Chapter 16 - Promises
She’d felt anxious all morning. She’d woken up in his arms and now she missed him. He’d disappeared early. He usually gave her a couple of hours of private time in the morning but today he didn’t reappear. She was watching the door as she wondered if he was running.
She didn’t ask him to hold her all night. She didn’t tie him to the bed. She grimaced. She might as well have tied him to the bed. He’d had to ask her to release him when she woke. She was wrapped around him, clinging onto him, like he was a life preserver and she was drowning. The poor guy couldn’t escape. He’d been trapped there all-night waiting for her to wake. Then he’d scrambled out of the bed and returned to the chair, dropped his head to his knees and had closed his eyes. He clearly wasn’t comfortable. He even looked relieved when the nurse had arrived minutes later. It wasn’t long after this that he’d excused himself.
The nurses weren’t shy about telling her about his commitment phobia. She was well aware that he didn’t sleep with women, sex was the limit of his involvement. She’d just pushed him out of his comfort zone. He was probably running like an Olympic track star.
She fiddled with the sheets as she wondered if she’d blown it. He wanted to be her friend and she’d crossed a line and made him feel uncomfortable. It was possible that she’d never see him again or, if she did, that his attitude to her will have changed. He might want to distance himself emotionally, if not physically, from her and her clingy arms.
“Are you alright?” Mrs Grant’s clicking knitting needs and soft voice were reassuring.
“I don’t know,” she answered honestly.
“You had quite the nightmare last night,” Mrs Grant smiled, “I was glad Tom was there for you.”
“Did I? I don’t remember,” she gripped the sheets.
“Yes, he got to you before you woke,” Mrs Grant flipped the knitting and started a new row, “He’s a good boy, that one, a keeper.”
“Are we taking baseball?” Doctor Peters walked into the room closely followed by Tom.
Tom smiled at her but didn’t stop. The two doctors walked past Jill’s bed to stand at the end of Mrs Grant’s.
“This is ominous,” Mrs Grant put down her knitting, “How dire is it that it takes two doctors to deliver bad news?”
“No bad news today,” Doctor Peters smiled, “We would like to talk to you about your case. Can we go to an interview room?”
“I’m fine here,” Mrs Grant folded her arms, “I don’t mind Jill hearing what you have to say. I value her opinion. You can say what you need to say in front of her.”
“Alright then,” Doctor Peters nodded, “Tom has been reviewing your case and he’s put forward a procedure that we believe will work for you. It’s cutting edge surgery, something that’s never been done before, it would be ground-breaking work. If you agree to this you’ll be the test case, which means that it’s risky, very risky. Theoretically it should work, but I’m not going to mislead you about the risks.”
“It can’t be riskier than certain death?” Mrs Grant laughed.
“Yes, it can be,” Doctor Peters sighed, “You still have months to live. If you agree to this, I can’t tell you the odds of survival. And there is a chance that, if you live, you might have brain damage or impairments. There are no previous cases that I can point to. I don’t know the probable outcomes. Mrs Grant, please don’t take this decision lightly. There is a high possibility that you will die on the operating table.”
“But I will die doing something that no one has done before?” Mrs Grant smiled, “That sounds better than dying of some boring old tumour. What’s the deal? What do I have to do?”
“If we get approval to do this,” Doctor Peters turned to Tom for a second before continuing, “I will get Doctor Arthur to operate, he’s a fine surgeon, you’ll be in safe hands.”
“Isn’t this Doctor Layton’s baby?” Mrs Grant sat up straight, “Who’s this Doctor Arthur? I don’t know him. I don’t want him poking around in my head.”
“Mrs G.,” Tom smiled, “Jacob Arthur is the best surgeon I know. He’s the most qualified for this procedure.”
“When you started looking at my case I made some enquiries and I asked questions of the right people, they all spoke highly of you. They say that you’re a wiz with the scalpel and the up-and-coming golden hair boy,” Mrs Grant narrowed her eyes at Tom, “Are you saying that this Arthur bozo is better than you are?”
“Doctor Arthur is more experienced,” Doctor Peters glanced at Tom again, “But you are correct, Doctor Layton is more than capable, however it was Doctor Layton who suggested Doctor Arthur took lead on this.”
“I haven’t been in the theatre for weeks,” Tom shook his head, “I’m currently not at my best. You deserve better Mrs G.”
“But you did all the research, you know my case, you thought all this up,” Mrs Grant pursed her lips, “The only way I’ll agree is if Doctor Layton is the one getting his hands dirty. I don’t care who assists him but he’s the one I want doing the slicing and dicing.”
“Mrs G.,” Tom’s eyes flicked over to where Jill was sitting, “I’m not sure I can. I have other priorities.”
“Then I suggest that you sort your shit out and propose to the girl,” Mrs Grant huffed.
