“How are you feeling?” you ask. To let you sit, he lifted the hand, and now it’s hovering above your knee. That would bother you if you weren’t peering into his face trying to determine how bad it is. Why you’re doing it eludes you. You’re no cardiologist.
His hand covers your tightly clenched fists on your lap. You don’t feel the whole weight of it. You know his touch, you know he’s holding back. He pats your fists, and start pulling it back. There is some sort of soft hesitation to his gesture, and you grab it with both your hands.
“I’m fine. It was very mild. I was overtired too, and losing consciousness was mostly the exhaustion. They’ll keep me here for couple days for observation.” There’s some sort of melancholy in his eyes, and the voice is quiet. You know you’re behaving barmy, but you can’t stop scrutinising his face. “Thank you for coming.”
Suddenly there’s nothing to say, and you gulp.
“I’m sorry I didn’t come before… My phone was off, and I just got Graham’s messages this morning.”
“It’s alright.” His tone is light; and together with the meaninglessness of his answer it makes you think you should go. Now you feel like an idiot for grasping to his hand like a devoted wife of a man on a deathbed.
You clear your throat to start politely retreating, since you properly need to leave this room and cry to full exhaustion in the nearest bathroom, when he brushes his thumb to your knuckles in a gesture so familiar and tender that you think you might not make it to the aforementioned bathroom.
“Thank you for coming, Wren.” He’s already said it, and you look at him in surprise. “I mean it. You didn’t have to, and it feels very good to see you.” You seem to have forgotten how to breathe from the warm sincerity of his low voice.
“Of course I came. I got so scared…” you whisper, and he rubs your knuckles again. “And then Killian said you asked for me.”
“Well, I was faced with my mortality. I was hoping to make amends.” He chuckles, and you gawk at him. “Sorry, that was a very dramatic statement. But I did want to see you. And I’m serious. It is nice to see you even though I’m not dying anymore.”
“I can’t say I’m enjoying your sense of humour at the moment,” you mutter, and he gives you the same subdued smile.
“I’m not joking, Wren. I wanted to talk. To say I was sorry. For what happened between us, and… for how it ended.”
You’re not sure where this is coming from, and you’re not sure you’re ready for it. You just aren’t used to him speaking like that, and more so, you don’t know if you trust this openness, and this… vulnerability. He did do a number on you, didn’t he? You are suspicious of a man on a hospital bed recovering after a fucking heart attack!
“It was my fault. All of it.” He speaks again, and you frown. “You were right. I was bad for you.”
“John, we don’t have to talk about it… Right now… or at all.”
“We won’t if you want me to stop, but allow me… an apology.”
“John, it’s just…”
“Out of the blue?” he asks, and then he tries to sit up. You notice a small cringe, and press your hand into his shoulder impulsively.
“Wren?” he teases. You are bloody getting a whiplash from the changes in his mood! A second ago he was asking forgiveness for being a horrible partner, and now he’s cocking an eyebrow sardonically. And he expects you to believe a word he’s saying?!
“I think I should go…” You pull your hands back, from his shoulder, and from under his palm, and he’s not holding you back.
You slide off his bed, and pick up your bag from the floor.
“I had a… mad thought. When it started, the pain in the chest, and all the other symptoms…” He’s talking again, and you can’t lift your eyes to look at him. “That you’d never know. That it would… cock up something for you, for later. For when you’re with another man.” That makes you jerk your face up and gape at him. His lips are twisted, he’s as much as gritting his teeth, pushing himself to speak. “When we were together, I knew I was wrong. I never… talked to you. Even when I knew I should have said something, I never did. And you deserved better. I thought it would make me weak. So I would just… order you. With Anderson, and Maya… I thought I would keep you under control, and you wouldn’t leave me. Because I knew how… I knew how much it would hurt to be without you.” He clenches his jaws, and you see a vein beating on his neck. There is a storm of emotions in his eyes.
You’re still, your handbag in your hands. You wish there was a manual for situations like this. Your brain is refusing to process what you’re hearing.
“I’m being selfish here, Wren. I need you to know it. Because I… can’t keep it all in and risk another heart attack.” He gives you a shaky smile – a defence mechanism, no doubt.
You think his eyes seem very shiny, and you rush ahead, and you wedge yourself under his arm with the monitor, and press into him.
“I am so sorry…” You have nothing to apologise for, but at the moment it’s all you can mumble through tears and sobs. “I don’t know what to do anymore… I… I got so scared for you, and I’m still scared… to believe you…”
“Don’t,” he whispers, and you feel his hand brush at the back of your head in a comforting gesture. “Just… I just needed to say it.”
