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The Rule of Thirds, An Excerpt From Chantel Guertin's Latest Novel

09/17/2013 05:38 EDT | Updated 11/17/2013 05:12 EST

"Glenys wants to see you," Hannah says as soon as she sees me. She's behind the nurses' station, stacking supply boxes onto a dolly.

"What? Why?"

"Her office is on the third floor," Hannah says.

"But do you know why?"

"Pippa, her office is on the third floor."

Code Greene! Busted? But for what? I haven't done anything wrong! I've only been here for one shift so far!

Right. There is no way I'm going to Glenys Grange's office. I'll just leave. I'll quit before I can be fired. I'll sneak out. I'll . . .

"Hey, hold up," Hannah says. "I need to take these boxes to the third floor and they won't all fit on the dolly. Carry these two?" She nods at the boxes remaining on the floor. I follow Hannah to the elevator.

"Put those on the counter," Hannah says when we've reached the third floor nurses' station. "And then Glenys's office is that way." The nameplate on the door says Glenys Grange, Volunteer Coordinator. I cross my fingers then knock on the door. It swings open.

Glenys Grange looks me up and down. She has poufy gray hair, brown bushy eyebrows. Clear plastic glasses sit on top of her head like a headband. She's wearing a bright pink T-shirt that says I'm So Hip I Needed a Replacement. Maybe she has a sense of humour? Laugh lines furrow the skin around her eyes, but she's not smiling now. "You must be Philadelphia. It's so nice to meet you in person."

We do the usual adult-teenager meeting mumbo-jumbo. Shaking hands and all that. She gets a few points after I call her Ms. Grange and she tells me I can call her "Glenys."

"Want to grab a seat?" Glenys points to a chair beside her desk. "I just wanted to check in and see how things are going?" she says in her high-pitched voice.

"Really?" I say.

"Yes. Hannah said she saw you yesterday, sitting in the hallway with your head between your knees."

"Ah." Busted.

Glenys's eyes are wide. "She was worried about you. Some people just can't handle hospitals, Philadelphia. So how are you doing?"

You know what? If another person asks me how I'm doing I'm going to -- well, I don't know. Something. Something crazy.

A rustle of paper. Glenys is going over a file folder on her desk. My handwriting's on it -- the form I had to fill out after my volunteer assessment. Then she scans a different paper, something with a Spalding High School crest on it. My school file? Does it mention my panic attacks? My heart starts to pound faster. Deep breath.

"I'm fine," I say. "I'm great. I'm really enjoying working here. The people are really nice."

Well, Dylan McCutter is really nice.

"Philadelphia. Philadelphia Greene," says Glenys. "Have we met before?"

"I don't think so. You know, about that fainting thing?"

"So you did faint?"

"No. Well, yes, almost. But it was, I have this blood sugar thing?" Totally made up. "And I just needed a glass of orange juice. I was fine after a glass of orange juice."

"Philadelphia Greene," she says again. She slips the glasses down onto her nose and peers at me. "Of course," she says. "You're Evan's daughter."

I nod, and the question comes again: "How are you doing?" But this time with more warmth. And this time I just shrug. Pause. Neither of us says anything.

And then I tell her the honest truth -- that everyone always asks me that, that I've heard the question asked with about a billion different intonations and interrogatory uplifts and each time the answer is the same: fine, I guess. "I mean, I miss him, but everyone seems to be thinking I should be doing worse than I am, but I'm not: I think I'm fine. Why can't everyone just accept that?"

"So brave," she says.

"You know what, Glenys? Can we not do this? Can we just avoid distilling me down into some noble inspirational soul just because I happen to be Evan Greene's daughter? I don't feel brave at all. I don't feel inspirational. In fact, you know what? I don't feel anything. Which my therapist and my mother and my guidance counselor and pretty much everyone else tells me is a real problem. So that's how I'm doing. I'm not doing."

Dead air as Glenys watches me. There's a slight tint to her glasses. Is she crying? I squint and move my head, to see her from a different angle. When she does finally speak, she doesn't directly respond to anything I've said. "Your dad came in here one day and sat in that chair you're sitting in," she said. "I knew his name, of course, it's one of those names that everyone in Spalding seems to know, but I'd never met him. You see, I also run the hospital's art therapy program. Your dad needed my permission for a project. He wanted to shoot the hospital. As kind of our in-house photographer. To document our stories. I told him yes, of course. We'd be honored."

This is the first I've heard of any of this. "Do you have any of the photos?"

She must hear the hope in my voice. Photos of my dad's I didn't know existed? His captured memories? And by extension, him? I ache to see them.

But Glenys shakes her head. "Oh honey," she says, and this time a tear does run down her cheek. "He never got the chance."

Excerpt from The Rule of Thirds by Chantel Guertin © 2013 by ECW Press. Used with permission from the publisher.

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