Snapshot of Alexander Churchelle




     I have lived here at the most dignified Oakton's Academy for Boys for four years now. Always in the fourth room on the left on the second floor by the stairs. And until this year, always in the bed by the window where it looks out over the river. At night I would look up from my pillow, up at the stars as they sailed slowly across the sky with the moon, knowing that really I was the one moving. Moving yet lying still in my bed. Always moving, that was me. I was a member of half the school clubs, even officer of a few of them. I had the sort of scholastic record some boys could only dream of, though it did not come as easily for me as it did for the top students in the class.  


     "So how's your new roommate working out for you, Churchie?" That's me he's talking to, Alexander Churchelle. And the one talking to me across the lunch table with his mouth full is Benjamin Hopkins, a good friend since day one.


     I roll my eyes and pretend to faint with frustration into my pudding. "The chap's a complete nightmare, I'm telling you!" I picked at my food, not really feeling like eating it now. "Did I tell you about last night?" He shakes his head, and I lower my voice. "I'm doing homework, right. And he heads off to bed dreadfully early. I mean it's not even ten o'clock. Madness! So I'm there at my desk working at the Latin, going from paper to text to the dictionary, right? And he has the nerve to speak up from across the room. 'Keep it down!' he says, cause he's trying to sleep and the sound of the paper and the pen is keeping him up! So I try to be quiet, right? Only then the light from my desk is hurting his precious little eyes so he can't fall asleep. I dunno what I shouted back, but he looked at me with those stern brown eyes, threatening to tell that I wasn't cooperating. Because, of course, the precious perfect one needs his sleep. So I ended up collecting my books and papers and going out to sit on the floor of the hallway outside my door to finish my homework. I got a crick in my neck from it and everything. But I ask you, what sort of a man goes to bed before ten o'clock then complains of the smallest noise bothering him?" I bang my spoon down on the table. I've lost my appetite completely. "Why must I get stuck with the git?"


     "Because Thomas is the one who left end of last year and it's easier than rearranging all the rooms around just to accommodate the new bloke." That was Teddy, Theodore Wellington if you want his full name. Full of logic and not afraid to speak it no matter how frustrating the result is.


     I push my pudding across the table to him with a scowl. His dark eyes light up happily though he ends up going halves with Ben.



     At the close of lunch, I bid them farewell as I head off to practice. Every Thursday I get the afternoons off from classes, but it's filled with meetings and a three-hour practice. I'm on the school's rowing team. I'm a sweeper, that's one of the rowers if you didn't know. They say I'm good enough for the Oxford rowing team though I've my heart set on going to Trinity if truth be told. I've a bit of a thing for that place, pumping out so many lovely writers as it does. Just don't tell my parents. And usually I'm thrilled to pieces, as cheesy as that sounds, at an afternoon practice. The early morning ones are grand, with the morning sun glancing off the river so beautifully as it does. But practice in the middle of the day just has a way of helping me get out all my aggressions and breaks up the tediousness of classes, classes, and more classes.


     I must confess, however, that practices have grown much less enjoyable this year. He's brilliant in his position, it's true, but my bloody roommate was named coxswain for our shell. Which means he's the one steering and the one barking out our orders. It's bad enough that I have to put up with him in my room, but also in my boat. He's fantastic at his job, there's no denying that. He's developed new patterns that helped us increase our strokes per minute. And we won our first match this year by such a margin that even I found myself clapping him on the back. But that doesn't mean I enjoy putting up with him.


     I'm in the number six spot, which means there's at least someone else sitting between him and me. Which is lucky for him because there are moments I would rather jump up and strangle him than listen to him harp about how our rhythm is a split second off. I know the yelling helps us in the long run, but when Clarence was our coxswain, I had no urge to throw him off the boat and hold his head under the water.


     "We're going to do it today," I hear a whisper in my ear as I pull on a sweater. It's dreadfully chilly outside and I could use the extra layer today. I look around to see Marcus Terall walking away, backwards, giving me a great grin. My eyes must have betrayed my enthusiasm, for his grin widened and he held up three fingers. He bent each, one by one in countdown, then threw his hands up as though to mime a huge explosion.


     There's a jump in my stomach. An evil sort of flutter which even swallowing a few times doesn't get rid of. We'd talked about it a few times in secret, but I never thought we'd actually do it. But here it was. And it couldn't have come at a better time to me. It was only early fall and I had another nine months to put up with the guy. At least this would help.


     Practice turns out to be grueling. The coaches kept demanding more and more. Not to mention the demands of our beloved little coxswain, looking all cocky and serious. Of course we wanted to win, but really what was winning without having fun? I think we must have rowed a hundred power tens before we were done for the day. Finishing up, I look over and see Terall give the signal. We're nearing the bank. It was going to happen now. My heart counts down the seconds with its beats, until the rush overtakes me and the yell sounds in my ears, "Three, two, one... NOW!" We all of us jump from the boat, giving it a tip with our hand at the same time to send it over on its side. Well, not all of us. Our adored coxswain is still aboard and goes all the way under with it.


     The laughter is deafening. We laugh uncontrollably as we stand there, knee-deep in the water. We hang off each other for support as we shake with laughter, watching him surface, coughing and sputtering and fuming with anger. A few moments pass. I take one last instant to enjoy the scene, then compose myself. I reach a hand out to help him up but he splashes at me. Luckily I have more than an ounce of sense and jump back but the message is received loud and clear. The normally quite dignified Robert B. Thorington the Fourth does not, apparently, want help getting out of the icy cold water. So be it. The others continue to laugh contagiously, and the laughter breaks back out of me again. We head out, dragging the heavy shell out with us. Robert stands at last, trying to look as though the small prank had not fazed him. But as he hits the slope of the bank, he slipps and lands face-first back into the shallow water. We roar with laughter, and this time I do not bother to offer a helping hand. He grumbles and crawls a few paces before rising and marching out of the water.


     I could have died. I really could have. Oh, the memory of his face, looking startled and full of understanding as he tipped over onto his side with the boat. He had tried to call out and must have caught a mouthful of water at it. And the look on his face as he surfaced, then slipped back in again. It was like the river itself had been annoyed at him and couldn't resist an extra jab. It was delightful.


     We carry the boat back to the boathouse, still laughing. We find, upon arriving, that we'd lost an oar in all the commotion and several of us go back to scour the bank for it, hoping that the river, which had been lazy and working against us, had not carried it too far away. Luckily, it hadn't. I pick it up and volunteer to take it back to the boathouse, then hurry over to the locker room to catch up.


     I'm not sure much could ruin an afternoon like today's. Not even having to head back to my room to face Robert B. Thorington the Fourth. Apparently, he had vacated the locker rooms before anyone else had returned from putting the boat away so none of us had seen him since. But as I cautiously open the door to my room, I find he's not here either. The room is quiet, serene. It almost reminds me of the room back when it was mine and Thomas'. Though in those days, my bed had been the other one, the one by the window where I would look out at the stars and moon all night long.


     "Had a good enough laugh?"


     My head snaps to the doorway to see Robert there, a towel over his head which he was using to dry his hair. And though he's changed his clothes and dried his face, he still looks a lot like he had coming out from the water, cold and wet. "Good enough," I confirm. No use denying it after all. "You had dinner yet?" The least I could do was try and make peace.


     But apparently he wasn't biting. "No, but I've no intention to eat with you. I can just see you and your ruddy friends now, laughing at me. No thank you. I'll take dinner later."


     I shrug and grab my pack. "Suit yourself. See you later." Nothing but silence follows this. With all of my luck for the day, there's Ben and Teddy heading out of their room now to go down to dinner. Excitedly I hurry over, putting an arm around each's shoulders as I butt in between to tell them of the news. They both agree Robert had it coming.



     After dinner I set up in the floor lounge to work, not wanting to go back to my room and knowing Robert certainly wasn't going to come to the lounge to do his work. He was one of those absolutely brilliant types who finished school work fast and early and was annoyed by the rest of us who took longer at it. While living with Thomas, I preferred working at my desk at every opportunity. But this year the lounge was a welcome change to Robert's scoffs and snorts as I stop to look up dates or double-check facts.


     "How's Robert?" That's Marcus Terall, and I can tell even before I turn my head that he's smiling.


     I turn, resting a bent arm sideways on the back of my chair. "He's back in the room sulking. I think he'll probably be sore at me for a while but it doesn't seem to have hurt his pride any."


     "What a pity," Terall replies, sitting down on the edge of the table beside my books. "I would have jolly well thought a blow like that would have made him think twice before being all regal and big headed." I am inclined to agree, but that's not Robert B. Thorington the Fourth. Robert doesn't need to be told he's a prat; he already knows. And he enjoys it. And it's none of us who'll show him he shouldn't when he gets ahead just fine being who he wants to be regardless.


     But then Terall leans closer and speaks in a hushed whisper, "You know what I heard from Petre who heard from Rogers who heard from Clarke?" I shake my head of course. "They head that after practice he went straight over to administration building and didn't come out for two whole hours."


