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Looking over your should.., p.1
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       Looking Over Your Shoulder, p.1

           P.D. Workman
 
Looking Over Your Shoulder
LOOKING OVER YOUR SHOULDER

  by p.d. workman

  Sign up for my mailing list and get Diversion, Breaking the Pattern #2 for free!

  Copyright 2013 p.d. workman

  ISBN 978-0-9921539-4-6

  Contents

  CHAPTER 1

  CHAPTER 2

  CHAPTER 3

  CHAPTER 4

  CHAPTER 5

  CHAPTER 6

  CHAPTER 7

  CHAPTER 8

  CHAPTER 9

  CHAPTER 10

  CHAPTER 11

  CHAPTER 12

  CHAPTER 13

  CHAPTER 14

  CHAPTER 15

  CHAPTER 16

  CHAPTER 17

  CHAPTER 18

  CHAPTER 19

  CHAPTER 20

  CHAPTER 21

  CHAPTER 22

  CHAPTER 23

  CHAPTER 24

  CHAPTER 25

  SNEAK PREVIEW OF "DEVIATION"

  BY THE AUTHOR

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  ~ ~ ~

  To all of the real-life heroes battling their demons

  ~ ~ ~

  CHAPTER 1

  JUNEAU ATTEMPTED TO DUCK out quickly before her mother could start telling her what time she had to be home or give her a myriad other warnings intended to keep her safe and sound. She opened the door, pulling her sweater on, and grabbed her purse all at the same time. Theo stood directly in her way, making Juneau’s quick departure impossible. As much as she liked to see her boyfriend, smiling engagingly at her, his slightly long, slightly disordered dark hair framing his handsome face; she was frustrated by him blocking her escape route. Juneau flipped back her long, honey-blond hair impatiently.

  “Hi Mrs. VanRam,” Theo greeted in a friendly tone, poking his head in. "How’s it going?”

  Ursula’s hair used to be light blond like Juneau’s but it was a lot darker now. Colored to prevent the gray from showing, permed and ironed into bouncing curls on a good day, pulled back in a messy ponytail on a bad one.

  “Hi Theo,” Ursula greeted, a slight wrinkle between her brows as she looked at him and forced a smile. “What are you guys planning tonight?”

  Juneau rolled her eyes, grimacing.

  “We’re just going out to eat, Mom. And to see a movie.”

  “Which movie?” Ursula questioned.

  “It’s a romance,” Juneau snapped. "It’s only PG.”

  “That sounds nice,” Ursula said evenly, her eyes wandering from her daughter to the suitor again. “And you are aware of Juneau’s allergies, right? You’re going somewhere safe, and you know about her autoinjector?”

  “Mo-oom!” Juneau protested, embarrassed. "Just let me go, okay? I’m not going to die! We’re going to go out for pizza, it will be fine.”

  Ursula sighed.

  “The fact is that you could die, if you got exposed to something by accident. Teenagers think that they are immortal and that nothing will ever happen to them, but you know, Juneau. You've experienced what it’s like not to be able to breathe. He has to be comfortable with giving you an injection if something happens.”

  “Fine,” Juneau grumbled. She turned to her dark-haired Romeo with the sparkling eyes. "I told you before, right? You take the cap off and stab it into my thigh. Don’t worry that it’s going to hurt, just jab it in like you’re trying to pop a balloon. It’s right here in my purse. Okay?” She opened the front flap of her purse and showed him two autoinjectors neatly clipped to the inside of the pocket.

  Theo nodded.

  “Okay. It’ll be alright, Mrs. VanRam. I’ll take good care of her. Peanuts, eggs, and shellfish, right?”

  Ursula nodded, looking a little more relaxed at his recital.

  “Even a little bit,” she reminded.

  “Yea ma’am. I’ll be careful. I’ve been this place before, and they’re really clean. And there won’t be peanuts or eggs or anything in pizza. There isn’t any egg in the crust, I already asked.”

  “Okay.” Ursula said. "Well, don’t take any chances. And you’re home by eleven?”

  “I’m not a baby,” Juneau protested.

