Elizabeth and I are having our female surgeon’s lunch. I thought it might be at an actual restaurant, but it ended up being in the cafeteria of the hospital. Oh well.
I like Elizabeth. She’s badass. While we were talking, she kept getting paged and barking orders into her cell phone. I really admire her. If someone told me I was going to be like her in eight years, I’d be pretty psyched. And very skeptical.
“Do you want to watch a surgery?” Elizabeth asks me.
“Sure,” I say.
She smiles. “I saw my first live surgery during my first year of med school. Something just clicked for me. I hadn’t really been thinking about surgery at all before that.”
“Did Dr. Conrad talk you into going to the surgery?” I ask.
“Sort of,” she says. “Actually, it was more my boyfriend. He wanted to be a surgeon and he made it sound so fantastic. He was the one who convinced me to watch one and I got hooked too.”
This is almost spooky. Elizabeth seems like she was so much like me, right down to the wannabe surgeon boyfriend. Does that mean I really am going to be like her someday? I just can’t picture it.
“My boyfriend wants to be a surgeon too,” I confide in her. “It’s actually… kind of annoying.”
Elizabeth laughs. “Well, yeah. It was sometimes annoying. But he was so passionate about it!” She looks kind of wistful. “Also, he always made sure I knew he cared about me more than his career.”
I remember what Elizabeth said about having come close to failing anatomy. “You said he tutored you through anatomy?”
She nods gravely. “I failed the first exam. I didn’t want to tell him because I was scared he wouldn’t respect me. Then one day, he stumbled on my exam paper while he was at my apartment. After that, he said it was his mission to help me pass.”
Interesting. Graham doesn’t know I’ve been failing, but part of me wonders what he’d say if I told him. Maybe he’d change his mind about studying with me. Maybe helping me pass would become his new mission. Maybe it would be something that would bring us together and make us care about each other as much as Elizabeth clearly had cared about her boyfriend. Of course, Elizabeth didn’t end up with her wannabe surgeon. I wonder what happened.
“So tell me about your boyfriend,” Elizabeth says. She’s forgotten all about talking me into being a surgeon.
“Uh… he’s…” I don’t know what to say. “Really smart.”
“Of course,” Elizabeth laughs.
She laughs again and I notice there’s a softness to her face. She’s not all badass surgeon. She’s still slightly human.
“Is he the one?” she asks.
Now it’s my turn to laugh. “No, he’s not.”
“Are you sure?”
“God, I hope not.”
“I didn’t think my boyfriend was right for me at all when I first met him,” Elizabeth recalls. “I didn’t even want to go out with him because I thought he was a jerk and we had nothing in common. I mean, he was definitely an arrogant asshole. But I also realized how sweet and considerate he was. And how much he loved me. He never made me doubt that. I really fell hard for him and I knew that he was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.”
I frown at her. “Are you talking about your fiancé?”
Elizabeth’s mouth falls open and her cheeks turn pink. “I, um… yeah. My fiancé.”
Except I can tell that’s not who she meant. For some reason, Elizabeth is still hung up on this guy she dated in med school. God, can you imagine if I were still pining over Graham eight years from now? I’d kill myself.
Noel’s Memory Book:
I’m turning 30 in a week. I don’t even want to think about it. I had a list of goals that I wanted to accomplish before I hit 30. I don’t know where that list went but I think it’s safe to say that I’ve accomplished none of them. I’m not a surgeon. I’m not married. I don’t have a house. I didn’t get to visit the Great Wall of China. (I think that was on there.)
My brother Brad invited me to dinner to celebrate early. Rose invited herself along too. Brad wasn’t happy about that last part. They don’t get along too well.
The restaurant Brad took me to was basically a bar. It was so small that my cane kept catching on stools as I made my way to Brad’s table. Waitresses kept flouncing by in skimpy outfits while I tried not to stare and I could feel the smoke clinging to my clothes. Right away Brad ordered himself a whiskey and ordered me a beer. I tried to explain to him that I couldn’t drink.
