“Richard?” came Till’s muffled voice from behind the closed door. Three light knocks followed.
Richard continued to sleep, oblivious to the knocks.
After a while, the lock made a low bip and the door was slowly opened by Till. He peered inside the huge hotel room and after assessing his guitarist was lying on the bed under the blankets he stepped inside, closing the door behind his back, trying not to make a sound. The room was cool with the AC on a low setting. Till silently took off his shoes and shuffled on the cold marble tiles, after setting carefully on the floor a small plastic bag, trying not to make it crinkle too much.
Richard was sleeping on the furthest side of the bed, giving his back to the room, facing the balcony door. The curtain was half drawn and quite some late afternoon light was filling the suite. Till stepped on the rich carpet and walked slowly toward Richard’s side of the bed, sidestepping a trolley and some shoes.
He rounded the bed corner and cast a look at the nightstand. There was an open packet of cigarettes, behind an empty bottle of water and an empty glass. On the edge, there was Richard’s smartphone. Inside the open drawer, he could see a couple boxes of medicines and a thermometer.
Till placed his own smartphone and room cards next to Richard’s phone and looked at the man on the bed.
Richard was lying on his side with both hands in front of him, one hand hidden under the pillow. Lips slightly parted, he seemed to be at full peace, no lines under his eyes, no frown on his brow. He was breathing slowly, making the slightest sound.
He was not sweating and the black t-shirt he was wearing looked crisp. His black locks though were in total disarray.
Till smiled broadly and bent to kneel in front of the bed. He was happy, Richard looked so much better. He placed a hand on the edge of the mattress and extended the other arm to delicately place some fingers on Richard’s forehead. The guitarist was still somewhat warm but perhaps it was his normal temperature. He did not move at the touch. Relieved, Till let out a long breath and rested both of his arms on the edge of the bed, placing his chin on one wrist. He looked intently at his friend, always smiling, enjoying the feeling of relief.
Two days prior, before their last performance, Richard had stated that his throat was sore.
“If my voice sounds awful I’m sorry,” he had laughed while Till was filling six shot glasses with Tequila. “Paul, compensate please” he had smiled looking at the other guitarist. Paul had grinned and slapped his back. Then they had all downed their shots and got ready.
During the performance Till didn’t pay much attention to Richard’s voice or to Richard himself, except for a moment before Du Hast when he saw him massaging his throat in the darkness, covered in sweat and looking utterly exhausted. But they were all exhausted at that point so Till didn’t think too much about it.
After the concert and after the party Till came back to the Hotel with Christoph. The others had already left. Inside the car Till checked his long-forgotten phone and saw three missed calls from Oliver. There was also a message from the bassist: Reesh’s sick. I had to call the meds. Till showed the message to Christoph who immediately called Oliver.
Oliver must have been waiting for their call since he answered right away.
“Chris, where are you?” the bassist asked.
“I’m coming to the hotel with Till. What about Reesh?”
“He passed out while we were waiting for the elevator”, explained Oliver maintaining his voice calm.
“What? He what?” Christoph gasped.
“He has a high fever, I’m outside his room. The meds just now decided they do not need to bring him to the hospital”.
“Mein Gott” whispered Till hearing through the PA. He scrubbed a hand over his face, eyes open wide with worry.
“How is he now?” asked Christoph nervously.
“Not good but they gave him something strong and his fever has quickly lowered to 39°C”, answered Oliver.
“Lowered to 39?” repeated Christoph. “How high was it?” he asked incredulous.
“41°C” replied Oliver and heard Till and Chris mutter some curses and worried sounds. So he quickly went on. “Look, guys, he’s being taken care of. I saw him struggle all night long so I’ve tried to not lose sight of him. Paul too…”
“Is Paul there too?” interjected Till.
“Yeah, he’s here by me. Also Flake”.
