sparsenicjade
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The headache started right after St. Patrick's Day. Frank remembered, because at the time, he'd really thought he was just having sympathy pangs for Tommy. He and the other two Irish had managed to get themselves amazingly tanked on moonshine and whatever else they could smuggle in. Frank would have been pissed, but Tommy had come to the cell giddy and young in the grip of the alcohol. He'd pinched Frank for not wearing any green. Frank had forced as much water as he could down Tommy's throat and put him to bed. When he woke up the next morning, his head had begun to throb.

Frank put off asking for painkillers, but when the pain had been going strong for two days straight, he gave in and asked for something. The stuff they gave him didn't really help. Frank considered talking to one of the doctors, but it was only a headache. He probably just needed more sleep.

Bob said to him, "You look...stiff."

"My neck's been kind of impossible to move," Frank admitted. He thought it was probably another reason for the headache. The prison didn't really have physical therapy or anything like that, though, so Frank figured he was pretty much just fucked on that situation.

Bob was silent for a moment. "You been having headaches?"

Frank nodded. "Why?"

"Noise or light been bothering you?"

"Light," Frank said. "Someone give you talking pills?"

Bob ignored the jibe. "You need to go the infirmary. Now."

The urgency in Bob's voice caught Frank's attention. "Why?"

"You have at least three of the symptoms for meningitis."

Frank frowned. "I don't want you to think I'm questioning your intelligence, but how--"

"My mom got it, once. Cancer patients are more susceptible to it than most people. Maybe people without spleens are, too. I don't know." Bob shook his head. "But you have to go. You have to."

A little bit shaken by Bob's level of insistence--and his willingness to share that many facts about himself at once--Frank said, "Okay. Okay."

*


The doctor stuck a thermometer in Frank's mouth and asked, "You had a cold or some sort of flu lately that you can remember? Nod yes or no."

Frank was about to shake his head when he realized that the cold he'd caught way back in September had never really fully gone away. It was mostly just sniffles and an unrelenting tiredness that he had attributed to depression at this point, but it was still hanging around. He nodded. The doctor took the thermometer out of his mouth and said, "All right. We're going to have to perform some blood tests, an x-ray and a lumbar puncture. Then I'm going to put you on some antibiotics and bed rest while we wait for the results."

"A what?" Frank asked, because, okay, that sounded a little serious.

"It's called a spinal tap sometimes. I need to take a sample of your cerebrospinal fluids."

"Oh. Um. Is that going to hurt?"

"I'll put a local anesthetic in before I do it, that should relieve the worst of it."

Frank nodded and took a breath. It wasn't as though he was afraid of needles. The doctor said, "We'll do the blood and the X-ray first, all right?"

Frank let the doctor do what he needed to do, mostly giving over an arm when told to or walking where directed. When it was time for the LP the doctor had him sit on a stool and put his head between his legs. The doctor talked to him through it, telling him when the iodine was being put on, that sort of procedural narration. The anesthetic stung going in, but then leveled out to a pleasant numbness. Frank could still feel the pressure of the actual needle and the procedure hurt enough that he let himself go into his head, think about Mikey's last letter. He'd started classes at a local extension school, meant for people who were working full-time. He was taking general ed courses, mostly. Composition, Algebra II, and Soc 101. He really liked that last. The professor was an older woman who was argumentative in a way that kept Mikey pretty quiet in class, but caused him to go away and talk the stuff over with Brendon, and sometimes Ryan and Spencer, all of whom were willing to play devil's advocate to him, willing to question his beliefs and prod him on why he thought the things he did.

Frank enjoyed the way Mikey would try and recount those conversations, would ask him what he thought and expect an answer, would argue or agree with Frank every bit as vehemently as Frank suspected he did with the others. Maybe a little more so. He liked that now, if he wanted to talk about something that was bothering him in his own studies, he could bounce it off Mikey and not feel like he was showing off in some way, or pressuring Mikey into making a decision about his own education.

The doctor said, "Okay, all done," and slowly helped to straighten Frank up. Frank made it about three-quarters of the way before a headache like nothing he'd ever felt before hit and he leaned back over and vomited. The doctor called, "I need an IV here, please." He sounded calm. He said, "That happens, sometimes. We need to get you lying on your back. Do you think you can move?"

