Nobody knows. Nobody has any idea that I broke up with Graham.
Olivia and I wait for the elevator. She’s examining her finger closely. “I got a papercut on the anatomy atlas,” she announces. “It’s like a gash.”
I look over at the miniscule cut on her finger. “I think you’ll live.”
“What if it gets infected?” she says in an agitated voice. “What if they have to amputate my hand?”
I look at her, trying to gauge how serious she is. “I don’t know, have you ever had a papercut get infected?”
“No,” she admits. “But it could happen. I think I heard of something like that.”
I’m willing to bet that Olivia never heard of anyone getting a papercut that escalated into a major amputation, but I’m not about to argue with her.
The elevator doors open and Noel is sitting there. His face lights up when he sees me. I went home around midnight… nothing happened beyond kissing. Lovely, lovely kissing. I think Noel wants to take things slow. “Where to, ladies?” he asks.
“Basement,” Olivia says, brushing past him.
“Anatomy lab?” he asks politely.
She doesn’t answer him. She doesn’t even look at him. I feel kind of embarrassed for her, but Noel doesn’t look bothered. I guess he’s used to the med students treating him this way. They have no idea.
When the door opens at the basement, I hang back for a second and lace my fingers into his for a second and give his hand a squeeze. He looks surprised, but he smiles at me. We talked last night and decided to keep things quiet between the two of us. But I can’t help myself. I want to touch him.
Olivia and I change clothes in the hallway of the locker rooms. It’s funny how we were both so self-conscious initially but now we’ve given up on caring. Everyone in the class has seen each other in their underwear so many times, it doesn’t seem to matter anymore.
Graham is already positioned in front of our cadaver in the lab. He looks up when I come in, then goes right back to his dissection. Awkward, awkward…
We all work pretty much in silence for the first hour. That’s unusual, considering Graham always likes to be a huge show off during the lab. The second Graham leaves the table, Olivia pounces. “What’s going on? What’s wrong with Graham?”
I see Claire is also looking at me with interest.
“We, uh, broke up,” I admit.
“Oh my god!” Olivia screeches. “What happened? You guys were so great together.” Yeah, right. Dream on.
“He dumped you?” Claire asks. Of course she’d think that.
“No, it was…” I bite my lip. “It was mutual. We just weren’t right for each other.”
Claire is nodding like she totally agrees with that statement. Bitch.
“Is that what happened, Chloe?”
I hear Graham’s sardonic voice from behind me. I freeze.
“Um, yes,” I say in a small voice.
“Not right for each other,” he repeats in a kind of mocking voice. “Okay, just making sure I got the story straight.”
He goes back to the dissection, back to ignoring me. Oh god, why did I start dating my anatomy partner? What was I thinking? This is so painful. And now Claire and Olivia are both gaping at me. They figured out I dumped Graham and they can’t believe it. I sort of can’t believe it.
Worse, Olivia is going to corner me and try to find out what happened. And I’m going to cave and probably tell her. And then she will tell everyone. And the whole class will know that I dumped Graham Kingsley for the elevator guy. I’ll be famous.
Noel’s Memory Book:
Liz and I were always so open about our relationship, so it’s sort of fun to have a secret thing going on with Chloe. It makes sense to keep things quiet. She agreed to it because she doesn’t want Graham to be more hurt than he already is. But the whole thing was my idea. Really, it’s for Chloe. I don’t want her to get embarrassed by people teasing her about dating the disabled elevator guy. I know that’s what would happen, so nobody can know we’re together.
We made plans for today. She told me she’d come over to my place in the evening. I was in a good mood as I left the hospital and I almost didn’t notice my ex best friend Glenn standing outside the cafeteria. I used to hate him. I guess I still do. Just because I’m with Chloe, that doesn’t make what he did right.
Glenn and I were assigned to be roommates our first year of med school. We were about as different as two people could get. I was incredibly competitive, confident, and obsessed with grades and my path to surgery. Glenn was nice, soft-spoken, and well-liked by everyone in the class. It was a no-brainer for him to go into psychiatry.
It was probably because we were so different that we got along so well. If Glenn had been as competitive as I was, I probably would have hated him. Instead, he could laugh at me when I got riled up about not getting an A in some class, and say, “Noel, relax. You know you’re a shoe-in for surgery.” He kept me grounded. He was my best friend.
There was only one thing we had in common and that was Liz.
We both fell for Liz at the same time. To be fair, I think I was first. I was so obsessed with her that I probably talked him into liking her. I would sit in bed, trying to study, and then randomly say something like, “You know what’s really sexy about Liz? When she gets her hair up in that green clip during lab, but then it’s all hanging in her face by the end of the day.”
