Sunday, July 30, 2000

In/Exhale - November 2, 2000

November 2, 2000
Watch some more ASL Lessons here.


Kai sat in his wheelchair, leaned back, reading through the study guide Renee had come up with for their midterm. It was only a few days away, and already Kai was worried. He’d done well on his makeup work, but failed his last exam, and it was going to take an intervention ala Jeanne d’Arc to get him through the class with the D he’d need to move on to the second semester. But the surgical mask was uncomfortable, distracting. He looked up. The waiting room was full since Tuesdays and Thursdays were always the busiest clinic days. He’d be putting himself at a huge risk if he didn’t keep it on. He sighed. Just another of the little inconveniences of his life post-transplant. But he supposed being able to breathe was worth the exchange.
He happened to glance up just as two more people came in the door. A short Hispanic woman in her 40s with a frail-looking teenage boy of about fourteen also wearing a surgical mask, pulling an oxygen canister behind him. Looking at him was like staring into Kai’s own past, and he beckoned them over. The boy smiled, glanced up at his mom for permission, then hurried over.
A smile lit his eyes as he sank down into the empty seat beside Kai’s chair, even though he was breathing hard, still not used to the oxygen, apparently. “You’re Kai, aren’t you?”
Kai nodded. “I know it’s instinctive to breathe through your mouth when you’re out of breath, but try to close your mouth and breathe through your nose instead. You’ll recover faster with the oxygen.”
The kid obeyed, and soon his breathing had eased subtly, and he relaxed again, though he still seemed elated to meet Kai. “I’m Martin.”
“Nice to meet you, Martin.” Kai offered his hand and they shook, only to have Martin’s mother rush over and immediately chastise him, commanding him to stick out his hand for her to squirt antibacterial gel into it.
“You remember what Dr. Taylor said. You have to be careful about getting sick.”
So the boy was immunocompromised, too. This could be the patient Jon had been stressing about before, when Kai had his severe MLS attack. The kid looked embarrassed; obviously, he saw Kai as some kind of hero--he wasn’t the first kid with FS who’d seen Kai that way--and now his mother had burst in and made him look bad in front of Kai.
“She’s right, Martin,” Kai said. “You have to be very careful. Things that wouldn’t make your mom sick can make us very sick.”
His mother was pulled away from her worry for a moment, seeming to see Kai for the first time. “Oh, you have to be Dr. Taylor’s brother. It’s nice to meet you. We’ve heard a lot about you.”

Kai offered his hand, and she hesitated initially, but finally accepted it. Afterward, she offered him some of the antibacterial gel. He didn’t want to tell her it was pointless for him to use it right now, since he’d have to touch his wheels to get to the exam room, but he accepted nonetheless, smiling despite the mask.
“I’m Inez, and I suppose you met Martin already.”
Before Kai could say anything, Martin interrupted. “Did it hurt?”
Kai blinked, before finally connecting the dots: Martin was asking about Kai’s transplant. “Yes. But--” Kai was about to add that no amount of pain post-transplant could have been as bad as the suffering he’d been in before, but it was obvious Martin hadn’t been on oxygen therapy very long; he was on the downslope, but at the peak still looking down. Maybe it was better if he didn’t see what lay ahead of him. Hope and optimism were just as important as any other medicine. “But not for long,” Kai said instead.
“Can I see?”
“Martin,” Inez scolded. “Leave him alone.” She looked at Kai. “I’m sorry he’s bothering you. But your story means a lot to him. To all the FS patients.”
Kai nodded. He knew he did; he also knew it was possible the transplant wasn’t the cure they’d been hoping for, but no one except Dr. J and Kai knew that, and Kai planned to keep it that way as long as possible. “It’s all right. I’m used to people asking me questions.” Kai made sure his study guide was secured between his legs, then used his hands to shift his body in the seat subtly, so he was angled a little more toward Martin. “You want to see my scars?”
Kai could tell Martin was beaming even through the mask.
“OK, but it’ll be really quick.” Kai hurriedly lifted his shirt and fleece pullover, just long enough for Martin to get a quick peek before letting the fabric cover him again.
“Woah.”
Kai laughed.
“What’s it like? Not having trouble breathing all the time?”
Kai found it difficult to meet Martin’s eyes. Kai knew the transplant committee had closed off FS patients from being listed--Jon ranted about it all the time, and he’d been working on trying to change their minds. But even if Martin could be listed, he could wait years and possibly die before a match came up; Kai had waited more than two years himself. And then, even if he matched, he had to survive the surgery and the immediate aftermath, the first few months, the first year.
But Kai didn’t want to lie to him, either. “It’s awesome,” Kai admitted, finally, smiling. “Weird, at first. It’s still . . . weird, sometimes. But generally, it’s awesome.”
Martin stared at Kai dreamily, as if he were trying to imagine what life without a constant struggle for air was like. Kai knew he’d tried more than once, before, when he was younger, and his dreams hadn’t compared to reality.
“Kai?”
Kai turned his head to see the nurse, holding his chart, beckoning him in. “I have to go,” Kai said, adjusting his body in his chair. “It was nice meeting you both. I hope you feel better,” Kai said, winking at Martin. “If you ever need to talk to someone who’s been through it all, just tell Dr. Taylor. I’m happy to do it.”
“Thank you,” Inez said.

