The world is totally different when you’re infatuated.
I think I’m guilty of letting little things get to me more than they should. Like for example, if I’m waiting for the subway for longer than ten minutes in the morning and I see three trains going by on the opposite platform, I feel my blood pressure going up. Or if a patient I’ve been seeing every day for a week calls me “nurse.” And then asks me to empty his bedpan.
But today I didn’t care. I stepped into the train station just in time to see my train speeding away, and I just shrugged. And when I finally got on a train, I put my shoe right in a puddle of something yellow that I hoped to god was just Mountain Dew, and I wasn’t at all bothered. Although I did hose off my shoes the second I got to work.
All I could think about was that tonight I was seeing Alex. Just the thought of it made me feel like I was floating.
It wasn’t hard to stick around the hospital until seven. Most days I don’t make it out until six, unless I have an appointment or other engagement I’m running to. It can be depressing in the winter when I never get to leave before nightfall, but in June, it doesn’t bother me nearly as much. In fact, some days I prolong my time at work, spending extra time writing up case reports and making evening rounds on patients. It doesn’t matter much when I don’t have anything to come home to.
Some bitter attendings will force their residents to stick around for these late rounds. I don’t do things that way. In fact, I usually don’t even tell my residents that I’m still around at six or seven, peeking in each patient’s room and making sure there are no unaddressed issues. It’s a little embarrassing, to be honest.
I think patients like it when they see me checking in on them at dinnertime. A few of them comment on the fact that they think it’s odd I’m still there. “It’s late, Dr. Miller!” the occasional old woman or man will say. “Go home to your family!” But the truth is, most of them don’t think of their doctor as having a life outside of work and probably think my presence is par for the course.
In order to explain why I was on the rehab ward so late, I saved my rehab consults until the end of the day. When I showed up, the nurses seemed sympathetic that I was so busy, I was stuck in the hospital at nearly seven.
Alex’s nurse Rose approached me after I had seen my two other patients on the unit. It occurred to me that Rose hadn’t realized I had signed off on his care. She thought I was still his doctor, which justified my daily visits. I wasn’t going to do anything to discourage this misconception.
“Dr. Miller,” Rose said to me in a low voice, taking me by the arm. “I need to talk to you about Mr. Connors.”
“Oh?” I said. Now that I wasn’t actually Alex’s doctor and I was here to hook up with him, it seemed very unethical to be hearing information about his medical care. But it was very hard to resist. I would have been in so much trouble if someone looked through Alex’s chart. “Is he okay?”
“Well, he’s stable,” Rose said. “But he had a bit of a shock today.”
I raised my eyebrows at her. “What happened?”
“The physical therapist set up some mirrors during his therapy session, to help him with his transfers,” Rose explained. Her wrinkles deepened. “I think that was the first time he’d seen himself in a full length mirror, especially in a wheelchair, and I think he was kind of… shaken by his appearance.”
“Oh…” I felt a rush of sympathy for Alex.
“We see it a lot over here,” Rose said. “The first time when they see themselves in a mirror is always hard. Especially for someone so young.”
“I understand,” I said.
I hesitated for a second outside Alex’s room before I went inside, closing the door behind me. He was lying in the bed this time, dressed in his sweats. When he saw me, he smiled, although the smile seemed very strained. “Hi, Rachel,” he said in a low voice.
“Hi,” I said, sitting on the edge of his bed. I reached out to put my hand on his and I felt him stiffen, although he didn’t pull away. “Are you okay?” I asked him.
“I’m fine,” he said.
“You don’t seem fine,” I observed.
He took a deep breath and raised his gray eyes to meet mine. “Rachel, why do you like me?”
I blinked. “What?”
He sighed. “I just… I didn’t realize that I look like such a… an invalid. I don’t get why you’re here. I mean, if I were you, I wouldn’t like me.”
“That’s a ridiculous question,” I said. Never mind that I asked myself the same thing any time a man showed any interest in me.
“Are you just here because you feel sorry for me?” he asked. “Because honestly, that’s the only thing I can think of.”
“I wouldn’t risk my entire career just because I feel sorry for you,” I said. “Obviously, I… like you.”
I was at a loss for words. How do you answer a question like that? “I don’t know. You’re… nice.”
“I’m nice? Nice? That’s all you’ve got?”
“You’re nice and… you’re funny…”
“Funny?” Alex looked horrified. “Nice and funny… isn’t that what they say about horribly ugly blind dates? Next you’re going to say I have a winning personality.”
“Okay, fine…” I bit my lip. “I… I like your eyes. They’re very intense, very sexy. And your smile is pretty sexy too.”
A slow (sexy) smile spread across Alex’s face. “Okay, maybe I believe that…”
“Anyway,” I said, blushing now. “Why do you like me?”
Alex laughed. “Yeah, that’s a tough one. Why on earth would I like an attractive, intelligent doctor? I must be out of my goddamn mind.”
I wanted to tell him that nobody else seemed to be clamoring for such an “attractive, intelligent doctor,” but I felt like he wouldn’t take me seriously. Alex acted like I was some kind of beautiful princess and I didn’t want to argue with that. “Well, why did you like me when we were in middle school?”
