On the third morning after they’d settled into the cabin, Toby had felt it again. It was in the same spot on his right side, a slippery marble. He’d jumped out of bed and hurried into his clothes, covering it up.
His mom had been standing at the little kitchen sink sipping her coffee. There were purple shadows under her eyes. “Sleep all right, honey?”
She looked out the window. “It’s going to be hot today. Did you pack your trunks?”
“My trunks?” Was he hearing right? The lake was off-limits, wasn’t it?
“I thought you could help me for a while in the garden,” she said. “Then we could . . . Oh, I don’t know . . .” Her smile was lopsided, as if she was out of practice. “Run through the sprinkler to cool off! Or are you too old for that?”
“I’m eleven, Mom,” he said. “Jeez!” Run through the sprinkler? Was she nuts? And anyway, he did have his trunks. He just couldn’t wear them. Or she would see. Her eagle eyes would go straight to the marble and he would be back at Children’s Hospital in no time flat. She would call an ambulance. Or get a helicopter. Only he wasn’t going to do all that again. He wasn’t going to puke up his guts over and over while his mother held his head. He wasn’t going to miss school and lose what few friends he had left. He wasn’t going to make new friends with kids who disappeared. It would be the biggest lie he’d ever told, and he would tell it over and over again whenever she asked him how he was, no matter how bad it made him feel.
“Fine,” he’d tell her. “I’m fine.” Valerie Hobbs is the recipient of the 1999 PEN/Norma Klein Award, a biennial prize that recognizes "an emerging voice of literary merit among American writers of children's fiction." She is the author of young adult and middle-grade novels including Sheep, Anything but Ordinary, and The Last Best Days of Summer. She holds a B.A. and an M.A. in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she has taught academic writing. Valerie lives in Santa Barbara, California, with her husband.