So Much for Romance


            Darkness gradually turned into daylight and the gorgeous sunrise of orange and pinks faded into a robin’s egg blue sky. Jamie turned off the headlights. Jamie had insisted on taking the first shift driving but the drive wasn’t a terribly long one and Jamie didn’t mind having the whole thing on his shoulders. When Sweetie offered to take over, after their bathroom break at the rest stop around the midway point, Jamie insisted he could keep on going.


            By hour seven, he was starting to double-think that decision. He felt a bit fuzzy-headed and bleary-eyed but wasn’t sure if that was due to the solid block of driving or the fact that he’d been up practically all night. But it had been his idea to travel at night, so it was his fault he was in this predicament. The traffic was lighter and they were both night owls by nature anyway. But there was another reason he had continued.


            “You’ve been sniffling quite a bit there, Sweetie.” He meant it as both a statement and a question, but wanted and expected an answer.


            Sweetie shrugged, not because he wanted to avoid answering, but because he wasn’t exactly sure how to answer. “I guess I’m not feeling fantastic… but I don’t think it’s anything to worry about.”


            His eyes still on the road, Jamie nodded. “Oh, I’m not worried about you.” He immediately took the exit, pulling off on the ramp and turning left onto a small road, and then a small gas station. “I’m going to get you something to kick that cold in the butt.” Glad to see the station was already open for the day, he found a parking space and turned off the car. “I’ll just pick up some supplies and then we’ll be on our way to the cabin to have that romantic trip we’ve had planned for a year now. Okay?”


            Sweetie nodded.


            Jamie stared him down. “Hey, I asked you a question.”


            Sweetie softened with a smile and leaned over the armrests, kissing one of Jamie’s cheeks while simultaneously stroking the other cheek lightly.


            “That’s better,” said Jamie, finding Sweetie’s mouth and kissing back. As opened his car door and started to get out, he heard Sweetie sniff again, several times. The sound made a chill run up Jamie’s spine and down his arms. Nik had been sick when they’d left, Jamie knew. The man had tried not to show it, because he didn’t want to be the reason for Jamie and Sweetie to cancel their pans. But he had definitely had something, and it looked like Sweetie was coming down with that same something right now.


            Jamie headed to the counter, his arms loaded down with just about everything he could think of. In addition to cough drops, Kleenex, and Tylenol, he was glad to have found some Zicam. He’d never tried it, himself, but the idea was great and a few guys on the team swore by the stuff. If it cut down this cold by even a day or two, it was worth it.


            “Got a sick friend?” asked the man behind the counter, a guy with a gap between his two front teeth and a button missing on his red and black flannel shirt.


            Jamie nodded. “We’re supposed to be having a romantic weekend up in the mountains.” He glanced out of the window, just able to make out a shape in the car, snapping forward with hands up to his face. Jamie cringed. He held up a finger and went back to the shelves for a second box of Kleenex. “I’m just trying to cover all the bases,” he explained.


            “Well, I wish you much luck,” said the man, putting the liters of ginger ale all in the same plastic bag, and then double-bagging it. “Will this be all?”


            Jamie nodded and pulled out his wallet. “Actually, can I have… let’s see… eight bucks on pump number two?”


            Jamie’s purchases amounted to four plastic bags packed full, so he carried them two in each hand to the car and set them down on the back seat before getting back into the driver’s seat. “Hey,” he said, sounding casual. “I saw you sneeze a few minutes ago.”


            “Ah. You saw that, did you?” Sweetie said. He sniffed again.


            Jamie turned the key in the ignition and shifted into reverse. He stretched his arm out along the back of the front seat as he turned in his seat to look out the back window. Apart from them, the place was deserted. He let his foot off the brake and they rolled back. As they did so, Jamie stroked Sweetie’s head with his hand. Then he pulled his hand back and put it on the wheel to direct the car over to pump number two. Sweetie sniffed again.


            Jamie filled up the car. It took seven dollars and eighty-one cents, but Jamie didn’t bother getting change. He did, however, retrieve the Zicam and the ginger ale. He picked up his plastic biggie-sized cup and gulped down the little bit of water left when the ice melted. “I want you to take something,” he said, pouring.


            Sweetie drank without questioning, as Jamie took the car back to the interstate. Unlike other times when they had stopped, Sweetie didn’t offer to take over the driving. Instead, he stared out the window until he closed his eyes. The rest didn’t last long, just as long as it took the radio station they were listening to to make it through a half dozen songs and hit commercials again. Then Sweetie snapped awake, sniffling again.


            The same thing happened several other times, and Jamie thought about turning the car right around and driving back home. But they were less than an hour from their destination now, and Jamie just didn’t have the energy for another eight hours on the road, especially if they hit traffic and it turned into nine, ten, or more.


