God, am I stupid. So. Freaking. Stupid. I knew what was wrong with me but I didn’t want to freak anyone out. Seriously, Rory, you need to stop worrying so much about what others think of you and not risk your life just to seem normal.
“Rory, look at me!” Oliver shakes me back and forth a bit, which of course does literally nothing to help.
I don't necessarily blame him for not knowing what was going on right away. I mean, he knows the signs of when my asthma starts acting up, just like I know how to tell when his blood sugar gets too low, But it's been pretty long since the last time it has gotten this bad.
“It’s gonna be okay. You're gonna be fine—”
I always have to be careful. At first I micromanaged every single thing I did. I made sure to have just enough self control that I wouldn't get worked up and trigger anything. I stayed away from anything and everything, emotional or physical, that might cause it to flare up. Probably because I was afraid that I would get hurt or, you know, DIE. Now doing it has just become so ingrained in my personality and my actions that I just— DO it.
“Just breathe— wait, shoot, nevermind.” He laughs nervously at the mistake.
I hate so much when this happens. It looks like I'm choking and I sort of am but at the same time, I'm not. I just have to sit there looking dumb and scared while it feels like the atmosphere is tightening around my chest and could crush it flatter than a sheet of paper at any given moment. I can’t inhale or exhale, and trying to do either physically hurts. Matched with the high-pitched wheezing and potential vertigo, it’s the definition of no fun. It used to scare the crap out of Oliver and everyone I knew, because they swore I was going to die.
“Just stay calm, freaking out will only make it worse.” Oliver is kneeling on the seat next to me with his hands on my shoulders, talking to me in the calmest voice he can muster.
I'm trying, here. And of course, here comes Avril. Great timing.
“I thought I told you guys not to go too crazy— “ She snickers, probably noticing the commotion we’re causing. When she approaches the booth, though, her expression quickly changes. “Oh, my god, Rory! Oliver, what's wrong with him?!” She says in a panicked tone.
Here we go.
“He’s having an asthma attack. Probably triggered by that dude smoking outside.”
There’s no probably about it, bud. The evidence is right in front of you and is struggling to get oxygen into his body.
Avril clenches her fists and looks over in the guy’s direction. “D-bag.”
Just what I was thinking. Aaaaand now a crowd is gathering. Great. Just great. Watching me over here almost suffocating and looking like a wimpy idiot. They probably think I’m dying.
“Rory, did you bring your inhaler? Please tell me you brought your inhaler.” Oliver asks, but it sounds more like a plead. I nod, because that’s about all I can do right now. It hurts to even attempt breathing.
Of course I brought my inhaler you weirdo, I always bring it.
“Is it in the car?”
I just never remember to keep things like that in close proximity. I’m forgetful. You know that. You. You— Great, now my vision is blurring.
“In your bag?”
Another nod and some desperate, uncontrollable gasps.
“I’ll go get it!” Avril pulls the car keys from her pocket and sprints out of the diner, and I turn my head towards the window. I see her give a nasty look to the guy by the door before throwing open the car door and climbing inside. My hands subconsciously decide to go to my throat like they think it will stop my lungs from constricting any more. Now I could really pass off as someone choking.
He wonders why I drink so much coffee. Hah. It’s not just because I like it, It’s supposed to be good for this kind of stuff. The caffeine, that is. Something about it makes it so I don’t have this crap happen on a daily basis. And I’m not just making this up.
The diner door swings open, and Avril bolts inside and slams her way through the small crowd. She hands my inhaler to Oliver, and I tear it out of his grasp, accidentally digging my nail into his hand in the process. He cringes in pain and puts his hand to his mouth as I press down the canister and take the deepest breath I can. Almost instantly, the universe releases its iron grip on me and I gasp. There is a unified sigh of relief from the crowd, and they retreat to their booths as if literally nothing had just happened.
So much for celebrating.
“Rory!” Oliver hugs me worriedly, but makes sure not to strangle me seeing as I’ve already had my fill of that for one day. “Why didn’t you have your inhaler directly on you?! Aren’t you supposed to do that?”
“And did you know what was was making you lightheaded before all this?” Avril gestures with her hand to my entirety.
“You know I’m forgetful, Oliver. I usually would have it on me, but things like that slip my mind so easily.” I say. “And yes, I did know… but I didn’t say anything cause I just didn’t want to ruin the mood and freak everyone out—”
“Ruin the mood? You could have died!” Oliver raises his voice and quietly slams his fist on the table. I don’t know how someone could quietly slam their fist on something, but Oliver has just proven it to be possible. I look at his hand see some blood beading along the small scratch on the top. I guess I dug a bit deeper than I thought I did.
“Sorry I scratched you…”
“It’s fine.” He says firmly. I can tell he’s ticked with me.
The waitress returns to us with our food, completely and utterly oblivious to everything that just went on. We thank her and then sit in the most awkward silence I've probably ever experienced. I swirl the straw in my milkshake around and watch Oliver contemplating. He's probably thinking up some unadulterated and terribly executed speech about why I shouldn't have done what I did, complete with emotionally-fueled stuttering and rethinking words that will most likely end with one (or both) of us in tears.
He moves his mouth like he's about to speak, and I prepare myself for whatever he's going to say, but nothing follows. He just sits there still staring down at the table with furrowed brows and pursed lips while I switch between watching him or the water droplets forming on the outside of my milkshake glass.
