Copyright 2011 Theo Fenraven
Mr. Crawford had given me use of one of his cars (he had two), so I went to the store and picked up the food and wine he would need. I could not afford a car; I took the bus everywhere. He would not have minded if I’d used his car for personal business, but I would not take advantage of him. The bus was good enough.
Back at the house, I put away the groceries before moving into his bedroom, where I stripped the sheets off the bed and replaced them with fresh. I made sure everything was as it should be in his bathroom, replacing the wet towels with dry ones from the linen closet. Mr. Crawford was tidy, and I didn’t have to do much beyond basic cleaning.
Back in the kitchen, I heated soup and made a sandwich and took it out to the pergola. Kaz accompanied me, ever hopeful of getting a treat.
The fountain was on, and I listened to the chiming sound of water falling while Kaz lay at my feet, waiting patiently. It was a nice evening. The temperature was warm but not so hot it made one sweat. A light breeze blew through the hanging vines, rustling the leaves in a pleasant way. After I’d finished my dinner, making sure to give Kaz the last piece of my sandwich, I sat on, watching the shadows slowly lengthen as the sun went down.
I may have fallen into a light doze, but suddenly, I was aware Kaz had jumped to his feet and run off. Looking up, I saw Will coming in the back gate. He seemed to stagger a bit and reached out to balance himself against the fence.
I thought he was maybe a little drunk, because sometimes he had too much fun when he was out with his friends, but then he looked at me, and I knew he was sick.
I ran to his side. “Mr. Crawford, what is wrong?”
“Will,” he said with a wan smile. He was very pale, his eyes looked bad, and he was shivering. “Flu. Hit me like a ton of bricks.”
I put an arm around him, and he leaned against me as I helped him into the house. “You will get into bed immediately, and I will call your doctor,” I said, guiding him into the bedroom. Kaz followed us, barking, knowing something was wrong. “Kaz, hush,” I said firmly, and the dog quieted.
I pulled back the covers on the bed, and he collapsed into a sitting position on the edge of the mattress. When he bent over to remove his shoes, I stopped him and did it for him. Still dressed, he crawled under the blankets, pulling them up around his ears. I felt his forehead; he was very hot.
“I will return in a moment,” I told him and hurried to the kitchen phone, where I looked up his doctor’s number and dialed. It rang several times before an answering service picked up. I left a message, hung up, and returned to Will.
He was shivering, and I thought I heard his teeth chatter. Getting extra blankets out of the closet, I shook them out and spread them over him.
“Thank you, Jamie,” he whispered. “Now go away so you don’t catch this.”
“Do not worry about me, Will. I will be fine.”
I got a bowl from the kitchen, filled it with hot water in his bathroom, and took it back to the bed with a washcloth. Kaz had jumped up on the mattress and was lying by his master, whining softly. I submerged the washcloth into the hot water, wrung it out, and placed it against his forehead. He moaned softly.
I did this repeatedly, getting new hot water every five minutes or so, and still he shivered uncontrollably. When the phone rang, I picked it up.
“This is Dr. Moen,” a man said. “You called about Will?”
“Yes, he has flu.”
“Everyone does right now. Try to make him drink, keep him in bed, let it run its course. He should be okay in a couple of days. If he has trouble breathing, get him to the emergency room.”
I nodded, though he could not see that. “Thank you, doctor. I will do as you say.”
“Cold,” Will mumbled, curled on his side in a fetal position.
There were no more blankets in the closet, but I knew they would not have helped anyway. He was cold inside, from illness. In the bathroom, I filled the tub with hot water and returned to Mr. Crawford’s side.
“Will, get up, come with me.”
He frowned and resisted, but I keep badgering him until I had him on his feet. Pulling him into the bathroom, I sat him down on the closed toilet and stripped off his shirt. His teeth did chatter then.
“I am very sorry, Will, but you must get into the water. It will warm you.”
Standing him up, I undid his pants and took them off, pulling his socks off, too. I then assisted him as he climbed into the tub and sank down into the water. Fully immersed, he closed his eyes and leaned his head back. I folded a towel and placed it under his head.
“Thank you, Jamie.” His voice was very soft.
I sat on the toilet lid, keeping an eye on him. I had heard of people falling asleep and drowning, and Mr. Crawford was very sick.
After a few minutes, I suddenly realized he was naked and blushed. It had not occurred to me before because I’d been so worried about him, but now that it was quiet and there was nothing to occupy my hands or mind, I saw him under the water. He was thinner than he appeared in clothes, but still very beautiful. I dropped my eyes and turned away a little and did not look again. Mr. Crawford deserved his privacy, even in such a situation as this.
