Timing is Nothing
"9:12 and 20 seconds," announced a guy standing, hovering by the door. "If he’s not here in another 3 minutes, I say we go for the 15 minute rule and walk out, huh?" He leaned, peering out of the doorway, checking the hall outside, being as incognito as possible in case the professor just happened to be there.
"Aw, Jimmy, come off it. You know you won’t leave," came a guy slouched in a fourth row desk. "You talk big but mean nuthin’."
Taking it as a challenge, Jimmy stood straighter to reply. "Yeah, you think so, Tony? Well, just you wait! We’ll see who talks big. I’m gonna go, too. It’s a campus-wide law, I swear it!"
From somewhere in the back of the lecture hall, there was a soft and delicate female sneeze, "Etchii!"
The slouching guy turned around, trying to locate the girl. "Bless you!" he shouted back, still not knowing who it was. He turned back around, sliding down in his seat all the more.
"What was that?" asked Jimmy, wanting to return to the attack on his character, or at least wanting to know if he were winning.
Shrugging his shoulders. "What did it look like, Jimmy? Huh? My parents raised me to be polite, if nuthin’ else. If someone sneezes, I say Bless you!" The guy hunched in the seat looked up, his eyes barely visible in the shade of his baseball cap. "And, naw, man. A campus-wide law? That’s what you said just a couple minutes ago about the 10 minute rule. This one’ll just be bumped up to 20, then 25, then a half on hour…"
Jimmy mumbled some derogatory comment and turned back to check the hallway when he bumped heads with the incoming man.
The man put his hand to his head, stepping around Jimmy, and walked to the front of the room without breaking his stride, as if such an encounter was a routine occurrence. He set his briefcase down on the front table and rubbed his head a little. "In the future, Mr. Holder, I’d appreciate a wee more than a verbal and physical assault tae remind sniff me nae tae come so late tae class, thank ye vera much."
Jimmy quickly slid into a deck, his ears and cheeks a delightful shade of crimson. "Sorry Dr.MacInnes."
The newly addressed professor glanced at the clock over the door and smiled. "Within 20 seconds o’ the 15 minute rule. I daresay that is the closest I’ve ev’r come tae nae havin’ a class tae teach when I arrived." He chuckled, with a fist in front of his mouth, hiding both in sight and sound the coughs that were stuck and paining his throat. "Now then, where did we leave ooff yeesterda? Would someone care tae recap in a few sentences while I get meself a wee bit o’ water?"
A girl raised her hand, then stood up and began to summarize the basic points of the last class period’s lecture. The teacher took the opportunity to duck back out, shutting the door behind him. He fell back against the wall and let out a soft series of coughs. He sniffed and rubbed at his nose a little, then cleared his throat. He shook his head and caught his reflection in the display case on the wall in front of him. His red hair was well combed, pulled back into a loose ponytail that ran down just past his neck. His face was a little pale, but covered well with light brown freckles. His eyes a perfect green, smiled back at him. No one would be able to tell he’d rolled out of bed late with the beginnings of a cold, and he sure as heck wasn’t about to say anything about it.
"KashIISSHHHH!" he sneezed suddenly, clamping his hand over his mouth for a second. "Kshmmmmph!" He always sneezed in doubles, even with a cold, that second sneeze was inevitable. He sniffed, peering across at his reflection now. Eyes tired, hand cupping his nose and mouth, and he realized that in his late rush that morning he’d forgotten a handkerchief or at least a few tissues. Funny how you never notice you’ve forgotten something important until the very moment you need it. "How sniff ironic," he mumbled to himself as he wiped his hand discretely on the leg of his slacks. He toughened up and cleared his throat, looking at his confidant, teacher-like poise in the glass, then re-entered the lecture hall. He walked back to the front and looked up as he heard half a dozen snickers. "What?" he asked, his native Scottish burr growing richer when he was embarrassed or uncomfortable, and this time he was both.
Jimmy was the only one brave enough to speak. "Either that water is really clear, or we have a truly absent-minded professor."
Marcus looked down at the cup he still held in his hand, just as empty as when he’d left with it. "Oh, um, drank it alreada. ‘Tis what took me so long." A fair amount of nods resulted, which meant that they were either asleep or pacified with his answer. He felt a tickle in his nose so he sniffed, cleared his throat once more, and ignored it to start the lecture. "Legend has it, that it was the rock Jacob slept upon when he dreamt of Angels…"
A good twenty minutes into the lecture, the tickle in his nose returned with pinching accuracy and force. He tried to ignore it, focusing his mind on relating the desperation of England when they’d realized the coronation stone had been stolen. But after a few rubs of his nose, and a few strong sniffs, he realized it was no use to try to hold it back. "One… one moment, please," he warned politely, voice raising in desperation. He held both hands up, over his nose and mouth. He closed his eyes, breathing heavily, waiting for them. "Hah- Heeershhhhaa… Kishhhhishhh!" he sneezed, opening his eyes afterwards, to hear a few ‘bless you’s and ‘Guisendheit’s. Then suddenly he felt another, and closed his eyes again. "hhhuhh... Keshhishh! Kashush!" he sneezed, bending forward slightly with each. "Keshoo! Hah-Katchoo!" He sneezed again, followed by yet another double, "Ketchoosh!" He paused a moment, sure another would come at any moment. "Huh... hehh… ahehhhhh... HechoSHHHH!" he sneezed wetly to finish the short bout. His nose was running; worse, he knew he was a mess; worse still, he had no handkerchief, no means of escape, and one rather red face. He stood motionless for a minute, hands still up in praying-like position, embarrassed beyond belief, helpless to the extreme, and clueless as to what he could possibly do next.
Then suddenly in front of him stood Anthony, handkerchief timidly extended in his direction.
Marcus took it with a soft and stuffy, "Thanks."
