Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Eight

Wil’s tenacious grip on the slide bar slipped, as did her treadless boots on the platform. With all the grace of a surprised, screeching sloth, she tripped, fell, and slid the length of the metal slide. She landed quite solidly on the frosted wood chips and closed her eyes against the cold night sky. Perhaps, if she squeezed her lids tightly enough, Eric and the world would go away. A portal into another world might open beneath her, or a wizard would appear and –

From a distance, she thought she heard running feet. “God; are you okay?” Eric said from quite close, his concern a tad more evident in his tone than his amusement.

Wil cracked one eye open, then the other. He stood over her. What she could see of his features seemed to resolve into an anxious curiosity. His mouth appeared to twitch at the corners, but she couldn’t be sure in the dim lighting of the apartment complex.

That lighting was never luminous, and tended to turn off at important times. Her mother had said the owners were conserving energy; her father said they wanted to conserve money.

As if on cue, the lamp overhead blinked off. Wil, Eric, and the playground were plunged into darkness. Wil attempted an evasive rolling maneuver to rise, and succeeded in smacking her head against the bottom of the slide. The slide reverberated in the chill, empty air like a gong.

Shit, Wil! What -” Eric began, but broke off at the sound of Wil laughing.

She laughed and laughed. Then she cried. She laughed and cried and didn’t know why. Sitting up, she stopped at the shadowy sight of Eric standing nearby. Did he need something? She attempted to stand, and made it upright with minimal wavering. Bits of dirt and pieces of wood clung to her scarf and backside; she brushed at herself accordingly.

Eric was still there when she finished, within the reach of her arm. She’d never realized how tall he was. “What do you want?” she demanded.

He stepped back. “I, er…” His face moved in the dark, seeking an answer from his feet, the playground, and the sky. Finally settling on his gloved hands, he mumbled, “Nothing, I guess.” She watched his shoulders lift as he sighed. He shuffled his feet.

“Wellllll….” Wil couldn’t think of anything to say. She didn’t even know Eric; she just rode in his car because his mom had a vehicle everyone could fit in. None of them liked Mrs. Crandall, either; but, Wil realized, that didn’t necessarily mean Eric was anything like her.

The light a few yards down the sidewalk turned on. Her eyes flicked to it, distracted, then back to Eric. She was able to make out more of Eric’s face. He was staring down at her, and he no longer looked amused. In fact, his expression reminded Wil of someone’s she’d seen recently. She felt a light, fluttering feeling somewhere near her stomach.

“Um,” Eric raised a gloved hand and coughed a bit into it. “So -are you okay, Wil?”

She couldn’t seem to pull her eyes away from his gaze. She nodded.

“Good.” He did the cough again. “Erm. Great.”

“Miiiinaaa!” came an echoing call from down the walkways. The voice sounded like her father’s, not to mention his use of her second-most detested name.

Wil blinked, the spell broken. “I need to go.”

Eric took a turn nodding. Then he smiled a small, shy, simple smile. He looked nice in a smile, even in the semi-dark. Wil smiled in return, then pivoted and ran to her father’s voice and to their building.

Her scarf fluttered behind her, waving goodbye in the night.

 

Continued from Sixty-Seven.
Keep reading to Sixty-Nine.

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-Six

One reason Rob had chosen their current apartment was its proximity to Cynthia’s medical clinic. Unfortunately, Wil reflected as she watched cars, stores, and traffic lights move through her dim reflection in the car window, the clinic was not where they needed to go for emergencies. Also, that health facility was closed, as most seemed to be, on Fridays. She had often wondered if the doctors all thought no one got sick at the end of the week.

She turned to watch shadowed pieces of sunset play over her parents’ faces in the front seat. Her father sat tensely, his thick fingers turning ever whiter in their grip on the steering wheel. His eyes bored through the windshield, willing them at the hospital already.

Her mother –Yes, my mother, Wil told herself. –Wait! Where did those papers go?– sat in her relaxation pose. Cynthia’s head lay back, her blonde hairs dusting the headrest. Her eyes were closed. Her breathing was carefully shallow.

Rob’s cell phone chimed. Wil jumped, then realized it was just a notification. “Mina. Please.” Her father’s request, as usual, was a succinct command. Forgetting her train of thought, she leaned forward and took the phone from the console.

Putting in the simple code of one horizontal line to unlock the screen, Wil saw that Jakob had texted back. She cleared her throat and said, “It’s Jakob. He says, ‘Class almost out. Can get ride to hospital with Jen.'” She looked up, curious. “Who’s Jen?”

Cynthia laughed, which brought on another coughing fit. Wil looked distraught, a feeling made worse by the stern look her father wore when she caught his face in the rearview mirror.

They were nearly to the hospital when Cynthia caught her breath. As Rob carefully navigated into the parking garage, she turned her head to look at Wil. “I love you, Wil,” she said sweetly. “Always curious.” Wil did not look reassured, which almost set Cynthia going again. She swallowed a few times, allowed herself a smile, and said, “Don’t worry, Honey. I don’t know who Jen is, either. It’s probably just a girl in the same class who has a car.”

They pulled into a spot, and Rob put the car into park. Securing it with the parking brake, he turned and pulled his cell phone from Wil’s hand. “Let’s go,” Rob said, ever tactful and patient.

Cynthia smiled up at him, loosening his features into his version of the expression.
Wil hastily unbuckled. She pushed the car door open, hitting the cement wall they were parked by. Rob sighed. Cynthia had to suppress another laughing fit. Wil looked around, expecting Jakob to say, “I hope Wil marries a car detailer,” as he always did when she dented their car. She remembered that he wasn’t there, and instead looked apologetically up at her father.

“Nevermind, Wil,” he said, tiredly. “Just get out and close it. If you can.”

Leaving their sedan with all its scratched doors locked and secured, the Winters walked out of the garage and to the doors of City Hospital.

 

Continued from Fifty-Five.
Keep reading to Fifty-Seven.