Chapter 1: With 8 Seconds Left in Overtime; She's On Your Mind
She kept her eyes glued to her feet, tapping nervously against the floor. There was a look of fear on the young woman's face as she ignored the atmosphere around her and concentrated on each tap as if it were a life line. She had been counting them in her head, like she was OCD. Though, at the moment it was the only thing that was keeping her there in that hospital waiting room. There was a moment where she stopped to yawn, losing her count. Her grey eyes dared to look up from the old pair of lace-less black converse, scanning the cluttered waiting room, as the memory of the previous evening began to play in her mind.
"Come on, Mer! You're being ridiculous. You owe it to yourself to at least see what Shepherd has to say. Maybe he'll be able to do something. You don't know."
"Since when are you optimistic?" Meredith asked the woman who had been her best friend since the beginning of med school. Her eyes narrowed at her friend's sudden burst of positivity. They sparkled with a mix of unshed emotion, as she fought to keep it all in.
"He's world renowned, Meredith. He's what you need… the best."
"But I don't want to go, Cristina."
"GO! You're going! I don't want to hear about your poor helpless situation. Here is a God-Awesome chance… and you need to take it!" Cristina yelled from the top of the stairs. "You are way smarter than this." She continued, though her voice was now quieter.
She shook her head slowly, as Cristina's encouragement bounced around in her mind. "Fine, but I don't want to hear that I never tried!" She looked up the stairs, where her friend once stood; her presence empty from her sight. "Did you hear? I said I would go!" She called out without an answer, once again. She let out a huffed sigh, as she turned around, giving up the argument.
"GOOD!" Cristina called down from the stairs. "I knew calling you an idiot would be productive."
Meredith sighed as she thought of her friend, at home waiting for good news. She looked back down at her shoes, trying to get back to the empty place she was moments before, though she was having sour luck.
He was late. Again. The nurses were complaining, because he was a thousand patients behind, and he was never going to catch up, unless by miracle, someone was a no-show.
She continued to sit staring at her shoes, the scuff marks and greying of the laces matched the grey carpet underneath them. The nurse's anger toward Dr. Shepherd wasn't lost to her ears, and she contemplated being the "no-show" patient, to save herself from him, and apparently him from her. She would be doing him a favor, she rationalized. Sacrificing her appointment for the good of someone who he can help.
The nurses watched the peculiar patient with close eyes, intuitively aware of her dismayed behavior. She was the godly neurosurgeon's next patient, after all. Maybe she was upset by the length of the wait? For the majority of the time, she was closed out to the rest of the world, but for a second she appeared more thoughtful and less agitated. One of the nurses, who had been watching her, dared to approach the young woman. Her eyes were closed, though up close she didn't look as agitated as what they thought. She walked up to the young woman, giving her a kind smile. "Meredith?" She said softly, the wrist band she was wearing gave away her personal identity. "I can take you back to an exam room, if waiting out here… is too much?" Meredith opened her eyes, paying attention to her presence. She glanced up at the nurse's station, eyeing the women who sat behind it. "Dr. Shepherd is running late today, but we have a few rooms open."
She took in a breath, tossing around the idea to flee, more realistically now that she was being offered an exam room. Her eyes flashed from the face of the kind nurse, back to her feet, over to her bag, and back to the nurse again. Cris will kill me if I leave, she thought. Not coming out with those exact words, she nodded as she stood up slowly to follow the nurse down a long hall full of doors leading off to exam rooms.
Meredith glanced around her surroundings, taking in her new atmosphere. The nurse was kind and quiet, and gave her space to ruminate on everything that she wanted to say to Dr. Shepherd as the time grew closer and closer to meet him. She wondered what he looked like, and what his bedside manner would be. Whether he would be cold and distant, funny, or down to earth. Whether he would meet Cristina's high expectations. The room that the nurse opened up for her was a typical sterile exam room, with a table draped in white paper, several chairs, a sink, and a roll away computer. She felt a lot more comfortable out of the prying eyes of the nurses. As she sat down she heard the door click behind the nurse erasing her even more from everyone else.
The wait continued, for quite a number of minutes after the nurse left her to her sanctuary. She began to count away the seconds, and the minutes in an attempt to pass the time that she was spending waiting for this doctor to finally come in. It was nerve wracking, as everything in the past pushed against her, and everything that the future could hold mocked her. She had grown tired of talking about the misfortunes of her life a long time ago… and had in most ways given up on ever getting answers for herself. It was a full time job, dealing with the everyday, and yet by some lapse of judgment—she wanted more. She wanted what she couldn't have.
There was a light wrap at the door, before a man in a white lab coat broke her seclusion. She looked up at him, trying to come across as calm and eager for his visit, but her eyes stung as she tried to put away all that she was just thinking about. He smiled at her, his blue eyes reflecting a bit of sympathy as he held out his hand to shake hers.
