Author's Notes: Same characters as in 'High'. This takes place much earlier in their friendship.
Michael sneezed, blew his nose into a tissue, then sneezed again. Lather, rinse, repeat, he thought as he sneezed another couplet. His head was throbbing and he had long ago lost his focus on the Art History: from Prehistoric to Post-Modern textbook he was supposed to be reading. It never failed - final exams loomed on the horizon and he was snuffling his way through a cold. He couldn't even blame it on Anthony; his roommate was maddeningly healthy. Even now Anthony was probably out somewhere appreciating the early summer warmth, maybe sprawled on the grass in Dolores Park with a beer, a joint and a pretty boy. Certainly not sitting around the house trying to concentrate on ancient artists. Michael scowled, wishing, as he did every semester, that he had skipped college and gotten a job. Anthony certainly didn't seem to be suffering for it. He had money, he had weekends to himself. Where, exactly, was the down side?
Michael's nose tickled and even as he directed the following sneeze into a tissue, he considered just spraying it out - germs everywhere. But then Ant would get sick and he'd feel guilty and that wouldn't help at all. It was his own fault, after all, for buying into his parents' certainty that success depended on grades, a well-known college and the right job - which was most emphatically not something like audio-visual installation. Not to mention being a singer in a band. Heaven forfend. Michael rolled his eyes at himself and closed the book, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes.
A minute later the front door slammed open, letting in a swirl of wind and Anthony. He kicked the door closed behind himself, but not before Michael's notes skittered off the coffee table and several used tissues blew onto the floor. "Dammit, Anthony, be careful," Michael grumbled.
Anthony bent down to help him scoop up escaped notes. "Oops. Sorry. Man - it's lovely out there. Windy, but warm. I think a storm's coming." He left the papers in a rather sloppy and precarious pile at the edge of the coffee table, then flopped down in a chair, grinning, cheeks flushed from the sun.
Michael resisted the urge to straighten the pile. He could do it when Anthony left, then he wouldn't have to deal with his teasing. Anthony liked to consider him anal, when he was just organized. "Don't tease. I've got enough studying to keep me inside for the next century." Michael rubbed his nose in a tissue, sneezing his usual couplet.
"Sucks. Sounds like you're still sick, too." He pushed himself to his feet and headed toward the kitchen. "Need anything while I'm up," he called. Ice cubes clinked into a glass.
"I'm fine," Michael called back, coughing as the words rasped his throat. He took a sip of tea, but it had gone cold. He could have asked Anthony to make him more, but that would just encourage him to hang around and what Michael really wanted was quiet, solitude - to be miserable in peace. Anthony resumed his place in the chair and Michael sighed; luck just wasn't with him.
"So I met this guy, Dave, in the park," Anthony said, leaning forward, a spark in his eyes.
Here it comes, Michael thought. The newest boyfriend.
"He works at the hospice over on Van Ness, running a grief group for kids who lost family members. They're looking for volunteers and I'm thinking of signing up."
Michael's eyebrow rose. "At a hospice?" If he came up with a list of things Anthony was least likely to do, volunteering at a hospice would probably be close to the top of the list. He wasn't exactly an altruistic person.
"Yeah. One of the volunteers who helps run the group went back to school for a Master's, so Dave's looking for someone to help out."
Suddenly things came clear for Michael. Anthony wasn't doing it out of the goodness of his heart, he just wanted to be closer to this guy. "Do you even like kids?"
Anthony sat back, a frown gathering between his brows. "Sure."
Michael wondered whether he might be able to get Anthony to admit he was just using the idea of volunteering as an excuse, so he pressed him a little. "What do you know about therapy? Or grief?"
"What's your problem, Michael?"
"I just think it's sort of disgusting to be using a group of kids to get in another guy's pants."
Anthony's face went pale. "Fuck you," he snapped, but his voice was unsteady. He slammed out of the apartment, sending Michael's notes spilling from the table again.
For a minute, Michael reveled in a feeling of triumph. Not only did he have the apartment to himself again, but he'd pissed Anthony off. He never liked being forced to look at his motivations like that, but then again, who did? Maybe it would be enough to keep him from starting something he wouldn't want to finish once the infatuation faded.
As he leaned down to pick up his notes again, Michael noticed a brochure on the floor under Anthony's chair. Hospice of San Francisco, it said and, curious, Michael opened it. There was information about hospice and the services they offered, and there were pictures. One was of a group of kids gathered around an older man. "Kids' grief group grads with co-facilitator Dave" the caption said. Michael studied the picture for a long moment, then put the brochure on the coffee table.
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