Surprise, my parents are visiting today.
Last night my mother called me and told me that she and Dad were going to a wedding in the area this morning and they were going to swing by my hospital afterward. They wanted the grand tour. This is typical for my parents, always giving me less than 24 hours notice for a visit, like there’s no way I could possibly have plans. It’s kind of insulting.
I told Noel. I said that I thought that maybe he could say hi or something. Show my parents that I’m not a loser that no man could love.
“It’ll be fun,” I said, trying to smile.
“You really think that’s a good idea?” Noel said, shaking his head. “Look what a hard time the students in your class are giving you. You think your parents are going to like me any better?”
“Absolutely,” I said. Hey, stranger things have happened.
“They won’t,” Noel said flatly.
I frowned. “It’s not like you’re some punk musician with pink hair, a pierced tongue, and hepatitis C.”
“Yeah, as if you’d ever date a guy like that.”
We went back and forth a few times like that, but I finally gave in, mostly because he kind of had a point. I didn’t care what the hell my parents thought, but I also didn’t want my mother yelling at me to break up with him. My mother thought I was going to meet and start dating some future doctor. I should have introduced them to Graham while I had the chance. He was a model boyfriend.
I meet my parents at the entrance to the hospital. I always thought my parents sort of look like the parents in some sitcom, maybe Family Ties. My dad is tallish with a beard that turned gray before I was born, while my mother is short, cute, and blond. Sometimes when I look at them, I think I might have been adopted.
The first thing Mom says to me when she sees me is, “So where’s your boyfriend, Chloe?”
“I don’t have a boyfriend,” I say.
“Lies!” Mom declares. “You think I don’t know when my daughter is in love?”
“I’m not in love,” I mumble, even though I can feel my cheeks getting hot.
“She’s blushing!” Dad gleefully points out.
“I’m not blushing!” When do you get to an age where your parents no longer have the ability to embarrass you? All I know is I haven’t gotten to that age yet. “Listen, do you want a tour or not?”
My mother sniffs and says, “To be continued.” But she thankfully drops it for the moment.
I take my parents all around the hospital. My father is especially excited because he’s a doctor and this is all nostalgia for him. He works as a family practitioner, but I think he trades his services for, like, chickens or goats or magic beans or something, because we were always dirt poor. But he loves his job, so my mother puts up with it.
When we get to the anatomy labs, my mother wants to know which cadaver belongs to me, then she announces that it’s the best one. She doesn’t clarify what she means by “best.” My dad looks all nostalgic in the lab and starts sniffling a bit. “I miss those days,” he sighs. “Cherish it, Chloe.”
I’m grateful when it starts getting late and my parents have to leave, and I’ve managed to avoid any further discussion of my love life. I lead them to the elevators and just my luck, the doors open and Noel is sitting there. The three of us step inside and I raise my eyebrows at him. Wanna meet my parents?
He shakes his head at me. No surprise there.
“Don’t forget how lucky you are to be here,” Dad says to me. “So many people would give their right arm to have the opportunity to learn medicine.”
“Yup,” I say.
“Cherish it, Chloe,” he says again. I look over at Noel, who is very obviously trying to keep from laughing.
As we exit the elevator, I can’t help myself: I reach out and give Noel’s hand a quick secretive squeeze. He looks at me in surprise and grins.
When we get out of the elevator, Dad announces that he has to go to the bathroom. He wanders off to look for a restroom while Mom and I wait for him near the elevators. “This is going to take forever, isn’t it?” I say.
“Probably,” my mother agrees. “In the meantime, maybe you should introduce me to your boyfriend.”
My heart stops. “What?”
“The guy running the elevator,” she says with a wink. “He’s your boyfriend, isn’t he?”
My jaw drops open. Maybe my mother isn’t as naïve as she seems sometimes. How did she figure this one out?
“It’s so obvious, honey,” she says.
Mom smiles. “So what’s his name?”
“So can I meet him?”
Noel is going to kill me, but oh well. I press the button for the elevator. It takes a few minutes, but we finally get the elevator with Noel in it. He looks very surprised to see me again. “Um, Noel,” I say. “My mother wants to meet you.”
He looks alarmed. “Chloe, you… you shouldn’t have…”
“She didn’t tell me,” Mom says. “I figured it out.”
Noel stands up from the stool and nearly trips over himself. His cane is behind the stool and I’m not sure if my mother sees it. “Uh, hi, Mrs. Ross.”
Mom holds out her hand for him to shake. Of course, he’s got issues with his right hand, so he takes her right hand with his left. This doesn’t fool my mother, who notices his right hand immediately. She looks at it for a second, then up at his face. Oh god, she’s figuring it out. Noel’s ears are bright red.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Noel,” she says. “Chloe seems very happy lately.”
