Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pink Hats, Part VIII: My Lips are Sealed

"I'm thinking about reclaiming my Sundays." He said it in the same off-handed way he might tell a stranger the time.

The words followed Halley out the ER staff room door as though they were next in line. It was the end of their shift and, for a second, he wasn't sure she'd heard. The door crashed open against the rubber jam. "You're what?!"

He was sitting on a wooden bench that ran along a row of olive drab lockers, untying the Sketcher Step-Ups he'd worn not quite every Sunday for the past year. Comfortable and well-broken in, they were the sixth pair he was close to finally wearing out since beginning this weekend warrior routine. The younger staff kidded him about the thick soles, calling them 'old folks garb,' until they saw him on his feet while they were rubbing theirs. He kicked off the left and began work on the right. "I'm thinking about dropping Sunday ER shifts for a while, maybe permanently."

She sat down next to him, placed one hand on his forehead and felt for a pulse with the other. "Well, you're not sick and you're not dead. Should I page psych and get a stat consult? Maybe you need a dose of 'ego glue,'" she said, using his favorite term for the personality-organizing effects of anti-psychotic medications.

"It's good to know I'm not dead -- I've questioned that from time to time." He kicked off the other shoe and tossed them both into his locker. "And if I'm not sick, it's because I'm finally on the mend. I've been working two, sometimes three or four Sundays a month for nearly five years and I think it's high time I did something else with my life for a change."

"Not that I don't enjoy your company, but I've wondered when you were going to hit the wall. Still, it is kind of sudden. Impulsives R Us can't count you in their membership. This morning you were Mr. Cheerful and this afternoon you need a vacation? After nearly 35 years I can tell when you're holding back. What aren't you telling me?"

He hesitated, looked away, and turned red as a beet. She looked at him shrewdly, "You're seeing Jessie Livingstone -- aren't you. Aren't you." she said, more as accusation of fact than a question. "Why, I warned you, but would you listen? How long has this been going on?" It sounded like the scolding of his life, but her eyes betrayed the extent to which she was enjoying giving him a hard time.

"A few weeks, but it goes back a lot further. I'd like to see how long we can fly under the radar, so please, keep this to yourself. We've been lucky so far, but it's not going to last; hospitals are like small towns, you can't take a poop without everyone knowing what color it is."

"You want more time with her," she said and he nodded. "And it goes back a lot farther? Bob, you've been keeping secrets. Come on now, get it off your chest, you'll feel better. Tell Dr. Halley everything, she's dying to know."

"I'm sure you'd like me to cut to the juicy parts, but there aren't any." She looked disappointed. "Sorry, at the moment, it's all pretty innocent." He stood up and started to work the knot at the waist of his scrubs. "Avert your eyes, will you? I still have some modesty." 

She smirked and covered her eyes with both hands. "See no evil, hear no evil..."

He rolled his eyes and tossed the top and bottoms into a canvas hamper, then pulled on a pair of faded jeans and dark blue sweat shirt, pushing the sleeves halfway to his elbows. "Okay, I'm decent."

He sat down next to her and stuck his feet into a pair of lace-up Merrill Ventilators. "We haven't talked much about it yet," he said, leaning over and tying. "I don't know about her, but I felt something the instant we met." He sat back up. "It took a while for me to figure out what that was."

"And you were still married, a minor detail."

"Right, and God is found in the details, or so I'm told," he said, glancing in her direction. "Anyhow, for that reason, I wouldn't have done anything, even if she'd suggested it. People can get hurt and though I was hurting pretty much all the time, I couldn't bear the thought of anything happening to her, so I kept my mouth shut and pretended to be good old Doc Z. When the papers got filed, everything went nuts. They don't call them the 'divorce crazies' for nothing."

"But you didn't go crazy and that was the most amazing part. You could have and nobody would have blamed you, least of all me. I saw what you had been going through. But you became more stable, rather than less. I guess that's because the 'the bride of Frankenstein,' as I liked to call her, was on her way out. Get rid of the crazy-maker and what happens? Life starts looking pretty darned normal."

"Yeah, that's true, but I worked, too, remember? I worked my ass off. It kept me sane all right, but Halley? I'm ready for life to begin," he said with feeling, "and maybe for the first time. Jess is wonderful. I'm probably in love with her already and I know I've never felt like this before, no matter what I called it. She seems to think I may love the twins as well and, believe me, I have no idea what to do with that, so I need some time to sort things out. And I want her to have most of it."

Halley picked up her purse, a Louis Vitton Bob had given her one Christmas, and they started to leave. He reached for the door when she laid a hand on his arm. "Do yourself a favor, Bob, take the time. You didn't in round one, though that wasn't nearly the issue you think it was. The two of you weren't just on separate pages; you weren't even in the same book. I have an idea Jessie is only one word away and if you do this right, you'll be hyphenating sooner than you realize."

He smiled. Halley was as good a friend as he'd ever had. "Thanks," he said.

"Forget it. Oh, and about this conversation? My lips are sealed." she said, making a zipping motion with her thumb and forefinger across her mouth. "But do me a favor, will you? When you decide to go public, let me be the first to know. When the gossip starts, at least it will begin at the horse's mouth -- no comments about my dentition."

"My lips are sealed."

(Creative Commons image of The Bride of Frankenstein by Living in Montana via Flickr)
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