Mr. Braginski called your name, snapping you out of the groove you’d just gotten into completing the science packet. You only then noticed everyone was packing up. One minute to the bell.
“Yeah?” you responded robotically, tucking the stapled packet into your science book. Mr. Braginski leaned on your lab table.
“Williams was not in class today, da?”
“Mattie? Oh…I hadn’t noticed,” you admitted, a bit embarrassed because you were Matthew’s only friend in this class. “But yeah, I think he wasn’t feeling well yesterday.”
“Yes. He is home sick. I understand you are close, da? You live on his street?”
“Would you take his homework to him?” he asked, sugar-tongued. You shivered. He was always so nice and patient, never gave you a reason to fear him, and yet you found him scary.
“Yes, of course,” you said, holding your book tightly to your chest.
“Thank you, sweetheart. Here is the work from today.” He handed you another packet and a worksheet from earlier. “And this is what I will assign tomorrow. It is only fair to give him the option of a headstart.” Now he handed you an essay prompt. Your stomach twisted. Oh, goodie, writing for a grade. Pinning creativity to a rubric. The perfect recipe for writer’s block.
“Enjoy your lunch,” said Mr. Braginski, ushering you out.
You stood at the Williams’s door, heavy backpack on one shoulder and Matthew’s work in your hands. Mrs. Williams’s…enthusiasm for her son’s safety was the cause of your hesitation.
With a careful knock, you waited patiently for the door to open.
“What is it, sweetie,” asked a blonde woman in an apron as the door swung quickly inward. “Matthew is sick, he can’t—“
“Oh, I know, Mrs. Williams. I have his homework.”
“Oh, thank you,” she said, pinching the papers in your hands. You held onto them.
“Actually, I was wondering if I could see him.”
“You can’t; he’s quarantined,” she said, taking the papers.
“Wait, what? What does he have? How bad is it?” You began to panic.
You stared at her. “That’s all? He has a cold?”
“Yes, but I’m taking care of him. He’s my son.”
“Mom,” said a weak voice. You looked past Mrs. Williams and saw Matthew, dressed in his pajamas and wrapped in a maple-leaf-patterned fleece blanket. He cleared his throat and spoke up a bit. “Mom, I’m fine. She can come in.”
“Honey, go back to bed.”
“Mom! Don’t you have a dentist appointment today?”
Mrs. Williams’s eyes widened. “Yes…I…you get to bed, oh shoot, shoot I have to leave…” She looked back to you. “You do, too. Go home and let poor Mattie rest.”
“Right, fine, I’m sorry.” You turned to leave the frantic Mrs. Williams and walked back to your place. The poor kid. His mother was insane.
“((I have to go,))” replied one of your buddies from nearly halfway across the world. “((It’s like 4AM, I’m sorry. We’ll have to continue this tomorrow.))”
“((No don’t leave, I’ll have to do my science homework!))”
But it was too late for pleading, she had already logged out. That bitch.
You wondered about Matthew. Poor kid was probably so lonely right now. And knowing him, he was likely actually doing his homework, rather than taking advantage of some prime gaming time.
“Hey, you doing all right?” you texted, getting some water as you waited for an answer. You pressed the glass to your lips, so cold that the water felt warm. You shuffled your bare toes on the cold tile. It was definitely a great day for a cuddle buddy.
“Yeah,” he buzzed back. “I’m half done with the science hw.”
“U lonely? Want some company? Assuming your mom is still gone, of course.”
You smiled. Yay, cuddle buddy.
No one was home, so you weren’t faced with the burden of asking permission. You left for your room to put on some fuzzy boots and wrapped a scarf around your neck, tucking your phone into your pocket and throwing a fleece blanket over your arm. Out the door you went, face hit with cold wind as you closed the door behind you.
It was a brisk walk back to his house, the air getting colder as the sun sank in the sky. Almost as soon as you knocked the door opened, and as you smiled Matthew smiled back through cracked lips with a steaming cup of tea in his hand. “Please come in right now,” he insisted, grabbing you by the wrist and pulling you inside, closing the door behind you.
“Wow, Matthew, you must really be lonely,” you laughed. “Aw, hun, have you even brushed your hair today?” You reached forward and combed a hand through his disheveled, ear length locks.
His cheeks grew red as his nose. “N-no, stop that, I’m fine,” he insisted, pulling his blanket more tightly around his shoulders and tucking his lips into his teacup. His iris-blue eyes looked down and away. A clock ticked.
“So what’cha been up to?” you asked, flopping down on the couch in the living room. “Sleeping all day?”
“I wish,” Matthew chuckled, coughing over his scratchy voice. “I’ve been trying to get my homework done but I can only get it about five minutes at a time before falling into a coughing or sneezing fit.”
“Oh, you poor thing.” You looked at the poor, miserable boy. He looked so ragged and tired. “How ‘bout we do the homework together, then? Or we could skip that and just play videogames.”
The slight wheeze of a cough threatened to choke his laugh. “I’d rather do the homework for Mr. Braginski’s class. I don’t think he likes me. He’s kind of scary.”
Sweet boy. “Yeah, same…shall we head up to your room, then?”
“Uh, sure. Before we go up, do you want some tea?”
“Thanks, but I’m good for now.”
“M’kay. Let me know if you want anything,” he said, setting down his empty cup and pulling his blanked-cloak around his shoulders. You followed him up the stairs and he opened his bedroom door with a sweeping gesture and a slight bow. “Apres-vous, ma cherie.”
