Dream Garrick brushed a hand across my forehead. “I think your fever is almost gone. That’s good. You should feel much better in the morning.”
I frowned. “That means I’ll have to call you soon.”
“To tell you that you might get sick, too.”
His head tilted sideways. Why didn’t he understand?
“You don’t think I already know?”
“Not you. You’re not real.”
“Real Garrick wouldn’t be here.” I curled into my pillow, wishing this dream would stop.
It wasn’t nice anymore. It wasn’t real. We weren’t anything to each other… not anymore.
But Dream Garrick, stayed there, his hand on my hair, and I let myself believe it, for a little while longer.
At around four in the morning, I woke in a pool of sweat, my body stuck to the sheets and my face glued to the bed.
I guess the fever was definitely broken.
I placed my hands on the bed to push myself up, but my equilibrium must have been off. My bed felt uneven. I reached back, fumbling for the lamp and flicked the light on. Then because I thought maybe I was seeing things, I flipped it off and on again. I pinched myself. I pinched really hard. But nothing changed.
Garrick was definitely asleep in my bed.
How much of my fever-induced dream was real? I felt safe assuming that my time as a bee was fiction, as well as a few mythological animals that I swear I’d seen. Then I’d lived on the sun with aliens.
But Garrick was in my bed. He’d definitely been in my dreams, but it couldn’t all be real. Sometimes he flew, much of the time he was naked. And there were a dozen more moments, some fuzzy, some very clear. Where was the line? What had really happened? Hell, was this even real? Maybe I was just dreaming that my fever broke. I was freaking out, and before I had the sense of mind to formulate a plan, I was already shaking him awake.
He was bleary-eyed and beautiful as he came to. I was struck for a moment by the fact that he was sleeping on my pillow.
He was in my bed. With me.
We were sleeping together!
“You’re awake.” God, since when did groggy and gorgeous go so well together? Wide-eyed, I nodded, not having thought of what I’d say when I actually had him awake.
“How do you feel?”
That I could answer.
“Like shit. Everything hurts. My throat the worst.”
He reached out and set a hand on my thigh. Like that was normal. Like we just set our hands on each other’s thighs all the time.
“That’s normal, I think,” He said. The thigh thing? No, no… my throat. He continued, “Do you need anything?”
I shook my head. What the hell had happened while I was so out of it?
He sat up, and the sheet fell around his waist, revealing all of his upper body to my eyes. The sheet drooped around his hips, drawing my eyes to the muscles that disappeared down into his shorts. God. His hand went to my hair, my hair that fell lank, and oily against my face, a stark contrast to how good he looked right now. He didn’t seem to care.
Again, what the hell was happening?
“I’m glad you’re okay,” he said.
I nodded. Nodding was all I knew how to do, all I understood. Nodding, at least, still made sense.
“You should go back to sleep. You still need to rest. Unless you’re hungry?”
I shook my head.
He nudged me slightly, and I lowered my body slowly, certain that the minute my head hit the pillow this alternate universe would cease to exist.
He pushed back the covers, and then slipped out of the bed.
“You’re leaving?” I asked.
He stopped, and in quick succession I saw him realize where we were and how little he was wearing. He hesitated, unsure. It was such a strange emotion, one I’d rarely seen him wear. “Do you want me to?” I wanted to pause the moment, study it, break down the second where this bold boy had been filled with doubt. Of course I didn’t want him to leave! I never wanted him to leave!
I shook my head. Glad that fatigue kept me calm, somewhat.
He smiled so wide I forgot that the doubt ever existed. “Then I’m not leaving. I’m just going to get some water. Go to sleep.”
He left, and I turned on my side, reeling. I could hear the faucet turn on and off. I tried to imagine what he was doing. The floor wasn’t creaking, so he wasn’t walking back. Was he just standing at the sink drinking? Or was there no creaking because my delusion had ended and he wasn’t coming back? Had the floor creaked on his way to the sink? I couldn’t remember. I started to panic. Maybe I needed to get up, go after him. Make sure he was real.
Then my bed dipped, and I felt heat behind me, and an arm wrapped around my waist. I stiffened first, and then relaxed so suddenly that I practically fell into him. He was so warm, I felt like I was feverish all over again.
He pushed my hair up and onto the pillow, so that my neck was uncovered. Then I felt something, the tip of his nose perhaps, grazing softly against my skin and the puff of his breath.
His arm tightened, his body curved around mine, even our thighs pressed together.
“Tomorrow, Bliss. Sleep now.”
Sleep? The idea seemed impossible, but as his breath steadied and I grew used to his touch, I realized I was still tired. I wanted to analyze what had happened, what I remembered and what I didn’t, but sleep did seem more important.
Garrick was right. It could wait until tomorrow. He would be here. He said he wasn’t leaving. But just in case, I placed one of my hands over his that rested against my stomach. I had thought he was already asleep, but he was awake enough to respond, lacing our fingers together.
When I felt certain, both that he was real and that he wasn’t leaving… when my doubt was gone, I slept.
