When Harper explained to the very kind first aider on duty at the ice rink that moving her elbow was a solid six on the pain scale, she was completely serious and now, as the man two seats to her left pushed his chair around, making hers jostle, she was on the verge of sobbing. Becca gently brushed her hair behind her ear and tapped her knee.
“I’m gonna grab us some snacks if I can find a vending machine, okay? And maybe a coffee for me. Will you be okay to sit here?”
Harper nodded and clutched her right hand even tighter around her opposite elbow. When it didn’t move, the pain was a steady current, distracting without being all-encompassing, clearly injured but probably not even broken. If her assistant job hadn’t offered actual health insurance benefits and Becca hadn’t been so insistent that something seemed wrong when ice failed to help, she probably wouldn’t have bothered to get it checked out till Urgent Care opened next morning.
It wasn’t particularly cold inside the ER waiting room, but Harper curled into her jacket anyway. Her nice Yankees hoodie (rather than the old one she had technically grown out of or the ratty one not fit to be worn outside the apartment) was warm and comforting. Her puffer jacket hung awkwardly halfway around her left shoulder, where Becca had cautiously tugged it when they got out of the Uber.
Harper focused her attention on the TV in the corner, which was playing Friends reruns with subtitles. She squinted at it and tried to ignore the pain in her elbow. Even as she relaxed to focus on the characters rushing in and out of each other’s apartments, she heard loud complaining coming from somewhere to her right. Looking over, she saw a tall, blond man, his face screwed up in frustration as he gesticulated with his right arm. Beside him stood another man rolling his eyes as he leaned his weight on the blond’s left arm, keeping his right foot off the ground. The “journalist-potentially-on-record” part of her brain noted the blond’s taller height, slight stubble, jeans, and gray sweatshirt with purple printing, in contrast to his friend’s dark hair, scruffy beard, dark sweatpants, and scrunched face in an expression of pain.
“My friend has a broken ankle, what do you mean, take a seat and wait?”
“It’s probably not broken Charlie, chill, okay. I’m sorry for my friend over here, we’re just going to go take that seat, over there, away from you. Sorry!”
Harper watched as the dark-haired man, despite the fact he was awkwardly hopping, seemingly dragged his friend—Charlie—away from the counter and started muttering quietly to him. Finally, Charlie nodded and the two hobbled more efficiently over to the open chairs opposite Harper, a clipboard of intake questions clutched in the injured man’s hand.
“Okay sit down, carefully, there. Okay, Duncan?”
With his friend—Duncan—deposited into a seat and his foot placed gently on a chair pulled towards him, Charlie slumped down.
“I can’t believe they’re making you wait! You broke your ankle and they won’t even tell us how long it might take.”
“Jeez, Charlie, it’s okay, I’m not in that much pain, it’s my own fault I tripped down the stupid stairs anyway.”
“This is ridiculous, you have an actual injury, you should be seen before people who don’t even need to be here.”
Harper looked up at that, eyes narrowing as she considered their fellow visitors to the ER who largely looked to be in pain or at least severe discomfort, equivalent to Duncan’s grimace as he continued to chatter.
“Charlie, chill okay, it’s not a big deal.”
At that, Charlie seemed to surrender and slumped down in his seat, frowning into the air.
“Hey, Harper, I’m back! I got you a snickers and I got myself a coffee from the 24-hour stand outside, seemed a bit more trustworthy than the machine with actual mold on it.” Somehow, Becca was smiling softly even as she described the risk of food poisoning. Harper smiled and bit into the chocolate that Becca had thoughtfully opened for her, feeling the sugar hit her bloodstream and realizing she hadn’t eaten since that hot chocolate at the rink, hours ago.
“How are you feeling?”
Harper shrugged with her right shoulder. “It hurts really bad when I move it, but it’s okay if it stays still. I still don’t think it’s broken though.”
She heard rather than saw Charlie’s smirk as he turned to mutter something to his friend.
“Aww babe, it’s gonna be okay. They’ll strap your arm up and we’ll be out of here in no time.”
Charlie coughed out a laugh. “As if. We’re all going to be here for hours yet.”
Duncan groaned. “Don’t say that. I might not be dying, but I’m in pain,” he drew the last syllable out long enough to be slightly comical if still obviously true from his furrowed brow, pursed mouth, and occasional gasp.
“Same,” Harper muttered, as she adjusted her grip on her left elbow, “I’ve definitely sprained this badly.”
Becca started fussing again at her comment, adjusting Harper’s coat around her shoulders, taking the empty wrapper from her, and offering her a sip of coffee. Once Harper reassured her friends that she was okay for now, Becca turned her megawatt smile on the two men sat opposite.
“Well, I’m Becca, and this is Harper. We’re here because of ice skating. How about y’all?”
“I’m Duncan, and this complainer is Charlie. We’re here because I tripped down the stairs of my apartment building and did something extremely fucking painful to my ankle.”
Harper smiled politely, loving Becca’s friendly nature and detesting the need to talk to anyone as her elbow began to throb again.
“Ice skating?” Charlie laughed, a little unkindly it felt to Harper.
“Apartment stairs?” She grimaced as she adjusted her hoodie over her left arm, where it was tangled around her wrist.
“Hey, that wasn’t me. That was this dumbass.” Charlie pointed at Duncan, with a smirk even as he adjusted the chair his friend’s foot rested on as a woman rushed past clutching her baby to her chest
“And while I take offense at being called a dumbass, I can’t deny it was stupid. Serves me right for trying to tie my shoelaces on the move I guess.” Duncan’s smile seemed genuine now, although a little strained as he leaned back against the chair and rubbed the back of his neck.