Frank was only getting about every third word through the pain. He caught "move". He didn't think it was the wisest idea at the moment, but he also didn't really see a lot of options. He managed, somehow, with help, to get onto his back and then they put the IV in him. He caught something about codeine and something else about liquids, but mostly he was just trying to block out noise. After the IV had been in for a bit the pain siphoned off a little, and Frank slipped into sleep.

*


The first time Frank woke up long enough for anyone to hold a conversation with him, the doctor confirmed the meningitis diagnosis. "It's bacterial, which is good. We caught it early enough that with a seven day treatment of antibiotics you should be mostly up and running again. We're keeping you in here until we're sure it hasn't spread and won't, though."

Frank tried to nod. His head was very heavy. "What day is it?" His throat felt a little scratchy from lack of use.

"Monday morning."

Yeah, Frank had been afraid of that. He'd come in Friday evening. "'D somebody tell my mom?"

"I talked to her. I told her you would be fine."

It wouldn't matter, Frank knew. She wouldn't believe it until he was standing in front of her. Mikey was even worse off, left to deal with third-hand information only. Hopefully Bob had talked to Gerard a little. And was watching over Tommy. Just the effort of thinking about all this was exhausting to Frank. He let his eyes close and his body took care of the rest.

*


They put him back on the ward the last day of the antibiotics, when he was still feeling like someone had tried to beat him to death from inside, but he could at least walk in a straight line and make it look good. The first thing he did was find Tommy. He seemed a little subdued, but mostly okay. Frank hoped against hope that Tommy wasn't pulling a Mikeyway on him. He would have to ask Bob if he knew anything.

The doctor didn't want him in the kitchens just yet, as an extra precautionary measure against spreading the disease. Frank was put on the janitorial duties, which was pretty taxing, but Frank managed to make it from morning to night without falling over or giving anyone the indication that he really really wanted to. Frank kept trying to respond to Mikey's letter, which, among other things, was filling him in on the details for Gerard's upcoming birthday.

Frank,

Greta agreed to make a big marble sheet cake with a cat on top. Brian and I chatted with Gabriel and Fabio behind Gerard's back, and they own some studio space that they're going to let us "rent" for the evening. We're putting up Gee's art and having a faux gallery show. I think it's going to be awesome. I hope. Lots of people are invited. Church people and center people and your mom and Matt and the Fatones. Lots of people who've never seen how good Gee is. I hope he likes it. He'll like the cake. Greta's cakes are magic.

I got a B+ on my Algebra II midterm, which was pretty much the class average. I'm embarrassingly happy about the grade, but Ryan, Spencer, Jon, Brendon and Brian took me out for celebratory donuts the day I found out, so I guess I'm not alone in that.

Ryan and Spencer are working on some pretty awesome recycling stuff that they want to implement on Earth Day this year. Jon and Gerard are thinking of ways to advertise without using paper. Gee's come up with fucking awesome promo pieces entirely from recyclable material.

Oh! I found the school's music center. It turns out that, as a student, I have access to it for two hours every week. I can play!

How's Bob? Are you eating enough? Your mom keeps saying you look thin, but I can't tell if it's just her being a mom or not. How'd your paper for the policy class end up going?

Mikeyway


Frank tried and tried and tried to get up the energy to write Mikey back, but in the end all he could manage was,

Mikeyway,

Was a little sick. Mom may have said. Very tired. Write more later. Promise.

Worst Penpal Ever


*


My favorite penpal,

I expressly forbid you to go about contracting infections in your
brain. Jesus, you scared me and your mom to death. She was on the phone every day--I know because Gee and I made it a point to be there with her.

I know I know I left and I'm doing all these things and I know you didn't it wasn't meningitis isn't something you can control, but you have to be careful. You already made that promise. I should've made you make it in writing.

No matter how many names show up in these letters, no matter how pleased I may seem, I am still counting on that promise. Every day, every every fucking night. Please. Please.

I am tired of the silence, too. Mikeyway


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile