Chapter 15 - Symptoms
Tom finally gave up. He was where he needed to be but not where he wanted to be. He had forced himself not to go earlier, not to stand outside her room, not to look pitifully through the door, and not to interrupt the date. His pride should have been enough to keep him from going but it wasn’t. In the end it had been the knowledge that she wouldn’t thank him if he appeared uninvited, even if she needed saving from a disastrous date, she would have been angry with him. Incurring this type of anger wouldn’t have been helpful in the long run.
But now it was getting late, he was running out of reasons why he shouldn’t go to her. His feet wanted to drag him in that direction. He had excuses to be there if she was angry.
He started to pack up his work. He was surrounded by open journals, text books, test results and on the lightboxes were Mrs Grant’s scans. He had spent the last couple of hours trying to prove his theory wrong. He looked down at his scribblings. This should work. It was unorthodox but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t succeed. The new technique, with the recently released equipment, was aimed at cardiovascular surgery but, with a few adjustments and by incorporating another technique, there was no reason it wouldn’t work for neurosurgical procedures. If he was right, then Mrs Grant would be the perfect test subject.
He would see Howard in the morning and put his case forward. But not now, right now he had someone else he needed to see. She should be waiting for him. Visiting hours were almost over. Derek, he sneered the name, should have left. He couldn’t delay it anymore, he had to go.
He stacked up his things as he considered his position. The picnic they had shared had been a good move. It was fun, and he was sure she’d enjoyed it as much as he had. He felt like she was starting to trust him but now he was worrying about being relegated to being ‘just-a-friend’. He wasn’t sure he knew how to progress this.
He was in new territory and this wasn’t something he knew how to do. Sure, he was a veteran on the field of sexual conquest, but this was different. He knew how to sweep in, say the right things to get her into bed and then leave at three in the morning before things got tricky, but he didn’t know how to romance a woman into liking him, Tom Layton. When it came to relationships he was an amateur and his inexperience was showing right now.
He caught the elevator with a frown on his face. He knew that there were women who wanted a relationship with him, but that wasn’t because they knew him, the real him, it was because they wanted what he represented. He felt like he wore a mask when dealing with women. It was the mask they wanted, that successful man with the looks, the high-profile career, the wealth, the family connections and the confidence. They wanted to own that perfect guy.
This version of him had become a game. They hunted him and slept with him in the hope that they would be enough to tame him. They wanted to claim him and then to show off their prize to enhance their own status. It was clear that their intent was to have him on a leash, to parade him around, and to personally benefit from his reputation. He didn’t feel that way with Jill.
He wanted Jill to see him without the mask. For the first time he wanted someone to share everything with, someone who knows his insecurities and faults, and someone who accepts him for the man his is. He wanted her to want him knowing that he wasn’t perfect.
He wanted her to want him, not the fiction. But how did he do that? How did he make her want the real him?
The elevator opened and standing there was Derek Salter. He was holding a large bag and a collapsed table. Tom looked at these things and knew that he’d gone out of his way to impress her. Tom felt the sharp stab of panic. How much effort had he gone to? Was it enough to win her?
“Tom,” Derek sniffed a sneered laugh, “Why am I not surprised?”
“Derek,” Tom eyed him warily from inside the lift, “How was dinner?”
“Great, fantastic, perfect,” Derek spat the words at him, “But that’s none of your business, is it?”
“And what if I wanted to make it my business?”
“Oh please, like I didn’t see this coming,” Derek shook his head, “Jill doesn’t want you. She doesn’t need you in her life.”
“You don’t speak for her,” Tom growled, “One date doesn’t give you the right to speak for her.”
“Look Tom,” Derek dropped the bag in the door of the lift to stop it from shutting, “I know your type. Your reputation is comprehensive. I don’t know why you’ve set your sights on Jill but I’m here to tell you that she’s not going to be another notch on your bedpost. Just leave her alone.”
“You don’t know me,” Tom stepped over the bag and out of the lift, “If you knew me you’d be more worried. I’m not looking for a notch on my bedpost. Jill isn’t a notch.”
“Then maybe I do need to be worried,” Derek rolled his eyes as he dragged the bag into the lift and pressed the button, “A little piece of advice, stick to what you’re good at Tom. You don’t have the stamina to compete with me.”
“We’ll see about that,” Tom turned away, “I think Jill might have more an appetite for me.”
“An appetite? You bastard,” Derek caught the doors as they closed, “You took her to lunch, didn’t you? She hardly touched the food because you fed her a large lunch? You sabotaged my plans.”
Tom laughed and waved a hand but didn’t turn to the man who was holding open the lift. He knew he’d just started a war, but he didn’t care. He’d win this because losing to Derek wasn’t something he could stomach. There was too much at stake to lose.
“Tom?” Jill looked up as he came into the room, “What are you doing here?”
“I told you that I wouldn’t leave you,” he looked at her hoping that she’d hear the double meaning in the words.
“You don’t need to,” she looked away with her eyebrows knitted together, “Go home Tom. You shouldn’t be here.”
“You were assaulted, I’m not going anywhere while you are in danger,” he sat in the chair, “We’ve already had this discussion, you agreed, I’m staying, end of story.”
“You’re impossible,” she shook her head, “That chair can’t be comfortable to sleep in?”
“Thanks for offering,” he smirked, “But your bed isn’t big enough for the both of us. The chair is fine.”
“Offering? The bed? I didn’t,” she stuttered as he smirked at her.
“But I have been thinking,” he continued oblivious to her surprise, “Once you are discharged from here, you’re going need somewhere to live. I’d like you to move in with me.”
“Move in? With you?” she couldn’t form coherent sentences.
