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.
“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:
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.
“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.
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.
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?”
“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?”
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.
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.