The rain was blurring his vision but Sterling hardly cared. They had been playing for almost an hour now and the game was close. Had it not been raining, the boys still would have been drenched with their own sweat. Christian was a good athlete, and Sterling was glad they were on the same team, not opposing ones, because he didn’t want his friend to see the ugly side of his competitive nature.
Sterling watched as the ball was passed back and forth and then kicked down the pitch. It sailed above the heads of the players in front of him and he jumped high into the air to head the ball toward the goal. Yet as soon as he felt the top of his head make contact with the ball, he felt a hard body slamming into his side. He felt his legs fly into the air as his torso was forced parallel to the ground. Bracing himself for the hard turf of the soccer pitch, he prayed that the person who had hit him would break at least part of his fall.
No such luck.
He heard his body hit the ground before he heard the crack of his wrist. It was a horrible sound and made Sterling feel instantly nauseous. Lying on the wet grass, the rain pouring over him, he waited for the pain to come. Only, it didn’t. He slowly opened his eyes, blinking through the drops of water on his eyelashes, and looked around. There were boys surrounding him, leaning over him, and staring.
“You okay, Sterling?” One of them in a funny accent asked and Sterling frowned in confusion.
Right. He was in London. “I think so.” He tried to push himself into a sitting position but was instantly overcome with another strong wave of nausea.
“Look at his wrist!” He heard one whisper and Sterling’s eyes scanned his body until he found his arm. It was horrible. His palm was up, the back of his hand resting flush against and forearm. He lifted his elbow and his hand fell limply, completely detached and useless.
“Doesn’t it hurt?” He heard a familiar voice ask.
Sterling looked up and saw his friend Christian. Everything started to come back to him. He had been playing soccer. In the rain. But there was somewhere else he was supposed to be, or somewhere he was supposed to be going.
“I imagine it should,” Sterling replied and swung his arm, his hand flapping grotesquely behind.
He heard one boy gag and a few took a step back. “Sorry,” he apologized to the group. “Must be the adrenalin. I can’t feel a thing.”
No one said anything for a moment as the rain continued to pour. Finally, Christian knelt down and reached his arm under Sterling’s good side. “Let’s get you to the hospital.”
In a daze, Sterling allowed himself to be helped to his feet and he walked with Christian off the pitch. His friend grabbed both of their bags from under the tarp and swung them over his shoulders. Sterling cradled his wrist in his hand, watching as it swelled, as Christian waved down a taxi and the two climbed inside.
It wasn’t until they were sitting in the waiting room after his x-rays were finished, when Sterling remembered where he was supposed to be.
“Shit! Christian, I need to get to the airport!”
“Did you knock your head as well? We’re at the hospital for a reason, you know?” He pointed to Sterling’s wrist which had already turned a rather nasty shade of purple.
“But my flight for Barcelona leaves in an hour. Laila…”
“So call her. You’ll have to catch another flight, won’t you?”
“She’s going to be so pissed at me,” Sterling mused and reached across his lap to dig his phone out of his bag. But without the use of his other hand, unzipping his duffel proved difficult. He eventually threw it between his feet and held it secure while pulled at the zip.
He found Laila’s number in his list of most recent calls and dialed. It rang and rang and eventually went to voicemail.
“Hi, you’ve reached Laila. Leave me a message and I’ll call you back.”
“Laila, it’s me. Look, I’m going to be late to Barcelona today. I’m at the hospital and I don’t know how long I’ll be here. But I’ll catch a later flight and get there as soon as I can. I love you. Call me when you get this.”
Sterling set his phone in his lap and then closed his eyes, leaning his head against the wall. The pain was increasing at an unbelievable rate and his entire arm was starting to throb.
“Sterling Pierce,” he heard a voice call and his eyes flew open.
“That’s me!” He said quickly, standing up and searching for the nurse who had called for him.
Christian stood up as well and Sterling could see that he was smiling though he couldn’t see why any of this was amusing. But then his eyes fell on the nurse and he quickly understood. She was waiting for him in the doorway, her blonde hair pulled into a ponytail, her bangs sweeping past her eyes. Sterling frowned. She looked more like an adult film star dressed up for Halloween rather than an actual caregiver. Cleavage like that shouldn’t be allowed in a hospital. Her pink scrubs hugged each curve and she stared at the two boys expectantly.
“You lucky bastard,” he heard Christian whisper.
