When people in stories wake up, they always seem to focus on stupid things, like describing the ceiling in minute detail, or the feel of the sheets. I mean, who does that? Like I’m going to be lying in bed, returning to consciousness, and making erudite observations about my thread count…
Nah, when I woke up focusing on, well, anything, was the last thing I was about to do. I kind of mellowed my way up from warm, good to blech, fuzzy to oh crap, what the..? in stages, without caring too much about the setting and anything beyond the confines of my own body, which was feeling not good. Like, cotton tongue fuzzy teeth sour taste plus a side of gritty eyes with a smattering of ouch.
It was only in exploring the ouch that I started working out my surroundings. Which were pretty meh. Also, this isn’t the kind of story where I wake up naked and conveniently washed and bandaged, by the way. Which could have been embarrassing, sure, but just then sounded pretty damn appealing. Nope, instead, I woke up fully clothed and shedding gritty debris in my own bed, which was going to be super fun to clean up later. But, you know, at least some guy didn’t see me naked. Yay.
Speaking of guys, oh yeah, boy hero. And the nightmare attack. Which - wow - I must’ve been the first person in, like, ever, to have survived. All of the sudden, smears of dried blood and mud stains on my sheets didn’t seem like such a big deal. In fact, they were starting to be an encouraging reminder that I hadn’t hallucinated the whole episode in a fit of perverse boredom-induced self-harm. So that was a plus.
I kind of heaved myself to the side of the bed and staggered upright in a skittering shower of dirt and pain. The worst damage seemed to be around my feet and joints, and I cracked more than a few scabs standing up, but nothing too severe. Cuts and bruises I could handle, if it meant I could take myself for a nice shower and avoid hospital time to boot. I limped toward the ensuite, but stopped cold when I reached the doorway.
I guess I’d forgotten just how remarkable he looked. That perfect hair, those wide eyes, wider still as he stared back at my mud-crusted hair and stained, torn work clothes. He was standing in the kitchen, holding a pot in one hand, a scrub brush in the other, soap suds trailing across his knuckles and up his wrist.
“You really shouldn’t let the food get dried on,” He waved the pot around, scattering bubbles across the counter.
I should probably have blushed in shame at my delinquent housekeeping or something, but you know, shock. That, and my relief at not having to deal with those dishes - he didn’t know how long they’d been there - insulated me from the embarrassment. I just kept staring back at him. He blinked first.
“That was a joke,” He said, a line marring his forehead as his brows drew together. He put down the pot and wiped his hands on his jeans. What? I have dishtowels. They’re in the wash. Or somewhere, I’m sure… “Hey, maybe you should sit down…”
I took a firmer grip on the doorframe and glared back at him. He held up his hands in mock surrender, then darted around the counter and grabbed for my elbow as I swayed.
“Why are you here?” I tried to pull away, but he just followed me back into the room, pivoting with perfect balance to maintain his hold. “What are you doing here?”
“Hi,” he raised his eyebrows, ignoring my question entirely as he tried to guide me back towards my bed. “I’m Henry.”
“Hi Henry. I’m annoyed.” I dug in my heels and leaned back toward the bathroom, tugging against his grip. “Also, a little freaked out. What are you doing in my apartment?”
“Look, thanks for your help earlier, but I’d really just like to be left alone right now-”
“So yeah, you were a huge help, really appreciate all that life-saving and all, but this is my home and I’d really like to get cleaned up now and all, so…”
I waved at the door, swaying, and then batted at his hand on my arm with the other. Then I made the mistake of looking up at him. Big mistake. He had this look down pat, you know the one, the big-eyed kicked puppy look, where you feel like a monster and would do anything to make it stop.
“Did I do something wrong?” He said, releasing my arm so I could stagger a few steps back. I tried to look away. It didn’t work. I clamped my lips shut, determined not to give in. I took a few more steps backward, bumping into the door frame and wincing. Henry was at my side in an instant, looking worried and hurt at the same time. I needed to say something. Something to make it clear. He had to go.
“Really, thanks,” I said, trying to sound sincere rather than irritated. After all, he had saved my life. “What you did out there, that was huge. And I don’t want to sound ungrateful. But I’m fine now. So you can get back to wherever you need to be. I can take care of myself; you go ahead and get home.”
Henry opened his mouth, closed it, frowned, opened it again.
“I just got to the city,” He said.
No. Oh no. He didn’t mean…
“I was thinking I could stay with you.”
Crap. He did.