Chapter One: Losing Track of Angeline

By the time Hazen’s professor finally asked her to stay after class, she had been expecting it for a week. The 8:15 start time was just too close to her mother’s morning meds, and no matter how early Hazen woke up or how organized she was before starting the process, she hadn’t made it on time once.  On this particular morning, Angeline had physically resisted her pills, something that was rare over the past few years.  Hazen had stayed until she was calm; she couldn’t risk leaving before she saw a haze fall over her mother’s eyes.  She had gotten to campus over 20 minutes late.

“Before you leave, please see me,” the professor had stage-whispered as Hazen struggled, red faced, into the only open desk in the front.  A few classmates laughed behind their hands, and Hazen flushed with an annoyed embarrassment.  She was digging out her notebook when she felt a buzz from the phone in her sweatshirt pocket.

Charlie: Smooth entrance.

Hazen spun around and saw Charlie a few rows back, his glasses sliding down his nose as he openly texted.  He glanced up and Hazen flicked him off, causing him to grin and return the gesture.  Suddenly he straightened and slipped the phone under his desk, and Hazen felt rather than heard the professor approaching behind her.  She turned around and shot him a weak smile that was not returned.  For the rest of the class, Hazen appeared to be very interested in taking notes.

“Please be sure to email me your essay drafts before the next class. I will need to time write critiques before returning them to you.  I’ll also expect two comments on the discussion board pertaining to the notes from chapter twelve.  The link will be live this evening.  That is all.”

Professor Warren looked down at the syllabus spread out on his desk, making notes in the margin in a way that dismissed the class more thoroughly than his words had. There was the chaos of 20 teenagerish people grabbing travel mugs and pencils, all trying to fit through the small door at the same time.  Hazen didn’t bother trying to make eye contact with Charlie.  She knew he would be waiting for her.  Instead, she sighed and and repacked her bag, waiting until most of the class had trickled away before approaching Professor Warren’s desk.  

“Um...excuse me, sir.  You wanted to see me?” Hazen felt the red flush that always rushed up when she spoke to an authority figure.  It made her feel weak and she hated it.  The professor took his time, scribbling a bit more before acknowledging Hazen. He looked up with anticipation. It was a look Hazen recognized.  He was going to enjoy this lecture.

“Miss. Finch.  Yes, I did want to speak with you.  I wanted to ask you- are you enjoying your time with us at Quernando Commmunity?

Hazen shifted uneasily.  “Yeah, er-yes. I am.”

A mock surprised look bloomed on the professor’s face.  “Are you really?  Because it seems like you might have more important things occupying your time.  You have been late to every single session of the freshmen seminar on World History from 1850-1900.  Do you think this class is unimportant?”

It was dangerously close to being funny.  Hazen couldn’t think of a single practical application for the tedious memorization of dates and battles that Professor Warren droned about weekly; she and Charlie had spent an afternoon trying to perfect an impression of his love for the subject.  “It is vital that we recognize the missteps of Otto Van Bismark, lest we find ourselves likewise fired from our Chancellorship of Germany!  Do not take your Chancellorships for granted, you dull children!” Charlie had gotten the tone so perfect that Hazen had been sore from laughing.

Stop, my ribs hurt!” she had gasped.

THOSE WHO LOSE THEIR CHANCELLORSHIPS WOULD BE GLAD TO HAVE YOUR SORE RIBS!” Charlie had bellowed, waving his pencil.  Hazen bit her lip to keep from smiling at the memory.

“Miss. Finch!” Professor Warren brought her back to the present sharply.

“Uh, no, sir, I don’t find it unimportant.”

“Then why do you not feel it necessary to grace us with your presence?  What could possibly be more pressing?”  

The professor’s condescending tone went from amusing to rage-inducing in an instant.  Hazen gripped the top strap of her backpack, white knuckled.  Her interactions always came to this point, and then she had a decision to make.  Explain the truth and sound like she was making excuses, or lie and just look lazy. Both had their drawbacks, but Hazen was stingy about who she shared her truth with.  She clenched her teeth and made herself breathe through her nose and out through her mouth, trying to stop the blotchy redness from taking over her entire complexion.

