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She was tired. He could see it in every part of her. Not just a physical exhaustion, which was to be expected for weeks after a big procedure and throughout a cancer patients’ care. He saw the fatigue had spread through everything. Her hair, which he could faintly recall being a silky, thick ebony upon their first encounters, had faded to a dull, inky shade. Her skin, porcelain and rare even for a Washingtonian who barely saw the sun, was tainted with an undertone of green. Those pretty eyes were robbed of their luster. It was no question that he still found her beautiful. Even with all those factors wearing away at her appearance, taking a girl who was sick from the start and somehow making her look even sicker, he found himself lost in how pretty she was. Ben always followed a pretty standard pattern when it came to being attracted to a woman. Him, and basically every other native Bostonian male in the past fifty years, had found those tall, thin, dark-tanned beach girls sexy. This was probably explained by the fact that, for half the year, Boston was covered in overcast skies and dreadful, subzero weather. It was almost instinct for these guys to chase after girls that were rare to the places they were from; there was nothing better than a girl who soaked up the sun and ran around in bikini tops and daisy-dukes that showed off their asses. By that equation, Alaina shouldn’t have been someone he couldn’t stop himself from looking at. She was shorter, pale, fragile, like she hadn’t seen the sun in ten years. But it was like this unorthodox definition of beauty, not at all what he’d imagined for himself, was what made the attraction all the stronger. Add that fact to another important thing that her appearances said about her — that she was damaged. She was damaged now, because some cruel higher power decided to give her cancer, and she was damaged before because by some other stroke of luck, life had left her without a mother and with a wholly unsuitable father. But that was okay, because he was damaged, too. And if he added that all together in his head now, it didn’t matter if it didn’t add up. His heart thumping in his chest and reverberating in his eardrums every time he even looked at her verified to him a very strong and irrefutable conclusion: that she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen.
He’d readjusted the dosage input on the machine that automatically distributed the painkillers. It luckily had a keypad entry for his hospital ID number and a passcode to verify the chance, so patients couldn’t just reach over and give themselves a lethal dose whenever they decided they wanted to end it all. It wasn’t an all too surprising request in the ICU anyway. A lot of people wanted to die here rather than continue a slower, more painful demise. He readjusted the blanket that was slipping past her lap and tried his best to make her comfortable. For a minute, he thought about feeling sorry for her, but he brushed that idea off as soon as it had come. Alaina didn’t need pity. Everyone gave her pity. The nurses pitied her, the OR techs had pitied her, the radiologist pitied her. If she had any decent family to come visit her, surely they’d pity her, too. But if there was something he’d learned over the past several months of living with something pitiable — in this case his depression in the eyes of his girlfriend, his mom, his sister, everyone else he worked with — it was that pity was something designed to help the pitier feel more human and sympathetic. It didn’t offer anything to the person in question except guilt, grief, and self-loathing. Alaina had plenty of people pitying her, but no one offered her something better. He didn’t know if there was anything better to offer, to be honest. He didn’t know until the biopsy would tell them more. Was there anything else waiting for her besides sitting in the hospital all day awaiting death? Was there a chance at remission? He knew that right then, he couldn’t offer a lot, because every instinct he had as a doctor in a high-risk field told him not to make patients false promises. But he had to give her something. That’s why he told her she’d be okay, and said it with surety. At least, he thought to himself, he would try his best to work for that outcome.
He was sitting back in the armchair again, watching as the medicine seeped through her and made her eyes fall half-closed. She’d be asleep soon. The drugs would make sure of that. Part of him felt sorry for that. He had surprisingly liked talking with her. It made him calm. Happy even. But he felt selfish for thinking that, knowing that it was better for her to sleep now if the pain was getting worse. At least if she was sleeping, she wouldn’t be in pain. But he still asked his question to her, half expecting not to get a response out of her. But, even as she drifted off, she mentioned a surprisingly simple response. He’d expected that she’d give him some specific place, somewhere complicated to get to or entirely too expensive for her to have ever considered before with seriousness.
But snow? The answer was so simple, it almost made him want to laugh. But he didn’t laugh. He gave her a small smile with closed lips, a feeling of relief flowing over him as he realized he’d learned something else about the girl he was so unquestionably taken with but still knew so little about. So she liked snow. Okay, he could work with that. Seattle and its surrounding areas didn’t really get snow so much. Despite how far north it was in the U.S., it barely did little aside from sleet in the coldest months and that was no fun for anyone. It probably hadn’t had a decent snow here in, what, five years? ten years? He remembered seeing Seattle featured on the news once when he was in school somewhere as one of the places affected by a huge snowstorm sweeping the West, but that had been a while. He himself didn’t really mind snow, but he didn’t find himself wishing to have it back either. Flashbacks to bus delays, buried cars, walking icy city blocks to high school surrounded by piles as tall as he was back home in Boston made him not miss the snow so much here. It was fun for a day, but when it stuck around for months and months, the idea of snow started to lose its appeal. As he looked over to her, he could start to imagine what it would be like to see Alaina White surrounded in snow. Her blue eyes bright again as she looked up to see it falling, her white skin bundled up in a coat and scarf. Her smile beaming as she looked around her at evergreens and mountains. Even if he weren’t so keen on snow himself, the picture that he’d created in his head made him smile.
Then, she added something he didn’t expect. She wanted him to pull the DNR. He felt a weight pull off of his chest. It was more than her giving him permission to revive her if she started tanking. It was the fact that she had restored her trust in him to do right by her. A renewed hope of getting through all of this in one piece. He gave her a nod, trying to conceal his approval and to look as unbiased and professional as possible. Her eyelids seemed weighted, even though he knew she was trying to keep an effort to stay awake for him. With a small sigh, he reached out his hand to rest on her forearm, trying his best not to jostle the IVs in her hand or her elbow. “It’s okay, get some sleep.”
It wasn’t long before she’d fallen asleep. She looked at least a little bit more at ease, resting on her side and her hair falling back on the pillow under her. He checked his watch. Only about an hour had passed and it was now just past nine at night. He could still go home and get a full night of sleep. He did have some long cases today and he was pretty wiped. Then he reminded himself that he had promised to stay with her. He didn’t really consider what he’d do once she’d fallen asleep. Surely, if she was asleep, she wouldn’t miss him. But what if she woke up again and she was still in pain and he was just gone? He looked over her as she slept soundly and decided that he could at least stay a little longer, just to make sure she’d settled in. In the meantime, he opened his bag next to him and pulled out his iPad, logged in to the hospital’s virtual library and read through a few medical journal articles that were on his flagged list. It was a normal go-to activity for him when things slowed down. Nothing too fun, really; not like how some other attendings would go out golfing or sailing. But it was a way that he, despite the gap in age between them and him, could stay on top of his surgical game. He read through maybe twenty new published articles on trauma and emergent medicine each week, learning up on new approaches, techniques, and findings that he could integrate into his own knowledge base. Then, at some point, he’d practice it in the skills lab before actually doing it on a patient. Tonight, he had a few to catch up on — one on spinal injury realignments, one on chest tube positioning, a few others that weren’t that interesting. Then he spent some time looking up recent articles on laparoscopic surgery, abdominal masses, and biopsy approaches. Not like he had to. Residents hardly needed to study how to do a biopsy more than once. They were easy procedures. He could do one with his left hand and his eyes closed. But again, that same nervousness that came upon him when he approached the girl’s first surgery was hitting him again; it wasn’t the surgery that made him nervous, it was the fact that it was her surgery. Even with her DNR revoked, he didn’t like even considering that something could go wrong. He had to remind himself again that it was a biopsy. Simpler than taking out tonsils or an appendix. It was an hour-long procedure tops. Nothing would go wrong, even though she was fragile to start with. He found himself then contemplating the risks of putting her under anesthesia in her state, leaving her with another scar, and of course … what results they would actually find once the biopsy was finished.
He finally closed out of the library tap on his browser, wiping his face with his hand. He had to get himself together. He knew what to do and how to do it expertly. He didn’t need to obsess over the steps. Instead, he pulled up Google and found himself looking for places with the best snow resorts. Of course, he was just doing it to satisfy his imagination. He could take her to Iceland, Norway, Japan, Switzerland, Nepal. But what if her treatments made her too sick, or her condition just worsened until she couldn’t even get out of bed any more? Right, it was just wishful thinking. At best, probably, he could drive her up to the mountains around Snoqualmie Pass fifty miles east from Seattle and let her see the snow there. It wasn’t very exotic, but it was nice and it was reasonable. He checked his watch again. Midnight. It was easy for him to lose time when he was reading up on medicine. Three hours gone in the blink of an eye. But every time he looked up to check on her, she still seemed to be sleeping soundly. He liked looking at her like this. She was peaceful, still. It put him at ease. He hesitated to bring himself to finally leave, knowing now that she was probably going to be asleep for the rest of the night until the nurses came in at 6 a.m. to start checking her daily vitals. Furthermore, the next time he saw her, probably around noon or so during his ICU rounds, he’d have to change the subject to cutting her open the next day and all the risks and discomfort associated with it. He wanted to stay just a minute longer, lingering on the look of her sweet and unbothered face, her rosy lips, her dark brow unfurrowed and peaceful. But he finally got himself to get up and sling his bag over his shoulder. His shift on-call for the E.R. started at 5:30 in the morning. There wasn’t much use going home. But he did finally reason to himself that he should go to the attendings’ on-call suite and get some sleep to recharge with. Before he left, he silently approached her and tipped her shoulders so he could gently lay her onto her back again. He luckily didn’t wake her, but at least he knew she’d be in less pain this way when she woke up in the morning. She was straining her old incisions by being on her side like that, but he didn’t want to stop her earlier because he was trying to not be her overbearing doctor for once.
He got about three hours of shut eye. The rest of the time, he spent lying awake, in a white under-tee and a new pair of navy scrub bottoms sitting in his locker, thinking about where he could take her to see snow. By the time his alarm woke him up at 4:30, he still felt like he hadn’t gotten sleep at all. He showered in the showers adjacent to the attendings’ lounge and dressed in the new set of scrubs that would surely get some form of blood, body fluids, or vomit on them by the end of the day. He got coffee from downstairs and made his way to the E.R. Before his shift actually started, he put in an order on the hospital’s computer system to take Alaina White up for another MRI on the abdomen that morning, so he could have the results to look at before he went to check on her. He wanted to see if the mass had grown more and if it would affect how they’d approach the procedure tomorrow.
As he walked with a leisurely pace from the elevator on the ICU floor to her room, he looked over the newest scans and noted with relief that it seemed the mass’s growth rate had slowed down. It looked like it had only grown half a centimeter or so since the last scan a couple of days ago. Hopefully, he could not only dissect the mass for sending to the lab, but be able to resect the whole thing if for nothing else than to just make her feel more comfortable. It was pretty big, it surely wasn’t making her feel great. He finally reached her room and gave the routine double-knock on her door before opening it. He looked up from the scans, took a look around and saw that one of the floor nurses had been there replacing Alaina’s bandaging. With a dark, but humorous tone, Ben went to sanitize his hands and joked, “It looks like the nurses didn’t want you getting any Vitamin D,” noting that the bag of fruits he’d brought her yesterday was now gone. He hoped at least it would make her smile, even if it made the nurse turn to look at him with a death glare. Maybe starting off the day with a bit of good humor would make the conversation Alaina surely wouldn’t like go a little smoother.
Alaina thought she'd heard him say something under his breath after she teased about all his schooling just to work on poor, dying her. She could've sworn that she saw the slight movement of his lips to utter some kind of words about being... "worth it"? Was that what he said? Alaina couldn't even be sure. She was so tired.. Well, the blur between tired on drugged up on medication was indistinguishable by now. Alaina just called it tired because it sounded better in her mind. She was perpetually tired, but she was making an effort for him. Alaina didn't even really care when the nurses came in to check on her, and she hardly ever listened to their incessantly hopeful cheers of encouragement. Alaina did appreciate their sweet gestures, but she also got tired of being the case everyone was worried about and looked at and wondered when the inevitable would happen. Benjamin Carr was that breath of fresh air. He was the one person in this whole hospital that she would take the attention and energy to listen for because she wanted to. She wanted to know more about him. She wanted to hear what he had to say. Alaina trusted him. Even when she'd gotten so angry with him when they first met, Alaina had always felt this wash of security encircling her whenever he came close enough, and it was only getting stronger. While he was a doctor, she still couldn't describe the feeling for anyone else that she'd known before. She'd been dead set on waiting out her cancer until it took her life until he came into that consult room and convinced her otherwise in the possibly least impressive way... but it worked for her. He was the reason she was alive when she thought she didn't even want to be. Why did that change? Alaina had never been known to change her mind often, but he found a way to make her do that... a perfect stranger seemed to erase every fault in one minute. Alaina mostly associated the feeling with the fact that he was extremely intelligent and had gone through more schooling than she could ever imagine; however, deep down, Alaina knew it wasn't just that.
