I lashed out at an intern. A goddamn intern.
They're babies—stupid, stupid babies, but babies nonetheless. They need patience, an ocean of patience; when I turned into a proper nurse, I promised myself I wouldn't join hospital toxic culture, and lashing out is definitely not like me, but I feel like a fucking jenga tower right now. All I need is a gentle sway, the softest of breezes, to go crumbling down and ruining everyone's day.
I'm on my period; I guess I should count myself lucky for mild cramps, mild flow and mild headaches, but if I had hardcore periods then maybe I'd be at home now. The worst is how badly it affects my disposition, my willingness to live, and the fucking rotten mood that follows me around like a cartoonish cloud. I feel like I really crossed myself there; I had a plan. I set up my work-period schedule completely wrong; I always time it so I'm comfortably at home during most of it, but this time I scrambled it around two weeks ago so I could avoid shifts with Hector. And yet here he is.
Just my fucking luck.
I'm going around the unit, supervising but also trying to cool off. I check the patients, the charts for inconsistencies, the staff for long nails, and try to do what I can do best. But Hector keeps shooting me what he thinks are meaningful glances around the corridors, trying so hard to get a moment alone with me. At some point, I feel like he's following me to the storage room.
"Julia!" I call the girl walking right by me. "Can I have a word?"
She smiles at me—the perfect image of a bright, cheerful physiotherapist, even though it's 1 am. I don't trust anyone who's happy at one am. It's depressing.
Still, I don't dislike Julia.
"Of course!" I pull her next to me and link our arms, which is so unlike me. Somehow, her smile seems to widen into a row of perfect teeth. I bring her into one of the empty rooms and walk back, unlinking our arms. "What's up?"
I realize now I don't actually have anything to say. But maybe I do. As long as I can keep her talking, and Hector away.
Well, here we go.
"I need… Advice." God, I hate that. "You work part-time at that Rehab center…"
"Beltrami Rehab." She fills me in, looking excited.
"Yes. That's the one. So…" I reach for my tight bun. Why does hers look so much better, sexy even? Even her scrubs look incredible. "Do you work a lot with patients with spinal cord injuries?"
"Yes!" She lights up like a Christmas tree. "Are you interested in the field?"
I'm interested in fucking someone in the field. Does that count?
"Sort of." I smile to myself.
"Great! I've been trying to get hired at the Sarah Kubistchek, but you know how that goes… I did a ton of work there during my graduation, and fell in love with the neuro stuff..."
She keeps gushing about it, looking all cute and excited. It's sweet, I should probably talk to her more often. Truth is, I don't mix my personal life with my job—that's what turns hospital staff culture into the shitshow it is. The cliques, the gossip, the snickers around the hallways, the personal vendettas and overall nastiness. I don't feed any of it. Once I climb on my bike and cross the street, I'm gone. Pronto. No afterwork brunch, no mingling in the coffee room. I think that makes a lot of them not particularly like me, but as long as work isn't affected, I'm good. I call it balance.
I'm not a people person.
But I somehow feel like I can tell her. It's like I'm a pressure cook ready to explode—cooking Ben for weeks. I need to talk about him with someone without it sounding like it's serious.
"I've been seeing this guy." I blurt out. "He's a paraplegic."
Julia seems surprised, but her smile never falters. She nods enthusiastically.
"That's wonderful, Livia!" I frown. Why would it be wonderful or not? It just is. I don't want her thinking I want a medal for it. She seems to notice my look. "I don't mean it like that. It's just exciting from my point of view, that's all."
"Well…" She drums her fingers against the patient charts she's holding. "I work a lot with newly injured guys—they often feel like that's over, but I try to convince them it's not. And every time I see a guy winning, I feel almost vindicated."
I blink, nervously fidgeting with my hands behind my back. Somehow it never occurred to me; it seems obvious that dating would be challenging—I just can't see Ben like that. But what do I know? I don't really know him. "I see."
"What kind of advice do you need?"
This is the most personal information anyone has ever heard about me around hospital walls.
"Hm- I meant to ask about… well, you know. Intercourse." I surprise myself by going through with it.
Julia chuckles. "Has he been avoiding it?"
Well, yeah… "Kind of."
"Well…" She's totally about to launch into professional mode, I can feel it. I kind of dread it. "As you probably know, sexual dysfunction does happen. I can't tell you if he can get it up or not on his own, but there are ways. Lots of ways. You should have fun exploring."
Lots of ways. I guessed that. Ben is no new bloomer, he clearly knows what he's doing—when he kisses me. But I also did some extensive research, refreshing my mind on all things SCI. He probably can't have sex without some help, which is fine. I need help getting off too. We all do. And as Julia put it, there are lots of ways.
"However…" She trails off.