            So they went onward, with Jamie blinking and wishing he’d bought coffee at the station, and with Sweetie sniffing and periodically nodding off. The car headed up into the mountains, meandering up the windy roads. Jamie dug the address out of his pocket and consulted it repeatedly. His eyes felt a little less tired when he found a street post that matched the street scrawled on the piece of paper. And when the numbers matched up, he breathed a sigh of relief. “We’re here,” he announced.


            It was a large house with two stories and a gorgeous paint job of bright white and green trim. It sat right up against a small mountain lake, and there was supposed to be fishing gear in the house at their disposal. Other houses also sat on the lake, but he couldn’t see one from their spot. It was wonderful seclusion, finally letting them feel as though they really were the only two men in the world. Plus, it let them escape from the scotching heat and thick humidity for a few days.


            “Why don’t you go on in and check the place out? I’ll start bringing the bags inside,” Jamie suggested. He always went a little too unnecessarily sweet when Sweetie wasn’t well. He wasn’t actually talking to Sweetie like he would talk to a five year-old, but it wasn’t far from that.


            “Thought you said you weren’t worried ‘bout me,” Sweetie said. He grinned


            Shrugging, “I refuse to answer that on the grounds that it might incriminate me.” Sweetie ended up grabbing a few bags and took the keys from Jamie, entering first. It took Jamie three trips to get the rest. Used to packing light on his road trip, Jamie’s luggage consisted of only one suitcase. Sweetie, however, had packed as heavily as anyone could. In addition, there was a cooler and several bags of food, in addition to the bags Jamie had just picked up at the gas station.


            On his final trip inside, he found Sweetie doubled-over in the living room, hand cupped over his nose and mouth. “hehh… ehhShhhh! ihhhShhhh!” He looked up at Jamie.


            “Busted,” Jamie said, pointing at Sweetie with his thumb in the air as though firing a gun. “But bless you.” He found one of the Kleenex boxes and handed it over. “I’m going to go put the cold stuff in the fridge. When I get back, I expect to see you cuddled up on the couch under blankets, waiting for me.”


            Jamie loaded the fridge, then headed back out again, with Sweetie nowhere in sight. Several of the bags were left on the floor, so Jamie picked them up and carried them upstairs, where he found Sweetie climbing into a large, king-sized bed. “Thought we might as well do this thing right,” Sweetie said. He sniffed again. “If you want to.”


            “Damn right I do.” Jamie kicked off his shoes and climbed under the covers. “I am…” he said, pulling Sweetie into his arms, “So ready for this.” The pillows were incredibly soft. The mattress gave just in the right places. The sheets warmed to their bodies. And the blankets were down-filled. “I’ve been wanting…” Sweetie snuggled into Jamie’s chest, and Jamie closed his eyes, savoring the feeling of his lover’s body up against his. “Wanting this for so long now.” They were so close that they were practically one already. “Just you and me… alone together.” Jamie kissed the top of Sweetie’s head and Sweetie nuzzled closer. “No kid, no housemates… no work, no responsibilities.” He yawned and slid his hand down into Sweetie’s pants. “Just… us… Sweetie?” Before Jamie could wait for a reply, he drifted off to sleep.


            Jamie blinked repeatedly, coming awake slowly and feeling overwhelmed with confusion. Then he remembered this wasn’t his room or Sweetie’s, and that they were on vacation. He looked around at the room for the first time. It was a quaint little bedroom, about twice as large as the immense bed. The bed had four white, wooden posts and a cloth canopy overhead. There was a dresser on one wall, with a mirror above it and a vase of dried flowers on it. The other wall had a closet, closed off by sliding, slatted doors. With another yawn, Jamie pulled his arms back, sliding his hand back out from Sweetie’s pants to stretch. “Sorry, Love,” he said. “Must have fallen asleep for a few minutes there.”


            Sweetie went tense against him, then sneezed viciously into Jamie’s chest. He pulled a balled-up tissue out of his pocket and held it to his nose as he sniffled again. “Sorry,” he apologized. “Sniff! Sniff! It’s all right. Sniff! I think I nodded off, too. Sniff!


            “You did?” he chuckled. “Guess we were both a little tired after the trip. How long do you think we slept?” Sweetie moved against him, shrugging, then snuggling even closer. He still had the tissue at his nose. Jamie slid an arm back around Sweetie, then lifted his other arm to check his wristwatch. “Good God, it’s nearly two.”


            Sweetie lifted his head, tilting it back to look at Jamie. “In the afternoon?”


            Jamie nodded, half amused and half amazed. He had certainly been tired from the long drive, but that tired? “You feel any better for the rest?” The slightly damp spot on his T-shirt clued him in that the answer was probably no, but he wanted to ask anyway.