Harper shook her head and rolled her eyes. She could see one correctly laced and tied sneaker on Duncan’s right foot, beneath his gray sweatpants and anonymous black hoody. Charlie’s sweatshirt looked older: the gray cuffs were fraying while the purple NYU Men’s Rowing printed on the front was cracking and beginning to peel.
Becca sipped at her coffee slowly as she texted Mike about the disruptions to her night and rearranging plans for brunch the next morning. However, she drew away from replying to his adorable concern for Harper’s well-being as she heard the patient in question start to splutter in anger.
“Stupid? I’m not stupid, I was skating perfectly fine until some random boy smacked his date into me.”
Duncan raised his eyes and leaned towards her slightly, gripping the arms of his chair tightly. “Smacked his date into you?”
Harper nodded. “Uh-huh! I was minding my own business, avoiding Harper cuddling up to Mike, and then—out of freaking nowhere—this teenager dragging his girlfriend around, drops her onto the ice and she smacks straight into the back of my feet. And boom, damaged pride, a sore elbow, and a trip to ER with lovely, wonderful Becca.”
Becca smiled as Harper leaned into her shoulder, yawning quietly as she hugged her elbow even closer to her chest.
“So yeah, not stupid,” Harper murmured as Becca rewrapped her coat around her.
Charlie frowned at her. “I guess. Still, a broken elbow?”
“Not broken, just strained! Probably.”
“If you’re in so much pain that your friend dragged you to the ER, then it’s probably at least fractured.”
Harper rolled her eyes. “And you’re an expert are you, Charlie?”
“I speak from experience. Fractured my arm in elementary school falling off a bike.” He flashed a smarmy smile, the kind that made Harper want to smack it off his face, if she actually had a functional arm, rather than desperately needing it to protect an injury.
“Oh, but I’m an idiot for injuring myself while ice skating?” Harper sat back into the chair and tried to focus her pain and frustration onto him instead
“I was nine years old. You’re a grown woman.” Charlie shrugged and pulled out his phone.
Duncan gently smacked his friend on the back of his head. “Play nice,” he warned, “You’re not even in pain right now. We are.”
As Charlie opened his mouth to retort, Duncan glared at him. “He’s normally much nicer than this. Actually, I take that back, he’s sometimes nicer than this, but his boss is a demanding, underpaying ass, who decided he was going to be particularly awful at six a.m. this morning.”
Harper and Becca glanced at each other, unsure how to react. Becca shrugged and smiled.
“Harper’s boss can be like that too. I can’t count the number of times she’s woken me up coming in from work insanely late or frantically trying to get to the office for a ridiculous time in the morning.”
Duncan grinned. “Hey, maybe we’ve found you someone to commiserate with about your horrendous schedule, and who also hates their job.”
Harper laughed. “Are you kidding? I’m always the first one in the office and the last one to leave.”
“I work in finance and I’m still the last one in my office,” Charlie jumped in quickly.
“My boss has a cot in her office!”
“So does my boss! He had me buy the most expensive cot available because he needs all the sleep that he can get in five hours apparently.”
Duncan looked at Becca and continue to grin. “I’m an underpaid elementary school teacher and I still have less ridiculous hours than this dude. What about you?”
“Marketing. It’s not not-busy but I normally have, y’know, weekends and evenings.”
Their casual chatting about education and the antics of elementary-schoolers was quickly drowned out by Harper and Charlie’s sniping about how much worse their respective boss was, even as Harper clutched her elbow tightly to her chest.
As their voices got increasingly louder and Harper appeared increasingly frustrated, Becca could see the pain growing on her friend’s face as she mocked Charlie’s boss, job, and sweatshirt. Gently touching Harper’s shoulder, Becca attempted to soothe and quieten her. While Harper neither quietened her voice nor lessened the sarcasm of her tone, she did curl further into her jacket and reduce the insults to Charlie’s clothing as she complained about her boss.
More successfully than Becca’s cautious attempts, a sudden ping from the screen displaying patient numbers silenced them both. All four looked up to see it flash with the numbers 46 and 52, Ms. H. Young and Mr. D. Peterson, respectively. Together they walked—or hopped—towards the intake nurse’s station and split to their different rooms.
“Well, it was nice to meet you both.” Becca smiled. Harper nodded, clutching her coat to her.
“You too,” Duncan replied, leaning heavily on Charlie, “And while I hope never to be back here, maybe we’ll run into each other somewhere uninjured.”
With that, Harper and Becca watched the two men stagger down the hallway and disappear into one of the rooms as the two women walked into Harper’s newly assigned treatment room.
“He was cute,” Becca teased.
“He was an ass!”
“He had a cute ass!” Becca grinned at Harper’s slightly shocked face, “I’m in a relationship not blind. And he apparently rowed crew in college.”
Harper’s immediate shock struck deep into her—fractured—bones that Becca thought she would be interested in a man so far up his own ass that he couldn’t recognize others’ pain or anyone else’s horrendous boss. However, it was probably the pain of the ensuing x-rays (her elbow desperately did not want to bend that way) and the terrifying bill she was facing that drove all memories of the rude guy she met in the ER out of her brain even when she fought over two dinners with him in the office entrance three months later.
He was still an ass though. (And she was still a little harsh, as Charlie muttered into her hair as he wrapped his arms around her from behind as she sat at her desk quickly typing up the ending of a story she would probably never publish.)
(She would eventually, woven into the biography of an incredible athlete from a generation before, who found her support in her partner and became something of a hero to Harper after they met.)