"Hey." He said in a friendly voice. He stared down at his newest patient, taken by her determined expression. She was thin and pale, though her handshake was firm and assertive. Her hair was a deep honey blonde, her eyes a cool grey. His lips parted in a half smile, her cool fingers melting into his warmer ones like butter against a hot knife. "I'm Derek Shepherd."
"Hi. Meredith Grey." She said, trying to be friendly in return, though her voice cracked as she said her name. She cleared her throat taking back her hand, and control of her emotions. He didn't come in a hurry, or with an overflowing amount of confidence. As Meredith sat watching him, he seemed to be hesitant. His blue eyes were wide with curiosity; his hair was combed back, setting at the nap of his neck in dark curls—not too long, but long enough. Very Russell Crowe, she noted. His features were very Kennedy, his strong chiseled jaw, a nose that, for lack of a better word "fit" him, though it didn't take away from any of his more flattering features.
He sat down in the rolling chair with a sigh, his eyes still not leaving hers; he tried to regain his thought process. "I will say, I have thought an awful lot about you over the past few days." She listened to Dr. Shepherd's low soft voice as he spoke to her. His comments striking her rather odd. She felt her brow furrow, subconsciously at his awkward conversation starter, a look that he didn't miss. "Uh..." he stuttered suddenly feeling very unprofessional. "What I mean is… it took me several days to read through all the paperwork. Your medical record is probably about the size of two phone books. You've certainly had your share of…" again he found himself stuttering for words. "You've definitely been through a lot…" He nodded as she began to breathe faster, trying to fight against that feeling deep inside her chest. She listened to the way he said "a lot", the soft sincerity in his voice was starting to overwhelm her. He watched her carefully, noticing the way she was reacting to his words, and wondering if it was anything that he had said specifically. He waited for her to say something—anything, as silence filled the room.
She slowly took hold of her emotional reins, promising herself that she would hold on to them better. Slowly, she looked up at him again. He was only being kind, she told herself, trying to find the words to restart the appointment. His blue eyes were staring back at her, this time with understanding and strength instead of deep compassion and sympathy. She seemed so distraught, though her strength continued to bleed through as she fought to continue the appointment without tears. Her eyes, though they were misty with unshed tears that she vapidly blinked away, were full of fortitude. Her arms were folded over her chest in a show of belligerence. She watched him with about as much curiosity as he watched her. She didn't know what to say to him, or what he was expecting her to do.
She had been waiting for him, for a very long time. And through that wait she had considered many options, though now wasn't the time to enact any of them. At the moment she was at the mercy of his abilities—and through life she had learned that she wasn't ever compatible. Even she knew the limitations of science, and that the abilities of doctors only stretched so far. Normally doctors refused to see her, denied her conditions as being real, or simply came in and told her not to come back. He, on the other hand was sitting in front of her with interest in his eyes. He had surprised her with his curiosity and his willingness. He was still watching her, waiting patiently for her to say something, in the event that he made her emotional again.
"I'm… usually not this… emotional." Her voice came out in a hoarse whisper as she relinquished her control and let him in.
"No… it's ok. I understand. It's been a long road."
"Please don't say things like that. Just… act normal please?"
"Act normal?" He smirked, entertained by the notion. He wasn't sure he knew what normal was, let alone how to act it. He didn't premeditate.
"Yeah… no more comments about having gone through a lot or that it's been a long road. I know, and I'm trying to be… me. But, you're making it sort of difficult."
"Difficult, huh? Got it… I'll try to be more normal."
The appointment continued without another emotional break, as Derek tried to avoid giving too much sympathy to the woman in front of him. She explained the last 20 years of her life to him, in articulate detail, and he found himself in awe of the way she was able to separate herself from her condition. She presented her symptoms like a resident presented cases to him at rounds, and he found that he was impressed. She was easy to talk to, and she seemed generally interested in what little he had to offer her.
"I know that you've been…" The warning look in her gaze, reminded him to redirect his words. "I commend you for your perseverance. But, I don't know if there is anything I can do for you from a neurosurgical standpoint."
She giggled, shaking her head at his awkwardness. "You aren't use to giving bad news are you?"
"It's really that apparent, huh?" He shook his head, though a hint of a smile was sparked on his own lips.
"You might want to practice that in a mirror. It's really quite simple. Meredith, there's nothing I can do for you. Meredith, it would be better if you focused on your good days…"
"Meredith, that's not what I'm saying." His tone was soft again, his smirk morphing into a sad smile as he captured her attention again.
"I'm listening." The skepticism was still heavy in her tone. Her eyes mirrored her true feelings, an asset that he was taking full advantage of.
"Well, don't get too excited." He joked, though it did little to affect her demeanor. "First, I'd like to repeat an MRI. See if there are any more lesions that we need to be concerned about."
"You want to measure the progression, right?"