“Derek could put an unmarked police vehicle outside,” Tom nodded, “I have the space and I’d feel much more comfortable knowing where you were.”
“Stop it,” she pushed herself back, shaking herself awake, “I’m not your possession either! You don’t get to tell me where I should live. I have a home. I don’t need your charity.”
“Charity?” it was his turn to be surprised, “I’m not offering out of charity. And I know you have a home but I’m offering, not insisting, because I care for you and I don’t want you to have to go into a hotel room until you remember where you live.”
She looked away from him.
“Either? Why did you say either? What did Derek do?”
“Nothing,” she glanced at him, “And don’t look at me like that. I’m a big girl. I can handle Detective Derek Salter.”
Tom frowned, her handling Detective Derek Salter was a visual he didn’t want in his brain. Her touching him in any place wasn’t something he wanted to think about. This conversation wasn’t going in the direction he’d hoped for. She’d throw him out if it continued in this manner.
“I know that,” he sighed and soften his voice, “The offer stands. Think about it. In the meantime, what do you want to do tomorrow? You have a physio appointment, but do you have any other plans?”
She looked up at him sitting there. Was he was politely asking whether she had any plans to see Derek tomorrow? He was waiting, there was no expression on his face as he watched her. Was he being polite or was there something else?
“No, no plans,” she said slowly watching his expression.
“Great,” he could feel the relief on his face, but he could do nothing to stop it.
“You’re not really going to sleep in that chair all night?” she eyed the chair sceptically, “That can’t be comfortable. You don’t need to be here, just go, nothing is going to happen. Go home Tom.”
“It’s fine,” he leaned back into the chair and folded his arms, “Go to sleep. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Is there anything I can say that will change your mind?”
“No, go to sleep.”
“Then don’t expect any sympathy from me in the morning if you’re sore,” she shrugged.
Then she let her eyes close and it wasn’t long before her breathing slowed down.
“I can guarantee that I’ll be sore in the morning,” he whispered to her as she slept, “But that has nothing to do with the chair and more to do with being this close to you.”
Tom smiled watched her sleep. Her lips were pursed into a rosebud and her face was relaxed. She looked adorable. He closed his eyes and let himself sleep.
It was dark when he woke. His eyes blinked as his body tensed, why was he awake? He looked to the door but her soft moan had him turn back to the bed. She was stirring, her face was creased, and she murmured another soft moan. He pulled himself towards her, sitting on the edge of the chair as he took her hand.
“Tom,” she whimpered.
“I’m here,” he ran his thumb over the back of her hand.
She didn’t answer. Her head moved as if she was trying to avoid something as her hand tightened in his. He didn’t hesitate. She wasn’t awake, but the nightmare was real for her. He slid onto the bed next to her and wrapped his arm around her drawing her into his chest.
“Tom,” she breathed his name as she snuggled closer.
He moved as she moved and ended up on his back with her head on his chest as she lay on her side wrapped around him. Her breathing slowed down as she fell back into a deep sleep. He had only meant to comfort her until the nightmare past but now he couldn’t move without disturbing her.
He looked at the ceiling as she breathed against him. He was on top of the bedcovers, but he was still very aware of her body pressed against his through all the layers. Her shoulders and one arm were free of the covers and that hand rested on his abdomen. Normally he’d be edging away, distancing him from this sort of intimacy, but instead he felt himself relaxing. Having her so close was reassuring and he felt several layers of worry peel off him. He touched her hair, smoothing it down and enjoyed the small moan that came from her as he did.
He closed his eyes and listened to her breathing.
“Excuse me, doctor.”
He wanted to swot the annoying voice away, but it came with a short sharp shove which he couldn’t ignore. He groaned as he opened his eyes. Standing above him was the police officer that was Stan’s replacement. He was looking anxiously towards the door.
“What’s wrong?” Tom instantly shifted to see where the threat was.
“Sorry,” the young man glanced at the other person in the bed with him, “The nursing staff are about to come in. I thought you’d want to know, just in case.”
Tom looked down at the head that was waking on his chest. The man gave an embarrassed grin, then shuffled back to the door and immediately looked like he hadn’t moved. Tom blinked the sleep out of his eyes as he tried to remember where he was.
“Tom,” Jill murmured against him as her face crinkled and one eye was forced open.
“Morning,” he smiled, “I’m going to move, don’t let me wake you. I just need you to roll slightly that way.”
She groaned with a cringe on her face as she released her tight hold of him. He edged off the bed and into the chair folding himself over, hiding the evidence. His light fleecy pants, he’d worn to sleep in, weren’t designed to disguise the result of holding her most of the night. Having her pressed against him had felt good, too good.
He glanced at the door. He owed the guy standing there a debt of gratitude. If the nursing staff had come in and found him holding her with his pants tenting out, the whole hospital would be buzzing with whispers and possibly photographic evidence too. The nursing staff on this floor all carried camera phones, and their need for vengeance, with them at all times. It would have created an awkward need for an explanation and Jill wouldn’t have appreciated the attention.
“Why were you in my bed?” Jill’s voice slurred as she looked at him with half open eyes.
“You had a nightmare,” he smiled as he looked up at her through his downcast eyes.
“Did I?” she frowned as she yawned, “Don’t remember.”
Watching her stretch herself awake wasn’t helping his situation but it was worth the extra pain. She looked like a kitten pushing out it’s front paws while spreading its toes and exposing its belly fur. He fought the urge to climb back onto the bed and reclaim his hold over her.
He closed his eyes. Any doubts disappeared. His heart ached as it beat fast. His body yearned for her. Every corner of his mind was occupied by her. He’d heard of these symptoms, but he’d never experienced this sickness. He couldn’t deny it anymore. He didn’t just want this woman, he was falling in love with her.