“Hi, I’m Sookie and I’m here to meet . . .” She hadn’t finished her sentence before being accosted with flying food and foul language.
“Get the hell out of here!” Sookie heard her new patient yelling.
The nurse responded, “Captain Northman! You’ll need to apologize to your counselor, Dr. Stackhouse.”
“Why do I need to apologize, I’m the patient here!”
“You need to apologize because that lunch you just threw, the one you need to eat? That landed on your counselor!”
“And how do you expect me to eat!? I’m blind! Since I don’t plan to stay this way, stop telling me what time my food is on the clock. I won’t need to learn any of that shit.”
The nurse offered Sookie an apologetic glance as she watched the doctor pull potatoes and Jell-O out of her hair. “I know you don’t want to be fed, we had that argument this morning, remember?”
The Captain didn’t respond and instead turned his face away from the women.
“Captain Northman, as I was saying, my name is Sookie and I’m the Psychologist here at Wills.”
The patient remained quiet after she spoke. Honestly, she had expected the silent treatment. To prepare for his arrival, Sookie had reviewed his medical records and spoke to the counselor from the hospital in Germany. From what she’d learned, the Captain was highly decorated, dedicated to Marines, larger than life, and sadly for the staff at Will’s Hospital, he was also a horrible patient. His blindness, possibly temporary, made the once independent and feared Captain reliant on others. Adding to his newfound helplessness, he had damage to his leg and for that he’d be seeing a physical therapist to help regain his mobility. Before she’d stepped foot in his room, she’d heard from the nurses that he was a huge man, and his size combined with his anger had scared some of them. She was prepared to dish out her special brand of tough love if needed. The man had to accept some hard truths and step it up if he wanted to heal. He was already in the right hospital, receiving the right coaching and treatment for his blindness.
“Captain, being admitted to the best hospital is only part of your healing. Wills Eye Institute specializes in cutting edge treatment for eye trauma; we’re your best chance to see again.” Still nothing from him, so she continued. “Your treatment, more specifically, the recovery from the surgery will be at least six weeks. Granted, you’ll be spending most of that time working with a physical therapist on your leg, but I have a feeling that a war hero like you won’t want to be spoon fed and escorted to the bathroom the whole time.”
Something she said got a reaction. He pushed the table over his bed so hard it hit the wall. This wasn’t her first belligerent patient at Wills, it wouldn’t be her last, and she wouldn’t change her position for anything. As she’d done many times before, she pushed up her shirt sleeves and prepared for battle.
“Let me try it this way, Captain, I have little patience for tantrums, just ask my three-year-old niece. I’m here to help you with your transition from Afghanistan to the states. I want to be sure you’ve been properly prepared for the surgery and recovery. Finally, I hope to encourage you to learn as many skills as you can during the recovery time. It might seem like a waste to learn how to get along independently, but it’s important for your mental well-being. Wanting you to be able to eat on your own doesn’t negate everyone’s belief that your surgery will be successful.”
Since a stare down wasn’t possible, she held her position with her hands on her hips. In her time at the hospital, she realized that the newly blind patients could ‘hear’ her lack of motion. The nurse, still in the room, tried to hold her laughter as Sookie stood her ground. When the nurse snorted quietly Sookie asked her to collect another meal for the Captain, then she addressed her patient again. “Captain … Eric. You have surgery in a week. The procedure is new but has been successful in restoring sight with other patients. Right now, you’re jet lagged from your flight so you need to rest, eat, and stay hydrated. That’s your preparation for the surgery. The nurse was trying to help you eat on your own. I get that you’re frustrated, but throwing your lunch won’t help your body prepare for healing. I’m certain you want to see again, so help us help you.”
Making the situation more difficult, Sookie knew that Eric was alone. No parents, siblings, or other family. His parents died in his senior year of college and he joined the Marines the day after graduation. Normally, she would use a family member or friend to assist with the care and tough love. For this situation, she, like her patient, was on her own. Then she had another thought; perhaps the emergency contact was a possibility. She struggled but couldn’t remember the name of the person from his record. “Captain, you listed an emergency contact, I don’t recall his or her name. Can I reach out to this person for you?
“I listed my college basketball coach. He’s almost sixty now, I don’t want to have him fly in from Michigan to help me. I already called him to discuss my condition and at my request, he’s not flying east.”
