Dorothy waited until lunch to head up to the third floor – there hadn't really been time for her morning break anyway, what with her patients and the never-ending parade of minor crises that called out for her attention, and regardless, she really didn't want to rush this particular conversation. She had done her best to ignore that impulsive voice in her head that had urged her to go find him the minute she walked in the door, that had made her want to run up the stairs and tell him all about her idea, just the way she had said it to herself as she stood in the shower this morning and in the car as she drove herself to work. Still, she waited, methodically finishing up her morning rounds and grabbing a packaged sandwich from the meager offerings in the cafeteria, before finally making her way upstairs.
She took a deep breath as she walked down the fluorescent-lit corridor, as she tried to steady the wobbly sensation in her stomach. He might say no, she reasoned. In fact, it was entirely possible he would say no. Because what person in their right mind – with or without their memory – would actually agree to this kind of thing?
But then, he had nowhere else to go.
She came to a halt right in front of his room as she considered what that might really mean. Was she – was her family – just taking advantage of the situation he was in? Even if he said yes, would it only be because he felt like he had no other options?
But she couldn't think like that… or at least she couldn't let that stop her from making the offer. Because she wasn't about to let Lucas leave without letting him know he had somewhere he could call home, if only for a while, until he finally realized where he really belonged.
So she put on a friendly smile and let the tension ease away from her face, giving the door a quick knock before she slowly turned the handle.
He was in bed, pale blankets pulled up to his waist, still wearing the gray hoodie she had brought him. There was a thick open book perched in his lap, but as soon as he looked up and saw her, his expression quickly transformed from one of deep concentration to one of satisfied contentment. He closed the book, keeping one finger at his place, and let it drop onto the blankets.
"Hey…" she said, as she walked closer to him. "What are you reading?" This was the first time she had seen him with a book, much less one so hefty.
He glanced down at the cover and then turned it towards her so she could see. The Count of Monte Cristo, it said in large crimson letters across the front.
"One of the evening nurses – Debbie, I believe – found it and brought it for me last night. She said I looked bored."
"Did she?" said Dorothy. Things like that – books, magazines, folded-up newspapers – were continually being left in the waiting rooms, so it was good that somebody was putting it to use. And maybe he had been bored. She wasn't really sure what he did when she wasn't around: he hadn't been reading, and she had never seen him use the television. He didn't even seem to know what it was for.
"The only thing I know about that book," she said, dropping her sandwich on the side table, "is that it's about a prison break, and there's the main guy who creates a new identity."
She smiled at him, warmth filling her cheeks, as a thought began to surface in her mind.
"Maybe that's you, you know," she teased. "You could have escaped from prison. It would explain all the scars… Maybe you got shanked in the prison yard."
He laughed, a deep, rich sound she never got tired of hearing.
"I don't know. I think I would remember getting… shanked." He said the last word so skeptically, as if he wasn't quite sure how to use it. His head quickly tilted in her direction, eyebrows furrowed into a question mark against the narrow angles of his face. "And when have you seen any of my scars?"
"I've read your charts," she shrugged. "And I was there when they started cutting your clothes off. I've seen a lot." Realizing what she had just admitted, Dorothy could feel her face start to burn even as she pressed her lips together and glanced away – trying to look anywhere but at him – and then all she wanted to do was change the subject.
"How do you feel about a little lunchtime walk?" she asked, crossing her arms over her chest. "If you're feeling adventurous, we could actually try to get off of this floor…"
It didn't take much more convincing than that. Within a few minutes, he had pushed back the blankets and hauled himself out of bed – with a little assistance on her part – and they slowly made their way down the corridor. He could walk without her help now, relying solely on the support of a mobile IV pole, and she found herself fairly impressed with how much progress he had made over the past couple of days. He seemed determined not to be stuck in a hospital bed, and that alone boded well for his long-term recovery.
Once they got to the elevator, rather than turning around and heading back towards his room – their habit over the past few days – she pressed the call button, a soft smile playing on her lips.
"Where are we going?" he asked.
She didn't say anything, even as the elevator arrived and the doors slowly opened, the small space already occupied by a doctor and an orderly with a cart full of clean folded linens. It took the two of them a moment to negotiate the wheels of his IV pole over the ridged gaps in the flooring before she was able to locate the button for the floor she wanted. But the smile on her face somehow refused to be dislodged, and as she glanced up at him, she wasn't entirely surprised to find his playful expression mirroring her own.
It was silly, she knew, not telling him where they were headed, but for some reason, she just wanted it to be a surprise. It was one of her favorite places in the hospital, where she sometimes went when she was needed a lift in her spirits, and she couldn't help but think it might do him some good, too. She wanted him in an expansive mood when she told him her idea.
She had already had to sell it once, the night before, to Em and Henry, and that had proven trickier than she had originally thought.
"We're not a charity, Dorothy," Em had said as they sat in the kitchen, thin lines etching across her forehead as she spoke. "We can't just bring in strangers off the street."
"He's not a stranger…" Dorothy had answered, for a moment thinking of the way his eyes seemed to light up whenever she walked into a room. "And it wouldn't be charity. He could do the work."
