The Grocery Store
"So what do you want to do today?" I asked, rolling over under the covers, a warm ball coated with soft, delicious heat.
"Mmmm…nothing," Jack murmured, voice wrapping around my body.
He and I were best friends, both tied to each other in ways we couldn’t explain, forever bound as soulmates are. We also happened to be married and both self-employed (we were both writers), and so neither of us really needed to do anything at all during the day when we were between projects.
"We have to get up eventually," I said, burying my face in my pillow and closing my eyes luxuriously.
"What makes you say that?"
"We need to go shopping."
"Ugh. Nell, we’ve got food here."
"Yes, but eventually it will either get eaten or rot…and most of that crap in the pantry is already inedible."
"Yes, but—huh-iiiishOO!" A forceful sneeze interrupted him. "Excuse me. But we can live on it till Monday."
"Not unless you want to have five-day-old tuna for dinner tonight," I said, getting up. "C’mon—we’ve got work to do."
Jack refrained from complaining while I shopped for our groceries—he sneezed a few times, however, and generally looked a bit woozy.
"You okay?" I said as I chose a line for the cashier.
"Hm?" he said. "Why do you ask?"
"You’ve been sneezing more than usual, for one."
He shrugged. "Something in the air, probably."
I squinted at him. "I know you," I said. "You always deny that you’re sick until it’s blatantly obvious."
He grinned devilishly—he was gorgeous when he smiled. "So how am I different from any other guy you’ve met?"
I rolled my eyes as I began unloading the cart. Jack started pitching in, but a few seconds after the cashier started ringing up the purchases, I noticed that he’d stopped helping. As I turned to look at him, his brown eyes began to slide shut and his smooth brow creased as he turned to the side, bending over a bit. He stood there for a second, a picture of anticipation, and then his chest filled as he drew in a deep breath and sneezed—"huh-iiiSHOO!" His throat made a dry clicking noise, and his breath was audible as he gasped slightly and sneezed again—"eehSHOO! IiSHOO! Huh…ISHOO!" He sneezed into his fist, his body dipping smoothly with each explosion. He stood for a second, eyes closed but not tightly, breathing shallowly, fully concentrated. Then his breath hitched a few times and a forceful round of sneezes hit him—"iiiiIISHOO! Huh-iSHOO! Huh…ESHOO! IIIIISHoo! Huh…IISSSSSSHHHoo!" He stood for a few moments, breathing heavily, and his eyes squeezed shut as he sneezed again—"IiiiiiSHOO! Huh-ISHOO!"
Finally he straightened, grinning sheepishly at me.
"Bless you!" the cashier said; she’d been watching him the entire time. "Do you have allergies? My cousin sneezes like that sometimes when he’s around cats."
"No, he’s just sick," I said before Jack could respond, "and he refuses to admit it."
Jack started to say something, then raised a finger in a signal to wait. He turned away quickly and sneezed into his fist again, a loud, wet, "IiiiSHOO!" He straightened. "I am no…not sick," he said, even as his eyes half-closed and he drew in a shaky breath, fighting off the urge to sneeze. "Ehhhh…ISHOO!" He kept his fist at his mouth, breath hitching. He made an almost inaudible noise as he did, a soft, anticipatory "huuuuuhh…", and then it suddenly exploded into a wet, full-forced "iiiiiiSSSHOO!"
"Bless you," I said. I turned to the cashier. "Point proven."
She grinned. "It’s quite a show."
"Indeed," I said, looking back at Jack, who was busily avoiding my gaze. I grinned back at her.
Once outside, Jack exploded into a volley of loud, spraying sneezes: "hit-ISHOO! IIIISSSSHHoo! LllllIIIISHHHOO! Hit-ICHOO! Huh…iSHOO! At-CHOO! ISHOO!" The last three were almost in the same breath; Jack was nearly gasping as the fit ended.
"Uh…" he managed as we continued walking. "It won’t go away, no matter how much I sneeze. It’s this constant, anticipatory feeling—I can’t stand it."
We’d reached the car by then, and I hugged him suddenly, tightly. I could feel him laugh as he hugged me back, his body warm and soft and comforting.
"What’s this for?" he asked as I rested my head against his chest.
"No reason," I said. "I just love you."
"I love you too," he murmured. "And no, I’m not going to get cold medicine."
"Go upstairs," I said as soon we walked in the door. "I’ll put the groceries away myself."
"I really don’t li…" His eyes half-closed and he raised a tentative fist to his mouth as he talked, then paused in the agonizing wait between anticipation and followthrough.
I watched him, a bit mesmerized, as his flawlessly handsome features melted into a mask of pure anticipation—eyes half-closed, nostrils wide and quivering, mouth half-open and shielded by his loose fist.
"Don’t what?" I said, and he held up a finger.
"I…huh…huuuh…IIIIISSHOO! Hupt-IIISSSSSSSHHHOO! ESSSSHHHHOO! I…uh…can’t…ESSSSHHHHOO!" This sneeze seemed to shake all of him, a full-body explosion. He looked up at me with that tell-tale expression of anticipation. "Don’t liiii…like your attitude. IIISSSSSSHHHHoo!! ISSSSHHHHHOO!" He nearly doubled over with the force of these sneezes; they threatened to capsize him. "huh-IIIISSSSHHHOOO! ESSSSSSHHHHHOO!" He groaned a bit, and a tear threaded its way down his face and dripped onto his chin. He held onto the kitchen counter as another forceful round of sneezes overtook him; this time he sneezed into the crook of his elbow the first two times. "Huh-IIIIISSSSSSHHHHOO! LLLLSSHHHHoo! LLLLLLLLSSSHHOOO! Huh-iiiiiiiisSSHOO! Ehhh…EESSSHHHHHOO! Huh…IISSSSHHHOOO! Huh…
By this time he had begun to devote his entire concentration to each sneeze; he let each one take him with its full power. I could almost sense as the urge filled his lungs to their fullest, then suddenly exploded out of him, rocketing through first his chest and then taking his whole body, leaving him completely empty.
When it looked as if the fit was over, I walked up to him and calmly kissed his mouth. I could feel him struggling for breath, and I moved closer and embraced him tightly.
"Nell…" he whispered. His chest hitched almost imperceptibly, and I knew he was fighting off a sneeze. He moved back and turned away quickly, sneezing forcefully into his fist—"IiiiiiSSSHOO!"
He looked up at me, eyes watering. "I’m sorry, I really should—"
"Go to bed," I finished. "You need to."
He turned to go, and I saw his chest fill as he drew in another deep, preparatory breath. The curve of his back dipped in an almost erotic way, and I found myself staring at his profile as his nostrils curved and his breath softened to a low groan. "huhIIIISSSSHHHHOO! Huuh…HUHIIISSSHHoo!"
"Jack," I said, and he turned. And I walked up to him and kissed him again, deeply, and felt his body relax against mine. He began to move towards the stairs, cradling me against him, and I murmured, "The groceries. Dear Lord, the ice cream!"
He broke into his gorgeous smile and laughed more deeply than usual. "It can wait," he whispered. "It can wait."