Monday, December 12, 2011

Stewart's Story

Stewart returns home to face his past and make up for his mistakes but he soon discovers that everyone wants something from him. In particular, he doesn't trust the motives of his ex-girlfriend's flirty attention.

{Note: This story takes place in between (W)hole and Breath(e), novels by the same author}

            “You just drove that dinky car of yours across the entire country?” Claire huffed into the phone. “Stewart, one of these days you are going to give me an ulcer.”
            “That’s why I didn’t tell you about it,” he said, rolling down his car window and closing his eyes, smelling the salt air.. He was in California again, sitting in his car in the parking lot of his best friend’s apartment building. His Aunt Claire continued to tell him how stupid he had been until Stewart finally interupted her. “Claire, listen, I’m fine. I’m here, everything is good. Can I talk to you later?”

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Elevator Guy (Chapter 1)

Noel’s Memory Book:

Sonya, my speech therapist, wants me to keep a Memory Book to help me with my memory, which is crap.  That tends to happen when you destroy half your brain.  So this book is for me to try to remember appointments and stuff that’s important for me to remember.  Also to help me to learn to write better with my left hand, since my right hand is curled into a mostly useless ball.  Next time I fall asleep while driving and smash my head in, I’m going to try not to destroy the dominant side of my brain.  That’s the plan.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Elevator Guy (Chapter 2)

Chloe’s Diary:

My quiz is happening today.  Like it or not.  (Not.)       

The important thing is not to remain calm.  I studied.  Yes, the amount of information to study was equivalent to the contents of an encyclopedia and the amount I studied is equivalent to maybe ten pages of said encyclopedia.  But that is no reason to panic.  I mean, it’s just a quiz.  No biggie.

When I get into the elevator, Noel says to me, “Your first quiz is today, isn’t it?”

How does he know that?  I guess everyone talks about their quizzes in front of him.  Other students sort of act like he isn’t even there.  “Um, it is…” I admit.

“You’ll do fine,” he says.  “Everyone gets nervous.  But it’s not a big deal.”

I don’t know why, but this reassurance really helps me.  Honest truth: I let the elevator across the hall go without me so that I could ride up with Noel this morning.  I find it kind of comforting to talk to him.  He’s really reassuring.  It’s his voice.  When he tells me I’ll be okay, I feel like I have to believe him.  Don’t tell Olivia.  She hates Creepy Elevator Guy.

It turns out he’s right.  When I get to the auditorium where I’m taking the quiz, everyone looks terrified.  I think I only maybe look an average amount terrified.  The guy sitting next to me is shaking so hard that when he tries to sip from his open coffee cup, it spills all over his lap.  I think it scalded him.

A teaching assistant shushes us and then distributes the two page quiz.  Immediately, I see a cross section of the spinal cord.  The instructions read: Draw all nerves coming out of the spinal cord, including labeling the cell bodies.

Okay, that sounds hard.  Kind of open-ended.  I glance at the next question: it’s hard too!  This is a hard quiz.

I look around and everyone is scribbling furiously on their papers.  I look down at my blank quiz.

Oh hell.

Forty five minutes later, I’m handing in a paper I’m not very proud of.  I didn’t do well.  Actually, it was a disaster.  I go to the bathroom and cry.  I know it’s just a stupid quiz, but I’m not used to bombing exams.  I’m in over my head.

Noel’s Memory Book:

Sonya’s assignment for me is to write down my first memory.  Except I have two first memories.

Age three years old, my dad trapped a rat in our kitchen.  The images are fuzzy, but I remember being terrified.  I huddled behind ten year old Rose’s skinny legs as he picked it up by its tail and released it outside.  So he said, at least.  Later I found out he flushed it down the toilet.

Next is from about 25 years later.  Still very fuzzy.  I remember the face of Megan, my speech therapist, dangling a spoonful of what looked like baby food in front of my mouth.  “Take a bite, Noel,” she said in a gentle voice.

I felt confused.  I didn’t know where I was and I suddenly realized that I was sitting in a wheelchair.  I had never sat in a wheelchair before in my life and when I tried to get up, I noticed the right side of my body felt really heavy.  There was a belt across my lap, holding me in place, and I tried to paw at it with my left hand, but Megan grabbed my hand and shook her head no.  I tried to get up using my legs, but only my left leg moved.

I looked back at the spoonful of food that Megan was holding out to me expectantly.  Recognizing what she wanted, I opened my mouth for a bite.  I felt the food go into my mouth and it was like my tongue wasn’t sure what to do with it.  I started coughing.

The worst part was that Megan seemed completely unsurprised.  It was like she expected me to be unable to swallow this spoonful of baby food.  When it dribbled out of my mouth, she dabbed at it with a napkin.

Of the two, I would say the second was far scarier.

Chloe’s Diary:

You’ll be really proud to learn that prior to coming to lab today, I read the anatomy lab manual for twenty minutes.  On the toilet.  It still counts.  And I have to say, once you’ve used a book in the anatomy lab, reading in the bathroom seems a lot more sanitary.

As I’m walking to the lab, I see a guy with reddish brown hair standing in front of the vending machine, fumbling with his change.  The guy is very cute, and I think regretfully about how long it’s been since I’ve had a boyfriend.  I miss the way it feels to have a guy’s warm, heavy arm around my shoulders.  For a second, I’m considering trying out my rusty flirting skills, then I realize with a jolt of surprise that it’s Noel.  I’ve never seen him outside the elevator before.  This seems weird, surreal.  Like in high school when you run into your teacher at the grocery store and he’s wearing a sweater and jeans.

I wonder if I should go up and say hi.  Also, I’d like a Milky Way.  I’ve only gained ten of the fifty pounds I assume I’m going to gain this year.

I walk up to him and get close enough that I can smell his aftershave.  It smells nice.  Minty.  “Hi,” I say.

He looks up at me, wide eyed and alarmed.  He then drops all his change.  I have that effect on men.  “Chloe,” he says.  “Hey.”

I expect him to pick up the coins, but he’s just standing there.  “Um, your coins?” I say.

“Oh,” he says.  “Yeah.” 

I watch as he steadies himself on the wall and fiddles with his right knee before gingerly lowers himself to the ground.  It is not a graceful motion by any means.  My stomach churns a little bit as I now notice he’s only picking up coins with his left hand.  In addition to some issue with his legs, his right hand is… well, I don’t know.  It’s all curled up.  Like those kids with cerebral palsy or something.  How did I not notice this before?  Is Noel… I mean, is there something wrong with him?  There must be.

Of course, I’m staring.  Noel looks up at me and he has this dark expression on his face.  “Do you need… help?” I ask lamely.

“Help?”  He’s glaring at me now.  “No, I don’t need help, Chloe.  I’m fine.  Go to lab.”

My heart is slamming in my chest.  Something is wrong with Noel.  For sure.  I mean, I don’t know how I didn’t realize it sooner.  What thirty year old guy presses buttons in an elevator for a living?  And also, he sucks at it.  All the other students giggle about how he gets all the floors wrong. 

He must be… what the word?  You can’t say retarded, right?  Developmentally disabled is what you’re supposed to call them, I think. 

But he doesn’t seem retarded.  I mean, developmentally disabled.  He seems… nice.  Retarded guys are not that cute.  At least, I don’t think they are.  But there’s something wrong with him, that’s for certain.  And I can’t ask him what it is.  It’s obvious this isn’t something he wants to talk about, even though I really would love to learn more about him.  How could I show him that I’m not just nosy but that I’m actually interested in… him?

“Ready to crack open the ribs?” Olivia says to me as I arrive at my locker.

“Huh?” I say.

She rolls her eyes.  “The dissection.  Are you ready for some rib cracking?”

Oh hell.  I read the wrong pages.

Noel’s Memory Book:

My hand is somewhat better since the injections, after getting stretched out by the therapists and using a splint.  I haven’t been wearing the splint as much as I know I should.  I’ve been wearing it at home, but not as much during the day.

So I made up excuses about how it was uncomfortable or I don’t really need it, but that’s not the truth.  The truth is that I didn’t want Chloe to see it.  Stupid, right?  I can hide my legs under my pants and conceal my right hand in my pocket or something, but that damn splint is impossible to hide.  So I ditched the splint. 

This is my freaking hand.  My right hand.  It’s mind-boggling that I would risk use of my hand for a girl.  A GIRL.  But Chloe.  God.  She’s… well, she’s really cute.  But more than that, she’s got this kind of vulnerable, lost look that makes me want to come to her rescue.  Liz always told me I was a sucker for a damsel in distress.  And she has a great smile when she smiles at me, which she does a lot.  It’s been a really long time for me, and I admit, she’s the first one I’ve met since this happened to me where I thought for a minute that I had a chance of… well, you know.  The way she looked at me.  I wasn’t imagining it, I know it.  There was something there between us.  A little something.  I’m not terrible looking as long as you don’t look too close.

