Andrew’s shift had only just started, and he was already feeling stressed.
He glanced around the crowded waiting room. All the usual Friday night clichés were there - the aggressive drunks and the ranting homeless guy, the dazed looking boy cradling his self inflicted injuries, a teenage girl sobbing as she threw up into a cardboard basin, her face a Halloween mask of dissolving cosmetics.
Friday nights had their own special kind of crazy.
Over in one corner, a group of thugs in baggy tracksuit pants were working up to a fight. Andrew couldn’t hear what they were saying, but he’d been watching their body language closely, aware of the potential for violence.
Now one of them stood up abruptly, knocking over his plastic chair, and grabbed the man next to him by the front of his T shirt. “You cunt, you fucking wanker!“
Spittle flew from his lips as he shouted.
Andrew took a deep breath and approached them.
“This is a hospital, gentlemen, not a playground” he said, willing himself to sound as assertive as possible.
“ Now I suggest you either shut the fuck up, or fuck the fuck off!”
He liked that line - he’d originally heard it on a TV show, but now he’d used it so often that it felt like it was his. It backfired on him sometimes though - came across as too aggressive. His palms felt sweaty as he faced the thug down, expecting trouble, and he was relieved when the other man just mumbled something under his breath and sat down again.
As he turned away from them, he heard the group laughing behind his back.
He bloody hated Friday nights.
His hands shook slightly as he fished the slip of paper from the pocket of his tunic to read out the name of his next patient.
A tall, well built young man with scruffy dark hair stood up. Andrew noticed that he moved slowly and awkwardly, clutching the side of his chest.
There was a strip of bloodied fabric wound around his left hand.
As he got up he turned to his companions - an attractive, dark skinned girl wearing a dress short enough to show a glimpse of the rather tacky leopard print knickers she had on underneath, and a skinny black clad boy with a bleached emo haircut. “You guys should go,” he told them. “This will probably take hours.”
The girl stood up too, and hugged him carefully, obviously trying not to hurt him.
“Text me when you’re finished” she said. “And thanks babe - you’re my hero!”
She chuckled, and leaned forward to kiss him lightly on the cheek.
“See you later Izzy, Fen.”
The emo looking boy raised a hand and bumped fists with his friend, and then Gareth Hawke smiled, a little uncertainly, at Andrew.
“Where do you want me?” he asked.
“It’s just through here.”
The nurse led the young man through into one of the cubicles, and drew the curtain closed around them.
“Right, Mr Hawke, what can I do for you?”
“That was pretty impressive” Hawke said.
“The way you dealt with that idiot out there. You were very forceful”.
“Weekends seem to bring out the worst in people,” he said.
“I’ve noticed. This town is a bloody dump, it‘s like a war zone. The squaddies hate the students, the students hate the chavs… And then every weekend we mix them all up together and add copius amounts of alcohol, and everyone acts all surprised when stuff explodes.”
“What happened to you?” Andrew asked.
“Oh, I didn’t get in a fight.” Hawke blushed. “Well, I suppose I did, but it wasn’t like that. We were in a club and this creep tried to grope my friend Izzy. She told him to stop, but he didn’t take any notice. So I asked him politely to sod off, and he punched me. Several times. Then I slipped over and cut my hand on a piece of glass.”
“Ok, let’s take a look at you.”
Gareth sat down on the bed and held out his left hand. He was actually rather attractive, Andrew decided. He looked like he spent a lot of time at the gym, and he dressed nicely - his shirt was expensive without being flashy - but Andrew never really cared about things like that. It was the twinkly, dark brown eyes that did it for him, and the open, honest, way the man smiled.
There was something very sexy about that smile.
But it wasn’t very professional to lust after your patients. He turned his attention to the wound on Hawke’s hand instead. It was a long, clean-looking cut, not too deep.
“It doesn’t look too bad. Couple of stitches and you’ll be as good as new,” he reassured him. “Where else does it hurt?”
“My chest mostly. He got a couple of good punches in before I cleverly decided to fall over!”
“OK, you’d better take your shirt off and lay back on the bed.”
“Aren’t you even going to buy me a drink first?”
Hawke unbuttoned his shirt awkwardly with one hand, and eased himself slowly down onto the bed. His movements looked painful, and Andrew could immediately see why - the man’s chest and stomach were covered in darkening bruises.
