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It was both beautiful and horrific to be alive. My LC was now flashing wildly, feeling compelled to shut down now that time had run out, but also knowing that it’s job was unfinished. The same feeling you get when you do something quickly and without much work, and then go back to it, feeling guilty because you know you can do better.
All eyes are on me as I slowly sit back up, hand on my chest. Beneath my palm, there is a steady beating. Chloe, Rio, Jason, and my parents dare not whisper, even breathe. Everyone is wondering what will happen next, until Dr. Brown moves forward, breaking the stillness in a very official manner. He checks my vitals, and then sits back. He moves closer to me once again, and the cold stethoscope is placed below my throat.
“I would like everyone to please leave the room,” He said, in a quiet voice, eyes shut. I don’t want them to leave, but everyone slowly gets up and files out in shock. My LC remains blank.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Dr Brown says, “Something has gone very wrong. Or very well. Depends on how you look at it. You should be dead.”
“Thank you,” I say, raising my eyebrows.
“I’ll need a blood test,” He says, reaching into his bag. He pulls out a small machine, the size of a calculator, and a small needle. I roll up my sleeve, and stretch out my arm, blue veins bulging under pale skin. He draws out a small amount of blood, and drip a generous amount onto a paper, sliding the paper into the machine. It begins to buzz away, and he places it on my knee, leaning forward to fiddle with my LC, which has now decided that I am, indeed, dead.
But, I’m not.
“I’m going to be frank. This has never happened before.”
“That’s a good thing, yeah?” I say.
LCs never make mistakes. They are exact and punctual in their work. Everyone drops dead at the moment they say. Some have close scares, where they begin to exercise more and eat well and their numbers go back up, but once you reach the remaining four weeks, you’re pretty much done for. One man had a robotic invention which kept him alive, his LC spinning back and forth between an hour and a second, but after only five hours, he died. Nobody hits zero and comes back.
“We’ll have to run tests and get your LC checked... I suppose it could be faulty. Maybe you fell down and it got damaged or... or...”
His little blood machine beeps, interrupting his stammering. He wipes his brow, and picks up the machine, as it prints out a thin roll of paper. He reads the results.
“Well ... it would seem that your heart and lungs are very strong. You’ve been under a lot of stress obviously, but, other than that, you’re healthy. Very healthy.”
“What about my disease?” I say. I had been told that my body was rapidly aging, and I would die young. Within months, I had living every good girl’s dream: to be very, very bad. Jason and I had hooked up too many times. I had swallowed, inhaled and snorted some rather ugly things. I had written tongue-in-cheek goodbye letters.
“It was there,” Dr Brown swallowed nervously, “And now it’s gone.”
“How?” I snap, resisting the urge to grab him by his shoulders and shake him.
“I don’t know,” He sighed, “We’ll see soon.”
And thus began a time of bleached hospital walls, cold sterile tools prodding from every angle, and the daily question of “how are we feeling today, dear?”. It was enough to make a perfectly healthy person sick. My LC had been wrong. No one would admit it, but it had been wrong.
I didn’t get to see anyone except my parents, the people I didn’t care to see. They treated me like I was made of rice paper; wind would blow me away from their grasp. The nurses and doctors treated me the same way, despite my temperamental nature, arguing and fighting with anyone who tried to touch me, or force me into something I didn’t want. I refused to be guided to the bathroom, and helped to be undressed. I refused to eat the cr*ppy hospital food, with its lumpy mashed potatoes, thick gravy and small cups of green, tasteless Jell-o.
Four days after the day I hadn’t died, Dr Brown came into my room. I had just woken up and eaten my breakfast, and was now sprawled across my bed, flipping through channels on the flat screen above my door.
“Why, hello,” I drawled.
“Get up. Get dressed. You have a meeting with the council.”
“Which council?” I ask, sliding off my sheets to select dark jeans and a burgundy hoodie.
“The highest council.”
“However did they get so high?” I snicker, “I wish I was that high.”
“Hard work,” He deadpanned, not getting my joke.
I roll my eyes, and step into my closet to change. Dr Brown waits outside, humming to himself.
“They want to talk about the whole death thing, right?” I ask, combing my hair.
“What else would they want to talk about?” He responded.
I stepped out of the closet, and smooth out my clothes. I debate making my bed, and suddenly, the door opens. Jason has his hands in his pockets, and is wearing a black hoodie. He smirks at me, and gives Dr Brown an innocent look.
“Five minutes, doc,” He said, shrugging, “Just five.”
Dr Brown rolled his eyes, but seemed nervous with not one, but two temperamental and unstable teenagers in the room. He leaves, shutting the door behind him.
Jason closes the space between us in two steps, and places a hand on my cheek.
“I’ve missed you like hell,” He said. His lips meet mine, and fire spreads from my mouth to my cheeks. I weave my fingers through his hair, lips sloppily moving against his. He pushes me back, until we gently bob against the bleached wall. His lips touch my jawline, cheeks, and down my neck. His fingers lift my shirt up a little, playing with the fabric of my jeans. I shudder, but push him back.
“Jason, this is insane.”
Jason looks at me innocently, cheeks flushed, hair mussed, “This?”
“No, not this specifically,” I say, sitting down on my bed, “This situation. What the hell happened?”
“I don’t know,” He said, sitting beside me, arm around mine.
“I’m terrified,” I say.
“I can tell. You’re shaking.”
“What if I die in a couple days? What if it was only off by a couple days?”
The door opens and Dr Brown walks back in, followed by a petit nurse in white. She ushers Jason out, despite his protests, and Dr Brown leads me out, taking a different hallway.
He takes me through an underground subway to the council halls. He ushers me through crowds of business men and women, armed with briefcases and blank, cold stares. He takes me through countless doorways and past many security desks. Finally, we reach a small, comfortable waiting room, and he sits me down gently.
“Please stay here, I’ll be right back,” Dr Brown says.
I stare back at him, and slowly nod. Where am I supposed to go? I’m curious about this LC thing.
When he returns, he leads me into a large conference room. Women with tight buns and men with trimmed beards sit in rows behind a dark, wooden table. They all wear formal clothes in greys and pastels, and all of them seem to look right through me.
I had to stand in front of them, hands by my sides, staring up at them. I hated the feeling of being so small and powerless beside them. I hated that I had to even pretend to respect these people.
“Miss Maddox, I presume?” A woman from the middle of the crowd said.
“We have some interesting news for you,” She said, shuffling papers.
“I’m sure,” I mumble.
“You are incompatible with the Life Counter. You are what we would call a variance.”