Ryan was addicted to sleep. He wasn't that kid who woke up at the crack of dawn to watch cartoons in the living room on weekends – he'd sleep until he felt like waking up. For the first day of summer, he'd been planning to sleep the whole night and wake up closer to the afternoon, as a way to kind of celebrate the beginning of summer vacation, but for some reason, his plans went wrong sometime during the night.
The faint, whispering voices weren't the only thing that pulled him out of his deep sleep – there was also a bright light shining in his face from across the hall. He sighed and rose into a sitting position, rubbing the sleep out of his tired brown eyes. He stole a glance over at Cody's bed, to see if he had also been awaken by it, but he quickly realized that Cody wasn't there. So it was Cody who had the bathroom light on, and whoever else was whispering to him. Freaking close the door, Ryan thought to himself as he stumbled out of bed and tip-toed across the hallway, despite the war in his mind. The angel side of his mind convinced him that sleep was more important than snooping on his brother, while the devil side argued that curiosity killed the cat, and the situation seemed far too suspicious to leave alone. He decided that the devil side was right, and he peeked around the corner of the doorway to investigate.
Curiosity killed the cat, right?
When his eyes caught sight of what was going on, he suddenly felt wide awake, and he jumped back, startled. Cody lay sprawled on the floor, pale-faced, arms wrapped tightly around his stomach. Theresa knelt beside him, continuously shushing him and examining him with her seemingly magical eyes. Ryan also happened to notice that Cody's entire arm was now covered with countless bruises, possibly from tossing and turning during the night. It was the same arm where the bruises had been earlier.
"What happened?" Ryan mumbled sleepily, rubbing his eyes again.
Theresa's gaze left Cody's horrific arm, and met with Ryan's eyes. "I don't know," she said.
Cody was sobbing on the tiled floor, looking like he was in pain. It was a lot different from how he'd been earlier today; full of smiles and laughter as he bounced on the trampoline and swam around in the lake. The sight made Ryan's head pound like a drum, as if a musician had brought along his entire crew to form a drum circle in the centre of his brain. “Is he gonna have to go to the hospital?” Ryan asked.
“He might have to,” said Theresa.
Cody let out a groan from the floor.
"You'll be all right," Theresa said in a calm tone. Ryan wondered how she could be so calm during a time like this. "I know you don't like the hospital, but the doctors are gonna make you all better. The sooner we go, the faster you get treated.”
Cody made a gagging sound, like he was about to throw up, but he never moved from the floor. “I don't want to,” he said stubbornly.
“Well, we can't wait much longer,” said Theresa. “Come get ready. Ryan, go get the girls for me, please.”
Oh, great. Leave it up to Ryan to convince his sisters to get up at two in the morning. He hesitated a moment, standing in the doorway of Jodi and Shirley's shared bedroom and watching them, unsure of whether or not he should proceed. He was going to risk it big time. Jodi might rip apart his face from her anger if he even dared to wake her up. Once he gained the courage to step inside, Ryan decided to tap Shirley first, since she was the easiest to get up. He gently nudged her shoulder, trying not to bump into the sideboards of her bed, which prevented her from falling out of bed at night. "Shirley," he whispered quietly.
Not even making a sound, Shirley rolled over and gazed up at Ryan. She didn't say anything, just stared at him as if to say, Why are you here?
"We gotta go to the hospital," said Ryan. "There's something wrong with Cody."
Shirley squinted. “The hopsical?” she said.
"Yeah,” said Ryan. "We gotta go now." He lifted Shirley above the sideboards once she'd spent a moment stretching and placed her on her feet on the floor. "Go see Mom," he said, and ushered her out of the room. Now he had to go through the trouble of waking up Jodi.
"What happened, Mommy?" Shirley asked, bouncing into the bathroom behind him.
"I don't know," said Theresa. "We're going to the hospital to find out."
"Now?" said Shirley. "But Mommy, it's night time!"
"I know that, honey. But this is an emergency."
"I don't wanna go," Cody moaned.
