Sookie turned her head to her brother and arched her brow. He was sitting beside her and had both legs up and extended on three white plastic monobloc chairs while watching the rerun of late night news on the small TV by the wall.
“You’re bouncin’ your knees. Gran’ll roll over her grave and tan your bee-hind if she sees you doin’ that,” he murmured without looking at her.
“I know, I know. Knees together,” she hummed, putting both her hands on top of her knees.
The waiting room in Shreveport General’s Emergency Room was practically a ghost town. The attending nurse behind her station near the entrance was probably taking a quick nap while the couple sitting on the opposite side of the room were busy with their iPads. Sookie and Jason had been in the E.R. for over an hour when the couple brought in their son who had an asthma attack and was probably taken in one of the treatment rooms to be nebulized.
Sookie directed her attention to her brother again. He was chewing the lid of an empty paper coffee cup, probably his second since they came in. She already had three cups in less than two hours, which was probably the reason she was so high strung.
She wondered how Jason could be so calm. People used to think that between the two of them she was more cerebral, cool and collected – the pacifist. What they didn’t know was when push turned to shove it was Jason who held her together.
Springing to her feet, she began pacing.
“Can’t you keep perfectly still for one second? You’re makin’ me dizzy.”
She couldn’t help it. Hospitals gave her the creeps, which was a crippling disadvantage if she was to become a medical practitioner someday.
It all started when she was six. Her Gran woke them up one balmy night and asked them to get in the car with her to go to this very hospital because Momma and Daddy were in a car accident.
While their father died on the spot, their mother held on long enough to see them and remind them to always brush their teeth before going to bed. She remembered crying as the chorus of beeping sounds from the machines rang in her ears. The doctors and nurses drove them out of the room as their mother flatlined.
The next time was when Jason had the “accident”. She could barely see anything as the doctors wheeled her brother off to the operating room. She could barely form a single word of reply when the police started questioning her. She could barely latch on to Mrs. Fortenberry’s hand as the old woman tried to shoo the authorities away so ‘the poor girl’ could have a moment of peace. She could barely remember any of those because she was too busy praying for her brother’s life.
As if those weren’t traumatizing enough, Sookie had to be the one to find her Gran sprawled on the kitchen floor. She was the one who checked for pulse and cried for relief when a vein throbbed under her fingers.
The doctors said her grandmother had a cardiac arrest. Gran stayed in the ICU for four days before she finally decided her time was up.
Sure, hospitals were riddled with sad, tragic stories and someday soon she would find a way to deal with hers. But for now, Sookie could only bounce her knees and pace the floor as she impatiently waited for their patient.
“It’s been over two hours, what’re they doin’ back there?”
“Are you nervous?”
She gave her brother her best ‘ya think?’ look.
“Fine. I’ll go check. I need to take a piss anyway.” Jason lifted his right leg and Sookie raced to his side to give him a hand which earned her hard look. He didn’t like it when she did that – makes him feel like an invalid. She stepped back and let him stand on his own.
Jason hadn’t been gone ten minutes when she decided to approach the nurse in the station.
“Hi.” She beamed at the sleep-deprived looking nurse. “Can I get an update on the patient we brought in? The one with the stab wound?”
The nurse stifled a yawn with her balled fist and started typing at the keyboard. “What’s the name?”
“Eric. Eric Rothman.” At least that was what she and Jason heard when she asked him before they arrived in the hospital. Eric wasn’t particularly articulate when they wheeled him in the trauma room.
“Rothman,” the nurse echoed as she typed. “Yes. Mister Rothman is fine. He only has a minor injury. His scans came out clean. Doctor Herveaux is -”
Sookie’s head snapped up. “Wait – did you say Herveaux? As in Doctor Alcide Herveaux?”
“Why yes, d’you know him?”
Know him? She almost cackled. It was like asking if her heart was still beating.
She hadn’t seen Alcide in almost four years. And she wondered if he still had those warm brown eyes, his perfect nose and plump lips or whether he had grown out his thick black hair. He had tried to grow out his hair and his facial hair when he was in med school which only earned him a nickname ‘Sasquatch’ from Jason. The beard didn’t bother her though, she actually thought the facial hair made him look more masculine. His size was never an issue to her too. He was tall and bulky but who the hell cared? She could stand on her tiptoes or worse… she could wear high heels.
