Leo shouldn’t have run after the customer who left behind his coffee in a rush. He should have looked where he was going. He should have seen that car coming…
When Leo wakes up in the hospital, he recognizes his nurse as the handsome customer he rushed after … the customer he’s had a crush on for nearly a year now. Coffee-to-Go. When Andy awkwardly flirts with Leo, it becomes clear that the attraction is mutual.
Before anything can truly spark between them, Leo’s life is thrown into chaos when he becomes caught in the web of a corrupt deportation scandal.
Will their budding romance survive?
Chapter 1: Morning Rush
Leo wiped down the counter after the morning rush. When the door chimed, he looked up to see his favorite customer striding towards him, running late as always. Coffee-to-Go. His long, dishwater blond hair was pulled back in his usual, messy fashion while he still had those puffy dark circles under his eyes. As he reached the counter, he plunked down the $2.53 and made his usual order. “One large coffee to go, please!”
A smile quirked across Leo’s lips as he poured the coffee into a large paper cup, feeling the warmth as it radiated into his hand. He grabbed and pressed a lid on before turning back to the tall, lanky man. Several months earlier, the first time Coffee-to-Go had come in, Leo could hardly refrain from rolling his eyes. Who orders just plain, black coffee anymore?
“Here you go,” Leo said as he handed over the cup. Coffee-to-Go’s fingers briefly brushed his, lingering almost a second too long, as he took the cup from him. The hint of a blush bloomed on the man’s cheeks as he pulled away.
“Thanks!” Coffee-to-Go said with an appreciative smile before rushing off.
Leo sighed and rang in the order, putting the money into the register. Looking around the shop, he made sure all his patrons seemed content before picking up his abandoned rag and rinsing it in the tub of warm, soapy water he kept in the sink. Now was the time to get as much done before the inevitable mid-morning rush.
While he cleaned, he couldn’t get Coffee-to-Go out of his head. The man always looked harried and sleep deprived. It surprised him to realize that it made him worry.
What did Coffee-to-Go do for a living? It was difficult to tell. He was always dressed in a pair of jeans and some nondescript hoodie, with a backpack slung over his back. Leo’s shop wasn’t close to campus, and the man looked too old to be a student. Nearby were several other shops, office buildings, and the hospital. Coffee-to-Go could work at any one of them.
The door chime pulled Leo from his reverie. Further thoughts of his weary but handsome customer would have to be filed away until later.
A few weeks later, Leo was experiencing an unusually slow morning when Coffee-to-Go rushed in. The man’s phone began to buzz almost as soon as he’d put down his payment. Leo had already begun to pour the coffee and was about to hand the cup to his customer when a look of alarm crossed Coffee-to-Go’s face, and he ran out of the shop.
Leo froze for a moment, his eyes darting between the cup in his hand, and where the man had stood a moment before. The man had left behind both his payment and his coffee. Since the shop was quiet, Leo grabbed the money while still clutching the large coffee, as he ran after his fleeing customer.
Once outside the shop, Leo saw the man across the street. “Hey! You forgot your coffee!” Without looking, Leo began to run across the street towards Coffee-to-Go, trying to get his attention. He never saw the car before it hit.
When Leo regained consciousness, the first thing that he became aware of was an incessant beep. Next came the sickening smell of hospital disinfectant. His mouth felt dry, and when he tried to swallow, he realized there was something down his throat. The fog in his senses seemed to lift almost instantly as his heart rate increased while a growing sense of panic rose in his chest.
Immediately, Leo tried to rise from the bed he was in, but he found he couldn’t. That’s when he opened his eyes fully and saw that he was in traction, his one arm and both legs were raised and in casts. The beeping of the machine increased as his heart started to flutter in his chest. Between the rising panic and whatever was in his throat, he struggled to breathe.
A moment later a nurse ran in with a look of concern. “Mr. Stanya, you need to calm down.”
Leo shook his head. He couldn’t control his reactions as he began to hyperventilate. The nurse ran out to call for a doctor, who entered the room moments later.
Leo was too deep into his panic to register what was going on around him, struggling hard to take a breath.
“Get me five milligrams of diazepam,” the doctor ordered the nurse.
A moment later the nurse returned, and the diazepam was injected into Leo’s I.V.
The doctor then approached the bed. “We had to intubate you after surgery. Hang on while I pull the tube out. Nurse, please assist.”
The nurse came over and gently held Leo’s shoulders down, to keep him still, while the doctor reached over and began to disconnect the breathing apparatus and slowly slid the tube out of Leo’s throat. It burned but didn’t hurt nearly as much as Leo thought it should.
