Doctorward Contest—due June 4, 2014 (and obviously nearly two months late)

Pinterest Prompt #19: "Some nights, I can't sleep because my mind is consumed with the thought of how much easier it would be if you were by my side." ~

With special thanks to my incredibly brilliant pre-reader and encourager, ladylibre. I couldn't do what I do without you, m'dear!

Weeping May Endure for a Night…

by Cassandra Lowery

It was nearly midnight when I finally got home. Only the darkness greeted me as I entered and locked the door of our flat behind me. By force of habit, I dropped my keys into the ceramic dish on the small entryway table. Loosening my tie, I peered into the mirror hanging over the table, barely able to see myself in the glow of the city lights shining through the open windows.

I looked like crap. Dark shadows encircled beneath my eyes, and my face was paler than usual, bordering on haggard.

That's the kind of word she would have used if she were here…"haggard."

I turned away from the mirror and paused in the kitchen doorway. Although I had managed to skip both lunch and dinner, I knew that there was no way that I could eat tonight; the knot of pain and grief in my stomach made the mere thought of food seem repulsive. Trying to ignore the slight dizziness that accompanied my lack of sustenance, I dropped onto the sofa—our sofa. Bella had loved it at first sight, choosing it for its comfort and for its rather shabby, "homey" appearance.

She was so wise in such things.

Most of my colleagues' wives were focused on spending their physician husbands' pay as quickly as it was earned, frittering away huge sums on designer clothing and spa treatments, decorating and redecorating their expensive homes as their main occupation, and sporting the latest model BMW, Audi, or Mercedes-Benz.

Not my Bella.

God, I missed her.

I rubbed at the persistent ache in my chest.

She had decorated our home with estate sale finds, getting up at ungodly hours nearly every Saturday morning to comb through the eclectic neighborhoods of Chicago, dragging home a bureau, a bookcase, an end table, an armchair, or some other "amazing find"—along with stacks and stacks of ancient books that she "just couldn't resist."

When I objected to the number of books she trundled home, she'd grin unrepentantly and declare that it was the price I had to pay for marrying a writer.

How I adored that mischievous grin….

My fingertips massaged the heavy sensation in my chest—I was literally heart-sorewith missing her—and swallowed hard, blinking as I glanced around. Our living room looked more like a 19th-century English gentleman's library than a 21st-century flat in Chicago, but we both loved the warmth of the book-lined walls, the collection of candles and antique clocks grouped on the fireplace mantel, and the slightly worn furniture, comfortable and well-broken-in, that created the feeling of a home rather than merely a habitation or a showplace.

Despite my generous salary, Bella had insisted on living on the second floor of a century-old brownstone rather than the modern condos or suburban cookie-cutter mini-mansions favored by my colleagues. She adored all things antique, and I always felt welcomed home by her warm presence and the homey atmosphere of the scuffed wooden floors, the 1950's era gas stove, and the 150-year-old pine farm table accompanied by perfectly-mismatched chairs, fresh wildflowers filling the cracked white pitcher centered on the marred surface.

But now—in the dim room illuminated only by the city lights shining through the open windows, the pale curtains fluttering luminously—I felt her absence so keenly that I dropped my head into my hands, elbows on my knees, and groaned softly.

Home wasn't a place—not even one like this filled with her eclectic taste.

Home was where my Bella was.

But she wasn't here.

And God, I needed her. So much.

Today had been one of the most difficult days of my tenure at Chicago's County General Hospital.

I had lost patients before…but never like this.

Never. Like. This.

Right now I yearned for my Bella's embrace more than anything…but such comfort was impossible. The empty room was too quiet, devoid of the thrum of life her presence brought…and the warmth of her arms that soothed me every time the loss of a patient wrenched my heart. She was the only one who knew how to calm me when I failed someone who sought my help.

But today….

Today had been absolute hell.

