Chapter 18 - The Wringer
He woke in an unfamiliar place. He sat up in the bed. His chest was covered with a strange quilt that he didn’t remember seeing before. He turned to find the other half of the bed empty.
Where was she? He felt a quick stab of panic and pain rip through him. Why wasn’t she here? His head twisted as he searched the room.
He knew where he was, which room he was in, he remembered what he’d done last night, but that didn’t explain why she wasn’t here. She should be still wrapped in his arms. He shouldn’t be alone.
There was something deep inside his chest that was making breathing difficult. He put his hands onto his chest as he fought the panic-like sensation. Did she leave him?
He closed his eyes. He’d done something inexcusable last night. He knew that she wasn’t ready and yet he’d gotten carried away. He’d almost had sex with her. He’d wanted it so much that he’d not stopped to think about her. He’d treated her like a one-night-stand and that wasn’t how he wanted her.
He looked at the empty sheet next to him. He could almost see the imprint of her body on the sheet. She’d fallen asleep in his arms while he was talking himself down. In an effort to calm his raging desire, he’d talked about the operation. He’d let her know that it had technically been a success but only once Mrs Grant woke up would they know how successful it was.
He’d just finished telling her this when he noticed that she was asleep. He’d released her but instead of rolling away from him she’d thrown an arm over him and spent the night spooned up against him. The bed was huge, but they’d only occupied a fraction of it during the night.
He reached out and touched the sheet. It was cold. Did she leave in the night? Did she sneak out in the middle of the night? That made him feel hollow. He swallowed a gulp down a dry throat.
How badly had he stuffed this up? Was she gone for good? He ground his teeth as he looked at the roof and cursed himself, again. What was he doing?
He pulled on his shirt and ran a hand through his hair. It was already 10am. He needed to leave before the cleaning crew turned up. He needed to find her not sit around and mope like a child. He had to apologise to her and fix this before she disappeared for good.
He headed for the doctor’s quarters. He’d have a shower, put on some clean clothes and five minutes to get his head together. He couldn’t see her like this. The panic oozed from him, she’d see that and run. He needed to reconnect with his mojo and go and see her when he was calm and cool.
In the end he failed to find that calmness. He jumped from the shower into a set of jeans and t-shirt and before his hair was dry he was pacing towards the elevator. He needed to see her before the situation spiralled out of control. There wasn’t time to waste.
He was almost at her room when Derek walked out the door. He said something to Chuck then turned to walk towards the lift. Tom stood in his way. The two men stood in the corridor and eyed each other. The hallway was busy with nurses, patients, doctors and the first visitors of the morning. They stood facing each over as the flow of traffic moved around them.
“Derek,” Tom growled the name from his clenched jaw.
“Tom,” Derek glared at the man, “I suppose you expect me to congratulate you?”
“For the surgery?” Tom’s tilted his head as he asked the question.
“No,” Derek scoffed a dark laugh, “For out-manoeuvring me. I hear you two spent the night together last night.”
“It wasn’t like that,” Tom put up one hand, as he glanced at the people walking past.
“Wasn’t like what?” Derek glared at Tom, “Wasn’t like a long night of sex? Are you trying to tell me that you played cards all night?”
“That’s none of your business,” Tom sneered, “And I don’t appreciate your accusation.”
“None of my business,” Derek laughed, “Where have I heard that before? Oh, that’s right, you told me that you wanted to make her your business. Well, it sounds like you have already given her a decent induction into the business that is Tom Layton.”
“Derek,” Tom said the name as a warning, “Watch what you are saying.”
“Why? You should be bragging. I’d thought you’d be rubbing your night of hot sex into my face?”
“That might be how you do things, but not me,” Tom shook his head, “Even if we did what you’re implying, I wouldn’t talk to you about it.”
“What I’m implying? You spent the night together, alone, in that luxury suite. Of course, you had sex. She didn’t deny it, so why are you?” Derek sneered as he shook his head, “She was good enough to blush and look embarrassed when I asked if you’d slept together. I thought you’d be man enough to admit it to me.”
“You’ve got this wrong,” he muttered again, aware of the number of people who glanced at him as they walked past, “It wasn’t like that.”
“Whatever you say,” Derek sniggered, “But, just so you know, I’m stepping back. She’s all yours. My relationship with her is now purely professional.”
“Really?” Tom frowned. He didn’t expect that Derek would have backed off so easily. He’d expected more a fight from him.
“You’re in love with her, right?” Derek looked him in the eyes, “You love Jill?”
“Yeah,” Tom answered before he thought about what he was saying, then he cringed and rubbed the back of his head, “I think so.”
He shouldn’t have said that. He’d been distracted by the fact that Derek wasn’t pursuing her and hadn’t expected Derek to ask that so openly. Now he glanced up and down the hallway and knew instantly that this would be all over the hospital by this afternoon. There were two nurses who had actually stopped, turned to look at him, and were now scurrying back to the nurses’ station. Whatever level of discretion he was hoping for, had just vanished.
