John shifted the grocery bags around in his hands so he could reach his keys. He pulled them out, thumbed them one by one for his house key. It had a red bow with a built in LED light so he could see the keyhole in the dark. He turned the key, opened the door, and held out his arm in that classic sign for ‘ladies first’. Kayako smiled and walked in, she carried just as many grocery bags as him. They put the groceries away together, except for the pork chops John was about to cook.
They didn’t get to see much of each other outside of the classes they shared at Miskatonic University. John worked at the front desk of one of the dorms, it was an easy job that afforded plenty of time for homework at the expense of social time. But John’s schedule wasn’t what kept the young couple apart. Kayako was a fairly prolific film actress from Britain, known to the world at large as Katie Yamamura. She’d been in movies since the age of nine, which included one of the lead roles the generation spanning Perry Otter movies. Her only break away from the glamor of her stardom was at school, where the paparazzi were banned on order from the university president. She even had to be careful when visiting John.
The tabloids weren’t keen on the idea of Katie Yamamura dating a guy like John. Lately they’d taken to calling her a chubby chaser because of John’s slightly above average weight. None of that bothered Kayako, her foremost concern was making sure that they didn’t bother John.
John gently placed four pork chops onto the skillet. He turned his head and saw Kayako standing outside burning something. Luckily she left the door open, “Hey Kay, would you kindly turn the sink on and squirt some soap on my hands, they’re covered with raw meat goo.”
Kayako turned to him and smiled, “Sure thing, just give me a second.” Her British accent leant to the matter-of-factness of her statement. She spitefully stomped on the burning copy of the National Inquirer that had a picture of the couple taken at a local nightclub on its cover. Once it was a black ash smear on the patio, she followed John back inside, squeezed behind him in the tight confines of John’s bachelor sized kitchen and turned the tap. She sneezed as she poured the soap, sending a jagged line of it up his arm.
John arched a brow, “You feelin’ alright Kay?”
She sniffled hard, “Yeah, just allergies I think. They’re driving my sinuses wild.”
John stared at her for a moment, his brow furled as he looked at her. He nodded slowly and cracked a concerned smile, “Alright, I’ll just be sure to add some crushed pepper to yours. Spice’ll clear those sinuses right up.”
She smiled, “Is that a Kentucky thing?”
John laughed, “By a Kentucky thing you mean a southern thing? Nah, it’s Italian. At least it was my great-great grandpa that taught me that, so it might be a family thing.”
Even her giggle had a British accent, “So it would be a ‘thing of yours’?”
“I’ll have you know,” John flicked some soapy water at her and dried his hands causing her to squeal with laughter, they both grinned from ear to ear, “that just because a my mother’s maiden name is the same as a certain organized crime family, does not mean that all of my family’s secrets involve gangsters and tommy guns. Besides, that’s my family Kay.”
“Don’t quote The Godfather at me,” Kayako sniffed hard between laughs, “I know how that ends.”
John looked at her again with crossed brows, “You sure I can’t get you an antihistamine? I keep a good stock of em this time of year.”
“You sure ‘bout that?” John put the back of his right hand on her forehead, “You feel a bit warm.”
“I said I’m fine.” Kayako took his hand off her head and kissed the star shaped scar on the back of it, “If I’m still feeling off colour in the morning I’ll call a doctor.” She looked up at him with soft eyes, “Okay?”
John nodded, “Promise?”
“No foolin’ around, you feelin’ down in the morning you get yourself checked out. Promise me.”
She grabbed his hand, “I promise.”
“No fancy Hollywood Dr. Feelgoods, an honest doc.”
“I promise.” She looked him dead in the eye, “A real doctor.”
John nodded, “Good. Now that’s three times a promise.”
Kayako scoffed, “Really John, all that for a bloody Fight Club reference? Is everything a reference to you?”
“Always.” He smiled. When she got that one, she harrumphed and slapped him hard on the arm. They had a rule. He could only pull that card once a month. It was a rule he loved breaking.
Twenty minutes later they were side by side on John’s bed, watching Babylon 5 and digging into their lunch. Pork chops with John’s special recipe mashed potatoes. John took a sip of drink from a glass bottle.
“What is that anyway?” Kayako asked, eyeing his beverage.
“Crystal pepsi.” John replied.
She snickered, “Bullshit. They stopped making that when we were toddlers.”
“You’re right, but some cheeky fans have reverse-engineered it and sell it online,” John explained, “albeit with the most unfortunate name ever.”
Kayako raised a brow.
John’s cheeks reddened he turned the bottle so she could see the label. The words ‘Not-See-Kola’ was emblazoned over a black and gold German eagle. Kayako laughed, “And how do you know it’s crystal pepsi?”