#


Kai already had his vitals taken, so he’d pulled himself onto the exam table, and sat, bracing himself with his hands on each side of his thighs. His left leg was spasming, making his heel hit against the cabinet of the table over and over and over. It didn’t hurt, but the sound was irritating, making it hard for him to try to run over the dates in his mind as he struggled to study. He kept losing his focus, forgetting his thoughts almost as soon as they hit him.
It didn’t help that his mind kept turning to Martin. What did passing history matter when there was a good chance Martin would die? Jon hadn’t said it, but Kai wasn’t an idiot. The transplant committee had taken a chance with Kai, and they were watching him carefully before they allowed anyone else with FS to be listed. It was a very Jon-like thought, but was it that far off to realize that if Martin, if any other FS patient who might be saved by a transplant died, it would be essentially Kai’s fault?
Kai drummed his fingers on the edge of the table, feeling his anxiety blooming in their tingle. No. He had to get his mind out of the crazy loop before it went too far. He tried to multiply by threes in his head. Three times three is nine. Nine times three is twenty-seven. Twenty-seven times three. . . . But he couldn’t even focus on that; once he got into triple digits, while he tried to do the math in his head, he’d forget what he was multiplying. The more he tried to concentrate, the more frustrated he became. Threes. Multiplication of threes. But he couldn’t remember where he was. He tried to start over.
Three times three is nine. Nine times three is twenty-seven. Twenty . .  . twenty. Twenty. . . . Kai slammed his hand on the exam bench in frustration as his breathing increased and his hands began to shake.
Kai struggled to calm his breathing, to not give in to the anxiety, but it was beyond his control. He was gasping, his eyes shut, his body shaking and spasming, his mind racing along with his heart like a movie on fast forward.
"Kai," a voice vaguely pierced the veil of panic. "Kai, it's OK."
The voice was nearly drowned out by the thud of his legs against the table, the pounding of blood in his ears, the harsh wheeze that filled every desperate breath.
He felt a mask being secured to his face, then the cold, slightly bitter familiarity of nebulized albuterol. Two hands rested reassuringly on his shoulders. The touch and the meds helped stop the panic; though his breath still came harshly and his heart still beat as if trying to flee his chest, his spasms and shaking calmed some. He opened his eyes, trying to take deep breaths, his body resisting the effort.
Jon. Kai had expected Dr. J, or a nurse. "Try to relax and breathe, Kai," Jon said. "Where's your anxiety meds?"
Kai pointed to his chair, though his arm trembled, and he soon dropped it. "Pocket. Small. Bag." Kai pushed himself back just enough to rest his head against the wall. As the anxiety began to drain away, so did Kai's energy, leaving him exhausted, feeling used up like he did after a particularly intense workout.
He let his eyes drift closed, focusing on his breathing, which had calmed, though it was still more labored than normal.

