SECOND CHANCES

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CHAPTER TWELVE

Aaliyah was walking down the hall back to the kitchen when she heard Samantha.

“He did what?” Samantha cried, sighing heavily and placing her palm on her forehead in frustration. “Yeah, yeah I’ll be sure to stop by his place after work and drop off his medicine before I pick up Matthew.”

Samantha hung up and dropped her phone into her apron pocket. Aaliyah moved closer to her, hoping strongly that nothing bad had happened.

“Is everything okay?” Aaliyah asked curiously as soon as she got close enough for Samantha to see her.

“Not really, no.” Samantha replied, slumping into a seat, a mop of sweat gathering on her forehead. “Jason demanded to leave the hospital and went home. He’s been down with the flu for a few days now and it hasn’t gotten any better.”

“He’s sick?” The fear in Aaliyah’s heart was evident in her voice. Jason had been sick? Since when? She felt a lump of worry gather in her throat and she swallowed hard.

“I told him he was going to get sick if he continued working out in the rain. He never listens. Now this has happened and he isn’t even ready to receive proper treatment at the hospital.”

Aaliyah fiddled with her hair, her heart going out to Samantha. “I’m sorry.” She began, wishing there was something she could do for this woman who had done so much for her, comforting her when she told her her secrets and taking care of her. She also felt a pang in her chest for Jason who was sick. She missed him and wanted to see him in order to keep her heart from pounding with fear that his illness was serious.

“Thanks Aaliyah. I’ll just grab his medication after I pick up Matthew.” Samantha replied, and reading Aaliyah’s expression, she continued, her tone reassuring. “Don’t worry, I’m sure it isn’t as serious as you think. I will make sure to give you feedback on your sweet heart’s progress the moment I get to his house, alright?” That teasing quality that was usually dominant in her tone whenever she mentioned Jason to Aaliyah was there, but the humor seemed forced.

It made Aaliyah even more scared, she didn’t want anything to happen to Jason. A thought suddenly crossed her mind, a solution that would alleviate her friend of the stress of having to run back and forth. She could also get to see Jason in the process.

“I can do it,” Aaliyah offered, her eyes lighting up.

“Huh?” Samantha asked, lost in thought for a minute. She was thinking of how she would get her brother’s medication to him in time after picking up her son, which she couldn’t do till she got off work...

“I can take the medication to him, so you just have to focus on Matthew.”

Samantha registered the news in a moment, the worry in her eyes giving way for relief, before that signature cheshire cat grin spread over her face. “You’re worried about him, aren’t you?”

“Well...” Aaliyah started, a blush tainting her cheeks. She bit her inner cheeks nervously, unsure of what to say.

“You are!” Samantha teased her again, rumbling with laughter.

Aaliyah bit harder into her cheeks. “I uhh... I have to go now so he can take his medication.”

Samantha smiled. “Of course. Thanks for doing this, a lot. I appreciate it. I will give you the address.”

Aaliyah nodded, “You are welcome.” Although she had an ulterior motive; to see how Jason was doing.

***

Aaliyah rode past small houses, trees and mountains in her Vespa, the strong breeze blowing violently on her clothes and attempting to throw off the bag she carried. But she loved it, it was easier to find her way around the small town now that she didn’t have to walk everywhere. She held tightly to the bag which contained soups and different side dishes, the foods she had packed in a last minute decision to take to Jason. She figured that since he was down with the flu, he would need something liquid and hot. She had also considered what he would eat since he would be taking his medication for a while. She hoped it didn’t make her look silly though. As soon as she got to the address written in a paper, she stepped on the brakes, driving to a halt.

Aaliyah blinked in awe as she stared at the house, glancing at the small paper in her hand to be sure she hadn’t been mistaken. The ranch house was an impressive sight. It stood in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges and was in the midst of expansive lawns with a combination of wood and concrete patios that could be accessed from most of the entertainment spaces. The predominantly wooden exterior was accentuated by a panel of decorative stone walls that ran from the roof to the deck giving the entrance an added appeal.

