The New Nurse
The story came from another roll of Rory’s Story Cubes. Usually I would break them up into chunks that represented beginning, middle and end, but instead I took the whole roll — all nine cubes — as source material and started picking them up one at a time as a I felt inspired. I called it doodling. Oh, it felt so much better.
The rolls were Plane (Jonathan’s from abroad), Alien (ditto), Castle (there’s a mansion), House (he’s living there), Lock with Keyhole (his client’s name), Key (ditto), Flower (he walks through the garden). As usual, I had a hard time finding a use for the Abacus. I’m thinking that Mr. Keyhull is a retired investment banker, so maybe that’ll count for him 🙂
The New NurseJonathan arrived at the estate in the middle of the night. He waved at the limo driver as he pulled out of the wide turnout in front of the mansion. Gravel skittered away under the wheels. Jonathan could barely see the far side of the curved driveway. Who lived in this place? “Someone who needed a live-in nurse,” he said aloud. And had been willing to hire a someone from abroad for the job.
He knocked on the door. He checked his phone. It said 9:36 p.m. Eastern US time, which meant it was 2:36 a.m. back home. Jonathan had slept on the plane and in the limousine, but he still felt exhausted. He looked to his left –- gardens –- and to his right –- more gardens, and a walking path that led out toward the ocean. Cliffs, judging by the sound of the ocean, and the way the path turned into blackness.
Jonathan remembered that it was the 21st century and rang the doorbell. He heard large, angry dogs barking. Jonathan chuckled. He liked dogs. They always got along with him sooner or later. He hoped these would feel the same way.
Still nothing. Jonathan dialed the number of the estate’s guardian, a Mr. Keyhull. It rang, but no answer.
He heard a buzzing sound. Jonathan looked around. He saw a security camera turn towards him and stop. A red light clicked on, like a cigarette lit below a single unblinking eye. “Good evening, Mr. Miller. Welcome to Newport.”
“Thank you. Mr. Keyhull?”
“That’s correct. I’m afraid the first floor of the house is closed. You’ll need to come around to the back, where I’ll let you in.”
Why couldn’t he meet him out here, in person? Mr. Keyhull had been far more charming in the interview. “Very good.” Jonathan pointed toward the walking path. “This way, then?”
“No, the other way.”
“There’s no path.”
“I don’t want you falling into the ocean. The way’s very clear. You’ll be fine.”
The red light clicked off before Jonathan could protest. What the hell?
Jonathan hefted his backpack and duffel bag. He started walking. His joints ached. Jonathan imagined which muscles hurt, which tendons were overstretched, and what kinds of work he could do to help himself feel better.
The garden had a decorative path that was meant for appearance, not for actually walking. Jonathan tripped over a sprinkler head and nearly fell into a forest of sunflowers. Their brilliant yellow cheer smiled at him in bitter irony. Jonathan was tired, the night was gray, his host was being a douchebag, and he was over three thousand miles from a pint of beer and his friends. He remembered that his phone had a flashlight app. His phone was low on juice but it was better than nothing, so he turned it on and kept walking.
He came around the side of the house. A man in a wheelchair sat waiting for him by a utilitarian-looking door, maybe a maintenance entrance. Mr. Keyhull had bushy, steel-gray hair and sharp eyebrows, with deep lines in his forehead and a deep, stony voice. He had a blanket over his knees.
“There! Well done, and welcome.” They shook hands. Mr. Keyhull’s hand was cold, his grip firm. “It’s good to finally meet you in person. You’ll forgive me for not standing up. My knee is acting up and I frankly didn’t feel like walking.”
“We’ll see what we can do about that,” Jonathan said brightly.
“The hell with that. You’re here to help me with physical therapy, not fix every ache as they come up.”
Mr. Keyhull turned away and rolled into the house. Jonathan waited to sigh until Mr. Keyhull was across the threshold, and out of earshot. Oh, joy.
