Cody was flipping through her notes when Ann arrived for rounds the next morning. She flashed Ann a bright smile. “Good news,” Cody said, “we’ve got a paracentesis for you to do.”
A paracentesis involved draining fluid from a patient’s abdomen with a needle. Ann had read about the procedure, but never seen it before. The idea of any sort of procedure got Ann very excited. “Are we doing it now?” she asked.
Cody laughed. “Calm down, Ann. We have to wait for Dr. Dergan to come and supervise.”
That just served to heighten her excitement. Ann imagined Joel’s hand guiding her as she did the procedure. Even if he wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue their relationship, he couldn’t deny there was sexual tension between them.
Joel wheeled up to them a few minutes later. Despite their late night together, he looked great today. He had on a fresh-pressed blue shirt and his brown tie brought out his eyes. She eyed his tan slacks and admired the way they creased over his thin legs. He looked up at the two girls. “All right, you up for tapping Mr. Johnson’s belly?”
Ann noticed that Joel was avoiding eye contact with her. “Definitely,” she said.
“Cody, are you signed off yet on paracentesis?” Joel asked her.
“Not yet,” Cody said. “I only need to do two more.”
“Fine, then you’re going to do the tap.”
Ann felt her face fall. She couldn’t believe that Joel was handing a procedure over to Cody when he surely knew how badly she wanted to do it herself.
“I don’t mind if Ann does it,” Cody said quickly.
“The sooner you get signed off, the sooner you can supervise by yourself,” Joel said with a shrug. “I can’t be around to watch every tap.”
There was no point in arguing—Joel had already made up his mind. Ann nodded and tried to console herself that there would be plenty more procedures in her lifetime. Joel barely even glanced at her as spoke: “Ann, why don’t you collect the supplies for the tap? We need a red top tube, a purple top tube, a 25 gage needle, a… are you writing this down?”
Ann blushed and pulled out a blank sheet of paper. “Okay, sorry,” she mumbled.
Joel gave her a look, “Cody, why don’t you help Ann get the supplies she needs? I’d like to get the tap down sometime this week. She can’t carry it all anyway.”
Ann knew her face was bright red. She couldn’t believe Joel had said that to her. He hadn’t said anything that mean to her in a long time. Clearly, it had something to do with last night.
Cody’s pager went off and she hurried off to answer it, leaving the two of them alone. Ann just stood awkwardly, not sure what to say. Joel looked up at her and sighed, “I’ll help you get the supplies, Ann. Let’s go.”
They went to the clean supply room together, and Joel didn’t say anything else. When they were inside the room, he pointed out the supplies they needed. Most of what they needed was too high for him to reach and Ann herself was just barely tall enough when she stood on her toes and stretched. She handed him the packages of syringes and needles and he placed them in his lap.
Finally, she couldn’t take it any longer. “Are you angry at me?” she asked him.
“What?” he raised his eyebrows. “Why do you think I’m angry at you?”
“You’re not letting me do the paracentesis,” she pointed out.
“I explained, didn’t I? Cody has to get signed off.” He shrugged. “Anyway, you haven’t even seen one yet. Watch one, do one, teach one. You have to watch one first.”
“You yelled at me,” she added.
Joel sighed. “Honestly, Ann. I’m not mad at you. I’m just… preoccupied.”
“Just… work stuff. Nothing to do with you.”
Joel grabbed Ann’s hand and gave it a weak squeeze. “I swear, okay? Now let’s get out of here before Cody starts getting ideas.”
Just the touch of Joel’s palm against hers made her whole body tingle. There was increasing number of signs that she was falling in love with Joel Dergan. Too bad there wasn’t anything she could do about it.
Joel arrived at the hospital a good twenty minutes before the time he had agreed to meet Kyra. He knew this was a stupid thing to do, considering Kyra would undoubtedly be held over in a surgery and wind up keeping him waiting a long time. But one thing he remembered about Kyra was that she liked promptness.