When Benjamin actually took a bite of the chocolate, Alaina felt the corners of her mouth turn upward slightly. Benjamin Carr was calculated and precise and detailed and all of the above for a master surgeon, so she wasn't going to let herself be surprised if he didn't eat the chocolate that she offered. She assumed that he had a calculated diet... or a precise step-by-step routine he took before every major surgery, but he took the bite. He ate it, and it was so beautifully human to Alaina that it took her focus away from the sharp pain for a while longer. He wasn't just a surgeon. He wasn't just a robotic, scrub-wearing, skin cutter after all... Well, Alaina really knew he wasn't just a surgeon to cut in the first place. She picked up on the little things he did... the changes in tone when he saw her DNR... the way he broke apart and let her go outside when she wasn't supposed to... the way he was so determined to fight her cancer. He wasn't just a robotic and uncompassionate surgeon like all of the nurses and medical staff seemed to think he was. They just couldn't see through the stone wall that he had around himself. They didn't see the busy surgeon who took time out of his day to put on a sweater and buy some assortment of fruits and chocolates for some dying patient on the ICU floor. It was like no one saw that... but she did.
Alaina's bright eyes looked to Benjamin's as he said that she'd be okay. There she went again, catching his tone of voice that was suddenly extremely serious. Alaina had been to many doctors, and she was sure many doctors had looked over her case. She didn't really know of one of them that said she'd be okay. Her chances of survival were slim, and she knew that. She brought them on herself. He knew about her history. He knew about her waiting to die. He knew she was the case that countless other doctors would have already given up on... didn't he? He kept going. He kept taking her up for more x-rays and prescribing more medicine. It was all yet another thing that no one else seemed to see about him past their initial disliking of his attitude. He was so determined and driven that he couldn't give up. He couldn't let his patient die, and he wouldn't if he could prevent it. Alaina was checking the boxes for Benjamin as if he acted the same for every other patient, but there was the possibility that that wasn't true. What if he only did this for her? Alaina didn't even have time to think before she opened her mouth to say something that was cut off by the cancer working its way through her body.
Alaina's fiery gaze over Benjamin's face that was fueled by her thoughts was broken by another, especially sharp, sting of pain. Alaina winced, bringing her hand to her abdomen and breathing out. She was almost used to pain by now, but it never made the pain any easier to tolerate. She was doing good. She even moved herself on her left side to look at him more clearly, but it was catching up to her. "Not now... not now..." Alaina thought to herself as Benjamin quickly asked her for more Fentanyl, and she nodded. It was one of the most potent forms of pain medication that the hospital had, and she seemed to be given it at the maximum rate just before it killed her. She definitely needed it. Alaina felt him pull the blankets up over her shoulder as her head rested back more squarely on the pillow and her black hair sprawled out around her. Alaina closed her eyes tight, waiting for the pain to subside enough for her to stand it and then she opened them again, obviously half-lidded this time. Alaina lifted her blue eyes up as the pain somewhat lessened, noticing the curtains to the hallway being shut completely. Her room was darker than it had been in a long time, and a small light beside her gave the room a comforting, dim glow. It almost simulated a children's night light... the ones that lit the way because of the common fear of the dark. It almost felt like it was trying to melt the monster of cancer away from inside her body rather than under the bed.
It was silent for a moment before Benjamin's strong and deep voice demanded her attention and captured it once more, even through the effects of new pain medication dripping into her body. Alaina let her head slightly turn his way, not as much as the first time, but enough to show her intent to listen. Her eyes stared up at the ceiling then down towards her feet and, finally, up to his dark eyes again. "Where do you want to go?" He said, and the words echoed through her own brain. It surprised her. Alaina didn't have time to think of where she dreamed to go... well, she had all the time in the world just not the hope. Alaina paused a moment to consider why Benjamin even cared about where she'd always wanted to go, but she didn't think on it much longer. The question sparked some kind of imagination in her mind... a childlike one, similar to the feeling of the dim glow of the bedside lamp. It had her mind racing and jumping and acting new again... healthy... cancer-free. Alaina shut her eyes again, picturing the perfect spot. A smile crept across her lips again, only faintly, but it was there.
"Snow." She said simply and softly, seeing the snowflakes falling before her eyes and the white mounds of snow underneath her boots. Alaina opened her eyes and ended the mirage, but it was still in her mind. "Somewhere with snow..." Alaina's imagination transitioned to the last picture she remembered seeing of her mom. She was all bundled up in a ridiculously-heavy coat, but she looked so happy. She was covered in snow all over, and Alaina knew in her heart she wanted to be that happy. She'd wanted it ever since she was old enough to know what her father was doing was wrong and that she'd never get to go to the exact spot with her mother. She wanted to go to that magical place that looked so cold yet so perfect at the same time. "Anywhere with snow..." Alaina trailed off again, letting the mirage of her mind fade as she turned her eyes to that similarly-colored piece of paper in her file. The blue, ever-present DNR report. Alaina's eyes trained on it a moment before turning her eyes back to him. "Rip that up..." Alaina's voice was clear and serious. She looked from him to the report again, repeating herself. "Rip up that DNR before it gets too late for me to tell you to." Alaina said, and it was a huge move for her. In that moment, Alaina gave him control on her life again. She was choosing to let him resuscitate her and fight for her if he wanted to. She was trusting him to try, and she wanted that more than anything. She wanted to be the spitting image of her mother in the snow at the magical place of happiness that was captured in that one picture that Alaina had always remembered. She couldn't die yet... even if she only had less than a one percent chance to survive. She had to take it, and she wanted him to take it with her. "Let's fight the cancer." She said at last, finally allowing herself to stop giving up and start holding on.
In her mind, Alaina actually had someone to hold on for... someone that didn't mind waiting for her and talking to her when the hospital consumed their life... someone who said she'd be okay when she obviously wasn't... someone who connected with her in such a way that it seemed strange to have never known them before. She needed to hold on to someone like him... Benjamin Carr. She was going to hold on for him.
That was it, then. He’d spilled out a part of himself to her. It wasn’t that impressive of a story. He wasn’t some war hero who’d trudged through the trenches or anything. Just a doctor who got the military to pay for med school. It wasn’t the darkest part of himself, he knew that. He’d steer clear of those parts; they weren’t very good topics of conversation for a time like this. To his own surprise, he felt relaxed … relieved, almost. Sitting here with her was, oddly enough, some sort of convoluted type of therapy. He liked that she knew about him, more than just his name and his face and his credentials. But he still clutched to the feeling that if he told her, well … everything, that she’d change that look of empathy to one of dismayed pity. She’d look upon him as the sad and disfigured soul that he was, and he’d be back to being alone again. He didn’t want that. No, for the first time, he didn’t want that.
When he’d finished talking, she offered him that smile of hers. That sweet smile. It made his heart lurch and flutter and also made it sink deeper, knowing that it made him feel so elated and happy to see her smile, but also depressed to know that she was as sick as she was. “All that just to work on someone like me, huh?” She teased and it made him bring on that smirk of his, this time more whimsical than sarcastic and forced. Their eyes had locked once more and before he even had the chance to censor them, the words came out in a smooth, deep tone, quieted and sudden: “It was worth it. It was worth everything.” It surely didn’t match her joking tone, but traces of his smirk had disappeared and those dark eyes conveyed something very much serious. In just a moment, that dark look faltered as he realized that he’d actually just said that, and maybe he’d gotten too personal. For a moment, his sharp jawbone and the cheeks above it flushed, before he regained control of himself. Get a grip on yourself, Ben, you’re not in high school. And just like that, the deeper emotion broiling inside of him — that told him how desperately he wanted to lift her out of that bed and kiss her deeply, make love to her, hold her, tell her how much she confused him, how much she made him want to love her — was successfully vanquished again. The dark steel eyes slated to a dull gray once more. He knew what was at stake. It was better to be reserved. He could act friendly. In fact, most doctors did act this friendly towards their patients. But that’s what he had to be above all else — a surgeon. Her surgeon. At least until there was nothing else that could be done. It was the best way he knew how to help her.
But she took him by surprise yet again. She began talking about herself. His eyes never left hers. Despite the beeping of the EKG beside her, the constant interruptions over the intercom paging Doctor so-and-so, the frequent cries of a visitor realizing bad news about a loved one so common to this wing, he never took his attention away from her. Her mother, he knew about that. It was in the chart, part of the history. Cancer wasn’t new to Alaina’s family. He half expected her to be heartbroken about the death of her mother, expected some sad tale about how her mother had been the love of her life and how she could never get over that loss. But it wasn’t like that. The real sad part of her story was centered around her father. A person he’d never even considered before, never even imagined what he would look like or what his name would be. That was the point, wasn’t it? He’d never considered anything about her. He was so wrapped up in his self-involved search for meaning in his drab routine that he never really had managed to see through to what made this girl into who she was until they’d met. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. He had made presumptions even upon their first meeting down in the clinic — that she was some Ivy Leaguer with a plush trust-fund waiting for her, a BMW convertible, a purebred dog, a designer purse … all furnished by her rich daddy who’d spoiled her rotten. He felt bad recalling that now. Really bad. She wasn’t like that at all. Her dad was a world-class asshole just like his was. No, hers was worse. A lot worse. His eyes had softened considerably, but as they interwove with each other below his chin, he felt his right fingers retract into a tense fist. He knew instinctively that if he’d ever met the man she’d described as doing that to her, for all those years … neglecting her and making such a beautiful, sweet, angelic young girl like her feel worthless … he’d give him a fair beating right into yesterday.
But with a single sigh, she’d moved on, telling him about how she went to college and started working a job to pay off the debts and how she aspired to a career in financing. When she spoke about her dreams and her future, her face seemed to glow, her cheekbones pink and her eyes bright. But with a sigh, the brightness began to seep away and she concluded with, “That didn't happen... we both know that." Because of the cancer. He looked down to his hands interlocked and after a moment of being as stoic as a statue, he readjusted himself to sit up straighter again and his eyes journeyed upwards to meet hers again. He noted with relief that looking into her eyes was becoming less overwhelming now. Maybe because he had grown less afraid of her. Less afraid of what? Of her seeing right through him? Of her making him vulnerable? Of her realizing she wouldn’t like what she saw when she really saw him? It didn’t matter any more. She was starting to know him now and she hadn’t yet pushed him away.
She concluded her story with another light-hearted addendum. "Chocolate? For how messed up we are?"
He managed a smile, though it was strained … sad. He took it to make her feel better and ate a bite. He was pretty strict about what he ate. But it was dark chocolate, so at least it had some healthy benefits. He watched her as she broke off a piece with her teeth. Those white teeth. Those pink, full lips. He knew what they made him want to do. It was almost torture to try to ignore the desire that welled up in him, but he was still distracted by the words she’d left hanging in the air. “That didn't happen... we both know that.” Her sombre testament of dreams unfollowed and adventures yet to be uncovered. It made the darkness well around him again. Se deserved those things … she deserved a long life and all the happiness in the world.
“You’re going to be okay, you know?” He murmured, his eyes dark again as he kept them locked on hers. His tone might not have been ideally consoling, but to his own surprise, he meant them. He was serious. He was going to fight for her. He’d fight the fucking cancer until the end. He’d hold her up and give her strength and tell her what to do when she didn’t know. He was on her side. He was with her. And if she ever came out on the other side in one piece and, somehow, got better…. then she would surely want to move on with that beautiful life of hers with someone sweeter and kinder than him, but that would be okay. He just wanted her to survive. And to survive with some kind of sense of joyfulness intact.
He realized, with another pang of embarrassment, that he was being dark again. It was hard to avoid it often, as being sombre was a large part of his recent personality. But he didn’t want to quell the good mood the girl had been trying for. He didn’t want this to end. He wanted to know more about her. He wanted to know everything. This girl, who had seemed to be a polar opposite of himself upon their first meeting, was such a surprising and intriguing need for him. He would be wholly unable to leave her now. He was in too deep. Now, she was his friend. She was so much more.
He noted how she kept shifting on her side, the left side of her head resting on the pillow. He knew that must have been uncomfortable. It had only been a handful of days since her last surgery. The pain couldn’t have subsided much since. For a moment, that friendly version of himself had disappeared and was replaced by the colder, professional one she was surely more familiar with. He asked her if she wanted more Fentanyl. He stood up to pull her blanket up to her shoulder, his eyes full of the familiar sternness and concern. He then moved to the windows into the hallway and twisted the shutters shut, cutting of the blaring fluorescent lights that were coming from the ever-busy nurses’ station. All that was left was the light of the bedside lamp, which emitted a soft, warm glow. Despite how much he found himself liking her company, part of him hoped she’d get some much needed rest. Maybe before he ended up saying too much and she decided she didn’t want to know him anymore.
He returned to the armchair at her side, propping up an ankle on his opposite knee. Again, in the street clothes and the calm, casual way that he held himself around her now, he’d returned to that more normal version of himself that she’d just gotten a glimpse of for the first time a few moments earlier. He bid that professional demeanor of his goodbye once more as he tried a smile. His attempt at a smile faded as he thought to himself, taking his eyes away to look out the dark window to the sleeping Seattle as he did so. “It’s my turn for a question, now.” He was still so authoritative as he spoke.
So much to know. So much to ask. Without even knowing it, he shared with Alaina that silent struggle to decide what to ask above all else. But his question actually came with little thought. After a moment of silent contemplation, still looking out the window, he asked her: “Where do you want to go?”
He realized after a moment that this was a vague question. He turned back to her, catching those beautiful eyes again. “More than anywhere else. If money didn’t matter, … or time. Where do you want to go more than anywhere else?”