Checking Out the Patient
They went through the kitchen to an elevator upstairs. Mr. Keyhull showed Jonathan to his room, a suite which Keyhull said had been the room where the first son of the house had lived when the mansion had first been built. The furniture was all cutting edge contemporary, black mahogany with soft white cushions. Jonathan thought it would have looked stylish in a high roller’s room in Las Vegas. His bathroom was done up in black tile, with a heated floor, with a grand white bowl for a sink and an even bigger one for a tub. Breakfast would be at nine, and they could discuss their arrangement then.
Jonathan woke to brilliant light streaming in the doors to his balcony. He’d forgotten to close the blackout curtains last night. He opened them and was greeted to a spectacular view of the Atlantic. The sun was only an inch of two above the horizon. Jonathan ran back in and checked his phone: eight o’clock. Whew.
He came back to the window. Waves crashed below at the bottom of the cliffs, shooting spray up the thirty-foot faces of beaten, crumbled rock. He was definitely glad he hadn’t taken the wrong way around the house. He would have wound up with beaten, crumbled legs.
Jonathan took a deep breath of the salt air. He imagined the merchants who had first settled here, vying with each other to stake out the best view. The original owners of this house had won.
Time to get ready.
Jonathan meant to get to the kitchen ahead of Mr. Keyhull and impress him with his preparedness, but he was greeted with the sizzle and meaty smell of bacon cooking as he got off the elevator. Mr. Keyhull leaned on crutches as he made eggs. “Ah, good morning. Have a seat. I’m making us eggs.”
“Thank you very much! May I have two over easy, then?”
Mr. Keyhull looked over his shoulder. “Some other time. I prefer poached.”
Ugh. “Poached would be delicious. Can I help?”
“No, I’ve got it.”
Jonathan studied him as he moved about the kitchen. Mr. Keyhull had good dexterity and good awareness of his surroundings. He also practiced safety with the stove, keeping the pots and pans on it to a minimum. If he could get him to work as diligently with his physical therapy, he should be walking again in no time. He refused to put weight on his knee at all. It was understandable, but he was at the stage when he should be testing his weight.
Swearing Is a Good Sign
“Try one more step.”
“Forget it. I’m not trying one more.”
“Are you wobbly? Do you feel tired?”
“Then one more step.”
“I said I’ve had enough.”
Jonathan folded his arms. “I can’t make you keep going, but I’m not going to give you permission to stop, if that’s what you’re looking for.”
Allen gave Jonathan an ugly, how-dare-you look. “Who do you think you are?”
“One more step. Then I’ll tell you.”
Allen took one more step. His lips were pursed together tight like a vise.
“I’m your nurse, and I’m here to help you get healthier. Sometimes that means knowing when my patients are bullshitting me.”
Allen swore under his breath, but he took one more step.
Allen’s daughter Caroline sat on the far side of the grand foyer, on the first floor. Zeus and Apollo, Allen’s German shepherds, sat by her side watching Allen’s third day of therapy. Caroline sipped a cup of Earl Grey tea in a china cup. The dogs wanted to eat Jonathan, but they stayed in place because Caroline told them to.
One more step. “All right! That’s twenty-five. One more than you did yesterday, and with less complaining.”
“You’re measuring the complaining?”
Allen showed him his notes. “It’s not formal, but I like to keep track. I had a personal trainer who told me half of my workouts were mind training.”
“You’re a merciless fucking son of a bitch.”
“And you walked one more step than yesterday. Well done.”
“Forget it, Jack. And remember to call maintenance for the sprinkler on the south lawn.” Allen sat down in his wheelchair. He clapped his hands twice. The dogs ran over. They took up flanking positions on either side of the wheelchair and growled lightly at Jonathan.
Jonathan said, “Oh, you guys love me. You’re just protecting your dad, aren’t you?” He looked at Allen. “I called maintenance during lunch. They’ll be here in the morning.”
“Remind them. They always forget.”
“Caroline, I’ll see you after I finish showering.”
“That reminds me. This weekend I want to start working on standing in the shower as well.”
“You stay out of my shower or I’ll wrap a crutch around your neck, so help me God.”
“I would never go in without your permission.”
Allen wheeled away, both dogs trotting with him. Jonathan breathed easy for the first time all day.
“If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it. You’ve gotten him swearing after only three days. It took the others two weeks at least,” Caroline said.
