Olly’s Story


Fourth in my ‘Strokes’ introductory series, after “Rich’s Story”


Your eyes are saying talk to me, talk to me

But your attitude is "don't waste my time"

Your eyes are saying talk to me, talk to me

But you won't hear a word 'cause it just might be the same old line

~Sleeping with the Television On, Billy Joel


            There was really nothing so attractive as someone who was unavailable.


            He leaned back against the wall, taking in the scene before him. There was a sea of attractive men, their half-naked bodies glistening with sweat as they danced to the almost deafening recorded music. Some nights, Strokes had live music, but this was just an ordinary Tuesday night and there was nothing live except for the DJ, the gogo boys, and the hundreds of men surrounding him.


            And the one approaching him right now. The man was gorgeous and struck a pose, fully aware of how he looked. There was really nothing so unattractive as someone trying too hard. “Hey, Beauty. How’s about we head to the back room? I’ve got a feelin’ you—”


            He cut the man off. “Hold it right there. Don’t waste my time with your absurd lines. Let’s just do this, okay?”


            As it turned out, their intercourse just off the dance floor lasted longer than the one in the back room. But the man sucked and swallowed with skill, and his deep green eyes were to die for. Not to mention the extreme relief he felt when it was all over. The man might not be what he was looking for but would suffice for now.


            Resuming his spot of observation by the wall, he watched the man blend back into the crowd. Then he sighed as, almost immediately, another man came up to him. This one had brown eyes and spikey brown hair… and dimples that were hard to resist. The man smiled charmingly. “You all right?” the man asked. “Because you look like an angel who must have—”


            It was the ‘fallen angel’ line… again. Didn’t anyone use the direct approach anymore? A simple ‘Hey, do you want to dance?’ or even a blunt ‘Hey, do you want to fuck?’. Apparently he just invited these sorts. “Oh put a sock in it!” These stupid, mindless lines were really getting on his nerves. “You sound like a desperate and pathetic club kid when you talk like that. Don’t have anything better to do than to try to get laid?”


            The man practically snarled back, “Well, look who’s talking!” and left just as quickly.


            Though his sigh was partly one of relief, it was also partly frustration. The cutie was right. Here he was, thirty years old, and still hanging around this place, hoping to make an actual connection. Except now he wouldn’t be satisfied with casual blowjobs. He wanted something more, as silly as that sounded to him. He wanted something different.


            And it wasn’t as though he’d never tried. He had had boyfriends—or what he’d called boyfriends at the time—but none had ever lasted long once they got a taste of the scheduling. As a doctor, his shifts were constantly changing and he spent far more time at work than not. Then there came his obligations to family and friends. If it wasn’t for the fact that his two best friends and housemates owned Strokes, he wouldn’t have been there at all that night.


            He grabbed a beer at the bar, hoping that might help him out of his small bout of depression, or at the least, help it along to the point where he didn’t care about it. But he found he didn’t have much of a taste for it. His hand slid up and down the glass as he considered his options. His fingers felt the cool part of the glass, where the beer was, and the warm where it was no longer. Whether half full or half empty, the only thing he knew for sure was that he didn’t want it any more.


            He took another sip automatically, then set it down at the bar, completely ignoring the man to his left who was checking him out intently. “Not interested,” he muttered. Then he tapped his hand at the counter and looked up imploringly at the security camera.


            Unsurprisingly, Sweetie showed up with a great big smile and an attitude to match. “Standing alone at the bar. See? Didn’t I tell you that you’d have a good time tonight?”


            Rolling his eyes, “Really, Sweetie, do you know how much I could have gotten done if I’d stayed in? Could have seen two movies by now and made a good dent in those medical journals. Instead… I’ve been here, trying to decide which of these men are the least objectionable for giving me a blow job.”


            Sweetie laughed. “Least objectionable? My clientele are hardly trolls, Olly.”


            “True. But they’ve got to be pretty desperate to be coming on to me. And I keep getting the shivers and wishing I had a spare STD test kit in my pocket.”


            Sweetie sighed and reached out, patting his shoulder. “In that case, maybe you should just head home for the night?”


            That sounded like a much better idea. He waved up at the cameras, in case Nik was watching, and then kissed Sweetie’s cheek. “I’ll see you later, then.”


            Home was a good drive away from Strokes. But with the lack of traffic at this time of night and with the radio blaring, he barely noticed the time. His car drove that same route every day, to and from work, and as many times a week as the housemates convinced him to go to the club. But it always seemed as relieved as he when it pulled up into the west wing’s garage.


            After walking down the hallway to the living room, his bedroom was only a stair’s climb and one door away. The television set and cable box were turned on the moment he walked in the door. He was the only one home on this floor of the house at the moment, and with a house the size of the mansion, the loneliness was noticeable. Even the dog seemed nowhere about. But even without the issue of companionship, he would have turned the television on. He liked the connection and the background noise. He liked to be entertained and liked to forget himself by watching.


            There were a few channels he always checked out: the History Channel, the Discovery Channel set, and A&E. He also checked the low two hundreds and low three hundreds, which were the movie channels. As he flipped through, he wiggled out of his clubbing clothes. He finally found an old black and white horror movie on the classic movie channel. Halloween was still a little while off, but the channel seemed to be celebrating early with marathons of the best.


            By the glow of the television screen and Frankenstein’s Monster upon it, he crossed the room naked and crawled into bed. He pulled the pillows around him on both sides so it felt like someone was beside him in bed. As he lay there, he felt drawn into the action on the screen, but he did not allow it to keep him from dozing off. The only thing he did first was to lift his hand and turn the volume down a notch. The noise did not keep him from sleeping. In fact, the constant sound filling the room around him was comforting. Then he slowly fell asleep to the sounds of angry, rioting villagers.




            He rubbed at his face, trying to wake up, as he walked down the stairs toward the kitchen. The scent of freshly-brewed coffee beckoned him onward, when he would rather have turned right back around and crawled back into bed for the rest of the day. He made a mental note to never, ever to go to Strokes again on a work-night.


            He was usually a morning person, happy to rise along with the sun, looking forward to another day of doing what he liked to do. He got the first crack at the Washington Post newspaper before the others in the house took it apart and refolded it badly and the queens fought over the Style section. He got the first steaming mug of coffee of the day and plenty of time to relax with it before heading off to work. Sometimes, when Sweetie’s new boyfriend, Jamie, slept over, he was up in the mornings in order to get to practices on time but he breezed through. Sometimes he had lovely conversations with Auntie Al, who was usually the only other person awake in the early morning hours. And sometimes his mornings were quiet and solitary.


            But his mornings were almost always slow and easy, without complication.


            This morning, he found Auntie Al in apron and at the stove. Yawning, and excusing himself, he helped himself to some of Al’s freshly-brewed coffee. “I thought you hated scrambled eggs, Auntie?” he said, sliding into a chair at the table and fingering the crisp, folded newspaper fondly.


            “They’re not for me,” Al explained. “They’re for Pit, whether he wants them or not.” Usually a pacifist, Auntie Al was known to get his occasional aggressions out through his cooking.


            He paused, hand clasped on the Style section. He blinked. “Pit? What’s he doing up at this hour?”


            Auntie Al removed the frying pan from the burner and turned the stove off immediately. Then he scraped the plastic spatula against the Teflon to usher the eggs onto a plate. “Never went to sleep, as far as I can tell. He had a rough night.” Auntie Al looked over his shoulder, making eye contact. “The man’s sick as a dog.”


