Margaret Jefferson yawned tiredly as she settled at her desk after a very long day. She'd spent the last ten hours seeing two pregnant teenagers, a old man with pnemonia, a little girl with bronchitis, a young boy with a broken arm, a homeless old women in search of painkillers for her stage three cancer, a baby with a severe ear infection, a toddler scalded by her mother (who was promptly detained by the police), a hooker who needed a shot of penicillin for syphilis, a drunk on the verge of liver failure, two people with the flu, a teenage boy with oral herpes, and had just finished telling a twenty-two year-old college student that she had HIV. The girl had just left, still in tears, after hysterically crying for twenty minutes. This was her ordinary day, for better or worse, but God help her, she wished she could have good news to deliver more often.
"Here Meg, you got some mail," Chandra, a nurse who worked the same shift as Margret handed her a small stack of envelopes.
"Thanks Chan, you leaving?" She asked, flipping though the stack, attention suddenly shifting to one particular, hand addressed envelope.
"Yeah, in a few…you got something good there?" The nurse noticed her friend's focus go straight to the letter.
"Actually, I think it's a donation." She smiled, ripping it open, and pulling out the contents. Two checks for one-hundred dollars each sat in her hand, and she checked the calendar, noting two identical checks arrived the same day last year, a year after their donators were in the clinic.
"Oh good, some politician trying to kiss your ass? I smell a photo-op."
"No, nothing like that. Do you remember that couple two years ago, did HIV tests on them?" For her that couple had been hard to forget.
"Oh come on Meg, you really want me to remember an HIV case from two years ago?" The clinic was way to busy for that.
"They were FBI agents, that jog your memory?"
"Ok, now I remember, nice couple, kind of nervous…their results were negative right?" Chandra tried to think back to two years ago, she couldn't see their faces, but she did remember them snuggled together, asleep in the waiting room the first time she saw them.
"Yes, they were. Two years ago today I gave them those results, and last year they sent donations too. Each wrote a check for one hundred dollars, just like these two." She held up the checks.
"Well, that's nice of them. I guess they must still be together, good for them." She nodded, impressed that they'd stayed together for so long.
"Yeah, I guess so. I'd put money on them Chan." At the time they had been her patients, she could tell they were in love, she just wasn't sure they realized it yet.
"Did they include a note?"
"Not this time, but last year there was a sheet of stationary, all they wrote was 'Thank You.'" She still wasn't sure what they were thanking her for, she had no power to determine which way the test went.
"And why does that confuse you?" Chandra was certain she'd never find anybody, let alone any doctor, with less of an ego than Meg.
"Well, I don't control what the results say." Margaret shrugged.
"That's not what they are thanking you for genius. I swear honey, you'll never see what you do for people…" She shook her head, watching Meg grow more confused. "When these sorry children come in, knocked up from their hepatitis positive, player boyfriends, you don't judge them. You treat them like their human, not the garbage everyone says they are. Your compassionate, sympathetic, and a whole lot more patient than I could ever hope to be with them. That's what that couple is thanking you for, not good test results."
"Oh." Margaret couldn't think of how to respond to her friend's tirade; she didn't know any other way to behave with her patients, it was just natural for her.
"Now, how's about you tuck those away somewhere, and we get ourselves a drink to end the night, before we get caught up caring for more of these sorry souls?"
Margaret nodded, and locked the two checks, one signed by Matt Flannery, the other by Emily Lehman, in her top drawer, and locked up her office for the night.
Tonight was a night for celebration, a night for smiles and laughs for the best crisis negotiation team in the country. Lia and Duff had gotten back from their honeymoon, relaxed, tanned, and still deliriously happy with each other. They'd just finished a damn hard case with everyone, including the fourteen year-old HT walking out alive. Washington had sent kudos to their unit two weeks in a row, and been only too happy to grant them raises today. And, Matt and Emily had announced that they'd gotten engaged over the weekend, much to their friends surprise and delight. There was no reason for all six of them not to have giant smiles on their faces, and they were only too happy to have their celebration at Sloan's. Crammed into a horseshoe shaped booth, each with a beer they couldn't seem to stop laughing.
"All I've got to say, is that it's about damned time you made a honest woman at her." Frank grinned.
Emily shot him a look, but the smile on her face didn't fade.
"What, we haven't been together that long." Matt rolled his eyes.
