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After an age and a day - here's a continuation of Medan and Viola's story. This does build directly on the previous installments, but hopefully in a better organized way. 😅 I hope you all enjoy this part of the story (told from Viola's perspective). I'm planning to continue alternating between their points of view - thanks again for suggesting that (and, again, requests are more than welcome!). After a long spell of not having time to write for fun, I'm so glad to be back. 

 

Knowing I should let Medan fall asleep was the only motivation that convinced me to leave his apartment that night. I was sorely tempted to stay, but we both realized that the workplace would still beckon the following morning, and we’d want to be wide awake to witness it. 

When I got back to my own flat, I collapsed into bed. I was simultaneously dazed and wide awake, making the whole sleeping concept a troublesome prospect, but I simply felt like I was bubbling over. I’d never dreamed of anyone being aware of this kink of mine, much less a person I’d only really been on a single date with… and I certainly hadn’t expected him to put together the pieces so neatly and so quickly. I wasn’t sure whether to be impressed or embarrassed by his all-too-accurate reading.

I wanted to text him, immediately reaching out for reassurance that he wasn’t mad at me… or disgusted… or embarrassed. However, given that I’d left to ensure that he could actually get some rest, waking him up with a text seemed unreasonably dense. So, instead, I fidgeted with my phone for a couple hours, typing out texts I wanted to send, then deleting them, then drafting them again:

I’m not sure if I should be riddled with humiliation that you figured me out - was I painfully transparent? (Clearly, a career in the theatre isn’t in the cards for me. I’m a terrible actor.)

Thank you so much for being so sweet to me this evening. I hope you feel better tomorrow. <3

What do you think it’ll be like at work now - I mean, between us? Do you think it’ll be weird? Will your mum be upset with this kind of “workplace entanglement”? (A word of warning - my parents will want me to have invited you to dinner *yesterday*).

You have the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen. Truly, they’re mesmerizing. 

I need you to know - yes, I do really, as you said, like “all this” - but I also really just like *you*, in case you were wondering.

Watching you work is also just embarrassingly hot to me. Even just, like, watching you type, which is also pretty embarrassing. 

Did you want to kiss me tonight? I so wanted to kiss you.

The problem with typing drafts and then deleting them is that, at some point - whether by accident or by some ill-fated Freudian slip - you’ll actually send one. I stared in horror at the blue text bubble of my last sent text - Did you want to kiss me tonight? -  wishing I could drive to his flat, surreptitiously steal his phone, delete the text while he was sleeping, and then set the phone back so he’d be none the wiser. On the other hand, I desperately craved an immediate response, ideally in the form of some reassurance that he didn’t think I was an idiot of the mightiest proportions. However, the better angels of my nature hoped he was asleep and wouldn’t see the text until at least noon the next day. Sleeping for ten hours or longer would do him good. 

Still, I checked my texts about once every two minutes or so as I got ready for bed. I was just setting down my toothbrush when I heard my phone buzz, and I almost broke a land speed record darting for it.

Yes.

Terse and to the point, even over text. Still, I could hold that response close to my heart for comfort as I fell asleep. 

*****

When I arrived at work the following day, I was surprised when, at the stroke of 9:00 a.m., Medan knocked. I’d assumed, given the state of him the night before, that he’d be taking the day off. I had a hard time suppressing the urge to blurt out “You should be in bed!” as soon as I opened the door. However, the determined set of his jaw let me know such a suggestion would be futile. As if to emphasize that he wasn’t here to be coddled, he squared his shoulders and handed me a coffee with no elaboration or casual greeting. "Oh. Thank you - but what’s this for?”

“Given your considerable overtime last night, a gift of coffee seemed appropriate.” He’d remembered my coffee order from our date. Of course he had. Looking me up and down, simultaneously solicitous and seemingly slightly concerned, he asked, “How are you doing this morning? Did you get any sleep last night?” 

The more pertinent question was, of course, “Did you?!”, but I instead answered a flustered “Yeah, fine, thank you.” He looked beautiful - dressed in a sleek, dark gray pinstripe suit, hair perfect, posture perfect - but he also flinched at the sudden bright light from my open window. Clearly his headache was still very much in evidence. 

I wasn’t sure whether to hazard a tentative inquiry into his general health and well-being, but fortunately, he took the initiative. “I went to the clinic this morning and confirmed that I just have another goddamn sinus infection, so I’m not contagious. Hence being back at work.” 

My brain appeared to have deserted me, so I could only muster a flimsy “Oh. I’m… sorry.” He just shrugged in response, leaving me floundering for an appropriate continuation of the sentiment that wouldn’t seem overly pitying. I had a sense that public displays of sympathy weren’t Medan’s cup of tea. “Well, um… I hope your day won’t be too strenuous. What will you be working on?”

“I’m starting with a… kind of unofficial audit. Mum wants me to work backward, starting a decade ago. Apparently there are scads and scads of completely loose files in the basement, so that should be a joy to end all joys.” His flatly sarcastic tone indicated he was exhausted from the project before even beginning it.

I wasn’t sure if I should offer help, given his blunt refusal to engage with any sympathy or acknowledge how sick he might feel, but the offer bubbled out more or less reflexively. “Would… would you like some help? I know at least some of the institutional memory of where particular accounts and grants ended up. Maybe I could be useful?”

Medan put an end to my dithering. “If you have a moment free, yes, please. I don’t expect this will be a quick job, so any assistance would be a mercy.” 

“Yes, of course. Just let me text Elisa so she’ll know where I am in case she needs me.” He nodded again, but remained silent. His face was so immobile and expressionless it made me want to babble anxiously to get some sense of what he was thinking, how he was feeling, why exactly he’d stopped by - but I couldn’t find the right words. Perhaps he couldn’t either, because after I slipped my phone back into my pocket, he just gestured toward the door, his eyebrows raised in inquiry. When I nodded, he stepped back politely, letting me go through the door first, and then he gently put his hand on the small of my back. The soft pressure, although quite discreet enough for the workplace, sent a thrill through my body that made me a little weak in the knees. I wondered if he’d drop his hand when we entered the crowded elevator, but he didn’t. 

The basement had been not-so-fondly nicknamed by staff as “the dungeon,” and its damp rankness certainly fit the bill. I found myself wishing I’d pulled on a sweater before leaving the office. Medan, of course, noticed my involuntary shiver and pulled off his suit jacket before extending it to me wordlessly. “Oh - thank you, but won’t you be cold?” He shook his head, stubbornly continuing to offer it. “Are you really sure?” 

“Yes, I’m really sure.” His voice was crackly, raspy with congestion, but he still handed the jacket to me with a slight smile, almost a little shy in his self-effacement. “Anyway, the business at hand. I’m looking for inconsistencies in the books, probably associated with our creative reuse programming, but really, I’m not sure. I should probably start with the widest lens possible on this issue. Deductive reasoning and all that. Does that make sense to you?” 

I pulled on his jacket, reveling in its warmth. “Sure, yes. In that case, let’s start in there.” I pointed to a tiny room adjacent to the main basement complex. Originally, that sideroom was meant to be used for storage of especially sensitive information, but it had instead become a repository for data no one was really sure where to file, so stacks and stacks of folders were just stuffed into filing cabinets at random, left on the folding card tables teetering on overloaded legs, or piled Jenga-style onto bookshelves. If someone had wanted to obscure their shady dealings, that seemed a logical place for figurative bread crumbs.

Although I couldn’t see Medan as I led him through the labyrinth of dented cardboard boxes and rusty filing cabinets, I was sufficiently hyperfixated on him to hear his breath catch. Again, I felt like perhaps I shouldn’t ask, but “Are you okay?” slipped out before I could reconsider. 

