BOOKVERSARY ~ Happy 7th Bookversary to To Love and To Cherish

I’m not sure what it is about the time of year I would have been writing to get release days in October and November, but I can’t help but notice my most recent bookversaries (Weekend at Bigfoot’s, Of Rats and Cats, and now To Love and To Cherish were easily my three most fun stories to write. They’re novella, short story, and novel respectively, though, so perhaps it’s got nothing to do with the time of year I would have been writing after all? IDK.

Anyway…about this story: although To Love and To Cherish is the final book in the Vows Series, it is NOT necessary to read the preceding books first. This book features a different couple than the first three books, and while it wasn’t written as a standalone novel, it was written to be able to stand alone. Meaning, all the drama that happened in book one and that drives Nash’s decisions in this story are covered. That said, you’ll be getting all kinds of spoilers to book one in the series, so if you think you might want to read that one, too, it would be better to go in order.

I’ve written a ton of bonus scenes for this story because it’s stuck with me over the years. When pushed to name a favorite of my own books, it’ll sometimes vary depending upon my mood at the time, but more often than not, this is the book I’ll name.


Jilted by his fiancé two weeks before their wedding, Nash Marino’s outlook on life in general, and love in particular, is jaded. After months of couch-surfing, Nash is fed up. He’s sick and tired of his living conditions, worn out by the demands of his nursing job, and despairs of ever finding love again. In fact, he doesn’t think he’s capable of true love. Monogamy, commitment, companionship, and regular sex…that’s all he wants, and the sooner, the better.

When Nash crosses paths with a like-minded man who’s also in need of a live-in nurse for a beloved relative, Nash figures all his problems are solved. Matters are complicated by a freak accident and amnesia. When Nash’s marriage of convenience scheme is muddied by notions of love after his memory reboot, will their plans go awry, or will Nash’s new outlook on life be just what the doctor ordered?

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Chapter 1: Elevators and Couch Surfing

The elderly man shifted in the wheelchair, and Nash Marino tucked in the loose blanket around his patient.

“There, that’s better,” Nash said. “I don’t want you to get chilled.”

Nash glanced up as the elevator stopped, then blinked and stiffened when a familiar figure from his recent past stepped in. Not that he had anything against Truman Greene—he’d always enjoyed the company of this man and his entire family. In fact, he missed them. A lot.

It wasn’t Truman’s fault things had gone so wrong between his son and Nash. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. That was one of the things that pissed off Nash the most about the whole situation. He couldn’t reasonably be angry at anyone involved, not without looking like a jackass. He was definitely more than a little peeved at fate, however.

Nash cleared his throat. “Hello, Mr. Greene. I hope your family’s well.”

Truman’s head jerked up as his attention was drawn from the phone he’d been studying. “Nash! How are you, son? Yes, yes, I’m here visiting a friend. The family’s all healthy. And for Pete’s sake, I’m still Truman to you. None of this Mr. Greene nonsense!”

Nash couldn’t help but return Truman’s welcoming smile. The genuine warmth in the man’s voice cheered him. “I’m doing okay.” It wasn’t entirely a lie. He’d certainly been a mess four months ago when it had all gone down. The pain of his broken engagement still hurt when he was feeling lonely, but it wasn’t crippling him emotionally anymore.

“Sam’s stayed in touch, hasn’t he?”

“Yeah, he did.”

Nash stopped himself from elaborating. It was a painful subject that he didn’t want to rehash with his ex-fiancé’s father. Nash had realized he was never going to be able to move on with Sam contacting him every other day to check up on him. He’d let it go on as long as it had only because Sam had seemed to need the reassurance, and he loved and cared about Sam, regardless of the way things had ended. Nash could honestly say that he wished his former fiancé happiness.

“The breakup was hard on Sam, too, you know.”

Nash clenched his jaw and took a deep breath. Sure, but there wasn’t really any comparison, was there? Of course it had been hard on Sam, he didn’t deny that, but he somehow doubted Sam had spent weeks crying into his pillow. And Nash’s former fiancé sure as hell hadn’t spent his nights alone on a friend’s hard, lumpy couch. No, Sam was sleeping on the pillow-top mattress they’d once shared, and he was lying next to his husband, Henry. But, Nash wasn’t going to unleash that rant on Sam’s father.

“I do. It wasn’t his fault. Wasn’t anybody’s fault. Didn’t make it easier, though.”

The elevator stopped at the lobby. Truman stepped toward the exit, then turned back to Nash. “Is it okay if I give you a call sometime? If you don’t have plans for the upcoming holidays, we’d like to include you in ours.”

“Sure, call anytime,” Nash replied. He’d never refuse a call from any of the Greenes, although he had no intention of intruding on their holiday celebrations. He had his friends, so it wasn’t like he’d be alone if he didn’t have enough time off to visit his own family.

A shiver ran up his spine at the very thought of the awkwardness of sitting around the Thanksgiving table with the Greenes as they made the rounds of what they were thankful for this year. His own answer was a big fat “nothing,” but he’d probably say something cliché about being thankful for his good health. Or he could go the passive-aggressive route and state how thankful he was for Harley’s lumpy couch. Yeah, better to avoid that scene altogether.

The elevator doors closed, and his patient, Bernard Meacham, with all the discretion of someone who was beyond caring what people thought, cackled. “Sounds like there’s a good story behind that conversation.”

The elevator continued toward the basement. There wasn’t a soul working in the hospital who didn’t know all about his relationship drama. Considering the media shit-storm that had surrounded the event, most people in the country were aware of the story, even if they wouldn’t recognize him on the street or even remember his name as a mere bit player in the larger drama. So what the hell, he might as well give the man something to hoot about.

“I was engaged to his son, who turned out to be the husband of one of those TransOceanic survivors rescued back in June.”

Mr. Meacham chortled. “Hoo boy, that must’ve been a rough week for you! I think everybody I know was rooting for that Henry fellow over you.”

Sadly, he was well aware that the bulk of the public sentiment had been for Henry. That had probably been a subconscious factor in Nash’s decision to bow out of the relationship before Sam had said the inevitable words. In hindsight, he knew there was no way Sam would have chosen him over his long-lost husband. Nash had simply been unable to accept that fact at the time without a fight.

The doors opened. Nash pushed the wheelchair out of the elevator and turned left to roll down the long hallway toward radiology.

“Water under the bridge, Mr. Meacham. Water under the bridge.”

“It’s Bernie, I keep tellin’ ya. Call me Bernie.”

“Sorry, Bernie. I’ll remember.” Apparently, Bernie had issues with his memory as well as with his knee, since this was only their second encounter, and the man hadn’t mentioned that when Nash had introduced himself earlier. To be fair, Nash did have a similar build and coloring as Bernie’s previous nurse until the old man had been inexplicably switched over to Nash’s care a few hours ago.

“And my name is Nash,” he reintroduced himself, since it appeared a refresher might be useful. “I’ll be your daytime nurse for the rest of today and the next two days if you’re here that long.”

Bernie squinted at him. “Oh, I see it now. You’re not the same fella, are you?”

Nash bobbed his head. “Right. A different nurse took care of you yesterday and earlier today.”

Bernie hooted. “I should’ve known you weren’t the same guy. You both have blond hair and green eyes, but that other fella mentioned a wife, and you’re one of them funny boys, like my grandson.”

Funny boys? Well, Bernie’s tone was cheerful, and he’d certainly been called worse, so Nash grinned. “Well, I try to maintain a good sense of humor.”

Bernie slapped his knee—the good one—and cackled louder. “That you do. My grandson needs to get one of those. Maybe he will now that he’s finally figured out he’s one of you funny boys. He’s the one supposed to be so smart, but I had it figured out way back when he was a teenager.”

Nash pushed the button outside the entrance to the radiology department and the doors swung open. He wheeled in Bernie and introduced him to a waiting tech.

“They’re going to take good care of you in here, Bernie. I’ll check in on you when they bring you back up, to see if there’s anything you need.”

Back at the elevators, a tall man with pale skin and short, dark brown hair approached from the direction of the cafeteria, stuffing a wrapped sandwich into his pocket. Nash nodded in greeting, then averted his eyes back to the indicator lights over the doors. There was no sense maintaining eye contact, let alone attempting a conversation with Dr. Myles Burlingham. While the orthopedic surgeon wasn’t outright rude—Nash had never had any complaints working with Dr. B in the past—he’d never been particularly sociable. Whether the man’s demeanor was merely a professional persona, or the sign of a surly personality, Nash had no idea. According to the hospital rumor mill, he was currently in the middle of a messy divorce. Apparently there were allegations of infidelity, although it wasn’t clear on whose part. Nash didn’t feel like inviting trouble, so he didn’t attempt any polite chitchat.

The doors opened, and the men entered. Nash pushed 12 for the surgical floor and glanced at Dr. Burlingham, who just nodded and stepped back. Great. It was well past the time when the physician would typically be making rounds, so it would seem that the accident victim Nash had been assigned—due to be delivered shortly from post-op—might be Dr. Burlingham’s patient.

“So the patient with the open tibia fracture I’m expecting is yours, then?” Nash asked.

“He’s been assigned to you?”


Dr. Burlingham regarded him for a moment before presenting a slow blink. “Great.”

The borderline sarcastic tone put the cherry on top of his already shitty day. It pissed off Nash enough to forget his strategy of avoiding the doctor’s attitude.

“I assure you I’m a very competent nurse. Your patient is in good hands.” Nash valued his job so he kept his words civil, but his clipped tone betrayed his true feelings.

He had a master’s degree, for Christ’s sake. He was one of the better-educated nurses in the hospital, had years of experience, and no reprimands on his record. Seriously, what was Dr. Burlingham trying to imply?

Dr. Burlingham took a deep breath, as if trying to maintain his composure. “I’m not suggesting otherwise.” His words were terse, as well.

Then what the hell had Dr. Burlingham meant by that tone of voice? Nash’s face heated, and he pursed his lips. No, he wouldn’t say what he was thinking. The doctor had uttered only that single word, after all. Perhaps Nash had misinterpreted the attitude he’d ascribed to it. It would be best to keep his mouth shut and avoid all possibility of putting his foot into it.

The elevator doors opened at the lobby. A number of other people joined them, mostly visitors, but another nurse stepped on, her eyebrows raising slightly, apparently sensing the tension in the elevator.

On the twelfth floor, the charge nurse greeted them as they approached the nurses’ station. “Nash, Dr. Burlingham, good. Your new patient is on his way up now. We’ve got 1218 set up already.”

“Thank you.” Dr. Burlingham gestured with his head for Nash to follow and walked swiftly to the designated room. He ushered Nash inside, then closed the door behind them. Nash tensed and waited silently for the man to unleash his criticism.

“I want to apologize,” Dr. Burlingham said.

Nash felt his lower jaw drop in surprise and quickly closed his mouth again.

