THE SAVIOR: Chapter 8

After Juna left, Mom started cussing like a redneck who’s TV unexpectedly quit functioning during Sunday NASCAR. Noah cried and everyone felt uneasy because Mom never cusses in front of us like that. Heck, she doesn’t even swear like a normal parent would even when she accidentally hurts herself. She’ll normally blurt out G-rated sayings like “fudge-sickle,” “damage,” or my all-time favorite “son of a bishop,” but never does she full on curse like that.  
Mom locked all the doors after Juna left and forced everyone to turn in early for the night. Noah is currently snuggling with her stuffed alligator, Sampson, watching The Wizard of Oz in my parents’ room. My dear mother is in the office, spitting out more profanities to Nellie.
Ugh. I press my hands against the window pain. It’s been three and a half hours.  
Rain pounds against the pavement outside.
Please keep safe.  

I wake up to the sound of my pulse, thudding hard in my ears.
Where am I? I wonder as I open my eyes, taking in the sight of a forest unfamiliar to me. Little raindrops hit my head. I’m not dreaming am I?
I get to my feet, flinching as a sharp pain streaks down my spine. A yelp comes through my teeth and again I flinch, just now remembering that I’m in my wolf form.  
What happened?
My mind flashes from one image to the next, a kaleidoscope of sight, sound, and smell as I unveil the events that lead up to this very moment.
Shit, I think. How long was I knocked out for? A minute? An hour?
I don’t know.
Damn it. This isn’t good. If that monster murdered someone tonight I am entirely at fault.
I force my legs forward and make an effort to ignore the pain that cripples me as I hobble through the woods. Inhaling deeply, I tremble at the unyielding pain my ribs bring, desperately hoping that they aren’t broken.
I fail to pick up the scent of that beastly looking creature and I wonder if maybe the rain has anything to do with it?
Come on, I think in frustration, listening hard, but it’s not long before my ears pin back to block the downpour from filling them up like a cup.
A growl escapes me.
As the rain sluices over my face and muddies my feet all I can think about is how badly my body aches. Without a sense of direction or helpful clues likes sounds and scents this hobbling-through-the-forest display is kind of a waste of my time, so maybe I should go back home.  
And so I do.

I stare blankly out the window, watching and listening to the rain pummel my house like a bully. Every couple minutes the wind makes this awful whining noise that causes my stomach to clench tight.
I think of the worst: she was hit by a car, stabbed by a knife, or is currently being tortured to death.
I’m itching to get out of this lousy kitchen and go searching for her, but where the heck do I look?
Anger boils up inside of me and I kick at a chair, which skids across the floor until it hits the kitchen cupboards and then topples over onto its side.   
Another whine fills my ears, but it’s not the wind I hear this time. Wheeling around toward the window I almost cry out in happiness at the beautiful sight before me.
I race for the front door, wrench it open, and wait for Juna to transform back into her human self. She trots up the driveway, limping badly.
My throat tightens.
Juna’s front paws lift into the air, body shifting into her normal human self again, but then, as if tackled from behind, she tumbles forward, hands and face hitting the pavement.
Rushing to her side, I try to help Juna up, but the instant I touch her she screams, a horrible agonizing sound I’ve never heard before. I let go. Afraid.
“Sorry,” she grunts and then presses her palms into the wet pavement, trying to will herself back onto her feet, but her elbows quiver and she can’t. “I need help,” she croaks.
“Sure,” I answer, carefully assisting Juna to the best of my abilities without further hurting her, but she whimpers at my touch and my stomach drops like I just swallowed a stone.
Mom rushes outside as we finally move toward the house, at first bubbling with anger and about to explode, but then seeing Juna’s condition she blurts out, “Jesus Christ! What happened?”
“She’s hurt,” I snap, “and needs help.”
Mom steps out into the rain, feet splashing through the puddles as she loops her arm around Juna’s right arm, while mine curls around her left. She can barely will herself to walk and her teeth begin chattering.
“We’re almost there honey,” Mom assures her. “We’ll get you into something warm as quickly as possible.”
“I’m n-not c-c-cold,” she cries. “It’s the p-p-pain.”
Mom looks to me, water wetting her hair and drips down her face. “Maybe you ought to carry her inside,” she suggests.
I nod.
Mom returns her attention to Juna. “Logan is going to carry you the rest of the way,” she says.
Juna nods, grunting, “Okay.”
I take a deep breath and then lift her into my arms. She shrieks. “Sorry,” I exclaim. “Juna, I’m so, so sorry.”
Her emerald eyes meet mine and she gives me a look of understanding, but I can’t shake off the terrible guilt I feel.
“Come on honey,” Mom urges me, pressing a hand to my back.  
I stride the rest of the way to the house, careful not to jostle her on the way in. Mom closes the door behind me. “Set her down on the couch Logan,” she instructs.
I bring Juna into the living room, softly lowering her onto the couch. Now that she is in a better light I notice the huge fist size bruises scattered across her body. I swallow. She is scratched up pretty badly too: on her face, her arms, down her legs. Everywhere. Blood soaks through the cloth.
My legs start shaking, so I bend down beside her, taking her hand into mine. Tears stream from her eyes, drying within seconds.
“Move out of the way Logan,” Mom orders. 
I get up.
Mom crouches down next to Juna, taking my spot. “Juna? Where does it hurt?”
“My ribs,” Juna croaks.
“Shit,” Mom hisses. “Okay, now, I’m going to feel around your ribs to check for any air in the tissue. We need to make sure your lungs weren’t punctured.”
Juna nods.
Mom taps around Juna’s chest with her fingertips, feeling for any signs of damage.

