Finally Read online

  How could a red dot look great? “What do you mean?”

  “The earring!” she says, pointing to a mirror that the lady is holding up. “Look!”

  To my amazement, there’s a gold earring in my ear! I hadn’t felt a thing, not even a pinch! The lady smiles at my reaction. “So I guess it wasn’t too bad, huh?” she asks.

  I grin, almost giddy with delight, switch the ice pack to my left hand, and move it up to my ear. While we wait for that one to get numb, the lady dabs some antibiotic ointment on the front and back of the newly pierced ear with a Q-tip. Now that the numbness is starting to wear off, I can feel a little twinge and a slight tugging sensation. Nothing too painful, though. A girl and her mom watch from the side, right where Annabelle and I stood the other day. The mother is holding the fake diamond starter earrings. The girl is a few years younger than me, and I can tell she’s nervous by the way she keeps twisting her hair and biting it. I give her the thumbs-up sign, and she quickly lets the batch of hair fall. Laying the ice pack down in my lap, I say, “Okay, ready for the next one.”

  The lady picks up the red pen and walks over to my other side. I decide to close my eyes again since that worked out so well last time. Then I hear Mom say, “Um, is that normal?” and my heart sinks to the floor.

  Reluctantly, I open my eyes to see Mom pointing at my ear. The one with the shiny new earring that makes me really happy and didn’t hurt at all. I guess now that I think about it, there’s a dull sort of throbbing going on now. The lady rests the piercing gun on the table and comes over to look. “Hmm, that’s strange. You’re not allergic to gold, are you?”

  “Mom?” I ask, beginning to panic. “Am I?” It might be my imagination, but her face seems awfully pale all of a sudden.

  Turning to the woman, she says, “I thought you said the earrings were hypoallergenic?”

  “It’s very rare to be allergic to gold,” the lady insists. “This honestly never happens.”

  Where have I heard that before? I try to pick up the hand mirror, but Mom blocks me. “I think you better take the earring out.”

  The throbbing is worsening. I remember the girl in line with her mother and turn to look for them. They’re nowhere in sight.

  “I don’t think I can,” the lady says. “It’s sort of … embedded in there.”

  “What?” my mom and I say at the same time. My hand flies up to my ear. At first I’m not sure what part of my ear I’m touching, but then I realize that the earlobe is so swollen it almost completely covers the earring, front and back. The next thing I know, I hear a sort of popping sound, and the back of the earring shoots right into my hand.

  “Well!” the lady exclaims, shaking her head. “That’s something you don’t see every day.”

  “Can you pull the earring out from the front now?” Mom urges.

  “I’ll try,” the lady says. But as soon as she touches my ear I cry out, and she jerks backward.

  “Sorry,” I mutter. “Just a little sensitive.”

  “We may have to wait for it to make its way out on its own.”

  While they stand there helplessly, I grab the mirror and instantly wish I hadn’t. I look like Horton, that Dr. Seuss elephant with the huge ears. Except I have one huge ear, and one normal-sized ear. “What’s that white stuff oozing out the sides of the hole? Please tell me that’s the antibiotic you put on?”

  She peers at my ear. “Um, no, I think that’s pus.” I actually drop the mirror, and she dives for it, catching it only a few inches away from hitting the floor. “Pus is a good thing,” she claims, replacing the mirror on the small table. “It means your body is recognizing a foreign object and is fighting it off.”

  “Yay, me,” I reply weakly. I’m feeling dizzy from seeing the pus. The throbbing isn’t helping.

  The lady turns to my mom and says, “Why don’t you go to the smoothie stand across the hall and ask for some crushed ice. I’ll put it in a baggie, and that way the ice can bend around her ear.” Mom nods, squeezes my hand, and runs out.

  We wait in an awkward silence. “So,” I say, “I guess you don’t want to try the other ear?”

  She shakes her head and says something I can’t quite make out. My earlobe has now puffed up so much that it’s covering the opening to my ear. I caught the words antiseptic, antibacterial, and at home, so I think I got the important stuff. Allergic to gold? What kind of girl is allergic to gold? My spirits sag even further when I realize I won’t be able to wear Grandma’s earrings now. Maybe not ever.

  Mom returns and the ice is transferred into a small baggie. I hold it around my ear. It hurts if I press too hard, though, so I’m not really sure it’s helping anything. The piercing lady promises that the swelling should go down really quickly, and that once I can pry the earring out, I’ll feel much better. A teenage boy comes in, sees me, blanches, and scurries back out. I want to tell him to man up, but I’d run away from me, too, if I could.

  The lady refunds our money without even being asked, and sort of rushes us out of the store without trying to look like that’s what she’s doing.

  I feel wobbly as we walk out, like I’m going to tip over. “I think your balance is a little off,” Mom says, taking my arm with the hand that isn’t holding the pet food bag. “Your inner ear controls your equilibrium. You better lie low until it heals.”

  “Please speak into my good ear.”

  She repeats what she said, but into my left ear. “We still have time before we have to get Sawyer; let’s swing by the doctor’s office.”

  Oh, joy.

  Besides the mothers, I’m the oldest by about eight years at the pediatrician’s office. All the little kids gawk at me when we walk into the waiting room, and I wonder why no one has told them that it’s not polite to stare. One of the women pulls her son close to her as we take our seats. Mom sees this and says, “She’s not contagious. I’m more concerned about what he’s going to give her.”

  You tell her, Mom! I wish I had a book to hide my face behind, but I have to settle for some old Highlights magazines from my mom’s generation.

  “Yep, you’re allergic to gold,” the doctor says when it’s our turn. “And from what your mom told me on the phone the other day, you should stay away from plant-based products as well. Down the road we’ll send you for more extensive testing to try to narrow down the culprit.” Then I have to hold still while he uses this tool that looks like a skinny pair of pliers to pull the earring out. I do my best not to scream, but a small one might have escaped.

  I’m about to hop off the table when he says, “Hang on. I’d like to give you an allergy shot before you leave. It’s more effective than the liquid, and since you’re just coming off the other allergic reaction, I think it’s a good idea.”

  I glare at my mom even though I know this whole thing’s not her fault. On the other hand, maybe it is! After all, she made me, which means I can blame my plant sensitivity and gold allergy on her.

  As he readies the shot, Mom says, “While we’re here, can you take a look at her legs?”

  “What’s wrong with her legs?”

  Will the humiliation never end? Having no choice, I lift up my pant legs and show him.

  He peeks under the bandages. “Oh, my.” Fortunately he doesn’t pry, just gives Mom a handful of ointment packets and tells me to put clean bandages on each night for a week. He points to my left leg. “You might have a scar on that one.”

  Great. So now I’ll have a lifelong reminder of the whole experience.

  “Well, Mom,” I say, rubbing my upper arm as we climb into the car, “this has been a really fun day. Thanks.”

  “Look on the bright side,” she replies. “Now no one will notice you’re walking funny.”

  “Ha-ha. If this motherhood gig doesn’t work out, you could take your act on the road.”

  She laughs and says, “Don’t tempt me. Hey, and when I pick up Sawyer, try to cover your ear with your hair.”

  The only thing that makes me feel bet