“We’ll leave the IV catheter in,” the nurse said as she unhooked the syringe pump from the line in the back of Hunter’s hand. “There’s one more infusion for the loading dose, then you’ll get an infusion once a month and continue the anti-inflammatories we’ve been giving you in pill form. Do you think you’ll be able to handle that schedule?”
“Yes,” Hunter said, watching her cap the end of the line. “I can set reminders on my phone. Maybe I’ll finally get one of those watches Emily always talks about.”
“Is Emily your caregiver?” The nurse started packing her things up and Hunter’s mind resisted this so strongly it was almost violent.
“No,” he said. “She’s my…” Hunter frowned. He wasn’t sure what she was to him, and it wasn’t because of the Alzheimer’s. They hadn’t talked about it, and Hunter couldn’t help being a little afraid of asking. He didn’t want her to think that the only reason he was with her was because she could help him, or because of the contacts that had brought him to this hotel room in the first place. Calling her his caretaker wasn’t accurate, and he didn’t want it to be. What he wanted was for her to be his girlfriend, or something like it, but if he asked her and she didn’t want to be, he ran the risk of losing her. Emily had only just started making his disease bearable, he didn’t want to drive her away by being presumptuous.
“We all need friends,” the nurse said with a smile. She zipped up her bag and put it over her shoulder. “Take the anti-nausea medication and the steroid, and rest. I hear there’s an NCIS marathon on one of the basic cable channels.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Hunter said. He stood up from the couch in the front half of his suite and walked the nurse to the door. The dizziness hadn’t hit him yet and he wanted to be polite while he still could. “Thank you.”
“I’ll be back in to check on you tomorrow.” She closed the door behind her and Hunter sighed as he went to the kitchenette and opened the refrigerator.
He’d been in Minneapolis for four days and hadn’t seen more than a grocery store, the Perrineau clinic, and a restaurant before he was too nauseous from the first treatment. The rest of the time had been spent in his hotel room watching television and talking with Emily as often as possible. She couldn’t exactly talk to him while she was at work so he’d had to content himself with reruns and trying to concentrate on a book he felt like he’d been reading for five years.
Thanks to the new medications, he didn’t experience the nausea he’d dealt with the first day of treatment but it also made him nod off. He couldn’t wait to get back to Chicago and the noise of the city. Minneapolis was busy, but not like Chicago. Hunter turned on the television and laid back on the bed with the remote, hoping he could find something more interesting than reality television, which was what he had been stuck watching the night before.
His phone rang and he woke with a start, looking around the unfamiliar room. The television was still on, but it was almost completely dark. The call went to voicemail and he picked up the phone to see who had called. It took him a minute to find his glasses, which he seemed to have taken off before he fell asleep, and when he put them on his phone was ringing again. This time it was a video call from Emily and he smiled and tried to rearrange his hair before answering.
“Hi!” She was immediately waving at him from his phone’s screen and he reached over to turn on the lamp by the side of the bed. “Were you asleep?”
“Just dozed off,” he said. “The meds they gave me for nausea keep making me fall asleep.” She looked pretty with her hair in a ponytail and a tank top with thin straps, and his mind wandered to kissing her in the kitchen before he’d left. “What are you up to?”
“Trying to decide what I’m making for dinner. I went ahead and made the stir fry without you the other night, I forgot to tell you. I read an article about onions getting toxic if you leave them out too long and I didn’t feel like getting food poisoning.” The background moved and he realized she was walking and talking. She stopped in the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, pointing her phone at it. “It’s pretty empty but I didn’t want to go shopping without you.”
“There should be some frozen dinners,” Hunter said. “I keep some around for when I’m too foggy to cook.”
“Maybe I’ll get one.” She closed the refrigerator and sat down, presumably at the island. “How are things going other than the nausea?”
“Fine. I’ve been watching a lot of television. Last night I watched five hours of a show about people buying small houses,” he said with a yawn.
“Oh really? And how was it?”
“I don’t know, I’m beginning to think I should downsize. I’m going to have to once I can’t work, maybe I’ll buy a tiny house.” He stood up from the bed and went to the kitchenette to get a drink. They’d told him at the beginning of the treatment to stay hydrated so he’d bought several packs of sports drink and had been steadily making his way through them. “I slept for almost six hours in the middle of the day yesterday so I was up half the night.”
