Why are sick rooms always so dark? Do the nurses think that, because you're ill, you can't bare to look at the light? Always small too, with just enough room for the bed and possibly a medicine cabinet. That was every sick room I had ever seen; and it was exactly where I lay now.
I lay on the bed and looked at the ceiling. The paint was thick and swirled around, making shapes you could trace. I had found a dragon, a swan and an old woman, bent over a stick, with flowers curling out of her back. The funny thing was, I didn't think I would have seen them on Saturday. Araera would have and she had taught me in three days to see the world through her eyes. It was exactly what she would notice, but then, she saw everything.
I needed to stop thinking about her. I knew now that she wasn't real. She had proved that conclusively when she fell and failed to die. Yet, forgetting her was too hard. Everyone knew now I had been hallucinating. Before they had ignored me, now I wished I could have that anonymity back. The whispers would follow me wherever I went.
"I'm sorry about that." I felt a weight settle on my feet. Someone was sitting on the edge of my bed. Well, not just someone.
"How did you get in here?" I asked. "No, don't answer that. You're made up, I accept that now. Your stunt earlier proved that conclusively. Did you have to do it in public?" Araera shrugged apologetically.
"I can only go where you go." I folded my arms and stared at her.
"Oh, so you're making me look mad was my fault was it?" It was really, that was what made me so angry. She knew that, of course she knew. She could tell everything about me. She came from my mind and so she knew everything in it. There was no point in voicing an apology. Araera sat back, satisfied.
"What do you want to do now?" She asked. What did I want to do? Get as far away from here as I could, but there had to be another option. My parents would know what had happened now. What had they made of it? I wondered. Araera would know what to do. It was not trusting her about who she was which had got me into this mess. I would have to trust her to get me out of it.
"What do you suggest I do?" I asked her. She pursed her lips together and tipped her head on one side, clicking her fingers repeatedly as she looked for a solution for my, our, problem.
"I'd blame it on the headaches." She said eventually.
"What headaches?" For a moment, I caught what looked like panic in her eyes. I saw her ball her right hand into a fist and strike her left with it, then withdraw it hurriedly and fix a hasty smile on her face.
"No real headaches, Olivia. The ones you're going to make up to explain what you did today. You've been suffering from them for some time, but you didn't want to make a fuss, in case you seemed like an attention seeker. Your head was bad though, today, particularly bad. It made you feel ill. You don't even remember what you saw, it honestly isn't a problem. All you need is some antibiotics and you'll be fine. It might not convince everyone at first, especially the teacher and classmates who saw what happened, but if you carry on acting normal, they'll forget what happened eventually. Just blame it on those headaches."
Maybe the lie would convince some people, a lot of people, but not Mr Green. He had seen the look in my eyes when I first saw Araera unharmed. I remembered him saying. "I don't see anything. Dead or alive." He would know I was lying about my hallucinations and he might convince others. I saw worry cross Araera's face as she realised this. She got up and paced backwards and forwards with her eyes tight shut.
Abruptly, the door of the nurse's room opened and the assistant bustled in. She didn't knock, despite the fact that she was likely to have been told I was in a fragile state.
"Oh good." She said. "You are awake. The head wants to see you in her office." Then she just walked out again. What had possessed her to go into nursing? She didn't care about what had happened to me. I'd been hallucinating, she should have been more careful, not just burst in like that. Anyone else would have wanted to help. The head should know better too. If she thought I was hallucinating, her first thought should have been to get a doctor in to help me, not call a meeting. Yes, I needed a doctor. I was allowing Araera, a figment of my imagination, to convince me to cover up my condition and for what? To avoid embarrassment. Araera seemed to me no less real than anything else, but she shouldn't. I would tell people the truth about what I had seen and let them find a way to rid me of Araera.
"Don't." She said, quietly. "It won't help you I'm afraid. No doctor can take me away from you, so it isn't worth making them try. You will just be branded mad for the rest of your life. It's better to get used to me being here and learn to act like I'm not. It's better to try and be normal as far as you can, trust me." I did trust her, against all reason. Somehow I knew she was right. The doctors wouldn't be able to take her away. I was stuck with her now, for better or for worse. A bit like a forced marriage.
"I'll spend my life looking like I'm talking to myself when I'm actually talking to you, or is talking to you and talking to myself the same thing?"
"Think to me." She said. "I'll still hear you and I can talk back. At least then no one will know you're talking to me that way."
"No one knows what's happening and that somehow makes it better?"
"Something like that, yes."
The door opened to reveal the nursing assistant once again, silhouetted just outside the room. She was chewing her nail and tapping the heel of an impractical stiletto shoe impatiently on the floor.
"Are you coming to see the head or not? She's really expecting you to come and I need to get on my lunch break, but I can't go until you leave." Because what's more important? Me or her lunch break? Apparently she knew the answer to that question as far as she was concerned and it wasn't the one I would expect from a school nurse, really.
"I'd go and see the head now, if I were you." Araera advised. "You'll have to eventually, you might as well get it over with. Would you like me to come with you, or shall I go somewhere else?"
I turned to look at her, prepared to speak, then stopped. So you can make yourself scarce? You don't have to follow me all the time? I thought to myself and to her. She shook her head.
"Don't get excited, I can't manage more than five minutes, but I'll go now and let you tackle the head on your own."
She disappeared round a corner, leaving me feeling oddly alone. I followed the nursing assistant down the cheerily coloured corridors and failed to be cheered. Instead I walked in silence, listening to the clacking of the assistant's heels on the floor and planning what I would say to the head.
"I'm sorry miss, I'm afraid it was the headaches. I've been having them for a while now, but I didn't want to mention them. I didn't want to seem like an attention seeker. My headache was particularly bad today, I really felt quite ill. It must have made me see things, but I don't even remember what I saw now and I'm feeling absolutely fine. So there's really no need to worry, because if you'll just give me some antibiotics I'll be fine, absolutely fine and definitely not mad." I wish.