Snorting, Keith swished saliva around in his mouth to wash out the remaining tang of blood. He wiped at his forehead and upper lip with a clean rag, soiling it with blotches of sanguine. It was sticky and took a bit of rubbing to remove. Once he was satisfied, he passed the rag to Ivy standing in front of the sink. She dabbed at the rivulet of blood trickling from a split in her lip, hissing at the stinging pain it caused. Her eye was beginning to swell and turn a deep purple. While Keith was busy wrapping his shoulder, she turned to get a look at the sore spot on her back, instantly noticing a wet stain forming between her shoulder blades. It seemed to be slowly growing in size.
“Shit,” she whispered, trying to hike her shirt up far enough that she could see, but it was nearly impossible to twist her upper back toward the mirror and crane her neck far enough to see, especially considering the movement was painful.
“What’s wrong?” Keith mumbled, barely intelligible, never lifting his eyes from his shoulder.
“Can you look at this for me?”
“What?” he blurted before casting her a glance, but once he looked, he understood what. It wasn’t severe, but if left alone, it easily could be. There was a gash nearly perfectly down the center of her back. Luckily, it wasn’t very deep or she’d have to pay a visit to the hospital. Considering how frequently Keith got into these situations in his line of work, he had to be prepared to deal with his own wounds. Seeking professional treatment was usually out of the question, for one, because he had no insurance, and the local law enforcement was always looking for a reason to assume he’d done something criminal.
Reaching beneath the sink into the cluttered cabinet, he felt around for his first-aid kit, which was more of a glorified tackle box full of things he deemed worthy of treating a wound. All of it was sterile, of course; he wasn’t an idiot. Still, all the materials were quite primitive. There was some thin fishing line already threaded through a needle he’d bent into a rough curve himself. Rags of different textures and hues, a tiny bottle of dish soap that was gentle enough to clean a wound—by his standards—a roll of bandages, some large gauze pads and some syringes and a tiny bottle of lidocaine. It had fetched a pretty penny for its seller and seemed misplaced amongst the other rag-tag items. It was only there because he deemed it essential.
Slipping his shirt back over his head, Keith quickly washed his hands after nudging Ivy out of the way. She demanded an answer as to what he was doing, and Keith resigned himself to answer that question through actions as he didn’t feel too keen toward explaining it. She let out a high-pitched sound of shock when he unhooked her bra, but he sandwiched her between a doubled over rag and his forearm before she could protest. She squirmed a little against the pain of the rag pressed firmly against the wound, as well as his forearm practically choking her. All was quiet for several moments, and Keith kept lifting the rag periodically to monitor the blood flow. Once it was slow enough, he released her, but it was only a split-second before he was tossing out orders.
“Bend over the tub,” he muttered.
“What? What are you—”
“Do you want my help or not?” he snapped, shutting her up. Ivy clenched her jaw and simply stared at him before he repeated the command. That time she obeyed, kneeling next to the tub and craning her torso over the edge. She flinched when she heard the shower head begin spraying water, a few drops sprinkling on her. She was anticipating pain, and her whole body was tense like a coiled wire.
However, when he began cleaning the wound, he was surprisingly gentle—or as gentle as he could be, anyway. The water was just warm enough that it wouldn’t hurt, and he scrubbed gently with the soapy rag. The soap burned a little, but it ceased after a moment. That wasn’t to say there was no pain; it still hurt enough that she was hissing every few seconds, but it wasn’t as awful as she had expected it would be.
When he was done, Keith shut off the water and grabbed a clean rag to pat her dry. He tapped her on the shoulder to tell her to stand, and she did, frowning at the uncomfortable dampness of her shirt, which only added to her agitation. She didn’t have long to think about it, however, because Keith was holding another cloth against her wound and guiding her into the main room. He muttered for her to sit down when they reached the sofa, and she did, listening to him rifle through that large box of his until he located what he needed. She briefly glanced back to see that he had a needle with a clear, plastic thread through its eye. Quickly, she looked away and felt the color leave her face. She swallowed around the lump in her throat. She had to admit to a slight fear of needles, and she’d never had stitches before.