Seeing the woman arrive in the ER, the victim of a serious traffic accident, had felt like a fist to my solar plexus, knocking the wind out of me and leaving me stunned. Ignoring the blood covering her face and matting her beautiful dark hair, I moved the locks aside to examine her head injury. When she didn't stir, I flashed my pen light into oh-so-familiar chocolate-brown eyes.

The only reaction was a weak and too-sluggish tightening of her pupils.

Not good.

As always, I pushed aside every personal thought and reaction in order to focus on my patient. It was a method that had always worked…at least until I got home and fell apart in my wife's arms.

But that obviously wasn't going to happen tonight.

I would be on my own.

A compound fracture of her left tibia required me to call in an orthopedic surgeon to evaluate her injury as I focused on getting an MRI so that we would know the extent of her serious head injury.

Her heart-shaped face and button-nose dotted with freckles caused me to suck in an agonized breath. To see such a vibrant woman lying there so still and unresponsive wrenched my heart. It took all of my strength and training to remain professional and detached enough to treat her effectively.

Vainly I had tried to ignore the thought that I may have already lost this battle against my archenemy, Death, whom I battled in the ER nearly every shift.

But I had refused to allow my own fears to paralyze me; no, I must think…I must put a treatment plan into action. I must address her injuries as if she were any other patient brought into the ER….

God, it had been a horrendous day.

I needed a drink.

I rarely drank, but right now I wanted to forget everything.

Awkwardly pulling myself to my feet, I lurched across the room to the small marble-topped bar Bella had dragged home last spring, opening the glass doors and wrapping my fingers around a faceted glass and the nearly-full bottle of Patron Silver. Pouring myself several fingers with a trembling hand, I downed it in one swallow. As the tequila scorched my throat, I welcomed the resulting warmth in my empty stomach which ever-so-slightly loosened the knot of agony. Pouring another generous drink, I stumbled back to the sofa, sinking into its empty comfort.

Grasping the glass in my still-shaking hands, I tried to block out the events of the afternoon and evening in the ER.

Working over her tiny body, worrying about the extent of her head injury, assessing possible internal injuries, then once a ruptured spleen was diagnosed, taking her up for emergency surgery.

Despite my requesting to scrub in, the head of surgery refused, stating that I was too close to the case. Too scattered-minded to argue, I had paced the empty staff break room, the hours passing so incredibly slowly that it seemed that time was standing stock-still; finally, a nurse alerted me that she was in recovery. Meanwhile, her MRI came back showing a subdural hematoma that placed her in critical condition.

As soon as one injury was diagnosed and treated, another one reared its ugly head, each one endangering her, each one reducing her chance of survival….

It had been a nightmare.

And then to get the news that she had coded on the operating table—twice—but they had brought her back each time, made me practically tear out my hair as I paced, thankful only that no other emergency cases had come in as I doubted my ability to treat anyone at this point.

I was so lost.

Finally I sequestered myself in my closet of an office, staring blankly at the four walls which seemed to be closing in on me. My breaths came in gasps, but nothing I tried brought me any sense of calm. How could I calm myself when I didn't know her condition?

The head of the ER, Dr. Flaherty, knocked on my door hours later, his expression telling me everything. Not one consoling word registered in my mind as he spoke quietly to me, going into detail as he explained the cascade of events leading to her death.

I still have no idea what actually happened. All that kept going through my mind were the same words….

But she couldn't be dead.

Wisely, Dr. Flaherty sent me home twelve hours before my shift was supposed to end.

I didn't remember driving home.

My hands still trembling, I downed the last of the Patron in the glass and forced myself to get up and go to bed. The moonlight shone brightly through the windows, almost blinding me, but closing the drapes or lowering the shades never occurred to me as Bella loved the windows and drapes open. I dragged myself to our room—a room alive with the scent that was all Bella….

Flowery. Sweet.

Home.

The moonlight shimmered across the floor and the bed in our room. Not wanting to turn on a light and be confronted by everything that was Bella—her books, her quilt, the black iron bedframe she had dragged out of a Dumpster and somehow brought back to life….

