Ted sat on the sofa as the latest episode of Father Ben came on the TV. The opening credits rung out through the lounge and Ted turned in his seat, knowing Dougal would want to watch. As he turned, the sight of Father Jack caught Ted's eye, who sat in the corner of the room snoring to himself, his head bent to his chest. For a moment, Ted wondered whether he should go up and get Dougal himself, not wanting to wake Jack, but in reality, he knew that nothing, not even him bellowing out to Dougal, would wake Jack, not after the bottle of whisky he'd drunk.
"Dougal!" Ted called out, over his shoulder. "Father Ben is on!"
After a few seconds, the familiar creaks of the floorboards sounded as Dougal plodded down the stairs and into the lounge. Ted admired him as he walked in. His hair was towelled dry, and the gentle scent of Dougal's mint shampoo wafted to Ted's nostrils. Dougal was wearing his usual pyjamas, ready for bed.
Ted turned to his curate with a smile, but as he did, he noticed Dougal's face was pale and his lips that were usually in a gormless grin, were turned down.
"Dougal, are you alright?" Ted asked with concern, as Dougal came and sat down next to him on the sofa.
"My tummy hurts," he said, giving his stomach a rub.
"Why's that then?" asked Ted.
Dougal shrugged. "Don't know."
"You were eating your dinner rather quickly," mused Ted, turning the volume down on the TV so they could talk. "Perhaps it's just indigestion?"
"Whatever it is, I don't like it," said Dougal, rubbing his tummy again. "It really hurts."
"I'll see if Mrs Doyle has anything in the kitchen for it," said Ted, getting up. He walked to the kitchen door and pushed it open, seeing Mrs Doyle drying up the pots and pans she'd used for dinner. Ted stepped into the kitchen.
"Mrs Doyle," said Ted. "Have you got anything for Dougal's stomach? I think he's got indigestion."
"Now what would he have indigestion for?" asked Mrs Doyle, putting down the tea towel.
"Err, I don't know," said Ted, shaking his head. "Maybe because he's having trouble digesting?"
"He never eats slowly enough, Father Crilly," said Mrs Doyle, opening one of the kitchen drawers.
"That's what I said," echoed Ted. "Easily remedied."
Mrs Doyle rummaged around in the drawer. "Headaches, earaches, eye aches, nose aches, mouth aches, chest aches, arm aches, stomach-aches!" she announced, happily. "Give him two mouthfuls of this," she said, hanging Ted a bottle and taking a spoon from the drying rank. "He'll be alright in twenty minutes or so."
"Thanks, Mrs Doyle."
Ted walked back through to the lounge and sat next to Dougal who was hunched over, almost in the foetal position. He rubbed Dougal's back, not just out of affection but signalling to his friend that he had returned. Dougal sat up a bit and saw Ted holding the spoon.
"What are you going to do to me, Ted?" he asked, his eyes wide and full of worry.
"I'm going to give you some medicine," said Ted, showing Dougal the bottle as well. "Is that alright?"
Dougal nodded and watched as Ted unscrewed the cap on the bottle and held out the spoon, measuring enough out into the well of the metal for Dougal to consume. He steadied it in front of Dougal who opened his mouth wide and let Ted drag the spoon through his lips.
"Ugh," said Dougal as he swallowed. "I don't like it, Ted."
"What's wrong with it?" he asked.
"It tastes all chalky," Dougal shivered.
"One more and that's it, I promise," said Ted, pouring out another. "Then you'll start to feel better."
"Okay," grumbled Dougal, taking another spoonful in his mouth. "Eurgh!" he said again, shaking off the feeling as he gulped.
Ted put the bottle and spoon down on the coffee table. "All done now," he said. "Do you want to watch Father Ben?" Ted asked.
Dougal nodded. "Can I have a cuddle?" he asked, looking at Ted with his big, puppy-dog eyes.
Ted could never say no to him when he looked like that. He just outstretched his arm so that Dougal could slump down into his armpit, his hand rubbing the top of Dougal's shoulder affectionately. With his other hand, he gently rubbed Dougal's stomach, trying to ease his pain as they both sat there and watched the rest of Father Ben.
That night, when Dougal and Ted had gone to sleep, Ted was woken by the feeling of Dougal shifting his way into Ted's bed. Ted in such a deep sleep that he didn't protest, only rolled over to give Dougal more room as the young curate slipped in beside him. A few moments later, Ted drifted off into his unconscious.
