Friday, May 18, 2007

By request


The good phase of the alcohol was wearing off. Now she was getting short-tempered. "Pillow Talk" still thumped in her head while she shivered and fought the soreness in her thigh and butt muscles from a week of mincing steps on the slick walks.

It was a relief to stand still and wait for the traffic light at Klecka and Main. They crossed and turned onto campus.

"Wow. Look." Meredith pointed at the sky over the buildings on west campus.

Garish red lights flashed against the low hanging clouds. Something was happening in the parking lot behind the Complex and library buildings. "Is that the cops?" wondered Gwen. A few passers-by were wandering toward the lights. "What's going on?" Gwen asked one of them, but the girl just shrugged.

"Those are ambulance lights," said someone else.

They rounded the library corner in time to see an EMT crew wheeling someone down the sidewalk on a stretcher.

The attendants angled the stretcher to lift the patient into the ambulance. Meredith saw the girl's face at the same time Audrey did. "That's Laurie."


Denny was awake when Audrey tiptoed in. A notebook lay on the blanket at her feet, in the small pool of light from her desk lamp, but Denny lay curled, her face red and tear-streaked.

"Hey," Audrey said softly. "You any better?"

"It's on the downhill side now." She unwrapped her arms from the heating pad and resettled it, the cord snaking in a line under the blanket.

Audrey sat on the edge of her own bed and locked her hands between her knees to avoid a lecturer pose. "Denny, what the fuck is going on? There's no way that this is what you've gone through every month for five damn years."

Denny's tears welled up again. "It's not. I mean, it is but..." She gulped. "I don't know! Yeah, this is how bad it hurts if I don't take anything, but that's why I have the prescription. It's never not worked before."

"But doesn't codeine lose its power after awhile? Like, you build a resistance to it?"

Denny shook her head. "Not if you take it for 3 days and then not again for a month!"

"You never...?" Audrey stopped herself, but it was too late.

"What the fuck are you, the Romper Room attendant?" Denny smeared angrily at her running nose and sat up.

Double God damn. Why can't I shut up? What a crappy night.

"Denny, I'm sorry, I just...."

"Skip it." Denny punched her pillow upward and yanked a handful of tissues from the box on her dresser top before she sank back onto it. "No, I do not misuse it. I've been on this stuff for three years and I know God damn well that if I use it for a God damn recreational drug, then I will get resistance and be in total fucking hell when the cramps start so, no, once and for God damn all, I do not use it more than three days a month."

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Okay?" Audrey was ready to cry now. She shifted sideways, hugged her knees and sank her head down on her arms. Damn the coolers. I wish my head would clear. Maybe I should make tea. Double bag it, get a good caffeine jolt.

Finally Denny spoke. "Look, I am not able to handle things when I feel like this. I overreacted."

After a beat, Audrey dropped her hands and leaned back. "It was insulting. What I said. I'm sorry." She looked over at Denny with a tired smile.

Denny's smile was equally weak. "It wasn't all that crazy to ask. I've done drugs. I've used hash and mushrooms and I do speed sometimes to get my work done."

Audrey blinked. "Shit. You do?"

"I got behind." Denny sat quietly for a minute and wiped her eyes. "Maybe my body is just rejecting this place. The food, the water, the boring stupid work. I should drop out."

Audrey looked away and said as mildly as she could, "It's no secret you aren't getting into anything here." Denny didn't reply. "I swear, Denny, don't go thinking I'm all that happy either. I feel like one of those old movies. You know? Where somebody wakes up in the wrong life?"

"You? You're—"

But Audrey interrupted. "I forgot to tell you! Laurie's in the hospital."

"What? She is?"

Audrey rubbed her forehead. "I wouldn't even know, but we happened to see them load her into the ambulance when we were walking back from that bar. Just a few minutes ago."

"How could I not hear‑‑?"

"The library. Whatever it was, she got sick in the library."

"Laurie was in the library on a Friday night?"

"She had a midnight date with that Ernie guy tonight. Gwen's gonna go out and tell him when he gets here. She sent us on and went in to get Laurie's books and bring them back for her."

"How sweet." Denny mulled this over. "You saw them put her in the ambulance?" Audrey nodded. "So, was she crying in pain or anything?"

"Uh-uh. She didn't move. She looked passed out."

Denny didn't seem to know what to make of this. "They weren't rushing?"

"Nah. They just rolled her over to it and lifted her in. They didn't use the siren when they pulled away."

"Okay. That sounds like some pain thing. Like, a migraine or appendicitis. Or cramps." Denny gave a wry smile. "Or something like that, where they gave her a pain shot and it put her out. Her vital signs must have been okay, or they'd have been, I dunno, pumping things and yelling 'Stat!' and that kind of Medical Center shit."

Audrey hadn't been able to think it through like that. "Yeah, I guess."

Another few minutes of quiet. Denny rose again to get her cigarettes and ashtray, and lit up. She resettled against the pillow.

"I'm really glad you're better today. You scared me yesterday."

"Thanks," said Denny. "Really, it kinda scared me too. But the cramps are cycling like normal, so that means... I don't know. Nothing's wrong inside me. Or nothing's any wrong‑er than usual."

"Wrong-er? Is that anything like worse‑er?"

A smiling Denny gave her the finger. Audrey got up, stripped, pulled on her flannel pajamas and snapped off Denny's desk lamp. She got under the covers. When she was settled Denny asked, "So how was the bar?"

"Loud," yawned Audrey. "Boring. Lotta Avon Lady majors," she finished sleepily and rolled over.

Audrey started awake to a sharp rap.

Damn, what...?

Denny sat up in bed, then doubled over. "What the fuck is that?" she gasped. The sudden jerk-awake must have cramped her up. Gray morning light filtered into the room. It was just after seven AM, Audrey noted.

Something's happened. Laurie?

The door opened without their invitation. Jean Schug stood there in her usual skirt, blouse and sturdy shoes. Wow. She was fully decked out this early on a Saturday. A woman police officer stood just behind her, thin lips and a short page-boy.

Mrs. Schug spoke: "Denny, Audrey, I need for you both to get dressed and come to my apartment. Now."

They were frozen. "Now, girls," repeated Mrs. Schug.

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