That's what Bella did—she brought things to life, including my formerly clinical and cold heart. My life became something fresh and new after she stumbled into it.

I disrobed quickly to my boxers and crawled between the lavender-scented sheets. Reaching across the bed, I grasped her feather pillow and brought it to my face, inhaling the essential scent and familiarity of my wife, already fading.

God, I need her tonight.

More than ever.

But it simply wasn't possible.

Curled in a fetal position, my arms wrapped tightly around her pillow, I allowed myself to remember, the images flashing across my mind.

She was so beautiful that first day I had met her.

It was spring, and she had come into the ER having cut herself deeply with a kitchen knife. Of small stature, she could hardly have weighed 110 pounds—her slender frame in a yellow-flowered sundress, sporting flat white sandals that looked amazingly comfortable and very different from the high heels worn by most women her age. Her dark brown hair cascaded down her back in soft curls, held back from her face by a yellow bandeau. When I, only a med student at the time, called her name, it was her smile that enchanted me first—it was utterly unlike the smiles I usually received from women.

I mean, I know that I'm a good-looking guy, but women only saw the outside package and cared nothing for who I really was. They wanted a doctor's prestige and salary, and the fact that I was easy on their eyes was an obvious bonus. But the predatory look in their eyes immediately turned me off. I was polite but firm in refusing all hints and ploys to take them out—or outright demands to have sex in a closet somewhere—and despite my firm stance, each time I was assaulted by one of them, I felt superficial and unclean.

But Bella's smile was pure, without the air of hopeful proprietorship I was used to seeing. When I first pulled back the bloody towel and touched her hand as I examined her injury, I felt an odd and surprising spark…as if I had been electrified by our contact. Gasping at the mild shock that passed between us, my eyes flew to hers, only to see the same surprise in her round brown eyes. And then she blushed the most gorgeous shade of rosy pink.

As I cleaned and stitched her wound, I found myself drawn to her, almost as if I were being bewitched. Although she said little, I picked up on her joie d' vivre immediately, teasing her about her foiled attempt to slice an avocado with a butcher knife. Her eyes sparkling with humor, she blushed an even deeper, lovelier color. I was utterly taken by her sweetness and innocence, not to mention her quiet beauty.

As soon as I had bandaged her hand, I told her to come back in exactly a week to have the stitches out. "Be sure to ask for me when you come by; I'll be here until four Friday afternoon."

"I wouldn't want to bother you," she protested. "I can see a nurse practitioner to have the stitches out, can't I?"

"You could," I had agreed, my expression solemn. "But once I have removed your stitches and given you the aftercare instructions, you will no longer be a patient here, and then hospital policy will no longer prohibit me from asking you out to dinner Friday night."

Blushing again, she looked up at me, assessing me with a perception I did not expect from such a sweet girl. She was extremely intelligent as well as modest and unassuming—not to mention beautiful. "I must see you again, Isabella," I practically begged, remembering her name from the chart.

"My friends call me 'Bella,'" she said with a gentle smile.

"So dinner next Friday evening, Bella?" I smiled, knowing that the depth of my feelings showed in my eyes.

After a moment of consideration, she nodded, smiling.

A year later we were married in a simple ceremony in her parents' backyard, and our lives have been filled with joy and laughter and so much love ever since.

Until today. Until I had seen cascading brown hair covered with blood and spattered with what I had refused to acknowledge as brain matter until now.

A life lost far too soon, bringing heartache to so many who loved her.

I didn't try to muffle the sobs that finally came, my tears dampening her pillow and masking her beloved scent.

I need you, Bella, I cried silently. I need you now.

-0-0-0-0-0-

I awoke to the familiar sensation of warmth curled up against my chest and forced my eyes open. Sunlight streamed through the open curtains, lighting the Mason jars filled with dried wildflowers on the bureau and the bright yellow of our bedroom walls. I wish I had closed the shades last night so that I could have slept longer in this comfortable pool of warmth and sweet, familiar scent.

