Episode 073

Melinda’s Journal

Wednesday, December 6

I love the snow. I can go sledding and tubing with my friends. I can build snow people and snow forts. I can have snowball fights with my brother.

But best of all? Snow means a day off from school while the town clears the rods.

Now that winter is nearly here, I have been thinking a lot about snow. Living at a boarding school probably means no snow days. Will classes be canceled while the maintenance department clears the walkways? Or will we have to trudge to our classes no matter what?

Suddenly, I’m not sure I’m looking forward to snow anymore.

Melinda’s Story

“Melinda, can you stay a moment?” Deacon Bob asked as he dismissed my Confirmation class Wednesday afternoon.

I shrugged. “Sure.”

After packing my bag, I stood awkwardly by the door while I waited for my classmates to leave. I wasn’t sure why he was calling me out. I had done the homework. Judging from the discussion over the last hour and a half, most of the class hadn’t.

Deacon Bob smiled at me as he gathered his books. “We missed you last week.”

“Oh. Did my mom forget to email you? I was home for Thanksgiving break. I told her she should email you that we went to church in my hometown and that I was going to be absent from class. She probably forgot. Would it be okay if my mentor emails you next time? He’s really responsible, even if he is only a freshman like me.”

Deacon Bob smiled. “Well, I would rather emails come from your parent, but I wouldn’t say no to a backup email from your mentor. But that’s not really why I wanted to speak with you.”

“Oh?” I fidgeted with my backpack strap.

“I wanted to ask you a favor, and frankly, I’m not sure how to do so without sounding rude. Your comments during class are refreshing and insightful. But I think you may intimidate some of your peers. You have an impressive vocabulary, and sometimes I get the impression I’m the only one who understands you.”

I could feel my eyes grow wide as I burst out laughing. Deacon Bob looked concerned, especially since it took a moment to catch my breath.

“I’m sorry. It’s just, I spent most of the past few months feeling like I didn’t understand anyone around me. Even my best friend. It’s actually a compliment to hear you say that. But, I totally understand. I’ll try to use less intimidating words in class.”

With a smile, he gestured for me to lead the way out of the classroom. “Thank you for understanding. I’ve been teaching this course for five years now, and I’ve never had to have this conversation before.” He smiled as we crossed the empty church hall and walked towards the exit. “I’ve noticed you attending Mass with two young men. Is one your mentor?”

“Yeah. My best friend, Walter. He’s the shorter of the two boys.”

“The one not wearing the hat and glasses?”

I rolled my eyes as I shook her head. “That’s his brother. He’s kinda my boyfriend.”

“Well, you can tell your boyfriend that most of the congregation has realized Patrick McGregor attends our church. He can lose the disguise.”

I let out a sigh of relief. “Oh, I’m so glad to hear you say that! Those two fight every week about the stupid hat and glasses!”

Deacon Bob chuckled as we parted ways at the exit. Heading outside, I waved over my shoulder. “See you next week!”

Apparently, while I had been in class, the first snowfall of the season had finally made its appearance. It had been threatening for the past few weeks. Although it was only slightly more than a dusting, I knew immediately that the walk back to campus would be slippery and miserable. Especially since it was dark and cold. I certainly wasn’t looking forward to it.

I had used the exit on the wrong side of the church. As I passed the front steps, I heard someone call out.

“Hey! Daphne! Wait up!”

I looked around. A dark figure emerged from the shadows of the front steps. Although I couldn’t see past the scarf,  I knew it was Pat. I had recognized his voice. But I didn’t understand why he would be waiting for me. I sent him a confused look. 

“Pat? What’re you doing here?”

“I thought I’d walk you home. It’s dark and cold and I thought you could use the company.”

“I’m perfectly capable of walking home by myself.” I didn’t fully mask the annoyance in my voice.

“Hey. I just wanted to spend some time with you.”

“I saw you fourth period. And at lunch. And we were going to hang out when I got back on campus.”

