They slowed down and made the second left at roughly twelve miles an hour. Sweetie sped up as he fumed behind the steering wheel of his car. A few moments later, Nik gave a laugh but immediately covered it with a cough and ran his hand through his newly-tipped hair. The following silence was palpable and put him even more on edge. “I can’t help noticthing you don’t have both handsth on the wheel.”
Sweetie shot him a fierce glance, and Nik shrugged innocently.
“You’re not keeping your eyeth on the road eith--”
“Do not start with me tonight.” Sweetie glanced again at the passenger seat and his grip tightened on the wheel. “And don’t give me that shy little boy look, either. Meek and helpless might have worked on me once upon a time but this is, what, number five?”
“Stheven, I think. Lucky number sthe--”
Sweetie lifted his hand, which was dangling loose between his legs and slammed it hard against the dashboard. Then he put both hands on the wheel. “This is no joke, Nik. You could have been seriously hurt.”
“It wasth justht a… sthcratch…” He trailed off as they turned another corner and caught up with the tow truck. With a missing bumper, a trunk that would never again close, and symmetrically smashed taillights, even he couldn’t play this off as a scratch.
“You dragged my cute ass out of bed at four in the morning by nearly giving me a heart attack. Not a kind thing to do to someone who already feels like death warmed over.” Sweetie sniffed dramatically, but the sniff was a little too hard and his throat at the back in result. Sweetie leaned over and took a second to get to the tissue box. Fearing another accident, the second was so quick that he pulled at the tissue a little too soon and it ripped in half. Sweetie swore lightly.
The tissue box was on the floor of the passenger side, so it was within inches of Nik’s unoccupied hands. Nik pulled out the second half of the ripped tissue, as well as three others. Then he placed them in Sweetie’s hand, knowing it wasn’t a peace offering but wishing it could be. Sweetie lifted the tissues to his face, hacked and snorted awfully, balled them up, and went to stuff them into his right picket. However, his flannel pajama pants had no pockets. He sniffed again and shivered. Then he reached down and cranked the heat up one more notch.
Nik cocked his head and asked, softly and concernedly, “How are you feeling, honey?”
“Oh,” Sweetie replied, with a casual air. “I feel like shit.” He cleared his throat rather unsuccessfully. “Remember how bad I felt after dinner? I’m about ten times worse now. And remember how I decided to stay home instead of going to the club? Well, here I am out of the house anyway.” And what went unsaid in the silence which followed was that since Sweetie stayed home, it meant Nik had to drive. Sweetie swallowed the guilt and tried to find something more positive to say. “Thank God you weren’t drinking.”
“Sthweetie.” Nik’s tone had suddenly gone from light to serious, which is what Sweetie had been going for.
“No, I will not take that back. I mean it. Thank God.” He glanced over again. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.” Sweetie paused as he took a deep breath and let it out again without coughing. “And I don’t know what I’m going to do with you.”
Nik took it as a compliment instead of an insult. “Oh, that’sth me. Can’t live with me. Can’t live without me.” Nik unclicked his seatbelt, pushed away the shoulder strap, and leaned over the armrests in the center to tenderly kiss Sweetie’s rough cheek.
“Nik!” Sweetie exclaimed, shaking him off. “Put your seatbelt back on, you idiot!”
Reluctantly, Nick pulled it back over and buckled up. “It wasth justht for a sthecond.”
“Just a second, just a scratch, just a header off the bridge?”
“I’m fine, naturally.”
“You’re not fine! You’re an atrocious, irresponsible, completely inept driver!” Sweetie yelled. He raised the tissues back to his face to cough and spit into. “Fuck.” Anger didn’t agree with him. He rubbed the back of his hand over his forehead. Then they turned right when the traffic light they’d stopped at went from red to green. “I’ve got to be crazy to let you keep driving.”
One more turn and they’d pulled into the parking lot outside Pit Stop. When Nik reached for the door handle, Sweetie quickly hit the new button to lock the doors automatically. Nik could unlock his door just as quickly, but it gave him an extra moment, at least. “Nik, can we talk about this?”
