“Visiting your family after this?”
I turn to see Melina, the nurse supervisor writing down notes on the whiteboard behind the nurses’ station. With my shift ending in five minutes, she’s writing down which nurse or doctor will have what room for the next shift.
“Yup. After I get done with my nap.” I stifle a yawn as I get up from the counter. “It was crazy last night.”
“That’s what I heard, but as they say, it could have been worse,” Melina says as she returns her attention to the whiteboard and the staff who’ll be working the morning shift.
The last few hours couldn’t have been any less predictable—a gunshot wound, a barroom brawl resulting in stitches, two drunk driver-related car accidents resulting in broken bones and one fatality. I try not to think of that last one.
Just another day as a traveling nurse in Shiprock, New Mexico. If I thought this job was going to be a piece of cake, I was fooling myself. But I already knew it wouldn’t be easy.
“Did you call Enrico back?” Melina asks and I’m glad she’s got her back to me as she writes another name on the whiteboard. That way, she doesn’t see the face I make. Melina has been trying to get me to go out with her son Enrico ever since I started working at the clinic. Why did I agree to have her give my number to the poor guy? It’s not like I’m planning on dating anyone at the moment. It hasn’t been on the agenda since I got here.
“I haven’t had the time, Mel.” I slip on my cardigan. With my stuff in the employee break room, I’ll be lucky to be out of here before she tells me I should at least have coffee with the guy. “Anyway, I’m going to clock–”
I don’t finish what I say for the front doors slide open and two men walk in, one cradling a bloody arm and the other looking at his companion nervously, one of the lenses of his wire-rimmed glasses cracked.
“Linda’s not here yet,” Melina says. “Can you stay one more minute?”
I barely hear Melina, not when my attention is riveted to the tall man with intense brown eyes and a trimmed beard. As he storms into the clinic, his button-down shirt barely hides the outline of his muscled chest and a flat stomach.
My mouth turns dry. Of all places I could have picked as a traveling nurse, how the hell did I manage to find myself in the same place as Benjamin Turner?
As if hearing my thoughts, Benny stops, frowning as his eyes narrow at the sight of me. His companion, tall with long dark hair tied in a ponytail, approaches the counter.
“Colton Johnson, Ma’am. We were out surveying and the truck rolled. The doc here got a gash to his–”
“The truck didn’t roll, Walt,” Benny grumbles. “You went off the damn embankment and nearly killed us both.”
“I thought it was just a little dip on the road.”
“Dip, my ass–”
“Alright, gentlemen, no arguing in my lobby,” Melina says. “Why don’t we get you two in the room and have that arm looked at?” She turns to Benny. “That’s a nasty bump on that forehead. Did you hit your head?”
Benny scowls as he rubs his head with his uninjured hand. “No.”
“Yeah, he hit the dashboard,” the other man says as Benny glowers at him even more, the red spot on his forehead turning even redder. “You weren’t wearing your seatbelt, man.”
“I was in the process of putting it on when you gunned for the damn embankment.”
“I thought I’d set the gear to rev–”
“Alright, that’s it. Room five. You guys are lucky we’re not too–” Melina says as a woman walks in behind the men, her baby’s cries filling the lobby.
“I’ve got Mr. Turner,” I say, taking the patient folder from her. With Colton not needing any medical attention, that leaves only Benny and I don’t want to seem obvious that I know the guy.
Across the counter, Colton points to an empty chair in the lobby. “I’ll wait for you out here, man.”
“Whatever,” Benny mutters as I press the button to unlock the door separating the lobby from the rest of the clinic.
“Follow me.” As I make my way down the hallway to the examination room, I see the clock turn 7:00 AM. Oh well, there go my plans for a quick stop at the local restaurant for a breakfast burrito, maybe a nap and then the three-hour drive to Taos. What’s a few more minutes until Linda gets starts her shift?
“How long have you been here?” Benny asks under his breath as he follows me to Room Five.
“Since nine last night.”
He glares at me and I sigh, pointing to the examination table. “Two months. Anyway, why don’t you sit down and we’ll get your paperwork started before the nurse gets here.”
“But I thought you were my nurse.”
“Lucky you, I was just finishing my shift,” I reply.
Benny doesn’t answer. He studies me, an amused expression on his face. “Two months… man, I should have gotten banged up sooner if I’d known you were here.”
I don’t take my eyes off him. “Sit down, Mr. Turner. I’ll need to take down your information.”
It takes me five minutes to get all Benny’s information down even if I know half of it already. Too bad the half that I know about him has no place in a hospital chart like the fact that he earned his Master’s in Environmental Sciences from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque while I was completing my Bachelors in Nursing.