“Good,” Derek shoved his hands in his pockets and walked past Tom, “That’s what I was hoping for.”
“Sorry?” Tom turned but Derek wasn’t stopping, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Derek was in the elevation and the lift doors closed without him acknowledging Tom’s question. Tom turned and, with a shake of his head, headed past Chuck and into her room. He pulled himself up short of her bed. She was sitting in the centre of the bed with her legs pulled up to her chest and her arms wrapped around them, and her head buried in her knees. Her shoulders were shaking as she cried.
He looked back over his shoulder at the doorway, Chuck’s shoulder was just visible. Derek. What did Derek do? Whatever he’d said to her must be the reason for the state she was in. Derek had said that she hadn’t denied sleeping with Tom, was that the reason she was crying? Was she in love with Derek? Was he angry with her, or harsh, because of her relationship with Tom? Was she crying because he’d called her a derogatory name or implied she’d been easy to bed?
Tom balled his fists. It was lucky that Derek wasn’t here. Just the sight of Jill crying was enough to make Tom want to sink a fist into that man’s face.
Jill sniffed a soft sob. He closed his eyes and pushed the anger and doubt away. This wasn’t the time for that. His priority was Jill. He needed to care for Jill first. Would she allow him to hold her?
He stopped thinking. He didn’t want to question why she’d left him this morning or wonder if he’d taken things too far last night. What he wanted to do was to comfort her. The sight of her crying was enough for him to push aside his insecurities. It didn’t matter if he’d stuffed it up and she’d didn’t want him. What mattered was that she was upset and needed someone.
He was on the bed with his arms wrapped around her and his head in her hair. She stiffened but didn’t fight him. He pulled her into his chest as she twisted, released her knees and accepted his embrace. She stayed there, his shirt damp with her tears, for a long time. He didn’t interrupt her soft whimpering, even though he wanted to know what Derek had done to her.
“I’m sorry,” she tried to push away from him.
“I’m not,” he said knowing that she wasn’t just apologising for wetting her shirt.
“You should go,” she pulled her head from him as she withdrew her arms.
“No,” he said leaving her no room for doubt, “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Tom,” she didn’t look at him, “You shouldn’t be here.”
“This is exactly where I should be,” he pulled her back into his chest, “This is where I belong.”
“No,” she mumbled, “No, don’t say that.”
“Why? Why shouldn’t I say that?” he sighed deeply, “You know how I feel. I know that I should have had more control last night, but don’t dismiss me because of that. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love you.”
“Please don’t,” she closed her eyes blocking his face from her view, “I don’t want you to say that.”
“Why?” he released her but lifted her face to his, “Tell me why?”
“I,” she swallowed before stuttering, “I can’t, you don’t, we aren’t.”
“Calm down,” he spoke softly, “Don’t panic.”
“You don’t know me,” she blurted out before he could say anything else, “How can you say that when you don’t even know who I am. Derek seems to think that I’m a witness in something criminal, doesn’t that mean I could be a bad person? What if I’m a prostitute, or a drug runner, or an exotic dancer, or a, an accountant? I could be a boring accountant.”
“An accountant?” he frowned, “I’m not sure about the accountant, but I don’t think that you are a ‘bad-person’. You might have amnesia, but your personality is still the same.”
“But if I’m a prostitute?”
“Whatever your do,” he shrugged, “We will face together. If it’s a legal occupation, and you love it, then I will support you. If it’s illegal or you do because you feel you have no other option, then I will give you everything you need to change that.”
“I don’t understand?” she looked up into his serious face.
“I’m not going to judge you based on your occupation,” he smiled a gentle smile, “Because I’ve already judged you based on you, your personality, you spirit, and you as a whole. Even if you are an accountant, who you are, that won’t change. I love the woman not the job.”
“But you’ve only known me for less than two weeks?”
“Are you saying that you don’t believe in love at first sight?” he laughed softly, “I thought all women held that to be true?”
“But,” she started to say but he stopped her with a look.
“Sorry, I’m new to this,” he smiled with a one-shouldered shrug, “Maybe I should define what I mean. I love you. But when I said those words, I wasn’t asking you to marry me. I wasn’t expecting you to bind yourself to me. I was telling you that I feel something that I’ve never felt about another woman. I believe it to be love. But my words weren’t meant to be an ending but a beginning.”
“Oh,” she felt the blush on her cheeks, “What sort of beginning?”
“The sort that involves us being a couple,” he smiled, “I wanted you to know how I feel about you, because I want to explore what it means to be in love with you. I wanted us to do this together.”
“A couple? Are you asking me to be your girlfriend?”
“Yes,” he smiled, “Yes, that’s what I’m asking.”