“Ouch,” he said, sympathetically. “Nasty. Any shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing?”
Hawke shook his head. He watched as Andrew examined his chest, his long, slender fingers moving gently over the tender skin. He noticed the fuzz of golden hair on the nurse’s arms, and felt his cock begin to stiffen.
Shit, he thought. Are you even allowed to get an erection in a hospital?
The place was full of sick people - it seemed inappropriate somehow, like getting one in a church.
He shifted uncomfortably on the bed, trying to hide his arousal.
“…Gareth? Just try to relax, ok?”
“Yes, it’s just hard… it’s difficult, I mean, laying still while you do that.”
Hawke felt his face turn an unflattering shade of something.
“Sorry. I’m going to send you for an X-ray to make sure nothing’s broken, and then I’ll stitch your hand. In the meantime, I’ll get you some painkillers.”
Their eyes met.
Gareth thought he might be having difficulty breathing after all.
By the time he got round to stitching Hawke’s hand, Andrew had had his shoes pissed on by a feverish toddler, his arse groped by a cackling middle-aged woman who‘d had a few too many, and been called a ‘fucking faggot’ by a twelve year old with a knife wound. The waiting room was starting to resemble a battlefield, and Hawke’s cubicle felt welcoming - a safe place to hide from the chaos.
Gareth Hawke was sitting propped up against a mound of pillows.
“How are you doing?” Andrew asked, and Hawke smiled fuzzily.
“Good... I’m doing good. These painkillers are really nice. You were ages though - I thought you’d forgotten about me!”
“Sorry, it’s just really busy out there.”
“S’okay, you’re here now.” He patted the bed beside him, inviting the nurse to sit down, and Andrew almost did it without thinking, before he realised it wouldn’t be appropriate.
Fuck, what was wrong with him tonight?
He usually found it easy to appear calm and professional, however he felt inside, but there was something about this Hawke guy that undid that.
He wanted to lay down beside him.
Just to lay there quietly, for a while, that was all…
He cleared his throat nervously, and tried to sound competent.
“Right, first the bad news. The X rays show you’ve got a broken rib. It should heal perfectly well on it’s own, but you’ll need to take it easy, and I’m afraid you’re going to feel a bit stiff for a while.”
Gareth snorted, tried to turn it into a cough, and then immediately looked embarrassed.
Oh God... Andrew felt flustered. He ran a hand through his reddish blond hair, making it stick out at angles.
“So, what’s the good news then?” Hawke asked. “I assume there’s some good news too, or did you mean ‘first the bad news, and then the really terrible news‘?”
“Erm… I’m going to do your stitches now, and when I’m done you can go home. That‘s the good news.”
Hawke looked a bit disappointed, Andrew thought.
He pulled a chair up close to the bed and sat down, concentrating on arranging the things he needed on the trolley beside the bed. He realised he was putting off the moment when he had to touch Hawke - it was bloody ridiculous.
He took a deep breath.
“I’m going to give you an injection to numb your hand before I start, ok? You’ll feel a sharp scratch.”
Andrew wiped the palm of the man’s hand with antiseptic, and eased the needle as gently as possible into the skin. Once he started stitching, he was ok. He was good at his job. As he concentrated on closing the wound as neatly as possible, he almost managed to forget that the hand was attached to an impossibly handsome man who kept flirting with him.
He did keep flirting with him, didn’t he? Or was that just wishful thinking? Andrew was out of practice - maybe he was misinterpreting, but when someone looked you in the eyes like that…
“Do you know anything about maps?” Hawke asked suddenly.
“Maps? Not really - I mean, I suppose I’m pretty good at reading them, because they taught us in the boy scouts, but that’s it. Why?”
“Oh, I just wondered. Only I’m going on this thing in a couple of weeks, pot-holing, you know, caves and stuff? And it’s in the middle of nowhere, I haven’t got a clue how to get there. I thought maybe you could come along for the ride, give me directions?”
Andrew shook his head. He didn’t look up from Hawke’s hand. “It’s not really my sort of thing” he said. “I don’t do well in enclosed spaces - I get a bit claustrophobic. Haven’t you got Sat Nav?”
