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The young office had been brought in almost twenty-four hours ago, the victim of a bullets during a bodega robbery. The report said something about the Sergeant doing a dive roll, pushing the owner out of the way but taking a bullet to the ribs in the process.
Mary Ann Wentworth RN was assigned to watch while the young man recovered in ICU. She wasn't one of the regular nursing staff, she'd been hired privately by the family and was now about halfway through her first twelve hour shift. Sergeant Grayson was in a drug induced sleep to keep him quiet, allowing his body the time to try to repair both the initial wound and the surgeon's invasion. His stats were good, everything was progressing as well as could be hoped for; he'd likely be fine, given time.
The ward was in semi-darkness. It was quiet. Almost everyone was asleep. A couple of regular nurses were at the desk watching monitors and sipping coffee, talking in low voices.
He was so young.
She studied his face in the dim light, the glow from the various monitors casting an eerie green side light.
Handsome with some unidentifiable ethnic tinges if you looked for it. Italian? Latin? Greek? Something. Dark coloring with some bruising and superficial scratches on his left cheek where he may have landed hard when he fell. Nice build from what she could see under the sheet and light blanket but he was in his prime so that wasn't a big surprise—didn't the chart say he was in his early twenties?
'What did you do with your hands to get those callouses?' Hard labor? Field work? Maybe he started as a construction worker or something like that. 'But if his family can afford a team of private nurses I'm guessing that money isn't a big problem for you, Sergeant, unless they're going into debt or have major capital behind them.' She gently picked up the hand closest to her, the one without the needle in it. 'Gymnast, of course. My daughter has the same callouses; 'you need to be more careful, that skin tear has to hurt, doesn't it? 'Know when to get off the bars or the rings and hit the shower; isn't that one of the first things they're supposed to teach you?'
No response as he continued to sleep.
She looked again, this time at his left hand. 'No wedding ring but that's no surprise, at your age you should be playing the field anyway. I've always thought there should be a law that no one can marry before they're at least thirty; give yourself time to grow up. Good for you.'
A closer look at his face. 'But I'm guessing you don't spend too many Saturday nights alone unless you want to, though. Lucky you.'
But considering where he was at the moment. 'Okay. Maybe not so lucky you.'
A quiet alarm went off and she made an adjustment to the oxygen feed then made a note on his chart.
'Twenty-three and a sergeant already? Either you're very, very good at what you do or you have some major mentor who's taking an interest. Or—money. You can pay for me so you have some money or someone in your family or circle of friends does.' there was some very slight movement as her patient seemed to shift just enough to settle back into complete unconsciousness. 'All right, sorry, 'didn't mean to talk about money. So long as my check cashes it's none of my business. We won't bring it up again, okay? That's, it's a deal.'
All the monitors and tubes doing what they were supposed to be doing, she sat back and opened her book, the latest Stephen King mega-read.
She liked working the night shift; with any luck the patients would mostly sleep and she could get her reading or knitting done or maybe catch up on her letter writing. 'It's old fashioned but I still think people like to open a real letter; it's just a little nicer somehow.'
Another forty-five minutes passed. Looking up she saw it was time to change his IV, replace the almost empty bag of saline and antibiotics and whatever else he was getting. 'Pain killers, probably and whatever they're giving him to knock him out, poor thing.' She was almost at the end of the chapter when she felt someone beside her. "May I help you?"
"Is it all right if I sit with him for a while?" A tall man, dark, dressed in cords and a black turtleneck. Maybe mid-thirties, could be an older brother or cousin or maybe just a concerned friend. Whoever he was, he was composed, in control of himself and seemed reserved, almost withdrawn but that wasn't unusual in a place like this.
"So long as you don't disturb him, of course."
He took the other chair, an uncomfortable hard plastic stacking thing and Mary Ann considered for a moment whether or not to offer her cushioned recliner but decided against it. She was here for the long haul, he would probably be gone inside of half an hour. He was studying the numbers and lines on the machines, seeming to understand the readings.
