“CHICAGO DOG with extra sport peppers, order up at the window!”
Frank rolled his eyes at the shout and pushed off from his spot leaning against the side of the food truck. “I was standing right here, Saul,” he said as he grabbed the bag.
“What, it could’ve been anyone’s.”
“You get a lot of orders for Chicago dogs with extra sport peppers? Because last time I was here, Lindie told me you guys keep it on the menu just for Warner.”
Saul laughed. “I thought it’d be a big seller, but aside from a few random tourists, he’s the only one who ever orders it.”
It said a lot that one person’s dining habits could be enough to support a menu item at a popular food truck. Warner ate there way too often. The truck was usually stationed within a block of the hospital, and it was popular with staff members who wanted to escape the drab food the cafeteria offered. But that wasn’t the reason Saul and his daughter Lindie kept Chicago dogs on the menu. It was all down to Warner’s magnetic smile. Lindie had said as much a few years ago, when Warner had dragged Frank over to eat at the truck the first time.
Frank unrolled the paper bag and shoved a few extra napkins in. “He’s not off-shift for ten more hours,” he explained when Saul quirked a brow at him. “And he’s wearing his One Direction scrubs, so he can’t just change if he has a mustard-related disaster.”
Saul’s smile dimmed. “Katie’s back?”
Warner saw a lot of patients as a pediatric attending, but there were a few cases that really hit home for him. Katie was one of those. She’d been one of his first critical patients, and she was only a few years younger than Warner’s youngest sister. Frank knew Warner had bonded with her. She had cystic fibrosis and was a “frequent flier,” the term Warner and his colleagues used for chronically ill kids who spent a lot of time on the ward.
“Yeah. My mom’s sending him a new set because Katie’s up to number six on the transplant list. She’ll be in the hospital for a while this time, so Warner wants to be prepared.”
Katie loved the boy band One Direction, and Warner had worked with a wish foundation to get the band to visit the last time they’d been in Portland. Frank’s mom had even sent Warner a scrub top she’d made him out of fabric with the band’s picture on it. He’d worn it on the day the band visited, and Katie had loved it so much Frank’s mom made her a set of pajamas out of the same material. Warner wore the scrub top every time Katie was in the hospital because it never failed to make her smile. Since she was going to be hospitalized for a longer stretch, Warner had asked for a second set in even gaudier One Direction fabric he’d found online.
Frank shrugged. Katie wasn’t on a ventilator yet, but Warner said that would be the next step. “She’s not on restriction, but she doesn’t have much of an appetite.”
“Wait a sec.”
Saul disappeared into the truck, and a moment later he was back at the counter with a second bag. Frank didn’t have to look inside to know what it contained; it would be a big serving of chocolate pudding, Katie’s favorite. Warner usually sneaked her out to grab a snack at the food truck whenever she was hospitalized, but she was too sick this time around.
“Thanks.” Frank reached for his wallet, but Saul waved him off.
“On the house. Tell Warner to bring her by when she’s up to it.”
Frank wasn’t sure that was going to happen, but he didn’t say anything. Katie had been a patient of Warner’s since his residency, and from the grim set of Warner’s mouth when he’d told Frank that Katie was back, Frank knew time was short. Even a lung transplant would only give her a few more years.
Frank was sorry to hear she was back in the hospital, but part of that was for a very selfish reason. He and Warner were leaving for vacation in three days, and Frank worried that Warner would want to cancel because of Katie’s condition.
As the unit’s attending, Warner oversaw her care whenever she was admitted, but he wasn’t the one who would do the transplant. He wasn’t even the one who was directly responsible for her care; she had a pulmonologist for that. Warner handled any emergencies and those complications that weren’t respiratory, but any of the attendings could do that. It shouldn’t stop them from going on their vacation—but Warner’s deep commitment to his job and his personal involvement with Katie’s case might.
Frank didn’t resent the time Warner spent at the hospital. He was proud of Warner for working hard and rising up through the ranks since his residency. Warner had been the first person in his family to go to college, and it was a big deal. His family had sacrificed a lot for Warner to go, and Warner had as well. He and Frank still had a mountain of debt to show for it.
Two weeks a year, though, were carved out just for them. And the vacation next week was one of those. It had been years since they’d gone on an actual vacation instead of just sticking close to home or visiting Warner’s family in Chicago or Frank’s in Newark. Frank knew Warner was worried about Katie, but he didn’t want that to interfere with one of the rare times he and Warner had to focus on only each other.
