Chapter 6 – Hurdles
He leaned against the plaster wall and looked at the ceiling. The open door was centimetres from his left side, but he wouldn’t go through it. He never did. This was the fourth night. He stood there silently lost with his demons.
“Do you want my advice?” Stan offered.
His head turned to the man who stood on the other side of the doorway. This was the first time Stan had spoken to him. Each night he’d stood here, the first two evenings he’d teetered on the balls of his feet undecided, the last two he’d just slumped against the wall in defeat, and during this Stan had stayed stone faced and silent.
“No,” he said simply.
“That’s a shame,” Stan’s voice held no emotion, “You can’t keep doing this. When was the last time you slept?”
“Last night,” Tom answered while examining his shoes.
“Eight hours?” Stan questioned then seeing Tom’s expression asked again, “When was the last time you slept for six hours straight?”
“Can’t remember,” Tom mumbled.
“I could tell you,” Stan jutted his head towards the open door, “I’m betting it was just before a certain young lady woke from her coma.”
Tom huffed but didn’t answer.
“Well?” Stan’s tone probed, “What are you doing about it? I picked you for more than this.”
“What can I do?” Tom hissed, “I’m her doctor.”
“Oh, man-up,” Stan growled, “I’ve seen bigger barriers than that on the little league field. Take a cement pill, harden up, and go change that. There are other doctors in this hospital. Just get her reassigned.”
“But,” Tom cringed.
“What? Your ego is more important than her? You don’t want to admit that you might be human?” Stan sneered, “You’re an idiot. She’s not going to wait for you. Leave it too long and you’ll never know whether you had a chance with her or not.”
“I said that I didn’t need your advice,” Tom pushed himself off the wall.
“Why? Because you are handling this so well all by yourself?” Stan laughed. “Fine, doesn’t matter to me. Just so you know, Derek’s asked her out.”
“What?” Tom swung his head to Stan.
“Yeah,” Stan shrugged, “Today, he suggested that Italian Restaurant on the Park, what’s it called?”
“Delmaine’s?” Tom whispered as he turned back to look at the wall opposite.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Stan shrugged, “Look doctor, you got more than the professional ethics hurdle to get over. She knows about Doctor Lay-em and Leave-em, those girls they talk, and she’d not the type that’s impressed by that. At the moment Derek’s sitting pretty.”
“Shit,” Tom closed his eyes.
“The race isn’t run yet,” Stan smiled at the who was rubbing his forehead with his hands, “She’s a good girl, she deserves a man who’s going to fight for her and is willing to risk it all for her. Derek might be that guy, but I think he sleeps like a baby each and every night, if you get my meaning?”
“What am I supposed to do Stan?” Tom turned to the older man.
“Baby steps,” Stan smiled, “Start but removing the first barrier then take it slow. It’s not going to be easy to prove to her that she means something to you.”
“How do you know all of this?” Tom watched the man opposite him smile with a soft laugh.
“Been there, done that, got the t-shirt,” Stan pulled out his wallet and showed Tom a picture of a woman smiling, “When I saw her it felt like a ton of bricks fell on me. I was hooked. It wasn’t a cakewalk, but we’ve been married twenty years now. And I still feel those bricks fall on me, every time she smiles.”
Tom handed back the wallet but stayed slumped against the wall. Stan put the wallet in his back pocket and resumed his stance outside the door. Tom heard her stir in her sleep. A ton of bricks? That was a pretty apt description.
He’d thought he could ignore it and continue like normal. He’d only seen her when he had to and been cold and brisk in his consultations. It should have hardened him and made him immune to this feeling, but it had the opposite effect. He craved her more. He could see the pain in her eyes with his impartial attitude and it caused him physical pain. This wasn’t something he could fight anymore.
Stan was right. Maybe it was time he admitted that he was fighting the wrong fight. He should be fighting for her instead of what he was currently doing, fighting against this feeling. Derek was in the ring competing for what should be his. Derek was ahead on points and if he didn’t watch out it would be Derek who wins her heart.
He’d been punishing himself by imagining Derek with her, but he’d not taken it that step further. He’d seen them together sexually not romantically. He didn’t think he’d date her, just that he’d have to punch Derek out for sleeping with her. But now he realised that she might never be his.
For the first time, since she opened her eyes, he realised that he might lose her. He might have been prepared to dismiss this and repress these feelings while she was his patient, but that was only for the short term. If he didn’t act, she would turn to someone else and she would end up loving someone else. Someone else, like Derek. That made his fists curl and the anger rise to burn away all indecision. He couldn’t let that happen. He wasn’t going to let her end up with Detective Derek Salter. He’d throw away his career before he’d let him have her.
He pushed off the wall and, with his fist still balled tightly, he strode off in the direction of Doctor Peters office. He didn’t know what he was going to say but he wasn’t going to waste any more time. He couldn’t waste any more time.
He was relieved to see that Doctor Peters was still in his office. As a senior doctor, Doctor Peters worked daylight hours and usually left the hospital at five pm.
“Doctor Layton?” Doctor Peters looked up from his paperwork. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, “What can I do for you at this late hour?”
“It’s Jill,” Tom started then stopped and tried again, “I would like you to reassign Jane Doe 14567, my patient in room 7387, to another doctor.”
“I see,” Doctor Peters put his glasses down on the desk, “Have a seat Tom. How about you explain it to me?”