"Are you a doctor?" It was asked kindly and softly spoken.
"No, we used to work together." He stared at the heart/blood pressure screen. "His readings seem good."
"He's strong, doing well. With any luck he'll be moved down to a regular ward tomorrow or the next day." Book down, she picked up her knitting, hoping for some conversation to pass the time. "So you're a police officer, too?"
He gave her a half glance and a non-committal half shrug. Maybe he was one of those undercover fellows. And 'used to work together' could mean almost anything.
She saw his eyes take in every detail of the patient, saw how he watched the chest rise and fall, almost counting the breaths and the seconds each one took. She noticed how he studied the man's face, how he seemed to be looking for any signs of awareness, any change in skin tone and flick of a finger or toe. She heard his own breathing slow and speed as he was either frightened or pleased, in turns, by what he saw and noticed one, maybe two breaths which seemed to shudder just slightly.
He didn't say anything. Twenty or more minutes went with only the click of the knitting needled and slight sounds of the various machines.
"Excuse me, would you mind watching for a minute? I have to..." She gestured toward the bathroom at the end of the hall.
After doing what she needed to do Mary Ann stopped by the nurse's station to chat with Katherine for a minute, her patient's open door just a few steps away.
"It's strange that no other officers have been by. Usually when one is injured we get everyone from the partner to the Mayor stopping by."
"There a 'no visitors' order out, at least until he's moved downstairs."
"No idea, and I heard the Mayor wasn't happy about it—you know how he likes to get the 'look at me, I care' vote."
"So how did that guy get in?"
"Tall, dark and handsome? 'Not a clue."
Another ten minutes went by and she crossed the hallway to get back to her charge. The man, the visitor stood as she entered, nodded and left without saying anything. A quick check of the monitors showed no change.
'Well, you have interesting friends, Sergeant. But then if I looked like you I suppose I'd have interesting friends, too.'
The rest of her shift passed quietly though she had to fight to keep her eyes opened around four AM. It wasn't that she was a slacker or not committed to her job, it was just that changing from days to nights was hard and she was tired.
She stretched in her chair, getting the kinks out of her back and neck. 'You don't know how lucky you are to be able to sleep for a while, Sarge. I mean it but I guess you might know about that what with being a cop and all. Did I tell you that my grandfather was a cop? Straight shootin'; an NYPD mounted cop. He had some stories, let me tell you. In fact if he was still a round I bet he'd love to spend an afternoon trading tales, I just bet he would.'
A soft groan came from the bed and Mary Ann saw that the bag with the pain meds was almost empty. Checking the chart she confirmed that he wasn't due for any more until eight AM, still almost four hours away. This wasn't good but the cops doctor wasn't one to take kindly to being woken up unless it was life threatening and the on call guy was dealing with another patient across the hall.
She went back to the nurse's station. "Hey, Katherine, when Dr. Fogel is finished would you tell him that my patient's pain meds are out and he needs a signature to be refilled."
Back in the room she went over to the young man, now groaning slightly louder and starting to writhe a bit in pain though his eyes were still closed and the monitors indicated that he wasn't conscious. If the pain was bad enough to get through, then the pain was bad. She took his hand."It's all right, you'll be fine, you're in a hospital but you're going to be fine. I know it hurts but you're getting better, it's the healing which hurts."
Another slight groan, if she didn't know better she'd think that he was purposely trying to stifle the sounds. His fingers tightened around her hand. "That's fine, you squeeze as much as you want." Using her free hand to dampen a washcloth she gently wiped his forehead, pleased when it seemed to calm him a bit. His breathing became less labored and he was generally less tense, more relaxed.
"That's right, you just take it easy and you'll be better and out of here before you know it. I'll bet that you have someone waiting for you to walk through the door, a handsome thing like you, don't you?"
Her voice was quiet, soothing; the way you'd speak to a young child with a nightmare. She stroked his forehead, her other hand still gripped though not painfully so.
