Watch Your Step

“Excuse me! Excuse me! Sorry, coming through!”

I skidded around the corner and weaved through the other students in the crowded hallway. I bumped more than a few with my bag in passing, but I didn’t have time to do more than gasp a breathless “Sorry!” as I dashed past. The clock on the wall was showing that I had two minutes to make it to my class, but I was on the home stretch now. Just across the third-floor bridge between the West Building and East Building of Hunter College and around one more corner, and I was there. I eyed the bridge, trying to see a way through the students. At this time of day, it was predictably packed, but that had never stopped me before. I took one last deep breath as I stood on the threshold, then ran for it.

“Out of the way, please! Sorry, sorry! Oh, excuse me, didn’t see you there!”

“Hey! Watch it!”

“Look where you’re going, idiot!”

I acknowledged the complaints with one last “Sorry!” over my shoulder as I pelted around the last corner and through the doorway of my classroom. My momentum took me a bit farther than I meant to, so I had to grab the back of my chair to stop myself before sliding into the desk next to my friend Barbara. She leaned over as I tried to catch my breath and hissed, “You could make an art form out of being late!”

“I wasn’t late,” I gasped back, pointing to the clock over the doorway, which was just now turning to three.

“Barely,” she whispered. I was spared from answering by my professor starting class. I pulled out my notebook and concentrated on the lecture.

*

That evening, I was unloading the dishwasher while Quint logged into my account on the college’s website. After the biology incident, he had asked for my password so he could be more informed about my schoolwork. He checked it once a week when the grades were updated and we talked about any problems. I hung the last coffee mug from its hook under the cabinets just as Quint said, “Theo, come here a minute, please.” I walked over to stand behind him at the desk, wondering what the problem was. I had gotten good grades on everything for the past week. When I looked at the computer screen, however, I found he hadn’t pulled up the grades. Come to think of it, I did vaguely remember an email about attendance records being added to the website as well. He pointed to a line of small ‘T’s on the grid. “This says you’ve been late to this class three times in the past two weeks.”

“Um, yeah. But it’s just been a couple of minutes,” I said, thinking there should be a way to show exactly how tardy ‘T’ is. That prof is a Nazi about punctuality.

Then again, Quint doesn’t take it too lightly either.

“A couple of minutes late is still late,” he informed me with his usual flawless logic. “That class is right after you eat lunch, right?” I nodded, and he asked, “So what do you think the problem is?”

I shrugged. “I eat with Drew and Nicole in the cafe down the street, and I guess I lose track of time.”

“How long does it take to get to the classroom from the cafe?”

“Ten minutes, maybe?” I estimated.

“Alright. I want you set an alarm on your watch for 2:45 so you know when to leave the cafe and you’ll have plenty of time to get there without rushing,” he said.

“Okay.”

“Do it now before you forget,” he told me.

So I set the alarm. For all the good that did.

*

The next day, Drew, who had been attending a wedding upstate, sat down at our usual table in the cafe and said, “Wait until you guys hear about the adventure I had getting home.”

“Don’t tell us yet, let us get our food first so we don’t get interrupted,” said Nicole. Drew looked a bit put-out, but agreed to that. The cafe was more than usually busy, so we had to wait awhile before the waitress came back with our orders, and then Drew, who’s always starving, had to eat his and steal some of mine before he started.

“My bus got stuck behind some police barricade on the way out of the city, so it was late making the connection. So I’m in this empty bus stop in the middle of bumfuck nowhere waiting for the next one to come around at midnight, and I called my mom to let her know that I’d be a few hours late. She freaks out about me being there all by my lonesome, and without telling me, calls the cops.

“I was sitting there with just this one flickering streetlight to read by and this cop car pulls up and the guy gets out of it and says, ‘Are you Andrew Doscher?’ and I’m like, ‘um… yeah?’ He says my mom wants me to go down to the station until the next bus gets there, and she’s not going to take any chances on my next connection, so she’ll come get me in Syracuse. Did you know the back seat of a cop car is plastic? And there weren’t any seat belts that I could see, so I was sliding all over the damn place when we went around the corners.”

(As a matter of fact, I did know the back seat of a cop car is plastic, but that’s another story.)

