Chapter Two

"Malicious Malady"

Stretched out in his nice warm bed, Jake was sleeping peacefully when his mom burst into his bedroom, flicking the light switch so that yellow light flooded the darkness. He didn't stir, even as she shook his shoulder and hissed his name repeatedly. For the first seven minutes that Diane Allen was in his room, Jake was unaware that anything was going on, but a very firm shake finally roused him.

"Jacob Grant, get up!"

"Mom…" His voice was thick with sleep. Jake opened his eyes and looked at his alarm clock. Illuminated in blue light was 1:24. What was going on? He'd been dead asleep since long before eleven. "Whaddya want?"

"Hurry." Despite his grogginess, Jake heard the nervous impatience in his mother's tone. He squinted at her and saw how pale her face was. Suddenly, Jake was fearful for what was happening.

"What's wrong?" he demanded. "What happened?"

Diane jerked back Jake's blankets, and a rush of cool air hit his bare chest. Since he was wearing only flannel pajama pants, Jake grabbed for a discarded t-shirt and pulled it on, still eyeing his mother warily. "There was a car accident," she informed him shortly. "Hannah's hurt badly. I need you to keep Isaac company while I run over to the hospital."

Jake's first reaction was the desire to roll his eyes before crawling back into bed, but not even he was that heartless, not even when it came to Hannah Ayers. Besides, Isaac was his friend. He gave a brief nod and got out of bed. Diane disappeared instantly from his bedroom. Thoughtlessly, Jake retrieved socks from his top dresser drawer and headed downstairs, where he saw Isaac sitting on the couch.

"Hey," Jake greeted semi-awkwardly, his tone still husky with sleep. Isaac's blue eyes were bright with alertness, and he was as colorless as Diane had been. Jake didn't like it at all.

Isaac moved over on the couch, needlessly making more room for Jake to sit. "Hey," he answered lowly. Isaac swallowed audibly, and Jake could tell how scared he really was.

The two guys sat in silence for roughly five minutes. Jake didn't know how to console Isaac, especially since he didn't know any details, and it didn't seem like Isaac was in the mood to talk anyway. He didn't really understand why Isaac wasn't going to the hospital also; if things were that bad, why wasn't Hannah's brother there? When Diane rushed into the room, Jake looked up and saw her hug Isaac tightly in a lengthy embrace. She stroked Isaac's blondish hair and murmured something that Jake didn't catch. Finally, she pulled back.

"Jake, turn the heat up," Diane commanded as she pulled on her brown leather coat. "Make some coffee or something, and for God's sake show some manners." In a motherly gesture that was more Patricia-like, Diane kissed the top of Isaac's head and then moved toward the door. "Be good, boys. I'll call you if there's anything to tell."

After Jake fiddled with the thermostat, he faced Isaac, who hadn't moved at all. "Do you want some hot chocolate or whatever?" The younger boy shook his head, and Jake shifted his weight. "Do you want to talk?"

Isaac looked up, his forehead wrinkled in concern, and his eyes followed Jake's movement toward the nearby recliner. "Greg hit ice." Jake had never heard such fury from Isaac's mouth. Yet his voice was somehow quiet and matter-of-fact. "The bastard apparently tried to brake, and the car spun out of control. It's totaled."

Jake nodded slowly, allowing his mind to process the information. He remembered the weather advisory and glanced outside through the glass of the front door. Nothing but whiteness. He briefly worried about his mom being out on the road too, but Jake let it go, reasoning that she'd be careful.

"Dad called from the hospital around ten-thirty," Isaac went on. Jake remembered that Benjamin Ayers worked almost constantly as an emergency room surgeon. "The ambulance brought H-Hannah in then. Mom sent me over here and then left. I guess it's taken this long to stabilize Hannah."

Although Jake didn't particularly care for Hannah, it upset him to hear Isaac talk. The kid was obviously distressed. "Do you know why my mom left?"

"M-my mom was breaking down." Isaac's voice positively cracked with the admission, and he looked over at Jake worriedly, but Jake made sure his face didn't have any semblance of mocking. "Hannah's messed up bad."

"Was anyone else in the car? What about Hudson?"

