Peach - *Book Four*

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Two hours later, I enter Jack’s room for the night. He lies on the bed, eyes closed, breathing evenly. Damn, he’s asleep. I put the things I brought with me on the bedside table and take his pulse. And while I do, his heart rate accelerates, and sure enough, a second later, his eyes fly open, and he sits up abruptly. “Hey,” I say softly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

He groans and rubs his forehead. ”Hmhmm. And before you ask,” he says after I check his blood pressure, “I still have a headache and feel a little dizzy... and nauseous. But I’m also hungry.”

“I brought you some food.” I point behind me to the bedside table.

Jack leans to the side to see what I’m talking about. “A peach?” He raises a questioning eyebrow at me.

“Yes, a peach. Peaches are an excellent source of many nutrients. And they’re delicious. But I also brought you a sandwich.” I smile at him even though I don’t know why I still bother. He never returns it, just like he hardly talks to me at all or even looks at me.

I wonder why he agreed to stay. He seems like the kind of guy who claims he doesn’t need any help, let alone medical surveillance.

“Thanks,” he murmurs, still not meeting my eyes.

I nod and take a deep breath. “Okay, all done for now. I’ll be back in an hour.”

And again the only response I get is a short nod and more silence. I close the door behind me and lean against it, taking a deep breath. Don’t be stupid, Emma! Being attracted to a guy like him isn’t the best idea.

As the night goes on, I’m busy enough so I don’t have a lot of time to think about him too much in between my check-ups on him. He fell back asleep pretty quickly, so it came to no surprise I was greeted with a frustrated groan every time I had to wake him up and ask him to tell me his name and location. For some reason, the longer I stood close to him, watching him, wondering, the stronger I felt this pull towards him. Something I have absolutely no rational explanation for. How can I feel attracted to a man like him? A man that shows absolutely no further interest in me. A man that seems so closed off and unwilling to make any kind of contact. Seriously, I need to work on my helper syndrome.

Just before my shift ends at 6am, I check on Jack one last time. Yes, totally necessary! He’s fast asleep, and I have to try really, really hard not to tilt my head and smile goofily because he looks so freaking handsome.

I shake my head and scold myself for the umpteenth time before I put some more food and a note on the bedside table.

With one last and absolutely no longing look, I leave the room. Good thing I’m not going to see him again anytime soon. Because that is so much for the better.

I don’t know when, but at some point, I must have fallen into a deep sleep, because when I wake up, there’s a note on the bedside table, and I don’t remember noticing anyone coming in and putting it there.

I check the time. 7:35am.

I look at the bedside table again, and I see what else that certain someone must have put there. Like before, it’s a sandwich and a peach.

I read the note. "In case you’re hungry next time someone wakes you up. E."

I pick up the peach and take in its rich and sweet scent, and immediately I think of her.

E. Emma.

I should curse that woman who convinced me to stay the night at this hospital and woke me up what felt like every fucking half hour to check my vitals, but I don’t. For some reason, the opposite is true. I only stayed to do her a favor because, for some reason, she stirred something deep inside me. It’s been a long time since I even thought a woman looked stunning. But I thought just that about her and her honey blonde hair and ice-blue eyes.

When the door opens, I expect Emma to walk in, but her shift must have ended, so a different nurse enters the room. Tall, brunette, mile-long legs, and even in her scrubs you can tell she has a nice rack.

See? That’s what I usually think about women when I look at them. Not that I’m proud of it.

“Good morning, Mr. Boyd.” She smiles widely at me, but her smile is nothing like Emma’s.

What the fuck? Did I really just think that? Man, I must have hit my head harder than I thought.

“I’m Tamara. Good thing you’re already up so I don’t have to wake you. How are you feeling?” She’s still smiling brightly at me when she comes up to my bed and puts that blood pressure thing around my arm.

“Good,” is all I tell her while she takes my pulse and finally shines that annoying little light into my eyes, which leaves me blinded for a few seconds.

“All good here. I’ll be back in two hours, and if everything is fine, you can go home.” She smiles at me again, and by now, I’m pretty sure she’s flirting with me.

“Great.” I don’t even bother trying to be nice because I’m more than glad when she finally stops touching me and leaves.

I instantly relax once she’s gone and lie back on the bed. I realize I am, indeed, a little hungry and grab the sandwich.

Not thinking about Emma.

As promised, I’m good to go two hours later, and Paul and his girlfriend, Tessa, come to pick me up, along with his Golden Retriever, Hank. After the doctor tells me to take it easy for a couple of days and what symptoms to watch out for, we make our way to Paul’s car.

Tessa turns to me. “How was your night?”

“Ugh,” I grunt. “I didn’t get much sleep.”

“To be honest,” Paul says, “I was a little shocked when you agreed to stay.”

