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Mito medical kidnap file.., p.5
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       Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1, p.5

           P.D. Workman
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  Chapter Four

  THE NEXT DAY, RENATA skipped in cheerfully as if nothing had happened. She was every inch her old self. Gabriel smiled.

  “Feeling better?”

  “Man, did I sleep! Maybe I should come in here and sleep with you all the time. I don’t know when the last time was that I really slept.”


  “So what about you? You feeling any better? You’re not so groggy lately.”

  Gabriel thought about it. His head wasn’t hurting like it had been, now that his blood sugar was more stable. And his legs had felt better since the night that Renata had massaged them. He even felt like he might be able to get up and walk around the room for a few minutes. It would feel good to be upright.

  “Yeah, little better,” he agreed.

  “Good. Sucks when they dope you out like that. It takes weeks to feel like you’re wearing your own head sometimes.”

  “How often have they…?”

  Renata made a puffing noise with her lips. “I don’t know! I’ve been in and out of here since I was a toddler. You know things are bad when you gotta admit your preschooler to psych.”

  Was it really true or was it one of her stories? Who would put a toddler in a place like that?

  “You remember anything else?” Renata asked. “About coming here, I mean? When they came and got you?”

  Gabriel frowned and shook his head. It was strange to have those blanks. He was pretty sure it hadn’t been anything so dramatic as Renata had made it out to be. He had been sick. Keisha had brought him to the hospital. They said that he needed a different kind of evaluation this time. They didn’t allow visitors during the program. Not anyone.

  Nothing so dramatic as a kidnapping.

  They heard squeaky wheels going down the hall and a clatter of wire baskets.

  “Mail call,” Renata advised.

  Gabriel hadn’t received any mail in previous days. He’d heard the wheels before, but hadn’t known what it was. It sounded different from the lunch carts, but he hadn’t been able to figure out what it was. No one was sending him any mail. He wondered if he were even allowed to get mail. Wouldn’t Keisha have sent him something, if she could?

  A candy-striper poked her head in the door. “I knew I’d find you here!” she told Renata. She came the rest of the way over and handed Renata an envelope. “Enjoy!”

  She left again and continued down the hallway. Renata looked down at the card, and then measured the distance to the garbage can, aiming a throw at it. “Think I can make it?”

  “You’re not going to open it?” Gabriel demanded.

  “No. It’s a card.” She shrugged uncaringly.

  “Get well card?”

  “Birthday card.”

  “When’s your birthday?”

  “Yesterday. I turned fourteen.”

  “Yesterday? Happy birthday!”


  “Why aren’t you going to open it? Don’t you want to see who it’s from? If there’s a good joke? Or money?”

  “It’s from my mom. I don’t want to see it.”

  “Oh.” Gabriel looked at the envelope. He didn’t know what to say. “Can I have the stamp?”

  She handed it to him. “You collect?”

  “Yeah. I haven’t seen this one before.”

  He didn’t know if he should tear the corner with the stamp off and discard the rest of the envelope with the card unopened, or if there were some other action that would be more appropriate. He looked down at it, and then up to Renata’s face.

  “Why don’t you want to read your mom’s card?”

  Renata’s dark eyes glittered as she looked back at him. “My mom’s not like yours. She’s in prison, and I don’t want to have anything to do with her.”

  “Oh. I didn’t know; I’m sorry.”

  “That’s okay. You couldn’t know.”

  “Do you want to talk about it? What happened?”

  “She went to prison for resisting the police when they came to take me away.”

  “Really?” Gabriel blinked, thinking about that. “So why don’t you want to see her? I thought maybe she went to prison for drugs or something like that, and you were ashamed. But if she went there because of trying to protect you… why wouldn’t you want to see what she had to say? She must love you.”

  “She was trying to kill me,” Renata said. She looked around the room as if worried that someone might overhear her. “Would you want to see your mom if she was trying to kill you?”

  Gabriel bit his lip. Another story. Another crazy claim. This was obviously a paranoid delusion. There was no way that Renata’s mother really was trying to kill her. Parents didn’t kill their children. Well, sometimes they did, but it was usually in anger or despair, not planned or plotted.