Not anymore though.  One look at the way I was fumbling to pick up that change and she was white like a sheet.  I could see her face change.  She figured out something’s wrong with me.

The Elevator Guy (Chapter 3)

Noel’s Memory Book:

I’m so angry, I could spit.

Why, Liz?  There are a dozen elevators in this building.  Why mine?

She looked surprised to see me in here, like she’d completely forgotten I work here.  Maybe she did.  She’s so caught up in her own little world.  So self absorbed.

She was wearing scrubs.  Liz always looked great in scrubs.  I could see the outline of her breasts under the green scrub top.  Can’t help but think back to when… no, stop it.  I’m not going to think about that.  I don’t care what’s under Liz’s scrub top and I’m sure she doesn’t want me thinking about it either.  She had indentations on her face from the face mask and cap she’d been wearing recently.  The fresh out of surgery look.  The most beautiful look in the world.

She looked tired.  Actually, she looked kind of terrible.  Older than she actually is.  She’s almost thirty, like me, but looks at least five years older than that.  She’s got gray hairs.  Liz has gray hairs, I can’t believe it.  I’ll always think about her as being 22. 

And the rock on her finger, it’s the size of a Buick.  It makes her long thin fingers look tiny.  It makes her raw red hands look less raw and red.  The rock I gave her was tiny by comparison.  No, it was just tiny.  Objectively tiny.  I still had to save up for months to buy it, between my loans and my crappy resident’s salary.  She used to thread it into the drawstring of her scrub pants during surgeries.  It’s in my sock drawer now.  I should return it but I haven’t gotten around to it. 

Liz looked surprised to see me.  Oh gee, Noel, what a SHOCK.  I didn’t know you worked here.  When she looks at me, I know she’s able to see all the scars.  She knows about the ones hidden by my hair, on my chest, and what my legs look like under my pants.  She knows my right hand doesn’t work.  I can’t hide anything from her.

“What floor?” I asked her.

“Twelve.” Of course.  Surgery.

She pulled her hair out of the ponytail, shook it out and put it up again.  “How’s Glenn?” I asked.

“Good,” she said.

“Wonderful,” I said.  “I want the two of you to be really good.  I want you to both to be so damn happy.”


I turned away from her.  I can’t even look at her anymore.

Three years ago, this is what happened: Liz was gowning up for a fixation of a femur fracture when she was paged.  The scrub nurse returned the page for her, and tapped Liz on the shoulder, told her she needed to talk to her in private.  Liz yelled at the scrub nurse, said her time was too important and she didn’t want to be bothered.  The nurse then told her in front of the entire team that I was down in the trauma bay, unconscious, intubated, probably about to die.

I can imagine her face when she saw me.  I’ve seen photos of what I looked like.  I had a tube in my throat and one in my bladder.  The left side of my face was completely smashed, destroyed, my skull in pieces.  As an orthopedic surgeon, I’m sure she could take one look at my crushed left leg and knew it was beyond salvage, but that was the least of my problems.  If all I lost was a leg, I’d probably feel bitter about it and have no idea how lucky I’d have been.

I still wonder, did she look me over like a surgeon would, assessing the damage, deciding what was worthy of repair?  Did she check my one remaining pupil for signs that it was still responding to light?  Did she rush to the bedside of the man she’d intended to spend the rest of her life with, hold my hand, and cry?  Did she cry at all?

All I know is that she wasn’t crying when she called my parents to tell them to come to the hospital to say goodbye to their youngest child.

And then I wonder at what point she gave up on me.  When she saw me half-dead in the trauma bay, did she already know it was over?  Was she already planning the next guy to spend the rest of her life with?

She didn’t even wait a year.  Not even six months.  I wasn’t even worth six months to her.

Whenever I see Liz, I feel disgusted.  I loved her so much once, but I think I hate her now.  I should quit this job.  It’s not like I need the minimum wage.  I’ve got disability.  Then she’d be out of my life for good.

Chloe’s Diary:

When I come out of the lab today, I notice that I don’t feel the immediate urge to shower in bleach.  This is progress!  As I come out of the bathroom from changing, I think that maybe this med school thing is going to work out.  Maybe this isn’t too…

Hey, what’s that paper in my mailbox?

Oh GOD, it’s the quiz.  Oh no…. I am not ready to see that.  I need another week.  Another month.  Or maybe they could just show me the quiz after I graduate. 

No, I have to be a man about this.  (Or really, a woman, but seriously, that just doesn’t sound right.)  I need to look at the test.  I need to find out what I don’t know so I can do better next time.  I mean, it’s just a quiz.  What’s the worst that it could be?  I don’t think I got a…

Oh hell, I got a 38.

There’s a mean distribution posted on the wall, but I don’t need to see it to know that a 38 out of 100 is not a good score.  All right, the mean was 75.  Great.  I feel better now that I know I’m three standard deviations below the mean.  That was helpful information.  So helpful, I’m going to cry.

I can’t even look at all the red pen.  I just stuff the paper into my book bag and head for the elevators.  Graham and Claire are both waiting for the elevator to come as they compare their exams.  They study together a lot and there’s already a rumor going through the class that they’re hooking up.  As I awkwardly stand next to them, feeling simultaneously ugly and stupid, they don’t even acknowledge me.  I can’t help but glance at Graham’s score: 97.  I don’t know how I could hate him more than I do at this minute.

“…so unfair,” Claire is saying.  “I should have gotten full credit for that question.”

Poor Claire.  What did she get—a 95?

The elevator doors open and there’s Noel.  I consider waiting for another elevator, but then I get inside.  Noel and I haven’t talked since that day at the vending machine.  Graham looks kind of annoyed to see him too.  He’s said a few not so nice things about Noel and his inability to press the right floors.  Luckily, we’re all going to the same place this time.  The lobby.

“I wonder,” Graham says to no one in particular.  “Do you think I got the highest score on the quiz?  I think I might have.”

Okay, maybe it was possible to hate him more.  I really want to smack him upside the head.

I look up at Noel.  He gives me a half-smile and rolls his eyes so dramatically that I’m sure Graham must have noticed, but he’s so self-absorbed that he doesn’t.  Despite everything, I lower my head and snicker.  Graham looks at me, confused.  If you can’t laugh, you’ll jump out the window.  I’m really glad the bad tension between me and Noel seems to have dissolved.

Noel’s Memory Book:

The med students are divided into three groups: the ones who stare at me, the ones who try not to stare at me, and the ones who don’t give a shit about me.

By age 22, which many of them are, their brains are developed enough that they know it’s rude to stare.  It’s just that a lot of them still aren’t mature enough to actually stop themselves from doing it.

Why do they stare?  Because I’m not much older than they are and my job is something so basic that they must wonder why I’ve been hired to do it.  Or maybe they notice the scars on my face or my screwed up right hand or the way I limp around with my cane.  As much as I try to convince myself these things aren’t obvious, I know they are. 

When I was in 4th grade, there was a boy in my class named Patrick who was disabled.  I still don’t know exactly what was wrong with him, but he walked with forearm crutches and his speech often came out garbled.  He frequently left the room to go to special classes of his own.  None of us talked to Patrick or wanted to be friends with him, and he mostly kept to himself.  After my injury, when I became aware enough to realize how garbled my own speech was, I couldn’t help but think of Patrick.  I worked hard at it, trying to speak clearer, not wanting to spend my life sounding like he did.  I don’t think I do anymore, but who the hell knows.  I get the feeling when the students look at me, they see someone like Patrick.  That’s why none of them talk to me.

I think the med students like having me around.  When things get really bad for them, they know it could be worse.  They could be pressing buttons in the elevator.  At least they’re in med school.  They think there’s no way on earth they’ll ever end up like me.  Not possible.  I’m in another category, another life.  They have no idea.  Drive carefully, kids.

And then there’s Chloe.  Chloe is the first med student I’ve come across who looks at me like I’m a regular person.  And when I look back, she smiles.  Her roommate might be prettier than she is, but when she smiles, she’s really beautiful.

Ever since that awkward encounter at the snack machine, she’s been avoiding looking at me, but today I made her smile.  I rolled my eyes at one of her arrogant classmates and she lit up.  I think things are back the way they were.  Between us, that is.  I like her.  But I’m aware that nothing could ever happen with her.  So I’m going to wear my hand splint.

Noel’s Memory Book:

Chloe looked sad today.  She came into the elevator and she had that defeated look. It’s too early in the year for her to look so beaten down.  I looked at her fingernails and they were torn to shreds.  Extremely positive Fingernail Sign.

