"Come on, Mick, show me the thermometer." He handed it over with reluctance as he coughed once, hen proceeded to rub his nose. He had woken up that morning feeling a bit out of sorts and had found his way over to Denise's tent. He'd hovered over her sleeping form a few minutes, not sure if he really wanted to wake her from her sleep. But her eyes opened and she looked up at him. "Hey, Mick," she had said, her eyes opening and focusing on him. "You don't look so hot." She then patted the ground beside her. "Come here and let me feel your forehead." He sneezed a few times but agreed with a whimper at the touch of her cold hand. "Yeah, you sure are coming down with something. You have a few hours to rest still if you want to go back to sleep now." He whimpered again, sniffling, rubbing at his nose. "Oh, fine, Mick, get on in here with me, then!" he climbed into her sleeping bag with her. Her arms wrapped around him, rubbing his arm, as his eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep. He woke to find her hovering over him with a thermometer. She was fully dressed and smelled of scrambled eggs and oranges- the breakfast he knew she'd just had. "We had a thermometer in the med kit. I want to take your temp, ok?" He had been reluctant, but allowed her to. And the outcome was more than unfavorable.
"It's over 101, Mick," Denise said, rubbing his arm through the sleeping bag. "I hate to say it, but I think we're going to have to quit and head out to an inn—"
"No way!" His voice was weak. "I'm not chickening out on this!"
She smiled, admiring his reluctance. "It's not chickening out. You're sick. And as the only, like, medically-trained person, I'm not about to let you freeze your butt off and wear yourself down with the rest of us when you have a cold. Or the flu. Or whatever the heck you've got."
He sneezed. "It's… just a small cold, Deni… I can take care of my... my…" his hand raised to his mouth and nose again. Two more sneezes shook his body. He sniffed and closed his eyes. "Myself."
"Which is why you wandered into my tent this morning, right? Not Josh's, not Francis's, not even Annabel's, but mine. Right?"
He sniffed and opened his eyes to give her a soft, sad look. "I don't even remember this morning."
"That's probably because of your fever; it's probably a lot higher than the thermometer is saying, considering how cold it is out here now."
He nodded, closing his eyes again. "I'll go anywhere you want me to go, Deni."
She smiled. "I'll inform the others and get our horses ready."
"OK… " The last thing she heard as she left the tent was the sound of him sneezing wearily.
"Look, I'm telling you, he's sick. He can barely breathe let alone ride all the way to the ranch." Denise hated missing out on the mission but she wasn't about to drag Mick along when he wasn't feeling well. And she certainly wasn't about to leave him out of it alone.
"I guess we don't exactly have a choice, then, do we?" Annabel said softly, sipping her coffee and looking back at the tent she knew Mick was in.
Josh shrugged. "All right, all right, we'll three go on ahead. We'll send word when we get to the ranch. And we'll be anxious to see how he's doing."
Denise smiled, patting Josh on the back. "Thank you, Joshua. I appreciate it. And I think Mick does, too."
"Deni! He's up!" came Annabel's informing shout.
Mick stumbled out of the tent, rubbing his nose with the palm of his hand and looking truly miserable but as if he were trying to hide it. He nodded good morning to them all and crawled back into his own tent to get dressed and packed up.
"I'll go see how he is," Denise offered, drinking the last of her coffee. "Um, I really hate to ask it, but neither of you guys would happen to have, like, a spare handkerchief or something like that on you, would you?"
Francis laughed. "Yeah, I got one, here." He handed it over without really looking up from the map and compass he was concentrating on.
"Thanks," Denise kissed his cheek and went to check on her patient.
Mick was dressed but evidently still feverish as he'd left everything on the ground and had collapsed on top of his sleeping bag in fatigue. He groaned and rubbed his head to see her, sneezing twice into the fabric of his sleeping bag.
"Blesses." She made him put on his jacket even though it was warm enough that she shouldn't need it. "Can you sit up?"
He nodded, not sure it was the truth. "Are we ready to go on?"
She sighed. "Mick, you and I are going back to that Inn and meeting up with the group later… remember?"
He shook his head. "No, I don't re.. remem… rehh…remember… I'm… I…" he sneezed. "I'm ok. I can… " and sneezed again. And again. "I can make it."
She handed him the handkerchief, feeling sorry for him, but hated how stubborn he was being. "Are you SURE?"
He nodded. "Positive!"
"OK, OK," she packed up his things for him while he sat up and watched. "But it might be better if you rode on my horse with me… just in case…"
He nodded, rubbing his nose again with an expression that said he was trying hard not to sneeze. Mick wasn't one who liked to be sick. And he liked even less being sick in front of people. He was going to try anything to make it all seem as if he were ok... but falling off his horse wasn't one of them.
Five minutes after they were packed up and heading off, Denise felt his body go heavy, leaning back against hers. And she knew he'd either passed out or fallen asleep again. She was glad about that… but she still didn't sense very good things for him in the future.
"The clue we got at lunch said a stone that's yellow—it's gotta be Yellow Stone National Park, Josh!" Annabel argued with the driver.
"I know! And that's where we're going!" he grumbled back, trying not to lose his temper.
"Then WHY, oh WHY are we taking route 42?"
"Because this is the way there!"
"Shut up! Quit talking like you know everything in the world. You really have no idea do you?"
"Of course I do!"
"Well you can't possibly if you want to take 42 west!"
"Look, I'm the driver here!"
"And I'm the darn navigator!"
"Shut up, both of you!" Francis finally yelled. He'd had enough of it. "Just keep going on this until you hit route 66, and take that, ok?"
"And stop yelling…" Denise added from the back of the Winnie. "You might wake up Mick." She looked over at Mick's sleeping and lightly snoring form. He'd been given the top bunk since it was out of the way and more private. By the time they'd reached the ranch on horseback, as well as thanked and had lunch with the people in charge there, Mick had begun shaking. Not that it was cold out at all, but he clearly was too weak and too feverish to stay the rest of the day there, as hoped. And even Josh had to admit they should head out early. They threw their gear back in the Winnebego and Mick crawled into bed with a few soft moans. Annabel had made sure he had enough blankets and tissues and the like to keep him comfortable before calling shotgun and plopping herself in the navigator's seat beside Josh. They all tried their best to ignore the sneezes and coughs that made them all uneasy, before Mick finally drifted off to sleep with his back to them all and his weak, shivering body hidden beneath five layers of blankets.
Josh was the unsaid leader of the pack. There was just something about the way he could talk that made everyone fall into line, under his orders. He was from New York, but didn't have much of an accent at all, oddly enough. He was tall, and into a lot of grunge groups that weren't "outdated" so much as "classic." He had dark brown hair and dark eyes, but rarely looked as dark and mysterious as he could be at times.
Annabel, one of the only two girls, had been born in Germany, but had lived in Texas and California most of her life. She was radically liberal and didn't mind expressing that at more than every opportunity. The only problem was how feminist and self-centered she could be, and how much that meant she had to bend for the rest of them. There was always a little tension between her and Josh, or her and Francis, or her and Denise for that matter. But her angelically charming blue eyes, golden hair, and perfect smile let her get out of nearly every trying argument.
Francis was from the South- Atlanta, to be exact. He'd had a good life, but only following in the footsteps of his parents and their parents before him, who hadn't had it quite so easy because of their racial heritage. But as tough and street-smart as he was, he was also the perfect gentleman, and tried never to get on anyone's bad sides unless he felt it was a more personal matter; then he could be tougher than a rock. He had kind dark brown eyes, a perfect chocolate-colored shaved head, and a goatee surrounding a smile that could blow Annabel's out of the water if he had to use it.
Denise was a medical student from Washington. She had curly red hair and sea green eyes that could see into a person's soul any time she wanted to use them. She was versatile, and landed right in the middle on most issues. And even though she used to hate the nickname Deni, when most of them had begun to use it the first and second week into the trip, she had been passive and let them… and now she rather liked the sound of it. She, like them all, had always had a soft spot for Mick. Though it seemed he was more attracted to Annabel, Denise couldn't deny that she did care about him deeply… in ways she could never express to anyone.
