Meredith sat slumped in the great armchair, gazing as the flames of the fire danced their famous dance for her. She had a bad cold in her nose and as a result, Thomas had insisted she sleep in the living room. He had always claimed that he had not been ill a day in his life and such certainly wasn't about to happen now. She, on the other hand, seemed prone to every little cold bug that drifted into the house, and with no warm bed of familiar comfort and no strong arms to hold and reassure her, recovery was miserable and slow.

            "UptChishh!" she sneezed carefully into her lace handkerchief, rubbing at her nose afterward to catch the runs. Her nose felt awfully sore, and she longed to feel Thomas' soft kisses against it. "UpTEHChish! UptChhh! HuptChoo!" She recognized her nose's games straight away and quickly put two slender fingers beneath her nose. Meredith felt the cold wetness of her runny nose against her fingers, but she dared not pull them away, feeling the tickles build insatiably in her nose. Her fingers were growing wet, her breaths short and deep, but she held the very sensation back as hard as she could with every fiber of her will. The running was beginning to overpower her fingers, and made the tip of her nose tickle as well. She held her breath, determined to hold back the mighty sneezing fit. Her nose fought back, plowing over her devices, causing a strong, terribly wet, "Uptussshhhhh! heh-heh-up..." the sensation gave in and backed away from her threats. Quickly she took the hanky to her nose, wiping her fingers, then blowing skillfully, clearing one nostril at a time, then pushing her fingers into her nostrils through the soft cloth to fully clear out all wetness.

            It was a routine she went through at least every half an hour, and one she had begun only the previous day after she complained of feeling a wee bit tired and sneezey. Thomas had practically fled for the day, claiming appointments for work and society. She knew he was simply making excuses, as he had this morning-- too busy to have breakfast with her, too busy to be home in time for dinner. Of course he adored her... it was her sneezey nose he was not so fond of.

            "Ode day," she snuffled, closing her eyes as a soft smile grew on her face, "he will catch cold and I'll sniff bay hib so buch attedtion that he'll feel terrible for all these tibes."

            Suddenly, an idea popped into her head. She would make him catch her cold. She would spread her germs all over the house, into his bed pillow, into his hankies, into the powder room... she sometimes fantasized about Thomas in the throws of a simply terrible, uncontrollable sneezing fit. She had never so much as heard the man blow his nose, but that, too, she grew warm and curious about. To see his proper, efficient hands give way to a tickle and rub at his nostrils. To watch his nose crinkle, his face fall, his eyes flutter closed. To have his strong, sturdy body buckle at a sneeze. To hear him admit in a stuffy, weak voice, "I hab a code, Beredith."

            She shook her heard. Mischief was far beneath a woman of her stature and intelligence, even in a cold-weakened state. As much as she would love to see her Thomas, Mr.I-NEVER-get-sick, sniffle and snuffle, if it happened, it would not be her doing.

            Meredith heard the front door open and close with a roar of rain, then heard the click and clunk of an umbrella closing and being tossed to the side. Thomas hated sudden downpours, and went to great lengths to avoid every single drop of rainwater that was aimed in his direction. He had a particular art to it, umbrella held close, coat cover turned up, goulashes pulled up over the cuffs of his slacks, scarf over his face, two pairs of gloves forced onto his hands, and a slick topcoat. "Meredith?! Austin?!" The yell pulled her upright, and she brought one blanket around her shoulders as she went to him in the hall. 

            She couldn't help but smile to see his appearance. Thomas stood there in a puddle of water, as soggy and wet to the bone as a drenched dog. He even had raindrops dripping from his hair to his face and rolling down his neck to his chest beneath his shirt. "What id God's dabe..."

            "Foolish of me sniff to think I could beat the storm. Car broke down halfway home and I was forced to wait in the rain for a lift home. Please, Dear, pry this soggy mess off me!"