     "Blimey!" I look around to be sure no one heard that. No one seemed to have. "What do you think he was doing?"


     He shrugs. "Chewing us out, I s'ppose. Wasn't a very nice thing we did to him, was it?"


     "But it was only a little prank. We've done it a half dozen times before. You all did it to me two springs ago when I insisted on rowing with that sprain in my arm and it cost us two minutes... no mind that I couldn't use my arm for weeks after."


     Terall reached over and ruffled my hair. "You were such an idiot. We had to get Rutger to fill in for you and he was pathetic as a seven." The memory was quite painful, actually. I'd thought I was so tough. Spot seven was a very important one on the boat. It was the seventh man who had to use the most force, the most strength with his strokes. And it was he who set the rhythm. When my arm had given way, it killed our stroke and smashed us into the side. And never again could I row with quite the same amount of umph. I had really done a number on my arm and had to settle with being sixth the next season when I'd recovered. But if I kept icing it I could still use it all right. Wasn't as if I was out of the sport forever.


     But the thought of Robert going to the administration complaining about us... "That dirty fink! And to think I asked him to dinner."


     I don't think I've ever see Marcus Terall's eyes grow quite as wide as they suddenly just do before me. "You think he told? But it was only a joke! You don't think they'll reprimand us for something like that, do you?"


     I shrug. Truth is I don't doubt it. They've expelled boys for worse, certainly, but nothing quite this trivial had actually been brought to the administration before to my knowledge. Maybe they would reprimand us for it.


     "If they meant to do something to us, wouldn't they have approached us already today? At dinner or in our rooms after practice?" He seems to be thinking along the same lines as I am.


     "Perhaps they mean to make an example of us tomorrow, and make the punishment good effective Friday after classes. We've got our plans in town this weekend, maybe they'll take away those privileges and restrict us to campus for the weekends, or all the weekends even."


     His eyes grow even wider at this. "No! But we've got to go into town! I've been waiting all week to check out the new fashions. And I hear the new album finally came in." He sighs and closes his eyes. "I bet they approach us at breakfast tomorrow. That's just like them. The dean will be wearing that smile and he'll pull us aside and talk as though he's whispering--"


     "--when he's actually being so loud that everyone in the hall can hear?" Terall nods in agreement and I suddenly feel sick at the thought of losing town privileges or being suspended from classes. That would go on my record. My lovely permanent record full of awards and achievements and top grades and leadership positions and all other sorts of excellence. It figured that bloody Robert B. Thorington the Fourth would be the one to ruin it all for me.


      My books and papers get crammed back into my bag and I tear away from the lounge with a grunt. The lounge is the furthest spot from my room that there is on the second floor. So there's a good walk to cool down a little. I don't want to come right out and accuse him. A slippery sod like him would have a good excuse for being there worked out already. But I certainly don't want to let the matter go.


     When I throw the door open, there he is, sitting on his bed which used to be my bed, reading a book which used to be my book, wearing pajamas which, well, those were his all right. Hard to miss, crimson satin with his initials in script on the breast pocket.


     "Back so soon?" he asks, looking oddly startled. He closes the book and puts it aside.


     Feeling like an idiot but unable to resist the urge to do so, I walk over and snatch the book away from him. "You could have asked," I say, shaking the heavy hardback in his face. "Just because I helped tip you over in a boat doesn't mean I owe you my possessions." I feel terribly childish even while doing it but take the book back, slamming it down on my desk. I've absolutely no intention of reading it, but I don't want his ruddy hands on it, that's for sure. I glare at him, trying my best to look mean. I'm told I don't do mean very well. "Well? Don't say sorry, will you?"


     But he doesn't. He doesn't say sorry. He doesn't say anything else, either. Not a word about how he was just looking, or couldn't find his own copy. Nothing about how he was just borrowing and wouldn't hurt it. Nothing slimy, nothing conniving, nothing at all that Robert B. Thorington the Fourth would normally have said. For, apparently, he isn't feeling normal.


     "ehhh-IHHHHshhhhh!" There is a brief pause, then he sneezes again. "eeeehhh-Ihhhshhhh!" Grudgingly he pulls out his handkerchief and gives his nose a strong rub. Then he lowers it and his hands to his lap and looks up at me. "I don't feel like fighting with you right now Alex."


     My confusion and curiosity, gained while Robert sneezes, suddenly give way to a fresh wave of anger. "My name is Alexander," I hiss. Only my younger sister was allowed to call me Alex and I've made that point perfectly clear to everyone I meet, certainly with everyone I live with.


     "Fine," he replies, his voice sounding tired. "Then I'm going to bed now, Alexander." He pulls himself up, turns down the covers, then climbs into bed. He lies on his back, bending an elbow over his face to hide his eyes from the light.


     "Fine," I echo, spreading the contents of my bag over the desk, preparing to do work. I half expect him to start complaining again about my being loud, so I purposely make as much noise as possible, sharpening a pencil, dropping a book onto the floor, ripping a piece of paper in half. But he says nothing, just lies there. After a while, he give a small snort, then a sniffle, and rolls over onto his side. He sniffles a little while longer, then falls asleep. His deep breaths are familiar to me, and I roll my eyes, wondering why he couldn't have fallen asleep that easily last night.


     With a soft sigh– soft enough to keep from waking him– I set down my pencil and look over at the edge of my desk where the book I'd taken back from him rested. It was my prized copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I probably would not have lent him even if he had asked permission to borrow it. After running my hand over the cover affectionately I was finding it much more difficult to actually concentrate on much more of my work tonight. Reluctantly, I nod off, using my open calculus book as a not-so-comfortable pillow.





     Something very loud and not at all like my alarm clock makes me wake hours before the dawn. My head is hurting, and my neck has another pain in it–the second one in as many days. This was getting out of hand. Rubbing my neck, I try to figure out what the sound was. There's no one but we two in the room, and there are no sounds from the hallway. Even when I open the door to look out, there is nothing there. So what had woken me?


     I nearly jump out of my skin as I hear it again. It's harsh and loud, and makes me turn my attention to Robert, who's sleeping on his back again with his arm again bent over his eyes to block the light. He's snoring. Which is slightly offputting because he never snores. At least, not in all the time I've known him. First he finks, then he snores. I was beginning to regret even offering him a hand this after noon after the prank.


     With a sigh, I walk over and nudge him. "Oy, Mate, shut up." But he isn't shutting up, and he isn't even waking from my touch and my words. I push him a little more, and still nothing. "Oy, come on Thorington you twat... shut... up!" I push hard and finally get him onto his side. There's a grunt and a snort, and the snoring stops.


     Frustrated, I go over to my bed and crash upon it, not even bothering to slide beneath the sheets or strip off shoes and trousers–two things I find I wish I had done when I wake a few hours later to the annoying ring of my alarm.


     Grumpily, I head to the showers, giving Robert a cold look for remaining in bed. The shower does much to relax and calm me down. But I haven't had a proper sleep, and I am terribly worried about breakfast. What will the dean do to us? What will it say on my record now? Assault on a fellow classmate? Assault with intention to inflict physical and emotional damage? Oh, I could just hear Robert B. Thorington the Fourth's snide, pompous voice as he whined to the dean about being dumped unawares into the river. As though he weren't deserving of it all.


     I am already worked up again as I return to my room to get dressed for the day. Even as I'm back in clean slacks and straightening my tie, the git's still asleep in his bed, which used to be my bed. We've been through this before though, haven't we? I cough and clear my throat. "It's nearly seven. You're going to miss breakfast if you don't get up," I tell him.


     He grunts and sniffles, turning his face into his pillow. "ehhh-ihhhShhhh! Ehhh-Shhhhh! ehh-IhhhShhhh!" He sniffs again and burrows down, sticking his head beneath the pillow and pulling the blankets up over it all. I shake my head, grab my bag, and leave.


     I meet Ben and Teddy in the hallway on the way down, though their company is little comfort. There's some huge pang of guilt welling up inside of me. And not because I feel terribly bad for the prank, for I'd done it a few times before and had had it done to me, even. But more because this is the time I have to get caught. I had taken pleasure in the act, perhaps more pleasure than I would have if it were anyone else. I had really enjoyed it... and because of that, I would be punished. If I had to do it over again, I would have pulled him out of the water whether he wanted the help or not, just to show no hard feelings. But, I still don't think I would have let him borrow my book.


     "You all right Churchie?" Ben pats my back and Teddy feels my forehead to be sure I'm not running a fever. "You don't look so good," Teddy observes.


     Brilliant boy. "I don't feel so good," I tell him as I take my seat at the table. I notice Marcus isn't looking too good either. Nor are the other members of our boat. Needless to say, I don't eat much at breakfast, and I repeatedly glance up at the staff table to see if the dean is coming down to pull us aside yet. Robert is nowhere to be seen, and I imagine he's just outside the door, waiting until just after the scolding to walk in looking all prim and angelic.


     But that doesn't happen. It doesn't. None of it. All breakfast feeling terrified and jumpy and not a single word passes about the prank or anything even remotely connected to it. I'm still nervous as I head to class, wondering perhaps if the reprimand will occur at lunchtime when there's more of an audience.


