Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty

“Let’s all sit down,” Rob suggested, as much as a suggestion was from his direct way of speaking. He coughed a bit before preparing to talk more and guided Wil to a seat on the plasticine couch. He then moved to his usual plastic and metal guest chair. His family turned and looked up at him expectantly.

Rob rubbed his face. “Wil,” he said, “Read your other letter. I need to talk to Jakob.” Jakob looked surprised and glanced up from his arms-on-knees slouch at Wil, Cynthia, and Rob. Wil was about to ask what he needed to say to Jakob, but Rob held up his hand. The same hand bent to gesture at her papers and he gave her a pointed look.

Wil looked down at the second part of her mail that she hadn’t read yet, a note folded haphazardly. It was the same way Wil often put things into envelopes: folding first; then realizing it wouldn’t fit, trying to crease the pages in various ways, and finally stuffing it in. Finding an edge, she opened the letter and spread it out on her lap.

To a background of deep voices occasionally rumbling inaudible words, Wil read the following:

Darling Wilhelmina,

How are you? I hope you are well. I also hope this letter does not shock you terribly. I don’t even know where to begin, so I will just start writing what comes to mind. Hopefully, you will understand.

I didn’t mean to have you. I mean, I was happy thrilled that you were born but I was not intending for that to happen.

I met Rob Winters your father when we were both young, at some party or something. Yes, a party. He was so very serious, but he asked me out on a date. Perhaps you are too young to be told about this sort of thing, but sometimes adults go on dates and end up drinking doing some things and then you find you’ve slept with them at their house even though you didn’t really like them that much. I find this happens a lot with me, but, well, let’s talk about you again, Dear.

That’s it, Wilhelmina: I had you. When you were first growing inside me, I thought about adoption. You know, finding one of those cute smiling couples who really want a child and can’t. But I knew you would be special. I even tried to keep you for a while after you were born but realized I couldn’t.

I gave you to your father -dear old boring dependable Rob, and told him that you were not to be told about me. I didn’t want to stress you out, you see.

The thing is, now I am older and I think I could meet you.

Maybe you don’t want to. -I know! Let’s think about this for a while. I’ll send another letter in a while and maybe you’ll want to talk then.

Please?

Sincerely Love Yours
-Guinevere Greene

P.S.
Just in case, my cell phone number is XXX-XXX-XXXX. -G.G.

Wil stared at her birth mother’s curvy letters, allowing an elephant’s worth of information and emotion to sink into her mind. From a distance she admired the extravagant, looping signature, the fancy words, the tone.

She looked up. Rob and Jakob had finished; Jakob’s expression looking a bit stunned but trying not to. Cynthia lay calmly, looking at her with concern.

For once, Wil felt nothing.

 

Continued from Fifty-Nine.

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-Nine

A few minutes later, the Winters sat together in Cynthia’s neutral-toned hospital room. This one had a different print hanging on the wall over the bed, a nice one of a girl with two braids standing among a garden of flowers. Its life and color stood out against the stark sage-beige theme that otherwise permeated the chilly room, and drew Wil’s interest at once.

Cynthia sat resting where she had for their last visit, and many before that for her entire life: propped up in the bed with IV and oxygen tubes dripping life into a body that seemed to repel it. Wil looked down from the picture of springtime to the face of her favorite person. Her mother’s misty blonde hair reminded Wil of a halo, even against the ugly bedspread of green sheets and paper pillows. Wil began to cry.

“Oh, Wil,” her mother began, opening clear blue eyes of concern. “It’s all right.” Wil cried harder, knowing otherwise. Rob and Jakob shifted uncomfortably; trying to find distraction in the tan walls, off-white window shade, or interlocking squares of cream and blue-green printed uniformly across the door curtain.

Cynthia offered her left arm to Wil, and Wil hurried to it. She tried to hug her mother gently, to not weep so deeply. Self-control seemed futile. They had talked about death, given it a name, and said it was coming. The moment she’d seen her mother laying there and thought of angels, Wil felt how very close Death actually walked. His form stood near enough that his cold shadow made her shiver; his voice whispered from the corners of their lives of imminent loss and despair.

“That’s enough, Wil,” Rob said sternly. He came around the bed and pulled Wil gently but firmly from Cynthia’s arm. Wil collapsed on him, instead. His rough face melted from surprise to a quiet pleasure. He shied from emotion, overwhelmed at his daughter’s level of expression; receiving it only when caught off-guard as Wil had done.