Why are you still trying to impress her?
Strange how all these years later, he still felt a need to impress Kyra like he did back when they were residents. Something about her brought it out in him. He wanted to prove to her he wasn’t a mess just because he was in a wheelchair now.
The surgery wing of the hospital had a distinct smell to it that Joel identified as some combination of sterile alcohol and latex. He felt a rush of déjà vu as he saw people brushing past him in scrubs and facemasks. He felt inadequate in his suit from work and the guest label on his shirt. He missed this place. He missed the feel of his hand holding a scalpel. He couldn’t even really remember how that felt anymore, even when he tried… the memory of that tactile sensation had left him.
He lingered at the entrance to the OR a little longer than he needed to, considering Kyra’s office was down the hall. He hesitated when he saw two young men come through the heavy double doors, wearing surgery caps and green scrubs. He could tell from one look at them that they were surgery residents. They had that perfect mix of arrogance and exhaustion on their faces.
“Next time I’m going to walk out on her, I swear to fucking god,” one of them said. “I can’t stand another minute of her bullshit.”
“Relax,” the other said, “is she really worth it?”
“She needs to be fired,” the first said. “She’s easily the worst surgeon in the hospital, even if she didn’t treat the residents like crap.”
“What she needs,” the second said, “is to get laid.”
The two residents laughed and Joel found himself unable to suppress a smile. He remembered expressing similar sentiments about cranky female surgeons. Not much had changed in six years. Surgery was still a boys’ club.
“Yeah, but who’d want to fuck Dr. Manning?” the first countered.
Joel nearly choked. Even though he should have realized that Kyra was one of the few female surgeons in the hospital, he hadn’t been even remotely aware that they were talking about her. He couldn’t imagine how anyone could say that about Kyra—not just the part about her being a bad surgeon, but especially the part about “who’d want to fuck Dr. Manning.” Kyra used to be at the top of every resident’s list of girls they’d like to bone. How could she have changed so much in six years?
Before he had a chance to wonder, he saw a trim figure in scrubs breeze through the double doors. Even with a cap covering her blonde hair, Joel recognized Kyra’s face instantly. But god, she had aged. There were permanent bags under her eyes and she looked like she hadn’t slept in the last two years.
“Aren’t you on call, Stephen?” Kyra challenged one of the two residents. “Why aren’t you assisting on the lap chole in six? Dr. Winslow is in there all alone.”
“I was just getting a drink of water—” the young resident protested.
Joel winced instinctively as he saw Kyra’s eyes flash. “If you want your residency contract renewed next year,” she began, “you better get your ass in there right now.”
The resident’s eyes took on a resigned look and he marched back into the OR. Kyra sighed and pulled off her cap, shaking out her blonde hair, which was darker than he remembered. He knew that he himself had some gray laced into his hair now, but Kyra was way ahead of him.
He was so busy looking at her that he hadn’t even noticed she was staring at him. He straightened up in his wheelchair and tried to smile. “Kyra,” he said. “Hi.”
As Kyra smiled, he could see the fine wrinkles around her eyes that hadn’t been there before. “My god, you look so different!” she mused.
“I do?” He had been so focused on looking at her that he hadn’t thought about how he must look to her.
“Well, sort of…” She laughed. “I’m not used to seeing you in a…”
“Yeah…” He was grateful she didn’t complete the thought. “You look…”
“I look like shit,” she said. “Working hundred-hour weeks will do that to you.”
“You don’t look like shit,” Joel said. He meant it. As tired and worn out as she looked, there was still something extremely alluring about Kyra. When she stood in front of those two residents, clad in scrubs, hands on hips, eyes flashing, there was nobody in the world who was sexier. Yes, she had always been sexy, but the power she commanded now worked on him like an aphrodisiac.
She smiled again. “Well, why don’t we go to my office?”
