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Alaina felt more out of place when she admired all the fancy, overdressed, and overtly pompous people around her. Never would she have dreamed to have enough money or a miracle story that granted her an opportunity to dress up in an expensive gown and attend a venue so grand. She was just a misfortunate person who managed to survive the monstrous form of cancer she was cursed with. Everywhere she looked there were groups of doctors or rich philanthropists or self-serving politicians trying to gain favor or get lucky or just act like they cared about people like her. These people would be the ones to pay for her unbelievable medical costs. Alaina didn’t know what she’d do without any help, so here she was. But it wasn’t like her to sulk. She wasn’t exactly like Ben. Instead, she made the most of situations she found herself in as she had in the hospital. In the boring company of her dull, ICU walls, Alaina found solace in simple things such as a streak of rain dragging down the window or a certain garden on a high floor of the hospital... Nothing about this night was simple.
Alaina polished off a few more strawberries then strolled off to the stone terrace. Some people knew who she was, inevitably. Well, those that had done their homework to know who they were paying for exactly. She’d been caught in a few meaningless conversations where people showed their sympathies and explained how she must have gone through so much pain. They didn’t know that the pain didn’t stop fully, at least the physical side had slowly resolved itself. Her heart wasn’t so lucky. Alaina made small talk and regurgitated parts of her story, always cordial and genuinely polite and thankful. She did appreciate their words and money, but she didn’t like being a spectacle. As soon as she could escape, those bright, blue eyes found something captivating. In fact, this thing was so captivating that Alaina stood still for a moment. It was a gorgeous ice sculpture, carved in the shape of an angel and looming over the entire terrace. The thing quite literally took her breath away. She was almost an angel herself, and it reminded her of the one thing she always dreamed about. Snow. Of course, that brought back more memories of something she didn’t really want to remember.
Still in awe, Alaina stepped closer to the sculpture. The detail was impeccable. Staring at it a moment and admiring every little curve and mark in the ice, the woman went to a happy place. Her mind was thrown into the same dream she’d held on to in the hospital. She dreamed about snow layered so thick on the ground that you had to wear special shoes to walk, and she thought about fireplaces and log cabins and skiing and snow mobiles. Of course, she dreamed about more than that, but she pushed that particular thought away just as she had for months now. Alaina was ready to push the whole cancer chapter behind her, including a certain doctor that saved her life. Maybe she’d have money left over after all this to go on her own. Alaina White knee one thing, and that was that she definitely didn’t want to keep waiting for things to happen in her life. After all, she’d been willing to give up not too long ago. She got a second chance at the hands of Dr. Benjamin Carr, so she shouldn’t waste it. She wanted to see snow, so she would. She just had to survive the night long enough to make plans.
Alaina smiled slightly then, reaching out her hand to touch the solid water. Her fingertips claw into contact ever so gently with the ice sculpture, sending a shot of coolness up her arm, a reminder that she was very much alive.it was another thing she loved about the snow. It was so beautiful, so I disturbed, so purely white, that no one thought about the coolness inside. In fact, it held many characteristics to herself that she hadn’t even realized yet. And, of course, her dress was a sight in the navy blue she picked from the hospital suggestions. Blue or white were her favorite colors, both so calm and peaceful. Alaina had been tired of chaos. Now, she attempted to embody something else. She was doing a fairly good job of it as she took a few more steps away from the ice sculpture to admire shrubbery designs and flowers. Then, she saw the one person she never expected to see again.
Alaina went rigid. She quite literally froze in place, just like the angel ice sculpture not a few feet from her. He was so close, and she hadn’t even known it. She just stood there, staring with those blue eyes of hers at him as he spoke to two other, clearly successful men. The first thing she noticed was his face. Her eyes trailed over every stern line of his nose to his eyebrows to his lips to his jawline. She looked over the tired bags under his eyes, typical for a doctor. But she didn’t have to. Alaina has tried her best not to think about the face she now couldn’t stop looking at. Damn, she tried. But she could never forget. Even in her medicated and extremely pained state, she knew that face. A lump formed in her throat. It was like something she never felt before. Her whole body felt like it was being pushed into the ground, and her heart sent a shock of pain down her body.
Only it wasn’t just pain. He looked good. He looked really good. Alaina couldn’t help her eyes moving down to the way his suit was tailored to fit every muscle. She admired the way the blue overcoat and pants stood out with the leather additions. He wasn’t wearing scrubs or a lab coat or that one special time he wore that casual sweater and jeans. Dr. Benjamin Carr was dressed up, and he looked better than ever. Alaina hadn’t realized she wasn’t breathing when she sucked in some air. It wasn’t just pain... it was desire too. It was a burning desire. She wanted nothing more than to walk to him with her two functioning, alive legs and tell him that she was hopelessly in love with him and kiss him and hold him until the rest of her days allowed. But she also despised him for that reason. Alaina was ready to die when she met him, but he turned her whole world around only to discharge her in a manner colder than the ice sculpture she was standing close to. He let her go, and he didn’t seem to care. It made sense that he was there, dressed all dapper and talking to entitled doctors or colleagues. He was one of the best, if not the best, surgeon UW Med had on staff. The hospital always needed to make good impressions too. She didn’t even think about him being there until she saw him.
Alaina felt like time slowed down. It had been six long, excruciating months. She’d been utterly alone, working on rehabilitation, worrying about finances, and wondering if she shouldn’t have ever lived in the first place. She had so many questions. Alaina spent countless nights at her desk, writing out questions she wanted to ask him before crumpling ho the paper and throwing it in the trash like he did her. But it was all easier when she didn’t have to see him. Now, he was there, way too close to her for her to just walk off. Alaina was seeing red then. It was like the time she first met him and went off on him, calling him out for his cold mannerisms like no one else had the guts to do. She needed to know... Alaina didn’t think she could live without more resolutions. She wanted to know if he was just stringing her on as someone he felt bad for. She had to know if he only took her case because he knew it was difficult enough that if she survived, she’d be here as a miracle, and he would reap the paycheck and the recognition. She had to know why he promised taking her to see the snow and giving her that stupid, stuffed polar bear was an empty lie. And she had to know now.
Alaina willed herself to move when the two doctors were whisked off by some other brown noser willing to kiss their asses. He was alone. She didn’t move fast. Her pace carried her gracefully, patiently to him. Nothing else mattered. As she arrived at his side, Alaina looked at him then out over the grand display of lights and ice sculptures and bars and pools and a garden to boot. Her voice came out silky and smooth yet broken at the same time. “Strange seeing me out of a hospital bed or a wheelchair on my own two feet? Owning the freedom to go anywhere I please without needles and monitors attached to me?” Alaina took in a shaky breath. She was instantly regretting her sudden surge of confidence and anger at the same time. Biting her bottom lip, she tried to stay strong and not betray herself with the hint of her eyes watering. Releasing her lip after the tension eased, Alaina kept her eyes over the luxury a moment before those big, bright, twinkling, blue eyes stared straight into his gray ones. They were full of every emotion she truly felt inside, and he’d be able to see that. A part of her heart was racing at the thought she was literally able to do anything or go anywhere with him that she so desired. There was an unspeakable tension between them, so thick that it felt like she couldn’t breathe even more than when she was standing just a few more feet away. Finally, she spoke again, in her soft yet powerful way, “I trusted you, Ben. I trusted you, despite all the pain, confusion, anger, sadness, and loneliness. Why did you lie to me? Why did you promise me trips and give me stupid gifts you never meant? Why didn’t you see me after I got the best news I’ve ever heard from some charge nurse I didn’t even recognize?”
With that, Alaina didn’t take her eyes off of him, running a hand up and through her now healthier, jet black hair. She took a small breath and continued, not able to stop until he gave her something to live with rather than a signature on her discharge papers. “I had no one else. I still don’t have anyone else. I was ready to give up everything when you promised me you could fix me despite the tiniest of percentages that I would somehow survive and the mountain of reasons I would die and not in my own bed on my own time. You did it, Ben. You saved me. Now, here I am. Here we both are. I get the title miracle, and you get the title miracle worker. I guess it goes without saying that I was wrong about you. Once, I saw you like everyone else here. A miracle worker. Now, I know you’re just a doctor. A truly talented, heartless doctor. But here’s to the story. It was a damn good one. It’ll look good on paper.” Alaina was holding a champagne glass in one hand that she’d been carrying around since it had been given to her. She hadn’t had one drop of the stuff, rather choosing not to drink since the discharge. Tonight was different. The champagne held more worth than she did in one finger, all of her patchwork self with scars and a pretty invitation to show for it. But in one fell swoop, she brought the glass to her lips and took a small sip, letting the usually celebratory taste hit the back of her throat. And still, she couldn’t shake the feeling she had of wanting to kiss him then and there for everyone to see before her hourglass finally ran out. “A toast... to how messed up we are.” She spoke smoothly, glancing at him. They both knew where that line was from. They both knew what she meant but wouldn’t say.
Alaina might not have seen Ben again in those last few hospital days that she suffered through, looking out windows to rainy cityscapes and stumbling down the hallway in her first attempts to rehabilitate. Ben could’ve almost said the same for him.
Ben signed her discharge papers on a Friday morning in early May. As he glanced over her name on the document’s header, a pang of pain coursed through his body. It was almost as if he’d been suddenly and overwhelmingly shocked by an invisible static in the air. Alaina. With the thought of her name came the vision of that gentle, unsupposing smile... the black hair crowning her heart-shaped face, a striking, Victorian pallor. For the past month, he’d managed to overhaul the listlessness that had overtaken his life. She became his patient, and he immediately focused his energies on fixing Alaina. Everything else during that time was an inconsequence. He pushed to the periphery of his mind all that had troubled him so drastically before she’d come along. The hopelessness, the depression, the loneliness, the suicide... Today, staring up at him on the counter of the nurses’ station was the document that ended this brief, miraculous stint of meaning in his life. Then what? Then he’d go home to an empty, still-unpacked apartment, and wake up the next morning to treat more people and more people who never seemed to be able to avoid getting into stupid situations. He’d drink again. He’d already gone back to smoking once or twice a day. And he guessed, with nothing but a simple sigh as he signed the papers with his strict and slanted script, that he’d eventually end up in the same place again - with a bottle of scotch and a line of barbiturates in his arm.
For a brief moment, Ben considered if he was making a mistake at letting her go like this. Of course, he knew what he wanted to do. Oh, there was so much he wanted to do with her now that she was free of the hospital again. He wanted nothing more than to hear her say his name, to put his arms around her. But all of that was a fantasy. She might’ve believed it too, at that moment. That he was good for her. She might’ve noticed that he was flawed in a lot of major ways, but she had no idea how much of a fucking time bomb he was. There was no doubt in his mind that one day, soon, he was going to spiral again. He didn’t want her to see him like that. More importantly, he didn’t want to take her down with him. Some people just weren’t cut out to thrive in this world. And lately, it felt like the world’s entire weight was pressing in on him more and more. Beautiful Alaina. She needed someone better. He looked down to see that his fists were clenched so tight on the counter, the skin was turning white at the knuckles. He finally let out the breath he’d apparently been keeping sucked in, releasing his fists. He wasn’t wrong about this, even if he wanted to be. It was time to let go. It was time to let her go. He handed the completed discharge order back to the charge nurse.
Ben was coming off a hell of a night, spending the witching hours between consult calls, emergency operations, and brief stints of sleep in the on-call room. Most attendings would complain about night-shift binges, but someone other than the moronic residents had to be nearby to fix their mistakes. Besides, he had a mounting dread at the idea of going back to his empty and shadowed apartment. It was only 7:00 am when he signed the papers and gave Yadav the go-ahead to release Alaina. He had five more hours on his shift, and anticipated they’d be busy ones. Rush hours were always busy, with an endless stream of fender benders from the I-5, the occasional red light run, even a pedestrian or bike hit now and then. Ben managed to get 2 hours of patchy sleep in the early hours, finally getting called down to the ER for a trauma case at 9:30. He met the staff frantically moving around a car crash victim in a glass-paned trauma room. The guy didn’t look good. After a brief exam, he told the nurse they’d have to do a chest tube. He stood of straight to loop his stethoscope around his neck, looking up briefly.