            A low groan escaped him. It was going around. Pit had no doubt caught it from Sweetie, or someone at Strokes. Half the staff was down with something and he had half a mind to insist the employee lounge be fumigated. “How bad?”


            “Pretty bad. Sounds like he’s trying to cough up a lung and the sneezing’s even louder than that.”


            With a few liberal gulps of coffee in him, he stood and got a tray out from the cabinet under the juicer. “Better let me take his breakfast down to him, then. See what I can do about the damage.”


            Auntie Al nodded and added a small plate with buttered toast, then poured a glass of orange juice. It was a thoughtful, healthy, cheerful breakfast. It was the sort of breakfast anyone would no doubt be glad to have brought to them in bed. However, if he could manage to get even a few bites in Pit and escape from the room again without much bodily harm coming to him, he would count himself extremely lucky.


            “You’re sure?” Auntie Al asked, adding a fork, napkin, and a salt shaker. “Pit can be a little…”


            He nodded resolutely. “I know. But I can be a bit of a hardass when I want— what?”


            Auntie Al was smirking and holding back chuckles. He put his hand to his mouth to help with that, though muffled laughter made its way through.


            “All right, maybe not a hardass but when it comes to a sick patient I’m not as much of a pushover as I usually am.” He picked up the tray and went downstairs with a detour to the bathroom on the main level to pick up some items.


            The stairs closest to the bathroom lead from the living room down into the exercise room, which was the one place in the house he rarely frequented. Unlike most gay men his age, he didn’t even have a gym membership let alone any idea how to use some of the equipment. Treadmills and exercise bikes were easy enough, but those huge setups for weightlifting and those elliptical things were all complete mysteries to him. It wasn’t as though he had the time to learn or to go to a gym just to pick up guys.


            Pit’s room was right across the hall, and the door was closed. He could hear the sound of coughing coming from within, however, and then an unsettling choking and gagging noise. The cat door at the bottom of the door was swinging back and forth, however, indicating that Pit’s cat had either just gone in or just left. Hoping it was the latter, because things were liable to get heated inside, he tightened his hold on the tray and knocked on the door.


            There was silence for a few moments. Then a voice croaked, “Go away, Auntie. I told you I’m fine.”


            “It’s Olly. And you don’t sound remotely fine.”


            Another momentary silence. “Go away, Olly.”


            “I’m afraid I can’t do that. I took an oath to butt in.” He let himself in. The basement room was dark, but light came pouring in through the open doorway to the bathroom he shared with Auntie Al. By its light, he spotted Pit lying face-down in his king-sized bed. The bed took up nearly a third of the room, but there was also a large dresser, a full bookcase, a bright red couch, a glass coffee table, and an entertainment hutch. Photographs of tattoos and paintings covered the walls, most of which sported strange tribal designs or skulls and hearts. Clothes, papers, and books were strewn about on the floor and furniture. And in one corner there was a cat tree and a large, pink, fluffy cat bed with the word “Princess” stitched into the side.


            Compared to the liveliness that was Pit’s room, Pit looked almost dead. Of course, that might also be the bug he’d come down with. To bed, he’d worn a pair of old grey boxers, white tube socks, and a black hooded sweatshirt with the hood down. The blankets lay on the ground in tangles, and the top sheet, which was black, had been kicked to the foot of the bed. With his eyes closed, Pit looked as though he were passed out. He was definitely awake, though, because he wasn’t snoring.


            Pit’s breathing was thick with congestion. The doctor’s ears analyzed that sound, and the sound of each tiny sniffle that came as he walked across the room. Years of chain smoking had given Pit’s voice a heavy rasp but also tended to make even tiny colds go straight to his chest. From the sound of it, this one was thankfully still in his head.


            “I’ve got some breakfast for you, Pit old boy. So how’s about sitting up and—”


            “Fuck off, Doc.” He coughed and snorted and coughed again.


            The tray of food fit nicely on the coffee table, which he dragged over a few feet so it was closer to the bed. Then he sat down on the edge of the bed and put a hand on Pit’s back. “I know you feel like shit. But the sooner you sit up and let me look at you, the sooner I’ll get off your back and leave you in peace. And the sooner you’ll start feeling better, too.”


            “I’m… yih?” Pit turned his head and buried it in his pillow. “ihhhChmm! ihhhChuphhh!” His whole body shook as though with spasms at the sneezes, then shook with coughs.


            Gentle pats to Pit’s back did little to stop his coughs, but much to relax him again afterward. Pit lifted his head, looking back. “Did you really have to come all the fucking way down here?”


            His hand slid up from Pit’s back to Pit’s head and stroked what dark brown hair was there. “You’re sick. Of course I did.”


            Pit coughed again, then obliged and sat up. Doing so seemed to be a struggle in and of itself. He sounded relieved when he slumped back against the pillows and headboard. “Fuck off,” he repeated, closing his eyes. The words had much less force behind them, though.


            “Mmm,” he nodded, with no intention of doing any such thing. He sat back, looking the man over. Pit wasn’t hard to miss, even in a bed this size. The man weighed in at two hundred and fifty, at least, the bulk of which was in his muscular arms and his pot belly. With the exception of his large bald spot, the hair on his head was short and brown, and could be found likewise in his goatee and his moustache. His cheeks were flushed red, and his nose wasn’t far from the same shade. There were large bags under his eyes, and his jaw was slack as he breathed through his mouth. In a word, the guy looked miserable. In two, he looked really miserable. “Not so bad,” he said reassuringly.


            “Sniff! You’re a fucking liar, Olly.”


            “And you seem incapable of saying anything without using the word ‘fuck’ this morning. That particular word is starting to lose its magic.”


            Pit blinked. “Is it morning already? Sniff!


            “Yeah, Man.”


            “Gotta call my part-timer, have him cover for me. I can’t work today. Sniff-sniff!” Even his sniffs sounded bad. Pit rubbed the back of his hand against his nose then followed that with his cuff and whole sleeve. Just beautiful.


            Pulling a tissue out of the box on the bed, he handed it over. “Blow your nose.” Pit did, with loud, horn-like blasts. And with Pit’s hands occupied, it was a good time to feel for fever. Pit growled at him, but kept blowing his nose. Of course he had a fever. But it was low grade, and the congestion was a lot more worrisome. “Are you hungry?”


            Pit shrugged. “Sniff! No.”


            “Yeah, well, I don’t care. You’re going to try to eat something anyway. Cause Auntie made you breakfast after listening to you snort and hack all night.”  He parked the food on Pit’s lap and handed over the fork. “And speaking of trying… I could get some cough drops for you…”


            Pit shook his head adamantly. He absolutely detested the taste of cough drops. “You want to make me sicker?”


            “No, of course not. But they might help,” he replied.


            “I’ll take my chances… ihhhh… without… Hihhhh-SHOOO! Got anything else?”


            He dug a box of cold medicine out of his pocket. “I want you to take one of these pills every six to eight hours. They should make you drowsy—”


            “I could really use the sleep,” Pit sighed eagerly at the mere thought. He picked at some toast and ate some of the eggs. He had a sip of the juice, winced, then avoided it like the plague. Then he shoved the food aside and made a fast grab for the tissue box he’d liberated from the bathroom sometime during the night. “ihhh… ihh-yihhh… HISHOOO! IHHH-SHOOO!” Pit’s sneezes were deep, loud, booming. It was surprising they couldn’t be heard from upstairs. “YIHHH-KSHOO!