“I left you with the impression that I was displeased with your past performance. I want to reiterate that that is not the case and, in fact, couldn’t be further from the truth. Indeed, if I was given a choice of nurses for my more critically injured patients, I would choose you every time. I shouldn’t have taken my bad mood out on you.”

Nash was momentarily speechless. That had to be one of the sincerest apologies he’d ever received. Not even remotely comparable to one of those phony apologies of the “I’m sorry if what I said/did offended you” variety.

Nash nodded and felt the tension drain from his shoulders. “Apology accepted. Th…thank you.”

There wasn’t time to reply further, because the door opened, and a post-op nurse wheeled a patient-occupied bed into the room. Nash took over, out of habit checking the side rails, and got busy situating his new patient while listening intently as Dr. Burlingham reviewed, in great detail, his instructions for the patient’s care.

* * * *

“There’s no rush, Nash. Seriously.” Harley’s brows knit together in concern. “Oliver and I agree that you can stay as long as you need.”

“I appreciate it, but I know it’s an intrusion. Four months is long enough.”

“We really don’t mind, do we, Oliver?” Harley cast a meaningful glance toward his boyfriend.

Oliver sat up straighter and quickly replied, “Our couch is your couch. No problems here, man.”

Nash pasted on a smile and hoped it appeared sincere. “And a comfy couch it is.”

Harley winced. “Aw, no it isn’t. Sorry we don’t have anything better. I don’t blame you for wanting a real bed again, but ‘roommate wanted’ ads? Please, don’t.”

“Well, if you’re sure…” Nash didn’t really want to take the gamble of rooming with a total stranger, but neither did he want to overstay his welcome—and after four months, surely he was beyond that limit. He supposed if the situation were reversed, he wouldn’t want to see Harley reduced to that, either.

He knew damned well that his presence put a strain on Harley and Oliver’s relationship. They did a decent job covering it, but how could it not?

Oliver apparently still felt the effects of Harley’s earlier glance and replied, “We’re sure. Heck, it’s not like you aren’t paying your way or anything. I don’t mind having a little extra while you’re hanging with us.”

“Okay. Well, I’ve put the word out among my friends at the hospital, and they’re all asking around for me, too. If anyone even three degrees of separation away from one of the hospital employees needs a roommate, it’ll get back to me.”

Oliver stood and began clearing the table, so Nash jumped up to help. He didn’t need his best friend’s boyfriend to have any reason beyond simply yearning for their privacy back to want Nash gone. “I’ve got it. You cooked, I’ll clean it up.”

Oliver didn’t need any further prompting to plop back into his chair. He quirked an eyebrow inquiringly. “Are you still looking for a job outside of the hospital, or did you move that to a back burner until your life settles down?”

Nash collected the dirty dishes. “No back burner. Private practice office positions are snapped up quickly. God, I’m getting too old for this ‘on-call’ shit.”

“Calm down, sweetie, you’re only thirty-four. There’s nary a gray hair on that lovely blond head of yours.” Harley combed his fingers through his own darker, short-cropped hair. “Meanwhile, I added at least a couple dozen more dealing with your wedding shenanigans this past spring.”

Nash grimaced. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciated your help and support.” That was the understatement of the year. Harley had been there within the hour when Nash and Sam had first learned of Henry’s survival and imminent return. Nash had desperately needed a shoulder to cry on. Sam had provided his, of course, but poor Sam had been a big pathetic mess of mixed emotions himself.

“Don’t sweat it. That’s what best friend slash wedding planners are for, right?”

Oliver said, “I still can’t get over that shit. What a crazy situation. You guys were a great match, too.”

“Yeah, I’m over it, though.” Nash scraped the remains on the dinner plates into the garbage disposal and sighed. “Ran into my former future-father-in-law at the hospital, today.”

“Truman?” Harley prompted.

“Yeah, visiting a friend, apparently. Invited me to join them over the holidays if I want.” Nash shook his head. “I may be over Sam, but I’m pretty sure I don’t need to be exposed to him playing super-dad to Buddy—or Aiden, or whatever the hell they’re calling the kid these days—with Henry smiling away at his elbow.”

Oliver returned Harley’s earlier meaningful glance. Uh-oh.

Harley cleared his throat. “Um, actually, we’re going to be driving down to Eugene over Thanksgiving this year to spend it with Oliver’s family. You gonna get enough time off to fly home to see yours?”

“Shit. No, I’m working early the next morning. Not worth it. I’ll go home for a few days close to Christmas, though.”

Harley screwed up his face, but had no reply. He was clearly torn. Oliver’s eyes widened, broadcasting alarm. It was justifiable concern, because Nash could practically see the wheels turning in Harley’s head, trying to find a solution that would take care of both his boyfriend’s and his best friend’s needs.

Nash didn’t want Harley to even consider changing their plans for the holiday. He was a big boy, dammit, and he’d imposed on them enough. More than enough. Frankly, he didn’t know how Oliver kept his cool.

“Don’t worry about me, guys, really. One way or another I won’t be alone. I can always switch shifts with one of the others who has kids at home. It’s not like the holiday means that much to me if I don’t have enough time off to travel anyway.”

Fuck, his life had gotten dreary. All he’d ever wanted was a man to share a mutual life and love, and provide companionship. Monogamy was a must, regular sex was a reasonable expectation, and children were a want. Was that really too much to ask?

He’d loved Sam, there was no doubt about that. But he was over it after only four months. Meanwhile, Sam had taken years and a couple rounds of therapy to get over his loss when he’d thought Henry had died. Maybe Nash simply wasn’t capable of that depth of true love. Maybe it was time to reevaluate what he was looking for in a relationship.

Chapter 2: Reevaluating

“You’re a regular slave driver, Blondie,” Bernie grumbled as he grasped Nash’s arm with a surprisingly strong grip.

“Nash,” he corrected patiently—trying to strike the right balance between firm and assuring—as he slowly lowered the man into the reclining chair.

“I remember which one you are.”

“And walking down the hallway and back was good for your knee. You’ve recovered enough from the surgery to be able to handle it.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know,” Bernie replied. “So it won’t stiffen up.”

“You don’t want to be stuck in that wheelchair, do you?”

“Hell, no!”

Nash gave Bernie a wink. “Besides, if you think I’m bad, wait until the physical therapists get ahold of you.”

“Crimony. My grandson already warned me that was coming up.” Bernie shook his head, apparently thinking of his looming stint in the rehab facility. Then the frown turned to a smile. “I told you about my grandson, Emmitt, didn’t I?”

Hell, yeah, Bernie’d mentioned him a time or twelve. Nash nodded. “Will he be coming to visit you today?”

“Saw him this morning, but he’ll be back again later.”

“Sorry, I must have missed him.”

Bernie chortled. “Ha! And people say I’m the one with a leaky memory. You were right here in the room with us.”

Nash raised an eyebrow but didn’t reply. Had Bernie confused Nash with another nurse again?

“I live with him, you know. He’s the best grandson a man could ever ask for.”


“Never an unkind word from him. I don’t care that he’s one of you gay boys. I told him so.” Bernie cackled. “I think he was worried I’d hate him when he told me, but I told him I’d figured it out when he was in high school. He didn’t believe that part, though.”

Nash gently raised the footrest on the recliner. “You need to keep this elevated.”

He shook out a blanket and draped it over Bernie’s legs and placed the call button within easy reach. For Bernie’s sake, Nash hoped the much-adored grandson would indeed be back for another visit today.

* * * *

“Christ, Nash, where do you put it all?” Angela exclaimed. “I’d kill for your metabolism.”

She patted her abdomen, which belied the implication of her comment. Sure it wasn’t totally flat, but for a forty-something mother of three, she was in great shape. She rocked her Ghana cornrows, and her dark eyes shimmered with the cheekiness that was sure to be mirrored by her words.

Nash looked at the tray he’d placed on the cafeteria table and shrugged. Chicken noodle soup, spinach walnut salad with chicken, and a French dip sandwich. It wasn’t thatmuch. “Dinner at Harley’s alternates between hamburgers and canned-sauce pasta, so I try to get my nutrition here.”

“Any luck on the roommate search?”

Nash waited while the speaker on the adjacent wall blared, paging a physician. The cafeteria was busy, so he was already speaking louder than he’d like to be heard above the general buzz of conversation.

“Nothing. You’ve put the word out to everyone in pediatrics?”

“Of course. One of the girls is looking for a roommate, but she’s out in the ’burbs. You said you wanted to stay in the heart of Seattle, right?”

“Yeah, I’d rather.” He’d commuted from Sammamish while living with Sam, but he didn’t want to do that for any reason other than living with a boyfriend. Rural living had its upsides—it was peaceful and scenic—but he preferred living somewhere with a “walkability index” greater than zero. No amount of Douglas Firs or Western Red Cedars to gaze at made up for the traffic congestion when he had to make the drive during rush hour.

“But you’re trying to get a job in someone’s private practice, right? What if that office is in the ’burbs? Do you want to live in the city regardless, or is it the drive you’re trying to avoid?”

“Shit. I hadn’t even thought of that.” Nash sighed and stabbed at his salad. “Drive-avoidance is the goal, but I’d prefer in the city for both. I’m so sick of that lumpy couch I could scream. It could be months before I get one of those jobs.”

“You don’t want to wait that long to get off Harley’s couch?”

Nash shook his head. “I’d do just about anything to move on with my life right now. Besides, I’ve imposed on them too long already. Be honest, has Oliver bitched to you about me staying there?”

Angela waved her index finger back and forth. “I am so not getting in the middle of this. I will simply say, trust your instincts.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Nash sighed.

“Have you thought about home health care instead of private practice? A lot of the nurses here do a bit of that on the side.”

“Yeah, on the side for a reason. Shitty benefits keep it from being an appealing full-time job. Otherwise I wouldn’t mind. Usually it’s dealing with old people, and that’s fine with me. I kind of like listening to their stories.”

She gave him a side-eye squint as if he was nuts for that last remark, but really, why wouldn’t anybody enjoy that? Old folks had lived the history younger people had only read about, and they had decades of experience to back up their words of wisdom. Of course, some of them had decades of prejudices built up that they liked to share, but it was easy enough to tune out the rotten apples.

“Yeah, too bad,” Angela replied. “Some of those situations are live-in, so it would kill two birds with one stone.”

“I guess. Shit, my life is so screwed up now.”

Angela snatched a walnut from his salad. He tried to whack the errant hand with his fork, but missed.

She smirked. “Too slow. You know you’re being a big ol’ whiney baby, right? I’m offering you my shoulder to cry on only because it’s so out of character. I’d be done with you if this was your regular attitude.”

Nash’s shoulders slumped. “I know. Sorry.”

“Shut up. I just offered you Mama Angela’s shoulder, so get it all out, honey. Tell me, are you talking about your love life being screwed up, or everything in general?”

“Everything, but it definitely includes my love life. Or I should say, ‘lack thereof.’” He dropped the offending fork and moved on to his soup. “I was thinking about this last night. I’m not cut out for true love. I give up on it.”