It was a question that had started to tug at his conscience for the past several hours. After realizing that she’d had a mass on her abdomen that almost certainly confirmed a spreading and lethal cancer, he’d started to consider whisking her away after all was said and done and letting her be happy elsewhere. Wherever she wanted. At first, it was just a dreamy thought. He hardly knew her! As if she’d ever let him buy her a plane ticket and take her to a bungalow in Tahiti or a castle in Scotland without even knowing her favorite color. But this connection they had … it didn’t follow those normal conventions. Maybe it wasn’t so crazy of a notion as he’d first dismissed it as. He’d do it, too. He’d take her away. He’d take her anywhere. He’d love her there. He just didn’t know where.
Despite the heavy connotations the question had to Ben as he contemplated the girl’s eventual decline, he still managed to make it seem like an innocent-enough question.
Alaina searched Ben's eyes for some sort of reaction after her question. He seemed deep in thought already. Alaina appreciated that. It meant that he was truly considering her question and attempting to come up with the best answer possible... didn't it? Or was he just sitting there, trying to figure out how to avoid her? There was really no way to tell. Benjamin Carr was unpredictable. He hardly ever showed emotion, and he was normally one of few words. Alaina didn't really know what she expected him to say. She just had to know... She had this deep urge inside her to know more about this man that she didn't have a whole lot of time with. He was her doctor, yes, but he also had other patients. He had to respond to sudden emergencies and partake in extensive, risky surgeries all the time. It was his job after all, and he took it as seriously as they come. He was one of the best. Alaina had asked the nurses about him before, but they only gave simple answers like 'You're in good hands' or 'One of the best surgeons here.' It was never personal. It was like he was a blank page in the eyes of most professionals at the hospital. They didn't know him... He didn't tell them about himself, even though he worked with them on a daily basis to save lives. He came here though... to her room to tell her about himself. He made more of an effort to talk to this little more of a stranger of a patient than to talk with medical professionals he'd been in constant contact with for years. Didn't that mean something?
The room was silent for a while... well, it was never silent in her room with the beeping of monitors and devices all around her. There were just no words being spoken. Alaina felt her heart beating a bit faster. She was actually a little nervous... nervous about what he'd say. Would he just shut her off and walk away? There he went again... Benjamin Carr making her doubt herself. Yet, his presence in the forever-empty chair by her bedside wasn't cold like his personality... it was warm, to her. He was there, unlike her father for the entirety of her life. He was sitting right there beside her, staying with her, talking to her, just for the sake of wanting to. It was foreign to her, but it felt so damn good. He had her utmost attention, no matter what his reaction was, even if he just came back with some half-ass remark like he was so notorious for. The fact that he was there was the most impactful for her. Finally, he talked. He broke the silence with that deep voice of his, and it was almost like he had cast a spell on her to glue her eyes to his and keep her attention. He was actually talking to her... really, personally talking. Out of all the leaps and bounds that were made to get to Benjamin Carr, this was a hurdle. Alaina turned her blue eyes to his dark gray ones, studying his face. She even made the effort to turn on her side closer to him, even though it hurt like hell and she normally didn't even do it for the nurses when they asked. She made them turn her on her side themselves, but she voluntarily turned towards him for a lot lesser reason. She wasn't receiving medication, but in a way... it was healing her. It was new to her to know that someone would be there, and she couldn't put into words how that felt.
She put every word he said to memory, noticing the way he was opening up to her. She didn't say anything. She just sat there on her side, turned to him, with her dark hair falling around her pale face. She just listened. He'd chosen to talk with her, and she was sure as hell not going to mess that up by saying something now. She would let him finish when he was ready. Alaina heard about the mention of his father, a cardiologist. She nodded a bit, adjusting the pillow under her head. He wanted to be a doctor since he was little... that devotion in him had been there a long time. However, he wasn't a cardiologist like his father. He was into trauma, emergencies, the most dire of cases. The ones where it took a miracle to keep them alive were his favorite. He had to be precise. He had to be careful. These qualities made him one of the best in his field... in the operating room at least. It still didn't make sense though... until he continued.
Alaina didn't expect him to be a part of the Air Force. Well, she could see it actually. Benjamin Carr was a person that you expected to be successful. He had that air about him wherever he went, and Alaina had noticed that since her first meeting with him when she'd completely yelled at him. He wasn't fazed by most things. He was as strong as an ox mentally, and he could keep his hands still for hours on end. He was made to be a surgeon. Not only was he talented, Benjamin Carr worked countless hours practicing. The nurses had told her that at least. Alaina was still surprised at how he even had time for her, but he'd made time, so she wouldn't question it. When he started to speak about his time in the Air Force, Alaina saw the dark void in his eyes. It was like he was reliving it, and it killed her to see him like that. She hadn't meant to restore some old, terrible vision that haunted him and turned him ice cold. Alaina couldn't imagine what he'd seen and done in the military. He stopped for a moment after explaining how serious the violence was. It pulled at her heart with how much it seemed to affect him, about to tell him he could stop talking with her until he began again.
When he explained how other doctors treated things timidly while he treated aggressively, Alaina searched his eyes. She knew it was true. He gave the best, most intensive care possibly. He'd take on risks. He took on her, didn't he? Alaina didn't even know her survival percentage, but she could bet that it was extremely low, especially after going without treatment for so long. Her cancer was at Stage 4, meaning Benjamin got a good surgery out of her. It was complex, not fixed... a war. Alaina thought of that metaphor, especially after his revealing of participating in the military. Her body was the war, and she was fighting it. He was fighting it with her. They were on the same side, staring at the enemy that hid itself inside her.
Alaina thought it was interesting when he told her he'd been to Germany and other foreign countries. He'd seen so much... been through so much, and it was part of the reason he was so mature and serious at the age he was. It gave her so much more understanding of him. She felt like he'd shared a part of himself with her that he had been holding in a long time, like a weight hanging on his shoulders. Maybe they both just needed someone to be there... to talk to... to listen to... to hear. His dark eyes linked to her blue ones again, and Alaina felt that familiar pang in her heart that he seemed to bring about. She looked at him then just smiled a little, a small look of approval... of gratitude. "All that just to work on someone like me, huh? That's why they call you guys the miracle workers." She said, not really going into something in his past that would make him angry and leave. She desperately didn't want to mess this up. Alaina knew it was her turn.
She had to tell him something. It was only fair. Alaina had already been thinking about what to say in that silence before he spoke. She was more comfortable now that he'd revealed some things about himself, a feat that deserved a reward, especially for this man. Alaina looked down at the sheets then looked back to him, getting serious. "My.. my mother had the same cancer I do. She died when I was young... so young that I didn't really know much about her. All I remember is that she had black hair and blue eyes... and she'd just smile from that hospital bed every time I went to see her. I was too young to understand, but she was suddenly just gone." Alaina looked up at the ceiling some, taking a small breath before continuing. In that small moment, Alaina had thought about how different things would have been if her mother hadn't died. She wondered how her life would have been... she missed her mother every day, even though she didn't really know her or know exactly how she looked like. "After she died, my father... well, he took down all the pictures of her and started drinking." Alaina closed her eyes, taking a deep breath as she began getting flashbacks. She hadn't told that many people about him before... and it was hard every time.
Opening her eyes slowly, she began again. "I grew up... he kept drinking... I got the blame for my mom dying." She didn't add intimate details or stories about it, but her eyes glazed over a bit with tears. She couldn't hold it back because she never understood it. Her father hated her, and she couldn't help but want him to love her... She would have done anything for him to care about her. When she graduated from high school, she was on her own... Well, she was always on her own. After that, Jake, her ex-boyfriend, came, and he used her. She was broken and twisty and sick... It was like everything that could go wrong in someone's life went wrong in her life. For a long time, especially when she found out about the cancer, she was ready to die, but she was just now beginning to have hope. Continuing, Alaina spoke again, "Anyway... I went to college. I still have debt, but I went. Before the cancer came, I was waitressing to build up money to pay off some of those debts while I applied for a job in accounting and finances. That didn't happen... we both know that." She sighed then locked her eyes with his again before reaching into the paper bag and retrieving a chocolate bar.
She unwrapped it, breaking off a piece and handing it to him. "Chocolate? For how messed up we are?" She broke off a piece for herself, looking into his eyes a while before letting out a genuine laugh. She just started laughing after all that dark tension had been relieved. She told him... She did it. In that moment, looking at him, he was more attractive than ever before. Alaina noticed that defined jawline and dark hair and muscular figure. She stopped laughing, searching his eyes. He stirred something in her... other than warmth and comfort... it was like an ache. She had an ache, an urging to kiss him, to connect with him in a way only they could... but physically. It was fiery and real... and she hadn't felt anything like it in her life. Alaina didn't even care if she was weak... he did something to her just by looking at her. Her blue eyes didn't pull away from his, and she didn't turn away. She couldn't even if she tried.
A good question, Miss White. It was one he’d asked himself quite a lot, especially recently. Why was he in this job anyway? He made it clear to everyone around him that he resented doing it. Every patient he’d met in the past two years probably felt that his helping them through a surgery was like a knife in his side — an experience full of grimaces, half-assed answers, and general detachment from those who felt the most vulnerable and scared. For that side of his career, surely those who’d known him in Seattle for the past two years thought him to be the least suitable candidate on the planet. He was a jerk, an apathetic asshole, and a joke of a caregiver.
At the same time, though, any of those people who’d thought him to be the worst “nice guy” in the whole city had to admit that he was really, really good at the other side of his job. The science behind his profession, the precision, the calm calculations in chaos, the cutting and rearranging and sewing, that’s where he couldn’t be beaten. He studied hard for years and perfected every part of his skill set to be the best. Even only at the young age of thirty, he was one of the best. He knew it. His patients knew it, otherwise they surely would’ve bolted for the door the second they met his cold self. At least seven hospitals knew it when they offered him a position after his fellowship ended two years ago; hell, they even bid over him and lined his pockets with one of the plushest paychecks of any professional his age. Alaina surely knew that, too, right? Why else would she have kept around him this long? It surely wasn’t for his beaming personality.
But even in his dark and emotionless delusions, Ben knew that he never picked to be a surgeon just because he’d be good at it. Even though the bright-eyed and youthful version of himself who’d decided on medical school ten years ago seemed unrecognizable in comparison to who he was today, he remembered vaguely how he’d wanted to help people.
His dark, gray eyes looked over Alaina and his fingers knit together, his shoulders slouched, his elbows propped up on his knees. Where to start explaining this story to her? He could’ve just gone the route that most doctors used to explain why they did what they did: Oh, you know, I’m just such a nice guy who wants to help the sick and hurt and weary. He heard it from the waves of naive interns who’d come in to the University of Washington’s surgical residency every year — they just wanted to help people. But that excuse seemed void now, at least for him. He kept his eyes on her, thoughtful and pondering, as he tried himself to dig an answer up that made sense. These days, he didn’t really know why he did it anymore; he didn’t feel much of any inclination to save or help anyone aside from the fact that his contract with UW covered the next five years. Except Alaina … he’d felt more than inclined to help her. He practically convinced her to get the treatment she’d needed. If he hadn’t, she’d surely be lying cold on her kitchen floor by now. Dig deeper, Ben. It’d been a while, but the history was still there. Something back in the day had made him want to be what he was today.
He finally moved his interlocked hands away from his mouth to say something. He took a breath, never moving his eyes from hers. He was incredulous, really, that she held such a spell over him. He’d never voluntarily told anyone about his personal life, much less a patient, but she made it feel so right. For once, he actually wanted to tell.
“My dad was a doctor. A cardiologist.” He managed to start somewhere. Of course, with his asshole dad. The fucker who left him and his sister and brother and mom because he couldn’t keep it in his pants with a receptionist who was half his age. “So I guess that’s where it started … I’ve known I wanted to be a doctor since I was a kid.” As much as he hated his father, he had that inexplicable need that most boys felt to be just like him … but to work harder and become better.
“I didn’t decide on med school until I finished my active duty service with the Air Force. I had a degree in Chemistry but kept on with the military. Finished med school, but I didn’t know what to go into yet, really. I matched a residency with the active duty in Afghanistan. Some of it was easy medicine — giving vaccines, helping girls who were sexual assaulted, checking for STDs … I felt I wasn’t doing enough. I took on with the flight surgeons in Al Udeid and saw …” He wasn’t looking at her anymore. He wasn’t really looking at anything. His eyes had gone void, darker and grim as they seemed to reflect a mind caught in the past of nearly a decade ago. He finally managed what he was trying to say:
“It was serious violence. Not like anything I’d seen before…” He didn’t talk for a while. He was seeing it all over again in his head. Finally he closed his eyes and wiped his head clean so he could start again. “A lot of doctors take on specialties and try to diagnose everything from lab results and imaging behind a desk, but they’re just kidding themselves.” He again imagined his father and a little suppressed anger boiled in his core. The coward. “The fact is that not a lot of sicknesses or injuries can be fixed with prescriptions. They’re violent. Aggressive. And the best way to fix them is by acting aggressively. That’s how I decided on surgery.” Looking back now in consideration of his spiraling mental health, Ben thought with dark humor that maybe becoming some cardiologist in a pristine, white office would have been better for him. It would’ve saved him a lot of dark days of trying in vain to save those who were too far gone before he even got to them. But surgeons fixed things like no one else did. Their actions and theirs results were immediate and vital.
