Just An Ordinary Day
He could feel the sneeze building up behind his nose, a restless, insistent tingling that wouldn’t go away. And then it just stayed, neither increasing nor decreasing, driving him mad with anticipation.
"Sam?" Kelly whispered. "You okay?"
He opened his mouth to speak, and then the feeling pushed forward and he was about to sneeze. He clasped a loose fist, raised it to his mouth, and turned to the side slightly, brow creasing. His eyes slid shut, mouth curled, and then he sneezed, a full-forced—"Huh-IIISSSSHHOO!"
He was aware of a soft chorus of "Bless you"’s, but the tickle hadn’t gone away; he couldn’t concentrate. He kept his eyes shut, and his lean, muscular torso angled forward a bit as the sneeze exploded out of him, another loud, wet "EhhhhSHHHOO!"
Another sneeze hit him just as he caught his breath from the second—"IIIIIISSSSSHHHHHoo!!" He sat with his fist pressed to his mouth, inhaling lustily, eyes half-closed, awaiting another explosive sneeze. The feeling suddenly became inescapable, and he awaited it, helpless, as a fourth sneeze overtook him—"IiiiiiSSSSSHHHHOO!"
Finally the urge was gone, and he leaned back again, blushing a little. Half the people in the room were staring at him, and his blush coalesced into a deep maroon as he murmured, "Excuse me." He could hear Kelly laughing softly, and he had half a mind to elbow her…hard.
"Okay, now that we’ve embarrassed Sam, let’s get back to the meeting," their boss, Karen, said, glancing at Sam with a half-smile. He was suddenly grateful for her.
"So what was that fit during the meeting about?" Kelly asked as they sat down with their lunch trays.
"I don’t know, but you’ve got me as to why all those people were staring."
Kelly shrugged. "You’ve got quite a sneeze."
He looked at her. "What do you mean?"
"It’s loud, for one thing—not unpleasantly so, of course. But mainly you put your whole concentration into it—you’re totally absorbed in that and nothing else." She grinned. "Sorry I laughed at you."
Sam laughed. "I was ready to kick you for that."
"I could tell."
Their conversation lapsed into work issues, complaining about their boss and work load as was usual for them.
Kelly was in the middle of a story about her former boss when Sam felt the familiar tickle begin in the back of his nose. He nodded at something she said, and then his eyes began to slide shut, filling a bit. The sneeze came fast—as his eyes crinkled closed, he turned away and leaned to the side, collapsing his fingers into a fist. "huh-IIISSSHHHoo!" he sneezed, and again, "iiiSSHHHOO!" He gasped softly and sneezed four more times without pause—"iiiSSHHHOO! Uh-IISSHHH!! IISSSHHHoo! EESSHHHHoo!" The urge only increased with this last, and he tried to speak before it hit—"I can’t stoooo…ISSSHHOO! Huh…ehISHHOO! ESHOO! ESHOO! IiiiiSSHHOO!"
When he was sure the fit was over, he straightened and said, "Excuse me," softly, just as Kelly said, "Bless you!"
"You sure you’re okay, Sam?" she asked. "I’ve never seen you like this."
He nodded, then quickly turned to the side as another round of sneezes caught him off-guard. "I—huh-ISHOO! Huh…ISHOO! ISSSHHHoo! ESHOO! ESSSHHHoo! IIISSSHHHoo! Huh…" He breathed softly for a moment, then gave in to the urge with an explosive "ehhhSSSHHHoo! ISHOO!" He straightened again, smiling sheepishly.
"Bless you," Kelly said. "Let me feel your forehead."
He laughed. "I’m fine. I’m probably just allergic to something in the room."
"You don’t have any allergies. Do you sneeze like this when you get sick?"
"Maybe," he said coyly, giving her a gorgeous half-smile.
She found herself smiling back. "Liar. Let me feel your forehead."
"I don’t have a fever. It’s probably just a head cold. Must’ve started in the meeting this morning."
"Well then, go home. We don’t need you here."
"Way to make me feel good, Kel," he laughed. "No, I’ll stay. I feel okay anyway; it hasn’t really set in yet."
She shrugged. "Your funeral."
By the end of the day, Sam had begun to intensely regret not taking Kelly’s advice. He sneezed almost constantly, making it all but impossible to answer his phone or work on the computer. On top of that, his coworkers weren’t helping things—they were either overly concerned or couldn’t care less.