Removing her helmet and placing it on the handle, she made her way up the driveway and walked through the front steps to the main entrance of the house. She knocked three times, firmly and a little urgently and waited for a reply, chewing her bottom lip nervously as she listened for any noise from within that would tell her he was there.

Nothing.

Aaliyah knocked again, louder and more insistent this time and after a long and almost unbearable silence, just when she was considering leaving the bag in the front porch, the door opened and Jason stood with a ghostly expression at the other side, looking quite miserable in a form fitting T-shirt and sweats with pale dry lips and sunken eyes. His usually gelled and spiky brown hair was unkempt, and that jaw he kept clean-shaven and smooth was filled with stubbles. He looked terrible, and her heart went out to him.

“Lia?” he asked, clearly perplexed as to why she was standing at his doorstep. His voice was a croaked sound, and he cleared his throat twice.

“Hi,” Aaliyah said a little sheepishly. “Um…I heard you were sick. Samantha needed to get Matthew, so I offered to pick up your medication and bring it to you.”

“Thanks, but you didn’t have to go through all that trouble.” He cleared his throat again, coughing lightly before stepping aside to let her in.

The interior was as impressive as the exterior. Logwood room divisions maintained the ranch house appeal, making use of an open concept design which didn’t completely enclose the rooms, but left spaces in between.

It was designed to generate warmth, from the living room which boasted of a fireplace functioning as the focal point of the room, to the enclosement formed by the woods. The fireplace was encased in an intricate flat stone framing, and in addition to generating warmth, it was also designed to ensure proper ventilation. The extra high ceilings of the rooms made them airy, enabling the rays of natural light to peep in through the windows, while maintaining the grand appearance of the ranch house.

“It’s no trouble at all,” Aaliyah said and turned to him, remembering that she had been asked a question. The beauty of the house had almost made her forget completely. “Samantha was busy and I didn’t have any major plans going on this evening, so...” She stuttered, hoping he wouldn’t see through her lies and know that she had come because she had indeed been worried about him.

“You were worried about me, weren’t you?” he asked softly, almost teasingly, that hoarseness in his voice making him sound... More attractive. She felt her cheeks heat up in embarrassment.

She hesitated, a slight blush coloring her face. She bent her head and muttered, “Something like that…”

Chuckling, Jason moved past her and made to resume walking into the house when he staggered slightly, stumbling on a bag lying carelessly on the ground. With a cry, Aaliyah caught him just before his back hit the ground, holding tightly to his arm while struggling to keep hold of her own bag as well. With a deep intake of breath, he leaned against her, clutching tightly to her arm for support and burying his head in her shoulder. She smelt of soft calming flowers. Medicine to his sickness.

She frowned and placed her hand on his forehead which was blazing hot. “You have a fever,” she snapped. “So it is true that you forced them to let you leave the hospital. Go lie down while I fetch you some ice and a towel.”

“I’ll do it.” He insisted, attempting to disengage from her hold and walk by himself. He staggered again, and she held him.

“No, just lie down, I’ll take care of it.”

“Aaliyah, I’ll—”

Aaliyah shook her head, sadness filling her eyes. “Please. You...you need to get better.”

He was silent. After a moment, he acquiesced, and she led him to the couch where he lay on his side. She picked the bag he had stumbled on earlier and removed it from the way. Next, she picked a blanket from the sofa next to the couch, and covered him with it.

“Thanks, Lia.” He muttered, coughing loudly. She felt pain slam into her chest, wishing she could bring herself to tell him of her past, it hurt that the name that rolled perfectly off his tongue was only an alias. She felt like a fraud.

Brushing the thoughts away to focus on making him feel better, Aaliyah went into the kitchen and rummaged through the drawers, retrieving a clean dish towel with red roosters printed on it. From the wooden cupboard, she pulled out a large bowl before moving over to the freezer. Scooping some ice into the water, she carried back to where he lay.

