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Safe House

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Your pulse raced as you walked down the hallway, that violent memory replaying in your mind as you tried your best to block it out. Your angry patient’s strength had surprised you in his old age, his rage displaced as it cracked itself through your face and into your skull. You had done everything right, said all the right things, taken all the right precautions and yet he still attacked you. Your hands were still shaking, your teeth still chattering as the stars in your field of vision slowly started to fade away.

The doctor told you not to fall asleep, to have someone keep you awake for a few more hours, but the only person you could think of was Pete. Your neighbor had helped you with your groceries, held the door open for you and showed you how to fold your t-shirts to make them fit tighter in your dresser drawer. His smile was always warm and genuine, even if it was often accompanied by cuts and bruises. You thought that maybe he was an MMA fighter, a karate instructor or a cop, but you never really had the guts to ask.

Pete was groggy when you knocked on his door, his voice soft and low as he let you in. His apartment was lit up like the Fourth of July, every lamp and light source turned on despite the small square footage and late hour; he must have nightmares, too.

“Jesus,” he whispered, grabbing your chin without a second thought. “You hurt anywhere else?” He turned your head to the side, studying your chin, neck and jaw as his fingers gently touched your cheek.

“No,” you whispered shakily. “I… I didn’t know where else to go,” you admitted, unable to pinpoint exactly why you felt so safe with him.

“Who did this to you?” His soft voice turned into a deep, guttural growl.

“It was a patient,” you answered him. “He was confused.”

“Are you shittin’ me?” He pressed his fingertips around the outline of your wound, the pain coming back in spades. Throbbing waves crashed across your cheek and jaw as he pressed into it, assessing the severity of the damage. “Do I need to make him more confused?!”

“Jesus, Pete, he has dementia,” you hissed, pulling away from him.

“Ah, so what, he gets a free pass? He gets to beat on women now, is that it?” His jaw clenched as he held onto you.

“I filed a complaint.”

“Lot of good that’s gonna do,” he whispered, breathing deeply to calm himself down. “They didn’t stitch you up?” He relented his grip on your chin, gently brushing over your cheek with the back of his knuckles before stroking your hair. “You work in a goddamn hospital for Christ’s sake.” He let go of you and walked over to the kitchen.

“They said it didn’t need stitches, but hey, at least they gave me the day off tomorrow.” You took a few steps toward him, feeling the pain subside as you watched him pull a back pack out of the cabinet.

“Oh yeah? How generous of them.” He shook his head and smirked, unzipping a compartment of the bag he’d clearly had for several years. “C’mere,” he ordered, ripping a square package open with his teeth. “Did they wash it?” He asked, beckoning you with his fingers.

“No,” you winced, the cold betadine swab shocking your warm and swollen cheek. “They didn’t do much.”

He scoffed and grabbed your chin again, smearing the golden liquid across your wound as the excess dripped down your face and onto your neck. “You need a new job, you know that?”

He tossed the swab in the trash before running a clean rag under the sink. Tilting your head to the side, he brought the warm fibers of the cloth up to your skin as he washed away the last twelve hours with the antiseptic.

“This isn’t what I expected when I started this job…” you cut yourself off, swallowing hard as the tears started to well under your eyelids.

”Hey, hey, hey, shh shh shh shh...” He cupped your face in an attempt to halt your tears. “Hey.” His thumbs feathered across your freshly cleaned skin as he reeled you in with charcoal eyes. Black as night, deep as the ocean, his sobering stare held you fast in this moment as the pain started to dwindle away.

“It’s over, yeah?” His eyebrows disappeared into his hairline, his hips shifting their weight in a silent dance as he leaned in closer to you.

“Yeah,” you nodded, the pungent smell of betadine now fading behind his natural earthy scent. “I just…”

You blinked as the blinding moisture in your eyes became too much, a tear creeping down your face in a single drop of sadness. It streamed down your cheek and onto his thumb as you finally rested your head against his.

Those fingers that cupped your cheeks were now weaving themselves into your hairline as you let your eyelids fall, dotting your lashes in droplets of moisture like a fresh morning’s dew. Palms littered with cuts and bruises brushed over the delicate skin on your neck, massaging the neglected muscles between your shoulders.

“I know,” he whispered, his dry lips planting themselves tenderly on your forehead. “We’ll stay up and watch movies; keep you awake, yeah?” he exhaled into your skin, his kiss turning into an embrace as he pulled you in close.

“Yeah.” You smiled, resting your head on his shoulder and finally forgetting about your pain. “I’d like that.”