The Firmness of Rock Series


  Firmness of Rock

  — Chapter 1

  Radiance of Moon

  — Chapter 1

  The Prayer


Firmness of Rock

Chapter One
Where Alana Overhears Something Strange

Alana was not feeling very well. She hadn’t felt well all day long, ever since she ate three Eggos for breakfast and had just a little too much maple syrup with the round waffles. Too much maple syrup usually didn’t make her feel sick, but since it was almost Halloween, she had also snuck a few Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups from the family’s stash just before breakfast. She’d learned a new word from her language arts teacher that seemed appropriate: jentacular. She thought, as she made her way to the nurse’s office to lie down, or perhaps to blow chunks, that she was in the midst of jentacular nausea.

Her friend Mayv Duffy, a red-haired Irish waif, had whispered to her that she looked really pale. As she did, the language arts teacher, Mr. Cahill, heard Mayv and asked her to share with the class. Mayv had rolled her eyes, but said, “Alana looks sick, Mr. C.”

Mr. Cahill, who reveled in his role as an LA teacher, exposing seventh and eighth graders to new and unusual words and to classics of juvenile fiction, looked over his glasses at Alana and made a “tsk” sound. “You do look pale, Alana – do you want to visit the nurse?”

Alana wanted nothing less than to visit the nurse. Her office, and its adjoining “privacy room,” always seemed to smell like puke. Either puke or disinfectant. Or both. But if she was going to be sick, the last thing Alana wanted to do was be sick in class, in front of everybody.

Alana didn’t say anything, she just nodded. Mr. Cahill gestured with his head toward the door and continued on with his descriptions of the books the kids had to choose from. As Alana left the room, he was talking about the young protagonist in The Giver.

Alana, a wiry little thing who would describe herself as an average thirteen year old but whose parents called her a future heart breaker, walked slowly down the hall to the nurse’s office. She walked past the bathroom and looked inside at the mirror. In this part of the building, there were only smaller, single-person bathrooms and not the larger, multiple-stall, single-sex bathrooms found in the newer parts of the school. The mirror, installed sometime in the 1950’s, was not glass but instead polished metal. As usual, she stuck her tongue out at herself as her face distorted around the dings in the metal. This time, though, as her tongue extended and a chuckle came up from her gullet, a small wave of nausea enveloped her and she nearly stumbled.

She walked into the small nurse’s office and found Nurse Hatcher behind the desk. The nurse held up a finger to Alana as she filled in a field on a form, then put down her pen and looked up at her.

Nurse Hatcher didn’t dress in scrubs nor did she dress up in business attire like most of the teachers. She’d decided long ago that scrubs made her feel, and made the kids and teachers treat her, like, well, a nurse. Though that could have its advantages, she wanted to feel like a part of the educational team. She was, after all, expected to not only look after kids who took ill and over the dispensation of the prescription drugs to some of the kids, but she also taught some of the health-related classes in the school. At the same time, it made no sense to get dressed up because, without fail, she ended up with vomit on her shirt or pants at least once a month. As she looked up at Alana, the look on Alana’s face gave her a little internal twinge, a little nurse’s instinct that she might have need of her extra set of clothes today.

“You look peaked, dear,” she said to Alana.

“Yeah,” Alana said, and she held her stomach. “I don’t feel so well.”

Nurse Hatcher picker up her pen and asked, “It’s Alana, right?” Alana nodded. “What’s your last name, dear?”


Alana watched the nurse fill in her last name on the form. Then she rose from her seat and motioned Alana through the door next to the desk, the door to the privacy room. “Come, lay down. Do you want me to call your parents?”

Alana sat on the bed, then swung her legs up and laid her head on the puffy pillow. “Um, not yet. I might just need a few minutes.”

“Do you have a note from your teacher?”

Alana looked up at her and shook her head slightly. School policy was that she had to have a note to roam the halls if she was not going to a class, so she should have had a note to go to the nurse’s office. Nurse Hatcher sighed an exaggerated sigh and asked, “Who’s your teacher?”

“I came from Mr. Cahill’s class,” Alana answered.

“I should have guessed,” the nurse said quietly, under her breath.

Alana looked at her, unsure she’d heard correctly, unsure she was meant to hear. “Pardon me?”

The nurse looked down sheepishly, then tapped Alana on the shoulder and said, “Never mind, dear. I’ll come check on you in ten minutes. Sound okay?”

“Yes, thank you.”

The nurse pulled the door half-closed and sat back down at her desk. Alana could see the nurse’s hands as she started writing something on the clipboard. Alana looked down at herself. She had dirty blond hair (though she could swear it was really just light brown) that reached her shoulders. She wore an orange shirt from Aeropostale (though the store called the color “ocher”) and faded blue jeans. Of course, the jeans were already faded when she bought them. They were hip-huggers, though not low-riders – Alana’s mother would never allow that, and frankly Alana thought showy pants were stupid. Since she didn’t have gym today, she wasn’t wearing socks, just her light blue Crocs. She picked at a spot on her jeans and as she did so, she faded off to sleep.