John shrugged, “A guy on the internet who reviews porno and old sodas said so”
Kayako gave him the look, the look that said, “Remember that little talk we had about not believing everything you see or read in the media, especially online media.”
John’s neck shrunk, “Thomas also says it’s crystal pepsi.”
She was still giving him the look, “And you believe Thomas because?”
John booped Kayako on the nose, “Because Thomas was old enough to be having consensual sex while crystal pepsi was out.”
Kayak nearly spat out her food with laughter. When she composed herself she asked, “Can I try some then. I want to see what makes it so special to warrant the cheeky name and high praise from an online porn reviewer.”
“And Thomas.” He said, handing her his bottle so she could take a sip.
“And Thomas.” She took a sip and handed it back, “Crystal Pepsi or not it’s pretty fantastic.”
“Just like you.” He kissed her forehead, then killed the rest of the not-see-kola and put the bottle on his bookshelf for display.
The next afternoon, John gave Kayako a call after he didn’t see her in their British Literature class, “You alright Kay?”
“I’ll be fine.” She sounded miserable, “I just got back from the doctor.”
John’s voice was filled with concern, “Sinus infection?”
“That paired with an ear infection, irritated throat, high fever.” Her voice sounded tired.
“Sounds like a cold.” John replied.
“It is.” Kayako laughed, “Doctor said for me to stay in bed for the rest of the week.”
“Anything you want me to run your way? I’ve got a break till American Lit.”
“I’m alright, my medicine makes me sleepy, I’m gonna take a nap.” Kayako replied.
“I still wanna come over anyway.” John said.
“I’ll be fine.”
John was walking toward his car, “Humor me.”
“Alright, but you’d better hurry cause this medicine is way more potent than Nyquil.”
John knocked on door to Kayako’s apartment. He heard the shuffling of feet, followed by the sliding of a lock. When she opened the door, he could tell that she was not well. Her long, brown-almost-black hair was matted and bedraggled. Her skin was pale, and she had dark circles under her eyes.
John’s eyes advertised his worry, “Kay, you look-”
“Don’t say it.” Kayako rattled, her voice sore.
“What?” John asked.
“Don’t say that I look like The Grudge ghost.” She glared.
Part of him wanted to say it, because it was in fact true. John shook his head, “I was gonna say you look terrible and should go lie down while I get a cold washcloth for your forehead.”
“Oh,” her eyes widened, her cheeks flushed out of fever and embarrassment, “sorry. I just figured that Johnny ‘The Reference Guy’ Moltisanti wouldn’t be able to pass up the chance. What with my name-”
“And normally you’d be spot on Kay, but you’re sick,” he marched her toward her bedroom by softly rubbing her shoulders, “and I’m worried about you.”
“Mmm, what did I do to deserve a guy as great as you?” she asked as he tucked her into bed.
“You took a chance on a wildcard.” John replied, “All you knew I coulda been some obsessive superfan.”
“But you’re not.”
“Don’t kid yourself; we both know that I am, at least a bit.”
“You don’t see the actress, or the roles.” Kay said.
“Hold that thought.” John replied. He walked to her bathroom. Opened a glass drawer and grabbed a plush baby blue washcloth. He soaked it in cool water, wrung it to the point that it didn’t drip, then walked to her kitchen and put it in the freezer for half a minute. He walked back into Kayako’s room, she was covered with sweat, he leaned back and thumbed the control to her AC unit, dialed it down a till it clicked on. “Now, as you were saying.”
She smiled weakly, “You see me.”
John sat on the ground next to her bed. He reached up and gently placed the washcloth on her forehead. He took her hand. His thumb gently traced the back of her hand as she thumbed the star shaped scar on the back of his. He looked her in the eye and smiled, “I see you.”
He stayed with her, even after she fell asleep, her hand still tightly gripping his. He merely pulled his copy of Neuromancer out of his backpack with his free hand and read until he had to leave for his last class. She stirred when he got up, “Wha –where are you going?”
“Class. I’ll be back in an hour fifteen.” He pulled out a notebook, “Here, today’s notes from Brit. Lit. in case you want to go over them while I’m gone.”
She took the notebook, sat up, and started looking through it, “Thanks.”
“Knew you couldn’t resist.” He smiled.
“What makes you say that?” she asked with a raised brow.
“Cause you can take the girl outta Hogwarts, but you can’t take Hogwarts outta the girl.” John’s grin stretched from ear to ear.
Kayako rolled her eyes and hit him with her pillow, “Go to class.”
