The air in the room was stuffy. Whoever had stayed here last had been a smoker, and contemptuous of signs.

“We can ask for another room if you want,” Jeremy suggested, but Joel shook his head. The mountain air was too cold, and he was too tired to go back outside.

Joel had asthma. He never complained about it, as though he believed by ignoring it, it would go away. Knowing this made Jeremy all the more careful. Not that the man’s health was his responsibility, but Joel’s body was too heavy to comfortably drag to the hospital. Especially as far away as the hospital was.

He wheezed in his sleep all night. Jeremy listened closely to the breathing, making sure it didn’t stop. Sharing the room had been a mistake. Mere snoring would have kept Jeremy awake, but Joel’s hollow whimpers sounded desperate and alien. Jeremy couldn’t have ignored them, even with earplugs, yet there was nothing he could do to help. He had to remind himself.

“There’s nothing I can do,” and he went to sleep.

They rode the gondola together, and as the air thinned with altitude, Jeremy listened closer. Joel was taking deep, deliberate breaths. He was fighting not to pass out, Jeremy could tell.

“Are you feeling okay?” Joel asked him.

“Yeah, I’m great.” He wanted to ask the same question back, but the moment had passed. He continued listening. Joel’s breathing got heavier as they ascended, and he breathed with more of his body. He held air in his arms, in his hips, all the way down his legs. He knew how to compensate.

“Hey, I’m sorry,” Joel said, “but you’re sitting a little close. Could you scoot over just a bit?”

Jeremy swallowed. “My bad.”

He looked down at the snow and coughed.

#friends, #microfiction, #no-homo, #skiing, #vacation