by VATERGrrl
Rating: PG?
Warning: Some sexual innuendo, but it's pretty tame. Possibly strong language.
Fandom: Original
Author's Notes: This is part of a pair of stories for the sneezefic in 132 moods collection, and is followed by "Horny" (NC-17).

"You ready to give this a try?" My girlfriend, Heather Willams, was making the final adjustments to a video camera setup, which she'd placed on a tripod near the end of my bed. She looked up to give me a big smile, a naughty glint flashing in her brown eyes.

"I guess so." Heather and I had made a brief list ahead of time, to determine what, if anything, I could use to make myself sneeze, and we'd collected a motley bunch of odds and ends: a table lamp, a small vial of dust from my newspaper office, two tissues which had been twisted into long pointed cones, and, the piece de resistance, a long-stemmed rose.

"Okay, then, whenever you're ready."

I pulled nervously on the collar of my t-shirt, swallowed hard when I heard the camera whir to life. "Ah, what do you want me to try first?"

"How about the lamp?" Heather had first noticed my propensity for photic sneezing - a reflex triggered when I stepped from a dark area into bright sunlight or got my eyes examined with an opthalmascope - after our first real "date," an excursion to see The Silence of the Lambs. I'd reasoned that a horror flick would be my best chance to get Heather to grab my arm and hold on tight, but it turned out that her stomach for shock and gore was far stronger than mine, and I'd been the one to keep my eyes covered for half of the movie. In my haste to get away from the gruesome images of cannibalism and insanity, I'd chosen to duck out a side door from the screening room, and the sunlight struck me immediately and with more impact than if I'd opted to wander back out slowly past the concession stand.

"Wai-" I blinked my eyes and tried as best I could to suppress the automatic surge of itching in my nose. "Wait a sec."

"Why?" Heather jangled her keys lightly - she always seemed to be in a hurry - and I imagined her looking at me as if I had lobsters coming out of my ears.

"The suhh -" My eyes forced themselves shut, and I could only hope that no one was in my immediate line of fire as I sneezed three times in a row, quick but loud "Hah-tshooo!" bursts.

"Bless you." Heather placed a hand lightly on my shoulder, and when I could open my watering eyes and look at her without the fear that I would sneeze another time, or three, I saw she was unzipping the main pocket of her purse.

"Thanks," I said, shaking my head and pushing the heels of my hands over my eyes to try to regulate them. "But, I really don't need a tissue. It's just a weird reflex."

"You're sure?"

"Mm-hm." I dropped my hands back down to my sides, opened my eyes slowly to allow them to adjust. "Happens pretty much whenever I come out of a movie in the middle of the day."

"Oh?" Heather sounded distinctly intrigued.

"Yeah. Like I said, it's just a reflex." As we walked back toward the car, I explained that the first couple times it had happened, once after a screening of Benji when I was four, and later that year when I had to have my eyes examined, my father had assumed I was coming down with a cold. Fortunately for me, he was also observant enough to notice that I didn't sneeze for the rest of the day, or anytime within the next week, and a quick search of medical journals told him what I already instinctively knew: it wasn't an allergy, an infection, or even an irritation in the regular sense of the word.

Now, with the lights turned slightly low in the bedroom, and Heather hoping to have something caught on tape, I tried to relax sufficiently to invite the urge back. It seemed like an easy and painless way to make myself sneeze, and best, I knew that it was also completely reversible.

"Okay, let me try and see what happens." I breathed in deeply, letting it out slowly as if in meditation, then reached under the lampshade to flip the lightbulb on. The initial flare of light wasn't particularly effective, just burned the hot yellow image of the bulb onto my retinas, but after that had faded, I experimented with staring over or near the light, and after a few moments, I felt the subtle twinge in my chest and nose that told me that the photic reflex had been tripped.

"Cad you gehhh-" We'd agreed ahead of time that, for the first part of the video, I'd try to sneeze freely, uncovered and unrestrained, but some weird, polite part of me still bubbled up to the surface to try to ask Heather for a tissue or a handkerchief or something, possibly because my vision was still distorted and I couldn't see the outline of the tissue box I'd set on the nightstand.

Instead, I was left to fend for myself, my chin tucking in toward my chest as I let out a rushed "Heh-tshhh! Eh-tshhh!-tshhh!" I had time for a quick breath, then a second triple, slightly softer than the first, tumbled out. "Uh-tshhh! Tshhhh! Tshhh."

"Bless you."