She placed the bowl gently on the coffee table beside the couch and took a seat at the edge of the sofa next to him.

Aaliyah dipped the cloth in the water, wrung it out, and placed it over his forehead. Jason closed his eyes at the cooling sensation.

“Why did you leave the hospital so quickly?” She asked, staring at him.

“It was boring.” He said simply, his voice totally exhausted.

“Have you been eating well?”

He swallowed hard, heaving a sigh without uttering a word. She read through his body language that the answer was negative.

“Well, good thing I had the instinct to whip you up some soup before I came by.” she continued. “You like chicken noodle, right?”

He didn’t reply, but she took matters into her hands and stood, going over to the kitchen counter to grab the large bag before walking back over to the living room. She unpacked the sack, producing a thermos, soup bowl, side plate, paper napkin, soup spoon, a small basket of bread rolls, a plastic plate of salt and pepper packets.

“Lia, you didn’t have to do all this.” She didn’t realize he had opened his eyes till he spoke.

She shook her head. “I wanted to.”

She unscrewed the lid of the thermos and poured creamy chicken soup into the bowl, steam curling invitingly from its surface. He sat up with great difficulty, reclining into the couch. She handed the plate over to him, waiting in anticipation for his assessment. It mattered to her.

Jason scooped a spoonful of the thick soup, pushing it into his mouth. He moaned as soon as his tongue registered its taste, quickly taking another and smacking his lips.

“Good?” Aaliyah asked, perching on the sofa again.

He nodded enthusiastically and began to drink with more eagerness, eating the chunks of meat cut into small pieces. His hunger was primal, and he only stopped to wipe his mouth with the paper napkin.

Aaliyah gazed at him, grateful to herself for deciding to follow her instincts and prepare it for him.

It wasn’t long before he finished eating, and Aaliyah gave him his medication which he took before she started clearing the dishes, carrying them to the kitchen and putting all the items back into the bag. His eyes were drooping shut, and he felt the effect of the drugs begin to kick in.

“I want to sleep for a bit. Will you be here when I wake up?” Jason asked the moment she returned from the kitchen, already lying back on the couch.

“Yes.” She muttered quietly, sitting by his side till he fell asleep.

While he slept, she cleaned the house and prepped Jason a few meals to last him the rest of the week. Afterwards, she grabbed a pen and paper from one of the drawers and wrote down a few simple recipes before hanging it on the refrigerator door.

When she returned to the living room, tiptoeing in a bid not to wake him up, it was to find him sleeping peacefully, cradled like a baby, looking so handsome even in his sleep she had the urge to trace the planes of his fine facials with her fingers. She admonished herself, focusing instead on removing the towel which had become warm. She brought fresh cold water, dipped the towel in it and squeezed a great portion of the water out before placing it in his burning forehead.

She repeated the exercise whenever the towel got hot, intent on nursing him to a better health.

***

Jason groaned as he felt a damp, cool cloth being pressed against his hot forehead. Lying on his right side, a lumpy pillow beneath his head, he barely opened his eyes. Aaliyah was leaning over him, cloth in hand, her eyes filled with worry, he managed a small smile.

“I didn’t know that angels could fly so low,” he whispered with a low hoarse voice, his lips and throat parched. He tried to sit up but found that his limbs still ached and felt unresponsive.

“Huh?” Aaliyah asked, placing her right ear beside his lips.

Jason cleared his throat. “Water.” His voice was more audible now, and Aaliyah quickly stood to pour him a glass of water from a clear plastic pitcher by his couch, returning the towel to the bowl. She wrapped an arm around his shoulders and propped him up enough to allow him to drink.

He finished his water and Aaliyah perched at the edge of the couch, eyeing him critically.

“What is it?” He asked, lying back and returning her stare with a quizzical expression.

