TITLE: The Things We Do For Love
AUTHOR: The She Devil
RATING: PG-13 for language and sexuality.
SPOILERS: Minor spoilers all the way through season ten, mostly about relationships.
ARCHIVE: Just let me know.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own anything, and I'm not making any money. Unless TPTB want to use this plot, but hell, they can have it for free.
SUMMARY: Lying about having a boyfriend will only get you into deep, deep trouble. Just ask Abby, she knows. AL/DM. Takes place after season ten. One-shot.
Some notes before we begin: This was originally supposed to be a short story. By Edgar Allan Poe's description, that should be something you can read in one sitting. I don't know if that's possible with this story, because it's actually kind of long (about 16,500 words), longer than I expected it to be. So I guess it's a long story, and I just figured I'd give you a fair warning. In any event, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
When I was younger I used to imagine what my future husband's name would be. For hours I would sit with my open diary, trying to find the name that sounded right with Abby. Abby and… Abby loves… What fit? After several names like Allan and George and Paul, I finally decided on Michael. Abby and Michael. Abby loves Michael. Perfect.
The name stuck, and, naturally, I ended up dating this guy named Michael in high school for a long time. We used to have sex in the back of his pickup truck all the time. Well, not all the time, that sounds sort of slutty. We were a couple, it was just what kids like us did back then, especially when we were meant to be together forever. Our names sounded perfect together, so it was written in the stars. Or something. I don't know, I thought so anyway. Then again, I also stole a car to see what I thought was the greatest band in the world -- Wham! Sue me, I was seventeen.
Anyway, I guess you can tell I didn't end up marrying Michael. I ended up with a Richard, and we divorced a few years later. Sometimes I wonder what if Richard's name had been Michael? Would it have worked then? I know it sounds crazy, but I'll be the first to admit I'm a little to the left of normal. I think I get it from my mother.
I look up from a chart and the next thing I know, I'm kissing a suture kit. It ricochets off of my face and onto the floor, clattering loudly.
"What the hell," I mutter, annoyed and embarrassed as I bend to pick it up.
"Hey, nice catch," Pratt says, smiling, and I want to punch him. "Suture up that kid in Three? He's been waiting for hours."
"Yes, master," I murmur, and suddenly Carter is beside me. How does he do that? He's always not there, and then he is.
"Since when do you work for Pratt?" he asks.
"Why, are you hiring?"
"Only if you'll call me master."
"In your dreams," I say, moving into Exam Three. I pause at the door, watching him walk away from me. Too bad his name hadn't been Michael, maybe we would've been okay. Well, that and the fact that we were both too emotionally wrought out to even begin to have a normal relationship. Unless the definition of "normal" these days is FUBAR: Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition. That's a military term I learned from my brother. He's pretty FUBAR too. But then again, who am I to judge?
So we're sitting on Susan's fire escape, sipping Martinis and enjoying the warm weather. Susan mixed the drinks tonight, and it's sort of sad that a Martini is the only thing she knows how to make without reading instructions. Jing-Mei and I usually switch off between ourselves, but every once in a while Susan insists on making them. She'll blurt it out and we'll agree, and then she'll look up like she's thinking of what to make. Then, "Ooh! What about Martinis??" Jing-Mei and I always pretend to be surprise and excited. One day we'll call her on her shit. It'll be fun to see her world crumble once she realizes we know her dirty little secret.
"How's Chuck?" Jing-Mei asks, looking all innocent as she stirs her drink with a toothpick-speared olive. She's so good at playing coy, it's no wonder she has a great sex life. I wish I was good at coy, maybe then I wouldn't be so alone in the bed department. Or the kitchen table department. Floor department. Against the wall department… "Spill, Sooz."
"Spill what?" she asks, but she's smiling like she's got a secret worse than the Martini thing.
"Oh, you know what," I say, stirring my drink like Jing-Mei, looking down with a sly smile. I'm testing out coy. Is it working?
"I know not what you speak of," she replies, and then looks at me. "Are you okay?"
I sigh with defeat. Coy doesn't work for me. "Yeah."
"Don't mind her," Jing-Mei says, standing up to get another drink from the pitcher. "She's just jealous."
"Jealous!" I laugh, as if the notion is absurd. And it is. Because I am. "Jealous of what??"
Oh, Abby…why did you have to ask? But that's something you might not know about me. I have chronic foot-in-mouth disease. It's terminal. I swear, it's true. It's really going to kill me one day.
"Because you're the only one here without a sex life," Jing-Mei replies, as if it's the saddest thing in the world. I tell myself it's not, because it isn't. There's nothing wrong with being single. And lonely.
"Please, this sex life thing is foreign to me too," Susan says with a long, drawn out sigh. "Between the baby and my newborn…" She trails off, breaking into a grin. We look at her. "Oh, come on, that was funny!"
"We need to hook you up," Jing-Mei says to me, ignoring Susan as she settles back down with a fresh Martini. "You know, I bet Greg knows a few people."
"A few?" I ask, my eyebrows raised. "I think one's enough."
"So you admit you need a man," Susan concurs.
"I'm not admitting anything!"
"You're lonely," Jing-Mei says.
"You need to get laid," Susan says.
"I'm not lonely!" Oh, but I am. "And I do not need to get laid." Oh, but I so do.
"Yeah, sure," Jing-Mei says, rolling her eyes.
Susan looks at me again. I'm not pretending to be coy anymore, I swear. "Unless you know something you aren't telling."
"The only thing I know is that you only know how to make Martinis. And they're not even that great."
Ha-ha, Sooz. I've destroyed your universe. Take that.
"Don't change the subject," Jing-Mei interjects.
I gape at her. "I thought we were in this together!"
"Are you seeing someone?" Susan persists, unfazed by my accusation. Doesn't she care that she can never have a cocktail party? "You are, aren't you?"
"Oh, my God, she's got a man!" Jing-Mei squeals, giggling wildly. She doubles over and I'm afraid she might fall off of the fire escape.
"You know, come to think of it," Susan says, grinning, "you have been looking better lately."
"Looking better how?"
"Looking laid!" Jing-Mei replies for her. "Now we can talk about sex!"
"Wait, why couldn't we before?" I ask, puzzled.
"Well, you know…" Susan says, sheepishly. "We didn't want to seem like we were…rubbing it in."
"Yeah," Jing-Mei confirms, looking sympathetic despite her slight tipsiness.
Oh, my God, they felt bad for me. Poor, lonely Abby with no man and no life. She's wasting away alone at home while we lose ourselves in great sex and natural orgasms. Let's get her a new vibrator, hers is probably all worn out.
"Did you really feel that bad for me?" I ask, as if they can read my thoughts. They look between themselves. Oh, please kill me now, before I die slowly of embarrassment.
"But that's all over now," Susan announces happily, smiling. "We all have men and we're all getting laid, and I'll drink to that."
"Here, here!" Jing-Mei cheers, raising her glass.
"Yeah…" I mutter quietly, clinking my glass against theirs and taking a long sip.
"So, Abby," Jing-Mei says, all coy again. "When are we going to meet him?"
I swallow my drink hard. "Meet who?"
They laugh, and I only wish my terminal foot-in-mouth disease wasn't so painful.
"Carter, will you be my boyfriend?"
He looks at me with confusion, smiling slightly, and says rather articulately, "What?"
I slump down on the couch in the lounge, crossing my arms over my chest. "Susan and Jing-Mei think I have a boyfriend."
"What makes them think that?" he asks.
"Come on, Abby, I didn't mean it like that," he back-peddles, pouring himself a cup of coffee. He holds out a mug to me like a peace offering. "Want some?"
"No thanks, I'm off in a few minutes," I tell him, and sigh loudly. "I sort of led them to believe I was seeing someone."
He grins with amusement, but looks sympathetic at the same time. Great. The last thing I need is for anyone else to take pity on me. That's how I got into this mess in the first place. "Why?"
"They felt bad for me," I reply.
"Just say you broke up."
"They already barely believe me!" I say, holding out my hands in desperation. "I need someone by Friday night. We've all got a reservation at some fancy place."
"Sorry I can't help you," he says, shrugging sadly. "Maybe you can find someone at the hospital."
"I said he didn't work here."
"What about a fire fighter?"
"I said he was a doctor."
He laughs, as if this whole situation isn't a huge crisis. "I hope you didn't give any physical descriptions…like tall, handsome, rich – "
He pouts. "I was talking about me."
"I'm so screwed," I groan, standing up slowly. "I'm going home. Thanks anyway."
I grab my things from my locker, standing there for a minute and rubbing my face tiredly, not caring if I mess up my makeup. Every morning I get up and apply it meticulously, every night I scrub it off, and then I'll do it all over again the next day. And it never matters. No one notices plain ol' Abby. Hell, what do I know? I know I can be a little self-absorbed sometimes. Maybe they do and I just don't see it. I probably wouldn't even notice if it kicked me in the ass and knocked me right off my feet.
I'm worried sick about Friday as I walk home in the dark, my hands shoved into my jeans' pockets. I need not just a date, but a boyfriend too. Carter and Luka are both taken, not like I'd really want to pretend to be committed to either one of them. Been there, done both of them. And it's sort of sad that it's because I'm hoping by some act of God I'll actually somehow have a real date and potential boyfriend in three days. One who doesn't work at County but is a doctor. And preferably handsome. Those only mediocre in bed need not apply.
"What -- ??" I begin to say, but it's cut short when I'm suddenly falling and the wind's knocked out of me, hindering all speech. My head hits the ground and in an instant there's nothing but black.
