My appointment takes a couple of hours. Part of it is time spent in the cold hallway outside the waiting room. We'd wrapped a lightweight white blanket around my shoulders while we'd waited. We needed more x-rays than normal, so the appointment took longer than expected. Maybe Dr. Collins had ordered some additional shots, or maybe the technician saw something interesting and wanted to get more detail, or maybe they just screwed up the whole thing and didn't bother to tell me that they needed to do things over. Whatever the case, there was a lot of standing and turning and holding my breath, and turning again, please, hold still, please, and, as I moved to sit back down, we're not quite done yet, please.
After the elevator returns us to my floor, I ask Dad to leave the wheelchair at the main desk. I need to keep using my legs. There are so few opportunities, what with everybody wanting me to stay in my room as much as possible, and they're already skinnier and weaker than they've ever been. Even though I don't really want to walk, I know I should, and it's only ten feet or so from the desk to my door. It's something.
The crowd outside Susan's room has left. It is quiet. Streamers and balloons still run along the door frame, a swirl of primary colors. Her door is open, but not by much. I turn to look at Dad.
"Whaddya think?" I ask. "Think it's okay to go in?"
"Seems pretty quiet," he says.
"I'll just knock. They said to stop by, right? I can just knock and see."
There's no response, so I knock louder. Then: two voices, male and female, both at the same time, come in, come in.
The curtains are drawn and the lights are off, but there's still enough mute light to see into the room. I motion for Dad to follow. Susan's parents are sitting together in the chairs up against the windows on the opposite side of the room. They stand up as we enter, walking quietly over to shake hands and introduce themselves.
"I'm sorry," I say, smiling underneath my surgical mask, keeping my hands to my side. "Infections, you know. I have to be careful."
Dad does the hand-shaking for both of us. He stands next to me, his left hand on my back, introductions with his right. Even though I'm pretty sure he's met Susan's parents before, he does the name thing again, for my sake.