"Thanks." Although I wasn't particularly congested, I reached toward the nightstand and pulled a tissue out of the box, my vision slowly returning to normal as the after-image of the lightbulb faded away from my retinas. My blow was dry, mostly for effect, and I crumpled the tissue up and tossed it into a small red plastic garbage can on the other side of the bed.

"Bright lights always make you sneeze?" Heather's question took me by surprise, and I'm afraid I probably made a hideous face at the camera before I recovered.

"Uhm, no, not always." I was going to leave my answer short and uninformative, but Heather rolled her hand around in a "tell me more" gesture.

"Well, it depends on the angle of the light, and if I've been in a dark area before the sunlight, factors like that." I smiled, recalling the last time I'd gone in to have my eyes examined, then decided to let Heather in on the joke.

"When I have to go in and get my eyes checked-well, you know how they always get out their special gadgets, the opthalmoscopes and things, and shine them in your eyes?"

"Yeah?" Heather was intrigued, so I embellished my tale a bit more for her benefit.

"Well, usually, the doc I go to, he's been seeing me for years, so he knows I'm photic, and he'll make absolutely sure to give me a bunch of tissues beforehand, be ready to scoot his chair back, the whole thing.

"The problem is," I went on, rather enjoying Heather's interest. "The last time I went there, he had a student examine me first, and the woman didn't have clue one, didn't even bother to ask to anything, just whipped out her scope and leaned right in."

"Oooh, don't tell me..."

"Well, she didn't give me any space, and you know by now that I don't normally carry a handkerchief on me, sooo..."


"Yup. She got a little sprayed, freaked out, and ran out of the room. Fortunately for both of us, Doctor Boyer brought her back in and impressed upon her the importance of reading the patient's chart thoroughly before starting the exam."

It was worth every bit of remembered embarrassment to hear Heather giggle, a light and delightful sound which went on for a full minute before she sobered and thought to ask me something else.

"So, then I guess I don't have to ask you the burning question of the day, like the eternal debate: boxers or briefs?"

"Do I have to answer that?" I squeaked. "I know this is a fetish video, but, really, woman."

"No, no, what I meant to ask was, tissues or handkerchiefs?"

"Ah, neither, usually?" When that got only a stern shake of the head, I backpedaled. "Uhm, usually a cocktail napkin or a paper towel, or a dishcloth?" I rubbed unconsciously with the pad of my thumb at the small divot under my nose. "Day to day, I'm the least organized person you're ever going to meet."

"And if you caught a cold?"

"Tissues, probably, drag a big clunky box around with me and, with my luck, set it down somewhere and forget to take it with me." I glanced back over at the box on the nightstand, noticed the dark navy bandanna that Heather had placed near it. "I'll use a handkerchief, sure, but only if you had one to lend, already - like I say, I'm not big on planning ahead with that kind of stuff."

"Mmm." She seemed to sense that the topic was running aground, got up from behind the camera to keep the "action" going. "So, what else makes you sneeze? Besides the sun?" She walked closer to me, settled herself on the edge of the bed and reached forward to grab one of the pre-twisted, elongated cones of tissue.

"Not too much, really." I watched her twirl the implement around in her long fingers, leaned back just a little bit when I saw her raise it in the direction of my face.

"Would you trust me to make you sneeze?"

"Sure, but I bet you can't do it."

"Oh? And what if I can? What do I win?"

I licked my lips, watching the soft point of the cone as it brushed up against the side of my neck. "My shirt?"

"Ah, strip-sneeze? I think I could go for that." Heather brushed the tissue higher, just under my cheekbone, then delicately stroked it in the divot I'd been rubbing not two minutes earlier. "Say when."

I gulped, waved an arm toward the box of tissues. "Just, uh, let me grab a Kleenex, okay?"

I took out four, knowing that anything less than two would end up as a shredded mess if I ended up sneezing into them more than once.

"Okay," I announced, tilting my head back and bracing against the headboard. "Do your worst."

My girlfriend smiled, looking like the proverbial cat in the creamery, then delicately pushed her preferred instrument of torture as far up my nose as she deemed safe. I could feel it brush past my turbinates, then slightly higher, since both of us knew from previous experiments that my "sneeze center" was farther up than we'd initially thought.

"How's this?" She wiggled the twist of tissue just a little bit, and I grimaced. "No?"

"Just tickles - id's ogay." Already I could feel my nose getting slightly congested, but I chose to tip my head back farther and sniffle a bit, hoping that might help Heather find the spot she sought.

