When Clay Strong was admitted into the hospital for emergency surgery, he first thought it was the worst thing to ever happen to him until he laid eyes on his OR nurse Lizzie. He could only see her eyes but knew he wanted to see more of her. She laughed and told him it was the medicine talking, but Clay knew better.
Clay had been working with Jade in a complex job for NASA for the past five years, developing intricate equipment for them, and a new position was opening. Clay was a shoo-in for the job, or so he was led to believe. But when the idiot told him his girlfriend’s “pedigree” didn’t meet their standards, Clay was livid, and so was Jade. Heads would roll for this….
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Jade Anderson would miss the restaurant where she had worked her way through school. The closing was bittersweet, but she was happy that Ms. B was getting to retire. It wasn’t the money. She had more lucrative endeavors than waiting on the tables. It was the regulars that came in she’d miss the most. Especially the elderly Strong couple that used to come in all the time before they passed away.
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The slap to Clay’s back had him turning around to see who had hit him. His temper flared so quickly that he was sure had he had a gun, he would have killed the person behind him. When he saw his brother Trevor there, he had to shake off his anger before speaking. It was the most difficult task he’d ever set for himself. And that had been happening a great deal lately, too.
“What’s wrong, Clay? Why are you looking at me like that?” Clay told his brother that he’d hit him. “I’d been saying your name for the last ten minutes, and you were off someplace. It looked like you were getting more and more pissed off the longer you sat there. What’s up with you lately? You act as if the world is against you or something.”
“I don’t know. I feel pissed off all the time lately.” Trevor told him that he’d noticed that he’d been avoiding the family lately and asked him if that was the reason. “Yes. I don’t want to be in this mood, and one of you would hurt me for being pissy to you because I have no control over it. I’ve been hurt enough over the last few days.
My head is killing me, and I feel like I’m tense all the time. Then when I try to relax, I can’t because my body is too stiff and hurting. Like a never-ending loop of pain and stress.” “Yeah, mom told me about Martin Jameson and his split personalities. To think that he’s been dealing with that all his life, and it had to take him coming to work with you for him to be deemed dangerous. I’m sorry, Clay. It’s a scary thing, mental illness. Especially if you’re not up on your meds the way he was supposed to be.” He asked his brother what he wanted. Even he could hear the snarl in his voice when he spoke to him. “Okay, first of all, take it down a notch. I’m here because mom sent me. Don’t bite my head off for no reason.”
Clay had to stretch his neck to shake off hitting his brother. He walked away from him rather than engage to the point of anger again. It wasn’t until his brother put his hands on his shoulders that he realized something was seriously wrong. He’d been looking for a reason to turn and kill his little brother. Clay sobbed that he was going to die.
“No, you’re not. You’re going to be all right, and I’m going to be by your side until we know what is going on and get it taken care of. I’m going to take you to the hospital right now, and we’ll see what is going on. We’ll just keep it between ourselves until we know anything. Maybe it’s something as mild as an ear infection or something. We’ll go, find out, and then we’ll go from there.” Agreeing to go was one of the hardest things he’d ever done. While he wanted to be angry with his brother, he knew he’d just knock the shit out of him and take him anyway. He told him that. “You’re so right on that. There is something off about you, Clay, and I’m worried about you. If it takes me knocking you out to get you help, then that’s what I’m going to do.”
In less time than he thought it should have taken, they were in the emergency department. Since there didn’t seem to be anyone in the lobby, he was taken right back to one of the rooms. After asking questions, most of which his brother answered for
him, Clay could feel his temper getting the best of him, and he had to bite his tongue before speaking. He fucking knew how to answer his own health questions, damn it. But he didn’t say a word and held onto his bedrails so he’d not hit anyone.
“I’d like to get a look at your entire body. I don’t think you have an ear infection, as your brother suggested, but it’s hard to tell sometimes. Once we get the Cat Scan back, we’ll have a better understanding, or at the very least, we’ll be able to rule a few things out.” He agreed with the doctor and was surprised that he was told he’d need an IV. “Also, Clay, I’d like to give you something to lower your blood pressure. It’s higher than I’d like, and there isn’t any sense in you suffering when you don’t have to. It might also take the edge off the headaches you’re having at the same time. All right?”