Isaac's eyes hardened. "Greg's got a broken arm," he spat out in disgust. "He has a little scratch on his cheek, but they got the glass out quickly enough. He'll be fine." Isaac scoffed. "Until I get my hands on him, that is. I'll kill—"

"Hey." Jake kept his voice soft. He understood Isaac's anger, but now wasn't the time for it. "Hudson's an idiot, I'll give you that, but don't think about him right now, all right? What do you know about Ay—your sister?"

Pain crept onto Isaac's face, and he didn't say anything for several minutes. He shrugged then. "She busted her head somehow, and she had to get stitches in her shoulder, knee, and forehead. Somewhere else too, I think." Isaac swallowed and shook his head. "They're talking brain damage though."

Jake sucked in air sharply. No wonder Isaac was so troubled. Even if Jake knew that Isaac and Hannah weren't super close due to the three years of age difference, no one could have doubted the sibling love there. Hannah was very protective of her brother, and Isaac looked up to Hannah more than anybody. It all went unspoken, but it was obvious.

"What if she dies, Jake?" Isaac's voice was barely a whisper. "I…if her brain swells—what if…" He met Jake's eyes, and Jake was afraid that Isaac was about to break down. "She'll be okay, right?"

"She'll be fine," Jake assured him with a little smile. He stood up and went over to Isaac, prodding his arm. "Come into the kitchen with me." Without waiting on a reply, Jake moved into the kitchen, where it was colder than the living room. As Jake was pouring water into the coffee pot, he saw Isaac entering from the corner of his eye. "You should eat something, man. It'll help."

Isaac managed a half smile. "That's H-Hannah's philosophy," he commented softly. He climbed onto a barstool and watched Jake making hot chocolate. "I wish I could do something to help her."

"And I'm sure Hannah will give you plenty to do when she's home." Jake smiled and tried to lighten to mood. "She'll have you bending over backward bringing her stuff. Probably food."

"True…" Isaac sighed and rested his elbows against the countertop. "You may not like her much, Jake, but she's…I don't know what I'd do if she wasn't around."

Jake brought two heavy mugs of hot chocolate to the counter Isaac was sitting at and perched on another barstool. He sipped some of the hot liquid slowly. "She's your sister, dude. Of course you love her." Jake shrugged and looked at the clock. It was almost two o'clock in the morning. "If no one threatens my life for driving in the snow, I'll take you to see her whenever visiting hours start. Okay?"

A little hint of a smile softened Isaac's face, despite Jake's poor word choice. "Yeah," he agreed with a concise nod. "Mom refused to let me go tonight, so… Thanks, Jake." Isaac reached for the other steaming mug of hot chocolate and took a drink. "When Hannah's all good again, will you hold Greg still so I can break his other arm?"

The question reminded Jake of the upbeat, albeit nerdy, lively boy that Isaac normally was. But both of them knew that he was only venting. Isaac wouldn't hurt a fly. "I don't know… I'd be your accomplice then, and I try to pick rougher opponents. Hudson's not much to work with."

Isaac swallowed. "I hate him. I hate him and the freaking ice." Jake studied Isaac and saw growing rage returning. "It's a good thing his car is totaled 'cause if it wasn't, I'd total it with Greg's head."

"Ouch." The side of Jake's mouth lifted in a crooked smile. "Now that's something I'd help you out with." Isaac returned Jake's little smile, and they both drank from their mugs silently for awhile, lost in thought. After awhile, Jake spoke again. "You tired?"

"No way," Isaac scoffed. His eyes were still very bright and brilliantly blue, so Jake didn't doubt him in any way. "Couldn't sleep if I tried." Sadly, Isaac tipped his head and offered Jake a cheerless smile. "But I bet you're exhausted, huh? I don't blame you."

"I am, but I don't blame you either." Jake finished off his hot chocolate, stood, and deposited the cup in the sink. Then he faced Isaac. "We could play video games or something if it'd help clear your head."

Isaac shrugged and took another little sip of his drink. "You're tired. If you want to go back to bed, it's cool."

Jake was many things, and while insensitive and rude ranked up there at times, neither quality dominated when a friend was troubled. So he returned Isaac's shrug and meandered back to the living room; as predicted, Isaac followed him and again took up his seat on the couch. Still mildly drowsy, Jake fell into the recliner and positioned the chair into a reclining position. Immediately, exhaustion reentered his body, but Jake stubbornly fought to keep awake.

