Edel stood in the doorway of her bedroom and stared at Jay, unsure of the situation. Something wasn’t right. There was something wrong with him.
He turned and placed his coffee on the counter, then unscrewed a bottle of pills, tipping two into his hand. He jumped in surprise as he caught sight of her in the doorway. “I’m going to get a bell for your neck. Why are you always sneaking around?” His voice sounded short and irritable and it made her feel confused and out of her depth. Jay didn’t get angry with her. Not ever.
She stood in the doorway willing her feet or her voice to work. She couldn’t find the words.
“Were you planning to just stand there all day?” He said as he sullenly poured milk into his cereal bowl.
She shuffled forward with her head down, but she didn’t know what she was meant to do. She stood aimlessly in the space between her bedroom and the living room, wondering what she had done wrong and how she had managed to upset Jay just by being here.
“I’m sorry.” He muttered, running his hand roughly through his hair. “I’m not feeling good this morning.”
She studied his face meticulously. He was clammy and pale, and he smelled different. “You are sick?”
He shrugged. “I’ll survive.”
She swallowed down her nerves about asking humans questions and forced herself to find out if he was going to be ok. “Do you hurt?”
She had his attention. He looked at her with an expression she didn’t recognise. “It’s just a bad cold. It’s nothing serious!”
She stared at him with her big, worried eyes and he sniggered at her. “Edel! It’s like you’ve never seen a sick person before!”
I haven’t. She didn’t dare to speak the words out loud. Maybe she was meant to know what to do or how to act. Maybe he would be angry with her for not knowing.
He snickered again at the look her on her face, but it quickly turned from a laugh to a coughing fit. Edel stepped forward, the look of alarm clearly visible on her face. He recovered from his cough, and she steered him to a chair at the table and not-so-gently pushed him into it. She bent forward, her face inches from his and stared at his face. “What happens when people are sick?”
“What do you mean?”
“How do you get better?”
He made his ‘you are being ridiculous’ face at her. “Are you worried about me?” he smirked.
She recognised his tone and facial expression as ones that were making fun of her. She looked at him, unable to admit that, yes, she was desperately worried about what would happen if he was sick. She didn’t know how it felt to a human to be sick, or if he was in pain, or if it was serious, or how he would get better.
“Edel, it’s just a cold!”
She nodded her head as though she understood, but she didn’t. Poly-Gen had very strict rules about sickness. Nobody could enter the facility unless they had been screened and given the all clear. It was a very sterile place – they didn’t want any cross contamination or skewed results, or any errors caused by sickness.
“Shouldn’t you be resting?” She tentatively asked the question, pushing back the fear of what might happen from telling a human what they should be doing.
He smirked at her again. He was making that face – the one with the raised eyebrows and the tongue poking out between his teeth. The next thing out of his mouth was not going to be anything serious.
“Are you telling me what to do?”
She knew he was joking, but fear made her throat constrict. “No.” Her eyes fell to the floor. “I thought sick people needed rest,” she mumbled quietly.
He began to cough again and then he sneezed three times in quick succession.
She looked so panicked. “Does it hurt?”
“Sneezing?” He said incredulously. “No, it doesn’t hurt. It’s normal! Don’t you sneeze?”
She shook her head. It didn’t look normal. He tried to stand but she pushed him back down. “What do you need?”
“Tissue,” he said, pointing to the bathroom.
Edel returned with a whole roll of toilet paper. She wasn’t sure how much he needed or what exactly he needed it for.
“Are you going to stare at me all day?” He snapped. He wrapped his arms around his body as a shiver ran through it.
“You are not cold,” She said. “You have a fever.”
Jay blinked. He didn’t even want to know how she knew what his temperature was. He just accepted that she knew. “Chills are normal with a cold,” he muttered.
She stood and brought his coffee that was sitting on the side, placing it in front of him.
Jay grinned to himself as he pulled the hot drink towards him and cradled it between his hands. She was terrible at this, with her intense stare and her abrupt speech, but she was genuinely concerned for him, and this was the only way she could show she cared. What Jay wanted, was to be left alone to mooch around the apartment and feel sorry for himself in peace. But this was probably the first time in her life that she had experienced compassion and sympathy, and maybe the first time she had actually wanted to help somebody. He couldn’t send her away.