"Knock, knock." Brian leaned around the curtain that blocked off my hospital bed from the rest of the room.
"Hey," I answered, barely looking up. I was flicking through TV channels sullenly.
"Hey," he smiled and came into my little world. He put a foam Nerf basket ball on my rolley table like it was a peace offering and glanced up at the TV. "What'cha watchin'?" he asked, "Anything good on?"
"It's all shit," I answered.
He turned back to look at me again. "How are you feelin' buddy?"
"Like a million dollars," I said sarcastically. I threw the remote into the gaping drawer of the night stand, landing on a rerun of some crappy old TV show with Dick Van Dyke in it. I sighed.
Brian pulled up the plastic chair by my side. "I know this is hard on you, but --"
"-- It's better than the alternative," I said before he could. "I know. I know that. That's what everybody keeps saying to me. But God damn it if I don't really gotta wonder that right about now. I'm sick of being in here. It's been a fucking month, Brian. A month."
"I know," he said. "But you can't give up. There's nothing else to do but wait," he said.
I shrugged, "I could die."
"Don't say that," he said, and he got this look on him like I'd slapped him clear across his face. He shuffled his feet. "I can't even think about that, okay, so don't say that like that."
Brian got up and started rearranging shit on my rolley table, including the Nerf basketball set. He waved it. "I thought maybe I could whoop your ass at some ball later," he said.
It was his way of trying to bury the topic. I took a deep breath. "Like you wouldn't let the sick guy win at basket ball on his death bed."
Brian tossed the set at me. He turned back to the stuff on the rolley table, moving things incrementally. He stared down at it. Then, "Nick. I really don't want you to die. So please. Stop being so negative." He looked up at me. "Negativity will kill you every time. But sometimes -- sometimes when you have a positive attitude, it can make all the difference. So please. Just try...?"
I wanted to make some smart ass remark. Something scathing about how he didn't give a shit if I was dead or alive a month ago, before he knew about my fucked up liver. I felt like pointing out that things had been shaky between us for years, that I wasn't really his best friend anymore except in that honorary way your best friend will always be your best friend even after you've drifted apart like the spreading of the continents. But I didn't. Because I could see in his eyes that, despite everything, he really was trying to make it up to me now and he would, too, if only he had the time to but my doctor didn't seem to hopeful of that.
"I'll try," I said. Because Brian was trying, too.
He turned back to the table stuff and seemed to have found the perfect setting for all the stuff. He sat back down on the plastic chair, his feet shuffling nervously under him. We spent the afternoon watching crappy TV shows, ESPN classic games, and playing with the Nerf basketball. It was nice spending time with Brian but at the same time it kind of hurt because time like this was all I'd wanted from him back in the day, when he'd first started to pull apart our Frick & Frack-enised Pangaea. I was dying for his attention back then. Which was the irony of getting it now. As I was literally dying.
When he left he hovered by the edge of the curtain, staring at me, hesitating in leaving. "You have a good night," he said. He shuffled his feet. "I'll be back in a week to see you, okay? I promise. One week."
"I'll be here," I answered.
"You better be," he replied. He stared at me too long, then he ducked beyond the curtain and I listened until I heard his footsteps fading off down the hallway.
I lay there spinning the little Nerf ball in my palm, staring up at the glow of the TV, feeling alone now that he wasn't there to keep me company. I closed my eyes and let myself drifting in and out of sleep.
Suddenly, I felt like there was somebody watching me. I opened my eyes and blinked to focus and found myself staring up at that girl - that girl from the club the month before, when all this shit started, the one who saved me, the one with the curly hair and the big, awestruck eyes. She jumped in surprise when I looked at her and started to dart away but I shouted, "Wait!" and she stopped and turned back to face me. "Who are you?" I demanded.
She hesitated and stared down at her feet a moment, then said quietly, "Meira."
I waited, expecting more of an explanation of why she was there, but she left it at that. "Okay... but... who are you?" I asked again, "Why'd you save my life before? Where've you been? What'd you mean when you said you were late?"
