Chapter 12- Part of the Solution, not the Problem
He woke with a start. He was alone. She wasn’t in the bed. He sat up looking around as the room in panic. It was early, very early.
“Calm down Rocky,” Mrs Grant waved her hands at him, “The nurse has just taken her to the bathroom. Don’t throw any right-hooks.”
He groaned and dropped his head back to the bed. Somewhere during the night he’d rested his head on the bed and, with the rest of his body folded in the chair, he’d slept like that. Now he felt groggy, sore and ached all over. His face was swollen but he could still see, nothing was broken, and none of his teeth were loose. He’d been through worse.
He picked up his phone and slid it into his back pocket then he found a pen and paper and wrote a note. He needed a shower and some clean clothes. She probably needed some time to herself too.
He paused at the door. Chuck wasn’t there. But he should have expected that. He would be with Jill. He walked to the lifts, went to the basement, found his car and headed home. The sun was low in the sky and the roads were reasonably clear, so it didn’t take long. He didn’t delay though. He showered and grabbed a bag of clothes and everything he’d need for the next week, then headed back to the car. Then he was on the road, straight back to the hospital.
It was still too early for visiting hours, but no one stopped him on the way to her room. Chuck was standing there. He nodded at Tom.
“Stan’s going to be fine,” Tom stated. He’d checked on the way up because he knew she’d ask.
“Thanks to you,” Chuck mumbled, “They say he would have bled out if you hadn’t have come along. We all owe you one.”
Tom shrugged uncomfortable by the gratitude, “Do they know who he is?”
“Salter’s been screaming blue-murder, all night,” Chuck growled, “The perp’s not saying much but Salter will be here later to fill you in.”
“Sure,” Tom wanted to see Jill, so he mumbled the word as he walked past the man and into her room.
“You’re here,” she looked up like she was surprised to see him. In her hands was the note he’d written. She blushed slightly and folded the note up as she moved it under the covers.
“I told you that I wouldn’t be long,” he dropped the canvas bag next to the chair and sat down.
“What’s that?” she pointed to the bag.
“I’m moving in,” he said in a matter-of-fact voice, “I’m not leaving you again.”
“But?” she blinked her surprise.
“Don’t argue with me Jill,” he shot back, “I don’t care about visiting hours, Doctor Peters, or what anyone says. I don’t give a shit if Detective Derek Salter reassures you that he’s got this under control. I’m staying, end of story.”
“Alright,” she said.
“And don’t think about arguing with me,” he stopped, “Alright? What? Did you just agree with me?”
“Maybe,” she looked away.
“Well,” he looked around confused, he was expecting an argument, “Good, that’s good.”
“Are we having a sleepover?” Mrs Grant smiled, “I’ve always wanted to have a sleepover. If only I’d had a girl, then I would have been able to make pink cup-cakes, rent girly movies and do great sleepovers. Can we push the beds together and watch a girly movie?”
“Sure,” Jill smiled, “Tom’s probably never seen the Princess Diaries. We could do a marathon and watch all three.”
“Princess Diaries?” Tom cringed.
“Tonight, it’s a date!” Mrs Grant was excited.
Tom turned expecting to see a smirk on Jill’s face. This was her challenging him, testing him, to see if he would endure the movie marathon or go, leave her after just declaring that he was here to stay. She was clearly throwing obstacles in front of him trying to break him. He steeled himself, if she was going to play that game then she would soon find out that he wasn’t an easy opponent to beat.
He opened his mouth as he turned to her, his lips curling into a confident grin, but he didn’t get any words out of his mouth. Her face showed no trace of defiance. She was looking away from him, at her hands, as she frowned. She glanced at him and then nervously looked away. What was she doing? Was it possible that she actually wanted to watch those movies?
Tom closed his eyes and wished he could kick himself. He needed another bruise to add to the collection. This one would be well earnt though.
He didn’t think about her. His first reaction was to think about himself. She’d just been through a life-threatening attack and she would be feeling vulnerable. Here he was expecting her to be strong when she was fragile. He should be supporting her not expecting her to be callous towards him. This was clearly something she needed. These movies must be comfort food for her.
He had a lot to learn about being a friend. He released a long breath. He might be a neurosurgeon with fifteen years of world-class post-graduate education, but right now he knew nothing. He was a novice at relationships and it was time he recognised that and started from scratch. He would learn from her.
