NOTE: This story was inspired by a Tylenol cold/flu commercial that I thought was just oh-so-cute!
Scott Radcliff woke up just minutes before his alarm was due to go off to a strong ache in his throat. He coughed, hoping to rid himself of the irritation. But no, it remained, and his nose began to run from the cold morning air. He ducked the lower part of his face beneath the warm covers, closing his eyes tightly to will himself back to sleep. Just another few minutes would be wonderful. Scott was a programmer at a small company in the city. His days were spent sitting in a cubicle and staring bleary-eyed at the monitors. His nights were spent catching up on work and caring for Brian. Scott was twenty-six, with short brown hair, deathly attractive looks, and a body that only slightly showed how much he worked out at the company gym.
This morning, he opened his eyes back up and groaned, rubbing at his nose with his wrist. He cleared his throat, forced a cough, then cleared it again. It was scratchy and dry; he'd been irregularly sleeping with his mouth open and while he wanted some water, he also wanted just a few more minutes of sleep…
“ehkkkshhh!” he sneezed suddenly, rubbing a runny nose into the blankets which were already over it. The sneeze had snuck up on him, and it seemed by his runny nose that others were not far behind. Scott sniffed wetly and groaned again, realizing another few minutes of sleep was futile at this point. He sniffed and pulled himself out of bed, pushing back the covers to shiver at the cold, crisp winter morning air. He walked across the wooden floor of his bedroom softly in socks, so the floorboards would not creak. The morning air was chilling; more so than it should have been for him in his usual sleepwear: socks, blue plaid flannel pants, and a white t-shirt. He reached the bathroom finally, closing the door slowly and softly behind. Once there, he grabbed a handful of tissues and immediately blew his nose a dozen and a half times until it felt cleared a bit. Staring at himself in the mirror, he knew something was wrong. His face was terribly pale, and aside from his deep brown eyes, what stood out were bright red cheeks. No no, he couldn't get sick. Not now. There was too much to do this week, this day. He sniffed again and reached into the medicine cabinet for… where was it? Ah, the thermometer, hidden behind some of Brian's medication. He popped it in his mouth beneath his tongue and proceeded to use the toilet and prepare to shave while waiting. When it finally alerted him that it was finished, he was less than pleased at the result.
“One hundred point seven,” he murmured, sniffing again as he lathered up the lower part of his face. “Great,” came his sarcastic muttering. No wonder he wasn't feeling too good this morning. Perhaps he would try not to push himself and go into work an hour or two late. Or maybe he would simply grin and bear it like most of the others did. He put away the thermometer and set to work shaving. He was feeling tired, weak, and was tempted a few times to just sit down on the toilet and just slop mess all over. But he leaned against the wall, shaking off the razor in the water-filled sink basin. Pausing with the razor, he sniffed again. “Oh, dot dow!” he snuffled, twitching his nose at the tickles of an impending sneeze or two. He decided hurrying up would be good, and set to work doing so. As the tickles grew in severity, he put two fingers beneath his nose to hold them back, then laughed as the tickles only intensified. “Works id the bovies,” he laughed harshly and cleared his throat. There was only a spot or two on his left side to do, and with his left hand he now pinched his nose shut. That worked well to hold back the urges. Quickly finishing up, he splashed his face with water to wipe off the remaining shaving cream, then buried his face in the towel on the rack by the sink. “emmpofff! eehhphiffffff!” he sneezed roughly. Pulling the towel off, he threw it in the laundry basket as he cleaned up the sink and regarded his watch. “Six thirty-five,” he told himself with a sigh. Less than one hour until they had to be out, then he could worry about work.
Feeling the need to sneeze yet again, he grabbed a few tissues from the box and covered his nose and mouth completely with both hands cupped. “ehhkushhh! ehhhphushh! ehh… ehh…” there was one more there… he could still feel it. He tried breathing deeper, relaxing. “ehhh…” finally “ehhhKechhhhh!” he sneezed strongly. After blowing his nose a few more times and tossing the tissues away, he turned back to the sink, immediately scrubbing his hands clean; he certainly did not want Brian catching this from him. The warm water sent a bit of steam up and he smiled as it freed his breathing slightly. Drying his hand on another towel, he grabbed his bathrobe from the back of the bathroom door and headed downstairs. The tricky part was the hallway. He walked slowly, a single step at a time, softly in his stocking feet. Scott wanted to at least have breakfast ready before—
“Daddy?” came a groggy, whining voice from behind the door Scott had just managed to pass.
He sighed, sniffed softly, then turned on the balls of his feet. He cleared his voice then slowly turned the door and walked in softly. Still dark out for the most part, only a soft glow of dawn danced from the bedroom window to the little bed beneath it wherein a small boy lay, hugging a stuffed dog, with one of the dog's ears in his mouth. “Good morning, Bri,” he spoke softly, calmly with a smile. He didn't want Brian to know he was sick. Daddies don't get sick. Soon Brian would be at preschool and he'd be on his way to work and he wouldn't have to worry so much. “Do you want to help me make some breakfast?”
The boy nodded with a smile, though much less enthusiastically than normal. Then he yawned and gave a small sniffle of his own.
Scott's heart flipped upside down and in a moment, he was kneeling beside his son's bed, feeling the boy's forehead. “How do you feel this morning, Brian?” Scott couldn't tell in this light, but the boy's eyes did look overly bright… much like his own.
The boy shook his head. “I don't feel good, Daddy,” he replied with another small sniffle. Dropping the dog, he stretched out his arms to signal a pick-up. Scott was too busy thinking, assessing, trying to calm himself. “Mmmph?” the boy reiterated his desire when Scott did not immediately pick him up.
Scott was a worrier, and always had been, especially as a single parent. The boy's forehead had been warm, but he couldn't quite tell in comparison to his own. Perhaps Brian only had what he had, too. Nothing serious… was it? Resisting the urge to immediately phone his mother for advice, he gently scooped his son up into his arms. He held Brian on his left side with one arm, and Brian instinctively held onto him, putting his head down on his father's shoulder, closing his eyes. Scott patted his back, rocking back and forth for a minute to settle the boy into comfort. Then he went back to his room, turning on the light on the way in, setting the reluctant boy on his own bed and hoping there weren't a lot of germs rushing around the room already. In the light of the bedroom, he could see the bright red of his son's cheeks which nearly matched his own. He ducked into the bathroom a moment, returning with the now sterilized thermometer. He squatted down in front of the bed, looking Brian in the eye. “I want to take your temperature, Sport. I'm going to put this under your tongue and I want you to keep your mouth closed tightly. We'll listen for the beep and I'll take it right out again. Okay?”
The boy looked wary of it then nodded, obliging by opening his mouth wide and sticking his tongue out. Scott put the thermometer in, and told Brian to close his mouth and keep it closed. He watched as the numbers on the thermometer rose, and he must have looked concerned because Brian whimpered, looking a little scared in response.
Scott smiled. “It's ok, just another few seconds. You're doing very well. Hey—“ he snatched a coin from his bedside table, palmed it, then pretended to pull it out of Brian's ear. “Where'd that come from?” When the boy finished giggling, Scott put it in his fist and after putting them both behind his back, he held both fists up. “Which hand?” Brian looked excitedly at the two fists and then chose the right one. Scott opened it up- not there! He put both fists behind his back again, pulling them both out and presenting them once more. This time, Brian selected the same fist for- success! He snorted, laughing through his nose so he wouldn't open his mouth. Suddenly the thermometer beeped and Scott felt a little calmed at seeing the ninety-nine point eight thereon. “Hey, very good,” he said, sounding as relieved as he felt. Still with the sniffles and a light fever, Brian was not going to preschool today. “You want some breakfast now?”
The boy nodded, rubbing at his nose with his palm.
“Got an itchy nose there, Sport?” he asked, pulling a tissue out of the box by the bed.