“Give it up, man,” Glenn would say. “How many times has she rejected you? Time to move on. She’s not that great, really.”
Except I could tell he liked her too, even though he wouldn’t admit it. I could tell by the way he looked at her. And I knew that between the two of us, I was going to be the one to get her. Glenn was a nice guy, but he was no heartthrob. Sometimes it seemed like he couldn’t get a girl to save his life. Besides, I wanted her more, and back then, I was very good at getting what I wanted.
Even after Liz and I were a couple, I could tell Glenn still found her very attractive. But then again, who wouldn’t? Anyway, it wasn’t anything we ever talked about, and the truth is, I kind of enjoyed the fact that he had a bit of a crush on my girlfriend. I was proud of the fact that I was dating a girl who was so desirable.
Looking back, he did a few things that I thought were almost bordering on inappropriate, like when he called in sick from work just to give her a ride to the airport. And then there was another time when Liz found out her grandmother died when I was post-call my intern year. I did my best to get home to her as fast as I could, and when I got there, Glenn was in my living room, handing Liz tissues and holding her hand. For a moment, I thought to myself, “What the fuck is this?” But I was never a jealous person and I honestly didn’t think there was any chance in hell that Glenn would really try to steal her from me or that she’d ever leave me for him. He was supposed to be the best man at our wedding.
I didn’t think Glenn saw me as I passed him. He was standing with a blond nurse, chatting with her. Actually, I noticed he was standing awfully close to her, talking in a hushed tone. The whole thing struck me as a little odd somehow, but I didn’t give it much thought.
Chloe showed up at my place carrying a small pizza. “Dinner!” she announced. She looked very pleased with herself. Her hair was slightly damp and I guessed she had showered after lab on my behalf, which was sweet of her, although I thought maybe I should tell her that my sense of smell was pretty much gone. Well, maybe another time.
“Hey,” I said. “I want to pay for that.”
“No, too late,” she said. “You’ll get the next one.”
At least I had some soda in the fridge. I don’t use my cane around the apartment because it’s just too small, so I grabbed two plates with my left hand and tucked two cans of Coke under my right forearm. Chloe helped by taking the soda from me as I put the plates on the table. She looked at my right hand long enough that I started to feel self-conscious. “Can you use your hand at all?” she asked.
“Kind of,” I said. Then I admitted: “Not really.” I tried to hide my hand under the table, but Chloe pulled it off my lap. She examined my curled fingers and gently stretched them out. I winced a little bit as she reached the endpoint. They don’t straighten all the way anymore. I’d have to have surgery if I wanted my fingers to be able to flatten out again.
“Sorry,” she said.
“It’s fine,” I quickly told her. “That’s what I’m supposed to do. Stretch them out. It just, you know, hurts a little.”
I was kind of holding my breath as she continued to toy with my hand. I had to believe it was a turn off for her to be touching my paralyzed hand. Finally, she lowered her head and kissed my fingers. That surprised me, but I wasn’t complaining.
I ate two slices of pizza and Chloe ate three. I love a girl who can really pack it away. Liz used to be like that. Lately, Liz has gotten so skinny. I barely recognize her. “That all you’re going to eat?” Chloe teased me.
“Uh, I guess…”
She lifted up another slice of pizza and took a bite. I watched her in awe. “Jesus,” I said.
“I’m starving,” she said. “I didn’t eat lunch. Or breakfast.”
I wanted to point out that an ability to skip multiple meals would serve her well in residency. Especially a surgery residency. But then again, by ditching Liz, she had probably burned that bridge.
After Chloe devoured yet another slice of pizza, she stood up and looked around my apartment. My place is pretty simple. Tiny bedroom, even tinier living room attached to practically nonexistent kitchen. I have to inhale to fit in the bathroom. It’s pretty clean because Rose comes in to tidy up every few days.
Chloe stopped in front of my bookcase. The bookcase is probably the only indication in the whole apartment that I was ever a doctor. My mom brought over all my books from med school and surgery residency. There’s a whole shelf of anatomy books, another shelf of surgery books, then another half a shelf of trauma surgery books. I have to admit, I look at the books a lot. I shouldn’t, but I do. Unfortunately, as much as I read, nothing sticks.
“Wow,” Chloe breathed. She was looking at the anatomy books. “This is the motherload.”
I took a deep breath. There was something that was driving me crazy and I had to say it. “I’m sorry I screwed things up with you and Liz. If you really want to do surgery, then you should work with her. She can really help you.”
“That’s not what I want,” Chloe said.
“But you said you wanted to be a surgeon…”
“I never wanted that!” Chloe insisted. “Everyone just… told me I’m like Elizabeth, so I would probably like surgery. It doesn’t make sense to me. Can’t I just decide what I want on my own?”