He didn’t respond, which concerned me even more. “Medan?” I turned around to see him with his hands tented over his nose and mouth, eyes closed, forehead furrowed in deep concentration. We both stood there in perfect silence for a moment, the stillness not even interrupted when his shoulders jerked forward with a completely noiseless stifle. The quiet was only broken by a quiet hiss of breath through his clenched teeth.

“...bless you.” It was the first time I’d said those words since he’d made me aware that he’d figured me out. It felt so acutely intimate I wasn’t sure I could form the words. He nodded in acknowledgment but kept his hands where they were and his eyes closed. I stepped forward, carefully clasping his wrist to pull him forward to a chair in the workroom. If yesterday was any indication, bouts of dizziness weren’t uncommon for Medan in the midst of sneezing fits. Stumbling into a pile of boxes would hardly help matters - particularly as I began to wonder if the thick coating of dust atop the cardboard, lingering in corners, and sparkling through the air under the harsh light of yellowing lightbulbs weren’t in part responsible for his sudden immobility.

He passively accepted my guidance toward a chair but resisted sitting down, pulling away from me to stifle another sharp sneeze. “Eschhht! Hrrrptch! Chhhhx’t! Hrrpptsh! H’heeh…’eeehshuuu!” The thick sniffle that followed jolted me into action, knowing how difficult stifling while being that congested would be. “Bless you. Don’t hurt your throat, sweetheart. Just breathe. You’re okay.” The quiet endearment slipped out so naturally I almost didn’t realize I’d said it until he opened his eyes to stare at me. I wasn’t sure I could parse his expression; it fell halfway between shock and wonder. 

I was perhaps equally surprised when, given a moment between fits, he gasped out a breathless “I’m so sorry,” shaking his head like he was reprimanding himself before sitting down and rocking forward into another vicious sneeze. I wanted to ask him what on earth he was sorry for, but didn’t want him to feel obligated to try to gather himself enough to speak coherently. Instead, I settled down next to him on the floor, laying my hand on his knee so he’d know I was there. “H’ettcht! Hii’egtch! Hg’gsht! Heeeh-heehhh’tcht! Hee’tsh’shuu! Eshuuh! E’tshuu! H’tccchht!” I wasn’t sure why he was continuing to try to stifle, but it was clear from the thin lines of pain around his tightly closed eyes that he needed to stop. “Medan, it’s okay. Please. Just - take a breath for me, okay? Try to let yourself relax. There’s no hurry.”

When he opened his teary, reddening eyes, a sharp slate-gray in the dim lighting, he took a half-choked breath before urgently trying to speak. “I know we’re at work, and I don’t mean to c-c-c-c-” His look of desperate frustration when he couldn’t finish his sentence was gut-wrenchingly visceral. I wished I shared his intuitive gifts and knew what he was trying to say before he even said it, but I was at a loss. He shook with a viciously stifled sneeze, before dissolving into a mostly-silent fit, marked more by his shoulders spasming and neck bobbing than any auditory output. 

“Oh my God, Medan.” I wanted to help him so much, but wasn’t sure what to do, other than try to get him to stop trying to control the reaction. Gentle reassurances hadn’t done the trick, so, hoping I wasn’t doing the wrong thing and gathering all my resolve, I sharply tugged on his wrists, pulling his hands from his face. His responding look of startled confusion was pitifully short-lived, as his face went slack despite himself and he pitched forward. “Hetshuu! Hetshuuu! Hchuuh! Huuuhtshuuh! Huuuuhh--tshuuh! Hshuuuhh! H’SHUUUH! HRUUUUSH! H’SHUUUUH!” 

Given how uncomfortable he seemed to be, I tried not to make any sound when his first uncovered sneeze slightly misted my arm before he was able to twist away, but a breathless whimper escaped regardless. Considering that he was fulfilling one of my most deep-seated fantasies, I suppose I exerted a considerable amount of self-control by not moaning more audibly. 

The last three enormous sneezes of the fit seemed to have had the desired effect; he sagged back in his chair, chest heaving. He gestured at me vaguely before pointing to his jacket pocket with a murmured “please?” When I reached into his pocket and pulled out his handkerchief, he seized it like it was a life raft.

I wondered if he’d be able to gather enough air to blow his nose, and indeed, it did seem to be a struggle. He’d get halfway through an exhalation and then crunch forward with a tired sneeze, sigh with exhausted exasperation, and then try again to take another breath. When it seemed he’d at least temporarily managed to satisfy his overwrought sinuses, he straightened up in the chair and readjusted his glasses, blinking away allergic tears and running his fingers through his hair to tame its now somewhat tousled appearance.

I kept a hand lightly on his leg, watching him try to tidy himself up and get himself back into working order. The process seemed to be well-practiced, which didn't surprise me. It took him a minute before he evidently felt comfortable enough to give speaking another try. “So, I was trying to say - I know we’re at work, and I didn’t expect - although obviously I should have - to have… this kind of thing… come up so quickly. I never want to breach a boundary or be… for lack of a more precise word... unprofessional in the workplace and put you in an… uncomfortable position. I thought I’d be able to be proactive, ask how you felt about… this kind of… situation arising and how you wanted me to respond. I never meant to v-v-...v-...vi- - violate your p-p..professional –”

I knew it was impolite to interrupt someone while they were speaking through a stutter, but his completely unnecessary contrition was unbearable. “Oh, Medan, no, not at all! You can’t help it, and I’d never expect you to try to! Please believe me. I do really appreciate you wanting to talk with me about it. That’s so sweet, and it’s so considerate of you - but really, you have nothing to apologize for. It’s completely fine. Truly. Just - are you okay?”

He hesitated, seemingly torn between wanting to accept my words and some other unseen, unspoken obstacle. The pause felt interminable, and I had to repress the urge to say something - anything - to fill the silence as it stretched on. His gaze was too intense not to squirm a little bit under. “You’re too kind,” he finally concluded with a half-smile.

“No, I’m really not.” I affectionately reached up to lay a hand against his cheek. “You deserve all of it.”

He opened and closed his mouth like he was going to reply, but snapped his jaw shut when it began to quiver, his eyebrows briefly knitting together. Leaning down towards me, he paused just a couple inches from my face, still surveying me carefully. He raised his eyebrows in quiet inquiry, head tilted, so clearly asking “May I?” although perhaps he couldn’t form the words. 

With my response - a quiet but emphatic  “Yes, please” - he closed the remaining distance, kissing me slowly but decisively, with a self-possessed ease and surety. I melted into his touch, rising up onto my knees to be able to more fully press myself into the kiss as he glided his hands into my hair.

When  I smiled against his lips, I was gratified to feel him smile too. “Medan, I don’t think we’re supposed to be necking on company time.” He pulled away just enough to gauge whether or not I was joking - which, given my irrepressible giggle, I clearly was. He then softly grazed my waist with his fingertips, tracing the contours with such deliberate care and attention that I shivered despite still having his jacket on. “Alright, then. Viola, how much overtime did we put in last night?”

“Mmm… maybe about four hours?” 

“Then, in accordance with our rights under contract as workers, I think that may mean that we get four hours to neck, starting now.” He took my upturned face in his hands, staring at me like he couldn’t believe I was still there in front of him. “That will likely not be enough time, but thankfully, the labor movement has already won us the weekend.”

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I’m SOO excited that you’re back!! I absolutely LOVE these two characters! I say it all the time, but I really can’t wait for the next part, hopefully it’ll be soon! 😁😁

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Oh my gosh I can’t believe they are back - yes!  Can I make a recommendation?  Perhaps you could  add something in the title that let’s people know this is the continuation of the Medan and Viola story - I would hate for anyone to miss it!   I am so looking forward to watching their relationship grow and am quite curious about the title.,,

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Stop I literally love this!! Get me a man like Medan 😩 I've been lurking on here for a while now and I recently got brave enough to create an account, so I had to comment on how in love I am with your writing! 