I knew I had to say something to her.  She kept glancing at me with an expectant look on her face.  I’ve told her things before that have made her happier.  I could do it again.  I just have to keep reminding myself that there’s nothing between us.  She’s never going to fall in love with me or anything like that.  I’m not the guy I used to be.  I can try to be her friend, but if I try anything more, she’ll freak out.  Or worse, pity me. 

“Don’t quit,” I said to her.  I don’t know why I said it.  But I knew what was going through her head.

“What?” she said.  She looked up at me with her wide brown eyes and pushed her glasses up on her nose.  They were always sliding down her nose.  It was kind of cute. 

“I mean,” I said.  “You look like you’re having a bad day.”

“Oh, yeah,” she mumbled.  “Kind of.”  She shrugged like it was no big deal, even though it was obviously a big deal.

“Why did you come to med school in the first place?” I asked her.        

“To help people,” she answered so quickly that I couldn’t help but laugh.  She looked offended, but she was also smiling.  “What?”

“Nothing, you’ve just been really well trained,” I said.  “You realize that you’re already in med school.  You don’t have to interview anymore for your spot.”

“Oh.”  She blushed. 

“So tell me the real reason.”

“The real reason?” Chloe bit her lip.  She was really thinking about it, which amazed me.  You don’t start thinking about why you’re going to med school weeks after you already started.  I knew my reasons ten years before I applied, when I was just 13 years old. 

I was volunteering over the summer in a hospital Emergency Room.  Mostly, it was pretty boring.  I always thought that the ER was exciting like on TV, but it was actually pretty dull.  Lots of stomach pain, lots of fevers.  Not too many gunshot wounds. 

But every once in a while, a major trauma would roll in.  I would stare in fascination as a patient would be rushed into the ER, bleeding, unconscious, the works.  I’d watch as they’d intubate the patient, assess their injuries, and rush them to the OR.  If the surgeon knew me, he’d let me observe from the back of the room.  I’d watch as the surgeon would slice open the patients, stop the bleeding, and save their lives.  It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen.

I decided that summer that I wanted to be a trauma surgeon.  I wanted to have patients delivered to me on the brink of death and save their lives.  I got to do it for a short time and I was pretty good at it.  Then it ended up being me on the table in the trauma room, bleeding and unconscious.  They sliced me open, stopped the bleeding, and saved my life.  Except sometimes I wish they hadn’t.

“I didn’t want to do anything else, I guess,” Chloe said.  “So my dad—he’s a doctor—said I should be pre-med.  And… here I am.”

I didn’t know what to say.  It’s hard to believe someone could make this kind of a commitment without feeling the passion that I used to feel.  No wonder she’s miserable.

“That’s a terrible reason, isn’t it?”  She looked a little panicked.

“That’s okay,” I said.  “It’s better than if you said you were here because you wanted to make money.”

That brought a small smile to Chloe’s face.  Eventually, I’m sure she’ll figure out what she wants to do with her career, but in the meantime, she’s probably going to be pretty unhappy.  I need to look out for her, make sure she doesn’t jump out a window. 

The Elevator Guy (Chapter 4)

Chloe’s Diary:

Another quiz today.  I can’t take this constant testing anymore.  It’s wearing on my nerves.  I should have become a bus driver.

Noel’s Memory Book:

I think about girls a lot.  More than I used to, actually.  I used to mostly just think about Liz.  I mean, yeah, I liked the usual stuff guys like.  But I was happy with Liz.  Didn’t fantasize too much about other girls.  Well, sometimes.  I mean, every guy fantasizes about the young scrub nurses.  I’m only human.

But now it’s out of control.  I think about girls all the freaking time like I’m 15 again.  And it’s frustrating because my chances of having a girlfriend are really low right now, even worse than when I was 15.  It used to be easy.  I was confident, smart, decent looking.  Girls always said yes to me.  Well, except Liz.  She made me work for it.  But damn, she was worth it.

But now.  I can’t imagine a girl agreeing to go out with me unless it was out of pity.  Who would go out with a guy with one leg that doesn’t work and one leg that’s missing, who gets lost on his way home from work?  At night when I get undressed, sometimes I look at my legs: my right leg atrophied and wasted, my right gone, and I know there’s no way.  No fucking way.  Any girl in her right mind would be disgusted.

I saw Chloe in the elevator this morning and I felt so attracted to her, it was almost painful.  I tried to put it out of my mind, think about other things.  Usually I can sort of distract myself, but it’s really, really difficult with Chloe.  As much as I try not to, I really like her. 

I watched as Chloe bit her lip and nervously toyed with her hair.  She was giving me that expectant look again.  “Another quiz?” I asked her.

“Yeah,” she said.  She was looking at me, waiting for me to say something.  She wanted to be reassured.  It made me feel good that I could give her some kind of reassurance.

“You’ll be fine,” I told her.  “The quizzes aren’t worth much anyway.  They’re just to help you figure out what to study for the final.”

She gave me another look, like she sometimes does when I say something that shows just a little more insight than the guy who works the elevator ought to have.  But she’d never suspect the truth, that I have an MD.  It’s not even on her radar.  She’d just as soon suspect that roach crawling along the floor won the Nobel Prize.

“You’re doing okay on the quizzes, right?” I asked her.

Maybe I imagined it, but she hesitated.  “Sure,” she said.

Somehow I had a flashback to Liz hiding her failing anatomy test papers from me.  She didn’t want me to know.  She was embarrassed.  She once admitted to me that she always felt kind of inferior to me.  I remember how bad I felt when she said that.  I never wanted Liz to feel like we were anything other than equals.  “You’ll be fine,” I told Chloe again.

I have this crazy fantasy about Chloe.  It’s late in the evening and I offer to walk her to her car.  You know, for protection (as if I could fight off anyone trying to hurt her).  We get outside and it’s raining and the water is making her clothes cling to her body.  As we walk, she leans into me more and more and I feel the heat of her body against mine.  And I don’t fall over, which is what I’d probably end up doing if she leaned against me like that in real life.  And then just before she gets into her car, she hesitates outside the door.  And I kiss her.  And it’s incredible.

I can’t imagine if she knew what I was thinking about her.  She’d probably spray me with mace.

Chloe’s Diary:

Today’s dissection is insane.  We’re picking apart the celiac trunk.  Whatever that is, right?

“This is the portal vein,” Graham says, hooking a blood vessel around his index finger.  “It’s fed by the splenic vein, the superior mesenteric vein, and the inferior mesenteric vein.”

“Oh,” I say.  How the hell am I going to remember this?  How does Graham know so much?  He must study during all his waking hours.  At least, all his waking hours when he’s not hooking up with Claire.  Although I can sort of imagine them having sex while taking turns holding the textbook with a free hand.

Dr. Conrad comes over to look at our dissection.  It looks great, of course.  “What are branches of the celiac trunk, Chloe?”

I want to crawl under the table.  Why does he always ask me?  Why can’t he ask me a question I know?  Like, he should ask me where the closest bathroom is.  I totally know that one.

Dr. Conrad gives me this look and I know I haven’t been impressing him lately.  Then Olivia gets the answer right.  I’m mortified.

I’m feeling tense and awful by the time the lab ends and all I want to do is get out of my scrubs.  I walk with Olivia to the lockers and there’s no one there.  “I’m going to just change here,” I say.

“In the hallway?” Olivia gasps, horrified by my brazenness. 

I’m already stripping off my shirt and scrub bottoms.  I’ve never considered myself particularly modest and this really isn’t a big deal.  I’m down to my bra and panties when the door to the locker area opens and in walks my entire class.  Oh hell.

I hear a few whistles and I’m fumbling with my T-shirt, trying to get it on before this gets any worse than it already is.  Okay, so a bunch of people in my class saw me almost naked.  So what?  I’m basically wearing the equivalent of a swim suit.  Except for the fact that you can see my nipples through it.  At least I shaved my legs.

“Hi, Chloe.”

I’m about to put my shirt over my head when I look up.  It’s Graham.  He’s standing about a foot away from me.  And looking at me.  Not the way he usually looks at me, like he thinks I’m a complete moron.  He’s looking at me like Olivia would like him to look at her. 

I’m frozen.  He opens his own locker, which is a few doors from mine.  Then he pulls his scrub top over his head.

And can I just say… oh… my… god…

Graham is RIPPED.  How in hell does a first year med student end up with a six pack like that?  He’s… I mean, I never appreciated muscles before, but my god.  And now he’s got his pants off and is just in his boxers.  Oh wow.  He’s not like a muscleman, but he has such a perfect physique.  I actually like his ass.  I’ve never admired a man’s ass.  I never knew such a thing was possible.  I just want to run my hands over his…

Oh hell, now I’m staring. 

