I almost miss the opening ceremonies again. I hurriedly shove my lipstick into my purse leave the bathroom, wading through the crowd to find Charlotte and Santiago. A couple of people do a double-take as I walk past, and I grin. I’m wearing a long-sleeved gold-colored shirt with decorative cut-outs around the collar. The shirt stops just above my midriff, and I’ve matched it with a pair of plain black slacks. It was not my usual style to show so much skin, but I am having fun showing off a little. Besides, I no longer have a job that I need to “look professional” for. What I didn’t tell people was that the shirt had actually been a loan from Kimberly, and this was my way of making sure she attended the party with us, at least in spirit.
This year, Terrence has arranged for HIV testing to take place on-site. Santiago and I decide to head over and get it out of the way at the beginning of the party. There is a long line of folks ahead of us. We’ve both been safe since the debacle last year, but sitting in the waiting room is still nerve-wracking. I am next in line when I see Sinclair rush through the waiting room. He doesn’t even notice us sitting there. A moment or two later I see Nate rush through the room after him. I turn and give Santiago a worried look, opening my mouth to speak.
“The doctor will see you now,” says the nurse.
I stand up, and Santiago also stands. I turn to her. “It’s okay. I can go by myself.”
“I’m coming with you,” she says. Her voice is insistent.
I sigh. “I don’t need–” I stop when I look at her face, seeing the fear behind her eyes. I nod. “Okay.”
The nurse leads us into a room where the doctor is waiting. “Hello. Please have a seat. Can you confirm your name?” His bedside manner is cold, brusque. I pretend that I’m not bothered by it, and cover up my nervousness.
“And why are you here?”
“For the AIDS testing,” I say.
He studies me. “Hmm.” His face is expressionless, but I can’t help feeling judged. “Tell me about your habits.”
I take a deep breath. “Well, I’ve had some unprotected sex over the years, since the outbreak started. Mostly with women, but last year there were a few men…” my voice trails off. I’m still embarrassed about that night, especially with Santiago standing next to me.
“I see,” the doctor says. “And this is your girlfriend?”
“How long have you been together?” he asks.
“About three years now,” I answer.
“And you’re exclusive?”
“Well, no… but it’s pretty much just women.” The doctor is scribbling in his notebook and nods without looking up.
“We’re going to do a few tests.” He takes a few vials of blood and hands them to his assistant. The assistant leaves the room while the doctor scribbles some notes and Santiago and I wait silently.
A few moments later the assistant returns, handing the doctor a small slip of paper. The doctor reads it and then looks up at me. He is not smiling, and my heart skips a beat. “I have good news,” he says. I breathe a sigh of relief and sag slightly in my chair as he tells me that my results are negative. Santiago squeezes my hand, and I stand to let her take my seat.
The doctor goes through the same questions with Santiago, and takes her blood. I know that I’ve been riskier than her, so I’m pretty sure that she is fine… but I still let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding when the doctor tells her she’s negative.
We walk back through the waiting room into the hallway, giddy with relief. “Let’s wait for Charlotte and Sorrento,” Santiago says, gesturing towards the window that shows who is still waiting.
I nod. “Of course.”
A few moments later, Charlotte walks out. “Negative.”
“Thank goodness!” I hug her. “Santiago is just waiting for Sorrento, and then we can–” I stop when I see Claire over Charlotte’s shoulder. She’s walking slowly, looking dazed.
“Claire?” I ask. She looks up, and her face immediately crumples. Oh, no. I embrace her. “Oh, honey.” I stroke her hair. “It will be okay. We’ll take care of you. We all will.” I step back and Charlotte and Santiago also hug her, trying to sound reassuring.
Charlotte walks Claire back towards the party while I wait with Santiago for Sorrento. When he finally comes out, we look at him expectantly. He starts talking about something else when Santiago interrupts him. “So are you…”
He hesitates for a few seconds. “Oh! Yeah, I’m fine,” he says, shaking his head. “Negative.” I turn away to roll my eyes at his nonchalance.