  “No, if you were a baby I’d be saying eight. Eleven o’clock. That’s when I expect you to be home.”

  “I’ll have her home,” Theo agreed.

  “Let’s go,” Juneau insisted, grabbing Theo’s sleeve and trying to get him to turn and exit so she could make her get-away.

  “Good-bye Mrs. VanRam,” Theo said politely. He stepped back to let Juneau out, and put his arm around her while they walked to the car. Theo opened the door of his little red beater for Juneau, and shut it when she was settled.

  “She treats me like a little kid,” Juneau fumed as he got into the driver’s seat.

  “She’s concerned for your welfare,” Theo soothed.

  He leaned over to kiss her, and for a few minutes distracted her with his ardor, but Juneau withdrew from him.

  “It’s not like I can’t take care of myself,” she pointed out. Theo started the car and pulled away from the house. “I mean, they trust me to take care of the kids when they can’t be around. But I can’t take care of myself? How does that work?”

  “People don’t always make sense,” Theo pointed out philosophically. He turned on the radio, still trying to soothe and distract her.

  “Any time that Dad is sick and Mom has to be at the hospital, who looks after Crispin and Meggie? Me! If I can take care of two little kids, and feed them, and run the household by myself, why wouldn’t I be able to look after myself? When I go out, they get all freaked out. They don’t believe that I can manage on my own out there in the real world!”

  “I know,” Theo agreed. "Of course you can. Parents don’t always see how their kids have grown up. And your mom does have a lot to worry about.”

  Juneau huffed and leaned back in her seat, looking disgruntled. Theo rolled to a stop at a traffic light, and took the opportunity to lean in and kiss her again. There was a honk from behind him as the signal changed to green and Theo broke away, chuckling, and drove again.

  “She has a lot to worry about,” Juneau agreed. “Just dad being sick would be enough. But she’s got me and my allergies and Crispin with his seizures. It’s a good thing that Meggie is “normal”; or Mom might have a nervous breakdown. But that’s still no excuse for treating me like a child!”

  “Sooner or later you’re going to be on your own,” Theo agreed. "She has to know that. Then you'll make all these decisions by yourself; eating and shopping and going out places. She won't be able to shelter you all the time.”

  Theo put his hand on her knee as he drove, and Juneau placed her hand over his, stroking it lightly.

  “As soon as I’m done school,” Juneau mused, "I’m gonna be out of there. I’ll get a place of my own. I'll make all of my own decisions, and she won’t be hanging over me to make sure that I’m being good all the time. I’m almost an adult. She can’t keep treating me like a little kid.”

  Theo nodded.

  “The sooner you’re out of there, the better,” he agreed.

  Hearing it from Theo made Juneau more anxious and agitated, rather than calming her.

  “When I’m gone, who’s going to look after the kids?” she questioned pensively. "What are they going to do? Get some old lady to be a sitter? How’s she going to manage if Crispin has a seizure? And what if it’s in the middle of the night and Mom has to take Dad to emergency or something? What will they do then?”

  “They’ll have to find a way,” Theo said with a shrug. "If you’re not there, you’re not there. What if something else happened to you? It’s not your job to be their babysitter.”

  “Yeah,” Juneau said worriedly, “but I always have
been. I don’t know what they would do without me. Seriously. I run that house.”

  The corner of Theo’s mouth quirked up. Juneau caught the hint of a grin, and was offended.

  “I do! You think Mom can keep things going smoothly when Dad’s in hospital for a couple of weeks? She can’t! I do it.”

  “When was the last time he was in for a couple of weeks? He seems pretty stable. Normal.”

  Juneau considered it.

  “Well, it’s been a few years. Mostly now it’s the occasional episode when they need to tweak his prescriptions. Then he’s okay again for a while. But when something happens and he does end up in hospital for a couple of weeks… well, you don’t understand what it’s like. It’s hard.”

  “I know. I believe that. I just don’t think… I don’t think that they need you quite as much as you think they need you. Everybody is expendable. I mean, if you got hit by a bus coming home from school, what would they do? They’d have to find someone else to take care of the kids. And when you leave home, it’s the same thing. They’ll have to deal with it.”

