Jezzie sat cross-legged reading a Cosmopolitan magazine from two years ago; she glanced up occasionally to watch people move through the sliding doors of the free clinic. Her HIV testing last week was routine, so her cool visage bore no resemblance to the panicked faces of the other patients. She’d be the last one seen, per usual, and when she walked in earlier, Mattie the medical assistant had already pulled her chart.
“Hey Jez”, Mattie said.
“Hello Mattie”, she answered. They were around the same age but Mattie’s washed-out, blonde hair and tendency to wear cartoon characters on her scrubs gave her a much younger appearance.
“The Usual, I presume?”
“The Usual”, Jezzie replied, tucking a piece of jet-black hair behind her ear as she signed in. She looked at the files on Mattie’s desk. She saw her own file on top of one for Dalton Rounds. It had a large, red stamp on it that said “NO SHOW”, and the date. She wondered, briefly, why Dalton hadn’t shown up.
“Mattie? When are you going to let me do your hair? Your eyes—they’re so amazing; a deep, chestnut brown or subtle, dark red would really bring them out. I’m a professional remember? You can trust me.”
“Could you forget my eyes for a second and tell me how to bring out my damn mosquito bites in this smock?” She opened her shirt and looked into it to make sure her breasts hadn’t completely vanished.Jez shook her head.
“This guy was in here earlier—hot guy—came to pick up some condoms or pamphlets or something. He was all about my eyes till some blonde walked by. Her boobs were out to here. He stopped talking to me mid-sentence, Jez,” she was still holding her hands out in front of her chest when Jezzie stopped laughing long enough to respond.
“You’re probably better off, Mat. Sounds like you dodged a pig. And trust me, if your gorgeous eyes hadn’t focused on her breasts I’m sure he wouldn’t have either.” Mattie gave Jezzie a skeptical look.“Well, maybe that’s a stretch, but that’s not the point.”
“I’m telling you, girl, that’s your power. I’d kill for eyes like yours. With eyes like that I would look through any guy. I’d speak almost inaudibly so he’d have to lean in close; then I’d mesmerize him.” Jezzie’s palm was flat on Mattie’s desk and she was leaning into her. When Mattie was adequately hypnotized, she straightened up and added, “But that’s just me”, and sashayed over to her usual seat in the waiting area.
Ten minutes later, Kip hopped the curb, slid off of his skateboard, and tipped the board up into his hand. He walked through the sliding glass doors and let his eyes adjust while he looked around for a nurse’s station. He located it in the center of the room, and walked toward the half-plain/half pretty girl sitting there.
“Hey…Matilda”, he said reading her handwritten nametag. Mattie started to look up, annoyed at first, but caught herself at the tattooed forearms, the boyish smile, and the messed hair.
“Mattie, actually.” She leaned in, lowered her voice. “What can I do for you?” Her hands were flat on the desk and her sapphire eyes were steady.
“I’m here for my test results?” He replied in the form of a question. “I didn’t take the test here, but—um—they said I can get the results here?” The golden fire in Mattie’s eyes extinguished by the time Kip was done explaining.
“What are your name and date of birth?” Her voice was pleasant, but the sultriness in it had shifted into something platonic. She had a rule about not flirting with a guy till you knew that whatever he had couldn’t end up on your medical chart.
“My name’s Kip. I mean, Karlo. Karlo Isaiah Pinkton, is my name,” he let a nervous chuckle escape and then added, “November 12, 1987.”
“Okay Mr. Pinkton. Please have a seat and someone will call your name.” She gestured to the waiting area with her pen.
When Kip turned to find a place to sit he noticed a very attractive girl with black-framed glasses reading a Cosmo. He sat as close to her as he could without looking like he was trying. It didn’t matter, though, since his darting glances eventually became lingering gazes, and when she looked up at him he was gawking outright. Then in a split second he was rummaging through his backpack. He pulled out a spiral notebook and began sketching the girl in blue pen—he thought maybe the makeshift sketchbook would explain why he was staring at her like some kind of molester. He began drawing as if to say, “No, not pervert, see? Artist”.
If Jezzie hadn’t perfected the art of ignoring men in junior high she would have laughed at the scene happening diagonally from her. Some skater kid was ogling and tried to play it off by pretending he was drawing or something. The drawing actually made her more uncomfortable than the staring; staring was just something men did. Drawing someone without permission seemed a bit creepier. But the kid was cute, a damaged ego might be less entertaining than an inflated one, and she had a long wait at the clinic. So instead of outright embarrassing him, she waited for his eyes to meet hers and seduced him instantly with a glance and a smile.
