[Quadruple X....Must be really good porn. Or Louise is having fun with Roman Numerals. Which, FYI, I had to look at the wikipedia page on them to know where the hell I have to go next. Methinks we might not have that many sections left. It's hard to believe there's been forty.
Anyway. Happy Thursday, Heather Ann. Hope this brightens your week.]
Don't ask me how, but instead of perpetually behind in four out of five classes (education seminar included; physics decided as a lost cause) I was now two weeks ahead in my education seminar and crawling (tooth and nail) from under the pile of history reading I'd heaped on myself. The easy thing would be to ask Murph, as he'd already taken the class. But that would be the easy way out and maybe against academic policy. Not that I'd bothered to read the eighty-something page packet the Committee on Standards stuffs in our campus boxes every year.
This was my own damn fault and I was going to get through it. Even if it killed me. Might not kill me, but would make me more batshit crazy than I already was.
So, on a Saturday night (in much the same fashion as Friday night had been spent) that's why I was slogging through page after page of Early Modern Europe with a heaping helping of The Restoration for dessert. Practical Magic was in the DVD player; as books and papers were spread all over my bed, I'd taken up residence in the moon chair, shivering. The heater, which wasn't doing a hell of a lot to begin with, seemed to have died completely. Buildings and Grounds hadn't gotten up here yet and Jo had already confirmed it was warmer in the hall than my corner single.
One answer was to curl in the same bed as my porta-furnace, but Murph hadn't looked too good earlier. However, there was always his closet and I know the boy owned flannel. Could check up on him while I was down there, too.
Check on boyfriend first, raid closet second, and take a mental health study break from the very screwed-up early days of the English monarchy.
That was my plan.
Since the weather had turned nasty wandering around in socks wasn't a bright idea. Once slippers were on, it was down to the third floor. It was warmer immediately outside my freezer of a room. Didn't wait long for Dev to open the door.
"Hey, Ol." Dev looked rather startled, truthfully.
"Hi. Can I come in?"
He looked behind him, at Murph. "He's not feelin' so hot."
"He's thrown up, like, four times."
And this was supposed to deter me how? "Okay."
Dev looked at me, cocked his head to the side and said, "Yeah, right, must not have been in my right mind to think you wouldn't want to see him after he's hurled multiple times."
"I'm not a sympathy puker." He let me in the room.
"Thank God neither am I." Dev shut the door quietly and peeked into the trashcan. "Murph? Murph, Ollie's here."
Murph had his comforter all the way to his chin, hair sticking up in every direction, face roughly the same color as paper. Long story short: he looked like utter shit. Adorable shit, but still. Shit.
I dragged his desk chair over to curl up in it so we were close to being eye to eye. "Hi."
He blinked. It was a look very similar to what I had worn while trying not to hurl. Carefully, one of my hands snuck under the blankets to find his and tangle our fingers together. "Think you got whatever I had?"
Murph's thumb spelled no on the back of my hand.
"Just general crappiness?"
He blinked at me again.
"You feel okay, Dev?"
Dev popped an earbud out. "What?"
"You feel okay?"
He gave a half shrug. "Yeah. Tired. But pages of econ spreadsheets do that. Liam and Colby were fine today and yesterday."
"When I got back yesterday in the afternoon, Murph was already in bed with the trashcan." He leaned forward, elbows on his knees.
"Cheatin' on me with the trashcan?" I pushed Murph's bangs off his sweaty forehead, smiling when he snorted. "I mean, it's an attractive trashcan." He chuckled.
"Why are your hands so cold?" It was the first Murph had spoken and he sounded like he'd been gnawing gravel.
"I don't really have any heat in my room, which is why I'm going to raid your closet for a flannel before I go back upstairs." When stated matter-of-factly it didn't sound quite so bad.
"You have no heat?" Murph croaked, shifting uncomfortably.
"It's not that I don't have any, it's just that I don't have a lot..."
"Have you called B and G?" Dev asked, giving the hold on gesture to the computer. He must have been video chatting with someone.