A wave of fire sweeps through my entire body. Skin feels tight around my bones like the heat is causing it to shrink.
I can barely breathe. Every inhalation causes a sharp stabbing pain along my ribs and down my spine.  
I want to go home to Leslie. I need her to take this pain away, pull it out of my body, seal it in a paper bag, and then burn it.
Destroy it.   
Fuck this hurts, I think, squeezing my lids shut. This really, really hurts.  
Brianne taps around my ribs with her fingertips. Feeling for…what was it again? Air?
Yes. Air. She needs to make sure I didn’t puncture my lungs.
My lungs?
Oh god, what if I punctured my lungs?
This can’t happen. My lungs can’t be punctured because if I’ve punctured my lungs I’ll have to go to the hospital and I can’t go to the hospital because the doctors will freak out about everything about me.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
“Well, good news,” Brianne begins, “you didn’t puncture your lungs.”
“Bad news: I think you’ve cracked some ribs,” she informs me and then turns to Logan—whom I’ve forgotten is still here—and tells him to grab the first aid kit, some dry clothes, and several towels.

On the verge of tossing my cookies, I charge down the hallway for the bathroom, snatching the first aid kit from beneath the sink and just as I am exiting a high-pitched cry screams from the living room, but it isn’t Juna’s voice I hear this time.
I find Noah sobbing in the living room. “W-what happened?” she wails.
“Noah, sweetie, we’re taking care of her. Don’t worry. She’ll be okay.” Mom looks up and widens her eyes at me. “Logan?” she asks.
Shoving the first aid kit into Mom’s hands, I snatch Noah up into my arms. She squirms and then kicks me right in the nuts. “Ouch,” I groan. Thanks a lot, Noah. I think. I’ll go ahead and cancel that vasectomy now.
I bring her to the girls’ room, but before I reach it the door swings open. “What the heck is going on?” Erin asks, her eyes turning toward the living room.
“Just take her please,” I beg, setting Noah down and then pushing her into the room. “Juna’s hurt bad. Don’t have time to explain. I need your help.” I look beyond Erin to my other sister. “Hannah, grab me a pair of Juna’s clothes will you?”
She nods and then wheels around, scrambling together some clean clothes.
“Juna!” Noah shrills another time, eyes red and swollen with tears.
“Noah, stop that,” Erin tells her, dragging her further into the room. “She’s gonna be fine.”
Hannah maneuvers around my two youngest sisters and hands me a clean pair of Juna’s clothes. “Here,” she says.

Brianne dabs at my scratches with rubbing alcohol, even the ones on my face and it burns like hell, smearing globs of Neosporin on afterwards.
Saltwater scorches my eyes and I’m not sure if I can bear this torture any longer.  
Logan returns with several towels and a clean pair of clothes for me, but I know I don’t have the energy to change into them on my own. “Logan,” Brianne instructs, “get two more things, please. Go into my bedroom—above the dresser is a bottle of Oxycodene. Grab that and she’ll also need a glass of water as well.”
He nods, sets down the clothes, and then leaves again.
Brianne helps me out of my bloody Rolling Stones t-shirt. “Oh god,” she whispers at the sight of my naked spine and I’m suddenly filled with fear for what I can’t see.
Sifting rapidly through the first aid kit she produces the ACE bandages and begins securely wrapping up my torso.  
  Eyes pinch tight and I clamp my teeth together, desperately trying to stop the chattering and shaking throughout my body.  
After safety pinning my bandages, Brianne helps me into a clean solid black shirt, peeling off my wet jeans next and then dressing me in a pair of soft, warm gray sweat pants.
Logan jogs past us toward the kitchen and each footstep pounding into the floor sends painful vibrations up my spine. He hands the Oxycodene and glass of water to his mother and then takes a seat on the opposite coach. “Thanks,” Brianne tells him.  
She hands me a single white circular pill and I place it into my mouth, flushing it down with a large gulp of water.
Swallowing hurts.
Brianne and Logan situate pillows all around me, mainly to support my legs and lower back. Afterwards, Logan grabs a quilt and then tucks me in.  
The medicine starts taking its numbing effect and, with time, my teeth slowly cease their chattering.

