The doctors had to work quickly, fidgeting with the wires and sensors and incessantly-beeping equipment all around me. One kept track of my vitals—blood oxygen, heart rate, white blood cell count. Another stayed with me to check my consciousness. Two more steered the gurney I was on. There wasn't much time to waste.
"Hey, wait, who's that?"
It was the best news I could've gotten. A comforting set of large ears barreling down the nauseatingly bright fluorescent hallway. All my bones ached, but I could tilt my head up just enough to see him. It was Kevin, staying brave for me again despite all the worry. I reached out and grabbed his jacket sleeve in my right hand to let him know I was okay.
"Is he gonna be okay, doc?" Kevin whimpered to the binturong doctor, the one who looked suspiciously like the one at the flower shop.
"Well, I'm afraid it's not looking too good," he said after a lifetime of hemming and hawing through his reading glasses at a clipboard.
"Your friend's been...diagnosed as feminine."
"All dainty and womanly, I'm afraid..."
And by the time I angrily pulled down my oxygen mask to give that guy what for, I was already back to being rushed down the hallway.
"That doctor's a shitfuck, Kevin..." I called. "I'm gonna...grow a big beard and show him..."
Her voice came dampened, muffled through infected ears, clogged sinuses, and my impenetrable cocoon of sheets and quilts, but it was hers. I could pick it out in a crowd—if I could hear it, anyway. So quiet. So...warm and gentle.
"Seb, you were talking in your sleep..."
I poked my head out from the covers, unfurling back into something resembling an armadillo. (I sleep in a ball on the best of days, let alone when I'm sick...) Cat was dressed to keep just as warm, in a fluffy, oversized, double-layered coat that came out well past her shoulders. She pulled my desk chair up to the side of my bed and sat in it, a little Tupperware container with a red lid in her hands.
"Mmhhh, Cat..." I moaned half-awake and congested—wait, congested? I was contagious! A filthy vector for the plague I was trying to stave off! "Cat! Cat, you can't be in here!" I yelped, digging back into the bedding in some attempt to protect her. "I-I'm sick!"
Yet, she only gave a bemused chuckle. "Seb, it's alright," she tried to reassure me. "I got my flu jab and everything."
"B-but what if that's not what I have? What if I have a novel disease they haven't yet quantified the effects of?"
"I'll live through the sniffles, promise." She fidgeted with the container a little, fingers up against the notch on the lid. "Of course, if you want me to leave, I can..."
"No, no! That's alright. Thanks for—coming to check on me. ...W-what's in the container?"
And poised to reveal its contents, Cat pulled open the container and leaned it over to show me what was inside. There had to have been a dozen-and-a-half cookies in there! Homemade! They looked absolutely delicious too, all chunky and fresh with these little fruity red bits baked into each one...
"White chocolate with strawberries," she said with a smirk.
"Ooh...love white chocolate...who's the lucky bastard who gets those?"
Cat giggled warmly, snapping the lid back on. "I made them for you, silly."
She...made them for me? It hadn't occurred to me. I mean, it was obvious, given that she was sitting in my room with them, but...she made them for me?
I got quiet then. Flattered. "T-thank you...Cat, you didn't have to..."
"It just seemed like the right thing to do, after I—heard what happened."
Ah. "What happened" was still a little shaky to me, certainly hearing her talk about it. If nothing else, it was proof armadillos aren't built to be outside, least not in the cold, damp Octobers they had around here.
Her demeanor shifted suddenly, much more still, concerned. I was anticipating hearing things I didn't like. It was like all the air got vacuumed right out of the room, and all she could do was hold her breath. I held mine too. "...The police called me when they heard you mentioned me on that tape."
Cat frowned and reached into her jacket pocket, returning with my little handheld tape recorder. I seized up seeing it; I completely forgot I brought it with me! Things I said, things I didn't expect anyone to hear, let alone her, pretty quickly returned to me, in twos and in threes. It didn't occur to me how she got it at first—something with evidence return, I'm guessing.
"They played me this tape you made? Where you were talking about—"
"Oh, Cat, no!" I reached out weakly for it, my cheeks growing hotter than my forehead. That...stupid fucking tape. "No, don't...don't listen to that..."
"It's okay. Not going to again." As soon as I got my hands on the tape recorder, I buried it somewhere in the covers and slumped back down. I think I made a mental note to destroy the tape with scissors or something.
"...But it was sweet."
"You were coming to see me? To...protect me?"
"Noooo...I mean, yes! I was—but—it was more like...keeping you company...through all the isolation..."
In the end, it was her smile more than any miserable explanation I could've given that brought the oxygen back. I looked up at her for a moment, decompressing and wrapping myself around one of my pillows, knowing at least she didn't think I was weird for what had happened.
I mean, not that I was concerned about that or anything.
"You could've just come through town, though."
"Yeah, but...you know how I am about crowds and germs, Cat..."
"Barns and dirt are more your thing?"
"Hhheee..." Man, she even had me giggling somehow. "I guess so now..." I mumbled to her, still sick, but relieved and sleepy all the same.
Cat got to her feet, returning the chair to the other side of my room and leaving the Tupperware container over there with it. "I'll leave these on your desk and let you get back to bed," she said softly.
"Alrighty...thanks for the cookies..."
And yet, even as she was halfway out of my door, there was still something I felt unsaid. Something that wouldn't leave me alone until it came out. Problem being—I didn't know how to say it.
"Wait, Cat!" I called.
She turned back into the room, head tilted. "Yeah?"
Eventually, I mangled it. "...You should—come back tomorrow, maybe. I'll...be less sick then!" I guess that was the reason to come back now, to see a Sebastian slowly rising off his deathbed.
Thankfully, Cat nodded gladly. "...I think I will, Seb. I think I will."
And so, I was alone again, with only my oven-hot cocoon of sheets and pillows and my blocked, runny nose for company. Yet somehow, I was in a fuzzier stupor than when I woke up. The best end to things, really. She was coming back tomorrow...and she made me cookies...
At least, I thought I was alone. Fresh from Hell or...wherever she hides, with that unmistakable demonic cackle, one you could pick out of your worst nightmare, Penny slipped out from under the bed and leaned over it with the biggest shit-eating grin I'd ever seen on her. I don't know how much of that she heard, but it was clearly too much.
"PENNY!" I screamed, throwing myself out of bed towards the door. "Where'd you come from?!"
"Seb has a girlfriend, Seb has a girlfriend~"
"I-I do not!"
"Baking you cookies, checking on you every day—so when's she moving in, Seb~?"
Goddammit. "Penny, I—will cough on you."
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