“What? No! I know you don’t want to end up alone. Seriously, don’t give up. You’ll find the right man.”

“I didn’t say I give up on finding a partner. I’m giving up on finding love. Give me a stable, committed relationship with a well-suited companion and regular sex, and I’ll be a happy camper.”

Angela rolled her eyes. “Men. You deserve each other,” she scoffed.

“I’m being realistic. I’m thirty-four and so beyond ready to settle down. I need to face facts.”

Angela reached for his salad. “You done with this?”

He nudged the bowl. “Go ahead.”

She smiled, pulling the bowl close. “So tell me about these so-called facts.”

“Okay, fine. Fact one, I’m tired of the fast pace of hospital work. I want something calmer.”

“Understandable, seeing as you’re so old and decrepit.”

He ignored the sarcasm. “Fact two, Harley’s couch is killing me. Decrepit is a real possibility if I don’t get off it, and soon.”

“Fair point, I suppose.”

He pointed his spoon at her smirk. “And fact three, I’m over Sam in only four months, which isn’t anywhere close to what it took him to get over his husband. I thought he was the love of my life, but it was wishful thinking. I wanted love so badly, only I hadn’t figured out I’m just not capable of it.”

She tapped his spoon with her fork, then pointed it at his nose. “You are one of the most caring nurses I’ve ever met, and in this field that’s saying a lot. Trust me when I say you are capable of finding true love.”

“I love companionship and regular sex. Apparently, that’s all there is to it. Listen, I didn’t feel this way at first—I truly was crushed, and I thought it was all because I’d lost Sam—but if I’m honest with myself now, I think it’s the loss of the way of life that being in a relationship offers, rather than the loss of Sam in particular, that’s still bothering me.”

“So you’re looking for a sugar-daddy?”

“What? Seriously, where did you get that? Hell no, I don’t give a shit about money as long as I have enough to be comfortable, and I can do that on my own, thank you. Not that Sam’s sweet house hurt his appeal, but it was purely a bonus.”

“So you’re looking for a live-in friends-with-benefits relationship?”

“Add ‘monogamous’ and ‘commitment’ to that and yeah, basically. I was so ready to be married. I’m thirty-four and back to square one. It’s depressing.”

Angela grimaced and raised her bottled water toward him as if in a toast. “Here’s hoping you get past this mood you’re in before you have a chance to do anything stupid.”

“No worries. Potential lovers aren’t exactly beating a path to my door.”

She snickered. “Harley and Oliver’s door.”

“Touché. But it’s just as well. I hate dating. Isn’t it the worst? All that awkward getting-to-know-each-other shit. And honestly? I’ve always known within five minutes whether or not a relationship would work for me. I don’t know why I bothered to go through the motions with some of them.”

“Fuck dating. Let first impressions rule. I could’ve saved myself a world of hurt and heartache if I’d done that over the years. I don’t know why I stuck it out with some of my shitty boyfriends either. Wishful thinking, I guess. But you’re right, I knew practically instantly that my husband was going to be the love of my life. So yeah, don’t bother dating…simply ask him to marry you five minutes into the conversation. I’m sure it won’t scare him off or anything.” She accompanied that final instruction with a cocked eyebrow and one of her trademark smirks, as if the scornful tone she’d used wasn’t enough to keep the sarcasm from going over his head. Subtlety wasn’t Angela’s strong suit.

“Sage advice.” He raised a spoonful of soup in salute, then brought it toward his mouth.

Someone bumped his chair from behind. Nash rocked forward, and soup spilled down his chin.

Angela stifled a snicker, and a male voice he recognized said, “Sorry about that.”

Nash snatched up his napkin to wipe his face, and turned. “No problem, Dr. Burlingham.”

Although it was, of course. He felt like a fool with chicken noodle dripping down his neck. Dr. Burlingham stood there looking at him with an odd intensity. Probably thinking Nash had a screw loose or was some kind of man-whore if he’d overheard much of Nash’s rant. Whatever, it was none of the man’s business, and Nash would hopefully not be working at this hospital—where the doctor’s opinion would affect him—for much longer anyway.

After gazing at him for an uncomfortably long couple of seconds, Dr. Burlingham turned back to Dr. Gilbert Wilson, a friendly and outgoing pediatrician whose close friendship with Dr. Burlingham had long stymied the hospital grapevine. Dr. Wilson gaped at Dr. Burlingham with his own less-squinty version of Angela’s earlier side-eye. Except Dr. Wilson’s version was accompanied by a comical upturn to one side of his mouth, indicating his enjoyment of the scene—rather than concern for his friend’s mental health, as Angela’s countenance had implied.

As soon as the two doctors walked around the corner, Angela burst into a fit of the chuckles that would have been better suited to the set of Dumb and Dumber.

“Hardee-har-har,” was the best he could come up with in reply. Nash grabbed her napkin and crammed it down the front of his uniform to mop up the rest of the soup drippage.

“Did you see the look on his face?” Angela managed to gasp between giggles.

“Which one? The repugnance on Dr. Burlingham’s or the glee on Dr. Wilson’s?”

The guffaws coming from across the table intensified and drew some curious glances as well as several censorious glares. “Seriously, Angela, you’re going to give yourself a hernia. It wasn’t that funny.”

He nudged her bottle toward her and she took the hint, a couple deep breaths, and a slug of water. “Wasn’t repugnance,” she wheezed.

“What are you talking about?”

“The look on Dr. Burlingham’s face. It wasn’t repugnance. Closer to yearning.”

“Don’t even.” Nash froze. “Right now your position on the hospital grapevine is scaring the shit out of me. Don’t. Even.”

She held up a hand. “I wouldn’t. Calm down, sweetie. I’m stating facts, is all.”

“There’s nothing remotely factual about that statement, so don’t start with me. And so help me, don’t even hint at joking about something that stupid on the pediatrics floor where Dr. Wilson might get wind of it.”

She pointed a finger—or rather the finger—at him and bit out, “I’m not a fucking idiot.”

No, she wasn’t. Nash eased back in his seat. And she was a good friend. He sighed. “Sorry. I know you wouldn’t. Just put it down to the stress, okay?”

She gave his hand a squeeze and the tightness that had appeared in her shoulders visibly relaxed as well. “I’m sorry, too, sweetie. I shouldn’t tease you right now. I promise I would never start or feed any rumors about you, stupid or otherwise, but there truly was something in his look. I just want you to have a heads-up on that.”

Nash closed his eyes and took a deep, cleansing breath. It was doubtful, and so not a complication that would be appreciated right now in his life.

* * * *

Nash lay on his back with a forearm thrown over his eyes, listening as the occasional car drove by on the street below. He breathed evenly, the stress of the day finally melting away. He was drifting off when a noise pulled him back to reality and his eyes shot open.

The rhythmic squeak of bedsprings coming from the bedroom was “the drop that spilled his glass,” which, Nash ruefully considered, was not to be confused with his “cup runneth over.” Perhaps it would be clearer to think of it as “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Regardless, he couldn’t take it anymore.

Nash reached blindly for his phone and earbuds that should have been on the side table. All he managed to find was Oliver’s cactus plant. Goddammit.

He lay on his side on the lumpy couch, jammed a pillow over his exposed ear, and hummed “Puff the Magic Dragon,” because—damn it—the song had become a persistent earworm ever since he’d walked Bernie Meacham up and down the hallway while the man softly sang the catchy little tune. Or at least he’d sung it during the brief interludes when he wasn’t going on and on about the flawlessness of his apparently angelic grandson.

Nash had probably overstayed his welcome with Harley and Oliver two months ago. He was caught up feeling sorry for himself, wallowing in a self-pity party, and hadn’t stopped to think about his best friend, and how this imposition was affecting the man’s relationship with his boyfriend. They were obviously trying to be quiet, and had waited, probably thinking he’d finally be asleep. They’d been making special accommodations for him long enough.

Perhaps he should forego the roommate search and consider getting a place of his own. If it was going to be in the city, near the hospital, it would have to be a small studio. Or possibly he could get something a little larger, and add a roommate later to split the expenses. The central districts were out—too pricey. Maybe he could find something nice yet reasonable in Freemont or Northgate.

As an experienced nurse, he made decent money, but he didn’t want most of his earnings going to rent. He wanted some fun money, plus he knew he couldn’t count on anyone helping him out in retirement, so he liked to put aside as much as possible to invest for his future.

He didn’t want to live by himself, though. Some alone-time was fine—welcomed, even—but he was social by nature, and the thought of being home alone every evening was depressing. Of course, he didn’t have to stay home, but going out generally meant spending money, and he had a strict cap on his entertainment budget.

Poorly stifled moans pushed past the humming barrier. Fucking kiddie dragon anyway…probably couldn’t even breathe fire like a proper dragon should. Fuck Puff. Fuck Bernie Meacham and his damned earworm-inducing tune. Fuck Dr. Burlingham and his scowls. Fuck Dr. Wilson for laughing at him. And fuck Sam for not loving him enough. Maybe not fuck Henry—all that poor bastard had done was not die, and who could blame him for that?

Copyright 2016 Addison Albright


Click to expand the accordions…

🔽 🔼 An Interview with Nash Marino

Question: What’s the worst thing that’s happened in your life? What did you learn from it?

Nash: Ha! The answer to that depends on when it’s asked of me. A few months ago I would have answered that question by saying that the breakup of my engagement to Sam was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. I was miserable and angry, and the worst part of it was there was no one I could justifiably direct that anger toward. Sure, I could be upset with Sam about the way he’d handled things, but in hindsight I have to accept part of the blame for that, too. My life was in shambles. I was couch surfing at my best friend’s on top of having to start over on my search for a life companion.

If I’m asked that question today, though, I’d have to come up with something else. What I’ve learned since then is that that incident is actually the best thing that’s ever happened to me because if it hadn’t, I never would have gotten together with the true love of my life!

Question: Do you think you’ve turned out the way your parents expected?

Nash: Sometimes I feel like I’ve turned out to be a disappointment to them, but usually that’s just when I’m feeling down. I’ve learned that I have self-esteem issues. I’m working on that. I know they love me, though, and they don’t actually give me any reason to think they’re unhappy with how I’ve turned out.

My brother, Aaron, and I have been very different from each other from the get-go. Aaron’s more of a manly-man like my dad. I’m very much not, but that’s okay. So, to answer the question, since I haven’t really changed who I am at my core since childhood, I suppose I’ve turned out exactly as they expected.

Question: What are you most afraid of?

Nash: That’s an easy one. I’m afraid of being all alone in my life.

Question: What’s the most important thing in your life? What do you value most?

Nash: The most important thing in my life is my family, especially my new husband. I value kindness and caring as character traits.

🔽 🔼 POV Switch > Myles/Emmitt – Chapter 1

Dr. Myles Burlingham kept his eyes focused on what he was doing and avoided locking his gaze with anyone else drifting through the cafeteria. He knew the hospital grapevine had its spotlight shining on him lately. Not that he could blame them, but still, he hated the notoriety. Hated the sharply ended conversations and the phony smiles.

