Copyright 2011 Theo Fenraven
He insisted on taking a shower, so while he was in the bathroom, I stripped and replaced the sheets for the second time that day. I heard him coughing as he tried to bring the illness up out of his lungs. My heart ached for him and the pain he was going through.
I was plumping the pillows when he appeared in the bathroom doorway, head hanging. I went to his side immediately, to help him back to bed. He was still very weak.
“Are you hungry?” I asked.
He shook his head. “No, but I could drink some water.”
I brought him a cold bottle from the kitchen, twisted off the cap, and handed it to him. He drank half of it without pause, took a breath, and then finished it. I took the empty bottle from him and he laid back, falling into the pillows.
“Fresh sheets,” he said. “Thank you.”
He began to cough, and I was at his side in an instant, helping him to sit up as he hacked. It sounded terrible. He hung on to me, trying to catch his breath, and eventually, the spasm passed, and he was able to inhale enough air to soothe his starving lungs.
“Do not panic,” I said quietly. “You are breathing, you are fine.”
He nodded, his brow furrowed. “Don’t leave me.”
“I will not leave you,” I said again.
He was sick in bed for three days. I stayed close, leaving his side only to bring him things he needed. He was very ill and frightened sometimes, but I managed to keep him calm and quiet despite my intense worry about him. Several times, I almost called for an ambulance, but each time he resisted, assuring me he would be okay. Mr. Crawford does not like hospitals, a feeling I share, so I reluctantly abided by his wishes.
I slept in the chair beside his bed, awake instantly at the slightest change in his breathing. Sometimes, I stretched out on the bed beside him, but not touching him, and occasionally, I would sit against the headboard and hold him while he coughed. The few times I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw dark circles under my eyes, caused by concern for him and lack of sleep.
I continued to read “The Hobbit” to him, and over those anxious days, I got to the very end. I enjoyed the story very much, and so did he, I could tell. He always listened closely while I told Bilbo’s tale and even smiled at the humorous parts.
I felt like the world had contracted to just the walls of the house. Nothing existed outside them and the only thing of importance was here with me. During those long hours, I was able to gaze upon him as much as I liked, and I noticed many things about him, like the way his left eye was brighter than his right. There were differences in each eyebrow, and how his beard grew in. He had pale freckles across his nose and a very tiny mole near the right ear. I saw his body often, as he went back and forth to the bathroom or stood in the shower, and he was never less than beautiful to me.
As the illness ran its course, the broth I gave him became soup, and then finally stews thickened with meat and vegetables. He drank or ate whatever I gave him, even when he was not hungry. Several times, I remember being thankful I was at his house when he came home sick. Who would have taken care of him otherwise?
On the morning of the fourth day, he was finally on the mend and able to take note of his surroundings again. By that afternoon, I knew I’d caught his sickness; my chest was tight and my head spun if I moved too fast.
Mr. Crawford noticed immediately. Wrapped in a thick robe, he was coming out of the bathroom when he saw me weave and partially fall on his bed as I was changing the sheets. He crossed to my side and put his hands on my shoulders.
“I must return home now,” I said, and tried to leave, but he would not let me. Instead, he pushed me down on his bed and made me look at him.
“You’re staying here, so I can take care of you. It’s the least I can do.”
Although he was barely recovered, he did exactly that. He would not even let me go to the guest room. He kept me in his bed and wrapped himself around me when I was wracked with shivers. He forced fluids down my throat and helped me in every thing. The flu moved much more quickly through me than it had him, each phase passing in only hours. I felt like I had been run over by a big truck and much of the time, I was barely aware of my surroundings, but I always knew he was there, keeping watch over me.
He read to me, too, though his throat was still not totally well. Finding “Catcher in the Rye” in my room, he continued where I had left off. I loved hearing his voice as he interpreted the various characters in the novel. When he finished it late the second day, I was almost sad because I had enjoyed listening to him so much.
He brought me soup, too, and I knew he had not made it but rather had it delivered. Mr. Crawford does not cook much, and besides, he was still not completely himself yet. He rested as often as he could while I was down, but it was not enough. He was tired, and I worried he would suffer a relapse.