"Yeah. They said maybe tomorrow." Which they said on Thursday. Not that the boys needed to know. They were already a bit outraged. "It's fine, it's just a little chilly." More like freeze your ass off, but, again, they didn't need to know.
Murph looked ready to suggest I stay with him, winced, and squeezed my fingers.
"My belly hurts."
I leaned forward and kissed his forehead, apprehensive about the head coming off him. Usually the only way for me to sleep in the same bed as Murph was, basically, for us to spoon. Either him around me or him with his head on my chest. That worked best. Unfortunately, neither of those put him in the right spot if he needed the trashcan in a hurry. Which, from the bleary look of understanding in his hazel eyes, he knew.
"I'm sorry." Firsthand experience speaking - belly pain sucked. "I've got pills to take care of that."
Murph snorted again. "Might skip that, thanks."
Yeah, might not be the best idea out there. Not that I'd do it - I just wanted to make him smile. Mission accomplished on that front.
His eyelids were drooping.
"I'll stop by before I go to bed." He nodded; I kissed his forehead, then his nose before extracting my hand from his. He was half asleep when I put the desk chair back and gently snoring by the time I'd rummaged through the closet to find a flannel shirt. It was almost the size of a tarp, heavy, no doubt warm, and smelled of Murph.
"I'll be back in half an hour," I said to Dev. He gave me a thumbs up and went back to the man on the screen.
My corner single was positively frigid. Murph's flannel shirt went on over a cami and some leggings, the tails hanging halfway down my thighs. With the bed cleaned off in record time, I grabbed Edgar and headed back downstairs. Dev opened the fishbowl; only his desk lamp was on. Murph was out. It took some reaching, but Edgar soon sat next to Smokey, unblinking eyes on Murph.
Despite the fact that I sleep better when I'm cold and have to burrow, it took a long time for me to fall asleep. A very long time.
One minute sound asleep, the next moment wide awake and wondering what the hell had woke me up.
Bang, bang "Olivia! Ollie, wake up!" Thump thump bang.
Sounded an awful lot like Dev. A panicked Devan beating on my door. I scrambled out of bed and jerked the door open, almost mowing over my own toes. Dev stood in the hall looking four-kinds of panicked and wearing just a pair of a boxers.
"Wha - "
"Murphy won't wake up."
Oh, dear God, what?
"Murph - His phone - And he didn't when he does - And Liam kept calling - "
Dev's panic was not helping my skyrocketing blood pressure. Not at all. No clue what I was supposed to be doing at the moment, but putting on pants seemed like the right kind of start. I was listening to Dev babble, almost hyperventilate, and generally freak out, and was trying to breathe while putting on jeans.
Something wasn't right with this picture.
Murphy won't wake up.
I grabbed my Vera, stuffed my feet into my sneakers, and sprinted after Dev trying to understand what exactly was going on. We burst into the fishbowl to see Liam slapping at Murph's pale cheeks. "Murphy! Murphy!" There was a pleading in Liam's voice that I'd never heard before.
I leaned against Dev's bed as he pulled jeans and a t-shirt on. Murph wasn't moving - didn't even look like he was breathing. "Did somebody call an ambulance?" Rubbed a hand over my chest, feeling like I was going to have a heart attack and concentrated on breathing.
"They're on their way. I'm gonna go meet 'em at the door downstairs." Dev was gone, the door closing slowly behind him.
Liam ran a hand through his hair. "Maybe - Maybe you can - "
He didn't have to get it all out before I was staggering across the room and behind to hold Murph's face in my hands. The heat coming off him was unbelievable. Almost frightening.
"Murphy," I said, lightly tapping his nose. "Mur - " My voice broke. "Murphy. Murphy wake up."
The paramedics barged in then; I stepped back until the desk rammed into my kidneys, grabbing at Liam's wrist with epileptic fingers.
"What's his name?" One of the paramedics - Toby - asked.
"Murphy. Murphy McRiley." Liam was surprisingly calm at this point. Jittery, but more calm than me or Dev who stood by his wardrobe chewing his fingernails.
