean, she was still on the set, but she was with the other parents. Or, helping you with your schoolwork.”
Walter nodded. “I remember.”
“That’s when I started noticing. If we worked too long without a break, or if she forgot to drink her juice or water between takes, she would start missing her lines. Forgetting her marks. We did a lot of our own stunts and that was taxing on her.”
“So, you learned the warning signs. I bet Mom knows them, too.”
I nodded. “Now you do, too. And, I know you. You’re gonna go hole up with your phone and memorize the rest of them with that photographic memory of yours.”
Walter smiled. “I wish.”
“How is it you know everything about everything then?”
He shrugged. “I’m just a sponge.”
Mom came to find us a little while later. She ran her hand along my head before sitting down. “The doctor said you came to get him.”
I shrugged. “I went to get the nurse, but yeah.”
“Thank you for looking out for your sister.”
“What’s the point of the pump if it’s not going to work?”
Mom sighed. “It’s complicated. Your father said he spoke to you about me staying here. Be honest. Do you want me to come back to Hawaii with you? Dad can stay with your sister.”
“No, he can’t. He doesn’t understand her like you do. I’ll be fine. I’ll just have to eat all my meals on the set. Otherwise, Dad’ll be ordering sushi every night.”
Mom smiled. “Thank you for being so understanding about this.”
I glanced towards the doorway. “Just get her better, okay?”
Granny and Pop-Pop came to visit a little before suppertime. They managed to convince Mom to leave, even though visiting hours weren’t quite over. We all piled into the minivan Dad had rented. As soon as we pulled out of the parking lot, Walter started complaining about being hungry. We spent half an hour debating what we wanted to eat. None of us could agree.
Pop-Pop directed Dad to get off the highway. A few minutes later, we pulled into a diner. Pop-Pop assured us we would all be able to find something here.
I pulled my cap low as we got out of the car. Mom put on her large sunglasses and wrapped her decorative scarf close to her face, lowering her own hat to cover most of her red hair. Walter shook his head. He always thought our disguises silly, but I hated being recognized in public. Not when I just wanted to enjoy a meal with my family.
The restaurant was mostly packed, but they were able to find a table for the six of us in the back. I stared at my menu industriously, partly to hide from the waitress, partly because it was ten pages long. I was in the mood for a burger and fries. When the waitress arrived to take our order, Mom was in the bathroom. Dad ordered for her. I stared at my menu as I ordered my burger, passing it to her while looking in the opposite direction.
Mom returned as the waitress was bringing the drinks. She had removed her disguise and the waitress recognized her instantly. “Ohmigod! You’re—you’re—” She dropped the tray of drinks, running back to the kitchen screaming.
It was enough commotion to have the people around us looking in our direction.
“It’s Kara McGregor!”
“I just loved Agent Mom!”
“OMG. Patrick McGregor! I’m going to die.”
“Adam Evans! I have every CAVEmen album! I’m your biggest fan!”
People were shoving napkins and pens in our faces. The manager came rushing towards us.
“What’s going—aaagghh!” He slipped on the puddle from where the waitress had dropped the drinks. I couldn’t tell if he had fainted or hit his head on the floor. Either way, he was unconscious.
This scene wasn’t new to any of us. Pop-Pop was just as famous as the rest of us, but not as recognizable. He ordered us back to the car while he headed to the kitchen. Some of the customers followed us to the parking lot. We were still signing autographs when Granny and Pop-Pop emerged fifteen minutes later with several bags of food.
He directed Dad to a commuter lot near the highway. By the time we arrived, the car stank of fish. Pop-Pop passed out the meals.
“Kara, you cannot eat this in the car.”
Granny slapped his arm. “Wally!”
Dad nodded. “No, I agree with Pop. The car already stinks and you didn’t even open that.”
Walter wrinkled his nose. “What is it anyway?”
Mom pouted. “Baked sole. I’ll take it to the trunk.”