A quick glare was all his friend received as Sterling started to walk toward her.
“I’m nurse Katherine,” she introduced herself with a smile. “Looks like you’ve got a pretty nasty break there.”
“It hurts,” was all Sterling could say.
“Katherine?” He heard Christian’s voice close behind him. “Or do you prefer Kate?”
The nurse only blinked but her indifference didn’t seem to faze him.
“My name is Christian and, as you can see, Sterling here is a little shook up. I’m the one who brought him here and if it’s all right with you, I’d like to stay with him while the doctor sets his wrist.”
Nurse Katherine seemed to find his plea genuine because she smiled warmly at him. “You’re a good friend, Christian. Now, if you’ll both follow me.” She turned around and Sterling watched as his friend’s eyes fell to her bottom. Christian eventually met Sterling’s gaze and winked, a wicked smile crossing his face.
He nodded for Sterling to follow and the two boys hurried to catch up to the nurse. She led them to a small room and instructed Sterling to sit on the examination table. Christian roamed the room, looking at the pictures on the walls and flipping through medical pamphlets as Nurse Katherine asked her series of questions and gently touched Sterling’s wrist, checking for loss of feeling. He watched her intently as she jotted down notes on his file but remained silent until she had left the room, promising the doctor would be with them shortly.
“How are you feeling?” Christian asked his friend.
“Like shit, actually,” Sterling answered honestly.
“Oh, come on. Nurse Kate doesn’t make you feel just a little bit better?” Christian teased but Sterling didn’t laugh.
Christian was about to argue his point when both boys heard Sterling’s phone ring.
“That’s Laila!” Sterling said, reaching for his phone. He was about to open it when a short man in doctor’s scrubs appeared at the door.
“No phones in the ER, please,” was all he said as he grabbed Sterling’s mobile from his hand and flipped it off.
“Hey! I needed to answer that,” Sterling said, shocked and frustrated.
“What you need is for me to set that wrist before it starts to heal and I need to break it all over again.”
Both boys frowned and Sterling shot Christian a wary look. Maybe he did prefer Nurse Kate.
“Now, let’s see to that wrist then, shall we?” The doctor was suddenly chipper as he set Sterling’s phone down and lifted the injured arm.
Sterling cried out in pain and Christian winced, staring longingly at the door.
“Doctor, if we could make this quick, I need to be at the airport…”
But the short, rather plump doctor started laughing. “You won’t be flying anywhere tonight.”
“But my girlfriend…”
“I’m just here to do my job,” the Doctor said in a rather warning tone. “I can do it now or after you’ve argued with me.”
Sterling sighed and looked away from him. Christian was frowning at him and offering no support.
“Right, well, I’ll probably just be in your way,” his friend said once he saw Sterling’s disappointment. “I’ll just wait outside.”
Sterling rolled his eyes but asked a favor as Christian abandoned him. “Will you please call Laila for me?”
“Will do,” Christian said rather as he ran out the door.
Sterling frowned again as the door swung shut. He glanced only briefly at the doctor and then looked away, willing this entire process to be over.
One hour and one incredibly constricting and ugly cast later, and Sterling was pronounced fit to leave. He signed all papers that need to be signed and went searching for Christian. His phone was turned on and he looked for missed calls. There were two messages, both from Laila asking where he was, saying she had left her phone in Paris, claiming she couldn’t check into the hotel because her name wasn’t on the reservation. She sounded annoyed which made Sterling smile. He could imagine the look on her face and it made him miss her even more than before. Of course he didn’t like knowing that she was upset, but she always looked so adorable when she was flustered or worried about something.
He was about to dial her number when he heard Christian’s laugh resonating from around the corner. He quickened his steps and saw his friend’s dark head of hair hovering dangerously close to Nurse Kate. She was smiling up at him, batting her overly painted eyelashes. Sterling watched in partial disgust, partial amazement as Christian reached for the nurse’s face, her cheek blushing a deep shade of red. He started to lean in closer and Nurse Kate closed her eyes, preparing for his kiss.
Sterling instantly thought of Luanne. “Christian!” He called out. Two sets of eyes flew open to stare at him. His friend glared. Nurse Kate looked mortified. “I’m ready to go now. Are you coming?”