It was worse than dealing with his divorce—the topic of the gossip. In fact, he was quite relieved the marriage was over, even if he was ticked off at how Crystal had gone about it.

He stared at the text message from his divorce attorney. The judge had signed the order this morning. It was done.

There would be no hiding Crystal’s pregnancy. His personal business would jump back to center stage as soon as that became known. And it would. She still socialized with some of the other physicians and/or their spouses. Same with the news that she’d be remarrying later this week, within days of the divorce becoming final. At least that meant he wouldn’t have to pay any alimony, so maybe it was worth the temporary infamy.

He grabbed a sandwich from a vending machine then glanced at his watch. The patient he’d just operated on would be heading up to the surgical floor shortly. He sighed and pushed through the double doors to exit the cafeteria.

He shoved the wrapped sandwich into the pocket of his white coat as he approached the bank of elevators.

The way his luck was going today, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Nash Marino was standing in front of the elevators. Myles nodded in greeting, and his jaw tightened reflexively, which was ridiculous. He needed to get past this pathetic infatuation he had with the nurse. It was unprofessional.

He was constantly torn between wanting to be near the man, and needing to keep his distance before he exposed himself. He had no intention of hiding his sexuality. He’d figured it out early in his marriage, although he’d tried to make it work anyway.

Obviously, that had been a miserable failure, but his best friends Gil and Julia had accepted his announcement without even blinking. Like Grampy, they’d probably already had him figured out. His brothers were less than thrilled—mostly confused since he’d married a woman—but they weren’t going to make it an issue.

So, yeah, he wasn’t going to retreat into a closet, but neither was he planning to date anyone he had to work with, no matter how attracted he was to the man. No matter how much he admired the man’s integrity. No matter what. It was unethical and could create a conflict of interest.

The elevator doors opened and he stepped on. He could probably make time to visit with Grampy while he was on the surgical floor, anyway, getting his new patient set up. Stop in and say “hi,” and let Grampy know about the appointment he had this evening with that home health agency.

Myles startled when he realized Nash was looking at him expectantly. Nash had already pushed the button for the twelfth floor, where they were both heading, but of course, Nash wouldn’t know his destination. Myles nodded and stepped back.

“So the patient with the open tibia fracture I’m expecting is yours, then?” Nash asked.

“He’s been assigned to you?” Myles replied.


Great. Just great. Myles really didn’t need the added challenge of keeping his inappropriate crush on Nash buried today of all days.

Myles regarded Nash for a moment then blinked. “Great.”

Unfortunately, his tone more closely mirrored his frustrated thoughts than the sentiment that should have accompanied those words.

Nash’s posture immediately stiffened. “I assure you I’m a very competent nurse. Your patient is in good hands.” Nash’s clipped tones shared what was obviously his true feelings better than the civil words had done.

Myles took a deep breath, trying to maintain his composure. Of course Nash was a competent nurse. Nash was one of the better educated nurses as well as being authentically compassionate, gentle, and attentive. That’s why he’d specifically requested Nash to be the day nurse in charge of his grandfather’s care, so why the man would think he felt differently was a mystery.

“I’m not suggesting otherwise.” Again, his tone was more terse than intended.

Nash’s face reddened, and he pursed his lips as if biting back further words. Probably for the best since Myles was having obvious problems conveying his meaning.

The elevator doors opened at the lobby. A number of other people joined them, mostly visitors, but another nurse stepped on, her eyebrows raising slightly, apparently sensing the tension in the elevator.

On the twelfth floor, the charge nurse greeted them as they approached the nurses’ station. “Nash, Dr. Burlingham, good. Your new patient is on his way up now. We’ve got 1218 set up already.”

“Thank you.” Myles gestured with his head for Nash to follow. He straightened his back and walked swiftly to the designated room.

The last thing he wanted to do was alienate Nash. Much as he knew it would be ethically imprudent to pursue the man considering their working relationship, he still esteemed Nash as a nurse and didn’t want one day’s tactless mood to affect Nash’s opinion of him.

He ushered Nash inside, then closed the door behind them. Nash tensed, but waited silently as Myles gathered his thoughts. Or tried to, anyway.

“I want to apologize,” Myles said.

One of his grandfather’s favorite quotes came to mind. Benjamin Franklin had once said “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” It was good advice, and Grampy had recited it often over the years.

Nash’s jaw dropped briefly at Myles’ words. Apparently he hadn’t been expecting that.

Myles continued. “I left you with the impression that I was displeased with your past performance. I want to reiterate that that is not the case and, in fact, couldn’t be further from the truth. Indeed, if I was given a choice of nurses for my more critically injured patients, I would choose you every time. I shouldn’t have taken my bad mood out on you.”

There. No excuses. Or was there? Damn it. Maybe he shouldn’t have mentioned his bad mood, although that was probably obvious anyway. No doubt the apology was too formal, as was his tendency, but hopefully the sincerity was clear.

Nash blinked a few times then nodded, and his posture relaxed from the stiff pose he’d taken upon entering the room.

“Apology accepted. Th…thank you.”

If Nash was going to elaborate, he didn’t have the chance because the door opened, and a post-op nurse wheeled a patient-occupied bed into the room. Nash got busy checking the side rails and situating his new patient, then looked expectantly at Myles.

Myles reverted to professional-mode and reviewed, in great detail, his instructions for the patient’s care.

* * * * *

It was later than Myles would have liked when he finally had the chance to walk into his grandfather’s hospital room for a visit before heading home.

“Emmitt!” Grampy’s voice was cheerful, as always. Nothing ever seemed to bring the man down.

Myles—or Emmitt, as Grampy always referred to him—leaned down to kiss the upturned weathered cheek. “How was your day, Grampy? I understand Dr. Beltran wants to get you up and walking the halls tomorrow.”

“Yeah, he told me. He had that new nurse I got get me up to start walking to the bathroom today, too.”

“Good, it’ll get you ready for physical therapy. Remember, you’ll be moving to a PT facility in a few more days. They’ll get you back into shape to come home again.”

Grampy nodded. “I know, I know.” Then he cocked his head to the side, grinned, and added, “My new nurse, he’s one of those funny boys, like you.”

Emmitt heaved a sigh. “Grampy, please don’t meddle.”

If Emmitt didn’t know his grandfather better, he might have found the man’s widened eyes and pearl clutching maneuver convincing. “Me? I don’t meddle!”

But the threat was real. Emmitt knew it, and he was sure Grampy knew that he knew it. “Seriously, Grampy. I work with Nash. It would be wrong of me to approach him.”

Grampy’s eyes lit up. “So you like him, then?”


“Oh, quit your worryin’, I’ll leave him be.”

“Thank you.” But Emmitt still wasn’t quite sure he could trust Grampy’s chagrined mien.

“Even though he is kinda good-lookin’ on top of being good company.”


“I didn’t say I’d leave you be!”

🔽 🔼 POV Switch > Myles/Emmitt – Chapter 3 Random Scene

Grampy’s cackling laughter greeted Emmitt as he approached his grandfather’s hospital room. The first thing Emmitt noticed when he stepped into the room was Nash Marino looking up from where he squatted next to Grampy’s chair.

The two of them seemed to get along well but even so, unless Emmitt felt confident he could maintain his professionalism, he shouldn’t even consider the proposition that had invaded his mind ever since overhearing Nash’s conversation with Angela in the cafeteria yesterday.

Emmitt smiled and turned his focus to Grampy. “I’m glad to see you’ve cheered up.”

Grampy laughed even louder, pointed at Nash, and gasped, “He wants to have you talk to my grandson!”

Nash’s face turned red, and Emmitt’s brows drew together in confusion. He gazed at Nash. “Which one, and what about?”

“Emmitt,” Nash replied. “The one Bernie says he lives with.”

Emmitt raised an eyebrow. Nash hadn’t picked up on the fact that Bernie was his grandfather? He sat on the corner of the bed and turned his attention to his gleeful relative. “Grampy, you really need to quit calling me that.”

“Wait. What?” Nash stood, blurting out the words, his usual veneer of professionalism apparently forgotten. “You’re Emmitt? I thought your first name was Myles?”

Emmitt nodded. Nash’s informality sent a pleasant shiver zipping over his skin, raising the hair on his arms, but he schooled his features to remain neutral. “Myles Italus Burlingham. First initial is ‘M,’ middle name starts with ‘It.’ Em-It. Emmitt.”

“Italus?” An adorable blush crept up from Nash’s neck as if he instantly regretted his impulsive reply.

“It means ‘of Italy’ in Latin.”

Grampy added, with a sly grin, “He was conceived there on his parents’ ten-year wedding anniversary trip.”

Emmitt winced at Grampy’s overshare, and Nash nodded distractedly. What was Grampy thinking to say something like that? Obviously he was still in matchmaker mode, maybe trying to get Nash to see him in a more personal light. Grampy’s motives were pure, but he clearly didn’t understand how unprofessional it would be for Emmitt to ask Nash out on a date.

Still, Grampy and Nash got along well. Very well. And that was as important to Emmitt as he searched for an aide to care of his grandfather as the candidate’s professional skills. Nash’s education and expertise far exceeded what would be needed, but Emmitt was willing to pay the right person what they were worth even if it surpassed what was required.

Grampy said, “So you’ll speak to him then, Nash?”

“Speak to whom?” Emmitt squinted at his grandfather. He knew the answer, but had to ask.

“To you, of course!” Grampy replied.

Emmitt bit back a groan but couldn’t repress the sigh. If Nash had missed it earlier, surely he’d realize now what Grampy was up to. He nodded and made a snap decision. “I wanted to have a talk with you anyway, Nash.”

Grampy’s happiness and well-being were too important. Emmitt had managed to conceal his feelings toward Nash for years, and he could continue to do so—assuming he could convince Nash to accept the position, of course. After listening to Nash pour out his heart to Angela in the cafeteria yesterday, that likelihood wasn’t as completely out of the realm of possibilities as he’d once thought.

Nash’s eyebrows shot up. “Sure. Uh, this’ll be a rather personal conversation, so where do you think we should do this, and when’s convenient for you?”

Personal? What nonsense had Grampy been feeding him?

“You’re finishing up your three twelves, aren’t you? So you’ll be off on Saturday?”

Nash nodded.

“It’s Dr. Beltran’s weekend for on-call and rounds, so I’ll be free, too. Would you be willing to meet me at the coffee shop that’s in the lobby at my condo? It’s about ten or fifteen minutes from the hospital and has seating that’s well suited for confidential discussions.”

Emmitt ignored the widening grin on Grampy’s face. It was probably too much to hope that Nash didn’t notice it, too.

“Okay,” Nash replied. “I can do that.”

Emmitt pulled a business card out of his pocket and scribbled his cell phone number on the back before handing it to Nash. “I’ve got more patients to check on. Call me, and we’ll work out the details.”

