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The car was silent as I made my way to the hospital. I sped past the other cars, weaving through traffic. It was three in the morning, and there was an emergency. I turned into the parking lot, thinking about how I wouldn’t be making Will’s breakfast this morning.
I parked my car and headed into the hospital, pulling my lab coat on as I ran. The ambulance had gotten there several minutes before me, so I was already behind. I entered the triage room and saw a resident checking a patient’s vitals.
“What’ve we got?” I asked her, as I glanced through a clipboard detailing the injuries.
“Two headed to surgery, two more on the way, and this one,” she said, gesturing to the man lying on the table. He was so covered in blood, that his wrinkled features were completely obscured. I rechecked his vitals- barely breathing, weak pulse, but definitely alive.
I began to search for the bleeder. I felt my way around the man’s head with a pad of gauze. “Here!” We packed gauze onto the contusion on his left temple. I began to wipe the blood off of the man’s face.
“Sir, can you hear me?” I asked, flashing a light in his eyes. That’s when I realized, as I cleaned face, that I knew this man. His features hadn’t changed over time: his deep-set eyes, his twice-broken nose; I could never forget them.
I thought of that day, more than ten years ago, I was walking down the cobbled streets of Cambridge, my new home, when rain suddenly began to fall. Buckets of icy water began pouring from the skies, completely without warning. Desperate for shelter, I darted through the first door I saw. As soon as I stepped through, I found myself in a little coffee shop, whose tiny radiator was surprisingly powerful. I ordered a mocha latte and a bagel with cream cheese, and took a look around. The first room felt like an oversized closet, and the room upstairs was more of a small bedroom. When I arrived at the top of the steps, I saw the only other patron, Mr. Reid, my studio art teacher.
He was sitting at a table with a sketch pad, drawing. I coughed to declare my presence, and he looked up from his art.
“Oh, Ms. Price, I didn’t see you there, how are you?” he asked, in his thick, Scottish accent. He gestured for me to take the seat across from him. I was glad to; it was a comfy lounge chair, with just enough padding.
“I’m fine, a bit soaked, but I’ll survive,” I said, smiling as I sat. I’d only spent a little time in the art studio, but after meeting Mr. Reid, I was sure I’d find myself there more often.
“So, I was shocked to find that you weren’t an art student. After watching you paint, seeing your work, I never would’ve pegged you for being pre-med,” he said, shifting his weight in his seat. A woman came by with my coffee and bagel, and left it on our table.
“Yeah, I had to practically beg the board to let me take a course outside of my concentration, but I really love to paint, so I pushed the issue,” I smiled, and took a bite of my bagel. I thought of my father, who inspired me to paint, and how proud he would be of me if he was still here.
“So this place, you come here often?” I asked, looking around at the room. Nothing matched. There was a wrought-iron chair next to a fluffy armchair, both seated at a wooden table that looked like it predated the town of Cambridge itself. Then there were the paintings: a landscape in muted pastels next to a portrait done in tempra.
“I do, actually, I come here almost every afternoon.” We sat in silence for a moment. I finished my bagel.
“It seems nice. Good bagels,” I nodded my head towards my empty plate, smiling. He smiled back at me.
“Yeah, and I think the ideas for some of my best work have come out of this place,” he patted his sketchbook.
“It sounds like I should come here more often,” I went to take a sip of my mocha, and realized I’d finished it. I bought another, and we talked until the rain let up two hours later.
We ran into each other again twice that week, and twice every week after that. I told him about what I saw in my future, and he told me about his past. I learned that he’d lost his wife and daughter in an accident. His daughter had been younger than me, but she had loved to paint.
“Doctor King?” I blinked my eyes, and found myself back in the triage room, with William coding on the table.
“Right, let’s bag him, and get the paddles,” I said. I wiped off the tears that had found their way on my face before snapping to my basic doctoring instincts. I intubated the man, the one I knew, but didn’t want to admit, was William. Two more residents had entered the triage room, and I passed the bag off so I could man the paddles.
“Charge to 250,” I said, thinking of the countless hours I’d spent in an art studio, watching William paint. I shoved those thoughts to the back of my mind, my forehead crinkling in a desperate attempt to focus.