“Mrs Grant?” Jill gasped.
“I have an alternative,” Doctor Peters smiled at Tom’s shocked face, “Tom, if I relocate Jill into a secure part of the hospital where access is restricted, where she’ll be safe, just for the next two days, would that work? Then you can focus on the case for the two days and you can operate without concern for her.”
“I don’t think intensive care is that safe? Where else? Quarantined in the infectious disease unit? I’m not having her anywhere like that.”
“Actually,” Doctor Peters smiled, “I was thinking the VIP quarters. I can book them out and no one will think to look for her there.”
Tom nodded. The hospital had a small unit to accommodate guest doctors, lecturers and other distinguished visitors. It was strictly off-limits to hospital staff and it had its own security system. Not even the nursing staff were allowed in there. It wasn’t a bad idea but there was still one person that would have access to her that would have him worried.
“Jill,” Mrs Grant was looking at Tom as she spoke, “If I do this I’m going to need your help.”
“My help?” Jill frowned, “How? I can’t help?”
“I want you to agree to not see either of you suitors until the operation is complete,” Mrs Grant smiled as she exhaled, “Afterwards, you can let the boys back in but until that time you have to agree not to see the detective or the doctor.”
“Not me? Why not me?” Tom spat the words.
“Because your little fuzzy brain will need to be focused on my grey matter and not her pink matter,” Mrs Grant held a finger up to stop Tom before he could interrupt, “And the detective isn’t going to agree to this unless you have the same conditions imposed on you as he must comply with.”
“But,” Jill said in a small voice, “Tom’s just a friend.”
“Kids these days,” Mrs Grant sighed, “So clueless. It’s two days. You will survive for two days without each other. It’s the only way this is going to work. Doctor Layton, under these conditions will you be able to operate?”
“Jill,” Tom was torn. He did need to do this. He knew how this was going to work and he wanted to be the one who operated. “I made a promise to you. If I agree to this then I will be breaking the promise I made to you.”
“Can you do this? Can you save Mrs Grant?”
“I believe I can,” Tom nodded.
“Then you have to do it,” she smiled, “I will do whatever you need me to do.”
“Then we have a party to organise!” Mrs Grant sang, “Book the venue boys, I’ll bring the cake and the party games, you bring the steak knives and the latex gloves!”
“That’s not exactly how I’d put it,” Doctor Peters frowned, “But I’ll get the paperwork ready and authorised. I’ve booked the operating theatre in preparation and, if all goes to plan, we will be moving you into pre-op this time tomorrow.”
“Tom?” Jill frowned as she realised that this could be the last time she saw him, and she didn’t know where she stood after last night.
“Take the girl to lunch,” Mrs Grant said to Tom who was looking at her like she was in a moving car, “Then it’s hands off. Deal?”
“Deal,” Tom was already getting the wheelchair ready for Jill.
“I’ll organise Jill’s accommodation,” Howard nodded, “But before you go anywhere, I need to say this to all of you. As head of Neurosurgery I will support this but if I don’t think Tom is capable of doing the surgery then I will cancel it. Tom you will need to be at your peak when you walk into that theatre and I won’t hesitate if I have any doubts. Jill, he doesn’t need any distractions, good or bad, leading up to this. Mrs Grant, you need to do everything the nursing staff ask, and I want you to contact your son. And Tom, get some sleep, work hard, and be prepared. If we can all do this then we will proceed. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Tom and Jill answered.
“Oh, I love a man who takes charge,” Mrs Grant sighed, “I’ll be a good girl.”
“Yes, well, good,” Doctor Peters frowned as he turned and left the room.
“Will you be alright Mrs Grant,” Jill asked as Tom wheeled her towards the door.
“Of course,” she smiled, “Go, you two are so sweet, be good and I’ll see you afterwards.”
Tom took Jill to the pond area. Chuck followed silently and discreetly stayed at the end of the path. They sat together on the bench seat looking at the fish swimming.
“I’m sorry,” Jill broke the silence as she spoke the words with her eyes closed.
“What for?” he turned to her.
“I,” she searched for the words, “I shouldn’t have. I didn’t mean to. You know.”
She needed to set things right before he left. She needed to apologise for forcing herself on him. She needed to do this because she couldn’t stand the thought of him running from her. If she was going to be separated from him for the next two days she needed to know that he wasn’t going to spend the time thinking up ways of distancing himself from her needy hold over him.
She looked up to find him looking at her with a serious expression. Without saying anything he turned to her, wrapped his arms around her and pulled her head into his chest. She felt herself stiffen. Why was he doing this?
“Just let me hold you,” he whispered into her hair, “Just for a little longer.”
The words didn’t make sense but the tone he said them in was hypnotic. It spoke of a raw desire to be close to her. She knew it was just her imagination but, at this point, she didn’t care. He was holding her and that was all she needed. She relaxed in his arms as she wrapped her arms around his waist and let herself enjoy the fantasy.