Always polite, Anthony nodded. "Sure, Dr.MacInnes," and then mouthed the words so that only his teacher could see it, "Keep it." Anthony returned to his seat.
Meanwhile, Marcus turned around with his back to the closet, to blow his nose a few times and wipe it gently. He cleared his throat again. "Pardon me sniff now where was I again?"
"The Stone of Scone was stolen," someone shouted out.
Marcus nodded, feeling himself growing more cold and shaky by the second. He leaned against the blackboard for support, crossing his arms in front of him almost as if he were hugging himself. "After sev… several days, Scotland Yard… cough, cough, er, the English papers re... report... reported… th-that…" he was shivering now, very visibly. He looked at his watch, feeling two hundred hearts lurching in the anticipation of him perhaps ending class ten minutes early. His ten minutes late had not set him behind in the lecture, but missing a full twenty surely would. Yet there was little he could think to do to avoid it. His whole body seemed to be freezing and burning at the same time. And he could barely control himself.
"Ketchmmm! Kashummm!" he sneezed twice into the handkerchief. He sniffed as he got the shivers again. "Ah, sniff forget it" he said softly, unable to do much more. "Class dis… dismissed," he managed. His hands were at his armpits, his body slouching in aches, his eyes fighting to stay opened. His stood motionless, trying as hard as he could to keep from shaking with cold, as sweat trickled down his face.
The class, on the other hand, filed out eagerly. Though most gave him sympathetic looks, no one really said much of anything, even to each other. Of course there was nothing they could possibly say. When Anthony passed, last, Marcus whispered a light thank you again to him, and Anthony nodded.
"You need any help, Sir? Carrying your books or anything?"
Marcus shook his head. "I’ll be ok." He hated people fussing over him when he was ill. While he expected a little sympathy, and a little slack, he couldn’t stand being made feel like a helpless baby.
"You sure?" eyeing him in suspicion.
"Aye, I’m sure, lad. Thank ye." Dr. MacInnes packed up his few books and papers to follow them out, heading straight to his car in the nearby faculty parking lot. In his eleven years of teaching, he had to admit this was probably one of his worst days ever. It was, he realized, only the third time he’d ever missed a class. He couldn’t stand skipping class, thought it wasn’t fair to the students. The other two times had been a root canal during his second week of teaching, ever, and when he’d lost his hearing for two days after a firework had gone off a bit too close. He certainly wasn’t the type to get sick often at all, but when it happened, it knocked him down hard.
He got in his car and turned on the heater only a split second later as he sat, his body wracked with shivers. He got out his cellular phone, dialed the number, and waited for the secretary to pick up.
"Dr. Norris’s office."
"Hi," he cleared his throat. "This is Dr.MacInnes, I teach Celtic studies. I’ve come down sick suddenla and need tae find a substitute wi’ some knowledge o’ the Scottish culture, if possible, for my 2:00 and 3:00 classes taeday."
"Mmm-hmm… let me check on that for you. Running it through the database now..."
"Sure cough thanks." The heater was starting to work so he was feeling just a little bit better, or warmer, at least, though it was making him a little drowsy.
"I’m sorry, doctor, but we don’t have any qualified substitutes or GTA’s available for those ti—"
"Ketchshhh! Heh… Kachetshushhh!" he sneezed, reaching for the tissues in the box he always kept in his car, though rarely used. "Scuse me," he told her timidly, as he coughed a few times.
"Boy, you actually don’t sound well at all, Dr.MacInnes."
He smirked. "Yeah sniff Tell me about… it… hehh… Keshoo! Hashishh!"
"Bless you!" the woman exclaimed just as he recovered with, "Excuse me."
He quickly blew his nose, covering the receiver, but he knew she could still hear for when he picked back up he heard a soft, "Awww…"
"I’ll just cancel class, thank ye, anaway, Miss," he whispered.
"I’m really, very sorry," she tried apologizing. "But it is last minute as far as these things go. And Friday is a rather busy day."
"’Tis alright. I understand. What was I supposed tae expect? Thank ye." He hung up and gave a deep sigh. He felt drowsy in the heat, but snapped to the situation at hand. He turned the key all the way, and concentrated on the drive home.
* * *
At 10:00am on the dot, his key slid into its place as his breath made small clouds in the cold, early winter air. The door opened and was shut just as quickly behind him. In the mirror in front of him, Marcus could see how bad he’d gotten by this time. His whole face drooped and his nose was red at the end, running now as he held a few tissues under it. He dropped his stuff and went straight to his computer. He was a bit punchy as he had it connect, wishing that he had as fast a connection at home as he had at school. As soon as it was up, he sent out a notice to his class listserv that he was unable to hold class that day and to expect double duty that following Monday. Then he disconnected and made his way straight up to the bedroom. Wearily, he threw off his jacket, changed out of suit and tie and into sweat pants and old, comfy T-shirt, and grabbed a box of Kleenex from the bathroom. Shivering constantly, he slid under the covers of his bed, pulling the blankets up all the way and let himself fall right to sleep.
* * *
At 6:35 the ringing phone woke him from his sleep. He grabbed for it, knowing and sensing it was Kirsten. "Hi?" he answered with a cough directly afterward.
"Mr... um… McIans? Hi! My name is Debbie and we here at magazine central have some great offers for you that I know you won’t be able to resi—"
He fell back against the bed, coughing as his stomach shot pains at him. He could barely believe how bad he felt, especially after sleeping all day. Holding the cordless directly above him as he dialed a number he knew by heart. He closed his eyes, listening to it ring, trying to figure out what he could possibly say to her.
"Hi Lassie, tis I."
