“Okay, little man,” Dr. Bumpy said to Jabari. “You’ve got to tell me …”
“I don’t got to tell you nothing!” Jabari said.
Heather winced. She’d forgotten how surly Jabari could be. She looked at Dr. Bumpy, and he was grinning at Jabari.
“What?” Jabari asked with a scowl.
“You are so much like my son,” Dr. Bumpy said.
Dionne came into the examination room.
“Like you, you mean,” Dionne said.
Dr. Bumpy grinned. Jabari burst into giggles.
“He’s developed a rash,” Heather said. “It’s hard to tell because he’s skin is so dark.”
Dr. Bumpy looked at Jabari.
“Where is this rash?” Dr. Bumpy asked.
Jabari crossed his arms and shook his head. Dionne picked up the boy. In quick efficient moves, she stripped him down to his underwear. She pointed at the boy’s stomach and bottom.
“You are not my first sick Wilson boy,” Dionne said.
Jabari looked at his grandmother with big eyes. He nodded.
“I feel sick,” he said in a soft voice.
Dionne swiped a thermometer across the child’s forehead and held it out to Dr. Bumpy.
“Well, every one of your friends is sick,” Dr. Bumpy said.
“I should take care of them,” Jabari said.
“It’s okay to be sick,” Dr. Bumpy said. “Open your mouth. I want to take a look at your throat.”
Jabari opened his mouth. The child allowed Dr. Bumpy to take a look at his throat. Dionne did a quick swab for a strep test and left the room.
“Looks like strep,” Dr. Bumpy said.
“And the rash?” Heather asked.
“Scarlet fever,” Dr. Bumpy said. “Son, have you been sick like this before and not gotten treated?”
Jabari thought for a moment and then nodded.
“He’s probably had a low infection for a while,” Dr. Bumpy said. “You can put his clothing back on.”
Heather nodded and started to dress the young man. Jabari’s arms were up in the air, and Heather was holding his shirt, when it hit her like a lightning bolt.
Heather blinked. She needed to go.
Dionne came into the room.
“Heather?” Dionne asked. “Are you all right?”
Heather shook her head and looked at Dionne. The woman nodded to Jabari. Heather put his shirt on and picked him up.
“Something has happened,” Heather said. “Can you call the hospital for me?”
“Of course,” Dionne said. “What …?”
“My friend Sandy,” Heather said. “She changed her name to Norsen, but it’s Delgado-Norsen.”
“I’ll call,” Dionne said. “I’ve called in the prescriptions for the children.”
“Jabari can’t take pills,” Heather said. “He just throws them up.”
“Family trait,” Dionne said. “I got the liquid for all of them. Would like us to take the children to our home?”
“I … uh …” Heather said.
She looked out into the waiting room. Valerie and Mike were surrounded by toddlers. Their two children, Jackie and Eddie, were sick. Her children, Mack and Wyn, were ill. Jabari. Rachel Ann was sitting on Ivy’s lap. Ivy was sitting next to Valerie. Maggie was … Where was Maggie?
The door to the doctor’s office opened and Pierre Semaines appeared.
“Honey said that the children were ill,” Pierre said. “Maggie is at my son’s home. Nelson said that you can bring the rest of the children there. I came to see if I could be of assistance.”
“What about that crazy woman who’s trying to kill Nelson?” Mike asked, looking up from his son Eddie.
“She is no longer a problem,” Pierre said. “Now, how can I help?”
In quick order, with Pierre’s help, Valerie and Mike ferried the children into the car.
“I’ll tell you what?” Dionne asked. “Why don’t I head to the pharmacy? Where does Nelson live?”
“Right across from the Castle,” Heather said. “Have you had a chance to call the hospital?”
“She’s just arrived at the Emergency room,” Dionne said. “I called someone I know who’s on shift today. She said that Sandy needs emergency surgery for her ankle. She said that somehow, Fin and Tanesha were able to get early intervention.”
“What does that mean?” Heather asked.
“There’s hope,” Dionne said. She put her hand on Heather’s arm. “You go. I’ll take care of this. I stay with Nelson until you’re able to pick up the children.”
Heather hugged Dionne. She went to the SUV to kiss Mack and Wyn. Her children were sound asleep. Of course.
“Don’t worry,” Pierre said. “We’ve got this.”
“Thanks,” Heather said.
She watched the SUV pull away. She felt torn in two.
She should be with her children! She promised Tanesha that she would help Jabari!
