Getting Even With Dan
Gabrielle Jaeger watched the group of colleagues from the Emergency Department of All Saints Western General who were seated around a table at Cougars, the local watering hole that many of the hospital's staff members frequented. As the Nurse Unit Manager, she worked business hours which meant she was got to witness a lot of the interactions every Friday night, and tonight was no exception.
There was her subordinate, Cate McMasters, an excellent nurse but one with a chequered past when it came to her personal relationships, and something told Gabrielle that her friend Jo, who had only today reappeared in her life – attempting to break into the house that Cate no longer lived at – would not be a good influence on Cate. She struck Gabrielle as an irresponsible party girl who didn't place much value in friendships – beyond what she could get out of it. Loyalty and responsibility meant to a lot to Gabrielle, and she got the feeling she wouldn't like Jo much.
Then there were doctors Zoe Gallagher and Sean Eveleigh. Gabrielle sensed that there was something going on between them, but if there was, neither of them was saying and Gabrielle wasn't the type to pry. She found prying led to reciprocated prying, and Gabrielle had no desire to share the details of her private life. Her reasons for coming to Sydney were still painful to think about.
And then there was Doctor Jack Quade and his friend and housemate Nurse Dan Goldman. Jack, as a surgeon, wasn't actually part of the ED staff but he seemed to spend more time in the ED than he did in the surgical wing of the hospital. Gabrielle suspected this was partly because he had a lot of mates in the ED and felt more at ease here than in the surgical wing and part of that was that his boss, Bianca Frost, for some reason hated him and Jack heartily disliked being anywhere near her.
Which, until very recently, had included his own home. Dan had been having a fling with her and had made it clear to Jack that he was to make himself scarce. For over a week, Jack had been sleeping in on-call rooms at the hospital, hardly conducive to a good night's sleep. And when Jack had found out Bianca was married, and told Dan, Dan had been less than appreciative of Jack's concern. The tension between the two men who had otherwise made for good friends, colleagues and housemates had culminated in Dan telling Jack he could leave if he didn't like the way things were, and Jack saying he would do just that.
They seemed to be on good terms now. Gabrielle wondered if Dan had apologised for his treatment of Jack. It was a pretty lousy way to treat a friend. And he seemed like a nice guy, too. She had heard so many stories about him when she had first started working at the hospital six months ago, stories about how he had a different girl each night and especially had a penchant for blonds and nurses in the ED NUM's position. But he had been nothing but gentlemanly towards her. He was a born-and-bred Sydney boy and had often suggested things to do and see. And he never made cracks about being a country hick when she demonstrated her ignorance about all things Big City. He'd even given her his mobile number and told her to call him if she ever stumbled into trouble. He'd told her that he knew there were a lot of bad people and bad situations in a city as big as Sydney, especially for a country girl like her, so if she ever got into trouble - and the real kicker was, he actually seemed sincere about offering nothing but support and wanting nothing from her but friendship. It had been a while since a guy had made her feel so respected. He was certainly a far cry from her ex-boyfriend Steve... but she didn't want to think about him right now.
She managed to time her exit from Cougars with Jack's. "Hey," she said, falling into step beside him.
"Hey," he said, a little distracted. Things between him and Dan were strange. Jack was sure Dan was OK with him staying on – wanted him too, even, because the two men had enjoyed an excellent rapport before this Bianca Frost fiasco – but... Dan had never said anything to that effect. It was like buying him a beer was meant to say it all. And maybe Jack was from a different school of friendship, but to him, you didn't make up for screwing over your mate so you could get laid, telling them they could leave if they didn't like it in front of half a dozen colleagues and getting pissed off when you showed concern about their involvement with a married woman by buying them a beer.
So he wasn't particularly in the mood for idle chit-chat with Dan's boss, although he got on with Gabrielle well. Hmm, he didn't have to work tomorrow, maybe he would go over to his sister's – for someone studying law, she seemed to have an awful lot of nights free to drink others under the table – and commiserate with her.
"Things OK with Dan?" she asked.
"So... he apologised and asked you to stay?"
Jack gritted his teeth. It bothered him that Gabrielle had cottoned onto his thoughts almost as much as Dan's lack of consideration and apology had. "No," he said shortly.
"Pretty lousy," she said.
"Yeah? What do you know?" He hadn't meant to be short with her, but he really didn't feel like talking about it.
"Let's just say I know what it's like to have a friend be selfish and inconsiderate when it comes to sex," Gabrielle said, a little more bitterly than she had intended. Jack looked at her sharply, wondering what was behind those words. "Look," she blurted out. "I have an idea. I'm sure Dan's sorry but he has a male pride and won't admit it. And I'm sure he'll miss you once you're gone and actually realise how lousy he was... so why don't you stay with me? It won't take more than a few weeks for him to realise how he behaved was pretty rotten."