He stayed like that a few minutes, until he felt Jon’s hand smooth his, then lift the mask away.

“Here,” Jon said, offering Kai a pill. “You’re OK.”
Kai took the pill with some tap water Jon gave him, but otherwise barely moved. “Jon.”
“I had just finished up with a patient next door and heard someone in here who sounded like they were struggling.”

“I haven’t had . . . a full panic attack . . . in weeks.”
“I told you not to stress so much about school.” Jon waved Kai’s study guide, which had floated to the floor during the anxiety attack.

Before either of them could say anything else, there was a knock on the door, and Dr. Johnsen came in. “Kai? Are you all right?”

Kai nodded.

Don’t leave without talking to me, OK?” Jon signed, looking at Kai with brotherly concern.
Kai managed a nod, his eyes tracking Jon as he left.
Dr. J took Kai's wrist, frowned as he felt Kai's pulse. "What happened?"
Kai sighed. Losing control of himself like that was bad enough when he was alone, but so much worse in public. At least it had happened in the relative privacy of the exam room instead of the waiting room, in front of dozens of people. In front of Martin and his mother. "Panic attack."
Dr. J had slipped a pulse oximeter on Kai's finger and was observing him closely. "Dr. Miller been working out for you?"
Kai nodded.
Dr. J removed the oximeter and helped Kai sit up. "You have anxiety attacks often?"
"Not lately. I can usually stop them before they get out of control. But I've been really stressed out."
"Because of school?” Dr. J felt Kai’s neck and under his jaw for swollen lymph nodes. “I thought you told me you were dropping a couple classes?"
“I did. But I’m failing history. It’s so hard for me to remember things.”
Dr. J pulled out his stethoscope. “You’ve spoken to your professor, though, and you have a tutor, right?”
“Yeah, and I get extra time during exams, but if I bomb the midterm, it’ll be almost impossible for me to pass the class.”
“I’m sure you’ll be fine, Kai.” Dr. J pressed the head of the stethoscope between his hands to warm it up. “I’m pretty sure you can do anything you set your mind to.” Kai rolled his eyes, but if Dr. J noticed, he said nothing. “Slow, deep breaths for me.”
Dr. J listened to Kai’s lungs carefully for several minutes, moving the stethoscope around Kai’s back, asking Kai to hold his breath or breathe normally, finally switching to his chest to listen to his heart before slipping the buds out of his ears and draping the stethoscope around his neck.
“Jon gave you some albuterol just now?”
Kai nodded.
“It help? When you have trouble breathing from the anxiety?”
Kai nodded again.
Dr. J sank down into the chair at the desk, scribbling some notes. “And other than that, how has your breathing been?”
“Good.”
“You been making sure to cough twice a day?”
“Yeah.”
“Does it seem like you’ve been coughing up a lot?”
Kai shrugged. “I guess a little more than normal.”
“Anything nasty?”
“Not really. It’s all in my book,” Kai said, pointing. He was exhausted. Maybe he’d lie down in Jon’s office for a while before going home.
Dr. J took a moment to read through Kai’s notebook, where he tracked his oxygen saturation, his peak flow, his temperature, and notes about how he was feeling, including anything that stood out.
After a while, the doctor looked up at Kai. “Even with the albuterol, I heard some congestion. Your temperature is normal, and you’ve been feeling fine?”
Kai nodded, but he felt a bit of his anxiety returning.
“It’s all right,” Dr. J said, as if sensing Kai’s tension. “I’m going to send in a nurse to take some blood and try to get a sputum sample, then do a quick chest x-ray. I’ll call you if any of the results point to rejection or infection, but call me first if you develop a fever, start feeling sick, or start coughing outside your routine. Keep an eye on how much and what color your sputum is, and let me know if it changes. OK?”
Kai nodded.
“And you should really wear your medical alert jewelry, Kai. I know it reminds you of before, but paramedics need to know you’re immunocompromised. And that way they’ll have my number if you get brought in again. All right?”
Again, Kai nodded, reluctantly.
“And wear your mask in class. I know it's not cool, but it could save your life, OK?”