The boy nodded again, taking the tissue and blowing his nose, with a little help. He then sniffled, yawned, shivered and reached out to his dad again to be picked up. Scott quickly did, realizing the boy must be cold. He nearly kicked himself for not realizing sooner. He himself was wearing a bathrobe and was still getting the chills a little. Brian was only in thick, cotton PJ's. On their way downstairs, they picked up Brian's bathrobe from his room. Scott sat him down in the chair closest to the counter. “So what would you like for…” his breath caught and he turned away, pressing his nose into his shoulder. “heh-heh-eh-“ he strained, hoping to keep it back. “ehhkufshhh! ehhKeshh!” he sneezed into his shoulder. He suddenly felt very weak and hot, and all he wanted to do was lie down. Instead, he leaned back against the counter for support. He sniffed and took a deep breath, turning back, “What would you like for breakfast?”
Brian was busy rubbing at his nose again, looking a bit distressed. He coughed freely towards the table.
Scott, leaning against the counter shook his head. This wasn't working. Brian didn't look well, and he certainly didn't feel well at all. Time for another approach. “Hey, Sport. How would you feel about taking it easy sniff, sniff, with your old Dad today?”
He looked up, “No school?”
Scott stuck a bowl of oatmeal in the micro. “No school for you, and Daddy won't go to work. We'll just hang out together today like buddies.” He bent down and ruffled Brian's dark hair. “Daddy'll take care of you and make you feel better and you can take care of Daddy, ok?”
Brian nodded with a smile, reaching over and rubbing his small hand over Scott's forehead. “You're sick, too?”
Scott nodded. “Yeah. But we're tough men, right? We'll be fine.”
Grinning, Brian flexed his arms with a growl and a giggle.
Scott laughed back. “OK, I want you to go upstairs and get Mr.Woofers and that big blanket off of Daddy's bed and bring them down to the living room, all right?”
Brian nodded, sniffling. “OK,” he hopped down and went upstairs as requested.”
Meanwhile, Scott picked up the phone and pressed speed dial number 5. It rang thrice, then the voice mail answered. “Welcome to Mother Goose Nursery School. Our main office hours of operation are 7:30am to 5:30pm. If you wish to hear information about the school or programs, press one now. If you wish to leave information, press two now. If you wish to call in a cancellation or absence, press three now. If you wish to hear the options again—“ Scott quickly pressed 3. “Please state your name clearly, the name of the student, the reason for the absence, and its duration.”
He cleared his throat and spoke up, “Hi this is Scott Radcliff, calling on behalf of my son Brian Radcliff. Brian's sick and—“ he rubbed his own tickling nose to keep from sneezing. “He won't be coming into school today. Please call me at home if you have any questions. Thank you.” He hung up the phone just as the microwave dinged, and he sneezed, “ehhhKetchhh! ehhhhKuchhhhh! ehhhKetchhhh!” They were directed towards his shoulder, and he sniffed, feeling a little faint afterwards. He tore a paper towel down and blew his nose as he sat down and dialed number 4 on his speed dial.
It rang twice before the office voice mail picked up. While listening, Scott took the oatmeal out and added raisins as he put a cup of water in the micro to be heated up. “You've reached the Manachie Company offices, educational software division. Please call back between the hours of 8 and 5 to speak to a secretary. If you know your party's extension, you may enter that now. Otherwise, to leave a message, begin speaking at the tone. Beep!”
He smiled. “Yeah, this is Scott. I'm gonna need to take a sick day. I'm feeling really bad and sniff, sniff, Bri's sick too so I'll have to take care of him today anyway. I'll have the comp up and I'll be checking e-mail.” He cleared his throat. “Scuse me. I'll try to conference in around 1:30 for the interface redesign meeting. Thanks. Sorry.” He hung up and sighed, taking the cup out of the microwave and adding in a teabag and a good deal of honey and sugar. He wasn't at all fond of tea, but it did make him feel better when he was ill. He took it over on a tray to the living room, finding Brian just getting there with the big blanket.
It was a large living room, the largest part of their small house in fact, and because of such it always seemed very sparsely lit. No matter how many lights were on, it always seemed dim or dark there. But it matched the brown of the couch and chairs well, allowing a rather calming feel throughout the day as well as the evening. Scott wrapped the blanket around his shoulders, then settled into the big recliner chair. Brian hopped up on his lap, cuddling up as Scott pulled the folds of the blanket up and around, covering them both. With the tray on his lap, he sipped the tea and handed a spoon to Brian, he took the second for himself, eyeing the overly full bowl of cereal anxiously. “Dig in, Sport.”
* * *
“effffshhhhhhh! eehhKushhhh!” he sneezed weakly, falling forward a bit at each. Scott pulled a few tissues from the box and blew his nose, clutching them in his fist as he relaxed back in the chair. His sneezes just would not stop this morning; they weren't getting worse, but they certainly weren't getting any better. Though the tea, while it had lasted, had made his raw throat feel a soothed. Brian laughed suddenly, pointing at the television and sucking on his dog's ear. Scott smiled, ruffling Brian's hair again. “What's Big Bird doing now?” he asked, closing his eyes and taking a last sip of the now cold tea.
“Standing on his head!” the boy giggled, rubbing at his nose. “Can I have a tissue, Daddy?”
Scott handed one over, wrapping an arm around his son comfortingly as Brian coughed and blew his nose. Forgetting all about himself, he grew concerned about Brian once again. “How're you feeling, Sport?”
The boy shrugged and shivered, hugging his dog closer. “Achy, and stuffy.”
He nodded. “Me too, Bri. Me too.” His breath caught, and the fist full of tissues was again pressed to his nose. “ehhhKushhh! ehhhChishhh! ehhhh…” he could feel it there still; he still had to sneeze… badly. It just… didn't want to come out at all. Moments passed, minutes it seemed, then Scott rubbed harshly at his nose and blew it a little to get the tickles to die down. He sighed, looking down at Brian who was watching Sesame Street again. He kissed Brian on the top of his head. “I'm sorry you feel sick, too, Bri.”
The boy looked up at him again. “But I like watching TV with you in our PJ's, Daddy.”
Scott smiled, “I like it too…” his hand snapped back up as his breath caught. “ehhEhshhhhh!” he finally sneezes, with much relief and another blow afterwards. When done, he continued, “I might have something upstairs to make us both feel a little better. I'll be right back?” He picked Brian up, putting him back down on the chair and wrapping him in the blanket so he was smothered in warmth. “You keep the chair warm for me, ok?”
After rooting around in his medicine cabinet, he withdrew a package of cold and flu medicine. He read the date on the package, finding it was far from expiring. After pinching another box of tissues, he headed back down by way of the kitchen. This was the sort of thing that needed to be heated, like tea. While it worked as well as any other, it was warm and rich and soothing and easy for a four and a half year old to take, which was key where Brian was concerned. A miserable, ailing Brian most times meant a fussy, objectionable Brian.
“ehhKetchhh! ehhffshhh! ehhchishhh!” he sneezed, nearly spilling as he walked with it back to the living room where Brian was sprawled on the chair, looking a little bit worse. Or perhaps it was his overly cautious imagination. Scott set the mug and tissues down and blew his nose, then bent down to rub two fingers up and down Brian's cheek. “Hey Sport… I've got something to make you feel better.” He settled back onto the great chair, under the blankets, with Brian lounging in his lap. He took a sip of the medicinal drink to be sure it wasn't too hot, and then offered some to Brian. “It tastes like chicken soup.” This was not too much of a stretch, although he knew Brian had never tasted chicken, nor was he too fond of broth-based soups. “Drink a little for me?”
Brian did, not too amused at the taste, but seemingly enjoying the warmth. Scott forced at least three large drinks of it on him before lifting it back to his lips for a few hearty gulps. They traded back and forth until it was mostly gone, and the boy was beginning to yawn regularly.
“You getting tired?” He had to admit the warmth was soothing enough to put him right to sleep as well. He'd had what last night? Three hours of sleep? Four?