He leaned down to kiss Grampy’s cheek. “I’ll check on you again later, once you’re settled in your new place.” Then he swept out of the room before Grampy could find some fresh comment to embarrass him in front of Nash.

🔼 🔽 POV Switch > Myles/Emmitt – Chapter 9 Random Scene

The regular chirping of the heart rate monitor soothed Emmitt’s nerves. Many people might not find it comforting, hating hospitals in general, but to Emmitt it meant Nash was doing well.

Emmitt’s mood had swung sharply from cheery, at the turn his life had recently taken, to alarmed when he’d received Harley’s panicked call using Nash’s phone. As much as he recognized Nash would be facing a difficult next couple of months, at least he now knew his fiancé could expect a full recovery.

Nash stirred on the bed as Clancy stood on the other side of it, checking the IV. Clancy looked down at Nash and smiled one of those jaunty smiles the nurses gave patients to boost their moods. “How are you feeling?”

Emmitt put his hands on the armrests ready to rise, but stilled again when Nash spoke.

“My fiancé,” he croaked. “Was he hurt? Is he okay?”

While it was heartwarming that Nash was concerned about him—all things considered—it was mildly concerning that he didn’t remember the accident enough to know Emmitt hadn’t been involved in it. Not entirely unusual, though.

Clancy glanced at Emmitt. “Oh, no. Don’t worry, Nash, you were the only one hurt. Dr. Burlingham wasn’t even in the car, and Harley and Oliver are both fine.” He paused. “What do you remember?”

Nash paused a moment and stared blankly at Clancy before replying. “No,” he rasped. “I don’t remember the accident.”

Emmitt stood and stepped to the other side of the bed. “You have a mild concussion in addition to your arm injury. Don’t worry. It’s not unusual for people to not be able to remember the accident.”

“Okay,” Nash slurred. He appeared to still be a bit dazed from the anesthetic.

Nash’s left arm was in a cast, so Emmitt picked up Nash’s right hand and held it between his palms. “I’ll go speak to Dr. Beltran. He performed your surgery, so he’ll come in and assess you. I can’t…obviously…but between the concussion and the infection risk from the compound fracture, you’ll probably be spending a night here in the hospital.”

Poor Nash appeared so pale, muddled, and in obvious pain, Emmitt wanted desperately to be able to ease all of it instantly. If only such a thing were possible. He raised Nash’s hand to his lips and kissed the back of it, then patted it gently and carefully laid it back on the bed.

Nash stared blankly, then gave a weak smile. Emmitt turned and left the room to find his partner, Dr. Jordan Beltran.

When they returned, Nash seemed more wakeful, but also seemed further distressed. Emmitt took a deep breath to calm his nerves. Jordan glanced at the Patient Controlled Anesthesia pump and asked, “How’s your pain level, Nash, on the comparative pain scale from one to ten?”

Nash opened his mouth, then paused, as if thinking before he replied, “Eight. At least. It’s pretty bad.”

Jordan nodded. “Use your PCA as needed. I’ll repeat all this tomorrow, after your anesthesia has completely worn off, but to ease your mind for now I’ll tell you that your prognosis is good. For an open fracture, this one was minor. The debridement and irrigation went smoothly, and internal fixation was successful. You’re all closed up.

“Antibiotics were started promptly in the ER, and we’ll continue an antibiotic regimen until you’re released, possibly tomorrow. You did require a transfusion in the ER…three units. This cast will come off in about three weeks so we can remove the stitches, then you’ll get a fresh cast for the remainder.”

He pulled out his mini light to check Nash’s eye dilation, then used an ophthalmoscope to look inside the fundi. He proceeded to check eye movement for a more thorough concussion check than he’d been able to accomplish when Nash was unconscious.

“I’d still call this concussion on the mild end of the scale. Myles said you don’t remember the accident, is that right?”

“Right,” Nash replied. “And Clancy said no one else was hurt?”

“Correct. It wasn’t a car accident, although you were in the backseat of a Jeep when it happened. Apparently you had your arms in the air enjoying the feel of the rushing air, and a large bird swooped down and slammed into your arm.”

“Huh. Well, leave it to me to find such a crazy was to end up in the ER.” Nash reached up to touch the bandage on his forehead.

“You’ve got some bruising and a few sutures there. Nothing major. Tell me about the last thing you do remember,” Jordan asked. “Do you remember what you did this morning?”

“Uh, had breakfast and went for a ride with Harley and Oliver.”

Emmitt narrowed his eyes. Did Nash not remember that they’d been transferring the last of his belongings to Emmitt’s apartment? “Where were you going?”

“I…uh…don’t remember that part.”

Emmitt stilled, and Nash’s panicked mein began to make sense. “What did you do yesterday?”

“It’s…a little fuzzy. I’m sure it’ll come back to me soon. That’s not a big deal, is it?”

It was a huge deal. Colossal. Emmitt’s heart sank. If Nash didn’t remember yesterday, there was a good chance he was missing a couple months, at least. “I think it might be.”

“What’s the last thing you do remember?” Jordan asked.

“Coming home from work. Hanging out before dinner.”

Emmitt willed himself not to fidget, and tried not to project the apprehension that flowed through him at Nash’s evasive words. “One more question.” He took a deep breath, fearing the reply, but he had to know. “When you woke up here a few minutes ago, you asked Clancy if your fiancé was okay. To whom were you referring?”

🔼 🔽 POV Switch > Percy – Chapter 17 Scene 1

Uses the 3 prompt words (juice – Friday – socks) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post.

It might have been a Friday, but it was the first day of a new gig that would last several weeks, and Percy was damned happy to have it. Nash, his patient—well, one of his patients—lay resting in a recliner. Although, “resting” probably wasn’t the best word to describe Nash’s fitful shifting. He was a sweaty mess in track pants, a wrinkled T-shirt, and fuzzy slipper-socks.

Percy stood when Nash’s eyes opened. Nash’s hand shook as he reached for the juice—or whatever the hell that beverage should be called—and two Tylenol tablets on the table beside him.

Nash paused his movement, brought the chair forward to a sitting position, took a deep breath as perspiration dripped down his face, and reached again.

“Here, let me.” Percy picked up the pills and held them out.

Nash presented his palm as he peered at Percy. Although Nash kept his face fairly neutral, the tightness of his jaw indicated he was likely to be a reluctant, if not hostile patient. Oh, well. He wouldn’t be Percy’s first. He pasted on a smile and handed Nash the beverage Myles had mixed up—water with lemon, orange, cucumber, and electrolyte drops—as Nash tossed back the pills.

“Hi, my name is Percy. I’m a home health aide. I’ll be staying here to help you and your boyfriend’s grandfather for the next few weeks.”

Nash narrowed his eyes. “Fiancé.”

“Sure.” Percy turned and grinned at Myles, Nash’s fiancé, otherwise known as the man who’d hired and would be paying him. As far as Percy was concerned, that made it just as important to keep him happy as it did his patients.

Myles ran a hand through Nash’s hair, brushing it back from his forehead, and patted his sweaty face with a damp cloth. “I’m going to leave soon to pick up Grampy. You doing okay? You got a little rest, anyway.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Nash replied. “Damn, I’m a drug weenie. It shouldn’t be this bad.”

“Everybody’s different. It doesn’t take much for some people to build a mild dependence.” Myles used the same serene tone Percy had learned to employ when dealing with unreasonable patients.

Nash squeezed his eyes closed, but the peace didn’t last too long. He reopened them. “I’m not addicted.” He bit out the words.

“I know you’re not,” Myles calmly replied. “There’s a difference between ‘dependence’ and ‘dependency.’”

Percy nodded, not that anyone was looking at him. Nash was too busy stewing, and Myles was focused on Nash.

Myles made a good point, though. Apparently, Nash had developed a physical dependence on the Oxycodone he’d needed after a gruesome accident. But the fact he’d quit taking the drug and wasn’t trying to get more meant he hadn’t developed a dependency. He certainly deserved credit for his strength of character. Too many succumbed to the temptation. Although, to be fair, they usually had a more chronic pain.

Nash flashed an irritated grimace at Percy then muttered, “Excuse me.” He pushed himself to a stand and walked stiffly up the stairs leading to the master bedroom suite.

“Want me to follow?” Percy whispered to Myles. The way Nash had pressed a hand to his abdomen indicated he was probably headed to the bathroom. One of those withdrawal symptoms rearing its head, and Nash probably wouldn’t appreciate his presence, so unless he was likely to fall…

Myles shook his head. “I think he’s steady enough. His symptoms should ease within a couple days. Sorry about that irritability, that’s the withdrawal. He’s not like that.”

Percy huffed out a sigh. He’d read up on the withdrawal symptoms, so he already understood that, but it was a relief to be working for a physician who also realized the patient didn’t have a personal issue with him.

“No problem. I’m pretty good with people. He’ll be eating out of my hand in no time.”

🔼 🔽 Bonus Expansion Scene – Grampy’s POV – The Next Day

Uses the prompt word (avocado) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post, and 14 prompt words (large – vegetable – rich – quantity – flash – bulb – second – position – tax – scratch – money – ranch – define – grow) from a random word generator.

Told from Grampy’s 1st-person POV:

“What are you two up to?” I startled a bit at Emmitt’s words. I hadn’t heard him enter the condo.

His practice wasn’t holding office hours today, since it was the day after Thanksgiving, but he’d been on call and had rushed out to take care of an emergency this morning. I laughed, because it was wonderful to see my grandson smiling so widely. He and Nash grinned at each other like a couple of loons. Ha!

Emmitt kissed my cheek while Nash replied. “We’re making a vegetable guacamole.”

Nash’s kiss lasted longer than the chaste one I’d received. I chuckled again, thinking about the role I’d played in bringing those two dunderheads together. Not that they weren’t both plenty book-smart. You just wouldn’t know it judging by how they’d run their personal lives before I’d stepped in to sort things out for them. I sure wouldn’t have bet good money on their chances without my so-called interference.

When they came up for air, Emmitt glanced over my shoulder at the TV. The second half of the Washington, Washington State matchup was on. The Oregon game would be starting at four.

Nash held out his hand, and I plopped the final avocado into it. Emmitt nodded toward it and said, “Those are rich in fiber, Grampy.”

My grandson never missed an opportunity to push anything high in fiber on me. Just to be contrary I replied, “I’m kinda in the mood to dunk my chips in a ranch dip. Do you think we could make some of that, too, Nash?”

Emmitt snorted. He knew I was messing with him. Nash grimaced at first, but I knew the moment the figurative light bulb lit up over his head as he realized I was just having a little fun with them. The eye roll was a dead giveaway. It only took about three seconds, so it didn’t tax his brain too much.

“I’ll be back in a flash,” Emmitt said. He darted toward the stairway leading to the master bedroom.

He’d said the same thing this morning. Maybe he needed to define “flash” for us.

“Since Emmitt’s home,” Nash said, “let’s get these tortillas fried up.”

