"No, no, no, no, no, a BAJILLION times, no!"
Gilda's eyes rolled as she tried to keep a steady hold on her squirming daughter. With all of her lively protesting, one would never guess that the four-year-old had woken up that morning with a high fever. Nurse Redheart had just called Gretchen's name and was now escorting them both to the examining room.
Upon entering, Gretchen suddenly grasped onto the door frame with both hands.
"Don't you do this, girl!" Gilda hissed as she tried to pry her little hands off.
Redheart joined in and together they each took a foot to tug. The adults heaved and hoed with all of their might. For a second, Redheart even considered calling in some of the buff hospital security. Of course, they wouldn't be needed as Gretchen's fingers finally slipped off. Gilda immediately swung the toddler around, plopping her bottom right onto the examination table. Gretchen huffed.
"Dr. Sweet will be in shortly," Nurse Redheart sighed with exhaustion as she wiped her forehead and exited.
"Thank you, nurse," Gilda said before glaring at the little one. "And you better be on your best behavior for her."
Her stubborn spawn simply growled and crossed her arms.
The door opened back up a minute later. In stepped in Sour Sweet in her white coat, studying a clipboard with Gretchen's information on it.
"Hey, Sour," Gilda greeted her long-time friend.
Sour glanced up and gave them both a bright smile. "Hello, Gilda, and a howdya do to you too, Gretchen." She sat the clipboard onto her desk and went up to her patient. "So, we woke up feeling a bit yucky this morning, huh?"
"I feel pretty good, thank you," Gretchen muttered defiantly.
"She looks like she has some white in the back of her throat, Sour," Gilda contradicted.
Sour retrieved a miniature flashlight from her coat pocket. "Open up and say 'aah', sweetie."
Gretchen pursed her lips and turned her head away.
Ever prepared, Sour smirked and produced a lime-flavored sucker from her other pocket. "You still like green, right?"
Gretchen's eyes widened at the sight of the treat and immediately shot her hand out to snatch it.
Sour held it away farther. "Uh-uh, say 'aah' first."
Resentfully, Gretchen complied. Sour aimed the light towards the back of her blazing red and pale-patched throat.
Sour nodded with some concern. "Yep, that doesn't look too good."
"Sucker, now," Gretchen demanded.
"One more thing," Sour stated as she stepped over to her desk.
From one of the drawers, she produced a small bag. Gretchen was transfixed as it was torn open to reveal one plastic test tube and one thin stick with a tiny piece of cotton at the tip. Her heart began to pound.
Sour returned to face her patient with the cotton swab pointed straight at her. "Okay, Gretchen, we may need to test to see if you have strep throat, so I need you to say 'aah' just one more time and I'll swab the back of your throat, okay?"
Memories of checkups past flashed before Gretchen's eyes. Every time, that demon stick would trigger her gag reflex so hard that it sent her into a panic. Every time, her body would go into survival mode, thrashing about as she screamed, resulting in her mother to have to hold her down, which would only succeed in terrifying Gretchen even more.
Not this time, Gretchen decided. Never again.
In a flash, Gretchen slapped away the swab, jumped off the table, ran under Sour's legs, and right out the door.
"FREEEDDDOOOMMM!!!!!" she cried as hard as her ailing throat would allow as she raced down the hallway.
Several nurses immediately dropped what they were doing to give chase.
Gilda sighed with frustration. "Tell the truth, Sour. Gretchen's your worst kid, isn't she?"
Sour chuckled and waved dismissively. "Oh, you'd be surprised how difficult some patients can be, Gilda. Your little girl isn't even in my top twenty worst."
"No, no, sweetie, don't push on that!" Redheart's frantic shout was heard.
The sound of expensive medical equipment toppling over and crashing to the floor rang out from the hallway.
"Alright, now she might take the number seventeen spot," Sour conceded.
A couple of weeks and some good antibiotics for the eventually tested-positive strep throat later, Gretchen was feeling well again. Gilda dropped her off at Sour Sweet's home so a play day could be shared between her and her best friend, Sour's daughter, Bitter Honey.
