AIDS doesn’t kill people. It’s the opportunistic infections that invade the body when it’s at its weakest that do the damage. They overcome you until the life is forced out and you are left limp in a cold hospital bed. They come in many forms; viral infections, thrush, eye disease and even cancer.
I don’t care what form they come in or how they invade.
No matter what, they still rip us apart.
Tobin’s phone call went through to answer phone, again. His boyfriend was late and worry tangled with agitation while the second ticked by. As he started to dial again, panicked footsteps caught his attention and Adam flooded into view. ‘I’m so sorry,’ the younger man panted, collapsing onto the bench beside Tobin. ‘I overslept, I’m sorry. My alarm didn’t wake me.’
‘Why didn’t you pick up your phone?’
‘I forgot it when I left. I ran the whole way from the bus.’ Tobin nodded in a non-committal reply. He was aware of himself sulking and tried to shake the anxiety from his shoulders. ‘I just overslept, Tobin, it’s no big deal. Everyone does it sometimes.’ Adam tried to console the other man, holding his hand on the bench between them. His olive skin covered Tobin’s light complexion, the shades complimenting each other poetically.
Tobin sighed. ‘I know.’ He tried to forget the anxiety that hung over his shoulders, reminding himself that there was probably nothing to worry about. He couldn’t help but acknowledge, in the back of his mind, that there could be something more, though. Adam had been diagnosed as HIV positive before they met. He’d always been relatively healthy, taking the right drugs at the right time and looking after himself so that they could borrow as much time together as possible. They didn’t let it bother them, trying to force it to the background of their lives but every so often, they’d be reminded that everything wasn’t as perfect as they tried to pretend. Adam wasn’t like other men. A virus coursed through his veins that, any day, could crumble their entire lives. Why had he overslept? Was it just tiredness or a deeper fatigue?
Adam squeezed Tobin’s hand. ‘Chill out,’ he smiled to the other man.
Turning, Tobin forced a smile back. ‘I know, it’s stupid, I know.’
‘It’s sweet,’ Adam countered, a cheeky smirk playing on his lips. Adam was younger by three years and his boyish personality was a stark contrast to Tobin’s more insightful mind. The latter was a teaching and research assistant at UCR’s philosophy department. He was a graduate student, working towards his P.H.D. Adam wasn’t career focused, not having done much since high school but preferring to enjoy the other aspects of life. ‘When is your next class? Do we have time for a coffee?’ Adam asked.
‘No, I’ve got to go soon. What are you doing for the rest of the day?’ Adam shrugged in answer, disappointment flooding through his mind. Students surrounded them but they were oblivious. The two men created a bubble together that sucked the noise out of anything around them. Although fascinated by the inner-working of humanity, Tobin was a very introverted man and Adam was all he needed. In turn, Adam only had eyes for Tobin. They’d been together for four years and in that time, had built a life for each other. They lived in Riverside, California, where they had both grown up. Adam had always stayed there, Tobin only leaving for a few years while he studied in Ohio. ‘Look, I’ve should go,’ Tobin said, trying not to see the disappointment in Adam’s eyes. ‘I have to prepare for class. I’ll see you later, okay? We’ll do something together this week.’ Adam nodded, not looking at Tobin. ‘Don’t sulk,’ Tobin teased, standing up. ‘I love you.’
Looking up, Adam took Tobin in. He always looked so professional when he was at work. Almost like a different man to the one who lounged around at home in jeans. His shirt and trousers didn’t have a crease in them, his blonde hair perfectly messy and framing his face in just the right way. ‘I love you too.’
Adam watched Tobin walk away. Sitting for a few minutes before getting up and wandering around the campus. At 29, Adam knew things had to change. He’d be 30 soon and he wanted to have something to show for his life. Tobin was almost a professor, he already had published works and a wealth of knowledge that Adam couldn’t even begin to understand. He’d tried to read some of the books but they were overly complicated and, even though they were directed at academia rather than the average person, this still made Adam feel bad. Adam wanted to do something major. He wanted to swim across a sea or donate everything he owns to charity. He’d never been interested in studying or getting a degree because he didn’t have the direction. Truth be told, his main passion was Tobin but he’d never admit that.
As he entered one of the buildings, the cool hallway and shade eased his mind. He tried to put himself in Tobin’s shoes. He’d be teaching a class now, so that means he’d be talking about complicated subjects and sounding incredibly smart which, even after four years, still made Adam melt like a teenage boy. A wave of nausea swept over Adam and he swore that he’d sign up to a gym when his next pay-check came through. He hadn’t realised quite how unfit he was but after that run, he probably could have another sleep. His muscles were screaming at him and his lungs were protesting in a whole new way. He glanced around, looking for a staff member. As he saw Dr. Pensen, he walked over to his boyfriend’s colleague. ‘Hi, you don’t know which class Tobin is teaching, do you?’
