“Sorry,” she says, coming back to where I’m sitting. “I was helping him get his brace back on and it was giving us trouble.”
“It’s no bother. It’s not like I have anything better to do.”
I get up and we go back to the large room where she directs me to sit on a training bed. “You’ll be able to do more and more each day. And Tampa is a beautiful place. But of course, you know that since you come here every spring.”
I laugh. “I know all the best drinking holes if that’s what you mean.”
“Seriously? You’ve been down here for five straight years and all you do is bar hop? Surely you’ve been to the aquarium, or the bay front, or Pier 60.”
“Spring training isn’t spring break, Rylee. We work our asses off during the day and then we let loose a little after.”
She winces. “I didn’t mean—”
“I know you didn’t.” I sigh. “Shit. I didn’t mean to bite your head off.” I nod to my arm. “I guess this is affecting me more than just physically.”
“Injuries tend to do that to anyone, but especially athletes.” She examines my fingers. “How’s the pain level today?”
Man, I feel like a douchebag for snapping at her like that. Now she’s all business.
“My elbow feels a bit better. I didn’t have to take a pain pill this morning – just ibuprofen. The lower arm and fingers still hurt and tingle like a mother, but I’m not about to get hooked on Oxy to manage it.”
“That’s smart. But if you really need one occasionally, it’s okay not to be so tough, big guy.” She smiles at me and I feel like maybe she’s forgiven me for my asshole comment. “Can I send you back to the hotel with a portable TENS unit so you can use it to help manage the pain?”
“Already have one. I’m a pitcher, in case it doesn’t say so in my file there.”
She rolls her eyes at me. “Good. Use it as much as you need to in thirty-minute increments. You can ice the elbow if the pain is bad, but not too much, we need your blood circulating to help with healing.” She carefully removes my sling. “The bruising looks good, it’s fading quickly. And the swelling has gone down noticeably since yesterday.”
“Yeah, I noticed that too when I was in the shower this morning.”
She looks horrified. “You’re taking showers?”
“Uh … yeah. Unless you want my ripe ass to reek to high heaven.”
“Of course you should be bathing,” she says. “But you should take baths so you can lay your arm on the side of the tub and there is no risk of a fall.”
I try to imagine myself fitting in the bathtub at the hotel. I guess it’s bigger than most tubs, but still. I’m 6’5” and my feet would likely stick out one end. “Believe me, Rylee, you don’t want to see me try to get in a bathtub.”
Her eyes go to my feet and work their way up my long body. I know she isn’t doing it with any sexual intention, but seeing her eyes on me like this, especially when we’re talking about bathing and shit, it’s hot.
“You could take sponge baths,” she says. Then she laughs at herself. “Okay, fine. Just be careful, alright? We don’t need you falling and breaking your other arm.”
She puts me through my paces, getting out squeeze balls of various density and rubber bands I’m supposed to try and stretch between my fingers. I’m disappointed that I can’t seem to do squat.
After a half hour or so, she tells me, “Okay that’s enough work for today. I know you can’t see it, but I can – you are making small improvements, Brady. And in about a week, you’ll be making larger ones, at least with the elbow anyway.”
The familiar-looking guy from yesterday comes over and Rylee introduces him. “Brady Taylor, this is my boss, Alex Burke. He’s the one you’re not going to tell about any screw-ups I make,” she jokes.
I shake his hand. “I remember you from spring training.”
“Good to see you again,” he says. Then he nods to my elbow. “I wish it were under different circumstances.”
“You and me both.”
He whispers something in Rylee’s ear, making her look irritated. She shakes her head at him and then smiles at me, embarrassed.
Alex walks back across the room, but then he stares at us. At her. I don’t like the way he looks at her.
She wheels over a machine and gels a small wand. “We’re going to use the ultrasound today to help bring blood to the elbow and promote healing. Don’t worry, I’ll be careful.”
“I have no doubt.”
I watch as she gingerly rubs the small wand methodically in circles, taking care not to touch the area around my bandage. “Are you getting your stitches out later this week?”
I nod. “I see the facility orthopedic on Friday.”