            “Bless you.” He set the food tray back on the coffee table, stopped off at Pit’s dresser to pick up clean PJ’s, then headed to the bathroom. He reached into the glass-enclosed shower and turned the water on as hot as it would go. Then he jumped back and shut the glass door to keep the water and majority of the steam in. He headed back to Pit’s room, back to the honking and snorting and wheezing. Wheezing? Wheezing wasn’t good.


            Princess, Pit’s blue-eyed, grey, short-haired cat, jumped up onto the bed just then. She rubbed against Pit’s stomach, arching her back. Her tail was long and waving slowly as it hit his cheek. Then she found a spot on the black sheets next to him, kneaded for a moment, then stretched out. She didn’t even flinch when the bed shook and the loud sneezes came a moment later. “IHHH-CHAHH! HIHHSHOO!


            “Bless you again.” He reached down and pulled off Pit’s socks. “Shower time.”


            Pit shook his head. “Don’t sniff don’t want a shower.”


            “You didn’t want to eat, either.” He reached down and pulled on the sweatshirt. Without much difficulty, up it came, over Pit’s head. “But you need a shower.” He lightly patted Pit’s slightly hairy and more than slightly tattooed chest. “Come on.” Though the sick man looked like he was going to murder his doctor, he helped Pit up and guided him to the bathroom.


            Pit stripped off his boxers unashamedly once they reached the bathroom. He was pushed lightly into the shower stall, and then a small green disk was thrown onto the floor next to him. “Just breathe it in,” Pit was advised. “It will help. Breathe slowly and deeply.” Pit turned down the temperature just a little and stepped under the spray. He slumped forward, letting the water fall on the back of his neck. But he breathed in deeply, as well, the strong smell of eucalyptus overpowering him. He coughed, then sighed deeply and breathed through his nose with amazement.


            “Okay?” With a hand on the glass door, which was beginning to steam up from within. Pit nodded back to him. “Stay in there until the pill kicks in and you start feeling tired. Call me at work if the coughing gets any worse.” Smiling, “And keep blowing your nose.” There was more coughing, though it sounded improved already.


            So much for a quiet morning.


            He had to go a little over the speed limit in order to get to work on time. Seeing to Pit had taken quite a lot of time, and then he’d had to shower and change as well and hope he was enough to get rid of the germs.


            “Skipped breakfast?” He turned, bagel in mouth and Styrofoam cup of coffee in hand, and tried to smile at Ann, the receptionist. Ann always kept the staff break room well stocked, out of her own pocket, and he’d never been more grateful.


            “MmmHmm.” He stirred the last of the sugar and cream into his coffee then dropped the plastic stirrer into the trashcan. Then he removed the bagel from his mouth. “Had a rough morning at home. You’re a life-saver, Ann, thanks.”


            “There’s cream cheese and jelly in the fridge,” she started to offer.


            “I’m fine. Got patients to see, right?” She nodded, smiling. “Well, then, let’s not keep them waiting. I’ll do with a bagel, that’s why I get paid the big bucks.”


            They both laughed and she headed back to the front desk. He got paid shit; they all did. Luckily, he could pump a lot of it right back into the clinic by way of donations since he didn’t have to worry about rent, utilities, food and all that stuff. Money meant a whole lot more to the patients of the free clinic than it did to its staff.


            His reflection agreed, smiling back at him over the sink where he washed his hands for two minutes straight after eating. He looked tired, but he felt just fine. Not a single sniffle or trace of a scratchy throat, which he was grateful for. Some people could go to work and suffer through the day when they had a little cold, but not him. He was paranoid, and rightly so.


            “Hello, Mister Daniels,” he said, having read it off the chart before going into the examination room. He looked the emaciated man sitting on the examination table straight in the eye, his gaze kind and his voice gentle. “How’s that new cocktail been working out for you?”


            More than half of the clinic’s patients were HIV-positive or had full-blown AIDS. The rest were low income individuals from town or the surrounding burgs, or were people who came in for regular STD testing. But no matter who they were, how much money they had or didn’t have, or what was wrong with them, they weren’t turned away. Of course, once in a while patients came straight in the door and then went right out again in an ambulance. There was quite a lot the clinic could handle, but much more that it couldn’t.


            He’d been working there for going on ten years now. In his time there, he’d seen a lot of changes and dealt with a lot of politics. Sometimes for the better, and sometimes not. He’d seen more patients than he could count and grieved for every loss. Most importantly, he knew he made a difference to every single patient who came his way. And that was the kind of thing worth waking up in the mornings and scarfing down breakfast while on your feet for.


            This week he was pulling day shifts from seven to five. Sometimes he worked only mornings, other times he worked only evenings. Once a week he put in a night over at the hospice. Sometimes he worked weekends, sometimes he had whole days and even weekends off. Large blocks of time off were helpful for people with high stress jobs like his, though sometimes he didn’t know what to do with himself for a full week or a half a week and ended up right back at work anyway.


            He usually ventured out for his lunch hour, however. Sometimes the time he took it varied, thanks to patient load and complexity of cases. But usually he was able to walk the four blocks and find himself at a little café, surrounded by his friends.


            “What’s the soup of the day?” he asked, leaning forward but not being able to see the specials board up on the back wall. “Wish they’d get a whiteboard and write it in bright marker. Trying to make out those chalk scribbles makes my eyes hurt.”


            “Minestrone, Hon,” Julia said, leaning back in her chair to get a good look at it. Instinctively, he reached out and put a hand to the back of the chair, to keep it from tipping over. She noticed and gave his head an affectionate rub, once she was back down on all fours.


            He ran his hand through his now-messed dirty blond hair as he tried to decide what to eat. The café was small but had more than enough choices. Plus their menu was constantly changing so there was always something new to try, even though they ate there at least four times a week, sometimes seven. It was just down the street from Strokes, which made it an excellent location. And the service was sensational. Julia, who had a bit of a crush on one of the girls in the wait staff, would certainly have agreed.


            They went around the table, giving their orders to Jamie. As the newest member of their group, he was saddled with the mission of ordering and bringing the food back. Sweetie, nice guy that he was, went with just to make sure there were no goof-ups. Turbo got his usual vegetarian soup and sandwich, Julia got a Calzone with pepperoni and green peppers, Rich got a burger and chips, and Sweetie and Jamie were splitting a pizza and an order of fries. He, however, got peppermint tea, a side salad, and an order of chicken strips.


             They were digging into their meals when Turbo addressed him. “So, Olly… I thought I saw you at the club last night. You find yourself anyone good?”


            He sighed and shook his head. “Same old, same old. Lots of beautiful men, lots of lines, nothing real.”


            “Are you saying you got a fake blow job?” Rich asked, snorting with laughter.


            Shaking his head, chuckling, “No, I just… I’m tired of it all. I think I’m through with the whole thing.” There was silence around the table, as no one thought he was joking and everyone, apart from Jamie, worked at the club. He went on. “The scene’s getting tiring and I’m in my thirties now…”


            “And I’m two years older than you,” Sweetie said plainly. “What’s your point?”


            Shaking his head again. “I don’t know. I just…”


            Just then, his cell phone rang and, glancing at the number, it was a call he had to take. He apologized, hardly heard above their jeers at the convenient excuse, and scooted back so that his chair hit the wall and he was as far back from the table as he could go. “Hi.”


            “Oh, thank goodness you picked up. I tried the clinic and they said you were at lunch. I really wanted to get you. That’ll be eleven ninety-eight for the bunch.” He smiled, knowing to ignore that last bit. She always had customers stopping by her shop during lunch hour to buy flowers. “Look, the hubby and I need to go to a homeowner’s association meeting tonight. And I’ve got to run some errands. Can I leave Maylyn with you? What time are you working ‘til today?”