     First class of the morning is Philosophy. I've always wondered why anyone would assign a class like philosophy so early in the morning when we're all too bloody tired to do our best thinking. But I suppose someone had to draw the lot for the morning class. Just my luck it was my year. The beginning of class is spent today, as it is every day, with Professor Stottlemier handing back our last papers. He is the oddest professor I have ever known when it comes to this. Instead of collecting them in groups and passing them back in rows based on their seats or calling students up to the front by name and handing them their papers, he stands at the front of the classroom, skims the top paper, then slowly walks to that student's desk. You never know where he'll stop until he does. Then he hands over the paper with a soft look of praise or a terrible look of disappointment. I have never received the latter and sincerely hope never to, though sometimes even the former is a little unsettling at times when you'd prefer to just receive your paper and look it over for the mark.


           This morning he is particularly slow. With some papers he actually skims through the pages before handing them over, as though to refresh himself with the splendid or poor performances. I await mine eagerly, looking forward to reading comments about what I said concerning the role of identity and how easily it can be separated from the awareness of a person's self. But when he gets to me, he looks over my paper slowly, hands it over, then frowns. It's a terrible look, and my heart sinks lower than low. I suddenly flip through to the last page where the grading rubric is stapled, though I see nothing but top marks and a large A at the bottom for a final grade. Confused, I look back up. He still frowns. And suddenly the thought strikes me down cold. He knows about the incident. Maybe he was in the administration building when Robert came through. Or maybe he was walking the grounds and saw it from afar. And I'm suddenly terrified that he's going to scold me right here and now.


     But instead, he takes a look at the next paper in the pile. "Mister Churchelle," he says in a raspy old-man voice. "Where is Mister Thorington this morning?"


     Startled, I look around. The desk on the side of the room in the front row that should have been his is in fact empty. Was it possible he could have slept through class unintentionally? Robert was a model student. He was never tardy; in fact he was always sickeningly early. Indeed, where was Mister Thorington this morning? "Um," I cringe. Professor Stottlemier hated that word. He claimed it was the sound of the uneducated feeling trapped and buying time before something equally pathetically spilled out. With a cough, I try again. "I'm sorry, Sir. I have no idea where he is."


     But the professor simply smiles, and seems to know something I do not. Perhaps the punishment will indeed be at lunch? He nods and slaps Robert's paper down onto my desk. "Please hand this over to him if you see him, will you?"


     "Yes. Of course, Sir." I slide both Robert's paper and my own into my folder and take my notes out for the day. But the professor still takes what seems like forever to distribute the rest of the papers, walking slowly, giving looks. And the papers call alluringly from my folder. In no time at all I've pulled them out again under the pretence of reading the detailed notes throughout my paper. But I give his grading page a glance to satisfy intense curiosity. A perfect score. I suppose I expected no less, yet it was still a shock to see. I was under the impression that Professor Stottlemier rarely gave perfect marks. And, with everyone around me looking at their own papers for details, I hasten a look through Robert's. From what I catch, feeling rushed and guilty and curious all at once, Robert seemed to have quite a lot of brilliant things to say. I quickly shove both back away again before anyone can see. But my mind wanders back to it frequently. Back to the phrases and bits of sentences with incredible thoughts I'd never thought of before. I am almost shocked when the class period is over and we move out as a group over to Calculus.


     Robert does not turn up for Calculus class either. Nor for English, nor History and Government. He is equally absent from lunch and from several of the club meetings we have in common. He is even nowhere to be seen during the student council meeting, on which he holds a high enough chair that it was nearly scandalous that he not be there to fill it.


     Feeling overwhelmingly confused at Robert's absence from everywhere, as well as our lack of punishment, for there had been no scolding at lunch or dinner, I head back to my room. Hopefully Robert is there and I can somehow ask him what he's been up to all day. And now I remember I had meant to ask him about why he'd gone to see the administration as well. Well now, he certainly has a lot of explaining to do.


     I open the door dramatically, and there he is. And while I start to blurt out the confrontation I had rehearsed all the way up the stairs, I suddenly don't feel much like finishing it. Robert is indeed here as I had expected. But he's in bed still, which I hadn't quite counted on.


     He lifts his head off the pillow, where it had been propped up against the headboard, and gives me a weak smile. "Hi," he says. Hi. Yes, that's it and that's all. Just hi. As though we're old friends or the like.


     "Hi," I reply, having absolutely no idea what else to say. I fight desperately not to follow it with some stupid bloody obvious remark like 'so you weren't in class today.'


     "ehhh-Ihhshhhh! ehhChihshhhh!" He snaps forward with each, with what seems like quite a lot more effort than it should have required. Wearily he brings a handkerchief to his nose and rubs. Then he mumbles so softly that I nearly miss it, "Excuse be."


     He looks terrible. I know it's an awful way to say it, but that's exactly how he looks. Terrible. He's so pale, apart from rosy cheeks and a pink tint at the tip of his nose and just beneath where I've seen him rub twice now, though I figure he's been doing it much more frequently. "You... look terrible," I say, thinking that I could not have chosen anything more bloody obvious to have said. He must think me a complete idiot.


     And though it's the perfect opportunity to tell me so, he passes it up. He simply nods, sniffles, and turns his head. He looks up and out the window, up at the sky like I always used to. And it's a moment before I realize that he doesn't want me looking at him when he's looking so terrible.


     So I go over to my desk, setting my bag down on my chair and rooting through it. Out comes his paper from Philosophy, and his equally perfect Calculus assignment. I escort both over to his desk which looks as though it has not been touched in at least a day. I'm not sure what to tell him about the assignments, so I just leave them there. He doesn't seem to want to ask, oddly. He doesn't seem to even care.


     "ehhh-Ihhhshhh!" I turn, seeing him raising the handkerchief, readying for a second sneeze. "ehh-ihhh-Keshhhhhh!" He sniffs and rubs then adjusts his grip on the handkerchief and blows his nose. The sound is only half as annoying as I might have imagined. "Excuse be," he says again afterwards. And looks back out the window. There's silence for a few moments after this. I don't know what to say to him, and he doesn't seem to want to say anything at all. I try unpacking my bag and working through my homework schedule for the night. But his almost constant sniffling is distracting. Then, finally, he says softly, "I'b sorry for touchig your book."


     It's truly the last thing I would have expected. Not only is he apologizing, but he's apologizing for something he should actually be feeling sorry for. I resist the urge to reply with an 'um' and take a deep breath to help out a slightly better phrase. "Apology accepted." I wish I could think of something better to say, though. Show some concern, ask him what's wrong. He looks so terrible.


     "I just..." he rubs a hand beneath his nose with a strong sniff. "I did't thidk to brig ady books for light readig add I deeded sobethig to keeb by bide off feelig badly." He sniffs again, this time rubbing his nose and wincing slightly. "I brobise I did't touch it all day today, though."


     And that was true, I realized, looking over at the book. It hadn't moved a centimeter from where I'd set it down the night before. Robert had apparently spent the day in bed doing absolutely nothing at all, with apparently nothing to keep his mind off feeling badly. I feel my heart sink again. And as it sits down there, down in the bottom of my stomach where it keeps retreating to all day, every time I think of the prank and possible punishments, I suddenly realize it all. And I feel like an idiot for not understanding sooner. "Robert, what's wrong?" I ask, sitting down on my bed and pulling my legs up with me.


     "It's dothig," he tells me with most unconvincing accompanying congestion. "Just a... sball head code... ehhh...ehhChhhh! ihhShhhhh! ehhShhh!" But whatever it is that he has looks and sounds very unlike what I would consider to be a small head cold.


     I sit in thought a moment, listening to him blow his nose, and watching him wince with pain at the task. Then, decidedly, I stand. "I'm going down to the kitchens for some tea. How do you take yours? With cream and sugar or with a bowl of soup and a sandwich on the side?"


     He gives me a curious look, which I'm sure I more than earned with that sentence, then shrugs. "Aye, that would be very dice."


     I nod and head out before I can change my mind. Officially of course we're not allowed in the kitchens. But I've always had a bit of sway when it came to the kitchen staff. Not to say I'm a big flirt or anything, but if it's charm I need, then it's the charm I turn on. Simple as that. And I return in a matter of minutes back up to my room with a covered tray of soup and tea and biscuits for my usually utterly unbearable roommate.


     He gives me another weak smile as I enter, closing the door behind at once. And he hungrily makes progress on the soup and biscuits. But he drinks the tea much more slowly, nursing it, making it last. Can't say I really blame him. A good cup of tea when I'm sick is just the thing.


     When he has finished it all, I take the tray away, setting it on his desk, careful to put it on the blotter so the tray won't scratch the desk's finish. "Thaks," he says softly, and sounds as genuine as when he apologized. Before I can even think of what to say, he starts sneezing again. "ihhhShhhh! ehhhShhh! ehhh-IhhhChhhh!" And when finished, he again excuses himself stuffily. And I nod. He sighs and closes his eyes. "I really dod't feel so good," he admits weakly.