And Graham knows I’m staring.  He’s kind of grinning at me.  Oh god, this is weird. Yet surprisingly not that awkward. 

I quickly put my shirt over my head and pull on my jeans.  Graham is getting dressed too, but really sloooowwwly.  He knows I’m watching. 

Oh god, I can’t believe I’m ogling Graham.  Olivia will never let me live this down.  I’d have to live out the rest of my days hiding in a cave.

Noel’s Memory Book:

Sonya gave me a homework assignment to make a list of things I’m grateful for.  It will be a short list. 

Here’s one: I’m grateful I can eat normal food.  Moist ground puree is not how I wanted to eat for the rest of my life.  Everything tasted like Gerber Baby Food.  And every time I ate, I’d either start choking or they’d tell me I was choking and didn’t realize it.  Frustrating.  Also, I hated food quotas.  I had to eat more than half my baby food every day or else I was never going to get the tube out of my stomach, they said.  I really hated having that tube in my stomach.  So I forced myself to try to eat.

They even ruined drinks.  They made my apple juice into a mushy solid.  So my solids were turned liquidy and my liquids were turned into solids.  Everything had the same disgusting consistency. 

All right, so I’m grateful I can eat a piece of chicken and chew it with teeth that aren’t all mine, but at least they work.  And that damn tube finally got pulled out of my stomach (which hurt like hell, by the way).

And another thing is I guess I’m grateful I can walk.  Nobody ever thought I would.  In the early months after my injury, apparently I got a bone infection in the stump of my left leg, and the surgeon asked my mother for permission to take the rest of my leg off, up to mid-thigh.  Like it was no big deal.  “We’re just going to revise the amputation to above the knee,” he told her.

“But won’t that make it harder for him to walk?” my mother asked.

Apparently, the surgeon looked at her like she was crazy.  “That’s what you’re worried about?” he said. Obviously, I’d never walk again.   He actually told her that, verbatim.  Thank god she didn’t let him do it because I’d really have a lot more trouble walking if I didn’t have that knee.

And then when I became more aware of what was going on around me, I remember my left pants leg was always empty because the doctors said there was no point in ordering me a prosthetic when there was no chance of me ever walking between the amputation and my weak right leg.  When I first came home, I mostly used the wheelchair and the therapists warned that I might never be able to be a “community ambulatory.”  I do wish I walked better.  I need the cane outside the house or a crutch on bad days, and I limp pretty noticeably, but I guess it could be a lot worse.

Also, I’m grateful I can live on my own now.  In rehab, my doctor told me in no uncertain terms that I’d never be able to.  I’d always need assistance.  Twenty-four hour supervision, they said.  I moved back in with my parents after rehab and they had to show me around the house I’d lived in for eighteen years.  I used to get lost and confused while going to the bathroom.  Now I have my own crappy apartment.  I got a crappy job.  It’s going okay.

So fine, there are things I should be grateful for.  But if I hadn’t smashed my car up, I wouldn’t have to think about any of those things.  I’d still be able to walk and live alone and eat non-mashed foods.  And I’d be a goddamn surgeon.

Chloe’s Diary:

I can’t believe I failed another quiz.  I can’t believe it.

I’m trying not to think about it.  I’m scared I’m going to get my wish and end up flunking out of med school.  Well, I didn’t wish to flunk out.  But either way, I’ll be out.

Olivia and I are waiting for the elevator.  I look down at my nails and realize they’re all bitten down.  When did I start biting my nails?  I’ve done some serious nail damage.  I need Manicure 911.

The elevator comes and Noel is inside, sitting on his stool.  He asks us what floor we want to go to.  Olivia sighs like he’s really putting her out.  He ignores her.

“Graham totally likes you, by the way,” Olivia comments to me.  “It’s obvious.”

Noel looks at me and raises his eyebrows somewhat comically.  I almost start laughing.

“I thought you said he and Claire are hooking up,” I point out.

Olivia hesitates.  “I don’t know.  Claire is so… cold.  I’m sure he’d rather go out with you.  I would.”

“You want to go out with me?”

“Shut-up.  You know what I mean.”

“Gosh, I’m flattered, Olivia.  I like dark chocolates, by the way.”

“Shut-up, Chloe!”

Noel is looking down and I can tell he’s trying hard not to laugh.  I have to confess, as much as Graham’s chest impressed me, I still find myself thinking about Noel.  Like, a lot.  I know he’s not retarded.  I don’t know what’s going on with him, but he’s obviously a smart guy.  And he’s the only person in this place who doesn’t take everything so seriously.

With his head bowed, I can see something I never noticed before: a scar that starts just below his hairline and disappears beneath his reddish brown hair.  It looks like a long one.  God, what happened to him?

The Elevator Guy (Chapter 5)

Chloe’s Diary:

Dr. Conrad asked me if I’d meet with him at the end of the day.  I’m scared.

His office is downstairs, near the anatomy labs.  My hands keep shaking as I walk there.  This must be about failing the two anatomy quizzes.  And the fact that I never know the answers to his questions in anatomy lab.  Double whammy.

Dr. Conrad has kind of a small, cramped office.  I think he may have got shafted in the office department.  He stands up when I come in and shakes my hand.  His lean and his silvery hair makes him look sort of like an aging movie star.  He kind of reminds me of George Clooney.  When he smiles, some fine lines around his eyes crinkle disarmingly.

“Have a seat, Chloe,” he says.

I sit.

“How are you liking anatomy so far?” he asks me.

“Um…”  I choose my words carefully.  “I… like it?”

Dr. Conrad narrows his eyes.  Wrong answer?  I thought that was an easy one.

“The reason I called you here,” he says, “is this.” 

He’s holding up a sheet of paper we had filled out a few weeks ago, that had asked us some questions about ourselves, including what kind of doctor we wanted to be.  “Oh.”

“You know, out of over 150 students, you’re the only one who couldn’t think of one specialty you’re interested in.”

I hung my head, not sure what to say.

“Aren’t you interested in medicine?” he asks me.

“I am!” I cry.  “I swear!  I want to be here!”

Dr. Conrad laughs.  “Relax, Chloe.  I’m just trying to get to know you.”

I let out a breath.  I can’t seem to relax though.  I keep squeezing a handful of my shirt hem in my fist.

“I want to try to help you,” he says. 


“I’d like to assign you a resident mentor.”

A resident mentor?  Why do I need a resident mentor?  Is this a typical thing he does for students who are failing?  Or do I just seem particularly pathetic?  “Okay…”

“Her name is Elizabeth Woodhouse,” he says.  “She used to be one of my students and now she’s a chief resident in the orthopedic surgery department.”

Chief resident in ortho.  I bet she was never failing anatomy.

Dr. Conrad holds out a piece of paper to me.  “I wrote down her number.  I want you to give her a call.  I think you’ll really like her.  Might help you figure out what you want to do with your career.”

I’m crumpling the paper into a little ball as I shove it into my jacket pocket when I reach the elevators.  When the doors open, I see Noel, but instead of sitting on his stool, he’s on his feet.  He’s holding a metal cane and leaning heavily on it, and is about to get out of the elevator when he lays his eyes on me.

“Chloe?”  He looks surprised to see me.

“Hi,” I say, shoving my hands deeper into my pockets.

We stare at each other for long enough that the doors to the elevator start to close again, and Noel reaches out to keep the door open.  “Uh, go ahead, Chloe,” he says.

I squeeze past him, getting maybe a little closer than I need to be.  Our eyes meet for a split second, then his face flushes and he looks away.  Damn, he’s very cute.  Why do I keep having these thoughts about him?  I can’t be thinking about guys, any guys, right now.  I’m practically flunking out of school.

Noel gets out of the elevator, which seems a little weird.  What’s he doing down here so late?  Of course, I can’t ask him that, because then he’ll ask me what I’m doing down here.  And even though Noel is easy to talk to, I feel like I can’t talk to him or anyone about that. 

In any case, it’s pretty clear that neither of us wants to share what we’re doing near the anatomy lab late in the evening.  So we wave goodbye without another word as the elevator door closes.

Noel’s Memory Book:

I’m drenched. 

The shuttle to my apartment lets me off five blocks away so I have to walk the rest of the distance.  I can’t drive.  I get lost too easy.  My reflexes suck.  My right leg doesn’t work well enough to operate the pedals.  I could have a seizure.  Anyway, no driving.  So I walked.  And tonight it was raining.  Pouring.

