It Was Us Online - Anna Cruise

“Hey, beautiful.”

I opened my eyes slowly, squinting as the light hit my eyes. For the first time in almost a week, I didn't feel like I was going to die.

West stood in the doorway, a Padres hat sitting backward on top of his head, a tender smile on his face.

“Hey,” I managed.

He moved closer, his feet soundless as they padded across the room. He took a seat at the edge of my bed and reached his hand underneath the sheets, searching for me. His fingers found mine and he wrapped his hand around them, squeezing gently.

“How are you?” he asked.

I swallowed a couple of times, a test of sorts. The flu that had knocked me to the ground for almost a week had finally abated. My throat no longer felt like I was swallowing razor blades and the headache that had rendered me a crying, simpering mess was finally waning, a dull ache replacing the stabbing knives that had taken up residence in my head for days.

“Better,” I said. “I think.”

His blue eyes held a mix of concern and amusement. “You think? You don't know?” He shook his head. “Maybe the fever killed off a few more brain cells than we thought.”

“Shut up.”

But I said this with a smile. I'd gone down—hard—the week before and had spent six miserable days in bed. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been so sick for so long. I could barely open my eyes, could do nothing but sleep and, at my worst moments, hope someone would put me out of misery. In a turn of events, my mother had become my nursemaid, bringing me bowls of soup that sat untouched and glasses of cold ice water that turned lukewarm because I couldn't muster enough strength or energy to swallow either of them.

And, through it all, West had come by. Nearly every afternoon, after classes and practice were over, he'd come and sit with me. I didn't remember most of it but when I would open my eyes and scan my bedroom in a fever-induced haze, I would see him. Sense him. Parked in a chair next to my bed, a textbook propped in his lap, his expression intense as he flipped through pages or jotted down notes on the pad of paper underneath his book. He would stay late, well after the sun had gone down and my parents had gone to bed. He'd plant cool kisses on my fiery forehead and squeeze my shoulder and stroke my arm and whisper words I couldn't hear.

“Glad you've decided to rejoin the living.” He grinned and I wondered how his smile still managed to make my heart skip a beat. We'd been together for almost two years and a look from him could still launch butterflies in my stomach. “I'm not really into zombies.”

I tried to prop myself up on my elbow. “No? Not into brain-eating?”

“Gross. Sushi is about as close as I get to raw meat.”

“We could cook the brains,” I pointed out.

He considered this. “True. But I bet they're chewy. Like the fat on a pork chop or something.”

I wrinkled my nose. “Yuck. Stop talking about it. Makes me want to vomit.”

“What's new?” His grin widened. “Pretty sure you've felt that way for a week straight.”

I acknowledged this with a smile. He was right. “Can we please stop talking about eating brains and pork fat?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Uh, you brought it up.”

I shook my head and immediately regretted it. A wave of dizziness washed over me, the knives sharpening themselves inside my skull. I dropped my head back to my pillow.

“You okay?” West was done joking, his voice full of concern.

I managed a nod. “Yeah. I think. Just weak.”

He stood up. “I'll get you something to eat. Something to drink. That sound okay?”

I closed my eyes and thought about it. As if on cue, my stomach growled loudly.

He laughed. “Alrighty, then.” He leaned down and kissed the top of my head, his lips brushing my hair. “Be right back.”

I closed my eyes again and, after what seemed like only ten seconds, he was back, a steaming bowl of deliciousness in one hand, a glass of something clear and sparkling in the other. And suddenly, I was both thirsty and ravenous. I sat up, adjusted the pillows behind me and reached for the glass.

He handed it to me and I took a tentative sip. It was cool and bubbly and my throat didn't close up in protest as the liquid slid down. Sips