by Norsebard






This short dramedy belongs in the Uber category. All characters are created by me though they may remind you of someone.

This story depicts a budding romantic relationship between consenting adult women. If such a story frightens you, you better click on the X in the top right corner of your screen right away.

All characters depicted, names used, and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. No identification with actual persons is intended nor should be inferred. Any resemblance of the characters portrayed to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.




Written: April 10th - 13th, 2018.

- Thank you for your help, Wendy Arthur :) *Flower*

As usual, I'd like to say a great, big THANK YOU to my mates at AUSXIP Talking Xena, especially to the gals and guys in Subtext Central. I really appreciate your support - Thanks, everybody! :D

Description: Ha-Choo! Sarah-Jean McCabe's thirty-eighth birthday is off to an awful start when she wakes up with what has to be the worst head cold since the dawn of (wo)mankind. She has invited her special friend Julienne Sawyer to an intimate dinner later in the day - can she beat down the germs before then, or will she need to cancel the whole thing?





Sarah-Jean McCabe knew from the moment she woke up that not all was well when it came to her bill of health. Not only had the persistent tickle in her nose that had started the night before turned vicious, she seemed to be wearing earplugs though she didn't own any. When she tried to swallow, the tightness and stinging pain that shot up from her throat only confirmed her suspicions. Her joints were aching, she was covered in a sheen of perspiration, and her forehead was hot to the touch - in short, she had caught a head cold. And not just any old garden-variety head cold, but one of the nasty ones that would keep her locked in a state of utter misery for the better part of ten days if not more.

A sneeze that started with a ferocious roar and only turned louder after that tore through her already tender throat and nose. It left her moaning, groaning and reaching for the box of tissues she always had bedside.

Once she had blown the trumpet, she rolled over onto her back and let out a long sigh. The sigh soon turned into another tormented groan that offered a neat and tidy illustration of what she thought of the situation.

"That's what I get for sitting too close to the damn A-C unit yesterday… frickin' freezer's a better word for it," she said in a voice that was so muted from the plugged nostrils it hardly sounded like English. She wanted to check the time, so she turned back to her left to activate the little light on her alarm clock.

The neon-green LEDs illuminated the simple but undeniable facts: it was just past nine in the morning on Saturday, April 21st.

Another sigh escaped her sore throat. "Oh, goodie. Happy thirty-eighth birthday, Sarah-Jean," she croaked, furrowing her brow at the mere thought of the lengthy work sheet she had intended to follow on the day. She had sent a formal invitation for coffee at home and dinner at a restaurant to a very special friend, and the world would need to go under for her to cancel.

Sweeping her legs over the side of the bed, she wondered if the world hadn't already gone under without her noticing. As she moved her head up in a vertical position, a ripple of fatigue and an odd, swimming sensation rolled over her; the only way to control it was to sit stock still and stare dead ahead for nearly three minutes - then it receded and she could go on with the strenuous task of finding her slippers that had last been seen down on the bedroom floor somewhere.

Another hard sneeze tore through her before she had completed the search, and it necessitated that she conducted her morning business sooner rather than later.


The yogurt and whole-wheat buns she had planned to eat for breakfast were considered, grimaced at, and subsequently put aside for a better day. Hot coffee didn't seem all too attractive either, and she had no instant cocoa left. Tea would be her savior. While the tea bag soaked in the hot water, she shuffled about in her apartment trying to get her head back on track. A few more sneezes of the ferocious kind prompted her to fill the pockets of her pink-and-pale-green housecoat with fresh paper tissues so she would always have one or more handy.

Why the full-sized mirror in the hallway hadn't cracked from the awful sight was beyond her, especially as the reflection staring back at her was just shy of being downright brutal in all its uncensored glory: watery, red-rimmed eyes, wild hair, a pasty hue, a nose that had turned red from the fact that she had already used up four paper tissues in the nineteen minutes she had been up and about, and finally a mouth that gaped ever so slightly so she could continue to breathe. Though her abused nose came equipped with a perfectly fine set of nostrils, they had been plugged with the vile substance that started with an S and ended in Not.

"Crap. Terrific," Sarah-Jean mumbled as she studied her reflection. Her plugged nose prevented her from speaking in her regular rich tones - every syllable that came out of her gaping mouth was muted, dull and croaky beyond recognition. When she tried to swallow, her plugged nose meant her ears popped. It all became too much for her, so she wrapped her housecoat tighter around her shoulders and shuffled off down the hallway until she reached one of the other white doors.

"The Sheriff of frickin' Snottingham," she mumbled as she clicked on the light and stepped back inside her bathroom. It didn't take her long to open one of the cabinets above the wash basin and take a small pill bottle. Her sore throat prompted her to take a blister pack of Pain-B-Gone as well, but she put it in the pocket of her housecoat to keep it for later instead of tearing it open and chowing down half a dozen at once. "What did I do to deserve this? I must've run over someone's cat in a previous life… Gawd. And on my birthday, too!" she mumbled, closing the small cabinet door.

The pills beckoned, and she poured two out into her palm. A moment of deep thought followed which in turn led her to fish out another pill just to be on the safe side. A plastic cup was soon filled with water, but the task was a daunting one.

Since she needed her mouth to perform a triple duty of breathing, drinking and swallowing - and all at the same time - getting the three pills down proved far more difficult than it should have been. Her gag-reflex proved it was alive and well on the second of the three pills, but she managed to keep everything in check. The near miss didn't improve her complexion, her appearance or her state of mind, so she exited the bathroom in a hurry without looking into the small mirror on the front of the cabinets.


Sarah-Jean had owned her classy condominium for the better part of three years. Prior to that, she had lived in an old, two-storey Colonial house in the outer suburbs of the city. She had been in a relationship at the time, but it hit a rocky patch and ended up breaking apart. There were too many memories associated with the house and the garden - and they were really too big and cumbersome for one person to manage - so she had begun looking around for something smaller almost before her old partner's U-haul had turned off the street they had lived on.

The condominium consisted of two fair-sized living rooms, an elegant bathroom, a pleasantly large bedroom, a well-equipped kitchen and a smaller spare room at the back that she used as a pantry of sorts. Though she loved every inch of the apartment, it suddenly seemed threatening as she stood in the doorway to the main living room holding a stack of napkins that she was supposed to put on the coffee table.

The work sheet that she had prepared the night before told her she had plenty of work to do to get everything in shape before her special friend would swing by at four o'clock or so. The lingering floaty sensation and assorted vile substances inside her head told her to forget all that nonsense and make a beeline for her bed.

A hard sneeze caught her by surprise, and she nearly used the stack of new napkins to wipe her nose. Stopping at the last moment, she reached into the pocket of her housecoat to find one of the paper tissues instead.

Grunting - and regretting it at once when it made a dull pain shoot up from her throat - Sarah-Jean decided to carry on with her original plan. After taking a deep breath through her mouth, she shuffled into the main living room en route for the coffee table. At least she had already put on a nice tablecloth the night before so she wouldn't have to pull any acrobatic moves to get the large piece onto the table.

The coffee table was the centerpiece of her couch arrangement that consisted of two satellite chairs on one side and a three-seater couch on the other. The tan tablecloth offered an elegant contrast to the burgundy microfiber fabric, and so did the napkins she still held in her hand.

Walking around the table, she had to point at all the things in question or else she would forget counting them in her muddled state of mind. "Place mats… check. Saucers… check. Cups… check. Tea spoons… check. Tea plates… check. Cake forks… check. Napkins, check," she mumbled as she put down the latter item in a small stack that was spread out at once. "Sugar bowl… check. Jug of milk… or cream? No, milk. Too early to put it on the table. Check. Candlesticks, check. Matchsticks, check. Scented candles, check."

A whiff emanating from the candles - the scent was called 'warm vanilla' - trickled past her nose and had a surprising amount of success creeping up her plugged nostrils. The artificial smell made her furrow her brow and take a step back. "Gawd," she croaked while a grimace contorted her features, "just the thought of scented candles today… no… no, I need to… to… to… ugh! To get rid of the frickin' things!" she continued, grabbing both candlesticks before shuffling over to one of the glass-front display cabinets that were gracing the far wall of the main living room.