She puts down the charts. "How long has it been since his injury?"
I realize I don't know. We've been talking for a little over two weeks, but the only time we discussed it was back at that not-a-date in the park, when he told me his level of injury. I never felt like asking anything else, and he never volunteered anything new.
"I'm not sure."
"Well I should probably advise you to be careful."
Careful? When have I ever been careful? "Why do you say that?"
Julia takes a deep breath in.
"It happens a lot, y'know. Rehab relationships. SCI patients are usually young guys, PT's are usually young women—when has that ever not happened? And there's the whole Nightingale thing…" Yeah, there really is. I keep my mouth shut and listen; she is doing a lot more talking than me, and I'm not complaining. "Anyway. The other girls advised me not to, but I dated an ex-patient fresh off rehab. It wasn't pretty."
"What do you mean?"
Julia doesn't look like she's happy saying it. "Recently injured guys are... vulnerable. And maybe they feel like they gotta prove themselves. First relationships post-injury are tricky at best."
"Ben has had other girlfriends." I say, confidently.
I realize I don't know that either. There's Suzanna—but I don't know if they were a thing before, if she left him because of it. It sure does sound like a Suzanna thing. But isn't that kind of too insulting for Ben? Assuming he could only have scored her if he weren't a paraplegic and she would've left him for it? For all I know, he could have been the one who left her; she's Miss Obnoxious, and he's pretty cool. I don't even know how long they were together for. Hopefully not long.
What do we even text about every day, all day long?
"Just watch out, ok?" She rubs my arm affectionately. "You don't wanna be a rebound, a trophy girlfriend. Trust me."
I guess that's what you get for asking.
I thank her, feeling weird for sharing something as personal as Ben with a coworker. But also strangely so much lighter.
"We could meet up for drinks one of these days." Julia says.
See? You tell someone one single thing about yourself and they wanna form lifelong bonds. "Yeah."
She leaves me there. I feel the urge to check my phone, out of habit rather than anything else, and sure enough I see a message from Ben just a few minutes earlier. It's a link to something he thought I'd be interested in, a meme probably—I don't open it. I type Twelve more hours to go.
Instantly, he texts back: Working?
Yup, sleep break in an hour. Why are you up?
I stare blankly at the message. What does he mean by that? I'm not about to ask. He texts again:
How long is your break?
I'll bring you food.
Ben, go to bed.
He sends me a winky face.
I put my phone down and shake my head, almost as if I could impersonate Julia and smile this early in the morning. I still can't, but it's close enough.
My break can't come soon enough.
"I didn't see you leaving the other night."
I cringe at the words coming from behind me, like I just got caught doing something I shouldn't. I turn around on the heels of my white crocs. I wear crocs now—I'm not proud. I fought against it for years, but it was a lost battle from the beginning.
"I left in a hurry," I tell Hector as I grip my phone tighter.
"I was worried." He says. "I looked everywhere for you."
"I probably should have given you a heads up." I say with a shrug. "Sorry about that."
I don't really mean it. I'm actually a little satisfied he wasted his precious and expensive surgeon hours looking for me while I had a steamy ride home with Bernardo.
Hector shrugs. He's older than me, probably in his early forties. Even though he vehemently believes otherwise, he's not particularly handsome—not the way Ben is. He's kind of too white and I think he lacks a little bit of chin, and he won't even cover it with a beard because of health and safety measures. He's freakishly tall which gives him a bad posture and slightly out of shape, the way surgeons often are. Doctor Bonfim's entire appeal is in the fact that he's a surgeon, if you consider the God Complex thing sexy. I don't. He's entitled and spoiled; thinks he could have any nurse he wants, because that must be what we want, right? A forty-something chinless workaholic twice-divorcee perv.
Honestly, if I had one percent of this man's entitlement and self esteem, I'd be President by now.
But then I'd actually have to be a chinless forty-something perv white man. Ha.
"I'll pick up some food." He says. "Do you wanna come?"
The entitlement and self esteem, I'm tellin' ya'.
I raise my shoulders, apologetically. "I got plans."
And my plan has sent me a message that he's waiting for me outside.
"C'mon, Livy." He insists, like I'm being unreasonable.
I wince. When have I ever gone by anything other than Nurse Livia around here? Maybe Nakamura, back when there were two Livias working here. Livy. The nerve of thinking he'd entitled to pet names doesn't surprise me, but it sure does pisses me off.
"My boyfriend is just outside." I turn around again, towards the exit. "Excuse me."
"Your choice." He says with a shrug.
"Damn right it is." I mutter under my breath as I walk away.
It's a lot chillier outside the hospital than inside, the cold wind blowing mercilessly against my arms. I've a long sleeved shirt underneath my scrubs, but it's not enough. I check my phone, looking for other messages from Ben, and just as I do it, I spot him wheeling my way.
