Relief in a Paper Cup (Ginger Man 16A)

And then Charlie was opening his eyes, saw that he was lying on a bed, in a big room, that was white, and crowded. There were people moving around, he noticed many of them were dressed like doctors and nurses, and then he recognized where he was, from the time he had taken his uncle to the emergency room at the county hospital.

There was someone sitting in a chair, next to his bed, he couldn’t see but definitely felt someone there. He reached an arm over to draw that person’s attention, and he recognized the sound of Maggie’s voice as she gasped.

She almost knocked the chair over as she rose. A moment later, she was leaning over him.

“Are you OK?” Charlie tried to speak, but found he didn’t have the energy, so he nodded instead.

She pulled a blanket over him. “Some hunters found you in the woods, outside a tent. What the hell were you doing, it was almost freezing last night. If you’d slept inside the tent, you’d’ve been fine.”

There was a small tray elevated over the other side of the bed. A paper cup, a straw protruding through its plastic cover — Charlie reached for it, but Maggie grabbed it first, handed it to him.

“Doctor says you should drink slowly.” If he had the strength or desire to argue with her, he knew it would have done him no good. He drank slowly. “They say you’re just dehydrated, but they want to keep you here a few more hours, just to make sure.” She pulled a phone out of a jacket pocket. “Your parents were here earlier, but they had to go — said I’d call, soon as you came around.”

“Thank you.” Charlie felt his strength returning as soon as the cool and soothing water had painted down his throat. As he drew more liquid from the cup through the straw into his mouth, he reached over and squeezed Maggie’s hand.

She looked down at him and smiled, putting her phone back in her pocket. He could tell she was making no effort to hide her sadness. “You’ve lost your job, you know.”

Charlie nodded. “Kinda figured. I’m sorry. But it’s over now.”

“Promise?” She looked like a child, pleading with a reluctant parent.

He squeezed her hand again. “Promise. Look, Maggie, I’m sorry I put you through all that. I guess I snapped a little, let my imagination run so wild that it got out of control. Never should have done what I did last night.”

“You could have died, Charlie.”

“I know. But it’s over, Maggie. No more wild stories.”

She smiled, leaned over, and kissed him.

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