Harlow: A Military Bad Boy Romance: The Bradford Brothers, page 4
Los Cuates is crowded, and doesn’t take reservations. But it’s my mom’s favorite restaurant, so as usual, all of us wait until we’re called to be seated.
The four of us, plus Jensen’s girlfriend Riley, have been trying to come to lunch at Los Cuates every other week for the past few months. A new tradition.
So far it’s been working out surprisingly well, considering it’s the first family tradition we’ve had since Dad died. And the first one involving Mom that goes back as far as I can remember.
“I wish we could wait in the bar,” Jensen says under his breath, but both Ramsey and I elbow him.
Mom’s a recovering alcoholic and addict, and a bar is the last place she should be. While she’s lived her life being off the wagon a lot more than she’s been on it, she’s been holding steady lately, going to her meetings and abstaining from any harmful substances, and it’s been nice.
Things with Mom have always been rocky, to say the least, and at times I’ve wanted to give up on her completely. But Ramsey, the rock of the family, always persuades me to give her another chance. And I know that Jensen truly wants to keep some semblance of family life together, even though he puts up a tough front.
So I go along with it, as the good youngest brother should, even though I sometimes wonder what we’re doing trying to play Big Happy Family. I’m sure it will fall apart sooner or later, just like everything in our family’s history always has.
“I really love your dress,” Riley tells my mom, who blushes.
“Why thank you. Ramsey bought that for me for my birthday.”
The sarcastic glare I give Ramsey says what a little suck- up. He’s always doing things to try to make Mom happy, even though she’s never really done the same for us.
Recently things got heated between her and her abusive ex— one of many addict losers who string her along until they’re done with her— and she was out on the street with no place to go. Ramsey convinced all of us to pitch in money for an apartment for her, and he goes to visit her often. He thinks she’s becoming senile and may need round- the- clock care, but I think it’s just a combination of the drugs and the successful pity parties she always throws for herself and which only Ramsey really buys into.
Finally the hostess leads us to a table and we continue the Happy Family façade. I’d like to think we can all keep this up, but I know not to set my hopes too high. We make small talk about work and about Jensen’s and Riley’s blossoming relationship, and then I feel the need to bring up a subject I probably shouldn’t.
“So, Dad’s birthday is coming up,” I say.
My brothers nod their head in cautious agreement while Riley turns to Jensen and says, “Oh? I didn’t know.”
Mom says nothing.
“Yeah, I was wondering what you guys wanted to do?” I ask.
“I think we should go to his gravesite as usual,” Jensen says.
“Definitely,” Ramsey agrees. “I’ve been kind of re- learning how to play the guitar, and I’d like to play something in his memory.”
“Wow!” I’m impressed. “That’s great. Since when?”
Ramsey just shrugs, with a look in his eyes that’s hard to read.
“And maybe we can take him to dinner afterwards,” he continues. “Trombino’s, maybe? Since he loved Italian?”
“Remember that time he took us there and convinced the waiter we were visiting from Italy?” I say.
“I do,” says Ramsey. “But I can’t believe you do. You were just a little kid.”
“He was even talking to him in fake Italian,” says Jensen, laughing. “And asking about the authenticity of the food.”
“Dad always was a hoot,” Jensen says. “I miss him so much.”
“Well, I need to piss,” Mom says, getting up from the table and walking away while the rest of us sit there speechless.
“Good ole’ mom. Running away at the sign of any serious conversation,” I say.
“Harlow,” Ramsey says sternly. “Be nice.”
“Why should I? It’s always more same old same old with her. She left us and Dad a long time ago, to run off with some loser. And she’s never really been committed to trying to fix anything since.”
Ramsey’s face turns beet red. He looks angry. I’ve never seen him like this. He’s usually the cool, calm, collective one among the three of us.
“Harlow, you make good points but I don’t want to talk about it right now,” he says. “I just can’t.”
He clenches and unclenches his fists several times.
Jensen, Riley and I exchange concerned glances.
“Okay. Sorry. I won’t say another word,” I say.
I feel bad but I don’t really know what I did to make him so mad.
“We’ll just have a nice time at lunch,” Jensen says, reaching out to touch Ramsey on his shoulder.
This gesture seems to calm him down. He nods.
The waitress comes to take our order, but Mom still isn’t back. She refreshes our tortilla chips and salsa and waters, and says there’s no rush.
We sit in silence for a while.
“How’s your practice going, Riley?” I ask, finally thinking of something to say.
“Pretty good,” she says, with her infectious grin. “Working for myself and for clients I enjoy may not pay as well as I’m used to, but it sure beats working as a billable hour slave, I mean associate, for partners at a big firm.”
“Great,” I say, genuinely happy her career shift is working out for her.
When she met Jensen, she was a big shot at a nice law firm, but she gave that up to offer legal help to military service members like him.