Kneeling beside the tub, I let water out and then refilled it with more hot water. I did this for half an hour. Will said nothing, but I knew he was awake because once he squeezed my forearm, as if in thanks.
When it was time for him to get out, I held up a towel, he stepped onto the mat, and I wrapped it around him, rubbing it against his skin to dry him. He was weak, and I got him back into bed as quickly as possible.
I left him long enough to drain the tub, make a pot of tea, and fetch a book from the guest room. In his room, I pulled a chair up next to the bed, poured a cup of tea, and urged him to drink it. Already he was shivering again; his teeth chattered against the rim of the cup.
“I never get sick,” he said, sipping slowly. “Must have caught this in Chicago.”
“It is winter there, yes? You are unused to that weather now.” I took the empty cup from him, and he lay back with a sigh. “I saw snow once. A friend took me into the mountains, to the top, and I ran around in it. He made a ball from it and threw it at me. It was very cold.”
Will smiled and curled on his side, facing me. I pulled the covers up over his shoulder. Opening the book, I began to read to him the adventures of Bilbo Baggins.
Every time I had read two or three pages, I filled the cup with tea and made him drink. I could tell he did not want it, but he forced it down. Food he would not accept, not even soup, so I just kept forcing fluids on him. The phone rang several times, but I ignored it and would not let him answer. Eventually, I turned it off. They could leave messages, and I would listen to them later.
Night fell and I put the book aside to let Kaz out, lock up the house, and make fresh tea. He was just getting back into bed after visiting the bathroom when I returned. The room was swimming in shadows, so I turned on the lamp but tilted the shade to block the light from his eyes.
I sat in the chair, book in my lap, and noticed him watching me. “Is there something you need, Will?”
He shook his head. “Why did you come here, Jamie?”
At first, I thought he meant to his house, but then I understood the question. “Mexico was dangerous for me. I am… mariposa.” When his eyebrow went up, I explained. “Homosexual. They are far less tolerant of such than in your country, and I lived in a small town in the mountains. One night, I was attacked.” I stopped and looked away. I did not want to remember that bad time. “Friends arranged for me to live somewhere else until I could become a citizen of your country. It took a long time.”
His eyes were filled with sadness. “I’m sorry,” he said, and I knew he truly was.
“I am all right now,” I assured him. “I live in a safe place, and I work for you. That is good.”
Chills moved through him, and I gave him more tea. I read to him for a while, and he listened, alternately watching my face or closing his eyes to rest.
I thought he might be asleep, or at least not fully awake, so I stopped. Silence wrapped itself around us, and I sank into it, letting my eyes close. Oliver rubbed against my ankles and then jumped on the bed, walking on Will’s shoulder and side. I gently picked him up and let him curl into a ball my lap.
I glanced up to see Will looking at me. Blood moved into my face. There was something intimate in his eyes, and I suddenly felt as if he was seeing into my soul.
“Would you do something for me?” he said.
I nodded, not trusting my voice enough to speak. Oliver jumped down and left the room.
“I’m still very cold. Would you….” His eyes closed. “Never mind.”
“Ask,” I said, my heart starting to beat faster.
“Would you consider getting into bed with me? Helping me warm up?”
I stared at him, amazed at the request.
Interpreting my expression as shock, he hastily added, “I’m crossing a line. I apologize.”
I bent over and removed my shoes, and then I got into bed behind him, under the covers, and slid close and put my arms around him. He pressed back so we were very close together. He shivered against me, and I held him tighter.
“The fever will break soon,” I assured him, “and you will feel better.”
“Will you stay with me tonight?” he asked.
“I will not leave you,” I said and fought the urge to kiss his shoulder. That would not have been appropriate.
Being this close to him—a dream come true!—caused me to have an erection. He must have been aware of it, but he said nothing and neither did I. I was happy just to be next to him, to feel him near me, even though it was because he was sick and in need of comfort.
We spent many hours like that, pressed against each other. Even with me wrapped around him, sharing my body heat with him, he suffered chills that wracked him, making him shiver and jerk. Periodically, I forced him to drink water or more tea.
His heart beat under my hand, and I knew his lungs were filling with phlegm. That’s an ugly word, phlegm, and so aptly described the condition. Soon, he would begin coughing, and I wished I could take his sickness away, even if it meant suffering through it myself. I would have done that for him, without hesitation, but as I did not have that choice, I stayed close and helped him as best I could.
Around 3 a.m., his fever finally broke. Sweat popped out on his body, and he sighed with relief. The first phase was over, but I knew there would be more.