“I did my first two years as a flight surgeon in Afghanistan and Qatar, then the next three in a military hospital in Germany …” That’s where he really learned his craft. There wasn’t a lot of teaching that went on in the desert; too much was happening and too many people with legs blown off to slow down and explain things. But in Germany, when the U.S. allies received and treated combat soldiers before shipping them home, he could learn everything he had to. How to think with calculated precision, how to turn his mental plan into a well-executed result in fast-paced operating rooms. His mentor, Dr. Brenner, was the single most influential person in Ben’s career. Ben had even picked up enough German in those three years to ask Brenner anything, although his German skills were now rapidly disappearing from lack of use. His mentor had seen so much potential in him. Ben had a natural aptitude for the craft, with unwavering hands and a alertness to perfection that kept his technique nearly flawless.
“Then a fellowship in urgent cases in D.C. … Got my board certification. Now, I’m here.” He concluded his story, rushing it at the end to wrap up. D.C. wasn't fun. He'd gone to med school at Georgetown, and returned after his residency to a fellowship there. While combat cases were probably the worst side of trauma anyone could see, he knew that to be a well-rounded trauma surgeon in the States, he'd have to train in urgent medicine and emergent surgical cases. If it weren't for that fellowship, he wouldn't have gained the extra credentials to be tossed Alaina White's case that rainy Friday afternoon in the clinic. An encounter that would've passed unnoticed if he hadn't taken it, but one that ended up saving both his life and hers. Even so, the fellowship was a hard adjustment from military surgeries. He was stuck with three other fellows from posh medical schools who'd never seen a car crash take place or a building catch on fire thinking that trauma medicine would be a "hardcore, badass" specialty. He often found himself sitting up in the hospital library late at night, taking a break from his reading to wonder what they would've thought of Qatar. They didn't really take to him, either. A lot of it was probably jealousy. They were stuck competing against a young guy, probably three years their junior since he'd taken such an accelerated path through college and residency, especially one who'd spent his entire residential career in a cesspool of extreme traumas. It didn't matter to him if they liked him or not. He just kept his head down, avoided socializing, and studied hard. He constantly improved himself and his techniques. Besides, he had a girlfriend -- the Kate from several years ago who wasn't entirely embittered towards him yet -- to go home to. Until that point, he'd been a pretty nice guy. Reserved, quiet. But kind. A good doctor with a calming bedside manner and a reassuring face. His attendings trusted him, his patients liked him, his girlfriend and his family didn't worry about him. That was before everything went to shit.
Even though he'd not said a lot, he’d started to get embarrassed about how much he’d talked, how much he had told this girl — who, although they inexplicably shared some deep set connection, was still practically a stranger. He looked back to her, his eyes linking to her blue ones in that intimate way that only theirs could. His look was dark, almost melancholy, and it held her gaze almost as if he were seeking for her approval. As if he wondered if she now could buy that he was human, if she could offer him some sort of connection that some suppressed part of his psyche had been starving for. He watched as her dark hair fell around her pale, fawn-like face and felt again with a pang of warmth that foreign sense of protection and admiration and vulnerability. What was she doing to him? He almost started to worry what telling her all of this would do to how she thought of him. Would she be like Kate and start thinking that the fact that he served in the military was the reason he was such a depressed bastard? Despite how inaccurate that claim was, Kate always seemed to love digging around in his head and thinking she understood how it worked. The dark side of Ben's head then reminded him with cruel frankness that the beautiful girl before him probably wouldn't be around long enough to hold his history over his head for the rest of his life. The way that mass had popped up in just a few days indicated a sure rapidness of growth that would inevitably take her over by the end of summer ... optimistically. He again had to remind himself to stop thinking about the cancer. He wanted to know about her. And for the first time in his life, he'd wanted someone to know more about him.
Alaina let her teeth sink into the soft flesh of the red fruit, feeling some of the sweet juices escaping from her mouth. Holding the small strawberry in one pale hand, Alaina lifted the other to gently wipe away the runaway juices that were making an escape down her chin. The fruit was so alive next to her discolored skin, but she didn't really care at that moment. Enough with all the thoughts of how much she was dying and how soon she'd be dead... Alaina wanted to start thinking about something else. The fact that this man, Benjamin Carr, had taken time out of his day to come see her... well, it gave her hope that anything could happen. Miracles had to be real. Alaina had become so fascinated with the little fruit in her fingers at that moment, noticing every little seed on the outside of what remained of its skin. To anyone else, the strawberry would have been as insignificant as a flea, but Alaina had become an expert on noticing the little, minute details of everything after she'd been placed in the ICU. She hadn't even gotten out of her bed to go anywhere other than to a test or the operating table... well, not counting the time Benjamin wheeled her up to the patio lined with fountains and flowers.... Alaina looked back to the handsome doctor, searching his eyes as his deep voice broke her from her flashback. "What do you want to know?" He asked, and it brought her so many more questions. There was so many things she wanted to know... Could she possibly ask everything? No... he was too closed-off for that. She'd have to ask him one, really good question that brought forth more about him that she could observe or infer. Alaina knew what she'd been wondering for a long time as she was attached to wires and surrounded by beeping sounds and whirring lights. She had to know one thing about him that she thought could answer a lot of the many questions she had about him... Hell, some may never be answered. Benjamin was hard to read, and Alaina had gotten really good at reading and observing since she'd been in the hospital.
Alaina held the crumpled paper bag in her hand with the rest of the fruit and chocolate, holding it to the side away from the nurse station so that they wouldn't see it and take it away. Alaina turned her head, crowned with a jet black waterfall of hair, watching Benjamin's nervous acts. It was so out of place for him... He was the one who'd convinced her to undergo extensive surgery and, eventually, stay hooked up to monitors in a white room until she, if she, got better. Benjamin had essentially talked her off a ledge. Alaina knew she was sick. She knew her mother had had cancer before her, and she expected she was dying. Alaina just never expected it to be this soon... and she'd almost given up because of it. She'd almost succumbed to her father's ridicule and constant failures, but she didn't. Here she was, sitting in the ICU with the last man she ever expected to be by her bedside if she ever got deathly ill. As Alaina watched the doctor's still hands but nervous eyes, she realized just how vulnerable he had to become for her in that moment. She realized that he was trying so hard to be normal and open for her... and it warmed her heart. No, it warmed her entire body that was normally so cold, regardless of the many blankets that were piled on top of her. Alaina hadn't ever felt something quite like it.
Alaina felt her hair fall over her shoulder as she turned her head towards her doctor, lucky her treatment hadn't caused her to lose all of her hair like many other cancer patients. Alaina was one of the cases where her hair stayed almost fully intact... That was one good thing she hadn't realized until know. Finally, Alaina had had enough of torturing him in her silence induced by thought of the question she would ask. "Why surgery?" She asked as simply as possible with a soft, genuine tone that reflected her pure interest on the subject. Alaina knew that medical school was one of the longest, if not the longest, to complete. Even after the students who were serious about being surgeons had survived medical school, they were started as interns and worked up in a residency program until they could finally perform surgery. He had to be extremely passionate about surgery in order to go through all of that time and money and stress to become a doctor, didn't he? However, Benjamin Carr was one of the outwardly coldest people she had ever had prolonged contact with, confusing her on why he would choose the profession where it was vital to help people in their worst moments. Was he just that interested in cutting people up? Alaina knew that one wasn't true, but he just didn't say anything. He was the most stoic person Alaina had ever known, and he really didn't seem to care...
But then he did. He brought her to the balcony that was surrounded by flowers and a fountain just to allow her to get some fresh air and watch the rain... Hell, he kissed her! It wasn't like she was forgetting that any time soon. Also, he'd seemed so angry with her when he found out she'd signed that DNR report... Even just now, his spur-of-the-moment gift of fresh fruit and chocolate came from the heart. As Alaina let her blue eyes train on his darker ones, it was like she could see through him. There had to have been a reason he put up a stone wall to hide the pure heart underneath... Alaina knew he might not tell her, but it was something she felt like she had to know. She knew that there might not be one other person in the world that would agree with her claim that Benjamin had a good heart, but she held on to that. He was her doctor... her stage four pancreatic cancer doctor, and he could have decided to just let her die on the table. Alaina knew he didn't know, but she'd looked at her charts when it was so quiet in the ICU. Her first surgery was tough. She knew she almost died on the table... several times really, but he kept issuing more electric shocks and more medications. He kept trying for her. He didn't give up on her. He was different... to her, and Alaina saw that.
Alaina would sit there in her bed all night and just think sometimes. It would get so silent in the hospital at night because the nurses would stay quiet for their patients to sleep, but it didn't really help that much. It gave her that much more time to just think... and Alaina thought about him. She thought about what the kiss meant. She thought about what would happen if she knew him when she wasn't sick... would he even give her a chance? Would she even give him a chance? She even thought about reversing her DNR report... but she wasn't convinced yet. Alaina wanted him to tell her he could save her life. She wanted him to be so confident... it was why she asked, "Do you even care?," when he heard about her tumor still being there. She didn't want to die, and she knew it. Alaina sat back with all of the thoughts running through her mind, waiting to hear that deep voice of his again. For the moment, she would enjoy the sight of him in a normal sweater and jeans. She would enjoy the fresh, pine scent that radiated from him, and she would revel in just how comfortable and safe she felt right then.
Ben might have been wearing different clothes than he usually had on around her, but that didn’t mean he would suddenly start acting unlike his normal self. He wouldn’t just sit down by her bedside and take those hands resting on his and hold them gently and spill his heart to her. He wouldn’t open up to her wholly. He wasn’t ready for that yet. Something about the girl had warmed a part of him much hardened to the rest of the world for a long time. But even the unexpected and crushing impact she had on him could not so easily melt away all of that iciness that had frozen him in a near-constant state of apathy. He’d had way too many issues at play, too many layered traumas and mental collapses piling up against him to just let some girl come in and mend everything back together again.
He found himself issuing that reminder in his head — that he was too messed up to be worthy of someone wanting to care about him; someone to even want to sit in his presence on her own spare time like Alaina was right now. Not like she had much else to do, he told himself in that mean and self-deprecating way that he often did. Ben Carr might have gained a reputation as being a snake to those around him, but hardly anyone could have guessed that he saved the worst blows for himself. Alaina probably could’ve guessed that. She somehow had managed to, again and again, see right through him. He looked down to her hands on his, stopping from his momentary fidgeting and going entirely still, as if almost petrified by the interaction and unsure of what to do in response. He didn’t shrug her away at least, which was surely an improvement over his usual detached reaction to her kindnesses.
And yet — despite his coldness — her invitation to listen to him tell her whatever it was that he wanted to tell her awakened within him a deep desire to tell her everything. He wasn’t one to talk much in the first place, even before the depression had set in. He was always more of the silent and studious type, the observer. Even Kate had to tug every detail about his life before he met her out of him piece by piece over the years. Where was he from? What were his parents like? He had a sister?! Since when! What was his favorite color, his favorite place, his best hobbies? He told her as she asked, even if she did had to ask a few times, but he would have rather just existed beside her as they were. All she really needed to know about him was who he was when he met her and what they built together. Well, that strategy worked out well for the both of them. She ended up being swept along in his downward, imploding spiral. But he didn’t want to know Kate’s favorite color, or her favorite place, or what her mother was like, or that her childhood dog’s name was Doodle.
He wanted to know those things about Alaina, though. And, for the first time, he wanted her to know about him. Maybe not everything. Maybe not about the suicide attempts and the depression and all the random events that started it off … if he told her about that, surely she’d run far, far away from him.
That being said, he didn’t know where to even start. What did she want to know about him anyway? He’d said so little to her over the past few weeks, and half of that stuff had ended up making her cry some way or the other. At least his truce with the bag of things from the market across the street had warmed her up to him enough for the night, it seemed. She did say he could stay. She wouldn’t have said that if she was just trying to be polite.
He at least tried to take an attempt at light heartedness like she did, responding to her plea not to tell the nurses that he’d snuck her in food: “The nurses and I aren’t necessarily on friendly terms, if you haven’t noticed …” He knew she’d noticed. He said it almost with embarrassment at his normal behavior, his eyes almost apologetic as he looked back at her. Then he cracked something that looked almost like a smile. Not the normal smirk that had often been substituted as a smile. When he smirked, his mouth smiled but his eyes remained stale. This time, they almost had a hint of a glint of light in them, a warmth underneath. He still didn’t move her hands, but more than ever was he aware of their weight. It was uncomfortable, but fiercely exhilarating to feel her touching him so intimately. He felt again the pang in the forefront of his chest that hinted at the prospect of loving her. He was so unfamiliar with the concept, so he couldn’t be sure. But he thought he might have been in love with her.
That mean part of himself struck again, seeping venom in his head. How could he love her? He didn’t even know her. He didn’t take the time to talk to her, to court her, or even take her on a single date. He only liked her because he got to cut her. He got to practice on her. He knew that wasn’t even true. He didn’t even think he’d be the one doing the operating until she was practically there under his knife. The only reason he got her through that surgery in one piece was because he’d cared so fiercely about her and only her.
He had been looking her over and hardly even noticed it. She was too good for him. She was out of his league; way, way out of his league. To the objective viewer, that wasn’t really true. Alaina White was surely outstandingly beautiful, but he was a handsome man himself. Physically, they surely made a perfect match. But relationships were hardly ever so skin deep. Emotionally, though — she was so far above him that it was some sort of joke that the universe had even allowed them to meet in the first place. Again, he found himself chilled by the realization that she was such a good soul and the cancer had chosen to take her — and, probably, it would do so successfully. Not tonight, not tomorrow, but some time it was bound to come for her and take her away from the world she was far too good for. No cancer talk tonight, he corrected himself and adjusted his thinking again.