Another wiggle, this time even higher up, brought tears to my eyes, and with them, the first real, this-might-make-me-sneeze tickle I'd felt.

"More?" Heather was watching me closely, and I knew she'd noticed my eyes go all wet and my nostrils begin to flare and quiver.

"Yeh," I choked out, wavering between concentrating on the tickle, to help it build, and ignoring it, so it wouldn't diminish.

"Sneezy yet?" When she asked not thirty seconds later, tears were rolling down my face in earnest, and rather than make the mistake of nodding, I squeaked out something that I hoped sounded affirmative.


Heather whipped the tissue down and out of my nose faster than I'd thought humanly possible, then retreated to the end of the bed to watch me.

"Esh-hooo!" I jerked forward with the first sneeze, barely able to contain it within the meager handful of tissues I'd grabbed, and with each subsequent "Chuh-hooo!" I felt the mattress rock back and forth beneath me. The only redeeming feature of sneezing so often - seven or maybe eight, before the itch in my nose was gone - is that I think I managed to refine my aim, my last two trailing-off "heh-chhh!" exhalations completely contained in my cupped hands and the shreds of Kleenex I was left holding.

"Bless you." Heather seemed slightly rattled by the force and length of the fit she'd brought on, and when she the remnants of tissues flutter into the garbage like I was tossing aside a handful of shredded documents, she asked, "You want to take a break?"

I shrugged, reached for another tissue and folded it in half. "Let be blow by dose, ad thed I cad let you dough." One blow stretched into two, then three and a fresh tissue, before I could fully answer her.

"I thig I'b good to try agaid." I sniffled, rubbed under my nose and paused to clear my throat. "The codgesjud should go away id a liddle bid. Or dot." I recalled that Cory's speech was always congestion-mangled for a good fifteen to twenty minutes after a major allergic "attack," but he was so used to it that he barely noticed anymore.

"Let me ask you this." Heather got up from the end of the bed, walking back toward the camera. "Do you find sneezing sexy?"

"Sexy?" I looked up toward the ceiling, sniffled and rubbed again under my nose. "Uhb, cad't say that I do."

"So, what do you think about sneezing?"


"Of course."

"I thig id's kide of embarrassig, really. I'd say that, subtibes, if by dose really itches, really badly, it feels kide of dice when I'b fidally able to sdeeze and let out all of that pressure.

"But, id gederal, I doad sdeeze very ofted, and whed I do, it's usually really loud, 'cause I'b dod expecting it, ad I cad't buffle it idoo a haggerchiff sidce I doad carry wud. Uhb, hold od a bidud, by dose is ruddig."

I pinched my nose shut, leaning over and taking the bandanna off the nightstand with my free hand. It didn't seem worth the bother of unfolding it completely, so I simply dabbed one edge under my nose and snuffled, but that proved inadequate. Rather awkwardly, I shook the cloth open and let it drape over both hands, finally venturing the sort of vigorous and prolonged blow that the tissues wouldn't allow.

"Huhhhh." Heather probably thought I was going to sneeze yet again, but I just let out a long, relieved sigh, grateful that my nose was, once again, clear. "Oy, that's better."

"Good." She seemed to relax along with me, then smiled her naughty smile at me. "I think you forgot something."

"Wha?" I lifted the bandanna back up under my nose. "Is my nose still running?"

"No, silly, relax. I just meant, I won our bet, and now you owe me your shirt."

"Ahh, right, that." I peeled off my t-shirt, a favorite that read "Allergists call the shots," and tossed it toward my hamper. "Happy?"

She eyed my now-naked chest, and I had the odd desire to cover up, crossing my arms in front of my pectorals with the bandanna still clutched in my right hand. "For now."

"And now, what is your desire?" I knew we'd only touched on two of the four planned inducing items, trying to move from least-impactful to most in the course of shooting the video.

"Read me something from Shakespeare," she hinted. I'd rigged a copy of The Sonnets with a light sprinkling of dust from my office, the same dust Heather had accidentally-on-purpose blown in my direction the first day we'd met. Back then, it had triggered a full-on allergic fit on my part, and a proffered dainty and fragile-looking woman's hanky on Heather's part. Now, we both figured, what better way to induce another bout of sneezing, and it seemed more elegant to discreetly inhale it from the seam of a book than to snort it off my finger as if it were some hit of a drug.

