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It’s the picture that makes me think of her. The old worn one, my favorite. The picture of the two of us, curled up on the floor, tangled up in both blankets and each other’s limbs. Her face pressed to the hollow of my neck and her wild brown hair curling around her face perfectly. Both of our faces are flushed from the fire behind us and each others warmth. Sleepy smiles pasted on soft vulnerable mouths. We couldn’t have been more then five.
I’m looking through an old photograph book, finding dozens of pictures of myself and, of course, my best friend since pre-k, Hazel. The witty, sarcastic, beautiful brunette with the widest, brightest, most brilliant blue eyes. She suddenly invades my thoughts and I cant help but frown. After what happened today, being forced to confront her greatest fear (stage fright) and being humiliated for it, then her parents forcing her to continue the school day even after she had busted into tears and passed out in front of the entire school.
So, of course I have to check up on her. Things had been so hard on her lately. With everything that had gone down, it’s no wonder she was diagnosed with depression. But that’s something we don’t talk about. So I pick up my phone and can almost hear the lyrics of the new ring tone I had set up for my call. So, I cant help but sing it softly as I wait for her to answer.
“For the life of me I cannot remember
What made us think that we were wise and
We'd never compromise
For the life of me I cannot believe
We'd ever die for these sins
We were merely-“
When I hear her pick up the phone, I smile and finish, “-freshmen.” I cant help but laugh, warmly, hoping to cheer her up.
“You’re the one who changed my ringtones!” she tries to laugh with me but fails miserably and I can almost see her squirming on the other end of the phone. My stomach drops.
There’s a beat of silence over the phone
“Something’s wrong.” I mumble worriedly, already struggling to my feet and searching for my coat.
“Nothing’s wrong, Kaiden, what are you talking about?” her voice cracks and I inertly curse.
“Hazel. You-“ I stammer incomprehensively for a moment. I jungle my phone as I race through my room, for once thanking God that my mom works the graveyard shift. “Where are you?” I question, sternly, “And don’t say ‘home’, ‘cuz I know you’re not.”
I can almost hear her battling with herself for a few minutes. It’s silent much too long and fear grips me.
“Whiterun Park.” she answers in a far more then broken voice
I sigh with relief, both of us live a bare two blocks from there. It’s wouldn’t take me more then five minutes if I run. I whisper back softly over the phone, “I’m coming. Don’t do anything stupid. And stay on with me, okay?”
I hear her sniffle “’Kay.”
I race through my house, impatient since I know I’m not moving near fast enough. The silence unnerves me.
“Talk to me.” I almost plead.
“I don’t know what to say.” she whispers, lost.
I close the front door behind me and awkwardly start to run, “Tell me what you see.” I pant, struggling to make her talk.
“Stars. Sky. Grass. Trees. You know: the usual.”
I laugh forcibly.
It won’t be long now; I’m almost there. I don’t know why she chose there… we lives so close, but nevertheless, I’ve never been so thankful for something in my life.
“Where do your parents think you are?”
“Lila’s.” she replies, mechanically
“Where does she think you are?”
“Not a lie.” I chuckle and see her look up, from the base of our tree, on cue.
I’m about twenty feet away from her and I sprint the rest of the distance then crouching down in front of her before changing my mind and sitting next to her. I gulp, as I force myself to pick up all the pills spilled on the grass next to the empty little bottle, before stuffing them and the bottle in my jacket pocket. I wrap an arm around her and she snuggles closer. She rests her head on my chest and my head swims with all the insane possibilities: Everything that could have happened if I hadn’t called. What if I hadn’t? What then? What would I do without her?
“Hazel… I…” I gasp, struggling to breathe as I tighten my arms around her.
“I know.” she whispers quietly.
She nods against my neck.
I duck down and press a kiss to her forehead, “Just so we’re clear…” I start.
She interrupts, “We’re clear.”
(Six months later)
“Hey.” I reply, automatically, forcibly. She forces a smile at me just the same as I close my locker.
“Me? Why wouldn’t I be?” I question as I start down the hall to the buses. She follows, her blue eyes on my back.
“Just making sure I don’t find you at Whiterun Park.”
The laugh just springs out of me, forcing its way out of my mouth and Hazel’s eyes light up with pleasant surprise, and soon, she’s laughing with me. I have to take a seat outside on the brick divider and drop my books next to me. She takes her spot on my other side and we both can’t stop laughing.
It's not funny. We both know that, not really. But we both cant stop laughing and it feels way to good to even want to.
Things hadn’t been easy between us since that night. It had felt so forced. I thought she hated me. For telling her parents, and then them making her go to therapy. I thought she had blamed me. I had fully expected her to never talk to me again. But she had- granted, the tension was so thick you couldn’t cut it with a knife- but it was more then I could have hoped for.
She flashes me that smile: The Hazel Smile. That crooked grin with a glint to her eyes. It makes my heart beat just a little bit faster. It feels good to laugh. It feels good to be normal again; to be able to look at her and see more then guilt, and sometimes, anger. It used to drive me crazy, thinking about everything that could have happened. Everything that could have gone wrong. Thinking so much it makes my heart ache.
