A wounded man lies on the bed in front of me. I pull a metal rack on wheels towards the patient and pull the lever underneath to lower it. The man is badly beat up, bruises from head to toe. Luckily, the bleeding has stopped so I can begin to clean his wounds.
Suddenly, the ship rocks, and I’m thrown to the side. A nurse behind me yelps as she falls to the ground. I grab onto the wall to hold myself up and lunge for the supplies from on my rack. The scalpel clatters to the ground and I let it slide as we tilt. I don’t want to fall and hurt myself.
The ship rights itself, after we’re jostled two more times, and I fix my outfit before anyone notices that my dress shimmied up my leg. I hate that we have to wear white dresses. It’s easily the worst outfit for someone who deals with blood on an hourly basis, but I’m a rule follower.
I go back to bandaging the man in front of me. I dab some disinfectant on a white, scratchy piece of gauze and press it to the man’s forehead. He hisses with the sting I know it brings, but I press harder, knowing the worst of his pain is over. When I pull the gauze back, what I thought was a minor gash proves to be much worse.
I grab my sutures from the tray and string a black line through it. It turns out I have to put seventeen stitches right across the poor guy’s forehead. He shuts his eyes as I string the fourth, and I’m thankful because I don’t have to look at the pain in his eyes and can take my time. I’m putting a bandage over the stitches when a sailor runs into the room, making a loud commotion.
“More coming in. The Alert attacked. Second group is coming in fifteen minutes. Prepare beds.” The main doctor on staff, Henry, rushes around the room and clears those who aren’t badly injured. We have a second room on the ship, but we leave it empty most of the time. Truthfully, it’s been quiet lately and I’ve enjoyed my days staring at the ocean and writing in my journal. I told him to let us have more beds in there, but he didn’t listen to me.
I don’t leave the man in front of me to help Henry prepare for the new group. Instead, I continue to make sure the patient in front of me is comfortable. He’s still asleep and I place a cup of ice cubes beside his bed.
As I’m gathering my tools, five stretchers of Navy men are wheeled into the room. One dark-haired man is dropped on the bed in front of me. He’s literally thrown over my patient’s legs and left dangling with half his body on one side and half on the other. I glare at the nurse who threw this man down as I try to adjust him so both men can fit.
“I guess I’m not hurt enough,” my patient says through a wicked smile. He has perfectly straight teeth, and despite the ugly stitches, he’s smiling and I can respect that.
“I’m sorry. If you’d like to sit in the other room, I can check in on you later.” I try to make this experience as easy as possible for the sailors. I hate that they’re usually treated with annoyance. The other nurses, with the exception of Claudia, are self-righteous snobs who hate lifting a finger. I constantly question why they’re in this field. I would hate to be away from my family, at risk. The sailors are men who fight on a daily basis, and these nurses don’t even give them the time of day.
“It’s you,” the dark-haired man says as he scoots back against the metal headboard, stealing my old patient’s spot. I catch the backside of him as he goes into the second room where he’ll most likely have to sit on the ground.
“It certainly is. What hurts?” I fix the pillow beneath him, so he’s more comfortable and propped up appropriately. He has captivating eyes. I used to call them hurricane eyes because they’re full of emotion, different shades swirling together like a storm. Eyes I’ve never seen before in a man. They’re so green like the finest emeralds, but with deep evergreen tones underneath.
“There’s just some wood in my shoulder.”
“Oh God,” I gasp as I notice the large piece of shrapnel lodged deep in his shoulder. I touch the top of his shoulder to feel for swelling, and my fingers sizzle with heat. I look up from his shoulder to his eyes and they hold me. My gut swirls with emotion, but I push it down with a smile as I look away to focus on his injury.
I ease him forward in the bed and look at the back of his shoulder. Luckily, the hunk of wood didn’t poke through the back. It doesn’t look like there are any splinters, which is another thing in this guy’s favor, but the wood seems to be a good inch or two deep. To be honest, I have no idea how he’s still coherent.
“Just lie back and relax, and I’ll get you fixed right up.”
I check my tray for tweezers, but as I take them between my fingers, I realize they’re too small to grab ahold of the wood. These are more equipped to pull out a small-grade splinter. I shuffle through my tray for something that will aid me with this shrapnel but it looks like the only thing big enough to tug the wood out is my hands.
He groans as I start to apply pressure to the wood piece. I push his shoulder back with one hand, and tug the wood with the other. My insides swirl with disgust, but like I’ve taught myself, I push it down and focus on this poor, hurt man.
With the last tug of the wood, blood follows, soaking the entire front of his shoulder in crimson. I grab a white rag from the bed behind me and place it over the open wound, applying pressure to make sure he doesn’t lose any more blood.
“How are you doing, sailor?” I ask as I push against him.
“I’m just glad I found you, a beautiful, beautiful woman.”
“Well, I’m pretty sure you got here by a dose of bad luck. But, I’ll take the compliment.” I giggle at the way he looks at me with a heated intensity that sears to my core. He grabs my wrist and holds onto me as I press the cloth onto his wound. I smile down at him, not minding his hands on me at all. It seems like I’ve known him forever, because of the way I feel.
When his eyes meet mine, it’s like the purpose to my life has been fulfilled. While I’m not sure how to feel about this instant connection, I don’t question it. Sometimes people come into our life and are just meant to change us. I have a feeling this man right here is going to have an effect on me.
“Where do you live?” he asks me, his gaze unrelenting. He’s going to need stitches, so I turn back to my table and start preparing another needle and thread.
“I’m a traveling nurse, so wherever nursing takes me. I don’t have just a single place that I call home. Right now, my home is this ship.” I smile over my shoulder.
“What would you say to staying with me when we get back to port?”
“I’d say you’re crazy to ask me. We don’t know each other.”
“But, will you stay with me?” I don’t answer him right away. I consider my options. To even consider is crazy, yet here I am, doing just that. “Trust me,” he says.
“Okay. I’ll stay with you…” I pause waiting for his name.
“Aristeus,” he supplies, grinning from ear to ear. I shake my head, thinking he’s just delirious. But three weeks later, when we get to port, he’s waiting with his suitcase in one hand and the other outstretched towards me. And what do you know? I take it.