"Are you here with Miss Gavernish?"

The doctor barely looked at Clara as he asked the question. She nodded and responded with a quiet, "I'm her niece" as she rubbed her eyes.

He seemed to be studying Clara, looking at her over the top of his glasses for no reason she could discern other than his wanting to seem superior. "Can I speak to you outside?" the doctor asked before stepping into the hall.

Clara stood up. Her legs were weak from the night's half-sleep that she'd taken in the visitor's chair. She stretched out.

Aunt Maureen lay sleeping in the bed next to her. She'd been ushered through five different parts of Fithian Memorial Hospital throughout the night before the staff found an empty room and admitted her. Clara looked her over. She'd lost her ruddy appearance. Clara couldn't remember if she'd ever seen Aunt Maureen sleeping before – and this wasn't normal sleep. Her wet hair had been combed back for her – probably by a nurse as Clara slept. Aunt Maureen's arms were connected to an IV. A heart monitor was hooked up as well, but it didn't beep like the ones on TV. The whole building was quieter than Clara had expected. She wished there had been more noise – even the nurses and orderlies at Fithian seemed to whisper when they spoke.

Clara's footsteps echoed as she stepped into the hall. The doctor held Aunt Maureen's chart in his hand. He flipped through it as he spoke.

"I'm Doctor Bihlmeier," he said in a tone that registered as bored. "I've been looking through your aunt's chart..." He glanced up at Clara and asked, "Is there any other family coming?"

For the first time since she was a little girl, Clara wished her mother had been with her. She shook her head. "No," she said. "I'm staying with my aunt for the summer. No one else lives nearby."

"Okay," Dr. Bihlmeier said. "Well, you're a minor, so I'm going explain to you what's going on with Miss Gavernish. But I need you to really listen so you can relay the information to an adult family member."

"Sure," Clara said, her eyes narrowing.

She forced herself to look into Dr. Bihlmeier's eyes. She wasn't totally comfortable doing it, but she didn't want him to give him any reason to doubt her. She kept staring as he spoke.

"Your aunt is stable now," Dr. Bihlmeier said. "And my guess is she'll be waking up later today, though we probably won't want her to leave us until tomorrow at the earliest."

"Okay," Clara said. "I understand."

"But from what we found out tonight," Dr. Bihlmeier continued, "Miss Gavernish's overall medical state has deteriorated. How familiar are you with her condition?"

"Not... not very familiar," Clara said. Had Aunt Maureen mentioned anything – a change in medication, a new symptom – that Clara had ignored or forgotten? She didn't think so but her mind raced to remember anyway.

"Well, we know that she was taking her arrhythmia medication regularly," Dr. Bihlmeier said. "We tried to get in touch with her primary, but we haven't been able to get through yet. What we do know is that she's been in a steady decline for the past year or two, and that's only going to continue."

Clara nodded again. "So what... what can we..."

Dr. Bihlmeier interrupted her. "We're still waiting for the results from her second ECG, so I can't say for sure what her treatment plan will be now. But Miss Gavernish may well be beyond the point where we can do anything for her other than palliative care – just keeping her out of pain."

Clara hated this doctor now. How could anyone be beyond the point of treatment? There's always something you can do.

"I see," she said. "But do you know exactly what happened to her yesterday? I mean, she seemed fine earlier in the day."

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