Summary: Adam recovers after having been ill at Christmas. Enter Hoss’s bedside manners, lots of Britishness, a little boy, and an orange. Bliss.
1,225 words, rated K
Also available in eBook format — please pm me for that.
After more than a week the raging fever was finally down to a tolerable level but Adam was aware he still looked like something a rat dragged in—a cat certainly would not deign him even a look. So he was lying in his bed, alternatively sweating like a melting glacier or shivering like a storm-beaten oil light, almost wishing the violent yet creative fever dreams back, and fantasising about sitting in his blue chair. That last point, when hinted at, was, naturally, not met with much sympathy by his keepers.
Rather with pitying smiles and long-suffering sighs.
“But ’m beddr, rea’y!” His attempt at convincing them didn’t sound even remotely persuading, even to his own ears. And anyway, as Hoss put it ever so elegantly, “If you tried, I’d jest haul your sorry carcass over my shoulder and carry you back to your bed like the sack of smelly socks you look like and stink like.”
“Wha’ever,” Adam answered just as eloquent and far more heated.
It was this exact moment the heavenly powers decided to intervene. The bedroom door opened, and in stepped a peculiar little caravan: two people, fitted with cotton gloves, thin shawls covering mouth and nose, and each carrying a bare wooden chair.
Dr. Martin had proclaimed him no longer contagious, but of his wife and son Adam was particularly protective.
The chairs were set next to Hoss’s (who’d stood at Juliet’s entrance and pushed his stool back a little, like every good and valuing-his-health brother-in-law would), and then all sat down.
With a tiny nod to Henry, Adam frowned briefly, but Juliet laid her cool-even-through-the-glove hand on his arm and took a moment to draw tiny, soothing circles on his hot skin.
“He insisted,” she said then, and there appeared a proud little smile in the small part of her face Adam could see.
He yearned to see the whole glory again, the radiant smile, the way it curved her lips, the way it wrinkled her nose, the way it made her fair beyond compare, yearned it so much he nearly forgot about Henry.
Albeit…Henry had never been an exceedingly patient child to begin with, even at times when he not just had spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve without his father’s attention but rather with an empty seat at the dinner table and a vacant post in the merry band of Cartwright entertainers, who seemed to be performing mostly for Henry’s benefit at holidays and such. It wasn’t in Henry’s nature to remain in the background if he had a mission to accomplish—and apparently, he had just that.
“I brought you something,” he said eagerly, and his expressive eyes scrutinised his father from above the shawl.
It was ball-shaped, orange, and had a smell even Adam’s congested nose could detect.
“My stocking orange,” Henry added helpfully. “I kept it for you.”
“Henry, lad, you shouldn’t have. There are more oranges in the pantry, I’m sure. You don’t have to give away—”
“But this is a stocking orange, it’s special.” Another scrutinising glance at his father, as if fearing for his old man’s mental state. Then, almost whispering, “A Christmas orange. And you didn’t get a stocking this year.”
There was accusation in it as he glanced at Juliet, but she only rolled her eyes.
“It would be all spoilt the time Papa eventually is well enough to go down and enjoy it properly. When it’s time, there will be a stocking, and an orange in it, too.”
“But it ain’t a real Christmas orange then.” Henry managed to stomp his foot sitting completely still and looking like a perfect little angel (albeit one attired with gloves and breathing protection.) He’d learnt that from a master, someone of British heritage and noble upbringing. No American could ever achieve this effortless countenance in each and any circumstance.
“It isn’t,” Adam corrected belatedly.
“See?” came Henry’s predictable answer. (They’d played this game often enough, it came to them automatically. Adam at times wondered why Henry still hadn’t learnt it—or if, by any chance, he had, but intentionally…oh, those sneaky Brits. Mother like son.) “You need to take it,” the boy added with much the same fervour and a lot more eloquence. “It’s good for you.”
Oranges were Henry’s favourites, and he always claimed the Christmas orange from his stocking tasted better than any other; juicier, sweeter, ‘Christmassier’.
Lord, that penny has taken its sweet time.
Adam took the fruit that was still held out. “Thank you,” he said seriously. “I greatly appreciate it.”
Juliet gave him a look that seemed amused about either his choice of phrasing or his slowness, or most possibly about both of them, then stood and declared Henry’d been subjected to the sickness long enough, and ushered him out of the room. Henry, of course, tried to protest briefly, but one lifted eyebrow by his mother, and he was compliant. How Juliet did that, Adam had no clue.
The last thing he saw of his wife was her conspiratorially smiling face when, already in the process of leaving, she suddenly turned back, pulled her scarf down and gave Adam a quick peck on his cheek. Then Mylady was gone, too.
“Yer not gonna eat that thing, are you?” Hoss said they were alone again and Adam was fiddling with the orange’s skin already.
“Oh, but I verrrry much intend to do so.” Adam rolled the R at the top of his tongue.
Hock cackled, as usual when Adam imitated Juliet’s accent. “I’ll get you another one, if yer so eager for them,” he said then. “Here, give me that there orange. I’ll give it back to Henry,” and as Adam pulled the fruit away when he reached for it, “You cain’t rightly mean to steal your boy’s most prized stocking gift!”
“I’m not stealing it, he gave it to me.”
“But he’s making a..a…a darn sacrifice. He’s just seven years old; dadburnit, Adam!”
“Yes, he’s sacrificing it, if you will. Yes, and it’s something very important to him, which makes it a sacrifice in the first place, doesn’t it? And yes, he’s just seven, and it’s a big thing for him. It’s a big thing for him, Hoss. I won’t spoil that for him. What’s his gift worth if I reject it? What’s a sacrifice without a beneficiary?”
The orange, as it turned out, was excellent, and Adam told Henry so at his son’s next visitation.
“It’s because it’s the Christmas orange. I told you it’s special.”
“It’s special, indeed,” Adam said, and would have given the next hundred years worth of the world’s harvest of oranges to be allowed to take Henry into his arms there and then. “As it has a rare but distinct taste: love, Henry, love.”
And Henry, with that look at his father again, the one that clearly questioned his old man’s sanity, said, “I always only tasted the cinnamon from the gingerbread man on it.”
Then he threw himself at Adam, giggling and hiding his face in the bedcovers first, then snuggling really, really close and getting as still as a child like Henry could ever get.
“Love,” Adam whispered as he stroked Henry’s back.
And from the depth came an almost inaudible, dark “mhmm”.
What is a home without a child? ~ Mark Twain
*** fin ***
With many thanks to JoaniePaiute for the beta, for her encouragement and her friendship.
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