That’s when he saw her, one last time. Leaving through the hospital’s main entrance, which happened to abut the ER. It was from a distance to be sure, but he had thought about that face plenty enough to know it even from far away. Alaina was leaving. Standing up from the wheelchair and thanking the nurse who’d taken her that far. Free at last. Another shock of static pain hit his system. “Dr. Carr! The chest tube...?” The ER nurse snapped him out of his trance, alert to the urgency of the situation and holding out a scalpel to him. He put in the tube, and with all the practice he’d had over the past several years, it only took half a minute. But when he took a brief glance back out through the trauma window, she was gone.
- - -
Another Friday. Wait, no it was Saturday. Ben’s schedule had been as erratic as ever, making keeping the days straight as difficult as ever. He still kept to his routine as much as possible - wake up in the dark, run five miles, put coffee on, shower, shave, work. He didn’t have to work today, at least not in the literal sense. He more or less counted this event tonight as just as much of a chore as clocking in to an OR. He hated things like this. Just moneybag philanthropists and hospital trustees patting each other on the back for four hours. Of course, the guise sent out in the invitations every year suggested that the event was to reflect upon the most notable patient stories and medical projects that had culminated over the past year. He had to go every year, all of the attendings did. He was pretty sure that there was even a clause in his contract about it. Even a few of the residents got invited, if they were part of a notable research project or medical case.
Most years prior to this one, Ben managed to slide by the hours tossing back liquor at a corner table with Kate. By the end of their relationship, they didn’t have a lot to talk about, but at least when you’re not sitting alone no one new wants to come bother you. Tonight wasn’t going to be so easy. A recent project with a colleague of his had been getting major recognition at conferences across the US and parts of Europe and Oceania. They’d even published on it two months ago. Physicians were pretty good at keeping their anticipations at bay, but Ben and his partner Dr. Scott Daniels both had a hunch that this was a pretty big feat in the field of lung transplantation. Ben had been happy for the project. It had been a welcome distraction in his life at an opportune moment of loneliness. He pored his entire work ethic into his side of the project, working to perfect their hypothesis into a medical device that could actually be used on patients awaiting a transplant. It held him over mentally for the past several months since Alaina left. Probably not the healthiest way to go about life, obsessing over a great question rather than addressing deeper issues with himself, but Ben’s ability to look upon his mental and emotional state with profound insight had always been seriously flawed.
It didn’t really cross his mind that Alaina could be there. The hospital funneled thousands of patients through its doors every month. It was the biggest teaching hospital and research institution in the Northwest. Sure, Alaina White’s case was miraculous, but plenty of other miracles happened at UW Med on any given Sunday. Ben, of course, had no idea of the financial situation that Alaina’s hospital visit had put her in - or how the bleeding hearts of Seattle’s finest planned to pay her way out of the hole with a charitable trust. It wasn’t like she’d ever told him that.
Ben himself was doing better than ever, fiscally at least. It showed in what he was putting on now. He buttoned up a crisp, white dress shirt with an insanely high thread count. On top of that he wore a navy blue dress suit, the woven material tight and clearly expensive. The pants tapered well along his legs, the jacket hugged his torso closely. It was a custom suit, one of the four he owned. Each of them costed him a few thousand. He left the top button of the dress shirt undone, consciously choosing not to wear a necktie. He’d always hated them. They made him feel like he was choking. He did tuck in a white pocket square to his jacket pocket to make up for the lack of formality that came with ditching the tie. Leather shoes, a leather belt, a shining metallic watch that he never wore to work. It was his dad’s. Even for how much he hated the guy, he still didn’t want to risk wearing it to work and getting blood on it. His hair was gently combed back, his facial hair trimmed up more than it usually was on long hospital days. Aside from the token dark circles and frown that defined him, he cleaned up exceptionally well.
He straightened his jacket, and headed out of the walk-in closet. A friendly face greeted him on his way to the door. “Be good, Lucy. I’ll be back later.” Lucy was a seven-year-old golden retriever from the city pound. She was older and required special food, but she still liked to go on morning jogs. Besides, she was good company. She gave less of an inhibition to come home at the end of the day. Rather Ben provided her good company was a different question entirely.
He didn’t really anticipate being in a condition to drive home later. Alcohol was A key ingredient in being able to get through these things. But he took his Jeep anyway, knowing it probably wasn’t much of an impression to pick up his date in a taxi. He could ditch his car at the convention center later, anyway.
His date was a bombshell, a strawberry blonde with long legs and a certain familiarity with fancy parties. She worked at the art museum as a deputy curator, very intelligent and well-read on the subjects of Rodin and Renoir. She cleaned up even better than he did, wearing a tight sequined maroon number that probably would’ve looked tacky on anyone else. She’d even gone to her waxing lady that morning, with the expectation that surely she and Dr. Hotstuff would be going back to her place by the end of the night.
Unfortunately, the two didn’t hit it off exceptionally well. Ben tried his best to be polite, a set of rituals about as foreign to him as Ancient Greek. Gwen tried her best to be easygoing, which was pretty much just as unnatural to her. It only took the fifteen minute car ride to the venue for the both of them to realize they had virtually no common interests. Ben was a scientific mind. He read medical journals religiously. He watched sports sometimes. He was in the military. Gwen’s idea of fun was to stare at abstract paintings all day, or going to the opera biweekly, or calling her mother every night after she got home from work. Ben had figured being set up on a date was going to go south pretty quickly; after all, he wasn’t much of a boyfriend, much less a first date. But his partner Scott, having heard that he was going to an event partially in honor of his grand achievement, was indignant at his going stag. Next thing he knew, he’d set him up with his wife’s young friend from yoga club. So here they both were, drinking away the night’s discomfort.
Ben remained cordial as best as he could, taking Gwen’s coat and refilling her drinks. She acted in kind by trying not to notice how uncomfortable he was at not being totally shut off to everyone. But eventually, Gwen drifted off to spend much of the evening with Daniels’ wife and their mutual circle of friends for the evening. He had to admit, he was relieved to be left alone again. He was on his third straight bourbon, but still felt entirely sentient. That’s what he got for drinking habitually - his tolerance for alcohol was through the roof now. He reminded himself that it was probably for the best. He was representing the hospital and his project tonight to a pool of very wealthy potential donors. It was best to meet them with sobriety.
He was caught in a small circle now with Scott, someone Ben could’ve ventured to call a friend now if he weren’t so daftly introverted. They were all standing on the illuminated stone terrace, dotted with shrubbery and gold-lighted lanterns. The night was clear for once, a rarity in this city. The scene was fairly busy with similar groups, filling the air with hyenic laughs and clinking glasses. Scott was busy charming two older trustees with sports talk, which Ben easily followed but didn’t comment on. He was looking down at his bourbon, not aware that not five feet away, on the other side of an elaborate ice sculpture, stood the one person he had tried desperately not to think of all night, nor in the past several months. Alaina, his sweet patient Alaina. It was true that he had pushed himself so hard in the past few months to keep his depression at bay, but he also did so to doggedly avoid thinking about her.
Unknowingly, one of the trustees, his voice loud as a habit due to his elderly hearing, announced the doctor’s presence to the immediate vicinity. “What about you, Dr. Carr? Do you follow basketball?”
Ben took his eyes from the drink back to the men before him, standing slightly taller than all three of them. “Please, call me Ben.” His cordiality was forced, but practiced enough by this point that it was passable. “And not so much. Hockey’s more of my winter sport.” Thus the group ventured on to the topic of the latest hockey season, unaware of anything or anyone around them.
There was a knock on her door. It was the wrong knock. Unless he suddenly changed habits, Benjamin Carr was not at her door. Since her door was now a wooden one, she couldn’t just see who the knocker was. Often times, in the ICU, the knock was just on the side of the metal. Alaina had apparently upgraded to a new room outside the ICU as soon as she was cancer free. At the same time, she downgraded. Some peppy, young female entered her room with a brightness unlike anything Alaina was used to with her former doctor. Alaina didn’t say much. She sat up in her bed, taking a look at the woman from head to toe and read the tag hanging out of her white doctors coat. Of course she was just a resident... Alaina was filled with more anger at that introduction. A resident. He was an attending, so he often had an entourage of residents to teach and assist him in surgery. This was just another one of his minions. Alaina was more cemented in anger when Yadav worded that Dr. Carr himself ordered her to do his post-op follow ups. He didn’t want to see her. Of course he didn’t. He didn’t want anything more to do with her.
Alaina hadn’t realized she was holding the polar bear, and she hadn’t said anything yet to Yadav as she rambled on much more than Carr ever would have. There was such a visible difference between the two doctors, and Alaina was too angry to really think about the stream of words coming from the resident’s mouth. Alaina knew the times she felt so terrible while vultures of residents and interns hawked over her, wanting to see the girl with the severe cancer. They just wanted their chance to tell her she was going to die or cut into her to see that large tumor they’d only heard of or seen in textbooks. Surely, Yadav was one of them. It was al part of the reasons why Alaina had denied care, despite all the pain. She’d known what she had, but Carr convinced her somehow to stay. He declared that he could help her, and she believed him. What changed?
Alaina wished she could wipe the smile off Yadav’s face when she made some stupid comment about the polar bear Alaina hadn’t realized she was still holding. Disgusted, Alaina set the bear further away from her. It was just a pity gift clearly. Carr felt bad for her or maybe he didn’t, who knows now? Alaina could feel some tears threatening to fall from her eyes. “Oh... it doesn’t mean anything. Just a meaningless gift.” She spoke then, knowing the only real gift she would take from him were the scars on her stomach. How thoughtful. Alaina allowed the woman to check her injuries, but she didn’t really care anymore. The bandages were replaced like Ben used to do, but she paid it no mind. Alaina White never thought she’d get to this moment. She never thought she’d be alive. She never thought she’d find something, or rather someone, to live for. But here she was, regretting choosing to let him operate. The pain she felt made her almost wish she was still dying or dead. She just felt numb. She had to get out of there. Alaina had to see something other than hospital walls before she went mad.
Alaina listened somewhat to the new resident on her case but not much. There was something about a hematoma, including how it was good news. Yeah, not exactly. She hardly even felt the touch of her shoulder. Instead, Alaina brought her tired, yet healing eyes up to the doctor, “Please just hurry the discharge. I can’t stay here much longer.” Alaina thought that was it, but, of course, it wasn’t. Yadav turned and spoke some story about how Dr. Carr was relieved when the mass wasn’t cancer and how he’d held her hand and waited until she woke up from anesthesia to tell her it was okay. Alaina rolled her eyes the instant the doctor left. The former cancer-riddled patient didn’t believe one word of it. Why would he go to those lengths if he couldn’t even see her when she was truly awake? Alaina didn’t remember any of that. The resident was just trying to stir something up. Ben didn’t care. He didn’t wait. He didn’t come.
Ten days passed quickly. She was discharged without a sight of Dr. Carr. Yadav kept coming back and checking on her and trying to spark conversation, but Alaina wasn’t in the mood. She’d been going to physical and occupational therapy, building up muscle. When she was wheeled out and took that same bus ride with the same rain she remembered from arriving at the hospital, Alaina finally cried. She didn’t really stop when she got back to her empty home. She worked every day to get stronger and walk farther. It was a few months before she was back to normal. Her face wasn’t so pale and sickly. Her frame wasn’t so skeletal and on the verge of death. Her eyes were brighter. Her hair was thicker and more shiny and black. She survived somehow, but it didn’t really feel like she was living. She’d started getting hit by the bills. Alaina had insurance, but she had no job. She wasn’t well enough to even look yet. She had nothing figured out.