Avril glances to me, then to Oliver, back to me, out the window into the parking lot, and then to the waitress as she rolls past again. “Uhm, Ma'am?”
“Yes? Is everythin’ alright?” She asks, returning to the booth.
“Yes, we just— We've gotta get going. Can I get the check, please? And some boxes, if you would.”
The waitress nods and heads off again. She comes back in a matter of seconds with the check, some cardboard food boxes, and a few styrofoam cups with lids. “Thanks for droppin’ by, y’all.”
We exit the building with our food, being watched by at least thirteen pairs of eyes. Outside, the man is still smoking, but a fresh cigar now. I walk around the other side of the car so I don't have to pass him and put my food on the seat inside like Oliver and Avril are doing. We go to get in the car when Avril walks back towards the building.
“Avril, what are you doing?” I ask, confused.
She struts up to the man in front of the door with a serious look about her, and without a moment of hesitation, rips the cigar out of his mouth and fast-pitches it across the parking lot. He stands there backed up against the building, hands up in the air, frozen in surprise, and lets out an innocent sounding “What was that for?!”
“That was for being stupid and smoking in front of a restaurant full of people.” She sneers, pointing a firm finger at him.
In an attempt to be smart with her, he utters, “Well, I don't see any no smoking signs out here.” He doesn't see it coming, and neither do we, but Avril clenches her jaw and then, with as much force as she can muster, she slaps him across the face. Hard. His head whips to the left, and when it turns back, the right half of his face has turned a bright, stinging red. In an instinctive reaction to pain, a tear rolls down his cheek.
“And what was that for?!” He whines in a squeaky voice that is so uncharacteristic of smokers with a hand to his cheek.
“That,” Avril raises her voice but maintains her serious tone, “was for the fact that your disgusting addiction almost caused my friend to suffocate.”
The man doesn't move. He doesn't even flinch for no reason because he thinks any second he'll get hit again and reacts. He doesn't try to protest again or do anything else. He just glances back at Oliver and I, squeaks out a quiet “I'm sorry”, sprints to his car, and books it out of the parking lot.
“What a weirdo.” Oliver says before getting in the passenger's seat.
I follow him in, taking the backseat, and Avril joins us in the driver's seat. We head off down the road, none of us saying anything at all. Oliver has a right to be mad at me, but I feel like Avril is absorbing his excess anger.
I sink down into my seat, embarrassed and a little mad at myself, my mouth and nose gladly following the rest of my head and retreating inside of my sweatshirt. I breathe out, a normal breath this time, and the hot, moist air bounces back onto my face, trapped inside the thick, purple fabric. I do this for a while just because, even though it's a little uncomfortable.
I decide to open a new box of Gushers from one of the grocery bags in the back and quietly sit and eat them while we drive along. I watch my George Washington bobblehead’s head bounce along from its place on the car’s dashboard. A huge field of black cattle suddenly appears in the left backseat window for a few seconds, and I watch them slowly eating their food and laying around in the dirt before the view is replaced by a small grove of trees and then an empty cornfield.
If you really think about it we might be cows. Just living our lives; eating our food and laying around. Going every day without remembering the fact that the farmer will send us all to the slaughter eventually. Just cows. Bipedal cows with less hair, bigger, more complicated brains, and an unfaltering sense of purpose.
“Should we get the three or five person tent?” Avril asks, standing on her tiptoes to read the label of the tent on the top shelf.
I look up from where I'm sitting on the dusty linoleum floor. “Uh… do they have a four?”
“I think so.” She rummages through the rectangular packages on the white supermarket shelves. We planned to get a tent and some other supplies so we could stay the night in some campground somewhere if we wanted to. Probably to get out of staying in more and more of those crappy, expensive hotels with uncomfortable beds.
I get up off of the floor, brush the dust and stuff off of my pants, and grab a couple of big lanterns and a fire starter. When I place them in the shopping cart with the sleeping bags and big bottles of bug spray, Oliver finally says something after at least six hours of not uttering a sound.
“Why are we buying camping stuff?”
Avril pulls a tent off of the shelf and lifts it into the cart, dropping it with a huff. “Well, like I said when we got in to the store, we shouldn't spend the entire rest of the week in hotels.
“We've got four days left to go and frankly, I don't want to wake up with back aches from rock hard beds any more than the regular person does.”
Oliver nods and grabs one of those military-grade flashlights off of a merchandise rack.
“And,” I say to him with a bit of hesitation, knowing that he isn't very happy with me right now, “Now you will technically have not lied to your parents about going camping.”
He glances over at me, and I think I see the slightest hint of a smile on his face, but it's quickly replaced by the same stoic demeanor he's been wearing ever since we left the diner. I know he doesn't hate me now, but it's hard to tell if that's true or not when he acts like this.
I look back at Avril, who has been watching us the whole time. I'm gonna go for a bit.
She nods like she just heard my thoughts. Maybe she did. I walk past her and the cart and out of the aisle without saying anything. I find the TV section which, conveniently, is right across from the furniture.
I plop down on a futon facing a big screen with a bird's eye view of a city at night. Then it switches to a drop of water running down a bright green leaf. Then to a rainbow of crayons going in a circle. I shift my position after what seems like hours, and as I do, I feel my inhaler slide against my hand from inside my sweatshirt pocket.
God, am I stupid.