Myr Dmitriev sat in front of Paster Jeremy Michaelson and his desk. She checked her watch for the tenth time in the last two minutes, twisted a lock of her long brown hair between her thumb and forefinger then scanned the office until the door came into view and held her focus there; willing Chris to walk through it. Ten seconds passed and she glanced at her watch again. A small sigh escaped her, the sound lost in the whir of the fan next to her.
Jeremy drummed his fingers on the desk starting with his pinkies and ending with his index fingers. His neatly groomed blond hair remained in place as the fan oscillated in his direction. He stared at the sermon notes for Sunday in front of him without actually reading them. He stopped the drumming and looked at the ceiling, contemplating what to do if Chris didn’t show for the meeting he called and asked for earlier.
Neither of them knew why they were there. Chris didn’t say anything to either of them when he made the phone calls. Just that he needed to meet with both of them as soon as possible. There was urgency and panic in Chris’ voice and Jeremy knew something was wrong. He’d known Chris for too long to not know all the nuances of Chris’ speech patterns and tone.
They jerked their heads towards the door as the latch slid and scraped against the metal plate on the doorjamb. Myr remained in her seat as the two men hugged each other and Chris apologized for being late. Chris kissed her on the cheek then sat in the chair next to her.
“So what can I do for you?” Jeremy asked, knowing Chris would appreciate his pointedness.
“I have a problem,” Chris answered, holding the arms of his chair in a death grip. “I found out this morning I’m HIV positive.”
Myr and Jeremy’s eyes opened wide and their faces drained of color. Myr’s jaw dropped but she couldn’t form any words as Chris’ news still registered in her brain.
“How?” Jeremy asked calmly after reading the petrified look on Myr’s face.
Chris shifted his weight in the chair and drew a deep breath straight into his diaphragm. “Four years ago, I was at a party at a friend’s on campus. Everyone I knew at the party knew I didn’t drink. Someone slipped something in the Coke I was drinking as a joke. Some sort of downer. I got drowsy and confused then they added vodka to it.”
He went on to tell them how he disoriented he became and couldn’t tell his hands from his feet. He wound up falling asleep in one of the bedrooms. One of the women he didn’t know at the party came in and woke him up, sitting next to him on the edge of the bed. She talked to him but words never registered in his haze. A friend of hers joined them and massaged his head.
He peered at Jeremy, elbow on the arm of his desk chair, and hand covering his mouth as he listened.
“The first woman unbuttoned my shirt.” He paused for a second to swallow hard. “I grabbed for her arms when she reached my pants, but my own arms were dead weight.” He told them how she easily pinned his arms down and straddled his legs.
He broke off from the story to determine whether or not to continue with details. He glanced at Myr, tears pooling in her beautiful blue-grey eyes he loved gazing into. It was all he needed. “When she was done, they traded places.
“I felt sick and humiliated the next morning. I didn’t report it to the police because they wouldn’t have taken a male being raped seriously. I told my doctor when I went in to see him. They didn’t use condoms so he kept a close eye on me. He has me go in-“
“What about the blood tests we took?” Myr asked, eyes cast down at the floor in front of her. This wasn’t cancer he was talking about. His doctor didn’t just find it. He tracked it for the last four years, waiting for it to arrive. Something Chris kept from her and Jeremy, the two who knew him best.
“The virus hadn’t attacked my cells yet.”
Distress slammed into her like a basketball player charging a defender in the paint. She cried but no sound came from her, only her entire body convulsing involuntarily in an abrupt and off-beat rhythm. She hunched over and hid her face in her hands. This couldn’t be happening to her. This was too much. Too much.
Chris moved his chair closer and wrapped his arm around her shaken form; limp in his embrace. He knew she felt the same devastation he did. He worried this would take a bigger toll on her mentally than it would on him physically. How could it not? She would live on long after death claimed him. He held her close and locked eyes with Jeremy, who regarded him with soft hazel eyes.
“Jer, I included you in this because you’re my best friend.”
“What do you want me to do?” Jeremy kept his emotions caged. He could not break down in front of them in his own office.
