I hold the x-rays against my chest, checking once again the patient record in my tablet. I'm fast—I walk from the radiology department downstairs to the patient wing in a single breath, and those are so far apart that they could be very well set in different corners of any given college campus.
I fight that urge to check my phone, but I fight against it. I cross the ER, one I'm too familiar with as a trauma nurse, and check the bed number once again in the x-ray file. The light blue curtains are closed and I stop myself before walking in, brushing my hair back for any strays.
I draw the curtain open, a lot more aggressively than I probably should.
Ben is sitting next to the bed, in his chair, and turns his head around to take a look at the person coming in, looking chill and in one piece, and his eyes widen once he realizes it's me.
"You said you had your day off." He immediately says, defensive like a goalkeeper in a World Cup Final.
Which is fitting, since I'm feeling quite like a striker in a WC final myself.
"Until I was asked to step in."
So that's why he asked earlier—not because he wanted to sweep me off my feet and take me on a romantic ride or anything. It was his plan all along.
I shut my lips tight, angrily taking the x-rays from the file as loud as I can—I can be very loud. I turn away from him and hold the print against the bright light and squint at the picture. As if I hadn't done that before.
"Your wrist looks fine." I drop the file on the bed. "No fractures. You shouldn't put pressure on it though."
"Ha." Ben rubs the hurting wrist, his right one. "Easy for you to say."
No, it's not easy for me to say. I know he needs it—for pushing, moving and transfers, and god knows what else. I just frown harder.
"I didn't wanna worry you." He says followed by the silence, sounding only a little bit apologetical. "I don't need a nurse, you know."
Irritation bubbles up my chest, even higher up than before. Oh really? I breathe in heavily and shove the images back inside the paper file with his name written on it.
"I'll add this to the list of reasons I shouldn't ever call you if I have a legal problem."
"It's not the same thing." He complains, spinning his chair around to face me and grimacing as if only now remembering he's hurt.
I bite down the urge to reach for his arm and do a proper physical exam. Or the urge to just plain and simply touch him. I sigh heavily, staring at him—he stares back, owning up to it, but also looking as adorable as a puppy by the side of the road. Kind of daring me to stay pissed. And how could I?
I prop my knee up the bed and take his arm, easing his grip around the wrist. He winces with my touch, but I'm gentle. Maybe a lot gentler than I normally am, with normal patients.
"Jiu-jitsu." He looks away as I carefully caress the warm, red skin. "I grabbed someone the wrong way and they rolled over my hand."
"You don't do JJ on thursdays."
He shrugs. "I had to vent."
Considering how his life has been going, I'm not too surprised. He's a pile of nerves since Theo came back, unlike anything I've seen. I delicately move his fingers and he makes a face.
"Well, someone should come in a bit to put it in a splint." I tell him
"Can't you do that?"
"I'm not your nurse, remember?"
Ben smiles and shakes his head, like I'm the one impossible to deal with. Then pulls me in for a soft kiss. I lay my hand on his shoulder to push him back, feeling my lips tingling like they wanna turn into not safe for work. And I'm at work. Goddammit.
I get up, taken, drunk, wishing for more, and step back just as someone draws the curtain open again—nurse Sheila. My chest burns with that adrenaline of almost getting caught. Ben suppresses a smile and I have to look away from his face so I don't follow him in nervous giggles.
"Livia." She frowns. "What are you doing here?"
I hand her his x-ray file.
"Good." She nods. "Now go."
I give him one last look before stepping out—just a nurse, and not his nurse. I try to get some stuff done, all I really do is double check random patient charts nearby, the words disappearing from my head as soon as I read them, even when I double read it. My brain feels taken and tingling with a weird spidey sense of someone who deeply wishes I could be there with him even if just so I could sit in a corner and wait. It's the strangest sensation, caring that much. Almost alien.
As I walk by the corridor, anxious and trying not to look so, I see no one other than Theo sitting by the ER entrance. I stop right in front of him and stay there long enough that he looks up; until he double checks and recognizes me.
"Your boyfriend is in there." He says.
"I know. I saw him." I shift, hiding my hands in my pockets. "What are you doing here?"
I have the feeling he's been asked that a lot recently. Ben could've called him—but what are the odds? He loathes Theo.