Once the scented drama was over, she returned to the coffee table to try to get a clearer view of what she had done and what she still needed to do. While she did so, the impenetrable wad of cotton inside her mind ganged up on her by joining forces with her sore throat and her muted hearing. It and its partners in crime left her with a blank, thousand-mile stare in her red eyes that was only interrupted by yet another hard sneeze.

A deep sigh escaped her before she blew her nose into a fresh paper tissue. "Thank Gawd I vacuumed yesterday… ugh, I need to lie down," she mumbled, shuffling back to her bedroom for a much-needed rest.


Mother Nature only granted Sarah-Jean eighteen minutes of peace before the mug of tea and the water she'd had for the pills knocked on the proverbial door asking to be let back out. Ashen-faced and bleary-eyed, she swung her legs over the side of the bed, stuck her feet into her slippers and dabbled around for her housecoat. Getting her arms down the sleeves of the latter proved to be as difficult as climbing Mount Everest without an oxygen pack, so she gave up and hurried into the bathroom bare-armed and already shivering.

Two seconds later, the bathroom echoed with the sound of a hard sneeze. Another five seconds after that, Sarah-Jean could be heard saying: 'Gawd… and my frickin' tissues are in my frickin' housecoat!'


Returning from the drama that had involved sneezing while sitting on the toilet bowl, she made a beeline for her warm, cozy bed. She jumped back under the duvet without wasting a moment - that she hadn't even had time to remove her slippers seemed less important. Her nose was redder than before: a direct result of being forced to use toilet paper rather than the soft tissues for her regular post-sneezing routines.

She couldn't remember inviting King Frost into her bedroom, but the critter had somehow slipped under the covers with her and did its best to tickle her body with its icy tendrils. Shivers and goosebumps ran up and down her skin, and she needed to shimmy, shake and shuffle to get back to the warmth the bed had offered before she had needed to go.

Ten seconds into the big freeze, a hot flash rolled over her that left her hot and flustered. A deep, lengthy sigh escaped her as she pulled the duvet back off her head to get her arms free.

"I frickin' hate being sick… hate it, hate it, hate it!" she croaked, running an icy hand across her steaming hot forehead. Her head was swimming, her nostrils were plugged, her hearing was severely impaired and her throat was making its presence felt each time she tried to swallow or simply to breathe.

The pills she had taken had yet to help, and as time moved on without any noticeable improvement in her condition, she started wondering if she had even taken them at all or if choking on the penultimate one had only been a hallucination brought on by her raging fever.

Then she needed to pee again. It caused her to slap her icy hand against her hot face, but that gesture didn't do much good beyond a faint stinging. "Gawd, I hate my life!" she croaked as she grabbed hold of the duvet to get back to the bathroom.


Once the next round of business had been taken care of, she shuffled into the main living room to get her smartphone. Although the mere thought of her next course of action made her already bleak mood even darker, there was no way around it. She had to admit defeat: she would need to get in touch with her afternoon guest to cancel the whole thing.

Her telephone was a technological marvel with a big screen, advanced apps and a confusing layout. The layout caused her the biggest problems now that she needed to penetrate the wad of cotton that had taken up residence inside her skull. She stared at the phone for several seconds before the cotton moved aside long enough for her to remember how to access the registry. She swiped, tapped, tapped, rolled, swiped and tapped again, swiped, rolled and tapped some more before she found her friend's number.

Sighing at all the hassle, she put the telephone to her ear. Before she had time to do as much as think about breathing through her mouth, a wild sneeze tore through her. Her hair flew in all directions as her head jerked forward, then recoiled backward. Moaning, groaning and grunting, she dug into one of the pockets to find a paper tissue that hadn't already been used twice or more. She had little success in her endeavor, so she was forced to re-use one that didn't have much on it.

Turning her attention back to the telephone, she noticed that her friend hadn't picked up the call - it had gone straight to her voice mail instead. Sarah-Jean tried to leave a message, but her throat could only produce quacks, croaks and squeaks which wouldn't be enough for anyone save a psychic. Sighing again, she swiped, tapped, rolled, tapped, swiped, tapped and rolled to write a short text message instead.

Once everything was in good order - or so she thought - she put the telephone into the pocket of her housecoat and shuffled back to the bedroom. At the last moment, she reconsidered and shuffled into her bathroom for a new batch of paper tissues, pills and even more water.


At the same time in one of the imposing corporate high-rises across town, the receiving telephone rested safely deep down the pants pocket of an elegant, gunmetal-gray pantsuit whose owner was in the process of walking into a corporate boardroom with long, determined strides.

The tall, well-dressed woman caught everyone's attention as she invariably did, but she was so used to that she hardly even noticed. A small ID-card clipped onto her lapel proved that she was Miss Julienne Sawyer and that she worked for the renowned Everson Electronix Corporation in a managerial position.

A large conference table dominated the office, and it was occupied by a group of men and women who all wore expressions that spelled out quite clearly that a certain grumpiness was to be found among them for being called to work on a Saturday.

While one of Everson's dry, colorless and featureless senior managers held what amounted to a lecture at a whiteboard at the head of the table, Julienne kept quiet and leaned against the wall though several chairs were available. Once she could get a word in edgewise, she pulled out a short pencil and a notepad that had plenty of scribbling on the top page. "May I have your attention, please, ladies and gentlemen! The refreshments will be served in a moment, but just to confirm… seven coffees, four teas, one hot chocolate… six bagels, four rye buns, four whole-wheat buns…?"

Several affirmative murmurs rippled through the group of men and women, and it made Julienne offer them a smile before she turned around on her heel to move back out of the office. The food cart was still in the hallway where she had left it, and since all the beverages were contained in thermos', it was easy for her to wheel it inside without spilling a drop. "Here you go… coffee's in the red thermos', hot water in the white ones. Tea bags here, white sugar here, artificial sweeteners there, spoons there," she said as she pointed at each item in turn for the benefit of the managers at the meeting. "Coffee whitener here, skimmed milk there. Bagels, rye buns and whole-wheat buns. Butter here, butter knife there. It's all yours, ladies and gentlemen!"

Another murmur rippled through the managers, but Julienne had already left the boardroom. Even before she reached the elevator that would take her back down to the realms she ruled with an iron fist and a dazzling smile - the in-house catering department and the staff restaurant - she hurriedly unbuttoned the blazer jacket which revealed a black turtleneck.

A finger was immediately moved down the upper hem to yank the elastic band away from her throat. "How anyone can wear this damn thing for pleasure, I'll never know… damn that management-floor dress code! Gimme a smock or an apron and I'm just dandy," she mumbled as she waited for the elevator car to arrive.

It did so with an electronic ding. Stomping inside, she pressed the correct button to get away from the stuffy atmosphere among the upper echelon of the Everson Electronix Corporation. The doors soon slid shut which left her all alone save for the Muzak: it was an instrumental version of one of the latest Top 40 hits, but the poor loudspeaker installed in the wall panel made it sound tinny and strangled.

Digging into the blazer's pocket, she retrieved her expensive telephone to turn it back on. She would have been far more comfortable with a cheaper, simpler model, but the managers of Everson Electronix were all required to use the products of one of the corporation's biggest and best clients. She had two messages waiting, so someone had tried to get in touch with her not once but twice in the past seven minutes since she had turned it off.

"Th' hell?" she mumbled as she swiped, tapped and rolled to access the voice message first. She let out a puzzled grunt when the identity of the person sending it was revealed to her, but it was nothing compared to the grand wiggling undertaken by her expressive eyebrows when she tried to listen to the recording.

The inarticulate quacks, croaks and squeaks that were uttered at the other end of the connection didn't offer her any clues as to the content or even the purpose of the call. "Huh," she said, tapping, swiping and rolling in an attempt to figure out if the recording had somehow been corrupted or if it had been poor to begin with. Flipping through nineteen different, though frustratingly similar, menus didn't offer any further clues as to the nature of the apparent malfunction, so she gave up and viewed the text message instead.

'Cacl 4 2day: tlk l8r. S-J.'

"Awww, she's so cute. Like I would forget to show up at four… and now I'm not even gonna be late. She is gonna get pampered tonight, that's a fact… heh, heh," Julienne said with a grin. She grunted as she read the message again. "Hmmm… I wonder what she means by C-A-C-L…? That's text speak for ya. Ah, I guess I'll find out," she continued as she put the telephone back into her pocket.