He was given meds to calm him down, and Clay felt his body relaxing, and just as he said, his headache began to lessen. Once he was feeling good, he was taken to get his scan. Trevor said he’d be there in the room waiting for him when he returned. True to his word, he was sitting in the chair watching television when he was finished being scanned. Clay started to sob he was so relieved that he’d not left him. Trevor asked him if he had heard anything. Again, his temper flared up.
“I just got back. Do you think they just told it all to me coming down the hallways on what they were able to find?” Counting to ten, he told his brother he was sorry. “I hate feeling like I’m ready to kill someone. All the fucking time.”
“I’m glad that you agreed to come in, Clay. I’m seriously worried about you.” Trevor held his hand while he dozed in and out of sleep after getting another dose of medication. He knew, too, that he’d not been sleeping all that well and was glad for the meds to allow him to be out. When he woke once, Trevor was gone. He wasn’t angry this time, but he did wonder where he’d gone. As soon as he came into the room, having gone to get something to eat, Clay realized that it had been a couple of hours since he’d had his scan.
“I was talking to one of the nurses in the cafeteria. She said the hospital has been running so much better since Pauly was fired. Not to mention, she said that the raises that they were promised are coming through and backdated. They’re thrilled, as you can imagine.” He said that he was happy for them all. “You’re looking a little tense again. I’m wondering if the drugs are wearing off.”
“I feel tense again. Like, I want to bite your head off. You’ve not done anything yet, here I lay wondering if I could snap your neck without having to move much.” Trevor asked him if he wanted to kill him. “No. Not kill but just hurt you. That’s not like me. Not at all. It makes me sick to my stomach to even think of shit like that.”
“No, it’s not like you.” A nurse came in and gave him more of the same medication that he’d been given before. As he began to mellow out, the doctor came to speak to them. First, he asked if it was all right if Trevor was there.
“He’s responsible for me being here, so yes, I want him here.” Grabbing his brother’s hand, he looked at the doctor. “Is it bad? I mean, I don’t want to tell you that I can take it because, frankly, I’m terrified out of my mind right now.”
“We found something on your brain. We’ll have to run some tests on it to see what we’re dealing with. However, I don’t think it’s cancer.” Clay wanted his parents.
Right now. Asking the doctor if he could hold off on talking to them until their parents arrived. He nodded. “I was going to suggest that, but I didn’t want to step on your toes. You were smart to agree with your brother about coming in here, Clay. As I said, I don’t know what we’re dealing with right now, but it’ll help you to have your family here to help you cope.”
Mom and dad showed up in twenty minutes. They’d been out, going to dinner, when Trevor called. He’d not realized that he’d called his brothers until they started showing up one at a time. Even Jade and her mom came into the room with them. Eventually, they were moved to another, larger room, and everyone, including him, where seated around a large conference table. His scans were put on a monitor so that everyone could see them.
Clay could see the mass in his head. It was just above his ear and seemingly large. He felt his anger and other emotions begin to take hold of him when his mom put her hand on his. That was all it took for him to regain control. Christ, he was a mess right now.
“As you can see here, there is a mass along the left side of his face. The darkness around it is approximately two centimeters. When he’s stressed, as he was when he came in, it presses against the amygdala triggering his emotions. It could well have been fear or any other emotion, but anger is the one that is making its presents known to all of you around him.” Jade asked him why no one had seen it when he’d been in the hospital yesterday when Martin had punched him in the face. “I don’t think they were looking for anything other than to make sure that there were no cracks in his skull. Which there isn’t. But I went and had a look at the other scan that they did, and it’s visible. We’re lucky that Trevor here knew something was off about his brother and made sure that he was brought in.”
Clay looked over at Jade when she said his name quietly. Clay felt the tears of stress start to roll down his cheeks. He told her that he was beyond terrified right now and didn’t know what to do.
“You’re going to do as your told, and we’ll get you fixed up.” He nodded. “No, you don’t believe me. Say it, Clay. You’re going to be just fine, and we’ll all work together to help you with this. All right?”
“Yes. I’m going to be just fine, and I’ll do what I’m told.” She kissed him on the cheek. “I needed that, Jade. Thank you. I just thought I was going through a phase or something.”