A man in navy blue slacks and a button down shirt entered quickly with his suit jacket clenched in his fist. He made a beeline to the nurse’s station and caused a cool gust of wind to brush Jezzie’s bare legs. She uncrossed and crossed them, and when she looked up she saw only his broad back and neatly messed hair.
“Rounds, Dalton”, he boomed at the girl in the Bugs Bunny scrubs. Mattie looked up from her Time magazine, slowly, and decided at once that he was an asshole.
“How can I help you?” she said evenly.
“I have a three o’clock appointment. My name is Dalton Rounds.” Dalton started pulling out his identification.
“Do you have your insurance card with you, Mr. Rounds?” She said his name in the suspicious way patients hated to hear their names spoken: as if they were guilty of some identity theft scam.
“No. I’m paying out-of-pocket.” He looked around the waiting room pensively and added, “Look. Am I gonna have to wait?” Now she looked him dead in the face.
“A three o’clock appointment?” She asked, he nodded, she stared him down. “Mr. Rounds, it’s three forty-seven”, she pointed her thumb at the clock behind her without turning around. “Your appointment has come and gone. Would you like to make a new appointment?”
“Well no, I…”
“No?” Mattie cut him off. “Well feel free to sign in here, and wait for your name to be called as a walk-in.” She returned to her Time magazine and Dalton stomped away.
Seeing the attractive, girl sitting close to the nurse’s station, he adjusted his gait to redeem that part of his personality that didn’t make him look like a toddler, and sat directly across from her. He watched her uncross and cross her bare legs and it reminded him of why he was in the slums at a free clinic in the first place. She was a bad woman. Good women’s legs weren’t that smooth. And good women’s lips weren’t that red. Her glasses probably weren’t even prescription. Satisfied that he was impervious to Jezzie’s feminine wiles, he removed the Wall St. Journal from beneath a stack of brightly colored periodicals and tried to immerse himself in it. He had to avoid making eye contact with her—the sorceress behind the black-framed glasses who’d already begun to affect his loins.
A young woman with a manila folder emerged from the swinging doors that separated each waiting-to-be-seen patient from the already-seen ones.
“Madison Brinkley”, she announced.
“Here!” A redheaded girl of about six started jumping with her hand raised as her mother struggled to adjust the baby strapped to her chest without letting go of her other child’s hand. “Mommy said if I’m quiet I’ll get pizza”, Madison stage-whispered to the young woman with the manila folder.
They disappeared behind the swinging doors and a smile lingered on Jezzie’s face. When she saw the angry suit guy leering at her, she tightened her lips. Her change in expression made Dalton wipe the stupid smirk off of his face. He tipped his head acknowledging Jezzie.
“Doesn’t look like she’ll be getting that pizza pie”, he blurted and buried his face back in the newspaper he was now wrinkling on either side. What the hell had he said that for? Was finding pleasure in a child’s unhappiness what passed for an aphrodisiac these days? He used all of his willpower to keep his devastation below his neck lest it show on his face. Still, even his embarrassment didn’t out way the thought of the uncrossing and crossing legs in front of him.
Jezzie took pity on the angry suit guy when she noticed that the argyle print on his socks was the same as the argyle print on his tie. She smiled a little smile. He was married and he was trying to be a good husband by ignoring her. She chewed her lip waiting for him to look up from his paper so she could give him a “No hard feelings” smile, but then she noticed his hand; there was a pale circle where his ring should have been.
Dalton looked up to see the leg-crosser biting her lip in the sexiest way.
“What’s your name”, he whispered while she was still putting two and two together.
“Jezebel”, the sorceress replied. To Dalton it sounded like a premonition.
Madison Brinkley and her mother and her little brother emerged from the swinging doors. Madison was sniffling and her eyes were red with irritation. The sleeve of her left arm was rolled up and revealed a Donald Duck Band-Aid. Her mother knelt to tie her shoe and whispered something to her that made her face light up instantly.
“Pizza!” She yelled just before the sliding doors swallowed them whole.
This time Dalton was smiling when he felt Jezzie’s eyes on him. He looked up at her and she nodded in just the same way he had nodded at her earlier, when Madison had made her debut. She went back to reading her Cosmopolitan.
Dalton got up and walked in her direction; he discreetly touched her shoulder as he passed so she’d look up at him. He turned and mouthed “three minutes” nodding his head toward the restroom. Jezzie watched him blank-faced and looked, horrified, at Mattie’s station for some sort of acknowledgement. Not seeing her there, she searched the rest of the waiting area: had anyone witnessed this defamation of her character? She looked at the skater who immediately looked away—no help there. Then she eventually got over the fact that no one was joining her in outrage, and she resorted to scowling at the heavy door Dalton had entered. All she could think was: what kind of a sicko has sex in free-clinic bathrooms? And, do I look like that kind of girl? She considered herself to be pretty liberal, but that was just nasty.
