We spent much of the hour talking about sexually transmitted diseases, how to notify past lovers of bad news, and the courage that took. A few people already had recent tests completed, and spoke about how nerve-wracking it was to get their results. Most of the others agreed to get testing done, and we agreed to talk next time about how to handle whatever their outcomes might be. I had the contact information for an AIDS/HIV support group at my desk, but I hoped I didn’t need it. Thinking like that was probably juvenile, though. These people had exposed themselves and others to serious risk, and I feared theirs might not all be good news.
Throughout the entire conversation, Knox was quiet and contemplative as always. I wondered about his status and if he’d also pursue the testing this week. Something told me probably not. At least, not without a little shove.
I ended the group by passing out information on the local clinics that offered free testing. Knox took the flyer, but stuffed it inside his jacket pocket without reading it.
After everyone else had filtered out of the room, Knox stood and stretched, his arms lifting above his head. The movement lifted his T-shirt several inches to expose firm, sculpted abs. A bolt of heat raced through me. I really needed to have this thermostat checked.
I wandered over to where he stood, summoning my courage. “Have you been tested?”
His eyes flashed on mine, seemingly surprised I’d questioned him so directly. “I always use condoms.”
I felt a small measure of comfort knowing that information. Of course it wasn’t enough, but it was something. “Condoms can break. You should be tested.”
“I have no weird symptoms. No burning sensation when I pee. I’m good.” He smiled, trying to turn this into something lighthearted, but I stood my ground.
“You have your brothers to think about, Knox. Do it for them.” It might have been an unfair move, playing his brothers against him, but I knew that would get through.
He pulled the rumpled flyer from his pocket and looked down at it. “Come with me?” he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
His eyes lifted to meet mine. “Now?”
I hesitated, then relented. “Okay.”
We waited at the clinic almost an hour before they could see Knox. They were busy on Saturdays, but still, I was glad we were here. I worried that if we postponed this, he’d never come back. He’d tried to encourage me to get tested too, handing me a clipboard when we checked in, but I’d refused. Little did Knox know, my sexual past was all but nonexistent. We were quite opposites in that way.
When he emerged from the doctor’s office fifteen minutes later, his expression was sour, and his posture tense. “Let’s go.” He didn’t bother stopping to wait for me to put my coat back on, so I jogged after him, stuffing my arms into the jacket as I tried to catch up.
He turned to face me once we’d reached his Jeep in the parking lot. “I did it, all right?”
“Well, what’s wrong?” I knew he wouldn’t get his results for a week, so I was clueless about his sour mood.
“They jammed a giant Q-tip up my dick.”
I giggled, relieved that it wasn’t something worse. “I’m sure you’ll live.”
“You think that’s funny?” The line between his brow softened as he looked me over.
I put on a straight face. “Sorry. No. I just…I’m glad you did this.”
“Come on, I’m taking you home. Besides, I’m sure you’re off to do more good in the world after this.”
I didn’t argue and climbed inside the Jeep, happy with my little breakthrough with him. Today had been a victory and I felt proud, though more than a little worried about his results.
Later that week when I arrived home from the teen shelter, I was absolutely starving since I’d missed lunch. I pulled open the fridge and surveyed its disappointing contents. Brian’s micro-brew beer, margarine, and a bag of baby carrots that were starting to petrify.
My parents had left me money. I didn’t have to live this way, rooming with Brian, buying just the bare essentials and going without a car, but up to this point, I’d refused to give in. I wanted to be stronger than that, to stand on my own two feet and not use the blood money from their life insurance policies or my father’s pension. It would feel like cheating and only twist the knife deeper in my chest to have to rely on that money.
And so far, I’d made it. Chicago was far more expensive than I’d anticipated and my meager salary didn’t go far. But even if that meant my diet was mainly peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and forgoing a new coat this winter, it was worth it. Some days I thought about donating it all to one of the charities I loved, but something always held me back. My parents worked hard for what they had. They would have wanted me to have it. So I left it in a trust, just in case. But I hoped I was never desperate enough to touch it.
Abandoning the fridge to scan the cupboards didn’t provide much in the way of options either. I needed to get to the store soon. It was times like this I missed my mom. She was an amazing cook and would have whipped me up something delicious from the simplest of ingredients. That was her talent. It didn’t matter if all we had was boxed pasta and shredded cheese. I’d have an amazing hot meal in front of me in minutes. Before I could decide what to do, Brian came in behind me.
“Come sit down, McKenna.” His voice was commanding and I wondered what was on his mind. I’d paid my share of the rent, and had even remembered to mail the electric bill on time this month.
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