A “Jack” Is a Knave
Mr. Keyhull was an excellent cook. He even knew how to make a perfect Hollandaise sauce from scratch. Jonathan finished his eggs, and Mr. Keyhull gave him seconds. The orange juice was fresh squeezed. Jonathan insisted on doing the dishes, so Mr. Keyhull sat at the kitchen table and read the newspaper.
“So, shall we talk about your therapy?” Jonathan asked, beginning to scrub.
“Yes, of course. I didn’t fly you three thousand miles for your company.” Mr. Keyhull laughed.
Jonathan rolled with it. “No, you surely didn’t. I don’t play any musical instruments and I can’t tell jokes.” Biting sense of humor. Deal with him straight-ahead.
“First I’m going to repeat the face-to-face interview that we did by Skype—”
“What for? Didn’t you write it down?”
“I can evaluate you better in-person than I can over a computer. It’ll go fast.”
“Ridiculous. What else?”
“Then we’ll do the physical examinations. I want to see your range of motion and test your physical strength. We need to see how far you can walk and whether you can climb stairs – without crutches. I want to get an idea of how much pain you’re still in. We’ll establish a baseline to measure your progress from.”
“I can tell you what those are. You don’t need to test me.”
“I need to test you. What you think is a good range of motion isn’t the same as what I might think.”
Mr. Keyhull groaned. “Then what?”
“Then we start working. Physical exercises, walking, and stretching.” Jonathan wrapped up the dishes. He turned to face Mr. Keyhull, drying his hands on a towel. Mr. Keyhull’s eyes were blue like the ocean and laser focused. Jonathan had an impression that he watched almost no TV. “By the time we’re done, you need to be able to walk up and down the stairs without assistance, get up and down out of a chair, and a handful of other physical requirements.”
“This is just like the last nurse.”
The one who quit because Mr. Keyhull was a miserable, uncooperative cuss. Jonathan’s supervisor had told him about him, and the other nurse before that one. “We all think alike,” Jonathan said.
“I was hoping the agency might take a hint and send someone more reasonable.”
Jonathan grinned at Mr. Keyhull over his shoulder. “Alas, Mr. Keyhull. They sent you a Scotsman instead.”
“You can call me Allen. I gave up that ‘mister’ stuff when I retired. Do you like Jon, Jonny, or what do they call you?”
“My mum called me Jonathan. Let’s stick with that.”
“Too long. What about Jack?”
“I don’t like it. A ‘jack’ is a knave.” And the man who’d walked out on his mother when Jonathan was still a boy had called himself Jack.
Mr. Keyhull eyed him. Jonathan hadn’t thought he’d let on that it bothered him, but Mr. Keyhull – Allen – might be astute judge of character. Carefully, Allen said, “All right, then. Jonathan it is.”
Immovable as Granite
“I’m being straight with him, and I don’t rattle easily. He’s not the worst patient I ever had,” Jonathan said.
“Who was the worst?”
“My stepdad. Rheumatoid arthritis. I helped my mother take care of him for six years, all through secondary and university. He died after that.”
Jonathan sat down across from her. Caroline was dressed in a black pantsuit with a cream-colored top underneath. Her jewelry was simple. She radiated “edge.” Allen’s application said he had three children through two women he’d married, both divorced. Neither of them wanted anything to do with him. “Thank you,” Jonathan said, “and thank you for coming today. He needs support. Are either of your siblings local?”
“My brother’s in Maine, and my sister is in Connecticut. They won’t come, though.”
Jonathan felt a chill. The doors to the hall had been opened for cross ventilation, and the sea breeze felt warm and salty. “That’s a shame. It’ll make his recovery more difficult.”
“I know, but you’ve seen him. He’s impossible to please and impossible to work with. If he wasn’t a brilliant investor and a ruthless businessman he’d be a cranky lobster fisherman with a cirrhotic liver.”
Jonathan’s projection of the recovery, long-term, jumped by another month. “I can’t keep him practicing good habits all the time. If he stays lazy like this, without family support – friends, somebody – he’ll develop poor motion. He could reinjure himself.”
Caroline shook her head.
