Twenty-Nine

It had been the longest week of Julian’s life.

If he looked back and remembered how much he hated having his blood drawn, he would have to say that it had been an understated and minor hatred compared to the way he felt as the drugs they filled him with went to work on his body, breaking him down in more ways than he ever thought was possible. Everything hurt—like his blood had been replaced with acid—and nausea wracked his body in waves; each breath felt as if it were falling short of the mark or as if he was breathing through a damp rag. He tried to sleep it off, but every time he managed to doze, someone came into the room and began checking him over, spooking the sleep away and leaving him exhausted and sick and full of misery, but unable to escape it. It didn’t help that it was never quite dark here, either. There was always some kind of light—whether it be the slightly dimmer, less invasive lighting they used to make the room just a little bit more comfortable for those staying longer than a few days or the fluorescent monstrosities that always lit up hospitals, there was always light. Julian had a black-out curtain for a reason; even the slightest bit of light was annoying to him when he wanted some blessed sleep.

The worst part was that he hadn’t heard from either of his friends since that call with Teddy the first night he’d been here. That hurt more than he thought, considering he’d been furious with Teddy when he checked himself in. But he’d expected that once he and Teddy made amends for their little spat, things would go back to normal. As normal as could be expected, at least, when Julian was practically on his death bed. But there had been nothing. He supposed Teddy’s life didn’t stop just because Jules had gotten sick, but so much of their life had been together that it seemed strange that he had so much to do without Julian in the picture; he supposed that had a lot to do with whatever was going on in his life that he and Grey had kept secret from him all these years.

He wondered if Grey had meant it—that she would tell him everything when he was better. Why couldn’t she have just told him then and there? Or any time before that, honestly. What had changed? Or maybe she just told him that so he wouldn’t die feeling bitter towards his two best friends.

Julian tried to roll over in a huff, but then cursed as it pulled on the IV stuck in his vein. He made a soft sound of distress as he tried to untangle himself, his limbs weak from the chemotherapy. One of the nurses came in, clucking at him as she went about helping him get untangled.

“Thanks,” he muttered, though his breathing was strained and the word came off much raspier than he’d thought. He hadn’t used it much lately, which was particularly telling of the kind of condition he was in. Usually, he couldn’t help but sing. Sad songs, Broadway songs, pop songs…he loved singing. It gave him life, an escape. But even that was something he couldn’t have right now, not when his lungs struggled with every little breath and he was more likely to spew vomit at any moment than hit a decent note. As if in response, his stomach gave a helpless sort of flip inside him and he had to close his eyes to keep from retching.

“How are you feeling today?” the nurse asked him, looking over his charts and reading the monitor beside him.

“Not great,” Julian said. “Obviously.”

She gave him a compassionate smile. “Understandable,” she said. “I haven’t met anyone who felt great after your particular cocktail of drugs. Well, unless they were dying.”

“Really?” Julian said, eyes bugging out. “So if I’d said I felt fine…”

“I’d say you were lying, or you’re dying,” the nurse said.

Julian shook his head, then stopped when that made him dizzy; being dizzy sitting down was not a pleasant feeling. “Has anyone told you about your bedside manner?”

“I’ve been told it’s quite comforting,” she said. “Gallows humor can be a great stress reliever for the chronically or terminally ill.”

That made sense. He didn’t think he’d feel particularly happy with people dancing around his feelings, looking at him with pity. So young, they’d say. So much potential, cut short by this tragedy. What a pity.

Julian didn’t want to be pitied; he didn’t want people to feel like they had to police their words around him. It was quite comforting, hearing someone that wasn’t afraid to joke about death when it was a lot closer now than it ever had been before.

“What did you say your name was?” Julian asked.

“I didn’t,” she said. “But it’s Ariana.”

Julian nodded; speaking really was more trouble than it was worth.

“Anything I can do for you?” she asked, seeming to finish taking in his vitals and such. “Some way to pass the time, perhaps?”

Julian was about to say no, that all he wanted to do was sleep. But then he remembered how impossible it was to find sleep here, and how much he wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding his friends. If he was going to be miserable anyway, he may as well be miserable and productive. Problem was, he didn’t even know where to start.

“Can you get me some books?” he asked, hesitantly.

“Certainly. Anything you like.”

“Maybe look at…instances of an allergy? Like a silver…allergy?” It sounded stupid; even as he said it, Julian knew how stupid it sounded.

But something sharp and unfamiliar flashed over the nurse’s face before she nodded, impeccable smile in place. “I think I know just what you’re looking for,” she said, then disappeared out the door.

An uncomfortable weight settled into his stomach. How could she know? How could she possibly know from his vague and very stupid request, what he needed to understand? Was he literally the only person in this whole damn city that wasn’t part of this secret?

He pulled the amethyst crystal out from underneath his pillow, examining it in the dim lighting of his hospital room. It was probably all in his head, but looking at it made him feel just a little bit stronger, a little less like he was dying. Maybe it just made him feel less alone. He closed his eyes and clutched it to his chest, wishing he had more of an understanding of what all this meant.

Suddenly, his iPad made a familiar chirrup sound which meant someone was calling. He stuffed the crystal under his pillow once more and then reached for the tablet, knowing already the face he would see and feeling an uncertain tingle of anticipation. He accepted the call.

 

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