  “I suppose,” Juneau agreed grudgingly.

  They arrived at the pizza joint, and Theo again opened Juneau’s door for her. It was a little old fashioned, but it always made her feel a special. Theo was a puzzle. He was older than her, but not really old. Theo and Juneau were still the same generation. But Theo was so much more mature than the other boys. The boys at school. Boys being the operational word. They weren’t men yet. They didn’t think for themselves. They were still living in their parents’ homes. Few of them had their own cars or even part-time jobs. They didn’t have careers, apartments of their own, or any real thoughts of their own. They all spouted the same stuff they all heard from each other, a sort of collective consciousness; a borg collective of teenage boys with rampant hormones. But Theo was different. Theo was older, career minded, someone who always treated her well. He wasn’t overwhelmingly handsome; not like a movie star or something, but more in a garage-band sort of way. Casual and self-confident, a cross between a good boy and a rebel. Theo was clean-shaven, but with his longish wavy brown hair and a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He had a small car with good gas mileage, not a motorcycle or something dangerous. He did have tattoos on his biceps, but they weren’t usually visible, and they weren’t huge or in poor taste. Juneau’s parents couldn’t complain that he was a deadbeat or only after sex. But they still didn’t seem to trust him. Ursula always had that little bit of a frown when she looked at him, and Abe’s look was openly suspicious. But... Abe was suspicious of everything, wasn’t he? That wasn’t her fault or Theo’s.

  Theo opened the door to the pizza parlor for her, and Juneau stepped in, inhaling the warm, moist, fresh-bread aroma of the restaurant.

  “Oh, man, does that smell good!” she gushed.

  Theo gave her a squeeze, looking pleased. They followed the instructions on the sign that advised them to seat themselves and a waiter would be with them shortly. They sat talking and holding hands across the table, settling in and enjoying each other’s company. A waiter came over shortly and they consulted on what toppings to put on the pizza, sipped their soft drinks, and waited for the pizza. The time passed pleasantly, and the smells of the restaurant worked sufficiently on Juneau that she was ready and eager to eat when their pizza arrived. She inhaled the scent, closing her eyes and savoring it. She opened her eyes again as Theo served them each a slice, and examined the slice to make sure that the restaurant had gotten the order right. They each took their first bite.

  “Oooh,” Theo groaned. "Is that good. Didn’t I tell you they’re the best pizza in town? Man, I wish I could eat all day long and not get full. I’d live here, and eat and eat and eat.”

  Juneau laughed.

  “You wouldn’t get tired of it?”

  Theo shook his head, sinking his teeth in to tear off another generous bite of the pizza, chewing it in ecstasy.

  “No. Never.”

  “There’s this one guy that my dad consults on,” Juneau commented. "He’s this big mobster or something, I guess. Banducci. Real bad dude. He’s in prison on death row. But he’s huge, morbidly obese. I’ve seen pictures of him. I’ll bet he could eat pizza all day.”

  “If I could eat this all day, I wouldn’t care if I was in prison. I’d rather eat myself to death than get the needle any day. Right?”

  Juneau licked pizza sauce from her lips and dabbed delicately with her napkin.

  “I don’t know. I think I’d get tired of pizza all the time.”

  Theo shook his head, pulling a piece of pepperoni off of the pizza with his fingers and popping it in his mouth.

  “Tire of it? Sacrilege! Mmmm. So what does your dad do for this gangster?”

  “He sets up a meal plan for him. What he’s supposed to eat for each meal, to try to get him healthier, get him to lose some weight.”

  “Why would he want to?” Theo questioned. "I mean, if he’s on death row, who cares about being healthy? And if he loses weight… well, either way they’re going to kill him anyway, aren’t they?”

  Juneau nibbled at the crust of her pizza slice, appreciating the crisp, chewy edge.

  “Well actually,” she said “right now they can’t kill him. Too many complications because of his obesity. So if he lost weight, they would be able to kill him, but right now they can’t.”

