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    MacGreg
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Dissonance - 29. Money Talks

The toy firetruck, despite its plastic construction, annoyed the hell out of Ben as it repeatedly rammed against his foot. He tolerated the disruption for a while, flipping through a travel magazine, only half-acknowledging the articles inside while his mind churned over the state of Travis. But it didn't take long for his patience to reach its pinnacle. Slamming the magazine shut, he peered down at the tow-headed toddler on the floor and barked, "Hey, buddy, my boot's not a flippin' roadblock, okay? Look! Over there! I think there's a fire. Go put it out!"

With this command, he pointed across the room to another set of chairs where the boy's mother, or grandmother, or whomever the hell she was to the brat, was seated with her back to him, no doubt purposely ignoring his activities. Immediately, the boy seemed keen to participate in Ben's make-believe story. After one final boot bump, he turned the firetruck around and scooted across the carpet towards the new emergency that awaited him. Loud, playful siren noises followed his departure.

Ben exhaled a long sigh. Leaned back in his chair and gazed up at the sound-absorbing ceiling tiles. Almost two hours had passed since Travis had been admitted into the ER, and still, no one was communicating with him about it. Even when he'd put on his best charm and inquired at the desk, he'd received no information. Apparently, red-carpet celebrity-status meant nothing to the staff of this facility; since he wasn't a member of the Cooper family, he had to sit and wait.

While chewing his fingernails down to the core, worst-case scenarios of Travis' condition had consumed him - lung collapse, heart failure, chest surgery, coma. If Travis lay dead on the fucking operating-room table, would someone come out to give him the news...? Alarmist imagination was an ugly pit to fall into and difficult to pull yourself out of once you'd nosedived. Ben resented being at the mercy of the hospital rules, and he especially hated the thought of never talking to Travis again. Losing Travis now, when he'd only just found the man, was too painful to consider.

"Ben?"

The sound of his name jolted him from his sulking. He looked up at the woman who'd addressed him. She was dark-haired, plump around the edges, dressed in the customary scrubs and clogs of the medical profession. A stethoscope hung around her neck. A nurse's sympathetic half-smile graced her round face. "We haven't formerly met yet," she said, stepping forward with an outstretched hand. "I'm Carin."

Ben tossed the travel magazine aside and got to his feet. The nurse's handshake was solid. "You're Curtis' wife," he commented.

"Yes."

"Nice to meet you. So, what's up? How is Travis? Nobody's telling me anything."

Carin slipped her hands into the front pockets of her teal uniform top. Despite being Travis' sister-in-law, she became oddly stoic about the conversation, as though she preferred to remain professional about the matter. "He's stable, for now. We have him on a ventilation machine, which is helping him breathe better."

"On a breathing machine...?" Ben echoed her words with a frown. "What's wrong with him? I mean, is he gonna be all right...?"

"He's got what's called a pulmonary contusion - bruised lung - caused by blunt force."

Immediately, Ben was transported back to the brawl in the Eagle's Nest parking lot. That son of a bitch must have managed to get in a hard chest punch before Travis took him down.

"You and Elaine got him here in good time," Carin continued. "He arrived with pulmonary edema and hypoxemia, which means excess fluid and blood in his chest, coupled with lack of oxygen. A bad combination if left untreated. A chest tube was inserted to release the fluids. We'll keep him on oxygen and monitor him closely for the next 24 hours."

"Jesus Christ..." Ben ran a hand through his hair as he allowed this news to sink in. It was just as serious as he'd feared - yet the outcome was at least palatable, because Travis was alive.

Softening her tone, Carin said, "He'll be fine, don't worry. He's stubborn and determined enough to pull through this."

Ben nodded. Of course he was. He was stubborn and determined about a lot of things. "What about Eric?" he asked.

Peering at him quizzically, she repeated, "What about Eric?"

"You do know about the fight, right?"

"Hmm. Yes, I was told about a fight, but Elaine didn't mention Eric's involvement. That would explain why he came in here last night with multiple contusions, rib and nasal fractures and a shoulder tear."

"Good," Ben mumbled.

"What?"

"Nothing... Is he still here? In the hospital?"

"I'm sure he is. He was in no condition to be released."