Or he thinks he does. Or he wants to. Whichever it is.
"I brought him in." He scratches his head. "I… kinda hurt him."
Yeah, I know. I wanna say, but I don't. He means right now, he means the wrist. Which is fixable. A lot more fixable than the other stuff.
He doesn't answer straight away. "Jiu jitsu. I went there to see Lucas-he's a friend from home. And Ben was there- you can picture it."
A bar fight scene passes inside my head. It's a dojo, for fuck's sake.
"He… punched you?"
Theo snorts, shooting me a skeptical look.
"No, he didn't punch me." He considers it. "I bet he wanted to, but no."
I sigh and sit down in the plastic chair next to him—his hair is in a ponytail, and I notice how the color looks lighter than Ben's, milk chocolate strands that could give my own generally thought of as thick and luscious hair a run for my money. He looks handsome, of course, even though I'm inclined to say Ben is the most handsome one. Mental shrug.
"You're waiting for him?" I ask.
He sighs and rubs his face with the palms of his hands, resting his elbows on his thighs. "I don't know."
I suppose he really doesn't. I sit there for a moment in silence.
"Did you drive him in?" I ask. Theo nods. "So you gotta drive him back."
"I…" He stares across me. "The bastard is probably gonna insist on driving himself. I drove his car, after all."
He probably will, yes. I don't often wish I had a license—I love my bike and feeling the wind on my face as I ride—but I do right now. But maybe, maybe, this will be a turn for the better. They'll work their shit out—or strangle each other, but I count on Ben's injured wrist to write that possibility off.
"Yeah…" I rub my knees. "You should wait… and see. I should get going."
Fighting off that uneasy feeling of being left out of sometgibg important, I get up and brush my scrubs down. I pretend to go back to work while surrounding the area where Ben is. When I see the orthopedist walking down the aisle, not Suzanna because I’m just that lucky, I tag along and follow her inside, like I really belong here, carrying a couple charts in my arms.
Ben looks up at her and then at me as the doctor puts the x-ray images against the light and gives it a good look. I'm almost breathing down her shoulder.
"The images are good, Bernardo. It's not broken." She repeats what I already told him. "We should get it wrapped in a compression band to reduce the swelling and make it stable. Any chance you won't be putting weight on it for the next couple days?"
Ben grimaces and looks at me again, and then shrugs. "I could try."
And I'll be there to enforce it.
"Cold pack twenty minutes a day, try to keep it above your heart level. Rest. I want you back here in 48 hours if it doesn't improve—we'll get you a CT scan then. And a PT to evaluate you."
He nods, silently. The doctor spins around. "Isn't Sheila the assigned nurse for this?"
"Yes." I fiddle with the pencil in my pocket.
Ben now looks at me with a raised eyebrow, as if daring me. "Yeah, why?"
The fucking bastard.
My face burns and I blink, shifting on my feet. "He's… uh, Ben is my boyfriend."
The doctor and nurse Sheila's eyes widen with more surprise than I'd anticipated. Maybe it really took them off guard—maybe they really just didn't think it could be a remote possibility. I'm so private about my life, I don't share anything in the coffee break room, not even mugs. I don't participate in hospital events or happy hours. So I'll give them the benefit of doubt this time.
"Oh. Great." The doctor nods, then shoots us a knowing look. "You'll have someone to take care of you now."
And the look Ben gives me back—oh, god. If only he could shoot lasers from his eyes. He grimaces and narrows his eyes, as if they just insulted him in the worst way possible.
Men and their egos, I guess?
I nod, "He'll be in good hands. Right, babe?"
He closes his good fist around the pushing rim and makes a face, grunting in response.
Sheila brings the wrist compression band, and I have to physically stop myself from stepping closer and overseeing it like a hover wife.
A hover wife. Oh god.
By the time it's over, the chip in his shoulder is still very much there. His good, country-boy education is still very much there, ever the gentleman, but I can tell he's not happy about it—about anything.
I watch carefully the way he maneuvers his chair, keeping his hand closed on top of the wheel and not fully gripping the rim.
He glances up at me. "I'm fine."
"Sure you are." I look around the hallway. "Is Theo… driving you back?"
His chair comes to a full stop and he pushes back a bit. "You saw Theo?"
