The Wrong Side of the River
One Pain is Cured by Another

You know how sometimes in really dumb TV shows the teenage daughter will throw herself onto her bed and say something like, “I could just die?” I always thought scenes were stupid and unrealistic until the moment I upchucked, right in front of Romy Madison.
Then they made sense.
I could have died from the shame of it right then and there if it weren’t for a sudden throbbing pain in my face that emptied all other thoughts from my head. All I could do was sit down, grab my nose, and try not to cry.
The drama teacher, a middle aged woman dressed in an orange and purple dress that made her look like a gypsy clown, came rushing toward me, waving her arms and screaming out in panic.
She’d help me, I thought. She’d get me to the nurse who could figure out a way to stop the pain.
“Bring towels!” she shouted. “And water! We’ve got to get this cleaned up or the theater will smell all semester! The carpets won’t be cleaned again until December. It could ruin our performance! Hurry! Hurry!”
The throbbing increased. It was like my whole face had a pulse. Everyone was running around trying to get towels and water and no one seemed to notice the kid on the ground squirming in pain.
No one except the one person I didn’t want to see right then.
“Are you okay?” Romy said, kneeling down next to me.
I wanted to shrug it off. I wanted to be cool and confident. I wanted to be the kid who didn’t have a large purple nose and puke all over his shirt. But those weren’t really options anymore.
I shook my head.
She pressed her lips together and paused for a moment to think. Then she nodded and held her hand out to me.
I took it.
I wish I could say there was some sort of spark or something, but the only thing I felt was my enormous throbbing nose. She wrapped my arm around her neck and started to lead me toward the door when the drama teacher called, “Rosemary, what are you doing?”
“I’m taking this guy—it’s Julian right?” she asked me.
She knew my name. I nodded and almost smiled which caused a fresh stab of pain to shoot out through my cheek.
“I’m taking Julian to see the nurse.”
The teacher looked back, confused. “But we’re going to do a read-through and I need my Juliet!”
“I’ll only be a few minutes. Don’t worry.”
She didn’t wait to see if the teacher approved. She just pulled me out the door and down the hall.
“You okay?” She asked. “You’re not feeling light headed or anything?”
“I’m fine,” I said in a very nasally voice. I actually was feeling pretty lightheaded, but I tried to take deep breaths and blink my eyes a lot so I wouldn’t collapse in the hallway.
It took an eternity to get from the auditorium to the nurse’s office on the other side of the school, and by the time we made it there my brain felt dangerously close to checking out.
Romy sat me down next to a kid with the sniffles and pounded on the nurse’s door.
“I’m helping another patient,” the nurse called with annoyance. “I’ll be with you in a minute.”
I swayed in the chair.
“I think you’d better come now!” Romy shouted.
The nurse came out, took one look at me, shuddered and stepped back.
“What on earth did he do?” the nurse asked, with a wide-eyed look of horror.
Romy helped me up again and led me into the office and up onto the exam table as the nurse shewed a not-very-sick-looking boy from the room.
“He just puked in Mrs. Kempf’s drama class,” Romy said, hoisting my legs up onto the table.
“But his face,” the nurse whispered as she pulled a fresh pair of gloves from a box on the wall.
I spoke, trying to keep the words as small and as painless as possible. “I ran into a door this morning.”
“And you didn’t think it might be a good idea to see me then?” she asked, exasperation in her voice.
“It didn’t seem too bad and I wanted to be here for the first day of school.” I stole a glance at Romy. The corners of her mouth twitched.
As the nurse poked at my nose, pain shot through every inch of my face. I tried to focus on Romy who was standing in the corner looking worried...or grossed out... I hoped it was worry.
“I admire your dedication to your schoolwork and your impressive pain tolerance,” the nurse said, turning to her computer and typing something in. “But you should have come right away. Your nose is badly broken.”
Romy’s eyebrows knit together in a concerned frown.
“I need to call his mother to see if she can get him to the emergency room,” the nurse said to Romy. “Would you mind sitting in here for a few minutes?”
“Of course,” Romy said, clearly not remembering her promise to be back to drama ASAP.
The nurse left the room and Romy moved a chair up next to the padded table I sat on.
“So tell me about this door thing.” Romy said. “What kind of guy runs into a door without seeing it first and, you know, stopping?”
I smiled, even though it hurt every muscle in my face to do it. “Guys like me, apparently. I’m cool like that.”
“When did you do it?” Romy asked, scooting her chair a little closer.
“Right when I got to school.”
“I can’t believe you walked around all day with a broken nose.”
I shrugged.
“Didn’t it hurt?”
I nodded. My head felt kind of buzzy and weird and I couldn’t quite get the breath I needed to make it feel right.
“I think you’d better lay down.” She held my hands as I lowered my head onto the bed. The backward motion made my whole face throb again and I grimaced.
Romy’s face hovered over mine, looking decidedly worried. She gathered her long dark hair over her shoulder so it wouldn’t fall on me and said, “You’re a tough kid, Julian.”
The doorknob rustled, signaling the nurse’s return.
“Feel better, okay?” Romy whispered, brushing the hair off my forehead.
For just a second the pulse in my face stopped and all I could feel was the trail where Romy’s fingers had touched my skin.
Then she stepped away and the throbbing restarted.
“Feel better, okay?” Romy said as she smiled and left the room.
I nodded.
Best first day of school ever.

Keep Reading

Chapter 6

Deny thy father and refuse thy name Romy

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