"Does he even know the first thing about it? It's not as easy as it looks."
Dorothy had smiled to herself; she had almost said the word maybe. "I don't know," she had admitted. "But I think he could learn."
They hadn't said anything, and she had felt her smile fading, knowing that their joint silence could easily be translated as hesitation, or even as an unstated refusal. She had looked at Henry, perhaps more desperately than she had meant to, and he had met her gaze, his weathered hand cupping over hers.
"This man, this patient, he sounds important to you, hija," he had said, and it wasn't until that moment that she had realized how right he was. Lucas was important to her – exactly why, she couldn't really say – but she knew that more than anything she needed to convince the two of them to agree to her idea. She had nodded as she squeezed Henry's hand, before glancing back at Em.
"Can we just try it? Please?" she had asked. "If it doesn't work, it doesn't work, but… it seems wrong not to try to help him."
Em and Henry had looked at each other then, Em's slightly raised eyebrows the only indication that she might be considering taking a new position on the matter, and Dorothy couldn't help but feel a flush of excitement as it began humming through her veins.
The question was: would Lucas be as readily convinced?
She led him down another corridor and past two sets of double doors, the wheels of his IV pole squeaking against the smooth linoleum floor, until they finally found themselves in front of a large glass window set into the wall. Through it she could see at least a dozen newborns, nestled in their cribs, each one sporting a tiny pink or blue cap. There were a few parents on this side of the wall, but they seemed too enchanted with their infants on the other side of the glass to pay either Dorothy or Lucas that much attention.
"I'm sorry we haven't found your family yet," she said, as they both gazed into the gentle hubbub of the nursery.
He nodded, but didn't say anything, his unfocused expression reflected in the glass.
"Until we do, though… until we figure out who you are, I think I know a place where you can stay. It's just, well…" – she turned towards him and caught his glance, offering him a small, hopeful smile – "...how do you feel about farm work?"
"Farm work?" he repeated, his face a perfect mixture of confusion and curiosity.
"You remember how I told you about Em and Henry?" she asked.
He nodded; during her visits, she had already told him a little about her family, how they all lived on a farm just outside of town.
"We normally have help, with some of the work – a farmhand. Because I'm here, and the two of them can't do it all on their own."
That reality had become more and more obvious over the last few years – or at least Dorothy had begun to notice it more – Em with her back that seemed to be paining her more and more, and Henry with his hands, already beginning to show signs of arthritis. Their last farmhand had left two months ago, followed his girlfriend when she moved back home to Tulsa, and right now, they had no one to help at all.
"It is a lot of physical labor," she explained, "but if you don't mind that kind of work, we could offer you a job, and a place to stay… at least until you get everything figured out. There's a separate room for the farmhand, off the barn, that Henry built a while back. It's got a bathroom and a mini-fridge and a microwave, although you'd be welcome to eat with the three of us…"
She could feel herself babbling, and it wasn't helping that he was offering nothing in response, his face blank and unreadable as he stood across from her.
"The thing is… I went to talk to the social worker yesterday, and she told me that once you're released from here, they don't really have anywhere you can go, not unless you want to spend some quality time with a bunch of ex-cons. And I just thought, in the meantime, until you find your family, you might be willing to help us out."
Still, he stood there, saying nothing, the silence filling the space between them, and she knew he had to be looking for a way to tell her no politely. Her chest ached roughly with disappointment – as well as a rapidly-growing sense of embarrassment, mostly directed at herself for having thought up this ludicrous plan and for actually having spoken it aloud. She had known this was a possibility, but that still didn't stop it from hurting all the same.
"Yeah, look, it was just an idea…" she said, backtracking as best she could. "You can just forget I said anything –"
He nodded, his gaze calm and wide, even as warmth began to settle within the depths of his grey-green eyes. His beard was growing out a little – he must have gone days now, without a shave – as dark scruff followed the sharp line of his jaw and the curve of his chin.
"Dorothy, if this is something I can do for you, in some small way repay the debts I owe you, then I am more than happy to agree. I suspect, though," he added, a tiny curve edging upwards against the corner of his mouth, "that this was designed more for my benefit than for yours."
She laughed a little. "Let's just call it a mutually beneficial arrangement."
"If you insist," he said, his head tilted in acknowledgement.
It was becoming slightly tricky to breathe, what with growing warmth and heaviness of the air as it made its way into her lungs. Even the hallway itself seemed smaller, all her senses becoming acutely aware of the small distance between the two of them. And she needed to ignore the strange compulsion that was passing through her, the one that urged her to take a step closer, or perhaps more than just one, just so she might know if his heart was fluttering just as rapidly as hers was. So she took a deep breath and pulled her gaze from his, reminding herself that she was a trained professional, at her job, not a silly teenager standing outside the locker of her high school crush.
"We should probably head back," she said, nodding in the direction of the elevators. "There's a turkey sandwich calling my name. And you don't want to leave The Count of Monte Cristo waiting."
And as they walked, she began to realize that this plan – one that would involve seeing him every day, the two of them talking, and laughing, just as they were now – might actually be just as foolish as she originally thought, but for completely different reasons.