As the elevator reached its destination, Julienne stepped out of the car and soon entered the kitchen of the high-rise's staff restaurant where three young cooking assistants - two men and a woman who were all in their early twenties - waited for her; each of them bore a look in the eye that proved quite clearly they were even less enthusiastic about having been called to work on a Saturday than the upper-level managers had been. "Great work today, gang. I really appreciate it. I'll definitely remember it come bonus day. All right, we're done here save for the food cart… but that can wait until Monday," she said as she added the date and her signature to the inventory index sheet that she had laid out before she had gone upstairs.

A chorus of "Yay!" echoed through the tiled room that cleared out even before Julienne could finish doodling her name. Chuckling, she put the pen away and strode toward the small office at the back of the staff restaurant so she could change into her regular - and far more comfortable - clothes.


An hour and a half later - lunch time.

Sarah-Jean had been granted a modicum of rest after sending the cancellation text message to Julienne, but now her umpteenth bathroom visit of the day beckoned. The tide was most decidedly high. There was no point in waiting for it to get better because it wouldn't - once it had reached that high-water mark, it would only get worse.

A sigh that came from the bottom of her soul escaped her lips as she lay in her dark bedroom staring at the ceiling. Reluctantly, she needed to react to her rising need. She hadn't had an accident in bed since she was seven years, four months and ninety-one days old, and she wasn't about to push her luck on her birthday - especially not when she could be assaulted by one of those soul-shattering, body-clenching sneezes at any given moment.

Swinging her legs over the side of the bed, she shoved her feet into her slippers once more. "Perhaps I should find a bucket and use it for a chamber pot? Gawd… that's just too gross," she croaked as she clambered to her feet and made a somewhat shaky beeline for the bathroom.


Once up and about, she discovered that the wad of cotton in her head had cleared up a little compared to earlier in the morning. She had gulped down her fair share of target-specific painkillers and general cold-zappers along the way so it was a fair bet that at least one of them had started working.

She entered her kitchen in the vain hope she could get something past her sore throat and down into her stomach - despite the circumstances, the organ in question had already voiced a few protests against its unusual disuse.

On any other Saturday, she would usually have a breakfast that consisted of a large bowl of yogurt sprinkled with muesli or cereal; after that, she would put two wheat or whole-wheat buns on the toaster and coat them with plenty of sweet jam, honey or creamy chocolate spread. She would have coffee, tea or even hot instant cocoa to all that, and she would have the time of her life munching on it. Then for lunch, she would go out and buy a to-go sandwich from one of the local delis and chow it down with diet soda. Supper would either be a deli-produced salad or a frozen Dinner-4-1 that she would nuke and eat with the plastic cutlery that came with it.

On this Saturday, her birthday no less, she was supposed to have visited an upscale restaurant for dinner, but even the mere thought of the breakfast yogurt had made her insides rebel against her. To say that it irked her would be an understatement - her scrunched-up face proved that without a doubt.

Going through one cabinet at a time, the expression of horror etched onto her features only grew deeper as she clapped eyes on the different items she had in stock. Half of what she had in her cabinets would be a hundred percent incompatible with her present state, she knew that for a fact, and the other half would require far, far too much effort to make. Eventually, she came across a pair of bananas that she had bought a couple of days earlier. The yellow fruit seemed to be a good fit so she decided to give one of them a go.

In short, she closed the cabinets again and began to peel the first banana. Her joy of having found something to eat lasted exactly two and a half bites. While chewing - and chewing, and chewing, and chewing, and chewing - on the third bite, she realized with a rising degree of horror that the fruit with the strong, characteristic taste was even more incompatible with her than the rest of the food had been. To avoid dramas of the gut-churning kind, she spat out the bite; the rest of the yellow fruit soon went down into the trash can as well.

"Ew, yuck… damn," she croaked, quickly filling a tumbler with water so she could rinse her mouth.

Once the last traces of the banana's taste had been vanquished, she moved into the center of her kitchen to practice her thousand-mile stare and to try to think about her options. Her nose was still plugged and her hearing muffled, but at least the myriad of pills she had taken had put a damper on her headache.

Standing there breathing through her mouth, she tried to get her brain in gear so she could figure out what to do. Her eyes eventually fell upon her refrigerator door and the collection of colorful flyers and brochures from her local pizza parlors and other fast food outlets. Somehow, spare ribs in brown gravy, Frankfurters 'n Fries for $4.99 , bamboo sprouts and roasted pineapples, fried chicken in Tex-Mex BBQ sauce, deep pan pizzas with extra-extra cheese, or even 'A noodly pork chow mein in sweet-sour sauce!' didn't seem too attractive.

"Ugh… no… can't… no… ugh. No hurling!" she croaked as she shuffled out of the kitchen and back into the connecting hallway.

Three-and-a-half heartbeats later, the sound of a violent sneeze echoed back and forth between the walls of the hallway. 'Oh… Gawd… all that snot,' Sarah-Jean croaked in a muffled voice.


Since she was unable to get any nourishment of the physical kind, perhaps a little mindless recreation would be all the incentive her germs would need to move onto a better host. Turning on her smart-TV, she selected Netflix and fell into her favorite armchair while scrolling through the sheer endless menus.

Nothing caught her eye or tickled her imagination, so she changed to her regular cable service and soon found a daytime reality show called Bayside Housewives. She had no idea what it was about, but the tattooed, pierced and heavily made-up women who appeared on her TV were shrill and bitchy to such an extent it was like watching a train wreck in slow-motion. Shrugging, she leaned back to follow the scripted drama.


The next hour just seemed to fly by. The rapid progress of the hands of time was aided by the fact that the Bayside Housewives had been interrupted eleven times by nine commercial breaks and two additional toilet breaks. At present, a medical soap set in an urban area hospital somewhere in an unnamed city played on Sarah-Jean's TV. It wasn't a show she usually watched and she didn't know any of the actors, but she kept tuned in for a lack of anything better to do.

'Oh, Doctor Brett!' the bottle-blonde, scrubs-clad nurse said while she was clinging onto the hunky, square-jawed, white-labcoat-clad man who towered over her in all his cleft-chinned, broad-shouldered manliness. 'You promised you would tell your wife about us! Oh, I can't live with the shame if we're found out!'

'Don't worry, baby,' Doctor Brett said in his silky smooth voice as he caressed his lover's chin and cheek with his manly fingers, 'I'll tell her when the time is right. She's a sensitive flower. She might wilt from the strain of losing me. And trust me when I say no-one will ever find out about us. I have everything under control.'

The conversation had taken place in a coffee room. As the camera pulled back from the manly doctor and the bottle-blonde nurse, it was revealed the door was slightly ajar. A cut was made to show the hallway. There, another nurse clad in the familiar, green scrubs - she was dark-haired, shorter, rounder, less chesty and less pretty on the whole - had her ear pressed to the narrow crevice to eavesdrop on the conversation.

A nasty smile spread over the second nurse's features as she inched back from the door. Her intent was clear: she wasn't about to allow her worst rival among the nurses when it came to the affections of the hunky Doctor Brett to get away with stealing him from her. On her way down the cold, white hallway, she stopped at a secure door to a storage room. After glancing left and right in an overly suspicious manner, she entered the room. As the door closed, a cut was made which revealed a warning label that said: "Mortal danger! Toxins! Medical personnel only beyond this point!"

"Oh Gawd… who writes this shit?" Sarah-Jean croaked, slapping a hand across her eyes. "And who watches this shit?! When was this made? In 1973? Nobody… who… why… have those people never met a real woman…? Ugh!"

When yet another commercial break rolled across the screen - previewing the rest of the afternoon's programs which included another medical soap, a regular soap opera set among the rich and shameless, a courtroom docusoap and finally something called How To Tame Your Pet And Your Husband - Sarah-Jean had had enough and reached for the remote to liberate herself from the mind-numbing onslaught.

The silence that followed was deafening, and it brought an unwelcome reminder of her miserable state. The headache, the sore throat, the wad of cotton and the vile substance that plugged her nose, her sinuses and her ears soon ganged up on her once more and left her drained and incapable of doing much save for performing yet another variation of the thousand-mile stare. And sneezing. The fallout from the latter was taken care of by blowing the trumpet, but the constant abuse of her nose left her skin growing ever redder.

