It's no longer a question of staying healthy.
It's a question of finding a sickness you like.
- Jackie Mason
"I came as soon as I heard," Jane said the moment the door opened.
Mary nodded and stepped back to allow the dark-haired woman access. Jane swiftly entered, wringing her hands around a small can, clinging to it as if it were a tiny metal life preserver. While not exactly spacious, the dorm room sported far more elbow room than the dungeon Jane was used to back at Boston Fine Arts. Part of it, Jane always figured, was that Raft College took extraordinary care of their students. The other part was the fact that not every single available surface was overflowing with art supplies.
Pensive, unable to stop moving, Jane took advantage of that extra space by pacing back and forth. "How is she doing?"
The other woman shrugged helplessly. "She looked a little better the last time I saw her," she said, "but that was yesterday. She spends most of her time locked up in her room even when she's doing okay, and now . . . " Mary threw her hands up in a gesture of helplessness, then pointed at one of the bedroom doors.
Jane took in a deep breath, centering herself. Then, with a small nod, she moved over to the indicated door and rapped on it softly with the rim of the can she carried. She placed her ear against the faux wood and listened carefully but could only hear the soft rustling of sheets beyond. When another knock received the same results, she called out a tentative greeting. When that didn't work either, she decided to take a more proactive approach.
The lock on the door was ridiculously simple, meant only to ensure privacy from honest folk, not to actually keep a determined intruder out. Jane, having become very determined by that point, pulled out her keyring and pressed the flat edge of one of the keys into the depression in the middle of the doorknob. A quick twist caused the knob's central cylinder to turn and pop out the lock.
As with all of Jane's previous visits, Daria's dorm bedroom gave her a slight sense of deja vu when she entered. It was far smaller than the room back at the Morgendorffer residence and the padding on the walls was nothing more than haphazardly hung grey blankets from the local thrift store, but it still managed to evoke the insane asylum motif with which Daria had become so enamored.
Without any preamble, Jane closed the door behind her, re-locked it, and moved over to the bed sitting on the room's far side. The covers and sheets on the bed were bunched up in the corner, obviously trying and failing to hide the fact that a human form lay just underneath. Jane placed her hands on her hips and waited patiently. She was finally rewarded with a muffled whine.
"'Fraid I can't do that, amiga," she replied, hefting the can in her hand. "I spent all my cash on the cab ride over here. The only way you're getting rid of me is by carrying me all the way back to BFAC yourself."
Jane chuckled. "Who do you think let me in the front? Sorry, munchkin, but it looks like your roomie's on my side for once."
The tangle of bed coverings lowered a few inches to reveal an equally tangled mess of brown hair framing a pair of large, round glasses covering bleary, reddened eyes. Sweat glistened on the small patch of forehead visible.
"You're a horrible human being," Daria said, still muffled by the covers.
"Naaaaah," Jane scoffed, then shrugged. "Well, maybe. But would a horrible human being bring you this?" She proudly presented the can of chicken noodle soup, holding it up with one hand and moving the other across it like a Price is Right model.
Daria's eyes frowned noticeably. "Yes," she mumbled. "S'a trap."
"Just a small one! Come on, Morgendorffer! All you have to do is come out of your little hidey-hole and be sociable for a few minutes and it's all yours, promise. I might even pop it in the microwave for you myself!" She dangled the can a few inches away from the bedside, snatching it away when a slender arm popped out of the blanket bundle to swipe at it. "Ah ah ah!" she admonished. "You didn't say the magic words!"
Daria's arm fell lifelessly to her side as she slumped down under the comforters, covering up her eyes in the process. After sitting like that for a few moments, she shifted down to lay flat on the bed and drew her arm back in as well. Jane huffed and set the soup can on Daria's small writing desk before carefully leaning against the edge of the tiny mattress. At first it didn't seem like Daria was going to make any concession to this move, but after a few moments she finally rolled up on one side and scooted back to allow Jane more room to sit.
"So that's a 'no' on the coming-out thing?" Jane asked. Getting no response, she slapped her knee and said, "Alright, then I'm coming in!"
Daria halfheartedly kicked Jane in the back as the artist removed her red overshirt and started unlacing her boots. After stretching out her stocking feet for a second, Jane lifted the covers and dove under them before Daria could push her back. She turned on her side and scooted her back up against Daria's front, then tucked the blankets and sheets down around both of them.
"Good lord, woman!' she said once they were settled. "How can you stand it under here?"
"S'freezin'," Daria grumbled before pulling the covers down from her head.
"Oh, pshaw. That's just the fever talking."
Finally succumbing to the invasion of her space, Daria wrapped her arm around Jane's midsection and pulled the other woman closer. She nuzzled her face between Jane's shoulder blades and sighed. "You're gonna have a fever too if you keep this up."
"The flu's not gonna bother me too much," Jane said with a shrug. "I'll just cough up some phlegm on a canvas. Easy A. Besides," she added as she interlaced her fingers with Daria's, "I figure it's worth it. As long as you don't snot all over the back of my shirt, anyway."
"Just sweat and spit, promise. So . . . don't you have classes to go to instead of bugging me?"
"Yeah, but there were only two, and I was able to work out a personal day thing with the profs. I'll just have to art extra hard next week for 'em. If I coulda worked it out sooner, I would have brought some orange juice with the soup. Not that you're getting the soup yet, mind you."
The two of them laid still for a while, simply enjoying each other's company. Daria would occasionally turn her head and enter into a coughing spasm, but otherwise they stayed still and quiet. Jane could feel the intense heat radiating off of Daria's body, could feel it in the breath on her back and neck, but she kept the covers on and focused on the comforting softness of the shorter woman's form against her. After a time, Daria tightened her embrace for a moment.
"I love you," she whispered huskily.
"Love you, too," Jane whispered back, squeezing Daria's hand in her own. "And congratulations, those were the magic words. You can have your soup now."
"Hooraaay," Daria said dreamily as her breathing slowed. Within moments, she had drifted off to sleep.
Jane carefully shifted around just enough to remove Daria's glasses and set them on the nightstand. After turning off the small bedside lamp, she settled back into a more comfortable position and prepared to doze off herself. She would almost certainly catch whatever it was Daria had – be it cold, flu, or whatever – but she had been telling the truth before. It would definitely be worth it, and there was nowhere else she would rather be at that very moment.
Roland 'Jim' Lowery
Original – 11/5/09
Rewrite – 1/26/18