He followed her down the hall to her office. He had forgotten how tall she was, how she had been the first girl he had ever dated who was tall enough to look directly in his eyes. As he heard the click of her shoes on the ground, he recalled that she was also the only resident who wore heels into surgery. She knew height gave her an edge.
As Kyra was unlocking the door to her office, Joel noticed that the word “cunt” was etched into her door. It was written so low down, he wondered if she had even noticed it. He decided not to bring it up.
Kyra collapsed into a chair in front of her desk and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. She lit one and took a deep drag. Joel stared at her. “You smoke?”
“I’ve been in surgery for seven hours straight, Joel, give me a fucking break,” she said.
“You know, the residents really hate you,” he said. He wasn’t sure why he said it, except that she had been digging at him since the first time they had talked and he wanted a chance to get back at her.
To his surprise, Kyra laughed. “No fucking kidding. They despise me, because I give them hell when they fuck up. Which they do all the fucking time. Like you don’t do the same thing to your residents, I’m sure.”
She had him there, although he tried to kid himself that he gave the residents a hard time for their own good. He was pretty sure they didn’t hate him, although he wasn’t absolutely positive. He remembered how he had made Ann burst into tears that first day. “They think you need to get laid,” he added.
Kyra crossed her arms. “Yeah, typical. Anytime there’s a woman who speaks up for herself, she needs to get laid. Am I right, Joel?”
“I didn’t say it, they did,” he pointed out. “How is Paul, anyway?”
“Beats the hell out of me,” she said. “I haven’t seen him in months.”
He felt his heart quicken. Did that mean that Kyra was… available? “You got a divorce?”
“So it would seem.” She raised a light brown eyebrow at him. “It was over before it even began. Surprised?”
“Yeah, kind of. I thought you’d have a couple of kids by now and a house out in Connecticut.” He wouldn’t have thought it would happen to Kyra, but he could see she was a woman who was obsessed with her work. No room for marriage or relationships in there.
There were times in the last six years when Joel had selfishly hoped that Kyra’s marriage would crash and burn, yet the emotions he felt right now were far from the bitter pleasure he thought he’d take in such a situation. All he could think about was the fact that the sexy, powerful woman sitting across from him was single and so was he.
Don’t kid yourself, Dergan. She didn’t want you six years ago and she sure as hell doesn’t want you now.
“So we were going to grab some dinner, weren’t we?” Kyra said, adeptly changing the subject. “Do you know any places in the area that are accessible?”
“Do you need help eating?” she asked.
Joel felt his face burn, although he recalled that she had watched nurses having to feed him during that first month after he was injured. It had taken him a long time to get to the point where he could eat without any assistive devices whatsoever. However, the question served as a reminder that he had been insane for thinking even for a second that there could ever be anything between them again. At best, they were two old acquaintances catching up. “I’ll be fine,” he said tightly.
“Great, I know a place,” Kyra said, stubbing her cigarette out on the heel of her shoe and tossing it in the trash. It seemed like a fire hazard to throw cigarettes in the same garbage where all her papers went, but she seemed completely unconcerned. “Let’s go.”
my god, he’s still so sexy.
Ever since Kyra first heard from Joel on the phone, she knew she had to see him again. Just hearing his voice again flooded her head with memories of the best relationship of her life. She remembered how much she had wanted him and how that feeling had never completely faded.
Part of her had been scared of what she might see. She was afraid he’d appear badly crippled and she’d feel awkward around him. After all, the last time she had seen him, his muscles had only first started to atrophy and he had been so dependent on others for everything. She was worried he’d be in some bulky electric wheelchair or have some assistant by his side to feed him. But it turned out she had been worrying for nothing.
When they first met over eight years ago, Kyra had been immediately drawn to Joel. There was something about his command and his confidence in his work that was extremely sexy. He was very good looking too, although not in an obvious way—as confident as he was about his work, he never thought himself to be any great ladies man. His looks hadn’t changed, except for a couple of new wrinkles, a few gray hairs, and some extra wisdom in his eyes. It only enhanced the appeal he had back when they were residents.