That made Jonathan angry. He fell back on his training. “Nice” was far more effective than “ass-kicking,” though that time would come, too. “Well then. I appreciate your coming, and I’m sure Allen does, too. Even if he won’t admit it.”
“Money’s not the problem, Jonathan. You don’t have to worry about that. I just….” She gestured toward the elevator, where Allen had gone, and dropped her hand. “I lived with that for eighteen years. It was enough.”
“Can I ask… if you won’t help, why did you come here today?”
She smiled. “He called yesterday, and told me he had a new nurse who was immovable as granite. He sounded beside himself. Maybe it was cruel but I wanted to see it in person.”
That made Jonathan angrier. Disinterested relatives were bad. People getting a kick out of other people’s suffering was worse. “I hope you enjoyed the show.”
“Actually I was disappointed. You’re not granite. You’re just tougher than he is. I think it’s good for him. And you.” Caroline stood. “You’ll have to excuse me. I have to make a few calls before my father comes back.” She handed him a business card. Caroline was a lawyer – a partner in the firm, in fact. “You can call if you need anything. My private line is on the back. If it’s busy, tell my secretary who you are and she’ll put you through.”
They shook hands. “Don’t be a stranger,” Jonathan said.
She laughed. “You see? It’s that kind of persistence that drives him nuts.”
Looking Ahead to Independence
Allen didn’t get any easier. The more progress he made, the harder he became to work with. It was like fencing. Every procedure, every step, Allen badgered, whined, bitched, complained, and otherwise made a nuisance of himself. Then he would do whatever Jonathan had asked him to do, and he would make progress. Jonathan reflected that if he really was tougher than granite, then Allen was a granite statue in progress, made with crude tools by hand. Slowly, painfully, he was taking shape.
Jonathan was making breakfast on the morning at the end of their second week. He flipped a pancake in the frying pan. He heard the dogs barking in the main hall. They seemed to know when Allen came downstairs, as opposed to when Jonathan came down. Jonathan got a kick out of that.
Allen hobbled into the kitchen on his crutches. He was putting weight on his knee, and only used them for additional support. It had been a tough negotiation just to get him to stop sitting in the wheelchair. Allen sniffed the air. “Are those blueberries I smell?” he asked.
“That they are.”
“Do they have blueberries in Scotland?”
“Not as much as here. Raspberries are our national fruit. I read about blueberry pancakes on my flight over. I thought this would be a good treat.”
“Now I’ve seen everything.” Allen sat down. Jonathan flipped the pancake again. “You seem chipper. You didn’t get laid last night, so what are you so happy about?”
“You’ve been making good progress. So… we should start looking ahead to your independence.”
“Living independently. Completion of physical therapy.”
“Oh. Yes. Well… good. When will that be?”
“Soon. We’re going to run through your diagnostic test again today. If all goes well, and I think it will, we can set up a schedule for putting aside those crutches for good.” Allen didn’t say anything. Jonathan looked over his shoulder. “All right?”
“Yes. Of course. I’m just surprised, that’s all.”
Allen didn’t sound happy. What was going on? “It’ll be good to go walking outside again. I’ll bet the dogs would love that.”
Allen didn’t say anything. He opened the newspaper and started reading.
Jonathan served the pancakes. Allen had to crack a smile at those. His mother had taught Jonathan how to make them when he was little, and they were the one thing he knew how to cook the best.
A Left Turn
After Jonathan washed the dishes, it was time to get started. Allen stood up slowly. He winced as he put his weight on his leg. “Are you all right?” Jonathan asked.
“It hurts,” Allen said.
“Don’t put weight on it. Sit back down.” Jonathan came over immediately. His hands were still wet from doing dishes. He rubbed them on his shirt and jeans to dry them off.
“Roll up your pants leg,” Jonathan said. Allen did. No swelling. No discoloration. Everything looked normal. Jonathan barely touched Allen’s knee. “Do have any pain?”
“Not now, no.”
He pressed slightly harder. Jonathan could feel the muscles and tendons under his fingers. “Now?”
Allen grimaced. “A little. It was worse when I was standing up.”
