It was two weeks after Bookworm’s last visit to the hospital, and she entered the building at the behest of another note from Mr. Canergak, hoping that this would indeed mean Tepic’s release. As she turned to the waiting area, she saw someone sitting there. The man turned his head and smiled.
“Dr. Solsen!” she exclaimed. “Good to see you, sir.”
“Miss Hienrichs,” he said as she sat down on the couch next to his. “It’s been a long time.”
“How are you?”
“Sickly as always, now,” he said with a weary sigh.
Bookworm frowned with concern. “I’m sorry to hear that, sir.”
“It is all right,” he replied, waving away her worry. “My new duties are simpler than they had been.” He might have said more, but the sound of approaching footsteps caught their attention. “Good afternoon, Dr. Sonnerstein,” Dr. Solsen said to the tall man who stepped into their line of sight. Bookworm echoed the sentiments.
Dr. Sonnerstein returned their greetings. “How are you doing, Dr. Solsen?” he added.
“I have come for my monthly check up… and to inquire about Miss Rouse.”
“Ahh, good. As for Ms. Rouse, I believe we’ll be taking her out of the iron lung today. She’s doing well enough that she should be all right without it now.”
“Oh, now that is good news.” Dr. Solsen sat up slightly in his excitement, but quickly leaned back again. He sniffed slightly, then coughed, as Dr. Sonnerstein looked down on a small figure that had appeared next to him. “Hello there, Tepic,” the tall doctor said. Tepic nodded and ducked his head.
Dr. Solsen continued to cough, drawing a frown from Dr. Sonnerstein. “Cardiac?” he asked.
“No, I am not used to the smell of so much blacking.” The older man finally stopped coughing, and accepted a mint handed to him by Dr. Sonnerstein. “Should help a little to bypass the smell,” he commented.
“I suppose being away from New Babbage has allowed your sense of smell to recover, so to speak,” Bookworm said ruefully. Then she smiled at the boy. “Tepic, come sit by me.”
The fox-boy looked at her blankly for a moment, then stepped forward until he was between the couches where Dr. Solsen and Bookworm were sitting, and dropped down onto the floor, slumping forward. Bookworm smiled wryly. “Not quite what I had in mind.” She reached into her bag and pulled out something wrapped in a napkin – something that turned out to be a sugar cookie. She passed it down to Tepic, who looked up at her with something close to a smile and started nibbling the edges.
Dr. Sonnerstein smiled gently down to Tepic. “I hear you’ve been working very very hard.”
“Work is good,” Tepic whispered. “It has its own reward.”
“It does, though we must have moderation in all things. Even work, when we are able.” Dr. Sonnerstein tilted his head. “How are you feeling, Tepic?”
“Feeling?” he whispered.
Dr. Solsen frowned. “What has been happening? I have not been outdoors in some time.”
“It’s… a long story, Dr. Solsen.” She looked down on Tepic, concern clear in her expression.
Dr. Solsen sighed. “I don’t have the time, sadly. “After my check up, I must see to patients–which includes Dr. Maddox at the moment.”
Bookworm looked quickly at him. “Really? Oh, dear–I hope it’s not too serious!”
Tepic, too, raised his head. “Miss Maddox?” he asked softly.
“She has simply made herself sick with worry, taking care of Beryl,” Dr. Solsen continued, shaking his head.
“Wait–what?!” Bookworm asked sharply. “Taking care of Beryl? When did she find him? How is he?”
Dr. Solsen looked at her, surprised. “He hasn’t woken up in months. I thought Dr. Maddox said she sent you a letter about this.”
She shook her head. “No, I never received that word from her.”
“Well, she hasn’t been in any condition to do it herself for a while. But let me assure you that they are both alive, if not well.”
Bookworm nodded. Tepic, meanwhile, had struggled to his feet. “Beryl?” he said weakly. “Beryl… gotta find Beryl…” He turned a little, looking confused.
“Whoa, Tepic,” Dr. Sonnerstein said, holding out a hand. “Relax and rest a bit.. Beryl is being taken care of.”
“Gotta work,” he continued whispering. “Save Miss Rouse… the voles…”
“I think that boy needs to rest,” Dr. Solsen said. Bookworm nodded, her mouth set in a grim line. Her voice, though, was coaxing. “Tepic, while we wait for Mr. Canergak, why don’t you lie down on the couch?”
Dr. Sonnerstein nodded, then chuckled softly as Dr. Solsen added, “Two doctors are ordering it.”
Instead of moving to one of the open couches, though, Tepic simply slumped back down onto the floor and curled up, falling asleep instantly.
“That is not what I meant.” Dr. Solsen sighed, then looked at Bookworm. “Will you keep an eye on him? Dr. Sonnerstein may as well perform my check-up while we’re waiting for Mr. Canergak.”
“Of course.” She watched Dr. Solsen carefully as he got up, but he seemed to have a little more energy than before. The two doctors moved off down the hall. Bookworm looked down at Tepic, then reached for the remnants of the cookie and carefully took it out of Tepic’s grasp, setting it on the table so it wouldn’t crumble away while he slept. Then she settled back and waited, the silence in the room broken only by soft snores and mutterings from the slumbering Tepic.
((To be continued…))