During three dreary hours of watching Cash In The Attic, Grand Design and an ancient episode of Doctor Who that Arthur had said was probably from the Stone Age, the weather that had once been bright and sunny – perfect for Merlin’s graduation day – began to take a turn for the worse. Soon the windowpanes were lashed with rain, and gleaming drops of water beaded down the glass, racing each other.
And as a result, neither boy lounging on the sofa was surprised when there was the deep rumbling of thunder overhead. However, when the football match finally flickered onto the screen, they were both startled as a bolt of lightning tore across the stormy sky and all the lights went out, including the Tele.
Muttering something angrily, Arthur stumbled through the dark over to a wall where he felt around for a switch. Even though he flicked it several times, the lights still didn’t come on, and the darkness was only broken by another flash of lightning from the window.
“I take it this means the match is off,” Merlin said, downhearted.
“Yeah…” Arthur sighed. “Sorry, I know you wanted a bit of a celebration what with passing your graduation and all.”
“Nah, don’t worry about it,” Merlin replied, the sofa creaking as he stood up. “I’m gonna hit the sack, what about you?”
“I’m going to read a book,” Arthur said slowly.
“A book,” Merlin repeated.
“Alright…well, have fun with that. Good night.”
Arthur heard Merlin shuffle off to bed, yawning.
He looked at the window dubiously as another bolt of lightning blazed across the sky, creating long, eerie shadows for a moment before vanishing again and leaving Arthur with an imprint of the room on his eyes.
Having lied to his friend about the book, he made his way to a sideboard where he pulled out a shoebox. Converse All Stars, of course. Merlin did have a very iconic style – Morgana was right – and they were his favourite type of shoes. Plus his existing ones were in desperate need of replacement, so Arthur had thought to buy him a brand new pair for a graduation present.
Finding it difficult in the gloom but persevering nevertheless, Arthur carefully wrapped the box up in some dark blue paper and replaced it back in the draw, ready to give to his friend tomorrow.
He’d taken his time, so when he made his way into the room they both shared; he found Merlin was already asleep. The bunk bed protested loudly as he swung himself onto it and nestled himself down under the covers. He was just drifting off to sleep as Merlin suddenly shot awake, screaming murder and causing him to sit up with a jolt and whack his head painfully on the ceiling.
“NOOO, THE KILLER SQUIRRLES!!!”
Arthur groaned, remembering the horror movie they’d watched the previous night, and hung his head over the side of the bed.
“Merlin,” he said, “there are no killer squirrels. Why do I even let you watch those movies? Go back to sleep…please.”
Merlin, still muttering something about acorns, lay back down again and Arthur also went to sleep as the storm continued to batter the windows.
The next morning, Arthur was loudly awoken by Merlin’s alarm clock. As he jumped out of the bunk bed and dug around in the pile of clothes strewn across the floor – their room was a mess, not something to be reckoned with – he noticed wheezing coming from where Merlin was huddled, his blanket pulled over his head.
To say he looked like death warmed up would be an understatement. He looked positively terrible. There was sweat beading down his forehead, his face was white and he was surrounded by a conglomeration of scrunched up used tissues.
Through his half opened eyes, Merlin noticed he was staring at him and groaned profusely before pulling the blanket further over his head.
“I’m ill,” he mumbled groggily, his face half buried in his pillow.
“I can see that…” Arthur’s eyebrows knitted into a concerned frown as he perched on the side of the bed and checked Merlin’s temperature with his hand. It was clear he had a fever, or perhaps the flu. “Do you want a lemsip or anything?”
“No,” Merlin said. “I’ve got an interview today. I don’t have time to be ill.”
“An interview?” Arthur exclaimed, surprised. “Oh, that’s great, Merlin!”
Merlin worked part time in a newsagent, but Arthur knew his dream job was to be a newspaper reporter. He also knew how Merlin studied the papers left over from the shop that hadn’t been sold, and tried to extract all he could from writing styles and suchlike. He’d been trying to find an interview for ages. It didn’t seem fair that on the day he finally got one, he had to catch the flu.
Merlin tried to sit up, brushing away all the screwed up tissues, but Arthur firmly pushed him back down.
“You’re not going anywhere in this state,” he told his friend sharply, standing up. “Stay there and I’ll ring to ask them to postpone the interview, yeah? How’s that?”
Merlin nodded weakly and sunk back into the bed as Arthur grabbed his Nokia and punched in the number Merlin gave him before walking out the door, mobile to his ear.
Merlin felt dreadful. His head was pounding like several bombs (or perhaps fireworks) were going off, his arms and legs didn’t seem to want to move and his throat scratched every time he took a deep breath. It had better not be swine flu, or the newspaper would never hold the meeting off long enough for him to recover. But what if it was? Merlin began going through all the worse case scenarios, such as Arthur catching it and then both of them dying, like the radio, TV and whatever kept saying…
“They said they’d reschedule it to Friday, so you’d better improve by then or you’ll ruin your chances, I’m afraid,” Arthur said, coming back into the room and sitting down on the bed. “You sure you don’t want anything?”
“Well…I suppose a lemsip would be nice…” Merlin rasped in a scratchy voice.
“Don’t you worry, Merlin. I’ll make sure you get to that interview, even if it means I have to dish out a bit of TLC,” Arthur joked on his way back to the door.
Glad he didn’t have to work that week, he made his way to the kitchen where he brewed Merlin a lemsip before returning and handing it to him.
“Got any idea who you caught it off?” he asked while Merlin sipped the drink unenthusiastically.
“I’ve no idea…” Merlin wheezed, setting the mug on the cupboard beside the bed. “But it was probably Old Man Simmons.”
“I can always set a horde of toads into his apartment again, if you like…” Arthur suggested with a mischievously raised eyebrow.
“Big, green, slimy ones?” Merlin inquired through one half opened eye.
Merlin managed to splutter a laugh before subsiding into a shaky cough. Sitting on the other end of the bed, Arthur watched on with concern as his friend slipped down further under the covers, still coughing.
While Merlin closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep, Arthur cast his gaze around the room. Catching sight of a pair of Merlin’s battered old shoes, he was reminded of the box in the sideboard, which he got up to fetch.
“Here, I know its not a miraculous cure or anything, but I got you this,” he said, passing the wrapped up box to his friend.
Merlin edged himself up onto an elbow and tore open the wrapping paper. He broke into a wide grin as he found a pair of smart, black Converses inside, and turned to look up at Arthur who was smiling modestly.
“Thank you!” his eyes wear shining as he pulled the crunchy paper out of the way and abandoned it on the floor before beginning to untie both pairs of laces, looking intently at every aspect of the shoes with fascination.“Its nothing,” Arthur shrugged. “I’ll be in the other room. Call if you need anything.”