Rating: K+ Non-canon
Amber anxiously scanned the bleachers for her friends. She started out late, got a ticket for speeding, and couldn’t find a parking space, so she arrived to the game a little later than she wanted. Ellowyne spotted her first, and waved so she could see them. “I’m so sorry I’m late. Did I miss much?”
Lizette deadpanned, “Well, you missed the cheerleaders. Seven of the hunkiest shirtless guys you’ve ever seen.”
“She’s kidding,” Ellowyne said. “There were eight cheerleaders. Two for each of us.”
Rufus chuckled and squeezed Ellowyne’s hand. “Come on, ladies. You don’t need a cheerleader when you have me,” he said. Amber and Lizette laughed and rolled their eyes. Ellowyne kissed his cheek and squeezed his hand in return. Then he said, “I hate to break this to you, Amber, but there are no handsome cheerleaders at women’s rugby matches.”
“Une telle déception,” Lizette said to Amber, who also spoke French. Rufus quizzically lifted one eyebrow. “That, to our favorite non-French speaker, means ‘such a disappointment.’” Rufus gave her a thumbs up. “But never fear, Amber, I have some snacks that should get you over this big letdown: Pixi Stix and a concoction of Mountain Dew and Red Bull.”
Amber laughed. “Pageant crack and Go-Go juice. I should never have let you know I was a pageant kid!”
The players took the field and everyone stood for the national anthem. Prudence, the home team captain, won the coin toss and decided that her She Devils would kick off. Not only was she the captain, she was a forward, a position played by the toughest and strongest team members.
Lizette, Ellowyne, and Rufus attended most of the She Devils home games, but this was the first one Amber came to watch. She had lots of questions and whispered to Lizette that she didn’t understand the game. Lizette told her that she still had much to learn about the game. “I have a copy of Rugby for Dummies. You can borrow it anytime. The most important thing to remember is that it’s a rough sport. Sometimes Prudence is covered with cuts and bruises but she’s never been seriously hurt, like spraining her ankle or breaking any bones. She brags that she mocks pain, and she has a bumper sticker that says, ‘Give Blood. Play Rugby.’”
No sooner had Lizette spoken these words, than the referee’s whistle sounded and the announcer said that a player for the She Devils was down. The team gathered around the injured player. The announcer said that it was Pru. Her horrified friends climbed down the bleachers to the field were she was. The usually stoic Prudence, who claimed she laughed at pain, was in tears.
Pru felt light-headed and dazed after her injury and wasn’t sure if the handsome man looking down at her was real or a fantasy cooked up by her pain-mediated imagination. The paramedic, whose name was Penn, had red hair and eyes as blue as the ocean. He asked Pru where it hurt and, after gingerly palpating her left ankle, said that she should go to the emergency room to see if it was broken or sprained. The other paramedic, who wasn’t nearly as cute as Penn, helped him get Pru on a gurney. As they moved toward the ambulance, both teams and their fans held a moment of silence for Pru, and then burst out clapping as Penn said that that her injury was not deadly and loaded up the gurney.
Ellowyne, the first one to get to Pru and Penn, was distraught at her friend’s injury. She asked, “Can I ride in the ambulance with her?”
“I’ll go,” Amber suggested, perhaps more interested in the handsome Penn than Pru’s condition.
“You have your car here. I should ride with Pru,” Lizette said. She also found Penn attractive.”
“No, I’m sorry but I can’t let any of you ride in the ambulance,” Penn said. “But you can follow me to the hospital and wait there.”
So off the friends to the hospital. Ellowyne called Pru’s parents, who were at work, and they were going to get to the ER as soon as possible. She also asked Pru to permit the hospital staff to let their friends know about her condition, which naturally she approved.
The ER was abnormally, almost eerily quiet for an early Saturday afternoon. Rufus paced while Lizette and Ellowyne sipped on coffee. Amber searched the Internet on her phone, looking for rugby injuries. She was horrified to see x-rays and pictures of badly broken limbs with bones sticking out of the skin. She inhaled sharply. Lizette walked over to Amber and looked at some of the photos. “God, Amber, those pictures would disturb anyone,” she said. “But I’m sure Prudence isn’t hurt that much. At least I hope not.”
It was the second time that day Lizette immediately regretted what she said. Penn and the orthopedic surgeon entered the waiting room. The doctor said, “It appears that your friend has a unstable lateral malleolus fracture that will require surgery. I will contact the OR to get ready for surgery.” The doctor went back to the ER but Penn stayed behind. Pru’s friends and teammates gathered around him and started asking questions.