            She nodded, obeying, taking his hat, coat, shoes. "You should change right away." She touched his cheek. "You're chilled. That's dot healthy. Go chadge, Darlig."

            He nodded, taking her hand. "Please help? I've had such a long day and I feel simply useless drenched like this."

            Austin, one of the house servants quickly paddled into the room. "You called for me, Sir?"

            Thomas nodded as he started up our great, curving flight of stairs. "Pick those up and tend to the wet floor, please."

            Austin nodded. "As you wish, Sir. Take care not to get a chill; you'll catch a cold, I daresay."

            Thomas chuckled. "It is medically proven fact that sniff one cannot catch cold from being out in the rain. Besides, I never get ill."

            Austin nodded, and began cleaning up. Tomas led Meredith into the bedroom, where he sat down on the bed, holding his arms out. "Undress me, Darling."

            Trying her best to contain her sniffles and sneezes, she gathered for him a change of clothing. Tenderly, she stripped off his suit coat, tie, shirt, undershirt, cummerbund, slacks, underwear, socks, then dressed him again, in slacks and a stylish shirt and sweater for warmth.

            As she was finishing with his socks, kneeling on the floor, she felt the same twinge of tickles in her nose and a great sense of urgency gripped her. Two fingers quickly plugged her nostrils once more, and her breath was held in. Her other hand, continued to yank at his sock. She looked up to see that his eyes were closed and his head almost completely covered with the thick towel he was using to dry his hair. Feeling her nose run, and continue to tickle madly, she realized she was going to sneeze at least once and there was no stopping it. She turned her head and pushed her nose into her shoulder as hard as she could, muffling the sound as the sneezes barreled out quickly. "Umptchah! Uhhtchum! Umptph!" Quickly she looked up, expecting him to recoil and scold her.

            His head was still covered with towel. When he lowered it, he tilted his head a few times quickly sticking his finger into his ear. Apparently, he even had water inside his ear, the poor dear. He sighed when it cleared and stood. "Thank you, Darling. Have you eaten already?"

            She nodded. "Sobe soub ad tea to durse by cold."

            A look of shock and recognition passed over his face. "Oh yes," he pulled back a bit. "I'd, uh, nearly forgotten about that. How, er, are you feeling?"

            Meredith smiled politely; this was more like him. "A little better, though by dose still gives be sniff broblebs."

            He nodded, rising, walking quickly to the doorway and opening it. "Glad to hear it. I'd best get some dinner, myself. I'll check on you before I retire to bed if you'd... you'd..." he stopped, eyes transfixed on a point just behind her, as if it were the most fascinating wall he'd ever seen in his life.

            She turned around to see what was suddenly so startling and important but as soon as her head was turned, her ears were invaded by a strange grunt of a sound. "Erghuh!" Her head whipped around to see his eyes closed and his hand lowering from mid-chest back to its place at his side.

            Meredith decided not to ask what it had been, assuming he'd only cleared his throat or adjusted the tightness of his tucked-in shirt. "I should love if you checked od be before bed, Darlig. Thack you."

            He nodded, quickly heading out. "As you wish, my Dear."



            Meredith dozed by the fire, a book of Shakespeare's sonnets open and neglected on her lap. She woke to a gentle hand on her shoulder and looked up, eager to see her husband. Instead, it was Clara, the kitchen servant with another blanket and a cup of warm tea for her. Meredith smiled and thanked her. "Goodnight, Mrs.O'Henry." She took the book off her lap and placed it delicately on the side table. "Do you need anything else?"

            Meredith shook her head. "Thack you, Dear. Sniff! I'll sniff, sniff, sniiiff! I'll be all right."

            With a nod. "The Master wanted me to tell you he was truly exhausted and retired to bed very early. He barely ate a bit of food at dinner he was so weary."

            Meredith nodded. "Thack sniff, sniff, you. Sniff!"

            "Sweet dreams, Mrs.O'Henry."

