and have you set me free, or will i wake up in the morning to find out it’s been a bad dream?
i’m sick. i ache head to toe. i’m weak and exhausted. i was hoping it was just a cold, but it’s seeming more sinister. glands are all swollen. i barely made it through my day today. fought to stay awake on the drive home, my body wracked with chills. coughed and sneezed. nose bled. got through the door. struggled to kick off my boots without bothering to bang the snow from them. stripped my layers of wool and down and denim leaving them to drop in a trail across the floor through the house until i made it to my bed in my tank and panties. cranked up the heated mattress pad. crawled under the covers as the winter twilight darkened the room and slept for four hours.
i woke with my lower body on fire. my hips and legs throbbed and burned. even the soft flannel sheets brushing against them as i shifted under the covers made my nerves stand on end and scream. my throat burned. my head throbbed. thirst consumed me, but the bottle on my bedside table was empty, and I was too chilled, hurting, and tired to move out of the bed and do anything about it. i rolled over and dialed up my brother to complain about my predicament good-naturedly, hoping that my silly whining would wake me. it didn’t.
i managed to crawl out of bed to get some water and a thermometer. took my temperature. 101.5 degrees. no wonder i felt like shit. i had a million and two things to do, but decided “fuck it” and crawled back under the covers and fell immediately back to sleep.
you came to me in my fever dream. it wasn’t a dream so much, as a memory. a memory of the time i got the flu when we were together. i had a fever then, too, only it was higher. you were worried because i was too sick to worry. i was burning up. made no sense. the semester hadn’t started yet, and so i had nowhere to be except in bed, and that’s where you found me. i complained that morning that i wasn’t feeling well. i didn’t answer your texts in the afternoon. you came home early from your shift and called my name as you came through the front door. i heard you, but didn’t have the strength to respond. you looked through the apartment until your eyes fell on me curled up in a ball in bed, covers all kicked off onto the floor. one touch of my skin made you want to take me to the emergency room. i fought you. refused. you promised you’d be able to get me seen quickly — no sitting in hard chairs under the bright fluorescents in the waiting room. still. no. no way. not leaving this bed. you threatened. reminded me that you were easily twice my size. that you’d pick me up and put me in the truck and take me and i wouldn’t have anything to say about it. i didn’t stand a chance against your strength on my best day. what was i going to do to stop you in my weakened state? i begged you. i cried. you relented. shushed me softly as you ran your hands through my sweaty, tangled hair. comforting me, but looking helpless. deep brown eyes filled with concern as you stared intently at my flushed face and glassed-over eyes in the late day sun that streamed in from the patio through the curtains over the sliding glass door. i couldn’t focus on anything. i passed out.
you left me to sleep. went and got soup. made it and a sandwich. brought it to me in bed. i struggled to come to surface to consciousness. wouldn’t sit up. wouldn’t eat. couldn’t keep down water. my fever reached 102. your medical training made you pack me with ice under my arms and behind my neck. it felt like murder and didn’t touch the fever. you called your mother. she was a pediatrician and saw kids with raging temperatures all the time. she told you to get me up and in a cold shower immediately, which you did. you propped me up against the bathroom wall and tugged my clothes off under the bright, unforgiving lights. held my arms out away from my sides and let your gaze travel over my body, taking its time over my breasts, neck, throat. eyes mixed with worry and a tinge of lust took in the fever’s rash on my flesh. my own eyes caught our reflections in the mirror over your shoulder. my head lolled limply on my neck as i stood under your inspection. my knees buckled slightly. you paused for a moment. took in the situation, considered the options, then stripped yourself down and stood in the tub with me. holding me under the icy cold water with your arms around my waist as i moaned and cursed your name the best i could with sounds that were largely indecipherable. the water was so cold. my skin shrieked as it hit me. shrieked as you toweled me dry and combed out my hair. god, it hurt. every part of me was sensitive and on fire. you dressed me tenderly, like you were dressing a little girl. put your scrubs shirt on me, still warm from being on your body all day and filled with the smell of you. pulled some clean underpants out of the dryer and knelt in front of me and held them out so i could steady myself with my hands on your shoulders and step carefully into them. wrapped my hair in a dry towel and put me back into bed still slightly damp. i immediately succumbed to sleep in the dark, my teeth chattering.
i woke some time later to find you kneeling next to my bed under the light on the dresser working the IV you had gone to the hospital and borrowed? stolen? from your friends in emergency into the back of my left hand. i didn’t ask. didn’t say anything. i just looked at you. fought to keep my eyes open and looking into yours. you taped down the IV, started the drip, and the cool saline flooded my veins, making me feel like ice from the inside out. i winced. you kissed me. i protested, said you’d catch it. you told me you didn’t care. told me you loved me. cursed my stubborn streak and the fact that you gave into it. turned off the light and crawled into the bed next to me. i was sprawled sideways across the mattress, leaving no room for your giant frame. you didn’t move me. just curled up into the curves of my body on top of the covers and laid your head against my stomach. burrowed under my breasts like you liked to do. sighed into the heat coming off of my limp body. rising and falling with my ragged breaths and coughs. i fell asleep with my IV hand hanging off the edge of my bed and my other hand resting deep in your thick, black head of soft hair, still slightly damp from the shower. drifted off into fevered oblivion mumbling delirium as you held me tight. let the healing saline course through me.
i woke tonight in my bed alone. midnight on the clock. exhausted, weak, and dry. head still on fire, but the rest of me cool, the bed soaked with the sweat from my fever break. i struggled upright and assessed the damage. stripped the bed. pushed everything into the washing machine. rinsed away the dream with a shower and three advil. made a sandwich and a glass of juice. wished i had you here to do it all for me. i don’t know if your memory helped me break the fever or not, but i swear i can feel a bruise on the back of my hand where the IV was.