Juna sleeps now. Mom gave her a second pill of Oxycodene, which pretty much knocked her out, but even in sleep, I can still see the agony on her face.
Mom sits in the kitchen with a glass of red wine, talking on the phone with Nellie. Earlier she consoled Noah, who is currently asleep in Mom’s bed. It’s hard to believe what just happened—Mom going from loathing Juna to suddenly coming to her aid. I guess humanity trumps grudges when someone is in a critical condition, though.
Whoever did this to her deserves to die and I want to be there when it happens. 
“Logan?” My mom steps into the room.
“Yes?” I ask, turning my neck in her direction.  
“You going to stay with her tonight because I can—“
“Yes,” I answer immediately, “I’ll stay.”
“Ok,” she says, nodding once. “Come and get me if she wakes up in more pain.”
I nod.
“Goodnight,”Momtells me and then heads down the hallway for her bedroom.
“Goodnight,” I mumble.

An hour later I make some coffee and when I come back into the living room I sit down on the carpet beside Juna, leaning my back into the couch as I drink from the mug. Hot liquid runs down my throat and thankfully eases my nerves. I set the cup on the table and then look back at Juna, watching her through the darkness. I’m glad to see that her features aren’t as contorted as before.
My eyes flick toward her hands, which rest on top of the quilt, over her stomach. I reposition the angle of my body in order to take a hold of her hand. It looks like a tick-tack-toe board in its scratched up and reddened state, but not nearly as bad as her legs, which have huge gouges and remind me of a tilled up field.
  Leaning forward, I press my lips to her knuckles like this is the sole key to healing her.

My lids are heavy with sleep when I first open them and it takes a great deal of effort to keep them that way.
Dawn bathes the living room in a dark purplish tint. Down on the floor, at my side, lies Logan, gently snoring. Been there all night I imagine.
Inside my head is fuzzy, confused and clogged like it’s crammed with a million cotton balls.
I awoke because I thought I heard a scream, a faint, muffled thing, but a scream nonetheless. I wait, struggling to keep my eyes open.
And there it is again—an almost inaudible cry for help.  
I try to move, but can’t. My body has got its own agenda to run by.
Tilting my head back in frustration, I flex my fingers and even the tiniest of limbs ache. I wait for the scream again. Wait for a vision to flash across my mind.
I wait.
Nothing comes.
Did they live or did they die? I’ll never know. All I will ever know is this: I let them down.
  And then a thought strikes me: Is this how I keep the voices at bay?
Drown them out with drugs?
My eyes shut and I feel the pull of sleep again. This time I don’t fight it.  

I wake up with drool dripping down my chin.
Ah, that’s attractive, I think, wiping the saliva away with the back of my hand.   
I fell asleep against the floor, with nothing but the carpet to keep my head comfortable. I lift my body from the floor, my limbs stiff and sore, feeling like an old fart. I get up and move to the couch. The cushions are a heck lot more comfortable. I glance down at my watch. It’s seven o’clock. I yawn and rub my eyes, which are both crusty and gooey.  
My eyes move in Juna’s direction and I have to blink a couple of times for it to finally register that the scratches that once covered her hands, arms, and face are completely healed. She looks so much better, I can hardly believe it, and I know I’ve seen her quick healing abilities before, but I’ve got to admit it never ceases to amaze me.  
“Hey Logan,” Mom greets me in a whisper from behind.
I flinch, not knowing she was awake, let alone behind me in the kitchen. “Morning,” I whisper, turning around to face her.  
“You hungry?” she asks.
“Not really,” I mumble.
“Well, come with me into the kitchen anyhow. I want to talk to you,” she tells me.
I get up and follow her across the checkered linoleum floor, sitting down at the table as Mom refills her coffee mug. She takes a seat with her steaming cup and a plate with a toasted bagel on it and without looking at me she says, “I want to apologize for my behavior earlier. I realize that I was wrong and I haven’t exactly been treating Juna fairly.”
I don’t say a word.
“I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you,” she continues, meeting my eyes now. “I’ve been in shock ever since I met her and I guess that I was just mad that she existed in the first place because logically she isn’t supposed to.” She runs a hand through her hair, sighing. “Being a single mother of six is a very stressful career and with this added to my plate…it was just too much. Can you understand where I was coming from?”
“No,” I say, shaking my head. “You automatically assumed it was her. You have no idea about the hell she’s gone through. Can’t you understand that?”
“I’m trying to,” she tells me, guilt hanging at the back of her eyes.
“Good.” I nod. “It’s about time.”
An hour later I am sitting in the family room, my feet propped up on the arm of the sofa as I listen to Ra Ra Riot on my iPod. Juna’s eyes flicker open and I click the pause button, pulling out my earbuds and swinging around. “Hey there,” I whisper.
She turns her neck to the right in order to meet my gaze. “Hi,” she slurs.
“How’re you feeling?” I ask.
She rubs the bridge of her nose with her index finger and thumb, yawning. “Um,” she begins. “I’m feeling a lot better. I mean, I’m still in a little pain, but thank god—or whatever—that I heal fast.”
“Good,” I say, relieved. “Anything I can get for you?”
She shakes her head and then stares at her intertwined fingers. “Where is everyone?” she asks.
“Downstairs,” I say. “My mom didn’t want them to disturb you.”
“How is Noah doing?”
“She’ll be fine.”
“I wish she didn’t see that,” she whispers. “She’s so young. I feel awful.”
“It’s not your fault,” I tell her.
“I know,” she sighs, “but I still feel awful about it.”
“What happened last night?”

