For those who are wondering, "Love-in-idleness" is an old-fashioned name for the flower better known as "pansy." William Shakespeare uses it in A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Taming of the Shrew as a love potion. Of course, if you've read any of my stories, you will know that this description will not help you in any way.
I have a lot of people to thank for their good humor and kindness while I write (and rewrite) this story, especially Domysticated, LyricalKris and WonderWallTheFirst, but I also owe a debt of gratitude to the writers that inspire me to write better, like Conversed, Denverpopcorn, and HoochieMomma (who is my mainline to Willy Shakes). But most of all, I have to thank Happymelt for her care, insight, and for re-reading these blasted chapters over and over again to fix the mistakes, fill in the holes, and tidy it up for company.
And thank you too if you're reading this, because I suspect you also believe that:
...those things do best please me
That befal preposterously.
Chapter 1: Virus
Mrs. Cope hung up the phone and smiled at the girl sitting in one of the wooden chairs outside the nurse's office. The school was currently experiencing its annual flu epidemic, but this year's variant brought on extreme symptoms faster than any she'd witnessed in over twenty years of administration. This kid is a goner, she thought with sympathy.
As she transposed letters of recommendation for this year's crop of seniors, correcting grammar and redundancy for teachers who should have known better, but found themselves too over-worked and pressured by the ever increasing need to document each grade, absence, and dirty look, she glanced over at the girl, whose name was Bella Swan, a new student who had started her junior year in September. Lots of curiosity had focused on her arrival, but at this point, the jury was still out. Friendly and polite, and with excellent grades, she yet carried the self-consciousness of a much younger girl. When Bella Swan's eyes flickered over to the door nervously, Mrs. Cope snuck in a quick, reassuring smile before the girl glanced down at her shoes.
Shifting tasks, she began collating the pages of next year's budget proposal for tomorrow night's board of education meeting, and it occurred to her that in this age of computers she shuffled more paper than ever before. Her mind drifted. The Homecoming game was this Thursday. It kicked off a weekend of celebration for both students and alumni alike, but it was also the official start of the holiday season. One of the budget line items was for installation of hand sanitizers in all of the bathrooms, locker rooms, hallways, and two in the cafeteria. The end of season football game and the high level of socializing would provide ample opportunity for swapping bodily fluids of all types, and with the virulence of this bug it seemed assured that the last weeks before Thanksgiving were sure to be doozies. She slammed her hand down on the bottle of anti-bacterial gel on her desk and rubbed it into her skin.
As for Bella, what bothered her more than the ache in her bones, the sense that she might suffocate in her own mucus, and the fact that she would miss both her English Literature and Biology mid-terms, was the unavoidable call to her father to ask him to pick her up. She was certain she wouldn't be allowed to drive her truck, but even if she had had friends who might be excused to take her home, mostly anyone who might be willing was already sick and in bed. She knew her father would drop everything at a moment's notice for her, but she didn't want to be a bother.
o o o
When Charlie Swan's dark mustache finally did appear in the glass window of the office door, Mrs. Cope smiled. The bell rang when he pushed it open, as did her entire body when he walked into the quiet room. His handsome face, concerned smile, and quiet humor, even in the face of crisis, factored large in not a few of the dreams of the town's womenfolk on many a dark and stormy night. To watch him crouch down low in front of his stricken child, who shared his steady disposition, as well as his dark eyes, was beyond endearing, and she turned her back to give them privacy. His low murmurs rumbled across the room into her belly. When both father and daughter stood to leave, he caught her eye briefly and nodded. "Thank you, Shelly," he said.
She raised her hand to her cheek to feel the girlish flush from his simple words. The bell rang them out, and she got back to work with a little less focus than she'd had just a half hour ago.
o o o
As her father drove, Bella pulled up the hood of her jacket and hunched into herself, partly in collapse, partly so no one would see that she was sitting in the front seat of a police cruiser. She didn't like to stand out, and she still hadn't gotten used to the intense worry her father never seemed to shake off. He reached out and touched her forehead, guilty that he couldn't stay home to take care of her, but he was expecting two detectives from the Port Angeles police department that afternoon, and he needed to be there to make sure the knuckleheads didn't set his own team off on a wild hair. Her skin felt dry to him, but the heat against his palm pulsed.
"We'll get you set up at home and then I'll call Sue to come sit with you."
She pulled away from him, and leaned toward the door. "Dad, no. Please. I'm only going to lie on the couch and sleep. I'll be fine."
Charlie didn't like the idea of leaving her by herself when she was sick, especially because of the break-ins that had been happening with increasing regularity in Forks and the surrounding towns over the last few months. He didn't think his own home would be a target, and in fact, the break-ins had all occurred while the owners were gone, but he didn't want to chance it.
"Do you have a friend who can stay with you?"
Self-reproach crept into his mind, because he knew his daughter hadn't developed any close friendships yet. He suspected that even after she'd been there for a while that she was unlikely to have a huge group of friends, and decided he'd better call Sue Clearwater anyway - a move that had its own ramifications, since she would likely read more into the call than he intended.
When they got home, Charlie went about the business of tucking his daughter in on the couch — plying her with pillows, a comforter, a pitcher of water, and a bucket, in case. His greatest worry was that she might vomit on her own, or worse, in her sleep. He picked up the phone and started to dial, but Bella croaked, "Angela! Angela Weber!"
Angela had been friendly the first day, and again the next, and after a few weeks they'd developed an easy attachment that didn't thrive on gossip or competition. More importantly, she was already recovered from the flu.
"Make that call," he said before he left, and she had. Bella wobbled to the phone, then unlocked the front door to avoid having to get off the couch again to answer the bell.
o o o
The afternoon sun streamed through the western window of the Swan's living room. The two ibuprofen tablets Bella had taken at school were finally kicking in, and she closed her eyes and waited. She was not naturally a skittish girl, but her sickness made her imagine all sorts of things while she listened to the quiet of the room. She took inventory of her body. She wiggled her toes against the seam inside her socks, which felt constricted, so she took them off. The sudden bareness of her feet against the couch made her feel vulnerable, so she curled her knees up toward her chest. Lying in this position made her feel as if she were a hard boiled egg, so she stretched out flat on her back, which made her feel as though she was lying at her own wake. That thought caused her to turn toward the back of the couch, which immediately made her feel as though her back was exposed to anyone who might think to stab her, so she shifted again to face out into the room, feeling braver and slightly ridiculous, because why should a knife to the chest be less frightening than a stab in the back?
Bella mulled that thought over while the rays of the sun grew steadily warmer against her body, which emitted its own heat as she lie wrapped in her cocoon on the couch. Time ticked past, and she felt as if she was being tossed about on waves of sleep, sometimes alert, sometimes not, caught in a pocket of something that wasn't quite slumber, not quite dream, and it was in this frame of mind that she gave herself up and tumbled into unconsciousness.
o o o
Minutes or hours might have passed, but the increasing heat of the afternoon sun suffused her already reddened cheeks with a golden glow. Despite the pills, her skin still hurt and she could almost feel the damp curls of her hair rise up in defiance of its length. Her high temperature fermented her thoughts, mixing her concerns with the wishes of her heart, so when she finally started dreaming, it was more like hallucinating, a blend of the studying she'd done for her tests and the other thoughts she'd been having when she convinced herself to go see the nurse rather than go to Biology. In fact, she didn't fight the sleep as much as she fought being awake, so when she thought she heard a knock at the door, she merely allowed the fact to stand, and when a cool hand pressed against her forehead, she finally let herself be good and sick, luxuriating in the almost narcotic relief of her fever dreams.