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Phys Ed

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It was Thursday. 

Thursdays at Taft High School was always the day where phys ed consisted of running up and down the bleachers of the football field and around the perimeter of the school instead of playing a sport in the gym. Milly didn’t mind Thursdays, really, though she was always slower than she thought she was. Miss D’Gregario always stood by the chain link fence entrance to the football field with a stopwatch, yelling out the number of minutes that had passed as students finally finished their run. Milly’s best time was fifteen minutes; the average for girls, according to Miss D.’s chart, was twelve. Milly’s average, she figured, was about twenty.

So, she wasn’t the best runner—she still found it a refreshing change of pace. Working with Eric during phys ed was nice, but it could also make Milly feel even lonelier than she usually felt. The students were all there, running and jumping and talking to each other, the room filled with the sound of squeaking sneakers, but they never acknowledged Milly or Eric—not that she really wanted them to, Milly had to remind herself near constantly. Whenever any of the Taft student body did acknowledge them, it was usually to say something rude, or giggle. Running on Thursday, though, made Milly feel part of something.

“Alright, girls, let’s go!” Miss D. clapped her hands as she shouted, striding with long, muscled legs towards the double doors leading out of the girls’ locker room. “Come on, hurry up! Every minute you spend in here is a minute you lose running the mile!”

Milly hurried in pulling up her cotton gym shorts, a handy alternative to the usual gray sweats the students were expected to wear for their uniform. The shorts ended at the knee, and were soft and flexible. Just as she was wondering whether she should rub on an extra coat of Old Spice before heading out, she felt someone push past her shoulder hard enough for her to stagger a bit. Mona. Milly watched the other girl’s ponytail bounce as she exited the locker room with Colette, bitter. Then she sighed and closed her locker. It was time to go; she could be irritated later.

Despite Miss D.’s best efforts, her students only barely lined up at the starting line, a sea of red shorts and gray T-shirts with matching red sleeves. Some of the boys were doing mock pushups, and some of the girls were tying up their hair. Milly touched the braid bunched up at the nape of her neck. No matter how neat she tried to be, wisps always escaped, but at least the majority of her curls were tucked up. The day wasn’t sunny—always a plus on Thursdays; Milly turned her face to the sky, squinting at the light gray clouds blocking the sun. The weather was overcast, but it wasn’t too chilly. 

Goosebumps were cropping up on her arms; Milly rubbed them with her hands. The wind played with the flyaway wisps of her hair. She didn’t feel cold...she felt pretty warm, actually.

“Alright, everyone!” Miss D. blew her whistle in three short bursts. Everyone quieted down, shifting into their final starting positions. Milly was in the middle of the crowd, between the overachievers stretching at the start and the students who preferred to talk to each other and jog rather than really commit to the exercise. She suddenly remembered that Eric was sitting somewhere beside the bleachers. Miss D. had unceremoniously told him to stay there while the other kids ran, and ever since then he’d wandered over to the exact same spot and waited. Was he watching her, seeking her out? She scanned the pavement next to the bleachers and spotted him—he was sitting with his legs bent in the shape of a “W,” hands in his lap, looking at the sky.

A twinge started in Milly’s stomach. She rubbed it, wondering if she was hungry. Miss D. yelled, “Go!” She began to jog toward the bleachers on the opposite side of the field. The other kids jostled by her, feet pounding on the mown grass. The bleachers grew closer and closer; Milly prepared to run up the stairs, looking down briefly to make sure her shoes were tied and cursing herself for not checking before Miss D. told them to go. Thankfully, they were tied.

The bleachers were old, their white paint chipped. The stairs creaked when Milly pounded up them, hot on the heels of another kid. It was easy for her to run up stairs, and she put on a burst of speed, arms pumping at her sides. She still felt warm, almost feverishly so; sweat was gathering on her brow. Her stomach rumbled as she finished running the first set of bleachers. Worry gnawed at her; what was going on? Was she getting sick? Milly tried to rationalize her feelings. She had overslept, and thus hadn’t gotten a chance to eat a real breakfast. Instead, she’d eaten a banana and a granola bar on the way to school—her mother had been kind enough to drive her and Louis due to them being late. Was that why her stomach was acting funny? Was she just hungry?

Milly finished the second set of bleachers with little incident, pausing only to wave to Eric on the way. He lifted a hand absentmindedly, looking in her general direction. Cheered, Milly continued, wiping her forehead. Now, all she had to do was run around the school. All around her, kids were still jogging. She wasn’t too far behind in terms of timing.