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Oh I LOVE this!! The accidental text and the response was great (and the drafting deleting drafting part is maybe a bit too relatable lol). 

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  • 1 month later...

Thank you all for reading, for commenting, and for enjoying this story - and I hope 2024 dawns brightly for you all! This part is Medan's perspective on the previous part; I think I'll alternate between their two perspectives with each piece. :) 

Sitting in companionable silence with Viola on my bathroom floor was incongruously romantic. For a slightly delirious moment, I contemplated how ridiculous, on a scale of 1 to 10, it would be to ask her if she wanted to stay the night. I was frankly a little disappointed when she gently brushed my cheek with her fingertips and murmured, “I should go and let you get some sleep.” 

I did at least manage to pull myself together enough to walk Viola to the door and muster a somewhat coherent expression of gratitude for her kindness throughout the evening. As soon as she left, though, the torpor of total exhaustion reasserted itself. Simply dragging myself to bed felt like more work than I'd accomplished in the last several days of uninterrupted focus.  

However, the human body and mind are nothing if not fickle. So, as soon as I turned out my lights and lay down in bed, my thoughts started to race in a manner truly not conducive to restfulness. I’m unaccustomed to being so out of my depth. What happens now?  

At work, might Viola want me to act as though nothing has happened, or would that be unwelcome? She might not appreciate the optics of dating the boss’ son - or she might just want to move slowly. Soft launch any budding relationship, if you will

I wonder if Viola has told other people about her kinkier desires, or if I’m the first. Based on her deer-in-the-headlights look this evening, I’d hazard a guess that I’m the first. The thought that perhaps I was the only person privy to this intimate revelation took my breath away - or it would have, could I draw any air through my utterly blocked nose. Damned congestion. In my admittedly limited romantic and sexual experience, my partners had always been as wholly frank and to-the-point as I was inclined to be. Rosanna - my longest-term past situationship  - had propositioned me in the most unromantic of ways: when entering hour 6 of uninterrupted preparation for prelim exams, she suggested, with an insinuating and flirtatious grin, we take a break to “make each other relax.” We literally set a timer for twenty minutes, got off, tidied up, and returned to our annotations and notes within the hour. Hooking up that way had been bizarrely fun - I suppose I thrive under time pressure - but romantic? Absolutely not. It was different with Viola. 

How can I best ensure that Viola feels comfortable? This evening was, I suppose, quite the disclosure - especially if she wasn’t expecting to make it. Discretion is the better part of valor. Just… be careful. Tread lightly. Proactively invite communication about her boundaries. I wasn't remotely shy about talking about my turn-ons, but I suspected Viola might still be. 

I couldn’t quite determine if I was sleeping or waking when my phone lit up with a text from Viola. For a moment, I wondered if I was dreaming, simply projecting my own wonderings and desires onto her in an act of blatant wishful thinking. It read: “Did you want to kiss me tonight? I so wanted to kiss you.” Yes. Yes. Few questions had ever been easier to answer.

I suppose I fell asleep sometime after that, floating between an awkward half-awake consciousness and a hazy dream state until I jerked awake to a smothering sensation and a burning cough. I gasped like a fish out of water to catch my breath, aware that breathing through my nose was wholly impossible. My head felt like it was stuffed with cotton, making me sufficiently spacey that it took me a moment to remember where my glasses were before stumbling to the bathroom. Christ, I feel terrible. I winced at the thin, viscous sheen of mucus already threatening to slip down my philtrum, despite having shifted from a horizontal state only approximately twenty seconds before. Clearly my nose was full to overflowing, and it would be for the foreseeable future. 

Trying to blow my nose was futile; it just prompted an undignified and feeble half-cough, half-snort that made my head ring. Running my fingers repeatedly down the bridge of my nose, pressing as firmly as I could to dislodge the stubborn congestion, felt vaguely like trying to squeeze toothpaste out of a toothpaste tube, but it did at least succeed in shifting the absolutely appalling quantity of mucus enough to relieve some of the pressure crackling in my temples. I waited in an agony of expectation, tongue pressed against the roof of my mouth, eyes hazily fixed on my flickering lamp, waiting for the slight change in sinus pressure to manifest in a sneezing fit. My breath hitched unsteadily as itch built, my nostrils flaring expectantly - and then nothing. I slammed a hand against my sink in an extremely immature fit of pique, annoyed with my body’s betrayal. I’d just get to endure the ungodly itch without any hope of relief. 

 Well, this can only mean one thing. This is a job for antibiotics

As I cooled my heels in my local clinic, I wondered if I could get some sort of hospital equivalent of frequent flier miles, given how much time I spent in that waiting room. My recalcitrant immune system seemed to follow a predictable playbook: get a cold and/or stifle one too many sneezes, get a sinus infection, reach a point of congestion where my body was too feeble and overwhelmed to expel any of the gunk on its own, finally necessitating a pilgrimage to the doctor’s. The routine meant that the receptionist who checked me in recognized me and clucked at me with a mixture of unwelcome sympathy and scolding condescension until I managed to stare her into a disapproving silence. 

Dr. Klee also knew me too well, so she greeted me with a breezily fatalistic “Sinus infection or bronchitis today?”

“And a good morning to you, too. The former, thank you very much for asking.” My sardonic tone would have been more effectively cutting if I could have pronounced any of the consonants clearly. As it was, I sounded like I was speaking through sinuses filled with cement. 

After an examination that seemed unnecessarily thorough given that we both already knew what was wrong, Dr. Klee sighed and sent in my prescription, shaking her head. “Will you be taking the day off work? Do you need a note?” 

Absolutely not. Now that I knew I wasn’t contagious - and that I could likely avoid any unexpected and disruptive fits of sternutation, given that my sinuses appeared to have reached maximum clog and given up on ever ridding me of this plague - I was determined to make it into the office, and not just because of my commitment to a solid work ethic.“No, but thank you for asking. My devotion to work and my malfunctioning sinuses are only weaknesses.” But based on my actual current motivation for heading into work,  I daresay I can add an exponentially multiplying fondness for Viola to that list of weaknesses.

*****

When I knocked on Viola’s door, she looked at me like I’d grown antlers or something. She clearly hadn’t been expecting to see me, which was a little funny, since I’d never had the slightest intention of taking the day off. I wanted to see her again more than I wanted to stay at home and avoid fellow colleagues seeing me in this somewhat bedraggled state. 

She accepted my offering of coffee - a gift that struck me as appropriately toeing the ambiguous line between more-than-colleagues and maintaining-professional-boundaries - but a little awkwardly, with a nervous smile.  “Thank you - but what’s this for?”

“Given your considerable overtime last night, a gift of coffee seemed appropriate. How are you doing this morning? Did you get any sleep last night?” As soon as I said “overtime,” I regretted my poor word choice and hoped she knew I wasn’t trying to box the last evening into a solely workplace context. It had obviously been much more than that. 

Viola pulled her door a little wider to welcome me in, but I winced at the sunshine streaming through her open window. I was perversely grateful that the wall of congestion dampened my photic reflex, helping me ignore the tingling burn fluttering against my nostrils.

To distract myself further, I blurted out, “I went to the clinic this morning and confirmed that I just have another goddamn sinus infection, so I’m not contagious. Hence being back at work.” 

Viola’s dark brown eyes were extremely expressive, making me reasonably confident that I had just watched her move from concern to curiosity to desire to embarrassment and back to concern in two seconds flat. “Oh. I’m… sorry. Well, um… I hope your day won’t be too strenuous. What will you be working on?”

“I’m starting with a… kind of unofficial audit. Mum wants me to work backward, starting a decade ago. Apparently there are scads and scads of completely loose files in the basement, so that should be a joy to end all joys.” My utter disdain for the incompetence of prior data managers infused every inflection. 