            “A little,” said Sweetie. “Sniff! Sniff! So, where were we, sniff,  before we fell asleep?”


            “We were bringing the luggage in and I put the groceries away. Why, are you hungry?”


            Sweetie laughed. “A little. Sniff! Sniff! But that’s not what I’m hungry for and, sniff, that’s not what I meant.” He took Jamie’s hand and slid the watch off. Then he guided Jamie’s hand back down his pants. “Sniff! Sniff! I think this is what we were trying to do. Sniff!


            “Oh,” Jamie’s voice was deep and his tone was playful. “Right. I remember now.” He slid down a little so he was looking Sweetie in the eye.


            Then Sweetie rolled away, his body going tense again. “ihhh-Hishhh! ehhShhhh! Ehh… EHShhhh! Sniff. SNIFF!” He scrubbed the tissues against his nose. “Ub, Jabie?”


            Jamie extracted his hand and rubbed it up and down Sweetie’s back. “I’ll go get those tissues for you. And we don’t have to…”


            “Yeah,” said Sweetie, looking over his shoulder. “Sniff! Sniff! Maybe I can give you a rain check? Sniff! I’m kind of hungry, too.”


            “I’ll get you something to eat.”


            Sweetie laughed and rolled over onto his back. “I’d better get it myself. Sniff!


            “Oh,” he poked Sweetie. “I’m not that bad in the kitchen. I can make a simple sandwich.”


            “Yeah,” he nodded. “But, sniff sniff, I want something more than… than a sandwich. Sniff! Like…soup… ehhh-” He turned away again, hand to his face. “hihh-IHShh! ehhh… ehhhShihhh!” He sneezed, then started to get up. Jamie again tried to keep him in bed, but Sweetie insisted on getting up.


            “Fine, then I’m coming with you,” Jamie said, getting up as well. The room was warm, he knew, but felt so much colder without the covers and Sweetie’s warm body.


            Sweetie coughed and shook his head. “Coming? Rain check .Sniff! Remember?”


            Jamie chuckled. “Ha-ha, punny man. Let’s see how much funnier you get once you’re on more cold medicine.”


            Sweetie covered his nose and mouth again, this time with both hands. He doubled over again. “ihhhHishhh! ihhhShhh! Sniff! Sniff! Cold medicine. Oh, how I love that idea. Gimmie gimmie.”


            Jamie resisted the urge to tackle Sweetie, throw him down onto the bed, and ravish that cuteness right out of him. Though he knew it was no use; Sweetie would always be cute. So he settled for walking down the stairs behind Sweetie, admiring the view, and then doting on him with medicine, tissues, ginger ale, and as much assistance as he could offer in the cooking department, which wasn’t very much at all.


            They sat out on the wooden porch, which overlooked the lake, though it stood several yards from the rocky shore. The deck chairs were white wicker and topped with pale green cushions, complimenting the darker green shutters, visible on the back of the house. Eating lunch there was comfortable and quiet, superb and serene.


            That is, until the leg of the wicker chair Jamie was sitting in snapped. Instinctively, he grabbed for the table, which toppled it over, with their dishes and all. It slowed down his fall, thankfully, but he still fell back with a loud crash and slap of wood and body against wood. Worst of all was the way his head smacked against the deck.


            The next thing he knew, Sweetie was squatting amidst spilled lunch and dishes, holding Jamie up off the deck slightly and pressing a bag of frozen carrots against the back of Jamie’s head. Jamie’s eyes went wide in fear and recognition. “Oh my god. Oh my god. I lost consciousness?”


            “You blacked out just for a few seconds,” Sweetie said. “Sniff! How’s your stomach?”


            Jamie checked and didn’t feel nauseous. He didn’t feel disoriented or tired. In fact, his head didn’t really hurt at all. And he could remember the date and, unfortunately, the name of the current president. “I’m okay,” Jamie said, replacing Sweetie’s hand with his to hold onto the makeshift cold pack. He carefully sat up, and still felt fine. Until he looked at the mess he’d made.


            Sweetie pushed the table back into place and began picking up the dishes. Luckily, at the time, he’d been holding onto the mug his soup had been in, so it hadn’t spilled. But all of Jamie’s late lunch was history now. The plates had not broken, the cups had been plastic so has also stayed intact, and the silverware had all managed to avoid slipping down between the incredibly narrow gaps between the boards in the deck. So the only things lost were their food and drink. A black garbage bag and some paper towels made quick work of the scene. And Sweetie lovingly put together another sandwich for Jamie, sneezing over his shoulder and washing his hands twice midway through the process. Sweetie reheated his soup, and they had a second attempt at eating, and did so inside this time, without incident.