"Going on three years since you declared that little fact for us all to hear, Matt." Cheryl pointed out.
"So, we take our time, nothing wrong with that." Emily insisted, refusing to be bothered by their criticism.
"Besides, it's not like we were constantly breaking up and getting back together; we were together the whole time. Well, except for those nine days." He shrugged.
"There were a few other times we wondered if you two had broken up." Lia told him.
"Really, when was that? You never said anything to me?" Emily looked confused.
"I did, I was apparently just too subtle." Lia rolled her eyes, god she harangued Emily every time she seemed to be having issues with Matt, she just didn't mention that the others noticed as well.
"Well, when? Give me an example." She suggested, gesturing with her bottle of beer.
"Hey, I got one. McGrath case was smack in the middle of it. For almost a week you two looked miserable, and weren't really talking to each other. Now what was that about?" Duff eyeballed them.
They looked at each other; the McGrath case was four months ago, what happened then?" Their eyes wandered, puzzled for several seconds, before the explanation struck Matt.
"Oh, I know what that was. That was when your mother…and Albany…you didn't want to go." He tried to explain without getting too personal.
"The funeral, that's right. We went anyway, you wouldn't let up." She rolled her eyes. Her mother had died four months ago, and she didn't want to go back to Albany for it, not even just the day. He'd argued that she'd regret it if she didn't, she'd told him it was none of his business, he'd been hurt by the implication, she was pissed because she felt guilty that she'd hurt him, and it had been awkward for days.
"We figured afterward that's what it was, but I was sure then that was going to end up in Sloan's nursing a scotch and his sorrows." Frank grinned, only half-kidding.
"Thanks for that very pathetic image of me."
"While you two are in a confessional mood, I have one," Cheryl suddenly interjected, still considering if she should drag up this part of the past.
"A time you thought we broke up?" Emily asked puzzled, had they really fought that hard, that often?
"Two years ago, around this time, for two weeks you had us all worried. I got a phone call from Matt one day, you needed to leave early for something, wouldn't tell me why, but something was clearly wrong. You never told us what." It took all the courage she had to get that out, she didn't want to upset them, but it was something the four of their friends still mentioned every now and again, wondering worriedly, if it would come back to haunt their friends, whatever it was.
"Yeah, I think we all remember that one vividly," Frank commented looking down at his beer, suddenly turning serious.
Matt and Emily looked at each other, unsure how to proceed. They'd kept that secret for two years, but it was obviously something that still bothered their friends, and truth be told, it still wore at them. As long as they kept it a secret they obviously believed it was bad, something they'd done bad, something that was their fault. That wasn't really the case, and maybe it was time they got it off their chests so to speak. They spoke with their eyes, and Matt nodded for Emily to start; she turned back to their friends, clearing her throat.
"Okay, we'll admit to that, we almost broke up then." This wasn't as easy to admit as she thought, and her straw became suddenly fascinating.
"The day before I called you Cheryl, Tracy, my ex came by work with some bad news." Matt shifted in his seat, nervous about the topic, about how their friends would take it.
"Wait, the rabid harpy? That Tracy?" Cheryl asked in disgust, eliciting giggles from the group.
"The same. She had just tested positive for HIV." His throat was dry, making it hard for him to swallow.
"No way man, the Barbie has HIV?" Frank asked in disbelief, to which Matt nodded, hopping one of them would fill in the blanks.
Lia's eyes grew wide, "wait, was she tested before you two dated?"
"No, and neither was I, and I wasn't tested after." The fun mood had ended completely, and now Matt and Emily were squirming under four shocked gazes.
"It was possible that I'd gotten it from her, she was on the pill so we didn't use condoms for the last month we were together. And, if I had it then…"
"So did I." Emily finished, biting her lip. "That day we left early, we got tested, but the results came back, uh, odd. Mine test was negative, but Matt's was positive."
Now they were all turned to Matt, staring at him in horrified disbelief, then Cheryl became confused.
"But you said, if he had it-"
"Yes, so they took more blood and sent it out for processing. It took eleven days before they told us it was a false positive." Emily finished, noting the sighs of relief, and Matt's hand straying to hers under the table.
"So for eleven days we assumed we were both HIV positive, it was the most likely scenario, and you can imagine that wasn't easy. Guilt and anger can put a lot of strain on a relationship." Matt shifted nervously, not really meeting anyone's eyes.
