“Holy shit,” Elayne breathed out, allowing herself a minute of excitement after the door was closed behind Raoul. “Can you believe who was just in our house?” she asked her friend.

“I’m pretty sure I gawked at him for at least thirty seconds when I answered the door,” Connie confessed with a quick laugh as the two went their separate ways, each heading in two different directions of the house to prepare for the unexpected guests. Elayne went to the kitchen to start the promised pot of coffee and put a teakettle on the stove in case someone wanted cocoa instead, while Connie went to the bathroom for towels.

As Elayne mechanically went through the notions of pulling provisions out of the cabinets to make the coffee, she thought about the men that were about to invade her home. The Middlemen were a rock group from Texas that had made a huge splash on the music scene a few years ago and had only gotten more popular with every subsequent album since. Their sound was reminiscent of bands like Bon Jovi and Aerosmith, and like many others, Elayne had been a fan from the start regardless of the fact that she was teased by her friends for her fondness for the group. Her stomach fluttered with the knowledge that the five members would soon be in her living room and she couldn’t help but be a little excited to meet them.

I will not sound like a lovesick schoolgirl, Elayne vowed to herself as she poured water into the coffee maker and flicked the switch, letting herself gush silently before they arrived.

As she waited for their guests to appear and the coffee to drip, Elayne pondered over the feeling of restlessness that she had experienced just before Raoul’s knock on their door. She believed that her edginess had something to do with the appearance of the group of men, but she needed more insight before she could pinpoint the why’s and wherefore’s of the situation. She hoped that her intuition wasn’t foretelling a problem for them, but that it was a premonition of good tidings instead.

The doorbell sounded again a few minutes later and this time it was Elayne that opened the door. “All right, everyone inside,” she ordered like a drill instructor as she stepped aside so the men could enter. “Connie has towels for everyone. Wet jackets go on hangers and wet shoes near a register to dry out.”

She watched as one by one, guitar player, Evan Rawles, drummer, Ronnie Cater and Ollie Middleton, the lead singer of the group filed into the house, warm smiles of greeting on their relieved faces. Where are Scott and Raoul? Elayne wondered as she poked her head out the door just as they stepped into the circle of light given off by the porch bulb. The two men were sharing one the umbrellas that Connie had given Raoul earlier and seemed to be in a deep conversation as they approached the house.

Once everyone was inside Raoul made the introductions and the whole group looked really happy to be out of the cold night air. Elayne served the men hot drinks while Connie took their coats and hung them up so that they had a chance to dry. They had all assembled around the table in the dining room for the moment until the men had gotten a chance to get warmed up.

“Thank you so much for inviting us in,” Evan said after a long drink from his coffee mug. His short, light brown hair was still plastered to his head even after using a towel to dry it and his blue eyes seemed to take in every detail of the house and women as he spoke. “I wasn’t looking forward to sitting out there in the rain until a service man showed up.”

“It’s nothing,” Connie brushed him off with a wave of her hand and one of her brightest smiles that she was famous for. “Like none of you would do the same.”

“Is anyone hungry?” Elayne asked as she entered the room once again, this time with a plate of chocolate chip cookies in hand that she placed in the middle of the table they were all sitting around.

“You’re the best, Elayne,” Ollie said as he grabbed one and took a big bite. He may have been the front man for the group, covered in tattoos and sporting the funkiest haircut, but Elayne could see past all the media hype to the man underneath as he smiled gratefully while he chewed. His brown eyes met her blue ones and she couldn’t help but smile as he winked at her.

“They’re store bought so don’t set your opinion of me too high just yet,” she told him with a small laugh as she winked back. It was odd to have her home filled with the presence of so many men all at once and as she glanced around the room at them, Elayne noticed that Ronnie had taken a chair at the table with everyone else, but he was being really quiet as he nursed his cup between both of his hands.

The tall blonde was the youngest member of the band and usually known for being the one quickest to laugh or cause a stir with his well-publicized practical jokes. A closer look revealed that his blue eyes were puffy and bloodshot and that his nose was red. “Ronnie, don’t you feel well?” she asked as she rounded the table and put a hand to his forehead. He was running a temperature and she now saw that his cheeks were flushed.

“I’ll be okay,” he replied as he attempted to smile, but the effort fell short. “It’s just a cold. Nothing to worry about.”

“Of course it’s something to worry about,” Elayne scolded sternly. “Did you know that the common cold could lead to other complications that could have been avoided if it were taken care of to begin with?” Elayne told the young man gently and saw Connie shake her head with sympathy in the young man’s direction.

“You should listen to her,” she informed him lightly as she tilted her head in mock pity, knowing that Elayne wouldn’t let up until she had done something to help him. “She doesn’t give up.”

Ronnie seemed to brighten with the teasing and this time when he smiled at Elayne it was more heart felt. “It just came on last night,” he explained. “I took something for it this morning, but it hasn’t helped yet.”

“Do you mind it I try something?” Elayne asked and was met with concerned looks from all the men. She noticed their worry and understood that with their notoriety they had to be careful of any help they took so she was quick to put everyone at ease. “It’s something my grandmother taught me when I was a little girl,” she assured them. “It’s completely safe.”

“What is it?” Ronnie asked skeptically.

“Come with me and I’ll show you,” she said as she pointed in the direction of the kitchen with one hand and held out the other one for him to take. Ronnie glanced at his friends and when no one indicated that he shouldn’t, he took her hand and allowed himself to be led from the room.

Once in the kitchen, Elayne took a large pot from a low cabinet and filled it half way with water and put it on the stove. “Once this starts to heat up I’ll put some eucalyptus and camphor in the water,” she told him as she pulled out a large basket that was filled with little packets of dried herbs. Each package was neatly labeled in Elayne’s own careful handwriting and sealed so that nothing went to waste. Ronnie looked at the basket dubiously, not sure what to say.

What he didn’t know was that all the herbs in the basket were ones that Elayne worked very hard to gather and dry from her garden each year for various reasons such as the home remedy that she was about to give him.

“After they’ve had time to steep you put a towel over your head and breathe in the vapors,” she said as she put the packets containing the two herbs she had mentioned on the counter near the stove.

“My mom used to do that with Vicks when I was a kid,” Ronnie conceded, immediately warming to the idea after realizing she wasn’t just making this up.

Elayne nodded. “It’s basically the same concept. The vapors will help trigger your body’s natural ability to heal itself and help you to breathe better. Unlike Vicks, this will not make you tired and will help to clear your eyes instead of making them tear up.”

“What exactly is that stuff?” a voice asked from behind the two, startling Elayne who hadn’t known they had been followed.





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