            Afterwards, they explored the house. Sweetie took a tissue box along for the ride and used its contents frequently. The first floor of the house consisted of a kitchen and an immense combination living and sitting room with a large fireplace. The second floor had two bedrooms and a bathroom. They’d slept in the master bedroom, obviously, but the second bedroom had a trundle bed against the wall. It was so small that Jamie could stand in the center of the room and touch his fingertips to the two walls at the same time. Then they explored the grounds. The front yard was beautifully maintained, with bushes and flowers, and the backyard was similar. There was a long stretch of grass that sloped down towards the lake. There was a little path of stepping stones that led that way, as though people wouldn’t be able to find the lake otherwise.


            The two men sat down on the grass closest to the lake, their legs stretching out over the rocks that marked the shore instead of sand. They sat and talked, and Sweetie sniffled, until the sun began to set. Then they simply watched, hand-in-hand, as the sky turned a handful of brilliant colors just for them.


            Neither was hungry when it came time for dinner, but they made the effort considering their schedule was already out of whack. Ice cream was an appropriate dessert, though they ate it out of separate bowls instead of sharing a container as Jamie had planned when he’d purchased it before they’d left. There were all sorts of little changes they made, due to Sweetie’s cold. Jamie pushed fluids and always gravitated towards blankets whenever they entered a room, to wrap them around Sweetie’s shoulders. Sweetie kept his tissues closer than his lover, throwing used ones away before they could pile up, and washing his hands every time he came near a sink. Instead of showering together, Jamie let Sweetie use the shower first, letting him stay in as long as he liked for as hot as he liked, and not complaining that the water was cold when it was time for his own. A microwaveable heating pad shared the bed with them at night, and Sweetie moved it from the foot of their bed to his chest area as needed. They both slept with two pillows under their heads, but Sweetie’s were the two thickest ones.


            Despite their long naps earlier that day, both men fell asleep relatively early that night, because they planned to wake up early the next morning.


            Neither had ever gone fishing before, but both had been interested in trying it out. Or, at least, that’s what they’d told themselves when the idea had been brought up. Now that they were in the below-deck utility shed, looking at the long poles and trying to make sense of the tackle box, they were unsure. But they had pulled themselves out of bed before dawn to give it a shot, and they were determined to go through with it.


            Jamie picked up the equipment. Sweetie remarked that he was good with his equipment, just before turning and gasping something to the effect of “hold on let me get these sneezes out” before doubling over again. “ihhhShuhh! Eh’Shuh! ehhh… ihhhShhhh! Hihshhh! Ih… ihhhKshhh! ihhhShuhh! H’Shhhhh! hehShhhh!” Sweetie had tissues in his pockets. Though he used them sparingly, to make them last longer, he still went through two whole tissues with sneezes and subsequent blows.


            Sweetie looked up when it was over, and their eyes met in silent conversation. Sweetie understood that Jamie wasn’t making him do this, that they could back out with no hard feelings. And Jamie understood that Sweetie didn’t want to use his cold as an excuse to back out. “Let’s go fishing,” said Jamie.


            At the end of the path of stepping stones was a short wooden dock. They briefly considered standing at the end of that dock and casting their rods out to catch fish, but after checking the water level and noticing that there were no fish down in this shallow area of the lake, they decided such a thing would be futile. The only option was to take out a small rowboat that was tethered to the end of the dock.


            They knew just as much about boats as they did about fishing. But with life vests on, they figured the worst that could happen was accidentally overturning the boat and getting a little wet. Unfortunately, ‘a little wet’ wasn’t exactly what to call someone whose line snags on something underwater and, unbalanced, he falls into the lake face-first.


            “Jamie!” Sweetie shouted, crawling carefully past the oars and the tackle box to the side of the boat where Jamie had once stood. Jamie came up for air thanks to the life jacket, but he did so coughing and then laughing. Sweetie extended a hand, holding tightly onto the side of the boat. Jamie grabbed it and managed not to pull Sweetie into the lake with him. “Are you okay?”


            Holding onto the boat, Jamie swung his arm up and deposited a dripping fishing rod. He had held onto it in the fall thinking that both breaking a chair and losing fishing equipment wasn’t going to look good to the people they were renting the house from. The line had snapped, but the rod was otherwise undamaged, from the look of it.


            The same could very nearly be said for Jamie. “I’m all right,” he gasped, still coughing and bobbing up and down. Truthfully, he didn’t feel all right at all. The lake was a hundred times colder than it should have been. He felt unpleasant, living things brushing against his leg, which could have been fish or weeds or anything, but he didn’t want to think too hard about it because he didn’t want to panic. And he didn’t want to worry Sweetie. “Just wet and cold… th-this lake is fucking freezing!


            Sweetie nodded. “Here, I’ll get you out.”