            “I’m off at five.”


            “Perfect! So, are you able and willing? Please?”


            He nodded. “Of course. I’ll swing by on my way home.” Not that her shop was exactly on his way home, but he just meant he’d go there straight after work.


            There was a bang on the table, which made the plates and utensils rattle, and he looked up to see Sweetie intently trying to get his attention. “Is that Swan?” Sweetie mouthed. A nod. Sweetie wiggled his fingers at the phone. “Lemmie talk to her.”


            “Hold on, Sweetie wants you.” He handed the phone across the table.


            Sweetie grinned and put the cell phone to his ear. “Swan? Hiya Babe, how are you? How’s Kurt? The munchkin? Good, good. I just wanted to let you know that your brother is being a very bad boy today.”


            He rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest. The last thing he needed was for his big sister to get on his case about this as well.


            “Yes he is. He’s refusing to go to my club again.” There was a pause, where Sweetie grinned again and nodded. “All right, I’ll tell him. Bye-bye.” Sweetie pressed the button to hang up the phone. Then he leaned forward, elbows on the table. “She gives you two days.”


            “Ha-ha!” Rich chortled.


            Rising from his seat, he grabbed his phone out of Sweetie’s hand and sighed. Then he pulled his chair back over and sat down.


            “I give it a week,” said Julia thoughtfully.


            “Oh, are we betting now?” Rich asked. “Cause I could really use the pocket change. There are these designer shoes I’ve just got to have and ain’t got the money for.”


            “Hey,” Sweetie poked him in the ribs. “I pay you damn well.”


            “Yeah, and most of it goes straight into my mortgage,” Rich replied.


            “At least you own and your rates are fixed,” Julia said with a groan. “My landlord’s raising my rent again this year.”


            “Yours, too?” Turbo asked.


            Sweetie laughed and threw his hands up. “What, is it guilt trip your boss into giving raises day today?”


            Glad the focus was off him for the moment, at least, he sat back in his chair and enjoyed the banter for another twenty minutes, before he had to head back to the clinic.


            The afternoon was a busy one. He usually saw walk-in patients in the morning and handled blood tests in the afternoon. This afternoon there was an onslaught of patients so he saw those in-between doing tests and giving results, which were at prescheduled times. He was running around so much that Dr. Parson actually had to pull him aside and tell him it was quarter-past five and he could head home.


            He went a over the speed limit again as he drove to his sister’s flower shop, hoping she wouldn’t bitch at him for being late. Usually she didn’t argue with him when he daughter was present, so there was a more than good chance he’d escape unscathed from a difficult conversation for a second time today.


            He had only just walked in the door when he was practically run into by a little dark-haired three-year-old. He caught her in his arms before she could dart out the door and swept her up, twirling with her. Her giggle was more thrilling and addictive than anything he’d ever encountered. But he didn’t want her to get dizzy, either. So he slowly came to a stop and kissed her forehead. “Hello Maylyn.”


            “Hello Unkey Olly!” Her eyes were dark and wide with laughter.


            He set her down and ran his hand through her hair. “You ready to spend an evening with your uncle?”


            She nodded and stuck to his side as he walked across the flower shop. He dug a few bucks out of his pocket and set them on the counter. “Can I get a couple red roses?”


            Swan eyed him, then turned in a whirl of blond hair to the cooler behind her. There were mostly finished arrangements within, but it was also where she kept her best roses for special customers. “Got a sweetheart?” she asked. “Is that why you don’t want to hang out at Strokes any more?”


            He sighed and shook his head. “Since when did being sexually irresponsible become the ‘in’ thing? Why can’t I just be a homebody and get all of you off my case? I don’t have time for a relationship right now.” He didn’t gesture toward his niece, but didn’t need to. Work, family and friends took enough out of him, and she knew that.


            “Because you know you want some fun, too,” she said, cutting the ends of the roses and putting them in a box for him. He’d just as soon take then in hand, thorns and all, but the box traveled better. “And, deep down, you want a lover just as much as the rest of us.”


            He wasn’t so sure she was right about that, but the idea of being alone forever did kill him. He took the roses and told her to keep the change. Then he took Maylyn’s travel bag and slung it over one shoulder. Over the year she’d been with them, it had grown increasingly heavier. Diapers and stuffed animals were lighter than training toilets and books, after all. Of course, Maylyn had gotten heavier as well. When his sister and brother-in-law had adopted her from China at two years old, she was malnourished and dangerously underweight. But with careful diet and lots of caring, she was on her way to normal, at least as far as weight was concerned.


            He leaned forward and kissed his sister’s cheek. “Go enjoy the night with your lover.”


            “I’ll pick her up after the meeting,” Swan told him. “Around ten? Should I call first?”


            “Just stop by. Ring the bell and someone will buzz you in.”


            “Buzzzzzzzz like a bee?” Maylyn asked, reaching up and tugging on the bag that she knew contained her toys.


            Swan came around the counter and squatted down, her tight, long-sleeved purple shirt resting on her thighs, covered with a long, flowing, pleated skirt. She gave her daughter a kiss. “That’s right, Pumpkin. Bees go buzz. And cars go…?”


            Out of a wealth of acceptable onomonopia, Maylyn seemed unable to figure out an answer. He took her hand and squeezed it reassuringly. “Let’s go take a ride and figure it out, okay?” She nodded happily to him, waved goodbye to her mother, and walked with her uncle out of the flower shop and to his car.


            As she often rode with him, whether he was babysitting her or whether he was going out with the family somewhere and doing the driving, he had a car seat already in the back seat. She jumped right in like a big girl and held her arms up as he pulled the top down and buckled it in. He pulled on the straps to be sure she was secure, then sat down in the driver’s seat. “Okay, Little One. Listen closely to the sounds.”


            During the drive to the house, they managed to come up with a half dozen sounds the car made. Everything from the vroom of an engine to the swish of wiper blades, the honk of a horn to the catchy stylings of Coyote’s latest demo tape in the cassette player. They finished up with the click of the seatbelt releasing and slam of the car door.


            She rode on his back as they headed into the house, giggling as he made a range of horsey noises. It was early for dinner, but he headed to the kitchen anyway. He set her bag down and she rooted through it until she found a picture book she wanted to read.


            It gave him time to put together a little tray for Pit. Soup was ready in five minutes, and he decided to stick with water instead of orange juice. “You remember Pit, don’t you?” he asked Maylyn. She nodded. She knew every one of the house’s residents, and they all knew and loved her. “Well, he’s not feeling so good today.”


            “He needs to go to see a doctor,” she said reasonably.


            He nearly cracked up at this. He couldn’t resist smiling, though. Out of the mouth of babes. “Yes he probably does. But I’m a doctor, right? So I’m going to go check him out. Want to help me carry some food downstairs to him?”


            She nodded, happy to help out. He handed her the glass of water and told her to hold on tightly so it wouldn’t spill. No sooner had he handed it and turned around to get the soup and crackers than he heard a simultaneous splash and shatter. Tears and apologies spilled out of her so that it was impossible to tell one from the other.


            “It’s all right. Just a little mistake. It can be fixed.” She took mistakes especially hard; punishments at the orphanage where she’d spent the first two years of her life were clearly not light. The littlest mistakes set her off, shaking and crying. And the important thing was to not to overreact.


