Emily arrives at her front door still shivering from keeping the car windows down during her drive to keep herself awake. She mentally rearranges her priorities for the night again, as she has done the whole way home. OK, shower first to warm me up, then food, then sleep. She turns the key in the lock.
"Roomie, you're home!" gushes Tyra.
Oh, I don't know if I have the energy to deal with Tyra tonight, Emily thinks. She perks up a little as she smells something coming from the kitchen. She ventures a small smile. "Hi Tyra. Something smells good. You must have gone grocery shopping," she says hopefully.
"I wasn't that bored on my day off! But I did make you an omelet with the rest of the eggs because I knew you'd be tired after such a long shift," Tyra says.
Emily closes her eyes and counts to three. Choose to be grateful that she made you dinner. Don't focus on the fact that she hasn't bought so much as a quart of milk or a roll of toilet paper since she moved in. This is temporary. I will have my space back soon. Breathe. "Thanks. I'm famished. That was thoughtful of you."
Emily slumps against the kitchen table as Tyra brings a plate over to her. Emily averts her eyes from the towering stack of dishes. She takes a bite of the omelet. It's actually pretty good. "This is good. I didn't know you could cook."
"Oh, it was one of my forms of rebellion. I can't count the number of times I heard my dad claim that 'no serious surgeon would risk his hands by doing any kind of work in the kitchen.' So I get my mom to give me lessons on the sly, and I've cooked for myself for years without incident. A few months ago I felt cocky, having gotten accepted to the surgical program here, so I finally cooked a really nice meal for him. Of course, that's the meal I burned my thumb a little bit cooking, but no big deal. He enjoyed the food, so I said, 'See, Dad, I can be a surgeon and cook, too.' He just looked at me and said, "I said no serious surgeon, Tyra.'"
Emily laughs. "That's terrible, Tyra. Though I have to say that I'm kind of with your dad on the cooking thing. I can't even watch any of those cooking shows on tv, because they give me nightmares. Have you ever seen the hands of a professional chef?" She shudders.
Tyra makes a face. "You should hang out with my dad. You're probably serious enough a surgeon for him. So, anyway, enough chit-chat. Guess who got laid last night, and not just 'emotionally laid,' whatever that is?"
"Um, you? I didn't know you and Molly were even talking again," Emily ventures.
"Yes, me! And no, not Molly. No one you know, actually. Just a straight girl looking for a new experience. Though now that I think about it, it might not have been her first trip to the Sapphic side. She was surprisingly skilled." Tyra smiles happily to herself.
No details, please. I hate hearing about other people's sex lives. "TMI, Tyra! So, are you going to see her again? What's her name, anyway?" Emily asks.
"The lovely Elizabeth. I don't know if I'll see her again. I texted her today, but I think the number she gave me is wrong," Tyra says.
"Hmm," Emily says, finishing the last bite of her omelet. "If a guy did that, he'd be considered a player." She stands up at takes her plate over to the sink. She opens the dishwasher and starts to fill it with the dirty dishes.
Tyra sits up straight. "Wait, you think I was played?"
"It's certainly a possibility. If the idea bothers you so much, why don't you go back to her place and find her?"
Tyra is distracted. "I can't. She came here."
"What?" Emily explodes. "You brought a stranger to my apartment? God! It's been hard enough having you here, messing up the way I do things and filling the place with chaos. But to bring a stranger here! And to have sex on my couch?" Emily's mild OCD kicks in when she looks at the couch, and she starts to envision all the ways she can clean it.
Tyra's eyes widen. She has never seen Emily so angry. "Actually, it was on your bed," she says in a small voice.
"My bed? Gah!" Emily slams the dishwasher shut, then bangs a cabinet door for good measure. She scrubs the counter tops.
"I'm sorry, Emily. I didn't know you were so particular about your place."
"Everything is so chaotic all the time, and this is the one place I have where everything is in order. I need that. Having that party was hard on me, having a roommate is even harder, but this just feels like such a violation." She starts looking for something else to clean.
"I . . . I didn't realize."
"Of course you didn't. You're far too self-involved!" Emily tries to calm herself; she doesn't want to lose another friend. She starts sweeping the floor. "Look, Tyra. I'm exhausted and furious. I don't want to say things I will regret later. But if you want to stay friends, you have to find someplace else to live. I can't do this much longer."
"OK. I'll start looking, for real this time. And I'll go out for a few hours tonight, to give you some space. Emily, I'm sorry. Please don't give up on me. Our friendship means a lot to me."
Emily pauses in her cleaning long enough to say, "It does to me, too. That's why we can't live together! So, by the end of the week?"
"Yeah, you bet. Get some sleep tonight, OK?" Tyra grabs her coat and scarf and walks out the door.
"Sure thing. Just as soon as I've restored some order around here," Emily mutters to herself as she marches into her bedroom to strip all the linens off her bed. She carries them all arm-length from her body and dumps them into the washer. She adds a generous amount of detergent and makes sure it is on the hottest setting before pushing the button to start. Then she grabs a bucket of cleaning supplies and heads back to her room. She switches on her favorite Yo-Yo Ma album and begins to scrub.
