A Breath of Fresh Air: Inhale
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From: mamamia78@█████.com
To: shampaingurl@██████.net
Subject: can i get your advice?

Howdy, sis. I hear that you have a new bf. What is this? 3 in the last 2 months? Better slow down, girl, or there won't be any left for anyone else! :P So what's his name? Do you think that this one'll last long enough for any of us to meet him? :P

How are the kids doing? Mike looked good in that play last semester, but Mom tells me that he's not in the drama club this year? Is he spending more time with the football team? And how did Mary do on her cheerleader tryouts?

I did want to get some advice from you, though. Beth's going through some kind of phase and I was hoping that you might have soem experience from when your kids were younger. Beth's spending a lot of time by herself and just acts like she's starving all the time. I swear that she's put on 15 pounds in the last month. Do you think she might have an eating disorder or something? I mean, she's only 10, that kind of stuff doesn't happen until they're older, right? Please don't let Mom know about this, you know how she freaks out, and I don't want her deciding to come "fix" Beth if nothing's wrong with her.

Thanks, sis!

From: mamamia78@█████.com
To: shampaingurl@██████.net
Subject: Re: Beth

I guess you're right, she could just be going through a growth spurt. Maybe I *am* just being a little overprotective.

I do think that I need to look at what TV shows she's watching, though. Lately she's mentioned this weird imaginary friend thing that she never did before. She's not really clear, but it's big and has wings and talks without talking. Really weird stuff. If this keeps up, maybe I should take her to a psychologist.

I'm sorry that Mary didn't make the squad. Is it too late to try out for any other sports?

From: mamamia78@█████.com
To: shampaingurl@██████.net
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Beth

Oh, that secret friend thing? I'm not worried about that any more. She introduced me to the adult and he seems nice. Not scary at all. You hardly notice the wings after a few minutes. :P

So what are your plans for the holiday? Do y'all want to come visit? You can even bring your boytoy if he's still around then. :P

From: mamamia78@█████.com
To: shampaingurl@██████.net
Subject: Visiting

Come on, it'll do you all good to get out of town for a couple of days, especially Mary. Beth always likes being around her and I think she's a good example. Plus, it'll be nice for Beth to introduce Mary to the adult. I think he gets lonely sometimes and could stand to meet some new people. Everyone around here likes him, but you can never have too many friends, right?

Beth's looking better, too. She was so skinny before, but the new weight makes her look a lot healthier.

From: mamamia78@█████.com
To: shampaingurl@██████.net
Subject: Re: worried about you

Why are you worried? There's nothing wrong over here. I bet you'd feel better if you came and met the adult. I'm sure he's like to meet you all.

Looking forward to seeing you soon!

Shakti Shivaji had been a doctor in the backwoods town of Spring for over a dozen years, originally coming on a program that assigned doctors to underserved communities for college loan assistance and liking the area enough that she decided to stay. It was mostly a quiet life, leaning more towards cold and flu than major trauma. Even the local methamphetamine manufacturers tended to avoid going to the doctor for as long as they could, generally paranoid that they would get reported to the police. Shakti took her patients' privacy seriously, though, and reassured the manufacturer and addict in front of her of that.

"Mr. Jameson, you don't have to worry. I keep your records strictly sealed and private. I obviously think that your health would stop deteriorating if you would stop using meth, but I won't report you to Sheriff Michaels. Now please, tell me what's wrong."

"Well… if you say so. I'm still not saying that I use meth, just so you know, but if I did, how could I quit it? Um… I wanted to know if you could do anything about my chest hurting all the time. And maybe how to put on some more weight. He thinks that I'm too skinny and sick and need to put on some weight."

"If you were using meth, I would suggest going down to Forrester and checking into the rehab program at the hospital there. It's in-patient and lasts at least 30 days, and they would help you with the withdrawal symptoms. If you were taking meth, of course."

Dr. Shivaji continued speaking as she listened to Bill's chest and heart.

"As for the chest pain, your heart sounds a little weak. I'd like to get an EKG and chest X-ray on you and possibly send you down to the hospital for a CT scan later this week, so I can get a better picture of your heart. You should know, however, that if there are any problems with your heart that he probably won't pick you. He really only chooses people in tip-top shape. Still, any effort to improve your health will be a good thing, even if you might not be his."

Dr. Shivaji slung her stethoscope around her neck as she finished the exam.

