The next time I woke up, I felt better. I was warm, but not too warm, and it didn't feel like my bed was spinning. After taking a few seconds to gather my senses, I opened my eyes. The lights were turned off, to my relief, but there was still enough light coming in through the window for me to recognize my bedroom. There was something different about it, though...
It took my still-scrambled brain a minute to realize I wasn't alone. A second bed had been put on the other side of the room, and the small lump in the sheets told me Kimberly was curled up in it. I thought back to the first time I'd woken up, and the cryptic warning I'd gotten, and shivered. Did Stark know somebody had sneaked into his house? How had he even gotten in, with Stark's wards all over the place? I needed to tell him.
I raised my hand, which felt surprisingly heavy, and threw my covers off. My body was still pale from the fever I'd caught, but I felt better now than I had before. Swinging my feet over the edge of the bed, I braced myself with my hands on the mattress and stood up. My legs wobbled underneath me for a moment, but then I was able to stand steady. I paused on my way to the door to glance at Kimberly. She laid still, her chest rising and falling steadily, but the coating of sweat on her pale skin told me she wasn't resting peacefully. So I wasn't the only one to catch a fever after all that...
I made for the door again, feeling more confident with every step. There was light coming in from under the door, but I couldn't hear anybody outside it. With my keen hearing, that meant that there probably wasn't anyone within twenty feet of my room. When I opened the door, I caught the sound of voices from further down the hall, but they were hushed so I couldn't make out what they were saying. I stepped out of my room, and...
"Amber's awake," Stark's voice said, rising in volume so that I could hear him without trouble.
I heard something bang, and Mom came running out of her bedroom, buttoning her nightgown as she came.
"Amber!" she exclaimed when she saw me, and all but tackled me with her hug. "Oh my God, I thought I'd lost you!"
"I'm fine, Mom," I said, hugging her back. I didn't tell her, but the sudden motion of almost being bowled over made my head spin again. "I just—"
She pulled back and put her hand on my forehead. "You're still burning up!" she scolded me, as if I were still only Kimberly's age. "What are you doing out of bed?"
"Mom, I swear I'm fine. I..."
My voice trailed off when Stark stepped into the hallway with us, tugging his shirt over his head.
He had come out of my mother's room.
My eyes went wide and I took a step back. "Mom, what's going on?"
Mom looked back at Stark, and her cheeks turned pink. Before she could say anything, though, Stark spoke up.
"Your mom's right, Amber, you shouldn't be out of bed."
He took another step, and his leg gave out under his weight. With a gasp, my mom and I both rushed to help him. Each of us hooking an arm under both of his, together we were able to help him back to his feet. The whole time, he was cursing and cringing with pain.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
Stark put one hand on the wall to steady himself, but waved off any further help from us. "I'll be fine," he grunted, limping his way toward the living room. "Just need to soak it in moonlight a while longer."
He finally made it to the living room, and collapsed in his chair. I looked from him to my mom.
"How long was I out?" I asked.
"Three days," Mom answered, seeming to be having a similarly hard time deciding who to look at. "You were all dragged home that night by—"
"Jennifer," Stark said sharply, and Mom's mouth snapped shut.
I arched my eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mean? Who brought us home?"
Stark waved his hand again. "It doesn't matter. What matters is that you're finally well enough to get out of bed."
I nodded. "Yeah, I felt like crap before but I think I'm okay now."
Not completely okay, as evidenced by how tired I was after just walking across the house, but they didn't need to worry about that.
Mom perked up. "How is Kimberly?" she asked. "Did you look at her when you got up?"
"Yeah, she still looks pretty sick," I admitted. Without another word, Mom got up and rushed back to my room to check on her. I watched her go, and felt a pang of annoyance. "No, it's fine," I grumbled. "Just go check on the girl who's not your daughter."
"You cut that out," Stark snapped. "Who else do you think is going to look after her?"
I looked up at him, and then down at my feet as my face burned with shame. "Sorry," I mumbled.
We sat in silence until Mom came back a few minutes later with a frown on her face.
"She's gotten even worse," she announced.
"Why isn't she healing?" I asked. "I had a fever too, so why is hers sticking around?"
Stark shook his head. "I don't know myself, not for sure. My best guess is that what she did that night took a lot out of her. Her body took a beating both inside and out, and lowered her immune system to almost nothing."
I thought back, and shivered. The fever had made my memories of that night fuzzy, but I could never forget the sight of a five year old girl turning into a wolf big enough to need its own zip code. The way her eyes had glowed...
Stark grunted, and looked up to see him trying to rise from his chair.
"That settles it," he said. "Someone needs to get her some medicine."
