"What's normal soup?" Cayden asked, looking at me confused.
"You know, like chicken noodle, tomato, minestrone?"
Cayden furrowed his eyebrows and looked to the top right corner, scratching his chest with two fingers. His typical thinking face.
"I think we have chicken noodle at Chinese restaurants," he said, still scratching his chest, just under his collarbone.
"No, not Chinese soup. Like regular chicken noodle soup. You know, like chicken broth and noodles and chicken and vegetables?"
Cayden glanced back in the top right corner and I went back to analyzing the menu.
Malaysian chicken. Sweet potato and spinach. Carrot, lentil and toasted cumin. Gross.
"We can go somewhere else if you'd like," Cayden suggested.
"No, no, this is fine, really," I said, pulling a yogurt and granola parfait and a cup of fruit off the shelf. It wasn't the warm, comforting soup I was craving, but I didn't want to be a pain in the ass, either.
Cayden paid for our lunches and we grabbed a table in the back.
"So, do you think you'll feel well enough to go out tonight?" he asked again. "Because I'll need to text everyone now so we can pick a place."
"Cayden, I'm going to be really honest. I can't tell you for sure how I'm going to be feeling tonight. The pain relievers seem to last about an hour, maybe two if we're lucky. So you might get two good hours out of me before my fever spikes and I'm the girl crying at the bar, wiping my nose on a stranger's sleeve, begging the bartender for vicodin. I'm also highly contagious, so I'd get everyone sick and then they'd hate me. I'm surprised I haven't gotten you sick yet."
I felt bad suggesting we cancel. I knew he was just as excited as I had been about going out and meeting everyone. I wanted to know all of Cayden's friends the way he knew most of mine. But I also wanted them to meet me when I was myself, not when I was sick, miserable, woe-is-me Whitney.
"That's OK. Let's just get you feeling better first," Cayden said. "I just wish I knew how to do that."
I reassured him that just being around him put me in better spirits. Sure, my tonsils were decomposing and my body was throbbing, but at least I had my beautiful, wonderful, sweet Cayden by my side to laugh at me when I accidentally hocked a loogie in the bathroom sink. (Hey, you try fighting a sinus infection and strep throat at the same time. A girl's gotta create an airway somehow.)
"What's next?" I asked, gathering my empty containers and Cayden's sandwich wrapper.
"There's a Starbucks around the corner. Want to grab a cup of tea?"
It sounded like a line straight out of a movie. But yes, yes I did want a cup of tea.
I linked my arm through his and he led us out onto the street and around the corner. I yanked on the belt on my coat, pulling it tighter. I missed Rome's 60-degree afternoons already.
Cayden ordered our drinks while I went upstairs to look for a table. Halfway up the stairs I had to pause and grip the banister. Black dots flooded my vision. I knew if I took one more step I'd end up face down in the stairwell with a busted lip and chipped tooth. I squeezed my eyes shut and gripped the banister with both hands for suppose. Do not pass out. Do not pass out.
I opened my eyes and blinked rapidly until the dots faded away. I took three deep breaths before trying another step. I stepped, breathed, and waited. No dots. So I took another. And another. Miraculously, I made it to the top without passing out.
All of the tables were taken except for one in the center of the room. I plopped down in the chair and begged my body to stop throbbing. I needed the ringing in my ears to stop so I could eavesdrop on the conversations around me. There's nothing better than eavesdropping and people-watching at coffee shops.
Three girls about my age sat at the table in front of me, against the window. I couldn't take my eyes away from the girl on the left. She was absolutely beautiful. She had short, short, light brown hair. Long, dark eyelashes that curled just right, accentuating her big, blue eyes. She had that face that could pass for 18 or 28. Her face was animated and excited as she talked to her two long dark haired friends. The way her accent rolled out of her pouty lips made me want to listen to her all day.
"Did you book that show?"
"We went to the shoot, but I don't know yet."
"Oh, and weren't you flirting with the photographer's assistant?"
"Ohmygod, he sent me a Facebook message!"
They were models. Obviously. It was Fashion Week in London, after all.
"No, please let us set you up!" One of the friends was saying to the short-haired girl.
I was intrigued. How in the world could this gorgeous, adorable, lively model be single? How had she not found a prince charming to tell her how perfect she was?
Just then, Cayden made it to the table with two steaming mugs in his hands. He sat down and I filled him in on the models behind him. He liked people watching just as much as I did.
"So, remember when you said you're surprised you haven't gotten me sick yet?" Cayden asked, holding the mug up to his face.
"Yeah..." I answered, afraid I knew what was next.
"All of a sudden, I feel like crap. My head hurts, I feel weak. I didn't really notice until I was coming up the stairs just now."
"Oh no! I'm sorry baby! If it makes you feel any better, I almost passed out in the stairwell."
I didn't want Cayden to get what I had. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy. And besides, if he got sick, who would take care of us? My mom was thousands of miles away.
"How we stay in bed all night and watch movies? We can stop by the store on the way home and grab some food for tonight."
I couldn't have come up with a better plan myself. Well, actually, a better plan would have been to have that food delivered, because the thought of one more stop on our way home made me cringe.
We stayed at Starbucks well after our mugs were sipped dry. Neither of us had the energy to face a grocery store just yet. We talked about Rome. We talked about Texas. We talked about my new job and my talented new coworkers. We talked about Cayden's potential new job. He'd had his third interview at one of his top picks earlier than morning, while I was still rolling around in bed.
His new plan was to find a new job so he could make as much money as possible before moving to the states. His job at the charity just wasn't going to cut it. With his career up in the air, we didn't know when we'd see each other next. So for the time being, I was trying to enjoy every second with him.
We finally managed to pull ourselves up from the table and made our way to the grocery store. Cayden pulled me toward the soup aisle while I tried to linger in the chocolate aisle. I almost reached for a Cadbury Egg, but then imagined the sweet, sticky filling clinging to my infected tonsils. No, thanks.
"Look!" Cayden said, grabbing for a can of soup. "You said you wanted tomato soup, right?"
The label read Tomato Basil with Parmesan and Garlic. My mouth watered just reading the name.
"That will do!" I said, tossing it in our basket. Cayden picked out a lamb stew or something manly like that. Then he went to the bread aisle and picked out a multi-grain loaf with thick crust and visible grains. Perfect for dipping.
After four days of back-to-back tourist attractions in Rome, a night in bed with sweatpants, soup, and Cayden, was exactly what the doctor ordered.