I had my back turned to the door as student filed out of Honors Junior English and in for Creative Writing class. I didn't want to risk infecting my entire class while my lungs made their attempt to escape my body. Every muscle in my body seemed to ache from this cold I had been fighting, and my head was pounding. I contemplated going home for the hundredth time today. No matter how much I loved my job, and the home its salary provided, it couldn't hold a candle to how much I wanted to crawl into bed and not move for a week. I was turned and facing the door before the logical mom voice reminded me that going home was impossible right now. Just one more class left, I chanted to myself. Just one more class left.
As the bell rang I turned to my desk and picked up my mug of tea. Taking a sip I began in a raspy, barely there voice, "Alright, today we continue our study of plot. Monday and Tuesday we talked about?"
I pointed at Karen who had her hand in the air, "Different kinds of plot devices."
"Excellent! Let's do a quick review." I continued quizzing the students on the various plot devices we had discussed in the previous lessons. Pleased with what they remembered, I moved on to the next part of the lesson. "Okay, now we are going to practice outlining full plots from beginning to end using what we have learned about plot structure and devices. I'm going to write several plots starters on the board and I want you to get into groups of three and map out a full plot based off of one of these starter plots. Any questions?"
I walked to the board and wrote the plot starters from memory. They were vague enough for students to put their own spin on the plot, but grounded enough to keep the plots from being so wacky and complex they are hard to follow. I had learned that lesson the hard way.
A child's parent leaves when he/she is very young and must cope with the loss.
A teenager has to reconnect with friends who he/she has hurt by his/her actions.
A young woman gets pregnant unexpectedly and must decide what to do.
A new teacher must learn how to motivate students.
Students moved into groups and started working. Normally, I would move from group to group to check on work, but my legs were beginning to feel like Jell-o. I sat at my desk and sipped my tea while keeping an eye on each of the groups. I thought over my schedule for the next few days, and considered asking Alice and Jasper or Emmett and Rose to watch Charlotte for the rest of the week or even just for the evening. I knew they never minded watching her, and I wouldn't have to worry about her getting sick too. I hated imposing on them, but as awful as I was feeling, it might be worth it.
A few minutes before the final bell, I stood back up. "Okay, everyone, good work. I want you to hand in what you have so far and tomorrow we are going to start looking at plot holes. Have a good rest of your day."
A few students stopped to talk to me on their way out of class. By the time I talked and hacked my way through their questions, I had to rush to the library for my tutoring session. I wasn't more than two steps in the door when the room began to spin. I felt lightheaded and had to step back, grabbing the doorway to stay upright. After a few deep breaths the feeling began to fade. I headed in to one of the long desks where James and Alex sat waiting for me. "Sorry guys. I didn't mean to be late."
"It's alright, Ms. Swan. You don't look so good."
"I'll be fine. Don't worry. Okay, so we were working on proofreading your essays for Social Studies class, right?" I went straight to correcting their work and tried to put some energy into my hour with them. When James and Alex got up to leave, my second session of the night, Bethany, sat down. By the end of her hour, my cough and headache were worse. I was starting to get worried this was more than a cold.
Finally done for the evening, I dragged myself back to my classroom, put a few things in order, grabbed my stuff and headed for the door. I only had 15 minutes before I had to pick up Charlotte from After School Care. The fee you have to pay for being late is astronomical. I made it just in time, and I loaded her in the back seat. Charlotte jabbered non-stop about her day, and I tried to focus on what she was saying. My hands were shaking and I desperately wanted us home safely. By the time we made it home, all I wanted to do was collapse in a heap. I dropped our stuff by the door, not caring about the mess, and made my way to the kitchen to fix Charlotte some dinner.
As I filled a pot full of water to boil pasta, my thoughts wandered to my creative writing class. Every year I gave the class the same plot starters. It was a little secret only I knew. Every year the plots and stories they wrote gave me a little piece of hope, because even though my students never knew it, they weren't just imaginary plots starters. They were and are parts of my life. I have lived versions of each of those plats and every year I get to see through their eyes how my life could have turned out.
And every year as I erase the board I wonder, "What will the end of my story be?"
"911, please state your emergency." The 911 operator answered in a flat tone.
"Hello, my name is Charlotte Elizabeth Swan and I am five. I need to talk to my Uncle Emmett or my Uncle Jasper, please." Charlotte sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor and spoke confidently and clearly into her mother's cell phone.
The operator stifled a groan; he hated these calls. "Charlotte, I think you called the wrong number. Can I speak to your mom or dad?"
"No! I called 911 just like my mama told me. Please let me talk to Uncle Emmy or Jasper!" Charlotte's five-year-old confidence insisted she knew what she was doing.
"Charlotte, your mom told you to call 911? Is she there with you?"
"Yes, but she's sleeping and she won't get up. I shook her and yelled and I even made a mess but she won't open her eyes. She always told me that if something was wrong or if I got lost that I should call the 911 on the phone and my Uncle Emmett and Uncle Jasper would come and help me because they fight great big fires and save people and stuff. I need my Uncle Emmy and my Uncle Jasper to come help my mama, please." Charlotte was beginning to get scared. She expected the man on the phone to send her uncles immediately running through the door, and instead he seemed to not understand her at all.