Brian nodded, with another yawn.
Scott wrapped his arms around Brian amidst the blankets with a yawn of his own. “Me too. You just lie back here and Daddy will hold you until we fall asleep.”
Brian curled up, hugging his stuffed dog and parts of the blanket. His eyes closed, but for a reason other than sleep. Breathing became deep, sporadic, then he sneezed twice, half into the blanket and half into Scott's shirt. Balancing the tissue box on the other side of his lap and the chair, Scott pulled out one, wiping his son's little nose with it. He helped he boy blow, then bent down, straining, and kissed his forehead. “Sleep tight. Love you.”
The reply was sentimental but tired. “Love you, Daddy.” Brian nodded, yawning, and before long, drifted right to sleep. Scott had to push himself to wait so long before falling asleep himself, but managed. He also had to work hard at not sneezing, so as not to wake Brian up, and that was easier said than done. His nose had been tickling all morning long, and though it wasn't running as much now, it was still tickling a bit. The urges in his nose came and went constantly, tickling, building. Usually a sniff or two would easily push them aside for another few minutes. Now, he held a tissue to his nose, sniffing strongly but softly. This, he realized, was not going to be as much fun as it had sounded when he told Brian of it. He sighed and closed his eyes, willing himself to sleep.
* * *
Scott woke to an absorbent amount of sinus pressure and congestion, and to a tiny hand shoving something plastic up his shirt. He snorted, pulling back in reaction, groggily looking down as his eyes focused on his son with something sticking out of his ears.
“I'm taking care of you, Daddy,” he said with a charming Brian smile.
Scott relaxed, realizing it was only the Fisher Price doctor's kit and Brian was trying to examine him with the stethoscope. He smiled and reached over for tissues as his nose tickled almost immediately. “eehhhh…Hold od, Bri, I godda… ehhh… hehh…ehhcufshh! ehshushhhhhh!” he sneezed wetly.
Brian hopped down with the doctor's kit, losing interest while his father was busy sneezing. He attacked the tall block structure he'd been building on the floor and erupted in giggles.
“ehhhUffshhh! eehhKuchshhh!” Scott quickly blew his nose before he could sneeze again, and relaxed in the chair with a soft groan of discomfort. Blowing at his nose, he peered down at his son, who was busy building up another structure. He bent down and brushed fingers against Brian's hot, dry forehead. He then looked over at the television. Reading Rainbow was on, and from the look of it they were still reading the first book. Half past Reading Rainbow meant it was a quarter until 11 already. “You thirsty, Sport?”
The boy nodded.
“Okay…” he headed over to the kitchen and returned with a tall sip cup of orange juice and another cup of tea for himself. The couch looked too inviting to resist, so he stretched out on it with the blanket, pushing his head into the couch pillow. His head was throbbing, his muscles aching. His nose tickled, his throat itched, and he felt weak and cold with shivers.
He opened his eyes, wincing for a brief second, then clearing his throat. “Yeah, Sbort?”
“You don't look very good at all.”
He rubbed a hand over his face with a sniffle. “I dow. Sniff, sniff! Daddy just needs another nap.” Scott closed his eyes, cupping his hand over his nose and mouth. “ehhh…cufshhh! chetchhh!”
“But I want to play cars with you!”
Scott looked down at the young boy, bright eyes, red checks, runny nose, disheveled hair. He looked disappointed, with his lower lip out and quivering.
Remembering his 'hanging out' proposition to the boy, Scott sighed, pulling the blanket tighter around himself and rubbing the corner at his nose. Taking the cup of tea for warmth and the box of tissues for necessity, he slid down to the floor and held out a hand. “I get to be the red ode!”
Little Brian giggled, grabbing his favorite, the blue one, and vrooming it around the streets of blocks he'd made. Scott, smiling, followed suit, crashing noisily into Brian's car at every available option then profusely apologizing as if he'd not seen it, making the boy erupt with laughter.
* * *
“Ludch is served,” Scott announced, brining out a tray of soup and a sandwich and another cup of juice. He tucked Brian in the living room chair, under the blankets and carefully set out the tray for him. Brian looked at it, picked up his spoon, and then dropping it again into the soup for a slightly messy splash. Scott put his hand on Brian's forehead again. “You not hungry all of a sudden?” The boy shook his head, staring at the food with disinterest. “But ten minutes ago you said you wanted soup and a peanut butter sandwich…”
The boy shrugged. “I'm not hungry anymore…”
Another wave of panic crossed over him. The flu? “Does your tummy hurt?”
He shook his head no.
Scott was a little relieved to hear that, but not much. He pulled the thermometer out of his bathrobe pocket and popped it in Bri's mouth without asking. Then he wiped the boy's nose for him, and kissed his forehead. “Good boy.” When it beeped, he frowned and tried not to get too scared. “One hundred and one,” he whispered to himself, wondering what his own was. Scott felt horrible, terrible, achy and stuffy and congested and all-around ill. And he was certain Brian looked only half as bad as he did.
“Like the Dalmatians?” Brian whispered back, looking dazed, out of it.
Nodding, “Yes, One hundred and One Dalmatians.” One had to be quick to keep up with Brian sometimes. He bit his lip, wishing he could think clearly enough to figure out what to do. He didn't want to push Brian, but the boy did need to eat. Scott couldn't blame him; he didn't feel like eating at all either, but Brian did need food… “How about if you can snuggle up in my lap and take just a few bites? I'll let you watch your favorite movie.”
Even sick, the boy's eyes lit up. “Really?”
“Yes, bud do Liod, sniff, sniff!” He rubbed his nose on his shoulder with a very strong sniffle which seemed to clear his nose enough. “But no Lion King until you have a little to eat, ok?”
They settled down again together, Brian snuggled against his father. Scott's arm was around him, holding him securely. With his other hand, Scott dipped the spoon in and brought it out, blowing on it, then offering it to Brian. Brian sipped a little from the spoon. “The whole thing, come on, Sport.” Brian drank the rest from the spoon. “Very good. Just three more of those and three bites of the sandwich, all right?”
Brian sighed. “Daddy! I don't want all that!”
Scott lifted another spoon to his mouth. “All right, then only two bites, small bites, of the sandwich.” Satisfied with the amount, he nodded and took the second spoonful. He took two tiny nibbles at the sandwich, and managed to finish off half of the soup before he started refusing and asking for the movie. “Okay, I did promise.” Scott got up, wrapping the blanket around Bri and kissing his head. “But you have to promise to drink a little more orange juice while I put the tape in.” Brian nodded and sniffled, taking a sip.
Appeased, Scott rooted through the video cabinet, finding it and after sneezing a few times, “ehhkufchh! ehhhtichhh!” stuck it into the player and joined his son on the couch, stealing a sip of orange juice himself. He blew his nose and watched Brian, as the boy struggled to stay awake through the previews. The tired, little eyes started falling, his blinks becoming longer and longer. He started to reach out to Scott at the end of the animal's assemblage. Whenever they watched together, Scott would raise him into the air just like little baby Simba and then take him down and kiss and tickle him until he cried to stop. But this time, by the time Simba's forehead had been marked, Brian was fast asleep. Scott brushed his fingers against Brian's forehead. “I love you, Sport. Sleep well.” He turned off the TV and rewound the tape to right after the previews.
