The last place I wanted to be that morning was a physical therapist’s office. I needed to get to a jobsite, but after having surgery on my ankle following a nasty fall, I had to be there to get rid of a persistent limp and hopefully the dull ache that was beginning to plague me on a daily basis. I’d done the basic PT through a different office, but their schedules never seemed to line up well with my work, so I decided to try a place with earlier appointments for the more intensive therapy I now needed. I just hoped the physical therapist would be able to help me along quickly so I could waste as little time as possible.
My phone was vibrating like crazy with text after text from a jobsite foreman relating to an issue with an order we were trying to track down. It had started with a few missing cabinets for the kitchen and had snowballed to missing pieces and parts for the entire house. The supply company was trying to figure out what had happened to the shipment, and in the meantime, our completion date was shot to hell.
The constant texts and added stress were making it impossible for me to focus on filling out the necessary paperwork for the therapist, and I could already tell this was going to be the Monday from hell. Was it possible to go back to bed and start the day over? Maybe with two or three more cups of coffee before leaving the house.
Ben: Hey, boss, sorry to bother you. I’ve been making some calls. Finally got the owner of Canter’s on the phone. Seems at least part of the order was shipped to another jobsite… not ours.
Me: Fuck! What about the rest?
Ben: No clue. But the stuff that was shipped to the wrong place can be recovered tomorrow. He’s got a new person in the ordering department, he figures there was a mixup with that.
I sighed and ran my hands through my short hair that seemed to be getting grayer at an alarming rate recently. It was now more salt than pepper and it was making me feel every day of my forty-one years. It was probably a good thing I was in physical therapy for a bum ankle and not complications due to a heart attack with the amount of shit I’d been dealing with lately.
Me: Keep on him—
“Mr. Barton!” a high-pitched voice called from the doorway of the waiting room, interrupting my text before I could send it. I shoved my phone into my pocket and plastered on a fake smile, hoping it looked genuine. My nerves were already shot and if I had to listen to this mousey-voiced woman for an hour, I might end up on blood pressure meds by the end of the morning.
As I joined her, limping along and wanting to curse my sore ankle, she smiled up at me. “I’m Lisa. I’ll be taking you back to see Caleb. He’s going to be your therapist.”
First good news of the day—my physical therapist was not the woman who barely looked like she was out of high school. As we entered the therapy space, there were only a few patients working at different machines so, thankfully, the place wasn’t absurdly loud.
Lisa walked me to a chair at the side of the room. “Caleb is running just a minute or two behind. He’ll be with you shortly. If you haven’t had a chance to finish the paperwork, feel free to do so now.” She shot a pointed look at my mostly blank packet as she walked away.
From the small room beside me, two voices could be heard disagreeing… arguing maybe. It took me a moment to hone in on the conversation but once I did I couldn’t help but smile to myself. The deeper of the two voices sounded exasperated. “They aren’t toys!”
The other voice scoffed before responding. “Cal, your desk is covered in dragon toys! I’m pretty sure this one came from a Happy Meal.”
“Leave Puff alone! He didn’t do anything to you. And leave my desk alone.”
The second guy was gasping for air as he laughed. “Cal, dude, they’re named! You’ve named the toys on your desk.”
Voice one sounded irritated when he responded. “It’s Puff from Pete’s Dragon you imbecile.”
My phone buzzed again and I zoned the two out. I needed to figure out what the fuck was going on with my supply shipment and how I was going to get things where they needed to be to avoid further delays. We were into spring and I couldn’t afford to fall behind on even one job because work was stacking up faster than I cared to admit. I’d never been so thankful to have someone like Ben working for me. I pulled my phone out and finished my text to Ben.
Me: Keep on him. We need to figure out where everything is. I’ll be at the office as soon as this damn appointment is over.
Ben: If you keep limping around the office bitching about your ankle, the guys are going to force you to take leave. I recommend focusing on your PT.
I cursed but picked up the incomplete paperwork and began to fill it out. I didn’t get far before the conversation from the office beside me caught my attention again.
“Shut up, Dex. I’m late for my appointment because of you. Get out of my office, now!” the voice huffed.
A tall ginger-haired guy in his mid-twenties was pushed out of the office just ahead of a muscular man an inch or so shorter than the redhead. The office door slammed shut and the muscular guy crossed his arms and stared at his co-worker. There didn’t appear to be any malice in his eyes, so I figured they were friends, though I thought the redhead might be pushing his luck given the stern expression on the muscular guy’s face.
The redhead held up his hands in surrender and walked away shaking his head. “We’re going to talk about your little obsession later, Caleb.”
The muscular guy appeared embarrassed by his friend’s words and turned pink while he shook his head in frustration. “Ugh! You’re impossible. I’m going to lunch with Lisa!” For some reason I suspected the threat was empty.
