“Do you have to go?”
“I do. You understand. Please.”
“I… don’t know. I don’t want you to leave, but I want to go with you, but I don’t want to bother you any more than I already have.”
“Shut up. You literally saved my life.”
“Please, I have to go.”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
You tighten your hug, wishing that you could freeze time right here and hold him forever.
Eventually he pulled away, saying, “Don’t worry about me.”
And he disappeared into a crowd of strangers.
Shellie sat in the doctor’s office, waiting for them to call her name. Posters of easily cured issues mocked her from the walls, showing everything she wasn’t.
Shellie was fine. F-I-N-E. There were no issues, and every doctor she had ever seen had agreed. Everything is fine, they said, but why don’t I refer to a colleague of mine? It will be good.
If everything was fine, why did they keep sending her to different hospitals all over the country? If everything was fine, why was there so much pain? If everything was fine, why couldn’t things go back to how they were? If everything was fine…
Shellie silenced her mind, knowing it was impossible to know. Shellie stood up to get a drink of water, and as soon as she sat back down, they called her. Shellie followed the pretty blonde nurse through the white sterile halls, muttering. The nurse left her in another room remarkably similar to the one she was in before.
Except instead of posters, there were words.
The words were probably nonsense. Still, they spoke volumes for her.
The words went on.
The doctor came in. He looked at Shellie up and down, checked her heartbeat, took her blood pressure, measured her height and weight. The two discussed several things, such as her recent habits and her meal choices.
They continued to talk. The doctor referred her to a psychologist.
Shellie stood up and left. She drove home in her blue car, thinking about her doctor’s visit. Not the actual doctor or the conversation they had had, but words on the walls. The words kept running through her mind, like they were trying to reach something very far away. Something important.
Shellie paced back and forth in her apartment, wondering what she was missing. She looked up the words from the doctor’s office, and somehow, they weren’t nonsense. Strange, yes. Nonsense, no.
For example, felicity meant “intense happiness”. Dowdy meant “unfashionable and without style in appearance”. Bumfuzzle meant “to confuse or fluster”.
Even after the sun went down and stars glittered in the sky, Shellie was still awake. Her phone layed on the countertop, buzzing furiously. The TV flashed and talked about recent elections. The smell of barbecue floated by on a breeze. Her dinner sat out, growing cold. Night birds called and chirped. Shellie ignored all of it. Her legs began aching from hours of pacing, and eventually she laid down to sleep. She counted sheep, but still stared at the ceiling for hours.
In the morning, Shellie sat up, rubbing her eyes. She stood up, and made breakfast. Shellie ate quickly, then sat on the couch. She flipped through her messages from last night.
How are you, dear? Her mother texted her.
I need your help dressing for a date! Lu Anna, her best friend, typed.
You missed work yesterday. Either call in sick or get to work NOW. Her boss messaged.
Shellie sighed, but didn’t respond to any of them. She layed back down, and fell asleep. No matter how long she waited, nothing happened. Nothing, and it made her sadder every day. She didn’t believe she was depressed. After all, depression was the work of the devil, as her mother always said. It was all in people’s heads, and wasn’t really there. So she believed she didn’t have depression.
She wasn’t exactly anxious either. Her thoughts were kind to her, although she worried about her family a little bit.
While Shellie slept, dreams crawled through her head.
Four years ago. At her parent’s house.
“I have to leave.”
2 years ago. In the park.
People are staring.
I don’t care. My brother is gone.
10 years ago. The hospital.
“Shellie, you are very sick.”
Jamie, my brother, gives me a hug.
20 years ago. At home.
I trip and fall. My knee is bleeding.
Jamie says it’s a badge of honor.
He reads me a book called Red Badge of Courage.
Like my knee.
I don’t understand, but it’s very good.
Because Jamie likes it.
Shellie woke up, shivering. Her knee itched from the dream. Her phone buzzed with concerns, but Shellie ignored it. She sat, criss cross applesauce, by the door, looking at it expectantly.
Footsteps banged down the hall, speeding up Shellie’s heart. Could it be? The footsteps ended with a door slam. Tears pricked at Shellie’s eyes.
Tiny mouse footsteps resounded through Shellie’s ears. Maybe this was it? When it wasn’t, Shellie decided to check her mail.
Her mailbox was small and blue, compliments of her young niece. Shellie opened it, and yanked the door open since it often got stuck from the paint. Inside was typical mail. Bills and taxes, coupons she would save but never use, a postcard from her mother.
Shellie trudged back to her apartment. Her phone lit up with an incoming call. The number was unknown, but Shellie answered, if only to get her mind off it.
“Hello, this is Shellie Aldoor. Can I help you?”
“Yes, this is Pete Roscoe. I believe I know how to help you.” A manly voice- Pete Roscoe- came on.
“Um, do I know you?” Shellie asked. The voice and name were familiar, but she had no idea where they were from. Old high school friend, maybe?
“You should. I’m good friends with your brother.”
Shellie collapsed on the spot.
5 years ago. At Jamie’s apartment.
We are making baklava.
Phyllo dough, honey, cinnamon, nuts.
Butter, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla.
I have no idea what’s coming. Like now.
26 years ago. The day I was born. The hospital.
Warm arms hold me tenderly.
A voice coos, “Hi, Shellie. I’m Jamie.”
