"Cold White"

Chapter 1

It's five in the morning. I've hardly slept at all. Matt is.... he's just a mess. I've never seen him so sick. I should have seen this coming. He hasn't been eating right. We've been overworked. And those bruises.... What the hell kind of brother am I? How the hell could I let it get this far? "Jeff?" Matt's awake again. "I'm so cold." Cold? He's still wearing his clothes from last night, jacket and all. I get up out of bed, bringing the bedclothes with me. The two blankets I lay over Matt's own, tucking him back in. The sheet I use to cover myself after I've crawled in beside him. I don't need anything else. Matt's unnatural warmth is more than enough to keep me comfortable. He slips back into a slumber that is fitful at best. He cries out in his sleep, mostly for me and Dad, but once for Mommy. All I could do was to hold him and kiss his sweat soaked forehead. I just didn't know how to respond to that. Dad was hundreds of miles away in Cameron. Mom had passed away from breast cancer when we were young. I barely remember her. "Jeff?" God, Matt's voice sounds so small, so young. "Take me to the doctor. Now." And yet, he still bosses me around. "You got it." Laying him back down on his pillow, I get up and pull on the jeans I'd worn yesterday. Forget about finding a clean shirt in this mess. I'll just keep my fleece on. Matt's trying to sit up in bed, he's swaying pretty bad. I think I'll have to carry him to the car.

I pulled up right out front of the emergency room entrance. It's an ambulance only area, but I'm too tired to lift Matt again. He's simply too weak to walk. I'm barely out of the car, and this guy in white scrubs smoking a cigarette outside starting yelling for me to move it to the parking lot. Ignoring the asshole, I start getting Matt out. He shuts up when he sees my older brother and says, "I'm Dr. Jenkins. Let me help you inside." Woah, total personality change. He puts Matt's left arm around his shoulder, and we half drag, half carry him into the ER. I eased Matt down onto a couch. The doctor's gone off to get me some forms or something. "You're going to be fine, Mattie. We'll just get you checked out, they'll give you some medication, and then Vince'll have to give us that vacation he's been promising. Matt smiled over at me. "You're a great baby brother, Jeff." Funny. It's hard to feel like the baby when your big brother holds your hand and puts his head in your lap for comfort as he falls back asleep. "Excuse me?" It's Jenkins. "I've gotten you the forms. As soon as you fill them out, we'll help your friend." "Brother. Matt's my brother." I can barely think straight. The forms are on a clipboard, which I balance on the arm of the couch to fill it out. It's not going to stay still while I write, but who gives a crap what the handwriting looked like? I don't want to force my hand out of Matt's death grip. Name? Matthew Moore Hardy Date of birth? 9/23/74 Birthplace? Cameron, NC Height? 6' 1" Weight? 205 And it just goes on and on and on.

So far, Matt's been diagnosed with a concussion. "How long have you been getting these unexplained bruises, Mr. Hardy?" With some help, Matt was able to walk to the examination room and undress. The the half hour nap he had in the waiting rooms while I'd filled out questionnaires had done him good, albeit little. He's sitting on a hospital bed in his black boxers, which make him look horribly pale. The response is slow coming. "The first one appeared about six months ago." Six months. Matt had been hiding the bruises for six months. How had he pulled that off? How had I not seen? Dr. Jenkins starts at the answer. Thankfully, Matt didn't notice his shock. He makes a long note on his clipboard. "And you've been losing weight the past six weeks?" "Yes, doctor." More scribbling on the paper. "We're going to do some bloodwork . This is probably going to turn out as being just an infection of the influenza virus, but it's hospital policy." Matt looks up from the floor and nods in concurrence. "You wait here for the technician, ok?" Another nod. As Dr. J walks out, he whispers for me to follow once the technician has arrived. "There's something else wrong." I sat on the bed beside Matt and drape an arm across his shoulders. "No. Didn't you hear the doctor? It's just the flu." "You don't need blood tests for the flu." Matt's normally bright voice was flat and toneless. "He said it was hospital policy." At that moment, a woman in her early thirties came in. "Matthew Hardy?" "That's me. Jeff, why don't you get a cup of coffee? You look like you haven't slept at wink, and you don't need to be here for this." Big brother's at it again. Silently, I smile at him and leave the room. I'm immediately cornered by Dr. Jenkins. "Jeff, why don't you come into my office? I want to discuss Matt's condition with you." Great, a lecture on warning signs of concussions and why it's best to seek immediate medical assistance. I follow Jenkins into the small room quietly and sink down in the leather chair. "First of all, the dizziness Matt has been experiencing is a result of the concussion. The high fever and fatigue are from a very bad case of influenza. In fact, one of the worst cases I've seen this year." Leave it to Matt to take the award for worst case of the flu. A thought runs through my mind. "What about the bruises and his losing weight?" Dr. Jenkins cracks his knuckles nervously and sighs. "That's why I asked to talk to you in here. Matt's too sick to here this just yet, and I'm not and won't be certain of it until I get the results back from the lab." This is bad. This is very bad. I don't want to ask, but I can't make myself stop. "Certain of what?" "I have every reason to suspect that your brother has some form of leukemia. He's obviously extremely vulnerable to sickness, and weight loss and bruises are two of the most prominent symptoms..." I don't hear anymore. Only that word. Leukemia. Leukemia. Matt has fucking leukemia.

Part Two

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