"I hope somebody calls soon," Isaac muttered, worry unmistakable in his words. "They'll have to learn something soon, right?"

An undecipherable grunt was the initial reply that Jake issued. "Dunno, man. Can I do anything to help you feel better?" Isaac shook his head, and Jake gave a resigned nod. "You know where everything's at here, dude. Help yourself to whatever."

The last thing that Jake heard before falling back into a deep sleep was Isaac's sigh. After that, he was completely out of it. So maybe insensitivity and rudeness still managed a little dominancy.

- - - - - - - - - -

Pale light, mainly from the bright snow, streamed into the living room. Ever the morning person, Jake snapped out of his reverie. Habit always woke him up at 6:15, even on the weekends; his body's time clock was so dependable that Jake found no need to set an alarm clock. Thus, it was routine that he awoke at a quarter after six Friday morning, even though his sleep had been greatly disturbed, and stretched lengthily.

It took Jake a few seconds to remember why he was sleeping in a recliner and waking up with a bad crick in his neck. He was even taken aback to see Isaac Ayers stretched out on the couch asleep, but things suddenly came back to Jake in a rush. He thought about Hannah and wondered how she was doing; apparently no one had called about her, although Jake couldn't be exactly sure that a ringing telephone would have woken him up.

Quietly, he eased out of the recliner and ran a hand through his thick brown hair. Isaac didn't stir, so Jake figured he could take a shower before waking him. He hadn't forgotten his promise to take him to see Hannah, after all. Jake went upstairs, collected clean clothes from his room, and then took a hot shower. Twenty minutes later, he was back downstairs, fully dressed and feeling refreshed.

Jake glanced at Isaac, who was still sleeping, and debated about waking him up. It was probably good for the guy to get some sleep. If Isaac received bad news about Hannah later, he might not get any rest for awhile. With the best interests of his friend in mind, Jake left Isaac alone in the living room and entered the kitchen.

Vibrations from the cell phone in Jake's back pocket caught him off guard as he was opening a package of strawberry milkshake-flavored Poptarts. He flicked his phone open and read a text message from Brent saying that school was delayed for two hours because of the snow and ice. Jake called his friend, and a couple seconds later, Brent's voice came through the speaker of Jake's cell phone.

"Hey, man."

"Hey," Jake replied while putting his Poptarts into the toaster. "I won't be at school today. Ayers and Hudson were in a wreck, and I guess she's hurt bad." Jake heard Brent suck air in sharply through his teeth. "Isaac's over, and I'm going to stay with him."

"Good. How bad is Hannah?" Brent sounded genuinely concerned, certainly more concerned than Jake was feeling. "Are you going to see her?"

Jake made a face. "I'm taking Isaac to see her. I don't really know how she is."

"Dude, Ethan's going to flip," Brent commented with a nervous little laugh. "He's got it bad for Han, and you'd better believe that he'll give Hudson a hard time."

"Hudson's a jackass, but it's not his fault that it's icy. It's Ayers's fault for agreeing to go out in that weather." Jake removed his Poptarts from the toaster and put them on a paper towel. "She's about half stupid."

Feathery laughter came from Brent's side of the line. "Be nice. You know you care deep down."

"Eh." Jake poured himself some milk and glanced into the living room; Isaac was still asleep. "Do you know when visiting hours are? I mean, you can't just walk in whenever you feel like it, can you?"

"How the hell should I know?" Brent and Jake shared a laugh. "Which hospital is she at?"

Jake paused. That would have been a good question to ask his mother several hours ago. He hoped that Isaac knew, but just in case Jake ran through a mental list of nearby hospitals. "Good Samaritan, maybe? Definitely not Miami Valley, I don't think."

"Could be Kettering. I think Grandview's closer than Good Samaritan though." Brent sounded slightly more convinced than Jake felt. One good thing about living in Ohio was that one was always close to a hospital; they were everywhere. "Depends on how bad she is."

Wincing a little at that, Jake chewed his breakfast thoughtfully. "I'll call Mom. I better do that real fast. See you later, man."

