Club Crunch – Friday Night
’”Club Crunch.” What a stupid-ass name... ‘ Cal thought as he surveyed the crowd inside the club. ’”The Hurt Locker” would be the only name stupider than what they picked... ‘
Cal, like many veterans he knew, didn’t have a high opinion of the award-winning movie.
The twenty-eight-year-old fought through the mob to the bar to buy what was sure to be an overpriced drink. He wondered how he’d been bored enough to wander in here and pay nine bucks for the privilege. He’d probably leave soon and wouldn’t be back. But he was already here, so he might as well have a drink.
The club’s name pulsed rhythmically on the video screen behind the bar, matching the beat of the blaring music. As he stood at the bar trying to order, others began making room for a new arrival a few steps away.
A young woman stepped into the cleared space. Her blonde hair shone in the swirling, pulsing lights of the club, and her head bounced in time with the thumping of the music. She wore a short-sleeved white blouse that showed the definition in her arms. Her very short black skirt made Cal wonder if she was wearing underwear, while her dark red heels did wonderful things for her legs and tight little ass.
’Maybe I’ll stay for a while... ‘
Space opened between them as other patrons left the bar; Cal stepped forward before anyone else could. He tried not to stare at the young woman, but she was far and away the best-looking woman here. The woman ordered, and then turned to survey the room as she waited. Cal sucked in a breath when he saw her face.
“CAL!” Lori Demeter cried out in shock before hugging him.
Lori was a nurse at the emergency room where Cal worked as a tech – in years past he would have been called an orderly. Lori was also Cal’s secret crush. He thought she was the hottest nurse working at the hospital, and the sweetest. He cursed his body’s natural reaction when Lori pressed herself to him during the hug.
“What are you doing here?” she shouted over the noise. Cal’s nose detected more than a little alcohol on her breath.
“I live down the block,” he explained. “I was bored and restless, so wandered in. Not my kind of place, normally.” Cal paused to look around. “Are you here with someone?”
“Patty, Laura, and Gail brought me here for a girls’ night out to ‘celebrate’ my breakup.”
“Oh...” Cal blinked. “You’re not dating what’s-his-name anymore?”
“That little turd was nothing more than a big leech,” Lori snorted. “It took me two years, but I finally wised up and got rid of him this week.”
A bartender called out to Lori as she put Lori’s drinks down on the bar. Lori thanked the woman after handing over some cash and told her to keep the change. Another bartender put Cal’s beer down in front of him. He paid – too much – for his drink, picked up part of Lori’s order, and motioned for her to lead the way back to her friends. Cal had no problem following his coworker through the club; he got to check her out from behind as he did, so how could he complain?
“SPUNKY!” Laura Sturtevant called out when she saw Cal trailing behind Lori.
Laura branded him ‘Otis Spunkmeyer’ when he started working at the hospital nine months ago. Cal still shook his head every time she called him that. His last name was ‘Otis,’ and someone started calling him ‘Spunky’ during Navy boot camp. He avoided that nickname at the hospital until a week into his job at the ER. Laura had been an Army nurse, and the Army was quick to give people unfortunate nicknames, too.
Cal didn’t mind the nickname as much tonight while the three other women hugged him. The three nurses and Lori were about his best friends at work. Cal hadn’t connected as well with the others there, not even the guys. Cal suspected that was because the other guys also had their eyes on the ladies.
Laura, Patty Naughton, and Gail Castro were all married with kids – happily married, he noted. Cal had met their husbands, sons, and daughters at an unofficial ER get-together over the summer. He couldn’t understand how someone would want to try and disrupt those relationships. The thrill of the hunt, he supposed.
The four ladies perched on the high stools for the table they claimed; they’d been here a while. Cal stood close enough to the table to not be constantly tempted by the sight of eight long legs underneath. Keeping his eyes off Lori’s thighs was hard enough.
The presence of a mere man at a ladies’ night out didn’t temper the four ladies’ enthusiasm. One by one, they took turns venturing to the bar for more drinks, insisting Cal stay with Lori to “help hold our table.” The more she drank, the more Lori gave Cal little touches or clung to his arm as she laughed at a joke. The more she did, the more uncomfortable his pants grew.
