Her ears awoke first. A beeping sound could be heard, just next to her. Feet shuffled and voices whispered. A pencil scratched.
Then her nose. The sickly scent of medicine hung in the air. Close by, the heady fragrance of lilies made her twitch slightly.
Then her skin. The soft-but-hard mattress, the rough sheets. The warmth of a stripe of sunlight across her face.
Then her mouth. The solid, strange saliva that only came with deep sleep. The taste of something not quite right.
At last, her eyes. Crusty, bleary, they peeled open and took in the white, white interior of the hospital room. The red, red eyes of her parents.
Quinn was a beauty. Her honey-coloured skin was smooth and flawless. Her hair was a deep, chocolate-brown and her eyes, though taking on the blue of her father, were the almond shape she inherited from her half-Korean mother.
"Hello." Her voice began as a shout but emerged as a whisper.
"Quinn. You're awake," her mother whispered in return.
"Where am I?" Again, the shout became a whisper in her throat.
"Royal London Hospital." Her father, too, was whispering.
"If you'll excuse me, could I speak to Quinn alone please?I'd like to discuss the test results." Quinn turned her head. It was as though she was moving through caramel. A blond doctor with a clipboard stood in the doorway.
"I don't understand why you can't do this with us in the room." Her father sounded irritated, as though he had argued this before.
"We value patient confidentiality here, even with parents. Quinn is seventeen and therefore, legally, she is permitted to make her own decisions. I need to discuss this with her. If she feels as though she needs your input then she can ask me to bring you back in however some prefer to do this without advice."
"Do what though?" Her mother said, exasperated.
"Mum." She whispered. "Go."
Shocked at having been shot down, her parents departed.
"Quinn, I'm Dr Dusk. This morning you collapsed just before you were going to leave. Do you remember?"
"I remember waking up, getting ready. I remember I had my hand on the handle and I was just about to shout goodbye when I heard this strange tinny noise. I couldn't move. Then my vision turned black and I woke up here." Dr Dusk nodded and scribbled something down.
"We've run some tests to determine the cause of the collapse. This is distressing news, so I want you to brace yourself." A million possibilities flashed through Quinn's head. "You have two brain tumours." That wasn't one of them.
"H-How did it - I mean, um, what's going to happen? Be blunt. Don't hold back just because I'm young." Her voice was calm, which surprised even her.
"If the tumours are allowed to progress, then they will press on your amygdala and hippocampus. You'll begin to forget things and your emotions will start to spike. The tumour currently on your hippocampus is not as large as the one on your amygdala, however they will grow. Are you sure you want to hear this?"
"Tell me, I need to know."
"Very well. Eventually, you will die. You could forget something essential which leads to your death, or you could kill yourself on a low spike. If you survive the effects of the tumours then the tumours themselves will kill you." She paused to let her words sink in.
"What's the alternative?"
"The alternative is a surgery that would either remove the tumours but leave you with huge gaps in your memory and an unknown effect on your emotional state or one that would leave you dead." Quinn tensed her fists.
"How long would I have? Without the surgery?"
"An estimated year, without treatment. Two years with the treatment."
"So it's a choice between the possibility of dying now or the certainty of dying in two years?"
"Would you like me to bring your parents in?"
"No. No, I wouldn't. It's obvious. I'm not having the surgery. What would the treatment involve?"
"Daily injections, which can be done at home and a weekly check-up."
Then that's okay. I'm going to lie to my parents. You said you value patient confidentiality? Just go with it." Quinn felt better now that she was making decisions.
"A-Are you sure?"
"Yes. Bring them in." Dr Dusk obeyed.
"Are you alright? What's going on?" Her father demanded.
"Everything is fine. Dr Dusk was just discussing treatment options with me."
"Treatment? For what?"
"I have a rare condition which affects my mind. I will have strange mood swings and forget things. It will get worse for about two years however after that it will get better. There isn't a cure, however there is something that can help. Each day I will require injections which I can administer myself and each week I will visit the hospital. This would mean that the condition is suppressed. Be glad there's that, without it I would be dead at the end of the two years." Her parents stood in stunned silence for a few moments.
"What condition is it?" Her mother asked. Quinn looked to Dr Dusk.
"It's a very rare non-contagious virus called petrimort gradis, more commonly known as 'The Silent'. Usually it isn't detected until after the sufferer's death. Quinn's fainting incident was lucky. It was a simple case of her being dehydrated. This virus essentially targets the brain cells, causing memory loss and severe mood swings. Because of this, it has often been misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder."
"Why hasn't it been cured yet?"
"There have been efforts made, however it is extremely rare to catch it and even rarer to be diagnosed with it, so research is difficult. Would you like to discuss cost?"
"Just get it, I don't care." Quinn sighed. Her mother, knowing that she was safe, was becoming emotionally distant again.
Quinn was rich. Very rich. She went to a private school, she had private healthcare, she had a private maid . . . She even had a private life, since her parents were rarely around. It was such a cliche, the rich girl with the distant parents.
She found it strangely disconcerting, as she got ready the next morning. It was exactly the same as she had done the day before. Except the injection, of course. Not to mention the bottle of juice her maid offered to her on the way out.
"For your dehydration, ma'am. Your father's orders." Quinn huffed and snatched the bottle, stuffing it into her schoolbag. She didn't even look at the maid. She was doubtful as to whether or not she even knew her name. A spike of regret stung her. She sometimes wondered what the point was, being so high and mighty.
Walking out, she clambered into the car that awaited her. The chauffeur set off as soon as she clicked her seatbelt into place. She didn't know his name, either. He'd been driving her to school since she was four and she doubted she'd exchanged more than ten words with him.
He'd been driving her to school since she was four and she doubted she'd exchanged more than ten words with him.
"Tell me your name," she blurted out.
"Your name. Tell me it."
"Gwydion Strait, ma'am."
"Do you have a nickname?"
"Yes, it's Gwyn, ma'am."
"Where's that accent from, Gwyn?"
"Don't say ma'am after every sentence." She snapped. "I mean, only say it when other people are around. When it's just us two, in the car, call me Quinn."
"Yes ma - erm, Quinn."
"Do you have a family?"
"Yes, Quinn. A wife, two daughters and a grandson."
"What are their names?"
"My wife is called Zahra. My eldest daughter is called Bryony and my youngest is called Kathleen. My grandson, born to my eldest, is named Paul." Quinn nodded.
"What do you do in your spare time?"
"I act as a bodyguard for celebrities."
"Oh? Who have you worked for?"
"Well, last night I escorted Daniel Radcliffe to visit a relative of his."
"Wow, you really do look after some famous people. How did you end up driving me to and from school?"
"Your mother contacted me. She wished to hire the best."
"Well, at least it's proof that she does care for me in some living part of her wizened heart."
"Nevermind. Here's the school. Goodbye, Gwyn." She opened the door and exited. Just before she shut it, she heard a quiet:
"Good luck. Ma'am." She thanked him with her eyes, then proceeded to walk toward the large entrance to the school building.