Pat shrugged. “I just thought maybe you would like some company.” We crossed the street before Pat changed the subject. “So, how was class? Why were you the last one out?”

“Deacon Bob kept me after. Apparently, my vocabulary intimidates my classmates.”

Pat laughed, recognizing the irony. “So, what? Did he tell you to stop raising your hand?”

“No. Just to use smaller words. He also told me to tell you most of the congregation knows you attend Mass, so you can get rid of the disguise.”

“No, he didn’t.”

“I promise. You know I don’t lie.”

“No. You can’t lie. There’s a difference. And you’re not lying. Fine. Don’t tell Walter. Let him think it was my idea.”

I shook my head. I would never fully understand the relationship between the two brothers.

 Although the night was dark and cold, we could see fairly well with the streetlamps lighting our way. As we crossed through the center of town, we tried walking hand in hand. Unfortunately, the walkways were slippery and holding Pat’s hand was making me lose my balance.

There was one stretch of sidewalk where I tended to trip when it wasn’t icy. The roots of a nearby tree had grown under it, causing the sidewalk to become severely slanted. There was just enough snow that I forgot to look for it. My foot slipped, but Pat was beside me. I grabbed his arm, and he quickly helped me regain my balance.

Thankfully, we made it back to campus with no more close calls. We had just enough time for me to grab my books before heading to the dining hall. I followed Pat along the path that led behind the humanities building.

Instead of going towards my dorm, though, Pat turned towards the entrance. Before I could ask why, the side of my foot slipped into a hole. As I fell into the snow, I heard a snap.

It was the worst pain I had ever felt. Although my boyfriend was kneeling beside me, I couldn’t stop the tears. When I tried to get to my feet, Pat put a hand on my shoulder, the other on my knee.

“Don’t move,”

I took a deep breath, speaking between sobs. “It’s cold on the ground. Help me to the bench.”

I wanted him to help me stand on my good foot so I could hold him and hobble to the seat. I didn’t expect him to put one arm under my arms and the other under my knees. Instinctively, I threw my arms around his neck. He tottered a little as he stood, and I hoped he wouldn’t fall and injure us both.

He didn’t. He didn’t even seem to strain himself by bringing me to the bench. Balancing me on his knee, he dusted the snow from the seat before setting me down.

He kneeled beside me, his face full of concern. He looked as scared as I felt.

“What hurts?”

“My ankle.”

Pat glanced at my feet as I tried to move my left ankle in a circle. As soon as I twitched it, the pain was worse than when I had fallen. “Ow-ow-ow!”

Pat grabbed my cheeks in both hands, turning my face so he could look me in the eye. “I’m going to get help. Okay?”

I nodded. He kissed my forehead before running off. I took slow deep breaths, both to stop the tears and mask the pain. Focusing on the cold seeping into my jeans, I had almost calmed myself when Pat returned with his physics teacher.

Mr. Smith lived in Stanton, the boys’ dorm next door. At this hour, he was probably the nearest adult. I knew him fairly well, since he was one of the advisors for the NeoGenesis viewing club I attended every week. I was glad Pat had brought him.

Mr. Smith crouched beside me and spoke in a gentle tone. “Hey, Melinda. Pat said you got hurt.”

I wiped a lingering tear from my cheek. “My ankle. It really hurts.”

“Okay. Let’s see if you can stand up.” Pat and Mr. Smith stood on each side of me. They each grabbed one of my arms and pulled me to my feet. I kept my left knee bent so my foot wouldn’t reach the ground.

Mr. Smith nodded. “Good. Alright. Now, can you put any weight on your left foot?”

I slowly unbent my knee. I wasn’t even sure my foot reached the ground before pain radiated through it.

“Ow-ow-ow! No!” I immediately bent my knee again.

Mr. Smith nodded. “Okay. Here’s what we’re going to do. Pat and I will help you to my car, and I’ll drive you down to the infirmary, okay?”

I nodded. With their assistance, I hopped to a red sedan parked behind Stanton. I was glad most of my classmates were at dinner. No one was around to see me.

