Lucas was still in his pajamas and robe, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper, when his mom gave a quick knock and shooed the kids into the house.
“Beth says she’s not feeling very good and Jordy says he’s cold. I think they’re coming down with something, and I have to meet a friend for lunch. I don’t want to catch anything.” She closed the door and left.
Lucas scraped a hand through his hair, trying not to chase her down and throttle her. The kids came and sagged on the couch next to him, one on his left side, one on his right. They both looked pale. Oh, crap.
“Not feeling so good?” he asked them.
“My stomach hurts.” Beth shivered and snuggled closer.
“So does mine.” Jordy didn’t take off his hoodie. “And I’m cold.”
He’d like to have them breathe their germs into a canning jar, seal it, then send them to his mom. He’d heard the flu was going around, but he’d avoided it so far. He’d also heard that kids spread germs faster than mice. Maybe he’d get lucky and stay strong, but his mom didn’t care. All that mattered to her was meeting her new “friend.”
He tried to remember what Mom had done when he and his brothers were little and sick. “Do you want some toast? That might settle your stomachs.”
Both kids turned him down.
“Sprite and crackers?”
They shook their heads.
“What if I bring down blankets and let you watch some old movies?”
They took off their shoes and got comfortable on the couches. He brought them pillows and blankets and put a stack of DVDs on the coffee table. They could watch one movie after another.
The chihuahua could sense that something was wrong, and he did his best to lie next to Beth, then Jordy, to show his support and sympathy.
Lucas was sitting in his recliner, watching football on his laptop while they watched The Aristocats when Beth slapped her hand over her mouth and raced for the bathroom. She didn’t make it. Vomit spewed all over the wood floor, and she glanced at him.
Hercules ran in a circle, barking, he was so upset.
Lucas scooped the dog up and petted him. “It’s okay. I can clean it.”
“I’m sorry.” Beth started to heave again, and he put the dog down to lift her and stand her in front of the toilet.
“Hey, you tried to make it in time. What does your mom do for you when you’re sick?”
“She puts buckets next to us.”
Smart woman. His sister knew her stuff.
He nodded. “I have buckets. I’ll help you clean up, get you back on the couch, and find something for you to hurl in.”
No sooner had he placed a blue bucket in front of each kid than Jordy got sick. He brought damp washcloths on plastic plates to put in front of each of them. Then he went into clean-up duty. Damn, he was glad he wasn’t a school custodian. He bet they saw plenty of this. Too much.
For the next few hours, he delivered warm Sprite, emptied buckets, wiped heated faces with damp washcloths, and did his best to keep the kids comfortable. He’d wiped down the hallway where Beth barfed, but decided to mop it. He sprayed rooms with Lysol, trying to kill germs, but part of him was sure he was doomed. When you cuddled a little girl with a fever and kissed her forehead, weren’t you admitting you were going to be sick next?
If mind did work over matter, he kept telling himself that flu didn’t affect him. His body was impervious to germs. But Sunday was pretty much a day of playing nurse.
“Jamie threw up at school on Friday,” Jordy told him. “She sits right next to me.”
Beth nodded. “Alex got sick at my school last Tuesday, and my teacher was sick on Friday.”
Yup, kids did in adults. That’s what he’d heard. He did the math. The germs must incubate for two or three days. If he was healthy on Thursday, maybe he’d get lucky.
He didn’t even try to take the kids upstairs to bed. He just left them on the couches, so that he’d hear them if they needed him. And they did. They both got sick a few times during the night. On Monday morning, he called Mae and Jordy’s school to report that they were sick. He called the client whose house he was supposed to be at and explained that he wouldn’t make it there. And he stayed home with two kids who felt good enough to be restless and grumpy, but who weren’t healthy enough to be around their fellowman.
By two, they were zipping into the basement to play video games, and he was so tired, he was afraid to lie on the couch, because he thought he’d zonk out. He called Dylan to explain that the kids were at his place and healthy again.
“You might not want to come in. It might still be germy. Just knock and I’ll send them out.”
“I’ll come pick them up at my usual time.” Dylan hesitated. “Want me to bring you something? I can stop someplace to grab food.”
His brother was more considerate than his mom. “No, I’ll call in pizza or something, but thanks. I’m going to be a couch potato and go to bed early tonight.”
“I’ll see you about three-thirty,” Dylan said. “Stay healthy.”
That was the idea. When he went to the kitchen to clean up the kids’ bowls and snacks, he thought about his mom again. Someone had told him that the lead-up to being sick was when you were the most contagious. If that was true, she’d had the kids when they were the most potent. She’d probably catch this, too. And if just for once, she’d have kept the kids and not had to run to see her friend, he’d have missed their germs. But she didn’t care.
If and when he looked for his Miss Right, he wanted to find someone who thought about other people, not just herself. Mariah considered other people, but her needs always came first. Her time always mattered more than his. Her projects were more important than his.
On the other hand, he had no interest in doormats who never put themselves first. He needed to find someone who struck a balance, someone who respected herself, but respected others, too. And he immediately thought of Miss Doore.