Kelly came over at 5:15, caught him in the middle of an attack, felt his forehead, and said, "I’ve heard you all day long. Go. Home."
At that moment he had an almost overwhelming urge to hug her. "Okay."
The doorbell rang at 6pm, just as Sam had settled onto the couch in sweats and a white T-shirt.
"Dammit," he muttered, and got up to answer it as the urge to sneeze built up behind his nose.
He’d just begun to open the door when the urge overwhelmed him and he turned away to sneeze a forceful "huh-iiiiIISSSHHHHooo!" He sniffed and said "Excuse me," just as he heard Kelly’s voice say, "Bless you."
"Thank you," he said, managing a weak smile. "What brings you here?"
"Just wanted to check on you, see if you needed anything."
"Nope, I’m okay. Why don’t you come in, though? Freezing outside."
"It is," Kelly agreed as he shut the door behind her.
"Would you like—"
"Don’t even think of offering me anything," she said. "Go lay down and I’ll fix something for both of us."
He smiled. "Thank you."
She allowed herself to smile back. "Go lay down, okay?"
He’d just resettled himself on the couch when Kelly came back with two steaming mugs.
"Tea," she said. "It’ll help you get to sleep."
"Tha—ISSHHOO!" The sneeze caught him off-guard, just as he’d been about to take the mug from her. For a moment he thought it was over, but then the urge was back, so strong he could only inhale shakily as he waited. He turned to the side and kept a fist pressed to his curled lips, and then the sneeze exploded out of him—"heh-IIIIIISSSHHHHooo! Heh-EHCHOO! Huh…IIISSSHHHoo! AaaSSHHHoo! Hupt-ISHOO! ISSHHoo!" He hated to let her see him like this, so completely vulnerable and unable to stop sneezing, but there was nothing he could do. He gasped shallowly for a few seconds, and Kelly set his mug down and took the opportunity to get up and hand him a box of tissues.
"You’re welcome," she said, looking mildly amused. "You okay?"
He nodded quickly, and then doubled over with the force of four more powerful sneezes—"HupTISSHHOO! IIISSHHHoo! Huuuh… huhiiiiiSSHHHOO! KepIIIISSHHHoo!" He grabbed a few tissues and muffled the next few—"HmmmMMPPHHssh! HaMMPPSSShh! Huh-ISSHHMMMPH!" He sat almost completely still for a few seconds, eyes half-closed, nostrils curled, and then turned away and sneezed a final "Huuuuh…iiiiIISSSSHHHHoooo!"
"I’b sorry," he managed, his voice deep and congested. "I didb’t—"
"Don’t apologize," she said. "You can’t help it."
"Shh. Just drink your tea."
"Why do I feel like I’b 8 again?" he said, sipping from his mug.
"Cause you’re acting like it."
He couldn’t help smiling, and when he spoke, his voice was much clearer than it had been. "Kelly Richards, always quick with the compliment."
"Lay down and go to sleep, you big goof," she told him.
He remained sitting. "You would’ve made and excellent kindergarten teacher, you know that? Except the kids—"
She got up and physically pushed his shoulders down onto the couch cushions, so that she ended up leaning over him, her face close to his. "Stay there, okay? I don’t want to have to stay like this until you fall asleep."
"No, it’d be very nice if you’d stay right there." He grinned devilishly.
"If you weren’t so sick, I’d kick your ass."
"Thank God for small miracles."
She got up and went into the kitchen, almost wishing she didn’t feel the attraction to him that she did. She’d always been attracted to him, as she knew he was to her, but suddenly he was nearly irresistible--it was actually his cold that made him so attractive. She’d never seen him sneeze before, and she’d struggled to keep her composure during his many attacks. She was sure he was aware of it—she’d felt the hot blush rise every time he began to show signs of having to sneeze again.
She and Sam had been friends a long time, but it was only now that she’d seen him weak and vulnerable and incapacitated, which he was usually the opposite of—he was one of the most composed and controlled people she’d ever met. So now, seeing this side of him was nearly irresistible—and the fact that his sneezes were absolutely beautiful didn’t hurt any.
She didn’t realize until Sam called to her how long she’d been standing in the kitchen, staring absently out the window. "Hm?" she said, her reverie shattered. "What is it, Sam?"
