The clinic was located on Victory and Laurel Canyon, and its stucco exterior needed a paint job. The dual reflective film on the large front window was chipped, and I could see patients were inside.
“Come on,” Emma said. She walked to the door and grabbed its steel handle, pulling it open. “Let’s go in.”
The door had a bell on it, and it sounded like she and I were walking into Bob’s Big Boy for a regrettable meal of pancakes and other assorted carbs. We were there for HIV tests, and by the looks of everyone else inside, they were as well. We walked to the frosted partition, passing a man filling out paperwork while wearing sunglasses, and a woman with a neck tattoo.
Emma cleared her throat and tapped the counter. “We have appointments.”
The woman looked up and took turns at both of us. “Names?”
“Emma and Sabrina,” Emma said, reaching for two pens in a jar to her left. “8:00 and 8:25 appointments.”
We were handed clipboards, and I followed Emma to two empty seats. I slumped down into the orange vinyl and watched Emma hover over the clipboard – her index and middle finger resting on her chin.
I balanced mine on my knee. “What if I have it?”
Emma kept her head down and shuffled through the papers gently. “Then maybe you’ll be shipped off to some Third World village and Princess Diana will come visit you and hold your hand.”
I laughed under my breath and threw my head back toward the left, locking eyes with a woman. I quickly got somber, grabbed the clipboard, and sank deeper into the vinyl.
The clinic’s ceiling tiles had holes, and I scanned them row-by-row, looking for a pattern.
“Can you get on with your paperwork?” Emma asked, nudging me with her elbow.
“You’re taking too long.”
“How many men have you fucked?”
Emma turned to me and pulled her clipboard to her chest. “Four.”
“Nice even number,” I said.
She got up and walked her clipboard to the counter, resting it in front of the woman.
“Emma,” I said, waving the clipboard over my shoulder.
She sat back down. “What?”
“Negative means the Pap smear was healthy, right?”
She grabbed the clipboard, licked her index finger, and turned through the pages. “Yes.”
“You didn’t fill out how many people you’ve been with,” she said, flipping to the fourth sheet. “And your period, when was your last one?”
The woman behind the counter opened the beige door next to the partition. It would’ve blended into the wall had there not been a doorknob. “Emma?”
“Here,” she said, handing the clipboard back to me. “Finish this.”
I guessed on the period dates, but left the sexual partner count blank. I walked the clipboard back to the window in the wall and looked at the woman.
“Here,” I said.
She released the sheets from the metal grip and shuffled them against the Formica of her desk, making them one length. “Have a seat.”
Scanning the room, I walked to a different chair that faced a mounted television. Carlos Amezcua of the KTLA Morning News was talking to Barbara Beck about the Betty Broderick verdict, but their lips couldn’t catch up to their dialogue. The man sitting across from me held up a three-week old Los Angeles Times with a headline that said: BRITISH ROCK STAR FREDDIE MERCURY DIES OF AIDS. I looked at it long, and shifted my legs once.
The beige door opened abruptly, and the nurse was staring down at paperwork.
I followed her through a yellow hallway. Wood-finish picture frames lined the watered-down yolk hue.
“Step on the scale,” she said.
“I just ate breakfast.”
Her eyes left the paperwork and looked at me. “Please step on the scale.”
She pulled out a pen and clicked it.
“114,” she said. She pointed to a small room next to the scale. “Have a seat in that chair.”
The room was cold, but still had an industrial fan blowing back and forth on the left of the counter. I ran my nails across the rubber material of the armrest, the squishy black sinking beneath my fingertips.
“Roll up your right sleeve for me,” she said. She grabbed for the blue fabric of the blood pressure band and ripped its Velcro apart. “Relax your arm.”
She pumped the balloon on its handle and listened for my heartbeat. A sudden release of air followed.
“142 over 91,” she said, pulling out her ear buds. “High.”
“Is it?” I looked back down at the black material of the armrest. “I don’t know much about pressure.”
She sat down. “I’m going to ask you some questions, okay?”
“I see you’re on birth control, are you sexually active? If yes, for how long?” she asked.