It was one day, several months later, that she got a letter. It held the heading of the Seattle hospital that she spent so much time in. Breaking it open with a sigh, Alaina read the fancy lettering. It detailed some charity ball surrounding patients that had miraculously survived. She was to be honored as the hospital generated revenue to help her pay for everything. Alaina thought about it for several days. She didn’t really want to be thrust back into some spotlight, but she needed the money. So, she hefted herself up, painted on some soft, natural makeup, softly curled her hair, and slipped on a stunning navy blue gown the hospital sent for her. Of course, their patients had to look amazing. Alaina wasn’t ever much for fake, caked on makeup looks, rather opting for natural beauty, but she put on some light makeup none the less to accentuate her eyes and lips. Transportation was arranged, so she was driven right up to the convention center with rich supporters of the hospital in some lavish area decorated with lights and copious amounts of wine.
Alaina spoke some to a few of the other miracle survivors, just waiting for the auction to be done, and the proceedings funneled to her and the other survivors. Their stories were horrible just like hers. She bonded with a few, but it wasn’t long until she was alone again. Stepping over to a plate of fruit, she popped a few strawberries into her mouth alongside some certain bars of chocolate. She didn’t feel like she belonged. Alaina just stood there, watching the scene as she was certain she’d be called up and parades around to get the pity of the doctors to empty their overfilling wallets. In the meantime, she admired the beauty of the place and continued eating a few strawberries. Alaina never would have imagined herself here if not for the cancer that ravaged her body and somehow spit her out alive. Now, she just had to get through this charity ball, and she’d never think of that hospital or what happened in it ever again.
The knock that came to Alaina’s door later that day was the wrong one. A swift succession of light taps echoed against the heavy wooden panel that offered Alaina much more privacy than the glass ICU door that could slide back the second a patient started crashing. It was Dr. Priyanka Yadav who came in that afternoon, much earlier in the day than Dr. Carr ever stopped by. But she was not on-call tonight or tomorrow, and she was ready to get her patient checkups out of the way so she could head home at a decent time. She was a cheerful, young resident with a beaming white smile against ochre-painter lips. Her pep provided even more of a stark contrast against Alaina’s supervising surgeon than the knock had. “Hi there!” She chirped, giving Alaina a once-over as she spread sanitizer across her hands. Though she’d not dare say it out loud, Priyanka was secretly dying to pry into this supposed, hidden romantic side of her attending that this young patient seemed to evoke. Which honestly made it all the more odd that Dr. Carr had instructed her to take the lead on his post-ops for the week, Miss White included. Gossip among the residents made Priyanka fairly aware of stories of the mysterious Dr. Carr pushing away nurses in the ICU to care for the patient himself. For whatever reason he put her in charge of caring for the patient now, Priyanka wasn’t sure; but she did know that she had better not screw up or overlook anything. If she did anything to screw up Alaina White’s care, Carr would have her throat.
“I’m Dr. Yadav, the resident on your case,” the young doctor introduced herself. “Dr. Carr asked me to do your post-op follow ups this week, so you’ll be seeing some more of me around!” She never faltered in her smile, although as she tucked the tablet under her arm and approached the bed, she noticed how Miss White had been holding that same polar bear that Dr. Carr has given her before the surgery. The plot thickens. “Ah, such a cute little polar bear!” Priyanka commented with a tinge of false enthusiasm. In reality, she was still just trying to simultaneously extract information on the juicy topic and keep her head low enough not to warrant anymore bullying from the attending after her last slip-up in the OR. She loosened up the blanket across Alaina’s lap, pulling up her gown to the patient’s waist, not showing much discomfort at doing so. It was all something she’d seen before. She tenderly removed the minuscule bandage over Alaina’s stomach, revealing a small scar, healing well so far. She also checked the two more severe scars across Alaina’s good kidney and the void where the second kidney used to be. Those still needed a lot more time to heal, but they looked good.
“Now, I know Dorothy already told you the great news, but I’d like to be here for any lingering questions you might have about your surgery and the results.” Another blatant difference between Dr. Yadav and her sullen attending - she sure talked a lot more. She sat down on the side of Alaina’s bed, crossing her legs. “So what we thought was a new tumor actually ended up being a hematoma, which looks practically identical on the CT scan. The big difference is that hematomas are harmless and don’t form from cancer. It’s such a rare post-operative complication that it wasn’t something we even really considered seriously. But it’s really good news! It means that you’re just as healthy and cancer-free as you were after your renal transplant. Congratulations are in order!” Priyanka’s smile beamed again and she reached out to touch Alaina’s shoulder.
The doctor couldn’t help but look around at the empty hospital room. No visitors, no family or friends huddling around and crying celebratory tears. No chocolates or flowers blooming. Just the polar bear. Maybe Dr. Carr just gave it to her as a pity gift; surely he knew how lonely the patient was, alone and purportedly dying in a hospital wing. But that didn’t make much sense... Dr. Carr was the last person she’d suspect to act out of pure sympathy. Oh, there was so much to find out; and so much already to ponder over with her fellow residents in the cafeteria tomorrow. “Anyway, I’m planning to come do follow ups for the next week, maybe ten days to be safe; after that, Dr. Carr will decide whether or not to sign a discharge. And then you’ll be free to get home!” She replaced Alaina’s bandages and stood back up, ready to get on to the next three patients that stood between her and home. But on her way to the door, Priyanka hesitated, succumbing to the innate need to at least tell a little more than was her place to.
“You know, for what it’s worth... Dr. Carr was really relieved, when he saw it wasn’t cancer.” She stood at the threshold of the door, hand tracing up and down the withdrawn privacy curtain and she silently worried herself over how much this wasn’t her place to discuss. “I doubt you remember this, but he stayed with you until you woke up. Wanted to tell you himself, I guess. He told you it was okay, he even held your hand. It was cute,... I didn’t really pin Dr. Carr as the kind of person to have a soft spot, but probably just because I’m his student and he scolds us all the time...” Priyanka chuckled nervously, realizing she’d said way too much. It wasn’t professional. If Dr. Carr caught wind that she’d relayed any of that information to their patient, he’d be furious. Just for good measure, she added a final plea, “Hey, just don’t tell him I said any of that, you know? He doesn’t like people talking about him like that.. Okay, see you tomorrow!” She offered a parting smile and a half-wave, trotting off down the hall to the next three patients.
Blue eyes opened to the sight of a not so familiar plain, bleak ICU room. A slight, dull pain was present at her stomach, mostly due to the poking and prodding that had gone on there. While the procedure was not a large or invasive one, pain would still linger from the rearranging of organs and such. She had absolutely no idea what the fateful news was. After all, how long had it been since she opened her eyes? Alaina had no sense of time whatsoever, but she did know one thing. She was no longer in the ICU. Alaina knew that room backwards and forwards. What else was she supposed to do? Watching TV got boring after doing so all the time, so she went to memorizing her room. Alaina knew the schedules of the nurses at the ICU floor so well that she could likely recite each one exactly if one cared enough to ask. [i And these nurses were not the same ones.] Alaina knew Nurse Nancy, Nurse Marsha, and Nurse Ilene. Nancy worked Wednesday and Friday. Marsha worked Thursday and Saturday. Ilene worked Monday, Tuesday, and Sunday. Alaina knew their faces well, but the nurses she saw outside her door were not near the same. It was frightening in a way. Was this it? Had she died already? Maybe this was heaven? The room she was in now was much more colorful and happier, mimicking the lesser severity of the patients on this floor. Nurses and staff did not look so grim or worried. She felt like she didn’t belong. Alaina White was one of the most critical patients the entire place held. She had to have been with a prognosis about as slim for survival as winning the lottery, maybe even worse. Her room in the ICU was more fitting. It was dark and drab save for the precious gifts of flowers and the chocolates and fruits from one certain man...
Alaina nearly bolted upright at that thought. Of course! Ben... Where was he? She clearly wasn’t dreaming at this point. She was not in the ICU. In fact, she had no earthly idea where she was. She didn’t even know if she was still in the same hospital at that point because everything looked so different. Alaina pushes herself up right, sitting up in bed, but she didn’t exactly register the fact that she was able to somewhat do so yet. The effort was still difficult, but the pain was somehow not so gargantuan. Nonetheless, Alaina was too busy frantically scanning for the one face that could give her any kind of comfort anymore. Dr. Benjamin Carr. He was nowhere to be found. A few doctors walked past her door, but they were nothing like who she was looking for. There was only one person like Ben Carr, and she knew exactly what she was searching for. But he never passed by her door. Alaina stared at it for what felt like hours, just waiting for a glimpse of the doctor who changed her entire life.
The flashbacks came back the instant she thought of him. The last thing she remembered was him pulling out that unexpected yet adorable stuffed polar bear and showing her it right before the surgery. He was promising her that he would take her on that one trip to see the snow. Those few breaths were all she’d needed to have the strength to continue going. Alaina felt like Wonder Woman when he spoke those few words with that simple offering. It was scary going into the operating room when she knew her past, but she had faith in him. She wouldn’t even be there if she hadn’t believed him. By now, she would be rotting and forgotten in some graveyard no one visited anymore. Little did she know that he was the same way when he’d met her.
Anyway, she needed to see him. She needed him to be there to tell her what the biopsy meant. If it meant that the cancer was worse and she had no chance of living, then she needed to hear it from his mouth. She needed him to tell her that he did everything he could. Her breathing was growing heavier, and her heart beat rising. Alaina was panicking. She wasn’t normally like this, but the other alternative was starting to feel more and more true. Was this really heaven? Had she passed on finally on the table? It would make sense with the whole new atmosphere and lessened pain, wouldn’t it? No. No, no, no... That couldn’t be it. Alaina wouldn’t take that outcome. She fought this. She fought this with him, and she was now fighting this for him. At one point, she even had a DNR. Alaina had given up on life until he came in with all his qualifications and assured her that he could take her case. This man was potentially the best in every aspect of surgery, despite how cold and calculated he was as a human being. Alaina somehow trusted that. She had so much more she was planning to say and do... No. Then, she saw it. Sitting next to her nightstand was the stuffed, white polar bear Ben had gotten her before the surgery. The token of his promise was smiling back at her. Reaching over to grab it and hold it in the crook of her arm, Alaina knew something was off. It felt incomplete and strange.
With that, she found the nurses call button and punched it several times, just waiting impatiently for someone, anyone to answer. When an older, clearly experienced woman came rushing inside and asking her what she needed, Alaina was almost in tears. “Can you please tell me what’s going on? I don’t even know where I am. No one here is familiar. I was in the ICU. I’m supposed to be there... What did my biopsy say? And where is my doctor? Where is Dr. Carr? He won’t know where I am...” Alaina spoke extremely quickly, trying to voice everything she needed to know to the woman. Alaina still hadn’t calmed down much. Her mind was racing a million miles a minute. The only thing keeping her sane was that stuffed animal in her arm that shouldn’t have meant much to an adult, but it meant the entire world to her. It meant Ben.
Finally, the nurse stepped forward and spoke as soothingly as possible, “Now, now Ms. White. No need to be so scared. You’re going to be alright. In fact, it’s absolutely good news that Dr. Carr told me to tell you for him. You’re cancer free my dear! The biopsy revealed a little hematoma instead of a large mass, and he drained it down for you. I’m sure he’s off taking care of other patients now as all doctors do. They don’t have much time for just one visit. Although you look much better, you are strong enough to sit up.”
Alaina just stared at the woman as she spoke. What did that mean? Cancer free? “I am.. what?” The nurse simply smiles and repeated her words again, but Alaina couldn’t quite process it. Time slowed down. The words finally hit her, and tears of complete joy began to fall from her eyes. One pale, boney hand covered her mouth. She was relived. She was so happy. It was like she could see the snowflakes falling down all over her room. She was free. Alaina White by some miracle brought on by a higher power or whatever explanation there was, did not have Stage IV cancer. In all honesty, she never thought this day would come. But when Ben Carr promised you something, he always came through on that promise. Or did he?
