Apple of Her Mother’s Eye

“Mom! We’re out of apples,” Alexa yelled, head stuck deep in the refrigerator. She couldn’t keep the panic from her voice.

“Well, take a pear instead!”

Alexa rummaged through the fruit drawer again, hoping maybe one rolled behind something else.

“Alexa Dawn, don’t stand there with the refrigerator door open.”

Mom. I need an apple.”

“I’m sorry, honey. I didn’t realize we were out. I’ll grab some when I go to the grocery store this weekend.”

“I need one for my lunch today.”

Alexa’s mom sighed. “I don’t know what to tell you. We have to leave for school in twenty minutes. I don’t have time to get you an apple right now.”

“But an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Alexa grimaced at her mom’s nonplussed look.

“That’s just an expression, Alexa. I’m sure you’ll survive a day or two without an apple in your lunch.”

Easy for her mom to say. She didn’t have to deal with The Doctor at school. There would be a heavy price to pay if she didn’t give the bully an apple at lunch time. She could just hear the eighth grade girl taunting her. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away, little sevvie.” She usually made her watch her take every bite, but now and then she’d take one bite, then throw the rest away.

But Alexa didn’t mind the loss of her daily piece of fruit. What she did mind was having the older girl step on the backs of her shoes walking to class, poking her in the back with pencils during science class, accidentally-on-purpose knocking her down during gym, and, on really bad days, stealing her backpack and emptying it all over the hallways after school.

Alexa never questioned why an apple. But one day she’d tried to give The Doctor grapes instead of an apple, and the resulting torment was enough to ensure that Alexa never went to school without an apple again.

Except today. And she couldn’t exactly tell her mom why it was so important. It’s not like she’d understand.

Once Alexa got to school, she began to pester friends—and in some cases, not friends—to see if she could barter for an apple.

At her locker before homeroom: “Sorry, Lex. All I’ve got are strawberries about five seconds from growing mold.”

First period: “Keep your stupid pear. You can’t have my apple.”

Second period: “I’ve got fruit snacks. Does that help? I think some of them are shaped like apples.”

Third period: “Your parents actually pack fruit in your lunch? Sucks to be you.”

On her way to the cafeteria: “Man, I’m jealous you get fruit at all. I’ll take your pear, if you don’t want it. I’ve got a bag of potato chips, if you want to trade.”

Alexa did make the swap of pear for chips. If she was going to get pulverized by a bully after lunch, she might as well enjoy some junk food first.

At the lunch table, Alexa shoveled chips into her mouth as she jiggled her leg, not quite able to gossip with her friends about who had asked who to whatever dance. It would be hard for her to dance if The Doctor broke both of her legs.

Alexa dragged her feet on the way out, taking her time throwing each piece of trash in the big trash can by the door.

“Hurry up, sevvie,” an impatient upperclassman barked as he shoved past her.

Alexa grimaced. Time to face the wrath of The Doctor.

The Doctor stood in her usual place just outside the cafeteria door, her normal dour expression more emphasized than usual by the dark circles under her eyes. Alexa made a panicked little squeak, thinking maybe it would be a good day to try skipping school for the first time, when the bully’s eyes locked on her.

The Doctor didn’t say a word, just scowled and thrust out a hand.

Alexa swallowed hard and darted a nervous glance behind her. The security guard was all the way across the cafeteria, heading toward a couple of boys whose roughhousing looked to be taking a turn from playful to serious. No help there.

Alexa turned back to The Doctor and tried to work spit into her mouth. “I, uh. I don’t have an apple today. We ran out at home.”

The Doctor just started at her, arm still outstretched. Her expression didn’t change.

“I’m, um. I’m sorry? I’ll bring two next time, or something,” Alexa mumbled, knowing it didn’t matter. Knowing the impending torment was about to begin any second.

The Doctor stared her down a moment longer, then sighed, dropping her arm. “Whatever.”

Alexa stood with her mouth open as The Doctor turned on her heel and stalked away. She stood, too stunned to move, until the bell rang for class.


Tardy but alive.

What had happened? Why had The Doctor let her live?

Alexa spent fourth period chewing on her lip, and fifth period chewing on her pencil, since her lip was sore. Sixth period, advanced algebra, last class of the day, and she shared it with The Doctor.