Drew continued, “So I hang out in the lobby of the police station for a few hours, and then they take me back to the bus station at midnight and make sure I get on the right bus and all, and around two in the morning, I finally get to Syracuse. My mom was right there waiting for me, and as we pull onto the highway, we ran over a muffler. I’m telling you, that was another omen in a long line of them. We should have just stopped right there and checked into a motel or something for the rest of the night. We were about forty minutes from home, still on the highway, and we ran over something much bigger. I swear, the car was on two wheels for a second, and we spun halfway around and probably would have gone off the road if my mom wasn’t such a good driver.”

Nicole gasped and asked, “What was it?” and the alarm on my watch went off.

“What was that?” Drew asked, looking at me.

“Nothing,” I said, hitting the button to stop it. “Just a reminder for something. What was it you hit?”

“As soon as we’d caught our breath and made sure we were both okay and the car was still drivable, I took the flashlight and went to see. It was a frickin’ bear.”

“You hit a bear?” Nicole and I exclaimed almost simultaneously.

“Well, it was already dead, so we didn’t really hit it, just more ran over it. But yeah, it was a small grizzly. Must’ve been hit by a tractor trailer or something. So of course we have to call the highway patrol to come move it before someone else hit it. It was half-past five when we finally got home, and then just a mile from the house, we hit a skunk. I had to take my mom’s car to be washed the next day because it smelled like skunk and had bear blood splattered down the side.”

Nicole said, “I’m so glad you’re okay!”

“Yet another reason I’m never moving to the boonies. Bears as roadkill,” I said, laughing.

“It’s not like that’s a common occurrence,” Drew told me.

“If you say so,” I said. “I have to get to class.”

“I’ll walk with you as far as the entrance to the North Building,” Nicole said. Drew doesn’t have any classes in the afternoon, so he always goes the other way to the subway. I glanced at my watch as Nicole finished her fries, wishing she’d hurry up.

I said goodbye to her before she crossed the street to the North Building and then I went into the West Building. My class is actually in the East Building, but the staircases over there are always crazy at this time of day, so I go by a more roundabout route. Halfway up the staircase, I looked at my watch and swore under my breath, then started taking the stairs two at a time until I reached the top. I made another mad dash through the bridge, and as I emerged from the other side I was thinking how I was getting better at not bumping so many people. I rounded the corner at almost a full run as the second hand on my watch crept closer to the hour.

I guess I was paying too much attention to my watch and not enough to where I was going, though, because just outside my classroom I suddenly felt my feet slip out from under me. I landed rather heavily on my butt and left hand, which I had reflexively thrown behind me. I gasped as pain shot through my wrist and sat there for a minute trying to catch my breath. I realized after a second that the floor was wet, and only then did I notice the ‘Caution – Wet Floor’ sign in the middle of that section of the hallway.

“You alright, man?”

I looked up to see a guy standing over me, holding out a hand to help me up and obviously trying not to laugh. “Yeah,” I said, giving him my right hand, as my left was still throbbing.

He pulled me to my feet and said, “Should watch where you’re going,” gesturing to the Caution sign. Around me, several people had stopped to look and a few of them were giggling. I felt my ears start to heat up, so gave him a sheepish grin and escaped into my classroom.

“Glad you could join us, Mr. Calhoun,” the professor said as I sat down next to Barbara. She shot me a look, but didn’t say anything. As the lecture started, however, she noticed I had my notebook out but I wasn’t taking notes, and leaned over.

“He said this is going to be on the test,” she whispered.

I whispered back, “I’ll have to copy yours later. I fell and hurt my wrist.”

“What did you do?”

“Slipped in the hall.”

“Mr. Calhoun, do you have something you’d like to share?” the Nazi asked.

“No, sir,” I replied quickly.

“Then perhaps you’d like to start taking notes?”

“Yes, sir,” I said, and picked up my pen in my right hand, figuring that’d be easier than arguing with him. He didn’t even remember that I’m a leftie (if he’d ever noticed to begin with), and went back to his lecture.

Barbara didn’t try to talk to me again until after class, when she said, “Can you make a fist with your hand?” I tried. My hand was still a bit shaky, and my wrist hurt, but I could close it all the way. “Hmm. I don’t think it could be broken, then,” she said. “It doesn’t look swollen either.”

“It’s just a sprain,” I said. “I’ll be fine in another hour.”

