It was the very evening after the Cardington family left for Harrington that Gabrielle received the phone call from Alba Dennsion that Dominick was delirious with a raving fever.
She had been studying at the time, working hard for a monster project that was due to be 'in' before noon the next day, but the second she saw the Dennisons' number flash up on the screen of her phone, Gabrielle swept her books from the oakwood desk with unwanton emotion and pushed down hard on the green button.
"Yes?" she said breathlessly. "Dom okay? Anything wrong?"
"Yeah." Alba sounded rather deflated. "It's a fever. Nothing too bad. It's natural after the shock and pain and he's had a tiring few days. He's calling your name. Can you come?"
Gabrielle sucked the nib of her pen with uncharacteristic anger, aware of the black ink trickling ominously down the back of her throat, tickling and teasing her voice. Taking it from her mouth, she twirled the pen deftly, drew her arm back, and lobbed it at the wall like a dart. The nib disintegrated like the bursting of her heart, ink spattering the white paint like black blood; a deathly stain on a perfect day.
"Sure," she replied, her voice impassive. "Coming right away."
"Take a torch - I'd send Hermann for you if he weren't out - and be careful -" Alba's voice resounded anxiously down the line, muffling as Gabrielle slammed her phone down on the duvet and directed a rueful glance towards the wall, which was looking 'a bit of a mess, and not a necessary one', to quote her thoughts.
"Yeah, 'kay," she responded, and Alba hung up.
Left to herself, Gabrielle pushed her hair from her forehead with a sigh, and turned to her chest of drawers. Shoving some clean underwear, a nightie and her toothbrush into her largest handbag, a midnight blue leather object new since the previous week, she grabbed her keys and slammed the door, not even stopping to flatten one of her preciously expensive study books, which was lying in a nasty position on the floor with several pages bent and warped horribly.
She walked quickly, with a strange feeling of impatience, and stamped her feet as she waited on the doorstep of Alba and Hermann's small green townhouse.
"I'm not leaving him till daylight," she said immediately, greeting Alba with a half-smile and barging straight up the stairs, shoes and all.
"Tea...?" Alba was left at the bottom of the stairs. "I guess not."
Gabrielle made her way to the spare room at the back of the house, and twisted the creaking handle cautiously.
"Dom, dear?" she called softly as she stepped into the darkened room, kicking her shoes off and dropping down her bag.
"Gabrielle? Is that Gabrielle?"
"Yes, dear, it's me."
"Gabrielle! I called and called but you never came!"
"I came as soon as I could, so stop this nonsense and try to get some sleep. You're way too over-excitable, Dominick Cardington, though I never thought I'd say it of you."
Gabrielle felt her way through the darkness, till she found a flat patch of skin which seemed to be his forehead.
"Dom!" she exclaimed. "You're burning up! Isn't there a flannel somewhere or a cloth?"
There was a small moan and a shuffling, and Gabrielle realised that he was trying to kick back the bedclothes.
"No, you don't," she said firmly. "You're staying right there till I get back."
He lay back again obediently, and she started back towards the door, treading on something squelchy on the way. Wriggling her toes, for she hated to have damp socks, Gabrielle bent down and her fingertips recognised a damp cloth. Perhaps he'd kicked it away since Alba had last been up.
She tripped to the doorway and turned the lights on, dimming them as the invalid protested feverishly, and slipped out to the bathroom, where she filled a foot basin with cold water, adding a few drops of Alba's lavender oil from a line of bottles in the cupboard under the sink, and returned to the bedroom, where Dominick seemed to be trying to claw his way out of bed.
"Stay!" she commanded, hurrying over and pressing the now-cold cloth to his hot head.
"That's good," muttered Dominick, relaxing instantly, and she responded by sponging his face and neck and hands, murmuring all the time.
The fever was relenting already, and when he seemed quiet, Gabrielle shook her damp hair from her ponytail and licked her lips exhaustedly. Backing away, she leaned against the door, thinking and listening. There was a movement on the landing.
She opened the door to see Hermann creeping up the dark stairs.
"You okay?" he whispered as he saw her at the door.
"Nah, I'm alright," she replied flippantly.
"Alba's just finishing off the washing up and then she'll be coming up," commented Hermann. "She said she's there to go to if there are any problems. Don't hesitate to wake either of us up. 'Night."
"Goodnight," said Gabrielle, and she watched him vanish into the master bedroom. Then she shuffled back into the spare room, where she changed into her nightie and plaited her hair. Turning, she regarded Dominick, who was breathing, so peacefully, his chest rising and falling, as it had done so many years ago, in her Grannie's attic room. He was on the left side of the cheap low-situated double bed, as he had been that other time, in her Grannie's old four-poster, and she felt tears well in her eyes.
Tears of her love for Grannie, and tears of her love for Dominick.
Then she turned to how she was to spend the remainder of the night. Sleep on the right side of the bed, beside Dominick, beside a feverish man who might feel slightly disturbed if he woke in the same bed as she, even though they were together? Or should she find some blankets and camp on the floor?
Wearily, Gabrielle stretched herself on top of the duvet on the right side of the bed. It felt awkward, but she was too tired to find blankets. How hot it was in the room!
Having opened a window, she law down again, and turned to watch Dominick's sleep-softened face. His right cheek muscles twitched every now and then, so very slightly. How beautiful he was! She lay watching for a while; reluctantly she rolled back over to face the window. Sighing, she settled for a sleepless night.