Then she needed to pee again. "Ugh… ugh, ugh, ugh!" she groaned, clambering from the chair to wobble out to the bathroom.


Once back in the living room, she did a pretty fair impersonation of a mouth-breathing alabaster statue while she glanced at the half-made coffee table. She couldn't even begin to articulate the frustration that welled up inside her. Not only had she become sick as a dog on her thirty-eighth birthday, the fact that she had needed to cancel the afternoon and evening's big bash - that she had been planning and looking forward to for weeks - really irked her.

There was nothing left for her to do but pack up and put away all the little bits and bobs she had used to set the table. Just thinking about it drained the last drops of energy from her system. "Oh… I… I'll do it tomorrow… or next week. Or next year," she mumbled as she turned around and shuffled back to her bedroom to try to find some rest for her weary being.

It didn't help that her nose started tickling again; a surefire sign that a sneeze was imminent. A sigh escaped her. Then the telegraphed sneeze arrived with such force her locks were thrown about. "Gawd… I hate being sick… hate it!" she croaked as she hurriedly wiped her nose.


In an apartment complex across town, Julienne Sawyer whistled a joyous - though unrecognizable - tune through her teeth. She was in her walk-in dressing room, going down the home stretch of finalizing her appearance for Sarah-Jean's much-anticipated birthday bash later in the afternoon and evening.

A rugged-looking Sportsman Wild Frontier wristwatch on a Velcro strap graced her toned, tanned forearm. She wore stylish shoes, black designer jeans with bronze buttons, a steel-gray shirt over a black, V-neck T-shirt, and finally a charcoal-gray designer leather jacket that had black, reinforced patches on the elbows and down the back. "Ooooh yeah… lookin' good," she said with a grin as she gave herself a check-up in the mirror.

Once she had flipped her dark tresses out of the leather jacket's collar, she was ready - well, almost. She still needed the black wraparound shades, but they were soon slid up her nose.

Her motorcycle beckoned downstairs so she couldn't don her beloved baseball cap before she arrived at her destination; instead, she stuffed it into a zippable carry-all that also contained the two gifts she had bought for Sarah-Jean: a bottle of toffee liqueur and a box containing a special selection of the charming ash-blonde's favorite blends of tea.

Grinning, Julienne pushed the wraparound shades up onto her forehead as she locked the front door of her apartment. The journey down to the parking garage was a short one and she had plenty of time, so she didn't need to move faster than at a leisurely stroll.


A few minutes later, a viper-green Kawasaki exited the garage and drove into the busy traffic. The engine screamed as Julienne twisted the gas to zip across the first intersection before the traffic lights had time to turn fully red.


For Sarah-Jean, life went on as it had done for most of the miserable day: She was hot, then cold. Cold, then hot. Sneezing and wiping her nose. Sneezing again and wiping her nose again. Thirsty and dying for a glass of water. Needing to pee and dying for a quicker route to the bathroom. Dead-tired but unable to get any rest, or respite, from the effects of the wad of cotton that was still stuck somewhere between her muffled ears. The annoying intruder inside her skull had started a second career as a dull headache and that certainly didn't improve her mood.

Her blood sugar was too low and her stomach was most annoyed about the lack of nourishment, but her sore throat wouldn't even allow her to think of getting anything more substantial down her gullet than water. Just when she felt herself slipping into the coveted semi-sleeping state, the umpteenth hard sneeze of the day drew a vivid picture that another urgent trip to the bathroom was required.


After performing the latest wobbling return from the bathroom, she moved the duvet over her shivering frame to snuggle down into the cozy warmth of the bed. Three seconds later, perspiration sprung forth from every pore of her body as the chill turned into a hot flash.

Her temper flared as she grabbed a fistful of the offending duvet. Simply flinging the evil thing aside so she could get some air wouldn't be punishment enough for the countless crimes it had committed against her: she yanked it sideways with such force it slipped off the bed altogether and fell into an unruly pile down on the carpet. Worse, it was out of her reach.

Sarah-Jean could do nothing but stare at the ceiling of her darkened bedroom while her already gloomy mood turned even blacker. Sighing from the bottom of her soul, she tried swinging her left arm back and forth to find the runaway duvet, but all she could reach was empty air.

She needed to at least sit up to retrieve it, so she counted to ten in the hope the short delay would allow her body to build up enough energy to perform the simple task. Swinging her legs over the side of the bed, she pulled the offending item back up onto the mattress with all the ease in the world.

Accomplishing her mission objective had taken her no more than an additional ten seconds, but it had been enough to empty out her meager reservoir of energy. She noticed that the air was still far too stuffy and stale in the bedroom, so she staggered upright and shuffled over to the window.

The curtains were soon pulled apart and the latch unlocked. Then three things happened in such rapid succession it almost seemed to take place at the same time: First, she pushed open the window to take a deep breath of fresh air. Then, the dragon-like wail of a high-revving motorcycle cut through the neighborhood prompting her to think of Julienne's Kawasaki . And finally, King Frost took full advantage of the free passage into the bedroom to come at her full blast. It made her slam the window shut, draw the curtains and hurry back to her bed as fast as her wobbly legs would carry her.

Shivering to the core from the unexpected chill she had been exposed to, she forgot all about the curious sound of the motorcycle as she pulled the duvet up to just below her chin. A moment later, she pulled it up so far it covered her freezing ears and nose as well. She barely had time to lower it when a violent sneeze came a-knocking and tore through her abused nose. Since her hands were busy holding onto the duvet, there was nothing in place to stop a certain cascading effect to spread into the air above her bed.

Three minutes - and two spent paper tissues - beyond the somewhat disgusting misadventure, a hot flash rolled over her which made her sweep the duvet aside and thump her fists into the mattress over and over and over again while letting out a constant stream of quacks, croaks and squeaks.

An additional three minutes after that, she needed to pee. The sighs and grunts that followed proved she was seriously contemplating setting up camp in the bathroom to save herself a little time and a lot of hassle.


After stopping her motorcycle in one of the bays allocated to people visiting the apartment complex that Sarah-Jean lived in, Julienne flipped down the prop stand and switched off the rumbling engine. Once the world had grown quiet again, she stepped off the Kawasaki and slipped the long strap for the zippable carry-all off her shoulders. Her full-face crash helmet - it was painted like the Stars & Stripes - was soon swapped for her beloved baseball cap that she pulled just a little crooked to look cool.

The gift-box of tea and the bottle of toffee liqueur were still safe and sound down in the carry-all, so she zipped the bag and put it back across her shoulders. Pulling the expensive crash helmet up her sleeve so it would be safe as well, she let out a satisfied grunt and began to stroll over to the elevators that would take her upstairs to the birthday girl.

On her way there, she applied a healthy layer of a neutral lip balm so her lips wouldn't scratch Sarah-Jean's in the off-chance they would start kissing as soon as they saw each other at the door.


Upstairs at the correct door in the correct hallway in the correct wing of the correct building of the confusingly built apartment complex, Julienne put down the helmet and the carry-all so she could check her breath. Everything was A-OK. Her finger soon found the buzzer, and she took a step back so Sarah-Jean would be able to spot her through the peephole.

Nothing seemed to happen beyond the door; Julienne tried the buzzer again. When it still failed to produce any results, she shuffled forward and pressed her ear to the door's cool surface. Inarticulate grunts, groans, quacks and croaks could be heard on the other side, so she took a fast step back to be ready to greet the birthday girl in the best possible way.

The door was finally opened after the various safety chains and locks had been released. Julienne had already broken out in the age-old song before she had time to take in the sick-puppy look of Sarah-Jean McCabe: "Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to youuuuu! Happy birth… day… sweet… holy hell, you look like something a stray dog puked up!"

Standing in the open door wearing her pink-and-pale-green housecoat and her slippers that she had accidentally put on the wrong feet in her haste to get to the door, Sarah-Jean just practiced her red-eyed thousand-mile stare as she took in the surprising appearance of Julienne Sawyer. She wasn't sure if it was merely a hallucination brought on by the fatigue, the wad of cotton and the painkillers trying to combat the nasty germs, or if the tall woman was really there. Her illness-numbed mind didn't really care either way, and it sent a command down to her right hand that said 'close the door' - so she did.