“I wanted your opinion.” He needed his best friend’s input. He felt bad enough having kept this secret from him. They were like brothers and told each other everything. Except this.
“This is between you and Myr. She’s the one you’re marrying. Not me. I think you two should make this decision,” he said rising from his chair. “It’s your life, not mine. But, I’ll support whatever you decide.”
He felt callous for avoiding giving Chris advice, but this was out of his realm of expertise. He knew what the public knew. You get it through contact with infected blood like open wounds, sharing needles, and blood transfusions or through sexual transmission. He wasn’t equipped or of sound mind right now. He was going to lose his best friend sooner rather than later. For all his training and faith, he just wanted to scream at God for the iniquity of it.
Myr pushed herself out of Chris’s arms and wiped her face with the back of her hands. “So what do we do now?” she asked as Jeremy closed the door behind him.
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to forget that this entire conversation in here ever happened. But we can’t do that now, can we?’ she asked with a sharp edge while clamping down on the urge to cry again. “What do you want to do?”
“I want to do what you want.”
“It’s your life. What do you want?”
“I’m prepared to do whatever you decide.”
He was rolling over like a dog submitting to an alpha and it infuriated her. She wanted to shake some sense into him physically. Instead, she jumped out of her chair and shouted, “Knock it off!” She marched to the bookcase then turned back to him with the precision of an Olympic gymnast on a balance beam, her outward composure regained.
“I’m going to forget for now that you kept this from me. I understand your humiliation. I do. But you should’ve told me well before you asked me to marry you. This is your life, however long you have left, we’re talking about here. Not mine. Don’t try to put this on me. I’m not going to force you to marry me if you don’t want to and I’m not going to cancel the wedding just because I’m afraid of losing you.” She pointed at him. “You decide.”
Chris sat slack-jawed. He hadn’t expected this from her.
Myr had always been calm and collected since he met her in fourth grade. When he slathered Elmer’s glue in her hair, she didn’t cry or yell; nor did she tell the teacher. In eighth grade, she broke her leg while playing basketball in their P.E. class. The only emotion she showed was a wince when he and Mr. Peterson helped to the nurse’s office. At their senior prom, the hotel caught on fire and she walked around comforting those who were shaken up after they evacuated.
She was his rock and right now, she was giving him a beating. One he deserved for keeping her in the dark.
“If we were already married,” he said, “I wouldn’t entertain the thought of leaving you. If we weren’t engaged, I would have never asked you to marry me.”
She snapped her fingers at him. She was trying to control the fury rushing through her and he wasn’t helping. Their life together was in jeopardy. More importantly, his life was on the line and he was being wishy-washy. “Come back to reality. We have a wedding next week that depends on whether or not you choose to let it happen. We can’t afford to dwell on hypotheticals. If you want to go through with the wedding, you’re stuck with me. If you don’t want to, then we see what happens. You don’t have a month to decide. You need to choose now.”
The force behind her words chilled him. She was right, but he didn’t feel right making a unilateral decision. “I don’t want you to marry me out of pity.”
Chris was not her first love or her first boyfriend. He was, however, her first pain in the ass. He was being one again with this waffling. She needed him to make the decision. They were tied together by their past regardless. Married or not married, his life was on an unalterable course that would end in loss for everyone who loved him.
“I would’ve married you anyway,” she replied harshly, returning to her chair. It should have come out with more compassion. She should have more compassion for him and what he suffered through at the hands of those women, but too many emotions warred within her. While she could choose her words with care, she had no control over the tone of her voice while the battle raged full force.
“I can’t promise you forever.” He spelled it out for some reason. Maybe it was for his own comfort. Or maybe he was giving Myr a last out.
“I’m not asking for it.” She took his hands and squeezed them. “If you can promise me ‘until death do us part’, I’ll be happy.” She meant it, knowing it would cut her to the quick when the day came for her to say her last goodbye.
“I can do that,” he answered, grinning until it reached his eyes, bringing the green hue to life.
“That’s all I ask.” She smiled and drew him into her. They might not have as long as either thought they would, but no one knew the number of their days.
©Debi Smith, 2014