Authors: Julie Drew
Tesla shook her head gingerly, unsure if she’d moved it enough for Babbit to get that her answer was
“Then I have to ask…have you taken anything you shouldn’t?
Smoked some marijuana maybe, swallowed some pills?”
Tesla couldn’t help it, she had to look at Babbit, even if she threw up.
“Are you serious?” she asked, incredulous. She swallowed again to keep the bile down. “I was playing basketball when this happened. No, I’m not high.”
Babbit patted Tesla’s knee, her pudgy fingers alarmingly, unnaturally orange against the girl’s milk-white skin.
Gross. Mrs. Babbit in a tanning bed
, Tesla thought, immediately desperate to get the image out of her head.
“Of course not,” Babbit said.
Then another idea occurred to her. “Could you be pregnant?”
Tesla was certain the woman sounded hopeful.
“No, I couldn’t be pregnant,” she snapped. “Can I go home now?”
“Well, actually, given your symptoms we really are required to administer a drug test, so if you could take this specimen cup and…”
“I will not pee in a cup for you!” Tesla said too loudly, as she stood up too quickly. She couldn’t breathe, and a wave of dizziness washed over her, a loss of all orientation, as if she spun slowly and unstoppably through space. She remained conscious just long enough to marvel at the sensation. Her vision went to black from the outside in, and the last thing she remembered was the floor rising up to meet her.
Tesla had woken up in the ambulance, though it had taken her a minute to realize where she was.
She had a mask on over her nose and mouth, and her wrist was held gently by a paramedic who looked rather like Peter Petrelli on
, his thick dark hair parted on the side, old-school—
, Max would have said.
The paramedic reached out with his other hand and pulled the mask up to rest on top of her head.
“Great hair,” she said weakly, immediately horrified as she heard herself. She had definitely not meant to say that out loud.
“Thanks,” he said.
He flashed a crooked, totally hot smile. “How do you feel?”
“That’s to be expected.” He pulled the rubber-capped ends of the stethoscope up from around his neck and placed them in his ears. “I’m going to listen to your heart now. Try to relax.”
He deftly maneuvered the cold metallic end of the stethoscope underneath the rounded neckline of Tesla’s sleeveless basketball jersey, her lucky number twenty-three from the King
James days of the Cavs. The paramedic frowned, and Tesla had a moment of panic.
What if he can’t hear my heart through my sports bra
? she thought.
What if I have to take it off
“What?” she asked, alarmed.
“Do you have a heart condition?”
“No,” she said immediately.
“I’m perfectly healthy.”
“Okay, good,” the paramedic replied.
“We’re almost at University Hospital, and they’ll run some tests to determine why you fainted.”
Tesla asked. Her voice sounded young and pathetic, even to her.
Passed out cold in the principal’s office. You landed on your face—there’s a nasty cut over your eyebrow. You need stitches, and they’ll want to look at you for concussion, too.”
He turned then to talk to the driver, and Tesla slowly moved her hand up to her face to touch her forehead.
The thick gauze bandage there couldn’t conceal the egg-sized lump over her eye. It hurt to touch and, unexpectedly, tears sprang to her eyes.
Because I’m not already embarrassed enough
, Tesla thought,
clearly I need to cry in front of the cute paramedic to round out this perfect day
The ambulance slowed perceptibly and came to a stop just before the doors were opened from the outside.
Tesla felt like she could probably walk now, since the dizziness had subsided a bit, but that was apparently not an option. She remained strapped to the gurney as the paramedic waved goodbye after he’d briefed the triage nurses and handed Tesla over, along with some paperwork, and then someone in green scrubs wheeled her in through the automatic doors in the ambulance bay. She closed her eyes against the sudden glare of fluorescent lights overhead, as bright and omnipresent as the sun a few months earlier when her dad had made her and Max go to Mexico with him for some scientists’ conference. The gurney’s industrial-size wheels clacked rhythmically down the hall, but they had seemed to Tesla to have nothing to do with her, lying there in the Acapulco sun. She felt disconnected from the bed beneath her, in need of no material support as she glided along on thin air.
, she remembered thinking.
That can’t be right. I’m not in Mexico, and that’s not the sun
And yet she had floated into the hospital, moved through space and time upon the very light that seemed to suffuse every particle of the universe.
After what felt like half a day, but was probably less than an hour of self-pity over that awful day, Tesla opened her bedroom door cautiously and listened.
No sound of movement or conversation, no sound from the TV in the family room. She started down the staircase and, when she encountered no one, entered the kitchen. Both her dad and Max seemed to have deserted her, which worked well for everyone. Half of the pizza was still in the box on the table, cooled but perfectly acceptable, and Tesla took a slice—she had eaten nothing earlier—and bit into it while she stood next to the chair her father had so recently occupied.
With a casual flip of the photo album’s cover, she absently turned the pages while she chewed.
Me and Dad
, she thought, surprised at how young and happy he looked as he watched her little-girl-self build a castle in the sandbox.