#


Jon entered his office as quietly as he could, slipping out of his white coat and hanging it on the hook on the back of his door. Kai was stretched out on Jon’s couch, asleep, his feet twitching, but otherwise looking peaceful. Jon crossed to his desk to check his blood sugar, though he kept an eye on his brother. As the time stretched, Jon finally settling in to get some work done, Kai began to grow more restless in his sleep, his spasms more powerful, moaning subtly. Perhaps he was having a nightmare.
Jon abandoned his desk and approached the couch, hesitating before sitting in Kai’s wheelchair. Jon held out his hands but didn’t touch Kai, since doing so sometimes made his brother’s panic worse when he finally woke.
“Kai, it’s all right. You’re safe. Wake up.” It took Jon several minutes before Kai finally woke suddenly, his eyes springing open, breathing hard, obviously uncertain of where he was. “You’re in my office. You’re OK.”
Kai leaned back, dropping his head, giving his body a chance to calm down. After a few minutes, he laid a hand on his right thigh. “Did I spasm much in my sleep?”
“Not too bad. How you feeling?”
“Honestly?” Kai said, pushing himself up with a grunt. “Exhausted. But I’m supposed to drop by Lost Apple to study with Renee.”

“If you want my professional opinion, you should go home, take some Valium, and sleep. If you push yourself too hard, you’re only going to make it worse. You won’t do well on the test if you’re spasming and tired and anxious.”


#


Instead of heading to Lost Apple, Kai had detoured back to his apartment, debating giving in to Jon's advice and taking a long, drug-assisted nap. Ever since Halloween, he'd been exhausted, achey, and if he were honest with himself, not feeling his best. It was likely stress over the midterm: his muscle spasms had spiked over the past few days, as had his anxiety and nightmares. These usually involved him showing up late for the test, or the questions being written in some unintelligible script. Pretty typical stuff, but the fear and panic they filled him with were almost as intense as the dreams that had sent him to Dr. Miller in the first place.
Kai pushed into his bedroom, to his dresser. Even though he'd napped in Jon's office, his body was begging for rest. If Kai had learned anything over the past two months, it was that his body didn't like to be pushed too hard. That he had to listen to it.
Kai pulled one drawer open far enough he could reach in and fish out a small box that rattled as he took it out. Shutting the drawer again, Kai removed the box's lid and examined the contents, stainless steel glinting in the light. His medical ID jewelry. He extracted a small bracelet from the jumble, laying it on one hand. The links had been cut, so it no longer was a complete circle, but Kai joined the ends by holding them, marveling at how it barely encircled three fingers. Had he really been that tiny once?
Kai had been wearing that bracelet when his parents died, and he'd worn it until he'd grown out of it and it Ms. Evans forcibly cut it off. Kai had begged to keep it, but she'd refused. The only physical remnant of his old life, its loss had been devastating, and Kai had withdrawn within himself, refusing to eat or leave his room for days. Ms. Evans had begun some serious threats--including a dreaded nasogastric feeding tube--when David woke Kai up in the middle of the night and pressed something into Kai's hand. David, knowing how much it meant to Kai, had broken into room after room until he'd found it in Ms. Evans's desk.
The engraving was worn away, because Kai had rubbed his fingers along it frequently over the years, using it as a kind of talisman. He studied it now, and he could just barely make out his name, as it used to be: Joseph K. Taylor. It felt like a stranger.
With a sigh, Kai set it aside, removing another bracelet from the box. This one was newer, larger. What he'd worn before his transplant, a gift from Becca. A painful reminder of her, and before, but he'd never managed to get rid of it or pack it away. He extracted a third bracelet, this one very different from the others, with a leather band and a decorative plate. New. A "you survived" gift from Jon, a belated birthday present to celebrate Kai surviving his first month post-transplant. But Kai had resisted wearing it; his scars he could never take off, but this, he could.
One item remained in the box: his first-transplant-anniversary gift, also from Jon. A set of dog tags, the caduceus signaling what they were, each fully engraved with his current info and contact numbers. "If you won't wear the bracelet, at least wear these," Jon had insisted. Kai sighed, pulled the chain over his head, staring at his image a long while in the mirror. Maybe he was being immature. Irresponsible. After all, Jon wore a bracelet so that if anything happened to him, paramedics would know he was insulin-dependent.
Kai palmed the tags, still studying his face in the mirror. He’d text David, see if he was available to help Kai study. Maybe if someone quizzed him in sign and he answered back in kind, the material would stick better. And as comfortable as Renee could make him feel, he still couldn’t fully relax around her, not yet. With David, even though it had been so long, he didn’t have to pretend.
Not long after sending David his initial message, his phone buzzed. Morning work fish. Now you need what? (Which meant, in English, non-text-speak, “I only had work in the morning. What do you need?”)
Stdy u hlp me? My apt?
Fine. Txt me your live where.
Kai smiled. It was kind of freeing not to have to think in pure English, even when he was texting. He hurriedly texted his address and then called Renee to explain he was going to try to study with his friend in ASL and that he’d see her in the morning.