She climbed out of the car and opened the rear hatch. Dad sat beside her with his meatloaf.
Friday morning, I was awake before my brother, even though he was the one who had to get ready for school. When I went in search of breakfast, my mother was in the kitchen.
“Good morning. I’m going grocery shopping later today, so I’m afraid all I have for breakfast is cereal with no milk. Or whatever else you can find.”
My mother disappeared upstairs with her mug of coffee. I searched the cabinets, finding an open bag of small chocolate chip cookies. There were only four left, but they were so much better than dry raisin bran, or whatever healthy cereal my mother had in the cabinet. Besides, my mom had said told me to eat whatever I could find.
I sat at the table with the cookies and a glass of apple juice. My mother returned as I was biting into the last one.
She narrowed her eyes at me. “What did you find for breakfast?”
I smiled. “Cookies. Do we have any bread? I was thinking of making toast.”
My mother sighed, but didn’t comment on the cookies. She pulled a bag of bread from the freezer. I wasn’t sure what was worse: the fact that it was multigrain or the fact that it had been purchased fresh. My mother had a habit of storing bread in the freezer to make it last longer. I hated it because the bread was always soggy and freezer-burnt. But, it did no good to complain.
My mom turned to me after pouring herself another mug of coffee. “So, your father is working today and your brother has school. What would you like to do?”
I would love to go to the movies. Or go to the mall. Or even hang out at the bookstore. But, not with my mom. There wasn’t really anything I wanted to do with her. I couldn’t really think of anything I wanted to do alone, either. I shrugged.
“I don’t really know.”
“Do you need any new clothes? School supplies you forgot?”
I started shaking my head, but then I remembered a bin under Sarah’s bed. “You know what? Sarah has this box of snacks. Like, granola bars and stuff for when the dining hall’s not open. Maybe I can come with you and pick out some food that can stay under my bed.”
“That sounds like a good idea!” I had a sneaky suspicion my mother’s enthusiasm had more to do with the fact that she hated the grocery store and my presence would speed up the process.
Around lunchtime, I texted Brittney and Casey to tell them I was home, asking if maybe we could all get together. Even though I was pretty sure they were supposed to be in class, the replied immediately, suggesting I join them at the football game that night. After a phone call between my mom and Casey’s, my mother agreed to bring me to Casey’s house before the game, Casey’s mother would bring us to the school, and Brittney’s mom would pick us up and bring me home. I tried to negotiate a sleepover at Brittney’s, but my mother was adamant that I spend the night at home.
Around suppertime, my mom dropped me off at Casey’s house, where her older sister asked a few polite questions about Hartfield before letting me go upstairs. I found my friends in Casey’s room, examining the contents of a large tote bag. As soon as I knocked on the open door, my friends squealed with excitement, leapt off the bed, and nearly knocked me over in their embrace.
“How’s Hartfield?” Brittney asked excitedly as she led me towards the bed. “Is it just awful being so far away from everyone?”
“You never talk to us anymore,” Casey whined. “Are you really that busy?”
“How are the people there? Are they all snobby?”
“What’s it like living in a dorm? Is it weird?”
I shrugged. “Hartfield is different, but it’s already starting to feel like home. The classes are really hard and there’s a LOT of work, and I spend all my time studying, but Walter’s been helping me—”
“Ooohh!” exclaimed Casey.
“Who’s Walter?” Brittney asked in a sing-song voice.
I could feel my cheeks growing warm, so I quickly explained that Walter was just a friend before describing my short relationship with Mike.
“Ugh, he sounds awful!” Brittney sounded as if someone had just asked if she liked spinach.
“Yeah, I can see it now when I think back that he mostly only talked about himself and didn’t care that much about me. But, I couldn’t see that when we were together. Weird, huh?”
“That was like with Derek and me,” Casey agreed.
I didn’t get to ask who Derek was. Brittney’s phone signaled an incoming text and she squealed as she read the message.