"Oh good! I missed you, baby. Hey, listen, you’ll have to pick me up tonight for dinner because my car battery just up and died on me today. Great timing, don’t you think? But, oh man, what a day I’ve had. The whole week, too. Terrible, just terrible." She sighed. "But I’m really excited about tonight. I’ve heard this place is really great. I still can’t believe you were sweet enough to get us reservations there. And the whole weekend together… Oh, Marc. I’ve missed you so much. I know it’s only been a day since we last talked but I still miss you, you know."
He smiled at her words. She was the only person who could make him smile when he felt like this. But now it was going to be harder than he thought. "Kirsten, look, I’m realla, realla soorra but sniff I canna gae oout wi’ ye taenight."
"Um…" she sounded cold, "May I ask why ever not, Marcus?"
"I’ve coome doown wi’ a wee head cold and I can barela make it out o’ bed, let alone take ye tae dinner." He paused, waiting for her answer but all that followed was silence. "I realla canna tell ye how… sniff…" he felt a sneeze coming fast, but he tried his best to hold it back. He didn't want her to be put off by his rudeness. "How vera soorra I realla am, Kirstin."
This time he at least heard a sigh.
"Ye’re mad at me, are… aren’t ye? I’m so soorra my sweet lassie. I’ll try tae sniff make it up tae… tae… ye… oh man…" he realized he couldn’t hold it back any longer. He cupped his hand over the receiver. "KetCHOO! Karshhheshhhh!" The second spraying everywhere. He grabbed for the box of tissues that on the headboard. "Keh… Kehchoosh! Karcheshh!" He sneezed, blowing his nose powerfully into three tissues. Then he remembered the phone. He quickly picked it up, hoping she hadn’t hung up on him. "Kirsten?"
She was there, and spoke. "You don’t sound well at all, honey."
He laughed. "’Tis what someone said tae me… sniff this morn. And now I feel about ten times worse. I even had to walk out on a class and cancel all my others fer the day."
He sniffed and excused himself as he blew his nose a dozen more times. "Oh man, excuse me, Sweets. I just sniff dinna… oh no… I dinna feel so well."
Oh, baby, I know. It’s ok, really. Maybe we can meet later—"
"No…" he swallowed hard, pushing the covers down as his body burned and he went to stand. "I… need to go. Feel sick…Soorra!" He hung up and made a quick dash for the bathroom, barely making it there in time.
* * *
It was 9:05 as Marcus stumbled from his bathroom, flopping onto the bed in a cold sweat. He was sure he had a fever, for he was burning hot and, yet, shivering with chills at the same time. But as far as he could tell, the worst was over for him, at least for the night. As he lay there, face pressed into the sheets, he felt his stomach lurch again as his stuffed-up nose detected some sort of food in the air. His ears rang to hear typical kitchen sounds from the floor below. He pulled on a sweatshirt and stuck his hands in the pockets as he leaned on the banister the whole way down the stairs.
And there she was, wearing an apron and stirring a pot on the stove. Her beautiful, shoulder-length hair was pulled back in a high, blonde ponytail. Her body slim and curving in exactly the right places. "Oh no, you’re up!" she exclaimed to see him. "I wanted to surprise you!"
He nodded, sitting down in a chair at the table, with his arms crossed and resting upon it. "Aye? Weel, I am surprised. Um, if I could ask o’ ye one wee thing?"
"Oh course, anything."
"Weel," he swallowed again, his stomach paining him. "Remember when I said sniff I had a wee head cold?"
"’Tis actualla the flu, I think. And the smell of that soup is makin’ me vera, vera nauseous." He coughed into his fist, gagging a bit as the coughs shook him so hard.
"Oh, baby! I’m sorry!" She turned on the fan stove and quickly packed away the soup to put it in the fridge. "I’m so, so sorry!"
He nodded, eyes closing. He raised his arm and buried his nose in the crook, his elbow bent around the lower half of his face. "’Tis alright. It… Heh… Ketchaah! Kashoo!" he wiped his nose and shook his head. "Scuse me sniff. It was sweet o’ ye tae come. Ye didna know." He coughed. Then shook his head again. "Ye’re starin’ at me like ye want tae say somethin."
She went to sit down across from him. "Yeah… you look as if you’d like me to leave."
"Nae!" He held up one finger. "Heh…" He pulled out a few tissues from his pocket. "Ketchummph! Katchummmm! Excuse me."
"I like it that ye’re here. I’m just a wee… sleepy... and… heh… Ketchoo! Kashushhhhmmmm!" He caught his breath and sniffed. "And I don’t… feel… so… well-Katchishh! Katchooo!"
"It’s ok, I understand completely. I’ll go."
He looked at her with sad eyes. "I’m soorra, Kirsten. It’s just that… that I… heh… ahahhhh… Katcheoo! hahhh… Keshesshhh!"
She stood up, putting on her coat. "It’s fine. Feel better baby."
He nodded. "Aye, lassie. I will."
He made for the bathroom, his stomach feeling queasy again, his nose tickling and overflowing with sneezes.
* * *
When 10:30, Saturday morning rolled around, Kirsten Donaldson opened her eyes to the annoying sound of the phone. She swore, rolling over in bed and to answer it. "This is Kirsten and it had better be important."
Her eyes opened wide, and she sat up in bed. "Dear Lord, Marc! Are you dying?"
"J-just ab… uhh… just about…"
She threw off the covers, shivering as the cold winter air struck her. "I’m on my way over."
* * *
10:42, and she swore at the car in front of her. She dialed his number on the car phone. It rang five times, then the machine picked up. "Hello, this is Dr. Marcus MacInnes’ place. I amna in right noow, so leave a message and I’ll call ye back when I can, thank ye."
"Marc? It’s Kirsten. Don’t bother picking up, please! Just listen—" she held the phone out the window so it picked up the honks and shouts of the streets outside. "I’m stuck in traffic, baby. But I’ll be over as soon as I can, I promise! You just lie there and think about me and I’ll be there before you know it—"
"Oh, baby, you didn’t have to pick up. I’m sorry. I just wanted to let you know I’m on my way."