#


About half an hour later, Kai heard unrelenting pounding on the front door, and rushed to answer. David stood outside, a shit-eating grin on his face.
Some people could hear that, you know. This is why you were always getting in trouble at CH.

David just grinned wider and squeezed around Kai to enter the apartment, slipping out of his coat and tossing it on the nearest surface.

Kai sighed, shaking his head. Looked like David hadn’t changed.

David whirled around so Kai could see him. “Nice apartment.

Kai shrugged. “It’s my brother’s; I just live here.

David rolled his eyes, then bent down for a quick hug. When he stood back up, he frowned. “You’re super stressed. You look like shit.

Kai just shrugged, a “yeah, no shit, that’s why you’re here,” expression on his face, but David had already beelined for the kitchen; he’d always had a voracious appetite, especially as a teenager, and his last two years at CH, he ate his own meal plus most of Kai’s, since the Mexitil made Kai too nauseous to manage much.

Not surprisingly, David was digging around the fridge and cabinets looking for sustenance. He finally turned around, frustrated. He drew his hand down intensely from neck to stomach. “I’m starving. Don’t you have anything to eat around here?

I can cook something really quick, but it’d be vegetarian.

David gaped at Kai, repeated the sign for VEGETABLE, then ONLY to make sure he’d understood, his eyebrows raised. “Vegetarian?!

Kai laughed. “I don’t eat meat anymore because of my MLS. Jon doesn’t either, not at home.

You’re killing me,” David signed melodramatically, acting out slowly starving to death after eating only a series of vegetables like carrots and celery.

Kai shook his head, rolled backward to the drawer where he kept the takeout menus, pulled out a stack, and offered them to him, signing one-handed. “Then order something.

David accepted the menus, but stared at Kai, his eyebrows raised. “You’ve been in the hearing world too long.

Kai seemed to realize his faux paux and sighed. “Pick out what you want, and I’ll call. My treat.