Max, still in diapers—and Dad making some goofy face at him. God, what a dork
Me, peeking at Max between the bars of his crib
. Tesla felt a sense of familiarity as she looked at the furniture, the pictures on the walls, and the yard in the old photos, though she had no clear memories of them. It was more like she remembered that she used to remember that house, the house across town no one ever mentioned. The house they’d lived in when there were four of them. She turned the last page and froze, the pizza halfway to her mouth. A single photo held the place of honor, the last picture in the album, centered on the final page.
Dr. Tasya Petrova-Abbott, a physicist, like her husband. Dead at thirty four, eight long years ago.
Tesla put her slice of pizza on top of the box and slid down into the chair, her eyes fixed on the picture of her mother.
Like her father, she didn’t remember this photo, but she couldn’t seem to dwell on the questions that raised, not while the hole in her gut she’d thought had closed opened again into a bright blossom of pain. Tasya Petrova appeared unaware of the photographer’s presence as she stood in a white lab coat, the chalk in her hand half raised to the blackboard in front of her as she contemplated a string of mathematical equations that made no sense to Tesla, though she was something of a math wiz. Her mother’s straight, chin-length auburn hair hung softly by the sides of her face, tucked behind her ears for convenience rather than beauty. But a beauty she was, with her high cheekbones and firm jaw, her wide-set green eyes behind black-framed glasses whose heaviness served only to highlight her soft mouth, lips slightly parted as she concentrated on the problem in front of her.
Her mother had been beautiful, and brilliant.
People said Tesla looked like her, but she rarely saw it, except for their similar coloring. They both had unusually fair skin, without a freckle or a hint of ruddiness, though Tesla’s hair was a much lighter, brighter red, thick and curly, not fine as silk like her mother’s had been. Tesla’s curls were her father’s contribution to the gene pool, which gave her one more thing to resent him for; she would have preferred Tasya’s smooth, deeply auburn hair, her chiseled, Eastern European bone structure and slightly hooded eyes the color of lichen in a cool, primeval forest. Tesla’s differently-colored eyes were a genetic mutation, and she never could settle on whether she liked them or not, since people told her they were beautiful, but strange. Those eyes might have been a bonus if the rest of her face looked like her mother’s, but she was unhappily aware that her carrot-top hair and oval, child-like face made her look even younger than she was, and she feared the strange eyes thrown into that particular mix just made her odd at best, comical at worst.
Tesla closed the album, sick of herself, sick of these thoughts.
She felt restless and depressed by both the pictures and the way she’d left things with Max. She hated to fight—even with her dad, and wished everyone would just leave her alone. Live and let live, that was what she usually tried for, but tonight—tonight, with these unexplained photographs, with this particular photograph—her usual restlessness was cranked up to eleven. She put the leftover pizza in the fridge and folded up the cardboard box for recycling, perhaps as a gesture of apology—it was likely the only one she would offer her father. When she moved the flattened box toward her, however, she saw that her father had left her a note, partially hidden beneath the box.
Tesla, sorry for the misunderstanding about the photo album. It’s probably from Aunt Jane, she was around a lot back then, and often with a camera in her hand. And the shipping label was probably a simple mistake by some clerk. I brought work home—I’ll be upstairs grading papers unless I have to go back to campus. We can talk in the morning. Dad
At the sound of footsteps, Tesla looked up from the note and saw Max in the doorway with a backpack slung over his shoulder.
“Dad’s upstairs working,” he said, his face and voice
Tesla gently waved the paper in her hand.
“Yeah, he left me a note. Where are you off to?”
“Spending the night with Dylan.
His mom’s on her way to pick me up.”
“Oh,” was all she could muster in response.
She knew it was contradictory, but despite her desire for solitude, Tesla felt decidedly abandoned.
“So, see you later,” Max said.
He hesitated, half-turned to walk out the front door.
“Don’t forget to brush your teeth—and don’t stay up too late,” she said automatically. “And try not to crush Dylan so badly in Warcraft. He won’t want to play with you anymore.”
“Okay,” said Max, happy again. A car horn sounded from the driveway and he left, a sharply off-key whistle forced through his front teeth as he shut the front door.
Tesla finished the dishes, put the cardboard pizza box, along with the paper napkins and her father’s note, which she had wadded up altogether in a ball, into the recycling bin.
She wandered into the living room.
What a weird couple of days
, she thought.
First those creeps at that party, and Keisha’s cousin Finn being such a jerk, and now this birthday present for Dad, and nobody knows where it came from…
“I need to get out of the house,” she said aloud, pulling her phone out of her back pocket.
Keisha’s cell went right to voicemail, so Tesla tried Malcolm. He picked up on the first ring.
“I’m bored, plus cabin fever, plus a big fight with my dad and Max.”
“I have just the cure,” he assured her.
“I actually already had a slice,” she said reluctantly.
What’s that got to do with it?”
Tesla considered that for a moment.
“True enough. Angelo’s in ten?”
“Meet you there,” he said, and the line went dead.
Malcolm and she had been friends forever—he wasn’t Keisha, but then, nobody was. Both of the girls could always count on Mal, and he was really upbeat—annoyingly so, sometimes. He had an
spirit, as Max would say, whose word-of-the-day calendar that Aunt Jane had given him last Christmas had become a gift the whole family got to enjoy. Every. Single. Day.