“George said Brian’s coming.”
Apparently, these names meant something, since Casey responded with a similar squeal. Before I could ask any questions, Casey wrinkled her nose at me.
“Is that what you’re wearing? Or did you bring a change of clothes?”
I looked down my favorite dress. It was black with pink flowers and reached about halfway between my ankles and knees. My black sweater matched it nicely and it wasn’t that different from what she and Brittany were wearing.
“I was going to wear this. Why? Is there something wrong with it?”
Casey turned to Brittney, scrunching her nose to make the same face she wore when walking into a public restroom. “She won’t fit into my clothes. I guess she’s okay, right?”
“She’ll be fine.”
“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?” Was there a dress code? Was I not supposed to wear my sweater? Glancing at my friends, I realized the problem. They just didn’t seem to like my outfit.
Brittany shook her head. “Nothing. It’s just that your dress is a little . . .”
“Unimaginative,” replied Casey.
“Yeah, that’s it!”
They couldn’t explain what they meant because Casey’s mother called that it was time to leave. The ride to the school was short and Casey’s mother spent the entire time asking me about my school. I tried to be as polite as possible, even though Brittany and Casey were making disgusted faces in the backseat.
As Casey’s mother pulled in front of the school, I was glad my friends were beside me. The multiply-pierced people standing in front of the building looked intimidating in their black leather outfits and multi-colored hair. I tried to give the crowd a wide berth as I passed, but one of them called my name.
“Melinda? What are you doing here? I thought you moved away!”
The voice reminded me of a girl that had sat beside me for three years. Looking past the leather and piercings, I was able to see a bit of blond under the pink and purple hair and a familiar face to go with it.
“Francesca?” I was in shock. She had always been so quiet and bookish. What had happened to her?
“Yeah! It’s so good to see you. Did you move back?”
“Yeah. I mean, no. I mean, I didn’t move away. I go to boarding school. But, I’m home for the weekend.”
“Oh, well, it’s great to see you!”
“Yeah, you too.”
Francesca turned back to her circle of friends and I quickly headed to the front doors. Casey and Brittney looked annoyed waiting for me.
“Come on.” There was a sense of urgency in Casey’s tone as she held open the door for me.
I followed Brittany to the nearest restroom, pointing to the hallway behind me. “I thought Brittney needed something from her locker.”
Casey shook her head. “Nah, I just said that so my mom wouldn’t drive to the football field. I don’t want anyone to see me dressed like this.” She had the same disgusted tone Brittney had used when I had told them about Mike.
The girls quickly removed their dresses, revealing tight denim skirts and low-cut halter tops. They stuffed their clothes into Brittney’s large tote bag and removed two small purses. Then, Casey removed a large cosmetics bag, which she dumped onto a counter. I watched as they applied brightly-colored eye-shadow, lipstick, and other facial enhancements I couldn’t identify. I couldn’t understand how exactly my outfit was unimaginative when their clothes were so revealing, they left nothing to the imagination.
When Brittney noticed me staring, she held a tube of lipstick in my direction. “Did you want some?”
“Um, no. I’m good.”
Brittney shrugged and returned to the mirror, where she and Casey applied their makeup with a practiced ease in a relatively short amount of time. Soon, they were returning all their supplies to the cosmetics bag, which was stuffed into the tote bag.
Finally, we left the building. I could see the football field a short distance away, but my friends turned left, instead of right, towards a parking lot. Three boys were huddled near a car. They were all smoking. One looked in our direction as we approached. Giving a wolf-whistle, he held open his arms. Brittney ran into them as fast as she could in her heels.
“Bree, you look lovely as ever.” He put his arms around her, kissing her so long and deeply that I grew uncomfortable watching. I turned to ask Casey what was happening, only to find she had been enveloped by another boy who was kissing her possibly even more intensely than the guy kissing Brittney. The third boy was staring at me.
