Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 197,651,278 Issue: 995 | 3rd day of Storing, Y25
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A Missing Piece

by 77thbigby


Skip awoke with a start. For a moment, he lay there, wondering what had woken him. Then he heard it: a hoarse cough. He rolled out of bed, casting his Doglefox, Wes a curious look. His Doglefox was just waking up himself and he looked fine.

      He rose to his feet and crossed the hall to his best friend’s room. He was about to knock when he heard the cough come again. He opened the door startled to see Russ still in bed. That never happened!

      Russ looked worse than Skip had ever seen. The Red Kyrii’s brown eyes were bright with fever, his normally well-groomed mane was a mess and his nose dripped.

      “Russ!” Skip exclaimed in alarm, hurrying to his best friend’s side. “You need to see a doctor!”

      “I’m fi-,” Russ began before coughing again.

      “You are not fine!”

      “I have to be fine. Its harvest time. I have to get to work,” Russ said, voice stuffy.

      “Not like this!” Skip argued. “The Bancrofts will have to manage without you. I’m calling the doctor.” The Burlap Ixi headed for the door but paused to look back. “Stay in bed!”

      “Skip, wait!” Russ called weakly but Skip was already headed for the phone.

      Skip was about to pick up the phone when he realized that he didn’t actually know the number to call the doctor. He walked back down the hall to Russ’ room, giving his best friend a sheepish look.

      Sick as he was, Russ’ eyes gleamed with humour. “You don’t know the number, do you?”

      Skip laughed, shaking his head. “Nope!”

      Russ nodded towards his phone on his nightstand. “I have it. Just use mine.”

      Skip picked up the phone, unused to using it as he didn’t have one for himself. Thankfully, he’d seen enough folks use one that he got the gist. Still, it took a few moments to figure out how to reach the contact list and dial the right number. Thankfully, the doctor answered on the first ring and was quick to reassure Skip he would be right over. He stood at Russ’ bedside, worried gaze fixed on his best friend.

      It was less than half an hour before the doc arrived, letting himself into their farmhouse. He was a yellow Kacheek known by everybody as Doc Sunny. He took in the situation at a glance. He gave Russ a sympathetic look. “Looks like you’ve got the flu, Russ.”

      “The flu? But I can’t have the flu when there’s work to be done!”

      “You won’t be working for a while.”

      “How long does the flu usually last?”

      “Anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks.”

      “A couple weeks?!” Russ groaned, flopping back onto his pillow.

      “Your body needs rest. You won’t get better if you push yourself too hard.”

      Russ had turned his face away, eyes closed. “Alright, I hear ya, doc. I’ll rest, much as I hate the thought of being stuck in bed.”

      “It's for your own good, Russ,” Skip said softly.

      Russ grimaced but didn’t argue.

      Skip looked over at Doc Sunny. “Thanks, doc.”

      “Any time. If you need anything else, don’t hesitate to call,” Doc Sunny said with a nod to the two of them before seeing himself out.

      “Skip, call the Bancrofts and let them know I’m down with the flu,” Russ said.

      “I’m on it,” Skip said. “Then, I’ll leave you to-”

      “Rest, I know!”

      Skip smiled indulgently at how petulant his best friend sounded. Though, he knew how hard-working the Kyrii was and just how much it bothered him to know that he wasn’t going to be able to be there when the Bancrofts needed him most.

     ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

      Brick hung up the phone, looking grim.

      “What’s wrong?” Bell, his wife, asked with some concern.

      “That was Skip. He called to let us know that Russ is down with the flu so he won’t be around for a while,” Brick informed his wife.

      Bell’s face immediately filled with concern. “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that! Poor Russ!”

      “You mean poor us what with harvest happen’ an all.”

      “He can’t help being sick, Brick,” Bell chided gently.

      “I know. We’ll all just have to pitch in extra, is all.”

      Thankfully, Russ’ organizational skills were second to none. Brick was technically the boss but Russ was his right hand ‘pet and helped run the day-to-day operations. The Bancroft food kitchen had grown faster than anyone had anticipated and the young Meercas had quickly realized they couldn’t run their organization on their own. Thankfully, Russ had come in when they needed him most. His experience and steady hand had helped them immensely and Bancroft’s Kitchen wouldn’t be nearly as successful without him.

      So, they felt his absence sorely now. Bell handled the front end while Brick handled the back. They were run off their feet as they took inventory, packed boxes and accepted deliveries from across the countryside. It was a never-ending cycle. They couldn’t wait for Russ to get better!

     ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

      “I’m going to make something to eat,” Skip said.

      Russ sat up quickly, giving him a look. “First, you don’t know how to cook, and second, you’re made of burlap and straw. You’re practically a walking fire hazard.”

      “How hard can it be? Besides, you’re in no condition to take care of anything and you’ve gotta eat. I’ll figure it out, Russ.”

      Russ frowned, struggling to rise. “Skip-”

      “Russ,” Skip said, gently pushing his best friend back into bed. “You heard Doc. The more you push yourself, the longer it’ll take for you to get better.”

      Russ looked at Skip for a long moment and Skip looked steadily back. The Red Kyrii heaved a sigh. “Fine, but be careful, alright? The fire extinguisher is under the sink, if you need it. You remember how to use it?”