“You’re much too young to be hitting your menopause, Clay.” He told her he thought it was a mid-life crisis when you were male. “If you give me any shit, you’re going to wish for it to be a crisis and not another injury.”
Clay couldn’t help it. He laughed. Drawing attention to himself in the process, he waved the others back to the conversations. For the first time since he started having these unwelcomed meltdowns, he did believe that he was going to be all right.
“I have a surgeon coming in tomorrow to evaluate you, Clay. I’m going to put you on a clear liquid until midnight. Then, if he thinks it’s what I’m telling you, he’ll do the operation at that time. While it’s not life or death that it happens soon, I’m sure you
and your family want to get this over with so you can get on the mend.” He was all for that and agreed with the doctor. “All right then. We’ll set you up in a room on the surgical floor tonight, then you’ll be taken back there after recovery. You’re going to be a fine, young man. We’ll keep you on the medications you’ve been taking so you can rest well.”
Trevor left him before his parents did. They wanted to spend the night, but the doctor said they’d be better in their beds tonight so that they’d be rested up so that tomorrow wouldn’t feel so stressful because they’d be approaching it with a good night’s sleep in their own bed. Clay didn’t want to argue with him about someone staying with him, but his parents were going to need to sleep. He even gave them a little bit of a relaxant to take when they got home.
It was nearing midnight when he’d had all the tests he’d need in the morning. Trevor came into the room with a knapsack. Taking out an air mattress as well as a sleeping bag and pillow, Clay cried for nearly an hour before he was able to get his emotions in check. His brother hadn’t left him alone. He didn’t know what he would have done if he’d not been there for him all along.
“I came here to see you through this big brother. I’m not going to leave you here by yourself, no matter what the doctor says. I’ve eaten so I’d not tempt you with food and had plenty of drink. I’m staying right here until you’re ready to bust out of this place and head home.”
The nurses were in and out of his room. A couple of times, he woke up to Trevor talking to them. By the time the sun was coming up, he’d already had his gown changed out and his hair put in some kind of netting. The doctor had seen his scan and saw no reason to put off the surgery. Clay’s family came in when they were giving him something more to make him relax. Clay could barely form words but thought he’d gotten it across that he was glad they were there.
Being wheeled down to the surgical floor, Jade stopped them before he could get on the elevator. She kissed him on the mouth quickly and told him to behave himself, or she’d be the one cutting him open. He winked at her, about all he could manage at the moment, and she smiled. By the time he was put onto the table to be operated on, Clay was feeling his tension build back up.
“No need for that, young man. I’ve got you. And I’ve done this kind of surgery a few times. You’re in good hands.” He nodded and asked how long it would take. “You’ll never know anything other than you’ll close your eyes, and when you open them, it’ll be over. Just let me do the worrying, and you relax. I’m going to take good care of you, son. Trust me.”
“Nervous.” He nodded over his shoulder, and Clay turned to look. There was a woman standing behind him dressed in so much paper that he could only see her eyes. “You have pretty eyes. I bet the rest of you are pretty too.”
The woman laughed. Wiping his chin, she told him that he was drooling and that she was going to bump up his meds so that he could sleep. Clay felt the medication drift over him so much stronger than it had when he’d been getting medications from the nurse. He must have spoken out loud because beautiful eyes spoke to him.
“I have the good stuff in here. You just breathe in and out, Mr. Strong, and you’ll be sleeping better than you have in a long time.” He tried to ask her what her name was. “Lizzy. Short of Elizabeth. And I don’t usually date the people that I have to work on. So keep that in mind when you wake up.”
“Did I ask you out?” She nodded, and he felt himself drifting. It was getting hard for him to focus on anything until she told him to stop fighting it and let it work. “I’d like to have dinner with you soon.”
As soon as he closed his eyes, there wasn’t any way for him to open them. Clay didn’t know what they were giving him, but it did feel like the good stuff. He was going to invest it in when he was awake, he told himself before there was nothing left of his thoughts.
Jenson listened to the surgeon as he explained what he’d found when he’d cut open Clay. The doctor, Doctor Jamison Fields, said that Clay would be just fine after he woke up and that he would be going home tomorrow so long as he would do as he was told, nor did he have any side effects from the medications that had been used in surgery. It was their mom that said he would be on his best behavior. Then Jade said she’d knock him around if he tried anything stupid.
