The nurse grabbed an electric thermometer from the small counter, and slid a plastic protector on the tip. “Do your ears hurt?” she said.

“No.” Was she dense? What did a shoulder scratch have to do with my ears?


She shoved the thermometer in my right one. A screeching beep sliced into my head, and I jerked away from her.

Maybe they did hurt? I stuck my finger in my ear and wiggled, trying to get the sound out of my head. “Can you turn the volume down on that?”

The nurse gave me an “are you nuts” look and then stuck the thermometer back in my ear. “Hold still.”

I ground my teeth as a digital beeping pierced my eardrums.

“Don’t let this be what I think it is,” she said so softly I could barely hear her.

What was her major malfunction? Weren’t nurses supposed to have seen it all and be calm in emergencies?

With a final series of screeching beeps, she glanced at the readout and cleared her throat. “108.”

“That’s not right. She’d be dead if it were that high,” Mom said.

The nurse grunted and searched a nearby tray. “I need to see the scratches.”

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“Who cares about the scratches? She has a fever of 108! Get a doctor,” Dad said. He was standing guard at the end of the bed. He was so pissed that he was nearly vibrating with it.

“Sir, it’d be best if you could calm down.”

Oh no she didn’t.

Mom put a restraining hand on Dad as he stepped toward the nurse. “She’s just doing her job.”

The nurse cleared her throat. She had to know she’d stepped in it with her comment. “The doctor is aware of her situation and is waiting on my assessment.”

Nope. She was an idiot. “I’m fine, Dad. Feeling much better. See.” I smiled. He didn’t smile back. I must’ve looked worse than I felt.

Mom sighed. “They’re on the back of her left shoulder.”

The nurse reached toward a tray of pointy objects. The metallic clang as she looked through them made me shake. I bet there were needles on that tray.

“Please, stay calm. I’m only going to cut your shirt a little bit.”

I tried, but with each snip of the scissors, my chest got a little bit tighter. She was going to say I needed stitches. I just knew it. My hands were so sweaty that the soft jersey gloves stuck to my skin. The stink of the nurse’s fear made me even more anxious.

Wait. I could smell her fear?

I sniffed the air. It reeked like someone had poured cheap perfume over rotting fruit. Something inside of me knew that smell was fear, even if I had no rational explanation for it.

She pulled my shirt away from my shoulder, and started ripping off the band-aids. She gasped and the scissors clunked to the ground.

I looked over my shoulder. The nurse’s plump, rosy cheeks had gone sheet white. “What? What is it? What’s wrong with my shoulder?” I glanced at Mom, but she only shrugged.

The nurse backed out of the room and didn’t turn away from us until she was halfway down the hall. Her clogs clunked on the floor as she started to run.

Forcing myself to take slower, deeper breaths, I gathered up the courage and twisted until I could see it. The cuts weren’t bleeding anymore. They were an angry red and didn’t have scabs yet, but puss wasn’t seeping from them. “It doesn’t look that bad. Why is she freaking out?”

My dad leaned down to brush a kiss over my forehead. “I don’t know, honey.” He peeked at the cuts. “How did you say you got those cuts again?”

A doctor in his white lab coat came into our makeshift room before I could answer.

“Hello, I’m Dr. Schel.” He was tall and thin, with dark circles under his eyes. Someone was overworked. He slid the curtain closed behind him. “Nurse Tilden filled me in, but I’m sure she must be misunderstanding something. I need to see the scratches on your back, if that’s alright.” He frowned. “And what’s that on your lip?”

“It’s a bite,” I answered as softly as I could manage. My cheeks burned. I could never look my father in the eyes again. Never. Again.

Dr. Schel walked around the bed. The sound of his throat clearing startled me. He suddenly smelled just like the nurse.

“I’ve never seen scratches quite like those. How exactly did you get them?”

This was beyond mortifying. I couldn’t say in front of Dad. Especially if Mom hadn’t already spilled the beans.

“I’m sure you won’t get in any trouble. Right?” Dr. Schel looked at Dad.

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