“Oh don’t you dare French me, sick one,” you giggled, blushing and ruffling his hair. He smiled up at you cutely and closed the door as he came in, shortly going into a spluttering fit of coughs. “Whoa, Matthew, Mattie are you okay?” You pat him lightly on the back as he nodded, eyes watering and squeezed shut, until he came to the end of his coughing fit and sniffled miserably.
“I’m fine,” he whispered, a cough still in the back of his throat.
You looked around the room and found a bag of cough drops laying next to his homework, quickly unwrapping one and popping it into his mouth. He reacted in surprise, not quite knowing what to do with your finger in his mouth pressing a cherry Ricola to his tongue, but he opened up a little wider and drew his tongue back, the tip of it flicking the end of your finger. He blushed, closing his mouth and his cheeks caved in as he sucked on the medicine. “Thank you…”
“Don’t mention it.” You wiped your finger off on your jeans, going back to his bed and sitting down. The handwriting on his homework was so neat. And he had gotten most of it done. “I don’t even know where you got all this, I couldn’t find a damn thing in the chapter he assigned.”
“Oh! That’s because he wrote down the wrong page number,” said Matthew, sitting on the edge of his bed with his knees all tucked up under his blankie. He blew a curl of blond hair out of his face and pushed up his glasses, looking down at the book which, to him, was upside down. He pointed at the number on the bottom. “It was the next chapter. He assigned twenty-seven but the work is for twenty-eight. They’re similar in content, though, so I can understand why you didn’t go looking in other chapters.”
You sighed, putting the fleece blanket you had brought onto the bed beside you. “Well that’s good to know. Thanks.”
“I can help you with yours if you—“
“No, I can do it when I get home,” you said dismissively, laying down sideways on his bed. “So how long do you think your mom’ll be out?”
He shrugged, chewing on his chapstick-glossed lower lip. “I know that after her appointment she wanted to go out and get som—s-suh—“ His nose scrunched up, eyes squinting into slits. “S-s—“ He raised the back of his hand to his mouth, reaching out blindly for the tissue box on his bedside table. You reached over quickly and handed it to him, but it was a bit too late. “A-ahtschkk! Augh…oh, I’m so sorry, I--”
“It’s fine, it didn’t get on me,” you said, handing him a tissue. He dabbed his nose and chucked the used tissue, cheeks red as his nose as he looked at you with watery, red eyes.
“It’s not fine, it’s gross.”
“Hey, it’s fine, you assured him, leaning over to give him a kiss on the tip of his irritated nose.
“Ah…” He backed off immediately, sprawling backwards on the bed with his fleece blanket all tangled ‘round his limbs and he was wracked with another sneeze, throwing an arm over his mouth just before, and in doing so knocking his glasses askew. “I’b so sorry. Look, you dod’t hab’ to stick aroud.” He sniffed, blushing all the way down below the collar of his pajamas and beginning to shiver with cold.
You wouldn’t have that. You were gonna be there for this cutie. Gently closing his science book with the work tucked inside, you set it to the side of his bed and crawled forward toward him. His watery eyes widened, cheeks darkening even more as he tried and failed to bring his blanket up around him. You reached back for yours, gently unwrapping the edge of his blanket from around his ankle, and planted yourself on your knees beside him. Cautiously, he sat up straight, tucking his knees in. Matthew’s leaf blanket was still trapped under his left hand, so you moved it carefully, eyes locked in his.
“What are you…”
“Helping you out, silly boy,” you said sweetly, bringing the blanket around his arms and pulling him close. He looked up at your face as you shuffled forward on your knees, combing your fingers through his messy hair.
“I don’t….I don’t need…ah-nhngh—kchuu!”
Without missing a beat, you swiped a tissue from the box and handed it to him, taking another one to clean his glasses.
“Hey, I can’t see!”
“Calm down,” you instructed, throwing your blanket around the both of you. He “eep”ed and you replaced the glasses on his face, smiling at the uncertainty in those gorgeous purple orbs of his.
He opened his mouth to say something, but only his breathing could be heard, followed by a quiet chatter of teeth. Your heart fluttered, sympathy acting up upon seeing him so fragile. His little red nose was just too cute for words, and you drew the blanket closer around you yet, and gave that nose another little kiss.
You readied another tissue, but he had managed to yawn away the sneeze, sniffling and sighing in relief. “You alright, Mattie?”
Shifting from your knees to your butt, you scooted closer to him on the bed, faces close enough for you to feel his hot breath on your cheek. He seemed aware of this and turned his head in embarrassment.
“Seriously, you can go. You have homework to do anyway and I can take care of myself.”
“No,” you said lightly taking up his hand and playing idly with his fragile, slightly unsteady fingers. “Because friends don’t abandon sick and lonely friends. Here is what we’re going to do, all right? We are going to do absolutely no homework. We are going to pick out a game or a movie, and we are going to drink tea, and we are going to snuggle so that you stop shivering.”
“No buts, except yours snugly in a seat before the telly.”
It took him a moment and a couple of shudders, but he smiled, blinking quickly. “Well…I mean, I guess that’s okay.”
“Not okay, fun,” you corrected with a slight bounce on the spring bed. He laughed with a subtle hint of a cough.
“Right. Fun,” he said, fairly beaming now. “Hey, um…thanks for coming over.”
“Don’t mention it, sweetheart.”
And you both were a bit shocked when he kissed your cheek, and it was your turn to blush, ducking your head to his shoulder while he laughed and ran his fingers through your hair.