Then, everything changed. Milly was rounding the side of the school’s administration building. She was panting a little, but otherwise felt fine—until her stomach gave a sudden twist. She stopped point blank, bending over and putting her hands on her abdomen. She felt nauseous, all of a sudden; her face was getting really hot, now, and her legs felt wobbly. Her stomach was aching. Milly’s mind raced. Am I going to throw up? she wondered, suddenly terrified. It sort of felt that way. Had she eaten something bad?

Milly straightened up gingerly and started to jog. She was breathing heavily now from the pain, which came and went. Still, she couldn’t stop—she was halfway finished with the run, and if she walked, she wouldn’t be able to make it back to the locker room before next period started.

I should go to the nurse, she realized, trying to breathe deeply. But she didn’t know where the nurse’s office was. She’d never had to go there before. 

“Hey,” came a voice. “Are you okay?”

Milly turned her head. It was a boy she didn’t recognize. He looked concerned—probably because she was jogging unevenly and still clutching her abdomen with her left hand. “Um,” Milly said, “Yeah.” She gave an unconvincing smile. Tell him you need to go to the nurse! Somehow, though, her mouth wouldn’t work. It seemed like too much to talk that long, like vomit might spray from her lips. Oh, God, what was going on?

The boy nodded, clearly itching to keep running. “Okay,” he said, then left. Milly wanted to call him back, but it was too much to speak. Her head was spinning. Abruptly, she sat down on the pavement and lay down. The cement was refreshing and cool on her neck, and the gray sky above was comforting to look at. Milly focused on taking deep breaths, hoping to calm her cramping stomach. 

After a moment, Milly stood up and started to jog yet again. She felt at least a little better—hopefully well enough to finish phys ed. The cool breeze felt good on her hot face, and her stomach had settled down at least a bit. By the time she arrived at the beginning of the track again, she was panting hard. Sweat felt like it was pouring off her face, though when she touched her forehead, the skin was dry. Miss D. clapped upon seeing Milly and a couple other students jogging towards her. “Good job, you guys!” she called. “Only a few more yards to go! Make it count!”

Milly trudged past the finish line, her stomach twisting yet again. When she looked at her hands, they looked pale and slick and shaky. “Miss D.,” she mumbled. Miss D. looked at her, brow wrinkling in concern. “I think I’m sick. I dunno where the nurse is.”

Kids passing the finish line veered around Milly as they jogged. Miss D. told the class that they could go to the locker room early, then put her arm around her. “You look pale,” she said as they began to walk together. Milly was grateful for the help; she didn’t know if she could get anywhere on her own after that run. She was too tired.

“I think I have a fever,” Milly admitted.

Miss D. nodded in sympathy. She patted her back. “We’ll get you checked out. Don’t worry.”

Upon entering the nurse’s office, Milly realized she had never wanted to lie down so much in her life. She stumbled over and lay down on the single cot in the room, listening to her heart beat in her ears. Miss D. was talking, but she could hardly hear what she was saying. She still felt dizzy. All she could do was nod and thank her for taking her to the nurse.

“It’s no trouble, Milly,” Miss D. replied gently. She began talking to the nurse, an older woman with dyed red hair. Milly hoped she was explaining her situation—she felt too sick to do it herself. 

Miss D had just left when suddenly, despite her pain, Milly’s eyes shot open. She sat up. “I have to go to the bathroom,” she said to the nurse, and hobbled over to the little restroom adjacent to the office.

About five minutes later, she came back. “Can I have a pad?” she asked the nurse quietly, wide-eyed. “And some Tylenol?”

Eventually, Milly went back to the cot with what felt like a diaper stuffed between her legs. The nurse, whom Milly learned was called Miss Altimari, called her mother after she relayed the number to her insurance office to her. 

“Yes, she’s got bad cramps,” Miss Altimari said in a businesslike tone. She licked her fountain pen and started writing something at her desk. “She’s menstruating for the first time, she says.”

Milly’s face burned. She was glad the nurse’s office was empty. Her stomach knotted with cramps and worry. Her mom couldn’t really afford to take time off work like this, could she? But she had no other way to get home—she couldn’t walk in this condition. And what about Louis and Eric?

“Miss Altimari?” Milly asked after the nurse hung up the phone. “Can I leave a note for Mrs. Sherman?”