When I was finally able to sit up and look around, he was sitting in the reading chair, legs crossed, Oliver in his lap and Kaz at his feet. He looked exhausted but pleased at my alertness.
He smiled at me, petting the cat. “How do you feel?”
“Better.” I was still coughing, but bringing up less and less. “My breathing is greatly improved. And you?”
“Also better.” His eyes dropped to Oliver, purring in his lap. “Thank you for staying.” He swallowed. “I’m sorry I made you sick.”
“It does not matter,” I assured him. “I am fine now, and all is well again.” I pushed the blankets back and started to rise.
He quickly gestured to me to stay put. “One more night, to make sure you’re okay.”
I settled against the pillows and looked at him. He had shaved at some point over the last couple of days but the attractive stubble was back. Shadows cupped his brown eyes and his lips were chapped. He had not been taking care of himself.
“You must sleep,” I said, and moved over to give him room.
He looked at the spot I offered him, and then raised his eyes to mine. The breath caught in my throat; I suddenly wanted to run away and hide.
He moved the cat to the bed and then stood and let the robe fall off his shoulders. Naked, he slid under the covers. Neither of us moved for a moment, nor looked at each other, and then I put a hand on his chest and placed my head on his shoulder.
I held my breath, waiting.
“Rest,” he said, and drew the covers up over us both, holding me close.
Content to feel his arms around me, I closed my eyes. His kindness toward me filled me with happiness, and I refused to expect more.
Kaz and Oliver shared the bed. I was aware of them beside us, as I woke several times during the night; I was still too ill to enjoy unbroken sleep. Whenever I changed position, he adjusted immediately and once, he asked in a whisper if I was okay.
“I am fine,” I responded, and I was. Mr. Crawford was warmth itself, so gentle and sweet to me. I wished he was my lover, but almost as the thought went through my head, I pushed it away. I could not think like that. He was too good for me, too fine in every way. He would not want someone like me.
In the morning, life began to return to normal. The phone was turned back on, messages were checked, I cooked breakfast for us both while he sat at his desk, dealing with things. The only thing that changed between us was that he touched me more easily, and I didn’t find it as difficult to say his name as I had. Mr. Crawford liked to touch people, and be touched. This I had noticed already.
I wanted to clean and straighten after the morning meal, but he would not let me. “You’re still not well,” he said. “Take some time off, get healthy again. Everything else can wait.”
I nodded and agreed, but as soon as he was gone, I scrubbed his bathroom clean with bleach, to kill the germs, and made his bed afresh. I had to stop and rest often, but I got it done. I used a bleach solution on the kitchen counters and in the sink, as well. No one coming to his house should become ill.
I straightened the guest room last, making it the way it had been before my visit, and then I locked the door and left. I had done my job and was satisfied.
Wheezing a bit and moving more slowly than usual, I walked to the bus stop and sat on the bench. Buses in Los Angeles were not reliable, but I knew one I wanted would be along shortly. I did not live very far from Mr. Crawford in distance, but my neighborhood was not like his at all, though still much safer than where I’d come from in Mexico.
The sun shone through a layer of smog, its heat cut by the season and thin clouds. The warmth was minimal, and I shivered in my black T-shirt and pants, wanting only to be home, in bed, and undisturbed. Cars sped by, going places I would never see.
I thought it must be nice to travel. I would like to see Paris sometime, perhaps Greece. I smiled at the thought. Visiting Oregon or Utah would probably satisfy my craving for new places. During my stay in America, I had only been in California. It was a beautiful place, and I thought being able to see the entire country must be quite splendid. People who were born here, who grew up here, had no idea what it was like elsewhere. They had freedoms others could only dream of, and they took them for granted. I would like to take such freedom for granted, too.
The bus came, I got on, found a seat, and forty minutes later, got off at my stop. The neighborhood kids were hanging around, and as usual, they made fun of me as I walked to my apartment. They called me un joto, which was not very nice. As always, I ignored them.
I lived in a small apartment over a store. There was some noise during the day, but in the evening and at night, it was quiet enough, and I was happy there. I treasured this space that was mine alone. I had filled it with books from the secondhand store down the street. I loved books, loved to read, and that was mostly what I did when I was not at work.
