Change of Plans



            Dimitry and Caroll chose spots around the fourth row, on the isle. Caroll always liked to sit near to the front, but not in the first row, and Dimitry liked sitting on the isle for the legroom and easy getaway. He was a medium-height, well built, Russian-born math and computer double major, as well as a damn good ice hockey goalie. His hair was cut short to his head, which flattered his handsome, round face. He was quite the looker, an oddity for his majors, and not a girl at the university could deny his dimples, soft smile and bright blue eyes had an effect on them. Caroll, one of his roommates, was a math major as well. Wavy orange-red hair, green eyes, freckles from head to toe. They were just finishing up their days with the same math class, though Caroll had work directly afterwards and Dimitry had practice.


            The lecture hall filled up to about two-hundred or so, and class began as usual, the strict but highly comedic Dr.Jones throwing equation after equation up on the board from memory and going off topic for ten minutes on each one. And likewise, the entire beginning of class went exactly like usual. It wasn't until sometime in the middle when things began to get a little abnormal for Dimitry.


He wasn't sure what it was at first, he just knew his nose was beginning to tickle. He absentmindedly rubbed at it with his left hand as he continued jotting down formulas with his right. It was a light but irritating tickle, one that wasn't going away no matter how much he rubbed at his nose. He put his pencil down, took hold of it and his notebook where they sat on the little slab of fold-up desk that was attached to the seat, and leaned forward, reaching to his back pocket. Nothing there but his comb; no handkerchief on him with which to rub his nose into. That might have been somewhat helpful, how could he have forgotten it? No matter, though. He continued to rub as he took notes, first rubbing on each side of his nose, then rubbing two knuckles beneath, then smashing his nose into the palm of his hand and rubbing. But it was no use, the tickle was not going away.


If anything, it was growing stronger, and as if dramatically, his heart beat sped up. He was never too fond of sneezing in front of a large crowd. Not to say that the man was shy to sneeze, he did it nearly every game when skating the warm-ups before hand or after a period break. The coldness of the rink always got his nose running just a little. But that was different… there was noise there, and he was wearing a mask. But in the classroom, things were much different. Just a little bit of worry was all… certainly justified by the tickley urge that just didn't seem to want to quit.


            Finally, he could tell he was going to have to sneeze in order to give himself a little peace and keep his mind on the lecture. Just one sneeze, maybe two. Maybe no one would even notice? And then he'd be able to concentrate. What started out faint, had grown, and was now building to a sneeze. He opened his mouth halfway, breathing harder, trying to draw it out. He closed his eyes, wiggling his nose around. Just a little more… the urge was building. He closed his hand on his pencil and notebook to steady them when the sneeze came; the last thing he needed was to drop one or both of them or everyone really would notice him.


The sneeze was coming now, and his kept his eyes squeezed shut. “Ah-“ and raised his other hand, putting his first finger beneath his nose, the others curled into a fist. “eng'k!” It felt incredible, quite fulfilling to finally get it out. He lowered his hand to his lap as he gave a soft, little sniffle. And he opened his eyes just to see if anyone was looking. Not even Caroll seemed to have noticed. But the tickle was still there, built up to a second sneeze immediately. He almost always sneezed in doubles, so this was to be expected. He closed his eyes again as it came quickly, raising his finger up again. “egkk-ahh…Sniff! Excuse me.” His nose felt a little runny, but that was to be expected. He sniffed another time and rubbed his finger under his nose. Dimitry opened his eyes, feel much better all around.


            However, he only felt that way for half a minute. And then the tickle returned. The strong, debilitating urge to sneeze was back, and taking complete control. But this time it wasn't just a tickle in his nose, it was itchiness in the nostrils, too. In fact, his whole nose itched and tickled at the same time terribly powerfully. Mere rubbing did nothing to quench it. He lifted his hand again, quickly, as his eyes shut, mouth closed, and he fell forward. “ah-emph! ah-eng'kah…!” He let out his breath with a sigh and sniffed strongly to clear his nose. And yet, the tickle was still there. And the itch was intensifying. He wanted nothing but to have a hanky and use it to rub his nose more thoroughly. “Sniffff! Excuse me,” a little loud, in fact his sniffles were louder than the stifled sneezes, and seemed to attract more attention. A few people sort of turned their heads to him, to indicate they wanted it quieter.