Charlene picked Milly up about twenty minutes after the call ended. Milly knew because she’d kept her eyes on the clock the whole time, counting the seconds. The painkiller hadn’t kicked in yet. Her legs were aching. 

“Oh, Mil,” her mother sighed once she’d arrived. Her look of sympathy was almost too much. Milly turned her head away, embarrassed. Why did she feel like crying?

 

On the ride home, Milly attempted to apologize. “I just felt horrible,” she admitted. “I started feeling sick all of a sudden while running. It freaked me out. All I wanted to do was go home. And then I found out what it was...and that just made me feel worse.”

Charlene gripped the steering wheel with one hand. The other hand gave a dismissive wave. “It’s okay,” she said. “I understand. Getting your first period is scary. But look on the bright side!” She turned her head briefly to beam at her daughter. “You’re a woman now! Isn’t that exciting?”

Milly’s face twisted in disgust. “No.”

“Alright, a young woman,” her mother amended.

“That doesn’t make it better.”

They turned into the driveway. Milly leapt out, messenger bag on one arm and a plastic bag full of her regular clothes on the other. “You have your key?” her mother asked.

“Yeah. Thanks.”

Charlene reached out and grabbed her hand. “Take care of yourself. There’s painkiller in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, and canned soup in the pantry. Make sure to drink lots of water. There’s more sanitary napkins in the back of the bathroom cupboard.”

“Do we have matzo for the soup?” Milly asked hopefully. That’s what her mother always did for her when she was sick as a little kid. 

“No, sorry.” Charlene looked apologetic.

Milly sighed. “Okay. And you're sure Louis will be okay taking the bus?”

“Yes. I took care of it, don’t worry. I called his school before I left the office.”

“Okay.” Milly gave a little sigh of relief, then added, “I left a note for Mrs. Sherman, too.”

Charlene looked confused. “Mrs. Sherman? Why?”

“For Eric.”

“Eric?” Then it sunk in. “Oh! Right. Good!”

Milly waved as her mother pulled out of the driveway. Then, she walked up the steps, pulled out her key, and went inside.

It was odd, having the house to herself. Almost right away, it seemed too quiet. Max came rushing over, nails scrabbling on the wooden floor. “Hey,” Milly said, bending over to ruffle his silky ears. She straightened up and shooed him away when he began sniffing intently at her crotch. He must smell the blood, she realized, embarrassed.

After she let Max out to pee and changed out of her gym clothes, Milly microwaved some soup after prying the lid off with a can opener and pouring the chunky, gooey mess into a bowl. It came out steaming hot. Milly used oven mitts to place it carefully on the coffee table. The smell made her stomach—now settled due to the Tylenol—turn a bit, even though she hadn’t eaten anything since school had started. She grabbed a New Coke from the fridge, hoping that it wouldn’t exacerbate her symptoms. She didn’t remember hearing anything about leg pain or feverishness in her junior high sex ed class, she thought a bit gloomily. Who knew what else they left out?

Milly flicked through channels on the TV while waiting for her soup to cool. She stopped on a nature program where a soft-voiced narrator was talking about birds native to the Amazon. She watched for a good chunk of a half hour, letting her eyes glaze over. 

Milly switched the television off and went upstairs to her bedroom. The Tylenol had cured the cramps in her stomach, for the most part, but her legs still felt achy and a general sense of queasiness still lingered over her like an ominous cloud. She figured it would be good to distract herself. 

“Hey, Tilly,” she said, letting the bird hop onto her outstretched index finger. She lifted her out of her cage and began to blow gently on her. Tilly chirped and fluttered her wings. Milly smiled. “Your eyes,” she said, “look like little drops of dew. You know that?” She chuffed some more, making her bird’s feathers shiver. Tilly hopped up her hand, making her giggle. “I’ll let you out later, okay? Right now I don’t have the energy to follow you around.”

Secretly, Milly thought it might be a nice idea to let Tilly out for her flying time in the evening, when Eric would hopefully be at her windowsill. He would definitely like to see that. 

After making sure Tilly had water, Milly put her back in her cage and went downstairs to eat her soup and drink her Coke. She still wasn’t hungry, but she figured it was time. The soup was a little cold by this time, so she put it back in the microwave. While she waited for the soup to cook, Milly glanced at the clock above the kitchen sink. It was only twelve-thirty. She took a long drag of her soda. 

After struggling through half her meal and starting on her second New Coke, Milly put the soup in a Tupperware container and tucked it in the fridge. She wondered idly if she’d be expected to make dinner tonight. She hoped not—they were running out of tomato sauce.