“Well, Miss. Finch?” Professor Warren was tapping his pencil against his syllabus.  “I asked what was so pressing.”

“I’ll try to be on time,” Hazen said shortly.

“You’ll need to do more than try.  Attendance is a large part of your grade in this class.  If you continue to be late, I can’t let you pass.”  

Professor Warren looked like he absolutely relished the idea of failing Hazen for a freshman requirement.  Hazen bit harder into the corner of her lip.  No use telling him it wasn’t fair.  She settled for mutely nodding.

“It’s 8:15, Miss. Finch, in case you’d forgotten.  I’ll see you bright and early on Thursday morning.”  

Hazen waited until Professor Warren was focusing on his syllabus again, then turned on her heel and stormed out of the classroom, wishing she had the guts to slam the door.  She was so incensed she almost tripped over Charlie, who was sprawled over a chair in the hall, scrolling through something on his phone.  When he saw her red and furious face, he jumped up.

“So I’m guessing that went well!” he said brightly, following Hazen as she raged down the stairs, swinging her backpack onto her shoulder with so much force that it slammed against the wall with a rattle of zippers. “Was he complimenting you on your understanding on the Caprivi succession?”

“That guy is such an asshole,” Hazen fumed, compulsively looking over her shoulder.

“That asshole is not behind you, and even he probably knows what an asshole he is,” Charlie offered, holding open the door that led to the quad.  Hazen pushed through and flopped down on the concrete steps.  Charlie sat next to her, bracing himself with one hand and waving to a group of passing students with the other.

“Who are they?” muttered Hazen.

“I have Chem with the girl in the stripes.  I don’t know anyone else.”

“They all waved.”

“It’s called being nice, Hazen.  Now what did Chancellor Asshole say that has you all worked up?”  

Hazen sighed and picked at the rubber on her sneaker.

“He told me he’s going to fail me if I’m late anymore.”

Charlie’s eyebrows shot up.

“Can he even do that?”

“I don’t know!  He said attendance is a large part of the grade.  There is no way I’ll be on time every single class.  I’m screwed.”

“Well, did you tell him why you’re late?” Hazen sent Charlie a silent glance through narrowed eyes.  Charlie threw his hands up.  “Why NOT, Hazen?  Maybe he would go easier on you if he knew what you were dealing with!”

“It’s none of his business,” Hazen was still muttering, now scraping a piece of gum from the step with the toe of her sneaker.  “He’d probably just say I was making excuses.  Fuck him.”

“Fuck you when you fail this class and have to take it again without my charming company.”

“Fuck me when I can’t afford to take it again.”  Hazen groaned and gently knocked her head against the concrete pillar next to her.  Charlie blew out his breath and kicked Hazen’s foot.

“Come on.  You can buy me a coffee, it’ll make you feel rich to treat me.”  

Hazen rolled her eyes but let Charlie grab her hand and hauled her up.   They made their way through the quad and down to the campus center cafe in their usual fashion- Charlie smiling and chatting with every other person they passed, Hazen silently sweating and wondering why she had thought she’d need a hoodie. Despite his joke on the steps, Charlie paid for their iced coffees and tossed Hazen two sugar packets.  Her coffee was never sweet enough. Hazen lifted her coffee cup towards Charlie.  

“Thanks.”

Charlie shrugged her off, taking a long sip.  “Where to now? People watching in front of Percival Hall or should we deface some library books?”

“I should probably go home,” said Hazen.

“Already?”

“I was going to do some homework until my 2 o’clock class, but I’d better check on her first.”  Charlie said nothing but raised his eyebrows. Hazen sighed, shrugged.  “She fought me when I tried to give her her pills this morning.  Tried to leave. She hasn’t done that in forever.  Thanks for the coffee, sorry I can’t hang out longer.  I owe you.”

Hazen turned and started walking back to the student parking lot.  She only made it a few yards before she heard feet pounding up next to her.

“I’ll come with,” said Charlie, panting slightly.

