Second to None

Sky licked her cracked lips, the salt from what little saliva she had produced making the burning unbearable. Needing a way to cool the irritation, she reached for the water pitcher located on a tray table mere inches out of reach. She stretched as far as her body would allow. Her fingertips grazed the handle. Just a little more

As the pitcher tumbled to the floor, spilling its entire contents, she mumbled a string of curses, her frustration mounting at not being able to do the simplest of tasks. She’d been edgy all morning, tired of being hooked up to IV’s and machines like a dead motorcycle battery trying to be revived. Thankfully, most of those beeping noisemakers were gone. What remained was her leg in a brace and an attitude that would make a pit-bull proud.

She’d lost count of how many days had passed since she’d opened her eyes to find herself confined to a hospital bed. She knew for sure was she was done playing the invalid. No more help from people or drugs of any kind. Today she would take her first step toward regaining her independence, literally, no matter how much her leg or any other part of her body protested.

She stared at the white bandages that completely covered her leg from her knee to her thigh. When the nurses had changed the dressing earlier, she got a good look at the six inch scar that ran vertically over her knee cap and the four smaller holes were the screws were strategically placed. The doctor had said her prognosis was good but what bothered her was that in the short period of time she’d been hospitalized, her leg muscles had already begun to atrophy. At this rate, six weeks of inactivity would turn her limb into a shrivelled up beef stick. Once she was released from the hospital, her first priority would be to find some kind of exercise program that wouldn’t put any pressure on her damaged leg. She’d all but dismissed her doctor’s suggestion regarding physical therapy. No way would she allow another person to take care of her in any way. She’d never been the type that needed help, nor would she ever ask for it. The doctor had warned her of all the bad things that could happen if she broke the no pressure rule, everything from the stitches rupturing to the leg bone not healing properly. Just picturing her stitches ripping open or a pin snapping made her want to follow the rules but damn it, she was in control of her own body. Mother Nature was calling and it seemed like a good time to test her new vision of independence.

The bed trapeze gave her the leverage to help pull her body into a sitting position. The swinging metal triangle dangling above her bed also gave her just enough support to move her good leg over to the side.  Mapping out the short distance like a downhill skier before a race, she figured she could lean heavily on the walls and furniture and hobble to the bathroom on her good leg before anyone was the wiser.

“Ten feet, tops. No problem,” she mumbled, as if to convince herself.

“Not a wise idea, even at ten feet.” A stocky brunette with penetrating hazel eyes leaned against the door frame with her arms crossed in front of her chest. The woman was looking at Sky’s injured leg and shaking her head as if saying to herself, “why doesn’t this surprise me?”

The smart-ass retort died on Sky’s lips as she studied the woman closely, focusing on the prominent chin and the high cheekbones. The woman’s hair curled slightly where it reached her shoulders and the muscles in her arms flexed where they rested across her breasts. Her broad shoulders and muscled thighs, evident underneath her tan Khaki’s, screamed swimmer, or at the very least, an above average weight lifter. The woman was fucking hot and she had no idea what was more aggravating—the brunette’s cocky grin or her authoritative presence. Sky decided they were equally irritating.  

Their eyes remained locked, neither one willing to concede. The longer they stood unmoving, the more uncomfortable Sky became under the woman’s scrutiny. After the last few days of everyone poking and prodding her, she thought she’d lost the ability to feel self conscious. Needles, blood pressure cuffs, little square things hooked to her chest. Hell, these people had seen more of her naked body than anyone in the history of her life. But standing there, dressed in nothing but a standard issue hospital gown, she felt exposed in more ways than she could explain. “Who are you?” Sky asked, knowing she sounded short but couldn’t help it. The woman was unnerving her.

Slowly, the woman approached and extended a hand to Sky. “The name’s Brady Clark. I’m from the physical therapy department. I’m surprised Dr. Ammini didn’t mention that someone would be stopping by.”

“Skylar Preston.” Sky tried not to react to the fact that she immediately missed the warmth in Brady’s hand, which was totally absurd. Since she’d been laid up, the hospital gowns and thin sheets left her constantly feeling chilled. That had to be it. She didn’t normally miss human contact, so nothing else explained it. She remembered the conversation earlier that morning with the good doc when she’d all but spelled out that physical therapy wasn’t in her future. Instead of saying just that, she decided to see what the doctor had told this Brady person. “Now that you mention it, I remember the doctor saying something. Sorry, my brain doesn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders today.”

“That’s understandable after everything you’ve been through, but do you think your brain could possibly remember where you were going a few seconds ago?”

