Hunter stopped what he was doing and looked at me, clearly thinking about it.
“If we’re going to go, we kind of have to go now,” I added. “I told my aunt I’d help with dinner later.”
He thought some more, then put the paint can down and left the screwdriver on top of that. “Alright, let’s go.”
We stood there in silence for a moment. Finally, I walked out of the room to get my jacket and keys, my lips pressed tightly together as I did my best to avoid another argument. Hunter followed closely. Soon, we were out the door.
Neither of us spoke much the whole ride. Hunter turned the radio on almost as soon as he got himself situated, and we listened to the music rather than continue the discussion we’d started in the house. For my part, I didn’t even know what I could say.
Eventually I caught myself daydreaming about what Marco’s response to my letter might be. I shook my head, angry that I was letting him creep in again, and soon we were in front of Clint’s Gym.
When we got there, I helped Hunter out of the car and told him I’d be back in a couple hours. Then I drove back home, thinking about everything that had happened to us. We’d almost been there. Almost happy. Hunter was going to get an apartment in Eltingville and we had everything figured out. Now we were back to the drawing board.
After parking his car in front of my aunt’s house, I walked inside and was greeted by Rampage. I went to pick him up, but he scurried away to Hunter’s room. Sighing to myself, I followed him in. He had managed to hide by the time I walked into the room. My guess was he had hidden underneath the bed.
As I got down onto my knees to look, something caught my eye. Hunter’s gym bag was at the foot of the bed with his clothes folded neatly inside. On top of the clothes was a little black pouch. His MS treatment. The burden he carried with him everywhere he went.
My breathing quickened. I stood up unsteadily and plopped onto his bed, arranging myself so I was face down in his pillows. They still smelled like him. Memories of all the different times we had spent together washed over me.
Would the memories we made going forward be as good? How many more would there be?
Tears sprang to my eyes. Of course they would as good. I just had to figure out how to help us navigate us past this rough patch. Hunter’s MS was in a bad spot, but that didn’t mean I had to start acting like he was going to die any minute.
The more I thought about it, the angrier I got with myself. Hunter was the one with MS. It was him that was stuck in a wheelchair. I had to be the one who was strong and made this relationship work. He was already doing everything he could. He had enough on his plate.
I shook my head in frustration, tears still streaming down my face. Why couldn’t I just focus on him? Even in the car earlier that day, I had drifted off thinking about Marco right after we’d had a fight. I wasn’t even sure the fight was over.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep myself from crying. Anger crept up inside me anew.
Here I was, sobbing into Hunter’s pillows, leaving them wet and messy. Hunter was trying to deal with being in a wheelchair and I was a sobbing mess.
How could I help him? How was I going to help myself?
I grabbed a pillow and pulled it tight to my face so I could scream into it. Why was I falling to pieces when Hunter needed me most?
I turned onto my back and stared at the ceiling numbly.
This was just another step. I had to figure out how to get past this mess. I had to be stronger for Hunter.
I rolled into Clint’s Gym in a shitty mood. Adjusting to the wheelchair had been more of a pain in the ass than I expected. It had only been a few days but I already hated being in this f**king chair. I could barely do anything for myself, which made me feel more and more like a burden on the people around me.
I was f**king things up again. Lorrie just wanted a healthy relationship, but it was hard to see a way to do that now. We’d almost had it, but now with my MS it was ruined.
Lorrie had worked her ass off for that art competition and she could’ve f**king won. Because of me, she couldn’t go. How many other sacrifices was she going to have to make?
I knew she wanted to stay with me, but every time I thought about it, the more I realized how much she was giving up. My MS was totally unpredictable. It was impossible to make plans for the future when we didn’t know when the next attack would strike. I wracked my brain endlessly for a solution, but nothing had come yet and I wasn’t hopeful anything was coming.
Shaking my head, I rolled past the front desk. There was no point thinking about it anymore for now.
The desk was unoccupied again. I wondered if there were any days it was actually manned full-time. It was clearly still in use based on the papers and stuff, so someone came in at some point. Just not either of the times I’d been around.
Maybe Clint had his coffee there in the morning. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense it was just him that used the desk in the early morning. It was hard to imagine anyone putting up with Clint long-term. Or him putting up with anyone, for that matter.
I passed the desk and went into the gym. Guys were hitting the bag on the right and wrestling on the left, just like last time. Two were fighting in the ring, but to my surprise Clint wasn’t there. I swiveled my head around. He was nowhere in sight.
After wheeling myself closer, I stopped in front of the boxing ring and watched the two fighters spar. They were both Hispanic kids, fifteen or so by my guess. Both were pretty skinny. Compared to the wrestling I’d seen before, these kids looked to have pretty good technique. The defensive skill of one of them in particular was sharp.
As I watched him duck and weave around his opponent’s punches, I wondered if I would ever get to do that again.
“I see you got some new wheels,” a voice said from behind me.
It was Clint. I turned around as quickly as I could. “Yeah,” I said with a shrug. I tried to think of some joke to make about it, but I had nothing.
His blue eyes bore no trace of any pity. By the look of it, my newfound condition surprised him about as much as his alarm in the morning. “You down long-term? I don’t see a cast or anything.”
I looked down at my legs as if to confirm there was no cast. “Yeah. I mean, hard to say.”
I took a deep breath. Clint waited patiently, seemingly with no place to go at all.
Might as well tell him. Couldn’t pretend there was nothing wrong with me at this point. “I have MS,” I said steadily. “Multiple sclerosis.”