“No, Charlie, you have a 10:15 class on Tuesdays.  You can’t skip.”

“Why, are you going to tell my mom?”

“Doubtful.”

There was no love lost between Hazen and Charlie’s mother. Charlie grinned at Hazen, grabbing her arm and pointing her in the direction of the student parking lot.  

“Then it’s settled.  Let’s go.  It’s been awhile since I’ve given Angeline my love.”

Hazen knew she should insist that Charlie go to class, that she should remind him that her issues were no reason for both of them to fall behind in school.  It was likely that Charlie only attended Quernando Community in the first place because it was the one school Hazen could afford to attend.  She knew he could have gotten into a nicer college.  She knew his parents wanted to send him somewhere else.  But Charlie swore that Quernando was his first choice, and when they made their schedules, he had made sure they had at least one class together every day.  A better friend would want him to move on to bigger things.  Hazen was just relieved to see so much of him.

“Hazen, wake up!  Are we going?”  Charlie was waving his hand in front of her face.  Hazen swatted him away.

“Yeah.  I’ll drive.”  Hazen looped her arm through Charlie’s and gave his elbow a quick squeeze.  It was more contact than they usually had, but before Hazen could feel weird about it, Charlie returned the squeeze, then pulled away and elbowed her side.

“What was that for?” he asked, smiling.

Hazen shrugged.

“I”m glad you’re coming.  Now hurry up.”




*

The streets leading up to Hazen's apartment building told the story of a town that had fallen from grace.  She always felt sad gazing at the large, stately houses that had been chopped into three or four apartments.  The strip malls had, on average, one viable business for every two that had closed down.  There were large signs advertising cheap commercial property available immediately.  Train tracks showed that one time, people had been willing to travel from the city to come out to Warrington, but now, the library could barely stay open.  

Hazen pulled into the gravel driveway of a three story building with peeling paint and three mismatched mailboxes next to the front door.  Now that she was home, she felt a greater urgency to get inside, evaluate the morning.  Struggling slightly with her seatbelt, Hazen got out of the car and headed quickly up the steps, hearing Charlie slam his door behind her.  Hazen looked up at the window of her third floor apartment.  One of the blinds was slightly askwew.  Had it been like that when she left? She fumbled with the keys, slipping in her haste.  A panicked, jittery feeling that had nothing to do with caffeine boiled in her stomach and flushed her cheeks and neck for the second time that morning.  Charlie took her keys from her shaking hand.

"You have got to chill out," he said, not unkindly.  "You get like this every time you come home.  Everything is fine.  You'll have plenty of time to get upset once you're inside."

As he spoke, the lock clicked and door swung open.  Hazen pushed past him and headed for the third floor landing.  She had to wait for Charlie to catch up before she could unlock the second door; regarding his chiding her on the porch, she tried to keep her foot from tapping as he handed her the key ring, holding the correct key out from the rest.

"Thanks,” she said, turning away from him, but he grabbed her elbow and she caught his eye, surprised.  He looked at her seriously, devoid of all his usual waggling eyebrows and goofy faces.

"Relax, Hazen.  It’s okay."

Her instinct was to be offended.  She hated being told to relax and hated to be told things were okay.  But something about Charlie’s intense expression made her pause.  Before she knew it, she was taking a deep breath.  Her shaking quieted.  Charlie grinned and pushed his glasses up with a practiced motion.

“Good,” he said.  His thumb ran back and forth across the inside of her elbow, once, and he dropped her arm.  Hazen felt a flip in her stomach and turned to the door to hide her confusion.  Charlie was a touchy person- high fiving, poking, hugging all the time to everyone- but he had never touched her so...lightly before.  It was the tiniest motion, so why did it shock her so much?  Hazen shook her head, took a deep breath, and pushed open the door.  The apartment was completely trashed.

Charlie let out a low whistle and Hazen gave him a shove as he pushed past her into the kitchen.

"She must have really flipped out this time," he noted, brushing what looked like a box of crushed corn flakes off a chair and onto the floor.