Ryan tried to block out the conversation behind him as he tapped on Jodi's shoulder, but Cody's mumbling was hard to miss. He was getting louder, probably because the pain was increasing. Ryan sighed and crossed the room quickly to shut the bedroom door, and once he arrived back at Jodi's bed, her brown eyes were open and staring at him. “What?” she said sleepily.
“We're going to the hospital,” Ryan said as he watched her sit up and rub her eyes. “Cody's sick.”
“I don't know why he's sick,” said Ryan. “But get up. We have to go.”
“But I'm tired,” Jodi complained.
Ryan could feel the frustration building inside him. “Jodi, Mom said so. We have to go now. Get up.”
Jodi shook her head. “I don't want to.”
“Okay, then I guess we're leaving you here all by yourself.”
He started to walk out of the room, and that was when Jodi shot out of bed and cried “No!” That always seemed to work with five-year-old kids – threatening to leave them all by themselves. Jodi bolted past Ryan and joined everyone in the bathroom within seconds, but Ryan stayed behind. The thought of having to go to the hospital in the middle of the night made him feel sick to his stomach, and he didn't want to go. Cody was usually never sick, so this was a big deal. They were going to have to get there as soon as possible, before something worse happened. Whether the news was good or not, Ryan didn't think he wanted to know.
“Ryan, what are you doing? Hurry, we gotta go!”
Ryan turned his head away from the window to face Theresa. “I'm coming,” he said.
For about ten minutes now, he'd been hopelessly staring out the front window, up at the starry sky. Somehow, the sky's appearance was comforting, and in a strange way it helped him keep his mind off of the occurring situation. He was probably just as scared to go to the hospital as Cody was, and the thought of receiving bad news made him feel like throwing up. He didn't think he'd ever felt so nervous before.
His sisters, however, didn't seem to care. It was going to be like an adventure to them, going into the city in the middle of the night. With what seemed like a swelling ball of energy growing rapidly inside their stomachs, Jodi and Shirley bolted down the steps, and excitedly attempted to put on their shoes as if it were midday. "Last one to the van is a rotten egg!" said Jodi, and once Theresa had helped them with their shoes, they were out the door and running down the driveway toward the van. Ryan didn't understand how they could be so energetic when they'd only been lost in their dreams moments before. It was like they didn't even care that Cody was sick – they just wanted to go for a car ride, like a dog would. Didn't they realize that this was pretty serious?
Sighing, Ryan stumbled down the steps sleepily. The time for this to happen just wasn't acceptable. “Ryan, hurry!” said Theresa from the bottom of the stairs. She had her hand resting on Cody's shoulder, as if he would topple over if she wasn't holding him. “We can't waste any more time!”
"I'm coming, calm down," he muttered. He was feeling a little shaky from being so worried about Cody. Not bothering to meet eyes with his brother, Ryan slipped his shoes on and raced out to the van, without waiting for Theresa and Cody to catch up. He tugged on the black handle and climbed into the van, knowing he'd probably have to buckle Jodi and Shirley's seatbelts this time around. They sat in their car seats not-so-patiently, and locked eyes with Ryan. “Where's Mommy?” Jodi asked.
“She's right there.” He pointed at Theresa as she came around to the back to buckle Shirley in.
And finally, finally, after about five minutes of seatbelt-buckling and loads of panic, they were all set and ready to go. Theresa started the van and backed out of the driveway, glancing over her shoulder repeatedly to check for any oncoming cars. Next to Ryan, Cody was shaking and staring out the window, his face scrunched up in pain. “Dude, you okay?” Ryan asked.
Cody managed a small nod. The tears continuously streamed down his face, and he doubled over, resting his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, silently crying.
"You don't look okay," said Ryan.
“It hurts,” Cody choked.
He let out a moan, and the sound alone made Ryan's heart ache. He watched Cody push his light brown hair out of his eyes and lift his head a little to look out the window, which looked like it took too much effort to do. Ryan couldn't even begin to imagine the pain he must have been in, and more than anything, he felt a little guilty for believing the bruises were just bruises. Now he knew for sure they meant more than that. After all, if they were just bruises, then what the heck were they going to the hospital for in the middle of the night?