Milly spent the next couple hours on the couch listening to music on her Walkman. Every once in a while, she’d feel heat flare up in her arms and stomach, making her feel sweaty even when the room was cool. At one point, Max joined her and rested his head on her lap, giving her hand a few licks. “You miss Louis, don’t you?” she teased, itching beneath his chin. “You’re never this friendly to me when he’s around.” She lay back on the pillow and sighed. “I kinda wish he were home, too.”

Milly dozed off soon after, lulled by the familiar, comforting sound of Kate Bush’s reedy vocals and the warmth of Max’s bulk against her. Her eyes fluttered open when she felt Max jump off the couch and the door squeal open and close again. “Whozit?” she mumbled, sitting up and blinking.

“Hi, Milly!” Louis called, coming into the living room with his backpack straps still slung over his shoulders.

“Hi.” Milly heaved a yawn. Had she really slept until school let out? Did having your period make you sleep more?

“How was the bus?” she asked.

Louis shrugged. “Okay. Loud. Better than walking, though.” He went into the kitchen and began rummaging around in the pantry. Milly relaxed back onto her pillow with a sigh. She was feeling feverish yet again, and the cramps had returned. It felt like her stomach was being twisted into knots. “Hey, Louis!” she called. 

“Yeah?”

“Can you get me some Tylenol or something? It’s in the medicine cabinet upstairs.”

“Can’t you get it?” He entered the living room again, chewing on some licorice.

“No. I’m sick. Please, just get it, okay?” Milly didn’t trust her ability to walk. It had taken all her concentration just to shuffle to the nurse’s office all those hours ago, and that was with Miss D. helping her. Now, even that seemed impossible. The pain was just too much. She squeezed her eyes shut. 

Louis looked at her, frowning. Then he shoved the rest of his licorice in his mouth, chewed a bit, then mumbled around the softened gob of candy, “Okay, I’ll get it. Be right back.” He took off, pounding up the stairs with an urgency Milly felt grateful for. 

When he returned with a little bottle of Advil, she fumbled open the cap and washed down the two capsules with three or four swigs of New Coke. Louis watched her with fascination. “You’re really sick, aren’t you?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Milly said. “It’s terrible. It feels like my stomach is being turned inside out or something.” Lucky you’ll never experience it, she thought grimly.

“Maybe you ate something bad.”

Milly wasn’t in the mood to preserve her little brother’s innocence. “No, it’s something else. I got my period,” she said. At his confused expression, she explained, “It’s when a girl starts bleeding out of her private parts. It happens once a month and it’s completely natural, but makes you feel like you’ve got the flu.”

Louis’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head. “Wait, blood comes out of your—”

“I’m only telling you ‘cause I’m too tired to make up something else. Don’t tell Mom.” She gave him a forbidding look from her spot on the couch. “I’m not messing around. Don’t tell her, or I’ll tell her all about all those notes from your teacher.”

“I won’t! Jeez!” Louis exclaimed. “You don’t need to blackmail me.” He backed away with exaggerated care, staring at his sister as if she were a rabid dog who could strike at any moment.

Milly rolled her eyes. “Periods aren’t contagious, Louis.”

He stopped and grinned at her. “I know. You said it only happens to girls.”

Louis went out to the driveway to drive his Big Wheel. Max, as always, followed him. Milly stayed nestled in the couch and wondered if she should go and yell at Louis to go get her a book from her bedroom shelf—something familiar, something she’d read before. Something like Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, she thought. Ha, ha.

She watched television for another hour, trying to get invested in the doings of characters on a goofy sitcom, when someone knocked on the door. Milly eased herself off the couch and answered it.

“Hi, Geneva,” she said, surprised.

Geneva was wearing blue jean overalls under a purple long-sleeved shirt, her hair in a messy ponytail. She was holding a tub of chocolate pudding. “Hey!” she said brightly, and walked inside without further ado. “Look, I know I didn’t call or anything, but I was practicing on Sonny’s skateboard and your brother drove by on his bike thing, and he told me you were sick on your period.” She made her eyes bug out a little for emphasis. “I know how that feels, so I decided to get you the ultimate Goodman family antidote for period cramps.” She offered the tub to Milly, who took it. “Plus,” she added, “we haven’t hung out in a while.”

“Geneva,” Milly said, searching for what to say. “Thank you.” Pudding definitely hadn’t been what she was expecting when she opened the door. She mentally reminded herself to tell Louis that periods were generally something you kept private.

