Six

The waiting room was nearly empty but for a teenaged girl around his age occupied by her smartphone and a couple of runny-nosed children playing with the blocks on the other side of the room. Their mother looked nearly as miserable as he felt, watching listlessly as her children fought over a red block. Julian felt the distinct discomfort that always plagued him in these situations—the dread in the pit of your stomach as you wait for your name to be called so that the doctor can poke and prod you and tell you what you already know so that you can get the medicine required to treat it.

He held a magazine in his lap, but the perfectly air brushed models and the tips on how to “drive your man crazy in 6 easy steps” didn’t seem to reach him, couldn’t settle the pit of uneasiness inside of him. Usually, he at least had Teddy to distract him, but the blonde had been in a hurry to leave that morning and had only left a note about when and where his appointment was and promised hell and painful retribution if Julian didn’t go to the appointment. And since he did still have a fever and felt like the underside of a steamroller, Julian figured he’d better listen. But that didn’t mean he was happy about it.

It was also bothering him that he was missing his classes for this. He had nearly perfect attendance and his grades weren’t too shabby even if he did say so himself. Taking off like this felt like he was abandoning his responsibilities even though he knew he wasn’t, that he had to take care of his health first and he wouldn’t be doing anybody any favors by showing up contagious.

After what felt like an eternity, a bedraggled nurse appeared at the door to the waiting room. “Julian? Julian Thorne?” she asked, looking around politely as if it wasn’t perfectly obvious who Julian was.

He set his magazine aside and followed her into the back. It was a perfectly routine initial checkup—weight check, blood pressure check, all that stuff—and then the nurse left him in one of the exam rooms with a promise that the doctor would be with him soon to get the rest of the checkup underway.

Once again, Julian felt that annoying dread settle into his stomach as he sat on the exam table and started the waiting process all over again, this time without the (albeit weak) distraction of a magazine. Luckily, this wait wasn’t nearly as long and soon the doctor came in.

Dr. Kim was tall and fit, with kind eyes and an easy smile. Though in general Julian hated going to doctor’s appointments, he usually felt more at ease once Dr. Kim came into the room. Surprisingly, his hands were never too cold and he had a way of speaking that didn’t sound too formal or remote the way some doctors could.

“Julian, it’s been a while. How have you been?” he asked, flipping through his file.

Julian shrugged. “All right,” he said. “Can’t complain too much.”

“That so?” Dr. Kim deposited himself on a rolling stool. “Because it says here you’re underweight. Last time you came in here you weighed…”

“Ugh, don’t remind me. I looked like a pineapple.”

Dr. Kim chuckled. “Still, it’s not safe to lose so much weight so fast. Have you been eating the way you’re supposed to?”

“I have, though I’ve noticed I don’t have as much of an appetite as before. I figured it was just my body settling into its old routine. I was small as a kid, too.”

“That may be so, but I’m still worried. I might prescribe some protein supplements to help get you back to where you ought to be. What about your sex life? Things heating up on that front?”

From anybody else, the question might have come off as creepy or suggestive, but from Dr. Kim it seemed normal.  “Not particularly, no,” Julian said with a sigh. “Too busy for any of that, honestly.”

“Yeah? School keeping you busy?”  he asked, glancing up as he scribbled some notes down in Julian’s file.

“What isn’t keeping me busy? Between school, work, and after school activities, I barely have time to breathe.”

“That could very well be the source of your weight loss,” Dr. Kim said, setting the file back down and steepling his hands. “And as I understand it, you’ve been feeling under the weather lately?”

Julian nodded.

“What seems to be the problem?” Dr. Kim stood and began gathering the supplies needed to get the checkup underway properly.

“It started out as just fatigue—you know, just feeling tired all the time. I figured I just needed more sleep but then there was the night sweats and the difficulty sleeping no matter how tired I felt. I’ve noticed I get winded more easily, too. Maybe I’m just really out of shape?” Julian explained. “I admit, it’s hard to fit in cardio with my schedule what it is.”

“Hm…” Dr. Kim murmured, listening once more to Julian’s heartbeat and breathing before lifting his arm to examine it. “And this bruise here on your arm. How did you get it?”

Julian glanced down. Sure enough, there was a bruise on his arm; he hadn’t noticed it before. “I have no idea. Probably just accidentally bumped it on something; I bruise pretty easily.”

Dr. Kim pulled the stethoscope out of his ears and checked Julian’s temperature. The wait was more tense than Julian was accustomed to with Dr. Kim, but finally the thermometer beeped and he checked the reading. “Looks like you’ve got a bit of a fever, too. Are there body aches or anything?”

Julian nodded again. “Yes.”

“It seems likely that it’s just a touch of the flu,” Dr. Kim said. Something about his tone made Julian think there was more to it. He swallowed his discomfort.

