I meant to go to the rehab unit early the next day, but things got busy on the stroke unit and in the ER. Chloe and I ended up admitting two new patients together. Both of them were fairly complicated and I hovered over Chloe while she wrote the orders. I think Chloe was a little annoyed by my excessive supervision and felt like I didn’t trust her, but ultimately, I was the one responsible for what happened to the patients. I can be a bit of a perfectionist at work. (Although some not-so-nice people call it being anal.)
I ended up making it to rehab at around 5. Most of the therapies were over by then, which made it easy for me to quickly round on my two patients in their rooms and scribble notes in their charts. When I first graduated from residency, I had such nice handwriting, but now I could barely make out what I had written seconds earlier. I think my handwriting problem was terminal.
As I was finishing my second note at the nurses’ station, I heard a quiet voice coming from my left side: “Dr. Miller.”
I looked up. Alex was sitting in his wheelchair, staring at me through his glasses. He wasn’t smiling. His brown hair was slightly tousled in an endearing way, and his plain gray T-shirt was wrinkled and hung loosely against his lean chest. His legs were positioned in his footrests, motionless as always. “Can I talk to you a minute?” he asked. I hesitated and he added, “Just a minute. I promise.”
I nodded and followed him to his room. He wheeled to the side to let me enter first and shut the door behind us. Once we were inside, I sat down on his bed and he wheeled around to face me. “I’m so sorry, Rachel,” he said. “Really. I feel awful about the other day.”
I was quiet, not sure how to respond.
“I feel like a complete idiot,” he said, looking down at his legs. “I’m really embarrassed about the whole thing. I don’t know why I thought you could possibly like me. I must have lost my mind or something. I shouldn’t have kissed you. I guess I was thinking about the past and I just got carried away. I imagined something that wasn’t there.”
I swallowed. “You don’t have to—”
“I just had to tell you that.” Alex looked back up at me, his cheeks pink. “Maybe we could pretend like it never happened. I’d still like to be friends and for you to be my doctor.” He flashed me a crooked smiled. “So in summary, I promise your patient in the wheelchair isn’t going to hit on you anymore.”
I badly wanted to write to my eleven year old self about this moment. It would have gone a little like this:
Dear Eleven Year Old Rachel,
Buck up. In eleven years, you’re going to go to medical school and become a really kick ass neurologist. And you know that boy who’s been making your life miserable all year? In 22 years, you’re going to break up his engagement, then painfully reject him when he tries to kiss you. You’re going to make him feel like shit about himself. It’s going to be the best revenge ever.
Except I didn’t feel good about this moment at all. I didn’t really want to get revenge on Alex. I just wanted Alex.
“What if,” I began tentatively, “what if I want you to hit on me?”
Alex snorted. “Yeah, right. Look, Rachel, I’m okay. Really. I get it.”
I could see in his eyes that he wasn’t going to believe it if I told him I had feelings for him. He couldn’t even look me directly in the eyes, he was so self-conscious. I had to do something drastic. Something aggressive. Something really unlike me.
I leaned forward and kissed him.
This was probably the first time in my life that I had ever initiated a kiss. There were times when I had been on dates and wanted the guy to kiss me, and usually those times he didn’t do it. And then there were other times, such as with Charlie, where I didn’t particularly want to be kissed, but I had no choice but to tolerate it. But I had never been the one to make the first move before. I guess I had always assumed that if the guy didn’t come after me, he wasn’t interested.
It didn’t feel like me to be so aggressive with a man. But it felt good. And it wasn’t just any man. When my lips first touched his, I felt him stiffen, like he wasn’t sure what to make of the whole thing. But then he relaxed. Pulled me closer. A minute later, I was sitting in his lap and we were full on making out. I felt his right hand against the nape of my neck and tingles went up and down my spine.
There was no doubt anymore that Alex wanted me.
I had never made out with a guy in the hospital before. I would have thought the germ-laden environment would be a turn off, but it wasn’t. Just the opposite. The fear of a nurse walking in and catching us together made it even more exciting, especially when Alex’s hand slipped between the folds of my white coat and slid under my shirt. He didn’t do anything inappropriate like try to unhook my bra, but his hand grazed the small of my back and I shivered. This was incredibly hot.
I pulled away first, breathing hard. “My god,” I sighed.
“I can’t believe it,” he said, grinning at me. “I can’t believe I’m making out with Rachel Miller. I wish I could write my eleven year old self a letter and brag about it.”