Geneva grinned. “Where do you keep the spoons?”

 

For the next few minutes, there was only the clinking and scraping of spoons against bowls as Milly and Geneva sat on the couch. “I can’t believe it’s your first time,” said Geneva, sticking her spoon into the tub and lifting another dollop into her empty bowl. “I got mine at ten.”

“I can’t imagine going through this when I was ten,” said Milly, shaking her head. “I had no idea you felt the blood coming down, or that cramps feel so bad. It feels like something's clawing at my stomach from the inside.”

Geneva shrugged. “It’s bad, but you get used to it. Just take lots of aspirin. And use tampons, so you don’t feel the blood.” She grimaced and gave a little shiver. “I hate that feeling.”

Milly shook her head. “I don’t want to use tampons,” she admitted.

“Why not?” Geneva inquired around her mouthful of pudding. 

Milly gave her friend a look of disbelief. “Toxic shock syndrome! I don’t want to die because I forgot to put a fresh tampon in—that’s just ridiculous!” Her mother had once told her all the lurid details about her college friend getting a tampon stuck and having to go to the E.R.; those memories weren’t going away so easily.

“Really? Really?” Geneva sat up, eyes wide. “That’s just ridiculous!” she mimicked in a high-pitched warble. 

“I don’t sound like that,” Milly said, crossing her arms.

Geneva waved her hand dismissively. “Aw, you just gotta be careful. It’s so worth the risk. With a tampon in, you can do sports, go swimming….”

“I don’t feel like doing any of that. All I want to do is lie around like a big lump.” Milly stretched out on the couch for emphasis, yawning.

Geneva regarded her sympathetically. “It takes a lot out of you. Lucky your mom let you stay home, though.”

Milly propped herself up on her elbow. “I think she was kinda freaked out, too,” she said thoughtfully. “She told me I was a woman, now, or something like that. It was so weird. She never said anything like that before. She always used to tell me that she didn’t want me growing up too fast ‘cause of the women’s liberation movement, or something like that.”

Geneva paused and licked her spoon. “It’s different when it’s your own kid going through that kind of thing—puberty and crap,” she then said wisely.

“I guess.” Milly hoisted her bowl onto the couch and spooned the last bite of chocolate pudding into her mouth. “I don’t know,” she said, more quietly, watching the blank television screen. “I was always wondering when my period would come, and now it’s here, and it’s so…” She couldn’t find the word.

“Anticlimactic?” Geneva offered.

“Yeah, exactly. I just feel kind of sick. If this is what being a woman is, then it’s pretty freaking depressing.”

“That’s your mom’s weird mom brain talking,” countered Geneva, waving her spoon. “You’re not a woman yet. She knows that.”

“But I’m not a kid anymore, either,” said Milly. I’ll be saddled with this monthly bleeding stuff until I’m past Mom’s age, she thought, and with that came a feeling of sadness so strong it nearly made her want to burrow down in the couch cushions and hide forever.

“Who wants to be a kid?” Geneva scoffed. “You can’t do anything. I’m just waiting to get my driver’s license. That’s when being a teenager really gets interesting.” She grinned mischievously at Milly, a smear of pudding just above her upper lip. “Just you wait—the good times are just beginning!”

Geneva insisted on turning on MTV and raiding the pantry for more snacks. “Chocolate is good for PMS,” she said by way of explanation as she returned from the kitchen with a fat ceramic jar.

Milly sat up on the couch. “That’s baking chocolate,” she pointed out. 

Geneva gave the jar a little shake and popped the lid off. “It’s just like regular chocolate, I’m pretty sure. What do you bake, anyway?” She sat back down and shook out a handful of chocolate chips into her palm. 

“Sometimes we make chocolate chip hamantaschen for Purim,” Milly said in a protest that sounded lame even to her ears. The chocolate chips did look good...and would her mother even miss a few handfuls? “Or we make cookies.” Why didn’t I lead with that? she wondered.

“Come on, take some. They’re good for you.” Geneva handed Milly the jar. Reluctantly, she turned the jar on its side and shook out a few, careful to catch the strays that fell on the couch. She munched them out of her palm. On the television, Sting was singing “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” while dancing and strumming his guitar.

“Why do you think the guy playing the trombone is kinda see-through?” Milly asked.

“I dunno.” Geneva knocked back more chocolate chips from her hand. “The guys who make these things are all on drugs. There’s no real meaning to any of it, it’s just meant to look cool.”

