Block and Strike(6)

By: Kelly Jensen

“Need help?” asked a deep voice.

Max turned to the nurse, a guy this time, easily seven feet tall and built like a linebacker. “Ah, no, just….”

“Here, let’s get you back to bed.” The nurse manhandled him with surprising gentleness, and his chuckle came from someplace deep when he discovered Max’s pants. “Thinking of escaping?”

“No, I was cold.”

“Right, sure.” The nurse let him keep his pants on. Just pulled the sheet up over them. “Thirsty?”

Max shook his head and immediately regretted it. After waiting for the world to settle, he asked, “When can I go home?”

The nurse bent to check the chart at the end of the bed. “Says here you got a grade three concussion and you refused tests. You shouldn’t go anywhere without someone to watch you for a day or two.”

“But I’ve got to work tonight.” Assuming Friday had bled into Saturday without skipping a week or some days in between. “What day is it?”

“Saturday, about four in the a.m., and you’re not working tonight, my man.”

We’ll see about that.

“C’mon, let’s ice those contusions.”

Having the hospital gown on backward actually proved handy. Quick access to his ribs. The nurse pressed another crunchy plastic pack to his swollen eye. It hurt. Max had already investigated the stiches over his brow and had no inclination to do so again. The ice numbed the pain.

He waited until the nurse left before leaving his bed again. He paused by the door, head swimming, then cracked it open. The nurse’s broad and cheerful face waited just on the other side. He waggled a finger. “Try that again and I’ll have to confiscate your pants.”

A blush crawled across Max’s cheeks, prickling abused flesh. Quickly, he ducked his head, afraid the nurse would misinterpret his expression. He had a girlfriend, dang it. He was not the sort of guy who flirted with men. Not anymore. The nurse probably didn’t mean anything by it anyway. He was just being kind to a patient.

The man’s hands were large and warm. Max tried not to imagine them slipping across his bare skin as he was helped back to bed.

THEY WOKE him every hour. Waiting for his thoughts to coalesce every time, Max entertained fantasies of mauling each person who had touched him. Of giving back as good as he’d gotten, regardless of whether they’d been the ones who had put him in hell. The hospital was hell, and he’d be paying for his visit for eternity. His insurance wouldn’t cover any of this. Maybe the stupid gown bunching up under his armpits or the gauze strips across his nose. His stitches? One ice pack for his bruised ribs? All he could probably afford was the cup of Jell-O the linebacker had brought him at six in the a.m. The big nurse had a name, but Max had forgotten it and didn’t want to stare at the guy’s chest. Where his nametag was.

Instead, he asked to go home. Every hour.

“Let’s talk about that tomorrow, unless someone agrees to babysit you.”

Stay here until Sunday? Absolutely not.

“I’m not a fff—” The curse died before it passed his lips. His mother hadn’t liked him to swear and Max tried really, really hard not to do it. “I’m not a freaking child.”

“No, but you got one wicked concussion. Threw up six times, I heard. And your nose is broke.”

Irritated sighs hurt more than the regular kind. So did letting his head flop back into the thin pillows. “I can’t afford to stay here. Can’t you kick me out because I can’t pay?”

“There’s some forms attached to your chart. You can apply for assistance with the bills.”

An hour crept by without a nurse and Max decided to make a break for it. Surely the linebacker had finished his shift by now—midday had come and gone. He crawled from the bed, waited for his stomach to settle and the world to stop spinning, then crept toward the door.

The blonde nurse was back and her pretty face did not cheer him up. “Do you need help?”

“Why does everyone keep asking me that?”

She tilted her head, her blonde bob acquiring an angular look. “You’re out of bed.”

“I want to go home.” She moved toward his chart. Max held out a hand. “You can’t keep me here. This isn’t a prison.”