“Having family support will be good for him. For all of you. As I was saying, it was fairly simple to remove. I looked to make sure that I got it all and sent it off for testing. I don’t believe that there is anything to worry about, but I don’t like to take chances with something on the brain.” Mom asked him what would happen if it turned out to be cancerous. “Let’s not build bridges that we’re not needing right now. Let’s just focus on what we do know. He’s a young, healthy man. Which is the best thing going for him. Clay has a good support system, and we’re going to leave it at that.”
He wondered if the doctor knew that it wasn’t going to happen, to let it wait. Clay was his younger brother, and the very fact that he’d had to have surgery bothered him on all kinds of levels. Jenson wanted to talk to Trevor and ask him what made him bring Clay in. Trevor started speaking almost as if he heard his question.
“When I went to see him in his office the other day, he was pissed off beyond what I thought was right for him. He was trying his best to hold onto his temper, but it would get away from him too. When I told him I was worried about him, he seemed to be relieved that someone was going to help him. I’ve never seen Clay like he’s been for the last few months and less since I’ve been out of town. I can tell you that I noticed right away that whatever was wrong with him was getting worse. I have to admit, when he agreed to go to the E.R. with me, I doubled my worrying.” Doctor Fields said that the headaches alone would have been crushing to him. And having his head hit the way he did might have made it worse. “I’m just glad that he agreed to go in. I told him that if he hadn’t, I had plans to knock the crap out of him and take him anyway.”
“Good for you, young man.” They talked about other things that were going to be happening with Clay. It was unknown how long the mass had been there, but he explained that it might take him a while for the damage that had been done to go away. Jade asked him what sort of damage. “His hearing would have been affected. I’m not
sure how much, but it was pressing against other parts of the area around his face and head. Clay might have lost a bit of his taste. With the brain, it’s difficult to tell what may have been giving him trouble when the mass started to enlarge.”
He didn’t want to hear anything more, so he left the room. A nurse asked him if he’d like to sit in recovery with Clay while he waited for him to wake. That was the best news that he could have heard all day. After getting dressed in a gown and mask, he went into the room with Clay and sat by his bed.
“You can touch him so long as you’re gloved, Mr. Strong.” He told her to call him Jenson. “I can do that. I was in surgery with your brother. I can answer questions you might have now if you’d like. I will admit that he asked me out. He also said that I had pretty eyes. I’ve been flirted with before, but he seemed so sincere about it.” She laughed nervously with him.
He looked at her. “They’re very pretty. A sort of lavender, right?” She nodded and adjusted something on Clay’s IV. “I hate that this had to happen to him. Clay and I have always been close, and this tears me up that he’s going through this.”
“Yes, he is. However, he’s not going through it alone. A family around a person who is ill or has had surgery will make them feel better quicker. He’ll depend on you all a great deal, but the trick is for him to be able to take care of himself too.” He asked her if she was going to go out with him. “I’ve been thinking about it since he asked me. Do you have any objections to him going out to dinner with a surgical nurse? Well, I’m actually an anesthesiologist.”
“So long as he’s happy, I could care less if you had fifty kids and twenty-five ex-husbands.” She laughed with him. “No, really, I don’t care whom he dates. We’re all good men, and I do not doubt that he’ll treat you like a princess.”
“Thank you, Jenson. I might go if he remembers that he asked me. Sometimes it’s the juice they get before surgery that makes them less inhibited about asking people out. We’ll just have to wait and see what he wants.” Jenson had a feeling that Clay would remember and want to date this woman frequently. He liked her and could see why Clay had asked her out.
As he sat with Clay, he told him everything that he could remember about his surgery. He even told him that Jade was going to be upset with him if he didn’t do as he was told. Then Jenson laughed.
“I’m sure that mom and dad will be on your ass too about doing what you’re told. I’ve never seen them so stressed out before. But it’s all good news like we were hoping for, and we couldn’t ask for a better surgeon.” He then told him about the pretty surgical assistant. “Lizzy was just in here. She told me that you asked her out. She’ll go out with you if you remember to ask her again. I’ll try to drop some hints to you when you wake up. I like her if that makes a difference. Not that it should, but I do.”
