The night of the winter formal was a good night. Marta stayed out all night. Bradley stayed until about four in the morning, before slipping out the window, across the roof, along the tree, and into his own house. Marta and I slept through a majority of the remaining weekend, to the point where our mother insisted that she take our temperatures to make sure that we hadn’t caught some deadly virus at the dance.
But we were just bracing ourselves. Because starting the Monday after Winter Formal was the exam weeks, the last two and a half weeks of the semester, when everything was due, and every free minute was filled with studying. Bradley didn’t see each other much more than the rides to and from school. Marta and I didn’t see each other much beyond collapsing into bed each night.
The second to last day of exams, I woke up to the sound of Marta retching in the bathroom. I got up and let myself into the bathroom, helping to hold her hair away from her face and neck, all with my eyes mostly shut still, hoping I’d be able to fall asleep again when this was all done. “It’s okay.” Marta reassured me weakly, “Just overstressed.”
“Mmhmm.” I muttered in response, “Just don’t let Momma hear you. I don’t really want to go into the city today.” Our mother was constantly convinced we were dying. If one of us had so much as a cold, we were both dragged into the doctor’s office for a day full of tests. Just in case it was actually some strange international flu that was going to kill us dead. Today that would mean rescheduling exams into the winter break, which meant extra days of stress, and even less sleep. Besides, I’d never been a fan of needles.
Marta made some sort of grunt that was probably supposed to be a reassurance but then leaned over the toilet again. I sat on the edge of the bathtub and leaned my head against the wall, gently rubbing Marta’s back, hoping she’d feel better soon.
The next morning and throughout exams at school, Marta seemed fine. You never would have guessed that we spent half the night in the bathroom. A couple of people commented on how exhausted I looked, but Marta was practically an image of health, all smiles, and giddiness.
I wanted to believe that it was just stress, or perhaps just something that she ate. I wanted to believe that everything was going to be fine. But the next day, and the next, and the next, I was awoken sometime in between one and two in the morning to comfort my sister as she was sick for a couple of hours or so. Even as school ended, and we made our way into the relatively stress-free two weeks that were the Christmas and New Year break, including our eighteenth birthday. Morning five, I was starting to get concerned.
“Maybe I should get Momma. You’re starting to worry me.” I offered that morning as I clipped her hair up.
“No. No, I don’t want to go to the doctors. It’s just a little stomach bug. Natalie says she thinks she had something similar right before the formal. It’ll pass. Just, give me a couple more days, alright?”
I considered saying no, I considered running out of the room in case I’d get sick too, and I considered telling Momma anyway. But I owed Marta more than that, so I just sighed. “Two more days. If you’re still sick, then I’m telling Momma.”
“Fair enough.” Marta sat up a little straighter, “Come on. Let’s go back to bed.”