It had been one year since the SQUIP, and since then, Jeremy’s confidence in himself had been better than it had been at the beginning of junior year. Now senior year was coming to a close, and stress had never been more present in the pale boy.
Sure, him, Michael, Rich, Jake, Brooke, and Chloe were all going to the same school, thank God, but the thought of graduating high school in itself was scaring the ever living shit out of him. Maybe it was because he didn’t expect himself to get this far in his life, or maybe it was walking in front of everyone and their mom (quite literally). Whatever it was, it was scary to think about.
Thankfully, he had Michael who shared these fears and the rest of the SQUIP Squad (name courtesy of Jenna) to support each other throughout the ‘ending of high school and into something new’ (you can always count on Jake for corny optimism).
But it was one Thursday in the middle of May where it all started. It started as any regular day, with the exception of tired teenagers recovering from the tortures of SAT testing. Classes were becoming more chill (ha, irony) with the growing norm of movies being shown and phones being allowed to be used during class.
Lunch had finally arrived and Jeremy sat at the table where the SQUIP Squad were at, taking a seat next to Michael. Rich, who was sitting across from Jeremy, looked at him, concerned.
“Whoa, dude, you’re bleeding,” he said. The whole table turned to look at Jeremy, and to their surprise, he was bleeding!
“What? Where,” Jeremy asked, making no effort into hiding the panic in his voice. Michael turned Jeremy’s head and put a napkin to his right nostril.
“Right here, man. What, you can’t feel it running down your face or something,” Michael said, also concerned.
“Yeah, like, that’s your life fluid racing down your air supply hole,” Rich agreed, his lisp prominent in his speech. It had taken him a while to get used to having his lisp again after the SQUIP, but it wasn’t too hard, considering that the group, especially Jake, thought it was adorable, along with his tooth gap.
“Rich, why are you like this? Do you know how weird that sounds?” Chloe asked, clearly not having any of Rich’s weird bullshit, but then again, what’s new?
“Uh, that’s the point?” Rich replied. Chloe pretended to reach into her purse to retrieve something, but instead she pulled out her middle finger. Rich put both of his hands together and blew into them, inflating his middle finger and pointed it in Chloe’s direction, looking at it in mock surprise.
“OK, children, that’s enough,” Jenna warned, voice monotonous, her eyes glued to the screen of her phone.
“But seriously, are you OK, Jeremy? Did someone hit you?” Christine asked.
“Yeah, because if someone did, I’m gonna kick their ass because I’m the only one that gets to punch you!” Rich said.
“Gee, thanks for the concern, Rich,” Jeremy said, head looking up to prevent the blood flow, voice sarcastic and nasally from the napkin in his nose.
“And no, no one hit me. Maybe it’s because of the heat or stress or something. Either way I’ll be fine. This is probably just a one time thing. ”
But life decided to say ‘haha, bitch, you thought’ about a week later while playing video games with Michael on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
“Jere, how can you not feel the blood? You’d think you would feel at least a bit dizzy with how much you’ve lost,” Michael half scolded, applying napkins to Jeremy’s face- again. Some of the blood landed on Jeremy’s shirt, creating a tiny red blob in the canvas of blue.
“I don’t know. And I didn’t lose that much blood, it’s not a big deal,” Jeremy replied, his head lifted- again.
“It’s a little bit of a deal when it’s happened twice in a month. I think the blood looks darker than last time. Are you sure you’re OK?”
“Michael, please, I’m fine, now can we get back to the game.”
“No way, dude. At least lay down for a little bit. Please,” Michael pouted and pulled off (his attempt at) puppy dog eyes. Jeremy would be a liar if he said that he was any good at pulling off those eyes, but damn him if he said it wasn’t working on him and it wasn’t so fucking cute when he did it.
“Fine,” he sighed, defeated, but all the while smiling. Michael’s pout turned into a smile.
“But,” Jeremy continued, pretending to be stern, “you have to cuddle me the entire time. And you have to give me your jacket.”
“I only do cuddles. Get your own jacket, furry.” Michael said the most serious voice he could muster.
“I can work with that.” Jeremy chuckled, laying down on his bean bag, Michael pushing his bean bag closer to his and followed suit, wrapping his arms around Jeremy’s waist and nuzzled his face into the crook of his neck.
They would’ve fallen asleep like that if Jeremy hadn’t broken the comfortable silence between them.
“God, I’m hungry.”
“Jeremy, please, we were having a moment.”
“Let’s get Pop-Tarts!”
Jeremy’s nose started bleeding again only a few days later. And to the horror of his friends, they also noticed that the blood was a significantly darker red than the first time.