            Guiding her back, away from the mess, he dropped a thick dishtowel on the ground. Usually, in such a circumstance, he’d have her help him clean up. But there was broken glass involved now. Three swift swipes were all it took to collect the pieces and mop up the water. Then he got another glass out, filled it and held it out in front of her. He spoke calmly, normally. “There, take a look. No damage done. Everything’s fixed and back as it was. See?”


            Cautiously, she opened her eyes and peeked. When she saw the mess gone and the new glass, she stopped crying immediately. “Would you like to try again?”


            “May I?” She looked conflicted, but interested.


            “Of course. I’d really like your help, Maylyn. And if you drop it again, accidentally, we’ll just clean it up and try again.” However, he hoped she’d be able to hold onto it this time. Luckily, she did.


            He carried the soup and knocked on the door. At the sound of snorts and a “Go away!”  he invited himself inside. He looked in, making sure the patient was dressed, then proceeded inside with the soup and the girl on his heels.


            Pit looked ready to hurl an insult at him for coming in, but then spotted Maylyn and softened. “Hiya Munchkin,” he said, his voice deeper than usual and quite uneven. He sounded weary and looked twice as bad as he had that morning. But he sat up, rubbed a tissue against his nose, and tried to look presentable for his visitors.


            “Hi Unkey Pit,” she said, smiling a bit shyly. But she went forward and handed him the glass of water very carefully.


            He smiled back at her. “You brought this for me?” She nodded. “Well thank you.” He coughed, turning his head away in time, and thankfully not spilling any of the water. “Better not get too close,” he warned. “Uncle Pit’s not feeling too hot today.”


            The doctor’s instincts were kicking in as well. He put a hand on Maylyn’s shoulder, then spotted something and pointed over to the corner. “Why don’t you go play with Princess for a little while?” he suggested. “Remember to be gentle now.” While mistakes still put her on edge, one mistake she had only made once was to pet Pit’s cat a little too roughly. The cat had given a warning hiss first. When that had not been headed, it had swiped and scratched. But ever since then, Maylyn knew when to back off the kitty. Still, he watched her out of the corner of his eye as she went over to greet the grey cat who was already stretched out and kneading in the air to call attention to herself.


            Pit’s bed sagged where he sat down on it, with a sigh. Pit chuckled and coughed a deep but phlegmy cough. “You had to bring the Munchkin?” Pit asked.


            Nodding wisely, “I thought you’d behave better with her in the room.” He gave Pit a sympathetic look. “So how are you feeling?”


            “Feel like fuh…” He glanced over at Maylyn. “I feel bad,” he censored himself. Then he sniffed and rubbed at his nose desperately with the tissue. His eyelids fluttered shut and his chest rose with a deep breath. “ihhhhhh… HITCHOO!” he boomed, making everything in the room but him jump. He honked his nose into the tissue, balled it up, and dropped it over the side of his bed, missing the trashcan by inches but hitting the small pile of tissues that had also missed by just as much. “Really bad,” he amended.


            His forehead, however, felt better. Pit was cool to the touch. The man also smiled as the doctor presented him with the two bold, red roses he’d obtained from his sister. Pit set them down on his nightstand and coughed again. “When did you last have some of that medicine?”


            Pit shrugged. “When you gave it to me?”


            He should have been expecting that answer. “And how much sleep have you had today?”


            Pit shrugged again. “Just a few hours after I took the medicine and had that shower. Sniff!


            The answer seemed overwhelmingly obvious. With a sigh, “All right. I think we’ll have a bit of déjà vu. I want you to have a little bit to eat, swallow a pill, and take another shower. But first… cough for me.”


            Pit glared, but was stared down. He gave in and coughed. Unlike his fever, it didn’t sound better. If anything, it was a little worse. And it kept going. He doubled over, hand to mouth. His face flushed red as he coughed and the coughs turned into awful gags, his whole body shaking with spasms. When a kind hand rubbed his back, Pit leaned to his side instinctively.


            The man patted him reassuringly, letting Pit lean into him for support. The severely unpleasant sound ended at last, and Pit slumped into him. “Have you been sick to your stomach?”


            Pit shook his head. “I’ve come close, I think,… but no.”


            “It’s just your system trying to deal with the virus. Your throat is raw and your body’s weak.”


            Pit pulled away, clearly not wanting to be called weak.


            “I’m trying to say that your body’s trying to fight what’s happening but doesn’t know what to do. Your throat’s badly inflamed and irritated.” He knew he’d have to keep a closer watch on Pit. He’d have to force him to take the medicine regularly and to try to clear his sinuses as much as possible. It was only going to get worse otherwise. He had to keep blowing his nose and coughing up what was trying to settle down. To hell with the soup, which Pit was barely touching anyway. He handed over a pill and Pit swallowed it and the entire contents of the glass of water Maylyn had brought him. Then he pushed Pit in the direction of the bathroom again. “Use up all the hot water in the house, I don’t care. Just stay in as long as you can and breathe in deeply.”


            Maylyn got up, the string she and Princess had been playing with still in her hand. The cat came trailing after her in small pounces. “We go?” Maylyn asked, dropping the string so the cat could bat it around on her own.


            He nodded.


            “Want to stay,” she insisted stubbornly.


            “Can’t stay. Uncle Pit’s going to take a shower, then a nap. And we’re going to go have some dinner.”


            “Thanks for the water, Munchkin,” Pit croaked as he closed the door to the bathroom.


            They headed back up to the kitchen. Auntie Al was already there preparing dinner. “Auntie!” Maylyn cried when she saw him, breaking away, running to him with her arms open.


            Auntie Al had just enough time to put down the items he’d just taken out of the fridge and bend down. He embraced her warmly. He was, in name at least, her only aunt, as Swan only had a brother and her husband was an only child. She didn’t seem to mind her strange and unconventional extended family, and they all loved her to death. Auntie Al, especially, as he seemed to have a way with kids. In no time he had her on a stool next to him, washing vegetables at the sink and helping him read the number portions of a recipe.


            Tonight’s masterpiece was spaghetti, garlic bread, and salad. Not especially creative but it was easy and quite tasty the way Auntie Al made the sauce. “Will you check the pasta?” Auntie Al said over his shoulder.


            It was still hard, but the water was boiling nicely. He stirred it for a while, keeping an eye on Maylyn in the process. She was giggling and having a grand time. But he was feeling a bit restless and already going through the short list of things he needed to do. Finish making dinner. Eat dinner. Make sure Pit was actually sleeping. Entertain Maylyn until bedtime. Put her to bed. Make sure Pit took another pill… Thoughts of Pit took his mind off in another direction. He was used to dealing with incurable ailments, but he still didn’t like the feeling helplessness. There had to be something more he could do for the guy.


            A phone call interrupted his thoughts. The main house phone, so called because it was hooked up to the answering machine, was located in the kitchen. But none of them were close to it and had their hands full. The machine picked up after just the second ring. “Hey, Olly. It’s Terrence over at the hospice. I’ve got a question about Mr. Mendosa’s meds if you could just give me a call—


            He picked up. The machine beeped to end recording, and he started out with an apology for not picking up sooner. H listened to the problem for a few moments, and then dispensed advice while stirring the noodles with his other hand. After the question about Mr. Mendosa, there were at least a dozen other questions. When Mrs. Staffson was supposed to have her MRI, what sort of PT they were supposed to be giving Mr. Handle, and if he might be able to pop over for a few minutes that night to check up on things. “I’m so sorry,” he told them. “I’m in charge of my niece tonight. But I’ll be home if you need to call me again.” There was another pause. “Yes, twenty milligrams. And tell them I said hello. Bye, Terrence.”