‘He spoke!’ Sookie jumped on the opening and kept going. “Is there anyone else I can call then? Nobody from your home town of Pittsburgh?”
“No. I’m alone. The Marines became my everything.” He shifted noisily in the bed. “I don’t have anyone to care whether I see again or not.”
Sookie moved to the side of the bed, making noise to alert him of her movement and touched him. She held back a gasp from the contact; it sent a jolt up her arm. Keeping her voice even, she answered him. “I care.”
“You’re paid to care.”
That got her fur up. “Being paid got me into the hospital today. Don’t belittle how I feel about my patients. Ever!” He gasped at her strong tone but the tense moment was broken when the nurse returned and Sookie made to leave. “Your lunch, well your second attempt at lunch, just arrived. I’ll leave you with the nurse.”
He bit out a response. “So you aren’t paid to feed me?”
“I’m certain you’re in better hands with Shelly, Captain Northman.” She stood to leave and mourned the loss of their skin to skin contact. She ignored it and continued out. “More importantly, I only had time for a quick visit today. I will be back tomorrow.” She took a few more steps and stopped at the door. “Perhaps you’ll be in a better mood once you’ve rested.”
It was soft, but she heard him mumble a “doubtful.”
Eric listened as the woman left. He touched the spot on his arm where she’d placed her hand. Though he was bitter and angry and unable to see her, the contact was electrifying. Maybe it was because her voice was the first one that didn’t have the twinge of pity he’d heard from everyone since the incident. His thoughts were interrupted when the nurse approached him with lunch. Taking Sookie’s suggestion to heart, he begrudgingly opened his mouth for the nurse. He regretted it instantly; somehow the food was worse than military cooking.
Later that afternoon, the Captain napped as his counselor suggested, to help his body prepare for surgery. During his deployment in Afghanistan, he’d learned to sleep under any condition. If you could get sleep, you did. It was the rule. Since the incident, he’d been plagued with nightmares about the men he’d lost. Being in the relative safety of the United States again, didn’t stop the nightmare.
His mind took him to that day; the day five men in his unit died, another ten were injured, and he lost his sight.
“Move out Marines!” He yelled to his unit. “We’ve got two hours.”
He leaned to one of his Lieutenants to confirm the intel one final time. “The village, we have confirmation of the terrorists?”
“Yes Sir. I reviewed the report myself and called in for confirmation.”
The Captain had been given details of a cell in a local village. The rebels were held up in small house about one hour away from their base camp. Per the intel, taking out the house would eliminate the threat to the base. A spy network had reported that the cell had twenty stolen rocket-propelled grenades and planned to target the base the next night. They had to move quickly and stop the attack. Backed by mountains with a natural water source, the base was in a critical location and served as a stronghold in the area. The military couldn’t lose the site. Since it served as a hospital and support post for the locals as well as a military base, it was equally important to prevent the attack for the Afghans. Why the fanatics would want to take out a base that provided supplies and medical attention to their own people was a mystery, but then that lack of caring for human life seemed prevalent when dealing with the terrorists.
His dream skipped to the caravan’s arrival at the village. Something was wrong, Eric knew it as soon as his unit approached the target residence from the back. It was silent; more than silent. The village had a ghost town feel. The trucks were parked a mile back on the road so they could make their way noiselessly on foot. The stealth approach was unnecessary. A quick search of the area confirmed his belief that the village was abandoned. The intel was wrong or possibly a trap. Quickly, he ordered his unit to the trucks and back to the base. They didn’t make it to stop the terrorists’ destruction. About a mile before the base entrance, they could see explosions and fire. Breaking his radio silence order, Captain Northman called the base and made a plan with the Captain onsite to fight from the outside. With the combined efforts of the remaining fighters still on base and Captain Northman’s men, they stopped the cell quickly, or so they thought. Once the firing stopped, all hands turned to help with finding and treating the wounded. Captain Northman led a team into the half collapsed hospital tent when an RPG was launched. It was the final grenade from a wounded but still able bodied terrorist that caused the damage to his eyes and leg. His injuries were secondary to the devastation that day though. That lone terrorist killed five men from his unit, men bravely going into the tent to transport patients from the collapsing structure. Keeping his team safe was his job and he had failed.
