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Ricky gnashed his teeth as the sting of the antiseptic fizzed over his cut. He watched as Shelley used the swab to coat the scrape along his knuckles, her usually cheerful disposition fixed with concentration. When she finished, she disposed of the bloodied swab into the garbage and carefully guided Ricky over to the sink. Turning on the faucet, she used the running water to carefully rinse the cut once more.
"We won't put a bandage over it because you gotta have it exposed to oxygen," she advised once she was finished tending to him. Then she went ahead and washed her hands clean. "Did you know that oxygen helps cuts heal faster? People put band-aids over 'em but that's not always a good thing, y'know? Well, of course if it's a huge bloody gash, then yeah, it'd be a good idea to wrap that sucker up tight and take you to the E.R. as soon as possible!"
"That so." Ricky carefully wiggled his fingers and winced at the soreness and the cool sting of his cut as he leaned against the sink. "Damn."
Shelley dried her hands on the towel. "Thanks again for helping John. You really saved him back there."
Her younger brother had just started his first year of high school. He was quirky like his sister and an overall good kid, but painfully awkward and meek looking. He was an easy target for bullies and there were a few times where Shelley stepped in to dissuade any fights. It had always worked, at least, until the most recent encounter. The moment Ricky saw one of the boys take an aggressive hold of Shelley, that was when he went on the offense.
Shelley had never seen Ricky look so furious before. The quiet young man before her looked different from the one just hours ago brawling against a group of thugs who thought they could get away with picking on people weaker than them. Narrowed eyes, snarled lips, clenched fists, the harsh sounds his voice made when he breathed… Ricky looked absolutely dangerous.
But that didn't stop her from caring for him. She was now standing between his legs, cradling his head against her chest. Her fingers raked through his thick, wavy hair as she felt his hands gently rest on her hips.
"I didn't do it for John," he confessed quietly, his fingers stroking the fabric of her denim jeans.
Her heart suddenly started beating faster. "I know."
"The next time anybody touches you like that again, I swear to God...!"
"I know." Her legs trembled as she hugged him close, trying very hard not to suffocate him. She wore a great big smile on her face as she realized how much this boy meant to her, and how far he'd go to protect her. She never imaged wanting to give him so much of herself. "Still, thanks for doing what you did back there. John thinks the world of you. And hey, you know how much I like you, too."
Ricky lifted his head and stared into her tender gaze. "That right?"
Her face was aglow as she simply answered with a chirpy, "Yup!"