Authors: S. E. Kloos
“So, where that girl of yours, Steele?”
Xander turned to glance over her shoulder when he heard Andrew’s voice behind him. Unhooking Rocky’s bridal from the trailer hooks, Xander finished getting his horse un-trailered. Once Rocky was led over to the water trough, Xander hopped into the bed of his truck to unload his riding gear while answering. “She wasn’t feelin’ well, so she decided to stay at the hotel and get some sleep.” Pulling his keys out of his pocket to unlock the steel storage box, he opened the lid and crouched, draping his arms over his thighs, “She been runnin’ a fever for a few days, high one too. She keep insistin’ that it just a bug, but fuck... she should’ve been showin’ signs of it passin’ by now.”
Andrew leaned on the truck bed with a nod. “Whatcha gonna do?”
Xander sighed and scratched his eyebrow with his thumbnail. “Well Hoss, iffin that fever of hers still there by the time I get back to the hotel, I'ma take her little ass to the hospital, kickin’ and screamin’ if necessary. It been damn near a week since she first said she was feelin’ bad, and it only been gettin’ worse from what I can tell. I honestly been thinkin’ she thinks I’m an idiot or somethin’... that I can’t hear her gettin’ sick. Been two days since that shit started up.”
“Maybe she just don’t want ya to worry ‘bout her.”
Xander gave him a flat look at that. “Like that shit gonna happen. That girl means the world to me, and she knows it.”
A slow smirk pulled at Andrew’s lips as he watched Xander go back to unloading his gear. He then let out an incredulous chuckle of, “Well, I’ll be God damned.”
Xander glanced up at him. “What?”
Andrew cocked a brow back at him. “Don’t ‘what’ me, Boy. You know what. I just never thought I’d live to see it.”
Xander blinked. “See what?”
Andrew rolled his eyes. “Ain’t no way you that thick headed, Steele. You in love with that little Betty.”
Xander snorted. “No shit, Hoss.” Pulling his saddle out of the box, Xander hoisted it up on his shoulder and grabbed the leather reins. With his foot, closed the lid before hopping down from the bed.
Andrew walked with him to the stable Rocky was assigned to. “Tell her yet?”
Dropping the leather straps on the ground and tossing his saddle on a wooden horse, Xander turned to lean against it with his arms crossed. He shook his head. “Nope. She knows, I’m sure, but she ain’t ready to hear it yet. We only been together a few months, Hoss.”
Andrew nodded slowly. Sometimes he forgot that, having seen the way they were together for the last four months. You would think they have been an item for that many years, instead. Cocking his head to the side, he asked, “You got a break comin’ up right?”
Xander nodded. “Yes, Sir. My little Darlin’s birthday comin’ up and I promised that we could spend it outside the arena. Next weekend is my last competition till the last one of September.” With that, Xander pushed off to go get Rocky, with Andrew following after him again.
“Ain’t your birthday comin’ up?”
Xander nodded as he grabbed Rocky’s harness, giving it a slight tug to get the big baby moving again. “It’s today.”
Andrew blinked a few times before smiling at him. “Well, happy birthday, Xander. How old are ya now, 14?”
Xander gave him a light glare. “Twenty-six asshole. Just because you an ol’ fuck don’t mean the rest of us is a bunch of babes.”
Andrew chuckled. “‘Course it don’t, Youngin.”
Xander’s glare darkened. “I will hit you.”
Andrew snorted before sobering. “Well, I am awful sorry your lady ain’t up to bein’ here, Son.”
Xander just shrugged. “Shit happens. She sick, and this ain’t really the place for her to be not feelin’ well. We’ll see how she is tonight and go from there. Tell ya this much, if she real bad, I ain’t gonna be here tomorrow.”
It was after dark by the time Xander got Rocky to the borders and returned to the hotel that night. He did well for the circumstances, but he had been so completely preoccupied with how his girl was, that he was noticeably off his game today.
As quietly as he could, he slipped through the door, giving the room a sweep. Closing the door behind him, his face drew a bit. He sighed while heading straight to the bathroom door, tapping on it lightly before opening it.
Leaning on the door jam, he shook his head. “Oh, Sugar Britches.” Moving into the room, he knelt down to pick up his sleeping girlfriend from the bathroom floor. Xander carried her back into the main room, laid her on the bed, and hurried back into the bathroom to grab the thermometer.