In his nightmare, he could feel the burning pain in his eyes from the blast that took his sight. He woke also as he often did, gasping for breath in a cold sweat. In his case, he didn’t have the luxury of opening his eyes to verify that he was safe. Without eyesight, he had no escape from his thoughts in the middle of the night, no book, no TV, no ability to take a walk – and on that thought he cursed. Even if his sight was functioning, he still needed help to walk. At least he’d be moved to a rehab facility for a few weeks learning how to walk again while his eyes healed. That thought stopped him cold and it took him a moment to realize why. Sookie, the woman with the voice of an angel wouldn’t be at the rehab facility. A silly thought for such a serious man, he scoffed aloud at himself.
Idiot, thinking of missing a woman after meeting her once.
The truth though, he was thinking of her and he didn’t stop until sleep finally claimed him again.
Unconsciously, Sookie hummed in the hallways of the hospital the next morning. Her smile was wide as she headed to Captain Northman’s room. She was pleased to see he was eating the toast from his breakfast on his own. The plate was otherwise empty so she figured he allowed a nurse or aid to feed him. Today’s talk would be about setting expectations for his recovery. After speaking with his doctors, she knew they were confident in his sight returning, but he would need to be patient. That meant six weeks of bandages, no testing or sneaking a peak to see how he was progressing. It helped that instead of being discharged for his recuperation, he was being moved two days after surgery to concentrate on his physical therapy. The staff at his new facility had been informed on the after surgery restrictions and treatment.
He shocked her by speaking first. “Sookie?”
“How did you . . .?
“Your perfume. It reminds me of rain in the spring.” When Sookie remained silent, he felt the need to fill in the silence. “I’m sorry, I have to admit I’ve always had a strong sense of smell, it’s even stronger now that . . . well, now.” He could feel a blush fill his cheeks but was helpless to do anything to fight it. “I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable.”
“You didn’t. I have to tell you that after I’ve worked with a patient for a few days they often can identify the staff by sound or scent. My reaction was stunned silence since it’s never happened after one meeting.” She stopped to notice his blush and tucked the image away as one of the cutest things she’d seen on a man. “Spring rain is a good description, or at least that’s what most people say. I don’t like overpowering perfumes.”
She’d made it to the chair next to him and unlike yesterday, when he remained still, his head turned in her direction as she moved. “So what brings you in today, doctor?”
“I’ve been prepared by the doctors and approved physically for the surgery, I don’t understand your role.” He gave out a chuckle. “Or are you here to yell at me for something again today? Is that your job? Chief nag? Teller of hard truths?”
She added her own, “Soothsayer?” They both chuckled and she was happy to see it. “In a way that is part of my role here.”
“I thought you’d be happy to see that I’d eaten. Held the toast on my own and everything.” He shrugged and his massive form moved in the bed, capturing her attention for a moment. “It helped that the nurse made airplane noises when she put the food in.”
“I knew it! I told them you had the mentality of my three-year-old niece and asked them to treat you accordingly.”
Sookie guessed that his next question was meant to keep her off topic. “Tell me about her?”
“Don’t want to talk surgery?”
He gave a small pout and responded. “Not especially.” He put his hands up in a defensive manner. “Five minutes before business? Please?”
“You had me at the pout.” As she had the night before, she placed her hand on his forearm to tell him about her niece. Sookie frequently made physical contact with her sightless patients, but she never felt the spark like she did with Eric. Ignoring the tingle on her fingers, she started the story of her niece, Ella. Sookie lived in the same neighborhood as her brother so the girl was a big part of her life. Eric’s interest in her stories of a small girl surprised her. He listened and asked questions as she spoke about playing dolls with the girl, reading bedtime stories when they had sleepovers, and Ella’s serious dislike of broccoli. “At least she likes spinach.” Sookie informed him and he nodded. “I guess you can say she’s my life outside of work since her mother works three long shifts a week and on those nights I go over to feed her and my brother Jason.”
“They are lucky to have you.”
She blushed, not that he could see it. “I’m the lucky one. Without them, my life would be all work.”
He was confused. “Do the patients in this hospital keep you that busy?”
