But part of the process was trusting.
He’d always sucked at that. He turned to Ryan, who’d gone still, seeming frozen on the top step. “I’m too old for this shit,” Ryan muttered.
“How old are you?” Ty asked.
“Two hundred and fifty.”
“Then you’re in luck,” Ty said. “They don’t cut you off until you’re three hundred.”
A ghost of a smile touched Ryan’s mouth. “I’m forty-three.”
Only ten years older than Ty. Ryan’s body was trembling. Detoxing. Not good. Ty would have paid big bucks to be anywhere else right now but he figured if anyone was interested in him as a crutch, they had to be pretty bad off. “How long has it been since your last hit?”
Ryan swiped a shaking hand over his mouth. “I ran out of Oxycontin four days ago. Doctor says I don’t need it anymore. Fucking doctors.”
Ty slipped his hand into his pocket and fingered the ever-present empty bottle. Two months, two weeks, and counting. He thought about saying that he’d wait outside, but that felt a little chickenshit, so he went in.
He survived the meeting, and so did Ryan. An hour later they walked out side by side. Quiet. Ty didn’t know about Ryan, but he was more than a little shaken by the stories he’d heard, at the utter destruction of lives that those people in there had been trying to reboot and repair. He knew he had to be grateful because he hadn’t fucked up his life. At least not completely.
He was halfway back to Ryan’s place when Ryan spoke. “So are you and Mallory a thing?”
Ty had been asked this many times in the past few weeks. By the clerk at the grocery store. By the guy who’d taken his money at the gas pump. By everyone who’d crossed his path. By the very same people who—until Mallory—had been content to just stare at him.
Mallory. Mallory was the heart and soul of this town, or at least she represented what its heart and soul would look like in human form. And while maybe he’d treated her like someone he could easily walk away from, he knew different. She was different. Still, there was no denying the fact that while she was grounded here, in this place, in this life, he was chomping at the bit to get back to his. “No,” he finally said. “We’re not a thing.”
Ryan scratched his scruffy jaw. “She know that?”
It’d been Mallory’s idea that this be just a one-time affair, though she’d accepted his latest visit as just an addendum to the original deal. And she’d let him off the hook for being an ass.
And then asked him to leave without a good-bye. “Yeah. She knows that.”
The question was, did he.
“Because she’s a real nice lady,” Ryan said. “When I was living on a bench at the park, she’d bring me food at night. She ever tell you that?”
Ty shook his head, his chest a little tight at the thought of Mallory, after a long day in the ER, seeking Ryan out to make sure he was fed.
“Yeah, she can’t cook worth shit,” Ryan told him with a small smile. “But I ate whatever she brought anyway. Didn’t want to hurt her feelings.”
Ty heard himself choke out a laugh.
Ryan nodded. “If I was…” He lifted a hand to indicate himself and trailed off. “You know, different,” he finally said. “I’d try for her. She’s something special. Way too special for the likes of me, you know?”
Ty’s chest tightened even more. Yeah. He knew. He knew exactly. “She’d be pissed off to hear you say that.”
“She’s pretty when she’s pissed off,” Ryan said wistfully. “One time she came to the park and some kids were trying to bean me with rocks. She chased them, yelling at them at the top of her lungs. I was in a bad way then, and still I think I looked better than she did. Her hair was all over the place, and she was in her scrubs. She looked like a patient from the place I’d stayed at after I got back from my third tour.”
A mental facility. Ty pictured Mallory furious and chasing the kids off. He could see it: her scrubs wrinkled after a long day of work, those ridiculous fuzzy boots, her hair looking like it had rioted around her face.
Christ, she was so fucking beautiful.
“You’ve seen the stuff on Facebook, right?” Ryan asked.
Ty slid him a look. “How are you getting on Facebook?”
“There’s a community computer at the house.” Ryan shrugged. “Facebook’s the homepage. There’s a pic up of you two. You two seem pretty cozy for not being a thing.”
Except what he’d had with Mallory had been just about the opposite of cozy. It’d been hot. Bewildering.
And what the hell pic was up on Facebook?
He dropped Ryan off, then went home and worked on the Jimmy for Matt until late. He showered, then eyed his blinking phone. He glanced at the missed calls, getting a little rush at the thought that maybe Mallory had called him. The last time she’d been stuck. Maybe this time she just wanted to hear his voice. He sure as hell could use the sound of her voice right about now.