"Or maybe you have more than one young lady sitting by the phone. I don't think I've told you how much you remind me of Billy, have I? Billy, well he was my brother and though you don't look a thing like him, I bet you two could have been peas in a pod; always thinking about the other guy, worrying about how you could help some friend who was in trouble. I can't count the number of times he was flat out broke because he'd helped someone with their rent or paid off the mechanic or the phone bill or something."
The groaning seemed to lessen.
"Of course we all tried to talk some sense into him, it wasn't like he had a lot of money, not on what he made teaching in the local elementary school but he wouldn't listen. He could be so stubborn you wouldn't believe it. I remember Dad telling him that he didn't have the sense god gave a mule but he just answered that it seemed to him that mules had a lot more sense than they were given credit for. He just didn't seem to care about that kind of thing—having a lot of money or any of that. You wouldn't believe the car he drove, I swear; it had a fender missing and the front bumper was an old wooden plank he;d found somewhere but he didn't care, just so long as it drove."
The gentle cadence continued, almost a lullaby.
"And Heather, she didn't care about impressing people or showing off any more than he did. Heather—she worked at the school, too, taught on the second floor and she used to laugh that he was always looking for excuses to go up to her room, to borrow tape or chalk or something."
She shifted a bit, easing the cramp in her arm.
"They weren't fooling anyone, of course. We all knew they were going to get married and when they did the whole town showed up—well it seemed that way, anyway. She was the sweetest thing you ever saw and the two of them together; they were the way it's supposed to be." She stroked his face, which seemed to help comfort him as well; she might have seen the smallest ghost of a smile. "So, tell me, do you have someone waiting for you're discharged from this place? I hope you do, I think everyone should but I guess it's just not in the cards for some of us."
"Katherine said this patient needs more pain meds? He's not due for a few hours yet."
Mary Ann managed not to jump when the on call doctor spoke without warning behind her.
"He seems a bit better now, Dr. Fogel but if you wouldn't mind checking...?"
A look at the monitors, a check of the man in the bed and, "I'll have Katherine give him a reduced dose."
"Thank you." He was gone before she could finish the words. "You'll be feeling better in a minute, well, you won't be feeling much but that may be for the best for now. Where was I? Oh yes; The wedding was perfect. I think Heather wore her mother's dress, or maybe it was her grandmother's. The ladies at the church made the food and luckily it was a nice day so the reception could be outside. Some of Billy's friends had a band and played, it was lovely. After that they both moved into this little apartment behind our uncle's place, a converted garage. Tiny? Oh my goodness, yes. But you remember that old cliché about living on love? Well, that and two small paychecks seemed to be just enough."
She looked up as Katherine added some pain meds to the IV drip. "How's he doing?"
"He's a fast healer, I heard he's moving to another ward tomorrow."
Katherine looked at his face for a moment. "Good, I hate when the young ones are in here. They should be outside skiing or sitting on a beach or holding hands with their girlfriend." She saw Mary Ann holding the officer's hand and smiled. "Or something." She glanced at the window, the sky was lightening. "I saw Laura come in a minute ago, time for you to pack up and get some sleep."
It was almost six AM, time to leave. "Thanks Katherine. I guess I wasn't paying attention to the time."
Her knitting and book in her tote, her sweater slipped back onto her arms to ward off the early morning chill as she walked out to her car, she turned her patient over to her relief. "He's been quiet, just keep an eye on his pain meds and they say that he's being moved later today."
"Okay, Mary Ann, thanks."
The next day Mary Ann received a call saying that her services would no longer be needed to watch over Sergeant Grayson as his family had decided to transfer him to a private facility. However, she would be receiving her full pay for the two weeks she'd been contracted to work. If she wanted a reference, one would be provided.
'Odd.' Usually in a case like this she'd stay with the patient, nurse him in his home or wherever he was going but evidently other plans had been made for him.
A few months later he dreamed again about a beautiful woman holding his hand. Her face was indistinct, her voice was soothing, gentle though he couldn't make out the words. Though he didn't know who she was, he felt warm and safe.