I wrote a short story, something I’m considering submitting to the school’s faculty edition of the literary magazine. It is based on the plotline of a dream I had last night. This is just the first draft. Tell me what you think, but be sort of gentle about it.
“If you could go to the dance with any guy from school, who would it be?” Annie asked Rachel.
Annie munched her carrot stick thoughtfully. “I don’t know,” she said after much mental wrestling. The truth was, she really liked David Bauer. But of course, that was foolishness, because he was, she overheard the principal say, the most intelligent student in the school. And he had that shock of dark hair that fell across his forehead just so. And his eyes… his eyes looked right through you when he talked to you. And oh, that smile. Guys like that don’t notice girls like Annie.
“Well, I think I am going to ask David,” Rachel announced.
“David Bauer?” Annie stopped chewing her carrot stick.
“Of course! Why, you think he wouldn’t be interested?” Rachel crossed her arms and arched her sculpted eyebrow. No, thought Annie. That was just the problem. Who wouldn’t be interested? Annie shrugged and sighed. “He’s a great guy. He’s really smart. One time, he—”
“I know. And he’s the cutest guy in school.” Rachel smirked. “Annie, I’m going to make him love me; oh, yes I am.”
“Well, before you start channeling more Diana Ross…”
“What on earth are you talking about?” Rachel asked.
Annie cocked her head and looked at Rachel. “‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me'”—you know—Diana Ross and the Supremes. The Temptations. 1968.” Rachel’s face was a blank slate. “Come on, everyone’s heard that song.” Annie searched Rachel’s face. Well, apparently not everyone.
“1968? That was the friggin’ Stone Age. You like such old music.”
“Well, that’s not exactly old.”
Just then, Annie’s mother walked in the kitchen door from the garage. “Hello girls,” she said. “Listen, are you planning on going to the mall today?”
“I guess so; why?” Annie asked.
“Bring your father this money so he can deposit it in the bank on his way home, would you?”
“I didn’t know your dad worked at the mall,” Rachel said.
“Walgreen’s transferred him. Their day pharmacist quit, so they asked him to take over. He hates the crowds, but the hours are better.”
“Ugh. Well, if you ask me, it’s a crappy job. Counting pills all day. Sounds boring.”
“I don’t know. I think it’s kind of interesting. And you get to help people. I’ve been learning a little bit. You know, I think being a research scientist, finding new drugs, would be a cool job. I’ve been reading about—”
“C’mon. Let’s go shopping,” Rachel interrupted.
The mall was alive with what seemed to be thousands of bustling bodies. Annie followed in Rachel’s wake as she plowed through the crowd. By Annie’s calculation, Rachel tried on 32 different dresses and 24 pairs of shoes. Annie sank into a chair in front of the Orange Julius. “Want one?” Rachel asked. She was bouncing on her toes. How could she not be tired? Annie nodded. As Rachel walked away and stood in line, Annie put her head in her hands and closed her eyes.
“Are you tired?” Rachel asked, plopping down in the chair opposite Annie.
“I don’t understand how you couldn’t be. You must have tried on every dress in the mall. All I did is watch you, and I’m exhausted.”
“Well, drink that. Maybe it’ll perk you up.”
“Why? Has it got caffeine?”
“No. Caffeine is bad for you. This has fruit.”
As Annie sipped her drink, she glanced in the direction of the Walgreen’s across from the food court. Why, there was David, coming out of the Walgreen’s. Annie stood up and cupped her hands around her mouth. “David!” She waved him over. “Here’s your chance, Rachel.”
David walked casually toward the girls’ table. When he was about three feet away, a little redheaded boy careened around the corner and bumped right into David. The little boy fell flat on his back, too surprised to cry. David dropped his small Walgreen’s bag and a bottle of medication rolled across the floor, stopping at Annie’s toe. She picked it up and glanced at the label. Epivir? Her eyes darted from the bottle to David. Yes, it was prescribed for him. David must be HIV-positive.
