Castle Roland


by David McLeod


Chapter 1

Posted: N/A


by David McLeod

The Doctor is a Patient

Earth Analogue,
Minnesota Medical Center

Jon held his wrist to the scanner. The machine beeped, his photo flashed on a screen, and the door to the sports medicine center opened. That patient armband is a real drag, Jon thought. The hospital administration uses them to keep the patients in their place more than for identification. They try to make us into second-class citizens. That's an unlikely status considering how much this is costing the Veterans Administration and me. The armband does get me in here, though. And, it's a better workout facility than I've seen in a while.

From behind the desk, a boy who looked about fifteen, and who wore a crisp, blue pinstriped shirt, greeted the man. "Good morning, sir."

"Good morning, Tyler," Jon said, glancing at the boy's nametag. The boy smiled and handed Jon a towel.

"The aqua class will be over in about 30 minutes, if you want to use the pool," Tyler said.

"Thanks," Jon said, acknowledging both the information and the towel. "I'll start on the Nautilus® circuit, and then do some free weights."

In the locker room, Jon quickly shed the ubiquitous hospital scrubs (Brown is for patients. That's just another way to keep us in our place!) and took a singlet from his bag. Before he pulled on the singlet, he looked at himself in the mirror. Jagged scar tissue extended from just above his right knee nearly to his waist. Beneath the scar tissue, seventeen titanium pins, plates, and screws held his femur and pelvis together.

An eighteenth piece of metal was a sliver of depleted uranium. It had come from an American-made anti-tank sabot. The sabot had become part of an improvised explosive device–IED–detonated by some Iraqi faction or another. The doctors who first put his leg and pelvis back together had missed it. Now, Jon waited for another team of doctors–of his own choosing–to decide when and how to remove it while leaving him still able to walk.

The singlet covered the scar and Jon had learned to deal with the pain. When he concentrated, he could walk as well as anyone. Almost as well as anyone.

Jon put disks on the bar, and looked for someone to spot him at the bench press. The weight room was empty except for himself. He removed a disk from each end of the bar and prepared to do the exercise without a spotter. He lay on his back and reached for the bar. His eyes snapped open wide when he saw a blonde head, upside down from his perspective, bending over the bar.

"Need a spotter?" It was the boy from the desk.

"Yeah, thanks, Tyler. Can you handle it with 40 more pounds?"

"Can I spot for you?" Jon asked. Tyler had changed into shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt. It appeared at he intended to work out, himself.

"Uh, you don't have to..." the boy said. "I mean, you're a patient..."

"Not really, and not yet," Jon said. "I won't be a patient for sure until they decide when and how to operate. So, do you want me to spot?"

"Yes, thanks."

"Who's the guy in the blue singlet... over there," Tyler gestured.

"Patient," replied the orderly who had taken over the desk of the physical therapy center. "None of your business."

"I know he's a patient," Tyler said. "He told me that he was here for an operation, but they didn't know–" The look on the orderly's face stopped the boy.

"I said, none of your business," the orderly said. "You shouldn't have asked him."

"But I didn't," Tyler protested. "The other day he offered to spot for me. I said he shouldn't, since he was a patient. I mean, he had an armband and came in wearing PPJs." Tyler used the slang abbreviation for the patient pajamas–the brown scrubs that ambulatory patients wore.

"Anyway," the boy continued, "he said he wasn't really a patient until they decided whether or not they were going to operate."

"Hmm, okay," the orderly said. "Sorry I snapped at you. If he volunteered the information I guess it's okay. However, you ought to know who he is. It was in the news. Check his name on the web sometime."

"Jonathan McLauren" typed into the search engine returned the information Tyler sought. Combat hero... ambushed in Iraq... saved five soldiers. He's a doctor! Despite his own injuries... That's why he limps. I guess that's why he's here.

"Good morning, Dr. McLauren," Tyler said the next time Jon came into the gym.

"Doctor? Where'd you get that? You'd better not let the rest of the staff hear you. They really hate having a doctor for a patient," Jon said.

Tyler flushed, but said nothing.

"So, who spilled the beans to you?" Jon asked.

"I shouldn't have," Tyler said. The boy was clearly nervous. They're going to fire me, he thought.

Jon raised his eyebrow.

"I got your name off the screen here and Googled you. One of the orderlies told me to..."

"I see," Jon said. "Well, he shouldn't have... and you probably shouldn't have, either. Hmmm, it would be best if you didn't say anything about it, and just called me Mr. McLauren."

Seeing the puzzled look in the boy's eyes, Jon added, "I don't mind, really. I know who I am, and I don't need green scrubs or a stethoscope draped around my neck to remind me."

The smile that accompanied those words was enough to reassure the boy. "Thank you, sir. I won't forget."