He realized his gaze was probably lingering too long. She’d started to eat one of the strawberries he’d gotten her. Part of him was warmed by the feeling that he’d done something good for her. Part of him found her more beautiful than ever when she was alighted by something so simple as a piece of fruit. Watching her eat it, her full lips stained with streaks of red from its juices, a final part of him boiled up in him with another pang of physical desire. To someone who had been alone for such a long time , all that he had felt was so confusing. He didn’t know whether to pull his hands away or to lurch forward and kiss her like he had the day before. So he sat there, petrified and unmoving. She wanted him to talk. But, with everything racing through his head and making his temples pound, he was entirely lost for words. He cleared his throat and managed, “What do you want to know?” If she asked him, her would tell her. Kate would have been livid with envy for this girl’s ability to open him up to her.
Again, that nervous look crossed his face, although he kept his hands still this time. For someone who had so confidently convinced Alaina to check into the hospital and undergo a huge surgery and was now convincing her to not give up in the face of an ever spreading cancer, he had never looked so vulnerable in her presence.
“I care about you. And I’m not giving up on you. You can’t either.” She kept repeating those words over and over in her head as soon as he left her room. Why shouldn't she give up? She was part of the reason why her cancer had gotten so bad in the first place. Alaina didn't want treatment for several months, and the cancer definitely spread within that time. She was almost certain that she would never change her mind... She was so sure that she'd die in the comfort of her home and avoid hospital fees and surgeries, but, somehow, she was sitting in the ICU of one of the best surgeons in Washington and doing just that. She allowed him to cut her open and scrape away the mass that was attacking her body because he seemed so confident, but it wasn't just that. She never truly wanted to just die, and she'd always had some hope that she could maybe have something go right in her life. Alaina knew she was stronger than just surrendering her life to some scary disease that was factually improbable for her to survive from. She wanted to be stronger because this wasn't the way she was supposed to go out of the world. She wasn't supposed to just live some miserable life with an emotionally abusive and alcoholic father being right about how weak and useless she was. Alaina promised herself she would rise above her father's expectations, but it killed her inside even more than the cancer to know that she might never do that. She might never find or do everything that she wanted to after all of her hard work.
Benjamin Carr didn't even know any of that. He didn't know much about her at all... but at the same time he knew everything. She literally gave her life to him on his operating room table, allowing him to go to work with his hundreds of tiny surgical tools and years of medical training to somehow fix the impossible. She was the impossible. She was the case that all the interns heard about and betted on when she would finally bite the dust. She was the case they wrote the cancer textbooks about, explaining how terrible the disease could become if it wasn't caught and treated early on. Alaina's condition had so much hanging on it, but Benjamin Carr was the one to tell her that she shouldn't give up. He was the doctor in charge of all of the interns, and he was the person who read all of the cancer textbooks, but he believed in her still. In that instant, Alaina felt her tears dry up. She was sitting there, surrounded by bare walls, fluorescent walls, IV bags, and beeping machines, but she hadn't felt more secure in a long time. Alaina didn't remember the last time someone told her that they wouldn't give up on her. Throughout her entire life, her father always made sure she felt like she didn't matter, and it was this man that hardly knew her that somehow spoke to her soul. She'd always been the one to close someone off from knowing her because she didn't want to go through someone like her father again, but the fact that she was a patient forced her to learn how to be open and vulnerable with someone other than herself again. It brought out a side to her that had been gone for years.
Alaina sat back in her bed and the clean sheets, focusing on a certain stream of light that filtered in through the small window in her room. Sunlight was rare in Seattle, and this year had been especially rainy and cold. Today was different. Alaina let her eyes follow the path of light from the window until it stopped at her chart, but it wasn't her chart she was looking at. It was her DNR. Alaina shifted in bed, slowly reaching forward to the small swivel table attached to her bed. Pulling it towards her, Alaina pulled the brightly-colored piece of paper from her chart. Her eyes scanned the contents of it, skipping all of the information and looking to the bottom of the report where her signature was. Placing her finger on the beginning of her familiar signature, Alaina traced her name, reliving the moment Benjamin saw it sticking out of her chart. Was she just doing it to get back at him? Did she really want no resuscitation if she was going into cardiac arrest? Alaina was broken in her thought when she heard the light knock of her ICU nurse at her door. Quickly moving the DNR report back in its place and pushing the table back, Alaina laid back in her bed, wincing slightly at how fast she'd moved. Turning her head to her nurse, she answered a few questions, watching the woman set the same food in the same tray in the same place as she pushed more medication into the IV bag.
Alaina had been at the hospital long enough to know that she was about to be extremely tired. After all, the nurses always gave her the heaviest medication in the mornings just after her food. The nurse helped adjust her pillows, and Alaina was left to eat. Slowly bringing the food to her mouth, she began to feel her eyes drooping. The food was as bland as usual, but Alaina ate it all because she was so hungry from the constant exertion of energy her body used to fight the war inside her body that it wasn't winning. Nearly as soon as she finished eating, Alaina fell asleep. She woke up when it was dark outside, and the light was gone from the window. Blinking her eyes a few times to wake up, her vision focused. She was lonely again. Alaina had made it some sort of game to entertain herself by looking out the window to the center of the ICU and trying to imagine the things that the nurses were saying. It was all she could do. There was a TV in her room, but it got repetitive after so long in her silent room with no one to visit her. When she was just sitting there, Alaina could almost imagine the nurses complaining about something a doctor said or trying to figure out their complicated relationships. It was something to think about other than how miserable she was.
Alaina had just begun to settle into the silence of her room when she heard the knock. It was his knock. What was he doing in her room so late? Was he going to tell her he was off her case? Was he going to tell her the entire hospital staff was leaving her to die because her cancer was too extensive? Alaina brought her eyes to the door, watching an almost unrecognizable Benjamin Carr walk through her door in jeans and a sweater instead of the regular scrubs and white coat. It gave him such a human look that made him seem relaxed and approachable rather than cold and strictly professional. He demanded her attention. Following his movement with her eyes, Alaina watched him set down a paper bag by her bed and sit in the chair next to her bed. Alaina turned her head towards him, waiting for an explanation. He simply said, "I figured you'd be sick of hospital food." Slowly bringing her hand to the paper bag, Alaina opened it, shocked to see a collection of fruits, chocolate, and juice. It was so unlike him that Alaina had to look over the contents of the bag again. Before she could say anything, Benjamin's words filled the pause of silence. "I can stay, if you want me to. I... know I haven't been nice to you. But you're scared and you don't have anyone else..." Alaina let her brighter eyes meet his darker ones, noticing how he avoided eye contact with her. Was he nervous? Alaina hadn't ever seen him look nervous, but he was right then. Was he trying to make an effort for her? Was Benjamin Carr really trying to be human with her... someone other than her doctor? The questions flooded her consciousness, and she hesitated a moment. It all hit her.
She wasn't going to be lonely that night if she let him stay. He'd taken a huge leap outside of his comfort zone to even be there with her and attempt to talk to her about anything other than medicine and cancer and statistics. Alaina couldn't help but feel her heart warm at the gesture. She knew how hard it was for him to do what he did, but she appreciated it. How could she tell him to leave? Alaina felt the corners of her mouth tug upwards from their usual frown, gently touching his hands to stop them from fidgeting and make him look at her. Her voice was soft and soothing, unlike it had been earlier when they were in her room after her scans. "Yes... yes you can stay. Just promise me not to tell the nurses about all of this because I'm definitely sick of this hospital food." Alaina moved her hand away from his, unable to deny the slightly increased beating of her heart. "So start talking... I assume you want to do that." She said, teasing him a little, trying to lighten his mood by reassuring him he wasn't wrong or stupid to think she wanted some company, especially from him. Picking up a strawberry from the bag, Alaina took a bite of the small fruit, relishing the taste of something fresh and real and good since she'd been admitted into the hospital.
It was ironic, really, that over the past few weeks that Ben had known Alaina – even in those brief moments of elation and relief in an overall grim situation – outside there had always only been rain. Not like that was something unexpected; Seattle had, what did he read? Four days between September and April that weren’t classified as overcast in the past calendar year? For people like them, who’d chosen to stay in Washington over the past years, at least got used to the continual gray that haunted the skies even at high noon, and most often the rain that came along with it. What was ironic was that today, the day that brought arguably the worst news and most pessimistic outlook to date, was perfect sunshine. As if the sun was looking in through the glass windows at them, saying, “Hey cheer up! The girl is going to die.” No, they didn’t know that. He had to keep reminding himself of that. A mass didn’t mean cancer. It could’ve been a multitude of things – a cyst caused by infection, a build-up from post-operative trauma, or maybe just … a completely random benign tumor showing up three days after her cancer surgery? Even as he ran through it in his mind, the outlook seemed bleak. He must not have seemed that comforting when he related the news to Alaina, because she almost immediately broke into tears. Again, sorrow, his weakness – especially when it was coming from the angelic, beautiful girl who he genuinely hated to see cry. It made his heart sink in his chest and made swallowing harder. Even saying it out loud, that she had a new mass that almost certainly confirmed that the last time he’d cut her open had been useless, and that she was now going to die a slow, certain death, hurt him. He didn’t want her to die. Again, the idea of saying screw it to the slow, painful, humiliating treatments and flying her away somewhere crossed his mind. No.
No, they couldn’t do that yet. They had to at least get a new diagnosis. At least, a new timeline – to figure out how long she had. They had to at least know what they were dealing with. When he told her he’d remove it, she started shaking her head and more tears welled up in her eyes. I know, he thought to himself, I know you don’t want this. He tried to think of something comforting to say. “It won’t be like last time.” He at least managed, his eyes not breaking from hers even as she sat back and covered her mouth with her hand to stifle her sobs. His voice, meanwhile, was surprisingly calm and even. He hoped that it somehow made him seem more sure of himself. “It’s just a small procedure, it’s done laparoscopically. It won’t hurt, just a little scar.” He tried to smile at her, but he realized maybe he was talking too much about something she didn’t want to hear. It was all he could really tell her with certainty, though. It was what he knew. It was something he could talk about in depth, unlike navigating other conversations about how to comfort her. Maybe she just wanted him to shut up.
He took her back to her room. The route back seemed five times as long as it was when he was silently brewing anger at her on the way up to imaging. The elevator ride down was the worst part of it. People filed in with them, just coming in for a day at work or to make their appointments. It was silent and awkward as Alaina tried to keep quiet in her crying, and the various health care professionals tried to pretend they didn’t notice her. The elevator dinged every time it came to a new floor. Ben’s eyes looked dead as he stood behind her wheelchair, gripping onto the handles a little too tightly, looking at nothing particular past their reflections in the elevator door. Finally, the floor to the ICU. Would she ever leave here again? He told himself to stop being so pessimistic. They didn’t know it was cancer. He told himself that he did know.
A nurse was in Alaina’s room, taking advantage of the patient’s absence to change her sheets. When she saw the girl returning, the nurse took to helping the girl back into the bed and Ben instead found a place to put the wheelchair. He didn’t look at her anymore. When the nurse left to go get Alaina something to eat, Ben stood solemnly next to the window, a rare stream of bright, morning light illuminating a side of his face. It was unusual to see how different he looked in the light. He was always surrounded in shadows, in nighttime, in gray. The light showed how his dark hair had different tones of brown, how his gray eyes could illuminate, and almost erased the dark circles that seemed permanently engraved on the skin under his eyes. Still, the dark look lurked underneath, particularly in his defeated gaze.
She asked him something. “Do you even care?” Did he even care? Of course he cared. He cared about her like he hadn’t cared about any patient in years. He had an itching feeling in the back of his head that maybe he could fall in love with this girl.
If they’d had time.
Yes, he cared. He knew he wasn’t good at showing it, but the thought of her dying on his watch made his stomach lurch. He wouldn’t let her die, at least not on his table. Not in this hospital. Only, maybe … on a beach somewhere. With brightly colored birds and orange sunsets. Knock it off, you still have to do your job, he reminded himself. He brought his eyes to look at her again.
“I care about you. And I’m not giving up on you. You can’t either.” He hoped saying it out loud would at least make it seem more believable to himself. He opened his mouth to say something else, but the harsh beeps of his phone paging him interrupted them. At first, he tried to ignore it, but moments later, it beeped at him again. He finally broke his gaze away to check his phone. They needed a surgeon in the ER. Some multi-car pileup had come in. He didn’t want to leave her, but then again … maybe he needed something mind-numbing to clear his head. “I have to go …” He muttered, putting his phone away and giving her one more look. He couldn’t shake the feeling that every time he looked at her now, it might be the last. He’d have to find a way to get her to revoke the DNR.
He left her there, still teary eyed. He knew he probably shouldn’t have. She was fragile. She was upset. And now, he left her there alone for the rest of the day to wallow in the fact that she was most certainly dying alone. But what was he supposed to do? He was on-call for the day. If he shrugged off his pages to sit and hold hands with a girl all day, he wouldn’t only risk getting fired … he could let people die. Technically, die at the hands of incapable and insecure residents, but it was all the same end result. Sure enough, when he made it to the ER, a second year resident was butchering a tracheotomy on a toddler, offering at least enough reassurance that his leaving Alaina now was warranted. The kid didn’t die. That made at least one victory for the day.