After all the students were gone for the day, I met up with Dr. Conrad in the anatomy lab.  He swore there were no tests coming up so there was no reason for anyone to be here.  But I was still nervous.  When I saw Chloe standing in front of the elevator, I started shaking so badly, I was sure I’d trip and fall on my face.  I didn’t want her to ask me why I was down near the anatomy labs.  What would I say?  I couldn’t tell her the truth.  I don’t even think she’d believe it.

This was all Dr. Conrad’s idea.  When he found out I was thinking about coming back to the hospital, he said I could come to the anatomy labs and practice dissections with him.  I don’t think either of us thought I’d ever be able to go back to being a surgeon, but maybe there was something I could do.  A doctorate in anatomy, some other medical career that didn’t involve too much dexterity… something.  Dr. Conrad’s offer was part of the reason I agreed to come here and humiliate myself on a daily basis. 

Dr. Conrad had peeled the plastic away from one of the bodies.  I pulled some gloves on.  I had to struggle a lot to get one on my right hand.  I left my cane at the door and I had to lean against the table for support.  He handed me a scalpel, which I held unsteadily in my left hand, knowing any cuts I made would be as imperfect as my handwriting.  If only I could still use my right hand.  “This dissection of the gallbladder is incomplete,” he said.  “They’d probably appreciate it if you finish it for them.”

I nodded.  I looked at the gallbladder.  I probably removed a hundred of these during residency.  I tried to remember the anatomy. 

“What’s that duct called?” Dr. Conrad prompted me.

I couldn’t remember.  None of this seemed familiar to me, even though I’d spent all night last night reading about it.  This was the third gallbladder I’ve looked at with Dr. Conrad.  I thought I could do this.  Nothing sticks anymore.  It’s been almost three years.  I’m as good as I’ll ever be.

I put down my scalpel.  “Forget it,” I said.


“What’s the point?” I said.  “I can’t do this.”

Dr. Conrad put his hand on my shoulder.  I felt like crying and before I could stop it, I was.  It’s so hard to control my emotions now.  It’s like being five years old.

“Noel, it’s okay,” Dr. Conrad said.  “You don’t have to do this.”  And he hugged me.  Which was surprisingly not awkward.  It was during his lab that I knew for the first time that I definitely wanted to be a surgeon.  It fit that this lab was the same place where I gave up for good on any kind of career beyond pressing the buttons in a goddamn elevator.

Chloe’s Diary:

“Look at this,” Graham says to me.  Claire and Olivia aren’t around.  They’re looking at some other cadavers.

I look where he’s pointing.

“It’s an aberrant obturator artery,” he says.  I’m trying to see where he’s pointing.  Finally, he takes my hand and places it on the artery.  Except then he doesn’t let go.  I feel his warmth through my glove.  I don’t know why his hands are so warm.  It’s like negative ten degrees in this room.

“Um, thanks,” I say.

Our eyes meet.  For a second, I feel breathless.  Graham is a jerk, but he’s sure good looking. 

No, I’m not going to become one of those girls that fawns over Graham Kingsley.  I won’t. 

But sheesh, he’s sexy.

Chloe’s Diary:

I call the number on the sheet of paper that Dr. Conrad gave me.  Dr. Elizabeth Woodhouse.  Her name sounds so fancy, like the kind of person who spent her life going to prep schools.  I never went to any prep schools.  Actually, I’m not even entirely sure what a prep school is or how it differs from a private school.  Maybe my new buddy Elizabeth Woodhouse will explain it to me.

The phone rings enough times that I think it’s about to go to voicemail, but then I hear a voice on the other line, “Hello?”

She sounds kind of tired.  And irritable.  Apparently, I’ve irrevocably pissed her off just by the act of calling.  Already this is going well.

“Um, hi,” I say respectfully.  “I’m looking for Dr. Woodhouse.”

“Yeah?” She doesn’t sound any friendlier.

“Um, my name is Chloe Ross,” I say.  “Dr. Conrad, my anatomy professor, gave me your number.  He said I should, um, talk to you?”

There’s a really long pause.  I think Elizabeth Woodhouse is debating whether or not to hang up on me.  “Okay,” she finally says.

“So, um…” I’m struggling here.  Throw me a rope, Elizabeth Woodhouse!  “Should we… um, meet?”

“Fine,” she says.  “Do you know where the surgery resident lounge is?”


She sighs this really loud and drawn out sigh before she gives me directions to get there.  We’re meeting there on Saturday afternoon.  I’m not excited about going to the hospital on a Saturday afternoon, but I guess that’s something I’m going to have to get used to if I’m going to be a doctor. 

I can’t help but wonder what Dr. Conrad was thinking.  Why did he assign this woman to me as a mentor?  She obviously doesn’t want a mentee.  I don’t want to be a surgeon.  This is not a great match.  And Dr. Conrad seems so pleased with himself, like he had just discovered peanut butter and jelly.  Elizabeth Woodhouse and I are not peanut butter and jelly.  We’re more like… anchovies and ice cream.

Oh well, I guess it’s too late to get out of it now.

Noel’s Memory Book

I just got back from my parents’ house for dinner.  I go there at least a couple of times a month.  It’s nice to get a good hot meal.  Most of the time I make TV dinners or heat up meals that my mother or Rose packed for me.  I would never attempt to use the stove.  I’m 99% sure I would burn my apartment down.

Rose set an alarm on my watch so I’d remember to leave work on time.  Then she drove me.  Rose does a lot for me.  She sometimes acts more like my mother than my sister.  She was seven years old when I was born and my parents let her name me.  She called me Noel because she loved Christmas.  Noel Andrews.  If she had to go with the Christmas theme, I probably would have preferred something like Chris or Nick, but it could have been worse, I guess.  Mistletoe Andrews.  Prancer Andrews.  Bethlehem Andrews.  You get the idea.

I’m grateful for a lot of the things Rose has done for me.  She looks out for me.  When Liz dumped me while I was still in a minimally conscious state, Rose told her off.  She drives me everywhere and sets alarms on my watch to help me remember things.  She helps me pay my bills.  She pays my rent.  She drives me to doctors’ appointments.  Without her, I think I’d probably still be living with my parents. 

But I think what bothers me most is when I got hurt, Rose was married.  Now she’s not.  I keep thinking that might be my fault.

There’s a ramp to the front door, courtesy of when I first came home and mostly used a wheelchair.  It’s actually much easier to go up the ramp than a bunch of stairs, so I’m grateful it’s still there.  But it also makes me sick, remembering those early days when I first got out of rehab, when I thought I’d probably never be able to walk again.

My mother was really happy to see me and confirm I’m still in one piece.  More or less.  She held me arms’ length away from her, inspecting me.  I tolerated it until she got to my eyes, when I finally had to pull away.

Much like my left leg, my left eye is fake.  It was crushed along with the left side of my skull.  The first prosthetic eye I got didn’t look very real at all.  Considering how messed up the rest of my face looked, I guess they figured there was no point in bothering making my eye look good.  But I hated the fact that it was so obvious that it was a prosthetic. 

Then about a year ago, after my surgeries were all completed and I looked a lot more normal, I got a new prosthetic eye that’s supposed to look extremely real.  And it really does.  It’s the same color as my real eye and it moves when I move my other eye.  But I get a little uncomfortable when someone looks at my eyes too closely, even when it’s my own mother.

“You look great, Noel,” she said.

“Thank you,” I mumbled, embarrassed that she felt a need to say something like that.  I know I don’t look great.  “Can I help with dinner?  Set the table?”

My mother laughed.  “Don’t be silly.  Just relax.”

When I was a teenager, I would have killed for her to say that to me.  I spent half my childhood setting the table, hauling the trash to the curb, washing the dishes.  Now if I offer to help with anything, my mother acts like I’m being ridiculous.  I could set the table.  I might be slow, but I could do it.  But I didn’t push it because I didn’t want her to start reminding me of all the reason why I couldn’t do it.

We sat down to dinner about half an hour after I arrived.  It was kind of like old times, except that my brother Brad wasn’t there.  He was probably out clubbing or something.  Actually, that’s sort of like old times too.  He’s 33 years old, which I think is too old to be clubbing every weekend.  It’s almost pathetic.  Well, I shouldn’t talk.

The meal was chicken cutlets, and I knew exactly which plate was meant to be mine because it was the one where the chicken was cut up into little tiny chewable bites.  I felt kind of silly having her cut my meat for me like I was a kid, but I guess it’s hard with my hand all messed up.  The injections helped a little, but I still can’t really use it for much.  I’m walking slightly better, at least.  My limp is less pronounced.

My parents and Rose were talking and I was having a lot of trouble focusing on the conversation.  Usually I’m okay around my family, but today they were just talking too fast or something.  I don’t know, maybe I had a lot on my mind.  I tried not to let it upset me.  I used to practically start crying when I had difficulty following a conversation, but today I just ate my food.