The bully was already sitting at her desk, head down. Alexa sat in her assigned seat in front of her and slowly took out her notebook, textbook, and pens. She really should just leave it alone. Maybe the girl had finally tired of picking on her. Maybe there was something wrong with her, like a terminal illness or something. Maybe she should count her blessings and leave it alone.

In the end, it was burning curiosity rather than concern that made her turn around. Or so she told herself.

The Doctor didn’t raise her head at first, although the way she flinched, she obviously knew Alexa was watching her.

“What the hell do you want?” she finally mumbled into her sweatshirt. She looked up balefully at Alexa through greasy strands of hair.

Alexa pressed her lips together and almost turned back around. Instead, she shrugged. “You didn’t mess with me at lunch today. When I didn’t give you an apple. What gives?”

The Doctor narrowed her eyes for a beat, her whole body tensing, and regret surged through Alexa. Should have left it. Here comes the pounding.

“Not that it’s any of your goddamned business, but my mom just died. So sorry I’m not up for my regularly scheduled kicking pathetic seventh-grader ass.”

Alexa leaned back, sucking in a breath. “Holy cow. I’m sorry.”

The Doctor didn’t say anything, just buried her face back in her arms.

“What happened?”

“Fucking cancer, man.” This The Doctor mumbled back in her sleeves again.

Alexa swallowed and tilted her head. It was weird to think of The Doctor as having a mom. She’d been pretty sure the girl had been spawned, fully formed, from the pits of hell.

But it was even weirder feeling the sudden tug of sympathy for the girl.

“My dad died when I was little,” Alexa blurted. “Dad was sick. For a few years. I remember going to the hospital a lot, although I don’t remember him too well.” She squirmed in her seat, not exactly liking that she could relate to the bully.

The Doctor sat up then, and glared.

“Look, I don’t need or want your sympathy. I’m not going to talk about my feelings with you. I don’t want to be friends. So fuck off.”

“I never said I wanted to be friends. It just know it sucks, is all.”

The Doctor slumped in her seat, glaring at her clenched fists. The bell rang for class to start, but the teacher still wasn’t there, so the murmur of voices around them continued. Alexa shrugged and was about to turn back around, when the Doctor took a little breath and sighed.

“Hospitals are the fucking worst. Spent most of the last two years there, on and off.”

Alexa nodded but didn’t say anything, just waited.

“Mom always gave me her apple from the cafeteria. Made jokes about it. Said I was the apple of her eye, and that maybe it’d keep the doctors away from me.” The Doctor made a little sniffling sound, then slammed her fists on the desk, grabbed her backpack, and stormed out of the classroom, pushing pushed past the teacher as he came into the room. He looked like he wanted to say something for a moment, but then shook his head and let her go. Maybe he’d heard the news. Maybe he just didn’t want to become a target of her wrath.

Either way, Alexa didn’t learn much math that day, and it was only halfway the teacher’s fault.

That evening, when Alexa’s mother finally came home, she set a sack of groceries on the table. Without being asked, Alexa started to unload them and put them away.

“Hey honey. I got you some apples while I was at the store.”

Alexa paused in her chore to give her mom a huge hug. “Thanks, Mom.” When Alexa didn’t let go right away, her mom gave a little laugh.

“If I’d known I’d get this much love from my teenage daughter for providing apples, I would have made it a point to get one to you yesterday.”

Alexa pulled back and smiled. “Nah, it’s okay. It…well, it sort of worked out.”

Alexa’s mom’s eyebrow twitched and she shrugged. She wouldn’t understand this, either.

The next day, Alexa took her apple to school, ready to give it to The Doctor. But the girl was not waiting outside the lunchroom for her. Alexa’s relief was palpable, but at the same time, she was oddly chagrined.

The Doctor showed up halfway through algebra, though. When the teacher wasn’t looking, Alexa dug the apple out of her backpack and set it on The Doctor’s desk. Not that it made up for losing a parent, but hey, she wasn’t a spawn of Satan, after all, and everyone deserved kindness, now and then.

The Doctor glared at the apple, then at Alexa, then at the teacher. She didn’t reach to take it. Alexa faced forward and tried to focus on the rest of the lesson. Oh well. What had she expected?

When class was over, The Doctor hurried off before Alexa could even turn around. When she did, she couldn’t help but smile.

The Doctor had taken the apple with her.

Sara is a Kansas-grown author of the fantasy and horror persuasions. She is convinced that fantastical things are waiting for her just around the corner, and until she finds the right corner, she writes about those things instead.

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