We had a large quantity of corn tortillas already cut up into chip-sized wedges. Nash spread a little grapeseed oil on the preheated griddle then began to position the tortilla wedges, carefully spacing them out.

“I’ll get out the sandwich fixin’s,” I said. I wasn’t overly steady on my feet yet and still used a cane. Probably would for the rest of my life, for the added stability. But the refrigerator was just across from the island where we would set up our little buffet line, so I could handle transporting the bit of leftover turkey Gil and Julia had so kindly sent home with us, along with some lettuce, onion, sliced tomatoes, and mayo to the countertop.

In no time at all, the buffet line was ready to go, and a freshly showered Emmitt rejoined us, passing out another round of kisses. A collateral benefit of Emmitt wanting to smooch on Nash all the time was that I got bonus kisses to my upturned cheek. Not that Emmitt had ever neglected me in the past—on the contrary, he’d always been very attentive and loving toward me—but I wallowed in the extra attention I was reaping now. From Nash, too. I couldn’t have asked for a better grandson-in-law if I’d picked him out myself. Which, of course, I had done.

We settled in the living room so we could watch the football games while we ate. Emmitt sat next to Nash on the sofa. I kept my eyes on the TV to give them a little privacy (or at least the appearance thereof). Couldn’t close my ears, though. I let my imagination have a little fun trying to figure out what was causing the scritchy-scratch noise coming from their direction.

Nash had announced this morning that he might try to grow a beard, so he had a face full of stubble. It wasn’t too much of a stretch to picture Emmitt running his fingernails across it. The added unmistakable sound of lips smacking confirmed that to my satisfaction.

“Are you two going to make another attempt to go see The Little Mermaid?” I asked, partly to save them from getting too worked up over there, but mostly because it would be fun to see if I could make them squirm. They’d never given me a complete explanation for whatever had happened when their recent date night at the 5th Avenue Theater dissolved with a bit of drama.

I turned around at the sound of Nash falling into a coughing fit. Emmitt raised a feigned censorious eyebrow at me, but I knew he was enjoying Nash’s equally affected discomfort. When Nash caught his breath, he bit his lip and turned cow eyes toward Emmitt.

Emmitt grinned and snickered. “Of course we can still go see it.”

Yeah, Nash already had Emmitt wrapped around his little finger. After all, he was learning from a master, so I expected no less.

🔼 🔽 Bonus Expansion Scene – Myles/Emmitt’s POV – Fun in the Tub

Uses the prompt word (obfuscate) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post, and 14 prompt words (cool – retain – rubbish – indication – sip – communication – heart – chart – fantasy – relinquish – ritual – spine – cell phone – nervous) from a random word generator.

Told from Emmitt’s 1st-person POV:

“Hey, Emmitt,” Nash said, looking up from the bench in the dressing room. He bit his lip. Was he nervous? Troubled?

I’d put a bottle of champagne into a bucket of ice to cool, strategically placed on the other side of the huge round tub in the bathroom. I didn’t think Nash had seen me put it there, but why would he be uneasy even if he had? Maybe he wasn’t in the mood and was concerned about hurting my feelings.

There was no doubt he generally loved it when I injected a little fantasy role-playing, or even just an extra heavy dose of romance into our love life. It wouldn’t bother me if he didn’t want to play tonight. It would trouble me if he humored me when he didn’t feel up to it.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Nothing’s the matter,” he replied. “I was just thinking about stuff, and wondering…”

I approached and knelt next to him and picked up his hand. If I knew anything, it was that the cornerstone of a healthy relationship was about keeping open the lines of communication.

“Tell me.” I brought his hand up to my lips and lightly kissed the palm.

Nash’s mouth quivered, and the dilation of his pupils was a good indication that I’d distracted rather than encouraged him. I nodded reassuringly to prod him to get it off his chest.

“I…uh…was thinking about when we first got together. What do you think we’d be doing right now if I hadn’t lost my memory and assumed we must be a love match?”

“We are a love match.”

“Well, yeah…now. But when we first agreed to get married we both said we didn’t believe in love.”

“Physically, we’d probably be going through the same evening ritual we are now. Emotionally? I’m sure I’d be a mess.”

“Yeah, me too.”

Because we’d have fallen in love despite our misguided attempts to obfuscate the reality of our natures by telling ourselves love wasn’t real. We’d each have hidden our feelings, assuming they would be unwelcomed by the other. My heart would have broken. Instead I’d managed to retain it intact. It had thawed when Nash had looked up from the hospital bed, a weak but open and natural smile on his lips, and said, “I can see why I fell in love with you.”

“We’d have gotten here eventually,” I said. “I was already halfway in love with you when I first asked you to marry me. I just wasn’t able to acknowledge it to myself.”

“We talked ourselves into believing a bunch of rubbish,” he said.

“That we did.” I nodded. “But we figured it out. I love you, Nash, more than I ever thought I was capable of loving another human being.”

“I love you, too.” The smile that spread across Nash’s face could have lit the room, and the hunger in his eyes told me I’d been way off base thinking his issue might be that he wasn’t in the mood. I quickly stripped and joined up with my husband in the tub.

“First things, first.” I popped open the champagne and poured two flutes.

“To love.” Nash raised his glass. I tapped it lightly with my own and echoed his toast.

I took a single sip before putting it down and reaching for Nash. He swallowed a couple gulps and placed his glass next to mine, then melted into my embrace.

We were well-matched in that I enjoyed taking control for our sexual activities, and he liked to relinquish it. We shared a kiss, then I began to chart a course along his collarbone, licking and nipping before heading south to one of his nipples.

A delicious shiver ran down my spine at the sound of my husband’s soft groan, then we both stiffened at the sound of Nash’s cell phone. I quickly recognized the Scooby-Doo theme song, which was the ringtone Nash had assigned to his best friend Harley.

“Fuck ’im,” Nash muttered. “I’ll call him back later.”

I smiled and moved back to his mouth for another kiss. “Don’t want to fuck him,” I teased. “Want to fuck you.”

Nash’s body vibrated beneath mine with his suppressed laughter. “Good.”

“Or…” We hadn’t switched things up, yet. Nash had once indicated that he was versatile, although he’d never pushed to top. Perhaps he was waiting for me to say something?

“Or what?” Was that a spark of hope in Nash’s eyes?

“Or you could fuck me.”



The Grinch himself would have been envious of the sly grin that spread across Nash’s face.

🔼 🔽 Bonus Expansion Scene – Nash’s POV – Friends

Uses the prompt word (patriarchy) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post, and 14 prompt words (level – clean – wait – crime – apparel – rock – testy – agreeable – unhealthy – hang – channel – back – rely – island) from a random word generator.

Told from Nash’s 3rd-person POV:

“Oh, please. Don’t even try to tell me patriarchy isn’t alive and well.” Nash’s head snapped up as Angela’s voice carried over to where he and Emmitt were arranging a tray of fruit and vegetables to offer their company. “Did you read that idiotic letter to the editor some fool politician in Utah wrote?”

“No need to get testy with me.” Harley put his hands up in surrender. “I didn’t say it wasn’t still a concern, only that my company doesn’t discriminate or pay women less. I run a clean business.”

“Misogyny should be a crime,” Angela grumbled. “And don’t get me started on the sexism rampant in children’s apparel, either.”

“Lock ’em all up,” Harley prodded. “Send ’em all to ‘The Rock.’ Lower level, in solitary.”

Angela’s eyes narrowed. “I can always rely on you to stir in a little hyperbole.”

“I don’t suppose,” Emmitt whispered, “that it would be a good idea to inform her the Utah guy resigned two days later due to the backlash, would it?”

“Go ahead,” Nash snickered. “I’ll hang back here and wait while you go over and point that out.”

Emmitt chuckled and picked up the tray. “Not on your life.”

Nash grabbed a bag of chips out of the pantry since Harley had requested “something unhealthy” to go along with the nutritious stuff he’d known Emmitt would select.

“Or better yet,” Harley said, “ship the offenders off to that little island where Nash’s—”

“How about we change the channel,” Angela’s husband, interjected, “to something more agreeable than the news?”

“Good plan.” Harley’s fiancé, Oliver, picked up the remote and switched to a music channel. “Get us in the right frame of mind before we head out to Winterfest.”

Nash sat next to Emmitt on a sofa, and snuggled up under his husband’s arm with a spontaneous smile on his lips.

Harley raised an eyebrow and smirked. “Honeymoon’s still not over?”

Emmitt’s body shook with restrained laughter. Nash said, “Never. Is yours?”

“We’re not even married yet!”

“But you live together.”

“Not for that long. Not alone, anyway.” Harley waggled his eyebrows at Oliver, then pointed his finger at Nash. “It’s only been a few months since you moved out.”

Nash shuddered. “That was a fateful day.” The injury he’d sustained during the drive to move the last of his belongings to Emmitt’s condo had affected his life in so many bizarre ways.

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again,” Harley declared. “It’s the best thing that ever happened to you.”

Nash wouldn’t have accepted that statement while enduring the pain and confusion of his recovery, but as Emmitt’s arm tightened around his shoulders, pulling him in for a hug, that familiar warmth spread through his chest, and he knew Harley was right.

🔼 🔽 Bonus Expansion Scene – Nash’s POV – Harley & Oliver’s Wedding

Uses the 5 prompt words (red – wine – dinner – Italian – date) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post, and 10 prompt words (misuse – mistake – heavy – have – suffer – ring – bite-sized – false – accessible – seat) from a random word generator.

Told from Nash’s 1st-person POV:

Emmitt’s hands lay in his lap as he fiddled with his wedding ring. Next to him at the head table, I stabbed at my “organic field greens with red wine vinaigrette and shaved vegetables.” Harley had pulled out all the stops for this reception. Neither Oliver nor I had been able to talk Harley out of handling all the planning for his own wedding.

“I’ve organized hundreds of weddings,” he’d said. “Nobody is going to keep me from making my own perfect.”

Oliver had shrugged and given Harley free rein. I’d conceded it was the right move. Harley was a perfectionist, and it would have been a mistake to make some other poor wedding planner suffer through his micro-managing of the affair. Besides, Harley would’ve been more stressed handing control to someone else rather than doing the work himself. At least he’d delegated all the heavy lifting to a team of workers—he usually pitched in to help.

The reception featured an Italian themed dinner buffet. In addition to the salad, I’d selected a few bite-sized raviolis, and roasted chicken with caramelized garlic, sage, and lemon risotto. It was delicious, but I carefully put my fork on my plate and placed a hand over Emmitt’s.

“What are you thinking about?”

Emmitt lifted his gaze and grinned. “I was thinking about the downward spiral my life seemed to be in this time last year.” He turned his hand over and gave my fingers a gentle squeeze. “and how quickly it all turned around after we got together.”

I laughed. “That goes for all of us. I was miserable, and as much as they swore I could couch-surf at their place as long as I needed, I know Harley and Oliver were happy to finally get their apartment back to themselves.”

