Keith reaches towards the bloody gash on Rachel's arm, and she jumps away.
She scowls at him. "Haven't you paid attention at a single safety meeting, Keith? Go get the first aid kit and put on some damn gloves."
Keith rolls his eyes and reaches for her arm again. "It's just blood. It's not like you have cooties."
"No, I've got HIV. Go put on gloves," Rachel says, still holding her own arm together.
Keith freezes for a moment before shaking his head like a wet dog and then following her orders. She tries not to wonder what he is thinking.
He doesn't say anything, but instead of giving the kit to Rachel, Keith opens it himself and gently bandages her arm.
When he is done, he pulls off the gloves, one with the other, like maybe he's done this before, and then reaches up and touches her cheek with his bare hand.
"I'm fine, Keith," she says.
"Okay," he responds.
The camping trip is all Anderson's idea. "Come on," he'd said, "it'll be fun!"
They'd sat there at lunch in the middle of New York City and slowly nodded their collective heads. "Sure."
Keith had backed out first. "Bad back, you know, getting older."
Jon backed out next. "Sorry, I have a thing."
Then Stephen: "If Jon's not going, who will protect me from the bears?"
"I'm not afraid of bears," Rachel said. "I don't have a thing and my back is just fine."
"Then we're on?" Anderson replied.
"We're on," Rachel agreed with a smile.
They take Rachel's truck, something about Anderson only driving in Africa and thus sometimes forgetting what to do when there are things like red lights and other cars, and head out to a campsite Anderson had read about somewhere (Rachel assumes SkyMall).
The site is deserted, not that Rachel blames people for not wanting to camp in upstate New York in March. It's really cold. Really cold.
"Keith told me," Anderson says as they sit next to the fire and look up at the stars.
"I know. I told him he could. He was a little freaked out," she replies.
"Me too," Anderson says softly, and then, bluntly adds, "are you dying?"
The thing is, Anderson probably knows almost as many people who died of AIDS as she does. "No. It's not fifteen years ago. I'm fine."
Anderson nods, but Rachel can tell he's thinking about coffins.
"I really am, Anderson."
"You know if you need anything... I know doctors, pharmaceutical guys... if you need anything. Ever. You tell me, okay?" Anderson stutters over the words.
3. Jon and Stephen
"We've heard," says Stephen.
Rachel knows better than to think anything both Keith and Anderson know won't soon make its way to Jon and Stephen, especially since she'd told Keith she was planning on telling them. "Ah."
Jon is on the other side of her, so she can't escape. "Keith and Anderson were being a little dodgy," he says.
"Shifty, perhaps would be a better word," Stephen adds.
Jon smiles softly. "Down right crazy. We actually thought you were pregnant."
Rachel downs the rest of the contents of her glass. It's going to be one of those nights.
Stephen laughs, "Keith couldn't keep his hands off you and Anderson kept trying to put himself between you and anything remotely dangerous."
"Like pot holes and wily badgers and double bacon, double meat cheeseburgers," Jon says and Rachel finally laughs.
"They have been... hovering," Rachel admits.
"They're worried," Jon says.
"And you know what Keith is like when he worries. Remember the flak jacket?" Stephen asks.
Rachel nods. The flak jacket had been a present from Keith. Or, really, more of an order: wear this. Perhaps if she had been headed to Iraq, she would have seen the purpose. That was Keith, though.
4. The World
Rachel tells the Stanford student newspaper on World AIDS day that she is HIV positive. She's always been out, so why not about this too? That's what she tells herself. She's actually not really sure what's compelling her to do this.
It gets a different response than she is expecting. All the people she really cares about already know, and what she thought was going to be this big deal is less. She just doesn't care what Bill O'Reilly thinks, though Keith does, and that leads to a week long scuffle in which her only response is to roll her eyes.
Jon and Stephen pick up the feud and call her with all their best jokes before they even air. At least someone is being entertained by the whole thing.
The fact that it's Anderson who almost gets arrested for disorderly conduct is just the cherry on the top of the whole situation. She would have expected it from Keith, maybe even Stephen, but not Anderson. From the story she hears from Jon and the story that hit the web, Rachel patches together the following situation. Some reporter had asked Anderson's opinion on the situation, probably trying to get him to out himself in the process. Anderson hadn't been cooperative and the reporter had called her a slut, leading Anderson to push the reporter into a brick wall. Rachel suspects that the reporter had had a few other choice words before that, because of all of the guys, Anderson is the most in control of his temper. Apparently, he's also got the worst luck, because the whole thing went down in front of two cops.
It's worse when it's her own people. The Advocate wants to know why it took so long for her to be out about her HIV status when she's been out about her sexuality since college. NORA wants to know how she can be an outspoken AIDS activist while keeping her own status silent. She stops checking her public Twitter, stays away from her Rachel@MSNCB.com email. Then, three days later, the latest teen idol makes out with some other teen idol and no one cares about her and her scandal anymore.
She knows even with the world watching, she still has an easier time than most. She has her protective bubble of friends and wealth and even the best parents anyone could ask for. She can ignore what she doesn't feel like facing and that is in itself a luxury very few people are afforded.
Rachel has no idea where the Times got the story from. It couldn't be the guy who'd given her the virus, because even she doesn't know his name. He'd been unconscious for the entire thing, which in retrospect, is more amusing in the telling than it was at the time.
The reporter even got most of the story right: there'd been a protest gone wrong, it was her senior year of college, and the police had been called in. She'd fallen, scraped up her hands, and then had gone to help a man who'd fallen as well. He'd hit his head, and she'd sat there and stayed with him until the EMTs could get to them.
The reporter misses the most important bits, though: how scared she'd been, how lonely it felt as the doctor drew her blood and then later told her that, yes, the results were positive, how determined she'd been to get back to a normal life.
The story hits the presses and Keith appears not an hour later. Paper in one hand, Thai in the other.
"I'm sorry," he says.
Keith has been awfully silent, for the loudest man she knows. He's been trying not to pry, or at least, that's what she hears from Stephen.
"You brought food," she replies. She wasn't expecting an apology. She's not even sure what he's apologizing for.
"I thought you might want food. Comfort food," he clarifies.
"I'm fine, but I am hungry," Rachel says, and Keith busies himself with the food. "You don't need to apologize."
"I feel like I do."
"You're okay?' he asks.