The Girl


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It all starts with a bottle of water. Picture it - 1.5 litres in clear blue plastic, with a translucent white cap. More accurately, it starts with the hand which is now reaching for the bottle of water. Picture the hand - a sensible, square hand, with graceful fingers and neatly trimmed nails. Even more accurately, it starts with the woman attached to the hand.

Now picture Jessica. Ringlets of fine red hair, cropped close, frame a fair heart-shaped face, with a sprinkling of freckles, and grey-green eyes. She twists open the cap, and takes long, steady gulps of water, easing the parched dryness in her mouth and throat.

She drains the last of the water from the bottle and throws it away, noting with some surprise that her throat still feels dry. Still, the past few days have been hectic, physically tiring ones, and it is altogether likely that she is more than a little dehydrated. Moving house is such a hassle.

She sighs, and walks the short distance back from the local 7-11 to her new apartment. The door is already open - Vicki and her boyfriend Sam have begun to paint the living room walls a cheery shade of yellow.

She feels a tickle beginning in her nose, building to an unbearable crescendo. Her eyes close, and her head bobs forward.

Oh no. Allergies.

"ha-chhsh, chsh, tsh! etsh, iish, ieesh! a-ishu!"

Vicki turns to look. Jessica is still sneezing, her left hand over her nose and mouth.

"Are you okay? Not coming down with a cold or something, are you?"

Between sneezes, Jessica manages to gasp out that she thinks she's allergic to the paint fumes, and would Vicki please help her get her bag, because she really doesn't think she can stay here much longer.

Away from the paint fumes, Jessica's sneezing fit eases. She digs in her pockets for a tissue, then blows her nose. Her throat is a little sore, probably from the sneezing, she tells herself. Allergy sneezes, not cold ones. Allergic to paint. Who'd have guessed. If I go back to the old apartment now, I'll have time to shower before the concert.


She had booked her ticket to this concert weeks in advance, not realising how tired she would be tonight.

Damn allergies really take it out of me.

Her throat was still dry. She bought another bottle of water from the overpriced concession stand. Better she should spend a little more money than die of thirst.


Jessica swallowed. Her throat was definitely sore now, and her head was beginning to ache. Damn, couldn't she go even a month without getting sick?

No. I am not getting sick. I refuse to get sick. I am not getting sick.

"haSHOO! aah...he-ISHOO! ha...huh-CHSH!"

The sneezes had caught her by surprise. Jessica scrabbled in her bag for a tissue even as the man in the seat next to her glared, and people around her made shushing noises.

Just a little sneeze. No big deal. I have no time to get sick again. I am... NOT... getting sick.

She wiped her nose, sniffed stuffily and wondered if the man next to her had any lozenges. But of course, she didn't ask.


She went home to her old apartment, where Anne was putting books in boxes, and Vicki was sprawled in her favourite position on the couch, one shapely leg dangling over the edge, watching TV.

"Hey there."


"How was the concert?"

"Not bad."

Vicki turned to look at her more closely.

"Are you okay? You look a bit pale."

"I'm okay; just a bit tired, that's all."

"I guess we all are. It's tough work moving house, isn't it?"


The next night, Vicki was over at Sam's again, helping him to pack.

Jessica stood tiredly in the middle of her room, pulling books off her shelf and wiping them one by one, then placing them in the open box at her feet. Her throat hurt terribly, her chest was tight, and every so often, she sneezed. It must be the dust getting to her a little, she thought. She knew perfectly well that these were cold sneezes, but she was trying very hard to convince herself that her sneezes were because of her allergies.

It has to be the dust. Bloody allergies. Bloody asthma. Probably have a bad night. Probably wake up tired again in the morning.

As if to confirm her suspicions, the tightness in her chest became an itch, and she broke into a fit of harsh, barking coughs.


The sound of the TV from the living room was abruptly cut off. Jessica's subconscious registered the fact that Anne was going to bed, even as she continued to pack. Anne stuck her head in as she walked past Jessica's open door,

"You're falling sick again, aren't you?"

It was more of a statement than a question. Jessica's face was pale, with dark rings around her eyes, which had already begun to take on a hint of red wateriness.

