Chapter 2: Relative Problems

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Rob lay on the bed for a long time following Maggie's departure. He kept turning the news over in his head, as if he could turn it enough times to make out what he was feeling. Shock at the thought of becoming a parent. Concern over Maggie's emotional vulnerability. And, lurking in the background, ravenous hunger.

Clinic days were hectic with no time for breaks, and Rob hadn't eaten anything beyond a handful of bread crumbs Hans had slipped him between patients. Surprise pregnancy be damned, Rob needed food, though after a quick search he found his cupboards as bare as could be. 

Hans wasn't kidding; his clinic patients really had cleaned him out. Though he didn't want to see anyone right now, Rob realized he'd have to venture outside if he wanted anything to eat.

So Rob walked out his door. He walked past the Elven Shoemaker's shop, past the fountain with the brave little Tailor's headless statue, past the city gate, past the smiths and tanneries and other medieval industry that hunkered outside the city walls. He hadn't meant to walk this far, but Rob's racing mind wouldn't let his feet stop.

A gang of young maids looked up as Rob halted to gain his bearings, then huddled together, giggling, almost as if they were flirting with him. Rob had seen this strange behavior a few times before, but as he had bigger things on his mind right now, he ignored it in favor of hunting for food.

Most of the shops had closed their wooden shutters for the day, but a few stalls remained open. Rob marched over to three food stalls run by three brothers, picking up a meat pie from the first brother, a loaf of bread from the second, and quite by accident, his bushy-haired cousin and occasional housemate Zev from the third.

"Dude," Zev said, trotting beside Rob to match his cousin's driven pace. "Glad I ran into you back there. Hey, I know you look bummed and all, but you've got to try this grilled goat on a stick. It's mad good."

Rob chewed his bread, ignoring him, until Zev thrust a dripping hunk of goat meat beneath Rob's nose. "Get that away from me!"

"You're missing out," Zev said, sucking down the last of his dinner. "Yo, that littlest brother may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but he sure knows how to cook a goat. Hey Rob-O, spare me a little bread?"

Rob handed Zev what remained of the dark, dense loaf and continued walking in silence until the pair of cousins came upon a small stream. Squatting on a rock, Rob cupped his hands in the cool water, trusting that they were far enough away from latrines and animal pastures for the water to be safe to drink.

As Rob drank, Zev kicked off his bright green sneakers plopped down beside him. "So. Silent treatment, hey?"

Rob began to eat his pie. "Like I said. I don't want to talk right now."

"You should have told me not to tag along."

Rob hung his head. "I'm pretty sure I did."

"Whatevs," Zev said. "You're talking now, and that's gotta be a good thing, right? B-T-W, don't wait up for me tonight, my band's got a sweet gig at some noble-dude's party. I'll try not to wake you and the Magster when I get home, okay Rob-o?"

Rob bit his tongue to keep himself from screaming. He loved his cousin, and as the only other person around who could see what a weird, fairy-tale world they lived in, Zev helped keep him grounded. But right now he needed space to ponder Maggie's pregnancy, some quiet time to begin the process of emotional digestion. Instead, he had Zev.

Rob finished his meat pie and started to wipe his hands on his tunic before realizing his garment was spotted with blood and dried pus—he'd forgotten to change after clinic. Instead, he swished his hands in the stream, enjoying the numbing cool until he saw, caught in a web of branches on the opposite bank, a blue and silver can of Red Bull.

"What the hell is that?" he said, jerking to his feet.

"What?" Zev asked. "Where?"

"That," Rob said. "There!"

Zev squinted. "I dunno. Looks kind of like a can of Red Bull."

Without thinking, Rob plunged into into the stream, soaking his boots and socks, and splashed over to the empty can. He touched it gingerly, as if it wasn't real—it couldn't be real, could it?—and turned back to show Zev, who opened his mouth without having anything to say.

"Did you—?" Rob asked, but Zev shook his head. "Then who—?"

Dr. Robert Henry Lang waded slowly back across the stream, the can dangling at the end of his arm, and the cold he felt growing in his chest had nothing to do with the temperature of the water. 

Once upon a time, he'd inhabited a world with Red Bull and convenience stores, electricity and Amazon.com, but that had been a lifetime ago. Once upon a time, he'd been a University of Washington surgical fellow with parents retired to Arizona and a sister who filled in as co-host for Good Morning Seattle. Once upon a time, he drove a Honda Accord and shopped at Safeway and watched Netflix for an hour or two before going to bed.

Once upon a time, but not now.

And although he hadn't meant to come to this strange land, Rob had grown to like the new life he'd made for himself, and that feeling carried him through a lot of dirt and fleas and goat-on-a-stick dinners. 

But if someone else had found their way here—someone besides him and Zev—Rob knew without evidence and with all of his heart that this world he'd stumbled upon was about to change, and that change wasn't going to lead to everyone living happily ever after. 

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Hello, welcome back, and thanks for taking another look at GRIMM DIAGNOSIS. If you liked this second chapter, I'd sure appreciate a vote or any type of sharing you're comfortable with to help get the word out. Finally, please let me know if there's something I should be reading, too!

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