He coughed. "Can… p-pick up s… so… s… some ging… gin… hehh.. Ketchoo! Kashoo! Sniff! ginger ale?"
He sounded so horrible. "Of course. Anything else?"
She smiled. "Looks like we’ve started moving again," she lied, looking at the standstill. "I’ll be there in no time at all."
"Thhh… thank… thahh.. hahh… Kacheoo! KehhhShoo! Sniff sniff th-thank y…"
"It’s ok, I know. You’re welcome. I’ll see you soon."
* * *
11:02 and her key seemed jammed in the lock. A purse on one arm and a bag resting in the crook of her elbow, she felt lopsided, and the cold winter air was something she wasn’t quite adjusted to, even after living in Vermont for 3 years. "Go in!!!" she grunted, pulling the door towards her and giving the key a last turn, to find the door fly open, as she fell backwards, her bum hitting the pavement with a hard thump. "Oww!" she grunted again, picking herself up and going inside. "Marcus!" she called up the stairs. "I’m here!"
She heard a weak moan from upstairs and followed it, hovering in the doorway. She’d never seen his room looking that bad before. Then again, she’d never seen him looking that bad before, either. The floor by his bed was covered in balled-up tissues; the trashcan there was knocked over. There were a zillion blankets on his bed, most kicked off and fallen on the floor. A large bowl rested on the pillows beside him. Clothes littered the ground, so much that she could barely even see that there was a rug. And there he was, curled in a ball, shivering under one blanket, drenched in sweat, sniffling but looking up at her with weak eyes. Both his arms were wrapped around his stomach, and his mouth was half open, breathing heavy, hard breaths. "H-hey."
"Oh baby…" she left her bags at the foot of his bed and sat down on the edge, beside him. She touched his arm, and he shivered in reaction. She recoiled. "Oh, baby, I’m so sorry!"
He shook his head. "Is… ok…"
She pressed her hand against his forehead and at that moment he sneezed twice, wetly, moaning softly afterwards. She took a couple tissues and held them to his nose as he sniffled. Then he sneezed again, twice, into them, blowing his nose afterwards. She got up and returned a few minutes later with a cold, wet washcloth. She dabbed it against his forehead, cheeks, back of his neck.
"Mmmmm…" he said, as it felt so good. "Thank ye."
"Shhhh… don’t speak. It’s ok now. I’ll take care of you."
He nodded, closing his eyes, feeling too sick to protest.
She began humming a soft, slow song. Marcus smiled in recognition; it was their song, the one they’d first kissed to at a university-sponsored dance years ago.
"Hehhh… I…" she had some tissues ready. "Kehchooo! Karshishhh!"
He nodded thank you, still not opening his eyes. He sniffed and brought a hand up to rub at his forehead.
"Have you taken some Tylenol?"
He nodded. "D-didn’t stay down, though."
"Oh, baby. You poor thing." She didn’t know what to do for him. "What can I do to make you feel better?"
He opened his eyes. "I alreada do." Coughing, "Just be here. Just… hehh…. Kiiiihhh…" he sounded so weak, as if it took him so much energy just to breathe. "Kih-Kacheshh! Kahhchooo!"
"I’m here, don’t you worry. You just rest and let me take care of you." She kissed his hot cheek. "I’m here."
"Oooh man... I… don’t feel so well…"
"Oh, baby, don’t worry. I’m right here."
"No… I think… I’m gonna be sick…" He sat up, groaning, pushing the blankets away and nearly racing for the bathroom. She followed a moment after, hesitating at the doorway to see him bending over the toilet. She went to him, pulling his hair back and using her own hair tie to hold it there, out of his way. Marc was shaking with cold and sweating from fever, his body convulsing with each lurch. She put a cold washcloth on the back of his neck and wiped his face for him whenever she felt he needed it.
Soon it passed, as he hadn’t really eaten anything all morning. He was unsteady to stand, but Kirsten was there with a hand on his back and a second offered to him for support. He was halfway back to the bed when he stopped cold in his tracks, clutching his stomach again with a low groan. Kirsten turned him back around and spent nearly a full hour with him there, doing what she could, though it wasn’t nearly enough to keep him from hurting. His eyes were watering by the end, as the dry force pushed and pulled at him, and his coughs and runny nose didn’t help in the least to make things easy for him.
With one arm stretched out on the toilet seat and his head tilted, resting upon it, he finally let out a sigh. Marcus opened his eyes, and told her he was finally through. She had him rinse out his mouth, brush his teeth, then she helped him back to bed. The blankets came over him, as she tucked them so tightly around his cold, sweaty, shaking body. Then she sat down beside him, running a cool washcloth against his face. He coughed a few times, closing his eyes, trying to relax.
"There you go, baby. Go to sleep now. That’s right."
He turned over on his side, to be more comfortable, and curled up as he always did to sleep. With a yawn and a few sniffles, he drifted off to sleep. Kirsten sat and watched him for a while, scared to touch him, lest he wake up, but wanting so badly to curl up beside him, hug him, and make him feel better.
* * *
It was around 3:30 when he finally awoke, looked around, and didn’t see her. "Kirsten? Kirs cough Kirsten?"
"Right here, Marc!" She called, coming out of the bathroom wearing rubber gloves, a sponge in one hand, a can of comet in the other. "How are you feeling, baby?"
"My stomach feels better… though I’m still a wee shaky."
"Probably because you’ve had nothing to eat in days."
She dropped the equipment and went to him. Kirsten felt his forehead, finding it cool. "You feel up to a little ginger ale and some toast?"
He nodded, looking down at his stomach as if it would answer for him. "Aye… I think so."