"You look like family," Toby said while his partner pushed aside comforter and sheets to get to Murph. God, he was so pale. "How old is he? Allergies?"
"We're twenty and he's allergic to penicillin." Liam shuddered, trying to tune out the other paramedic giving stats into his radio. They didn't sound good. Not that I would know what the hell good or bad stats would be no matter how many episodes of ER I'd watched when I was thirteen.
"When did Murphy start to feel sick?"
Liam looked at me and I stuttered out, "He - He was fine Wednesday night. Said he was a little tired after our date." Pushed hair out of my face with trembling fingers. "It's getting to be the end of the semester. We're all tired."
"Did anything hurt? Was it just a head cold?"
The questions were almost overwhelming, especially when Toby's partner did something to make Murph jerk in pain, even unconscious. There was some talking amongst them, the phrase "Really needs a hospital" surfaced and they manhandled Murph - in his boxers - onto a backboard and then onto the stretcher waiting in the hall.
Liam threw on his coat and pressed a set of keys into my hand. "Have Dev drive. I'm going with my brother." He jogged after the paramedics and I practically threw the keys at Dev. There was no way in hell I was with it enough to drive. Not that Dev looked much better, but he wasn't shaking half as bad.
Couldn't tell you if we turned out all the lights in the fishbowl, or if it was snowing or raining, or how many red lights we hit between St. Claire and the hospital. It was cold, mostly because my peacoat was in Jackson and partly because I had no idea what was wrong with my boyfriend but we were headed back to the freakin' ER.
Dev got us there in one piece, somehow, and we entered the ER waiting room to a pacing Liam.
"What's - Did he wake up?"
Liam shook his head. "They're doing X-Rays or a scan or something to figure out what the hell's goin' on." He blew out a loud breath. "I called Colby and Ma and Dad are on their way. They were my next call after the ambulance." He sat heavily in a hard leather and wood chair. The kind that seemed to be in every ER on the face of the earth.
I fell into the chair next to him. "How did you know? That something was wrong, I mean."
He shrugged. "I dunno. Call it that mystical twin thing - I couldn't sleep. Knew Murph wasn't feelin' well and needed to talk to him."
Dev leaned against the soda machine on the other side of the room. "The phone kept ringing. And ringing. Murph always picks up. Even if he's passed out drunk he answers the damn phone." He swallowed. "I got up. Tried to wake him up and he wouldn't. I called Liam, told him I couldn't get Murph up. He came over, we dialed Campus Safety - I did - and he called an ambulance. We weren't waiting for Campus EMS to show up."
"Then you got me up?" Pulled my legs up and rested my cheek on my knee. "I thought he had what I had."
Liam put an arm around my shoulders. The three of us were the only ones there, muted CNN on the TV, and so quiet you could practically hear the gears in the damn wall clock.
Well, it was quiet until Colby came tearing through the halls like his ass was on fire.
"Colby?" Liam rose to his feet only to be caught up in the manliest hug I'd ever seen. When he got a hold of me it was like he was trying to break ribs. Dev didn't escape, either.
"They're doin' tests."
I alternated between pushing up the sleeves on my borrowed shirt and pulling them over my knuckles. My hair was still a just-asleep mess and somehow - some-friggin'-how - I hadn't devolved into tears over the fact that my boyfriend hadn't woken up.
Maybe I should be thankful my stomach hadn't tried to make an escape.
ER's suck. Majorly.
"Ollie?" Colby was crouched in front of me. "Is there anybody you need to call?"
"Uh..." Where was my mind? Definitely not here.
Yeah. Sasha probably. I checked my pockets for my phone. "Uh...Can I...?"
"Here. Use mine." Dev handed me his BlackBerry. Sasha's number was already ringing.
"How do you - " The line picked up on the other end.
"Hello?" Cara. A very sleepy Cara.
"Hey - It's, it's Ollie."
"Ollie? What's wrong, Ol? Why aren't you callin' from your phone?"
I was having a harder time keeping it together talking to Cara than being in the waiting room with the boys. "I'm at the ER. Murph's - Murphy's sick. Really sick."