Meira chewed on her fingernails nervously. Rather on the skin around the edges of her nails. She stared at me over her hand, then lowered it when she realized what she was doing and put her hands behind her back. "Well we were aiming for August. That would've been the best time, really. But it's hard to really aim, I guess, and I keep ending up too late and, I mean, December 7th was the earliest I've ever ended up being but it was still too late, considering we were shooting for August this time and --"
"Wait, wait, wait -- what?"
She stared at me.
"C'mon, you can't just say all that then not expect me to ask questions about what you mean," I said. "What do you mean you were aiming for August? Why is December 7th late? And why do you keep saying this time?"
"I can't tell you that," she said.
"Then why bring it up at all?"
She groaned and smacked her hand to her forehead. "Because I'm stupid and I'm bad at this." She turned to the wall and leaned her head against it and literally banged her head against the wall.
"Hey stop that, you're gonna wake people up in the next room or something," I said, "Or give yourself some kinda brain damage. But I dunno, you might already have that. Are you from the fourth floor? Did you escape or something?"
"The fourth floor?" she asked, looking over.
"Psych is up there," I replied.
Meira narrowed her eyes at me, "I'm not crazy. If either of us is crazy it's you, you asshat, for thinking I could pull this off! God! Send me here without even telling me what to say to you to explain, just that I can't tell you what happens and to give you a message. Easy as pie, you tell me, you'll do great, you always have, you tell me. Well I call bullshit!" She waved her arms. "If I was so great at it all the other times then why the hell am I here this time?" she demanded, "Doesn't it seem like if I was so great before that one of those times we would've succeeded and this whole thing would be over by now? UGH! Why didn't I think to tell you that? God I hate when I get answers in my head after the fact, don't you? Or I guess this is technically before the fact but whatever."
"What in fucklandia are you talking about?" I said. "Before and after what fact? Pull what off? I haven't said anything to you, really, I don't even know you!"
Meira shook her head, "Well no, no you haven't yet, have you?" She sighed, "And I suppose if I was oh-so-capable of pulling this off as you seem to think I am then maybe you never will. But if you don't then I wasn't here to tell you the message and -- I don't know how you think that's gonna help and -- Ugh! I don't know! It's so confusing."
Meira paused mid-freak-out, arms mid-flap like she was a dancer frozen in pose. She lowered her arms slowly. "Well maybe next time you'll tell me how to tell you so it's not so confusing, Mr. Stop Me Without Telling Me Why."
She sighed. "Forget it. I can't get into this with you right now. I just wanted to make sure you were okay because -- because --" she looked down at her toes. She was wearing beat up green Converse sneakers with two different laces strung through them. "Because I miss you. And -- and I'll probably never see you-you again and you --" she sighed, "I dunno. You aren't you."
"I'm not me?"
"Well you're you, but you aren't you, you aren't the you I know, anyway. At least not yet..."
I reached for the nurse's call button.
She dropped her face into her palms, "God why does this have to be so messed up? Why can't we just have met like normal people in the normal way?" She looked up at me with questioning eyes, like she expected me to have the answer. "Wait. What are you doing?" she leaned to look around me at my had as my thumb pressed against the call button. "Oh that's rich. What exactly do you think the nurse is gonna do?"
"Bring you back to your ward," I replied. "Maybe medicate you? I dunno. Something. Cos you, ma'am, are fucking certifiable."
Meira rolled her eyes. "Look, I'll be seeing you soon. I was early anyways. Jesus, you were stupid before, weren't you?" She ducked out from behind my curtain with a flourish and I could still hear her tread in the hallway when the nurse bolted into the room, a nervous look in her eyes.
"Is everything okay?" she asked, panting because she'd evidently just run clear here from the nurse's station.
"Yeah it is now," I replied, "But if you see that crazy girl come back again, can you do me a favor and keep her outta here?" I asked.
"The one that just left? I think you might wanna have the psych ward count their chickens cos I think one of them is clucking around down here."
The nurse glanced over her shoulder. "Okay," she replied.
"Thanks," I laid back into my pillows. She started to leave, but then I said, "And hey? Could I get a popsicle or something?"
"Right away, sir," she answered, and she ducked out of the room.
I turned back to the TV. But I couldn't get Meira out of my head.