Christian sighed but could see right through Sterling’s distraction. He knew that his friend was a better person than he was. Sterling was loyal to a fault and expected everyone else to behave the same way. But where was the fun in that? He knew that Sterling would view his indiscretions much like Luanne would, as a betrayal. And that was partially his fault. He had led everyone to believe that he was in a committed relationship with Luanne. She wouldn’t have agreed to anything that wasn’t completely conventional. But again, where was the fun in that?
Christian stared at Sterling, knowing he was going to have to make up some excuse, and then hung his head as if he was ashamed by his actions. He gave Nurse Kate one last squeeze and let his hand fall to her hip, out of view so Sterling couldn’t see. He heard her near silent gasp when he patted her backside and then he turned to leave, trying desperately to conceal his smile.
Sterling turned quickly and walked ahead of him, out of the hospital and into the cold evening. It had stopped raining but everything outside was still wet and slick. The two boys waited in silence until a cab pulled up, then both climbed into the backseat.
“Thank you for coming with me,” Sterling eventually said, his voice as stiff as his body.
“You’d do the same for me,” Christian said, trying to sound cheerful.
Sterling didn’t look at him and was no longer sure he would return the favor to his so called friend. Had he seriously misjudged Christian? If he had, how was he ever going to tell Luanne? It would break her heart.
“Look,” he heard Christian saying. “About what you saw. I think I should explain.”
Sterling waited, turning his head only slightly toward the other man in the backseat of the taxi.
“You know that I love Luanne, just like you love Laila.”
With that Sterling turned to face him. Christian could never love Luanne like he loved Laila. Not after what he had seen. What Sterling and Laila shared was ten thousand times deeper and purer than anything Christian could share with any woman.
“But the thing is,” Christian continued, “she wants to wait for marriage, you see. You know, wait to have sex?”
“I know what you mean,” Sterling snapped.
“Well what you saw back there was a moment of weakness. I want to wait for Luanne, I really do. It’s just, I’m not used to abstinence. It’s wearing me down and nearly driving me insane.”
Christian stared at Sterling as if he expected that was a sufficient explanation.
“What does Luanne think about this?” Sterling asked after a brief pause.
“I can’t talk to her about it. She would only feel guilty.”
Sterling nodded in agreement. “So what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I don’t want to lose her. But even if I asked her to marry me this second, she would still want to wait a year or so before we actually went through with it.”
Went through with it. Sterling didn’t like that phrase when referring to marriage. “I think you should tell her.”
“If I don’t, will you?” Christian asked, a slight challenge in his voice.
“No,” Sterling decided. “I won’t tell her. But she’s a smart girl, Christian. She’ll find out eventually.”
“Let’s hope that I can keep it in my pants then, eh?”
Sterling turned his head and stared back out the window. “Let’s hope.”
The rest of the ride back to the city was spent in silence, apart from the call Sterling made to the hotel to include Laila’s name on the reservation. Sterling paid for the taxi and left before Christian could say goodbye. His phone was clutched tightly in his hand as his anger at his friend rose. He needed to talk to Laila. Laila would calm him down.
He had just sat down on the couch, having struggled to change out of his wet clothes and into clean ones, when his phone rang. He had to give up on his shirt and slumped into the cushions in only his sweatpants. He quickly sat up and ran for his phone, nearly throwing it on the floor as he hastily opened it with his one good hand.
“Hello? Laila?” He longed to hear her voice.
“Where are you?” She asked him without even saying hello. He smiled as her voice softened. “Are you okay?”
“I’m still in London,” Sterling told her, suddenly desperate to see her. “I just got home from the hospital.”
“What happened?” It now sounded as if she was crying.
“I broke my wrist playing soccer. I called to let you know that I wouldn’t be able to make my flight but you never answered.”
“I know,” she already sounded better. “I left my phone in Paris. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Sterling laughed and glanced down at his bound wrist. “I just feel ridiculous with this stupid cast on. What about you?”
“I’m good now that I know you’re not dead or kidnapped,” she nearly snapped at him and he could only imagine the crazy stories she had come up with.
“I’m sorry I ruined our trip.”
“Don’t say that,” Laila sighed. “I don’t think I like Barcelona much anyway.”
“Yeah.” He could tell there must be some sort of story behind it. “I’ll be on the first flight to London tomorrow morning.”
“You’re the best,” he told her and felt a sudden surge of love for his girlfriend. Perhaps it was because he knew he would be seeing her soon. Perhaps it was because he knew that he was incredibly lucky to have her.
“I love you, Sterling.”
“I love you too. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
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