"Yes. But, I'd also like to have recent scans. Maybe show them around to a few of my colleagues, if you don't mind?" He expected her to be… worn, and maybe that was why he took such a special interest in the girl in front of him. She was worn and atypical, and this was a terrible situation. Derek liked to fix terrible situations. He wouldn't deny that. And in all his years as a surgeon he very rarely came across a case that he was unable to fix. He was drawn to the temptation to try for her, and for himself. Even if he wasn't able to correct her symptoms… maybe he could do things for her that the previous doctors could not.
"I don't know… I guess that would be ok." Her voice was obviously lacking the enthusiasm that she needed to sell her comfort within the situation that he wanted to put her in.
His head unconsciously tilted to one side, his blue eyes grew darker as he contemplated her tone. "This is totally up to you. If you don't want to do the MRI, we don't have to. You're driving this train."
Her eyes lightened slightly as she looked up at him, his sincerity tugging silently at what she had bottled up inside. "Let's do the MRI."
"Alright?" He said softly, as he watched her carefully. He watched her as she let out a sigh, before she mumbled something inaudible to him. "What was that?" He heard himself say, in as equal a tone as his last comment.
She swallowed hard, trying to go back into doctor mode with him. I'm driving the train, she thought over and over again. "I'm driving the train…" she whispered out loud once more, watching it register to him. "It's not like I really have anything to lose."
"No…" he shook his head softly. "No, you don't."
Meredith walked into her bathroom later that evening, her mind still on hyper drive from her appointment with Shepherd. Her hair was tied up in a messy ponytail, as she stood at the sink examining her pale features. She looked exhausted. No wonder Shepherd kept looking at her like she was the dead girl walking. Her eyes were dark, her collarbone peeked out beneath her baggy shirt, revealing the thin truth that hid beneath. Her lips were set in a frustrated frown, belying the day she had. It wasn't a bad day. It wasn't a particularly good day either… but she had seen far worse. Though, still, she looked empty. Like there was nothing left for her. She didn't understand why she felt exactly like that.
She turned on the tap, splashing warm water on to her cool features. The water rolled off her forehead and cheeks, before it dripped off her chin and nose, falling into the sink basin below. Was there no hope? Was she, once again, being that foolish girl that was hoping for the impossible?
She crawled into her bed next to Cristina, who occupied the far left side. She pulled back the comforter, throwing the quilt and sheet over her head, the darkness surrounding her even more. There was a moment where she felt Cristina shuffling around, finding her own way under the covers to be with her best friend. For a few moments, they just lazed there. Listening to the sound of each other's breathing.
At one moment, Cristina looked over at Meredith lying in the dark abyss next to her. She heard her shallow breaths, and though she had kept away from the conversation for the entire evening, she couldn't stand not knowing what her friend had experienced that day. "How was…" she began, listening to her whisper collide with the blankets that mutually covered and separated them. "How was Shepherd? You don't look… very happy." She said, turning on her side to face Meredith.
"He was fine. We're doing an MRI." She whispered, pulling the blankets off of her face, sitting up in the bed to get away from the closeness. "I don't even know what I'm doing anymore." She sighed.
Cristina slowly pulled the blankets off her own face, as she looked up at Meredith. The moonlight creeping in through the blinds casted itself on her face giving her normally pale features an even whiter look. "What did he say?" Cristina asked, with a true look of sincerity.
Meredith shook her head, glancing down at her friend. "We don't have to do the thing?"
"I know… I just want to know what happened today." There was hesitation in her voice. Meredith wasn't good at keeping secrets. No matter how well Mer thought she was at keeping them, she eventually couldn't hold on to them any longer.
Meredith just shook her head; a small sniffle escaped her nose, before a cough escaped her throat. "He wants to see the progression. He wants to… I don't know. I really don't want to talk about it."
Cristina adjusted herself, propping herself up on her elbows as she continued to eye Meredith. "Well… that's something. You said he wasn't going to do anything."
"I don't want him to do anything. I just want to be left alone. Do you realize how much I just want people to leave me alone?" Her eyes were dulled by sadness, the glassy appearance made her look sicklier against the moonlight, as Cristina's eyes narrowed at her confession. "He's ridiculous. He's all cheerful and arrogant. And he knows that there is nothing he can do, though he sat there the entire time just looking at me"
"Ok? He wasn't supposed to look at you? Mer, you're being ridiculous." Cristina scoffed, in a snarky tone.
"It's not that he was looking at me. It was the way he was looking at me. Like poor Meredith, looking at me."
"You've seen him one time and he already has a poor Meredith look? Seriously, Mer, do you realize how ridiculous this sounds?"
"And it's not the look…" she continued, completely oblivious to Cristina's feedback, or her rambling. "… it's the way he was looking at me. It made me feel… like..." she paused, trying to fight off a deep yawn, as she sunk back into laying.
"It made you feel…" Cristina prompted waiting for her friend to finish what she was going to say.
She shut her eyes tight, trying to erase the memories from the day. Exhaustion washed over her with the silence. "He's making it really hard not to believe him."