Coming to Grips

Chapter One

Kyle Adams rushes down the wide hospital corridor looking for Room 330. The antiseptic smell attacks his nose and his gut churns some more. As long as he focuses on the thick blue line at his feet, he might make it to Chase’s room with his stomach contents intact.

God, he hates hospitals. The building had wavered in front of his eyes for a good fifteen minutes while he sat and stared at it, fingers white-knuckled around the steering wheel, deep breathing and talking himself out of making the forty-five-minute drive back to the ranch.

If it had been anyone besides Chase, he’d have stayed the hell away and welcomed them home when they arrived. But Chase—Chase is his best friend and, well, he’s more than that, even if he doesn’t know it.

Of course, Kyle knows Chase is all right, relatively speaking. A concussion and some sort of damage to his arm. He’ll be released tomorrow, so it can’t be all that bad. But still. Kyle’s heart pounds, and the Sahara has nothing on his throat at the moment, as all his bad memories of trips to the hospital fight against his worry about Chase.

But Chase is fine. Kyle himself is fine. His mother is fine. His little brothers are fine. And his bastard of a father is dead. He stops several feet from Chase’s door and bends over, braces his hands on his knees, and takes a handful of breaths. He’s so close, he can do this. Will do this.

Straightening, he takes the last few steps and knocks lightly on the door.

The door opens slowly and Josh McKinnon, one of the ranch foremen, motions him in. “He’s still a bit out of it, but I’m sure he’ll be glad to see you.”

Kyle takes a few steps inside and sucks in a breath, his heart going into overdrive. Chase’s discolored face brings back a rush of dark memories, but he pushes them aside with a shake of his head. He takes several deep breaths. In through his nose, out through his mouth. A horse had done this—a frightened creature, not an angry bully of a man.

“You all right, man?” asks Josh, bushy eyebrows rising above his steel-colored eyes.

Kyle shakes his head, then nods. This isn’t about him. “I’m okay. Yeah. I’m fine.” He takes a couple more breaths, and his heart resumes a semi-normal rhythm. He searches out Chase’s gaze.

The greenish-gold of Chase’s eyes is clouded. Whether it’s concern or pain meds, Kyle’s not sure. The wrinkles along Chase’s forehead though...definitely worry. Chase knows what it had taken Kyle to show up. Kyle nods. “I’m fine,” he says.

You sure? Chase asks by raising his eyebrows.

Kyle nods once, then again. Yeah, now that he’s here, now that he’s seen Chase, he’s okay.

Kyle rakes a hand through his dusty hair and shrugs. He’d been in such a hurry to see Chase with his own eyes, he hadn’t bothered going back to the cabin and showering. He’d left his hat in the truck, though; he feels kinda naked without it.

Kyle touches Chase’s knee through the thin white sheet and lightweight blanket covering him. A sprinkling of dirt covers his hair and the crease of his neck and elbows. “Hey, man, you look like crap.”

Chase’s left temple and cheek are reddish purplish and swollen. A couple of stitches hold together a small cut above his left eyebrow.

An IV pokes out of his left hand. His right arm displays the same colors as his cheek and is almost twice as big around as the left.

God, he wants to take Chase’s hand, hold it, offer comfort, like any significant other might. But that’s not who they are. Kyle clenches his fists against his thighs. Chase would freak, but Kyle’s feelings are getting harder and harder to hide. He’s never seen Chase even so much as glance at another man, but he’d bet even money Chase isn’t completely straight. But if Kyle crosses the line from best friend to more than friend and things don’t work out, then Kyle will have ruined the one thing in his life he cherishes above everything else.

“I’ve had better days,” Chase says with a bit of a slur. They must’ve given him something for the pain, hence the IV. The quickest and easiest way to administer drugs.

“I’m going to head back,” says Josh, startling Kyle. He’d been so quiet in the background. “Someone will be here tomorrow to get you back to the ranch.”

Chase nods, and a moment later, he and Kyle are alone.

Kyle’s never been so glad that he and Chase opted to live in one of the ranch-owned cabins. Kyle will be relatively close by during Chase’s recovery.

“Dude, you scared the fucking piss out of me,” says Kyle, raking his hands through his hair. Not even going toe-to-toe with his old man at the age of seventeen had shaken him this badly. The time between getting the call about Chase’s injury and walking through that door a few minutes ago had been the longest two and a half hours of his life, even knowing that Chase didn’t have any life-threatening injuries.

“Sorry.”

“Hey, not your fault.” Kyle takes a breath to calm his once-again racing heart. He eyes Chase’s hand lying inert on his lap. “So what’s the prognosis?”

Chase scowls at the offending appendage. “Temporary nerve damage. They say I’ll be out of commission anywhere from six to twelve weeks, and I’ll need physical therapy three days a week.”

“Ugh, yeah, that sucks, man, but don’t worry so much. I’ve got vacation coming—”

Wide hazel eyes look at him in surprise. “Hell no, Kyle. You’re gonna go to Trekstravaganza. You’ve been saving up for that. Looking forward to it. You can’t give that up for me.”

Not giving it up isn’t an option. Chase is his heart, even if he’s clueless, and Kyle shrugs. “It’s a no-brainer. You’re more important than a science fiction con even if the guy playing Jake Sisko from Deep Space Nine is going to be there. There’ll be another one next July.” He grins and Chase shakes his head. “I’ll drive you to rehab. Wipe your ass. Whatever you need. I’ve got your back.”

A faint flush colors Chase’s cheeks and he looks away. Embarrassment looks charming on him and Kyle’s heart thumps hard.