            Much as he wanted to be out of the lake, Jamie sensibly refused. “No, no, don’t, I don’t want the boat to tip over with you in it. Don’t want you to get wet.” That was all they needed. It was bad enough Sweetie had a cold; their vacation would be ruined if Sweetie got pneumonia.


            “Well sniff, sniff you can’t stay in this lake for the rest of our vacation,” said Sweetie. “Sniff! I mean, sniff, I guess you could. I could row out to see you every few hours, sniff, sniff, sniff, to bring you meals and all, but sniff sniff it’s going to make having sex much more difficult. Sniff! Don’t you think?”


            Jamie chuckled. “I’ll just hold onto the boat and swim back with you. Can you row all right?”


            Sweetie said he thought he could, and sat with his back to the shore, positioning the oars to do just that. “And to think,” said Sweetie, between strokes. “I was worried my sniff-sniff sneezes would scare away the fish. Sniff! On the bright side we didn’t hurt any fish in the process,” Sweetie said, trying to make the best of things. He’d been worried about what to do with any fish they’d caught. Obviously they had intended to let them go, but pulling hooks out of mouths seemed an equally unpleasant task. Now at least they wouldn’t have to worry about that.


            “I m-might have hit one… wh… wh-when I w-went over… board,” Jamie admitted. He still had a hand on the boat but was sort of swimming at the same time, kicking with his legs as the life jacket kept his top half above the water.


            “Sniff! I’m sure it’s fine. Stunned by your… gorgeous body, maybe.”


            Jamie forced a laugh and choked on some water in the process. They kept talking to a minimum for the rest of the row back.


            Jamie had been the one to row them out into the deep water in the first place, but Sweetie didn’t do a terrible job at getting them back to the shore. He was sweating and sniffling by the time he tied the boat to the dock. Then he unloaded the fishing rods and box and climbed up onto the wooden structure so Jamie could use the boat to help himself up as well. They left their life jackets in the boat and returned the equipment to the shed on the way into the house.


            Jamie was shivering violently, his teeth chattering and body shaking as much as dripping wet. “Are you all right?” Sweetie asked again. Jamie’s situation hadn’t changed, obviously, but he looked worse now that he was out of the water.


            Shaking his head, “J-just c-cold,” he said. He gave a weak smile. He was a tough hockey player, though, and wasn’t going to complain, no matter how miserable or shaken he felt. Sweetie could tell he wasn’t doing well, though, with the way Jamie clung to his side for warmth.


            Sweetie put his arm around him and guided him back up to the house. “You should take off your clothes out here,” said Sweetie. “Hardwood floors and water don’t mix so well.”


            “F-fuck,” Jamie said as Sweetie helped him out of his jean shorts, heavy from being waterlogged, and blue t-shirt, a navy blue color now that it was wet instead of medium blue. Off came large, squishy tennis shoes and socks, but he initially kept his jockey shorts out of instinct.


            “Jamie?” Sweetie said. The congestion in his voice did not mask his arousal. “Can you… maybe…”


            Still shivering terribly, Jamie managed to reach down and slip off the underwear as well, just because he’d been asked. He had to admit that there was a bit of fun to be had in being with Sweetie and being naked in the great outdoors. But his whole body trembled and he was too wet and too cold to get an erection.


            Sweetie purred, despite the shrinkage, and wrapped himself around Jamie as they headed back into the house. They left the clothes outside to dry a little while they worked on getting Jamie to the same point. “W-want a hot bath,” Jamie said, as his damp bare feet slapped against the floorboards towards the staircase.


            “Then that’s what we’ll do,” Sweetie agreed. Jamie went up the narrow staircase first. Sweetie followed behind, admiring the view yet again, with his hands on Jamie’s back to keep him going.


            There was no shower in the house, only a large, claw-footed bathtub that had rose petals stuck to the bottom. They had originated from a small container which sat on top of the toilet tank. Upon seeing it, the two had planned to take a bath together, but they hadn’t planned on doing it under these circumstances. Still, as the hot water ran into the tub, Jamie was not surprised to see Sweetie taking off his clothes as well.


            Unable to wait any longer, Jamie climbed into the tub as soon as the water was at the halfway mark. While Sweetie let him get settled, he blew his nose a good half dozen times. Then Sweetie carefully climbed in, as well. The water was scorching hot, so Sweetie ran a little cool water as well, and it mixed into a combination that nonetheless made their cheeks flush with heat. Still, Jamie was more than happy to accept Sweetie lying on top of him and snuggling into him.


            It wasn’t long before Jamie’s teeth stopped chattering and his body ceased shaking with shivers. And then there was nothing to do except for lounge there and savor the feeling of holding onto Sweetie as though they never had to leave this moment.


