* All resemblance to persons or events in real life is purely inspirational *

"It would have to rain," Austin moaned, staring out the window of my apartment from where he sat at the table. "Guess we'll need to move it inside after all."

I emerged from the bedroom and did a quick turn. "Do I look alright for a best man?"

He grinned and threw his hand over his heart in wild overacting, "Just smashing, dahling!" That's what I got, being friends with a director.

"Don't sweat the rain. It was raining on your first date. Maybe this is a good… a good sign." Unconsciously my hand patted at my back pocket, finding my handkerchief stationed where it belonged. It was a good sign for me, as well. Blessed with an absolutely terrible case of hayfever, I'd been dreading the outdoor wedding of two of my best friends for months now. It was late spring, which meant the season of allergens just as much as the season of romance.

"Yeah, maybe. What's the time?"

I checked my watch, then double-checked with the microwave clock. "Quarter past noon. Do you want to head over? Might be nice to… arrive early." The usual tingles were already wreaking havoc in my nose. But very much unlike normal, they amounted to nothing at all but a little annoyance. I barely noticed it at all.

"Sure, man. Let me go get my umbrella from the bags and page the limo driver." He'd already packed his whole house for their honeymoon. Four bags in all… and they say men pack light! Sheesh…

I took the time to look myself over once more in the mirror. 'Smashing' had been a good word for him to use on me. My usually rambunctious dirty blonde hair was fluffed neatly in place, parted down the middle, with streaks of amber running through it with beautiful symmetry. My face was filled with color, a nice change from the gloomy pallet I wore to the office every morning where bags of sleep hung like weights from my eyes and dullness was outdone only by paleness. My bright blue eyes were sparking with happiness-or was it pride? And my formal tuxedo did my well-built body up nicely—better than my typical attire of a suit and tie. Yes, quite the looker. Too bad I didn't have a date; no doubt I'd be paired up with the two bridesmaids. As much as I adored Christine, her friends were a bit too much on the shallow side to make any conversation during meals worthwhile. Yes, this would be a beautiful wedding, but one long night. Shaking off my natural pessimism, I collected my own umbrella and thought, as I hovered by the closet, to wear sneakers instead. Stepping by mistake into puddles while wearing dress shoes simply would not do. So I changed them and put mine in a plastic bag as Austin emerged.

"All set," he held up his umbrella in statement. "Let's get this show on the road!"

We darted out to the limo and climbed into the short ride of comfort. It was quite nice. I hadn't been in a limousine since prom night so many years before; and I hadn't properly enjoyed it then, either. I say either for I spent the entire time this time trying to convince Austin that everything would be all right. He had a suspicious feeling that something dreadful was going to happen. But that was Austin, always worrying.

* * *

"Sorry," he sniffed, shivering.

"S'okay, Austin," I lied, trying to keep my teeth from chattering. "This is your day."

He finished lacing up my shoes over my socks as I lay his wet ones out on the arm of a chair to dry out by the heater.

When I looked up at him, I saw his face scrunch up. I knew that look all too well. His eyes rolled back, and a heavy buildup started stronger and louder than any I had ever heard. "Huuhh… HeeeUhhhh…" His hand groped blindly as his eyes rolled back, finding a solid place to lean his weight upon—my shoulder. His other arm flailed, his chest heaved, and his whole body drew back. "Huuuhhh… hhhehhhhhuuhhh… Heeeehhhh…" He froze, making a show of the pause as his mouth turned down into a frown and opened to emit the heavy, "HEHshoo!" he sneezed wetly, freely towards me. Then he paused in place, leaning against me still as the force had propelled him there, still shivering.

I looked over his person, as he dried his wet hair with a towel. His tux was still dry, and thus most of him was in tact. We'd simply met with a rather deep puddle on our out of the limo, and a rather uninviting drain spout on our way into the Church.

"Heeeeeehhh… HIHshhoo!" it came in a double, bending my scrawny friend in half. He whined softly, "My nose!" and shivered again with a whimper.

"Oh for goodness sakes!" I said, offering over the handkerchief I had stashed in my back pocket for myself. I hated to admit it, but I was just as chilled as he, and my nose was going into overtime. But I knew Austin. He was eccentric, and I loved him for it. But he was also the biggest perfectionist known to man, and if I were to let out one word of complaint he'd murder me right there in cold blood.

"Thacks," he snuffled, just barely, as he honked away with blows. Poor guy. Last thing he needed was a chill and pneumonia on his wedding day. "Guess we'll be having it inside after all. Oh, and thanks, man," he said, thrusting the used hanky back in my direction.

"Ah, you keep it," I told him weakly, turning my eyes away so he couldn't see them roll. "Why don't you make sure things get set up just how you like them for the ceremony. Go direct, it's what you do best."

He gave a laugh. "All right. Just give a holler if Christine comes. Can't let her see me before the wedding!"

I laughed back at his inflated sense of self-importance. "I think the superstition is that you're not allowed to see her—"

"Whatever! Just lemmie know." And with that he spun around and headed for the main room.

I waited until the door was closed to sniff, and was rather glad I did, as the sound was more liquidy that I'd hoped for. I pulled a tissue from my pocket and blew my nose, find to my joy (and please note the sarcasm) that I was developing quite a runny nose. To top that off, my sinuses were a bit clogged, and I could feel the pressure building between my eyes. I sniffed again and dabbed at my nose again. I was taking such time to assess the damage, you see. After years of living with horrendous allergies, you tend to get rather good at judging them from the signs. Sunny days in spring, trees pollinating, and instantly itchy eyes meant a sinus headache and a bit of nose blowing. The neighbors cutting the lawn in mid summer always led to an attack of sneezing heard on the other side of the world. Rain could be tricky, though. Molds and spores… yes, they could be tricky. They played on my nose in a very unique way. First they caused stuffiness. And usually a headache or sore throat from that. Sometimes they could cause full-blown sneezing attacks. Other times, just an abnormally runny nose. Now, build in being stuck in an old Church with space heaters only and enough damp, dank places to be counted on both hands; add on my own wet hair and having to wear my friend's wet shoes and perhaps socks for hours; add on the fact that the last two days of spring had left my nose a bit sore from sneezes… and you have a mixture that could be deemed beyond tricky. So, you can clearly see why I was paying so much attention.

Or can you? Perhaps I have not made myself clear. I do not sneeze in public! Ok, yes, laugh all you like, but that's the plan fact of the matter. And I can tell you why, too. Because of all the people. Yes, I know you're all laughing again, but it's true. From as far back as I can remember, I've hated it. I've hated the stares, the eyes pouring down upon me all of a sudden, as if it's something I wanted. I've hated the snickers at my extra loud sneezes. I've hated the looks then the worse sudden-look-aways if it happens to be a messy sneeze and my hand could not reach my nose in time. I've hated it all. So from as far back as I can remember, I've taken steps to control them. The first step is to figure out what was to come. The second is to do anything I could to hold everything back, down to the tiniest attention-grabbing sniffle; whether that means discretely rubbing my nose or holding my breath, or losing my train of thought to will it away. The third step is to sniff. Yes, it attracts a bit of attention, but it is far better than a full-blown sneeze, or a fit, and many times a few sniffs will end a building tickle in my nose. The fourth step, if numbers two and three have not worked, is to search out the nearest private place at once. During hayfever season I could literally map out every public restroom from here to Kalamazoo. It's gotten to the point where not only do I duck into restrooms but into stalls… and sometimes, if the sneeze proves to be especially strong or wet, I wait for everyone to leave. Of course, there is the rare occasion when steps two, three and four fail me. And in those cases, I must resort to step five, which is to bury my nose in a thick handkerchief and pinch my nose shut, thus stifling the sneeze and muffling any sound, as well as covering any and all occasion for visual displeasure by any who look. And, yes, unfortunately, they still do look. It's all I can do to wipe my nose and mumble an apology before my face flushes tomato red. I dare not blow my nose in public, either. Almost always I can maneuver around it long enough to duck out to a corner, turn my back, and blow, or better yet find an uncharted and heavenly restroom. Yes, I had it down to an art, and rather grateful that at present I was only on step one. My favorite of the steps, if I had to pick a favorite. Though I must admit there is a bit of thrill in step two, when I block them as they come, keeping the little daemon tickles at bay.

"Sniff!" blasted nose. Step three had come involuntarily and too soon for my liking. I decided to lie down on the bench, in hopes of keeping my nose from running too much. Sometimes if I tilted my head back and kept to sniffing, it would block the feeling. "Sniff!" So far it wasn't working, but things like that just took time.

I rubbed my nose. Back to step two. I rubbed again, a little harder.