The Hating Game
- Text Font:
- Text Size:
- Line Height:
- Line Break Height:
Each laugh gusts from him in a husky, breathless rush, something he can no longer hold in, and it’s as addictive to me as the taste of his mouth or the smell of his skin. His amazing laugh is something I need now.
If I’d ever thought he was good-looking before, in passing or noticed in irritation, I never knew the full story. When Josh smiles, he is blinding. My heart is pounding and I frantically catalog this moment in the half-light. It’s the only one I’ll get, while delirious with fever.
If only I could hold on to this moment. I already feel the sadness that will hollow me out when it ends. I want to tell him, Don’t leave yet. My fingers must be flexing, because he laughs until the mattress is shaking beneath us. A diamond wet sparkle of light in the corner of his eye is a bullet to my heart. I’ll be able to replay this beautiful, impossible moment in my memory when I’m a hundred years old.
“Go ahead, kill me, Shortcake,” he gasps, wiping his eye with his hand. “You know you want to.”
“So bad,” I tell him, like he once told me. I’ve got a tightening in my own throat and I can barely get the words out. “So bad, you have no idea.”
MY PAJAMAS ARE soaked with sweat when I jolt awake and there is a third person in my bedroom. A man I’ve never seen before. I begin screaming like an injured monkey.
“Calm down,” Josh says into my ear. I scramble into his lap and press my face into his collar bone, huffing his cedar scent so hard I probably suck out his ghost. I’m about to be taken to a scary medical facility, away from the safety of my bed and these arms.
“Don’t let them, Josh! I’ll get better!”
“I’m a doctor, Lucy. How long and what symptoms?” The man puts on some gloves.
“She wasn’t one hundred percent this morning. High color, distracted, and she got worse throughout the day. Visibly sweaty since lunchtime, and she didn’t eat. Vomiting at five P.M.”
“And then?” The doctor continues to select things from his case, lining them on the end of my bed. I watch suspiciously.
“Delirious by eight. Trying to strangle me with her bare hands by one thirty. Burning up closer to one hundred four, and now she’s one hundred five point six.”
I squeeze my eyes shut when the unfamiliar rubber hands feel the glands in my throat. Josh rubs my arms soothingly. I’m sitting between his thighs now, feeling his solid weight behind my shoulder blades. My own human armchair. The doctor presses his fingertips into my abdomen and I make crying sounds. My top is peeled up a few inches.
“What in the hell happened here?” They both simultaneously let out a sympathetic hiss of breath.
“We had a paintball day at work. Even my back isn’t as bad as this.” Josh’s fingers stroke the skin and I sweat even more. “Poor Shortcake,” he says in my ear. There’s no sarcasm.
“Have you eaten out at any restaurants?”
I wrack my brains. “Thai takeout for dinner. Not today. Yesterday maybe.”
When the man frowns it’s so familiar. “Food poisoning is a possibility.”
“Could be a virus,” Josh argues. “The time frame is a little long.”
“If you’re so capable of diagnosing her, why even call me?”
They begin bickering about my symptoms. To my ears, they sound like guys talking about sports, and the city’s current viruses are the teams. I watch them through slitted eyes. I didn’t even know doctors would do house calls, especially at two thirty-nine in the morning. He’s midthirties, tall, dark haired, blue eyed. He’s clearly thrown a jacket over his pajamas.
“You’re good-looking,” I tell the doctor. My lost filter should be a secondary diagnosis.
“Wow, she must really be delirious,” Josh says acridly, wrapping his arm across my collarbones. The squeeze renders me immobile.
“Funny, he’s usually called the good-looking one.” The doctor says it wryly as he searches in a kit bag at the foot of the bed. “Oh, calm down, Josh.”
“You’re his BROTHER,” I say in childlike wonder when the rusted cogs in my brain clunk into place. “I thought he was an experiment gone wrong.”
They look at each other and Josh’s brother laughs. “She’s so cute.”
“She’s . . .” I feel Josh shake his head. He adjusts me a little against his chest, and my fevered brain interprets it as a snuggle.
“I’m pathetic. He tells me constantly. What’s your name?”
“Patrick Templeman. Holy shit. You’re the actual Dr. Templeman.”
I’m still sitting in Josh’s lap, my head in the curve of his neck, probably covering him in sweat. I try to struggle off but I’m held tight.
“I am indeed Dr. Templeman. One of them, anyway.” The amusement fades from his face and he coughs and begins to turn away. I catch his sleeve to try to see how much of Josh is in his features. He stills obediently, but his eyes flick to Josh, who is tense as a brick wall behind me.
“Sorry, yes. Josh is better looking.” There’s a pause before both brothers laugh. Patrick isn’t remotely offended and Josh’s arm relaxes.
“Can you tell me embarrassing things about him?”
“When you’re feeling better, you bet. Keep her fluids up, Josh. She’s small enough that she’ll dehydrate.”
“I know.” Together they coax me to swallow a sour medicine. I am laid flat against the bed and the two leave the room, shutting the door, but their voices still reach me.
“You would have been good at this,” Patrick says, rattling in his medical kit. “You’ve done all the right things for her.” Josh sighs heavily. I’m sure he’s just crossed his arms.
“Don’t get defensive. So, next hard topic. Were you going to give me an RSVP? Ever?”
“I was going to.” He’s lying.
“Well, you can give me one now. And don’t pretend you don’t know the date; I know for a fact Mom gave you the invite in person. We didn’t want it to go ‘missing’ like the engagement party invite.” Josh, you little weasel.