Nobody says it, but I know they all think I’m different than I was before I got hurt.  They’re right, I am.  I still am the same person, but I’m also not.  I still have most of the same memories, but I’m different.  I used to be really competitive and driven.  Still, I wish they wouldn’t treat me different.

“Noel, how is your job?” my mother asked me.  Maybe she realized I was struggling to keep up with the conversation.

“Fine,” I said.  Awful.  I hate my job, but it’s better than being home all day.

“It’s a very important job,” my father said.  “I’m sure a lot of people need help in the elevator.”  My father is a professor.

“Right,” I said.  I don’t want to let on how much I hate my job.  It would just make everyone feel bad.

“Oh, guess what!” my mother said.  “Gwen’s daughter Carol had a second baby!”

Gwen is my parents’ neighbor, which I only remember because she’s lived next door for thirty years and my mom always talks about her.  Her daughter Carol was best friends with Rose when they were growing up.  I looked at Rose and she looked sad.  She’s going to be forty in a few years and she’s not even married.  I know she wanted to have kids.  I feel bad again, like this is my fault.  I didn’t want her to give up having kids for me.

At the end of the meal, my mother packed up two Tupperware containers of food and handed them to Rose saying, “Put them in his refrigerator.”  Rose drove me home and started to get out of the car.  “It’s okay,” I told her.  “I can make it.”

“I’ll just help you put them in the fridge,” she said.

“I’m fine,” I said, speaking through gritted teeth.  I had the two containers balanced between my right forearm and my chest while I held the cane in my left hand.  Admittedly, it was pretty precarious, but I thought I could manage.  Anyway, I didn’t want Rose’s help.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m okay, Rose,” I said.  “Go home.”

I had to rest my cane against the building to get out my keys from my pocket, but I made it without dropping everything.  I live in the basement apartment in a larger house, owned by an elderly couple.  The door to my apartment locks automatically behind me.  To date, I’ve locked myself out of my apartment no less than twenty times.

Chloe’s Diary:

Everyone looks different at parties.  I didn’t think much of my class, but now that I see every all cleaned up, they’re actually a really attractive bunch.

The party is at the house of one of the second year students.  They’re celebrating their first exam of the year (in microbiology) being over.  Our first big anatomy exam is still yet to come.  But we’re not going to be thinking about that tonight.

I tried to look nice for tonight.  Olivia forced me, but also, I want to look good.  I think I reached a hotness level of maybe 7 out of 10, which is pretty good for me.  I’m wearing a whorish black leather skirt and a somewhat tight red tank top.  I’m wearing my push-up bra that manages to make my B-cup breasts look at least a C.  I dug out my contact lenses, which I don’t think I’ve worn once since school started.  Honestly, they looked a little sketchy, but I popped them in anyway.  My eyes kind of hurt. 

I’m scoping out the alcohol situation when I see a cup being thrust into my face.  I blink and then accept it.  The hand attached to the drink belongs to Graham Kingsley.  “What is this?” I ask.

“What is this?” he repeats.  “Don’t you say thanks?”

“Thanks,” I say obediently.  “Um, what is it?”

“Rum and coke,” he says.

I take a sip and almost choke.  Oh my god, this is not rum and coke.  This is rum and rum.  I hold it up and examine it: he must have put like five droplets of coke in this drink. 

“Trust me, there’s coca cola in it,” he says.

I put the drink down on a coffee table.  I’m not drinking this.

“What’s wrong?” he asks me.

“I don’t want to get alcohol poisoning tonight,” I explain.

He grins.  “Alcohol is good for you.  It kills off all the slow brain cells.  Makes your mind sharper.”


I expect Graham to move on, but he doesn’t.  He stays next to me, sipping his beer.  He’s really good looking.  I can’t help but compare him to Noel in looks.  Graham is more classically handsome, the kind of guy that teenage girls would swoon over if he were in movies, which he totally could be.  Noel wouldn’t be in movies, but he’s got that cute boy next door thing going on.  I feel comfortable with him, like I’ve known him forever.  Graham just makes me nervous.

And I have to admit, I find Noel’s scars incredibly sexy.  He’s got that one under his left eye, then one on his chin that’s almost hidden by the one or two day’s growth of beard he’s always got, then one that I know goes through his hair.  And I have this feeling that he’s got a lot more scars that I can’t see.  Graham, on the other hand, has tanned, perfect skin.  How in hell does he have such a great tan when all he does is study?

I suddenly notice that Graham is standing very close to me, so close that I’m not breathing out completely because I’m worried I’ll bump into him.  He slid in close to me so fast, I didn’t even notice.  Man, he’s smooth.  I feel like this whole situation is really precarious.  And now… now he’s got his hand on my back.  And now he’s pulling me closer to him.  Okay, this is… I should really be stopping this. 

Or not.  I mean, I could just let this happen. 

I feel that drink of rum I took starting to hit me.  I look up at Graham and he’s giving me this look like he WANTS me.  And god, he’s good looking.  I realize he’s about to kiss me.

“What about Claire?” I whisper.

“What about her?”

“Aren’t you… dating her?”

“No,” he says.  “I’m not.”

And now we’re kissing.  And boy, it’s been a while since I’ve kissed a guy.  I mean, I just realized it’s been months and months.  So this is actually really quite nice.  And Graham is a great kisser.  I’ll bet he has all kind of experience. 

Of course, now I’m self-conscious.  I don’t have as much kissing experience as he does.  I’m probably terrible at it.  Oh god, that would be embarrassing. 

Except Graham isn’t acting like I’m terrible.  He’s acting more into than I am.  He’s pushing me against a wall, his hands sliding up the back of my neck as his tongue massages mine.  He wants me.  Graham Kingsley wants me.  For some reason.  This is unbelievable. 

I bet everyone is staring.  I bet everyone is watching us and is totally jealous because they wish they were kissing Graham.  I bet Olivia is dying. 

But I don’t care.  Graham is amazing.  This is like the hottest thing that’s ever happened to me.  Whatever Graham wants tonight, he’s totally going to get it.

Graham swears up and down he’s not drunk, so I let him drive us to his apartment.  Honestly, even if it turned out he was drunk, I’m past caring at this point.  We pick his apartment over mine because he lives alone so it’ll be more discreet.  Of course, we just made out in front of the whole class.  I think everyone’s going to know about this come Monday. 

Everyone is going to know about this.  I’m going to go from being known as the invisible girl to being The Girl Who Hooked Up With Graham Kingsley.  And it’s becoming clear that actually Graham doesn’t hook up as much as I originally thought.  I’m quizzing him about it during the drive to his apartment.

“I really thought you were dating Claire,” I say.

“Nope,” he says.

“But you hooked up with her?”

“I didn’t.”

“What about Mara?  Did you hook up with her?”


“What about Alexis?”

Finally, Graham looks at me and laughs.  “You think I’m a real player, don’t you?”

“Well, who have you hooked up with?” I ask.

“Just you,” he replies.

I’m aghast.  “Just me?”

He nods. 

How can that be?  Graham must be hooking up with other girls.  I mean, it’s almost a crime for him not to.  I mean, LOOK at him.

But, you know, Graham has surprised me.  I thought I was going to be blowing my rape whistle at some point tonight, but he’s surprisingly respectful once we get to his apartment.  We mostly just kiss.  He cops a feel a few times, but I can hardly blame the guy since we’re lying on his bed.

Then we just talk for a little bit.  Not about anything deep, but about class and about things we like and Graham mentions he has an older brother who’s a surgeon.  I drift off at some point, maybe mid sentence. 

Noel’s Memory Book:

Today was not a good day.  I had a seizure.

I’ve had seizures before.  Lots of them.  I take a medication now to keep them from happening and I’ve been good for about six months.  I was even going to ask about getting off the meds.  Guess not.

The worst part was Rose was there.  She was doing my laundry.  I think I could probably do my own laundry since there the machines are right in the next room with no stairs involved, but the one time I tried, I left the clothes in the washing machine for two days.  Finally, Mrs. Marcus, who owns the house, came to tell me.  So I got the clothes out.  It wasn’t a big deal.  Nothing exploded because I forgot to transfer my clothes to the dryer.  They did get a little mildewed.  I had to wash them again.

Anyway, I just remember seeing some flashes of light and then the next thing Rose was standing over me and looking worried.  I felt confused and out of it, even more than usual.  “Noel, talk to me…”  She looked terrified. 

So Rose scheduled an appointment with my neurologist.  I really don’t want to go.  I don’t want to be pressured into more seizure meds.  I’m fine.  I had one seizure.  It’s not a big deal.  She gets worried too easily.  Even my mother said it was no big deal.  But I’ll go to make Rose happy.

