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Mike was propped up in the bed nearest the door, his head resting on the pillow, eyes closed. A loosely woven blanket covered him from the waist down, and dinner dishes waited for pickup on the overbed table at his elbow. His left arm lay at his side, useless, on top of the blue-gray bedding.

A matching privacy curtain hung from the ceiling between the beds, concealing all but the covered feet of the patient on the window side of this semi-private room.

I tiptoed to his bedside. As I came closer to the sight of his unwrapped head injury, my stomach rolled from the rumble of hunger into waking waves of nausea. I put my hand over my mouth and focused on the wound I did not want to see. My dear God. His head must've flopped out the window and scraped on the pavement when the car flipped over and slid.

The horseshoe-shaped flap of flesh, ripped from his skull in the accident, bulged with swelling between each stitch that bound it in place on his forehead. It reminded me of whip stitching that pulls layers of a thick suede moccasin together. Never before had I likened human skin to animal hide, but that day, for one moment, I did.

I swallowed hard, trying to suppress my queasy stomach, then reached over the bedrail to gently squeeze his arm.

"Hi. I'm here."

His eyes opened and met mine. "Hi honey. How was work today?" He smiled, exposing his toothless gums for the first time in my presence.

"Fine." I chuckled at his grin, then quickly sobered, thinking of the expense new dentures would bring. I leaned over the bedrail and kissed his cheek. "Everyone was nice to me; glad to see me back. "

"That's good. How did you get here?"

"Sheila, from work, and her husband brought me. They live in Menlo Park, so this is right on their way home. She said they'd be happy to drop me off every day after work until you're discharged."

"Nice people."

"Yes, they are. How was your day? I see the bandages came off." I also noticed that his head had been shaved halfway back to an imaginary stop-line that stretched from ear to ear over the crown. Beyond that, his normal military style crew-cut stood a full half inch tall. More height than he ever allowed—two weeks between barbershop visits was his limit.

"Yep. They took them off. Your sis let me look in the mirror."

"Speaking of Sis, where are they—she and my mom?"

"They went down to the cafeteria."

"Oh, sure. So, how'd it go, looking in the mirror for the first time?" My stomach growled again, hunger resuming its rule.

"It was okay. You'd better eat something," he said, changing the subject by picking up a leftover dinner roll from the tray and holding it out to me. "Here. Want this?"

"Okay, thanks." I accepted the offer and bit a small piece from the soft-baked bun, then stepped to the sink for a paper cup, filled it with water and drank half of it.

As I turned to face the bed again, my sister and mother walked into the room. "Oh good, you made it," Sis said, handing me a cup of cafeteria soup and a plastic spoon. "I was hoping you'd show up by the time we got back."

I thanked her, and downed the nearly hot chicken noodle soup and the rest of the dinner roll. We talked with Mike until visiting hours were over, then hailed a taxi for the ride home.

Once on our way, Sis turned to me. "I wanted to tell you …" She paused, glancing at Mom as if to make sure she couldn't hear us. "I had some nice talks with Mike today—he even shed a few tears, telling me how bad he felt about this situation. Now I understand what you'd been saying all along, about his being gentle on the inside, but armored on the outside."

"Thanks," I whispered. "I'm glad he was finally able to share."

"Me, too" She grinned. "I got to know him a lot better today."


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