It's hard not to read this story and wonder why it wasn't done before -- surely modern ladies man Logan has had to face this particular dilemma before. But if he has, we've never seen it. This is a true short story, taking a small slice out of one character's life and holding it to the microscope -- no wonder we made it an editor's pick.
This can't be happening. Not now. Not after all this time. Not like this. Sure there were times when I haven't been as careful as I should have been, but I was never that careless, either. But what if it is happening? What am I going to do?
He looked uncomfortably around the doctor's office at the other patients. Did they know why he was there? They had to. They were probably all there for the same reason. A scary thought, he decided. All of them, men and women, waiting to find out the results of a test. Waiting to find out if they would live or die.
He grew more and more impatient the longer he sat in the chair, shifting his body from side to side, leaning first to the left then to the right. Trying to focus his attention on something else he picked up a magazine from the table in front of him but immediately put it back down. He couldn't concentrate. He couldn't think.
He looked around the office again, avoiding anyone's eyes that were looking in his direction.
One in every four, he thought to himself and quoting some statistic he had read.
One in four.
He counted the patients: one, two, three, four... There were eight. That meant that statistically two people in the room would have it. But which two? Was it her? The woman in the blue blouse? Or maybe the man with the mustache sitting in the corner? Was it him?
Oh God, please don't let it be me.
What if it was him? What was he going to do? Surely he couldn't tell anyone. No one could ever know. He had to keep it a secret; hide it for as long as he could, then make up a story when and if he did get sick. Tell them he had cancer or something. They'd never know the difference. He definitely couldn't tell them the truth. He'd never be able to look them in the eye again. Not if they knew the truth. Not if they knew he had AIDS.
But they weren't going to know because it wasn't going to be true he kept telling himself, trying to stay positive.
Everything's going to be fine.
I'm not going to be a statistic. Not me.
He shifted again in his chair folding one leg over the other and ran his hand through his hair. He noticed a woman looking at him over the top of her magazine.
What's she looking at? She's wondering about me, too. Why am I here? How did I get it?
He shifted his eyes away from hers but still had the uncomfortable feeling he was being watched.
Christ, it's hot in here, he thought using the back of his hand to wipe away beads of sweat that had built on his forehead and upper lip.
All this waiting is unbearable.
Why do they make you wait so long? What's the point in having an appointment if they're just going to make you wait anyway?
He argued back in forth in his mind about the inefficiency of a doctor's office and it's undeniable need as a service to the public. He glanced at the watch on his wrist; 15 minutes. He'd been waiting 15 minutes.
This isn't supposed to happen to people like me.
I'm not gay, I don't use drugs, the women I've been with are "safe."
He remembered all the warnings that he paid no mind to. He remembered and tried counting all the conquests, loved and unloved, finally giving up trying to remember all their names. There were a lot that's all he knew.
Maybe too many. Or maybe just one too many.
The last one.
The one he should have stayed away from. The one he was warned about but couldn't resist. The one who, in the blink of an eye, may have taken away all that he had worked so hard to get and keep.
How much longer do I have to wait?
He didn't know if he could sit there any longer. He just wanted to know the results and get out of there. He looked again at his watch; 17 minutes.
School was going to be out soon. He told the sitter not to come today and that he would pick up his son from school, but if he didn't get out of there soon he'd be late picking him up. Again he looked at his watch; 19 minutes.
Damn this is so unfair.
He thought about his eight year old son. What was he going to do with him if the results came back positive? Who would take care of him if he died? The boy was a handful and he couldn't just leave him with anyone. It wouldn't be fair. His mother wanted nothing to do with him at this point, but if she knew he was going to be left alone, orphaned maybe, would she take him into her home? Would she love him? Could she? Maybe he'd still have time to raise him. Some people, he had heard, lived ten or twelve years after being diagnosed. His son would be grown by then and able to take care of himself. But that was a slim possibility. He had to prepare for the inevitable.
How could this be happening? I'm too young to die. I've got too much to live for.
I've got a good job, a great kid and good friends. For the first time in my life everything is going right.
He started playing "Let's Make a Deal" in his head.
If the test comes back negative I'll never sleep with another woman as long as I live. I promise. If the test comes back negative I'll go to church every Sunday. I promise. If the test comes back negative, I'll...
Please let it be negative.
Impatient, he again looked at his watch; 25 minutes. If they didn't call him in soon he was going to explode. He couldn't take it anymore. He had to say something to the receptionist. He rose from his chair. The door to the patient exam rooms opened and a nurse stood in the hallway.
"Mr. Logan," she called, "the doctor will see you now."
Oh, God, I don't want to do this.