“Isthn’t that what we’ve been doing?” Another laugh and another cough covered it. This time, however, it was Sweetie coughing. The man turned to the side, holding a fist to his mouth. Timidly, Nik reached out and rubbed the part of Sweetie’s back that was exposed. The rubbing did nothing to help the coughing, which continued. Sweetie’s body shook with the effort of each and every phlemy cough. Nik didn’t care for the sound. “We should go insthide and get you water.”
It was another second before Sweetie could shake his head ‘no’, then the coughing slowed to a stop. Cautiously, Sweetie turned back and stretched out an arm. Nik snuggled over into Sweetie’s chest and quickly found himself in a tight embrace.
“I’m sthorry I crashed,” Nik whispered. “I didn’t mean to.”
“I know,” Sweetie whispered back, rubbing his cheek against Nik’s. Nik never meant to get in car accidents. That didn’t stop him from it, however.
“I’m not a great driver.”
“And Pit should be able to fixth the car.”
“Probably.” Sweetie paused, then, “But I don’t think you should drive any more.”
“What?” Nik pulled back, ducking and slithering out of the hug even as Sweetie struggled to keep them where they were.
Once Sweetie realized he was fighting a hopeless battle, he leaned back and let Nik do the same. “I was thinking we could hire you a driver. Someone to take you to the club and back or around town if you need it and no one’s around the house to give you a lift.” Incredulous, Nik merely blinked at him. “I was thinking we could even hire a couple of them and have them around to drive our clients. That way there aren’t so many strange cabs hanging around the club and no one will drink and drive.”
Nik blinked again. Sweetie had nothing more to say, so he waited for a reply. “Can we afford that?”
“With the money we’d save taking you off the car insurance policy, I promise we could afford a whole fleet of limousines and drivers.” Silence followed. Sweetie coughed and there was more silence. “Think about it, would you?”
Nik nodded, then finally found the unlock button on his door and headed out into the chilly winter night air. He shivered, and walked straight for the door that Pit had unlocked for them. There were three entrances to Pit Stop: the front door for customers which opened into the showroom, the garage which Pit had driven the tow truck to, and, this, the door which led to the storeroom and back offices. “The back door, naturally,” Nik joked over his shoulder.
Sweetie was too cold to be amused. “Why couldn’t this be a nice spring day instead of a freezing cold winter night?”
The whole shop smelled metallic and oily. Nik found the light switch which flooded the room in a florescent glow. When Sweetie had joined him inside, shivering just as much, Nik took only a beat before nodding decisively. “I’ve thought it over. I guessth it wouldn’t hurt to try driversth, would it?”
Sweetie smiled and immediately moved in to give Nik another hug, though without the armrests and seats in the way this time. Nik hugged back, and the two listened to the sounds in the garage on the other side of the offices where they were now. Pit had only intended to tow the car back, not start the work right away.
Sweetie pulled back, cupping his hand over his mouth and bending right over. His arms were tucked against his sides and the sound was anything but pleasant, echoing a bit in the parts room. The coughing got no better as the seconds passed. Sweetie pressed both his hands against his thighs, coughing freely. Nik walked over to him, placing a hand on Sweetie’s back to reassure his friend. When the coughs finally stopped, Sweetie had tears in his eyes from the force of it. He wiped them away and cleared his throat. “It’s been too long since I’ve had Auntie’s tea or Olly’s cough syrup. I’m falling apart here.” He straightened up and leaned into Nik for warmth. He’d been in bed only a few hours before he’d received Nik’s phone call from the scene of the accident. It had taken a while to get there by way of Pit Stop then and wait for the cops to finish their assessment. Sweetie yawned powerfully, following it up with a few more coughs and a sneeze.
Nik petted Sweetie’s head, stroking the longish, chestnut brown hair. “Don’t worry. You don’t have to drive home.” In a single smooth movement, Nik kissed Sweetie’s cheek and snuck the car keys from Sweetie’s pocket.
Nik grinned and jangled the keys in front of their faces. “For Pit, naturally.”
Sweetie loosened up a little, but wasn’t to the point of laughing just yet. “I told you not to start with me. I’ve had all I can take tonight.”
“Lucky for you, it’sth nearly sthix. The night’sth almost over.”
“Amazingly, that doesn’t make me feel any better.”