“I..” Wil choked, “I’m trying.” She lifted her wet face from her father’s chest, sniffed loudly, and breathed raggedly. “I just … it’s so… I didn’t want to actually lose Mom!” Wil concluded in slight wail, and dropped her face back onto Rob. He patted her back, a bit awkwardly, trying to ignore Jakob’s sigh.

Turning to give him a reprimanding look, Rob was surprised to see that his stepson was sighing because there were tears streaming down his cheeks as well. He hadn’t seen Jakob cry in public for a decade. Rob adopted Jakob after the baby years, and often thought the boy just didn’t cry. He looked over at Cynthia, and was not surprised to see her smiling his favorite, sweet smile through her own tears.

Despite the oxygen, Cynthia began another coughing fit. Three sad faces -two stained with tears- immediately lifted to look at her. She raised a hand of reassurance as she coughed, and they relaxed slightly.

Incessant beeping began from behind the bed. Wil realized that her mother was on monitoring equipment, and that the erratic oxygen levels induced by coughing had set it off.

Cynthia finished in a few seconds that lasted forever. The machine quieted. In the absence of noise, Wil heard thumping from a neighboring room or two receiving treatment, then picked out approaching footsteps. The door opened and Nurse Bea rushed in, clinking the door curtain to the side. She looked nearly as out of breath as Wil’s mother, though much more cheery.

“Ah,” Nurse Bea breathed in relief, “I see it’s stopped now.” She looked around at the somber assembly, and her expression became more bittersweet. “Don’t y’all worry for now.” She met Rob’s and Cynthia’s eyes. “The doctor will be in in a few minutes. He’s just finishin’ up on down the hall. I’ll leave you to it till then and you just holler if that ole machine acts up in the meantime.”

Leaving them with a parting smile and wave, she slid the separator back, left the room, and quietly pulled the door closed behind her.

 

Continued from Fifty-Eight.
Keep reading to Sixty.

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-Eight

Wil looked up, startled. Sure enough, there stood her beloved step-brother. His mouth was turned up in its characteristic jeer. From where her mind had just been, she immediately wondered if Jakob knew the content and meaning of the papers an inch beyond her reaching hands. Instinctively, she snatched them and brought them to her chest.

She sniffed, raised her head, and turned to look back at the windows. Jakob laughed a bit, though not as deeply as any of them had for years. Looking around the room once, he dropped into a chair near the table and put his feet up. His imitation down coat exhaled against the imitation leather backing as his worn boots clunked onto the imitation wood tabletop. If Wil hadn’t moved her things, his feet would have landed on them.

She carefully backed into a chair that was still upright. Lifting her required reading for English class in her left hand, she pretended to be absorbed in it. As Jakob snorted, tilted his head onto the back of the chair, and closed his eyes, Wil slid the sensitive papers to her side with her right hand. She winced as they crinkled audibly, and hurriedly shoved them under her thigh.

Jakob snorted again, and turned his angled head to look at Wil. “Is Mom in the back?”

Wil nodded. Aloud, she added, “She was coughing a lot and said we needed to come to the hospital.”

Regular sterile hospital sounds filled the quiet after she spoke: distant footsteps, muted beeping and paging, and the rush of the heated air warming the room from floor vents.

Jakob cleared his throat, then swallowed. Though he tried to hide it, his voice sounded huskier as he asked, “Is she okay?”

Wil looked over the top of the page and met his eyes. They were blue like Cynthia’s, but more serious than his stepmother’s ever were. As much as Jakob teased Wil, it was this seriousness that stopped Wil from teasing as much as he did.

“I don’t know,” she admitted, “but I don’t think she’s dying yet.” She attempted a weak smile, and Jakob’s mouth resisted the urge to complete one of his own. He rolled his eyes and breathed in deeply.

“Nice, Minnie,” he said sarcastically, and closed his eyes again.

Between his pretended napping and Wil’s pretended reading, they only jumped a bit at the door suddenly opening and admitting a plump nurse into the room just a few minutes later.

“Well, hello again!” her ever-cheery voice enthused. It was Nurse Bea, forever full of glee.

 

Continued from Fifty-Seven.
Keep reading to Fifty-Nine.

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-Seven

“However does a woman of my station get into such fixes?” sighed Wilhelmina Winters, heiress of Tara, and belle of East Dixie. The dainty, shadowed face she spoke to could not respond, but did return her wistful look exactly. In fact, her companion returned all Ms. Winters’ expressions and movements. She was limited only by the edge of the window, where the wall began.