"What room is he in?"

Carin narrowed her eyes. "I can't tell you that, Ben."

"No?"

"Hospital rules. Now, want to tell me what's going on?"

He debated explaining things to her. Was she aware of the bad blood between Travis and Eric? Had Travis sought medical attention from her when he'd returned home from Boston? Were they even close? Maybe Carin didn't know a damn thing. She was, after all, Curtis' wife, and Ben didn't know her - didn't know if he could, or should, trust her. In the end, he steered the conversation in another direction. "When can I see Travis?" he asked.

"Well, right now he's recovering in ICU, so it may be a while before visitors..."

"Oh come on, don't leave me sitting out here again," Ben pleaded. "I can't fucking sit here anymore. I know I'm not family, but please..."

"Carin, let him come back for a minute."

This statement came from a disheveled Elaine, who stood a few feet away, having stealthily arrived in the waiting room as though teleported there. She glanced from Carin to Ben with red, puffy eyes, then stepped forward to hook her hand under Ben's elbow.

"Elaine," Carin protested. "You can't just..."

"A few minutes," Mrs. Cooper insisted as she led Ben towards the door. "It'll do Travis good to see him."

*   *   *   *   *

The state of the intensive care room shocked Ben more than he'd anticipated. It was bright and noisy, cramped with equipment, bustling with medical personnel moving to and fro tossing out medical terms like snippets of a foreign language without translation. In the middle of the activity lay Travis, upper body elevated, bruised chest exposed. An alarming amount of tubing and electrode leads trailed across his body like tentacles, hooked up to machinery and IV drips that blinked and bleeped. An oxygen mask covered his mouth and nose, connected to a ventilator which pumped air into his depleted lungs. Ben noticed a longer tube protruding from a small incision on his upper left side, sutured between his ribs, looking to be carrying a small amount of crimson-tinged fluid into a plastic container that was already a third full.

Ben assumed the cowboy was either asleep or unconscious; his eyes were closed, his body still. Only the steady rise and fall of his chest indicated that he was alive. Rather than move forward, Ben remained at the curtain near the door, hesitant to get any closer. Although he'd scrubbed his hands and forearms before entering, he still worried about polluting the sterile environment with his presence.

From behind, Mrs. Cooper lightly nudged him. "Go on," she whispered. "Let him know you're here."

Carefully, he approached the bed, unsure where to go, where to stand, feeling like the metaphoric bull in a china shop. One nurse did a double-take of recognition when he saw Ben, then quickly righted himself and returned back to his task of changing out a drip bag. Travis broke out into a coughing spasm and spewed mucus which pooled inside his mask. Ben watched, dumbstruck, as another nurse bumped past him to attend. This nurse stuck a small tube into a portal of the mask to suck out the goop, then pulled the contraption aside just long enough to wipe the interior of the mask and Travis' mouth and chin clean.

For several more seconds, Travis continued to wheeze as though suffering from an asthma attack. When he finally calmed down, he opened his eyes and squinted out into the room. As soon as he noticed Ben, his expression softened. He wiggled a few fingers to motion him closer, and the nurse stepped aside to allow Ben passage.

Ben approached and produced a smile for the patient. Whispered, "Hey, you..."

Travis was alert enough to turn up the corners of his mouth in return, yet his smile was weak and distorted by the oxygen mask. Although he was no longer pale blue from suffocation, he still appeared sickly. His normally curly locks were damp against his forehead, pressed there by the strap of the mask, and the battle scar across his temple loomed darker.

When Travis tried to lift the mask aside to speak to Ben, the nurse swiftly set it back into place. "That stays on," she announced, to which Travis rolled his eyes.

Ben chuckled at this familiar insolence and said, "It's really good to see you, man." He moved closer until his hip pressed against the bed rail. His inclination was to lay down on the mattress beside Travis, curl up close and hold him, but this was not to be. Not yet, not here. Instead, he said, "I thought they'd never allow me back here. This hospital of yours isn't very hospitable. Nobody wanted to tell me anything. I destroyed my fingernails waiting for news. Even bullied a poor toddler in the lobby."