He kissed me again and it vaguely occurred to me that it was getting close to dinner hour and a nurse was going to come in any second with Alex’s meal. It was only after I heard the knock on the door and my heart jumped so suddenly that my chest actually throbbed afterwards. I managed to disentangle myself from him and be in a standing position by the time the nurse walked into the room.
“Dr. Miller!” It was a nurse in her sixties named Rose who had been working here as long as I could remember. “I thought you’d already left!”
Did she see anything? I was the last doctor anyone would suspect of making out with my patients. (Chloe was a more likely suspect.) But I felt like every inch of my skin was a bright red color. And when I looked at Alex, he looked incredibly guilty as well. And his hair was practically sticking straight up.
“Yes, well,” I said, smoothing out my own hair. “I, um, was just answering a few questions for Mr. Connors.”
“I’m glad you’re here, actually,” Rose said. “Mr. Sewall has a tremor that’s been concerning him. Do you think you could take a look?”
Either she didn’t know what we’d been doing or she was playing a really cruel game. I forced a smile. “Of course.”
Alex was looking at me longingly, but Rose was standing at the doorway, waiting for me to follow her. I didn’t have a choice. And I couldn’t figure out any way to come back here without it being suspicious. I shrugged helplessly at him as I followed Rose out of the room, straightening my blouse when she wasn’t looking at me.
I was in Mr. Sewall’s room, examining his shaking fingers when my phone buzzed with a text message. I excused myself for a moment to read the message. It was from Alex.
Come by tomorrow at 7?
I texted him back in the affirmative and went back to Mr. Sewall’s tremor.
That night as I was getting ready for bed, I found myself humming. Humming, for god’s sake. I don’t hum. There has never been anything in my daily life that has made me want to break out into song. I don’t even know if I was humming an actual song, just some chipper little tune as I scrubbed my face with Dove soap. Somehow I was turning into a Disney character.
As I pulled my sweater over my head, my phone buzzed with the second text message of the day. I recognized Alex’s number immediately. Still up?
I quickly wrote back: Yes.
A second after I sent the message, my phone started to ring. I answered it, a silly grin plastered across my face. “Hello, Mr. Connors,” I said.
“Hi, Dr. Miller,” he replied. Even though I couldn’t see him, he kind of sounded like he had the same kind of silly grin on his face. “I was just thinking about you. Were you thinking about me?”
“Most definitely not.” I paused. “Well, maybe.”
He laughed. “You know, it’s funny. I was just thinking about how much I wanted to ask you out when we were in sixth grade. I used to fantasize about it.”
“You did not!”
“I swear I did,” he insisted. “I even had a plan. I was going to have Jim pass you a note that said something like, ‘Do you like Alex Connors? Yes or no?’ I just couldn’t get up the nerve to actually do it.”
I imagined what my reaction would have been if someone had passed me a note asking if I liked Alex. I probably would have thought it was yet another way of making fun of me. “I think I hated you by then,” I said. “So maybe it’s better you didn’t ask.”
Alex was quiet for a minute. “I’m really sorry, Rachel. Honestly. I was such an asshole to you. Every time I think about it, I want to kick myself.”
“Well, why did you do it?” I didn’t want to give him a hard time, but I kept asking myself that question over and over.
“I just couldn’t figure out a way to talk to you,” he said. “I wanted to get your attention and I didn’t know what to say. I mean, I was awful around girls back then. Hell, I was pretty bad until at least college.”
“What are you talking about?” I cried. “You were always talking to girls in the class!”
“You mean the ones who were borrowing my homework?” he snorted. “They were just using me because I was good at math. They didn’t like me or anything. And you obviously never needed to borrow my homework, considering you knew more than I did. Anyway, I could talk to girls in general, just not girls that I liked.” He paused. “And I really liked you, Rachel. I was completely infatuated. You have no idea.”
“Too bad we never got together back then,” I said. “Would have saved both of us a lot of grief.”
“God, yes,” Alex said. “Think of all the awful first dates we could have avoided…”
“And the set-ups from my mother…”
“And the Saturday nights alone playing computer games…”
“And awful sex…”
Alex laughed. “Damn, I’m sorry about that. A woman like you does not deserve to have awful sex.”
I smiled. “Oh, really?
“Really.” He added in a low voice, “I would never, ever let that happen.”
Oh god. Oh my god. I was going to explode if I continued this conversation another second. “Um, that’s very, um…” I stammered.
We were both quiet for a minute. I was lost in my fantasies and I imagined he was too. How wrong would it be if I had phone sex with my former patient while he was still in the hospital?
“I should go,” I said.
“Right,” Alex breathed. “Maybe that’s a good idea.”
“But I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yes,” he said. “I’ll be waiting.”