Jon found himself looking forward to the daily "Good morning, Mr. McLauren," from the boy. He did not know that Tyler also looked forward to Jon's "Good morning, Tyler." However, it did not take long for Jon to realize that Tyler was creating opportunities to interact with him. When Jon moved from Nautilus to free weights, the boy would show up offering to spot. Tyler would come into the locker room, ostensibly on some errand, when Jon was changing. And, it seemed that the chemical level needed checking every ten minutes when Jon was in the pool.

I think the kid has a crush on me, Jon thought. It's too bad he's so young. I could have a crush on him if he were a few years older.

Tyler had finished his workout and Jon was racking the last of the weights they'd been using. "Tyler, this is going to be our last workout for a while," Jon said. "They're going to operate tomorrow. I'll be in real rehab for a while after that. I don't know if I'll get back here, or not. If I don't, well, thank you, Tyler. I've enjoyed working out with you."

Jon saw the stricken look that flashed across the boy's face. He does have a crush on me, Jon thought.

"Uh... good luck, I mean, I hope the operation goes okay," Tyler stumbled on his words.

"Thank you, Tyler," Jon said. "Uh, look, I'll see you before I'm discharged. You behave yourself until then, okay?"

Jon had enjoyed his workouts before the surgery. After the operation, however, the therapists focused on the healing leg, and the pain returned. They would not let him exercise in the singlet, but required him to wear the brown scrubs. Patient pajamas, he thought. Not cool for exercise, but they're afraid the singlet might put pressure on the wrong thing at the wrong time... crap.

Not only did Jon miss the regular exercise, he found himself missing Tyler's companionship. Admit it, he thought, you like having him follow you around like an adoring puppy.

Tyler's face lit up. "Mr. McLauren!" he said. "You're back!"

Damn, he's cute, Jon thought. He reached out to shake the boy's hand. "Hello, Tyler. Glad to be back. Rehab sucked, but they finally said I could work out on my own. Um, can you spot for me, later?" Now why did I say that? he wondered.

"Yes, sir," Tyler said. "Anything you say." Now why did I say that? he wondered.

The boy had been moody–pensive–Jon thought, and had nearly dropped a bar with 200 pounds of plates. Jon was on his back, bench-pressing that bar. He saw from Tyler's expression that the boy's mind was a thousand miles away. He racked the bar and then asked, "Tyler, is something wrong?"

"I was really worried," Tyler said abruptly. "I didn't hear from you... and I couldn't find out about you... I thought I'd never see you again. And now," the boy's voice caught, and then he blurted, "you're gonna be discharged soon–"

Jon sat up abruptly. "Tyler," he said, looking squarely at the boy, "I knew you had a crush on me, but I thought we were keeping our relationship on a professional level."

Fear and panic fought for control of Tyler's face. The boy looked around, but they were alone in the gym.

"Uh... uh... " Tyler stuttered before his eyes rolled up in his head. Damn, I was afraid of this, Jon thought. Jon caught the unconscious boy as he fell.

"Tyler?" Jon said calmly. "You're awake. I'm a doctor; remember? I can tell. Open your eyes."

The boy lay on an exercise mat. Jon sat on a weight bench beside the mat. Tyler opened his eyes.

"Tyler," Jon asked. "You ever play Truth or Dare?"

The boy was disconcerted by the question, but sputtered out a "Yes, sir."

"Good. Here's a new game. It's called Truth. There's no Dare to it. I ask a question, and you answer truthfully. Then you ask me a question. I will answer truthfully. I go first. First question: Are you gay?"

Tyler took a deep breath, and let it out. "Yes," he whispered. "Are you going to tell?"

"No." Jon replied. "You ever had sex with a boy, or just thought about it?"

"Yes. I mean, yes, with a boy–" Tyler said. "You?"

"Yes," Jon said. "My turn. I'm going to be here at least through the rest if the summer. I would like to work out here... in fact, I need to. Are we going to have a professional relationship?"

Tyler's face darkened. "Yes, Mr. McLauren." The boy hesitated, and then blurted, "Don't you like me?"

"Yes, Tyler. I like you," Jon said.

"Then why can't we be friends?" Tyler said.

"Out of order, Tyler. But I'll answer, anyway. Several reasons. The first is, I'm an adult, and you're only... what... fifteen?"

"Eighteen," Tyler said, hotly. "Eighteen and a half, really. You can't work here unless you're eighteen."

"I'm sorry, Tyler," Jon said. "That was an unwarranted assumption on my part. Still, there's the second reason. You work here. I'm a patient. You told me you wanted to be a doctor. Friendships, especially close friendships, between patients and medical personnel–Tyler today, and Dr. Sampson later–can wrongly affect judgment."

The boy started. This was the first time Jon had used his last name.

"How did you know my last name?" Tyler asked. "It's not on my nametag–"

It was Jon's turn to be disconcerted. "Um–," he began. "The Chief of Therapy must have told me. Sorry, that wasn't the entire truth, and I did say I'd tell the truth. He asked me who I was working out with and I wormed your name out of him by saying, the boy on the desk, Tyler something-or-other. He then said Sampson. It's a simple trick."

You do like me, Tyler thought.

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