Doc looks me over and I see concern in his eyes. “Holy smokes, Cornell! That’s quite a bruise!”

“Yeah,” I croak…trying to hold it together.

He quickly greets Azalea, then he and Justine take my arms and help me inside…boost me onto the examining table.

I’m so relieved to finally feel safe…and taken care of…flop back and stare at the ceiling. Whenever I’m sick or anything, it’s great to turn myself over to Doc Ward…whatever happens happens. I totally trust him.

His face appears over me, “Cornell, have you drunk fluids today? I’m afraid you’re seriously dehydrated.”

I hear Azalea say, “No, he hasn’t had anything!”

Out of nowhere, Justine appears with a bottle of Gatorade. They sit me up and I gulp down as much as I can.

“We better start an IV, just to be safe.” Doc says.

“Thanks, Doc,” I gasp. The Gatorade starts clearing my head immediately.

They prop pillows behind me and hook up the IV, then Doc carefully examines my cheek.

“Is he okay?” Azalea cries. “I’m really worried!”

Doc Straightens up. Strokes his chin. “We’ll need to take pictures. See what’s happening behind the scenes.”

I’m freaked “Do I have to go to the hospital?”

“Hopefully not,” Doc says. “It depends on whether there’s a serious fracture. How did this happen?”

Azalea and I glance at each other, uncertain how to explain. I speak first. “Uh…we’d rather not say. It was a family member that got pissed.”

Doc and Justine stare at me expectantly. “Whose family?” Doc asks.

“Mine,” Azalea confesses, then clams up.

“It’s, like, a sensitive issue,” I say. “No need to call the police or anything.”

Doc turns to me. “Cornell, you need to tell me if you’re in trouble.”

“No, nothing like that,” I reply, trying to stay cool, honestly not sure what might happen if I ever go back to Azalea’s place.

“How’s your father doing?” he asks.

“Fine, I guess.” Definitely don’t want to go into all the garbage about Mom and Dad. Decide to change the subject. Reach for Azalea’s hand. “So, guys,” I say. “This is the love of my life, my girlfriend, my family, everything!”

She’s totally embarrassed and stares at her shoes. “Thanks, Gussy.”

“Gussy?” Justine asks, looks back and forth between with a smile.

“Well, yeah,” Azalea explains. “Look at him….he’s so tall and sweet…not a ‘Cornell’ to me! So…we shortened his middle name from Augustus to Gus, and the rest is history!”

“Well, you’re both lucky to have found each other!” Justine says, patting my mop of hair. “We’ve known this guy a long time and he’s pretty special!”

Azalea grins. “Definitely, right?”

“But,” Justine continues, “I have to admit, I’m totally amazed how he looks these days The last time I saw him, he was 5 inches shorter. Gus, you’ve become such a tall, handsome young man.”

“Yeah, with a gigantic, purple cheek,” I say, then…out of nowhere…get blindsided by pain. My hand goes to my cheek. “Fuck!” Immediately, regret cursing in front of everybody. Never said anything like that at Doc’s before! But, to my surprise, he’s not mad, but concerned. Rushes off and comes back with a syringe and injects something in the IV.

“Apologies, Gus!” He says. “I got caught up in the conversation and didn’t give you anything for pain.”

“No, worries, Doc!” I tell him. In minutes, I’m feeling a million times better!

He turns to Azalea and Justine. “Why don’t you girls take a break while I finish examining Gus?”

“Okay,” Justine says. “I’ll heat up a pot of tea.” They head to the kitchen.

I haven’t been in Doc’s office for, like, two years, and it stirs up a flood of memories. As a kid, I was there with Mom so many times. She made me feel important and special. God! I loved her so much…picture her clearly…can almost hear her voice reassuring me…asking if I’m okay…arms around me. It’s even more memorable because Doc’s office isn’t like some sterile hospital or anything. It’s an old, beautiful house with nice furnishings and cool stuff everywhere you look.

Doc wheels me into the tiny room where he keeps his x-ray machine. It’s not the beaten-up old one like when I was a kid, but totally new. I comment how cool it is, and he’s really happy and thanks me. “We try to keep up with technology,” he explains, then covers my balls with the protective blanket so I don’t get sterilized…takes some shots, and wheels me back to the exam room where he brings up my pix on a monitor. I see everything…same as he does. Wait nervously for the verdict. Hope I’m not headed to the hospital! Fuck!

To Be Continued…Read Next Episode