            Now he felt the need to sneeze immediately after just sneezing. Not a second's peace was he allowed. “ahh-emmk! eng'k!  ah…ahh-en'k! Excuse… eh-Umph! Sniff! Excuse me.” His eyes were watering from the pressure of holding his sneezes back. It wasn't just because he was in class, either. He'd just been brought up to sneeze like that. Everyone in his family did.


            eng-uh! eng'kk! ah-mm'k!” The breaths in were getting sharper, stronger, louder, and the sneezes were getting wetter and stronger. He was sniffling a lot now, trying to be quiet about it all. “eg-uh…enn'kuh!” He rubbed his nose with his fist, and wiped tears from his eyes. His eyes, which were feeling a little itchy in and of themselves. This, he realized, had to be an allergy. No matter how much he sneezed, he still felt terribly sneezey. “eng'uh! ennk! emf! uh…


            “You all right, Mitry?” Caroll asked, putting her hand on his arm.


            He nodded. Of course he nodded. What else could he do? “Yep,” he returned, sniffling. And immediately breaking out with a few more sneezes. “eng'k! erk-uh… emgg'k! 'Scuse me.” He wanted to slide into his seat, out of the way. He wanted to scratch his eyes. He wanted to figure out what he was allergic to. He wanted to stop sneezing!


            But the only thing he could do was keep sneezing and sniffling. He'd all but given up on the lesson by now. Simply sitting in wait of a sneeze, lifting his hand when the sensation hit, sneezing, sniffling, and relaxing again. And again and again and again. But it gave him some time to think. There was very little he was allergic to. Horses, certain flowers, and strong perfumes. He knew Caroll wasn't wearing any, but someone else? He looked around in front of him. Mostly guys, one woman who probably wasn't wearing any either; she'd been in a study group of his for a year and he couldn't recall her being that type of woman. So then who?


            enk'uh…ah-ung! Sniff, sniff, sniffle!” Whatever it was, it certainly gave him the sneezes something fierce.


            “Bless you,” Caroll whispered softly.


            Eyes watery, nose runny, he looked over at her. “Thanks. In Russia, sniffle, we say 'Boot-tyeh zdarovi'. Sniff, sniffle.


            She giggled. “Might take me a while to learn. Though at the rate you're going… you're sure you're ok?”


            He nodded. Of course he wasn't at all sure about anything now. But what was he supposed to say? Just then, the sneezes struck again, this time harder and faster than any time before. Dimitry barely had time to lift his hand to his face, spreading his thumb and first finger and pressing his nose into the webbing between. “ng'k! heh-umm! Eh-eng'uh…en'k! ke'sh! kung'k!” Keeping his hand in place, he whispered to Caroll, “Care…sniff, sniff, do you have a tissue?” The words were no sooner out than the sneezes shot back. “heh-ng! Eng'k! egk! ungk-uh!


            She nodded, rooting through her backpack to take out a small pack of Kleenex. She opened it up then and set it on his notebook.


            He tried to take one using just one hand, but he was simply not so coordinated, and he was leaning, trying to get the right angle to pull them out. No so luck. He lowered his hand, still sneezing every few seconds nonstop, and pulled out a tissue. “nn'kkuh! engk! ergg…ng'k!” He sneezed, head snapping forward at the force of each without his hand there to stop him, his mouth still closed, nostrils flaring and body tensing. He took the folded tissue and folded it in half again, so it was a small square, then lifted it to his nose with both hands, the fold aligned with the center of his nose, and gave a tiny blow into it. It was not as quiet as his sneezes, and not as pleasant a sound either, but it did calm his nose for a minute.


            And literally a minute, full of sniffles and holding his breath, but no sneezes. But then they came back. With the tissue folded over his nose, he sneezed again. “en'gh! em'kk! nngt!” And sniffed, nose hidden behind the tissue. “Excuse me.”


            The sneezes were soft but still they seemed to disturb his peers. So he made the only decision he could. He slid his pencil and notebook into his backpack and took it in one hand and his roller blades in the other, and stood. He walked down the few steps to the front of class, just barely missing hitting the projector, and ducked out the door, still sneezing.


            He shut the door behind tightly, hearing nothing from within. He set his skates and backpack down and leaned up against the hallway wall, with the tissue up to his nose. “eng'uh! ung'kk! enk!” This was insane. He'd never sneezed so much as this in his life. What had set him off? His throat felt fine, no headache or aches of any sort, no chills, no fever so far as he could tell. But his nose did itch, and his eyes did also. It had to be an allergy. The tickling and itching felt like one. But he couldn't remember a sneezing attack even remotely this bad before. He gave his nose a full blow into the tissue this time, wincing at the unpleasant sound. He did feel slightly better afterwards, though still rather sneezey.