But that was Mick for you. The charming young lad from Australia. He had a British accent, rather than Aussie, but that only worked in his favour. He had long, dirty blond hair that he normally wore down to his shoulders. His eyes were a perfect hazel fading and circled by a line of green; they were too deep for anyone to see into him, but they all loved trying. He had the kindest face imaginable. One that glowed when he was happy, and radiated his positive, optimistic thoughts even when things weren't going so well. He was sweet. He was kind. He was the kind of person you feel like you've known all your life and yet, can never fully know, no matter how deep you get.
And together, they were the newest MTV Road Rules gang. They were only four weeks into it, and had a ways to go, but they'd already been through so many fun adventures with each other. From budgie jumping to cave exploration to deep sea diving in a real submarine to working as ice cream tasters. It had been a lot of fun, and a little difficult at times. But they always managed to work things out and have a good time. And they hoped this was one of those times.
They weren't supposed to be at the park until the next day, so when night fell, they pulled up to a motel and Josh bargained his way into getting them two rooms for twenty dollars each. They just so happened to be the sort with a joining doorway to the next room, which was nice. As usual, the guys took one room, and the girls the other, all five of them glad for the warm bed and hot shower after two days of riding horses through the desert and a long drive in the Winnie. Mick was given his own bed, closest to the bathroom, where he crashed only a few seconds into being in the room, just after changing into a pair of sweats. The others met in the girls' room and played strip poker for a while. No one was really into it, as they were all a little tired. And by the time the cameramen started yawning, they decided to break it up and go to sleep.
This, normally, wouldn't have been a problem, except for the matter of Mick… and what was developing into a pretty bad cold.
* * *
"Can't you smother him with a pillow?" Josh asked Francis, as they both lay awake in the big king-sized bed, staring at the ceiling.
"Why don't you?" Francis said, yawning. "I'm too tired to move."
"You're tired? I was the one who drove all day!"
"Yeah, but you didn't have to wait on him. First he's hot, then he's cold, then hot again. Then he wants water, and then he's hungry but we didn't have any food he wanted. Then his head aches and it's too bright, then it's too dark for him and he's cold again…"
There was silence for a few moments. Silence which was soon disrupted by a loud, stuffy snore.
"Poor guy," Josh remarked, with a yawn of his own. "I feel bad for him. Must suck to be sick and not at home and have to worry about our next mission and all of us around him and everything. Can't be any fun."
"Yeah," Francis agreed. "What do you think it will be? The next mission, I mean."
Josh shook his head. "Could be anything. Just as long—" he yawned again, "as it's not picking up trash and cleaning those wooden outhouse things, I'll be happy!"
"Oh yeah… "
There was a sudden fit of coughing from Mick; they heard him get up, blow his nose a half dozen times in the bathroom(so he wouldn't disturb their sleep), run the water a few seconds, then go back into his bed and rustle the blankets as he turned over again and again, trying to get into a comfortable position. Finally, they heard his heavy, loud breathing slowly and the snores begin again.
Josh sighed with frustration and turned over on his side as he threw a pillow in Mick's direction, just barely missing him on purpose. "Arg! I just hope the girls are getting more sleep than we are!"
Francis laughed. "Hey, you know girls. When they're tired and need their "beauty sleeps" they can sleep through anything!"
* * *
"How long do colds last, Deni?" Annabel asked as she took the pillow off from over her head and looked over at the awake figure in the other bed.
"Roughly a week, sometimes two."
"Oh good!" she said with frustration in her voice. "By then I'll probably pass out from lack of sleep!"
Denise nodded, rubbing her forehead. She needed sleep, herself—her head told her that much. And with the loud sounds of Mick snoring ever five seconds, as well as his coughing and sneezing every five minutes, there was no way she was going to get any. "Maybe we can drug him…"
They heard him sneeze a few times. The bathroom door opened and closed. He sneezed again. And again. And again. And again, into what amounted to be a full-blown fit. It passed in a minute or two, with an especially powerful (not to mention loud) ending sneeze. Then he proceeded to blow his nose. They heard the door open and close. And in a minute the snoring began again.
"Drug him? No, he'd still snore, wouldn't he?"
"Yeah, guess so…"
Annabel put the pillow back over her head. "I just hope the guys are getting more sleep than we are!"
Denise nodded. "Yeah, I hope so, too… but you know guys, they can sleep through anything."
