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Helen and Adrian


The Sneezster

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Helen and Adrian

Helen was uncharacteristically excited about her date. She’d met Adrian months ago over the internet, and a genuine friendship had grown. They had the same quirky sense of humor, the same love of folk and acoustic guitar music, the same taste for vintage movies, and the same passion for intellectual debate. From the time Adrian first arrived on the scene of one of the internet forums she frequented, Helen had noticed him. They had an easy banter with each other, and would often spend way too much time instant messaging each other in the late night hours.

Helen was nervous when he asked her to see a picture, so that he could put a face with the words. She wasn’t exactly supermodel material – a bit overweight, short and dumpy was how she’d describe herself, when she was being honest. Her hair was a classic “before” style that the fashion magazines loved to make over – pulled back into a ponytail and out of the way. At first, she considered going to the Glamour Shots studio to get herself a super-flattering portrait to show Adrian, but in the end, that didn’t feel right. Helen was always forthright and honest, if outspoken, and showing a picture that looked nothing like her didn’t seem honest. The picture she sent was taken with her cell phone held at arm’s length from her, a big friendly grin on her face. Looking at it critically before she emailed it, she noted her heavy chin, too-thick eyebrows, and too-big nose. For good or ill, it was an accurate photo.

She was relieved when Adrian’s comments were complementary – “Great smile and wonderful eyes,” and when she saw his photo – he was just as overweight as she was, balding, and had a funny bulbous shape to his large nose. And a warm, genuine smile, and eyes that twinkled with humor and intelligence. Just her kind of guy!

Helen usually didn’t put too much thought into her appearance, but today was special. Adrian was going to be in town for a business trip, and they were meeting for lunch. She’d been looking forward to this day for two weeks. Lunch at the hotel restaurant probably meant something a little dressier than her typical denim skirt and sweatshirt. And if Adrian was there for business meetings, he’d be wearing a suit. Helen stood in front of her closet in bra and panties. “I have nothing to wear!” she thought, staring at the closet full of clothes. Her fancy dress, trotted out for Christmas parties and weddings, was overkill. Her casual, everyday outfits were far too dowdy and sloppy-looking. Helen finally settled on her going-to-church clothes, a plaid skirt that fell mid-calf, a white blouse, knee socks and loafers. She ran a brush through her fly-away mousy brown hair and secured it in a loose bun. Examining herself in the mirror, she decided that she looked presentable.

Helen swallowed dryly, testing her throat. It still felt itchy and hot. It has started feeling a tiny bit sore yesterday, and it was still bothering her. “I just hope I’m not coming down with a cold!” she thought, ruefully. Helen was pretty sure that she was developing a cold, though. Her colds always started with a day or two of a sore throat, before progressing into chills and sneezing, runny nose, congestion and a cough. Helen just hoped to hold off on the runny nose and sneezes until after her lunch date with Adrian.

In the next room, the computer chimed that a message had arrived. Helen rushed over to see. It was from Adrian: “On a quick break between meetings. Looking forward to seeing you. All afternoon is free. Look for the tall, blond, handsome, athletic guy. I’ll be the one at the next table.” Helen smiled and quickly responded: “LOL – looking forward to seeing you, too. She rubbed at her nose, which was feeling vaguely tickly and reflected on the power of Murphy’s Law. Being an upright, law-abiding citizen, Helen figured that she’d have no choice but to obey Murphy’s Law and start catching a cold today. She had a half hour to spare before it was time to leave, and Helen helped herself to a cup of orange juice and a vitamin pill. Couldn’t hurt, she figured, although she’d never found it to be able to discourage a cold from settling in, yet. Helen stayed on the computer, checking and responding to her email until it was time to leave. She blew her nose a few times, trying to dispel the growing tickly feeling, but she was increasingly feeling as if she were about to sneeze. “Definitely coming down with a cold!” she silently bemoaned, feeling chilly and tired and headachy, her throat sore and her nose itchy, “What rotten luck!”

“Hitch-ew!” She grabbed a Kleenex in time to catch that first sneeze, and a minute later, sneezed another “Hitch-ew!” “Great,” she thought, “I’m leaving in 10 minutes, so of course I start coming down with a cold! I’ll be so embarrassed!” Helen blew her nose again, but still, the sneezy tickle remained strong. She sneezed twice more before she put on her coat. Helen tucked some tissues into her purse and her coat pockets, and took one last peak at herself in the hallway mirror before she locked up. Ugh! She looked like someone with a cold. Her nose was already a little pink from the sneezing and blowing, and her eyes were looking a little reddened as well. “Oh well, nothing to do about it now,” Helen sighed inwardly, and sniffled. I’ll just have to tell Adrian that I’ve got a cold today. Stepping from her warm apartment into the chilly air, Helen’s nose tickled fiercely. “Hitch-ew!” and a few seconds later, “Hitch-ew!” Helen fished a tissue from her pocket and scrubbed at her nose. “Just my luck! I’ll probably be sneezing like a cartoon all afternoon. Some impression I’m going to make!” She got into her car, feeling miserably shivery, and dabbed at her nose some more. Those last couple of sneezes had started it dripping. She briefly considered begging off the lunch date, but she’d waited so long to meet Adrian in person, and she didn’t know when she’d get another chance. “I guess he’s just going to have to put up with a date who has a runny nose,” Helen thought, glumly. She swallowed dryly, testing her throat. If anything, it hurt more than before.

