The lady doctor had what Grandma, her “real grandma,” her dead grandma, would have called dirty blonde hair. She had said that Jenna had that kind of hair too, but Jenna thought her hair was brown. She was too tired, confused and hot to care. The doctor had wrinkles that spread their way across the skin around her eyes and reminded Jenna of a spider’s thin legs. “I’m Dr. Brandt,” she said as she gazed into Jenna’s eyes.
There is nothing wrong with my eyes, thought Jenna. Dr. Brandt took a small handle with a funnel and placed it in her ears. Jenna moved away; it tickled.
“Stay still,” said the doctor.
Jenna let her look. Next, the doctor was staring down her throat and shaking her head. “How long have you had a sore throat?” she asked in a way that made Jenna think she might be in trouble.
“A few days,” she whispered.
“Why didn’t you tell anybody?”
“I didn’t think about it much,” Jenna said.
“You need to tell Mom and Dad when you start to feel sick,” the doctor said.
“Mom and Dad get mad if I complain,” said Jenna.
Dr. Brandt shot an angry look at Miss Laurie. For a moment Jenna thought she said the wrong thing.
Miss Laurie shook her head and held up a hand, like a police officer showing the HALT sign to a car. “Wait,” she said. “We are not her Mom and Dad. We are foster parents.”
Dr. Brandt nodded her head and said, “I see. Her real mom and dad just tell her to shut up if she feels bad.”
Jenna started to say something good about Mom and Dad, but she started coughing. She bent over and hacked up, coughing so hard she gave herself a headache. It hurt so much, she thought, it felt like there were nails in her head. She managed to lift her head and muttered, “I have to get to school. We do group work today, and I get to be Group Leader!”
The grownups chuckled a little at this. Did they understand anything? Jenna wondered.
The doctor’s smile turned into a straight line once more, and her eyes narrowed. Dr. Brandt put those tubes in her ears and took a round piece of metal attached to the tubes and placed it on Jenna’s chest. “Take a deep breath,” she ordered.
Jenna did and started coughing all over again. Her head felt like it was getting pounded now.
The doctor took the plugs out of her ears and gave Miss Laurie a serious look. “The cough has gone down into her chest.”
Miss Laurie looked alarmed and asked something Jenna couldn’t understand, something like Bronc, or broncky. BRONK-ITE-ISS. Jenna felt so hot and so confused, like everything in front of her was tilted and swaying from side to side.
The doctor shook her head no. Now she started mumbling something Jenna did not understand. Something like Ammo. No, she said ammonia.
Wait a minute? Did she mean… what was that word she and Miss Laurie used when they were talking about that blue window cleaner?
Miss Laurie said that was a bad disease, and now she had it. Was she going to die? She didn’t want to die. She had to go back and take care of Mom and Dad, but she was so tired.
“What can we do?” asked Miss Laurie.
The doctor said something about the pills she had to take. One more thing, Jenna was not allowed to do anything—no work, no play! She had to rest.
Who would clean up in the morning?
Jenna realized she had her head tilted to one side and had fallen asleep. She shook her head awake, but she felt like falling asleep again. Her arms were shaking, like she had a chill, but that didn’t make any sense. She was so hot a minute ago.
The next moments were like a cloudy, clumsy dream. She got a shot, or was it two? She had to take a lot of pills. Miss Laurie put her jacket around her shoulders. She must have fallen asleep in the car, because the next thing she knew, they were back at Miss Laurie’s home, and Laurie was carrying her from the car to the house.
She flashed back and forth between hot and cold. Laurie made her drink lots of juice and water. She had a hard time eating, but soup tasted great.
There was one thing she couldn’t understand.
She wasn’t allowed to do any work.
“No cleaning, no working!” insisted Miss Laurie as she brought Jenna a glass of orange juice with a straw.
“I can get it myself…” Jenna started to say.
“We take care of you!” insisted Laurie.
Jenna started to speak, but all that came out was a cough, then another. Someone put a hand on Jenna’s hair. She realized it was Grandma Sandy. Jenna didn’t know Grandma Sandy was even there.
“Pretend you are a princess,” said Grandma Sandy. “And you have servants.”
Miss Laurie grinned and started laughing. “Most people like being waited on.”
Jenna shook her head NO and started to get up. Laurie put a hand on her shoulder and gently guided her back down. Jenna’s tired body softly fell back against the pillow.
She closed her eyes and started to dream.
Mom and Dad kept knocking at the front door. Jenna paced back and forth and would not open up. It made her angry, because in the dream there were two of her: the Jenna that kept walking back and forth, not answering the door, and the Jenna who floated like a ghost without a body, whispering to her real self to let Mom and Dad in the house.
She was glad when she woke up, sweating. I sure am glad I’m not coughing, she thought, and then she coughed about twelve times in a row. Miss Laurie hurried in the room, felt her forehead and made her take some medicine. Laurie hurried out of the room and came back with something cool to drink. Jenna sipped through a straw. She didn’t try and get up to clean the house. She was too worn-out. She felt so bad about not cleaning, but she was too “pooped” to even try. She closed her eyes, drifted away and heard the words, “It’s all right, you know.”
Jenna opened her eyes and saw Miss Laurie sitting on the edge of her bed, looking down on her.
“What?” mumbled Jenna. She almost thought she was dreaming for a second.
Miss Laurie explained, “It’s all right to let someone take care of you.”
“It seems wrong,” whispered Jenna.
“Why?” asked Laurie.
Jenna shook her head. “I don’t know…” She felt confused and angry. She realized a few tears leaked out of one of her eyes. That didn’t make sense. She wasn’t sad. “I am used to doing things for Mom and Dad, not the other way around…” She moved so her face was in the covers.
Miss Laurie smiled at her and placed a hand on her cheek. Jenna didn’t try and squirm away. Laurie said, “I like taking care of you, Jenna.”
Jenna really buried her face now. She was afraid she was crying, and there was no reason to cry. Laurie bent down and gave her a big hug. Jenna stopped trying to hide her tears. She put her weak arms around Miss Laurie and hugged her back. It felt good.