Ben was smarter than me and is wearing dark sweats and a gray hoodie. I wonder what would cost me to get it from him. Maybe just asking.
"You're stubborn." I tell him first thing, smiling.
"You're welcome, gatinha."
I roll my eyes, strangely unaffected by the pet name he's just given me. He's using glasses and it looks sexy. "Didn't know you wore contacts."
He does a quick pressure shift and shrugs.
"Don't I get a kiss?"
"You should get a scold for being up this late." I say but do lean over until our noses are touching and I can give him the much awaited kiss. "I've been promised food. Or did you come for sex?"
He chuckles and parts from me, wheeling back and spinning his chair around. "Let's eat in my car."
"How the fuck did you find this place open?"
"It's only two in the morning." Ben says with a wink, taking a bite of his pizza. Because yes, the bastard brought me a large pizza box.
"The city that never sleeps!" He's looking at me. "When I moved here, I was kind of amazed at the possibilities. You gotta understand I come from a small town that firmly believes in siesta."
"I believe in siesta too." I laugh. "My employer doesn't."
Ben chuckles. "I had to test my powers. So I made sure to try all the food I could after midnight."
"And you somehow found the best pizza place in all of the metro area?" I finish my third slice, using the napkin to clean my hands. I don't wanna accidentally brush them against Ben's hoodie—the one I'm wearing now. Because he offered it.
Ever the gentleman.
It's not cold anymore; in fact, I feel a little hot and flushed, even though I'm sitting outside his car, in Ben's wheelchair parked at an angle next to the driver's seat, where he's sitting—left leg outside in the pavement, his knee touching mine, right leg folded on the car seat, turned in my direction. It's such a natural position, as if he might get up at any minute now. Still, the rubber soles of his shoes are only barely scraped.
"Yep." He has a triumphant grin on his face.
"I think I just took it for granted." I say.
"Oh, the privileges of being a native."
I shrug. Ben's chair is pretty comfortable, the seat seems to shape itself around my butt. I wonder if I'm not screwing it up, but he was the one who tapped the seat and had me sit on it. I would never have done that intentionally; it feels a hell of a lot more personal than sitting on his lap—and I've been there before.
I unlock the wheels and recline back, keeping the wheels from moving with my hands. "How do you do that thing?"
"Ten years of practice."
Ok. Shit. Why does he keep doing that?! He keeps dropping that shit like it's nothing—but maybe it isn't for him. Still!
This also means he can't possibly fit Julia's theory, which has been haunting me all night.
"Then give a speed lesson."
He's smiling now.
"Recline back. Like you're trying to tip a normal chair. It's all in the wheels, anyway. You have to kind of…."
He attempts to demonstrate it with his hands. I try what he's telling me, but it's harder than it seems. I get the lifting the front wheels part right, but only for a moment before the front wheels go back to the ground.
"I suck." I say, laughing.
"You're putting a lot of tension on your legs. You gotta have in mind that I can't do that. Just forget about them."
Like that's easy. But after I relax my legs, I do end up getting a nice wheelie. Ben claps and right when I'm about to set the caster wheels down, I feel like I'm falling back a lot further than I should. I panic for a moment, but Ben is quick—he brings me back by catching the frame in time and forcing me to an upright position. My life is still flashing before my eyes, but I chuckle awkwardly.
"Rookie mistake." He says.
I feel my blood rushing straight to my face. Before I can say something, he braces the steering wheel and lets his body hang outside the car, enough that he can easily reach me, pulling his chair closer by grabbing the wheel.. Ben kisses me, pulling himself back inside the car until he's fully in the seat again, making me follow him inside instead. I'm sitting right at the edge of his chair seat, but then he pulls me inside—and before I can think, I'm straddling him.
Ben digs his fingers into my hair, pulling away the pin I use to secure it up. It immediately falls over my shoulders, my fresh scented shampoo spreading around us like a cloud. He inhales it deeply, running his fingers through my long locks, and settling at the base of my neck, holding me closer. I can feel his chest pounding, and the way his breath changes. He kisses and gently pulls my earlobe, his stubble brushing against my skin. He holds my head back and kisses his way down my neck.
I've never wanted a man to fuck me so bad. I've never wanted so hard to be banged against a wall by a man who can't do that.
I'm digging my nails into his solid shoulder, and I take off his crooked glasses and set them to the side. I'm moving against him, grinding his lap until there are only clothes keeping our intimacies apart. Still, he doesn't seem to respond. That scrambles my brain a bit—I've had men get hard with a lot less. But it also feels safe and comfortable, and surprisingly arousing.