Travis frowned. Despite the obstruction of his IV tubing, he reached out, took a hold of Ben's hand, and brought it close to his face so that he could examine the mangled fingernail stubs. Then, he moved Ben's hand to his cheek and nuzzled against the warmth of his palm. The IV drip trailed from the tape around his wrist to the metal pole beside the bed, and Ben was careful not to disturb this as he leaned forward. "You really scared the crap out of me today," he whispered, rubbing his thumb against Travis' cheekbone. "I'm glad you're gonna be okay, cowboy. Truly."

Through weary eyes, Travis caught Ben's gaze and held it steady. Although he was unable to speak, his thoughts were clearly understood; he was just as glad to see Ben as Ben was to see him. Although the room still buzzed around them with activity and noise, for a few minutes the two men were alone in their private world. It calmed them both. Even when Travis closed his eyes and drifted back into his haze of painkillers, Ben remained there, thumb caressing cheek.

*   *   *   *

Room 231, left of the elevator bank, down the corridor. Ben muttered these directions repeatedly like an uncontrollable tic as he waited for the elevator doors to open. He was fortunate to be alone in the car - no one else around to witness his nervousness or question his motives. For reassurance, he stuck a hand in his front pocket and fingered the money within. It was a satisfying bundle of bills, pulled from the ATM conveniently located inside the hospital gift shop. Although his transaction had been capped at $1,000, it was a good cushion to start with.

In his world, money talked. Additionally, it shut people up.

Once the elevator let him off, he took a deep breath and turned left. Headed down the hall with the soles of his boots thumping against linoleum tile, his palms clammy, his mind racing through possible scenarios. How would he begin the conversation? Could he stay calm, avoid being reactionary, not let Eric fuck with his head like he fucked with everyone else's?

"You've got fifteen minutes," Carin had said as she'd slapped a visitor badge onto his shirt front. After witnessing the shared affection between Ben and her brother-in-law, she'd caved into breaking hospital protocol. "But," she'd added before Ben departed from the ICU, "you've got to promise to keep things civil. I don't want to hear any arguing coming from that room, or we're all in trouble."

"I promise," Ben had said with a smile. He'd been sincere, yet he'd known there was no absolute guarantee - not given Eric's track record of manipulating everyone who came into contact with him.

Now, upon reaching room 231, Ben found the door ajar and a heated discussion already in progress. The male and female voices sparring together inside were both recognizable: one belonged to Eric, the other belonged to Katy. Her presence surprised Ben, yet didn't, because she was Katy Cooper. Before entering the room, he conducted a quick sweep of the corridor to ensure no one was coming, that no one had been alerted to the squabble. Then, he slipped inside and latched the door closed behind him.

Katy was standing defiantly at the foot of the patient's bed, spewing obscenities with flushed face and fists at her sides. Ben had seen this side of her one too many times, but this time, he couldn't blame her for her anger. Seeing Ben appear, she abruptly shut up and stared at him with mouth open.

"Oh, look!" Eric chirped, unfazed by the newcomer's arrival. "Ben Mansfield's come to join our little party. Now we can really get this fuckin' thing underway!"

Ignoring him, Ben stepped over to Katy. Tugged on her elbow and whispered in her ear, "What are you doing here?"

"What are you doing here?" she replied.

"I have some business to discuss with this prick."

"Yeah, well, get in line."

"Sounds to me like you've had your turn."

"Oh, hell no, there's much more I wanna say to him..."

"Let her finish!" Eric insisted. "She's on a fuckin' roll today, this one. I'm enjoying it." He gestured in the air with his left hand; the right one was pulled tight against his chest, constricted in a shoulder sling. He was clearly amused by the banter with the teenage girl; his swollen eyes were alive, his bruised lips upturned in a sadistic grin despite the tight dressing on his nose. Everything was a goddamn game to this guy. He didn't even seem to be in pain.

"You bet I'm gonna finish!" Katy yelled. "You can't just play with people like they're fuckin' toys!"

Ben pulled her toward the door. Even though he tried to be gentle about it, she managed to trip over her feet from the momentum and bump into him. He straightened her up and said, "Listen, you're gonna get us both thrown out of here in a second, and then we'll be nowhere. Why don't you go see Travis, and let me talk to Eric, alone?"

