“Of all the bugs I could’ve gotten,” _____ grumbled quietly, putting her arm over her eyes, “it just had to be this kind.”
“Don’t worry, _____,” said Tino as he patted her shoulder. “You’ll get better soon.”
“Yeah,” added Mathias, who was sitting on the other couch next to Lukas and Emil. “You’re gonna be running around on your feet again in no time.”
“Shh!” _____ hissed sharply before letting out a pained moan. “Stop talking so loud.”
Mathias blinked in confusion, certain that he wasn’t talking at such a high volume, then furrowed his brows at her. “You okay, _____? Need something?”
“Would you like to go up to your bed?” said Tino softly.
_____ nodded, slowly pushing herself up from her position on the couch, and got to her bare feet. She suddenly began to shake, her head spinning and a crawling sensation going up her esophagus. She swallowed hard, which calmed her stomach down a bit, then staggered toward the stairs to her room.
_____ forced her feet up a few steps, instantly feeling her strength drain from her body. She started to pant, and she broke out in a cold sweat. Her knees buckled from beneath her and she began to fall––only to be stopped by someone behind her.
It was only when he lifted her into his arms that she saw who he was. She smiled tiredly as she rested her head on his chest. “Thanks, Berwald,” she whispered.
The Swede only grunted in response, which was enough for _____. He carried her up the stairs and to her room, laying her gently on the bed. He turned on the bedside lamp, but immediately turned it back off when _____ moaned about the light hurting her head.
Berwald sat quietly on the side of the bed, looking down at his sick friend. _____ attempted to steady her breathing, but gasped as her eyes flew open in a sort of panic. She reached out for something away from the bed. Berwald followed her hand, spotting a plastic wastebasket near the nightstand. He picked it up and, noticing _____’s emphatic nod, brought it to her side. _____ grasped the rim of the wastebasket with her hand, held her face over, and vomited.
Berwald felt a pang in his chest. He didn’t want to see his friends––especially _____––suffer like this. She was one of the only people who was really able to understand him. Seeing her in such a condition hurt him more than he cared to admit.
As _____ gagged into the wastebasket, she felt a large hand move the stray hairs from her face and behind her ear. She coughed and spat a bit more into the wastebasket before putting it on the floor and rolling onto her back, exhausted.
Soft footsteps from the doorway caused Berwald to look up. Lukas stepped into the room, a small tray in his hands.
“Tino thought _____ would like some water,” he said simply, placing a tall glass of water from the tray on the nightstand. He put down the tray, taking the washcloth from it and dipping it momentarily into a little bowl of water. He wrung it our before gently laying it on _____’s forehead, wiping away a bit of sweat from her face. _____ flinched slightly at the contact, but relaxed and opened her eyes to look at the man.
“Thanks, Lukas,” she said with a tiny smile.
The Norwegian mirrored the soft expression, then nodded and turned to leave the room.
Berwald looked down at the wastebasket now filled with regurgitated food and stomach acid, and picked it up. He looked at _____, who shook her head, then stood up and walked out with the wastebasket in his hands.
The Swede returned a few minutes later, the wastebasket now clean and empty, and found _____ sleeping quite soundly. He put the wastebasket back in its place on the floor and looked down at his friend. He lifted his hand and gently moved a strand of hair from her face, and cupped his palm around her forehead. She was burning up. He grunted in disapproval, then took the washcloth that had fallen off _____’s forehead. He dipped it in the bowl still on the nightstand, letting it soak, then wrung it out. He held it over _____’s face, gingerly running the damp cloth across her cheeks. He brought the cloth up to her temple, pushing more stray hair out of the way, and wiped her forehead. _____ stirred slightly, causing Berwald to freeze, but he continued once she was still again.
Berwald left the cloth on _____’s forehead and stood up, but stopped when he felt something tugging on the hem of his shirt. He turned his head to see that _____ was looking back at him through glazed, half-open eyes. She smiled apologetically and whispered, “Thank you.”
Berwald’s expression softened ever so slightly, and he nodded. He gently pulled _____’s hand off his shirt and let it fall back onto the mattress, and left the room.
_____ slowly lifted her head at the sound of her name and stood up, careful not to go too fast. Her joints ached, and her stomach felt queasy again. “Okay, somebody’s gotta come with me,” she mumbled to the group of Nordic men sitting near her.
Mathias immediately shot up from his seat. “I will.” He stepped next to _____, offering his arm in case she needed it.
“I should come, too,” said Tino, rising from his chair. “I’m going to be the one who ends up paying the bills anyway.”
_____ giggled, but stopped when it made her head throb. Mathias and Tino stood on either side of her, gently leading her down the designated hallway to a small doctor’s office, where they had her sit down on the examination bed. Tino sat in the visitor’s chair by the bed, and Mathias enjoyed spinning on the doctor’s stool.
The light glaring relentlessly down at her, _____ tightly shut her eyes and pulled the brim of her ball cap down to the bottom of her eyebrows. Her neck felt stiff, and she leaned back so that she lay supine on the bed, relaxing as some of the pressure on her back vanished.
