I received such a warm response to the characters of Ed and Joe in the short story THE SCENIC ROUTE, that I can’t resist this short showing how they first met. While unpublished and un-edited, I hope you enjoy this look at their relationship.
© Chrissy Munder
“Hey Ed, I put your two o’clock in your office already.” The new receptionist, Tiffany (call me Tiffy, Ed Baldwin recalled with a shudder), called out as he walked past her. He cringed as her pale blue eyes trailed avidly over his sandy hair and his short, white jacket, leaving him feeling vaguely dirty as they made the journey down to his matching Crocs, comfortable footwear for the long days spent on his feet.
“Thanks, Tiffany,” Ed muttered. God, he missed Judith. Only a week into her maternity leave and he didn’t think he would survive her replacement. Ed hated, absolutely hated having clients in his room prior to his setup and Judith told him she’d noted that in her instructions. Luckily, he had straightened things after his earlier appointment and before he’d taken his lunch hour. Ed debated whether or not to say anything to Tiffany but decided against it. He already had the reputation around the small clinic as being picky, why add to it.
Maybe he could find a way to explain procedure to Tiffany that wouldn’t leave him standing there, feeling like the anal-retentive prick everyone told him he was. Ed stood outside his office and took a deep breath. Probably not. It didn’t help she had decided he was cute and ‘cuddly’. Whatever the hell that meant. Since she refused to accept his lack of returned interest he couldn’t wait for someone higher up on the gossip chain to clue her in so she’d stop asking him out to lunch.
Erasing the petite blonde from his thoughts, Ed took his new patient’s chart from the pocket outside the door and gave it a quick scan. Typical weekend warrior. Ed knew the type. The unexpected spring sun had gone to one Joe Sutton’s brain and he’d injured himself playing softball without proper conditioning. Definitely some sensitivity and inflammation in the lower lumbar region, as well as tightness in the groin and hamstring.
Ed grimaced. He’d grown up with the jock mentality undoubtedly sitting behind his door and the bad jokes that went along with it. He’d bet dinner at his favorite Italian restaurant this one made the usual ‘happy ending’ comment once he discovered today’s treatment would be a gentle massage to drain inflammation from the injured tissues and speed the healing process. Consoled by the thought of Pasquale’s chicken marsala, Ed opened the door.
“Holy shit.” Ed clapped his hand over his mouth as soon as the words escaped. This was so not what he expected as he stared into the room large enough for both his massage table and a seating area in front of the desk. While most of the clients were already acquainted with the gym at the clinic, Ed preferred to greet his patients in his office, surrounded by the diplomas and certificates showing his years of training and hard work.
He liked to familiarize clients with their approved treatment and then walk them through a brief introduction to the etiquette that would keep the appointment on a professional level for both of them. Based on the firm, rounded, and attractively bare buttocks staring at him from the massage table this visit had already strayed off course.
“Hi!” One hand waved happily at Ed as the patient squirmed to one hip. “You know this thing is kind of rickety.” Both hands grabbed the side of the table and Ed stared as everything on top of the creaking wood jiggled back and forth without a tan line in sight. “I worried I’d break it.”
Ed stood frozen in the doorway. His client lay on his side and propped his dark, curly head up on one hand while he cheerfully greeted Ed. The change in position exposed his well-defined chest, lightly dusted with the same brownish hair that had covered the firm buttocks, and everything further below. If Ed believed heaven came in packages of all sizes, paradise definitely awaited.
“I’m early for my appointment.” A neatly trimmed goatee accented the wide, welcoming grin bestowed on Ed. “She told me to come in and get comfortable.”
A part of Ed wanted to march out, grab Tiffy and show her the dangers of deviating from office procedure. A more primal element of his brain voted against anyone seeing this vision but him. The direction of his thoughts shook Ed out of his stupor and he walked decisively toward his client.
“This is not quite how we start our consultations, Mr. Sutton.” Ed was thankful he could recall the man’s name. He reached under the table for one of the spare sheets, determined to keep his gaze turned away from the stomach muscles now at eye level.
