Tom POV Present Day
"Ok, I'll get right on it," I said, dismissing the woman from my office. This was the second social worker sent my way in the last half hour. Something about Christina not letting them do their job. Normally I would've already checked up on her by now, but things seemed to be going pretty smoothly. No major hubbub in the ER, save for the two crash victims brought in earlier. I should've known that things have been too quiet here all day.
I chuckled as I watched another child services agent corner an unsuspecting Christina at the nurses' station.
"How much longer do you think it'll be?" the pencil neck asked.
"Oh, I don't know," Christina shrugged. "What do you think Bobbie?"
Bobbie shot her a menacing glare, most likely for her dragging her into something that would probably get quite messy later, before answering: "could be a while."
"Yes, yes," Christina agreed. "Quite a while."
Pencil neck obviously didn't buy it, but he retreated anyway. "I'll be back later."
The little boy came out of hiding from behind her legs, and tugged on her sleeve. She crouched down and let him whisper into her ear. She smiled and said, "of course sweetie," then took his small hand into hers, leading him to his mother's room.
I probably shouldn't be standing here staring at her like some kind of crazed stalker, but I couldn't help it. I loved seeing her like this. When she was in her element.
"See something you like?" Bobbie smirked. I jumped slightly at the sound of her voice. When did she get here?
"I was wondering when you'd realize I've been standing here for like ten minutes. Not really, but still," she teased. "Good to see you're still with us though."
"I – I . . ." I couldn't come up with a smart retort fast enough. What I wouldn't give for some of Christina's sass right now. It's definitely rubbed off on Bobbie.
"Don't worry, your secret's safe with me," she winked, as she left me standing here dumbfounded.
"Oh hey, Tom," Christina smiled. "Did I just hear Bobbie in here?"
"No?" I said, only it came out sounding more like a question.
"Oh," she frowned. "Coffee must not have worked its way up to my brain yet."
"How is he?" I asked, changing the subject.
"He's okay," she sighed. "Just a few minor scrapes and bruises."
"Have they called child services?" I ask, even though I already know the answer.
"Actually," she said slowly. "He's staying with me."
"Of course he is." While that wasn't what I was expecting to hear, I wasn't entirely surprised.
Tom POV Spring 1990
The new year had come and gone, meaning I was another year older. Christina's birthday actually wasn't that long after mine, six days to be exact, which was a pleasant surprise; at least I won't have to worry about forgetting.
But now it was spring break. And instead of partying, I was in Christina's garage, watching her lace up her roller skates.
"Before I grow a beard, Tom," Christina complained. "I've been itching to do this for a while, and today is the first day it's actually warm enough to stay outside. We are not wasting this opportunity."
I chuckled. "How are my legs supposed to keep up with your skates?"
"You take my bike, silly," she laughed. "This is Dex," she continued, introducing her bicycle as though it were a person.
"You named your bike?" I asked.
"I name everything," she shrugged. "What?" she inquired at my hesitancy.
"Am I supposed to get on that thing?" I asked leering at the baby blue contraption that was surely older than both of us combined.
"Don't listen to him Dex," she said before turning to me. "Don't diss the bike. I picked him out on my 13th birthday. He just looked so sad amongst all the other bicycles, like he didn't belong, so I took him home. Just 'cause he doesn't have ten speeds or varying levels of resistance, doesn't mean he doesn't need love," she pouted. "Besides, they don't make them like this anymore."
"I'm sure there's a good reason for that," I muttered.
"Stop hurting his feelings," she warned.
"You're crazy," I said.
"You say that all the time," she dismissed.
"No, but I mean it this time. You're certifiable."
"Come on, slow poke," she teased.
"Don't you just love nature?" she mused after our third circle around the block. "Everything is just so open, and unpredictable, and free!" she yelled as she twirled in a perfect circle on her skates, her arms extended about her. She couldn't look more perfect; smiling up at the sun, making her wild hair tumble down her back.
But she really ought to stop doing that. It was doing weird things to my suddenly fluttery stomach.
"We should go to the beach tomorrow," she added randomly.