Tears start to roll down her cheeks, not the happy kind. I don’t say anything. I lean over and wrap an arm around her. Things are normal again. Things are easy again. It’s insane how simple it is for her to just trust me again. It’s insane, but I don’t know what I’d do if she didn’t. Maybe, I really would find myself at Whiterun too.
“I better not.” she whispers. I don’t pretend I don’t know what she’s talking about, and neither do I wonder how she knows what I’m thinking. Of course she knows I'm contemplating heading for that dang park.
“You wont.” I whisper, but apparently I don’t convince her.
“You cant- I…” she stammers
“Hazel…” I murmur, my stomach flipping at the raw emotion in her voice.
“I… Kaiden…” she breathes.
“Just so we’re clear…”she starts.
I nod, cutting her off: “We’re clear.”
(Ten Years Later)
“I don't love you,” She tells me.
“I know,” I sigh, and tilt Hazel’s head upwards to allow me access to the wound I’m trying to suture.
“I am not in love you.” Hazel cruelly enunciates every word.
I still the hand touching Hazel’s jaw bone and breathe deeply. “ Hazel, I know... I heard you twice the first time.”
I both feel and avoid Hazel’s glare, not needing to be reminded of my stupidity. Even though the heavy feeling in my stomach is making it difficult for me to forget, the whole scene is much more painfully replayed when both of us are in the room. It was probably the stupidest thing I had ever done. Well, next to kissing her not even an hour ago.
Why I had told her, I’ll never know. Saying I love you after a kiss is fairytale talk. It doesn’t happen. In high school, maybe, but not when both participants are long out of high school, college, and med school. We’re interns, not students. Two adults kissing does not an ‘I love you’ make.
“Just so we're clear…”she starts.
I cut her off, “We're clear.” And I go back to the suturing.
“What were you…”she tries again.
“Hazel!” I bark, “This would be so much easier if you kept your mouth shut.” I hold up the needle for emphasis. She sighs and I approach with the needle once more.
“This is all your fault anyway.”
“Of course“, I answer magnanimously.
I don't need any clarification. Obviously my ridiculous confession of love had ticked Hazel off so much that the she had been spoiling for a fight (and had gotten it) being a little too curt to the father of a sick (and dying) patient- who had the triple advantage of being a guy, almost a hundred pounds heavier, and just about a foot taller. I don't know what exactly Hazel had said to the father that resulted in the punch, but whatever it was, it was certainly my fault.
Ergo, it is also my fault that twenty-seven year old second year intern, Dr. Hazel Brettin is currently sitting on an exam room table, her left wrist sprained and bandaged, right index finger hooked to a pulse monitor and her eyes still somewhat out of focus from the penlight that I had shone rather manically into them. It was also my fault that her cheek is throbbing and her chin is bleeding all over the collar of her blouse.
Just so we're clear.
I settle on two stitches and move the collar to clean away as much of the surrounding blood as I can
Hazel shoves my arm away.
“Stay easy,” I scold, while I open up the top two buttons of the ruined shirt to examine her neck. “You've another bleed here...and there's something lodged in it...what is …did you fall on glass?”
“Probably. He knocked me into a meal trolley.”
I nod and turn to get a small set of forceps.
“Take your shirt off?” I voice it more as a shy question. Really? Just after I get shot down by her I have to go through this humiliating experience
Hazel glowers while holding up her two hands, one injured and one hooked to a finger clip.
Oh. I step closer.
“You don't have to take it off. Just open a couple more buttons and pull it off the shoulder,” She orders.
The 'ping' that sounds in the silence may have been the sound of the two buttons popping off Hazel's shirt when I pull at it furiously. Or it may have been the sound of my patience finally snapping.
“For crying out loud,” I snap, “I’ve known you since pre-k, Hazel. I’ve seen you naked before!”
My touch is no gentler when I push the shirt off of her shoulder- now no longer shy, ignoring the other doctor’s outraged “Hey,” and hurriedly placing a hand on her collar bone for better leverage to examine the injury. Which I then immediately retract, as though burned, uncovering my very own handiwork - a large purple bruise that my mouth had oh-so-carefully and oh-so-deliberately designed not even an hour ago. Okay, so maybe we had more then kissed, more like made out. And I probably would have gotten away scotch free or maybe even with a girlfriend if I had just kept my stupid mouth shut.
Without thinking – and gosh, if this wasn't the theme of the last twenty-four hours – I gently ghosted my thumb over the injured flesh. How long I might have continued this before Hazel pushed me away is a moot point since before I can stop or be stopped, Hazel's pulse monitor beeps alarmingly, recording 94 to 106 bpm in the space of five seconds.
I do a series of what are, later- on reflection, overly-dramatic double takes as I look from the monitor to the bite mark, to my hand still touching Hazel, to the monitor and back to her; who is staring incredulously at the small screen.
Well, isn't this interesting? I, a man of science, feel compelled to investigate further. I’m subconsciously aware that I only have a short window of time before Hazel will compose herself, and ridicule me in the process. Slowly, I reach out and caress the bite mark, and the monitor applauds enthusiastically. I look back at Hazel, who has, predictably, composed her game face.