I blinked, taken aback. “So… what do you want to do then?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Mostly I just want to be here with you. And maybe eat some more pizza later.”
I had nothing to say to that, so I kissed her. She took me by the hand and we went to my bedroom. She kicked her shoes off and I could tell she was waiting for me to do the same. She had no clue what the deal is with my legs and I wish I could somehow wait longer. But it was obvious I had to tell her. Now.
“Um, Chloe,” I said. “Listen, there’s something you should know. My legs are… pretty messed up.”
She shook her head. “I don’t care about that. It doesn’t matter.”
“Yeah, I think you will care.” I lifted my right pants leg so she could see my KAFO and the wasted muscle in my calf. “I’ve got a brace supporting this leg.” I checked her face and she looked a little surprised, but not that bad. I decided to proceed. I lifted my left pants leg and showed her the plastic shell of my artificial leg. I had hoped she somehow already knew, but it was clear from her expression that she didn’t know. “Lost this one just below the knee.”
“Oh,” she said.
I wasn’t happy about the way she was turning green. And this was before she even saw the stump of my leg. I had a really bad feeling. “I know this isn’t sexy. Look, it’s okay if you don’t want to… you know…”
“No,” she said firmly. “I promise, it’s not a big deal.”
“I’m not sure I believe you.”
“I swear, I’m okay,” she said.
She kissed me and I guess I believe her, but after that, we made no further attempts to get undressed, which was kind of a relief. I guess I’ll give her some time to get used to the idea that I’m missing a leg. I hope she can get used to it. When I look at my legs at night, with the brace and the prosthetic off, it really feels like there’s no chance any woman could be attracted to me again. It seems like anyone contemplating having sex with me would be immediately turned off by that. But, I don’t know, maybe we can keep the lights off and it’ll be okay.
I lay down in my bed and she curled up next to me, kissing me and running her hands over my chest and shoulders. I was very comfortable with the idea of taking things slow with Chloe. It’s been a long time for me and she’s just getting out of her relationship with Graham. She did mention that she never had sex with him, which I was really happy to hear. I do want to say that it is amazing being with Chloe. I love being close to her, touching her, feeling her lips on mine. I kind of sound like a girl saying all this, but it was actually pretty great.
We were lying in bed, still completely dressed but under the covers, when I heard the door to my apartment being unlocked. I sat bolt upright. “Is someone breaking in?” Chloe asked, alarmed.
“No, it’s just…” It was either my mother or Rose. Probably Rose.
“Noel?” I heard a voice call from the living room. Rose. I was right.
“Yeah,” I called back. I sat up in bed, debating what I should do.
Before I could stop her, Rose was at the bedroom door. She stopped, her eyes wide when she saw Chloe. Her usually pale, freckled face turned red. “Oh my god, Noel…”
“Hi, Rose,” I said. I was also blushing. “Chloe, this is my sister. Rose, this is Chloe.”
The whole thing was painfully awkward. Chloe hastily stood up and said hi. Rose couldn’t even look at her as she returned the greeting.
“Noel, I just came to…” Rose fumbled with a button on her coat. “I’m going to go, okay?”
Before I could say another word, Rose was hurrying out the door. I was relieved when she was gone. I guess I can’t blame her for barging in like that. There’s never been anything going on in here that required her to knock before. “Does she… come here a lot?” Chloe asked me.
“Probably not too much anymore,” I said. Maybe this would end up being a good thing for Rose too. Now that I’m seeing someone, she won’t have to focus on me as much. She can start dating again. I really want that for her.
I crawled back into bed next to Chloe. She nuzzled under my arm and we dozed off in that position. It felt right.
Our bedroom is dark when I sneak home. Olivia is asleep. I can hear her snoring softly. If I’m really quiet, I can probably get into bed without her noticing that I…
She sits up in bed, rubbing her eyes. For a second, I’m hopeful she’ll go back to sleep, but then she extinguishes my hope by turning on the light by her bed. Her eyes are wide open. I don’t know how she can go from fast asleep to wide awake and bouncing on the bed in five seconds.
“Who is he?” Olivia demands to know.
“What?” I ask innocently.
She sighs. “You weren’t with Graham, obviously. And you weren’t with him last night, were you?”
I hesitate and Olivia bounces with glee. Damn me and my hesitation!
“I knew it!” she cries. “There’s someone else! Another guy! Who is it? Oh please, tell me who it is!”
“I can’t,” I say.
“Of course you can!” she says. “I won’t tell anyone!”
“Come on, I’m going to find out anyway.”
I shudder slightly. I wonder if she’s right. When it comes to men, Olivia’s investigative skills are unparalleled. But then again, she’d never suspect Noel. In her book, he doesn’t even count.