“The in-patients at Wills are a portion of my regular clients.” She went to explain her other clients. She traveled to several outpatient facilities in the greater Philadelphia region to offer support services. Working with the blind in the city had given her a solid background in helping with other physical limitations. Her unique ability to provide care and motivation had her working more than full-time. She hadn’t been lying when she said that work and her niece were her life. If she were honest with herself, she knew she hid behind her clients and her family. Instead of admitting that out loud, she offered, “So you see, my family gives me balance.” She pulled her hand back to tap on her tablet. “Speaking of balance, I need to add some work to this discussion.”
Eric sighed, “If you must.”
As Sookie drove home, she had a nagging suspicion that Captain Northman was getting under her skin. During their session, he continued to distract her with other topics. In the hour she’d spent with him, they covered his reasons for joining the military after college, his lack of family, her career decision, and most importantly, an argument on the best ice cream flavor. None of the topics were wrong or unprofessional, it was more her feelings about him as they talked that raised a red flag in her brain. First, crossing the line beyond caring for her patient was a problem. Second, it was a line she couldn’t cross with anyone, patient or not. Sookie wasn’t the kind of person anyone would want to date. A relationship wasn’t in the cards for her. Ever.
“I’m done for today! Do you hear me!?”
“Captain Northman . . .”
“Take the leg weights off… NOW!” He leaned down to pull the straps off himself but he couldn’t get them unhooked fast enough.
The Captain was having a bad day. His surgery was drawing near, he’d made little progress on feeding himself (but he didn’t try all that hard), and today was a day without Sookie. She’d visited him every day so far and today was a planned day off. Part of him was scared that he connected to anyone so quickly, but his need to talk with her outweighed his fear. Directing his anger and frustration at the physical therapist was wrong, but it didn’t stop him. Using the calming techniques that Sookie taught him, he tried to control his emotions but when she pushed him for another round he’d lost it.
“What is going on here?” Sookie asked as she walked into the room.
Eric held the one weight he’d finally removed and turned his face in the direction of her voice. Knowing Sookie had caught him in another outburst, he grimaced and waited for her reaction.
She didn’t disappoint.
“I thought we’d covered tantrums several times already. I think I’ll have Ella in and the two of you can compete for toddler of the year.”
That was Sookie, she didn’t hold back and he’d grown to appreciate her bluntness. He quickly apologized to the therapist and waited for Sookie to continue. Eric could hear her pulling up a chair next to the bed and he braced himself. Though he hoped his apology would smooth it over.
He wasn’t that lucky.
“I leave you alone for one day and you go back to terrorizing the staff?”
Pretending his outburst never happened seemed best so he asked her something unrelated. Maybe she wouldn’t notice his tactic.
“So before you left yesterday, you promised to tell me about how you wound up working here. I didn’t know you’d be here today since you said you have off.”
“So we’re not going to talk about the tantrum?”
“I thought we already did?”
“So basketball for college? I would have thought with your gargantuan size you’d have been on the football field.”
Sookie threw him a bone and kept the topic away from his mood. Thankfully, he took the gift she gave him and answered. Though he knew she wouldn’t let his conniption go undiscussed. “I was scrawny until I went to college. I had height and some muscle but was a bean pole.”
Looking at him now, Sookie couldn’t imagine anyone using bean pole to describe him. The man had muscles on muscles. “Oh yeah? Do you have a picture to prove that? I mean, it’s hard to imagine college putting on this much bulk.”
He tried not to smirk at her comment, the way she spoke about his size made it evident she was impressed. He suspected though, that his size was the only thing that impressed her and he didn’t want to tip his hand that he might like her, more than in the patient way. “To be honest, my mother was a horrible cook. She tried, God knows she tried, but the food on campus was better. I’m guessing that was a major factor.”
“Can’t say I agree with you. Well, by high school I did most of the cooking and I preferred home cooking to college food. I lost weight without access to an oven for cookies.”
“You bake cookies and haven’t brought me any?”
“If you’re good, I’ll make some.”
“That’s a good bribe.” He paused for a second. “Hey, so you know I went to Michigan State, where did you go to school?”
“I stayed close to home for my undergrad, Louisiana State University. My father was sick when I first started college and I wanted to be home so I commuted from Shreveport, about an hour from home. I lost Dad in my second year but kept going. Since Jason and I were the beneficiaries of his life insurance, I was able to move to the dorm.” She paused and took a swallow the lump in her throat. “I’d rather have had my Daddy, of course, but the move was good for me.”