The car warmed up after several minutes, and Helen turned the heater on full blast, easing her chills. Her nose felt dryer and not as tickly, and she didn’t sneeze at all for the ride downtown to Adrian’s hotel. Encouraged, Helen hoped that her cold symptoms would remain in abeyance, at least through the afternoon.

Alas, the walk from the parking lot to the lobby dashed her hopes. As she stepped from the toasty warm car into the chill wind, Helen shivered miserably. The cold air tickled her nose, and she sneezed precipitously, pitching forward with the force of it, and only catching herself from slipping on the icy pavement by bracing herself on the car. Steadying herself, Helen sniffed, which only served to yield two more “Hitch-ews!” She rubbed her nose with the back of her glove, blew it gingerly into a tissue, then wrapped her scarf snugly over her mouth and nose, to keep the cold winter air from her nostrils. The sneezing abated, but now Helen’s nose was running freely, dampening her scarf. Suddenly much more miserable than she had been, Helen picked her way quickly across the icy parking lot, sniffling the whole way. She hoped that once she got into the warm lobby, she’d feel better.

As she went through the lobby doors, Helen realized that she wasn’t even close to presentable. Her eyes were watery from the cold wind, her nose was streaming, and the combination of sniffling and breathing the cold air was making her cough. She made a quick dash for the ladies room, to pull herself into some semblance of presentability. She shoved her snotty scarf into her coat pocket and grabbed a couple of paper towels from the dispenser and wiped her runny nose, sniffling strongly. Discarding the wet paper towels, she grabbed two more from the dispenser and blew her nose. The stream of clear thin snot soaked through the two paper towels, and she tossed them as well, and repeated the procedure three more times with fresh paper towels. Then Helen froze, embarrassed, as she heard a toilet flush in one of the bathroom stalls. A 60-ish, well-dressed matronly type woman emerged from the stall and subjected Helen to a searching look as she approached the sink to wash.

Helen tossed out the damp paper towels and sniffed slightly. The woman approached the paper towel dispenser and took a couple to dry her hands.

“Sounds like you’ve got a nasty cold.”

Helen was mortified. “Um…well, I may be getting one.”

“My dear, you’ve GOT one.”

Helen blushed, and her tingly nose tickled fiercely. “I’m NOT going to sneeze now!” she commanded herself. Her nose had other ideas. “Hitch-ew!” She sneezed into her cupped hands, and the tickly feeling intensified “Hitch-ew!” The sneezes that were small and dry before she had left home had become more intense and very wet. Helen grabbed another couple of paper towels and dried her sneeze-wet hands and blew her nose.

“Dear, don’t you have tissues? Those paper towels must be awfully rough on your poor nose.”

The whole encounter was very embarrassing for Helen, who just wished that the floor would open up and swallow her so that she could avoid any more of this conversation. The woman just stood there, looking at Helen with concern.

“Um, yeah, I do. I just needed, um…” her voice trailed off to a whisper, “something bigger.” Helen’s face burned with embarrassment, but the rest of her still felt miserably chilly. She gave an involuntary shudder.

“Have you taken anything for that cold of yours?” Why couldn’t this woman just leave her in peace? Why did she even care about Helen’s cold? “I ask because my husband is upstairs in bed with a very bad cold, and judging by how I’m feeling today, I’m going to come down with it next. I just was out to the pharmacy for more cold pills, and I’d be glad to give you a couple, if you haven’t already taken anything.”

Helen forced herself to make contact with the woman’s eyes. She really could use some cold medicine, as her symptoms seemed to be rapidly escalating. But what kind of person takes drugs from strangers in a public bathroom? Helen looked away and sniffed, then cleared her throat and found herself saying “I hate to impose, but, yes, I really could use something about now.”

“No trouble at all, dear. I’m just glad I was here and able to help.” The woman opened her large purse and retrieved a box of cold pills, and showed them to Helen. “You take two every 12 hours, OK?” She pushed two of the pills through the foil backing and handed them to Helen.

“Thank you,” Helen whispered, “I’m taking them now.” She crossed to the sink, and swallowed the pills with tap water from her cupped hands. The cool water on her hands made her shiver. She turned aside. “Hitch-ew!”

“Bless you! How long are you in town, dear?”

“Huh? Oh, no. I live here. I’m just coming to the hotel to meet someone for a date.”

“Oh my! Well, the cold pills should be kicking in soon, and then you’ll be feeling better. Are you OK now, dear?”