It’s hard to stay upset when Riley’s around. Jensen may have wussed out and gotten himself a girlfriend, but at least he picked a good one.
Still. That’s not happening to me, ever. After growing up with our mom and seeing how flaky and unstable people can be, and how a once- loving relationship can be destroyed once somone decides to throw it away, I don’t know how Jensen could ever commit to anyone. I certainly will never be that stupid.
Mom finally comes back and says, “On my way to the bathroom, I passed a board that said their special today is the blue corn enchilada plate. I think I’ll try that.”
She sits down as if nothing is wrong, but she reeks of alcohol.
I want to ask her if reading the specials board is what took her so long. Or if she thinks we’re that stupid. It’s obvious she went to the bar and had a drink.
I look at Jensen and sigh, and he shrugs. For Ramsey’s sake, neither of us points out the obvious.
“I’m going to have the huevos with carne adovado,” I announce, playing my role in the Everything- is- Great game.
“Sounds good,” says Riley, as the waitress approaches us once again.
Time to have a big fake happy family meal, I think, as we order. And to get the hell out of here as soon as I can.
At eight o’clock on Monday morning, I report to Dr. Davis’ office as instructed. He’s not here yet, and I’m annoyed. All weekend I’ve been waiting to talk to him and find out more about my status.
I head to my own “office,” which is makeshift at best: a large, windowless supply closet that he set up with a desk and computer chair when I first started working for him. Neither he nor I have felt inspired to do anything else to improve it since then. I look at the clock hanging rather haphazardly from the drab wall of my office and tap my foot impatiently.
While the rest of Dr. Davis’ offices are modern and elegant, my office is the only one lacking any kind of curb appeal. No one except Dr. Davis and I have to see it, though, because my job is to assist him and to talk to the patients who are scared of upcoming procedures, just as I once was.
He doesn’t pay me that well for the work, but it gives me something to do besides sit at home brooding over the fact that I can’t be serving with my unit. Dr. Davis keeps telling me that my wor
Finally, at quarter after I hear him come through the front lobby. I give him a minute, thinking he will head back to my office, but he doesn’t. So I walk back over to his.
“Jensen,” he says, as if he’s surprised to see me. “You make it home okay on Friday night?”
“Yes sir. I just…”
“Oh yes, you wanted to talk about your certification status.”
“Have a seat.”
I sit down at the chair in front of his desk, trying to appear as patient as possible. He walks over to his locked filing cabinet and then retrieves my file, first having to search for a few seconds to find it. He had clearly forgotten about meeting with me, even though he was the one who had set it up.
“Now, I have some good news and some bad news.”
My palms are sweaty and I can feel my own heartbeat racing. I don’t like the phrase “bad news.”
“The good news is that you are progressing remarkably well. As you know, you were at death’s door step and had significant physical injuries and brain trauma. But now you have come so far. I believe that you are ready to return to combat, but the Powers That Be don’t agree.”
“The Powers That Be?”
“Oh yes. You know, those in the military who look over your file and decide whether you’re fit to fight. They don’t think enough time has passed from your accident until now in order to be assured of your recovery, and they want to see your continued improvement. So, that’s the bad news.”
“But you’ve worked with me this whole time, and everything is back on track,” I tell him. “What else could there possibly be to improve?”
“That’s what I told them,” he says, his hands up and his face showing a look of amazement. “But they don’t believe little old me. Probably because I’m not in the military. So I’ve decided to refer you out for physical therapy, so that another person will be on board and will be able to give you tests and assessments to independently verify that you’re fit to fight. The physical therapy program is through one of the military’s own clinics, so I’m thinking they’ll have to give that person’s opinion more merit than they’re giving mine.”
“Okay. So where do I go for this treatment? I’d like to get it done as quickly as possible, to show them that you’re right, that I’m good to go back.”
I sigh, feeling completely defeated. I was hoping I might be able to go on the next deployment but apparently I’m not going back any time soon. I guess I have no choice but to jump through the hoops they’re setting up for me.
“Of course. One second.”
Dr. Davis types something into his computer and then writes down the name and address that comes up on Google.
“I’ve already set you up for an appointment there at 2 o’clock tomorrow,” he says. “They already know all about you because of the presentation last week, and they’re looking forward to meeting you.”
I wish I could say the feeling was mutual.
“Now, let me fill you in on the patients we have coming in today,” Dr. Davis says, switching the subject of the conversation as if it was no big deal.
Except that to me, my world has ended, again. Without the military, I’m nothing. Or worse— I’m stuck here being Dr. Davis’ pet project and trying to reassure other guys who are way worse off than I am that Dr. Davis can work miracles for them too. It’s beginning to feel like I’ll never be back to my comfort zone.
It may be Tuesday, but to me the day is dragging as if it’s a Monday. I’m at work helping Max. He’s an airman who is learning to adjust to walking with a prosthetic leg. But his progress has been slow- going and I can’t stop thinking about the Harlow guy. Of course, I think about his banging body and handsome face, but mostly I’m lost in thoughts that are a bit more negative in nature.