As I pulled her closer to me and buried my nose in her hair, she stirred slightly, her fingers combing across my chest.

"What time did you get in? I didn't notice you coming to bed," I croaked, pressing a kiss to her rumpled dark hair.

"Six this morning—I only got to bed," she peered blearily over my shoulder at the alarm clock, "an hour or so ago."

She glanced up at me from where she was nestled half on, half off my chest, her eyes widening. "Edward, your eyes are red and swollen. What happened?"

I swallowed hard. "I lost a patient." My voice was empty, bleak.

"Oh, no!" Wriggling, Bella settled herself in her usual "let's talk" position, me on my back and her lying squarely on top of me, chest to chest, so that she could see my eyes as we conversed, her arms wrapped around my neck, her chin digging into my sternum. "Do you want to talk about it? I'm so sorry my flight got delayed and I wasn't here for you."

Closing my eyes, I hummed my lips against her forehead for a long moment. "I don't want to talk about it, but I need to."

"Okay. Tell me what happened."

"Bella…at first I thought…I thought that it was you."

Clumsily she struggled to sit up, her eyes huge. "Oh god, Edward. I'm so sorry!"

Pulling her back down against my chest, I tightened my hold around her small body, basking in her warmth and presence and the feeling of her heart pounding against mine.

"Automobile accident in an intersection. The driver's side of her car was t-boned; all of that force and no side-airbags. She was about your age and build, had long brown hair and brown eyes, even had freckles across her nose. Her name was Emily Young." I explained the condition in which she had come in, what I had attempted to do to save her, what had occurred in surgery, and then told her about the final complication in a "perfect storm" of complications: the pulmonary embolism she had experienced in recovery that had taken her life.

After a thoughtful pause, Bella whispered, "Was she married?"

"Engaged. But Dr. Flaherty spoke with him; he knew I was a mess. He sent me home last night."

Bella didn't say anything; she just held me as I fought back tears.

"How was the book signing?" I asked, changing the subject.

"It was fine." I felt her shrug against me. "I hate being away from you, though. But doing publicity is stipulated in my contract. I didn't have a choice, Edward." Regret laced her soft voice.

"I know, love. It's okay."

"No, it's not. Not when you need me like this. How did you manage when you got home?"

I sighed. "Not well."

"Tequila?"

"Some."

When I heard her sniffle, I pulled back enough to view her face. "Baby, are you okay?" I asked when I saw her tortured expression.

"I'm not doing this again. I won't leave you."

"But Bella, you love to write, and look at how well your books have done. I'm so proud of you."

"I know. But by the time the next book is ready for a tour, I won't be able to fly anyway."

Puzzled, I placed my palms against her blushing cheeks. "Why not?"

She looked down at first, then raised glowing eyes to mine, a shy smile lighting her lovely face as she whispered, "Because by then I'll be about eight-and-a-half months pregnant."

Stunned to silence for a long moment, I felt a smile of exultation spread across my features. "Really, Bella?"

"Really, Edward." Her glorious smile was everything.

Leaning on one elbow, I kissed her deeply, worshipfully.

My Bella.

The mother of our child.

Once again, Bella was a life-giving force—she had given me a new life, and now she was nurturing a new life within her.

As I kissed her, my free hand crept beneath her t-shirt to her still-flat stomach, my hand sweeping meaningfully over her belly.

All the agony of the night was gone. As the brightness of the morning sunshine poured across our bed as I held the one person—now the two people—most precious to me, joy filled my soul to the brim…and above the brim.

"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning."

Psalm 30.5b, New King James Version

With many thanks to my amazing readers and as a special apology for not updating Only by Moonlight for nearly two months, I hope you all enjoyed this one-shot. The contest I originally started writing it for is long over, but the concept wouldn't let me go.

Please let me know what you think. :)

Warmly,

Cassandra :)

xxxooo