He grinned. “How could I not like you? You were so adorable with that mouth full of braces.”
“I don’t know, I was always really into smart girls,” he said. “And you were the smartest one in that math class. Hell, you were probably the smartest girl in the school. I could always tell when you knew the answer to a question. You’d bounce in your seat then shoot up your hand. It was really cute.”
I couldn’t believe he remembered details like that. There was something incredibly romantic about it. I looked at him and suddenly felt an almost irrepressible longing. And I could see he felt it too.
“Come here,” he whispered.
I pulled the curtains around his bed closed for an extra layer of protection. I fell into his arms, kissing, touching, groping. I hadn’t experienced this kind of passion in a long time, maybe ever, and it was clear by the desperate way in which Alex tried to get closer to me, he hadn’t experienced it in a long time either. I felt his fingers sliding up the bare skin of my stomach, cupping my breasts, as he kissed my neck, and my eyes started to water. “Oh, Rachel,” he breathed.
As the action got hotter and heavier, I realized that I wanted Alex to make love to me. I really, really wanted it, maybe more than I’d ever wanted anything before in my life. Except the problem was, I didn’t know if he could. I wasn’t any great expert in spinal cord injury, but I knew that an intact sacral spinal cord was necessary for an erection.
His body was pressing against mine and I felt something hard. Alex was getting hard. I felt somewhat relieved, but not entirely. The nerves that controlled his erection weren’t connected to his brain anymore. Would he be able to maintain the erection? Was it hard enough to give me the kind of sex that I desperately wanted?
When our lips parted for breath, I knew I had to ask him: “Alex, can you…?”
He knew right away what I meant. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I think… maybe not.”
His confession brought the action to a halt. I lay on top of him and he held me, both of us still breathing hard. His hand stroked the small of my back. “I’m sorry, Rachel,” he finally said. “I just… when I’ve tried to jerk off, I always lose it. I wouldn’t be able to look you in the eye.”
“It’s okay,” I said, trying not to let on how frustrated I was.
“Maybe you can write me an order for some Viagra,” he said. He saw the expression on my face and added, “I’m kidding.”
I felt his hand slide up my skirt, along the inside of my thigh. “You are the sexiest woman I’ve ever met,” he whispered. “It kills me that I can’t make love to you.”
Alex’s hand was hovering inches away from my clitoris. I had nearly stopped breathing, wondering what he was going to do. He didn’t keep me in suspense for very long. Despite having lost use of his legs, Alex had not lost any dexterity. With his left hand, he touched my body, and with his right, he massaged my clit until I came hard enough that I had to bite down on his shoulder to suppress the noise.
“Ow,” he said.
“Sorry,” I said, checking to make sure I hadn’t drawn blood when I bit him.
“It’s okay,” he said. He kissed me hard on the lips. “I can’t believe I just made Rachel Miller come,” he mused.
“Is that good?” I asked.
“Hell, yeah.” He put his right arm around my shoulders, squeezing me to him as he gazed into my eyes.
I managed to sneak out of Alex’s room without arousing suspicion. It was nearly eight by then, late enough that I would have had some serious explaining to do if I got caught in his room. Luckily, the staff in the evening was fairly light and everyone seemed to be caught up in a conversation about the best pattern to have on scrubs (ducks or flowers?), so I was able to leave undetected. Well, almost.
I made it all the way to the elevators and as the doors open, I was surprised to see Grace standing there. She seemed equally shocked to see me as I stepped inside.
“Rachel?” She blinked. “What are you doing here so late?”
“What are you doing her so late?” I retorted, buying myself a little time.
Grace shrugged. “You know, the usual: old guy with terminal lung cancer codes, family won’t make him DNR, he codes again, repeat times five. We just declared him about thirty minutes ago. It’s pretty hard to leave when your patient is going into cardiac arrest right in front of you.”
“I’d imagine,” I said.
She squinted at me. “So why are you still here, Dr. Miller?”
“Um,” I said. “I was… working.” Such a terrible liar.
Grace’s eyes widened. “Holy crap. Were you with Connors?”
“Oh my god,” she breathed. “What exactly went on in Mr. Connors’s room?”
I looked away.
Grace’s mouth fell open. “You amaze me. I didn’t know you had it in you, kid.”
“Grace,” I said in a low voice. “I think… I think I’m falling in love with him.”
The elevator doors opened on the ground floor and we stepped out into the lobby. “I feel like… maybe he’s the one…”
I blushed. “You know…”
Grace laughed. “Oh, I get it… the mythical one. The one you’re meant to spend the rest of your life with. Is that the one you’re referring to?”
“I knew you’d laugh.”
“Man, you must have had some roll in the hay with that bastard. He must have rocked your world.”
I laughed, except she wasn’t wrong.
We stood outside the hospital, looking at each other. We both had to go in opposite directions to catch our respective subways. “Well, I hope it works out,” Grace said, almost sadly. “I always knew that eventually you’d find your knight in shining armor. Or… shining hospital gown. Congratulations.”
But as she said the words, I had a sinking feeling. My personal life had been cursed for so long, it seemed really hard to believe I was going to get any kind of happy ending.
To be continued...