The operator was momentarily stunned by how well spoken this little girl was, but was quick to identify that Charlotte's call was not a mistake. Still unsure of what the emergency was, he decided to work in double time to locate the station with two firefighters named Emmett and Jasper. Luckily, with names like those, it didn't take long. "Okay, sweetheart, I'm going to ask you some questions before I try and get your uncles to you. First, are you at home?"
"Do you know your address?"
"Yes, I live at 4650 Higgins Street Apartment 3, Chicago, Illinois, United States of America." Charlotte stated proudly. She had just learned her state and country at school.
The operator breathed a sigh of relief. Not only did they have a fix on the house, but her uncles' firehouse was only minutes away. He sent out the call to the station, but needed to keep Charlotte on the line until help came. "That's great, Charlotte. You're being very helpful. Can you tell me what your mom looks like? Is she sick? Do you see any blood?"
Charlotte looked down at her mom sprawled out on her stomach beside her. She reached down and used her tiny hands to shake her mama's shoulders again, but nothing happened. "She went to sleep on the kitchen floor, which is really silly, and she won't get up." Charlotte could see a puddle of water on the floor and the pot that had been on the stove lying next to her mother's arm.
"Her arm's all red but I don't see any ouchies with blood cause I could fix that with my Dora band aids. How long till Emmy and Jasper come?" Charlotte fright was increasing every minute without help. She wanted Uncle Emmett to come pick her up and hold her while Uncle Jasper fixed her mama.
Realizing there was very little this girl could do to assess her mom, and sensing her growing panic, the operator switched tactics. He needed to get an adult to this girl's mom as quickly as possible. "You are doing a lot to help your mom right now Charlotte. Now, are there any other adults in the house with you?"
"Nope, it's just me and my mama."
"Okay, Charlotte, you said your Uncles Emmett and Jasper were firefighters right?"
"Yup! They have these great big suits and cool hats and once they let me ride on the firefighter truck and blow the horn. I can even go down the big pole all by myself." Charlotte smiled. She loved to visit her uncles at work.
"I've found where they work, and I've got their friends from the firehouse coming to help your mom. Now, I don't know if your uncles are working today or not so I'm going to give you some instructions. Can you do what I say?"
"Yes, I'm really good at following instructions at school. I'm in Kindergarten."
"Great. You are doing great. I want you to stay on the phone with me and don't hang up until the firefighters come. I want you to go to the door and make sure it's unlocked. Can you do that?" Charlotte ran to the door and moved the doorknob until she got the door open just a crack.
"Okay, door's open, but I'm not supposed to go outside without an adult." Charlotte peeked down the hallway hoping to see someone to help, but there was no one yet.
"Nope, I don't want you to go outside. I want you to wait by the door for just a few more minutes and tell me when you see the firefighters. They should be there any minute."
What was just a few seconds later, Charlotte saw four men coming up the stairs towards her. "YEA!! I can see them!! I can see Seth and Ben. They work with Uncle Emmy and Uncle Jasper. Thank you for sending them!"
"You're more than welcome, Charlotte. You were awesome. Can you give the phone to one of the firemen?" Charlotte opened the door as Seth rushed in, picking her up off the floor and into his arms.
"Seth, Seth, the man on the 911 wants to talk to you." Charlotte thrust the phone at Seth's face.
"Hello, this is Seth Clearwater. We've got Charlotte and the paramedics are working on her mom right now. Looks like she's unconscious on the kitchen floor." Seth tried to keep Charlotte's turned toward him and not at what the paramedics were doing with her mom on the floor. He could see them working to get her vitals.
"Hey, Seth, do something special for that little girl. She did fantastic. Better than most adults do."
"Will do." Seth clicked off the phone and smiled down at Charlotte who he had met on several of her trips to the fire house. "Charlotte, the operator said you did a wonderful job helping get us to your mom. I'm going to call your Uncle Emmett and Uncle Jasper and have them meet us at the hospital, okay?"
Charlotte's face fell as she heard the word hospital and tears filled her eyes. "Is my mama going to be okay?"
Seth peered into the kitchen and saw Edward, their firehouse's new paramedic, and his partner Ben strapping Bella to a gurney and prepping her to move. They already had an IV in and they looked rushed to get her to the hospital. "You mama is going to be fine. She's just sick and our friends are working to make her better right now."
Seth used Bella's cell phone to call Emmett, who was off today. "Emmett, I need you to get Jasper and the girls down to the hospital now. Charlotte called 911 when she found Bella unconscious on the kitchen floor. Your brother is working on her now."
Edward and Ben started rolling Bella on a stretcher through the living room. Charlotte tried to reach for her mom, but was gently stopped by Edward as he passed. "You need to stay with Seth, Little One. We'll take good care of your mom."
With tears now freely flowing, Charlotte buried her face into Seth's shoulder as Bella was rolled out the door. "I have no idea what's wrong," Seth said exasperatedly over Emmett's continuous roar of panic-filled questions. "Just get in the car and meet us there. I'll go with Charlotte in the ambulance and meet you."
Seth shut the door behind them as he took off for the ambulance with a silently crying Charlotte on his hip.