I staggered across the end of the trail, sticky, pungent sweat dripping down my face. My breathing was fast and deep, desperate to rush oxygen to my body. My pulse beat a fast cadence on my neck. How was it almost 90 degrees out at only 9 in the morning? I was definitely glad I got my run in when I did. The forecast called for 100+ temperatures, not including the heavy humidity. Already it felt like I had been swimming through the thick air, rather than running through it.
I went over to my car, ready to get a drink of water. I was thirsty enough to have three whole bottles. I wiped my damp forehead with the bottom of my white cut-off shirt, the only part of my shirt not already soaked with the foul-smelling liquid.
As I neared my car, I saw a rather strange sight. There was a young, aburun-haired man running in the strangest outfit. It was a long-sleeved sailor-style shirt, almost like something from Haruhi Suzumia, with long pants. The young man was staggering slowly, barely moving forward, but clearly attempting to run. With that getup on, I doubted that he would make it much longer without heat exhaustion.
That was when I saw him collapse on the grassy lawn. A little frightened for him, I walked over to check how he was doing. I could hear his frantic, shallow breathing from almost ten feet away. I knelt down by this unfortunate runner, the grass sticking slightly to my damp legs.
"Hey, buddy," I patted his shoulder slightly, "are you okay?" He looked at me; he had a rather endearing lost-puppy sort of face. His eyes were still closed as he "looked" at me. He looked very dazed, but the main thing I noticed was how pale he looked. Most people after running get flushed and red. Either he hadn't been running very long at all, or something was very wrong.
He gasped out between his rapid breaths, "I'm-a…sorry…what…did you…a-say…?" He spoke slightly accented English. It had a slight musical lilt to it, even as he struggled to articulate.
"Are you alright?" I asked again, this time putting my hand to his forehead. His skin was dry as a bone and so hot I could barely touch it. This wasn't good. On a day like today, you could start sweating just standing outside for ten minutes. Not sweating, pale skin, shallow breathing, none of these were good signs.
There was a bleary smile on his confused face. "Your-a…so…pretty…ragazza…."
I grew slightly irritated at his avoiding my question, but my concern grew along side it. "No, how are you feeling?" I asked again, this time pronouncing it slowly and deliberately. Once again, all I received was a dazed look, as if he didn't understand me.
I was positive now what the matter with this man was: heat exhaustion, maybe even heat stroke. I tried to talk with him one more time.
"Do you want to come in my car and cool down? I have water."
God be praised, he nodded slowly after a few seconds and let out a small sigh that sounded like, "Ve~…"
I lifted his slight shoulders off the ground and put one of his arms around my shoulders. I put my other hand around his waist. Placing my feet firmly beneath me, I focused all my energy on my thighs to lift both the heat-dazed man and myself up. I strained against the extra weight. This guy was slender but he had to have almost thirty pounds on me, maybe more. Eventually, I got us both standing. Well, I was standing and the redhead was slumped over on top of me, as limp as cooked spaghetti.
"What's your name?" I gasped out, taking the excuse of formality to rest my legs a second. The man lifted his head up from its slumped position to "look" me in the eyes.
"Veniziano…Italia," he panted. His head dropped down to his chest right away. Just those two words seemed to have taken all his strength.
I began to move forward. "Pleased to meet you, Veniziano," I replied. I assumed the whole "Italia" thing was his way of telling me where he was from. I thought that accent sounded familiar.
My thoughts were interrupted as I felt something tugging at the ground. Sure enough, the auburn-haired man was dragging his feet, too tired to even walk.
"Veniziano," I began.
Head still down, he weakly groaned, "Hunh?"
"I need you to pick up your feet and try to walk a bit, okay?"
He said nothing in reply, but I could feel his feet shift underneath him.
Letting him lean his whole weight on me, I helped lead him to my navy-blue mini-van. Normally, I'd take my dad's old Prius to the trails, but today—by some twist of fate—I had decided to bring the mini-van that still had a large cooler of water left over from my camping trip last week. The seats had all been removed from the back, leaving only the shotgun and driver's seats. I pushed the 'Open Trunk' button on my keys and the tailgate rose up.
"I'm going to lie you down for a bit, alright?" I asked Veniziano. The Italian said nothing, only leaning his head onto the top of mine. His chest was pressed against my back. I could feel his fluttering heart against my shoulder. I had to cool him down, and quickly.
I turned around so both our backs were facing the trunk. I first sat him down on the lip of the trunk, still supporting his whole weight. I then transferred one arm behind Veniziano's head and the other beneath his knees. If he was too weak to even walk, I doubted he could scoot himself into the trunk. I gathered what little upper-body strength I had and carefully lifted him a few inches into the empty back seat. His head lolled against my chest as I held him. His chest rose and fell far-too-quickly as his back came to rest on the still-dusty carpeting on the floor of the vehicle.