  “Then why would he follow any stupid meal plan?”

  Juneau shrugged.

  “Dad doesn’t work for Banducci. He works for the prison to consult about him. He’s supposed to design a healthy menu that will gradually reduce the number of calories that he is getting, so that he’ll slowly lose the weight. But Banducci has lots of high-powered lawyers, and so they file complaints for cruel and unusual punishment. He says that they’re impinging on his human rights, they’re starving him, and all that. Dad has to prepare the meal plans to show that they provide enough nutrients and everything, but Banducci claims that Dad’s trying to starve him, that he’s hungry all the time on this diet. It’s kind of crazy.”

  Theo nodded with interest. Juneau’s throat was burning. She took a drink of her soft drink, looking down at the pizza to make sure that it didn’t have pepper flakes on it.

  “This has a really spicy sauce, doesn’t it?” she observed.

  Theo raised his eyebrows, taking another big bite.

  “No,” he said “it’s pretty mild.”

  “It’s kind of burning,” Juneau complained, stroking her neck. She felt a flush rising from her chest, up her throat, up into her scalp, which prickled and itched.

  Suddenly Juneau realized what was happening. She looked at her arms, starting to break out into big welts and blotches.

  “I’m having a reaction,” she said, her heart racing as she put the pizza down, staring at it in horror. "I’m allergic to something!”

  “Allergic to what?” Theo asked curiously. "We were careful. We didn’t order anything that should be a problem.”

  Juneau breathed hard, her breaths starting to whistle when she drew in air.

  “Theo. Call 9-” she gestured towards his phone, her voice cracking. “Call 911!”

  Theo stared at her, wide-eyed. He picked up the phone and dialed emergency. He stammered out a nervous report and request for an ambulance, looking at the dessert menu between them to remind himself of the name of the restaurant, which had fled from his mind in his panic.

  “Does she have epinephrine?” the emergency dispatcher questioned. “An Epipen or other autoinjector?”

  “Yes,” Theo fumbled to hold onto the phone with his shoulder while he grabbed Juneau’s purse from her. Juneau was trying to find the autoinjector, but her fingers were clumsy and her brain foggy, and she couldn’t remember where to find it. Theo pulled out one of the autoinjectors and pulled off the cap, dropping his phone to the floor by accident and leaving it where it landed with a clatter. There were exclamations around them as other people started to notice the drama, and a couple
of waiters came over to inquire, looking worried. Theo couldn’t stop to read the instructions on the injector. He pushed it into Juneau’s leg, hoping he had it right.

  Juneau’s labored breathing eased a little. She tried to talk, but her lips and her throat couldn’t seem to manage much more than an unintelligible grunt. She gestured at the second autoinjector. Theo looked down at it.

  “Do you want me to give you the other one too?” he questioned, confused.

  Juneau shook her head and tapped her watch.

  “Not yet? Later?”

  She nodded.

  “When?”

  She pointed again at the autoinjector. Theo took it out and studied the small print on the side. In case of persistent symptoms…

  “Ten to fifteen minutes,” Theo said aloud. "If you’re still having symptoms in ten to fifteen minutes, I should give you the second one.”

  Juneau nodded. Her breath was no longer whistling, but she was obviously still not out of the woods. Her eyes were wide and frightened.

  “It’s okay,” Theo reassured her, touching her hand. “The ambulance is on its way, and they’ll take care of you. Everything will be okay.”

  Someone put his phone into his other hand, and Theo looked at it for a moment without acting, then raised it to his ear. The dispatcher was still there.

  “I gave her the epinephrine,” he confirmed. “And she has a second one if she needs it before the ambulance gets here.”

  The dispatcher squawked an acknowledgment and assured him that an ambulance would be there in a few minutes. Theo looked around at the waiters standing around and the other patrons staring openly at the drama.

  “She’ll be okay,” he reassured the audience. “The ambulance is coming.”

  “Can we do anything else?” one of the white-shirted waiters queried anxiously, hovering close by. “Do you want a drink of ice water for your throat?” he asked Juneau.