I wish all my patients had access to the kind of treatment that Harlow is receiving. I’m glad that Dr. Davis will be working with more military members, but we’re so overloaded with those who need physical therapy services that I’m not sure how one doctor could possibly see all of them. And I can’t stop wondering why Dr. Davis chose Harlow instead of many others I have seen come and go.
Sure, he’s sexy and rugged and looks perfect as the actor in Dr. Davis’ demonstrations. But the same could be said for many of the veterans and current service members. Maybe it’s the fact that his story is so powerful— one minute he was rescuing people and the next minute Dr. Davis was rescuing him.
I’m still lost in thought, but trying to concentrate on Max’s balancing exercises, when Lance rushes into the training room.
“Girl, have I got some news for you.”
I look up at him and smile. He always cheers me up no matter my mood, and I’m lucky to have a boss like him.
“What is it?”
“Can’t say now, but come to my office when you’re done.”
“Sure,” I say, since I was planning to anyway, with the notes from Max’s session.
Maybe Lance will have some ideas for how to speed up Max’s recovery.
But once the session ends and I’m in Lance’s office, he doesn’t give me time to discuss Max.
“Guess what, guess what, guess what?”
“What? Geez, Lance, did you win the lottery or something?”
“You know I’d be in Ibiza right now if I did!” Lance responds. “This is work- related, which can never be as good as winning the lottery. But still. Do you remember that guy from the presentation last week? And that doctor you grilled?”
I try very hard to keep a straight face, knowing that Lance can read me very well. Of course I remember. But I try to remain nonchalant.
“More or less,” I say, shrugging.
“Well, believe it or not…”
And then there’s a knock at the door, which is half- way open anyway. I turn around to see him. Harlow. The object of my thoughts— both good and bad— for the past few days.
He’s standing in my workplace, and he’s looking at me with eyes full of the same surprise that I feel.
I drive to Piñon Physical Therapy at 1:30 on Tuesday afternoon. It’s earlier than I need to be on the road, but I’ve never been to this facility and I hate being late.
The whole way to the clinic, I feel annoyed that I have to impress some medical nerds just to be cleared for active duty. I doubt they’ve ever been to war. They’re certainly not going to understand my desire to be back.
I walk through the office doors a bit early, but everyone I meet seems excited I’m here. Apparently I’m like a celebrity around here.
“I’m Dr. So- and- So and we’re excited to have you with us.”
“I’m Dr. Whoever and I look forward to helping you fully recover.”
The names and faces blur together.
I am fully recovered, I want to tell them. I’m just fine. I don’t even know why I’m here.
Instead, I smile and nod and look appreciative.
One doctor appears to be the head of the joint. After we shake hands and exchange the normal pleasantries, he takes me into his office and closes the door.
“Mr. Bradford, it is a pleasure to have you with us. The entire staff looks forward to working with you. Dr. Warren, whom you already met, will be overseeing your treatment to make sure that everything is on course, but your initial sessions will actually be with our intern.”
I like the sound of that. They can’t think I’m that screwed up if they’ve assigned me to an intern. And it’ll be easy to impress a guy so new and low on the hierarchy.
“I’ll show you around and then I’ll take you to meet her. She’s our top and brightest intern right now. Her name is Whitney Reid.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” I tell this doctor, whose name I already forget.
He takes me around the facilities, which do look to be rather state- of- the- art, and introduces me to more people I’m sure I’ll soon forget. Everyone seems to have been made aware that I’d be here, because they look impressed or even embarrassed, bowing slightly and saying things like “the pleasure is all mine” and “please let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”
I feel like I’m royalty or something. Sure, I’m used to being on stage and demonstrating my miraculous come- back, but it’s usually as Dr. Davis’ right- hand man. All the credit and glory usually goes to him. I guess I rather like this place.
“And now I’ll introduce you to Whitney,” says the doctor, rapping softly on a door that’s already open. “I’m sure you’ll enjoy working…”
But I’m not listening to him, or looking at him. The only thing taking up all of my attention is that girl.
The one with the ass.
The one with the tits.
The one with the tenacity to question Dr. Davis during an awards ceremony presentation.
It dawns on me that she might not be the best person to work with me. She seemed very skeptical of my progress.
But then she turns away from me, to whisper something to another physical therapist, and I catch a glimpse of her cleavage and then the shape of her ass. I guess maybe physical therapy with this intern won’t be that bad, after all.
I blink when I see Harlow, as if it’s all in my imagination.
I turn to Lance and say, “Is that…?”
“I was in the middle of trying to tell you,” he whispers back.
“Harlow Bradford,” says my patient Max, taking a step forward with his good leg and stretching his arm out. “I’ve heard so much about you. Max Wishard. Senior Airman.”