"And you didn't tell us, why, because you thought we'd judge you?" Cheryl was clearly upset by the idea.
"No, more like shame." Uncomfortable as he was feeling right then, Matt had to admit, the weigh on his chest got lighter.
"Jesus, no wonder you two looked like you were headed for the gallows." Frank was being completely serious, a rarity for him, one that testified to the magnitude of the situation.
"Wait a minute," Cheryl held up a hand, stopping the conversation, clearly unhappy about something.
"That HT, the one with fatal cancer, who knocked over the convenience store. What you said to him, that wasn't about thinking you have lupus as a child, was it?" Two years ago, Matt had seen too closely with an HT suffering from a lethal disease, and when Cheryl confronted him, he lied.
"No, it wasn't."
The table grew suddenly silent, as everyone sat lost in their thoughts. Some stared at the ground, others their hands or the table, not looked at the others. That was a hell of a bombshell to drop, but they'd wanted to know, and for Matt and Emily, it was nice to feel a little less weight on their shoulders. But, that their friends believed the were sick, carried one of the world's most feared, deadly diseases in their bodies, and didn't share the information with their closest friends, lighten their load a bit, it was troublesome. Then again, would any of them done different, put in that position?
"Damn," Lia suddenly spoke, startling everyone, and earning their attention.
"What?" Duff looked at his wife with concern.
"They're still together. After that nightmare, you're still together. And how many marriages fail for less than that?" She seemed in awe at the thought.
"Yeah, and it still took them how long to get engaged?" Frank cracked, earning laughter and the group's festive mood back.
Four months later, Emily was rolling her eyes and swatting away Matt's hand, annoyed at his over-protectiveness. She had been tired and dizzy all week, and had fainted in his arms last night, though she woke up seconds afterward. It still scared the hell out of Matt, who wanted to take her to a hospital, regardless of his personal feelings on them. Emily was insistent that she was fine, and wouldn't be going to any hospital, so started their argument. She finally relented at the end, and promised to go to the clinic during their lunch break. There was something about the small, poor clinic that made her more comfortable than a hospital. It was where they'd gone to get help during a very frightening crisis, and found friendly, sympathetic faces, and a doctor who didn't judge them. So, now she was insisting that should could get out of the car and walk just fine.
They walked through the parking lot, to the building in the same degrading neighborhood, to the building that seemed older than time, having seen so much in it's years. It looked the same inside as it had two years ago; nurses here and there, and the same kind of people with the same problems, but different faces. Teenage mother, homeless, the uninsured, illegal immigrants, the elderly, whose medicare didn't cover enough. They went to the triage window, and Emily explained her problem, handed over her insurance card. The woman glanced at her surprised, squinted as if she thought she might recognize her, and handed her the chart the fill out. She was even more surprised when the insured FBI agent handed her the chart back, and specifically requested Dr. Jefferson.
Meg was used to requests, the same scared teenagers, illegals, and women being abused liked to be where they felt safe, with people they considered safe, especially after Meg had already proved to be one of those safe people, they returned for her help. This she didn't expect though, to walk into the waiting room, and feel like she stepped back in time two years. They were hard to forget for a several reasons, and what she was viewing now was only one of them. They were curled together on two chairs, but instead of sleeping, smiling and talking, fixated on each other. She looked down at the chart Chandra had just tossed in her hands, and sure enough there it was, Emily Lehman, a name she remembered from the checks.
"Emily?" She called, seeing them respond and walk over. "Let's go back and you can tell me what's going on."
She read the chart as they walked, frowning as the considered the possibilities.
"So tell me," she said closing the door, "what brings you in today?"
"Uh, I've been really tired, and feeling dizzy all week, and I kind of fainted last night."
"You didn't kind of faint," Matt corrected her, "you definitely passed out."
"Okay, have you been eating normally?" Meg asked, conducting the usual exams, and finding nothing irregular.
"Yes, work can get busy, but I always make sure I eat." It was true she was responsible, and god knows, Matt wouldn't let her skip meals.
"Have you been getting enough sleep, and you mentioned work was busy, how busy?"
"I've gotten plenty of sleep, and nothing too out of the ordinary, just a little more busy than normal."
"Okay, this could be any number of things, or it could be nothing, but I'd like to run some blood tests to be sure." Meg made notations on her chart, and checked Emily's form quickly.