Ms. Winters leaned against the cool glass, touching her cheek sadly to that of her mute friend. She breathed deeply, rustling the deep satin of her long, ruffled dress. She contemplated on how frequently she had the misfortune to return to this lonely room, to this forsaken institution.

Her father, the well-known army general, owner of the prosperous Winters Manufacturing Co-Op, and current master of Tara, had thoughtfully left his daughter enlightening materials with which to properly divert herself. But, Ms. Winters hadn’t the heart to read her school-book at present. She felt only the desire to brood; or, perhaps, to commiserate with the outside-elements-filled version of her own self she saw reflected back.

A door opened; a nurse came hurriedly out. He did not come to Ms. Winters, nor acknowledge her presence. The happy flurry Ms. Winters’ heart had felt now settled down deeply in disappointment. The return of the same distracted nurse a minute later settled her spirits further still.

He entered the door he had previously exited, leaving only the memory of teal-green behind. The air disturbed by his actions blew slightly at the book Ms. Winters was to read whilst waiting, resting unobtrusively upon a table nearer to the room’s exit. Her eye, drawn by the action, finally saw a most important thing she had missed at first glance: her book sat upon the papers she had been reading when her mother first realized their need to come hurriedly to this institution.

In short, an important letter that Ms. Winters had been curious to continue reading was sitting there within her reach! Forgetting her window friend immediately, she strode briskly across the low-pile floor. Her grand black boots stepped solidly as her wide, full skirt shushed silkily atop its stiffened crinoline.

Forgetting decorum, she excitedly reached both hands toward her things, upsetting a few periodicals and a neighboring chair.

“Hel on wheels,” a sarcastic voice said from the room’s entrance. Jakob had arrived; just in time to witness Wil’s graceful rush to the table, and just in time to use one of his favorite nicknames for her.

 

Continued from Fifty-Six.
Keep reading to Fifty-Eight.

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-Six

One reason Rob had chosen their current apartment was its proximity to Cynthia’s medical clinic. Unfortunately, Wil reflected as she watched cars, stores, and traffic lights move through her dim reflection in the car window, the clinic was not where they needed to go for emergencies. Also, that health facility was closed, as most seemed to be, on Fridays. She had often wondered if the doctors all thought no one got sick at the end of the week.

She turned to watch shadowed pieces of sunset play over her parents’ faces in the front seat. Her father sat tensely, his thick fingers turning ever whiter in their grip on the steering wheel. His eyes bored through the windshield, willing them at the hospital already.

Her mother –Yes, my mother, Wil told herself. –Wait! Where did those papers go?– sat in her relaxation pose. Cynthia’s head lay back, her blonde hairs dusting the headrest. Her eyes were closed. Her breathing was carefully shallow.

Rob’s cell phone chimed. Wil jumped, then realized it was just a notification. “Mina. Please.” Her father’s request, as usual, was a succinct command. Forgetting her train of thought, she leaned forward and took the phone from the console.

Putting in the simple code of one horizontal line to unlock the screen, Wil saw that Jakob had texted back. She cleared her throat and said, “It’s Jakob. He says, ‘Class almost out. Can get ride to hospital with Jen.'” She looked up, curious. “Who’s Jen?”

Cynthia laughed, which brought on another coughing fit. Wil looked distraught, a feeling made worse by the stern look her father wore when she caught his face in the rearview mirror.

They were nearly to the hospital when Cynthia caught her breath. As Rob carefully navigated into the parking garage, she turned her head to look at Wil. “I love you, Wil,” she said sweetly. “Always curious.” Wil did not look reassured, which almost set Cynthia going again. She swallowed a few times, allowed herself a smile, and said, “Don’t worry, Honey. I don’t know who Jen is, either. It’s probably just a girl in the same class who has a car.”

They pulled into a spot, and Rob put the car into park. Securing it with the parking brake, he turned and pulled his cell phone from Wil’s hand. “Let’s go,” Rob said, ever tactful and patient.

Cynthia smiled up at him, loosening his features into his version of the expression.
Wil hastily unbuckled. She pushed the car door open, hitting the cement wall they were parked by. Rob sighed. Cynthia had to suppress another laughing fit. Wil looked around, expecting Jakob to say, “I hope Wil marries a car detailer,” as he always did when she dented their car. She remembered that he wasn’t there, and instead looked apologetically up at her father.

