Sombre. Melancholic. Dreary. Those were the best words to describe Rilah's personality and each day in her life now. Of course, Florence had been furious that Rilah had brought her goods late, and she had fortunately escaped with a slap. Florence had apparently decided that she had more pressing issues than using Rilah as her punching bag. However, Rilah had gotten sick soon afterwards. Right after Florence had slapped her, she'd ran upstairs, flung the bathroom door open and released all her day's worth of food. Great, another way that Florence ruined her day.
She'd taken the PEP pill and curled up in bed, crying herself to sleep. The following days were a repetition of robotic movements; wake up, bath and get dressed, make breakfast, grab a fruit and scone and go to school. Whenever she could, Sylvia would wait for her at the corner and they'd walk together to school. However, Rilah noticed that with each day that she stayed mute and distant, Sylvia began having more morning duties at school.
Sylvia didn't abandon her totally though. She sat with her during lunch each day, telling her many stories and gossips going around the school. She told her about her the principal's new car, which she'd bought recently and was flaunting around. She told her about Tyron and Cynthia's rocky relationship; how their big egos had finally had enough of being compressed into the same small box. Sylvia was disappointed that Rilah didn't even crack a smile.
The Cunnings kept checking on her progress but they could see that it wasn't getting any better. Soon Sylvia stopped walking with Rilah altogether, though she tried constantly to get Rilah to talk to Charlie on the phone. That was also futile. Everytime she mentioned Charlie, Rilah broke into tears or seemed to get worse. She took the hint and told Charlie that there was no hope that he'd talk to Rilah. She hated being the bearer of bad news.
Everyone except Mr Daniels and Florence noticed that something was wrong. Susan from the school library asked her why she no longer asked for books. Each and every teacher asked her what was wrong. The vice principal asked her if she'd been diagnosed with something like ADHD, owing to her constant agitation and nervous energy. The principal herself called her into the office and asked her why she was skipping school so frequently. However, none of them did anything because her marks were getting better nonetheless.
It became such a big concern for the principal, that she was ended up calling in Tyron and his parents. Upon further enquiries, they still had no idea what was wrong with Rilah. Florence was only relieved that Rilah's marks weren't disturbed, because that meant that Tyron's marks would also remain stable. So they brushed aside the teachers' concern.
After weeks of subtle hints and pestering, Sylvia managed to convince Rilah to take Charlie's call.
"Charlie", she whispered.
"Hey, Lulu. Long time no talk. Am I that easy to forget?"
"Of course not. There's still some remnants of your stinky arrogance." Rilah almost broke into a smile when she had Charlie laugh genially.
"Ouch, already on my case. You know, I've told you countless times that it's not arrogance. It's just confidence." Rilah snorted.
"What are you doing there?", she murmured.
"Nothing much. Just finishing up an assignment that is dull and energy draining." He released a deep sigh.
"Well, if you were here, closer to home, you would not be bored. Where are your friends?"
"Out with their significant others. Oh, the life of a lonesome handsome bachelor. Oh, the profanity!" Rilah giggled at his whining voice. Charlie felt a warmth travel up his body. He released another deep sigh, but this one was relieved and happy. "I miss you Lulu-Rye."
"I miss you too, Charlie Jayson".
* * *
It was very dark, the moon offering only a sliver of light. Rilah could feel the fear setting in, the panic and rapid beating of her heart. It was the same nightmare again but try as she might she could not control it, or exit it. The man walked confidently towards her, forcing her to back up against the wall. He had a smirk that was painfully familiar but the clouds covered the moon, plunging them in darkness.
It was only a few seconds later that the clouds shifted again and it was lighter. The moon's beams illuminated a face that made Rilah scream out in horror; her attacker was Charlie.
"Don't. Charlie, don't do this please. Please, please . . . No!" Rilah woke up in complete darkness, screaming. When she realised she was in her room, she buried her face in her pillow to stop her screaming. Her heart slowed down but the fear from her dream didn't end. She felt bile rising up her throat and made a dash for the bathroom. She barely made it and dry heaved into the toilet.
Her throat hurt and her stomach twisted. She had not had food since yesterday morning. Her stomach growled and made her feel queasy again. She wiped her mouth, flushed the toilet and went downstairs to the kitchen. She quietly went through the fridge and took out last night's leftovers - spicy lasagna, with a side of steamed vegetables.
She troughed through the vegetables, enjoying them even when they were now cold and it was dark. She transferred her attention towards the spicy goodness, not even caring that the Daniels could hear her. As soon as she took the first bite, her stomach acted up and she raced to the sink. She ejected all the food, leaving her weak and drained.
"God, there goes all my food again." She rinsed the sink. "Stupid stomach bug."
She put the lasagna back in the fridge, noting how terrible it smelled. At least now I'll have a valid reason for skipping school, she thought. I'm horribly sick. She retreated up to bed, mentally scolding her growling stomach. Why had it rejected the food if it was so hungry?
* * *
"Hey, come in." Sylvia waved Rilah into the house and led her into the sitting room. "Thank you so much for coming." She looked around the room, eyeing all the papers on the coffee table with panic. "I don't know what to do Rye. Everything's a mess!"
Rilah looked at her panic-stricken friend and gestured for her to sit down. "Okay, take two deep breaths and tell me what's happening."
Sylvia ran her hand through her hair before complying. "I've been so caught up with my duties as Head Girl and as the tennis captain that I forgot all about my school work and now we are only a week away from starting exams and I don't know anything!" She talked so rapidly that she only took a breath at the end.
