Harlow: A Military Bad Boy Romance: The Bradford Brothers, page 8
“Awww. Isn’t that sweet.”
I smile at him.
“I know you’re a big girl and you can take care of yourself,” Lance says. “There’s just something about this guy that doesn’t quite add up.”
“I kind of understand what you mean,” I tell him, making sure that Harlow— who is on the other side of the track and deep into his leg kicks— is well out of earshot.
“You know better than anyone that I was initially very dubious about Harlow,” I confide. “But after spending time with him and seeing how he acts, I really think he’s genuine. I mean, you saw him when he was talking to that patient I was working with in the physical therapy session room when we first met him. He was so nice, and helpful, and not even boastful like Dr. Davis comes across.”
Lance just says, “Hrmph,” but he nods as if maybe I have a point.
“I don’t know. Maybe I was being too harsh on Dr. Davis, too, because I really thought something was up. I even thought they could be in on some kind of a… con… or something.”
I squint at Harlow and give him an enthusiastic wave, before I continue. “Like maybe they were pretending that Harlow was further advanced physically and mentally than he really is, or maybe it was all completely fake. But clearly the medical records show that this horrific thing happened, and it would be awfully hard for Harlow to pull off a sham about how far he’s come, on us. Maybe that’s why the military doubted Dr. Davis’ treatment, and want an independent professional to back him up?”
“Maybe,” says Lance.
He looks like he wants to say more, but he doesn’t. He heads back to the office just as Harlow’s rounding the bend, finishing his exercise in good time. I try to remain in good spirits, since, aside from Lance’s visit and strange comments, everything has been going so well.
“How’d the meeting with the Boss go?” Harlow asks, with a playful smile on his face.
“I think it went well,” I reply, although I’m not really sure.
Usually I feel that I know Lance very well, but right now he was just… mysterious. I try not to let it ruin the joyful mood.
“That’s great,” Harlow says, beaming. His brown eyes sparkle and I can’t stop staring at him. “Do I have any more exercises to do today, to demonstrate my perfect fitness?”
He makes a fake muscle— which is still really hot— and I laugh.
“Nope, you’re all done,” I tell him, returning his smile. “And I will make an appointment to talk to Dr. Davis. I think he should know how well you’re doing, and maybe he’ll want your treatment team to meet again, to re-assess.”
“Awesome!” He looks elated. “You mean I might get to have an even shorter treatment period than we originally planned?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know.”
I don’t want to speak out of turn.
“I’m not really in charge of these things,” I continue. “But I don’t think the normal plan will be very beneficial to you since you’re already…”
“Abnormal?” he guesses.
“Very funny. There are definitely things we can work on, so don’t get too big of a head.” He winks at me as I continue. “There are some exercises and stretches I will give you, that you can do at home and that we’ll be working on here during sessions, to further improve your strength and balance and flexibility.”
“Yeah, I used to be so much more flexible,” he says, frowning. “I know I’m not completely back to 100% yet.”
It’s touching how concerned he is about any setbacks. Yet he’s still leaps and bounds ahead of most of my patients, and most people in general.
“But other than that, I don’t feel that you need that much work. We’ll see if Dr. Davis and the team agrees with me though. Please don’t forget, I’m just an intern. I’m the first step and then everything has to be cleared above my head.”
“That’s great, though, thank you,” he says, clearly excited.
He has an air of exuberance about him right now that’s absolutely contagious. I know he’s happy to hear that he’s that much closer to being back with his unit. And I have to admit I have my own reasons for being happy.
I finally dumped Tony, which I was beginning to think I could never do. I feel that things at this internship can only go well for me now that I’m working with Harlow. Sure, he’s the one putting forth the effort and the spectacular performance, but I’m the physical therapist assigned to train him.
I know that the exercises I’ve come up with will only help him improve even more, for which I’m sure I’ll get some credit. Maybe this will lead to a good-paying job immediately after graduation.
And even more than that… here I am standing face to face with the most handsome man I’ve ever seen. And he’s looking at me, smiling at me… no, absolutely beaming at me as if he’s just as happy to be standing here with me as I am to be with him. That doesn’t exactly happen to me every day.
“Let’s go celebrate,” Harlow says, out of nowhere. “Right now.”
“I’ve had a great day. You’ve had a great day. Life is looking up. This calls for happy hour. Or dinner. Or whatever. You pick.”
“I… have more work to do,” I tell him, which is true.
He’s my last patient of the day but I have to get my charts and notes done, and go over everything with Lance and perhaps some other supervisors.
“Fine,” he says, shrugging. “I’ll pick you up later. What time do you get off?”
“I…” I hesitate. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
He looks crestfallen, which is how I feel.
So, without giving myself time to change my mind, I continue, “for you to pick me up here, I mean.”
“Oh. Of course. We’re probably not supposed to go out together. Even to celebrate your awesome physical therapy skills and my amazing progress, I mean.”