"Abby?" I hear, and feel a gentle hand on my face. I push my cheek into the warm, calloused skin…I can't remember the last time I was touched like this… "Abs, that is really weird. I can't believe it is you. Wake up and stop it, or I'm crying sexual harassment."
My eyes snap open. "Dave??"
"Were you expecting God?"
"Oh, Jesus," I mutter, sitting up with my head pounding. I feel like it's actually pulsating, like maybe somebody's really knocking around in there with a hammer or something.
"Nope, not Him either," Dave says, smiling. He manages to keep his grin but look worried at the same time. "Are you okay?"
"I'm perfect," I reply, and the little man in my head stops banging long enough for me to look around. It's dark, I'm sitting on the sidewalk, Dave Malucci is kneeling down beside me, his bike lying nearby. I look at him, confused. "What happened?"
"Uh…" He looks almost embarrassed, but apologetic as well. "You hit my bike."
"What!" I ask, annoyed. "I'm going to hit you in a second."
"Sorry," he says, and I think he means it. That was always the thing I liked about Dave, you always knew what he was feeling. When he was angry, you saw it. When he was happy, you saw that too. I suddenly realize those are the only two emotions I've ever seen him express. Doesn't he get upset about things? Passionate? He speaks again, breaking me from my mental dissection. "I was coming around the corner fast and I didn't see you there. I was just trying to get home."
"It's okay," I say, giving in. Because he has this pout that was notorious in County and got him virtually anything he wanted. I wonder if he uses it to his advantage with women, like Jing-Mei uses her coyness with men. Lord knew Dave used it enough on the nurses to get what he wanted. Professionally, that is. We even made him use it on Dr. Weaver now and again, especially when we wanted early lunch breaks.
"Yeah?" He brightens as if me forgiving him means the world to him, and for a second I think it's actually pretty cute. Like it's so cute it makes Dave sort of cute, and suddenly I notice ten things about him that I like. Did you know he's got this little scar about his left eyebrow? It's sort of mysterious and sexy. Where did he get it from? I imagine something exotic, like…bullfighting. And then I think -- bullfighting?? I really need to get a grip.
"Yeah," I reply. "Can you help me up?"
"Do you think you should get up?"
"I'm not spending the night here," I say, and decide to get up on my own. He stops me, his warm hand on my arm, and I wonder how the heat just emanates off his skin like that. "What?"
"You were out for a second there," he reminds me. "I thought I'd killed you. I thought you were really dead."
He actually seems scared. And that little scar creases as he furrows his brow with worry. Why hadn't I ever noticed that before? It's so obvious now.
"Well, I'm not," I tell him, brushing off his concern. "So help me up."
"Are you sure?" he asks, but he's already placing one hand in mine, the other at the small of my back, and he's so strong I don't even have to work to get to my feet. Could he bench-press me if he wanted, I wonder? It'd be a feat; I can barely get myself off of the couch these days. "Dizzy? Try walking a straight line."
"Yes, Officer," I reply sarcastically, but when I move to do so my right ankle gives out. I cry out, my voice cracking slightly, but before I can fall flat on my face there are strong arms around me. I look at Dave, his face too close to mine. I move back a little, perturbed by the flush in my cheeks. Thank God it's dark. "I think I twisted it."
"Jeeze, I'm so sorry, Abs." He suddenly hugs me a little, and I smile in spite of myself. Typical Dave, everything can be solved with an apology and a hug. "I really didn't see you there. You could have other injuries too. Maybe you should go to the hospital. Maybe I should call an ambulance."
"I don't need to go to the hospital, I'm fine," I insist, shrugging off the implication and his support. I test the waters a little more, managing to stand on my own, but walking is a completely different story. Sure, I can do it, but it hurts, and who knows how much damage I'll do getting either to my house or back to the hospital. "I just don't know how I'm going to get home."
"I can give you a ride," he offers rather cheerily. I can tell he wants to help me, but his unspoken suggestion is rather…well, stupid. "On your bike?"
"Yeah," he replies, looking at me like I'm the stupid one here. "You can ride on my handlebars."
"I am not riding on your handlebars," I tell him, shaking my head. "Walk me to the hospital, it's closer than my apartment."
"The hospital?" he asks, stepping back and wincing slightly. "You mean…County?"
"Yeah, that's where I work."
He looks around nervously, rubbing the nape of his neck. "I don't know…I can call you a cab."
"By the time you actually find a phone, call the service, and it gets here," I tell him, rather annoyed, "I can walk to County and back again. You ran me over with your bicycle, Dave. You have a moral obligation to help me get help." He seems physically pained, and I feel bad. I sigh with resignation. "What if you just wait for me outside?"
"What if I just call you a cab?" he half-whines, and I can see him searching the street frantically for a payphone. "Don't you have a cell phone?"
"Not after a patient threw up all over it."
"Maybe we should call an ambulance."
"You still need a phone for that."
"Good point. You should really replace your phone, Abby. I mean, accidents happen…" he trails off, his lame excuse for a joke only furthering my irritation. I'm in pain, I'm tired, and I just want to go home.
"Maybe you should just walk me there," I state, the annoyance in my voice audible.
He suddenly looks at me. "Why do I have to wait outside for you?"
"Oh," I say, because I can't think of anything else. Why had I asked him to wait for me? It just seemed like a natural thing to say. I shrug it off. "I don't know. You don't have to. I mean, if you want to, you can." What was I saying a few days ago about foot-in-mouth disease?
"It's cool," he says. "Maybe you want to ride my bike there, and I'll walk?"
"Enough with the bike," I tell him. "Just, you know…help me walk, and I'll be fine."
"Okay," he says, and then one of his arms is around my waist, the other leading his bike. I throw one of mine over his shoulder, and he helps me get to County, slowly but surely. We talk on the way. Mostly he makes jokes. I miss that laugh in the hospital halls, I realize, and I think everybody else does too but no one wants to really admit it. Suddenly he trips and nearly takes us both down with him, and he's laughing again and commenting about how awkward we must look. I paint a picture with my mind, slightly surprised. Because to me, we just look like old lovers walking down the street on a warm summer night. Like I said, I'm a little left of normal, but I think I like it there.
He's waiting for me when I get out of County, which is really sweet because I was in there for two hours. He's off to the side, trying to go unnoticed beside the ambulance bay. He doesn't really need to worry; by now a lot of the nurses are gone, along with most of the doctors, replaced by fresh faces and new blood. New blood for Dr. Weaver to suck the life out of, he says to me when I tell him later.
"You waited for me," I say, because I didn't really expect him to be here.
"Yeah," he says, still looking around, waiting to be noticed, waiting to be the latest gossip at County. And he will be, just not in the way that he thinks. "I was heading home when I starting thinking that maybe when you hit your head, you might've gotten a bleed or something. I was afraid you might die."
It's sort of sweet, that he worried. But the way he says it is sort of weird, and I look at him. "Thanks. But, uh, I have a clean bill of health."
"Really?" he asks, skepticism written all over his face. "Then what took you so long?"
I look away. "Oh, you know…tests. They, uh…they wanted me to stay the night, but I signed out AMA."
He gapes at me. "Are you crazy? See, they're worried for the same reasons I am. Abby, if you die, that'll be all over my conscience for the rest of my life. Would you really do that to me?"
"What do I care, I'll be dead," I tell him, walking in the direction of my apartment, limping slightly on my newly wrapped ankle. Thanks to the painkillers, it doesn't hurt as much, but I just can't wait to get home and maybe draw a bath, settle in with bubbles and candles and a good book. And thanks to Dave, I'm thinking that maybe I'll have a seizure and drown as well. Gingerly, I touch the back of my bruised head. "Ow."
"See?" he says, beside me. I startle slightly…I sort of expected him to leave, but he's leading his bike and following. "You should really go back inside. I think you should be observed overnight."
"Oh, yeah?" I ask, and keep walking. "Is that in your honest medical opinion?"
"Yeah, it is," he snaps, and I realize I might've offended him. He stops walking with me, and I stop too.
"Dave, I didn't mean it like that," I say, feeling bad. He probably thinks I think he's some lowlife doctor who can't even keep a job. Suddenly I remember he said he was trying to get home, obviously rushing if he was careless enough to run me over. And I wonder where he'd been coming from. His work? Does he even have a job? "I'm sorry. I really didn't. Look, don't worry about me, okay? I'll be fine."
"Are you sure?" he asks, the worry still apparent in his voice. "I mean…if something happens, how will anybody know?"
"Relax," I tell him. I reach out and touch the side of his face in a jokingly exaggerated sort of endearing way, feeling five o'clock shadow juxtaposed to smooth skin. "I'll be fine. Now I'm going to go to my apartment, and you can stop following me and go to yours. Goodnight."
He nods, smiling, and I can feel him watching me as I walk away from him. Halfway down the street I turn, catching his eye. I wave and he hops on his bike, and I expect him to turn away but of course he doesn't. He just starts peddling towards me, and I sigh loudly, waiting for him to catch up and wondering what it's going to take to get rid of this guy. But then I don't have to worry because he's turning down a street and gone from sight.
Suddenly I realize he's gone forever. Running into him -- or getting run over by him, to be more exact -- was just some freak thing, it'll never happen again. How many times can you possibly run into someone? Unless you believe in that whole fate thing, which I've learned not to. Shit just happens, that's all, and tonight proves it. Although if I do see Dave again, then maybe I'll change my mind. But that'll never happen, our paths won't cross again. Mars' two moons aren't lined up and the star to the left isn't green or something. So I don't have anything to worry about.