"You're making it worse," snapped Hazen, embarrassment and annoyance shooting through her.  There had been no time to clean up without missing class altogether.  She grabbed a broom and shoved it at Charlie.  "I'm going to go check on her.  I’ll give her an extra dose at twelve, then we can head back to campus."

Hazen stormed down the hall without waiting for a response.  There wasn't far to stalk.  The main door opened into the small kitchen, connected to a living area of equal size.  A tiny hallway off the kitchen had a room at each end: a small bathroom and a small bedroom.  Angeline's door was closed.

Hand near the knob, Hazen hesitated.  Angeline was brutal if she was interrupted while sleeping.  It was one of Hazen’s unspoken rules to never wake her mother.  The only rule she held more closely was to never go more than a few hours without laying eyes on Angeline.  She made up her mind and twisted the knob tortuously slow.  It took almost a full minute for her to crack the door an inch.

Hazen held her breath as she brought her face to the sliver of open door.  She could see Angeline huddled beneath the covers of her bed, the only flat surface in the room that wasn't strewn with scraps of paper, stubs of candles, and old fashioned writing quills and ink pots that cost was too much, but were not expensive enough to negate the peace Hazen could earn by letting her mother have her way. Everything seemed normal.  Using the same molasses speed, Hazen pulled the door shut and headed back into the kitchen.

Charlie had his back to  her, was scooping little piles into a dust pan.  Hazen felt a twinge of affection as she watched Charlie move with familiarity through the kitchen, righting a chair, returning the dust pan to the spot under the sink. Charlie was special because he would willingly do chores to help Hazen, but also because he was the only person who was allowed in Hazen’s apartment.  He was the only person who knew why Hazen was always late and always had to cancel plans.  He was the only person who knew exactly how bad things were in the Finch household.  Charlie was the only person, not counting doctors and social workers, who had ever met Hazen’s mother Angeline.

Angeline Finch was forty-six years old, with an athletic body, bright red hair, and glowing green eyes. She was also a diagnosed schizophrenic and had not left her house for anything other than a doctors appointment in over eight years.  Angeline did not cook, or knit, or read books, or play a sport.  Angeline did only one thing: she paced.  For as long as anyone could remember, Angeline was on her feet, trying to get out the door of the Finch family apartment, trying to get back to her kingdom.  Angeline told anyone who would listen that she was royalty in a kingdom named Taveloina, and it was her life’s goal to get back to her subjects and rule once more.

Hazen had spent her entire life listening to her mother talk about Tavelonia. When she was little, she had found the stories enthralling: magical spells, great banquets, noble armies.  Hazen was particularly thrilled to hear that she was a real live princess, daughter to the queen, and rightful occupant of the seat to the right hand of her mother.

As she neared adolescence, the stories began to sour.  Her mother spent more time detailing the workings of the Tavelonian ruling council than grocery shopping; the particulars of picking her daughter up from soccer practice were too difficult to stay on top of.  Angeline Finch started talking about her return to Tavelonia, preparing the family to move.  By this point, Hazen was old enough to question what country Tavelonia was in, and how they were going to afford the move when her mother had never, as far as she could tell, worked a day in her life.  As the chaos at home mounted, Hazen began discussing her new home with her teachers at school, and eventually, social services was called.

By the time the first social worker paid a visit to their home,  Angeline had had her first major breakdown, accompanied by huge fit of rage, during which dishes were broken and curtains ripped, all while Angeline screamed about a portal being sealed and a grave betrayal against the throne. This was the scene facing the social worker who came to their home- a spare woman in a drab suit, taking pictures and putting notes on a yellow lined pad from the instant she stepped foot in the door.  Hazen had been hiding out under the kitchen table.  Hazen retained a particularly vivid memory of  watching the woman’s shoes and she clicked across their kitchen floor, her toe nudging some spilt food.  Hazen didn’t know which scared her more- being found by the woman, or hearing her mother go off again.  That day, she ended up experiencing both.  Social services removed her from her home.

Hazen never spoke about her time in foster care.  Not to her mother, or to Charlie, or anyone else who asked or knew.  It took Angeline two years to get her back.