“It’s your birthday!” Brad said. “You’re allowed to drink on your birthday.”
“It’s not my birthday,” I pointed out.
“Brad,” Rose said in a serious voice, “Noel could have a seizure if he drinks. Do you understand that?”
Brad sighed really loudly. “Fine. Loser.”
Sometimes I’m not sure which of my siblings is more annoying.
Even though we’re brothers and sister, we’re pretty different. Rose is the oldest and the responsible one. Brad is the party animal. I used to be the smart, competitive one. Now… I don’t know what I am. Not smart or competitive, that’s for sure.
Brad spent most of the dinner hitting on waitresses. He got two phone numbers. Rose looked kind of miserable. Partially, I think she was sad nobody was hitting on her. I wish Rose would find a boyfriend. I mean, she’s pretty. I’m not just saying that as her brother. She’s got a cute face, thick red hair, and a good figure. She should have a boyfriend.
“So do you want to hear what your present is, little brother?” Brad asked me. He was slurring his speech.
“Sure,” I said.
“For your very special thirtieth birthday, I am getting you…” He paused dramatically. “A hooker!”
Rose started coughing. I just stared at Brad. I wish he was offering me a hooker because he was drunk, but I don’t think so. I think this was a well thought out plan.
“That’s very nice of you,” I said carefully. “But I really don’t—”
“Are you out of your mind?” Rose nearly screamed.
“Rose, you have to understand something,” Brad said calmly. “Men have needs. And Noel here… it’s obvious he’s not getting any. And I’m thinking that’s not going to change any time soon.”
“Am I right?” Brad looked at me. “You haven’t been with anyone since Liz, have you?”
I couldn’t bring myself to answer that one.
“You can’t do this,” Rose said. “You are not hiring a hooker for Noel.”
“You’re not his mother, Rose,” Brad shot back. “And he’s not a kid. Christ, you’re pathetic.”
I looked over at Rose. Her eyes were filling up with tears. Brad struck a nerve. He’s such an asshole sometimes.
“You’re not going to sleep with a prostitute, are you?” Rose said to me.
“No, I’m not,” I said. I don’t think the situation is that bad yet. Well, maybe it is. But I still don’t want to have sex with a prostitute. I mean, that would really be a low.
“Are you sure, Noel?” Brad said. “I mean, I could get you one that’s really hot. I would get a real high priced girl. And I’m sure that whole missing leg deal wouldn’t bother her. They’re used to that kind of stuff.”
“Brad, I’m not sleeping with a hooker!”
He looked really disappointed. I hate to burst his bubble but that’s just not something I would do. I know it’s not going to ever happen with Chloe, but I’m not ready to resort to something like that. I mean, I’d have to be a lot more desperate than I am now. Now I’m just somewhat desperate. He can ask me again at my 35th birthday, when I’m sure I’ll be equally single.
Noel doesn’t even look at me anymore in the elevator. He averts his eyes. I think he’s pissed off I’m dating Graham.
The only nonverbal exchange we have is one day when I’m in the elevator with Graham. Graham is telling this story about how he worked in a research lab last summer. He had been dissecting a mouse and he said to some underling, “Scalpel!” And they handed him a scalpel. And that’s when he knew he wanted to be a surgeon.
I look up and my eyes meet Noel’s. He’s giving me this LOOK. And he shakes his head.
I know, I know. He’s right. Graham’s kind of a jerk.
But that’s all going to change. I’ve got this plan to tell Graham about my failing anatomy quizzes, the third of which arrived in my mailbox today. And then Graham is going to save me, just like Elizabeth’s ex-boyfriend saved her. That’s when Graham and I will really connect. I’ll know he cares about me.
I know that before class, Graham usually studies in the empty classroom by the anatomy labs. I go there armed with my three failing quizzes. I don’t think I can bring myself to tell him I’m failing, but maybe I can just “accidentally” show him the quizzes. Then I can follow in Elizabeth’s footsteps and be saved by my wannabe surgeon boyfriend. Hurray!