When we arrived at the infirmary, Mr. Smith ran inside to get a wheelchair. Pat climbed out of the backseat to hold my hand while we waited for him to return. Mr. Smith helped me into the chair and brought me into the waiting room. Pat never left my side.

Mr. Smith went to the nurses’ station to explain what had happened. Soon, a homely woman came to bring me to an exam room. Pat squeezed my hand.

“I’ll wait for you here.”

The nurse brought me to a room down the hall. “I know it hurts, sweetie, but we’re gonna try to make it better, okay?” She helped me onto an exam table and left the room, returning moments later with a laptop.

But she didn’t make it better. She just asked a long list of questions that had nothing to do with my broken leg. I wanted to cry again because of the pain.

Finally, the nurse finished asking me pointless questions and left the room. I texted Pat, telling him that this was probably going to be awhile. Knowing the dining hall would probably close soon, I suggested he grab dinner. I had no appetite and didn’t see why he should wait for me. After promising to let him know when I was released, I put away my phone without waiting for his response.

The pain wasn’t quite as bad if I didn’t move. I started to notice other things, such as the fact that my jeans were soaked. I wished my mother could come hold my hand, but my parents lived in the opposite corner of the state, nearly two hours away.

Finally, there was a knock on the door. When I called, “Come in,” I expected to see the nurse returning to ask more useless questions. Instead, it was my advisor.

Clarissa spoke in a soothing voice as she closed the door behind her.

“Hey, sweetie. How are you? Mr. Smith texted David that you got hurt.”

I couldn’t believe how relieved I was to see her. I couldn’t stop a fresh wave of tears.

“It’s stupid. I slipped in the snow and ice and my ankle hurts really bad.”

 Clarissa stepped closer to me, putting an arm around me to hold me close. When I buried my face against her, she stroked my hair gently, like my mother did when I was upset.

I had almost run out of tears when there was another knock at the door. This time, it was Clarissa who said, “Come in.” The nurse had returned with a portly man in a white lab coat.

“Melinda, this is Dr. Vitnor. He’s gonna look at your ankle, okay?”

I nodded. “Can Clarissa stay?”

Dr. Vitnor smiled and spoke in a gentle voice. “Of course. Let’s just have a look-see, shall we?”

It took nearly two hours before he discharged me. I was given a removable air cast, a set of crutches, a bag of single-use cold packs, an envelope with four pills, and a lot of instructions from the doctor.

“Try to elevate your leg as much as possible. Ice it twenty minutes every hour if you can for the next couple of days. Do not put any weight on it. Wear the cast as much as possible. You may remove it to bathe, but be sure to use the shower stall with a bench for you to sit.”

I nodded. That stall was one of the most coveted on my floor. I just hoped I wouldn’t have to wait in line for it. Dr. Vitnor continued.

“We’ll check on you in two weeks and see how it’s healing. Take the pain medication as needed, but wait at least six hours between doses. If you can go longer, do so. Check in tomorrow, say, after dinner, and we’ll see how your pain level is.”

There was only question on my mind. “When can I dance again?”

“We’ll discuss that in two weeks. It will depend on how well you are healing. Probably at least two months. Maybe longer. You will need to speak with the Athletic Director tomorrow. Usually, injured students serve as managers for their sports teams. What is your winter sport?”

“I was going to do dance.”

“Oh. Hmm. Well, the Athletic Director will help you with that.”

I thanked the doctor as he left. But, I wasn’t done. The nurse made me hobble around on the crutches until she was confident I could manage them. Only then was I allowed to leave.

Clarissa drove me back to the dorm, helping me into her apartment.

“Are you hungry?”

I shook my head. “Not really. I’m a little nauseous.”

“Do you have some snacks in your room?” I nodded, and Clarissa helped me up her stairs. “Try to eat something before taking the medicine. It could make you more nauseous. If you need anything, come get me. Even if it’s the middle of the night. You can call me, too, okay?”

