As expected, the line for the medical bay was still long. “So what were you studying in college?” I asked Ruby as we joined the herd.

“Biology.”

“Really? Oh man, I could have used your help a few months ago.”

She smiled. “What about you?

“Oh, I have no idea. I keep trying things out, but nothing seems right. Maybe I’m too picky. I’d just like to find something I enjoy.”

“No, I agree. If we’re going to be doing it for the rest of our lives, we better like it, right?”

“Exactly!” It was like she was reading my mind. If making friends were always this easy, I’d have a million of them by now.

The line stepped forward, and we moved along with it. I suddenly felt this eerie reminder of my last conversation with my grandma and a show I’d seen once on the History Channel. The program included clips of old black and white films showing  lines of prisoners slowly moving forward to meet their demise in  gas chambers. I wondered why they didn’t resist or run away, but many, they said, had no idea what was inside the building they were about to enter…

These thoughts entered by mind and just as quickly I brushed them away. Certainly what I was experiencing was nothing like that. I silently apologized to the deceased and their families.

“So do you have any idea where we’re supposed to be going next?” I asked, shifting my mind back to present things.

“Lunch, I think.”

“Great, I’m starving.” I couldn’t believe it given the amount of food I’d eaten at my “last meal” breakfast with my parents and little brother, Andy, but my stomach was now feeling raw and empty.

“You’re not the only one. I thought my appetite would die down after Charlotte was born, but if that’s true, it hasn’t yet. I guess when you are breastfeeding the appetite continues, but I was only able to breastfeed for the first three days. They wanted to get her used to the formula right away, but since I’ve heard that the baby gets most of their immunities through breast milk, I wanted to help Charlotte out as much as I could…” She trailed off, but her eyes didn’t tear up as much this time. I was impressed.

“So, will your parents bring her here to visit you soon?”

“Yeah, my mom said that she’ll get over here with her as soon as she can get them to schedule a visit. Visits aren’t easy to get, as I’m sure you found out with your brother.”

“Oh yeah, they made it as hard on me as possible.”

“Step forward please!” a nurse ordered. I hadn’t been paying attention and suddenly, we were next in line.

There were several stations open with different doctors and nurses. The nurse ushered Ruby and I in different directions.

“Good luck,” I said, stepping forward to meet the nurse frantically waving me in.

“You too. How ‘bout we meet at lunch?”

“Sounds good.” I took a deep breath and followed the nurse into an examining room.

“Here’s your next victim,” the nurse said to a bearded man and a woman with bleach blond hair—both dressed in white coats—as she dropped me off. The drop-off nurse smiled in a not-so-friendly kind of way as she left. Victim. Very funny.

The bearded man and bleach blond both stood, tapping on tablet PCs they held on their arms like doctor’s charts. The room was small, supplied with the usual cabinets, countertop, and sink found in most examining rooms, but unlike most, it had a door on the wall opposite where I came in.

“Where does that go?” I asked as I entered.

“That’s none of your concern,” the bearded man replied without looking up.

“Well, it’s a little creepy when you are about to examine me. Is anyone going to come in through there?”

“No, you have nothing to worry about.” He answered automatically, still looking at his computer rather than at me.

“Your name, Miss?” the woman asked, and I understood then that she was the assistant. Figures, I thought.

“Alathea Thompson.”

I watched as she wrote it in with her stylus. “Yes, I have you here. Age 19? Six-four-three-seven Park Lane?”

“That’s me.”

“Allergy to penicillin? How do you know that?” She looked up from her computer so she could peer over her glasses at me.

“My mother is very allergic to it, so we’re guessing that I may be too.”

“Just because your mother is, doesn’t mean that you are,” she said in a know-it-all kind of a tone.

“Well I’d rather not find out the hard way if you don’t mind,” I snapped back.

“Alathea, have a seat,” the doctor said, still without looking up from his tablet.

I looked around the room, chose one of the wheelie chairs, and plopped myself down.

“On the table, please,” he clarified, looking up at me at last. His eyes were brown, but much darker than Bryan’s, edged with deep lines and thick brows that seemed bent in a permanent scowl.

I hated the stupid table. I had too many bad memories on those things. Why couldn’t they just do what they needed to do with me where I was?

