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The Night of the Heat Wave

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It was hot. 

 

Jim was hot.

 

Jim was too hot to function. 

 

Artie was reading.

 

"Artie," Jim called plaintively from his spot sprawled across the sofa.

 

"I'm reading," Artie said, pointedly turning a page.

 

"I'm dying," Jim countered, slumping even further back against the cushions. 

 

"No you're not," Artie sighed, writing something down in his notebook and squinting at his book. "I've seen you when you're dying; you're much less annoying."

 

"Artie," Jim said again, voice fainter than before. Sweat trickled into his left eye. He blinked it away and squinted at Artie through the burn. Artie's white shirt was open at his throat, rolled up at the sleeves, bright against his tanned skin. He had a faint sheen of sweat visible along the graceful line of his throat, his collarbone, the slope of his brow. He looked good. He looked fine.

 

Jim was dying. He crumpled his face and continued to stare at Artie. His shirt, soaked through with sweat and clinging horribly, stuck to the cushions, making a prolonged and painful rubbery creaking sound as Jim let his arm drag slowly down the back of the couch. It flopped across his chest eventually. Jim left it there, lying awkwardly, a small addition to his misery.

 

Artie sighed and shut his book. He looked over at Jim, who made sure to keep his face crumpled, and snorted. Nodding at Jim, Artie stood and whapped the book against Jim's shoulder. "Your face'll stick like that."

 

Jim uncrumpled his face and melted further into the cushions.

 

It was hot.

 

He watched listlessly as Artie went to the mantle, set his book down, and poured a glass of water. He handed it to Jim. It was hot. Artie glared at him. Jim sat up and took a drink.

 

"Why don't you go outside?" Artie suggested, taking the half-empty glass back when Jim was done with it. "There might be a breeze outside." He finished off the water, setting the empty glass down on the mantle with a thunk and picking up his book again. 

 

"The sun is outside," Jim pointed out. "The sun hates me."

 

"The sun loves you," Artie said, walking away. "You're in it five minutes and it burnishes you a perfect golden bronze. No burns, no freckles. That's not hate."

 

"Where are you going?" Jim asked.

 

"To keep myself busy, instead of wallowing in my own sweat and misery." Artie shot him a glance. "You would prefer I stayed and fanned you with a palm frond?"

 

Yes.

 

Jim watched, forlorn, as Artie left the parlor with a dismissive wave, heading towards his lab.

 

He slid down on the couch, his chin resting stickily on his chest. 

 

It was hot.

 

***

 

Jim had worked up the resolve to check on the horses and then, sometime after returning from that, the will to move enough to peel his shirt off. He had also drunk all the water in the pitcher and then gone outside to fetch more, just in case Artie wanted some. There was no breeze outside. There was no breeze anywhere.

 

He was contemplating removing his pants when Artie returned to the parlor carrying some sort of contraption. He sat up, wincing as his back stuck to the cushions, and leaned forward. "Whatcha got?"

 

"A palm frond," Artie said inscrutably.

 

Jim blinked at the simple table-like structure Artie set before him, the pedal underneath, and the wide, flat metal blades he affixed to the top of it. "Isn't that your sewing machine?"

 

"It was," Artie said, bending over and pinching the hem of Jim's pants, using that to pick his foot up and set it on the pedal. "There," he said, standing back and looking at Jim expectantly. 

 

Jim looked at Artie and then back at the machine. He pressed his toe down. There was a slight resistance, and then the metal blades atop the table began to spin. Jim blinked. The air moved. He pressed his heel down, working the pedal into a rhythm. The blades continued to spin, building up speed. Jim felt air wash over him, cool and miraculous, and he turned back to Artie, eyes wide. "Artie-"

 

Artie gave a little bow, half his mouth turned up into an indulgent smile. Jim saw, upon closer inspection, that he was more ruffled than when he'd left. He had a dark smudge across one cheek, and the curl of his hair was more pronounced. Sweat glistened in the hollow of his throat. 

 

"Thank you," Jim said, scooting over and making room for Artie to sit next to him.

 

Artie shook his head. "It was my pleasure," he replied, taking a step back. "But I've got other things to work on."

 

Jim frowned, glancing distractedly at the whirring blades of the machine and then back up to Artie. "Have some water, at least." 

 

Artie looked to the mantle and plucked his shirt away from his chest.

 

"It's fresh."

 

Artie raised his eyebrows at Jim, clearly surprised, and then smiled to take the sting out. "Well, don't mind if I do." He moved to the mantle, pouring himself a glass and toasting Jim wordlessly.

 

Jim pumped mechanically at the pedal and watched, captivated, as Artie tossed the water back, throat working to swallow the whole thing without pause. 

 

Turning back as Artie lowered the glass with a triumphant exhalation, Jim blinked into the onslaught of air. His hair tickled at his forehead, fluttering in the false breeze, and he pushed it back, combing his fingers through the damp strands. He flicked a glance at Artie and then looked back at the machine. "This is fantastic."

 

Artie patted him on the shoulder as he passed, his hand startlingly hot against Jim's cooling skin. "I'm glad you like it."

 

 

***