I want to get Noel alone. It’s not easy because other students keep arriving and taking his elevator. I camp out in the hallway, waiting for things to quiet down. Hopefully, nobody sees me doing this. It doesn’t look suspicious at all.
I am nervous about my test today, but seeing Noel makes me forget all about it. He smiles at me and stops the elevator as he pulls me close to him. I want him to tell me I’m going to do great. Instead, he says, “Why did one of your classmates ask me what it was like to kiss you?”
“Oh,” I say. I blush. “Well, it seems like that girl Jamie from the lab the other morning kind of… told a few people. There’s a rumor going around.”
Noel looks troubled. “I’m sorry.”
“Why are you sorry?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “But I’m thinking that dating Creepy Elevator Guy isn’t a status symbol.”
“I don’t care,” I say.
“You should care,” he says. “You have to go to school with these people for four years. You want them to respect you.”
I feel angry all of a sudden. If my classmates don’t respect me because I’m dating Noel, then who needs ‘em?
“On the bright side,” he says, “at least this takes your mind off your exam.”
Oh god, my exam. That’s right. Crap.
“You’re going to do great,” Noel says. He kisses my lips. “I believe in you.”
The truth is, yes, I’m nervous. But I actually feel pretty good about the exam. I don’t feel like I’m going to fail. I did all the old questions and Noel grilled me over and over again on the cranial nerves. I should do well on this exam. There’s no reason to think I won’t.
Noel’s Memory Book:
On my second anatomy midterm, I got the highest score in the class. I studied my ass off. I knew I had to compensate for my sub par grade on the first exam.
But the real reason I did so well was because I’d been tutoring Liz after her failure on the first exam. I’d always been accused of being kind of intense, and I applied that intensity to getting Liz to pass that exam. Every waking hour, I spent quizzing her on anatomy. We were in the anatomy lab until late at night every night.
(Confession: We made out once in the anatomy lab. I know. We came to the lab to study and she was washing her hands at the sink and I saw her putting her hair up in a bun, and there was something about the nape of her neck that was just so sexy. I couldn’t help myself. We were like animals.)
I think I would have done well on the test anyway, but I suspect my drive to get Liz to pass was what pushed me over the edge to get the score that I did. I wanted her to pass so badly. It was the most important thing to me.
I remember how happy Liz was when she found out she passed. Although that moment was a little bittersweet for me, especially in retrospect. Dr. Conrad pulled me aside to congratulate me on my grade before I even saw it, and by the time I got to the mailboxes, Liz had already seen her grade. She was jumping up and down. And then she hugged Glenn, who was standing right next to her. I was always kind of bothered by that, even before she left me for Glenn. I mean, I had worked with Liz day and night to help her pass. I thought I deserved the first hug, not Glenn. I eventually got a hug (and more), but it wasn’t the first hug. I know it’s dumb, but it was something that always bothered me.
I was waiting for Chloe after her exam today. I knew she was coming soon because I saw some of her classmates in the elevator. Two girls whose names I never managed to catch. They were looking at me really carefully and not even trying to hide it. At one point, one of the girls nudged the other and they both giggled. The whole thing made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. I look messed up enough that I don’t enjoy being stared at. I prefer they just think I’m too lazy to get a real job, not that I’m actually crippled.
And then, as the girls left the elevator, I caught a snippet of their conversation just before the doors closed: “Oh my god, can you believe she’s dating—”
I didn’t need to use too much imagination to complete that sentence.
I feel bad for Chloe—the last thing she needs is a rumor going around that she’s boinking the elevator guy. (Not that she’s actually boinking me.) But the biggest reason I didn’t want people to know about me and Chloe is selfish. If people find out, they’ll almost definitely give her a hard time about dating me, and maybe she’ll figure out they’re right.
Chloe looked exhausted when I saw her. Her glasses were slipped down her nose and her hair was in a messy ponytail. She looked pretty adorable, actually. We were alone so I leaned in to kiss her. She pulled away. “Don’t,” she said. “I smell like dead bodies.”
“I don’t have a sense of smell,” I reminded her.
