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Allies (Complete May 15)


matilda3948

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Thanks for the suggestions on what to try and incorporate into this story! Been a whiles since I've worked with original characters so I'm just getting my feet wet here. Not sure how many sections this will end up being.

 

He turned away from the podium and coughed into his fist for the second time that hour. His throat was scratchy and his voice had cracked in the middle of his lecture to a room full of undergraduates. Normally Mark would be embarrassed but he was pretty sure none of his students were listening to him anyway.

“Excuse me,” he said, adjusting his glasses and glancing down at his notes, “Now, it’s at the beginning of the 16th century that we begin to see significant advances in the architecture of—” Damn, his voice cracked again. He sighed and looked around the room. “You know what? Let’s pick up with the 16th century on Thursday. Don’t forget your term papers are due next week. Come to my office hours if you need help.” The room instantly filled with the sound of scraping chairs and bustling students. Mark packed his notes into his bag and paused when he felt his nose itch. He sniffed and rubbed his nose back and forth. He didn’t sneeze but he did feel like he could use a tissue. “Really hope I’m not getting sick,” he thought to himself. A cup of coffee was certainly in order though and he made his way through the crowded hallways and towards the art history department offices. The cool late fall air nipped at him despite the fact that he was wearing a three piece suit. As a junior faculty member, Mark put a lot of care into his appearance since he was closer in age to his students than he was to many of his colleagues. The last of the fall leaves were swirling across the sidewalks and it wouldn’t be long before the first snow of the season and Mark was looking forward to seeing what the campus would look like with a layer of white.

The moment he entered the building the change in temperature renewed the tickle in his nose. It was damper when he sniffled and getting some tissues was now a top priority. Unsure if he’d make it to his office, Mark ducked into the men’s room and grabbed a couple paper towels. They were rough but it still felt good to be able to blow his nose. He sniffed and immediately brought the paper back up to his nose, crushing the sudden sneeze.

huhhchhoo!

He sighed in relief, washed his hands, then looked in the mirror. He ran his fingers through his wavy black hair and attempted to straighten his tie; for some reason neither were willing to cooperate on a regular basis, always a touch messier than he would have liked. Mark still felt a tug of embarrassment when he remembered how the dean's wife had pulled him aside at the new faculty welcome party to straighten his tie.

After dropping his bag in his office, he took a mostly clean coffee mug to the department break room. Mark smiled when he saw Bethany was there. She was hired at the same time he was and it nice having someone else in the same boat trying to navigate the strange world of academia as new faculty. They were allies of sorts: she had more experience navigating university administration and he had more experience living in a climate that routinely had snow, ice, and wind. She turned around when she heard someone behind he and smiled when she saw it was him.

“Hey Mark. How was class this morning?” She held out the pot of coffee and filled his mug.

“It’s been a long week, to be honest,” he said.

“Mark, it’s Tuesday,” she laughed. God, was it really only Tuesday? He was Friday-exhausted.

“I stand by my comment,” he said with a smile.

“It’s going to get even better with our awesome committee meeting today.”

“Oh, I forgot!” he groaned.

“Blocked it out is more like it,” Bethany said, sipping her coffee. He laughed but it quickly stuck in his throat and Mark turned his head away and coughed into his fist. The jostling motion caused him to spill coffee on his other hand and he hissed in pain. “Got it,” Bethany said, taking the coffee cup and wetting a paper towel in the sink. He cleared his throat once the coughing stopped and he wiped the hot coffee off his hand.

“Thanks,” he said, taking his coffee back and finally getting to take a sip.

“You feeling okay?” she asked.

“Fine. Just a little off my game this morning,” he said. Bethany could hear a touch of hoarseness in his voice but didn’t mention it. “You look dressed for the arctic,” he said, happy for a reason to change the topic of conversation.

“It’s freezing here!” she moaned. Bethany was in at least three layers that Mark could see. Topped off her some knee high leather boots and the print scarf twisted around her throat she looked every bit the southerner facing her first winter in the northeast.

“It’s in the 40’s today. What are you going to do when it’s actually freezing?” he teased.

“Don’t remind me. I feel like I’m cold all the time already.”

