He had called in sick again, missing his sixth meeting in a row. Everyone knew something was up, even Alfred, who usually didn’t care what the British man did. But Arthur insisted that he was truly sick; that he had eaten something bad or he had a terrible headache. The lists of possible sicknesses went on and on.
Of course no one believed him, but unlike you they weren’t terribly concerned that he wasn’t showing up. It meant there was no bossy Englishman sitting in his usual chair nagging someone, always with a cup of tea nearby. He saved a smile for you as he tried to be a polite gentleman.
You had your suspensions that his sickness wasn’t caused naturally, even if it wasn’t a lie it was spotty and left his voice all squeaky, not rough and scratchy like steel wool on a chalk board.
You decided to take action. If he insisted on being sick for every meeting you would have to help him, or at least get a smile. You packed up your knitting and quilts while chicken rice soup boiled on the stove. You dished the soup into a container, grabbed a season of your favorite British TV show and headed off to Arthur’s.
The drive there took forever, probably because you could count the seconds along with your heart beat and your sweaty hands slipped on the steering wheel. You were almost tempted to turn back. Your face burned when you pulled into his driveway. You hadn’t even thought of how you were going to invite yourself in, let alone know whether he was asleep or awake.
With a shaking hand and heavy tongue you rang the doorbell and had a moment to collect your thoughts before the creaking door opened enough for a bloodshot green eye to peek out. “Yes?” Arthur croaked.
You gave him a quick smile and held out the soup and covers. The door opened a bit more and the hot container almost went crashing to the sidewalk.
You were right. This wasn’t a normal sickness. There were hundreds of them, peppered all across his cheeks and hands, the chicken pox only to be seen on exposed skin while the rest was covered by a blanket, robe, and rumbled pajamas. His voice was sore and squeaky and he looked forlorn; with dark bags under his eyes and unwashed messy hair. This wasn’t a normal cold. The most surprising thing was when he wrapped his arms around you in a tight hug and croaked your name.
“It’s so good to see you,” he squeaked as he broke your embrace.
You smiled, now having a bit more confidence. “It’s nice to see you again too.”
You blushed when his weak and shaking hand grasped your arms and led you inside where you were surprised by the smell of baked goods.
The reason you had even made the soup was because you knew Arthur had trouble cooking. Though you never pointed it out to him, he wasn’t well known for making nutritious or delicious meals, something he needed while he was sick.
Now his house smelled like a bakery full of mouth-watering goodies like fluffy cheese cream spooned inside freshly made cannoli, moist chocolate cakes iced with sweet buttercream frosting, and crackly crust bread with a delicate and warm center.
You blushed in embarrassment, looking down at your puny soup. Maybe it was just candles and air freshener, but that idea was scrapped when you walked in the kitchen and saw more treats then you could even think of, piled on the counter in neat rows.
Arthur chuckled and picked up one of the trays, “I’ve been a bit busy,” he explained.
It didn’t help you feel any better about your soup, but it was nice to know he had enough energy to bake all of this. Maybe he could explain why he had been so sick for the past few weeks or you could finally tell him.
He insisted on sharing the soup, which you happily ate in front of the television after helping Arthur move the mountain of blankets and pillows that he had accumulated so he could watch TV, read, or even knit. He was even grateful for the extra covers you had brought that would hopefully help with the chills he had.
“This soup is delicious,” he said, trying to make conversation to break the awkward silence.
“Thanks,” you said and stared at your untouched soup.
It seemed the entire visit had been awkward to you; probably because you had matters on your mind other than just Arthur’s sickness. Maybe now was the time to tell him; to gather up your courage and try to make the jumbled up words and emotions into coherent sentences, but the only thing you could muster was leaving your mouth hanging open with a sinking feeling in your stomach.
Thankfully Arthur didn’t seem to notice and instead took the empty bowls back to the kitchen before he returned to his place on the couch. Everything seemed fine for the next few minutes. You finished an episode and the next one started, but suddenly Arthur started to shiver and had flung himself into the pile of covers, desperate for warmth.
“Arthur?” You asked, reaching out to him.
He smacked you away and curled up inside the covers, though you weren’t going to leave until you got some answers. “What’s wrong?” you asked and a groan emitted from the lump.
“Just leave, please,” he begged.
You sighed and with a fluttering stomach said, “I’m not going to leave until you get better or tell me what’s wrong.” He was silent so you stood. “I’m going to see if I can get some more blankets,” and gave the pile an encouraging pat before going to search the house.
You needed a moment alone. Arthur was acting strangely, not sickly strange, but a disturbed strange. He usually had something to rant about and from what you remembered had never hugged you. And his voice was unnerving. It sounded nothing like him save for the persistent English accent. It seemed more like he was changing than sick. You decided to push away your emotions until this ordeal was over.
You were able to find some sheets in the hall closet. They weren’t covers but even a little extra warmth might help the chills. You turned to go back down the hall, but gasped when you were eye to eye with a bedraggled and grumpy Arthur.
There was more silence as Arthur stared at you with watery eyes that chilled you to the bone. You had to look away, distract yourself with the tiny chicken pox that marked his skin, but the more you looked at them, the more you began to notice they were freckles.
You’re eyes went wide and you clutched the sheets for comfort. Arthur didn’t have freckles. You met his eyes again and he took a step forward. You stepped back. Was this really Arthur?
“You promise to stay until I get better?” he asked. He sounded normal and you wanted to breathe a sigh of relief, but instead you nodded.
“Of course, that’s what friends are…”
Soft, warm, and demanding lips cut you off, pressing you closer as his hands roamed, resting on your hips or tangling through your hair in a millisecond of passion before he pulled away and rested his forehead against yours. He was still shaking and he gasped for air, “Good…because I took a very, very, bad potion and I have no idea what I’m turning into.”
Only the word potion shocked you, but right now you didn’t care as Arthur collapsed into your arms and grunted in pain. His grip turned to iron and you were pressed uncomfortably hard against the door, but you didn’t care. You had promised to take care of him and that’s what you were going to do.
“I love you, Arthur,” you admitted and as he slowly rose; a malicious grin twitching on his face, you hoped it wouldn’t be the last time.