Alcide was her childhood friend who massacred her Gran’s magnolias on the night of his and Jason’s high school graduation. They were both so wasted that they miscalculated the number of steps on the porch and took a dive in her Gran’s precious garden bed.
In a burst of bitter irony, Alcide, who had broken her heart more times than she cared to admit, was the one man, who proved that not all men were pigs. The one man she pined for since she was fourteen.
“Isn’t he s’pposed to be in Nepal?” Her hands were shaking so hard that she had to clasp them together.
“Yes, he was. He just flew in last week.”
Last week? The tremor was starting to spread to the length of her body.
“Sookie?” a female voice called her from the back.
Sookie whipped to face her caller.
“Lordy! It is you!” the woman with dirty blonde hair, donning a white coat shrieked. “It’s me, Debbie. Do you remember me?”
How could she forget the woman who stole her dream?
“Of course! Debbie,” Sookie gushed, matching Debbie’s high octave shrill. Her arms moved up and down, deliberating whether to hug her or give her a high five. Debbie solved her dilemma when she shook her hand. She probably didn’t want to soil her pristine white coat.
“Gosh how long has it been? Five, six years?”
“Five,” Sookie replied with a fake smile. The infamous thanksgiving of 2010, which Jason called the day Sookie ate a whole pie.
“Wow! Has it really been that long?” Debbie shook her head.
Yet, here she was hoping it had been longer.
“So how’ve you been?” Debbie asked to fill the awkward pause. “Last I heard you were gonna take the MCAT. How did that go?”
In fairness to Debbie, she actually had the decency to look appalled.
“Well, y’know those damn test gets harder every year.”
Sookie faked another smile. Both women regarded each other. It was almost four in the morning and Debbie still looked disappointingly decent, composed, fancy even in her creaseless black slacks and white buttoned-up shirt. Oh and of course, the fucking white coat. Everything looked better underneath that lab coat. Sookie jutted her chin as she tried to hold up under Debbie’s scrutinizing gaze. Her arms wrapped around her waist to hide the smear of Eric’s blood on her shirt. Damn, why did she have to see Debbie when she was wearing her ratty uniform?
Fate’s a mean bitch sometimes.
“I’m sure whatever it is you’re doing now is just as great.” Debbie flashed her pearly whites. “What do you do anyway?”
“I’m a waitress in Merlotte’s.”
Meow. Now the claws were coming out. Sookie would have been offended if she hadn’t had that exact conversation with Debbie five years ago.
“Yup.” Sookie popped her lips. “Can’t say it’s as glamorous as yours but hey at least no one dies at my table.”
Debbie’s lips thinned at her thinly veiled jab. Who could forget the medical malpractice that almost ran this hospital to the ground?
It was four years ago when Debbie Pelt, general surgeon extraordinaire, headed a living donor transplantation. The father of the patient agreed to donate one his livers to his son. No one knows until now exactly how it happened but somewhere along the eight-hour surgery, Debbie Pelt managed to kill not only the dying patient but also the healthy donor. Debbie’s career should have ended that night. The only thing that saved her was her affiliation with Alcide, who flew in from Alabama after tending to tornado victims, to vouch for Debbie. The hospital agreed to settle and Debbie was slapped with a six-month suspension and two-year probation. For six short months everyone felt safe knowing Debbie was without a scalpel.
Another painfully awkward pause later, Debbie’s annoying grin made a comeback.
“So, what’re you doing here, Sookie?” Debbie’s voice, though still chirpy, seemed a little colder now, distant.
“My friend got stabbed.”
Debbie’s eyes lit up. “You mean the mugging victim?” There was a squeak in her voice that Sookie found unnerving. “Alcide’s stitching him up. Oh, did you know that Alcide’s back?”
Sookie tried to swallow the bile in her mouth. “I heard.”
“Oh my God, can you believe that guy? Flying off to Nepal to help those poor earthquake victims.”
Sookie wasn’t surprised. Alcide was all over the world ever since he joined Doctors Without Borders. He was Superman, trying to save everybody but her.
“Sook?” Jason’s voice startled her. She was lost in her own gloominess that she didn’t even see her brother coming.
“Jason! Jason, right?” Debbie chimed again. Damn, the sharp tinkle of her voice was giving Sookie a headache.
“Oh hey! Denny, right?”
Sookie tried hard not to giggle. Jason was good with names. He messed up the bitch’s name on purpose.