After waiting a few minutes, he rubbed at his nose and, pulling a few tissues from the box, went upstairs. He didn't make it halfway up the stairs before the sneezey feeling struck him. Folding his tissue-filled hands to his nose and mouth and leaning on the banister, his breath caught again, “Hh-Hh—ehkuffff! ehhhpshhh! ehhhKeshhh!” He blew his nose routinely now, continuing up the stairs to his bedroom. Taking off his bathrobe and throwing it onto the bed, he rooted through his closet for a warm, dignified-looking shirt he might wear to the office and still be comfortable in. He found a long-sleeved beige and green hounds tooth shirt and pulled it on, then changed from sleep pants to forest green sweatpants so that he sort of matched. “Good e'duff!” He sniffed and blew his nose again, heading into the bathroom. There wasn't much in the cabinet, but he swallowed two aspirin, hoping they would elevate a bit of the aching he was feeling all over. He could deal with the sneezing and congestion, but the soreness and fatigue were more difficult. Scott rubbed at his nose while he splashed his face with warm water. He did his best to comb his hair, glad he'd already shaved that day. Staring at his reflection, he hoped he didn't look as bad in person as his reflection did. He also snagged the bottle of children's chewable Tylenol from the cabinet. He hastened to give Brian drugs just yet… but it didn't hurt to have them nearby just in case. 'Just in case' seemed the very essence of his role as daddy. Therefore, he also grabbed an extra tissue box.
Back downstairs, he immediately checked on Brian; the boy's breathing was thick, heavy, but still strong. It had been years since Scott had checked on Brian's breathing while sleeping. He'd been a textbook overly concerned parent, but that had gotten better with time and practice, and reassuring phone calls from his mother. Brian's first cold had been when he was less than a year old, and was terribly minor, but his mother had held his hand through the whole thing and been of great support. But it had been a little over a year since he'd called his mother for parenting advice… and he did want to keep that record going. Scott pulled the blanket down a little, making sure it was only lightly covering him- keeping him warm but not too warm.
Then he went over to the desk in the “study” which was really just a partitioned off part of the big living room. As he booted up the computer, he prepared yet another cup of tea, and made sure he could keep an eye on Brian. He wasn't sure how long the meeting would be, but he seriously hoped Brian would remain peacefully sleeping throughout the whole thing. He was a daddy first, above everything, but his work was what put food on the table and paid the bills, and this meeting was especially important to the current big project. He sniffled, connecting online and sipping the tea; he was going to need his voice. Running his hand through short, wavy brown hair, he then opened the teleconferencing program. After ringing a few minutes, a computer finally picked up.
“Hey Scott.” It was a bit broken, but clear enough. A cam image of Randy popped to the front of the screen with a smile. “Meeting will start in a few minutes. How're you feeling?”
Scott sniffed and shrugged. “I feel just horrible.” He rubbed a finger beneath his nose. “And I can't stop sneezing.”
Randy nodded. “Sorry to hear that. You gonna be ok for the meeting? We can do it without you—“
“—No,” Scott cut in. “You can't.”
The man on the other side of the computer laughed, nodding, shuffling papers. “You're right, Scott… we really can't. Thanks for going out of your way here for the project.”
Scott, nodded a 'you're welcome' as he coughed into a handful of tissues. “The group's all there?”
Randy stepped back, angling the camera, and Scott could see the other six members of their development team sitting around the usual table, with his boss at the far side as always. Raising a hand with a smile, “Hi guys.”
They all greeted him as well with the typical sentiments of well wishes. He smiled back and thanked them, then pulled a folder onto his lap. “So… the cognitive walkthrough failed on quite a few major points.”
A few nods, and the assistant team leader, beneath Scott, spoke up. “Yes it did. Here's what I suggest based on that.” He sketched out a few design changes. “What about that?” There were comments, and there was finger pointing, and Scott coughed.
They looked back at him, then held the designs up to the camera for him. “Sorry, Scott.”
Scot smiled weakly, wishing it didn't have to be like this. “What if we moved the nav… ehhh…” he raised the tissues to his nose and tried to finish, “the navigational buttods to the right—“ he quickly ducked, turning to the side. “ehhhfkuffff! hufffpshhh!” Too embarrassed to blow his nose, he rubbed it dry and sniffed strongly, straightening back up in an instant. “Excuse be. Sniff, sniff! We deed to work od the tradsitiod frub screen to screed id this sectiod as well I thig.” He brought up a whiteboard on half of the screen and sketched a few rough boxes to indicate his ideas.
One of the women in the group nodded. “I agree. This is the beginning and it's imperative to keep user satisfaction at a high after that fantastic initial impression.” She reached over to the computer and used the draw tool to circle part of the whiteboard. “This area especially needs to be reworked.”
The boss discarded the sketches he had and, leaning over, took the mouse and added. “Then maybe more like this… what do you think, Scott?”
Nodding, “If we do sub relabellig, that bight, sniff, sniff, just work.”
Scott rubbed a tissue against his nose, sniffing every few seconds and trying to fight off his muddled, cloudy, fever-heavy head. The meeting went on as such for a good hour, long enough to get some good decisions made and long enough for Scott to wish he were in bed. His nose would not stop running, and all his comments were stuffy and made from behind a handful of tissues; this meant his having to repeat things quite a lot, and he was missing half the discussion from sneezing through them or his mind wandering. He did keep a close eye upon Brian, however, who seemed to be resting so peacefully that Scott was terribly envious of his son.
“We cad barket that as buch bore user friedly if we—“
“Daddy?” came a sudden groggy voice from behind him. Stopping in mid sentence, he whirled around to see Brian sitting up, rubbing at his right ear, whimpering, tears falling down his cheeks. A wave of fear passed over him again, and this time he knew he needed to act on it.
Turning back to the monitor, “I've gotta go take Bri to the doctor. It's add ebergedcy. I'b really sorry! Would subode e-bail be the bidutes of this beeting?” He sniffed strongly, rubbing at his nose. “I'b sorry. ub… Good work.” He closed the connection before they could reply, and rushed right over to the couch.
Taking Brian in his arms, he hugged him tightly, as if his love might be able to make Brian feel all better. “It's ok, Sbort. Daddy's here dow.”
Brian rubbed more at his ear, sniffling and coughing into Scott's chest. “I hurt…” he wiped his tear-stained face on Scott's shirt, rubbing his nose there as well.
Rubbing his son's back, he whispered softly, “It's ok… shhhhh… good boy… cobe here, let be pick you ub.” Brian obliged, feeling weakly heavy in his arms. Scott carried him over to the kitchen and stuck the thermometer in his mouth, bouncing up and down to soothe him as he dialed the tenth number on the speed dial. As it rang, he forced a cough and sniffed strongly.
“Farmond Pediatrics, Sarah speaking. How may I help you?”
“Do you have ad adfterdood obedig?” He sniffed. Darn congestion. “Do excuse be. I've got a cold. This is Scott Radcliff callig for by sod Briad. He's got a fever add baybe add ear idfectiod…”
There was a lengthy pause in which Scott wondered if he needed to repeat any of that, then, “Come on over, Doctor Peterson has a light afternoon and we'll fit Brian in within the hour.”
Scott sighed, grabbing a table napkin to wipe Brian's nose as the boy tried using his shirt for such a task. “Thag you, Sarah. We'll be right over.” He checked the thermometer. One hundred and four. No wonder he wasn't feeling well. Scott immediately pulled out a dishtowel, wet it, and placed it damp and cool to Brian's little forehead. “Hey, big boy,” he explained, “I'b goig to take you over to see Doc Beterson dow.”
Brian shook his head. “I don't feel good… I don't want to go out. I want to stay here,” he said weakly, rubbing again at his ear and coughing coughs that did not sound at all good. Tears ran down his face again. “I feel sick, Daddy…”
“Shhhh,” he rocked Brian, hugging him tightly. “It's ok. Dr. Betersod will bake you feel good. She's a really dice doctor… you like her, rebeber?” He couldn't blame Brian, he wasn't too fond of doctors' offices, especially when he felt as sick as he did now. Was he really going to be able to drive? “She'll bake you feel good agaid.”
