His assistant tells him a woman named Cece is on the phone and Schmidt takes a second to lean back in his chair, loosen his tie. “Cecelia, we’re now making our rendezvouses during the work day? Got to say, I’m surprised, especially after tiring you out so spectacularly last night, but of course intrigued.”
She’s just blunt and straight to the point. “You need to come pick me up.”
“I’m not going to come pick you up simply because you asked me to. I’m my own man, I don’t need to do anything.”
“I’ve been sick at this shoot all day and they won’t let me drive home or leave in a cab. Jess is at work. I repeat, you have to come pick me up.”
“I’m at work too,” he tells her, a little indignant. Just because Jess is responsible for keeping kids alive it doesn’t mean everyone else’s job isn’t important. “Also, what kind of sick are we talking? Are you contagious?” He can feel the little pricks of panic shooting into his system. Oh God, he kissed her goodbye this morning.
Cece ignores him, as usual. “I’m texting you the address. Don’t disappoint me,” and then she hangs up and he knows he’s going regardless of how much his immune system was already compromised by Winston leaving a window open overnight.
The surgical mask that he stole from the first aid kit under Shelly’s desk seemed more than slightly ridiculous by the time he pulled up to the warehouse Cece was apparently working in today, but when she didn’t roll her eyes at it, he was easily a 9 on the anxiety scale again.
She kind of just falls into the front seat, pulling on the seatbelt like it’s the most difficult thing she’s ever done.
“What’s the matter, Ceece?” he asks, wanting to push her bangs back but really not comfortable with the idea of touching her. His mother warned him this was going to happen one day if he didn’t just grow up about it. “You want to go to a doctor?”
“You do know those masks only keep me from getting your germs, right?”
“Who cares about the non-sick person spreading germs? Who even designed this?” He takes it off and throws it into her lap. “Speaking of germs, what kind do you think you’re being ravaged by.” His hands are shaking so much, it’s getting a little difficult to turn the engine over. “Just in case, maybe put that on before you tell me.”
She’s slipping the right elastic over her ear when she says, “It’s probably food poisoning.”
His stomach starts to hurt. “Is anyone else sick who ate what you ate?”
“Doesn’t seem like.”
That is definitely a cramp in his abdomen, yep. This is how it starts.
“Well maybe you’re pregnant!” Schmidt is so far gone into his neuroses that Cece being pregnant actually seems like a positive alternative.
“I’m nauseous enough, Schmidt. Just take me home.”
He finally gets the ignition turned over. “Please don’t throw up in my car.”
“I’d never do that to the Manbulance.”
“So Jess told you about that?”
“Yeah, she did.”
He pats her shoulder because that’s probably the least infected piece of her and it was a sweet thing to say.
Part of the whole not throwing up in the car thing means him pulling over when they’re three blocks from her apartment so she can dry heave onto the grass. It’s honestly taking all of his self control to hold her ponytail back and not vomit right on top of her.
“If it’s making you sick, go back in the car,” she tells him in a moment of ragged breathing, and he gags while trying to tell her it’s totally fine. He’s totally fine. He can watch her wipe her mouth with an old napkin she had in her purse, no big deal at all, that’s not in the least bit disgusting.
Somehow though he finds himself saying, “You can’t go home like this. I don’t like the idea of you being alone when this is going on. People die like this.”
“I kind of want to die.” He looks at her down on her hands and knees with a puddle of spit in front of her and can’t really blame that reaction. He also would not mind dying right about now.
“I don’t want you to die. Not when you’re the only person who will let me try that thing with the whisk.”
“If you cared about me at all right now, you’d let me. You’d put a pillow over my face and smother all the life from my body.”
“I’m not going to do that. Not just because I don’t have a pillow.”
“Use your driving poncho,” she moans, and as he tries to breathe through his mouth, he realizes he might be a little bit in love with Cece to still be standing here.
They don’t have to stop again before getting to his apartment, but she’s clutching the plastic bag he keeps in his gym bag much too tightly for comfort during the elevator ride.
“You can’t throw up again,” he says in a voice that he meant to be comforting but that kind of comes out much more like a command. “There is nothing left for you to throw up.”
She half-heartedly nods.
He loves that he’s having a full blown panic attack in front of a girl who clearly is in worse shape than he is. Very attractive. It’s just that his body has no idea if it should be curled in the corner in a fetal position or pacing through the elevator like an animal in the zoo and so he’s kind of just splitting the difference and rubbing his arms with alarming intensity. “Are we sure this isn’t food poisoning? Tell me again why this can’t be food poisoning.”
“Because I know you guys have been eating those muffins and none of you were sick.”
“Wait, Jess’ muffins? The muffins for the thing at school? You ate one of those today?” He’s more hopeful than he’s ever been waiting for her to say yes to these questions.
“Oh, thank God. Okay, see, Jess kind of put zucchini in those because they’re not allowed to serve anything unhealthy at school functions any more, so, she basically poisoned you and created this horrific allergic reaction which I cannot catch, again, thank God. But, yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s what the ‘Cece, don’t eat these muffins’ sign was about. Whew.” He lets out this breath that’s part relief and part giggle as the elevator doors slide open.
“I thought she was just trying to encourage me not to cheat on my diet! Do you have Benadryl or something?”
“Benadryls’ in the apothecary table at the foot of my bed. Hay fever, wut wut!”
Heading towards his bedroom, she yells, “I’m going to go black out for three hours.” She makes a move to close the door behind her, but Schmidt literally runs to stop that.
“Hey, let me come lay down with you. Make sure you’re okay.”
“Is that because you’re sure I’m not contagious?” She is drinking the pink liquid straight from the bottle, which does not seem like the best way to get an accurate dosage.
“I think we can both admit that I really rose to the occasion today. Like, a shocking lack of crying happened.” Schmidt pulls one of his old Syracuse t-shirts out from a bottom drawer, one of the huge ones that he can’t believe ever fit, and hands it to her.
“Help me,” Cece asks, already slurring, and he does, slips off her tank top and her jeans, and pulls the shirt over her head until she’s swimming in it. She’s still beautiful, even with no makeup on and Nick’s ashy complexion, wearing a shirt he should have thrown out years ago. And he wants to tell her, but she sighs out the words, “Thank you,” instead and tries to slink into bed before he gets the chance.
She’s messing up all the blankets, making more of a nest than a spot for herself, but he’ll deal with it later. He works instead on taking out her braid, finger combing her hair, which is something she hates to let him do when she’s sober. Her breathing is getting slow and quiet, and he thinks she’s maybe already asleep when she tells him, “I love that you’re here.”
“I love that I’m here too,” and he does. Very strangely, he does.