#


A few minutes later, David sat across from Kai at the table, eating a bowl of cereal to tide himself over, watching his friend place their food order. It was strange, seeing Kai's lips move; at County House, David could forget Kai was hearing most of the time, especially since Kai never spoke unless forced to the last time David had seen him.
David could read Kai's lips if he wanted, since he knew, more or less, what Kai had to be saying, but there was no point, so he flipped through Kai's history book instead. Kai had post-its everywhere, notes scribbled in Kai's slanting writing. Mostly mnemonics, key people and dates.
Glancing up, David could see how tired and stressed Kai was. It was strange; Kai had never worried much about school before.
"I still think it's insane you asked me to help you study." David lifted his hand, palm flat, up, to indicate growing up, then pointed to Kai, then repeated the signs for GRADE and the letter "A" several times, saying, "You always got all A's. Me?" He pointed to himself. "FAIL. FAIL. FAIL." His right hand, palm up, index and middle fingers up, sliding down and off his palm-up left hand repeatedly.
Kai laughed. "Because you were too busy FLIRT FLIRT FLIRTing with all the girls. Or causing trouble for the teachers."
David shoved some cereal in his mouth, signing single-handedly, "I had a reputation. Besides, you were always smarter than me. I owe you for helping me improve my English."
"You got your GED, got into college, and graduated. Not many kids from the system manage that. I can't even pass two classes."
Kai's frustration radiated off him almost like a visible aura, making David frown. They could start studying once the food came. Taking a few more bites of cereal, David decided a change in subject might do Kai good.
"What are your Thanksgiving plans?"
David observed Kai's left index finger tapped his thumb rapidly over and over and over, as if trying to release some of his anxiety, and his eyes were unfocused, as if his mind was elsewhere.
David waved his hand to try to get Kai's attention, but that didn't work, so he tried tapping on the table. Kai's breathing had shifted, his chest moving more visibly and harshly, lost in himself. Finally, David clapped near Kai's face.
That finally made Kai jump, struggle to calm himself, slow, deep breaths. David offered his hand, saying nothing, and Kai accepted. Kai never complained, because that's who Kai was, but ever since he'd returned to County House after his brief stint with the woman claiming to be his aunt, Kai hadn't been the same. Apparently, their years apart hadn't changed Kai's occasional bouts with anxiety.
Without letting go of Kai’s hand, David continued with his other, “You’re stressed because your ‘study partner’ is your girlfriend. I bet your ‘studying sessions’ looked like this,” David said as he pretended to make out with himself.
Kai managed a laugh and David could feel Kai’s grip on his hand relaxing a little. “She’s amazing,” Kai signed, taking his hand back. “I can’t wait for you to meet her.
If she falls in love with me instead, don’t blame me. It’s hard for a woman to resist this,” David signed with a huge, silly grin, indicating himself.
Kai laughed longer now, some of the tension going out of his shoulders, to David’s relief.
Really. What are you doing for the holiday?

David watched Kai’s chest expand as he took a deep breath. “Jon’s girlfriend wants me to join them at her family’s, but . . . that’s just weird. But Jon won’t go without me . . .” Kai shrugged, reached for his book, but David planted his arms firmly on it until Kai gave up, glaring at him.
Come to my house.
You sure? I don’t want to be a third wheel.
David gaped at Kai. “Kai,” he said, using his personal namesign for Kai, a modification of the sign for brother. “You’re my brother,” David said, pointing to his forehead before finishing the sign, a “duh” look on his face. “Besides, Megan has a thing for strays, so you won’t be the only one there besides us.” David indicated Megan’s affinity for those without families to spend the holiday with by first signing MY HOUSE, then using a classifier for a “person” (the handshape for “D,” index finger standing up) with his left hand, moving it around in front of him in a semicircle, while he used his right hand to “pluck” them in the sign for pick/find toward the space where he’d drawn his house earlier, as if she were literally plucking strays up and putting them in their house.
This made Kai chuckle faintly. “All right. I’ll tell Jon he can go to his girlfriend’s family, then. She’ll be elated.” He frowned. “Will I be able to fit in your house?” He tapped his wheels.

David’s face shifted. “You really can’t walk anymore?

Kai sighed heavily. “About two months ago, I had a really, really bad MLS attack, and I hurt my legs pretty badly. I have an appointment in two weeks with my doctor, but I won’t know if I can walk outside PT until then. Even if he clears me, I might prefer the chair anyway if there’s ice or snow. Plus, it makes signing easier,” Kai finished with a faint smile.

David considered this for a moment. There was a single step leading up to the front entrance, but he wasn’t sure about the door widths. He’d have to ask Kai or measure to be sure. His house was a single story, at least. But Kai would never fit in the guest bathroom, though with a few minor changes, he’d be fine in the master bath. “I’ll make it work. I promise.

Kai’s head jerked up suddenly, looking over David’s shoulder. “The food’s here.” He started to reach for the money he set out, but David waved him off, signalling he’d get it.

David jogged to the door, pulling it open. A typical delivery guy stood there, bundled up against the cold, holding an insulated case with their food.

