10 | An Alien Within

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Evanna stared unseeingly out the window while her mom drove without a word. Silence pervaded the closed space, broken only by the low rumble of the moving car—as if it was venting the annoyance that was simmering under Mary's quiet demeanor.

There's probably a perfectly logical explanation to this. Calm down, Ev. Calm down. Evanna fought down yet another bout of panic, which bubbled to the surface at varying intervals. There was a dull ache behind her eyes that was unsettling given that she very rarely experienced headaches.

Mary's phone rang, piercing the quiet. Evanna flinched.

"Janet, we're on the way now," her mom said with pursed lips. "Yes, she's fine."

The aftermath of the fainting spell sprang up in her mind, making her stomach knot with embarrassment. She had regained consciousness on the sofa at Olympus, Naomi's worried face peering over her. Horton had arrived as well, looking rather flustered. Countless curious glances were thrown her way, while others surrounded her, trying to get a better look. After being fussed about, offered water and fanned, her mom had barged in.

"How are you feeling now?" Mary asked, interrupting her thoughts.

"I—I'm okay."

Mary made no attempt at conversation the rest of the way.

Back at home, her aunt got her to eat some pumpkin soup, which turned out to be soothing. She felt disconnected with the incident at the plant shop—it was just too overwhelming to dwell on it. Numbness descended, accompanied by the persistent headache.

"Eva, we need to talk," Mary began in a tone that made Evanna's insides twist.

Janet sat at the table without a word.

"You can't go on like this." Mary crossed her arms. "You're going to end up in hospital with this silly diet of yours. You're actually fainting in class now!"

Evanna blinked. Oh...of course. If I so much as sneeze now, it's 'cause of my diet. Loads of people actually die of heart disease, but no one brings up their diet. "Mom, this has nothing to do with—"

"You will stop this madness."

"You can't force me to eat what I won't eat," Evanna muttered, tired to the bone.

Mary's forehead creased into an angry frown at her defiance.

Her sister spoke up, "How about you take responsibility for your choice then? Work on not fainting in class for starters."

"I'll do that." Evanna dropped the spoon into the bowl with a plop. "I've decided to do some cooking too."

Her mom snorted.

She sucked in a breath to still her mushrooming temper. Then she spooned lukewarm soup into her mouth, the burnt papillae of her tongue registering it as nothing more than a viscous, insipid mass.

"You can carry on then. We'll have you checked after some time, and if the results are not adequate," Mary said, her face making it clear that she already knew the outcome, but was simply humoring her, "you change your ways."

Evanna made a noise of acquiescence, more to get Mary to leave her alone than anything else.

Her mom made one final attempt at what she saw as appealing to sense. "Eva, listen, you can maybe go meat-free, but this is extreme. You do realize that no harm is done by milking cows and collecting eggs, which are not even fertilized?"

"Extreme for me is eating those things," Evanna said stonily. Did my rant the other day just fly over your head, Mom?

The sisters exchanged a look.

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