Brian made no response, then sneezed twice into Scott's shoulder. Scott wiped the napkin over Brian's nose and held it here. “Blow… cub od Briad…” Brian obeyed, closing his eyes and putting his head on Scott's shoulder weakly. Scoot took that as Brian giving in and knew the hardest part was just beginning. Scott wasn't feeling up to carrying Brian around the whole house, but he hastened to leave him unattended for even a moment. He tightened his grip on the boy as he darted to the bathroom, grabbing a few handfuls of tissues, folding them. Then to the hall closet. He set Brian down on the bottom stair gently, then pulled on his own coat, loading the pockets with plenty of tissues and the Tylenol. Then he set to work on Brian's shoes, forcing them on, and doing the Velcro straps up. Brian's coat went on with a minor amount of protesting, but by the time the hat and mittens were forced on, Brian looked too worn out to object. That wasn't exactly a good sign for Scott. Scott snatched the bag from its spot in the closet and they were off.
It was snowing outside, but only lightly. Things could have easily been worse. He buckled Brian into the backseat and tossed the bag beside him, then slipped behind the wheel, giving himself a look in the review mirror. No, he certainly didn't look well enough to be out of the house, let alone drive. But it wasn't as if he had much of a choice in this matter. He let the car warm up, put on the heat, popped a Sesame Street song tape into the tape player and dug out a few tissues from his pocket. He slipped on a pair of gloves to warm his hands for driving and then blew his nose, repeatedly, feeling slightly more clear-headed. “You ok back there, Sport?” He looked back as he backed the car out of the driveway to see Brian leaning against the side of the car, his eyes closed, hugging his stuffed bunny that he'd taken out of his father's bag.
Scott smiled to cover his worry. “We'll be there before you know it.” And they were, finding a lucky rare parking spot almost right in front of the doctor's office. He hated to wake Brian, but there was nothing he could do about it. “Come on, Bri…” he lifted heavy Brian gently, and the little boy clung to him with a soft whimper, then a yawn. He walked in, avoiding eye contact with everyone in the waiting room, and walking straight over to the desk to sign in.
The secretary took one look at him, smiled, and handed him a clipboard. “Mr.Radcliff I take it?”
Scott nodded. “Thanks again for fitting Bri in.”
“No problem. Bring that back when you're finished with it and we'll call your name shortly.”
He nodded and took a seat in the waiting room on the left, the “sick kids” area as his mom had always called it. After taking off their jackets, he let Brian stay on his lap. Brian lay against him, breathing heavily into his shoulder and though Scott was still concerned, he was sure he'd made the right choice. He dug a few tissues out of his pocket quickly, covering his mouth and nose completely. “ehphhhh! eehphhhhh! ehhhufshh!” He sniffed and blew his nose a little.
“Bless you,” came a soft voice.
Scott looked down to see Brian smiling up at him, rubbing at his nose. Scott blew his nose again and wiped Brian's nose as well. He quickly filled out the form, and set it on the chair aside with his bag. Luckily the room wasn't full at all; in fact, there were only two other children in the room, one of which was asleep and the other preoccupied with chewing on a set of blocks, one by one. Scott shuddered at the implications and pulled a book out of his bag. “Let's read a little?” Brian nodded, hugging the bunny and snuggling against Scott. It was mainly a picture book, so Scott didn't need to read it, and using it to distract Brian worked well even though the little guy didn't feel strong enough to do much anyway.
“Brian Radcliff?” Scott raised a hand, collected their things, and stood with Brian in his arms. He handed over the clipboard and, loaded down, followed the nurse to the examination room. It was a soft room, small, with bright balloon wallpaper boarder and a giant picture of animals on the wall. “Have a seat,” the nurse said, gesturing toward the chairs and table as she made a note on the chart. She was young, and Scott was sure he had not seen her before. When she looked up, she found them both sitting on the examination table. She laughed, “You can sit over in the chair, Mr. Radcliff.”
He sniffed and nodded. “I know, but I'm not feeling too well either and I don't want to spread germs all over the room. Besides, I think Bri would prefer my sitting here.” Brian was latched onto him, shooting scared, nervous looks at the nurse. “Is that all right?”
She nodded. “Of course, Mr. Rad—“
She nodded again. “Scott. So… what's wrong with your son here?”
Scott took a deep breath. “Sneezing, coughing, trouble breathing, lack of appetite, minor fatigue, chills, fever from 99 to 104, aches, congestion, runny nose, ear aches… I think that's all I can recall...” He coughed and rubbed at his own nose.
“That's certainly enough.” She nodded, pulling out a thermometer and fastening it with a fresh applicator. Scott put his arm around Brian for comfort. “She's going to take your temperature, just like Daddy does, okay?” Brian nodded and opened his mouth.
“Very good,” the woman said with a smile to Brian, then turned back to Scott. “You look worse than he does, you know.”
Scott nodded, rubbing at his nose a little more. It was tickling again, of course. “I really don't dress like this normally. As soon as Bri began rubbing sniff, sniff, at his ears, I bolted straight here without changing.”
She smiled. “Well, maybe the style will catch on. It's… unique.” She reached over and eased the thermometer out of his mouth. “One hundred and three point six.”
Rubbing Brian's head, ruffling his hair, “Good job, Sport.”
After making note in the chart and slipping it into the holder on the door, she remained in the room a moment. “All right, the doctor will be in to see you soon—“
“ehhhHufshhh! Eehhfffff!” he sneezed suddenly, into his sleeve, with a bit of embarrassment. “Uh, excuse be,” he snuffled, taking his arm away from Brian in order to pull out a tissue and rub at his nose, then blow it softly.
“Bless you, Mr. Rad— Scott.” She tossed the box of tissues over to him. “You take care now.”
He waved thank you, then blew his nose again, rather glad to be alone. Normally, this was the worst part of a visit, having to wait for the doctor to arrive. And while Scott was chilly, sniffley, and exhausted, it wasn't so bad with Brian there to read books with. Brian was probably thinking the same thing. As usual, he put Brian in front of himself and instead of wallowing in how bad he felt, he simply worked on distracting Brian and entertaining him. Though he certainly didn't mind when only ten minutes later Dr. Peterson walked in; probably a doctor's office record. She was a good twenty-something years older than he, and he remembered having her as a doctor when he got the chicken pox in sixth grade. Now she was Brian's pediatrician, and he was more than glad to have his son in her hands.
“Hi Scott, how are my two favorite single guys this afternoon?”
“ehhh…ehphhhshhh!” Scott sneezed, brining tissues up in time, this time. He sniffed and smiled in embarrassment. “Excuse be.” He blew his nose roughly and gave a last rub at it.
“Not too good by the looks of things, hmmm?” she said, examining Brian's chart.
He cleared his throat. “We both woke up with colds this morning.” He coughed. “At least I thought it was a cold. I'm a little worried about Bri…”
Shaking her head, she poked Brian in the tummy and laughed with his ticklish reaction. “You've always been an overprotective worrier of a parent, Scotty,” she wheeled a chair over so she could examine Brian without bending over. “But we need more parents who are… So, Brian, remember me?” She wiggled her stethoscope with the little grizzly bear clip on it and Brian's eyes lit up with a smile. “I'll take that as a yes. I'm going to take a look at your eyes and ears and mouth and listen to you breathe, and we'll find a way to make you feel sooooooo much better. Would you like that?” Brian nodded enthusiastically. “Thought you might.” She took a look first at his mouth, “Say ahh for me…” and his eyes, “tired and bloodshot…” and his nose, “Definitely looks irritated…”
Dr. Peterson looked up at Scott, who was bending to the side, blowing his nose into a bunch of tissues. With a raised eyebrow, “Bless you, Scotty.” She looked back to Brian. “So, how old are you now, Brian?” she distracted him as she felt his glands. He held up four fingers. “Four! Already!” With a hand to her heart, she over dramatized; she was a wonderful pediatrician. “My, time does go fast. You're such a big boy now!” Brian beamed, then closed his eyes and sneezed twice. Scott was there in an instant, holding a tissue for him to blow into.
