I was watching her mashed potatoes sit candidly on her plate when I noticed the slight splash of liquid on the crest of the mountain she had sculpted. The drops ran down along where her fork had left a mild incision. The mouthful I had been chewing quickly became an unappetizing mass. Her hand gracefully cupped the curve of her chin while her eyes shone with alarm. There was a stream of blood spilling over her lips and onto her plate. The others at the table hadn't noticed. My hands found the top of her chair and helped her stand up. Her hand fluttered around the table trying to locate the napkin that had fallen to the floor. I bent down and grabbed it momentarily losing my grasp on her arm. I had been holding her. I took three extra long strides to beat her to opening the door. Her nosebleed was nearing a precarious volume, squeezing drops through her tightly clenched fingers. There was still a good distance until the infirmary. I hadn't thought to bring my own napkin. I gingerly replaced her right hand with the napkin from the dirty floor. There was a split second where our fingers touched- hers covered in drying blood, mine in calluses. Once she was settled with the napkin staunching the bleeding we began to walk slowly across the grass. All of camp was still in the dining hall eating their mashed potatoes. Chances are her plate lay there still speckled with a nice maroon tinge. We walked on a carpet of silence to the infirmary. Her breathing was steadier and she didn't need my support but I took advantage of the situation to allow my hands to linger on her arm and around her back. Abruptly as the journey had began the door to the infirmary was in reach. I used my free hand to maneuver open the door.
"Nurse Lily are you in here?" I called out to the pine beams.
An immediate answer came bustling around the corner in the form of a jolly old woman in her red crocs.
"What have we got," Nurse Lily stopped mid sentence realizing I wasn't the problem. "Sweetie come back here, we'll clean this up nice and quick." Nurse lily nodded to the chairs in the corner. "You can wait for her if you'd like."
I walked in two circles before sitting down in the right hand chair. I could see the reflection of the office in the window. Nurse Lily had positioned herself so I was unable to see anything worthwhile. I crossed my hands behind my head and leaned backwards. I had eaten half of my meal before Mount Vesuvius had erupted. My stomach let out a small grumble of protest. There had been stuffing after all. The owl clock ticked but time didn't appear to be moving quickly at all. I must have read the forest fire prevention poster twenty eight times before the light turned out and I could no longer see Nurse Lily. I stood up preparing to leave for the cabin when a maternal hand patted my shoulder.
"She wanted to just sit for a few minutes before going back to dinner. I think she'd like it if you stayed with her," Nurse Lily smiled and bustled out the screen door. I stood still for a moment listening to the footsteps fade and the far off clink of the meal. I gently walked onto the worn out rug in the next room. There was a long wait of silence until her silhouette rose from her chair. I felt her soft hand slide into mine before I saw her shining eyes. My calluses felt rough and grotesque; I was embarrassed. She gave my hand a light squeeze and stroked my cheek with the back of her other.
"Thank you," she said.
I had gotten another flipping bloody nose today. I tasted it in my mouth before it came spilling down my face but I was still unable to find my napkin in time. This was my third nosebleed this month- Maybe I ought to take up dad on getting that looked at by a doctor. Sure, its great when it times itself nicely with a chemistry test or two, but I'd much rather these mealtimes remain blood free. I fumbled around for my napkin while he pulled back the chair for me so I could go spend some more time in the infirmary. I couldn't find my napkin so I walked straight towards the door. I thought it had been enough distance to shake him but he caught up to me after picking up the napkin. He had crumpled the napkin into his fist, I didn't want any help, these were so routine nowadays that I could probably clean them up in my sleep. However he was here now and I didn't have anything to stop this mess from running down my face. His hand took away mine and replaced it with a napkin. I whispered a small remark of gratitude but I doubt he heard. He was navigating me to the infirmary with his left hand. He led me the long way around the buildings and I was nervous he was planning something, a prank of sorts. I lifted my head a bit so I could get an estimate to how far we still had to go. There was still over fifty feet so I put my head back down and focused on my nosebleed. I could feel the soft pulse of his blood through his warm hands. That's what was bothering me so much about this arrangement. He had his hands on me. A sickly feeling budded quickly through my arms and up to my face. I was sure I was blushing for my nosebleed started to pick up. He let go my arm to open the door but the feeling remained.
Nurse Lily cleaned the dried blood off my face while staunching the Nile River that felt like flowing from my face. She wiped my face with wet cotton pads and dropped them into red hazardous waste bin. I didn't think that much attention was necessary for one of my regular nosebleeds but nonetheless the cotton pads were sealed into the bin. I could hear him tapping his feet anxiously on the other side of the wall. Why did he think he had to wait for me, this had already happened before.
A week earlier I had woken up in my sleeping bag early in the morning. The sun had just risen over the very top branches of the trees. I tasted the blood in the back of my throat and groaned, another bloody nose. I had used my handy Hanes white tee as a handkerchief. I held the shirt to my face as I wriggled out of the bag. I moved from the group to the shore of the lake and plopped myself down for a good ten minutes of healing. The others were all sound asleep. Not a single one had stirred when I walked through them. I lazily drew circles in the sand with my free hand back and forth. When that got boring I tipped the canoe tied to the dock back and forth with my foot. After a time where the sky bloomed into a peach and pink landscape I looked at where I had been holding my shirt for quite some time now, finally over. I stood to turn back to my bag and noticed my circles raced back and forth across the shore. The few towards the end looked more like hearts.
I nestled back into the sleeping bag. I was cold without my shirt but it was too warm to sleep with my jacket. I drew the opening of the bag closer to me but a small stream of air still leaked down the right hand side no matter how I tossed and turned. I tried to fall back asleep but I was too uncomfortable. After a time, I decided against fruitless attempts to fall asleep and instead let my mind wander. There he was again, already back in my head. I needed something to do, but it had to be silent so the others could sleep. I scrunched out of the bag yet again and packed up my stuff and placed it in the stern of the canoe. I tucked my bloody shirt into my bag hoping it had dried enough. I slid my arms into the sleeves of my sweatshirt. The material was chilly against my back. I shivered. I went about covering my sand doodles up, rubbing the sand between my toes. I sat down on the battlefield of sand and waited for the morning to come. I let my eyes close and fell back into that world of imagination.
But that was a week ago, Nurse Lily asked me if I felt light-headed at all. I told her I didn't but she clicked her tongue and told me to sit down before returning to dinner. She turned off the light, bustled out the door, and walked down the steps. I closed my eyes and waited for something to break the quiet of the nighttime sounds. I heard his steady breathing before I saw him leaning on the doorframe. He stood tall and proud like always, one long leg crossed over the other. The blush returned to my face and I wiped my nose frantically afraid I would start again.
I stood up and knew I would have to break the silence that had kept us apart for this long. I put my hand in his and thanked him; I wasn't sure what for. Over the next ten steps I took I realized I had stroked the small scruff on his face. Blush set in once again.