Removing her hand from her mouth, Alaina’s overjoyed expression switched to one of confusion. Why wasn’t he here? Why didn’t he wait to tell her this incredible news to go through it together? He just threw the best news she may have ever heard in her life to some measly, old nurse to share this beautiful moment with? But she made him promise to see her after the operation. According to this nurse, Dr. Carr simply had other patients to see. Was that it? When he was sure she’d been dying, he changed his mentality. He bought her the polar bear and promised her to take her on a wild trip of her dreams just to convince her to let him cut into her on more time and tie off the whole experience with a crippling ribbon of debt? Her whole body felt heavy then. Before, she felt so light and free that she figured she may fly if presented the chance. Now, it was like she’d gotten the opposite of the best result. So that was it? She’d been carted back up to some nice room, and the nurses didn’t even know what she was talking about when she worded polar bear like some mad woman.
Alaina didn’t know he walked into the same room the night of her procedure and watched her sleep some as he checked on her. All she knew was that he wasn’t there now in any trace. He’d removed himself from pathetic her and her pathetic yet miraculous case. It was almost as if he figured she didn’t need him anymore, so he just easily moved on to other patients and other things. A lump now formed in her throat. Instead of happy tears, she now wanted to cry sad ones. But she didn’t let herself. Gripping onto the sheets, Alaina but here bottom lip hard. It made sense, didn’t it? Who was she? Who was she to think some successful doctor would even care about her after it was all said and done? She was living in a childish, foolish fairytale the whole time, wasn’t she? Why the hell would he continue to take any amount of time out of his busy schedule to visit a patient who was now few of cancer but could relapse at any time or experience complications or gain infections from a weakened immune system. Why would he spend his money taking her on a stupid trip just to see snow? Alaina was ashen, skeletal, and barely able to do anything on her own. She was by all definitions, ugly. She had no financial stability, probably thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt now, and she was a burden. Even without cancer, it would take a while to relearn all the things she needed to. But, damn did it hurt... If this was his way of saying goodbye, he was pretty damn lousy at it. And was it his idea to just leave the polar bear there like a souvenir for her pain?
Alaina managed to glance at the nurse then, her tone as serious as could be, “Dr. Carr. I need to talk to him.” The nurse just sighed and put in a page that she figured he’d disregard as she went back to work. Alaina just sat there, waiting for the familiar double knock that would signal his arrival if he ever did come. Her grip was tight on the polar bear, fingers absentmindedly threading through the fur as she thought. Was this really who he was? Because she thought she knew better... She thought he was more decent than telling a nurse to share the information with her. Alaina thought there was more there. A stuffed polar bear wouldn’t be her last memory of him. There was no way Alaina White was leaving that hospital until she saw him one more time. If this was his selfish choice to stay away from him since the case was over, then he was going to face it. Alaina was just angry then. She was no longer excited or sad really. Any other person may have been out of their mind about finally leaving the hospital alive, but Alaina secretly dreaded that moment as she now dreaded the next time she saw his face if ever. Alaina had known before he cut into her that she’d fallen so desperately in love with him that she’d go through the whole process again just to be near him. How could she just live the rest of her short life without ever knowing he felt nothing at all? She couldn’t. The cancer had changed her, but so had Ben Carr. If he cared at all for her within the long treatment process, he would face her and tell her goodbye and be the one to wheel her out to sunlight for the first time in weeks upon weeks. He would be the one to tell her again that she wasn’t dying. He started this with her, and he would end it, even if he wanted nothing more to do with the one patient by the name of Alaina White except be her doctor.
It was time to get to work. Time to focus. Ben was telling himself this over and over again, like a monk chanting his mantra. He was now standing over the scrub sink, depressing the water gauge with his foot and wetting his arms and hands. In any other case, focusing would never have been an issue. He was always hyperfocused even before stepping into surgery. It wasn’t like he had ever had to let his guard down for a patient before, to slow down his precise and scientific thoughts to bother reassuring anyone. If this were any other surgery, he’d already be scrubbed in, gloved, ready to cut. He’d already have gone over the necessary steps before him with the foresight to calculate just how long each step would take and what tools would be necessitated by them.
But his affinity for this particular patient always managed to throw him. Like he was speeding through a dark underpass with his headlights out. It wasn’t like him to stay with a patient until she went under anesthesia. It wasn’t like him to make an effort at comforting anyone, really, at least not in recent years. Now he was absent-mindlessly scrubbing away at his arms, looking through the glass windows before him at the reason for the fog shrouding his head. Alaina. Even pretty while she was unconscious, almost like Sleeping Beauty. Her white skin glistening like fresh snow, almost translucent like chiffon under the harsh overhead lamp. The thin blanket that covered her form did little to cover her skeletal frame, and Ben managed to look back down at his hands as he went at his nails with the sponge. He felt suddenly invasive, ashamed, for even having seen her so vulnerable right in front of him. Ungentlemanly, almost, which was a stupid thought to have; of course he wasn’t being immodest. She was a patient, on the table, and he was there to help her. The feeling he had that he was somehow taking advantage of her by even looking her way in this situation was obscene. The guilt he had at knowing that he was about to cut into her again so soon after having done so the first time was unfounded. He was a surgeon. He was a professional. He’d trained for years and cut into hundreds of patients before today. He was prepared, even overly qualified for something like this. He was right where he ought to have been.
Maybe he was so thrown off by what she’d said to him just moments before going out. That she wanted to see him? To tell him what? A constant and deep-seeded part of him figured that she was repelled by his stupid gesture with the bear, and needed to finally tell him that he was being mislead and had read their situation wrong. That she was just happy that he’d kept her alive for this long, and that she was indebted to him as her doctor. But that she didn’t grow a sense of adoration akin to the one that he’d begun to foster towards her. He let out a sigh, reminding himself that she could very well have meant that. But he still had to take care of her now. And he definitely could. He was the best in his field. He could do a simple biopsy with his right hand tied behind his back. Right, he slowly calmed his racing thoughts, and finally started to embark on his routine train of thought before any procedure. Running through the steps in his head - once, twice; how long each step should take; what equipment was needed; what the resident would do; what complications could arise and how to handle them. By the time he’d run through the whole thing in his head, backwards and forwards, he was finally back to his surgical state of mind. His gray eyes had lost the rare gleam of kindness that Alaina brought out in him, and once again embodied a steely coldness. His posture was rigid, not exactly tense, but certainly not relaxed.
He’d scrubbed a few minutes longer than he’d needed to, but it was worth the extra precaution. When this was over, whenever the lab results came back, Alaina would surely begin on a long and difficult regimen against the spreading cancer immediately. She didn’t need any chance of a postoperative infection to compromise her system, especially not one that could come from him. He took equal precaution as he covered his hands with a towel, backing into the door bringing him back to the procedure room. As he was gowned and gloved, he only allowed himself one more glance at her. The OR tech was just hanging the final drapes that partitioned her delicate face from the rest of her. It was better that way, he knew that. He had just regained his state of mind. If he was moments from being inside of her, he didn’t need the added distraction of seeing her face.
Hands held close to his chest, Ben approached the table, looking down at the exposed canvas of skin bordered by blue, sterile cloth. The polar bear was most definitely gone now, taken away from the limp girl as soon as she passed out, but he wasn’t sure where. It wasn’t important, one of the nurses would surely get it back to her later, if she wanted it.
Ben looked over the exposed patch of skin, seeing in one of the corners a segment of a raised scar, sutures still in place, again serving as a painful reminder of just how recently she’d been here before. He shook the thought away, the process becoming easier now that he didn’t have to look at her face.
“Looks like someone has a crush on you, Dr. Carr,” came a sprite voice from across the table. He looked up, his dark eyes focusing an intimidating glower on the speaker. The resident. Which one was this again? There were only about fifty surgical residents in the UW program, and he was an attending physician . He really didn’t have much of an excuse to not know what this one’s name was. She was a second year, maybe a third year. A Pakistani-American student who had adamantly insisted on cardiothoracics, even while rotating on other specialties . Yadav. He was pretty sure that was the name listed under his on the board. He kept a mental note of the ones he didn’t like much, but he didn’t oppose her skills. She could at least hold a set of hemostats with steady hands. That was all he needed. And since she always seemed so disdainful of every other specialty besides her beloved CT, he didn’t have to waste time explaining the details of a gastrointestinal procedure. Even though she was an adequate right-hand man for this surgery, he still felt himself growing edgy at the comment. He already didn’t like residents, especially entitled ones who made their way right from mansions in the suburbs to posh medical schools to here. He especially didn’t like residents who hadn’t grown out of the tendency to gossip. If he’d had any optimism that his small, tender interaction with Alaina had gone unnoticed, he was pretty sure now that Yadav would let the entire residency program know by the end of the afternoon. Great. The residents could talk all they wanted to, he couldn’t care less what any of them thought. When the rumor chain worked its way up to the chief, then that would be serious trouble.
Yet something about his interactions with Alaina had metamorphosed him. Now with the annoyances he felt at other people, along with his near signature glares, came a hefty weight. Like all of the distancing and antagonizing and annoyance at everything around him was burdensome. It was tiring. It was no longer something he could just accept as an integral part of his character. Being near her, granting her the gestures of kindness that she evoked from him, made him feel weightless. Happy, even. To regress into his accepted form as the depressed, introverted asshole that everyone else had expected him to be suddenly felt less natural. He could be a better person. He knew that. Alaina saw that. She was so good, that she took the time to see the part of him that he’d tried so hard to push down. With Alaina in mind, he managed to only fix Yadav with that malicious look, rather than slew at her a string of criticisms or even throwing her out just for pissing him off. He had a history of doing both on other cases. He simply retorted with a venomous command to his pupil, “Start with the endoscope.”
The resident, who’d realized her stupidity at the comment, was immediately quelled and instead tried to make up lost ground by doing whatever he instructed without hesitation. She snaked the camera down the unconscious woman’s throat, and Ben busied himself by alternating his focus between again studying the CT images on a monitor next to him and watching Yadav’s progress down the esophagus. He really didn’t need to look over the images again too thoroughly. He’d spent days studying them. He could’ve pinpointed exactly where the sinister mass was in the girl’s stomach in his sleep by this point. By the time the camera snaked it’s way into her stomach, Ben’s authoritative tone instructed, “slow it down, aim anteriorly.” He knew what he was looking for here, and he know it would show it’s ugly self within moments. The newest manifestation of the cancer that just wouldn’t let Alaina go. As Yadav adjusted the scope’s aim, Ben steeped himself to see the worst - some kind of monstrous mass entangled in blood vessels and imbedding deep into the tissue. That’s what he did best, after all - anticipating the worst. So when the camera finally beamed its focus on the intruder, Ben was thrown. He was typically an incredibly quick thinker, but this was one of those rare moments where he was stunned into disbelief. He barely even registered hearing the resident question, “that’s not ... What is that?”
He’d been so sure. With Alaina’s downtrodden luck, with the mere appearance of the thing on the scans, he left himself very little room to doubt that it was the cancer. But what the surgeon saw reflecting on the monitor before them disproved him. It took him an additional few seconds to let it sink in - the brief and humbling realization that he could be wrong, the indignation in the fact that he wasn’t always right, and finally, the acute feeling of ecstasy at understanding what this meant.
Ben finally brought himself to answer his resident’s query. “That,” he breathed, “is a hematoma. A nasty one.” Yadav had been through four years of medical school and a few years more at the hospital. She definitely knew what a simple hematoma was. Essentially, a giant congelation of blood, even more harmless than a cyst in most cases. Of course Ben, as analytical as he was, had grazed past this as a possibility before. But the size was way too big for a typical one, and besides, the likelihood of developing a hematoma as a postoperative complication was in the single digits. Maybe 2%? He couldn’t remember the exact number from the last time he’d read about it. Usually something like this was entirely harmless, not causing any pain, so that was really the final reason he’d decided so firmly that a hematoma wouldn’t be the culprit here. But, he guessed, the vessel where it had decided to clot and form was close enough to the stomach lining for its swelling to cause extra stomach acid to leech out and cause Alaina so much discomfort. A cyst would be five times more likely to have formed, and even then, that would’ve only been a small chance of being the answer. At least cysts looked like cysts on CT scans, while rare bastards like hematomas still managed to mimic tumors on scans.
