Home > The P.A.N.

The P.A.N.
Author: Jenny Hickman


For my fellow dreamers who wish they could fly



“I get to go home when you’re finished with tomorrow’s tests, right?” Vivienne assumed, feeling hopeful for the first time since she had been admitted to the hospital.

“I’m afraid not,” the doctor said, adjusting the glasses on his nose. “Your diagnosis is still inconclusive.”

She slumped against the pillow and picked at the surgical tape surrounding the IV on the back of her hand. The four other doctors in white coats and stethoscopes muttered their agreement.

On her way to school on Monday, she had felt a bit light-headed. Nothing new considering she had skipped breakfast. She’d felt anxious as well, but that was because she had only spent twenty minutes cramming for her history test. Halfway through first period, waves of dizziness and nausea had crashed over her. Before she could get to the school nurse, her world had gone black.

Now she was sitting in a stuffy hospital room being stared at like she was an exhibit at the zoo. The rotten smell from the wilting flowers at her bedside was turning her stomach, and if the doctors didn’t stop scribbling on their clipboards and tell her something, she was going to scream.

As if he heard her mental freak-out, the doctor in the glasses told her that he was sure she had nothing to worry about. Then he escaped with the rest of his colleagues.

“I’m here! I’m here!” Lynn burst through the curtains, reeking of perfume and cigarettes. She collapsed onto the chair and dropped her purse on the floor. “Sorry it took me so long. Traffic was nuts,” she said, shrugging free from her coat and brushing her permed hair back from her face.

“Is that a new coat?” Vivienne asked. It wasn’t the faded brown one her foster mother usually wore.

“Got it at Goodwill.” Lynn picked some lint out of the faux fur-lined hood. Her neon-pink nails did nothing to distract from the nicotine stains between her fingers. “It was too cheap to pass up.”

The coat she had bought Vivienne three years earlier had a broken zipper and was too short in the arms. “New purse too?”

“They were both on sale. Nice, huh?” Lynn returned Vivienne’s nod with a gap-toothed smile. “Are you feeling any better?”

“I haven’t puked since yesterday. So that’s a win.”

“It sure is. I talked to the doctor on my way in here. They said you’re going to be staying for a little bit longer.”

The last thing Vivienne wanted was to discuss her health with Lynn. “How’s Lyle?” Her foster brother had texted a few times, but hadn’t made any effort to see her.

“He’s fine. Maren’s good too.”

Vivienne’s foster sister was probably too busy with cheerleading practice or organizing homecoming to realize she was even in the hospital.

They chatted about nothing for another ten minutes before Lynn claimed she needed to get home to cook dinner. Which was crap. It was bingo night. She would probably leave straight from the hospital for the church hall.

Vivienne didn’t mind. She preferred being alone to making idle conversation. Once Lynn was gone, she tried taking a nap. But sleeping was impossible with people coming in and out of the room like it was an airport.

When she opened her eyes, there was a dark-haired teen lounging on the other side of the dividing curtain. His black hoodie and dark jeans stood out like an ominous shadow against the sanitary white walls.

The door opened, and a nurse came in wearing the same sympathetic smile as every other nurse.

“Someone was awfully thirsty,” she said cheerfully, refilling the jug of water on the rolling tray table. Her dark ponytail swung from side to side as she moved around the bed.

“Yeah. They told me to drink a lot of water.” Vivienne glanced back at the guy. He was looking out the window now. The nurse didn’t acknowledge him. Which was odd. Right? Sure, he was on the other side of the curtain, but he wasn’t invisible.

The nurse babbled about her weekend plans while she took Vivienne’s temperature and blood pressure. “Do you need anything before I go?” she asked, throwing her rubber gloves into the biohazard bin. “My shift is almost over, so I won’t be back in to see you tonight.”

“I think I’m good. Have fun in Vegas.”

“You can guarantee it!”

The nurse bounced out the door. When Vivienne turned back to the dividing curtain, the guy was staring at her. His eyes narrowed, and his head tilted to the side, but he kept silent.

She was about to say something when yet another nurse slipped between the curtains. Her purple scrubs were a welcome break from all the blue ones.

“I have some good news for you, Vivienne,” she said after glancing at the clipboard. “They’re moving you to another facility to see a specialist.”

That was supposed to be good news? “I thought I was staying here.” The doctor had said that, right?

“No. You’re leaving tonight.” In an efficient yet detached manner, the nurse unhooked Vivienne from the various machines. “Get up and get dressed. Someone will be along shortly to bring you to the lobby for transfer.”

This didn’t feel right. The hospital wouldn’t release her without her guardian’s consent. “Where’s Lynn?”

The nurse launched into an explanation about forms being signed and hospital procedures and stuff she probably should have been listening to, but she found her attention drifting back to the guy behind the—

He was gone.

The clipboard cracked against the bed rail. “Are you even listening to me?”

“Sorry. I thought I saw someone over there.” Vivienne nodded her chin toward the empty chair. Had he been there at all?

The nurse walked to the hanging material and gave it a swift tug.

Vacant bed. Empty chair. Open window. Where had he gone?

“There’s no one else in the room but us.” After scribbling a note in Vivienne’s chart, and with and a curt reminder to get dressed, the nurse left.

Hopefully the specialist would be able to tell Vivienne why she was hallucinating now too.

She traded the unflattering hospital gown for her ripped jeans and gray T-shirt. When she yanked her hoodie out of her backpack, a small square of glossy paper drifted to the bed. She picked up the photo of her brother and sister and smiled.

Adventures with William and Anne made up the bulk of Vivienne’s scant childhood memories. Bedtime stories, pancake Saturdays, trips to the lake—

She sighed and tucked the photo between the pages of her history book.

“Are you dressed yet?” a male voice asked from behind the curtain. “It’s getting late, and we really must be on our way.”

His British accent made her smile. She’d always had a thing for accents. “Yeah, I’m all done.” She reached for the privacy curtain to see what her escort looked—

The guy from the corner was leaning with his shoulder against the door frame. And wow. Just wow. High cheekbones, sharp jaw, straight nose, and his mouth . . .

She knew it was rude to stare, but she couldn’t help it.

He wasn’t just handsome. He was beautiful.

“It’s about time they unhooked you,” he said. “I thought I was going to have to do it myself.” His head tilted and his brows pulled together as he studied her outfit. His eyes were the most unusual shade of green, deep and rich, like a field in the height of spring. “Do you have anything darker to wear?”

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