  “You don’t believe me,” Renata observed. She folded her hands and looked down at them. “It’s not my imagination. It’s the truth.”

  “Why was she trying to kill you?”

  “Why should I tell you, when you don’t believe me? Do you think she would be in prison if I was just making it up?”

  Gabriel looked down at the envelope. The return address in the corner was not recognizable as a residential address. It looked like a post office box. That could easily be either a house or the prison. There was no way to know.

  “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” he said.

  She looked at him. After a moment of silence, she took the envelope back from him. She tore off the corner with the stamp on it and handed it back to him. She looked down at the corner of the card that she could see, then sailed it into the garbage can.

  “Think about the kind of life she had trying to take care of me. How would you like to take care of a crazy kid? Not just a sick kid, like you. But a kid who couldn’t love you back. A kid who can’t sleep, can’t eat, doesn’t behave like other kids…”

  “That sounds awful.”

  “You’d want to kill me too.”

  “It sounds awful for both of you,” Gabriel clarified. “Not just for her.”

  “Yeah, well, I’ve never known any other kind of life.”

  Gabriel nodded. “Just like we don’t know what it’s like to live with the same cellular energy level as a normal person. We can only imagine what it must be like.”

  She clasped his hand.

  “How would you like to get out of that bed for a while?” Nurse Kelly suggested as she pushed a wheelchair into the room. Nurse Kelly was a pretty blond, with a young face that made her look like she wasn’t much older than Gabriel. He didn’t have a crush on her, exactly, but he liked her the best of all the nurses.

  “Yeah, sure,” he agreed. “Where am I going?”

  “Just to the common room. Nowhere special. Except when you’ve been cooped up in your room as long as you have, everywhere is special, right?”

  Gabriel nodded in agreement.

  She pushed the wheelchair up to the bed. “How are your sea legs today?”

  “I can get up.” Gabriel swung his feet to the floor, and stood for a moment, his muscles shaky. He wished he could show off by walking briskly across the room, but he felt as weak as a newborn. Without any bravado, he slid himself into the wheelchair. The vinyl was ice cold. His gown offered no protection. “Yikes!” Gabriel grabbed the blanket from his bed before Nurse Kelly could wheel him away. She wrapped him up and tucked it around him.

  “How’s that?”

  “Better. Thanks.”

  She wheeled him out of the hospital room, and for the first time, Gabriel saw the halls of the ward. It was very quiet, and there were closed doors at the ends of the hall that Gabriel assumed were locked for security, to keep wandering patients like Renata in and unwanted visitors out. There was an old man walking down the hall holding onto his IV pole for support. It gave Gabriel a bit of a start. He had thought that it was a kids’ unit, a ward full of mito kids, from Renata’s description. Nurse Kelly maneuvered him down the hall, aroun
d the slowly moving old man and pieces of equipment that looked like medieval torture devices.

  In a room at the end of the hall, there was a TV blaring, sunlight beaming in through a big window, and a few other patients working on puzzles, playing cards, or watching the TV with blank expressions. Gabriel looked around anxiously, uncomfortable being around all of the strangers who could be crazy and dangerous. His heart beat rapidly and his breathing sped up.

  “Here you go!” Nurse Kelly announced. “What do you want to do? Where do you want me to put you?”

  Gabriel swallowed, looking around uneasily. The room was so big and bright after being confined to his own room for so long. He had an inexplicable urge just to go back to his room and climb back into bed.

  “I thought Renata would be here.”

  “If I see her, I’ll send her this way. You want to do a puzzle?”

  “No!” Gabriel put his hands on the wheels to stop her from pushing the wheelchair toward a middle-aged woman with messy orange curls. “No… just… I’ll watch TV.”

  “You should socialize,” she told him.

  But Gabriel shook his head. “No… not yet… just TV.”

  She obligingly steered him toward the TV. Even though there were other patients nearby watching the daytime drivel, none of them bothered to look at him or tried to talk to him. Gabriel looked over his shoulder at Nurse Kelly. “You’ll see if you can find Renata?”

  “I’ll take a quick look, but I have other things to get back to.”

  Gabriel nodded his understanding.

  It wasn’t until a couple of hours later that Renata put in an appearance. She sat down on a nearby couch.