"Hey, wait a minute! My singing wasn't that bad!" Julienne said while letting out a long chuckle. Grabbing hold of the door before it would close fully, she walked inside on the slippered path of the birthday girl. After carefully putting the carry-all and the crash helmet down on the floor, she turned back to the sick woman to perform a closer inspection of her. "Look at you… yikes! Red eyes… red nose… a sore throat, too, I'll bet. Man-oh-man, you got it but good, huh?"

Sarah-Jean bumped down into her favorite armchair and tried to focus on the tall, well-dressed - and admittedly sexy - woman standing in her main living room. All of her cognitive functions had slowed down to a crawl as a result of the nasty cold, so it took her several seconds to form a coherent, though still mumbling, sentence: "Yeah. It sucks."

Laughing at Sarah-Jean's eloquence and the uncharacteristically blue language, Julienne unzipped her leather jacket and put that and her baseball cap on the hallstand just inside the door. "I guess it means that dining, dancing and… uh… doinking will be outta the picture for the time being?"

"Yeah…" Sarah-Jean croaked. When she let out a faint chuckle at the way Julienne had comically twisted the naughty word, the soreness in her throat retaliated at once by making a tendril of pain shoot hoops with her uvula across the back of her mouth. It made her swallow which in turn only exacerbated the stinging pain. Squirming in the armchair, she let out a repeated chant of "Ugh… ugh…" while she tried to get everything back under control.

"Hug time," Julienne said and stretched out her long arms. When Sarah-Jean's only reply was another "Ugh" followed by a half-smile, Julienne leaned down to give the sick woman a gentle squeeze. "Happy birthday," she whispered before she placed a small kiss on the flushed forehead. They remained up close and personal for a few seconds during which plenty of silent support was transferred between them through eye-to-eye contact.

Sarah-Jean's nose started tickling; she barely had time to push Julienne to safety before the expected hard sneeze exploded from the abused organ. On this occasion, she managed to catch the worst of the fallout, but she had done so with her housecoat rather than a fresh paper tissue. Making a horrified face at the mess, she quickly wiped it off, blew the trumpet and then wiped her nose which made the already chafed skin turn fire-engine red.

"Gesundheit," Julienne said as she moved back to run a gentle hand across Sarah-Jean's forehead. She couldn't help but let out a long whistle at the sorry state of the birthday girl. "Ho-lee shit, this is definitely the germ from hell. Where did you catch it?"

"A-C unit… too cold…"

"Figures. That'll get ya every time. You need some hot tea with honey. Maybe even hot camomile tea. You got any?" The latter part of the sentence was delivered with a wink.

"Can't remember…"

"Doesn't matter, 'cos I do," Julienne said with a wide grin.

Sarah-Jean turned to look at the tall woman; it was clear from the blank look upon her ashen face she had no idea how to interpret the comment. It was also clear that she didn't have enough brain power left to ask about it; ultimately, she just leaned against the backrest carrying the familiar thousand-mile stare.

Picking up the carry-all, Julienne reached into it to find the gift-box containing the special selection of high quality teas. A pack of camomile tea was soon found and released from the small, but sturdy, cardboard locks holding it in place. "Happy birthday, Sarah-Jean!" she said, placing the rest of the gift-box on the coffee table. "And this one will provide an even happier birthday… but we better not open it today. In your present state, it'll knock you flat on your bee-hind," the tall woman continued as she put the bottle containing the super-sweet, and super-tasty, toffee liqueur next to the tea.

"Ohhhh!" Sarah-Jean croaked, grabbing the armrests to pull herself forward so she could get a better view of the birthday gifts. "Oh… thank you… thank you so much… I… I… "

"Aw, you can thank me later," Julienne said, waving her hand dismissively. She quickly moved the other satellite armchair over so she could sit down and look the sick birthday girl in the eye.

The fatigue and the strain the heavy cold had put on Sarah-Jean created an emotional imbalance inside her. After a few false starts and waved-off attempts, it made her let out several blubbering sobs. Two silvery streaks of tears soon appeared on her cheeks. "Gawd… I'm such a wreck today," she croaked, rummaging through the pockets of her housecoat to find a paper tissue that hadn't already been used a dozen times.

Julienne couldn't hold back a loud laugh. "I've only been here for two minutes, but I can definitely confirm that!" she said as she dug into a pocket of her jeans to find a cloth handkerchief for the birthday girl. "Here. It's clean. Uh… just keep it, okay?"

"Th- thank you," Sarah-Jean croaked as she wiped her eyes and dried her cheeks. She finished off by blowing the trumpet into the fresh hankie that carried Julienne's scent from having been in her pocket - not that she could pick up much through her plugged nostrils.

"You're welcome," Julienne said and got up. "While you sit there sobbing and admiring your gifts, I'll make you some camomile tea. Yeah? With plenty of honey, of course."

"Honey… in the cabinet… above the toaster," Sarah-Jean croaked, once more blowing her nose into the handkerchief.

Julienne grinned again at the sight of the severely stricken woman - even full of germs, she still managed to keep her cuteness. "Gotcha. Sit tight. I won't be long."


Like promised, it didn't take too long for Julienne to return carrying a tray that held a jar of honey, a long-necked spoon, two napkins and a large mug filled to the brim with steaming hot camomile tea. Her steady hands that had years of experience carrying trays in the kitchen at Everson Electronix prevented the seas in the mug from getting too rough and choppy.

"Here ya go… hot and sweet… just like me," she said as she put the tray down on the coffee table. She quickly distributed the various items in front of the sick woman but soon realized by Sarah-Jean's ashen face, her red eyes and her thousand-mile stare that she needed to employ a hands-on approach. "How much honey would ya like in it?"

"Not too much to begin with… just a small spoonful…"

"Comin' right up," Julienne said and scooped up the appropriate amount of the soft, creamy honey. After lowering the long-necked spoon into the mug, she stirred with gentle gestures to make sure the honey would be dissolved in the hot tea. "Do you want me to hold the mug for ya?"

"No… I'm not that sick. But thank you," Sarah-Jean croaked as she leaned forward to take the offered beverage. Wrapping her cold fingers around the mug, she brought it to her lips to take a small, careful sip in case the camomile tea wasn't compatible with her present state.

The rich taste exploded in her mouth and made her purr with contentment. The experience - which had been sublimely pleasurable to begin with - turned even better when the hot, sweet liquid slid past her aching throat and did a perfect job of smacking the soreness into an unconditional, and hasty, retreat.

"That good, huh?" Julienne said, chuckling at Sarah-Jean's purring. Sitting down on the satellite armchair, she offered the sick woman a smile of sympathy. "I knew it would be. Can't go wrong with camomile tea and honey. So… did this sneak up on ya after lunch?"

The soothing taste of the sweet honey was so good that Sarah-Jean needed another sip before she could answer. Once that was down, she had to use one of the tan napkins to dab her lips. "No… I've had it the whole frickin' day," she said in a voice that had already grown stronger.

Julienne reached for her telephone; the text message she had received was soon found and re-read. "Not that it matters 'cos I'm always happy to see ya, but the reason I'm asking is because you texted me not too long ago with a reminder of our date…"

Though stronger, Sarah-Jean had only regained a modest twenty percent of her brain power - thus, Julienne's words left her puzzled and shaking her head in confusion. She definitely remembered sending the message, but trying to think back to what she had written, the hazy conditions inside her head meant she could only recall the general gist of it, not the details. "No… I… it wasn't a reminder… I, uh… I canceled the-"

"Ohhhh," Julienne said, looking at the lines on the display that still read 'Cacl 4 2day: tlk l8r. S-J.' "So C-A-C-L is short for cancel… right. Shit, I thought you were reminding me of our four o'clock date! Man, I got all dressed up for nothing!" - The latter statement was accompanied by a series of winks.

Sarah-Jean continued to shake her head. When the gesture only made the dull headache come back, she performed a shrug instead. At the same time, her nose started tickling. She tried to quell it by thinking of something else; the tickling went away so it seemed to work. "I must've missed the N," she said after swallowing a couple of times. "And I did try to call you first, but…"

"But I didn't understand a word of what you were trying to tell me! I thought the damn phone had crapped out on me…"

" 'Cos I couldn't speak beyond croaking…"

Julienne chuckled at the unexpected development as she shoved the telephone back into her pocket. "Anyway. My master plan was to pamper ya until you turned into putty in my hands… and you know what? I'm still gonna do that. The parameters have just changed 's all."

