A/N: Thank you for reading! Don't forget to vote if you like the chapter :-) / Jo
I placed my bag on the kitchen counter, brushing some errant strands of hair out of my face, just as my mother turned away from the sink. "Hi, Mom."
I felt a chill go through me as she faced me.
"Hi, sweetie," she said softly, not meeting my eyes.
I silently took in the prominent purple color below her eyes, like two large bruises, the translucency of her white and pale skin, the redness of her eyes, the visible blue veins around her temples and the dryness of her red hair.
She looked horrible.
"What's wrong?" I asked, taking a step around the kitchen island.
"Just tired," my mother said, offering me a soft smile that desperately failed to reach her eyes.
"Are you sick, Mommy?" I asked in a small voice. It felt foreign to see her like this. My mom was this torrent of energy, fiery like the color of her hair and, discounting some occasional bouts of light colds, I had never actually seen her sick.
"I had a bad night, that's all," mom answered, turning to take a pot of boiling water off the stove.
"You were fine this morning," I pointed out, wrenched by the strongest feeling that she was lying. What had happened in the hours I'd been at school? Mom had been scheduled to spend the day working at the restaurant, nothing else.
"Maybe you got food poisoning or something," I suggested weakly, her appearance frightening me more than I dared to admit.
I watched her long slender fingers tremble as she struggled to hold the weight of the water-filled pan over the sink, while pouring out the boiling water.
"Maybe," she mumbled and I walked up to her, silently replaced her grip on the pan with my own hands and used my body to gently shove her out of the way.
"Let me do that," I said and looked at her over my shoulder. "Sit down, Mom."
I tried not to register how she looked ready to pass out as she gingerly lowered herself to one of the kitchen chairs.
"Have you seen a doctor?" I asked, placing the warm pan on the cooling stove.
"If this doesn't pass, I will," my mom promised tiredly, her voice a bare whisper. "It's probably just a 24-hour bug."
"Right," I said, turning to face her fully. My fear was blasting through my system, my brain numerating every fatal disease on the planet. "You would tell me if something was wrong, right?"
She mustered up a smile, placing her elbow on the table to support her tired head. "Of course, honey."
I inhaled, trying to let it go. It was probably nothing. Mom was the epitome of health; it just couldn't be serious. Right?
"Your father wanted to ask you something," my mom said.
I wasn't that inclined to leave her alone, but had to ask, "Where is he?"
"At the restaurant," mom answered and I nodded.
I looked at her with blazing worry, biting my lower lip. "You'll be okay?"
She laughed lightly; a laughter that ended with a hacking cough. I felt the blood freeze in my veins.
"Of course, honey," she answered, her voice hoarse from the coughing and I thought I heard a wheezing to her breathing. "Just go."
I hesitated before walking up to her and kissing her cold clammy cheek. "I love you, Mom."
She smiled at me, her light-brown eyes filled with love. "Love you too, Lizzie."
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