As they continued down the highway toward the city, Jodi and Shirley were quick to fall back asleep. Though Ryan couldn't see their faces, he knew they were asleep by the way they were slumped over in their seats. “Man, I wish I could sleep like that,” he said.
“You used to sleep like that when you were little,” said Theresa, bringing her gaze away from the lightly-populated highway and settling it on the rearview mirror so she could see Ryan. “That wasn't that long ago.”
“Five years is a long time,” said Ryan. “You're just old.”
Theresa snorted, and steered the van in the direction of the hospital once they arrived in the surprisingly quiet city. From where they were, Ryan could see the blue H sign, meaning they were close. And before he knew it, Theresa screeched the van to a halt as she pulled up to one of those hospital parking meters, and he breathed a sigh of relief. They had finally arrived.
At lightning speed, Theresa climbed out of the van and threw open the back doors. Jodi and Shirley jumped at the sound but were quick to get up, and they both nearly fell out of the van in their rush. Cody looked as if he had just arrived in medical paradise as he stepped outside and stretched. Theresa grabbed hold of his hand and, after locking the van, took off down the parking lot in the direction of the emergency room doors. “Watch your sisters!” she called over her shoulder at Ryan.
He had no other choice but to do as told. On each side of him, he gripped onto his sisters' hands, and began to sprint after his mother. Jodi and Shirley were, of course, terribly sluggish, which only encouraged him to run faster. He was surprised none of them tripped at the speed. In that case, he would have to drag them anyway. He didn't care if they screamed at him or got hurt or whatever – he had to get inside that hospital.
It seemed they had been running for years, when really it had only been minutes, when the family finally met with the glass hospital doors. Once they were inside, they nearly collided with two doctors who stood chatting in the doorway. They both looked up at the sound of the door swishing open, and one of them must have seen Cody's arm from afar, because she immediately said, “Oh Lord. What happened, bud?”
Cody stood there shyly, without saying a word. “I don't know,” Theresa filled in for him. “But I don't think it's an injury. He's been throwing up for the past hour.”
“We should get him in quick,” said the other doctor. “The receptionist is right over there” – she whirled around and pointed at a woman sitting behind a desk – “so just give her his health card and the reason for being here, and depending on the urgency, he will either be sent directly to a treatment room or a waiting room.”
Funny that she'd explained it as if they'd never been to the emergency room before. Theresa said a quick “okay” as they passed by the doctors and headed for the receptionist's desk, exhausted from all the running. Ryan let go of his sisters' hands and allowed them to walk on their own, listening as they panted hard and climbed onto the colourful waiting room chairs. As he joined them, he realized that his entire family was still in their pajamas, including himself, and they must have looked insane. Wild, messy hair from their interrupted sleep, and eyes that drooped. If it hadn't been the middle of the night and an emergency situation, Ryan would never have allowed himself to go out in public looking like this. If someone he knew ever saw him now, they'd probably laugh, and he didn't want anyone to do that. He just wanted Cody to be all right. He wanted Cody to be all right so they could all go home, have a decent sleep, and never have to wake up to Cody's sickness again. And hopefully, if he ever did get sick again, it wouldn't be bad enough to involve a hospital visit. If the puke and bruises could just disappear, everything would be fine.
Just as Ryan stretched himself out across the chairs, Theresa and Cody returned from the receptionist's desk. “Come on, guys,” said Theresa, gesturing toward the hallway opposite to them. “There's another waiting room we have to go to.”
Ryan stood up. “Another one?” he complained. “I don't wanna get up.”
“Well, we're going anyway,” said Theresa. “Come on.”