‘Tobin? Reynard?’ As the professor paused, Adam marvelled at his seemingly trained thinking face. He loved the faculty at the university; they fascinated him. They were physically fairly diverse but their mannerisms almost mirrored each other. Tobin was so familiar that he could pick him out of any crowd but that didn’t stop Adam wondering what Tobin looked like to your average onlooker. Was he as blatantly academic as all the other staff around here? Or was it just Adam’s preconceptions painting a picture in his mind? ‘Must be in the Turner Building.’ Adam listened as the directions mapped a path in his mind. Thanking the professor, he walked to the right building and looked around for anyone who might help. A student walked out of a bathroom in the first corridor and Adam moved over to the girl.
‘Hey, do you know where-’ Adam cut himself off before he said Tobin’s name, ‘-the class about philosophy of language is?’
Recognition sparked in the student’s formerly wary eyes and she replied, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going there now. You late? Come with me, I’ll show you the room. It’s different than the normal one today.’ She walked off down the corridor, gesturing for Adam to follow her. Obliging, Adam walked to the door with her and feigned a phone call, despite the fact that his cell phone wasn’t even in his pocket. He could see it now; pretending to ring on his bedside table. As the girl walked in, he mumbled about being there in a minute and sat down on the floor as soon as she was out of sight.
He lay his head back against he hard wall and waited for the class to finish. The murmurs coming from inside became almost hypnotic and his eyes became heavy. The strum of Tobin’s voice through the wall appeared occasionally and all the noises around him became strangely systematic, pairing themselves with the beating of the headache that seemed to have appeared in his head. As his eyelids fell, Adam slumped down with incredibly bad posture and slowly drifted off into a sleep, quietly contemplating how he could still be tired.
The smell of coffee wafted into his senses as Adam was pulled out of his nap. The first thing he noticed as he opened his eyes was that he’d fallen asleep in his boyfriend’s workplace. Cursing himself, the second thing Adam noticed was the sharp pain in his neck whenever he moved. He knew it was from sitting so awkwardly but at the same time, Adam couldn’t help but think of it as instant karma. Not that he even believed in that.
The coffee smell that had been wafting deliciously up his nose was long gone and looking up, Adam realised it was because there was a student holding the coffee cup and kneeling in front of him. As they eyed each other, Adam began to feel even more uncomfortable and the student – seemingly oblivious to how awkward the situation was – lifted the cup up to his lips and took a sip, never looking away from Adam. The boy was contemplating something quietly.
‘You supposed to be in Reynard’s class?’ the boy asked, nodding towards the door of the lecture hall.
Blushing, Adam replied, ‘Uh, no. I’m waiting for Tobin.’ He looked fairly young with deep brown hair falling over his face and his glasses made him look even younger. When Adam visited Tobin’s work he got mistaken for students all the time. It annoyed him but what annoyed him more was Tobin’s smirk and the fact that he never corrected them. Tobin didn’t mind it. He always said that Adam’s youthful face was too sweet to make excuses for.
‘Oh man, you need an extension already?’ The kid seemed to be trying to antagonize him. Adam also found it incredibly unfair that he’d woken him up using coffee, only to take it away straight off.
‘I just need to talk to him about something.’ The acid leaked into his voice and between his exhaustion and being patronised by someone 10 years younger than him, he wanted to go back to bed and start the day again.
’Well, the class is over a minute. Seeing as I woke you up, I’ll go talk to him first - because I do need an extension - and then he’s all yours.’
‘Fine, whatever,’ Adam mumbled, ignoring the irony in the student’s sentence. He scrambled to his feet awkwardly and attempted to stretch out his neck in vain. As if someone had turned a tap, students started pouring out of the lecture hall. The overwhelming flow ended almost as soon as it had started and the lone student seized the opportunity while it was there. He pushed open the door and disappeared, leaving Adam alone.
He scuffed the floor with his shoe for a moment before leaning back against the wall. Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, he tried to make himself look halfway decent in preparation for whatever it was he was about to say to Tobin. He didn’t know why he was still there and falling asleep outside his boyfriend’s class couldn’t be a good move. Was he supposed to have an explanatory speech prepared? Adam definitely wasn’t one for speeches, so he decided to wing it on the hopes that his insufferable charisma would get him through. Cringing, he looked at the floor. He was doomed.