God, she loved her brother.
“D’you mind if I have a word with Sook?”
Debbie gave them both a haughty look then left.
Jason pulled her to a corner, away from the nurse’s station before he declared, “Alcide’s here.”
“Are you okay?”
Sookie could only stare at her brother.
“Would it help if I tell you he’s really fat now?”
Jason shook his head. “Bastard’s still ripped.”
Sookie chuckled. “How’s Eric?”
“He’s okay. Alcide just finished patchin’ him up. It took li’l longer because Eric was refusing pain meds. Alcide had to give him a mild sedative to get him to sit still while he’s sewing.”
“Is he awake?”
Jason nodded. “He’s itchin’ to leave, says he doesn’t like hospitals.”
That’s one thing they had in common.
“Alcide wanted to keep him here until he sobers up so he could give his official statement about the mugging.”
“That sounds about right.”
Jason scratched the back of his head.
“I got a call from Crystal; Big Al’s still pretty steamed, he called his buddies in the Sheriff’s office, says he wants to file an assault charge.”
“Fucking cry baby,” she cursed under her breath. “Does Eric know?”
“No. I can’t tell him without letting Alcide know.” Jason shifted his weight to his other foot. “That’s why I think it’s best if we take Eric home with us.”
Sookie’s eyes widened. “What?”
“Someone from the Sheriff’s department will come here and take his statement. How long d’you think it’ll take before they figure out Eric is the same guy who broke Big Al’s nose?” Jason was talking so fast to the point where a vein in his neck was swelling up. “He’s vulnerable, Sook, broke and wounded.”
Jason had valid points but so did she. “We barely know him, Jase.”
“I know he punched a guy for you.”
“We don’t know that.” She was quick to refute. She didn’t ask him to hit Big Al. Someone saved her once before and it almost got him killed. Since then she promised herself that she’d never be a damsel in distress again, she’d be the fucking cavalry.
“C’mon Sook. One night. He can crash on the couch. And I’ll watch him from Gran’s chair.”
Sookie was still apprehensive. To say she had trust issues when it came to men would be an understatement. “If he tries anythin’ nasty-”
“I’ll shoot him myself,” he finished her statement. “You know I’ll never let anythin’ happen to you.”
The gravitas behind those words struck a very raw chord with Sookie.
With an audible sigh she yielded. “Here I thought you’re done bringing home blondes from the bar.”
Jason chuckled. “Can’t help it. He’s too damn pretty.”
Her heart raced as walked side by side her brother on the way to the treatment room.
She hugged her waist, wishing she had time to change into something that didn’t scream I-had-a-long-night-don’t-ask attire. Would it be too late to put a little lip gloss?
Jason knocked on the door. The door swung open, revealing, who else but, Debbie Pelt, grinning from ear to ear.
“Look who paid us a visit!” Debbie beamed, pulling the door wider.
Jason stepped in without a word. She followed him and saw two heads whipping in her direction.
Her cheeks burned as her gaze oscillated from Alcide to the shirtless Eric sitting on the edge of the bed.
Sookie didn’t know which bothered her the most: Alcide or Eric.
Under the unforgiving glare of the fluorescent light, Eric was quite a sight. It was perhaps his slightly tousled hair that made him look more human, more pleasant. Or maybe it was his somber blue eyes, which made him look sincere, genuine, likeable. Or maybe, just maybe, it was just his abs.
Lord almighty, the abs. She could grate cheese on those ripples. She wanted to count how many buns he was packing but she was afraid they might call security.
In the wise words of her friend Lafayette: hubba hubba.
Her throat went dry. She must be getting her period soon because her fucking hormones were messing with her head. She was such a hypocrite, despising men who objectified women when here she was doing just that.
She jumped back, mortified. It was like being caught playing with ‘Alex’.
Blinking her eyes into focus, she homed in on the man standing by the hospital bed.
“Alcide,” she croaked. Goddamn, get a grip, Susanna. She cleared her throat and tried again. “Hey Alcide.”
Alcide stepped closer, arms extended, probably aiming for a hug. She pulled back out of reflex and stuck her hand out to give him a handshake instead. Eric’s previous comment about whiskey and fries lingered in her head.
Alcide furrowed his brows as he took her hand and squeezed it. “How’re you?”
“I’m good. Good, good, good.” Oh did she mention she was good? Crap she was losing it.