     I nod again. "I noticed. You haven't thrown me a single insult all night."


     He looks at me closely, as though studying me like one would an experiment. "Ab I really that awful usually?" I nod for a third time. And he grunts, sniffles, and turns over onto his side, back to me and the rest of the room. "Thed I'b sorry for that, too." He coughs and snuffles, but in a mere matter of seconds, that familiar deep breathing of his starts back up again, signaling that he's asleep.


     Not knowing what else to do, I move my bag and sit down at my desk to do homework for the night. And this time, thankfully, I manage to finish, change, and roll into bed before actually falling asleep.




     There is no alarm to wake me on the weekend and most of the others breakfast late. But still I wake sort of early and head down to breakfast, full of excitement. Today a bunch of us are to go out on the town, away from the school and the work and the pressure. Away to shop and to enjoy ourselves. We have the whole thing mapped out, I'm telling you. Zane has the detailed schedule we worked out written in his planner even. I suppose that's one of the curses the Oakton's Academy for Boys places on you, a need to organize and plan even your social time.


     There are twelve of us going in the group. We each had a say about what we wanted to do and when we wanted to do it. And the other eleven seem happy and excited as we all breakfast together. As they pass the preserves, they talk of what flavors of ice cream they have at the ice cream shop. And as they take second helpings of porridge they discuss the new movie they've been dying to see at the cinema. I join in as the mood takes me, a little here a little there, though mostly just excited looks and smiled. That is, until someone wants me to pass the tea with cream and sugar.


     And now my thoughts stray to Robert. Robert upstairs in bed still. In bed for another day with nothing to keep his mind off feeling badly. And worse still, no one at all to keep him company. A fresh wave of guilt sweeps over me, and I find that I'm getting too used to feeling this feeling. I take a fresh cup and pour it full of tea, adding in the condiments and pushing back from the table. "Give me a moment," I tell them all as I rise. "I'll be right back." Then I'm straight up the stairs and through the fourth door on the left.


     Not surprisingly, my roommate is sneezing again. His countenance is hidden behind a large, fresh handkerchief. "heh-ehhIhkshhh! ehhhShhhh! Ihh-heh-Ihhshhh!" He blows his nose, then starts back up with the sneezing. "ihhhTshhh! ehh-IHHHShhhh!" My movement makes him jump with a start, finally spotting me. I wave a hand to signal him to calm down. "Hi," he says weakly again.


     "Hi," I reply, as though it is how we normally greet each other.


      "What are you doig back?" he asks.


     "I had to come back to get my jacket." I tell him the excuse it took me the whole trip upstairs to fabricate. "And I thought I'd bring you some more tea." I hand it over, warning him to be careful, and he wraps his hands around it, hanging his head over for the warmth and the steam.


     "Thak you," he says gratefully, then sips it. It seems to do him some good, which is what I'd hoped for, but he still sets it aside in favor of snuggling under the blankets with another need to sneeze. He draws a few great breaths as he shuffles around for his handkerchief. Then holds it at the ready again. "hehhSHhhhh! ehh-IHHHShhhh!"


     I've got my jacket and delivered my tea, and thoughts of a fun day out on the town are already filling my mind. Good deed done, I turn to leave. But I hear a sad voice from over my shoulder, "Have a fud day id towd."


     I freeze, my back to him, rolling my eyes and gritting my teeth. Why must he have picked now to be less than his normal rude, smug self? I look back to see the hurt in his eyes, and it makes me revert a bit to our normal give and take. "What, did you expect me to stay here with you all day?"


     Quickly he seems to remember himself. He sniffs and shakes his head. "Of course dot." But I can tell that he certainly wouldn't refuse if I offered to. Which is amazing, because it's me. And he's never before expressed any interest in having me anywhere near him. He snatches up his handkerchief to rub at his nose, but the tickle seems to strike before he can do that. "ihhh-Ehshhhh! EhhhChhhh!" He looks perfectly miserable.


     With a sigh, I walk over to the shelves above my desk and select a small paperback novel of The Picture of Dorian Gray. I let the book sit in my hand a moment as I decide whether I really want to do this or not. It's not my beautiful leather-bound version... but this one's margins are filled with my scribbles and notes.


     "ehhhChhhh! ihhhShhhhh!" I hear from behind me, and I decide there's really no choice to be made.


     I turn, fingering the book in my hand. "When I was young and sick in bed, my mother used to read me stories to pass the time." I toss the book to him before I can second-guess myself. "Just be good to it. And ignore my notes." Quickly I leave, shutting the bedroom door behind. Once out, things start feeling a little lighter. Two good deeds in one day, two good deeds aimed at the same man who is usually a complete nightmare to me. Yes, I had certainly earned a day off campus having fun with friends, that's for sure.



     However, for some reason, things don't really seem as fun as I had expected them to. I bought a sweater and a new tie when we raided the fashion strip. And I had a double scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream. But neither really cheered me up much. To tell you the truth, the more I tried to enjoy myself, the less enjoyment I actually experienced.


     "What's the matter, Churchie?" and "Aren't you having fun?" come at almost the same moment during lunch I've barely touched.


     I shrug and push my plate over to Ben and Teddy who devour it as well as they had my pudding two days ago. "Look, I just don't feel much like having fun today. I'm a little worried and preoccupied."


     Teddy leans in closer. "You're not worried about that prank still, are you? If they were going to do something to you about that they would have done it by now."


     "It's not that, really," I tell him, though still that does have something to do with it. "I'm just..." I shake my head. There's really no good way to say that I'm actually feeling sympathy and concern for that bloody roommate of mine. "I think I'm going to go back."




     "But we haven't even gone over to the movies yet!" The thought of sitting through a two and a half hour movie with guilt and worry is not a happy one.


     I shake my head again.


     "But what's wrong?" Teddy asks, looking rather sad at the prospect of me leaving.


     I sigh helplessly. "Robert B. Thorington the Fourth," I tell him. "I'm going back. Have a good day." I grab my purchases, wave everyone goodbye, and head out. The busses run every fifteen minutes, so there won't be much of a wait. And before I can start working things through in my mind again, the bus pulls right up. Nice timing I suppose, but then I'm stuck thinking while I have to worry about bracing myself so I don't get tossed off my seat at a bump or turn. Needless to say, by the time I pull for my stop and walk up the grounds to the dormitory, I've only gotten as far as my greeting to him. But I suppose that's more than I had worked out this morning.


     And I must admit, it is nice to get back into the warmth. Autumn snuck up on me much faster than I had expected. It had been such a balmy summer, then classes started back up, and suddenly the chill set in. I suppose it's no wonder my roommate's upstairs with the sniffles with weather like this. And with the rest of his rowing team dumping him into the icy river.


     I shudder with shame as I head into the room. He's there of course, as though there were somewhere else he might be. And he's sneezing again, as though there were something else he might be doing.


     "ihhhKushhhh! ehhIhhshhh! eehhh-Ihh-Hushhhh!" The sneezes seem to be hitting him harder now, though. He isn't bothering to cover them any more either.


     I smile and shut the door quietly behind. "Hi," I say.


     He looks up, startled, and grabs for his handkerchief, hiding the lower portion of his face behind it. "Hi," he replies, narrowing his eyes over the folds. "Thought you were going to be out all day?"


     I shrug and set my things down on my desk. I strip off my jacket and throw that over the back of my chair. Seeing him shiver out of the corner of my eye, I take the comforter off my bed and drape it over his. Then I take his chair and pull it over to his bed, sitting backwards in it. I grab my book off his nightstand and thumb through it. "When I was young and sick in bed, my mother used to read to me," I repeat. "So where'd you leave off?"


     He looks at me curiously for a moment, then seems to give into his pains and sufferings and rolls over onto his side, snuggling deeper into the nest of blankets. "Sobewhere id the biddle of chabter ode." He rubs his eyes a little to indicate that they're the reason he stopped reading.


     I smile and open it at the preface. "Well, I might as well just start at the beginning then."


     Robert nods appreciatively and closes his eyes to relax and listen. "Thag you Alexader."


     It's a bit difficult for me to keep from laughing. "How about while you have a stuffy nose, you call me Alex?"


     This apparently justifies the effort to open his eyes again. "Thag you Alex." He rubs again at his nose.


     I raise my eyebrow. His nose is running. And it's running badly considering I can see it. But he doesn't seem to be doing much about it. "Can I get you something?"


     He looks tentative, but nods. "Could you get be a fresh hadky?"


     "Of course," I reply. "All you had to do was ask." He gives me a look that says he'd probably rather die, but he looks pretty close to death to me already. I pull up from the chair, and head over to the dresser. "Top drawer?" He nods. I find myself squinting a little as I pull it open. I get an eyeful of things I'd rather not have seen but manage to locate a handkerchief just fine and toss it over to him.


           "ehhh-Shuhhh!" He misses it thanks to a badly timed sneeze. Or perhaps mine was a badly timed throw. At any rate, he picks it up before the second sneeze strikes. "ehh-Ihhhshhhh!"