“Yes. Thank you. I will be. I just need to pull myself together and make myself presentable.”

“Should I stay?”

“No, no. I’m fine. Really. You’ve been very helpful. Really. Thank you.”

Helen breathed a sigh of relief as the older woman left. She checked her watch – she was already five minutes late for her date with Adrian. As much as she hated being late, she figured it would be worth it to take a few more minutes to clean up. The heavy stream from her nose had diminished to a trickle, and she fished some tissues from her jacket pocket to wipe and blow. The soreness and redness of her nose bore witness to the statement that the paper towels would be rough on her nose. Helen’s nose was feeling less tickly and sneezy, but she could tell that she still had some sneezes left in her. She wet some paper towels with cool water and bathed her face and eyes, and washed her hands thoroughly in warm water. The warm water helped to abate her miserable chills, and Helen left the ladies room feeling just a little bit cold and goosebumpy, but not miserably shivering.

Helen scanned the lobby, trying to recognize Adrian from his picture. She chuckled. There was a tall, athletic looking blond man, a dead ringer for a 1960’s-era Robert Redford, talking on a cell phone. Sitting on a sofa in front of a coffee table near by was a balding, heavy man. He was coughing softly into a handkerchief, and didn’t notice Helen walking up to him.

“Adrian?”

“Helen!”

Together they said, “It’s so good to finally meet you in person!” and then both laughed.

Damn! Not now! Helen’s nose was feeling irresistibly sneezy. “Umm…” she said, holding up one finger and turning aside to catch a couple of “Hitch-ews!” into a Kleenex.

“Bless you!”

Helen dabbed at her nose with the tissue. She really wanted to give it a good blow, but she didn’t want to be gross in front of Adrian. She sniffled quietly, “I’m sorry about that. I seem to be coming down with a little cold.”

Adrian smiled at the pronouncement. “That’s something else we have in common, then. Whenever I fly, I stand a good chance of getting a cold, and I’ve picked up a nasty one on this trip.”

“Oh no! You too?” Helen tried to sound sympathetic, but she was practically beaming. “I’ve been so sneezy today!”

“Well, I’ll forgive your sneezes if you promise to put up with mine.” Helen noticed that Adrian sounded decidedly congested as well as a bit hoarse. And his nose was every bit as red as her own.

“I suppose we don’t have to worry about infecting each other, either. Since we both have colds.”

“I feel guilty saying it,” Adrian admitted, “but even though I hate the thought that you’re not feeling well, I guess I’m a little relieved, too.”

Helen said, “I know exactly what you mean. I kind of feel the same way.”

Adrian turned aside and pulled out his handkerchief and coughed into it. He looked up at her, over the handkerchief, mutely apologetic, and Helen met his eyes sympathetically. Helen remained silent, waiting for Adrian’s cough to calm. She was actually feeling a fair amount better. Her nose had stopped running completely, and she no longer felt so intensely sneezy. Her eyes had stopped watering and her headache and sore throat, if not completely resolved, were much less bothersome. She was still feeling a bit chilly, but maybe that was just because the lobby was drafty. Her brain, though, was feeling increasingly foggy and hazy, and Helen was aware of a strange, disconnected feeling. She thought about Adrian’s handkerchief, gray with a Wedgwood blue stripe near the border. She couldn’t think of anyone who actually used a handkerchief – they seemed a little old-fashioned – but watching Adrian wipe his nose with it seemed right. She considered getting some of her own. They would certainly be an improvement over public bathroom paper towels…”

“Helen?”

She startled and looked up at Adrian, vaguely aware that he has been saying something. “Oh, I’m sorry. I must have spaced out there for a minute. How embarrassing!”

“Yeah, you seemed a little zoned out there for a moment. I just asked if you were ready to go to lunch now.” He looked at her, thoughtfully, “Have you even eaten yet today?”

Helen gave an involuntary shiver. “I haven’t been very hungry today. I had some juice earlier is all. But we can head to lunch now, if you’d like.”

“Are you chilly?”

“Maybe a little. I’m OK, though.”

Adrian took off his suit jacket and draped it over Helen’s shoulders. She could feel the warmth of his body on her, and she shivered lightly again. Adrian took her hand in his.

“Your hands are ice-cold.” Helen nodded, embarrassed. She really was adorable, thought Adrian, “I know something that will really warm you up. Let’s go to the restaurant.”

“Sure. OK. I’m really doing fine, though. I don’t want to wear your jacket into the restaurant.”

“Well, just keep it on for a few minutes then, to warm up.”

“Don’t you need it?”

“I’m not cold. You are.”

Adrian felt a prickle in his nose, and reached for his handkerchief. He realized, too late, that it was in his jacket pocket. He turned aside and sneezed into his shirt sleeve – “Huh-HUUURSH! Huh-HUUURSH!”

Helen understood his need, and retrieved Adrian’s handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to him. He smiled in gratitude, and sneezed a third, powerful “HUH-HUUURSH!” into the gray handkerchief, then wiped his nose. He groaned quietly, then caught himself and grinned sheepishly. “Thanks. Rotten cold.”