“Probably won’t be for a while. I don’t know how strong she’ll be, but he and I are going to the British Virgin Islands in a few days.”
“He told me about that. Must be nice to be a big-shot doctor and take fancy vacations,” Saul teased.
While Warner was a doctor, Frank wasn’t sure how much of a big shot he was. At least, he wasn’t making a big shot salary. The two of them barely made ends meet between all of the student loans and the mortgage on their houseboat. And the small fortune Warner spent on takeout from Saul’s.
Frank shook both bags in thanks. “If he comes by for dinner, send him back to the cafeteria for a salad, okay?”
Saul grinned. “Not a chance.”
“ARE YOU packed?” Frank looked doubtfully at the duffel bag on the floor next to Warner’s feet. He could have fit four of them inside his suitcase.
Frank sighed. “Is that a question?”
“Well, I have swim trunks, a few pairs of shorts and T-shirts, and some clean underwear. I figure I’m good.”
Which was why Frank’s own suitcase was bulging. He’d known Warner would half ass the packing; he always did. Warner didn’t do big picture well. He was always forgetting things like shampoo or shoes.
“You don’t think you’re going to need anything else?” Frank had packed a nicer outfit for each of them, as well as extra sunscreen and Warner’s running clothes and shoes. He figured neither of them would want to miss out on the chance to run on the beach.
“We’re spending a week in a house on the beach. What else could I need? It’s going to be beach-pool-relax, repeat.”
Warner’s sunny grin was infectious, and Frank found himself returning it despite his annoyance.
“You have your passport?”
He knew Warner didn’t because Frank had found it at the bottom of the desk drawer when he’d been looking for their voltage adapter. Frank wasn’t sure what kind of plugs there were in the British Virgin Islands, but he wanted to be prepared just in case they weren’t the same kind they had at home.
Warner looked stricken. “Er, no.”
“But you know where it is?” Frank prompted, trying to make a point about Warner’s disorganization. He’d been trying for years, and it hadn’t sunk in yet, but that didn’t deter him. At some point Warner would have to learn his lesson, wouldn’t he?
“No,” Warner said, drawing the word out. He narrowed his eyes at Frank. “But I bet you do.”
Frank wasn’t prepared for Warner’s flying tackle. The two of them landed hard on the couch, and Frank didn’t have a chance to defend himself before Warner started going through his pockets.
“Aha!” Warner crowed triumphantly when he pulled two passports out of the pocket of Frank’s cargo shorts. He dropped a kiss on Frank’s nose and stood. “Yes, I know where my passport is,” he said, waving it around with a grin.
Frank harrumphed good-naturedly. “Cheater. Good thing I found that, or you’d be out of luck.”
Warner shrugged and tossed both passports back to Frank. “I know I have you to look out for me.”
Maybe that was the key. Frank should just stop tying up all of Warner’s loose ends if he wanted to teach him a lesson. But then he’d be in Tortola without appropriate clothes or any toiletries. Frank sighed.
“You’re lucky you’re cute.”
Warner beamed. “I like to think you put up with me because of a combination of my good looks and my amazing personality,” he said, batting his eyelashes.
His long lashes and striking hazel eyes made the gesture especially effective. They were light enough to be almost startling set against his mocha skin. Warner’s father had died before Frank had met Warner, but he figured Warner must have inherited his eyes from him. Warner’s mother had brown eyes and skin a few shades darker than Warner’s. His siblings all looked like him, a gorgeous mix of features from their Senegalese mother and Chicago-born Caucasian father. There was no doubt Warner and his sisters were related, unlike Frank and his oldest sister, Marjie, who had bright red hair, or his youngest sister, Rose, who was as fair as Marjie but a lighter shade of ginger, like their mother. Frank and his sister Clare were the middle children, and they were close enough in age and looks they’d often been mistaken as twins. They had their father’s sturdier bone structure, golden-hued skin, and sandy brown hair. The only thing all four of the Smith siblings shared were their bright blue eyes.
Warner always said Frank’s eyes sparkled when he was amused, so they must be fairly dancing now. Warner’s ridiculousness had jollied Frank out of his irritation. “In spite of your personality, maybe.”
Warner put his hands over his heart and fluttered his lashes again. “I’m just that pretty, eh?”