  “So they let you out today! How’s it feel to get out of your cave?”

  Gabriel looked around and shrugged. “Okay.”

  “Why don’t you come over here?” She patted the couch next to her. “It’s a lot more comfortable than those chairs.”

  His bottom was getting sore from sitting in the wheelchair. Gabriel felt bad for people who had to sit in them all day, every day. He slid his feet off of the supports and braced his hand on the arms to stand. The wheelchair shimmied back.

  “Set your brakes,” Renata warned, moving closer to help him. “You’ll end up on the floor.”

  His face hot, Gabriel engaged the wheel brakes. “I thought the nurse had.”

  “She should have. But sometimes they don’t.”

  Renata watched Gabriel push himself to his feet and shuffle over a couple of steps to get to the couch. He leaned on the back of the couch and lowered himself carefully into it, proud not to have fallen or made a fool of himself. Renata gave him a shoulder hug when he settled and pulled his blanket around him. “Not bad, Gabe. A few more days and you’ll be running all over the place.”

  Gabriel laughed. “Running isn’t exactly my thing.”

  “Oh well, maybe shuffling.”

  Gabriel laughed, agreeing. It would be nice to be able to get around a bit.

  Renata was looking around the common room, her eyes narrow, moving her head back and forth like a robin listening to a worm under the grass.

  “What’s wrong?”

  She looked at him, momentarily distracted from her survey of the room. “I don’t like being in here. I don’t like them monitoring me.”

  “Oh.” Gabriel sucked in his cheeks, wondering how he should react to her paranoia. Humor her? Ignore it and act as if it were perfectly normal? He didn’t think that he should argue with her. Nurse Kelly said that Renata could get violent, and he didn’t want to trigger an angry reaction.

  “I don’t need a tinfoil hat,” Renata snapped at him. “Don’t act like I’m crazy. Use your eyes.” She pointed to the corners of the room, up by the ceiling, and Gabriel saw that there were, in fact, surveillance cameras monitoring the room.

  “Oh, yeah… but I think they’re just making sure… you know, no one gets violent or anything.”

  “They’re always watching. Monitoring.”

  “I guess.”

  “They watch you right from the time you’re born.” Renata chewed on her thumbnail, eyes moving back and forth restlessly. “You know that? They start tracking you right when you’re a baby. Hospitals starting files on you, home health nurses going right into people’s homes, weighing and measuring and having a snoop around. Saw a news article the other day about DCF taking away a family’s newborn twins. You wanna know why?”

  Gabriel glanced around the common room for signs of a newspaper. Did they let the patients have access to news of the outside? Paranoid ones like Renata?

  “Because they had a home birth,” Renata told him. “Not a thing medically wrong with the babies. But they had them at home, and they wouldn’t go to the hospital where the babies might catch something. So a home health care nurse went to their house to weigh and measure them and reported them for medical neglect. She said it was because they had lost weight. Babies always lose weight the first few days they are breastfeeding. So they took them away from where they were safe and sheltered and had their mom’s antibodies from breastfeeding, and put them in a filthy home full of other kids. A cesspool of pathogens. They can’t afford to let people live without all the monitoring.”

  Gabriel shifted away from Renata slightly. Her voice was getting louder. Some of the other patients were starting to look at her sideways, pretending that they weren’t.

  “Maybe there was something else wrong that you don’t know about,” Gabriel suggested. “You don’t get the whole story from the newspaper. Just one side. They sensationalize.”

  “Didn’t you say you were homeschooled?” Renata demanded.

  “Uh… yeah…?”

  “Big red flag for social workers. High risk for child abuse and neglect. Gotta be something wrong with people who don’t think that the government is better at educating their kids. And you know what else happens when you homeschool? Less money. What happens to all that money that the school and state get for teaching you? It all goes away.”

  “They should be happy they don’t have to spend money on me.”

  “Not the way it works. It doesn’t cost them any more to educate thirty-one kids than it does to educate thirty. Right? But they lose all that money.”

  Gabriel glanced around to see if there were any nurses or orderlies close by. There was one orderly over by the puzzles talking to the red-haired woman, but he wasn’t paying any attention to what was going on with Renata.

