I missed Nick when he was traveling, occupying my time with Carmen and just taking care of the house. I worked out some nights alone, imagining him here in my head as I pushed myself on the machines. I fantasized about him coming in and watching me the way I did him, longing for him to take it further. There was a lot of equipment in here, and I thought about him taking me on one of the benches where I could watch him in the mirror.
I was mid-fantasy one night when I heard Carmen’s little voice, blushing furiously as I turned my head to look at the door. I saw her pale face and pushed the button to shut off the machine before I walked over to her. “What’s wrong?” I asked as she looked sadly at me.
“I don’t feel good. I’m hot then cold, and my stomach feels sick,” Carmen told me as I felt guilty for being two floors down. Nick said that she was confident about getting around the house, only stressed about setting the house alarm when I was going to move about, but I still felt bad.
I was covered in sweat, and I frowned before I picked her up. “I am gross but let’s go upstairs and take your temperature, okay? You might have a bit of a fever.”
Carmen was running a little hot, something that the thermometer proved to me within just a few moments. I got her some medicine to control it as well as a glass of ice water to keep Carmen hydrated before I sat on the bed. She’d changed into fresh pajamas, and her blankets were pushed down as she let out a sigh, closing her eyes.
I sent Mom a text, asking if I did everything right. She said yes and just to keep checking her in case, she got too hot, in which case she’d need to be seen by a doctor. Her hospital was a few miles away, and while I’d make it if necessary, I wanted Carmen to rest.
I watched her sleeping and looked around to see the full-sized futon that was in the playroom. I scurried up to my room to change into some clean yoga pants and a t-shirt after splashing myself with some cold water. I didn’t have time for a shower right now, but maybe if she felt better tomorrow, I would attempt that. I grabbed a blanket from the closet in my room and made myself at home on the futon with my Kindle for the night. Since it was already eleven, I didn’t expect that Carmen would make it to school in the morning. I felt my phone vibrate and glanced beside me, expecting to see Mom’s name, but it was Nick. He often sent texts to check in on Carmen, and I frowned as I told him that she was sick with a bit of a fever.
Nick called immediately, and I assured him that I was in touch with my mom, whom he adored. I also told him that I’d given her something to help her sleep and I was on the futon to keep an eye on her. “You’re a good woman, Celia. You take excellent care of her.” His voice was gruff, and I sensed that he had more to say as I waited.
“I had a great example in my own parents,” I reminded him as Nick fell quiet for a moment. “How is everything in Florida?”
“It’s going smoothly, though I want to be home. Especially now,” he responded, making me feel sorry for telling him that Carmen was sick.
“She’ll be okay. Mom will come over in a heartbeat if she’s needed.” Mom had grown close to both Nick and Carmen lately, inviting the family to Thanksgiving in a couple of months.
“I just want to be in my house, my bed,” Nick’s voice was low as he spoke, making me frown. “It’s felt more like a home lately than it has in some time.”
“It has?” I asked, wanting to know more. We’d talked on the couch, but it was just general things about life. I didn’t know too much about his relationship with his wife, and his words made me wonder if he was unhappy before that.
“Yes,” Nick replied, making me smile in the dim room. “The house is locked with the alarm on, Celia?”
“Of course,” I told him as he let out a sigh.
“Try and get some rest,” his words signaled the end of the conversation. “Good night. I’ll call tomorrow morning to talk to Carmen.”
“Good night,” I told him, ending the call before I set my phone on the futon. There were nights that this house felt empty and this was becoming one of them as I settled back into the pile of pillows, intending to read for a while before I dozed off.
Carmen cried out sometime during the night, and I blinked before making my way to her room. She was shivering now, making me wrap her blanket around her before reaching for the thermometer again. I glanced at her clock and saw that a couple of hours had passed since I tucked her in again. She was wavering between one hundred and one hundred and one degrees. I knew that Mom said I could alternate medicines, so I grabbed the next one and woke her up just enough to get her to swallow it, offering her some water to get it all the way down.
Carmen settled back into sleep, and I waited half an hour to check her again. She was down to one hundred degrees, and I let out a breath as I stroked her damp hair back softly.