"I don't know," she shrugged philosophically. Anne raised her left eyebrow, but made no move to leave. "Probably just allergies - you know, dust," ventured Jessica.

Anne sighed. There was no mistaking the beginnings of illness in Jessica's voice, no matter what she said.

You'd think by now she'd at least admit to being sick.

"The sooner we're out of this place and settled into the new one, the better."

"Amen to that!"


As she had predicted, it was a bad night. Despite her asthma medication (running low, she noted), she had begun to cough as soon as she lay down, and she could feel the congestion rapidly increasing in her lungs and sinuses, forcing her to alternately cough, sneeze, sniffle, wheeze and blow her nose. Eventually she had fallen into an uneasy half-sleep, propped upright against a stack of pillows, inhaler cupped protectively in her right palm, a snow of used tissues littering the floor beside her bed.

And that was how she woke up the next morning. Her nose was completely full. Breathing in through her mouth, she was not at all surprised to find that her chest was tight, and that her ribs ached. The deliberate intake of air made her cough, clearing her lungs of the stale air that had been trapped overnight, and bringing up a small quantity of phlegm. She spat it into a tissue, and examined the result critically.

Thick. Mostly grey, a little yellow. Might be starting an infection, but nothing serious yet.

She emptied her nose into another tissue, then sniffed experimentally a couple of times. Her nose was still stuffy, and her throat was still very sore.

I suppose I should go to the doctor - this probably isn't anything worse than a bit of a cold, but I really should get a spare inhaler.

She shuddered, remembering the time she had been caught without her asthma medication, and had gone into a severe attack. By the time she had realised she needed to be in hospital, she had been too weak to sit up, let alone to call for help.

I'm lucky just to have survived that at all - and damned if I'm ever going to let that happen again. I'll go see a doctor later.


The phone rang. " (*sniff*) Hello?"

Jessica's voice was husky, and about an octave lower than usual.

"Just woke up, Scully?"

"I'b just a little bit under the weather, Mulder. What's up?"

Tony had been calling her Scully forever, or so it seemed. The original reason was lost somewhere in the depths of their long friendship, but she returned the favour and called him Mulder - one of those quasi-intimate gestures that Tony was so generous with, unlike his boyfriend, Mark.

"Mark and I were thinking we could schedule the rehearsal this Friday?"

"Oh, okay, (*cough*) Friday, sure."

"See you then. Bye!"


It was mid-afternoon by the time Jessica arrived at Student Health Services. The faculty representatives were out in force all over campus, trying to recruit freshmen for their orientation programmes. More than one of them smiled hopefully at her, and she scowled in return. She was not in any mood to be accommodating.

Go away. I'm not a bloody freshman. I'm a senior with a sore throat.

She pushed hard against the door of the clinic.

Oh, for... of all the days I had to come to the doctor, it would be this one.

Hordes of eager, bright-eyed freshmen thronged the Health Services office, waiting for their routine medical checkup.

I suppose I'll have to wait.

Jessica made her way to the counter (she rather liked how people moved out of her way whenever she sneezed or coughed, she decided) and filled out a form, then passed it to a harried nurse.

"Just sit down anywhere, and we'll call you when it's your turn."

Her almost-constant sniffling and frequent coughing and sneezing ensured that nobody would welcome her beside them, so she found a seat in a relatively quiet corner and gratefully sat down, her legs giving way. She hadn't realised how tired she was.

Idly leafing through a magazine, she was almost unaware of the tickle in her nose until it escalated into an enormous "ha-EHCSSHHHOO!". She was instantly mortified at having sneezed all over the pages - still, they would probably dry before anyone else needed to read them. It wasn't much - just a spray of fine droplets.

"Jessica Williams, Room 9."

Deciding there was nothing she could do about the magazine, she left it in the corner where she had been sitting, and walked into Room 9.

The doctor looked up from Jessica's patient card.

"Jessica Williams, right? What can I do for...."

Jessica interrupted the doctor with a breathless, "heTCHOO! aaaSHOO!" followed by a coughing fit. Catching her breath, she wiped her nose, and sat down, sniffling. She cleared her throat, and swallowed painfully, wincing as she did.


"I see you're a senior, which means you're not here for the routine check-up, and it looks like you have either a cold, or bad allergies - probably a cold. Is that right?"

