Word count: 2392
It took all of Will's strength to place one foot in front of the other and keep plodding down the sidewalk. His sinuses were thoroughly clogged, his sight was blurry - the darkness of the spring evening didn't help him at all - and his cough racked his entire body yet was not strong enough to dislodge any of the congestion in his chest. Normally, he would have considered the evening to be pleasantly warm, but he shivered in his jacket as he searched for some relief.
Perhaps if he hadn't been so sick when he'd arrived in town on the train, he would have realised that he should have had the taxi take him to a hotel, where he could have had a soft bed and a concierge who could have fetched him medicine or at least directed him to the A&E. However, his fogged brain had latched onto the concept of getting home, and once he'd gotten the key to his new terrace house from the manager, who had held her hand over her mouth and nose as a shield whilst she had hurried him out of her office, he'd dragged his bags to his new place. As soon as he had gotten in the door, he told himself he'd go out for medicine later and collapsed in a corner on the floor. It never occurred to him that he'd feel worse after a little sleep.
He'd woken up to an empty house, confused about why he was lying on the floor under his jacket, until he'd remembered his mobile ringing on the train, the removal company calling to tell him that the lorry had gotten in a pile-up just outside of York and his furniture and belongings would be held up for a number of days whilst the damage was assessed and the insurance payout was calculated. He'd only felt a little sick when he'd gotten on the train, but by the time the call had come through, he had been unable to focus on anything, and now he was in an unfamiliar town, ill, with his brain working on a tiny fraction of its capacity, and no relief in sight. He must look deathly, which explained why the first two people he'd approached for directions to a chemist's or an A&E had fled, pretending to not have heard his pleas. The woman in the house next door had peered out at him at his knock, thinking he couldn't see her behind the gauze curtain, and pretended to be out until he'd wandered off.
With rows of houses stretching down the street as far as he could see, which, admittedly, wasn't very far, there was nought he could do but continue to beg for help. He dragged himself to the next door and pounded on it, unable to see the otherwise prominent buzzer next to it. Swaying on his feet, he leaned against the jamb and waited for what seemed like forever. He really couldn't tell.
Footsteps sounded on the other side of the door, and after a few clicks of a lock and a doorknob, the door cracked open, a blurred face peering out. "Hullo." The voice, decidedly male, was neutral but kind.
Will drew in a breath to speak, but only succeeded in coughing violently and wetly. "I'm sorry," he finally hacked out. "I can't, I mean, I need... I'm new... Guh... Could I have some paracetamol?"
The door swung open. "Oh, dear." The man stepped out and guided Will inside. "Please come in. You look a fright." Will let himself be led in and pushed to sit down on what he imagined was a couch. "You should lie down. I'll put a kettle on and get you some medicine."
"No," Will protested with a feeble wave of his hand. "I can't. I'll just be going." He pushed himself to his feet and toppled, the man catching him and gently forcing him back down on the couch.
"Oh, no. You stay right there." Footsteps told Will that the man was leaving the room, but they stopped. "It'll take me a moment to find the medpack. I'm not sure where I put it. But I'll be back soon. Lie down and try to sleep." And he was gone.
Will sat back in a daze, coughing intermittently and shivering. He pulled his jacket closer around himself, but that was the last clear thing he remembered.
Will opened his eyes to a room darkened by drawn curtains, the dim light peeking around their edges telling him it was dawn or dusk. Tucked under a thick blanket, he was lying on a couch with a fluffy pillow under his head. It took him a moment to remember where he was - "someone else's house" was all he knew - and why. Sniffing experimentally, he found he was exhausted but otherwise both his airways and his head were free and clear. The clap of a closing book informed him that he wasn't alone in the room; the other occupant must have realised he was awake by the change in his breathing.
"Good morning. You look better." The raspy tenor was lightly Scottish.
Will sat up on the couch to get his first good look at the man whose house he was in. With a narrow face and ruffled brown hair, he was thin and lanky, his shirt and jumper doing nothing to give him any heft. He was perched cross-legged on the ottoman, a book in his lap and a pair of wire-frame glasses on his nose. Will noticed that the wide room contained only the couch and the ottoman, devoid of all other furniture or decoration.
"I feel a lot better. Thank you for looking after me." He ran his hand through his rather oily brown hair. "How long have I been out?"
"Depends on what you mean by 'out'." He stroked the book absently as he spoke. "You were quite delirious for a bit less than an hour, talking a lot of nothing non-stop. But you drank the medicine and the tea, which was a blessing, and then after you dropped off, well, it's been nine hours and twenty minutes."
Will frowned in surprise; he felt like he'd been out for days. "Nine hours? Is that all?"
"Well, nine hours and eighteen minutes, to be more exact."
He held his head in his hands in remembrance of his earlier suffering. "The way I felt, I thought I'd be sick for a week. How can I feel fine now?"
"Maybe it was a twenty-four flu." Will's host clapped his hands on his thighs. "Are you hungry? I've not the ingredients for a full English breakfast, but there's eggs and bread."
Will looked up in surprise. "Oh, no, I don't want to put you out."
"Not at all. Won't take but a few. Relax." He grabbed his book and jumped to his feet.
"I'm Will. Will Sampson. Thank you for helping me." He stood up, slightly unsteady, and held out his hand in greeting.
Surprise flickered across the man's face, and after a beat of hesitation, he stepped forward and grasped the proffered introduction. "David. I'm David. You are welcome, any time." The iciness of his hand made Will wonder if he was still feverish.