"I’ll go wash up and bring you some, alright?"
Marcus nodded again, rubbing at his nose. "Could you bring me another sniff box of Kleenex? I feel all stuffed up and sn-sneezey all of a sudden…"
"Sure thing, baby. Be right back."
Which she was, bearing gifts. She sat down beside him putting the tray on the ground as she helped him sit up. She propped him up with pillows and pulled the blankets up to his waist. She noticed his sniffing was getting to be less, but when she looked at his face, it was drooping but intense in concentration. "You ok, baby? You’re not going to get sick again, are you?" she asked, reaching over towards the bowl.
"No… I hehh... haveta… keehh… sn… have tae… sneehh…" he’d been holding back the urges since she’d left.
She opened the new box of tissues she’d brought and shoved a few in his face just as he lost it.
"KehhCHHHISHHHOOO! Huh, huh huh… heehhh KeeerrHETCHOOO!" he sneezed with force, into her hand. He sniffed, not taking in any air, and it triggered the sensation again. "heehhhh-Keee-Sheooo! KaraSHUSHHH!"
"Blow your nose, baby."
He did, the sound a low wet honk. "Oh man…" he said, falling back against the pillows. "Thahhh… Kehhshhuushhh! Kettchishh! Only mahhh… made it worse… I’m gonna… KehhhShooo! Hahhh-KahhCHOOO!" Pause. "Kerehchooo! HaCHUshhhh!" Pause. Sniff. Pause. "Keeeehhhchhhhuhhh… Karrehhshooo!" With each his body contracted, lurching forward, staying in the follow though for the immediate second, and then sneezing it, pulling back, and freezing with eyes tightly shut to feel the next. "kehchishhh! KakhhCHUSHH!" Over and over again, thrown by their shear force. "KeeehChoo! KaaaaahSHOOO!" His nose was running, and he was feeling more embarrassed than ever; he could feel Kirsten’s cold stares, and wanted her to be any where but watching him lose control in such a way. "KAHHH-ETCHOO! Kah-haaaaaahCHOOO!" He never wanted her to see him looking so weak, so out of control, so helpless that he could barely hold the wet tissues to his nose as the sneezes took him. "KeeeehhhTSHOO! KarrehhSheeeeshhh! ehhhhhhhh… hah-Kachishhh! KuhChishhh! hehh… KehTCHOO! HahhhhhKETCHHHHhhhhoooshhh!" And he felt it pass, finally. He opened his eyes, warily, wanting to melt, unnoticed, into the pillows.
She was staring, quite noticeably, mouth half open.
"Excuse be," he muttered, blowing his nose strongly on a few tissues.
"That…" she said, handing him more. "Was the most sneezing I think I’ve ever heard out of anyone at one time."
He laughed, sniffing. "You’ve dever sniffle brought be roses."
"Brought you roses?"
He nodded, closing his eyes. "Roses. Evil sniffle wee flowers. Have a terrible allergy tae theb. Cadda stob sdeezig whedever I’b around roses. Got it from by bob—"
"You sound simply adorable like that, baby, all stuffed up and all."
He laughed roughly. "Glad subode likes it."
She laughed again, such a light, lovely laugh. "So, no roses?"
He shook his head violently, exaggeratedly, laughing slightly, "Do!! Do roses! Wi’ roses… I’d be lucka tae catch by breahh… breahhh… KehhChooo! Kiiishhhheeshhh!" he sniffed. "Breath id betweed."
"Aw, you poor thing," she smiled, kissing his cheek. His nose was bright red and running, though he held the tissues there to cover it so she wouldn’t see. His eyes drooped, his whole face terribly pale but cool to the touch now. "Eat up, sweetie. And drink your ginger ale; that should help. I’ll sit right here and pet you a while."
He smiled at her. "Tell be a stora, Kirsded?" He didn’t expect her to understand, let alone agree, but he had to ask anyway.
He sniffed and sipped more of the ginger ale, letting it soak into his throat, and soothe it with its tiny bubbles. "By bother," he tried hard to annunciate the words so that she could understand, but it only made things harder. "Used tae tell be a stora whenever I was sick."
"Oooohhh... so I’m your mother now?"
He looked up at her with pained eyes. "Do! Do, oh Lassie, I didda bean it that way! Dot at all! Sniff" He turned his head down, cheeks reddening again. "Dever bind. You’re probabla godda go sood adawaa, right?" He shook his head, wondering how she could even figure out what he was saying. "I cadda believe I’ve taked ub so buch of your tibe. I just… needed a wee bit o’ cobfortig and—"
She gave in, "Stop, stop, baby." She kissed his cheek again. "You sound too sick to even be talking and I can’t understand you half the time, anyway." She giggled. "I know, I know. It’s no fun to be sick and I’m sure you must feel just horrible, especially if you called me." She knew how shy he was to show his weak side to her, but loved the fact that he now trusted her enough to do so. "So, I’ll tell you a story and sit up with you as long as you want, ok?"
This time when Marcus looked up, they were full of tears.
"Oh baby, don’t cry!" She hugged him close.
"Ye bead so buch tae be, Kirsted. Thank ye, fer everathig."
She took a few tissues and gently rubbed them under his red nose. He closed his eyes, almost whimpering at the touch, and then let out a sigh as it began to help and feel wonderful. She led his head to her shoulder, and pulled the blanket up further over him. "Now for a story." She paused, thinking for a moment. "I’m not very good at this, I’m afraid, so you’ll just have to bear with me here." Then smiled as she let her imagination fly. "I’ll tell you the story of how my great grandparents met and fell in love. I’ve always found it to be so romantic and beautiful; I’d love to share it with you. Now, how do I begin…" she giggled. "Once upon a time…" She heard him snore. Kirsten looked down to find closed eyes, heavy breathing, and light, stuffy snores emanating from him already. "Well, that was easier than I’d thought." She kissed his forehead. "Poor thing must have been more tired than I thought." She dared not move him, though she, herself, was terribly hungry and longed for the microwave meal she’d bought herself while picking up the ginger ale for him. She simply kissed him again and snuggled up beside him, falling asleep with the man she was growing to love more and more every day.
