“Are you able to walk?” The nurse gave a reassuring smile and held her hand out to guide Lindsey from a wheelchair onto a bed—well, bed-like thing that apparently rolled into a giant circular machine. He’d seen MRIs on television; he hadn’t imagined getting into one.
“Yeah, just a lot of cords.” Lindsey gave a wry smile while he pushed up from the chair. He wasn’t dizzy or seeing double, but they were treating him as if he had a terrible injury. He hadn’t consulted a mirror yet; in light of how it felt, he didn’t think he could handle what he would see.
He sat on the long table with the paper sheet. The nurse closed in to help guide him into place. The more she fussed, the more afraid he became. He wanted Hank. He wanted his mother.
He wanted to know how he’d ended up here.
The last thing Lindsey remembered before coming to the hospital was sitting in his chair doing his makeup, fuming over the wedding. Did he go onstage? Was he gay bashed? He couldn’t imagine that Hank had gotten so worked up over the wedding that he would’ve gotten violent.
Granted, their history didn’t lack for use of force, but they weren’t young anymore, and Hank was far from a steroid-raging teenager. Gay bashing seemed more likely, but Lindsey simply couldn’t wrap his head around how bashers would’ve gotten into the club and past the crowd.
Lindsey peered up at the people who were readying the equipment. “Is Hank here? My mom?”
The nurse clamped a pulse monitor to his finger and gave him a squeeze ball. “There are a lot of people waiting to see you once you’re through. Are you claustrophobic?”
He’d been shoved in lockers and left there before. He didn’t like it, but he survived. “I don’t think so.”
“Good. What kind of music do you like?”
Lindsey stared up at her. She was cresting middle age, sweet-faced and smiling. Her hair was curly, short and graying down the soft waves. “Disco?”
“Anything more soothing?” She smiled as she pulled out an oversized pair of headphones and fitted them over his head. He felt sealed into place, which was strange, but he could deal with it.
“I don’t know. I guess light rock is all right.” Lindsey tried to shrug, but his arms really had no place on the narrow beam. He felt precariously balanced.
“Keep your arms to your side.” She looked at something above his head and then brought it down. A face cage. In all the MRIs on television shows he’d seen, a body was rolled in and out of a big round tube. He’d never seen a face cage and wasn’t prepared to have it lowered onto him. Scenes from the movie The Man in the Iron Mask came to mind. Breathing became more difficult.
“We just need to…” She shoved sponges between his cheeks and the cage, and Lindsey started to panic.
What the fuck was happening right now? She looked like a nice lady, but his head was utterly immobile, and he couldn’t breathe. Lindsey’s arms trembled as cold fear overtook him.
“I thought you said you weren’t claustrophobic.” The nurse’s eyes were wide. “Are you going to be okay?”
“No.” Lindsey’s fingertips here numb. His heart fluttered wildly, and all he could think was that he had to escape. He grabbed the facemask but couldn’t remove it, so he squirmed lower on the table to get out from under it. The sponges fell away, and Lindsey sat up, hyperventilating.
He felt like he was going to vomit. He looked around for a place for it to land.
The nurse held her hands out defensively, like she thought he was going to attack her.
If he looked wild-eyed, it was because his vision was narrowing.
She went to a speaker system and called in a code.
The door swung open immediately, and Lindsey had a moment of fear that the brute squad was about to beat the shit out of him. He tried to figure out how to defend himself in the barren room, but all he saw were towels, latex glove boxes, and sponges.
Instead of a gaggle of giant men, a small woman holding a hypodermic needle and a vial walked through the door. It was a good thing he wasn’t in actual danger, because his feet hadn’t even reached the floor.
She put her hand on his shoulder and looked into his eyes. “You’re all right. You’re going to be okay.”
Having his fear acknowledged helped, but he looked at the machine and then the face cage and shook his head. “I can’t. I mean, if you leave off the face cage, maybe.”
“We have to make sure your head stays still. We need to do several scans, and they have to match up.” She patted his shoulder. “I have some Valium.”
Lindsey eyed it and then looked back at the machine. “I’m not sure there’s enough Valium in the world for this.”
She grinned. She was younger and shorter than the other nurse. Her black hair was swept back in a long braid. “You’ll be fine. Trust me.”
She pulled the fluid from the vial into the needle and then pumped it into Lindsey’s IV line.
Lindsey watched with interest, but he couldn’t imagine a world where he was going to be all right pinned down like that again. There was a reason he didn’t do bondage, apparently. Not that he’d tried. Now he didn’t think he ever would.
And then the feeling hit—a Mack truck of utter calm. Good fucking God.