“Hmm.” Jonathan wondered if Allen was snowing him. “Did you feel anything? You seemed fine when you came in.”
“It felt funny when I woke up this morning. I thought I would walk it off. It stopped bothering me and I stopped thinking about it. Maybe it went out of joint in my sleep.”
Jonathan rubbed the back of his neck. Allen was a complainer’s complainer. If his leg had been bothering him, he would have said something as soon as he came off the elevator, not made a crack about pancakes or Jonathan’s love life. “All right… well, we can’t risk it. We’re going to the ER for X-rays. You stay put. I’ll get the wheelchair. Do you want me to get a book for you or are you happy with the newspaper?”
“You think it’ll take that long?”
“You’re stable, in little pain, and you’ll have me watching you. We won’t be at the bottom of the list but we won’t be at the top, either.”
Allen grumbled. He took the newspaper and pulled it close to his lap. Grumbling. That was more like good old Allen.
Jonathan was walking back with the wheelchair when he heard a crash. The dogs started barking like mad. “Allen!” he shouted.
He was answered by a stream of profanities that would have made Jonathan’s mother faint, and given his grandmother a heart attack. He ran into the elevator, dragging the chair behind him. Instinctively, he kept the chair out of his way. He also slowed down. Rushing would make him clumsy. Then there would be two patients.
Allen was laying on the floor holding his knee. “What happened?”
Allen swore again.
“Allen, look at me. Tell me what happened!” Jonathan barked, with the sharp tone of angry schoolmaster.
“I tried to stand up. To try it out. It just gave out. I hit it on the ground. Oh, God!”
“Let go of your knee. I need to look at it.” Bruised, discoloration, and the joint might have dislocation. If he was faking before, he certainly wasn’t now. Jonathan used kitchen towels to immobilize the wound. He called 911, and listened to Allen continue to swear a blue streak as they waited for the ambulance.
He Couldn’t Walk Away
Allen finally went to bed at about 1:00 that morning. Jonathan let the dogs upstairs to keep him company. It helped him feel better. The dogs lay down at the foot Allen’s bed and immediately growled their intentions at Jonathan. He waved at them as he shut the door.
The good news was, it wasn’t as bad as he’d feared. Allen had hit the ground hard but there was no dislocation. The tendon was badly bruised. Nothing was torn. Allen had to take it easy for a few days. There were lighter, seated exercises they could do until the swelling went down. Other than that, he needed time.
Need to talk. Call tomorrow.” He tossed the phone on his bedside table.
Jonathan rubbed his eyes. He needed a beer, and he needed his friends.
Wait a second. What time was it?
They’d give him shit for it but it was close enough.
Jonathan dialed home. The phone rang twice. He heard a clattering sound on the other end. Scratching. Then a yawn, and he heard the drowsy sound of his best friend Dan. “If it had been anyone else, I would’ve chucked the phone in the rubbish. How are you doing, mate?”
“Ugh, Dan, not good. My patient’s a pisser and if I don’t miss my guess, he kneecapped himself last night, for God knows why.”
“The knee injury bloke you’re working for?” Jonathan said yes. Dan laughed. He didn’t suffer fools. “What the hell? Did you tell him to go dancing?”
“No! We were about to start the second diagnostic!”
Dan yawned again. “What makes you think it did it to himself?”
“No tearing. No rotation. His hands weren’t scraped from trying to stop himself. It’s like he just dropped to his knees to pray.” Jonathan yawned, too.
Dan laughed again. “Nutty. Sounds like he’s got a death wish.”
“He doesn’t wish for anything. Nothing makes this guy happy except complaining.”
Jonathan stared off into space. Good God, was that it?
“… got your work cut out for you. Look, Jonny, I need to get ready for work. Can we talk later?”
Jonathan came back to reality. “Yeah, right. I’m good now. Thanks, Dan. Tell everyone I said hi. Cheers.”
The line disconnected. Jonathan flopped back into bed. He already felt wired from the day. This felt like a kick in the brain. How did you treat someone who didn’t want to get better? Jonathan rubbed his face. He couldn’t quit. Allen needed help. Jonathan couldn’t just walk away.