"What?" Jack asked. Gabrielle started her spiel again. "No, I heard you. I just... wow, this is so... sudden." And yet... he would thoroughly enjoy the look on Dan's face when Jack informed him that he was indeed moving out, just as Dan had said he could if he wasn't happy with the status quo. To be able to tell Dan that he was doing just that and without delay... he had to admit, the idea was very appealing. "And what happens if he's found another housemate after a few weeks... or has decided he prefers living alone?"
"I doubt he will." He could always ask Erica to move in, but Erica seemed to like the independence of having her own little apartment. "And even if he does – how old are you, twenty-five?"
"You're a twenty-six year old surgeon. I'm sure it won't hurt you to get your own place. Look, at least come take a look. What else are you going to do? Go home and get drunk and feel sorry for yourself?"
"Actually, I was planning on going to my sister's and getting drunk and feeling sorry for myself," Jack said, grinning despite himself. There was something likeable about a woman who seemed to know exactly what he was thinking... and thought along the same lines.
Hell, if Gabrielle had the same strong sense of loyalty and honesty that he had, it could be fun, living with her. At least for a few weeks.
"I can't believe she stole my housemate! My boss stole my housemate!" Dan grumbled to no-one in particular in the tea room a few days later.
"This would be the housemate that you told where the door was in front of a dozen witnesses?" Bart asked with a grin.
"Yeah," Dan admitted. He hadn't meant the words when he had said them, and he certainly hadn't meant the after he had come to realise that Bianca was a manipulative tramp and Jack had only been trying to do the right thing by him. Trying, and failing. Dan was increasingly bugged by the feeling that Bianca hadn't even been interested in him for himself, just as a pawn to use against the illogical grudge she had against Jack, and knowing that getting laid had meant more to him than his friend made him feel particularly low with that knowledge.
"The friend you made sleep at the hospital so you could get laid?" Charlotte added to Dan's embarrassment. She had no sympathy for him; he only had himself to blame. She certainly wouldn't have put up with Dan's behaviour... she would have been more likely to invite Vincent and whoever else she could rope in over to cramp Dan's style. She grinned wickedly at the thought. If she had known what was going on, she would have invited herself over in solidarity with Jack.
"Yeah, that one," Dan admitted, feeling even smaller. How had Gabrielle gotten in so quickly? Well, he had mentioned more than once that Jack was an absolute dream to live with – he cooked, he cleaned, he paid the rent and his share of the bills on time, and if he saw women – either dated them or just slept with them – he was remarkably discreet about it. Which, he knew, was far more than could be said for himself.
"The friend who's boss you were sleeping with? The boss who hated his guts?" Erica asked. She was very fond of Dan, but she enjoyed needling him. She knew Dan was thinking of asking her to move in with him, but she wasn't interested. She liked her one-person apartment, not having to share her space, and besides, what was to stop Dan pulling such a stunt again the next time an attractive woman grabbed his attention? Dan just sank in his chair at that comment, wishing he had never said anything.
"You know, I never understood what Bianca's thing with Jack was about," Charlotte mused. "It's not about men – she sleeps with enough of them that it's not about men. And it's not about surgeons, either, 'cos she has her eye on Vincent."
"Threatened, Charlotte?" Erica teased.
Charlotte made a face. "God, no. As if Vincent would go anywhere near someone like her... sorry, Dan," she added when she realised how her words could come across. "But, seriously, there's something really off about her. She hates him, and he has no idea why. And Jack's not the type to go away incurring people's wrath without remembering why."
Gabrielle was knawing at the bone of a chicken leg when she noticed Jack was looking at her, a slight smirk playing on his lips. "Sorry," she said, feeling embarrassed when she realised she was stripping the bone of every bit of delicious, Tandoori-infused flesh.
"It's fine. It's flattering that you like it that much. But I can always make you more."
"Dan didn't like your cooking this much, then?" Gabrielle asked.
"He liked it well enough, but if left to his own devices, he was strictly a microwave-dinner-and-takeout guy," Jack said. Gabrielle, who had been brought up on farm-fresh food, shuddered at the thought. "My dad and brothers were the same. The only other person I've lived with who appreciated my cooking with my old landlady, Mary."
"This is the place that burnt down?" Gabrielle asked. Jack nodded. "Must have been tough."
"Kinda. I mean, yeah, but I've never really felt attached to any particular place so it was more the hassle of moving again and replacing all my stuff than anything else."
