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Monday, June 29th, day 29
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.
—Song of Solomon 1:2
My parents came back in screaming at each other at the top of their lungs. Lifting my head from the pillow, I heard these words:
“Vernon, I can’t believe you did that.”
“Why are you making such a big deal out of it, Susan?”
“Because! You know what the Bible says! ‘If your eye causes you to sin, poke out your eye.’ I saw the way you were ‘eying’ that waitress! I’m surprised you would do that in front of Hanuara, Vernon.”
“Susan, you take that Bible way too seriously. Sure there are some interesting stories and some sound advice, but the Bible is separate from reality. You think you’re so high and mighty just because you can recite the Lord’s prayer by heart; your attitude sucks, by the way.”
“How can you say that, Non? I thought you were finally starting to change. But what you did tonight was so completely out of line…”
“Yeah, well, tell me this, Susan. Who do you love more, me, or God?”
“I’m sorry, you know the answer to that question.”
“Say it out loud. Maybe I don’t know the answer. Maybe I’m hoping it changed since the last time I asked.”
“Okay, but you asked for it, Non. I love God so much more than I love you, I can’t even believe. But do you want to know why? God has never cheated on me, and he never will, and that’s about as much as I can ask for right now.”
There was a silence, and then somebody slammed out the door. my mother’s light but tired footsteps trudged up the stairs.
Falling back to my pillow and the Land of the Nod, I made a mental note to stop eating before bed.
Tuesday, June 30th, day 30
Sometimes I wondered if Lee pulled his wacky ideas out of a hat or if he sat down and made a lesson plan. But for what ever reason, on Tuesday I found myself hiking up mount Namraz in an old pair of shorts and a tube top.
“Perseverance,” was the only thing he told me when I asked.
Mount Namraz isn’t really a mountain, just the flat hill that Tianam and part of the city of Namraz sit on. It starts at the shore of Harlequin Beach and then goes up, with rocky patches here and a clearing there, but it’s mostly trees.
When you have to hike up it, though, you really get an appreciation for the fact that yes, it is a mountain. A big, nasty mountain that never, ever ends.
When I had fallen for the tenth time, my knees were a bloody mess, my hair was stuck to my face, and my eyes were narrowed in annoyance because Lee barely broke a sweat. He helped me up, splashed water on my legs, and kept on going. It was too late to turn back now, but that’s the way it was with him: by the time you knew enough to want to turn back, it was too late.
Sure, it had been nice at first. The sun made pretty patterns on the forest floor, birds sang merrily from their spots above the canopy, and we even saw a chipmunk, a snake, and two foxes. But as we progressed, the mosquitoes came out, and the trees thinned to let the assaulting sun shine its evil shine on us. I was in shape from running, but this used muscles I had been unaware of until they started screaming in protest. And I’m talking a guns-down, tied-to-a-tree-with-chains protest.
“Lee, I can’t go on. Just leave me here, and I’ll be fine. Save yourself.” I plopped down on the pine-y floor and guzzled water from my water bottle.
He plucked it out of my hands and screwed the top back on. Hauling me to my feet, he said, “I’m in no need of saving; I think you could use it more than me. Come on, we’re almost there. I have a surprise waiting for you at the top.”
I doubted that, but he was walking away with my bottle, so I stumbled after him.
“Ouch!” he exclaimed, slapping his arm. A dead bee fell off. “I got stung by a bee.”
“I can see that.” he pulled a pair of tweezers out of his pocket. What an odd thing for a man to carry around.
“So,” he said when he was done, “Have you rethought dancing yet? Since you understand a little more about art now?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I told you once already that I don’t dance. Listen to Gray and leave me alone.”
He put his hand on my arm to bring me to stop. “Have you rethought God yet?” His pale eyes searched my face.
The question was so out of the blue I flinched. And then my eyes narrowed. “Why, Lee? Why do you want to know?”
He removed his hand. “I don’t know, really. It just seems like an unresolved issue, you know? Living here, I thought you would have come around.”
What was that supposed to mean? With a jolt I realized the air had gotten cooler. Or maybe it was just my imagination. But I revelled in it, and though I was nonetheless sweatier than I had ever been in my life, my steps were lighter because of it, and before I knew what happened, we were at the gate to Monica’s back yard.
Lee patted me on the back as I stared in total shock. “Surprise,” he said. “Go take a bubble bath or something. You earned it. But before you go, I want to tell you this: art means never giving up.”
“That’s a wonderful idea, Hanuara. But are you sure your parents are okay with it?”
I smiled at the receptionist. “They don’t know yet. It’s a surprise for everyone. Except Lee.”
She gave me a list of all the children staying at the hospital and their room numbers. Armed with a notebook and my cell phone I took it and began my quest.