Till felt suddenly guilty. He was the leader, he was meant to care for his bandmates. Didn’t he? He had not noticed. Or did he? Why didn’t he ask Richard how he was doing before Du Hast? Fuck. He felt deeply sorry and took a deep breath.
“… so we tagged along with him when we came back from the party. He did not look well at all. When he finally admitted that he was feeling like shit and accepted to be taken to his room he passed out. We caught him and laid him on a couch in a corner of the hall. Thank God there was nobody around save from the receptionists and someone from our crew” explained Oliver. “They called the meds. Eventually, he woke up and we could take him to his room. I’ve tried to call you…”
“Yeah, sorry. I’m terribly sorry” said Till. “We’re now at the entrance. What’s his room number?”
“Umh…” they heard Oliver move.
“21T” answered Flake for him.
“Ok. We’re coming. I’m hanging up.”
Till and Christoph dashed out of the elevator on the highest floor of the hotel. Richard and Paul had wanted to pay an extra for rooms with beautiful balconies on the top floor. Singer and drummer immediately heard a low murmur coming from behind a corner in the corridor and sped toward it. They rounded the corner and saw two paramedics talking with Paul, Flake, and Oliver outside Richard’s room. Everybody turned at their approach. There were also some people from the crew at some distance. Till and Christoph saluted quickly and gathered around the paramedics. Till tried to look through the door kept ajar but could not see.
“His fever has lowered and he’s no longer in a dangerous condition. He passed out because his blood pressure had dropped… it might happen with high fevers. Also, he was probably exhausted. He was meant to collapse, I might say…” explained the paramedic. “We freshened him up a little and put on clean clothes. We injected a really strong antipyretic so he may stay out cold all night. I’ll give you my personal number… here,” he handed a card. “We’ll come tomorrow morning to check on him. We have already given him an antiviral by vein, tomorrow we’ll give him tablets. If anything happens call me. I’m nearby.”
The men nodded.
“Can I rely on one of you? For tomorrow morning, so we can open the door and…”
“Me” offered Till with no hesitation before any other could volunteer. “Here, take my card. I’ll be staying with him tonight if that’s not a problem”.
The paramedics lifted their eyes to his face. “No problem at all, Mr. Lindemann, that’s a good idea. Just make sure he sleeps peacefully, and if he wakes try to make him drink ”.
Till nodded. “Of course”.
“You should also sleep; you guys all seem incredibly exhausted. Don’t worry for Richard, tonight the fever is not likely to rise. I suggest though, Mr. Lindemann, to set an alarm at 4 to check on him, if that’s not a problem. Otherwise, we can arrange differently, we can come over…”
“No problem at all, I’ll do it” said Till with such a serious face that nobody felt like say nothing else. They trusted him on this kind of matter more than anyone else. He was perfectly sober. He would wake at 4, there was no doubt about it.
The paramedics then led Till and Christoph in Richard’s room. Richard was sleeping supine with the covers covering his lower body. One arm was folded over his stomach, the other sidelong his torso. There was a sheen on his forehead, neck and collarbone. His head was slightly tilted to the left and his expression seemed relaxed but they could hear him breathing faster than a normal sleeping person. The warm light emitting from the nightstand surely hid his true pallor. Scattered on the nightstand there were various medicine boxes and a pair of discarded nytril gloves. On the other side of the bed, there were a towel and discarded clothes.
The paramedics politely fixed the room a little and took the stuff they have left around while they had worked, while Till decided to go immediately to gather some things from his room for the night.
Till spent the night in Richard’s room. He showered quickly in his own room and then left for his friend’s. He checked on him and assessed nothing had worsened since the departure of the paramedics. Alone with the guitarist, he knelt at the side of the bed and took Richard’s warm hand and squeezed lightly, hoping he would not wake. Till felt dejected, dejected as it had not happened for a while then. It was rare for one of them to fall sick during a tour, sick in the terms of being bedridden. Richard always emanated power from his very person, from his stances and riffs. Now it was hard to see him feverish and unresponsive, his body subdued. Till couldn’t even remember the last time he saw him go down for the flu.