Then why am I so disappointed?
My bath has been deserted for the couch, the television, and a big quart of ice cream. Cookies and Cream, thank you very much. And right now Spartacus is half-naked and straining his muscles. Just the way I like him. Well, I prefer him fully naked, but I'll take what I can get.
So I'm sitting there wondering what that slave woman's got that I don't (you know, besides the perfect body and great boobs and pretty face), when my doorbell rings. The doorbell. It's ringing, right now, at twelve o'clock midnight.
I haven't forgotten that whole Brian thing. It comes rushing back to me every time there's a knock on the door. I won't try to kid myself; I don't get many visitors. When they come, they're usually expected. A random knock merits me to pull out that wooden bat from under my bed, and I quickly run to grab it before heading to the door. I grip it in both hands as I stand in front of the door, which is still firmly locked until whoever on the other side offers a photo ID and the secret knock, and then maybe the secret handshake before I let them in.
"Who is it?"
"Dave??" I say, surprised.
I pull open the door, the bat concealed at my side and behind one of my legs. I'm a little embarrassed by it, truthfully. I mean, the whole incident happened about two years ago, and I'm still living like the guy's going to come back and kill me. I don't know, it could happen, right? Psychos are really unpredictable. I'd know, I have a few in my family. I'm probably one of them.
"What are you doing here?"
"First of all, get a listed address," he says, stepping right into my apartment without asking, his bicycle trailing behind him and he places it against the wall. He's also holding an oversized bookbag that looks stuffed to the brim. "You have no idea how hard it was to find out where you live. Second of all, you really shouldn't be alone, what with the head injury and all. And thirdly, what's up with the bat?"
"I was…attacked…a couple years ago," I tell him hesitantly, closing the door and facing it as well. I hate the way that sounds, like I'm some sort of helpless victim, and I realize how much I look like one as I lock the doors firmly, and then double check them even though I just did it two seconds ago. I turn to face him, expecting him to look at me like I'm some sort of invalid, but he looks surprised.
"That sucks," he spits out, and then his expression changes, and for the first time I see him upset. Over me, and he doesn't even know me. "Do you know who it was?"
"Um, a former neighbor's husband," I tell him.
"Does he still live here?" he asks, looking angry. He's also looking at the door, as if Brian will be standing out there if he opens it. It's not too far off from the way I feel sometimes.
"No, he moved out," I tell him.
He looks back at me. "How badly were you hurt?"
"Someone should kick the shit out of him," he says matter-of-factly, and also like he'll gladly volunteer for the job.
"Luka did that."
"Good for him," he says with a nod, looking genuinely pleased.
"Um, Dave," I say, interrupting this conversation because I hate talking about it. I look at him questioningly. "Why are you here?"
"I'm spending the night."
"You're what??" I ask, as he sits down on the couch, tossing his bookbag onto the floor. I realize what it must be stuffed with: tonight's pajamas, tomorrow's clothes, toiletries…
"Spending. The night," he replies, as if I'm the stupid one here. "Hey…is that Cookies and Cream??"
He's sleeping in my bed. I'm in it too, in case you were wondering. And it wasn't even his idea. I mean, it wasn't really mine either. Okay, so technically it was, but it wasn't like I'd really meant it. I'd just questioned his reasoning for wanting to spend the night, wondering what good he would do sleeping on the couch if I was dying in the bedroom? If he really wanted to help, he'd have to sleep in the bedroom.
So he's sleeping in the bedroom. In my bed, right next to me. Don't worry, I separated the sides with a pillow. He's not allowed to go near me. I really shouldn't have agreed to let him sleep here in the first place, but the floors are hardwood and that can't be comfortable. Right? Right. At least that's what I'm telling myself. I mean…what if he wakes up with a horrible kink in his back or something? There could be nerve damage. He can lose his ability to walk. The guilt would kill me.
He has this snore. Not really a snore, but more like heavy breathing. When he first fell asleep, I thought it would be annoying. Richard snored, these loud obnoxious snores that kept me up half the night until I got used to them. But even then, they really bugged me. I mean, I couldn't stand him when he was awake, he had to be unbearable sleeping too? But Dave's snores are quiet, and sort of…reassuring. Like he's still there, breathing and alive and everything. And then suddenly I'm afraid he's going to stop snoring, and that'll mean he's stopped breathing, stopped living. What if he dies right here in my bed?
I know that's ridiculous. I'm the one with the head injury here. But when he stops snoring I jab him with my fingers, and I'm relieved when he grunts.
"What?" he asks groggily, and then looks at me with alarm I can see clearly even in the moonlight. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," I tell him. "It was an accident. I was going to fix the pillow and I hit you by accident."
"Oh," he says, and then relaxes, settling back down into a comfortable position. "Okay. But if you need something, wake me. I don't need the sleep, I'm not on tomorrow."
"Okay," I reply, and in a few moments I can hear him snoring softly again. I settle down into my own comfortable position, my back to Dave. I don't need to face him because of that reassuring sound. I know he's there, alive and breathing. I close my eyes and realize that for the first time in a long time, I fall asleep with a smile on my face. I don't even know where the wooden bat is.
I'm barely on my morning shift for five minutes when Jing-Mei and Susan are flanking me from both sides, each one grabbing an arm and leading me towards the lounge, where I've just come from. I look at them dubiously, remembering a book I read once where the doctors harvested organs from innocent children and sold their parts on the black market. The doctors used to be nice, sane individuals before the power went to their heads. What if Jing-Mei and Susan have cracked? I could be dead meat in an hour.
"Spill, Abs," Jing-Mei says, sitting me down on the couch. Both of them are staring at me. Spill what? My guts? Do they want me to start the procedure first, and they'll finish taking out all my insides? What kind of sick game is this?
I stop mid-thought. Dave calls me Abs. It makes me smile, and when I return from my head in the clouds, the next thing I know I'm in the middle of a doctor sandwich. Oh, no, here it comes. Next they're going to whip out scalpels and I won't be able to move because I'm squished in place. Where's that wooden bat when I need it?
"So…" Susan drawls, leaning close with a big smile. "Why didn't you bring him inside?"
"Who?" I ask.
"Your boyfriend!" Jing-Mei exclaims, startling me.
"We saw him," Susan says.
"When?" I ask.
"Here," Jing-Mei states. "Last night."
"You both weren't on last night," I say, puzzled.
"Okay, so we didn't see him," Susan says.
"But Morris did," Jing-Mei finishes.
"He was coming on shift when he saw you meet up with someone outside," Susan says.
"Yeah." Jing-Mei nods. "As soon as he came in he asked who the hot guy on the bike was."
"Where did you meet him?" Susan asks. "In a biker bar?"
"What's it like riding a motorcycle?" Jing-Mei juts in. "Is it true that it vibrates under you?"
"Um, can you guys move over a little?"
As soon as they scooch I skadattle, but I can hear them calling after me as I make a run for the nearest supply closet to inventory and maybe lock myself into.
"We're going to find out who it is on Friday!" Susan yells.
"Yeah!" Jing-Mei agrees. "So you might as well tell us who it is now! And I want to know about the motorcycle thing too!"
My date is in two days. By this time, I'm wondering how I'm going to break it to Susan and Jing-Mei that I have no one in my life, I'm just plain ol' Abby, at your service. I figure I can blame it on them. I mean, after all, I wouldn't have had to pretend to have a boyfriend if they didn't make me feel like such a loser. But then I realize if I did say that, it would make me a loser. So I need some other excuse. Carter's breakup theory is looking really good right about now, and I'd so totally go for it if I knew they wouldn't see through it in a second.
In any event, I'm counting on being really embarrassed, but it'll all blow over in a few days and everything will be back to normal. "Normal" as in: Jing-Mei and Susan will still have a significant other to come home to, and I'll still be all alone. I won't even have a pretend boyfriend for at least one night.
But now Dr. Morris has (inadvertently or not) started a rumor that I'm seeing some hot biker who rides a motorcycle. Throughout my entire shift today, everyone had wanted to know all the steamy details. What is he like? Is it exciting dating a biker? Does he live on the edge? Do I have a picture? And, most importantly, is he good in bed? I sort of liked the attention, probably more than I should've. And, to be honest, I sort of like the idea that everybody thinks I have somebody, that there's this guy waiting at home for me. Maybe he's cooking dinner right now, or waiting up for me even if it is nearly one in the morning as I walk home from the El station near my apartment.
The empty home that greets me is really a downer. I mean, for a moment or two there, I'd actually managed to nearly convince myself somebody would be here…not just somebody but my motorcycle-riding bad boy. But it's just plain ol' Abby, stuck in this big ol' apartment. I'm just as empty as it is, and as that thought crosses my mind I start suffocating on stale air and need to get the hell out of here. It's just too depressing. I need a drink or something.
It's times like these, as I walk alone in the dark on some random sidewalk, that I wish I hadn't been so liberal on the whole drinking thing. I could be wallowing in my own self-pity at the bottom of a bottle right now. But, no, I had to go and ruin that too, just like everything else.
I realize how often I've been drinking lately: Girls Night almost every week with Susan and Jing-Mei, out to bars by myself, alone casually at home. But there is no "casually" anymore, is there? I'm a recovering alcoholic, of course there isn't. Recovering alcoholic. Recovering. I scoff at my own words. Bang up job I'm doing there, isn't it?