“Give me some credit. I wouldn’t have made that one if you weren’t really a bookworm. But that’s okay cause I write books, or I’m studying too anyways.”
“That’s three in the span of a week,” She glared at him.
“Fine, no more Perry Otter references until after new year.” John leaned in, his smile stretching wider. “But you gotta admit, you know you secretly love it.”
“No I don’t.” Kayako said and covered his face with her hand. She turned her hand. His now visible eyes were bright with shock. She smiled, pulled him close and kissed him on the forehead, “But I do love you.” She laughed, “Now go to class, you’ll be late.”
He took her hand into his and kissed her knuckles, “As if I’d bemoan missing another lecture about how puritan sermon poetry is the high water mark of human literature.”
She stroked his beard, “You’ll tough it out. Now go.”
John smiled and tucked her back in. Kayako rolled over onto her side. He walked to the bedroom door and paused before he closed it behind him, “One more thing Kay.”
She rolled her head over, her frizzy hair covering all but one eye, an eye that was barely open in the haze of Nyquil inspired drowsiness, “What?”
John smiled, “I love you too.” And he closed the door behind him.
Three days later John woke up and his throat was on fire, his mouth was so dry his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth, and he couldn’t breathe through his nose. He stumbled through to the kitchen, poured himself a glass of water. It felt like salt on an open wound as he drank it.
“Aw, shit.” He said, his throat burning as he spoke. He shambled back to his room. He was sick, “How the fuck did I get sick? I don’t get sick. I haven’t been sick in six years. Why the fuck am I sick?”
It hit him like a subway train when he saw it, the bottle of not-see-kola on his bookshelf. He grabbed his phone and messaged Kayako, “Remember when you thought you just had a sinus infection and took a sip of my not-see-kola?”
A few minutes later Kayako responded, “Oh no. I’m so sorry John.”
John typed back, “It’s ok, guess I have an excuse for skipping American Lit this week.”
“I still have some Dayquil and Nyquil left. When I get through with this interview I’ll be right over.”
“Do me a favor while you’re on your way. Could you pick me up a chicken sandwich?”
“Can you even eat one right now, my throat was so raw I could barely manage soup.”
“Prolly not, but I really want one.”
Kayako’s final response was an emoji rolling it’s eyes. A river of snot was oozing onto his mustache. John sniffed hard but it was like trying to inhale rubber cement. He grabbed a handful of toilet paper and tried to blow his nose but they had invisible corks in them. He settled on twisting two pieces real tight like a rope and sticking each one in a nostril to soak up his snot. He looked at himself in the mirror.
He looked pathetic, his cheeks, ears, and forehead were flushed, his eyes were red, he was covered in sweat, and he had two pieces of fucking toilet paper jammed in his nose as if he’d just got back from the nurses office after a schoolyard fight that didn’t go his way.
He went back to bed and tried to do some homework, but there was so much pressure on his sinuses that it felt like even his brain was congested. So instead, he played xbox until his phone blasted “Butterfly” by Smile.dk, Kayako’s ringtone. John lurched over for his phone and swiped to answer just as the phone sang, “Someone who is strong/ but still a little shy”
Kayako didn’t wait for him to answer, “I’m outside.”
John sniffed hard through the toilet paper in his nose, “Be ride dare.”
Kayako laughed when she saw him. She tried not to, she tried to cover her mouth to hold her laughter hostage, but ultimately failed, “I’m so sorry John.”
“No idth d’ohkay. I detherve it.” John replied.
“No, don’t silly.” She smiles at him, her eyes are filled with gentle compassion, “I just wasn’t expecting you to look so helpless.”
“I’m sthick. I don’t ged sthick. Dith ith da furst time Ibe been sthick in six years. Bethides, you looged helpless too.” John replied
“Yes but I could still speak properly.” She smiled, she had a bag behind her hand. Inside were her bottles of Dayquil and Nyquil, and a chicken sandwich from the Miskatonic University food court.
Kayako lay beside John on his bed, wincing as he painfully forced himself to eat, “That can’t feel good with your throat as sore as it is.”
John moaned in agony, he’d already taken a dose of Dayquil and his nose had cleared right up, “Oh it’s aweful. Like sandpaper. And it doesn’t taste much better. But it’s still the best damn sandwich ever.”
Kayako gave him a concerned look, “What makes you say that?”
He swallowed the last bite, “Cause you got it for me.” He replied rest his head on her shoulder, “How long can you stay?”
“Not long.” Kayako replied, “I’ve got to catch a flight to LA in three hours.”
John sank down low in his bed and wrapped his arms around her waist, “Can you stay to watch an episode of Babylon 5?”
Kayako smiled and stroked his hair, “Alright, but only one.”