      “Yeah, I got it!”

      Skip headed down the hall and to their kitchen. It wasn’t really a room he frequented. As a burlap, he didn’t need to eat food and Russ didn’t want him underfoot so he stayed out whenever his best friend was cooking. However, he had been in enough kitchens to know how cooking was supposed to work. There were lots of steps involved but Russ was depending on him for a change and he didn’t want to let him down!

      Skip thought for a moment. “What do you make for someone that’s sick?”

     He wracked his memory. Russ had never gotten sick before and Skip, of course, was immune to regular sicknesses. He had next to zero experience with caretaking. He had been in rough shape when Russ had found him several years ago trying to get by. The Red Kyrii had changed everything for him in a great way.

     Now it was Skip’s turn to return the favour!

     While he was lost in thought, he missed Elfie, Russ’ Christmas Mazzew, pulling out a jar of oats from the cupboard and a pot from where it hung on the wall. She dragged each of them to the stove and it was only then that Skip finally noticed.

     “Oatmeal!” Skip exclaimed, as if he had thought of the idea himself. “Easy, just add water!”

     He added cups of water to the oats and left it for a few minutes. It was only when it started to smoke a little that he turned off the heat. “Must be done!” He grabbed a bowl and spoon and poured some into the bowl before carrying it to Russ. “Breakfast is served!”

     Russ looked down at the watery slop in his bowl and managed a weak smile at Skip. “Thank you, Skip.”

     “Let me know if you need anything else!”

     “Just clean up the kitchen and put in a load of laundry, would ya?”

     “You got it, Russ!”

     Skip headed back to the kitchen. He grabbed the nearest rag, put some soap and water on it and wiped down the counters before washing the dishes he’d used for the oatmeal. Not entirely sure where they went, he put them wherever he found room in the cupboards. He left the used rag in the sink and admired his handiwork.

     “Now that’s a job well done,” he said to himself proudly.

     He checked in on Russ who was sleeping fitfully. He noticed with a frown that the oatmeal was mostly untouched, left congealing in the bowl. Remembering what else Russ had asked him to do, he headed for the laundry room. There was a pile of clothes waiting on a small table next to the washer. He put them into the washer and took a moment to look for the laundry detergent. He wasn’t sure how much he should put in so added a couple cups of the stuff to make sure it all got clean.

     “That’s another thing done!” Skip exclaimed with satisfaction, dusting his hands.

     His ears twitched as the doorbell rang and he headed to answer it. To his surprise, he found a neighbour at the door holding a pot of something yummy smelling in their hands.

     “I heard Russ was feelin’ poorly so I brought some soup and bread for ‘im,” the Kacheek said.

     “Uh, thank you!” Skip took the still-warm pot.

     “Word’s got round so expect someone else to bring out dinner later.”

     “Oh, how thoughtful.”

     “Folks take care of our own around here, ya know,” the Kacheek said by way of explanation before heading off.

     Russ was awake by now and, to Skip’s pleasant surprise, Russ ate the soup and freshly baked bread right up.

     “Glad to see your appetite’s back,” Skip said with some approval.

     “Yeah, I just wasn’t really hungry this morning,” Russ said with a shrug.

     “Apparently, folks have heard that you’re sick so we’re going to be getting meals delivered here until you’re better.”

     Russ smiled, eyes softening. “That’s how it is in these parts, Skip.”

     “So, I’m coming to find out.”

     “Oh, that reminds me, I should go check on the laundry!”

     Skip hurried away to the laundry room to find a pool of soapy water had flooded it. He grabbed a mop and bucket and starting sopping up the mess and checked on the clothes. Knowing Russ hung out the clothes to dry, he began trekking them out the back door to toss them up on the clothesline. They were soaking wet and rather sudsy but they looked clean, at least. He left them hanging and hurried back inside.

     “I don’t know how Russ does it!” Skip exclaimed, feeling worn out.

     The next day at mid-morning, a nosy neighbour tried to barge in with a fresh casserole. A hefty Elephante, she easily towered over Skip. He blocked the door as best he could and withstood her sudden rise in temper.

     “I’m sorry you can’t come in but we don’t want what Russ has spreading around,” Skip said as firmly as he could.

     “I just want to help!” the Elephante insisted.

     “And you’re doing that by bringing this delicious casserole but you won’t be if you get sick, too. No one wants that,” Skip reasoned.

     The Elephante turned red and Skip braced himself.

     “Is this how neighbours treat neighbours?” The Elephante fumed. She turned sharply away from Skip. “See if I help anybody in the future!”

     Skip breathed a sigh of relief, leaning against the doorframe.

     Things had to get easier from here!

     Everyone at work and at home stepped up to the task with Russ out of commission. Skip, especially, learned how to do a lot of stuff he’d never had to pay attention to before. He didn’t do it nearly as well as Russ did anything but he didn’t burn the house (or himself!) down and Russ got better, little by little. It took over a week before Russ was finally back to himself.

     “Finally, I can get back to work!” Russ exclaimed with a grin.

     Skip shook his head in exasperation. “Only you would be happy about that!”

     The End.

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