“Thanks, Clarissa.”

“I’ll check on you during break.” Clarissa walked me to her apartment door, removing the baby gate so I could pass.

I wasn’t sure what shocked my roommate more: the fact I wasn’t in the library during study hours or my crutches. Either way, she gaped at me as I hobbled into the room.

“What happened?”

For the first time since moving into the dorm, I regretted elevating my bed. I half sat, half collapsed onto it. Sarah rushed to grab my crutches from me as I told her my story.

“I slipped in the snow. My ankle’s broken. I can’t dance. And oh! I forgot to tell Pat I’m out of the infirmary.”

“I’ll text him.”

“You have his number?” I didn’t quite hide my shock as I wiggled into a more comfortable position.

“No, silly. I’ll use your phone. Don’t worry. I’ll tell him it’s me. Why don’t you rest?”

“Can you grab me a protein bar? Clarissa said I should eat before I take my medicine.”

“Of course.” Sarah crawled under my bed to retrieve the bars I often ate for breakfast. “When did you see Clarissa?”

“She came to the infirmary. Stayed with me. Brought me home.”

“Okay. Now, tell me the beginning.” Sarah sat on her own bed, her back to the wall so she could see me better.

I told Sarah the entire story. By the time I was done, I was feeling a little better, mostly because I was resting in my bed and no longer moving.

 I was explaining to Sarah how Clarissa found me in the infirmary when I was interrupted by a stern voice in the doorway.

“Girls. You’re supposed to be studying, not chit-chatting.”

“Sorry, Sally.” Sarah quickly returned to her desk as our dean, who also lived in the dorm, entered the room. I didn’t even try to move.

“Clarissa told me to rest for first study hours.”

“I came to discuss your dance class with you. We’re trying to figure out how to get you to the studio. Coming home isn’t a problem, but getting there might be tricky. We may have to rearrange your classes to free your seventh period.”

I gave a dejected sigh. “I can’t go.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“No. Dr. Vitnor did. He said no dancing for at least two months.”

“What?” asked Sarah and Sally at the same time.

I pointed to my cast. “I slipped and broke my ankle. No dancing.”

Sally sent me a sympathetic look. “Oh, Melinda. I’m so sorry. I know you were looking forward to this class.”

“Should I email Madame Odette?”

“I will call her. We were to speak this evening about your transportation, anyway. I’ll let her know.”


“Feel better, sweetie.” Sally left the room, closing the door behind her.

Sarah had been pretending to read while our dean was in the room. As soon as we were alone, she turned to me.

“Pat wants to know if he can come to your room during break. I said it was okay, but he said I had to ask you. He said he’ll bring Walter, and to remind you his mom said that was okay at his house. I’m confused.”

“You called him Pat!”

Sarah shrugged. “He’s your boyfriend. I’m trying to do as you said: see him as Pat Evans, fifth former, not Patrick McGregor, movie star.”

“Is it working?”

“Don’t change the subject. Why do I have to ask your permission for him to come over?”

I sighed. “Pat and I have rules. I told you about them. One of those rules is we don’t go in each other’s dorms, not even the Common Room. When I went to his house, his mom said I could only go in Pat’s room if Walter was with me.”

“So, he wants to bring Walter. Got it. I’m not leaving you anyway, so I’ll be here, too. And I’m gonna tell Larry he should come here during break.” Sarah’s boyfriend lived across the hall from Walter.

“You’re not making out with him in here!”

Sarah smiled. “The pain meds must be kicking in. You’re almost your normal self.”

“Actually, I think it was the food. I didn’t take the meds yet. Tell Pat I said okay. Then text Larry and Walter. You can use your phone for that. And make sure you get co-ed from Clarissa.” The last thing I wanted was all of us getting in trouble because we had forgotten to get permission for the boys to be in our room.

Sarah went to check in with Clarissa and refill my water bottle while I tried to get comfortable. I rested my foot on my pillow, placing the cold pack on my ankle, right over the brace. Study hours would be over soon, but I judged I had just enough time to write in my diary.