I had to say something. I sent him a sheepish wave. “Um, hi. I’m Melinda.”
“Brian.” His deep voice seemed to be enough for my friends to separate themselves, at least at the lips, from their dates.
Brittney giggled. “Sorry. Melinda, these are the guys. This is George, that’s Brian, and that’s Kevin.” She pointed to each boy, ending with the one holding Casey tightly. Then, to my surprise, she took the cigarette out of George’s hand and began smoking it herself, while Casey did the same with Kevin’s.
I was definitely not comfortable. What had happened to my friends in the three weeks I had been gone? I hardly recognized them. I felt as if I no longer knew these girls that I used to call my best friends.
I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. I kept glancing towards the football field, but no one seemed upset by the fact that the game had started.
Finally, the cigarettes were extinguished and I tuned back into the conversation. They were brainstorming on what we should do next.
I gestured towards the field. “Aren’t we going to watch the game?”
George responded in a bored tone. “Why bother? They’re going to lose. They’re terrible.”
“Besides, it’s boring.” Brittney was nearly whining.
I sent her a confused look. “But, then, why are we here?”
“Well, we needed to tell our mothers something, right?” Casey said this so matter-of-factly, I felt stupid for asking the question.
“Let’s go for a drive.” George opened the passenger door of the black two-seater.
“’Kay!” Brittney gleefully climbed in while George got in the driver’s seat and started the engine. She rolled down the window. “Later!”
I watched them speed out of the parking lot onto the main road. Casey rolled her eyes in my direction with such a smile I knew she was trying to send me a message. But, I was no longer fluent in Casey’s eye rolls.
“Well, we might as well go to the game. There’s nothing else to do.” Casey took my arm in hers, the boys following us to the field. As we approached the stands, Casey stopped suddenly and turned to Kevin.
“Oh! I just remembered. I needed to get you that thing in my locker. We should go before they lock up the school!” She turned to me. “Why don’t you two go save us some seats. We’ll be back in a little while.”
I watched her disappear without waiting for a response. My friends had left me alone with a complete stranger. I pointed towards the stands.
“Um, should we go find some seats?”
Brian shrugged. “I guess. Unless you want to go make out now.”
I blinked, staring at him for a few seconds. Surely I had misunderstood him. “What?”
“Did you want to go make out now? While everyone else is? Or did you want to wait until later?”
I took a step backwards. “Excuse me. Restroom.”
I took another step back before turning and walking as quickly as possible towards the school in search of Casey. She was entwined with Kevin against the side of the building, with his hands in places they shouldn’t have been.
I was angry and confused and wanted to cry. I turned away from the school, heading towards the main road. Realizing it was ridiculous to try to walk all the way home, I called my mother.
I swallowed the sob trying to escape. “Can you come pick me up?”
“Is everything okay?”
“Yeah. I’m just not having a good time.”
“Of course. Where are you?”
I looked around. “I’m at the high school, near the main entrance. There’s a bench.”
“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
I wanted to text my friends. My Hartfield family. Surely, one of them could explain what had just happened, because I was still clueless. My first instinct was to text Walter. He was always able to explain things to me. But, he hadn’t been returning my texts the past few days.
Sarah was my second choice. But I had no idea how to describe the situation. I stared at my phone, typing and retyping my message until my mother pulled up.
It wasn’t until I was climbing into the car that I realized my mother might want me to explain what had happened. Sure enough, as soon as I closed the door, she narrowed her eyes at me.
“You smell like cigarettes. Have you been smoking?”
“No. I swear, it wasn’t me. Brittney and Casey brought me to meet some of their friends, and the friends were smoking and I couldn’t stand away from them without being rude. I promise, it wasn’t me!”
My mother pursed her lips as she turned around in the drop off circle. “So, where are Brittney and Casey?”
Despite everything that had happened, I didn’t want to get my friends in trouble. If I told her what had happened, my mother would tell their mothers and they would be grounded for months.