* * *
Denise and Josh exchanged looks the following morning as they met early at the Winnie with their gear. "How'd you… sleep?" he asked, stifling a yawn.
She shook her head and noted to herself how Josh looked rather cute when he was tired. "Was it just me, or was he making noise the entire night long?" She rubbed her forehead again, absent-mindedly. She'd taken some Aspirin as soon as she got up, but it wasn't helping much. "Annabel and I didn't sleep a wink. How about you guys?"
Francis groaned from behind them, handing them his bag. They threw it in and he collapsed in the driver's seat. "Not a bit. I think we could all use a little coffee?"
Josh nodded. "I'll get some for us. Quart-sized, ok?"
They laughed nervously as the cameras rolled. They loved the guy but, man, if they had to go through another sleepless night like the night before they were going to go insane.
"Oh," Francis looked over at Denise. "You're up, aren't you? Good. He's awake and asking for you."
Denise nodded. "OK. I was going to go do a confessional, but that can wait."
"Actually, he was calling for me, but I said I'd get you and he said that was even better…"
Denise rolled her eyes. "Oh, great, Thank you!" she said sarcastically.
"Oh, any time!" He sighed, pounding his head on the steering wheel a few times and then smiled at himself in the review mirror, trying on his happy face.
Denise headed back into the room, then over to the guy's to see Mick. And she had to admit that as handsome as he was, he looked simply terrible. His face was pale, his nose a sore red, and he looked incredibly weak, as if he could barely sit up. "Morning, Mick. How are you feeling?"
He sniffed. He sounded very congested and his voice was much deeper. "I feel terrible. I didd't get buch sleeb last dight."
Denise rolled her eyes. Only if he knew… "Oh? So sorry to hear that!" She felt a little uncomfortable around him. She knew Mick was the one person everyone loved. Even if there were tension among all others in the group, Mick was always the one everyone was comfortable around. But the fact was, this was their trip as much as his. And as much as they cared about him, they didn't want to catch whatever he had and have to miss missions. But still, there was sympathy, and she hated to see him the way he was. He sneezed twice, closing his eyes as he waited for a third. It came momentarily, and though he had his hand and tissue up and ready, he missed it as he sneezed sloppily, weakly. He glared at her, wanting an answer as to why this was all happening.
"You're going to be ok, Mick. It'll be ok."
He shivered and apologized, rubbing his nose and getting up to go to the bathroom and blow it a few more times. He was unsteady on his feet, but managed to get there and back without getting too dizzy.
She felt terrible for him. "Can I get you anything, Mick?"
Nodding hesitantly, "I could use sobe Asbrid, or Tyledol, or whatever."
She wasn't sure they had any left, but knew it would turn up from someone they were with in no time. "OK, I'll get you some." He sneezed suddenly, powerfully, and it evolved into a mini-fit of exactly fourteen sneezes, seven nose-blowings, and two heart-felt but weak apologies. "Blesses," was all she could say at first. "You sound terrible, Mick. All stuffed up and sneezing like crazy!"
"I got the bed by the bathroob," he informed her, as if she hadn't noticed, or heard. "But 'luckily 'for be it was also the ode dext to the air coditioder and it was blowig od be all dight log. I hope I wasn't this stuffed up last dight. I remember gettig up a hudred tibes to go to the bathroob and blow by dose, but I just hobe I wasd't sdorig buch and keebig the guys ub. I'd feel bloody awful if they lost sleeb because of be. I dond dow what I'd do…"
Denise smiled and shook her head. She wasn't about to tell him the truth. "Well, you can have a good rest under a bunch of blankets in the Winnie. No need to worry about air conditioners or being quiet or anything."
He nodded and sneezed a double, then another double, and another. He rubbed his nose and apologized yet again. He hated being the center of attention. And he hated getting help when he was sick; after all, he could take care of himself. But as he looked at his bag of clothes sitting there on the floor, he knew he didn't have enough energy to get dressed on his own. "Um… Dendi… I know… that it's sort of a weird thig to ask… but… could you… blease… ub… baybe… help?"
Denise closed and locked the doors. "It's ok, Mick. I'll help you out."
He sighed. He'd never been so grateful in all his life. The cameras, of course, had stopped rolling.