"Yes, doctor."

"How long have you had symptoms?"

"Sore throat - since Sunday. Coughing and sneezing since Monday, getting worse. Stuffy nose - that's only been bad since yesterday evening."


"A little, I think - not very much."

"Open your mouth and say "Ah"."

The doctor flicked on a flashlight and peered into Jessica's sore, reddened throat.

"Are you coughing because your throat is irritated?"

"No, my lungs..."

The doctor looked sharply at her.

"Are you asthmatic? Does your chest feel tight?"

"Yes, and actually, one of the reasons I'm here is because I need a new inhaler."

The doctor made a careful note on Jessica's prescription sheet, then took out her stethoscope and examined Jessica's chest. The sudden chill of the stethoscope against the bare skin of her back made her shiver a little.

The doctor removed the stethoscope from her ears.

"I'll give you something for your cough, some aspirin in case your fever gets any higher, and something for the congestion. And a new inhaler, of course. Drink plenty of fluids, and try to rest."



Jessica was supposed to meet Anne, Vicki and Sam at the furniture mall, so that they could get all their furniture delivered together.

"eeeEEYASSHHHOOO!!!" If anything, she felt worse than before. Her body ached everywhere, she felt dizzy and light-headed, and her nose was red, raw and running, with a constant prickly-tingly feeling. "heTSSHOO!" Pull, blow, sniff.

Don't forget the sneezing, she thought ruefully.

She opened her jar of Vicks and sniffed.

My god, I can't smell anything. Either all the volatile vapors have evaporated overnight, or...oh, who am I kidding? This is bad. I should call them and let them know I'm not going.

Jessica dialled Anne's office number. The phone rang once, twice, thrice. It continued to ring. The same thing happened with Vicki's number, and she didn't know Sam's.

I suppose I could go and pick out some furniture, anyway.

She put on a thick sweater, and stuffed her pockets with as much tissue as they could hold before reluctantly leaving the house.


"ah-EHCHHOO!!! ha-ISSHOO!!!"

The woman in front of Jessica got up and moved to a seat on the opposite side of the bus, giving her a dirty look.

Jessica looked apologetically at the woman through red, watery eyes before being caught in another couple of sneezes,

"heh-TCHOO!! ah, ah.....huhETCHOO!!!"

She coughed painfully, attracting sympathetic glances from some of the other passengers, and a frosty glare from the woman.



She spotted Vicki first, then Sam, leaning back into a sofa with the look of a critical connoisseur on his face.


"Hi. Where's Adde?"

"She's working late - she called to say she wouldn't be able to make it tonight."

Jessica turned her head to one side and sneezed wetly into her hand, then blew her nose, coughing a little. Vicki frowned.

"You're sick. You shouldn't have come."

"I'b okay, really. I tried to call you at the office but dobody picked up the phode."

Jessica wiped her much-abused nose. It was running again.

"Sam and I were thinking - either this sofa, or that one there. Something that goes with the yellow walls."

Vicki chattered on while Jessica tried to pay attention. She felt chilled to the bone, in spite of her thick sweater, and she was exhausted. She trailed along listlessly behind Vicki and Sam, through the displays of sofa sets and bookcases.

"huh-IEESSSHHOO!" Jessica sneezed again, catching the sneeze in her left hand, even as her right hand, as it had done so many times before, went instinctively to her jeans pocket, reaching for tissues. She pulled out a single tissue. There were no more.

Oh no, my last tissue...

She folded the tissue into neat quarters, dried her left hand, and blew her nose. The tissue was soaked; it was impossible to even imagine it would survive another sneeze or blow. She tossed it into the nearest trashcan, feeling strangely naked and vulnerable. Where was she going to find tissues in a furniture mall?

"Uh, V, do you hab ady tissues?"

"Yes, I think so, just hang on..."

Vicki rummaged around in her bag for a few minutes, while Jessica sniffled. Her nose was already running again, not ten seconds after she'd last blown it.

"Oh god Jess, I'm so sorry, I must have left them in the office! I'll see if Sam has any, okay?"

But there was no luck there, either. Sam never carried tissues, considering it somehow unmanly to do so.