Heather did something she hadn’t done in a thousand years. She teleported herself to the Castle. She noticed that Cleo the cat was sleeping on their bed. Lying down next to the cat, Heather set her body down.
She stepped out as Hedone. She went to Delos to be with her friend.
Aden wanted to be the parent who said: “It was just an accident. It could have happened to anyone. She clearly broke her ankle and fell. She just fell. It happens.”
But at this moment, he felt only wrath.
Nash winced at his look.
The EMTs loaded his wife on to a stretcher.
Without giving a second thought to anything or anyone else, Aden walked out to the ambulance with her.
It was a short trip to the hospital.
One minute? Two?
He was running alongside his wife’s stretcher. They went through a set of doors and …
Aden was standing in the waiting area. A financial person waved him over and he was signing papers and filling out forms.
What if Sandy died? Was it possible that she would die?
“Do people die from falls down the stairs?” Aden asked himself.
“All the time,” the clerk said.
Aden was surprised by the fact that the clerk answered. He blinked at the clerk.
“Why do you ask?” the clerk asked.
“My wife just fell down the stairs,” Aden said.
The clerk swallowed hard and turned his focus to reviewing the papers.
“They’ll call you when they know something,” the clerk said.
The clerk stood up, so Aden stood up.
“You can wait out there,” the clerk said.
Aden nodded. He wandered out to the lobby and sat down.
What had just happened?
Aden had no idea.
He dropped his head into his hands. A few minutes later, Blane slipped into the seat next to him. Blane hugged Aden and kissed his cheek. Jeraine sat down on the other side of Aden. Jacob appeared out of nowhere. Jill and Tanesha were there.
“What’s happening?” Charlie asked when he and Tink arrived.
Aden shook his head.
“Listen, Nash feels really bad,” Charlie said.
“What happened?” Aden asked.
“He wouldn’t turn over his phone,” Charlie said. “She took off after him and fell.”
Aden shook his head. His shock and helplessness turned to rage. He crossed his arms and thought about what he would do to Nash.
“Don’t worry,” Charlie said with a grin. “Abi zapped his phone. Teddy’s, too. She said it was retribution for their selfishness.”
Staring straight ahead, Aden didn’t have anything to say.
Or maybe he hadn’t asked it out loud? No one turned in his direction.
He’d just walked into the Castle. He was pulling at his tie when …
How did it start?
Oh yea. It started with Nash.
He caught the guilty, thrilled look on Nash’s face as he ran out of the stairwell clutching his phone.
“Nash?” Aden had yelled after his son.
He heard the sound.
Was it a grunt or the sound of her ankle breaking? He took two long steps to the stairwell just in time to have his beautiful, precious wife tumble out of the stairwell.
She had landed in a heap at his feet.
The sound of a high pitched ring began to chime in his head.
He was in the process of bending down when someone …
Could it possibly have been that pompous ass Fin? That didn’t make sense to him!
The fairy moved like a burst of water from the hose. Aden’s butt hadn’t hit his foot before Tanesha was calling 9-11.
Fin opened his flicked open his hands and sparks flew.
Tanesha was yelling at Fin but Aden couldn’t make sense of it. He turned his head to see that Delphie was standing behind him. She pointed to something.
Sandy was bleeding. Blood was pooling fast from her. Badly. From her ankle?
Fin made a kind of bandage with the sparks and wrapped up the wound.
Fin pointed his fingers to the sky and, gently, so gently, Sandy straightened out on her back.
Sound came back to Aden with a jolt.
“Her ankle had a compound fracture,” Tanesha said, pointing to the source of the bleeding.
“Nose,” Fin said.
“Cheek,” Tanesha said.
“Head,” Fin said. “Lots of blood from the head.”
“You have the light,” a voice came from behind them. Aden looked up to see Abi. “Put it on her head.”
“How?” Tanesha asked.
“Put your hands on one side and another,” Abi said. “Your light will help the swelling until …”
“Ice,” Tanesha said. She pointed to Teddy who came down the stairs. “Get me ice packs.”
The boy blinked at Tanesha.
“Go.” Tanesha said. “Now.”
Tanesha clapped her hands, and Teddy jumped into action like he’d been spanked. Shaking her head at the boy, Tanesha dropped down to Sandy’s head. She closed her eyes and put a hand at each side of her friend’s head.
Aden saw Sandy’s hand was lying right in front of him. He picked it up.
“Sandy?” he whispered.
There was pounding on the door.
