Tuesday, July 10, 2012
The door has barely closed on my last patient when I hear a quiet tapping. I've already switched into chart annotating-mode, so I don't even look up as I call, "Come in." The door swings open, and I glance up to find Alice, one of my best friends and a nurse on the oncology floor, leaning against the doorway.
I grin up at her, but then continue with the note I'm making—I don't want to forget the exact words my last patient said regarding finally coming to terms with his wife's death. "What's up, Alice?" I ask, still scribbling away.
"Hey, Bells, I have some work for you," she answers.
"On your floor?"
Sighing, I pause in my notation. I love my job at the hospital. I've been a practicing psychologist here for six years, and I get a lot of satisfaction out of working with my patients—particularly when I'm able to help families through the grieving process after they've lost a loved one. But I have another job I take on, mostly in my off-hours. About two years ago, I overheard a few of the nurses talking about a terminal patient on the oncology floor who had no family coming to see him, and I knew I had to meet him. Over the next few weeks, we formed a friendship that changed us both, and I was able to help him find some happiness in the last days of his life. After that, I made it a point to ask the nurses to tell me the next time they had a patient like that who got no visitors, and the rest, as they say, is history. I am now the go-to psychologist when a terminal patient with no family is discovered, and I've made it my mission to offer them friendship and comfort at a time when they are most in need. It's always a very rewarding experience, but it's also the most difficult and gut-wrenching work I ever do.
It's work I feel compelled to do, but I'm not taking any new patients at the moment.
"I know! You're taking a break for a while, but this one … I just couldn't let go."
Over the last year, there were four elderly patients who I befriended and supported as they made ready to leave this world. The last died just three months ago, at about the time I broke up with Peter, my boyfriend of four years. I really thought he was the one, but we had … irreconcilable differences. In the weeks that followed, I was very depressed. Hell, sometimes I think I still am. My therapist told me to take a break for a while; to take some time for myself to heal from both the break-up and all the time I've spent face to face with death.
I rub my temple, trying to ease the ache that's formed there. Well, it couldn't hurt to hear her out.
"What have you got for me?" I ask, trying to continue my notation. She draws in a deep breath before she starts in.
"Edward Masen, twenty-nine, Angioimmunoblastic T-cell Lymphoma, stage IV B."
My head snaps up. "Twenty-nine?" Jesus, that's young to be dying of cancer, and to be all alone.
Alice just nods, her hands clutched together in front of her. Alice has been working on the oncology floor for five years now, and I swear she's seen everything. At this point in her career, hardly anything rattles her, but I can clearly see she's worked up over this one. She stares at me with sorrowful eyes.
"He was brought in for a secondary infection a week ago. He was altered at the time, due to fever, but he begged us not to treat him. He has a DNR in place, but that only applies to intubation, not antibiotic treatment. Even after he was back in his right mind, he still asked us not to treat him, but that would violate hospital code. No one has come to visit him the entire time he's been here. He wants to die ... quickly. He's completely given up," she finishes, and I can see the tears in her eyes.
I'm caught off-guard by how emotional Alice is over this patient, but I try to maintain some clinical distance. It's a very difficult thing to do in situations like these, but it's the only way to survive. "Should he have given up?" I ask softly.
"You need to see him," she replies.
Yes, apparently so.
After finishing my notes on the day's patients, I head up to the oncology floor. Alice is still working, and I check in with her at the nurse's station to find out the room number for Mr. Masen.
"He's in room four-twelve," she tells me. "He was having some pain today, so he's had morphine, but I think you should still be able to talk to him."
Nodding, I proceed down the hall, stopping outside the door and steeling myself. Alice's reaction to this guy has me on edge.
Not wanting to invade his privacy, I knock softly, but hear no response. I don't want to knock hard enough to wake him if he's sleeping, so I open the door just a bit and peek in. If he's asleep, I'll come back another day.
Angling my head around the door, I draw in a sharp breath. Even as sick as he is, Edward Masen is stunning. His hair is a mass of brown, wavy locks, with brassy reddish highlights strewn in, made even brighter by the fluorescent hospital lighting. It's relatively short on the sides, but long on the top, and hangs down onto his forehead. He has bushy eyebrows of the same reddish-brown and a chiseled jaw that squares strongly in the front. His shoulders are broad, and although his hollowed cheeks tell me he's underweight, clearly he's muscularly built. Oh, wow.
Completely lost in my ogling, I push the door open a little further and it squeaks loudly. His head whips up, and the greenest eyes I've ever seen meet mine. I start breathing again with a gasp and shake my head to clear it. I smile at him tentatively, and what happens next completely blows me away.
His gorgeous face breaks into an absolutely incredible smile. His eyes seem to turn an even deeper green, and small laugh lines appear at the corners as his cheeks pucker into a boyish grin. His full pink lips narrow to reveal perfectly straight, white teeth, and the spread of his cheeks fills in the hollows so that if not for the circles under his eyes, I don't think I'd even be able to tell he's sick.