“Gorgeous,” Frank said truthfully.
“Aw, babe,” Warner cooed. He pressed a kiss against Frank’s lips when Frank stood. “Love you.”
He left the room without waiting for a response, leaving Frank a bit flustered.
“You packed the lube?” Warner yelled from the loft.
Frank rolled his eyes. “Yes.”
Warner reappeared on the stairs. “How about a vibrator?”
Frank gaped at him. “We are not bringing sex toys to a house we’re sharing with other people, one of whom is my sister.”
“I’m sure Clare would be happy to know her brother has a healthy sex life. You really don’t want to bring it? We’ll have all that free time for sex….”
Frank glared at him. “No.”
Warner stuck his tongue out. “Spoilsport.” He rummaged through the hall closet, his voice a bit muffled. “Did you grab my bag?”
Warner was a pediatrician, but he always brought a bag of medical supplies on vacation just in case something happened. It made sense. As a doctor he had access to better supplies, and their friends were always asking him for medical advice anyway. He’d saved them a lot of hassle when he’d successfully stitched Frank’s foot the time Frank had cut it open on a bottle on the beach in Chicago on their last trip there. Warner’s youngest sister, Nina, had watched with wide eyes, and Frank wouldn’t be surprised if she became the second member of the Stevens family to go to medical school. She idolized Warner, both because he was seventeen years older and because he didn’t live in Chicago like the rest of her family. He was older and mysterious, and Nina was convinced he and Frank lived an amazing life in Portland. She’d spent a week with them last summer to tour grad schools in the Pacific Northwest, and she’d thought getting to stay on the houseboat was the coolest thing ever.
“No, I couldn’t find it.”
“It’s in here somewhere,” Warner muttered. Frank winced as things started flying out of the closet, tossed into a haphazard pile. Someone would have to clean that up before they left, and he had a strong suspicion that someone would be him.
“Got it,” Warner said, backing out of the closet clutching a drawstring backpack with the hospital’s logo on it. He opened it and poked through it, frowning. “I never replaced the suture kit. I’ll pick one up when I go check in before we leave.”
Warner was going to the hospital? Clare was expecting them in Seattle by dinner. They’d never make it if Warner got sucked into something at work. “Can’t we just go without one?”
“Sure, but since I’m going to be there anyway, it wouldn’t be hard to snag one. And I like to be prepared.”
Frank bit his lip and took a breath. He didn’t want their vacation to start with a fight. “Are you sure we have time for you to go in?” he asked, a bit of an edge creeping into his voice despite his attempt to stay calm.
Warner cinched the bag and looked up. “I told you I was going in to check on some patients before we leave. I’ll be quick.”
Frank knew what Warner meant—he wanted to check in on Katie. She’d been stable when Warner had come home a few hours ago. Frank had asked.
“Won’t they call you if they need you?” He knew he sounded petulant, but Frank didn’t care. This didn’t bode well for the trip. The hospital wouldn’t fall apart if Warner actually took an entire vacation without checking in several times a day, which he would probably insist on doing.
“No, because I’m not on call.”
Frank clenched his teeth to stop himself from snapping out an acrid retort. He took a deep breath in and out through his nose, just like he’d learned in the yoga class his friend Ian had dragged him to a few times. It wasn’t something he’d ever have pegged as being up Ian’s alley, but since Ian’s boyfriend, Luke, taught the class, it made sense he’d go. Frank actually liked it. He’d been shocked. Maybe he’d be able to convince Luke to do a few quick lessons at the house this week, since he and Ian were joining them in Tortola.
“If you’re not on call, why do you need to go in?”
Warner gave him a flat look and didn’t answer. Frank sighed. “For how long?”
“Just five minutes. Ten tops,” Warner said. “You can go down to Saul’s and get us a drink for the road, and I’ll be back at the car before you. Promise.”
It was more likely Frank would be waiting at the car for twenty minutes before Warner came back, but there wasn’t any point in fighting it. He’d just have to text Clare to let her know they’d be late. If Warner didn’t take too long, they’d still be able to have dinner with her. She’d understand; his sister had known Warner almost as long as Frank had. Clare knew all time estimates involving Warner were approximate.
“I’ll do a last pass, and then we’ll load up the car,” Frank said. He’d packed a few books for the beach, so he’d crack one open while he was waiting for Warner at the hospital. Maybe he’d get caught up in one enough that he didn’t notice Warner’s ten minutes turning into an hour.