Her expression changed, and she tilted her head, perplexed. "See Travis? Why...?"

"Didn't your mom call you? Jesus, I thought she would have. We brought him into the ER a couple of hours ago."

"What? You what? Oh my God, I had no idea. I got a ride here straight from school! What happened? Is he all right? What happened to him?" Panic washed over her, and Ben grabbed a hold of her shoulders to steady and calm her.

"He's all right," he replied. "He's stable. Your mom and Carin are with him. He'll be fine--"

Without waiting for further explanation, she reached past him to swing open the door, and he was forced to move aside to avoid being hit by its trajectory. Immediately, she took off in a jog down the hall, her long hair swaying like a dark wave behind her. Still, no one else was present in the corridor, which seemed peculiar for a hospital ward, but Ben was thankful for the isolation. There was work to be done, and he couldn't be interrupted.

Once more, he shut the door, making sure it latched, then turned into the room to face his adversary. That malevolent smirk remained on Eric's face, proving without a doubt that he simply didn't give a flying fuck about anyone or anything. He needed to be shut down, once and for all, and Ben intended to aid in his collapse. Stepping closer to the bed, he said, "Maybe you overheard. Travis sustained serious injuries yesterday."

"Yeah?" With surprising agility, Eric pushed himself up on the pillows, trying to appear larger, be more intimidating, prove his power. Even his wince was well masked, barely audible to Ben but noticed, nonetheless. "That's a real a shame," he said. "He's probably no worse off than me, though."

"Actually, he is. Considering you're both hospitalized, don't you think it's time to drop your stupid charges against him?"

"Are you kidding me? No way. That boy deserves everything he gets."

"Come on, man, why? He's been through enough. First Boston, now this..."

"What do you know about Boston?"

Ben crossed his arms. This was a topic he had no intention of delving into, not with Eric. "I know what you and your friends did to him. He told me."

"Really? Hmm. Did he also tell you that he got a shitload of money for it? Oh... wait... maybe you don't know yet that he's a player?"

Suddenly, Ben's heart felt rough around the edges, as though someone had just rubbed it with sandpaper.

"That's what I thought," Eric said. "If Travis chooses to fuck with me, he's gonna get what he deserves."

Fighting the knee-jerk reaction to attack him, Ben shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans to brace his nerves. There, tucked inside the right pocket, was the bundle of money he'd withdrawn a short time ago from the ATM located between the stuffed animals and the refrigerated flower case. Rediscovering it now instantly revived his determination to stay on course. He had a mission to fulfill, and he would not be manipulated by this tyrant.

Pulling the money out, he walked over to the bed and dropped the bundle onto Eric's lap. "So, what about you, asshole?" he said. "Are you a player, too?"

Eric picked up the bills and examined them in wonderment. A moment passed as he seemed to digest the idea before responding. "Is this a bribe, Ben Mansfield?"

"Let's call it an incentive. There's more to come, if you agree to it."

"And what would I be agreeing to?"

"Dropping the charges, getting the fuck out of town, and never, ever communicating with any member of the Cooper family again."

"That easy, huh?" Eric leaned over to the small table beside the bed and deposited the bills into his upturned Stetson hat.

"That easy," Ben replied. "I'll give you another $4,000 tomorrow as soon as I can find a bank around here."

"$9,000."

"Fuck you."

"$7,000."

"No deal."

"$6,000, or I talk to the reporters, too."

Internally, Ben fumed, but the clock was ticking, and a decision had to be made before Carin came looking for him. "Fine," he agreed. "$6,000, not a penny more, and I don't want to hear another fucking word from you. Ever."

Eric lifted his arm and offered a handshake, as though they were finalizing a business deal. The moment Ben accepted it, his devilish grin returned, and his grip tightened around Ben's fingers. "Very nice doing business with you, my friend," he crooned.

Ben pulled away and took a few steps backwards towards the door. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Sure. I ain't going anywhere."

"Oh, yes you are, friend. Yes, you are..."

Thank you for reading. I promise this story is continuing on.
Cheers to the readers who have stuck with it and have nudged me to keep it going. Your support is appreciated.