Okay, Joel didn’t have the body he did six years ago. He was bound to a wheelchair and it was a little strange the way his legs bounced with every crack in the floor as he wheeled himself down the hallway to her office. And that gut… that was definitely nowhere to be seen six years ago, despite the fact that Joel was never one to put in his dues at the gym. But there was something sort of sexy about even that.
I wonder if he can still fuck.
Lord, I hope so.
Kyra excused herself to the ladies room before leaving to go to dinner with Joel. She slipped out of her green scrubs and put on the skirt and blouse she had worn this morning. As she tucked in her white shirt, she stared critically at her reflection in the mirror. She was way too thin and she hated the way her blouse hung loose on her bony frame. She used to have a killer bod but now she was bordering on gaunt.
Kyra thumbed through her purse, searching for some make-up. She had known she was meeting Joel, but it was impossible to get a good night’s sleep these days. She applied some concealer in an attempt to hide the circles under her eyes, but it was sort of hopeless. There was nothing she could do to herself in the next five minutes that was going to turn her into the sexy girl that Joel couldn’t keep his hands off of six years ago.
The restaurant Kyra picked was a large establishment that seemed likely to have a ramp and other appropriate accommodations for wheelchair-using patrons. She knew that Joel preferred smaller, more private places, but she guessed a lot of those restaurants were hard for him to get around in now. Besides, he just liked the small places so he could get her into a dark corner and kiss her while they waited for their food.
Once they were seated inside the restaurant, Joel didn’t even pick up his menu. He just stared at Kyra. Of course, that was nothing new—she had first figured out he was into her six years ago when she caught him staring at her in a noon lecture. But the look in his eyes wasn’t lust anymore and it made her uncomfortable. She lit up a cigarette. “What are you looking at?” she asked.
“Can you not smoke?” he asked her irritably.
“No,” she said and blew a cloud of smoke into his face. He coughed, then cleared his throat. “Now tell me what’s so fucking fascinating, Dergan.”
“I was just thinking,” Joel mused. “How in every program there’s always some asshole surgeon who gives everyone a hard time and everyone just hates…”
“I’ll drink to that,” Kyra said with a wink.
“But the fact of the matter is,” he went on, “you couldn’t hate him completely, because he was so goddamn brilliant.” He shook his head and she raised an eyebrow at him. “I always thought I’d be that asshole surgeon. But instead, it’s you.”
Kyra couldn’t help but laugh. “Please, Joel. Is that honestly what you think?”
He frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“Those surgeons aren’t assholes because they’re so brilliant,” she said. “They’re assholes because they’re trying to compensate for what they don’t know. You’d never have been that way. You were too damn good.”
“So you’re trying to compensate?”
She hated the way he had trapped her like that. He was still so much smarter than she was. “What do you want me to say? That I’ll never be as good as you could have been?”
Joel shook his head at her. “Kyra, how could you leave a towel in that patient’s abdomen? How could you do that?”
“Don’t you dare place the blame on me,” Kyra retorted. “The nurse is the one who’s supposed to do an instrument count—”
“A towel, Kyra,” Joel said. “You left a whole towel in there. Not a tiny cotton ball. A towel.”
“And you’ve never made a mistake in your whole goddamn life, I guess.”
As she looked back into Joel’s light brown eyes, she saw something there that she had never seen before. Oh my god, he hates me! Maybe Joel himself wasn’t even aware of it, but the resentment was plain on his face. He was still pissed off about the hand he had been dealt. She was living his dream and he couldn’t fucking stand it. “Let’s just order, okay?” he said.
She watched the way he opened the menu. He carefully slid all his fingers under the cover and used them as a lever to open it to the first page. She tried not to think about how many lives those hands had saved. When she thought about it, she felt tears rising to her eyes. She began to remember the way Joel used to be, his absolute confidence, the way he came in and saved that patient the night he was injured. She had felt sick when she found out that he’d never be able to operate again and that he’d be stuck in a wheelchair the rest of his life.