The redhead shook his head again as he walked across the physical therapy floor and into another small office before shutting the door behind him.
The muscular guy turned his head toward me with a faint pink blush still staining his cheeks. “You must be Mr. Barton.” He held out his hand and flashed me a bright smile that was clearly trying to push his discomfort away. “Sorry to keep you waiting. I’m Caleb Masterson. It seems you’re stuck with me for a while!”
I bristled at being called Mr. Barton. That always reminded me of my dad and made me feel old. “Please, call me Travis.”
Caleb smiled. “Nice to meet you, Travis. You can call me Caleb. I hear you’ve recently had surgery on your ankle?” he probed, quickly glancing down at my work boots. He was likely judging my choice of footwear. I hadn’t thought much about it when I’d left the house that morning. It had been over two months since my surgery, and I was annoyed that the recovery hadn’t been quicker, despite the surgeon telling me it was going to take time. I wouldn’t own a top-rated, custom home building and remodeling company if I weren’t stubborn and impatient. My ankle, however, didn’t seem to realize I had deadlines and projects that needed my attention.
“Yeah. I need to get this thing back in shape. I really don’t have time for a weekly appointment.”
“Twice weekly,” Caleb corrected, fighting a grin.
I balked. “Twice a week?” When had I agreed to physical therapy twice a week?
Caleb nodded while looking at the small laptop in his hand. “Yes, it was confirmed when the appointment was scheduled.”
Ben. I’d left it to him to find me a new physical therapy place when the last one wasn’t working out. It was a good thing the guy was a hard worker and knew his shit because I wouldn’t normally take too kindly to this type of surprise. I had to concede that Ben also knew me too well after working for me for over two years. If he’d told me I was going to be coming here twice a week for the foreseeable future, there would have been no way I’d have come to the first appointment. But now I was here and stuck.
I sighed. There was nothing else I could do. “Alright, we might as well get a move on. What’s first?”
Caleb shook his head. “You’re clearly used to being the boss, but here, I’m in charge. So you can just sit yourself down on the table and take your highly-inappropriate-for-physical-therapy boots off so I can see where we’re starting.”
Big hazel eyes glanced over the clipboard that I’d set beside me. I watched as he looked at the incomplete paperwork on it and shook his head.
“Well, since you didn’t get this all filled out, tell me how you managed to land yourself here when you’d, clearly, much rather be working.”
I gave him the condensed version of events, avoiding an explanation of how I’d broken my ankle, while he focused on my ankle and the scars on either side from the surgery I’d had. “This is my busy season, and I need to get this ankle back into shape quickly. The last physical therapist I was at couldn’t work with my early morning schedule.”
“Well, the only way you’re going to get it there is to put in the appropriate time in therapy and do the exercises I give you. Oh, and don’t do more than you’re ready for. I can already see you’re likely one who will push through the pain and end up injuring yourself more.” He sighed and shook his head. Apparently, I wasn’t the first stubborn patient he’d had to deal with. “So, what did you do to yourself, Travis?”
I couldn’t help the exasperated huff I blew out at my own stupidity. “I was coming down a ladder, missed the last rung, and landed on my ankle. Not one of my finer moments.”
Caleb fought a grin at my expense. I couldn’t deny he was adorable as he tried to remain professional, but the twinkle in his eyes gave away a playful personality just below the surface. Even if I wanted to be frustrated with him, the little dimple that appeared in his left cheek was enough to wear me down slightly. “Sounds like a freak accident. It’s going to help if you wear tennis shoes here, though.” He was rotating my ankle and shifting his attention from my ankle to my face, likely watching for any signs of discomfort.
He squeezed and turned and rotated it more than my doctor had at the last appointment. He seemed to be making mental notes of every tight spot, slight pop, and anything he perceived as discomfort from me. After a few minutes, he went to my right ankle and repeated the process. It felt like it took ten minutes before he’d compared every movement.
Caleb finally opened his laptop and began typing rapidly. The tip of his tongue stuck out slightly as he worked, making him look younger. When he was done with his notes, he asked me all the questions I hadn’t answered on the paperwork and by the time we were done with all that, our time was almost up.
He shut the laptop and smiled at me. “Well, unfortunately, we didn’t get much done today. The good news is, we’ve got all the boring stuff out of the way, so we can get right down to fixing you up on Friday.”
The last thing I wanted to do was spend another hour each week in physical therapy, yet I had a feeling Ben was right—boss or not, the guys were at the end of their rope with me. I was going to find myself persona non grata at my own company if I didn’t start taking physical therapy more seriously.
“Yes, see you Friday,” I agreed reluctantly.
Caleb smiled and nodded like he’d won a battle. “Have a good week, Travis. See you Friday.”