"Tell me, if you don't mind." He hesitated a moment. "I'm not in Scotland, am I? Because I could have easily missed my stop and ended up in Aberdeen."
David shook his head. "You're not in Scotland. Just the house of a Scot." He spun and disappeared into the hallway. Will followed him, past the stairs to the upper level and an empty room with its door wide open, into the kitchen. A large room with wide windows that must make for a sunny breakfast in summer, its only furnishings other than the usual appliances and counters was a plain wooden table and a single chair. David dropped the book on the table, then his glasses on the book, and moved to put the kettle on. "Go ahead and sit down. Rest up."
"I feel perfectly well. I can’t really believe it." Will stepped to the window and gazed out into the garden, which was starting to emerge from darkness due to the rising sun. Thinking for a moment, he frowned. "Wait. I was asleep for nine hours? It's got to be seven at the latest then."
"6:13," David replied as he placed a skillet on the stove and turned on the gas. He then fetched some eggs from the fridge.
Turning back to his host, Will bit his lip. "You're doing way too much for someone you don't know, getting up early like this."
David placed some bread in the toaster and began tending the eggs. "I didn't. To be honest, I don't sleep much, so I was already up."
"Oh." As the man cooked, Will wandered over to the table to glance at the book. Hardbound in leather, it had no title, though the cover and spine were decorated with a gorgeous motif of gilt interlocking circles and intersecting lines. It seemed like an intrusion of privacy to open it, so he sat down in the chair to wait. "Insomnia?"
"Nope. Just don't need to." After wrestling with the skillet and spatula for a moment, he sighed. "I hope you like your eggs somewhere between over easy and scrambled. I could practise this for a hundred years and never get it right."
"I'm not picky. You've already done too much."
"It's nothing. Just a bit of eggs and toast." He slid the eggs onto a plate, then turned to pour the hot water as the bread finished toasting. "So you live around here?"
"Just moved in. I'm..." Will laughed. "Well, I think I'm two doors down. I suppose I can't be sure of that. 153 Kenwick?"
David set a mug of hot water and a box of teabags in front of him. "Two doors down," he averred, then turned back to the stove.
Will began to fix his tea. "Thanks. Got here yesterday. New job in about three hours." Reflexively, Will glanced around to re-check the time, but resorted to pulling out his mobile when he couldn't find a clock.
The toast popped. "What do you do?" David asked as he arranged the last part of the meal on the plate.
"Programmer, for a web development studio here in town. I wasn't really enjoying my old job doing financial software, so I thought I would try my luck up north. Newer tech, more exciting."
"I can understand that." David walked over and slid the plate in front of Will. "Go on, tuck in. Oh! Butter." He retreated to the fridge.
"This looks great." Will scooped a bit of egg into his mouth with the fork. "Excellent. Thanks, mate."
David returned with a tub of butter. "No jam," he explained as he placed the spread on the table. "I'm sorry, but I don't keep much food in the house."
"No, this is too much, really." He waved the fork in protest of the man's hospitality.
"Well, you can't have any food in your house, if you've really just arrived."
Will shook his head. "I don't have much of anything there, actually. I got a call on the train. The removal van with my stuff got in a pile-up. It'll be at least a week before it gets here."
Crossing his arms, David sighed in commiseration, his lips pursing sadly. "It's just one thing after another, isn't it?"
"Always is. Nothing I can do." Will toyed with a scrap of egg before scooping it up with his fork. "At least I've got the stuff I need in my bags. I'll find myself a hotel after work."
"You're welcome to stay here, if you like."
The offer took Will by surprise, and he placed his fork on his plate before replying. "Oh, no, I can't do that."
"Why not?" David shrugged, his eyes wide with an aura of reasonableness. "I don't really use the downstairs much. You can tell by the couch and that's all. And it'll be good for you to be nearby when your things finally make it here."
Will waved his hands at the suggestion. "That's really good of you, mate, but I can't. I've taken up too much of your time as it is."
"It'd be nice to have some company for a bit."
Though David's tone was neutral, Will sensed a shade of loneliness and a suppressed interest in becoming friends in the way he tried to seem casual and uninterested. Admitting to himself that he would rather save on the hotel bills, he agreed. "Okay. That'd be convenient. But just until my things get here."
David smiled. "Excellent. You can have all of the downstairs, and take anything you want in the kitchen." He whirled in place and opened the drawer he had been leaning against. "I've got a spare key in here, I think."
"Do you have a bus schedule? I need to figure out when I have to leave for work."
"No, I don't. But you can use the car." David rummaged a bit more among the mess in the drawer. "Ah, here. One house key and the car keys." He turned and held them out to Will.
"Don't you need it?"
David shook his head. "I rarely use it. Just to hit the Tesco every so often. Go on." He wiggled the keys.
"How will you get to work?"
"Already there." David smiled sheepishly. "Don't really got a job. Doing my own projects. Kind of an inventor, you might say."
Will was impressed. "Really? What kinds of things?"
David shrugged. "Nothing that works. Not yet, anyway. I'm getting there." He stepped forward and placed the two sets of keys in Will's hand. "There. Finish your breakfast and get your bags. I'll get you some towels and soap. You'll want a shower before you go to work."
"Thanks, mate. I really appreciate this. Oh!" He began searching his pockets, sighing with relief as he produced his own set of keys. "Good. I was afraid I might have left the keys in the house last night. I was really out of it."
"You were. But that's all past. It's a pleasure to meet you, Will."