"I'm so glad you're all better now, Gretchen!" Bitter cheered as she gave Gretchen a big hug.
Gretchen cringed. "Bitter, you know I hate hugs."
"Yeah, sorry," Bitter said before flopping onto the floor to push along a toy firetruck. "I heard my mama tell my daddy that you caused a lot of trouble at the hospital."
"Grown-ups talk too much," Gretchen muttered as she picked up a Barbie doll just to toss it over in front of Bitter's firetruck so it could be run over.
"Why are you scared of my mama so much?"
"First off, I'm not scared of anything. Secondly, it's not your mama, it's just going to the doctor's office I hate."
"But they want to help you not be sick."
"Then why do they have to put sticks down your throat, hit your knees with those little hammers, and give you gross-tasting medicine?!"
"It's really not that bad, Gretchen." Bitter grinned as an idea suddenly popped into her head. "Hey, I'll be right back!"
With that, Bitter raced out of the room. Gretchen groaned. Now what was her weirdo best friend up to?
Soon, Bitter returned, proudly wearing a garment which was completely too big for her. It was her mother's white coat. The sleeves had to be scrunched up for her little arms to even poke through and most of it was dragging on the floor behind her. Since Bitter Honey was her mother's mirror image, it appeared as if Sour Sweet had just been de-aged via Dragon Ball wish.
"Paging Dr. Bitter Honey!" she beamed.
Gretchen was unamused. "The last time I was asked to play doctor ended with me punching out the boy behind the park jungle gym."
"Come on, this will be fun, Gretchen!" Bitter encouraged as she began moving three plastic chairs into place. "We'll get you used to the doctor's office in no time."
On two chairs she sat two stuffed animals, one lion and one bunny.
Bitter pointed to the third, middle chair. "That one's yours."
Annoyed, Gretchen nevertheless sat down as she was instructed. Bitter then took a few steps back and stood in place with a smile. Several moments passed by with absolutely nothing happening.
Gretchen lifted an eyebrow. "Uh, Bitter? What are we doing?"
"It's a waiting room, so we're waiting," Bitter stated matter-of-factly.
"Only the patients wait. The doctors are supposed to be doing stuff."
Bitter shrugged. "Well, I don't know what doctors are doing while you wait."
Gretchen slapped her forehead. "Just call a patient in, Bitter."
"Oh, okay." Bitter cleared her throat. "Mister Bunny, the doctor is ready to see you now."
Bitter stepped over and picked up the stuffed bunny. She held it up, looked at it from the front to the back, head to toe, and even sideways. Satisfied, she held it face-to-face.
"Mister Bunny, I am happy to say after a thorough examination that you are in perfect health." She grinned and gave it a thumbs up. "Good job."
Gretchen shook her head with annoyance. "Bitter, just call me in already."
"Not yet, Gretchen." She pointed to the other stuffed animal in the next chair. "It's Mister Lion's turn."
Gretchen glanced over to the toy to her right. She then reached over and gave it a flick in the head, causing it to fall over onto the floor on its side.
"Oh look, Mister Lion died," Gretchen deadpanned. "He doesn't need to see you anymore."
Bitter looked down at the fallen toy. Her shoulders slumped and a sad frown crossed her face. "Poor Mister Lion."
Gretchen shot up and marched over to her friend. "Yeah, yeah, we'll call his family later. Just give me my checkup already!"
Bitter nodded and proceeded then to look Gretchen over. She circled around several times to get a full perspective. Next, she went over to her toy box, retrieving a small toy hammer. "Dr. Bitter" then returned to her patient and promptly bonked her on the head.
"Just testing your reflexes, Gretchen."
"You're supposed to hit me on the knees!"
"But why just the knees, though? Why not other parts?" Bitter emphasized her ignorance by tapping each of Gretchen's hips.
Gretchen grabbed the toy hammer and tossed it away. "Okay, we're done with that now. What's next, doctor?"
