Ross didn’t like this. He didn’t like this at all. There was no way this GPA would be nice to them without an ulterior motive. But for now, he was helping. Ross would be willing to pay whatever price he had to for that.
He tried to ease the shirt off of Jack, but it was stuck tightly with blood and Ross was terrified to hurt him more. He turned Jack onto his stomach, hoping to relieve pressure on the deep cuts on his back. They had managed to get a shirt on him after the fight, to take him to the hospital. But the nurse in charge was asking too many questions. And they didn’t have enough money to pay for the intake appointment. So Plan B was Elle stealing what she could and them patching him up the best they could. It wasn’t the first time the hospital hadn’t been a viable option. Elle was getting pretty good at first aid.
The GPA came back, and Ross looked up sharply. He was holding a thick wad of cloth under one arm and a big box in his left hand. He looked at Jack on his back, and simply set the cloth and box down on the counter, going to a set of drawers. Stephan glanced up from where he had been staring at the kettle like his life depended on it boiling.
The GPA came back with scissors, expertly cutting off the shirt. He peeled it back, looking at the gaping cuts with an aloof expression. “What caused these?”
“Concrete,” Elle answered, and Ross shot her a sharp glare. She shrugged at him.
The GPA peered at them closely. “Better than wood. Elle, you and Ross spread the tablecloth under him, please. Stephan, how’s the kettle?”
“Almost done. What should I do with it?”
“Here, put half in here, and then divide it among the mugs.” The GPA turned, pulling down three mugs before squatting to get out a bowl. He set them next to Stephan, and watched as Ross and Elle maneuvered Jack onto the tablecloth. It had the heavy, crisp feeling of something very expensive. Ross was ashamed that they were getting blood all over it.
As they settled Jack on it, a good five feet of the tablecloth hung over the edge. The GPA reached down, and with the scissor, cut the excess off, shocking the other three. “Elle, if you could make these into bandages, please. Thick strips. Stephan, the hot water?”
“Mug or bowl?”
“Mugs, thank you. Ross, hold him by the shoulders, please.” The GPA went to the box and pulled out a pack of bandages like the ones Elle had been using to dab at Jack’s face and back. He came back, and brushed the wadded, bloodied bandages to the expensive floor. They lay like crumbled reddish-pink roses, slowly staining the tile.
Stephan set the mug next to the GPA, and the GPA reached the bandage in and soaked it. He gently dabbed and cleaned the lacerations. Because the fighter had thrown Jack out of the Ring, his whole back looked like he’d been dragged across rocks.
The mugs quickly became filthy from the blood, but Jack’s back was looking better. “Dump, rinse, and refill with regular tap water, please,” the GPA directed Stephan, who moved quickly. The GPA looked closely at the cuts and went to the box. He pulled out a seal packet and a small tube and came back. “Elle, the antiseptic wipes, please.”
She passed them to him, and he pulled one out, smoothing it across Jack’s skin. He set it aside, and broke the seal on the packet. Ross saw now that it had a needle and thread. The GPA threaded the needle, and brushed the packet to the floor.
“Ross, do you have your lighter with you?”
Ross frowned at him, then remembered that the GPA had been there when he’d lit up a cigarette. He really needed one right now. He fished it out of his pocket, handing it to the GPA. The GPA took it, flicked it, and held the needle to the flame for a long moment. Satisfied, he handed the lighter back to Ross and quickly began suturing the worst of the cuts.
They all watched him, open mouthed. Elle finally broke the silence. “How do you know all of this stuff?” She asked tentatively.
“I went through a phase where I thought if I learned everything I could about medicine, my parents would pay attention to me.”
The single, brutally honest sentence made Ross flinch. The GPA said it so coldly, so matter-of-factly.
“Is this house…?” Elle trailed off, gesturing around.
“It’s theirs. They don’t live here, though. They live by the hospital. My mother visits twice a month to make sure that the house gets aired properly. I don’t remember the last time I saw my father. Maybe four months ago?” He tilted his head as if thinking, all the while, his gaze was steady on the stitches he was doing. “Anyway, you don’t have to worry about anyone coming by. My mother was here last week, and the servants only come when she does. Elle, if you could?” He held the thread, indicating that she should cut close to the skin.
She did so, and the GPA moved on to the next cut. “Anyway. I learned about medicine and got advanced licenses in first aid and I spent a lot of time at the hospital learning tips and tricks from the nurses. Didn’t work, though.”
He tied up the second set of stitches, and Elle cut the length. He looked down at the other ones. “The rest aren’t as deep. Ross, keep holding his shoulders. I don’t want him to suddenly wake up and twist.” He set the needle and gauze to the side, going to the box again. He pulled out a packet of butterfly stitches.
He came back, stuck the butterfly bandages on the shallower cuts. He bent over him, looking closely. “His ribs, how are they?”
“They were bruised. He then got kicked around a lot,” Elle told him. Ross glared at her again. He wasn’t ready to trust this GPA with too much information.
He simply nodded, running his fingers gently along Jack’s ribs. “Okay. Ross, Elle, help him sit. Stephan, pass me the gauze?”
Ross shouldered most of Jack’s weight as they carefully moved him into a seated position. The GPA went around and squirted the small tube of ointment all over Jack’s back. He smoothed it out, careful to go around the fresh stitches. Then he pressed gauze into the smaller cuts and on the stitched places. Then he grabbed the cut tablecloth strips and began wrapping Jack’s ribs. Once the gauze was secured under the bandages, he gestured for Jack to be laid down.