“Are you going to stay nauseous once you come back? I mean, are you going to have to keep taking the medication?” She reached up and scratched the side of her nose, then got up from the island and went to the pantry.
“I don’t think so. They did tell me what I’m going to have to do to maintain this treatment, though. I need to have an infusion once a month for maintenance and take a steroid. They said they could ship the infusion to me rather than having to come to Minnesota every time, if my doctor was comfortable administering it,” he said, sitting back on the bed. “Hang on, I have to put my phone down for a second to open this.” He set the phone on the nightstand and twisted the cap off his drink while Emily went on talking.
“You know, I do still have a medical license. I could give it to you at home, no problem. I’d just need to get some basic supplies, but I’ll bet Karen would ship those along with the medication.” She took something out of the pantry and shook it, then closed the door and started walking again. Hunter couldn’t help smiling. “What?”
“Did you just refer to my house as ‘home?’”
“I guess I did,” Emily said. Her image started bobbing as she went up the stairs. “It was just force of habit, since I’ve been here so long. Hopefully the insurance company will get back to me soon.”
“I meant it when I said you could stay as long as you wanted. I’m happy to have you,” Hunter said. “I’m also fine if you want to call it home. I’m glad you feel that way.” He was more than glad, he was close to being overjoyed. Since Robin had gotten a place of her own, his house had sometimes felt too big for him. Emily and the cat had brought life to it again and he didn’t want her to go.
“I’m glad I didn’t offend you.” She had reached the guest room and leaned under the bed. The mother cat, who looked considerably more well-fed since he’d met her, looked up from where she was curled around her kittens. “Mimi and the babies are happy to hear it too. The last one opened its eyes.”
“The little one you’re calling Pipsqueak?” Emily nodded and he smiled. “I like that one. You should name the others.”
“It’s a work in progress.” She stood up again and turned off the light. “So if your last treatment is tomorrow, are you still coming home Saturday?” She’d said it again and he couldn’t stop smiling.
“Yes. You’ll be able to pick me up, right? Since you’ll be off work?”
“Of course. Even if I wasn’t, I’d come pick you up.” Emily sat on the bed she and Hunter now shared and leaned against the headboard. “I suppose I’ll let you go for now. I’m going to eat this entire box of Wheat Thins and go to bed.”
“Don’t go just yet,” Hunter said, sitting up. Emily raised an eyebrow at him.
“Why? You want me to talk dirty to you?” She pulled one strap of her tank top down so that her shoulder was bare and Hunter laughed. That actually would have been more than fine with him but he didn’t want to admit it.
“I’d rather wait until we can do something about it,” he said. Emily smirked but didn’t pull up her strap, which was also fine with him. “It’s still difficult for me to believe that anyone still wants to sleep with me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Emily said. “Who wouldn’t want to sleep with you? You’re handsome, you love cats, you’re dedicated, intelligent, and very kind.”
“Intelligent,” he snorted, setting down his drink. “If you’re trying to make me laugh, you’re going to have to try harder.”
“You’re still very intelligent,” Emily said, the smile disappearing from her face. “A few misplaced words and wrong turns in the car aren’t enough to take that from you. And I very much want to sleep with you.”
“This disease,” he began, then lost the words he was thinking. “It steals so much, over and over. I can’t even remember what I was about to say to you. I can’t remember the name of the nurse who came over today, so I’m going to have to wait until she introduces herself again tomorrow. It makes me feel like I’m completely separate from other people and like I should stay away from them. I have this fear that if they get too close I’m going to infect them. I honestly never thought I’d have sex again.”
“You don’t have to punish yourself for being sick,” Emily said with a sigh. “Before you say that’s not what you’re doing, it is. And I plan on having so much sex with you that you’re going to beg me to let you up for air.”
“Maybe a little dirty talk is all right,” Hunter said, and Emily laughed.
“All right,” she said pulling down her other strap. “A little taste of what I have in mind.” She started to pull the neck of her top down to reveal the tops of her breasts and Hunter leaned back against the headboard again. This was exactly what he needed.