            Catching Auntie Al’s eye, he gave a shrug. Then he dipped a fork into the pot and tried to extract a single noodle. It took a few tries before he got one that did not slip right off his fork and back into the pot of boiling water. “Noodles are ready,” he announced.


            The oven timer went off as well. “So’s the bread,” Auntie Al said.


            Nik arrived and, after an obligatory hug, helped Maylyn set the dining room table. They kept a booster seat in the dining room, but even with Maylyn at the table, as well as Sweetie and Jamie, it seemed a bit empty without Pit there.


            “How’sth he doing?” Nik asked, passing the salad across the table.


            Busy cutting Maylyn’s noodles into smaller, manageable pieces, it took him a moment to take it from Nik and to answer. “He’s not being as difficult as usual.”


            “That’s not a good sign,” Sweetie said, looking slightly alarmed. “Think I should go down after dinner and annoy him into lashing out?”


            “Oh, please don’t!” he groaned, though he knew Sweetie was joking. “But you’re right. It’s not a good sign. Pit’s definitely miserable.” He readjusted Maylyn’s bib after a near mishap with a kid’s forkful of pasta and sauce. Swan would just about kill him if he let her ruin another good shirt. The finger painting incident of May had taught him a lesson. And the floral bib looked fabulous on her, anyway.


            “Is there anything we can do for him?” Jamie asked, taking bread for himself then offering the basket to his left and passing to his right.


            Shaking his head, “I wish I knew.”


            “Oh! I almost forgot!” Nik jumped up and gracefully raced out of the dining room. He returned with the mail clutched in his hand. He tossed the bulk of it onto the sideboard but produced a postcard with a picture of the rainforest and a spider monkey on the front. Even before the explanation was officially given, nearly everyone around the table was excited. “Got this from Trip today in the mail.”


            “Well don’t leave us hanging!” Sweetie pleaded.


            Nik passed the postcard to Auntie Al, who read it out loud:

My Friends~

I find myself here in beautiful Brazil. I’d like to say I’m out every day enjoying the sun and the beaches, but they work me pretty hard and I love what I’m doing. Having a good time down here, though, especially the shore trip into the rainforest last week. I hope all is well back home. I expect to find it in one piece when I get home. Say hi to my puppy for me!



            Despite the reading, they passed it around the table, wanting to see the state of his writing if they didn’t have the luxury of his voice or the honor of his presence. The postcard skipped over Maylyn, naturally, but they let her look at the picture. She giggled and identified the monkey.


            After dinner, it was customary for the housemates to retire to the entertainment room. For Maylyn’s sake, they put the Little Mermaid in the DVD player, though they weren’t paying much attention to it. Nik was trying to teach Maylyn how to braid hair. They were using Sweetie, with his shoulder-length brown hair, for demonstration. Sweetie was sitting on the floor, back against the couch, with Jamie leaning back on him to partake in a nice shoulder rub.


            “I’m going to go check on Pit,” the doctor announced in his best doctor voice. “You all right for a few minutes?” he asked them all as a whole, meaning if it was all right to leave Maylyn with them. He got nods all around.


            He headed downstairs bearing gifts, yet again, and hoping to find the man asleep and snoring. His snores on normal days were so loud that there was a reason he slept in the basement. But when he was sick, they were louder than ever. There was noise coming from his room, but it was not snores.


            “IHHHCHOO! Sniff! YIHHSHOO! Sniff! HAHSHooo!


            “Blow your nose,” he muttered to himself, walking across the hall from the stairs in the exercise room toward Pit’s bedroom. He was pleased to hear the honking sounds as he turned the knob and entered. “You’re supposed to be asleep,” he said.


            “I was,” he said. “For about ten minutes. Then I woke up sneezing and coughing.”


            “You’ve really got to get more sleep. It’s the only way you’ll give your body time to recover.” He sat down on the edge of the bed again.


            “Yeah, you try sleeping when you feel like…” Pit looked around to see if he could swear now. “Where’s the Munchkin?”


            Chuckling, “Upstairs with the others. You can swear and insult me all you want.”


            Pit sighed, seeming like he didn’t have the energy to do either. Sweetie’s earlier comment about getting Pit worked up didn’t sound too far off anymore. Then Pit pulled more tissues from the box and held them up inches away from his face. He pitched forward with sneezes. “IHHKShoo! IHHHCHOO! Sniff! Sniff! What’s that?”


            Smiling, “A humidifier.” He set it up on Pit’s nightstand whether he wanted it or not. “Found it in the very back beneath the counter in the upstairs bathroom. Forgot we still had it.” Pit looked skeptical. “It should help you breathe.”


            With a cough, “I still sniff, sniff, won’t be able to get to sleep. Sniff!” Pit rolled over onto his side.


            He reached out and pulled a few tissues from the box, easing them into Pit’s hand. “That’s why I also brought…” He pulled out a DVD. “Easy Rider.”


            Pit’s face lit up. “I didn’t know you had…”


            “I have everything on DVD, Pit old boy.” He inserted it into the DVD player connected to Pit’s television. “If you can’t fall asleep, might as well enjoy yourself, right?”


            He sat down next to Pit, rubbing the man’s back comfortingly. Pit fell asleep not ten minutes into the movie. Leaving the television on, he headed back upstairs to the fun by way of the bathroom where he scrubbed his hands and face.


            Sweetie looked just gorgeous… or, more accurately, hideous. “You should keep your hair like that. Maybe you’d start a new trend.”


            Modeling, Sweetie gave a flourish with his hand, gesturing to his hair as though it were a prize on a game show. He turned his head, dramatically showing off the tens of braids. Some were big and fat and tied off with rubber bands, while others were smaller and tight. With Maylyn’s dexterity, it didn’t take a genius to know who had braded which braids. “You think?” Sweetie asked.


            “Oh definitely,” he gave a resolute nod and a thumbs-up. Then he bent down and kissed Maylyn’s cheek. “Beautiful work, Munchkin. Ten minutes until bedtime.”


            “Awwww!” The unexpected complaints came from everywhere in the room, not just from Maylyn.


            Shaking his head, “I’m sorry. But bedtimes are one thing I won’t budge about.” Still, he watched the clock as he ran his hand through Maylyn’s hair and watched attentively as she demonstrated her new skill. He ended up allowing her fifteen minutes before giving her a piggyback ride upstairs. Everyone wished her good night and sweet dreams as they left.


            Bedtime, first, meant a bath. And bathtime usually meant a temper-tantrum. She was usually very good about getting in, and even good about washing herself. They’d bought one of those fun glove washcloths for kids and she liked the rinsing off as much as soaping up. The part she didn’t like, however, was pulling the plug and getting out.


            Even when the water turned lukewarm, she insisted on staying in longer. She stalled by repeatedly showing her uncle the neat things she could make her bath toys do.


            “Red, blue, and yellow!” she exclaimed, lining her stackable plastic ducks along the edge of the tub.


            “Yes. They’re red, blue, and yellow,” he said, stacking them up and putting them away in the toy tub. “But you really need to get out—”


            “Look, look what I can do!” she announced quickly. She held her breath and put her face in the water, the floral shower cap she wore continued to keep her hair dry. She sat back up, gasping and dripping. “Did you see?”


            “I saw,” he said with a nod. And before he could say more, she grabbed the bar of soap and pretended to accidentally let it slip through her fingers into the water. She giggled and slapped her palms against the water.


