At 8AM the next morning, a mere fourteen hours after my resolution to never date again, I almost broke down crying in the hallway.
My morning started off innocently enough. As usual, I hopped on the crowded subway to travel to work. I was carrying my thermos of bitter coffee in the hand that wasn’t clinging to a pole, sipping just as much as I could stand without scalding my tongue. About two stations before the hospital, the train stopped short and coffee went flying out of the thermos, splattering all over the white shirt of a shocked man standing next to me. He was dressed in a suit and tie, and looked like he was on the way to an important meeting or interview. I apologized profusely and he let me know he forgave me by kindly not stabbing me to death.
Having lost a large fraction of my coffee to that stranger’s shirt, I was feeling a little cranky by the time I got to work. I decided to see my consults first, to get them out of the way before rounding with Chloe. It was always nice to end rounds and know that I was mostly done with my work for the day.
I arrived on the rehab unit, where I was currently consulting on Alex and one other patient. But before I could see either of them, I noticed an elderly man sitting in the hallway in a wheelchair. He had a tray of food in front of him and was feeding himself with a shaky hand. An elderly woman, presumably his wife, was sitting next to him and watching him with an expression that I could only describe as “loving.”
As I watched, the man missed his mouth with the spoon and some watery oatmeal dribbled down the side of his chin. His wife tenderly wiped his chin with a napkin, then leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. He turned to her with the most loving smile I’ve ever seen in my life, as he reached out and took her hand.
And that’s when I lost it.
I blinked, trying to compose myself, but it wasn’t fast enough to keep a few tears from escaping. I felt mortified. As an intern, I had cried a few times when patients had died on me, but eventually I got used to death. I’d become desensitized. Well, I’d become desensitized to death, but apparently not to two old people holding hands.
I tried to escape the unit without being seen, but of course, Alex was lingering by the exit, blocking my path. He was sitting in his wheelchair and he had a plastic-wrapped muffin in his lap. I guessed they had let him go to the cafeteria.
“Hi, Dr. Miller,” he said cheerfully when he saw me. He squinted at my face. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I murmured, ducking into Alex’s empty room, which was thankfully right next to me. He followed me inside.
“Are you sure?” His eyebrows were raised.
I considered telling him it was none of his business, but his voice was so gentle that I knew he was just trying to be nice. I could have told him that I was crying because a patient had died or something like that, but I didn’t have it in me to lie right now.
“It’s the Fosters, isn’t it?” he finally said.
Alex nodded his head toward the door. “That old couple out there. Hell, they practically make me cry every time I see them. They’ve been married for over fifty years.”
I was shocked by his perceptiveness. “They just seem so sweet,” I admitted.
“Yeah,” he said. “I hope Eva and I are like that someday.”
I guessed things had been going a little better between him and Eva. Maybe they were going to work things out. Well, fine. Good for him. He had Eva, and I had a fat bald guy who wasn’t calling me back.
I noticed Alex was staring at something, but I wasn’t sure what. I followed his gaze and realized that his eyes were resting on my left hand. Oh god, was he looking for a ring? I quickly put my left hand in the pocket of my white coat and frowned at him. “What are you looking at?”
He blinked, embarrassed. “Oh, I’m sorry, I just…”
“Were you wondering if I was married?” For a second, I couldn’t believe I had said something so brazen. Alex brought out a side of me that I didn’t think existed.
He coughed. “Um, well…”
I had to tell him now. I had trapped myself. “I have absolutely no interest in getting married,” I said. Wow, that sounded almost believable.
He nodded. “Yeah, I can see that.”
“Excuse me? What exactly does that mean?” I was going for sounding angry, but instead my voice came out high pitched and shrieky.
“That kind of came out wrong,” Alex stammered, his cheeks flushing red. He cleared his throat. “I mean, you seem like a very career-oriented person. And anyway, men are idiots. I don’t blame you for not wanted to tie yourself to one of us.”
“Men are idiots?” I repeated, staring at him. I wasn’t sure what he meant by that.
“Well,” he said, “yeah.”
I stared at him, not sure if I should continue to be insulted. “So,” I said, “if all men are idiots, are you an idiot?”
Alex grinned. “Of course. It follows logically, doesn’t it?”
Reluctantly, I smiled back. “All right, so give me an example.”
“Not a problem,” he said. He thought for a moment. “So five years ago, I met Eva at this party. Being the socially awkward computer nerd that I was, I met maybe one girl per year who was willing to even talk to me, much less someone who actually seemed to like me. So needless to say, I was smitten within about five minutes of meeting her. I hadn’t been out on a date in like a year and it took me over an hour to work up the guts to ask for her phone number. Of course, I wanted to call her the second I got home, but my roommate convinced me I had to wait three days, or else I’d seem desperate.” He shook his head. “Dumb, right? But anyway, I was going nuts wanting to call her. So in order to distract myself, I did my laundry. And naturally, I washed the jeans where I put her number. So I met the girl of my dreams and I couldn’t even call her.”
“Well, obviously you found a way…”
“First I searched the internet, of course,” he said, laughing at himself. “That didn’t work. Then I swallowed my pride and called everybody at the party. I was on the phone for an entire day, but I finally tracked down her number so I could ask her out.”
“That actually sounds kind of sweet and romantic,” I said, a little disappointed.
“Well, maybe that last part,” he admitted. “But not calling her for three days and then losing her number was pretty idiotic, you have to admit.”