"Okay, how about Sonnet 27 - this seems fitting." I cracked open the book, shaking it just slightly to release a bit of the dust. Poking my nose toward the book, as if I were trying to read a faded manuscript, drew more dust up toward my face, and I took a brave, deep breath through my nose before beginning to recite the great bard's words.

"Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed," I paused to sweep a hand toward the bed I sat upon, and Heather beamed at my showmanship, shaking her head slightly as if she could not believe my chutzpah. "The dear repose for limbs with travel tired/But then begins a journey in my head/ To work my mind, when body's work's expired."

I sniffled then, both for effect and to draw the dust up most effectively. I could feel it beginning to do its work, a vague tickling taking hold high up in my sinuses. "For then, my thoughts (from far where I abide)/ Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee," I looked up from the text and found Heather staring back at me, her chin propped up on one hand. "And keep my drooping eyelids open wide/ Looking on darkness which the blind do see."

Once again, I could feel moisture springing into my eyes, and I dabbed it away in a gesture that was not entirely for dramatic effect. "Save that my soul's imaginary sight/ Presents thy shadow to my sighless view . . . Snfff! Snff!" I coughed, rubbed at my nose. "Sorry, Will didud idclude the sdifflig part id his sodded." It was getting more and more difficult to concentrate on the poem, as the intensity of the itch and tickle in my nose became nearly impossible, but I was determined to finish out the sonnet to the last couplet.

"Which lige a jewel (hug id ghastly dight/ Bakes black dight beauteous, snff, snfff! Ad her old face dew./ Lo thus by day by libs, by night by bide,/ For thihhh - Sorry, for thee." I tried again, placing greater emphasis on the word I'd nearly missed. "Ad for by self dhohhh - dough quiet fide." I rushed through the last three words of Sonnet 27, desperate to cast aside the book and take up the bandanna in both hands, cup it securely around my nose and muffle what I was sure was going to be a monstrous attack of sneezing.

"Uh-tshhh! Tsh-huhhh! Tshhh!" The first three seemed almost easy, given a last-second reprive with a deep snuffle so that I could properly brace my elbows against my thighs, my legs already crossed under me and my upper body rather hunched over. The next set, however, felt and sounded harder, loud and fast "Ch-huhhh!" sneezes that were only slightly muted by the bandanna I was clutching like a security blanket.

By the fifteenth - or was it seventeenth? - sneeze, I understood my father's insistence on carrying a handkerchief as habit, and Cory's advice to simply relax into a fit, ride it out like a wave on the ocean. Although my bandanna was more than uncomfortably damp, it hadn't disintegrated as even an entire box of paper tissues would have, and the less I fought against sneezing, the quieter and easier it became. I even got another brief respite, one long enough to wad up the bandanna and reposition a dry portion of it under my streaming nose, before the sneezing started up for a final time, albeit a volley of much-subdued "ishhh!" noises which gradually tapered off into prolonged snuffling.

When I could finally raise my head and look up from my lap, I noticed Heather was gawking at me, open-mouthed, but she recovered more quickly than I could have under the same circumstances.

"Ge-sund-heit," she offered, her emphasis on the middle syllable completely in earnest. "Do you keep extra handkerchiefs in here?" She pointed toward my chest of drawers.

"Yeb, if by egzdra you bead, lige, wud." I decided to risk emptying my nose into the bandanna I was still holding - if there were, as I figured would be the case, no extra handkerchiefs in the drawer, I could get by with a box of tissues. Or two.

Heather pulled open the top drawer, and I hoped she wouldn't decide to dawdle around looking at my undershorts when she figured out the sad and inevitable truth. Fortunately for me, when she turned around, she was holding a plain white handkerchief.

"You were right - this is the only hanky in there. Nice paisley silk boxers, though."

I blushed, fiddled with the damp cloth I still held. "Oh, those, well..."

"But my favorites," she went on, coming toward me with a decidedly lascivious smile on her face, "are the tighty whities with the printing on them. 'Contents May Cause Drowsiness.'"

"Hey, I doad have adythig lige that id there!"

"Hmm, what about in here?" She leaned in close enough to have kissed me, but chose to sneak a hand behind the waistband of my jeans where they gapped naturally in my sitting position.

"I doad thihhh-" I didn't even have time to raise my hand up to my nose, or even turn my head away, before I interrupted myself with yet another sneeze.

"Bless you." Heather leaned back and assessed me, her previously teasing expression shifting slowly to concern.

"Thags. Snff." I daubed at my runny nose with the thoroughly-used bandanna - Heather hadn't offered me the clean hanky yet - and sniffled again. "Whad dow?"