She looked into Brian's ears next, with a firm look on her face. “Ear infection. I can do something about that one.” She warmed the end of her stethoscope on her white coat. “I'm going to listen to your chest now, Brian. When I nod, I want you to breathe in really deeply and out slowly like this—“ she demonstrated, and Brian nodded, rubbing at his ear. She slid the stethoscope up his shirt, nodding… “Good! And again… and again… and another… and one more…” She slid it back out and poked Brian in the tummy again. “Those are cute pajamas, there.”
He giggled. “Thanks.”
As she scribbled on the chart, she spoke to Scott. “A viral infection of some sort, not particularly treatable aside from some mild symptoms. Have you tried giving him anything today already?”
Scott nodded. “We shared a cup of that Tylenol cold hot stuff. Put us…” he rubbed madly at his nose as he attempted to finish talking before the sneezes took over, quickening his words just to have them slowed by pre-sneeze breaths, “both-right-to… sleep… ehhh… hehIhshhh! ehhKufff! huhKeeffff!”
“Bless you. Yes, that's what a lot of those warm liquid treatments do. Not proven to work any better than others, but they make you feel good while you're taking them. Anyway… Brian's ear infection can be easily cleared up with this,” she handed over a prescription. “And the fever should be dealt with immediately with Tylenol—“
Scott pulled the bottle out of the bag. “This ok?”
She looked at it a second, then nodded. “Perfect. Now… for less scientific treatments. Popsicles and plenty of milkshakes and juice for the sore throat. A heating pad for the aches if he starts complaining about them, but on the lowest setting. Don't keep him too warm, light blankets, only enough to make him comfortable. A humidifier should help with congestion, and you could give him something soft like Dimetapp or…” she quickly wrote out another prescription, “or this. It will loosen him up, keep it from settling in his chest, and keep the pressure in his head from building up.” She pulled a stack of stickers out of her pocket, rooted through the pile, and extracted four. One she put in another pocket, the other three she held out for Brian to see. “What's that one have on it?” she asked.
“A bear!” he replied, sniffling. Scott was there with a tissue instantly.
“Right!” she replied, “Just like this guy,” she tapped her stethoscope again. Pealing them off, she stuck them to his pajamas. “Now, you need to be careful, Kiddo. You have a stuffed bunny there and ducks on your pajamas… don't let that bear too near them!”
He giggled, looking down in pride at the array of stickers.
She went back to her instruments, tossing parts into the garbage, pulling out a fresh tongue depressor, a fresh thermometer app, and more. “Now… Daddy's turn, hmm?”
Scott laughed and shook his head. “No thanks. Really, I'm not to worry abo—“ Dr. Peterson stuck the thermometer in his mouth. He shot her a look.
She shot him back the same. “I worry about all my kids. Don't fuss… if you're a good boy I've got a sticker for you, too.”
Still cross-looking, he raised a hand to his face, scrubbing miserably at his again tickling nose.
“Don't you dare sneeze with that thermometer still in your mouth!”
Scott wasn't sure he had a choice at this point as he felt the sensation come upon him. The urge was growing stronger and stronger, tickling his nose into sneezing. The thermometer beeped, and Scott immediately pulled it out and sneezed wetly into the crook of his arm. “ummphhh! ummphshhhh! ehhhcumphhh! Sniff, sniff! Sniff, sniff!” he pulled a tissue from the box and blew his nose wetly… then took a second… and a third.
“Bless you,” she said to his sneezes. “You have a fever of one hundred and two, Scott.”
He nodded. “I dow. Sniff, sniff! I know.” He wasn't the least bit surprised, and certainly not at all in the mood for a lecture.
She poked him in the stomach, making him lean back and squirm a little; he was stubborn and didn't feel like laughing. “You need to take care of yourself as well as you take care of Brian. You've got a really bad cold, Scotty. You need to take it easy and let it run its course. Understand?”
“Good.” She slapped a sicker on him as well. Where Brian got stickers with happy animals, his simple read in bright red letters, 'Be nice to me: I'm sick!' “Now, I want you to go home and get in bed and pamper yourself and not get up until you feel better no matter how much work you have to do. Got it?”
He nodded again.
“Good. And Brian,” she looked down at the boy who was still rubbing at his ear and tracing his stickers with a finger. “You take care of your Daddy, too, won't you?”
Brian nodded only to snap forward with a weary sneeze of his own.
The doctor offered over a tissue and stepped back to open the examining room door. “Well, looks like you can head out. You were both excellent boys today.”
Scott began to collect all their stuff, but Dr. Peterson wouldn't hear of it. She took their coats and the bag and insisted upon walking them out. “Feel better, Brian, and feel better Scotty.”
Scot nodded, thanking her immensely as she helped them on with their jackets and told them again to take care. After fastening Brian into the back seat and getting back in front of the wheel, Scott backed up and drove cautiously over to the grocery store. “You up for some medicine and Popsicles, Sport?”
Brian nodded, rubbing at his ear, and unbuckling his seatbelt. He hopped out, then motioned to be picked up. Scott, feeling weak but feeling sorry for him obliged, swooping him up with a hug into his arms. “You're such a brave boy. I'm proud of you.” Scott grabbed a cart and eased Brian into the front. After swinging by the pharmacist to get the prescriptions filled while they shopped, Scott started them off in the frozen foods isle. “All right,” he rubbed at his nose and sniffed as the cold made it run. Assuming the same for Brian, he handed the boy a tissue, just as he sneezed. “Bless you. So… vanilla with cherries or mint chocolate chip?”
Brian shrugged with indifference, blowing his nose.
“You're right—both.” He set two cartons in the back of the cart. “Now, Popsicles… “ he surveyed them a while, then chose the Dole ones for their apparently nutritious real chunks of fruit. Then grabbed two boxes of the Disney ones anyway. Hey, they said 100% Vitamin C, right? “What do you feel like eating for din—“
Brian sneezed again.
“Bless you.” Brian was not looking good. He didn't look like he wanted to offer suggestions, and looked like he certainly did not want to be in a cold supermarket right now. Scott decided hurrying up might not be a bad thing. He threw a few microwave macaroni and cheese packages and two frozen veggie pizzas into the cart. They made the typical rounds… some soup, applesauce, lots of juice, tissues, and of course some Tylenol for Brian and a few boxes of aspirin and cold medicine for Scott. If the woman at the checkout counter couldn't figure out they were sick by their faces, she surely could from the contents of their cart. Luckily, she only smiled and hurried them on their way.
Scott packed up the van then buckled Brian in with a little protesting. Brian wanted to stretch out on the seat and the seatbelt was uncomfortable. But Scott wouldn't hear of it. Scott, of course, won this battle and they were soon on their way home... but slowly. On the way, Scott had to pull over to the side of the road a few times to stifle strong and potentially dangerous sneezing fits. Brian didn't seem to notice as the little boy was drifting in and out of sleep the whole time and looked practically dazed from fever when awake.
Making it home finally, Scott had Brian ride on his back while he carried the bag over one shoulder and three bags of groceries in his arms. He opened the door, dropping the bags in the hallway with a cough… or two… or ten into a fist. Perhaps he could have done with a visit to his own doctor. He dropped Brian with a soft bounce on the couch, then undid the boy's coat and took off the hat and mittens and shoes. “I'm going to get some medicine for you and a Popsicle, would you like that?” He rubbed Brian's head. “Make you feel so much better, okay?”
After a nod, Brian curled up amongst the blankets. Scott poured out two small cups of medicine and after carefully reading the instructions, handed them over carefully one at a time. Brian took them obediently, drinking them down and savoring the sweet taste of the children's medication. Kissing Brian's head gently, he then handed over a red cherry Mickey Mouse Popsicle which Brian took excitedly and devoured.