“Yes. Bless you!”

“Come on, I’m treating you to lunch.”

Helen smiled and started to take off Adrian’s jacket. “No,” he said, “Keep it until we are there, OK?”

“Thanks. You are very chivalrous.”

“Anything for a fair maiden in distress!”

They walked together to the elevator and up to the hotel restaurant. At the entrance to the restaurant, Helen surrendered the jacket to Adrian, shivering lightly as he put it on. Adrian looked concerned.

“You’re still chilly. Helen, do you think you’re getting a fever?”

“No, I don’t feel feverish. I usually get chills when I’m catching a cold. I’ll be OK.”

“You’ll be more than OK in a few minutes. I know just the thing to get you feeling warm.”

“Well, I’d love a cup of tea.”

“And that you shall have, fair maiden!”

Helen smiled. Adrian was funny and charming and considerate!

The hotel restaurant had a clubby atmosphere, and at the far end, a fire was burning brightly in a large fireplace. Adrian spoke quietly to the Maitre d’Hotel, and discreetly slipped him a couple of folded bills, and Helen and Adrian were quickly seated at the table closest to the fire.

“Oh, this is lovely,” sighed Helen.

Adrian, however, looked distracted. Helen understood why once he pulled out his handkerchief from his pocket and held it in front of his mouth and nose. “HUH-HUUURSH! HUH-HUUURSH!” He wiped his nose and then coughed into his well-used handkerchief.

“Bless you!”

“Thanks. What do you feel like eating?”

Helen looked over the menu, but wasn’t feeling much of an appetite. “Would it be OK if I just got soup? I’m really not very hungry right now.”

“I was thinking the same thing. Chicken soup for two it is.”

The waitress came to take their order, and Adrian ordered two bowls of chicken noodle soup. “We’d like a pot of tea for two, as well. Do you have lemon and honey?” In his husky, congested voice, it sounded like “lebbod add huddy.”

“I’m sure I can scare some up,” the waitress replied.

“Great, a pot of tea, lots of lemon and honey, and two double brandies.”

Helen looked askance at Adrian. “It’s my Grandma Lucille’s cold remedy,” he explained, “You’ll be feeling warm in a few minutes.”

When the tea and brandy arrived, Adrian showed Helen how to add a generous spoonful of honey to the cup, and a good dose of lemon, and filled the cups halfway with brandy, and the rest of the way with tea. “Try it,” he urged.

Helen raised her teacup in a toast. “To a beautiful friendship,” she said, meeting his eyes. Adrian nodded and touched his teacup to hers then drank, smiling as the hot drink soothed his irritated throat.

Helen drank as well, and smiled. “Oh, this is good!” She felt the warmth of the drink going down her throat, hitting her stomach, and spreading through her body. “I feel warmer already.” She took another swallow. “Grandma Lucille knows her stuff.”

Adrian smiled at her over his own teacup, as he sipped his tea. She was so sweet! It was adorable the way that she got embarrassed because she was catching a cold, adorable the way she wrinkled her nose when she sneezed, and sweet the way that she looked at him with trust. He could see himself falling for her. He usually didn’t feel so comfortable with a woman on a first date, but Helen felt like an old friend. She wasn’t put off by his hoarse, congested voice or nose blowing, either, to his great relief. He’d been so nervous about that, he’d nearly called of their meeting. Adrian couldn’t stop thinking about kissing Helen.

“Oh, that feels so good,” he said hoarsely, “my throat’s been so sore, this really hits the spot.”

Helen nodded, and felt a rising flush as the heat from the tea and brandy spread through her. Adrian watched as the color rose to her face, and then an uncomfortable look followed close behind. Helen rubbed at her nose and winced. “Oh, my nose! It tickles so, all of a sudden.” She started to fumble for her purse, in desperation as she fought off the urge to sneeze. Seeing her need, Adrian retrieved an extra handkerchief, plain white with a rolled border, from his jacket, and placed it in her hand. Helen startled, then bestowing a grateful look on Adrian as she quickly raised the handkerchief. “Hitch-ew! Hitch-ew! Oh! “Hitch-ew! Hitch-ew! Ugh!” She fluttered her eyes helplessly as the fit of sneezing gripped her. “Hitch-ew! Hitch-ew! Hitch-ew!”

“Bless you! Are you finished?”

“Thank you. I don’t know. I hope so. It’s like the brandy went right to my nose.” Helen rubbed at her nose with the handkerchief, then stopped and looked at it. “Oh…I’ve gotten your handkerchief all dirty.”

“That’s OK, Helen. That one is for you. I have three more on me.”

“Well, thanks again.” Helen sniffed softly, and then finished her cup of tea. She was starting to feel a little woozy and off-balance. “I think this is going to my head.”

“Well, you kind of drank that fast, and on an empty stomach. You’ll feel better after you’ve had some soup.”