“Oh,” she looked at him with big eyes.
“Next?” he asked.
“Next what?” her forehead dropped into a frown as she asked.
“You’ve had two days to think about this,” he smiled, “And don’t tell me that you haven’t been stewing on this. I’m sure you have more than just those two objections?”
“Yes, but,” she stopped and cringed at how obvious she clearly was, “How did you know?”
“You are you,” he smiled, “I wouldn’t love you if you fell into this without a fight.”
“Oh,” she blushed again.
“I’ve spent the last two days worrying about what reasons you’d invent, how you’d argue your way out of this, and what you’d think up,” he smiled.
“You weren’t worried that I’d just say no?”
“That did occur to me,” his eyes sparkled as he smiled at her, “But I’m arrogant and I’m confident. I know you feel the same way as I do and it’s just a matter of time before you realize that.”
“I see,” she narrowed her eyes at him as he laughed at her expression, “Arrogant? That’s an understatement.”
“By the way,” he was still laughing, “That wasn’t a challenge. I’d be very happy if you didn’t put me through the wringer.”
“Too bad,” she growled but couldn’t help but smile.
“My career,” he leaned forward and kissed the top of her head, “That would be your next objection, correct?”
“Is this where you tell me that you’d sacrifice your career for me? Is this when you tell me that I’m more important than your work, your patients and all the effort you’ve put into becoming a neurosurgeon?”
“No,” the smile vanished from his face, “That wasn’t what I was going to say.”
“Oh,” she bit her lip, embarrassed that she’d thought he’d do all that for her.
“It’s not that I wouldn’t do that for you,” he glanced at the door, “I could give it all up. Josh, my friend through college, walked away from his medical career because of a woman, different circumstances but the same result, and he successfully recreated himself. I’m not Josh. I love being a neurosurgeon.”
“So, what does that mean?”
“It means we have to be smart about this,” Tom cringed, “And I can’t afford to lose control again.”
“Last night?” she blinked.
“As long as our relationship isn’t sexual in nature,” he grimaced, “Until I can prove that you’re not vulnerable to suggestion, then we can continue as we currently are.”
“Vulnerable to suggestion? That’s being easy to manipulate, I’m not like that. But how do you prove that?”
“You either regain your memories, we cure your amnesia,” he smiled, “Or we prove that you’re mentally stable, capable of making your own decisions and not at risk.”
“Regain my memories? My amnesia?” she bit her lip as she looked away from him, “Oh, I see, about that.”
“Don’t feel pressured,” he interrupted, “I can wait. I don’t want to rush into anything with you. I want to be intimate with you, but I also want to savour every minute I spend with you. I love you and want to be with you.”
“But,” she closed her eyes, “There is something I need to tell you.”
“Tom?” the voice came from the door, “Doctor Layton? You’re in love with ‘her’?”
He turned to see the nurse with the red-lace bra standing there with her mouth open and her wide eyes fixed on him. It was clear that she’d heard his confession and wasn’t impressed.
“Helen?” Jill whispered, inadvertently reminding Tom of her name.
“Helen,” Tom started but then couldn’t think what to say. He wasn’t going to deny it.
“You can’t be doing this,” Helen muttered as she stared at Jill with wide eyes, “You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“We aren’t doing anything wrong,” Tom said in a calm voice.
“Nothing wrong? How can you say that? She’s a patient,” Helen looked horrified, “End this now. If you don’t, you’ll regret the consequences.”
“Helen,” Tom’s voice was stern, “We don’t need your advice. Please keep your options to yourself. This isn’t any of your concern.”
“That might be true, but it doesn’t make this right,” Helen shook her head and closed her eyes for a second then continued to the other bed in the room. She opened the curtain at the end and spoke into the closed off area, “You buzzed? Do you need something?”
“A bucket,” the voice came from behind the curtain, “Something to vomit into. If those two don’t tone down the love mush I’m going to power-chuck. So, either get me a bucket or get those two a private room so they can make babies without me having to hear about it.”
“I see,” Helen’s voice sounded strained.
Jill blushed as she looked down at her hands. It hadn’t occurred to them that there was a new occupant in the bed next to Jill’s. The curtains had been drawn and there had been no other indications that someone new had been allocated Mrs Grant’s bed.
“Sorry,” Tom smirked a cheeky grin, “We will attempt to keep our ‘baby-making’ down.”
“Tom!” Jill lashed out and smacked him in the chest.
He just laughed as he watched her blush. He couldn’t help but feel jubilant. At no point had she denied how she felt about him and now her cheeks glowed a soft pink. She was blushing but that was from embarrassment not humiliation. He could feel his chest inflate as he could feel the pride swell inside him. That simple blush was evidence enough. If she didn’t love him she wouldn’t be embarrassed.
All he needed to do now was not stuff this up.