"Oh, honey." There was some shuffling. "We'll be right there."
"Oh, no, you don't - " God, everything was just spiraling.
"Olivia. We'll be right there. And tell Devan I wanna know why his phone number is on my girlfriend's cell." With that she hung up.
Dear God, could this night get any worse?
The four of us looked toward the desk to see a man in scrubs and a hair net. Liam stood, wiped his palms on his jeans and said, "Yeah?"
The doc did a double take.
"Murphy's my twin," he said with a small smile. "What's wrong with him?"
"It seems to be Murphy's appendix that's giving him problems. At the very least it's painfully inflamed, at the worst, it's exploded. This is a fairly routine surgery we're talking and we need you to sign some paperwork."
He'd gotten steadily paler but nodded, "Of course." Liam followed the doc to the counter to sign away.
"His appendix," Dev breathed.
Abdominal surgery. Deja vu.
Liam came back and sat wearily, rubbing at his face. "My brother's having emergency surgery to remove his appendix."
"You need to call your parents?"
"They're on the way." He chuckled dryly. "Da's probably doin' ninety on the thruway."
"Oh, God," I murmured, realizing that tonight, in the ER waiting room, I was going to meet my boyfriend's parents for the first time. Sleep-rumpled and in their son's flannel shirt, too.
Now I was really going to puke.
Sasha came through the doors like a force of nature to hug me, Cara not far behind her. This time I wiped at my eyes when we parted, me stretched awkwardly in the chair.
"Hey, you guys didn't have to come - "
"Olivia." Cara squeezed herself onto the chair with me and threw her arms around my shoulders. "You, my dear, are my girlfriend's best friend. Her sister. When you hurt, she hurts. When you're stressed, she's stressed. So, damn straight, hun, we're going to be waiting with you until that boy wakes up." She leaned close to my ear. "And he's gonna look at you and think damn, I worried that beautiful girl, but she's still here. It don't matter that you haven't said those words yet. You bein' here says it all." She kissed my temple and stood, hands on her hips and staring hard at Dev, all Southern business. "Devan."
"Miz Cara," he said, pocketing his BlackBerry.
Sasha had once called Cara her sweet-tea drinkin', peach-lovin' Southern shrew (even though the girl was only from Virginia) and as she was staring at Dev she was every inch of a strong-willed Southern woman.
Hell, I wasn't in the receiving end of that look and I was a little worried.
"Playing a go-between between best friend and boyfriend of the birthday girl is a bit hectic." He shrugged. "That's why we swapped numbers."
If I had a desk, I'd have whacked my head off the damn thing. "So, my boyfriend and my best friend were conspiring for my birthday?"
"And we're really good at it, too." Sasha grinned. While Cara had at least put on sweats, Sasha was rocking shorts and Uggs. I think I was too fried to really comprehend, otherwise she wouldn't have heard the end of it.
"Okay." Drew my legs up again, wrapping my arms around my shins. "I don't wanna know until Murph is well enough to enjoy it with us."
"Duh," Sasha muttered. "You had any coffee today?"
"A long time ago." A really long time ago, truthfully. My head thunked back against the wall. "Could really use another cup. Or four."
"Last thing you need is coffee," Colby muttered.
"Yeah, but she's not the one who parked in the wrong parking lot and ran through the friggin' hospital like he was a track star," Liam shot back.
We chuckled. Colby turned a fascinating shade of red.
"Anybody know what time it is?" Simple question, really.
How an inquiry as innocent as the time turned into an off-key chorus of Happy Birthday, I've no idea. It happened anyway. It was my turn to be a funny shade of red, smiling tiredly.
"Thanks, guys." I'd been twenty for almost an hour. Twenty's not that much different than nineteen. Didn't feel any different, anyway.
We settled in, talking and glancing at CNN and that's maybe when I dozed off for a bit. I jerked awake and rubbed at my eyes. Liam was in the chair next to me, elbows on his thighs and fixated on the screen.
"Where'd everybody go?" There was one hell of a crick in my neck.
"Wandered down to find some coffee. I think." He took a deep breath. "My parents should be here soon."
