Home > How Much I Need (Miami Nights #5)

How Much I Need (Miami Nights #5)
Author: Marie Force


Chapter 1






In case you’ve ever wondered, being shot in the neck totally sucks. Before it happened to me, I never gave the first thought to what it would be like to have to keep my neck still for weeks while it heals from surgery to remove the bullet that came frighteningly close to my spinal cord and damaged bones in my neck. I’m thankful every day to still be able to move my extremities and to feel all the important parts. I owe my mobility—and my life—to my cousin Carmen’s husband, Jason, a world-class neurosurgeon, who was right there when I needed him.

I hope I never need him like that again.

Until your neck is immobilized for four weeks, you don’t realize how much you use it—for things like breathing, eating and talking, to start with—not to mention laughing, coughing and sneezing, which is the worst when your neck has been sliced open and put back together.

All that said, there’re also a few upsides, such as the way my older brother, Nico, is falling over himself to take care of me because he’s so relieved that I survived a bullet meant for him. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m milking it, per se, but if I’m enjoying having Nico running around to get me all my favorite things and visiting multiple times per day, what can I say? I’m only human, and he amuses me.

Yesterday, he went way out of his way to go to Little Havana to get me my favorite pastelitos after I told him I was craving them. And he got the Cuban coffee I love, too. See what I mean? Taking a bullet for your brother turns him into your faithful servant. Our sisters, Maria and Dee, have a bet on how long Nico will keep up this level of fawning. Maria gives it another week. Dee says I’ve got a month left to enjoy it.

Don’t get me wrong. I hate seeing Nico upset. That doesn’t amuse me, nor does the reason behind the shooting. Sofia’s abusive ex-husband wasn’t happy to see her moving on with her life, so he decided to do something about it by killing her new guy. He took a shot at me, thinking I was Nico, and well, you know the rest. While I’ll be forever grateful not to have been killed or paralyzed, I’m equally grateful that neither of those things happened to my beloved brother either.

The guy who did it—and his cousin—are locked up, and the cops who came to get a statement from me when I was coherent again told me they have video from the intersection where the shooting occurred. They shouldn’t need my testimony, which is good, because I remember nothing after dropping off a group at the Departures area at MIA and then heading back to Little Havana to pick up a bachelorette party.

I’d already put in a full day at my regular job writing computer code. I volunteered to take Nico’s rides with the car service he owns so he could keep an eye on Sofia during her waitress shift at Giordino’s, my aunt and uncle’s restaurant. Sofia’s ex had been ramping up his threats to the point that Nico was afraid to leave her unprotected anywhere, even at the restaurant.

As my Nona likes to say, no good deed goes unpunished.

The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital with my parents, siblings and grandmothers standing over me looking like they’d been to hell and back. From what I was told, it was touch and go for a while there. Jason couldn’t give them any assurances before the surgery, so they’d put in a very long night waiting to hear if I was going to survive the surgery with everything still working.

I’ve never seen my dad look so ravaged, even when my mom was battling breast cancer, and that was an awful time for us. Apparently, this was worse than that for him, my mom and everyone who loves me.

Nico says our whole neighborhood is cooking for him and Sofia, which isn’t fair. I hope they’ll cook for me, too, when I get home, because the people in our subdivision can cook. He says everyone is asking for me, worried about me, sending love, wondering what they can do, which makes me happy because I’ve invested the time in getting to know most of them. Nico took over mowing Mr. and Mrs. Miller’s lawn, which I’d been doing since Mr. Miller had hip replacement surgery. I’m glad Nico is taking care of things like that for me. I wouldn’t want Mr. Miller to have a setback because he did too much too soon. I heard he even drove my Meals on Wheels route last week, and I can’t wait to hear what my regulars think of him. I’m sure they’ll have something to say.

The worst part of this whole thing, by far, is the halo screwed into my skull that’s keeping my head from moving at all while my neck heals. I hate that freaking thing more than I’ve ever hated anything. Being stuck inside a cage is as maddening as you might expect, and Jason says it’s going to be a while yet before I’m freed from my metal prison.

Since I can’t do much of anything, I mostly spend my time in the hospital watching the door, waiting for the afternoon shift change, which has become the highlight of my day—five days a week, anyway. That’s when my favorite nurse, Gianna, comes on duty. One of the other nurses told me they rarely have the same patients every day, but Gianna must’ve pulled some strings or something because she’s always assigned to me.

I’ve grown to hate the days when she’s off. They feel endless without her there to brighten my small world. Sure, my family is in and out on a schedule that must be planned to cover all my awake hours, but nothing can compare to the time with Gianna. When I’m not looking at the door, I’m watching the clock. She’s two minutes later than usual. I hope that doesn’t mean she wasn’t assigned to me today.

How crazy is it that the only way this will be a good day is if she comes through that door in the next few minutes, with her silky dark hair pulled into a high ponytail that puts her lovely face on full display? I dream about her pretty face, her gorgeous smile, and plot ways to get rid of the sadness I see in her big brown eyes. I’ve got a whole list of ideas for when I get the hell out of this place.

I’m still mortified that she was the one who removed my catheter after the surgery. I can’t even think about that nightmare without wanting to curl up in a ball and hide from the world. Except I can’t do that for reasons I’ve already mentioned. Besides, she’s told me at least ten times to quit making a big deal out of it.

“If you’ve seen one penis, you’ve seen them all,” she likes to say.

That’s highly offensive as I consider mine to be rather special. When I tell her that, she laughs, which makes me unreasonably happy. I get the feeling she doesn’t laugh like that very often, so I try to make it happen as often as I can.

Ah, there she is, and right away I can tell she hardly slept. She confessed to battling terrible insomnia that makes her feel like a zombie at work. The dark shadows under her eyes are a dead giveaway. I wish I wasn’t stuck in this stupid bed so I could help her get through her shift. Although, what could I do? I know nothing about medicine, except for what I’ve learned from weeks in the hospital.

I’m due to be released soon to a rehab facility that’s part of the Miami-Dade complex, but I’m dreading that because I won’t see Gianna every day. I can’t even think about leaving her floor without a blue funk descending, which is odd. I tend to be a positive, optimistic sort of person, but thinking about moving on without her feels all kinds of wrong to me.

And, yes, I’m aware that I sound like a crazy weirdo for having developed such a fierce crush on my nurse. While awake in the middle of the night, I wondered whether it’s merely a case of proximity and boredom. But the second she comes into the room, every part of me feels better than it did five minutes ago. That’s got nothing to do with boredom and everything to do with her.

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