Lori convinced Cal to join her on the dance floor after three beers. People had filled the club, enough so that the dance floor was a solid mass of humanity. The two coworkers stood in one spot as they shuffled their feet. If Cal was uncomfortable before, having Lori rubbing herself against him was torture. He tried to back away a little, trying not to embarrass himself, but she pressed herself to him with a knowing twinkle.
The pounding beat of the music, the beer, and the heat inside the club had Cal exhausted. His right leg screamed at him when they returned to the table, and he wasn’t looking forward to the walk home. Gail saw his drawn look.
“You okay, Cal?” She dropped their playful nickname for him in her concern.
“Long day, Gail,” he shrugged. “An old hip injury bothers me now and then, and I think all that time dancing aggravated it.” He saw Lori’s mortified look out of the corner of his eye. “It’s okay, kid,” he assured her, reminding her she was younger than him. “Do you know how many guys would want to be in my place?”
“You said you live nearby,” Patty said. “How far of a walk is it?”
“About five minutes?” He named his apartment building.
“We parked just up the street!” Laura exclaimed. “I need to pee, and I don’t want to do it here. Are you ladies ready to go?”
Cal missed the look she gave the others.
“Don’t cut your night short on my account...”
“We’re not,” Patty assured him. “Let’s go.”
Cal couldn’t hide his limp during the walk to his apartment building.
“And you’re limping!” Lori cried in anguish.
“I’ll be fine, Lori. Some ibuprofen and water, and I’ll be good as new.”
“Only if you change your socks, also,” Laura sniggered.
He gave her a sharp glance, which she waved off. Military medical personnel believed clean, dry socks possessed magical healing and restorative powers. The four steered Cal to his front lobby when he tried to stop at Patty’s car.
“Nice try, hero,” Gail huffed. “We all have dates with your powder room.”
Cal’s Apartment – Early Saturday Morning
Inside his apartment, Laura tossed a bottle of ibuprofen at Cal before waving him away from the bathroom and closing the door in his face. He dry-swallowed four tablets during the short walk back to his living room. The other three women clustered around the items hanging on one wall.
“Cal, how come you’ve never mentioned your service?” Lori asked in a quiet voice. “Is that how you hurt your hip?”
“I have trouble with parts of my service, Lori,” he replied.
“You were a Marine?” Gail asked, pointing to one picture.
“No,” Cal laughed. “The guys I served with would be happy to tell you I wasn’t a Marine. I was, however, their corpsman.”
“Then you were a squid,” Laura said from behind him.
“I was,” Cal confirmed with a sigh. Gail scampered to the bathroom next.
“‘A squid?’” Patty asked.
“Cal was a Navy corpsman,” Laura clarified, pointing to his award citations. “He received special training to serve with Marines in the field. That’s your platoon, then?”
Cal nodded. “That it was. Someone from company headquarters took that for us right before the op where ... I was wounded.”
Lori rubbed his back to try and ease his distress. She steered him to an oversized armchair. Lori and Patty used the bathroom and came back before they allowed him to start his story.
“My platoon was Three-Eight, part of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines,” he whispered. “That picture was taken about three years ago, during the Second Battle of Ramadi.” Laura sucked in a breath upon hearing that. “Yeah, it was a little slice of heaven, I’m here to tell you...”
Lori startled Cal by crawling into the armchair with him and laying her head on his shoulder in an attempt to comfort him. A glance in his direction encouraged him to continue with his story. Cal told his friends about joining the Navy after high school, requesting corpsman training as part of his enlistment contract, and pursuing his Fleet Marine Force qualification during his second enlistment.
“My platoon was slow to warm up to me, but once I showed them I wouldn’t slow them down or take any shit, I was one of them – despite my unfortunate choice of service branch. Guys rotated in and out of the unit until higher headquarters told us we’d be deploying, and then the only way out was through Iraq.
“Ramadi, and the rest of Al Anbar Provence, was Hell on Earth. You could feel the hate in the air, even without the flying ordnance. The only people we trusted by the time of the battle were our fellow Three-Eight Marines, and maybe some other US personnel. Not the Iraqi security forces, not their police, and certainly not the embedded interpreters.”
Cal paused to gather himself. Lori smiled up at him and squeezed his hand.