Mick was tucked back into the bunk under layers of blankets. Denise curled up on one of the seats by the table but was too worried about everything to sleep. Josh dozed off and on restlessly as Annabel and Francis consumed coffee after coffee and tried to be sure of where they were going.
Denise hadn't even realized she was asleep until the sound of Mick's sneeze woke her up. She stood and went to him, standing up on her tip toes and putting her hand on the shoulder of his weak, shaking body. "Mick?"
He was startled but looked thankful to see her. "Dedi…?" He sounded even more congested than earlier.
"Shhhhh… it'll be ok. How are you feeling?"
Turning over onto his back, he looked at her as he shook his head. "Worse… a lot worse." Then he saw the camera on him and groaned turning back onto his side. "Add dow the edtire world dows, I guess… eved better! Thaks soooooooo very buch EbTV!"
"Shhhhhhh…" she rubbed his arm and pulled the blankets up over him to his neck. "They're not going to show that and you know it. Forget about the cameras and just concentrate on getting better. Would you like to take some more medicine? It's been, like, five hours since you last took some, I think."
He shook his head, whimpering. "No… " he sniffed a few times, and Denise realized he was crying. She'd never seen him cry before. She knew he was a sensitive person, but to cry… Denise looked down at Josh, who was looking back up at her.
'He's crying!' she mouthed to him in stunned amazement, and his mouth dropped open.
'Is he ok?' Josh mouthed back, pointing up at him.
She shrugged her shoulders and stood on the seat on the side so she could reach him. Then she gently kissed him on the cheek. "Mick, honey, talk to me. Please?"
He shook his head. He sneezed three times and rubbed his nose after with his palm.
Denise tried hard to think of what she could do to help. "Would you feel better if I just stayed here with you?"
He hesitated, then nodded.
"OK, I'll just stay right here, then. And rub your arm like this and talk to you softly until you fall back to sleep, ok? Will that make you feel better?"
He whimpered and squeaked out a yes.
So she stood there for some time, telling him of a dream she'd had a few nights ago about some girl she'd known from high school or some such thing that she ended up making up just to be sure it was long and boring enough to put him to sleep. Her voice, when soft, was very soothing and comforting, and her touch even more so. Unfortunately, he'd only been asleep ten minutes before waking up coughing, and then sneezing again. And instead of wearing herself down and letting the headache she had grow, she decided just to have him come down and sleep on one of the long cushioned seats. Josh was reluctant to agree to it, but he was so tired that he finally gave in. And so it was. Mick was wrapped in blankets and lay curled up with his head in Denise's lap. She stroked and petted him until he fell asleep, and even then she stayed with him. Unable to move, but more importantly, glad that he was getting the rest he needed. She looked over to see Francis now in the passenger's seat, asleep, too. And Josh, yawning, and resting his head on the back of the seat he was in. Annabel looked back and exchanged smiles with her.
"The guys are all asleep," Annabel said in a light whisper.
Denise nodded. "I'm glad. They need the sleep." She failed to add, verbally, 'So do we,' but she knew it's what they were both thinking. She felt drowsy but was determined to stay up for Mick's sake.
"eeeehhhhh ehhhhhhTISHOO! EhhhhhhTICHHH!" This time the sneezes woke everyone but Annabel, who was just pulling into Yellow Stone National Park.
"I took 66 to some parkway and bypassed the rest of 42," Annabel said, gloating at a groggy Josh.
Denise, just as groggy but trying to pretend as if she hadn't been sleeping, handed Mick a few tissues. He blew his nose and closed his eyes again. "My head is spinning," he commented with a another sneeze. "ehhhhhh ehhhhh hehhhhhhhTISHHH!"
"It's normal to feel that way with a fever," she said, feeling his hot forehead. "And you haven't eaten all day." Then again, none of them really had. "Just hold tight and—"
"ehhhhhhhhhTISHH! TCHOO! TSHOO! EhhhhhTISHH! EHHHHHTICHOO! TSHOO!"
"Just hold on tight and deal with things as they come, ok?"
"Like your next mission?" They all heard an unfamiliar woman's voice say. Francis opened the side door and invited the woman in. "You're the Road Rules gang, right?"
