Harlow: A Military Bad Boy Romance: The Bradford Brothers, page 5
“Nice to meet you too,” says Harlow, walking through the door and shaking hands with Max.
He’s mere inches away from me now, and I don’t know whether to feel excited or dreadful.
“Your story is so inspiring,” says Max. “It’s helped me get through so much worry and anxiety. I hope to be able to work with Dr. Davis too.”
Harlow bows his head in a grateful nod.
“And how are you doing?” he asks.
“It’s slow going, but I’ll get there. Right, Whitney?”
Max flashes a grin at me and I can’t bear it.
“Great, good to hear,” says Harlow. “Tell me about your story. What unit were you in?”
I’m kind of amazed at how sweet Harlow is being to Max. On stage he came across as some rough- and- tumble tough guy but now he’s being so gentle and encouraging.
And so damn hot. But I can’t let my hormones take over my rational thought process.
“Um, Lance, can I speak with you privately?” I ask, as Max launches into his story to Harlow.
We step into the hall and walk a few feet away.
“So that’s what I was trying to tell you, Whitney,” Lance says, his face an excited glow. “You know how during the conference they announced that we’d be working with Dr. Davis’ patients?”
“Well, it also turns out that we’ll be working with Harlow, his original success story.”
“If he’s a success story then why does he need our help?” I quickly interject.
“Oh my god, Whitney. What’s up with you? This is good news. For the practice, for service members, and for you and your career. You’ve been selected as the intern to work with Harlow.”
“Why me?” I ask, suspicious all over again. “I’m only an intern.”
“You’re a great intern,” says Lance. “Although I hope you don’t let it go to your head. And you know that the interns work with the patients first— with my supervision of course— and then they’re seen further up the chain as needed. That’s really not abnormal.”
Lance is right, but something still seems off.
“Lance, I just think it’s strange. I’m glad Harlow’s made such a turn- around but I don’t want the other patients to have false hope. Not everyone has access to Dr. Davis’ break- through treatment and there’s only so much we can do with all of the patients. I’ve worked with Max for the past year and he’s barely made any progress. Yet as soon as he lays eyes on Harlow, it’s like he’s some new religious savior and everything’s going to be great or something.”
“Well, what’s so wrong with that?” Lance challenges. “We both know it’s good for patients to maintain a positive outlook. Maybe Dr. Davis can work with Max, and can help him improve.”
“He’s a facial reconstruction surgeon,” I say, finally being able to put words to one of the nagging thoughts that’s been bugging me. “What does he know about physical therapy?”
“I don’t know, but he definitely improved Harlow’s cognitive and physical functions in addition to his face,” Lance says decisively. “We saw it with our own eyes. Plus, he’s always talking about this new integrative system of treatment that apparently works. And now we have the opportunity to be part of that system. Part of the team. It’s a good thing, not a bad thing, Whitney.”
“Okay,” I say.
All of my concerns have been dismissed. And I really trust Lance. Maybe I’m the crazy one.
“And I’m sure I don’t have to point out,” Lance continues, leaning in close, “that the clinic is very happy to be working with Dr. Davis and Harlow. You certainly don’t want to stand in their way.”
“All right,” I agree, a chill running down my spine at the thought.
It’s true. I’m just an intern here with no power or control, and the evaluations I receive from Piñon will make or break my career.
I think back to how lucky I felt to get this internship. I don’t want to blow it by thinking I know more than everyone else.
“Let’s get back in there. I have a job to do.”
I begin walking resolutely to the therapy room.
“I know I also don’t have to point out how fine that man is,” Lance says, under his breath with a giggle. “If there’s one thing that can convince you to work with him, maybe you should just focus on his appearance.”
I stifle a laugh as I enter the room where Harlow is still talking to Max. My heart pounds in a mixture of excitement and disbelief at the thought of working up close and personal with the man I thought I’d only ever get to see from a distance on stage, and maybe after that in my dreams.
“So, what’s wrong with my little brother?” asks Ramsey.
We met up at Gecko’s after work. This bar is more my style— more of both of our styles, actually— and I can always count on Ramsey for good advice.
“I’m just confused,” I confess.
I hate admitting it even to my oldest brother. I’m no pussy but I guess I can’t be a tough guy all the time.
“I really thought I was fit to fight, and Dr. Davis thinks so too, but the military is putting me through all this stupid bullshit. Making me jump hoops to prove I’m ready.”
“I have to go to physical therapy like some old geezer. And to make matters worse, I have to impress some young intern there, so she’ll side with Dr. Davis and certify me for service.”
Ramsey’s eyebrows had been crinkled close together with concern but now he raises them up as if he’s curious.
“Yeah, my physical therapist is a chick. A total newbie. Younger than me, I think. And she has some bug up her butt about me.”
Her cute butt, I think, but I don’t say that part.
“Oh yeah? What could there be to not like about an arrogant player like you?”