No sooner had Jake exchanged goodbyes and hung up did he remember that Hannah was at the same hospital that her dad worked at. Now if he could only remember which one that was. Jake wasn't particularly close to Benjamin Ayers like he was to Patricia. Benjamin was never home thanks to the crazy hours he worked at the hospital; he was in love with his job, and it came before everything. Even when he was at home and not resting or reading up on medical stuff, Benjamin wasn't a talker. Jake wasn't sure he'd ever had a conversation with the man. He'd probably talked more to his own lowlife father who had run away after knocking up Diane.

After finishing his Poptarts and milk, Jake cleaned up the little mess he'd made in the kitchen and returned to the living room. Fortunately, Jake didn't have to make the decision about waking Isaac up or not, for the younger boy was stirring on the couch. It was mildly surprising because Jake had always known Isaac to be a great sleeper.

"Wh-what time is it?" Isaac asked through a yawn. He stretched his arms over his head and squinted over at Jake, who told him that it was around seven. Isaac nodded. "Can we go see Hannah now?"

Jake nearly laughed at Isaac's eagerness. Hannah probably didn't know how loved she was by her brother. "Yeah. Whenever you're ready. You should eat first though."

Shaking his head, Isaac was already half way across the living room, putting his shoes and coat on as he walked. "Nah. I'm ready now."

- - - - - - - - - -

Thirty-five minutes later, Jake was silently maneuvering his black Ford Ranger truck through Kettering, Ohio. The roads weren't in horrible condition, but it'd still taken awhile to reach the hospital because Jake drove cautiously to keep Isaac from freaking out. Although Jake didn't comment about it, he could see Isaac's right hand tightly gripping the edge of the worn seat.

The drive had been silent after Jake inquired about the destination location and heard praises for Kettering's neurology department, and the two remained silent even as Jake parked in the hospital's garage. He followed Isaac inside, passed a snack room on the right, and entered an elevator. Thankfully, Isaac knew where they were going because Jake sure didn't. A childhood of running around the hospital taught Isaac the hospital's floor plan, and in the next instant, Jake found himself walking down a hallway that opened up into a waiting room with a wannabe-fancy café on the right. Isaac spoke to someone at the desk on the left and then motioned Jake behind swinging doors.

"You've got connections, all right," Jake commented with a smile, trying to ease the fierce expression of determination that had appeared on Isaac's face. "Not getting us lost, are you?"

Isaac offered a small smile. "I could show you more corridors than you'd ever believe were in this place." Based on the way Isaac managed to avoid any door that required personnel authentication, Jake didn't doubt it. "I've been in every room here, I think."

As they went through the hospital, Isaac's pace increased, and Jake had to put the longer length of his legs to good use. Finally, Isaac stopped in front of a door, which was partially closed. Without hesitating, Isaac pushed the door open and went in with Jake tagging behind him.

Sure enough, it was Hannah's room, and a young nurse was taking her blood pressure. Jake almost cringed at Hannah's appearance. She was sitting up and appeared swollen and battered. The upper right side of her bruised forehead and temple was adorned with a two-inch line of black stitches, and another wound was approximately two inches beyond that, as a little blood was still mangled in Hannah's strawberry blonde hair. Her hospital gown bulged at her right shoulder to make room for a bandage, and even though Jake couldn't see any evidence, he remembered that her knee was also hurt.

Isaac seemed more preoccupied with the fact that Hannah was in living, breathing form, however, and a bright smile lit up his face. "Han!" he exclaimed, moving toward her bed fast. His arms went out to hug her, but Hannah recoiled. Isaac made a face. "Oh come on, sis. One hug is not going to kill you. I've been worried about you!"

Hannah's big blue eyes went to the nurse, but she didn't say anything. Instead, Jake rolled his eyes and snapped, "God, Hannah, don't be such a bitch. Isaac's gone crazy because of you."

"You boys shouldn't be in here," the nurse said sternly, giving both Isaac and Jake an evil stare. She patted Hannah's hand gently as she stood. "Come now. Outside."

"What?" Isaac's tone was incredulous, and the nurse had to give his arm a little tug, but he protested all the way out the door. "Is it because visiting hours haven't technically started? This is bullcrap!"

"Seriously," Jake agreed, more than ready to support Isaac further. "Since when can a brother not see his sister?"

The nurse shook her head gravely; her eyes then widened and turned to Isaac again. "Brother?" He stared at her. "You're Dr. Ayers's son?"