“Oh, right,” she said. “Okay, then. You can kiss me.”
So I did.
I didn’t want to lie to Elizabeth and tell her the real reason I wanted to see her, so instead Noel looked up the surgery schedule to see when she’d be around. I kind of get the feeling that Elizabeth is always around. But it didn’t hurt to have a guarantee.
Graham is nearly bouncing with excitement as I take him up to the ortho department. It’s kind of annoying, but something about it makes me smile. I wish I could be that excited about something.
“I love ortho,” Graham says. “You go in, you fix the problem, you don’t even need to talk to the patients ever.”
Sometimes I have to question what kind of physician Graham is going to be.
We get to the orthopedic surgery lounge. It looks the same as it did last time I was here. Even the porn has made its way back onto the wall. Not only is it back, but it’s also multiplied. Last time I was here, there were three photos. Now there are six. They must be breeding. As we walk in, Graham makes a beeline right for the photos. Unbelievable.
“Isn’t it kind of rude to look at those in front of me?” I suggest.
Graham takes his eyes off the porn long enough to grin at me. “What? You’re not my girlfriend anymore. I’m allowed.”
Graham is totally going to fit right in here.
We’re only waiting about half an hour when Elizabeth shows up. Her eyes look a little puffy, almost like she’s been crying. She always looks pissed off when she comes into the lounge. “Get away from the porn,” I hiss at Graham.
Obediently, he steps away from the photos.
Elizabeth’s eyes rest on me and her face lights up. I feel a little guilty. “Chloe!” she exclaims. “You changed your mind!”
I lower my eyes. “No, not exactly.”
“Oh,” she says. I can tell she’s trying to hide the disappointment in her voice. I wonder for a second if she has any idea about me and Noel.
“I wanted to introduce you to someone,” I say, standing up. “This is Graham. He’s my, um… lab partner.”
Elizabeth, who is a smart girl, gets it. She takes in Graham, all perfect chiseled six feet of him. I told her all about my wannabe surgeon lab partner who I was dating but not in love with. Her eyes softened, maybe because she’s reminded of Noel, I don’t know. And she says exactly what I should have expected her to say: “Oh, you’re Chloe’s boyfriend?”
Graham looks at her like he was slapped. “No, not anymore.”
“Oh!” Elizabeth says. And now she’s giving me this really interested look. Oh god, does she know I’m dating Noel? She must have some idea there’s something going on. “Well, that’s too bad.”
Graham shrugs. I can see he’s still real broken up over me.
“I’m really interested in ortho,” Graham says to Elizabeth. “That’s my number one specialty right now.”
Elizabeth looks him up and down. I hold my breath and wince a little bit as I see Graham’s eyes briefly dart over to look at the porn. No, Graham, avoid the porn! Unfortunately, I think Elizabeth notices it too. “You’re a first year,” she says. “What the hell do you know?”
I’m surprised by the harshness of Elizabeth’s tone. She usually was so encouraging with me. By when she talks to Graham, she seems angry, almost defensive.
“I know I’d be awesome at ortho,” he says. He doesn’t give up that easy. “I’m honoring anatomy right now.”
“There’s more to being a good surgeon than getting honors in a basic first year anatomy class,” Elizabeth says.
Graham sets his jaw. “Well, I know I’d be a better surgeon than her.”
By “her,” he means me, of course. He’s right. I’d be an awful surgeon. It’s a little insulting that after I brought him up here, he’s still talking about me so disparagingly, but I guess I’m owed it after dumping him the way I did.
I don’t think Graham meant anything awful by what he said, but somehow it just sets Elizabeth off. All of a sudden, she’s furious. She’s so angry, I’m afraid she might just burst into flames at any second. I want to hide, and at this moment, I’m really, really glad that I’m not Graham.
“How dare you?” Elizabeth hisses. Graham wisely takes a step back. He looks pretty scared, rightfully so. “You think just because she doesn’t step on everyone else’s toes to get near a scalpel, she can’t be a surgeon? You think she’s not smart enough just because she doesn’t get the same grades you do or because she’s a girl? She can’t be part of your boys club with your goddamn porn and your strip clubs and your… your…”
There are tears in Elizabeth’s eyes now. Oh hell. Who knew Graham would set her off like that?
