Click here to read Chapter 1: Magic, here to read Chapter 2: Manifestation, here to read Chapter 3: Distraction, here to read Chapter 4: Staring, or here to read Chapter 5: Therapy. Here you can read the sixth sample chapter of my debut novel, Manifestation, an urban fantasy adventure that explores the revival of magic and mystery in a world that is unprepared for the changes arcane powers will bring. Available in paperback and ebook.
Chapter 6: Stress
It was another quiet drive home. Gabby sat in the car and stared out the window at nothing. Mom tried to get her to say something by asking how the session had gone, but she quickly gave up when it became clear Gabby wasn’t going to talk.
As soon as they pulled into the driveway at home Mom said, “Straight up to your room.” Gabby huffed, not bothering to acknowledge her mother. She knew she was still grounded and didn’t need Mom telling her every day. She got out of the car and slammed the door, then stalked up to the house.
The house was quiet. Gabby let out a sigh of relief. The relief was short lived, though, since the little monster started bawling as soon as she came inside. She growled and rubbed at her temples as the pressure in her skull built up again. She wasn’t in the mood for Dante’s noise.
Gabby stalked into the living room. Adrianna was there, leaning over the bassinet to check on Dante. “Can’t you make him stop crying?” Gabby snapped at her sister.
Adrianna shot her a dirty look and picked Dante up. She rocked him in her arms and whispered soothing noises. Mom stepped past Gabby into the living room and went over to check on him. Adrianna shook her head and in a confused tone said, “He’s been fine all day . . .”
“And what about you?” Mom asked her. Adrianna had a look of pain on her face again, hinting at another migraine starting up.
Gabby turned and went back down the hall towards the stairs. As she stalked up the stairs to her room, she heard her sister say, “It’s nothing. It’s already going away.”
Cut off from TV, her phone, and her computer, Gabby sat in her room most of the night, feeling sorry for herself and listing in her mind all the things wrong with her life. Her sister and nephew were high on the list. She couldn’t even relax while she was grounded, since when Adrianna brought Dante upstairs for his nap, he started crying again and wouldn’t go to sleep or shut up for the next hour. She tried to tune him out, then tried to spend some time putting her thoughts down in her diary, but she couldn’t concentrate with the constant wailing coming from down the hall.
When she couldn’t take any more, she stepped out into the hall and shouted into Adrianna’s room, “God, just shut him up! Can’t you make him shut up?”
Her sister glared at her and snapped, “You know, you yelling all the time isn’t helping.” She got up and stalked over to Gabby, but she swayed in her steps. She paused to lean against her dresser. She looked dizzy, her eyes glazed and unfocused. She pressed the heels of her palms to the sides of her head. Tears welled in her eyes from the pain of the migraine setting in. Gabby frowned and stepped closer, her anger fading into worry at how sick her sister looked. As she stepped closer, Adrianna whimpered in pain, and looked about ready to collapse.
She looked up at Gabby, her eyes distant, and muttered in a confused tone, “Why are you leaving?”
Gabby frowned at the odd words, then screamed, “Mom!” as Adrianna collapsed to the floor.
* * *
An ambulance took Adrianna to the hospital and Gabby, Mom, and Dante followed in the car. They called Dad on the way, and he met them at the hospital shortly after Adrianna was taken into the ER. They sat in the waiting room and Mom tried to comfort Dante, but he was crying so much that they asked if a doctor could look at him too. The baby was taken to the pediatric ward for tests, and the rest of the family was left waiting.
Gabby was silent while they sat and waited to hear back on the results. She felt guilty for yelling at her sister, even though she knew that couldn’t have had anything to do with her collapse. Still, if something bad happened, she didn’t want an argument to be the last words she shared with Adrianna.
After hours of waiting, the doctor came out to talk to them. “They’re both doing fine,” he said. “The pain faded almost as soon as you brought her in and she hasn’t had any more symptoms during the tests. We didn’t find anything physically wrong with her. It’s possible the episode was brought on by stress.”
Gabby shrank back as her mother shot her a look. A tightness welled up in her gut and the pressure in her head swelled up. She looked away, staring at the wall. Mom turned to the doctor and asked, “Can we see her?”
He nodded and said, “We’d like to keep both her and her son overnight for observation. But you can go in for a few minutes.”
Gabby waited out in the hall while Mom went in to talk to Adrianna. She felt like this was somehow her fault. She knew she’d been lashing out lately. The pressure in her head got worse whenever Dante was crying and sometimes she felt like she was holding back a dam that was about to burst. She felt horrible for snapping, but she didn’t know what else to do. She thought about asking if one of the doctors could look at her head while they were there, but that would mean dragging up the suicide attempt again. She couldn’t deal with that.
She was sitting on the ground, knees hugged against her chest, when her mother returned from Adrianna’s room. Mom stood over Gabby, looked down at her, and said, “I want you to go in there and apologize to your sister.”
Gabby looked off to the side and brushed a tear from her eye. All she could see of Mom out of the corner of her eye were her legs and her hands at her waist, fists clenched tightly around her purse. She glanced up, peering through the thin veil of her brown hair hanging in front of her face. Mom’s eyes were red and strained. She looked sick. Down the hall, Gabby saw Dad exiting Adrianna’s room. He took a few slow, aching steps, then leaned against the wall. He rubbed his hand across his face and let out a long, slow breath. He stood there with his shoulders slumped, staring at nothing.
She wondered if they’d looked like that when she was in the hospital a month before, unconscious, having her stomach pumped. If they’d cared that much. It hadn’t been sympathy she’d awoken to. It had been her mother asking, What is wrong with you?
She slowly rose and under her mother’s stern gaze she marched down the hall to her sister’s room. Dad tried to force a smile as she walked by, though he did a poor job of it. When she walked into the room, she saw Adrianna lying there in pain with tears welling in her eyes. Her hair looked stringy from sweat, and she had wires and sensors stuck to her head and chest.
She was giving Gabby a strange look as she entered. She looked confused. Distant. Staring more through her than at her. After a moment she closed her eyes and shook her head, then she leaned back in the hospital bed. Her movements were slow and weak. She looked exhausted and the pain was clearly etched on her face.
Gabby felt her mother’s eyes on her back and she quickly whispered, “I’m sorry.”
Adrianna slowly forced her eyes open and gave her a weak smile. “So am I,” she said. She gave Gabby another strange look, as if she didn’t recognize her. Gabby stepped back and shifted her feet. Adrianna kept staring at her like she was studying her, while Gabby stood there fidgeting under her sister’s gaze.
She was about to turn to leave, uncertain what else to say, when Adrianna said, “Hey . . .” Gabby turned back to her sister but kept her head lowered, unable to meet her eyes. “None of it’s your fault, you know.” Gabby looked up at Adrianna for a moment and stared, then lowered her eyes in shame. “You didn’t start this,” Adrianna whispered.
Gabby glanced back up at her sister. Adrianna’s eyes were glazed over. Gabby’s chest felt tight. Her head pounded. Adrianna winced and covered her face with a hand, whimpering in pain. Gabby turned and hurried from the room, unable to see her sister in such pain.
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