“Are you okay?” David asked the boy. He offered the boy his hand. The boy nodded timidly.
“I am so sorry!” said an attractive redheaded woman. “He just runs everywhere.”
“Oh, it’s all right. I was the same way.” David smiled easily at the woman.
“Sit down, David,” Rachel said.
“I don’t mind if I do.”
David’s voice was what some people called dark brown. Annie thought it fit. It was the same color of coffee. It was deep and resonant. Annie thought it was suited to read poetry in some smoky club.
“Who are you going to the dance with?” Rachel asked, sipping her smoothie.
“No one… yet.”
Rachel cut her eyes at Annie.
“I don’t have a date yet, either. Want to go?”
Annie thought Rachel resembled no one so much as Scarlett O’Hara at that moment. How did she do it? She could have guys buzzing around her like flies and still make each one feel special.
“Yeah, sure,” David said. He looked at Annie and smiled.
“Oh, here,” Annie said, handing him the bottle. “You dropped this.”
“Thanks,” David said, putting the medication back in the Walgreen’s bag.
“I’ll be right back,” Annie said, “I just remembered an errand my mother wanted me to run.”
She went to the Walgreen’s and gave her father the money and the message from Mom, then hurried to join Rachel and David at the food court. David was laughing. Rachel offered him a sip of her smoothie. He waved it away. He stood up. He was leaving. Annie nearly ran to the table.
“Are you going?” Annie said breathlessly.
“Well, it looks like maybe I need to rent a tux,” he said, winking at Rachel, who blushed crimson. As if, thought Annie. Nothing truly embarrassed Rachel.
Annie followed David with her eyes as he walked away. “I turned down three guys because I wanted to go with him,” Rachel said emphatically.
“I believe it. Why?”
“Hello? You have eyes, don’t you?”
Yes, Annie thought, I have eyes.
A few days later, Annie saw David in the library. She walked over to him.
“David? It’s me, Annie. You know—Rachel’s friend.”
“I know,” David said with a smile. Oh, that smile.
“So—” Annie began clumsily.
David just continued to smile that easy smile.
“Are you looking forward to the dance?” Annie’s question tumbled out in a rush.
David nodded. “Rachel seems nice.”
Annie thought about the Epivir. “I—I wanted to ask you…” Annie stammered.
No, she thought. It was too nosy. Too personal. “Nothing. Have a good time at the dance.” Annie’s ears burned hot. Her face must be ten shades of magenta. She ducked her head and turned to walk away. “‘Bye,” she called over her shoulder.
“‘Bye,” David replied.
Annie didn’t have a date, but Rachel talked her into going to the dance. “It’ll be fun,” Rachel insisted. “I’m sure there will be lots of guys without dates.”
Annie wasn’t so sure, but Rachel was insistent. Annie hated to admit it, but she kind of wanted to go. David would be there, wearing a tux, and maybe they could dance together once.
Several hours later, Annie found herself clinging to the wall, watching couples whirl around the dancefloor. Rachel and David were deep in conversation at a table across the room. Annie sighed. What a waste of a perfectly good TV evening, she thought.
Annie glanced over at Rachel and David. I guess I should tell her I’m leaving, Annie thought. As Annie walked to their table, Rachel’s jaw dropped in what Annie could only assume was alarm. She quickly stood up and ran from the table, clumsily pulling her wrap around her shoulders as she walked. She caught Annie’s eye and pulled her toward the door to the hotel lobby. Annie turned around and saw David walk outside toward the balcony.
“You aren’t going to believe what he told me,” Rachel said through tightly clenched teeth. Her face was ashen.
“What? That he is HIV-positive?”
“You knew?” Rachel spluttered. “How come you didn’t tell me?”
“He dropped his medication when we were at the mall the other day. I recognized it.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me. He almost drank my smoothie! I almost kissed him!”
“Rachel, you can’t catch HIV from drinking after someone. Or even from kissing them.”
“Oh give me a break, Annie, like I’m going to let that guy give me AIDS.”
