“Mom?” I breathed into my cell phone receiver.
I could hear some shuffling on the other end of the line, but no one answered. She must be trying to stop dad from doing something that might get himself hurt. He was doing a hell of a lot better with the new Alzheimer’s and dementia cure the CDC had been handing out to people like candy, but he still had a ways to go yet.
“Mom? Hello?” I called again. If she didn’t have the time to talk to me before work, I would have to try calling again afterwards. I could hear her yelling something to dad.
“What?” She finally spoke into the phone. “Rhea? Sweetheart? Are you still there?”
“Yeah mom, I’m still here.”
She sounded distracted. Dad must be causing problems today.
“Oh good,” she sighed. “How are your classes? Second semester treating you okay?” She faked interest. Something else had her attention still. I didn’t blame her, I was used to this.
“They’re good,” I answered, half-heartedly. “How’s dad doing? He’s been on that new medicine for a month now, right?”
“Yeah,” she exhaled, exasperated. “I don’t know. He was doing really well. He was much more lucid than not until a couple days ago. It was wonderful. Now it’s like he can’t stand being inside the house; keeps saying he has to go meet ‘them’, whoever that is. And every time I try to stop him or get in the way he tries to bit me.”
“What?” I cried. “That’s really weird, mom. Are you sure he’s really trying to bite you?”
“I don’t know how else to explain it, sweetie,” she acknowledged. I could hear the disbelief in her voice. She knew it was strange to say dad was trying to bite her, but it was like she couldn’t lie to herself about what had happened. She changed subjects rather quickly though; I think she was trying to keep me from worrying about them while I was so far away. “It’ll be okay. I’m going to take him to the hospital tomorrow so they can do some tests.”
“Is the facility going to be open on a Saturday?” I shot.
“Oh yeah,” she reassured. I could picture her waving her hand as if waving away my concern like it was unwarranted. “They added some hours on the weekend a couple weeks ago in case of emergency.”
“Okay, well, you’ll let me know what they say when you go, right?”
“Of course, dear.”
“Maybe I should just come home,” I hinted. “I can help you take care of dad. I know he’s getting better, but it sounds like you could use the assistance around the house.”
“Assistance – look at you learning and growing up,” she cooed. “We’re doing just fine here. You focus on your studies. I have to go though, your dad’s trying to get into the garage and drive the car again. I’ll talk to you later, sweetheart. Take care of yourself. I love you!”
“Okay, mom, I –” The line went dead before I could finish. With a sigh, I finished my sentence into the receiver anyway. “I love you, too…”
I laid my iPhone on my small desk in my dorm room. My roommate was still in class so I didn’t have to worry about seeing her for a while. She was a music major who I didn’t get along with all that well. Her name was Rachel and she actually had a social life. Her parents were paying for her college so she didn’t need a job, like I did, to keep herself afloat. She partied every weekend while I was waitressing at Zingerman’s Roadhouse. It didn’t bother me, though. The less I had to see her, the better my life was. I had my own friends at the Roadhouse, and in the Chemistry department that I spent some time with.
I had already changed into my work uniform – black t-shirt and pants – before mom called to check in. I had about 15 minutes before I had to be at work for my next shift, but decided to make my way there anyway. Maybe someone there had something interesting going on that would take my mind off my parents. I had to do something or waiting around alone would drive me crazy.
When I arrived, the lunch rush had passed so the parking lot was empty. Most of the morning waitresses had either left or were getting ready to leave the restaurant to those of us on second shift for the on-coming dinner rush. I had gotten to know every waitress employed in this place and they all seemed to like me, so it wasn’t surprising when I walked in greeted by the two left wandering the floor, and the one folding silverware near the kitchen.
“Rhea!” Anita called from near the back of the restaurant. She was refilling salt and pepper shakers, preparing for the next rush. She had milky brown skin, long black hair she always straightened and pulled back into a pony tail, and slightly heavyset. I had a hunch she snuck pickles and other condiments while she was running food out to customers. She was a few years older than me – a senior and English major at the university.
“Hey girl,” I waved. If I had a best friend around here, it was her. I walked up to her and sat in a booth while I watched her pour salt into a shaker and replace it on the table. “What’s going on today?”