Graham looks really uncomfortable. He glances over at me. “Um, Chloe, I’m going to go…” He then scrambles out the door as fast as he can.
Once Graham is gone, Elizabeth collapses onto the sofa next to me. She’s outright crying now. I don’t know what to do or say. I guess she had a hard day.
“Nobody supports me,” she sobs. “Nobody thinks I should be here. Even Glenn wishes I weren’t a surgeon. He’s always complaining about how I’m never home and that I’m too wrapped up in my career. My parents keep asking me if I’m going to quit so I can have a baby.”
I awkwardly reach out and pat Elizabeth on the shoulder. There, there…
“There was only one person in my whole goddamn life who supported me,” she says. “That was Noel. And I blew it with him.” She wipes her eyes with the back of her hand, hiccupping as she tries to control her sobs. “I still love him.”
I can’t believe what I just heard. “What?”
“I’m still in love with Noel,” she says, her voice wistful. “He’s… wonderful. I still think about him all the time. I miss him so much. Even with all the scars, he’s a million times sexier than Glenn. Breaking up with him was the biggest mistake of my life.”
I have a sinking feeling in my stomach. Elizabeth still loves Noel. And as much as he says he hates her, part of me wonders if he hasn’t just been pining away for her for the last few years. He must still love her. I know he does. When Elizabeth talked about their relationship, it sounded like he was nuts about her. It sounded like he’d do anything for her. He doesn’t feel that way about me. I’m no Elizabeth.
“I have these fantasies,” she says in a low voice. “I think about finding him in the elevator and telling him how I feel. And then… we start kissing right in the elevator…” She sighs. “It’s so hot in my mind…”
It’s pretty hot in real life too, I almost tell her. Instead I say, “Do you, um, think he’d take you back?”
“I don’t know,” she says thoughtfully. She sniffles. “It doesn’t really matter though, right? It’s all just a fantasy. In real life, it would be different. I mean, I don’t know if you realize this, but Noel is pretty messed up. He sounds normal, I guess, but I know he doesn’t move his right side that well because of the head injury. And don’t tell him I said this but…” She gives me a conspiratorial look. “He lost one of his legs. He wears a prosthetic.”
“And that’s only half of it,” Elizabeth goes on. Even though I’m irritated by how superficial she’s being, I’m also relieved. Maybe she has some feelings for Noel, but that doesn’t mean she really wants him back. I look down at the giant diamond on her finger. Elizabeth is getting married. She’s not going to want to mess that up. Maybe for Noel the Surgeon, but not for Noel the Creepy Elevator Guy.
At least, I really, really hope she doesn’t.
“I’m being an idiot, aren’t I?” Elizabeth says. She’s regained her composure and she’s wiping her eyes with her scrub top. “I love Glenn. I don’t even know why I said that. It was… stupid. Please don’t tell anyone. I’d never live it down.”
“I won’t tell anyone,” I promise.
It’s pretty obvious she still has no idea about me and Noel. She probably assumes he’s still single. She probably thinks he can’t get a girlfriend, like everyone else does. Well, I’m not going to be the one to tell her. She already looks like she’s pretty much hanging on by a thread and I’m not going to be the one to push her over the edge.
Noel’s Memory Book:
Chloe’s routine is to study at the hospital till around 8-ish, then we go back to my apartment and we study together there. She’s studying very intensely now, and I have to admit, I’m really enjoying working with her. I like being with her, of course, but I also enjoy reviewing the anatomy.
I’ve been stashing anatomy handbooks in my locker, and after everyone goes home, I’ve been reading them in the elevator as I wait for Chloe. Today I was sitting on my stool, reading my book, when I saw probably the last person I wanted to see: Liz.
The last few times I’ve seen Liz in the hospital, she’s looked tired and overworked. But today she looked… really good. Her hair hung loose around her face and her eyes were bright. If I didn’t know better, I’d have said she was wearing make-up. She had on scrubs like she always did, but they fit her well. I could see the outline of her breasts under the green fabric. Liz always looked incredibly sexy to me in scrubs.