His body now fully sprawled out in the back set area, I ran to the front of the car, jammed my key in the ignition and cranked the A/C on to full. A satisfying rumble came from the engine and a blast of somewhat hot air came from the vents. I knew it would take a few minutes to cool. I then ran out to the back of the car, hopped in beside Veniziano, and closed the trunk door behind me.
Wasting no time, I began to take the ridiculous long-sleeved shirt off the over-heated man. When I felt the fabric, I felt even madder at the red-haired man. This was a thick, heavy shirt! This was the worst possible thing to wear on a day like today. Veniziano neither assisted nor resisted my efforts to free him of the heavy shirt. His arms fell weakly at his side as I removed them from the sleeves. I felt my already-dry mouth go a little dryer at the Italian's now bare torso. He wasn't really muscular, but he had a very aesthetic thinness to his physique. His slight chest still panted way too quickly for my comfort. The van was beginning to cool down as the A/C kicked in.
I scanned around my car for a cloth of some sort. If I remembered my first-aid class correctly, to best treat heat stroke, one had to put wet rags on areas with a lot of shallow blood vessels like the neck, the head, the armpits, wrists, feet and inner hips. Luck was once again with me. There was familiar Albertson's bag with paper towel I had forgotten to unload earlier today. For once, my forgetfulness had come in handy. Ripping open the plastic wrapping, I took the towels over to the cooler.
Mercifully, there was melted ice water all on the inside. I hastily dipped a few of the paper squares into the cool water and folded them into neat rectangles. I placed the first one on Veniziano's forehead. He twitched slightly at the cold water and opened his eyes to look at me. They were a pretty golden-brown, like a well-cooked marshmallow. His half-lidded gaze was still weak and disoriented.
"Tha…that's-a cold…bella..." he whispered quietly. Already his breathing was beginning to deepen and slow from its previous frantic rhythm. I don't know how I hadn't noticed it earlier, but he had a weird little flip of hair on the right side of his face. Must have been from the heat, I guessed. My hair did the same thing some days.
"You feeling any better?" I asked him with concern.
"A little," he closed his eyes again, clearly still tired. I took another set of wet paper towels and placed them on his neck. My hands were starting to get numb from the chilling water. One of my hands skirted over Veniziano's bare stomach on accident, causing a slight jerk of his abdomen.
"Oh, I'm sorry," I apologized quickly.
"No, no," Veniziano whispered quietly, "it a-felt nice. Could you-a put your hand there again, please?" Obliging, I placed my icy hand on his fiery-hot stomach. He sighed quietly as I did. "Grazie, regazza," he murmured in weary pleasure. I smiled quietly. Even though he was clearly a moron, it was just too difficult to hate him. He was just one of those people you couldn't help but love.
Taking my free hand, I grabbed another wet paper towel and put it on each of the lovable idiot's wrists. He smiled slightly as the cool cloths pressed against his skin. I readjusted my hand on his stomach onto his chest. His heart was still beating a fierce tattoo. I felt Veniziano's ribcage expand as he sighed gently. He seemed very contented to be taken care of.
"Do you want some water to drink?" I asked him. He gave a quiet, "Si." Taking my hand off of his pounding heart, I reached in to grab a one of the bottles floating in the icy water. I pulled it out, drops of freezing water rolling off my hand and onto Veniziano's overheated body.
"Can you sit up?" I already knew the answer, but I felt it was polite to ask.
"Uhn-uhn," the Italian shook his head side to side. The motion was so small I almost missed it.
Sliding over to his head, I positioned myself sideways so that I was perpendicular to Veniziano and lifted his head onto my lap. Unscrewing the cap with a satisfying crrrick, I placed one hand behind his head to tilt it up, and with the other, brought the water slowly to his waiting lips. He drank eagerly, but I allowed him only one or two mouthfuls to begin.
"More-a, please, bella," he pleaded, "I'm-a so thirsty."
"I can't give you too much at a time or you might get sick," I tried to tell him.
"Oh, per favore, regazza," he begged, this time opening his honey-brown eyes to meet mine. Those pleading eyes, how could I refuse them? Refusing them would have been the equivalent of kicking a puppy.
"Alright," I conceded, "but you have to take little sips." I brought the water back to his mouth. He listened to me and drank as slowly as he could, gasping in between every few gulps. After Veniziano had finished the first bottle, I told him to wait a little for the next one. I placed his head back onto my lap, removing my hand from his soft red-brown hair. The slender Italian's head lolled towards my stomach with a quiet, "Ve~" escaping his lips. It looked like he had fallen asleep.
I took the opportunity to replace his old paper towels with fresh, cool ones. I couldn't help but stare as the Italian slept. He was that strangely endearing combination of manhood and childishness. His shoulders--while thin--were well filled and well formed. His jaw line was just a little too broad to be feminine. His cheeks looked like nothing more than peach-fuzz hair had ever been upon it. His hands were rather thin, but very muscular in themselves.
"Bella~" Veniziano whispered, eyes still closed, facing my stomach half-asleep. I dropped my musings to respond with a quiet "Hmm?".