“Now, take some deep breaths. You’ll start to feel the sedative working soon,” the doctor instructed.
Leo tried, but it took him a few moments before he was able to draw a single, deep breath. The medicine began to work as the edge of panic slowly receded. However, the abject fear that had triggered the attack was still there.
The doctor’s phone buzzed, and he turned to leave after giving it a glance. “I have another emergency down in 214. Nurse, make sure the patient is stable.”
“Yes, sir,” the nurse replied as he approached Leo and took the barista’s hand in his own. “Feeling any better?”
Leo looked up at the nurse, his eyes trying to focus on the man’s face. When his vision cleared, Leo let out a startled gasp. Coffee-to-Go.
“You?!” Leo asked, his voice rough and slurred. “You … are … you’re a nurse?” The warmth of the man’s hand felt good, but he felt embarrassed for enjoying the touch. He jerked his hand away clumsily.
A fleeting look of sadness crossed the nurse’s face. “Hey, be careful, don’t pull out your IV. Look, I’m sorry I touched you like that. I was just trying to get you to calm down. I didn’t mean…”
Not able to look at the man due to his embarrassment, Leo turned his head aside, hoping the man didn’t take note of his blush.
The nurse straightened himself up to his full height. “Right now, the most important thing for you is to try to remain calm. You’ve been in a terrible accident, and you’re lucky you weren’t killed. What were you doing, running across the street like that?”
Leo thought back, trying to remember how he got here, when his eyes shot wide. “I … I was tryin’ to bring you … coffee. You lef’ wit’out it,” Leo said with slightly slurred speech. Why doesn’t my tongue work right?
“Really? You risked your life to make sure I had my coffee?” he asked with surprise. “That’s … wow. I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize it was my fault you were running across the street like that.”
“Not yer faul’ I didn’t look,” Leo said.
“Well, okay that’s true,” he agreed. “I think proper introductions are in order, seeing as I’ll be your primary nurse. I’m Andrew Schreiber. You can call me Andy.”
“I’m Leo,” he introduced. “So, wha’ happen’? I don’ ‘member much … after I started to run after you.”
“You were hit head-on by a car,” Andy explained. “The impact threw you several feet in the air. You have a concussion, a broken right arm, both of your legs were broken, and we think you fractured your left hip. The doctor decided to wait until you came out of sedation before running further tests.”
Leo didn’t feel very lucky.
“How long?” Leo asked brusquely.
“We kept you sedated for two days,” Andy replied.
Leo shook his head. “No. How long … do I have to stay here?”
“It will take you weeks, maybe even months, of healing and physical therapy before you’re back on your feet,” Andy replied apologetically. “You need more tests to see if your hip will require surgery, which may extend your recovery time.”
“How … how much will this all cost? I don’t have health insurance. I opened up The Coffee Nook under a year ago, and I haven’t been earning enough of a profit to afford any.” Leo began to feel another sense of panic as the infernal monitor next to him increased its beeping.
“Hey, calm down, please,” Andy said. “Don’t worry about that for now. I’m sure we can work something out. Right now, just focus on healing. I might be able to pull a few strings—”
“What? You can’t do that! You don’t owe me anything!” Leo protested.
Andy sighed. “Look, I … I … just want to help you out, okay? You always make the best coffee, and I feel awful that you got hurt because of me. Let me help, okay?”
Leo took a deep breath. Did he want to be indebted to this man?
“Okay, but promise … talk to me first before you do anything?” Leo asked.
“Yes, of course. I wouldn’t do anything without your consent. Speaking of which, do you have anyone who can cover you at the coffee shop? I closed it up for you after we had you stabilized,” Andy pulled out a set of keys from his pocket.
Leo shook his head. “No. I can’t afford to hire help.”
“I need to get back to my rounds,” Andy said as he checked the clock and made his way back towards Leo. He handed him what looked like a remote control. “If you need anything, click the red button. That will page the nurse on duty at the time. Most of the time it will probably be me, but I do need to get some sleep occasionally.”
“I wondered if you ever slept,” Leo said chuckling to himself. “Wit’ th’ bags under yer eyes.”
Andy laughed as he made his way to the door. “Yeah, well, it’s not easy when I’m working sixteen-hour shifts. I’ll come check on you later.”
Alone again with his thoughts, Leo groaned internally. What in the hell have I gotten myself into? Running after Coffee-to-Go … Andy … was probably the stupidest thing he’d ever done.