I sighed. “It’s just, well, Brittney and Casey have started hanging out with new people. The ones that were smoking. And I was just really uncomfortable and not having any fun. And, I just wanted to come home.”
“I see.” Thankfully, my mother stopped her interrogation and was content to drive home in silence.
By the time I got home, I decided I needed a shower to remove the smoke and general unpleasantness of the evening. After settling into my room for the night, I decided to try to finish that text to Sarah. I pulled out my phone, noticing a message from an unfamiliar number.
Eliot was wondering if I wanted to watch NeoGenesis with him. According to the timestamp, the message was only a few minutes old. I figured watching my favorite show with him beat brooding about what had just happened. Besides, I could probably complain about it to him, since he was the one who had warned me that everyone had changed. As I turned on the show, I sent him a request to video chat.
For the next hour, we were relatively silent during the show, occasionally commenting on what we were watching. During the commercial breaks, I was able to tell him what had happened at the football game. He explained that my former friends had changed their attitudes—as well as their wardrobes—on the second day of school. Brian and Kevin were two of the boys who had been arrested with Eliot. The only reason George wasn’t was because he had driven away, ditching everyone else before he could get caught.
I wanted to lament about how everyone had changed so much in such a short time, but the final commercial break ended. I watched in silence as two characters had an intimate discussion before kissing slowly.
I had forgotten I was on the phone with Eliot. He laughed at me. “What? You weren’t so squeamish when they kissed earlier.”
“Yeah, but now she’s got that vampire parasite thing.”
“Huh? No, she doesn’t.”
I didn’t get a chance to explain. On the screen, the female character kissed the man’s neck, opening her mouth to bite him. His scream was the only sound as the screen turned black and the closing credits appeared.
Eliot stared at me with wide eyes. “Wait! How did you know that? Did you read some spoiler alert?”
“No. When she was working in the lab. I dunno. It was just a feeling I got watching her. She acted a little differently afterwards. Like, she ate that rare steak at dinner. Just, little things.”
“Wow. Totally missed it. I may have to watch it again tomorrow.” Eliot paused a moment. “Thanks for watching it with me. It was fun. Maybe we can do it again next week.”
“That would be cool.” I sighed as I suddenly remembered my other life. “Oh, but, I can’t. It’s on during study hours.”
“Oh. Well, I guess I’ll have to just text you what happens.”
I laughed. “Don’t you dare! I have every intention of watching it. Do NOT spoil it for me!”
We talked for over two hours, about nothing in particular, until I happened to glance at a clock. “Oh, wow! It’s late. I better get going.”
“It was nice talking to you. Maybe I can call you again some time?”
“Sure. I’d like that.”
After we ended the call, I wanted to go to bed. But, despite my conversation with Eliot, I was still very upset by everything that had happened. Maybe writing a journal entry would help.
I went to my closet to retrieve my writing journal. Instead, I found a shoe box covered in magazine clippings of friends laughing and playing, overlaid with words about friends and friendship. I brought it to my bed.
I took my time sorting through the contents of the box, reliving the memories each token represented. It was past midnight when I realized that Brittney and Casey hadn’t even bothered looking for me.
By the time I returned everything to the box, I realized that my friendship had died. Placing the box in its special place on my closet shelf, I made the resolution to remember my friends as they had been, not as they were tonight. I would cherish the memories we had shared together.
Somehow, I managed to find the energy and inspiration to write a journal entry before crying myself to sleep.
Friday, September 29
Is it possible to mourn a person who has not actually passed away? To spend hours lamenting, knowing that person is gone forever, even though we were together only hours earlier? Is it possible to cherish the memories made together, certain no more will ever be created, even though I might run into that person in the grocery store tomorrow?
