Noel seemed subdued after his parents left. Really, it wasn’t that bad. Okay, it sort of was. Especially the part where they let it slip that he’s still hung up on Elizabeth. I wish it weren’t true, but I kind of think it is. I see the look on his face when her name comes up. She was the love of his life. It doesn’t matter what awful thing she did to him—it’s hard to just stop loving someone who’s so special to you.
I tell Noel we should go out to dinner, just to try to take our minds off of everything. “There’s no reason not to,” I say. “Everyone already knows about us.”
Noel gives me a funny look. “You don’t mind being seen on a date with me?”
Is he serious? I actually think he is. But I have to convince him that he’s being completely ridiculous, and why on earth would I mind being seen on a date with a cute guy? He snorted when I said that.
I drive us to a diner, because I’m the kind of girl who loves eating breakfast for dinner. Noel does too, apparently, because he orders French toast to my eggs and hash browns. “The later it gets, the more I want breakfast,” he says.
I reach out and take his good hand across the table. I notice he tenses up when I do this, the same way he looked mildly embarrassed when we walked into the restaurant together and resisted my attempts to be affectionate. “What’s wrong?” I ask him.
“People like me shouldn’t be doing PDA’s,” Noel says, lowering his eyes. “It’s just going to make everyone stare at us.”
“People like you?”
Noel sighs and pulls his hand away from mine. “It’s just hard for me to be affectionate in public, okay? I’m sorry.”
“What about when you were with Elizabeth?” I don’t know why I said that, but I couldn’t help myself. It’s hard to admit how much his father’s statement got to me.
Noel leans back in his seat and rubs his face with the back of his hand. “I’m really sorry my father said that,” he says.
Yeah, I am too.
“I’m not still hung up on Liz, I promise you,” he says. He sounds like he means it. “I did love her once, a long time ago, but definitely not anymore. How could I still like her after what she did to me? If anything, I hate her.”
“Sometimes there’s a thin line between love and hate,” I point out.
Noel shakes his head. “No. There isn’t. I don’t love her. I swear to you, Chloe.”
“Okay, I believe you,” I say.
I’m almost starting to feel a little better when Noel adds, “Anyway, it’s not like you’d ever have to worry. I mean, she has less than zero romantic interest in me.”
My stomach suddenly gets that annoying butterfly feeling. Noel says he has no interest in Elizabeth and maybe he even thinks that he has no interest in her. But if he knew that she still loved him, maybe he’d change his mind…
“Are you sure she’s not still attracted to you?” I ask.
Noel shakes his head like I’m crazy. “Are you kidding? Look at me.”
I’m beginning to suspect that Noel doesn’t own any mirrors the way he’s always talking about himself. Noel is good looking. Objectively. Maybe he didn’t look so hot in that old photo Rose showed me, but he looks great now. How does he not realize that? If he’s such a monster, then why would I be dating him?
I’d point all that out to him, but I know he’ll just shrug and say I’m crazy. So I just sit back and enjoy eating my dinner of eggs and hash browns, and spending time with my boyfriend, even if he’s too embarrassed to hold my hand in public.
When the check comes, Noel grabs it before I have a chance. Even though he has no money, he’s emphatic that he should pay for everything. He glances at the numbers, then reaches into his wallet and pulls out some bills, which he drops on the table. Right after he does it, he gets this confused look on his face. He looks from the money to the check to his wallet.
“What’s wrong?” I ask him.
“Is that right?” he says. “Did I put down the right amount of money?”
I look down at the check and do a few mental calculations. The amount of money Noel put on the table is enough to cover the check plus about a 20% tip. “Yep, that’s about right,” I confirm.
“Huh,” he says. He looks up at me and a slow smile dawns on his face.
I narrow my eyes at him. “What is it?”
“Nothing,” Noel says, still grinning. “I just feel good today.” And he reaches across the table to take my hand in his.
As Olivia and I wait for the elevator, a couple of our classmates come to join us. Their names are Rich and Kevin, two jock types who clearly consider themselves the “cool” kids in class. As they approach us, Rich says, “Hey, Chloe, guess who I am.”
Then he starts faking a limp, stumbling in the direction of the elevator. He looks at the buttons in mock confusion, “Hey, which button is the one for up?”