Maybe slightly, but not necessarily in a bad way. I watched Alex pick up the muffin from his lap and struggle for a minute with the plastic wrap. Finally, he ripped it open with his teeth.
“What’s the meanest thing you’ve ever done to a woman?” I asked him.
The muffin fell into Alex’s lap with a scattering of crumbs. He looked up at me in surprise. For a moment, I was worried the gig was up, that I had given myself away. But instead, he smiled. “I said I was an idiot,” he said. “I never said I was mean.”
“Every man has done something mean to a woman,” I insisted. “If you deny it, then you’re only labeling yourself as a liar.”
Alex raised his eyebrows and laughed. “Okay, Dr. Miller, you got me.” He popped a chunk of muffin in his mouth. “Well, I did once dump a girl on her birthday.”
“That’s pretty bad.”
“Yeah,” he admitted. “Although she was cheating on me, so she kind of deserved it.”
“Okay, what else?”
Alex laughed again. “What, you think I’m some kind of asshole? Seriously, I’m a pretty nice guy. Before Eva, I was usually on the receiving end of the abuse.”
I bit my tongue to keep from telling him that he very well might end up on the receiving end once again. I felt mildly hurt although not particularly surprised that he seemed to have no memory of what he had done to me. It was amazing how well he was able to play the part of the nice guy. If I hadn’t personally witnessed him in action, I never would have believed it.
Instead of bothering Grace with a page or phone call, I decided to take a trip over to the ICU to find her. She was just finishing up rounds with her team when I arrived and spent a minute watching her, unobserved. I have a girl crush on Grace. While I don’t find her physically attractive, in no small part because she’s of the wrong gender, I adore her and I often feel an emotion for her that’s very similar to being in love. Sometimes I wish I were a man so I could sweep Grace off her feet, like she deserves.
But then again, if I were a man, I’d probably never give Grace the time of day. I’d probably do something idiotic like ask her if she was pregnant, which seems to happen to poor Grace more than anyone else I’ve ever met. Or maybe I’d like her as a person, but I’d be turned off by the idea of going to bed with her, and want to hold out for someone prettier. Like Alex pointed out, men are idiots.
Grace’s eyes lit up when she saw me. “What are you doing here, Miller?” she asked me.
“I love the ICU so much, I just can’t stay away,” I said. That was a little Rachel humor. I always hated working the ICU and could never understand how Grace could dedicate her life to this profession.
“Have you heard from Charlie yet?” she asked me in a low voice.
“No, and I don’t want to,” I said. “How about you and me go to the movies tomorrow night?”
“Negative. I’ve got a date.”
I think in the five or so years that I’ve known Grace, I have never once seen her go out on a date. It was hard for me to mask my surprise.
“Don’t look so shocked, Rachel,” Grace said. “I do like men, you know.”
“Right, right…” I said quickly. I was embarrassed by my reaction. “Sorry, you just don’t go out that often.”
Grace shrugged. “I don’t like to waste my time if I don’t think it’s going to work out.”
“Of course,” I said in what was probably a very condescending tone. “So, um, who is it?”
“His name is Sam,” she said. “We met on the internet and we’ve been talking online and on the phone for the last three months. We’re having our first date tomorrow night.”
“Oh. Wow.” I didn’t want to ask the question that was burning in the back of my mind: had he seen her photo?
She shrugged again. “We’ll see. He seems like a very nice guy. We really connected online. Last week, he had flowers sent to my apartment.”
Grace was trying to play it cool, but I could tell she was incredibly excited. And I was excited for her. Well, I was and I wasn’t. Grace had always been someone I could count on to be around for me. What if she hit it off with this Sam guy? What if they got married? I’d probably have to be in her wedding. God, I hate being in weddings. And then after she got married, she’d suddenly act like we had nothing in common anymore. Or worse, she’d get pregnant. And then she’d be one of those women with breast pumps. This had the potential to be really awful. As I looked at her smiling face, I had a horrible sinking feeling in my stomach.
“Well, good luck,” I said.
As I was coming out of the subway on the way home, my cell phone started vibrating. After taking the subway, I ordinarily didn’t like to touch anything until I’d sterilized my hands, but I could never resist a vibrating phone, especially from a number I didn’t recognize.
“Hi,” the voice on the other line said. “It’s Charlie.”
It’s about freaking time, I wanted to yell into the phone. Instead, I said, “Hi.”
“Is this a bad time?” he asked.
“No, it’s fine,” I said. “I’m just walking home from the subway.”
“Wow, you work longer hours than I do,” he commented.
I grunted, not really wanting to joke around with him until he apologized for not calling me for an entire week.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call sooner,” Charlie said, not sounding that sorry. “Work has been crazy.”
“It’s okay, no big deal,” I said, like I hadn’t been obsessing over it the entire week.
“Are you free for dinner tomorrow?”
I wanted to say no. After all, as Felicia said, I didn’t really like him. But then again, it wasn’t like I had any great plans for the next night. A free dinner didn’t sound that bad, especially since Grace was going out too. “Yes, I’m free.”
“Great,” he said. “I’ll pick you up this time.”
Why was I doing this? Why was I going out with a guy I didn’t even like? The thought of kissing Charlie again filled me with only a vague feeling of distaste. I guess it was possible he’d grow on me. But it wasn’t like his personality was so wonderful either. He was boring and didn’t even bother to call me for a whole week.
Of course, if I got a date for Shauna’s wedding, it would be worth it. God, I hoped he’d agree to go with me.