"ehhhhhhKishhh! KeehShessshhh!" Marcus sneezed, opening his eyes to find himself sitting up in bed with the light still on, and Kirsten’s arm around him. His nose was running terribly, but he didn’t want to wake her up, so he tried his best to reach across her to the box of tissues without—
"Hmmm?" she mumbled as she stirred, eyes fluttering open.
"Soorra, didda bean tae… tae wake… hehhh… Kehhshoo! KahhCheeoo! Uh sniff wake ye."
She handed him the tissue box as he sneezed again.
"Keetchoo! Kahhhrashoo!" He sniffed, his body tense and frozen in place at the intense tickling in his nose. "KeeehhhTCHOO! KiiiiSHUSHHHH!!" his body shaking violently, weakly, with only Kirsten’s arms and hands there to help support him. "kehhhhhChooo! KACHUSHH!"
He sat back up with a shiver. "I’b so soorra."
"Oh, baby, don’t be! It’s not your—"
"—fault. Bless you."
"Uhhh," he groaned.
She pulled his hair back from his face and kissed his cheek. "It’s ok. I just wish you were feeling better."
He nodded. "Be, too. It’s just that this tickle in by dose just willda stob." He sniffed gently, testing it. "KahShoo! Keehtchooo!"
She got up and righted the trashcan and held it up to him so he could throw away the tissues. Marcus laughed at it, and she did, too, and they met in a tight hug. "It will be alright, Marc. I’m here to take care of you. You’ll be ok, it’ll just take time, and I’m here all day and night until you feel better." Her stomach rumbled as they pulled away, and they laughed again.
"Or udtil ye grow hungra, aye?"
Kirsten nodded. "I didn’t eat all day. And when you fell asleep I had not the heart to wake you so that I could go eat."
He laughed, sniffing. "You’d best go dae that, Lassie."
"You feel strong enough to come down with me? I can make you a little nest of blankets on the couch and we could cuddle and watch TV or something. Or would you like to go back to sleep?"
He wanted nothing more than to be left alone in his room while she ate. He was thankful she had been there for him, but he wasn’t the type to like someone fussing over his every breath. For as bad as he felt, he could handle it ok. But of course, he couldn’t tell Kirsten that. "Ye’re sweet tae be, Kirsted. Thank ye." He sniffed a few more times. "Aye, I’d like tae go down."
"Good!" she said, glad she could keep an eye on him, more than anything. "It will give me time to run your bed sheets through the washer and dryer."
He shook his head. "How’d ye get tae be so sweet? Sniff I bead, ye drobbed everathig fer me, and when you touch be, ye seeb tae bake it all better."
Kirsten gently laid her hand upon his arm, then ran it up and down, warming him, comforting him. "I care about you, that’s why I do it. I hate seeing you not feeling well, and I want to do everything I can to make it better in as much as I can."
"Easy edough tae say… but ‘tis dae everaode who would."
"Well, I would. Because I care too much for you to see you suffer."
They made it downstairs and in a few trips, Kirsten got everything for him. She put some of the blankets and pillows down for him, and he lay down, stretched out on his side, head on a few pillows, which made it a little easier to breathe.
"I’m going to go use the microwave. Be back in about ten minutes, alright?"
He nodded, holding a tissue under his nose.
When she returned with a meal for herself and another cup of tea for him, he curled up more onto one side of the couch to make room for her to sit. She sat down, pulling one of the blankets over her lap as well as making sure Marc was well-covered. He flipped through the channels, finally letting it rest on a repeat of Mad TV. "This sniff ok?" he asked her, hesitating to put down the remote.
"Oh, yeah. Just fine." She hadn’t realized exactly how hungry she’d been until she began eating. After a while, she heard a few sounds from him, and looked over to find his eyes closed, and a rather pained expression on his face. "Marc?" His eyes flew open, and he winced. "What’s wrong, babe?"
He shook his head. "Dod’t feel so well. It cobes and goes. It’s cobe this tibe."
"Oh, poor baby!"
He shook his head again. "You dod’t have to take pity od be. It’s just the flu. I’ll be ok."
This time she shook her head. "Not pity, sympathy. I wish I could make you feel better."
"hehhhh…" he took a few more tissues, burying his nose in them. "KehhhTChhhhooo! KarShooo!" he sneezed, body shaking helplessly. He looked up at her with sad eyes, and then closed them with a final shake of his head.
"Come here and lie down," she told him, putting down the remains of her dinner, and placing a pillow in her lap.
"Do sniff sniff I’b ok."
She gave a deep sigh. "No, you’re not ok. You’re sick, and you need me to take care of you, so that’s what I’m going to do. Now lie down so that you can stretch out and I’ll pet you a little while you rest."
"Do, really, Kirsted, I’ll be alright."
"Marc!" she exclaimed, pushing the blankets away so he had room to lie down. "It wasn’t an offer, it was an order. Now let me take care of you because that’s what you need now, and you know it."
He nodded reluctantly. He didn’t agree, but he wasn’t strong enough to argue. With his head on the pillow in her lap and the rest of him stretching over the length of the couch, he found that he and his stomach felt quite a lot better. "Thanks," he coughed. "I feel a little better this way, maybe."
She shhhed him and pulled his long, light orange-red hair back and away from his neck. She caressed him, her soft hand brushing against his cheek and several day-old stubble which lined his chin. She watched his beautiful but tired green eyes close, and his chest rise and fall with a deep sigh. His heavy breathing grew slower, and the phone rang.