“Oh yeah?” A slow nervous smile dawns on his face.
“Very much so,” she says. “I was just saying to my husband Harry yesterday that I wanted to meet this new guy that my Chloe is so in love with.”
Oh hell. “Mom,” I groan.
I can barely look at Noel, but when I do, he seems very pleased.
They make idle chat for a few more minutes and then Noel says he has to get back to work. I’m kind of amazed. I thought my mother was going to skewer me for not dating a med student or doctor. Instead she seems to like Noel even better than that guy I dated in college who wanted to be a senator. I’ll never understand my mother. Never.
“I like him,” Mom declares, after the elevator doors close. “He’s got character.”
Is that my mother’s way of saying he looks like he got run down by a truck? At least she didn’t ask me what happened to him.
“And he’s very good looking,” she goes on. “I’ll tell you, Chloe, if I were twenty years younger… or even ten years younger…”
“Mom, stop, please,” I beg her. The last thing I need is to hear is my mother talking about wanting to jump my boyfriend. “You like him, I get it. I’m glad you approve.”
“I do,” she says. Then she hesitates. “But then again, let’s not tell Daddy about this just yet.”
Fine by me.
Noel’s Memory Book:
I was really relieved when Chloe told me that her mother approved of me. After the failed handshake, I didn’t think I was going to win that one. Mrs. Ross actually seemed like a pretty cool lady.
It’s funny, because I used to be exactly the kind of guy you’d want to bring home to Mom and Dad. To be blunt, what girl doesn’t want to bring home a surgeon? A guy who’s bright, clean cut, and with the earning potential to support a family.
It took Liz forever to introduce me to her parents. It wasn’t like I desperately wanted to meet them or anything, but whenever they were in town or she was driving home to see them, she’d make up some excuse for why she didn’t want me around. It started to bother me after a while. The third time they came to visit, when we’d been dating about six months, I finally said to her, “Who are you embarrassed about? Me or them?”
“Neither,” Liz insisted. “It’s just…”
“It’s just what?” I was getting pretty pissed off.
Liz fiddled with her hair. I always found it really sexy when she played with her hair and it was keeping me from being as angry at her as I wanted to be. “Look, I just don’t see the point in introducing every fling to my parents.”
“Fling?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. We’d been together for six months and as far as I was concerned, things were going great. “You think this is a fling?”
“Well,” Liz shrugged. “It’s not like we’re going to get married someday or anything.”
“But I want to marry you.” I said it without thinking, but I realized at that moment it was true. I wanted to marry her. It was my first thought when I met her, and now after six months of dating, I was more sure than ever.
“Oh, stop it, Noel,” she said.
“I do,” I insisted.
“But…” She stared at me, her wide eyes more beautiful than I’d ever seen them. “Why?”
“Because I love you,” I said.
She introduced me to her parents a week later. And they liked me a lot, although I heard that after my accident, they told Liz not to waste her life grieving over me. Thanks a lot, Mr. and Mrs. Woodhouse.
Noel’s Memory Book:
Chloe spent the night at my place last night. It’s been so long since I’ve slept in the same bed as a woman. I was a little worried I might be too nervous to sleep, but unfortunately, that hasn’t been a big problem. My sleep medication puts me out like a light.
Chloe slept in her tank top and panties. She wore her hair in pigtails. She looked adorable prancing around my bedroom in her underwear. We’re trying to take things slow, but it was all I could do to keep from ravaging her. I’m only human.
I still feel self-conscious about taking my pants off in front of her. She’s got such a perfect tight little body and I’m such a mess. And Graham, the last guy she dated, probably looked great without clothes on (I’m trying not to think about that). Before I take my clothes off, I always shut off the lights.
“Why don’t you leave the lights on for a bit,” Chloe suggested as I reached for the light switch. She lay in my bed, waiting for me.
“I prefer it this way,” I said as I hit the switch and everything went dark.
“But I can’t see you,” Chloe pouted.
Exactly, I almost said. Instead, I said, “Your eyes will adjust.”
Admittedly, it’s harder to get undressed in pitch blackness. Since my balance is not great, I practically tripped over the bed and fell on my face. After Chloe heard me swearing, she jumped out of bed and flicked on the lights. I shielded my eyes dramatically, “Turn it off!”
But Chloe wasn’t listening. She moved her hands under my T-shirt, raising the hem higher and higher till I obliged and lifted it over my head. My chest is a mess of scars, but that doesn’t bother me as much, I guess. Sonia said chicks dig scars, right?
Then she did something unexpected which was to lift up my left pants leg. Almost automatically, I flicked her away. She looked at me in surprise. “Seriously, Noel?”