  “Money for one kid can’t make that much difference either,” he suggested.

  “Yeah? When’s the last time you heard a school say that they had all the funding that they needed, thank you very much? Oh yeah, all our programs are funded and we have all the resources we need.” She snorted.

  Gabriel gave a wide shrug with his hands. “Okay.”

  “They don’t like you getting away from the school monitoring you all the time. Homeschoolers, cults, preppers, they all try to get away from government monitoring, and they don’t like that.” Her voice was rising. “They’ll watch for the first chance they can get to take you away.”

  “Vega,” the orderly called from across the room, looking up from the puzzle lady. “Chill, all right? Tone it down.”

  Renata looked over at him and swore nastily. Gabriel inched away from her uncomfortably.

  “You want me to take you down?” the orderly challenged. “Because I will!”

  “Don’t,” Gabriel whispered to Renata. “Let’s just watch TV.”

  “That’s how they get to you,” Renata warned. “That’s how they get inside your head. It’s all propaganda, Gabe; that’s how they control you.”

  “It’s just a soap.”

  “Down with Big Brother!” Renata shouted. She pumped her fist in the air. “Down with the establishment!”

  “I told you to shut up!” the orderly growled, walking closer.

  Renata swore at him again. “Down the Man! Down the dictatorship!”

  “Shut up and watch your

  Other orderlies and nurses were coming into the room, attracted by the shouting. Renata leapt to her feet, bobbing like a prize fighter. “Death to the Nazis!” she screamed.

  “I’ve had enough of you!” The orderly grabbed at her, wrestling for a safe hold.

  Renata fought back against him. She didn’t do too badly for an eighty-pound girl with a faulty energy system, but she really didn’t stand a chance against the big man. He pinned her to him, arms wrapped around her.

  “Settle down or you’re getting jabbed,” the orderly threatened.

  “Can’t sedate her,” one of the nurses advised. “Seymour said ‘no’ after what happened last time.”

  Renata smiled triumphantly at the orderly, struggling to get out of his grip.

  “Wipe that smirk off your face!”

  Renata spat, saliva hitting the orderly directly under the eye. He squeezed her furiously, face getting bright red. Looking at the nurse, he spoke between gritted teeth. “What are we supposed to do with her, then? Warm her up?”

  “Renata,” the nurse spoke to her in a firm, soothing tone. “Why don’t you tell me what it is that’s agitating you? Let’s work this out instead of getting upset.”

  Renata swore and spat at her, but the nurse was standing too far away for the spittle to hit her.

  “Let’s try isolation,” the nurse sighed. “If that doesn’t calm her down, then we’ll have to jacket her.”

  The orderly started to force Renata out of the room. She fought back against him wildly. He tightened his grip around her body, and there was an audible snap. Everybody watching froze. Renata stopped fighting, her face draining of color.

  “What the hell was that?” the nurse demanded.

  “Dammit… you broke my rib!” Renata wheezed. Now that she had stopped fighting, she sagged in his arms, looking as weak as a kitten. The flush had faded from the orderly’s face, and he looked down at her with a pinched expression.

  “Put her down. Here,” the nurse motioned to Gabriel’s vacated wheelchair.

  The orderly deposited Renata into the wheelchair. Gabriel half-expected Renata to jump back up and start fighting again, but she just melted there, head lolling back, breathing labored. The nurse bent over her. She moved Renata carefully, listening to her chest and back with a stethoscope.

  “Collapsed a lung,” she advised. “Better get her down to Emerge.” She took off her stethoscope, looking at the orderly. “You’re going to have to stay with her. I don’t want another escape. And they have to call up here before giving her so much as an aspirin.”

  He nodded and released the wheel brakes, pushing Renata quickly out of the room.

  Gabriel looked at the nurse, aware that his eyes were wide with shock over what had just happened.

  “Don’t tell me you’re going to cause trouble now,” the nurse growled.

  Gabriel shook his head, looking away. His eyes grew hot with tears. He was embarrassed by his reaction. He wasn’t the one who had gotten hurt. They had told him repeatedly that Renata was unstable. It was no surprise to anyone but him. He blinked, trying to keep his emotions under control.

