“Well, the next day, it was the dress rehearsal. You know. But Charlie, he takes the camera to the photography club guy — the teacher guy, I mean. What was his name, again? I can’t remember now. Well, Charlie asks him what kind of camera it is, and all that. And you know what? That guy’s been taking pictures for, like, a hundred years and he said he’d never seen anything like it before. He didn’t know what kind it was either. But he said it was easy to figure out. He showed Charlie how to open it up and put in new film and that sort of thing. He’s an old guy, like sixty or something, and he said most cameras work the same way. So he showed Charlie how to use it. But when Charlie went to open it to check out the inside, the old teacher guy stopped him. I wish I could remember his name. The old guy says no, there’s still film in it, and if Charlie opens the camera the film will be ruined. He should wind the film back instead and then have it developed. Or give it to him — the teacher-photography-guy — and he’ll develop it for him. He has, like, one of those dark rooms in his house, I guess. So Charlie asked how many pics were left, and the guy says most film rolls are like 24 or 36 shots, and this one’s on 23. So he has either one, or thirteen. See?”
Tollin tipped her head, confused. “Do I see what?”
“There were either one or thirteen shots. Thirteen. Just like the drama club. Remember?”
Tollin didn’t. “Oooohhh, yyeeaaahh, that’s right.” She put effort into sounding convincing. “You mentioned that earlier.”
Mel threw a suspicious glance sidelong at Tollin. “You are listening, aren’t you?”
“Of course. But you can’t expect me to memorize every detail as you tell it, right?”
Mel nodded, a slow, uneasy motion. “Yeah … I guess not. Well … let me get this over with.” She got herself another drink of water and lay back again, this time more on her side, facing Tollin. “Can I have some more water?”
Tollin smiled. “Sure. Let me get the nurse. But you know — you’re probably dehydrated. We can take care of that a lot faster if we give you an IV.”
Mel frowned. “That’ll hurt.”
“Only for a second. Why don’t we do that? It’s a lot more effective and puts other things back in your body. Electrolytes and stuff you need. Your body won’t have to work so hard to quench your thirst. Okay? I’ll stay right here while we do it. It’ll only take a second or two.”
Melody looked unsure. “I … I dunno … I don’t like needles …”
“Mel, trust me, hon. It’s the best thing for you.” Tollin stood beside her and rubbed her shoulder to reassure her. “And with a skilled person doing it, it won’t hurt much at all. Just for one quick pinch, I promise.”
“Do … will you …?”
“… hold my hand? While they do it, I mean?” Mel flushed deep crimson. “Forget it. I can’t believe I said that. Sorry.”
Tollin hugged her, a snug affirmation of affection. “Yes. I absolutely will hold your hand. It’s no problem.”
“O-okay. Okay. And I won’t be thirsty?”
“Well, in a few minutes you won’t. And in the meantime, you can keep drinking. I’ll get some more water, okay?”
Mel nodded, her gaze welded into her lap.
“Want some privacy while I’m gone?”
Mel nodded again, her eyes rising to Tollin’s. “Please. I don’t think that nurse likes me. Or you, really.”
Tollin chuckled. “No, I don’t think so either. But don’t worry — I’ll find another nurse to help.” She winked and walked out of the room, shutting the door behind her.
She stepped to the nurse’s station at the center of the ER, and the tall, reedy blond nurse gazed at her through close-set eyes over a straight, Slavic nose.
“Amber,” Tollin said, and watched the door of exam room 14, “would you help me? Tanya’s not … exceptionally helpful tonight.”
“I know, she’s raggin’ about you all over the place. Got her undies in a bunch over somethin’ you said.” Amber rolled her eyes and smiled.
“Yeah, I wish I cared, but … so anyway, can you prep an IV for me? I want a two liter Dextrose solution with standard adult electrolytes, but … add this to it, too.” Tollin handed her a sticky note with something written on it.
Amber read the label, furrowed her brows on her tight-skinned forehead and turned back to the doctor. “Okay. Everything all right?”
“Yeah,” Tollin said, and sighed. “But I have to get this patient into the right hands quick, and find out what this story she’s telling me is all about. I’m going back in there. Can you give me a pitcher of water to take with me? When you have that ready, knock and then administer the IV, all right? But … just don’t say anything.”
Amber smiled. “Poor kid.”
“Yeah, she’s having a tough time. I hope she’ll be all right.” Amber went out of the nurse’s station, returning a moment later with a sloshing, condensation-covered little pitcher. Tollin took it. “Thanks.”
“I’ll be a few minutes.”