Our journey continues! As always, here’s a link back to the first one in case you aren’t caught up.
Sticks and Stones
Once upon a time, there was a mouse named Grisgo.
Grisgo lived in the basement city of Mouse Place, and it was his job to be a nurse mouse. He loved his job because it gave him the chance to help other mice and give back to his community, but there was just one problem.
Grisgo was really big. For a mouse, anyway. He was fat, yes, but he was just plain big too. He towered over the doctor mice and other nurses, and he could eat nearly two full slices of cheese in a single day. One day he was so hungry that he ate a whole thing of jelly beans. His father had told him that he was big-boned, and his mother said there was just more of him to love.
Sometimes–most of the time, actually–Grisgo wished that there was less of him to love. The mouse hospital wasn’t designed with mice as large as him in mind, and he was constantly toppling trays of instruments or knocking furniture around with his unwieldy bulk.
The other nurse mice teased him all the time. They called him names like “Porkchop” and “Whalemouse,” but one name hurt worse than any of the others. Worse than “Cheeselog,” worse than “Lardbucket.”
The most respected doctor in the whole hospital was Dr. Squeegums MD PhD Esquire. All the female nurses thought he was the dreamiest, and all the male nurses–including Grisgo–wanted to be him. He had the fine white fur of a science mouse and the sharp, penetrating gaze of an actor mouse. When Dr. Squeegums MD PhD Esquire spoke, everyone in the room listened.
Which is why it was so bad when one day Dr. Squeegums said, “Hey Fat-Rat, pass me that roll of bandages?”
All the nurses tittered and chuckled. The only thing Grisgo could do was hand Dr. Squeegums the bandages and mumble, “I’m not a rat.”
Unfortunately, the name stuck. Soon every mouse in the hospital was calling him “Fat-Rat.” All day, Grisgo moved as carefully as he could through the hospital while he tended to his patients. He knew that bumping into anything would bring laughter and that awful name.
At night, Grisgo would trudge home and eat a cheesy poof in the dark.
This went on for months, and he soon starting hating the job he used to love so much.
One day there was a horrible accident in downtown Mouse Place. A whole apartment complex near the wine rack collapsed, injuring dozens of construction mice. First responder mice rushed patients to the hospital, and there were so many wounds to treat that nobody had time to make fun of Grisgo’s size.
One of the patients assigned to Grisgo was a construction mouse named Nina. A falling can had broken her femur in the accident. The first time Grisgo saw Nina, his heart jumped all the way up to his throat because she was the most beautiful mouse he had ever seen.
Nina was clinching her teeth in pain. “Give it to me straight, doc,” she said. “Will I walk again after this?”
“I’m not a doctor,” Grisgo said. “I’m a nurse, but broken bones are my specialty. You’re going to be just fine. I promise.”
Once he had realigned the bone, he set Nina’s leg with a toothpick splint and let himself out of the room as quietly as he could. The poor mouse had already fallen asleep.
Femurs take a long time to heal, and over the next few weeks, Grisgo and Nina became fast friends. They discovered they both loved cheesy poofs but hated barbecue sunflower seeds. Nina talked about the construction company where she was a foremouse, whose job it was to make sure other mice were doing their jobs. Grisgo talked about nursing, and about how much he liked helping other mice get better. He started taking his lunch breaks in Nina’s room and sharing treats from the cafeteria with her.
“You know what I wish?” Nina asked the day before she was set to be sent home. She was eating half a chocolate chip that Grisgo had brought from the snack lounge. Grisgo had already finished his half.
“No, what?” Grisgo asked.
“I wish I had even one mouse under me at the construction site with your passion. I have to deal with mice who don’t care every day. It’s really special to see someone so invested in what they do.”
At this, Grisgo panicked, mumbled something about needing new bandages, and fled the room.
Later that night, Grisgo paced in his apartment talking to himself. He kept his room sparse and clean so there was nothing for him to bump into.
“Nina,” he said, “you’re the prettiest mouse I’ve ever met. Would you be interested in maybe sometime going out… No, that’s terrible. That’s the worst thing you could possibly say.” He cleared his throat. “Hey, Nina. If you’re not busy, I mean, I don’t want to intrude, and I know we’ve only known each other a few… Ugh.”
He banged his head against the wall a few times.
“More confidence,” he said. “Be courageous.”
He took a deep breath, and he tried again.
The next morning, Grisgo went to the jewelry store before work. He didn’t know much about the kind of jewelry Nina would like, but the clerk mouse who owned the store steered him toward a bright blue sapphire. It cost him a little more than he could afford, but it was worth it. Nina was worth it.
Later on, Grisgo stepped into Nina’s room to find her standing beside the bed.
“Look at you!” he said. “You made it!”
Nina chuckled. “You kept your promise,” she said.
“My promise?” Grisgo asked.
“That very first day, when they brought me in. You promised I would be fine. I can’t thank you enough, Grisgo.”
Grisgo tightened his jaw and swallowed hard. He’d practiced this enough times that he felt sure he could make it through. The sapphire felt encouragingly heavy in the supply satchel he wore around his waist. He just had to be brave. “Listen, Nina, since you can walk again now, I thought it might be a fun idea if the two of us to maybe take a walk together up by the–”
Suddenly the door clicked open, and Dr. Squeegums MD PhD Esquire stepped into the room carrying a bouquet of flowers.
Nina squealed. “Dr. Squeegums! Are those for me?”
Dr. Squeegums crossed the room and handed Nina the bouquet. He kissed her on the cheek.
She giggled. “These are too much.”
“Nothing is too much for my favorite patient,” said Dr. Squeegums. “Are we still on for tonight?”
“You bet your life on it,” said Nina.
On his way out, Dr. Squeegums said, “Nurse, please fill out this patient’s discharge papers.”
Neither Grisgo’s mouth nor his brain seemed to be working.
Nina inhaled the scent of the flowers and sighed. “So dreamy,” she said, seemingly to herself. Then she shook her head. “Sorry Grisgo. What were you saying?”
“Oh, I…” He fumbled with the pouch containing the sapphire. “It was nothing,” he said.
She gave him a knowing smile. “Grisgo… Were you about to ask me out?”
Grisgo looked away.
Nina limped closer and reached way up to put a paw on his shoulder. “It’s nothing personal,” Nina said. “You’re just too big for a mouse like me.”
“Okay,” said Grisgo.
After Nina left, Grisgo stared at the bed he had sat beside for so many afternoons. He thought of all the jokes they had shared. All the stories and the meals.
After a long moment, the door opened again.
Grisgo turned to see a female nurse poking her head in.
“Hey Fat-Rat, we need those discharge papers stat. Could you get on it?”
That night, Grisgo didn’t go home. Instead, he went for a long walk all by himself.
Eventually he found himself up by the basement window. A storm raged outside, and rain slipped down the glass in thick rivulets. He looked at the tiny blue gem in his paw.
Grisgo tossed the sapphire outside and walked away. He planned on eating a whole thing of cheesy poofs when he got home.