“And I’m not sure this old building has functioning he—hehuhh…heh hhh—heat,” he managed to finish his sentence before turning away and sneezing into the bend of his arm.

uhh hhhtschhoo! Huhtschhoo!

“Bless you!” she said with surprise. Mark slowly lowered his arm, unsure if he was done sneezing or not.

“Excuse me,” he said, giving his nose a rub. She smiled and checked her watch.

“I should get going. I’ve got about a thousand emails to answer. Top off your coffee?” Bethany asked. He nodded and she refilled both their cups. They left the break room and walked together towards their offices. “Thanks for seeing me to me door,” she teased as their offices were right next to each other. “Committee meeting in an hour.”

“Can hardly wait.”

*

Mark shifted in his chair and tried focusing on what the dean was saying to the group of faculty members gathered around the large conference room table. “Resting his eyes” in his office for an hour hadn’t helped him shake the fuzziness that had steadily been getting worse since the morning. He was dangerously close to having to admit he was catching a cold. He’d been forced to upgrade his throat to “sore” and there was a congested, buzzing sensation in his sinuses that made he feel like he needed to sneeze.

Bethany was to his left diligently taking notes as people droned on about classroom cap sizes, learning outcomes, evaluation metrics. She only paused to pull her sweater tighter around herself. There was something about her constantly being chilled in this northern climate that Mark found incredibly endearing. That combined with her sharp mind and the touch of southern accent that leaked through when she was relaxed made her an intriguing woman. Mark shook his head slightly and sniffled; he really needed to focus. He could zone out in meetings once he had tenure.

Bethany’s pen paused when she heard Mark sniffle. It didn’t take a genius to see he was a little under the weather. She felt bad for him—these meetings could give a healthy person a monster headache, she couldn’t imagine trying to limp through one when already feeling poorly. A sudden flash of activity to her right caught her eye. She turned her head and saw Mark had lurched forward stifling a sneeze. He sat back up briefly, thumb and forefinger tightly pinching his nostrils shut, before shaking forward with another silent sneeze. The husky exhale and liquid sniffle that followed was the only audible noise he’d made. She resisted the urge to bless him since he was clearly trying to be discreet. His poor noise seemed less inclined towards discretion though because not five minutes later Mark repeated the ordeal, sneezing three times in quick succession. Bethany reached down into her bag and found the travel pack of tissues she kept in the front pocket. She opened them and pulled one to the top before reaching over and putting her hand on his wrist. When Mark looked over she slipped him the tissues under the table. He blushed but this was really no time to look a gift horse in the mouth. In fact, Mark had been trying to figure out the most discreet way he could leave the meeting room because he was in desperate need of a Kleenex. Instead his friend had quietly come to his rescue. He brought a tissue to his nose and gave it a single quick blow, a little louder than he would have liked but it increased the chances he could make it to the end of the meeting without sneezing again.

TBC...

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Will come back and post more coherently, but...

 

OMG!!!!

 

I LOVE THIS!! :wub::wub:

Just....so....cute and sweet, and embarrassment and glasses- yup, yup.  Love it! 😘 

 

All the ticks.  ❤❤😍

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Ooh, very nice. So much about this I like. Her being cold, his illness, her slipping him the tissues so discretely... all of it.

Can't wait for more.

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Oh yesssssss. Mmmmm. Lovely professor with a cold goodness. :heart:

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My more coherent reply.  Love SO many things with this.  It actually makes me want to work on a story that I've put aside, but to try to get the beautiful clarity with that balance of enough description without going over.

 

Some of my favs: 

22 hours ago, matilda3948 said:

It’s in the 40’s today. What are you going to do when it’s actually freezing?” he teased.

As a Northerner, this was especially fun to read.  Lol!

22 hours ago, matilda3948 said:

Mark still felt a tug embarrassment when he remembered how the dean's wife had pulled him aside at the new faculty welcome party to straighten his tie.

 

22 hours ago, matilda3948 said:

He was dangerously close to having to admit he was catching a cold.

