"But does it hurt very much?"
Nikolas smiled at the little girl, whose voice was so full of concern. Maya Anders, a six-year-old patient, had stayed behind after the other children had left the play area. Nikolas beckoned to her with his hand and then knelt down so that they were eye level when she came close to him. He took her hand in his and raised it to the fading bruise just below his left eye. Her small fingers moved lightly across his cheekbone.
"It doesn't hurt anymore," he said, giving her a warm smile.
She beamed at him in reply. "I was happy to help!"
"And, I will be forever indebted to you for all eternity," he said, smiling back at her. Nikolas rose to his full height. Taking her hand in his, he led her to the door. He opened it and on the other side, stood the pediatric nurse, Patty. Maya left with Patty and Nikolas went back inside to prepare the room for the next session of children.
As he put away crayons and other toys, his mind wandered to another brunette with large brown eyes. This one was taller, older and never far from his mind. Dr. Jensen. A week had passed since their date. During that time, he hadn't seen her and she certainly hadn't voiced any concern over her lunatic friend striking him. He had hoped she would call, but when she never did, he told himself to forget about her.
But he couldn't.
He kept remembering the softness of her lips, the scent of her hair and how perfectly she fit in his arms. He felt like such a fool for thinking of her even after the way she pushed him away, but still, he couldn't help himself.
He'd heard about love and how it hurt. He wasn't sure if he could say that he was in love with her, but the pain he felt was definitely excruciating. Definitely.
"Uh, Nikolas. Mind if I talked to you for a second?"
Nikolas turned away from the cabinet of Disney videotapes to greet his guest. A dark scowl crept across his face, as he muttered, "Dr. Scanlon."
"You can call me Joe," the doctor said with an affable smile. He stepped further into the room, closing the door after him. As he moved closer to Nikolas, he released a low whistle. "Whoa. Talk about a shiner."
"Excuse me?" Nikolas responded. He strove for politeness, but his tone was far from it.
Joe took a step back. Shrugging, he gestured towards Nikolas' fading black eye. "Your eye. It looks like you took a pretty hard hit."
"Did you come here to gloat?" Nikolas asked. His hands clenched into fists at his side.
"Gloat?" Joe asked, surprised. "No, why would I? What does your black eye have to do with me?"
"Your brother didn't report to you his success?"
"Report? His success?" Joe scratched his temple and then shrugged again. "He didn't tell me a thing. If he did that to you... Why did he do that to you?"
"That's none of your concern," Nikolas bit out before turning back to the cabinet. He held himself stiff, waiting for Joe to realize that he had been dismissed. He was surprised with the older man placed a strong, non-threatening hand on his shoulder.
"Frank concerns me," Joe said when Nikolas finally made eye contact with him. "He's my brother. I'd like to know what happened."
"Ask him," Nikolas said, shaking Joe's hand from his shoulder.
Joe drew a long breath, but he remained patient. "I'm asking you. Does this have anything to do with Dr. Jensen?"
Nikolas stiffened at the sound of her name, but he didn't respond. He didn't realize it, but his reaction was more than enough response for Joe.
"I thought as much," Joe murmured softly to himself. "Since my brother did that and not Dawn, I'm sure an apology is in order-"
"What?" Nikolas interrupted. "I would never give Dawn cause to strike me!"
"That's a good thing," Joe said. "I taught her how to box years ago. Trust me. You wouldn't want to test her."
"I don't," Nikolas muttered.
"Listen," Joe said, "you're angry and upset. I can appreciate that. My brother can be a hot head. Hell, all Scanlons are hotheads, but he can be a walking inferno if it concerns Dawn."
"So, I've noticed," Nikolas said, rolling his eyes. He winced when he felt a bit a pressure from his left eye.
"His heart is in a good place," Joe explained. "She means a lot to him."
Nikolas shrugged as if to say, 'so.' Joe chuckled softly at that.
"I don't blame you for not giving a damn. Frank can do that to a person. I hope that you haven't let his actions come between you and Dawn."
Nikolas gave Joe a hard look. He wasn't sure if he should trust Joe. He seemed nice enough, but what if he was there for Frank. Perhaps, Frank had asked his brother to... No, Nikolas thought. He'd worked at the hospital long enough to know that Joe wouldn't betray someone. Not even for his own brother. He was an honest man. Nikolas could trust him.