For some reason, that struck Gabrielle as even sadder than the toughness of having to build everything over again when your place burned to the ground. "Well, I think you'll enjoy living here," she said confidently. It couldn't possibly be worse than living with someone who expected you to make yourself scarce when they wanted to get laid. She finished off the last of her chicken and thought for a second. "You know, Bianca Frost is convinced there's something between us," she said with a laugh. She didn't give a crap what the arrogant surgeon thought.
Jack made a face. "If I had known that, I would never have agreed to stay here," he said. "I hate the idea of dragging you into this thing I have with her."
Gabrielle shrugged. "I don't care. I'm sure I would have run afoul of her eventually, anyway. I tend not to get along with arrogant jerks who think the world doesn't apply to them." Jack laughed at that, thinking that Gabrielle was probably onto something. It would only be a matter time before Bianca's arrogant selfishness came up against Gabrielle's no-bullshit honesty and made life-long enemies out of the two women.
Something in Jack's words and tone caught Gabrielle's attention when she paused to think about it. "What do you mean, this thing you have with her?" she asked. "I thought this was a one-sided thing."
"It is... kind of," Jack said. "Look, this is between us, OK?" Gabrielle nodded. "Frost is her husband's name; her name, the name she has her doctorate in, is Miller. That's how I worked it out. I went to uni with her."
"And you slept with her," Gabrielle realised. "Jack!" she admonished him. "You slept with her and you didn't even remember!"
"Look, I slept with a lot of people at uni," he protested. "I didn't get her drunk or rape her or promise her anything. It wasn't my fault she thought one night meant I owed her something."
"Oh, you want credit for not getting someone drunk to have sex with you?" Gabrielle asked sarcastically, thinking about Steve – and thinking that maybe she had misjudged Jack to be a decent guy.
"No, I don't," Jack said peevishly. "But I don't think it's fair that this woman twisted it around so I became the bad guy and is holding it against me years later. So I slept with her, big deal. I like sex and I refuse to be slut-shamed for it." His eyes glittered dangerously.
"I thought it was only girls who could be slut-shamed," she said ruefully, thinking about growing up in a conservative farming community. "Catholic upbringing?" she asked.
"Worse. Cuckolded step-mother who took all her anger at her husband's infidelities out on his bastard son," he said, with more bitterness than he had intended. He never talked about his unhappy childhood, and certainly not to people who were almost strangers.
"Jesus, I'm sorry."
Jack shrugged. "It's no big deal, and it certainly wasn't your fault. But it took me a long time to think about sex as something that didn't have to be dirty and shameful and damned if anyone is going to judge me and undo all that."
There was something in his words that grabbed Gabrielle for a moment. She had always thought he'd had it easy – good looks, vast intelligence... and yet, he'd had to struggle with his self-identity and likeability, just like her... more than her. And here was Bianca Frost doing her damndest to make him pay for some dumb thing that she'd expected too much out of anyway.
"Why don't you tell people the truth?" Gabrielle asks. "There's plenty of people out there who would love to see Bianca with egg on her face."
"Mostly I just feel sorry for her. She can't be happy if she's holding onto this nothing grudge from years ago. She infuriates me sometimes but after a few minutes I just... feel sorry for her."
"That's very wise."
Jack shrugged. "My step-mother hated me. I mean, really hated me. And for a long time I hated her... until I realised how unhappy she was and how repressed she felt that her only means of voicing her anger was to take it out on me... you can't hate people that you pity."
Gabrielle digested Jack's words slowly. So true. She thought about her ex. In the grips of alcoholism, he would never have a strong relationship with a decent woman – only shallow connections with tramps like the one he had cheated on her with – and before too long, he would lose his job over it, while she was going from strength to strength professionally, even – slowly – making friends that enriched her life more than anyone could have back in her small hometown. And yet –
"Who are you thinking about?" Jack asked mildly, interrupting her thoughts.
"What?" Gabrielle asked, a little startled.
"You're thinking about someone. And given what we were just talking about, I'd say that they were someone who hurt you. Badly enough that you can't help but hate them."
Gabrielle blushed. She hadn't realised Jack was capable of such insight. She had never quite been able to shake the notion that the only thing he knew about women were their bodies. "My ex," she said. "He cheated on me – with my best friend – I found out 'cos he gave me Chlamydia – and then when it clicked that I wasn't going to get back with him, he made up a lot of stuff about me. Small country town, some people are always going to believe what the only doctor who's willing to work there will say. It's a large reason that I came here. I felt I needed to start afresh."