“Kyra, are you okay?” Joel asked. All the resentment was gone from his face and there was a crease between his brows.
“Nothing, I just…” She tried to smile, but she knew it came out crooked. “Just was thinking about when we used to be a couple. It seems like a million years ago.” It seemed like a million years ago, but Kyra could still taste Joel’s lips on hers, feel the heat of his body against her. “Do you ever think about it?”
“I guess,” he mumbled, not looking her in the eyes.
“I kind of thought you were…” she hesitated, wondering if she should say what she was thinking. “I thought you were going to ask me to move in with you.”
“Not quite,” Joel snorted, shaking his head. Kyra felt her face turning pink. She straightened up in her seat and folded her arms across her chest. “I was going to ask you to marry me,” he said.
She stared at him.
“Well, I can see how that would have gone,” he said, shaking his head. “You know how it is… young and stupid. Anyway, you replaced me pretty quick.”
He wasn’t wrong. Kyra had started dating Paul only six months after Joel was injured. She was looking for comfort and she took it where she could get it. “I never replaced you,” she said.
Their eyes met and Kyra felt a strange warmth go through her. It was nice to be sitting with Joel again. She had forgotten the way he made her feel. She felt a suddenly urge to take his hand across the table but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She wished she could play footsie with him, but she knew he wouldn’t be able to feel it.
As she was watching him, she saw his face suddenly go white. “Oh shit,” he murmured.
“What?” she said.
She turned around and saw that there were two girls standing behind her. One was a very attractive blonde and the other was a tiny pixie-like brunette. “Dr. Dergan,” the brunette spoke up. “Um… hi.”
“Hi, Ann,” he said. He flashed an awkward grin at Kyra, “Ann is a medical student on my service at the hospital.”
The girl, Ann, had her eyes lowered as she gestured at the attractive blonde. “This is, um, Lori… my roommate.”
“Nice to meet you, Lori,” Joel said. Kyra couldn’t help but feel relieved that he didn’t already know the blonde. She knew what his “type” was. Lori looked similar to the way Kyra used to look ten years earlier.
Lori seemed to be shooting daggers with her eyes. “Actually, we already met, Dr. Dergan. You were supposed to let me shadow you last year.”
“Oh,” Joel said, frowning in confusion, “I don’t really remember…”
Lori crossed her arms. “Maybe that’s because you completely ignored me, except when you were quizzing me about minutia. It was probably one of the worst experiences of my life.”
Kyra couldn’t honestly say she knew why this girl was so pissed off, but she seemed bent on humiliating Joel in public. Lori went on, “I mean, isn’t it your job to be helping med students? Someone should find out about your behavior… you’d get fired.”
Joel was staring at the girl, looking a lot more nervous than he should have been. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.
Lori snorted. “I’m sure you are. Let’s go, Ann.”
Kyra noticed how Joel’s eyes avoided hers. She frowned at him, “What the fuck was that all about, Joel?”
He shook his head. “Nothing…”
A thought occurred to Kyra. “You’re not… embarrassed to be here with me, are you?”
“Embarrassed to be here with you?” Joel looked genuinely confused. “What are you talking about?”
Strange how a thought like that never would have crossed her mind back in the days when she and Joel first started dating. Although she was still relatively young, she no longer thought of herself as attractive and she didn’t receive nearly the same attention as she used to from the opposite sex. She wondered how Joel saw her.
“Never mind,” Kyra said.
She had a flashback to six years earlier, when she had peered across the surgical field and saw Joel’s eyes staring at her from above his mask. Nurse, can I have some 5-0 nylon?
Do you want to close him up Kyra?
No, you go ahead, Joel. You’re faster.
Yeah, but I like to watch you.
