Chicken Soup for a Little Boy’s Cold
“Aww, Mooom…” the boy whined, rubbing his muzzle with the back of his hand. “I’m feeling better now, honest!”
“I’m sure you are, Blake.” The female quagga, her mane cropped so short it might as well not be there, sounded thoroughly unconvinced. “And I’m sure it has nothing at all to do with Charlie and his sled waiting in the yard.”
Blake sniffed, looking up at his mother with big, pleading brown eyes. “This time I’ll keep my hat and scarf on, I promise!”
“I said no. You know the rules, kiddo. If you’re too sick for school…”
“…You’re too sick to play outside. Yeah, I know.” Again, the young quagga colt sniffled. “But just this once? Pleeeaaase, Mom?”
“Blake Masterson, go blow your nose and get your striped hiney in bed or so help me, I’ll carry you in there myself.”
“Aww.” Head and ears drooping, the young striped equine started walking towards the bathroom for a Kleenex. In the doorway, he paused and turned his head. “Mom?”
“Yes?” If Victoria Masterson sounded like she suspected her son of trying to weasel his way out of the house rules in order to play with his friend, it was only because she knew him.
“Can Charlie come in and play, then?”
“Do you want Charlie to catch your cold?”
Blake shook his head. “No, that’d suck.”
“Then Charlie shouldn’t come in and play. Go on, blow your nose and get in bed, and I’ll heat up some chicken soup for you.”
“And tell me a story?”
The young mother laughed, affectionately ruffling her son’s mane. “I’m sure your Dad’ll tell you a story when he gets home from work. You know I can’t tell stories.”
“I’ll read you the truck’s owner’s manual if you don’t get moving right now, young mister.”
Giggling and sniffling, the boy ducked through the doorway and snatched a tissue, blowing his nose quite noisily. Once his airways were passably clear, he ran the water in the sink as hot as he could stand it, dutifully washing his face and hands with soap, then lingering for a few moments to inhale the steam. Not too long, though; he left the bathroom before his mother was done talking to his friend outside, and was hesitating with his hand to the door handle to his room when he heard the front door close.
“Yes? Charlie says hi, and to get well soon.”
“Can I sleep in your and Dad’s bed instead?”
She was quiet for a few moments, then answered, a smile in his voice. “Yes, you can lie in our bed. Go grab your Pony and get in there. I’ll be right there with some soup for you.”
It was another several minutes before she came into the master bedroom carrying a steaming bowl containing chicken soup and alphabet noodles on a small tray printed with colorful rainforest birds. At that point, the king-size bed that dominated the room was stripped down to the bottom sheets, the covers and pillows piled up roughly in the center of the bed. And in the middle of that down-stuffed nest, breathing slowly and hugging a threadbare plush palomino pony, lay her son. His breath whistled slightly as he slept, in a not-quite-snore, like it always did when his nose was stuffed up.
She set the tray on the closest nightstand — her husband’s — and sat on the edge of the bed. For a moment she just watched the boy sleeping, obviously more tired than he’d been willing to let on, then, with a soft kiss to his too-warm nose that made him wriggle a little in his sleep, she rose and left the room, letting the door whisper shut behind her.