Tyra saunters into the bar, stopping by a few tables to greet some acquaintances. She pulls up a bar stool next to Cassandra and orders a beer. Cassandra quirks an eyebrow at her and says acidly, "You better not pull me off my game tonight, Tyra."
"Well, hello to you too, Cassandra," Tyra says sweetly. "And what game? There's no one here tonight."
"Isn't that the truth? It has been this way for a while now. It's depressing. I didn't realize that by coupling off so soon into residency that I would be cutting myself off so completely from the social scene. Even the other interns in our year won't do more than say hi to me." Cassandra takes a quick swig of her beer.
"Yeah, that's got to be the reason," Tyra says, trying to hide her eye roll. She waves at a group of people walking past who call out her name. "So, Cassandra, do you know of anyone looking for a roommate?"
"Is Emily finally kicking you out?" Cassandra laughs sardonically. Tyra shrugs her shoulders. "I'm certainly not looking for a roommate. Why don't you just find a studio or one bedroom apartment nearby?"
Tyra makes a face. "I've never lived alone before. It just seems too lonely."
"It's time to grow up, Tyra."
"It's time for people to stop telling me to grow up!" They glare at each other before sighing and settling into similar slouched postures. They both glance up when the door opens again, and Cassandra sits up straighter.
"Things just got a little more interesting," Cassandra says, her eyes fixated on AJ, who is hanging up his coat near the door. "What do you know about Dr. Aquino?"
Tyra looks at Cassandra askance. "AJ? I know what everyone knows; good in the OR, huge flirt, disappeared mysteriously for a year after something happened in the OR, but not before having an epic fight in the halls with Bandari. Why?"
"Maybe I need a little trouble to spice up my life. Tell me about the thing between AJ and Emily." Cassandra shifts her laser focus to Tyra.
Tyra looks blank. "The thing between AJ and Emily?" she repeats.
"Oh, honestly, Tyra. I don't know why you feel such loyalty to the person who is kicking you out. Believe me; I will find out." She smooths back her hair and reapplies her lipstick.
"Cassandra, I kept thinking that you must have hidden depths or something. But you don't, do you? The only thing you have at your center is the need to compete with Emily Owens, to best her in any way you can. That's twisted, and really pathetic." Tyra can't hide the disgust in her voice.
Cassandra rolls her eyes. "You really have me all figured out," she says sarcastically. She plasters a smile on her face and slinks over to where AJ is chatting with the bartender. She places her hand on AJ's back while she leans in closely to place an order with the bartender. AJ turns to face her, and appreciatively runs his eyes up and down her form. Cassandra smiles secretively and says something to make him laugh.
"She certainly doesn't need any flirtation lessons," Tyra says to herself. She makes herself turn away, and goes to chat with another group of friends.
Every few minutes she catches herself staring at them again. It's a strangely compelling sight. She wonders what on earth convinced Cassandra that AJ and Emily might have some sort of thing between them, when she has apparently never noticed the real attraction between Emily and Micah.
About fifteen minutes later she sees AJ receive a text message. He immediately starts looking for the bartender, to settle his bill. He bids an abrupt goodbye to Cassandra, and is out the door in seconds. Tyra can't help laughing at the sour expression on Cassandra's face as she realizes he has gone.
Will hesitantly walks into the bar. The first person he sees is Cassandra, who pulls on her scarf and coat as soon as he says hi. "What is her deal, anyway?" he wonders to himself as she walks out the door. He sees Tyra talking to a group of people he doesn't recognize. She gives a friendly wave, but he doesn't feel up to making small talk with strangers, so he doesn't join her. Suddenly, he can't stand the thought of staying there even a second longer. He feels overwhelmed by loneliness, and resolves to do something about it tomorrow. Until then, perhaps he can help someone else and ease his own loneliness at the same time. He heads back to the hospital to spend some more time talking to his patient Nils.
Emily checks the progress of the dryer. Her load of linens is about half done, so she thinks she will take the time to clean one more place before she showers and can finally go to sleep. She considers her options, and chooses the small closet right by the front door. She feels a small thrill when she sees how packed with random things it is. Wow, I really need to revive my social life, she thinks. There is no way I should be this excited by the chance to organize!
She hums softly to herself as she starts by sorting things into piles. Several minutes and a few levels of excavation later she finds a small collection of gift bags she cannot remember seeing before. Curious, she opens one. It contains a bottle of wine and a card with "Happy birthday, Emily! From Nurse Sunny" written on it. People brought me birthday gifts? That is so sweet! I wonder why I never saw them before now. Oh no! That means the thank you notes are months overdue! Emily forces herself not to obsess about what she had no control over, and simply enjoys opening the unexpected gifts. She finds several bottles of wine and a box of chocolates that she immediately samples. The colorful and quirky scarf from Tyra softens her anger and reminds her why they are friends in the first place. She is apprehensive about opening Will and Cassandra's gift, but starts to laugh as she pulls out a slightly dinged pink birthday crown, and envelope, and a nicely wrapped box. She puts the envelope aside, as she knows that is from Will, and opens the box. The scented candle she pulls out is pretty, though not exactly her taste. When she turns it around, she sees that the label is an ornate capital letter C. Vintage Cassandra. I'm surprised she bothered to change the card on the gift before passing it along!