I woke several hours later. Light was pouring in through my high windows, and my skin was slick with sweat. For a moment, I thought I had a fever again. I sat up, and Garrick’s arm fell from my waist. He groaned.
His brows were furrowed with beads of sweat dotting his face. I pressed my hand against his forehead, and sure enough, he was burning up. He looked awful, but I imagined that I looked even worse. My skin and clothes were damp with sweat, both his and mine. It felt like grime and sickness was slathered over the top of my skin.
Carefully, I shifted out of Garrick’s reach and planted my feet on the cool hardwood floor. Standing hurt all the way to my bones, like they’d been broken and set in the wrong way, and now I had to re-break them to set it right. Each step felt like a nail gun had been taken to my heels, my knees, my hips. It took a hand on the wall just to keep myself upright. And my journey to the bathroom comprised of thirty slow, shuffling steps instead of the usual ten. When I got there, I was short of breath and ready for another nap.
In my pain-addled mind, it seemed very important to be clean first. I turned on the shower, leaving it on the cool side of the spectrum instead of automatically pushing it to hot like usual. I shucked off my clothes, lamenting each time I got off one piece only to discover another layer beneath. When I got to my bra, I nearly gave up completely.
Finally, I was free, but I no longer had the energy to stand for the shower I wanted. Like a child just learning to walk, I crawled into the tub, laying back and letting the water pelt my skin. My stomach, especially, felt so sensitive that each drop stung on impact, like someone was dropping tiny little missiles from above. But even so, it was cool and lovely and I melted into the sensation.
For a long time I laid there, falling in and out of sleep. When my breath settled and the ache in my muscles eased, I pushed myself up, letting the water soak my hair and run down my face.
Shampoo became the villain of my story, stinging my eyes and exhausting me as I tried to rub it in and rinse it out. It felt like hours before the water ran clear enough for me to open my eyes without them burning. And then I couldn’t convince myself to do it again with conditioner.
I turned off the water, and laid back, feeling the water drain beneath me. The longer my eyes stayed closed the heavier my body became. The little pools of liquid on my skin dried slowly, and it felt good to be empty, to be still for a moment.
Then I remembered Garrick, and knew I had been selfish long enough.
The wall of the tub might as well have been a battlement. It took all of my strength to climb over it. Clothing was completely out of the question. I wrapped my hair in a towel and my body in a robe. I grabbed a few washcloths, soaking them with cool water, wringing them out so they wouldn’t drip.
I felt a little more alive now, and I managed to walk without groping at the wall. The pain was there, in the back of my mind with every step, but it was manageable. Even so, it was a relief to sink down beside Garrick on my bed.
I stripped the blankets back, and he shifted, but didn’t wake. I placed one of the damp cloths across his forehead, and another I unfolded and laid across his chest. I used the last to dab at his arms and legs. Even that became too difficult though, so I rolled the last cloth up and slipped it beneath his neck.
Then I laid down beside him and slept.
The next time we woke together. His fever was still going, but I convinced him to drink some water. It wasn’t until I took a drink myself that I realized how thirsty I was. I helped him drink a full glass, and then engulfed two of my own. I had enough energy to shuck my thick robe and replace it with loose pajamas. I placed a new damp cloth on Garrick’s forehead and he sighed.
“Thank you,” he mumbled.
I wasn’t sure how coherent he was. He definitely knew I was here, as he’d called out my name a few times since he woke. And he knew he was sick, but I didn’t know how much he knew beyond that.
“You’re welcome. But to be fair, you did take care of me first.”
His eyes were closed, but he smiled. “You’re better at it.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “It was just nice not to be alone.”
He tried to shift onto his side to face me, but ended up just reaching with his arms, his body still flat. I wrapped an arm around his chest, and pulled, His arms went around me and pulled, too, so that he ended up on his side and much closer to me.
When he was settled, he breathed out, exhausted by the little movement. He said, “I’m sorry.”
Needing help? He seemed much stronger and better off than I had been.
“For leaving you alone at all. For getting between you and Cade. For being too stubborn to tell you I missed you. I’m sorry.”
I was confused, the pieces of the puzzle not quite fitting. But I heard what mattered, he was sorry and I was sorry, too. And my brain was too fuzzy to remember all the details of why this shouldn’t be happening. I pulled him to me and his head fell into the crook of my neck. I breathed deeply for what felt like the first time in months. I wanted to ask him about the phone call, about our fight, about everything. But he was still murmuring “sorry,” again and again into my neck, and it didn’t really matter.
I held him tighter, and together, we weathered the sickness and sleep.
We passed days in this manner, wrapped up in each other, in and out of sleep, eating and showering when we felt like we could. It was strange to think of sickness as an oasis, but that’s what it was. When our physical needs triumphed over our brains, we didn’t need to talk, not about our relationship or what had broken it. We didn’t need to work anything out or explain ourselves. I didn’t even have to worry about being a virgin or the idea of having sex with him.
We cradled each other and found healing in the quiet, beneath my covers, away from the world. By Saturday, we were well enough to spend more time out of bed, to eat real food, to watch TV… to talk.