"Ouch," Jack said sympathetically. He had been cheated on, it practically came with the territory when you worked such unsociable hours, but he'd never stopped finding it to be an unconscionable act. If you couldn't keep it in your pants, then you shouldn't be in a relationship.
Gabrielle shrugged. "If you saw Ashley, you'd understand. She's gorgeous and sexy and – "
"And you fell for that rubbish?" Jack asked. "People don't cheat 'cos someone's prettier or whatever than what they've already got. They cheat 'cos they're jerks who think of nothing more than their own selfish pleasure. If you really care about someone, as much as you do about yourself and what you want, then you don't cheat."
"You're making that up," Gabrielle accused him.
"I am not. Look, my step-mother's gorgeous, or at least she was before she drank her looks away, she's the last person you'd think someone would cheat on. But dad did it anyway. It just wasn't in his nature to give a crap about anyone or anything other than his own selfish desires. Cheaters are just like that. They're going to cheat and there's nothing their partners can do about it. You could have Mother Theresa's temperament and Jennifer Hawkins's looks and it wouldn't have mattered."
Gabrielle nodded slightly. It made sense and it was of some comfort to her that Steve would probably have still cheated on her even if, in Jack's words, she had been a cross between Mother Theresa and Jennifer Hawkins. "Have you ever...?" she asked tentatively.
"I'm sure by now you've heard about me and Charlotte?" he asked. Gabrielle nodded. People had rushed to tell her under the guise on wanting to warn her about Jack but actually wanting to share gossip. It had certainly been one of the biggest pieces of scandal to hit the hospital in recent memory, of when Jack had slept with and gotten pregnant the best friend of his very-recent-ex-girlfriend (some people suggested that they hadn't even been broken up at the time, that Terri had dumped him because of it, not the other way around), a woman who was supposed to be a loud-and-proud lesbian, none other than Charlotte Beaumont. Charlotte had miscarried, and Terri had left the country less than a year later. Terri had been – and remained – a legend at All Saints, a nun from when the hospital had been run by the Catholic Church, and there were plenty of people that whispered that the event had broken Terri's heart so thoroughly that she had felt her only way out was to leave the country.
Yes, she had heard about it.
"We were broken up at the time – that day, actually. Char and I were dumped by our girlfriends on the same day and we got really drunk... I felt awful about it the moment I woke up. We'd broken up so I know it wasn't technically cheating, but..." he shrugged, struggling to find the words. "I don't like my step-mother. She took all her disappointment and bitterness out on a kid. But I saw how much disappointment and bitterness dad's screwing around brought her. That night with Charlotte was the closest I've ever come to cheating on someone... and I still feel awful about it."
His admission floored Gabrielle. Not just that Jack took infidelity so seriously that he still felt bad about something he'd done when he technically hadn't been in a relationship, but how different his attitude was to Steve's. She couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to be in a relationship with someone like Jack, to be secure that Jennifer Hawkins could flit by in a bikini and he wouldn't give more than a passing glance, if that...
"What's the deal with you and Charlotte?" she asked after a comfortable lull in the conversation. "I don't mean to pry, but..."
"It's a bit odd for a so-called lesbian to have had her last two sexual partners be men?" Jack offered with a wry grin; he and Charlotte were well aware how much talk there was about them, both individually and together. They had made peace with it months ago and learnt to laugh at it. "Look, you won't tell anyone, will you?"
"Of course not."
Something told Jack that Gabrielle wasn't the type to gossip. There was a very trustworthy essence about her. He wondered what it would be like to have a close friend like her, someone you could be secure in the knowledge that they had your back. "I always got the feeling Charlotte was bisexual. She and Vincent have chemistry, that's obvious, but they married young, too young, like, five years younger than what I am now." Gabrielle nodded slightly as she let the information sink in. Jack had said he was twenty-six; that made him two years older than her, hardly anything at all given how much older Steve had been. She couldn't fathom being married five years ago. "Anyway, I think there was a certain intimacy lacking that comes from maturity and experience and she found that in a woman and decided that meant she was a lesbian. Then there was me and then Spence and that kind of blew apart that theory. That's why I say I think she was always bisexual. I think people like Charlotte are attracted to a person, not a gender."
"That's very profound."
Jack grinned. "Yeah, well, maybe I've just had too much to drink and I'm making up shit as I go along." He stood up. "On that note, I think I'll go to bed. See you in the morning. You too, Angel," he said to Gabrielle's pet kelpie. She and the dog seemed quite possessive of each other so Jack figured it was in his best interest to get the animal to warm to him. Besides, he'd never had a pet, let alone something as energetic as a dog, and the thought of the experience brought out the child in him.