“Nevermind, Wil,” he said, tiredly. “Just get out and close it. If you can.”

Leaving their sedan with all its scratched doors locked and secured, the Winters walked out of the garage and to the doors of City Hospital.

 

Continued from Fifty-Five.
Keep reading to Fifty-Seven.

Wilhelmina Winters: Fifty-Five

“Mina, bring the bag,” Rob ordered. Wil scrambled to her feet and took off down the hall. He looked down at Cynthia, who nodded at him as cheerfully as she could manage. She was trying to suppress another round of coughing, fairly successfully. Rob nodded in return, ending the sort of conversation only those who have lived and loved together for so long can have.

Wil returned with Cynthia’s hospital bag. Rob gripped her shoulder in gratitude, and looked into her eyes. They were wide and full of emotion. “I’m going to get my things. Will you please text Jakob?” Unlike Cynthia, Wil always needed more instruction than a nod and a smile. Rob pressed his cell phone into her hand, and flew down the hall faster than Wil ever saw him move.

She stared down at the screen of her father’s phone. The scratched surface dimly reflected her dark outline. “Wil,” Cynthia whispered. Wil’s eyes shifted to her mother’s, though her focus was obviously elsewhere. She blinked, and slowly returned to the living room, the couch, the drawn face before her.

She needed to text her step-brother. They needed to go to the hospital.

Rob returned, just as Wil finished. She looked up at her father, and he sighed at the distraught confusion on his daughter’s face. He itched to run his hand along his jaw, but both were occupied with his things. Instead, his right hand jangled the ring of keys it held.

“Get your things, Mina,” Rob said. He cleared his throat. “Your book, maybe.” He thought to mention the letter, but decided against it. Wil took another hurried trip from the room, and Rob quickly stooped and retrieved the envelope and papers from where Wil had cast them to the floor.

When Wil returned, clutching her paperback novel and father’s phone, she found Cynthia alone. Her mother was still seated, shuffling her feet awkwardly into her shoes. Wil quickly dropped what she was holding and kneeled to help slide her mother’s heels into the simple gray loafers.

The apartment door blew open. The cold dark of winter afternoon framed Rob’s hunched, unkempt frame before he came through and slammed it back closed behind him. He came quickly to the couch.

“Get your things, Mina,” he said again. As Wil sat back out of the way, he reached forward to unhook the IV bag. Holding it upright in one hand, he leaned the opposite shoulder down to his wife to help her stand.

Cynthia laughed -a mistake, as usual. She coughed and coughed, her body’s jerking motions transferring to Rob’s stocky frame. The apartment fell eerily quiet in the small pause after she finished.

She looked up at Rob. She smiled, an expression that widened slightly at his mirrored response. “I was going to say, ‘I don’t need help to stand up,'” she said, nearly laughing again.

Rob nodded, then helped her to fully stand. He still held her bag. He looked back to his daughter, and Wil hurriedly grabbed the discarded book and cell phone. She looked around the floor, wondering at what else she was missing.

“Let’s go,” Rob said determinedly. They headed out of the apartment, into the great empty echoes of the encroaching storm.

 

Continued from Fifty-Four.
Keep reading to Fifty-Six.

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-Four

All was silent in the small basement apartment, save for Wil’s weeping. Soon, however, the old furnace chugged to life and sent warmed air through its arterial vents. The worn, mostly cream-colored refrigerator began to hum along. Cynthia’s machine beeped periodically from behind the couch. They sang backup to Wil’s lonely dirge.

Time moved forward, dragging everyone along whether they willed it or not.

Cynthia waited. Rob sighed, wishing himself somewhere without confrontation or conversation. Then, he turned to look at the two most important women in his life. Wil had her face pressed into Cynthia’s shoulder, sobbing intently. His wife met his eye and smiled at him, sweetly through her tears. He smiled in return. He could never resist.

Cynthia looked down at the mass of brown curls resting just under her chin. “Wil,” she said gently. Wil continued to cry, determined to stay miserable forever.

Wil of Winterfell would never feel happiness again. Everything in the world was dreary, lonesome, and wrong.

Misty rain fell steadily around and upon her forlorn figure, huddled beneath the dark and dripping willow tree.

She glanced up to search, once again, for what she had lost. All that met her teary gaze was a sea of gray stones, black grass, and dark paths. No one at the graveyard was living except her, and she no longer wished to be.