"You do realize it's gonna take a good two hours to get there," I frowned as the baseball card she had pinned – yes, she pinned a baseball card to the spokes of her bicycle – flapped noisily when we rounded yet another corner.
"We can make a day trip out of it," she suggested.
"Okay," I smiled. That actually didn't sound like a bad idea. "I'll ask my mom when we get home."
"Yeah, I forgot about that detail," she cringed. "Let's head back. I need to start practicing on how I'm going to warm my mom up to this."
"I take it she said yes," I groaned when Christina barged into my room the next morning and started jumping on my bed.
"Mhm," she nodded. "But only because she likes you. She almost said no until I pulled the Tom card. I should try that more often," she said, slightly breathless from her bouncing.
"Would you cut that out?" I mumbled. While I was glad that Christina was comfortable enough to let herself in, she had a key to my house and I to hers since we spent so much time together, I did not welcome this particular wakeup call. I mean the sun wasn't even out yet.
"Come on, get up. We're wasting precious driving time," she urged, yanking the covers off of me. "Well hello Tom's naked chest – "
"I'm up, I'm up!" I said, exasperated. Note to self: sleep with shirt on.
We listened to The Beatles for most of the drive over. It was quite amusing watching Christina bob her head to Live and Let Die, sunglasses on, while the wind whipped her hair about because the windows were down. I even joined her on the chorus a time or two. Well I hummed while she sang.
"Green or yellow?" she asked.
I looked over at her while she awaited my answer. "What kind of a question is that?" I said, turning my eyes back to the road.
"Umm, the kind that I'm asking you right now," she responded in a 'duh' tone.
I laughed. "Yellow."
"Good choice," she smiled, putting her foot up on the dashboard.
After a couple of minutes of uncharacteristic silence, I glanced over to catch her 'concentrating' face on. It was one of the many faces she had, each more interesting than the last. This one was one of my favorites though. She looked laughably adorable with her eyebrows furrowed and her tongue peeking out of the side of her lip. "You're painting your toenails in the car?"
"Why not?" she shrugged.
I shook my head, knowing better than to open that can of worms as I exited the expressway.
After chasing Christina into the water, we were lying down on our towels under the beach umbrella we had rented, letting the sun evaporate the seawater off our skin. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't – distracted by Christina's little white bathing suit. Let's just say I was sad yet relieved when she asked me for my shirt to cover up.
"How about them?" I said, nodding towards the older couple walking hand-in-hand down the beach. "What's their story?"
"They're here on their 44th anniversary," she started. "They got married on her birthday by the way, and they were high school sweethearts. They were best friends, and though they didn't realize it at the time, madly in love. Then Hiroshima happened. He got drafted Christmas day, 1941. She was terrified. She didn't know how to say what she felt for him, and after he left, she thought she'd never see him again. But he came back, four years later, and they got married after a week," she sighed.
She always came up with the most imaginative descriptions when we played our game. "How do you know he was in the military?" I teased. "And maybe they're just taking a nice stroll on the beach."
"Where's the fun in that?" she asked. "I like my version better. And besides, I can see his dog tags from here."
"I'll give you that one," I chuckled. "You hungry?"
"You bet," she said. "There's this cute little sandwich shack walking distance from here called John John's. They have the best paninis and just about everything else," she added, pulling her shorts on. She helped me up, and I let her lead the way.
"Is that the line?" I asked, staring at the stream of people stretching past the entrance.
"Oh I forgot that little tidbit. Come on let's go," she said, dragging me around to the back of the small building.
"Are you sure we're supposed to be back here?" I piped up when she started to pick the lock on the back door.
She looked back at me, but didn't answer before pushing the door open. She pulled me into a noisy kitchen area. I was sure we'd run into one of the workers rushing about, but Christina seemed unfazed.
"John!" she shouted, causing a stocky, older gentlemen to look over in our direction.
"Christina," he smiled in response, pulling her into a bone crushing hug. "Look at you, you're getting bigger and bigger every time I see you! How old are you now? Twelve? Thirteen?"
"Seventeen," she said, shoving him playfully.
"Feh! You're making me feel old," he frowned. "Is this your boyfriend?" he asked, gesturing towards me. I'm sure my face was as red as the marsala my mom liked to cook with – and not because I forgot to put on sunscreen.