By the evening, his cases had finished and he found himself again sitting in an imaging lab, staring at the mass. He’d gotten coffee earlier, but hadn’t touched it. It was sitting on the table next to the computer. Technically, drinks were prohibited in here, but who would tell him otherwise? Half the hospital was intimidated by him. He sat back, his elbows propped up on the chair’s arms, knitting his fingers together in front of his mouth. He had started thinking about how maybe things could’ve shifted if he could start his reputation over with a clean slate … If he were nicer, if he didn’t yell at anyone. Maybe he’d have friends, or at least allies among other departments. Maybe, someone to ask about Alaina’s case … an oncologist who’d focus on her, a practitioner who’d care about her. But no one here was going to be doing him any favors anytime soon. If he ever got advice on anything, they gave it to him through clenched teeth. He reminded himself to focus on the mass. Removing it was in his expertise anyway, he didn’t need anyone else to reassure him about that. He knew how to go about it, if it were inside any other patient. A two-inch incision at the base of the belly, removing the tumor and cauterizing it, simple as that. All she’d need was a few stitches and a band-aid and her death sentence from the biopsy and she’d be on her way. But this was Alaina and even thinking about her made his chest tighten. Last time he’d cut into her, at least he didn’t have much time to think about it before it was time to act. Now, if he screwed up, or if there were any other surprises that didn’t turn up in the scan, he wouldn’t even be able to resuscitate her without getting sued. He already knew that if she coded again, he’d do it too. A lawsuit didn’t scare him. He wasn’t going to stand by as she flat-lined just because she’d decided to give up.
He knew he couldn’t put it off anymore just because it was Alaina. He picked up his phone and called upstairs, to the nurses’ station on the surgical floor. He asked for Monique. Something in the last several weeks made him start to notice smaller things, like some nurses’ names. He remembered Monique because, although he surely had verbally abused her like he did the other nurses, she was always kind to him. Maybe if he was ever serious about being nicer towards people he worked with, it was better to start with people who were willing to forgive his brashness. She scheduled an OR and a team for him for the day after tomorrow. She didn’t seem irritated when he told her to replace certain available scrub nurses and technicians with others he thought were better. He told her to trade one resident with another, too. He wanted the best. He thanked her and hung up. What now?
It was 8 p.m. Was she still awake? Was she still crying? Did she give up caring about anything and just take to staring at the wall? He knew he had to check back in with her, tell her about the scheduled surgery, tell her what to expect. But he wanted to do more than that, and the thought made him furrow his brow. What else did he think he could do for her? It seemed that every time he came near her, he did something to screw up and make her mad or distraught or unhappy. Maybe he could just sit with her. All night, if he had to. Or at least offer.
He made his way back to her room, having made a detour to the fresh market across the street from the hospital. In his arm, he cradled a brown paper bag. As always, he knocked on her door, but didn’t wait long to enter afterwards. He didn’t say hello or anything. To be honest, he was nervous about what she’d be like. He didn’t like seeing her distraught, and didn’t have much of a plan if she was still crying. He awkwardly put the bag next to her on her bed and sat down in the armchair to her left, set to face her. Inside the bag was a variety of different fruits, colorful and fresh, some juices, a couple of bars of chocolate. To be honest, he didn’t know what she liked. Hell, he didn’t know anything about her. He’d knitted his fingers in front of his chin, looking embarrassed. It was a stupid idea, she probably didn’t even like fruit. Almost apologetically, he explained, “I figured you were sick of hospital food.” None of it was too extreme or sharp; he was, after all, her doctor. He knew what her diet was like following her last surgery, he’d prescribed it in the first place.
He was dressed in jeans and a pullover gray heather sweater, looking like he was dressed to go home for the night. His scrubs were somewhere in the great machinated hospital laundering system, to end up magically back in his locker by the next morning. But he didn’t really want to go anywhere. He could stay there tonight, if she wanted him to, just watching out for her. It wasn’t a big deal. Any surgeon, particularly one in the trauma specialty, could stay up an entire night and go to work the next day without sweating it. A thought hit him: what if she didn’t want him there? What if she was tired and wanted to be alone and not eat his stupid gifts? He added on: “I can stay, if you want me to. I … know I haven’t been nice to you. But you’re scared and you don’t have anyone else…” He sounded like a teenager asking out a girl for the first time, averting eye contact and all. In his jeans and sweater and hair swept back after a long, chaotic day, hands fidgeting with one another, he looked so human.
Maybe he could just stay with her until she fell asleep, so she knew she was being watched out for. Maybe he’d even learn something about her aside from her pretty face. The surgery wasn’t even tomorrow. They didn’t have to talk about medicine or procedures tonight. Maybe he could just try his best to be someone other than her doctor.
Alaina was awake by 7:30. She knew when he would visit because he visited at the same time every day. Benjamin was always professional with everything that he did, and he was always on time. Alaina never remembered him being more than a few minutes late, and she wasn't even completely sure that she could grant him that. Benjamin would be in her room by 8, and he would most definitely see her DNR report that was added to her chart the night before. Alaina knew that because she knew how analytical and observant that he was as a doctor. He didn't give up on her in the operating room, taking every small stitch and cut into consideration. There was no way that he would miss the blue-colored paper that stuck out from the binder that held all of her charts and records. It stuck out like a sore thumb. The only thing that she didn't know about the man was what he'd do when he saw the paper. There was a part of her that had done it to see how he'd react. She wanted to see the look on his face when he realized that he couldn't keep her alive if she began to crash. She wanted to see what he'd feel, but it was selfish of her...
Alaina didn't only do it to test him though, and she knew it. The cancer was eating away at her, and he wasn't helping with her look on life much either. Benjamin continuously pushed her away, and she didn't really blame him. He was a surgeon. He was strikingly handsome. He had money. He could take care of himself. He didn't need a girl like her to drag him down when he could find anyone else that was better. [i Someone that was healthy.] She thought, sitting in the silent room. The truth kept sitting in her heart, no matter how much she tried to push it down. Benjamin would only be held back by her, wouldn't he? She'd get in the way of everything... She already had! It wasn't like her to act like this or feel this way, but she did. He wasn't like anyone else that she'd ever known, but it was too late. He wasn't going to just stop until he was no longer her doctor. Maybe it was her time to go, and he was a sign that she shouldn't have taken her life for granted. It was just so cruel. First, she found out that she was battling stage 4 cancer. Then, she met Benjamin Carr, and she fell for him. Now, she had signed away her life with the DNR report. She could always reverse it, but she didn't want to, not then. Would he be relieved when he saw it? Alaina had no clue, but he shattered her thoughts when she heard the familiar knock on her door.
There he was. Benjamin stepped into her room. Alaina kept her eyes trained on his face. He saw it instantly. As Benjamin seemed to check the file over for her name increduously, Alaina felt her heart begin to pound against her chest. Why was she feeling guilty? His deep voice broke the silence. "Is this serious?" He had asked. His eyes made contact with hers, and Alaina felt somewhat of a pang in his chest. There was so much betrayal and anger in his eyes when he held the paper up to her face. He looked like he wanted to hit or... or hit something at least. Alaina knew he'd have something to say, and she couldn't tear her eyes away from him as he raised his voice. "You're getting better." He said, and she opened her mouth to say something but no words came out. The way his voice shook with intense rage scared Alaina. She'd never seen him so angry... not even when she'd yelled at him when they first met. He looked like he was about to go beserk and destroy the entire room.
"I worked hard on you, Alaina, so you could live. You can't tell me that you're willing to give up now." The words cut into her deep. What did they mean? Did he mean that he didn't want her to give up on him? Alaina still couldn't form words. Was she being selfish? What if he really did feel something for her? Once in a blue moon? She couldn't tell. She could never tell with how closed off he was. He never let anyone in, and he never told anyone how he felt. He was cryptic, but he still didn't manage to turn her away like most others. Alaina felt her eyes shift downward to the paper, seeing how tight he was gripping it. His knuckles were almost white as if the paper were an obstacle that he wanted so badly to tear away but couldn't. Benjamin didn't even look close to being done talking to her, but a nurse popped her head in the room before he could continue.
Alaina didn't even look at the nurse. She forgot about the scans. All she could think about was the way that Benjamin Carr was looking at her in that minute. It seemed as if he was burning holes into her soul with his glare. Alaina had no chance to respond. He said nothing to her on their way to the MRI suite. The magnitude of the scans was huge, but the morning almost felt bigger to her. Alaina didn't really have any hope that she was cancer-free. Everything bad happened to her. Well, she tried to think that she had no hope, but Alaina still did. She still had some form of hope in the deepest part of her that he truly did fix her, and she wanted to truly be better. There were just so many odds against her that Alaina never really expected anything to work out. The technician helped her onto the small bed, and she layed still as he pushed a button that rolled her into the machine, beeping and whirring all around. Alaina closed her eyes, praying for anything that could have saved her. She did care. She did want to be better. She was just angry the day before wasn't she?
When it was over, the technician helped her into the wheelchair. Lifting her blue eyes to the man, Alaina searched for answers. "Is it gone?" She asked, but the technician didn't know anything about the scans. Alaina waited as Ben came up to wheel her into the hallway, looking around. She figured he'd just take the opportunity to yell at her more for being stupid about the DNR report, but he didn't. What if she was cured? She didn't say anything as he pushed her to the very end of the long hallway, looking out over the city. It was gorgeous outside. Alaina stared out the window for a while before she saw him move in front of her. There was no one but them in the hallway, probably because the appointment was so early. Alaina didn't really mind it though. This was the day. Maybe... just maybe everything would go her way. When Alaina looked down at the man that crouched in front of her, she saw that the anger was gone. [i What happened to make him just forget?] She thought, not putting the pieces together.
Just as she was about to ask about the scans, Benjamin's words broke her heart. "There's a mass in your abdomen." He uttered the words without much of doubt in his voice. The cancer was still there. It was still haunting her from within. He couldn't defuse her ticking time bomb... Alaina bit her lip hard, trying to suppress her tears. "Once I remove it, we'll know if it's malignant or not." He said, and Alaina shook her head a little. She had to have surgery... again. She'd never wanted to be cut up so much... It was a huge part of the reason why she hadn't wanted treatment. She couldn't back out of surgery now, but it only made her want to give up more. Alaina couldn't take it anymore. He told her not to worry, but she was far from that. What if she was really going to die? [i I'm not ready...] She thought, putting a hand over her mouth.
That was it. She couldn't stop the tears when they came. She was crying before he knew it. The tears flooded out of her eyes, and she moved her other hand to the side of her stomach where the mass was supposed to be. She hated it. Alaina didn't care if she looked pathetic or weak in front of him in that moment. She couldn't stop herself even if she wanted too. He'd wheeled her back to her room as she was crying. She didn't even notice, but it wasn't like he said anything. Between her tears, Alaina managed to look up at him into his eyes once he moved into her vision again. "Do you even care?" She asked, looking at him longer. Alaina had to know. She couldn't stop the words from formulating. She couldn't bite her tongue before they came out. Alaina didn't look away from him, keeping eye contact. It was like she couldn't. His gaze was burning into her, and she just kept looking right back at him.
He knew he’d hurt her feelings.
Yeah, part of him felt bad about it, but he still silently reassured himself that he’d made the right call in holding her off. She’d stopped talking to him and seemed to fall into a cloud of gray when he took her back to her room, lifted her back into her bed, and fixed the two stitches that had indeed popped loose. He wanted to stay for a little longer. She didn’t have to talk to him. But by the time their little adventure had ended, it was already past 7. He still had two patients to check on by the end of the night. When he left, he didn’t say goodnight.
He walked down the hall to four doors away from the girl’s and met with the car-crash lady. The nurses told him that she’d finally regained consciousness and he knew that meant, unfortunately, that he’d have to talk to her rather than just check on her stats. The previous experience with the girl becoming cold to him made him feel defeated and weary. He wanted to go home. But he knew what his job duties entailed and that he really couldn’t get away from this. He knocked on the door and went to visit the thirty-two year-old woman. He started by explaining to her the injuries she’d sustained but she, teary-eyed, interjected to ask him where her son was. The nurse didn’t tell her. Great. After years of doing this sort of thing, it seemed that telling a woman her stupid driving had killed her son. He broke the news to her, the room filling with a mixture of sobs and screams and Ben just standing there looking at her with tired eyes. But something about the memory of the girl telling him that at least she cared about him, that he had some worth left, revitalized him enough in that moment to make him feel like he could do something to comfort the woman. “I’m really sorry …” He breathed and put a hand on her shoulder. Okay, so it seemed a little forced, a little disingenuine. At least it was an improvement. At least he was trying. He handed her a tissue.
When he got home that night, he watched the Red Sox play the Cubs and went to bed. Surprisingly, he didn’t need to sip on something first before doing so.
Again, the next morning, he woke up dreading having to meet with Alaina. She was so unpredictable, so confusing, so overly caring and nosy. Not that he disliked all of it, but it was just offputting to someone who was so used to living through a straight-cut routine with a certain degree of apathy. But he really couldn’t avoid it. Today, he was overseeing her latest MRI, so he couldn’t skip out. Well, he could. He could pass it off to Carson again. But he’d already gotten himself in too deep. He knew he wouldn’t miss it even if he wanted to. He wanted to be there to witness her ecstacy at being told her cancer was gone forever. Or, at least, he wanted to be there to comfort her at the news of her cancer spreading and confirming her death sentence. Even if that were the case, he’d do everything to keep her alive and comfortable as long as he could. He was at the hospital by 7, as usual. He knocked on her door by 8, unsure if she was still sleeping, as he occupied himself by checking on her chart.