His face breaks into another smile: a devilish one, which is somehow even cuter than his exuberant one. I can’t help but smile back, even though I’m not really sure what the official policy is on… fraternizing, with patients. Lance had said he didn’t care, but it’s something I normally wouldn’t do no matter how hot the guy was.
But then again, I’m never around hot guys who are interested in me. So it’s hard to know what I would do normally, except that right now, I know I just want to be near Harlow. And not in a physical therapy context.
“I can pick you up at your house,” he says. “Text me your address.”
I open my mouth, but he adds, “My phone number is in my file, I presume?”
Oh yes. Of course. I feel like an idiot.
“I could probably do five o’clock,” I tell him, mentally estimating the time it will take for me to finish my work and change into something much more attractive than my work uniform.
“Great, that gives us plenty of time before happy hour ends. But we can eat dinner too. Whatever you want.”
This time his smile is almost grateful, almost patient- like. Is this a date, or not? I can’t tell. And I can’t tell whether or not that’s a good or bad thing.
“Okay, I’ll see you then.”
“Don’t forget to text me your address. Or else I’ll have to drive all around Albuquerque guessing what kind of place you might live in.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t forget.”
How could I?
He’s so damn hot. And he’s picking me up at five. I can’t even believe my luck.
I pull up to Whitney’s apartment, located in what locals jokingly refer to as the “student ghetto.” She is still a student, after all, I remind myself, although it’s easy to forget.
I don’t know as many students who have their act together as well as she does. I certainly didn’t when I was her age. I wasn’t even a college student. Studying books wasn’t really my thing. My thing was more like climbing up mountains and jumping out of planes.
“Wow,” I say, and she says, “What?” with a cute, awkward little laugh.
“You look so different than you normally do.”
“Um, thanks?” she says, with another laugh.
“I mean. Wow. You look great.”
She looks into my eyes briefly and then heads for my truck. I can tell she’s not quite sure to approach this, and neither am I. It’s probably not exactly kosher to be hitting on my physical therapist. But, I think, as I pass her to open the passenger door for her and look down at her ass on my way, who could blame me?
I take her to Apothecary Lounge, the rooftop bar on top of Hotel Parq Central. It’s not usually my kind of scene, but I want to impress her. The weather’s nice and the view of the city is beautiful.
“Wow, gorgeous,” she says, as she walks to the edge and looks down. “I’ve been wanting to come here since it opened, but…”
She trails off, and I imagine it has something to do with it not being her ex’s type of place.
“Do you know this used to be a mental institution?” she asks, changing the subject and gesturing towards the hotel as a whole.
“I’ve heard that,” I tell her, with a wink. “So I figured it was only fitting for two crazy people to come have drinks here.”
She laughs and I take her arm, leading her to lounge- type chairs and a fancy- looking coffee table in a private alcove of the bar. I like that she doesn’t back away and instead she holds on quite steadily.
The waiter approaches with an expensive drink menu and Whitney orders a fancy martini I’ve never heard of.
“I’ll have the same,” I tell him. “And we’ll look over the tapas menu.”
“Very nice,” she says.
“I don’t think they serve my standard drink,” I tell her. “Jack and Coke.”
“I meant your taste in food. Tapas? Really?”
“I’m a world traveler!” I protest, although I’ve only been to combat zones that most people would prefer to avoid rather than travel to. I leave that part out. I begin to realize that we’ve lived very different lives, and have little in common.
But who cares? I remind myself. It’s not like we’re on The Bachelor. I don’t want to marry her, or marry anyone at all for that matter. I just want to fuck her, and maybe relax and have some fun for once.
“So, what made you want to join the Air Force?” she asks, as we look over the menu.
“I wanted to get the fuck out of Dodge,” I answer. “I mean, Duke City.”
She laughs, but I’m surprised at myself because it’s the most honest answer I’ve ever given.
I usually try to impress women with tales of valor and heroism, but Whitney already knows me. She’s seen me at my lowest— hell, she saw the video where I couldn’t even write my name, and the photos of me with half of my face burnt off— and she also knows how strong and invincible I can be when I set my mind to it. There’s just really not much left to try to convince her of.
“You don’t like Albuquerque?” she asks, looking a bit disappointed.
“Oh, I like it a lot, now. And I don’t think it was ever Albuquerque I was running from. More like, my folks, my environment… even myself, really.”
“It was that bad, huh?”
I take a deep breath. I usually make it a policy not to get into heavy conversations about my past with my dates. But this “date” feels different.
“Yeah. I don’t know where it all went wrong. With my mom, I guess.”
She looks at me intently, waiting for me to continue.
“My dad was a respectable guy, a local politician who got along with everyone. We were, like, the picture perfect family. Then my mom ran off with some guy that was fun to drink with.”