Scott sat back on the floor, shivering, sweating, sniffling. So much to do, and he didn't feel like doing any of it. “ehhhhchhh! Eeehhhkshhhh!” he sneezed rather suddenly and rather freely and looked back to see Brian still working his way through the Popsicle, certainly not concerned with his father's health. He rubbed his nose then the back of his neck. Was it his imagination or was he actually feeling worse? But there was so much to do. Pulling himself to his feet finally, he then put away the frozen foods and perishables. Then he headed back to the living room. “Briad,” his voice was not only thick with congestion but rough and weak. “I'b godda go take a shower if you deed be, sniff, sniff!” He pulled a few tissues out of the box just in time. “ehhKushhhhh! ehhhphishh! Sniff, sniff!” and blew his nose.
Brian nodded and turned on the television to P.B.S. to find opening credits for The Magic School Bus. Was it really five thirty already? Scott checked his watch. Yep, it was.
Upstairs, Scott gathered some comfy clean clothes and threw them on the floor when he entered the bathroom, shutting the door behind and running the water to warm it up, undressing in the meantime. Goosebumps ran over his flesh and, naked, he rubbed his hands over his arms to warm up while waiting. “ehhhKuffshhh! aahhhchishhh! ehhhKushh!” Having already taken the tissues from the bathroom downstairs, he took a handful of toilet paper and blew his nose, which only seemed to make his nose tickle more. “ehhKishh! ahhchishh!” and blew his nose again. Then, shivering, he stepped into the shower, engulfed by the warm, hissing waters. He breathed in deeply, freely for the first time since waking that morning. “ahhshhhhh! ehhshoo!” He sniffed and rubbed his nose roughly under the waters. The hot water was soothing as he lathered up and rinsed off, calming his nerves, quieting his coughs, dulling his aches. He was nearly finished when a knock sounded on the bathroom door.
Predictably following that knock came a call, “Daddy?”
It caught Scott in mid sneeze, his head tilted back, his nose wrinkled, his eyes fluttering closed. Then he bent forward, steadying himself with a hand on the towel bar on the inside of the stall. “ehhchishhh! ahhhchushhh!”
Sniffling, trying to gather himself, “Cobig!” he yelled over the hiss of the water, hoping Brian understood. He rubbed his face clean under the water then grabbed a towel, wrapping it around his waist as he sprang for the door.
What he found was Brian, red cheeks, bleary-eyes and all. “Daddy, I cough, cough, sniffle, dod't feel so cough, sniff, sneeze, sniff, sniff, good.”
Scott ushered him in and quickly shut the door to keep the warm air in. He sat upon the toilet seat and pulled Brian up onto his lap. “Shhhh… I know.” Scott said clearly, amazed at how much freer the steam from the still-running shower had made him. “Just take deep breaths, Sport and try to relax. Daddy will take care of you all you need.” He rocked back and forth soothingly. “There you are.” Brian was actually beginning to nod off. “Just breathe in the nice hot steam.” From where Scott sat, he could reach the shower faucet and turned it to the highest setting,
It was almost twenty minutes before all the hot water ran out, then Scott turned off the shower, stood, and lifted Brian to his shoulder, rubbing him son's back gently. He walked him downstairs to the couch and tucked him beneath the blanket with his stuffed dog. Then Scott changed into the clothes he'd before selected, clean socks and undies, and a gray sweat set with a hood and two pockets. He hesitated to follow his son just yet. There was e-mail to check and meeting minutes to review and chores to do, though his nose was tickling again, and his head throbbing, and his throat sore and itching, and his body aching. Remembering the doctor's advice, however, he decided to give into his illness. He climbed onto the couch, letting his head sink deep into the couch cushion. Scott rubbed two tissues beneath his nose and kept them in hand to keep his nose from running too much. He wrapped his other arm around Brian tenderly and before he knew what was happening, he was already asleep.
* * *
Scott woke to see a cheerful face smiling up at him. Still nestled among the folds of the warm blanket, Scott brought another and over and suddenly tickled Brian's tummy. The boy, who doubled in half, squirming with laughter, looked considerably better. His face, cheeks and all, were a soft peach. His eyes were clear and calm. But his laughter spoke for itself. Scott backed off as a sneeze approached, and he did the routine reach for a few tissues. “ehhKuffff! ehhHumphhh!”
“Still feel sick, Daddy?”
Scott nodded, rubbing at his nose, then surveying Brian's forehead with the back of his hand. Nice and cool. Scott was terribly relieved despite his own sickness. “Still sick add sdeezey.” But he was thinking already of the thermometer, rummaging around amongst the tissues on the coffee table for it. It would be good to know Brian's temperature exactly. He wiped it off and shook it in the air. “How about you?”
“I'm better,” he remarked with a yawn, where Scott took the advantage and slid the thermometer beneath his tongue. The boy giggled around it and pretended to scowl, but waited it out patiently, rubbing at his ear more than his nose.
When it beeped, Scott removed it, reading with a smile— a nice and cool 99.2. “I'll say you're feelig better, Sbort.” He was entirely more relieved than he thought he would be.
Brian pushed the thermometer back at his father. “Your turn Daddy.”
He might have liked to have washed it just in case but he truthfully didn't feel like it. So he stuck it in anyway and they waited for the beep. When it was finished, Scott peaked at it, feeling as if they'd lived by the thermometer so many times that day. This time, he saw from the result, would still not be the last. 100.6. Certainly not as high as before, but it hadn't yet broken conveniently in his sleep as Brian's had.
Brian's stomach made a hungry rumbling gurgle and they both laughed at its strangeness. “You hugry at all?” He asked, seeing how late it had become without his permission.
The boy nodded “A little hungry.”
“I bet.” After another blow to his nose, he went to the kitchen and pulled out the ice cream. “Do you a wadt vadilla or chocolate bilkshake, Bri?” he called into the other room.
“Vanilla!” Brian shouted back above now a quiet stream of television talking.
When Scott returned, he melted into the couch and blankets with Brian sitting back against him. He wrapped the blankets around them both with a few coughs and hit play on the remote as they started into their milkshakes. The parade of animals crossed the screen on the way to Pride Rock and Brian's face lit with happiness at the sight of the movie. Father and son, feeling slightly better only, snuggled against each other as the sun set and the living room darkened to night.
* * *
“efffChuhhh! ehhKeshoo! iihhKetchh!” Scott sneezed weakly into yet another tissue. Halfway through Hakuna Matata Scott had come down with a bad case of the sneezes and had needed to finish up a whole box of tissues. Scott had scooted upstairs and rummaged around in the linen closet before finding a new box. He was on his way back down when he remembered the extra box or two he'd bought that day that were still with the rest of the unpacked groceries. “ehhKuffff! EhhChishh!” Though he was sure they would easily be used as well. It was near the end of the movie now and his nose was starting to act up again. Not to mention that he still felt chilled even under the blankets with Brian. Wearily he balled up the tissues in hand and tossed them across the room to the trashcan. One went in, the other hit the rim and fell to the ground with the other fifty or a hundred. He'd actually been getting fairly good at making the shots, though the trashcan was only halfway filled. And it wasn't as if he were wasting the tissues. Once he was done sneezing into them, he rubbed and blew his nose until they were beyond use before aiming and throwing. Usually, he managed this just in time to grab another tissue or two and sneeze again. “hehhKushh! ehhhtChuhff! ehhPiffffhhh!” he tried his best to keep them quiet and covered, so as lot to disturb Brian, but his sneezes had other ideas altogether. “kehKefff! ehh… ehhUfshhah! ehhKechhh!” He blew his nose again, and again, folding the tissues in half and rubbing his nose at each blow. The same heavy congestion that had been bothersome and annoying this morning was now becoming normal and almost preferred to the constant sniffling, snuffling and sneezing. “eehhPhishh! ehhKefff!” Hew blew again, and shot. Score!