     "Bless you," I say flatly, trying not to be over sympathetic or mushy. He seems to appreciate the tone and nods back as he blows his nose and coughs. "Water?" I suggest, and he nods again, quite enthusiastically. The water in the bathroom isn't bad, but it's not always the coldest. So I jog downstairs to the vending machine for some bottled water, getting one for myself as well. The whole dormitory is quiet today, and I wonder how many people other than the two of us are still around. It doesn't sound like very many. There are certainly better things to do on a Saturday than stay in and study or take care of one's sick roommate. But then again, I had tried going out and it hadn't worked too well for me at all.


     Robert seems very glad for the water, drinking several large gulps before giving a deep, satisfied sigh.


     I turn the chair around and slouch down into it, bending my legs and resting my feet on the edge of his bed. The book rests on my thighs as I open it again. "Anything else before I start this time?" Robert shakes his head and snuggles into his pillow and blankets, looking much warmer and contented. "All right, on to Dorian then," I say with a smile, my finger sliding down the page to the beginning.




     As it happened, Robert B. Thorington the Fourth made a much better patient than a normal human being. Not only was his disposition much more agreeable, but he also slept more than he was awake. I barely made it into the book when he fell asleep. And slept–rather, snored–his way through lunch and the afternoon altogether. In fact, I rather expected to be able to finish my history paper, take in a long dinner, and return before he woke. But it was not to be.


     At a quarter to six he stirred. His snoring, which was becoming a sort of melodic comfort to me, breaks with a snort and a series of coughs which were calmed by a few sips of the water I'd fetched for him earlier. "Ah-Alex?"


     Over at my desk, I wave my hand in signal. "Right here." I turn in my chair, looking over at him. "How are you doing?"


     He shrugs and falls back weakly against his pillow. "Sick," he tells me, as though that weren't the obvious thing in the world. "But a little hudgry."


     "Oh yeah?" Well, that was a serious improvement. "Well all right then. I was just about to get some dinner. Come along."


     But he shrinks back, sliding beneath the blankets and letting the sides of the pillow come up above his head. "I dod't thik I should."


     Raising an eyebrow, "Don't think you should or don't think you can?"


     "Both," he says miserably. Then, full of hope, "Could you try add brig be sobethig?" He sniffs and rubs a finger under his nose. "Baybe?"


     Rolling my eyes, I retrieve another handkerchief from his drawer and hand it over to him. "Look, I'll do my best, all right? But everyone's out on the town, including half the professors. Are you sure you don't just want to pop down and have a bite?" He looks insistent and I sigh and nod. "All right. See you in a bit then." And as I'm walking out the door, I turn back. "Now drink your water and stay warm while I'm gone." He smiles weakly as a promise.


     As it turns out, the deed of stealing food from the dining hall, let alone food suitable for a sick person, is impossible. The great and noble Oakton's Academy for Boys is also strict when it comes to its rules and not stealing food from the dining hall is one of them. However, being allowed to take food out is another matter altogether I find when Professor Billings sits down beside me and proposes the idea.


     "Sir, I would never intentionally take food without permission," I insist. Breaking a school rule, even a minor one like this, is against the honor code and liable for expulsion. Luckily, there are no school rules explicitly dealing with tipping one's coxswain into the river.


     "Well, given your situation, I think we will grant you permission on this occasion," he says. He's old and set in his ways, this man, but his eyes are unbelievably kind and coming from him I actually believe it. Though, if you can believe it, I never actually explained my situation at all. He seemed to just know it was important. Quite mysterious, really. But that was an adjective easily applied to nearly all of our instructors.


     "Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir." I say, ladling soup into a bowl at once. He watches what I take closely as he returns to the staff table. But he nor any of the other professors say anything as I leave, a plate in each hand as I balance soup, tea, juice, bread, potatoes, and pudding.


     The trick is not the slippery floors of the entry way or the curved flight of stairs. The trick is opening the door with my hands full and balancing the meal. It took a few minutes in fact, and a few knees to the door, but finally I get the knob turned sufficiently and enter. "Happy Christmas and Merry New Year!" I proclaim, producing my procured plates. He is greatly impressed, though his laugh of surprise soon becomes a nasty cough which is again soothed by some water.


     He eats hungrily at first, and it occurs to me that he's had nothing else to eat all day, unless he had some cakes hidden in the room somewhere. Still, he says, "You cad have the buddig," his eyes flickering towards the pudding in case his congested talk is too confusing for me to follow.


     "Are you sure?" I ask. He is sure, and I am glad. In my haste to get the meal to him, I had forgotten all about dessert for myself. And I happen to be one of those people who eats supper just for the dessert at the end. Not much point to a good meal without a good ending, now is there? Though I suppose dieters might argue. Thankfully, I am not one of that lot. Though I must admit I loose the taste for it halfway through as I watch him try to eat around sneezes.


     As he goes on, he proclaims he's not really all that hungry either, but does a good job on the meal anyway. He eats more than half of it, in fact, before asking me to take it away.


     "So what's the last part you remember before falling asleep?" I ask, settling back in his chair by the bed and recovering my book. He can't quite remember, so we start over at the beginning of chapter 3 and as I read, his eyes flash at the moment he finds he's hearing this part of the story for the first time.


     As it turns out, I'm actually very good at this. And not just because it's a book I happen to fancy. I actually pay attention to him as I read, pausing when I hear those uncontrollable hitching breaths, sitting through his sneezes while looking down at the book so as not to make him uncomfortable, and then waiting until he's finished flowing his nose before I start back up again. I think I should like to volunteer at the hospital reading to sick children after this experience. Though I don't suppose this particular book would make for good subject matter. Should their parents discover I'm reading children Oscar Wilde novels, it would be me in the hospital with a broken nose and some ribs most likely.


     And oddly enough, Robert makes a good patient. He doesn't whine or complain or demand too much. But he has warmed up to me sufficiently so that if he does need something, he's not too hesitant to ask. But he asks nicely, that's the thing.


     Robert drops off to sleep as I finish up chapter five. I set the book down on the chair after me, and bend to rearrange him. He's fallen asleep with handkerchief clutched tightly in his hand and mouth hanging open. He's sitting up against the headboard, only covered by blankets to his chest. So I ease the handkerchief out of his hand and scoot him down so that his head is still elevated but he's lying down with covers up to his chin. He smiles in his sleep at this.


     I return to my homework, determined to at least make the most of not going out on the town for the whole day. There had been very little activity from the hallway and I'm certain none of the others are back yet. They're probably taking in at a late-night movie instead being of stuck at home tending to a man with a sniffley nose and doing homework. Not that I can blame them, really.


     After writing a few more paragraphs, then solving a page full of equations, I shower and climb into bed. Thoughts are still bouncing around in my head. I wonder now if I should have just stayed out. And his snores are much worse while I'm actually trying to fall asleep. I pull myself out of bed, a little cold without my comforter, and go over to his bed. This time I don't bother waking him, I just shove him over onto his side. Within seconds, the snores die down and I head back to bed.


     I'd like to say I had an otherwise peaceful night of sleep. But that is far from the truth. Several times the snores started back up again and I was forced to roll him back over onto one side or the other to quiet him. And then, halfway through the night, there is something more than snoring.


     "EHHHShhhhhh! IHHHHShhhhh! Sniff! Sniff! Alex? Sniff!"


     I hear it of course, but it doesn't really register in my mind.


     "Sniff! Alex?"


     I sit up, rubbing my eyes sleepily. "Thoring...ton?" I stifle a yawn and stiffly rise.


     "ehhShhhhhh!" He sneezes again and I'm drawn over to him, shivering.


     "What is it?" I close my eyes and try not to fall asleep standing up as I sway beside his bed, waiting for him to explain why he's woken me.


     "I dod't feel so good," he whines.


     I know this of course. Not to mention that I can see it in his eyes. "What can I do? What do you want?" I ask sleepily. The sooner he is pacified and back asleep, the sooner I can be back in bed as well.


     "I deed sobe tea or a decodgestdadt or sobethig." He coughs. "I cad't breathe, Alex... ihhhHehshhhhhh!"


     He can't breathe, but apparently he can sneeze. I pick up his handkerchief and rub it roughly against his nose. He winces at the touch but seems to otherwise appreciate it. "Come on, get up and I'll help you over to the showers. The steam will clear you up and help you to breathe."


     Though reluctant to leave the warmth of his bed, he nonetheless lets me drag him out and to his feet. He leans on me as we stumble down the hall towards the restrooms. I don't think he's faint or feverish, I think he's just tired and knows I'm not going to push him off if he leans on me for help. But I'm certainly not going to help him take a shower. I grab a clean towel from the pile and shove it into his arms. "Now make sure you breathe in the steam. And try not to sneeze too loudly, there are people who like to sleep at three in the morning, oddly enough." I pat his back, sending him off towards the showers. "Enjoy your shower. I'm going to go get you some tea in the meantime."


