She shifted again, her back aching. The chairs were uncomfortable. The kind of chairs in the kind of room that so clearly is designed to make you feel welcome when it's the last place you want to be.
It reeked of disinfectant and death.
It had been one hour and twenty three minutes since she kissed him goodbye, not knowing if she would ever see him again.
One hour and twenty four minutes.
The family in the corner talked quietly. The old man anxiously changed channels on the television in the corner, never settling on one for long. She has pieced their conversations together enough to know that there had been a car accident. The mother, sister, wife of them each respectively, in the operating room back behind those giant white doors with the tiny little windows. Something about her spleen.
For a moment, Dani was envious. Though the injuries sounded severe and there was a chance she might not survive, at least they had each other. They had someone beside them right now. No one over there in the corner was alone.
Her sister was long gone, she'd moved far away a few years back. She hadn't answered the phone call. Dani hoped she would get the message soon, though she had nothing new to tell her right now anyway. She just needed to talk to someone.
She glanced at the magazines on the table, all outdated and uninteresting. Picked up a copy of Better Homes and Gardens, thumbed through it. Smiled a bit at the thought of it all, that there were magazines devoted to this kind of stuff. She didn't have a home or a garden. She barely had an apartment.
Put it back on the table with the rest.
Looked at her phone again. The reception inside the building wasn't great, so she hoped maybe that Marcy had called and she had to leave a message.
No such luck.
An hour and twenty eight minutes. The doctor had said this would be a long surgery, probably a few hours at least. She took a deep breath, trying to stretch out the kink in her back, and stood. It felt wrong to stand in that room. She wrote down her number, than asked the surgery waiting room attendant to call her cell if anything happened.
She needed coffee.
Her father was laying on a table just behind those white doors with his chest cut open, and she needed coffee.
She gathered the few things she had managed to grab on the way out the door and walked out into the hallway. The odor of the cafeteria made her stomach turn. The special of the day was gumbo, or at least that is what they claimed it was.
She shuddered, smiled at the old woman eager to eat her gumbo, and walked to the cooler. Strawberry was the only yogurt flavor left in the refrigerator case and it would have to do. It was the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday.
She grabbed the biggest cup available and filled it with coffee. She could smell the staleness, but didn't care.
The cashier asked if she was an employee. Maybe she still looked like she could be. She searched the woman's face for something she recognized. Had she been there when Dani was still in clinicals? No. It was just a question.
It's just a question, she told herself.
I am not an employee, Dani answered. Even if I should be, she thought.
Paid and found a booth in a corner far away from anyone else.
Her head was aching, she needed the caffeine.
Stirred a packet of sweetener into the coffee and watched the dark brown liquid dissolve the crystals. Transfixed by the swirling, she felt like she was being drawn down into the whirlpool. She was so tired.
Tired would have to wait.
The phone had woken her just four hours earlier, the voice on the other side asking if she was the daughter of Henry Walters. Suddenly alert, she said yes. Everything since then, a blur.
She got there as fast as she could, her heart racing the entire way. She had to get there in time.
She walked through the familiar doors and knew where to go. It was surreal to be in that place again, but she couldn't be bothered with all that right now.
He was conscious, but so weak. He looked small and old all of a sudden. So many things connected to him. She quickly scanned the infusion pumps for the medications and doses. It was a heart attack. They needed to attempt a bypass to save his life. She had made it just in time.
His face lit up a bit when he saw her. Confused and not entirely sure what was happening, he was comforted by her presence. He tried to reach out to her, the nurse quieted and stilled him.
I love you, he said.
She squeezed his hand. Leaned over the side rail and whispered in his ear that she loved him too. It was more than they had said to each other in a year.
Then, just like that, he was being wheeled down the hallway and behind those awful white doors.
Why hadn't she called him sooner? What if he didn't make it? The internal dialogue in her head wouldn't stop. She took small comfort in the fact that she'd been there and he knew. It still wasn't enough.
She sipped the coffee and it tasted as bad as it smelled.
The signal in the cafeteria was a little better, so she tried Marcy again. Still no answer. Left another message.
Checked the time.
Dani looked up. Their eyes locked.
No. No! She screamed in her head.
She couldn't do this right now, but it was too late. He was already walking towards her.
Time had been kind to him. He looked as good as he ever did, maybe even a bit more muscular now. How long had it been? Three years? Three years since he walked out the door and never came back.
Dani? Is everything okay? he asked.
His voice. Oh, she had missed hearing that voice.
Bryan. Fancy meeting you here, she said. No. Everything is not okay. It's my Dad. He had a heart attack. He's in surgery.
He sat down. Why is he sitting down? she thought.
His eyes were still so kind. So warm. He seemed genuine. He probably was. No, she was sure he was. He always was. It was her who refused to let him in. She was the one who erected those walls and did the unthinkable. He couldn't live with it, and she couldn't blame him.
Then he asked the question she never wanted to answer.
How have you been?
She sat silently for a moment, gathering herself. Not sure what to say.
I'm, um, okay. I'm working at an office nearby now. You know, just working. She forced out an awkward smile.
Office? he asked. Which doctor?
It's a construction company, not a medical office, she replied.
Oh. He seemed surprised. So, you aren't working as a nurse anymore?
No. She didn't want to talk about this. It hurt too bad. Maybe he would just leave. Maybe his break would be over and he'd have to get back to the pharmacy any moment. Maybe he would stop asking questions.
He nodded, sensing this topic was too sensitive. He had always been so good at reading her that way. His awareness of that was something she'd taken for granted. Folded his hands on the table, and she caught a glimpse of it.
He was married.
Oh, god. He is married, she thought. Then she reasoned in her head that of course he was married. He was handsome and kind. He had a good job and wanted a family.
He had wanted that with her once.
She forced the words out of her mouth. How have you been?
I've been, well, great, actually. I was named head pharmacist a few months ago.
He saw her looking at the ring, though she fought back the expression that showed her sadness. I got married last year.
His life was great, actually, she thought. It could have been me. It should have been me.
Instead, she was sitting in the cafeteria of a hospital she wasn't allowed to work in anymore with a man who once loved her, hoping that the doctors behind the giant white doors could save the only parent she had left.
This post is part of a fiction challenge I am taking part in. This week's prompt was:
Years later, the character's first love shows up on his or her doorstep again. Both your character and his/her first love are surprised at how the other person has changed (How?) This encounter causes a disruption in your character's life (How? What does your character do about it?) Write the story.
This post is a continuation of my post from last week, which can be found here.
Please check out the other writers participating!
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