Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 49
And good riddance .
Trying to choke back a mixture of overwhelming feelings, I join my brothers at my dad’s grave. It’s been awhile since I’ve been here, but the tombstone is still familiar and welcoming in a sad sort of way.
Devoted Father and Beloved Friend.
Ramsey clears his throat.
“I know that none of us are religious men,” he begins. “So a prayer doesn’t seem appropriate. But I thought we might say a few words about— or to— Dad. Does anyone want to start?”
“I will,” Jensen says.
He probably comes here more than any of us, and he’s used to talking to our father.
“Dad, since I’ve last been here, things have turned out pretty well for me. So I wanted to thank you for continuing to be here for me, even from… wherever it is that you are. My case turned out okay. My lawyer turned out to be more than okay. In fact, I’m going to ask her to marry me.”
“Whoa,” Ramsey whistles, and I look at him in surprise.
“What a way to tell us!” I exclaim.
“I wanted Dad, and you two, to be the first to know.”
He looks so happy that I almost start to believe in love— for him, of course. Not for suckers like Dad and me.
“Congratulations,” Ramsey and I both say, each patting him on the back.
“Good job, little brother,” says Ramsey. “I’m proud of you. I might not be in favor of us Bradford Brothers getting tied down, but Riley’s a keeper, that’s for sure.”
“I’ll go next,” I say.
I look down at his gravesite and take another deep breath. I’ve always been bad at this— talking to my dad. But I feel that it’s an important tradition for my brothers and me to keep up, so I try anyway.
“I think of you often, Dad, and I always try to make you proud. I’m fighting hard to get back into active duty with the SEALs. Everything’s going fine after my accident, and I’m pretty much back to new. So, don’t worry. Love you, Dad.”
Now my brothers squeeze my shoulders. It feels good to have them with me on a sad day like this. I don’t know what I’d do without them.
“Okay, so I’m up,” says Ramsey, and he bends down to retrieve his guitar from its case. “Dad, I want you to know that everything’s good. We’re all good, we all miss you. Mom’s doing okay.”
Jensen and I look at each other uncomfortably.
“I mean, she’s had a few small setbacks but I just saw her yesterday and she’s back to doing well. I’m looking out for her, Dad, just like you always did. So don’t worry.”
I feel a pang of sadness, for how badly Ramsey wants to be like our dad, and to take care of all of us, even Mom. He’s always been the strong one among us, no matter what.
“I’ve been doing a little… music therapy,” he says, causing Jensen and I to raise an eyebrow at each other. “And I wrote this song for you. It’s what I’ve been wanting to say for a long time. I wanted to play it here for you, on your birthday.”
He begins strumming his guitar, and softly humming. He’s actually pretty good. Jensen and I look again at each other, but this time it’s with a look of amazement.
He sings a soft verse and then his voice gets louder and stronger on the touching refrain.
I always wanted to say goodbye.
But how can I do that when I can’t let go?
I never wanted to say goodbye.
Because you’re still with me, wherever I go.
After he’s finished, we stand still in silence.
I’m thinking about my dad, Ramsey’s song, and how it’s true that I never wanted to say goodbye to Dad, and how I probably will never be ready to do that, although I had to long ago. And I can’t help thinking the same thing about Whitney.
I’m so mad at her, but I still can’t get her out of my head. What’s it going to take for me to be able to let her go?
My doorbell rings, awakening me from a deep slumber. My first thought is who’s at my door so early? My second thought— embarrassingly— is, Harlow?
I stumble out of bed and answer the door unabashedly in my pajamas. I’m surprised when bright light is the only thing that greets me.
It’s not Harlow. It’s no one. Just a package my postman left at the front door. My latest installment from my Books & Bubble Bath subscription.
As if I didn’t already feel like a walking cliché, now I’m seriously thinking of trying to mend my broken heart by losing myself in a romance novel while soaking in the tub. I might as well adopt twelve cats and call myself an official Old Spinster.
I’m surprised to find that it’s mid-afternoon. I’ve been sleeping for a really long time.
I’ll admit it. I called in to work, decided to skip my classes, and took a mental health day. This is my very first one, ever.
I’ve heard of such things, but I thought they were for weak-minded idiots. The type of person who falls in love with someone who would believe a slimy doctor over her, and who would be so morose once that person breaks up with her that she needs to stay in bed all day, and maybe stay in the bathtub all evening to boot.
And then I decide to take action. I don’t deserve a bubble bath until I’ve figured out what Dr. Davis’ deal is.
Clearly Harlow doesn’t want anything to do with me right now, and how can I blame him, when undoubtedly Dr. Davis got to him first and painted me as some crazy stalker who is making Harlow look bad so that I can have him all to myself?
I need to figure out a way to convince Harlow that it’s Dr. Davis— not me— who can’t be trusted. I need to do it to possibly save my relationship with Harlow, and to save my internship and future career.