“I just thought… Sorry, I’m babbling, it’s the painkillers.”
He looked so dejected that Andrew immediately felt bad about turning him down.
I don’t even know this guy, he told himself. I can’t just go running off to look at caves with a complete stranger, just because he’s got a cute smile and a chest like a bouncy castle. He could be a serial killer! And I bloody hate caves!
“Anyway, you need to take it easy while your rib heals, remember? You could probably do with a couple of days in bed.”
The silence that followed felt slightly uncomfortable. Andrew concentrated on Hawke’s hand, knotting the final stitch. Then Hawke asked ” Were you really in the boy scouts?“
“Oh yes.” Andrew laughed softly. “Can’t you tell? I‘m brilliant at knots, for a start. There, that’s all done!”
He placed a gauze pad over the neat row of stitches, and began winding a bandage over the man’s palm.
“I didn’t feel a thing. You’ve obviously got the magic touch...” Hawke squinted at the name badge pinned to Andrew’s tunic. “Staff nurse Andrew… I can’t even read that!”
“No one says it properly. It’s Norwegian.”
“You don’t sound Norwegian.”
“I’m not, but my dad was.”
“That explains that whole sexy Scandinavian look you’ve got going on, then.”
“Ha! Are you sure you haven’t got some sort of head injury?”
Hawke noticed the expression that flickered briefly across Andrew’s face - the pleased little smile that vanished almost before it began, the uncertainty in his amber eyes. Something about the man - the hesitancy, the hidden sadness that Gareth sensed in him, made him want to take him in his arms and crush that slender body against his own.
I want you naked in my bed, he thought, and I want to kiss you until my lips bleed, and I want to fuck you slowly and watch your face when you come...
“There’s probably some rule against chatting up my patients...” the nurse said jokingly.
“I was under the impression it was me doing the chatting up, while under the influence of powerful mind-altering drugs.“ Hawke teased. “I won’t remember a thing about this by tomorrow, so feel free to go ahead and reject me - it probably won’t hurt for long!”
But I don’t want to reject you...
Andrew felt suddenly breathless. He realised he was still holding the other man’s hand in his. Hawke had made no attempt to move it away.
I could kiss you now, he thought. I could just lean in and press my lips, so softly, against yours, and it would be absolutely perfect.
Almost involuntarily, he leaned forward, just a fraction. His lips parted slightly.
The curtains of the cubicle were pulled suddenly apart, and a chubby-faced girl with a gap between her front teeth poked her head through the opening.
“Andy, we need you out here sweetheart - they’re bringing a traffic accident in.”
Andrew felt slightly dazed, like he’d been woken up unexpectedly.
“Shit, I’m sorry Gareth, I’ve got to go. Try to keep it dry, ok? The hand, I mean. They’ll give you a leaflet about it in the reception. And you’ll have to sign a form. I can’t… I’m sorry…”
“Hey, it’s ok.” Hawke smiled. “Thanks for looking after me.”
Andrew didn’t know what to say. All the things that came into his head sounded stupid. I don’t want to leave, he thought, but he couldn’t say that, not really, so he just nodded, and stepped out through the curtain, into what felt like a different world.
When Andrew finished dealing with the victims of the crash, Hawke was long gone.
He stirred three sugars into a mug of strong black coffee, and watched the sun come up through the window of the staff cafeteria.
Just like that.
The first man he’d actually been interested in since Karl died, and he’d let him go, and now it was like he’d never even existed - he might as well have dreamed him.
He was such a fucking loser.
By the time he left the hospital, it was daylight. It was a beautiful day too, with the sun hanging just above the horizon, glowing like an enormous paper lantern against the strangely colourless sky.
Cobwebs glittered between the iron railings of the fence around the park, droplets of dew sparkling on them like diamonds and pearls.
Looking at them, Andrew felt suddenly much more aware of his loneliness than he had been for a long time.
Dog tired, he rubbed his eyes.
Then he rubbed them again, fearful that he might be hallucinating.
Hawke was leaning against the railings with his hands in his pockets, grinning like an idiot. As he walked towards him, Andrew felt himself grinning too.
“I thought I prescribed bed rest!” he said.
“You never said i had to be on my own...”
Hawke held out his arms, and Andrew stepped into his embrace as if it was the most natural thing in the world.