The Risk

By: Skye Jordan

Julia Quinn had a lot of strengths, but multitasking was not one of them. Actually, it often made her think of that old phrase, “This is your brain on drugs.”

She tried to focus on her current patient’s liver-spotted hand, settling it into the paraffin wax bath for the third dip, but across the convalescent home’s recreation room, a space Julia was using as her therapy center, the whir of treadmills slowed.

“Less chatting, more walking,” she called to her other patients without looking up from Mabel’s hand. “Big, slow, consistent steps.”

“Slave driver,” Kit, a spry ninety-two-year-old, chided over her shoulder.

“I know it’s difficult to tell the difference between me and Kobe Bryant, little girl,” Harold added in his good-natured tone, “but I’m not an NBA star.”

Julia grinned at the arthritic eighty-eight-year-old, his knees twice the size of his matchstick legs. “Which makes you far more pleasant to work with.”

“That’s debatable,” Mabel teased, a small smile turning her thin lips as she studied her waxy hand.

Julia glanced at Burt and Tony sitting on balance balls near the floor-to-ceiling windows, using their feet to push them in small circles. Beyond the windows, the foggy San Francisco day closed in around traffic along the city’s main thoroughfare, Nineteenth Avenue. “Switch directions, guys.”

The two older men obeyed, and Julia scanned the room to make sure all her current patients were doing what they should be doing, the way they should be doing it, then dipped Mabel’s hand again, holding the tedious monotony at bay.

As a premier physical therapist—correction, former premier physical therapist—to the world’s most elite athletes, Julia had spent the last four years of her career focusing on every movement of one supremely fit and driven competitor at a time. Now she found herself more than a little frazzled playing nursemaid to half a dozen eighty-and-ninety-something-year-olds far more interested in bowel movements than limb function.

Clara, one of Sunrise Manor’s registered nurses, stopped beside the table, frowning down at the thrift-store crockpot Julia had fashioned into a paraffin bath. “What in the Sam Hill have you concocted there?”

Julia forced a careless smile at her coworker, as if using substandard equipment didn’t make her perfectionist’s quills stand on end. “Ingenuity is the mother of invention, right?”

“What’s next? Garage-sale bike tires as resistance bands?”

Julia gasped in mock delight. “Oh, great idea.”

Clara chuckled and shook her head. “Can I take Paul onto the patio for his haircut?”

“Sure. Just bring him back to me.” She glanced toward a sofa nearby, where the ninety-year-old rhythmically squeezed and released a foam ball just as Julia had instructed. “He’s my next paraffin victim.”

Clara lifted her chin to a small side room. “Dorothy’s changing.”

“She doesn’t need to. I’m just working out her knee.”

“Uh-oh…”

Clara’s troubled murmur made Julia’s eyes roll because it meant she’d walk in on a naked ninety-two-year-old. Dorothy was harder to keep clothed than a toddler.

Julia wrapped a piece of Saran Wrap over Mable’s five-layered paraffin-dipped hand, then a towel, and pressed it against her body. “Give that twenty minutes to warm you up, and I’ll be back to give you a nice stretch and massage. You’ll be playing the piano by dinner.”

Mabel’s thin mouth tipped up in a barely there smile. “You’re such a sweetheart.”

“Don’t tell the others.” Julia winked, then stood and turned toward the exam room while calling to the treadmill groupies. “Harold, Kit, switch over to the BOSU balls and work on your balance for ten minutes, then hit the bikes. By the time you’re done warming up, I’ll have Dorothy’s knee bouncing to Sinatra and Mable’s hands playing Mozart. Then I’ll be back for you two.”

At the exam room door, Julia paused to flex and stretch her fingers, already sore from hours of manual manipulation. She was going to need her own paraffin treatment by the end of this day. The thought of smooth heat penetrating deep into her tired muscles, followed by a careful, targeted massage to create space in her aching joints, made her knees weak with pleasure.

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