I run as fast as my numb feet can go. Clopping down the long white hall, I barge into the room where Mom held her strategic huddle an hour ago. But the paper on the examination bed is empty, crinkled with the ghost-white dents of someone who has been sent somewhere else.

I should have seen it coming. Mom is always playing hero in her work, and with us. Dad's been there for some heavy-hitter moments like the field trip, but Mom does the daily sacrificing that mostly goes unnoticed. The small ways flood my memory: taking me to the doctor and missing an important meeting; letting me play my music in the car even though she hates rap; reading to me every night before I could do it myself. And the big ways: calling the mom of that bully brat in fourth grade to finally put a stop to the nasty notes; teaching me to drive without screaming and panicking; and organizing the volunteers at every swim meet, until this last one - that was my fault.

The doors to the surgery room are barred. We can't go in there, only wait to see who survives, and the agony burns that Mom is yet again fixing my mess. I never got to even share with her the stuff Cord told me, to prepare her for surgery so she can live.

Cord finds me and holds me while I thrash at the door. Dad hovers behind him, unsure if it's safe to make physical contact with my caged-animal ranting. What will I do if she doesn't make it? What if Lemon survives and Mom doesn't? How will I ever be able to look at her again?

Dad mumbles about finding coffee and backs away from us as Cord leads me to the waiting room. In the lonely chair I sit. Everything around me feels frustrating: the clock ticking too slowly, the hushed voices of the nurses behind the desk, the crappy music some idiot thought would be soothing.

Cord reaches for a prop, anything to change my mood. "Hey, remember this?" He holds up one of the tattered books. It's as familiar as my home, worn and comfortable. He flips it open and starts to read, but it's the pictures that stir more deeply. In the faces of these illustrations are how I learned all the tribe names, their colors, their weaknesses and their strengths. I move closer to see them, to soak up the color and line that make me feel small and safe again. I'm in my room with Mom in the warm lamp light on a summer evening. The crickets chirp and the river hums perfectly through my open window.

I see my favorite page and jump. "Oh, read that one!"

Cord smirks in triumph that his distraction of child's play has worked but he's too nice to rub it in further. I settle in to this nostalgic medicine as he fully opens the book for me to see.

A sunny person in yellow is bowing to someone from my tribe under the shimmering Aspen leaves. The scene is framed by two Aspen trunks with all-seeing eyes - the eye of God we are taught that watches us, making sure we're being good. A Messenger hovers between them, delivering the Promise Kiss. The colors are bright and cheerful and bring back the sense of pride I felt when knowing I belonged to that pink-violet tribe. A thought hits me; as familiar as my tribe colors were to me as a kid, I had never met an Arnica before, not until Cord. They were always deeply mysterious.

The two characters could be us, a boy and a girl courting in the Grove. I get the strange sensation that I'm looking in a mirror as I stare into the blushing girl's face half hidden by fuchsia locks. She's in a princess gown to match the boy's noble suit and his mane of golden hair is swept back in a style from another era. But change the clothes and it could be absolutely be us.

The rhyme stirs a memory. I'm wearing my favorite pajamas and holding my stuffed fish, Olive, when Mom pulls me from the bed so we can spin in a circle holding hands. She sings the words in a tune she must have learned when she was little, since there aren't any musical notes on the page:

Ring around the Grove

A promise kiss for my love

Arnica, Arnica, or we all fall down.

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