“Princess Diaries? Sure, why not,” he smiled, “I’m at your mercy. What food do you want? Pink cup-cakes?”
Both women looked at him with excited expressions. His heart jumped seeing her face light up. He would happily endure 6 to 8 hours of girly romantic comedy just for that look on her face. He picked up the pad and pen as they started to list the foods they wanted. It was a long list and he wasn’t sure that they could eat all that, but he would buy it all just to see her try.
“Can I come in?” Detective Salter was standing in the doorway, “How are you today Jill?”
“I’m OK,” she glanced at Tom as she answered Derek’s question. “How’s Stan?”
“He’s out of surgery,” Derek looked at Tom, “He was lucky. It seems that both Doctor Layton’s had a hand in saving his life.”
“My father operated on him,” Tom explained to Jill before she could ask, “He’s a cardiovascular surgent. The bullet missed his heart but there was still a lot of damage.”
“Yes, it seems that you are both skilled with your hands,” Derek laughed, “I might have guessed that your father would be a renowned surgent, but I didn’t expect that you’d be able to hold your own against someone like Archie Steg.”
“Is that his name,” Jill frowned as she shrank against her pillows.
“Tom, Doctor Layton,” Derek said before Tom had a chance to reassure Jill, “I need to talk to Jill alone. How about you take Mrs Grant for a walk?”
“I’m not leaving her,” his jaw tightened as he glared at Derek, “Whatever you have to say, you can say it in front of me.”
“No, I can’t,” Derek Salters said in a matter-of-fact voice, “Tom you aren’t her family and, as much as I appreciate what you did last night, I need to speak to Jill in private. If you are her friend, then you should respect that and trust her.”
“I do,” he glanced at Jill who wasn’t saying anything, “Of course I do. If she wants me to leave, then I’ll go.”
Both Derek and Tom looked at Jill expectantly. She looked at both men before she dropped her head and closed her eyes. She needed to hear what Derek had to say and, although she wasn’t sure that she was strong enough, she needed to hear it alone. She needed to process it. There were things she needed to tell Detective Salter too that she wasn’t ready to tell Tom.
“Tom,” she breathed out his name but didn’t look at him, “Can you please take Mrs Grant down to help you select the food for tonight.”
“You want me to leave?” his eyebrows lifted as he asked again in surprise.
“Yes,” she glanced at him then looked away when she saw the hurt in his eyes, “Yes, please.”
“Come on Lover-Boy,” Mrs Grant was already in her wheelchair. She must have known what Jill was going to say, “Let’s go for a spin. I’m dying from some cupcakes now that I don’t have to watch my weight. I haven’t made my bucket list yet. Cupcake over-consumption has to be top of the list.”
“Are you sure?” Tom was searching her face.
“It’s what a friend would do,” she was concentrating on her hands, “Go, I’m fine. I have Derek here.”
He flinched at her words as he looked away. He didn’t want her to see how much they cut him. He didn’t look at her, he didn’t speak to her, he pocketed his phone, pushed past Derek and curled his hands around the handles on Mrs Grant’s chair. He looked straight ahead as he wheeled her out of the room. The door closed behind them.
Chuck was silent and still as Tom turned Mrs Grant into the hall and walked away from her room. It felt wrong. It felt like he was leaving part of himself in that room. He shouldn’t have left. He knew this, but he also knew that he didn’t have a choice. She didn’t want him there.
“Woah,” Mrs Grant called up to him, “I said a spin, this isn’t a racing car, slow down.”
He inhaled deeply and pulled himself up to a stop. He’d been striding away, down the hall, letting his anger and frustration carry him. He hadn’t thought about Mrs Grant and how fast he’d been pushing her.
“Take a deep breath,” Mrs Grant spoke in a calm level voice, “He’s right. You go in hot and she’s going to run. Give her some space. She’s dealing with a lot at the moment. And you want to be part of the solution not part of the problem. Got it?”
“Yes, but,” he started to say but he couldn’t quite find the words to finish the sentence.
“Part of the solution,” she said again, slowly this time, “Not part of the problem. Got it?”
“Got it,” Tom closed his eyes and breathed in and out again.
Derek and Mrs G. were both right, he knew that, so why did he still want to sprint down the hall right back to her. It was if she was a magnet drawing him to her. He pushed Mrs Grant towards the lift now with slow measured steps. Every step felt like he was fighting the force that was radiating out, pulling him back to her. It was difficult, and it felt awful, like he was defying the laws of nature. His mind, body and soul wanted to go in the other direction.