“But…?” he prompted.

“I’d like to draw some blood as well,” Dr. Kim said. “It’s entirely voluntary but…”

“What is it?”

“I just want to make sure it’s not something more serious,” Dr. Kim said, “And it’s been a while since we’ve done blood work on you anyway, so it can’t hurt.”

Julian disagreed; he disagreed very much. He didn’t really have a problem with needles necessarily—he had piercings in both of his ears and his septum and had gotten a few tattoos at Teddy’s friend’s tattoo shop—but he very much disliked the feeling of having his blood drawn out of him. It was difficult to explain to anyone but it just felt so incredibly wrong and it left him exhausted afterwards.

“Do you really think it’s necessary?” he asked, feeling queasy at the thought.

“I would highly recommend it,” Dr. Kim said, which wasn’t exactly ordering it but it felt kind of like he was.

Julian ran a hand through his shock of dark hair. “Okay,” he said. “I don’t like it, but I’ll do it.”

Dr. Kim smiled. “Excellent. I’ll draw up all the necessary paperwork and we can get that done as soon as possible. In fact, I’d like to do it today while we’ve got you here already. Do you have someone that can drive you home? It shouldn’t affect you too much, but since you’re already feeling under the weather, it’s probably best if you don’t’ drive for a minute.”

Julian opened his mouth to say that he did have a ride, but then he remembered Teddy was out of town. He still hadn’t heard his explanation for why he hadn’t been able to get him the night before, either, he realized. The bastard had told him that he was going to tell him today, but he’d been gone from the minute Julian had gotten up. The idiot might have thought he’d been too out of it to remember, but Julian remembered now. He was going to kick his ass when he got back…

“Julian?”

“Um, yeah. Sure. I can get my dad to pick me up, I think.”

“Great. I’ll be right back. Just get comfortable, make the arrangements that you’ll need; shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.”

Sometime later, Julian was sporting a fresh bandage and a new appreciation for how much he hated getting his blood drawn. His father met him outside the office.

It had been a while since Julian had last seen his father, so he couldn’t help but grin at the familiar mustachioed face before allowing him to envelop him in a bear hug.

“Hey, son,” Michael Thorne said, holding Jules out at arm’s length so he could get a proper look at him. “Long time no see. No time for your old man, eh?”

“Sorry,” Julian said, allowing his father to direct him towards the old Ford Ranger he drove around everywhere. He’d had the thing for as long as Julian could remember, seeing no point in replacing it with a newer model, and it was as much home as the house he’d lived in his whole life. A feeling of familiarity immediately surrounded him as he climbed into the cab, his father helping him so he didn’t stumble. “You know how it is.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mike said, his tone teasing as he made his way to the driver’s seat, “Only have time for me when you need something.”

“You know that’s not fair,” Jules said. Unfortunately, family dinner was another thing he found difficult to fit into his busy schedule. He was trying his best in school, doing everything he could to ensure his future success. It wasn’t always fun, but it had worked out well so far.

“I’m kidding, boy,” Mike replied. “I know you’re working hard. But you could have at least told me you were sick beforehand.”

“I thought it would pass on its own,” Julian said, rubbing absently at his arm. “Definitely didn’t think I’d need to have blood drawn or anything.”

“Where’s Teddy? Big guy get swamped too?” his father asked as he pulled out of the parking lot and headed towards Julian and Teddy’s apartment.

“He’s out of town,” Julian said. “Staying with his grandparents as per usual.”

“Now there’s a boy who knows family loyalty,” Mike joked.

Julian scoffed. “He just goes so he can get his inheritance one day. If his grandparents hadn’t donated so much to the school, I doubt he’d even be allowed those absences. Just taking today off is going to set me back about a week and I’ll have all this homework to catch up on…”

“Nope,” Mike said. “You’re sick, Jules. I raised you to work hard, not work yourself into an early grave. Since Teddy’s not here to make sure you get your rest, I’m going to stay and take care of you; your mother would kill me if I came home without tending to you first, anyway, so it’s at least partially self-. She’ll probably drop by tomorrow, since I’ve got work, and she’ll take you to get your car if you’re feeling better. But tonight, I’m all yours.”

Julian gave a mock groan. “Joy—a sleepover with my dad.”

Mike grinned. “You got it.”

Despite his groan, Julian was kind of looking forward to spending time with his father. He hated being in the apartment by himself and if he were being honest, he was a little worried about the blood tests. It would be nice to have a distraction from worrying about that for a while, even if that did mean subjecting himself to a hundred sports anecdotes. Who knew, maybe he’d even enjoy those.

Anything was better than sitting alone in an empty apartment with nothing but worry for company, right?

 

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