At first things were fine. Beds were made, laundry done, weekly trips to the park and movies.  Angeline took medicine and suffered visits from the social workers.  Hazen had her homework done and a good jacket on chilly mornings.  But then the old language snuck back in,  Angeline began picking up the habits again, mentioning her royal guard and hiding everything she wrote with zealous paranoia.  One time, Hazen got a bad grade on a multiplication quiz.  When she showed her mother, Angeline adopted a steely look and remarked that mathematicians were born, not made, and the the princess of Tavelonia could hire a dozen men to do her calculating for her.  That’s when Hazen knew that nothing would heal her mother.

Hazen also knew that no one could know.  She would never return to foster care.  Her life’s mission became to manage and quiet the ravings of her mother and maintain a facade of normalcy.  Hazen strong armed her mother to take her medicine.  She handled all the disability checks and applied for every social program possible so she could keep the two of them housed, clothed, and fed without anyone looking too closely into their situation.  Hazen did housekeeping chores and worked after school jobs and never complained. Angeline, even with her medications,  cut a tense character in the household, pacing the rooms, muttering about battle strategy, cursing her stupid daughter who wouldn’t open her eyes to the existence of Tavelonia and conspired with the others to keep her trapped in the hellish apartment.  Hazen bore it graciously, mostly silently. Charlie was the only person who she ever let herself vent to.  He never judged.

That had been Hazen’s life for all of high school, and now that she was forcing herself through community college her patience was wearing thin.  As Angeline got older, the fits and rages came with more frequency, and Hazen found herself unable to leave her mother alone for much longer than two or three hours.  Her professors were annoyed with what they saw as her casual attitude.  She had already been fired from local diners twice.  Charlie was a reliable companion, but Hazen didn't spend much time with other people her age, male or female.  There was too much to describe, and even when she had the energy to get the story out, casual friends weren't overly understanding the fifth time plans had to be canceled due to a breakdown.  Hazen didn't blame them, but she got lonely.

“The cleaning is free, but you’ll have to pay if you want to watch.”

Hazen jumped as Charlie’s voice broke into her thoughts.

“What are you staring at, weirdo?” he continued.

"You didn't have to-" she started, but Charlie cut her off.

"It's fine," Charlie said, straightening up and dumping the crumbs into the trash can.  He wasn't much taller than she was, but he was stocky and solid.  He wore the second of his two pairs of pants today, sturdy army green fabric that had been worn as thin as paper, held firmly to his waist with the leather belt Hazen had given him for his birthday.  Charlie didn't care much about clothes, but his sagging pants had been a joke for years.  She meant the belt as a gag gift, but Charlie never took it off.  Hazen watched as Charlie flipped open the refrigerator door, made a face, and shut it again.

"There's nothing to eat," Charlie said mildly, pulling out his phone.  Hazen crossed her arms.

"Don't be an asshole, I need to go shopping."

"Don't jump down my throat, I'm just saying that I ordered a pizza!"  Charlie didn't even look up from the app he was using to place his order.

"Leave them a note in the special instructions not to ring the doorbell," Hazen said quickly.

"I know, Hazen."  Charlie walked past Hazen into the living room, flopping onto the battered couch and propping his feet on the coffee table.  Hazen followed, grabbing her school bag as she passed.  She flopped down on the opposite end of the couch and pulled out her laptop, a thick textbook, and her notes from the class they had just left.

“Don’t do school stuff, there is good internet Scrabble going to waste on my phone,” said Charlie.  

Hazen shook her head.

“I have to take advantage while she’s sleeping.”

“Are you seriously going to work on that right now?  It’s not even due until next week.”  Charlie reached over and kicked Hazen’s textbook where it rested on the coffee table.

“Maybe if I’m perfect in every other aspect of the class, Warren will forget he hates me and let me pass.  It’s worth a shot.”

“Show up in his office wearing nothing but a military jacket and a powdered wig.  You’ll get an A.”

Hazen laughed without looking up from her notes.  Charlie kicked the textbook again and Hazen grabbed it, sliding it to the floor.

“Stop,” she said distractedly.