“Yes. Since age twenty, so eight years.”
“Only male partners? Or female as well?”
“Only male,” I said.
“Vaginal, oral, and anal?”
“Only vaginal and oral,” I said.
I paused and watched her as she held her pen just above the paper, waiting to ink it.
I heard her breathe in and exhale and watched as she slowly shook her head. “Number of partners?”
I stared at her deep side part, the gray of her roots visible.
She looked up from the paper. “Number of partners?”
I looked at her and ran my tongue across the crease of my lip. “Well, there was Jon, Jack, Chris, Daniel, Kyle, Alex, Lucas, Will, Austin, Tommy, Jacob, Tyler, Sean, Max, Michael, Jake, Sean again, and Charlie.”
She placed her head down to look at the paper.
“So that’s seventeen, including the ‘Sean again,’” I said.
“Have you had multiple partners while already sexually active with one?”
“Any of them intravenous drug users?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” I said.
“Any history of blood transfusions?”
She rolled her chair back and sat up. “Follow me.”
We walked into a miniature lab where three men hovered over microscopes. Their white coats hit at their knees, and their hands were covered in latex.
“We’re going to have to send out your blood work, so make sure to call us in three weeks if you don’t hear from us, okay?” she asked.
“If I don’t hear from you, that means I’m okay though, correct?”
She stopped writing on her paper and looked at me. “Usually, but it’s best to follow-up.”
“But the likelihood of not hearing from you means I’m okay?”
“Sabrina, I’m going to need you to relax. Can you do that for me?”
I shook my head and sat down in a steel chair, its back pressing my ribs at a sharp angle. The cupboard across from me had a sign pinned to it with a list of numbers from one through ten, and faces, ranging from happy to sad, directly above them.
“Hi, Sabrina,” a man said. His thick black hair moved gently beneath the air vent. “I’m going to draw some blood.”
He swabbed the inside of my left arm with rubbing alcohol, and wrapped a pink tourniquet close to the base of my elbow. “Make a fist for me.”
“Have any of the people you’ve drawn from been positive?”
He moved around his station, and then grabbed gauze. “Well, I’m just the on-site phlebotomist, so I actually just collect your sample and send it to our main lab for testing.”
I shook my head slowly.
“You’re going to feel pressure from my fingers and then a prick, but just relax.”
The deep red of the blood looked like natural, no additive pomegranate juice. Its thickness rose slowly inside the tube, filling it almost completely. I focused on the sad face above the number ten, how its eyebrows were drawn into squiggly lines across its forehead.
“Okay, now,” he said, pulling the needle out and pressing gauze against my skin. “Let me tape this on.”
The blue tape stretched across my elbow tightly, causing the gauze to flare out on each corner. “Go ahead and have a seat in the chair in the hallway for me.”
Emma sat quietly with her legs crossed in a chair just outside the lab, her hands wedged into the split of her thighs. “Not so bad, right?”
I sat down next to her; part of the orange vinyl was ripped and poked me through my jeans. “I don’t feel too well, Em.”
“Now we just wait for the results,” she said. She moved her body and shifted forward. “We won’t be led into that room down there.”
The linoleum tiles centered down the hall to a white door with PRIVATE attached to it on a plaque.
“That’s where you’re taken if you’re found to be positive,” Emma said, looking blankly at the door. “Nobody’s in there now, I don’t think.”
A nurse came out the beige door we first walked through, her hands holding two clipboards. “Emma?”
“Yes,” Emma said.
“Follow me up front to go over a few things,” she said.
Emma sat up and adjusted the waist of her jeans, giving me a closed mouth smile. “I’ll meet you up front.”
They walked to the side of the beige door into a smaller room, crossing paths with a woman and another nurse.
I watched the nurse as she held a clipboard down by her right side, causing it to hit her thigh with each step. The woman’s footfalls echoed as she followed the nurse to the white door. I touched my gauze, the cotton rough and dry as it opened. A fluorescent bulb turned on as they entered, making the stainless steel table inside illuminate and reveal the room’s one main discussion.