"Checking for what exactly?"
"The usual, low blood sugar, anemia, hypoglycemia, diabetes, dehydration, proper nutrition levels, the usual suspects. Our labs go to the hospital down the street, so it might take a while, but we can get the results back today—that god for couriers." She smiled and made further notations.
"And, what if she has one of those?" Matt asked nervously.
"Then I'll send her to a specialist to get treatment. Don't look so worried Matt, some of those can be serious, but they are all very treatable." She assured him, amused that he was more frightened by the prospect than Emily.
"Sounds great, thank you." Emily squeezed Matt's hand, of course she was scared, but whatever happened, she'd have Matt to help her through it. Of that, she was certain.
"Ok, follow me…oh, and congratulations." She nodded toward the diamond sparkling on Emily's left hand.
"Thank you," they chorused happily.
Three hours of very boring waiting later, Matt and Emily were still parked on the plastic chairs in the waiting room. They'd browsed through just about every severely outdated magazine the clinic set out, and now Emily had rummaged through her purse until she found a pen, and set to work on a sudoku puzzle.
Matt stretched boredly, and picked up a Cosmo, the only one he hadn't flipped through yet, and started reading the magazine's umpteenth version of 50 Sex Tricks You Have to Know.
"Do they really think people don't know these?" He was perturbed that the supposed secret sex tricks weren't anything a seventeen year-old boy could figure out. Emily smiled at him, and was about to respond when they heard their names.
"Emily? Matt?" Meg shook her head at the déjà vu feeling calling their names gave her, but this time she got to smile.
Emily closed the magazine, stowed the pen back in her purse, and the two followed Meg back to the exam room they'd previously vacated.
"You two really need to come back more often, I always get to deliver happy news." She beamed at them, clearly pleased with Emily's results.
"Oh good, the tests were negative?" Emily was surprised, she felt so rundown lately.
"Well, except for one." Meg grinned at them.
"Which test?" Matt winced.
"It's standard procedure to test for pregnancy in our female patients blood work. So, congratulations, Emily, Matt, you're going to be parents."
They were quiet for a moment, and then Matt spoke, "so she isn't sick?"
"Nope, she's perfectly healthy."
Matt sighed with relief. The fear that had been building inside him, since he held her last night, was finally relieved. He'd take them having a whole liter of babies over her being sick.
"I'm pregnant." Emily's voice was deadpan, she just needed to hear it out loud.
"Do you have a regular OB/GYN?" Meg asked.
"Yeah, I guess I better make an appointment."
"Yep, the sooner the better. And take it easy the next few days, eat real meals, snack if you need to, and until you see your OB, I'm going to advise against strenuous activity." She looked pointedly at them as she said this, clearly she was telling them to keep their pants zipped, something they were never very good at with each other.
"Right, thank you…anything else?" Emily tried not to blush, but could feel the heat crawl across her cheeks.
"Nope, you're free to go. Congratulations again, on both happy events." The couple thanked her again, and made their way back through the lobby.
"Wow, this is big news." So, it was an understatement, Emily was still a little shell-shocked.
"Good news, right?" He was happy, but he wasn't sure she was.
"It's sooner then I would have like, but yeah, it's good news." She smiled reassuringly at him.
He stopped her in the parking lot, and kissed her slowly and deeply, holding her close. Much as she was enjoying it, Emily broke off the kiss.
"No strenuous activity remember?"
"How about we call your OB now?" He winked at her as they climbed into the car, and Emily laughed at him, but still pulled out her phone.
"So those are the two that have been sending you the donations?" Chandra and Meg watched out the window at the kissing couple.
"Yep, and I was right, they are still together. They're actually engaged now."
"Oh that's nice to hear, what did they come in for today?" Usually clinic visits weren't a good thing, and she hoped whatever it was, wasn't too serious.
"She wasn't feeling well, turns out she's pregnant." Meg smiled turning away from the window, as their car pulled out of the parking lot.
"More good news, but they're in for a lot of change."
"Well, one thing with them hasn't changed," she paused, offering Chandra an amused smile. "They still don't use condoms."
"Positive" was the first Standoff story I wrote, a year ago, and I just felt the need to revisist it, and kind of close it up a little tighter. Thank you to the people that followed along as I wrote that story, and thank you to those who read this one.