I tell him everything, from the frantic voices during dinner to finally being attacked by that monster.
“Geez,” he mutters. “I guess that explains it, though, doesn’t it—about the attacks?”
“Yeah, but now what?” I ask. “I don’t know anything: where that thing went, where it lives, or what the hell that thing even is.”
“What do you—wait a minute—you mean you’re gonna try to find it again?” he asks.
“Yeah.” I nod. “Of course.”
Logan rises and paces to the window; jaw tightening as he shakes his head, muttering something under his breath. He places his fingers on the dusty windowsill and starts drumming them like a wave slapping against the face of a cliff during a hurricane.
“What?” I ask, repositioning myself on the couch. “Owe.” I cringe.
He turns around, face tight with anger. “I don’t want you to fight against that thing ever again.”
“I have to,” I say matter-of-factly. “It’s been on a killing spree and sooner or later it’ll start killing people and someone has got to stop it.”
“But it doesn’t have to be you,” he whines.
“Why?” I hiss. “Isn’t this my job?”
He sighs, shaking his head, eyes turning away from mine.
“Good morning Juna,” a voice calls from down the hallway.
Brianne enters the family room with Noah trailing in behind her like a shadow. “Hi,” I say, but my eyes flicker back to Logan.
Sighing, he stomps into the kitchen, but I don’t care because he doesn’t understand. He didn’t see that thing. He doesn’t know the kind of damage it can do.
Brianne maneuvers around the couch and kneels down in front of me. Noah stands next to her mother and I smile at her. She smiles warily back at me and then puts her thumb into her mouth. “Well, it looks like you’re healing up nicely,” Brianne tells me.
“Yes,” I agree, “I’m lucky.”
“I want to check on your leg,” she says. “Those were some ugly gashes last night.” Brianne peels back the quilt and then rolls up my sweatpants to my knees. “Sweetheart,” she addresses Noah, “will you fill up”—Brianne twists around to grab the empty glass of water off the coffee table—“this glass with water, please?”
“Uh-huh.” Noah nods.
“Thank you darling.”
Noah dutifully toddles off for the kitchen as Brianne unwraps the heavily stained bandaging from both my legs. “Oh,” she murmurs. “Still have some healing left to do, but it looks…”
I lean forward to see what has become of my legs and as I do this sharp thorns of pain press into the spaces between my ribcage. Clamping my eyes shut for a quick second, a ragged breath escapes my lips.
When I open my eyes I’m in shock at the pink puffy lines dragged across my skin like claw marks from a tiger. “Oh,” I breathe. “Should that heal up normally, you think?”
Brianne places her index finger against my skin, methodically skimming it along the scarring as if trying to imagine what on earth could have possibly done this to me.  
Brianne lifts her chin. “I can’t be sure,” she whispers and then pinches the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger, closing her eyes for a moment and exhaling. “I don’t want you doing anything today,” she tells me. “You need to rest. We’ll make it a movie day. Sound good?”
I nod.
“I’m going to have you take an antibiotic once Noah comes back with the water.” She pulls out an orange plastic bottle, containing green pills from her pocket. “We’ll apply some vitamin E oil on your scars as well; it’ll help speed up the healing process. Now, on a scale from zero to ten, ten being excruciating, what is your pain level?” she asks.
“It’s pretty bad,” I admit, pausing for a brief moment to calculate just how bad it is right now. “Probably a seven and a half.”
“Okay,” she says, touching my hand and I realize this is her way of making amends with everything she previously hated about me. “I’ll get you some more pain medication as well, but you need to eat something first.”

I sit at the kitchen table, frustrated and incredibly ticked off to say the least. Leaning against my elbows, my fingers clench around the thick curls in my hair. I’m almost tempted to rip out my hair if it meant releasing some of this tension I feel.
Noah creaks across the linoleum floor, clutching a glass of water that is—once again—filled way too high. She eyes the drink tentatively, walking with great precision back to the family room and as I watch her I wonder if she enjoys making simple tasks difficult on herself.
Sighing, I sink deeper into my chair.
Dang it Juna, I think. Why would you want to find that thing again? Do you like getting hurt—I mean, am I missing something here?  
I tighten my grip around my hair.  
Isn’t this my job? Her words replay in my head.
Well, no, I wish I had said. According to me your job is to keep safe. Think you can handle that idiot?

I spend the entire day, lying on the couch, taking various medications—oxycodene, flexril, and some antibiotics—along with a few pieces of beef jerky so I don’t get a stomachache from the meds. I watch several movies or at least parts of several movies since the drugs keep pulling my eyelids shut. The girls keep me company. Everything we watch is either PG or G for Noah’s sake, but once Logan takes her and the boys out to the dentist to get their teeth cleaned Hannah slips in The Notebook followed by My Best Friend’s Wedding.  
They all know what happened to me last night—I told them—but I’m not exactly sure what they think about the situation. Erin, of course, being the happy-go-lucky jokester type, says now with this thing on the loose I better start looking out for vampires and other mythical creatures as well. I know she was just trying to keep the conversation light, but it got me thinking that question again: What else is out there?

