“Nikki! I let you skip therapy yesterday, but it’s not going to happen today.”
I moan and groan in complaint, “Just let me sleep.”
“You can’t just sleep the rest of your life away.”
“Why not?” I mumble, rolling away from her loud voice.
“Fine play it the hard way. JOE! I need your help.” I hear her bellowing down the hall for her husband, but I don’t really take it too seriously. Well not until, he lifts me out of my bed that is. Heather literally dresses me from head to toe, with me acting like an arrant child the entire time. I was perfectly content doing nothing—in bed.
“Why do you even care?” I bite out.
“Well, for one I don’t want the smell of death warming over looming through my halls, and for two … this is for your own damn good. In ten years, you don’t want me changing your diapers, do you?” I see her shudder at the thought. The idea isn’t one that I find all that tasteful either.
“That’s not a pleasant thought.”
“Exactly what I was thinking,” she tugs hard on the black yoga pants to pull them the rest of the way up. “Good enough.” She heaves.
We really do take the small things for granted. My sister hands me a brush and even though the brushing part isn’t horrible, I haven’t quite figured out how to do a ponytail one-handed. “Can you just put it in a pony for me?” I hate that I have to ask for even the smallest tasks, but this is what I’m stuck with now.
“Your hair is getting longer back here.” It was my sister who had informed me of the chunk of hair they had to shave when I was in the accident. Thankfully it was at the back of my head in one of the thickest parts, so the rest of the hair just hangs over it and hides the scar and bald patch.
“I can’t see back there anyway, so no biggie.” I try to shrug things off as not being a bother, but deep inside everything is destroying me, and at this point … I don’t even care.
The hospital is not my first choice of places to go on an outing to, but that’s where my physical therapy is going to be taking place—everyday—for who knows how long. And not to mention who wouldn’t want to go visit the bubbly personality, Laura? I take a deep breath—prepping myself for the workout. Heather wheels me in; babbling about work and I try to pay enough attention to catch the main points. “Carrie’s picking you up today. She said she has something planned for the afternoon.” Knowing Carrie it will consist of drinking beverages and exhaustion. I love Carrie, but she gets a little too enthusiastic about some things sometimes. I’m not sure if she realizes that I’m not up to partying yet.
The physical therapy room has a front desk like a regular gym. The difference now is when the nurses bring you in, you don’t have to sign in, but outsiders have to sign the sheet. I sign the sheet, and the girl at the desk calls for a nurse to take me in.
“Are you ok here?” I nod at my sister indicating that she can leave.
A young nurse pushes me back to the changing room and I dig out the awful swimsuit the hospital had provided. “I’m Tiffany, I’m an LPN that helps mainly in the therapy center. Is this your first time here?” I really am in no mood for small talk, but I grudgingly answer her question. It’s a struggle for her to help me in my suit, but finally after a little help from me, we get the darn thing on. She seems, so … bubbly, as she wheels me to the pool side. I used to be that happy. I think to myself.
Laura is nowhere in sight. Tiffany takes it upon herself to wait with me, not that I need a babysitter, but maybe she thinks I’ll roll over the side and drown. Now that’s a novel idea. After a few minutes of waiting, a very attractive, young guy—I’d guess in his mid to late twenties—makes straight for us. “Hi. Are you Nikki Cooper?” Tiffany surprisingly answers for me, “Yes, she is.” Her body language clearly evident that she likes him, “do you need help with her?” She is now talking about me like I’m some object in the room. This must’ve been her main reason for hanging by the pool with me.
He confidently shrugs her off and takes the handles of the wheelchair, “Nope we’re good, thanks.”
He wheels my chair closer to the poolside harness contraption and starts to bring the harness down, unexpectedly, “hold up. Where’s Laura?”
“Oh, sorry how rude of me. She’s not here. I’m Ethan and I’ll be helping you with your therapy today.”
For the first time since he came over to me, he stops and looks me in the eyes. For a moment, my breath hitches. Damn—if I were fifteen years younger, I’d be all over this guy. He is absolutely hot, and crap did I just hear him right? “You’re helping me today?” The realization hits hard—this young, attractive guy is going to see this saggy old lady in a god-awful, ugly swimsuit. Embarrassed—mortified, crap … talk about self-conscious.
“Is that okay?”
“Are you just an assistant?” He laughs, tossing his head back. His care-free, charismatic persona is truly sexy. I swallow hard. Holy cow, I think I have finally lost my marbles. I’m checking out a guy almost half my age.
“I get that a lot, but believe it or not … I’m a full fledged Physical Therapist.”
