Feeling Fine



     The tissue box, one of those designer Kleenex ones with the happy flowers brightly bursting out on each side, sat in the center of the kitchen table. A white tissue popped out of the top in eager wait beneath the bright, hanging kitchen light. It sat between two arms outstretched on the table, covered in sweatshirt down to the backs of the hands. One hand suddenly reached up to snatch a tissue just in time. "hep-Cheew!"


     The sneezer rubbed his nose into the Kleenex, then balled it up and dropped it onto the table. No sooner had he done this, than he shook again. He quickly pulled another urgently to his nose. "hep-Tchoo! hup-Chuhh!" After rubbing his nose again he discarded that tissue on the table with the others. Tired, he closed his eyes and lowered his head down to rest sideways on one arm. He gave a soft, miserable groan and rubbed his fingers beneath his nose. His nose was slightly pink from too much of the wrong sort of attention, his face slightly paler than usual, his eyes quite tired, his dirty blond hair tangled and untidy.


     "Bad cold, Bain?"


     Startled, he pushed the tissues away, sliding them across the table with a cough. He straightened up with a cough, looking up as his roommate, Christina, strode past him to the refrigerator. He coughed to clear his throat. "No," he lied.


     "Yes," she replied, head stuck in the fridge as she pulled out some bread, meat, mayo, and cheese. "You're supposed to be at work, aren't you?"


     "Day off," Bain grunted, sweeping bangs from his face and following through his tangles with cold fingers. "I'm fine." But even as he said it, the tickle of a sneeze was already upon him. He rubbed roughly at his nose with two fingers.


     "Yeah," she said, turning her head as she got out a plate and knife. "You look fine," she said sarcastically, licking her fingers after laying a slice of meat on a piece of bread.


     Grumbling, he pushed off from the table. "I'm..." but he stopped, brow furrowing, hand raising to his nose and mouth. "I'm gonna sneh... sneeze..." he whispered, on the verge of the sneeze, breath catching. "hep-Kerchh!"


     "G'bless you," Chris said casually, cutting the sandwich. "You want half?"


     But he shook his head, standing, sniffling. "Not hungry." Bain headed out of the kitchen to the hallway but paused in the doorway, cupping hand over his mouth again. "hep-Chushh! hep-Keshhh!" He wiped his hand on his sweatshirt, shivered, and went to his bedroom. He didn't much feel like sleeping, having slept straight through most of the morning, but he lay down on the bed anyway. He didn't much feel like being stared at in the kitchen every time he sneezed either.


     He gave another shiver and rolled over in bed. He pulled half of the comforter he was lying upon up and around him so he was rolled in it. But he wasn't very comfortable like this, either. He was warm now, but his head fell awkwardly to the side. So he scooted up and back in the roll until he was hot from effort but his head rested on his pillow. But now he couldn't reach his bedside table for a tissue. So he hopped sideways across the bed, holding the blanket still around him and keeping his pillow to his head. When he reached the side, he sighed, hot and frustrated to realize he'd left the tissues in the kitchen anyway. This didn't keep him from sneezing, of course. "hep-Chew! Hep-Chushh!" Bain buried his nose in the comforter, panting a bit still, expectantly. "heh... hep-Kushhh!" Then he snuffled into the blanket and relaxed. He was still hot and uncomfortable, and was thinking that after all this, he might as well just lie down properly under the covers.


     "You might as well just lie down properly under the covers," Christina laughed, looking in on him through the door he'd not bothered to close. "Need some help?"


     He shook his head, throwing off the blanket for the heat and rubbing the back of his hand against his nose. "No, I'm fine." Bain sat up, not sure what he was sitting up to do, and rubbed at the back of his neck. "I was just about to..." he searched desperately for an excuse.


     Smiling, "About to take a nap because you're sick?"


     He narrowed his eyes at her and sighed. "Just leave me alone, Chris. Please? Get out of here?"


     And she obliged. She gave him a single nod and headed down the hall towards her own bedroom. While she was virtually the only roommate Bain had ever had that lasted more than a week without a fight, it was still times like these that tried his patience with her.


     With nothing to do, he putted around on the computer a while, then considered flopping down in front of the television with a good movie. But that would require getting up, and worse yet, occupying more common space and opening himself up to more attacks from his roommate. "heh..." he turned from the computer, hand to nose and mouth. "hup-Kushh! Hep-Tchew!" He sniffled wetly and rolled his eyes as he remembered forgetting about the tissues. A look out in the hallway told him Christina was using the bathroom, so he swiftly recovered the tissue box he'd left in the kitchen. He returned to bed, hugging it against his chest as he coughed and snuffled with congestion.




     "I'b dot sick!" he insisted loudly, turning over in bed with a cough, his back to her.


     Softly, "I know, you've said. I'm sorry for disturbing you. I just wanted to tell you I'm going out to run errands. Do you need anything from town?"


     He hesitated, feeling bad for yelling. "Do, I'b... sniff, sniff! No, I'm fine."