Sylvia looked tired; she had bags under her eyes, her hair hadn't been combed and she was in a sweater and polka dot shorts. Her eyes looked bloodshot and a cup of cold coffee sat on the table.
"Where are your parents?" Rilah started sorting through the papers on the table and arranged them subject by subject.
"Dad's at the office and mom went to check on the supermarket. Afterwards, she's meeting her friends for a day out." She pointed her chin to the window. "Taking advantage of the last sunny day."
Rilah looked out the window. Sylvia was right - winter was setting in. Besides, her mom was a meteorologist and there was no reason not to believe her. Mrs Cunning also owned a whole supermarket, which sold absolutely everything. Keeping in touch with her sense of humour, she had named it Everything Everything. It had become the number one spot for shopping in town and it brought in a lot of income in the Cunnings' home.
"Okay, let's start with the subject that is most difficult for you."
Sylvia and Rilah worked on Geography for two hours before they took a break to eat. Sylvia made them porridge with peanut butter first, and they supplemented it with omelettes and guava juice. Rilah tentatively ate the porridge, afraid that she would throw up. She was relieved when it settled in her stomach.
She didn't talk much while they ate. She couldn't bring herself to ease yet around people. It didn't help that everywhere she saw reminders of Charlie: pictures on the wall, a soccer ball in the corner, his motorcycle in the garden and even his favourite cereal in the cupboard. Rilah had realised that everytime she spoke to Charlie, he would appear as her tormentor in her nightmare. This unsettled her and she found herself cutting down the number of calls. It was the only way to protect herself.
Rilah took her fork and cut through her omelette. A wave of an unpleasant smell hit her and she made a dive for the kitchen sink. She noted with a whimper that she'd just thrown up in her neighbour's kitchen sink. Oh, could it get any worse. Conscious of how Rilah easily spooked, Sylvia stood next to her and asked her if she was okay.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Stomach bug. What was in the omelette?"
Sylvia frowned but replied, "Eggs, ham, cheese and garlic. Why?"
"I'm just trying to figure out if there's a particular ingredient my stomach is against and maybe . . . " Rilah stopped talking and clutched the edge of the sink. She started wheezing badly and Sylvia grabbed her hand.
"Rilah! Rilah, what's going on? Are you fine?"
"Can't . . . b-breathe. My, my chest", she brought her hand to her chest, grabbing it frantically. Sylvia led her to the sofa and grabbed her phone. She dialled the emergency department and relayed the message. Afterwards, she dialled her mom's phone. "Mom! Thank God you answered. Rilah, she's having difficulties breathing. Yes, I called the hospital. What else should I do?"
She looked at Rilah, whose face was getting pale under the effort of breathing.
Sylvia put down the phone and went over to Rilah. She unzipped Rilah's jersey and put her hands under her t-shirt to unclasp her bra.
"Oh, no bra. Okay, that's good". That was not good. Sylvia had thought that Rilah's constricted breathing was because of tight clothing but now she saw that it was that bad. "Okay, Rye. I need you to take slow breaths. One, two, three, release."
Rilah followed Sylvia's instructions and found that breathing slowly helped, but only marginally. Finally, Sylvia heard the siren of the ambulance and opened the door, waving them over. She watched the paramedics bring out a stretcher and unfold it in record time. Sylvia urged Rilah to get up and led her to the door, where two men hefted her onto the stretcher.
Sylvia locked the door and told the paramedics that she'd be riding with Rilah. Sylvia noted Rilah's worsening complexion and her lack of protest at being lifted into the ambulance by men. The situation was terrible. The ambulance sped off, it's sirens screeching. Sylvia held onto Rilah's right hand as a drip was being inserted into her left. She couldn't answer any of their questions regarding medical history.
"Neither can Rilah, I believe. She lives with a foster family so she can't tell you any family history."
One of the paramedics grunted, before asking about any allergies. "None that I know of. I doubt she knows about any allergies but she's been having some kind of stomach problems recently. She actually threw up before she started having breathing problems."
"What did she eat?" A red headed lady asked.
"She ate porridge with peanut butter but she was fine after eating it. When she was about to eat an omelette, she threw up. Are you saying she's allergic to peanuts?"
"It's the most likely case. But it's too severe for us to sort out here." As soon as they got to the emergency room, Rilah was wheeled off to a ward. Sylvia relayed everything she knew to the doctor before sitting in the waiting room. She updated her mom and told her to come to the hospital.
Sylvia felt the effects of adrenaline wear off. She was deathly scared of hospitals. When she was young, about five, she had come to the emergency room with a stick stuck in her ear. She had seen a man stagger into the room covered in blood everywhere. The man had been shot several times and he fell down right in front of little Sylvia, his dead eyes looking at her. Ever since, anything that involved blood and hospitals freaked Sylvia out. It was only so much she could do not to run for the hills.
"Welcome back, Ms Huberts. Gave us quite a scare there." A young male doctor with blond hair and glasses with blue rims smiled at her. He was probably a crush to many patients here but to Rilah he was a nightmare.
"So, your friend brought you here. You weren't breathing properly. Do you remember that?" Rilah nodded. "Turns out that you are severely allergic to peanuts. We gave you a shot and it stopped breathing difficulties. We'll give you some more to take home, in case it happens again."
"What about that stomach bug?" Rilah mustered up the strength to ask. The handsome doctor looked up from his chart and smiled widely.
"Oh no. That was no stomach bug. It's morning sickness. You are expecting, Ms Huberts. Almost three months. Congratulations."