“Really?” Dark curls brushed against Ed’s cheek. No mobility problems here, not the way the new client had lithely twisted around until his head was next to Ed’s. Long legs kicked lazily up towards the exposed spine, flexing the muscles below in a display Ed wished he could have studied during his anatomy and physiology course. “Call me Joe.”
“Really.” Ed battled against his desire to return the surprisingly sweet smile and unwrapped the sheet with shaking hands. He was a professional, damn it. Ed tried to stuff the material under the sharp hipbones but conceded defeat when the apparently boneless Mr. Sutton flopped onto his back and pulled the billowing sheet overtop of them both.
“You have the prettiest eyes.” Long, elegant fingers stroked down Ed’s cheek and mesmerized by the soft caress Ed stared into the brown eyes so close to his. They were truly astounding. A rich, coffee brown with minute flecks of gold, and the pupils so large and dark—.
Shit. No wonder this guy could move like one of the Beanie Babies his sister used to collect. Ed stood up, batting the sheet off from around his shoulders. “Mr. Sutton,” he asked as he placed his fingers on the side of his patient’s neck and counted the heartbeats under the warm skin. “Joe,” Ed said sharply. He needed him to focus. “Do you have any allergies you can tell me about?”
“Painkillers do funny things to me. Molds. Penicillin.” A long arm snaked around Ed’s hips and pulled him closer to the table before the singsong voice continued. “Can I do funny things to you?”
“Did you take any medication today.” Ed checked the mouth and tongue for signs of swelling and cursed whoever had done the faulty intake.
“Unng huh. They gave me something after the CT scans.”
Ed pulled his hand back before the white teeth snapped closed and dragged his cell phone out of his pocket. “Do you remember what it was?” Ed couldn’t help but jump when the dark head butted against his hip. He managed to dial the number for the on call physician anyway. “Yeah, room 414. I have a patient with an apparent allergic reaction to some medication he was given.” Ed combed his fingers through the soft strands of hair, and this time he didn’t fight his response to the wistful smile directed toward him. “Uh huh. Okay.”
“Pretty eyes,” Joe Sutton yawned and pressed his forehead against Ed’s stomach, his own eyes closed.
“You’ll be fine, Joe,” Ed whispered. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had complimented him. Too bad it was all due to the drugs.
“S’not.” Ed must have spoken out loud and Joe tightened the arm around his waist as he replied. “Dinner. You owe me dinner for thinking that.”
“Sure, Joe,” Ed nodded. The door opened to admit the medical staff and Ed moved away from the table, but not before making sure the sheet completely covered his drugged admirer.
“Can’t trick me.” A lone, uncoordinated finger waved back and forth in the air as Joe Sutton was transferred to the gurney and quickly secured. “I’m persistent.”
“You don’t even know my name.” Ed laughed as Joe reached out and caught the edge of the doorframe, disrupting the usually smooth transport.
“But I’ll find out. Persistent. I promise.” He released the frame and lifted a hand in a childish wave, raising his voice as the medical staff took off without further hesitation. “Dinner tomorrow night. Don’t forget.”
Alone once again, Ed dropped his hand (how could he have resisted waving back?) and surveyed the wreckage. He shook his head as he began to clean up. He hoped Joe Sutton would be okay. Ten to one this guy would either never remember what happened, or if he did, he’d switch to a different physical therapist out of embarrassment. The warm tingle of anticipation in Ed’s stomach hoped that wasn’t the case, and he crossed his fingers that Joe meant every word.
“Gosh, things are exciting around here.” Blue eyes blinked at him from the doorway and Ed groaned to himself. “Did you save that man’s life?”
Flush with new confidence, Ed took Tiffany by the arm and walked her back to her desk. Maybe Mr. Joe Sutton would show up tomorrow and take him out to dinner. Maybe not. Until then, screw it. He was an anal-retentive prick. “Tiffany, I want to talk to you about something called procedure—.”