  Juneau shook her head. She rubbed her arms, looking at the hives and shivering in the warm room.

  “Are you cold?” the waiter asked. "Do you want a blanket or something?”

  Juneau nodded. She tried to answer aloud, but her throat still wouldn’t let her speak. The waiter retreated, and returned a few minutes later with a shiny silver blanket obviously pulled from an emergency kit somewhere. He helped unfold and wrap it around her, and Juneau huddled there miserably, looking at the pizza that she no longer had any appetite for. It seemed like hours passed and they still hadn’t arrived. Her breath started to whistle again, and Theo took the cap off of the other autoinjector, his heart racing. Finally they heard the ambulance siren. Juneau held out her hand to stop him. In a minute, the ambulance pulled into the parking lot and a paramedic thumped in and looked around. He hurried over to Juneau.

  “Had a reaction, did you, love?” he questioned, bending over Juneau. He looked at the discarded autoinjector lying on the table. “Already had one epi?”

  “I was just about to give her this other one,” Theo offered, displaying it.

  The paramedic felt Juneau’s wrist for her pulse, and put on his stethoscope for a moment to listen to her chest. His movements were calm and unhurried.

  “Let’s give her the other one,” he agreed, and he took it out of Theo’s hand and plunged it into Juneau’s thigh. Juneau’s breathing improved again, and he nodded.

  “All right, love. Let’s get you into the ambulance and to the hospital so we can take care of you. Can you walk?”

  Juneau nodded, making a noise in her throat. The paramedic looked at the pizza that Juneau had been eating.

  “Do we know what set you off?”

  Juneau shook her head. The medic picked up a fork and started to shred the area around where Juneau had been eating. He dissected the toppings and poked a tiny pink piece to the side.

  “Shrimp. Did you order that?”

  Juneau shook her head, and so did Theo.

  “She’s allergic to shellfish,” Theo said. "Is shrimp shellfish?”

  The paramedic nodded.

  “It sure is,” he agreed. “Did you tell them to put shrimp on the pizza?”

  “No. I didn’t know that shrimp was shellfish, but we never ordered it.”

  “Well, stuff gets cross contaminated sometimes. Come on,” he put an arm around Juneau and helped her to her feet. "Let’s get you in and get you taken care of, okay?”

  Juneau walked with him to the ambulance, where the other paramedic lent a hand in getting her into the back and on the stretcher. He checked Juneau’s vitals, and put an oxygen mask over her face.

  “Just a precaution,” he advised. "Your breathing it fine, but we’ll take the extra step to be sure you’re comfortable. I’m going to put an IV in too, so we have an access point if we need to push any more epi or anything. Okay?”

  Juneau nodded. The paramedic examined her medic-alert bracelet closely, and proceeded to tie a tourniquet to find a vein under her pale skin, now mottled with red hives. He managed to get the needle in the first time, unlike some of Juneau’s other experiences, and taped it firmly in place. The back doors to the ambulance were closed, and Juneau heard Theo asking whether he should ride along or drive his own car.

  When Ursula arrived at the hospital, her face was pinched and white. She was directed to Juneau’s bedside and found Juneau resting comfortably, talking to Theo as he held her hand.

  “Oh, baby!” Ursula cried, bending down to hug and kiss her. "Are you okay?”

  Juneau nodded.

  “I’m okay now. It’s okay, Mom.”

  “I can’t believe this happened! We just talked about it! You said you’d be careful!”

  “Somehow a bit of shrimp got into the pizza,” Theo explained. "We didn’t order it as a topping, but it fell in or something. It was buried under the other toppings, so we never saw it. Juneau just started to have a reaction, but we didn’t know why.”

  “You have to be more careful,” Ursula remonstrated, still feeling panicky.

  “No one could see it,” Juneau pointed out. "Nobody knew it was there. You can’t always know. That’s why I have the epinephrine.”

  Ursula hugged her again.

  “Oh, my baby. I want to keep you safe. It’s not your fault, but it scares the hell out of me!”

  “You’re not the only one,” Theo said dryly.

