By Judith Freudenthal
Don, Myra, Nick and Natalie were having dinner together. Myra had wanted to host because Jenny was sleeping over at a friend's house and wanted her daughter to be able to call home in case of a problem. Nick and Natalie understood.
Dinner went well, with Nick receiving only mild teasing about not eating. Nick enjoyed being with these friends because they accepted him as he was, making him feel much more human. Both Don and Natalie were pleased to see their friend relaxing and enjoying the evening.
After dinner they took their coffee and cake and headed into the family room as those chairs were much more comfortable. Don and Myra took the two overstuffed chairs on each end of the couch leaving it for their friends. They were curious to see what would happen. If Nick and Natalie would let more of their feelings for each other show.
They were enjoying spending time together without work interfering. Myra and Natalie allowed a little shop talk before changing the subject.
A few hours later all were sleepy. Nick and Natalie excused themselves and were just about to leave when the phone rang.
Myra excused herself to get it.
She came back into the room looking rather disturbed.
"Don, Jenny and her friends are at the hospital. There's been some sort of accident."
"Why don't we drive you," Nick offered, seeing how distracted they were.
"No. You should go home," Don said.
"We're concerned about all of you. We don't want you having an accident," Nick said.
"We care about Jenny too," Natalie said as she placed her hand on Myra's arm for comfort.
Everyone grabbed their jackets and headed out.
Before long they arrived at the hospital. Nick let everyone out at the entrance to the emergency room before heading off to find a parking spot.
Myra and Don rushed into the emergency room, Natalie following right behind them.
They approached the Nurse's desk.
"We're looking for Jenny Schanke. She was brought in here a little while ago," Don said trying not to panic and barely succeeding.
The nurse said, "she's being examined right now. If you'll have a seat someone will come out to see you soon."
Natalie lead her friends over to the chairs. Don paced the floor while Myra sat down and tried to be patient.
"What could've happened? They were going to watch watch movies, pig out on junk food. The standard stuff."
"I don't know. They'll tell us soon."
Nick entered and saw his friends worried expressions and approached. "Any news?"
"No," Don said, growing more and more impatient.
Myra wondered where the other parents were. She got up to stretch and decided to head over to the doors of the emergency room and see if she could learn anything more.
Myra saw Melissa's parents. They looked even more upset than she was. Before Myra could get any closer a nurse approached and escorted her back to the waiting area.
"Don, I think Melissa is really hurt or sick. I caught a quick glimpse of her parents."
"What the hell happened?" Don asked, quickly losing his remaining patience.
"I don't know. I wish they'd tell us something."
Nick and Natalie knew the best they could do was to be there for their friends. They too were worried about Jenny.
About twenty minutes later a doctor approached the foursome.
Don and Myra immediately approached him.
"I'm Dr. Parker. I'm looking for Jenny Schanke's parents."
"How is Jenny?" Myra asked, very concerned. "I'm her mother."
"She'll be okay. We're holding her overnight for observation."
"What happened?" Don asked, greatly relieved.
"She choked on a marshmallow. Luckily she was able to cough it up."
"How can a marshmallow be so dangerous?" Myra asked, totally confused.
"When it gets body temperature it melts and can obscure breathing. It becomes a thick goey material that will block the windpipe, slide down any available opening, or both. You'd be surprised how many children die from marshmallows, especially recently."
"I don't understand," Schanke said.
"There is a dangerous new game children are playing. It's called Chubby Bunny. They stuff marshmallows into their mouths and try to say chubby bunny. They continue stuffing their mouths and trying to say it until they either can't say it or can't fit any more marshmallows in. Sometimes the game is played until you gag, then you lose. They're not allowed to chew or swallow the marshmallows. This is how they melt and how they kill." The doctor looked down at his shoes before looking back at them. "Your daughter was lucky. Her friend wasn't. She suffocated."
"Oh my God," Myra said, now understanding why Melissa's parents looked so upset. "How are the other children?"
"They're being checked out. But they seem to be okay." He knew he'd told them all he could. "If you'll follow me, I'll take you to see Jenny."
Myra looked over at her friends.
"Go on. We'll see her later," Natalie said.
Myra and Don followed Dr. Parks back to the treatment room. They passed the room with eight year old Melissa's body and her grieving parents, as they said goodbye to their daughter. Myra and Don couldn't help but stop and look in the room.
Myra and Don let out a huge sigh of relief when they entered the room holding Jenny and saw her talking with the nurse. The oxygen tubing they saw run across Jenny's face didn't bother them too much because they could tell their daughter was okay. That she was safe.
"Mom! Dad! I'm sorry."
Both her parents hugged her, so relieved she was alive and well. Jenny was surprised to see her dad crying.
"We're just glad you're okay," Myra said, her voice choked with tears.
"Am I in trouble?" Jenny asked.
"You know better," Don said, sternly. He wasn't able to be angry at her.
"I think you've learned your lesson," Myra said. "I don't ever want you playing that game, or any like it, ever again!"