“Certainly you’d rather have your father. I get that. My parents left a sizable estate for me as well, I understand that guilt of using the money.” He put his hand out and she reached for it. “Why was the move to the dorm good for you?”
“It got me motivated to do more. Moving away from Jason in undergrad enabled me to move to Philadelphia for my doctorate. I received a scholarship and stipend from Temple. Since I didn’t have to pay for grad school, I was able to save money for after college so I could buy my house. I left the south behind and so did Jason.”
He smiled. “Not entirely, I’m pretty sure I hear some southern in that voice every once and a while. Like when you get your fur up.”
“It comes out. My brother though, he never lost it. If he and I fight though, out local friends it’s hysterical.”
“He left Louisiana at the same time?’
“Not right away. Not until I decided to live here permanently, that was about a year before I graduated from Temple.” She continued to explain her career choice. “My role at Wills was initially temporary,” she shrugged, though he couldn’t see it, “now I have no plans to leave. After earning my Ph.D. in Psychology, I came to Wills for a year of post doctorate work. That was three years ago. Preparing patients and their families for surgery, helping to delivery difficult news, and vetting candidates for their clinical trials was more fulfilling than the private practice I had originally planned.”
“Did you leave family in Louisiana?”
“My mother. Enough about me. I want to discuss what happened earlier.”
He could hear a harshness to her voice when she mentioned her mother, but he tucked it away. After all, he was in the hotspot again and he didn’t want to get her more upset. He tried one more time to keep the topic off his mood. “Wait, you said you didn’t want private practice, but you have all those other patients.”
“We switched to talking about you. Remember?”
“I’m trying not to.”
Her hands smacked on her legs in frustration and probed. “What happened today? You had a couple of good days I thought. Your leg therapy was starting and your eye surgery is on schedule.” She sighed and grabbed his hand. They’d moved from her light touch on his arm to hand holding during the day before. “You know I’m giving you grief to cut the tension I felt in the room. You’re entitled to your feelings and given what you’ve been through, anger is in that mix. Talk to me.” She paused and added, “This is your chance to earn cookies.”
How could he tell her that not seeing her for the day had contributed to his sour mood? She was his counselor, not his friend, not a potential something more. Not that he was a prize seeing he was blind and crippled. The other cause of his outburst was the excruciating pain in his leg. Now that he was starting to use it more, the pain was increasing. He was a soldier, he needed to grin and bear it. Others in his unit lost their lives. A little pain was nothing.
Too bad for him; Sookie showed her expertise and cut to the heart of the problem. “I see you aren’t taking anything for pain.” He heard her fingers as they tapped on her tablet. “Given your injuries, I think you’re refraining from taking them for another reason.” She paused before adding, “What’s going on in that head tough guy?” He tried to back away from her question as she pushed more. “Do you think because you lived, you deserve the pain?”
He grimaced but remained quiet. She continued, he should know better than to think she’d give up. “Looks like I hit on something.” He continued to stay quiet, until he felt her hand on his arm. “Let me help you, please.”
Before he spoke, he took his hand and grasped hers, she didn’t resist. “I feel that bearing this pain is my penance for living.” The statement was pretty heavy so he backed it up. “Doesn’t help that I’m Catholic.” He snorted a small laugh to try to add to the humor of his statement.
“Thank you for sharing that. Now, we can start moving forward.”
Hours later, Sookie was at home reviewing her notes from the session with Eric. Others in her field often cringed at her confrontational approach, citing that her lack of experience didn’t give her license for such a controversial method. Often, once the successful results were apparent, she changed her colleague’s minds and her methods were not only accepted, but mimicked. It was this tough approach that Captain Northman needed.
For him, it most certainly worked. He opened up about his survivor’s guilt. He wasn’t over it, not at all, but he admitted it. It was a huge first step. Rather than considering himself as hero, and he was with all those who lived the day of the terrorist attack, he viewed himself as a failure. A failure because he didn’t see the intel was bad since they later found out it was a trap to get a bulk of the fighters off the base for the attack. A failure because he thought all the terrorist were dead when he ordered men into the hospital structure to save the wounded, and one was alive enough to launch a final grenade. Admitting to the feelings hadn’t removed them, but he was able to start processing what had happened. Add to that the fact that he didn’t throw his dinner when it arrived and she was calling it a huge win with the man.
