"Mhhmm, stay," Daniel pleaded, a smile on his face. Caroline shook her head and laughed, then leaned in to kiss him, rumpling the sheets.
"I have to go," she whispered. "I have a full schedule today – appointments and a consultation."
"Ahh, off to save lives with pills and talk about feelings," Daniel murmured, leaning in for another kiss. She indulged him, letting the kiss last a few more seconds before sitting up, her bare back facing him, and getting out of bed.
"You know I'm kidding. You're almost as respectable as I am – despite your methods."
Caroline smiled, slipping on her bra and turning to face him as she put on her skirt.
"Well, my methods that you so strongly disapprove of seem to be working on you. Two months, and the meds are working quite well."
Daniel sat up and moved to the end of the bed.
"If by methods, you mean seduction, then yes, Dr. Newsome, I am putty in your hands." His eyes sparkled mischievously as he watched Caroline button her blouse.
Caroline laughed. "Always a charmer." She cupped his chin and titled his head up for one more kiss.
"I'll see you this afternoon, alright? I will stop by campus for lunch."
"Just like every Tuesday and Thursday of every week for the past two months," Daniel said with a smile. Truthfully, he had been wary at first. She just kept showing up, sitting beside him and watching him to his crossword puzzles in the afternoons a few times a week. Then it was herbal tea at 11 am on Wednesdays. It took him two and a half weeks to ask her on a proper date.
Caroline turned and walked towards his bedroom door.
"Don't forget, it's your week to bring the crossword!," she called from the downstairs foyer before leaving the house. He chuckled and slipped on a pair of pants, heading downstairs.
"Hey doc," Max said from the kitchen. Daniel smiled and grabbed the newspaper from the kitchen counter.
"Morning, Lewicki. Tell me, what happens if I cancel my classes today?"
Max walked over to the table and set down a plate with two grapefruit halves and 2 pieces of toasted whole wheat bread, then handed Daniel a pen.
"Then Dean Haley will question me endlessly until I give him a straight answer. Why?"
"No reason," Daniel said, twirling the pen between his fingers. Max smiled.
"So you can spend time with Caroline?"
Daniel scoffed. "No, Lewicki. Get your head out of the clouds," he said, waving his hands around. "I'm not some lovesick schoolboy. I just need time to grade those term papers."
"You finished those yesterday."
Daniel sighed and took a bite of toast. "I did, didn't I?"
Lewicki nodded. "Yep, on Tuesday night. You canceled an afternoon class to finish grading them so that you could go out to dinner with Caroline."
Daniel smiled, remembering the dinner. Romantic, quiet, and fun. He hadn't had fun in quite some time, not like this.
"Doc, I think that it's great that you are dating someone and that you're feeling good, but don't you think it's… odd to be dating someone who is a spitting image of a longtime hallucination?"
Daniel took a bite of grapefruit and shook his head. "I know what you're thinking, Lewicki, trust me. But I'm taking my meds, and my head is crystal clear. But thank you for your concern."
Lewicki just nodded and took a sip of coffee. The two men finished their breakfast in silence, with the exception of Daniel humming Beethoven under his breath.
At exactly 12:15, there was a knock on Daniel's office door.
"Come in," he called, preoccupied with his lesson plans.
He looked up, the sight of Caroline immediately bringing a smile onto his face. He stood up and leaned against the desk, beaming.
She leaned in for a kiss and he wrapped his arms around her lower back.
"Mhhm, nice to see you too," Caroline whispered. She kissed his cheek. "Ready to go get lunch?"
He nodded and took her hand, escorting her down the hallway. They bought food from the cafeteria and settled outside on a bench with their lunches and a crossword.
Daniel didn't notice, but Max walked past them on his way to get a coffee. It was so strange for Lewicki to see Daniel in the quad with Caroline. He used to see the doc all the time on that same bench, gesturing wildly to his hallucinations, most often Natalie. Or at least, Max could assume it was Natalie.
"I have to get back to my office," Caroline sighed, kissing Daniel. He kissed back, smiling.
"I feel like one of my students, kissing my beautiful significant other in the quad between classes, " Daniel laughed. Caroline smiled, squeezing his hand.
"Does it drive you crazy?," Caroline asked. He shook his head.
"No, I don't mind it, actually." He paused. "Never thought I'd say that."
He stood up, pulling Caroline up with him. She slipped on her scarf and put her arms around his neck.
"I can tell you're improving," she said. "I know we decided not to talk about your diagnosis, or the therapist you're seeing, but in my professional opinion, you're doing very well since we first met." She laughed. "Even though it is not appropriate for me to be your doctor."
He kissed her cheek. "I like this better," he said warmly.
That night, Caroline and Daniel made dinner at his place and watched Rear Window until both were having trouble keeping their eyes open. They got ready for bed slowly, with Caroline brushing her teeth and watching Daniel take his pills, a smile on her face. She leaned over, spit in the sink and went to grab her hairbrush from her overnight bag. The second she was gone, Daniel took the pills out from under his tongue and crushed them in the sink, washing them down the drain.
Daniel watched Caroline's every move, a warm and fuzzy feeling in his chest. She sat next to him in bed, wearing her own floral pajama shorts and one of his gray t-shirts. She flipped through an InStyle while he finished a sudoku puzzle. Just as he put the book and pen down on the nightstand, something caught his eye. It was Natalie, standing in the doorway, a disapproving look on her face as she glanced from Daniel to her doppelganger.
And so it began.