  “Can I go back to my room?”

  “Anytime you want,” she snapped.

  He glanced over where his wheelchair had been parked, but she didn’t clue in. She walked away from him, her mind already on other things. Gabriel looked around for another wheelchair or someone to help him, but no one offered. He stayed on the couch, stranded, watching the stupid daytime programming and thinking about what Renata had said.

  “Gabriel. Someone here to see you.”

  Gabriel just about got whiplash turning around to greet his visitor.

  But it wasn’t his mother. It was a woman that he didn’t know. She gave him a faint smile.

  “Hi, Gabriel. Nice to see you awake this time. Why don’t we go somewhere that we can talk?”

  “Who are you?”

  She held out her long, narrow fingers with perfectly manicured nails toward him. “Carol Scott,” she introduced herself. “DCF.”

  Gabriel had been putting his hand out to shake hers, but when he heard DCF he froze, and eventually he dropped his hand into his lap without shaking hers after all. Gabriel didn’t say anything, completely at a loss.

  Mrs. Scott lowered her hand. “Why don’t we go back to your room?” she suggested.

  “I can’t.”

  She raised her brows. “Why not?”

  “I can’t walk that far.”

  He couldn’t walk more than a step or two, but he didn’t want to say that. He didn’t want to sound like a cripple. He was limited in his ability to get around, but he wasn’t a cripple. He hated it when the kids he had gone to school with called him that.

  “Well, how did you get here?” she asked, bemused.

  “I had a wheelchair. But… someone took it.” Gabriel looked around as if one might have been brought into the room without him noticing, but no such luck. He did see a boy at the puzzle table behind him that hadn’t been there before. Maybe ten or eleven with a tousled mop of blond hair. Gabriel stared, wondering where he had come from and what his story was. Was he another mito kid? Another kidnappee? Gabriel shook his head, grunting to himself. There were no kidnappees. He wasn’t a kidnappee. That was just Renata’s paranoia.

  “I guess I’ll see if I can find you one,” Mrs. Scott said reluctantly. “Unless you think you could make it…?”

  Gabriel shook his head.

  She sighed and went back out of the common room. Gabriel could hear her inquiring of someone in the hallway.

  In a few minutes, she was back again, pushing a worn, scratched-up chair. She shrugged at him. “It may not be pretty, but I think it will do the trick.” Then she stood there, waiting for Gabriel to jump up and get into it.

  “You gotta move it over here,” Gabriel explained. “And put the brakes on.”

  She repositioned it and waited. Gabriel moved like an old man, pushing himself up onto his feet, shuffling in a quarter circle, and then lowering himself shakily into the seat, worried that he was going to overbalance one way or the other and fall down in front of her. He landed in the seat too quickly and bit the tip of his tongue. Gabriel swallowed a complaint and breathed out, tucking his blanket back around him. At least he was getting away from the mind-numbingly boring television programming. He’d had no idea that feminine leak protection and diet aids were such a big industry.

  “Why can’t you get around?” Carol Scott asked. She waited for him to propel the wheelchair. Gabriel sat there silently, refusing to ask for her help. Eventually, she took the handles and wheeled him back toward his room. “You were able to walk last time I saw you,” she pointed out. “At your house, I mean.”

  Gabriel turned his head slightly to look at her. He didn’t remember meeting her before, but obviously he had, during the time that was still missing from his memory. Renata said that he would be able to remember eventually, but he wasn’t so sure.

  “They took away my braces,” Gabriel said. “And my meds. And they aren’t giving me the right food and vitamins and herbs. So… I can’t.”

  “Maybe you need to try a little harder. Don’t let your… problem… get the better of you.”

  “Why don’t you starve all of your cells?” Gabriel growled. “Then you can talk to me about how easy it is.”

  She didn’t argue the point, but pushed him the rest of the way to his room. Gabriel was relieved to see his name on the plate beside the door and to enter the familiar dimness of his cave. She pushed the wheelchair up beside the bed.


  Gabriel put the brakes on and stood up, eyeing the bed. It was a lot higher than he remembered. He couldn’t just slide into it like his bed at home. He stood up as tall as he could, and held onto the side rail. With a little tip-toe boost, he got a corner of his bottom onto the mattress, but then he was stuck.

