I startle awake to Darren whimpering in the bathroom again, almost silently, like he can’t muster up the energy to even be upset. The door’s not locked, but I think that’s more because he didn’t have the presence of mind to lock it than because he knows he’s going to need me in there. I push it open, gently, but he’s not hunched over the toilet, he’s huddled in the bathtub, shaking and giving me puppy-dog eyes.
I turn the shower on just the cool side of lukewarm, and Darren burrows into himself trying to get away from it at the same time he’s shifting to get at more of the water. His hands are shaking too much to peel off his shirt, now that it’s soaked through. I shush at him while I pull it over his head, and then I go off to get the pills I should’ve set an alarm to give him, except that it probably wouldn’t have gone off yet. He shouldn’t be awake this soon.
“Come on, Darren,” I say, voice pitched low and quiet, “lean out of the water for a sec.”
He rests his chin on the edge of the tub and mewls piteously, but at least he’s out of the spray.
“Shh, it’s alright,” I tell him, along with random other murmurs, as I try to make him take his pills. He keeps jerking his head away and I wonder if I need to get some fucking peanut butter or cheese to wrap it in. After he yanks the bottle of water away from me and downs most of it, he finally relents.
“You’re not allowed to be mean to me, I’m sick,” he announces.
I frown at him. “When was I being mean to you?”
“You’re going to be,” he says, but I don’t get to hear why I’m going to be, because his eyes drift shut, and he leans his face against the tub, and he’s asleep again.
I adjust the spray away from his mouth and nose, turn him so he won’t slip, and go to grab a chair and a book so I can make sure he doesn’t drown while he catches up on his rest. A little while later, he opens his eyes again, and stares at me.
“Urgh,” Darren says.
“I know,” I say. “You want an ice pack or a hot water bottle?”
“Urgh,” he says again, and squeezes his eyes shut.
“Come on, up you go,” I say, tucking my bookmark into my book.
Darren waves me off. “Not until I shower. I’m covered in fever sweat.”
I shrug and go back to my book. When I look back up, Darren’s bundled himself in what’s probably not literally all of our towels, and hobbles over to thunk his head on my shoulder. I flail my book out of the way of his hair, the only part of him not covered in layers and layers of towel, which soaked through my shirt on initial contact and is looking to branch out.
“Come on,” I say, setting the book down in a dry spot and holding Darren up so he can trudge over to the couch.
I bring him a pair of his favorite pajamas and a nice soft flannel bathrobe, look at the nice robe, doesn’t that look warmer than your patchwork of towels? but he steadfastly refuses to remove the towels for the couple minutes it’ll take to put them on.
“Darren,” I say, struggling to put enough scold in my tone when he looks that wretched, “you’re not going to be able to eat.”
“Blurgh,” Darren says.
I don’t laugh. I give him a sympathetic smile and I don’t laugh.
By the time I come back with the tea, though, he’s into his pj’s and robe, with two blankets and not a few of the towels piled on top of him. I set it down next to the armrest where he’s leaning, just far enough from his hand that he won’t knock it over by accident.
He pokes at it. “What’s this?”
“It’s tea, Darren,” I tell him.
“It smells like lemons,” he says.
“It’s herbal tea, Darren, I’m not giving you caffeine,” I tell him.
He takes a tentative sip. “It kind of tastes like lemons, too? Also maybe mint.”
“Yeah,” I say. “You want me to get the box? I can figure out what’s in it.”
“That’s alright,” he tells me. “It’s horrible.”
“I can get you something else, Darren,” I tell him.
“No. It’s making my throat feel better.” He shakes his head.
I wait for him to finish his tea, and grab a pillow and tuck him in. I put the TV on low in the background, something soothing (and oddly fitting) about training puppies, and go back to my book. He shakes, every now and then, but never really wakes up. I check his temperature periodically, and take one of the opportunities when he’s more soundly asleep to remove the towels from on top of the blankets – I consider removing one of the blankets, too, but I think that might keep him from sleeping.
I manage to shake him conscious long enough to dose him again, then leave to make him some soup, which is pretty mind-numbing, and I find myself zoning out. Well, at least I don’t feel tired. But I’m running on way too little sleep, and no coffee (out of deference to Darren, who will absolutely be able to smell it in his sleep). The last time we did this we were on the same schedule. Still, it’s not that difficult of a food, and I’d be able to tell if I burned it.
(I give it a taste. It’s fine.)
I take a bowl out to Darren, then go back and get my own, along with a couple of rolls.
Darren cracks an eye open. “What?”
“Food,” I say. “Soup.”
“Hate soup,” he says, and closes his eyes again.
“Broccoli soup,” I say, “nom nom.”
“Broccoli?” he repeats, staring at me with one skeptical eye.
“Mm, leafy,” I tell him.
“Yeah, right,” he says, but he gets up to look at it. “You never leave any pieces in when I’m sick.”
“That’s so you don’t have to work up the energy to chew,” I tell him, and dunk my bread in my own soup.
He snorts at me like I’m being ridiculous, but he doesn’t even look jealously at my bread, so.
He spoons out a little, blows on it, and slurps it up, and then says, “blurgh,” again, but this time in a sort of relieved and contented sigh. I doubled his last dose, and I don’t know if he noticed, but the hand tremors are down, and that’s always a plus with soup.
He finishes it and snuggles back into his pillow. “I want an ice pop.”
I laugh as I get up. “I know. I stocked up.”
“Banana,” he specifies.
I roll my eyes. “We don’t have banana, Darren. We have mango.”
“You can’t find banana, but you can find mango?” he says, “where the hell did you get mango?”
“From the organic ice cream place,” I explain, handing him his ice pop, “they do banana, too, but it doesn’t taste anything like artificial, so I didn’t think you’d want it.”
“Blurgh,” he says, and then starts chewing on his ice pop.