Ben slips one of his hands under my layers, traces his fingers on my back. They're warm and rough and he pulls me closer, sliding his hand to my waist, moving it up to my belly where the butterflies simply refuse to quit their mad dance. I'm wearing a sports bra and he tries to fight the tight band under my breasts, finally making it through. He brushes his thumb against my nipple and that makes my body twitch like it's just been shocked. I have to catch my breath.
"Ben…" I feel like taking off my shirt, taking off his shirt.
He's so good at this. He's insanely good at this. It's like he knows what I want—it's like he knows I generally find kissing bland and boring, and he's making it not so. I can't let go of him, I can't even open my eyes and dare to disturb whatever's happening inside my head right now.
I put my own hand under his shirt, feeling his soft lower belly, and sliding it up until I know he can feel it in the tight upper abs.
"You should come to my place." He says in between breaths, his face still on my neck.
I'm the one who bites his earlobe this time, making him shiver so hard that even his leg starts bouncing up and down with a soft spasm. "I can't fool around today."
"Not... fooling around…" he pulls my hair away from my face, holding it still as he watches me. "So you can sleep. I'll drive you back here."
I adjust my top, pulling back a bit. "Just sleeping?"
He grins. "You have my word."
"That's too bad."
Ben chuckles, and I take the opportunity to kiss him again, pressing our bodies together, scratching his skin with my nails, doing everything I can so I keep myself clothed.
I'm not trying too hard.
"Liv-babe…" he turns his face to the side. Ben is laughing.
"What's so funny?"
"Liv…" he tries again, and when I pull back, he covers his face with his hand, belly laughing now. "Where's my chair?"
I frown, fighting the horny haze that clouds me.
"Right here-" I look to the place next to his open door, where I'd been sitting. Where his wheelchair no longer is. "Shit, Ben."
I climb off him, getting out of the car. I scan around—was it stolen?! Did someone steal a fucking wheelchair?!
No, of course they didn't. I spot it; it's rolled away from the car and tipped over the parking lot curb far behind. I guess I didn't lock the wheels when I…
I lift Ben's chair, surprised by how light it is, and bring it over to him—face burning, a little mortified. He takes a look at me when I set the chair next to the driver's seat, and then laughs again. I slap his shoulder.
He pulls me to give me a light kiss.
All the lights are off, but the sun is already rising in the horizon, painting the sky orange and shining through Ben's floor to ceiling bedroom window.
He has one arm draped over his eyes, and his chest rises peacefully. I grab my phone from the nightstand—six thirty. Shit. Shit. I see several missed calls from my supervisor. I sit up, fighting off the disorientation, and walk to the bathroom holding my scrubs.
I eye the roll in shower with the padded shower seat, the bars on the walls and the lowered sink and mirror. What am I even doing here? Why the fuck did I…
I didn't sleep with Ben. Worse than that—I only slept with Ben. That's all we did. Sleep.
I grip the lowered sink. Shit. I wanna throw up. Maybe eating half a pizza box at two in the morning hadn't been the smartest idea. I call my supervisor, Head Nurse Sheila. I tell her I'll be there in fifteen minutes—I'm not even sure that's possible. Then I run the water in the sink and wash my tired, sleepy face, and brush my teeth with the toothbrush I keep in my purse at all times.
I gotta get out of here.
I undress, throwing the oversized clothes Ben let me wear last night to the side, the sweatpants with the far too long legs, which inevitably made me wonder just how tall he was. Is. I guess. I put my scrubs back on and pull my hair into a tight bun before I walk out.
"Do you have to go now?" Ben is sitting on the bed, rubbing his eyes. He reaches for the glasses on top of his wheelchair seat. "Just let me-"
"I'm late." I say, rushing around the bedroom, my heart pounding heavily on my chest and the most annoying headache pinching me just behind my eyes. "I have to go."
"It's fine, I'll take you." He pulls himself to a more upright position with his arms and yawns. "I just need fifteen, ten minutes. You can get some breakfast in the-"
"Shit Bernardo, I don't have ten minutes!" I blurt. I feel like there are a thousand alarms going off inside my head, mixed with the pain—the headache and the cramping in my lower abs. I need to get away. "I gotta go."
I don't look at his face when I sit at the edge of the bed and tie my white shoes. I feel the mattress shifting and he doesn't say anything else. With the corner of my eyes, I watch as Ben moves his legs with his hands to the floor and transfers into his chair, releasing a deep, tired, maybe even pissed-off, sigh. He wheels past me, his eyes set on the wall, lips tightly closed, heading toward the bathroom.
"Have a nice Saturday," he says, his voice sounding cold and sterile, like a hospital room.
I should say something, but my chest feels tight. I get up and leave.
The time it takes me to get a ride on the driving app, standing outside his building, shifting from one foot to the other and feeling like absolute shit, would have been enough for Ben to do his stuff and get dressed.