I gurgle. My first happy sounds.
The voices comes again. “I’m your big brother.”
Someone with big, rough hands tries to take me away from the voice.
Another voice says, “I think she likes you.”
“Hello? Shellie? Hello?”
Shellie sat up groggily. She blinked then held the phone to her ear. “How do you know Jamie?
“He was my friend. And commanding officer. I’m calling to tell you that-”
Shellie interrupted him. “If you’re going to tell me he died, I’m hanging up.”
“No, no! Your brother is well. I’m calling to tell you that I have discovered a cure for you.”
“I’m not sick.”
“No, but you still need a cure. Someone is coming to give it to you.”
“You’ll know when you see them. Bye.” Pete hung up. Shellie whispered a goodbye. She scrolled through her texts absent-mindly. Her thoughts were whirling. Jamie was safe! And someone had found a cure for her!
Shellie wasn’t sure what was the better news. After years of worrying about both, they might be gone.
Shellie moved from the floor to the couch. She started answering her texts.
I’m good, mom. You? She wrote to her mother.
I’m kinda busy today. Wear your leopard-print shirt and jeans. Shellie texted Lu Anna.
I’m sick. Sneezing snot everywhere. Her message to her boss lied.
Shellie took a long, deep breath. She was going to take a long shower next. Shellie undressed and turned the water on. Once the water warmed up, Shellie stepped into the scalding water, letting it rinse all the worries and stress of waiting and hospital trips away. She used coconut shampoo and conditioner, then just stood there until the water turned cold.
Eventually she shut the water off but still stood in the shower. Shellie took a couple deep breaths before stepping out and drying off. She took another deep breath before getting dressed. She wore a lace green shirt, jeans with flower details, and pink nail polish. Her hair was pulled back into an elaborate braid, with pretty pink beads weaved in.
Shellie slipped on a pair of sandals before stepping out of her apartment. She wandered down the street to the park, sitting on a bench by a playground. Shellie watched the children playing and laughing.
16 years ago. At the playground.
I laugh and run from Jamie, who’s trying to catch me.
Lu Anna is running beside me.
We collapse in giggles behind a hill, getting ready to share secrets.
Jamie pokes his head over the top and tells us that he eats boogers.
“EWWW!” we both scream, running away again.
Shellie stood up. She was done waiting. She was going to do something to make the reward come sooner. Shellie went home and began writing letters. Hundreds of them, each talking about the specialness of words. It took her five weeks, but eventually she finished and began passing them out. Shellie went to the local middle school, and after asking permission, slipped a letter in each locker. She gave them out at nursing homes and homeless shelters, then to the workers in factories.
Once they were all passed out, Shellie went home and collapsed on her couch. It was three in the morning, but she smiled to herself. Was this what she was waiting for?
Almost, she thought. Almost.
The next day, Pete Roscoe called again. He said to meet him at the park. He had red hair and blue eyes. Shellie agreed, slipping a pepper spray into her purse. She walked to the park, where red-headed Pete Roscoe waited for her along with another familiar figure: her brother.
“JAMIE!!” Shellie screamed, not caring about anyone staring. She ran to him, and leapt into his arms like she did when she was a little girl.
“Hey, there, Shellie-Belly. Still selling seashells?” Jamie asked, smiling and ruffling her hair.
“Nope, I spent all night slipping words into people’s bags and lockers. I was reverse-stealing!”
Jamie let out a great belly-laugh, then winced. Shellie took a step back and took her brother in. His arm was wrapped in a bandage, and something poked out of his shirt. “Did you break your ribs?” she asked, touching the cast curiously.
“Yes,” Jamie replied. “Have you been staying up past your bedtime?”
Shellie gave him a smile that was both sheepish and unapologetic. “Yes.”
“I can tell, you have bags under your eyes. Like when I was practicing for the Red Beavers.”
“Your silly rock band? Yeah, I guess it’s always your fault if I’m up too late.”
“What do you mean?’’ Jamie asked, his eyebrows knitting together.
“I’ve been up worrying about you! I never, ever want you to leave again unless you take me with you!” Shellie exclaimed, wrapping her arms around him again.
Jamie frowned. “I told you not to worry about me.”
“Well, too bad. I worried a lot.”
Pete cleared his throat. “Hate to break up your reunion guys, but I have something for Shellie.”
“Really?” I asked, while Jamie asked, “What do you mean?”
“Well, Shellie was literally having physical issues because she was so concerned for you, Jamie.”
“I couldn’t help it. You never called, or wrote letters, or anything!”
“Anyway, I made these.” Pete said, holding up two small phones. “They can’t be tracked, but you can keep in touch. So now Shellie won’t have to worry so much.”
Shellie threw her arms around Pete. “We won’t need them, since Jamie is never going anywhere without me again, but thank you.”
Shellie dragged Jamie into the hug, and asked, “So, where are we going next?”
“I was gonna ask the same thing.” Jamie replied, tightening their group hug. “Pete mentioned digging wells in Africa for the Peace Corps.”
“Sounds good to me. Thanks again, Pete.” Shellie said.
Pete wiggled out of the hug. “No problem.”
Shellie smiled at him, then looked at Jamie again, touching his hair and face as if to make sure he really was there. “I love you, Jamie.”
“I love you too, Shellie.”