The unscheduled session with Eric had left Sookie drained. It was a day off from the hospital, yet she felt compelled to see him. The other day when he accused her of caring solely based on her paycheck she knew he was wrong. This connection to the captain though? The lines were blurred on the relationship and she needed to do something about it. She knew it was her feelings alone, nobody would want someone as broken as Sookie Stackhouse, but her desires were unprofessional. Either she needed to back off anything beyond professional topics or she needed to stop being his counselor. She went to bed trying to figure out what she wanted to do.
The next day, she was scheduled to host a seminar on patients with physical challenges. It was an all-day event so a visit to Wills was impossible. It was a good opportunity take stock on her situation. A former classmate was in attendance and she was the perfect sounding board for Sookie’s dilemma. She listened without judgement, provided perspective, and made an offer that would allow Sookie to do what she needed without problems.
While driving home from her seminar she came to her decision. What this Captain, this man, needed was a friend rather than a counselor. His surgery was in the morning, and it was the right time to execute on her decision.
The car behind her honked since she missed the light turning to green. Though she focused on the road, she made plans on how to be his friend. It would start with a trip to the grocery store.
Eric had another sleepless night. The reason wasn’t a nightmare as usual, it was his constant thoughts of Sookie. While imagining a life outside the military and war, a life with Sookie, he stopped and blamed his current blindness for his musings. Never in recent years had he been without some distraction, conversation, strategy planning, war reports, or vigilance against a potential enemy. His fantasy about a normal life could only be blamed on a lack of female companionship and an abundance of idle time.
Fully convinced that he wasn’t seriously interested in a woman he’d never seen didn’t stop him from brightening when he smelled her perfume the next morning. “What are you doing here? Pretty early for you isn’t it?” His surgery was scheduled to start at 7:00 AM, and the last nurse that stopped in a few moments ago told him it was shortly after 6:00 AM. “I thought you had a late group therapy meeting, session, whatever you call it, last night?”
“I wanted to visit you before your surgery and tell you I’ll be in the recovery room when you wake.”
“Oh.” His heart beat quickly at her words but he tried to stop it by attributing her actions to her job. “I didn’t realize you helped your patients so personally with their surgery.”
He could swear he heard a smile with her next words. “I don’t.” Then he felt the tingles on his hand as she grabbed it. “I took the day off and officially reported that I won’t be helping you as the staff counselor while you’re here.”
Eric’s heart plummeted to his toes thinking he wouldn’t see her after today. That alarmed him, he knew his feelings were strong for her but now he was panicking at losing her? To control his voice, he paused and took a breath, he wanted to sound cool with it. “So I’ll be on my own through this?”
“No, I’m going to be your friend now and while you’re in rehab. I don’t think anyone over at Magee will be tough enough on you. I’ll be checking on your progress after work each day.”
His relieved smile contradicted his words. “I can’t ask that of you. You already told me how much you work; I won’t add to that burden.”
“This is something a friend would do and I decided last night that I’m your friend.” She joked about their first meeting. “Besides, not many will tolerate wearing your meals, so I foresee that I’ll be running interference for your temper.”
He had the nerve to be affronted. “I don’t have a temper.”
“The mashed potatoes I had to triple wash out of my hair would say otherwise.”
He chuckled. “Maybe a little one.”
“So you mentioned you miss the newspaper. I grabbed the Inquirer, our local Philadelphia paper, on the way in. Can I catch you up while you wait for surgery?”
Knowing he needed the distraction before going under the knife, he thanked her for the offer and asked her to cover politics. Somehow, she still sounded like an angel while she was reporting the latest updates on the farce the US referred to as politics and the Presidential election process. She had him laughing while she offered her own commentary on the candidates. By the time she was done an article on the Trump campaign, he was begging her to stop imitating the man. “Sookie, I’ll never be able to hear the man speak and not laugh if you don’t stop. What happens if he is elected and I’m in the military, that would make him my boss. I can’t have your voice coming out when he speaks.”
Their laughter was cut off when a nurse knocked on the door. “Captain Northman, my name is Melissa and I’m here to take you to surgery.”