"Can you fix me…huuh…"
She walked back into the livingroom, heels clicking on the wooden floor, to see Sam struggling with the powerful urge to sneeze. It was definitely a losing battle—his brow creased and eyes fluttered shut as a single tear escaped and slowly threaded down to his chin, where it hung pendulously, catching the light like a silvery drop of rain. His nostrils curled as his lips parted, and he brought a loose fist up to his mouth, his breath audible as the air rushed against his curled fingers. He was seemingly frozen for a moment, his chest vibrating ever so slightly as small gasps spastically pulsed through him, trapped in the agony of anticipation. And then, suddenly, there was a visible change in him, as his head tipped back ever so slightly, his chest expanded, and the explosion hit, a loud, satisfying "iiiiiIISSSHHHOO!"
Kelly felt the heat of the blush coating her skin as Sam sneezed again—"huh-IISSHHOO! LllIIISSSSHHHHooo! EeaaaSSSHHHHOOO! Hit-MMMMSSSHHHoo!"
He turned back to her, absently rubbing his cheek where the tear had fallen. His eyes, still a beautiful, electrifying blue, were now tired and edged with red, and his nostrils were starting to turn a sore red as well. He smiled wearily and held out his hand. She took it, feeling the blush spread deeper into her skin.
"I’b sorry, Kel. Please, go hobe and edjoy yourself. I’ll be just fide here."
"You don’t sound fine," she said, squeezing his hand.
"I’ll be okay. You’ve beed extremely kibd already."
She sighed, not agreeing to anything one way or the other. As attracted to him as she was, it was more important to her to make sure he really was okay—that, not her excitement, was what kept her there (or at least, that’s what she told herself). "What was it you wanted?"
"Oh," he said remembering. He tried to sniff, but it wasn’t very successful with his clogged nose. "It was dothing ibportant. I cab get it myself."
"Sam, please let me get it for you before I leave, okay? I don’t want you hurting yourself."
He managed a feeble smile. "Fibe then, Ms. Richards."
She punched him lightly.
His smile grew a bit, his broad mouth handsome and friendly. "Cad you fix be a bowl of soup?"
"Sure, no problem," she said accomodatingly. "What kind? Chicken, right?"
He nodded, and she realized that it must have been difficult for him to talk. She squeezed his hand again, now not wanting to leave more than ever, and went back into the kitchen.
She fixed the soup without incident—Sam sneezed a few times, but nothing like his earlier attacks. Each time he did, however, she felt a shudder of excitement curl through her, blue and warm, and each time wished he’d invite her to stay a while longer. She knew she could’ve easily just refused to leave, and would’ve done so normally, but for some reason now she just didn’t feel it would be right unless he asked.
"Here’s your soup," she said, handing it to him gently as he sat up.
"Thak you," he managed weakly, taking a few tentative sips and coughing a bit as he did so. He looked up at her. "Thak you for everything."
She smiled, feeling herself flush again. What had gotten into her? She never acted this stupid.
The moment was about to become awkward—she wasn’t ready to leave and yet there was nothing else for her to do, save plop down next to him and get comfortable—when, predictably, Sam began to sneeze again. "Oh Jesuuu…huh-ISHOO!" He carefully set the soup bowl down on the coffee table and sat up again, grabbing a few tissues. "Huuuhh…heh…I’b sor…sorry…"
"Like I said, no need to apolog—"
He interrupted her with an explosive "HehiiiIIIIISSHHHooo!" The next few were quicker and softer, sneezed into his elbow—"HuptISHOO! ISHOO! Huh…ISHOO! ESHOO! Hit-ISHOO!" He managed to look up at her for a moment. "You can leee…leave if you wadt, Kel. I’b rilly sorry about thi—ISHOO! Excuse m—ISSSHHOO!"
She sat down next to him on the couch, ignoring his words. "You’re not annoying me," she told him—the understatement of the year. "If you need me to stay here, I will."
"Thak you, buuu…HihISHOO! EehhhISSSSSHHHHoo! You don’t nee—" His voice was swept into a high-pitched gasp, and he sneezed powerfully, the force doubling him over—"iiiiiIIIISSHHHHOOO! KepTISSSHHHOO! HupEEEESSSHHHHHaaaaa! HmMMMMSSSSSHHmmm! You dod’t need to stay jusd because you feel obligaded do." His voice was worse than before, and she could barely make out his words.
"I’ll stay because you need me."
"I’d sbile at that if I couuu…HupISHOO! Could."
She smiled softly at that, feeling a deep affection for him mingling with her attraction.
"Yeah, jusb like that," he managed. "Wow, I madaged a whole sen—HIIIIISSSHHHOO! Sedtedce widdout sdeezig."