The first one on my list was a girl named Nina McGriffen. She was thirteen years old. She had terminal cancer and had only a few months to live. Her father answered the door. “Hanuara Fei-Ling?”
“Yes. Can I talk to you, outside?”
After shutting the door, Mr. McGriffen turned to me with an expression akin to that of the bully who’s called out by the principal. I smiled at him reassuringly before telling him my plan. He looked very pleased, and told me to come right in and talk to his daughter. He said he was going to go get some coffee.
“Hey, Nina.” I sat down gently on the edge of her bed.
“You’re Hanuara Fei-Ling!”
“Yeah. How you doing, sweetie?”
She shrugged, pulling at the tape holding an IV tube to her arm. “I’m okay. Why are you here? Do you know me?” her eyes shone.
“No, but I hope to. You know how my sister is in the hospital too, right? It gets kind of boring here, don’t you think?” She nodded with a guilty expression. “Well, considering the fact that I’m only here for a couple hours a day, I could only imagine what it would be like for people who are here for months.”
“It’s pretty awful,” she agreed, nodding her head and smiling.
“I thought I’d throw a little party here, to pass the time. I’d like to invite you.”
“You’re throwing a party at the hospital? And you’re inviting me?”
“Uh-huh. But first, I need you to tell me something. What three people have you always wanted to meet?”
“You.” She beamed at me.
“Pick two more.”
“Well, Miley Cyrus is pretty cool. And Jada Allens. Is that good?”
“Yeah, she’s a dancer from Gether. She goes to Valsette’s Institution or something. She’s not that famous, but I saw her dance once.”
“Well, I know for a fact that I can get her here. She’s my friend.”
Grinning, I skipped off to the next kid on the list. Barney, Elmo, Nicholas Sparks, David Meece, Dwayne Johnson, and even Michael Jordan were asked for. Singers, athletes, actors, missionaries, and musicians. Some I hadn’t even heard of, but made a mental note to look up on Google. A lot of them just wanted to meet me, my dad, my mom, or my sister. The really little kids asked me if I could really get them to come to the hospital, and what if they got sick, too. My heart swelled with pride that this was all working out so well. Everybody seemed so hopeful in this place of death and dying; I finally understood what Adam was talking about when he said making others feel good makes you feel good too.
Outside, I pressed in Em-Sem’s number. I waved a hand at the reporter that approached me and ran into the bathroom when he didn’t go away.
He picked up on the first ring. “Look, Hanuara, since you seem to call a lot now, I figure I should tell you my real name is Theo. Honestly, ‘Em-Sem’ sounds so odd in normal conversation.” He sounded so upbeat, cheerful, even.
“Look, there’s been a slight change of plans, Theo. I had a light-bulb moment the other day, and I went around the hospital just a few minutes ago asking people which celebrities they’d like to meet. Some of them said you guys, so I was wondering if you could come on a different day, to the hospital instead of my house. You’d still get to meet my dad, just a few little kids as well.” I crossed my fingers.
“Hanuara, you’re amazing. Even in though you’re in the middle of another tragedy, you manage to think of other people and making them happy. Of course I’ll do it. What day?”
“That’s the thing. I’m not quite sure. I still need to talk to, like, thirty other people and get a date that works for everybody.”
He said he would try to work his schedule around whatever I decided. I hung up feeling even better than I had before.
My mom was absolutely ecstatic when I told her. “Hanuara, that’s wonderful of you to do. I’d love to meet those kids. Here, if you give me the names of some of the people you’re inviting, I’ll help.”
“Just ask them for a few five or six dates that will work for them. I want to take care of this all in one shot.” I handed her a page out of my book. “Say, where’s Dad?” I added as an after thought.
A muscle twitched in her cheek. “I don’t know. He went out last night and didn’t come back.”
“Do you think something happened to him?” Alarm coloured my voice.
“No, he called me just a few minutes ago. He says he’ll be back soon.”
I hesitated. “Mom, did something happen last night?” My breath shortened.
She kneaded her forehead. “We just had a little disagreement, that’s all.”
“I heard every word, Mom.” I sat down at the table. “What happened?”
I couldn’t believe what she told me. Apparently, this had been going on for a while. At Le Baton Rouge, while I was in the bathroom and they were paying the check (just because it was my treat didn’t mean I was actually going to pay); dad had made a comment to the waitress that I am not going to repeat. I couldn’t imagine my dad being with anyone but my mother, let alone cheating on her. It felt like ice shards were running through my veins into my heart. Especially when she told me he didn’t really believe in God, it was just a charade he played for Adam, Monica and I.
“But…why?” I stammered. “Why would he do that?”
“I don’t know, hon, but I’ve been trying to break him of the habit for a long time. That doesn’t mean you should think any differently about him; he’s still your father and he is a good man, he just doesn’t know it.”