When I open my eyes I realize I’ve fallen asleep through yet another movie, but that’s okay. I need to rest. I have to get better.  
When I turn my neck to the right I see that Logan is back with Noah and the boys from the dentist. He, Rowan, and Connor sit at the couch nearest to the window. Erin and Hannah—I already know without looking—sit on the middle couch.
I return my gaze back to the screen. Now, they are watching some sort of medical show with a distraught looking patient sitting on a white-butcher papered bench. The doctor strides back into the room with a large needle containing a mysterious amber serum. “Um, doctor, is this going to hurt?”
“When it first slides in, yes,” he answers, smiling, “but after that it’ll be a piece of cake.”
“That’s what she said!” Erin roars.
Rowan and Erin explode with laughter.
“I don’t get it!” Noah whines from afar, sounding like she is in the kitchen.
Logan chucks a pillow at his sister. “Erin, shut up, you perverted little sicko! Juna’s sleeping,” he says in a harsh whisper.
I start laughing and I can’t help it and this laughter shakes my diaphragm, which sends a storm of fire blazing down my ribcage. “Owe.” I cringe, clamping my eyes shut. “Damn it, Erin. Stop being so funny,” I say.

Later that night, after everyone has gone to bed, Logan takes a seat on the middle couch and just the two of us watch TV. A Great White shark is about to attack a blonde bimbo. Poor blondes, I think. They get the worst reputations in films.  
“Logan?” I ask, without looking at him.
“Yes?” His voice is soft like a pillow.
“Do you know Selene’s number?”
“Not off hand,” he sighs, “but I can get it for you.”
“Not now, of course,” I say. “But later?”
“Sure.” He nods.
“Thank you.”
A minute later, Logan surprises me by asking, “Do you think you’ll ever tell him?”  
“Tell him what?” I mumble.
“You know…” he begins and I can feel his eyes on me, “what’s going on with you.”
“Oh,” I sigh, watching the Great White’s dorsal fin glide through the murky, scarlet ocean water. “I don’t know.”
Will I?
I think about this for a moment.
I am not so sure that I can, but the more I dwell on this the more I realize the wrongness of my not telling him. It’s not fair to expect his alibi and yet hold on to all my secrets. We’re best friends and that’s not the way things work, no matter how painful those secrets might be. He deserves to know the truth, the raw, hard, unedited version of it.
“Yes,” I admit, turning to meet Logan’s eyes this time. “I need to tell him.”
He nods, glancing down at his entwined hands, frowning.
“Sleeping on that couch tonight?” I change subjects.
“If you want me to I can,” he replies, still not looking at me. “Either me or my mom will.”
“I want you to,” I answer.  
“Okay.” He nods. A tentative smile—so quick it’s almost nonexistent—flashes across his features.
The following morning I wake up feeling a million times better, in fact the first thing I do is get off the couch, grab my glass, walk over to the kitchen and refill it with water.
Footsteps creak behind me.
I turn around.
“Hey,” Logan yawns, eyes swollen with exhaustion. 
“How’d you sleep?” I ask.
“Fine,” he replies. “You?”
“Really good,” I say.
“You look a lot better,” he notes.
“I feel a lot better,” I admit. “I think I’m fully healed now. Yeah, for no more drugs!”
He chuckles as he walks over to the refrigerator and pulls out the orange juice. “You know, some kids would be sad about that,” he jokes.
“Not me,” I say. “I hate them. I mean, yes, they take the pain away, but they put your brain in a fog.” I take another sip of water. “Hey, why does your mom have so many heavy duty drugs lying around here anyways?”
He laughs. “She’s a drug addict. Didn’t you know that?”
I roll my eyes and smile.
“She’s had some back trouble in the past.” He moves to the cupboards, grabs a glass, and then pours the orange juice into it. “She had a major spine surgery before I was born. Her back is better now, but sometimes she needs the medication, especially during winter.”
“Wow,” I say. “That’s awful…but then kind of good in a way because otherwise I’d be doomed.”
Later that day, sometime in the afternoon, while the kids eat Annie’s gourmet macaroni and cheese, Logan hands me a torn slip of lined paper. 
“What’s that?” Noah asks, mouth full of mushy mac-n-cheese as she leans over in her seat to get a glimpse of the note.
It’s Selene’s phone number.
“Thanks,” I tell Logan.
“Welcome,” he says and then attends to the dishes in the sink.
Snatching the phone up from its cradle, I dial the number, pressing it against my ear as I glide down the hallway for my bedroom.
I wait for the answering machine to pick up when, at the last minute, Selene’s voice chimes in. “Hello, this is Selene,” she answers formally.
“Hi, Selene,” I begin, “This is Juna. Max’s friend.”
“Oh!” She perks up. “How are you darling?”
“Good,” I say, but think: Don’t call me darling. “Is Max there? I was hoping I could talk to him.”
“Um,” she mumbles. “He actually got into an accident a couple days ago, which subsequently required a little trip to the emergency room. He’s sore, but doing much better. He’s upstairs resting now. I’m not sure if he’ll want to talk—”
“Can you at least check?”
“Sure,” she sighs and I can hear her tromping up the steps.
Waiting, I pace around the room, heart hammering against my ribs.   
“Max!” Panic rises at the back of my throat. “What happened? Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he croaks. “I’ll be fine.”
“You don’t sound fine,” I tell him. “What happened?”
“Well, uh,” he begins. “I kind of crashed on my ATV.”
Sighing, I stride over to the window, my fingers fiddling with the string that controls the blinds. “What did you break?” I ask.
“I didn’t break anything,” he assures me. “Just banged my head up a little and got some stitches.”
“You weren’t wearing a helmet,” I state.  
“No,” he answers contritely.
“Max . . .” 
“I know,” he sighs. “I was an idiot. It’s…my fault.”
“Well, duh,” I admit, but I leave it at that. “Is it okay if I come visit today?”
“Do I have a choice?” Max laughs. “If I say no, you’ll come sneaking in through the window anyway.”
I grin.
“So, yes, you can come over, but I still have to ask,” he answers and before I can say okay or anything else I hear him yelling for Selene and asking for her permission.
Her response makes me shiver: “I’m not sure she should see you like this.”
“But she’s my best friend,” he pleads, his words suddenly muffled. I image that the phone is pressed to his chest or maybe down against the sheets.
“Fine,” Selene mutters. “But she can’t stay long.”
“Thanks,” he tells her.
“Yeah?” I ask, already knowing the answer.

