Tina’s face shines with sweat. I dab it with a cool cloth and catch a drip of snot before it hits her chest. Her chin is tucked tightly, like a penguin nudging her young into her perfect hiding place. I push the damp hair out of her eyes and gently secure it with a bobby pin.
She reaches for my Sprite.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I say.
She ignores me and gulps it down like a drunk who’s been off the sauce for weeks. Not a minute later she retches, missing the flimsy emesis basin next to her.
I press the call button and move what’s left of my drink out of her reach. The sweat-snot rag is useless as a makeshift mop.
A nurse knocks and enters, her eyes and nose questioning from behind the curtain. I wave her in and say, “Sorry, we had a little accident.” Tina glowers at me, her vomit now a pool on the blanket that’s dripping onto the floor.
The monitor beeps and I watch the spike take over the screen. Meanwhile my best friend moves into another realm of consciousness, one I can’t comprehend. Over the last 20 hours I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut; I’ve learned not to touch her anywhere below the neck; and I’ve learned to hide my drinks. Her breathing is measured, deep, punctuated with low murmurs that seem to come directly from the basketball in her belly.
The nurse stops changing the linens to switch off the volume on the machine. She glances at the last few pages of printouts, then at Tina. She washes her hands, snaps on a pair of rubber gloves, and grabs the lube from the warmer.
“Hon, we’re running out of time. I’m going to check you again, but…”
“I know, I know, alright?” Tina cuts her off. I start to say something and then bite my lip instead.
The nurse leans in from the foot of the bed and I watch my friend’s face contort. Suddenly Tina’s hand shoots out to grab mine. Tears burn my eyes and for a split second we’re nine-year-0lds again who have just patched things up after a fight about something stupid.
“You’re still at a four, and minus two station,” the nurse says, pulling her gloves off over the trash can. I’m going to page Dr. Lewis now.” The curtain swishes and we’re alone again.
“You okay?” I ask Tina, not wanting to set her off. I feel like I’m in the circus, walking the tightrope. One wrong move will upset the balance.
My oldest friend looks at me then as if she’s seeing me for the first time. Her eyes widen.
“You,” she says. “I need you to take this baby. You’re the only one who can.”