Milly sighed. “You’re such a cynic,” she said, disappointed. “Where’s your imagination?”

“What? It’s the truth.” Geneva licked a smear of chocolate off her palm.

Louis eventually came barging back inside and demanded his turn for the TV. Geneva left soon after that—pudding tub in hand—leaving Milly to languish on the couch to the sounds of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

“Alright, I’m going upstairs,” Milly announced, getting to her feet. “Enjoy Skeletor.”

“Bye,” Louis replied absentmindedly, eyes on the television screen. Then, just as his sister was beginning to walk away, he sat up straight. “Wait! Milly!”

“What?”

Louis bit his lip. Then, with an air of regret, he said, “You’ve got some schmutz,” pointing to the seat of her pants. 

 

After a short detour to her bedroom, Milly shut and locked the bathroom door, muttering nervously as she stripped off her stained jeans and sat heavily on the toilet. The pad from Miss Altimari’s office had been completely soaked through. Embarrassed, she unstuck it from her underwear, rolled it into a ball sandwiched between some toilet paper, and tossed it in the garbage. Then, she slipped on the clean pair of underwear and folded down the sticky wings of a fresh pad with care. “I hate this,” she said, looking morosely down at her underwear. “This sucks.” She put her face in her hands and sighed through her nose. The pad seemed to be mocking her with its snow-white freshness.

Milly sat with her back against the rumbling washer, legs splayed out in front of her, her algebra textbook open on the tile floor beside her. A pair of red pajama pants replaced her soiled jeans. She sighed—the sheet of lined paper she was trying to do math problems on had bird doodles (the only doodle she could do with any skill) spilling over the margins. Finally, she gave up and tossed her pencil and paper aside.

“Louis!” Milly screamed.

“What?” said Louis from downstairs.

“Can you start boiling water for spaghetti?”

“You do it!”

“But I’m sick!”

“So? I’m busy!”

Milly rolled her eyes and stomped downstairs. When she entered the living room, she put her hands on her hips and shot her brother a withering glare. “You’re watching He-Man,” she said, deadpan. 

“Yeah, I’m busy,” Louis said, shrugging. 

Milly sighed pointedly. Her stomach wasn’t hurting too much thanks to the painkiller, but still—couldn’t she catch a break just once, during her first period? She put the pot on the burner and turned the dial to its middle setting. “I have to do everything in this house,” she muttered bitterly to the lemon-shaped timer on the counter.

There was a long, shrill beep from the second floor.

“Mil, washer’s done!” Louis bellowed from the couch.

 

Later that evening, Milly lowered herself gingerly into bed. Her mother had bought overnight pads from the store on the way home. Milly decided that they were worse than regular pads—it felt like she was sitting on some sort of raft tucked in her underwear. How am I going to sleep tonight? she wondered, shifting uncomfortably as she pulled her covers up to her chin. All I’m gonna do is worry about bleeding through my pants. Again.

The stars on her ceiling gave off their cheesy green glow. They made her think of Dinky Patterson—which, of course, made her think of Eric. She hoped he wasn’t too peeved that she’d taken off like she did, without saying goodbye. Did he even realize she was sick, that something was wrong?  

Probably not, Milly thought, before reconsidering. Maybe it was better if he didn’t know. She didn’t want him to worry.

She rolled over on her side. She hadn’t been able to get him to witness Tilly’s flying time earlier that evening; he’d been on the roof, and it was hard to talk him off there when she wasn’t with him physically. He’d been too busy staring at the horizon, the breeze ruffling his hair, arms extended. That disappointed her a little bit—that was supposed to be her apology for leaving so suddenly. But maybe he didn’t care about that sort of thing, Milly figured. Maybe, as long as she showed up tomorrow, he’d be okay. After all, she didn’t even know if he’d been affected by her absence.

The thought depressed her. Milly threw off her covers and heaved a noisy sigh. It seemed like even her mind was intent on getting on her bad side. She went over to her bookshelf and brought out To Kill a Mockingbird, rifling through the well-worn pages. She’d gotten the book when she was ten, and had loved it ever since. Even just skimming the pages she flipped through made her feel happy. She carried it to her desk, where she sat down, flicked on the lamp, and read until her eyes grew heavy. 

By the time she fell asleep in her bed, Milly had forgotten all about her period or the bulky discomfort of the overnight pad. For the first time since that morning, in the blissful oblivion of sleep, she felt almost normal.