A summer cold. Who the hell got a summer cold? The very name was an affront—an oxymoron. Summer was hot. Cold by definition was for winter. A summer cold was both a mistake and an accusation, as if he were less than he should be, weaker, inept, inexperienced, advancing into dotage somehow, although at 27, the right side of 30, he liked to say, he clearly was not.
Sabena asked him if he’d been out in the sun—his nose was that red.
Clarice wondered if there’d been a family emergency—the red eyes.
Jessica wondered if he was dieting—the scrawny neck.
“No, a summer cold,” he croaked, his ruffled voice forcing its way through clogged sinuses.
“Oh, sorry,” Sabena said as she backed away. (Yes, she literally backed away, then turned and ran.)
Clarice nodded sympathetically, “Poor baby,” she muttered. “You should take better care of yourself.”
“It’s not my fault,” he said and an hour later repeated it to Jessica when she said, “Oh, yuck!” and covered her lovely mouth with the smooth hand he had yet to hold.
“Not my fault,” he said for the third time. “It’ll pass.” He tried to relax. He knew tension made his neck ropey and thin and hunched his shoulders around his chest.
“Feeling better already,” he said and was going to say something like “looking at you would make anybody . . . “ or should he say any man, emphasizing his maleness? No, he should say, being with you—emphasis on you—or should he speak her name specifically? Probably. He started again. “Just being near you, Jessica, would make any man feel better.” Good.
“Especially this man,” he said. Better.
But it was too late. She’d scooped up her papers as he was talking—well, whispering adenoidedly—they were in the library—and she was ten feet away by the time he got it all out.
She did turn and give the little tata wave women like her had perfected, which meant she’d heard the man part of his speech. He hoped.
© 2013 Kathleen Coskran