They all nodded and Josh made the introductions, pausing after Mick's name to say, "He's ok, really, just has a cold." Mick's eyes were tightly closed to the spinning world around him.
"Oh, ok. Well, I bet you're all eager to know what your mission here is about, right?"
They all nodded. Well, all except for Mick, who tried his best to stifle a sneeze "ehhhtichhh!" and excused himself for it.
"I guess I'll tell you, then.
The sat around a table, eating hungrily. Denise felt a little guilty, but it wore off quickly as the food and cold drink helped her throbbing head.
"I feel sorry for Mick," Francis said, looking over at the food they'd bought him.
"Yeah… how's he doing, Deni?" Josh asked. They hadn't told the others about the crying, but sine it happened, Josh had seemed much more concerned.
Denise shrugged. "I can't tell. One moment, he sounds better. And the next, worse. I guess only time will tell. And at least he's managing to sleep a little today…"
"Yeah," Annabel grumbled. "So he won't be tired tonight!"
Denise shot her a mean look, which Annabel deflected with a usual angelic smile.
"Don't get me wrong," Annabel continued. "I love the guy. But I've been driving all day and if I don't get some rest soon…"
Denise understood, as she tried to ignore her pounding headache. "I know what you mean… but it's not like he can help it at all."
"Yeah, yeah. I know…" Annabel finished her food and stood up. "I'm going to talk to the cameras a little bit, and I'll meet you all back inside the Winnie, k?"
They nodded. Denise got up. "And I'll take Mick his lunch. You guys join us when you can?"
Denise brought everything back for him, including the three bottles of orange juice. She walked in on him in mid sneeze. And he was so suddenly startled and embarrassed that the sneeze froze, then went away completely.
"Sorry," Denise said, trying not to seem embarrassed either.
"Hi, Dedi… do, it's ok. I'b… I'b… ehhhhhhhhSHHAAAH! HihhhhhTSHHHH! Ehhhh-eeeeehhhhhhTICHHHH! Uh, sniff, I'b sorry."
"I, um, brought you some food. Francis paid for most of it."
He smiled. "Thaks. Dat was sweet of hib. I'b afraid I'b not too hugry, though."
She nodded. "Well, try to eat a little. For me? Please? And at least drink some juice. It'll help your throat a lot." She hesitated. "How are you feeling, anyway?"
He shook his head. "I feel bloody awful. And… scuse me… but I think I'm goig… goig to.. to… ehhhhhCHISHHH! Ehhhhh ehhhhh ehhhhhhhTISHHH!" He sniffed and rubbed his nose. "Got adythig for the sd… the… ehhhhCHOOO! Ehhhhh hehhhTISHHHH! sniff, for the sdeezig?"
She shook her head. "I can try to find a drug store if you want and get you some different—"
"ihhhhhTCHHH! EhhhhhhTCHHH! HhhehhhhhhhCHISHHHH! IHHHH… EHHCHISHHH!"
"—cold medicine. Blesses, Mick!" she said, handing him some tissues and feeling his forehead. "You're still feverish."
He nodded, sitting up and drinking a little orange juice.
She sat down beside him, pulling the blanket over his lap and wrapping her arm around him. "I dod't feel buch like doig the bissiod, Dedi…" he was on the verge of tears. Sniffing, and looking down, he tried not to let her see. "I'b… sorry."
She hugged him. "Aww, Mick, really, it's ok. We didn't really expect you to."
The boys came in. "How ya doin, Mick?" Josh asked, picking up his coat and handing Francis his.
"I'b ok, Josh," Mick said, rubbing inconspicuously at his nose, trying to look strong and in control. "Thaks for the food Fradcis."
"You gonna eat some lunch and take a little nap while we're out?"
Mick smiled and nodded. "I thick so."
Josh smiled back. "Good. You take care of yourself, Man. Get better soon."
Mick nodded again and waved goodbye to the two of them.
"I'd better get going, too," Denise said, standing up and giving Mick a pat on the arm. "Get some rest, ok? And if you need anything, you know my cell phone number, right?"
He nodded. "Yeah. Dod't worry about be, ok? I'll be alright."
She wasn't about to NOT worry, but she knew he could take care of himself.