The credits began to roll, and Brian looked up at his father with a natural smile. Scott, on the other hand, wasn't in the state to see let alone smile back. His face dropped, his tongue hanging on the edge of his mouth as heavy pants pulled his chest. His nose tickled, nostrils flaring as his nose ran slightly. The heavy breaths sank into newly acquired tissues as he held them first a foot away directed at his face, or perhaps with his face directed towards them. Then, as he felt the urges turn to actual sneezes, he brought them closer, rubbing against his reddened nostrils in preparation. “huff-Ehhshhhhh! ehhhChufshhhhhh!” he sneezed a wet double. “ehhUphshhhh! ehhhKuffffff!” came the second, filling the tissue. Feeling yet another coming on, Scott froze in place, breathing heavily through the tissues. The strong, desperate urge to sneeze filled him, “ehhh…eeehhhh… huh…” his eyes tightly shut, his body tensed. “ehhKESHhhhhh!” it came finally, bending him forward much more than the others. Scott relaxed back against the couch with a sigh that turned immediately into a light tickle of his nose which he then calmed with new tissues and a full set of blows. Another set which resulted in another three misses of the trash can. By now, he simply gathered a tissue or two as soon as he used one. If he didn't need to sneeze immediately, his nose was still running a bit and he knew he would need to soon.
“Next time,” Brian's soft voice piped up in question, pausing to cough a moment before continuing, “Next time you sneeze can I try to make the basket?”
Amused, exhausted, and still feeling awfully sneezey, Scott nodded. Brian didn't need to wait long, in fact the credits were just finishing up when Scott felt the sharp need to sneeze again. The drawn-out, pre-sneeze breathing took over, forcing the handful of tissues closer and closer to his nose and mouth as his body bent back and forth just slightly with each breath, trying to draw the sneezes out of his stuffy, runny nose in hopes of feeling better. And then the feeling strengthens, stabbing again with overwhelming, uncomfortable desperation. “ehhhh…heekkkk…” it pauses, teasing, “efffshhhhhh!” strong and wet into the tissues. “ehhHushhhh! ehhhKeefffff!” Without moving the tissues, he blows his nose, relaxing his tense body with relief. Another tissue is needed, so he selects a few, using a dry one to wrap around the mess of the rest before handing it to Brian. The others go for more blowing and “ahhhChufff! ehh-Kufff!” very thick and weak but still seeming to quiet the tickles in his nose for a minute or two. He looked up to see Brian making the shot and laughing.
The tape in the VCR clicked to an end and began to rewind itself as Brian flipped through the channels. As Scott gave what was becoming a sore nose another blow, he heard the familiar, peppy tune of 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' and was thankful that was where Brian left it to be. But very much not thankful for that tickle again, mounting in his nose. It wasn't so much a sharp stab in the back, or a tickling urge at the tip. No, it was the kind that filled his stuffy nose entirely with desire. And it was not the kind to come with a few seconds warning, come out in a burst, and make him sniff or two afterwards. No, it was the kind that took him over entirely for a minute, his breath slowing down, growing deep as his body adjusted the same and his face fell, jaw dropping, eyes closing, all readying for the sneeze under its power. Tissues ready, they came again, plowing out with strength but sounding all together weak and a sickly sort of light, “ehhEhsshhhh! eehffChushhhh! eeehhh…” A pause, finding him frozen with suspense, waiting with a pained, expectant look upon his face. “Ehhhshhhufffff!” It came at last, bringing with it another few. “ehhHishhh! ehh… heh.. Kephshh!” He sneezed with finality, the tickling feeling dying down in his nose which was now just filled and needed to be cleared. He tossed the tissues at the trashcan, missing and not caring as he quickly took up more for blows, just in time for the tape to finish rewinding.
Scott rubbed his face with his hand, feeling altogether miserable, even as his nose had gone back to being simply stuffy. However, it was getting to be Brian's bedtime, and the kid did look pretty tired already. “Are you sniff, a little sniff, sleeby Sbort?” he asked with a pat on Brian's back.
The boy nodded, rubbing his face into the blanket with a small yawn.
“All right. You're due for bore bedicine adyway.” His voice was sounding weak and scratchy on top of the stuffiness. “Then we can head on up to bed, all right?” It was quite a lot for him to stand, but he managed to get to the kitchen and back with medicine and a cup of juice for himself. Brian happily drank down the small cup of medicine, and they collected their things to climb the stairs.
Scott send Brian to the bathroom as he collected a change of night clothes for Brian. In the bathroom, he settled down on the floor beside the tub to draw Brian a bath. He carefully selected the right warmth of the water and let it run a while with a moderate amount of bubble bath as a treat. The juice worked wonders on his throat, and the steam freed his breathing again, though he still felt rather tired and snuffley. He very much wanted to be in his bed with a box of tissues and a hot water bottle on his chest. But instead he was in a kid's bathroom, surrounded by little yellow duckies, being the responsible single parent. Brian finished brushing and flossing, then undressed and, after Scott tested the water again, hopped into the bathtub. It went more quickly than usual; after a long day Brian wasn't up for too much playing. Scott wiped Brian's nose whenever the boy sneezed or started sniffling too much, as Brian's own hands were obviously wet. And when he'd finished washing and the water began to grow cooler, bathtime drew to an end and Scott supplied the big, fluffy towel to wrap around his son in a big warm hug.
Brian's teeth stopped chattering then, and he smiled as his father rubbed hands up and down his arms to warm him. “Daddy, I know you're sick, but can I sleep with you tonight?”
Gently easing the boy into night clothes, Scott tried to think of some reason that it might be bad, finally replying with steam-cleared speech, “Sure, but if I keep you up at all from sneezing or coughing I want you to tell me and I'll carry you back to your bed. Promise?”
Brian gave a nod as his top was being pulled on. He was then swooped up into his father's arms as they went over to Scott's bedroom. Scott straightened the blankets and sheets and then tucked Brian in on the side against the wall so he wouldn't fall off as this bed was quite higher than his own little one. Scott then set to work gathering things. An extra box of tissues, the juice and a tall glass of water went to the nightstand. The alarm clock was set for 5am, when Brian needed to take his antibiotics for the ear infection. The dehumidifier was dug out of the closet and plugged in for a gentle hum. And an extra pillow was tossed to the bed so Scott would be propped up a little more. Then, Scott climbed in, himself, amazed at the comfort he felt as the mattress sagged beneath his body, and his head fell into the fluffy pillows. Brian seemed at maximal comfort as well, hugging his stuffed dog and sucking on the ear as usual; Scott made note that Mr.Woofers would most definitely need a good run through the washing machine tomorrow. Of course there was much more to do. Call Brian in sick again, a child with a light fever and an ear infection on top of a runny nose was certainly unwelcome in preschool, especially without having been on antibiotics for a full twenty-four hours. He had to check e-mail and download those reviews, and of course figure out the next design plan based on the client's last interviewed feedback scripts. Then there was all the cleaning, putting away the rest of the groceries, and reviewing a whole day's worth of meeting notes.
“ehhhEhhshhh! ehhhPhishh!” Brian reached over, pulling the box of tissues over and putting them right between their pillows in bed. Scott pulled one, and then two out thankfully, covering his nose for a third, delayed, “ehhhKesshhh!” He lowered his hand slowly, weakly, letting the sick, miserable feeling sink back in. He felt absolutely terrible.
“Bless you, Daddy,” Brian said softly, pulling the blankets up to Scott's neck and tucking them around him in as much as he could from where he lay. Then he kissed Scott on the forehead softly. “Do you want me to read you a story before bed?”
Smiling, Scott shook his head. “Thag you addyway, Sbort.” He reached over and switched off the light, his stomach spasming with coughs he tried to hold in.
Brian reached over and ran his hand over Scott's cheek. “Don't worry about coughing and sneezing like that, I'll be fine.”
Rubbing his nose with his wrist and closing his eyes, he pulled the blanket closer to him, clutching them to his body in warmth. He felt a tissue rubbing gently at his running nose and smiled. “Thags, Bri. I love you.”
The boy's reply was soft, “Goodnight, Daddy. I love you too.”
And with his son there to look after him, Scott allowed himself to fall into a long, much needed sleep.