I don't answer the phone. I get the feeling whenever I do that there will be someone on the other end. Fred Couples
Ray groaned and rolled over when the phone began its insistent ringing. Bleary eyed, he glared at the clock across the room and cursed softly. It was three in the morning, and he'd just come off a double shift. He and Neela had only been asleep for two hours. If that was the hospital calling one of them back in, then he was going to kill the caller. Slowly. With pain.
"If that's Morris, tell him I'm dead," Neela muttered, pulling her pillow over her head.
Ray grinned ruefully glancing over at her huddled form under the blanket in the darkened room. He could tell them that about Neela, but him? He was screwed. Chief residents didn't get days off or down time like normal people.
"Go back to sleep, baby," he told her softly. "I'll take care of it."
He grabbed the phone, snatching it off the base to glare at the display. Of course he recognized the number. Why wouldn't he? He'd only just come from the damn place three hours ago. Growling low in his throat, he hit the button and slammed the thing to his ear.
"This had better be good," he snarled.
"Well, hello to you too," Morris sniped. "I hope you have a better bedside manner than that with our patients."
"I just came off a double, Archie. I've only been asleep for two hours."
"I know, and I'm sorry to call you," Morris said, actually sounding like he meant it. "But Sarah called in sick, Abby's kid is out with chicken pox, and Jason called to say that he has rectal glaucoma."
"He has what?" Ray asked in disbelief, thinking that he was hearing things.
"Rectal glaucoma. He said he just couldn't see his ass coming in today."
Ray ran a hand over his face, feeling a day's worth of stubble grind against his palm. That was good. He hadn't heard that one before. It wasn't good enough to make him feel any better about being rousted out of bed with two hours sleep. Of course, if he killed Jason Williams, he was sure he'd feel a lot better about it.
"What about Gates?" he asked, stifling a yawn.
"Gates is out of town, remember? Visiting his…whatever the girl is to him. He cleared it weeks ago."
"Shit." Ray fell back on the pillow. He weighed his options for a moment before growling. "I'm not staying all day. I've had two hours sleep and was supposed to be off today."
"When we get slow, you can crash in the on call room. I promise. But right now we need you down here." There was a pause. "Neela wouldn't happen to…"
"Not a chance. She's got the same thing Jason has right now."
"Okay, okay. Just thought I'd ask. I'll see you later."
The line went dead, leaving Ray feeling like road kill. Irritated, he punched the end button and slammed the offending contraption back on the base, wishing that he could just forget the whole conversation had ever happened. Blowing out a breath, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and scrubbed his hands through his hair, his elbows on his knees.
In the darkened room, he couldn't see the twisted scars across his leg, but as tired as he was, he could feel them. His whole leg ached from the long day he'd just endured. And the weather wasn't helping either. It had been unseasonably cold for spring, and the cold seemed to get into his bones like nothing else could. He grimaced when he stretched his right leg out, feeling the ache all the way to the mended bone. It was days like this that he wished that the driver of the truck that had hit him had called in that night. Then he wouldn't have to deal with this.
"Ray? Where are you going?" Neela's sleepy voice said from her side of the bed.
"Work. Half the night staff decided to call in."
"Can't Morris find someone else?" she asked, then answered her own question. "Of course not. He's lucky if he can find his own arse."
Ray chuckled softly and leaned over to kiss her. Even after a year together, he didn't think he'd ever get enough of her kisses. They'd had a long hard road to come to this place, but he wasn't about to trade it for anything. Michael, Gates, Ray's accident…all of those events had conspired to drive them apart. He kissed her again as the memory of those early days after his accident came back to him. Sometimes, when the pain had been so bad that he just wished they would cut the damn thing off, somehow Neela had been there to help him through it. She'd come back to the ER, giving up her surgical spot. When Ray had recovered, he'd come back to an ER that was in a state of chaos. Kovach was gone, having started his own private practice. Pratt had taken Kovach's spot, and Morris had slipped into Pratt's spot…which left the ER short one chief resident. Ray had gone for the position without much hope that he'd get it. But he had, and he now had five residents under him. Only now did he understand why everyone had always been so pissy with him in the early days, though he didn't think he was half as bad as Jason. If Weaver had still been there, Jason would have been gone ages ago.