“My dad didn’t really help matters. He always clung to this fantasy that we’d be a family again. Every time some loser guy ditched my mom, he’d take her back, and support her financially and emotionally. She never really hit rock bottom. She just used him when she needed him and then ran off to the next guy. Over and over. And finally he just couldn’t handle it any more. He died, suddenly and far too young, of undiagnosed pulmonary hypertension. Basically the stress of it got to his heart. Love literally killed him.”
“That’s so sad. I’m sorry.”
Whitney looks shocked, and I worry that I opened up about too much too soon. It’s certainly a sad story, although I’ve had to live with it and accept it as best as I can.
“It’s okay. I just had to get out of there. I’ve always been close with my brothers, but they were older and able to leave before I was. Jensen actually stuck around longer than he had to, to look out for me. But both of us knew we wanted to join the Air Force, just like Ramsey. I just took some detours along the way.”
I pause, realize I’m getting into some heavy shit. But what the hell. It feels good to get it out there, to tell someone.
“I was pretty bad in high school,” I continue. “Everyone including me was pretty surprised that I graduated. But I had to, to get into the Special Forces. To escape. I used to think I needed to get away from my mom, from this town, from my dad’s memory. But really I was just trying to get away from myself. It wasn’t until I realized what I have in the Air Force— and what I came very close to losing— that I was able to put it all together.”
The waiter comes back with our drinks and I order some over- priced small appetizer I probably won’t even like, and Whitney orders one too.
“I can understand,” Whitney says. “I couldn’t handle the pressure of pre- med, so I made a new plan, to get out from under that. And I was only with Tony because I wanted to escape loneliness. But of course I had to come to realize that being lonely is better than being mistreated.”
“Yeah. I hear you.”
The sun starts to set, turning the sky various shades of purple and red.
“To wanting to escape ourselves,” she says, and clinks her glass against mine.
But I know that for the first time in a long time, I’m not trying to escape from— or to— anything. Sure, Whitney seems able to help me get what I want long-term— back into active duty— but right now all I want is this. To be sitting across from a beautiful woman, watching a lovely Southwestern sunset together, and enjoying way too expensive drinks and food.
What in the actual fuck has gotten into me?
I’m not one to usually propose toasts, or even one to drink to them. But there is just something about this guy that has me doing everything differently than I normally do.
I have to admit I’m impressed with the location he chose. This has got to be a date, right? And is that a good thing or a bad thing?
I’d waited an hour to text him my address, unsure whether I should actually go through with it. I don’t want to jeopardize my career before it’s even gotten started. But it was just too tempting.
So then I’d spent an hour trying to figure out the perfect thing to wear. I’d finally decided that there is no such thing, and I’d thrown on something cute enough to be date- like but hopefully casual enough to be… whatever the opposite of date- like is. Just in case I was not actually going on a date with the guy who had pretty much asked me out on a date… I think?
I’m pleased that he clearly liked the clothes I’d chosen. But I’m still trying to maintain the difficult balance between date- like and professional- like, if there even is such a thing.
I think that as long as we talk about neutral things like our careers, we should be fine. But I wasn’t expecting things to delve into the serious so soon.
“And what about you?” Harlow asks, leaning over to brush a stray hair that had fallen over one of my eyes. The wind is picking up a bit while the sun is going down. I have to admit that it’s quite… romantic. “How did you decide to become a physical therapist?”
“Process of elimination, I guess.” I shrug. “Within the medical field, at least.”
He obviously wants me to go on, but I suddenly feel vulnerable. I don’t usually talk to people about things like this. My idea of being social is joining a book club or asking my cat what his day was like.
“I set out to be a doctor. Pre- med and all of that.”
I look up at him to see if he’ll think this is funny. Most people do. But he looks as serious and as nonplussed as if I had just told him I brush my teeth every day.
“But…?” he asks.
The waiter brings our food, and I bite into a delicious calamari ring before continuing.
“Mmmm, this is so good,” I say, sincerely. “Good choice!”
He shrugs. “I try.”
After a pause, he asks, “So what happened to the pre- med plans?”
“It’s just… difficult. I didn’t think I could do it. Physical therapy made more sense. It’s easier, yet still fulfilling.”
He bites into his cheese and crackers but doesn’t say anything for a minute. And then he says, “Well, for what it’s worth, I think you’re a great physical therapist.”
“Thanks,” I say, trying hard to surprise my laughter. “But you haven’t really gotten to see me in action. You’re too easy of a case.”
“Not enough of a challenge for you, huh?” he asks. “Well, you just wait.”
I pull up to Whitney’s apartment and walk her to the door. She turns around to face me.
“I had a lovely time. Thank you.”
“I did too,” I tell her, and even though it’s the kind of bullshit thing that people usually say after any date, I really mean it this time. “Thanks for celebrating with me.”
It sounds like an invitation, so I draw in closer to her.
I smell the lingering scent of calamari and cheese but I also smell her. An enticing mix of lotion and subtle yet sweet natural body odor.