My face burns as the guys burst out laughing. I just don’t get what’s so funny about the fact that Noel has difficulty walking. I figure it’s better not to encourage them, but then Olivia speaks up, “You know, you guys are jerks.”
That just makes them laugh harder.
“Stop laughing!” Olivia is almost yelling now. “You’re going to be doctors someday. You shouldn’t make fun of people who are… special.”
Oh god, Olivia, please stop helping me. The guys start laughing even harder. “I’m so sorry,” Rich says, wiping his eyes. “I won’t make fun of your special boyfriend anymore, Chloe.”
I glare at Rich, wishing something really bad would happen to him.
Kevin pulls a sandwich out of his bag and the guys divvy it up, as well as two sodas. My stomach turns. Their hands likely still stink of formaldehyde... how could they consider eating a sandwich? I always have to wait an hour after lab before I eat. It’s like the reverse of swimming.
Rich is chewing really loudly. He’s so objectionable, yet I remember at one point, Olivia told me she thought he was “hot.” If I were dating Rich, nobody would think twice about it. Ironic.
The elevator arrives and Noel is inside. He has no idea that the guy were just making fun of him, although he might have gotten the hint when they start snickering loudly when they see him. He holds the door for people to get on. Rich is trying to balance his sandwich and wrapper in one hand and his soda in another hand. “Hang on a second,” he says as he takes big bites in order to finish the sandwich before boarding the elevator.
Noel sighs, but obligingly holds the door. He’s gotten more patient lately. I don’t think he would have held the door a few months ago.
As Rich is downing his second to last bite of the sandwich, his eyes suddenly go wide. He makes a gurgling noise, then goes completely silent, clutching his throat. As I watch him, my CPR course from the beginning of the year flashes through my head… then flies right out of my head. Heimlich…. Chest compressions… oh god, what do I do? I’m completely useless.
Olivia looks equally scared. I look over at Noel, who rises from his stool and quickly as he can, positions himself behind Rich. He starts thrusting, bracing himself against a wall so he doesn’t fall over. I think he’s doing it right, but I’ve never seen it done in real life before. And worse, it’s not working! Rich’s eyes roll up in his chest and his body goes limp.
“Shit,” Noel says. He allows Rich’s body to slide to the ground. He awkwardly falls to his knees and checks Rich’s mouth, presumably to see if air is coming out. “Shit,” he says again. He points to Kevin. “What the fuck are you just standing there for?! Get help NOW.” Kevin obligingly runs off, a terrified look on his face.
Noel looks up at me and Olivia. “Can one of you do chest compressions?”
Olivia timidly takes a step back as I step forward. I lace my fingers together and start pumping on Rich’s chest. Noel falls to his knees and when I pause, he pushes two breaths right into Rich’s mouth, which is kind of gutsy of him. He shakes his head. “His chest isn’t budging. The breaths aren’t going in.”
Noel ducks his head down and looks in Rich’s open mouth. “I can almost see it,” he says. “I just can’t get it out…”
I look at Rich. His lips have turned blue. Oh god, he’s going to die. He’s going to DIE right here in front of us. He was an asshole but he doesn’t deserve to die here. Oh god oh god…
Noel looks up at me and then down the hall to see if anyone is coming to help. We’re in the basement, on the academic side of the hospital, so it’s not clear how long it will be before anyone arrives. There’s desperation in Noel’s eyes. “Chloe,” he says. His voice is low and foreboding. “Do you have a dissection kit from lab?”
I stare at him. “I… yes, I do…”
I pull the small metal kit out of my bag and open it for him. He grabs it from me and dumps the contents out on the floor. He sifts through several different size forceps quickly with his left hand and then picks out the scalpel. He takes one last long look down the hallway then back at Rich, who is decidedly blue by now. “I have to do this,” he says softly to nobody in particular.
Then he does something I’ve never seen him do before: he crosses himself. He swore to me that he’s an atheist, so maybe he was just stalling for time.
About two or three minutes have passed since Rich collapsed. Noel makes an incision in Rich’s neck with the scalpel. As I watch, I can’t believe he’s doing it. And it’s a clean incision—neat and controlled. Blood rolls down Rich’s neck, but it’s not everywhere. I watch as he widens it, larger and larger. Then he picks up the straw from Rich’s drink and slides it into the hole he’s just made.