“What?” she snarls.
“You do realize that you're well into tachycardia?”
“So, what?” she sneers. “You think this,” she nods towards the monitor “is you? Seriously? Get over yourself, Dr. Tyrell. An hour ago I did a really stupid thing, half an hour ago I got punched, you've just stitched me without anesthetic and now you're coming at me with a forceps to dig inside my neck. I'm stressed and,” she finishes scathingly, “in case they didn't teach you this on, oh let's say, the first day of med school, stress elevates heart rate. Now get this freaking thing off me.” she waves her right hand at me.
It’s on the tip of my tongue to reminds Hazel that it was her own choice, or rather insistence, not to have a local anesthetic. But now is not the time.
“Ok,” I hold my hands up in a placating gesture, “And no, that stays on until I'm fairly sure that you're not going to have a heart attack. In case they didn't teach you this on, oh let's say, your first day of med school, a resting pulse should not be,” I glance at the monitor, “116.”
She set her face, all steeliness and open contempt.
“I know what you're thinking,” she says quietly.
“I don't love you,” she adds.
And this might be true, I think, in which case we might soon need a cardiologist… and a crash cart.
“Then we may have something to worry about,” I mumble.
Of course I know that stress elevates the heart rate. But then again, so does dopamine… and adrenaline. On this subject, I wisely keep my counsel, for a shut mouth catches no flies. Or fists. Still, I have an idea and- with no time to reflect on the idiocy of my last few Hazel-themed ideas- I step forward and cup her face.
“Tyrell,” Hazel warns- I hear the use of my last name and note that it is a terrible sign- but I see something wild flicker in those blue eyes before they clamp shut. 116, 117, 120, the monitor announces.
I gently caress the frozen face in my hand. 122. Anticipating Hazel's move, I catch my friend's arm before she can use her bandaged hand to try and pull the clip off her finger. Hazel opens her eyes.
“I'M NOT IN LOVE WITH YOU,” she shouts, shaking both her head and her arm to remove my offending hands. I haven’t heard her sound that desperate since… well, since about an hour ago when my mouth was on her neck.
I step back, smirking at the corollary. The machine flutters and the smirk, seemingly of its own volition, grows until it becomes a full on toothy smile that invites dimples, shining eyes and laugh lines to join in. Hazel just gapes at him in open-mouthed horror, while the pulse monitor makes more and more insistent and erratic noises. I don't look at it but I can hear the rapid beating and the butterflies and the arrhythmias and the tummy flips.
A look of epiphany comes over Hazel, and I suddenly realize that she was not in denial. She just hadn't known until now that she had fallen just as much in love with me as I had for her. At least not consciously. I make a vow to smile more often
“Give it up, Hazie,” and I almost feel sorry for my bewildered, horrified, mortified and completely busted best friend. Almost. Hazel opens her mouth and then closes it and then opens it again. I laugh at the sight, folding my arms and leaning forward, and laugh even more when I catch the panic on Hazel's face fighting with a smile that’s begging to answer my own.
I lean over and, now laughing at Hazel's flinch, remove the finger clip.
Hazel, for all the world, looks like someone who has just climbed out of a totaled car and can't quite believe she is still alive.
“Crap,“ was all she could say as she stared at a spot on the wall while flexing her hand, “Crap.”
I, for all the world, probably look like someone who is far too delighted with himself
“You love me,” I accused.
Hazel ducks her head. 'No...I…I...no...it's…crap…” she stammers and for some long seconds I wonder what is going on in the head of the woman seated before me. She signals her defeat with a slump of her shoulders. She stretches her arms out slowly and I take a step forward to meet her. One long finger gently caresses the fabric of my shirt between the buttons that were fastened at my stomach.
“I… yeah…yes…I love you,” she breathes in notes of awe, fear and resignation. She bunches a handful of shirt fabric in her fingers, desperately pulling and clutching it. “I love you, I love you, I love you.” she breathes, one for each time she had denied it.
I take another step forward and rested my chin on Hazel's still bowed head.
“This is all your fault,” she muffles into my chest after a few minutes.
“Just so as we're clear.” she breathes.
(Five years later)
“Clarity.” is her soft reply to my question.
My head snaps up because I’m me and this is Hazel and she doesn’t need to explain why. There’s no way to put my emotion into words, because the name- her suggestion for what to name our first born child that now lies peacefully in her arms- needs no explanation. It’s perfect.
Hazel squirms a bit on the hospital bed, uncomfortable with being still and lying in bed for so long as well as the exchange of emotion. I lean over her hospital bed from my chair. I run a tender finger along my new daughter’s cheek, “Hi, Clarity.”
The name, with all it uniqueness and meaning for the two of us brings more tears to my already wet eyes. I look up at her and she’s watching me with the same set of emotions. I lean forward and kiss my wife, chastely as I find her hand, the one with both her engagement and wedding ring. I trace the gold loops as I press my forehead to hers.
“Hazel… I…I….” I struggle for words.
She swallows. “I know.”
“You always know.” I breathe.
“Of course.” she smiles back, “I know everything.”
I hesitate, “Just so we’re clear…”
She smiles, cutting me off, “We’re clear.”