Melinda’s Journal

Wednesday, December 6

Break: a noun meaning an opportunity to improve

This week, I received an email inviting me to a special dance class, taken with the ballet company, not here on campus. It was to be my big break, my chance to really take my dancing to the next level. I was really excited about this amazing opportunity.

Break: a verb meaning to snap in two

This evening, I endured a different kind of big break. This break brought all hope of the first break to an abrupt end.

Pat’s Story

“So, is your girlfriend studying with us tonight?” I asked my brother as we ran around the indoor suspended track Wednesday morning. We were the only ones using the Theodore Rodgers Athletic Center, aka the TRAC, before the sun was fully awake. Most of our classmates were probably still sleeping. It was only our third day of classes that term, and I knew many of my classmates were still having trouble readjusting to being back to school after Thanksgiving break.

“She’s not my girlfriend.” I wasn’t sure if Walter’s face was turning red from our workout or my interrogation. I liked to think it was the latter.

“She’s been studying with you every night this week.” I was disappointed that I hadn’t been able to join my brother during study hours. I really wanted to meet this girl I only knew by sight.

“She has trouble with Latin. And math.”

“You’re not even in the same level math.”

Walter shrugged as we slowed to a walk. “Math is math. It’s no big deal. I like helping her.”

We headed to the corner where we could stretch. “No, you like her.”

“Fine. I like her. You already knew that.”

“I know. I just wanted to hear you say it.”

Walter punched my shoulder, which hurt a lot. I rubbed it absently, opting to change the subject. “How was wrestling practice yesterday? You think you’re gonna like it?”

Walter nodded. “Yeah, I might actually be kinda good at it. I practiced a lot with a fourth former. I already forgot his name. But I pinned him a few times. Coach seemed impressed.”

“Am I allowed to come to your matches?” Walter had spent most of last term pretending we weren’t related.

Walter nodded. “Yeah. I’m starting to not mind having you around.”

It was my turn to punch him, although I think I hurt my hand more than his shoulder. The guy was built for wrestling.

Our morning workout, followed by a quick jaunt in the weight room, an invigorating walk across campus, and a refreshing shower back at my dorm, was a fantastic way to wake me up for my first period pre-calculus class. Unfortunately, I spent my morning free periods reading ahead for English class. The book was so depressing. Why would my teacher even select it? I couldn’t wait for lunch.

After my last-period Latin class, I trekked across campus to the dining hall. My brother was at his regular table with, thankfully, only his best friends. Larry, the guy across the hall, was snuggled against his petite girlfriend, Sarah. I supposed they were eating, but they were mostly holding one of their regular hushed conversations. Across from them, my brother sat with his other best friend, Sarah’s roommate, Melinda. My girlfriend.

Yeah, I was dating my brother’s best friend. And he was mostly okay with this. Because we were amazingly perfect together. Everyone I talked to seemed to think so.

After getting my food from the servery, I took my tray to their table, kissing Melinda on the top of her head before sitting beside her.

“Hey, you.” My smile helped make me famous, but hers was even more infectious. I had to smile in return.

“So, what’s this afternoon look like?”

She shrugged. “It’s Wednesday. Going to the coffee shop until I need to go to the church for CCD.” That was her normal Wednesday routine. I wanted it to include me.

“Want some company?”

“I thought you had a meeting for winter running this afternoon.”

Shunk! I had forgotten about that. Smack in the middle of her coffee shop time, too.

Melinda must have seen some sort of disappointed look on my face, because she patted my hand. “It’s okay. We’ll hang out when I get back to campus.”

Most people would probably say we’ll hang out and mean we’ll make out. But, my girlfriend was a very conscientious student. When she said we’ll hang out, I knew she meant we can study together in the library. At least it was time with her. Besides, I always made her take study breaks. We could make out then.