"I'm not sure if I can blame your brother for what's happened..."
Joe asked softly, "What's happened? You and Dawn are still seeing each other, right?"
"We shared a dinner," Nikolas admitted. "One dinner. Everything was fine until we had a minor disagreement and then your brother appeared. He was enraged. He struck me and then I left. I haven't seen or spoke to either of them since."
"It's been a week. Why haven't you called her?" Joe asked, folding his arms as he waited for an answer.
"She should have called me!" Nikolas said, indignant. "Your brother struck me. She knows that his reasoning was in error. She should have... She could have..."
"Maybe she's afraid to," Joe said in a conspiratorial whisper. "You can listen to my small bit of advice or not. The choice is yours. I wouldn't let another hour go by without talking to her. She's a gem. At times a little rough around the edges, but inside, she sparkles like a diamond. If you're a smart man, you'll make your move and you'll make it quickly."
Joe left soon after he made his short speech. As soon as the door closed behind him, Nikolas' cell phone was in the palm of his hand.
Keesha glanced at the silent man beside her and couldn't help but smile. Stone looked back at her and returned her gesture tenfold. Just as they had discovered during their afternoon together, they didn't need words to communicate. A glance and a gesture spoke volumes.
They reached his room and both paused outside of the door. Neither was ready to part, but they knew that the time had come.
"Thanks for helping me today," Keesha said, her voice husky.
Stone nodded. "I liked it. I liked the lights. Very pretty."
Keesha's smile grew. Two complete sentences! His rapid progress made her so happy. "Tonight, the interns are planning to sing Christmas Carols. I'll make sure we stop by here and sing for you, too."
"Keesha," Stone said softly, stopping her as she backed away from him.
"Yes?" she said, giving him a dazzling, quizzical smile.
Stone reached out and caressed her cheek with the back of his hand before he let it fall back to his side. "Keesha...very pretty."
A lump lodged in her throat. She swallowed it back down as best she could. Unable to speak louder than a whisper, she said, "Thank you, Stone."
Before he could say more, she walked away. She had to, she reasoned. Stone's sweet, innocence was intoxicating. She abhorred addictions of any kind, but she knew that she could very easily and willingly drown in his presence. Maybe a little too easily.
A couple of hours later, Stone woke from a brief nap. His dreams had been of Keesha and of twinkling white lights. He laughed softly as he remembered the dazzling glow of the Christmas tree lights as he saw their brilliance for the very first time. He was still laughing as a light tap sounded on his door and it opened.
"What's so funny?" the small woman with the brown hair asked him.
Stone's laughter ceased as he stared back at her. She visited him often, usually when she thought him asleep. He should know her name, but he couldn't remember it. He frowned slightly as she came to sit beside him on the bed.
"It's okay, Stone. I understand that you can't remember. My name is Robin."
"Robin," he repeated. She reached out to caress his cheek and he shied from her touch.
She pulled her hand back. Her pain shown in her eyes, but she smiled in an attempt to mask it. "I'm sorry that I haven't been by. My Uncle's wife is having a baby. She's a little needy right now."
Stone stared back at her as she continued to talk. He didn't understand half of what she was saying. She went too fast, but that didn't truly matter. The truth was, she didn't interest him. The only person who did interest him was Keesha. He continued to look at Robin, hoping she would go away.
"...and now, I came back to listen to the carolers with you. I think it will be great. Everyone singing and happy. Don't you think so, too, Stone?"
"Christmas Carols?" he asked, remembering what Keesha had said to him before she left.
"Yes!" Robin said, nodding vigorously. Her smile stretched from ear to ear. "They will be here soon."
"Keesha, too," he said.
"That's right," Robin said. "You're getting better and better everyday." Impulsively, she moved to hug him.
Stone suffered through her embrace until he came to the verge of screaming. He put his hands on her shoulder and pushed her away. "No. Robin, no."
"B-But.." Her words faded into silence. Tears wet her eyes. She didn't say any more, and when he remained quiet, she grabbed her purse and left.
After Robin's exit, Stone took a deep breath and slowly released it. He then leaned back against the pillows, smiling as he anticipated Keesha's return.
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