“Mmm…maybe the alcohol doesn’t mix so well with the cold pills I took.” Helen was slurring her speech slightly.

“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. It probably doesn’t. Are you going to be OK?”

Helen was swaying slightly in her seat and peering across the table at Adrian. “Woozy,” she murmured.

Adrian was growing alarmed. The drink really seemed to be hitting Helen hard and fast. He felt awful for getting her into such an impaired state. Well, maybe once she ate something she’d feel better.

The waitress returned with the bowls of soup, and set them on the table. She observed Helen’s glassy half-closed eyes and the way she was swaying in her seat.

“Is your wife all right?”

“She’s not my…I mean, I’m not sure if she is. She took some cold pills earlier and the drink seems to be really affecting her.”

“Her color’s not very good,” the waitress said, looking at Helen with concern.

Indeed, the flush had drained from her cheeks, and left Helen alarmingly pale. As they watched her, Helen raised a hand to her head, then dropped it into her soup and left it there.

“Does she need a doctor?”

“I’m not sure. I think she needs to go to bed to sleep this off. Could you just charge this all to my room – 316?”

“Of course. Do you need any help?”

“I hope not.”

Adrian got up and went to Helen’s side. He wiped off her soupy hand and shook her shoulder. “Helen? Helen? Wake up.”

Helen half-roused. “Huh?”

“I need you to get up.”

“Minute. Sleepy.” She slurred.

Adrian was alarmed. “Helen, get up now,” he said firmly, and helped pull her to her feet. She stood and leaned heavily on him. Adrian put an arm around her and held her firmly as he grabbed her purse. He was able to steer her unsteady, staggering gait through the restaurant and towards the elevators, as the other restaurant patrons turned their heads to stare.

Once in the elevator, Adrian and Helen leaned against the wall, Adrian breathing heavily. Helen’s knees started to give way, but Adrian kept an arm around her and buoyed her up. He was glad that his room was close to the elevator. He steered the sagging Helen to his door and leaned her against the doorframe as he fumbled for the key and opened the door. Once inside, he half-carried Helen to the bed, where she collapsed, asleep. Adrian covered her warmly with the extra blankets from the closet, and turned up the heat in the room.

Breathing heavily, Adrian sat down hard in the upholstered chair and allowed himself to cough. The exertion left him winded and exhausted. Racked with guilt for his part in Helen’s impaired state, Adrian tried to decide the best course of action. She was clearly unable to get herself home in her condition, and needed to recover. He considered if he should get her a doctor. Adrian decided to call the front desk for assistance, as soon as he could regain his breath and stop coughing.

The phone rang, causing Helen to moan softly and stir. Adrian answered it, “Hello?” The coughing fit had left his voice weak and exceedingly hoarse.

“It’s the front desk. We got a call from the restaurant that your wife is ill. Would you like us to send a doctor?”

“That’s probably a good idea. But it’s not my wife, just a friend meeting me for lunch when she was taken ill.”

“The doctor should be at your room within a half hour. Is there anything that you need before then?”

“Actually, there is. I’m not feeling very well myself,” he rasped, “Is it possible for me to extend my stay through the end of the week so that I don’t have to fly in this condition?”

“That’s not a problem. We’re not fully booked this week, so you can keep the same room.”

“Thank you.”

Adrian turned his attention to Helen. Her color seemed a little better now that she was in bed. He sat on the edge of the bed and touched her shoulder. “Helen?”

She stirred. “Mmm…”

“Helen? Are you OK?”

She opened her eyes. “Adrian.” Helen looked around. “What happened?”

“You kind of passed out in the restaurant. I brought you up to my room to lie down.” He looked at her closely. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m OK.” Helen tried to sit up, but as she did, she blanched and swayed, and Adrian eased her back down. “Um, maybe a little woozy. I think I shouldn’t have had that brandy after I took the cold pills.”

“I feel awful about that. I have a doctor coming up soon to make sure you’re OK.”

“I’m fine. I just need to rest a little.”

“You passed out, and I’m concerned.”

Adrian stood up and turned his back to Helen. “HUUURSH!” He pitched forward and sneezed powerfully into his handkerchief. “HUH-HUUURSH! HUH-HUUURSH!” He stifled a cough into his handkerchief, but, once started, could not further suppress them. The thickening, chesty cough left him short of breath, as he sat back down next to Helen.

“You don’t sound so great yourself. How are you going to manage flying out tomorrow with that cold?”

“I’m not.” It came out “I’b dot.”, “There’s one thing I hate more than having to fly when I’m trapped next to someone who’s coughing and sneezing and getting me sick, and that’s being the guy who’s coughing and sneezing on the airplane, and getting everyone else sick. I’m staying here for the rest of the week, until I’m over this thing.”

“I’m doing better now. I’m going to be fine. I can get up now.”

“Do me a favor and stay put until the doctor comes. He’ll be here any minute now.” Adrian looked Helen in the eye. “You’re still slurring your words. I think you feel less fain when you’re laying down, but you not all right.”