FILL YOU IN:
They do the contest. Not sure if this will be written or if another paragraph with a nice transition between these two will be written
"So… who won?" he asked anxiously as they all filed back in later that night.
Josh grumbled and pointed at Annabel and Denise who were both smiling from ear to ear. "Who do you think?"
"Hey! Way to go, you two!" he said, smiling at them. He was always careful not to call them the "girls," as Josh had once. Annabel had blown up at him to an unbelievable level.
"How are you feeling, Mick?" Denise asked, putting her coat down. "You seem pretty chipper."
He nodded. "I thik by teberature's dowd. And by throat feels a bit better."
Denise felt his forehead with the back of her hand. "Yep, you're cooler. Did you manage to sleep while we were gone?"
He nodded. "Yeah, a bit. I guess. Dot as buch fun as I brobably would have had if I'd gode with you all. Was it fud? Or worth it at least?"
Francis laughed. "Not for us… we got to see one of the cabins. And trust me, I'd take the hotel room any day!"
The place grew silent. "So…" Denise finally said, "Where DOES Mick get to sleep tonight?"
It was a question they had all been asking themselves since the contest had been proposed… but they were all a bit scared to answer it.
"Well… he IS a guy…" Annabel said, thinking of the fact that she hadn't had sleep in over a day and a half.
"Yes…" Francis agreed as he formulated a response that wouldn't sound mean. "But he'll be a lot warmer and more comfortable in the hotel room with you…"
Annabel nodded. "But he is feeling better."
Francis nodded back. "But you all will have more room."
There was another silence, broken suddenly by Mick sneezing. He apologized, then spoke up. "To tell you all the truth, add dot to hurt ady of your feeligs, but all thigs beig equal, I'd just as sood sbed the dight here id the Widdie."
They all looked at him, then at each other, and out came an over-whelming chorus of "Sure!"s.
"I bead, well, I've beed sdeezig all day, and I'b all stuffed ub, so I bight sdore… add I'd feel terrible if I kebt anybody awake."
Annabel covered up her laugh with a cough.
Denise sat down next to Mick and patted his back. "Honey, you know we love you." He nodded. "And I don't feel right about letting you sleep out here in the Winnie. You're so sweet to care about us, really. But right now you're the one we need to take care of and help. And sleeping out in the cold… it's not going to help you get better. We can't do much, but make you comfortable and that's not going to be accomplished by having you sleep out here. As nice as you are to care about us, we can't let you do that."
Josh nodded and punched Mick lightly in the arm in play. "She's right, man."
Francis agreed reluctantly. "Sleep in with us at least, Mick. It'll be warmer if anything."
Francis nudged Annabel, who sighed but gave in. "Look, they're giving us a free hotel room. You might as well enjoy it with the WINNERS," she glared at Francis and rubbed her arm. "You can come sleep at the suite with us."
Mick smiled and nodded. "You all are too dice." He coughed, and apologized for his voice. "But, really, I'll be ok just sleebig id here."
Denise wasn't sure. "Really, Mick? You aren't just being the martyr, here, are you?"
He chuckled. "N'Dever, Dedi. Whed I say I'll be ok, I'll be ok."
She gave into her urges and kissed his cheek. "OK, then. But let me give you my cell phone and the number of the hotel where you can reach us, alright?"
He nodded and settled back down on the seat as he watched them all grab their things.
"G'night, Mick. Catch you tomorrow morning." Francis was out the door but waited there for Josh.
Meanwhile, Josh was busy drawing Mick a map of the area. "Now, you have a flashlight, right? The cabin is right there over that bend if you need us. It's about ten minutes if you walk. We'll probably have the fireplace going, so look for smoke."
Mick laughed. "I'b dot a little kid. I cad fide by way all right, Josh. But thanks."
Josh patted him on the back. "Take care, man."
Annabel followed form, kissing Mick on the cheek and giving him a good night hug. "Sleep well. See you tomorrow morning."
He nodded. "You, too. You look really tired."
She laughed. "Yeah, I know. Good night, Mick." She and Josh walked out to wait for the car that would take the girls to the hotel room.
And Denise was left alone with Mick again. "I'd like to take your temp once more, if that's ok," she asked softly, retrieving it from the med kit.