Sitting down on the edge of the bed, he moved her hair out of the way, put the bud in her ear, waited for it to beep, then checked to see if she was at least not worse than she was when he left.
Tossing the device onto the bed, he went to Elizabeth’s bag to find her some clothes. She woke up slightly as he was dressing her, asking in slurred words what was going on, but went right back to sleep when he told her he was taking her to the hospital.
He took that as consent.
Once she was dressed, he picked her up again, grabbed her purse off the dresser, and took her to his truck. After getting her in and buckled up, Xander kissed her templeand shut the door before getting in the driver’s seat. Starting the truck up, he looked over to Elizabeth as she moaned lightly and pulled her feet onto the seat, curling into the smallest ball she could before setting her head on her knees.
The drive wasn’t all that long, but the noises coming from beside him made it feel like an eternity to Xander. Pulling into the emergency room parking lot and coming to a stop, Xander dug around in Elizabeth’s purse for her wallet. He slipped it into his back pocket and he got out, left his door open and engine running, pausing only to grab the valet slip before going to open Elizabeth’s door. Reaching over her to unbuckle her belt, Xander slid an arm under her knees and behind her back. When she wouldn’t uncurl from the ball she was in, Xander whispered in her ear. “Hold on, Little Darlin’.”
Elizabeth opened blurry eyes and looked at him, not wanting to even move, much less anything else. After a moment, she wrapped one arm around his neck and the other around her stomach. All she could think about right at that moment, when she could think though the pain, was this was a lot like the day they met... her concerned about throwing up on the hot ass cowboy. She was pretty sure he wouldn’t mind, but she also really didn’t want to test that, since he was still wearing his riding gear.
After his girl was lifted into his arms, Xander carried her inside, setting his chin on the top of her head when she laid it against his chest. He took her to the waiting area and sat her down before going to sign her in. Since this was the closest hospital to the arena, they were a little busy with injuries and such that the riders got from hitting the ground. He knew the answers to the most important questions, and what he didn’t he left blank. The way he saw it, as long as they knew her name and what she couldn’t have medication wise, they didn’t really need the rest anyhow.
Going back to the waiting room, he sat down next to Elizabeth, who wasted no time turning to cuddle into his side. Xander wrapped his arm around her, placed his hat on his bent knee, then laid his head on top of hers. When she whimpered, he tightened his hold on her for only a moment before she ripped herself out of his arms, running as fast as she could the closest trash can.
Dropping to her knees, Elizabeth gagged and choked, but couldn’t dislodge whatever was in her throat. She felt someone crouch behind her to pull her hair out of her face, but before she could turn to make sure it was Xander, the dam broke and her stomach rolled.
Xander just stayed crouched behind her, holding her hair and rubbing her back, trying to let her know he was there. He heard Elizabeth’s name called, so he turned. The nurse was standing at the doorway, looking around. He lifted a hand, calling out, “Over here.” Looking back at his girl as she got sick again, he bit his lip. “She might be a minute.” Seeing the nurse nod to him, he turned his attention back to his girl.
Elizabeth tried to get her stomach to settle down but every time she thought it would listen, it just seemed to get worse. It took her over five minutes before she felt confident enough to try getting up again.
Noticing her trying to get up, Xander wrapped an arm under her chest, gently lifted her up to a standing position, slowly moving her to the wheelchair that the nurse went to get.
Once Elizabeth was seated, the nurse looked at Xander. “Why don’t you have a seat, Sir? Once she’s situated, I’ll come back to get you.”
Xander glanced up at her. He nodded before turning to his girl, kissing her temple. “See ya in a bit, Baby Doll.” He stood there watching as she was rolled away, praying that it wasn’t anything serious.
It was about an hour later that the nurse came back, apologizing for how long it took, then escorted him back to the room his girl was in. She didn’t tell him much, just that they were running different tests and waiting on the results. Chances were, the doctor was going to want to keep her at least overnight.
Nodding his understanding, Xander went into the room she pointed out, pausing just inside the door to take in the sight of his girl. It might have just been the circumstances, but she looked really small at the moment. She was hooked up to different shit and curled around a pink plastic bucket.