I'm not surprised when I manage to find myself at a meeting in some church. There's always one in the middle of the night somewhere, for those of us who are feeling particularly sorry for ourselves. It makes me even more depressed to be sitting here in a room full of hopeless (and some helpless) drunks like yours truly. So I get out of there too, wandering down the street again, passing a thrift shop, a cafe, a Starbucks, a payphone…
I slow in my walk until I stop, turning and making my way back to that payphone. There's a phonebook in there, damp from earlier rain, and I open it hastily, flipping through the pages. It takes me a while to comprehend the alphabet I'd learned so long ago, but I get the hang of it and eventually find what I'm looking for. I tear the page free and slip it into my pocket, before heading in a new direction.
It's about two o'clock in the morning by now, and I've just made my way into this apartment building that's a lot closer to the hospital than I ever thought it was. I guess I should've at least considered it. I mean, he did ride a bike to work every day. I wonder how strong those legs of his must be. Pretty strong, right? To have driven that thing everywhere?
Anyway, like I said, I'm in this apartment building, standing right in front of Dave Malucci's door. It's not that bad of a place, a little worse for wear, but the walls in my apartment are so thin your neighbors are practically your roommates, so who am I to judge? I ring the doorbell twice in a row, this habit that I have and can't shake. I don't remember where it started or why. Maybe I like to annoy people.
I stand there for a few minutes, and then ring the bell again (twice). I start to wonder if maybe he's not home. What if he's working, wherever it is he works? Maybe he's out somewhere partying. Or at some woman's house. Well, maybe he's only at a friend's house, you know? Not necessarily a woman, just some guy he knows. He's crashing there, that's all. He's not having, like…sex or anything. And then my mind goes to the worst of all possible thoughts: what if he has a woman with him. Right now. In his home, in his bed, as I stand here in the middle of the night, ringing his doorbell like a huge –
Suddenly I hear a shuffling from behind the door and locks turning, and I run my fingers through my hair. I've been walking around all night in wind and rain, I probably look like a crazy person. The door opens and Dave's standing there, wearing boxers and a t-shirt, his eyes squinted with sleep and his hair sticking up in every direction. You would think that shouldn't be attractive. If I woke up in the middle of the night like that, I'd probably scare away anyone at my door. And that's without the aid of my bat.
He blinks. "Abs?"
"Hey," I say brightly, smiling.
He blinks again. "What're you doing here?"
"I just got off shift and wanted to ask you something," I reply, and realize how ridiculous that must sound at two o'clock in the morning. I shift my eyes to the floor, wishing I hadn't gone insane in the last hour so I wouldn't have done this and embarrassed myself. I catch sight of those legs, and realize they must be way stronger than I imagined. He's got muscles in places I didn't even think were possible. I suddenly wonder if I'm gaping and look back up at him. He's staring at me blankly. "Were you, uh…sleeping?"
"Um, yeah," he replies, glancing back inside his apartment before looking back to me. "It is, like…two in the morning."
"Right," I say, my smile wavering. "Sorry. I was just…I mean…I couldn't sleep."
"Oh," he says, and while he still looks like he just woke up he also looks concerned. "Do you want to come in?"
"Sure," I reply, regaining my smile, wondering if it's as fake as it feels. "I mean, just for a second. I just want to ask you something."
"Okay." He steps aside and I step inside, moving into a living room. The space is small, with a couch sitting in front of a television, a bookcase with books and picture frames, posters lining the plain brown walls. The coffee table has empty Chinese takeout boxes on it, along with a few empty bottles of beer. It's exactly like I'd imagined it: a regular bachelor pad.
Except there's one thing, one painted picture hanging on the wall. It's a woman looking into a mirror, taking off her dress as she does so. It's dark, all black and grays, the paint almost hastily smeared onto the canvas. It's sexy but at the same time…sad. I wonder why he bought it. Maybe it struck him the same way as it is me, now. Don't we all feel that way sometimes? That no matter how sexy we try to be, at the end of the day we still have to take off our makeup and look into the mirror?
I don't know. Maybe I'm reading too much into it. Maybe he just bought it because she's getting naked.
"I got it from my sister," he says, startling me from my analysis of this painting. I turn to look at him, and he nods in its direction. "She painted it. She said it was me. I didn't know I had such great curves." His admission is sort of sad, and I think he realizes this because he looks away quickly. "So what did you want to ask me?"
"Well, there's this thing I have to go to on Friday," I tell him, idly examining his other posters. Some of them have signatures. The Dave Matthews Band. Rage Against the Machine. The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Other's don't. Nirvana. The Deftones. Who are the Deftones, by the way? And what's a Hoobastank?
"Thing?" he asks, interrupting my thoughts.
"Yeah, it's like this thing…that other people are going to, too," I stammer, feeling like a complete idiot. But I was never good at this, even in high school. I was just this girl looking for my Michael. "I didn't know if you wanted to maybe go with me…I mean, you know…it's sort of like a dinner thing…dancing, maybe."
"Really?" he asks, and I've been avoiding looking at him this whole time, because I'm afraid it'll be obvious that he thinks I'm a huge loser. But when I hear that tone in his voice, I can't help but meet his gaze and see that delightful surprise. He's actually smiling, and in that moment he doesn't look like that painting at all. "You want me to go with you as a…date?"
"Well, when you put it like that…" I joke feebly.
"Abby are you asking me out?"
"Because I think you're asking me out."
"Yeah," I reply. "If you don't want to, you don't have to. I know it's short notice and everything, and I don't know if you have plans, or if you have to work, or, I don't know…don't want to."
"No, it's cool." He laughs, amused. "You came all the way here at two in the morning to ask me out?"
"Yeah…" I reply, wincing. "Is that lame?"
"No, not at all," he says. "No one's ever done that before. I mean, you know. It's…sweet."
All at once, I feel like all of my problems disappear with that one simple statement. What medical school loans? What money problems? What crazy family? What's my name, by the way?
I am Abby Lockhart. And I am luckiest person in the world.
"Right," I say, breaking myself from my rather silly thoughts. But I can still feel that heat in my gut, like this good mood is a physical feeling. It strikes me as oddly humorous, and I laugh to myself quietly. Patient persistent with comforting heat in her belly. It could be serious. She might have a really bad case of the warm fuzzies. I look up at Dave, who's watching me with a small smile. "Um…so I'll let you get back to sleep now. You're probably working tomorrow or something."
"Yeah, I am, but it's okay," he says, walking me to the door and pulling it open for me.
"Oh, and there's one more thing," I say, turning to him with a smile. I take a deep breath, steeling myself as he looks at me with expectancy. "Um…I kind of need for you to pretend to be my boyfriend."
Confusion clouds his face. "Huh?"
"Well, see, this isn't so much as a date thing as it is a…date thing," I say, feeling like I've lost seventy IQ points within the last five seconds. The rest I just rush out in almost one breath, as if it might lessen the blow, so to speak. "I mean, you probably think I asked you to come along to some hospital or charity event or something, but it really is a date. And the people there -- my friends -- they think I have a boyfriend, because I sort of led them to believe that I have a boyfriend, even though I don't. And if I back out they'll know I lied, and if I come with just a clueless date they'll know I lied, so I need for you to pretend to be my boyfriend. My motorcycle-riding boyfriend who is madly in love with me."
If I thought he was confused before, I was wrong. Because now he is confused.
"Wait a second," he says, and he almost seems upset. "You mean you want to use me because I'm the only guy who you think will go for this, just so your friends won't think you're a liar, even though you are??"
Jeeze, good one, Abs, now you've hurt his feelings. I hope he really chews me out, because I think I deserve it. I mean, basically he's right. Okay, not basically, but completely. Isn't that what I'm doing? Just using him so I won't look like an idiot to my so-called friends?
I smile weakly at him. "Well…yeah."
And here it comes, I think. My chewing out that I so deserve…
But he's breaking into a grin, surprising me so much I take a step back. "Okay."
"It'll be fun," he says, and winks at me, and I'm wondering just what I've gotten myself into. He indicates the door then, which is still open. "I'll see you Friday, then. Want me to walk you to your car? I see you don't have your bat with you."
"Oh, no, it's okay," I tell him, waving off his concern. "I walked here, anyway."
He nearly slams the door on me before I can get out, grabbing my arm and pulling me back slightly, all in one swift movement. I allow him to do it, taking a step or two backwards into his apartment, surprised. He's looking at me like I'm crazy, but all I can seem to focus on is the heat of his hand through my shirt. I wonder what I did back when he'd been touching me after hitting me with his bike, his hand on my arm then too: Why is he always so warm?
"What!" he exclaims, startling me. "You walked all the way here from County?"
"I actually walked here from my apartment," I admit quietly. He steps back, letting go of my arm, and looks at me with complete incredulity. "It's not that far. I walk home from the El station all the time."
"The El station is a block from your apartment," he tells me, like I don't know that after living there all these years. "My apartment isn't. It's…I don't know how far away. But it's really far, and it is way too dangerous for you to walk home at two in the morning."
"Abby, I'm serious!" he exclaims, looking almost scared. "Something could happen to you. I think you should just stay here."
"Here??" I squeak, and wonder since when did I have the ability to do that with my voice? "I can't stay here."
"Why not?" he asks, looking around, as if maybe there's something wrong with it that I don't like, and maybe he can spot from where he's standing.
"I don't know," I say, shrugging, and then think up an excuse. "For one, I have nothing to sleep in."
"Sleep naked." I look at him, and he breaks into a smile, holding out his hands in defense. "Just kidding! I'm kidding. You can borrow a tee-shirt and some shorts or something."