The family headed down several different hallways, following the blue arrows on the floor, before they arrived at another waiting room, which was surprisingly empty. Ryan threw himself down on a chair and, seeing that no one was going to sit beside him, he lay down across them, breathing a sigh of relief at the comfort it brought him. There was one benefit of being small for his age – his legs didn't take up too much space on the chairs, which made it feel more like a bed than a chair, and in addition to that, there was also the fact that he was so short that if he fully stretched out, he only took up about two of the chairs. He felt himself breathe a sigh of relief. If he could just gain back all the hours of sleep he'd lost by pretending the chairs were his own big, comfy bed at home, he was sure his mood would lift. At the moment, he was feeling incredibly lazy and grumpy, and he wanted to change it before his mother rambled on and on about it in the morning. Besides, how was he supposed to act in a situation like this? Cheerful? Overjoyed? When he'd been jarred from his sleep in the middle of the freaking night, only to discover that his brother looked like he was dying? No way.
“Mommy, is there a playroom?” Shirley asked, climbing into Theresa's lap.
“I don't know, sweetie,” she said. “But we can't go there right now. We have to wait on the doctor to call us into a room first.”
Then, as if on cue, Ryan's ears detected a woman's voice saying, “Cody Wheldon?”
Theresa rose to her feet and helped Cody out of the chair he'd fallen into not five minutes earlier, and from the looks of it, he was absolutely horrified. Doctors weren't exactly his “thing.” “Ryan, why don't you stay here with the girls until we get back,” Theresa suggested, turning her head to face Ryan. “We'll only be a few minutes.”
Ryan wanted to hug her at the mention of being able to remain where he was, where there was a chance he could obtain sleep, but when he realized it came with Jodi and Shirley, he suddenly felt the frustration build up around him. “Okay,” he said, and watched as Theresa scooped Cody up into her arms and carried him off down the hallway toward an examination room, which held many opportunities for Cody to have a panic attack. It was at that point where Ryan couldn't help but feel a little bit sorry for him, because obviously, the kid was terrified of hospitals. Whatever they were going to do to him in that room, he was definitely not going to like. He'd probably spend the majority of the time either crying or clinging to Theresa, or maybe even both at the same time. Either way, Cody was not going to be going home in a good mood in the morning, if he was even allowed to leave.
Across from him, Jodi had passed out sitting upright on a chair, but Shirley was wide awake once again, searching the small space for building blocks or packages of Barbies. Stuff she could play with. Toys. “Ryan, where did Mommy go?” she asked and, despite his wishes for her to go away, she squeezed her way into one of the chairs he lay across.
Oh, how he wished she could have went with them. “Down the hallway,” he said.
“What are they doing?”
“I don't know.” He shrugged. The heaviness in his eyelids taunted him.
It was now three-thirty in the morning, but it felt like five hours had gone by rather than one. He was slowly falling asleep in the chairs, just like Jodi, but Shirley was curiously flipping through a photography magazine, probably just to look at the pretty pictures. Just before Ryan was fully asleep, he heard her shout “Mommy!” in her loudest voice, and then suddenly Theresa and Cody were back, taking a seat in the chairs they had ditched about fifteen minutes ago.
Ryan sighed loudly. “Can we go home now?” he mumbled impatiently.
Theresa shook her head. “We're waiting to go for a few more tests,” she said.
Ryan's eyes widened. “A few?”
“It's really just a blood test. Relax,” said Theresa.
Don't you tell me to freaking relax, Ryan thought as he rested his head back down and shut his eyes, praying the night would be over soon and that Cody wasn't too sick, because that would suck. He peered at Cody through slitted eyes and noticed that his eyes were bloodshot – of course, from all the sobbing he'd done – and he was sitting next to Jodi, just staring straight ahead at the wall. Ryan couldn't even begin to imagine the pain he was in, if it was even that extreme, but he practically shared the same fear. It was probably just the flu or something, but the way their mother had made such a big deal out of it...it could have meant that it had the potential to be something bad.
The negative thoughts were the only things his mind could focus on as he drifted off to sleep in the waiting room
By the time Ryan awoke, it was almost six in the morning. He found himself impressed with his ability to sleep that long without being woken up by another patient in the waiting room or his own family. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, feeling sore from the position he'd been in for so long, and noticed Theresa standing nearby, speaking to a doctor with a clipboard in her hand.