Chloe’s Diary:

I wake up and Graham is already up.  He’s, I swear to god, studying.  I’m asleep and he’s sitting at his desk and studying.  I watch him for a minute.  He’s really good looking.  He could be in an ad for… I don’t know, desks or chairs or some kind of furniture that could be used for studying. 

“Are you studying?” I ask, even though it’s obvious he is.

“Yeah,” he says.  “We’ve got a quiz this week.”

Sheesh, he is driven.  “What’s the quiz on?” I ask.

He stares at me.  “You seriously don’t know?”

“Well…”  I mumble.  “Of course I know.”

I stand up unsteadily.  My head hurts.  I had like two sips of rum, why do I feel so awful?  I’m still wearing my clothes from the night before.  I stumble in the direction of the bathroom, where I pee for a solid five minutes, then peel my contact lenses off my eyeballs.  I look better when I’m all blurry.  I run my wet fingers through my hair in a largely unsuccessful attempt to comb it.

I go back into Graham’s bedroom and he’s still studying.  “Can you drive me home?” I ask.

“Sure,” he says, without looking up.  God, I wonder if he’s having regrets about last night.  Maybe he woke up and screamed when he saw me, and then tried to throw a paper bag over my head.  Finally, he looks up.  “Do you want to go out to dinner tonight?”

I’m shocked by the invitation.  Graham Kingsley is asking me out.  Me!  On a date!  I almost say yes, then I remember I’m meeting Elizabeth Woodhouse this afternoon and I don’t know how long it will be.  Plus I’m not sure if I really want to have dinner with Graham.  He’s sort of a jerk.  “I’m busy tonight,” I say.

“Oh,” he says.  “Well, how about tomorrow night?”

Seriously?  Now Graham Kingsley is pestering me for a date.  Wait till I tell Olivia.  “Um,” I say, “I just don’t know if…”

I notice Graham is staring at me with his eyebrows raised.  He’s looking at me like I’m insane to be refusing a dinner invitation with him.  Maybe I am.  I wonder if Graham has ever been turned down by a woman in his whole life.  I don’t know if I’m strong enough to be the first.  “Okay,” I finally say.

“Great.”  He grins at me.  Gosh, he’s cute.  Maybe it won’t be so bad to date him.

The Elevator Guy (Chapter 6)

Noel’s Memory Book:

The thing about Liz is she never told me she was dumping me.  She told Rose.  Well, she didn’t so much tell Rose as Rose confronted her when she hadn’t been to the hospital to see me in a month.  Liz wasn’t answering her cell phone, so Rose went to her apartment, the one bedroom dump that Liz and I had shared before my accident.  I wasn’t there, of course, but I’ve heard the story so many times, I feel like I was.

“You haven’t been at the hospital to see Noel in a while,” Rose said to Liz when she answered the door.

I imagine Liz kept her composure, because she had a lot of practice doing so.  It’s not easy being the only female ortho resident.  I bet she jutted out her chin and said, “You don’t know what it’s like, Rose.  I’m on overnight call every three days.  Anyway, it’s not like he even knows I’m there.”

“He knows,” Rose insisted.  Although I’m not sure I did back then.

“I think we’re kidding ourselves,” Liz said.  “Deep down, you know he’s not going to get any better, you just won’t admit it.  He’s not in there anymore.  Come on.  Look at him.”

“If it were you in that hospital, he’d never leave your side,” Rose pointed out.  That one was absolutely true.  “He gave up a lot for you.”  I’m not sure if she actually recounted the fact that with my grades, I could have gone to the best surgery residency in the country if I wanted, but I stayed put so that Liz could do orthopedic surgery.  It didn’t feel like such a big sacrifice though and I never allowed her to feel any guilt about it.  I just wanted to be with her. 

I don’t think Liz had much to say to that one.  I guess she knew I loved her more than she loved me.

“So that’s it?” Rose said.  “You’re not coming to see him anymore?”

And then Liz said something along the lines of that she’d always be there for me as a friend.  It’s not you, it’s me.  And she returned the ring.

“It must be nice,” Rose said to her, “to just be able to walk away.”

When I first became a little bit lucid, I thought about Liz.  Before I could remember her name, I could see her face.  I knew she was someone important, someone I loved.  I always expected she’d be coming to see me.  But she never did.

I wasn’t big on questions during the first part of my rehab stay.  I couldn’t talk that well.  The dominant part of the brain controls speech and that’s the part I damaged.  I had so much trouble getting words out for a long time.  I knew what I wanted to say, but I just couldn’t think of the right words.  Sometimes I said something that I thought made sense, but nobody seemed to know what I was talking about.  And of course, my speech was pretty slurred at first.  I had a lot of difficulty getting my tongue and lips to move the way I wanted them to. 

That said, one of my first coherent sentences was, “Where’s Liz?”

My mother and Rose told me tearfully: Liz moved on.  I wanted to ask them if Liz knew I was getting better and if she might come back.  But there was no point in asking.  I already knew the answer. 

Rose showed me the ring.  I remembered picking it out for her, agonizing about how to pay for the diamond she deserved.  I cried when I saw it.  I’m glad Liz didn’t see that.

Chloe’s Diary:

After some amount of wandering around, completely lost, I manage to locate the surgery resident lounge.  It’s not locked, thank god. 

I step inside and I can actually smell testosterone.  It’s like the smell of a hundred boxer shorts.  Actually, now that I’m looking around, I realize that there actually IS a pair of boxer shorts lying on one of the chairs.  Ugh, I hope it’s not used.

The walls of the lounge are covered with call schedules, bone-related pictures, and then of course, there’s the porn.  There’s literally porn on the walls.  It’s all photos of naked girls, of course.  Three photos total that look like they’re ripped from some magazine.

I plop down on a chair to wait for Elizabeth Woodhouse.  I’m fifteen minutes early, so I figure I might be waiting a while.  I end up waiting almost an hour.  I’m actually debating if I should just leave when this woman comes into the lounge, looking tired and pissed off.  She rips her facemask from her chin and I can see she’s pretty in a thin and angular way.  She doesn’t even look at me when she walks in.  She just makes a beeline right to the wall of porn and stares at it, her eyes wide and furious.  “Goddamn it,” she mutters.  She rips the photos off the wall and crumbles them up in her hands, then tosses them in the garbage.

I’m too scared to say anything.  I am really intimidated by this woman.  I’m afraid if she notices me, she’ll slice me to bits with her scalpel.  Actually, I kind of wish I hadn’t come.  What was Dr. Conrad thinking when he paired us up?  He must have formaldehyde-induced dementia.

Finally, she sees me.  She narrows her eyes, like maybe a velociraptor would before it pounces on its prey.  I squirm and she walks over to me.  “Are you Chloe?”   

For a second, I actually consider saying no.  “Yes.”

“I’m Elizabeth,” she says.

She holds out her hand and I shake it.  Her skin is very dry and cracked.

She plops down onto the couch next to me.  She looks exhausted.  “Don’t become a surgeon,” she says.  “It will ruin your life.  The male surgeons will never accept you and you’ll have no life outside of the hospital.  It’s a mistake.  Don’t do it.”

“Okay,” I say obediently.

“Why do you want to become a surgeon anyway?” she asks me.

“I don’t,” I admit.

She stares at me.  “Then why the hell are you here?  Why are you wasting my time?”

“But… you just told me not to become a surgeon!”

“Yes, but…” Elizabeth bites her lip.  “You’re supposed to tell me that it’s your dream and you’re never going to give it up no matter what I tell you.  And then I’ll keep trying to talk you out of it, but eventually you’ll do it anyway.”

I don’t know what to say to that.  She’s certainly thought about this a lot.  “Sorry?”

Elizabeth sighs and leans her head against the cushions of the couch.  “I hate being the only female resident in the ortho department.”

Funnily enough, I’m finding myself starting to relax.  Elizabeth doesn’t seem so bad anymore.  She’s just… I don’t know.  Lonely, maybe?  She looks really unhappy.  Part of me wonders if Dr. Conrad didn’t assign me to her more for her than for me.  She looked really excited at the prospect of having a little protégé.  I feel bad letting her down.

“Well,” I say slowly.  “I haven’t ruled out surgery.  I just don’t know what I want to do yet.”

“More women need to go into surgery,” Elizabeth says enthusiastically.  “All you need is confidence, good dexterity, and good knowledge of anatomy.”

Well, zero out of three ain’t bad.   

“But,” Elizabeth amends, “I didn’t have any of those things when I was at your phase of training.  I… I wasn’t very confident at all.”

I am shocked to hear this.  Elizabeth seems like the picture of confidence.