I ended up falling asleep curled up on her bed for another few hours before I woke up to the sound of her whimpering, reaching out to feel her skin clammy and damp. It was just past four, and I knew that this little girl was not going to be going to school in a few hours.
I dozed until it was time to call her in sick and then the phone rang again. It was Mom calling to see how Carmen was and I told her all about my night as I sipped coffee in the kitchen. She told me that if Carmen got some rest, she’d probably be fine but assured me that she’d get started on some homemade chicken noodle soup and bring it over in a couple of hours.
I alternated between watching television in the living room and checking on Carmen until there was a knock at the door. I turned the alarm off and looked through the hole in the door to see that it was Mom before opening it, smiling at her. “Thanks so much.”
“It’s nothing. I’m retired and you know I love to cook. I made some brownies for when she feels better too.” Mom walked to the kitchen, looking around as I closed and locked the door.
I went into the kitchen and poured her some coffee as she pulled a stockpot out of her bag, followed by a large Tupperware container. “Are you tired, sweetie? Want me to take over for a while so you can nap?”
I yawned and smiled at her. “I’d love that. I was up and down all night, and I am too nervous to sleep too deeply when I’m alone with her.”
“I understand,” she replied as she gave me a hug. “I remember when you were sick and your dad would walk in after work, take one look at me, and send me to bed. Everything will be okay for a couple of hours.”
I thanked her and went upstairs, peeking at Carmen before I went to my room and dropped into my bed. I wasn’t a parent, but I loved Carmen, and I was worried about her. It was hard to drift off to sleep for a little while, but I remembered how safe I was as a kid and smiled. Mom treated her like a granddaughter, so Carmen was in good hands.
When I woke up a couple of hours later, I stretched and got in a quick shower before pulling on some leggings with a sweatshirt. I walked downstairs and found Carmen on the couch, watching a movie as she snuggled under a blanket. “Feeling better?” I asked as she looked at me with sleepy eyes.
“Nana Brooke gave me some soup and juice when she brought me downstairs. I feel a lot better, but I want to sleep some more,” Carmen told me as she smiled weakly. I loved that she called Mom that, especially since both sets of grandparents lived in other states and didn’t see her on a regular basis. I went over to kiss her forehead before I went to find Mom in the kitchen, smiling at her.
“Thanks, Mom. How was she?” I asked as she looked away from a book that she was reading at the table.
“I got some soup into her and a bit of juice, so I think she’ll perk up. Nick called your phone while you were sleeping, so I answered and brought him up to date. He sounded so worried.” She smiled in a way that I recognized as being affectionate. “He’s a good Daddy.”
“He is,” I replied as I walked over to the table and sat down. My stomach growled, and Mom grinned. “Is there any soup left?”
Mom got me some and poured some more coffee before she sat down again. I ate it slowly, enjoying a brownie when I was done as we talked about Carmen. Mom stayed for the day, enjoying a walk on the beach for a break as I checked Carmen to find that her temperature was returning to normal.
I was surprised to hear a key in the door in the late afternoon, and we both looked up to see Nick walking into the house. “You’re not due back until tomorrow,” I said as he set his luggage down and glanced at Carmen curled up on the sofa.
“I was worried about her,” he told me as he walked right over and knelt to feel her forehead. “I can’t work when she’s sick.” For a moment, I wondered if he didn’t trust me and looked down at the floor.
Mom offered him some soup as he looked past me to see her, blinking. “I came over to bring the soup and thought I’d stay and help.”
“That was sweet of you,” Nick said as he looked into my face. “Are you okay?”
“Yes,” I replied quickly as he searched my face. “Her soup is so good. You should have some if you’re hungry.”
He walked past me into the kitchen as I took a deep breath, inhaling his masculine scent. I was happier that he was home than I cared to admit, and it wasn’t just because Carmen was sick. Mom went home after he ate, telling us to call her if we needed anything.
Nick said that he was going to take a shower and asked me to keep an eye on Carmen, to which I nodded. I glanced at the little girl and walked over to feel her skin, smiling when she felt like she was returning to normal. I checked her temperature even though Nick already did, knowing that she might be going to school tomorrow.