“Nothin’,” she pouted. She liked to lead an exciting life, but work and school kept her from that. She still partied every weekend, though. She loved to talk about how she was going to move to New York once she finally graduated.
“Really?” I breathed, incredulously.
“Nah, I’m jus’ playin’,” she laughed. I threw a napkin at her. “You know me, I play just as hard as I work!”
“I’m aware,” I chuckled. She brought me to a party once and I woke up face down in someone’s lawn wearing a white toga. I hadn’t worn one to the party.
“Well, I ain’t got nothin’ like that goin’ on,” she admitted, moving around me to refill the next table’s shakers. “Please, tell me you been watchin’ the news?”
“Uh, no,” I acknowledged. “I’ve been distracted by some stuff with my parents.”
“You need to get yourself some culture, girl,” she teased. “It’s been all over social media too, and I know you been checkin’ that.”
“You got me there,” I responded, impatiently. Whatever it was, I had no idea what she was talking about. What had I missed?
“I guess there have been a lot of people checkin’ into hospitals all over the world,” she hinted. “The only pattern they can find is that they’ve all had doses of that new medication that’s supposed to cure Alzheimer’s or dementia, or whatever.”
“Wow, really?” I couldn’t believe it. If mom knew about this, she would have told me. I heard there was no side effects to the medication, so what was happening?
“Fo’ real,” she nodded. “Scary shit is goin’ down.”
“What are they being admitted with?” I asked. If it was a world-wide epidemic happening, the CDC would be all over it. The news would have listed some sort of symptoms to look out for.
“No idea,” she shrugged. “Everything is still pretty hush-hush right now. Between you and me, though, I think the government is just trying to keep something quiet.”
“Like what?” I wrinkled my nose in disbelief. She wasn’t a huge conspiracy nut, but she did like to entertain a few of them.
“I don’t know, but it can’t be good. This thing was supposed to cure this disease and help others from ever going through it. Now they have a bunch of people all over the world getting sick or whatever for no reason? Sounds to me like them politicians don’t want anyone findin’ out they fucked up.”
“Maybe they just don’t know what’s going on yet,” I hypothesized. “If anyone had died or were in serious danger then we would have heard about it.”
“I suppose you’re right,” she agreed, deflated. “You better go punch in though. You know what’ll happen if you clock in late again.”
I jumped up and rushed over to one of the computers. I made it with a minute to spare. I followed Anita’s lead and started filling up salt and pepper shakers before the dinner rush. No matter how busy the evening got, though, I couldn’t shake the bad feeling I had in the pit of my stomach. My dad had been taking that medication. Is there something wrong with it that no one knew about? It made me nervous thinking about mom taking care of dad all by herself when something could be really wrong.
Okay, I guess she wasn’t completely alone. She had my younger brother – still in high school – to help her when he wasn’t in school. Still, he was a pretty popular kid, so he wasn’t around much during nights and weekends. He grew up not knowing dad very well so he wasn’t keen on helping mom take care of him. Dad started slipping away 10 years ago when Ronnie was only seven. Not enough time to really get to know the real dad.
Either way, I would have to call Ronnie and see if he noticed anything. I couldn’t imagine him taking time away from his friends to pay attention to dad, but it was worth a shot when mom had her hands full. I hadn’t talked to him in a few days anyway so it was time to check in with the troublemaker.
The dinner rush flew by. Anita, me, and two other waiters ran around the floor like chickens with our heads cut off. Anita dropped a plate of food coming out of the kitchen, and I broke a bowl that had hot soup in it in the chaos, yet we managed to keep our customers relatively happy. By the time eight rolled around, I had made $200 in tips. Anita’s shift ended half an hour ago but she was still hanging around waiting for me. We walked out to our cars together, but she seemed anxious.
“Everything okay, Rhea?” She asked when we reached our cars. She had a beat up Ford four door, and I had a used silver BW Bug. We were both situated at the driver’s side door, and she was looking at me over the top of my car.
“Uh, yeah,” I responded, a little confused. “Why? Do I have something on my face or something?”