Jenson watched as the nurses came in and out of the room. He was hooked up to a blood pressure monitor he watched diligently every time it turned on and read his pressure. It never seemed to rise very high, for which he was glad. After the nurses left the two of them again, he spoke to Clay.
“Thanksgiving is tomorrow. We completely forgot about it. Mom said that when you got home, she’d make sure she had everything ready for us all to have a meal together. Then after that, Christmas. After that, I’m going to be married. Can you believe that? I can’t. I’m excited and nervous at the same time.”
He thought about all the plans that were taking place to get himself married to his fast-becoming best friend and the love of his life. Telling Clay about the venue building, he was glad that they’d paid for the other repairs going on. To make it seem less like it was repayable favor.
“I’m not unhappy about the big wedding. However, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone that doesn’t have a great deal of money. The food alone is costing more than I paid for my first year of law school. Mom is so excited to have this going on that I find that I can’t tell her no to things that I don’t care about. I also think that Jade is having fun planning it.” He thought about the gifts that he was going to give his brothers for standing up with him. “No pressure here, but unless you want to be standing up there with a stranger, I’d suggest to Jade that you can find your date.” His dad came into the room with him, dressed like he was, and sat down. “I was just telling him about the wedding.”
“I can’t take any more of the information that the doctor is giving us. I know he was telling us good news all the way around, but it’s about my son, and it was just too much for me. You too?” Jenson told his dad that was why he’d come here. “It’s a good place to be. Have you told him anything about the surgery?”
“Not really. I’ve been rambling about different things. Mostly nothing that matters at all.” Dad nodded. “Before I forget to tell you something, the other day, I heard mom talking about a cruise. When was the last time you took one with her? I think it’s been too long, even if it was only a month ago.”
“I was thinking that same thing just this morning when we were driving in here. That was where we were headed when Trevor called us. To make plans.” Jenson told him about the honeymoon that he was planning with Jade. “Oh, she’ll love that, Jenson. A tour of Europe? I’ve not been there in ages. I’m not going with the two of you, but I am going to think about planning a trip with your mother soon.”
The two of them talked to each other and Clay. When the nurse came in to take his vitals again, she told them he’d be going to his room soon. That they were lowering his medication so that he’d wake up. He asked if he’d be in any pain when he did.
“No. He’ll still have a lot of leftover medications in his system. Getting him to wake up will help us determine if there were any short or long-term issues with him being operated on. Also, with the medication, he was given to put him under.” Dad asked if they thought that would happen. “I can’t tell you for sure, Mr. Strong. But as the doctor pointed out to you, he’s young and healthy. You have to believe that he’s going to be just fine.”
“We will.” When she left them, Dad looked over at him. “It’s difficult to watch your child be in pain. Even more so when you can’t do anything about it. He’ll be fine, I’m sure of it, but no parent wants to see their child hurting like this.”
“I don’t want it either.” About twenty minutes later, Clay turned to look at him. He couldn’t talk yet, his face was tightly bandaged, but he put out his hand to dad, and he took it. Watching dad cry while he told Clay that he was going to be fine hurt his heart too. Seeing his big strong dad crying hurt him deep within his heart.
The surgeon came in to remove some of the bandages just after he and dad had gotten some lunch delivered. Mostly the bandages that were the ones that were wrapped around his head. When he cut them away, Clay could move his mouth. But he was cautioned about doing too much. It would make him sore.
Clay would doze in and out while talking to them. Clay would ask the same questions over and over—did they find any cancer? Was he going to be all right? Things that they didn’t have an answer for yet, but Clay didn’t seem to mind. Then he asked about Lizzy. After explaining to dad who she was, he told his brother what she’d said.
“Why would I care?” Clay dozed off with the promise from him to be awakened if she came by. They were moving him down to his room when he saw Lizzy standing by the nurse’s station talking. Clay woke up and saw her. Smiling at her, he reached for her hand. “There is my pretty date.”
She laughed and asked him how medicated he was. Clay took her hand into his and didn’t let it go when he fell asleep again. Every time she tried to take it back, he’d wake and take her hand into his.“We’ll have dinner.” She asked him if he was hungry. “Not really, but I will be. I’m betting if you kiss me right now, I’ll be so much better.”