Joel sutured faster than anyone she’d ever seen, including the attendings. He never slipped, never wavered. Fuck, I can’t believe he wanted to marry me.
Their food arrived and Kyra watched the way Joel used his hands to eat. She remembered how when he had first been injured, he wasn’t coordinated enough to feed himself. Look at me, he had muttered, I may as well check myself into a nursing home. Now he was able to eat without even using the special braces he had been told he’d need. She watched how he held the fork between his thumb and palm, being careful not to put too much food on the utensil. She barely touched her own food.
“I miss my old metabolism,” Joel sighed, laying down his fork before finishing all the food on his plate. She didn’t know what he was talking about—save for his gut, he seemed like he was in great shape. He looked over at Kyra’s barely touched pasta primavera. “Do you still eat, Kyra?”
“No, I just smoke and operate,” she replied.
“And have sex?”
Kyra’s first instinct was to be offended by his bold question. Then she remembered that this was a man that she had fantastic sex with on a daily basis way back when. “Not lately.”
“As I recall, that used to be one of the things you couldn’t live without,” he mused.
Kyra was dying to ask him about his own sex life, but she was afraid. She had worked up the nerve to ask his doctor six years ago, who had said that there was a decent possibility that Joel wouldn’t be able to get it up anymore, at least not enough to have sex. It seemed tragic that the man who gave her the best orgasm of her life might be impotent. She wondered if he still needed diapers like he did back then; she knew that due to his complete loss of sensation, he’d never be able to tell when he had to go to the bathroom. That bulky padding under his sweatpants was yet another topic she had avoided.
“You learn to live without it,” Kyra said. She studied his eyes, “Don’t you?”
“Yeah, you sure do,” he muttered.
When the waiter laid the check down in front of them, Joel grabbed for it with surprising agility. “I’ll pay,” he said.
“We should at least split it,” Kyra said.
“Not a chance.”
“Come on, I make more money than you do,” she pointed out.
“You’re not paying, Kyra,” he said firmly. “I never let you pay.”
It was true—even when they were both poor residents, he always shrugged off her efforts to go Dutch. He liked being able to pay for her, to take care of her.
He wanted to marry me…
After Joel had paid the check, he pushed himself away from the table, “Well, it was good seeing you again, Kyra.” He didn’t meet her eyes when he said it.
She bit her lip, unable to say what she really wanted. She wanted to ask him if she could see him again. No, actually, she wanted to ask him if he’d like to come over to her apartment. She hadn’t had sex with anyone since Paul. She wanted Joel worse right now than she ever had before in their entire relationship. But it was clear that he no longer felt that way about her.
“It was good seeing you too, Joel,” she said.
Ann waited until she was inside Lori’s car before she allowed the tears to start flowing. She turned to the window, trying to hide her face from her roommate, but she couldn’t suppress a few choked sobs. She wiped her eyes self-consciously as Lori looked over at her. “I can’t believe you’re crying over that fucker,” Lori said.
“I’m not crying,” Ann said, sniffling loudly.
“You should report him,” Lori said. “He raped you.”
“He didn’t rape me,” Ann protested. “I wanted it as much as he did. Anyway, we didn’t even have sex. We just fooled around a little bit and… and he held me.” Ann lowered her eyes.
“Oh god,” Lori muttered. “You’re in love with him. That’s just fantastic.”
“I’m not in love with him.”
“You so are! Look at you—you’re a wreck!”
As much as she hated to admit it, Lori was right. She was completely in love with Joel Dergan, her attending. She couldn’t stop thinking about that woman that Joel had been sitting with. Was that a date? She saw the way that woman was looking at him as well as the guilt on Joel’s face and she knew it wasn’t entirely innocent.
“Do you think he was on a date with that woman?” Ann asked Lori.
“Yes,” Lori replied without hesitation. “Look Ann, he’s not interested in you. Just face it. Either turn him in or move on.”
Ann wished it were that easy.
To be continued...