“I’m never doing that again.”
I closed my eyes and dropped on the couch, stretching out my sore legs and careful not to put my muddy shoes out of the rug I dragged from the door. I heard our front door close and some more footsteps and then felt the couch move as someone sat beside me.
My statement was met with silence for a few moments and then finally, a chuckle. I sort of expected that, but it still didn’t stop me from lashing back.
“And why are you laughing?” I cracked my eyes open and looked at the guy sitting beside me. As I predicted, there was that grin on his face.
“Nothing,” He looked at me for a moment and then chuckled again, his shoulders shaking slightly. I could see his effort to stifle his laughter, but I could also see the mirth in his eyes as it filled up with laughter-induced tears.
“Ian!” I wailed. “I hate it when you do that! What is so funny?”
Now he was really laughing, his breath coming in short gasps as he tried to talk. I would have slapped him silly if only that movement would not take so much energy. Instead, I glared at him.
“Okay, okay,” Ian said when he finally managed to stop laughing. The tears of “joy” in his eyes had spilled over and he wiped the tears away with the back of his hand as he gasped for breath.The nerve of that guy. “Sorry, I just didn’t think you could scream like that.” He added, bursting into another fit of laughter.
“You are so mean.” I said, shaking my head wearily. “Shouldn’t we be ruminating about how we helped the environment today by planting trees and all instead of making fun of me? ”
That did it. Ian stopped laughing. He cleared his throat and looked at me, all serious. “You’re right, Ruth. What we did was a pretty big thing.” I gave him a smile and then settled back again, glad to stop him from teasing me.
However, I underestimated Ian once again, because as soon as I had relaxed, he said, “Then again, Ruth, how many trees did you plant today? I seem to remember you actually destroying some of them when you fell earlier.” He ended his statement with a hoot and laughed again.
“Ugh, Ian, I hate you.” I finally found enough strength to slap him on the arm, although it wasn’t as hard as I wanted to, and he barely flinched.
“Sorry Ruth, I couldn’t help it,” Ian apologized in between laughs. “I mean, you looked like a poor thing earlier when you slid and fell down from the top of the hill, and I am honestly glad you’re not hurt, but that scream? It was monumental. I think Luke might have got that recorded on video.”
“Ugh!” I said, pushing myself off the couch. I slipped my shoes off and stomped to the kitchen as well as I can with my sore legs, leaving Ian still laughing on the couch. I grabbed my tumbler from the refrigerator and stomped back to the living room, where Ian was now leaning back on the couch, breathing deeply. His face was red from all the laughter.
“It’s not like I was the only one screaming,” I muttered as I put the tumbler on the coffee table after taking a drink. Ian ignored my comment and just concentrated on catching his breath. I leaned back on the couch and stretched my legs again, putting my feet on top of the coffee table and closed my eyes.
“Where are the others by the way? Didn’t we all leave La Mesa Dam at the same time?” I asked.
Ian answered me with a cough. I thought he was about to say something mean or sarcastic, the way the guys at work usually do before saying such things, but then he coughed again. And again.
I opened my eyes to look at him, and was shocked to see that his face was starting to get red. His eyes were watery again, but this time from the effort of coughing. He had one hand on his chest, as if trying to stop his lungs from acting out and his other hand cupped over his mouth.
And suddenly, I was no longer tired. I sat up and moved closer to Ian, putting a hand on his back, hitting it slightly, the same way I used to do when Naomi was having an asthma attack. Ian tried to smile at me through his coughing, as if to tell me it’s okay, but instead, he just coughed harder.
“Ian, hang on,” I said, grabbing my tumbler and running to the kitchen to refill it with lukewarm water. I ran back to the living room and handed him the tumbler. He took it gratefully and I sat down again, running a hand up and down his back, in an attempt to make him relax as he drank the water.
“Thanks,” Ian whispered when he was done with the water. He no longer coughed, but his breathing was still ragged and heavy. However, he had started to relax and his face was no longer red nor his eyes teary.
“What happened?” I asked, still worried. I took the tumbler from his hand and put it on the coffee table.
“Too much laughter, I guess,” Ian said with a shrug. He looked at me, eyes twinkling despite what happened earlier. “I guess that’s what happens when I laugh at you too much.”
I chuckled, and he smiled again, his breathing now less labored. “I’m sorry,” he said after a moment of silence.
“Nah, it’s okay,” I replied, trying to sound nonchalant. The truth was, Ian’s coughing fit had me worried more than I usually did. The last time that happened to Naomi was ages ago, and I normally knew what to do. This one caught me off guard, and I was really and truly afraid when I saw and heard Ian having trouble breathing. I shuddered involuntarily.
I looked at Ian and met his eyes, and he was giving me a confused look. I raised an eyebrow at him, and then he motioned slowly to his back. It was then I realized that my hand was still rubbing his back gently, even if he hasn’t been coughing for a while now.
From terror and worry, I shifted to embarrassment. I pulled my hand away and put it on my lap, avoiding Ian’s eyes. “Oh, yeah. Right.”
He laughed, and coughed again, and I gave him a sharp look. Our eyes met again, and this time, they held. It was silent except for our breathing, and in the corner of my eye, I saw his hand reach for mine slowly…slowly…
The doorbell rang.
“Yohooo, we’re here!”
I blinked, jumped up from the couch and opened the door in less than ten seconds. Our colleagues poured in from my front door, filling my house with chatter and laughter, all of them sounding loud, too loud. As soon as everyone was inside, I closed the door and stole a glance at Ian. He was now standing up beside the couch to let our female colleagues sit. Our eyes met again, and he gave me a smile, like nothing happened at all.