"Maybe we should quit - you sound awful."

"Hey, I doad feel awful, though. Ad," I told her, casting what I hoped appeared to be a significant glance back toward the nightstand, "it's dot every day you brig be roses."

"Still..." She seemed to be rethinking her earlier plans, and I shook my head to let her know that I insisted on carrying out her deliciously naughty plan to the very end. I had seen, when she wasn't aware I noticed, how Heather's deep brown eyes had gone nearly black with pent-up desire, the way she'd shifted uncomfortably in her chair behind the camera with every sneeze I mustered. She wasn't moaning and panting and screaming "Take me like a wild animal!" but I could tell she was aroused.

"Let's go for it." I gave her my best, most provocative smile. "Give be the haggerchiff and show be whad you cad do with that rose."

"If you insist." Her whisper, low and throaty, made me glad I still had my pants on. The one thing boxers weren't famous for was, well, concealment. "Now," she said, in a lighter, more flirtatious tone. "If red roses are for passion, and yellow roses are for friendship, what's a purple rose for?"

"Woody Alled, of course."

Heather smiled, licked her lips. "Oh, yes, woody indeed." She ran the stem end over the fly of my jeans, one remaining thorn catching on the individual teeth of the zipper with whispery little thwips.

I tried to avoid gasping at the sensation of her fingers so damned close to my crotch, but failed miserably. "Baby, please, jusd led be sbell the thig, would you?"

"I'm getting to that," she told me, all innocence, and lifted the stem away from my jeans. Her fingertips lingered a moment, near the front of my waistband, but before I could become completely unglued, she inverted the rose to trail the petals of the slightly opened bud up the thin track of hair that ran up my lower torso.

"I thought it wasn't possible to actually be allergic to roses." It was a false question on her part - she already knew what the things did to me - but I supposed it made for good video.

"Well," I hedged, stalling for time, "sub people thought, back id the day, thad you could be allergic - ever hear the terb 'rose cold'?"

Heather shook her head, swirled the bud around my navel.

"Id was actually the case that bost people were reacting to ragweed or other polleds which were out id abudadce whed the roses were bloobig, ad they blaybed id od the rose 'cause they were so buch bore dodiceable."

I sniffled again, and Heather finally offered me the handkerchief so I could swipe under my nose. "Thags. Addyway," I went on, "rose polled is techdically too heavy to float od the wid curredts, so id's dod codsidered ad 'airborde' allerged, but..."

"But?" Heather prompted me to go on, lifting the rose up to the level of my chest and circling my hardening nipples.

I decided to take the bold approach, and gripped Heather's wrist. "If I get a good whiff of wud . . . " I lifted her hand, and the flower, near my nose, then tipped my head down so my nose was poked deep into the cup of the petals.


I inhaled slowly, taking as much time as I thought I could get away with, then tilted my head back up and away so Heather could see the tears that were already beading up on my lashes.

"Id behh - " I drew in a breath, tried to ignore the rocketing buzz of itching in my nose. "Id bakes be sd - hiiih!" It was getting more difficult to say anything, and I shook open the handkerchief for easy and quick access. "Snff! By dose tickles so bad, I juhhh - just feel lige I'b gudda sd-"

Heather angled herself away, so that the video camera could pick up everything, and whispered provocatively. "Go ahead. Sneeze for me."

I hardly needed the prompt, at that point, my head was so full of itch and tickle, but her command unlocked everything that had been building up since the first glance into the lamp, the subsequent caresses with the twist of tissue, and the dusty sonnet.

"Hehhh- eshh-huh!" Despite my better intentions to relax and to actually use the handkerchief Heather had brought over, I found myself tensed up and hunched over, my left hand somewhere in the vicinity of my chin and my right clenched tight. A second sneeze, nearly identical to the first and only a few seconds later, felt like someone had slapped the back of my head. "Eshh-huhhh!"

"Bless you." I felt Heather take all of her weight off of the bed, but not before she'd pulled the handkerchief out of my fist and draped it back over my left hand. "Here, try that."

I wanted to thank her, acknowledge her, warn her, but the most I could do was to raise my hand up under my nose and hope for the best. "Heh-eshhh! Kshhh! Kshhh!"

It felt weird, sneezing in triples, when I was so used to my standard pattern of sneeze, long pause, then a second. However, I didn't feel up to questioning it - simply sniffling in a deep breath and bracing myself for the next triple was about all I could do, though a mercifully longer pause after a messy set of "tch-hooo!" explosions lent me enough time to join my right hand with my left under the 'kerf and cup it loosely around my nose and mouth.

