Rosie licked the rainbow sprinkles from the vanilla half of her strawberry swirl cone at the local ice cream stand.
Before she could swallow, Jackson leaned in and kissed her. His mouth was cold and sweet.
“Yuck, vanilla,” he joked. His arm was around her waist, his hand on the bare skin of her midriff. He pinched her.
“Hey!” Rosie cried, pretending to be angry under her thick eyelashes. “You kissed ~me~!”
She wiggled closer to her boyfriend. After all the drama at her house the night before, she needed a sweet distraction.
Jackson smiled out at the busy picnic tables. They sat on a tabletop covered in a red and white checkered cloth.
It was the cool thing to do. Rosie felt cool sitting next to him, and she knew people were watching them.
They sat there for a minute, and Rosie looked up at her boyfriend’s soft brown eyes beneath his dark, curly locks. She licked her cone. It tasted like summer.
Rosie was anticipating the best one of her life. First would come prom, then graduation, and then party after party before everyone left for college. And Jackson would be by her side through all of it.
But thinking of her own bright future couldn't totally distract Rosie from her youngest sister’s declining mental health.
She thought about bringing up her concerns with Jackson, but that was what was so great about their relationship…they didn’t need to talk. They could just be.
“What do you say we get out of here, babe?” Jackson asked.
“I’m not done with my ice cream,” Rosie replied.
“It’s okay, I like you skinny,” he said with a wink, but Rosie still blushed. “There’s somewhere I want to show you.”
Rosie threw away her ice cream cone and got in the passenger seat of Jackson’s dad’s Ferrari. Before he pulled out of the parking spot, he leaned over and kissed her.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked flirtatiously.
“Makeout Point,” he replied.
Rosie’s heart dropped.
“Baby, you know I don’t want to go there,” she began. “I have younger siblings, and they look up to me, and—”
“Fine,” he relented. “My parents are out of town. We can just go back to mine.”
They drove to Jackson’s big, empty house. They made love in the living room, and the soft carpet left an imprint on Rosie’s back.
They didn’t use a condom because Jackson liked it better that way, and he promised again that he’d pull out before he came. It wouldn’t be like last time.
Dr. Mulligan’s office had grey walls.
Melinda stroked the soft fabric of the chair so that she didn’t bite her fingernails.
She knew Dr. Mulligan would write in his notebook if she did.
“Melinda, could you tell me about what happened last night, in your own words?” the doctor asked.
He crossed his ankles. His right sock was falling down, and Melinda could see his shiny shin.
She gulped. She wasn’t supposed to lie to Dr. Mulligan.
But with the medicine he gave her, she was supposed to get better. Whenever she told him she still heard the whispers, she could tell that he got upset.
But then again, when she lied, he asked her questions until she told the truth.
“Well, the whispers woke me up,” Melinda began, “and I got so scared that I wet the bed.”
She bit her lip. It wasn’t a lie, per se.
Dr. Mulligan paused, stroking his white beard.
“Was that all, dear?” he pressed. “Did something else happen? Something more frightening than the whispers?”
Melinda bit her fingernail, then remembered not to and stopped.
“The more you tell me, Melinda, the faster we can make it go away,” Dr. Mulligan said, his blue eyes soft below his bushy white eyebrows.
Melinda gulped again.
“Well, there was something else.” Melinda stared at her hands. “There were shadows in my room…that moved around like people.”
Melinda’s hands started to shake, but she kept going.
“There were five of them, and they tried to attack me.”
When Melinda looked up, Dr. Mulligan’s face was creased with concern.
“That sounds very troubling, indeed,” he said.
“Thank you for your honesty, Melinda. Now I understand, and we’ll be able to work toward a solution together.”
The two smiled at one another.
As Melinda left the room, she hoped that she’d said the right thing. She didn’t want Dr. Mulligan to think she was still sick.
But it felt good to tell him the truth. It felt good that the secret wasn’t all her own.
As soon as the receptionist told Karen that Dr. Mulligan was ready for her, she rushed into his office.
She left Melinda in the waiting room and closed the door behind her.
Her heart thumped in her chest as she lowered herself into the chair. She gripped its soft arms, anxious.
“Mrs. Johnson, I’m afraid I have some unfortunate news,” the doctor began.
Karen whimpered, then regained her composure. The doctor was in control.
“What did Melinda tell you?” she asked desperately.
“It seems that we’ve moved from solely auditory hallucinations to visual ones as well.”
“What does that mean?” Karen asked. She wished Dr. Mulligan would just speak English.
“Melinda is seeing things. Things that make her fear for her safety.”
“Oh, God!” Karen cried.
Her head was spinning. Could this disaster be her fault? She thought of the one time when the kids were young, and she had discovered them watching that old horror movie The Shining.
She thought of all the terrifying apps these days where sexual predators could access the data of innocent children…where drugs could be ordered and delivered to an exact location within minutes…
Could Melinda have fallen prey to such depravity? Could that be what led to this?
“I recommend an increase in Melinda’s dose of olanzapine,” Dr. Mulligan concluded.
“Of course,” Karen sighed.
She took solace in the professional advice as Dr. Mulligan wrote out a new script.
“Thank you, Doctor,” Karen said sincerely as he handed her the slip.
“I’d like to see her again in a week,” Dr. Mulligan said.
Karen gave a little smile and exited his office. She made a new appointment at the reception desk and then gestured to her daughter. The pair headed for the car.
As they drove, Karen watched Melinda look out the window. What was going on in that complicated head of hers?
“Can we go out for lunch?” Melinda asked.
“Sorry, honey,” Karen said. “Not today. We’re stopping at the pharmacy, and then I’ll take you back to school.”
“Okay,” Melinda replied.
Disappointing her daughter hurt Karen, but she steeled herself. This was no time to positively reinforce Melinda’s behavior.
Rosie lounged on the couch when she got home from school, thinking about Jackson.
She was wondering why he hadn’t asked her to prom yet.
She wanted to text him—not about that, obviously, just to see what he was up to—but she knew her mom would snap at her for taking her phone from the blue bowl.
Frank Sinatra began to play in the kitchen. Rosie knew her mom was trying to pretend everything was normal.
That’s why she and Jacob were making lasagna, the family favorite. Well, more like Jacob was making it. He was the only good cook in the Johnson household.
“Dinner’s ready!” Karen sang.
“Should I go get Melinda?” Rosie asked as she entered the dining room. The walls were papered with red velvet and gold foil trim. She always found it gaudy.
“Melinda needs her sleep right now, darling,” Karen replied, taking her seat at one end of the table.
As Libby, Jacob, and their dad took their normal places, Karen kept talking.
“Melinda’s new medication will make her sleepy for a few days,” she said, her voice lowering like she was telling a child something sad, “but soon she’ll be good as new!”
Rosie stared at her mom. She felt bad for the woman.
Melinda’s sickness had been hard on the whole family, but Karen took it the worst.
Rosie rested her chin in her hand.
“Rosie! Elbows off the table!” Karen yelled.
“Oh. Right. Sorry.”
Libby rolled her eyes at her.
The lasagna steamed on their plates. The scent wafted up to Rosie as the rest of her family dug in.
This used to be Rosie’s favorite meal, but now it made her sort of nauseous. She couldn’t bear to look down at the hunk of meat and cheese and pasta.
In fact, Rosie tried not to think about it. The heavy scent overwhelmed her, as did the sight of everyone eating.
She shot up from the table and left for the bathroom.
“Excuse me,” she managed.
She didn’t want to make a scene. Not now.
When Rosie was alone in the bathroom, she threw up in the toilet.