"I don't have a toothbrush."
"I have extras."
"Yeah," he says, smiling cheerily.
"Why?" I'm wondering, suddenly, if he has some sort of weird quirk. Remember Michael? When he lost one half of a pair of socks, he would keep it and shove it into the bottom drawer of his dresser. It was full of socks that didn't match. Once I'd tried to throw them away but he nearly hyperventilated. What if he found the other sock somewhere and I had thrown the others away? He'd been really perfect until the sock thing. After that I started noticing all these little things about him that annoyed me. It all just went downhill from there.
But before Dave can confirm the fact that he's also crazy, and any second I'm going to hardly be able to be in the same room as him, he says, "I often have…guests."
"Guests," I repeat, and he nods with a flash of white teeth. The naughty smile would've been charming had I not been thinking about the guests he often has.
"You can stay the night, Abs, it's no problem," he says, mistaking my unease for hesitance. "And you know you shouldn't be walking alone in the dark like this."
"Are you sure?"
"Where will I sleep?" I ask, glancing at his couch. It looks really worn out, like the kind of couch that's comfortable to lounge around in while watching television, but absolutely horrible to sleep on if you intend to wake up without scoliosis.
"I won't make you sleep there, I promise," he says, watching me eye the couch nervously. "It's comfortable as hell, but you'll wish you were never born if you sleep on it."
"So where am I going to sleep?" I ask.
"You can sleep in the bed, if you want."
I look at him. "With you?"
"I can sleep on the couch," he replies, but even he's eyeing it nervously. "It's not that bad…"
I roll my eyes, hardly able to believe myself. "You can sleep with me, if you want. We did it last night, we can do it again."
He smiles in my direction. "You sure you trust me?"
"I don't know," I say, smiling back, as he indicates the small hallway. I start to walk towards it, turning to face him slightly. "But I'll keep my mace handy."
"Relax, Abs, you have nothing to worry about," he says, placing one hand on each of my shoulders and leading me towards the bedroom. "I promise not to ravage you in your sleep."
Only in my dreams, I think, and then wonder where in the hell I got an idea like that.
It's six-something when I wake up from my beauty sleep, Dave's soft snores greeting me. I feel more rested than I have in a long time, and wonder what kind of mattress he has so I can purchase one and always feel like this. And if my new mattress also comes with a man that sleeps on the other side of the bed, I won't complain.
I turn to look at Dave at that moment, but his back is to me so all I see is gray t-shirt, but I do take the time to appreciate those broad shoulders. He turns onto his back and stops snoring, and for a moment I think he's awake but his eyes are still closed and he's still. Now I take the time to appreciate his profile: thick eyelashes, a sharply angled nose, full lips… He's very handsome, I realize, like it's some sort of big epiphany. I guess it is, in a way; I'd never really noticed before. But then again, I'd never really noticed him before either.
He inhales deeply and then his eyes are open, and I know he's awake now. He glances at the alarm clock on the nightstand closest to him, settles back onto his side, and in a few moments he's snoring again. I smile. Poor guy must be really tired. After all, I did show up on his doorstep at two in the morning, waking him from his own beauty sleep. Not to mention I managed to keep him up until three AM afterwards. My mind drifts back to the conversation we'd had only hours earlier.
"So where do you work?" I'd asked curiously, as he closed the light.
"Yeah," he'd said, as we'd settled down onto opposite sides of the bed. No pillow separated us this time. We didn't need it though, we were experienced bed-sharers.
"What do you do there?" I'd asked rather stupidly, and immediately felt like an asshole. What did I think he did there?? "I mean, I know that you're a doctor, obviously. I didn't mean, you know…I just – "
"Relax, Abs, it's okay. I'm a fourth year resident in the ER there," he'd replied, thankfully without killing me for being an insensitive jerk, God bless his heart. "I know I should be done with my residency by now, but I couldn't find work for like a year. I had to wait until next rotation, so it set me back."
"What did you do until then?" I asked, wondering if it was my business or not, but Dave seemed like the kind of person who would let me know if it wasn't.
"I worked at clinics for a while," he said almost casually. "The pay sucked, but they're always looking for people. Then I met this guy in a bar, he's a nurse, and he told me about this moonlighting gig at Mercy. He helped me get a permanent job there later."
"Do you like it there?" I asked, amazed that he could just admit everything without hesitance, not exactly proud but definitely not ashamed.
"Yeah," he said. "I do." And I could tell that he did.
"Good…I'm glad you're happy."
And it hit me then, that he is happy, it isn't just some facade that he always puts up. He sees the best of things in any situation, looks at the bright side and just takes it all with a smile. I wonder what his parents must be like. They have to be pretty great people to teach him how to love life like this. Or maybe something has hardened him. Maybe he'd been forced to look at the bright side, and now he's just used to it. That thought scares me. I don't want to think of anything bad happening to Dave. He's too wonderful to just have bad things happen to him. But what's that saying? Bad things happen to good people.
"Dave?" I'd said quietly then, wondering if he'd fallen asleep.
"I don't think you're that painting at all."
The silence had stretched on until I'd fallen asleep, but even in my dreams I'd wanted to rip that painting right off the wall.
Suddenly an alarm goes off, breaking me from my thoughts, but it isn't Dave's clock, like I thought it would be. It's his stereo system, sitting in a corner of the room, a familiar Aerosmith song beginning to play its first notes. Drums and guitars and that famous harmonica, all mixed together with that rough voice to create a smooth melody. I hear Dave stirring beside me and look at him; he is on his back once more, his eyes still closed but he is smiling, slightly nodding his head along to the beat.
"Do you always wake up with a smile?" I ask, finding that his is contagious and now I am grinning myself.
"Only when I wake up to rock and roll," he replies.
"Well, then do you always wake up to rock and roll?"
He opens his eyes and nods at me. "Hell, yeah." And then he rolls onto his stomach, his side against mine as he pretends to hold a mike and sing. "…You ain't no good is what you said down to the letter, but you like the way I hold the microphone…sometimes I'm good but when I'm bad, I'm even better…" He winks at me and suddenly rolls onto his back again, laughing to himself softly, still singing as he climbs out of bed and moves into the bathroom. "I'm major in love…but in all minor keys…'cause falling in love is so hard on the knees…"
I roll over in bed, pressing the pillow to my ears to block out the music. What a way to start the day.
He lets me stay at his apartment while he's at work. I start getting up and he asks me what I'm doing, saying then that it doesn't matter because it's too early to do anything at this hour, so go back to sleep. I lay down in bed, watching him move around the apartment. He actually makes me close my eyes as he dresses, which is very unexpected and also very cute. I have to admit that I am very tempted to peek, but I don't. Finally, he is dressed and his hair is hastily done, and he leaves me alone, telling me I can leave whenever I'd like. He gets off at one o'clock (he's only covering the end of someone's shift), so if I want to sleep in and am still there when he gets back, that'll be fine. If not, he'll see me Friday.
I sleep in. When I wake it's ten o'clock, so I still have time to kill before he gets back. I don't know why I want to stay. Maybe I want to be nice and I'll make him lunch or something, and we can eat it and then I'll leave. After all, he is doing me a big favor on Friday. I at least owe maybe catering a meal to him, right?
So like I said, I have time to kill. I get up and stay in his boxers and t-shirt, liking the way it smells. It's very manly, very Dave. I pad down the hallway barefoot, moving into the living room and looking at all of his posters. The signed ones might be worth something someday, I think, and then my eyes land on that painting. It makes me angry, because it isn't Dave. Dave is beautiful, and this is the ugliest painting in the world.
I change into yesterday's clothes and walk to the El station, taking a train to the nearest Wal-Mart. I get back to Dave's apartment an hour later, change back into his boxers and t-shirt, settle myself down onto his couch with my newly purchased items on the coffee table before me, and for the rest of the morning I keep myself busy.
At twelve o'clock I am finished, so I leave the living room and go into the kitchen to make Dave lunch. As it turns out, Dave owns nothing except beer and a head of lettuce, so I change back into yesterday's clothes and walk to the corner store to restock his refrigerator. I get the necessities and then some, and walk back to his apartment with an armful of groceries. By one o'clock I'm back in boxers and a t-shirt, and have sandwiches made with potato chips on the side and lemonade in glasses, all of which are decked out on the kitchen table. (On dishes that I had to clean myself, because Dave must think that his sink will one day magically start scrubbing if he piles them high enough.)
At around one-thirty I hear keys jiggling in the lock, and I smile as I sit at the table, munching on my sandwich. The door opens and Dave walks in, tossing his bookbag haphazardly on the floor before making his way into the kitchen. He smiles broadly as he sees me, his eyes drifting over the food before looking back to me.
"Hey, Abs," he says, sitting down opposite me. "I didn't think you'd still be here."
"I am," I say, and then nod at the food. "I made lunch. Figure it's the least I could do."
"Thanks," he says, and immediately digs in. "Where did you get this stuff?"
"It's called a grocery store," I tell him, grinning. "You can get all kinds of food there. You know, just in case you were wondering what to do with your empty fridge. That's for holding the food, by the way."
He rolls his eyes. "Thanks for the heads up."
"No problem," I tell him, and then stand up. My grin broadens, but I can feel my face flushing. I'm half-excited, but I'm half-nervous, because I don't know how he's going to react. "I made something for you today."
He looks up at me, puzzled. "What?"
"I'll get it," I say, and disappear into the living room for a second before returning to the kitchen. "Here."