I finish cleaning up the kitchen when Mom, Erin, and Hannah get back from the dentist.
“Yum!” Erin shrills, skipping into the kitchen, eyes trained on the stovetop. “Me want some macaroni!”
“No,” Mom scolds, pulling Erin away by her shoulders. “I already warned you. You can’t eat for another twenty minutes.”
Hannah serves herself a bowl.
“What?” Erin whines, pointing at Hannah. “That’s not fair!”
“Yes it is actually, her thirty-minutes are already up,” Mom explains, a little irritated, for Erin is well aware of the thirty-minute-no-eating rule after using fluoride.
“You can have some water,” Hannah tells her, smiling evilly.
Erin groans and stomps dramatically out of the kitchen.
I roll my eyes.
“Mommy!” Noah shrieks.
“Hi sweetheart,” Mom says, bending down to lift Noah up, but she can’t. “Sorry, sweetie you’re getting too heavy for this.”
Noah’s lower lip juts out as Mom tugs my little sister against her thigh, rubbing circles into her back. Sighing, Mom asks, “So, where’s Juna?”
“Talking on the phone in our room,” Noah answers before I get the chance.
“Yeah.” I nod. “She’s talking to Max. The one Selene adopted.”
“Oh, yes,” Mom says, joining Hannah at the table, pulling Noah onto her lap. “That is really odd.”
“Oh, by the way”—a thought pops into Mom’s head—“before I forget, Nellie is coming tomorrow.”
“Yeah!” Noah chimes.
Yippy skippy, I think, stomach already tightening with dread.   
“Hey, Logan?” Juna asks, entering the kitchen.
My head immediately snaps in her direction. “Yes?”
“Can you drive me to Selene’s house right now?”
I am about to answer when my mom interrupts me. “Juna,” she begins, “I think you should take it easy for a while still.”
“I know”—Juna nods—“but he went to the ER a couple days ago and I’d really like to check on him.”
“Oh my,” Mom murmurs, thinking for a moment. “Well, ok then, but not too long.”
“Of course. Thank you so much Brianne! I really appreciate this,” Juna expresses, immediately wheeling around to race out to my truck.