Time to Get Help
Jonathan spoke to Caroline in the morning, and she came to the mansion for lunch. Allen was back in the wheelchair, rolling around on the path outside with the dogs. Jonathan and Caroline were walking nearby, to keep an eye on him.
Jonathan said, “Tomorrow he goes back on crutches. He’s supposed to test his weight on his knee, but only under my supervision, and no walking on it. We have an appointment with his PT next week for another X-ray. If things look good, we’ll go back to regular exercises.”
“I’m glad it wasn’t worse.”
The dogs barked as Allen threw a tennis ball. Zeus and Apollo chased it like puppies. Jonathan could see a small slice of what Allen wanted in this picture where they were all framed.
“I wanted to talk to you about that. I think he did it to himself.”
Caroline was silent, leaving the crashing waves and the dogs barking as the only sounds. Then she said, “Go on.”
He told her what he’d said to Dan about the injury, less Dan’s commentary. Jonathan added, “We were talking about the end of his treatment before it happened. I think he doesn’t want me to go.”
“I can see why. You’re polite. You cook. You put up with him. You’re a captive audience.”
Jonathan nodded, “And you’re here, and he feels safer going outside. Was he this active before his surgery?”
“No. Well… I really don’t know.” That spoke volumes. Jonathan was about to say something, but Caroline asked, “Can you stay another month? Wean him off having you around?”
Jonathan wanted to yell. He’d had a feeling she’d ask that. “I can stay longer, but it’s not about weaning him off me. It’s about giving him reasons not to need me.”
Caroline frowned. “Now you sound like a psychologist.”
“You won’t find a home care nurse who isn’t.” Jonathan stopped walking. He looked right at her. “Caroline, I need your help.”
“Name it. We can hire—”
“I need you to help me with his recovery. You and your siblings.”
Caroline shook her head. “No.”
“It’s not as bad as you think. We need to find something he likes. Between socialization and physical activity, we can get the ball rolling.”
“I don’t have time, and none of us wants to. That’s why we hired a nurse.”
“And his recovery has taken twice as long as it should. If we don’t start changing his habits now, right now, this is just the beginning.”
Caroline laughed. “What? You think he’s going to jump off the cliffs?”
“Not today. But yesterday, he showed his willingness to hurt himself.” Jonathan let that sink in. Caroline shivered, even in the eighty degree heat. She watched her father, throwing the ball to his dogs again.
Allen, Caroline, Caroline’s brother Mark, and Jonathan followed the Newport cliff walk. Mark was walking Zeus and Apollo. The dogs weren’t happy about that, but they were well-disciplined enough to live with it. Allen took slow, careful steps. Jonathan stayed next to him, and Caroline had the other side.
“You’re doing great, dad,” Caroline said.
“I know I’m doing great,” Allen said. He kept his eyes on his feet.
“How’s your pain level?” Jonathan asked.
“About a three,” Allen said. On a scale of one to ten. Not great but not bad considering the recent soap opera.
“I haven’t been out here in a long time,” Allen said. He pointed to the next mansion coming up. “That one’s the Breakers. Owned by the Vanderbilt family. They called that a cottage. Can you believe it? It’s bigger than our house.”
“Amazing, dad,” Mark said. Mark checked his watch. Jonathan was glad Allen was watching his feet.
They reached a small, fenced public area. Kids were playing soccer farther inland. The other way, a family was taking pictures of each other with the ocean as a backdrop.
“Jonathan, how much farther?” Allen asked.
“We’re good. You passed goal about twenty yards ago,” Jonathan said. He held up the pedometer.
Allen stopped. He glared at Jonathan. “Well, why the hell didn’t you tell me? Zeus and Apollo are waiting to play fetch!”
“That’s why I kept asking about your pain level. Did you ever tell your employees when they were ready to stop?”
Allen grumbled. “Clever son of a bitch.”
The dogs waited, tails wagging lightly. Jonathan handed him a pair of tennis balls. “Just toss them. We have to keep them on leash.”
“I know what I’m doing,” Allen said. Jonathan smiled. “Zeus!” Allen said, tossing the first ball into the air. Zeus jumped for it while Apollo stayed put. “Apollo!” he cried, and did the same. Allen looked at Mark. “They’re not too much for you, are they?”