On a hunch, I drive to Dr. Davis’ office. This is risky, as either Dr. Davis or Harlow could see me, but at this point, what do I have to lose? I park at the far end of the parking lot, furthest away from the entrance, trying to formulate a plan.
I think about what I know, which isn’t much, except that Harlow is the only patient Dr. Davis latches onto so tightly. There’s no one else he touts as being a success story, or brags about, or makes work for him. So what is it about Harlow that Dr. Davis needs so badly? And what is it about his other patients that isn’t worthy of public attention?
I wonder if I should wait until I see Dr. Davis come out, and somehow go in and steal all his files. I wish I had a good disguise so that I could pretend to be a different patient myself. Or so that I could sneak in and talk to them.
None of these ideas are very good, but at least I’m doing something besides sleeping or taking a bath. It has to be a step in the right direction.
I know I need to have hard evidence to expose Dr. Davis as the fraud I believe him to be— although I have no idea what kind of fraud, or how, or for what reason— and even if I don’t get this evidence—even if I play ball and don’t say a word— he’ll likely find a way to destroy my career.
As Harlow would say, it’s time to go big or go home.
As I rack my brain, I see a lone figure exit the clinic and enter the parking lot. He’s limping, and it looks like the simple task of walking to his car is difficult for him. As he gets a big closer, I can see that he’s wearing a mask of some sort.
Here’s my chance. I jump out of my car and head his way, hoping that neither Dr. Davis nor Harlow are around, and that they won’t happen to walk outside and spot me here.
“Hello there,” I call out, extending an arm when I’m close enough. “Would you like help walking to your car?”
“No, I’m fine,” he says.
But then he takes my arm anyway. “Well, thank you.”
“You’re welcome. No problem. How are you today?”
“I’ve been better.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
Hoping I don’t seem too out of place, I add, “I’m Whitney Reid.”
The name sounds familiar, and I feel as though I’ve seen him around the office before, but I can’t place him.
Then he takes a deep breath, and then asks, “Do you work here? With Dr. Davis?”
“Me? No? Well… not exactly.”
“Do you know Harlow? Or Lance?”
I look at him again and it dawns on me.
This is the patient that Lance had said he and Harlow had visited, while Mae was his nurse.
I decide to tell him the truth. That’s often the best route and I’ve heard from everyone what a great guy he is, so, he deserves the best.
“I work as a physical therapist at Pi ñ on Physical Therapy. I do help some of Dr. Davis’ patients there, yes.”
He frowns, and then points. “That’s my car over there. I’ve heard of you guys.”
As we walk to his car, an older and unassuming Buick, I think of how I know he’s heard of us but I don’t want to see what he is going to say.
“I had a consult there, with Dr. Davis and Lance, and Harlow too, in a different meeting. They were all really nice. But then I heard it’s where the lucky ones get to go. Like Harlow.”
My ears perk up, wondering what else Jesse will say.
“Yeah, the ones who have hope of getting better. I’m not one of them.”
“You’re not? Why not?”
We’re at his car now, so I drop his arm, but he just stands there, still talking to me, luckily.
“I don’t know. I guess from what Dr. Davis said I’m pretty much a lost cause. They can’t do much to help me.”
I’m astonished. How could physical therapy not at least somewhat benefit an injured service member?
“Yeah, and I even got to talk to Harlow before my surgery. I’m kind of mad at him actually. Even though he was nice, he made it seem like it was so easy so now I’m confused. He made it seem like this surgery was almost like some miracle I should expect.”
He shakes his head, and I feel bad for him, for being so confused. I wish I knew how to help him, but I don’t.
“I was also hoping he would come to my surgery, which I know it probably too big of a request and that he’s probably really busy, but I never heard anything else from him,” he says. “But I guess he can’t spend a lot of time with everyone. And that not everyone can expect as good of an outcome as he’s had. I’m trying hard not to take it personally. I’m trying hard not to be completely pessimistic, actually.”
I frown. It surprises me that he doesn’t know Harlow was there, when I know that he was. Why wouldn’t Harlow have said something to him? Perhaps he was unconscious?
I’m about to tell Jesse that I heard that Harlow did go see him, and Lance as well, and ask him if it’s possible he might have been in an unconscious state and not remember. Then I realize maybe Harlow doesn’t want him to know. If he did present the surgery as some magical cure all, maybe he saw Jesse in a worse condition than he thought he would be in and felt guilty. Or maybe he wanted to escape without ever having to see him again and explain.
Perhaps I’d misjudged Harlow and built him up into some sort of schoolgirl crush fantasy. I’m not even sure what to think anymore. It’s clear that Harlow wants nothing to do with me, so I don’t want to say anything that could get me even further on anyone’s bad side around here. I just know I really wish there was something I could do to help Jesse.
But I’m no one. Just an intern. And if I even give up a hint of trying to help a patient of Dr. Davis’ that I wouldn’t have otherwise known about, I’ll definitely be out of that internship.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I tell Jesse, at a loss for anything else to say.