I hope.

“Oh! I just remembered I still have this,” she said, unzipping a pocket on her backpack and pulling out an elastic wrap. “Here, let me see it.” I was going to object that I didn’t need it, but truthfully the pain had gotten worse, so I figured it might help. She wrapped it around my arm and between my thumb and forefinger, then fastened it with two little elastic hook things. “When I had to wear this on my ankle they said to keep it elevated and ice it for twenty minutes four times a day,” she said.

“Okay. Uh… you have washed it since then, right?”

Barbara laughed. “Yes. I was going to take it back to the nurse, but I kept forgetting about it. You can keep it; I’m sure they have plenty more.”

“Thanks. Well, I’d better go.” We said goodbye, and I started home.

*

I did the reading I had for homework with an ice pack on my wrist, but it still hurt too much for me to try writing, so I left my books on the table and figured I’d explain to Quint when he got home. Which sucked, because I had been hoping that it would be better by then and I wouldn’t have to explain anything to him. Particularly just why I had fallen.

I decided to distract myself with music, which is how it happened that when Quint walked through the door he found me singing and dancing between the bookcase and the couch as “Dancing Through Life” from the Wicked original cast recording played through the living room’s stereo system. He smiled at first, and then he noticed the wrap and the smile was replaced by a look of concern. He crossed the apartment to me without even taking his shoes off, dropping his briefcase on the desk as he passed it.

“What did you do?” he asked, taking my hand and starting to undo the wrap.

“I fell and put my hand back to catch myself like this,” I said, demonstrating how I had landed with my right hand.

He set the wrap down on the bookcase and took both my hands in his, then asked, “How did you fall?”

“The floor was wet, and I slipped. I didn’t see the caution sign until it was too late,” I answered, completely truthfully if not completely honestly.

I could tell he had already switched to doctor-mode; some of the worry faded and was replaced by a focused look. He always does that when I get hurt. Not that I mind. Calm, competent efficiency with just a touch of concern is very reassuring.

He looked from one wrist to the other and said, “It’s swollen. Have you put ice on it?”

“Yeah, I had an ice pack on it for at least half an hour earlier. Barbara gave me the wrap.”

“Good,” he said. “Squeeze my fingers as hard as you can with both hands.” I did, but I couldn’t squeeze as hard with my left hand. It hurt too much. Quint saw me wince and dropped my right hand. “Can you press your fingers down against my palm?” he asked. I did, and he said, “What about pressing up?” and moved his hand over mine.

I tried and then stopped. “That really hurts.”

“Do you have any tingling or numbness in your fingertips?”

“No.”

“Okay,” he said, taking my hand again, “I want you to tell me when this starts to hurt.” Then he proceeded to apply pressure with his thumb against the back of my hand.

I shook my head. “It doesn’t hurt there.” He started moving his thumb down a bit and pressing again, slowly working his way towards my wrist, until he hit a tender spot and I said, “Ow.”

“What about here?” he asked, moving down another few centimeters on my arm.

“No, it’s only when you’re right on my wrist,” I told him.

“Okay, now I want you to tell me where it hurts the worse,” he said, and started pressing against various spots on my wrist. It hurt, but the pain was bearable until he pressed against the base of my thumb. I hissed and reflexively tried to jerk my hand away. “Sorry. That’s the worst spot?”

“Yeah.”

“Can you make a circle with your thumb and forefinger?” he asked. I did, and he said, “Good. Now try to hold that.” He hooked his finger through the ring I had made and pulled against it.

“It hurts, but I can do it,” I said.

He nodded and picked up the wrap, winding it back on me much more efficiently than Barbara had. “You need x-rays,” he said as he fastened it. “Grab your iPod; we’re going to be in the ER for awhile.” He turned to the desk and opened the file drawer, taking out the folder of my medical information, and then walked towards the door as I stood there in dismay.

X-rays? I can’t wear a cast! The spring concert is in two weeks!

“Theo, hurry up,” Quint said. I refocused and saw he was standing next to one of the bar stools at the peninsula and holding my Chucks. “I’ll help you get your shoes on. Get your wallet, too.”