Moving into the room, he grabbed a chair to position it next to the bed, sat down, stretched his legs out, and crossed his arms. He was exhausted, but tried to forced himself to stay awake at least long enough to find out what was wrong with his Little Darlin’.
He didn’t make it.
An hour and a half later, the doctor finally got the results, but all they said was that further testing was needed. With all the negative and sketchy results, he had a pretty good idea what was going on, but the test for it made most females very uncomfortable. When the doctor walked in, he saw Xander with his feet kicked up on the edge of the bed, his ankles and arms crossed, his head down, and the brim of his hat covering his face.
The doctor wasn’t sure which rider he was, and only knew he was one because of the outfit he was wearing. After treating so many different riders that night, it was kinda nice to see one
in a bed. He cleared his throat roughly, not to be rude, but to try and wake up one of the two inhabitants.
Xander started at the noise, jumping slightly in his seat. Rubbing his eyes with a thumb and middle finger, he lifted his head to look around for what woke him. When he saw the doctor standing there, he took his feet off the bed and stood up, shaking the hand that was presented to him. After introductions, Xander crossed his arms again. “How is she?”
The doctor folded his hands together in front of him. “Well, for starters, she’s dehydrated and her blood work showed a very low iron content, even for someone as anemic as she is. I am going to admit her for at least 24 hours to get those two issues resolved. As for anything else, the results from the tests we ran so far haven’t given me a good enough picture as to an actual cause for her illness.”
Xander took a deep breath and let out slowly through his nose and nodded. “Do you have any idea what might be the cause?”
The doctor nodded. “I have an idea, yes. Let me ask you this, when she eats red meat, how does she usually have it?”
Xander hummed. “Depends. Hamburgers are usually about a northern medium and steak is about as raw as a bite right out of the cow’s ass. Anything more cooked than that and she gets a real nasty stomachache.”
“How long before she started getting sick was her last red meat intake?”
Xander ran a hand down his face as he thought about that. After a minute or so, “I wanna say she started feeling like shit two or three days after her last hamburger.” Then he pursed his lips, “Real sleazy lookin’ place off the highway little over a week ago. So, what do you think it is?”
“I think she either has e-coli or salmonella poisoning. That would also explain why her iron count is so low. Anemics are far more susceptible to foodborne bacteria, since they lack the iron needed to keep the blood clean and break down things that enter the body. If she isn’t taking one already, she will want to start taking an iron supplement or a multivitamin with extra iron in it.
“Now, the good thing is, testing and treatment is the same for both conditions. I want to make sure which one it is first, because salmonella poisoning can be quite dangerous. The nurse will be here in a few minutes, and I am going to get her admitted. Then we can rehydrate her and get the iron and proteins she’s lacking back up to a normal level. Does she take any medications on a daily basis?”
When Xander shook his head no, the doctor nodded, reiterated the nurse would be by to get what was needed to run the test in a few minutes, and left the room. Xander sat back down to wait for the nurse.
It didn’t take but ten minutes for her to come in and ask him to step outside. Once out in the hall, he spotted a vending machine at the end of the hall and, hoping it was one that had coffee in it, headed that way.
He was leaning on the wall outside the room, drinking the most disgusting cup of coffee he had ever had in his life, when the nurse came back out. She told him she was done, and someone would be around shortly to take his girl to a room. When he went back in, he saw tears sliding down Elizabeth’s cheeks. Brows drawing at the sight, Xander went over, and after setting his coffee cup down, he sat on the bed next to her, gently using the side of his finger to wipe the tears away. “What’s the matter, “Little Darlin’?”
Elizabeth sniffled, looking up at the concern-filled eyes of her boyfriend as tears kept slipping from her eyes. Her voice was a quiet whimper. “I just had a giant q-tip shoved up my ass because I couldn’t poop.”
Xander grimaced at the answer. That did not sound pleasant. Running his fingers through her hair, he tsked. “Well it’s over now, so you go ahead and go back to sleep, alright? They want ya stayin’ here for awhile so they can keep an eye on ya. I gotta step out an’ make some calls, but I’ll find ya when they move ya.” She went to open her mouth, so Xander covered it with his hand. “Sleep, Little Darlin’.”
Once she nodded, Xander kissed her forehead before picking up his coffee, going outside for some fresh air and a cigarette. He also had to make a few calls so the right people knew that he wasn’t going to be present at the arena the next day.