Tesla had met Keisha and Malcolm in third grade when she’d had to transfer to another school, and they had become immediately inseparable—until freshman year when Malcolm had stopped being a part of their frequent sleepovers.
The parents of all three of them had seemed to agree at the same precise moment that they were too old for co-ed slumber parties. Consequently, the girls had gotten closer the last few years, with Malcolm sometimes like a third wheel. Still, nobody knew Tesla the way her two best friends did, and if Keisha wasn’t around, Malcolm was hands-down the next best thing.
Cheered up by the anticipation of being cheered up, Tesla walked the three blocks from her house to the town square which, as was typical for an old but thriving university town, had been charmingly refurbished and was now totally gentrified.
There was a gazebo in the open park at the center of the square where live music was often staged, and an eclectic collection of businesses in the old brick and stone buildings that surrounded it on all four sides. There were coffee shops, bookstores, bars, vintage clothing stores, and a dozen ethnic restaurants, including several vegan options.
Angelo’s was their preferred hangout.
The tiny pizza shop was an institution; it had been in business since before Tesla was born and, as far as she knew, had always looked exactly the same as it did now. She opened the glass front door and took in the familiar sight of the crowded room, the smells of garlic and sharp cheeses, bubbly tomato sauce and spicy meats. There were only a few tables up front by the door, and a counter with three barstools that ran along the front glass-paned wall and faced the square, where one could simultaneously perch, munch on a slice, and people-watch. Most of the room was taken up by an open kitchen, and customers lined up, single file, and pointed out what they wanted as they moved their trays along the high counter. The servers lifted each wide, over-loaded slice onto a wooden paddle and slid it into the oven until it was crisp and melty, then plated it and laid it on the counter under the glass partition for the customer to take and move on.
Tesla spotted Malcolm just as he saw her at the door, and they both got in line.
“What’s up?” asked Malcolm. “Big fight, or small one?”
“Small, I guess,” Tesla admitted.
“But it always seems like a big one in the moment. Plus,” she added, “my dad got an old photo album with pictures of us all—my mom, too—from UPS today. The label said it was from me, which it wasn’t, and nobody remembers any of the pictures.”
“That is weird,” said Malcolm.
“You didn’t send it?”
“I’d certainly remember if I’d mailed my dad a birthday present.
From our house, to our house, no less.”
“Order?” barked the young man behind the counter.
The employees at Angelo’s hated to have to ask for an order, especially from regulars, who should know better.
“One slice of chicken-bacon-ranch,” said Tesla.
“Make it four,” corrected Malcolm, who added “I haven’t had anything to eat since lunch,” when Tesla looked at him.
They redeemed themselves in the eyes of the pizza gods by having their money out and their drink orders ready at the register, and then Tesla and Malcolm sat down at the only unoccupied table.
It was stuck in the corner up near the front, wedged between the end of the kitchen and the rest of the tables that were not against the wall. Nineteen people stood, ate pizza and talked, or headed toward the counter again. Once Tesla and Malcolm sat down, neither of them could see much beyond the bodies that crowded around their table. This human wall effectively blocked the view and created a false sense of privacy.
Malcolm picked up his first slice.
“So,” he began. “Weird party the other night, huh?”
“I’ll say,” Tesla agreed.
“The house was weird, the people who live there were weird. Those creepy orc-guys were weird.”
Malcolm chuckled appreciatively while he ate.
“Saruman orcs, or Sauron orcs?”
“Okay, you’re as big a dork as Max is.”
“Hey, you referenced the trilogy, not me,” he pointed out, his gray eyes opened wide under suddenly arched brows.
“Seriously, though, what do you think that was all about?”
Malcolm shrugged. “Who knows? They were idiots. They took a shine to you.”
How flattering. And ‘took a shine’ to me?” She laughed, and a deep dimple appeared in each of her cheeks.
“Yeah, you know. You’re cute.” Malcolm shrugged, his eyes on his pizza
“What’d I miss?” asked Keisha, who had suddenly materialized beside their table.
“Mal broke his own record.
He’s eaten five pounds of food in just under three minutes,” Tesla offered. “So far.”
“I’m a growing boy,” Malcolm protested.
Keisha grabbed an empty chair from a nearby table and deftly wielded it in front of her, which forced several people to move aside and left room for her to sit.
“You hungry?” asked Malcolm.
“I can head up and get you a slice.”
“You know he wants to go back up himself, and you’re just an excuse so he doesn’t look like a pig.”
Mal tried—and failed—to look offended.
“Nah, I can’t stay,” said Keisha. “Saw you two from the window. Thought I’d say hi—I haven’t seen you since the party.”
“The birthday party that wasn’t a birthday party, you mean?” said Mal, popping the final bite of his second slice into his mouth.
He dusted off his hands with finality.
“Yeah, exactly,” said Keisha. “What’s up with you, T?”
Tesla told Keisha about the photo album and the fight with her dad and Max, but while she talked she couldn’t help but notice that her best friend seemed distracted—hardly listening at all, actually, and then Keisha stood up abruptly.