"What is your name?" His gentle breath tickled my belly.
I smiled at him. "It's _______."
"________..." he murmured sleepily, "che bella…"
"Do you want some more water?" I asked, taking advantage of his semi-wakefulness.
"Mm-hmm," he muttered.
I took the next water from the cooler. Once again, I nestled one hand in his auburn hair and held him up and gave him a drink. This time I let him take larger gulps if he wished.
"What were you doing out there in that ridiculous shirt?" I asked as he drank the life-giving liquid.
Veniziano stopped for a breath. I brought the water slightly away from him as he answered, "My friend Germany and I were out for a run. He got pretty far ahead of me though."
'Germany?' I thought to myself, 'That's an odd name, maybe he's still a little heat dazed.'
"Does he have a cell phone you could call him on and let him know where you are and what happened?" I suggested.
"Si, I have a phone in my pocket." The Italian's eyes lit up slightly at the idea. "Could you call him for me, ______? I can talk; I'm just too tired to grab my phone."
"Sure thing, Veniziano," I replied. I reached into his right pocket and found the small phone pressed up against his legs. I opened it to recent calls and looked for a Germany. I had to have the invalid on my lap tell me which one it was; my Italian was not top notch. Hitting the send button, I held the phone up to Veniziano's ear.
"Germany, Germany," he began, somewhat frantic compared to his previous tired speech, "I-a tried to keep up-a with you, I-a really did, but I-a got to a-feeling funny and then-a pretty girl helped me-a cool down and now I'm-a in her a-car at the trailhead."
I couldn't hear the other half of the conversation, but it appeared that it all went well because Veniziano gave the person a cheery "Ciao~!" and had me hang up.
"He-a said he'd come and-a take me home as soon as he a-came back," the red-haired Italian explained.
"That's great," I tried not to let my disappointment color my statement too much. I kind of liked taking care of this lovable man. "Are you still thirsty?"
"No-a, thank you though," he nuzzled his head into my lap again. "I-a just want to rest now."
I watched him rest while we waited for his friend to arrive. I wanted to see how his temperature was, but my hands were too cold from the water to be an accurate test. Pulling the paper towel and his hair away from his forehead, I brushed my lips lightly against his skin. His soft skin was still hot, but cooler than it had been.
I saw Veniziano's lips curl into a slight smile as he whispered, "Mia bella…mia ________...." I felt my heart melt a little along with my face at his words. I leaned over his sleeping face, brushing my nose against his. His smile grew a little wider at the touch.
A sharp, cheery rhythm caused me to jerk away from Veniziano's peaceful face. It was his cell phone. Blearily, the Italian reached his arm into his pocket to grab it.
"Germany, is that you?" He tried to sit up as he spoke, but ended up falling back onto my lap. He paused for a little bit as he listened for his friend.
"Should I open the trunk so he can find you?" I offered to the still-weak Veniziano.
"Si, that would-a be great." He smiled cheerily at the idea.
I gently placed his head back on the floor and stooped as I walked to open the hatch. As the lid opened, a wave of heat washed into the car as though I had just opened an oven. Almost immediately, a tall blonde man with much more sensible running wear than Veniziano had worn walked over to the mini-van.
"Feliciano," he began, "vhat did you do to yourself zhis time?"
"He had a bit of heat exhaustion," I answered for him. "He's still running a bit of a temperature, so you should probably make sure he doesn't do anything strenuous today." I turned to Veniziano-or was it Feliciano?-and asked, "You told me your name was Veniziano, or did I just misunderstand you?"
The auburn-haired, still-shirtless, Italian began to say, "Well actually m--" his comment, whatever it might have been, was quickly cut off by his muscular friend's hand.
"His name is Feliciano Vargas, you probably just misheard him vhen he told you," the stern blue-eyed man had a look of semi-irritation on it.
"_______'s been so~ a-nice to me!" Feliciano (apparently) beamed as he leaned on his elbows to sit up a bit. "She was-a like an angel!" A large blush graced my cheeks at this comment.
I went back into the trunk and picked the Italian up again, bringing him to the edge of the back seat. As I held him, I felt him nuzzle his head into my chest. I hoped that his friend would assume it was the heat and not Feliciano causing my changes in color.
His friend began to help him stand, but before he could, Feliciano interrupted his efforts. "Wait, a-Ludwig, there's something I-a need to do first."
'Ludwig? Wait I thought he was…oh never mind!'
I felt a pair of very warm lips brush my right cheek. "Grazie, mia _______, can I-a call you some-a time?"
I dumbly nodded my head, all power of speech temporarily gone.
Feliciano's face lit up in a brilliant smile, "Ve~! I'm-a so glad! Can I-a see your phone?"
With another mute nod, I gave him my phone, which he quickly punched his number into, humming all the while.
He handed my phone back, and gave me a weak hug. "Arrivederci," he sang as Ludwig helped Feliciano to his car.
"Arrivederci!" I responded back, hoping it was something to the effect of "See you soon."