The office door opened, and in came a rather older man with a thin beard. Glasses sat in front of his eyes, and he smiled and said in a thick Italian accent, “Good afternoon.”
Tino smiled. Mathias nodded. _____ remained still.
The doctor looked down at _____. “I take it she’s the sick one. What are your symptoms?”
_____ held her cap up a bit so she could see him, and muttered tiredly, “My head hurts, and I can’t stand bright lights and loud noises. I feel nauseous––I’ve thrown up a couple times today. My joints and neck and back feel really stiff.” She sighed and moved the cap back over her face. “I just feel awful.”
The doctor, who had been writing down _____’s symptoms on a notepad, nodded and filed through a few papers on his desk. He studied the papers for a few moments, then asked her more questions until he was satisfied with the amount of information he had been given.
“Do you really have to?”
The doctor nodded. “Yes, I do. I am almost positive you have meningitis, and this test will prove whether you have it.”
_____ let out a mix between and sigh and a moan and rolled onto her side. “Fine. Just get it over with.”
The doctor adjusted the latex gloves on his hands and carefully picked up the large, empty syringe from a sterile tray placed on his desk. “It’s going to hurt,” he said softly. “Brace yourself.”
_____ bit her lip, then lifted her hand, looking at Tino and Mathias. “One of you, hold my hand.”
Before _____ had even finished speaking, Mathias had stepped toward her and clasped her hand in his. He pulled up the chair beside the examination bed and sat down in it, taking hold of _____’s other hand as well. Tino remained in his spot behind Mathias, lacing his fingers together as he brought his hands near his face, and giving a small, reassuring smile to _____.
“Alright,” said the doctor. “Here we go.” He leveled the syringe at the middle of _____’s lumbar region, and quickly pierced her skin with the needle.
_____’s eyes went wide as the needle dug deeper into her. She had tried to tighten her hold on Mathias’s hand, but she just didn’t have the energy, especially now that she was feeling her body being drained. Instead, Mathias squeezed her hand tightly, hoping he was making up for what she was unable to do herself. He kept his eyes down at their hands, not daring to look at _____’s face or the doctor.
_____ moaned softly as the doctor pulled the needle out of her back, a cold sweat suddenly enveloping her body. The doctor set the now full syringe back on the tray and picked it up. “I apologize,” he said, and walked out of the room.
_____’s eyes closed, her brows furrowed a bit, and she panted slightly. Her jaw trembled, and she took in a sharp breath before letting it out in the form of a sob. Tears pricked her eyes, and some eventually slipped past her lids and fell to the paper sheets of the examination bed.
Mathias still held _____’s hands, and he released one to gingerly wipe away the few tears that ran down her cheeks.
“At Stodder,” he muttered after a moment, an edge revealing itself in his voice. “Hvorfor må hun lide sådan?”
The Dane felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned to see Tino staring sadly at _____.
“It will be alright,” said the Finn. “She will be fine.”
Mathias glared at him, but said nothing. He turned back to _____, who appeared to have fallen asleep out of exhaustion. His glare immediately vanished and was replaced by a much softer expression. He pursed his lips, then slowly ran his fingers across _____’s cheek. It was very warm, at which he scowled, and he rested his thumb on the corner of her mouth. He moved the digit side to side, from her mouth to her cheek and back.
“Tino,” Mathias said slowly. “What if she doesn’t get better?”
Tino’s eyes darted to the man beside him, and he raised his brows. “Why would you even say something like that?”
“Well. . .what if what she has is something you can die from?” Mathias kept his eyes down at the hand still clasped in his. “What if she doesn’t get over it? What if––”
“What if the sky turned to fire and your nose fell off?” Tino interjected, causing the Dane to blink at him in bewilderment.
“Listen, Mat,” he continued, “you’re speaking nonsense. You can’t just give up all hope of her recovery because she cried over a shot in the back. You’re being too pessimistic––too not like yourself.” He suddenly took Mathias’s face in his hands and looked him in the eye. “_____ will get better. She will recover.” A small smile worked its way onto his lips. “She will be alright.”
Mathias’s brows furrowed slightly, and he looked down at the floor. He let out a quiet laugh. “Look who’s got balls all of a sudden.”
Tino chuckled. “Not you, that’s for sure.”
“Time for your pills, _____.”
_____ looked at Emil as he set a tray down on the nightstand by her bed. He picked up a small plastic cup and a glass of water, sitting down on the side of the bed and holding them out for _____. She grabbed onto his arm, using him as leverage as she pulled herself into a sitting position. She plucked the two white pills from the cup and took the tall glass. She quickly downed the first pill, but struggled a bit with the second.
“Just relax, _____,” said Emil, rubbing her back. “Pretend it’s food or something.”
A smile tugged at _____’s lips as she took another sip of water, finally swallowing the pill.
“Good.” Emil took back the cup and glass and put them back on the tray, picking it up in both hands. He looked back at _____, who was lying back down. He bent down and pecked her on the forehead. “Fá betri,” he whispered before walking out the door.
_____ stared at the now closed door, a soft smile now on her face. She turned her head back up toward the ceiling and closed her eyes.
Þakka þér, Emil.
Thank you, everyone.