“Nah,” she giggled, awkwardly. “You just seemed a bit distracted is all. I remembered halfway through the dinner rush that your dad has Alzheimer’s and felt bad. I didn’t want to make you worry or nothin’. I’m sure everything’s fine. The media is just grabbin’ hold of a story and runnin’ with it.”
“You’re probably right,” I smiled. “I’m not worried. Dad’s doing great. If there was something wrong, there’s no way we wouldn’t be notified.”
Feeling better, I waved to my friend and we went our separate ways. She was going home to get ready for a party and I was just going back to my dorm. She may have the day off tomorrow, but I had a morning shift I didn’t want to oversleep for. It wasn’t as lucrative as a Friday or Saturday night shift, but still busy. I wouldn’t be able to slack off simply because I was exhausted from lack of sleep.
I unlocked the dorm room door and walked in as quietly as I could. The lights were off so it was pretty dark. It was strange because I normally had to deal with Rachel rambling to me about her day at this time, but she was nowhere to be found. I was sort of grateful. If she wasn’t here then maybe she found some new friends to pester.
I changed into pajamas consisting of an extra-large t-shirt and sat at my computer checking my social media pages. I picked up my phone but had no notifications. Somehow it was already 9pm. With Stillwater being an hour behind me, I knew my family would still be awake for a while. I didn’t want to worry mom, so I sent Ronnie a text. I had no idea whether he would actually respond or not, but I hoped he would. Since I went away to college, he had grown pretty distance towards me. I went on Facebook to see if he was on but he wasn’t. I would just have to wait and see.
With a sigh, I shut my laptop and crawled into bed. Rachel had hers lofted with a futon underneath, but I kept mine low enough for me to climb into without much effort. It was a lot easier for me after a particularly rough shift at work. I laid my iPhone on my nightstand and snuggled up with my blankets. I wanted to wait to see if Ronnie responded to my text, but as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out like a light.
My alarm woke me up so abruptly that I wasn’t sure where I was. I searched around the room for several seconds before I realized I was lying in my dorm bed. I couldn’t remember what I had been dreaming about, but it had freaked me out to the core. I woke up sweating so much my sheets were soaked. When I had managed to regain my bearings, I noticed that Rachel still wasn’t sleeping in her bed. Sure I didn’t like her as a person, but I still wondered and cared for her well-being.
I rolled onto my side and picked up my iPhone from my nightstand. We had exchanged phone numbers when we first moved in for just such an occasion. Plus, we actually thought we were going to be friends back then. I sent her a quick text asking her where she was before noticing Ronnie hadn’t responded to the text I had sent him last night.
With a sigh, I placed my phone back on the table and forced myself out of bed. I wished I didn’t have to work so much so I could have some relaxation time, but I had responsibilities. I understood why adults told kids not to grow up too fast. I grabbed my shower caddy – with my shampoo, conditioner, razor, toothbrush, soap, and toothpaste – and a towel before casually walking to the shared bathroom and showers. On a Saturday morning, I had the place to myself so I relished the hot water. I had to force myself to shut off the water and walk back to the room to get ready for my morning shift at the restaurant.
Remembering what Anita had said last night, I turned on the TV that Rachel and I shared to watch the news while I dressed. It took a few minutes for me to find a channel that didn’t have Saturday morning cartoons playing, but it was worth the surf. When I did happen upon a news station, a man was in the middle of a story on the new cure and vaccine. At least I was pretty sure he was in the middle of it; I honestly had no idea how far into the story he was.
“…about the new cure and vaccine meant to eliminate Dementia and Alzheimer’s. It has been confirmed by the CDC that there are unforeseen side effects to taking the drugs. They have issued a warning: if you are experiencing abnormal hunger with unusual cravings, erratic behavior, relapse in previous symptoms, and lack of progress with healing, please see your primary care physician for instructions.”
Why did that sound similar to what was happening with dad?
“The CDC also asks that no one take extreme measures,” the newscaster continued. “There is no reason to worry. So far only a handful of those who have been injected with the cure and vaccine have been affected. The situation is going to be resolved by the end of the week. Stay tuned for more updates as we check in with the CDC.”
I tuned out the rest of the stories after that. Not only did we have to worry about those who were plagued with Alzheimer’s and Dementia being affected by these side effects, anyone who had taken the vaccine could be in trouble as well.