            "Sniff! Sabe to you sniff." She waited for the maid to leave before taking a new handkerchief from the pile on the side table and blowing her nose gently, wetly. She'd needed that greatly.

            Meredith reached over and turned off the lamp, letting the crackles and warmth of the fire substitute for her husband's familiar breathing and body as she fell to sleep.



            "HUURRRSHAHHH!" The sound echoed through the house, jarring her from a peaceful sleep. It was the closest thing to a roar she had heard since their trip to the zoo. One of the dogs, perhaps? A car engine backfiring? A dropped cake in the kitchen? "Clara?" she called out.

            A full minute or so longer, the young girl came in, looking worked and flustered. "Yes, M'am?" she asked quickly.

            "What was that soud, Dear?"

            Clara's face fell from stressed to bemused smiling. "I'd forgotten you have not been up this morning yet. That, Mrs.O'Henry, was the sound of your husband sneezing due to a very nasty cold in his nose."


            Meredith's eyes opened widely in recognition. "You're jokig!"

            The maid shook her head. "No, M'am. A full case of the sniffles and sneezes, has he. Probably from the chill he took in the rain yesterday, or from yours. Either way, he's running the staff all over with chores and complaints. Perhaps you can deal with him?" She handed over a tray of tea. "And bring him this, as well?"

            Meredith laughed, despite herself. What an interesting turn of events this was! She told Clara to apologize to the other servants for her on his behalf. Then she dawned her robe and traveled up the stairs to see Thomas. She poked her head around the corner cautiously, to observe him without him seeing her. She needn't have worried about being seen, though, as Thomas appeared to be in no condition to notice a gun pointed to his head. He lay under ten layers of blankets, with half a dozen pillows propping him up halfway in bed. A handkerchief rested in each hand, the one in his left was neat and folded. The one in his right was rumpled and used, and currently being held a few inches in front of his face. Speaking of his face, it was tired, worn, fallen. His mouth hung open, nose wrinkled, powerful nostrils flared, eyes squinting closed. He pulled back to draw a mighty, deep breath, then fell forward to expel a sneeze, "HURRRAHHSHHAH!" He left his nose in his handkerchief to blow it wetly and rub at it. With a few sniffs, he righted himself, then impatiently called out, "Clara?! Austin? Ralph! Tea!"

            Meredith took that as her cue. "Good bordig, Dear," she chirped, making the man jump and scurry to make himself look presentable. "Stayig at hobe today after a hard week at work?"

            He nodded, hiding evidence of his handkerchiefs beneath the covers. "Thought I would reward myself with a day off. Thank you for sniff bringing sniff up the sniff tea." He cautiously rubbed at his nose, then held it tight between three fingers, then in his whole fist. "Urm-huh! Ehrph-huh! Sniff!"

            Meredith realized the sound she'd heard the evening before had indeed been one of his sneezes, simply contained. She wondered how it was at all possible to retain such a mighty sneeze as his. "God Bless you, Dear."

            He shook his head. "Not sniff not a sneeze. I never get sick."

            "Ah," she said, correcting herself, "That's right. Sorry."

            He nodded, taking the tea and sipping it with comfort. "Quite all right."

            She sat down on the edge of the bed to watch him.

            "You're not sniff leaving?"

            "It's by roob, too. I'd like to stay a while. To... helb you relax."

            He put down the tea, looking uncomfortable. "Uhh... you do not have to bother with such. I'll be fine."

            "Of course you will..." she noticed his face scrunching up once more. He lifted his hand to try to rub away the tickle but he misjudged his time. The powerful sneeze plowed forth before he could stop it, "HUURRUUUMMMPHHXGHT!" he tried to squeeze the last of it off, looking up timidly at her, his hand rather covered at this point.

            “God Bless you.”

            “I'm not sick. There must be dust in here. That Clara never dusts as sniff as well as is needed.”

            “Mmmm,” Meredith mused, smiling at him pleasantly. “If you say so.”