Copyright © 2017 MacGreg; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments



I was also surprised that I remembered the characters, the situations, and their relationships after all this time.
;–)

I think it’s a mistake for Ben to have dealt with Eric himself. He should have sent a lawyer to negotiate and get him to sign a legal agreement. As it is, Ben is relying on Eric to keep his word and I don’t think he’s even remotely trustworthy!

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Excellent chapter, Sir. Really well done ... been where Travis is, not for the exact thing, but close enough. Not a nice place at all. You wrote it very well.

It was super of Elaine to let Ben visit. Will $6,000 stop Eric ... i have my doubts but i look forward to more.

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Eric is just going to want more and more money.  I don't see this keeping him quiet for long.  I'm glad Travis got to the hospital in time, although he's not out of the woods yet.  It was great seeing another chapter.  Next one soon... right?  :P  

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Oh, Ben, you stupid boy! Fucking Eric... That fucker's never gonna keep his word. Hope Ben doesn't take what he said about Boston and run away with it. Even if they paid Travis, that doesn't make it okay. Clearly what happened wasn't what he signed on for. Glad to see Katy's got some agency. She's getting there. Maybe this whole thing can bring her and Travis a little closer. Ben and Travis's moment in the ICU was very sweet.

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19 minutes ago, Thorn Wilde said:

Ben and Travis's moment in the ICU was very sweet.

 

It was sweet.  Did you notice that Ben was recognized by a nurse?  I sense ... complication from that.

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Just now, Wayne Gray said:

It was sweet.  Did you notice that Ben was recognized by a nurse?  I sense ... complication from that.

Depends on how good that nurse is at his job. Hopefully, he takes confidentiality seriously.

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Just now, Thorn Wilde said:

Depends on how good that nurse is at his job. Hopefully, he takes confidentiality seriously.

Very true.  I carry around a lot of information I can't share.  It's part and parcel of the work ... but some don't take it seriously enough.  We'll see.

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1 hour ago, Wayne Gray said:

Did you notice that Ben was recognized by a nurse?

Yes, and I also wanted to thank you for not having the entire nursing staff be female!
;–)

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On 4/7/2019 at 11:40 PM, droughtquake said:

I was very surprised to see this pop up in my Notifications!
;–)

I'll try to forewarn you next time, hehe.

On 4/7/2019 at 11:45 PM, droughtquake said:

I was also surprised that I remembered the characters, the situations, and their relationships after all this time.
;–)

I think it’s a mistake for Ben to have dealt with Eric himself. He should have sent a lawyer to negotiate and get him to sign a legal agreement. As it is, Ben is relying on Eric to keep his word and I don’t think he’s even remotely trustworthy!

Well, I'm impressed that you remembered all of that, considering how long it's been between chapters! I think we can all agree that Eric is a scumbag and untrustworthy. Ben feels some desperation to make things magically right for Travis, especially after seeing him in the ICU - but he's not the brightest bulb in the light fixture.

Thanks so much for reading, even after all this time. I always enjoy your comments. 

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On 4/8/2019 at 4:41 AM, Mikiesboy said:

Excellent chapter, Sir. Really well done ... been where Travis is, not for the exact thing, but close enough. Not a nice place at all. You wrote it very well.

It was super of Elaine to let Ben visit. Will $6,000 stop Eric ... i have my doubts but i look forward to more.

Thank you, tim. You're right, you can feel some empathy towards Travis' condition/situation. I was concerned about depicting things right. Elaine loves her son, and her son loves Ben, so, yeah, she did the right thing. I appreciate you following this story since I first came to GA. xo

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On 4/8/2019 at 6:58 AM, Wayne Gray said:

Sitting here with shaving cream on my face, because I was 1/2 way through my morning shave when I realized this had an update.
Thanks for posting, Mac.  It's a great story, and it deserves to go on.

Also, Eric is a DICK.  But, everybody even a villain has their weakness.  Maybe it's money?  I guess we'll see.

Hmm, yes, we shall see...

So, I want to say THANKS for reigniting an urgency to complete this chapter and to continue this story. I intend to see it through to the end. Your feedback and comments mean a lot, Wayne. Cheers.  