They were so close to the hospitals here that the ambulance was there in less than five minutes. He watched Tanesha update the EMTs. They set to work stabilizing his wife.
His beloved Sandy.
The love of his life. The one he had waited for.
Sandy was dying.
Aden felt someone drop down next to him.
The boy still held that stupid phone in his hand. How many times had they argued over that phone?
Aden looked at his son and then the phone. Nash swallowed hard.
“You’re in the ambulance,” the woman said. “Would you like to wake?”
“Can I go to the sea instead?” Sandy asked.
Asteria gave her a soft smile. They were standing on sand the color of a sunflower. The sky was the same warm, yellow sky. In front of them was a warm, yellow sea. Asteria held out her hand, and Sandy took it. They walked to the edge of the sea.
The warm sea lapped against Sandy’s ankles.
“This is a favorite place of Hedone’s,” Asteria said. “It is her power and will that give it this color. When I am stronger, it won’t have this color. But for now, she graciously powers this home. It is where she found me before she brought me to you.”
“I won’t tell her that we came here,” Sandy said.
“She knows,” Asteria said. “She will be here as soon as she can get away.”
“I feel very tired,” Sandy said. “If I go to sleep, will I die?”
“No,” Asteria said. “I will hold you until you are ready to return.”
“But Hecate said you were not strong!” Sandy said. “Oh, Cleo! You are so beloved to me. Please don’t injure yourself for me.”
“My husband and my daughter have lent me their strength,” Asteria said. “Plus, I am my strongest here. Do not worry, Sandy. You and I will be safe here.”
“You promise?” Sandy asked.
“You have my solemn promise,” Asteria said. “I will not let you down.”
Sandy walked across the warm sand until she found a place to lie down. She lay on the sand for only a moment before falling into a sound, but dreamless sleep.
How long had she been lying here at the bottom of the stairwell?
A month? A second? She felt the floor underneath her. She wanted to open her eyes. She should open her eyes. But … She tried to scream.
“I’m at the bottom of the stairwell!!”
No sound came out.
Why had she been coming down this stairwell? She couldn’t remember.
And still, no one came in her direction.
No one said a word.
It was as if she was on a planet all by herself.
She heard a sound.
A scream echoed against the walls of the hallway.
Was that her voice? Why couldn’t she get up or …
She was caught up in the atmosphere of the planet she’d somehow fallen onto.
No one could hear her.
She was utterly and completely alone.
It wasn’t much — or anything. Really.
She’d experienced this— exactly this, lots of pain followed by absolute aloneness — over and over again as a child.
Whenever something horrible happened, she was completely alone. It was up to her to deal with what happened, to deal with herself.
Now, it was up to her to survive on this hostile and cold planet. She faded out.
Sandy felt hot, so hot when she awoke.
She felt wet, like wetness was pouring out of her. Why was she so wet?
A cool hand touched on her shoulder.
She opened her eyes and looked into a strange woman’s face. The woman sort of looked like Tink or that Hecate. She also looked like … A Goddess. Sandy wasn’t sure which one, but this woman was most certainly, at the very least, a Goddess.
The woman had long dark, curly hair brushed into gorgeous waves. There was a pure white streak through her hair — not the grey of age, but the purity of white. Her skin was on the dark side of tan which reminded Sandy of Perses. In fact, almost everything about this woman reminded Sandy of her best friend Jill’s father, Perses.
The woman was beautiful in the way of a statue or a monument. There was something incredibly hard and permanent about her features, as well as something fragile. When Sandy looked into the woman’s eyes, she saw eyes as familiar as her own cat, Cleo.
For some reason — and maybe it wasn’t real after all — she remembered seeing this woman on the lonely planet of her childhood. She felt a well of love for this face, this creature that had been by her side always.
“You have been badly injured,” the woman said as she leaned over Sandy. “I am here to hold you while the doctors help.”
“Will I survive this?” Sandy asked.
Somehow, Sandy was now standing. The woman was standing just to her right.
“If you wish,” the woman said. “If I had my wish, I would say ‘yes.’ But it’s not my gift to give life or death.”
“Where am I?” Sandy asked.
“You are with me,” the woman said. “This is Delos. It belongs to me.”
“Cleo?” Sandy asked.
“Yes, Sandy,” the woman said. “I am Asteria, mother of Hecate, wife and cousin to Perses, and your Cleo.”
Sandy reached out her hand and the woman rubbed her face against Sandy’s hand. Sandy smiled.