The winter running meeting was incredibly boring. In the three years I had been attending Hartfield, I had never repeated a sport. Since I already ran nearly three miles every morning, I figured winter running would be an easy way to fulfill my mandatory sports requirement this term.

 None of my friends had any interest in running, so I sat with Larry and a few of my brother’s friends. I recognized them from the handful of times I had eaten dinner with Melinda.

The athletic director, Mr. Norris, droned on about having to spend at least thirty minutes on the track, which was about how long I usually ran, anyway. He explained that we were to download a specific app onto our phone, one that had been designed specifically for this course. It would use our phone to track our run, measuring our speed and distance. It would also share our run with the director so he could measure our improvement over the term. The greatest advantage of the app, at least as far as I could see, was that it permitted us to create our own exercise schedule. So, my daily runs with Walter could count as my sport.

Mr. Norris made us download and use the app before we could leave. We didn’t have to go for a run, but we had to walk around the track ten times to make sure all the settings worked properly.

After my mile-long walk, I still had plenty of time to walk into town. I missed Melinda and wanted to walk home with her. I didn’t want to have to wait until study hours to see her. I used the walk to determine the best way to ask Melinda to the Snowflake Ball.

Since she was my girlfriend, we were going together anyway. But I still wanted to ask her. Make sure she knew I wanted to go and everything.

My original plan was to ask her at the bench by the Humanities building, where we liked to spend our free time. However, as I walked through the snowfall to the church, I decided I would need a better option.

Over the past few days, there had been a handful of flurries, but today, the snow was thicker. Luckily, it was only sticking to the grass for the moment, but I knew it would cover the sidewalks just enough to be slippery by the time we returned to campus.

I sat on the front steps of the church while I waited for Melinda to emerge. When I saw parents entering the building to retrieve Melinda’s classmates, I pulled my ski cap low and tightened the scarf around my face. Sure, it protected me from the weather, but it also kept me from being recognized.

Everyone exited with a parent, but Melinda did not emerge. I decided to wait a few minutes, figuring she was staying late to talk to her teacher. Even if she had left early, I would have passed her on the road, right? I had just about decided that maybe I had missed her when she finally exited, passing right by without noticing me.

“Hey! Daphne!” It was my favorite nickname for her, a reference to a Greek myth she had studied and a reminder that she had initially resisted the idea of being my girlfriend. “Wait up!”

I couldn’t jog to her in the ice, but she stopped as she made the most adorable face. I think she was trying to find my face through the disguise. When she spoke, her voice was full of confusion. “Pat? What’re you doing here?”

I threw my arm around her. Even completely bundled, I felt a spark of electricity touching her. “I thought I’d walk you home. It’s dark and cold and I thought you could use the company.”

I thought Melinda may have tensed slightly under me, but I wasn’t sure. “You don’t have to walk me home.” There was enough annoyance in her tone that I questioned whether meeting her had been such a good idea after all.

I let go of her, mostly because the sidewalk was growing slippery as we headed back towards campus. I took her hand, trying to mask my own annoyance. “Hey. I just wanted to spend some time with you.”

“I saw you during our free period, and at lunch. And we were going to hang out when I got back on campus.”

I shrugged. “I just thought maybe you would like some company.”

Melinda was quiet. I tried to think of how to make her less upset with me.

“So, how was class? Why were you the last one out?”

“Deacon Bob kept me after. Apparently, my vocabulary intimidates my classmates.”

Melinda had struggled with her vocabulary last term. I laughed at irony of the situation. “So, what? Did he tell you to stop raising your hand?”

“No. Just to use smaller words. He also told me to tell you most of the congregation knows you attend Mass, so you can get rid of the disguise.”

“No, he didn’t.” I was finding it difficult to keep my balance on the icy sidewalk and was forced to release her hand.

“I promise. You know I don’t lie.”

“No. You can’t lie. There’s a difference. And you’re not lying. Fine. Don’t tell Walter. Let him think it was my idea.”