Graham is sitting in his usual place in the classroom, at the desk in the back by the window. He’s deep in concentration—our exam is in only one week and I know he wants to get an A because he’s told me about a hundred times. I walk over to the desk next to him and take a seat. “Hi,” I say.
He raises his head briefly and smiles at me.
I pull my anatomy text out of my overstuffed bag. It’s got my three failing tests sticking out of it really conspicuously. I put the book down on the desk and wait for Graham to notice.
Okay, he’s not noticing.
I pick up the book and drop it back down with a loud “thump.” Graham looks up for a second, seems mildly irritated, but then goes back to his studying.
One thing I have to say about Graham is that he’s very, very focused.
I pull the quizzes out of the book. I flip through them rather loudly. He’s still not looking at me. Finally, I drop them on the floor right in front of him.
Nothing he could do to avoid this now. He sighs loudly, then bends down to pick them up. As he reaches for the tests, I can see the look on his face. He gets it. Finally.
“Chloe,” he says a little too loudly, “I didn’t know you were failing anatomy.”
There are two other people in the room. They definitely heard him. I should have planned this out better. “Um, well,” I say. “I still think I might do okay on the midterm.”
He looks down at my tests and shakes his head. “I doubt it. You really bombed these. You’ve got a lot of work to do.”
“Yeah, I know,” I say. I sit there, waiting. Chloe, I’m going to help you! We can do this together!
He shakes his head again. “Well, good luck with that.”
He hands the tests back to me. I’m stunned. Okay, maybe I was expecting too much. But he didn’t even show any sympathy. He basically just told me I was screwed and that was it. Clearly my boyfriend is a bigger jerk than Elizabeth’s boyfriend was.
I’m pissed off. But more than that, I’m scared. Our first anatomy exam is in one week. I just failed three quizzes in a row. Graham’s right: I’m in big trouble. I was hoping for some kind of miracle, but now it’s become clear to me that the miracle isn’t going to happen.
I stuff my failed exams back into my bag and run out of the room before I can start crying. I hit the button to call for the elevator. I’ve got to get out of here.
When I see Noel in the elevator, my heart sinks. I want to be alone. I don’t want to have to try to keep from crying through the duration of an elevator ride. But there isn’t much I can do so I step inside. He asks me where I want to go and I tell him the lobby. I’m going home.
I let my heavy bag fall to the floor, and as I do, my failed exams fall out. All three of them. You can clearly see the failing grades circled in red. I see Noel looking down at the test papers, his eyes widening. Great, now even the elevator guy knows I’m flunking anatomy. There’s no end to the depths of my humiliation.
“Chloe,” he says in a baffled voice. “You’re failing?”
I don’t say anything. I don’t trust myself to talk. I scoop up my exam papers from the floor and stuff them back into my bag. As I’m standing back up, I feel Noel’s hand on my arm. “Wait,” he says. “When is your midterm?”
“It’s in a week,” I say. I look away. “What do you care?”
“Let me help you,” he says.
What? Am I on crazy pills? The guy who operates the elevator wants to help me pass my anatomy exam?
He presses the button for the fourth floor. That’s where the library is. I watch as he grabs the cane he has behind his stool and shoos me out of the elevator. I follow him because… well, I’m curious. I can’t even imagine how the elevator guy is going to help me pass my anatomy exam. He can’t, that’s how. Part of me is scared that I’m about to figure out that Noel is a lot more mentally challenged than I gave him credit for.
This is the first time I’ve seen Noel walk any appreciable distance before, and he has a very pronounced limp. It’s pretty bad. He’s relying really heavily on his cane and don’t think he’d be able to walk at all without it. He seems to have difficulty bending his right knee or something, and when we walk into the library, he grabs the doorway for a second to steady himself.
I’m surprised how familiar Noel seems with the layout of the library. He passes the front desk and the stacks of books to the back, where the computer lab is. “Sit,” he instructs me, pointing at a computer. He sits down next to me by grabbing the computer desk for support and falling into the chair somewhat ungracefully. “Log in to the computer.”