Fiesty. Sexy. Sarcastic.
In any other circumstance, she would have thought she’d hit the jackpot. But in her weakened condition, she’d lost her patience for comedians. She bit back an angry retort when a mixture of compassion and something not quite decipherable flashed across the therapist’s features. Besides, she couldn’t be mad at someone for wanting to help, even though it clashed with her idea of independence. “Cute. I wanted to see if I could get to the bathroom by myself.”

“Well, I’m here now. How about if I give you a hand?”

“That kind of ruins the whole idea of autonomy, don’t you think?”

“And you called me cute.”

“I appreciate the offer but I can do it on my own. I’ll prove it to you.”
Sky braced both her hands onto the mattress to move into a standing position. The instant her injured limb became vertical, the sudden rush of blood to her lower extremities made her grimace against the pain.

“Whoa there, slugger,” Brady said, looping her arm around Sky’s waist for support.

“I can…do it,” she said through gritted teeth. Sweat broke out across her brow. She was shaking.

“Skylar,” Brady said calmly but firmly. “You might want to but your body is obviously screaming otherwise. Please don’t fight and let me help you.” 

What was it about this woman that was rubbing her the wrong way? Was it the idea of not being able to complete the simple task on her own, or that this Brady person had witnessed her failure? She had always been too proud to fail at anything and in her weakened condition she shouldn’t have cared but damn, she hated feeling as frail as a newborn kitten. “I want to try again. Just…give me a minute.” 

“Not without my help or help from one of the nurses,” Brady said, her tone holding no room for argument.

“Are you always this damn stubborn?”

Brady chuckled. “And then some. It’s one of my more charming attributes.”

I’m sure you have many of those.
It appeared Brady’s will matched her physical strength and she didn’t have the energy to fight either one. She leaned back against the bed for added support. “You win. I give.”

“Good, for now. But in the future, giving in is not going to fly. Once you’re healed, your physical therapist is going to need you to fight to get better.”

“I’m not doing physical therapy.” The second she said it she wished she could take it back, which was odd. She’d already decided that physical therapy wouldn’t be in her future but for whatever reason, the thought of having Brady there while she went through the process seemed to make the idea a bit more appealing. Probably another side effect of the drugs.

“Not doing physical therapy? This kind of injury pretty much requires it. I’m sure doctor Ammini told you that.”

“She did, but it’s my choice,” Sky said. “I want to do this on my own. That’s why I’m surprised the doctor sent you. I told her the same thing.”

 “I wish I could change your mind about that Skylar, but it’s not my place. You’re a grown woman and can make your own decisions.”

“I hear a ‘but’ coming.”

There was that damn charming grin again. “But, what I have been sent here to do is to teach you how to use crutches, since it sounds like you’ll be headed home soon. Unless you have some type of objection to that too.”

Oh, she had objections all right. How hard could it be that hard to slip two pieces of wood under her arms? “No, that’s okay. I understand. You just…caught me off guard. I didn’t expect—”

“Me to show up,” Brady finished for her.

“Yeah. How did you know?”

Brady laughed. “Actually, Dr. Ammini filled me in. Said you were being…how can I put this eloquently…difficult. Thought I’d come visit you anyway. After catching you trying to escape, I’m glad I did.”

“I wish.” Sky laughed with her. Escape did sound like a good idea. “Not that I’d get far.”

“Probably not.”

Oddly, Brady’s stubborn streak should have annoyed her but instead, she found it comforting. Maybe it wasn’t the drugs. She could be going crazy, which would explain why she didn’t find this woman’s presence as obtrusive as some of the doctors or nurses, but the urge to go to the bathroom became greater than finding out that answer. “I hate to ask this, but I don’t think I can wait for a nurse.”   

“Understood. Stay still and I’ll be right back.”

“Why? Where are you going?”

“Just stay put. Trust me.” She returned seconds later with a wheelchair in tow and placed it close enough for Sky to maneuver into it.

“A wheelchair? But I’m only going a few feet.”

“But that’s a long few feet and I’d rather be safe than sorry. Put your hand on the arm of the chair and I’ll hold it steady until you’re seated. Ready? On three.”

Once Sky was settled in the chair, Brady wheeled her to the bathroom and left Sky balancing on her good foot against the bathroom sink. As soon as the door closed, Sky let out a breath of relief, needing to find her bearings in more ways than one. With all the help she’d been receiving lately, first from the nurses that morning and then from Brady, she was beginning to feel extremely vulnerable. Rationally, she understood people’s need for assistance but this was the perfect opportunity to prove she wasn’t helpless. 

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