            “Warmer now? Sniff!


             “Oh yeah,” Jamie said in happy sigh. “I’m just going to throw this suggestion out there… but can’t we stay in this bathtub like this for the rest of the vacation?”


            Through laughter, “I wish. Sniff! But the water’s going to get cold.”


            “Then we’ll just run some more hot water into the tub,” Jamie reasoned. He hugged Sweetie closer to his chest.


            “Our fingers will get all pruney.”


            “I can learn to love that.”


            “But eventually, sniff sniff, we’re going to get hungry.”


            “Damn,” Jamie sighed. “Foiled again.” After hockey games, he was always ravenous with hunger from all the physical exertion. It looked like swimming and shivering had the same result, because the thought of food brought his stomach close to eating itself.


            Sensing Jamie’s hunger, Sweetie said, “How about after a nice big lunch we go try out one of those hiking trails?”




            “Yeah,” Sweetie nodded. “I saw some marked trails on our drive up the… wait… ihh!” He sat up, pulling away from Jamie’s arms, and he turned his head. “ihhh… hihShuhh! ihhShihh! ihhShhhh! Kshhhh!” After the first sneeze, the force of which made Sweetie shake, Jamie reached up and put his hands on Sweetie’s hips to keep him steady. He didn’t need Sweetie banging into the tub and hurting himself. Sweetie appreciated the touch, showing it by sliding a hand over Jamie’s hand.


            As Sweetie sniffled, trying to control his nose without the use of tissues, Jamie blessed him. “Do you really think it’s a good idea to go out hiking?”


            “Ub, sniff, Sniff, SNIFF!” Sweetie rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. “I have a little cold, dot broked legs. Sniff! Sniff! I dod’t wadt to go ruddig a barathod, just a dice, leisurely walk. Sniff! SNIFF! We’ll turd back before I get tired. SNIFF!


            “Okay,” said Jamie. He slid up a little, out of the water. “We’ll go walking. That sounds nice. Now let’s get out of the bathtub and dry you off so that you can blow that cute nose of yours.”


            Sweetie chuckled and carefully got out of the bathtub. Jamie followed him out. The warmth of the room felt cool to Jamie’s skin after stepping out and he immediately embraced Sweetie in order to keep warm. They pulled towels to themselves, wrapping each other, hugging, warming and drying.


            Then Sweetie broke away cupping two still-damp hands to his face. “ihh… ihhhhh… IHChuhh! IhShhuhhh! ihshhh!” Jamie hurriedly dried the rest of himself and Sweetie off.


            It was like he was playing that childhood game of hot and cold. He still felt better, but in every moment he spent apart from Sweetie he felt like he was getting colder. He wanted to find that moment again, where he was at peace and the rest of the world fell away. He wanted to hold onto Sweetie forever.


            “I’ll be right back,” Sweetie said, killing the game. Jamie nodded, rubbing the towel over his dripping hair. When Sweetie returned, he was wearing his thick, fuzzy, white bathrobe and white tube socks. He had the same for Jamie, though Jamie’s bathrobe was larger and dark forest green in color. And when he’d handed those over, Jamie saw that Sweetie had in his hands a hair dryer.


            “You really did pack everything,” Jamie chuckled.


            As the water in the bathtub went down the drain, Sweetie plugged in the hair dryer and aimed it at Jamie’s head. Jamie sighed, not just from the hot air blowing through his hair, but from Sweetie’s fingers as they stroked and separated, moving and flipping Jamie’s hair about so all of it would be dry.


            “So glad you packed everything,” Jamie muttered, closing his eyes. Sweetie continued drying Jamie’s hair, past the point where it was thoroughly dry.


            Then they went downstairs to the kitchen. Sweetie had a craving for grilled cheese and tomato soup, which was one of his staples, so that’s what he made. Jamie helped out as much as he could, but Sweetie was more efficient in the kitchen without Jamie’s help, so he mostly stood on hand with tissues and stole hugs between flips of the sandwiches and stirrings of the soup.


            They talked about a variety of subjects during lunch, from how humorously bad they were at fishing to which trail they should take this afternoon. And then Sweetie said, “I’m thinking of calling home this evening.” They had agreed that this vacation was short enough as it was without dragging themselves back to the house with thoughts, concerns and phone calls. But it had only been a day and they were both missing home. “Are you all right with that?”


            “I think it’s a great idea,” Jamie said. “See how everyone’s doing.” From the way he said the word, he was sure Sweetie knew which ‘everyone’ he was talking specifically about. Sweetie nodded and promised he would. The benefit of calling around dinnertime was that there was a good chance everyone would home. And if something was wrong, it would come out then.


