Mary had only an instant to react when Jared’s eyes slid closed and his body titled toward the floor. She raced across the kitchen and managed to catch him before his head smacked the edge of the table. She eased his body back into the chair, laying his head on top of the table. She placed her hand on his neck to check his pulse. A steady heartbeat.
She put the back of her hand on his forehead and pulled her hand quickly away from the heat. She laid her hand on the back of his neck. Just as hot. No wonder he was acting strange. He had a fever. A sharp whistle diverted her attention momentarily and she turned off the burner before leaving the kitchen to rummage through her medicines in the upstairs linen closet.
She pulled out an ear thermometer and ibuprofen before heading back downstairs to her patient. Like it or not, Jared would be spending the night under her roof.
In the kitchen, she put a clean cover on the thermometer and popped it into Jared’s exposed ear. A beep indicated a temperature reading and Mary gasped when she saw how high it had registered: 104 degrees.
Mary stood for a minute debating whether or not to call an ambulance. She couldn’t drive him herself and he couldn’t stay slumped over the table all night. She reached for the phone and dialed.
“Tammy, it’s Mary. I’m sorry to call in the middle of the night, but I need your help.”
“What’s wrong?” A sleepy voice asked. “What time is it?”
“Two-thirty. I need your professional advice.”
Mary heard some rustling and then Tammy came back on the line. “Sure, how can I help?”
“I’ll explain the details later, but how do you know if someone needs a doctor? He has allergies to grass and took a Benedrayl right before he passed out in my kitchen. I checked his temperature and he’s running a fever of 104.”
“Hmmm. How old is he?”
“My age.” Mary was glad her friend, former Bible study member, and an emergency room nurse, didn’t ask why there was a man in Mary’s kitchen in the wee hours of the morning.
“The flu is going around, so that’s probably what he has. Any other symptoms?”
“None that I know of. He’s been doing a lot of yard work today and yesterday.”
“Let me check one thing. Hold on a sec.”
Mary glanced at Jared still slumped on the kitchen table.
“Okay. Here’s what to look for.” Tammy rattled off a list of symptoms and Mary jotted them down on her grocery list pad.
“So I shouldn’t be concerned that he passed out?”
“I don’t think so. Sometimes fevers can make people very tired, and that, coupled with his allergies and physical activity, likely just made him more apt to fall asleep quickly.”
A soft snore from Jared brought a brief smile to Mary’s lips. “That makes sense. So what do I do?”
“See if you can wake him—I’ve found an ice cube wrapped in a paper towel and placed on the back of the neck works well. Give him some ibuprofen or aspirin for his fever. Then he should rest, but check his temperature every four hours. If the medicine doesn’t bring it down, you’d better take him to the emergency room.”
“Thanks, Tammy. I owe you big time.”
“I’ll take my payment in an explanation of why a man is in your kitchen in the middle of the night.”
“I’ll call you tomorrow.” Mary blinked. “I mean later today. Promise.”
Tammy laughed. “You’d better or I’m calling Pastor Smith and reporting you’re a delinquent.”
“Pastor Smith already knows about Jared.”
“Now I’m really intrigued. Call me later, and take care.”
Mary hung up the phone and thought about where to move Jared for the rest of the night. She knew she could not manage to drag him up the stairs. The downstairs guest bedroom would have to do. Hurrying to the room off of the living room, she yanked the coverlet from the full-sized bed and opened a dresser drawer to pull out a set of sheets. Flicking the bottom sheet over the exposed mattress pad, she made the bed with more speed than skill, leaving off the top sheet until Jared had lain down.
Back in the kitchen, she shook out two ibuprofen tabs. Mary touched his face, but he barely moved. Shaking his shoulder didn’t budge him at all. Time for plan B—an ice cube. She grabbed one from the freezer, wrapped it in a paper towel and returned to the table.
“Sorry, Jared.” Mary placed the ice cube on the back of his neck.