The guitarist stirred in his sleep and shifted his legs, moving his face to the other side. Till let go of his hand but Richard did not move it. Till decided to turn off the light and go to sleep on the couch a few meters away, near the beautiful oak table were Richard had organized some clothes and souvenirs he had bought during the last few days.
At 4 in the morning, Till’s phone alarm vibrated under his pillow and he woke immediately. He rubbed his eyes and squinted in the dark. He sat up on the couch yawning and stood up. The marble tiles were cold under his feet but his attention was trained on Richard. Some light filtered through the curtains so he could easily turn on the nightstand light. Richard was sleeping like a starfish with blankets all disheveled around his body and he was drenched in sweat. Till quickly took the thermometer the paramedics had left on the nightstand and placed its tip under Richard’s armpit, folding his friend’s arm to keep it in place. He was extremely worried the fever might have risen. Richard was drenched…
With his arm being jostled Richard slowly woke and opened his eyes. Till was not looking at his face so he jumped when he heard the guitarist rasped voice call him.
“Richard!” Till exclaimed softly, a big smile spreading on his face. He instinctively brushed a gentle hand over the guitarist’s forehead.
Richard squinted, his eyes sensitive to the light. “Till, what are you…” he asked confused. “What are you doing here?” His voice was hoarse, his throat was in flames. He swallowed painfully.
“I’m here to check on you. You are pretty sick, you know” answered Till with a low, caring voice, the smile still lingering on his eyes. Richard furrowed his brow and closed his eyes, moving his limbs and slowly, much slowly, grasping his throat with his free hand.
“It seems so” he mouthed. “Thank you”.
“Is your throat sore? I’ll give you some water in a second”. The thermometer beeped and Till checked on it. 38°C. What a relief.
“It is… my God, it is” whispered Richard. He coughed and grimaced in pain. Till helped him get a little straighter so he could drink.
“Your temperature is pretty much the same, it has lowered a bit” declared Till, letting Richard lean back on a propped up pillow. The man really was drenched, his sweat was all on Till’s forearm.
“I feel like shit” Richard murmured following Till with his eyes as the singer stood up to get a glass and cold water from the fridge.
“You gave us quite a scare, Richard” said Till as he retrieved the glass from the cupboard.
Richard lowered his eyes with a gloomy expression.
“You should have told us before” continued Till. “You should have come back to the hotel right away after the performance. We don’t have to die on tour, we are not paid for that”.
Richard could not think about many things to say. “I’m sorry”, he replied trying to make his voice audible.
Till heard it and his hands grasping the water bottle shook. A cold claw took hold of his heart and squeezed it. He bit on his lower lip and shook his head, closing the fridge and returning to Richard. He sat on the edge and uncorked the water to fill the glass he had placed on his lap. He gave the glass to Richard who slowly took it, making sure twice his grip was true.
“No, Richard. I am sorry” said Till softly watching his friend sip. “I saw you suffering before Du Hast but I did nothing”.
Richard swallowed painfully and looked straight into Till’s eyes. “The performance is the most important thing. Never ever I would have stopped. You know that. Anyway, why should you be sorry? I’m an adult, I should have known better after the concert…” he said with a raspy voice. Then drank all the water.
Till took the empty glass and smiled. He caressed Richard’s cheek, without expecting the other man to lean slightly into the caress, closing his eyes.
“It doesn’t matter now, Reesh” he whispered and stroked his cheek again.
“Now now…” Till lowered his hand and stood up pressing on his knees. “I’ll fetch you a clean shirt and maybe you can move to the other side of the bed. It’s dry.”
“Yeah…” Richard lifted his head and looked to his right at the other side of the bed. His eyes were feeling terribly heavy.
Till took care of a half-asleep Richard and made sure he was eventually comfortably tucked in the dry side of the bed, wearing a fresh shirt on dried skin.