Deep brown hair that once curled tantalizingly round a noble face now hung limply at each side of a pale, drawn visage. Hazel eyes shone wide and wet from matted lashes. A large, dirty overcoat barely warmed her frail, sickly frame. Health and vitality had been beaten away by pain. She had been beautiful once, before the rains.

Now, she could never hope again.

Cynthia began coughing. Wil automatically pulled away, to give her space to recover. She and her father watched Cynthia gasp and heave around each hacking breath. As frequent as this show had been, it never failed to alarm Wil. She slid to the floor, waiting for its end.

Cynthia finally stopped, then looked up at Wil, then Rob. She smiled weakly, and breathed a few times in and out. Another coughing fit began.

Wil suppressed her internal panic. Cynthia sometimes had multiple episodes. It would pass. She looked up at her father, and found more than her eyes mirrored in his face. He was also worried. They both watched Cynthia again

And again.

Finally, in a drained and shaking voice, Cynthia said, “I’m sorry, Wil, Rob. I think we need to go back to the hospital.”

 

Continued from Fifty-Three.
Keep reading to Fifty-Five.

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-Three

Wil instinctively moved forward and took the envelope from her father.  She turned it over, staring at the cursive on its front without comprehension. She looked up at her parents, and felt some alarm at their anxious expressions. She looked back down at her hand, reading her full name and previous address in its black ink.

Glancing one last time at the nervous couch occupants, Wil flipped the envelope over and carefully withdrew the contents: an official-feeling paper in trifold, and a softer group of notebook pages in creative fold.

Wil spread open the stiff page first, and skimmed it. Her brows creased together as she read, then raised in surprise. She sat down on the floor, and was lucky she didn’t miss.

The page was a darkly-copied birth certificate for Wilhelmina Winters. She had Wil’s birthday. She had Wil’s father. She was born in a hospital thirteen years previously. She was delivered by a Doctor Tolman. This Wilhelmina’s mother, however, was listed as Guinevere Greene.

The information seeped slowly into Wil’s brain, passing barriers of familiarity, trust, disbelief, consideration, then realization.

“What?!” Wil shouted. She stood again, and moved a step forward. Surprise and confusion were quickly followed by distrust, and she stopped. Looking up at her father, whose expression tightened, Wil confirmed her initial conclusions.

“Wil, honey,” Cynthia began. Wil turned blankly to her. “Please, come here.” She held out her arms to Wil, the IV tube dragging behind her. The pathetic image pulled at Wil’s heart.

Wil hesitated as her feelings churned. Her insides were an emotional soup, and someone kept raising ladles of different strains every few seconds. But her mother -the woman she thought of as mother- had only ever been loving and kind. The woman she knew as mother looked at her with such tender, searching, tear-bright eyes.

Tears formed in Wil’s own eyes. She rushed forward and accepted Cynthia’s embrace. She immediately burst into tears. Cynthia mother rocked slightly, smoothing Wil’s hair and crying gently.

Loud sniffling and soft crying echoed against a beeping IV machine in the small living room of Unit 2, Building 4. Wil and Cynthia held each other forever, as her father uncomfortably watched. Sighing, he rubbed the side of his face.

And waited.

 

Continued from Fifty-Two.
Keep reading to Fifty-Four.

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-Two

(One full year of Wil! Click here for the very first one.)

The dame sat stiffly on the old couch, holding onto her man’s hand like a woman holds onto her man’s hand. They looked expectant, wary. Inspector Winters nodded to them, curtly. She hoped the gesture would get them talking. She needed them to talk, or she’d never get anywhere in the case of Yesterday’s Letter.
Her informants did not relax. Or talk. The clock ticked forward. Winters would have to break the ice, or they’d be frozen up like last week’s informant: permanently. She shuddered a bit at the memory.

But, that was all that was left of the Legend of Wilhelmina: a memory. Some folks liked to think they knew the true story, regardless. You’d think a person would know what could happen or not after living, but many seemed to believe the longest yarns a body ever told no matter how old they were. It didn’t take much for a new person to come through with some new-fangled doodad, telling some heap of story about something or other -and you’d have every body in town talking about it by sundown.
Never you mind the circumstances. It didn’t even matter if the person was a flaming green dragon. If he talked real smooth and pretty, they’d lap up the lies like Farmer Brown’s poor thirsty dog on a hot Tuesday.

