“Oh! Rick, hi. . . . what are you doing here?”
“I brought soup.”
Rick holds up a lidded dutch oven wrapped in a kitchen towel. Beth blearily takes in his t-shirt and jeans, the boots he always always wears, and a baseball cap, rainwater dripping from the brim.
“Sorry, sorry, come in, you must be soaked,” she realizes after a moment of staring.
She stands back and ushers Rick in quickly, gathering the blanket back around her shoulders when she nearly trips on it backing up to let him in.
They stare at each other for a moment. “You brought me soup?” she asks again.
“Yeah, well. You said you were sick, so Lori’s sitter has the kids, and you sounded so terrible on the phone, so I figured.”
“What kind is it?” Beth asks, eyeing the pot and edging closer to lift the heavy lid and peek inside.
“It’s chicken noodle, it’s my grandmother’s recipe.”
Beth breathes in the smell of the warm broth and smiles up at Rick.
“It’s the one thing I know how to make not from a box or a jar,” Rick says, shrugging.
“Well thank you. Can you, um-” she motions toward the kitchen and realizes she never did clean off her stove after an incident with spaghetti sauce a few weeks before. “I think I might have some tupperware I can put this in so you can take this back with you-”
“No, no this is what you have to warm it up in, it’s very important, this is The Soup Pot,” Rick interrupts, pinning her with a serious look.
“The Soup Pot,” Beth repeats dutifully, with the same emphasis.
“Yeah, the healing powers are all in there, or somethin’.”
“Okay,” Beth laughs in agreement.
Rick’s hat drips again and Beth glances over him again, “Oh you’re completely soaked. Come on, let me put this in the dryer for you at least.” She tugs at the sleeve of his shirt and he nods a little uneasily, undoing the buttons right there and handing it to her once he’s taken it off, revealing a white undershirt beneath.
“Come on, take your boots off too, we can put them by the heater at least.”
“‘I thought I was comin’ over here to take care of you, not the other way around.”
“Well the healing powers of the soup pot are already working from here,” Beth shoots back as she drops his shirt in the dryer along with her towel and bathrobe to help dry it off more quickly.
“Planes Trains and Automobiles?” he asks, pointing at her laptop screen when she comes back to where he’s standing by her couch a moment later.
“Yeah, we watched it every year when I was little. I can’t not watch it when I see it.”
“It must’ve been years since I’ve seen this.”
“Come on, sit for a few minutes while your shirt dries.”
They sit on the couch, her tucking her feet up and cocooning in the blanket and Rick watches her for a moment before snorting in laughter.
“What?” she asks, teasingly offended.
“You look like a pile of laundry with a ponytail,” he laughs, taking in her oversized hoodie peaking up above the blanket.
Beth kicks at his leg. “Aren’t you supposed to be nice to me when I’m sick?”
“Alright, alright,” he mutters agreeably as he moves back to the kitchen.
Beth hears him opening and closing cabinet doors in her tiny kitchen for a moment while she leans against the back of the couch and lets her eyes fall closed. She’s pretty sure she’s got a fever but the thermometer in her medicine cabinet feels so far away after she was just up to get the door when Rick had knocked.
He appears a moment later with a bowl of soup and a spoon and makes sure her hands are wrapped securely around it before he lets go.
Rick nods to her books spread across the rest of her second hand coffee table as he sits down at the other end of the couch. “Getting a lot of work done?”
“Ugh, I tried but I can’t stay focused on anything.” Beth grimaces at it while she blows on a spoonful of soup. “I can probably get a C if I quit studying now anyway,” she adds.
Rick raises an eyebrow and reaches over to pick up her textbook and notes.
“They teach a class in Logic?” Rick asks, skimming through the book.
“It’s like, debatin’ and thinkin’ through arguments to figure out when they’re fulla shit,” Beth answers through a mouthful of soup.
“Language Miss Greene,” Rick tsks at her teasingly.
Beth chokes in surprise. Rick doesn’t swear much but then she’s probably never sworn in front of him since she’s never been around him without the kids there too. When she’s managed to swallow her mouthful of soup without inhaling any she blinks through watering eyes to see Rick apparently reading through her notes.
“Why’s a logic class talkin’ about telephones?”
Beth smiles a little. “Teleology,” she corrects, enunciating the long e’s. “‘S when you say the ends justify the means.”
Rick hums in acknowledgement, eyes still scanning through the chapter she’d left her textbook opened to.
Beth carefully stretches one arm out of her blanket cocoon to set the half-empty bowl of soup on her coffee table. She stretches out her legs across the open space between her and Rick on the couch and leans against the back of the couch again. Her feet in her favorite warm woolen socks are sticking out the end of the blankets but she’s not so freezing anymore. She wiggles her toes.
“Well, ‘s a good thing you’re with the kids so much, you’re obviously smarter than me,” he jokes. “I went to the police academy soon as I was old enough, I never graduated college.”
Beth tilts her head at that, trying to put together an answer, but Rick has already set the book back down in trade for her notebook. He eyes it too and she sees him smiling at the page.
“What?” she asks.
“You dot your i’s with little,” he motions with one hand, “little curlicue things.”
Beth’s face heats, not because of the soup. “So?”
Rick shrugs mildly, still smiling, but he doesn’t answer.
“My teacher says that intelligence isn't about memorization or book smarts, it's about having an inquisitive mind.”
Rick hms in reply and sets the notebook back down on the coffee table, sitting back to slouch into the couch comfortably.
“You have that,” Beth adds shyly as she watches him shift to get more comfortable, traces of a grin on his face.
“Do I?” he asks, sounding a little amused. He drops a hand casually over her ankles on the couch cushion next to him.
Rick looks over at her, eyes brighter than her’s probably are and she’s the one with a fever. Beth can feel the beet red blush across her cheeks.
“Mmhm,” she manages to reply.
The dryer buzzes unbelievably loudly, so suddenly that Beth nearly jumps out of her skin and even Rick startles. He laughs a little nervously and pats her shins.
“Saved by the bell,” he mutters, getting up from the couch.
Half of Beth wants to drag him back and the other half is sure this is all a fever dream anyway. When Rick sidles around the couch again he’s buttoning up he’s barely-damp overshirt and it’s way way too easy for her brain to play that little moment in reverse, making her blush even darker than before. Rick seems to clock it, his grin growing. She swears he winks as he turns around to get his boots and baseball cap from next to her heating vent.
“You need anything before I go, Beth?”
“Hm? Oh. Um, no, this was great, thank you.” she babbles, starting to dig herself out of her blanket cocoon, but Rick waves her back.
“Don’t get up,” he says, coming over to sit on the edge of the coffee table to put on his boots. He sits up, hands fidgeting with his hat. Beth watches breathlessly as he reaches out and brushes from her temple down her cheek with the backs of his fingers.
“Sure?” he asks softly.
Beth swallows and bites her lip.
She doesn’t even find any words before Rick’s smiling even more warmly and blinking, his eyes dropping away from hers. He strokes down her cheek and across her chin, and when he goes to stand, leans over and kisses her forehead.
“Feel better soon, alright sweetheart?”
“Yeah,” she whispers back dumbly.
Once he’s closed her door behind him Beth collapses down into her blanket, holds a pillow over her face, and screeches into it disbelievingly.
Fever dream. It must have been.