"No," she answered quickly. "Well I guess so. He's a boy and he is my friend," she rambled. "But it's not like that," she added.
"I'm Tom," I chuckled, extending my hand. John pulled me into a hug. "Any friend of Christina's is a friend of mine. Now what can I do for you two?"
"We were just coming up from the beach. Wanted to get something to eat," Christina said.
"You still want your usual?"
"You know how I like it John," she smiled.
"And you?" he asked me.
"Make that two," I said.
"Two number fours on Italian, hold the onion!" he shouted over his shoulder. "How's your mother been?"
"She's good," Christina shrugged. "You know, busy with work as usual."
"I haven't seen her in a good while; neither of you for that matter. You know I still remember you when you were ye high," he sighed. "Now look at you. All grown up, driving over to the beach on your own with your boyfriend – "
"Actually, I'm not – " I started.
"Feh!" he dismissed, waving his hands.
Christina just laughed as one of the workers brought us our food in a big brown paper bag.
"I can't promise you kids a table. It's been crazy all day," John said.
"This is more than enough, John. We'll sit out back," she replied, pulling her wallet out.
"I've got it," I said.
"No, it's okay I'll pay."
"Christina – " I started. Unfortunately, this was how it was whenever we went anywhere.
"It's on the house," John said. "And I don't want no discussion from either of you. Now get, you're holding up my kitchen," he teased.
"Thanks John," Christina said, leaning up to kiss him on the cheek.
"You kids have a good time. And say hello to your moms for me," he instructed. "It was nice meeting you, Tom."
"Likewise," I said, as I followed Christina out the back door.
"Don't be a stranger," he shouted after us.
"This isn't exactly a five star restaurant," Christina said as she pulled up two crates for us to sit on. "But, it's the best food you'll find for miles."
"How'd you find this place?" I asked in between mouthfuls.
"I used to come here with my mom all the time when I was younger," she said. "John opened this place back in the fifties. He's managed to keep everything in the family," she explained. "There never used to be this many people when I'd come with my mom, but ever since they did that TV special on the food here, the place has been crawling with tourists," she added, scrunching her nose.
"Well, you were right. This is really good," I said.
"Did you see that?" she asked, staring down the alleyway.
"Over by the boxes," she pointed. "It's a puppy!"
There was in fact a puppy. It couldn't be more than two months old and - oh boy. "Christina," I warned. "It could belong to somebody. For all you know it could be diseased – "
"I wasn't even thinking about that!" she yelled defensively.
"Maybe not, but I know you, Christina."
"Don't worry, we're leaving it here," she said.
Yet I ended up pushing the cart down the pet aisle at the closest super market with Christina barking at me to grab dog food anyway. I thought for sure that I had won that argument. We had gathered our trash and left the alley behind John John's when the dog started following us. And it all went downhill from there.
"Don't give me that look," she said, throwing yet another chew toy into the cart. "He didn't have a collar, and he's practically harmless! Besides, I think Moose likes you already."
"You named it Moose?"
"Yes, I named HIM Moose," she responded coolly.
"But it's a dog," I reminded her.
"It was the first thing that popped into my head!" she argued. "No sense in confusing him now."
"Oh, no, we wouldn't want that," I agreed sarcastically. It was totally okay for the dog to be confused about its species, just not its name.
She ignored my jab and continued. "Tomorrow we'll take him to the vet, and we'll give him a bath. Then we'll go for a walk. Oh and we're gonna need to build you a dog house . . .
Christina POV Present Day
I was eating ice cream in the cafeteria with Siam; he really needed a distraction after witnessing his mom code like that. But now, it seemed as if I was the one in greater need of a distraction. Amanda and Camille were relentless, and once they brought up Michael, I was done.
"Camille, that's it. You're not going!" I hissed.
"But mom – "
Before she could continue, I heard the shattering of a glass bowl behind me. Siam had stiffened and hit the floor before I could catch him.