I went to unhook my iPod from the stereo, trying to decide if I should stay quiet and worry or ask him and potentially remove all hope. I stuck the iPod and my earbuds in my pocket, then grabbed my wallet from my bag. I sat down on the bar stool and pulled my Chucks on, and Quint crouched down to tie them for me. “Quint?” I asked, deciding I couldn’t deal with the suspense.

“Yes?” he replied as he tightened my laces.

“How likely is it that I broke my wrist?”

He stopped and looked up, and from his expression, he saw the nervousness in mine. He lost some of the ‘doctor’ air and his face softened with sympathy. “I can’t give you an exact probability, angel. You may have a fracture to your scaphoid bone, which is the bone at the base of your thumb, or it may just be a bad sprain. That’s why you need x-rays.”

“Can we just wait a few days and see if it gets better with the wrap and ice?”

Quint shook his head. “If it is fractured, it needs treatment to heal properly, and the sooner the treatment starts the better.”

“Treatment means a cast, right?” I asked miserably. “Would that stop me from moving my thumb?”

“If it’s fractured, yes, you’d need a cast that would cover part of your thumb. But we don’t know yet, so I don’t want you getting worked up over it. Understood?” I bit the inside of my lip and nodded, and he finished tying my shoes and then stood up. “Have everything?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, let’s go.”

*

It took twenty minutes to get to the closest ER. I suggested we go to Washington Heights, where Quint’s hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian, is, because he could get me into x-ray sooner there, but he said when you added it the time it would take to get there it wouldn’t be that much quicker. Plus he doesn’t like asking for special favors like that if he can help it.

Once we got there, Quint filled in the paperwork while a nurse took me to get my temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Then he read a magazine with his arm draped over my shoulders, while I leaned against him and listened to music and tried not to worry about not being able to play any for six weeks. Not only would a cast prevent me from playing piano, but I play guitar right-handed, so my left hand is the one that holds the neck. I didn’t think I’d be able to do that without the use of my thumb.

It was nearly an hour and a half before I was called in — which is pretty good for a New York City ER. Quint came with me, and I was glad he did when the doctor, a middle-aged brunette woman with bright red lipstick, wanted to do all the poking and prodding again. Quint showed her his hospital ID, explained that he’d already examined me, and then said a bunch of medical stuff about where the pain was located and my range of movement.

“Alright,” she said, “we’ll get you into x-ray in just a minute.” She left, pulling a curtain across the entrance to the little alcove where the exam table was, and ‘just a minute’ turned into half an hour. Quint sat in a chair reading a magazine from the waiting room, and I lay back on the crinkly paper covering the table and listened to Beethoven. We didn’t talk, but he put his hand on my uninjured wrist and stroked it absentmindedly with his thumb while as he read.

Eventually, a nurse came and took me to a room down the hall. She took off the wrap and had me hold my wrist in various positions for the x-rays, but the only one that really hurt was when I had to have my palm and forearm flat on the table and my hand bent about forty-five degrees clockwise. Then she re-wrapped it and led me back to Quint, telling us it should only be a little while longer. After what the doctor had said, I didn’t trust that, but apparently the nurse could estimate time better, because it was only another ten minutes before the doctor came back and put the x-rays up on one of those lighted wall panels.

I’ve had to have x-rays before, and of course I know what they look like, but I’ve never actually seen one of me. It was a bit strange, to tell the truth. I mean, you know that you have a skeleton, but you don’t think about it that much, so it’s not really real until you’re looking at a picture. It made me think about my skull, which was kind of morbid.

Quint and the doctor both looked at the pictures, and Quint pointed out the scaphoid bone to me, among the many other bones that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle in the wrist. They talked for awhile to each other in medical-speak, but I got the gist of it. They didn’t see any signs of a break.

I was just starting to feel relieved when the doctor broke the bad news. “Sometimes a fracture won’t show up on an x-ray right away, so I’m writing you a referral to get another done in ten days, and in the meantime I’d like you to wear a spica splint just in case. The splint will hold your thumb still. Even if it is just a sprain, it’ll help you heal faster than that wrap, and it’ll be easier to take on and off,” she said.

My heart sank. That meant no piano or guitar for the next ten days, at least. “It could still be broken?” I asked dejectedly.

Quint answered. “Possibly.” He took my right hand in his and squeezed it. “We don’t know for sure yet. Remember what I said.”

I tried to heed his reminder and not get worked up, but I had to ask. “How long would I have to wear a cast?”

