45 • Exposed
When Will came back up the sidewalk, he had a striped cap pulled over his ears and the collar of his jacket turned up against the chill wind.
“Now can I go in?” he asked, not pausing as he passed Cameron.
“Don’t be mad.”
“I’m not.” He waited to the side of the open doors for Cameron to walk through, then followed behind
They walked, together, without speaking, down the corridor to Joe’s room.
Myrna folded back the blanket over Joe’s chest as Will and Cameron walked into the stark hospital room.
“Wait, ” Will said, pointing at Joe. “Why is he back in bed? I thought you were cutting him loose.”
“He cut himself loose.” The monitor clicked into a hum and a row of lights flitted across the screen as she pressed a button on the side. “Actually, ” she said, jiggling the IV tube, “he didn’t cut himself loose at all. He walked out with all his connections intact.”
Joe beamed from the bed and folded his hands on his lap.
“Look at this. Three of my favorite people all in the same room. I should have a heart attack more often.”
“Or you could just have a dinner party, Joe.” Cameron stepped up to the edge of the bed and put a hand on Joe’s arm. “Much less work. For everyone.”
“Because you haven’t seen Joe’s house yet, ” Will muttered from just inside the door where he was still standing, leaned against the wall with hands balled in fists in his jacket pockets.
Cameron shot a glare at Will. “Anyway, Joe. We’re glad we found you.”
“Were you looking for me?”
“Well, not looking, exactly, no. But—”
“Listen, Myrna, ” Will cut in. “Are you guys still letting the man go or did you revoke his parole over the attempted jailbreak?”
The nurse crossed her arms over her chest and narrowed her eyes at Will. “Doc wants a minute with him, but I imagine he’s still on the street today. Medicare won’t let us extend his stay since he was healthy enough to go for that walk.”
“Disorientation doesn’t count for anything these days?” Cameron asked, her eyes wide.
“For this guy? Nah. Just another day in the neighborhood.” Myrna looked at Will. “Figured his son would know that.”
She looked at Joe. “Stay put for five minutes, alright? I’ll track down Dr. Wagner and see if we can’t officially make you somebody else’s problem.” Myrna stopped at the door and looked at Will. “Go get a cup of coffee. I’ll let you know when it’s your turn.”
In the cafeteria, Will handed Cameron a paper cup of bad coffee from the machine, feeling an unwelcome bit of déjà vu. “Thank you.” She looked out the window and held the cup between her hands.
“I didn’t know I was taking in a runaway.” Will pulled out a chair.
“Maybe it’s not like that. Maybe he is just one of those guys who only hears what he hears—they told him he was going home today, so he went home. Just super literal, you know?”
“Yeah, probably that.” Will raised his cup to his lips, pretended to drink. Cameron could be right, if it weren’t Joe she was talking about. Joe’s nuance was masterful. Of all the possible explanations for his bizarre breakout from the hospital this morning, being too literal would not be one. Not for a man who could sense some of Will’s deepest longings in a random reading of Archibald MacLeish.
“Look, once you get him home, you won’t have to worry. Pearl will watch his every move. And she’ll fill him with so much cherry pie he’ll never leave anyway.”
Will laughed, for the first time all day, and raised his cup toward Cameron. “Now on that, I’m quite sure you’re right.”
The two sat quietly looking out the window for the next half hour, sometimes lifting their cups but never actually drinking; sometimes starting to speak and then saying nothing. Will felt strangely at ease beneath the silence. Cameron seemed tired, but otherwise content, which helped ease the nagging bit of guilt about insinuating her yet again into his misadventures with Joe Murphy.
“You kids ready to get your old man out of my hair for real this time?” Myrna stood in the doorway and tapped her watch with two fingers. “Let’s go. I have other patients to bathe.” She winked at Will.
“Be there in a minute.” He pushed out his chair and reached for Cameron’s cup. “Should we go do this?”
Cameron laughed. “Is that a real question? I think we are already doing it.”
Doc Wagner was just coming out of Joe’s room when Will and Cameron arrived. Will reached to shake his hand. “You’re sure he’s okay to go? This confusion isn’t something we need to worry about?”
“He should be fine. Looks like he just got a little eager to get out of here.” He opened the chart in his hand. “You can expect a little confusion going forward. He’s had some trauma, coupled with medication and going to a strange place. So watch for that. But he’s in no danger.”
“Alright. Well, thanks for taking care of him.”
“That’s what we do. Now go take your dad home.”
“But he’s not—” Will stopped himself this time. “Yeah, okay. Thanks. I will.”
Cameron pushed the door open and walked in, Will following behind.
“Okay Joe, let’s try this again, alright?”