He takes the canvas from my hands, his brow creased as he examines the painting. Bright splashes of color hastily thrown every which way, yellows and blues and reds and oranges splattered and dropped and sprayed and smeared. There isn't a patch of the white canvas visible through the color, every space has been filled. There's also no black and gray.
He looks up at me after a long while. "What is it?"
"Don't you know?" I ask. "It's you."
He breaks into a wide grin, looking back to the painting with a soft laugh. "Thanks," he says, still smiling. "I'll have to find a place for it."
"I know where it can go," I tell him excitedly, grabbing it from his hands and rushing into the living room. I put it down for a second as I remove that ugly, ugly painting, then pick it back up and hang it. I nod with appreciation. "How does it look?"
"Beautiful," he says, and when I look at him I'm not sure if he's looking at the painting or something else, but I won't dare consider that that something else might be me.
I spend the night at his apartment again, and the next day we both have off and decide to spend it together before our date that night. It's raining so the picnic we'd been thinking about is out of the question, and we decide to rent movies and get Chinese from the place down the street. On our way to Blockbuster, the power goes out so we can't rent movies and we can't get Chinese, so we go back to his place and play cards on the floor of his living room. The game we decide on is Spit.
In case you don't know what that is, each person gets half the deck, and the object of the game is to get rid of your cards as fast as possible. You don't take turns, you just keep going as fast as you can until your stockpile cards are gone. You can reduce the number of cards you have each deal by slapping your hand down on the smaller pile first, and reusing it for the next deal. If you do this several times in a row you're eventually left with one big ol' pile. Slap your hand on the empty pile, and you win. There's more to it, obviously, but you get the point.
So Dave and I are playing Spit, which is a rather loud game with the slapping and the screaming and general excitement. In the end our knuckles are red from hitting each other's hands so much, the cards are almost unusable from so much abuse, and our sides are nearly bursting from so much laughing.
"You lost again," I say, gathering up the cards and putting them back into the box. "You are really bad at this game. Or maybe you're just slow."
His jaw drops dramatically, and he throws a hand to his chest. "Ouch! That was a good one!"
I laugh. "I know. I must be good at everything."
Suddenly he's looking at me with a cocked eyebrow, a slow smile on his lips. "Oh, yeah?"
"Don't get any funny ideas, mister," I tell him. He just keeps grinning at me, his eyes dancing with mischief, the equivalent to Jing-Mei's coyness. "Stop looking at me like that."
"Like what?" he asks, deepening his glare, and I can see he's trying not to smile.
"Like that!" I exclaim, scooting back on the floor but he's coming towards me on his hands and knees. I try to look serious but I'm trying to compress my smile too, and I don't think it's working. "Dave, stop."
"Why?" he asks, and I'm leaning back on my elbows to crawl further away from him, but all of a sudden he's nearly on top of me, his arms on either side of my chest to support his weight. I can feel his bicep brushing against my breast, and it's scary and thrilling at the same time. He smiles devilishly. "What are you going to do about it?"
"I don't know," I tell him rather honestly, looking up at him and seeing that little scar above his eyebrow. I fight the urge to touch it, just to see what it feels like. My eyes meet his. "But you don't want to find out."
"Really?" he asks, his smile fading as his eyes bounce from my eyes and to my lips and then back to my eyes again, just long enough for me to notice. He smiles again, but this time it's soft and sweet, it's that smile that all the nurses swoon over. "Maybe I want to find out."
His face is inches away, his eyes keep dancing between mine and my lips. I wonder if I have some food on them or something, because he can't possibly want to kiss me. I don't want him to kiss me either, because this is Dave and I am me, but my heart's still going like I'm in v-tach or something. And now his arm is deliberately pressing against the side of my breast and somebody get me a defibrillator, STAT.
I open my mouth to say something but all that comes out is this chirping sound, and the moment is over, just like that. He blinks in surprise, looking at me for a second with puzzlement before glancing up. "What is that?"
"My cell phone," I reply.
He looks back to me. "When did you get a cell phone?"
"After we ran into each other…" I start, trailing off. He'd just reminded me I really needed to get one, and the next day I had. Jesus, how could I have been so stupid? I mean, didn't I realize something like this could happen??
"Where is it?"
"It's in your room, on the desk."
He looks down at me and breaks into a grin. "I'll get it."
"Dave, don't, let me get it," I tell him, but before I can even finish what I'm saying he's scrambling to his feet and running into the bedroom. I get up and quickly follow him, entering his room as soon as he picks up my cell phone. He's squinting at the display. "Who is it?"
"Jing-Mei!" he exclaims. "I'm going to answer it."
"No!" I nearly yell, grabbing for the phone, but he takes a step back and spins away from me, keeping it out of my reach. "Dave, give it to me."
"Relax, Abs," he says smoothly, and then he's pulling it open. He clears his throat dramatically before putting it to his ear. I roll my eyes and sit on the bed, which is still unmade from this morning. "Hello? Yeah, she's here…can I ask who's calling? Well, hold on a second, she's still in bed. She's exhausted." He puts the phone to his side. Then, loudly: "Abby, honey, phone! It's Jing-Mei from work."
"Thanks, sweetheart," I reply sarcastically before taking the phone from his hand. I put it to my ear as he sits next to me, and I'm acutely aware that his thigh is against mine. I can barely form a coherent thought, let alone word, but finally I manage to blurt out: "Hello?"
"Abby!" Jing-Mei squeals into my ear, and I wince. "Was that him? Was that your boyfriend?"
I look at that grin beside me, mischief written all over his face. "Yeah, that's him."
"What's his name?"
I hesitate. "Dave."
"Is he cute?"
"Cute?" I ask, and his smile widens beside me. I study him with narrowed eyes, and he sits up a little straighter as if that will help me decide. "Well, he sure thinks he's cute, but I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder." He actually pouts, looking hurt. "But he's got this smile…he smiles all the time, but sometimes he gives you this one, this one genuine from-the-heart smile, and it's like you're…"
And he gives me that smile, that one smile I've only seen a couple times, but it had never been aimed at me before. Now it is, and it's like…it's like I'm…
"In love?" she asks, and for an instant I think maybe Jing-Mei is psychic and just forgot to tell me, but I remember I'd trailed off. "Abby?"
"Yeah?" I say, as Dave gets up and leaves the room.
"Is that what it's like? Like you're in love?"
"I don't know," I reply honestly, watching him move down the hallway, and he disappears from my line of vision as he goes into the kitchen. "Maybe. I'll have to get back to you on that one."
"Wow," she says then, and whistles low. "You've got it bad, Abby."
I sigh. "Tell me about it."
She'd been calling to make sure we were still on for tonight. And even though every cell in my body had screamed for me to say we weren't, my mouth had said we were, so now here I was standing in front of my mirror in a little red dress, because I'd been told red was my best color. I'm not too sure on that, though. I really don't think I have a color. Maybe I just don't look good in anything.
In any event, I'm still trying to look good. I have makeup on and my hair is pulled up in a twist-bun type of thing. I have on this necklace that's a fine golden chain with a diamond at the end of it, with earrings that match. The dress follows my curves, with the back cut low (any lower and I would probably moon people). No pantyhose or stockings or anything like that, since my shoes have open toes and that would clash. They're these high heels that I'm probably going to kill myself with. The things we do for love.
I roll my eyes at my choice of words. I'm doing this out of pure obligation, not love. I'm doing this because I got myself into this mess, and now I have to ride the waves until I get myself out of it. After tonight, I'll have to make up some sad story about how Dave and I broke up because he's a big jerk. Maybe he cheated on me, or drinks too much. But even as I think those things, I know I'll never be able to say them. Dave is too wonderful, and I don't want people to think badly about him. I know they already do, and I think he does too, but I don't want to add fuel to the fire.
I wonder how he feels about that, knowing people think he's this easy jerk who'll do anything for a good lay. Maybe he doesn't care. Dave just has that way about him. He has every way about him. It's like he's discovered the secret to living, and I'm envious. I want to wake up with a smile on my face. I want to admit to my flaws without shame. I want to learn how to take everything with a grin. I want much sometimes, I think. Maybe that's why Dave's Dave and I'm me. It's just meant to be that way. I'm just meant to be alone and miserable for the rest of my life.
But then I think about that one moment where I was so sure Dave was going to kiss me, and I feel my pulse speed up and a flush in my cheeks. Because for that one moment, I thought I might not end up alone and miserable. Because for that one moment, I thought that maybe I could spend the rest of my life with this guy. Then, of course, reality had come back to me as sure as that cell phone's ringing, and I'd realized I could never end up with him. Because I'm Abby. Not that pretty, not that smart, not that special, not that intelligent, not that interesting Abby. And Dave's the opposite of all those things. Dave is…well, let's just say good things don't happen to bad people, right?
The doorbell rings right on cue, and only when I catch my expression in the mirror do I realize I'm smiling. I clear my throat, calming myself as I smooth out my dress before walking out of the bedroom, through the living room, and to the front door. A quick hand through my curled hair and then I'm opening the door.
I'm not surprised that it's Dave, and I'm not surprised that he looks absolutely stunning in a suit, but I am surprised by my reaction. It's that pulse-racing, cheek-flushing feeling all over again. Any more of that and I might need medical attention, because it's got to be some sort of disease or condition for it to keep happening. It's just pure coincidence that it only happens when I see Dave.