Viola smiled before beginning to shift nervously from foot to foot, nonverbally revealing her anxiety as she repeatedly twirled the golden bangle bracelet on her wrist. “Would… would you like some help? I know at least some of the institutional memory of where particular accounts and grants ended up. Maybe I could be useful?” 

I hesitated for a second as I quelled my reflexive impulse to say I didn’t need help. I then mercilessly crushed my slight glimmer of hope that Viola was as eager to simply be with me as I was to simply be with her. To be fair, I don’t need help. I could make my way through files, spreadsheets, memos, printed e-mail chains, random receipts that someone thought might someday become relevant even though they should have been pitched decades ago, and other assorted bureaucratic detritus on my own without any trouble. However… I'd like Viola to be there. “If you have a moment free, yes, please. I don’t expect this will be a quick job, so any assistance would be a mercy.” 

“Yes, of course. Just let me text Elisa so she’ll know where I am in case she needs me.” I nodded again, staying as still and unobtrusive as possible, determined to let Viola set the desired tone for our interaction. However, I then wondered if I was inadvertently sending the message that I preferred to be standoffish, so I carefully laid a hand on the small of her back as we walked down the hall, exerting a gentle guiding pressure in a way I hoped came across as supportive and not overbearing. I almost pulled away at her quick intake of breath, but was reassured by her pleased (albeit disbelieving) smile at me. 

As soon as the elevator door opened to the basement, we were whacked by a gust of frigid and stale air. Given that I was, according to Dr. Klee, running a 101 degree fever, the temperature shift felt positively refreshing to me, but Viola shivered. Although her soft yellow dress was fetching, particularly set against the warm brown of her skin, its light fabric wouldn’t do much against the chill. I reflexively pulled off my suit jacket and handed it to her. “Oh - thank you, but won’t you be cold?” I shook my head, holding back any details about the reason for my warmth. “Are you really sure?” 

“Yes, I’m really sure.” I was disconcertingly rattled by how unbelievably cute Viola looked in my jacket. She could wear it as an oversized minidress.  I overcompensated for feeling flustered with a sharp turn back to auditing. “Anyway, the business at hand. I’m looking for inconsistencies in the books, probably associated with our creative reuse programming, but really, I’m not sure. I should probably start with the widest lens possible on this issue. Deductive reasoning and all that. Does that make sense to you?” 

As Viola started to lead me through a veritable maze of poorly-organized files, water-damaged archival boxes, and suspiciously gray-green and warped cardboard, it dawned on me that I’d committed an egregious tactical error. My sinus infection might have settled in for the long haul without fear of expulsion, but the dust created another variable. If I had been confronted by something I was merely mildly allergic to - Chanel No. 5, for instance, which simply made my eyes tear up and my nose prickle with unresolvable irritation - I might have been able to proceed as normal. However, dust usually opened the door to volleys of damp, itchy sneezes, generally more intense in number than in force, but hardly inconspicuous. 

I froze, determining if I could find a way to make a polite exit from the cesspit of dusty grime, but from the burning immediacy of the throbbing in my sinuses, making my nostrils quiver and flare with perilous promise, I’d be lucky to hold off a fit longer than ten seconds. 

Viola’s clarion-clear voice interrupted the general fog of rising panic. “Are you okay? Medan?” Of course I’m okay. Dust holds no threat to me, my immune system, my sense of propriety, or my dignity. Oh, God - I can’t - no, come on, Medan, of course you can hold it off. You are the master of your own body. Just control your breathing. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it. Don’t think - I shook with a stifled sneeze before I could even discern that the event was upon me. This doesn’t bode well. 

Viola’s shy “...bless you?” simultaneously managed to soften the general misery of the moment and make me more determined to stop this attack in its tracks. I’ll be damned if I put her in a situation in which she feels obligated to be accommodating. I could hear her walking toward me cautiously, so when she carefully took my wrist to lead me forward, I didn’t protest. 

She took me toward a chair and lightly pressed on my shoulder, encouraging me to sit, but I was still nursing an increasingly unlikely hope that I could nip this in the bud before I made a whole situation out of it. “Eschhht! Hrrrptch! Chhhhx’t! Hrrpptsh! H’heeh…’eeehshuuu!” 

“Bless you. Don’t hurt your throat, sweetheart. Just breathe. You’re okay.” Sweetheart? Sweetheart?! That was so far beyond the norm of anything I’d ever been called before. I wasn’t at all surprised that Viola was responding so generously - that seemed wholly intrinsic to her character as a person - but I was surprised that there was anything about me, at that moment or otherwise, that would naturally evoke such a tender response. 

I couldn’t find time to express those thoughts, though, instead gasping out a hasty and inarticulate “I’m so sorry” before giving up and collapsing into the chair she’d drawn me to. I felt faintly guilty about how comforting Viola’s hand on my knee was - I had no right to ask for such kindnesses, and no right to put her in a position where she was obliged to offer them. “H’ettcht! Hii’egtch! Hg’gsht! Heeeh-heehhh’tcht! Hee’tsh’shuu! Eshuuh! E’tshuu! H’tccchht!” I could barely breathe. The combination of congestion, self-flagellation, relentless allergic attack, and dizziness from the mucus shifting positions in my obstructed sinuses was all-too-potent. “Medan, it’s okay. Please. Just - take a breath for me, okay? Try to let yourself relax. There’s no hurry.”

Her kindness was painful when I wasn't sure if she was ill at ease and masking it. I tried to swallow the pressing reflex to sneeze as it mercilessly consumed my attentions, but with only enough success to blurt out “I know we’re at work, and I don’t mean to c-c-c-c-” Goddamnit. If it isn’t my allergies, it’s my stutter. 

“Oh my God, Medan.” I flinched, uncertain what her response meant. My mental monologue, usually quite articulate, was reduced to a panicky repetition of “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.” I was startled when Viola seized my wrists, pulling my hands away from where they’d been cupped firmly against my nose and mouth to lock in the congestion that threatened to spill onto the scene. I wished I could get a clearer read of her face - my vision was too blurred to make out any nuances of her expression. The abruptness seemed so unlike her. However, I didn’t have enough time to gather myself. “Hetshuu! Hetshuuu! Hchuuh! Huuuhtshuuh! Huuuuhh--tshuuh! Hshuuuhh! H’SHUUUH! HRUUUUSH! H’SHUUUUH!” 

I pulled away from Viola reflexively, but about halfway through the fit, I had the vaguest of vague thoughts: did Viola… actually… want to see my face right now? I’d gathered a bit of information about her proclivities, sure, but not enough to know what exactly pushed her buttons. The thought put me at ease a bit, although I knew I couldn’t be certain - just slightly optimistic. 

The fit built until each interspersed, gasping breath burned in my chest. When the sensation started to lessen, I was already completely spent, but I was too conscious of how congested and messy I was to relax. I need my handkerchief, which was, unfortunately, not in my trouser pocket, but in the jacket Viola was now wearing. I pointed at it, murmuring an exhausted yet slightly frantic “...please?” Fortunately, Viola got the message and pulled my handkerchief out of my pocket. I wanted to reclaim my good manners and thank her, but the surging tickle fluttering against my nostrils suggested I had about .05 seconds before the next flare, so I forewent the nicety. 