     Chris hesitated this time, running a hand through her dark blonde hair, blinking as she inspected her roommate. Her eyes were sad, but sparkled. Finally, "All right. I'll see you in a few hours, then."


     "Yeah." And he listened to her footsteps as she went down the hall. He heard the rattle of her keys, and the squeak of the door once as it opened, and again when it was closed and locked behind. Bain coughed again, sitting up, feeling more miserable, if that were indeed possible. He pulled off his sweatshirt, gathered comforter and pillow, and took the Kleenex box with him as he set up in the living room.


     He settled into the warm blanket as the first of the three taped-from-television Back to the Future movies began. He didn't make it past Marty meeting Dr.Brown in the past before falling asleep, Kleenex box squashed between him and the back of the couch.



*          *          *


     A horrendously loud buzzing woke him with a start, and a cough. And a few seconds later he found Christina settling awkwardly on the edge of the couch with two milkshakes in her hand. "For you, Bain," she offered, picking up the remote and fast forwarding through a set of commercials. Marty was currently in the future, riding a hoverboard as a gang chased him. "How're you feeling?" she asked trying to sound innocent.


     "Fine," he replied of course. He didn't want to admit he liked the milkshake, but Chris was famous for them, and this one tasted especially cool and delicious. His nose was tickling, and throat hurt a bit. He felt he could have used a bit more sleep, and grumbled after a particularly violent yawn.


     Chris reached over and placed a hand on his forehead. "Actually, you don't feel the least bit hot," she said, bringing her hand back to feel her own cheeks and forehead.


     "Told you," he said gruffly, sipping on the milkshake through a pleasantly bendy straw. "I'm fine." But his nose certainly had other ideas about that. It tickled fiercely, even as he rubbed at it. He gave in, burying his nose embarrassingly into a tissue. "hep-Chew! Hup-Chumph!" A pause, then a third threatened. "heh... hep-hehh..." but did not prove forceful enough. After blowing his nose briefly, he repeated. "I'm fine."


     She raised an eyebrow to that, and settled herself on the arm of the couch. "G'bless you anyway." One hand held her milkshake which she sipped absentmindedly, the other ruffled and rubbed his hair even more absentmindedly. As another commercial break came, she spoke again. "Back to the Future, hmm? Would have thought you'd pick The Godfather or something of that sort."


     He shook his head with a cough. "The Godfather's for the flu. Something deep to take your mind off your stomach when you're not tired enough to sleep."


     She laughed. "Well, it's good to know you haven't got the flu, then."


      He nodded, mouth hanging open, and took up another Kleenex desperately to cover his panting. "heh...hep...het-hep-Husheew!" The sneeze that had threatened him earlier finally found its way out.


     "G'bless you, Bain," Chris said softly, patting his head again.


     But Bain pushed her away. "Look, I don't need that. Sniff, sniff! I'm fine. Just leave me alone, Chris," he pleaded, looking annoyed and miserable, cheeks flushed not with fever.


     Silently, Christina stood, took his empty milkshake glass, and headed to the kitchen to make dinner for herself. Bain pulled the blanket more tightly around him, covering his face up to his eyes, which stayed on the television, looking tired. He ignored the loud sounds from the adjacent kitchen and fell back to sleep thanks to the gentle, rhythmic ticking of the oven timer. On the television, Marty and the Doc were heaving a fainted Jennifer into the car.


*          *          *


     Bain woke to the sensation of being jolted, moved, and opened his eyes to find that Christina had again perched upon the arm of the couch. The couch was, in fact, the only piece of furniture in their living room, unless one counted the crates which held up the VCR and TV. Chris looked down at him, at first startled to see him awake. Then, she whispered in a soft tone to match the darkness of the room, "Your tape ended a few minutes ago, I'm rewinding it now. I wanted to catch a bit of the news before going to bed, I won't be long."


     Wanting to tell her that was fine, he cleared his throat and started to sit up. But the unmistakable tingle in his nose of an oncoming sneeze seized him again. It was all he could do to snatch another tissue before sneezing. "hep-KUHSH! Hep-Chew! HupChew! Chishhh!" The sneezes felt strong, as if it had been a long time in their coming, and he felt much better after them.


     "G'bless you," Chris said, turning off the television at the end of the real news. There would be weather, commercials, then sports and entertainment following and she never paid attention to those during the news anyway. "I made mini-casseroles for dinner, there's one in the fridge for you. Just eat out of the container if you like and put the rest back in if you don't finish."


     He made to say again that he wasn't hungry, but his stomach grumbled and he knew she'd heard.


     Choosing to ignore the sound, though, she asked, "Do you need anything before I go to bed?"


     Still, she seemed to think he couldn't take care of himself. "I'm fine," he said pointedly. "Good night."


     "Night!" she said cheerfully, though giving a yawn directly after. And she headed back down the hallway to the bathroom. He waited to hear her shower end and the doors to the bathroom then her bedroom open and close. Then he got up, nearly dashing to the fridge and pulling out the casserole. There was a note on top which read, "Drink some orange juice with it. Feel better."