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On 4/8/2019 at 7:51 AM, Parker Owens said:

Eric is a prime example of why some people need shock collars. Ben should realize that nasty men like that won’t stay bought, though. Unless Ben can install a shock collar, too... great chapter, thank you! 

Shock collar - brilliant idea! I'll have Ben look into that. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this chapter, Parker. I support is valued.

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On 4/8/2019 at 9:00 AM, Valkyrie said:

Eric is just going to want more and more money.  I don't see this keeping him quiet for long.  I'm glad Travis got to the hospital in time, although he's not out of the woods yet.  It was great seeing another chapter.  Next one soon... right?  :P  

I like Parker's idea of a shock collar for Eric, hehe. We shall see if money is the key to getting rid of him.

You've been a supporter from Day One, and I appreciate it, Val. As for the release of the next chapter... :X 

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4 minutes ago, MacGreg said:

You've been a supporter from Day One, and I appreciate it, Val. As for the release of the next chapter... :X 

It's my pleasure to support good writing :)  And about the next chapter... *pouts*  :P 

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22 hours ago, Thorn Wilde said:

Oh, Ben, you stupid boy! Fucking Eric... That fucker's never gonna keep his word. Hope Ben doesn't take what he said about Boston and run away with it. Even if they paid Travis, that doesn't make it okay. Clearly what happened wasn't what he signed on for. Glad to see Katy's got some agency. She's getting there. Maybe this whole thing can bring her and Travis a little closer. Ben and Travis's moment in the ICU was very sweet.

I get a sense this chapter riled you up a bit, Thorn, hehe. That's probably a good thing, it means I'm doing my job as a writer. Thanks for taking this story on and reading through from the beginning. Your comments have been great and mean a lot to me.

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22 hours ago, Wayne Gray said:

It was sweet.  Did you notice that Ben was recognized by a nurse?  I sense ... complication from that.

Catching all the details, I see.

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20 hours ago, droughtquake said:

Yes, and I also wanted to thank you for not having the entire nursing staff be female!
;–)

I try not to fall into stereotyping situations and people, but I'm sure I do sometimes, regardless. Here, I made the conscious effort to place a male nurse in the ICU. Thanks for noticing. 

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2 hours ago, MacGreg said:

I try not to fall into stereotyping situations and people, but I'm sure I do sometimes, regardless. Here, I made the conscious effort to place a male nurse in the ICU. Thanks for noticing. 

Not only is he male, but I’d guess he’s one of us! Many, but not all, male nurses are Gay. Some of us (not me) can be very maternal and nurturing. I think there is a small percentage of men (LGBTQ or straight) who are maternal and nurturing, but LGBTQ men are more likely to feel comfortable enough with their feelings to enter a career like nursing or teaching (at a lower grade level).
;–)

Edited by droughtquake
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3 hours ago, MacGreg said:

I get a sense this chapter riled you up a bit, Thorn, hehe. That's probably a good thing, it means I'm doing my job as a writer. Thanks for taking this story on and reading through from the beginning. Your comments have been great and mean a lot to me.

Yeah, I get pretty invested when I get into something, lol! And I'm happy if my comments have meant something. Thank you for continuing with the story!

3 hours ago, droughtquake said:

Not only is he male, but I’d guess he’s one of us! Many, but not all, male nurses are Gay. Some of us (not me) can be very maternal and nurturing. I think there is a small percentage of men (LGBTQ or straight) who are maternal and nurturing, but LGBTQ men are more likely to feel comfortable enough with their feelings to enter a career like nursing or teaching (at a lower grade level).
;–)

I think all men have the potential to be nurturing. And interestingly, most male teachers and nurses I have known have been overwhelmingly not queer... Well, the teachers anyway.

Flight attendants, though. Male flight attendants are like 99% gay. I think it's the uniforms.

Edited by Thorn Wilde
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I know most of what I’m thinking has already been said, so I’ll just thank you for a really great chapter. It was good to be back with this story. 

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15 minutes ago, Defiance19 said:

 

I know most of what I’m thinking has already been said, so I’ll just thank you for a really great chapter. It was good to be back with this story. 

Def, I was just thinking about you last night, wondering how you've been. It's good to hear from you. Thanks for taking the time to read this chapter and leave a comment. Cheers - Mac

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