Melinda shook her head but said nothing. I told her about my winter running meeting and a little about my day as we walked towards the Humanities building. We could always sit in the Rotunda. I was hoping everyone would be at supper so we could be alone.

The walk was slippery. More than once, we lost our balance and nearly fell. As we approached the building, Melinda wiped out. I thought I heard a twig snap as she went down.

I kneeled beside her. She started crying. She was obviously in pain. But she still tried to stand. I tried to guide her down.

“Don’t move.”

“It’s cold on the ground. Help me to the bench.”

I put my arms under her and lifted her easily. I benched more than she weighed. Getting to my feet in the snow was a little tricky, but I got her to the seat. I was even able to wipe the snow before easing her onto it. I kneeled until I was eye-level.

“What hurts?”

“My ankle.” I followed her gaze. Her left ankle didn’t look so good. She tried to move it, but started screaming. “Ow-ow-ow!”

It broke my heart to see her in so much pain. Fresh tears streaked her face. I knew I needed to go find a teacher. I took her face in both my hands and looked her straight in the eye. I wanted to make sure she heard me.

“I’m going to get help. Okay?”

She nodded. I kissed her forehead and headed towards Walter’s dorm, Stanton, walking as fast as I dared. I knew no one would be in the humanities building right now. It was suppertime. Some teachers would be in the dining hall, but I hoped some would be in their apartments at this hour.

The faculty apartments had doorways that opened into the dormitory, but they also had separate, private entrances. I ran to the closest one and rang the bell. A moment later, my physics teacher was standing in the doorway.

“Pat.” Smith smiled. “Is everything okay?”

I shook my head. “Melinda. She’s hurt.”

His face sobered. He knew Melinda. He headed the science fiction club we both attended. “Where is she?”

“Outside the rotunda.”

He disappeared briefly, returning with his coat on. I led the way, Smith keeping up with my brisk pace as I briefly explained what had happened.

“We were walking back from town. She fell and hurt her ankle.”

When we reached Melinda, he crouched beside her to look her in the eye. He spoke gently.

“Hey, Melinda. Pat said you got hurt.”

“My ankle. It really hurts.” Melinda was no longer sobbing, though tears were still flowing.

“Okay. Let’s see if you can stand up.” 

Smith and I got on either side of Melinda. He grabbed her arm in both of his. I did the same. She stood slowly, keeping her left foot off the ground. I saw Smith smile out of the corner of my eye. I supposed Melinda was kind of adorable, but I was too scared to notice. Smith kept talking calmly.

“Good. Alright. Now, can you put any weight on your left foot?”

Melinda put her foot down slowly. I didn’t think she even touched the ground before she picked it back up, crying in pain.

“Ow-ow-ow! No!”

“Okay.” Smith was still calm. I was a nervous wreck. “Here’s what we’re going to do. Pat and I are going to help you to my car, and I’ll drive you down to the infirmary, okay?”

Melinda nodded, and we walked slowly towards Stanton, Melinda hopping between us. Smith led us to a red sedan that I had passed numerous times but never noticed. We helped her into the front passenger seat, then I hopped in behind her as Smith went around to the driver’s side.

The drive to the infirmary was short, although we had to follow the driveways and main roads, not our usual footpaths. Since the plow had not yet come through, Smith drove like a snail. It felt like hours before he parked by the infirmary entrance.

“I’ll be right back.” He headed into the building.

I opened Melinda’s door and crouched beside her. “How you doing?”

“It really hurts.”

I held her hand until Smith reappeared with a wheelchair. We helped her into it and he pushed Melinda into the infirmary. I followed and sat beside Melinda until a dumpy-looking woman came to fetch her. It wasn’t my first time in the infirmary. I knew I wouldn’t be allowed in the exam room. I squeezed her hand.

“I’ll wait for you here.”

I watched as the nurse brought her down the hall, then sat nervously twitching my leg as I passed my phone between my hands. Smith was texting someone beside me. He put a hand on my shoulder.