            Whenever she came up with something particularly clever, she would giggle in the way that made all who heard it helpless against her. The only thing that could be done was to take all the toys away and reach into the water to pull the stopper out for her.


            At this point, during most nights, she threw a fit. She would beg and plead, cry and scream to stay in just a little longer. She would scramble to get the stopper back and prevent the water from draining, or she would try to turn the water back on again.


            But, in the end, she simply exhausted herself and lost the battle altogether. “I know you have fun in your baths,” he said, lifting her out of the tub as she choked on sobs. “But it’s time for bed now.”


            She shook her head and sniffled. “Don’t wanna!” She shivered for a second, until she was wrapped in a thick, fluffy peach towel. He rubbed her arms vigorously through the towel to warm her up, then got her night clothes out of her travel bag. She dried herself off in the meantime.


            Toilet training was up next on the Maylyn Developmental List, but that was something he was happy to let her parents handle. So until she mastered that, she wore diapers. Not that he would have minded if she wet the bed, but it made it a lot less worrisome for all involved.


            He helped her dress and tidied up the bathroom. Then he carried her to his bedroom on his back, setting her down on his bed. “Did you bring a book you want to read, or do you want me to choose one off my special shelf?”


            “Special shelf,” she answered, pushing down the covers to get beneath. Then she sat up against the headboard with the blankets up to her waist. She waited patiently for her uncle to get a bedtime book.


            The bottom shelf of one of his bookcases was reserved exclusively for children’s books. He liked to claim it was because Maylyn visited so often, but every one of them was from him own childhood and he’d kept them around for more reasons than hoping to have a niece or nephew one day. Certainly he would never admit to anyone that he liked reading them for comfort sometimes when he had a particularly bad day.


            He selected Meanwhile, Back on the Ranch, one of his favorites from ‘Reading Rainbow’. As predicted, Maylyn laughed at the extremes between events in two and back home on the ranch. But she also loved the repetition, and recited the lead-in line with him each time. Yet, when it was over, she was not too wound up to fall asleep.


            He tucked her into the bed, amidst the numerous pillows, and kissed her lightly. “Good night, Maylyn. I’m going to turn off the lights here but I’ll be over on the other side of the room reading, so I’ll have that light on, okay?”


            She nodded. “Goodnight, Unkey Olly.”


            He did as he told her he would, ending up stretched out on his couch. By the light of one dim lamp, he picked up a small stack of medical journals and began reading through them. He had his pen and highlighter on his chest, and he used one or the other every so often.


            There was an article about the AIDS prevention and treatment program the International Confederation of Midwives was starting. There was an especially interesting one about the association of cancer with AIDS-related immunosuppression. Naturally, the article he spent the most time with was entitled ‘HIV Infection and AIDS in the Public Health and Health Care Systems: The Role of Law and Litigation’. They were none of them as much fun as the children’s books, but they needed reading and he was happy to spend his spare time with them.


            That is, until he heard a soft knock on the door. He used the pen to hold his place, and quietly walked across his bedroom. Sweetie was there, a laundry basket in his arms. “Pit’s getting sick,” he said.


            Rolling his eyes, “Pit’s been sick all day—”


            “No,” Sweetie shook his head. “I mean he’s actually getting sick… to his stomach.” Sweetie made a face of disgust.


            With a nod, “I’ll go down. Will you be around to keep an eye on Maylyn for me?” He looked back to find she was out like a light.


            “Of course. Need to fold all these anyway.” He gestured toward the linen closet which was right across from the bedroom.


            So the doctor found himself making another house call, walking down the two flights of stairs and back to Pit’s bedroom. He headed in to find the room dark and deserted. The only light was coming from the bathroom. He grabbed a blanket off the bed and went in to find Pit sitting by the toilet, shivering uncontrollably. The man was shirtless, and the back of his head and the beautiful tribal tattoo on Pit’s back were all that could be see of the man.


             Grabbing a handful of toilet paper, Pit wiped his face then dropped it into the toilet he was sitting in front of and flushed. “I got sick,” he admitted, with a rough whisper.


            Nodding, “I know.” The doctor sat down on the cold tile floor next to the man.


            Pit shook his head, teeth chattering. “But I got sick.”


            “I know,” he repeated. “I know you did. But it’s okay.”


            Pit did not seem the least bit reassured. But when the blanket was wrapped around, Pit leaned over, trying to snuggle into the doctor for warmth.


            A hand patted Pit’s back, then he broke away. He stood and filled a Dixie cup with warm water. “Rinse with this,” he instructed. As Pit rinsed his mouth out, another paper cup was filled with mouthwash. “Now this,” he instructed. Pit swished the liquid around for a few second then spat it out into the toilet.


            Pit paused, looking straight ahead with an unfocused gaze. For a moment, it looked like he might throw up again, but he merely sneezed. “Hahhh-SHIHHH!” All over. “YIHHSHOO!


            Cringing, “Bless you.” He made note to tell Auntie Al not to use this bathroom they shared until it could be disinfected. That was probably pretty obvious, but it didn’t hurt to make sure. He had enough to deal with right now without someone else getting sick.


            Pit helped himself to more toilet paper, blowing his nose and wiping it dry. He cringed at the roughness but went back for more, rubbing his nose with the long stream of toilet tissue then blowing again.


            “Do you feel like you should stay here a little longer or do you want to go back to bed?”


            Pit nodded toward the bedroom in answer. It was a bad sign when Pit wasn’t talking at all, let alone wasn’t insulting or being sarcastic. “Okay. Let’s get you back to bed.”


            Pit nodded again then tried to get up. He needed help with that, and he walked dizzily across the room before flopping down on his bed with a moan and plenty of coughs. So many coughs, and such hard ones, that he started gagging again. But a gentle rubbing of Pit’s back calmed him and the coughs. He did not get sick, but pulled over a plastic bowl that was wedged between his pillow and his nightstand. He kind of cuddled it to his chest, holding it close just in case. Pit groaned miserably and looked up at the doctor for help.


            “Tell you what I’m going to do, Pit old boy.” He kicked off his shoes. “I’m going to get you your medicine, because you’re due for more. Then I’m going to join you in bed. But I can’t stay too long because Maylyn’s upstairs asleep.”


            Pit took his medicine and, when a cough drop was offered, he didn’t immediately refuse.


            “Go on, take one. They’re not cherry or wintergreen. They’re honey and lemon herbal flavor. You’ve gotta stop coughing. Just give one a try. You’re already sick to your stomach, how much worse could it be?”


            If that was supposed to make him feel better, it didn’t seem to. But he took the cough drop anyway, unwrapped it, and popped it into his mouth. He frowned but did not spit it out immediately.


            “Not too bad?”


            Pit shrugged noncommittally but kept sucking. He coughed a little, but not too badly while he was working on the cough drop.


            The bed dipped and Pit shivered again though more covers were being pulled up around them both. “Go away, Olly,” he whispered half-heartedly.


            “Yeah, right.” He chuckled lightly. “It didn’t work this morning, and it’s sure as Hell not going to work now.” He lay down right behind Pit, spooning and pressing himself up against the larger man. But, when his arm wrapped around Pit, all that mattered was the tightness and the warmth. “You’ve got your bowl just in case,” he said, going through his checklist. “You have water. How about your tissue box?” He looked over Pit’s shoulder to spot the box within reach. “Good. And now you have me.”


            Apart from a few sniffles, the place was quiet for a while. Then Pit swallowed and whispered, “Thanks, Olly. Thanks for staying and not listening to me.”