“What’s with you?” asked Charlie.  He moved his foot a centimeter over and kicked her laoptop.  “Pay attention to me!”

“Stop being so needy!” said Hazen, pulling her computer into her lap.  Charlie twisted and started kicking her knee instead.

“Out of the two of us, I am definitely not the needy one,” shot back Charlie, aiming carefully to leave a dusty footprint running along Hazen’s shin.

Hazen shifted away from his foot, but the playfulness was gone from her.  Charlie looked up and saw her just wiping away the traces of hurt from her expression.

“Oh, God, Hazen, don’t.  You know I was kidding!”

Hazen shook her head, shrugged.

“Says the boy who just skipped his classes for me, cleaned my kitchen, and then had to order his own lunch.”

“A, I invited myself over, and B, shut up.”

Hazen didn’t saything.  Charlie risked another kick.

“If you want to make it up to me, you can play me in Scrabble.  I’ll take a really long time playing my words and you can study in between turns.”

Hazen smiled in spite of herself.  Charlie was constantly trying to get her to play Scrabble.  He was terrible at it.

“Fine.  I’ll play if you leave me alone in between turns.”

“I want you  to leave me alone in between turns!  God, you’re so distracting!”

This time Hazen was the one to send a kick, and she was less gentle than Charlie.  Charlie grinned and threw a pillow at her. They settled into a silent rhythm, Hazen tapping out answers to discussion board questions until Charlie would pass her the phone, giggling at whatever stupid word he had played.  Hazen rolled her eyes as he cracked up over BUTTS.

“That is so dumb.  Are you five?”

“This is what is happening to my brain due to a lack of education,” Charlie said.  “Your fault.  I blame you for my genetically terrible eyesight, too.”

Hazen knew he was baiting her, but she couldn’t stop herself from wrinkling her nose.

“I should take you back so you don’t miss your next class.”

“Hazen, stop.”  She looked up, surprised.  Charlie’s voice had gone serious again, like before, outside the door.  “This is where I want to be.”

Hazen stared at him.  For the second time that day, he was looking at her dead on with no sarcasm to hide behind.  She licked her lips and tried to think of something to say.  Suddenly a  loud buzzing blared through the apartment.  Hazen jumped to her feet in a fury.

"I thought you told them not to ring the bell!"

"I did, I swear, they didn't listen!"

"Make them stop!"

Hazen left Charlie to get the pizza and stormed down the hallway, trying to get some water and her mother's pills ready as quickly as possible.  Angeline would be confused for a few moments after waking, and that was her best chance of getting her to cooperate.  Hazen's hands shook as she ran the tap to get it cold.  Angeline Finch never settled for lukewarm water.  Hazen was fretting about the glass as Charlie came back, balancing the pizza and tucking his wallet into his back pocket.

"I didn't tip, I promise."

Hazen shot him a dirty look.  She still wasn't convinced that Charlie had made it clear that the bell wasn't to rung.  She was opening her mouth to ask him to pull up their order confirmation when she noticed that Charlie was gazing over her shoulder with a confused expression.

"What?" she asked.

"Didn't all the noise wake her up?"

Typically, Angeline woken before she was ready resembled nothing more than a bear who's hibernation had been interrupted.  Slamming doors and shouted curses were par for the course.  But there was none of that now.  In fact, the hallway was more still and silent than it had been in years.  Hazen felt something cold slip into her stomach, like she had swallowed an ice cube.  Charlie watched her face and quickly set down the pizza, following close behind as Hazen walked to the door of her mother's room.

"Mom?" Hazen called softly as she eased the door open.  She was no longer trying not to wake Angeline, but a different dread made her move slowly.  She heard a slight clinking and noticed that her shaking hand was rattling the door knob.  The door finally swung open, and Hazen peered inside, letting her eyes rest longer this time on her mother huddled under many blankets.  As her vision adjusted, Hazen squinted at the deadly still pile of quilts in the middle of the bed.  Behind her, she could feel Charlie leaning forward to get a better look.  Something wasn't right.  She took a few steps forward and heard Charlie catch his breath in his throat.