“I wish it were different… I wish we could…” You feel his tee grow wet under your face, and the taste in your mouth is salty and bitter. “I miss you so much…”
He makes a comforting hushing noise, and continues running his fingers through your hair.
“It’s alright, Wrennie. You’ll be alright.” Your whole body shudders from his tender voice, and from the familiar warmth, and from the painful hopefulness. You really don’t feel right now that you will.
You’re lying in his arms, crying quieter and quieter, and then a nurse comes, and you crawl off his bed under her judgemental lok. You have no voice or energy left to say anything, so you just grab your bag and flee.
You rush by Graham and Killian, ignoring their questions, bump your shoulder into Phil who’s coming in, and you run out to the stairs and down. Between two stories you slump on the floor of the landing, and let your tears out.
You’ve finally accepted it. It’s over between the two of you, and there is nothing to be done. Somehow, his words are more excruciating than you ever thinking all that. Him admitting it makes it final, and hopeless, and you’re hiding your face into your knees, asking yourself how you’re supposed to go on now.
Five weeks later the lab is buzzing with news, and no one is working all day. There is a memo in everyone’s inboxes in the morning that Dr John Thorington is retiring from the project, and there is a party. Everyone is invited, and everyone is discussing whether it’s his heart attack, or he’s just growing old. You consider throwing a beaker into the head of the nearest chatterbox.
You don’t want to go to the do. You don’t want to see him, you think it’ll hurt too much. You don’t want others to stare at you and think you’re feeling vengefully happy he’s not fit as a fiddle anymore. You don’t want to find out that it’s true. You can’t bear to see him weaker, less of the man you’ve known. You shouldn’t feel guilty for what happened, but you still do sometimes.
If you don’t go, they will think you are incapable of civilised behaviour. You grudgingly pull out an old dress from your wardrobe – simple and elegant, dark blue, pencil skirt, classic half sleeves – and drag yourself to the Hilton where the whole floor was reserved for the reception, and rooms are available for inebriated guests later. You come with Killian, and Lan comes with a friend of his – a middle aged cute blonde. Her name is Candice, and she’s Canadian. She tells you too much personal information in the first five minutes while the two of you are picking up a champagne flute for her, and a glass of water for you.
“Oh god, is that Graham Dwalinson?” she asks, and points at the Scot. After you confirm, she gives out a dreamy sigh. “I’ve read his article on platelet counts in neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia. The man is a genius! And a dreamboat, if you ask me!” She ogles him like a toddler looking at a toffee cake, and you giggle.
“Let me introduce him to you then.” The rush of unfamiliar joy of matchmaking is exhilarating. She fluffs up her golden curls and moves her shoulders in the universal gesture intended to perk up her tits.
“How do I look?” she asks, and you smile to her widely.
“Like his interest towards your lady parts will be far from professional,” you answer, and she emits a loud unrestricted laugh.
“I surely hope so. And now let’s get me some of that Scottish fudge.”
You snort and lead her to her dessert. You think, someone is getting properly maple syruped tonight.
Leaving the two of them chatting amicably – she’s already patting his upper arm, and he’s industriously impressing her with his knowledge of pessary use for reduction of preterm birth – you walk to the table and pick up another glass of water. The whole time you try not to stare at the star of the celebration conversing with some big pharmaceutical bosses on the other end of the room.
He looks good. Healthy, elegant, unburdened – in his three piece navy suit, light blue shirt, and a surprisingly cheery checkered tie. The hair is loose tonight, glossy and lush. He’s laughing at someone’s joke, dropping the head back, tendons moving on his strong neck. If anyone thought he is anything but at the peak of his life and career, they are to be reassured. Or disappointed, depending on the degree of their wankerishness.
You see Elvig separating from the group and walking towards you.
“Ms Leary, pleasure to see you as always.”
“Dr Elvig.” You shake his hand. You aren’t enjoying the worried, considerate expression in his eyes. Whatever it is he’s thinking, it’s none of his bloody business.
“So, we are seeing the end of the era,” he draws out, and waves his flute in the general direction of the Sun of Modern Neurosurgery. “Dr John Thorington withdrawing from all three research projects of the Yamataki fund.” He shakes his head, and you take a hasty sip of your water.
“He’s still keeping his practice,” you croak. “The memo we received stated he wanted to concentrate on the surgery these days. And he was offered a teaching position in that one little university we all know and dream of ending up in.”
Elvig gives you doubtful look. What? Isn’t it what a supportive colleague supposed to say? Even if the said colleague is a former paramour.
“The problem is no one actually believes this explanation, Ms Leary. And everyone is endlessly curious what the real reason is behind such drastic changes.”
“Then everyone should ask Dr Thorington himself.” You give him a polite nod, and move away. You need fresh air.