"Are you okay?" she said. "You’ve been sneezing for awhile now."
"Yeah, I beel okay, it’s jusd this dab tickle thad won’d go away. It’s actually…huuh…geddig wor—SUUSSSHHHHoo!"
"Worse," she finished for him, trying to keep in mind that he hadn’t noticed her blushing so far—although now her face was so hot she was sure that, even with his fever, their skin would feel exactly the same temperature, hers so flushed she might as well have had the worst sunburn in case history.
"Yes," he said, and then gasped as a fresh round hit him—"HiiiiIISSSHH!! HaeeeESSHHHHOOO! HUHSSHHHoo! IiiiiissshhOOO! MmmSSSHHHHumm! HuptIIIISSSHHHoo! Huuhh…IIIISSSHHH! HaIIIISSSHHHHaah!" Every one of them pulled him forward, nearly doubling him over, involving every inch, every fiber of his body. "One… huh…more, I think…" he managed. "Huh…eeeeeiiiiiIIISSSSSHHHHOO!"
"Bless you," Kelly said softly, finding it a little difficult to talk herself.
"Thak you," he noised. "Ugh…thak God that’s over."
In one way Kelly was glad, too—she certainly hated to see her friend suffer—but, of course, the overwhelming feeling right now was not of sympathy but of incredible excitement.
"I’b sorry," he said again. "I—"
She cut him off by putting a hand over his mouth. "Will you please stop apologizing already? I told you already that I don’t mind in the least."
"I dow, but all by life by parends told be it was rude to sdeeze id front of other people."
He sighed, laid back on the couch, and then coughed a few times. "Yes. I used to be udable to sdeeze in public ad all because I thought I was beig hideously rude. Got over that in college, though." He smiled.
"You ever spent any tibe aroud frat boys? They dod’t think anythig is too rude for public consubtion."
"I’m all too aware of that," she said. He raised his eyebrows suggestively, and she grinned and hit his leg lightly. "Had a few friends in a fraternity at college."
"God, no." She laughed at his hurt expression. "Sorry, not my type."
"I was in a fraternity."
"Well, point proven."
He made a face and looked off into the distance. After a moment he looked back at her. "Rilly dot your type?"
"Rilly dot," she said gently, imitating him.
"Hey, I’b sick. I can’t help it."
"I know." She paused for a moment. "I suppose that, given the time and inclination, I could learn to like someone like you."
She laughed. "Do you want me to admit that I’m secretly in love with you, have been for years?"
"That woud hep." He dropped the "l" on both words, unable to form the sound with his clogged sinuses.
"The truth is, Sam…I’m in love with Harry." Harry was his beagle, probably comfortably warm in his doghouse outside.
"Do!" Sam said, feigning shock. "Ad all this tibe he tod be those late-dight excursiods were with his deighborhood buddies."
"I had him lie for me…This is hard to admit, but I’m pregnant with his pups."
Sam started laughing at that, and soon enough he began to cough, hard, and couldn’t stop.
"Here, drink the tea," Kelly said, offering it to him. "It’ll help."
He took a few swallows, and sure enough, it calmed his throat. He started to say something, but Kelly caught him.
"I know. Thank you, right?"
He nodded. "You dow be too well."
"Can’t disagree there."
"Kelly, I—huuuh…dammit. HISSSHHOO! HuhIIIISSSHHHoo!"
"Bless you," she said, shuddering she hoped not visibly.
"Thak you. Thak you for stayig with be. It’s rilly dice to dow that you care enough to come here."
She squeezed his hand. "Of course I do. What kind of a friend would I be if I didn’t?"
He shrugged. "A dormal—ISSHHOO!—one?"
"What, you think most people wouldn’t do this?"
"Dot without the probise of cash."
She laughed. "I care about you a lot, Sam. I just want to know that you’re okay."
He smiled, pleased, and looked away almost shyly. "I’ll repay you one day."
"Is that a threat?"
She was almost unaware that she’d leaned closer to him, and when he moved to kiss her it was soft and sweet and totally unexpected. His lips were warm and soft, traced with moisture, and the kiss was gentle and slow and somehow perfect.
He moved away again. "I’b sorry if I offended you, I just—"
She put her hand over his mouth again, tracing the line of his lips. "Shh," she whispered, a smile curling her mouth. "Don’t apologize."
And when she kissed him again, he shut up for good.