When I left home to attend Hartfield, I said goodbye to my two best friends, knowing I would miss them dearly until I returned for Long Weekend. We had many plans for when we would finally be together again, but the girls who greeted me Friday night were not the girls I had left behind. Another friend had tried to warn me that everyone had changed, but I felt as if I were in a science fiction movie where I entered some sort of alternate reality. There I was, spending time with two girls who looked just like my best friends, who sounded just like my best friends, who even shared the same memories as my best friends, but who were, in reality, mystifying clones who were nothing like the two people I had known.
I cannot determine whether it was them or me who has transformed to the point that we are now nearly unrecognizable to each other. How did this even happen? Did they simply grow up and mature or have their bodies been taken over by some strange alien forces? Perhaps they simply evolved separately from me?
I don’t feel as if I have changed, although I cannot pretend that living away from home hasn’t affected me at least a little. But have I really mutated all that much? Am I the one whose body has been taken over by some strange alien force, or did I simply evolve separately from my friends?
Part of me wonders, if I hadn’t gone away to school, would I have also changed just as much as they have? Would I have been transformed into one of their aliens? Or would I have still evolved into who I am now? Would the three of us still be best friends? Or would we have still grown apart as many of my other school friends seemed to have done?
By Friday afternoon, Meghan was feeling better enough to see some of her friends. Her roommate stopped by briefly, but couldn’t stay long before she had to get to work. A couple of other girls came by to see when she could go clubbing with them again. Mom quickly thanked them and ushered them out of the room.
Walter and I spent most of the day in the lounge, watching Meghan when Mom and Dad needed a break. We were thinking about grabbing a snack when there was a knock on the door.
“Hey, Meghan. How you feeling?”
Chloe looked as gorgeous as always, but there was something funny about her eyes. She kissed me on the cheek before going to Meghan’s side.
“I called yesterday, but your mom said you were resting.”
Meghan grabbed her best friend’s hand. “I’m glad you’re here.” She looked at me and Walter. “Girl time. Out!”
“Mom said we had to stay here.”
Walter got to his feet. “Don’t have to tell me twice.”
I glared at my sister. “Five minutes. I’ll be back in five minutes. Chloe, if she starts sounding confused or getting dizzy, you call the nurse.”
Meghan rolled her eyes and Chloe giggled a little maniacally. I followed Walter into the hall.
He pointed back towards the room. “Is it me, or is Chloe…off?”
I frowned. “Yeah. I’m not comfortable leaving the two of them alone.”
Walter shrugged. “Well, it’s not like Chloe’s gonna break Meghan out of here. Is she?”
He didn’t sound convinced. Thankfully, I saw Mom coming down the hall. When she saw us, she ran the rest of the way.
“What happened? Is Meghan okay?”
I held up both my hands. “Meghan’s fine. Chloe’s here and Meghan kicked us out.”
I saw Mom take a deep breath. Dad put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay, Kara.”
Walter pointed behind us. “We’re going back to the waiting room.”
Mom nodded. “Alright. We’re going to grab supper here tonight.”
Walter smirked. “Don’t want another incident like last night.”
Mom glared until we were out of her sight.
We had finished one game of Weddas and were contemplating another when Chloe joined us in the waiting room.
“Ugh. That stupid game?”
“No one invited you to play.” Walter might have been a little rude, but Chloe didn’t seem to care. She rolled her eyes and turned to me.
“So, where have you been? I haven’t seen you around school.”
“In Hawaii. You knew that.”
Chloe shrugged. “I might have.”
I got to my feet. “Would you like me to walk you home?”
I saw Walter’s raised eyebrows, but I ignored them. Chloe smiled at me. “Sure. We can pick up a pizza on the way.”
“Sounds great to me. Lemme just go let my parents know.”
I popped my head into Meghan’s room. “Hey, Mom? Did you see Chloe?”
She nodded. “Yeah. I thought she was heading to the waiting room.”
“Yeah. She’s there. I mean, did you see her? Did she seem like she was acting funny?”
Meghan nodded. “Her parents ditched her for long weekend.”
