“He said your test scores are above everyone else’s?” John was, apparently, impressed with my first place rank.
I, on the other hand, was mortified.
The last thing I was trying to do was draw attention to myself here. Plus, on a purely selfish note, great—make sure to call out the Japanese girl as being at the head of her class: how freaking stereotypical. In fact, I wasn’t even certain they hadn’t graded my answers with the assumption of correctness, simply because my name was emblazoned as “Fumiko” across the top of every test I’d taken so far.
Ugh. The whole thing made my skin crawl.
“Jeez, Dad, way to act surprised,” Collin shot back, laying a protective hand on my knee. “Of course she was at the top of the class—Ferris is smart like that.”
Queue more skin crawling.
“It’s not a big deal,” I said quietly.
“It’s not that I’m surprised she did well,” John replied. “That’s just sort of cool. Right?” He looked to the table for support.
We were all seated at our normal table–a big rectangular slab with bench seats bolted to the floor along both long sides. It was dinner time, the only time of the day we got to see anybody we didn’t share a cell, work-out, or class with. Well, the only time of the day we got to see other shifters, that is; the humans were kept separate from the rest of us. Which meant Collin hadn’t seen his mom since we’d left Berkeley, even though she was in the same building—at least as far as we knew, she was. I had a feeling it bugged him, knowing she was so close without being allowed to see her, but he didn’t let on to anybody about it, and I never had the chance to ask him. Dinner time—one hour a day—was the only time I got with him, or anybody else, that wasn’t restricted and scheduled by the minute. We got our food and while we sat, we talked quietly, exchanging news and occasionally stories from before, under the ever-watchful eyes of the guards that stood along the periphery of the room, one every few yards.
Each night, one of us got to go see Cecelia, spending our dinner hour with her in her hospital room. Last night had been my turn—tonight was Harris’.
“Sam, back me up here,” John said to Samantha when nobody at the table offered agreement to his sentiment of my academic coolness.
She looked up from her food with tired eyes. “Ferris is very smart. I’m not surprised.”
“Cecelia said to tell you all ‘hi’,” I interjected before the conversation could continue.
“Oh yeah! It was your night last night,” Val said. “How was she doing?”
Sam looked up from her food again.
“Doing okay I guess,” I replied gingerly. “She was asleep when I got there, and she slept most of the time I was there. I couldn’t bear to wake her up.”
Collin squeezed my knee and silently kept eating his bland-as-paper-pulp dinner.
“Speaking of which…” John said, but trailed off as Harris arrived at the table. “What are you doing here?”
Harris looked at me. “Cecelia asked for you. She said I should come tomorrow night on account of her sleeping the whole time you were there last night.”
I opened my mouth to respond but then wasn’t sure what to say. I wanted to go spend the hour with Cecelia, sure, and heaven knew none of the food was remotely appetizing—my stomach had been doing somersaults just watching everybody else eat it. So aside from getting the chance to talk to everyone, my being at dinner wasn’t doing much good. But it was still hard to leave Collin, plus I felt sort of bad getting two nights in a row away from the cafeteria—like I was being greedy somehow. All that said, it’s not like I was about to decline Cecelia’s request.
“Okay, sure,” I said after a moment . I grasped Collin’s hand and gave it a squeeze as I stood from my seat. “See you all later.”
“She didn’t touch any of her dinner,” I heard Samantha remark as I left the table.
It was strange, the way seeing Cecelia made me nervous. I’d visited her three times before this already, and while each visit had been different from one another, there was one thing they all had in common: the woman in that hospital bed was only a shadow of the woman I’d met and spent time with in Arizona over the summer.
Nobody, Cecelia included, talked about what was wrong with her; nobody would say whether or not her illness was permanent or… terminal. So I didn’ t know how to gauge the things I’d say or how to treat our time together, but one thing I did know was that visiting Cecelia left a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach the same way visiting my grandmother had done in the months before she passed away. There was a state of present-ness that one could only achieve when there was no considerable future to plan for. Cecelia had that still present-ness about her. And it scared the hell out of me if I thought too long about it.
“Ferris, dear, how are you?”
Tonight, though, I found Cecelia sitting up in bed, alert and bright-eyed. So maybe I was wrong.
She tucked a notebook and pen into the table alongside her bed. “I told Harris to come back tomorrow—I felt bad about sleeping away our time together last night.”
I stood in the doorway for some reason, unsure without knowing why. “It’s no big deal,” I said. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“Of course I did. And more over, I wanted to, so there.” She smiled and motioned me into the room. “Come sit down. Tell me how you’ve been doing.”
“I’m fine,” I replied as I rounded the end of her bed and took a seat in the chair alongside. “How are you? That’s more important, I think.”
She smiled warmly at me. “I feel good right now, so that’s something.”
And that was a non-answer.
“But how I’m doing isn’t any more important than how you’re doing,” she went on. “Tell me, are you okay?”
I nodded with a shrug. “Yeah, sure. As good as I can be in here.”
“How have you been feeling?”
She looked at me for a number of moments, until it felt like she was looking through my skin though her gaze held no censure—only open curiosity. And a hint, a thread of knowing—though knowing of what, I couldn’t be sure.
“This is probably going to sound crazy,” she said after a few seconds, “but has Leah ever mentioned anything… odd about me? Or about herself, for that matter—having a knack for guessing, or knowing things before they happen?”
I felt one of my brows raise. What was she talking about?
She shook her head dismissively. “Nevermind,” she said. “Forget I said anything. Anyway, remind me how long you’ve been here?”
I thought for a second. “Eight days, I think?”
“Eight days, wow,” she replied. “Gosh, it must be nearly November by now, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so…” I stopped. November… ? God, that couldn’t be right. Was it?
She sat and looked at me again, that same open, knowing curiosity.
Dates ran through my head. Oh god, it was right. It was.
I looked at Cecelia.
She just nodded. Then she pulled something in a plain white wrapper out from under her pillow. “I had the nurses bring this for me today—I’m pretty sure they thought I’d lost my mind, but they humored me.” She outstretched her arm, handing me whatever the thing was.
But my mind was buzzing, counting and recounting days, weeks—too many weeks.
I looked at her again.
“Take this,” she stretched her hand toward me again then ticked her head toward the corner behind me. “The bathroom is in there—it’s private.”