But the message wasn’t from Mallory. It was from Josh. Ty was expected at the radiology department at seven for scans, and then at a doctor’s appointment at eight.
Ty tried to read the tone of Josh’s voice to ascertain whether the news was going to be good or bad, but Josh was as good as Ty at not giving anything away.
The next morning, Ty was led to Josh’s office and told to wait. He’d perfected the art of hurrying up and waiting in the military, so when Josh strode in carrying a thick file that Ty knew contained his medical history, he didn’t react.
Josh was in full doctor mode today. Dark blue scrubs, a white doctor coat, a stethoscope around his neck, and his hospital ID clipped to his hip pocket. Hair rumpled, eyes tired, he dropped Ty’s file on his desk, sprawled out into his chair, and put his feet up. “Christ.”
“Long day already?”
“Is it still day?” Josh scrubbed his hands over his face. “Heard from Frances today. Or yesterday. Persistent, isn’t she?”
“Among other things. What did you tell her?”
“That your prognosis was none of her goddamned business and to stop calling me.”
This got a genuine smile out of Ty. “And she thanked you politely and went quietly into the night.”
“Yeah,” Josh said, heavy on the irony. “Or told me what she was going to do with my balls if she had to come out here to get news on you herself.”
“Sounds about right.” Ty looked at his closed file. “Verdict?”
“Scans show marked improvement. With another month of continued P.T., you could be back in the same lean, mean fighting shape you were. For now, I’d say you were probably up to where us normal humans are.”
Another month off would fucking kill him. “So I’m good to go then.”
Josh gave him a look. “Depends on your idea of go. You’re not up to leaping out second-story windows.”
“Yeah, but that hardly ever happens.”
Josh put his feet down and leaned forward, studying Ty for a long, serious moment. “You’re really going back.”
“I was always going back.”
“But you want to go back now.”
“Hell, yeah,” Ty said. “I wanted to go back the day I got here. Especially in the past few weeks, since I’ve been swimming and running again.”
“So why didn’t you? Go back?”
“I want to work,” Ty said, gesturing to the file. “Need clearance.”
“Yes, and that’s going to come soon, but my point is that you haven’t been exactly handcuffed to Lucky Harbor. You could have left.”
A flash of Mallory’s face came to Ty. Looking up at him while lying snuggled against him in her bed, wearing only a soft, sated smile and a slant of moonlight across her face.
It was no mystery what had kept him here.
“Mal know that you’re just about out of here?” Josh asked quietly.
“This has nothing to do with her,” Ty said flatly. “Sign the papers.”
“You’d have to be on light duty.”
“Fine. I’ll push fucking papers around on a desk if I have to. Just clear me.”
Josh shook his head, looking baffled. “You’d leave here for a desk job? Man, you’re not a desk-job kind of guy and we both know it.”
He’d deal. He needed to get close to the action, to get back to his world. He needed the adrenaline. He was wasting away here in Lucky Harbor.
“You know,” Josh said with that infuriatingly calm voice, leaning on the desk, his elbows on the release papers. “Maybe we should get back to the real reason you’re still here.”
“Sign the papers, Josh.”
Josh stared at him.
Ty stared back, holding the other man’s gaze evenly. Steadily.
With a shake of his head, Josh signed the papers.
Ty spent two days not making any plans to get back to his life. First, he told himself he needed to finish up the Jimmy. Then he told himself he had to finish up the Charger for Lucille’s neighbor, and the other two cars he’d taken on as well. And people kept calling him with new car issues. He couldn’t just ignore them. Plus he needed to finish the Shelby, just for himself, but the truth there was that she was running like a dream.
After that, he ran out of excuses and decided he’d give himself a day off from thinking about it.
Which turned into yet another day…
Then he woke up to a message from Josh to stop by his office at ten. Ty got up and swam. He ran, hard. He played WWE with Matt at the gym for an hour until they fell apart gasping, sweating, and equally worked over. Then Ty dragged himself to the shower and drove to Josh’s office.
Josh was in dress clothes today, a white doctor’s coat over his clothing, the ever-present stethoscope acting as a tie. He looked up from the mountain of paperwork on his desk and scowled at Ty. “You call The Queen yet about being cleared?”