“I can’t do that, sir. I’m on duty until midnight. However, I will come by your room to see you after I’m done. I’m not saying you’ll be getting a kiss, but I will go by to see how you’re doing.” He thanked her. When he was in his room again, Jenson thought that the pain was making itself known to him. As soon as he was moved over to his bed, Clay asked for pain medication. That alone told him that he was hurting badly.
Lizzy did come by to see Clay, but he was still in and out of it. He didn’t wake up to talk to her, but she asked him to make sure that Clay knew that she’d kissed him when he did wake. Dad thought it was funny that Clay was doing better with women knocked out than his other brothers were doing fully awake.
“What are you talking about, dad? Clay has always had an easy time getting dates. I swear to you, he’s been practicing his moves since Charlene Bauer kissed him in preschool when he was five.” The two of them laughed. “You should go on home, dad. I’ve got this. He’s going to be released sometime tomorrow, and I know that you and mom are going to be dealing with him, and you’ll need all the rest you can get. Trevor is coming in later to stay with him all night too.”
“I’m so proud of my boys.” Emotional, Jenson told his dad that they had good role models. “I never thought that there was anything wrong with Clay. I have to admit that I was ready to knock him around a bit when he made your mother cry the other day. But he came back into the house and hugged her. To know that he was dealing with this makes me feel like a fool for not making sure he was all right.”
“I don’t think that anyone of us knew what to look for. Trevor had been gone for a week, and when he returned, he saw it. We were too close to him to see what was happening.” Dad said that he should have checked. “You can’t check on us whenever we’re having a bad day and think that it’s something seriously wrong. As I said, we were all too close to him to see anything. The doctor did say that it had grown. There isn’t any telling how long it was there before Trevor came home.”
“I know that. I do. But it doesn’t make me feel any better knowing that he was suffering.” Dad stood up. “I think that I will go home. I told your mom that I’d be home before too much longer. She’s worried, as you can well imagine, and I want to be there for her too.”
Jenson hugged his dad tightly and told him to drive carefully home. Once he was seated with Clay again, Trevor showed up. He’d brought an extra sleeping bag for him, saying that they’d take turns watching him.
“You think we have to watch his every move?” He said that Jade and mom both made him promise that one of them would be awake all the time. “They’re worried. But I don’t know that I could sleep very well without knowing he’s being watched over anyway. This scared the shit out of me.”
“Me too. When he agreed to go to the hospital, I knew that something was wrong. He’s like you in that respect. Stubborn as all hell.” Jenson said he didn’t think of himself as stubborn. “You’re not now that you’ve met Jade. You were close all the time to losing your shit. But differently, than Clay had been. You were just pissed off. He wanted to kill. He told me that. Scared the crap right out of me when he said he wanted to snap my neck.”
“I was hurting.” Clay didn’t move when he spoke from the bed, but they both asked him if he was all right. “Yes. Better but still in pain. But not from the mass or whatever it was. Do you know yet? I’m not nearly awake right now, but if you tell me, I’ll try to remember what you say.”
“We won’t know anything until later. When they come to tell us, do you want us to wake you?” Clay said no, he wanted to rest. “I can understand that. The nurse that was in here before Trevor arrived said they might keep you an extra day. Depending on how well you do tonight. I’d stay if I were you. They’re not going to be giving you the good stuff when you leave.”
“Right now, I think I’d have to agree with you on that. I’m sore like I said, but it seems like my body is hurting too. More than likely, I think, because I was so tense all the time.” Clay couldn’t yawn yet, but he did try. “I’m going to sleep now. See if you two can keep your mouth closed for a while, and we’ll talk tomorrow.”
Telling his brothers good night, Jenson stepped into the hall to call his parents. Telling them that he’d been talking to them, but he was still in pain. He could tell they were both relieved to hear that, and he told them that he loved them.
“We both love you too, Jenson. You stay with Clay and Trevor, and we’ll see you sometime in the morning.” Telling them good night, he hung up. When he went into the room, Trevor was in the chair, and his sleeping bag was on the mattress. He told him it was his turn to watch over him.
Letting him take the watch was all right with him. Jenson messaged Jade to tell her that he loved her as well. Jenson laid down. He was exhausted and worn out. Tomorrow was going to be a much better day. He knew it.