The point was, and this was affecting Ben the most at this moment, was that he’d been wrong. A rare occasion, but a welcome one. He wasn’t looking at cancer here. When it got right down to it, the thing was about as dangerous as a giant bruise. She wasn’t dying. He let out a deep sigh of relief, saying it again, “it’s just a hematoma.” He cocked his head to the right slightly as it said it, as if he were addressing the unconscious Alaina, reassuring her. She was going to live. Everything she’d gone through up to this point - all of that anticipation and fear and pain - had actually come to pay off. She was going to be fine. He was so relieved he wanted to wake her up then just to tell her, to finally put to rest the impending sense of doom that had been torturing her for a long, long time. To deliver to her a message as pure as ecstasy itself, the basest reason for why he’d gone into medicine, the reason that he’d decided to stay alive after all - that she was going to live.
To be perfectly blunt, he knew his next step should’ve been to give the order to the anesthesiologist to lift the sedation and end the procedure then and there, without making a single cut. Since the outlook of the situation had changed, the textbook direction to take would be to wake the patient up, allow her to recover from the sedation enough to alert her of the changes, then wait for another day to start it all again, just to remove a hematoma that was harmless except for the discomfort it caused. That was the most professional course of action. But he knew Alaina. He arguably knew her too intimately by this point to have been the proper surgeon to be put on her case. The right way of doing things - the way that would prolong her agonizing pain for another week at most, keep her hospitalized even longer - wouldn’t be what she wanted. Sure, she’d be so happy to know that she was still cancer free and that luck, for the very rare occasion, was at last on her side. But he’d seen the pain she was in; he watched it with more personal of a view than most doctors would have. He didn’t want her to suffer it longer than she had to. And honestly, this was that last step, that last complication, before she would finally be freed from the hell that had taken over her life from her very first diagnosis back in Port Angeles. He didn’t want to delay that, and he was confident she didn’t either. And, of course, there was the guilt that he felt of knowing how nervous she was going into surgery for that first urgent time, and now for a second time. Did he really have to put her through a third experience if he could prevent it? They could just get it over with now.
“Okay, Yadav, keep the scope steady. We’re going to extract it today.” A few of the staff gave him brief, puzzled looks. They knew the standard protocol. They knew that HE knew the standard protocol. But they quietly complied nonetheless, many of them having in their own time ending up on the bad end of an encounter with Dr. Carr’s demeanor. If the patient woke up unhappy with the go-ahead, then she could sue him to her heart’s content. Yadav steadied the camera. Calmly, Ben ordered the tech to give him a scalpel, a thinner blade that shone boldly in the bright lights. Now he was focused. Times like this are where he always felt calmest, with a knife in his hand. Being in control, knowing his craft, and allowing his mind to fall into a hypnotic trance with the beeping and the whirring of the machines around him. This is what he did best. He no longer allowed himself to register that this was Alaina on the table, beneath his blade. She was just a patient. His patient. He made a small incision below her navel, only about an inch in length. It would heal as easily as a scrape, and be just about as noticeable in the end. He then inserted the port for the microscopic tools, then the long, robotic tools themselves. Over the next half hour, he very carefully and precisely managed to drain the mean mass and remove the excess material, ensuring that as benign as it was, it wouldn’t cause Alaina any future pain. He threw in a few sutures along the stomach lining and then, removing the port, adding a few careful, identical stitches to her skin. Compared to the long and nasty scars that were still healing from the kidney transplant, this small wound was practically inconsequential. In fact, once the nurse swiped over it with sterilizing solution, all it needed was a large bandaid.
That was it, then. It was over. The sickness that had taken over Alaina White’s life, that had reduced her to a living corpse, devoid of hope, was finally and soundly defeated. He dictated his post-op instructions to the nurse as he watched the anesthesiologist start to waken her. He pulled off his gown and gloves and threw them in the bin by the exit. It only took a few minutes before the girl started to open her eyes, lying very still and disoriented. In a way still very uncharacteristic to his coworkers, Ben finished his dictation and walked back over to Alaina. He looped the mask off of his face, letting it hang from his neck so she could see him. She probably wouldn’t remember this part, but that was okay. He wanted her to know. “Alaina?” He caught her attention’ “You’re okay. You’re going to be fine. The cancer’s gone.” Despite himself, he reached down and grabbed her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. The gurney was brought in to transport her to recovery, and he pulled himself away so as not to inhibit that process.
He started to feel building up within himself an inexplicable sadness. Not like the sadness he anticipated he’d feel at seeing a tumor and having to explain to Alaina whatever cancer prognosis she would face. No, it was a different kind of sadness. One that he immediately came to chastise himself for. She was going to live. She was going to be healthy and have a long, long life. That was what mattered the most. It was a gloom that came with the realization that his job was done. On that stormy afternoon in April when he was about to walk out of the hospital for the last time, to go home to his own bitter and lonely end, she came to him in her time of need. The only reason he decided not to end his own life that night was by telling himself that he could help her. And he did that. It was admittedly unexpected that along the way, he’d come to feel so strongly for her, to come to love her. She was perfect. She was beautiful and kind and had the enormous capacity for happiness that he simply didn’t have.
He knew that she had made plans with him to go on adventures to snowy hideaways, and herself had become quite comfortable with him, but he knew what that was. That was when she was dying. Or, at least, when she thought she was dying. Falling in love, running away to somewhere dreamlike was surely an aspiration for any young woman who was told she’d die young. But Alaina wasn’t dying anymore. She was free, and healthy. She could go home and be anything she wanted to be. She could go back to school or go back to singing again. She could be with anyone she wanted. She sure had the pick of anyone she chose. She could meet someone nice and funny and bright, someone who would tell her she’s beautiful every waking second and love her gently. She deserved nothing less. He couldn’t give her any of that. He was her dying chance at love, but he wasn’t much of a catch for someone who could have the whole world on a string. He wanted her to have everything that she deserved, someone who was as good as she was. And that simply wasn’t him. At the end of the line, the simple truth was that she was an angel, and he was just a really good surgeon.
He didn’t check to see if the recovery nurse had found the stupid polar bear to put at her bedside. He didn’t check to see what bed she’d be brought to. He simply made sure her post-op instructions were in order and left her to it. The nurse would let her know that the cancer was gone, in case she didn’t remember his brief interaction with her. She’d let Alaina know she’d be fine. Right now he needed to get out of there. The operating room, a place where he usually felt at ease and within his element, suddenly began to feel like a suffocating tomb.
Ben tore the mask from his neck as he got back to the locker room, taking off his cap and letting out a long, defeated breath. He opened up his locker, digging through the small top shelf of toiletries and an old watch Kate had given him, to find in the back an old pack of cigarettes and lighter. He’d been pretty good about kicking the stuff, but in times of stress he still craved them. The areas around the elevators had become congested with the mid-afternoon crowds of outpatient surgery cases and their families, so Ben opted to descend the stairwell and pass through the first floor atrium to a narrow alleyway out back. It was still raining, but a thin eave provided shelter so long as one stayed close to the walls. This place was apparently a place for parking unused ambulances, but it was abandoned today. Not even the handful of staff who still used smoking as their vice was out at the moment, leaving the rainy alleyway for Ben alone. He didn’t hesitate to draw a cigarette from the pack with his teeth, taking in a breath of chilly spring air as he lit it up. In the distance, he heard the sound of nearing sirens as ambulances flew by to the nearby ER bay. From about 3 floors above, he could hear the peppy conversation of two women relaxing off the balcony of the cafeteria, having a talk too uncharacteristically cheery for a hospital. Across the alleyway, a man in an office with window ajar was having a sweet phone discussion with his wife.
Man, he hated Seattle. The weather was bleak 80% of the time. People tricked out on opiates were half of the cases that came through the ER and caused him daily hell. And shit like this ... people everywhere, all the time, clamoring up the city, interacting with one another and reminding him resoundly, constantly, that he was alone. In all truth, though, it was probably an apt place for him. A dark, gloomy, desolate atmosphere for a dark, gloomy, desolate person.
He just managed to finish his cigarette as his phone buzzed two simultaneous pages. The first was alerting him that Alaina White was awake and alert. He was glad. He closed his eyes momentarily and imagined the look on her face when she was told the miraculous news. The second was a page to the ER for a bike accident. He let out one last sigh, stubbing out his cigarette in the ashtray by the door, deciding to ignore the former message and head to the ER.
That ER case turned into an hours-long surgery that ended in a death. He didn’t stand much of a chance in the first place; that’s usually what happens when a city recycling truck hits a bicyclist. Ben was at least relieved that the bicyclist, a 60-something man from the south side, didn’t have any apparent family or kin. As shitty as the case had been, he considered it a small blessing that he didn’t have to top it off with telling his family that he’d died. The more he thought about it, it was a terrible thing to think - being glad that someone was alone in the world so he could be spared a ten minute heartbreaking conversation. He sat in the hallway outside of the OR, back up against the wall and hand running through his hair. He declared death at 21:03, and that was about ten minutes ago. He was spent. It had been a loaded day after all. He was still immensely frustrated at himself for falling back in this slump of darkness that he so often fell into. The news with Alaina’s surgery couldn’t have been better. But, of course, he managed to murk it up in his own convoluted way. And then leave her in recovery without so much as a quick drop in? She must’ve been disappointed in him. But he knew he had to do it. He had to start to distance himself again. He’d be discharging her within the week, whenever she started getting some strength back. And once that happened, she wouldn’t have any reason to look back. He wouldn’t want her to. Even with this pessimistic outlook he that he’d suddenly taken on, he still needed to drop in on her as his patient. He dropped by his locker to grab his essentials - his leather watch, a fleece pullover with the hospital insignia, his phone - and headed up the elevator to the ICU. He tried to push away the nagging feeling that, after his last catastrophic case, all he genuinely wanted was to sit next to Alaina, ... to be held by her, to tell her about it. He had to knock it off. He had to stop thinking of her like that. He had to start pulling away, to let her go. She deserved as much.
He dropped in on her old room in the ICU to find it cleared out. For a moment, he felt his heart rate rising at not knowing exactly where she was, before he remembered that he’d sent the instructions with the recovery nurse to put her up in a more comfortable room on the fourth floor now that she was in a less critical condition. He rubbed his temples with his hands once he was back in the elevator. He really needed to get it together. Or at least go home and get an actual night’s sleep. He found Alaina’s new room easily and gave a quiet knock on the open door, pulling back the curtain granting her bed some privacy from the hallway. He was actually pretty relieved to see that she was sleeping. Hopefully he could just check her incision silently, check her vitals, sign off that he’d been there. Then he could at least know that he’d dropped in and spare himself the guilt of being a crummy doctor. But as he quietly washed his hands and dried them on a paper towel, he looked over the young woman dozing in the bed. He found himself as unprepared as ever to see her, like her enthralling and subtle beauty knocked violently into him every time he laid eyes on her. And, for once, her embraced in sleep without the lines of her face revealing an underlying pain.
Alaina was still laying there, turned towards him with her black hair over her face ever so slightly. She didn't really have the strength or motivation to move it as she watched that defined jaw and serious look of Benjamin Carr as she spoke. It fascinated her. He fascinated her. She would sometimes just sit there and watch him as he analyzed her wounds, trying to figure out what he could be thinking. It was something she wanted to know about him. She found herself wanting to know a lot about him. She found herself wanting him to know a lot about her. She would not bring herself to tell him that though... it was the way things were for them at the moment. It was like they knew, but they were holding metaphorical tongue depressors in their mouths to stop from vocalizing things. Benjamin said something like she'd feel better after it was over, but she didn't need to hear that. He was just trying to make her more comfortable, but there would still be pain. She was used to the pain by now, but she couldn't deny him the opportunity to explain everything to her... make sure she knew that he'd do his best no matter how small the procedure was, and she picked up on it. It was their actions that spoke more than their words, and it wasn't like she had anything to lose. However, Alaina wasn't about to go blurting out those seemingly stupid feelings to him to just watch him walk out of her life as she was still weak and pale and full of cancer and needles. She definitely was not about to let him go away just like that.