“Mr. Price just texted me. Clarissa is going to come here to be with Melinda. Why don’t you go back to your dorm?”

I shrugged. “Yeah. Okay.”

He nodded and left, but I made no motions to move. Melinda sent me a text a little while later, suggesting I grab something to eat before the dining hall closed. I told her I would, but I still sat where I was. A little while later, my former history teacher appeared.

“Hi, Pat. I heard Melinda was hurt?” Clarissa put a comforting hand on my shoulder.

I nodded. “She slipped on the ice. She’s back there.”

Clarissa nodded and squeezed my shoulder. “I’m going to go take care of her. Why don’t you go eat something? You can come visit her after study hours.”

She didn’t wait for an answer before going to speak with the nurse on duty. I didn’t want to leave, but I knew there was nothing I could do here. I didn’t have an appetite, so I headed back to my dorm, finding it empty. I laid on my bed and stared at the ceiling, trying to process everything that had happened.

Melinda had gotten hurt, and I couldn’t help her. She thought of me as Mighty Max, a superhero I had once played. She had told me she felt safe in my arms. But I hadn’t been able to keep her safe this time. Did she hate me? Probably not, but I was pretty sure she was disappointed in me.

Enough to break up with me? Things between us were already a little strained because of the whole Poppy fiasco last week. I liked to think that if our relationship could survive a crazy ex-girlfriend, it could survive an injured ankle. But, I couldn’t be certain.

Walter would know. He knew Melinda better than I did. I didn’t really want to be alone, anyway. I grabbed some books and headed over to the library. He would probably appreciate the company,  since Melinda wouldn’t be joining him.

I headed to the library study room my brother and my girlfriend had claimed as their own. Walter was sitting at the study table with a girl with red hair. Not ginger red like mine. Candy apple red. She was the little cutie from his Latin class that he liked. I had forgotten she might be there.

I didn’t want to interrupt their study date. Before I could leave, Walter looked up and caught my eye. I have no idea what my expression was, but he knew immediately something had happened.

“Pat? You okay?”

I shook my head, not moving from the door. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. I can go.”

Red smiled at me. “No, please. Interrupt. We need the distraction. We’re discussing short stories. They don’t make sense.”

I tried to smile.

“Sit,” Walter commanded, though not unkindly.

I plopped into one of the seats across from them.

Red looked at me. “Hi! I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Zayne.”

“Oh, sorry. Zayne, this is my brother, Pat. What’s wrong?”

I looked at the table. “I was walking back from town with Melinda. We were heading to the rotunda and . . . she slipped. She hurt her ankle. I got Smith, and he helped me bring her to the infirmary. He texted her advisor. There was nothing to do at the infirmary, but now I . . . just feel so helpless.”

“I’m sure she’ll be okay.” Zayne’s voice was full of compassion. “You could probably go visit her during break.”

Walter nodded. “I’ll come with you.”

I opened my physics book and stared at the page while Walter and Zayne went back to discussing some boring short story or other. About an hour later, I was still on the same page when my phone played Händel’s Apollo and Daphne. Recognizing Melinda’s ringtone, I checked it immediately. Her roommate was texting me from Melinda’s phone. Melinda was back at the dorm, resting.

I immediately asked Sarah to ask Melinda if I could visit during the break, making sure to add that I would bring Walter. When Melinda and I first got together, we established many rules to help us have a chaste relationship. One of those rules was that neither of us would visit the other’s room.

When Melinda visited my house last week and we had that horribly awkward conversation with our mothers, Mom had said Melinda could go into my room if my brother or sister joined her. I figured, given the circumstances, no one would have any objections to me visiting her in her room just this once, especially if my brother chaperoned.

Sarah took her time texting me back. I was tempted to ask Walter to intervene when Sarah finally replied that we could visit during the break. I returned to my physics book and managed to get to the end of the chapter before study hours ended.

Attention Hammerheads

Melinda is always trying to build her vocabulary. What were some words in this episode that were new to you? She will add them to her vocabulary journal.