            He’d gone through the silence stage and reached the strangely grateful stage. Definitely not a good sign. “Well, I know I’m not as good for company as a boyfriend would be. But you know I’m happy to do what I can. And if that means a little comfort-snuggling, so be it.”


            Pit smiled and closed his eyes. But his peaceful expression did not last longer than a second. “ihhhhh!” His body stiffened and then lurched forward. “YIHHHSHOO! Hah-CHOO! Ahhhh--!” He froze, waiting intently. When nothing happened, he finally gave up and exhaled. “I fucking hate when that happens.”


            “Shhhh.” He hugged Pit as tightly as he could. Then he decided a distraction might be in order. It usually worked on his patients. “Sure you’re not hiding a boyfriend around here somewhere?” Pit gave a chuckle at the absurdity. “Well, with all this talk about boyfriends around the house, I had to ask. Did you hear Sweetie’s even thinking of asking Jamie to move in here?”


            Pit nodded.


            “You think it’s wise?”


            Pit shrugged.


            “Yeah. It’s his house and his life. But I’d hate to see him get hurt.”


            “hihhhCHOO! Sniff! ehhhhSHOOO! SNIFF!


            “Don’t sniffle. Blow your nose.” Pit grumbled but obeyed. It sounded as though he could blow his nose for an hour and still have more need to blow. He hated to see anyone get hurt. Sympathetically, he petted Pit’s cheek and cuddled him close again. “With Nik’s hundreds of men, Sweetie’s boyfriend, and even Auntie Al’s guys, sometimes I feel as though I’m expected to be incomplete without a man.”


            “You’re hardly incomplete,” Pit whispered harshly. “But I know how you feel. I can see my personal add now: Hairy, tattooed bear seeks LTR for motorcycle rides and snuggling.” So much talking made Pit cough, and gag, but it passed quickly.


            “Hey, don’t joke about that. Haven’t you read the personals lately? Half the ads for bears read just like that. Snuggling’s a very marketable skill these days.”


            “You seem to have it down to an art.” He sniffed again, remembered, and then pulled another tissue out of the box to blow his nose. Pit gave a huge yawn and, when he coughed again, he did so without gagging.


            “It’s the medicine kicking in. You’ll be asleep soon.” He knew how much Pit needed this, even if the man would deny needing it. “Snuggle close and get comfy.”


            At this, Pit rolled over in place, lying on his other side now. He rubbed his head into the pillow and nuzzled his face into the doctor’s shirt. Like this, both arms were able to reach out and take hold of him. The hug was warmer and tighter. Until, of course, Pit sneezed. Pit groaned and pulled back. “Fuck… I sprayed you… so sorry…”


            “Shhh.” He reached over Pit for the tissues, dabbed at the damp spot on his shirt, then handed the bunch to Pit. “Like I care? I’ve had worse done to me, old man, I promise you. Go on, blow.”


            Pit did, crumpling up the tissues into his fist. “You don’t have to stay,” Pit whispered. “I appreciate you getting me up off the bathroom floor but—”


            Cringing at the strain in Pit’s voice, “What part of ‘Shhh’ don’t you understand? You’re never going to get better if you don’t give yourself some rest.” He cuddled Pit closer again. “And I’m not going anywhere until you’re asleep.” He checked his watch. “Or twenty minutes, whichever comes first.”


            Pit chuckled and snuggled into the man again. “Thanks, Olly. Who needs a boyfriend when I’ve got a friend like you?”


            It didn’t take Pit twenty minutes to fall asleep. It wasn’t a quick process, thanks to more sneezing and coughing, but it finally happened.


            A few minutes later, Auntie Al looked in on them. Slowly extricating himself from around Pit was difficult, but it had to be done. Pit stirred and snorted, but thankfully did not wake at the movement or at the door to his bedroom being pulled closed.


            “Sweetie wants you back upstairs,” Auntie Al said in a low voice.


            Nodding, “Thanks for the message. Look, you’d better use the other bathroom down here for the next few days. Yours is… well, it could use a really good cleaning after this.”


            “Understood,” Auntie Al said.


            He went back upstairs, stripping off his germ-infested shirt along the way. He paused in the doorway to his bedroom, looking concerned. Maylyn sat in bed, whimpering. Sweetie sat on the edge of the bed, tissues in his lap. No doubt, she’d had another of her nightmares and no doubt Sweetie had been startled and called for him. Maylyn’s nightmares were terrifying to witness. One moment, she was asleep and looking as peaceful as an angel. The next moment, she was thrashing about and screeching at the top of her lungs. Shaking and talking did nothing to wake her, but in time she woke on her own, disoriented and terribly upset. Though it seemed things were under control now.


            “I need five minutes,” he whispered, holding up five fivers then gesturing toward his shirt. “Is that all right?”


            Hesitantly, Sweetie nodded and held his own hand up, with four fingers.


            Efficient in the ways of cleaning, his shower only took three minutes. He pulled on his bathrobe and quickly made his way back to the bedroom, his skin cooling and drying along the way.


            Then he sat down on the bed and held his arms out. Maylyn jumped up and into them, snuggling into her uncle’s chest. “You’re safe,” he said, soothingly.


            “I know,” she whimpered.


            He ran his hand up and down her back, then reached his other hand over and patted Sweetie’s thigh in appreciation. Sweetie left them in peace.


            Once Maylyn had calmed, he tucked her back into bed and sat in bed beside her. Instead of reading her to sleep, he switched on the television. The Late Late Show was just starting. Craig Kilborn had just recently left, and they were auditioning hosts. It made for interesting watching, though Maylyn fell asleep to the television in only five minutes. She took after her uncle.


            Though she was fast asleep, he remained in bed. It would be awful if she woke up again with a nightmare and he wasn’t there. But she did not wake, and he found himself nodding off.




            Startled, Lawrence sat up straight. His head had been tilting to the side, and his neck hurt when it moved it. He winced and rubbed his neck, then looked up to see his sister standing there. By the light of the television screen, he could see she looked sympathetic. “I’m so sorry. The meeting went on longer than planned and—”


            He held his hand up, shaking his head. “I’m happy to do it, you know that.” He helped her get Maylyn. The little girl was like a dead weight in his arms, and she slept soundly as he transferred her to her mother. The little girl’s face was pressed against Swan’s chest, eyes closed, mouth open.


            “You know, Rence,” she began, bouncing up and down out of habit, wanting to keep Maylyn asleep. “You always do for others. That’s your whole life. You need to take some time just for you.”


            He shrugged and tightened the tie of his fuzzy white bathrobe to avoid answering.  


            “It seems to me that you can either put on your pajamas and spend the night in bed with yourself, or you can get on that hot red shirt and tight blue jeans and have just a little selfish fun tonight.”


            Lawrence sighed, and stood up. He lightly kissed the top of Maylyn’s head then kissed his sister’s cheek. It wasn’t much of a choice, and he knew it. He needed to blow off some emotion on the dance floor. And maybe that would result in catching the eye of some hot, young hunk, but he hoped not. His life was far too busy as it was. But between going out and staying in to pleasure him, he knew which one he preferred. Either way, of course, he’d end up in bed alone.


            It was growing late, and he was a busy guy. As his sister and niece left, he headed over to the closet to put together a quick but fabulous outfit that would let him fit in at the club but not draw too much unwanted attention. He was probably the only guy who’d ever gone to a gay club with the hope of not getting laid.


All night long, all night long

You'll shoot 'em down because you're waiting for somebody good to come on

All night long, all night long

But you're sleeping with the television on

~Sleeping with the Television On, Billy Joel