  Ursula turned her attention reluctantly to Theo.

  “Are you okay? It must have been pretty scary to see for the first time. Even after half a dozen times, it still freaks me out.”

  He nodded.

  “Thanks, I’m okay. It was frightening, though. I’ve never had to deal with an emergency like that before.”

  “He did great,” Juneau said. "Gave me the epi and called 911 and everything. He didn’t panic.”

  “Good for you,” Ursula said fervently. "Thank you so much for taking care of my Juneau.”

  Theo nodded cheerfully.

  “Happy to do it! I wouldn’t let anything happen to her.”

  Ursula put her hand briefly on his shoulder and gave it a grateful squeeze. A doctor bustled into the room and looked around at them.

  “So, you must be Mom,” he greeted.

  Ursula nodded.

  “Ursula,” she introduced herself, holding out her hand to shake his. “I don’t think we’ve met before.”

  He shook her hand briefly and released it.

  “Doctor Stonehawker. No, I don’t think we have,” he agreed. "I’ve only been here a few months. Are you on familiar terms with most of the emergency staff?”

  Ursula shrugged.

  “A few of them,” she sighed. “So how’s Juneau?”

  “Everything looks fine now. Antihistamines for the next few days should clear up the hives. If not, see your family doctor for a topical cream. She’s out of danger. All of her vitals look good, and she’s agreed that she probably shouldn’t be eating any shrimp any time soon.”

  Juneau rolled her eyes.

  “It wasn’t on purpose,” sh
e complained, but in good humor.

  “Front desk will give you discharge papers,” the doctor advised. "She’ll probably be pretty tired, I would suggest heading for bed.”

  Juneau nodded. Theo looked disappointed.

  “No movie tonight?” he said.

  “Not tonight,” Juneau said apologetically. "I’m wiped. I’m going to sleep.”

  “Oh,” Theo said, crestfallen. "Well, okay.” He leaned over to kissed her, a quick peck on the lips. "Call me when you’re up tomorrow then, okay?”

  Juneau nodded.

  “Sure. Sorry to wreck the evening’s plans.”

  “You didn’t exactly plan it that way,” he said understandingly. “We’ll make up for it another night. Right?”

  “Yeah. Thanks.”

  “Thanks again, Theo,” Ursula said, patting Theo on the arm. He smiled and nodded, and left the hospital room.

  “Feeling better this morning?” Abe asked Juneau as she sat down on one of the stools by the kitchen island.

  Juneau looked up at her father. Tall, dark hair and eyes, a friendly, open face. He was slim, his face almost gaunt in the bright sunlight of the kitchen, but the sparkle of life in his eyes kept him from looking unhealthy in spite of his prominent cheekbones.

  “Yeah, I’m alright. Just a little foggy this morning,” Juneau acknowledged, running her fingers through her long blond hair to tame it, and twisting it into an elastic for a ponytail.

  “Did your throat swell up?” Crispin demanded, having missed the details the night before.

  Juneau looked at her little brother, his dirty blond hair in need of a cut and his sparkling bright eyes, like Abe’s except for the brilliant blue color. He reveled in the excitement of her near-death experience. She shook her head.

  “Yes, my throat swelled up,” she said repressively.

  “Did you have to get a shot? Of epinephrine?”

  “Yes. Two.”

  His eyes got round with surprise.

  “Two? Wow. Did you pass out?”

  “No.”

  “So they didn’t have to do CPR?” he persisted.

  “No. Now that’s enough, okay?” Juneau nodded significantly at their father, his back to them, not wanting to get him worrying. Crispin rolled his eyes and shrugged, pulling himself up onto the stool beside her.

  “Did you wash your hands before you ate last night?” Abe questioned. "If you touched something during the day and then didn’t wash before you ate, you could cause cross contamination. Not to mention the germs,” he winced at the word “germs”, as if it hurt him.

  “Yes,” Juneau lied, with a sigh of exasperation. "But washing doesn’t help if someone else contaminates your food. I wasn’t the one who got shrimp in it. I couldn’t do anything about that.”