Sometimes he wondered what the hell he'd been thinking, taking that management job. The job was sometimes more trouble than it was worth. But Neela had changed him. He'd finally become the dedicated doctor that she had known he could be. But at times like these, he wished that he'd decided to become a lawyer instead. Then he wouldn't be getting calls in the middle of the night for work. He'd still be asleep with his girlfriend in his arms. She rolled over, wrapping her arms around his neck as she held him closer.
"Are you sure you have to go?" she asked softly, smiling a little.
Ray laughed at the blatant invitation in her tone, sliding his hands down her sides. "Yes. I'm the Chief Resident. If I don't show up, then what am I there for?"
"I never thought I'd see the day when Ray Barnett would care more about work than play."
"And lose your good opinion of me?" he asked, nuzzling her throat. "What the hell would I do then?"
"Suffer for eternity in a pigsty," she replied smartly, stifling a yawn. "If you have to go, take a shower. I'll make you some coffee."
He shook his head, stroking her cheek. "Go back to sleep. I'll be fine."
She raised an eyebrow and smiled before pushing him back.
"I'm awake now, and I'll feel better if you have coffee and some pain meds before you leave. And don't tell me that your leg isn't bothering you. I know better."
"You wouldn't want to come with me would you?" he asked, giving her a pout that was usually guaranteed to get him whatever he wanted. For once, he was doomed to disappointment.
"Not a chance," she said, pushing up from the bed and snatching her robe from the door. She smiled coyly at him over her shoulder, and his body tightened. "But I'll make it up to you later."
He blew out a breath and scowled at her, shaking his head ruefully when she laughed.
"Tease," he called out at her retreating form. Sighing, he gathered up some clothes and trudged to the bathroom for a cold shower.
Ray slammed through the ambulance bay doors, wincing as a toddler screamed in reception. Jesus! It was four in the morning on a Wednesday and the place looked like Grand Central Station. Ray glanced around and saw that it was standing room only in the waiting area, and there were people on gurneys in the hall.
"Ray! What the hell took you so long? We're dying here."
Ray shot Morris a look that promised death and headed for the locker room. Morris however, didn't seem to get the message and followed him in.
"Morris, you're going to be limping worse than I am if you don't back off."
"Sheesh! Touchy, touchy."
"You try functioning on no sleep and a half pot of coffee," Ray snarfed, snatching his lab coat out of his locker and jamming his arms into the sleeves.
"I'm sorry. I really am, but…"
Ray paused, gathering himself together before he said or did something he might not regret. It wasn't Morris's fault that half the doctors had called in. It wasn't his fault that Ray hadn't gotten any sleep. And Morris wasn't responsible for Jason's idiocy. A beautiful vision of his hands around Jason's throat made Ray smile for a moment before he shook it off.
"Don't worry about it. Once we get some of the board cleaned up, I'm going to the on call room for some shut eye."
Morris paused. "If you can get Jason to come in, then you can go home."
Ray raised an eyebrow. If he got Jason to come in, it would be to wring the little shit's neck.
"Deal," he snapped, and headed for the door. "Let me make a quick phone call, and I'll get started."
Morris nodded and veered off toward an exam room while Ray made a bee line for the desk. He ignored Frank's mocking look as he snatched up the phone and dialed Jason's number. The phone rang twice before it was picked up and a voice on the other end was snapping in annoyance.
"I told you…"
"You told me what?" Ray asked dangerously.
"Barnett! I thought you were Morris. I told him earlier, I have something going here and I can't…"
"You can't see your way clear to come in tonight. I know. I heard."
"You know how it is, man," Williams' voice lowered conspiratorially. "I've heard the stories…"
"I know three things right now, Williams," Ray broke in, holding tight to his temper. "One. I don't care what you've heard about me. You aren't me. Two. Morris is your boss and I think he can manage to write your pink slip without too much trouble. And three. If you're not in here within two hours, don't bother showing up again. Ever. You got that?"
There was a long silence on the line before Jason's curt affirmative cut through.
"See you in a couple of hours," Ray snapped and hung up.
He blew out a breath, leaning on his hands against the desk as he tried to bring his temper under control. Christ his leg was killing him!
"That was impressive."
"Shut up, Frank."
"Bite me," Ray muttered, snatching up a chart to scan the contents. He'd never thought that he would become such a hard ass, but dammit! He was tired of the slacker. One of these days he was going to have to call Weaver and apologize for his past stupidity. He glanced at Frank as he passed.