“It depends on the fracture,” the doctor said. “Sometimes the scaphoid bone takes longer to heal because some parts of it don’t have a good blood supply.”

“So it could be longer than six weeks?” I asked, trying not to let my distress show.

“Theo,” Quint said quietly, still holding my hand, “you need to calm down a little.”

Apparently, he could read my emotions better than the doctor, because she gave him a sort of puzzled look and then said, “Yes, it could be. But if it’s fractured, not having a cast on for long enough would be the bigger problem. That could cause long-term damage.”

“I understand,” I said, taking a deep breath. “Sorry,” I added to Quint. He rubbed my back with his free hand.

“Alright,” said the doctor, “I’m just going to take off the wrap so I can measure your wrist for the splint.” She did, with one of those little flexible tape measures like tailors use, and then said, “You can leave that off. I’ll be right back.”

As soon as she’d closed the curtain again, Quint said, “If it’s just a sprain, it may be better in time for your concert, and if it’s a break I’m sure they’ll understand.”

“I know,” I said. “I just don’t like the thought of not being able to play for that long.”

“I know,” he said, “But trust me, your talent won’t go away. It’s more important that this heals properly.”

I nodded, and a moment later the doctor was back with the splint. It was a black nylon and foam thing with a hard plastic piece that ran along the bottom of my forearm and curved into my palm, and a molded part that fit around the outside of my thumb. I slid my hand into it palm-down and she fastened a velcro strap around my thumb to hold it still and then tightened the three velcro straps running down the back of it. It provided a lot more support than the wrap had, and actually did make my wrist feel a bit better.

“It should feel comfortable and be tight enough that it doesn’t move easily, but not so tight that your fingers start to feel very cold or numb, okay?” she asked. I nodded, and she continued, “Take it off and put the wrap back on when you ice it over the next couple of days, and keep it elevated above the level of your heart as much as possible. You can take ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin for the pain, just make sure you follow the dosage instructions on the package.” I wondered why she was telling me all this when she knew Quint was a doctor, but I figured it must be a policy or something. She handed me a paper and said, “Here’s your referral for the orthopedist. You can call tomorrow and make an appointment.”

Quint and I both thanked her, and we left. It was way past our usual dinner time by then, and on the way out Quint suggested going somewhere to eat, since he didn’t feel like cooking so late. At least, that was the reason he gave, but I think he was also trying to cheer me up. Why else would he let me get pizza on a Wednesday?

*

The pizza did make me feel a little better – or at least, it distracted me for awhile. By the time we got home, it was nearly ten, and Quint said, “I need to check my email. I want you to start getting ready for bed.”

“Okay,” I said, heading for the bathroom to brush my teeth. I had just rinsed when I heard him call me into the living room. “What?” I asked, walking over to the desk where he was sitting.

“I remembered that it said they update the attendance records daily, so I thought I’d check it,” he said, looking at me.

“Oh,” I said. Yep, there was another ‘T’ in the row. “It was barely a minute, though,” I defended myself. “And I would have been on time if I hadn’t fallen.” That made him slowly stand up and raise an eyebrow at me, and I realized my mistake.

“Theodore,” he began, very deliberately, crossing his arms and sitting on the edge of the desk, “tell me again how you fell. And I’d like the full story this time, please.”

I took a step back and leaned against the back of the couch, unconsciously protecting my butt. “I already told you,” I said, “The floor was wet and I didn’t see the sign until it was too late.”

“Why not?”

I shrugged uncomfortably and looked toward the window, and he caught my chin with his hand and turned me back to face him.

“Answer me, young man.”

I sighed and finally admitted, “I was running to get to class on time.”

Quint frowned. “I thought fifteen minutes was plenty of time for you to get there from the cafe.”

“I… might’ve left a little bit after 2:45. Drew was in the middle of telling a story when the alarm went off, and I wanted to hear the rest of it. And then Nicole wanted to walk with me, so I had to wait for her to finish.”

“I see. You couldn’t have waited to hear the rest of the story later and explained to Nicole that you didn’t want to be late?”

“I guess I could have,” I said, squirming under his logic. After a moment, Quint took my uninjured hand and started leading me around the couch. “Quint!” I exclaimed when I realized his intent, trying to pull my hand free. “Don’t you think hurting my wrist was punishment enough for that?”