Ellowyne asked, “Can you please translate what the doctor said?”“Sure”, Penn replied. “Prudence has a broken fibula, which is the slender bone in her leg that attaches to the ankle joints. It was an unstable break, which means that the ligaments were damaged. She’s going to need immediate surgery. She will wear a cast and use crutches, and she’ll need physical therapy.”
Prudence’s friends were shocked and saddened. Amber asked, “Will she be able to return to rugby?”
“Her recovery will take months. She’s not going to play the rest of this season.” Penn shook his head. “Poor kid. She’s taking it pretty hard. She’s had some pain reliever, and then she will go to the surgical suite. Would you like to see her before she goes?”
Of course Pru’s friends wanted to see her. The usually robust, cheerful Prudence looked small and vulnerable. Hot tears streamed down her cheeks and her eyes were red from crying. “I guess this time pain won,” she said softly.
Ellowyne smoothed Prudence’s hair. Rufus hugged Prudence, and Lizette and Amber held her hands. Penn stood near the curtain separating the gurneys from each other, silently watching Pru and her friends. He figured Prudence must be quite special to have such a devoted bunch of friends.
By that time, the She Devils flooded into the ER waiting area. One of the women said, “We won the game for YOU!”
Prudence sobbed. “You are so awesome.”
The coach responded, “Once you’ve recovered enough to get around easily, you can still come to the games. After all, we need our captain!”
Prudence tried to choke back her tears. “I wish I could play now. I’m scared. I need surgery. I’ve never had surgery.” Penn held her hand and the staff wheeled Prudence into the operating room.
It had been nine weeks after Prudence’s injury. She had a quick, uneventful recovery, got her cast removed, and was starting physical therapy. She still was on crutches but otherwise, she was getting around more easily. She texted her friends to meet her at Leon’s Pub the next afternoon, and said she would be bringing Penn.
Pru’s text arrived on an afternoon when Ellowyne and Lizette were hanging out with Amber at her house. They were looking through Amber’s closets and trying on some of her crowns. “About time,” Lizette said when the text showed up on her phone.
Amber said, perhaps too eagerly, “And she’s bringing Penn. Glad we’re finally getting to meet him.”
“You know, Pru sure seems to have less time for us now that he’s in the picture,” Lizette added.
“Oh, I know!” Ellowyne exclaimed. “Don’t you just hate it when a girl drops her friends to spend more time with a guy?”
Lizette and Amber looked at each other in disbelief. Amber rolled her eyes, and Lizette said, “Um, now that you and Rufus have finally gotten together, you do spend a lot more time with him than with us.”
“And he does hang out with us a lot,” Amber said.
Ellowyne’s jaw dropped. “I still spend time with both of you and Prudence,” she protested. “And Rufus and I hang out with all of you. Maybe I tell him to not come around so often with us.”
“Come on, Ell. Rufus is our friend and we like having him around,” Amber responded. “But it would be nice to have another guy in our circle.”
Lizette asked, perhaps a little too eagerly, “Do you think Penn and Prudence are dating?”
“I don’t know,” Ellowyne replied. “I just hope she hasn’t lost herself in a new relationship and–oh, wait! I need to go. Just got a text from Rufus.”
Lizette and Amber looked at each other and tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle their laughter.
The next day, everyone met at Leon’s. Prudence and Penn were the first to arrive, and they sat at the end of the circular booth, with Prudence on the outside so she could rest her leg on a chair. When they got into the pub, Amber and Lizette scrambled to get to the table and sit next to Penn. Unless Penn was actually Prudence’s boyfriend, they figured he was fair game. Lizette was just a little faster, and she flashed a toothy smile at Amber, who half-heartedly sat next to her. They were all involved in a lively conversation when Ellowyne and Rufus finally arrived. “We were just talking about you,” she exclaimed.
Ellowyne leaned over to hug her friend but was slightly taken aback. “Really? What did you say about us?”
Penn stood up and proffered his hand to Rufus. When they were done shaking hands, he said, “Prudence, Lizette, and Amber told me you were two of the best friends they’ve ever had. They also told me you’re a talented poet, Ellowyne, and that you’re a brainiac, Rufus.”
