The conversation back at the lodge was completely forgotten, and Amanda was kind of glad. This was definitely not the time or place to come clean with Nick, though she knew she didn't want to put it off too long. Waiting would only spell out trouble, and increase the anger that he would feel when she finally did tell him. She'd seen chick-flick romantic comedies, she knew how the story went. She just wanted to make sure that he knew before she ended up drunk and singing You're so Vain, ala Andie Anderson in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.
"This is my fault," Nick muttered, kicking the truck. Amanda looked at him. He stood up and walked across the room, leaning on the window sill and looking down into the parking lot below. "I shouldn't have brought him on this stupid road trip."
Amanda dropped her feet to the floor and went over to sit down on the sill beside Nick, her back against the glass. She looked up at his eyes, "Brian was sick before we left," she reminded him. "It's not your fault."
"Yeah, but now he's sicker." Nick sighed. "His white count is too low to stand up against stuff like colds and pneumonia."
Amanda could remember her parents worrying about Piper's white count. A high white blood cell count meant that the blood was leukemic, so the point of chemotherapy was to kill off the white cells. What this meant, though, was that there was basically no immune system until those white cells built back up. There was only a very small window of time when Piper's cells had been level and he'd been safe from catching anything and free of the leukemia. She remembered the family outings they'd taken during those brief windows, how happy Piper had been, and how the relief had etched itself into her parent's faces.
"It's not your fault," Amanda repeated.
Nick rested his forehead against the glass and closed his eyes. He looked so sad, and defeated. He shook his head, "Kevin was right, Amanda," he whispered.
Amanda frowned, "What did Kevin say?"
Nick had forgotten that in all the craziness that had followed the phone call with Kevin, he'd never actually told Amanda about it. He sighed. "Kevin called the last night we were camping on the river," he explained, "And he was really pissed because he saw some pictures of us bungee jumping in the gorge --"
"There were pictures of us bungee jumping in the gorge?" Amanda exclaimed.
Nick nodded, "Yeah. That Ben guy? He was Tobias Winterson."
Amanda felt her stomach turn. How the hell did you find that out? she wondered, and struggled to keep her face straight, to look shocked as though this was new news to her. She felt cold. "Wow," she whispered.
"Yeah," Nick nodded, not seeing the struggle Amanda was having with herself. "Anyway, Kevin was really mad, and he said that I was going to end up killing Brian..." A tear trickled down Nick's cheek.
"Hey now," Amanda whispered, reaching out to touch Nick's arm, "Kevin was way out of line laying that on you."
Nick shook his head, "But he was right."
Amanda took a deep breath. "Stop, you can't start thinking that." The tone in her voice made Nick look over into her eyes. They were red, threatened by tears. "You can't, Nick, because if you do you'll never forgive yourself, and you'll live thinking if only for the rest of your life." Nick moved over so that he was standing between her legs in front of her, and held her hands in his. "I know what that feels like, Nick," she whispered, "And you are way, way too beautiful of a soul to feel that."
Nick looked into her eyes, "What?"
Tears streamed down her face. "Piper died because he had strep throat," Amanda whispered, "Which he caught from me."
"Amanda..." Nick's voice was soft.
"I have carried that guilt for killing my brother in my heart for ten years, Nick," she whispered. "And my parents have hated me for it since Piper died."
"You didn't kill Piper," Nick whispered.
Amanda nodded, "I know in my head that I didn't kill him," she answered, "But in my heart I will never be able to forgive myself." Nick eyes were welled up now, too, as he laid a hand gently on her cheek, cupping her face to look up at him. "I don't want you to know how this feels," she said so quietly that it couldn't even be considered a whisper. Nick pulled Amanda to him, and she slid off the window sill, melting into his arms as he hugged her.
She'd never told anyone that before, always imagining the hate and anger that would fill the eyes of anyone she admitted it to. They would say awful things, accuse her of not loving Piper. The last thing she had ever expected was the acceptance, kindness, and comfort that was emanating from Nick as he rocked her gently from side to side, whispering in her ear, telling her it would be okay.
Brian sat up in the bed the moment the doctor had left the room and his hand wrapped around the IV tubes sticking out of his hand, yanking them out in one swift motion. He moved to slide off the bed and picked up his shirt, pulling it on and buttoning down the front of it, his hands shaking.
He waited until he heard the nurses talking boisterously in the hallway, and he quickly slipped by them, keeping his head down so that they wouldn't see him go by. He tucked his shirt into his jeans as he walked quickly through the halls to the waiting room where Nick and Amanda were.
They looked up when Brian came around the corner. They'd been doing a sudoku puzzle on the floor, and Nick was writing random numbers in without regard for the rules, while Amanda tried to correct them. Brian smiled, "All better, let's go."
Nick jumped up, "You're okay!" he cried, embracing Brian.
Amanda looked up at him, concerned. The hospital bracelet was still around his wrist. "We never saw a doctor," she said, tossing the sudoku aside and getting to her feet.
"They didn't do much," Brian answered. "They gave me some anti-nausea medication and said I was all set. I told you it was just food poisoning," he smiled at Nick.
Amanda frowned, meeting Brian's eyes, and he shook his head so slightly that Nick didn't even notice the motion. Amanda set her jaw, knowing.
"Let's go," Brian said.
Torn between letting Brian get away with it, and making him go back, Amanda didn't say a word, nor did she immediately move, as Nick enthusiastically led the way out of the waiting room to the hall, gushing about the next stop being in Omaha.
"You coming 'Manda?" he called cheerfully, the relief from stress of the night making his voice bubbly.
'Please,' Brian mouthed silently to her.
Amanda followed them into the parking lot to the bus, feeling like her stomach had turned to a led ball.