“Is the water still warm in the bowl?”
“Yes, here.” Stephan brought it over.
The GPA nodded at him. “There are several guest rooms on the second floor. I can do the rest alone. Go sleep.” He took a bandage and balled it, soaking it in the warm water. He smoothed Jack’s hair back as he worked on the cuts from where the fighter had hit his head into the concrete.
“No, we can stay,” Ross said firmly.
“If you’re worried about going that far away, you can use the couch in the next room. But you’re no use to anyone if you’re exhausted.” The GPA said calmly, gently sopping at Jack’s brow. There was a tenderness that Ross hadn’t noticed before, and it made his guard relax. But only a tiny bit. He glanced at Elle, who was watching the GPA with a convoluted expression.
“Stephan, you and I sleep first. Ross stay here to help.” She said finally.
“Fair enough. How’s your lip?” The GPA looked up from Jack.
Elle shrugged as she led Stephan out of the kitchen. “I’ve had worse.” She said confidently, and the GPA’s lips tilted upwards. He looked back down to Jack.
Ross watched the GPA for a while longer. “What’s your name?” He asked finally.
The GPA left the bandage in the water. The blood swirled and the bowl was an odd pink color. “I like you calling me GPA,” he said simply, turning to get a new needle packet. “Have you given him any medication?”
“No. Should we have?” Ross watched as the GPA started sewing the gash on Jack’s face.
“It’s fine. Medication is more for when he wakes up.”
Ross watched the GPA finish up the stitches and cut the thread himself. “Why haven’t you asked?” He asked finally, unable to bear the silence anymore.
“What happened? Because it’s not my business. You’ll tell me if you want me to know. Shall I tell you what I think, though?”
Ross nodded grudgingly. “Sure.”
“You three are in some underground fighting deal. There are lots of old scars on Jack’s body, and all three of you wear gloves to hide your knuckles. The cut on your eyebrow and Elle’s lip are definitely from more than just abusive households. I know what getting beat up looks like, so it wasn’t hard.”
“How do you know what it looks like?” Ross asked harshly. The GPA didn’t seem like a bully, but one never knew.
“I got beaten up a lot in middle school. I did it on purpose because my parents would have to pick me up from the front office. They started sending the housekeeper after the fourth time, though.”
There it was again. The GPA saying the harshest things in a neutral voice. Ross flinched from it. No matter how many sob stories he heard about how kids got on the street, it didn’t stop it from hurting. Ross could see the pain in their eyes, in the twist of their lips. He could see it now in the GPA’s, the way he held his shoulders, the way his lips pouted downwards. He’d claim it was concentration. But Ross knew. It hurt him to say that as much as it hurt Ross to hear it.
“My mom was an addict and died in a meth house,” he offered. The GPA flicked him a glance. Their gaze met for a long moment, and his gaze warmed a little.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” he murmured, stepping away from Jack, finally finished.
He stretched, and Ross’s gaze was drawn to the ugly blood stains on his hoodie. “Sorry we damaged so much of your stuff,” he apologized, clenching his fists.
The GPA shrugged. “It’s whatever. We can buy more. Am a bit sad about the hoodie though,” he looked down at it, plucking at it with his fingers.
“Let me guess. Limited edition Gucci,” Ross teased. But he wouldn’t be surprised if that was true.
The GPA’s gaze glittered with wicked humor. “Nope. Clearance rack at The Dollar Store. It has a secret pocket.” He unzipped the hoodie, showing Ross the little pocket sewn behind the pockets.
Ross bit back a laugh. “Really? Dollar Store?” He repeated, hardly daring to believe him.
“Yup. It was cool spending $47 and get more than like one sock.” The GPA was smiling more now, his gaze warmer, his lips now fully curled.
Ross noticed that the GPA wasn’t wearing a shirt underneath and that he had golden smooth skin. He wasn’t flabby or soft like one would expect for a rich kid. Would the kid ever stop surprising him?
“You can stay here as long as you like. I don’t mind. It’d be nice to have some company.” The GPA said, breaking Ross’s train of thought.
He pulled out his phone. Two-thirty. They had to be back at the fighter dorms. “We have to get back. I can say Elle is with Jack at a hospital,” he said hesitantly. Fuck. His car was across town.
Something arced through the air and he caught it reflectively. It was a set of car keys. “Take it. I have more. I’ll take care of them here.”
Ross looked up at the GPA. His brown gaze was resolute. Ross fiddled with the car keys. He hated taking them. “I’ll bring it back in one piece,” he promised.
The GPA shrugged. “As you like. Give me your number so I can call you about updates.”
Ross passed it to him, and the GPA entered his number. Ross took it, and went to the kitchen entrance. He paused, and turned around. All around the table was bloody gauze and bandages and discarded wrappers. His gaze travelled from the bloody mess on the floor to the boy who stood behind the table. His gaze was on middle distance as he leaned against the table. His face had lost the warmth and was now neutral. Ross looked around at the austere house. Even though the fighter dorms were cramped and old, they were a hell of a lot better than the clinical emptiness of this giant house.
Ross looked at the GPA again. Something had brought him into their lives. Ross wasn’t sure he could trust him, not yet. But he was willing to try.