Derek looked at his pale face in the mirror. He had been feeling steadily worse all day.
It had started around 5th period, when he began to feel achy and tired, not unusual for english class, which is why he didn’t notice the problem at first. The longer the day went on, the more a headache started to pound at his brain.
Derek turned on the cold tap and ran his hands through it before flinging the cool water onto his face. It was only a temporary relief.
“DEREK!” He could tell it was Casey’s whiny voice coming through the bathroom door, “DEREK, YOU’VE BEEN IN THERE FOR LIKE 20 MINUTES. GET OUT!”
He rolled his eyes and swung the door open to be greeted with a scowl from the house’s resident snob. Derek contorted his face to mock her look, “You could always use the restroom in Dad and Nora’s room, y’know? Or do you just enjoy making my life miserable.”
Casey stuck out her tongue, as if she couldn’t get any more childish, “I’ll have you know, Mom and George’s room is a disaster right now because your dad’s stuff is everywhere, or did you forget he was preparing for an ultra-important meeting? I wouldn’t be able to reach their bathroom even if I was an olympic gymnast.”
Derek rolled his eyes once again, “Fine, here’s your royal bathroom, Princess.”
She huffed as they passed each other, before slamming the door in his face.
God, his head hurt. He rubbed circles on his temples, trying to alleviate any pain. Whoever said that was a good way to help was a liar because it did nothing for the pulsating throb in his skull.
A yell sounded from downstairs, “DINNER!”
He sighed and shuffled down the steps, slowly, before taking a seat at the dining room table. Lizzie, Edwin, and Marti were already there, Marti being under the table that is. George and Nora were coming in from the kitchen with dinner in their hands.
With one glance at the food, Derek decided he wasn’t hungry. It wasn’t that it didn’t look appetizing; it just seemed the he, himself lost his appetite. Which was a shame because tonight the food looked good, chicken and spaghetti.
Just as Nora was setting down the spaghetti dish, Casey decided to grace the room with her presence. She was already in her pajamas, but instead of coming up with a funny quip about her dinner attire, all his head did was pound a little harder, so he stayed silent.
“Alright everyone, dig in!” said Nora, in an overly cheery tone that grated on Derek’s ears.
“Don’t mind if I do.” His dad shoveled some of the spaghetti onto his own plate.
Everyone else followed suit, except Derek, who was feeling dizzyingly tired, and was suddenly wishing he had never come down in the first place. What was the point? It wasn’t like he was hungry anyways. He started to make a motion to get up, but was stopped by his dad.
“Uh uh uh, no, sit down, young man. This is a family dinner.”
“But Dad, I’m not even hungry.”
“Now, son,” His father glowered, “Don’t be like that. Nora worked hard on this meal for the whole family to enjoy.”
“Well, it doesn't exactly take a gourmet chef to cook spaghetti, Dad. Besides, I could probably do a better job even if I used a shoe to stir the noodles.”
George shook in anger, “That’s it. Go to your room, Derek. You’ve said enough tonight.”
Derek gave a mental sigh, “Thank you.”
Before he could see their confused reactions to his response, he turned around to head upstairs.
When his family was completely out of sight, he let go of his cocky, confident exterior to give way to his exhausted, bone-tired interior. Derek flopped onto his bed, still fully clothed, but losing consciousness quickly.
His last thought before giving in to sleep, was how he’d better not be coming down with anything lest his school business go under without him there to sell merchandise.
Derek’s eyelids felt so heavy as his alarm blared. He slapped his bedside table, aimlessly trying to turn it off.
Everything felt so itchy. Jeez, he shouldn't have slept in his clothes the night before, but he was just so tired.
To be honest, he wasn’t feeling that much more awake either.
With a heavy breath, Derek heaved himself off the bed to change into the day’s clothes.
After changing he slipped into the bathroom. Luckily, the other kids were all downstairs, so he had it to himself. When walking in, he caught his reflection in the mirror.
Oh no. Oh God no. This had better not be what he thought it was.
Red dots that looked like zits from hell covered his face and neck, and they were so ITCHY. So was the rest of his body, but he had no desire to look elsewhere. He groaned in frustration, before deciding to go face the music downstairs.
He itched his whole torso as he stumbled through the living room and into the kitchen, where the family was having a morning conversation.
Oh, hell, why hide it, “I’m so ITCHY. It’s everywhere, all over my body, and I’ve got these weird zits all over too.” Derek said, grabbing juice from the fridge.
Casey threw in her own witty remark, “Ever heard of soap?”
Derek decided not to satisfy her with a response.
Nora winced in sympathy, “Those don’t look like regular pimples. Derek, have you ever had the chicken pox before?”
Derek paused, “I don't know. Dad, have I ever had them?”
“I don’t think so. I know I haven’t.”
Nora looked shocked, “George, you’ve never had the chicken pox? I had it when I was a little girl.”
“Nope, never had it. What about everyone else in this house?”
Lizzie shrugged, “Been there, done that.”
Casey simply nodded.
“I remember itching my whole body for like five days when I was little.” said Edwin.
“Could’ve been body fungus.” Lizzie received a shove from Edwin.
George decided that was enough, “Kids, kids, calm down. Derek I want you to head upstairs to bed, and I want you to Stay. There.”
