by Kate Ward ’23
“I got you a present.” His voice was muffled, one hand pressed against the glass, the other behind his back.
I took off my mask and looked at him intently. “If it’s another mask I’m going to be mad.” I laughed a little. It had been sixteen years since the initial outbreak of the flu and nearly every house on the street had been ordered to put glass around the perimeter of the property. My next-door neighbor Michael and I had become infected at relatively the same time. I caught it first after being hospitalized for a nasty case of the flu. I got out right before Valentine’s Day, and that was when we went on a date. I kissed him, things advanced, and two weeks later he was sick. Let me tell you, fostering romance while sick is an entirely new challenge within itself. I watched through the glass as he took a box out from behind him; it was one of those heart-shaped chocolate boxes.
“You do know that there’s no way for me to get those, right?” I laughed a little.
“Yes, I do know that, so I’m just going to show them to you.” He chuckled. “No, I’m kidding, I’m going to find a way to give them to you. Here, back up.”
I took a few steps away from the glass and looked up at where the small air hole was. The air hole was something that the government had decided to put in the ceiling of the glass to make sure we had some way of getting fresh air without spreading the disease. Michael stepped back and then began to run at the glass, jumping and hurling the box through his air hole and into mine. I watched as the chocolate box fell open, pill bottles tumbling out from the inside.
Gasping as a few clattered onto my head, I whirled to look at him.“Are you kidding me, Michael?”
He was doubled over, laughing loudly as he watched the expression on my face change from shock and horror to anger.
“What? Come on, I thought it was funny! Why can’t I make jokes about our sickness, huh?” he asked, pressing his hands up to the glass.
“You think this,” I held up a prescription bottle and flung it at the glass, “is funny?! Do you think this is a proper Valentine’s gift?” I cried.
“Look inside the bottles,” he said, now more serious.
I shook my head and bent down, picking up one of the orange bottles, unscrewing the cap. Inside there were three tightly rolled pieces of paper.
“They’re letters,” Michael explained as I went around and collected the rest of the bottles, some already broken open.
I was quiet for a moment, trying to find the words and the courage to say what I wanted to say. I opened one letter and glanced over it. “This is from our first date.” I picked up another. “And this is from our last.” I looked at him. He nodded and smiled sheepishly.
“I thought it was a nice idea, I don’t know, maybe it’s stupid,” Michael murmured, his breath fogging up the glass.
“No! No, it isn’t a stupid idea, I mean, at least you got me something. Last Valentine’s Day all I got you was sick with this virus.” I tried to lighten the mood.
Michael chuckled. “And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The slightly dark and oddly cute sentence caught me off guard. This man was willing to be trapped in a glass cage for the remainder of his life if it meant seeing me each day.
“I don’t deserve you,” I whispered.
“You’re going to have to speak up; the glass is thick,” he said, pointing to his ears for further clarification.
“I—never mind.” I shook my head. “It was a stupid thought!” Stupid to bring something like that up on a day like today.
Michael waited patiently, looking at me in case I wanted to say something further. I shook my head again. “I don’t have anything to say, so quit looking at me like that, will you?”
“You know, I was thinking about, like… do you remember back in 2020 when people still used that term ship? I was thinking about our ship name.” He had this stupid yet adorable grin on his face.
I lifted a brow. “Oh? What might that be?”
He wrung his hands. “I don’t know if I should tell you judging by your reaction to the gift.”
“You can’t just bring it up and not say it!” I cried, pointing at him.
He put his hands up in surrender, our eyes locking as I watched him try to figure out his next move. “Our ship name isn’t a joining of our names but more like our current… predicament. It’s Fluromance.” Michael grinned.
I sighed. Flu Romance, of course he would think of something that stupid yet somewhat witty.