I lifted my head when David sat down across from me again. I couldn't tell how long it had been, but I quickly dried up my tears, looking into his stormy blue eyes.
I was accustomed to letting him wipe away my tears because whenever I had to cry, he was always there to comfort me.
Not today, it would seem.
"I'll stop writing," he said, obliging to my request. "I agree; you're my husband not my client. Go ahead, continue."
"Do you have any family, Avery?" I asked as our head of neurosurgery, Dr. Naiman, looked over the patient's MRI scans and chart.
"No. There's no one."
I furrowed my eyebrows. "Are you sure? You'll need the support. I could call them for you if you'd like?"
He gave me a meaningful stare. "Really, there's no one."
I nodded slowly, understanding what he was getting at. He was alone. He sighed. "Both my parents are gone. Dead. If I think about it for too long, I'll probably cry."
"I'm sorry," I sympathized.
"I have a brother," he continued, "but we don't speak much. He won't miss me when I'm gone."
"We're going to do whatever it takes to keep you alive and make sure you recover. Then he won't have to miss you."
He smiled. "He's an ass anyway. Since I don't have anyone to come fret over me, maybe you could be my support?" His eyebrows flew up in question, amusement crossing his face.
I smiled back. "Sure." I then directed my attention to my superior. "Dr. Naiman? What do you propose?"
The doctor stepped forward, and I noticed Hazel preparing to take notes.
"Alright, Mr. Weppler. Your tumor is grade four."
1 glanced away, trying not to make my disappointment apparent.
"W-what does that mean for me?"
"The malignant tissue has cells that grow very rapidly, and it's moving toward your brain stem. We need to get you into surgery soon and take out as much of the tumor as we can, hopefully all of it. The closer it gets to the brain stem, the harder it becomes to remove it completely without compromising normal function. Whatever we can't remove, I'd suggest radiation therapy."
"O-okay. That's fine. Do your magic." There was fear in his voice, but his eyes held hope. "You'll be there, right? In the O.R?" he asked me with anticipation.
"He will," Dr. Naiman assured. Avery seemed to relax instantly.
"Do I get to scrub in, Dr. Larsen?" Hazel asked, her voice a bit quiet. She'd probably hesitated to ask me that, but anyone could see the girl was such a curious soul. That quality was essential for any surgeon.
"Of course. You're smart, Hazel. You could learn a lot and we could use the help," I permitted.
"Okay. Let's get that surgery scheduled."
Hazel followed the doctor out while I stayed behind to soothe Avery's worries. "It's okay. I'm not making promises, but I'm confident that you'll pull through this. Dr. Naiman is one of the best in the entire state."
"What about you?"
"I'm just a resident, but as he said, I'll be there for your surgery."
"You get to see my brain?" He slowly grinned, almost as if he was teasing me. I chuckled.
"I've seen more than I can count."
"That's a creepy thing to say. Imagine going on a first date and being like 'yeah, I stare and pick at brains for a living.'" We laughed at the thought of that. "Now that I think about it, I don't know if I want you in there while they're operating."
I furrowed my eyebrows. "Why is that?"
He simpered at me. "Because if I wake up from this, I'm gonna be so shy and nervous around the beautiful man who saw the inside of my head."
I shook my head at him, but the understanding smile never left my face. "You're my patient, Avery. You can't flirt with me."
"If all goes well, I won't be your patient. Can I flirt then?"
"I've got a troublemaker on my hands, I see."
I watched as his eyes focused on the band that I wore proudly on my ring finger, then he sucked in a breath. "I don't have the best sight, thanks to this convenient growth in my skull. Is that a ring?"
"It is," I calmly answered.
He blinked a couple times then relaxed his head on the pillow. "And it's not for... decoration?"
"It's not," I laughed quietly. "Oh, don't despair. I'll have you out of here in no time and you can flirt with the fat oak trees outside the hospital if your heart so desires."
"You're married. Dammit. It's always the good ones that are taken."
I stepped forward, lifting the blanket to his chest. "You need some rest, Avery. We'll schedule your surgery and let you know when it is. I'll also be discussing it in depth with you, including risks, complications and recovery."
"Okay. I'm sorry, by the way. I didn't know you were married; I wouldn't have..."
"No need to apologize. Trust me, people flirt with patients all the time 'round here. It's all harmless fun to them as long as it makes a scared patient feel better. People come in here with all kinds of life-threatening diseases or fatal injuries. What helps them get through the day could be a few morbid jokes with their doctors or some peace and quiet. For others, it could be flirting." I shrugged.
I placed my hands in my coat pockets. "You said your sight was bad?"
He nodded, pulling his blanket up higher. "Especially when I wake up, it's blurry and my head hurts. It wasn't like that before the cancer."
"Okay. We'll monitor you closely through the night."
"Will you come back?"
"Yeah, of course. Don't worry, Avery. We've got you."
"No, I believe you." His face was determined. "You know what I really need though? Chocolate pudding."
"Hey, some people need morbid jokes or peace and quiet, right? I need pudding. It's my favorite snack. My mom used to feed it to me almost every night as a baby and it stuck."
I giggled. "My daughter's obsessed with butterscotch pudding, but I like vanilla personally."
"You would be a vanilla kind of guy," he teased. "You have a daughter, you said?"
I couldn't help my delighted expression. "And a son."
"Now I feel old. You look a lot younger than me."
"Not by much. I'm 27."
"Still. It's impressive. You've got your own family, a wonderful job; you're all set."
"Avery, you're thirty. You have plenty of time."
"If they get the tumor out," he added, sighing and staring up at the ceiling apprehensively. "So, no on the chocolate pudding?"
"I'll have a nurse bring you some, no worries. Okay. I'm gonna go check on my other patients."
"See you later, doctor."
I was at the door when I paused, turning my body halfway to look at him. For a moment, I debated my next statement. I watched him for a second, and he didn't realize I was standing there because he was focused on the light above him. "Casper. That's my first name."
His glittering brown eyes snapped from the ceiling to me. "Fits you."