“Also,” she adds in a confidential tone, “I almost failed anatomy.”

“Oh?” I say, trying to sound casual.  “Um, how did you end up passing?”

Elizabeth smiles and she gets this far off look in her eyes.  “My boyfriend helped me.  He… uh, tutored me a lot.  Actually, if not for him and Dr. Conrad, I don’t think I’d be here right now.  He encouraged me so much.  He was amazing.”

I look down at Elizabeth’s right hand.  She’s wearing a white gold engagement ring with a diamond that almost blinds me.  “Your fiancé?” I ask.

“No, he…. We broke up.”  She looks down.  “It didn’t work out.”

I’ve heard residency wreaks havoc on relationship.  But it seems like she’s found a nice guy.  Or at least, a rich guy.  It’s funny though because I could swear from the way she’s talking that she’s still a little hung up on that guy from med school.

Elizabeth gets paged away to another surgery, but we make plans to meet up for dinner sometime.  She’s going to convince me to be a surgeon.  Well, actually, probably not.  But I’ll let her try.

Noel’s Memory Book:

You know what I miss?  Driving.

I used to love to drive.  I got a learner’s permit on my sixteenth birthday and I couldn’t wait.  I was behind the wheel that same day with my father.

I always considered myself a great driver.  I had a few close calls the first year I had my license, but I was pretty comfortable behind the wheel.  I would hop on the highway, weave in and out of lanes, driving maybe 80 miles per hour.  Okay, I was a little reckless.  But I was a good driver.  I really was.

It kills me that this happened to me in a car accident.  Why couldn’t I have gotten shot by a disgruntled patient?  Eight years of perfect driving without one accident, then I fall asleep at the wheel and nearly kill myself. 

I can’t drive at all now, which is really frustrating.  Being without a car is more crippling than having two legs that don’t really work.  I guess I could try moving to a place where I don’t need a car, but that would involve moving away from my family.  Anyway, there’s a shuttle from the hospital that goes nearly to my apartment.  I make it work.  And Rose helps me out when I need it.

I wonder if I’ll ever be able to drive again.  I really want to.  I can’t do it now, when my memory and sense of direction are so poor, and my seizures are apparently still active.  Plus I can’t see out of my left eye.  So it looks pretty bad for me, I guess.  I probably shouldn’t be driving for my own safety and the safety of everyone around me.

Chloe’s Diary:

So somehow I’m out on a date with Graham Kingsley.  This is surreal. 

He picked me up and brought me a rose.  That was really sweet, although I honestly wasn’t sure what to do with it.  I held it during the ride to the restaurant and then ended up leaving it in his car.

The restaurant he takes me to is really nice.  Swanky.  It’s the kind of place where instead of a hostess, there’s a maitre d’.  Everyone is dressed up really nice and I wish I were wearing something better than the short black dress I settled on.  We’re seated at a small table for two with a single candle between us.  I see the prices on the menu and gasp a little.  Hopefully, we’re not splitting the check.  Actually, I think Graham is loaded, so I shouldn’t worry about it.  Just another thing he’s got going for him.

Graham orders a steak.  I can’t eat steak right now because it reminds me too much of the cadaver, so I order chicken.  Somehow it seems fitting.

“You look nervous,” Graham notes.

“Nervous?” I squeak.

He laughs.  “Relax.  It’s just me.”

It’s very hard to relax though, especially with the way Graham is looking at me.  I’m thinking maybe this whole date is a mistake. 

“What’s wrong?” he says.  “Talk to me, Chloe.”

“I just feel like…” I wring my hands together.  “We don’t have anything in common.”

“Well,” Graham says thoughtfully, “we’re both med students.  In fact, we go to the same school.  And we’re in the same class.  Plus we’re in the same lab group.  So actually, we have quite a bit in common.”

“Yeah, but…”

He raises an eyebrow.  “But you’re nice and I’m an asshole?”

I almost choke.  To my surprise, he starts laughing.  I guess he’s realistic about himself.

“You know what your problem is, Chloe?” he says and I wince.  I hate it when people say that.  “You want everyone to like you.  Well, it’s not possible.  Everyone can’t like you.”

“Well, I don’t want everyone to hate me.”

“Sometimes it’s the only way to get what you want,” Graham says thoughtfully.  “Besides, everyone doesn’t hate me.  You don’t hate me.”

I don’t say anything.  There were moments when I thought I hated Graham, but this isn’t one of those moments. 

“In fact,” Graham says, “I think you like me.”

“Hmm,” I say.  “It’s possible.”

“That’s good,” he says, “because I like you.”

I want to ask him why, but I’m afraid he might ask me the same question.  Instead, I let him kiss me.  Honestly, at this moment, I can imagine being in a relationship with Graham Kingsley.  And it’ll be great because we both know it won’t last so it will be fun and free.  Graham and I aren’t going to fall in love.  But man, is he a good kisser.

Noel’s Memory Book:

When I talk to other people who have had a brain injury, one thing that’s important to all of us is being independent.  When I was in rehab, I thought about how I was going to dress myself and feed myself.  When I lived with my parents, all I could think about was how I was going to manage to move out on my own. 

Now I live by myself, but I’m still not independent.  My parents and Rose sort through most of my finances.  Rose updates my appointment book and drives me places.  Any time there’s any break in my routine, I get thrown off. 

I asked Sonya if there’s any chance that someday I won’t need this help.  I know that the longer it’s been since my injury, the smaller the chance that I’ll get better.  At this point, I’m really not getting better.  I’m just learning techniques to compensate for what I’ve lost.

Sonya told me she thinks I could do it.  There are ways to set up automatic payments online.  I could hire people to help me around the house if I needed it.

Thinking about that keeps me going.  I hate thinking I’ll always be dependent on my family.  And the truth is, part of me is hoping that maybe someday I’ll have a family that’s dependent on me.  Like, a wife or something.  But that just seems so far off right now.  I don’t want to even mention it to Sonya because I’m sure she’ll think the idea of someone like me even attracting a girlfriend much less a wife is pretty ridiculous, and that I’m pathetic for even daydreaming about it. 

Chloe’s Diary:

Everyone knows Graham and I hooked up.  It’s the biggest news in class.  I am famous.  I think the Paparazzi have been following me all day.

Honestly, I’m kind of enjoying the attention.  Everyone is looking at me with awe.  The girls are super impressed… and jealous.  I don’t know if anyone has ever been jealous of me before.  It’s actually really fun.  I feel like I totally missed out by not being one of the popular kids at school.

I was afraid Graham might be embarrassed about the whole thing, but he isn’t.  He is completely cavalier about it.  I overheard someone ask him if he was dating me and he shrugged and said, “Yeah.”  I mean, I would have liked it better if he was more effusive, but at least he didn’t deny it or anything. 

After class, Graham and I wait for the elevator together to get down to the anatomy lab.  These are things that med student couples do together: go to anatomy lab.  Granted, he doesn’t actually talk to me.  He’s holding the anatomy lab manual and flipping through it.

The elevator doors open and Noel is inside.  I freeze up as Graham boards the elevator and motions for me to follow him.  “Chloe, you coming?” Graham says.  Noel is holding the door for me.  I feel like I can’t move.

Okay, honestly, I didn’t want Noel to know about me and Graham.  It’s not like there’s something going on between me and Noel, but… there’s kind of a tension between us.  I like him.  I think about him a lot and I look forward to seeing him every day.  And I can tell by the way he looks at me and the way he talks to me that he feels similarly.  Yes, Noel is… messed up.   But somehow that’s what I like about him.  Unlike Graham, he’s not perfect.

But anyway, I’ve got to get in this elevator.

I board and Noel smiles at me.  A big smile where I can see several of his teeth.  I’m the only med student that he smiles at.  And now I have this horrible sinking feeling.  I’m trying to stay far away from Graham, thinking he’s pretty absorbed in the lab manual.  Graham barely knows I’m here.  I mean, why would he…

Oh hell, now Graham’s got his arm around me.  I don’t know how that happened.  It’s like he sensed I didn’t want him to do it, so he did it.  I wish I could pull away, but I can’t.  And Noel is staring at us, his jaw dropped open.  He’s shaking his head in disbelief.  I can’t even look at him.  Oh god.

The doors to the elevator open.  “Nice job, elevator guy,” Graham says in kind of a sarcastic voice.

“Have a nice day,” Noel says in a voice that completely lacks intonation.

Well, that went horribly.  And Graham is just walking along to the lab like nothing happened.  I’m more upset about this than I thought I would be.  I feel like crying.  I kind of want to get back in the elevator and try to explain, but what would I say?  “This isn’t what it looks like”?  It’s exactly what it looks like.  I’m dating the biggest jerk in my class.