“Everything okay?” Collin mumbled very quietly as he sat down next to me at dinner that night. “I freaked out a little when you weren’t in the gym this morning.”
But what to tell him? I mean, yeah, everything was fine. The picture I’d tucked safely into my bra the first chance I got was burning my skin like unspent money burns a hole in your pocket, but other than that, I was fine. I wanted to show him the picture so badly, but I didn’t dare with everybody around us.
“Yeah, everything’s good,” I said, then found myself smiling as I looked at him.
His expression turned questioning, but with a smile to match mine.
After leaving Cecelia’s room, I was led to the usual school-like room where we’d been ranked the day before. As I’d sat through test after test, hours spent studying pictures and reading paragraphs of text, I’d had an even harder time concentrating than usual. But instead of my thoughts drifting to the past, I had found myself thinking about the future. And thinking about Collin—so at least that much was the norm.
I felt certain my test scores weren’t at the top of the class for today. Which was completely fine by me.
“Lucky you getting to miss workout this morning,” Val remarked as she took her own seat at the table.
“Yeah, what was that about?” Nina asked before taking a bite of almost-stale bread.
Deer in headlights time. Quick, Ferris, think.
“They wanted to examine her gigantic brain,” Collin said before I had to come up with anything. He’d kept his tone joking so I could choose not to follow his lead if I wanted to—but why not follow it? It was a perfect explanation—at least as good as anything I would have come up with.
“Yeah, they want me to do, like, extra tests and stuff,” I added. “In the mornings, instead of working out.”
Nina’s and Val’s expressions turned all incredulous.
“No fair,” said Nina. “You don’t have to workout at all anymore?”
I only shrugged because elaborating would have involved more lies.
“Well, maybe it’s not so bad,” Val allowed. “I’d rather work out than have an extra hour of class. At least working out is easy.”
“Keep your voice down,” Samantha admonished as she took her own seat. “No reason to let them know the workouts aren’t exactly a challenge.”
Val rolled her eyes. Then she leaned over to me and Nina. “Not like they don’t already know that.”
The toe of Collin’s shoe ran gently up my ankle, drawing my attention. When I turned to him, his expression was questioning again.
“No workout at all?” he mouthed, no voice behind the words.
I shook my head with a grimace that tried to be a smile.
He just eyed me for a moment, his expression a little intense, while Nina and Val continued to talk. “You’re okay?”
I took his hand, tucked below the table and sitting in his knee, and nodded again. “I’m good. I promise.”
God, I wanted to tell him! I wanted to be able to have a real, live conversation with him—to talk like we used to talk. I never got to talk to him anymore. And I needed to talk to him now. Like, really bad. I needed to tell him I wanted to keep it—that, if he still wanted to be a Dad, then I was game. That we were going to do this. As terrifying as that was to say, I needed to say it to him.
But I couldn’t. Not here.
I suddenly wished we could be like Leah and Drake, who could relay messages to one another in the warmth. To hear Leah describe it, she could almost read Drake’s thoughts through the heat. Collin’s warmth didn’t give me information like that. I could tell when he was calm and when he wasn’t, and I could tell where he was when we were in a room together, or near one another, but beyond that, I was as lost as anybody when it came to knowing what he was thinking—or being able to show him what I wished I could say.
John came and sat across from Collin in his usual place. He smiled at me more warmly than I’d noticed him smile before. “What’d I miss?” he asked—his usual greeting.
“Ferris gets to miss workouts from now on,” Nina announced with a sneer that was only half serious.
“Because they want her to take more intelligence tests,” Val added with a snooty voice.
John didn’t miss a beat. “Well she’s our resident genius, so it only makes sense,” he said before taking his first bite.
The next morning, Cecelia was asleep again when the guard delivered me to her room. Or rather, it seemed like she was sleeping.
“Hey Cici, it’s Ferris,” I said quietly. “Just wanted to let you know in case you’re really awake.”
She didn’t move, other than the gentle rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. So I sat back in the chair and waited. I wondered if anyone knew how sick she was.
Then I wondered if I really knew how sick she was. All I had to go on was assumptions and non-answers to my questions.