“Just… go lie on the bed and let me take it off myself, okay?” I pleaded with her.
She frowned. “Why can’t you accept that I think your leg is sexy?”
Because there’s no fucking way in hell that’s possible? “Please, Chloe,” I said.
She sighed and lay back down in bed while I pulled off my prosthetic, my KAFO, and finally, my pants. I looked down at my legs, hating how crippled they looked. The lights were still on and now that I wasn’t wearing my prosthetic or my brace, I couldn’t make it over there to turn it off.
“Come here,” Chloe said, pawing at my back.
I quickly scooted back in the bed, grabbing the blankets to cover my legs. Chloe surely knew what I was doing, but thankfully, she didn’t say anything. Admittedly, she hasn’t given me any reason for me to think my legs are a turn off to her. But I just can’t quite believe that’s not the case.
Noel’s Memory Book:
Liz and I had lunch today without fighting. It’s kind of amazing.
I called her, told her I wanted to talk to her, and we arranged a time to meet. I arrived early because I wanted to avoid Liz seeing me walk, and then making a patronizing comment like, “Wow, you’re walking so well, Noel.” If she said something like that, I wasn’t sure I could be civil.
I expected Liz to be twenty minutes late, which is her usual. It’s not even her fault because she’s a surgery resident and things always come up. Except she was actually right on time for a change. And when she saw me sitting there, waiting for her, her face actually seemed to light up. I got this weird déjà vu feeling, like it was back in the old days and we were catching a quick lunch together between surgeries.
What did we talk about? Mostly work. Her work. Liz was telling me about a recent surgery she did to repair a slipped capital femoral epiphysis, also called SCFE and pronounced “Skiffy.” It happens mostly in kids when part of the femur basically slips off like ice cream falling off a cone.
“This kid was so fat,” Liz was saying. Obesity predisposes kids to SCFE. “I thought we weren’t going to be able to find his hip. I swear, how do kids get so fat?”
“You see, Liz,” I said. “There’s this invention called donuts.” I look her up and down. “You should check them out. Seriously.”
Liz stuck out her tongue at me. “It’s not my fault I don’t have time to eat.”
Liz has gotten really ridiculously thin. She was slender when we were together. Now she looks like she’s anorexic or something. I bet if she took her shirt off, I could count her ribs. Not that I want to see her with her shirt off. Not that this is something I’m thinking about at all.
“So, I wanted to talk to you about something,” I said.
“Yes?” Liz looked nervous, but also something else. Maybe hopeful? That doesn’t make much sense. I looked down at her thin fingers, which she was tapping against the table nervously. Positive Fingernail Sign, I noted.
“Chloe Ross,” I reminded her.
“Oh,” Liz murmured. “Oh! Are the two of you….?”
“Yeah, we are,” I said.
She looked absolutely, completely shocked. Her eyes got wide like saucers and her mouth fell open. I was a little insulted. I guess when I told her I liked Chloe, she didn’t think I had a shot in hell. I showed everyone, I guess. I’m a real Casanova.
“Look,” I said. “I shouldn’t have told you not to hang around her. I mean, I know it was her decision, but I think you should give things another chance. I’d like Chloe to see a surgery, find out if that’s something she might be interested in.”
Liz smiled wryly. “You know, Noel, when you date a girl, you’re not also responsible for her career development.”
“I’m not allowed to try to help her?”
“No, you are.” Liz looked kind of sad all of a sudden. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter. She doesn’t want anything to do with me.”
“I’ll talk her into it,” I said. “I talked you into it, didn’t I?”
Liz had a classic case of self-doubt about going into her first surgery. She was terrified. She thought she was going to pass out or something. She made me wait in the lounge outside for her through the whole thing. I read an anatomy book to kill the time. I still remember the look of excitement on her face when she first came out of the OR. If there’s any chance Chloe can experience that, I don’t want to take it away from her. I’m not worth it.
“You didn’t talk me into anything,” Liz cried. “I was interested in surgery.”
“Yeah, right,” I snorted. I made my voice sound high pitched: “I don’t want to see a surgery. I might faint and break a nail.”
“Oh my god!” Liz laughed. “I did NOT say that. You’re awful!” She laughed again and slugged me playfully in the arm.
I froze. I know it sounds dumb but this was the first time Liz had laid a finger on me since my accident. Laughing and joking around like this, having lunch, talking about surgeries… it just brought back memories of the past. Of what I lost. It was too painful. But then again, I was doing this for Chloe, not for me.
“So I’ll tell Chloe to call you,” I said.
She sensed something had changed. The smile faded from her face and we ate the rest of our meal in silence.