This Burning

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DAY 1

"Jeez, Suzy, you're looking a bit grim. You feeling okay?"

Susanna looked up from her computer to see Annette leaning over the cubicle wall, some anonymous print-out in hand. The other woman was squinting at her critically, her bronze-red lips skewed to one side and her unruly ginger hair escaping its clasp.

"I'm fine," Susanna said, although somewhat untruthfully. "Just a bit of a headache."

"Hmm." Annette straightened up, covering her face with her print-out as if it were an Oriental fan. "I hope you haven't caught something. Vicki booked off earlier with a headache. I think there's a bit of a bug going around. Oop! Boss is coming - chat later!"

She disappeared with a wink and Susanna discreetly rummaged through her desk drawer for another painkiller. Knowing her luck, she was getting sick - and right before the weekend too. Ugh. She'd been looking forward to getting out into the garden while the weather was good. Downing some water, she rubbed her forehead and tried to concentrate on her spreadsheets.

By five o'clock, the headache had started to spread to her joints and Susanna wrote off any plans with her lilies. Annette walked with her to the parking lot, telling her she looked pale, which didn't help. With her flaccid blonde hair and simply un-tannable skin, she'd always felt boring and washed out next to her best friend.

Traffic was murder. Not a single one of Susanna's yoga breathing exercises kept her from getting overheated. Worse was the clenched, noxious feeling that developed in her throat. When she finally got home, she slogged into the living room and collapsed full-length on the sofa.

Billy was already there, game controller in hand and half a bottle of beer on the coffee table. For a few moments he said nothing, and then Susanna heard the TV mute and his voice filtered through the sofa cushions.

"So... How was your day?"

Susanna merely groaned. Even her embarrassingly retro décor did nothing to comfort her today. More than ever she just felt like she was born in the wrong decade.

"That good, huh?" said Billy.

Pushing herself up, she stuck out her tongue and made a face at him. "I just feel a bit... yuck. Anne said there's a bug going around - I must have picked it up at yesterday's meeting or something. I might just take a shower and call it a day."

"But I was all set to make lasagne," Billy said, his face falling.

"We can make lasagne another time, my darling man," Susanna told him with a smile and a joking waggle of her finger. "I'm not really hungry right now."

Billy cocked his head to the side, studying her more closely through his glasses. "Wow, you really do look a bit off. Do you need anything?"

"No thanks. I don't want you to catch it."


DAY 3

The front door banged shut downstairs. Susanna set aside her Sudoku book and pushed herself up in bed. Her limbs protested by aching and sweating, and her stomach gave an unwholesome swoop but she didn't have to wait long for Billy to arrive at the door to their room, a plastic bag in hand.

"Feeling any better?" he asked doubtfully. His face looked much more worn than it had been when he'd left a few hours ago.

Susanna shook her head. "The aches are the same but the fever's worse. I feel like my skin is cooking. Anne called while you were gone, too - she said Malcolm's the same. She didn't go in to work either."

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