I remembered a conversation I overheard between Leah’s parents not long after I had first come to stay at their house. I had been trying to stay out of the way. School hadn’t started yet so there wasn’t much to do to get away from the house, but the last thing I wanted was to be under foot, so I’d gone for a long walk around their neighborhood after dinner, walking until it had started to get dark before going back inside. I’d tiptoed my way up the stairs to Leah’s room, then back across the hall so I could brush my teeth for the night. I’d left the door cracked to the bathroom without realizing it, so when Leah’s parents had come up the stairs, talking, I hadn’t been able to help but hear them.
“I didn’t want to get in the middle of this, at first,” Darrin, Leah’s dad, was saying. “It’s Ferris’ family and they should work it out.”
“But after talking to Cecelia…” Susan countered.
“How can we not let her stay here?” Darrin agreed.
They stopped on the landing for a moment.
“You heard what she said: it’s about more than a boy–they don’t even know she’s a shifter,” Susan said.
“And if they did, they’d kick her out anyway, to hear Cici tell it,” Darrin replied.
“I think you’re right,” Susan had agreed before dropping her voice so it was even quieter than before. “Furthermore, I don’t know how they could not realize she’s a shifter—how they could take so little interest in their own daughter. That alone is proof enough she shouldn’t be there.”
Darrin had sighed as they’d kept on toward their bedroom. “I’m glad Cici called—we’d have no idea otherwise.”
“I’m not sure Leah even has the full picture,” Susan had said as they closed their door behind them.
I remembered feeling completely mortified to know they knew all that stuff. To know they were having conversations about me, well-intentioned or otherwise, was strangely humiliating.
I’d crossed the hall and climbed into my air mattress bed without saying a word to anybody, feeling exposed and raw and strangely humiliated. I laid in bed, just wishing I could sink through the floor. I hadn’t even wanted to call Collin. I just wanted to disappear. But when I’d woken up the next day, I’d felt differently about it, like the sleep had let logic catch up with my emotions and had recast the conversation I’d overheard, and recast my reaction to it. It was still embarrassing, especially if I thought too much about it, but I’d been able to see their kindness, too.
Leah’s mom had taken me and Leah to the mall that next day. She’d taken me to a store and told me to choose a cell phone. When I’d objected, she’d said it wasn’t any big deal, and told me to pick whichever phone I wanted. I chose the least expensive one, of course. But from then on, they’d treated me like I was part of the family—like I’d always been there, and always would be.
Cecelia stretched and when she opened her eyes, they found me easily.
“Back again,” she said, her voice quiet and rough with sleep. “You were here yesterday morning too, right?”
I paused for a second, words hanging in my throat. “Yeah. I visited yesterday morning too.”
“Because they don’t want you working out in your delicate condition,” she said like she was remembering our conversation more clearly all the sudden. “That’s right. You were going to help me with this letter.”
I held my cuffed wrists up for her to see. “Still cuffed, sorry.”
“Pish.” She pushed the call button on her bed and a nurse materialized at the door.
“Morning Cici. What’s up?”
“Good morning,” Cecelia replied pleasantly. “I need Ferris’ help finishing up those letters and notes I was working on. But she’s handcuffed, which makes writing rather difficult. Is there any way you could see to that?”
The nurse gave Cici a look of cynical question for a moment.
“The guard is coming to get her within an hour,” Cecelia went on. “We’ll all be quite safe, I promise you. She’s too nauseated to do anything rash in any case—pregnant and all.”
Much to my chagrin, the nurse was suddenly much more obliging. “Oh, you’re the one!” she said as she crossed the room. “I can get you some lollipops if you’re queasy.”
I was about to tell her that it wouldn’t be necessary, but Cici piped up before I could open my mouth.
“So thoughtful! That would be wonderful. I’ve heard they help.”
The nurse motioned for my cuffed hands, so I lifted them. Then she unlocked one of the cuffs like they were no big deal. She left them dangling from my left wrist, but at least now my hands were free to use.
“Thanks,” I managed to mumble.
“I’ll go see about those lollipops,” she said as she left the room.
I waited until the door was closed before looking at Cecelia. “But I’m not sick right now.”
“And she doesn’t know that,” she replied. “You seem all the more unthreatening as the sweet, nauseated, pregnant girl.”
Okay, well apparently she was on to something because a couple of minutes later, the nurse came back, all smiles, and handed me a small lollipop wrapped in white wax paper. It was root beer flavored.
I thanked her, unwrapped the sucker, popped it into my mouth and gave Cici a look as the nurse left the room. “Okay, so what did you need help with?”