“Sal?” Larry kicked the door shut behind him as he came out into the courtyard. Sal was sitting, curled up and leaning against the wall. “There you are, man, we were wondering if you got caught up in some business or something.”
Larry walked over, bag slung over his shoulder and bagged lunch in his hand. Sal only hummed in response from where he was resting his throbbing head on his knees. Larry shifted his weight for a second, then dropped his bag to the ground a few feet away from his friend.
“Did you already pick up lunch?” Larry scooted over to lean against the wall beside Sal. He stretched his legs out in front of him and bumped Sal’s arm with his own.
“Nnhn. Not hungry,” Sal turned his head on his knees to look over at Larry. His stomach felt empty and tight with the reminder. The noise of the cafeteria had been unpleasant, so he figured possibly ending up hungry would be more bearable than dealing with the crowd and noise. Sal’s prosthetic cast a shadow over his eyes, but Larry paid no mind. Next thing Larry knew, Sal tilted and let himself fall against his shoulder.
Sal’s arms were dotted with goosebumps even in the warm sunlight, and he never regretted trusting the weather channel and wearing short sleeves so much in his life. Larry was warm, though. Sal rubbed his hands up and down his arms trying to shake the chill.
“I’m so tired,” Sal turned his head to block the light out with Larry’s shoulder. He could feel the vibration of Larry’s laugh.
“Man, you were up late talking to Megan or something again, weren’t you? Catch a nap, I’ll wake you for class.” Larry shifted his bag and readjusted his legs. Sal made to sit back up, but Larry tugged on his shirt sleeve. With the minor prompting, Sal laid down with his head on Larry’s lap. “Ash and Todd’re in the cafeteria, but they’ll figure out where we are. It’s a nice day out, good choice.”
Sal nodded. He heard Larry’s brown lunch bag rustle, caught a whiff of peanut butter, and zoned out to the sound of textbook pages turning.
Sal’s dad had been of town for a conference for a few days, he’d only be gone for one more night. It had been pretty great, Sal was living up the life sans parental supervision- all late night movie marathons, ghost research, and dinners with friends. Coming back late after school and horsing around until it was dark out. He could wander the apartment building without worrying about waking his dad when he came back in late, and took full advantage. It sucked a little more when the nightmares hit and in the morning it was hard to force himself to stay awake, but he managed. Or thought he was managing pretty well, anyway. He even made it to school on time today after waking up so late and feeling so run down.
Half dozing, Sal kept revisiting the conversations he’d had with some of the less corporeal residents over the past few days. They’d had a lot of fun lately, all of them living or dead. Sal let his thoughts drift through it all. It was so easy to let his thoughts buzz around in the fog in his head today. Larry didn’t pester Sal to talk, either. He just kept working on his sociology homework while they sat.
After a while, Sal felt someone bump his legs. It jolted him out of the half-sleep he was in. He was hit with a moment of panic, was lunch over already? Larry was saying something Sal missed entirely.
“There you guys are! Larry, we thought you’d come back once you found him.”
“Hey,” Sal yawned behind his mask, looked like it was still lunch period after all. Todd and Neil were sitting across from he and Larry, and Ash had been the one to bump into his legs when she sat down on his other side. Larry had his hand on Sal’s shoulder now, when had that happened? He almost wanted to sit up properly, but everything still felt so heavy. It felt so much worse than that morning and it was just starting to get comfortable now.
“Anything exciting? For a minute there I was half expecting you two to run back to the cafeteria with some wild news. It’s really all calmed down then?” Ash leaned forward resting her elbows on her knees.
“Yeah, Todd’s cool electro-pulse thing really put the scare in that demon. Mostly it’s just been Sal telling Megan bedtime stories at like 2 am I think.” Larry laughed, “At least that looks like what you did last night, sleepy face.”
“Shut up, Larry Face,” Sal gave a weak smack to Larry’s chest. “It looks like it worked, but they have a lot of information we just don’t have. It’s almost like some of it they can’t talk about, but I feel like it’s important to know what they know, what happened. Just in case.”
“I’m just glad it worked,” Todd said.
Lunch continued on, Sal kept trying to doze for the most part. Sal felt a prickle of cold and curled up on his side a bit tighter, pulling his legs up to his chest. Larry gave him a bit of a look, but it was Ash who surprised him.
“Did you already finish lunch? If you’re still hungry I have extra, you don’t have to just sit there with nothing.”
“Thanks, I’m okay.” Sal half smiled and gave a low thumbs up. He still was more tired than anything.
“Are you alright? You’re a lot quieter than you usually are.” Sal laughed a little. He guessed that was true, since coming here anyway. He shrugged.