Alaina would never have guessed what Benjamin Carr would do next. He was unpredictable... One second he was cold and the next he was placing his fingers on her face, lingering at the touch as it melted Alaina's heart and sent shudders down her spine and back up in one simple gesture. Alaina locked her deep blue eyes on his, dying to kiss him at that moment, but she wasn't even strong enough to do that really because it would take getting up on her elbow. If she was cancer free, Alaina knew that she wouldn't hold back. Damn... she just wanted to whisper in that barely audible voice of hers for him to kiss her, but she knew the nurses would never let it go, and she knew it might mess with his status by being known to start a relationship with a patient. Alaina cared about him a lot more than simply jumping into something that would ruin everything he'd ever worked for. If she knew that nothing bad would happen to him, Alaina would be gathering all the strength she had to pull those often tightly closed lips to hers... It was just like that that Benjamin Carr pulled his fingers away, but the lingering sensation was still there. It was then and there that she knew she wanted to be the one bundled up in some warm cabin in the middle of nowhere with the only thing visible being snow and him next to her. If only she could get healthier for him... Alaina wished it were just as easy as thinking or dreaming to be better because she sure as hell had been doing a lot of that.
Alaina waited for Benjamin to say something.. do something... He finally did. He spoke seriously, assuring her that he wouldn't let her die. Alaina just let those deep blue eyes of hers lock onto his again with the smallest smile. He didn't have to fight as hard as he did for her, but he still did. She was one of the worst patients in the hospital in terms of how critical she was, and he still promised her she wouldn't die? How did she believe it too? She did though. It was just looking at him and hearing the tone of his voice... She was sure that he was going to do everything to keep her alive, and she found strength in that. She wasn't as scared anymore, and that was saying a lot after everything she went through. She had her very own soldier fighting for her life... Alaina would let out the lightest chuckle, still breathing a bit shallower at the pain that was held in her stomach. He was joking about her dying on a biopsy like she had, and it only calmed her more. His mission in the whole explaining was to calm her, and she sensed it. He definitely succeeded... well, it did get worse when the nurses came back in. "I know you won't." She would say under her breath as he left, watching him briskly head off as the nurses would get her ready for surgery, giving her all those pre-operative medications and scrubbing her down and getting her in a scrub cap and gown... Fun. At least the operating room gave her a chance to get out of her room other than the one time Benjamin took her to see the rain... and kissed her... when no one was watching. Damn Alaina! She thought, needing to get a grip on the seriousness of the surgery she was about to go under, but it wasn't happening. Benjamin Carr kept invading her thoughts, almost more than pain and cancer.
There was just something about the way that he touched her cheek that was the most romantic and sweetest and gentlest thing that she'd ever experienced. Alaina hardly had any sort of hugging or pushing her hair back from her face from her father. All he ever did was hit her... It was just in the way that Benjamin did things to her that no one else could... She wanted more of it, more of his touch, and she was becoming angry that she'd be under when he would touch her skin yet again. Although she realized it would be with a scalpel as well, Alaina just couldn't get her mind off of the way he promised her something so intimate as taking her on a private trip to the snow. Maybe it wasn't supposed to be romantic, but she would take it that way. She would hold on to that familiar smell of pine that he exuded when he was in his normal clothes or the way that his sweater fit just perfectly. She would dream about the smell of a cabin in the evergreen expanse of snow and pine trees and lights and bed sheets and Benjamin Carr… Alaina would do anything and everything to get rid of the cancer even for just one week or weekend to feel that.
Alaina would have to sit there like a newborn, waiting for them to get her all ready to go under the bright lights and life or death feeling of the operating room. She knew anything could happen. She knew it might be the last time she opened her eyes, but she didn't believe that. She was keeping her grasp on that hope that he gave her. She couldn't just die before she gave him the chance to take her on the trip of her lifetime... of their lifetimes. It seemed like a short time before the surgery was in front of them, but, sure enough, the nurses were wheeling her up, leaving her eyes to stare at their chins and the fluorescent lights rushing past her. They would lift her on that cold steel table, not really caring about being gentle or giving her comfort as they put the scrubs open on the spot where he would be cutting into her abdomen to take out the mass. She was shivering with goosebumps all over, and she could see all the shiny and sharp tools next to her as the anesthesiologist got ready to knock her out with science. This was the scary part. She remembered them saying she almost died on the table several times before... Would this be the final nail in her short-lived coffin? Alaina was starting to get nervous, not seeing any sign of Benjamin Carr. Was there a reason he wasn't here? Was he backing out now and leaving another doctor to do the biopsy?
It was like Benjamin could read her mind because he entered the OR at that moment. Alaina focused her eyes on his, seeing those same darker eyes and finding solace in them. She wouldn't look away from his eyes as he stepped closer, sure he was just going to get her ready to be cut into. He had his mask tied on, so she could just focus on those eyes of his. He offered a soft ready to her, and she would only nod gently. "They said I am at least." She offered, talking about the nurses. Her face was paler in the OR lights, but she didn't seem to care. Her personality and heart radiated out from her. It only got brighter when he got closer, and the people in the room could tell.
Alaina would have never expected what Benjamin Carr did next in a million years. Alaina's eyes went to his scrub pants as he pulled something from them, instantly feeling her heart melting into goo as she realized what it was. Instantly, her blue eyes brightened, and her smile widened from ear to ear. Okay... his touching her cheek was definitely not the most romantic thing that had ever happened to her. This gift of a stuffed polar bear trumped everything. It almost turned her entire attitude completely around and eliminated the fear factor for complete joy. It was stupid and tiny, but it was also the best thing that anyone had ever given her. Alaina felt her eyes tearing up and one stray tear falling down her cheek as she lifted a hand to take the white, soft fur of the stuffed polar bear in her own hand. She looked into the black eyes and stitched smile, bringing an infectious smile to her own face. Oh Benjamin Carr didn't know how much she loved him in that moment. It was like her heart lurched for him, pulling her to him more than ever. It didn't even matter how many people were in the room or that surgery was lurking because she didn't want to deny this feeling she had for him.
Alaina knew what it meant, and she was assured of that confidence inside of her, bubbling to gush her heart out to him or quite literally start bleeding in love. He was going to take her to see the snow. He was promising her in a cheesy and romantic and original way all at once. Alaina ran her small hand through the polar bear's synthetic fur a few more times before letting her eyes meet his again, full of emotion and passion and happiness. "Promise me you'll see me in my room after all this... alone." She added the last part softly so that only he would hear, searching his eyes in complete seriousness. Alaina didn't want to wait any longer. She was trusting if she could survive another surgery then she could find the confidence to risk everything for him. She had to for Benjamin Carr… She was simply crazy about him. After that, Alaina would offer another gentle smile that was supposed to comfort him and warm him at the same time, telling him that he'd be great and that she'd see him after just like that. She didn't even consider another option as she let the anesthesiologist put her out. This was it. It was all up to him to keep her alive before she admitted she was so in love with him she could barely breathe.
That Wednesday was an incredibly busy day. Ben Carr had already been up for seven hours and the day was barely tipping over into noon. Not like it looked like it was the middle of the day outside; the sky over the University District was gray turning into black. Typical Northwest. But the room felt bright because of her. Even with the overhead fluorescents off to help Alaina sleep, she seemed to glow. He’d lost sleep over her this past night, turning over and back again in that lumpy on-call bunkers he revised again and again the simple steps for extracting an abdominal mass laparoscopically. Even with his shift in the E.R. and a load of surgery cases taking up the morning, he couldn’t really fully concentrate; he was concerned about a stupid biopsy. A biopsy that even a second-year resident could figure out how to do alone if he or she really wanted to. Not like he’d even be remotely nervous about such a simple procedure on anyone else except her. The girl. His girl, in some unspoken, twisted, romantic way. But when he sat down to talk with her about it, her good humored responses gave him peace of mind. They reassured him that he was, in fact, capable of taking care of her. Not just capable, but ideal for the job. Better than anyone. Perhaps too close to her, too emotionally involved, but his skills were almost undoubtedly unmatched in his department.
She assured him that she wasn’t nervous, almost with a defeated look on her face hidden behind jest. He could still see that she was in pain, her hands subconsciously clenching and unclenching around her stomach. It didn’t escape his eyes even for a second. He gave her a small, reassuring smile. “You’ll feel better when it’s over, okay?” That was a probable bet. Likely the mass, though slow-growing, was pressing up on her abdominal lining or even other organs and causing the pain. At least with it gone, the pain would minimize. Not a promise for the future, not really; who knew how many other tumors would grow in its place with time? But at least he could reassure her going in today that it wasn’t just so he could poke and prod her. She turned her head to look towards him, that dark hair of hers falling over her cheek. In an impulsive moment, Ben leaned forward and ever so gently brushed it aside. In the brief seconds that followed, his calloused, dexterous fingers lingered on the skin of her hollowed cheek. It was as if that touch could transmit even a smidgen of the goodness and kindness and optimism that seeped out of her and allow him to absorb it. In that moment he wanted to kiss her, but he knew better. He was taking her up to surgery in an hour. He didn’t need to add any confusion into the mix right before something so important to her wellbeing was about to take place. But he did at least utter a response to her joking, sickly tone, although his voice was much more morose and serious in return: “I’m not going to let you die.” He then realized that he probably sounded way too serious for her. So he at least tried to lighten the mood with a follow up: “Especially not on a biopsy,” echoing her lamentation that it would be an incredibly lame way to leave the world.
Touching the soft skin of her cheek was addictive and he found it hard to pull away. He wasn’t much of a touchy person. He barely embraced or caressed. Kate hated that about him, that he rarely held her, stroked her hair, outlined her skin with his fingers. The only thing he ever really did was hold her chin with a hard grip as he kissed her throat or pull her hair back when he’d taken her over the kitchen counter. Nothing too romantic involved, considering they’d been together for nine years. Kate had chocked it up to his stunted, dark personality that he wasn’t warmer with her; and honestly, so did he … until he’d met Alaina. She reminded him of the promise he’d made her to see the snow. He was conjuring up a response when his phone buzzed and he was being paged again. Always in the worst moments. The moment of fondness and intimacy crumbled away as he pulled back and checked the message on his phone. Another consult in the E.R. He gave Alaina an apologetic look and stood up from her bedside, straightening the sleeves of his starchy lab coat. “It’s the E.R., I have to go,” he muttered, giving her a half-saddened smile as he grabbed the tablet and prepared to leave. “I’ll see you upstairs.” With a nod, he was out the door.
As he walked over the glass bridge back to the Emergency wing from the patient rooms, he noted that of course the downpour had begun. A piece of weather appropriate for the events of the day. He just hoped in the back of his mind that the ensuing thunder and lighting wouldn’t affect the hospital’s power. It hadn’t ever yet in the past few years he’d worked here, even through a monsoon or two. But back in Kuwait the power had blown a few times, and he remembered how uncanny it was to operate in the dark, with only battery-powered fans and headlamps. And of course, today, on the verge of bringing Alaina back into the O.R., he couldn’t help but consider every worst case scenario that came to mind.
The E.R. consult was short. She was a cancer patient, too. A forty-two year old woman with breast cancer whose reconstruction after a mastectomy seemed to be getting infected. He observed the scars that covered her chest as he pulled down the gown to take a look at the damage. They were deep, and although healed, ever present and haunting. Again, he thought of Alaina and her half-joking hatred of her own scars. Even while looking over this woman’s case in a bed in the E.R., he nonetheless began once again dedicating a small piece of his mind to thinking about what approach he could take to minimize scarring in Alaina’s case. Just to make her happier. Ben was somewhat relieved that the woman’s case was one that needed to be handled by plastics and he wouldn’t have to take her in himself. Emergent cases always overtook scheduled ones, and while he would have operated on the woman if it were necessary, he was hoping that he wouldn’t have to reschedule Alaina’s biopsy to fret over another day.