  “Maybe if you ate more carefully,” he suggested with a frown, "slow down, and check each bite before you eat it…”

  “Dad… I am careful. But no matter how hard you look, you can still miss little bits. You can’t see every microscopic molecule of cross-contaminants. I couldn’t see the shrimp.”

  “The paramedic could see it.”

  “He could see a bit in a bite that I hadn’t eaten yet. Maybe the bit that I ate was too small to spot. I never saw it before I put it in my mouth.”

  “You need to be careful.”

  “I know, Dad. I try.”

  He was silent, working on the breakfast as if completely absorbed by it. Juneau glanced at Crispin, raising her eyebrows slightly. Crispin watched Abe work for a few minutes, and then got down from his stool and went to the pantry cupboard, returning with a box of sugary cereal. He boosted himself back onto the stool.

  Abe looked at Crispin balefully.

  “You’re going to eat that junk instead of the nutritious breakfast that I am making you?” he reproached.

  “I’m just gonna eat this while I’m waiting. Just as a snack to hold me over. I’m going to eat yours too.”

  “That stuff is pure sugar and fillers. There’s no nutrition in there. If you want something while you’re waiting, have an apple.”

  Abe motioned to the fruit basket.

  “I don’t want an apple. I want this,” Crispin said stubbornly.

  He started munching the cereal dry. Juneau glanced sideways at it a couple of times. Crispin sighed.

  “Can you have this?” he questioned.

  “Yes,” Juneau said at once, in an injured tone.

  “Do you want some?” he offered it reluctantly.

  Juneau reached for it. Abe intercepted the box and turned it around to look at the side.

  “Did you check the ingredients?” he demanded.

  “Mom wouldn’t get it if it wasn’t safe for me. Or if it wasn’t, she would have told me.”

  “Did you read the ingredients?” he repeated

  “No! I don’t need to.”

  “You need to learn to read ingredients for when you are on your own, and Mom isn’t there to shop for you.”

  “I can read,” Juneau growled. "I just don’t need to read this.”

  He hung onto the box.

  “You do if you want to eat any of them,” he advised.

  Juneau scowled. She reached out her hand, and he didn’t pass it to her.

  “I’ll read it! Give it here!” Juneau insisted.

  He waited for a moment before handing it back. Juneau snatched the box, making a few pieces fly out across the counter. She turned it around to find the nutritional facts panel and started to read quickly, slurring the words together.

  “Corn Meal, Corn Flour, Sugar, Corn Syrup, Canola Oil, Corn Starch … Modified, Corn Starch, Salt, Guar Gum, Gum Arabic, Corn Syrup High Fructose, Calcium Car-Car-Carbonate, Di-calcium Phosphate, Tri- tri-sodium Pho-phos-”

  Crispin was craning is neck to look at the ingredients

  “Trisodium phosphate,” he contributed helpfully.

  Juneau growled angrily and smacked him in the nose with the box. Crispin yelped, but was grinning cheerfully about having easily read a word that she’d had difficulty reading.

  “Quit being such a smart aleck,” Juneau ordered, rankled.

  “I can’t help it if I’m smart,” he mouthed off in a superior tone. “Maybe if you practiced reading more, you-”

  “Shut up!” Juneau shouted, giving him a shove that almost toppled him from the high stool. "Leave me alone!” She banged the cereal box onto the counter, showering them all over, and stormed away from the table, upstairs to her room, and slammed the door.

  Abe and Crispin looked at each other for a moment, surprised at the outburst. Abe flipped pancakes with a precise motion.

  “You know reading is hard for Juneau,” he said eventually.

  Crispin sighed dramatically and cocked his head.

  “I know,” he said pompously. "’Cause she has learning disabilities.”

  “Yes, she does. And it’s not because she doesn’t practice or doesn’t try hard enough, alright? She was a preemie baby, and very sick, and a lot of times preemies have learning disabilities. It’s not nice to make fun.”

  “I wasn’t making fun,” Crispin pointed out. "I was just helping with a word.”

