Acceptance

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When Quinn got home from school she found a letter from the Live-Play Corporation in the mailbox.  She sat down at the kitchen table, staring at her name for a long time before opening the envelope.  Only a few short weeks had passed since she applied for a summer internship with the company, but it was like recalling something from a forgotten dream.  When she finally opened the envelope, the letter it contained congratulated her on being selected for a Live-Play summer internship.  It also specified that she'd need a current passport. 

Dennis Moore might have gone a full year before paying his kid's lunch bill at school, but made sure stuff like passports were always up to date.  He'd say in his normal cryptic fashion, "You never know when you might need to leave the country."

Alvin whined at the back door and Quinn's eyes grew heavy at the thought of heading back outside to take the wiry little bulldog for a walk in the afternoon heat.  A large rumble of thunder shook the house. 

Looking out at steely clouds that had piled up since she arrived home from school, Quinn murmured, "That wasn't the answer you had in mind, was it boy?"

The phone rang, startling Quinn.  Answering, she was greeted by a voice she didn't recognize.

"Hello.  Is Ms. Moore available?"  Asked the voice on the other end.

"Speaking."  Quinn replied.

"My name is Paz Vargas, and I am calling on behalf of Norborne Hospital.  I wanted to let you know that the nasal spray sample you provided on behalf of Dennis Moore was positive for an extremely high concentration of the amoeba Naegleri Fowleri.  This is the same amoeba that resulted in your father's infection and primary amoebic meningoencephalitis.  Our lab findings have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further investigation.  Do you have any questions for me, Ms. Moore?"

"How often does this kind of thing happen?"

"On average, there are about five or six reported cases of this infection annually in the United States."  Ms. Vargas answered.

"Has it been found in a nasal spray before?"  Quinn asked, wondering why it mattered.

"Not to my knowledge, but I am not an authority on the matter.  As I said, Norborne Hospital has contacted the CDC with our findings for further investigation and follow up."

"I guess thanks then, for the information." 

"Good evening, Ms. Moore."  Paz Vargas said, and Quinn listened to the dial tone in the absence of her voice.

Putting the phone down, Quinn heard a loud rapping on the glass door of the back porch.  Looking out, she saw the sky had turned a grey-green color, and large balls of hail were pelting against the glass of the windows and doors.  She pulled one of the kitchen table chairs around, so she could sit facing the back yard through the patio door.  Alvin was nowhere to be seen.  She assumed he had taken refuge in his little yellow doghouse.

The wind whipped the trees so their branches lay low against the ground while the hail seemed to come from all directions at once.  Quinn watched as the small pebble-sized hail formed little piles in the outside corner of the door, wondering if anyone was ever stoned to death by hail.  Such a scenario seemed more plausible than death from infection with an invisible parasitic amoeba.  She watched as leaves flew from branches and disappeared in a grind of air that whipped the sky into an opaque froth.  The power went out with a slight whine, and she sat in the dark kitchen, watching the sky move outside.  There was a dull, vibrating roar all around, as though the sky was sucked inside of a blender, and then it began to rain.  The rain came pounding in sheets, as though the clouds were trying to rid themselves of any excess baggage as they hurried across the hostile sky.

As suddenly as the storm began, the sky cleared and the sun emerged, holding the scene in a shining grasp, its light refracted in a gentle drizzle.  With power still out in the house, Quinn found a pair of sandals by the door and ventured out into the front yard.  Neighbors emerged from houses up and down the street and everyone looked around at each other, sheepish and dazed.  Fences had blown over all around and several houses were missing entire swaths of siding.  Wandering up the street, Quinn saw an uprooted tree lying across the roof of the home it once stood beside.  Utility poles had been snapped in half and power lines drooped in snarled knots precariously close to the surface of the street.  Police cars blocked the streets leading into the neighborhood, their lights flashing like a fireworks display in the lowering light of evening.

Quinn saw a slouched figure walking up the street in her direction.

"Hampton?"  She called.

"Hey you."  He drew closer, flipping his shaggy mange of hair out of his eyes.

"Hi stranger."  She replied softly.

"I've been at Cass and Toby's house.  They're no strangers to you."  He smiled.

"But you have been."  She said in slight reproach.

"I'm just trying to hold it together.  No easy task," he said, looking around as he spoke.

"The hospital called.  That parasite or whatever it was that infected Dad was in his nasal spray.  A lot of it, apparently."

"Did they say how it got there?"

"No.  They said they reported the case to the CDC."

Hampton walked quietly beside her toward the house.  The lights were still off when they arrived and it was warm and muggy.  They sat down together on the swinging bench that hung from the front porch.

"It's so strange."  Hampton said, "I feel like I'm having this really bad trip, but I haven't even used."

Quinn nodded uncertainly.  "Since Dad died, I keep thinking about Mom.  Do you remember that crazy story she used to tell us, to get us out of bed in the morning?"

"The one about cannibals?"  Hampton asked, his tone wry.

"Yeah, about how little cannibals lived in the water, and came out to hunt people who were still sleeping when it was light outside.  She said they'd kill you and drag you back into the water to eat you, but no one would notice because they'd leave a ghost behind to fool your family.  After a week though, your ghost would wither, leaving only a dead body."

"Some parents opt for alarm clocks, others for terror."  Hampton sighed.

"This thing with Dad though, I keep feeling like I'm a little kid again, having nightmares about water cannibals or something.  It seems like I should wake up, like when I was younger, and remember it's just some crazy story, and isn't real.  It never feels real."

"I guess that's the thing about crazy stories.  Even the craziest ones are at least a little real."  Hampton chewed his lip.  "I know what you mean though, I've been thinking about Mom lately; more than before.  It seems like when parents are together; they're a set.  When you only have one, you at least have that one.  When they're both gone, it's like you lost the set."

Quinn nodded, "It used to seem so important to know where Mom and Dad came from.  I never knew where Mom was from, and for some reason I wish I did."

"Lost City, Oklahoma."  Hampton said.

"Is that even a real place?" 

"I couldn't make that up."  He laughed.

"I was so jealous of you when we were kids, because of how Mom talked about you having strong medicine.  I always just felt like I was a pain in her ass."  Quinn said.

"She loved you, in her way.  She was so much farther gone when you were coming up though.  She probably saw more of herself in me.  I mean we both share a taste for strong medicine."

Quinn looked up at him.  "I miss you."  She said softly.

"Me too."  Hampton sighed.

Hugging her legs to her chest as they rocked gently back and forth on the porch swing she said, "I miss all of us."

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