Chapter Nineteen: Mrs. Ferris

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Freddie found the hospital's waiting area exactly as it had been the day before, except there was none of Theo Porter's restless energy to fill the space.

Amazing how empty it felt without him there.

No. Freddie cringed as she crossed the beige tiles. Do not think about him. You're not allowed to think about him. Now or ever again. She had screwed up on the way to the park with Divya; she refused to make that same, secret-keeping mistake again.

Fortunately, it only took Freddie twelve footsteps to forget about Theo. Twelve footsteps that carried her right up to Mrs. Ferris's room...

Where her windpipe promptly closed off and her pulse thumped into her eardrums.

An irrational reaction, she knew. This wasn't room 27, and it wasn't Frank Carter waiting on the other side.

Still, it took Freddie three steeling breaths before she finally worked up the courage to touch the forbidden silver doorknob of room 34. Then another two breaths before she finally twisted it.

She shoved her way in, half frantic, half sluggish, until at last she was through and the door was clunking shut behind her.

Of course, Freddie realized a split second too late—after she'd already taken three steps inside—that maybe she should've knocked before coming in. Or maybe she should've found a nurse. Or maybe brought some flowers or a "Get Well Soon" balloon.

Something other than simply barging in.

Yeah, that might have been a good plan.

But it was too late now; Freddie could already hear Mrs. Ferris shifting in her bed behind the blue privacy curtain. The lights were off. The plastic blinds were drawn.

"Rita?" came a feeble voice, at once familiar and at once foreign. Mrs. Ferris had never sounded feeble before. "If you've brought me more donuts, I'm going to scream. I told you I wanted beef jerky."

Okay, that sounded more like the Mrs. Ferris Freddie knew. And it gave her the final nudge of courage she needed to march to the curtain and poke her head through.

"Hi, Mrs. Ferris." She tried for smile. It fell flat.

"Frederica?" Mrs. Ferris blinked, startled. Then she snatched at a pair glasses looped around her neck. Her blankets rustled.

She looked so frail, her skin makeup free and her hair unstyled. The hospital gown only made it worse, revealing the sharp lines of her shoulders.

And for a moment, Freddie was completely thrown by it all—by how this vision clashed with her mental image of Mrs. Ferris. Which was why, for several long seconds, all Freddie could do was stare.

Gone were the recited words she had prepared on her bike ride. Gone were the planned apologies or desperate pleadings for forgiveness.

This woman was her friend. She was also Sheriff Bowman's mother and Theo Porter's grandmother. What had Freddie done to her?

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, Mrs. Ferris transformed before Freddie's eyes. She sat taller. Her eyes flashed behind her thick glasses, and she even snapped her fingers. "Come," she barked. "We don't have much time."

Freddie obeyed, too startled to do otherwise. "We don't have much time for what?" she began.

"Hush." Mrs. Ferris's fingers lashed out. With shocking strength, she yanked Freddie to the bed.

Her skin was papery this near. Her blue eyes bloodshot. "How did you know to visit me?"

"Uh," Freddie began eloquently, but Mrs. Ferris wasn't listening. She was already powering on.

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