“Please…” I hear him whisper.
He blows into the straw. I can’t believe what I’m seeing: Rich’s chest rises. He did it! Noel did a freaking emergency cricothyroidectomy in the middle of the hallway outside the anatomy labs.
The crash cart arrives about two minutes later. By that time, Noel and I have been doing CPR and using the straw to deliver air, and Rich looks a lot less blue, although we still haven’t managed to dislodge the piece of sandwich that was obstructing his airway. A considerable crowd of med students has gathered, although nobody seems able to help. The nurse in charge of the crash cart looks at the straw sticking out of Rich’s neck and screams, “Oh my god, what did you do?”
Noel is struggling to stand up. His hands are covered in blood and shaking badly. “I had to create an airway,” he says.
She looks him up and down. “Dr. Andrews?” she says, squinting at him.
He doesn’t say anything. He simply turns around and stumbles away, leaving the crash team to take care of Rich. I hurry after him, even though the nurse is trying to get my attention. I figure Olivia can fill them in on the details and they just want to yell at us anyway.
I catch up to Noel when he’s gotten a good distance away, where the activity surrounding my classmate has become inaudible. His cane was left by the elevator and he’s clutching the wall to stay on his feet. He stops suddenly, leans against the wall, and sinks down to the floor. He buries his face in his hands.
“I shouldn’t have done that,” he says. His fingers are trembling. Rich’s blood is smeared on his forehead.
“You saved his life!” I cry. “He was dying, Noel. You’re a hero!”
“I could have killed him,” he says. “That was insane. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“If anyone knows the anatomy of the neck, it’s you,” I point out.
He lifts his face. He’s crying. “It was a mistake,” he says again.
“Don’t say that,” I beg him. “That was completely amazing. I mean, you saved him. And… I love you.”
I hold out my arms and Noel crawls into them. He’s really a wreck. But I can’t stop thinking about what he did. It was the most amazing thing I ever saw in my life. I would give anything to be able to do what he just did. And all he keeps saying over and over again is that it was a mistake.
Noel is gone for the rest of the day. I drive to his apartment that night. He seemed so shaken when he left the hospital, I was a little scared he’d done something drastic. I don’t know what exactly. Insane shooting rampage? No, that doesn’t sound like Noel. I’ve seen too many movies, I think.
I knock on his door and it takes him a while to answer. I hear a lot of shuffling. When he opens the door, he looks awful. His red-brown hair is sticking up and his eyelids are tinged with red and his nose is a little pink. “Hi, Chloe,” he says.
“Are you okay?” I ask, stepping inside.
“Oh, I’m great,” he says. Is he slurring his speech? For a second, I’m scared that he has some sort of brain-related issue, then I see the bottle of vodka on his kitchen table. Oh.
“I thought you don’t drink,” I say. I brought some wine a couple of weeks ago and he waved it off.
“I’m Scottish, of course I drink,” he says with a wry smile.
I eye the bottle of vodka. Actually, it looks pretty good to me right now. No, I shouldn’t. One of us needs to be sober.
“How is that guy doing?” Noel asks me.
I was dreading this question. “He’s in the ICU,” I say. “He’s alive.”
“He’s not really responsive,” I admit.
Noel stares at me. He stumbles back over to the kitchen table, nearly tripping over his own feet. His balance is much worse than usual. He manages to make it to a chair, where he sits down, and takes a drink of the vodka right out of the bottle.
“Well, at least I have nothing for them to sue me for,” he says.
I sit down next to Noel. I gently reach out and touch the scar under his left eye. He tenses slightly but lets me do it. I feel like lately I’ve been getting a glimpse at the brilliant surgeon that he used to be. Maybe he’s not the same as he used to be, but that person is still in there.
Of course, if the brilliant surgeon is still in there, it stands to reason that the guy who was madly in love with Elizabeth is still in there too. I don’t like that idea.
He starts to kiss me. He clings to me, pulling me closer to him. I know the old Noel loved Elizabeth very much, but the new Noel loves me. And I’m going to help him get through this.