As he entered into her room, his eye caught over a certain sheet added into her file, with the typical bright blue paper meant to catch any and all eyes’ attention. DNR? At first, Ben was sure that it was a mistake; that he’d grabbed the wrong file. Why would Alaina have something like a DNR added to her folder now? He flipped back to the first page, confirmed that the file was in fact hers, and furrowed his brow.
Confusion was overtaken by a deep-set, subtle rage. His eyes were dark and glistening as he looked from the file to the girl, who’d already awakened. Was she serious?
“Is this serious?” He asked aloud, his voice deep and almost incredulous. His chest panged at the realization of how betraying the stupid blue sheet felt. Did she not understand how hard he’d worked on her? She died and he brought her back! He fixed her. He convinced her to be fixed in the first place. And now, after the hardest part was over, she wanted to give up. “What’s this about?” He took the page out of the folder and held it up to her.
“You can’t be serious … You already got the kidney transplant. You’re healing. You’re getting better.” Well, he wasn’t sure of that. All would be revealed soon enough. He hardly noticed that his voice had raised, that it was almost trembling in some deep-seeded, betrayed anger. “Good people were in line for that kidney and you’re willing to give it all up if something else happens?” He was getting tripped up on his words and could hardly keep them from spewing out. The realization only made him all the more frustrated. “I worked hard on you, Alaina, so you could live. You can’t tell me that you’re willing to give up now.” He’d been gripping the paper so hard that it started to crumple. Good. If he could have shredded it without getting sued, he would have. As much as he felt invested in the girl’s chance at a future, he knew that going against what she wanted would have been a great breach of professional privelidge.
He surely could have kept up his angry words, except an intruding nurse slid back the glass door and interjected: “Doctor Carr, the room’s open to get the scans.” He didn’t break his gaze away from Alaina, his eyes on fire, his jaw clutched and set. He was furious at her, hardly even giving her a chance to respond. He wasn’t even nearly done trying to argue that the DNR was stupid and selfish. The irony of that argument, especially coming from a near-suicidal person, was not beyond him. He knew that after the MRI was done, when the scans revealed that the cancer was completely gone, that he could keep lecturing her on it. As he pushed her up to the MRI suite, he didn’t say a word to her. His jaw didn’t unclench.
When she’d been set up for her scan by the technician and told to “hold still,” Ben sat passively behind the tinted glass screen at one of the wide monitors. He was just waiting for the scans to come out clear so he could print them out and point them in her face and make her feel stupid.
As the image started to transmit onto the screen in front of him, Ben glanced over it with dark gray eyes. They caught on something. That wasn’t supposed to be there.
On the lower side of her stomach, a white blotch on the scan. “Uh oh, what is that?” Asked the technician, his eyes also finally catching it. “A mass,” Ben muttered, his voice dark and almost defeated. He leaned back in the chair and ran his hand over his face, pinching the bridge of his nose and closing his eyes. Suddenly his anger at the girl over her stupid, petty DNR melted away. They had other things to worry about. Sure, a small mass on the MRI didn’t necessarily mean that the cancer had spread … He tried reminding himself of that. There was a possibility that it was just a benign mass that’d cropped up independently, even as a result of infection or trauma from the surgery. But it was probably cancer. Incurable, time-biding cancer. Again, he hated himself for yelling at her. He’d have to remove it and biopsy it to confirm it was, in fact, cancer. He was sort of glad he’d at least still be able to be a surgeon to her, not just some helplessly romantic boyfriend. He’d do his best. Not like a DNR in the way would help if anything happened. Now the prospect of losing her on the table was more real than ever.
The scan ended. The technician got up to help the girl back into her wheelchair. Ben didn’t get up. He just sat motionless with his hands knitted together. How was he going to tell her. How would he tell her, without worrying her or scaring her or making her feel hopeless. He didn’t have a good track record of being optimistic. He finally told himself to get up when the technician finally got her back into her chair. Ben took up pushing her into the hallway, the girl probably still thinking he was mad and giving her the silent treatment over the DNR. He wanted to throw something. He hated that the girl in front of him, so young and pretty and kind and resilient, couldn’t seem to catch a break. He just wanted to fix her and let her leave and marry a nice guy and have kids and grandkids and leave him behind here in this hole forever.
He finally couldn’t take it. He’d pushed her to the end of the hallway and stopped her near a window with a nice view of the city. The hallway was nearly empty, still too early to be busy with outpatient traffic for the day. He put the brake on and moved around to crouch in front of her, his eyes no longer firey but as dark as always. How to tell her? He couldn’t look at her. His eyes went down to his hands. “There’s a mass in your abdomen.” The tone of his voice was revealing enough that he didn’t really have to say much else. “There’s no way to tell yet if it’s the cancer. It might not be, but …” How to tell her? He couldn’t even find a way to finish the sentence. Some professional he was.
“Once I remove it, we’ll know if it’s malignant or not.” It probably was. “Don’t worry until then.” He told her, although he probably just said it as much to himself. He felt like a jerk for yesterday, for rejecting the chance at having a beautiful girl like Alaina at his side over a stupid, meaningless job that he didn’t even like that much anyway. If the biopsy came back that she was, in fact, dying then … He’d say fuck it to his job. He’d take her away somewhere and wouldn’t look back. Somewhere sunny and bright and warm. He’d love her and care for her. He wasn’t good at it, he knew that much, but he would learn how.
Ben was silent for what seemed like an eternity. Alaina waited for a response for several minutes, but he didn't respond. He seemed to be in deep thought for a long period of time, and she wouldn't have been surprised if he hurried back into the hospital and back in the elevator in order to get as far away from her as he could. Alaina slowly bit her lip, bringing one hand to adjust the heavy blanket that was wrapped around her shoulders to prevent the cold. It didn't help. [i Why did I do that?] She thought, leaning her head back in the wheelchair. Alaina had never been the girl to profess her feelings in such a dramatic fashion, but he changed all of that. She'd always lived by herself, and she'd always provided for herself. Alaina had had to learn how to be independent since high school when her father took up his heavy drinking. She earned everything she'd ever had, and she didn't need anyone to make her feel better. Alaina didn't have much, but she had all that she needed. Or at least she thought that she did... Ben changed [i all] of that. Alaina didn't even try to pursue him. She didn't want to, but he came in and took her breath away just by being himself. Alaina couldn't have changed the result if she wanted to. It was a natural connection, and she'd never felt something with such raw emotion.
After she was admitted into the hospital, Ben made her want to depend on someone else for once. He made her want to find every way possible to tell him how she felt, including a cheesy, huge profession of love on the hospital balcony. He made her want to break the cold, hard barrier that he put up against the world. She remembered their first meeting and how angry she had been.
Alaina remembered how much she despised his close-minded attitude and how little he seemed to care about her life, but she'd grown to understand it. When she was lying in her room in the ICU, she had the opportunity to see people coding and dying all around her. There were countless families that would visit a family member in the hopes of a miraculous recovery only to leave with tears on their faces. Alaina had seen many different people come through the doors of the ICU, lying on hospital beds with tubes worming in and out of their bodies and holding onto any life that they still had. There had only been a few of them that had come out of the same floor alive, and Alaina realized how alike they all were. But there was one thing that set the patients apart from her. They always had someone to check on them. Every single one of the patients that she had seen rushed by her door always had a loved one that came in behind them either hours after or the next day. Alaina didn't have that. Ben didn't want the responsibility of being the person that rushed in after their loved one was admitted to the ICU. He didn't want to deal with more pain than he had to, and he didn't want to lose more people than he did every day.
Why would he ever want to bother with the girl circling down the drain? Alaina finally heard his voice. She had no clue how he felt, but she realized how pathetic she was. Maybe it was the cancer that made her so different... maybe it was the idea that death was around the corner... but Alaina would never be the same, and Ben was part of that. Alaina knew that she'd never see the rain the same way as she did before, and she knew that she'd never view yellow flowers the same either. Alaina knew that she'd never see surgeons the same way, and she knew that she'd never see hospitals the same way either. When he said don't worry, Alaina felt as if her heart had been ripped out of her chest. [i How could she not worry?] Treatment didn't come first for her. Alaina was tired. She could hardly stand by herself. How could she not worry about how the rain felt? How could she not worry about how beautiful the flowers were? How could she not worry about how pure the heart of a surgeon could be? How could she not worry about the fact that she could finally see the wonders of life that she wouldn't be able to share with anyone else?
Alaina looked to the side as she made up her mind. She didn't even respond to him. All she did was look at him once as he took her back to her room. He'd told her that she was bleeding, but she was used to bleeding. It didn't make a difference to her. Alaina left her head back on the pillow, staring out the window in her room as the rain slowly scraped down the glass. Alaina said nothing. She didn't even wince at the blood or the pain. She just stared at the window until he left. As soon as he'd left, Alaina turned her head to her chart at the end of the bed. She could barely make out his handwriting, but it was visible from her bed. After squinting and slightly sitting up, Alaina made out the words. There was many words that she didn't recognize that were mostly medical jargon, but she understood the point. The chart told other health care workers that she was capable of cardiac arrest at any time, meaning that she'd need resuscitation. There was only one way to change that.
Slowly and weakly pressing the nurse call button, Alaina waited in her bed until a woman came into the room."Is there something that I can get you Ms. White?" Alaina's voice was faint, but it was demanding enough for the nurse to understand. "I need you to get me a pen and this form..." She said, pointing to something on the chart. Alaina barely managed to sit up as the nurse came back, taking the pen in her small hands. Even the pen felt heavy... Slowly swooping the cursive of her name, Alaina dotted her i and dropped the pen. It was over. It was legal. The nurse signed the form after another confirmation, and Alaina let her eyes scan over the form once more. She put it on the chart before laying back under the covers of her bed and falling asleep. At the top of the form were the letters "DNR," and, in small print, there were words underneath the letters that read "Do Not Resuscitate." The form was the first thing he'd see when he walked in the room.
An ache panged in his chest when she told him that she cared for him. She did? It was such a foreign sentiment to him, the idea of being acknowledged by anyone anymore, much less cared for. “I know that this isn't normal because I haven't ever felt this way about anyone else,” she told him and his eyes connected with hers, his particularly dark and clouded. He wanted to tell her how much he’d felt the same, but there was no easy way to do it. He’d had plenty of women in his life … Sarah, Ellie, Landry for a month or two, Carolyn, Kate … but they were just good company. Alaina … Alaina White wasn’t like them. A patient, a girl with the high possibility of circling the drain in the foreseeable future. But she ignited in him a feeling of sympathy, of wanting to be sympathized with, like no one else did.
He wanted to tell her how much he’d come to care for her. There was a distinct moment when he’d realized it. She was on the table, on her side with an open incision. She was coding and he’d pressed the paddles to her chest. Nothing. Two more times and still nothing. The fourth time he told everyone to clear, some of the nurses were giving him the look of hopeless skepticism that he was even trying again. He shocked her again and then a moment of absolute quiet before the monitor reflected a pulse and a palpable sigh of relief seemed to echo through the room. Ben let out a shaky, heavy breath as he handed the paddles back to a nurse, and he caught a glimpse of the girl’s face. It’d been separated from the operating site by blue draping cloths. She was intubated, her eyes taped closed, one of her pale, bare arms draped over her head in an optimal position for accessing the incision site at her side. A machine was breathing for her, a machine was shocking her heart back to life; she didn’t do anything on her own. He felt guilty. He knew she couldn’t feel any pain then, but he felt nauseous at the fact that he’d just administered four shocks to her small, limp frame and would go back to cutting more of her up. She could have just died … She practically had. He could hear the heightened beating of his heart reverberating in his ears. The OR had gone silent. He could have lost her then. Like he’d lost so many patients before. His specialty in trauma ensured that a great deal of the patients he took on died on the table, that was an accepted part of the job. Something in that moment made him think to himself that, regardless of what it took, he wouldn’t let her die. “I’ve gotten you this far, don’t quit on me now.” He’d thought to himself, looking at the unconscious girl. His mind hadn’t changed since then. He was going to keep her safe.
It wasn’t a normal amount of concern for a patient, he admitted that to himself. He’d cared for her very deeply. He still did. But admitting that right now, out loud, would take him off the case and he didn’t want that. He wanted to stay on her case in case something else went wrong and she needed surgery again. For all the egotistical crap he usually pulled, he wasn’t being vain in thinking that he was one of her best shots at living through another operation. Hopefully, it wouldn’t ever get to that point. That was a realization they’d have to come to tomorrow with the new MRI scans.