“Good. I’ll be interested to see his report. Hopefully he’ll give the green light to start range-of-motion exercises in about a week. Your elbow will improve rapidly after that. In fact, let’s get you on the schedule next Monday to see Matt, the strength and conditioning coach. He’ll want to get you started on a daily workout and conditioning routine.”
“Sounds good. I’ll be happy to get back to it.”
There are a few awkward moments of silence. Physical therapy is normally a lot like social hour. Maybe not so much here, where I’m one of the only guys in the room during the time the A-team is practicing, but back home, after practice and games and even on the off days, you might have ten guys in the rehab room who will all be talking and joking.
But Alex has left the room and the athletic trainer from yesterday is nowhere to be found. Right now, it’s just Rylee and me.
And the growing silence between us.
I look up at the television in the corner. It’s tuned to ESPN, of course.
“Do you want me to turn up the volume?” she asks.
She doesn’t look uncomfortable at all. Maybe she doesn’t even want to talk. She does this day after day so I suppose she’s used to it.
“Only if you want to. I’m fine with conversation.” I shrug my right shoulder. “Or not.”
She smiles brightly. Maybe she was waiting to see if I wanted to talk.
“So, why number three?” she asks, wanting to know why I wear that particular number on the back of my uniform.
“Because number one and two were taken,” I snap at her quickly.
She laughs, but I can tell she doesn’t mean it. It’s like she can see through me and my lame answer. But I’ve practiced it enough. Nobody needs to know the real reason I chose number three when I came to play for the Nighthawks.
“I’ve heard about you, you know,” she says, looking at me out of the corner of her eye as she watches the ultrasound wand. “Your reputation with the ladies precedes you. You’re what, twenty-seven? Do you think you will ever settle down?”
“Are you always this direct?” I ask.
She shrugs. “We’ll be spending a lot of time together over the next few months. Might as well get the obvious stuff out of the way.”
I might not like the questions she’s asking me, but I do like her style.
“I’m sick of talking about that crap, you know? People ask me all the time about my personal life. What do you say we stick to other subjects and skip the usual bullshit?”
“I get that,” she says, sympathetically. “It must be hard to be in the limelight day in and day out. But if we’re doing it this way, that goes for me, too. No personal details.”
“Deal,” I say happily.
She goes back to her task, studying my arm as she works the wand around. She chews her lip like she’s thinking hard. After a few minutes of this, we lock eyes and start laughing at the growing awkwardness of our silence.
“Um … what are we supposed to talk about then? We’re going to be together every day for months.”
“We can talk about plenty of things.” I look around the room. “The weather?” I say, jokingly.
She laughs again and I realize how much I like hearing that sound. Rylee is a very pleasant person to be around. She’s soft-spoken yet gets her point across. She’s easy on the eyes. And I get the impression she’ll take a backseat to no one.
“No, really. We can talk about lots of stuff. Baseball, for one. You work for the Hawks, same as me, so right there we have a lot to talk about. Like, you’re pretty young to have been hired by such a premier organization. How’d you score such a great job? And how old are you?”
Her eyes scold me. “Oh, like that’s not a personal question, asking me my age.”
“Nope – that’s a fair one since you already know mine.”
She quietly chuckles as she wipes the remaining gel from my arm before hooking me up to the TENS.
“Fine, I’ll give you that. I’m twenty-six.”
“You’re younger than I thought. I pegged you for twenty-seven like me. That makes your job even more impressive.”
“Well, my dad was a pretty well-known orthopedic surgeon. Wait, is that too personal?”
I shake my head. “It’s circumstantial so it’s fine.”
She smiles at my ‘rules.’
“Okay, so he was a top surgeon in New York City with a lot of ties to sports organizations. I think he started talking me up to everyone he knew when I started PT school. So when the opportunity arose with the Nighthawks, even though he was gone, I took the chance and applied. I guess my last name and his legacy got me in.”
She keeps referring to him in past tense and I want so badly to ask her about him, but I can’t break my own rules after only five minutes.
“And you wanted to live in Florida? New York too cold for you?”
“Actually, I want to live back in New York. I have, um … ties there. But I couldn’t turn down this opportunity.”