"Heh-tshhh! Tshhh! Chh-chhh-chhh!" I didn't know if it was my mind's reaction to the newfound security of having something to sneeze into, or my body's saying, "I've been primed with too many allergens, now I'm toppling over the wall," but I managed a quintet which would surely have had Cory joking about my setting a new personal record had he been around to hear it.

"Snfff! Snf. Uhhh..." I pulled the cloth away from my nose, sniffled again and then rubbed the heel of my hand up under my nose as hard as I dared, following up with the side and then the back of my hand. It did little to quell the itching, which seemed simultaneously focused in the tip of my nose and impossibly far up in my sinuses, but it seemed worth a try.

"You okay?" Heather had taken up her position behind the video camera again, but she'd started to rise from the chair at my soft groan.

"Yehh -heshhh!" I sniffled again, reached over for a tissue and blew my nose. "Yeh, I'b good. Just dee-eeshih! Deeded a tissue."

"Okay..." She sounded hesitant, and I scrambled to reassure her.

"Dough worries, hud. I bead, snfff! It's already duuuh - snff! Snff! Sorry." I rubbed at my nose again, trying to forestall both more runniness and another bout of sneezing, but I could tell it was a lost cause. "It's dud, ad if I'b g - heshhh! Snff. I'b goig to sdeeze eddyway, thed w- wh-heshhh, chshhh! Why dod edjoy it?"

For once, Heather didn't have a good comeback, and her silence made me grin like a Cheshire cat. Okay, a tired Cheshire cat, but still...

"Get all that feh-esh-huhhh!" My nose had begun to run in earnest, and I snatched up another bunch of tissues to conceal the problem from the camera. "'Scuse be," I muttered from behind the fluffy mass, blew a few times and then set the used ball of tissues down on the bed in order to pick up the handkerchief I'd abandoned. Far too messy and masculine of me, I knew, to not bother with disposing of them properly, but I could feel my nose itching and twitching again, warning me of yet more sneezing.

"What were you about to say?"

If my cheeks weren't already blazing red from the sneezing, my embarrassment would have made them burst into flame. "Uhb, ged all thad fetishy good-dess od filb." Saying it spontaneously was one thing, but repeating it was much more difficult.

Fortunately for me, Heather responded with her own feline smile, and I thought I might have even heard her whimper. However, I didn't get much of a chance to savor my effect on her, as my jaw slackened and my breath began to hitch.

"Heh-ihhh..." I held off just long enough to press the handkerchief back into service up around my nose, then tried to relax and let the wave of allergic response cascade over me. "Heh-chshhh! Chshhh! Chshhh!"

After the first few triples, spaced just far enough apart to allow me a breath or a wet snuffle, I fell into a rhythm of sorts, pulling my hands back from my face just far enough to suck in fresh air, but not so far out that my head gained a lot of velocity in bobbing toward my hands with the next set of sneezes. It was an odd sort of education, learning how best to position my hands and how taut to hold the 'kerf, and a lesson I rather hoped I'd not have to repeat anytime soon.

"Heh-gshhh!" Several minutes and I didn't want to think how many sneezes later, it felt as if the allergic reaction might be backing off, if only marginally, and I ventured to look up and over my hands toward Heather, who was watching me with dark, languid eyes. "I thi-ihshchoo! Thig I'b goig to see if a showehh-shower would helb be st-shhhh! Stob sdeezig."

"Okay. You need help taking your pants off?"

I choked, then, a strangled coughing noise that segued into a croak of breath and then, rather painfully, another sneeze. "Esh-huhhh!"

"Bless you."

I sniffled a few times, trying to get my breathing back under control, then answered her. "Thags, add, dough, I thig I cad get by padts off all by byself, thag you."

It was a bit of a struggle to unbutton the top button, but once I'd freed it, I stood up by the side of the bed and pulled down the tab of the zipper fly. Peeling the jeans off was a bit more work, given that I had to pause when they were down to my kneecaps to sneeze again, a loud and entirely uncovered "arr-tshooo!" that sounded a lot more like "me" than most of my earlier outbursts.

Finally, finally, the denim legs and waistband fell down around my ankles, and then it was simply a matter of kicking my feet out of them and staggering toward the bathroom, which adjoined my bedroom, in search of a hot shower.

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