He jerked upright. His bleary eyes gazed up at her. “Mary?” He groaned. “What happened?” His head sank back toward the table.
“Oh, no, you don’t.” Mary put her hand under his chin. “You’re sick. You need to take these pills.”
“Sick?” Jared licked his lips. “I’ll be okay. Just allergies from the grass.” He tried to slide his face from Mary’s grip, but she held firm.
He obediently opened his mouth and she popped in the pills, holding his earlier glass of water to his lips. “Swallow.”
He gulped it and Mary let go of his head to replace the now empty glass on the table. His head drifted down to the tabletop again, but she lifted his right arm and put it around her shoulders.
“No time to rest now. You’re coming with me.”
“I just want to sleep.”
“I know, but you can’t sleep on my kitchen table. You need to stand up. I can’t lift you by myself.”
“I’d do anything for you, Mary.” Jared pushed up from the table and Mary staggered under his weight as his body swayed into hers. “I’d even walk to the ends of the earth.”
Mary rolled her eyes. Jared’s fever must be making him loopy. “For now, I’ll take a walk to the bedroom.”
Jared turned toward the back door but Mary corrected his path. “Not your bedroom. You will sleep in the downstairs guest room tonight. You’re in no condition to walk back to the apartment and I can’t carry you up the stairs even if you can stagger across the lawn.”
“But we shouldn’t be alone under one roof.”
Mary tightened her grip as the two of them started out of the kitchen at a plodding pace. “Somehow I don’t think my virtue will be in any danger tonight.”
Jared’s arm squeezed her shoulders as he stumbled over the threshold of the kitchen doorway.
“Sorry.” He stopped in the hallway and leaned his weight against the wall.
Mary saw a muscle twitch in his jaw.
Jared worked his lower lip between his teeth. “I need you on the other side. My left leg seems unable to take my weight much at all right now.”
Mary could have smacked her forehead. How stupid of her to forget his injury. “No problem.” She paused, considering how best to maneuver around him to the opposite side. She turned his body slightly so his cheek rested against the wall. “Can you stand for a moment?”
She slipped around him and fitted herself under the crook of his left arm. She fleetingly reflected on how perfectly their bodies fit together side by side, but as he righted himself, he stepped on her bare toes. She bit back a yelp and turned her attention to navigating the short hallway.
The trip to the guest bedroom took five minutes. Jared had to stop every couple of steps to catch his breath and Mary’s shoulders ached from supporting much of his weight. Jared managed to heave himself onto the bed and Mary turned him so that his feet wouldn’t dangle off the side. She removed his shoes and turned to grab the top sheet from the dresser when she noticed his dirty jeans. Bits of grass clung to the cuffs and the knees were green with stains.
“I think you might want to take off your jeans. They’re pretty dirty. The grass on them might be bothering your eyes.”
A snore greeted her. She shook him but he was a dead weight. She looked at the jeans and chewed on a fingernail. She couldn’t in all conscience leave him to sleep in those pants. She gingerly approached the bed and eyed the button. She took a deep breath and reached over to undo the button with her eyes half closed. The waistband of plaid boxers came into view.
She could do this. After all, the last time she’d seen him in swimsuit was thirty years ago, but if she kept her mind on those days, she might just make it through the next few minutes. She closed her eyes, knowing even as she did so that it was silly, but somehow the thought of seeing a grownup Jared in his underwear made her pulse race. With a lot of tugging and praying, the jeans came off.
She tossed them on the floor and pulled up the sheet to cover his still form. As she did, her eyes fell on his left leg and the mass of scars crisscrossing the skin. Poor Jared. No wonder he had trouble getting around at times. It was kind of ironic that his scars were on the outside while hers were on the inside. What a pair they made, each with their own hidden hurts.
Mary sighed as she finished tucking the sheet around Jared. Tonight was all sorts of firsts. First time she flirted purposefully with a man. First time to see a completely different man in his skivvies. She was sure having a banner night.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.