“If anyone back then had told you the two of us would be happily married a year…no…mere months from that date, what would you have said to them?”

“Before or after I laughed my ass off?”

Emmitt snorted. “I know, right?”

“I probably would’ve told them to take a seat before they fell over, because obviously something was wrong with them.”

“I would have grumbled something about misuse of their time gossiping and spreading false rumors.”

“Yeah, I can picture that.”

“Picture this.” I jumped and turned at the sound of Harley’s voice directly behind me. The smile on the groom-slash-wedding planner’s face matched the amusement in his voice. “Visualize yourself standing up and tapping your glass to get everyone’s attention so you can give the first best man’s toast. It looks like everyone’s seated now.”

“Dude, you should’ve at least hired someone to direct things on the day.” I grabbed my sparkling wine, stood, and kissed Harley’s cheek. “Go join your husband and I’ll get right on it.”

Harley raised an amused brow because it wasn’t as if we hadn’t had this discussion several times already. But, he sat beside Oliver and kissed the man’s wrist before turning expectantly to me.

After searching the table fruitlessly for an accessible (and clean) utensil to tap against my glass, Emmitt came to the rescue, handing over his unused table knife. I cleared my throat and gently rapped the glass.

When the room quieted, and all eyes turned toward me, I nervously gulped before taking a steadying breath. “For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Nash, and Harley has been my best friend through thick and thin for many years.”

I turned toward Harley and raised my glass. “In the early days of our friendship I could count on him to give me good advice. Or maybe it was dubious advice. You be the judge. In my clubbing days, I asked him how to achieve a ‘smokey’ look with eye makeup. He suggested I apply some shadow, then sleep on it.”

If the chuckles throughout the room were anything to go on, most agreed that had been “dubious” advice. “Honestly, it wasn’t the worst suggestion he ever gave me. To this day when I try to steer him toward healthy food choices, he says the junk is better for our ‘mental health.’ I’ll let Oliver take over on that mission, now.”

Harley’s eyes widened slightly at Oliver’s bobbing head. “Harley has never let me down. He’s always been there for me both in a flash and for the long run. When I thought my life was falling apart, he was by my side within the hour, comforting me, encouraging me. His simply being there meant the world to me. I barely knew Oliver at that time, but quickly learned he was fully deserving of my best friend’s love and attention when he stood with Harley offering me a place to stay when I needed them. They were together for me again, staying calm—well, calm enough to do what was needed—when I was injured.” No further explanation was needed there. I doubted there were many present who hadn’t seen the YouTube video of that horrifying glimpse into my life. The number of winces I spied confirmed that.

“I don’t think there’s any way I can repay them for all they’ve done for me. But I hope my words of wisdom that led to their engagement have at least partially cleaned that slate.”

It was a good thing Harley hadn’t taken a premature drink from his raised toasting glass because judging by the choking antics he made, it might have ended up coming out his nose. Oliver’s shoulders shook as he patted Harley’s back. Most in the room had no idea how completely wrong the term “words of wisdom” was. I’d basically goaded them into it while trying to find a way to tell them I’d just agreed to a loveless marriage of convenience.

“All in all, Harley is a keeper. He’s got it all, starting with a good sense of humor and ending with a strong sense of loyalty and devotion. And I’ve never met anyone more deserving to be the focus of that than Oliver. When Harley spoke his marriage vows, he meant them from the bottom of his heart, and moreover, he’s already proven he’s a man with the character to follow through on those promises.”

I raised my glass higher, inclining it toward the newly married couple. “Oscar Wilde once said, ‘Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.’ There’s no doubt in my mind that both Harley and Oliver fall in the first category. Here’s wishing you both all the happiness you’ve brought to me.”

We drank, and with a sigh of relief I dropped onto my chair. That had been my first, and hopefully last, time speaking in front of a large group of people.

As Oliver’s best man stood to make his speech, Emmitt placed a hand on my thigh and leaned toward me. “Have I told you lately how much I love you?”

Actually, he told me a couple times each day, but I never tired of hearing it. I grinned and kissed his cheek. “I love you, too.”

🔼 🔽 Bonus Expansion Scene – Nash’s POV – Happy Anniversary!

Uses the 4 prompt words (yearning – heart – banana – holus-bolus) left in the comments of the previous two weeks’ Flash Fiction Friday posts.

Told from Nash’s 3rd-person POV:

“Happy Anniversary!” Emmitt’s smile was as wide as his tone was cheerful. He placed a huge bouquet of flowers on the kitchen island. Nash stood from the dining table where he’d been watching Percy and Grampy start a game of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and stepped over to greet him.

Nash moved into Emmitt’s open arms and kissed him. “I love you. Happy Anniversary!”

“Love you with all my heart,” Emmitt murmured.

Nash took a closer look at the arrangement in the vase. Orange, dark orange, and red roses combined beautifully with orange asiatic lilies, a couple other smaller stalks Nash couldn’t name, and subtle seasonal touches like millet and dried oak leaves. “It’s lovely. Thank you.”

After a surreptitious glance over Nash’s shoulder, presumably to make sure Percy and Grampy were sufficiently diverted by the game, Emmitt pulled Nash closer for another kiss.

When they broke apart, Nash giggled and whispered, “Is that a banana in your pocket or are you happy to see me?”

They had a little time to spare before their dinner reservation. Maybe they could make an excuse to slip upstairs.

But Emmitt snorted a laugh. He reached into his pocket then pulled out a roll of quarters and placed it on the countertop. Oh. Quarters for the row of newspaper vending machines downstairs. It was part of Nash and Grampy’s routine—and good exercise for Grampy—to trek down there mid-morning to select some reading material each day.

At Nash’s ear, Emmitt breathed, “Later, sweetheart. We’ve all night.”

“But I’m burning, yearning, churning for you.” Nash thought he’d kept his voice to a low whisper, but apparently not soft enough.

“I don’t think I can stomach so much schmaltz holus-bolus,” Grampy snickered, but the twinkle in his eye, and the upward twitch at the corner of his lips belied his words.

Percy grinned and muttered something about finding an ointment for that “burning.”

Chuckling, Emmitt walked to his grandfather. “Never fear, you’ll always get your share.” He leaned down and planted an affectionate kiss to the upturned, weathered cheek.

Turning back to Nash, Emmitt added, “I’m going to change, then we can head out.” Those were his words, anyway. The slant to his eyebrows added, “Why don’t you follow me upstairs?”

The Capital Grille and Ragtime could wait. Nash winked at Percy, added a quick kiss to mingle with Emmitt’s on Grampy’s cheek, and followed Emmitt. “Nuts. I left the ticket printout on the dresser up there,” he added for good measure.

If the chortles behind him as he walked toward the stairs were any clue, he wasn’t fooling anybody.

🔼 🔽 Bonus Expansion Scene – Nash’s POV – Jumping to Conclusions?

Uses the 3 prompt words (flow – motivation – missing) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post.

Told from Nash’s 3rd-person POV:

“Huh.” Nash halted in the middle of the walking track and stared at the text message on his phone: Can you cut it short and come back up please?

Grampy stopped beside him and leaned on his cane. Nash showed him Emmitt’s message and asked, “What do you make of that?”

Chortling, Grampy replied, “I learned a long time ago to just take things at face value. Go with the flow and don’t let my imagination get the better of me.”

“You mean you’re not going to help me read between the lines?” Nash put his hands on his hips in mock consternation.

“Nothing’s missing between any lines.” Grampy winked and started toward the exit. “Come on, whippersnapper, before you start jumping to conclusions like you’re prone to do.”

Nash didn’t need any additional motivation to follow. Having his tendency pointed out to him kept him from voicing his concerns aloud, and he at least tried not to picture any worst-case scenarios. Never mind that it was only because his imagination couldn’t come up with anything that made sense.

The elevator seemed slow enough it was easy to fancy a cluster of trolls pulling it up with a rope and pulley rather than the smooth mechanical system his rational self knew was behind it. Although Nash was pretty sure he wasn’t projecting any yearning for Grampy to walk faster once they finally reached their floor, Grampy’s sly grin made him question that.

When they finally reentered their apartment, Emmitt was standing by the kitchen island with a huge wide grin.

“What?” Nash put a hand to his heart. At least it was clearly good news, but still…

“It’s been a while since we talked about it, so I wanted to speak to you before proceeding.”

“Please, just say it!”

“Are you still okay with having older children placed with us, or would you rather hold out for an infant? We got a call. Three brothers need a home.”

Nash had to put a hand on the wall to steady himself. He was incapable of words, but he was pretty sure his beaming smile and frantically bobbing head did the job.

🔼 🔽 Bonus Expansion Scene – Nash’s POV – Memory Lane

Uses the 4 prompt words (macrobiotic – ice bag – wheal – gallipot) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post.

And here’s a bonus inspiration pic featuring the model from the To Love and To Cherish cover:

Told from Nash’s 3rd-person POV:

After a whirlwind shopping expedition to switch out the spare bedroom’s furniture with a space-saving bunk bed with a trundle, along with a short book case, a rack of bins for small toys, and a toy box, Nash and Emmitt were at least physically ready to welcome the six-year-old, and twin four-year-old boys into their home.

Of course they were both elated at the prospect of welcoming their new sons, but emotionally Nash was relieved to find Emmitt as much a wreck as he was. Meanwhile, Grampy was no-holds-barred thrilled out of his mind, practically bouncing with anticipation. His trip down memory lane wasn’t exactly helping Nash and Emmitt’s predicament.

“If they’re anything like Emmitt, we’ll wish we had eyes in the back of our heads.” Grampy chortled as he shook his head at Emmitt. “Every other time your mother turned around you were earning another trip to the ER.”

“That’s so different from how he is today.” Nash poured a glass of orange juice and turned to face Emmitt. “You’re so careful and precise in everything you do.”

Emmitt opened his mouth to reply, but Grampy beat him to it. “Oh, he was very careful and precise while shoving all those beads up his nose.”

Nash sputtered and covered his mouth as juice spurted out his nose. Emmitt sighed and rubbed Nash’s back. “In my defense, I was three.”

Nash coughed and wiped his face. “Grampy, darn it, I thought you’d spilled all the beans by now. Are you still holding out on me?”

“What did you think all those beads saved in that old ceramic thing on the shelf over yonder were from?”

“You saved them?” Nash laughed. “What ceramic thing?”

“The gallipot,” Emmitt said. “Second shelf.”

“Oh yeah.” Nash had unpacked Emmitt’s knickknacks for him and had wondered about those beads at the time, but he’d long since forgotten about it. “Bet all those trips to the ER are why you got interested in medicine.”

“Probably, although Grampy likes to joke it might have been the other way around.”

“I think those stitches you got on your arm were the turning point,” Grampy said. “You were five, weren’t you? That’s when you turned into a little ghoul, fascinated by anything bloody.”