Awww!!! :wub::wub:

23 hours ago, matilda3948 said:

She resisted the urge to bless him since he was clearly trying to be discreet. His poor noise seemed less inclined towards discretion though because not five minutes later Mark repeated the ordeal, sneezing three times in quick succession. Bethany reached down into her bag and found the travel pack of tissues she kept in the front pocket. She opened them and pulled one to the top before reaching over and putting her hand on his wrist. When Mark looked over she slipped him the tissues under the table. He blushed but this was really no time to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Absolutely so adorably sweet. 😍😍❤💚💛

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GUHHH! :wub: I can TOTALLY imagine him....adorable dark curly-haired junior prof! :wub: This is SO up my alley and I'm loving it! Can't wait to see where it goes next

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Y'all are so sweet!! Thank you for the love! Definitely some Mark/Bethany snuggling on the horizon...but first, poor guy has to get worse.

 

"Um, excuse me, professor?"

Mark startled awake, his chin slipping off his hand and his head slumping towards his desk. He immediately began to cough and the student hovering in his doorway looked like she wanted to run.

"Sorry," he gasped in between coughs. He motioned towards the empty chair across from his desk. "Come in. Sorry," he apologized again as the coughing died down. He took a sip of the cold coffee on his desk and it helped settle the tickle in his throat.

"I can come back," the student offered, obviously reluctant to enter the office.

"No. No, it's fine, Mary." he said.

"Okay. I just had a couple questions about my paper. I was hoping you could take a look at the first couple pages with me." She sat on the edge of her chair and pulled out a paper. Mark was horrified that he'd fallen asleep during office hours. When he woke up that morning he definitely felt worse than the day before, but he came to campus better prepared: cough drops, cold medicine, and multiple handkerchiefs making him confident enough he could get through the day. As he rubbed at his nose and cleared his throat he was starting to doubt that decision. He took the paper from his student and grabbed a pen so he could make notes as he reviewed Mary’s paper. In the silence Mark became terribly aware of each little sniffle or congested breath he took. He took a handkerchief from his back pocket and pressed it to his nose.

"I'm sorry. I'm a bit under the weather," he said quietly, hoping he didn't blush as he admitted a truth so obvious even his most clueless student would have understood.

"That's okay," Mary said, fidgeting with her cell phone. 

Mark squinted and tried to focus on the writing in front of him. His nose tickled and his eyes weren't wanting to cooperate, fluttering and watering as he fought back a sneeze he simply refused to give into with a student sitting ten feet away from him. He circled a couple lines of her paper and kept his handkerchief pressed to his nose with the other. Mark turned the paper around so Mary could look at it while he explained his edits. When he spoke his voice was hoarse and lower than usual.

"Okay, this is a good start, but we need to rework your opening," he said. "Try taking this section here and moving it uhh...huh up...excuse me..." His voice faltered and his breath hitched and, after a moment's pause, Mark knew he couldn't hold out any longer. He swiveled his chair so his back was to Mary and he pinched his nose tightly in the cloth but the sneezes were stronger today and he couldn't completely suppress the sound.

huhNGtsch! HuhNGXtshh!

"Shit, professor! Are you okay?" Mary asked. "Crap. Sorry, I shouldn't swear but you sound awful."

He couldn't help but chuckle as he blew his nose as quietly as possible before turning around.

"I'm sorry. Just a bit of a cold. Couldn't help it."

"Sorry again about saying—" He cut her off with a wave of his hand. He'd certainly had students say far worse in his office and then it was usually out of anger.

"As I was saying, you need to move this section up. Do you see how your entire argument is predicated—founded on," he corrected when he saw her confused expression, "the statements in this paragraph? It should come before anything else."

"Okay, so is that going to impact where my thesis statement goes?"

"Not nehh huhehh excu—" Mark spun his chair away suddenly and was forced to sneeze into his hands having no time at all to get his handkerchief. They were wrenching, explosive sneezes and, embarrassed or not, he couldn't hold back a quiet groan as he groped around for his handkerchief.

huhhGNSHHishhew! uhhsngSHHeew!

"I'b so sorry, Mary," he said as he sat back up again. She gave him an awkward smile and slipped her paper back in her bag.

"It’s okay. How about we finish this by email?" she suggested already getting up. "I think I've got a better idea of what to try and, no offense sir, but you need to go home."

"You're sure?"

"Definitely. I'll email you if I have any more questions. Feel better, Professor."