“Good,” Alcide parroted, her hand still wrapped under his.
“You’re back,” she quipped, hiding the bitterness in her tone.
Alcide let go of her hand and ruffled his unruly hair. “I was planning to go to the farmhouse this weekend.”
“Yeah, it’s just that it’s been busy here with uhm…”
She waved her hand dismissively. “Don’t worry ’bout it. I understand.”
Alcide gave her a weak, apologetic smile. “How’ve you been? Besides being good…”
She chuckled. “I’m still workin’ for Sam. Y’know, savin’ lives one beer at a time.”
It was Alcide’s turn to laugh. His eyes lit up like the sky in the fourth of July – the crinkles around his eyes told her just how long he had been gone. And just like that she remembered why she was in love with him.
Then she heard coughing, more like hacking. She turned her head to the side and found Eric’s arched brows, sizing her up once again.
“Oh sorry, was that rude?” Eric asked drily. “Please go on, it’s not like I’m in pain or anything.”
Sookie narrowed her eyes at him, ready to pounce. Forget his abs, he just messed up with true love. And wasn’t he supposed to be sedated?
“You know, Mister Rothman, you wouldn’t be in so much pain if you had only taken the pain meds.”
“To borrow Sookie’s words, Doc: I’m good. Good, good, good.”
Her cheeks flared up again.
“I only want to get outta here, please.”
“I strongly advise against it,” Debbie put in her two cents. For a moment there Sookie was able to blur Debbie out of the room. What was she doing here by the way? Did Alcide bring her in for a consult? Highly unlikely. Was she waiting for Alcide? Possibly.
Then out of the corner of her eyes, Sookie saw the navy blue scrub top tucked between Debbie’s folded arms.
“Is that for Eric?” Sookie asked pointing at the clothing.
Debbie looked down at her arms and belatedly giggled. “Gosh darn, I forgot! That’s why I came here.”
Sookie and Jason exchanged a look. Debbie, the maneater, was there for a show and Eric was the fucking star.
“His shirt is in the bag by the counter, it’s torn and bloody so I asked for scrubs,” Alcide explained.
Then the question here was: why in God’s green earth is he still shirtless? It was freaking distracting.
“Look, bubba, it’s been real nice seein’ you but it’s late and we’d really like to go home now,” Jason said as he helped Eric put on the scrub.
“Jase, man, I told you it’s better if he stays here at least for the night. It’s not advisable for him to be alone in a hotel room -”
“He won’t be,” Sookie cut Alcide off. “He’ll be staying with us.”
Alcide pinned her with questioning look. “Why?”
Sookie opened her mouth to spew some lame excuse but Jason beat her to it.
“Because he’s Sook’s boyfriend.”
All heads lashed in Jason’s direction.
“Boyfriend?” Debbie, curiously, was the first to voice out her misplaced indignation.
“That’s why he’s here in Louisiana. He wanted to surprise Sook and got lost in the process. He called us to fetch him but then disaster struck.”
It was amazing how her brother could come up with such an elaborate lie on the fly.
Alcide looked at Sookie with a pained expression. “How come this is the first time I’m hearing about this?”
Sookie was confused. Why did Alcide look betrayed? And why was Debbie blatantly flirting with Eric? Something wasn’t adding up.
She had no time to add one plus one as Alcide kept staring at her. Jutting her chin mutinously, she quipped, “Well sorry, I haven’t had the chance to update my Facebook status.”
“Eric?” Debbie still looked shaken. Damn bitch couldn’t move on.
To Sookie’s surprise, Eric clasped his long tapered fingers with her short, calloused digits and said, “I guess now you know why I’m dying to leave this hospital.”
Alcide’s gaze fell to their entwined fingers. A dark shadow passed through his eyes, resembling some form of resentment. Maybe he was jealous, or maybe he just didn’t like Eric. She could never be certain with Alcide. It was damn hard to read Superman.
“All right then. I’ll go get your discharge papers.” Alcide made his way to the door, holding it open for Debbie, who looked like she had lost a lottery.
Jason, who patted Eric’s shoulder, gave Sookie a wink and made his exit to settle the hospital bills and get Eric’s meds.
As soon as the coast was clear, Sookie snatched her hand from Eric’s hold.
“So…” Eric hummed with a lopsided sneer.
“Wipe that smirk off your face. It was Jason’s idea,” she gritted.
“Whatever you say lover.”