For the fourth time since seven o'clock, Donna quietly let herself into Josh's apartment and, carrying a warm Styrofoam cup, peeked into the living room. And, for the fourth time since seven o'clock, she found Josh on the couch, surrounded by his crumpled blanket and a broad moat of used tissues. Papers and folders covered the coffee table in front of him as he leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, his hair flattened from sleep on one side. He wore the same rumpled pajamas in which he'd started the day, but had folded the sleeves half-way up his forearms and unbuttoned his shirt to the center of his chest. His forehead shone in the soft lamp-light, and, when he glanced at her, Donna noticed the new flush in his cheeks.
"I see we've moved on to a fever," she said, setting her purse on the end-table.
"Uh." He cleared his throat. "I guess. I-" He shrugged, lowered his eyes, and tapped a pen against his legal pad. "I didn't really check."
"The baked lobster complexion gives you away." She smirked at him and thrust the cup inches from his nose. "Here."
His brow furrowed. "What is it?"
"Yes," she said, her voice stern.
Josh threw himself back against the cushions; the impact pushed a puff of air out of his mouth. His head lolled back and forth as he whined, "Donna."
"No." She fixed him with a hard stare. "Just drink it, Josh."
"Drink it." She planted the cup on his notepad before she stepped backward, toward the armchair.
Josh eyed his tea as if he expected it to leap off the table and attack him. "I can't."
"Because-" A fit of loud, wet coughs cut his words short. Donna winced as he turned away, reminded of an old cat with a hairball, but met his eyes when he faced her, red and breathless. "You know," he said, his voice thick and hoarse. "You should leave. I don't-" He paused to blow his nose-a performance worthy of the Beltway Brass Quintet. His used tissue sailed onto the floor to join the others, and, by the time Donna lifted her eyes to his face, a fresh tissue plugged both of his nostrils. Charming.
"What?" he asked, the force of his voice muffled by the tissue. "No, shut up. It works."
Donna pressed her lips together and fought a smile as she sank down onto the armchair. "Okay," she said. She'd already chosen her battle, and she filed this one away for another time.
"Anyway," he said, his hand sweeping weakly through the air. "You should leave. I don't want to make you sick."
"Nice try. Drink your tea."
"Why-y-y?" He ground the back of his head into the cushion.
"Because it's tea," she said with a slap on the arm of the chair. "It's soothing, and it's good for you. And because, if you don't drink it, Josh, I'm going to funnel it down your throat. I'm not going to sit here all night and listen to you whine. It's good for you. Drink it."
"Yeah, when it's a cup or two, Donna! Not a-gallon of it!"
"I'm not asking you to drink a gallon," she said. "I'm asking you-"
"No, you're telling me, like the bossy little Nurse Ratch-"
"I'm suggesting that you drink this cup, Josh. This cup."
Josh pulled his tissue from his nose and squeezed his eyes shut as he replied, "Just like you suggested that I drink the ten cups before this one."
"Look, Donna. There's only so much tea I can drink before I want to puke my virus-ridden guts out, which would undoubtedly negate any benefits this tea might have. So could you please just"-he pushed at the air with his hand-"get it away from me?"
Donna rolled her eyes. "Fine."
"If"-she paused and waited until she had his attention-"you take a nap."
His head fell forward as a groan rumbled in his throat. "I still have a few things to do, here, Donna," he said, raising his head and sweeping his arm over his papers.
"Tea or nap, Josh," she said, crossing her arms over her chest.
He narrowed his eyes to study her as if he were determined to find a loophole, a way to wiggle out of the trap without chewing off his own leg. But several moments later, he closed his eyes, shook his head, and breathed a slow sigh. "I'll take a nap," he mumbled, swinging his legs onto the couch and wrenching the blanket over himself.
When he settled, Donna leaned forward and curved both hands around the cup. As she eased back in the chair, she inhaled the aroma of the tea-chamomile, her favorite-and tilted the cup to her mouth for a sip. Five minutes later, she heard the sound of Josh's soft, muffled snore and, satisfied, smiled to herself.