“Tired. School’s half out so, just gotta drag my ass through the last few classes.” If Sal was honest with himself, he was considering sleeping through both periods. He kind of wished his dad was back to drive him home after school too, but he’d survive the walk back with his friends.
“Why not just go to the health room and sleep there? If you’re that tired-”
“Rather not. It’s fine.” Ash apologized after realizing what she said. They’d all kind of figured out that Sal still had a bit of an issue with anything looking like a doctors office or hospital a while back. Slip ups happened, with everyone, but they were all learning.
“You sure, Sal? You’re kinda warm, dude.” Sal tensed a bit- of course Larry would be able to tell, Sal was still laying against him after all. He felt his face flush at the same time he felt Larry press the back of his hand to the exposed part of his jaw and neck just below his ear. Sal brushed his hand back and knocked Larry’s hand away. He pushed himself up to properly sitting and fiddled with his hair and prosthetic straps.
“It’s not that bad,” Sal stared at the worn grass in front of his crossed legs. Still toying with the straps on his mask, he blanked on how to change the subject. He really felt awful, but it was more of a hassle to try and figure out how to go home and explain everything to teacher and to his dad when he would get home.
The bell rang while Sal was still trying to figure out what to do, and everyone started heading out. Ash gave him a quick squeeze on his shoulder and said she was looking forward to walking home with them all later. Todd and Neil just let the subject drop and waved as they headed to their separate classes. Larry picked up his own backpack before grabbing Sal’s too and slinging it over his shoulder.
“Come on, dude.” Larry nodded towards the school and held a hand out to Sal. Sal took it and brushed the dead grass off his pants, taking the moment to wait out the headrush from standing so quickly.
Larry lead the way and Sal trailed behind feeling half dazed. They passed by the physics class, but Larry didn’t break stride and kept walking. Sal ended up realizing they’d passed his classroom around when they got to the art hall and were coming up on the administration offices.
“Come on, Sal, you should sleep. You can probably duck in the library and sleep in one of the study corners or something.” Sal tilted his head, blue pigtails swaying. He blinked at Larry and let the silence stretch for a minute.
“Larry Face.” Sal kept staring at Larry. He sighed and stepped closer to press his head against Larry’s shoulder again. “You’re right. I- I really don’t…”
“Its okay, man, I get it.” Larry shifted the bags on his back and put his palm flat on Sal’s back. He ran his hand up and down Sally’s back. Sal weighed the words and thoughts that were slow and sticking in his head- discomfort, embarrassment, he shouldn’t hate the health office, he needed sleep- hell he probably needed some tylenol too.
“Want me to get my mom to come pick you up?” Larry asked after a few minutes of the two of them standing in the now emptied hall. ”I’m sure she’ll let you crash at out apartment ‘til your dad gets home.”
Sal nodded against his shoulder.
Sal sagged against Larry’s shoulder. The hand rubbing up and down his back was warming him, and he felt relieved that- just maybe- he’d be able to go home. The ache behind his eyes almost let up with that hope alone.
“I can’t call my mom from here, dude. We gotta make it the rest of the way to the main office.” Larry shrugged the shoulder Sal was resting on to rouse him, “Like, before we get in crap for being out of class. Or before you conk out again.”
“Okay,” Larry said as he put his arm around Sal’s shoulders once they started walking again. “Lean real heavily on me and exaggerate how miserable you are. They’re hardasses sometimes, and they can’t see your face so they can’t pull the ‘you aren’t pale enough’ bull.”
“Hey, no laughing. Not until you break for freedom.” Larry shook Sal’s shoulder a bit. Larry pushed the office door open with a squeak. The grey-brown linoleum from the hall bled into the office and their shoes squeaked as they walked in.
“Hey, um, I need to call my mom. Sal’s dad isn’t home and this bonehead is trying to stick out the day even though he’s sick as hell-”
“Mr Johnson, language.” Larry shrugged and made a show of walking Sal to the bench against the wall. He held Sal’s arms to steady him as he sat and dropped both their bags to the bench too. The school’s secretary at the desk frowned at Larry’s lack of response to the scolding.
“Do you have a note from your classes?” Sal pulled his legs up on the bench and put his head back on his knees. The weight on exhaustion on him seemed to pull harder and demand more since his little power nap. He gave a weak shrug, feeling like he had to respond but disinterested and just too damn tired. The secretary looked between the two of them “You aren’t supposed to be out of class without them.”
“I’ll go right after I call my mom. She’s his contact when his dad is out of town, but she’ll freak thinking something bad happened if I don’t talk to her first.”