            “In the meantime…” Jamie walked their plates to the sink. The kitchen was too small and old to accommodate a dishwasher, but Jamie was better at cleaning plates than putting food on them. “We should go get changed and start walking. Want to make sure we get back before it starts getting dark.” There really wasn’t much risk of that as it was the middle of summer and the days were nice and long, but Jamie was just covering his bases.


            Sweetie nodded and headed out of the kitchen to go upstairs and get some clothes on. Jamie heard him sneeze again, twice, in the living room. And then, “Jamie?”


            Worried, immediately Jamie left the dishes in the sink. “What’s wrong?” Jamie asked, wiping the fronts and backs of his hands down the front of his bathrobe to dry them.


            Sweetie, who’d been standing on the far end of the room, walked over to the doorway where Jamie stood. Sweetie had a bunched-up tissue pressed to his nose, and lowered it when he talked, showing an amused smile. “Remember that rain check idea?” Jamie nodded. “Think we’re going to have to get a checkbook.” He nodded back towards the big bay window. Jamie could see it was dark outside already, but not because it was late. Light rain was falling.


            Jamie smirked. “Maybe it’ll let up?”


            But the rain did not let up. It came down heavier and heavier, until it could be described as something of a torrential downpour. Sweetie suggested they go out anyway for just a short walk, but Jamie did not want to risk Sweetie catching a chill and getting worse. The man had packed and brought half the house with them on vacation, but admitted to forgetting to bring a thermometer. Jamie didn’t want to wish they had one.


            But now they had to deal with the matter of what to do for the rest of the day. Having intended to spend the majority of their vacation in bed together, they didn’t really have a lot of other things planned.


            That afternoon, they explored the house a little more thoroughly. And they ended up in the living room, going through the cabinets and shelves. After some time, Jamie cried out triumphantly. He backed up, on his hands and knees, and pulled a skinny wooden box out from the storage space beneath the bay window.


            “What’s that?” asked Sweetie, sitting up from where he’d been lying across the window seat, thumbing through a beautiful hardback copy of a National Audubon Society book of North American birds. He set the book aside and brought the tissue box to his lap.


            Jamie climbed up onto the same seat. There was room enough for both of them, but it was a nice, cozy fit. He thought, only briefly, of moving to the couch, but Sweetie wasn’t complaining and Jamie liked being as close to him as possible. He opened the box to reveal a bunch of white and black checkers, and a set of matching dice.


            “Sniff! Great find, love, but we don’t have a checkerboard,” said Sweetie. Then he pulled another tissue out of the box and cupped it to his face. “hihhh… Ihshuhh! Ehh…


            “Bless you,” said Jamie, prematurely.


            It took Sweetie off guard, and pushed the urge to sneeze away. They laughed over it.


            “This isn’t a checkers game,” Jamie explained. “It’s backgammon.”


            “Backgammon?” laughed Sweetie, holding another tissue to his nose and looking a bit apologetic about needing to do so. “Who knows how to play that?”


            “I do, for one,” said Jamie, clearing all the pieces out of the box to reveal a dark brown playing surface with lighter brown triangles sticking out from the top and bottom towards the center. He began separating the pieces into piles of white and black. “At the nursing home where my sister, Beth, works, it’s one of the big-time games the residents play. I’m not very good, there’s this one guy named Bill who always kicks my ass at it. But I definitely do know how to play. Would you like to learn?”


            Sweetie shrugged. “I don’t know…”


            “Come on, it’ll be fun. It’s not a tough game. If elderly people can master it, I’m sure you can get the hang of it, Mister World of Warcraft.”


            So Sweetie let Jamie explain the rules to him. He confessed to being a bit overwhelmed by the scoring and the terminology and all the strangely named rules. Between pips and the Crawford and Jacoby rules, Sweetie didn’t seem to know if he was coming or going. But Jamie said he’d go slow and would walk Sweetie through a practice game.


            It was nothing like a computer game, that was for sure. But it only took a few rounds for Sweetie to really get the hang of it. By the end of the first game, he was sending Jamie’s pieces to the bar at every available opportunity and even bore a few of his pieces in the time it took Jamie to get all of his to the end of the board.


            Their second game was more lively than the first, and helped along with Sweetie’s special hot chocolate and marshmallows. The special-ness came from peppermint Shnaps which made both of them a little freer in their moves, both on the board and with each other. Jamie won that one, too, but just barely.


            The third game ended prematurely when Jamie couldn’t help but lean over the game board to place a series of kisses up and down Sweetie’s neck. The bare skin the bathrobe did not hide, was far too tempting. Sweetie’s skin was slightly tanned, smooth, and smelled of rose petals. Jamie’s knee moved forward a little too far and bumped the board. Pieces stayed inside the box, but moved out of their positions. Neither man could remember which triangles the pieces had been on, but neither really cared.


