By Susanne Thomas

Holly sat down in the booth of the hospital lab and took a deep breath. She placed her hands neatly in her lap and prepared to wait. The lemon scented disinfectant singed her nostrils some but reassured her that all was clean. She glanced around the room, noting posters she didn’t want to see, boxes of used needles to look away from, the exit, and then back to her hands.

Before long a nurse walked into the room. “The phlebotomist will be here soon. I’m just going to leave this chart for him, okay? Looks like you’re getting the full workup?”

Holly swallowed hard and stared at the chart for a moment before forcing a smile. “Yeah, I’ve been away for a few years, working in a few different countries. My employer wants to make sure I’m still healthy.”

The nurse’s eyes grew even larger. “Oh, that sounds exciting, what were you doing?”

“I’m a photojournalist. But several of the others that were with us came back with various issues. So, better safe than sorry.” Her voice strained as she tried to sound casual. She looked towards the exit once more. The sign seemed to grow in size.

The nurse patted Holly’s arm. “We’ll get you taken care of in no time.” She pulled the sheet that partitioned the space and moved on to the next pastel-curtained lab booth.

Without recognizing that she was doing it, Holly had started singing “Can’t Touch This” to herself as she waited. A chuckle from the booth next to her almost made her stop before she shrugged. She was just glad it hadn’t been something inappropriate.

The curtain swished, and she heard a deep voice on the other side. “Knock, knock.”

Her voice quavered a bit, “Come on in.”

A tall man pulled the curtain back and stepped closer. He had a large, handled tray filled with things that Holly couldn’t bring herself to acknowledge.

So she looked up at her phlebotomist instead and jumped from her chair a little bit before settling back into the plastic chair.

“Oh, sorry,” She stammered as she stared up at him. She cocked her head to the side and stared at the man while she asked, “Wayne? Wayne Jordan?”

His grin spread across his face as nodded at her, “Holly Jessup? It’s been forever.”

He held out a hand to shake.  Holly took it and blurted out “You’re my leech!”

Her hands flew to her mouth, and she tried to apologize.

Wayne shook his head quickly and waved her hands down. “It’s okay. Should have known you would be one of those. Remember in Mrs. Kistelle’s class, you fell and cut your knee. You just passed out. Happened again when you were in soccer in middle school didn’t it?”

“You remember that?” Holly asked, looking down for a moment before letting a small grin show.

“Of course,” he answered as he washed his hands in a nearby sink. He proceeded to put his gloves on and sit on a small round rolling chair next to her.

She watched him move around and cleared her throat, “Um, so how’ve you been? I didn’t realize you were a phlebotomist.”

“Technically I’m a registered nurse, but I didn’t like the hours, and I have the best touch with a needle, so this is what I do.”

“Oh, and how are your parents? Your mom always made the best afterschool snacks,” Holly asked.

Wayne’s eyes crinkled a bit at the corners before he answered, “She did, they moved to Florida a few years ago, they come back up here to visit some.”

Holly’s reached out and touched his shoulder lightly. “Oh, my mom hadn’t mentioned that. I bet you miss them!”

Wayne reached into his carrying tray and pulled out a blue rubber strap, “Thanks, I do, especially around Thanksgiving. My own cooking is just not the same! I know you’ve been out of the country for a while. Taking pictures of nature and stuff right?”

She nodded as he ordered softly, “Hey, hold your arm out.”

She gulped and looked away, thrusting her arm out towards him.

“Oof!”

She looked over and saw him clutching his midsection where she’d accidentally pushed at him.

“Oh no, I’m so sorry,” She reached out and started rubbing his belly, trying to fix the pain she’d caused.

After a moment her cheeks flared again, and she yanked her hand back. “So, I’m sorry, are you okay?”

He chuckled softly, “I think I’ll live. Let’s get you taken care of. Try again, carefully hand me your arm.”

She gingerly stretched it out and then hastily looked away as he tied her arm up with the rubber strap.