"Awwww… thank you… but you don't have to do that, Julienne," Sarah-Jean said, once again wiping away a few tears that had spilled over. "I don't want to expose you to my germs. It's bad enough that I got them." Sighing, she took another long sip of the camomile tea to enjoy the soothing beverage while it was hot. "You have such an important job over at Everson's… I wouldn't want to… to…"

The sneeze she thought she had managed to trick into going away came back with a vengeance. She had just enough time to put down the mug and get a paper tissue ready before it arrived. As the hard explosion nearly made her burst at the seams, her head jerked forward, then backward which made her hair flip, flop and fly through the air in a wild pattern. "Gawd…" she croaked, wiping her abused nose for the umpteenth time that day.


"Th- thank you. Gawd… oh… where was I…? Oh… yeah. I wouldn't want to keep you away from your job."

"Ah, it wouldn't be too big of a drama. I have great people working there," Julienne said, underscoring her words by a casual wave. "Speaking of which… how is life treating you over at the treadmill you call work? Does your boss still drive you up one wall and down the other with all his do-this, do-that, have-it-done-by-yesterday, my-way-or-the-highway shit?"

Sarah-Jean shrugged. "Yeah. Pretty much so."

"I know I've said it before, but I'd find something else if I were you."

Another shrug caused Sarah-Jean's shoulders to move up and down while she took the last swig of the hot camomile tea. "Easier said than done."

"I know," Julienne said with a wistful smile. "So… you want another mug of tea?"

"No thank you. It was so good… so frickin' good," Sarah-Jean said and licked her lips to savor the last traces of the honey-laced tea. "But if I get more, I'll need to pee another fifty times today…"

"Yeah, huh? The honey done ya good 'cos your voice sounds almost normal now," Julienne said, getting up from the armchair so she could reach Sarah-Jean's cheek. A tender clawing followed that made the sick woman smile.

The smile was reciprocated as Julienne sat down again. There wasn't any need for speaking. They kept eye contact for a fair while instead, proving without doubt that the evening's dining, dancing and whatever else would have come their way would have been special indeed.

The longing glances and shy smiles were finally interrupted by a big yawn that cracked Sarah-Jean's face wide open before she could clap a hand over the sheer endless chasm. "Oh…" she mumbled, smacking her lips several times once the yawn had left her, "pardon me. I'm dead-tired. And… ugh… I need to pee. Again."

Chuckling, Julienne pushed herself up from her satellite armchair before she moved over to help Sarah-Jean get out of the other one. "Well, I can't help ya with the latter, but I can definitely help ya to bed afterward. C'mon, birthday girl… time for a nap." As she spoke, she put her strong hands under Sarah-Jean's arms to assist the smaller woman getting to her feet.

"Oh! Thank you… I'm not that weak!" Sarah-Jean said as she was gently helped into an upright position. "Not that I don't appreciate your help, of course…"

"Glad to hear it. Hey, the hug we had before wasn't any good 'cos you had to sneeze, so… hug time!"

"Ohhhh," Sarah-Jean said and crossed her legs in a comical fashion. "It'll have to wait until after I've… I've… if you squeeze-"

"Okay, okay… I get the picture!" Snickering, Julienne abstained from hugging the birthday girl. Instead, she held her steady as they moved toward the bathroom before the tide would roll over the top edge of the dam and cause an embarrassing accident.


Once Sarah-Jean was resting safely under the duvet - and the temperature in the bedroom had been adjusted to everyone's satisfaction - Julienne slipped out of the darkened room but kept the door slightly ajar so she would be able to hear if the sick woman called out for anything. Standing in the quiet hallway, a genuine smile spread over her features.

It may not have been the wild birthday bash she had been hoping for, but she had to admit that being able to help and comfort Sarah-Jean did give her a healthy dose of the warm fuzzies - it was a good pointer to the direction their budding relationship was going in.

They had only known each other for less than three months, and the first of those three had been on a 'hello again' basis. They had initially met in a supermarket where they had both reached for the last remaining jar of mustard. One was strong-willed, the other just plain stubborn. The resulting debate could have ended in tears but it turned to laughter instead which saved the day for all involved. The next time they met in the supermarket, they started talking about topics other than mustard. By the third time they met, they exchanged phone numbers - and the rest was history.

Turning away from the bedroom door, Julienne tip-toed into the main living room and retrieved her telephone from her pocket. She was already sketching out what kind of nourishing stay-at-home supper she could whip up for the sick birthday girl, but before she could get started on that, she needed to call the restaurant to cancel their reservation now their original plans had fallen by the wayside.

She already had the number in her registry so it didn't take long for her to get in touch with the restaurant she often frequented in connection with her work. When she and Sarah-Jean had started talking about where to get a solid meal in elegant surroundings, she had suggested it - she had even offered paying for the tab with her expense account, but the proud Sarah-Jean wouldn't hear of it though the restaurant sat at the pricier end of the scale.

'You've reached Abbott's Steakhouse, how may we help you?' a male voice said at the other end of the line.

"Hi, my name is Julienne Sawyer. I have a reservation at six-thirty tonight, but I'm afraid I need to cancel it. The reservation was placed by Miss Sarah-Jean McCabe," Julienne said, shuffling around Sarah-Jean's living room to check out the many shelves that saw books lined up in alphabetical order by the author's last name.

'All right,' the man said; clicking noises from a keyboard accompanied the brief message. 'Miss Sawyer, I must inform you that a fifteen-dollar late-cancellation fee will be charged from the credit card used to book the-'

"I beg your pardon? First you charge for dinner reservations, now you charge for canceling it?" Julienne said, narrowing her eyes down into blue slits.

'Yes. It's explained quite well in our terms of service, Miss. The lateness of the cancellation will prevent us from using the table-'

"So you can't just, oh, remove the little plastic cone that says 'Reserved'?"

'It's not quite that simple, Miss. Especially not on a Saturday evening.'

Julienne rolled her eyes at the patronizing tone in the man's voice. "Oh, I'm sure it's not. Tell you what, Mister, go ahead and charge the credit card. I'd like it in writing as well, however. On Monday, would you mind sending an email to the manager of the client relations department of Everson Electronix Corporation explaining your decision? Oh, and please CC it to the accounting department while you're at it."

'Uh… Everson Elec- uh…'

"Yes. You already have our email addresses since we're one of the biggest, not to mention most regular, corporate customers of Abbott's Steakhouse… but you shouldn't let that get in the way of adhering to your own terms of service, of course."

'Ah… please hold.'

"Sure thing, Mister," Julienne said, shaking her head as the line went silent save for some muted fumbling and a few whispered words. She had time to shuffle down the 'F-M' shelf before the man from the restaurant cleared his throat to make her aware he had returned. "Yes?" she said, turning her attention back to the conversation.

'Miss Sawyer, I've just spoken to the owner of the restaurant, and he… uh… agrees to forfeit the late-cancellation fee on this occasion.'

"Now that is good news," Julienne said while a victorious grin played across her lips. "Thank you. The next time we swing by with a delegation of our overseas clients… which is next Friday at lunch, by the way… oh, and I do believe we have already booked nine tables for that… I'll make sure to tell the owner that he made a sound decision."

'Uh… all right…'

"Goodbye. And thank you once more."

'Uh… you're welcome, Miss Sawyer. Uh… thank you for choosing Abbott's Steakhouse. Goodbye,' the man said before the connection was cut off.

"I'll bet his cheeks were fire-engine red," Julienne said to herself as she slid the telephone back into her pocket. She left the books behind to tip-toe through the hallway. A quick peek into the dark bedroom proved that Sarah-Jean was still resting. Julienne smiled at the sight; it was something she could get used to - well, not the unfortunate, snotty circumstances. Chuckling quietly, she pulled back and went into the kitchen.

"Okay… time for supper," she mumbled as she looked around the room that had all the electronic gadgets, utensils and appliances she had expected to see there. They were all shiny and appearing as-new save for the electric kettle, so it was obvious Sarah-Jean didn't do much cooking. "Hmmm. Okay. All right. Let's see what kind of magical potions I can whip up here… I wonder what secrets the kitchen cabinets hold?"