Having witnessed the whole scene, despite his brilliant looking-away-after-he’s-already-been-discovered strategy, Kip was wondering the same thing Jezzie was and took this opportunity to make his own advances.
“You must have a heart of steel to turn down such an attractive offer.” He slid into the seat Dalton had occupied. “I’m Kip. By the way.”
Jezzie had planned to give him an exasperated look, but upon seeing his half smile, hat hair, and dirty fingernails she returned the smile.
“You should have seen where we went on our first date.” She held out her hand, “Jezebel Cole.”
Dalton emerged from the bathroom looking huffy, but not embarrassed. Bad women were unpredictable and nonsensical. The sorceress’ trickery didn’t have anything to do with him and the greasy kid slipping into the seat next to Jezebel confirmed the obvious. She was a whore. Some free clinic cunt that’d just made him feel like an idiot. The kid whispered something to her at which point she glanced at Dalton over her shoulder and began to giggle. Dalton sat on the other side of the waiting room.
An old man materialized with a clipboard in hand, and mispronounced the name Joaquin. A middle-aged man with paint-splattered jeans followed him behind the doors. Dalton realized how quiet the office had become. Rush Hour had brought in the working class and ushered out the stay-at-home-welfare moms and their boisterous offspring. The only thing audible enough for Dalton to hear was Jezzie’s and Kip’s whispering. He couldn’t make out the words, but he knew they were making fun of him.
“…so she calls me up and is crying her head off, and I think she’s pregnant so I consider hanging up on her. I’m a jerk like that in case you can’t tell. But then she says she has HIV, and I do hang up on her!” Jezzie giggled a little but stopped abruptly so Kip could continue.
“I called her back, of course, and told her that she was the only girl I’d ever had sex with, which was a complete lie. I told her she didn’t get it from me, but that means she could have had it before me—so, you know, here I am.” He looked down at Jezzie’s breasts quickly and then faced forward.
“Well, my tale isn’t nearly as scandalous as yours is.” Jezzie paused and examined the tattoos circling Kip’s neck. “I get checked up once a month. I’m a very…active girl, you could say, and I just like to make sure I stay that way, you know? Healthy. That’s precisely why I don’t traipse after middle-aged men, into bathrooms, at the free clinic.” They laughed, and a woman in a white coat entered the waiting room.
“Karlo-Isaiah Pinkton?” Both the woman in the white coat and Jezzie looked around the room to see who would stand. Kip grabbed his bag from between his legs, stood and followed her behind the double doors solemnly. Seeing Mattie with a hoodie on, headed toward the sliding doors, Jezzie caught her eye and she walked over.
“Can you believe that guy?” Mattie whispered before Jezzie could voice her own complaint.“Showing up late and demanding to be seen—like everyone else sitting here is invisible. Well, he’s just going to have to wait; he’s even going after you.” Mattie patted her shoulder and said more audibly. “See you around, Jez”, and walked through the sliding doors.
Jezzie looked quickly at Dalton and returned to her Cosmo. Focused, she didn’t notice the figure approaching until it reached out and touched her elbow.
“I just wanted to apologize for what I did earlier, Jezebel.” Dalton looked tired but sincere standing over Jezzie and she chose not to give him a hard time.
“No problem. Well, no, it was a big problem, actually, but all is forgiven.” She smiled without parting her lips and looked back down at her magazine. Dalton sat back across from Jezzie and began reading his Wall St. Journal, but not hiding behind it.
Kip materialized then, and seeing the suit sitting across from Jezzie, he slowed his pace to assess the situation. From what he could tell, she was just trying to read, and the old snake was coming up with some other scheme to slither his way into her good graces. He decided not to be intimidated and headed straight for his seat next to Jezzie. The swinging doors opened up behind him and knocked him forward.
“Are you okay, sir? Sorry about that. York? Ronald York?” Ronald York got up and followed the heavyset woman who’d called his name. Kip sat, looking at Dalton, and nudged Jezzie.
“You okay?” He asked her almost inaudibly never taking his eyes off man in the suit. Jezzie looked at him, then over at Dalton and felt an instant wave of exhaustion. At what age did the silly, macho games end?
“I’m fine. Just like I was fine before you got here. You don’t have to worry about me.” Jezebel followed Kip’s eyes back to hers to ensure he understood the seriousness in her statement, and then she moved on.
“So, what’s the verdict?”
“Clean as a whistle!” Kip said, his irresistible smile in full bloom. Dalton rolled his eyes behind his newspaper and readjusted himself in the chair.
“Karlo?” Jezzie said teasing Kip. He blushed.
“Now you know why I go by Kip. Karlo-Isaiah is a bit much.” They laughed and the heavyset woman returned with a clipboard in hand.