“Shit, Howard,” Tom dropped into the chair and closed his eyes as his jaw clenched, “I’m losing it. I’ve tried everything but I’m slowly going insane.”
“Mrs Grant,” Doctor Peters nodded, “She can do that to a man.”
“Mrs Grant?” Tom looked at Howard confused, “What’s Jill’s neighbour got to do with this? I’m not in love with her?”
“Love?” Howard’s eyes opened wide.
“No,” Tom shook his head, “I don’t know why I said that. I’m not in love. It’s this damn ton-of-bricks. I can’t sleep. I can’t think. I’m not eating. I’m can’t get her out of my head.”
“Ton-of-bricks? I see,” Howard inhaled deeply, “Have you and this Jill acted on your feelings? How involved are you with this patient?”
“No, hell Howard,” Tom shook his head, “I’m not stupid. That’s why I’m here. She has no idea. If anything, I’m avoiding her. You have to find someone else. I can’t do this anymore.”
“I see,” Doctor Peters tapped his fingers over the computer keys as Tom sat with his head hanging low on the opposite side of the desk. “Tom, even if I do reassign you, you do know that ethically you still can’t have a sexual relationship with this woman. We don’t know, as yet, if this was a suicide attempt and she hasn’t regained her memory. If it came before the Board they would view her as vulnerable and susceptible to influence. If you have a sexual relationship with this woman, as it stands, you will lose your practitioners licence.”
“I know that,” Tom dropped his head into his hands, “Of course I know that.”
“I’m not being a good doctor to her,” Tom lifted his head, “I can’t look at her without forgetting why I’m there. If I miss something I’d never forgive myself. I know that I might never be able to be what I want to be for her, but I can’t continue like this. Give her another doctor Howard.”
“What will you do?” Howard leaned on his elbows, “Please don’t tell me that you plan on avoiding her completely?”
“I’m not sure,” Tom mumbled.
“Tom, I know you,” He said softly, “You avoided attachment your whole life. I’m not sure you know how to handle these emotions.”
Tom looked at his hands and didn’t answer.
“I’ve known you since you were a young man left in the nurses station while your Father was in theatre,” Howard frowned, “You have so much potential as a doctor, you know that, but your emotional development is lacking. It’s not your fault but it’s not something you can dispute either. By locking away your emotions you’ve left a huge portion of yourself untapped. You could be an outstanding doctor, better than your Father, if you weren’t denying yourself.”
Tom’s eyes came up to see Howard looking at him with pity in his eyes. He looked away, this wasn’t going like he anticipated. He’d known Tom a long time but was still surprised every time he delivered a fatherly sermon.
“There will be events in your life that you regret, that’s inevitable,” Doctor Peters picked up a pen and made some scribbled notes, “Don’t make this, don’t make her, one of these regrets.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Tom threw his hands up, “Are you telling me that I should throw my career away for a chance with this girl?”
“No, I’m actually saying the opposite of that,” Howard laughed at Toms confusion. “I’m telling you that you need to go about this like a normal person. Most men don’t get the woman into bed before they’ve learnt their name. I know it might be a shock to you, but you don’t need to be sexually active with the woman to have a relationship. Be her friend, be her confidant, be something more than her lover. Try it out, you might enjoy romancing a woman. It’s not a new concept Tom. If you treat her like you’ve treated every other woman in your life, you’ll lose both your job and any chance you might have had with her.”
“I know that,” Tom balled up his hands again, “Of course I know that.”
“Then, I’ll do as you ask,” Howard signed the paper he’d been writing on, “I will take her on as my patient, which will avoid some of the questions but not all. Have you thought about the reason you’re going to given when she asks? Or when the nurses ask?”
“To be honest Howard,” Tom grimaced, “I was expecting you to suspend me.”
“Yes, I can see how you expected that,” Howard frowned, “Don’t make me regret giving you the benefit of the doubt. We will do the patient handover tomorrow.”
“Thanks Howard,” Tom got up, “I really appreciate your help.”
“Appreciate it enough not to stuff this up,” Howard went back to his paperwork, “I’m now involved in this Tom. If you cross that boundary, if you misuse this opportunity, then I become culpable because I haven’t disciplined you. It will cost me, but don’t think that I won’t recommend disciplinary action if I even suspect that you’ve been sexually active with this woman under her current medical condition.”
“I know,” Tom muttered as he paused at the door, “And you won’t tell my Father?”
“Consider that part of the disciplinary action I’d take if you stuff this up,” Howard rolled his eyes, “Now get out of here so that I can finish this paperwork and go home.”
Tom could feel some of the tension leave him as he walked to the car. He was no longer her doctor and he still had his career intact. The rest was up to him. He was free to be himself around Jill and free now to compete with Derek. Stan was right, the race was not yet run. If Derek though he had this one won, he was going to be surprised.
Tom started his car as he plotted his attack. This was going to be easy. Tom pulled the car out of the hospital car park and smiled as he accelerated down the road, yes, she would be his. He would be her friend until she begged him for more. He could see it all mapped out before him, he would be her man and that would satisfy this need to be with her. This ton-of-bricks sensation wouldn’t last once he’d achieved this goal, the feeling would cool, and he’d be free to move on.
But first he needed to do what he was good at. He would win her, it would be a simple process, then he’d deal with everything else afterwards. He smiled as he remembered the words that Stan’s used, yes, it would be a cakewalk.