Ignoring Camille's scream and Amanda's gasp, I switched into nurse mode, tilting his chin up to ensure that his airways would remain unobstructed; if he was having a stroke, which I highly doubted, I didn't want him choking on his tongue. I checked for a pulse and cursed mentally when I didn't find one.
"Code blue!" I shouted. Moments later, we were rushing to ICU, while I kept pumping the oxygen into his mouth.
After confirming paralysis, we transferred him to peds.
"Okay, page OR 2, let them know we're ready for them," Dr. Lamp said
"Wait a minute," I started, placing myself in front of the gurney. "You guys are jumping the gun here." After rattling off the details of the accident and eliminating conditions we had already ruled out with his first examination, I had an epiphany. "I've got it!" I had to go tell Tom.
Much to my dismay, the OR team was already scrubbed in. I knew I shouldn't just barge in there like that, but I was in too much of a hurry to save this woman to dwell on it much. Not so much that I forgot to scrub in before hand, I thought as I tied the mask over my face.
"Tom!" I yelled, slightly breathless from my haste. "Stop the surgery!" Everyone in the room turned and stared at me simultaneously, like I had sprouted a different head.
"Don't operate," I said.
Tom POV Present Day
What the hell? I all but tore my mask off my face as I grabbed Christina, shoving her through the door.
"Ow, you're hurting me!"
"What are you doing?" I hissed.
"I'm saving this woman's life," she said. "And keeping you from making a stupid mistake."
I tried to bite back the awful comments that were brewing in my mind, but my sensibility was losing the current battle with my anger and frustration. "You would know, right? Because you've made so many of them yourself."
She ignored me and continued on her rant. "Her son's potassium levels crashed, and right now they've got him on a – "
"We'll worry about that post-op!"
"Tom, just trust me!" she pleaded.
"Why, because you know better?" I spat. I know I should feel sorry for being so harsh, but I couldn't find it in me. Who the hell barges into an operating room and stops life-saving surgery?
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" she asked.
"David is refusing treatment because you told him he's healed! You're interfering, Christina. Just like you told Bobbie earlier with the burn patient!"
"Tom, that was different and you know it! Cutting this woman open could mean her life. That doesn't compare to a woman refusing amputation. Ji-Sun and David aren't your lab rats!" she countered.
"And you're not a doctor!" I shouted. Her eyes widened, and I instantly regretted everything I just said. She tore herself out of my grip, and took off, leaving me feeling cheap, remorseful, and just all around shitty in general. If it weren't for the fact that this woman's life was in jeopardy, I would have gone after her. But instead I turned back into the OR.
My team looked up at me expectantly, and I sighed. I really don't know what came over me but I said: 'Start a slow push, potassium chloride."
As I took my gloves off, I answered my own question from earlier. Christina barges into operating rooms and stops life-saving surgery because she cared. Because she wanted to do right by everyone who came through here, even if they weren't her patient. Enough so that she would willingly risk her job to save a complete stranger.
And now, I may or may not have just made her cry. God, I'm an ass.
Christina POV Present Day
I hated this. The screaming matches with Tom. And while they didn't happen often, I wouldn't object if they never happened again. His words hurt, and he had yet to let go of my arms. While he wasn't physically hurting me, my mind instantly transported me back to that scared little girl in that bathroom the summer before freshman year of high school, before I even knew Tom existed. And I freaked.
I needed distance, and the roof wasn't an option; he'd find me too easily there. And right now I wanted nothing more than to be alone.
Tom POV Present Day
"How do you always know where to find me?" she asked, her voice uncharacteristically silent.
I slid down onto the floor next to her. Ignoring her question, I reached out to touch her shoulder and tell her just how sorry I was. And even though I couldn't see anything in this utter darkness, I could sense that she was flinching away from me; my anger flared up again. Only this time it was directed at myself.
"Have you been crying?" I whispered.
"No," she said quickly. "I wanted to. But I promised myself I wouldn't," she explained. "It seems like every day that promise gets harder to keep. Especially on days like this. And before you start blaming yourself it wasn't entirely your fault," she sighed. "Amanda has been ragging on me all day, undermining my parenting skills, dragging Michael's name into everything. Not to mention, Camille almost ran off to New York with Suzanne under the guise of a school trip. Then there's the whole thing with David, and having to yell at Bobbie, and fighting with you," she paused.