Marcus groaned and started to sit up, but she held her hand on his shoulder, keeping him down as she reached over to the side table and answer it, "Hello?"
There was a short pause. "This is Dr. Marcus MacInnes’ number, is it not?"
She smiled. "Oh, yes. Who shall I say is calling?"
"Dr. Leroy from the office."
"One moment, please." She cupped her hand over the receiver. "Marc, it’s a Dr. Ler—" Marc waved his hand desperately for the phone, sitting up with a groan and a hand to he back of his neck. She handed him the phone.
"Deddis? What’s wrong?" His eyes, even tired, lit up. "You’re kiddig!" A short pause. "You’re dot kiddig!" he almost laughed, but a grin spread over his face. "That is woderful, Deddis!" He froze. "Ub, do," he coughed and cleared his throat. "Yeah. Do, do, I dod’t dow. Do, I cad’t." He coughed again. "Deddis, I’b sick... Do, realla sick. I cad’t… eight pages? Do… Och, aye! Aye, aye, that’s a wee better. Oh great… aye. Aye, I dow. OK, I’ll try to bake it. Yeah, I’ll be there. See ye." He handed the phone back to Kirsten, who hung it up for him. "That was by research bartder—"
It sounded like bartender, but she knew that couldn’t be right. "Your what?"
"Bart-der… we work together?"
"Yeah, that’s it. He uncovered ad adciedt scribture and it was just shibbed in. I have to go id to helb study it."
Her jaw dropped. "Now?"
"Weeeel, it was dow, but I told hib I couldn’t go udtil the bord."
"The bording. After the sud cobes ub."
"Yehhh… ehhhh.. Kahchoo! KetCHooo! Sniff Yeah."
"Oh, baby... I don’t think that’s a very good idea…"
He smiled, lying back down with his head in her lap. "I’b all yours udtil thed." He had to say something to quiet her up. There was no way he was going to miss this research opportunity because of a little flu. "And ye can fuss over be bore."
She laughed. "It’s getting to you?"
He coughed. "Nay, lassie," he lied, "Tis nice to have sobeode who cares… it’s beed a log while. And I thik ye’re terribla sweet tae gae to all this trouble fer me. Just… dot too buch bore."
She smiled, shaking her head. "No trouble at all, Sweets. Let me just go get the blankets out of the dryer, and we’re set for the night, ok?" He nodded, sitting back up with his hand to his head.
When she returned, she found him nearly asleep above the blankets, his head on the pillow where she had been. He was curled up, cuddling a blanket against his stomach. Kirsten melted. She wrapped the fresh-from-the-dryer warm blankets around him, undressed partially, and crawled under to spoon him from behind, draping her arm aver him in security.
"Thank ye, sniff Kirsten," he whispered.
She nodded, kissing his cheek. "Sleep well."
He managed a soft murmur, "I will with ye here."
* * *
At 9am, he stood beside the couch, staring down at her peacefully sleeping form, shivering slightly. He hated to wake her, but knew he must or she would wake and be scared as to where he was. He coughed into his shoulder. "Kirsted?" he shook her lightly.
"Hmmm?" No matter how much sleep she got, she was always tired when she woke up.
"I deed to cough go id dow. Ye can let yerself sniff, sniff out if ye like, just lock the door behide ye."
She sat up, rubbing her eyes. "I’ll drive you to work."
He smiled, leaning on the side of the couch. "Do. Ye didda have tae. I’ll be alright."
She stood, shaking her head, trying to wake up. "No you won’t. I’m yawn driving."
She picked up her purse and pulled on her jacket. "I’m driving. Period. End of conversation."
* * *
"So you see," Dennis said, pointing down at a spot on the ancient document. "It says it right there."
Marcus nodded, hovering over the document, sniffing constantly. He barely wanted to breathe near the item, but Dennis needed him there, and he had no choice. "Aye, aye, I see it. But how are ye sure that it’s authen… authhh... hehhh" he quickly raised his arm and pushed his nose into the crook of his arm. "Kehhshhmmphhh! Kahhhchishmmph!" He sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. "Scuse me… Are ye sure it’s authentic? Because after all, we are bayin’ these beoble to give us results. And this sybol id the corder there is sus… sus.. suhhh.." Into the crook of his arm again, the sound smothered by the thickness of his sweatshirt. "KehhhCHOOmpph! Karshooompphhhh!" He saw that Dennis was carefully inspecting the corner. "Suspicious." He excused himself and left for a few minutes.
Sitting far on the other side of the room, reading a book, Kirsten noticed him leave. She followed, out the door, shrugging to Dennis as she passed. She looked right, down the hall, then left, finding him nowhere. She heard a strong sniff and looked down to see him sitting on the floor. His knees where up in front of him, his arms crossed on them, his head against them so that his head was between his knees, his face hidden from view.
Kirsten sat down beside him, lying a hand on one arm. "Marc?"
He shivered, shaking weakly, and sneezed twice, wet, spraying, his head tilting down more so she couldn’t see his face. He sniffed and pulled away from her, shaking off her hand intentionally, but shivering at it, as well.
"Marcus, are you alright?" she asked softly.
He shook his head. "Just go away. Let... m-meh... KISHhhhhhhh! KehShhhhhhh!" He sniffed strongly. "Let me alone."
"Marc, I’m worried ab—"
"Just gae! cough I didda wadt ye hoverin’ ov’r me the whole bloody time! I cad barely hear byself think! Tis drivin’ me crazy!"
Kirsten stood up, not too sure she should, but feeling the insult hit deeply, even if she knew it was just his flu talking. "Fine. I’ll go."
"*sniff* Good! sniff"
She went into the room again, to collect her things. Turning to the rather confused man still hovering over the artifact with deep interest and concentration, she asked him, "Can you make sure that he gets home alright?"