“I still remember that.” Emmitt pointed out the faint scar on his forearm and looked at Nash. “You know the little wheal that’ll pop up with a local anesthetic injection?”

Nash nodded.

“I was transfixed by that little bubble, then of course watching the doctor stitch up the gash was even more riveting. Grampy’s right. I was hooked after that.”

“Later, you kept removing the ice bag,” Grampy said. “And trying to pull off the bandage so you could ogle those stitches.”

“Well,” Nash said, “I think we’ll be pretty darned lucky if our boys are anything like Emmitt.”

Emmitt grinned. “Careful what you wish for.” He glanced at his watch. “They’ll be here any time. You got everything we needed at the grocery store this morning?”

Nash pointedly hiked up a brow. Emmitt had helped him put the stuff away.

The boys’ birth parents had had their family on a strict macrobiotic diet, and Nash and Emmitt had agreed they’d transition the kids to the same healthy balanced diet they consumed themselves. There were some similarities—they avoided sodas and refined/packaged foods, bought organic, and prepared their meals from fresh, fruits, vegetables, grains, etc., but they included meat, eggs, dairy, and spices in their diet, drank fruit juice, and didn’t totally eliminate sugar. They certainly didn’t avoid chocolate. But Nash had made a point of picking up more fish and beans to help with the diet shift.

“Sorry,” Emmitt said. “I’m just…”

“Nervous?” Grampy asked.

“Your stories aren’t helping any, you know.”

Grampy’s answering grin told them he knew exactly the effect his stories were having. But he relented. “You two are going to make wonderful parents. Quit worrying.”

The buzzer sounded, alerting them that they had someone downstairs looking to make it past the security door. They froze and stared at each other for a moment before Emmitt stood and strode to the console.

They were about to find out if Grampy was right.

🔼 🔽 Bonus Expansion Scene – Nash’s POV – Alton, Bobby, and Clyde

Uses the 15 prompt words (unicorn – piano – earl – infernal – planet – sonnet – flag – game – thesaurus – striped – tower – north – coaster – camera – fan) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post.

And here’s a bonus inspiration pic featuring the model from the To Love and To Cherish cover:

Man with Wine

Told from Nash’s 3rd-person POV:

Alton, Bobby, and Clyde. Kid A, kid B, and kid C. Although, since Bobby was short for Robert, it was possible that hadn’t been a deliberate point on the part of their birth parents.

The twins’ names were a bit of unintentional prophesy, perhaps, since Bonnie and Clyde would have been apt, had one of them been a girl. Nash’s chest heaved with a weary (but happy…definitely happy) sigh as the pair rolled a striped ball and a bead-filled polka-dotted cylinder toward a looming tower of wooden blocks.

He winced when the structure tumbled to the hard floor, making an “infernal racket”—the adjective was the downstairs’ neighbor’s word, not Nash’s. They’d had a few more choice (and exaggerated) words, probably pulled straight from a thesaurus—or maybe they had one of those word-of-the-day calendars and liked to put it to good use—but the childless couple below wasn’t home at this time on a weekday, so screw ’em.

The boys whooped, celebrating their direct hit, and an alphabet block sporting a “u” and a corresponding unicorn adorning an adjacent side rolled to a clattering stop at Nash’s feet where he stood next to the open refrigerator. He nudged the block, sliding it back toward the twins with a smile.

“Thanks, Daddy!” Clyde snatched the block and ran back to the pile where Bobby was already rebuilding.

Meanwhile, Alton painstakingly pounded out scales on the piano—or rather electronic keyboard, so they could control the volume despite the child’s forceful efforts. The commotion didn’t seem to faze the six-year-old at all. No doubt he was used to it. Usually he was in the thick of it.

Grampy raised his phone, clearly accessing the built-in camera as he scanned it back and forth, taking in all the action.

“Not ready to raise the white flag yet, Grampy?” Nash knew the answer, but it would be fun to hear Grampy’s reply.

Emmitt’s grandfather chortled and shook his head. “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought…

He said the words like he was quoting something. It did sound a bit like the beginning of one of Shakespeare’s sonnets Nash had been forced to study years ago. He’d have to look it up later to understand the reference.

Nash placed a fresh glass of juice on a coaster near Grampy’s seat. The old man grinned, reveling in the pandemonium that was their new life. It was no surprise that Grampy enjoyed the chaos. Heck, he fanned the flames every chance he got. But there was a method to his madness, encouraging creativity, sparking their imaginations. And he knew how to rein it in when necessary. He loved to sit at the table playing a board game with the kids as they wound down during their after-dinner quiet hours. All in all, Grampy was an invaluable role model for a new parent who’d been thrown in at the deep end.

Back at the kitchen island, Nash took a deep breath, then a sip of his Earl Grey tea, and tension eased from his shoulders as he the pleasant, citrusy, magical brew did its job.

He didn’t even notice the “music” had stopped until Alton asked, “What’s for dinner?” as he stood right by Nash’s elbow.

“Do you want to help?” Nash asked. Alton’s dark head bobbed. He’d taken over from Grampy as a most-willing sous chef, while Grampy dealt with twin control. “Great! We’re making honey-garlic chicken, rice, sautéed green beans, and glazed carrots.”

Alton dragged the step-stool over, and Nash set the little boy to snapping the beans while he cleaned and sliced carrots. Grampy queued up a string of classic Disney songs, and they bopped and sang “The Bare Necessities” as they worked.

Nash jumped and put a sticky hand to his chest when Emmitt murmured, “Planet earth to Nash,” right in his ear.

“Pops is home!” Alton yelled.

“Aw,” Bobby whined. “Is it quiet time already?”

“Not yet,” Emmitt said. “I’m home early.”

The twins cheered and resumed building a trio of block towers. A Tonka truck stood ready for the demolition phase of the project.

Nash lifted his chin for a kiss, and an eyebrow inquiringly. Surgery days ran late more often than early.

Emmitt delivered the perfunctory kiss. “Had a cancellation.” Which was all the explanation Nash would get, thanks to HIPAA. “But I’ve been free for hours.”

“Oh?” Nash gathered ingredients to make the sauces while Emmitt popped a couple raw carrot slices into his mouth.

“I knew early this morning that I’d have half the afternoon free, so I scrolled through Zillow.”

“Ah.” They’d discussed the possibility—likelihood, really—of selling the condo and buying a single-family home. While they’d originally thought continuing to live in the condo was doable, three children sharing one bedroom was a stretch anyway, and the boys were…well…on the rambunctious end of the disposition spectrum, so it wasn’t really the best environment for them—or the neighbors. “Did you take a preliminary look at some, then?”

“Yes.” Emmitt blew out a breath and leaned against the counter. “Thank you for understanding.”

That Emmitt had looked without him? Nash shrugged. “No biggie.” Considering they would either have to take everyone with them or arrange for Percy and Opal to come sit with Grampy and the kids, it made sense for one of them to narrow it down before a joint tour for the final decision. “Find any with potential?”

“One,” Emmitt said. “And ‘potential’ is certainly the key word, because it’s pretty rough.”

“Sure we want to deal with that?”

“It’s a five-bedroom Victorian with over thirty-six hundred square feet in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.”

“Seriously?” Nash put the bowl he’d been stirring aside to focus on Emmitt’s words. He’d reconciled himself to the idea that they’d have to live in the suburbs. “Capitol Hill?” That was just a bit north of where they were now. Emmitt would still be nearby his office and the hospital, and they would still be close to all the entertainment venues and amenities that had drawn them each to downtown Seattle in the first place. They wouldn’t be giving up anything of value.

“Thought you’d like that.” Emmitt’s grin spread. “It would need repairs and renovation first, though. It’s been converted into a multi-family residence, so we’ll have to hire a contractor to reverse that.” Emmitt shuddered. “Not to mention the landscaping.”

Nash bounced on the balls of his feet. With five bedrooms they could have a guest room again if the twins shared a bedroom. But, he grimaced. “Do I want to know what something that big costs.”

“Probably not.” Emmitt laughed. “It seems outrageous given the condition, but we’d be paying for the location and the space. And really…” He bopped his head side to side. “After rolling in the estimated renovation expenses, it’s on par with this condo.”

“It sounds fantastic. I want to see it.”

“I hope you don’t mind,” Emmitt said. “But I’ve arranged another viewing for us this evening. I’ve already called Percy. He and Opal will be here at six-thirty, and we’ll meet the agent there at seven.”

Mind? Nash threw his arms around Emmitt’s neck. Heck, no, he didn’t mind. The house sounded like it would be the best of both worlds—a big home with a yard for the kids, and gardening opportunities for Grampy, all without giving up everything they loved about living in the city. “I kind of want to crack open a bottle of bubbly.” But that would probably jinx them.

🔼 🔽 Bonus Expansion Scene – Myles/Emmitt’s POV – All Choked Up

Uses the 10 prompt words (cucumber – olive oil – lube – aubergine – peaches – beads – whip – cage – g-string – Prince Albert) left in the comments of the previous week’s Flash Fiction Friday post.

And here’s a bonus inspiration pic:

Depositphotos_40405781_m-2015 + Square Frame

Told from Emmitt’s 3rd-person POV:

“Bobby snapped my g-string.” Six-year-old Alton held up his guitar as Nash choked on the bite of peaches ’n’ cream yogurt he’d had in his mouth. Grampy chortled as he glanced up from the book he was reading to Bobby and Clyde. Emmitt grinned and rubbed Nash’s back.

“Did not!” Bobby protested, quite rightfully—this time.

Oliver’s shoulders shook, but he covered his mouth to keep from guffawing aloud. Harley smirked and shook his head.

Alton put his fists on his hips and harrumphed. “I don’t know why everyone thinks it’s so funny that my guitar broke.”

Oliver held out a hand. “Bring it here, kiddo, I’ll fix it for you.”

Harley joined Emmitt and Nash at the kitchen island and snorted as he took in the array of fresh vegetables on the countertop. “Considering the questionable underwear you deem to be proper attire for pre-schoolers, I have to wonder if this for dinner, or if you have some wild plans for us after the kiddies go to bed.”

“Wild…” Emmitt looked at the ingredients for the fried augergine, tomato, and cucumber salad then rolled his eyes—a habit he’d picked up from Nash. “Is that a problem?” He deadpanned. “Nash was nice enough to set out the olive oil for lube.”

Nash spewed the remains of his yogurt all over the countertop, and Harley’s brows about disappeared in his hairline. One would have thought he’d suggested whips, cock cages, and anal beads, although the latter would certainly be more sanitary that what Harley had implied.

Emmitt leaned toward Harley and whispered, “If you can handle that entire cucumber, I’ll give you a Prince Albert piercing, free of charge.” He winked. “Oliver will love it.”

Nash dropped to the floor, apparently giving up on trying to control his mirth.

One of Harley’s brows came back down. “And to think I once thought you were a stuffed shirt.” His mouth quirked into an amused grin. “I couldn’t have been more wrong.”

WARNING…F-Bombs ahead…

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