When Mary turned the corner out of his office, Mark rested his head in his hands. When could he take more cold medicine? He just needed to make it through his graduate class and then he could go home. A few hours and he’d be done and able to take enough Nyquil to hopefully sleep for the next three days. He felt like there was wet cement in his sinuses and he felt like he was constantly on the verge of sneezing.

Bethany knocked lightly on the open door to let him know she was there. His nose was pink and his eyes only seemed about half focused when he looked up at her.

"Oh, Mark, you've got a nasty cold," she said, crossing her arms and leaning against the door frame. "Why did you even come in today?"

"Had office hours and my graduate seminar this afternoon. Don't worry, it's not as bad as it looks," he said. Bethany watched as his nostrils twitched slightly, his eyes fluttering shut while he brought his handkerchief up to his face.

huhhNDGShhheew! UHH’NGstsssheew! huh huhehh…HuhGNTSCHHeew!

"Bless you!” Bethany said with a frown. If his sneezes sounded irritated and tired yesterday, they sounded absolutely angry today. “I could cover your grad class. I mean I'm sure I can find a way to connect Greco-Roman architecture to...whatever they're studying this week. The Greeks are timeless—they fit in any art history class." He laughed and Bethany came in and sat down in the chair Mary had been in earlier. Her smile turned serious and she put a hand on the desk. "Seriously, Mark, you sound really sick. You need to go home and take care of yourself."

"I promise to go home right after my class. We only meet once a week and we'll be behind if I cancel. I came better prepared today; I'll take some cold medicine and be fine for a couple hours."

"Hmm. For a smart person you're very stupid," she said with a smile. "Fine, but I'm going to make you a cup of tea to take with you. No arguments," she added when he went to object. "Take your medicine and I'll be back in a minute."

As promised Bethany returned with a cup of hot tea.

“Thag you,” he said, standing and grabbing what he needed to teach.

“No problem,” she said. “Straight home after class though, okay?”

“Promise.” He double checked to make sure he had everything when Bethany stopped him at the door.

“Hold still,” she said and straightened his tie, tucked down the edge of his shirt collar, brushed some lint off his shoulder. “You were looking a little worse for wear,” she said. “That’s better. Have a good class, professor,” she said with a wink before retreating to her own office.

*

There were pros and cons to teaching his graduate course in his current condition. Pros, the students would talk more taking some of the burden off of him to carry conversation. There were also simply fewer people to witness him in such a state. Cons: with only ten people in a small seminar room it would be impossible to even attempt to hide the fact that he was ill. Once his students were settled he took out his book and, as an afterthought, a couple of cough drops as well.

“Good afternoon,” he said. “First, I have to apologize because I’m a little under the weather today but we’ll press on. Who would like to open conversation with comments from the article I assigned for this week?” Thankfully, one of his students stepped up and got things going. Mark sipped his tea and did his best to follow the conversation, chiming in as infrequently as possible. This was a smart and congenial group; they worked well together.

The first hour passed without incident—a cough or sniffle here and there but nothing too awful. Unfortunately, the time had come when Mark couldn’t avoid speaking much longer.

“I think that’s a good observatiod, Layla, and it’s the perfect way to transitiod to today’s topic.” He sniffled wetly trying to clear some of the congestion that was dulling his consonants. “Whed we look at the height of the Gothic revivalist movement id…heh uhh…id England id thehh…” he got one of the clean handkerchiefs out of his jacket pocked even as he struggled to keep lecturing. “uh…the late 1700’s we ehh huh—we start to see—” He brought the white fabric up to his nose and turned his head.

huhIhhNGTssch! GNSHHxt!

“Excuse be,” he mumbled, still fighting back the tickle. Trying to stifle the sneezes hadn’t helped much and the prickly buzzing sensation at the bridge of his nose had, if anything, gotten worse.

HuhhSNGSCHHeew! HUH’SNTSHHeew!

He blushed as several students blessed him. There was no choice about blowing his nose and the noise seemed ridiculously loud and gross in the small room. He sighed and took a sip of his tea.

“I’b very sorry,” he said. Mark reached under his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. This was a mistake. He was going to spread his cold to every single person in the room. “We’re going to wrap ub early today. I’m useless like this. I’ll be in touch by email and give you an updated schedule for next week. Sorry, guys.”