Oh, shit. This was far from the ideal situation to meet the boyfriend's parents. We all knew it. Which was why it was just me and Liam waiting for Mr. and Mrs. McRiley.
"This wasn't how I imagined meeting them." Really, it was anything but ideal. "Middle of the night, in the hospital." Overwhelming. Just, overwhelming. "I don't even know their names."
"Dermott and Maggie."
He chuckled. "Very."
"Margaret." Liam smiled. "You'll be fine."
Great. Another McRiley that could read me like a freakin' book. And he didn't even have to look at me to do it.
"Do you know we're named after our grandfathers?"
Where the hell had that come from? "No."
He settled back, sprawling as best he could. "Yeah. Ma was an O'Hare before she married Da and her father's name was Allen. Ma took the Roarke that was his middle name for Murphy's. Grandpa McRiley's middle was Connor."
"That's cool." And nothing like that had happened in my family. Izzy shared a middle name with our mother - Marie - and there was rumor that one of my mom's ancestors, a Boyd, was named Mae. Which trickled down through the years to be my middle name. "Someone on my mother's side was Mae."
"Your middle name?"
"Yeah. Olivia Mae."
"You haven't told Murph that, have you?"
I shook my head. "I'm not too wild about my middle name, honestly." Partly because it was so damn short and partly because people said it no problem and then butchered my last name because they weren't paying attention.
The joy of being Polish.
"Karizslowski is Polish, right?" He was then on the receiving end of a ya think? look. "Are your parents immigrants?"
That's where he was going. "Oh, no. No, my mother's family has been here for a couple generations. My father's parents came from Poland between the wars and he was the second child born here. His older sisters were born in Poland."
I shrugged. "Lots of cousins. Cousins with siblings." My family was, more or less, frickin' huge. "There's a lot of us here in central New York, but some in New England and a few in West Virginia, Minnesota, and Michigan."
"Most of our family is still in Ireland." His head thumped lightly against the wall. "Has Murph told you about our parents?"
"A little." Wadded myself in the chair sideways to look at Liam. "Your dad's a glassblower - and you haven't been allowed in the studio since you were twelve."
His head snapped around to look at me, eyes wide. "He told you that?"
"Yeah. And your mom works in insurance." Butterflies started in my belly. "What - What do...What are they going to think of me?"
Liam straightened, turning toward me. Blinked. "They are....They've been wanting to meet you since Murph told them he had a girlfriend. He emailed Ma some pictures of you from Halloween."
Which, okay, I'd done the same to my mother in our weekly, bi-weekly emails.
"Honestly, they can't wait to meet you." He swallowed. "It shouldn't be me introducing you. It should be Murphy."
"We can't control that." Not right now at least.
Yeah. Not the ideal situation. From the borrowed shirt to the ER to the elephant in the room of not having Murphy here - this was crazy to a whole new level.
We lapsed into silence, uncomfortable and stretched, content to wait. Or, rather, wait and fidget in my case.
The doors to the parking lot slid open.
"William? Oh, William - "
Liam stood, automatically moving to hug his mother while I tried to continue to breathe. Wobbling upright, I hovered in the background, content to watch. Both boys looked like their father, only Dermott wasn't as filled out - probably because he wasn't a football player - and, unlike his boys, Dermott had red hair. Or what used to red, as he was slanting toward gray in places. Maggie was thin and not a whole lot taller than me. She had the dark hair her boys did and Murph's hazel eyes.
Hazel eyes that looked around her son to me. Through me.
"Liam..." Dermott said quietly.
"Sorry, Da," he said, reaching back and snagging my borrowed shirt sleeve. "This is Olivia - Ollie - Murphy's girlfriend."
Maggie smiled. "Hi, Ollie. I've seen pictures..." She trailed off. "Nice to finally meet you, only I wish the circumstances were better." There was a lilt to her voice that two decades in the States couldn't wipe completely. "I'm Maggie."
There was such a kindness in her eyes, such an understanding....Between physics, orgo, Murph in the ER, and turning twenty, everything was suddenly too much.
