“Kishhew!” James bent forward with a sneeze as soon as he’d opened the door. He’d been sneezing sporadically during the walk back home, but the warm air striking his face as he opened the door brought the tickle back full force. He dug out his handkerchief and rubbed his nose, hoping to stave off a fit.
“James?” Carwyn appeared in the doorway of the kitchen. She smiled when she caught sight of him. “You’re early. I’d expected the funeral to take another two hours.”
“The wake will probably be that long,” James admitted, lowering the handkerchief. “But Mr. Gorney doesn’t employ his mutes for that part of the service.”
He sniffed wetly, and Carwyn came forward, touching his cheek and wincing at how cold it felt. “You look dead tired, love,” she said, before chuckling a little, “Pardon the expression. Go on upstairs and have a warm bath to get the chill out of you. When I’m finished here, I’ll bring dinner up and we’ll eat it in bed.”
“I thought that was only reserved for breakfast.” James said with a faint smile.
“I believe exceptions can be made in this case,” she answered, pushing him towards the bathroom, “Get going.”
He obeyed, giving her a smile over his shoulder. She smiled back and disappeared into the kitchen. Entering the bathroom, he paused and took a look at himself in the mirror. Carwyn was right; although he felt more cold than tired, there were faint rings under his eyes and a certain drop to his shoulders that indicated just how long he’d been working. As he looked, his nose gave a twitch and he quickly got the handkerchief back to his face. “T-chh!” It was a quiet sneeze, but it seemed to reverberate around the small room. Rubbing his nose, he set the handkerchief at the edge of the bath in easy reach and then started to run the water.
As the steam from the water filled the air, James undressed, shivering a little as his skin was exposed. The cold tile under his feet and the warm steam tickling his nose caused him to sneeze again—“Echh!”—but thankfully, he could tell that he was warming up. Once he’d removed his shirt, he slid into the water, sighing contentedly as his legs came to rest at the bottom of the tub. He hadn’t realized until that moment just how long he’d been standing, and the heat felt good against his sore muscles. Felt good against his entire body, really.
He wasn’t sure how long he was in the tub; once he was submerged up to his neck, he entered into a sort of peaceful daze. The warmth was soaking the tension out of his muscles, washing away the stress of the funeral and leaving only a feeling of tiredness. With the stress of keeping himself composed during the funeral and then the eagerness to get back home, he hadn’t noticed how tired he was getting. And the heat felt so lovely…
James’ eyes fluttered closed, and he slid down a little further into the tub. Fortunately, the moment his nose touched the water, a small bit of it went up his nose, and he sneezed himself back to wakefulness. “Gishh! Ptchh!” He sniffed and rubbed his nose ruefully. Maybe he was tired, but he could certainly wait until he was out of the tub.
When the water had cooled to lukewarm, James finally forced himself to get out of the tub. He toweled down slowly, too relaxed and sleepy to move much faster. Then he crossed to the bedroom, leaving his clothes where they were (they could wait until tomorrow), and started rooting around the dresser for his nightshirt.
He was just climbing into bed when Carwyn nudged the door open. “Have a good bath?” she asked, waiting until he’d arranged himself comfortably before setting the breakfast tray on his lap.
“Perhaps too good,” he answered, “I nearly fell asleep.”
“I shouldn’t wonder, with all the walking and standing you had to do. I trust it went well, though?”
He smiled as he cut into the chicken she’d prepared. “Mr. Gorney seemed pleased with my work. I believe I may have overplayed my part, however.”
Then he told her between bites about everything that had happened over the course of the day, and the trouble his nose had given him. Carwyn listened, amused, and burst out laughing when he described sniffling his way through the hymn. She shook her head and rested a hand apologetically on his wrist. “Is this the same man who caught a whiff of strong scent and sneezed his way through the Lord’s Prayer two months ago?”
James chuckled. “I had appearances to keep. A mute making any noise other than breathing or footsteps seemed inappropriate. Besides, it’s not my fault the woman behind us had drenched herself in scent before church.”
She squeezed his hand. “Go on.”
He told the rest of the story without incident, and was surprised when he looked down to discover he’d finished off the chicken. He’d thought it would have been too much, considering how tired he was. Perhaps he was hungrier than he thought as well. Carwyn took the tray away and kissed him tenderly. “Get some sleep, my darling. I’ll clean the dishes and join you when I’m finished.”
James returned the kiss and then slid down the headboard, watching her as she left the room. He wanted to wait until she returned so that they could share a proper goodnight kiss, but his eyes were too heavy to stay open for long, and he soon fell asleep, the worries of the funeral left far behind him.