“What other choice did I have? I was feeling off, and going home alone and dying of a possible brain bleeding didn’t sound appealing.”

“You could have stayed at our place,” Tessa says and gives Paul a questioning look. “Why didn’t you offer your best friend that?”

I laugh. “That’s nice, but I didn’t want Paul to pass on all the sex he claimed he was gonna have because he had to take care of his poor injured friend.”

Tessa gasps and hits Paul shoulder. “Sex? Who with? Because it certainly wasn’t with me.”

Paul raises a single eyebrow at her. “Whose side are you on?”

Tessa shakes her head and turns back to me. “What about tonight? Are you okay on your own, or do you want to stay with us? Because there sure won’t be any sex.”

I laugh at Paul’s stunned expression. “Thanks, Tessa. That’s nice, but I think I’ll be fine.”

By now, we’ve reached Paul’s car. I get in the back with Hank, who lies down next to me and rests his head on my leg. I smile and pat his head, enjoying one of the few ways I tolerate actual body contact with a living creature. Animals and kids, like my four-year-old niece, are fine. It’s the grown-ups I have a problem with.

Tessa, who sits in front, turns back to me. ”By the way, we’re celebrating Paul’s birthday at Anna’s house.”

“Uh, really?” I frown. “That’s too bad.”

“What is?” Paul looks at me in his rearview mirror.

“Oh, I don’t think your sister will approve of my present.”

“Which is?”

I shrug noncommittally. “You remember what you gave me for my thirtieth birthday last year?”

“Yeah?” he says in a slightly amused voice.

“Tessa, has Paul ever told you that story?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t think so, no.”

“Please, Paul, do tell.”

I can see that Paul is trying hard to suppress a satisfied smirk. “I got Jack a stripper,” he tells her.

“You did not!” Tessa gasps.

“Yes, I did. Jack freaked out, but he didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so he endured the lap dance she gave him. So much fun.”

Tessa shakes her head. “You are unbelievable.” She turns to me. “Wow, Jack, that must have been horrible for you.”

Usually, all my friends accept the fact that I avoid any kind of physical contact, which I am glad about, but sometimes Paul can be a pain in the ass. I know he means no harm and wants me to get over my strange behavior, but with that stripper, he went a little over the top.

“So what’s your present for me then?” Paul wants to know.

“I think it’s only fair I return the favor.”

“Excuse me? You’re getting him a stripper too?” Tessa raises her eyebrows at me.

I shrug. “Yeah, why not. A male stripper though.”

Tessa looks at me for a moment before she bursts out laughing while Paul gasps, “You wouldn’t dare!”

“You should have listened to Henry. He told you not to do that, and now you’re gonna have to face the consequences.”

“Ah damn!” Tessa can hardly speak during her laughing fit. “That’s—the—best idea—ever! I’d—love that!”

Paul glares at her. “Again, whose side are you on?” He shakes his head and mumbles, “Good thing I love you.”

“Who? Me?” I yell from the back seat, smirking.

“Yes, Jack, you,” he says. “Because everybody loves you.”

I flip him off, still smirking before I continue to pat Hank’s head. “You love me, boy, don’t you?”

Hank lifts his head and answers me with an enthusiastic wag of his tail.

That night, I sit on my couch, alone, like so often.

Most of the time I enjoy the solitude, but don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with my friends. I love making music with Paul and Henry. Paul has been my best friend for over twenty years. We grew up together, and he probably knows me like no other.

When we both moved to New York from our hometown Boston, we were fortunate enough to meet Henry who fits in perfectly with us. Now the three of us play at a pub every Friday night, which attracts more and more people. Paul sings and plays guitar, Henry’s the keyboardist, and I’m the drummer.

As a teenager, I always loved hanging out with my many friends, and girls, of course, but what happened more than ten years ago changed everything.

And today, it’s a little hard for me sometimes to be around a lot of people, especially now that our circle of friends is continually growing. It started with Ben, who is a good friend of Paul’s. There’s Ben’s fiancée, Amy, and their baby girl. Then there’s Lauren, Henry’s girlfriend.

And not too long ago, Paul’s found his other half, Tessa. And often enough, Tessa’s best friend, Ava, joins us as well.

I find myself having to explain to more and more people that—even though I think they’re nice people—I don’t like to be touched. That particularly includes hugs and pecks on the cheek.

Luckily, they’re all okay with it without asking too many questions. I see it on their faces though. And I know I saw it on Emma’s face last night.

I know I should work on my issues. I’ve tried. I’ve tried so hard, but it didn’t work, not even with all the therapy sessions I had. And some days I hate that more than others.

On a day like this, for example: When I meet someone who I’d like to get to know better—much better—but know I can’t.

Welcome to my fucked up mind.

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