“You must be the new nurse they were talking about months ago. One of my other guys had to be brought in. Got a nasty gash on his leg while surveying,” he says when I take the stethoscope from around my neck and place the ear tips in my ears.
“Do you scope out every one of the nurses?”
“Only the ones I already know,” Benny says as I twist the ear tips slightly to make a good seal, his voice becoming faint as he continues. “Anyway, they have a pretty high turnover rate at this place and so I’m grateful for every person who does show up. The locals around here need people like you.”
“Take a deep breath.”
Benny does as he’s told and then exhales. As I rest the diaphragm on another spot on his chest, I can’t help but notice how defined his pectoral muscles are. And then there’s the hint of a six-pack underneath his white shirt. He definitely still works out.
“Come to think of it, I don’t know why you’re doing that when it’s just my arm that’s injured,” he says as if noticing my gaze and I clear my throat.
“Your friend said you hit your head.”
“True, but my head’s up here,” he says, pointing to his temple, “not where your stethoscope thing is at.”
I roll my eyes as I decide he’s healthy as an ox with regards to his heart and pull the diaphragm away from his chest. “You haven’t changed, you know that? You’re still incorrigible.”
“Now that’s pretty harsh, isn’t it? We haven’t seen each other in, what? Two years?” Benny says, grinning. “Too long, if you ask me.”
“Not long enough, actually,” I mutter, looping the stethoscope over my neck. “I should have checked to see if you worked here before I took the job.”
His eyes narrow and for a moment, I wonder if I’ve gone too far. But before I can apologize, Benny cracks a smile. “Glad to see you’re still feisty as ever, Sarah Drexel. I like that.”
The sound of my name escaping his lips makes my heart quicken and I get up abruptly, the chair rolling away and hitting the wall. Wouldn’t you know it? Obviously, two years isn’t long enough to get rid of my body’s reaction to Benny Turner saying my name.
“Why don’t we fix that nasty boo-boo and get you on your way, Mr. Turner?” I say as sweetly as I can just as the doctor steps inside the room.
“Ah, Nurse Sarah, could you stay and help me with Mr. Turner here?” the doctor asks. “Linda is doing intake on the new patient and she should be here shortly.”
As I nod and tell the doctor it’s okay, I don’t miss Benny’s grin. If I could wipe it off his face I would, but that would probably only make my problems worse, not better.
* * *
Half an hour later, my phone rings as I get behind the wheel of my SUV. I don’t need to see who’s calling. Even though I’m three hours away from Taos, nothing makes my mother happier than knowing I’m back in the same state as she and my brother. New Mexico is New Mexico.
“You finished with work, mija?”
“Just stepped out the door, Mom.” I start the car, my eyes on the front doors of the clinic. Beyond those doors is Benny Turner, once my best friend until I ruined it the night I graduated from college.
“I can’t wait to see you today,” she says. “Make sure you’re well-rested before you leave the house, okay? The highway can be crazy.”
I turn the key in the ignition, allowing the car to warm up. “I will.”
There’s a pause and I have a feeling she’s got something else to say but she’s holding back.
“Did Dax get into trouble again?”
She chuckles nervously. “No, he didn’t. He’s actually looking forward to seeing you.”
“Is Nana okay?” Nana is her mother who helped raise me when we moved to Taos when I was six.
“Your dad is flying in tonight,” she says softly. “I thought you should know considering…”
I take a deep breath. The last time Dad and I saw each other we had an argument and I walked out of the house. That was eight months ago, on Christmas Day. Mom and Nana cried and Dax was pissed. Dad and I haven’t exactly talked since then, not when I’m too busy avoiding him.
For Mom’s birthday last May, I told her I was working and that couldn’t visit until I was on my day off which happened to be the day Dad had to fly back to New York. It wasn’t true, of course, but I wasn’t ready to face him. Our last conversation brought everything back, the disappointment of letting him down, for being a major fuck-up.
I put up a good front though. To everyone, I’m this successful nurse, smart and outgoing. Sometimes too daring for her own good, which usually gets her into trouble. And twice now, that’s exactly what happened.
“Why don’t I call you later, Mom, after I take my nap?” I say, not wanting to think about Dad anymore. “We had a crazy shift last night and I just want to crawl into bed.”
“Are you sure you’ll be okay to drive?”
“I’ll be fine,” I say, shifting the car into gear. “Look, Mom, I got to go before I fall asleep at the wheel.”
“Alright, mija. Te amo.”
“Te amo, Mom. I’ll see you in a few hours, okay?” But even as I hang up, I know I won’t. I’ll tell her that one of the nurses is out sick and that the clinic needs me to come in tonight. She’ll understand why.