            Holding his finger beneath his nose, rubbing, he turned and peaked back into the classroom through the glass. He saw Caroll at once, sitting beside his empty seat. “enkuh! Mmph! nng!” And just behind his seat he saw a rather leggy blonde, with dolled-up hair, tight clothes, and a purse. As he watched, and sneezed, he saw her pull a small bottle out of her purse and dab a little of whatever was in it on her wrists, then rub her wrists together. Ah ha! “ih'unng! ah-eng'k!” he sniffled and continued to rub his finger against his nose. He opened his eyes to see Caroll now staring back at him, concerned.


            She pointed to herself, then to him as she mouth the words, 'Do you need me out there?'


            He smiled and shook his head, holding up his hand to motion that she should stay put. Then he turned back to the wall, and slid down, sitting on the floor, legs spread, his arms resting on his knees. “eng'uh! ef'uh! ung'eh! Ung'k!” He pulled out a second tissue, folded it neatly, and blew his nose again. His watch read only 3:00 on the dot… another forty-five minutes to wait. This was going to be a long class. He rubbed his eyes gently to relieve a bit of the itch, which only made them itch more. So he rubbed harder until they weren't as bad, and rubbed his nose with the tissue as well. And he simply sat back and waited it all out.


            His sneezes had not died down much in forty-five minutes, as he stood outside the classroom as others filed out and down the stairs. When most had left, he popped back in to speak with the professor. He was not a foot in the classroom when he felt the overwhelming sensation return, urging him to sneeze again. He lifted his finger to his nose again. “ung! umuff! Ah-eng'uh! enng! ung! uuhk! Bless me…” He also smelled a strong floral scent through his congestion.


            “Bless you,” Caroll said, walking down to him, putting her hand on his shoulder.


            He nodded a thank you, too caught up in sneezing to speak. “unk'uh! ink! ing'uh! Excuse me.” He turned toward the blackboard, taking the neatly folded Kleenex and giving his nose a soft blow. Then turned back to the professor. “Dr.Jones… I'm so sorry for… for… wah…” he tried so hard to get the words out, but the tickle in his nose had other ideas. “eh-ing'k! eh-enk!


            “S'allright,” the professor replied, holding back a smile as he quickly packed up his things. “Doesn't sound like you're a very willing participant there. You can get the notes?”


            He nodded, an utterly pathetic expression of pre-sneeziness stuck on his face, his mouth half open. “ehhh-ung! heh-eng'kk! Bless…eh-ehum! unkk!


            Caroll answered for him, “I'll fill him in.”


            “And you got the assignment?” she nodded.


            The professor nodded back. “Good. Well, Dimitry, take care of yourself, all right?”


            Rubbing one eye pathetically, he nodded as well. “Thanks.”  They all left the classroom, and Dimitry leaned on the wall again, picking up his things, slinging his backpack over his arm. “Thanks, Care… “ He sniffed strongly a few times.


            “No prob,” she answered, reaching up and feeling his head. “No fever…”


            He shook his head. “Not sick… just allergic to whatever perfume that girl was using.”


            “Ah… I smelled it too, it was quite strong.”


            “Yeah... I just… sniff, sniff… can't stop… sniff, sniff…sneezing… eh-eng! Heh-uk! Em'ph!


            She waited for him to quiet a little. “You'll be ok getting home? I have work in a few minutes or—“


            “Fine,” he answered quickly. The last thing he wanted was to be babied for all this. It was just an allergy, and the perfume hadn't bothered anyone else. It was bad enough to be singled out like that, he didn't need her to baby him and walk him home.


            Caroll seemed a bit reluctant to believe him on that, but nodded. “I'll see you at home then. It's Eric's turn to make dinner.”


            “Right. Later.” She turned and left him, skipping down the stairs to save time.


*                      *                      *


            Caroll returned home just before dinner time, strolling into the apartment to be hit in the face with delicious smells of pasta and bread. She dropped her things onto the chair, greeted Eric's dog with a pat to the head, and popped into the kitchen. Eric stood over the stove, tasting from a pot. “It smells Heavenly in here,” she noted, watching as the man with too much Italian in his blood added a few more spices to the mix. He was tall, olive skinned, long brown hair he tied back in a ponytail.


            He smiled, looking back at her, dipping the spoon back in. “You want a taste?”


            She shook her head. “I'll wait for dinner.” Then she hesitated, not sure how to ask her real question. Slowly, “Eric… did Mitry—“


            “He's in his room,” Eric replied quickly, adding the word that said it all, “Sneezing.”