She debates opening the envelope from Will, wondering if the reminder of their friendship will prove too painful. She remembers their medical school tradition of exchanging tickets for Christmas. Their rules were that it could be any kind of ticket, but that it had to be something they would do together. It was often movie tickets, but once they ended up at the roller derby to celebrate Will's birthday. Emily smiles at that memory. She opens the envelope and finds a voucher for a place called the Colorado Hitting Club. Boxing? Fight club? Oh, baseball. Hmm. She remembers the awkwardness of the first time he tried to teach her how to swing a bat. She sees the attached note: "Emily, I promise you will actually like the batting cages if you baseball another try. To sweeten the deal, the vanilla latte and muffin at the great bakery next door will be my treat too. Happy birthday, Will."
She shoves aside her still-conflicted feelings for Will to reach for the last gift bag. She recognizes Micah's handwriting on the tag. She sighs deeply—so many conflicted feelings here, too. Still, her heart starts to beat faster as she peeks inside. She sees packs and packs of Ring Dings tied together with a neat ribbon. The note folded inside says "Emily, I checked each expiration date personally, and this stash is guaranteed not to go stale for another two years, at least. Remember, these are only to be used as a last resort, when not even your Chief Resident can talk you down. Micah." Much more personal than a bottle of wine, she thinks contentedly.
The dryer buzzer pulls her out of her thoughts, and she happily shoves everything but the birthday gifts back into the closet all jumbled together. She makes her bed and climbs into it gratefully. She's asleep before she can pull the second blanket up to keep her warm.
The room is dark and quiet. Gina Bandari sits up and slides her legs out of the bed. She walks stealthily over to the rest of her clothing, and starts getting dressed. Her hands tremble as she buttons up her blouse.
The bedside light switches on, revealing a surprisingly spacious and well-appointed bedroom. AJ sits up against the headboard, arms wrapped around his knees, the blanket covering his legs. Gina doesn't look at him, so she can't see the hurt in his eyes before he can re-establish his poker face. "Can't you stay for a little while, Gina?" he asks quietly.
She freezes in the middle of fastening the top button, still facing the closet. Experience has taught him not to expect a response, so he almost misses it when she whispers, "What for?"
He chooses his words carefully, aware that she will likely leave at any moment, regardless. "Just to talk a little. Or sleep. You don't have to rush off every time."
She turns around, frustrated. "This isn't a relationship," she says icily.
He laughs ruefully. "You've made that perfectly clear, Gina. You can't even bring yourself to say my name." His voice gentles. "But you are here almost every night I don't have call. Is a conversation now and then really too much to hope for?"
"Am I here too often?" she asks, sounding uncertain for the first time since he has known her.
He leaps out of bed. "No! Really, I want you here. Just throw me a bone every so often; let me have a little self-respect." He walks closer to her.
"What do you mean," she hesitates for a moment, "AJ?"
He smiles. One small victory. He sits down on the side of the bed, and is gratified when she sits too. "Take today. Owens and I were joking about which one of us you hate more, as we do. Then she said something about taking your hostility as a sign we're 'good enough to bother with.' I know it's stupid, but the thought that maybe you don't hate me made my day."
She stands up and pulls on her shoes, face impassive once again. "I don't hate you," she says, not looking at him. "I need to go."
"Doesn't he wonder where you are every night?" The question slips out before he can stop it; he has promised himself that he would never ask.
She pauses in the doorway and turns to look at him. "He left before I went on vacation, and we both signed the paperwork soon after. Neither of us is contesting anything, so the divorce will be final soon."
The news stuns AJ. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"This isn't a relationship," she repeats. "I didn't want you to read too much into it, or to develop any. . . feelings."
AJ rubs his jaw. His eyes grow hard. "You don't need to concern yourself with that. I can manage my own feelings."
Gina looks at AJ for a moment. This conversation isn't going the way she expected it to. "You're right. That was presumptuous of me."
"So I'm not a home wrecker?" That thought had been eating at him.
"No. I managed to ruin my marriage all by myself," she says sourly. She turns to leave.
"Gina?" She hesitates. He continues: "Thanks."
She looks puzzled. "Thanks?"
"For talking. And so you know, you're always welcome here. There's even plenty of closet space, if you ever decide you want to sleep here."
She doesn't know how to respond to that, so she thanks him and walks down the hall to let herself out. He lies back on the bed with a smile on his face.
A/N: Thanks to everyone who reviews! You keep me going when it takes me a long time to write. :)
Was anyone else wondering what Micah decided to give Emily for her birthday? Let me know your best guess.