I usually cultivate an air of sangfroid in the aftermath of such an event as this. I’d pull myself up to my fullest height, sharpen my disdainful stare should anyone make the mistake of saying something either condescending or irritated, and immediately return to business. Feeling shaken up - thrown off balance - was rather unfamiliar. So, I took longer than usual to collect myself, allowing myself extra time to run my fingers through my unruly hair, blink away the tears clinging to my eyelashes, and rub the bridge of my nose as hard as possible to ensure that I’d actually have a reasonable length of time between fits to communicate as needed to Viola, who was sitting cross-legged on the floor, patiently waiting on me to speak.“So. I was trying to say - I know we’re at work, and I didn’t expect - although obviously I should have - to have… this… come up so quickly. I never want to breach a boundary or be… for lack of a more precise word, unprofessional in the workplace and put you in an… uncomfortable position. I thought I’d be able to be proactive, ask how you felt about… this kind of… situation arising and how you wanted me to respond. My God, I never meant to v-v-...v-...vi- - violate your p-p..professional –”

Viola shook her head emphatically, stopping me in my tracks. “Oh, Medan, no, not at all! You can’t help it, and I’d never expect you to try to! Please believe me - that’s a total non-issue for me. I do really appreciate you wanting to talk with me about it. That’s so sweet, and it’s so considerate of you - but really, you have nothing to apologize for. It’s completely fine. Truly. Just - are you okay?”

Could she really mean it? Was it really fine? Or was she just trying to be polite? She didn’t need to tiptoe around my feelings - heaven knows I could take blunt, harsh truths. “...You’re too kind.”

“No, I’m really not.” She stretched up from the floor to lay a reassuring hand against my cheek, directing me to look into her unabashedly sincere eyes . Her hands were soft and cool; when she brushed near the corner of my eye with her fingertips, I shivered. “You deserve all of it.”

I… I don’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to thank her. Her text of the prior night flashed through my mind. Did she… would she want me now? Kissing her now would not in any way satisfy my debt to her - it couldn’t be as much as she deserved, but it was all I had on hand to offer. It took a surplus of self-control to lean toward her slowly, giving her plenty of time to pull away if she wanted to, keeping my eyes fixed on hers unblinkingly in an attempt to nonverbally communicate my intentions. 

Her soft, candidly longing “Please” was intoxicating in its invitation. I took a steadying breath before closing all distance between us. Her body melted into mine as she gave a tiny and endearing hum of pleasure against my lips. 

In the past, I’d always been a bit in my head about moments like this, approaching physical intimacy as though my partner was a magnificent instrument and my job was to become a virtuoso as soon as possible, subject to extensive self-critique. With Viola, though, I felt only a giddy, unselfconscious joy in discovering the subtle nuances of her body. Each slight movement I made against her body - stroking the loose curls of hair, tracing her silhouette with my fingertips, just barely grazing the curve of her breast with the palm of my hand, an exploratory and curious nip against her full lower lip - prompted rapturous murmurs that reassured me: as  I was falling for her, she, too, was falling.

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What glorious timing. Today has been tough but WOW that story lit up the world. Thank you for sharing. Medan is so incredibly thoughtful and Violet is so sweetly shy. I love their dynamic. 

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Omg I'm so happy to see another update! I absolutely love how you write the characters and the different points of view! Keep up the great work

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I’m so happy to see another update to this amazing story! Hopefully there will be more sooner than later 🥰 

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  • 1 month later...

 Another update - from Viola's perspective this time, picking up right where we left off before. Thanks, all, for reading and commenting - it is always lovely to know that folks are enjoying seeing more of Medan and Viola. And, as ever, requests are welcome!

@Catsgotyourtounge, thank you for reading! I hope you enjoy this section too 😁

@sprinkles287, I hope the new year has started off for you on a less tough note! I'm glad Medan and Viola could be a bright spot in a rough time 🙂

@Privatedancer Thank you!

@Lilsgjerd Thank you! I have a lot planned for these two 😁

@pinkypie Alternating between Vi and Medan is such fun! I'm glad you enjoy it too - I love writing as both characters.

@RipleyToo Welp, it was another looong wait - I hope it is worth it 😅

I could get very, very used to being kissed like this. Medan was so… unhurried. That was an adjective I never would have thought could be so hot, but he simply held me so deliberately, touched my skin so carefully, letting each and every sensation engulf me totally. He pulled back with an almost imperceptible smile, surveying my face for a response, before gently pulling me closer and slowly, tenderly, brushing his lips across my jaw and neck, prompting my breathless “Oh…” He was supporting most of my weight with his hands on my back, which was quite perfect. I felt like I was simultaneously floating on air and sinking into a warm pool, fully relaxed. 

It seemed like time had stopped, which is why hearing the basement elevator ding faintly in the distance was a shock to the system. It didn’t register to me that the elevator’s arrival signified someone else’s appearance on the scene until I heard the clatter of nearing footsteps, at which point I leapt back like I’d been electrocuted. Medan made a sharp noise somewhere between a cough and a laugh, stepping back to accommodate my outsized reaction. He… almost definitely… hadn’t been planning on pulling away? He would have just… kept kissing me? The giddy thought made my stomach flutter.

“Hey, Vi? You down here?” I recognized my coworker Javeah’s voice and was instantly relieved that it was her and not Elisa coming to check up on me. The last thing Medan and I needed was his mother’s interference. 

“Uh… yes? I’m back here.” As soon as I replied in the affirmative, I wondered how disheveled I looked, since my lips and cheeks were burning and my legs were quivering like I’d just completed a marathon. A panicked glance at Medan apparently was worth a thousand words; he nodded brusquely and stepped past me to meet Javeah, giving me a minute to compose myself. 

“Good morning, Javeah. Viola’s been pulling catalogue records for me - I’m still finding my way around the place, I’m afraid.” Medan sounded cool as a cucumber - almost preternaturally self-possessed. How did he do that?

Javeah’s good-natured laugh was soothing, as was her casual response. She clearly didn’t suspect Medan of any unusual workplace activity. “You say that like anyone knows their way around the dungeon up in here. It’s been accumulating crap since the world was young. Elisa had a couple interns - sweet young things, just starting college - try to do some organizing down here a few years back, and I’m pretty sure this is where their dreams of nonprofit management died.” 

At least somewhat pulled together, I emerged into the corridor. Exchanging pleasantries with Javeah while determinedly not making eye contact with Medan - even though my every nerve was twinging with the sense that he was winding up for another fit - was vaguely torturous. His statue-like stillness - the absence of any discernible allergic tell - was now becoming more of a dead giveaway to me than any amount of observable sniffling or nose wriggling would be. It was with a sense of mingling pity and titillation that I nodded at him politely and impersonally in parting before accompanying Javeah back to the elevator.. 

My attempts to pay attention to any of the day’s meetings were virtually fruitless. My train of thought was insistent on looping the frustratingly interrupted five minutes of heated encounter, fabricating an assortment of longed-for possible continuations. I usually have a hard time figuring out what it is that I actually want, instead just letting my desires mold to my partner’s because really, I mostly just want to please them. In this case, though, I was simply fixated on the incredible multitude of possibilities that might have spun out, all as exhilarating and erotic as the next. 

Let’s keep two feet on the ground, shall we? First things first - at least try to be practical. Just offer to drive him home. He shouldn’t be driving if he’s having dizzy spells the way he seems to be. 

To be sure I caught him before he left work, I hovered outside his closed office door for the last half-hour of the workday, sitting cross-legged on the hallway floor and catching up on e-mails. It was difficult to concentrate on composing sentences when I could hear occasional thick sniffles and muffled stifles from inside his office; he sounded like he’d become increasingly congested throughout the day. It was a little endearing that he was still trying to be quiet, even though he was alone in his office. I wondered when stifling had become habitual for him. 

Of course, Medan didn’t actually emerge at 5:00, and I didn’t hear any evidence that he was making any move in that direction. I suppose I was silly to assume he’d actually leave work at closing time. I thought about knocking, but felt too shy. I didn’t want to be presumptuous and interrupt. So, bored from writing e-mail, I started scrolling Pinterest mindlessly, admiring a well-curated selection of bloomcore aesthetics and involuntarily clenching every muscle in my body whenever a half-strangled “hhhhtttxxcht!” or more desperate but still restrained “httchsh’uhhh!” made its way to my ears.