Jake and Isaac exchanged a look, but they were both ushered by the nurse down the hall. A small corner room came into Jake's sight, and the nurse rapped lightly on the door. After a moment, both boys were admitted inside, where Patricia was sobbing next to Diane on a couch, while Benjamin stood near two sitting doctors.

"Jake!" Diane's voice was harsh, but Jake didn't flinch. He had always been vaguely aware that Isaac was unwanted at the hospital for a reason, but the rebel in Jake brought him anyway. "What are you doing here?"

Isaac must have caught the 'you're in trouble' tone because he spoke up instantaneously. "I made him bring me to see Hannah." Now he was frowning. "What's going on?"

The two sitting doctors looked bemused, and Benjamin proceeded to do more talking than Jake had ever heard from him at one time. "This is my son and…Diane's son." He didn't sound angry, just weary. "Boys, why don't you sit down?"

Why don't you sit down? Jake felt like retorting; something about Benjamin always rubbed him the wrong way, but he followed Isaac's lead and sat on the other end of the couch. The two doctors rose instantly and moved toward the door.

Just before they left, one turned back and spoke. "I'm sure some time alone would be appreciated." He fidgeted with his white medical coat as the volume of Patricia's crying strengthened. "If you need anything, we'll be more than happy to help you." And with that, the door closed behind him.

"What's going on?" Isaac repeated.

Benjamin wrung his hands, but other than that, he showed no emotions. It must have been the doctor in him. "Hannah hit her head very hard. The impact was colossal." Benjamin grew more direct. "As a result, she is suffering from amnesia."

A loud whimper escaped from Patricia's lips, and Diane put an arm around her shoulders comfortingly. Diane was seemingly murmuring something soothing, and a moment later, Patricia turned quieter. Jake's ears thanked her. But then he froze, realizing what his ears had heard.

Isaac stared at his father. "What?" he asked softly, his brow furrowed. He looked at his mom, clearly preferring for her to explain to him. "What do you mean?"

Patricia pulled away gently from Diane and enclosed Isaac in the circle of her arms, stroking his hair in a careful fashion. "H-Hannah doesn't remember any-anything, honey," she said shakily. "Sh-she—"

"You're kidding me." Diane sent Jake a reproachful glance, and Jake realized that he'd spoken aloud. But after his discovery, Jake went on talking. "How can she not remember anything? She's going to soon, right?"

There was silence for a minute, but Benjamin uncharacteristically broke it. "We're not sure. Hannah will be examined more shortly, and then we may know more."

Apparently Patricia had collected herself, for her crying had most nearly stopped. "But this—it's probably temporary," Patricia said gently, meeting her son's eyes. "Sweetie, she'll be fine very soon."

The only way to describe the emotion on Isaac's face was 'stunned.' Isaac released himself from his mother's arms. Jake watched him closely, but he was still taken aback when Isaac's eyes met his. They looked at each other knowingly for a minute, and then Isaac fled the room.

Patricia got up to follow him, but Jake intervened. "It's okay. I'll get him." Tears sprung back into Patricia's eyes, and Jake felt obligated to hug her. "I hope Hannah gets better soon," Jake heard himself say. "Don't worry about Isaac."

Jake thought he glimpsed appreciation in his own mother's eyes, but he was in such a hurry to follow Isaac that he wasn't sure. Thankfully, Isaac was waiting for him a short distance away, and it was a very good thing due to the fact that Jake wasn't entirely certain about how to find the exit of the hospital alone.

When both of the guys were in the elevator, Isaac glanced at Jake and hit a button. His mouth opened, as if he was going to say something, but it abruptly snapped shut. Jake gave him a sympathetic smile. Isaac, in spite of this, was more interested in reaching Jake's car, and after switching elevators and walking down a few halls, his goal was reached.

"I don't get this," Isaac commented finally when Jake was driving his truck onto the interstate. "So what, does Hannah not know anything now? Can she tie her shoes and count by twos?"

Jake almost laughed, but he forced himself to shrug. "I don't know, dude. Is amnesia selective or what? Maybe she can't read anymore."

As a huge literature fan, Isaac looked horrified. "She never read that much to begin with, but…" He shook his head. "She won't be able to graduate now. And what about college? What about her precious piano? How is she—"

"Your mom said it'd be temporary," Jake interrupted carefully. He was driving faster than before since Isaac's mind was occupied. "Hannah could be herself again by this time next week, you know?"