Afternoon had given way to early evening by the time Sarah-Jean awoke from her first real slumber of her head cold-affected birthday. Her mouth was dry as parchment from breathing through it, and it meant the soreness in her throat had made an unwelcome return. Her nose was still as plugged as it had been all day, but the wad of cotton that had wrapped itself around her brain seemed to have been reduced just a fraction. Though her hearing was still muffled, it was nothing compared to the severity of her other ailments.

After taking a small sip from a glass of water that stood on her bedside table, she stuck her arms under the duvet and returned to her previous position by rolling onto her back. Her eyelids had almost slid shut once more when an odd, unusual sound managed to slip past her impaired hearing. It didn't match any of the noises typically produced by her surrounding neighbors, so it caught her attention. Cracking open an eyelid, she waited for the sound to return so she could try to work out what it might be.

Her heart jumped into her sore throat when the sound was indeed repeated: it came from her kitchen, and it appeared to be someone whacking a ladle against the side of one of her cooking pots. A few moments went by filled with nothing but her heart thumping hard in her chest - then she remembered what day it was, what had happened earlier, and the identity of the person who seemed to be preparing some kind of food in the kitchen.

Letting out a sigh of relief, she rested her head against the pillow once more. A warm smile came to her unprompted. Although she closed her eyes to find some rest after the fright, the smile continued to spread out until it couldn't go any further without falling off the edges of her face.

She hadn't had anyone important in her apartment - or her life for that matter - for quite a while. Having someone else there with her felt good. It felt safe. It felt right. Better still, it felt like the real thing although her head tried to tell her heart that it was still far too early in the game for such emotions to surface.

Julienne Sawyer was a fascinating woman, however, that was an undeniable fact. Strong-willed yet kind. Independent yet willing to share. Authoritarian yet loving. Stern at times, yet possessing a good sense of humor. And the all-important chemistry between them was just right. All the building blocks were in place for something genuine to blossom; it would be worthwhile to pursue, Sarah-Jean had no doubt about that. It would also be one heck of a ride, she had no doubt about that either.

The broad smile evolved into a cheeky grin that faded when her nose started tickling. She didn't have any paper tissues ready given the fact she was snuggled up under the cozy duvet, but she scrambled for one as the memory of the unfortunate, moist cascade from earlier flashed past her mind's eye.

She had only just pulled a fresh tissue out of the cardboard box on her bedside table when the sneeze showed up and challenged her to a fight. Coming on even stronger than many of the other sneezes had, it caught her off-guard and nearly tore a hole in the paper tissue she held in front of her nose in the vain hope it would be enough to arrest the volcanic activity.

When it died down, she blew the trumpet and let out a strangled, "Oh, Gaaaaaaawd…" in a raw, croaky voice. Then she discovered she needed to pee. Posthaste.

Groaning, she flung the duvet aside and swung her legs over the side of the bed. She found the left slipper at once but spent several seconds she didn't have grappling around for the other one in the semi-darkness. The rising tide soon told her in bright-red block letters the search would have to wait. She got up, hobbled out of the dark bedroom, moved across the hallway and hurried into the bathroom to conduct her business.


"Gesundheit!" Julienne said before she returned to work at the induction stove. She had just put the lid on the casserole she was preparing for their supper when she heard the bedroom door being opened fully. Peeking around the corner, she caught a glimpse of Sarah-Jean - wearing only one slipper - hurrying into the bathroom. Chuckling, she dried her hands on a towel before she shuffled into the hallway. "Hey… you need help?" she said loudly to be heard through the closed door.

'Not right now, thank you!' Sarah-Jean croaked from beyond the bathroom door.

"Just yell if you do, okay?"


Moving back into the kitchen, Julienne pulled off the lid to stir the casserole. The meal was cooking nicely and didn't need much attention, so she put the ladle back onto the drip-catcher and wiped her hands once more.

As the familiar sound of a flushing toilet reached her ears, she shuffled into the hallway to be ready in case Sarah-Jean needed help after all. The one-slippered woman soon opened the bathroom door and returned to the hallway. When she did, Julienne offered her a smile. "Was it a close call?"

"You could say that… but I made it," Sarah-Jean croaked; her sore throat once more restricted her speaking to a sequence of quacks, croaks and squeaks.

"That's good to know."

Sarah-Jean grimaced as she hobbled around on one foot - it was too cold to put down her bare twinkletoes on the carpet. As she had hurried into the bathroom, she hadn't had time to check out her surroundings, but now that the pressure had been released, she had time to take in the rich scent that emanated from her kitchen. "Say… what's making that…" - sniff, sniff - "ohhhh… wonderful smell? Gawd, I haven't eaten a thing the whole frickin' day, but I could definitely eat that… whatever it is…"

"Great! That's the reaction I was hoping for," Julienne said and offered the birthday girl a dazzling smile. "I had a quick look-see through your fridge and various cabinets. You didn't have much…"

"I never really cook so there's not much point in being fully stocked."

"I guess that makes sense. Well, anyway, I did find a couple of things here and there that I threw into a cooking pot."

"What, like the extra-large Twinkie I had bought for the afternoon coffee? Or my cream cheese spread and the salty crackers? Or the cucumber sticks from last week?" Sarah-Jean croaked, trying to chuckle. The simple gesture made her throat tighten up so she had to cut it out even before she had started. After swallowing a few times, she offered Julienne a weak smile instead.

"How'd'ya guess? Nah, I've just been improvising but I think it's gonna be pretty neat," Julienne said and took a quick peek into the cooking pot to check up on its progress. When everything was fine, she went back to the hallway. "You had a can of chunky, chopped tomatoes and I pureed that in your blender… I added a little salt, pepper, marjoram and thyme to the mix. When it's almost ready, I'll make us some mashed potatoes from the prefab package you had… to be honest, I prefer to use real potatoes, but there wasn't time for that."

"Ohhhh…" Sarah-Jean said, pressing her hands against her empty stomach.

"Yeah, It's gonna be a solid, steaming hot meal, and best of all, it's gonna be silky smooth so you can swallow it with no pains or aches. Oh, and I'm planning to make some more tea with honey on the side."

"Gawd, you know how to pamper a girl…"

A confident grin played across Julienne's features, and she didn't even try to hide it. "Just doing what I can with what I got. And I happen to have plenty. Right?" - The preposterous statement was accompanied by a whole series of winks and nods.

Julienne's broad grin was mirrored on Sarah-Jean's face as well, but before they could get too far, the chill that rose from her bare foot made her cock her leg off the floor and lean against the wall. "Oh… I need your help finding my other slipper. The frickin' thing was just gone, and I didn't have time to look for it."

"Aw, just like Cinderella, huh? No problem. I just gotta stir the pot, then I'll come to your rescue. Gimme two seconds and I'll be there," Julienne said and once more went into the kitchen to keep the chopped tomatoes happy.


Fully decked out in her left and her right slipper as well as a pair of long sweatpants, an oversized sleeping T-shirt, her pink-and-pale-green housecoat and a hairclip that held her hastily combed locks in place, Sarah-Jean leaned against the doorjamb to the kitchen with a look on her face that proved she was thinking that it had to be the weirdest birthday she had ever experienced.

The myriad of pills she had taken over the course of the day had helped mow down the impenetrable jungle of cotton inside her head. With the wad slowly dissolving - the same couldn't be said for her plugged nose no matter how often she played the trumpet - her spirits were lifted by the success. The entire notion of Julienne Sawyer, a top-professional, gold ribbon-winning catering manager working for a major corporation, preparing supper at her induction stove gave them another boost. Sarah-Jean smiled warmly at the sight.

Julienne stirred like crazy to get the instant mashed potatoes mixed well with the boiling water she was adding to it in small squirts. Her natural skills wielding pots, pans, spatulas and various other kitchen utensils had brought her to the staff restaurant of the Everson Electronix Corporation in the first place. She had worked as a simple cooking assistant for the first few years, but when the heavy responsibility of managing the entire in-house catering department had been dumped in her lap as a last-ditch resort during a time of crisis for the company, she had risen to the challenge and had never looked back.

Mixing prefabricated mashed potatoes and cooking a can of chopped tomatoes was really beneath a woman possessing such skills and carrying such a title, but no one would ever believe so judging by the grin on her face as she stirred the pot.

"Aaaaaaand there we have it. All done," Julienne said, beating the last of the potato residue off the whisk. She quickly put a lid on the small pot to keep it warm until she could serve the chopped tomatoes. "Hey, birthday girl… why don't you take a seat at the dinner table? The food's ready in a flash."