It was around 5:45 when I heard Medan's office door creaking open, and even though I was waiting for the noise, I startled instinctively - as did he. Medan definitely had become more congested as the day wore on - his nose looked particularly sharply angled now, given its chapped and reddened outline. “W-w-...were you waiting for me?” Despite all his best speech therapy techniques for flawless articulation, subtle hints of how clogged his sinuses and throat were lingered in his n’s and m’s, and his already deep voice was verging on the subterranean. He usually spoke crisply, but hoarseness gave his speech rough edges. 

“Um. Yes?” 

He stared at me for a moment, one eyebrow raised, before turning back to lock his office. “You know, you d-....d-don’t have to be afraid to knock.” 

“I wasn’t!” I'm sure we both knew I was more or less fibbing, but he didn't say anything. “I… um… I wanted to ask… this may be stupid, but… may I drive you home? It’s just that you said that you have dizzy spells sometimes when you - um…” It was too embarrassing to say anything along the lines of “sick,” “have a cold,” “are so congested,” etc., so I just shrugged meaningfully before rattling on. “And I’d just feel better knowing that you made it home safely. If that’s okay. It’s no trouble for me - I usually take the train home, but I know you drive, and vertigo while driving seems… scary. And dangerous. But, um, I’m sure you know your body better than I do.” I can’t believe I just said that last sentence out loud. I only have the most timid of aspirations of getting to know his body better…

Medan didn’t immediately say no, but he suddenly looked more ill at ease than I’d ever seen him, avoiding my gaze and taking a few deep breaths before replying. As he stared fixedly at the tile floor, I noticed that his eyes looked a little puffy behind his glasses. My first thought was to assume that the dust had indeed done a number on him on top of his sinus infection, But, given how discomfited he seemed, I wondered if something else was wrong. “...yes, you may.” It seemed like those three words were startlingly difficult for Medan to say, and the additional pause before he added “...thank you” and handed me his car keys suggested that this entire exchange was uncomfortably uncharted terrain.

Medan was quiet other than an occasional muffled cough or muted sniffle as we walked out to his car, and I tried to not automatically fill the silence. Perhaps since my prior boyfriend was a habitual user of the silent treatment to worry me into attending to his every whim, it made me a little jumpy, although I was 99% sure Medan was just quiet because speaking was simply more difficult for him. I also suspected not feeling well would just make it more so. 

However, once we were in his car, I reflexively asked “Are you cold?” as I hovered over the heater switch. In the dim, flickering light of the parking garage, the sharp angles of his face were especially stark in shadow. He nodded silently, but with a little shrug as if to indicate that it didn’t matter all that much. I switched on the heat, regardless.

The first truly audible sound he made - already about five minutes into driving - was a sharp sniffle, before he brought his fist up to rub his flaring nostrils, eyebrows knitting together in concentration as he took escalating, hitching breaths. I wished he wouldn’t try to prevent the inevitable - it seemed more uncomfortable for him than simply succumbing would be. The harsh prevention measure seemed to work, though, and he readjusted his position to lean up against the window, closing his eyes. I wondered if he’d fall asleep before I got him back home. He certainly looked exhausted enough, but he seemed more tense than relaxed. 

When I pulled into his building’s carpark, though, he straightened up, taking a deep breath before he finally spoke. “Viola.” I loved the way he said my name. I could close my eyes and still hear a smile in his hoarse, soft-spoken voice. 

“...yes?” 

“Based on current events, it strikes me that the distribution of labor in this relationship is trending toward the inequitable, and I think it’s likely time I did something about it.” 

One apparent virtue of Medan's tendency to speak only after deliberate thought was that he could say sentences like that and have it sound well-rehearsed and natural. Given that I apparently hadn’t yet acquired that skill, I managed a monosyllabic “...what?”

He took a moment to respond, staring straight ahead into the buzzing yellow glow of a streetlight. “Well, let me put it to you this way. In the last couple of weeks alone, you’ve gotten me medications and coffee, you’ve brought me things I left at work, you’ve helped edit my fundamentally incoherent grant applications, you’ve driven me home, you’ve been consistently patient with me. Am I correct in my overview here?” 

“...I guess?”

When he turned to face me, he stumbled over his words, but it was obvious from his composure that while we’d been sitting in silence, he’d been thinking this line of questioning through. “Th-th…the q-q-....question is, what about you?”

I have truly no idea what he’s driving at. “What do you mean, what about me?”

“I mean, it’s unfair to you if you’re doing all the - for lack of a clearer term - acts of service and I’m purely reaping the benefits of your thoughtfulness. I’m unaccustomed to being in someone’s debt.” 

I didn’t know what to say, so this time, I didn’t say anything at all. Medan glanced at me, then looked back at the streetlight. When he continued, he still looked perfectly at ease, but a quiver in his voice suggested he felt more vulnerable than his face and body language would suggest. “Obviously, I’m not as good at… taking care of people as you are. I haven’t had much practice, if I’m honest. However, I imagine it is a skill like any other. I’m a quick learner, and I’m very willing.”

I waved a hand in simultaneously embarrassed and touched dismissal. “Oh, no - you don’t need to do that.”

His responding laugh was endearingly blunt. “Yes, I fucking well do. Viola. I know that you’re a caretaker, and I mean that in the best of ways. You’ve always been that way, at least as long as I've known you. I saw you in school, translating for your mum and grandmother in assemblies and conferences and the like. I know that you are their right hand. And as a side note, for what it’s worth, I always tried to sit next to your mother at school functions because I knew she wouldn’t try to talk to me since she didn’t speak English that well and I just… didn’t speak all that well, period. I think she's great.” 

I didn’t know how to handle his candidness, other than to giggle in some astonishment that he remembered me whispering in Tagalog to my mother and grandmother, mostly translating but also editorializing and cracking in-jokes we could be confident no one around would hear or understand. Now that he mentioned it, I did have a vague memory of seeing Medan next to my mother on the bleachers at our high school gym, watching a poetry slam that both I and Leo were involved in planning. I’d have to ask Mama if she remembered Medan well, too. Hopefully that’d be a positive and convenient segue into a “surprise! I’m dating again ten months after my last boyfriend destroyed my self-esteem and I swore off all men in the midst of a hyperbolic sob-fest!” conversation. 

Medan was on a roll now, given the time to prepare his thoughts.  “I know that you were never free to hang out with your friends after school because you were helping your father at his shop. I watched you basically provide free therapy to every troubled soul in our high school class, with no hope of anything approaching emotional reciprocity because seemingly the majority of them were fundamentally selfish bastards. I witnessed your ability to handhold your high school boyfriend through both geometry and English composition, despite the fact that he plumbed the very depths of ineptitude. In more recent days, I’ve seen you mentor every intern who crosses your path. I’ve seen you make warm and affirming small talk with a server you’d known for five seconds. The thing is, who’s taking care of you? What do you need someone to do for you?” Medan's gaze was so intense that I wondered if he could see through me literally as well as figuratively. 

I started with unvarnished honesty. “I… um… I didn’t know that you were.... paying attention to me in any way at all like that. Before recently, I mean.” I was surprised when he laughed, despite it making him cough. When he collected himself, he dryly added, “Yes, I pay attention. And not solely to you, although you were more pleasant to pay attention to than most everyone else.” There was a hint of wistfulness in his voice that prompted me to reach for his hand to give it a squeeze. He squeezed back, then said with a slightly teasing smile, “And don’t think I haven’t noticed that you haven’t answered my question.” 