That seemed to console Isaac a little, for he nodded. Silence again reigned for a few minutes before Isaac spoke again. "In my entire fifteen years of being alive, I've never been away from Hannah for more than a week. That's my lifetime, Jake. Now…Hannah can't remember that? She doesn't know who her own family is?"

Jake didn't know what to say, so he didn't say anything. He did, however, exit the interstate and take a trip through a McDonald's drive through. After receiving the food, he passed the bag to Isaac and continued the drive home. As Jake knew he would, Isaac tore into the bag and ate almost as much as Hannah herself would have.

"Thanks," Isaac mumbled with his mouth full. Jake gave him a half smile, and Isaac sighed. "You're not going to make me go to school, are you? Because I'll fight you first."

Laughing, Jake shook his head. "No, I'm not. I'm going to insist that you sleep, actually, dude. You can't run yourself down."

"Sleep's better than school," Isaac conceded.

When Jake parked at his house, Isaac had finished eating. They both exited the car, but Jake's brow furrowed when he realized Isaac was gearing up to cross the street. "Where are you going?" Jake asked. "You can hang out over here."

Isaac motioned for Jake, so the two of them ended up on the front porch of the Ayers' home. Jake's eyebrows rose when Isaac realized he didn't have his house key. Before he could go searching under the snow for the spare, Jake unlocked the door with his key, and Isaac flew inside, with Jake following him in.

The house was chilly, but tinkering around with the thermostat took care of that. Starting a fire in the living room's fireplace helped matters also, and within fifteen minutes, the house was growing toasty. Jake stood up and admired the fire he created but then saw that Isaac wasn't in the room. He only needed one guess to find the boy's whereabouts.

"I bet Hannah would have a cow if she knew you were prowling through her stuff," Jake remarked as he entered Hannah's bedroom. A year must have passed since he was last in that room, but it looked about the same. Isaac was sitting at her desk, looking through a drawer. "What are you doing?"

Isaac shrugged and held up a scrapbook. Even Jake could recognize Hannah's handwriting on the cover. "People in books and movies always surround an amnesiac with familiar stuff. It might help Hannah jog her memory."

"Maybe." Jake wasn't sure he bought into that, but maybe he just didn't care one way or the other. Sure, it sucked to be Hannah right now, but old feelings die hard. "Oh my God, Isaac."

Isaac snapped upright. "What?"

"Look at this."

Isaac dropped the scrapbook onto the lime green comforter of Hannah's queen-sized bed and joined Jake, who was staring incredulously at something on Hannah's bulletin board, which took up a portion of a purple wall. "What is it?"

"Ayers has a picture of me on her wall," Jake significantly announced, a smirk on his face. Sure enough, on the board full of pictures, there was one where a thirteen year old Hannah held Jake in a headlock; he was scowling, but she was laughing. "Never would have guessed that."

"Oh." Isaac didn't seem impressed. "That's nothing. Look." His blue eyes scanned the board, and he suddenly pointed out another picture. In that one, Hannah, Jake, and Isaac were sitting on a towel at the beach smiling and nursing sunburns. "Wasn't that the summer before you guys started middle school?"

"Yeah." Jake grinned and shook his head at the picture. "Ayers isn't as predictable as I thought." Jake looked around the room, suddenly curious. "I wonder where she keeps her voodoo doll of me."

Returning to Hannah's desk, Isaac dug around in the drawer. "I've only ever heard her speak of it, so I have no idea."

Jake moved to Hannah's bedside table and rolled his eyes at a framed picture of Hannah and Greg. Beside it was a collection of movie ticket stubs. That didn't particularly interest him, so Jake's green eyes scanned the top of her dresser. He made a face. "Your sister doesn't keep too much incriminating evidence out in the open, huh?"

"Nope."

When Jake looked over at Isaac, he saw two scrapbooks, the school yearbook from junior year, and a hot pink photo album in Isaac's hands. There was a satisfied look on his face, so Jake said, "It feels weird to be in here."

Isaac smiled and shrugged, and Jake followed him out of Hannah's room.


A/N: Huge thanks to everyone who reviewed the first chapter! I always use the reply feature, but if you don't get my replies to your reviews, let me know.