"He was sitting here just now."
It's like an instant cloud of darkness descends upon his—already not that bright—face again. Then I regret bringing it up, cursing my nosey self.
"I'm driving myself."
It's not like I can say I'll drive him—I do wish I could. But if he doesn't, who will? Certainly not Theo; he's nowhere to be seen, regardless.
I can't help but wonder if Ben doesn't feel even a little bit disappointed by that.
"You've seen me here before." I tell the doorman—Salazar.
"Sorry, Ma'am." Ma'am. I try not to feel too insulted. "Building management complained about letting people in without buzzing…"
"But he's not home."
Salazar shrugs. It's his job. So I sit there in the expensive, however old, lobby, pissed and tired, but also curious and annoyed; where is Ben? I tried messaging and calling. He told me at the hospital exit that he'd drive straight home and rest, but he's clearly not here. And he's injured, shit.
I sink on the spinning lounge chair and stay there for what feels like hours, but it's more like forty minutes. I inspect the deco, the mid century furniture, the intricate paneling that I'm sure is signed by an art big shot like Athos Bulcão. And I'm glad it went through the nineties without a full refurbishing like most buildings did when they all wanted a new, sleek design to look exactly like a hospital waiting room. It has... character.
And I wait there until Salazar waves at me.
"Mr. Bernardo just parked." He points at the underground garage cameras in his monitor behind the counter. I see Ben's car in the spot near the elevator and watch as he painfully slowly takes his chair off the passenger seat, favoring his good hand. I look away from the pixelated image of my boyfriend right as he's about to transfer.
"Can I go now?" I ask.
The doorman looks at me with his narrowed eyes, like he's trying to decide whether or not he's gonna get himself in trouble, and then nods. "Ok, go."
I press the elevator button coming from the garage, and I see him sitting in his chair when the door opens, still in the clothes from earlier at the hospital—he hasn't changed. I bet he hasn't even been home yet. But Ben barely glances up at me, just moves his chair back a bit to make some space for the strange neighbor coming in.
And then he double checks me in surprise, his eyes twinkling with something that almost makes me melt into the softest of states. "Liv?"
I raise my eyebrows. "I had to wait at the lobby."
"Someone complained to management about people getting in without being announced."
He rubs his neck and shifts uncomfortably. "Sorry. I'll let them know you're allowed in at any time."
I rest my back against the wall and we fall in silence for a moment as the elevator goes up three floors, so terribly slowly.
"You said you were coming home." I say, staring at the numbers at the old panel, yellowed by time. This elevator must have been here since the eighties, at the very latest. "From the hospital."
I hear him sigh and see his reflection in the mirror when he closes his eyes and presses the bridge of his nose.
"I had an emergency."
"So you've been wheeling all day long…"
"Fuck right I've been wheeling all day long." He bursts out, hitting the wheel with his fist.
I step back just as we get to his floor. I push the heavy door open and hold it so he can get out, the most mortifying silence between us.
With angry and uneven strokes, Ben leads the way to his door. I follow behind him even though my pride tells me to get back inside the elevator and scream at him to deal with it like a man. I'm not his fucking nurse, as he put it earlier today. Right? But precisely because I'm a nurse, I know that people can get nasty when they're hurt, and it's my job to insist. I mean, it's not my job, not with Ben. But it's my duty—as someone who likes him. Very Much
He unlocks the door and wheels in. I close it behind me and lean back on it, waiting for a cue.
"It's just that..." Ben says after a deep sigh and rolling his shoulders. "If I don't wheel all day, I can't go anywhere."
I can feel that, truly. "I get it."
"If I can't go anywhere, then I'm fucked, Liv."
I keep silent and move away, getting to the kitchen. I start loading the dishwasher with the stuff we left over the counter yesterday—yet another proof that he hasn't been here much.
"And if you don't spare yourself now..." I mutter under my breath. "You risk a bigger, worse injury and then you'll be fucked."
He sighs, such a bouncing pile of nerves. I wanna make him tea and get him laid. Laid down, that's what I mean. Maybe just making him tea will work. I get the dishwasher started and wipe the table with a wet cloth, aware of how intently he's staring at me as I clean up.