“Yes, I do,” he said, stopping and turning around to look at me. “I think that was the natural consequence of your decision to ignore the alarm and then ignore safety rules and run to class to make up for it. But I’m spanking you because you were dishonest with me earlier today when I asked why you had fallen.” I opened my mouth to object that everything I had told him was true, but he pulled one of his mind-reading tricks and said, “You know very well that there’s a difference between truth and honesty. What you told me was true, but it wasn’t the whole truth, was it?”

Objection overruled. Quint’s always said he would hate being a lawyer, but I think he’d be quite good at it. After all, he gets plenty of practice in cross-examining me. Not to mention playing judge and jury.

“So if I had told you the whole truth earlier I wouldn’t have been spanked?” I asked.

“Yes.”

I thought about that for a moment and then said, “Well, that sucks.”

Quint raised an eyebrow at me. “It’s the same way it’s always worked, Theodore. You get into more trouble lying to me than being honest.”

“Yeah, but usually I’d get into trouble if I’m honest, too.”

“Which makes it okay to lie?”

“No, sir,” I said, seeing his point. I really don’t like it when he does that.

So without any further discussion, he tugged me the rest of the way around the couch, sat down, and undid my pants, then bared my bottom and pulled me down over his lap, being careful of my injured wrist. “Lying is never acceptable in this relationship,” he began, bringing his palm down on my upturned rear every couple of syllables, “whether you think telling the truth will get you into trouble or not. Dishonesty will always make it worse. Is that clear, young man?”

“Yes, sir,” I said tightly, clenching my teeth at the sting he had lit in every inch of my tail.

He stopped lecturing and concentrated on increasing that sting until I was sniffling, but not outright crying. Then he landed the four harder swats to my thighs and pulled me up. He hugged me and rubbed my back for a moment, then said, “Come on. It’s late; let’s get you into bed.” I nodded and stood up, letting my jeans and boxers fall to the floor, since I would be putting pajamas on anyway. I stepped out of them and Quint picked them up, then he led me into the bedroom and dropped them in the hamper. He took a pair of my pajama pants from the dresser and sat on the edge of the bed to hold them so I could step into them, then he stood up and said, “I have to go brush my teeth. I’ll be back in just a minute.”

“Can I come with you?” I asked, still feeling clingy from the spanking.

He gave me a small smile and said, “Come on.”

So I went into the bathroom with him and stood leaning against his left side with his arm around me as he brushed his teeth. After he’d rinsed, he filled the cup up with water again and took a bottle of Tylenol PM from the medicine cabinet. He had me swallow two of the pills with the water and then took me back to the bedroom. I climbed into bed and watched him change by the light of the lamp. (He was still wearing a suit, since he hadn’t changed when he got home.) The long, emotionally exhausting day and the Tylenol combined to knock me out almost as soon as he climbed in beside me.

*

The next morning, I called and scheduled the appointment with the orthopedist, and when I went to school I explained to the concert director what had happened, and she agreed to wait until we knew what exactly was going on before we made any decisions.

The ten days of waiting went by agonizingly slowly. At first, it seemed that the pain wasn’t decreasing at all, although the swelling did go down with the ice therapy. But on the sixth day I noticed I was using my thumb as much as the splint would let me, almost without thinking about it. Quint noticed, too, and told me not to do that, because no matter how much better it felt I could still mess it up by using it too much.

I’ll admit I let the stress of not knowing, my unhappiness at not being able to play music, and the fear of the worst get the best of me at times. Quint was very patient and good at thinking of ways to distract me or cheer me up when I was depressed, but I still got swatted and cornered a few times for having a bad attitude. Once because I wouldn’t talk to him, twice for stomping and snapping, and once because when he said “Theodore” in his warning voice, I answered, very sweetly, “Yes, Rafferty?” something I only do when I’m feeling particularly insolent. As usual, after some time staring at the paint, I settled down and started to feel ashamed.

All in all, it wasn’t the most pleasant time period. I got the feeling he was looking forward to (and, at the same time, dreading) my appointment almost as much as I was.

The appointment was scheduled for Friday morning, and Quint had asked for a few hours off work so he could come with me. I was a bit moody at breakfast and before we left he sat me down for a Talk.