The guy began to talk, and David caught “Sorry” and “Your order” before the man dipped his head, making it impossible for David to keep reading his lips. Damn hearies. Was it really so hard to maintain eye contact?

David tried to get the guy’s attention, but failed, so he finally whacked his hand on the top of the case, making the guy jump. David had to force his smile away. He pointed to his ear and shook his head, mouthing, Deaf.

The guy’s eyes and mouth widened, and David caught more apologies and the rest was too mumbled--the man’s lips not moving enough for him to catch what he said--as he accepted the money and quickly handed over the food.
David sighed, kicking the door shut behind him as he brought the food to the kitchen. Once his hands were free, he asked Kai, “Did you hear anything the guy said?
Kai shook his head. “All I could hear is the wind. Is it really nasty out there?
David nodded. “Smells like snow, but I don’t think it’s in the forecast till this weekend. Let’s eat, then we’ll find out how little I remember of world history.


#


A few hours later, and David had managed to devour nearly all of the massive quantity of food he’d ordered, and Kai was feeling a bit better about the test.

How are you not still skinny skinny? Your appetite hasn’t improved much.

Kai shrugged. “I know exactly how many calories I need to eat, and I make sure I get those, but unless it’s sweet, I look at food like my meds. I need it, but I don’t like taking it.

David drew his hand, three central fingers standing up in the “W” handshape, slightly bent, across his face. “Weirdo. Anyway, I don’t know what you’re talking about with your memory. It seems fine, and you know the material pretty well.

Kai shrugged. “That’s one reason I invited you over. It’s more of a problem for me in English,” Kai fingerspelled “English” for emphasis. Maybe after all these years my brain still has to work harder to process it or something.

"English sucks, but it’s a fact of life. So. Tell me about this girl of yours. Renee?"

Kai sighed. "She's amazing. Beautiful, patient, smart, and crazy about me, which probably makes her insane."

David laughed. "Hearing?"

Kai nodded. "But she wants to learn to sign. For me."

"Nice."

Kai heard the front door unlocking, and a moment later, Jon emerged, rubbing his hand over his hair. "Brr. It's really coming down out there. Might be ice in the morning."

Kai interpreted for David's sake, then sim-commed, "You're home early."

"Just for a few hours." Jon stripped off his wet coat and made his way into the apartment. "Oh. The transplant committee finally caved and notified me today they'll reconvene, perhaps next week. They haven't set a date yet." Jon finally noticed David. He took a reflexive step back in surprise when David shifted so he could see Jon too.

"Jon, this is my friend David," Kai said, finger spelling David's name and then giving his standard namesign, Red. "We grew up together." Kai hesitated, then added, "He was my CH roommate."

"Oh," Jon said, nodding, surprised. "Nice to meet you."

"My fiancée is your tutor."

Kai observed his brother watching David's signs with intense concentration, obviously used to signing only with Kai and Megan. He mimicked the sign for "fiancée," asking what that meant.

David patiently fingerspelled the word, slowing down for Jon's sake.

"Oh! Megan," Jon said, getting it now, signing Megan's namesign, a variation of sunshine.

David nodded, smiling. "It was nice meeting you, but I should go before the weather gets worse. Text me later," David said to Kai before leaning down for a hug. "Thanks for the food. I'll let myself out." David waved to them both, shook Jon's hand, then headed for the door.

Jon sank down across from Kai after locking the door behind David. "How are you feeling?"

Honestly, Kai's chest felt a little tight, but it was time for him to cough and take his meds, so that was probably it. But his anxiety had faded somewhat. It had been nice, hanging out with David, picking up almost as if six years hadn't passed. "Better. I think I'm going to do my routine, take some Valium, and go to sleep early. David ate most of it, but there might be some food left if you haven't eaten."

"Good. I worry about you, you know."

Kai smiled faintly. "I know. David invited me to spend Thanksgiving with him and Megan. It's Deafie stray dinner, apparently, so you can go to Vicky's guilt-free."

Jon groaned, slipping back into English. "I was kind of hoping you'd go. She has seven brothers and sisters, Kai. And they're all married with kids. Maybe it's too soon for me to throw myself in the viper pit. I mean, we've only been dating technically a couple months."