“Okay, but,“ Derek took a step forward, “only if I get to go to school tomorrow.”
Everyone turned to him with varying expressions of shock.
“I think he’s delirious!” Edwin exclaimed.
Derek leveled him with an unimpressed look before feeling a hand settle onto his cheek. He turned his head to find Nora giving him concerned look, and moving her hand to his forehead.
“You do feel warm,” she said, making Derek immediately feel guilty for insulting her pasta the night before, “I want you to go upstairs right now and get in bed. I’ll bring you up some toast and some juice. After that, I’m calling the doctor.”
Derek protested weakly, “But I’m fine!”
The looks he received were enough to make him huff and leave the room, but not before hearing Casey point out how weird it was that he didn't want to miss school despite his ironclad excuse.
George felt guilty. He should’ve known something was up with Derek the night before when he didn't even glance at the chicken. George remembered him looking pale too, but wrote it off as nothing.
Nora was on the phone in the corner, talking to the doctor about Derek’s condition, “Uh huh. Yes. Thank you, doctor. Goodbye.” She turned to him, “The doctor says it’s chicken pox,” she sighed, “and we just have to make sure he doesn’t scratch too much as well as make sure his fever doesn’t get too high. He needs to stay in bed for about five days, or until the vesicles go away.”
“Those are what the red dots are.”
“Anyways, we should go check on him. You wouldn't happen to know where the thermometer is, would you?”
“I can’t go. If I’m exposed to it, then I won’t be able to go to my meeting in a couple days.”
“George,” Nora looked tiredly amused, “Derek would have been contagious for a couple days already. You’ve been exposed, so there’s no point in avoiding him now.”
“Better safe than sorry,” Nora shook her head at that, “The thermometer is in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom upstairs.”
“Thanks, sweetheart.” She kissed his head, “I’ll let you know how he’s doing.”
He gave a hum in acknowledgement as Nora walked out of the kitchen.
When Nora got to the top of the stairs, she saw Edwin walking out of Derek’s room.
She shook her head. The kids should not be bothering Derek right now when he’s sick.
She entered the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. Sure enough, the thermometer was right where George had said it would be. Nora grabbed it and headed to Derek’s door.
She knocked gently, but got no response. She slowly, quietly opened the door and stepped inside.
His room was a disaster, as always, but she could forgive it under these circumstances.
Nora looked to his bed, and spotted a Derek-sized lump, curled under the sheets. She sat down, gingerly, on the edge of the bed.
“Derek.” She whispered. No response was given.
“Derek.” Nora repeated again, this time slightly shaking his shoulder.
The lump turned over, and his eyes fluttered open, “Nora?” He sounded so tired.
On instinct, Nora lifted her hand to pet his forehead, which was emanating a worrying amount of heat. His eyes slipped closed and he leaned into the touch.
She removed her hand and Derek opened his eyes again, “I’m sorry for waking you up, but I need to take your temperature.”
Instead of making some comment on how he already knew he was hot or something to that degree, Derek just nodded and sat up a bit. His compliance worried Nora even more.
“Just slip this under your tongue and keep it there.”
“I know. I’m not a baby.”
Ah, there was some of the normal Derek peeking through. She relaxed a little.
They sat there in silence until the thermometer beeped, Nora read allowed, “101.3 degrees… Not terrible, but I’d like to keep it from getting higher. Hold on, Derek, I’ll be right back.”
She left the room, not waiting for a response, and headed down to the kitchen to grab a bowl. George was still in there, going over legal documents.
He raised his head, “How is Derek?”
“He’s alright. He’s got a fever of 101.3 which isn’t too bad, but I’d like to keep it that low or lower, so I’m just grabbing some cool water and a towel.”
George’s shoulders relaxed from their tense position, “That’s good. That’s good.”
She smiled, amused and endeared by the concern that George was failing to hide for his son, “Derek will be just fine, sweetheart.”
Nora then left the kitchen to go upstairs once again, this time spotting Casey coming out of Derek’s room. She frowned. She had taught Casey to be more polite and conscientious than that.
This time, without knocking, she entered the teenager’s room. He was still sitting up, but rubbing at his temples as if he had a headache.
“Derek,” His head shot up to look at her, “I brought you a cool towel.”
“Ah…you didn't have to do that…”
“Nonsense! I’m a mother. It’s what I do.”
He laid back down onto his pillow, looking relieved, “Well…thanks.” He mumbled.
Nora smiled and set down the bowl of cool water on his nightstand, sticking the towel inside and then ringing the excess water out.
Derek’s eyes had slipped closed once again as she set the cloth on his forehead. She gently brushed his hair with her fingers before getting up and heading for the door.
She paused when she heard a quiet, “Nora?” and looked back to find Derek who was looking at her through half-lidded eyes.
“What is it?”
He hesitated, “I’m sorry…about dissing your spaghetti. You’re actually a really good cook I just wasn’t…”
Nora’s heart melted, “Oh, Derek. I know you weren't feeling good. It’s okay. Apology accepted.”
He smiled tiredly, and his eyes fluttered closed again, this time for real.
“Sleep well, Derek.” She whispered.
“thanks…mom…” He mumbled in his sleep.
Something changed for the better between them that day, and Nora knew things were looking up for this little blended family.