Kyle rubs his thumb over the back of Chase’s hand. The movement finally catches Chase’s eye and his gaze meets Kyle’s with raised eyebrows.

Oh, hell... “Can you feel anything?” Kyle asks, willing the heat in his face not to betray him by turning his flesh any shade of red.

“Uh-uh,” Chase says, watching Kyle’s thumb.

“I’m sorry about your arm,” Kyle says and lets go of Chase’s hand with a pat and stuffs his own into the front pockets of his jeans. He refuses to feel embarrassed, but he hopes Chase is too dopey to notice the color creeping up his neck. That would make more of all of this than Chase needs right now. Luckily, Chase doesn’t seem to be bothered, and the silence stretches comfortably around them. It’s always been this way between them, even during some of their more embarrassing or awkward or deeply personal conversations. Despite the uncomfortable or difficult subjects, they’re almost always on the same wavelength.

A nurse sticks his head in the door and says, “Visiting hours are just about over, sir.” His eyes widen as he recognizes Kyle and then Chase. “Oh, hey, Kyle. Hey, Chase.”

“Morgan, my man, what’s up?”

“Not much.” Morgan comes in and the two clap hands together, pat eat each other’s arms in a bro-hug. He glances at his watch. “Sorry, boys. Time to shut down the wards to inmates only.”

“Yeah. All right.” With a pat to Chase’s leg, Kyle heads for the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Ace.”

“Kyle?”

Morgan disappears into the hall and Kyle stops, looks back.

Chase is all big eyes and soft heart. “You didn’t have to come. I would have understood.”

Chase’s tender heart is just one of the many reasons Kyle fell for him. Kyle’s hatred of hospitals and why is no secret to Chase. Kyle holds his gaze, hoping his love isn’t shining like a damned beacon. “I know you would have, but me not showing up? Fuck that. God, if anything had happened to you, Chase—it doesn’t bear thinking about. Now go to sleep. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

* * *

Kyle spends ten minutes psyching himself up again before he walks through the hospital doors, even though he knows that Chase is fine and that he’s only here to pick Chase up and take him home. His pulse still spikes with his first few steps inside, however. There will never be a day when that doesn’t happen. There are just too many bad memories associated with hospitals. With any luck, he’ll never have to step a foot inside a hospital for years. He pulls in a couple deep breaths and lets them out slowly to bring his heart rate down.

Kyle pushes into Chase’s hospital room to find Chase sitting sideways on the bed, paralyzed arm on his lap, and his legs hanging over the edge. The hospital gown gapes, showing off the tanned expanse of his back, and Kyle swallows. God, what he wouldn’t give to see all that smooth tanned flesh as he enters Chase from behind, to slide his hands down the nodules of his spine, over the muscles of his shoulders… Kyle sighs and pushes away his inappropriate thoughts and quirks his hips to allow his dick to shift inside his boxers.

“Hey, dude.”

Chase looks up, pleased surprise lighting up his features, and Kyle’s heart dances a little two step. God, he’s a goner. One of these days, though, he’s going to have to get over his feelings. Or confess. He’s just not certain the risk to their relationship is worth taking the chance of confessing.

“Hey,” Chase says, his tone not quite as peppy as his initial expression indicated.

Kyle eyes Chase. “You all right?”

Chase shakes his head. “No, I’m fine. Really. Thanks. It’s just...I didn’t sleep well. I’m crusty, my head hurts, and my arm doesn’t freaking work.”

“Yeah, man, life fuckin’ sucks for you right now.”

Chase looks at him with big eyes.

Kyle shrugs. “What? Did you want me to sugarcoat it, blow sunshine up your ass?”

“Well, no.”

“Okay then. Let’s get you home, and we can work on making your life less sucky.”

Two sharp raps sound on the door and a woman reminding Kyle of a football coach he once had walks in. She’s tall and barrel-chested but has soft blue eyes and a headful of soft curls. She glances at Kyle before turning her gaze on the obvious patient. “Chase Lewis? I’m Tabitha. I’ll be your physical therapist for the next few months.” She settles her hands in the pockets of her Kermit-green scrub smock, rather than holding it out for Chase to shake. “Before we let you go, we’re gonna get you started on some exercises.”

“You don’t have to wait here,” says Chase. Whether embarrassment or consideration drive his words, Kyle doesn’t know.

“I’m Kyle Adams,” he says, greeting Tabitha. “I’m actually Chase’s roommate and I’m going to be the one making sure he does his exercises as well as hauling his ass back and forth to rehab. You mind if I stay?”

“Not at all. Good idea,” she agrees with a brightening of her expression and a brisk nod. “Let’s get started.”

Thirty minutes later, Chase is panting and looking distressed with big eyes and flushed cheeks. Tabitha’s shown Kyle how to spot and how to help with Chase’s exercises. She’s also given them both a talking to about Chase asking for help and Kyle not helping too much.

“Go ahead and get dressed. Someone will bring in the paperwork, and once you sign off, you’re free to leave.”

“Thanks,” Kyle says for the both of them.

Tabitha leaves the room with a squeak, squeak of her shoes against the tile.

Kyle eyes Chase who stares at the floor. “So—”

“Can you get a nurse?”

Kyle dismisses the immediate hurt that Chase doesn’t want his help. This isn’t about Kyle, though. It’s about Chase, and if he isn’t quite ready for Kyle to step in, then fine. Once they’re home, tucked up in the cabin, in their shared personal space, it’ll be easier. “Sure, yeah. No problem.”

 

Available For Purchase


January 2018