Caroline checked her watch for the tenth time in as many minutes, her pulse racing as she made her way through the hospital corridors. When she reached the nurses' station all coherent thought vanished, and she found herself standing in the midst of several nurses and doctors who pushed and shoved their way past her.
"Excuse me!" She yelled, trying to be heard above the chaos. "I'm looking for Richard Karinsky!"
But the staff seemed oblivious to her presence.
"You were looking for Karinsky?"
She turned in surprise to find a small, frail man staring at her.
"Um... Yeah. Do you know where I could find him?"
"Sure do. He's in room 617 right across the hall."
"Oh, thanks. How do you know Richard?"
The man shrugged. "I don't actually but when he first got here he was freaking out, telling everyone why he was admitted. He even tried to leave but security caught him just in time. I'm telling you I've never seen anyone so afraid before."
"Oh man..." Caroline sighed. "I really need to talk to him. I just hope he'll accept my apology."
"You'd better hurry. Surgery's scheduled for 11:30."
Caroline gasped and then swallowed hard when she looked at her watch. In less than an hour, Richard would be wheeled into surgery. At this point they'd probably already sedated him.
She sank into a nearby chair as the guilt consumed her once more. For she was the reason he was here in the first place. If she hadn't been so insistent that Richard accompany her to the doctor for her stupid cold, they would never have found the polyp in his nose. And now he wouldn't be undergoing surgery against his will.
She had to see him... and fast. He was bound to be nervous.
But as she peered into the tiny glass window in the door that led to his room, she could see that he appeared to be completely on edge.
With a heavy heart, she pushed the door opened and walked inside, dismayed to find him staring worriedly at the wall.
He looked up and offered her a worried smile.
"Hey, Richard. How are you feeling?"
"Like I've just been hit by a truck and I'm floating on air."
Caroline laughed. "I'm really sorry about this, Richard. It's my fault."
"Don't blame yourself."
"But it's true! If I hadn't dragged you to the doctor's office with me, none of this would have happened!"
He sighed deeply. "It's all right. It'll all be over soon. So if I don't make it out, the keys to my apartment are on the dresser. I trust you'll take care of the arrangements?"
Her heart pained, hearing him talk this way and she drew in a breath. Slowly she walked to the bed and took his hand, trying to keep her emotions in tact. But it wasn't easy.
"Richard, please don't talk like that. You'll be fine."
But he only shook his head. "I don't think so Caroline. Oh God, I'm so scared. I mean, what if something happens during surgery? I don't think... I'm going to be here much longer..."
A tear escaped and she quickly brushed it away. She couldn't think about that right now. But the sight of him trembling and whimpering like a little boy simply broke her heart. And without warning he started to cry.
"I just... There are so many things I wanted to... I..."
She moved closer, stroking his hair "Shhh... Everything will be all right. I promise. I'll be here when your surgery is over."
She kissed his forehead. "I promise. Now try to rest, okay?"
Holding back tears, she crossed the room and reached for the door handle.
"I love you, Caroline."
Her heart skipped a beat at the words, and she stared at him in disbelief. Had he really said...?
No... It wasn't possible.
Minutes later as she hopped into a waiting taxi, she couldn't get his words out of her mind.
"Where to, lady?" The gruff driver asked.
"Um... take me to..."
His words ran though her head over and over...
"I love you, Caroline..."
Had he really said them, or was she imagining things? He'd never been one for sentiment but could he have been speaking sincerely? He was sedated and surely it was the drugs that were making him say things he wouldn't otherwise say. But his eyes... they seemed so sincere. Her heart warmed, thinking of how wonderful he was; how sweet, and sensitive and how he was always willing to do anything for her. He'd been there for her so many times when she was alone or hurting, that it was only a matter of time...
"A-actually, never mind... I... take me back to the hospital please."
The taxi driver shrugged, having never even moved. "We're here. That will be $9!"
Caroline gawked at such an outrageous charge, but she simply had to talk to Richard... to find out if there was a chance...
She paid the driver and jumped out of the taxi, hoping she wasn't too late. If she waited until he was out of surgery...
She couldn't take that chance.
Breathless by the time she reached Richard's room, her eyes filled with tears when she found that it was empty.
Damn...She was too late.
And then she heard his voice...
Her pulse quickened and she ran into the hallway, saying a prayer when she saw him laying on a gurney waiting to be wheeled into surgery.
Ignoring the looks of the medical staff, she rushed over to him and took his hand.
"Richard, about what you said..."
He turned to her and smiled... a slow, sleepy smile that made her heart melt.
"I love you, Caroline... Let's run away to Paris together."
She gasped, her eyes filling with tears and she squeezed his hand.
"Oh Richard, really?"
Once more he flashed another heart-melting smile.
"I love you, Caroline..."
As gently as possible she wrapped her hand around the back of his neck and kissed him tenderly; amazed at how soft his lips were.
"I love you too, Richard."
Tears spilled onto her cheeks as she watched him being wheeled into surgery and she stood in the hallway until he disappeared from view.
As she returned to his room, she climbed onto the unbelievably uncomfortable bed and hugged the pillow to her chest, breathing in the scent of his cologne.
Slowly she drifted off to sleep, dreaming of the man who'd become her best friend... and who she hoped would someday become so much more.