“I am sleepy,” she said, yawning, “Can I nap here? Do you mind?”

“Of course. I think you’re going to have to sleep this off.”

Helen closed her eyes and pulled the blankets closer, shivering.

“Chilly?”

Um-hm. Cold.”

“I can help you get underneath all the covers. You’re on top of the bedspread now. Here. Sit up slowly and lean on me, and I’ll pull back the bedspread and blankets.”

Adrian helped Helen up, and sat her on the edge of the bed, and then quickly pulled back the covers, keeping a steadying hand on Helen’s shoulder the whole time. He felt her sway, and then start to fall forward.

“Easy!” He had his arm around her in an instant and kept her from falling, easing her back on the bed. Helen had fainted again, her color alarmingly ashen. Worried, Adrian piled the blankets over her, and her color began to improve. After a few minutes, she stirred.

“I feel funny.”

“You fainted again.”

“I’m so sorry! I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“Shh…you’ll be OK. Just rest now.”

Helen nodded and closed her eyes.

Despite turning the heater up, the room still felt decidedly chilly. Adrian put his hand on the register to see if it was working properly. Warm air was blowing out, but it still wasn’t taking the chill off the room. Adrian’s throat ached, his chest ached, his sinuses and head ached, and he sat next to the heater, shivering. He pulled out a fresh handkerchief and blew his nose, trying to clear his congested head, but, besides making his ears feel more blocked, it had little effect. Ugh! Rotten, rotten cold! Two strong, messy sneezes tore at his throat and caused his head to throb, but cleared his congestion not at all.

Adrian was relieved when the doctor arrived at the door. He rose, coughing thickly, to let him in.

“I’m Dr. Phillips. And I guess you must be the patient.”

“No, not me,” Adrian rasped, “her.” He gestured towards the bed.

Dr. Phillips raised an eyebrow, and approached Helen at the bed. “What’s the problem?”

“We were having lunch, and she passed out at the table. I brought her up here and put her to bed. When she tried to sit up, she fainted again.”

“Any idea what caused her to faint?”

“She’s got a cold and she took some cold pills earlier. Then she had a drink at lunch. She said she felt woozy, and then a few minutes later she passed out.”

“You know you’re not supposed to mix cold medicine and alcohol.”

“I know. I hadn’t realized that she’d had cold pills until after she finished her drink.”

As the doctor took Helen’s wrist and checked his wrist watch, counting her pulse rate, she stirred and opened her eyes. “You’re awake. I’m Dr. Phillips. How do you feel?”

Helen blinked at the doctor. “Woozy. Dizzy. Strange.”

He opened his bags and removed his instruments. He placed a thermometer under Helen’s tongue and, while waiting for it to register, measured her blood pressure. He made notations on a small pad. He listened to her chest and back with the stethoscope and shone a small light into her eyes and mouth.

“Have you eaten today?”

“Some juice this morning, and some tea at lunch.”

The doctor shook his head and removed a small device from his bag. Pricking her finger, he placed a small drop of Helen’s blood on the machine and made another notation on his pad.

“Just before you fainted in the restaurant, did you have a hot flush come over you?”

Helen looked confused, but Adrian answered. “She did. She became quite flushed and mentioned feeling warm. The flushing seemed to trigger a sneezing fit.” Helen nodded in agreement. “A minute or two later, she went pale and dizzy and passed out.”

“That was the vasodilatation that dropped the bottom out of your blood pressure. Well, it looks like a bad reaction to an interaction of the cold pills and alcohol, made worse by the fact that you’re fasting. Do you usually have low blood pressure?”

“I do, but it’s never been a problem. Sometimes if I get up too quickly, I get a little dizzy, but I’ve never fainted like this before.”

“Well, your blood pressure is very low now. I have no doubt that if you tried to stand up now, you’d have another syncopal episode. Your blood sugar is also abnormally low. You need to take something to eat, but mostly, you need to stay in bed and sleep until the drug and alcohol are out of your system. You are not to get behind the wheel of a car until you are feeling better – at least tomorrow.”

“I don’t think I could – not the way I feel now.”

“Your cold is pretty mild for now – no fever, your lungs sound fine, your throat is irritated, but it doesn’t look serious. Just take plenty of fluids and get plenty of rest.” He turned to Adrian. “You have bronchitis.”

“I’ve got a bad cold, is all.”

“I heard your cough, and you’ve clearly got a rising fever. Take off your jacket and sit on the chair.”

Adrian complied as the doctor checked his temperature, listened to his chest and black and looked in his throat, nose, and ears. “Bronchitis and a sinus infection. And, yes, you are feverish. Are you allergic to any antibiotics?” Adrian shook his head. Dr. Phillips turned to Helen. “How about you? Any medication allergies?”

Helen shook her head. “Do I need antibiotics? I thought you said my cold wasn’t so bad.”

