Can a painful goodbye become a second chance?
Adric's pretty sure his hopeless crush on his roommate Royce has an end date. They'll finish their EMT training course before the holidays and take the exam. When they pass—fingers crossed— he has plans for job hunting, but even when he teases or nags, Royce refuses to discuss anything beyond that looming test date. That has to be a red flag.
Adric tries to be resigned to a bromance goodbye at Christmas. But when he and Royce end up in bed together, that changes everything. Doesn't it?
Publisher: Independently Published
Heat Level: 3
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay, Pansexual
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Tropes: Coming Out / Closeted, Friends to Lovers, Second Chances
Word Count: 63000
Languages Available: English
A Midnight Clear
“Blood pressure’s dropping!” My partner bent over the injured man in front of us, adjusting his oxygen mask. I struggled to get a good pressure wrap around the patient’s shoulder and arm, where the welling blood was bright and arterial red. The man sprawled limply on the pavement, eyes closed. Around us, I heard the moans and bustle of other casualties being treated, but I shut that out to focus on this man, keeping my hands steady despite the pounding of my pulse.
“Dingggg!” A bell rang. “Time!” Our head instructor rose from where she’d been squatting next to one of the groups.
My “patient” sat up with a grunt and winked at me.
“Get your equipment picked up and stowed, then gather round,” the instructor told us. “Five minutes.”READ MORE
I took a deep breath and let the adrenaline seep from my body. Even in a training exercise, the first sight of “casualties” had thrown me into high focus. Which was good, because somehow I was much less of a klutz under pressure. I began unwrapping the man’s bandage, saving the stretchy outer wrap back on its cardboard roll, because the school let us take home clean used supplies.
Carole, my temporary partner, unvelcroed the blood pressure cuff from the man’s other arm and wiped the Ambubag mask. The “patient,” once he was free of our mummification, pulled together his torn and sliced-open clothing, made some adjustment in his shorts with a grin at us, and headed off across the parking lot to where a big coffee urn beckoned. Together, Carole and I picked up the litter of bandage wrappers and disposables, and pulled off our gloves.
The bell rang again, and all us students formed a semicircle in front of the instructor. I looked across the group to where my roommate, Royce, stood next to one of the older students, the woman he’d been lucky enough to score as a partner today. Or who was lucky enough to score Royce. My roommate was super smart and cool under pressure. I wiped an arm across my sweaty forehead, because cool didn’t describe me at the best of times.
The instructor went through a critique of our “car hit multiple people picnicking” scenario, beginning with the triage from the students in the advanced class, and then getting to everyone’s individual performances. Royce threw me a smirk when his and Mary’s attentions to the “pregnant” woman were deemed satisfactory. That was about the top end of Ms. Smithson’s rating scale. Smug bastard. But I couldn’t really resent him because he was damned good.
“Adric and Carole.” Ms. Smithson turned to us. I straightened my shoulders and met her eyes. “Satisfactory job on your first patient. You recognized some fairly subtle signs of head trauma. On your second, you addressed the obvious trauma appropriately, but the patient’s blood pressure kept dropping. Any thought as to why?”
Carole volunteered, “Shock?” then glanced at me.
Ms. Smithson’s expression made my gut feel hollow. “We missed something? Another bleed?”
“Give the man one point. Where?”
“Abdomen?” I suggested, because the odds were good.
One of the instructor’s eyebrows climbed.
Not abdomen. I could’ve kept guessing but that was pointless. “I don’t know.”
“The patient had a closed proximal femoral fracture.”
I managed not to look at Carole, who’d done the quick assessment of femurs, femoral arteries and groin, but the instructor had no such qualms. “Carole, you can’t get polite about sticking your hands in a man’s groin in an emergency. If you’d taken a good firm feel in there, you’d have felt a knob of displaced bone. As it is, you had unexplained shock, and missed a big stabilization issue.”
“Sorry.” Carole dropped her gaze.
“Sorry kills people.” The instructor moved on to the next group, eviscerating someone for failing to verify that his portable oxygen tank wasn’t empty.
I gave Carole a little nudge with my shoulder in sympathy. She meant well, and really wanted to help people. She just had trouble getting down and dirty and crude. That time the instructor gave her an “object in rectum” case to triage had been secretly hilarious, and I now had a new standard for how red the human face could get.
The instructor wrapped up with some general comments on multi-casualty triage and management, and then called for a round of applause for our patient-actors. I happily pounded my palms together and added a whistle. You couldn’t pay me to lie back covered in fake blood in a chilly parking lot and let inept students handle my body.
Although, we were far enough into the semester now to not be quite so inept. I shivered as a sharp wind blew across the pavement. My sweat-damp clothes clung coldly to my body. Minnesota in early December was not fun outdoor weather, even on a near-perfect day like today had been.
Ms. Smithson added, “EMT-2s, practical assessment on hemostasis tomorrow. Get deeply familiar with your wound-packing products and tourniquet guidelines. I’m not going to give you time to think about it on the spot. See you all in the morning.”
Royce caught up with me as we trudged back into the Woodfield Technical College building. “Hey, Adric, fun, huh?” Royce’s changeable eyes sparkled gold-green in the setting sun. I shouldn’t be noticing his eyes.
“You would say that.” I relented when a little of the sparkly dimmed. “Yeah, good practice. Even if we probably killed one of our patients.”
Royce shoulder-bumped me like I did to Carole. And meant just as platonically. Down boy. He murmured, “Because I wasn’t your partner, with my mad skills.”
I went to step on his foot for bragging, except I missed, tripped over his shoe, and would’ve crashed to the pavement if he hadn’t grabbed my arms to steady me.
“Jesus, Adric. How someone as klutzy as you turns competent on the job I’ll never know.”
“Shh.” I tried to ignore how much I liked his strong grip on my biceps. “It’s my secret identity. They never suspect Klutz-boy is actually Paramedic-man. Or will be when I get through about three more years.” Our five-month EMT course was almost over, but to become a full-fledged paramedic was going to be a longer haul.
Royce set me back and let go. “I like Klutz-boy. But yeah, I wouldn’t let him tie my shoelaces, let alone my sutures. Good disguise.”
That stung even though it’d been my idea, because my real self is a lot more Klutz-boy day to day. I turned for the building, striding out fast.
Royce had to jog after me because I’m four inches taller and my legs are a lot longer. He’s built like a swimmer, and I’m built like a giraffe. He caught up with me in time to pull the door open first. “Hey, I didn’t mean anything.”
I shrugged like it didn’t matter. I’d had a crush on Royce since the second week of rooming together, but I thought I’d managed to keep it hidden. He didn’t know he could shake me up with a word. “No problem, Shortie.”
“You want to grab take-out on the way home?”
“Nah. I have to work.” I had a student loan, but needed every dollar I could earn for rent and food. “You want me to bring home pizza?”
He groaned. “I never thought I’d say it, but I’m kinda sick of pizza. I’ll pick up some Thai and put yours in the fridge.”
“I shouldn’t.” My job was working the prep line at Poppa Tom’s Pizza, and at the end of the night, we got to take home the orders that came out bad or weren’t picked up. I was more than kind of sick of pizza, but it was free food.
“My treat.” Royce laid a hand on my arm, an oddly gentle touch. “Special for Klutz-boy.”
I was left staring after him as he jogged toward the supply room, where he was on inventory this week. He didn’t glance back before swinging around the door, calling a greeting to whoever had made it there before him…
I hope readers will enjoy meeting Adric and Royce, and watching them work toward a forever-after.COLLAPSE