            She nodded and headed down the hall. What she found in the first room on her right was a poor, pathetic mess named Dimitry. And while he was still sneezing and sniffling as she had seem him last doing, he looked a bit worse for the wear. The underside of his nose was pink, his eyes were bloodshot, and he looked so incredibly tired and worn out. She hovered in the doorway a moment, then knocked on the doorframe. “Mitry? You mind a visitor?”


            He looked up at her, eyes wide, hurt. Dimitry was sitting at his desk in front of his computer, a sea of balled-up tissues littering the desk around the keyboard and mouse. He turned away from her and rubbed his eyes with the balls of his palms in a slow, hard, circular motion. “Cobe id,” he snuffled, picking up a discarded tissue, holding it to his nose, and sniffing so strongly and wetly that he winced.


            “You don't sound so good, still,” she noted, stepping in slowly. “You're sure you're not sick?”


            He nodded. “Aller… allergy…eng'sh! hem'ch! ehkk!” they were still stifled, but not as silently. It seemed he was too weak to hold them in as well... or perhaps just less embarrassed. He rubbed his thumb against his right eye harshly, cleared his throat, sniffed, and rubbed his left eye. “I thig I'b godda die.”


            “Don't do that,” she said, standing behind him, reaching forward and putting her hand on his forehead. “Dinner's almost ready.” She smiled. “No fever.”


            He blinked and wiped tears from his eyes. “I sniff, sniff, told you… sniff! It's allergies.” He rubbed his nose roughly, then his whole palm on his face. “So itchy!” And so frustrated by the sound of it.


            There was only one thing to be done now. Caroll reached past him and switched off the computer monitor. Then she turned down his sheets and patted his bed. “Get in, Mitry.”


            He looked up and back at her quizzically. “I said I'b dot—“


            “I don't care if you're not, you're still going to give your eyes a rest. You look so miserable it makes me want to cry, now get into bed.” She helped him up with a hand on his elbow and guided him in, then covered him up afterwards. “Now give me three seconds, ok?”


            He nodded, lying on his side, snuffling into the blankets as he pulled them to his chest.


            She popped out and came back in again. First, she threw him a box of medicine from the doorway, then walked in, sitting down on his bed and turning him over onto his back.




            Nodding, “That's right. I promise, in half an hour you'll feel ninety percent better after taking two of these.” And she held out the glass of water. He popped two pills out and swallowed them with liberal amounts of water to help his itchy throat.


            “We'll see... coach would't… eh'umsh! Eng'k! enk'sh! Sniff, sniff! would't eved let be blay today at brac… eh-mmph! ekuh! Ehfish!” He rubbed his nose and reached for the tissue box on his dresser. He pulled out one, folded it neatly and covered his nose for a wet, liberating blow.


            “Bless you,” she stated, putting the water on the dresser and pushing the box up to the edge. “I've one more thing for you.” When he was done sniffling and blowing his nose, she had him relax and laid a cool washcloth over his face.


            “Ohhhh,” he sighed. “Oh Care… bless you… this is sniff, sniff, woderful.” He reached up and put pressue on it so it cooled his eyes.


            She patted his arm. “Just give a yell if you need anything. We'll call you when dinner's ready and you can eat it in here or out on the couch if you want. Important thing is that you relax a little—“


            en'kuh! engesh! En'emp!


            “—and give the medicine a little time to kick in. K?”


            He nodded, sniffling, rubbing his nose from beneath the washcloth. “Thadks, Care.”


*                      *                      *


            Dinner was ready not twenty minutes later, and Dimitry joined Eric and Caroll at the small kitchen table. He had a rather excited expression on his face.


            “How're you feeling?” Caroll asked, dishing him out a large helping of pasta.


            He rubbed his nose with a tissue, but said, “Listen.” And paused a moment.


            She shrugged, putting the sauce over the noodles. “I don't hear anything?”


            Grinning widely. “I haven't sneezed in a whole five minutes. And my nose isn't running so much any more. And my eyes stopped itching, and I'm all cool and calm…” He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you.”


            Blushing, she handed him his plate, pushing it into his chest and creating a few more inches of distance between them. “Hey, no sweat. You can start copying my notes over from class right after dinner.”


            He rolled his eyes but laughed, settling down at his seat at the table.




Note: Any resemblance to an actual “Dimitry” I know who happened to have sneezed this way while sitting beside me during math class, and any resemblance of another “Dimitry” who happens to roller blade everywhere are probably not as coincidental as they should be.