  “Can you… help me?”

  He tried to slide farther onto the
bed, or to roll onto it, or to lift his weight with his arms. Mrs. Scott tried to lift his legs on, and pushed his hip, and tugged on his arms, and eventually Gabriel managed to slither up onto the high bed. He lay still, breathing hard.


  “Well, that was interesting. Maybe next time we’d better get a nurse to help.”

  Gabriel just breathed. The social worker pushed the wheelchair away and didn’t tuck it into the corner. She pulled the visitor chair closer to the bed, but not close enough to touch him. He wondered how Renata was doing, down in the emergency room.

  “So, it’s high time you and I had a chance to talk,” Mrs. Scott said, settling herself into the chair and folding her hands in her lap.

  “Are you going to tell me why I’m here?”

  “I think that’s already been explained to you. We need to re-evaluate. Get you into the program that treats your disease in the best way possible. We want to give you the best quality of life that we can. Get you healthy.”

  “I’m sicker here. I was doing good with my mom. I’d put on weight.”

  “Well, it’s a matter of opinion whether you were doing better with your mom. And I’m sure that once they get your meds and diet straightened around here, and get you on the right protocol at the mito clinic, you’re going to be doing much better.” She gave him a bright, reassuring smile. Gabriel wondered if she ever wore hats. She looked like she should be wearing some kind of wide-brimmed, cheerful sun hat. Not sitting bareheaded in the dismal hospital room.

  “I was doing better with my mom,” Gabriel repeated. “Lots better. You saw, I can’t even walk.”

  “I saw that you chose not to walk,” she countered. “I don’t know what you’re capable of.”

  “I want to go back to my mom and my house. I hate it here.”

  “It’s understandable that you’re having a difficult time. It’s a hard transition to make, and you don’t understand it. But can you trust me for just a little while? I promise that we’ll get everything straightened out.”

  “Where is my mom?”

  “I assume she’s at home.”

  “You didn’t put her in jail?”

  She raised her penciled eyebrows in surprise. “Why would I put her in jail? I don’t think that your mother was being intentionally abusive, Gabriel. I didn’t want to have to remove you… But I just don’t think that your mom is qualified to take care of all of your special needs. Not when she won’t follow the protocols that the doctors give her.”

  “She took care of me since I was born! She knows more about what works for me than any doctor. The weight clinic wasn’t helping; I was losing weight there. Until Mom started figuring out what we needed to change.”

  “Your mother isn’t qualified to make changes to your treatment. I’m sorry, but that’s just a fact. She needs to follow what the doctors tell her.”

  Gabriel shook his head, frustrated. “When am I going home? What if she followed the program and I got worse? You think that’s better?”

  “I hear your frustration,” she assured him. “But if you are getting worse, then the doctors will make adjustments to your treatment. Not your mom. I’m… I’m really sorry that I had to take you out of the home. I think that your mom is a good parent. She just didn’t realize what damage she could do by changing the protocol. I think that if she’ll agree to keep you at the mito clinic and follow the program, we might be able to get you back home again.” She gave him a bright smile. “I sure hope so, anyway. I’m sure that you miss her.”

  “You can’t just take kids away from their families for no reason.”

  “No. I can’t. So you know that I had a reason. It’s not something that we just do on a whim. I wouldn’t take you out if DCF didn’t truly believe that it was the best thing for you.”

  “You’re wrong! I want to go to the court and to tell the judge that you were wrong. And the doctors. I want to be with my mom.”

  “I’m sure you do. We’re working with the court, and they’re making the best possible decisions for you.”

  “When is my mom going to be able to come see me?”

  Mrs. Scott hesitated. “I’m not sure of that. I would like to keep her involved, but the doctors want to wait until you are more stable. It’s better if we can just focus on your health, and not have her disrupting your treatment.”

  “But I want to see her.” Gabriel rubbed at his eyes, trying not to cry in front of her. His throat was hot and tight. “I need my mom. I need to see my mom again.”