     While he wasn't entirely sure orange juice and pasta casserole would taste very good together, he followed the note's advice and poured himself a glass of orange juice then sat at the kitchen table with a fork and a great appetite. He ate eagerly and steadily, helping himself to two refills of juice before his hunger waned. Feeling full and sniffley, he left the dishes to soak in the sink, returned to the living room, and gathered his things in his arms. It ended up taking him two trips to get it back to his room as he returned for another glass of orange juice, this time with ice.


     Wrapping the blanket around his shoulders and setting both the tissue box and the juice beside the computer, he sat down to check e-mail. He frequently used both items, drinking as if he'd not had much to drink all day. And blowing his nose between frequent sniffles and sneezes. Sneezes which grew so frequent that he completely gave up trying to do anything on the computer at all, and curled up on the bed. He wasn't the least bit tired, having slept so much during the day, and his nose tickled so much that he didn't think he would have been able to sleep if he had been tired. He turned, curled, his back to the door as the strip of light beneath the door stared brightly up at him, mocking him for not being more tired.


     "heh-Keshhh! hup-Chishh! Sniff! Sniff!" He blew his nose and dropped the tissue onto the ground in the small pile that had developed by the side of his bed. It seemed like hours since he'd laid down, and his sneezes had not backed down yet. He was more tired, this was true, but seemed more sneezey as well. At this rate, he'd not be able to sleep again until his cold passed. Assuming it would pass at all.


     He was growing weak, nose hurting to rub or blow it. But the sneezes continued. "hep-Kushh! huh...hup-Tchew! Hep-Tchew! Sniff! Sniff! Sniiiiff!" Bain shivered beneath his blankets and pushed at the three pillows he had stacked beneath his head. They made his head feel a bit clearer, "hep-KETchew!" but he was still sneezey. And in the dark, seemingly endless night, it felt as though he'd been there for hours.


     In reality, it had been nearly two hours when the door to his room opened and the feminine figure of his roommate was silhouetted in the hallway's light. "G'bless you, Bain." She came in, closing the door behind her.


     The room was silent, aside from a few wet sniffles from Bain as she crossed the room. Their eyes readjusted to the dark quickly, finding Christina pulling down the covers and sliding into his bed. She was wearing her usual night attire, a thin nightshirt and socks. Still, she was warm as she came behind him in the bed on the cold winter night.


     "Wha?" Bain asked, plucking another tissue out of the box just in time to catch two more sneezes. "hep-Chew! Hep-Kushhh!" He blew his nose and dropped the balled up tissue again weakly.


     Chris, her arm over the blankets, ran her hand through his hair soothingly, then pushed her body right up against his back, spooning him. "I could hear you through the wall." She didn't ask how he felt, but she didn't need to.


     "Chris, I really dod't feel so good," he snuffled, taking another tissue and rubbing his nose.


     "Shhh," she calmed him. "I know." She hugged him close and continued to stroke her hand through his hair. "I want you to relax. Don't worry about the tissues unless you've got to blow your nose. Just relax and lie still. I'll keep you warm, I'll help you to sleep."


     He sighed, rubbing at his nose for what he hoped would be the last time, pulled his arms under the covers and closed his eyes. Bain took a deep sigh as he felt her warm arm wrap over him. "hepCHISHH!" he sneezed freely, feeling a bit embarrassed again. But he felt her squeeze him in a hug again reassuringly. So he sniffed and closed his eyes again with a strong yawn. Only minutes later, he managed to fall to sleep.


*          *          *


     "G'morning," Christina greeted him, sitting down on his bed and handing him another milkshake.


     A little shyly, Bain took it from her and scooted up against his pillows to sit and drink it. Chris was still wearing her nightshirt bit lounged across the bed, legs crossed, a pleasant smile on her face as she looked up at him.


     "You snored dreadfully last night," she said, reaching up casually and pulling his covers up to his waist. "Still feeling sniffley this morning?"


     He nodded. Two sneezes had quickly followed his wake-up yawn. And his throat felt raw and dry. Halfway through the milkshake, when his cheeks had reached a red level of embarrassed flush, he finally spoke, "Chris, why'd you cobe id last dight?" He rubbed at his nose in annoyance at the stuffiness, wincing at the pain.


     She shrugged, reaching up and messing his hair. "Why, didn't it help?"


     Bain nodded. "It felt very good. I deeded it." He sniffed loudly, and rubbed at his nose. "Needed it," he clarified.


     Chris flashed a brief smile. "Well then, don't go complaining."


     "I wasd't. I just--"


     "Drink the rest of the milkshake," she interrupted. Then, in the pause that followed, explained, "I just want my roommate to start feeling fine again, all right? And you needed me." She looked as if she might lean in and kiss him, but instead sat up, stretched and proceeded to her own room.  In the doorway she paused, hair flying over her shoulder as she turned her head with another smile. "Besides, you let me."