     My task is certainly the more difficult of the two. Students aren't permitted to leave their rooms after curfew, even if curfew is late on weekends. Late, yes, but well before three in the morning. So I go through the possibilities in my head. This certainly isn't the first time I've raided the kitchens after curfew and I'm familiar with everyone who has late night guard duty down there.


     To my chagrin, it happens to be Dexter who's standing guard, leaning against the doorjamb between the hallway and the kitchens. He looks over at me with a grin, pointing and wagging a stern finger at me. "I've got you."


     I throw my hands up dramatically and nod. "All right!" I tell him, looking defeated. "One week of dishwashing."


     He narrows his eyes. "Do you know how late it is?"


     "Two weeks!" I say quickly, and this seems to satisfy him.


     "All right," he said, lowering his finger. "Now what is it you want?" He sweeps his hand back, gesturing towards the empty kitchen.


     I head in, going straight for the kettle to fill it with water. "Actually, my roommate has this bad cold and won't be able to get to sleep without some tea," I explain. "Which means he'll keep me up all night with his coughs and sniffles and sneezes. So I have no choice but to bring him tea." I make sure I have the right burner before lighting it and placing the kettle on top. Then I close my eyes and turn my back on it. A watched pot, and all that. "So how's your night been?"


     He smiles. "Apart from you just now, completely silent."


     "Glad I could help liven things up," I tell him with a smile of my own. "Even if it is only tea." As I wait for the water to heat up, I go through the pantry, looking for the other things. The sugar is the easiest to find, and the tea itself is quick to follow. But it's six cabinets before I find the honey lurking at the back of one. The kettle whistles as though to cheer my accomplishment and I retrieve it quickly before it can make much noise. Instead of a mug or a tea cup, I opt for a thick metal thermos for the tea, mixing everything together, and then taking a spoonful in taste. "Perfect," I say to the on-looking guard.


     So I close up the thermos and put the ingredients away. Since the kettle's only been used for water, I put it back in the pile to dry and only spend a few seconds scrubbing, washing, and drying the spoon. "Does everything look all right?" I ask, and he gives me an approving nod. I nod my head back. "All right then. Thank you. And have a good rest of the night."


     "You, too," he says. I start to walk back to the stairs slowly. As I count off the seconds, I start to smile with anticipation. It's coming, I know it is. And at my count of ten, I do indeed hear it from behind me. "Oy, Churchie?" I throw back a glance, pretending to look curious. "I had a bad cold last week. Could have used a nice roommate like you to bring me tea in the middle of the night. How about we forget the dishwashing altogether?"


     I turn and bow dramatically in thank you, too far from him not to need to yell and too close to the stair to want my voice projecting up it. So I turn back, relieved, and hurry up the stairs again. I meet Robert just as he's emerging from the bathroom, his face bright red from the heat of the shower. And though he seems to be sniffing more, it does seem to have quieted his sneezes and coughs.


     The tea helps continue this, as he unscrews the cap and breathes in the steam through his nose. I flip on my desk lamp, flooding the room with light. We both squint in reaction for a few seconds before our eyes adjust. I pull his covers back up over him to his waist, tucking them around him warmly. Directing another yawn into my shoulder, I sit back down on the chair and prop my feet back up on his bed. I watch him sip the tea, savoring each gulp against the back of his throat and top of his mouth before swallowing. Then he looks up at me, looking suddenly very worried. "You did't get idto trouble to get this, did you?"


     For a second, I think I should tell him that yes, I did, and that he should feel terribly guilty about it. But then my expression turns to one of pure shock and terror. Quickly I drop my feet to the floor and lean forward, pressing the back of my hand to his forehead.


     "What?" he asks, stunned.


      "You must really be sick. Not only are you forgetting to be evil to me, but you're actually concerned for my welfare?! Maybe I should take you straight to the hospital."


     Slowly, a smile spreads across his face and he hangs his head, cheeks flushed with embarrassment, on the pretence of inhaling more of the steam. It is good to see him smile, though. A complete change from just a little while ago when he was feeling so miserable he couldn't breathe or fall back to sleep.


     I reach over and pick up the book again, flipping to the point at which I left off. It was just starting to get really good, and I was looking forward to getting to the next part myself, though I practically have the whole book memorized. I prop my feet back up and dive back into the sea of brilliantly crafted sentences. He is asleep again before I can get to the next chapter, sitting upright, empty thermos clutched loosely in his hand.


     I set the book down and carefully take the thermos, setting both on the chair I've just left empty. Then I stand there, looking down at him, trying to decide if I should lie him back down in the bed. He looks fairly uncomfortable sitting up like this, head tilted to one side on his shoulder, mouth hanging open, so he looks dead apart from his chest rising and falling. After deciding to risk moving him, hoping that he's already in a deep sleep, I pull down the covers. Then I grab him round the middle and pull him down. It's tough work to do gently but I manage it, and he is somewhat lying down. I roll him over onto his side and lift his head to place the pillow beneath when he wakes and I swear.


     "What's wrog?" he whispers.


     "Nothing, I was just trying to get you under the covers," I say, pulling the covers back up around him. "Go back to sleep. Sorry I woke you."


     "It's all right," he says, adjusting himself, pulling the blankets against his chest and cheek. "I woke you up early. I subbose that bakes us eved." I nod and fail to mention the number of times his snores had woken me that night. "G'dight," he says stuffily, and I retrieve another handkerchief from his dresser drawer for him, tucking it beneath the covers and into his hand. Then I go back to my bed, by way of switching off the light, expecting to fall right back to sleep as I flop down.


     "ihhhhHeshhhhh! IhhhChushhhhh!" Of course I hadn't counted on more sneezes. Though I don't know why not. It wasn't as though Robert were suddenly out of them. I roll over onto my side with a sigh and look over at him through the darkness.


     "Hey," I say softly once he's finished blowing his nose into the hanky. "I am sorry, you know."


     He lifts his head and looks at me curiously. "For what?"


     How absolutely daft of him to make me spell it out. He can't just accept my apology and be done with it, this one. "For helping push you into that water and making you catch this cold."


           He stares at me a moment, then bursts out laughing. He has to clamp a hand over his mouth to keep the sound down, and then has to take a few sips of water to soothe his throat. "Is that why you cabe back early frob towd? Because of a guilt trib?" I can tell he's trying to restrain further laughter. "Alex, I hate to break it to you, but I'd beed cobig dowd with this cold for at least a day before I went idto the water. You could't tell whed I was barkig out orders that I was losig by voice?" Now that I thought about it, he had been looking pale since Wednesday. Not to mention having a headache and going to bed early. "I brobise you, I did't catch cold frob beig id that water. All it did was bake it worse."


     "And get you angry," I mumble. Somehow, helping dump an already sick boy into an icy cold river was infinitely worse than dumping a perfectly well one in. He could have developed pneumonia on top of the cold or something. Was what he was saying supposed to make me feel less guilty?


     "Agry?" he asks. "Why would I be agry? All you did was throw be idto the water. It was just a joke."


     That's what I'd been saying for days now. "But... I heard you went and told the administration about it right away."


     He pauses for a moment, then laughs again, muffling the sound by turning his head into his pillow. "Add here I was thikig that people here were subbosed to be idtelliget."


     "Excuse me?" Now he's starting to sound like his old self again. Apart from the sneezing.


     "ihhhShhhh! ehhhChushhhh!" He blows his nose and looks back at me. At my expression, he finds he should explain. "Thig about it. What else is there id the adbiditration buildig, abart frob the dead add office assistads add such?"


     I don't like his tone in the least, but I think about it. "The infirmary," I say softly. And I feel the need to pound my head into the wall for not having thought of it in the first place.


     "See what a little thikig does? I just wadted a warb towel add to be sure I wasd't ruddig a fever or sobethig worse." He coughed. "Which I'b dot. It's just a cold."


     This was good to hear. And I can't relate to you how incredibly relieved I am that I had nothing to fear from the administrators concerning the prank. "So... you weren't really angry at us for it?"


     He laughs again. "At by old school, it was a regular thig to toss be idto the river every Friday after bractice. By teab bade ad evedt out of it."


     "Every Friday?" I ask, laughing a little as well. "But didn't you see it coming, then?"


     "Sure," he shrugs. "But it was a good way for theb to relieve stress. I cad be a little debadig as a coxswaid." A little demanding? Who was he fooling? More like a cock than a coxswain at times. "Besides, it challeged theb to figure out creative ways to do it every week. Add the teab was co-ed. Sobe of the girls could be... very bersuasive," he said with a grin. He rubbed the back of his neck. "I'b dot ode to turd dowd a kiss, eved whed five secods later I'll fide byself at the bottob of a cold river." He was blushing. I could see that even in the dark and across the room. What a softie.


     "Well then, I'll tell the boys who play on the other side not to try that with you if we ever try it again."


     He laughs again and rubs harder at the back of his neck. It looks like he wants to ask me which team I play for, but he doesn't. He just snuggles back into his blankets and pillows and closes his eyes. "Feelig less guilty dow, I hope?" he asks.


