Her head aching, Kate sat quietly in the ER and tried not to think of anything for a few minutes. The local investigators were already on scene. She’d given her account of what had happened but had no way of knowing what had gone wrong with the plane. The uninjured pilots were in isolation, already being interviewed.
The doctor walked up and cleared his throat. Kate looked up and he shone a light in her eyes again.
“You have a very mild concussion. No stitches. Just stay up for the next several hours and if you feel dizzy or ill, come back,” he said.
Kate frowned. “I’ve had worse migraines. It can’t be that big a deal.”
“That’s why we have scans. It doesn’t look bad, but if the pain gets worse or your vision changes, get back here. No driving until tomorrow. No alcohol. If you’ve had no increase in symptoms in eight hours, you can go back to normal activity. Get cleared through your regular physician before returning to work.”
“No meds? Nothing?” she asked.
“If you’re not in that much pain, it’s better to take none. Ice packs for swelling where your head hit. The nurse will discharge you and give you a list of dos and don’ts.” The doctor nodded.
Kate rubbed her forehead and tried to imagine how this day should’ve gone. Luckily, Rudy ducked into her examination area. “You look hungover,” he said.
“Mild concussion. This is what I get for trying not to sit too close to that woman. I caught the non-padded area. How are you?” She looked him over—not a scratch.
“No harm done here. Steph is getting some stitches, then we can get some dinner. Hotel rooms are set up. We’re here until the NTSB checks it all out. I heard something failed with the landing gear,” he said.
“I felt something jerk but I guess the sensors didn’t catch it. Maybe I was just imagining it. Had that feeling. Who knows? Now I have to stay awake.” Not being allowed to sleep made Kate want to immediately go to bed.
“We can help there. We all need to eat.” Rudy waved Steph over.
Kate saw the pale woman and wanted to hug her. Steph had recovered well on board, helping people out and coordinating with the emergency services. Steph was tougher than Kate had expected, but now she looked a little stunned.
“Food sounds good. How are you so unshaken?” Steph asked Rudy.
“After 9/11, nothing rattles you. Normal day, then an accident out East, then everyone is grounded and you have no idea how long it’ll last or what planes have terrorists. Frantic passengers and everyone is stranded where they don’t belong.
Nothing freaks you out after that.” Rudy gave Steph a gentle hug.
* * * *
After dinner and checking in, Kate sat in the desk chair of her hotel room. Rudy flipped through TV channels as he lay sprawled on the bed. He claimed to be unflappable, but he liked company. “Don’t worry, I won’t let you sleep. A good movie, and I’ve got candy.”
“I hope they get this cleared up fast and we can go back to normal.” She took a sip from the huge bottle of water Steph had gotten her.
“That’s one big bottle of water. Steph must care.” Rudy laughed.
Kate felt stupid. “Yeah. She wants me hydrated. That’s true love.”
“There is logic to it. If you have to pee, you won’t sleep for long.” Rudy chuckled.
“Hot.” Kate rolled her eyes.
Rudy stopped on reruns of the The Sopranos
. “This will keep you up. Guns, strippers, and swearing.”
“Thanks. I feel loved.” She went through the candy he’d brought. “You can go rest. I’ll be fine.”
“I was going to check on Steph, but I think you should.” He stretched out on the bed.
“Why? She’s probably asleep. It was only a few stitches but she’s probably stressed and tired. It was her first bad landing.” Kate rubbed her neck. She was feeling better, not worse. Staying up was dumb.
“Don’t you remember your first hard landing? Stunned stress? She could use a friend with experience
.” Rudy winked.
“Go ahead and check on her. I’ll be fine. Alone is better.” Kate took a sip of water. It seemed silly, but drinking water was a harmless busy activity. How much could she drink? Refill and repeat. For now it was that or TV. Her smartphone was recharging after a lot of hospital use.
“Oh no!” Rudy hopped off the bed and folded his arms. “No feeling sorry for yourself.”
“My head does still hurt a bit,” she defended herself.
“I’m talking about Steph, not your head. You haven’t even asked her out or made a move and you’re acting defeated.” Rudy shook his head.
“I’m healing. Now isn’t the time to… She held my hand when things got rough. It was weird.” Kate rolled her shoulders and felt her body loosening up.
“That sounds sweet. Now go in there and check on her. Play the sympathy angle. Take her chocolate. Lesbians have it so easy.” Rudy put a hand on his hip.
His drag-queen attitude slipped out, and Kate couldn’t help it—she laughed and leaned back. “Easy? No. We’re not even sure she’s a lesbian.”
Rudy frowned. “She did mention men. But it was her mother pushing her to find a husband. She might be covering, for the job. Worried about discrimination. You know how some people need to hide?”
“Working with us? You’d think she’d know it’s safe.” Kate mentally gave up hope that Steph was the one. She was great, hardworking, and a friend who liked men. Kate had plenty of those.
“Go. She’s in the room across the hall,” Rudy said.
Kate grabbed a couple of chocolate bars and checked her hair in the mirror. Touch up her makeup too much, and she’d look as if she was trying for something. She checked her jeans back pocket for her room key and waved at Rudy.
It was the longest hall crossing she’d ever made. Normally she was confident with women. Steph was different. Work issues, sexuality questions…the mix of the two made Kate pause. She was sure of herself but she’d never rolled the dice with someone at work.
Finally she knocked and Steph opened the door quickly. “Hi. You caught me right out of the shower. I was coming over to help keep you awake, but I felt grungy.”
“No problem—I’ll come back.” Kate tried not to stare at the tan, sexy woman in a white towel that barely covered everything. Her dry hair was clipped up and Kate fought the urge to kiss that sexy neck.
“Don’t be silly. Just us girls—I’ll throw something on.” Steph grabbed Kate’s hand and pulled her inside.
Steph closed the door and steered Kate to the bed.
“You’re sure? I just wanted to make sure you were okay after that landing.” Kate sat down. Mentally, she counted back from seventy to thirty just to make sure she hadn’t lost her mind. The concussion wasn’t messing with her head. Then she bit the inside of her lip. Nope, not a dream.
“I’m better. At least now I know I won’t panic in that situation,” Steph called from the bathroom. Then she returned in a gray T-shirt.
No shorts and, from the looks of things, no bra, either.
Was there anything else underneath? Kate found herself aroused and tempted. Steph had no idea the effect she had. “I’m glad you’re okay. You probably want to get some sleep. Rudy found chocolate, so he wanted to make sure you had some.”
Steph sat near the head of the bed. “You going to sit on the edge? Get comfy up here and we’ll find a movie. Or is Rudy waiting for us?”
“No, I think he found a waiter to flirt with,” Kate fibbed so Steph didn’t feel compelled to go and thank Rudy and include him, when he was the one who’d sent Kate over here. She scooted up to sit next to Steph and tried to relax with all the mixed signals.