His breathing changed as his arms tightened slightly to adjust for her change of position. They held each other in silence, her head nestled under his chin, their eyes closed, and their hearts beating against the others. She lost time. They might have been like that for hours or minutes, time meant nothing. He was hers. Even if it was only a dream, she was clinging to that moment. Around them the world moved, people talked, the water bubbled, children ran and laughed, and the wind rustled the leaves, but within his arms she wanted nothing to change.
His phone chimed. She felt his body tighten as he sighed a groan. The moment vanished. She was still holding him, but that fleeting moment was lost. Defeated, she loosened her hold over him as he pulled the offending item from his pocket and with one arm still around her he used the other to read the message.
“It’s time,” his voice was cold.
“Oh,” was all she could think to say. He hadn’t moved but everything had changed.
She released him and tried to edge away. She expected him to move away and make preparations to leave but he wasn’t moving. She looked up to find his face tilted down to hers. Their noses were almost touching. His eyes were fixed on hers. She couldn’t move. She felt mesmerised by him. Her heart was galloping in her chest, his lips were tantalisingly close, she wanted to bridge the distance. She wanted to kiss him. There was nothing she wanted more in this world than his lips on hers. Even if it was just the once. But she couldn’t move. If she moved the bubble would burst again.
With that thought still in her head, he dropped his lips to hers and with slow, soft movement he claimed her kiss. His kiss wasn’t demanding or possessive, instead it was tentative and vulnerable. It was as if he wasn’t sure that she wanted this. He kissed her like a man who had much to lose.
Her brain moved to the backseat and her emotions took over control of the vehicle. She returned the kiss with her enthusiasm. If he was vulnerable, then she wanted him to know that was unfounded. She latched onto him with her lips as one of her hands moved up his back to spread itself between his shoulder blades while the other one encouraged his hips closer to hers.
She moaned softly as he lifted her onto his lap without breaking the kiss. She was straddling him as his hands became tangled in her hair. He kissed her with no hesitation now. He didn’t deepen the kiss but kept his lips moving in time with hers. She wanted to taste him. She opened her lips to give him access but he didn’t take the invitation. Instead he increased the speed and pressure as their lips meshed together, but he didn’t push the kiss further.
She didn’t feel any disappointment, he kissed her with an intensity that she wasn’t expecting. His kiss spoke of a slow smouldering need rather than a blazing passion. By keeping it at this level, he filled her with anticipation and heat for what was to come. It spoke to her about the need not to rush things and whispered about the promise of what was to come. It seeded in her the idea that he wasn’t rushed and that they had all the time in the world. It made her believe that he was in love with her not in lust with her.
When their lips finally parted, he brought his face next to hers so that their cheeks were touching and breathed with her. No words were said, for which she was grateful. She was wound up tight in this fantasy and she wanted to live here for a few more minutes. Just another couple of minutes and then she’d return to reality.
The phone made another chiming noise. He breathed in deeply and exhaled the long breath. Somehow, she knew his eyes were closed. He didn’t pick up the phone nor did he let her go, but his shoulders sagged slightly and that was enough of a clue for her.
Her hands dropped from him. It was time. The moment was over. The world was back on its axis.
He moved his head back from her and her hands became balls against his shirt. He looked at her for a long time before he spoke.
“Wait for me,” he whispered, his face so serious, “I love you Jill.”
“What?” she sat back as she splattered the exclamation.
“Don’t say anything,” he said with a small frown, “I wanted you to know that before I have to be separated from you. Please don’t respond. Just think about it for the next two days. After that I’ll be whomever you need me to be.”
“But,” she blinked as he put a finger on her lips.
“Remember your promise,” he smiled sadly, “You promised, ‘no distractions, good or bad’. I’m going to need to be focused over the coming days. Just think about it.”
She nodded but didn’t trust herself to open her mouth. If she did she would break the promise. She watched his face with wide shocked eyes as she tried to control the flood of emotion in her body that had her heart pumping at speed. He smiled a grin that curled the edges of his lips but didn’t touch on his serious sombre eyes. She wanted to wrap her arms around him and never let go but that would be breaking the promise. She didn’t trust herself to move a muscle.
He untangled himself as he physically manipulated her stiff limbs. With no words he sat her back into the wheelchair. She looked at him with big unblinking eyes as she felt the cold air surrounding her where he had once held her. She didn’t want this, but she had promised. She knew why she had to do this but that didn’t help.
He looked at her once more, smiled his soft sad smile, and then he stood took hold of her wheelchair and took her away from the pond. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on something else. Anything but the man who was pushing her. Anything but the two days she’d be without him. Anything but the answer he’d be wanting after those two days. She had two days to come up with a good reason why she couldn’t have everything she wanted.