"Hazen, wait..." Charlie was whispering, but Hazen was already too close to the bed.  She felt like she was moving in slow motion, terrified to reach out her hand but unable to stop.  In the end, she realized her mother was not under the blankets a full three seconds before she actually pulled them back.

No one moved.  Hazen stupidly pushed her hands against the rolled towels that someone had fashioned into a rough human shape.  As if she thought Angeline might be...underneath?  Rolled inside?    What an idiot she snapped at herself.  Then she pushed down again.

"What the hell?"  Charlie was still whispering.

"I thought she was sleeping," said Hazen.  She wasn't sure if this deadly calm was shock. Her body was acting of it's own accord, moving towards the closet and throwing open the door.  Charlie burst into action, heading to the floor-length curtains and shaking them away from the window.   The room was too small, they ran out of logical places to look quickly.

"Did you look under the bed?" asked Charlie.

"Of course I looked under the bed, that's where you look when you lose things," snapped Hazen.

"We did not lose your mother," said Charlie firmly.

Hazen just shook her head, waiting for her hysteria to kick in.  Anything would be better than this numb feeling, the buzzing in her ears.  Charlie was back at the bed, unrolling the towels.  Hazen watched him from what felt like a huge distance.  An idea formed in her mind without her summoning any thoughts.  Her legs took over, leading her to the bathroom.  She didn't understand why she was holding her mother's opaque mouthwash bottle until she was opening it.

As Hazen twisted the cap, she realized it was too light, nearly empty, and she began to understand.  When she tipped the bottle, a massive clump of white, half-dissolved pills slid neatly into her hand.  Days and days and days of Angeline's three-times-daily anti-psychotic medication, cheeked and spit into the bottle.  It could very well be two week's worth of pills.

"Charlie," Hazen's voice came out strangled, but Charlie was already in the doorway.

"What is that?" he asked, gazing at the pile in her shaking hand.

"Her medicine," Hazen was starting to take deep breaths between her words.  "She's been spitting it out into this bottle.  For a long time."

"Oh, shit," said Charlie softly.  Hazen noticed he was holding a rolled piece of paper.  "You should read this.

Hazen, my daughter, if you are reading this, then you know that I have finally regained access to Tavelonia.  Obviously, I could not bring you with me, as you would prevent my leaving.  However, I very much wish to have you in Tavelonia with me.  The entrance is easy enough to find, and my contacts hope to keep the portal open for at least three full rotations of the Earth. I do not know if I can buy you any more time than that. I understand you may be upset, but you will soon see that this is truly a cause for rejoicing, and the culmination of much hard work and planning on my part.  Be happy for me.  Come to me.  Regally, your mother,  rightful Queen of Tavelonia

Below the looping handwriting was sketched a map with familiar street names and landmarks.  It showed a shopping center near their home where Hazen and Angeline had gone together in the old days when Angeline would still go out.  

Hazen looked up and found herself locked in Charlie's gaze.  His eyes were darting back and forth, trying to read her face.  She realized how blank she must look.

"Where did you find this?"

"It was rolled into one of the towels.  Listen, Hazen, are you okay?  Should we call the poli-"

"No!"  Hazen basically shouted the word, making Charlie flinch back.  They had been speaking in hushed tones for the past five minutes.  "I'm sorry, just, no.  I don't want people in here, asking us lots of questions.  I can find her.  She left us a map."

Charlie looked doubtful, but he nodded.

"Well, get your phone.  Let's go."

Hazen felt a flood of emotion and squeezed her eyes shut, reveling in the pressure of her clenched eyelids.  She wanted to hug Charlie.  She wanted to cry.

"God, Hazen, are you okay?"

Charlie sounded panicked, and Hazen knew she had to keep it together.  She swallowed and nodded.  It pained her, but she released the soggy mass of pills into the toilet, trying not to think about the hours of waitressing needed to fill Angeline's prescriptions every month, only to flush it all away.  There was no time to dwell on it.

"Yes," Hazen was impressed with how firm and steady she was able to make her voice, even while the core of her was trembling violently.  "I'm okay.  Let's go."

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