“Theo, I know how hard this is for you, but you need to remember that no matter what the diagnoses, it isn’t the end of the world. You will get better; you just need to have some patience with your body while it heals itself. The next few weeks are not going to be like the last ten days, in terms of your injury or your behavior. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, sir,” I said quietly, feeling ashamed again about how I’d been treating him. None of this was his fault, after all. It was the fault of that Nazi professor. (I’m joking. Sort of. I still think part of it is the Nazi’s fault.)

We waited for a much shorter time at the orthopedist’s office, and Quint went in with me when they called my name. The doctor (this one was a good-looking blond guy in his thirties that reminded me of Dr. Chase on House, except that he wasn’t Australian) had me take off the splint and did all the same tests Quint had done that first day, only I could do them better this time because there wasn’t so much pain. I figured that had to be a good sign, but he didn’t do anything but ‘mmm’ noncommittally and say that someone would come in a minute to take me for more x-rays.

I left Quint in the exam room when the nurse came. She had me do all the same positions as before, and yes, that one where I had to turn my hand clockwise still hurt like hell. Then I went back to the exam room to wait again. Quint picked up on my nervousness. Maybe it had something to do with the way I was drumming my feet against the side of the table as I sat on it. He sat down behind me and pulled me back against him, so when the doctor came back he found me with Quint’s arms wrapped around my chest. Normally I would have pulled away in the presence of a stranger, but I didn’t want to give up his strength until I heard the diagnoses. Quint made no move to untangle us, either, and Dr. Not-Chase didn’t comment.

He pulled the x-rays out of the envelope he’d brought in with him and stuck them on the lighted wall panel, and then started pointing out the areas of interest. I really couldn’t care less what exactly each of my carpal bones are for, I just wanted to know if any of them were fractured. I couldn’t see anything different from the first pictures, but I’m not an expert. Eventually, he came to the point and told me there weren’t any breaks. I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding, and Quint rubbed one of my upper arms.

“You should still wear that splint until you’re feeling less pain,” Dr. Not-Chase said. “Once you can grip things and use your thumb without it hurting you can take it off, but you may still have some lingering pain in your wrist. You can help lessen that by doing some basic stretches.” He demonstrated, pushing his hands together in a prayer position and bringing them slowly downward. “If it doesn’t completely fade in a month, you should make another appointment with me.”

“I’m supposed to play piano in a concert next Friday. Do you think it’ll be healed enough by then?” I asked anxiously.

“It’s hard to say. Every injury heals at a different rate,” he said. “I’d say try taking the splint off on Monday and practice playing for a few minutes, just to see how it feels. If you’re doing okay, and you don’t feel the pain is too much, you can increase your practice time each day, but you should keep the splint on the rest of the time and rest it as much as possible.”

“Okay,” I agreed, mentally crossing my fingers in hope that it would decrease my healing time.

*

When we got home, Quint told me that I wasn’t to practice or take the splint off unless he was there to supervise. He also said, “If it starts to hurt more, you’re to stop playing immediately and put the splint back on. Don’t even think of trying to hide increased pain from me. Is that clear?” I yes-sir’ed, and on Monday I met him at the door when he got home from work and asked if I could practice yet. It had been nearly two weeks since I’d played my piece for the concert, and I was chomping at the bit.

He had me take the splint off and did all the poking and prodding stuff again. At first he was concerned because it still hurt a lot when he applied pressure to the spot at the base of my thumb, but when I pointed out that the pain was negligible when I made the range of motions that are necessary to play piano, he finally gave his consent. He wound the elastic wrap around it first, so I would have some support. It was only for fifteen minutes, but that was enough to run through my piece twice, and I was feeling much better when he called an end to the session.

The next day I was allowed to practice for thirty minutes, and I could finally let the concert director know that I would be able to play on Friday after all. She excused me from the rehearsals except for the one on Thursday night, so I wouldn’t be overdoing it. I was still worried — the song had an accompaniment from the orchestra, and I hadn’t practiced with them yet — and I tried to convince Quint to let me go to the rehearsals, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He assured me that the director knew what she was doing, and if she thought one session with the orchestra before the performance was enough, then it was.

I tried arguing my point some more, and he said, “Theodore, I’ve given you my answer, and I’m not going to change my mind. Drop it, or I’ll send you to the corner.” I sighed and gave up, knowing he meant it.