“He doesn’t have AIDS. He’s HIV-positive,” Annie corrected.
“What’s the difference? The point is, he’s got it, and he could give it to me, and it kills you, Annie.”
“Actually, HIV can lead to AIDS, but AIDS doesn’t kill you. It’s the opportunistic infections that—”
“How do you know so much about it, anyway?” Rachel spat.
“I read,” Annie said flatly.
“Well, I’m not going out with him anymore. Gross.”
“Rachel,” Annie said putting a finger lightly on her friend’s arm. “Let’s go sit down and talk.”
Annie glanced in the direction of the balcony. She could just make out David’s figure leaning over the rail, looking up at the stars.
“Well… okay,” Rachel said hesitantly.
Rachel tossed her beaded handbag on the table and jerked her wrap off her shoulders, flinging it down next to her bag. Annie folded her hands on the table and leaned toward Rachel.
“So… what did he say?” Annie asked.
“He got it when he was a kid,” Rachel said quietly.
“How? Did he say?”
Rachel nodded glumly. “Actually, it was a pretty awful story.” Rachel leaned forward and whispered. “He was molested.”
Annie’s jaw dropped. She slapped her hand over her mouth. “Who?”
“David, you idiot!”
“No, I mean who did that to him?”
“His own grandfather. Can you believe that?”
“No!” Annie’s eyes welled with tears. She blinked furiously.
“Yes. His dad caught them.”
“Oh my God,” Annie breathed. “What happened to the grandfather?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he died. I don’t know.”
“Did you ask?”
“The conversation was getting a little bit uncomfortable at that point, Annie, so no, I didn’t ask. I left. He told me… he said he really liked me, and he figured I should know, in case, you know, we got serious.”
Annie sat back in her chair. Her hand still covered her mouth. She felt a tear crawl down her cheek and wiped it away with the back of her thumb.
“What’s wrong with you? Why are you crying?” Rachel looked Annie up and down, as if sizing her up.
“I just think it’s really sad. Rachel, you shouldn’t have… I mean, he’s treating it, and people can live a long time with HIV now. Maybe even never get AIDS. And you can take precautions you know, not get it.”
“Well, the best ‘precaution’ I can take is stay far away from him. There are other fish in the sea, and they don’t have AIDS. Anyway, his grandfather probably turned him gay or something. Let’s go home.”
Annie stared blankly at Rachel.
“Come on,” she said, standing up, arranging her wrap over her shoulders, and picking up her handbag.
“I think I’ll stay a bit longer. You go on without me.”
“Whatever. I’ll call you tomorrow.” Rachel strode forcefully out the door to the hotel lobby and out of sight.
Annie sat in thought for a moment, then pushed her chair away from the table. She walked out the balcony. She stood in the doorway for a moment, watching David. It seemed like the starlight reflected in his eyes. Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven, having some business, entreat his eyes to twinkle in their spheres till they return, thought Annie. Shakespeare. She walked quickly across the balcony and stood next to him. He smiled at her. Oh, that smile.
“I’m really sorry about Rachel, David,” Annie said quietly.
“Oh. Well. I’m used to that kind of thing.” Annie chewed her lower lip. He didn’t seem upset. Just, well, unsurprised. Annie wondered how many Rachels there had been. His hand rested lightly on the balcony rail. She hesitated a moment, then in one swift movement, took his hand and laced her fingers through his.
David smiled down at her. His eyes bore right through her, and it seemed to Annie that he just knew.
Annie smiled weakly. “Che gelida manina…”
“La Bohčme is one of my favorites,” David said.
“David… How is… How is the Epivir working out?”
David frowned slightly. He was quiet for a moment. “Pretty well, actually. It’s only part of my regimen. I take Sustiva and AZT, too. My T-cell count is good. Well, it’s always been pretty good. I guess… I guess all things considered, I’m pretty healthy. Do you want to dance?”
“Absolutely,” Annie said. She looked up into his eyes. Before she lost her nerve, she kissed him quickly. He smiled. Oh, that smile.