Curtis

By Wednesday morning, there’s no denying I’m run down. I’m achy, tired. The fever is in its fourth day, and I promised Dad. I make an appointment at the health center for late morning. Maybe I can get a vitamin shot or at least some assurance that this fever has just about run its course.

The health center is located on the far side of campus from my dorm room, but it’s a short walk from my ten o’clock class.

A heavy-set woman with graying hair pinned in an old-fashioned bun calls me back and directs me to a treatment room. She smiles as she closes the door behind us and asks me to step on the scale. “We’re seeing a lot of flu right now. Happens every fall.” She notes my weight—162. I step off the scale and take a seat on the treatment table as she pulls a cuff from the wall. My hands tremble. Doctors’ offices always do that to me. Maybe that’s natural, or maybe it’s a throwback from my head injury when I was a kid.

“Just relax,” the nurse says as she wraps the blood pressure cuff around my arm. She places a stethoscope on the inside of my elbow and pumps up the cuff. “You’re warm. How long have you been running a fever?”

“About four days.”

“One twenty-two over eighty-four,” she says, releasing the air from the cuff. “A little high, but understandable.” She wraps up the cuff and places it back in the plastic holder on the wall, then takes my temperature. “Are you taking anything for the fever?”

“Tylenol.”

“When did you last take it?”

“A couple of hours ago.”

She notes everything on the computer, then pats my leg and tells me the doctor will be in shortly.

I check the time on my phone: 11:32. Luke is probably having lunch right now. I wonder who he’s sitting with. Jackson? Spencer? Phoebe? I make a mental note to ask him. And then I think about our second first date. I wonder if he dances. I imagine holding him close in some dance hall, whispering in his ear, nuzzling his ear, kissing his ear. Breathing in the great peppermint smell that always wafts from his skin. Soon, Luke.

I scan the pamphlets tucked in an acrylic display case hanging on the wall—Alcohol and Substance Abuse, Depression and Suicide, Eating Disorders, Stress, Prescription Medication, STDs . . . . I look at my phone again and think about texting Dad to let him know I’m okay.

A firm, quick knock on the door. “Curtis,” the doctor says, stepping in. He reaches for my hand. “I’m Dr. Nguyen. So, I understand you’ve been running a fever,” he says, checking the nurse’s notes. “Let’s have a look.” He feels the glands around my neck, then checks my throat, my eyes, my ears. “Cameron. Hmm. I went to UT with a Cameron. Derrick. We called him DC. Any relation?”

“That’s my dad.”

“No kidding? Small world, huh? How’s he doing? I haven’t seen him in years. Is he designing skyscrapers?”

“Mostly bridges and roads.”

“Yeah? And what about your mom? How’s she doing?”

“She died when I was a baby.”

He studies my face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” He presses a stethoscope to my back and chest. “Chills? Body aches?” I nod. “Well, I’d say you’ve got the flu. Your chest sounds a little rattley, so I’m going to go ahead and start you on some antibiotics just in case you’re working on a secondary infection here—we’ve been seeing some cases of pneumonia already—but I suspect this flu’s about run its course. You should be feeling much better in a few days in any case.”

“No blood test?” I ask.

He scoots his stool over to the computer. “Any reason why you think you need one?” He taps out some notes on the keyboard.

I take a deep breath to steady myself. “I thought maybe you could test for HIV while I’m here. It’s just, I’ve never had one, and I thought it would be a good idea.”

“Sure. No problem. We generally do that with a mouth swab though. We can have results in about twenty minutes.”

“Okay. Great.”

“I wish all our students would get tested. It should be part of everyone’s routine health screening.” He stands and reaches for my hand again. “Let me get the nurse back in here. Be sure and tell your dad hello for me.”

“I will.”

He’s not planning to come back in again. I take that as a good sign. Routine test. Routine results. I hadn’t actually considered asking for an HIV test until I did. But I’m relieved to get this out of the way. Twenty minutes. I expected to have to wait weeks. I breathe a little easier knowing that in twenty minutes, I can take off that emergency brake and move on with my life. Because I’ve got some making up to do to a cute, blond, high school kid next weekend.

“All right,” the nurse says, coming through the door with a small package from which she removes a plastic stick with a pad on one end. “This will only take a second.” I open my mouth so she can swab my outer gums on top and on bottom. “That’s it.” She drops the swab in a vial with some liquid and gives me a reassuring smile. “Can I bring you some magazines to read while you wait?”

“No, I’m fine. Thanks.”

I check the time again: 11:50. If I text now, I might catch him before he heads back to class. Still running a fever, but antibiotics ordered. I intend to collect on that rain check soon. I miss you.

I stare at that last sentence for a moment. It’s funny . . . telling him I miss him seems like more of a declaration than a kiss or a rain check. But I know he’ll like that. And it’s true. I’m smiling to myself when I press Send.

In a moment, he texts back. Spencer just asked what I’m smiling about.  I miss you too. After game Friday?

Can’t. Have my own game. Drum major coaching on Saturday?

Drum major coaching—riiight. Ha ha. I appear to have some deficits. Be prepared for some intense one-on-one instruction.

One-on one-instruction, huh? The flirt. I’m still sitting on the treatment table, smiling down at the screen, when there’s a knock, and Dr. Nguyen steps back into the room. Despite the fever, my skin goes cold. He takes the stool and swivels to face me, then clasps his hands in his lap and studies them for a moment.

My eyes blur. Please. No. Tell me I’ve got pneumonia. Tell me I’ve got herpes. Anything. Just—just not this.

He lifts his eyes to mine. “The HIV test came back positive, Curtis.”

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