“Oh,” is all I’m able to say, as I realize he is not just a nit-wit. He’s actually an educated guy … adding another plus mark on his check off list. Hot … check, smart … check.
“I was reading your chart and I see Laura was working with you on a few different passive movements. We will do a few of those again, but I have a few other exercises I’d like to try. Are you up for that?” I nod in agreement. Right now, I would agree to anything Ethan would have me do. I’d be putty in his hands.
Getting into the pool with me, his white T-shirt dampens and clings to his body. When he stands, my eyes skim down over his sculpted abs and stop to stare. “Are you ready?” My eyes fly back up and I meet his mischievous grin … telling me I was caught looking—awkward. I turn my head to hide my blushing cheeks.
“What would you like me to do?” I ask, trying to nonchalantly redirect my training on different thoughts. My ability to hide my reactions to how attractive he is, seem to be futile. This attractive guy is making me heat up in places—forbidden. I feel guilty. Instantly, I look down at my left hand, remembering the ring Sean had been so proud of picking out for me.
Ethan is staring at me with kind understanding eyes—keeping silent. “Sorry,” I say, not really knowing why I am apologizing except for the fact I’m keeping him waiting while more pieces of me crumble away.
PT is different today, in more ways than one.
Laura from the very first day had always been abrupt, hard, and a bit cold. Ethan couldn’t be anymore opposite of that—gentle, kind and compassionate. I almost choke when he grabs my leg for the first time. His gentle hands caressing my calve so softly, and confidently—nothing ginger about it. I cringe thinking about how horrid my scar looks—flaming-angry, red and raised in an uneven ugly pattern. The sensation of his hands smolder my self-consciousness as it sends a volt of electricity humming through my veins, giving my dying soul a kick start. For the first time since May 1st, I care … I care how hairy my legs are. Instinctively, I want to pull my leg away. My personal hygiene hasn’t been what I would call on my top priority list lately. However, even if I had the capability of moving my leg on my own … did I really want to pull it away? I like him touching me. He would probably be mortified if he knew this thirty-eight year old woman is enjoying his touch a little too much. I’ll just keep this feeling all to myself.
Carrie shows up a few minutes before we get done and I can see that look in her eyes. “Well, hello.” She makes no point in being discreet as she looks Ethan up and down. He’s trying to help me get out of the pool with the lift and my best friend is oogling him. “You’re my dear friend’s therapist?”
Ethan lifts his lips into a big killer smile. I’m not sure if Carrie is as affected, but my heart sure skips a beat.
“How old are you?” She never has been able to hold her tongue. Ethan’s smile never fades, and when he turns his head directly facing me, I see the lone dimple on his right cheek. Damn he’s adorable.
“Isn’t there some rule about asking a person their age?” He teases.
“Only for women, honey,” Carrie counters.
“Well, I guess in that case—I’m twenty-seven.”
I See Carrie doing the math in her head. “Hmm, so do you like older women?”
My heart really does skip a beat. I think actually, I might have just had a heart attack. How on earth could she come out and ask him that?
His face slightly pinks, but without a beat, “Why, are you looking?”
“After seeing you, I kind of wish I was, but nope” She points to herself, “this awesome lady is already taken, but my friend here …” Carrie redirects her finger pointing it right at me.
“Carrie!” I snap. I look at Ethan, my brows furrowed, “I’m so sorry for my friend’s behavior.”
“It’s alright.” He takes my towel from a chair and gently wraps it around me. Accidently, he grazes my thigh and my breath hitches from the contact. For a split second, we both freeze and lock eyes. Then slowly he lowers me into my wheelchair. Leaning over me slightly to adjust my towel, he softly says, “I do like older women.” I think he’s just trying to flatter me, but my stomach does a quick flip and a fluttering shake that I haven’t felt for years—spur to life.
My young eager nurse, Tiffany arrives to help me back in my clothes, but before she pushes me into the dressing room, she tries again with Ethan. “Some of us are going out to Ernie’s tonight for a round of pool and some beer. It would be really nice if you wanted to join us.”
This girl is starting to get on my nerves already. I watch her jaw open and close as she brutalizes her slice of gum. Gum smacking is so annoying. Ethan rings the corner of his wet shirt out and wraps a towel around his trim waist. His eyes flash to mine watching him as I sit way too curious as to what he’ll say to his invitation. He looks back to Tiffany, “sorry I have other plans.”
I don’t know why I feel relieved that he turned her down. I flash a quick smile at Carrie, and see her disapprovingly glaring at my nurse. Something has ignited inside of me; I feel like a spark of hope might be growing—my life hasn’t ended after all.