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Tor was awake the moment the door to his room opened.
"I'm up, Mom," he said, sitting up in bed.
His mother came into the room and turned on the light. Tor squinted. The room was full of boxes, some open, some still taped shut. Tor had been too tired to do much more than throw some blankets on his bed last night. He hadn't even unpacked his books or his CDs.
"I have to go into the clinic. Now. I don't want to leave you alone, so I need you to come with me," his mother said. She started rummaging in the closet. "Where's your snowsuit?"
"My snowsuit?" Tor asked, and for a moment wondered if he wasn't as awake as he thought. Weren't snowsuits for little kids? He was twelve years old, not six.
"Overalls, coveralls--what are they called around here?" his mom said, frantically throwing clothing out of the closet. "We have to go, Tor. Now. There's a boy at the clinic and I need to get there right now--there!"
Tor scrambled out of bed and grabbed the ridiculous blue snowsuit his mom was holding out to him. Somebody needed his mom's help. He hadn't gotten used to thinking of her as a doctor after all those years she'd spent in school and in training. But she was a doctor at last, and someone needed her.
He pulled the blue suit over his pajama bottoms and T-shirt. His pj's were printed with blue waves and tiny California surfers. Yesterday he'd been a California kid. He stuffed his feet into the brand-new snow boots his mom had bought. Zip went the suit. Done. He flipped the attached hood forward and looked at his mom, who was dressed in a similar suit. Hers was red. He and his mom looked like two characters from a really lame Saturday-morning cartoon. He wanted to say what he was thinking, but his mom's face was too serious, almost scared. He said nothing.
"Follow me," his mom said, and Tor clumped after her.
When Tor followed his mother outside, his lungs instantly stopped working. His breath froze. He started coughing. This was like outer space. The air felt like knives going into his lungs. There was a tiny crackling sound as all the moisture in his nose froze. That was so gross. Tor didn't want to imagine frozen snot, but too late, he did.
His fingers started tingling, and he shoved them into his pockets. Huge puffs of vapor came out in a cloud around his mother's head as she pulled the door shut behind them and locked it. Tor looked at his new hometown. He'd seen it for the first time that afternoon when they'd driven in. Crowds of skiers and shoppers had filled the streets. Now it was late at night and Snow Park was silent.
He looked up and down the streets and saw only a single set of tire tracks in the powdery snow. Streetlights on every block cast down pale circles, but no one walked on the sidewalks and no lights shone in the buildings. Tor's new house was a block off the main street of Snow Park and stood near the top of a small hill. The streets below him were decorated for the Christmas tourist season, and green wreaths and red ribbons decorated every storefront.
Snow Park could be a miniature town inside an enormous snow globe. Tor almost expected to see a department store dummy standing at the corner holding a fake pile of Christmas boxes. This vision was so instantly creepy he shivered.
"This way," his mom said, starting down the sidewalk. Tor followed, glancing back at the garage where the car was parked. His mom saw the look, or somehow knew what Tor was thinking. "The car would take longer to start than we have time," she said. "We'll be at the clinic in just a minute. It's only two blocks. Can you breathe okay? Put your glove over your face--oh, I'm sorry. No gloves yet. Try to breathe through your jacket collar. It must be twenty below out here."
"I'm good," Tor said. He wasn't going to complain. He hadn't thought that breathing might be a problem, though. He tucked his chin into the warmth of his snowsuit. The snow was so cold it didn't crunch. It squeaked like Styrofoam under his feet. Tor tried to ignore the cold as they hurried down the street.
"Dr. Sinclair!" someone yelled.
"Here," Tor's mom called. Tor raised his eyes and saw the Snow Park Medical Clinic. The building was small and had a deep porch and a steeply pitched roof. The windows were now brightly lighted. There were two cars parked outside the clinic, and as Tor looked, two more cars turned a corner and headed toward the clinic, their tailpipes sending plumes of exhaust into the cold air. Another car turned the corner from the other direction and crunched down the street. Whatever was going on, a lot of people apparently knew about it.
"Doctor," someone said, startling Tor. He hadn't seen the man standing in the darkness of the porch. His voice was thin and high and anxious. "Thank you for coming."
"Of course," Dr. Sinclair said.
Tor followed his mother up the steps. The man was now gripping his mom's arm, his fingers disappearing into the fabric of her snowsuit, dragging her inside the clinic. Tor followed his mom, still looking down to keep his face deep in his hood. In the warmth of the clinic his nose and cheeks started tingling and stinging. He drew a deep breath and was grateful it no longer burned his lungs.
There was someone lying on the floor, wrapped up in a blanket. A man knelt at his side. Tor peered, trying to see.
Suddenly the door burst open behind them and Tor turned to see two teenagers, both wearing identical blue coats, their eyes wide and frightened.
"What's going on?" one of the boys said. "Coach?"
"Excuse me," Tor's mom commanded, and the room hushed instantly. Dr. Susan Sinclair's curly brown hair stood out from her head and her nose was red from the cold. She wasn't tall, and she was slender, but there was no doubt that she was in charge.
From the Hardcover edition.