Aaliyah shook her head.“Nothing. You should get changed, you’re soaked in sweat.”

With a sigh, he forced himself to sit up, looking down at his grey tank top drenched in so much sweat that the shape of his rippling body could be seen. Her gaze moved down to his chest and she swallowed a ball of nervousness, averting her gaze.

“Help me then, I can’t remove it on my own.”

“Huh?” She blinked, looking up to meet his eyes. They were taunting, glittering with mischief even in his poor state of health.

“Lia, you’re beginning to sound like an echo. Help me remove the shirt, please.”

Her fingers shook as she lifted the hem of his tank top, exposing rock hard abs beneath pale skin. She let her fingers skim over the chiseled musculature where his skin was warm and smooth, the muscles firm beneath her touch. She felt heat seep through her body, cold sweat breaking in her armpits. She felt herself get burnt, as though the heat in his body had been transferred to hers.

“Lia...” Jason said in a low voice, closing her palms with his big firm ones. They felt callused over her skin, and she almost jumped, blinking twice to restore her mind to the issue at hand. She realized then that the top was still halfway on his body, and she had just been staring at him with her fingers skimming over his muscled chest.

“Sorry.” She quickly removed her hands, averting her gaze in embarrassment as her cheeks deepened in redness.

He didn’t chortle and make a sly comment again this time, but swallowed hard, completing the task of removing his shirt.

“I think I feel sleepy again. Will you be here?” This time, it was a plea; he needed to see her first when he woke up.

Although it was already late in the evening and Aaliyah didn’t know how long he would be out, she nodded. “Yeah.” Her eyes reassuring him. He grabbed hold of her hand, caressing her palm slowly till sleep kicked in.

***

Jason woke up to the blazing rays of the sun peeping violently through his windows. He shut his eyes quickly, turning to the other side to behold a sleeping Aaliyah. She was seated on the floor beside him and leaning forward on the couch with her head on her folded arms. He reached out, running his fingers through her soft hair.

She startled awake, raising her head so suddenly that his hand fell weakly back onto the couch.

“Hi,” He rasped, smiling weakly.

“Hi,” She shifted on the floor, wincing at the stiffness that had accumulated in her joints from sleeping on such a hard surface.

“You stayed here all night?”

“You asked me to,” She replied, stretching her arms over her head with a yawn before asking, “How do you feel?”

“Better, thanks to you.” He felt good, extremely excited at the gesture she had extended to him. Although he could faintly remember asking her to stay, he hadn’t known she would really be with him, watching over him for a whole night. He remembered the chicken soup she had made for him and smiled; he definitely felt more than good.

“I’m glad to hear that.” She returned his smile, sitting still for a moment before she remembered she had to go. For some reason, it made her sad.

“What is it?” He asked as soon as he noticed the change in her mood.

Aaliyah wondered if she were this transparent, and licked her dry lips, feigning a smile. “I have to go.”

“Already?” He exclaimed, feeling a loss already in his chest. She had stayed with him for hours, yet it wasn’t enough.

“Yeah.” She didn’t feel good about leaving, but she couldn’t stay there forever.

He forced a smile. “Alright, thanks a lot for being here for me.”

She stood, going to the kitchen to carry the empty flask. “I hope you get better soon.” She added, resisting the urge to wrap her hands around him. His body had stopped heating up sometime during the night, but he still felt weak, and she noticed it.

“I will, thanks, Lia.”

As soon as he closed the door behind her, he noticed for the first time the clean state of his house. He walked towards the kitchen and noticed a small paper hanging on the refrigerator door, emotions swirling in his head at the realization that she had taken the time to jot down a few recipes for him to follow. A smile crept to his lips when he opened the fridge. Inside were about a week’s worth of food, prepared and ready to eat.

For a moment, he wished he were still terribly sick again. Although her presence loomed in the house, he already missed her.

Sweet Aaliyah whom he had come to develop feelings for.

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