"Go take a shower, babe." I say. "I'll get you the ice for your wrist."
A sigh. I take the dirty mugs and paper bags from breakfast.
"Livia, stop that." He puts his hand in mine.
"I'll just get this done." I tell him. "You can rest-"
"You're not my housemaid, nor my nurse." Ben bursts out.
"You come here and you boss me around and clean my house like I can't do all that by myself?" He protests, his eyebrows up and his face red.
I pull back. Mortified. My blood is in flames. I'm so ready to start a fight, goddammit.
"Fine." I throw the cloth on his lap and leave.
There's only so much one can take—and it's a fact that I'd take a lot more, so much more, if only I were his nurse, as he says. But I'm not.
I lo-fuck, I love him and I don't have to put up with this bullshit.
I make sure to bang the door on my way out. Just to make a point.
I wrap my fingers around grandma's warm mug, quietly tucked in her living room armchair where dichan, grandpa, used to take his afternoon naps in, or read something in his soft-spoken japanese. Sometimes I still think it kind of smells like him, even though there's no reason why it would—grandma has always scrubbed the house surfaces with eucalyptus- scented cleaning products, almost obsessively, throughout the day. Any smells of grandpa are long, long gone, lost in fresh mint and old leather.
I sit there, with the tartan over my lap, feeling sad and tired, almost feverish. The mug I'm holding must have been here for a while—the longest while. And I don't feel like drinking that content anymore.
Can someone feel sick, like physically sick, from love?
And just that thought alone is enough to make my stomach freefall.
Grandma didn't ask that many questions; she was glad for the company, even if for a quiet one. She nestled me and then sat on the couch with her tricot basket as she filled the background with a random soap opera she'd swear she never watched.
"Give me that." She stops by my armchair, asking for the mug back. I hand it to her and sink down further. "Is it that boy of yours?"
I almost smile at her calling Ben my boy. I nod. Gripping my phone so hard my knuckles are cold.
Bachan places her hand on my head, fondly. "Are you angry?"
I shrug. I'm not. I'm hot-headed and proud, sure, but I'm not angry. In fact, it'd be so much easier if I were.
I'm not angry, I'm in love.
"It's ok." She slides her hand under my chin and brings my face closer so she can kiss my forehead. Like she knows. "You'll be fine."
I don't know about that. I'm sick. I'm burning; I could have a fever right now, for all I know. I could cry, honestly—from helplessness. I don't like it. I shut my phone off and let it slide between the armrest and the seat, just so I can forget about it. Like grandpa's armchair could shield me from facing that.
At some point, Bachan brings a second set of knitting needles and a yellow wool—and I join her in her furious tricotting, like I used to as a kid who'd spent way too much time around old people. Between that and TV, the shitty soap opera kind that requires no brain cells to process, I just enter one of those liminal spaces where time is fluid.
And when the bell rings, hours later—I'm not sure how many—, grandma has me open the door only so I can see Ben himself right there, like a cliché come true. Of course he's there. Using glasses, too, which leads me to think that he’s showered and cooled down.
"I tried your place." He lets me know first thing. "You weren't home."
I wanna cry already, goddammit. "Yeah."
"So I decided to drive by your grandma's… Just in case." He massages his neck. "I saw your bike and…"
I bite my tongue back before grandma walks around me, tired from all that spying over my shoulder.
If she's surprised that he's in a wheelchair, a detail that goes completely unnoticed by me now but that I'll go over tirelessly later, she doesn't show. God bless her.
"Oh, hello." She puts her needles under her arm and bends down at the waist to kiss his cheek. Without batting a fucking eye. "So glad you came. She's been bringing a lightning storm right to my living room."
I bite my tongue. "I haven't even said anything."
She shoots Ben a look like she's conspiring against me. "As if she needed that."
Ben smiles politely and pops his tongue. "Yeah."
I take a step to the side, making way so that bachan can go back inside, leaving us behind on the porch.
I stare at the garden, not a lawn but a full garden, with a couple trees and flowers, even a small artificial pond with a bamboo fountain that makes sitting in one of the puffs under the tree to read in a late afternoon such a nice experience. It was grandpa's retirement project, before cancer took him away. Still, we all take turns keeping it on the weekends, if not for the release of living in Latin America's busiest city, then for his memory.