“Thank you for the help,” he says, with half a smile.
He opens his car and I help him slowly lower himself into it. The least that Dr. Davis’ staff could have done was walk him to his car , I think.
As he nods at me and drives away, I know what I have to do.
Somehow I have to get access to Dr. Davis’ files.
I’m back at Pi ñ on, but this time I won’t be working with Whitney. In fact, I hope not to have to see her here at all. I’m meeting with the new physical therapist assigned to me, Lance, who is one of Whitney’s bosses, the same one who showed up to watch me do the track exercises and who also went to see Jesse after his surgery, like I did.
I’m glad he’s familiar with my case although I’m a little afraid that Whitney may have poisoned him against me, because I know they’re friends. Her loser ex was afraid she was cheating on him with Lance, who is gay, when really Whitney was just tired of his antics. Like I got tired of hers.
Still, though, Lance had seen me perform the track exercises with his own two eyes. He has to know independently of Whitney that I’m fit for service, or else he’ll realize that soon.
I do my best to make a good impression when I first meet him, but soon I find out he’s a nice guy who doesn’t need pretenses.
“Harlow, good to see you again,” he says, clamping a strong yet friendly hand down on my shoulder. “I’m honored to be able to work with you.”
“Same here,” I say. “I’ve put in some time with Whitney but I hear you’re even more experienced.”
“Yes. Yes. Now about that… I know you’ve already gone through some of this with her, and I hate to be redundant. But just so that I have a good understanding of where we are on things, I’m going to ask you to do some of the same tests, if that’s okay with you?”
“Sure, no sweat.”
It’s annoying to have to repeat things, but I want to start off on the right foot, so whatever Lance wants to do is fine with me. Plus, I know I did well on those exercises before, and I’m anxious to show off my skill again, so that Lance can see that Whitney obviously wasn’t giving me enough credit in those reports she wrote.
“Okay, let’s start by having you stand on this bar and extend your left arm…” Lance begins, and I follow his instructions perfectly.
It’s not nearly as fun as when I was doing this same exercise with Whitney. I can’t help but remember her nice, plump ass as she stood in front of me, or the feel of her small, soft hands on my shoulder as she steadied me.
“Very good,” Lance says.
He runs through some more familiar exercises, taking notes and making little “ hrmphs ” and “ hmmms ” in between. His vocalizations sound vaguely positive, but I’m dying to know what he’s writing down.
“So how am I doing, Lance?” I finally ask him.
“You know what, Harlow, you are doing spectacularly well,” he says, sounding a little surprised.
Now I don’t know what to think. Is everyone here inclined to doubt my abilities ?
I know I had a traumatic accident but I don’t know why they all seem so shocked that I can do simple stretches and pass easy assessments, when Dr. Davis has been working with me on all of these things for months now, and he’s helped me bounce back to where I’m almost as good as new.
Lance runs me through some more easy tests and then both of us jump when we hear an unexpected knock at the door.
“Dr. Davis,” says Lance, sounding as surprised as I feel. “Welcome. Come on in. What can I do for you?”
“I’ve just been observing,” Dr. Davis says.
“From the window, and I can’t help but notice that you are repeating exercises that Harlow has already done with his previous physical therapist.”
“Why yes,” Lance says, visibly blushing. “I’m just trying to get an accurate assessment of…”
“And I’m just trying to not waste Harlow’s time,” Dr. Davis says, bluntly. “It’s a precious commodity and, as you know, he’d like to work on things that will help him advance faster.”
I’m not sure whether to be grateful or upset at Dr.
“Of course. Dr. Davis. Whitney had suggested some exercises and stretches…”
“Nonsense,” says Dr. Davis, with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I can show you what Harlow needs to work on.”
He enters and stretches out my left leg— the one that is still rather weak— on top of the barre. He definitely knows my problem areas. I grunt, unable to extend it all the way.
“This is a big problem that Harlow needs help fixing,” Dr. Davis commands.
“Oh yes, I can see that,” says Lance, furiously taking notes. “I’m glad you pointed that out.”
I feel betrayed, as if somehow Lance should have stuck up for me. I’m not that bad.
Sure, I know I’m not as flexible as I was before my accident, and Whitney had said she would work on that with me. Still, I’m a lot more flexible than a lot of service members, and even a lot of guys in my own unit.
Dr. Davis continues to show Lance my problem areas, stretching me this way and that like an inflexible rag doll.
“You see?” he says, when he’s finally done twisting me into contortions.
“Yes,” says Lance.
“Now, if I may have a word with you privately?”
“Of course,” Lance says confidently, but he looks a little nervous. “I’ll be right back, Harlow.”
He steps outside with Dr. Davis, and I’m not happy. I’m sure that Dr. Davis has to go over things about my training with Lance, and make sure he understands, but I have no idea why he can’t do it when I’m not right here. I know they have planning and training meetings about me in my absence, but I guess that’s not enough.
Lance comes back with the same nervous smile he had on his face when he left.