Nate doesn’t text me until the early evening hours. The seven hour time difference usually means I get a text in the middle of the night which I read in the morning and then one when Nate gets up in the morning which is about tea time here.
I wonder all day whether Nate will bring up the party or whether I should. Mom gives me covert stares of worry as I pick at my food at lunch. The pale light of twilight settles in before I finally get a text only its not Nate, but his brother.
We partied late. Didn’t get to sleep until three this morning. Go easy on him.
Miss you, boy. Heard you were coming over for my birthday.
After, I think. Have baseball. When will you be back?
Aug or Sept. Things are going well.
Great. We’ll have a rager when you get back. c ya soon.
Nate’s texts followed on the heels of Nick as if Nick told him it was safe.
Sorry I didn’t text you this morning. Slept in. Epic headache.
From an epic hangover?
How’d you guess? Nick?
No. North Prep telephone ring.
Milhawk’s basement. Had to do the shots that Nick couldn’t. Keeping him on the straight and narrow.
Sounds fun. Three texts. No mention of the picture.
Let’s Skype later. What time?
I don’t want to. He didn’t bring up the picture. Maybe he’d been too drunk and he didn’t even know it was taken. Maybe. Whatever the excuse may be, my feelings are still hurt and I want time to get over it. I didn’t want to be that girl who was jealous and clingy and needy. Not only would Nate not like that but I wouldn’t have much respect for myself. So until I can get into the right frame of mind, I don’t want to talk to him in a setting where I’m apt to blurt out some baseless accusation.
Can’t. Treatment. Studies. In fact, I’ve got to run.
Sorry C. Should’ve gotten up early. Know that’s the best time for you.
It’s okay. Love you.
I power down my phone so I’m not tempted to read any responses.
“I’m going down to the game room,” I tell my mom. She waves a pen at me. All this technology and she still marks up reports with a pen.
The hotel is adjacent to the hospital and many of the patients and their families stay here. There are mostly two or three room suites or mini apartments along with an indoor pool, gym and a game room for the kids.
“New girl,” a voice barks when I walk into the room. The game room contains arcades, a pool table, and multiple televisions with different game consoles and, the favorite, a virtual reality room. It’s everyone’s preferred location not only to communicate with friends and family but to game play.
“You there,” the voice calls again. I turn and see a boy about my age sitting in a lounge chair just outside the VR room. I haven’t seen him before so he must be the new person.
Despite his rudeness, I stroll over because I’m one of the oldest of the under eighteen set. Most of the kids here are younger which makes it both bittersweet and a bit boring. Insolent or not, he’s more intriguing to me than the rest of the crowd.
As I draw closer, the fine features under his beanie cap look very familiar. “Oh, wait aren’t you—“
Before I can say his name, though, he cuts me off. “Yes,” he says with an imperious wave for me to come forward. Like royalty, I guess he expects me to genuflect or something. “Who are you?”
I’ve never been this close to someone famous. There were a few times we sat in the front row of a concert at the United Center, but this guy’s parents are on the cover of some magazine nearly every week. “Um no one. I mean Charlotte Randolph but my parents aren’t famous…” like yours I finish silently. I can tell he doesn’t want me to say their names out loud. Maybe no one else recognizes him here. I glance around and see that no one is paying us any attention. But if he stepped out in any US mall, he’d be mobbed and not just because of his parents’ fame but his own. His dark eyes and cut torso were part of a major label campaign last summer. It surprises me to see him here.
“But they must have a lot of money if you are here.” He narrows his eyes at me as if squinting will bring clarity.
“I guess. My mom runs an investment fund and my dad’s in construction.” I sit myself in a chair opposite of him.
“So what’re you here for?”
“Tumor. It’s excised. I have a shunt and am undergoing chemo/radiation.”
“With drugs not allowed in the US?”
“Ha me too. Stem cell washing. Lots of drugs. And weed of course.” He pats his lap where I see a small metal container.
“Yeah, don’t you get any?”
I shake my head.
“Shit, your parents must be withholding from you. Poor girl. Let me know if you want some.” He wiggles the box at me.
“No thanks. Did you just get here?”
“Yeah my cancer was in remission all of a year. Isn’t that grand? But now it’s back and I’m here. I thought I’d be bored but maybe not.” The examination he gives me is rather insulting but I can see how we’re going to end up spending time together. There isn’t anyone else around. We’re on our own desert island.
“You looked great in the ad campaign,” I say lamely. “Very healthy.”
He snorts. “Photoshop. What’s your story? You got anyone back home?”
“Yes,” I nod emphatically. “His name is Nathan. You?”
“Nah, I’ll probably hook up with one of the nurses. Did my tutor the last time I was here. But maybe I’ll have other options this time.” This time his perusal makes me frown because I know what he’s suggesting and I’m not interested. “What’s your Nathan like?”
“Strong, smart. Very kind.” Wonderful but maybe not being entirely truthful with me. I don’t say the last part out loud. That’s between me and Nathan and not to be shared with this rude stranger.
“No I mean, does he have the hero syndrome or is he a narcissist?”
“Neither,” I scowl at him.
He waves off my answer. “Don’t be naive. He’s either the hero because he gets off on this idea that he’s saving you. Like a firefighter can start fires so he can save people. Or he’s a narcissist he gets off looking like a good guy by being with you.”
“You have a really dismal outlook about people. Nathan isn’t like that. We were friends a long time before we became a couple.” I don’t even know why I’m explaining myself.
“So you guys dated before you got sick?”
“No. We were friends. His father and my mother are in business together. His dad and my dad have been best friends since junior high school.”
He chews on his thumb. “Did you sleep together before you were sick?”
“No.” I pinken. “Not that it’s any of your business.”
“Then narcissist. He’s boning you because it makes him appear like he’s making a huge sacrifice. See Nathan willing to have sex with the gimp. What a hero!”
“I’m not gimpy,” I protest.
“Hey it’s your funeral. I had a girl I dated before I got sick. She even shaved her hair in solidarity when I got the diagnosis. Everyone told her how brave she was. I was the one fucking losing my hair but she’s the brave one. I punted her. Screwed her two best friends.” He stretches out his arm and cracks his knuckles. “Then I took her back and licked her tears of sadness. Best boner ever. Screwed her and kicked her out like the pathetic narcissist she was.”
“You’re really kind of horrible, aren’t you?” I say feeling a bit shocked by his commentary but I remembered seeing internet articles about that and reading all the comments saying that the girlfriend was so awesome for sticking by this guy. It chills me a bit.
“I’m a realist, sugar. And you will be too by the time you’re done with treatment.”
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