I groaned. “Seriously? She’s alone with Imelda?”
Mom looked between us. “Who’s Imelda?”
“The housekeeper. She and Chloe don’t get along very well. I was thinking maybe I could walk her home? I kind of don’t trust her to make it there herself.”
Mom frowned. “And you think you can keep her from getting lost? I think she knows the city a little better than you do.”
I sighed. “I’m not worried about her getting lost. I’m worried about her making bad decisions on the way back home.”
I could see the conflict in Mom’s facial expressions. “I like that you want to help a friend. I just hate the idea of you wandering the city alone.”
“I’ll be with Chloe. And, I know the way. It on the orange line. There’s a station near the Empire State Building, which is less than ten blocks away.”
Mom narrowed her eyes at me. “How do you know all that?”
I held up my phone. I had already mapped out the route.
She sighed. “Fine. Walk her home. Call me when you’re ready to leave. We’ll discuss you getting home.”
“She said maybe we could grab a pizza? Bring it back to her place?”
“Is this housekeeper home?”
“Yes.” Maybe? I wasn’t actually sure, but I knew if I gave Mom any other answer, she would never let me leave.
“I do not want you home alone with her, young man.”
I held up my hands. “I promise. I’m walking a friend home. Having dinner to make sure she’s okay.”
Mom gave me a long list of rules, but eventually she gave me permission to go home with Chloe. I rushed to tell her before Mom could change her mind.
It had been a while since I had wandered New York. Whenever Pop-Pop’s last musical debuted. Probably about six, eight months ago. Not much had changed. There were still hot dog vendors on every corner. The sidewalk was covered with scaffolding where crews were working on buildings. There were too many people crowded onto the sidewalks.
I could see why Meghan loved it. It was easy to be invisible with so many people around. I took a deep breath, turning in a circle while we waited to cross the street.
“I think I would like living here.”
Chloe rolled her eyes. “You sound like a tourist.” She took my arm in both of hers.
“No, I mean, I could see myself going to school here. Speaking of—” I freed my arm, putting it around her shoulders. “Have you figured out where you’re applying?”
“Sort of. I decided definitely a city. Definitely the US.”
I raised my eyebrows. “You were considering elsewhere?”
She shrugged. “I thought about London or Paris. Maybe Barcelona or Rome. But, I realized I had a greater chance of running into my parents in those cities than I did here. So, now I’m thinking Boston, New York. Maybe LA.”
I smiled. “You would hate LA.”
“Meghan and I could get an apartment together. She could go back to work.”
“But, you haven’t figured out specific schools?”
Chloe shook her head. “I’m meeting with my college counselor next week to generate a short list.”
We exited the subway on the west side of Central Park. There was a pizza parlor where we emerged. Chloe had already ordered ahead and our pie was waiting for us. I carried it the half a block to her building.
It wasn’t my first time at Chloe’s two-story penthouse. From her building, I could see well into the park across the street. But, I didn’t take the time to look. We brought the pizza to her room.
She disappeared for a few minutes, returning with two glasses of soda. While we ate our supper on her floor, I told her about Hawaii.
I shrugged as I drained the last of my soda. “So, hopefully, I’ll be back by Halloween.”
She ran a hand along my arm. “I hope so. I miss you.”
I smiled. “Oh, I’m sure you’re so busy, you don’t even realize I’m not there.”
“I remember when you first started Hartfield. You were Meghan’s annoying little brother, always hanging around. I can’t tell you the number of ways I suggested we try to ditch you.”
I laughed. “Well, in that case, maybe I should leave.”
She moved closer to me, running a finger along my chest. “You’re not Meghan’s little brother anymore. You’re all grown up.”
Before I knew what was happening, her lips were on mine. I closed my eyes instinctively, returning the kiss. She tasted of pizza and soda, but with a hint of mouthwash. I wasn’t sure why.