The tickle welled up in her nose again, and she covered her nose and mouth in anticipation.

Maybe this will be a small one. Maybe this one won't be so wet and messy. Maybe I'll make it home without having to blow my nose.


Her hand - and the section of her face that it had been covering - was drenched in slippery mucus.

And maybe pigs will learn to fly. What am I going to do now? Wipe my nose on my sleeve?

An idea struck her.

The bathroom. There'll be tissue in the bathroom.

Luckily she wasn't too far away. One hand still covering her nose and mouth, she used the other to push open the bathroom door, just ahead of another woman who gave her a condescending look.

Probably thinks I'm some sort of weird junkie or something.

Jessica washed her hands and face, then pulled a length of tissue from one of the stalls and blew her nose hard, throwing away the used tissue, then tore off a longer length and stuffed it in her pocket.

There. That should keep me going for a while.

Vicki and Sam rounded the corner in time to meet her coming out of the bathroom.

"You sure you're okay? You look bad."

"I do't feel so good, either." There. She had finally admitted it.

They had hung around just long enough to pick out their furniture, and then Sam had gone back to his place, and Vicki and Jessica to theirs.

"eeyaaAAKTSHOOO!!! he-EESSHHOO!!! ehh-TCHEW!!!"

Jessica had covered her nose and mouth to sneeze, and now she left her hand over her nose, breathing laboriously through her mouth, and trying to absorb as much of the leaking wetness as she could with what was left of the tissues.

I can't even blow my nose. These tissues are already too wet.

Vicki might be one of her best friends, but she didn't need to see her looking like a runny-nosed toddler.

Jessica swayed dizzily, and leaned on the wall for support as Vicki unlocked the apartment door.



There was someone in the bathroom - Anne was back from work. Jessica put down her bag on the living room floor, and then headed for the kitchen, throwing away her used, wadded-up tissues and tearing off a paper towel. The dry paper towel felt strange and sandpapery against her fingers, damp and wrinkled from carrying her moist, used tissues. As if in compensation for the loss of her senses of smell and taste, her skin seemed to have grown new nerve endings, all of which were registering the same response.

Ow. I hurt. My eyes hurt. My head hurts. My nose hurts. My throat hurts. My lungs hurt. Even my hair hurts.

She blew her nose - a harsh, wet noise - then washed her hands. Even before she could dry them, she knew she had to sneeze again.

I shouldn't have blown my nose so hard. Probably irritated it. Oh well, a bit late for that now...

"! TCHOO! aah-ESSSHU! yeeeAAACSSHOO! ah...ah......AH.......HAA-TCHISSHHOOO!!!"

The sneezing had left her panting and wheezing, out of breath, her chest aching - and then, she started coughing, deep, painful coughs that she thought would never end, leaving her just long enough to gasp for air before the next racking fit. After an eternity, she blew her nose - more gently this time - on another paper towel, and washed her hands again.

Holding her breath and trying to touch as little as possible with her fingers, Jessica filled their three mugs with water, then plopped a fizzy Vitamin C tablet into each. She informed her roommates with as much dignity as she could muster,

"I hab do doubt that I ab extrebely codtagious."

Her voice was hoarse and nasal, and her eyes and nose were streaming red against her pale face. Vicki and Anne didn't debate the truth of that statement. Jessica picked up her own mug and walked towards the living room, holding her full mug in both hands, intending to sit and watch just enough TV to finish her drink.

Oh no. Not now. SHIT not now.

She felt the unmistakeable tickle of a huge sneeze building up inside her.

My mug's too full. If I sneeze now, I'll spill my drink - and if I try to take a sip, I'll only end up spraying it across the living room.

Her face froze in a panicky, desperate pre-sneeze expression as she looked around wildly for somewhere to put down her mug. The only surface was the floor, and she didn't think she could even make it there in time. She gripped her mug hard with both hands, cushioning it against her body, as she tried to stifle the enormous sneeze that was trying to escape.


The force of the sneeze bent her over slightly, and some of her drink spilled onto her shirt, but the floor remained dry.

One less thing to worry about.

She took a cool, lemony sip, quickly swallowing before she had to sneeze again, then headed back to the kitchen.