The door opened again and the boy returned. He took a brief look at Adam, muttered, ‘Good luck, he’s in a foul mood,’ and left. A minute later, Tobin appeared. He man was struggling to gather his briefcase and coffee into the same hand so that his other was free for his phone. He grumbled slightly, still standing in the doorway and suddenly became aware that he was being watched. He looked up and saw Adam, who looked like a rabbit in headlights. Tobin knew that Adam thought he looked confident but his faux-nonchalance and awkward stance just made him look more nervous. A smile spread across Tobin’s face before he could stop himself.
‘I was just about to call you. What are you still doing here?’
Adam shuffled a little. ‘I don’t know, I was just waiting for you. It seemed like an anti-climax to go home.’
Suddenly, the moment clicked in Tobin’s mind. He knew something was off but Adam’s awkwardness and his hair sticking up at the back fell into place. ’Have you been sleeping?′ Tobin asked incredulously.
Adam’s face fell. He’d clearly thought he was getting away with it. ‘I just sat down and then there was some kid with coffee waking me up. I don’t know, I didn’t mean to!’
‘I can’t believe you fell asleep where I work, Adam! That’s so unprofessional!’
‘It’s not my fault!’ Adam went on the defensive, panic seeping into his words. He was no good at argueing, especially not with Tobin. He got lost in his words, losing track too quickly. ‘Look, it’s not my fault! I ran all the way here and I was exhausted, okay?!’
Tobin started laughing.
’Why are you laughing?’ Adam blurted out before he could help himself.
‘Because of you.’
‘I thought you were mad at me.’ Adam let a little attitude slink into his voice and his hip jutted itself out to the side. Tobin cracked up straight away and Adam got even more annoyed.
‘You look so sweet,’ Tobin sniggered, adding between laughs: ‘I don’t know why you want me to be mad at you, anyway.’
Adam stood up straight, looking a little wounded. ‘Well, I don’t. I was just all prepared and then you walked out looking like you were about to drop everything and spill your coffee and then I thought it was all endearing because it made you look so cute but that made me mad because I want to be able to argue with you. I guess I just thought that we were going to have a fight and I got all prepared for nothing.’
‘Don’t worry, babe,’ Tobin said softly. ‘We’ll just say that you won.’ He held the rest of his coffee out to Adam, who instinctively breathed in the scent. ‘Want?’
‘You know I love you, right?’ Adam smiled.
‘What do you want to do tonight?’ He looked at Tobin, who stared at the question, thinking quietly. ‘Oh, are you off now or do you have another class?’ Suddenly getting insecure, he blushed at the thought that he was interrupting Tobin’s work routine.
‘No, I’m done. We can drive home together.’ Tobin was the only one with a car, or a license for that matter. Yet another thing that had slipped through Adam’s fingers as a young man; he’d never passed his driving test.
‘Okay, cool. Can we get take-out tonight? I feel like Chinese food.’ Adam attempted to cover up his tiredness with a craving but truth-be-told, he couldn’t stand the thought of dinner right now.
‘You should have said pizza, Adam,’ Tobin muttered without looking up. Silence ensued and Adam’s confusion was written all over his face. He was like a permanently open book. ‘A couple days ago you said that you were off Chinese food and didn’t want it for a month or two.’ Tobin finally looked up, watching Adam’s face change from a picture of confusion to exasperation.
‘Well, I want it again now.’
Tobin just laughed; there was nothing else to say now. Adam was a terrible liar and that’d been evident from their first date, when he’d tried to be a philosophy expert in order to win Tobin’s heart. The two men continued to walk to the parking lot, Tobin occasionally guiding Adam when he attempted to take a wrong turn. After a little while, the generic green lawns littered with students and tall trees, cut through by picturesque pavements, was interrupted by a sea of concrete. They snaked their way through the vehicles before ending up at Tobin’s deep blue car.
They both got in and Tobin put the keys in the ignition. Adam waited for him to turn the engine on but there was a pause. His boyfriend turned to him and looked him in the eyes with a piercing gaze that he only employed when he was talking about something really important.
‘You’d tell me if something was wrong, right?’ Tobin’s eyes reflected his question, the worry shooting into Adam and making him scared too.
‘Y-yeah, of course I would,’ Adam stuttered, unsure of his boyfriend’s fear.
‘Okay. I just, I just need to know that.’ Turning the key, Tobin backed out of his parking space and the two men headed back to their apartment. Tobin concentrated on the road, leaving Adam to stare out of the window, lost in his boyfriend’s words and wondering if something could be wrong.