“It’s not, now. But your friend here is pretty sick, and I expect that you’ll be coming down with it, too.” He turned again to Adrian. “You belong in bed. I’ll phone the prescriptions to the pharmacy and have them deliver it here.” He looked at the two of them. “I think I’ll also call room service and have them send up something for you to eat and drink. Start the antibiotics as soon as they’re delivered, and take plenty to drink.” He turned to Helen, “And you have to eat something. You should both be starting to feel better tomorrow. If you’re not, call me.” The doctor left, leaving two patients with orders to be in bed, and only one bed. Adrian and Helen looked at each other.

“I should get another room,” volunteered Helen.

“You are not going anywhere. Don’t even try to sit up yet.” Adrian warned. “The sofa here opens up to a second bed. Do you mind sharing the room with me? I give you my word of honor, fair maiden, that I shall comport myself as the perfect gentleman.”

Helen smiled, “Do you snore?”

“With this cold, I’d say it is a certainty.”

“Well then, you’ll have no room to complain if I snore because of my cold, then.”

“Well, it’s certainly a memorable first date, huh? I can’t remember the last time a lunch date ended up needed so much medical intervention.” Adrian chuckled hoarsely, then launched into a thick, congested-sounding cough. He tried stifling the coughs, unsuccessfully, and by the time that he had regained his breath, Helen was asleep again.

Adrian opened the sofa bed, and was pleased to find it already fitted with sheets and a warm blanket. He took extra pillows from the closet and was soon asleep as well.

A half hour later, room service knocked on the door and brought in a large pitcher of orange juice, two bowls of chicken soup, toast, jello, and a vase of flowers with a get well card. “Compliments of the management – feel better!”

Helen hadn’t stirred since she’d fallen asleep, and Adrian endeavored to wake her. He sat on the edge of the bed and put a hand on her shoulder. “Helen? Helen?” His voice was far more hoarse than it had been in the morning. Adrian was glad that he was finished with all his meetings for this trip – he didn’t think he’d made a very good impression in his condition. Helen stirred slightly, but remained asleep. Shaking her gently, Adrian continued to try to awaken her. “Helen. You need to wake up. You have to eat something. Helen?” She swatted clumsily at his hand, and half opened her eyes, mumbling something unintelligible. A precipitous “Hitch-EW!” bounced her on the bed. Helen’s eyes flew open, and she looked around, confused. “Hitch-EW! Hitch-EW!” Her eyes landed on Adrian, and her face relaxed.

“Adrian, I think I fell asleep.” She sat up, then put her hand to her head. “I feel funny.” Adrian eased her back down to the pillow.

“Don’t sit up too quickly. You’re still woozy. If you have something to eat, you’ll feel better.”

“Well, I need to get up to eat, don’t I?”

“No. Not yet.” He poured as glass of orange juice and brought it to her with a straw. “Drink this.”

Helen turned to her side and sipped the juice, wincing as her throat burned with the swallowing.

“Sore throat?”

“Kind of. How about you?”

“Yeah, mine’s sore, too.”

“I can’t believe I did this. I’m so embarrassed. Nothing like this has ever happened to me.”

“I feel responsible for getting you so liquored up. I had no idea it would have that effect.”

“Um, Adrian, I’m really tired. I’ll eat more later. I need to sleep.”

“The doctor said you need to eat. Take a little soup first, OK?”

“You need soup, too, Adrian. You really don’t sound very good.”

“I’m really sorry, Helen. If I knew that I was this sick, I would have never kept our date. I’ve just been getting steadily worse all day. I’ve made a mess of the whole thing.”

“Adrian, I’ve got to tell you that I think you are the sweetest guy I’ve ever met. And even though today is something of a disaster, I’m still glad that I got to meet you.”

“I can’t believe it. I can’t be making a very good impression on you like this.”

“Adrian, you are incredibly attractive. You are a gentleman. I could fall for you.”

“Well, I already have you swooning at my feet. Let’s get some soup into you, and see if you change your opinion once the circulation is restored to your brain.”

Helen ate her soup lying in bed, propped up on her side on one elbow, and Adrian sat next to her with his bowl of chicken noodle.

“Mmm…this is really good,” said Helen.

“I’ll have to take your word on it. My head is so congested right now I can’t smell or taste anything.”

They finished their soup, and Adrian put the bowls aside. “Can you take anything else now? Maybe a cup of tea?”

Helen’s eyes were half shut. “Sleep,” she murmured.

Adrian massaged his forehead and cheeks, and the touch of his cold hand on his forehead caused him to shiver. “UH-HUUURSH! HEH-HUUURSH! HUUURSH!” He sneezed powerfully and messily into his handkerchief, and blew his nose forcefully. He set aside his very snotty handkerchief and retrieved a fresh one. Shivering, he tucked himself into the sofa bed, but no sooner was his head on the pillow than he sat up again, coughing thickly. After the fit passed, he again fell back on the pillows and into a heavy sleep.