“Is this going to hurt?”
“No,” Keith lied as he ensure the thread was knotted on the end and ready for use. It was going to be painful considering the location of the wound on her body and the inflammation of the edges. This was why he paused and remembered to give her a shot of lidocaine. He only used it on himself in the most dire cases, but it was obviously going to make her more comfortable. Poking the needle into the tiny bottle, he drew the solution into the syringe until it reached the proper increment. Then, without warning, he slowly pushed the needle into her skin near the wound. It took her a moment to notice that he was giving her an injection, and when she did, Ivy visibly tensed until she was frozen, barely breathing.
“What was that?” she asked after he withdrew the needle.
“Numbing medication,” he replied as he drew the sewing needle into his hand.
“Oh,” she sighed, slightly relieved. When he finally began suturing the wound, she felt the strangest pinch of cold, metallic pain. It was tolerable, but the implication of the possibility of more severe pain made the entire ordeal quite taxing. Though, when he was finally done, she could admit, with relief, that it hadn’t really hurt at all.
The last step in bandaging her was covering the wound. Keith used medical tape to secure a rectangle of gauze over the sutured wound. When he was done, he hooked her bra without her even asking. Ivy felt heat rush into her face, but she was quick to chastise herself and send the excess blood out of her cheeks. She eagerly pulled her shirt back down until she realized that it was still damp with blood and water from the shower. Grimacing, she settled herself and tried to ignore the unpleasant sensation of the wet fabric against her skin.
Keith, however, noticed her squirming and curling in on herself against the cold moisture. He stepped into his bedroom long enough to grab one of his own shirts. He retrieved a small one that he never wore because it fit too snugly for his tastes. It would still be big on her, but it was better than nothing.
“Here,” he breathed when he was standing across from her, the coffee table between them. He tossed her the faded red shirt, mottled with splotches of bleach. She looked at him with her mouth slightly open as if about to refuse.
“It’s bound to be better than what you’re wearing,” he explained quickly, cutting off any protests she intended to voice. Nodding, Ivy pushed herself off the couch to close herself into the bathroom so she could change. However, when she stood, the room began to feel that it was spinning and she stumbled into the coffee table, bumping her shin on its edge. Hissing, she bent to rub the undoubtedly bruised spot and nearly toppled over. Keith went to her side to help her into the bathroom.
“What the hell?” she whispered, closing her eyes as if it might quell the spinning in her head; it didn’t.
“It’s the lidocaine,” he explained as she grabbed the doorframe and latched onto it like a vice. The bathroom was small, thankfully, so she was able to guide herself in by the walls. She sat on the toilet lid to change shirts; it didn’t stop the vertigo but, at least, she couldn’t fall if she was sitting down. When she was done, she left her shirt lying on the bathroom floor and slowly, carefully left the room, leaning against the walls for support until Keith grabbed her again outside the door. She was relieved to feel the worn couch cushions beneath her again, but this time, she laid back, resting her head on the armrest.
“How long is this gonna last?” she groaned, throwing an arm over her face. Keith stood over her with arms crossed, surveying her curiously.
“ ‘Til tomorrow, probably,” he mumbled uncertainly. When he used the medication, he was usually out until the following morning.
Ivy moaned her dismay into the room, piercing the calm that had settled. “I suck at this,” she whined. Snorting, Keith lifted her feet up, plopping onto the opposite end of the couch and replacing them on his lap.
“You did great,” he admitted a tad reluctantly. The shock of him giving a compliment left them both silent for a moment before Ivy had to speak to break the tension.
“Really?” It was more sarcastic than disbelieving.
“Yeah,” the man insisted, craning his neck to look her in the eyes. “You could’a done a lot worse.”
Ivy scrutinized him for a long moment before a sigh flowed from her nose. She let her neck relax, relinquishing herself to the sudden drowsiness, and her eyes followed her head, pointing toward the ceiling. For a moment, she let his words replay in her head, analyzing his tone and mannerisms to discern whether the compliment was genuine. When she finally accepted it, there was no ‘thank you’ but an air of gratitude in the room.