In bed 1, Sumner is curled into the shape of a capital “C.” Next to her, in the bed by the window flanked with metal bars, Aubrey drifts in and out of sleep. Sumner’s right arm is wrapped in a beige elastic bandage that starts below the knuckles and edges up toward the elbow. The bandage is partially hidden under a blue fabric sling. According to her chart, Sumner shoved her first through an awning window that was nailed shut. I don’t believe that skinny fourteen-year-old really punched through a window, but I’m only the nurse’s assistant. Folks don’t ask my opinion. Besides, Aubrey takes up most of my time in room 1205. She’s always vomiting and then there’s the clean-up and the fight to try to get her to drink some of that nasty orange Pedialyte to make up for the fact that she doesn’t seem to be able to keep anything down.
Aubrey’s stepmom came to visit yesterday. She sat on Aubrey’s bed, wrinkled up her forehead and forced a few tears out. Then she dabbed at her cheeks real lady-like. I watched Aubrey to see if those fake tears would get a reaction. But she wasn’t fooled. Not Aubrey. Aubrey took one look at her stepmom’s plastered-down hair and barely-wet cheeks, and pulled the blankets up under her chin. Then she squeezed her eyes shut. Wouldn’t open them even when her stepmom called her name and shook at her shoulders. Finally that lady just clucked her tongue against her teeth and headed out. After the door whined shut I whispered that Aubrey’s visitor had gone, like I wasn’t even talking to Aubrey or anything. Just talking to myself, that’s all. Aubrey opened her eyes, squinting-like. She peered around and then lowered the blankets a bit. I nodded at Aubrey and, after considering me for a moment, she nodded back. It was just a slight shift in her chin, quick but deliberate. Not much of a connection, but up here on the twelfth floor, sometimes it’s all we get.