The room was quite dark when he was awakened by the ringing telephone. “Hello?” he rasped, his voice almost gone. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Hello?”

“Front desk. There is a pharmacy delivery for you.”

“Please send them up,” he croaked, hoarsely

Adrian sat on the edge of the sofa bed and decided that he felt much worse for having had a nap. “This isn’t just a bad cold,” he thought to himself, “I’m really sick.” He heard Helen stirring in the dark, and then “Hitch-ew! Hitch-ew!”

“Bless you,” he rasped.

The lamp next to the bed clicked on, and revealed Helen sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Careful! Are you OK sitting up?”

“I’m feeling much more steady now. I’ve got a headache, and I’m sleepy, but not so dizzy and faint. Who was on the phone?”

“Pharmacy’s on their way up.” Adrian launched into another attack of coughing.

“Good. That cough’s sounding worse.” Adrian couldn’t argue. This bug was hitting him hard. He nodded.

Helen got up slowly, and stood by the bedside for a minute, testing her steadiness. “Dizzy?” Adrian looked concerned.

“No, I’m doing much better. Still a little dopey and fuzzy, though. I think I’m OK to be up and about, but not to drive yet. I’ll get the door,” she said, as the pharmacy delivery arrived, knocking. She exchanged her credit card information for the pharmacy bag and carried it to Adrian, turning out its contents onto the sofa bed.

“Let’s see what we have…Antibiotics for you and for me – you’d better take that right away – cough medicine for you – that’s good – Tylenol – I think we could both use some – and cold pills. Ugh. I think I’m going to stay away from those!” Helen chuckled ruefully.

“I’m sorry, Helen. I’m really sorry. I’m so sorry. I’ve ruined everything.” Adrian snuffled and blew his nose. “I’m a mess and I’ve made a mess of everything. I was really looking forward to today, and it couldn’t have gone worse. I wouldn’t blame you if you hated me. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry…” Adrian’s hoarse voice trailed off, and he turned away from Helen, releasing a powerful HUH-HUUURSH! into his handkerchief.

“Bless you!”

“Ugh. Sorry. HUH-HUUURSH! HUUURSH!”

“Bless you!”

Adrian blew his nose, then closed his eyes and shivered. He was surprised to feel the soft touch of Helen’s lips on his forehead.

“Mmm. You’re hot,” she said. “I don’t blame you, Adrian. It’s not your fault. You couldn’t help getting sick. You had no way to know that I’d react that way to Grandma Lucille’s remedy. You don’t have to feel sorry.” Again she kissed his forehead, then his cheek, his red nose and his lips.

Adrian pulled back. “Helen, do you want to do this? I’m contagious.”

“Shh…I know. Me too, I’m sure. And I’m sure that it’s too late to worry about any of that. In spite of everything, Adrian, you’ve been wonderful. A real gentleman.” His warmth and closeness were making Helen tingle, and not in a comfortable way. She turned aside. “Hitch-ew! Hitch-ew!” Helen sniffed sharply and rubbed her nose with the handkerchief. “Hitch-ew!”

“Bless you,” croaked Adrian.

“Thanks. I think the cold pills I took before are wearing off,” she said, sniffling.

“You can blow your nose if you need. I won’t mind.”

“I hate to be disgusting.”

“Helen, you are adorable. I could fall for you right now.”

“Oh, you don’t know what you’re saying,” Helen blushed.

Adrian took Helen’s chin in his hand and locked eyes, his glassy and feverish, hers reddened and watery. “I know,” he leaned forward and kissed her lips. “I know”

Helen swayed and leaned into his arms, closing her eyes.

“Dizzy?”

“No silly. I’m falling for you.”

And they kissed again.

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That was so wonderful! I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this story. Your characters were charming and believable, and I found myself easily relating to them. I would definitely trade feeling sick and awful to make a connection like that on a first date. Thanks for sharing this sweet and romantic fic!

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Oh Sneezster ! What a wonderful job again.

And you were kind enough to include suits and handkerchiefs and coughing on top ... :winkkiss:

And make it extra long ... Thanks a lot !

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And you were kind enough to include suits and handkerchiefs and coughing on top

You know what? I threw in the bit with the handkerchiefs with you in mind, 'cause I know you like them so much. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Tremendous story, again! It's nice to have some humorous touches and such realistic characters. I love Adrian and his multiple hankies; does he understand why he carries so many?

Your solutuion to the "congested speech" problem is masterly. And funny.

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And you were kind enough to include suits and handkerchiefs and coughing on top

You know what? I threw in the bit with the handkerchiefs with you in mind, 'cause I know you like them so much. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

oooow :) . I feel honoured. Thanks !

C

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  • 1 month later...

That was awesome! It was just a masterpiece. LOVED the part about the vasodilation. I'm a Nursing student so I was like "Yay!" LOL!!! Brilliant! It truly made me just feel warm and fuzzy! LOL... I mean it was just awesome!!

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  • 3 years later...

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