Apparently, I hesitated a bit too long for Dr. Beard’s liking. “Young lady!” he said impatiently. “We are on a tight schedule.”

Bryan’s eyes could never look so mean, I thought, glaring back. Reluctantly, I got up from the chair, took the step over to the table, and hopped up. Even at nineteen, it was too high for me to get on without jumping or using the small step they usually pull out for children.

“Have you been sick or needed to visit a doctor for any reason in the last year?” Dr. Beard asked.

“Nope.”

“When was your last menstrual cycle?”

“Why does that matter?”

“Just answer the question,” Bleach blond snipped.

“I don’t know. A few weeks ago, I guess.”

“Can you be more specific?” Beard asked, looking over his dark-rimmed glasses. Looking over your glasses must be something they teach you in medical school, I thought.

“No, I can’t. I really don’t keep track.”

“Well, you should,” Blondie said, rolling her eyes.

I rolled mine too.

“Okay,” Beard said. He stepped up to the table and set his tablet down behind me. “Arms up.” I reluctantly raised them. “We need to check your lymph nodes to make sure that you are nice and healthy,” he said, feeling the insides of my armpits. He did the same a little too close to things I didn’t want him near on the inside of my legs, then placed his hands around my throat and up behind my ears.

“Alright, that’s fine. Now I just need to listen to your heart and lungs.” He placed the stethoscope in his ears and the other end inside my shirt, on my chest. It was cold and uncomfortable, and I flinched in response. He looked up at me briefly, then down again.

After a moment of silence, he said, “Sounds good.” Then he moved the cold thing over slightly. “Breathe in.”

I took a deep breath.

“Breathe out.”

I let it all out.

“Again.”

I repeated a few more times and then he moved to my back.

“Breathe in.”

“Hhheeeh,” my lungs said as I took another deep breath. I was becoming a pro now.

“Breathe out.”

“Hwooooh,” my lungs replied, relaxing.

“Everything checks out. I’ll just have Nurse Edwards take your blood pressure and give you your inoculations, and you’ll be on your way.”

“Inoculations? But I just had a bunch for college. Are you sure I need them?”

“Yes, we’ve checked your record. These are different, and ones that everyone needs in order to become a student here.”

I knew this was going to be the case, but I had to at least try to get out of it.

Dr. Beard left and Nurse Blondie pulled the blood pressure cuff from its holder in the wall. A few seconds later, it was wrapped around my arm, giving the uncomfortable sensation that tells you that your hand would really like its blood back.

“A little high,” she said, not a moment too soon. I thought my hand was going to turn blue if she’d gone any longer. Did she say it was high? What did they expect? It was my first day at this place and I was in a medical office being examined. Of course it’s going to be high.

“Okay Alathea,” she said, looking over my chart on her tablet again, “it looks like you just need the one vaccination.”

“What’s it for?”

“It’s a combination of inoculations.”

“What’s it protecting me from?”

“Lots of things.”

“Name one.”

She looked at me harshly, and I could tell that she wasn’t used to getting this kind of resistance. “Streptencoholitis.”

I swear she just made that up. “What?”

“It’s a common, but serious virus that often spreads in closed environments such as this.”

Whatever. Let’s just get this over with. I pulled up my sleeve, thankful it was a short one so my shirt could stay on. This was one of the few examinations where I’d been able to stay fully clothed, and I was hoping to keep it that way.

She walked out of the office and returned a moment later, syringe in hand. A young man, also in a white coat, followed her for what I assumed to be insurance purposes.

I turned to look the other way as she prepared to plunge the needle in. A few rooms down, I imagined Ruby looking right at it as they administered her vaccine. She seemed so much braver than me.

I felt the needle hit my skin. And then, the sensation of falling.

 

Want More? Get the book:

iBookstore-Image-200x100B&N Logo 200x100Amazon logo 200x100IndieBound logo 200x100

Download the eBook now from: Amazon USA | Amazon UK | Barnes and Noble | iTunes | Kobo | Flipkart | Tenterhook (ePub) | Tenterhook (mobi)

Get it in print: Tenterhook Books |  Amazon USA Amazon UK Barnes and Noble and many, many others.

Add it to your Bookshelf: Goodreads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Print ISBN-10: 146369282X
ISBN-13: 978-1463692827

eBook ISBN: 9781465758927
ASIN: B005CF7NAI