The smile stays there as he looks me over, obviously waiting for me to say something.
I shake my head again and take a few more steps into the room. "Hello, Mr. Masen."
"Hi there," he responds lazily, his head rolling slightly to one side.
Looking closer, I notice the glassiness of his eyes. Exactly how much morphine has he had today? "My name is Bella. Would you mind some company?"
"If by company, you mean you, I wouldn't mind at all," he says, his eyes raking over me in a way that makes certain parts tingle.
I clear my throat a bit and sit in the chair at his bedside. "How are you feeling today, Mr. Masen?"
He grins at me again, his tongue poking out between his chapped lips to moisten them. "Please, call me Edward." Then his brow furrows adorably. "What did you ask me?"
I can't help but chuckle as I realize what kind of conversation this is going to be. He's seriously high from the morphine. "I asked how you were feeling today."
"Right … sorry…" he mumbles. "Well, I think I was having a pretty crappy day, but then the nurses gave me this." He holds up the button for the PCA infusion pump for the morphine. "And then you came by. So at the moment, I'm feeling pretty good," he finishes with a grin.
I can't help but grin back at him, and I also can't bring myself to ask him any serious questions. He's in too good a mood, and I don't think I would get any straight answers from him anyway. "I'm glad to hear that."
"You're …" he begins, his eyes again roaming freely over me. "Never mind," he murmurs, blushing to the roots of his hair and looking away.
"What were you going to say?" I ask innocently, but I have a pretty good idea where his thoughts are.
"I was going to say … you're pretty, but it didn't seem like a good idea for some reason," he answers, a perplexed look on his face.
"That's okay, you can tell me I'm pretty," I tell him, and he grins at me again.
He closes his eyes, then opens them again slowly.
"Hey, I think you're getting pretty tired. Why don't you rest now, and I'll come back and see you tomorrow?" I suggest, putting my hands on the armrests of the chair to stand up.
His hand shoots out and grasps mine, surprising me. His fingers are warm and soft, and my skin tingles underneath his fingertips.
I glance up quickly into those impossibly green eyes to find them now tinged with sadness.
"Will you stay? At least for a few minutes? You're the first visitor I've had," he says softly, reminding me why I'm here. Oh, damn. My heart suddenly aches for him.
"Of course. You close your eyes and rest, and I'll stay right here."
"Thank you," he whispers as his eyes fall closed, already succumbing to the pull of the morphine.
I sit there for a while, just watching him sleep. He's gorgeous. Jesus Christ, Bella, he's dying. You're not supposed to notice how good looking he is! But I can't help it. He's one of the handsomest men I've ever seen, despite the obvious signs of his illness.
And I have so many questions—questions that don't even come up for elderly patients. How did he end up in this place, seemingly at the end of his life, at such a young age? Where are his family and friends? Is he keeping them away somehow, or is there truly no one who cares about him? I find the latter very hard to believe. Hell, I've known him for all of five minutes, and I can already see why Alice is taken with him—I can feel his pull on me, too, even though we just met.
He seems pretty easygoing, though. Maybe it won't be too hard get to know him and find out where the people who care about him are. But, God, he's so young. This is so … different from anything I've ever done before. I've never befriended a terminal patient who wasn't elderly. Can I really do this? I'm already guessing this will be the hardest "terminal" friendship I've ever formed, but as I watch him sleep, I know I can't turn my back on him now. I already told him I'll come back tomorrow.
A/N: Thank you for reading! Come Back Tomorrow will post once a week initially, and then I'll up it to twice a week after I finish the story and get some more editing done. This story is currently 95% pre-written, so don't fear the WIP!
As you might have guessed from this chapter, Edward has cancer and this is going to just a tiny bit angsty. If this is a trigger for you, you might want to stop reading now. If you need to know whether this is an HEA or not, please see the A/N on Chapter 2.
I have a Facebook group where I'll be posting pictures and teasers as the story goes on. Just search for "Shadow Fics" on Facebook, and you'll find us!
It takes a village to nurture most stories, and this one is no exception. I have a lot of people who I'm extremely grateful to, and I'll thank them all throughout the posting, but today I want to mention the two people without whom you wouldn't be reading this. People who believe in you give you wings, and they have shoved me out of my little nest of insecurity and helped me to soar. BeLynda Smith and bornonhalloween, you are beyond awesome and I can't thank you enough for all you've done for me and for this story.
See you next week!
Update: Come Back Tomorrow has a YouTube playlist, where I'll be posting music to go with the story. The link is posted on my author profile page, and in Shadow Fics on Facebook. I'll post the song title on the previous chapter, so you can listen to it before/while you read!
Chapter 1: You're Beautiful by James Blunt
Chapter 2: Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day