"Night, Jack," Gabrielle said. Angel barked. Since his mistress seemed quite taken with him, he decided to put this stranger on probation.
Dan eyed Gabrielle's lunch jealously. It looked a whole lot more appetising than his own leftover pizza. "Is that –?" he asked, kicking himself once more for losing his temper and telling Jack to get out. He really hadn't meant to. He had known, even as the words were coming out of his mouth, that Jack was right and he was wrong and that he shouldn't have been involved with a married colleague. It was just that Jack could be so bloody sanctimonious about infidelity, as if he was the only person in the world who had ever grown up witness to a marriage undermined by infidelity.
It was just that Jack had managed to remind him how much his mother hated the other woman – or women – that had been in his father's life following the accident that had made his brother a quadriplegic, how devastated she had been to find out. It was a line Dan had sworn he wouldn't cross, and he had done so knowingly after he had found out that Bianca was married, and Jack had managed to make him feel like the same shit that he'd thought of his father as at the time, and Dan hadn't liked it one bit. It had been easier to lash out at Jack than admit to his own shortcomings.
And now Jack had taken him up on his directive to move out and Gabrielle was eating what should be his lunch.
"Chicken parmie?" Gabrielle finished for him, taking note of the fact Dan was following her food with longing in the same way the dogs would when she would tease them as a child, waving it around and watching their heads go back and forth as their eyes followed the food that she waved around. Dan had never looked so sorry to lose Jack as a housemate as he did now, contemplating leftover takeout pizza for lunch. "Yeah. Delicious, isn't it?" And she took a long, savouring mouthful to rival a commercial of chocolate.
If Dan didn't know her better – which he thought he did – he would have sworn she as doing it deliberately. "Can I...?" he asked hopefully.
Gabrielle pulled her plate out of reach. "Forget it," she said. "This cost me a carton of beer. Good stuff, too. Jack doesn't drink VB." Which, growing up on a border NSW town closer to Melbourne than Sydney, made him the first man she knew who didn't. Oh, no. Jack drank premium beer, the further away it had to be shipped from, the better. "I suppose I should be lucky that he settled for some place in WA and not Germany."
"Huh?" asked Dan.
They'd started talking about the things they liked to cook, and when Jack had mentioned he did an unforgettable chicken parmigana, she had contested him. Winner got a carton of beer. Of their choice, Jack had added. Gabrielle had been too full of her superior cooking skills and too ignorant of connoisseur beers to realise how expensive it could get. Well, now she knew. This Black Widow or whatever it was called had better be good, it was costing her enough. And like hell was she sharing the leftovers. "Unless you want to go halves in a carton," she offered.
"Sixty plus freight."
Dan laughed despite himself. He didn't want it that badly. Though it looked so tempting... "You got off lightly," he said. "I learnt very quickly to put dollar caps when I was betting alcohol with Jack. I once had to cough up for a bottle of Scotch from Edinburgh. Hey, did you know it's like, two and a half dollars to the pound..."
Jack caught up with Gabrielle later. "Dan looked like he was ready to fake an emergency to distract me and grab the parmie," Gabrielle laughed. "I've seen untrained puppies with more discipline than him when it came to following food with their eyes." Jack laughed at that, laughed like a schoolboy who's just pulled off a particularly funny but basically harmless joke, and Gabrielle found herself thinking that he had the most enchanting laugh. "Did you really trick Dan into thinking the pound and dollar were equal?" she asked.
Jack laughed at that, too. "No, Dan did that all by himself. I love the guy, he just... has no idea what currencies are worth against each other. Plus, I may have let Terri take a cut for knowing the most expensive Scotch, too. How she knew, I'm not sure I want to know." He laughed again, but it was a pleasant, nostalgic laugh, not bitter or longing like he wasn't over his ex, and Gabrielle found that she liked that in him. "Hey, speaking of which, it's not going to cost you a hundred bucks. I know one of the guys at Matilda Bay so I get a really good price and I figured since your parmie was close, a six-pack is yours, so... call it forty."
Gabrielle was oddly touched by the fact that Jack had thought it was funny he had screwed Dan, partly though his premium tastes and partly through Dan's stupidity... and here he was, offering her a significant deal. "What did you and Dan bet on?" she asked. "I mean, when you took him for a ride over a bottle of Scotch?"
Jack grinned. "It was over who could make the best pizza. He thought he could whack a McCain's thing in the oven and compete with a recipe I've been perfecting for ten years."
Gabrielle laughed at that. "Then he deserved to lose his money. And I'll win you back with my roast."
Without realising, she had allowed Jack to wrap his arm around her waist and she put her head on his shoulder as he lead her to her car.