"Don't you have something to do?"
Frank held up his hands, muttering about something that Ray didn't care to hear. The phone on the desk rang and the man went to answer it, cutting off anything else he might have said. Ray forced a smile and waded through the full hall to his first patient.
It was all he could do later that morning to just climb the steps to his apartment building. His leg was throbbing in time to his heartbeat and felt as if he'd just been hit all over again. Jason had decided to wait an extra hour past the deadline to actually show up. The dark look in his deep brown eyes as he'd passed the desk had dared Ray to say anything about it. Ray ground his teeth as he finally made his way to the elevator. He intended to do something about it, but not until he'd had the chance to let his temper cool. If he'd said anything then, there would have been bloodshed.
The apartment was silent when he finally entered. Neela had gone in around ten though it was supposed to be her day off. The place had still been packed, but the day staff had all shown up, so she wouldn't have to stay long. As it was, she'd find him dead asleep when she did come home.
He closed the door behind him, dropping his bag to the floor next to the door before trudging grimly to their room. He had the sense of mind to kick off his shoes before falling fully clothed onto the bed. All he could feel was relief to at last be lying down and sleep claimed him without so much as a whimper of protest.
But when the phone rang beside his head, he was fully awake and ready to fight. He didn't care if Morris was being attacked by ten foot gorillas; he wasn't coming back in until tomorrow. The hairy apes could have him. Cursing, he snatched the phone off the base and jammed his finger into the button, not bothering to lift his head from the pillow.
"If this isn't life or death, I'm hanging up."
As quickly as that, his anger cooled Ray was fully awake, a hard knot of dread settling in the pit of his stomach.
"Aunt Amy?" he asked, lifting his head to peer at the clock. He'd only been asleep for an hour. But Amy wouldn't have called him for no reason.
"Ray, honey, I have to tell you something. Your dad…"
Ray sighed heavily and ran his hand through his hair. He'd long since given up on his father ever getting help for his problem. Alcohol was a cruel mistress to live with, but Richard Barnett had lived with it for twenty years. He'd never been cruel. Never hit Ray in a fit of drunken anger. Hadn't even raised his voice. But the embarrassment had been more than Ray could take most days. Knowing every bar between their home and Orlando, and every bar owner knowing him…a ten year old kid, was just sad. Getting up early so that you could bring in aspirin and orange juice mixed with a little hair of the dog wasn't something that a child should have to do. But Ray had done it. He'd listened to the broken apologies, the promises to do better, the slobbering tears when his father had slipped up yet again. He'd heard it all and had finally stopped believing.
"What is it this time, Amy? Another DUI? How much will he need for bail?"
There was a muted sob on the other end of the line and the sound of shuddering breathing.
"It's not that this time, Ray. Honey, your father…he…"
And just like that, Ray knew what she was having so much trouble saying. The knot twisted even tighter, making him wonder if he was going to throw up soon. His breathing rasped in and out of his lungs so hard that he almost had to force it. His father was dead.
"When?" he asked hoarsely, not trusting himself to say anything else. What else was there to say? What was done was done. He couldn't change it, and he couldn't absorb it.
"Last night. The doctors say it was a heart attack. They say he didn't suffer…"
Yeah, Ray thought a little bitterly. He didn't suffer at all. He'd half expected this call for years now, telling him that his dad's liver had turned into a rotted sieve from alcohol. A heart attack was kind of a dénouement to what he'd assumed would happen.
"When is the service?" he asked his now sobbing aunt. He was too tired to try and comfort her, and his own tattered emotions too raw. He could imagine her sitting in her kitchen, her sweetly pretty face flushed with her grief, her blonde hair pulled back in a barrette to trail down her back. He could even see the way her plump little hands fluttered against her throat as she wept.
"Sunday. You'll come won't you? I know that you and your father…"
She trailed off as if sensing his sudden flash of anger. He and his father hadn't spoken in six months, but there had been at least an uneasy peace between them. What had happened in the past between them was gone. Done and over with. There was no use or purpose in bringing it up.
"I'll be there," he said shortly. "I'll call with my flight plans."
She was silent for a long moment before she sighed.
"He did love you, Ray. You know that right?"
Ray closed his eyes and rubbed the lids with two fingers.
"Thank you," she said softly. "I'll be waiting for your call."
Ray let his arm relax, dropping the phone into his lap. He should never have answered it…