     "A bit," I reply.


     "Does that bead you wod't be hagig aroud adybore, helbig be feel better?"


     I look over at him through the darkness. The boy's eyes are open again, and looking at me, pleading silently. "I'll stay if you want me to," I tell him, and he seems to relax, eyes closing again peacefully. "We haven't made much progress in the book, have we?" He shakes his head wearily, but does not talk for a giant yawn which seizes his body, shaking it, making him readjust and cuddle the blankets more. "Good night," I call over to him. He nods and whispers the same sentiment, then drops off to sleep completely. I can't say I took any more time to do the same.




     I wake the next morning, far earlier than I would have liked. But neither the loud coughing nor the loud sneezing are things I can sleep through normally. I pull my pillow over my head and try again, though.


     "A-Alex? ihhhChishhh! ehhhShhhh!" I try to ignore him. "Alex? Sniff! Could you get be adother hadkerchief?"


     Wearily I pull myself up and go straight for his dresser. Each time it gets less and less difficult to stare into his underwear drawer. I toss him a handkerchief, then climb back into bed.


     But the sound of his sneezes with the handkerchief are just as loud as without. "ehhhChushhhh! ihhhShhhhh! ihhhShihhhhh!" I sit up, rubbing my eyes, wishing for just a little more sleep I knew I wouldn't get. "Alex... cad you get be subethig to drik?" And to it begins. I nod and grab my pants from yesterday from the floor. I pull out a handful of change and head down to the vending machine. It's still a little early for breakfast, and at any rate I'm not going to head into the dining hall in pajamas. When I return and toss him the bottle of water, he looks a little displeased with it. "Oh," he says softly. "I was hobig for juice." Then he should have specified juice, shouldn't he? But I go back down anyway and get him juice. I hand over the orange juice and give him a look that tells him to keep his mouth shut if he had, in fact, wanted apple instead. Luckily, he just opens it and drinks.


     One of the nicest things I can imagine after a long, hard night, is a warm, relaxing shower in the morning. Sweet-smelling soap. Soothing steam. And that delightful feel of droplets pelting down on your chest or back as you soak in the warmth. But my shower this morning was far from any of these things I am afraid. All the hot water was used up, so I had to lather up without water, then quickly duck in and splash myself before I froze to death. I skipped washing my hair and shaving my face even. Shivering like mad, my shoulders tightening from the stress of jumping in and out, I clutch my towel around myself to try and warm up.


     "Hey, Churchie!" I hear, and look over to see Andrew Wallace coming in to take a shower, towel wrapped around his waist but otherwise naked.


     I try not to pretend I'm frozen, and try not to stare at his absolutely stellar body, and give him a smile. "Wallace," I reply with a nod. "There's no hot water this morning."


     He frowns and reaches in, turning one of the showers on to run it a while in hopes of it warming up. I tried that too. Ran it for a whole twenty minutes before giving up and- "You don't want to come in and warm me up then while I shower, do you?" he asks softly, giving me that look up and down that I'd been trying not to give him.


     So here I am feeling stressed and shriveled and shivery, and here he is asking if I can warm him up? The boy has the worst pick-up line I've ever heard. But then again, it's effective. But a gentleman never kisses and tells, so you're not getting a single detail.


     Though I will say I'm feeling much better when it's time to head down for breakfast. I can't convince Robert to join me, though he asks me to bring him back food. I'm not sure I can get away with it twice in a row, but I tell him I will because he looks hungry and sniffley and I'd rather be in bed with someone bringing me food if I had my choice about it, too.


     Breakfast is actually quite enjoyable as well. I prod everyone for details about their day out, and everyone seems more than happy to provide. No one asks me about my day, which is perfectly fine by me. And I help myself to a second helping of toast and scrambled eggs while they chatter on about the dinner they had out under the stars at that little Italian café.


     On my way out, I attempt to take some oatmeal, fruit, and toast, and am stopped by Professor Mariot who apparently picked the short straw for breakfast duty on a Sunday. "And just where do you think you're..." he starts, then breaks off. "This is for Mister Thorington, I presume?" I nod. Did every professor in the academy know my roommate was sick? Was he on that good a rapport with them all? "Well then, better get it up to him before the first service starts." I nod and hurry up the stairs. There isn't much time to talk, as I straighten my tie in front of the mirror. But he thanks me for the food and I hurry back down and out into the cold morning, wishing I'd brought a suit jacket along with me.


     But the chapel is warm, and warmer still crammed into a pew with everyone around me. Ben tugs at my sleeve as the organ music starts playing. I reach over and fix his tie for him like I do every Sunday morning like clockwork, making a good dimple, then straightening it for him. It's a good thing we only have to wear ties to services and special events or I'd have to start charging him. He nods a thank you and we all sit back as Father Peters walks up onto the dais.


     I envy that Robert B. Thorington the Fourth for getting to stay in bed today. The service was about twice as long as usual, thanks to two visiting priests and a number of announcements for upcoming events they need further help organizing. As I was already head of several committees for them, none of that was anything new to me, and I doubted anyone who hadn't already signed up would be in any mood to do so after a two hour long blur of passages, preachings, and psalms.


     It was a relief when the service was over and everyone headed out to enjoy another day of freedom from classes. More people stayed on campus today than yesterday in order to catch up on homework or get ahead on it. And I, of course, stayed back in order to take care of my roommate.  


     "Back late, ared't you?" he asks the moment I enter the room. "Good service?"


     "Don't ask," I tell him as I go straight to my bed to lie down. My shoes get kicked off, my tie gets hung on the bed post, my belt gets undone, and my pants get unzipped so that I am far more comfortable. "It's all just a blur to me now. I just want a couple more hours of sleep," I mumble into my pillow as I pull the blankets up over myself, wishing I had my comforter back.


     "ihhhShhhuhhh! ihhhChhhhh! ihhhhShhhh!" He sniffles very wetly. "Alex?" he asks. "Cad you get be–"


     I'm already at his dresser and throwing him a handkerchief. My eyes are fighting desperately to close and I'm trying to ignore all the other things I have to get done today.


     "Thags, Alex," he snuffles. "But I actually wadted sub bore water."


     I nod and go down to the machine. I no longer feel guilty, mind you. But he looks so miserable and needs help. And at least now he's asking for what he needs instead of suffering in silence. I buy him a water, and then two different juices as well so he can't possibly change his mind when I get back up to the room. They're cold in my hands, and I find myself holding them to my chest with the sleeves of my dress shirt over my hands.


     "Nice outfit, Churchie." That's Petrow, and it makes me look down. No shoes, and my pants completely undone, belt flapping against my hips. Oh well.


     I shrug. "All the rage in France I hear, for tired private school boys whose roommates drag them out of bed to get drinks," I answer. He laughs at lets it go, though I'm glad to meet no one else along the way.


     "Thanks," Robert says, accepting the drinks as I set them on his now overflowing nightstand. I write a mental note to remind myself to take the dirty dishes back downstairs when it's time for lunch. The note is just below the note that says 'get a little more sleep or you'll never get any homework done today'. "Though I was sort of hobig for sub grape juice," he says, looking at the bottles of apple and orange I brought up. Giving him a glare, I quickly go down and get one, and this time I don't give him the time to thank me or talk to me. I just leave the bottle on his nightstand then sink into bed, with my back turned to him. I think he gets the message this time.


     And this time, I finally do get to sleep. And it's a lovely sleep, let me tell you! The pillow's nice and soft, the mattress just gives way enough in the right places, the blankets are warm but not stifling. And not once am I awakened by coughing or sneezing for a full two hours. The sneezes aren't loud enough to wake me until going on the third hour, when I open my eyes to find my pajama-clad roommate sniffling and hovering over me, shaking my arm. "I cad't sleeb," he says. "Add I'b hugry agaid." I had, of course, promised to read more of the book to him. And I was a bit hungry for lunch as well.


     So I get up, changing out of now wrinkled church attire and into more suitable weekend wear which are casual slacks, a turtleneck, and a sweater.


     "Cad you brig be sub soub add a hab sadwich?" he asks from behind a handkerchief, in between blows.


     As I have no idea what's for lunch today, I want to make no specific promises. "I'll try," I tell him, with every intention of trying.


     Lunch today is almost as sparse as dinner had been last night. Most people took lunch early on the way back from service in order to head off more quickly to do something useful. Though in my case, a quick nap had been more useful. I hadn't really realized how little sleep I had had the night before. Well, I had slept, yes, but it had been an on again off again sort, if you recall. Not the sort of deep sleep I normally enjoy. And thus, the nap had been lovely. But I've said something to that effect already. And now we're up to lunch time, aren't we? And there is soup but absolutely no ham sandwiches to be found. Hot cheese, yes. Marmite, yes. Even a tuna melt. But no ham. Regardless of which I choose to eat, I decide to take him the cheese one, primarily because it goes with the tomato soup the best. He isn't exactly overjoyed at my selection. But though he pouts, he eats it hungrily just the same. And it's good to see his appetite has returned in full.