How could she expect me to not think differently about him after she tells me something like that? But most importantly, how could Dad do this to us?
retreated to my bedroom and laid flat on my back on my bed. The shock was almost too much to bear.
I wallowed in my grief and confusion for a whole five minutes before I forced myself to get up. Julius and I were going to the drive-in movies, and he would be by in an hour to pick me up. I showered and put on the gold dress Monica had gotten for me when I first got here. It had been a month already. Would we ever leave?
“Don’t run away, luv. I only want to suck your blood.” Roger St. Bell stalked toward Regan Frost with a sadistic smile. Regan screamed, rattled the locked door of the garage, but it did no good.
“Is this really your idea of a good movie?” Julius asked.
“Shhh.” I was mesmerized by this movie.
Roger had Regan by the arms and was leaning toward her throat when Stanley Drowt, Regan’s true love, broke in through the back window with a hatchet and a ripsaw. “Let her go, Roger. Your sucking days are over, you sucker!”
Roger laughed. “You really think you can hurt me, Nelly? I’m a vampire, remember!” he dropped Regan and had his arms around Stanley’s neck in a flash.
Stanley, despite his predicament, smiled his bright white smile. “Yes, you’ve told me that before, Roger. But I think you should know that I am, too.” Regan, who had crumpled to the floor, lifted her head to stare at her fiancée. Stanley’s smile was slowly being obscured by his glistening white fangs. Like a child flicking a mosquito off her arm, he picked up Roger and flung him against the wall.
“Why couldn’t we have seen The Matchbook Mummy or something?” Julius whined. “This is so boring.”
“Are you bored now?” I nibbled softly on his ear, and then put my lips on his neck. “I want to suck your blood,” I said in a poor imitation of Roger St Bell.
“No. I’m never bored when I’m with you.”
“Right. So what are you whining about?” I snuggled in closer.
“Because. I’m not with you when you’re with Roger St Vlad and Rachel Drost.”
“Whatever,” I laughed. “You should try and enjoy the movie. this was your idea, by the way.”
He grumbled unintelligibly while alternately trying to make out with me. I pushed him away, not really wanting to watch the movie now, but still wanting to prove that I could be the dominant one sometimes.
“Regan,” Stanley was saying as he rushed toward her. “Regan, are you all right?”
She coughed as he helped her to her feet. “What do you think, Stanley? I was almost killed by a rogue vampire, I just found out you’re a vampire too, and you’re wondering if I’m all right?”
“I love you, Regan.” Stanley opened the door to Roger’s mansion and carried her out.
“So? That doesn’t make me feel any better.” She glared at him.
“That’s what I love about you. Nothing I could do could ever make you change your mind. No matter what I am, you won’t change your mind about loving me. Right, baby?”
Regan rolled her eyes before starting to cough again. “Sure, Stanley. I love you, and nothing will change that. but why didn’t you tell me?”
Stanley kissed her. “Because. Some things are best kept secret.”
I was crying at the end. Julius, unsure whether I was just emotional or if something was actually wrong, “Are you okay, Hanuara?” He pulled over to the shoulder.
“Yeah. That was just a really sad movie. I’m fine.” I stretched out my legs as far as they could go in the cramped little car. My annoyance peaked. “Julius, please let me buy you a new car.”
“Why?” He sounded wounded, and confused. “Don’t you like my car?”
I patted his hand. “No, I don’t. It’s too small. My legs are at least five feet long.”
“Maybe I don’t want a new car.”
“Okay, but think of Sam and Carl back there. Do you think they enjoy being squeezed into this tiny car like sardines? Do you, guys?” I turned to look at them.
“It doesn’t matter. Our job is to keep you safe,” said Carl.
“Just think about it, okay?” I got out at the house. “Good night.”
Dad was home, watching TV in the living room, his laptop on his knees. “Hey, Dad.” I started up the stairs.
“No, wait. Come here.” Sighing, I took a seat. “How was your date?”
“Great, Dad. We went to the drive-in. We saw Unbroken Secrets.”
“Ah. That was a book, you know. Actually, I went to college with Garret Lisburg, the guy who wrote it.”
“Okay. Is that all?”
“No. aren’t you going to ask where I was last night?”
No, I thought, I’d really rather not know. “Where were you?”
“At the hospital. I talked to Dr Sevence. Monica’s condition stabilized for the moment. She’s coming home tomorrow!”
“Oh, Dad!” I jumped up and hugged him. “That’s wonderful!”
“She’s’ not coming till suppertime, but you should still get some rest, anyway. Good night!” Laughing, he went up to their room.
Two things in one night were perfect for once. It was pathetic, but I felt like I was walking on air, instead of walking down a long dark flight of stairs. Things were definitely looking up.
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