"The nurse will be in in a few minutes to take you to get your X-ray. And remember: if you did do meth, continuing will only make things worse, and he wouldn't like that."

Bill hung his head like a little boy getting reprimanded and replied, "I know, I know. And, um, could you get me that information about the rehab? I really don't want to disappoint him."

Shakti left the room and gave the instruction to her nurse, then went to write up her notes. As she typed them into the computer, she idly thought, "I really ought to go visit him myself this weekend. I wish he would choose me too, but I know he thinks we still need a doctor for now. And he says that the first of the children will be almost ready for their next stage soon. I should see about ordering some more beds for them."

Dear Diary,

Mr. All-Growd-Up is thinking at me a lot today. He thinks I'm going to be ready soon. He says I won't be scared. But I think I will be.

I'm going to miss Mommy and Daddy and Beth. But not Uncle Dan. He looks at me funny sometimes. I don't like it.

And i forgot that Beth is going to be ready soon too. Mr. All-Growd-Up thinks at us that her and Tommy and Dani will be first.

They're lucky they can go first. I bet they will be real pretty like Mr. All-Growd-Up. I hope I'm pretty too.

I want to take Scooter with me when i go. He's a good cat. But Mr. All-Growd-Up thinks I can't. He thinks I can have Scooter when I grow up if I want. So that's good. I hope I get Uncle Dan like that too.


Sheriff Brett Michaels ("Yes, like the rocker.") was worried. He'd been feeling strange lately and wasn't sure what it was. Lately he'd go on patrol in some of the farther parts of the county for a few hours and would start feeling really angry and afraid of something, although when he was feeling better he couldn't remember what, exactly. He'd come racing back to Spring, all fired up to do something, charge straight into the clearing that the adult usually appeared in and then he'd feel a lot better. The air always smelled… better around the adult. Everything just felt right around him, like he could take care of everything. Even Sheriff Michaels, the nominal authority in the county, deferred to the judgment of the adult. He knew best, after all.

Brett spotted Dr. Shivaji across the clearing while the rest of the crowd was getting set up for the choosing and decided that he'd talk with her afterwards and see if she could give him some medicine or something to calm him down.

In the meantime, he kept his hands firmly on the shoulders of his brother Jake and his sister-in-law Debra. Their boy Jacob stood in front of the three of them, looking a little nervous. But that was only to be expected for meeting the adult for the first time; it was a big moment in anyone's life, and Jacob was about the age that the adult was interested in helping.

He told his brother and sister-in-law, "You ought to be proud. If Jacob gets picked, you'll get to be the parents of a very special boy."

Debra twisted slightly in his grip and glared at him. "For the last goddamned time, Brett, what the hell is going on here?! I finally get a weekend off so we can come visit, and you practically kidnap us up here! For fuck's sake, you didn't even let us unpack!"

"Aw, calm down, Deb. He's on his way up and you'll understand in a sec. He's a real great guy and I know you'll like him like everyone else does. So stop trying to squirm away. Besides, you're not gonna get anywhere so long as I have the keys to the truck."

Debra kept glaring at Brett, her fists clenching and unclenching as she tried to figure out the best way to incapacitate him non-lethally. Brett had always dismissed her as just a background extra in the movies that Sunny Coast Productions made, but she knew three different martial art styles and was their best action stunt double (among other things). She liked Brett, even if he put on the "good-ol'-boy" act a bit thick at times, but she'd be damned if she let him put her son in some kind of mysterious danger.

The tension was starting to give her a headache and she glanced away from Brett to see why her husband wasn't arguing too. She was surprised to see Jake looking glassy-eyed and somewhat vacant as he took deep, even breaths. She'd swear that he was hypnotized, but no one had even approached them since Brett had brought them into the clearing. Jacob's body posture was more relaxed too, which worried her even more, considering how tense he'd been just a few moments ago.

Her headache rapidly intensified as a light breeze blew towards them, carrying the scent of pine needles and fresh air. Everyone else, her husband and son included, turned their faces towards the breeze as one and took a deep breath, then smiled.

The upper branches of the trees across the clearing shook as something heavy landed on them, and Debra watched a… thing come jumping down the tree's branches. She'd never seen anything as intrinsically wrong as the creature that stood across the clearing, and almost retched as her headache reached new heights of pain. As her vision grayed out, she thought, "Fuck! They never told us in anti-psi training that it would be this goddamn painful!", and watched as the creature slithered across the clearing to lay a rubbery, segmented limb across her son's face.

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