He wouldn’t lose his job, no. If he suddenly decided he couldn’t spend another day in denial about how much he wanted to hold her and kiss her in front of the entire hospital, he wouldn’t lose his position as surgeon. But they would surely kick him off her case. That was practically just as bad. He wasn’t one to sit by someone’s bedside and hold her hand and twiddle his thumbs, waiting for her to get better. He was a doer. He wasn’t going to sit by and let someone else handle whether or not she effectively got better. She wanted him to profess to all of his feelings to her, he could see that. But he wasn’t going to keep on with his previous moments’ routine of admitting that she was beautiful and that he’d liked kissing her. Not today. Her case was too important. Again, he was going to revert into the cold personality again, shutting her out from his gentle side. It was probably frustrating to deal with someone like him. Kate sure thought so. “Why won’t you just tell me anything?” She cried out to him when he turned away from her in their bed in his apartment and turned off the light at night. He usually just avoided the topic by having sex and they would sleep it off and start all over again the next day. But he wasn’t ready to open up yet. He wasn’t to Kate, he wouldn’t be to Alaina.
“Don’t worry about that now. Let’s just get you treated first.” He murmured out to her, not liking to think about her dismal remarks about having cancer and possibly dying and wanting him to be there for her. It was all a bit overwhelming. He reverted to his usual habit of checking his phone for pages whenever he felt uncomfortable around her. Unfortunately, no messages urgently calling him away. He felt guilty again. He knew him being cold towards her hurt her feelings and it made him feel bad to know that. But he was going to stay on her case. Besides, he didn’t even know how to traverse matters of love and lightness anymore anyway. He wouldn’t be any good at it.
His eyes glanced over the girl in the wheelchair and a breeze started to pick up on the rooftop as the sun started to set into a vivid blue twilight. She was pretty in the new, dark light. Her blue eyes pooled into the color of the ocean. Her pale, sickly skin illuminated. But they couldn’t stay up there forever. He needed to get her out of the cold. Besides, something in him hoped that once they left the terrace, all of the stuff they’d just said would be left there. Even so, he felt a newfound lightness at hearing her say that she cared about him. I care about you to, he thought to himself, looking at her. His eyes traced down her gown to a dark spot on its side, and his brow furrowed. “You’re bleeding.” He mused, thinking that she’d probably torn a stitch or two out of place from moving around so much. “We need to go in, it’s getting cold anyway. Let’s get you back to your bed. I’ll look at your stitches.”
Alaina felt dizzy for a moment, and her vision blurred. She would have passed out or fallen to the ground if he hadn't have held onto her forearms and gently lowered her back to her wheelchair. Alaina leaned back into the chair, not even registering anything for a moment as she caught her breath. It was almost like she had fallen under some kind of spell. For a moment, Alaina felt no pain, and she didn't feel the cold. She didn't even hear the multitude of sirens from the streets below, and she didn't hear the rain pattering onto the balcony. All of that had shattered. Suddenly, she was living in the present. She was living in the cold, and she was living in the pain. Why did she ever let him do this to her? Ben didn't care about her... did he? He had only kissed her because he felt bad for her, right? Alaina didn't register that he said he didn't mean to hurt her feelings after she sat down. He didn't mean to? How was that possible? Ben couldn't feel anything for her. He was cold. He was distant. He was too deliberate. He was [i professional], and she didn't want him to be.
Alaina didn't even think about her stitches or her slim chances of survival. All she could think about was him. All she could remember was his lips on hers. All she knew was that she didn't want him to stop... The fact that he kissed her only made it more complicated. Alaina's breathing calmed down just as she realized what she had said. Her last words betrayed every feeling that she'd been hiding. They were the same ones that she had been pushing down every time she saw him. The second that he caught her off guard, Alaina couldn't hide it anymore. The words just came from her mouth like a waterfall. The color of her face paled slightly, and her heart still swelled with emotions. What if she just ruined everything between them? Alaina looked to Ben's face, expecting him to burst out laughing or show that stupid smirk of his. She expected him to just push her back to her room and sign off on her name for another doctor to complete her daily examinations. Alaina thought that he'd run. But he didn't.
He was silent for a moment, but she was thinking in that time. They both didn't know what to say. They both didn't know what to do. He kissed her. She admitted that she had fallen for him. It wasn't like they could just play it off as if nothing had happened. Alaina had somewhat gotten her wits together as Ben's phone went off. When he stood, Alaina thought that he was going to leave from the balcony with some excuse that he had to see a patient or other. Ben knew that he could just walk out and forget all about her. Alaina was too weak to push her wheelchair fast enough to catch him anyway, and she was normally hooked up to several machines and monitored by nurses every minute. All he had to do was walk away, and he'd be out of her life. Alaina knew that she couldn't say or do anything if he started walking out, and she kept her eyes trained on him. She knew that she didn't want him to just leave from her life as easily as he had walked into it, and she hoped with all of her weak, pathetic self that he wouldn't push her away this time.
Alaina managed to hear the scream of woman's voice from Ben's phone that exclaimed, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY BIG BROTHER!" It was his birthday, and she didn't even know. Why did that bother her so much? When he ended the call, Alaina instantly thought back to him leaving. She couldn't get the picture out of her head. After all this time, Alaina thought that she could predict him. She was so wrong to think that... First, he allowed her to see the rain and get out of her room. After they got to the balcony, he kissed her. Now, Ben didn't leave when he had every chance to her. Instead, he turned back to talk to her. "I'm sorry Alaina... I shouldn't have done that." He began to explain, and there were so many explanations floating around in her mind. What did it mean? Did he mean that he shouldn't have kissed her? Did that mean he didn't feel the same way that she did? She was about to say something, but Ben silenced when his deep, captivating voice came to her ears once more. "It's not that I didn't want to. You're.. You're very... beautiful... But you're a patient. I can lose my job over this." Alaina let her bright blue eyes continue to study his face, being so used to his calm and controlled demeanor.
In that moment, Ben was not acting like he normally did. His words were broken by pauses as if he had to hesitate and think about what to say. His tone was no longer professional. Hell, he was no longer professional, but it wasn't like she was angry about that. He was finally opening up. The first thing that she noticed was that he wanted to kiss her. He admitted it. He'd just said the words. Alaina had turned the words over in her mind several times before confirming it. Somehow, someway... Ben felt the same way that she did about him? She'd always thought that it was just a stupid crush, but, after a while, Alaina had begun to find out that her feelings were deeper than the superficial ones behind a crush. It was encompassing, and it was electric. Their kiss proved that. His touch proved that... He called her beautiful, and Alaina couldn't help but feel the slight twinge of her mouth to move upward. It sounded so foreign coming from him, but it also sounded so natural. Ben wasn't the person that you'd think would have these kinds of feelings or call a woman beautiful, but here he was, surprising her more and more.
His last words were the ones that stuck like glue within her brain. "But you're a patent. I can lose my job over this." She was a patient. He was the doctor. She was weak and sick. He was healthy and fit. They were just so opposite form each other. It was almost as if they were supposed to be forbidden from developing feelings for each other or even remotely liking each other. At the beginning, Alaina knew that there was a sense of animosity between them, but it had faded. Even after everything was considered, Alaina knew what he was saying. Doctors took an oath that prevented them from relationships with patients, and Ben had an extremely honorable reputation to uphold. Was she really worth him losing that? Looking down from his eyes, Alaina turned her head to think. She wanted to be selfish. She wanted to fight for a chance to be with him, but she knew that she couldn't force Ben to just give up his life's work. She couldn't just ask him to ruin his reputation as a surgeon for her, already weak, self.
Finally, Alaina found the words that she needed. Looking into Ben's eyes, the woman began. "You're right Ben. I am a patient. I am [i your] patient, and I knew that coming in." Pausing, Alaina took a small breath, feeling her voice trembling a little. She was so nervous, and her heart was pounding. "Ben... I can't hide how I feel about you anymore. I know that you're my doctor. I know that I have cancer. I know that I can't barely stand without someone's help, and I know that I probably shouldn't even be alive right now. But you know what I know more than that? I know that I care about you. I know that I feel these tingles all over my body when you touch me, and I know I felt that spark between us when you kissed me. It felt like nothing could hurt us anymore in that one moment... I know that this isn't normal because I haven't ever felt this way about anyone else." Taking a breath, Alaina gently wiped her eyes, feeling tears starting to form in them. Her words were charged with emotion, and she wasn't even close to being done yet.
"I don't know why Ben. I can't tell you why or how, but I... I can't stop thinking about you when I'm lying in that hospital bed with the constant beeping sounds of machines all around me. I can't stop wishing that I was healthy enough to walk up to you and kiss you again right now because I really want to do that..." Looking up at him, Alaina kept pouring out her feelings, unable to stop the waterfall of words that were rushing out of her. "You can lose your job over [i this]... yes. But you know what you mean by this, and I know too. For once in your life Ben? Please don't run or push me away or just walk out of my life. I know that I'm probably not worth caring about because I'm a ticking time bomb, but I fell for you. I fell for you Ben, and you could lose your job over it, but I just wish I was worth it." The tears had rolled down her cheeks, and Alaina gently wiped them from her eyes, unable to control herself. She put her entire heart in front of him, and she couldn't just take it back. Alaina knew that she was taking a risk, but she had just let her heart take over. She didn't regret telling him. If anything, she was happy that he knew before it was too late... Alaina kept her eyes on Ben's, feeling the magnitude of the situation press at her. She had to know... She had to know how he felt more than anything. There was a part of her that told her he'd never give up being a surgeon, but there was another part of her that told her they could make it work. Suddenly, it was his turn to speak, and she was terrified.
The little bubble of Eden-like fantasy they might have been creating for themselves in that little garden in the clouds had broken. He didn’t hear the calming patter of rain anymore, didn’t see the soft-tinted swiffs of ecru, ivory, and white in the clouds as something beautiful. Didn’t hear the tweeting tune of a bird who’d landed on the balcony, seeking refuge from the rain with its mate. He suddenly became all too aware that they were in the middle of the city again, with its blaring echoes of sirens reverberating in its corridors, the rising columns of smoke emerging from chimney stacks of industrial buildings, the fluttering of dirty pigeons, and the honking of taxis too impatient to wait at the red lights. Back in the lonely big city with a chilling breeze blowing against his face. Even if he had thought differently for just a moment that there was a chance of escaping it, he had been wrong. He’d been impulsive and stupid. Now look what he did … He took a nice moment, one that surely brought a lot of peace to a girl who’d recently had a constant pattern of pain and fear and messed it up with a rash kiss. A nice kiss.
And he, not unexpectedly, had reacted to it badly. Inadvertently, once again made her feel bad about something, even if he wasn’t exactly sure what he’d done wrong. He wasn’t smart about things like this. “Look I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings … I’m sorry.” His regret was genuine. He looked down to the girl struggling, trying to stand, gripping her hand tightly on the arm of the wheelchair. Every instinct in his medical training told him he needed to stop her, make her sit back down and not strain herself. But he stood motionless, now for some reason afraid of touching her. He’d gone too far already … Hell, he’d just kissed the girl. Now, it felt like if he even stepped within a foot of her, he’d get himself fired for sure.
As she tried to stand up, his eyes at least wandered down to where her stitches surely strained under her gown and he told himself that, inappropriate or not, he at least needed to get her to relax. His mind began to churn again the idea that if there were the early signs of a mild infection, all of this straining sure wasn’t helping the matter. What if she ripped her stitches out? She’d make the infection worse for sure. He held out his hands to her, grasping onto her forearms and insisting she sit herself back down just as her knees started to buckle. He’d focused so intently on getting her back into her chair that he hadn’t registered what she’d just said. What was it? He had to think it over again. She was … what? Falling for him? What was this, the Notebook? Some cute little tale of modern day romance where the helpless girl meets a rescuer and they fall in love? He didn’t buy that kind of thing, and he almost wanted to smirk at the thought. But something about her saying so, about it coming from her lips that she cared for him, nonetheless brought a burst of warmth to his chest. He’d almost forgotten what it felt like to have an idea of what it was like to care for someone. Someone kind and beautiful, who cared for him too. The realization of that feeling almost left him incapacitated as he looked back to her from where he’d put her back in her chair. He didn’t know what to say.
His phone was ringing. He tried to ignore it, but it started ringing again after it’d gone silent. The lady from the car crash? Maybe they were trying to alert him about her coding. He tore his eyes away from the girl and stood erect again, taking his phone from his belt and answering it before checking who the call was from.
“Ben! I’ve been trying to call you! Where have you been all day?! HAPPY BIRTHDAY BIG BROTHERR! Only one more year until the big 3-0-…” Ben had turned away from the girl in the wheelchair to overlook the cityscape from the balcony. Not Addison … His 22-year-old sister was a young, free, tan college senior at UCLA and always seemed to have an unreal amount of energy. He had to pull the phone away from his ear when she practically yelled at him “HAPPY BIRTHDAY BIG BROTHER,” slightly blushing at the embarrassing call, hoping the girl wouldn’t have heard.
“Addison, I’m on a case, I need to call you back.” His sister’s bright and beaming voice didn’t seem to have an effect on her brother’s as he responded in his typical deep and grim tone. Before giving her a chance to protest, he ended the call and groaned to himself, slipping the phone back into its spot. He mustered up the courage to turn back to the girl in the wheelchair, letting out a sigh as his dark, tired eyes met hers. “I’m sorry, Alaina. I … shouldn’t have done that.” He took his eyes off hers, feeling somewhat embarrassed at himself. He put his hands back in his coat pocket as he stood across from her. “It’s not that I didn’t want to. You’re …” What was he even trying to say? “You’re very … beautiful.… But you’re a patient. I can lose my job over this.” He couldn’t believe he was saying this stuff. So much for keeping it professional. But, hell, it looked like he’d already lost any sense of self control already. He might as well just keep winging it.
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