He grabbed his alcohol swab and proceeded to sterilize her arm. “So tell me. You take pictures in all these places. I’ve seen some, they’re good. But some of them are gritty, even dark. The ones of the jaguar hunting were so graphic. How do you do that if you can’t stand the sight of blood?”

Holly glanced briefly at Wayne and saw the needle in his hand. She clenched her jaw and looked away, “My own blood. Anyone else, I can handle. Nothing gets to me, except my blood and that only from needles or cuts.”

Her eyes cut to him, “So you’ve seen my pictures?”

He laughed and nodded; she could barely see the movement in her peripheral vision. Wayne patted her shoulder, “Look, I tell you, I’m the best.” One hand held her arm still, the other had the needle. The thumb of his holding hand started making small circles on her arm. She felt goosebumps rise up, and she had to stop a shiver. He switched to scratching her arm in the same small circle.

Abruptly his thumb stopped. “And the needle is in.” He announced.

In disbelief, she swung her head back at him. “Really?” She looked down as the first vial filled.

Wayne’s eyes grew wide and worried. “Don’t look Holly!” His voice rose abruptly, “I need some help here.”

It was too late. Holly stared as her blood poured into the little bottle and the color drained from her face.

She woke up a few seconds later in Wayne’s free arm. The nurse from before, with the ponytail and big eyes, stood over her staring into her face. A third person was to her side where the needle was, but Holly couldn’t see through the first nurse’s body.

“Um, sorry.” She mumbled and tried to sit up. Wayne’s arm held her tight, and she looked at him from the corner of her eyes.

“You really don’t want to sit up right now Holly.”

“Are you almost done? How long was I out for?” She asked.

“Not nearly long enough for us to finish. A few seconds.” The nurse in front of her answered.

“Oh. Sorry. Again.” She blushed as she tried to hold herself stiff in Wayne’s arm.

“Hey, just relax, she’s almost done.” Wayne smiled, nodding at the woman crouched behind the other nurse.

A voice chirped up. “Last vial!”

Holly twitched but turned her head quickly, accidentally sticking her face in Wayne’s armpit.

“Whoops. Glad I showered.” He chuckled.

Her face flared again, and she closed her eyes for a moment. “I swear this is not how I am most of the time.”

Wayne’s teeth flashed for just an instant before the nurses began cleaning up. Holly felt the needle come out of her arm and a bandage was placed. The nurse smiled and said, “You’re all done up. How about you take it easy and maybe get someone else to take off that bandage when you’re done. Okay?”

Holly managed a weak thank you.

Wayne sat her all the way up and stepped away with the nurses, waving her to stay seated. Holly took the opportunity to straighten her shirt and rub casually at the spot his thumb had circled. She smiled a bit to herself.

Before long Wayne’s tall frame stood in the opened curtain doorway, a small plate of cookies and cup of orange juice in his hands. He sat back down and handed her the cup first. “Can I buy you a drink?” He joked.

She giggled and then her eyes widened. She sat for a moment and took a deep breath. “I never giggle.”

“You’ve just had a lot of blood taken from you. It’s normal. The cookies and juice ought to help.”

She sipped at the orange juice and smiled. “I just realized that this is the first OJ that I’ve had since I got back.”

He asked, “Oh really, how long have you been back for?”

“Not even a week. We’re technically still on vacation even. But no one is allowed to go back to work until we’re cleared.”

“So what’s next for the globe trotter?”

She laughed, “Nothing exotic for a while. Actually, we’re doing some work in public schools for a while, exposé stuff.”

“In the area?” He asked. The surrounding cities were known for their subpar education and even worse infrastructure.

“Yep, for at least the next year.”

“And you’ll be fine taking pictures of all of that?” He raised his eyebrow.

“I swear; I can take pictures of anything. Really. But my own blood…” She trailed off.

