Wendy’s arm shook as she brought the cup of milk to her lips. Shivering, she set the glass back down on the woven place mat. Her head wobbled as she seemed absorbed in watching the liquid slosh.
“Are you alright?” asked Arnold.
“I’m fine, Uncle Arnie.” Wendy tugged at her cardigan and pulled down on the woolly sleeves until they covered her hands.
“Are you sure?” Mae set down her spoon and frowned as Wendy seemed to sway in the kitchen chair.
Wendy glanced up, her head listing to one side.
“Do I have something on my face or something?” She scrubbed at her reddened nose with her sleeve.
Arnold reached across the table and laid his fingers on her limp hand still lying by her glass. His hand jumped back and Mae saw worry seeping into his eyes.
“Nuh huh.” Wendy shook her head and clutched again at her sweater. “I’m cold.”
Mae wiped her hands on her cloth napkin and tried to keep calm. She reached over and brushed away Wendy’s set of straw thin bangs. She pressed her wrist against Wendy’s forehead like she remembered her mother doing when she was a girl. Mae sucked in a quick breath. The girl’s skin seemed to radiate heat like the base boards running along the floor.
“Wow. No sweetie, you’re warm.”
Wendy shivered and hunched down into the chair. She sneezed and curled in on herself like a turtle.
Mae stared at her for a moment. Sandy’s voice ran through her head with all the various contingency plans for the weekend sleepover. Unfortunately she realized her sister had forgotten to include high fever on the list of action items.
She thought back to her own winter flues.
“Isn’t time for a movie?”
Wendy’s head lifted a bit and a tentative smile stretched between her plump and rosy cheeks. “Ok…”
“What did you mom leave?”
“The Little Mermaid I think,” recalled Arnold with a worried stare across the table.
“How about watching that?” ask Mae. “We can pull out the couch in the living room and you can snuggle right in with Baxter and watch it on the big TV.”
Wendy’s eyes grew a bit wider and then drooped once more as if all her energy had been spent. “Really?”
“Sure thing honey.” Mae pushed back her chair and gave Wendy a peck on the part running across her scalp. She noticed a bit of sweat popping up amidst the soft roots. Patting down errant strands she stood and held out her hand.
Wendy slipped hers into Mae’s and wiggled free of her seat. Her socks brushed against the tiles as she shuffled around the table.
Arnold’s chair rubbed against the floor as he stood and led the way to the living room.
Meanwhile, Wendy sagged onto Mae’s arm. She looked down to find the girl’s baggy pajama pants wobbling with each stride until she seemed about to fall over.
“Here,” said Mae, scooping Wendy up onto her hip. Wendy’s head slumped onto her shoulder and Mae wrapped her arm around the fiery body.
“I don’t feel so good…” murmured Wendy.
Mae brushed Wendy’s stick straight hair over a toasty ear. “I know,” she cooed.
A squeak and thump sounded down the hall. Mae turned into the living room and found Arnold arranging the couch cushions into a padded wall like a miniature fortress.
“How about some blankets?” whispered Mae.
He nodded and hurried off toward the closet in their bedroom.
Mae sat down on the tucked sheets and gently spun Wendy onto the bed. The girl squirreled into a fetal position and gave a small whimper.
A soft meow rose from the other side of the pull out mattress.
Mae scratched on the cloth. “Come here, Baxter.”
White socked front paws and a striped orange face peeked up over the edge. With a bound the cat leapt up onto the bed and padded daintily around the curled girl. A flick of her tail preceded a kneed at the sheets and then the cat settled down by Wendy’s face.
“Hi, Baxter,” Wendy murmured. Her hand reached out and pressed heavily into the cat’s soft fur then laid still.
“Here,” said Arnold, his voice muffled by down and flannel.
“Is that all of them?” asked Mae with a grin.
Arnold shrugged as his poked around what appeared to be every blanket and comforter in the house. He set stack onto the floor.
Mae took the one off the top and flapped open the folds. She turned back to Wendy and found her already asleep. Mae rose slowly from the bed and tucked the plaid blanket around Wendy’s coiled body. Baxter shifted slightly to avoid the fabric, tossing a disgruntled look with her feline eyes.
“Keep her company,” said Mae.
The cat’s eyes blinked in either assent or reproof. She gave the limp hand on her back a quick lick then settled back onto her paws.
Mae added another blanket and stepped back out of the room.
“Should we call a doctor?” asked Arnold.
“I don’t know.” Mae shook her head. She wrapped her arms around her torso and hoped she imagined the sudden chill. “Do we have a thermometer?”
“I don’t think so…” Arnold ran his hand through his wavy hair. “She’s definitely got a fever.”
“What did your parent’s do when you were sick?”
He blew out a breath and cocked his head.
Mae rolled her eyes. “Come on, it wasn’t that long ago.”
He smiled. “I think aspirin and sleep. At least that’s all I can remember.”
“I got the chicken soup treatment.” She gnawed her lip and peered into the room.
Wendy’s mouth gaped and thick moist breaths wetted the pillow.
“You think we should call Sandy?”
“She’ll be pissed,” said Mae.
“It’s her little girl.”
“It’s the first time she’s had a real weekend away in what…” she waved her hand toward their living room, “four years?”
“If Jake doesn’t understand then it’s best she finds out now.”
Mae stared at Arnold until he shrugged.
“I’d understand if the situations were reversed,” he reasoned.
Mae blew out a long exhale and then peeked back in on Wendy. Baxter’s purr rumbled like a rolling thunder even as Wendy’s curl encircled the furry body like a vice. The girl’s cheeks were even redder and Mae thought she saw a sheen of sweat on her face.
With a sigh she headed toward her purse dangling on the coat rack by the front door. “If she kills me, I expect you to avenge my death.”
Arnold smiled and held out his phone. “Deal.”