Fiction: How Do You Know

by: Zach Stafford 

Get their 30 minutes early.  Since it is free, there will be a wait. When you arrive, go to the front desk, say, “Hi, I am here to take a test” and wait for the front desk person to grab some paper work for you. There is always paperwork. Take a seat between the two young people arguing over where they are eating lunch, and across the room from the pregnant mother who is holding her newborn, she looks about fifteen, treat her no different than anyone else. The paperwork is confidential, so don’t worry about using the name you told that guy at the bar last night, what was it? Oh right, Tricia. You’re ex-roommate’s name. Just use the number they assigned you, C3, and fill this out – be truthful, it won’t hurt, I promise.

As you make the final marks and dot the final “i,” walk back to the front and hand in the paper work. Make sure to smile, this isn’t actually painful, it is just scary.

Take a breath. Look at your phone while sitting in the waiting room. You don’t have to call anyone, just look at your phone. It is constant, won’t move, and it won’t tell you a lie right now. Trust it and hold it. Maybe play some obscure game on the phone, but just don’t call that one person that you’re thinking about, talk to them later. Make sure the ringer is off and when the small screen illuminates from under your hand with a text message saying, “Hey.” Ignore that. Just hold the phone and breathe. Smile again, this isn’t painful it’s just scary – take a breath and look towards the baby.

As the counselor steps into the waiting room, don’t lose your breath when he yells out, “C3.” Stand up. Be strong. Walk through the door with him. When entering the office, take the first seat on the left, the one with the stained cushion that is opposite to the window. Watch the sun light stream into the room, and listen to the low buzz of his computer. Feel your heart fasten when he turns to you and asks, “What brings you in today?”

When talking with the counselor, tell him everything. He is safe, this space is safe, and he does care. Allow the memories of two weeks ago to wash over you, pushing through your mouth and into the air. Remember how he smiled across the bar and you felt his gaze fix onto you. Remember that you enjoyed how he moved through the seas of bodies spinning and thrusting on the dance floor. Remember that when he bought your drink that he actually did get your order wrong, you said Stoli not Svedka, you can tell. Remember when his hand grazed across the small of your back, and most importantly, remember that you felt safe with him in that moment. Remember you did nothing wrong.

Wrestle with trying to remember if you took a cab home or walked. Think hard on if he lived on the 3rd or 4th floor of the apartment building. Wince when you say, “I don’t think he put a condom on.” And cry when you say, “I don’t know anyone in this town, and I have no one if this comes back positive.” Notice the counselor’s eyes, they are brown. Jesus probably had brown eyes. Feel better for a second and then take the test from his hand – take the test and wait for the results.

The time that passes while you wait moves slower than anything you’ve experienced before, you feel that the world actually isn’t spinning during this moments and all you can do is watch the hands on the clock as they crawl around in circles like the ponies at the fairgrounds. If you make it through this, go to the fair, ride a pony, have some fun. To pass the time, the counselor will strike up a conversation with you, asking if you have a boyfriend. “I have a boy, that’s not really a friend right now,” you’ll say holding your phone, “but I’d like him to be.”

Your phone lights up again, “Are you okay?”After the twenty minute wait, the counselor will grab the test from its holder and will start to stare at it for a while. You’ll begin to fidget and you’ll feel a desire to yell. Stay quiet.

“There are three results you can get from this test,” he will say, “reactive meaning the virus was found, which we then would do some blood work to make sure. Inconclusive, which means we would take the test again, and non-reactive which means negative.” These all sound bad to you, but you want the latter one.

“If this test does come back positive, remember, I am here with you. Don’t be afraid – if the words ‘you’re HIV positive’ come out of my mouth in a moment, remember you’re still breathing. You’re still alive.” Nod, smirk, and hold your breath – you’re not going to believe him, but you have no choice.

He smiles, “You’re negative.” And your phone lights up, you reply, “I’m fine.”

Zach Stafford is a Tennessee writer currently living in Chicago. His work has appeared at places such as: USAToday, Thought Catalog, The New Gay, and Bookforum. Outside of writing and watching Ally McBeal on Netflix, Zach is in the process of applying to PhD programs in the field of Cultural Geography & Urbanization. Also, Zach is the Production Assistant and a Contributor to the 50Faggots.com web series, which explores the lives of effeminate gay men in America. Follow him on Twitter @zachstafford.

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