Bitter tapped her chin in thought. "Hm, what else? Uh, oh yeah! Now you need to open up and say 'aah'!"
Gretchen rolled her eyes. "Alright, but you better not put any sticks in my mouth."
She opened up. Bitter leaned in for a closer look. Her patient held her 'aah' for one moment, two moments, three moments, four moments. Finally, a straining, out-of-breath Gretchen was forced to give out.
"Hey, didn't you get a good enough look, already?!" she gasped angrily.
She glared at her friend, only to be struck by the sight of Bitter appearing distressed. Her face was ashen with complete sadness in her eyes.
"What's wrong with you?"
Bitter hesitated before finally uttering, "I have bad news."
"What is it then?"
Bitter gulped. "You have Rhinochevymalibuitis Disease."
"Okay, so what yucky medicine are you going to give me for it?" Gretchen asked, crossing her arms.
"Gr-Gretchen..." Bitter shook her head. "There is no cure."
Gretchen threw her arms up. "What?! Bitter, how exactly is this supposed to help – "
"Gretchen, I promise I'm going to find a cure!" Bitter suddenly blurted. "I'll search the whole wide world for one! We'll beat this, I know we will!"
"I don't want you to die like Mister Lion!" Genuine tears began to stream from Bitter's eyes. "I'll miss you so much when you're in heaven! I'll miss playing Star Wars with you! I'll miss the way you make fun of my hand twitches! I'll miss watching you always try to act mean and tough, but knowing how nice and caring deep down you really are!"
Bitter grabbed her shoulders. "I love you, Gretchen! I don't know what I'd do without – "
Gretchen hauled back and gave Bitter a smack in the face.
Bitter's frantic words halted. Her eyes darted about in a haze of confusion. "Huh, what...?"
"Bitter, did you forget that we were playing pretend again?"
Bitter rubbed her head. "Oh, I guess I did."
"You just get that lost in your own imagination, don't you?" Gretchen chastised as she reached over to wipe a tear from her friend's cheek. "Last time you thought you were a winged pony living in a magical land for a whole afternoon."
"I'm sorry," Bitter muttered as she hung her head in embarrassment.
The two girls stood there in an awkward silence for a while before Gretchen finally spoke up, "So, you would really be that sad if I died?"
Bitter's head came back up. "Huh? Oh, yeah. And not just me. My mama and your mama would be, too. We all really care about you, Gretchen, and we want you to get better when you get sick. So don't be so afraid to go to the doctor's office next time, okay? I know you hate it, but do it for me?"
Gretchen grew a small smile and nodded. "For you."
Bitter smiled back, then shot out to give Gretchen a warm hug. "Thank you, Gretchen."
"Bitter, you know I hate hugs," Gretchen said with a little less revulsion than usual.
"I know," Bitter acknowledged... before hugging her just a little bit tighter.
At that moment, Sour Sweet stepped in. "Hey, girls. Just wanted to check in on how – Bitter! Is that mama's coat?! You're getting it all dirty, baby!"
"Sorry, mama," Bitter said as she tried picking up the dragging part of the coat off the floor. "We were just playing doctor's office so Gretchen won't be scared of visiting you."
"Oh, really?" Sour asked, her interest piqued. "Did it work?"
Gretchen nodded. "I'll behave next time, Mrs. Sweet. I promise."
Sour laughed and picked up Bitter. "Well, now. Aren't you a little natural? So, are you going to be like mama and be a doctor when you grow up?
"She does have lots of heart to be one," Gretchen had to admit.
Bitter grinned. "But I also have lots of imagination. Maybe I'll be a book writer just like daddy." She paused and pondered for a moment. "But I'd have to learn how to read and write first, huh?"
Gretchen laughed. "Just pretend that you're Dr. Seuss next, and you'll think you'll know how to read and write, won't you, Bitter?"
Sour's smile faded. "What does that mean?"
"Oh, nothing, mama," Bitter assured innocently. "Nothing important."