Gavin woke slowly. In the other room the telephone was ringing. He turned his head slightly to stair bleary-eyed at the digital clock above his bed. It was three-thirty-two in the morning. What sort of idiot would call him at this hour?

He rolled onto his side, trusting his answering machine to pick up the call. Soon enough, he heard the beep, and his recorded message. "Hey, you've reached Gavin Martins! I can't come to the phone now, so go ahead and leave your name and number after the beep, and I'll try to get back to you." Then, the beep.

Gavin groaned. That wasn't his usual message; he was never that cheery. He must have re-recorded the message while high or drunk or something. He'd need to fix that first thing the next morning.

Even from his bed, he recognized Cassie's voice when she left the message. "Gavin, pick up, now," she ordered. "I know your home, and you're probably awake, so get on the phone. It's really important."

Gavin was already awake, and he probably could have climbed out of bed to talk to Cassie, but he really wasn't in the mood. Cassie was, alternatively, Gavin's best friend and his worst enemy. There were times when they were both in good moods, and they could get drunk together or shoot up heroine or screw all night, and there were other times when Gavin wished someone would run Cassie over with a truck.

That night was one of the times when Gavin wished Cassie would get run over by a truck. He was trying to sleep, and she had to call him at the most ungodly hour of the night possible.

She continued her message, "Please, Gavin, I'm not screwing with you. I need to talk to you now." He remained in bed, where he was warm and comfortable, and finally, Cassie's time expired with a satisfying beep. Gavin closed his eyes, hoping he could now get some real sleep.

The dark-skinned woman in bed beside Gavin stirred. "What was that?" she muttered.

"Nothing, just a wrong number, baby," Gavin replied, kissing the woman on the cheek. "Go back to sleep."

The woman did exactly that a few minutes later, but Gavin didn't find sleep so easily. He was troubled by Cassie's phone call, although he knew he shouldn't be. She'd probably just had too much to drink, although her voice hadn't sounded particularly slurred on the answering machine. Maybe she really did have something important to tell Gavin.

He pushed worried thoughts from his mind, and instead, entertained himself by trying to remember the name of the woman in bed with him. He'd met the woman earlier that evening at a club, and after they'd both taken a little bit of acid just to make the night more interesting, she'd come home with him. Gavin thought her name might be Lindsey, but that didn't sound right for some reason.

Somehow, Gavin eventually found sleep. The next morning, Lindsey, if that was her real name, was gone, and Gavin rolled out of bed and began to pull his clothes back on. He looked to the clock, and to his dismay, saw that once again he'd gone to bed and had forgotten to set his alarm. He was late to work, and his boss wouldn't be happy.

In need of coffee, a fully dressed but unwashed Gavin walked into the kitchen. While the coffee began to percolate, Gavin listened to the messages on his answering machine. He had five, but only one had woken him up the night before. Stupid Cassie.

The first message, of course, was Cassie's cryptic pleading that Gavin answer his phone. The next message, from an hour later, was from Cassie once more. "Gavin, I'm not kidding you," she said, and now she sounded frightened. "I hope you're lying dead at the side of a road somewhere, because if you've been home the whole time and have just been ignoring me, I'm going to kill you myself."

Cassie's fear utterly dumbfounded Gavin. He'd ignored his friend lots of times, and she'd never before filled his machine with pointless messages that he had to call her.

The third message, of course, was from Cassie. She complained that she'd called his work and he wasn't there, and otherwise the message was more of the same; she demanded that he pick up the phone and talk to her, then hung up in frustration.

The fourth message was from Gavin's boss at Super Burger. "Gavin, it's almost nine o'clock here, your shift started nearly a full hour ago!" the angry boss declared. "I've warned you time and time again, I'm not giving you another chance. You're fired."

Gavin cursed. He hadn't particularly enjoyed his job, with minimum wage and early morning hours, but he needed the cash to pay the rent on the dump he lived in. His coffee finished, Gavin filled his mug while he called his boss every dirty name he could think of.

The final message had been left only twenty minutes ago, and had been left by- who else? - Cassie. This message went, "What's wrong with you? I've been trying to call you! Listen, I can't wait any more. If you don't pick up your phone right now, I'll march over there right now and talk to you face-to-face . . . . All right, I'm on my way now."

Gavin shook his head and deleted the messages. Cassie shouldn't take that long to come over, she should arrive at the door any second. Even as he realized this, Gavin heard the sound of someone knocking on his door. "Come in," he called.

A few minutes later, Cassie pushed open the door. "Hi, Gavin," she said as she took a seat at his kitchen table.

"What's the deal?" Gavin demanded. "You sounded crazy when you left all those messages on my answering machine. Are you high?"

Cassie shook her head, and for the first time, Gavin realized how pale she looked. "What's wrong?" he asked.

"I guess I just sort of freaked out," Cassie mused. "Can you blame me, though? You know how the blood banks pay their donors sometimes, and how I donate blood when I'm strapped for cash?"

"Yeah," Gavin replied. He'd relied on the blood banks a few times himself.

"I just got a call yesterday evening," Cassie said. "When they tested my blood after my last donation, they found out that I have AIDS."