He takes a swig of his drink and laughs, but I’m not in a joking mood. I also hope Whitney doesn’t see me in the same way Ramsey just characterized me. Although I never seemed to have any problem with the “arrogant player” label until I met her.
That’s just further proof that some screw in my head has come loose. I shouldn’t let her get to me like this.
“I just think it’s going to be an uphill battle to convince her I’m ready to go back to the field. At the conference last week she was grilling Dr. Davis about me, as if she didn’t believe that I’ve come as far as I have…”
“That’s the physical therapy intern you’re working with?” Ramsey sputters, nearly spitting out his drink with his laughter. “I didn’t get a great look at her, unfortunately. But she looked hot. And she was feisty.”
“Yeah, exactly. She just has had it in for me from the start, for some reason. I think I should ask the facility to place me with a different physical therapist.”
“You think they’d do that?”
“Yeah I think so. I mean, they were jumping over themselves with excitement that I was even there. This one poor former Senior Airman with a prosthetic leg was saying how I’m everyone’s hope. I’m starting to think I might let them down…”
“Stop it. You’re very inspirational. I’m sure your story helps a lot of them stay motivated.”
“Well, anyway, I’m sure they’d listen to my request and I don’t see the harm in asking for a new PT.”
“I happen to think you’re up for the challenge of this pain in the butt intern,” Ramsey says. “Why not prove her wrong? If she thinks you’re ready for service, then anyone would. And I know you can convince her. Because I know you are ready for service.”
Suddenly I feel a familiar hand on my shoulder and hear my brother Jensen’s voice from behind me.
“Oh brothers, why do you diss my dive bar in favor of this stuck- up bar?”
“Hey,” I say, turning to him. “You get off of work early?”
“Already that serious, huh?” Ramsey asks, with a laugh.
“We never expected this from you of all people,” I chime in.
Jensen just smiles in a way that’s boastful but bashful at the same time. My brother is really in love. I never thought it possible.
“I guess there’s still hope for all of us,” Ramsey ruminates.
I pound my fist defiantly on the bar, which the bartender believes is a sign signaling him to come over and get me another drink. I may as well go for it. I don’t want to be deluded with false hope of some happy- ever- after story.
I’m happy for Jensen, but his sudden turn- around in the romance department has the tendency to dredge up bad memories of our parents, and all the reasons we all three have always said we didn’t want to be in a committed relationship. Even though we never had an official pact, it had been long discussed and decided on among us, and Jensen had to go and betray Ramsey and me.
“We all know you just like to hit it and quit it,” Ramsey says to me.
“And on that note…” Jensen muses, mysteriously.
I follow the direction of his stare until I see Blondie, or at least a woman who looks a lot like her.
“Is that the same girl from Louie’s the other night?”
Jensen’s laugh is mischievous now.
“What in the…?”
What is he up to?
“She may be a friend of Riley’s who I had told to come to Louie’s, to celebrate your fine performance on the stage. You were too tired and mopey then, so I thought you’d like to make up for lost time.”
I glare at him as Blondie sidles up to me and says, “Hey there, Gorgeous.”
I don’t know why Jensen thinks he needs to set me up. I could have had any girl at the conference that night. I probably could have even had uppity Whitney.
My guess is that he’s trying to tame me, so that I can have a ball and chain like he has Riley now. Hell, it’s even one of her friends. That figures.
But I look at Blondie again and can’t say I blame my brother for trying. He certainly chose well for me. Blondie has banging tits and pretty blue eyes under eyelashes so long they have to be fake.
“What are you drinking?” I ask.
“I’ll have some Sex on the Beach.”
She winks at me.
“Too bad we’re in the desert,” Ramsey laughs.
“What are you boys up to tonight?” she asks, inching even closer to my bar stool.
“Just hanging out and having fun,” Jensen says. “At least these single boys here are,” he quickly adds.
“Actually, I was just complaining to Ramsey about the state of my life,” I tell her.
Both Jensen and Ramsey shoot me what- the- fuck glares. Jensen’s is accusatory in nature while Ramsey’s is more curious.
“You are at the wrong place for that,” she says. “You have your two brothers- slash- BFFs- here, and your favorite drink…”
“And the company of a beautiful woman,” Jensen chimes in.
I would love to fuck Blondie but the fact that she’s Riley’s friend complicates matters. I don’t even know what he was thinking. He knows I don’t like to have to see my conquests around again. And I would hate to put any strain on his relationship with Riley by using and losing one of her friends.
But maybe these are all just excuses. At any other point in the past, I’d hook up with Blondie without giving it a second thought.
Maybe I’m still too distracted. I’m mad at myself for letting Whitney throw me off my game. One minute I don’t even want her to be my physical therapist and the next minute I’m looking at Blondie and comparing her to Whitney. And there’s no comparison. Not at all.
“It’s been fun but I’m heading home,” I say, throwing some bills on the bar before standing up to go.
Blondie looks at me with an offended pout, while both Ramsey and Jensen stare at me in disbelief.
