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My raspy breathing and his flipping Song of Solomon paperback pages punctuate our silence. The central air he always sets at 76 degrees whirs. Unbrushed teeth ache in my mouth. Unbrushed hair tangles and tightens around my ears. Vapor rub residue clogs my nose. I bury my head in his lap. His rough blue jeans’ seams indent my fevered jaw and cheek. He rubs slow concentric circles in the small of my back. Gentleness when I am sick is new. Fearing missed days due to my infecting them, my parents would deposit me on the couch with a green striped plastic pitcher of sweet iced tea, a pot of warmed Ramen noodles, and General Hospital for company. Now, this man holds me until it is his turn to cough.

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