Ben had to wheel through a path of stones that's not that even or easy for able bodied people, and we Nakamura women all have sprained ankles from high heels on Christmas parties to prove it. And I've no idea how he made it up the wooden porch.
But I ignore that. I'm not, as he put it, his fucking nurse.
"I'm sorry." He drops his shoulders. "I'm not having a good day, I shouldn't…"
I cross my arms and dig my nails deep in my skin.
"It's fine." Not because it really is, but because I'm dreading, dreading, having to talk about any of this.
He sighs. Or releases a sigh, rather. Ben massages his neck and backs his chair.
"Can we sit… over there?"
I don't point out the fact that he's sitting already. That’d be mean. I don’t point out that I hate sitting down to the point where he can look me in the eye. But I nod and walk over slowly so I’m not rushing next to him; he struggles with the ground, with his wrist, and I look away. Isn’t that all I’m allowed to do?
“Can you give me a hand?” He looks up at me, like he’s raising a white flag.
“Are you sure?.” I say, a little red devil over my shoulder. "I don't wanna hurt your feelings by helping."
And he sighs like he saw it coming. “Please?”
"Alright. Permission granted." I salute him.
Without saying anything else, he turns his chair around so that he's facing the porch step backwards and I grab his frame to help him down.
"Thanks." He smirks, and catches my hand. "Baby."
I pull away. It's so, so easy not to be angry with him, at him. When you really like—when you, fuck, love someone.
I sit and keep my hands to myself. And do my best not to cry the way I do when shit gets serious.
“I’m a pussy.” Ben tells me, after he angles his chair closer and leans over, placing his forearms over his knees. I can’t help but notice the wrist with the compression band still in place. “I- don’t do well with illness. Injuries.”
“You and every single guy alive in human history.”
“I guess.” He smiles. “But I've got this chip on my shoulder about… You know.”
“I don’t know. C’mon.” I cross my arms so that my hands are really far from him. “C’mon. If you don’t want a nurse, maybe you shouldn’t date one. In fact, maybe you should stay away from all healthcare professionals, period.”
“No. Hear me out. I know nursing shit because I know nursing shit. I can’t erase it when I’m with you any less than you can forget the 1988 Constitution or the Civil Code.” I’m staring down, because I know I’ll cry if I look up. I’ve enough years of arguments under my belt to know. “You can’t use that against me every time you’re hurt.”
“But you gotta take into account-”
“Fuck you, it’s not fair. It’s actually insulting. I’m only worrying the way one worries when someone they love is hurt.” I dig my fingernails into my palms. “I don’t take work home, Bernardo. I never have.”
He reaches my chin up, lifting it gently. As soon as he does it, my tear ducts decide it’s time to shine; I feel it filling up the corners of my eyes and I have to blink them away and hope they don’t overflow. Hope he doesn’t see it.
“Do you mean that?”
I nod. “I wave them goodbye, good luck and good riddance as soon as they walk out.”
“I meant the loving someone part.”
The words get stuck in my throat. It bobs up and down when I swallow hard. Hoping my trembling chin is under control. The bastard.
“Shit, Ben.” I look to the side, across the garden over his shoulder. I don’t see the point in saying it out loud. In making a fool of myself in saying fairytale nonsense, like it’s a big deal. Like those feelings don’t just change overnight. Like it's a rom-com or a bad soap opera.
“Don’t shoot me at the beach, baby.” He tilts his head slightly to the side, amused. “I’ve had enough of that.”
Of being shot at the beach? Goddammit, Bernardo.
“I mean it.” I say.
“Mean what, exactly?” He insists.
I groan. “I swear, I could push you off a cliff right now.”
“It’s only a four letter word.” He puts his hand on my thigh and gives it a gentle shake. “It’s not that hard.”
“Say I’m right first.” I challenge him, narrowing my eyes. “That you won’t do it again.”
And he doesn't bat an eye.
“You’re right, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.” Ben nods at me, like he’s pushing me gently to go where he wants me to. “Your turn.”
I sit back, “I like you.”
“That’s not what we agreed on.” He says in a fake hurt tone.
“I like you a lot, enough that it could be, I think, maybe, called love.”
“And they say I'm the lawyer."