"While we can't be too sure of it just yet, it's quite clear that he may have mononucleosis,” the doctor was saying. “They describe this as a 'kissing disease,' but at his age, it isn't likely he's been kissing anyone." She paused to chuckle at her own joke. "We figure he may have contracted it from a water fountain at school. I'd recommend taking Tylenol about once or twice a day for now, just to kind of keep his fever down and control his symptoms.”
Theresa nodded, but probably had never seen something so “severe” in the twenty eight years she had lived. “Okay,” she said. “So there's no need for an overnight stay or anything like that?”
"He may have to be admitted to the hospital, should things get worse over time, but I'm sure he'll be fine. If his symptoms start to worsen, though, make sure to come back and we'll see what we can do.”
“All right.” Theresa turned her gaze away from the doctor and down at Cody. “Ready to go home?”
At the mention of home, Cody's face lit up like he'd just won a million dollars. He nodded vigorously and looked like he was trying way too hard not to jump up and down excitedly. “Yeah,” he said. “I wanna go home now!”
Ryan snorted. “We should go before he has a heart attack,” he said.
The doctor smiled. “In that case, we have lots of doctors who would help treat him,” she laughed.
Wow, well that sucked the fun right out of it. “Yeah, I guess.”
As the doctor stepped away to prepare the discharge papers, Theresa headed for the waiting room and scooped a sleeping Shirley up into her arms, sighing, probably because she was still frustrated from the events of that night. “If any of this happens again, let's hope it's during the day,” she said.
“Sorry,” said Cody. “I didn't mean to get sick.”
“No no no, it's not your fault, Cody,” said Theresa. “That's not something you can control.”
Ryan laughed, despite his exhaustion. “Wouldn't it be funny if he could, though?”
“I wouldn't do it during the middle of the night,” said Cody.
As Ryan prepared himself to reply, the doctor returned with the papers and placed them in Theresa's free hand. “So from the looks of it, his case isn't too severe, but he should still be taking those two doses of Tylenol a day to soothe those symptoms,” she was saying as she approached. “It can take a while to fully rid the body of those symptoms, but I don't believe it should take too long before he is fully recovered and back to normal.”
The two spoke for a few minutes before they finally parted ways, and at last they were allowed to leave. Ryan could swear he saw a joyful skip in Cody's walk as they followed the blue arrows back to the main waiting room, where they'd first entered a few hours earlier, Jodi sluggishly following behind. It now held a few people, and pairs of them were scattered all over the place, either looking ill or completely fine. Dozens of pairs of eyes were focusing on Ryan and his family as they crossed the room, like the people were jealous that the family was going to taste the freedom long before they did themselves. For that, Ryan almost wanted to laugh, but he knew that was kind of rude. If he'd been in their situation, he'd feel the same way. The morning breeze filled the small space around him as Cody tugged on the door handle, and Ryan suddenly felt so much better. He yawned and stepped outside, without waiting for his family. More than anything, he wanted to escape this nasty place and get home to his bed, which eagerly awaited him, and now was his chance.
“I don't ever wanna come back here,” Cody said on the way out. “They always poke you with needles.”
“Well, sometimes it's necessary,” said Theresa. “That's how they find out what's wrong.”
“They should find another way to do it,” said Ryan. “Something less painful.”
“Maybe they will one day,” said Theresa. “You never know.”
It seemed to take ages to reach the van, but finally they arrived, and Ryan nearly collapsed on the seats as he climbed inside. He knew the day ahead was going to be long and dreadful, considering the amount of sleep he'd gotten was next to none. He was definitely going to have a nap when he got home. If he didn't, he would never survive the day. If Jodi and Shirley could stay out of his room and quit being annoying, he was sure everything would be fine.
And if Cody's illness would just disappear completely so he'd stop throwing up all over the place, Ryan was sure everything would be fine.
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