Not that I thought Liz looked sexy right now. I wasn’t getting hard or anything just from looking at her.
“Hi, Noel,” she said, blinking as if she was surprised to see me. She couldn’t have been that surprised though. She must have figured she’d run into me here.
“Hi,” I replied warily, quickly hiding my book out of sight. I didn’t want her to know that I was reading anatomy. I didn’t want her to know anything about my life, especially that I was dating Chloe now. Even though we had one civil conversation, I was in no way ready to forgive Liz for what she did to me. “What are you doing here?”
“The doctor’s lot was full this morning,” she said. “So I parked in the student’s lot.”
Could have been true, I guess. Since I don’t drive, I don’t know how crowded the lots get.
I hit the button for the basement. Liz stood next to me, closer than I would have liked. She shook out her hair and my stomach jumped a little. Even though I’ve lost my sense of smell, I could still imagine the scent of her shampoo filling the elevator. She always smelled like flowers. It’s weird how I still have the memory of that scent.
OK, I admit it, I still found Liz sexy. And I really hated the fact that I found her sexy, in spite of what she did to me. I wished she’d just stay away from me.
“Listen, Noel,” she said. She looked like she was about to reach out and touch my arm, but I flinched and then she didn’t. “It’s kind of late and I was just wondering if… maybe you could walk me to my car? I’d feel safer.”
Chloe would be done studying soon and I was supposed to be waiting for her. I should have said no to Liz. It wasn’t like there was any real danger in the parking lot here. Yet before I could stop myself, I heard myself saying, “Okay.”
And then she smiled at me. It was a strange, secretive smile, which made my stomach do flip flops.
When we got to the basement, Liz left the elevator, clearly waiting for me to follow her. I grabbed my cane from behind my stool and lumbered toward her. It occurred to me as we made our way down the hall toward the garage that Liz hadn’t recently seen me walk any appreciable distance. Suddenly I felt acutely aware of my bad limp, the way I leaned heavily on my cane, the way Liz was staring at me. I was walking worse than usual even, partly because I was overdue for my Botox shots and partly because I was nervous. I tried to tell myself it wasn’t as bad as I thought, but then Liz destroyed that fantasy for me.
“So, um,” she said. “Are you still doing physical therapy to improve your walking?”
I stopped walking and glared at her. She knew the condition my legs were in. How well did she expect me to be walking? “No, I’m not.”
Liz tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear with a hand that was shaking slightly. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”
“Yeah.” I took a breath. “You know what, Liz? You can walk to your own goddamn car.”
She didn’t try to stop me from leaving. In any case, if she was really worried about being in danger, it was pretty obvious I wasn’t going to be able to do much to protect her.
I was too upset to read after that. I sat in the elevator stewing until Chloe came to find me about half an hour later. Looking at Chloe, it was hard not to see the differences between her and the only other significant woman in my life. Liz was tall and thin, tough yet somehow vulnerable. Chloe, on the other hand, was shorter and had the tiniest bit of baby fat. Chloe was adorable, whereas Liz was sexy. Either of them is attractive enough to have any man they wanted, so it surprises me that they would have picked me. Maybe Liz, back when I was young and whole, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why Chloe is with me.
“Hi there,” Chloe said when she saw me, her face lighting up. She leaned forward and kissed me softly on the lips.
I wanted to get lost in the moment and just be happy, but I couldn’t. “Chloe, why the hell are you with me?”
Chloe laughed and tried to kiss me again, but I pulled away. “Are you serious?” she said.
“You’re really pretty and sweet,” I pointed out. “You could have any guy you want. I really just don’t get it. I mean, I’m a gargoyle. I’ve got scars everywhere.”
“Didn’t anyone tell you scars are sexy?” Chloe said, lacing her fingers into mine. Actually, Sonya did tell me that. “Noel, you’re the sexiest guy I’ve ever met.”
I shook my head. “Come on.”
I wasn’t sure if I believed her or not, but eventually, as she kissed me, it didn’t really matter anymore. The only important thing is that we’re together.