Charlie Crook lay unmoving, but alive, in a hospital bed. The fluorescent light began to creep in through his bruised and swollen eyes, causing the dizziness he was experiencing to intensify with every blink of his lids. His skull thrummed with pressure every time his heart beat. Pulse. Pound. Pulse. Pound.
Sensation slowly eked back in to his body. His mind registered his body piece by piece. He became aware of his torso through the sharp pain of a broken rib. He cataloged his extremities through their various dull dislocations.
Still, he could breathe. He could speak. He had all 20 fingers and toes, and that was more than he needed to count his blessings. As a matter of fact, when he took a moment to think about it, there was always at least one good thing he could count on whenever he made these visits.
“You know, we’re gonna have to stop meeting like this,” the nurse said as she pulled back the opaque privacy curtain.
Crook laughed, which in turn made him wince. He swallowed a cough, “Don’t flatter yourself. You know I’m only here for the cafeteria food.”
“You are so full of shit,” she said as she washed her hands and slipped on the purple latex gloves.
“Best spaghetti and meatballs in the whole city,” he said.
“Please. Stop. It’s for your own good. The doctors are worried about you having brain damage enough as it is,” She settled at his side, her cool fingers on his wrist. Her eyes keeping track of the small hands on her watch. “Take a deep breath. How are you feeling?”
The aches came in waves but her company tended to keep it all at a relatively low-tide. “I’ve been better,” he said. He hoped that the orderlies had been able to clean him up a little before she had seen him. “I’m a fast healer.”
She shifted her eyes from her watch to his face. “For as often as you’re in here, you’d better be.”
Charlie suddenly realized he had no memory of how he had ended up in the hospital this time. The last thing he remembered was facing off with a giant of a man. His eyes burned like the sun. Smoke sizzled from his finger tips. “Who brought me in?” Charlie asked, although he had an inkling that he already knew the answer.
“A Good Samaritan,” she said, finally standing up. “Left you on the rooftop, disappeared in to the night.”
Chuck rolled his eyes. These hero-types were always so dramatic.
The nurse peeled off her gloves and tossed them in to the rubbish container. “Chuck, you know I try not to ask questions but I have to ask at least once, ‘What the fuck are you doing?'”
Charlie was a little taken aback at the sudden informality of their conversation. They’ve always been friendly, but never prodding or intimate. She’d never been personal or intrusive. “I didn’t know you cared,” he jested.
“Whatever it is you’re doing you’ve got to stop. I’m not joking, Chuck. Find another profession. You’re lucky I’m so incredible at my job,” she meant to be self-deprecating, but she wasn’t that far off. He’d been dropped at this particular hospital a half dozen times, and every time he interacted with her he was always back on his feet in no time. “But I can only do so much. And you can’t do this forever. You’re only human and whatever scrapes you’re getting into… you can’t take much more.”
“Yeah, well, you should’ve seen the other guy.” Chuck attempted to deflect her concern with a wink, but his eye injuries instead allowed only a pathetic slow blink.
“I have,” she said unphased, “Almost every night in fact. You might have seen him on the news. Bright red spandex and a yellow cape. Flies like a comet, punches like an asteroid.”
“Punches like an asshole.”
She stood at the foot of his bed now. The light coming from the hospital hall cast her in dramatic silhouette, and something about her standing there looked timeless.
“The city thinks he’s a hero,” she said, “He is a hero.”
“Not to me,” Charlie looked away now, or at least as far as his injured neck would allow. He felt a mix of shame and anger boiling up in his gut. The silence hung in the air, growing and separating them. He didn’t want her to leave, but he didn’t want her to stay either.
Somehow both feeling defeated, the nurse finally broke the silence.
“Get some rest,” she said, “I don’t want to see you in here again.” The nurse hadn’t meant to come off so harsh. “For your sake,” she added as she turned around. Hoping to place a band-aid on the well-meaning wound.
Maybe it was the slow drip of the IV pushing comfort through his veins, or maybe she was right and that bastard really had knocked something stupid loose inside, but he suddenly mustered up the perfect mix of courage and desperation to ask her a question, “Then come see me outside of this place. Get dinner with me. Once I’m out of here, I mean. Or at least once I’m less…” he made a gesture circling his battered face.
Surprised, she turned back around, “I don’t think that’s-”
“Are you really going to make me come here again? Am I gonna have to go chase down another concussion? ‘Cause if I do, I’ll go tug that dickhead’s cape right now.”
The mental image coaxed a reluctant smile from her, giving Chuck the closest feeling to invincible he’d felt all day.
“It’s not- It’s just, I’m honestly really busy.” the nurse said.
Chuck drew in a dramatic sharp breath. “Alright then,” he chuckled half-heartedly, “‘It’s not you it’s me’, I get it. Bad idea. Can’t blame a guy for trying.”
“Oh shut it,” she said “I really am busy like you wouldn’t believe. You’re gonna be seeing a lot of me over the next couple weeks whether you like it or not. You’ll probably be sick of me,” she paused, considering a proposal “But if you promise to play nice, maybe get yourself a helmet,” she knocked lightly on her head with her fist, “I think I know a place around here you might like. Word is they got the best spaghetti and meatballs in the whole city.”
Chuck knocked gently on his head as well, “Deal,” he said.
And as she left the room, Chuck closed his eyes, not being able to shut out the rush of delirium thrumming through his skull with every beat of his heart. Pulse. Pound. Pulse Pound.