"I won't mom, dad. I promise," Jenny said. "I was so scared when I couldn't breathe. I saw Melissa having even more trouble than me. I got really scared."
Jenny saw a sadness in their eyes. "Is Melissa okay?" She knew she probably wasn't.
"No, sweetie. She died. A marshmallow melted and cut off her airway. She suffocated."
Jenny started to sob. She couldn't believe such an innocent seeming game had killed her friend. "NO!"
Myra sat on the edge of the examination bed and held her daughter. Her father gently stroked her hair, grateful that she'd been spared.
Jenny didn't stop crying until she was so congested she couldn't breathe. She started coughing and didn't stop until she'd thrown up. Luckily there was nothing in her stomach.
The doctor kept Jenny there for a little while longer, until her congestion had eased.
About half an hour later, Don came out of the emergency room to update his friends. He saw them eagerly, and anxiously awaiting word.
"She's fine. Myra's staying with her as they transfer her to her room."
"I'm glad to hear that," Natalie said.
"Me too," Nick said.
"Why don't we go check in on her?" Don said, knowing they wanted to see her.
"Okay," Natalie said.
Nick and Natalie followed Don up to Jenny's room.
Don opened the door and let them go on in ahead of him.
"Hi squirt. You gave everyone a real scare," Natalie said.
"I know. I'm sorry."
"The important thing is you're okay," Nick said. "Why did you play the game?"
"It seemed like fun. I didn't think anyone would die," Jenny began to cry.
"Shh..." Myra soothed as she held her daughter.
"I'm sorry if I upset you. I didn't mean to."
"I..." Jenny sniffled. "I... know."
Nick and Natalie saw that Jenny was tired. They hugged her. Natalie kissed her forehead as well.
"Be careful, okay?" Natalie said.
"I will," Jenny said around her tears.
"I'll see you later, partner," Don said.
"Take care of her. She's the most important thing," Nick said.
"I know," Don said.
Nick and Natalie left. They saw Don and Myra soothing their daughter, showing how much they truly loved her. Knowing they realized just how lucky they'd been tonight.
A few minutes later Jenny had fallen asleep. Don and Myra stepped outside for a moment. The seriousness of the night had hit and they didn't want to disturb Jenny.
Once outside Don leaned against the wall. He took his wife into his arms and just held her. They had almost lost their baby tonight. Tears streamed down their face, both of relief and of sadness for Melissa's death.
Melissa's parents approached. They were completely devastated, but had wanted to talk with Don and Myra before they left.
"We're so sorry," Myra said.
"I feel like I should be apologizing to you. We had no idea what they were up to. We'd just checked in on them and they were watching a movie. A few minutes later Laura came running into the kitchen where I was finishing up the dishes and told me that Missy was choking. By the time I got in there Jenny was choking as well."
"I heard the commotion and entered. As soon as I saw the problem I called 911. Jenny had gotten most of the marshmallows out of her mouth by then. I helped her cough up the last one."
"Thank you," Don said. He knew that the father's quick thinking had saved his daughter's life. "I know that doesn't sound like enough for what you did. We are truly grateful."
"Apparently Missy had even more in her mouth. I couldn't get them all out. They were too goey to pull out. I kept trying. I didn't know what to do." Becky said, as tears overwhelmed her. "I'm sorry," she sobbed.
"There is nothing to be sorry for. It was a stupid accident. They knew better," Don said. "How many times as kids did we do things that were really stupid?"
"Too many," Rick said, as he comforted his wife. "The paramedics cut a hole in her throat to try and help her breathe. The melted marshmallow hindered their efforts. They couldn't get in as much oxygen as they needed to." Rick broke down.
Myra and Don comforted the couple.
"Who would've thought something as innocent as a marshmallow could kill?" Rick said through his tears.
"How's Jenny?" Becky asked, wiping away her tears.
"She'll be fine. They're just keeping her overnight for observation," Myra said. "Have you ever heard of the game?"
"No. Had you?"
"No," Myra said. "Would you like to peek in on Jenny?" She could tell that Becky wanted too but wasn't going to ask.
"Sure," Don said. "How are the other kids?"
"They're fine. Their parents all came and took them home. We had them checked out just to be safe," Rick said.
"Myra, will you and Don help Rick and me spread the word about the dangers of the game?"
"You know we will," Don said.
Myra opened the room door and allowed her friends to see Jenny. She was restlessly asleep.
"Thank you," Becky said. "We need to go."
Don and Myra understood. She could tell her friends were about to completely lose it and didn't want to be in public when it happened.
"Can we give you a lift home?" Don asked?
"I don't want to trouble you," Rick said.
"It's no trouble," Don said.
Myra hugged her friends. "If we can help in any way, let us know."
"We will. Thank you for understanding. We're glad Jenny will be fine."
Don escorted Rick and Becky to the car.
Myra headed inside to stay with Jenny.
Forever Knight Index