Will strode to the bed. “Let’s get you dressed and out to the truck. Maybe we’ll be home in time for Pearl to feed us dinner.”
“Pearl? She’s coming for dinner?” Joe’s eyes brightened.
“Nope, better than that. You’re coming for dinner. For a few dinners, actually. Doc wants you to stay with us for a little while until you get your feet back under you for good.”
“Is that right.” Joe yanked off the covers and sat up. Sounds wonderful. Let’s go.”
“Whoa, slow down, my friend. You need clothes this time.”
Cameron handed Will a stack of folded clothing. “I’ll wait in the hall.”
Will set the stack on the bed as Cameron left the room and turned to face the window with his back toward Joe. “Let me know if you need help.”
“All set.” Will turned back after a few minutes to find Joe dressed to the waist, shoes untied and his hairy round belly hanging over a unbuckled belt.
“You can get that, right?” Will pointed awkwardly to Joe’s belt.
“Of course. But I was waiting for my shirt. Do you have it?”
Will knelt to tie Joe’s shoes. “I don’t. It wasn’t in the stack?”
“Nope. No trace of it.” Joe turned in a circle, arms spread out. “One of my favorite flannels, too. Grey with a warm fleece lining. Pretty sure the doc nipped it. I hear they do that in these places, pretend they had to cut it off in the ER, like they didn’t learn how to work buttons in medical school.”
“Umm, right.” Will stood. “Or it might have been misplaced. You said you had it before you went out before.” He opened the door into the hall and asked Cameron to check with the nurses.
“I’ll be glad to get out of this place, though the innkeepers are certainly friendly enough. And they make the most exquisite Jell-O. Have you tried it?”
Will studied Joe, trying to decide if was playing him. “Haven’t had the pleasure of hospital Jell-O since I was a boy getting my tonsils out.”
“It’s to die for.” He grinned and buckled his belt as Cameron came in the room.
“Nobody’s seen his shirt. They think he hid it to make them look bad.”
Joe let out a hearty laugh, his loose flesh shaking. “They love me here.”
“Will, maybe you could give Joe your shirt, ” Cameron said, looking away from Joe.
“Well… I… but I’m wearing my shirt.” He stiffened.
“Handy. That way you don’t have to go to the truck to get it. Take it off.”
Will moved toward Cameron and, spoke mostly between his teeth as though Joe wouldn’t notice. “I don’t know what’s to be gained by having me go shirtless instead of Joe. He can throw on the gown. We have to pick up clothes at his house anyway.”
“Oh, come on. You have a t-shirt under. Give the man your button down and let’s get out of here.”
“It’s a short drive to my house, ” Joe said. “I’m fine, really. And I think Myrna would enjoy getting one last look at this carnal wonder.” Joe posed in a faux flex, curling a fist up near his forehead and pivoting on one foot.
“Joe!” Cameron laughed. She looked at Will, a look he had no answer for but to go quietly to the corner of the room and slip off his tan canvas jacket. He folded it in half and laid it neatly over the arm of the chair.
He heard Cameron and Joe talking by the bed, Cameron writing down a list of things Joe needed to pick up at his house before his sleepover with Will and Pearl. Their voices faded into what sounded like a great rushing wind around his ears as he unbuttoned his red plaid. He felt cool perspiration on his neck even as goosebumps pricked the skin of his arms and legs. He slipped his right arm out of the long sleeve, leaving it hang over half his upper body as he pulled his jacket over the exposed arm. Then he stood—shirt half on and half off under the jacket—unable to keep moving, to keep removing what he’d been asked to forfeit. The sound of rushing wind now seemed to come from both inside his mind and all around him in the room. He pleaded with himself. Just be a man. Can’t you just be a man? It’s not so hard, is it, Will Phillips? He breathed deeply and looked up at the flecked ceiling tiles before he finally let the red plaid fall from his left arm to the floor, then he quickly twisted his arm behind to slip it into the waiting jacket sleeve, which became a cover for a webbed, dark rose pattern, almost fractal-like, that began about mid-forearm and crept up under his white t-shirt sleeve. Now the coolness gave over to a burning sensation that felt seated in memory as much as in this moment. He shrugged the jacket into place and bent to pick up the flannel shirt from the floor. When he turned back he saw Cameron’s eyes fixed on him.
“Did you get that last one, young lady? I said we should be sure to get my toothbrush. The one they gave me here has hard bristles. Cameron turned to Joe. “What? Toothbrush? Got it.” She scribbled on the notepad in her palm and glanced back at Will. His face was red, jaw set harder than she’d seen before.
He yanked his cap from his jacket pocked and pulled it down over his ears, handing Cameron the shirt.
“I’ll go get the truck. Meet me out front.”
(to be continued)