The Valium-wielding nurse patted Lindsey’s hand. “Lie down for me?”
She smiled, and he noticed her jingling earrings and her red lips. He felt rather mellow now. He peered around the industrialized room. It was dark. Not pitch-black, but soft lighting at least. There was a windowed room that looked in on the machine.
“That’s where we’ll be, Lindsey. We’ll be watching you. Nothing bad will happen.”
Lindsey nodded and thought it would be nice to lie down, so he did.
The original nurse leaned over him and smiled too. “You want a blanket?”
Lindsey nodded. He didn’t think he needed a blanket, but it sounded cozy.
The covering was warm when she pulled it over him, and he sighed in bliss. The Valium nurse waved and left the room.
“I’m going to put a cloth over your eyes,” said the original nurse.
That sounded reasonable. “Okay.”
“Ready for the headphones?”
She put them on over his head. There was no music now. He could hear the muffled sounds of the nurse asking him things. He couldn’t make out her words very well, but when the cage came down this time, he didn’t complain.
However, when she stuffed the sponges against his face, he took them off and tossed them on the ground.
“You stay still…” Or something?
The headphones were doing their job keeping noise out, but he got the message anyway. “I’ll be still.”
She made sure the ball was in his hand, pushed his elbows inward, and rolled him easily into the machine. Nothing happened for a few seconds, and then her voice came through on his headset. “This first scan is three minutes. Stay as still as possible.”
“Overkill” by Men at Work came on over the headset, louder than he would’ve preferred, but once the machine started making pounding and rattling noises, he was grateful to have Colin Hay serenade him through the banging.
There were a few more scans—the soundtracks were more music he hadn’t heard in a long time, including Blondie’s “Rapture,” which he tried to make a mental note to lip-synch to—and then he was rolled out. The nurse beamed with pride. “You did so well. Your family is waiting to see you. You want them all at once?”
Lindsey was so at peace, he forgot that he didn’t know why he was beat up. “Can I see my mom first?”
The nurse smiled. “Of course. Let’s get you back to your bed.”
* * * *
Lindsey wasn’t in a room, but he did have his own area that was curtained off. A television set hung from the ceiling, but Lindsey couldn’t hear the particular station since everyone else on the floor had their TVs at full volume, probably to drown out the junkies who wailed their need for pain medication.
The nurse adjusted the bed so Lindsey could sit, which made him feel ridiculous, but it seemed like they weren’t going to leave anything to chance when it came to a head injury. “I’ll go get your mom now.”
A cup of water sat just out of reach, so Lindsey leaned over the side to get it. Vertigo kicked in briefly, reminding him of something… Maybe a fall? He managed to grab the water and relaxed against the bed as his mother poked her head through the curtain.
“Oh, honey!” She slipped in and stood beside him. Her expression crumpled, but she was trying to force a smile, which meant Lindsey probably didn’t look good.
Tentatively, he brought his hand up to his face and felt a rough patch on his forehead. Stitches? Shit. And a big lump. He sighed and dropped his hand. “I don’t remember what happened. I had a fight with Hank?”
Veronica gently disengaged the guardrail on his bed so she could sit on the edge. She took his hand and shook her head. “It wasn’t Hank. You fell off the stage.”
“Dammit. I told Hank that stage was too small.” A fall. Did he remember falling? Not really. He thought he remembered going out onstage, though, now that she mentioned it.
“No, baby. This isn’t on Hank. Why are you so angry with him?” She squeezed Lindsey’s hand and kissed it.
“I’m not angry with Hank. I’m…” Was he angry with Hank? Lindsey exhaled and tried not to obsess over the wedding, over the cost or any of it. “So what happened?”
Veronica looked over her shoulder as if she was afraid someone would hear her, and then she returned her gaze to Lindsey. “I don’t want to upset you.”
Rolling his eyes made them ache. Everything was starting to hurt. Apparently the Valium and whatever else they’d given him was wearing off. “I’m sedated. This may be the best time to tell me.”
She gave him a wan smile and squeezed his hand. “Right. Well. He’s waiting outside, chomping at the bit to come in anyway, so I guess I can’t keep that from you.”
There was only one person Lindsey could think of who could claim a reason to bust into an ER and whose presence would shock Lindsey into idiocy. “Oh, fuck me. Lloyd?”
“You remember now?”
Lindsey shook his head, then regretted it when the movement triggered his vertigo. “No. He’s the only one who has the ability to make me this fucking miserable. Can’t you have him killed or something?”
Veronica raised a brow. “You want that I should have him swimming with the fishes?” She waggled her brows playfully. “I can make this happen, but it will cost you.”