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With Malice(2)
Eileen Cook

She smiled widely and I felt the absurd rush of pride I always experienced when I got a question right. I really had to work on my need to be such a pleaser. You’d think I wouldn’t always demand validation. Simone’s always on me for that.

Simone was going to freak when she heard I was in the hospital. She’d bring me new PJs from Pink so I wouldn’t have to wear this disgusting hospital gown that probably was last worn by some incontinent old man. Or someone who died in it.

Gross.

Simone would also bring a stack of her favorite trashy magazines. She’d make me move over so she could sit on the edge of the bed, and we’d take a photo she could put online. Things would be better when she got here. Simone had that effect on people. She’d make this an adventure. My throat seized, and I was suddenly sure I was about to start crying. I wanted her there so badly my chest ached.

“I’m going to get the doctor,” the nurse said. “A lot of people are going to be glad to see you back with us.”

I started to nod, but the pain came again when I moved my head, so I stopped. I closed my eyes when she left the room. It was good to be back.

I just wished I knew where I’d been.

“Knock-knock.”

There was a sharp prick of pain in my foot. My eyes snapped open. A guy in a white lab coat stood at the end of my bed. Before I could say anything, he jabbed the arch of my foot with a large pin.

WTF?

“Do you feel that?” He reached for my foot, and I pulled it away. Back off, Dr. Mengele.

He smiled and laughed. He was a happy sadist. “Looks like you felt it. Do you remember meeting me?” He moved closer so he was standing at the side of the bed. His hair was curly and stuck up like dandelion fluff. He looked a bit like a clown, or somebody’s goofy uncle Dwight, who could be counted on to make lame jokes and wear one of those holiday sweaters with a reindeer on the front to Christmas dinner in a nonironic kind of way.

Creep alert. I shook my head slowly. I’d never seen this guy before in my life. The sheets tangled underneath me as I scootched to the far side of the bed.

“We’ve met a couple of times. I’m Dr. Ruckman.” He stared down at me.

“Hi,” I said. My voice still didn’t sound like my own. “Where’s my m-m-mom?” The words snagged in my throat, forcing me to push them out. I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t there. Normally my problem was getting rid of my mom. I’d never been in the hospital before. Well, once in second grade. I fell off the—Dammit. Now I can’t think of what they’re called. The ladder thing, suspended above the playground. Lion bars? No. Elephant bars. That’s not it either, but that’s like it. You swing across them. I’d had to get stitches, but I’d never stayed in the hospital before. Maybe she didn’t even know I was here. She could be sitting up, waiting for me to come home, getting worried. Guilt bloomed in my chest. I didn’t want her to worry.

“Your mom went down to get some coffee. She was here all night, hoping you’d wake back up,” he said.

All night? I’d only closed my eyes for a second. The light in the room was different. I turned; it was dark outside the window, the sky just starting to lighten to a deep purple bruise blue at the horizon. Sunrise. Where the hell had the rest of yesterday gone? Panic rippled through my stomach, threatening to take over.

“You think you’re up for trying something to drink?” the doctor asked. He reached for the plastic pitcher on the table.

My mouth watered. I’d never wanted anything that badly. There were crack addicts who were less needy. I nodded.

The doctor pressed a button, and the bed cranked up a bit higher. I was barely sitting up and it still made me lightheaded. He guided the straw between my lips. I wanted to tell him I could do it, but I wasn’t actually sure I could. I took a sip of the water and almost cried at how good it tasted. I tried to take another, but he pulled the glass away.

“Let’s take it easy. See how that sits for a minute or two,” Dr. Ruckman said. “Can you do something else for me? Can you raise your right hand?”

I reached up with my right hand and wiped my mouth. I cringed. My lips had moved beyond chapped. It was like I’d run them through a cheese grater. Jesus, when is the last time I used some lip balm?

“Where’s the—” My brain scrambled to find the right word. “Health professional who was here? The, uh, caregiver.” That wasn’t right. “RN!” I spat out, but that wasn’t what I meant to say either.

“The nurse?” Dr. Ruckman suggested.

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