What felt like seconds later, Ted was woken again by Dougal writhing around on the mattress next to him, whipping the duvet up into a tangle with his legs and twisting the bedsheet with his hips.
Ted, grumpy at having been woken, reached over Dougal with a sigh and turned the light on.
"Dougal, you're having another bad dream," he said, but as he looked down to shake the shoulder of his friend to rouse him, he realised something was really, really wrong.
Dougal's face was flushed red, the beads of sweat pouring off his brow. Ted wondered how he hadn't noticed the heat that was coming off the lad as Dougal had taken off his pyjamas in the night and now lay in only his underwear. He rolled around on the bed in the foetal positing, crying out in agony.
"Ted!" he cried, with his eyes screwed shut. He was gripping his stomach again. "Ted!" he said again, almost breathless with pain it seemed.
Ted didn't know what to do, only reached out and stroked Dougal's fringe away from his forehead, trying to soothe him. "I'm here, Dougal. I'm here," he cooed.
"I need to go to the hospital," Dougal stuttered out and it shocked Ted to his very core.
Just then, the bedroom door opened, and Mrs Doyle came in holding a torch. "What's going on?" she asked, then looked down at Dougal, who was now rolling from side to side. "Jesus Christ!" she cried, seeing the young lad writhe around.
"Call for an ambulance," Ted told her. "It's an emergency."
Without a word, Mrs Doyle turned on her heels and hurried out of the room.
As they waited for the paramedics to arrive, Mrs Doyle took Dougal's temperature and then began pressing a bag of frozen peas to his head to take down the fever. Ted didn't dare leave Dougal's side.
"I'm not going to ask why Father McGuire was in your bed, Father Crilly," said Mrs Doyle, as she dabbed the bag of peas on Dougal's forehead. "I don't want to know."
Ted's mouth was dry. He couldn't tell her even if he wanted to. All he could do was watch Dougal for any signs his condition might be worsening, praying for a miracle. Soon, the sound of sirens could be heard across the moors.
"I'll go and let them in," said Mrs Doyle, hurrying out of the bedroom.
Ted kept his eyes on Dougal. The pain hadn't let up, and Dougal only panted with tiredness, crying out to ease his agony. Ted thought about the paramedics trying to get Dougal onto a stretcher and down the stairs, only to be hindered by the clutter and mess of the house. So, with a strength that Ted didn't know he had, he wrapped Dougal in a light blanket and lifted him up into his arms. He walked him through the door, into the hallway and down the stairs.
Mrs Doyle was at the open door, letting the howling wind into the hallway. She turned hearing the sound of Ted's heavy footsteps and clutched her rosary beads to her chest, letting out a sob.
"They're just opening up the ambulance," she said, her voice quivering.
Ted walked through the entrance hall, Dougal crying into his chest, and out to the ambulance where the paramedics had taken out the stretcher and were rolling it towards the front door.
"What are his symptoms?" one of them asked, as Ted approached.
"He has a temperature and he complained of stomachache earlier. We gave him some medicine, but it hasn't worked," explained Ted.
"Okay, let's get him on the stretcher."
Ted didn't want to let go of Dougal. Ted looked down at him again. "He's in so much pain," he told them, choking out a sob. The tears sprung from his eyes. "Please help him!"
"Let him go, Father," one of the paramedics cooed.
The paramedics helped to prize Dougal out of Ted's arms and onto the stretcher, where he lay crying hot tears through the searing pain, clutching at his stomach, searching for relief.
"Can I come with you? In the ambulance?" Ted asked as they readjusted the blanket around him to hide his modesty.
"Are you his next of kin?" asked the paramedic.
"No, I'm not."
"Then I'm sorry, you can't."
"But," Ted whimpered. "He'll be all alone. He needs me with him. He needs me there with him."
"I'm sorry, Father," the paramedic said, as they began rolling the stretcher through the mud back towards the ambulance. "Have the next of kin call the hospital tomorrow for an update."
Ted darted to Dougal's side and gripped his hand. "It's all going to be alright, Dougal. Do you hear me? I'm going to come to the hospital as soon as I can. You're going to be fine," he said through the sobs.
"Ted," cried Dougal, as the paramedics began lifting the stretcher into the ambulance. "Am I going to die?" he asked.
Ted truly didn't know what to say as the doors to the ambulance closed. The paramedics turned on the flashing blue lights and sped off along the track from the parochial house, taking Dougal off into the night.