What he needed was a distraction. He needed something to focus on that wasn’t her, that wasn’t her and Detective Derek alone in that room. He ground his teeth together. Yes, he needed a problem to solve that would force his mind from what might be happening in that room and his need to fly back to her. If he was busy, occupied, then there was a chance he wouldn’t lose this battle within himself. His feet might stay where they belong.
What distraction? His first thought was a female distraction. Hot sex would distraction him. The imagery flashed through his mind and he closed his eyes. The pictures he was seeing involved her on the bed, Jill in his arms and her lips kissing him. These weren’t visions of another woman. He knew that another woman wasn’t an option. He didn’t want just anyone. He wanted her. He might be physically able to be with a woman that wasn’t her but, irrespective of whether she found out or not, he knew he’d be killing any chance he had with her. He wouldn’t lie to her and he wouldn’t do that to her either. Another woman was out of the question and sex with her wasn’t in the equation either. So, it was no to sex.
He was on holidays, so work wasn’t going to keep him occupied. He had no hobbies and wasn’t interested in starting one. Reading wasn’t enough. A book, journal or publication wasn’t going to keep him from thinking about her. He needed more.
“Do you think they sell cupcakes in boxes of twelve?” Mrs Grant was speaking at him, “Do you think the hospital would let me learn to skateboard? I’ve always liked the look of skateboarding and surfing. Surfing might be more difficult, but skateboarding, I wouldn’t need a half-pipe?”
“Mrs G.,” Tom looked at her, “Can we make a stop off before we go to the bakery? I’d like to pick up your file.”
“Sure, why not, you’re in the driver’s seat,” Mrs Grant smiled, “You can do, with me, whatever you like.”
“I might take you up on that,” Tom said as he wondered what tests they’d run on her and what procedures they had considered.
After shopping for the food supplies, they sat at a table outside. Tom had the file spread out in front of him as he examined all the information it contained. He needed a light-table to see the scans, but he would look at those later. Doctor Peters notes were enough for the moment. He read them carefully, flipping to the test results when needed. It was all here.
“Are you going to tell me that he misdiagnosed me?” Mrs Grant sighed as she licked the icing off her fingers, “Because that was my third cupcake and, if I’m not dying then a fourth might not be a good idea.”
“Doctor Peters is a good doctor,” Tom frowned, “His hasn’t missed anything.”
“Then you’d better pass me that rocky-road cupcake,” Mrs Grant smiled as she pointed at the chocolate one with marshmallows and gooey syrup oozing from the centre of it.
“But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything that can be done,” Tom lifted one of the scans to the sun, “Would you mind if I do some research? I’d like to keep your file for a couple of days.”
“As I said,” she bit into the cupcake, “You’re in the driver’s seat. It’s not like I’ve got anything to lose. Although if you do magic something up, I’m going to have to go on a crash diet.”
When they returned to the room, Jill was alone. She was sitting there staring at the wall in silence. Tom stood at the door unsure as to what to do. Mrs Grant wheeled herself the rest of the way and got back into bed.
“I swear I’m going to burst if I even look at another cupcake,” Mrs Grant laughed, “You alright Jill?”
“Yes, fine,” she shook her head to clear her thoughts as she said the words.
Tom sat down in the chair next to the bed. Her words didn’t match her expression. She wasn’t fine. She was troubled.
“What did Detective Salter say?”
“Not much,” Jill turned away, “Did you eat all the cupcakes Mrs Grant? Or did you bring me back one?”
“Jill, Could you please tell me,” he said in a low voice, “I need to know if you are safe or not. I’m not going anywhere but I have a right to know who that guy was.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
He signed and closed his eyes. If she wasn’t going to tell him then he wasn’t going to push her. Part of the solution, not part of the problem, he repeated in his head. It was going to be difficult but he was going to have to be patient. When she was ready she’d tell him, or not, but that was all part of her trusting him.
In the meantime, he would have to assume that the danger was still present. If she didn’t want to talk about it then it was likely that her attacker wasn’t the man they were after and that she was still a target. He wasn’t going to let his guard down.
She still needed him, and he needed her. Yes, he needed her. Unfortunately, for him, he needed her more than she needed him.