Hunter looked like a drunk man stumbling when he tried to stand up. He got up on one knee but when he tried to stand it buckled and he went down. I ran to him, taking his hand.
Even though I was trying to slow my breathing, my breath came in quick bursts. “What happened?” I asked, as calmly as I could.
His eyes were wide and panicked but he continued trying to stand up. “Shit. I’m sorry.”
“Hunter, it’s okay. Stay down for a minute. Tell me what’s wrong.”
“I’m okay. I’m okay. Just help me get up.”
I eased myself under his armpit and strained to help him up. It was no use. His legs folded awkwardly under him and he was way too heavy to lift by myself.
I collapsed under him, panting.
A thin sheen of sweat covered his forehead. He gulped for air like a fish out of water. The doctor had said Hunter’s next MS attack could be a lot worse. Was this it? From the look on Hunter’s face, I could tell he was thinking the exact same thing. I was on the edge of panic, my throat dry and thick.
Whatever I felt at that moment, I needed to get myself under control. I turned to my aunt. Her eyes were wide with concern.
“I think we need to call an ambulance,” I said, trying to keep my voice from shaking.
“No!” Hunter said. “No. It’s fine. I just need to get to the hospital. I’m so sorry Ms. Perkins.”
His face was red. He kept trying to get up but he couldn’t. Watching him struggle sent hot spikes of pain searing through my heart. He was just as frightened as I was, maybe even more so.
My aunt looked at me for a second, her face full of questions, but thankfully she didn’t ask any. She jumped into action right away. “I’ll call Stewart and have him meet us at the hospital. Boys, get in the van.”
Joel and Billy marched dutifully to the family’s minivan, climbing into the backseat. Even though the situation looked bad, they had complete faith that their mother had things under control.
Once she was sure the boys had followed directions, my aunt turned to me. “Come on, help me move him.”
I nodded numbly and put Hunter’s arm around me again. Aunt Caroline took his other arm.
Even with the two of us, Hunter was very heavy. We half carried, half dragged him to the van. His legs dangled below him, unable to bear any weight. Eventually we got him into the middle row and put a seat belt around him. I sat in the middle row with him, while my aunt hurried around to the driver’s seat and started the car. Soon we were on our way.
Hunter leaned back against the seat mumbling. His eyes looked sunken and feverish, but he was awake.
Aunt Caroline called my uncle as she made her way out of the subdivision. I watched Hunter to see if there were any changes in his condition, but he was barely lucid. More than anything, he looked exhausted. His normally bright face had a gray pall to it as he lay there trying to keep his head up. After a while, he started to nod off.
We were on the highway before I spoke. “Hunter has MS . . .” I managed to choke out. “I’m sorry we didn’t tell you this earlier.”
I blinked, trying to hold back the tears in my eyes. I knew that if I let myself feel the seriousness of this situation and start crying, I wouldn’t be able to stop.
“I’m sorry dear, that sounds terrible,” my aunt replied. “Does this happen often?”
“No,” I said, a loud sob escaping from my lips. “At least, I don’t think so. Definitely not this bad.”
Now that I had said it out loud, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. The tears streamed endlessly down my face.
Aunt Caroline stared at the road and nodded. I turned to look at Hunter again. He had fallen asleep and his chest was rising and falling slowly. For now, all the worries of the world had faded away.
But what would he think once he woke up?
The heart rate monitor beeped quietly, its eerie blue glow illuminating the room. I didn’t know how much time had passed. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out my phone. It had been fourteen hours since Hunter was admitted. The sun was probably coming up soon.
Aunt Caroline and Uncle Stewart had gone back home with the boys hours ago. There was no point in them being here anyway. Hunter was stable and my cousins needed to sleep. They were going to come back to check on us in the morning.
Hunter’s chest rose and fell, his eyes darting around under his eyelids. Whatever he was dreaming about, I hoped it was good, because sooner or later he’d have to wake up to this nightmare. I let out a long sigh and rubbed my eyes. They were completely dry; I couldn’t cry anymore. I was totally drained.
I heard shuffling on the bed and I bolted upright. Hunter was shifting around, his eyelids fluttering open.
I scrambled to my feet and stood next to his bed. “Yes, I’m here.”
His eyes were unfocused. He rubbed them with his hands, and for a second, I was worried about the IV on his arm falling out, but it stayed put.
“Where . . . ” he started, before trailing off and looking around. His eyes fell on the needle in his arm. “FUCK!”
I stepped back, shocked by his sudden outburst. Adrenaline rushed through my veins.
“Shit. I’m sorry Lorrie. I’m just . . . f**k.”
His eyes were becoming more clear and focused, but so was the pain on his face. I reached for his hand, gripping it tight.
“How long was I out for?”
“Maybe fifteen hours.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, his face red. “I didn’t want to make things difficult for your aunt and uncle.”
“You don’t need to apologize. They’re going to come back in the morning to see how you’re doing.”
“Shit, I gotta move out. We were supposed to sign that lease today. For that apartment.”
“What? You don’t need to worry about that right now. We’ll find a different place. Just worry about getting better.”
“Your aunt and uncle have let me stay in the house for so long already, I gotta move out soon.”
“Hunter, stop it. You have to focus on getting better first.”
“I?” he stopped when he saw the look on my face. I wasn’t going to argue with him on this one.
He took a deep breath.
“Okay fine. Can you get me some water?”
I handed him a bottle of water from the nightstand. He twisted the cap open and took a long deep gulp. For a while, we sat in silence.
A knock came at the door. It was followed by a doctor in a white coat coming into the room.