The flu would not be the end of the world. Greta had heard remedies-laudanum, opium, vinegar, turpentine and sugar-but Clark insisted he needed nothing but her tender care and copious bed rest. Still, she thought, a twinkle of worry dwelled in the corner of his eyes. She knew not to ask. Clark had always lived by his secrets, insisted upon them ever since they had met three months ago. Men could be utter pussycats when they had even a touch of the sniffles. She refused to consider this as anything worse than that. It was possible that a man could just be sick, still. It wasn't always the flu.
He sipped at the broth with a grimace of pleasure, sitting up with effort before coughing violently. She thought she spied some blood edging out of his lips, but he wiped it away too quickly for her to be sure. She retreated from his bed until his spasms subsided. Despite their time together, he still demanded his own room, own bed, but made such fine use of hers that she could ignore the eccentricities of a particular sleeper.
He beckoned her back, kissing her knuckles.
"You are too good to me. An absolute peach," he said, all hoarse whisper. He looked peaked, no question, but there was also a desirability about him that nearly overpowered her concern. She wasn't sure when last she had so wanted a man between her legs. He was only the second one, she warranted. Maybe this is how a woman was meant to feel.
She had her story of him, the story they had built together. He answered few direct questions about his past and she learned quickly to only focus on their present and future. That was almost enough for her. She made her unavoidable assumptions, chief among these that he had found her while escaping from the war. If so, she was keen to be his escape. War was nasty business and left indelible marks she busied herself caressing. She had heard about the boys coming back shell shocked, though she daren't envision the particulars. She could love a conchie, though, if that was what he was. She didn't see cause for the war herself, not that she would say as much. You didn't admit some things in polite company, not at her age.
Clark had the look and demeanor of a vaudevillian or movie star, she thought. Until a few weeks ago, he brought her to the movies almost every weekend, then out dancing. He never seemed more alive than on the dance floor. She tried cajoling him to take her to a roller rink, but he claimed he had no coordination for it. He could barely stand the train and wouldn't strap wheels onto his feet, he said. This was all in the past, though, since the government kept trying to shut down anything fun on account of the flu. Not the prayer meetings, of course. That took them a while longer, but where was she likelier to get sick? Skating in a big room or praying all tight together? She saw this flu as a war of attrition, like the Great War itself. People said that there would never be another war after this and she could only hope that there would never be another flu, either, because the world couldn't take it. She would beat it simply by waiting it out. Greta dug herself into the affair with Clark. She wouldn't let some bug scare her. She could try to amuse him with issues of Photoplay until he got better or the government let people enjoy themselves again.
She didn't know how much money Clark had. If he stayed sick long, it could dwindle to nothing, but she didn't despair. She had friends who were secretaries, even telephone operators. She could find work. She'd avoid nursing, though. Clark was the only exception to her discomfort with bodily fluids and only because she loved him and knew he would have moved mountains for her happiness. Something away from sickness and disease would do her right. She couldn't work in a factory, not if there was a solitary other option, not in her delicate state. Heck, back home in Montana, they'd even elected a woman to congress. She could do anything in this changing world, except vote. She didn't have to be only someone's mother.
She toweled the sweat from Clark's forehead. What she wouldn't give for this fever to break. She could hardly stand to touch his face, he was so hot. "You..." he stammered weakly "...are the spitting imagine of... Lillian Gish, you know that? Even prettier. Anyone ever tell you that?"
Every day, she thought. It was the first things he ever said to her, just after she got the letter about how the Krauts shot Andrew. He shouldn't have even been there, except that the military started drafting out of desperation.
Clark helped her forget all that business. He was so dapper, so yummy in his straw hat. She thought they were silly on most men, but not him. Now, this delirium was robbing him of this memory. People hallucinated when the flu really got them. Things weren't so bad until they started with the gibberish. Then, you had hours. Hours until they came out of it or hours until...
"I know it isn't mine, my dear," Clark said, touching her belly with infinite care. "I don't give a damn, frankly. You are mine. If I make it through, I'll raise it as my child. It would be my honor."
She didn't know he realized, even though her stomach had begun to grow. It had only been the two times with Andrew, and she would have married him had he not died. She felt ruined anyway and fell into Clark's arms in her grief. Maybe he knew when they met that she was in the family way. She kissed him and kissed him on his scalding brow. In these few words, he had as good as said he would make her an honest woman. She didn't know what she would have done, otherwise. Given the baby up, she supposed, but there were so many orphans about now. In good conscience, she couldn't bring another into the world.
"You wonderful man! I am the luckiest girl who has ever been," she said, cuddling next to him. "We can have the wedding as soon as you are up and about, before I show. Nothing fancy, just something in front of a priest and..." She felt the heat radiating from him and retreated. "Darling, you are just burning up. Let me get you-"
He exploded. She pushed herself from the bed, all instinct, assuming the Germans had attacked.
When she found the courage to open her eyes again in the silence of the room, Clark was gone and the bed was charred black.