Medan had the balance between sincerity and flirtation down pat, and I responded in kind. “Hmmm. Can I sleep on it?” 

He nodded without saying anything else, but didn’t make any move to get out of the car. Instead, he relaxed back against the window, gray eyes softening with a sleepy blink. It was as though now that he’d said his piece, he could finally let himself unwind. The quiet stretched on, and although I usually recoiled from extended silence, this one felt soft, like a welcome home.

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Ugh I’m so glad there’s an update! Thank you so much this is incredible as always. I love how it’s a fetish story but also romantic and has such a good plot. Keep it up this is amazing!

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Beautiful and such an amazing update! They are too cute together! Hopefully Medan over time will learn that holding back his sneezes and stifling them isn’t the greatest. I hope there will be more much much more sooner! 

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  • 4 weeks later...

Here's Medan's perspective on the previous installment. As always, thanks so much for reading and commenting! I so enjoy hearing what you all enjoy! 

@Catsgotyourtounge, thank you - I'm glad you liked it!  

@pinkypie, thank you!  I'm glad you like the romance, too - I love writing love. 🥰

@Lilsgjerd, thank you! And yeah, if more men like Medan could materialize IRL, that would be superb 😂

@RipleyToo, Medan definitely has learning and becoming more and more comfortable with Viola in his future 😊

@VioletGarden, thank you! I love writing about them! 

 

I wondered if Viola could feel my heart beating when she was pressed up against me; it felt like it was hammering like a drum. At least it was a propulsive distraction from the lingering tickle fluttering in my sinuses. Pulling away from Viola’s soft, exploratory lips to quell the vaguely sneezy impulse with a well-timed pinch or a cautious rub down the bridge of my nose wasn’t even a glimmer of a possibility. I was too absorbed in the moment, counting on adrenaline to suppress the building allergic reaction. When Viola melted against my body, sighing breathlessly against my neck, I felt dizzy for a far more pleasant reason than sinusitis-induced vertigo. 

I was attuned to each and every sound she made -  every subtle change in pressure against my lips, my back, my chest - my nerves alight and attentive. When I heard the tinny ding of the basement elevator bell, I just wondered vaguely who was about to walk in on us. Whoever it was - who cared? They could think what they want. 

Viola, though, apparently didn’t take such a sanguine view. When she heard the mystery person’s footsteps, she pulled away from me so quickly I stumbled a little, surprised by her sudden absence. Her leap backward was positively gymnastic in its athleticism.

“Hey, Vi? You down here?” I recognized our coworker Javeah’s voice immediately. My assumption that Viola would relax when she realized the voice didn’t belong to my mother was inaccurate; she was still shifting her gaze between me and the door with panicked frequency. “Uh… yes? I’m back here.” She looked at me pleadingly, and I was pretty sure I got the message: STALL, STALL, STALL. Right. I can do that. I squared my shoulders and re-emerged into the labyrinthine expanse of dust-clouded boxes, noting the sparkling evidence of dust motes floating through the air under the too-harsh lighting.

“Good morning, Javeah. Viola’s been pulling catalogue records for me - I’m still finding my way around the place, I’m afraid.” My voice sounded far more relaxed than I felt. Now that I was no longer pleasantly distracted by Viola’s lips, it was a struggle to ignore the automatic, reflexive, and ill-advised urge to try to alleviate exponentially multiplying congestion with an itchy, liquid sniffle. Just breathe normally. And cautiously

When Viola emerged from the back room, her smile was tellingly and adorably bashful. She seemed to be not quite able to meet my eyes. I wondered if her reticence was in part because it was transparently obvious that I was inwardly quivering, mere putty in the hands of my autonomic nervous system. I wanted to scrub at my reddening, itchy eyes in frustration, but I knew that would only make it worse. Just stay still.  Every fiber of my desperately allergic being wanted to suck in a breath of dust-filled air and let the chips fall where they may. Although Viola had been clear that she didn’t mind my sudden descent into sneezing fits, even in the workplace, given that she was clearly not ready to indicate to others that we were becoming more than casual coworkers, it seemed like it would be unforgivably gauche to let down my guard. 

I was grateful when the elevator doors closed behind them both, although I was a bit rueful that Viola wouldn’t witness what would be, I was quite confident, a fairly magnificent fit. At least someone should be able to appreciate whatever was forthcoming. I was torn between trying to make it back to my office or locking myself into the basement bathroom to wait the allergy attack out. I’d be more comfortable in my office, but I didn’t want to run into anyone while trying to avoid the last gasp that would collapse me into an avalanche of sneezes. On the other hand, staying in the middle of a dust-riddled cesspit didn’t seem wise.

Coming to a logical compromise, I decided on the stairs - an escape, but one less likely to involve unwelcome encounters with coworkers. I could feel allergic tears prickling against my eyelids and starting to spill onto my fever-flushed cheeks. Time is running out. I pinched my nose shut and held my breath, taking the stairs two at a time. 

As soon as I closed my office door securely behind me, I sank to the floor, leaning forward to prop my forearms against my knees and my forehead against my forearms. Muffling forthcoming sneezes with the crisp fabric of my shirt and my own flesh and bone seemed more possible than quelling them with willpower. If I tried to stifle this fully, my head might explode.

Even though I had successfully made it back to the private confines of my office, it was as though I couldn’t quite convince my body that it had my full permission to finally sneeze. I was hyperventilating with the need, but the tickle just kept building and building, blowing past an entire series of points I thought would be the precipice that tipped me over the edge.  The first sneeze of the fit tore out of my chest with a jagged and guttural “Heehh’bshhuuuuuh!”,  winding me sufficiently that I saw stars as I rocked forward into my forearms. “Eeeh’shuuh! Haaah’shuuuh! Aaaah-heehhh’tssshiu!”

Muffling the sound with my arms seemed about as futile as trying to hide an elephant behind a potted plant, but it seemed better than nothing. I couldn’t countenance the thought of random passersby eavesdropping on this. Not only was the attack uncharacteristically (and horrifyingly) loud, but it was also unusually messy. That’s what you get when you cross a cold-induced sinus infection with allergies, I suppose. "Hhhuuh...eh'haahh...ehhh...hgk...eeeh'heh'heh'tshuuuu! Eeetshuuuh! Heeh'eh...'eh...hehtshiu! Heeeh'eh...ah...tshuuuh!" I felt a pang of concern when I heard a telltale whistling, crackling wheeze as I inhaled in another staccato build-up. If I end up with bronchitis AND a sinus infection, Dr. Klee will never let me hear the end of it.

Perhaps it was just the adrenaline crash post seeing Viola again, finally kissing her, and then abruptly pretending that said event did not ever occur, but I felt far more depleted and wretched than I’d felt since falling ill: unfortunate timing, since it was at that moment there was a knock at my office door. 

I struggled to my feet, giving my nose a few disciplinary swipes in hopes of stemming the tides until whoever it was left. I opened the door to Min, who instantly greeted me with “Oh my God, are you okay?!” Brilliant. Clearly I look as miserable as I feel.

“Yes. What do you need?” 

She looked at me dubiously, but seemed disinclined to challenge me. “Um… well, I guess…you’re needed in the boardroom in fifteen minutes. Your mother was called away and she needs someone to give the presentation to the board and beneficiaries. Elisa said you’d do it, but, um… if you’re… um, well… anyway, Elisa said the text is all written, so all you have to do is read it.” Spoken like someone who never ever struggles to match what they’re thinking and trying to say aloud with what actually comes out of their mouth. I was too tired to even be annoyed with Mum for her last-minute demand, which was really saying something. 

“Right. I’ll meet you there in ten minutes.” Ten minutes to make myself look passably normal and well? Ten hours wouldn’t be enough. 