“You’ve become quite the party- pooper,” Jensen says.
“Jensen!” Ramsey scolds him. “Harlow’s just been having a tough time. It’s really unfair what the military is doing to him, after all his years of loyalty and service…”
“Really?” asks Jensen. “They’re screwing with you that bad? You want me to ask Riley to help? I’m sure she can take them on and win, just like she did for me.”
I consider it. It’s not half a bad idea. I know Riley is a good lawyer who helped Jensen when he ran into trouble with the military and could probably help me convince the Powers That Be to let me back in.
But I’m hoping I won’t need to go that far.
“Thanks, Jensen. I think I just need to see how things play out. I’ll keep it in mind though.”
“Are you sure it’s only that that’s bugging you?” Ramsey asks. He knows me all too well. “Because I really think it’ll be okay. They just want to dot their I’s and cross their T’s, for liability’s sake and all of that.”
“I know,” I say. “Thanks.”
But there’s definitely something— or someone— else who is bugging me.
Against what may be my better judgment— am I thinking with my dick?— I decide to go ahead and start my sessions with Whitney tomorrow morning, if only to prove to myself that she doesn’t bug me all that much. I can handle this. The only way to get her out of my head is to work with her and be constantly reminded of what an uppity, meddling creature she can be.
Sure, that’s the reason I’m going to see her tomorrow. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.
After work, I’m making dinner while Tony is out. He shows up when it’s nearly done. He reeks of alcohol.
“How was your day?” I ask him.
“Any luck finding a job?”
“Geez, Whitney. Is that all you care about? Whether or not I find a job?”
I blink, taken aback by his aggressiveness. But then I feel defensive.
“Actually, it’s a big concern right now. You keep saying you’re going to get a job, but nothing happens, and it’s difficult for both of us to live just off of my student loan money.”
“I can’t help it that you hang out with your boss Lance all day for free, when really they should be paying you.”
“It’s called an internship, Tony. And it’s for our future. In a few months I’ll have graduated and will likely get a good job as a result of this internship.”
If I don’t blow it by causing problems with Harlow, I think.
I was planning a nice, casual dinner at home, where I could tell Tony about my dilemma at work. On the one hand, I think I could validly assess Harlow and help him improve. On the other, someone higher up than me will likely want me to say that he’s further along than he really is. And I’d have ethical problems with that. Not to mention his haughty attitude. He probably thinks he doesn’t even need my help.
I’ve been thinking a lot about asking for someone else to replace me as Harlow’s physical therapist. It seems like the wisest and most ethical course of action. And yet, I worry that it will look bad for me at work.
As Lance has pointed out, this is my opportunity to prove myself, and I’m not sure I should quit before I even try. Not to mention, I wouldn’t mind the chance to get up close and personal with Harlow…
“What’s for dinner?” Tony asks, as if reading my thoughts and wanting to draw them back to himself.
“Just tomato soup and grilled cheese,” I say. “I had a long day at work and school, so I decided to keep it simple.”
Tony opens the fridge and pops open a Heineken.
“Fine by me.”
Another one? I want to say.
Instead, I ask, “What’d you do today?”
“Just hung out with Nate and some other
So basically he was in a bar all day while I worked, and now he’s drinking more beer while I cook.
“Do you want to make a salad?” I ask him. “The veggies are in the fridge.”
“No, I’m going to relax and play a game of Madden ‘till dinner’s ready,” he says, heading over to the living room, beer in hand.
I can’t take it anymore. I just explode.
“Tony, I don’t think I can do this.”
He plops down on the couch, not even seeming very upset.
“Us. I just feel so disconnected from you, and you don’t even seem to make an effort anymore. It’s not just a matter of finances, although that’s an important issue. It’s just that emotionally, I feel lonely, as if I’m not even in a relationship at all…”
“Geez, Whitney. We’ve both had long days. Can’t this just wait until later? I don’t have the energy for a long- winded relationship assessment conversation right now.”
I know in my heart that I’ve reached an impasse, but Tony’s right that at least I had a long day. I guess I don’t have in it me to take action about our relationship and my internship right now.
I spoon myself out a small bowl of soup and eat it while Tony obliviously plays his video game. I have lost my appetite.
“Dinner’s ready, serve yourself,” I tell him, on my way to the bathroom. “I’m going to take a bubble bath.
I sink down deep into the water and try to clear my head. I can’t run away from two challenges at once.
As I hear the sounds of Tony’s video game continue in the living room, I decide to break up with him, and to work with Harlow. It’s time I stopped taking the easy way out for once.
“Thank you all for coming today,” Dr. Davis says, as he passes out sheets of printed paper to those of us seated around the conference table.
Harlow’s physical therapy training officially begins today, with this meeting of his training team, for the purpose of going over his treatment plan. I find it rather odd that Dr. Davis is not only present for this meeting, which is usually only held among the physical therapists, but also that he’s in charge of the meeting.