By the time he’d handed his patient off to the appropriate department, he found himself in limbo with fifteen minutes to spare before meeting Alaina upstairs to start her biopsy. He could go get a cup of coffee, and risk his hands shaking during her procedure. Not a chance. He was remarkably wide awake, even after waking up at 5 a.m. He could head up early and take some time in the doctors’ lounge. And do what? Pace back and forth until he psyched himself out? He was slowly strolling through the atrium and he figured out what to do with his time, passing again that same old coffee cart and gift shop that he did every day on his way back to the parking garage. His eye caught on a shelf in the gift shop window, filled with stuffed animals, surely for the children admitted to the pediatrics wing or other ailing pairs of sweethearts elsewhere in the hospital. He continued walking, until he saw among the pile of stupid little plush cats and dogs and pandas, something else with a face buried among the others. He stopped for a second, looking at it through the glass window, at first admonishing himself for having such a stupid and embarrassing idea. She’d probably hate it anyway. It was cheesy and stupid. And what would the O.R. staff think of him gifting her something? What would they think of that cold-hearted attending surgeon then? Would they gossip that he was gong soft or losing his mind? Despite the trains of negativity he dumped on himself, like always, he somehow managed to conjure up the goodwill to step inside the gift shop and dig the chosen one out of the pile of animals with big, black, beaded eyes and stitched smiles and pay the ridiculously over-priced fare. The same older woman who caught him buying a bouquet of yellow flowers several days before was present yet again. While she said nothing of her familiarity with the man in the dark scrubs and bleach-white lab coat, she nonetheless smiled at him a knowing smile. He had someone worth admiring on his mind for the past several days, that much was obvious.
Between the stop into the gift shop and stopping by his locker on the surgical floor to change into a pair of sterile scrubs and cap, the time had come. He checked the board for the correct O.R., number 7 at the end of the hall. He backed into the door to the room, not bothering to scrub in yet, at least not until she was under. There wasn’t necessarily a rush with this surgery; definitely, not like the last one. He grabbed one of the white masks from a box by the door and started about the business of tying it in place. She was already there, lying on the hard, ungiving table in the middle of the room. This room wasn’t as big as the trauma suite they’d rushed her to last time, only about half the size and half as intimidating. The walls were a light painted blue, rather than the cold and reflective tiles of the bigger rooms. Less people were involved, only one tech, an anesthesiologist, a nurse, a resident , him and her. Supplies for the laparoscopic procedure were already laid out on a tray next to her. Surely, this place was intimidating to her. To anyone, really, who didn’t come in and out of O.R.s as frequently as they did their own front doors. But to Ben, it was a favorable place. With the sterile smell and harsh lights and stainless steel instruments, he fit in perfectly. Like everything else in here, he was cold and unforgiving. Maybe everywhere else he stuck out like a sore thumb because everyone wondered why he couldn’t be nicer, more civil to everyone. In here, though, he was just part of the equation. No one questioned his attitude because they knew he was focused, and when he was focused he managed to save lives.
He approached the table, tying the bottom strings to his mask, before returning his hands to rest on his hips. Even in here, with the unforgivingly bright light beaming down on her skeletal, ashen face, she was stunning. So sweet, so beautiful. “Ready?” He asked her, his voice soft and his expression hidden. Part of him wanted to get it all over with, to give her the juice and cut the mass out and sew her back up in one big breath. Yet, another part of him wanted to stay here with her in this moment, to expand it and live in it. The last moment before things got dark. Before she’d wake back up and he’d tell her in plain and damning language just how long she had left. Just how progressively she’d die. “…I almost forgot,” He mused, looking down and reaching in the side pocket of his scrub pants. He felt stupid as ever as he pulled out a little, stuffed polar bear. He’d even stuck it through the flash sterilizer in the supplies hallway before bringing it in. “As a token of the promise I’m keeping with you…” He might’ve almost broken a smirk, but he was glad that wearing a mask made it more difficult to tell. This was especially true in light of the others in the room who pretended to be going about their normal preparations but curiously glanced over at the duo at the moments like this. It had more or less bothered him after their small meeting in her room this morning that he never really got the chance to answer her reminder about how he still owed her a trip to see snow. Maybe this way he could at least offer her a reminder that he planned to honor that. Maybe, that when she woke up, when she got news about just how bad and painful and evil this cancer planned to be to her in the future, she could look down at the cheesy offering and remind herself that he owed her something good.
Alaina sat there in bed, propped up for the nurse to rip her bandages off and place new ones and cause all this pain that she couldn't protest... Yep, Alaina definitely didn't like when the nurses had to come. All they did was pump medication and look at her with that pity look that said 'I'm sorry you have cancer, but you make me money so not really' type thing. Alaina prided herself at normally being able to tell what someone was thinking just by their body language or the look in their eyes. She'd definitely had a long time in the hospital to master the skill... even though it hardly worked against Benjamin Carr. He was different. She was sitting there, studying the very man in front of her. He was so many different things... so complex, so mysterious, so intelligent, so kind, so damn handsome... Alaina bit her bottom lip a little harder to stop herself form letting her mind wander to that very realistic and very steamy dream of hers... She was happy for the nurse at that moment at least. However, Benjamin did that thing that he did to nurses where he turned into a human magnet with charges that repelled all people... well all people except her really. It was different for them. Alaina let out a breath as the nurse left faster than the Road Runner on Wile E. Coyote. She was suddenly left alone with this man that did something to her that no one ever had. The whole atmosphere in the room seemed to change once that door shut and the nurse most likely ran off to bring the new juicy gossip to the nurses station. Alaina was used to being gossip in this hospital by now. What could the nurses really do to her about it that she wasn't used to? Since she'd slept really well last night, due to a certain dream and a certain visit by an equally dreamy doctor, Alaina was ready to hear all about this scheduled biopsy that was circled and bolded in black on her whiteboard. Alaina could never really figure out why the nurses just wrote all the bad and scary things on the board. Why couldn't they draw something funny like a dog on a skateboard or something? Hell, she'd even like inspirational quotes better than a simple bold message of more pain and more scars. It wasn't like they'd do anything if she told them to change it, but still...
Benjamin Carr took a moment to calculate in the way that he did when he was supposed to be the best doctor for her cancer treatment instead of her strangely soulmate-like connection. He was good at his job. She knew that. No matter what the procedure was, Alaina knew that he was dedicated to his job as a life saver. Even if no one saw it like she did due to the way he was so cold and limited in dialogue to both patients and medical staff alike, Alaina knew he wouldn't ever go into an operating room without the best preparation that he could complete. She knew that he wanted nothing more than to save people's lives, no matter how hard the case. Other doctors and nurses may not want to work with him due to how calculating and analytical he was, it was his way to bring life to people... Benjamin Carr was not the same cold man all the way to the core of his soul. There was so much beauty and respectability and sensibility inside of him that it seemed only she could see. She was the only that seemed to magically open him up by simply staring into those eyes of his. It was like she was the only one that could tame the beast, and she knew they wouldn't admit it, but she also knew that they both knew that the connection was there.
Sitting up in bed, Alaina noticed everything new about Benjamin. It was just something she paid attention to with him. He was hiding that morning in his straight-laced and perfect lab coat and his charts and his medical facts and his look that told you not to mess with him or you'd regret it, but he couldn't hide everything... not to her. His stubble gave it all away to Alaina. It was such a subtle sign, but she fixated her eyes on it. He was normally never seen without a clean-shaven face just like he was the stereotypical doctor, but he was so much more than that. The stubble made her more comfortable. Sure, he may have looked lazy to others, but Alaina saw him in a different light like she often did. The stubble was a sign of him becoming more vulnerable and open to someone else. It was a sign that everything didn't have to be perfect. It was real, and it made him all the more sexy to her. Alaina knew at that minute that he was the same man that tried to be there for her when no one else in her entire life ever seemed to be. He didn't have to say anything. She didn't have to say anything. There were more words exchanged between them in the simple actions and mannerisms than actual speaking. In a way, he made her feel so much more confident. He made her feel so much more beautiful when all she ever thought she looked like was a skeleton with her hair thinning and her skin pale and her arms hooked up to seemingly every medical machine ever created in the history of medicine. He did all of that without really saying anything, and that was special. She knew it, but she didn't want to admit it.
Alaina snapped out of her deep thinking when Benjamin sat next to her bed. She turned her head towards him, letting her still bright blue eyes focus on him with her thin, raven hair framing her face. Just looking at him sort of calmed her a bit. He was the only person she could really count on at that moment. Her father thought she was as good as dead the second her mother died, so he wasn't coming any time soon. She didn't really open herself to having many friends since her cancer. She was so ready to just give up and die and shrink away without anyone knowing, so she pushed them all away. Then Benjamin Carr entered her life, and she wasn't so alone anymore. That was ironic with how much of an ass he acted, but he still had the same effect on her. She could possibly be on her death bed, and she would have been doing it all alone without him. She owed her life to him in more ways than one. He seemed to change her perspective on things. She saw rain a little bit differently... more of a way to cleanse the world and bring a new beginning. She saw sunshine differently, and she saw people differently. They made each other better... at least Alaina wanted to believe that. She could just be living in a fantasy world induced by cancer and drugs and surgery, so she needed him to be her reality check.
Alaina kept her eyes trained on his, hearing his softer tone. There he went again driving her crazy... He did that a lot. Alaina listened intently, hearing about not feeling a thing. Oh, she would definitely feel a thing when she woke up. Just more morphine for her! The surgery was minor it seemed. He was just going in to get part of her mass to test it... see how badly she was losing the war. Alaina didn't really need to know much more. She figured it was going to be bad because nothing ever good happened to Alaina White. Alaina sat there a moment, looking at the man in front of her, studying him in a way. Finally, she spoke. "Nervous isn't the word for it... I'm more accustomed." She offered, feeling more pain from her stomach area than normal. She figured it was something with the new bandages, but it wasn't like she knew exactly. "As long as you don't kill me we're good right?" She offered with a soft laugh, unable to hold it in anymore. "Wouldn't want to go out on something as stupid as a biopsy." She said, beginning to laugh a little harder. She didn't really know what came over her, but laughing seemed to be her way of coping at that minute. Finally, she calmed down a bit, donning that sickly mask again. "I'll see you in the operating room. Try not to make the cut too big." She said with another soft smile, having leaned a little closer to him after laughing. There were some strands of her black hair that had fallen wildly over her face, but she didn't move them. Alaina stared into his eyes more, talking again in the softest, most vulnerable way that only she could do in the face of Stage IV cancer, "I'm still counting on you to take me to see the snow, remember?"
It wasn’t too hard to notice that Ben Carr was at a continuous loss as to how to approach the situation of interacting with Alaina White. Part of him, by far the more primal and passionate part, sought to comfort her and to be open with her. The other part, the one he held to with desperate familiarity, was a cordial and terse means of conversing without involving emotions; it was one that he’d utilized too much in the past year or so in his medical practices. The latter was the one he always fell back on. It was one he still used when talking to his other patients, though he was now starkly aware and even embarrassed by how cold he was towards them. Was she doing that to him?
At least when he entered into her room this morning, he tried his best to be soft with her. This was complicated by the fact that one of the floor nurses was there. It was as if he was caught between trying to be kind to the girl, but not kind enough that the nurse caught whiff of his affection towards her; that would make for some exciting nurse station gossip. So he settled for his attempt at a joke, still looking over her chart on his tablet.