  “Don’t, okay? She doesn’t need her baby brother showing off that he’s a better reader at eight than she is at seventeen. It hurts her feelings. She does try her best, and I’m trying to help her to develop these habits before she leaves home. You don’t want her to get sick because she thought that reading ingredients was just too hard, do you? You want her to be comfortable reading a box before she eats it?”

  “Yeah. I wasn’t stopping her.”

  “Crispin.”

  “What?”

  “Stop arguing with me. I’m telling you. Don’t correct her reading or help her with her reading. In fact, don’t say anything about her reading. It’s not helpful.”

  Crispin crunched a handful of cereal.

  “Fine!” he said sullenly.

  “Now go upstairs, and apologize to your sister,
and tell her it is time to eat. And yes, she has to eat before she goes anywhere, because I don’t want her taking the chance of getting contaminated eating somewhere else today.”

  Crispin climbed off of his stool.

  “She’s not going to listen to me,” he asserted.

  “Go apologize.”

  Ten minutes later, after much cajoling and some threatening, Juneau was sitting at the table. She had her back to Crispin, who was still sitting at the island, working her way through a short stack of pancakes.

  “Did you get new Epipens at the hospital?” Abe questioned.

  “No. They gave me a prescription. Mom is picking them up.”

  Abe stared at her.

  “What?”

  “Mom’s picking them up,” Juneau repeated.

  “So right now you’re walking around without any autoinjectors.”

  “Well, yeah, but only until Mom gets them. I’ll have them by tonight.”

  “What if you have a reaction during the day?”

  Juneau stared at him.

  “I’m not going to. I’m eating your breakfast, right? I’ll make a lunch for school. Tonight I’ll eat at home. There’s no chance of getting contaminated if I’m only eating our food.”

  “Of course there is. There’s always a chance of getting contaminated. You could touch something at school, then lick your finger to turn a page. Food in our kitchen could have been contaminated at the factory, and hasn’t been recalled yet because nobody knows. You could have a reaction to a bee sting or to a plant that is in bloom, even if you’ve never reacted to it before. You might react to a food you’ve never been allergic to before. You’re never safe, you need to always have two autoinjectors with you, no matter what.”

  “Well, the hospital didn’t give me any, and Mom is going to pick them up today at the pharmacy,” Juneau said stubbornly.

  “We’ll see about that,” Abe countered. He pulled out his cell phone and called Ursula. He heatedly repeated the dangers to her of Juneau having a reaction during the day, and there was silence on the other end of the line.

  “How am I supposed to pick them up before school?” Ursula demanded finally. “I have showings and meetings and the pharmacy doesn’t open until ten or eleven o’clock. It will have to wait.”

  “This is our daughter’s life we’re talking about. Meetings don’t matter. There are twenty-four hour pharmacies. You make the time when someone’s life depends on it.”

  Ursula sighed.

  “Abe… I’m at an open house. If you want to drive over here to get the prescription, go to the pharmacy to pick up the autoinjectors, and take them to Juneau at school, then go ahead. I can’t get out of here before two.”

  “I will then,” Abe said stonily. "What’s the address?”

  Ursula gave it to him, and hung up. Abe spoke to Juneau.

  “Wake up your sister. We have to go out.”

  “What?” Juneau protested, looking at the clock. "There’s not time to go out and get them now. I’ll be late for school.”

  “And I’ll be late for work. Too bad. This is important.”

  Exasperated, Juneau got to her feet and dragged herself up the stairs to wake up Meggie.

  “I haven’t even gotten ready yet,” she grumped. "I have to wash my hair and-”

  “You have to get your medicine. Now. Get Meggie, put her in some clothes, and get out to the car. I’ll get something for her to eat on the way. Your hair will have to wait.”

  “I can’t go to school without showering and doing my hair!” Juneau wailed, incredulous.

  “This once you’ll have to. Move it. I don’t want to be any later than I have to be for work.”

  Juneau’s footsteps took her the rest of the way upstairs and across the house, and Abe called in to his first appointment to advise that he was going to be late.

  “Get your school bag,” he told Crispin. "We have to go.”

 
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