Ben stepped into the waiting taxi, wrapping his scarf a little tighter around his neck. He didn’t really need it, but it was just something he did whenever he was feeling under the weather. If nothing else, it provided some extra warmth and could be used as a tissue in desperate situations. Shutting the door, he gave his address to the cabman and leaned back in the seat, closing his eyes and exhaling slowly, letting the tension drain away. Giving a live interview had always been a bit nerve-wracking, and doing it while sick was not his definition of ideal.
Ah well, it could have been worse. He could have given the interview earlier in the week, the entire conversation punctuated by coughing and/or sneezing, and a flush in his cheeks that would have been impossible to hide with makeup. That one sneeze during the interview had been bad enough, and he was just grateful that everyone had taken it in stride.
Ben shook his head and tried to focus on other things. The hum of the heater, the light bumps in the road, and the faint sound of conversation on the radio were all soothing, and actually risked lulling him to sleep. Forcing his eyes open, he leaned his head against the wall instead, watching the lights of the city give way to peaceful suburbs. He smiled as he recognized his neighborhood; nearly there.
The cab dropped him off in front of his house at two in the morning. He was slightly surprised to see a light on in the window—normally Olivia just left the outside lights on for him. Adjusting his scarf again, he tried the door, finding it unlocked. “Olivia?” he called, stepping inside.
Olivia emerged from the living room, looking a little tired but still smiling. “Hey, sweetie.”
“You didn’t have to wait up for me,” Ben protested, removing his scarf, “I’ve been out on late night talk-shows before.”
“Yes, but not while you’ve been ill,” Olivia said, stroking his cheek, “I just wanted to make sure you were feeling all right.”
“I’m fine,” he assured her, “Just a bit tired. I assume you watched it?”
She nodded. “That’s the other reason I stayed up. If you sneezed during an interview, I thought maybe you were worse than you were letting on.”
He laughed softly. “I couldn’t help it, that was all. Really, I feel all right. A shower and a good night’s sleep is all I really need. And if I take it easy tomorrow, I should be back on my feet by Monday.”
Olivia smiled. “If you say so. I’ll let you get to it; it’s late enough as is.”
Ben kissed her cheek and headed for the master bedroom, peeling off his coat as he did so. As lovely as just crawling into bed sounded, he needed to get this makeup off one way or another, and he might as well do it in a warm shower. Besides, hot water would drain any residual tension from his body.
Once in the shower, he put his back against the wall and stood there for a moment, letting the heat wash over him. He sighed contentedly, his shoulders dropping almost involuntarily. Then he set to work on getting the makeup off his face.
As he carefully splashed water on his face, he rolled his eyes as he realized that the combination of the water, the steam, and the prodding was irritating his nose. He debated stifling the inevitable sneezes so Olivia wouldn’t hear and get concerned, but decided that it would just prolong the fit. He might as well just let them out freely. Bracing himself up against the wall again, he took a few deep breaths, trying to coax the sneezes out. After a tortuous moment, his breath finally caught of its own accord.
“Ah…Ah-KSHH! HESHH! Et-CHHH!!”
The sound was amplified by the shower, and Ben wondered vaguely if it was echoing throughout the house. He waited, but Olivia didn’t come in to make sure he was all right, nor did another sneeze show up. With a wet sniff, he straightened up and continued cleaning up.
He emerged from the shower, toweling his hair and dressed for bed. Olivia was already there, reading. She looked up as he tossed the towel aside. “All finished?”
Ben nodded. “Took an extra few minutes to get off the last traces of makeup, but it’s all off. I’d rather stain a towel than the pillowcase.”
She smiled. “Come to bed. We can worry about laundry once you’re fully recovered.”
He slid under the covers, sighing again at the perfect combination of cool sheets and a warm comforter, exactly what he needed right now. “Are you going to stay up?”
“Just to finish the chapter. Is the light bothering you?”
“No, no. I’m just warning you not to start a conversation, because I’m so comfortable that there’s a good chance I could fall asleep mid-sentence.”
Olivia ruffled his hair. “Go to bed, then. I’ll try to be quick.”
“I’d say get well soon, but you already have. So let’s just leave it with a kiss.”
She kissed his forehead and dimmed the lamp a little. Ben closed his eyes and focused on her breathing rather than his slightly congested one. Despite his lingering cold and his rather unfortunate “outburst” during the interview, the evening had left him feeling calm and utterly at peace with the world. If the tradeoff was getting quiet interludes like this, coming down sick wasn’t so bad.