I'll finish this up fast, then wash uh... oh shit, not again...


Her nose twitched and wrinkled, and her face contorted into a helpless pre-sneeze. This time she was close enough to set her mug down on the kitchen counter just a split second before she was flung forward, bent double with the force of a wet, explosive "heeEEEYAAAACSSSHHHOOO!!!" - but she wasn't in time to cover her nose and mouth. A jet of mucus flew from her nose and landed on the kitchen tiles, making a wet splatting noise.

Oh god. I do NOT need this. EEEew, ugh. I hope that was close enough for V and Anne to think I just spilled my drink. Got to clean this up - it's probably crawling with germs.

Ignoring her urgent need to blow her nose yet again, Jessica moistened a paper towel slightly, then wiped the floor before her roommates could notice that the wet spot was not just spilt Vitamin C drink, taking care not to spread the virus-laden fluid more than necessary. She stood up and threw away the paper towel.

I should probably be burning these, actually. Isn't that what they used to do with plague victims?

She sniffled miserably and rubbed the back of her hand tiredly across her nose.

Anne looked at her, shook her head, and sighed.

She's an absolute wreck. She'll try to keep right on working if we don't say anything - and she won't be able to do anything productive, if she feels even half as bad as she looks - and she'll probably give us her cold in the process, too.

"Jess, take a hot bath, and go to bed."

To Anne's surprise, Jessica nodded meekly and trudged off, sniffling, to get her towel.

Not even a hint of protest. She must be really sick.

Sounds of running water came from behind the bathroom door, punctuated by explosive fits of coughing and sneezing. Eventually Jessica emerged, and vanished into her bedroom. She pulled on a pair of warm flannel pyjamas and took a dose of everything the doctor had given her, and then settled back against her stack of pillows.

I'm being a good girl tonight.

She stuck a thermometer in her mouth, holding it under her tongue, and took her temperature.

101.2, not too bad. Could be higher since I've been breathing through my mouth all night, but that's not too bad, all considered.

The phone rang.

"Hello?" she croaked, before dropping the receiver on her bed and giving way to a protracted fit of coughing.

"Scully, are you okay?" The voice filled with concern.

"ah, aah.....ahh-ISSHOO!!! huhCHISH, hehCSHH, huhESHOOO!!!"

Jessica blew her nose and dropped the tissue on the floor beside her, then picked up the receiver.


"Bulder. I'b sig. (sniff)"

"You sound terrible - you should be in bed. Oops, sorry, I didn't wake you, did I?"

"Oh do, I'b id bed (cough) but I'b dot asleep yet..."

"We're cancelling rehearsal this week."

"...(sniff)...huh? How cobe?"

"Jean has some dinner thing on, Pat can't make it, you're sick and I don't feel so great either - I think I may be coming down with something, myself."

Tony sniffled lightly. Jessica could hear Mark's voice in the background, though she couldn't make out what he was saying. The itch in her nose became a familiar need, and she covered the mouth of the receiver and turned away, sneezing into her shoulder to muffle her sneezes as best she could:

"h-TSH! heCH! h-eSH!" There was a dark, wet, shiny patch on her sleeve.

Ugh. Well, I'm not going to get out of bed and change.

" take care - oh, Markie says take care too - and get well soon, okay, Scully?"

"(sniff) You too, Bulder. (sniff) G'dite."

Jessica put the phone back on its cradle, tipping her head upwards and sniffing back the mucus that was threatening to spill out of her overburdened nose any second. She grabbed a handful of tissues and blew her nose without even bothering to fold them, then dropped them on the floor as she sat up and began another wretched fit of coughing, one hand pressed to her chest. Once she could breathe again, she liberally smeared her chest and throat with Vicks, then wrapped a scarf around her neck.

I can't smell it, but maybe it'll do me some good. Kill germs, or whatever. Cough syrup should be kicking in soon, too.

Within an hour, the medicine took effect, adding to her drowsiness. She drifted tiredly in and out of sleep, sometimes hearing the sounds of packing tape, sometimes the voices of her roommates. Once, she thought she heard her door open, and more than once, she woke to cough or blow her nose, but cocooned in her merciful drug-induced fog, she didn't remember a thing.