I leap out of the minivan the instant Logan parks it next to the beautiful white farmhouse.
I jog up the steps to the front lawn and then practically sprint for the house when Logan calls out, “Wait!”
Groaning, I stop and wait for him, my right hand flapping against my thigh as he catches up.
“You okay?” He points to my hand.
“No I’m not, actually,” I snap. “So, would you please hurry up?”
This both shuts him up and makes him jog up the porch steps. He knocks the door three times.
I hear Selene move toward the door and it isn’t until this very moment that I notice the severe trembling in my right leg. It looks like I have to take a piss.
The door swings open.
“Well, hello,” Selene greets us both, smiling that cheesy smile of hers, and all I can think is: Fake. Fake. Fake. “Come on in.”
I go in first, stunned by how tidy and decorated her house is. I feel like I’m standing in the pages of a magazine. The house smells of lavender, sweet and dreamlike.
My eyes wander in the direction of the stairs, which ascend from the left side of the entryway.
“Can I offer either one of you a drink?” Selene suggests. “Water? Coffee? Some soda?”
“No thanks,” we both say.
“Alright then,” she sighs, glancing down at the floor and then back up at us, forcing that smile again. “I’ll show you to Max’s room.”
The three of us begin climbing the steps. 
“I have to warn you in advance, though”—she gulps—“ he is banged up pretty badly and still needs to rest, so I’m going to have to ask you two to make it a short visit today,” she tells us.
We both nod.
Selene cracks open the first door on the left, poking her head into the room, whispering, “They’re here,” and then swings the door the rest of the way open for us.
I step into the room and am sickened when my eyes land on Max. He lies on his right side, facing us, eyes puffy and red. There seems to be a slight greenish tint to his skin, but that could just be me. My eyes rove over his face to his ear, which is wrapped up in gauze.
“Max, five minutes,” Selene says.
Max closes his eyes and nods. “Yeah.”
“Okay, I’ll be in the kitchen if you need anything,” she tells the three of us and then leaves for the stairs.
“Hey, Logan,” Max murmurs, smiling, but not large enough for his dimples to emerge.
I glance back at Logan.
“Hey.” He nods back, not smiling.  
“I’m sorry,” Max begins, his voice heavy with sleep. “I’m kind of out of it today. Took some medicine this morning.”
“That’s fine,” I say, knowing exactly how he feels. “Actually,”—I turn to Logan—“is it okay if I talk to him alone?”
“Sure.” He nods again, obediently leaving the room, making sure to close the door behind him.
I turn back to Max, whose eyes still linger at the door even after Logan has left. Max’s dark brown eyes flick back to me as I kneel down beside him onto his ridiculously lime green colored carpet, covering my hands over his—their freezing.
“This is probably a stupid question,” I say, “but how’re you feeling?”
“Uh, well, a little better,” he tells me, forcing a smile. “My ear hurts still.”
I look to his ear; the upper half of it is wrapped in gauze.
“The top part of it was ripped off,” he sighs.
“What?” I ask, my voice loud.
“Yeah,” he says, looking somewhere else, somewhere not me. Max rubs his nose and sniffs. “I must have snagged it on something.”
“Oh my god,” is all I can say. “I can’t believe this.”
“I know, right? But I’ll be fine,” he assures me. “Really. I mean, sure it hurts like hell right now, but thankfully I can still hear and stuff, so that’s a plus.”
I shake my head, eyebrows furrowing, and I can’t look at him.
He grabs a hold of my hand. “Don’t worry about it,” he says and then raises my hand slightly; playing with the leather bracelet he made for me. A smile spreads across his face as he admires his work.
“Have the doctors—”
“You know why I chose dolphins?” he questions, still dazedly staring at the bracelet.
“Um, because their my favorite animal,” I answer dully.
“Well, yeah that too, but also cuz’ that’s what Leslie used to call you. Remember that? She’d call you her little dolphin,” Max explains and I wonder if this loopy-talk of his has something to do with the medication or if he is intentionally switching subjects on me. 
“Yes, I remember,” I say quickly and for some reason anger leaks into my voice. “Have the doctors found out anything yet? Because your skin is still freezing and actually, looks kind of greenish now. Is this injury going to make it worse for your immune system to keep up with?”
Groaning, he lowers our entwined hands, still not looking at me. “No news yet,” he murmurs.
“When will you know?” I ask, wanting to yank his head around so that his eyes meet mine.
“I don’t know,” he shouts, releasing my hand.
And since the shout feels more like a punch to my gut I pull away from him, shifting from my knees down to my butt.
“Sorry,” he whispers, finally meeting my eyes. “I’m sorry, it’s just that…things have been getting really shitty for me lately and unfortunately I don’t have all the answers. I wish I did. I really wish—more than anything in the world right now—I knew what is going to happen to me, but I don’t. Okay?”
“Okay,” I whisper, nodding.
“You don’t know how lucky you are,” he mutters under his breath.
“Lucky?” I repeat in disgust, thinking back to a couple of days ago when I could hardly breathe because of how much pain I was in. Now is the perfect time to tell him everything. “Max—”
 The door creaks open. “Juna, I’m sorry, but it’s time for you to go now,” Selene tells me.
“Can I please get like five more minutes?” I ask, desperation burning in my voice. “Please?”
“No, I’m sorry,” Selene shakes her head, not willing to negotiate.
I hesitate a moment, my eyes flicking edgily between the two of them. It’s like she knew what I was about to say, but didn’t want me to say it and that’s why she took this moment to barge in. “Fine,” I groan.
“Thank you,” Selene says, smiling that fake smile at me.  
I get to my feet and give Max’s hand a squeeze. “Bye. Feel better, okay?”
“Thanks.” He nods. “Good seeing you again.”
“You too,” I say and then leave.

