Wendy flipped through the book. She remembered the pop-science books from when there had been bookstores. Always at the front of the store, on one of the tables people browsed through to kill time but never picked up from. Always colorful with a cutesy title. The books would be hardcover and big, but when you picked them up they seemed to be light as a soul, and the print inside would be huge. Summer or airport reading designed to make you look smarter to strangers.
June’s book was almost that. It was a hard cover, and the dust jacket was a light blue, kind of eye catching. But there weren’t any brightly-colored graphics. And the thing was heavy like a Buick. The print inside was small, and cramped, and as she flipped through she kept finding words she had never seen before. And the title…
“Bad title,” she muttered, turning the book over in her hands.
Birdie shook head. “That’s what everyone keeps saying.”
They were in the kitchen of the Doblin Biddy. Wendy was sitting at one end of the large table. Nico and John were sitting in the middle. Even June was sitting, down the other end. Birdie was the only one up. Pacing back and forth, picking at her clothes and hair. In all the time since Wendy had been in the Biddies she’d never seen the woman this agitated.
Wendy flipped to the back and found what she was looking for on the inside flap.
“‘Benjamin Hooper, Jr, is a physics professor and researcher at the University of Texas at Austin. He’s had papers published in…’ I haven’t even heard of half these journals. ‘He lives in Austin with his two dogs, Gizmo and Billy, and spends most of his weekends making the ‘nerd rounds:’ Warhammer, Smash Brothers tournaments, and conventions.’ There’s a picture in here with him in some sort of costume.”
“It’s Link,” Nico said. They all looked at him at the same time – except for June, who was studying the water glass in front of him – and he ducked his head and ran a hand over his short hair. “From the Zelda video games?”
She closed the book and pushed it back toward Birdie. During this entire conversation – ever since she had heard Birdie bellowing her name from outside the house, actually – she had slowly been counting. A tactic she had used since she was a kid to calm herself down. She had an idea where this conversation was going. And she didn’t like it. She had already blown past four hundred.
“He was a physicist. A genius, from the looks of it,” Birdie said, glaring at the book like it stole her lunch money. “And now…now he’s…”
“Not?” John offered.
“There has to be something we can do,” Birdie said.
Nico shrugged. “What? Go back in time and keep him from being brain damaged? No offense, June.”
To Wendy’s surprise, June actually looked up when Nico said his name. In fact, he seemed to realize the conversation was about him, and began following who was talking.
“It’s old damage,” Wendy said. “Years old, I’d guess, from the way his head looks.”
“But look at him. He looks so much better since he found the book. We can help. You can help him! There has to be something you can do.”
There it was. She had made it to four hundred and ninety-six.
“Me?” Wendy asked, keeping her voice level. “Why me?”
“Because you’re our doctor!”
Wendy stood up slowly, pushing the chair behind her back and making it squeak against the floor. She did nothing to keep the sound from happening. The three men sitting down, even June, seemed to understand that something was happening, and kept quiet about it. Birdie was still glaring.
“As I have said before. A lot. I am not a doctor.”
Birdie threw her hands out, and yelled, “You have a medical degree!”
“I have a nursing degree. It’s not the same thing. This is precisely why I’ve always hated everybody calling me ‘doc.’”
John crossed his arms over his belly. “You said it was because it made you feel like a fraud.”
She shot him a glare that made him lean back. “And it does, but that was never the real issue. This was. I knew something like this was always going to happen. Birdie, you look at me. I was an ER nurse for fifteen years. I never did anything different, that’s how much I liked it. I never worked neurology. I never worked rehab or physical therapy. Even if I had, I’m still a nurse! I wouldn’t have been diagnosing or ordering treatments! I wouldn’t have gone to school for literal years to study the brain! Now I can play doctor for basic shit all live-long day. I’ll patch up wounds and dole out antibiotics and you can call me Doc Wendy and I’ll grit my teeth and bear it. I can even read through the books I have and make some educated guesses. But if you think I can pull all the education of a neurologist out of my ass and fix June, you are crazy.”
She didn’t raise her voice once, but she had commanded the attention of the entire room. Even June was looking right at her, mildly concerned. She may not be a doctor, but she was an ER nurse, damn it, and that meant she knew how to get a bunch of agitated people to shut the hell up.
Birdie took a long, deep breath, with enough hitches that Wendy knew she was trying to keep from crying. Birdie was a tough woman. But Wendy was, too, and she knew that sometimes tears just found you, no matter how thick your skin had become.
“I’m sorry,” she said, sitting down next to June. “You’re right, it’s too much to ask. This just…threw me.”
Wendy took her seat. “I accept your apology. And I get it, okay? I’ve been looking through the few books I had. Nico said you guys managed to clear out that book store, so maybe there will be something in there, although I doubt it. I’ll try to figure something out, Birds. But I just need you to not expect miracles. And to understand that when it comes to this stuff, the only thing my training helps with is understanding some of the words a little better.”
She looked at the other two, especially John, to make sure they understood. Nico was nodding away like a little kid. John only looked at her and nodded once, putting a hand on his cheek. Everyone needed to know she wasn’t a miracle worker.