  “Gabriel. I’m truly sorry. But it’s for your own good—”

  Gabriel’s body went rigid. He felt all his muscles clench up. His eyes rolled up; then he started convulsing, vibrating and bouncing the bed, making it bang into the wall as his body writhed uncontrollably. He couldn’t see Carol Scott, but could hear her, swearing and panicky. She pressed the nurse’s call button, then unable to wait for them, ran out into the hallway and called for help.

  “I need a doctor! He’s having a seizure! Someone needs to come here and help! Please!”

  There was a rush of approaching feet and voices.

  “It’s all right,” one of the nurses reassured. “It will pass in a minute or two. There’s no need to panic.”

  Mrs. Scott was swearing, clearly distressed. “We were just talking, and he was getting upset—is it my fault for upsetting him? Did I do this?”

  “Nothing that you did could cause a seizure. It will be over in a minute. He’s completely safe in the bed.”

  Gradually, Gabriel’s body stopped shaking, and he lay there blinking at them, sweat soaking his hospital gown and sheets. The nurse took his pulse.

  “Feeling okay?” she asked him.

  “I want my mom,” Gabriel told her.

  She looked at the social worker. They both shook their heads. Gabriel closed his eyes.

  “What caused the seizure?” Mrs. Scott questioned.

  “I don’t think it was a seizure,” the nurse said.

  Gabriel opened his eyes, scowling at her. “It was a seizure,” he argued. “You took me off of my meds. That’s why.”

  “Doesn’t look like a seizure,” she repeated. “I think you’re used to getting your own way when you throw a fit. Probably scares the bejeebers out of your mom and you get whatever you want. But that’s not going to work here. We’re onto you.”

  “It was a seizure!” Gabriel shouted, furious that she would doubt him. How could she think that it wasn’t a seizure? She had seen him convulsing. They had all seen him convulsing. That was what happened when they took him off of his meds for no reason. They shouldn’t go messing with his meds. Here they were, talking about how what his mother had done had been dangerous, and yet they could just pull him off of everything that the doctors had prescribed to keep him healthy. He hated being sick, and he hated being in hospital. He just wanted to be at home with his mother where he was safe and looked after properly.

  “I think it’s time for you to go,” the nurse told the social worker. “Gabriel needs to have a rest.”

  When Gabriel opened his mouth to argue with her, she squeezed her eyebrows together. “Do you want me to give you a sedative? Is that what you need to calm down?”

  Gabriel didn’t want to be knocked out again. He didn’t want to forget anything else. He shook his head. “No.”

  “Then I think it’s time that you took a nap, don’t you?”

  He looked at the social worker and back at the nurse again. The other nurses were already retreating, going back to their duties.

  Carol Scott nodded. “I think you’re right. I’d better go. My being here is just making Gabriel more upset. I’ll come back in a few days, Gabriel. Hopefully, then you’ll be feeling better. Okay?”

  He didn’t answer her. She gave him a perfect smile, and he stared at her red lips, wondering how long it took to get them painted perfectly in such a bright, glossy color. Did she put it on in the car like his mother did, at a stop light, without even looking in
the mirror? Or like he’d seen models do on TV, with a tiny paintbrush, painstakingly outlining in one color and filling in with another. They looked fake, like plastic Barbie lips.

  The social worker left the room, never even having opened her shiny briefcase. The nurse looked Gabriel over one more time. “Too much excitement for you today. I don’t think you were ready for it yet.”

  Gabriel remembered suddenly about what had happened to Renata. He had forgotten about her for a few minutes, arguing with Mrs. Scott about Keisha. “Is Renata okay? Have you heard?”

  “She’ll be okay. These things happen sometimes. Patients with chronic illness can have brittle bones. She takes nutritional supplements, but they aren’t always adequate. They’ll fix her up downstairs. She’ll probably be terrorizing us again tomorrow.” She smiled, tucking Gabriel’s blankets around him. “You like her, huh?”

  “Well, yeah…” Gabriel didn’t want her thinking that he was having any romantic or inappropriate thoughts about her, which he wasn’t. “She’s the only one my age around here, so…”

  She nodded. “It’s nice that the two of you can keep each other company. Just be careful…”

  “I know. She’s paranoid,” Gabriel parroted. “You can’t believe anything she says.”

  “That’s exactly right. She should be back tomorrow, I would think.”


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