“Do you need to go to a hospital? Because things like this shouldn’t be happening this often,” Brooke said, the back of her palm on Jeremy’s forehead looking for any signs of a fever.
“I don’t need to go to a hospital. I don’t feel any different than I do any other day. Really, I’m fine. It’s been getting hotter so that’s probably it,” Jeremy insisted, brushing Chloe’s hand off gently. And it was true. Todays temp was 92 degrees and that’s hot by New Jersey standards.
“It’s been getting hot because of me,” Michael interjected.
“You stole my line, dick! I was gonna say that,” Rich complained.
“You’re mad because it’s true,” Michael grinned, winking at Jeremy, making him blush a light shade of pink and smile like an idiot.
“You’re both wrong, boys. It’s been getting hotter because of global warming. Thanks for trying, though,” Jenna said, earning ‘oohs’ from Jake, giving her a high five.
“Traitor,” Rich said, faking a look of betrayal.
“I will not let my emotions get in the way of the truth,” Jake argued.
Two weeks passed by without a nosebleed, which Jeremy was thankful for. But now, with the cruel, unforgiving concept of the passage of time creeping up behind him, reminders of graduation were nonstop, worsening Jeremy’s anxiety and fueling his seemingly everlasting fear of the future.
But the good thing about having more friends than you did the previous year is that half of them were also going to be scared shitless about the future and the other half would be more than happy to provide support. Even Jenna, who was taking a gap year to ‘really find out who she was and develop her character’ (which was the lie she told her parents so she could just take a year to not be bombarded with books and homework assignments for a small portion of the first part of her adult life), was offering and giving support to the friends who needed it.
So it was natural when his friends freaked out when they learned his nose started producing blood for the forth-fucking time, Jeremy, are you serious right now?
This time he was alone in his room, on the phone with Michael, and he only found out about it when a drop of blood landed on the page of the book he was reading. He cursed under his breath.
“What happened, pointless and unnecessary plot twist?” Michael asked.
“No, my stupid nose again,” Jeremy sighed in annoyance, already starting to head to the bathroom, his head raised in the air so he wouldn’t make a bloody mess anywhere else.
“You’re really starting to scare me with your whole nose deal, Jere. Are you sure you’re not…sick or anything,” Michael asked, and the worry in his tone almost broke Jeremy in half.
“Babe, please, I promise you I’m feeling OK. This is just something that happens.”
“Yeah, but this doesn’t usually happen four times a month almost every week.”
Jeremy didn’t understand why he couldn’t feel the blood slithering down his face. He felt nothing on his face, and that scared him a little. He felt like he should go see a doctor, but what was he going to tell them, his nose bleeds sometimes? That’s almost as embarrassing as trying to explain the SQUIP situation to anyone that wasn’t directly involved. No one would take him seriously. And just like the SQUIP, he wasn’t going to go to a doctor about it.
Who was he, responsible? Yeah, right.
God, there was a lot of blood this time. Like, a lot more than the last three times. Those other times they maybe lasted at least half a minute, but now it’s been two minutes. Thankfully, he was still on the phone with Michael.
“Son of a bitch, my head hurts,” Jeremy groaned.
“You want me to come over,” Michael offered.
“Already on my way out. See you in five.” And with that, Michael hung up.
Ok, so Michael was coming over to help with the Pain of Living, so that’s great. Jeremy was going to have to survive around five minutes, which shouldn’t be so hard for Jeremy if he didn’t have this headache, which was getting worse by the minute. And his stupid nose was still bleeding!
He pulled his napkin away from his nose and to his surprise; his blood was a dark red- a real dark red. It almost looked black. Jeremy looked closer in curiosity.
It was black!
Jeremy looked at himself in the mirror, and to his horror, black (???) blood was still slithering down his face. He could spot hints of light blue- wait!
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!
It can’t be back, right? He hasn’t heard it in months!
Fuck, fuck, fuck!
Jeremy’s heart stopped for a moment and the world ceased to move. Everything was silent, still. Panic hit him like a truck and his heart dropped down to his stomach. His head was still pounding, like someone was slamming his skull in with a hammer. He felt like he was going to puke or cry. Or both. But he didn’t dare move.
We both know why I’m back, Jeremy.
At this point it’s futile to fight back.
Give it up, Jeremy.
Jeremy’s vision began to blur, all thoughts fuzzy, as the world and everything in it seemed to be moving all at once.
Jeremy felt numb, but he could vaguely feel himself falling backwards. He couldn’t tell what he landed on, but there were two of them. Arms?
And there are voices in my head.