“Fill this out, and just sign this one,” the woman behind the counter hands Amber a few papers scored with blank lines. “You don’t have insurance, correct?”
“Yeah,” Amber studies the bronze highlights gleaming from the woman’s scalp like sunbeams. She coughs, sniffles. “Correct.” She pulls a navy blue pen from an opaque coffee cup, as opaque as her skin, as the January sky looming outside the brick building.
“Okay, you need to fill out this one too. Have a seat over there,” the woman gestures to a green chair beneath a poster of a square-jawed man and woman with pouty lips beaming with health and happiness.
Amber rubs her blonde hair behind an ear. A man with a thick salt and pepper mustache looks up from an issue of People. “My wife can’t get out of this waiting room to save her life,” he chuckles. Amber smiles and scribbles her last name, first name, and middle initial.
“She talks and talks and talks,” says the man. “Do your boyfriend a favor and don’t talk that much.”
“Okay,” Amber offers half a smile, returns to completing the forms. Her ankles ache as she stands. Her forearms and fingers ache as she returns the papers.
“Deb,” the mustached-man exhales. “You ready yet?”
“Tom and I hosted the kids and grandkids for Christmas,” says Deb, wearing a blue headband over her frizzy blonde hair. She speaks to a young woman, nodding politely, holding a toddler with tortoise shell glasses on his plump, pink face. “We had a big dinner. The kids each made us an ornament.”
“How cute,” says the woman, adjusting the child resting on her hip. Amber coughs, returns to the seat and pulls her cell phone from her purse.
“Though, our eldest grandkid, Sam,” Deb continues, “he nearly started a hymnal on fire during the candle lighting at church.”
“Oh, no!” the woman laughs.
“I told Carrie – my daughter – I told her he was too short to hold that candle.”
“Would you give her a smack in the pants and tell her it’s time to go?” the man says as Amber closes her message-free phone.
“Not sure that’s appropriate,” Amber responds with a raspy voice, applying pomegranate-flavored Burt’s Bees chap stick to her still chapped lips, chapped from kissing Brian what-was-his-last-name? on New Year’s Eve. He wore a red and black flannel shirt tucked into faded jeans, a camouflage cap Amber lifted as the crowd sang along to Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup.”
“I hate Toby Keith!” she shouted. Brian smirked. The glitter from Amber’s lip gloss shimmered on his lips.
“Why?” He took a swig from his bottle of Budweiser.
“He is mean,” Amber’s black heels tottered beneath her. “He doesn’t like the Dixie Chicks because of what they said about George Bush. And I love the Dixie Chicks.”
Brian nodded and leaned closer, Red Solo Cup. I fill you up. Let’s have a party! Let’s have a party!
“Oh, horrible!” Amber laughed.
Katie tugged her tight black dress farther down her thighs as she sauntered between Amber and Brian, brushed her black bangs from her thick lashes and pecked Amber on the cheek, “Happy New Year’s, roomie!” Tyler wandered behind, kissed Amber and placed his plastic “Happy New Year’s” top hat on her head.
“Casey’s harassing strangers again,” Tyler shook his head and moved along to Casey, eyes glazed with drunkenness as he stepped closer to a bald-headed man.
“What did you say about me?” Casey yelled.
“Nothing. Calm down,” the man responded.
“Hey, you like venison jerky?” Brian shouted to Amber.
“Did you end up getting a deer?” Amber smiled. Brian passed her his bottle and held up seven fingers.
“Seven-point buck,” he said. “Hey, you Polar Plunging tomorrow?”
• • •
“Oh, yep, those glands are swollen,” says the blue-eyed nurse who smells as fresh as a dryer sheet. “How long have you had these symptoms?”
“Three or four days.” The paper beneath Amber crinkles as she crosses one booted-foot over the other. She wonders if the nurse would seek out the possible source of the sickness: kissing a stranger or jumping into frigid Lake Michigan with a crowd of half-naked strangers.
• • •
“How did you even meet Brian?” Katie asks while hazelnut-flavored coffee brews in their meager kitchen.
“I served him at the restaurant,” Amber tightens the fleece blanket around her shoulders.
“That is too weird. His mom used to babysit me,” Katie pulls on the strings of her hooded Green Bay Packers sweatshirt. “They had so many cats in their barn; I loved it. Me and Brian and his brother would go up in his Dad’s deer stand and play. He would pretend he was a soldier and shoot bad guys from the stand.” Katie bites her lip and speaks softly, as if to herself, “I wonder if I have any yearbooks around?”
“I don’t need to see his yearbook picture.”
“Did you see that scar on his face? Down his cheek?”
“That was from a snowmobile accident a few years ago. It was bad. Like, he’s lucky. He nearly cracked his head open.”
“I feel weird knowing all these things about him,” says Amber as she reaches for a coffee mug.
“Everyone knows everything about everyone, Amber. Everyone knows you were kissing him. Everyone knows you two shared a towel after you jumped in the lake.”