His students gathered their books and laptops and filed out. A couple told him to feel better and he smiled as he overhead many members of the class making plans to go get drinks with their unexpected afternoon off. He missed those grad school liberties—beer at 3:30 in the afternoon. Mark sat in the empty room for a minute trying to summon the energy to get up and drive himself home.

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This is so amazing!!! *squeal* I love sneezy professors/teachers! :DD *sits by computer waiting for the next update* 

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Awww!! ❤❤❤

Embarrassed, awkward student was too funny and cute.

Loved the, "For a smart person, you're very  stupid." quip.  :yes: I agree Bethany 😉

Poor guy, can't wait to see more. :wub::wub:

 

 

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Oh, @matilda3948. This is... This is... :stretcher: This is me after reading your story. I wanted to comment sooner but didn't have the possibility to do so. This is amazing! I love the way you write, I love the way the story progresses, and... yes, this is amazing, I'll stick to that. Thanks!!!

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Mmmm. Academia. My favorite. Sneezy professors are brilliant. This is lovely!

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Thanks very much for the feedback! I'm really glad you guys like it. Tonight's update is shorter and probably has typos because I've had a glass of wine or two and editing seems stupid.

 

Mark sat in the empty room for a minute trying to summon the energy to get up and drive himself home.

He sat there for a while—too long probably. He was just so tired.

“Mark? Mark? You okay?”

He blinked a few times to get the room to come into focus. Bethany was leaning over him with a worried look on her face.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Sent by students home early.”

“Yeah, I can see that but why are you just sitting here?”

“Resting a minute before I go home,” he mumbled, rubbing his throat. Bethany frowned and put a hand on his forehead.

“You’ve got a fever,” she said. “Come on, get up. I’m going to drive you home.”

“You don’t need to. I’m okay.”

“Oh, you’re seriously not,” she said. “And I’ll be damned if I let you walk out of here, get behind the wheel of a car, and cause an accident. Now up.” Mark started to laugh and she raised an eyebrow. “What part of that was funny?”

“No, it’s just that your accent sneaks in when you’re being bossy.”

“I’m not being bossy.”

“A little bossy.”

“Well you earned it,” she said with a smile. “Now come on, let’s get you home.”

It took longer than normal to make it out to the faculty parking lot. Mark was slow and fuzzy headed, needing to stop every now then to cough or sneeze—it seemed he’d lost the ability to multitask and had to stop walking each time. He settled into the passenger seat of her car and Bethany came around to the driver’s side. She started the car and immediately turned the heat up as high as it would go. Then she reached over and took a travel pack of tissues out of the glove box, handing them to her ailing friend.

“Thag you,” he said, immediately taking one out to blow his nose. The sound made her wince in sympathy as did the strangled sounding sneeze that followed. “God, I’b sorry,” he sighed.

“Bless you. It’s okay—you’ve been getting worse the last two days.” Bethany rubbed her hands together in front of the vent that was blowing warm air and finally put the car in drive. “Do you have what you need at home or should we stop at the store on our way?”

“I can run out later. You don’t need to—”

“Don’t be silly. The whole point is for you to not have to leave the house again. Just tell me what you need and I’ll get it.” He looked at her for a moment and Bethany sighed. “We’re here in this new city and we don’t know anyone and you’re sick. It’s what I hope someone would do for me if the situation were reversed.”

An hour later and they pulled into the driveway of the little house Mark rented. He’d fallen asleep while Bethany was in the store buying cold survival supplies and something to cook them for dinner. She put a hand on his shoulder and did her best to wake him up gently. He groaned and rubbed at his nose, slowly coming around.

“Let’s get you inside,” she said, opening the driver’s side door. The sharp cut of the wind nearly took her breath away. She shivered violently and she grabbed the bags of groceries and hustled around to Mark’s side of the car. “Hurry, it’s freezing,” she said. Mark eased himself out of the car and paused to consider.

“It’s actually close to freezing,” he said. “Maybe 38.”

“Shut up.”

His laugh immediate dissolved into a cough and he struggled to get his key in the door. Bethany followed him as he cut through to the kitchen and got a glass of water at the kitchen sink, sipping it until he finally calmed down. In the meantime Bethany began unloading her purchases and then looked around the house.