"But you've been in love with each other for years. If it gets bad, sneak me a text and I'll call you. You can feign a hospital emergency. You are on call, aren't you?"

Jon grinned. "Thanks. Get some sleep. I'll be up a while if you need anything, working on my presentation for the committee before heading back to the hospital."

Kai had started to wheel away but paused, made a slow turn. "I met Martin in the waiting room today. I hope you can change their minds. He seems like a sweet kid."

Jon sighed heavily. "He is."


#


Kai had coughed himself for several minutes, and he still didn’t feel right. What he’d managed to cough up was clear, but extremely thick, big plugs of mucus like he hadn’t had since before his transplant, and it worried him. Especially since he couldn’t so much feel as sense he had more congestion that wouldn’t come up. And though his peak flow numbers were decent, his PO2 was slightly lower than normal. Nothing alarming, but enough that, in context, it was concerning.

Kai sat in his bathroom for several minutes, staring at his little notebook, trying to decide what to do. His temperature was normal, but he definitely didn’t feel normal. He could try some albuterol and hope that would open him up more for a second coughing. He could ask Jon to pound his back and see if that would help loosen anything up. But of course, telling Jon that anything might be wrong would open a whole mess of worry that Kai really didn’t want to invite.

Kai closed his eyes and listened to his body, focusing on what he could hear and feel. A subtle, quiet wheeze with every exhalation, a vague heaviness in his chest he couldn’t localize, and a dizzy exhaustion, like the very air in the room were weighing him down.

Finally, he opened his eyes again, staring at his image in the mirror briefly. He looked as pale and tired as he felt. He’d try plan A, along with plenty of sleep, and hope it was just the stress of his midterm getting to him.

##############


8 comments:

  1. Another great chapter, thanks. This story is so absorbing that I can't help feeling concern about Kai's health - fingers crossed for him that it turns out to be just a blip.

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  2. Loved this! And it didn't seem long at all--I could have kept on reading for hours . . .
    The session with David was fantastic. Really well written. I sure hope Kai stays well and makes it through his midterm and the holiday okay.

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    1. Thank you, Pepper (and thanks, other anons)! David is one of my favorite characters. We'll definitely see more of him this season. :)

      And as for the midterm and holiday... you'll just have to find out :D!

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  3. Thanks for this great chapter
    Please don't let Kai be sick again. He deserves a break and some happy times with Renee.

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  4. Back on board again! I've been reading the three last chapters in a row and I'm so glad you continue sharing the story with us! It's nice of you to have shed light on Kai's childhood and I'm glad that you introduced a new character - David.
    I must admit I was a bit taken aback by the first chapter of the second season - for some reasons it seemed to me like a new universe or like a new story with the same names for the characters but in the last chapters I've got back on track - it's still THE Kai I have learned to care about in the first season!
    From time to time I also check your homepage to see how far your other writing projects are and if I were bold enough, I would ask for one more chapter from the UnConventional... I enjoyed the first chapter very much and can't wait for the whole work to be published!
    Cheers,
    Anne

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    1. Anne,

      Thank you so much! My hope with the second season (particularly the opener) was to show a different side of Kai, one maybe we hadn't seen yet. I'm glad you're enjoying everything so far, though, including David.

      Thank you for following my blog! I'm hoping to be more active posting there this year, especially as UnConventional gets closer to publication. I do have a 1000-word scene from a bit later in the book I've been debating posting, though no decisions, yet. Still, it means so much to me to know you're excited to read more of it. I had a really hurtful comment about it recently, and so it's always nice to read that people are enjoying my writing.

      As I've said more than once, I/E especially really is my soul, and it always makes me happy to see people enjoying it. :)

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    2. You have no idea how glad I were if you posted these 1000 words on you blog... :D
      Wishing you lots of inspiration and time for writing,
      Anne

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  5. Really good, Chie! It's very nice getting to know David too, and see that "brotherhood" between him and Kai. But I'm with above--my fingers are crossed that Kai gets okay. He so deserves a break!

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