Alaina had some response to his jest, but he hardly heard it. He was focused on looking over the scans, calculating already exactly where he wanted to make an incision and start an extraction. Since it was going to be a laparoscopic procedure, he would need to do more planning before actually cutting. His face had gone stern again, resembling the surgeon she had first met — cold, calculating. It wasn’t intentional. Perhaps that was just his face when his mind was consumed with the science of a problem waiting to be solved. Since he hadn’t gone home last night, he didn’t bring with him the scent of pine that he often did when meeting with her in the early morning. He only smelled of sterile hospital. He hadn’t shaved either. He usually kept himself meticulously groomed, but this morning his facial hair was showing the starts of becoming slightly more unruly than the usual stubble. Again, chocked up to the fact that he didn’t get his usual morning routine this morning. It looked like it had when he first met her on that afternoon in the clinic; back then, he’d stopped shaving so regularly not because of lack of sleep, but because of lack of caring. At that point in his life, he overlooked the necessity of being well-groomed if he was just going to go home and kill himself. Most of him on that morning looked like he had on their first meeting — the starchy lab coat, the serious look in his dark eyes, the reversion to old forms of small talk. Not at all like he was last night — in civilian clothes, attempting his best to be normal and kind. Yet, even this morning, there was an integral difference between who he was then and who he’d been weeks ago. His skin was warmer, less gray. His eyes softer when he looked up from his chart to her, as if a beast being tamed by the image of a beautiful person. Alaina White had seized him. Everything about her made him go gentler than he’d ever been accustomed to. No he hadn’t heard what she’d said in response, but the nurse obviously had and let out a small chuckle at the fact that the patient was obviously trying her best to flirt after feeling particularly affected by the painkillers. The nurse, among the rest of her colleagues, could relate; they, too, had had some dirty talks about what they’d do with Dr. Carr. Regardless of how big of a jerk he was to all of them, he was still damn sexy. If he took them into a supply closet with him, few of them would find reason to say no.
At the nurse’s chuckle, Dr. Carr’s soft look when gazing upon Alaina turned steely again as it shifted to the nurse who was just taping up the bandages. The same cold, dark look. As if he was infuriated by the fact that the nurse’s involvement in the situation ruined an intimacy he was forming between himself and the young woman in bed in front of him. His look conveyed to the nurse, with frightening sharpness, a silent “aren’t you finished?” Apparently frightening enough of a look that the young lady snapped off her gloves and immediately put away the supplies and left the room.
Surely the nurses knew something was going on here. He’d never acted weird around patients before, never lurked with them longer than necessary. They had to know he felt something special for this one. He just hoped that it wouldn’t turn into a PR nightmare. He already knew that if it came to an intervention with the hospital — a choice between being the girl’s doctor or her admirer — what he would choose. He already had told her. He was a poor friend and an even worse love interest , but he was an excellent surgeon. Above all else, it was his initiative to keep her alive and well. He would choose to do that always. He’d been so involved in thinking that over, he almost missed that Alaina had mentioned something else. What was that?
The biopsy. He needed to focus. Being in the presence of the girl had made his concentration go out the window at moments. It wouldn’t be like that in the OR, when she was unconscious and her face out of sight. Thank god. Then he would be able to focus and at least feel like he was pulling his weight. Doing his job. Like he should have been doing then. Of course, he blamed some of his wandering mind on the fact that he could barely look at her straight in the eyes without remembering the brief glimpses of a dream he’d had during those few hours of sleep last night. Of snow, and pine trees, and a small, warm place in the Alps somewhere. She was there, her skin porcelain and like the snow, bare and vulnerable and unimaginably beautiful. Focus.
He brought his eyes back to hers, and sat down on the stool next to her bed, setting the tablet down on the desk behind him. "About that biopsy..." He sighed, echoing her question. His voice was softer now that the nurse had left, kinder and friendlier. Why was it so impossible for him to let himself be seen as a good man? That was what he was, after all. Underneath the coldness and sternness and steely detachment was still the remnant of a person who wanted to help others. Something about Alaina's sweetness, her genuine and raw vulnerability in the face of fatality, made that part of him come out to her.
Right, biopsy. "You'll be asleep for it, you won't feel a thing." He started, feeling it was important first and foremost to reassure her that, despite the prospect of cutting her more and leaving more scars than she had currently, he was in fact doing more good than harm. "I'll resect part of the mass, all of it if the margins are clean. And we'll see what the lab has to say about what exactly it is." How bad the cancer was, he corrected himself pessimistically in his head. How fast growing it was, how far it would spread. How fast it would kill her. Luckily his medical poker face was still enough intact to not convey his doubts to the patient in front of him.
He could've kept going with the details. Patients usually had flurries of questions before even simple procedures like this. His typical self would usually have given them too little details in response. It was in that nasty nature of his. His terrible bedside manner as of late. His usual fallback response to worried patients was something along the lines of, 'You don't need to worry about how it's done. I'll handle it and you'll survive intact. Let me do my job.' But of course, being near the girl who he was quite sure he had some form of love for broke that part of him into shards. He wanted to explain things to her, to make them simple and unfrightening. Yet he found himself wondering if he'd end up scaring her more by saying too much.
“Are you nervous?” He asked her, his voice soft and almost sympathetic. Despite his change of uniform back to what it usually was, he still had that same demeanor around her of the transformed man she’d met last night. He didn’t really answer her question, instead opting to ask for her feelings first. He didn’t want to sit her down and tell her all the gory details about incisions and inflamed tissues and cauterizations and blood and cancer without gauging if she even wanted to know those gory details in the first place. He knew she had a horrible experience the first time he took her to surgery. It wasn’t as if they’d had time to calm her nerves about being cut open and her organs rearranged; things were too urgent, too dangerous. He wondered if it had traumatized her. If she would be afraid of going back upstairs. If she still trusted him enough to do everything he promised her he would.
Alaina wouldn't dare tell Benjamin that she was simply exhausted, but her continuously drooping eyelids were enough of a sign for the already intelligent and observant doctor to tell. She'd truly enjoyed his company, and she didn't want to just fall asleep in the middle of him talking to her and seem inconsiderate. However, Alaina also knew that Benjamin was a man that knew better than that. He understood her condition, and he almost seemed to completely understand her already. Well, he definitely understood all of her insides with the number of X-rays and surgeries she'd been under. However, Alaina didn't just look at him like the man in the blue scrubs and white mask hovering over her with a sharp metal tool of medical genius. He'd erased that image from her mind with the one effort he'd taken to seem normal with her... to comfort her in a time when no one else was going to be there for her. He sat with her in his jeans and sweater like a normal man that only wanted to make sure she wasn't lonely in all of her miserable pain and suffering. Benjamin wasn't the image of a cold doctor in her mind anymore, and she wasn't disturbed by it one bit. Although his gesture may have seemed small and insignificant to a passing nurse or visiting individual, it meant a multitude more to the two of them. It was a step that they couldn't exactly explain to anyone else, but Alaina knew he felt it when she looked into those dark eyes of his. When their eyes connected, it was like he saw straight to her heart and her mind and her soul. It was like he broke down years of walls built up in her mind from her father with one glance. They knew what it meant, but they didn't talk about it. Alaina knew it meant she trusted him. Benjamin knew it meant she wanted help to survive and that she had hope. Alaina knew his secret rendezvous was a way to make her more comfortable and relaxed in his presence. Benjamin knew it was his chance to know more about her. They knew, so they didn't have to tell.
Still, Alaina wasn't planning on letting cancer and medicine win tonight. It was just too strong to resist with the highest dosages of drugs pumping into her blood constantly along with chemicals and questions and doctors and interns and machines and... it made her tired to even think about it much more. All she knew was that she didn't want to see that blue sore thumb of a DNR report hanging at her bed anymore. She didn't want to give up, and there was a part of her that knew she never really had. Alaina didn't survive her father by herself to just die from cancer by giving up. She was stronger than that... She was her mother's daughter, and her mother never gave up. How could she then? Alaina's petite body relaxed into the softness of the bed sheets as the medicine continued to work its way through her system. She was trying to put all of her focus into keeping her iron gates of eyelids from shutting on themselves, but her entire body was already relaxing into the state of deep sleep that was familiar to her. Normally, it was a relief that she could just close her eyes for a few hours because the pain went away with it, but that wasn't the case today. She was fine with some pain for a little while longer, but she knew he wouldn't let her do that to herself. Alaina was stubborn enough to stop him from entering that passcode to give her more drugs if she was able to, but she wasn't strong enough. Oh how she wished she was...
Alaina didn't stop fighting her eyelids from controlling themselves to shut until he touched her arm and said it was okay. It wasn't long after that that Alaina fell asleep. It was raining again that night, and Alaina had noticed that when she was talking to him. She knew it probably meant that he'd have more emergencies because heavy rain meant car crashes and car crashes meant broken bones and broken bones meant medical treatment. She figured he'd have to go shortly after he got her to sleep, but she still couldn't stop herself from appreciating his presence in her room and talking to her like she wasn't just a cancer patient in the ICU of his hospital. Maybe it was the way that all doctors normally treated their patients... Alaina didn't really go to the hospital that much if she didn't have to, but she wasn't going to tell herself that Benjamin was just the same doctor as everyone else. She wouldn't until that was proven to her. How could he be the same if she started out screaming at him, and he still stayed by her bedside?
Alaina dreamed of snow that night. She dreamed that she'd find herself in one of those comfy-looking log cabins and walking out to mounds of snow that would fall under her feet when she stepped. She dreamed about catching snowflakes on her tongue. She dreamed about waking up next to Benjamin Carr after he heated her up from all the cold.. Did she really do that? Alaina thought about it when she woke up, but the dream just ended almost as fast. She was still lingering on imagining him lodged up with her in some cabin in the middle of nowhere with the heat of his body against hers and the feeling of his smooth skin on her fingertips. Was this medicine making her horny or what? Well, that was what Alaina told herself. She actually enjoyed that little figment of imagination that the deep sleep gave her. When Alaina woke up, there was a nurse changing her bandages. Alaina just winced, but she didn't protest. Benjamin wasn't there. It was one of the first things she noticed, even though she expected it. If he was there, her mind would surely go to places that would make her blush redder than a tomato in front of him, and he would ask her why and she'd have to lie and... Yeah, maybe it was good he wasn't there right then.
The nurse removed and replaced her bandage fairly quickly. Alaina knew she had a surgery that day. It was on the schedule in front of her bed in black marker on the whiteboard. However, it was just a biopsy. Alaina had watched enough Grey's Anatomy to know that a biopsy was simple. It wasn't like she wanted another cut to heal, but it had to happen if there was any more hope of removing her tumor which she was definitely ready for regardless of how big the scar was. Her room was dark, and the nurse didn't seem to care. Well, she had been there a while they were used to her. It wasn't like she could complain because they'd all expected her to die before she got out alive. Also, she was Benjamin Carr's patient, and the nurses seemed to rush to get away from having to talk with him again. The nurse attending her didn't get that opportunity. Alaina heard the double-knock, and she knew exactly who it was. Without even realizing it, a small smile tugged at her lips.
When that familiar defined face came through the door, Alaina noticed the nurse tense up a bit. Finally, she realized what he was talking about. The nurses had taken her bag of fruits and chocolate from her bedside. Sighing, Alaina looked from him to the nurse in slight annoyance. She really liked those... Alaina knew they'd come get it, and she knew she wouldn't be able to fight them about it. But Dr. Carr could. Also, she'd eaten some of them before they could confiscate the nicest gift she'd received in a while, so take that nurses. Alaina smiled some, laying her head back against the pillows. Gosh, she was still feeling that dream running over and over in her mind. She needed to get a grip on herself, but it was pretty damn hard with him right in front of her looking good in that lab coat of his. Alaina was feeling fairly rested that day, and she looked up to him as the nurse continued to work on her bandages. "At least you did..." She trailed off, closing her mouth fast and blushing slightly at her own words. She'd just said that he wanted her to get the Vitamin D? She needed a literal zipper on her mouth at that point. Alaina tried to speak again to cover it up. "So about that biopsy?" She asked, nodding slightly to the whiteboard.
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.
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