Rufus laughed genially. “Wow! Ellowyne is a creative genius, but I’m not sure if I can live up to my reputation,” he said, as everyone else chuckled at his comment.
“Now, Ellowyne, you go to State like the rest of us, is that right?” Penn asked.
“I do”, she answered. I’m majoring in creative writing, with a concentration on poetry.”
“I’d like to hear you recite some of your poems sometime. And you, Rufus?” Penn inquired.
“I’m at Berkeley, doing a double major in mechanical engineering and math,” he said.
Penn whistled. “You really are a brainiac!”
The server came with Rufus and Ellowyne’s drinks, a craft lager for him and a cranberry vodka for her. The six of them started to chatter again, and Ellowyne asked Penn about his studies. “You said you go to State, Penn. What’s your major?”
“Actually, I’m in the nursing program,” Penn said.
Rufus, who was usually sensitive and rarely obtuse, stumbled right into a verbal booby trap and asked, “So you’re going to be a male nurse?!?”
Penn waited until Rufus was taking a generous gulp of his frothy beer, and said, “Well, I thought about becoming a female nurse, but I didn’t want to have the surgery!”
With that, Rufus snorted beer out of his nose. When everyone stopped laughing, he said, “Okay, I deserved that. We don’t have a nursing department at Berkeley, and I’ve never met any guys in nursing. Wait. There’s my buddy Jamal’s brother and he’s g—”
“Rufus!” Ellowyne snarled as she kicked Rufus on the shin. Hard.
Penn mercifully decided that Rufus didn’t need another snout full of beer, so he laughed and said, “Not all male nurses are gay. Some are but most aren’t.” He turned to Prudence and asked, “Do you think I’m gay, Pru?”
Much to the chagrin of Lizette and Amber, Pru leaned over to kiss Penn. She looked at him, her eyes sparkling with affection and admiration. “Tell them how you decided to get into nursing.”
“Well”, Penn said. “I joined Army when I graduated high school. I figured I’d be fixing and driving trucks or get into communications. I never had an interest in health care, but they assigned to be a combat medic. I’ve done three tours of duty in Afghanistan, and while I’m in school, I’m in the Army National Guard.”
“Ah, geez, I’m sorry, man, for being a douche,” Rufus said. He stood up and shook Penn’s hand again. “You are the real thing and deserve respect. You have mine. Thank you for serving our country.”
Penn nodded. “No problem, man. But the next time we go out for beer, you’re buying!”
Ellowyne spoke up. “At the risk of sounding as ignorant as my bae, why did you choose nursing instead of medicine?”
Penn took a thoughtful sip of his ale. “I found out I like being on the forefront of care. Too many doctors waste time on other tasks but as a medic—or a nurse—I can have more direct interaction with patients. I’m also impatient. If I decided to go to medical school, I would have needed a bachelor’s degree. I don’t want to go to school for eight years.”
Amber asked, “So what do you want to do as a nurse?”
Penn replied, “I like the fast pace of the emergency room, and my Army background comes in handy if I’m taking care of trauma patients. Eventually, I’d like to be a helicopter nurse. Or maybe I’ll stay in the Guard and see what happens.”
Prudence furrowed her brows and appeared to be on the verge of tears when Penn said he might remain in the Guard. During their short time together, she noticed that Penn startled easily, especially if there were unexpected fireworks or other loud noises. Sometimes he told her about his nightmares, which almost always reflected the things he did and saw while deployed. Sometimes, when he was stressed, he’d become angry, although he got over it as soon as it started.
Lizette queried, “How far along are you in the nursing program?”
“Like all of you, I’m a junior this year. I did two years of prerequisites and am finally in the nursing program. I should graduate when you do.”
After chatting for what seemed to be only a few minutes, Lizette looked at her phone and saw what time it was. “We’ve been here for more than three hours! I need to study biochemistry tonight.”
“I’m glad we all switched to pop a couple of hours ago,” Ellowyne commented.
“It’s been great to meet all of you,” Penn said. “Rufus, maybe you and I could hang out sometime. Remember, you owe me a beer!”
Rufus nodded and seemed to be relieved that Penn forgave him for being a jerk.
The friends shuffled out the door to their cars, “Your friends are great people, Pru,” Penn said as he was helping her to get into his car.
“Maybe we should say OUR friends,” Prudence replied. “I hope that you’ll be hanging out with us when you can.”
Penn nodded in agreement, then took her face in his hands and kissed her. “Our friends. I like that.”