(Unedited. Subject to change. Enjoy!)
She wasn’t answering the door.
My first thought was “Damn, I guess she really is taking this ‘avoid Tariq’ bullshit seriously.” Eventually, I would call her on it, but in the meantime I’d just been giving her the space she obviously wanted. But not answering the door – or her phone – for me? No, this was something different.
I shifted the bags in my hands to one side, to pull out my keys. I maneuvered the one she’d given me into my hand and unlocked the door, closing and locking it behind me, then paused for a second. The relative silence was clue number two that something was really up.
On the rare occasion I used my key to get into Kora’s place while she was actually home, no matter the reason, she came from somewhere fussing at me about coming in unannounced. We both knew it wasn’t actually a problem, but I let her fuss, then we argued, and then we made up – which was most likely the purpose of the manufactured disagreement.
Today? No curse out.
I put my bags down in Kora’s kitchen and left my shoes and jacket by her front door, then followed the low sound of music filtering through her apartment. It was the same soulful R&B playlist I’d heard countless times over the years, which she gradually updated with new artists and new music over time. If I thought about it hard enough, I could probably remember exactly when she added something to her mix. I helped her create the original damn near twenty years ago. We’d come a long way from making sure a blank tape was in the boom box so you were ready to record when your song came on the radio, but she still had a tendency to call and ask me “hey, have you heard this yet?” about every new song before she added it.
Kora always put that same playlist on when she was cleaning, or working, or—
“Damn, you really are sick, aren’t you?” I muttered under my breath as I looked through her bedroom doorway. The bed was still made, but she was sprawled on top of it with her head buried in the pillows, the Blakewood State University blanket I’d sent her as a gift almost fifteen years ago spread on top of her.
A smile came to my face before I could help it, and I quietly made my way to the bed. The day I got drafted to the NFL– first round pick – Kora hadn’t been able to make it, because she had a show. The next day, there were pictures everywhere of her coming out for curtain call with this very blanket around her shoulders. We were honestly still “just” friends back then, and I know for a fact it wasn’t her intention, but… that was, to me, where the rumors about us got started.
Sitting down beside her, I slipped a hand under the blanket to rub her back. I wasn’t surprised that she was bare underneath, because she hardly ever wore actual clothes if she was at home. She responded immediately to the stimulation of my hand against her skin, pressing herself against it like she recognized my touch in her sleep. She groaned a little, then shifted her position from face down in the pillows to sleepily staring at me with her head turned to the side.
“Hey,” she whispered, her voice sounding scratchy, like her throat was dry.
I smiled. “Hey yourself. What’s going on with you?”
She shrugged as best she could, then buried her face in the pillows again.
I shook my head, then went into her bathroom, rummaging until I found what I was looking for. When I went back to her, she let out a few moans and groans that were definitely curse words, but she let me put the thermometer in her mouth. A few seconds later, it chimed to let me know she had a mild fever.
“Hey gorgeous,” I said, pushing the wild, tangled strands of her hair out of her face, and nudging her to open her eyes. “I need you to tell me your other symptoms.”
Her face wrinkled into a scowl. “It’s just a sinus infection, I’m fine.”
“How do you know?”
“Doctor. I stopped before I came home.”
I raised an eyebrow about that. Kora hated going to the doctor, avoided it as much as she possibly could. “How do I know you really went, and aren’t just trying to get me to leave you alone?”
She opened her eyes. “Prescription on the counter for me to take if it doesn’t clear up on its own. I can’t afford to be sick right now, not with the show in three weeks.”
I nodded. That sounded more like her. “Okay. You hungry?”
As tired as her eyes were, they lit up for a second. “Yes. Are you feeding me?”
I chuckled, then bent to kiss her hot forehead. “You know it.”
First though, I stopped in her bathroom and pulled the stopper for her jetted tub. I started the water – warm, but not hot – then looked through her bottles of essential oils until I found lavender and peppermint. I added drops to the water, then rummaged around again for a scoop of chamomile bath salt, grinning when I saw that she actually had it.
“Come on,” I said, as I stepped back into the bedroom. She had her head buried in the pillows again, so I peeled the blanket back, then eased my arms under her to pick her up.
“What’re you doing?” she mumbled into my neck as she snuggled against me for the trip back to the bathroom.
“Doesn’t smell familiar to you?”
“I’m all stuffy,” she said, but lifted her head up as we entered the bathroom, and pulled in a congested breath through her nose. It took a little bit, but after a few moments, she grinned at me as I lowered her into the rising water of the bath. “Oh man, am I really about to get the Mama Tamille treatment?
I chuckled, then nodded as I crouched beside the tub to meet her eyes. “Complete with chicken soup if I can pull it off.”
“I feel special.” She gingerly moved herself to the front edge of the tub where I was, using her arms as a pillow to lay her head down. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” I kissed her forehead again, then stood. “You know that woman would kick my ass if I didn’t take care of “her Kora”.”
“That’s the only reason, huh?”
I shrugged, then winked at her. “Why else?”
I chuckled at the way she tried to hide her smile, then left her in the bathroom. I turned her music up a little bit on my way to the kitchen, then dug into my bags to see if I could turn the Cajun chicken pasta I’d planned to make for us into my grandmother’s chicken soup.
I ended up getting Mama Tamille on the phone for a few minutes to help, and by the time I found myself turning down the pot to let it simmer, almost an hour had gone by. After a quick cleanup, I went to check on Kora, grinning when I saw that she’d fallen asleep. I carefully eased her out of the tub and into a bath sheet, then carried her back to bed, where she snuggled in under the covers and promptly drifted off to sleep again.
While she slept, I fired up my laptop to work. Tonight was all about research – making sure the crazy business ventures some of my clients wanted to pump money into actually made financial sense. I was knee deep in trying to figure out if Braxton Drake’s most recent endeavor – the purchase of a block of commercial businesses – actually made sense when my phone chimed.
I smiled at the screen, then shook my head.
“So… about that soup, Nurse Evans? 😉 – K.O.”