Gary sat with his legs dangling off the edge of the gurney. The blue and white spotted gown covered most of him.
He wouldn’t look at her.
Monica set the IV tray down quietly on an overhead table and paused.
“Do you know what this is?” she asked him, her tone cold.
His gaze flickered to the chart in her hands. He shrugged.
“It’s your chart. Your ER chart.” She dropped the heavy folder on the gurney beside him.
“Most charts are no more than a handful of pages. Yours… yours is proof that you’re trying to kill yourself.” Anger boiled as she spoke. “People come in here every day and fight to live. You come in here nearly every day fighting to die.” The image of the child she’d just left flashed in her memory.
“I’m not trying to die.” His voice was flat and he never met her gaze.
“Drinking yourself to death isn’t trying to live. When are you going to wake up, Gary? One of these days you’re going to come in here too sick for us to do a damn thing for you.”
His tired eyes hardened and he finally met her stare. “What does it matter to you?”
Good question. Why was she closed in this room reaming him a new ass? Her boss didn’t like her to begin with… this little stunt could get her written up, or worse.
She shook her head. Did this man have kids? If so, where were they? Did they wish their father was sober? “None of us live in a bubble. Someone out there thinks about you.”
His jaw twitched.
Monica swallowed, picked up his chart, and turned to leave the room. She’d find him another nurse. She wasn’t objective enough at the moment to deal with him.
The nurse she’d asked to take over returned to Monica’s side a few minutes later and reported that Gary had left.
Two hours later Monica sat in the break room with her aching head in her hands. The day hadn’t gotten better. The only redeeming feature was when news came from the operating room that Bethany had survived surgery.
That was the most important news.
The door to the room opened, letting the noise of the department leak in.
Monica glanced up at Deb, a fellow nurse and sometime nightclub friend when they both had the same day off.
“Bad day?” Deb asked.
“It’s been busy.”
“Maybe John will make it better.”
Monica attempted a half-ass smile. John. She hadn’t thought about him once all day. They’d dated for the better part of two months. She should have known better than to sleep with a coworker. They’d had a good time but it wasn’t working, not for her anyway. John seemed genuinely into her and that sucked.
“Oh… that is not a good look,” Deb said.
“Things aren’t good with you two?”
“It’s OK… I guess.”
Deb, who always had her hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, narrowed her eyes. “You guess?”
“He’s a good guy. Thinks he’s more a doctor than a nurse.” He was a nurse. A good one, but one with too much ego and not enough education. “He talked about moving in last week.” A conversation she quickly snuffed out. She lived in a two-bedroom apartment she’d first shared with her sister, Jessie, and her nephew, Danny, before Jessie married Jack and moved to Texas. Then Jack’s sister, Katie, had moved in for a brief while with her daughter. Now it was just Monica and she wanted it that way, for now anyway. “I don’t want a roommate.”
“John would be more than a roommate.”
Deb sat beside her on the worn-out sofa and patted Monica’s knee. “If you’re not into him… you might want to cut it off sooner than later.”
“I know.” She sucked at relationships. Two months was a long stint for her. She had to admit if it wasn’t for the fact that John worked with her, she’d have cut it off by week four.
“I mean it, Monica. He asked me if you liked round diamonds or square ones last week.”
A chill ran up Monica’s spine. Her eyes snapped to Deb’s. “You’re kidding.”
Deb sucked in her bottom lip and shook her head. “He asked me not to say anything to you.”
“This is bad. Oh, so bad.”
“When do you see him again?”
“I’m off tomorrow. We were going to get together for dinner.” A dinner that was supposed to be a dress-up affair. Monica dropped her head in her hands again. “Am I too old to run away?”
“No buts. Let him go before he pops the question. Men don’t recover from that kind of rejection.”
“You really think he wants to marry me?”
“Diamonds aren’t for promise rings.”
Monica pushed off the couch and moved to her locker. Inside she fished through her purse for aspirin. “Two months. We’ve only dated two months.” She didn’t see this coming.
“You’ve known him for over a year.”
“Didn’t your sister agree to marry her husband in less time than that?”
“They were different.” They loved each other to bits. Mutually.
Monica didn’t love John.
This needed to end.
Tonight. Before anyone got hurt.
Wearing scrubs… possibly the most unattractive outfit ever, Monica insisted that John meet her for a drink at a quiet bar not far from her apartment. She opted for her hospital-issue uniform in an effort to hide her curves. She swept her blonde hair up into a ponytail and rid her high cheekbones of the blush she’d had on earlier in the day. There was no hiding her light blue eyes unless she wore sunglasses in the dim bar. After sending him a brief text that they “needed to talk,” she hoped her words didn’t translate into anything romantic.
She’d found a quiet table in the back, away from the men walking in and searching for a good time. Her earlier conversation with Gary Owens kept her from ordering anything other than an iced tea. As much as she wanted the liquid courage, she would wait until she got home and sank into a hot tub with a glass of wine.
Three televisions lit up the space behind the bar. Two were focused on baseball games while the third was on the evening news.
She sipped her tea and checked her watch right as the door opened letting the evening sun into the room.
John was easy on the eyes. Light brown hair cut military short. Not quite six feet tall, he strode into the room and spotted her.
Monica nodded and attempted to smile.
Her earlier headache started to pound again.
“Hey.” He slid into the seat opposite her. “Must have been a bad day if you’re drinking Long Islands.”
“We were busy.” She didn’t correct his assumption.
He slid his hand over the table and covered hers. “I’m glad you messaged me. I know I don’t like going home alone after a bad day.”
John’s eyes narrowed. “Is everything OK?”
As slowly as she could, Monica removed her hand from under his. “I had a hard day, but that isn’t why I wanted to meet with you.”
Someone at the bar yelled at the TV, drawing her attention away for a moment. She hated this part. Not that she was an expert at it or anything, but hooking up was always easier than splitting off.
“What’s up?” John tucked his hands in his lap, his gaze pinned to her face.
She glanced around the dark bar. It was quiet… early. She kept her voice low. She got right to the reason she’d asked him there. “The other night, when you were talking about moving in… I realized that maybe we weren’t looking for the same thing.”
He fidgeted and sat taller. “You’re not ready to move in with me. I get it. We’ll slow down.”
She shook her head. “I don’t think slowing down is going to help. I’m… I’m not ready for commitment.”
He sat back and crossed his arms over his chest. The defensive move wasn’t lost on her. The smile on his lips fell. “What are you saying, Monica?”
She rubbed her hands on her cotton scrubs. “We’ve had a good time.”
His mouth opened, then closed. “A good time?” He rubbed his thumb against his forefinger. “I was a good time? I thought we were getting along.”
“We were. Are. This is hard, John. We work together. I don’t want to mess up my job… your job.”
If only it were that easy. “I think you’re into us more than I am. I wish I felt more, but I don’t.”
He ran a hand through his hair. “You’re breaking up with me.”