. . .

Alana awoke with a start, completely unsure how long she had been out – it could have just been a few seconds, or it could have been an hour. She was sometimes like her mother, who was known to fall asleep at the beginning of Survivor then wake up as they voted someone off the island, totally surprised a whole hour had passed by. But she’d also seen her mother sit down in a chair and close her eyes and immediately open them, with the same stunned and confused look on her face – much the same as the look on Alana’s face now.

As she shook the sleep out of her eyes, she heard voices coming from the nurse’s office. One was obviously a kid, a girl; the other, the nurse’s. Suddenly she heard something that got her fully awake.

“I’ve been high all day,” the girl’s voice said.

Alana was no stranger to drugs. Not that she had ever done any – she was only thirteen, after all. But she’d been to drug awareness classes and so she knew what drugs were and what some specific drugs did. But worse, her friend Lucy had a big brother who had caused a lot of trouble for Lucy and her family, trouble all stemming from drugs – drugs of the illegal variety, and way too much of them. She knew drugs were bad news, and hearing someone her age, or at least close, saying she had been high, all day no less, was interesting.

Alana sat up and tried to see around the door, to see who was talking. But all she could see was Nurse Hatcher’s clipboard on the desk and a pair of black DC shoes tapping their toes. The girl was sitting in one of the chairs across from the desk, but from her angle, Alana could see nothing else.

“Are you high right now?” Nurse Hatcher asked.

“Yes,” came the response, the voice a little impatient.

“Okay, okay,” said Nurse Hatcher. “Just check again in an hour and see if you’re still high.”

“I know, I know,” the voice said with a sigh.

“I know you know,” Alana heard Nurse Hatcher say as a chair moved. Then she saw the nurse stand in front of the open doorway. “I know you hate reporting in to me, but you’re working with a powerful drug here, and we just want you to be safe.”

“I know,” she heard the girl say. She heard the girl stand and heard footsteps walking away from Nurse Hatcher. Alana strained to see who the DC’s belonged to, but all she saw was the bottom of a backpack, a black one with pink piping accenting a few edges. Then the backpack rose out of sight and the girl walked out. Nurse Hatcher turned and looked in on Alana, and when she saw her sitting up she said, “Alana? How are you feeling?”

Alana had completely forgotten why she was in the privacy room and she quickly took stock of herself. She actually felt a lot better, and told the nurse so.

“Well enough to go back to class?”

“I think so,” Alana said as she planted her feet on the ground and stood tentatively. She held her stomach and braced herself for whatever, but nothing happened. “Yeah, I’m good,” she said.

Nurse Hatcher walked around to her desk and pulled the clipboard to herself as Alana moved into the office space. Alana saw her last name on the list and saw that the nurse had written in the time she’d arrived, 8:55, and the current time, 9:35. “I was out for forty minutes?” Alana asked.

“Yes, dear,” the nurse said, “and it seems to have worked wonders.”

Alana gazed down at the list again and noticed a name under hers, with just an arrival time, 9:26. She assumed this was an entry for the mystery girl. Aside from the time, all she could see was a last name, Greene. With only a last name, she wouldn’t have much to go on for figuring out who the druggie girl was.

The nurse noticed Alana’s gaze lingering on the paper a bit too long, and moved to cover it up with her arm. These were patient records, after all, and Alana had no need to know what else was written there. The nurse put the clipboard in her lap, then reached down and opened a drawer. She pulled out a hall pass, which was just a yellow piece of study cardboard, and handed it to her. “Do you know where you’re supposed to be now?”

“Yes, in Mrs. Hudson’s class.”

“Give this to her, then, and please ask her to return it to me soon – I’m starting to run out.”

“I will, thank you.” Alana took a few steps toward the door and heard the nurse call out, “I’m glad you feel better!” Alana waved without looking and walked back to her part of the building, past Mr. Cahill’s classroom and toward Mrs. Hudson’s. But the whole way, she was not thinking of the LA she’d missed or the math she was about to be immersed in, nor even how sick she had felt earlier. No, she was instead suddenly worried about the drug girl.

Alana was a little angry. She’d seen what drugs could do to a person and to that person’s family. This girl was bringing that into Williston Middle School, her school. And suddenly she was angry at Nurse Hatcher, too, for acting so cavalier about it.

Cavalier – another of Mr. Cahill’s words. She thought she’d used it right. Instead of lecturing the girl about the “powerful drug,” Nurse Hatcher seemed to be encouraging her take it! There had to be something more to it, but she couldn’t think, for the life of her, what it could be. She’d have to discuss it with Mayv and Lucy as soon as she could.

More than anything, though, she was glad that her mind was off her stomach and onto something else.

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