"Thank you, Dr. Leroy."
He nodded again, mumbling to himself, "I don’t even know why I try anymore…"
She smiled as she left, walking right past Marcus without a word. Marcus most likely didn’t notice in the least as he sat there, head bobbing, caught in a fit of double sneezes. "hehhKeshhh! Kahehhchooo! Kekchishhhh! Karchishhh! HihKechooo! Kehhh… Karchooo! Kihshhhhooo! Kehcheshhhhh!"
* * *
She was in the middle of dinner when the phone rang. She glanced at her nearly-boiling pot and debated answering it. Thinking it might be Marc, and remembering that afternoon, she let the machine pick it up. When her message had ended, she heard it click, and a rough, weak voice call out her name, "Kirsted? Kirsted? Pick cough Pick up, please… I… I deed a cough a r-ride to the hosbital…"
Kirsten’s ears perked up. She raced for the phone.
"Fide, I’ll get there sniff by byself. B--"
She picked it up. "Marc!"
"*cough* So ye are there?"
"Marc, what’s wrong? The hospital?"
"I sniff sniff I feel a thousad tibes sniff sicker thad before. I deed to… gae to the hospital."
"I’ll be right there. Stay put, Sweets."
He nodded, his body shaking weakly with a double sneeze, "Kehhhhhhchhhhhhoooo! KeehhChishhhooo!"
* * *
She sat shivering in the car outside his house. The door was open, which she thought to mean he was coming out any time. She waited, and honked the horn several times, and waited a few more minutes. Then she turned off the car and buttoned her coat, to walk up and into the house. "Mar—"
She looked down at the couch from whence it came to find Marc lying on his face with his coat half on, and his arms around his stomach.
"Oh Marc…" she bent down, feeling his forehead, covered with sweat, as his whole body shook with constant shivers.
"Kehchooo! Kahchooo!" he sneezed.
His forehead was burning hot. "You’ve got a high fever, Marc."
His eyes closed. "I dow… hosbital… so cold…"
She managed to pull him to his feet, slip his arm through the other sleeve of his coat despite his moans, and guide him towards the door. He pulled back once there, groaning and doubling over with stomach pains. With a detour by way of the downstairs bathroom, she finally got him into the car, shivering terribly in the passenger seat as she sped to the hospital.
* * *
She heard the sirens before she saw the police car behind her. With a glance over at Marc, she gritted her teeth and pulled over, rapping her fingers on the steering wheel impatiently.
"Do you know how fast you were going, Miss?" the officer said, bending to look into her open window.
"Yes I do, Sir. 20… 25 over the limit."
He sighed. "I clocked you at 29 over back there. I’m going to have to write you up for this."
She nodded, understanding.
Marc groaned, in a feverish daze, unaware of what was happening.
She rubbed his arm, whispering, "Shhhh, Sweets. We’ll get there soon. It’s ok…"
"Kir… Kirsten. I don’t…" he stifled a cough. "I dod’t feel so well…"
She nodded. "I know, I know," She was scared he might be sick right there in the car, but with his fever she hated to roll down the window on a suspicion. "Just hold on. I’ll get you there. It’s ok."
She noticed the officer staring at her, so she figured it wouldn’t hurt to explain. "My boyfriend has a bad case of the flu. I was taking him to the hospital."
The officer bent down, looking over at Marc, who began sneezing in his usual style- wet doubles about 5 seconds apart. With a sigh, the officer tore up the ticket and waved his arm. "Hey, he… um… he doesn’t look too good."
Throwing the door open, Marc was sick just then, but with little in his stomach to make the amount of gagging and coughing worth it.
The officer sighed again. "Never mind, just go. And don’t speed again, consider this your warning!"
"No Sir! Thank you!"
"Yeah, sure. Good luck, hope he feels better."
Kirsten nodded, smiling at her luck, and headed back off to the hospital. She hoped so, too.
* * *
"It’s just a bad case of the flu," the doctor told her, though her eyes were fixed on the door to his room. "Nothing you could have done. We’ve got him on an IV to replace some of his fluids and nutrition. He’ll be all right in a day or so. Just needs a chance to let his fever and stomach discomforts run their course. You can go in and see him if you like."
Kirsten went into his room warily, a little scared of what she might find there.
Marc lay in the white hospital bed, turned on his side, an IV in his arm. His face was pale, drained of all color, but still as handsome as the first day they had met in the park. He opened his eyes to hear her and held his hand out to her. Kirsten went to him hesitantly, not sure he really meant it.
"Do you… can you… forgive me, Marc?"
His eyes lit up. "Kirsted… can ye forgive ME?"
She shook her head. "There’s nothing to forgive… it’s my fault. I was smothering you… I forget that, well, you’re not like me in every way. Everyone wants something different when they get sick… you just want a little help and to be left alone…"
Marcus took her hand and squeezed it. "Ye bead sniff so buch tae be, Kirsted. I dow I’ve dot beed sniff easy to be with these last few days, but, well… I abbreciate sniff everythig…"
Kirsten kissed his cheek. "Lets make a deal then, ok, Sweets?"
"I won’t hover and I won’t suffocate you, but I care about you too much to leave you alone entirely. So I’ll stay with you until you say you’re ok. And if I start to get more than comfy with you, you just tell me and I’ll back off. Sound good?"
She giggled. "Is that a yes?"
He nodded, sniffing strongly.
She went to get a few tissues for him, but as she saw his hand there, too, she backed off. "Bless you," she said softly, letting him take care of himself.
He smiled at her and blew his nose. "Thaks, Kirsted."
She nodded. "Feel better, Marcus."
She climbed up on the bed beside him, wrapping her arms around him, and they drifted off into a peaceful sleep together.