He knew he’d packed everything on his list, but it made him feel better to make sure. Frank had a routine before leaving on vacation—he’d worry about things like the stove being on for the entire trip if he didn’t check it before they left.
“Did you get the camera charger?” Warner asked.
And both their laptops and chargers, their phone chargers, and other technological ephemera neither of them could live without for a week in paradise. “Yes.”
“Clare said the house is right on the water. I bet we’ll get some great pictures.”
Frank laughed softly to himself as he toured the downstairs, checking that appliances were off or unplugged and windows were locked. Odds were good Warner wouldn’t get the camera out at all during the trip. Warner definitely had the talent to take fabulous pictures, but usually he got too distracted by the new surroundings to remember to take his camera with him while he was exploring. Warner was more one for exhilarating surf lessons or a long sunset beach run than for a sedate photography outing. They might get some good posed group shots, though. Warner had been appointed both the Smiths’ and the Stevens’ family photographer years ago.
“We’re going out on Niall’s boat too. Ian said something about snorkeling on a reef.”
“Ooh, we should pick up—”
“A disposable waterproof camera? It’s in my bag.”
Warner pecked him on the cheek. “You’re always so well prepared.”
“I’d have made the perfect Boy Scout, aside from the pesky problem of my sexuality,” Frank said drily.
Warner squinted at him, looking Frank up and down. “You’re butch enough to pass.”
Frank chuckled. “With Sharon plastering her car with PFLAG bumper stickers from my eighth birthday on? Probably not.”
“True,” Warner conceded. He slung his duffel bag over his shoulder and picked up his medical bag, leaving Frank to hoist the suitcase and a backpack with their electronics in it. “Ready?”
“Yeah, I’ll get a hold of Clare while I’m waiting for you. Let’s get on the road.”
Warner waited on the dock as Frank put down the suitcase and dug through his pocket for his keys. It would have been easier to have Warner lock up with his own, but they both knew Frank would obsess over whether or not it had been done if he wasn’t the one to lock it. It took a little extra time and inconvenience now, but it would save him hours of worry over the next week.
“Any chance of letting me drive?” Warner asked conversationally as they made their way toward the marina’s garage.
“Nope,” Frank said cheerfully. His 1967 MG MGB Roadster was his baby. He only let Warner drive it on the rarest of occasions. “Besides, this way I can let you out at the front entrance and go park. That’ll shave some time off the stop.”
Only about ten minutes, but it added up. Frank was still hopeful Clare could push their dinner reservation.
“We’re renting a car in Tortola, right?”
“Ian is. He and Niall are used to driving there, so we should probably let them be in charge of that. Ian said something about an Escalade, and that’s bigger than you’re used to driving anyway.”
Warner hadn’t even had a driver’s license until their sophomore year of college. He was shaky in the roadster, which was about a quarter of the size of a mammoth SUV like an Escalade. Add in the fact that people drove on the opposite side of the road in Tortola, and it was a no-brainer to let the two people in their group who’d lived there before do the driving.
“Spoilsport. I could totally rock a sporty little convertible. Top down, wind running through my hair….”
Frank hitched the book bag up on his shoulder so he could reach over and rub his palm against Warner’s close-cropped head. The coarse hairs tickled. “Mmmhmm,” he hummed.
“Well, top down, anyway,” Warner said with a grin.
“Are you Thelma or Louise in this scenario?” Frank joked. He put the suitcase on the ground and popped the trunk, then loaded it and the rest of their stuff. It was barely big enough for Warner’s duffel and the book bag; the suitcase would have to be wedged into the minuscule backseat.
“Neither. I’m Brad Pitt, baby.”
Frank had walked right into that one. “Fair enough.”
The drive from the marina to the hospital was, miraculously, a short one, despite it being almost smack dab in the middle of rush hour. Frank dropped Warner off at the doors as promised and used Warner’s employee pass to park in the garage. The walk to Saul’s burned about five minutes, but Frank knew he’d still be waiting for a while when he got back to the car.
The person at the counter barely looked old enough to work, and he wasn’t anyone Frank recognized. “Can I get two coffees?”
Frank had never realized Saul’s had more than one size of coffee. Saul and Lindie just always knew what he wanted. “Uh, large?”
“Cream and sugar?”