            Sweetie wrapped his arms around Jamie and purred. Jamie’s kisses moved up Sweetie’s neck to his chin and then towards his lips. Sweetie pulled back before that contact happened, however.


            “Need to sneeze again?” Jamie asked, automatically reaching for the tissue box.


            Sweetie shook his head.


            Concernedly, “Feeling too sick? Not up to this?”


            Sweetie shook his head again at this. “I have a cold. Maybe we shouldn’t be kissing like that. I don’t want to get you sick.”


            “I don’t care,” said Jamie, staring at Sweetie’s mouth longingly. “I want my baby.”


            “You’ll care when you’re sniffling and sneezing.”


            “No I won’t,” insisted Jamie. “It’s the summer so I don’t have any games. We have more than enough tissues and cold medicine. And any discomfort I feel will be well worth kissing you for, believe me. Besides, it won’t be the first time we’ve been sick at the same time.”


            Sweetie wasn’t instantly convinced, it seemed. He looked out the window, avoiding Jamie’s eyes. But Jamie knew all of Sweetie’s avoidance tricks by now. “We should stick to the game,” he started to say, when Jamie kissed him. And then Sweetie melted, relenting at the taste and touch. Sweetie reached out, pulling Jamie closer and shoving the game away.


            To the sound of the rain heavily falling outside, Jamie cashed in that rain check.


            Dinner consisted of angel hair pasta in meat sauce and bread that took an hour to defrost without a microwave. They talked mainly about hockey, which wasn’t unusual for this time of year. During the hockey season, Jamie lived and breathed hockey. But during the off season, all he could do was talk about it. They discussed up-and-coming players and who looked like they had the best chances for the cup. Jamie talked about the players the Wolves would probably get from the deals the National Hockey League made. It was tough being an American Hockey League team, never knowing what the roster is going to look like, game to game, but Jamie said their prospects had never looked better and Sweetie said something about Jamie never looking better. The comment was painfully cheesy, but got him laid again on the living room couch a few minutes later.


            After taking some more medicine, Sweetie went upstairs for his cell phone.


            There was enough dry wood stacked beside the fireplace inside for a fire. As it didn’t look like the rain would let up any time soon, Jamie decided to use it all up tonight and make it good. It was a long time since Jamie was a boy scout. But Jamie felt a certain joy in making a fabulous fire with knowledge he’d gleaned from an organization that wouldn’t accept him now. He spread the throw from the back of the couch out on the floor in front of the stone fireplace and knelt down upon it.


            Still wearing his bathrobe, he held his hands up to the fire and felt warmth spread through all of him. He stared pensively into the fire, mesmerized by the bright, dancing flames. They reminded him of his childhood, and made him think about everything he had been through since then: discovering himself, leaving home, surviving that destructive relationship, earning a place on a great team, and finally falling in love with someone who was both good for him and someone he could spend the rest of his life with.


            “Yeah, well, we just wanted to check in,” said Sweetie, reaching the bottom of the stairs. He pointed to Jamie, and then motioned to the phone, asking silently if Jamie wanted to speak to anyone. Jamie shook his head and patted his hand over his heart, then pointed to the phone. “Jamie sends his love to you all, too. See you all in a few days.” A pause, then, “Bye, Auntie.”


            Sweetie switched off his phone and settled next to Jamie at the fireplace. “So, how’s it going back at home?” Jamie asked.


            “They’re holding together,” Sweetie replied. “Nik’s definitely sick, but Olly’s looking after him. Pit and Turbo have the club covered. Sniff! Sniff! But they all miss us, of course.”


            “Of course.”


            “They also recommend checking out the road conditions before we leave. The news mentioned a few roads up here which have been flooded out by the rain.”


            Jamie laughed. The perfect ending to all of their mishaps would be if they ended up being stranded there. Sweetie popped up not a second later, then returned with the tissue box. He snuggled into Jamie’s side and Jamie put his arm around Sweetie, hugging him close. “I’m sorry this hasn’t been the ideal romantic vacation we had planned,” said Jamie, as though everything from Sweetie’s cold to the weather was now somehow his fault.


            “I don’t know…” said Sweetie, leadingly. He had his phone in hand again, and was pushing buttons as he navigated through the menus. “SNIFF! Being here with you like this now. I think it’s pretty romantic.” He pushed one more button on his phone and it began playing an MP3. “What do you think?”


            Instantly, Jamie recognized the smooth and beautiful sound of Luther Vandross singing the love song, ‘Here and Now’. The phone dropped from Sweetie’s hand, but continued playing, as Jamie instantly turned and pushed Sweetie down onto the blanket-covered floor, pinning him there under a strong, hard body and hundreds of kisses.