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?”
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