I didn’t let her linger. I wasn’t a big fan of kissing. It felt weird having someone else’s lips smooshed up against mine. After a moment, I pushed her away gently.
“Chloe. What’s going on?”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I thought . . . Was it weird for you?”
“You’re my friend, and I love you. But, as a friend.”
She sighed. “Yeah. I didn’t feel anything either.”
I had no idea what she meant. Did her lips go numb and she not feel them pressed against mine? I thought it best not to ask. I got to my feet.
“I should probably get going.”
Chloe sighed. “Yeah, probably. I’ll walk you out. I need another drink.”
I helped her bring the dishes back to the kitchen. I kissed her cheek before leaving the apartment. On my way downstairs, I called my mother.
“I’m leaving Chloe’s. Do you want me to meet you somewhere?”
Mom sighed. “Dad’ll come pick you up.”
“Where is he?”
“Here at the hospital.”
I shook my head. “Mom, I can take the subway in the amount of time it takes for him to drive here. Honestly, the subway’s probably faster.”
“You have to promise to sit near the door so you can jump out if there’s a fight. And no traveling between cars while the subway is in motion. And if you have to stand, make sure you hold on. And no talking to strangers.”
By the time she had finished her litany of rules, I had arrived at the subway entrance. I waited for her to hang up before heading down the stairs. I bought a ticket at the kiosk and went through turnstile as the train was pulling to a stop. I followed the other commuters into the nearest car. It wasn’t full, but it was a far cry from empty.
I chose the seat in the corner, studying the overhead map and counting my stops. The ride was thoroughly uneventful. When I arrived at the hospital, Mom was pacing Meghan’s room frantically. I glanced at my watch.
“Mom, it was barely half an hour.”
“I know. I just worry about you all alone in the city.”
I could see Meghan roll her eyes behind Mom. I just shook my head. Mom pursed her lips.
“We’re having supper in the cafeteria. Your father and brother are already downstairs.”
I nodded my head towards my sister. “I ate with Chloe. Why don’t I stay here and you can go grab something.”
I could see Mom hesitate, but ultimately she nodded and left the room. I closed the door partially behind her before sitting beside Meghan.
“How you feeling?”
She shrugged. “Stronger. My levels stayed pretty steady today. You okay?”
She gave me the ghost of a smile. “You’re playing with the top button of your shirt. You used to do that when you were trying to remember your lines.”
I had never realized. I quickly put my hand in my lap. “I’m just worried about you.”
I shook my head. “Don’t you dare say you’re fine.”
She sighed deeply. “I was going to say I’m doing better. I know I’m not fine. I’m mad at myself for letting it get this out of control. And frankly, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get Mom to move out of my apartment. Even if it means doing things I don’t want to.”
I shifted to get a little more comfortable on the bed. “Like what things?”
“Ugh. My doctor suggested this support group.”
“That might be nice. Maybe you can find someone who struggles like you.”
“Yeah. Except it’s a pediatric group.”
I tried not to laugh. “Well, I know some of them will probably be bigger than you but I don’t think they’re that scary.”
She kicked me, but I hardly felt it. She shook her head. “Mom also thinks I should take some cooking classes.”
“Hey, look at the bright side.”
“They stopped bugging you about college.”
Meghan rolled her eyes. “Oh, don’t even go there. No, they haven’t. Mom’s decided that since we’re going to be spending so much quality time together, she’s going to help me decide where to apply. But, she also said she doesn’t want me in school til she thinks I can take care of myself or whatever, so she agreed I can wait til next year.”
I smiled. “We can go to the same school.”
“No. We can’t. I’m thinking University of Australia. That’s pretty much as far away from here as I can get, right?”
“Yeah. You realize, Mom’ll just follow you, right? I bet she would love to shoot on location in Sydney. Melbourne.”
Meghan wrinkled her nose. “Fine. University of Siberia. Mom hates the cold.”
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Stay tuned. Episode 24 will be released on Friday, March 26.