“I like Karlo-Isaiah”. Jezzie flirted.
“Jezebel Cole”, the woman said. Jezzie stood and waited to walk toward the door so Dalton and Kip could take in her entire five foot ten frame. It was the first time they had seen her stand and she broke both of their hearts when she disappeared behind the swinging doors.
The waiting area was nearly empty now. There were two patients left besides Kip and Dalton, and Kip didn’t really have a reason to still be there. Beginning to feel the pressure of the news that could be waiting for him beyond the swinging doors, Dalton reached out for a friend.
“Hey man, you know what time it is?”
“A quarter to six”, Kip said glancing at his cell phone. Then he wondered why someone with a watch that looked more expensive than his entire wardrobe (skateboard included) needed to ask him for the time. Jezzie, he thought. He wants to bleed me for information on Jezzie. Good luck, shiny suit. Kip, feeling the upper hand, became cocky.
“You tried to get that little girl to go into the bathroom with you, huh?” Dalton stiffened.
“You thought because she’s in free clinic, reading a sex magazine, you could get her to give you some of that perfect pink pussy before you got whatever news you plannin’ on getting today.” Dalton studied the kid’s face and decided. Honesty was the easiest thing to respond with at this point.
“Yeah, man. Yeah.” He let this revelation pass through Kip’s ears to the expression on his face before he continued. “But while I was in the can waiting on her, I realized something. I’ve been doing this shit for years, man. Catching little chicks in dive bars and restaurants and amusement parks, at work, wherever. And where has it gotten me?” He paused long enough for Kip not to think the question was rhetorical.
“Looks like it may have gotten you a mean case of VD, dude.” Kip said and Dalton laughed first, then he did. With the tension eased between them, Dalton moved swiftly into his confession.
“I’m married, see. But I travel a lot, for work, and my wife knows that—that I’m an insatiable man.” The cocky grimace that came to his lips was replaced with a look of disgust before he continued. “Well, anyway, she gets me, you know? And we had a deal that as long as she never found me in our bed and as long as I used protection, she’d tolerate my little out-of-town indiscretions.” Kip saw something well up in Dalton’s face. “But I couldn’t even do that.”
Saying this aloud brought a surge of emotion to Dalton’s chest and he began to weep. Kip rose and sat next to him.
“Hey man, you don’t have to tell me all of this”, Kip said. Dalton collected himself and continued.
“But I didn’t use protection. The only thing she’s ever asked me for. I don’t have a curfew. I don’t have one of those possessive women who want to know your every move, and still—I couldn’t even put a goddamn condom on.” He paused to make sure he wasn’t going to cry again. “Anyway, she found seven unopened boxes of Sheiks in the garage. She’d be putting them under the bathroom sink for me and I’d be putting them in the garage like I was using them. I don’t like condoms, man. But now…. well…. not touching her is a certainty.”
When Jezzie came from the double doors she walked so calmly she appeared to be floating. They were huddled near one another in intense conversation before they sensed her presence. Kip looked up at her first, smiled, and nudged Dalton who had his head in his hands.
“So?” Kip said.
“Negative, my friend. Free to be as promiscuous as I choose”, she smiled at both of them but noticing how difficult it was for Dalton to return her enthusiasm she stopped beaming and sat down.
“Dalton Rounds”, said and old man not looking up from his clipboard. As soon as Dalton was hidden behind the swinging doors, Kip gave Jez the skinny.
“So apparently this guy is married”, he began, “but he and his wife have some arrangement where he can fuck anybody he wants as long as he straps up. Only he doesn’t strap up—so now wifey has found out and she’s forcing him to get this test and prove he’s clean or she’s going to leave him an take all of his money. Aren’t you glad you didn’t follow that guy into the bathroom?” Kip smiled but Jezzie didn’t; she looked over at the swinging doors. She wondered what Dalton looked like sitting in the room with only one desk and two chairs. She tried to guess what the brown carpet and furniture did to his shiny shoes and whether his broad back was hunched now.
Neither Jezzie nor Kip had any reason to still be in the waiting room—except that they were waiting. Jezzie waiting to see what would happened to the poor soul who’d fallen victim to his natural desire and Kip needing an ending to the soap opera-style confession he’d heard moments earlier. The pair’s own compulsive relationship, based on contempt turned concern for Dalton, was on the back burner as they each wondered what news was being delivered beyond the swinging doors. Ten minutes later, Dalton returned dry-eyed.
The eager faces looking in his direction broke him and he fell to his knees and wept again. His test was negative. His marriage was not over. And as his tears baptized him, his friendship with Kip and Jezebel was permanently etched into his being. They each took a side and ushered him through the clinic’s sliding doors.