“What a shame, if only she wasn’t used to calls from us when ‘ something ’ happens, hm?” The secretary gave Larry a long look. The phone receiver rattled in its cradle as it was placed on the partition. Larry rolled his eyes and took up the handset. The secretary shook their head but their face faltered and a grin snuck out anyway. “Call her, then go back to class. Sal, come up to the desk. You need to fill in the sign-out sheet.”
“Can’t I stay til she gets here?” Larry held the phone to his ear, using it to prop up his head. He was never so glad for the school’s ignorance and fear of liability; things were rarely questioned for Sal when it came to having to leave. They’d rather send him home than risk anything- it was kind of annoying sometimes but it had it perks. Although, Sal rarely took advantage of that fact.
“You’re pushing it, Larry.” A quick side glance silenced him. Sal dragged himself up and over to the desk, lifting his arms to rest up on the partition. He rested his chin on his folded arms as well, barely having to stoop his shoulders. “I’d say ‘yes’ wholeheartedly, but you got caught with cigarettes on school property again last week, didn’t you? Here, just fill out what you can, Sal. Mrs Johnson’ll sign it and we’ll get your father to sign saying he knows you left early once he’s back, okay?”
“Sure,” Sal filled in his name, the class he was supposed to be in, and ticked off on the checkboxes for going home because he was ill and was being picked up by someone he knew. Once he finished he spun the paper back around and placed the pen down on top. “Thanks.”
“No problem, have a seat again.”
“Hey! Hi mom, it’s me,” Larry’s face lit up once Lisa had answered, but it fell quickly. “No, I’m not getting detention or suspended. Sal’s feeling real crummy, and we were hoping you’d come get him.”
“Yeah?” A few moments passed and Lisa’s garbled voice was just barely audible from the phone. Larry nodded along, listening and giving short answers when she paused. He tilted the speaker away from his mouth to talk to the secretary and Sal, “She’ll be by in like 15 minutes. She just has to put up an ‘out of order’ sign and drive over, that cool?”
Sal nodded and gave a thumbs up. He didn’t want to start talking now, his throat was dry and he didn’t want to end up coughing. Larry relayed the affirmative to his mom and hung up.
“Damn, guess I can’t hang around that long. Take it easy dude, I’ll see you after school.” Larry shoved Sal’s head lightly and grabbed his bag to leave.
“Later, Larry-face. Don’t burn anything down without me.” Sal smoothed down his hair and have a half-assed wave.
“Okay, guys- Come on,” the secretary stood and gestured Larry to the door. “Talk about your arson plans when I’m not going to be forced to testify. Sal, the secondary office is empty today if you need it.”
“Thanks I’m fine here.” Sal smiled behind his mask. This was his favorite secretary- after the debacle with the in-school vaccinations and his panic attack this secretary was the only adult who figured maybe it would be a good idea to let him leave the area and let him camp out in the secondary office until his dad came by. After that he was allowed to keep some of his abortive anxiety meds at the school, but most of the other admin staff were more willing to make him go home rather than let him deal with it here.
Sal watched Larry disappear down the hall from the window beside the door. The secretary went back to the bullshit clerical work that piled up every day, and Sal pulled his one leg up to rest his arm across. He leaned into the wall with a yawn and let himself zone out again. He was exhausted but couldn’t quite sleep.
The next thing he knew, Lisa was in front of him with his bag in her hand already. She had been rubbing his arm to get his attention and when he finally realized, she didn’t look very pleased. He poked at the corner of his eye through the mask to clear his vision and straightened his back with a series of pops.
“Ready to go?” Her mouth was a thin line and she was tilting her head to meet Sal’s eyes. He nodded and stood to follow her out. He took his bag and dropped it in the footwell of the passenger side of the car before dropping himself to the seat.
The drive was pretty quiet. Lisa looked exhausted herself- she had been up early most of this week. Sal felt a little bad for the few nights he and Larry stayed up late at his apartment, she was probably up waiting for him to get home. He blinked his eyes shut and reminded himself that it was fine. She said it was fine, and he was overthinking because he wasn’t feeling well.
Addison Apartments swung into view when they turned the corner into the parking lot. Sal followed Lisa out of habit into the building and to the elevator. He hadn’t fully meant to follow her to the basement, but by now it felt like it was totally normal. She unlocked the door and held it open for him.
“Oh, I didn’t even think-” Lisa fretted, hand running through her hair to push it off her face. She dropped her keys to the counter once she made it to the kitchen. Sal flinched a bit at the noise and Lisa’s face softened. “You probably want to go get your things from your room. I’d offer to go, but I don’t know what you’d need..”