Mom started to get up. "You can't go out like—"
"If I don't, a member of my pack might die!" Stark yelled, surprising both of us. Mom shut her mouth with a timid "meep" and sat back down. "I'll be fine. I just have to get to the doctor's office and pick up some..."
His voice trailed off as he put too much weight on his injured leg. His face turned pale, and he collapsed to the floor with a barely contained cry of pain. Again, both Mom and I jumped up to help him. Together we were able to drag him to the couch, where we laid him out.
"You're not going anywhere!" my mom scolded him once she'd made sure he was comfortable. "You'd probably lose that leg if you tried."
Stark fought to get back up, but Mom put her weight on his chest and pushed him back down.
"What choice do I have?" he argued. "I'm not gonna let Kimberly—"
"I'll do it."
Mom and Stark stopped talking and turned to look at me. I blushed a little at the sudden attention, but didn't back down. "I'm in better shape than you. I'll run into town, go to Dr. Munse's office, and bring back whatever Kimberly needs."
"With that thing still out there?" Mom demanded, rounding on me. "You can forget it, young lady!"
"Somebody has to help Kimberly," I insisted. "Stark can't do it, so who else is going to?"
Mom drew herself up. "I will," she declared. "Just tell me where his office is, and I'll go."
"They won't let you in." This time it was Stark who had argued with her. "If the magic door doesn't stop you, they'll turn you away because you're human. It..." he hesitated and looked away. "It has to be Amber."
In an instant, Mom's face turned as pale as Stark's.
"After everything she just went through," she hissed, her arms reaching out as if to hug me, "you're going to make her go out there again?"
"I'll be fine," I insisted. In truth, I was terrified of meeting Becky again. After what she'd done to all three of us last time, I didn't have any illusions as to what would happen if I came across her alone. But if I chickened out, Kimberly might die for it.
"She'll be fine," Stark agreed. "Amber, go to Dr. Munse and tell him you need three ramidreju pills. Ramidreju, you go that?"
"Uh, yeah," I gave a tentative nod. Was that a type of antibiotic I'd never heard of?
Stark hesitated, and then said, "Bring me a pen and my billfold."
I ran into the kitchen, where he kept his wallet on the counter, grabbed a pen, and came back and handed both to him.
"Hold out your hand." he ordered me.
I did, and he clicked the pen open and began writing on my palm. When he was done I looked at it.
"Ramidreju pills: 3. DON'T FORGET THE DOOR!
"All right," I said, closing my fist as if that would keep the writing from slipping away.
Next he dug into his wallet and handed me a few bills. I looked down at them, and almost dropped them out of shock.
"That's $500!" I exclaimed. "Are you sure—"
Stark looked quizzically at the money in my hand, and then nodded. "You're right, that's probably not enough."
He put two more $100 bills in my palm.
"When you get to town," he said once the money was firmly grasped in my fist, "take a bus or taxi to Dr. Munse's office, and then use them to get back home too."
"There's no need for that," Mom whined. "Why can't I just drive her?"
"I need you here," Stark answered. "In case Kimberly needs help and I..." he gave his leg a spiteful look. "And I can't get there in time."
Mom obviously wasn't happy about it, but she knew she wasn't going to change either of our minds so she crossed her arms with a huff and stood back.
I made a fist around the money, trying to keep my hand from shaking. "Okay, I'm ready."
"Don't go into the woods," Stark ordered me. "Hike along the road until you get to town, and then take a taxi to Munse's office. It'll take longer, but I don't think Becky'll attack you if you're somewhere people can see you."
I thought back to how she'd followed me all the way to school a few days ago, but maybe Stark was right. After all, she'd stayed hidden in the trees, hadn't she?
"I'll be fine," I promised him. Then, realizing it would mean more to my mom, I turned to her. "I'll be fine. Be back in a couple hours, tops!"
Mom looked like she was on the verge of tears, but she didn't try to stop me as I ran to my room to fetch my coat and boots. I stuffed the bills deep inside my pocket. The snow was still piled high outside, and it was the middle of the night. This was going to be a cold hike.
Mom met me at the front door, and gave me a hug. "Be safe," she whispered.
"I'll be fine," I said for the third time, and opened the door.
A gust of freezing wind blew into the house, and I paused.
It's for Kimberly, I told myself.
Taking a deep breath, I stepped outside.
NEXT TIME: It’s a long way from Stark’s house to Dr. Munse’s office, it’s well below freezing, and Amber’s still sick. Becky’s still out there too. Will she make it to town all right? Will she get the medicine? Or will she fail, and let Kimberly because of it?