Wednesday, I practiced for forty-five minutes while Quint made dinner. At first eating with the wrong hand had seemed very awkward, but I was getting the hang of it. After we ate, he said, “I have a small headache. I think I’ll go lie down for an hour.”

“Okay,” I said, feeling sympathetic. “I can clear the table.”

“Thanks, angel.”

He went into the bedroom and closed the door, and I put the dishes in the dishwasher and then sat down on the couch and turned the TV on, making sure to immediately turn the volume down so it wouldn’t disturb Quint. Flicking through the channels proved that age-old adage, ‘there’s nothing to watch.’ I bit my lip and looked at the synth in the corner. There was still one section in the middle of my piece that was giving me trouble, and if I plugged my headphones in….

It’s not like it really hurts that much anymore, anyway.

I stood up and dropped the remote on the couch, leaving the TV on so Quint wouldn’t wonder what I was doing. I took my headphones out of the entertainment stand and plugged them into the jack on my synth, sitting down in the chair as I fitted them over my ears.

I’ll just run over that tricky part a few times until I get it.

Five minutes later, I was halfway through my second attempt when I hit the wrong note again and stopped, sighing in frustration. I shifted in the chair and then put my fingers over the keys, ready to try again.

“Theodore William!”

I jumped and my fingers hit the keys, and the resultant discord sounding in my ears drowned out the first part of what he said next, but the tail end of it was ” – back on now.” I quickly took the headphones off and picked up my splint from the top of the synth, sliding it back over my hand without bothering to undo any of the straps.

“Come here, young man,” Quint commanded. He was sitting in the middle of the couch with his hand held out to me and looking very grim, which could only mean one thing.

“Quiiinnt! It doesn’t hurt any more than usual, I swear!”

“I made it perfectly clear that you weren’t to practise without my supervision, and that forty-five minutes was enough for today.”

“You have a headache,” I tried desperately. “This can wait until -”

“It isn’t waiting. Come here, now. I won’t ask you again, Theodore.”

I sighed and got up, dragging my feet with each step as I walked over to surrender myself to his tender mercies. Ha. Tender, my foot. Or more accurately, my ass, when he was done.

I don’t know if it was because we both obviously knew what I’d done wrong, or because he had a headache, but we didn’t do the whole agonizing discussion beforehand and lecture during. He just stripped me below the waist and over I went, and he got right down to business. He didn’t stop when I was sniffling this time, either. Nope, it was the full pleas-and-sobs, kicking-feet, flesh-on-fire show. I actually put my right hand back to cover a particularly hot spot near the end, which I don’t often do when he’s only using his hand. Quint didn’t miss a beat, just pinned it to the small of my back and continued on. A few swats later, he moved down to my thighs and then stopped.

I gasped and tried to catch my breath through my sobs, and when he let my hand go I used it to wipe at the tears that were running down my face. “Angel, I know this is hard for you,” he said, rubbing my back under my t-shirt, “but overusing that hand will just increase the time it takes to heal.”

“I know,” I said miserably. He had told me the same thing several times over the past few days. “I’m sorry.”

He pulled me up and gave me a hug. I buried my face in his shoulder and felt him shift and reach behind his back. After a moment he said, “Theo, how many times have I told you the remote goes on the coffee table, not between the couch cushions?”

“Sorry,” I said, pulling back to see his look of amused exasperation. I took the offending item from his hand and leaned over to drop it on the coffee table. “Do you still have a headache?”

“Yes. In fact, I came out of the bedroom to get some Tylenol.” I winced and looked down, thinking guiltily that spanking your partner couldn’t be a very good painkiller. Quint kissed my temple and said, “Why don’t you come lie down with me?”

That sounded like an excellent idea.

*

I stood in the wings of the concert hall, nervously doing finger exercises as I waited for my cue. I had taken off my splint only a few minutes before and the stage manager helped me put the wrap on. The lights went down and the stagehands rolled the grand piano out to center stage. I knew that in the orchestra pit the conductor was preparing to raise his baton to direct my accompaniment.

The lights came up and I took one last deep breath, then walked out to the piano bench. I gave the audience a small bow before sitting down, and then forgot about them as I concentrated on letting the music out of the instrument.

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