"Well for what it's worth I am sorry," I apologized. "And for the record, there's no one I'd rather argue with more."
I could feel her smile in the darkness. "Thanks, Tom," she said, leaning over to hug me. I kissed the top of her head, inhaling the smell of her hair greedily. "That means a lot," she mumbled into my shoulder.
Of course at that moment the door to the broom closet decided to swing open.
"I'm so sorry," the janitor exclaimed after flipping on the light switch.
"No problem, Hank," Christina winked after extracting herself from my arms, pulling me to a stand along with her. "Well that should feed the rumor mills for a good week or so," she shrugged.
"Make that two," I amended, taking in Hank's amused expression.
Tom POV Spring 1990
It was the last day of spring break, and I was trying to mellow out by listening to the Otis Redding record Christina had lent me. I wasn't far into my favorite track when a ruckus outside the window interrupted my whistling.
Just as I got up to investigate, Christina popped her head into the window.
"Did I miss something?" I just had to ask. "I could've sworn the front door was still in working order."
She lowered the dog in before climbing in herself. "Sorry I just watched Escape from Alcatraz. I was feeling stealthy," she offered. "Besides, Moose was missing his daddy," she cooed.
I laughed and scooped our puppy up into my arms. In the past couple of days, that dog has actually grown on me. And it was funny watching Christina talk to him as if he were a human being; when I had initially brought that up, she simply shrugged and said: "they might understand more than you think."
"I actually needed your help with a math problem," she said.
"We didn't have math homework," I said, confused.
"I know," she answered, taking a crumbled piece of paper out of her pocket.
I pulled out a notebook out of my desk drawer and sat down on the floor next to her, not even bothering to try and convince her to use the desk; I'd spare myself the rant about how she preferred not being caged in behind wood that belonged in the forest.
"Why do you divide like that?" she frowned.
"That's how I learned it in elementary school," I shrugged. Breezing through the remaining steps I knew while this was difficult for most, Christina could do this in her sleep. Don't get me wrong I was happy to help her regardless . . . but she was obviously up to something.
"So . . ." she began. "I heard that Mia sort of has a thing for you." Ah, there goes that dreaded statement again.
"And?" I asked.
"What do you mean and? Are you gonna do anything about it?" she demanded. "Do you like her?"
"We've been over this already. I don't want to talk about it," I said.
"Why not?" she asked. "It's not like I'm gonna say anything to anyone. I'm just trying to help," she offered.
"But that's exactly it," I sighed. "You're not going to help, you're going to meddle."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means you're insufferable Christina! You're always trying to fix everything, even when they don't need fixing. You get in the middle of things that don't concern you, and you never slow down for a minute to just, just – be." While there was some truth to my words, I didn't have to be so harsh about it. But being mean was easier than telling her the truth: I didn't like Mia because I think I'm crushing on someone else – who happens to be my best friend, who I happen to be arguing with right now. I wasn't going to tell her that because that's all it was. A stupid crush that I'd get over once her novelty wore off. There was no need to complicate things.
"Glad you think so highly of me," she said.
"You came here asking for my help," I reminded her.
"You're right," she began "but obviously you don't need mine, so maybe I should just leave!"
"Fine," I yelled.
"Fine!" she shouted back, slamming the door to my room in a huff and causing Moose to whimper.
But before I could mentally debate whether I should go after her, the door swung open again.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I wasn't always like this, you know? I used to like going to parties all the time, and I wanted to be a cheerleader. But things happened that can really change a girl and I'm totally getting off track here," she rambled. "But you're so right, and if you don't want to tell me something I completely understand, and I shouldn't pry," she rushed. "Am I forgiven?"
I laughed and pulled her into a hug, expressing to her with my body what I couldn't with words. "Of course you are," I hummed, kissing the top of her head. "And for the record, no I don't like Mia," I added, knowing that she still really wanted to know.
And I really wanted to know what happened that turned Christina into this crazed fixer-upper. But I won't ask her because unlike her I won't pry. I'll wait for her to tell me herself.