I burst into quiet tears right then and there.
"Oh, love," Maggie said, gathering me into her arms. "It's a bit overwhelmin'."
Didn't matter it wasn't my own mother, Maggie was still a mom and I needed a mom's shoulder to cry on right now. Which I did. Soaking up the warmth Maggie provided. This would be damn mortifying if it didn't feel so good. And if I didn't need it so badly.
"Sorry," I mumbled, pulling back and wiping my cheeks.
"There's nothing to be sorry for, Ollie." She rubbed my arms lightly. "And you made a very pretty pirate on Halloween."
Cue flaming cheeks. "Thank you." Gathering what composure I had left, I turned to Dermott. "Hi, Mr. McRiley." He shook my hand, looking closely at my tear-red eyes and then, much to my horror, my shirt. If he recognized it, he didn't say. Which was one of the better things to happen tonight.
"Nice to meet you." Dermott's accent was thicker than Maggie's. He smiled slyly, and that's when I really saw Murph in his father. "Cold down here lately?"
Not what I was expecting and, honestly, a hell of a lot better. "Yeah. It hasn't been too bad, but, um, I don't have any heat."
We sat, Liam and I, between Dermott and Maggie. The rest of our motley crew returned, and Maggie hugged Dev and Colby; I introduced Cara and Sasha. And then we sat. And looked at each other.
The drunks and mishaps started rolling in around three. Girls who had been out partying, frat boys worried about their passed-out brothers, and city kids who didn't have enough sense to read the warnings on the Jackass DVD's. We made small talk - or rather, Cara, Liam, and Maggie did as Dev, Colby, Dermott, and I kind of sucked at it - and around four-thirty a doc came out.
Maggie, Dermott, and Liam went to speak with him. Sasha sat next to me, holding my hand tightly in hers. Dermott and Maggie followed the doctor through the door and Liam came back to us, hands in his pockets.
"His appendix had exploded." There was a collective flinch. "Yeah. They removed what was left of it and cleaned out the infection. He's on antibiotics, painkillers, and should come out of anesthesia sometime soon. Might not come out of it for long, and he might just go right back to sleep. He's gonna feel like shit when he does wake up." He took a deep breath. "They've moved him to a room on the second floor. He, uh, he's gonna be just fine. Eventually."
I uncurled and hugged a shaking Liam. Now that he knew his brother was going to be fine he was more or less losing it. All the control he'd had since the whole fiasco had started - in the fishbowl and then waiting until his parents arrived, then with his parents - he didn't have to be calm and composed anymore. Now he could worry.
"They have visiting hours tomorrow, right?" Cara asked, prodding a half-asleep Sasha. "We should come back tomorrow."
Colby rubbed his eyes. "That sounds like a plan."
"You want a ride to your car?"
They gave one last round of hugs and paraded out the ER doors while Liam led Dev and I through the hospital to an elevator. We passed the time waiting outside Murph's room (once we found it - we had to circle the floor twice until a passing nurse took pity on us) by playing the Movie Game - Start with a movie or an actor and then get another film or actor from the first one. So, start with George Clooney and get Ocean's 11, then say Brad Pitt, who was also in Fight Club. Edward Norton then gets you to The Italian Job. Donald Sutherland gets you to Pride and Prejudice and Kiera Knightley leads to Pirates of the Caribbean. That sort of thing.
Liam was a little scared at how long Dev and I could go without needing to start again.
Maggie poked her head out the door. "He's awake. A little disoriented and tired, but awake."
Dev shoved Liam into the room first then we waited a little more until Dermott waved us in.
Murph was still too pale to be healthy and hooked to both a heart monitor and an IV. Liam pulled gently by my sleeve all the way to the side of the bed and I slipped my hand under Murph's. He was definitely more drugged than our previous ER trip. Still, he gave me a ghost of his regular smile and whispered, "Hi."
He swallowed hard, like his throat was dry. "Ha - Happy Birthday, Ol."
And then, right there in front of his parents, I leaned over and kissed his nose. Just to see him smile.
Happy Birthday indeed.