I log in, eying him suspiciously the whole time. Noel instructs me to go to the school’s anatomy course website. I shake my head, “There’s no course website.”
“Are you kidding me?” Noel says, and for a second, he sounds a lot like Graham. It’s a little disturbing. Before I can’t dwell on it, he leans over me and starts pecking at keys with his left hand. And what do you know… there really is a website for our anatomy class. How did I manage to miss that?
“Okay,” he says, “now click where it says ‘old exams.’”
Sure enough, there’s a link on the screen that says “old exams.” When I click, there’s a wealth of old exam questions from the last decade. I click on last year’s midterm and immediately recognize two of the questions from one of the quizzes. I want to smack myself in the head for not knowing about this sooner.
“There’s a lot of material to learn in anatomy,” Noel says. “These exams will help you to know where to focus. Look up the answers to these questions and I guarantee you’ll pass the midterm. You may not get honors, but you’ll pass.”
He leans back in his chair, looking satisfied.
“Um,” I say. There’s an unspoken question in the air and we both know it. I don’t think I can leave here without asking. “How do you know about all this?”
He hesitates and fiddles with the handle of his cane. “Well, I’ve worked her a while. I hear students talk about the old exams. I figured I should, you know, pass on the tip.”
I look back at the computer. Something about this story seems incredibly fishy. For example, it doesn’t explain how he typed in the URL of the anatomy course website from memory. But I can’t think of any other explanation that makes sense, other than maybe he’s secretly been stalking med students. He doesn’t seem like a stalker though. “Thank you,” I say anyway.
“You’re welcome,” he says. He smiles. “It’s my mission to make sure you get out of this place in one piece.”
Huh. His mission? Where have I heard that before?
“Don’t worry,” he says. “You’re going to do fine on the test. I promise. Just study the questions.”
So I guess Noel and I are still friends. And as for Graham and I… well, we’ll see. I guess it’s not his job to be my anatomy tutor. Still, it would have been nice if he had surprised me for a change, instead of being… well, Graham.
Noel’s Memory Book
I discovered Liz’s failing midterm grade by accident. I was searching for a paperclip on her desk while she was in the bathroom and I found the test shoved in between her anatomy notes. Was I snooping? Maybe a little. I had noticed Liz was depressed lately and I wanted to know why.
I was never about subtlety, so I confronted her about the grade the second she came back into the room. “Why didn’t you tell me you’re failing?” I asked her.
Her eyes got that wet look that always made me melt. I was always a sucker for Liz crying. “Why? So you could lose all respect for me just like Dr. Conrad?”
“Over a grade?” I was baffled. “You think I’d lose respect for you over a grade?”
Liz just shook her head.
“Liz, let me help you,” I said.
“Forget it,” she muttered. “The last thing I want is for you to feel like you have to be my tutor.”
“I don’t feel that way,” I insisted. “I just want you to do well because… I love you.”
It was the first time I’d ever told Liz I loved her. We hadn’t been together that long, but I felt it at that moment. I loved her. More than I ever imagined I could love another person. I don’t know why exactly. There was just something about Liz, some inexplicable quality that drew me to her. I loved her.
I had been hoping she’d say it back, but she didn’t. She did later, of course. About a week later, when a studying session converted into a makeout session. But at that moment, she didn’t tell me she loved me. I guess I felt it first.
Nobody needs to tell me that Chloe doesn’t love me. I’m not an idiot. I don’t love her either, but there’s something about her too. Something that tells me that she’s the sort of person that I could love. I doubt we’d ever get to that point though. Not with her asshole boyfriend hanging around.
But none of that is the reason I helped Chloe for her midterm. I helped her because it was the right thing to do and I could. As a doctor, especially a surgeon, the instinct to help a person in distress is almost overwhelming. And clearly Chloe is a person in distress.
I can’t even imagine what she thought of me knowing all that stuff about anatomy. I know she didn’t believe my story about “overhearing” med students talking about it. She’s not an idiot either. But at the same time, there’s no way she’d guess the truth.