“Woah, you’re turning pale again. Drink the rest of that juice. That’s a serious phobia, or did you just want an excuse to fall into my arms?”

“You’re so full of yourself. Remember when you ran for class president? Your slogan was something just like that, wasn’t it? ‘A Vote For Me is a Vote For a Dream’ So arrogant.” She chuckled.

“It worked, I was class president with that one slogan for three years. You voted for me, right?”

“I did. Well, not in 6th grade. I asked you to go the ice rink with me, remember? You said no. So I voted for Tandy Allen.”

“Tandy Allen? She was awful. I only said no because you asked Bill Sanders first,” Wayne answered.

“Bill’s brother had a car. I wouldn’t have to get my mom to take us if I went with Bill,” Holly defended herself.

“Your mom was just legendary for saying no. It still doesn’t mean you ask Bill. He was such a slow kid.”

“He was nice,” Holly chuckled, “Well, except he said no too.”

“He had a thing for Tandy Allen too.”

Holly burst out laughing. Her sudden movement knocked over the plate of mostly eaten cookies to the floor.

Wayne dipped quickly to grab the mess as Holly released a deep sigh.

She shook her head, “Seriously, I don’t know what’s going on with me today. I’m not always such a spaz.”

He stared at her for a second, arching an eyebrow before responding, “Prove it.”

“Excuse me?”

“Prove it, let me take you on a second date,” Wayne asked.

“A second date?”

“What? Gourmet Cookies and Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice counts,” he argued.

“Oh, of course.” She nodded, exaggerating the motion sarcastically.

“So, let me take you somewhere. Anything else you’ve missed while off having adventures?”

Holly smiled wide before she answered, “Anywhere with great cheesecake.”

“Oh really?”

“You can’t get good cheesecake anywhere we were.”

Wayne chuckled, “You poor thing.”

They laughed a bit before he nodded. “You should be okay now,” he handed her his cell phone, “Just give me your number and I’ll add you to my contacts.”

She held the rectangle and stared at it for a moment. “I can’t remember my number. Give me a second.” She pulled out her own phone and flipped it open.

“A flip phone?” He asked, raising his eyebrow.

“Look, out of the country this was high tech and got the best signal.” She argued.

He shook his head and handed her a piece of paper, trading it for his phone, “Just write your number down here.”

She laughed as looked it up on her phone and then wrote it down, scrawling her name beneath it.

He stood and gathered his supplies. “Do you want me to take the bandage off, it’ll be done bleeding by now.”

Holly nodded, “That would be great!”

He rubbed the medical tape and grabbed a small bottle of baby oil from his tray. He put a dab on the tape and rubbed it in before pulling the tape off.

“That didn’t hurt!” She exclaimed.

“I’m good at my job,” he grinned and then frowned, “Hey, look away real quick.”

He grabbed a swab from his kit as she turned her head to look at her arm, “What?”

She caught him cleaning her arm up and turned pale. Holly looked away quickly. “Sorry. I’m okay.”

“Let me walk you out. No telling what you’ll see on your way out.”

Holly laughed, “Walk me out, but I told you, it’s only my own blood that gets me,” She stood, and her foot caught on the base of her chair.

Wayne shot his arm out to catch her, but she wobbled and righted herself.

Holly nodded, “See, I’m good.”

They reached the doors to the clinic, and Wayne reached to hug her. After they embraced for a brief moment, Holly looked up at him and flashed her teeth, “Call me okay? I don’t want to wait too long for cheesecake.”

His laugh followed her, and the breeze from the automatic door blew her hair around her face. Holly rubbed her arm where the band-aid had been, and turned to wave, but Wayne had already gone back to work. She shook her head and made her way to her car. When Holly’d gotten situated in the driver’s seat she looked down at her phone; a missed call showed on the screen. With a groan, she turned her ringer on and began calling Wayne back. By the time he answered, she was grinning again.

One thought on “Story contest winner – Faint of Heart

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