"Will do," Sarah-Jean said, trying to take a deep sniff of the warm scents lingering in the kitchen. The vile substances inside her plugged nose wouldn't allow any such thing; in fact, the all-too familiar tickling started somewhere halfway up to her brain.


The sneeze refused to rear its ugly head, so Sarah-Jean concentrated on pulling her chair closer to the two-person dining table that stood at the opposite end of the living room from the coffee table. Julienne had dressed it while Sarah-Jean had been resting, and the tablecloth, the place mats, the soup bowls, the cutlery, the mugs and the artistically folded napkins had all been placed with military precision.

'Ya sitting down yet?' Julienne said loudly from the kitchen.

"Yes!" Sarah-Jean replied in a voice that still suffered from the tightness of her throat. It couldn't quite match the volume of the taller woman, but the message got across.

'Great, 'cos here it comes!'

A few seconds later, Julienne entered the living room carrying a tray that held the two cooking pots as well as a plastic thermos containing hot water. To mark the big day, she had written 'Happy Birthday!' and drawn a few hearts and X's on a napkin that she had subsequently taped onto the thermos - the artwork was done in a fuzzy style since she had used a red lipstick she had found in the bathroom.

"Awwwwww!" Sarah-Jean croaked, feeling the inevitable tears stinging her eyes all over again. A few tears did come when Julienne took the lids off the two pots and began to scoop the mashed potatoes and the creamy, gently spiced chopped tomatoes into Sarah-Jean's soup bowl. "Gawd, this is almost too frickin' good to be true…" she croaked as she tried to take a deep sniff of the steaming hot dish.

"Say when," Julienne said, holding the spoon ready in case Sarah-Jean wanted more.

"Oh, that's enough… thank you. Thank you so much," Sarah-Jean said and grabbed her own spoon. Being deprived of food for the entire day caused her eyes to nearly bug out as she dug in and tasted the first spoonful. "Oh, Gawd! I can taste it! And it's wonderful!" she croaked around the mouthful; the purring that followed proved that Julienne's undeniable skills at the stove - and her talent for improvisation - had been confirmed and approved of.

Chuckling, Julienne took her own spoon and dug in as well. The dish was really far too simple to serve as a birthday dinner for such a special woman, but she was pleased with the results. Above all, it was steaming hot and silky smooth like she had promised it would be.

"Aw, this is just amazing… you're a wizard, Julienne!" Sarah-Jean said while she held the next spoonful ready. Before Julienne had time to answer, the load carried on the spoon had vanished into Sarah-Jean's mouth.

"Yeah, I know… but it's great to have someone saying it," Julienne said with a grin. When she eyed the untouched thermos of hot tea that she had already mixed with honey, she let out a grunt and reached over to unscrew the lid. After pouring the hot beverage, she raised her mug for a toast: "Happy birthday, sweet Sarah-Jean… and thank you for inviting me. I've had a blast today… snot 'n all."

"Ohhhh," Sarah-Jean croaked, letting out an embarrassed snicker. Taking her own mug, she held it aloft before taking a long swig of the sweet, hot liquid. As she put down the mug, her face gained a solemn expression. "You know," she said, pausing before she went any further. She blinked several times like she was trying to fully compose the message in her fatigued mind before she would begin relaying it.

Julienne sensed that something important was coming, so she stopped eating to offer Sarah-Jean her undivided attention.

"You know," Sarah-Jean said again. The earlier pause was repeated though it didn't last as long as the first one. Suddenly she looked up and locked eyes with the woman across the table. "A girl could get used to this. And I'm not talking about the food, but… everything. Having someone care for her. For me. That someone actually cares enough for me to… to… to do all this despite the snotty circumstances."

"That part was a surprise, yeah," Julienne said with a grin before she furrowed her brow and turned far more serious. "I do care for you, Sarah-Jean. Deeply. I thought we had only just come to the first couple of stumbling steps of this journey… but we're beyond that stage already, aren't we? I haven't done anything today I didn't love doing… for you."

The message prompted the inevitable tears, and Sarah-Jean wiped them away with the sleeve of her housecoat. "Oh, those frickin' eyes…" she croaked before she looked back up at the woman sitting opposite her. She chewed on her cheeks for a short while before a shy smile spread over her features. "My heart tells me we should give it a chance. To see how it goes, to… to… oh. Who knows, we may not be as compatible as we think…"

"That's logic talking… logic should never get in the way of a romance," Julienne said in a solemn voice. Reaching across the table, she took Sarah-Jean's hands in her own and gave them a little squeeze. "I say we go with your heart 'cos… 'cos that's what my heart is telling me as well…"

"Oh… ohhh…" - Now the tears really came to Sarah-Jean's red-rimmed eyes. No matter how hard she tried to wipe them away, more followed hot on the heels of those that ended their life as wet spots on the housecoat's sleeve.

To prove the beast within hadn't been defeated yet, the persistent tickling in Sarah-Jean's nose evolved into a sneeze that tried its worst to take her by surprise. She had only just slapped a clean paper tissue to her abused nose before the sneeze let rip and burst forth from the depths.

"Gesundheit!" Julienne said with a grin.

"Gawd… thank you," Sarah-Jean croaked as she blew the trumpet.

The comical moment passed, and the two women returned to the reflective state they had entered before the sneeze had been rude enough to interrupt them. Smiling wistfully as she thought about the major development that had just taken place, Julienne picked up her spoon to get back to enjoying the quick meal. "You better eat while it's still kinda hot. Getting some food in ya will do you a world of good."

"Y- yeah," Sarah-Jean croaked, grabbing her own spoon and digging in once more. "It's wonderful… just wonderful, Julienne… I could eat this every day…"

"What, prefab mashed potatoes and canned goods? Oh, I can see I need to introduce you to the pleasures of home-made cooking!" Julienne said, winking while she held up a large spoonful of the improvised dish.


Later in the evening, Sarah-Jean and Julienne had moved over to the couch where they leaned against each other in a contented silence. The long, tough, miserable day had finally caught up with Sarah-Jean's body and soul, and she had closed her eyes for a short nap; her mouth was slightly ajar so she could keep breathing.

It wasn't long before she came to and broke out in a wide yawn. "Oh, I think it's time to hit the pillows… I'm beat," she croaked as she rubbed her red eyes. She snuggled around on the couch to re-arrange some of her sleepies that were already present. "I really, really hope I feel better tomorrow… Julienne… I'm… I'm so sorry about being such a pain in the-"

"Hold it right there! Like I said at the dinner, I've had a blast today. Don't think for a second that I haven't," Julienne said as she rubbed Sarah-Jean's neck and tousled her ash-blond locks.

"Thank you. I'm astounded you haven't started sneezing yet…"

"I have a cast-iron constitution! C'mon, birthday girl… it's bedtime," Julienne said and reached down to help the sick woman up from the couch.


Finally slipping into her bed after an urgent pitstop to get rid of the oodles of tea she'd had, Sarah-Jean pulled the duvet up under her chin. Her red eyes had turned so bleary she could hardly see straight, but she could still feel - especially the soft sensation of Julienne's lips offering her flushed forehead a tender goodnight kiss. "Oh…" she croaked, trying to focus on the tall, somewhat blurry figure standing above her.

"A kiss on the lips will have to wait until you're back on song. I don't want to push anything," Julienne whispered so she wouldn't upset the intimate mood.

"Thank you…" Sarah-Jean mumbled, already slipping into dreamland.

"You're welcome, Sarah-Jean… sleep tight."

Stepping back from the gently snoring woman, Julienne kept standing in the doorway for a minute or so before she tip-toed into the living room. It didn't take her long to find a large throw and a soft cushion or two for the couch - then she tip-toed into the bathroom in the hope Sarah-Jean had a spare toothbrush she could use now that the afternoon's birthday party had turned into an all-nighter.

To check that everything was still all right with the birthday girl, she stopped at the bedroom door that she had left ajar. The snores confirmed that Sarah-Jean was sleeping soundly. Julienne shook her head and let out a muted chuckle as she crossed the hallway and turned on the lights in the bathroom. "Sometimes you just gotta go with what feels right… holy hell, this is so magical… we're gonna be so good together," she whispered to herself as she closed the bathroom door behind her…




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