I am sitting in the minivan as I watch Juna trudge down the path from the lawn, glancing over her shoulder every couple of steps, looking pissed.
Juna wrenches open the passenger door, gets in, and then slams the door shut.
I shudder.
She has difficulties pulling out her seatbelt and screams. It won’t come out if she keeps yanking on it like that.
Like I said earlier—we need a savvy wise Asian dude to teach her the art of patience.
  When it does finally come out she jams it into the buckle, which makes this horrible metallic clunking sound.  
“Uh, what happened?” I ask, putting the car into reverse.  
“I was just about to tell him everything when Selene came in and told me to go away!” she fumes. “What the heck is her problem? All I wanted was a few more minutes with him.”
I don’t know what the heck to say when she gets mad like this. Honestly, it just kind of freaks me out. So, instead, I just listen.  
“She annoys the crap out of me.”
“Why are you sorry,” she snaps, spitting a little. “You didn’t do anything.”
See, nothing helps. Not even a sorry.
“Except…maybe you should’ve stalled her or something,” she tells me, pulling the loose strands of hair behind her ears.
“Okay,” I say. “Next time you go visit him I’ll throw a garbage bag over Selene’s head and lock her in the closet? That otta give you enough time to spill the beans right?”
I don’t even get a sarcastic ha, ha, ha out of her.
I clear my throat and, instead, try to focus more on the road. In front of me a kid in pigtails sits backwards in a black van, waving and flashing a nearly toothless smile. I give a little wave back and as I’m waving back Juna shouts, “Are you even listening to me?”
I flinch. “Yes.” At least I thought I was. Did I miss something?
Sparks light her eyes with a murderous look that’s got me fearing for my life. Juna groans at me and then continues. “I barely even got to talk to him,” she vents. “He’s acting pretty much the same as he did the last time I saw him. He just won’t open up to me. I asked a simple question. All I wanted to know was whether the doctors were trying to figure out what is wrong with him or not. And if they did know, I was wondering if they were working on a solution to fix it.”
“Well, what’d he say when you asked him that?” I ask her as I make a left turn.
“He got all mad at me again,” she says, her voice escalating. “He said that they don’t know anything yet, but it’s been a while and I’m sure he should have heard some sort of information by now. Don’t you think?”
“I don’t know,” I say, shrugging, “but what are you saying? You think he’s lying?”
“Yes,” she breathes, staring out the front window. “I think they’re both hiding something.”

The following day Mom tells me that Nellie is arriving in PDX at twelve-thirty and that she needs me to go pick her up because she is hosting a Blood Drive at her work this afternoon.
I want Juna to come with me, but Mom rather her stay home with my siblings, which is weird since Juna wasn’t allowed to go anywhere near my brothers and sisters a couple days ago. I don’t get it because the only one who really needs looking after is Noah and she is going with my mom to pass out stale cookies and fruit juice. But I guess someone better stick around to make sure Erin doesn’t do something that will likely get the cops called on her.
Just as I am about to leave for the airport Juna smiles evilly at me and says, “Sorry. You know I’d go with you if I could.”
“Sure you would,” I mutter.
She laughs.
I head out the door, hop into the truck, start the ignition and, of course, “Loser” by Beck starts playing. 

The five of us play Scrabble downstairs when the front door opens and someone shrills, “I’M BACK!”
“Yippy-skippy,” Erin groans.
“Where is everyone?” Nellie snaps at Logan.
“How should I know?” I hear him say.
The five of us trudge up the steps where we find Nellie and an irritated-looking Logan, waiting for us. “My babies!” she exclaims. “I want my hugs.”
Even though I’m the last one to make it up to the top of the stairs Nellie reaches for me first, squeezing me so tightly I feel like the victim of a boa constrictor. “I missed my Juna-ba-boona so much,” she says.
“I know,” I wheeze, probably turning blue. “It’s been a while.”
“Come on,” she tells us, letting go of me and turns for the kitchen without hugging her real grandchildren, but they don’t seem to care—in fact, they actually look relieved about this. “Lets go make lunch. I’m starving.”

Hannah grabs two frozen pepperoni pizzas from the outside garage and sticks them in the oven at 400 degrees until they brown and look delicious, filling the kitchen air with smells of warm mozzarella and oregano.
I wish I could eat it. 
Everyone sits at the table, while I lean my butt against the countertop, near the sink, gazing out the window, watching a butterfly flutter past Brianne’s row of tulips. Hannah is the only one who eats her pizza with a fork and knife, while everyone else eats it—as Erin likes to call it—the normal way. Nellie is on her fourth helping.
“When is mom coming back home,” Connor asks, pushing his glasses further up his nose with his forefinger.   
Rowan first swallows the bite of pizza in his mouth and then tells him, “The blood drive ends at four o’clock.”
“Oh,” Connor nods, “okay.”
“Hey Nellie?” Erin asks. “What would happen if Juna donated blood?”
What a great question, I think and then stare at Nellie, eagerly awaiting her answer.
Her mouth is stuffed with a huge bite of pizza. “Hmm,” she contemplates, chewing the piece more quickly and then swallows to rid of it. Nellie’s eyes pinch tight after she swallows like the swallowing hurt her and then gives her head a shake as if shaking out the ache in her throat.
We wait.  
“You know, I can’t say for certain, but I definitely wouldn’t advise it.”
A thrum of alarm zips up my spine.
“Why?” Erin questions, nibbling at her crust like a squirrel.
“Well, as you know, Juna’s blood is much hotter than ours and—actually, I’m not even a hundred percent sure if she has a normal blood type to begin with,” Nellie explains, but she is wrong because I do have a normal blood type…or at least I used to. “Whatever the case may be, her blood probably wouldn’t suit well inside another person’s body.”
My gut clenches.
For a moment, my memory drags me back to a time where life was less complicated.

“Blood brothers,” he repeats. “You know, since you’re already bleeding and all.”
“Uh, I thought it was bad to share blood,” I say skeptically.
“We’re both O positive. What harm could it do?” he assures me. “It’s fine…unless you’re chicken.”

“Oh my god!” I cry, my world spinning around me.


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