“No, they’re fine.” As the dogs jumped, Mark didn’t look fine.
Caroline said, “I’ll take over on the way back.”
Allen tossed tennis balls a few more times. He pointed farther down the walk. “Down there’s Salve Regina College. It’s a looking building. Past that is what they call Forty Steps. You can walk all the way down to the water.”
“We’ll have to go when you’re healthy,” Caroline said.
“Eh, we’ll see,” Allen said.
Jonathan’s eyes widened. He and Caroline caught a glance at each other. Maybe. It was the most positive thing Jonathan had heard Allen say since they met.
You Don’t Fool Me
Caroline, Mark, and Caroline’s sister Jessica took turns coming up on the weekend to help Allen’s physical therapy. Caroline stopped by during the week if her schedule permitted, in return for one favor every time she visited. Jonathan had the feeling that she liked seeing how many hoops she could make him jump through. Jonathan was starting to think that the family had a mean streak.
First she had him run errands for her. Then she had him take her on a walking tour of Newport. The night before Allen’s next diagnostic evaluation, he had to take her to dinner. Allen was glad to get them both out of the house, and it was good to spend an evening with someone other than Allen or Skyping his friends back home who were on graveyard shift.
When Jonathan came back to the mansion, he saw lights on in the main hall. Allen had given him a key, so he came in through the front door. The far side of the main hall was a set of marble stairs that reached a landing, then split off left and right to a gallery that overlooked the hall. Allen sat on the landing, with Zeus and Apollo alongside him. The dogs barked when they saw Jonathan. He thought it sounded like recognition, not menace.
“Welcome home, Jonathan. How was your date?”
“It was just dinner.”
“Trust me. It was a date. You made it through round one, and this is round two.”
“We shook hands after dinner, like a business meeting.”
“Don’t be fooled.”
Jonathan turned red. He couldn’t tell if Allen was serious or if he was messing with him. He also couldn’t think of anything he’d said that would’ve given Caroline a wrong idea. He liked her, but he’d planned to go home after his service to Allen was finished. Speaking of which… “What are you doing here?”
“I was getting some exercise. I went up and down the stairs.”
A little sharply, Jonathan said, “Allen, you shouldn’t have done that without my supervision.”
“Piss on that. I’m strong enough and you know it.”
He did know it. “That’s not the point.”
Allen waved his hand dismissively. “Whatever. Three times. Minimal pain.” He said angrily, “I know what you did. Bringing the kids around. The excursions. You gave me someone else to beat up on, didn’t you?”
“That wasn’t the idea,” Jonathan took a chance, “and you know it.”
Allen looked sad. Jonathan walked up the steps and sat down next to him. The dogs let him. Allen sighed, and said, “I had a manager, just like you. Thought I could bully him like everyone else. Nothing rattled him. He was the only one who’d speak his mind to me no matter what. One day, after a real barn burner of a meeting, I asked him how he did it. He looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘You don’t fool me.’ That was all he said.”
“You’re all piss and vinegar, Allen, but we’re still people underneath.”
Allen groaned. “Don’t get mushy on me. I’ll throw you down these stairs.”
“Like to see you try.”
“You think I can’t?” One of the dogs barked. “Easy, boys. We’re just playing.” The dog lay his head back down.
“I’ll say it another way. Tough is your language. I just knew how to speak it.”
Allen looked at him. “Jonathan Miller, the tough nurse from Scotland. Did you play football back home?”
“That explains that.” Allen said, “Well, you bastard, it worked. You got me on my feet. I got to see my kids again. I always wanted to give people a tour of the town.”
“You’re not going to kneecap yourself before tomorrow’s evaluation, are you?”
Allen looked genuinely hurt. “That was an accident!”
“Well… half an accident. I didn’t plan to hit the fucking ground so hard.” Jonathan laughed. “Asshole,” Allen said.
Jonathan thought of putting his hand on Allen’s shoulder, but didn’t think they were that warm and fuzzy just yet. “Fair enough,” he said. “Well, I’m going to bed. You should do the same, or at least move someplace better for your posture.”