“What a lovely place,” she said. “Does that fireplace actually work?” When Mark didn’t answer she looked over her shoulder and saw him standing with his head tilted back slightly, eyes unfocused and gazing at the ceiling, his hands waiting about a foot from his face. She opened one of the boxes of tissues and put several into his hands. Marks nostrils flared and he sniffled wetly, rubbing the wad of tissues against the irritated underside of his nose. His breath hitched audibly once, twice. Just as it seemed the urge to sneeze had backed off, his chest rose with a sudden inhale and Mark snapped forward with fierce sneeze.

HuhhIHHktschhheew!

“Bless you! That sounded like it hurt,” she said.

huh uhh HuhhGIHHHtsschhhew!

“Goodness. Bless you again. Here.” She held out the box of tissues and Mark took the whole thing and went and flopped on the sofa. Since coming into the warmth of the house his nose was ablaze, prickling and burning just inside the rim of both nostrils. His breath was coming in short, deep gasps again, heralding the imminent arrival of another sneeze. Tissues in hand, Mark was too tired to fight and so he simply waited as the tickle slowly built up worse and worse until

huh ihh…U’NGIHHHtsschhhew!

“Bless you,” Bethany called not really expecting much of an answer. He blew his nose and immediately pounced on the tissues again.

HuhUNGSHHHew! Huh ihh...

Bethany shook her head and got to work looking for a pot to cook with. By her count, Mark endured twelve more tortuous, slow building, body-bending sneezes before the fit finally stopped. She brought him a glass of water, Tylenol, and cold pills. Bethany brushed a couple fingers across his forehead, smiling at the way his glasses were crooked and pushed all the way down his nose as if he couldn’t even muster the energy to right them.

“Better now?” she asked, dropping the pills in his open hand. He nodded and downed the medicine.

“Sorry. It happens every now ad then whed I’ve got a cold.” His voice was rough and heavy with congestion. Mark cocked his head and looked at Bethany. “Are you leaving?”

“No. Why?”

“You have your coat on,” he said. She blushed a little. “You’re cold.” It wasn’t a question. Mark got up off the sofa. “I’ll turn the heat up and get a fire going.” She started to say it wasn’t necessary but an ill-timed shiver made him chuckle.

“Thank you,” she said. “Then go change into something comfortable and we’ll be ready to eat soon.”

“I can’t really smell anything. What did you make so quickly?”

“Grits!”

“Is that like that grainy oatmeal?” he asked. Bethany scowled.

“It’s nothing like oatmeal. It’s a million times better. There’s nothing grits can’t fix.” He raised his hands in surrender, not wanting to pick a fight with a southern woman over the healing properties of a side dish.

 

TBC...

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1 hour ago, matilda3948 said:

“What part of that was funny?”

“No, it’s just that your accent sneaks in when you’re being bossy.”

“I’m not being bossy.”

“A little bossy.”

LOL. This is cute

 

1 hour ago, matilda3948 said:

“It’s actually close to freezing,” he said. “Maybe 38.”

“Shut up.”

I love that he gives her crap about being a wuss about the weather.

 

1 hour ago, matilda3948 said:

By her count, Mark endured twelve more tortuous, slow building, body-bending sneezes before the fit finally stopped.

Mmmmm. Poor dear. 

 

1 hour ago, matilda3948 said:

“It’s nothing like oatmeal. It’s a million times better. There’s nothing grits can’t fix.” He raised his hands in surrender, not wanting to pick a fight with a southern woman over the healing properties of a side dish.

LOL! Your characters have such depth and nuance and humor. I love it.

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Being from the south myself, I agree with Bethany that there's nothing grits can't fix :lol:
This is great!! I'm loving how Mark continues to make light of the situation!

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I love the connection these characters have and the witty conversation between them. I hope you continue this story, it would be a shame if it ended here.

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34 minutes ago, ebay34 said:

I love the connection these characters have and the witty conversation between them. I hope you continue this story, it would be a shame if it ended here.

I couldn't have agreed more it's absolutely adorable too:heart:

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Omg!  Southern girl here.  Bring on the grits.  I love where this is going!!!

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