“Clear!” I shocked his heart. The moment between the shock and the first heartbeat on the monitor felt like a lifetime. I couldn’t control the thought as it came into my head, the thought that he might die right then; but then it came. The sound that meant his heart was beating once again. My eyes closed, and I breathed a small sigh before I remembered I had a job to do.
“Alright, I need a head CT and an MRI, let’s see what we’ve got here.” I wiped the sweat off of my forehead as I left the room. Though I tried to keep my features calm, I couldn’t control the gnawing feeling at the pit of my stomach. With my head down, ignoring the world around me, I made a beeline for the doctor’s lounge.
Less than four years ago, I was checking my mail. It had been two weeks since I’d sent my last letter to William. I’d told him I found out I was pregnant, that James and I were going to be parents. I had hoped all the excitement I was feeling had made it into that letter.
I sorted through the junk, set the bills on the table, and there it was, at the very bottom, a red envelope. It was always red: it was both of our favorite color. After I read the letter, I would quickly write a reply, and put it in the mailbox as soon as I was done. I was practically obsessed with keeping in contact with William; I wasn’t going to let him go.
I thought about this as I made dinner that night. There was one memory that stuck out. During my sophomore year, I had gone on a few dates with this guy. His name was Peter, and he was crazy. I didn’t realize this until I told him I wasn’t interested anymore: he hit me. I still don’t know why I didn’t tell William the first time, maybe I was afraid. Regardless, William saw the bruises, he figured it out. He didn’t even ask me before he went to straight Peter one day and told him to leave me the hell alone. Afterward he arrived at my door, with a broken nose. I was afraid he would be angry, but he was only disappointed that I hadn’t come to him sooner.
I smiled at the thought, and went back to preparing dinner.
Four deaths and many hours later, the other doctors were being sent home. I was told I needed rest before I had to come back again in the morning, but William was lying in a hospital room, the only victim to survive, and it had been more than ten years since I last heard his voice, so I waited at his bedside for him to wake up. I had fallen asleep, sitting in the stiff lounge chair, with my arm and head on the bed. I dreamed of a large ocean and a terrible storm. I was in a little boat, and William was floating, dead.
I woke with a start, to see William’s familiar, smiling face streaked with tears. I sat up straighter, and took his hand in mine. We both smiled. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Hello.”
I smiled at that familiar accent that I’d had to imagine all these years.
“Hey,” I said, breathless.
“I was hoping I’d find you here,” he said, not taking his eyes off me. It was too much, I looked down.
“Yeah, well, I’m glad you felt you had to get in a car accident to get my attention,” I said, as I smiled and looked back up at him.
“That wasn’t my original intention, but it seemed to get the job done,” he said, smiling back at me, but there was still sadness in his eyes.
“William…” I paused, staring at the laces of my shoes, trying to gather my strength. I looked back up, into his eyes, but he spoke before I could.
“I know, and I also know there’s nothing the lot of you can do,” he said. I swallowed hard, thinking about the dark spot I saw on that MRI that could be nothing but a tumor.
“If you had just told me sooner,” I said. I was angry he’d waited this long. He just shook his head. I looked back down as chewed on my lip.
“It wouldn’t have made a difference, you know that,” he said. He studied my face, waiting for my reaction.
“Yeah,” was all I could manage.
“Molly, I didn’t come for a cure, I came to say goodbye,” he said, the final word catching in his throat, then stinging in my ears. I managed to look into his eyes, but all it did was make me cry.
I spent the rest of the night with him, but by five I had to begin my morning rounds. After a day of surgeries and evening rounds after that, I gave his room another visit. I was thinking of brining Will up to meet the man he was named after. When I got to his room, it was empty. There was a nurse folding up the sheets.
“Excuse me, where’s Mr. Reid?” I asked, harshly. I was hoping, but not really believing, that he had just been moved to another room.
“The Scottish guy? He died earlier in the day. Had a seizure or something,” she said. With the dirty sheets in her hand, she brushed my shoulder on the way out the door.
I still think about him, every day, every other moment; and sometimes Will and I will paint pictures of the Indigo Café.