"Go for it."
She slid it into his mouth and under his tongue. "Now we wait…" She pushed his hair back and got out another couple of blankets for him to use. Then she sat down again, beside him as he lay, stretched out on the seat. "Sounds like you're not coughing as much. Is the sneezing any better?"
He shrugged and held his fingers up about half an inch apart to indicate 'a little.'
"That's good. You have enough tissues and all to get you through the night?"
He smiled as she took the thermometer out. "99 exactly. That's wonderful."
He sniffed and blew his nose a few times. "See? I told you. Dow you dod't have to be so worried."
Denise shook her head at him. "And HOW did you know I was worried about you?"
With his eyes closed and his hand rubbing at the side of his nose, he answered her, "I cad tell, Dedise. I cad tell."
She touched his face softly with two fingers, running them from his forehead down to his chin. "I care about you, Mick. I hate to think of you feeling bad, especially when I could help. And, wow, you should have seen yourself this morning. You looked positively dreadful." She paused as he opened his eyes. "I'm glad you're feeling a bit better. Get a good sleep tonight if you can, all right?"
"And call me if you need anything at all."
"Good." She didn't have anything else to say. "I guess… I'll go then. Goodnight, Mick."
He smiled and held both his arms out wide. "Don't I get a hug?"
She hugged him tightly, her arms wrapping around his weak body. "Better now?"
He nodded. "Much."
"Good!" she stood up, paused a moment, then bent down and kissed him quickly, lightly on the lips. "Goodnight," she whispered, turning and leaving as quickly as she could, without looking back.
FILL YOU IN:
It's the next day, and they got a new clue and are on the road to somewhere.
Josh lay, freezing, stretched out on the long couch-seat in the Winnie. Sweat poured from his forehead, but he shook lightly which chill. Though his eyes were closed, Denise could see the tension build in his face. After a minute, his mouth opened and he gave in, sneezing powerfully into his shoulder. Denise stood and crossed over to his gear. She unrolled and unzipped his sleeping bag, gently draping it over him. With a shiver, he opened his tired eyes to see her. He wanted to tell her that he liked being tucked in tightly, he wanted to tell her that he needed a tissue and a glass of water, he wanted to tell her thank you. But all he could do was shiver again and close his eyes. Seeing him continue to shiver, she tucked the blanket around him, letting no air in between him and the cloth, and saw a small smile appear on his face. Denise put her hand flush against his forehead, running it back to pull the bangs from it. She didn't have to say it but, as he shivered again, she did, "It's ok, Josh, just rest now."
He smiled, sighing lightly, and falling into a deep sleep.
Denise slumped in the passenger's seat beside Annabel. "Josh's got it, too," she said with a yawn. "And three of the staff I think, too. At this rate, they'll have to hold off on—"
She heard a sneeze and bent backwards, to the side, to see Francis rubbing his nose.
Denise was getting frustrated. "Ug! And Francis, too!"
Francis frowned, embarrassed. "Sorry, Denise I… huh-HA-CHOO! I… I… huh-HA-CHOOSH!"
Denise shook her head at him. "Look, Francis, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way. It's not your fault at all."
He coughed and rubbed his head. "I can see why Mick's been so.. so… huhhh-HACHOO! HA-CHOO! Hah-HACHOO!" He sneezed into his cupped hand one after the other…
Denise relocated to the seat beside him. Pulling a couple of the tissues out of the box by Mick, she handed one to him, and set the rest next to him for later. She put her hand on his shoulder, rubbing a little at it comfortingly. When the bout of sneezes had finished, she kissed him on the cheek. "I'm sorry, Francis. Anything I can do to make you feel better?"
He shook his head, blowing his nose. "Nah, I'm ok. Thanks, though."
"Well, if you think of anything, let me know, ok? There are some cough drops and stuff over there if you want any of it."
He nodded, sniffing.
Denise settled back in beside Annabel. "How are you feeling?"
Annabel laughed. "I'm fine, I promise you."
Denise nodded, yawning. "Good. Would you mind if I took a nap then?"
"Not at all."
Denise was half asleep already when she mumbled, "At least the guys have some time to rest now…"