"Hey," he says, smiling broadly. He holds out a bouquet of flowers, all different kinds. "I brought you these to add to the date feeling. Plus the ones you have in that vase over there are dead, and they were starting to smell when I was here last."
"Thanks," I say, taking the flowers from him and going to the kitchen to put them in some water. I glance over my shoulder at him as I open the cabinet I keep my vases in, seeing him step inside and stick his hands into his pockets, jiggling around keys. "And those flowers aren't dead, they're dried."
He shrugs. "They look dead to me."
"I like them."
I find a vase and fill it with water, placing the bouquet inside. I sit it on the counter and look at it, only then realizing how colorful it is. Bright reds and blues and yellows and oranges. It suddenly strikes me that the colors are the same ones in my painting. I look at Dave, he looks at me. He asks, "Why?"
"Why do you like dried flowers?"
"Oh," I say, shaking my head to clear my thoughts. I remember what I'd told Carter long ago, when he'd asked me the same question. Then, I'd thought I was so intellectual as I coolly explained their appeal to me. Now, I can't even remember what I liked about them in the first place. "I don't know. They're sad and dark and…mysterious."
He looks at me skeptically. "You want that, just turn off the lights."
"Don't start," I say, and he smiles as he holds up his hands in defense. "Ready?" I ask, slightly disappointed that he hasn't mentioned my appearance. Jeeze, all this work and he doesn't even think I look good! Maybe red really isn't my color. Or maybe I'm just not pretty enough to notice.
Abby, I tell myself. You are not seventeen years old and looking for the attention of your Michael. You are thirty-two, and this is Dave. God, I'm such a hopeless loser.
"Yeah," he replies, indicating the open door. We step outside and I lock the place up, although I'm never sure why. Sometimes I wish someone will steal all of my things and burn the place, so I have an excuse to get out of there. I think I just want change. Everything seems to be happening around me and I'm always the last one left. Susan finds Chuck, Jing-Mei finds Greg. Susan has a baby and will probably get married, and Jing-Mei and Greg are looking for a place together. They all saw opportunities and grabbed those suckers by the balls, throwing away all of their inhibitions because they knew this might be the only chance they'd ever have. And what am I doing? Poor, lonely Abby is just sitting at home every day, watching the world go by her faster than she can say, "What the hell just happened?"
Suddenly there's a jolt at my lower back, startling me from my thoughts. It's Dave's hand, his warm skin against mine, and I'm surprised at how much of a reaction I had to it. I look at him, stepping away instinctively but immediately wish I hadn't. He smiles slyly and I cock an eyebrow.
"The date hasn't started yet," I remind him, as we reach the bottom of the stairs. "No touching."
"I promise to keep my hands to myself," he says, "but you look fucking amazing in that dress."
"Thanks," I say, rolling my eyes at his rather crude choice of words. Well, two can play at that game, I think, eyeing him with exaggerated lust. "You look pretty fucking amazing in that suit yourself."
And he does. But wouldn't he look even more amazing out of it?
He grins broadly, a sparkle in his eye that I can't recognize as he pulls open the door for me, and only when I'm walking in front of him where he can't see my face do I allow myself to smile. He noticed me, he really noticed me, and he thinks I look amazing. Not just amazing, but fucking amazing. God, I'm dying.
We're fashionably late for dinner. It doesn't help that, in the cab on the way over, I decide to gush on and on about how I should've never put him in this position, that this isn't an obligation and he doesn't have to go through with it if he doesn't want to. It's okay, really, I say to him, you can just go home and I'll admit to everything, like I should've in the first place.
He just smiles. "Don't sweat it, Abs."
"You really don't need to do this for me," I tell him, my stomach in absolute knots. I didn't know why I'm saying this, or why I'm feeling this way. Maybe it's because this is too much of a real date on my part, and too little on Dave's. What have I gotten myself into?
"I know," he says, that chain of white teeth going again. He winks devilishly, and I feel goose bumps on my arms. "You'll just have to owe me one."
And now I'm really wondering what I've gotten myself into. After a moment of silence I ask, "Like what?"
"I haven't decided yet," he admits, "but you'll be the first to know, my friend."
My friend. It rings over and over again in my head until we reach the restaurant. I'm not disappointed, really. Or maybe I just don't look it. I can be a really great actress sometimes.
So we're late. By about twenty minutes, and I'm surprised my cell phone isn't ringing when I remember I haven't given the new number to anyone yet. I grab his sleeve and pull him along as we rush inside some five-star Chinese place that Jing-Mei's family owns. She promised free food and drinks, which I'm sure everyone is thankful for. While Princess Jing-Mei may be able to fork up fifty dollars and not put the slightest dent in her wallet, the rest of us do not come from upper-class families whose ancestors used to rule over China. I actually don't know if that last part is true, but she's hinted at the fact that she comes from royalty. It figures. She's gorgeous and rich and intelligent, so of course she has to have everything and be from royalty too. Yeah, I'm jealous. Sue me. Jing-Mei's perfect. It's like she's just asking to be hated.
I suck in a deep breath, stepping close to Dave as we enter this restaurant that seems more like a jungle by the minute. Plants are everywhere, and Dave has to brush aside a vine so it doesn't smack him in the face. He looks at me, stunned by the immensity of this place. It's like somebody built a palace on top of a rainforest. I've heard that if you're in the rainforest for more than half an hour, fungus will grow on your hair. I hope that doesn't happen in here. Mold is not my color.
"Abby!" We look over and see the four of them sitting at a large corner booth. Everyone stands as we cross the room, and I can see Jing-Mei starting to go into shock. It's slowly registering in her brain that, yes, this is the Dave I was talking about on the phone with her this afternoon. She blurts out, before we can even say hello, "Dave??"
He smiles. "Hey, Jing-Mei. How's it going?"
"You know each other?" Susan asks, looking hurt that Jing-Mei didn't mention it before.
"Yeah, but I didn't…I mean…" She's absolutely stunned. I don't think it's amusing until I see the grin on Dave's face, and then I realize that it really is comedic. The look on Jing-Mei's face is nearly priceless. "I didn't know this was him."
"Where do you know him from?" Greg asks with a rather accusatory tone. He's staring at Dave as if he might smack that smile right off of Dave's face, but currently his hands are busy putting themselves all over Jing-Mei so Dave will know she is taken.
"Work," Dave replies for her, mildly amused by Greg's reaction, but I can see that part of him is unimpressed by the young man's behavior. "We used to work together."
"Oh, yeah!" Chuck suddenly exclaims, and everyone looks at him. "I remember you said you used to work at County before you came to Mercy."
"Wait!" Susan says, looking at Chuck. "You know him too?"
"Yeah," he replies. "Dave works at Mercy. I met him in a – "
"This is the Dave you go drinking with sometimes?" she asks, and now she's looking hurt because she's left out.
"He's the one that helped me get the job too," Dave interjects, and then smiles. "He talks about you all the time."
"Well," I say loudly, startling them into a reality where everyone is not confused. "Since we all seem to know each other some way or another, why don't we all have a seat?"
So we sit. Since it's a corner booth everyone can sit next to their significant (and, in my case, pretend significant) others. Dave's leg is touching mine, and I can even feel the heat of his skin through our clothes. Maybe he's this power source that nobody knows about, my own personal heater. I hope he's around when it's cold out. To curl up in bed with on those cold winter nights. I suddenly realize that Jing-Mei was right. I do have it bad.
Dinner passes easily. Except for the part where we talk about Kerry Weaver's tragedy a couple months ago, when Sandy died. She's still battling for the rights of her baby. It's no secret that Kerry Weaver fired Dave from County, yet when it comes to this specific topic he clearly exclaims that it's fucked up and she should have every right to her baby. Susan suggests joint custody. Dave suggests full custody, end of story. Greg suggests no custody, because it wasn't a real marriage, that isn't her real baby, and it shouldn't really count.
"It's their baby," Dave says. "It isn't Sandy's mother's baby, or her brother's baby. It's Kerry and Sandy's baby. Somebody said Weaver was planning on adopting him?"
"They were going through the process," I interject. "It was all about finalizing, but without Sandy it's null and void, I guess. They wouldn't have this problem in the first place if they could get married, like everybody else."
"Why can't they just settle for a civil union?" Greg spits with more anger than was ever necessary. It's surprising, although not completely unexpected from those of us who know him.
"Why didn't blacks settle for Jim Crow laws and shut up about segregation?" Dave shoots back, and I hold my breath. Right now I'm wishing I wasn't sitting between them. When the first swing is thrown, I do not want to be on the receiving end of it, thank you very much.
"That's not the same!" Greg exclaims.
"How is that not the same??" Dave asks.
"You can't even begin to compare slavery to that!"
"Okay, fine," Dave concedes, but he's only giving in because he's got another trick up his sleeve. "You think gay marriage isn't 'natural,' and yet you're dating a white woman. Twenty years ago blacks couldn't marry whites because it wasn't 'natural.' Maybe you two should settle for a civil union and see how you like it."
"Are you trying to start something with me??" Greg asks, because he's lost and everyone knows it. Susan looks at Chuck with an amused grin, and in that one glance it's like they communicate a thousand words. She looks at me and for an instant I desperately try to read her mind, but it isn't the same.
"No, I'm not trying to start something with you," Dave replies. He looks at me and rolls his eyes. What is this guy's problem? he's wondering, and suddenly I wonder when Dave and I developed a connection like that. I shoot him a glance: He's just like that. Dave nods. I don't dare consider what this new telepathy might mean. I hope I'm just an X-Man.
"Because I think you need to – " Greg continues, but Dave cuts him off.