     I read to him as he eats, partially because I told him I would and partially because if I'm reading he can't complain that the sandwich is not ham. He falls asleep just after eating, which is not too surprising as I'm sure he didn't sleep much last night in the end either.


     So I spend the first part of the afternoon on my homework, which I'm actually excited to get back to do. I knock the rest of my calculus out rather quickly, and the reading for English is child's play. I'm finishing notes on the two history chapters when lo and behold, Robert wakes again with, yes you guessed it, another sneeze.




     "Bless you," I call from across the room, looking back to see him smile and rub his nose with a handkerchief. "Feeling more rested?"


     He nods and shivers, pulling the blankets up to his chin. "Alex, could you get be a hot water bottle?" I must have been staring. In fact, I'm sure I was staring. Women had hot water bottles. Where was I supposed to find a hot water bottle in a boy's academy? "I'b sure subeode's got to have ode," he snuffles helpfully. "I could really use ode."


     With a sigh, I mark my place in the book and slip my notes into a folder. "All right," I say, standing. "I'll try to find you one."


     "Great," he says with a grin. "And a chocolate bilkshake while you're out, if it's dot too buch trouble."


     This time I close my eyes to keep from glaring at him. But that little pang of guilt returns, as does my promise, and I nod and head out. It's not fun at all to feel sick, I'll give him that. But if he keeps this up I swear I'll make him feel much worse. Out of sheer frustration and a little confusion and because he's the biggest hoarder I've ever known, I try Bradley first. "Austin," I say, leaning on the doorframe and trying to look pensive. "What would you say if I told you I have the glorious task of tracking down a hot water bottle?"


     "I'd say good luck finding a hot water bottle at a boy's academy and then I'd laugh my head off when you'd left. But really, what are you up to today?"


     I sigh and bang my head against the wood. It hurts, and I instantly regret it. Rubbing my head as little black patches float in front of my eyes, I stagger into the room. "Seriously, you don't know where I can find one, Mate?"


     He looks up from his books, spread out all over his bed since his desk is piled high with junk. His eyes are large, but hidden behind a mess of black bangs that hang down to his nose. "You weren't serious about that, were you?" he asks. "That's like... asking a vagabond where he keeps his golf clubs."


     I sigh. I think there's a bruise forming where I hit my head. All my luck. I must make a note not to slam my head into anything at all when I'm especially annoyed in the future. "Well, let's pretend we have a golf-loving vagabond who's misplaced his nine iron."


     Austin Bradley laughs, as I probably would were I not the one trying to find the club. "Let me guess," he says, leaning back against the wall, and pushing his already rolled-up sleeves up a little further on his arms. He puffs up at his bangs so they fall differently and I have a momentary glance at his blue eyes. "Robert B. Thorington the Fourth?"


     "Right in one."


     "Bloody hell. He's got you doing his chores for him now?"


     I shake my head, but you know he's right about that. And I desperately wish he weren't. My head starts pounding. "Thanks anyway, Mate."


     He nods. "Best of luck." Then leans forward, calling to me, "Be sure to shut the door when you leave so you don't hear my laughing." I roll my eyes at him and he smiles. The boy had a toilet seat in his room for the better part of our first year here. You think he'd have a hot water bottle. Damn my head hurts.


     Reluctantly, I head out of the building altogether. I'm not giving up by any means, I'm not that sort of a person. But I do need some aspirin before I resume my search. I'll go to town and buy the git one if it comes to that. Though I hope it doesn't as I've left without a jacket and it's still pretty chilly outside. I'm shivering like mad by the time I get across campus to the infirmary, which is deserted apart from a nurse who is reading a magazine with her feet up on the desk.


     "Splitting headache," I complain, only now realizing that I've actually had it most of the day and that it simply got worse when I banged it against the wall.


     "You're not getting sick are you?" she asks, feeling my forehead and checking my glands.


     "Just a headache," I reply. "It's been a long day. And my roommate wants..." and then it hits me. Apparently my headache was so bad that the pounding drowned out all my common sense. "My roommate's ill and wants me to bring him a hot water bottle."


     "Not a problem!" she chirps and to my absolute astonishment, pulls one out and hands it over after she supplies me with a small bottle of aspirin. It's not too much to ask for a cup of water, and I take two pills right away. I'm almost tempted to crash for an hour or two on one of the cots just to get away from my roommate's demands, but a promise is a promise and I still have that milkshake I have to weasel out of the kitchen staff. "Feel better!" she calls as I leave, and she's already back to lounging and reading her magazine.


     The grounds are just as cold and windy heading back to the dormitory as they are heading from. I fold the hot water bottle in half and shove it halfway down beneath the waistband of my pants in the back. It's the last thing I really want to be strolling around with, especially if I need a favor done and have to turn the charm back on.


     And boy, do I need to turn on the charm. Mrs. Wilkins is on kitchen duty this afternoon. They're already deep into preparations with some sort of bird. Pheasant or duck or something. I'm not very good with that sort of thing. "Mrs. Wilkins," I say, batting my eyes and giving her a smile. "You're looking beautiful this afternoon."


     She rolls her eyes. Can't blame her. "What do you want, Churchie?"


     "Just a chocolate milkshake for my roommate who's very sick upstairs in bed. Surely the noble head of kitchen for Oakton's Academy for Boys could take pity on your very favorite student's sick roommate?"


     She hesitated a moment, then nodded. Easier than I'd thought. "All right, Lad. As long as you make it yourself and stay out of everyone else's way while they're cooking."


     I nod and dart over to her, kissing her cheek and wrapping my arms around her affectionately. "Thank you so much Mrs. Wilkins." I haven't made many chocolate milkshakes in my lifetime, but it's not exactly difficult either. A little ice cream, a little chocolate syrup, a little banana, a little milk, and a blender later, I've got something that resembles a chocolate milkshake. I pour two glasses before the mixture's gone, and one I give to Mrs. Wilkins on the way out. She smiles and sips it with a slightly surprised smile. If it passes her approval, it's got to be good enough for Robert.


     He's awake when I return, blowing his nose over and over again. I don't want to guess how long he's been at it, but his nose isn't looking very good for the ware and he sounds terrible. But his stuffiness is noticeably better when he speaks. "Did you find a hot water bottle too?" he asks, taking the tall glass of milkshake from me.


     "Just on my way over to fill it," I reply, holding it up. He looks amazed for a moment, then nods. And when I return with it, he cuddles it to his chest and pushes it beneath the covers to warm the rest of himself. I sit down to read a little more, glad the pounding in my head has stopped for a while at least. We're more than halfway done with the book now. And I'm actually close to being done with homework, though I've got quite a lot to do after that with the schedules for upcoming club meetings, researching debate topics, and organizing events.


     His sneezes, apparently, were not lessened much by the increased amount of nose blowing, which he had continued while I read. "ehhhShihhhh! iihhhChushhhh! ehhhChishhh!" He sniffs wetly and gives me a pained look. "Need another hanky," he says. Grudgingly I get up and retrieve yet another. He's almost out, and I've no intention of washing any for him, no matter how nicely he requests it or how guilty I feel. A bloke's got to draw the line somewhere. "Could I have more juice?" I look over at the half-drunk bottle of orange juice on his bedstand. "I want cranberry-grape, please."


     With a sigh I head down for his juice. The dormitory seems busier now that it's nearing dinner. More people have returned from outings on the town and are buzzing from room to room with stories and questions galore. And here I am walking past it all to get my roommate more juice. The last can of cranberry-grape juice, as it were. And he doesn't even say thank you when I hand it to him. Of course, he is sneezing, but even after that he doesn't thank me. Of course, if I felt so sick I probably wouldn't either but I'd at least make an effort.


     "Alex, would you refill my hot water bottle?"


     As it turns out, I would and I do. And he doesn't thank me for that either, go figure. The rest of the afternoon goes past me in a haze of Dorian Gray, trips to the bathroom with a hot water bottle, Latin homework, many more blows than sneezes, and landscaping plans for the new courtyard for the library building. By the time dinner arrives, I'm honestly fed up with him again, to tell you the absolute truth. My roommate's gone full circle you might say. Though I suppose that's the very nature of the world and humanity, and those who forget the lessons of history and all that.


     "For dinner," says the great Robert B. Thorington the Fourth whose every word I am supposed to be hanging off of apparently, "I'll take some mallard and a side of potatoes and beans. A tall glass of cider. Oh, and one of those bunt cakes with the frosting. But the lemon frosting of course, not vanilla. Vanilla's so common. And a cup of coffee as well, and don't forget the sugar and cream, Alex."


     I clench my hands into fists for a moment to relieve tension, then relax, turning to him. "The name's Alexander, thank you very much. And I damn well think you can get your own dinner tonight. I'm going out with the boys." Instead of looking shocked, he gives me a cocky grin as though proud I'd at last figure him out. So I grab my jacket and sweep from the room, heading over to Ben and Teddy's, though I think wherever we do manage to go, I'll be eating all my pudding without their help. And maybe I'll even go for seconds.