“Do you want to watch me climb the stairs to the second floor?”
“As a matter of fact, yes, I would.”
Allen chuckled. Then Jonathan watched him gingerly make his way from the landing to the second floor, step by step, with his hand on the railing just in case. Jonathan applauded when he reached the top.
“That’s what I want to do.”
“I want to drive a Maserati on a race track. No.”
“I can arrange that, y’know.”
“Dad, listen to him.”
“It’s what I want to do.”
Allen was stalling. For the past ten minutes he’d been insisting that they go down to Cliff Walk for his last diagnostic. He wanted to go up and down those stairs. Afterwards they could pop a bottle of champagne.
Allen was about to reply when Jonathan said, “I’m not arguing this. I’m your nurse. It’s not safe. If you have an accident on those steps we’re going to have a hell of a time getting an ambulance to you.”
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Since when do the Scots not know how to celebrate?”
“Since this one became a nurse, and I celebrate with whisky or beer, not champagne.”
Caroline shook her head. “You need to learn a thing or two about celebrating.”
Allen said, “Honest to God. No pratfalls this time.”
“Allen, I can’t encourage you to do things that are unsafe while your body’s recovering from a surgery. What the hell kind of nurse would I be if I did that?”
“Ugh.” Allen threw up his hands. That was a good sign. Jonathan, Caroline, Allen, Zeus and Apollo all looked at each other. Jonathan was waiting for Allen to make the next move. He would either throw his next excuse back at him, or accept his defeat. There wasn’t going to be a halfway.
Allen said, “All right. But I’m getting piss drunk on the champagne after we’re done our test.”
“As long as you don’t go walking on the cliffs, I approve.”
Allen walked one hundred steps around the foyer without support, with Jonathan alongside him just in case, and Caroline for company. Check. He walked up and down twenty stairs, three times. Check. Very carefully, he squatted while holding a ten-pound weight, ten times. Check.
Allen made some notes on his evaluation form. He’ d have to write a full report later, but it would be a very simple summary. He held out his hand. “Congratulations, mate. You’re healthy again.”
Caroline applauded as they shook hands. Allen suffered through a hug and kiss from her. He seemed more embarrassed than angry, and Jonathan thought it was from having his crusty exterior softened more than not liking it.
Allen and Caroline drank champagne, while Jonathan drank 18-year-old Talisker and made hot dogs on a barbecue that overlooked the ocean. The dogs seemed to know it was a special night, too, and were chilling out nearby. The three of them watched the sun go down over the island, turning the sky orange, then scarlet. Jonathan reflected that his next apartment certainly wouldn’t have a view like this, though it might be a while before then.
Caroline tapped Jonathan’s glass with the stem of her own. Jonathan caught a look from Allen. “So. Are you going home, then?”
“Eventually,” Jonathan said. “We had a long talk this morning.”
Allen suppressed a chuckle. Caroline looked from him back to Jonathan. She eyed him like a hostile witness. “And?”
“I would feel more comfortable if Allen had a stronger support network here. I’d like for him to get more social interaction. You. Mark. Jess. Other things around town.”
“I’m thinking of therapeutic horseback riding first,” Allen added.
She sipped her glass. “Go on.”
“I can help with that better from here than I can from Scotland.”
“Meet my new roommate,” Allen said.
Caroline coughed, spitting champagne. “What?”
Allen laughed, slapping his knee. His other knee, not the one that just recovered. Thank God. Allen wasn’t going to get off that easy now that Jonathan had just given him a clean bill of health. Jonathan said, “My agency can find me work here for nursing. No rent, I won’t have to cook his meals anymore, and I get a stipend as his personal assistant.”
Caroline’s mouth hung open. She looked at her father. Allen rolled his eyes. “Bastard drives a hard bargain.” He grinned. “So you kids haven’t heard the last of me.”
Caroline looked at Jonathan. He shrugged. “It was a great offer. See the States for free? Get to see what happens when treatment’s finished? How could I say no?”
Caroline held up her glass. “Well then. I suppose we’ll have to make the best of it.”
The three of them clinked glasses. “That we will,” Jonathan said.