“I’ll be fine now,” Sal’s hair bobbed lazily as he straightened to respond. He was so tempted to just crash on the couch, or maybe the bean bag in Larry’s room, but that’d be kind of a dick move. Especially after Lisa took time to go get him and bring him back to the apartment building. He couldn’t just germ up the place, despite the offer. “I’ll probably just go lay down and use Giz as a pillow. I don’t really need much of anything, probably just sleep and some water.”
“Are you sure? I’m worried.” Sal fidgeted under Lisa’s mom-stare. He shifted his weight foot to foot and felt like he should have just sucked it up and dealt with the rest of the day now. It was like some focused laser beam was shooting through all his defenses. He already felt like they were worn down from the crud he was coming down with, and it was Lisa . She just had something about her that made you relax and let yourself be honest. “Let me at least make sure you’re temperature isn’t too bad, okay Sal? You look about ready to pass out with how you’re acting. I’ll get Larry to take some dinner up to you too, if you really want to go back to your apartment- but you’re more than welcome to stay here.”
“Okay,” Sal ducked his head. He studied his shoes and felt his face heat up in time with the choking swell in his chest and pressure behind his eyes. He stood there staring at his scuffed sneakers as Mrs.Johnson rummaged somewhere unseen and took a minute to look up from the floor when she laid her hand on the back of his shoulder. It took a minute for him to register that it was beige carpet under his shoes rather than lemony linoleum, the jump of over a foot in his viewpoint, and the different accent in the voice asking him questions. The hand on his back was disorienting and mirrored too perfectly to fully detach from the old memory.
“If you want to sit, this just goes under your armpit, hun. I’d offer you something more, but I don’t know what might fiddle with the stuff you take already.” Aside from the thermometer, Lisa had a glass of water, with a straw as always, in her other hand. “Temperature first. I’ll go finish up the hall down here- just a bit of a soap spill, won’t be a minute- and then that should be done reading when I get back.”
Sal sat himself on the couch. He kept his arms tight to his sides and sat stiffly upright. He stuck the thermometer through his sleeve and pressed the button on it. He felt his skin crawling- not quite a chill but uncomfortable nonetheless. He felt a sense of intrusion hat he hadn’t since he had first moved here. Something prickled at the back of his neck and he felt the sense of being out of place try to overwhelm him. Sal pressed his thumb along his knuckles, felt a few pop, and repeated. He still felt the ghost of pressure of the hand on his back and had to take a deep, albeit shaky, breath. The lemony smell was gone this time around, and he felt more grounded in the apartment. He gripped and released the couch cushion while he looked around and waited.
That was always the worst part of being sick- sometimes it made it a lot harder to deal with… everything. The nightmares, the disorienting drag back through memories, even worse when he couldn’t stomach his meds or was too disoriented to remember them. It was getting better with time and new techniques, for the most part.
True to her word Lisa came back in pretty quickly. She made a quick trip to the kitchen sink to wash her hands and toss some paper towels stained with blue soap into the bin under the sink. Sal had the thermometer in his hands on his lap. It read pretty quick, a pretty average 100.8. He wasn’t surprised but was glad it wasn’t as bad as it felt. He could probably just sleep it off, which worked well enough in Sal’s opinion. He had been so distracted he missed it the first time and had to retake it to figure out the number so he could let Larry’s mom know. Lisa walked over with a quick ‘okay’ and took it back when he held it out. It turned out it was the same type as the one he and his dad had- where it recorded the last reading. Sal pulled a face under his mask at that realization, but left it alone. She didn’t need to know he was that spaced out.
She didn’t look too bothered either, maybe even a little relieved.
He was still glad he didn’t have to admit it out loud; he’d felt worse before and could probably have toughed it out, but the headache was awful and spreading below his eyes. He’d manage fine with some sleep.
“Thats not so bad. You sure you don’t want to just sleep here for now? I wouldn’t mind, I’m running calls today- oh this, that, and those cameras again. Something or other seems to bug them out constantly. It’ll be easier to round you two up for dinner too.”
“If thats alright.”
“Of course, Sal. You know where everything is. You’re probably here just as much, if not more, than Larry,” She laughed. “I’ll be in and out of the area, and have this clunker of a thing Mr Addison is so adamant of having now. The number is over by the phone if you need anything.”
Lisa resecured the clunky brick of a mobile phone to her tool belt. She made a few quick stops around the apartment, picking up her tools and notes. Sal toed off his shoes and laid down properly on the sofa while she rummaged. As she passed on her way out, she ruffled Sal’s hair a bit and quietly reminded him about the new phone.
The door latched behind her, and Sal stretched out and tugged the knit throw off the back of the couch and draped it over himself. He undid his hair and loosened the straps on the mask to take some of the pressure off. The last thing he thought to do before dozing off was to put the tv on for some low background noise.
I'm really slow at updating.
Sal made it back, everything'll be fine?