This was not a Tuesday. To be precise, there were no longer days measured by irrelevant identifiers like names. If the current intelligent species had persisted in archaic traditions, the day would be Friday. Once the Governing Council of Stars had reasonably determined more accurate methods of counting time, proving the system to be based on unfair emphasis on only one ancient group of peoples, further proving to be based on ancient supernatural beliefs, the current method of a ten time cycle was enacted. This we know.
These facts were known to Family Unit W1NT3R as well, and yet they still felt tired at some times during Waking and felt awake at some times during Sleeping. As precise as travel, time, and other measurements were, their bodies were still organic and subject to faulty behaviors. Perhaps the beeping machine was the better species. Of course, it needed to be built and maintained by intelligent creatures. They were not obsolete yet.

Soon, Cynthia would be obsolete. The long, twisting plastic coil ran down the couch until it stabbed into the flesh of her left hand. Its contents ran smoothly, inexorably, into her unresisting blood stream. It healed for now, but some day it would be useless. Everyone had his end.

Wil gulped and hoped this was not the end. She had long wanted to be entrusted with the Scroll of Truth-telling. With it, she could complete her level of training and move on to working directly under Grandwizard Grinzdle. With it, she, too, would know the secrets of the land, and join her parents at Couch City.
Together, they would bring peace, happiness, and light to the world. Unified and powerful, they would fight this battle to its end. Secrets would be banished. Fear would have no place. Truth and love would triumph.

“Wil,” Rob said. “I have a letter I need to show you.”

In the hand that was not holding his wife, he held a small paper rectangle. It was the envelope he had taken so quickly to his room the day before, the one Wil had entered his room to search for.

She could see that it had been forwarded by the post office, that it had been written on with cursive, and that it bent a bit over her father’s grip. After she moved closer, Wil also saw that it was addressed to her.

Rob lifted his hand, holding the letter out to her.

 

Continued from Fifty-One.
Keep reading to Fifty-Three.

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-One

Wil’s eyes scanned the page without absorbing any of the words upon it. Her mind was with her ears: anxiously straining to hear movements from her parents’ room. All seemed quiet, but her father was not the noisy type.

She carefully adjusted her position on her bed, attempting to make it look as though she were comfortably reading and had not just landed after a hurried rush down the hall. Being further into the book would help, but she had to read it for English class and didn’t want to skip ahead.

Wil sighed. The few sentences she’d managed to swallow had not given her many hopes for its content so far. She’d expected more from a book with a title about killing. So far, the author had written about two kids in a boring town with a father for a lawyer who didn’t like it. One had a broken arm, but they blamed Andrew Jackson for it?

She heard the door at the end of the hall open. “To heck with that,” Wil whispered, then flipped the book open to the middle and pretended to be absorbed.

Her bedroom door opened to reveal her father, tiredly blinking in the light. Wil looked up and pretended to be startled.

“Dad!” She said. “What are you doing home?”

Rob rubbed his hand on the side of his gruff face, gathering thoughts for words. “I didn’t sleep last night, so I called in sick.”

Wil couldn’t ever remember him doing that, unless he was so sick he couldn’t get out of bed. If he didn’t work, Rob didn’t get paid. She looked at him in surprise.

“I, uh,” Rob began. He was still rubbing his face. He looked unsure about what to say. His eyes looked around Wil’s room, at the book she was holding. Finally, he met his daughter’s gaze.

“Cynthia and I want to talk to you,” he said. His eyes looked at her sadly, then turned to look toward the living room. “I’ll go see if she’s ready to talk.”

Wil sat up and moved to follow him. “No, no,” her father gestured tiredly. “You wait here. Keep reading your book.” He smiled a bit, then left.

Wil heard his slow tread down the hall. He was much quieter without work boots on. She turned the pages back to the beginning, where she’d actually been. Low mumbling (her father’s voice) answered by higher, softer pitches (her mother) was picked up by her left ear. As usual, a coughing fit began.

Subconsciously, Wil tensed up. She tried to tune her surroundings out and tune her reading in. Jem? Dill? Wil thought. Who named these poor kids?

“Wil?” Cynthia called from the living room.

“Coming, Mom!” Wil answered. She closed the book gratefully and rolled off her bed. Straightening her coat, scarf, and hair; she realized she still had her gloves on. Hopefully, her father hadn’t noticed. She slipped them off and put them into her pocket, then headed down the hall.

 

Continued from Fifty.
Keep reading to Fifty-Two.