"I need to what??"
"I know what we all need to do!!" I exclaim, sitting up and nearly pushing Dave out of the booth before this conversation goes any further. Like outside, where they can duke it out. Both men look much more flattering without bruises on their faces. "We need to dance, that's what we need to do. Let's all get up and dance."
As soon as I'm standing, I grab Dave's hand and pull him past the tables and to the dance floor, which is already full with several other couples. I keep that hand in his and put my other on his shoulder; he puts his free hand at the small of my back, where he had earlier in my apartment building. The heat of his skin still shocks me like it did then, and instinctively I flinch. He doesn't pull away.
"Is that really how you feel?" I ask, as we move. "I mean, about the whole gay marriage thing?"
"Yeah," he replies, nodding. "My sister's gay. The one that gave me the painting? It kills her that she can't have a family, it fucking kills her."
"Oh," I say, mostly because I can't think of anything else besides the fact that this is the first time I've seen him passionate about something. And suddenly I wonder if I'd see the same passion in bed, see his eyes light up that same fiery brown color they are right now as we make love. I push those thoughts aside quickly and find some sort of comforting words. "You know she'll have one, one day. It's just the in-between that sucks."
"Yeah." He purses his lips several times, like he wants to say more but he doesn't know how. He looks at me for a second before brushing it off.
"What?" I ask.
"Nothing, it's just…" He trails off for a minute, and is so quiet for a few moments that I think he's going to drop it. I would've, too, knowing when not to push, but then he's speaking again, looking off at other couples as if he can't look at me. "Children should be with their parents."
His statement is sort of odd. "I don't get it. You don't believe in adoption?"
"No, that's not what I mean," he quickly says, shaking his head. He looks down at me and suddenly I can see it. It isn't what he means at all. "I guess…I guess I mean parents should be with their children. It's her baby, I don't care what the legal system says. She should be able to be with him."
"And is this from…personal experience?" I ask, unable to help myself. So much for knowing when not to push. But I can almost see that he wants to tell me, like it's this secret he keeps and can't stand to do it.
"Yeah," he replies, just like that. "She won't let me see him. My son's mother. She lives in New York and she won't let me see him."
"How old is he?" I ask, because I can't think of anything else to say. "What's his name?"
"Matthew," he says, with this small, wistful smile. "He's seven." And then his smile vanishes. "He doesn't even know I exist."
"I'm sorry," I choke out, because my voice is barely working. All I can see is the hurt in his eyes, almost like it's a physical pain. I wonder how much longer he can bear it before it kills him, and now it's like a physical pain to me. "You can't do anything?"
He just shakes his head, and it's all I can do not to take him in my arms and hold him. Suddenly he breaks into a grin, but it's so sad. I think he knows this and he shrugs, saying lightly, "It's okay. It'll all work out one day."
"I'm sure it will."
He smiles again, a genuine smile as if my words are the truest things he's ever heard, and briefly his eyes drift down to my cleavage and I feel a sort of high-school thrill run through me, like I've just caught the captain of the football team checking me out or something. His eyes travel back to mine after a second, still smiling that know-it-all grin. I know he was trying to be obvious, changing the subject not so subtly. "You really do look amazing in that dress, you know that?"
"Really?" I ask, wondering if he's just saying that or if he really means it.
"Really," he replies, his fingers daring to travel inside the open back of my dress, caressing the top of my butt. In an instant they're gone, his hand back where it had been before anyone notices. I look up at him with incredulity, my eyebrows raised at his boldness. He tries to look innocent but that glint in his eye gives him away. "That's part of the date thing, I thought. I was just trying to make us look like a convincing couple."
"I see," I agree sarcastically, nodding. "But I don't think anybody saw that."
"Oh," he says, glancing around at all the people surrounding us. "You think we need something more out there?"
"Definitely," my mouth says before my head comprehends the question.
He grins broadly, a naughty smile I've never seen before. It sends another thrill through me, but down my spine this time, straight to a place between my knees and my heart, and I don't mean my belly button.
"What do you suggest?" he asks, keeping that smile.
And before I have a chance to consider anything else, I move my hand from his shoulder to the side of his face, standing up on my toes and drawing him closer as I press my body to his – and press my lips to his. The kiss is so mind-blowing I can almost picture my head exploding right here, sending little bits of Abby everywhere. I'm sure I'll clash with most of the outfits here, and I'd hate to ruin that suit that Dave looks so handsome in, so before it goes too far I pull away from him, my heart pounding between my ears.
"Whoa," he says, nearly breathless.
"Are they looking?"
He glances up, then looks back to me. "Yeah."
"I don't know if Jing-Mei saw it."
"Maybe we should do it again," I say.
"I think so," he replies.
And so we do.
It went pretty well, all in all. In the bathroom at one point, Susan and Jing-Mei admitted that they thought I was really pulling their legs when I brought Dave as my date, but then they saw those kisses on the dance floor and knew we were really a couple. That was chemistry, they said. They asked me how the sex was, but I don't kiss and tell, especially when there's nothing to tell. I don't say that, of course. I just smile, because the sex would be incredible. Just as incredible as those kisses on the dance floor. Just as incredible as that hand slipping inside of my dress. Just as incredible as those strong legs, those broad shoulders, those sexy eyes, those…
What was I saying? I can't remember now, but it doesn't matter anyway. The date is over and we're at my apartment. I ask him to stay the night, and he says that he will. I tell him he can sleep in my bed, and he says that he will. He can wear one of my nightgowns to sleep, since I wore his boxers the night before (and the night before that), but he'll pass me on that one. He opts for his shorts and nothing else, showing off a toned, hairless chest and strong back that I have to pry my eyes away from every time I look at him. I pull on a tee shirt and cotton pants. Hardly as sexy, but sexy isn't really my thing.
We're lying on opposite sides of the bed, and the windows are open because it's exceptionally warm tonight. I don't know if Dave is asleep or not, but he isn't snoring. He's very quiet and very still. I start to worry he might've died in his sleep when suddenly there's fingers brushing against my own. I force myself to keep my cool and not flinch, even if my heart is doing ninety miles an hour. He slips his hand into mine, and we lay there for a long time in the silence of the night.
"Abby?" he asks, his voice closer than I thought it should be.
"Yeah?" I squeak.
"Did you really kiss me tonight because you were pretending to be my girlfriend?"
"I don't know," I reply, even though I do. "Why? Did you kiss me because you were pretending to be my boyfriend?"
"No. There's a pause. "Are you still not sure?"
"I don't know," I repeat. "Maybe we should do it again just to test it out."
I feel him chuckle softly beside me, and then I feel him moving. He's still holding my hand, his other trailing up my arm and to my shoulder, past my neck and to the side of my face. He is finding me in the dark, and I allow him to. For an instant, I think maybe it won't affect me like it did before, but when his lips are against mine I know I am very, very wrong; his kisses are still like electric fire, sending sparks through my brain that shoot right down to my belly. God, this man can kiss!
In twenty minutes he is inside of me, and I can hear him whispering my name into my ear as I feel him move against me. I almost can't discern the difference between his voice and his touch, it's like he's everything all at the same time. And when I feel that familiar throbbing between my legs, gripping his body to mine, hearing him sigh my name so softly into my ear – "oh, Abby, oh, sweetie" – I know I will never be the same.
"You know when I was younger," I tell him at four-something in the morning as I lay beside him, my head on his chest and his arms around me, "I used to dream about what my husband's name would be."
"Uh oh," he says. "Husband talk. Aren't I supposed to run?" I smile against his warm skin, but don't say anything as he doesn't run. "Did you think it would be Dave?"
"No," I admit. "I always thought it would be Michael."
He laughs with a start, and I'm immediately embarrassed. Is Michael a stupid name? Maybe he's imagining Michael Jackson in his head or something. I should've never said anything. Now he's going to never want to see me again because I picked such a stupid name to be –
"My middle name is Michael."
I blink with surprise, my heart skipping a beat. "It is not."
"It is too."
"You're such a liar."
"No, I swear to God," he says.
In a burst of inspiration, I ask, "Did you used to imagine what your wife's name would be?"
"Yeah," he admits shyly, "but for some weird reason I always thought it would be Marjorie."
"What??" I exclaim, sitting up in bed and looking at him in the dark dubiously. "That's my middle name!"
"I know, I'm just kidding," he says, chuckling softly. I smack his chest. "Ow! I was just kidding, I never used to do that. That's a chick thing."
I settle down beside him again, falling into his arms once more like it's the most natural thing in the world. My fingertips follow the curves of his body idly, and as I reach his abdomen and trace the grooves of his muscles there, he suddenly flinches. I'm afraid that I've hurt him but he admits that it tickles, and I save that for future reference. I might need it later. Assuming there will be a later.
"Hey, you're not going to sneak away in the night, are you?" I ask him quietly. "I mean, you'll still be here in the morning, right?"
"Yeah," he says, as if any other notion is ridiculous. "My middle name's Michael, that's fate. We're meant to be together, I can't run away from that."
"Good. But if you're lying to me about that, it's so over."
I grin in the darkness, snuggling closer to him and closing my eyes. In the back of my mind I realize that the alarm clock is going to go off at six o'clock, but I let that thought stay where it is. I'll get up for my shift, and I'll go to work, and I'll do my job on only less than two hours of sleep. It won't bother me as long as I get to wake up to Dave. And even if the familiar beeping of my alarm isn't exactly rock and roll, somehow I know I'll wake up with a smile on my face.