Sookie’s hand tightened where it held his and she reminded him. “I’ll be with you when you wake up. I have friends in the recovery department.”
On the way to his surgery, Eric recalled one of Sookie’s impersonations and chuckled out loud. Melissa had to ask about it. Still laughing, he answered, “Sookie was imitating Trump.”
The nurse laughed with him. “Yes, I’ve seen her do it in the break room. She’s not a fan, not that she’s mean about it. There is a doctor on staff . . . well he loves Trump. She’s polite though, each person entitled to their opinion and all that. Even that Trump supporter has gone into hysterics by her ‘Trump’.”
“I can’t wait to see it in addition to hearing it.”
“Something to look forward to. Definitely.”
“Yes, I think seeing Sookie in person is something to look forward to, a ‘Trump’ impersonation is only icing on the cake.”
Melissa paused for a moment but started rolling him again quickly. Eric felt the abrupt stop and asked. “Is everything alright?”
“Sure, yes. A few more feet and we’ll be in the operating room.”
A few hours later Eric stirred awake in the recovery room. Sookie was there to greet him. “Hi.” She took his hand. “How do you feel?”
Sookie called the recovery nurse to Eric’s side and stayed while she ensured he was treated as needed. Within a few hours, his head pain was gone and he was released back to his room. To give him privacy, they separated for a few minutes while he was moved and situated in his bed, but otherwise their hands stayed in contact somehow. Eric wasn’t a needy man, but he had to admit he liked the connection. The military gave him a family away from home, but he couldn’t recall the last time he felt cared for as Sookie did. After he heard the nurse and orderly leave, Sookie spoke. “I talked to your doctor while you were being moved here and he gave me the okay for a treat.”
He smiled in her direction. “A treat? It’s been a long time since I had a treat.”
“I gathered that. Do you trust me?”
The answer was immediate, “Of course.”
“Then open your mouth.”
He obliged and she was rewarded with a groan of pleasure. “WHOA! I was expecting cookies. Where did you get this? Not all stores carry heavenly hash ice cream.”
She answered while giving him another spoonful of the ice cream. “I know that now. Had to go to three stores before I gave up and went to that Stone Cold place. Then they didn’t have marshmallow so I asked them to leave space, bought some marshmallow fluff and added it in.”
He took a huge swallow and paused before asking. “You did that for me?” He was stunned. Perhaps Sookie Stackhouse liked him as much he was coming to like her. As a tough Marine, he would scoff at others who discussed fate or love at first sight, but Sookie made him feel things he’d never imagined. For him, he didn’t have or need the added sense of sight; he was taken with this woman.
She was shocked at his question, but he didn’t see the reaction. “Of course I did. I was late at my seminar yesterday so I couldn’t’ bake but I needed something as a post-surgery treat for you.” She paused and offered, “I had some made for myself too.”
He chuckled, “Let me guess, vanilla as the base and I know you have something peanut in there.”
“Try it.” She offered him a spoonful from her container. “You tell me what’s in there.”
“The ice cream is definitely vanilla. I also taste peanut butter cups.” She gave him a positive uh ha. “More chocolate, chunks I think and something really crunchy. I don’t know what that last part is.”
“Heath Bar chunks. I love toffee. My favorite candy bar is SKOR but they didn’t have that as an add-in.”
“While yours is good, can I have more of mine?”
She continued to feed him bites from his bowl while she ate hers in between. “With a partially full mouth, he admitted. “This is the best thing I’ve eaten in a long time.”
“Well then you’ll be happy to know that I bought three of the large containers, so the freezer here has a good supply. I’ll use it as reward for your progress in healing and learning more skills for your independence.”
“You’re a cruel woman Dr. Stackhouse.”
“You aren’t the first patient to tell me that.”
“Thought I wasn’t a patient any longer?”
“Right. Well you not the first friend to tell me that.” She rubbed him arm to soothe over her demand. “I’ll make it up to you in cookies.”
“You’re the best.”
“You’ll think I’m even better when I read about Trump’s latest speech.”
He smiled and groaned at the same time. “Wait until I’m done eating, please?” He swallowed the bit she offered and added. “I don’t want to lose any of this ice cream by accidentally spitting it out.”
“Nor do I want to wear your food again.”
“Not going to let that go, are you?”