It Came To This

Sometimes, Erin wonders whether she's going crazy or seeing ghosts. Or both.


2. The Scar(f)

    It was the hottest spring in my memory, yet every day I woke up and got dressed, completing my outfit with one of the thirteen colorful scarves that littered my closet. I spent the next few weeks suffering from the heat and faking a smile, wondering why I was killing myself for a stupid scarf. I walked downstairs every day with Heartley on one side and Maggie, who lived in the apartment above us, on the other. I felt fine until we left the sanctity of the apartment building and stepped out into the sun. 
    "Are you not dying right now?" Maggie asked after two weeks of this behavior.
    "I'm fine," I lied, pulling the scarf down a little bit. "I like the hot." Another lie.
    Maggie shrugged and climbed into her car on the curb. She was a year ahead of Heartley and I, so she was studying at a hospital across town. Heartley and I only had to walk a couple of blocks to get to our class buildings, but by the time we got there I was overheating. I foolishly checked the thermameter on the wall of our professor's room; it was ninety-seven degrees outside.
    "Urgh," I groaned, dropping into my usual seat by the window. I glanced over at it and pondered opening it just a crack. But our professor made a habit of harshly punishing anyone who altered anything in his room without "proving themselves." The last guy who wanted to open the window had to write a thousand word essay on schizophrenia before he was allowed to unlock it.
    "Just take the damn scarf off," Heartley murmured.
    "I - " I stopped short when the professor walked into the room and plucked his meter stick (which he liked to wield like a sword) off of the chalk tray in the front of the room. He meandered slowly into the middle of the room and smiled at us.
    "Pop quiz." There was a simultaneous groan.
    He wandered around the room, from person to person, firing question after impossible question at each of my classmates. Heartley stumbled through his question, managing to get at least part of it right, and suddenly the professor was baring over me.
    "Miss Jones," he drawled. "An eighteen-year-old patient is presenting with issues thinking, numbness, and loss of balance. Name the zebra." The "zebra" was the unlikely disease that an overenthusiastic young doctor would "just be so proud to diagnose." I never went with the zebra, but he gave me the zebra question every time.
    "Multiple Sclerosis?" I replied, piddling my thumbs. "It would usually appear in persons between the ages of twenty and forty. I would say it's possible that the patient more likely has Hypoglycemia, CFS, or even Food Poisoning."
    He raised his eyebrow, slightly surprised. "Very good," he murmured. I smiled triumphantly, as he turned his back on me and walked away. Heartley elbowed me and gave me his winning smile and a thumbs up.
    Class passed the rest of the day without any event.
    "You should have seen EJ this morning with Professor Crabsack," Heartley said when Maggie, our friends Gretchen and Elluise (they're identical twins, and both nursing students), he, and I gathered at our favorite diner for an early dinner later that afternoon. "She hit him with four diagnoses. He didn't know what to think."
    "Shut up, it wasn't that great," I muttered. "And stop calling him Crabsack. It makes me think of crabs' genitalia."
    "Exactly." He winked playfully and I punched his arm.
    "Good job, Erin. Hitting your professor and your roommate all in one day," Maggie joked, taking a long drink of her smoothie. I laughed and sat back in my chair, sucking down some ice water. Heartley went on to explain that although his answer didn't measure up to mine, it was still worthy of a few points on the quiz. I ordered another water and listened absently to their conversation, pulling on my scarf and once again wondering why I was wearing the stupid thing.
    I thought back on the class that morning. How had I jumped in so quickly? I was usually okay on his pop quizzes, but I never snapped straight to the answer. I smiled to myself, taking another sip of my water. Maybe I was just getting better? I guessed it was natural for first-year med students to hit their stride at random - 
    "Whoa, Erin, you're really red," Gretchen said, breaking me out of my thoughts. I looked up and raised an eyebrow, pressing one of my palms to my cheek. Heartley reached over to brush the back of his hand across my forehead and he frowned.
    "You're burning up," he commented. "Take off that scarf."
    "No," I said quickly, but I didn't know why I was refusing. "I'm fine."
    "You're overheating, E. Take off the scarf," he replied more sternly.
    "Thanks, Mom, but I'll be okay," I sneered, rolling my eyes.
    "You're leaning over..." Elluise said quietly. "You look sort of disoreinted. Are you sure you aren't too hot?" I looked over at her, in her sleeveless shirt and practically non-existent skirt. Just the sight heated me up slightly. I was wearing a quarter-sleeve, knee-length shorts, and a damn scarf. What was wrong with me?
    "Come on," Heartley insisted, concern creeping into his voice. My gaze flickered to him, and in his dark eyes I saw the medical knowledge on Hyperthermia and dehydration swimming through his vision.
    "Okay," I sighed, uncoiling the scarf from around my neck and placing it on the table. His frown lightened, faltered, and turned into a deeper one.
    "What the hell is that?" He asked, reaching out a hand to run his fingers over the crook between my neck and shoulder. I flinched away from him, slapping a hand over the spot he'd touched. For some bizarre reason, as soon as he'd touched it my skin turned to ice, a stinging pain worse than the heat. 
    "What are you talking about?" I demanded, running my hands over the spot. It was rough and the skin was slightly raised.
    "Here, look," Maggie replied, offering me a compact. I pried it open and held it up, swiveling it around in my hand until I got a good view. Right there on the base of my neck was a thin crescent-shaped scar that seemed to be in a dashed pattern. I looked at my friends and swallowed. I knew what it was, but I didn't want to say it -
    It was a bite mark.
    "I have to go," I said, standing up and grabbing my bag off the table.
    "Wait, Erin, don't - " Heartley grabbed my hand to keep me from going.
    "I feel sick," I lied and, wrenching my hand from his, fled the diner and went back to my apartment.

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