A day passed. Richard’s fever spiked up again around midday, not to alarming temperatures though. They gave him paracetamol and during the afternoon he got better. His throat was still very sore and he developed a cough. Anyway, he could eat something and merrily talk with the other bandmates in the evening. Till got a duplicate card for Richard’s room so he could come and check on him the second night.
And now Till was there again, on the late afternoon of the third day, to check on Richard. That day the guitarist had come on the 1st floor to eat lunch with the others. After lunch, they had spent some time all together in a lounge. The next performance was in a few days so they could dedicate some relaxed time with their sick fellow. After a hot tea and a cigarette they could not possibly dissuade him from smoking, they scattered and Richard went back to his room to flop on his bed tired.
It was 6.30 pm. Till stared at Richard’s face, lost in thought. The AC turned off, having achieved the desired condition in the room. Richard moved and stretched slightly his arms. By the sound of his breathing Till could say he had woken up. Till straightened a bit.
Richard took his sweet time to open his eyes. He rolled on his back and stretched languidly. Till didn’t repress a smile. Richard yawned and turn again on his side. While closing his mouth he opened his eyes and saw Till looking at him, kneeling on the floor.
The guitarist smiled and tucked a hand under the pillow, fixing his shirt with the other. “Till” he said softly, green eyes smiling at the singer.
Till ruffled his hair happily and the resumed his position with his chin on his folded arms, beaming. “How are you doing?”
“I’m fine, I slept very well. What time is it?”
“6.30 pm” answered Till checking his watch.
Richard lifted his eyebrows. “It feels like a slept for 8 hours straight”. He smiled content and coughed once.
“I’m so glad you are better,” whispered Till.
For a moment they just looked at each other eyes smiling. Then Till grasped Richard’s hand and squeezed tight. “I’ve bought you something,” he said and stood with a grin.
Richard sat up with expectant eyes. “What is it?” he asked like an excited kid.
Till walked back to the plastic bag he had left near the door. “Took me some time to find a good one…” he said teasingly.
Richard straightened up and watched Till retrieve the bag. The singer produced a transparent plastic box with something wrapped in thin paper inside. He handed it to Richard who was already smiling from ear to ear. The guitarist carefully opened the box and unwrapped the paper, coughing lightly in the process.
“Oh my, a cannolo!” he exclaimed as the cream-filled tube-like shell of crisp dough appeared under his eyes. Richard used one little finger to lift a bit of cream from the cannolo and sucked on it, closing his eyes in pleasure. The singer watched the grown man on the bed enjoying the cream as a little child.
“Thank you!” Richard smiled and placed the box at his side to spread his arms, a clear invitation for a hug. Till came closer and hugged his friend tightly.
“Glad you like it” murmured Till close to Richard’s ear. Richard hugged tighter in response. When they disentangled, Richard took the box with the cannolo and swung his legs off the bed. Straightening his shirt and running a hand through his hair he stood up. Till made room for his friend. Still smiling, Richard went to the cupboard to retrieve a plate and proceeded to place the cannolo on it. He licked the sugar sticking to his fingertips and looked at Till who had approached looking amused.
“You’ll help me eat this, I hope” grinned Richard. “We’re getting fat together, you know”.
Till laughed. “If you insist…”
“Great!” Richard smiled at the cannolo and then headed back to the bed. He walked slower than usual but his gait was his typical one. “But first let me smoke one, baby” he said still addressing the cannolo, grabbing the packet of cigarettes.
Till shook his head and opened the glass door to the balcony. They stepped outside and both took a look at the beautiful sky turning to soft pink shades. Some swallows were flying in big circles on top of their heads and an airplane was crossing silently many kilometers higher. The city under their eyes was making a low rumbly noise. Till and Richard sat on two cushioned lawn chairs close to the rail. Richard handed a cigarette to his companion and they smoked in comfortable silence for a long while, looking at the sky.