Walking into the boardroom, I was instantly aware of the atmosphere of “who’s this new guy?” suspicion from the board. I was overcome with a prevailing sense of doom. There’s no way this is going to go well. “Thank you, all, for your promptness. I suppose the first order of business should be introducing myself to those of you I have not yet met. I’m Medan Novak, Elisa’s son. I’m stepping in for her this morning, as she is unexpectedly otherwise engaged. However, she’s left me with detailed notes, so I’m confident we may still have a productive meeting this morning.” 

The board members stared at me with all the good will of a school of piranhas. A few staff members I knew were watching from the edge of the room, looking at me with the pity one might offer a figurative sacrificial lamb. Looking down at Mum’s handwritten notes, I gathered all the poise I could manage. “Right. The… K-...K-...” I could hear Mum’s voice, tsking away and telling Javeah that I’d always had trouble with Ks. This situation couldn’t be more perfect for cultivating my stutter and allowing it to flourish: I was speaking in public, I was exhausted, I was sick, I was reading aloud, and I hadn’t been given the opportunity to prepare in any way whatsoever. 

You know what to do. Just pause. Collect yourself. Take a deep breath. Or as deep of a breath as you can manage at this moment in time, which isn’t very, if you don’t want to interrupt this presentation with a sneezing fit. “K-...The K-...” Come on. You can do this

My internal monologue was interrupted by the intruding judgment of a board member I’d never seen before, a posh looking fellow with a graying mustache and smugly self-aggrandizing manner. He declaimed in a fake whisper absolutely meant to be heard: “Christ, can he even read? What a waste of my time…”

I looked up sharply and was greeted by the comically stricken expressions of the few staff members who were aware that I stuttered. They looked like they might sink through the floor, but the rest of the board just looked a bit embarrassed by the comment’s uncouthness. 

I snapped Mum’s notes closed, letting the silence hang like a fog as I contemplated what to do next. Of course, I could just pretend nothing happened - as if. Or I could just walk out. That has a certain allure. However, I could also tell Mr. Mustache exactly where I wished he’d go and what he ought to do there. Well... perhaps not in this professional locale. I settled for fixing him with a withering stare. “Sir, to put this ‘waste of time’ in perspective, I’ve apparently ‘wasted’ over a decade in speech therapy for this stutter, and I’m not sorry in the slightest.” 

I was faintly aware that my hands were shaking with startling violence, but I’d lost sight of anything in that room but Mum’s handwriting. I’m going to get through this meeting if it fucking kills me. 

 

When I gathered myself at 5:45 to leave the day’s debacles behind me at the office, I was startled - pleasantly so - to find Viola sitting cross-legged in the hallway, scrolling on her phone. 

“W-w-...were you waiting for me?” I would have left sooner had I known she was outside. 

“Um. Yes?” She sounded like she was asking me a question - like she wouldn’t be waiting for me if I didn’t want her to be. I hadn’t realized I wanted her to be outside my door when I opened it, but looking at her now, I knew the only reason I hadn’t let myself hope was fear of disappointment. 

“You know, you d-....d-don’t have to be afraid to knock.” 

“I wasn’t!” Methinks the lady doth protest too much. Viola got to her feet, looking at me with an expression of tender concern that I found wholly disarming.. “I… um… I wanted to ask… this may be stupid, but… may I drive you home? It’s just that you said that you have dizzy spells sometimes when you…um…and I’d just feel better knowing that you made it home safely. If that’s okay. It’s no trouble for me - I usually take the train home, but I know you drive, and vertigo while driving seems… scary. And dangerous. But, um, I’m sure you know your body better than me.” 

Given the day’s events, my instinct to bristle at the suggestion that I was in any way incapable and reflexively decline her offer burned at the back of my throat, even though I knew full well that everything she said was true. Don’t take this out on Viola. Be rational. “...yes, you may.” I almost flinched saying the words aloud. 

As we walked to my car, I noticed Viola keeping a close eye on me. She discreetly slowed down whenever I was distracted by a nose-tickling tingle or unbalanced by a stray cough. She was attuned to my every move in a way that I would have resented were her manner infused with pity. As it was, I had more difficulty just letting myself feel how much I appreciated that she cared. 

Once we were in the car, I closed my eyes and sagged against the car window. I wondered vaguely if my temperature had risen; I felt simultaneously sweaty and chilled. It was easy to lose track of time listening to the humming car heater and the sounds of traffic outside. I might have fallen asleep were it not for the persistent buzzing itch lingering the length of my septum, the uncomfortable weight of congestion pressing against my chest, and a restless sense of unease. 

It doesn’t seem fair that I’m taking up Viola’s time like this. Thinking back across our acquaintance, it was all too easy to identify patterns that marked her as a textbook habitual caretaker. Her family relied on her, her friends relied on her, the workplace relied on her - it was no wonder she was apparently chronically anxious, given all the responsibilities heaped on her. I can’t be just one more responsibility, one more person that she feels pressure to look out for.

By the time she pulled up to my apartment building, I’d more or less determined what I wanted to say to her. “Viola.”

“...yes?” Her face was well enough lit by the street lamps and security lights that I could see her eyebrows raise a little in inquiry, her tone gently curious. 

“Based on current events, it strikes me that the distribution of labor in this relationship is trending toward the inequitable, and I think it’s likely time I did something about it.” It arguably sounded more like I was discussing a business transaction than a budding romance, but it at least encompassed my full meaning. 

Viola seemed baffled by my declaration. “...what?”

“Well, let me put it to you this way. In the last couple of weeks alone, you’ve gotten me medications and coffee, you’ve brought me things I left at work, you’ve helped edit my fundamentally incoherent grant applications, you’ve driven me home, you’ve been consistently patient with me. Am I correct in my overview here?” 

She laughed, unconsciously reaching for her bracelets again to twirl them against her wrist. “...I guess?”

Her slight nervousness made me tense in turn - an unfortunate side effect, since tension is a stammer’s favorite enabler. “Th-th…the q-q-....question is, what about you?”

“What do you mean, what about me?” The fact that Viola was obviously so used to giving and giving and giving that she genuinely had no idea what I was talking about strengthened my resolve to speak. 

“I mean, it’s unfair to you if you’re doing all the - for lack of a clearer term - acts of service and I’m purely reaping the benefits of your thoughtfulness. I’m unaccustomed to being in someone’s debt.” It was difficult to spit that out. It was true, and I was only getting deeper and deeper into her debt with every passing moment. “Obviously, I’m not as good at… taking care of people as you are. I haven’t had much practice, if I’m honest. However, I imagine it is a skill like any other. I’m a quick learner, and I’m very willing.”

“Oh, no - you don’t need to do that.” Viola’s response, said with a diffident giggle, appeared to be simultaneously embarrassed and delighted. It was probably the cutest thing I’d ever seen.

“Yes, I fucking well do.” As I enumerated each and every moment she’d overawed me with her kind heart, I was fleetingly aware that this was perhaps the longest spontaneous speech I’d ever managed without being interrupted by an involuntary pause or stalled word. Where did this sudden spontaneous fluency come from? Maybe it’s just because I feel so secure with Viola. So safe. So accepted. 

Viola shook her head in bemusement. “I… um… I didn’t know that you were paying attention to me in any way at all like that. Before recently, I mean.” 

I must be way less obvious than I thought. My laugh caught in my throat, shaking me with a chest-rattling cough before I could manage to speak again. “Yes, I pay attention. And not solely to you, although you far were more pleasant to pay attention to than most everyone else.” There’s no way Viola could possibly know what or who I was thinking of, but she still reached for my hand, squeezing it comfortingly and leaning into my arm. “And don’t think I haven’t noticed that you haven’t answered my question.” 

Her eyes twinkled with deliciously flirtatious contentment. “Hmmm. Can I sleep on it?” 

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