I tried to put on a brave face in front of Howie, but on the inside, I was the one freaking out. I wasn’t used to dealing with this kind of stuff on my own. On the night of Howie’s overdose, I’d at least had Lauren there to listen to the doctors and hold my hand as we waited. This time, I had no one. So as soon as Howie went for his CT scan, I did what I always used to when I was stuck in a scary situation and didn’t know what to do: I called Kevin.
“Hey, Nick, what’s up?” he answered his phone. The moment I heard his mellow voice, I felt marginally better. But there was no point in beating around the bush; I knew Kevin hated making small talk as much as I did.
“Howie’s sick,” I blurted. “He’s back in the hospital, and the doctor said there’s a seventy-five percent chance he could die.” Okay, so that wasn’t exactly what the doctor had said, but that was how I’d heard it.
“What??” Kevin no longer sounded mellow. “What the hell happened?”
“We don’t know for sure yet, but he might have this graft-verse… well, I can’t remember what it’s called exactly, but it sounded kinda like a fight in Mortal Kombat, and it’s got something to do with his liver transplant, and-”
“Nick.” Kevin’s voice cut sharply through my rambling. “You’re not making much sense. Slow down and start from the beginning.”
I took a deep breath and told him what had happened, from the moment I’d gotten out of bed that morning until Howie was whisked away for his scan. “…and I’m freaking the fuck out here, Kev; I mean, what if something happens to him and I’m the only one here? I don’t know what the hell I’m doing!”
“What can I do?” Kevin wanted to know.
“Well, can you come down here?” I couldn’t believe I was having to suggest something that seemed so obvious to me. Why wouldn’t Kevin come, when Howie could be dying?
“To Orlando?” He actually sounded surprised. “Do you really think it’s that serious?”
“Didn’t you hear what I said?? Over seventy-five percent of people die from this!”
“Yeah, but, you don’t even know if that’s what Howie has, right?” Of course, Kevin being Kevin, he had to ask all kinds of questions before he could make a decision. “Have you called his family?”
“No, he wanted to wait. He… he didn’t wanna worry anyone, but I’ll tell him to call them when he gets back from the CT scan.”
“So he’s conscious?”
“Okay, that’s good. Is he in a regular room or ICU?”
“And is he on oxygen or anything like that?”
“Well, no… but it’s not his lungs we’re worried about; it’s his liver!”
Kevin sighed. “Nick, do you think you might be overreacting just a little?” he asked slowly, like I was still some hyperactive little kid who needed to be calmed down.
“No! Kevin, they said he could die!” Well, okay, maybe I could have stood to calm down some. My pulse was pounding in my temples, and I felt close to tears. Why didn’t he understand how serious this could be? “Don’t you wish you’d gotten to say goodbye to Q? If he’d been in the hospital and we could have gone to see him before he died, wouldn’t you have come here then?”
Kevin was quiet for a few seconds. Then he said, “Of course. You’re right, Nick. I’m sorry; I just needed to wrap my head around this before I could rationalize leaving my family to fly all the way to Florida.”
“Howie’s your family, too,” I said fiercely, throwing what he’d once said to me back in his face.
“I know. Listen, I’m looking at flights right now; I’ll text you back when I book something. Have you talked to Brian or AJ yet?”
“No… I called you first.”
“Well, see if you can get a hold of Brian, and let me handle AJ. I can only imagine what this conversation would be like between the two of you; you know how he gets himself all worked up over this stuff…”
“Okay.” I didn’t even mind that Kevin didn’t trust me to tell AJ; in fact, I was grateful to be relieved of that responsibility. “Thanks, Kev.”
When I got off the phone, I felt better. Kevin had always been a calming influence on me. It was why he was usually the first one I called when I was in a panic about something. Legal trouble? Call Kevin. Family drama? Call Kevin. Health crisis? Call Kevin. He was like the Ghostbusters.
He could have his own hotline, I thought, smiling to myself. 1-800-CALL-KEV.
I knew Brian would get a kick out of that too. Scrolling through my contacts, I found his name and called his number next.
Even though Brian was the last one to be called, he was the first to arrive in Florida, seeing as how he’d only had to fly down from Atlanta. One hour in the air – can’t beat that, he said in the text he sent to tell me he’d landed.
“Who are you texting?” Howie asked, as I tapped out a reply to Brian.
“None of your beeswax.” I hadn’t told him I had talked to the guys, figuring it would be more fun to surprise him when they showed up.
“Wow, real mature. I haven’t heard that one since the nineties,” said Howie, rolling his eyes at me.
I grinned at him, added another sentence asking Brian to stop somewhere on the way and pick up sandwiches because I was starving, and sent the text. I couldn’t believe I’d been at the hospital with Howie all day. It was almost dinner time. A nurse had brought Howie a menu to order food from whenever he was ready, but he said he wasn’t hungry. I couldn’t really blame him; he’d been through a lot for one day.
Not long after the CT scan, he had undergone a liver biopsy, which he swore wasn’t bad, even though, from the way he’d described the procedure, it had involved inserting a needle into his belly to snip off a little piece of liver – so, you know, no big deal there. Now he was back in his hospital room, hooked up to an IV for his blood transfusion. I was trying not to watch the dark red blood flow through the tube into his arm because it grossed me out, but every few seconds, I found myself glancing at it. It turned my stomach every time – although, that could have also had something to do with the fact that I hadn’t eaten anything but a bowl of Cookie Crisp all day.
I’d told Howie I had gotten something to eat in the hospital cafeteria while he was having his tests done, but the truth was, all I’d done was sit in his room and try not to have an anxiety attack. I knew I needed to take better care of myself, but I was more worried about Howie. I couldn’t wait until the other guys got there to take some of the burden off me because I wasn’t handling it well at all. It’s hard to be brave when you feel like you’re about to fall apart.