“No, black for both of them, please.”
The man—or probably teenager, actually; God, Frank felt old—disappeared into the back of the food truck without another word. Warner would have called it abrupt. Frank called it practical. He liked the new kid already.
“He’s my sister’s grandson,” Saul said, walking up behind Frank. He had a drink carrier from Starbucks and a bag from Subway in his hands.
“Still keeping it in the family?”
Saul often boasted he’d never hired anyone outside his family to work the truck. Frank wasn’t sure why that was such a source of pride for him, but then again he didn’t understand a lot of things other people found important.
“Of course,” Saul said, his chest puffed up a bit. “He’s a good kid, going to college here in town. I told his mom I’d look after him. Let him work a few shifts, feed him up when dorm food starts to wear on him.”
The kid came back with two huge steaming Styrofoam cups. “Two coffees. A dollar eighty.”
Saul sighed. “Lindie’s working on his charisma,” he said. “Anthony, speak to customers with respect. They expect a smile. And full sentences.”
Anthony heaved a sigh and slid the coffees a little farther across the counter. “It’s a dollar eighty for two coffees,” he enunciated carefully, his gaze skipping over Frank and landing on his great-uncle. He pasted a parody of a grin on his face. “Sir.”
Frank dug a five out of his pocket and put it on the counter. “Keep the change,” he said, eliciting an actual smile from Anthony.
“Don’t make him be cheerful. It’s nice to have someone around here who isn’t half-Muppet,” Frank said.
Saul raised the arm holding the bag from Subway and pointed it at Frank. “I’m telling Lindie you called her that,” he said, the wrinkles around his mouth deepening as he smiled.
“Lindie will take it as a compliment,” Frank said sourly.
Curious, Frank peered at the bag in Saul’s hands. It had a salad in it. “So you don’t eat your own food?”
Saul grunted. “A man can’t live on hot dogs alone,” he said.
“Aha!” Frank crowed. “And yet I can’t get you to tell Warner that.”
“Warner has a fancy medical degree that should tell him that,” Saul snarked.
“And the Starbucks?”
Saul winked. “You’ve tasted my coffee. It’s crap.”
Frank agreed, but it was leaps and bounds above the swill the hospital cafeteria served. “But it’s cheap,” he said with a shrug. He took a sip, only managing not to recoil from the bitter flavor out of years of practice.
“That it is,” Saul mused. He put his burdens down on a nearby picnic table and unwrapped his salad. “I thought you and the doc were going on vacation.”
Frank pursed his lips. “We are.”
Saul’s eyes glinted. “Ah, he couldn’t leave without stopping in to check on things, eh?”
“My brother Abe was like that. Thoracic surgeon. Thought the world would end if he took a day off. It worked out, though. He didn’t work those hours forever,” Saul said.
Saul shrugged and swallowed his bite. “Kids. He and his wife had their first baby, and he realized he couldn’t keep pulling double shifts. Went into private practice soon after my niece was born. By the time he retired, he was working thirty hours a week and spending the rest of the time playing golf.”
Well, that wasn’t helpful. He and Warner weren’t going to have kids. Maybe this was just what life was going to be like—Warner working crazy hours and Frank seeing him every two or three days, thanks to his own long work hours. Some weeks, they were lucky if Warner staggered in from an overnight shift in time for Frank to kiss him good-bye on his own way out the door. As a CPA Frank had some flexibility in his start time, but his days never seemed to go smoothly if he wasn’t in the office before eight.
“Hopefully he’s done. We’ve got to get on the road,” Frank said, lifting his coffees at Saul in a salute.
“Safe travels,” Saul said, giving him a wave. “Tell doc I’ll keep an eye on Katie for him. Her dad lets me deliver pudding every afternoon.”
If the fact that an entire team of highly trained medical professionals was going to be watching her carefully wasn’t enough to reassure Warner, Frank didn’t think a diner cook’s eagle eye would make much difference, but Frank promised to tell him all the same.
“Will do,” Frank said. He looked past Saul’s shoulder at Anthony, who had been watching their conversation with obvious interest. “Keep it up,” Frank called to him. “The world needs more strong, silent types.”
Anthony cracked a grin at that and waved, and Frank took off back to the parking garage. He didn’t actually think Warner would be there, but it was better safe than sorry. Besides, he still had to call Clare and break the news they’d be late. Again.