I showered and changed into white sweats, curled up on the couch that was also my bed, and picked up my latest book: “Atlas Shrugged.” I was struggling with it, as it was so long, but I had finally gotten to the part where John Galt made his appearance, and I was excited to find out what happened next. Reading English tired me, but the language was rich and multi-faceted, and I learned so much.
When I became hungry, I decided to go out to eat. I did not do this often, as it was expensive, but after being ill so many days, I wanted to treat myself. So I changed into jeans and a nice shirt and went down the street to one of my favorite cafes. They knew me there, and I always got good service. Adelita, the owner’s pretty daughter, was always making eyes at me. I saw no need to tell her I liked men, but I did enjoy flirting with her, although I was careful not to lead her on. I did not want to cause her pain by making her think my interest in her was serious.
For the first time in days, I ate well and enjoyed it, and afterward, I strolled home with a full stomach, glad to be alive. The night air was chilly and I wore no jacket, but I would be home shortly, and warm again on my couch.
I took the shortcut through the alley, which was a mistake, because some of the boys who often teased me were there. They surrounded me, calling me names and making fun of me. Frightened, I tried to run away, but they prevented me from doing so. One of them hit me on the head with what felt like a bottle. Another kneed me in the groin, causing a pain that made me gasp and brought tears to my eyes. They started to beat me around the head and shoulders, and I was just going down to the ground when the flashing lights of a police car appeared. They scattered like the rats they were, and I was left behind, curled up against the pain, blood pouring from a head wound and many scratches.
The policeman was nice. He asked me if I needed to go the hospital, and after taking stock of my injuries, I told him I would just go home, if that was all right. He kindly made sure I got back to my apartment, walking me right to the door, and as he left, he suggested I avoid alleys from then on. Thanking him, I limped into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Bruises, cuts, but nothing serious. I did not have insurance, so I was glad the injuries appeared to be minor.
After washing, I made sure my door was triple-locked before getting into bed with my book. I was happy to escape into the world of John Galt and his wondrous machine.
Mr. Crawford was still at home when I arrived the next morning for work. He sat at the kitchen table, going through the stack of mail that had piled up during his illness. When I came in, he wished me a good morning and then glanced up. His hands stilled and he asked, “Jamie, what happened to you?”
I tried to shrug it off. “It is nothing. Some boys in my neighborhood thought to have some fun with me.”
An expression I had never seen before crossed his face as he got to his feet. “They hurt you.” He came to me, touched the cut over my eye, stroked the bruise on my cheek. “Are you all right?”
“I am fine, Will. This was nothing.”
Pain filled his eyes, and he put his arms around my shoulders and hugged me. Unaccountably, tears filled my eyes as I hugged him back.
“Did you go to the hospital?”
“That was not necessary. These things will heal without such assistance.”
He made a face. “That’s it. You move in here, today.”
My mouth dropped open. “What?”
“I will not have you getting assaulted. We will get your things, and you will move into the guest room.”
I shrunk inside. “That would not be right, Will. You must have your privacy.”
“Bullshit.” He hustled me out to the car, pushed me into the passenger seat, got behind the wheel, and following my hesitant directions, drove me to my place. Glancing around as we stepped out onto the sidewalk, he frowned before following me up the stairs. He helped me gather my things together; I didn’t own much, just books and some clothing and a few CDs that I played on a portable stereo.
He had an astute sense of what money was worth; he bluntly asked me what I was doing with it.
“I send much of it home to my family,” I told him. “They live much better because of me.”
He looked at me for a long moment, and then he did something very surprising. He took my face in my hands and kissed me. It was a lovely kiss, full of feeling; it made me feel faint. Color rose in my face, and I wished him to never stop. Think of the most wonderful thing in the world, and that’s how his kiss made me feel.
When my belongings were in his vehicle, he drove me back to his house. I could not help stealing looks at him; he stared straight ahead, his face stern.
Once my things were in the guest room, he stood in the doorway, leaning against the jamb, looking at me. “Your hours remain the same. Don’t let me catch you putting in extra time. Come and go as you please, just as if you weren’t living here.”
I sat on the edge of the bed. “Thank you, Will.”
After he left, I looked around the room which was now mine. Warmth filled me. Now, I was indeed safe.