“The bad guys fired on us nearly every second we were outside the wire, sniped at us constantly. My platoon lost three guys to an enemy sniper in one week before a counter-sniper took him out. Motherf•©ker was using Ramadi General Hospital as a vantage point. We took the hospital back the next week, along with some DEVGRU SEALs.
“We found plenty of bomb-making stuff during our search of the place. Our last time out, I caught an AK round in the right hip. It chipped my greater trochanter on its way through, but it wasn’t a serious enough wound to get sent home for immediate treatment.
“After my unit rotated home, I decided I’d had enough. I was empty. I was close to two of the guys the sniper killed. I got out, despite my chief trying to talk me into staying in for another hitch. I moped for a year before driving from town to town across the country, searching for something without knowing what that was. Once I was here, in this city, I finally felt comfortable and decided I could stop moving around.
“I was reluctant to get back into the medical field, but that’s all I really know. It was a toss-up between the hospital and one of the local EMS services. My independent-duty corpsman training qualified me as an EMT, and my certification was still current. I decided to apply at the hospital because I’d gotten tired of being out in the weather while in Iraq. I was pretty happy when I got hired. I found this place, moved out of the extended-stay hotel I was in, and started working at the ER.”
“And then you met us!” Lori chirped.
Cal looked down at her. She smiled up from where she lay next to him, her blue eyes shining.
Laura, Gail, and Patty asked him questions for a few minutes before Cal felt someone lay the recliner flat. He opened his eyes with a start, and looked up. Laura held a finger to her lips in the universal sign for quiet and cut a glance toward Lori.
“Lori’s had a long week between work and her loser ex-boyfriend,” Laura whispered, “so we’re gonna let her sleep. We’re heading out. Can you lock your fancy lock from here?”
She hooked a thumb at the front door. Cal nodded, and Laura handed him his phone. The three ladies left, closing the door quietly behind themselves.
Cal locked the door using the Bluetooth lock app on his phone and put the phone down. He then glanced back down at the young woman sleeping next to him. One of the other ladies had covered them with the fleece throw from his couch. Seeing Lori asleep with her head on his shoulder looked so right to him that he sighed in contentment. With a kiss on the top of her head, he closed his eyes again.
Lori woke with a start sometime later. It took her a moment, but she finally remembered being in Cal’s apartment and curling up with him as he told her and her friends his story. During his story, she had rested her head on his shoulder, and her fatigue must have caught up with her. She nestled in Cal’s oversized armchair with him, covered with a blanket. She couldn’t hear any of her friends, nor could she see a clock. She put her head back down on Cal’s shoulder.
Laura wouldn’t have left her here in Cal’s apartment if Laura didn’t trust him; she was a good judge of character, Lori knew. Lori watched as Laura subtly got rid of an ER tech last year who made the other nurses in the department nervous. That was the position Cal filled.
Lori smiled as she remembered meeting Cal for the first time. She remembered him blushing after shaking her hand; he was so cute. Her impression of him had only improved since then. She usually looked forward to her twelve-hour shifts in the ER, but mostly when Cal was working.
The emergency room is a weird place. It’s inside the hospital building, yet it’s an extension of the streets at times. Their security department was okay, a mix of retired cops and young kids searching for a career, but sometimes hard to rely on. ER support staff like Cal were folks the nurses counted on to watch their backs day in and day out.
Cal wasn’t your typical chiseled, movie-poster hunk type. He was five feet, ten inches tall with broad shoulders and a solid physique, but his face was average – handsome but not drop-your-panties-on-sight gorgeous. His honesty, intelligence, quiet confidence, and humor made him attractive.
Too many drinks at the club had Lori trying to get out of the recliner, which woke Cal.
“Sorry, Cal, but I need the bathroom.”
“Sure,” he answered before returning the recliner to its normal position. He waited in the chair for her to return. Cal asked, “Are you ready to head home?” when she did.
Lori smiled, shook her head, and led him to his bedroom.
Cal’s Apartment – Late Saturday Morning
Bright sunlight peeked around the edges of Cal’s blackout curtains. His bladder sent urgent messages to his brain, which woke him up, and his mouth was as dry as the Iraqi desert. Despite his body’s signals, he was in no hurry to get out of bed.