Author: Chelle Storey-Daniel
Pairing: Mark/Callie Callie/Hahn
Summary: What happens when a man steps up and offers you everything you've ever wanted at the same time that a woman does? What happens when you're feeling things that you've never felt before and you question everything you thought you knew about yourself. Callie takes a journey that is rocky, wonderful, terrifying, and breathtaking as she realizes that there is one heart too many in her life and that's the one that she will have to break.
Dedicated: To nycbadgirl and swedishgafan ... you know why. And to aclairec, as always ... you're my rock. :)
I meet Mark the following morning at a quaint little diner where the jukebox is always a little too loud, but you know every single song it plays from the fifties so you don’t mind. It’s the kind of place where you can smell grease the moment you walk in and the uncomfortable booths are hard against your backside, but the food is so damn good that you can forget that you’re clogging your arteries or that your ass will be numb for an hour after leaving. This is not the first time we’ve met for Sunrise Waffles (hey, it’s just as good as Sunrise Yoga). That’s literally what it’s called on the menu and the short order cook puts sunrays of cool whip on the plate. It’s the tackiest thing I’ve ever seen, but it’s sinfully tasty and I always smile when the waitress puts it on the table in front of me. Mark and I have been coming twice a week for a couple of months. The second time Mark and I ate here ... he asked for the cool whip and drew a face and large penis on my waffles before I could stop him.
Then he wrote ‘Do me?’ on his and I smeared it around with my knife until it said ‘no’.
I didn’t keep my word.
I think I’ve had more sex with him in the past couple of days than I did with George the entire time we were married. I really didn’t expect to ever go there again. Every time he propositioned me I shot him down and he just took it in stride, but it didn’t deter him. And I can’t even blame alcohol because I wasn’t *that* drunk when I asked him to take me back to his place during Addison’s visit. And I’m not drunk now when I see him sitting at our usual booth with his hands wrapped around a cup of coffee. He’s an incredibly sexy man. If I was blind ... he still would have gotten in my pants because he’s that damn charming sometimes.
"Hey, you!" I drop my purse on the bench seat and slide onto the torture device, facing him. "Traffic ... it’s a bitch and if the sirens I heard on my way in are any indication -"
"How are you?"
"Er, good. You?"
"I think we should date," he blurts out.
I shouldn’t have lifted his coffee and sipped it right then because let me tell you ... it hurts coming out your nose. I gasp for air and eventually collect myself, though I’m looking at him with blurry vision when I gasp, "What!?"
"I like you." He hands me a tissue and I dab at my eyes. Apparently an elderly couple at the bar think that he’s just proposed and I’m overcome with emotion because the old man says something about young love. Mark ignores it and keeps looking at me. "I think you’re beautiful and you’re fun ... and ... it took me three sheets of paper to Date and Tell. Your name was the last one on there and ... well, I’d like to keep it that way."
I want to call ‘bullshit’, but he’s not smiling and he’s looking at me like I could knock him over with a feather. I don’t know whether to laugh at him or run. I opt to do neither. "Did you order yet?"
"What? No." He takes the cup from me and sets it back on the table. For a second ... he looks like he wants to hold my hand and I leave it resting there in the open just in case ... but he simply wraps his long fingers around the cup again. I can’t stop looking at those fingers. I hate my life. I realize he’s still talking and fight to pay attention. "I mean, we already sorta date, Callie. We come here. We go to the movies. We have sex. Lots and lots of sex and ... we’re good at that. So ... we should date."
"Did you ... bump your head last night? Take any drugs?"
"I took your advice. I talked to a lawyer about the nurses and he said that ... well ... I should have a girlfriend. One ... girlfriend. And I choose you."
"Should I be honored?"
My eyebrows raise so high that not even Botox could bring them back down. "You have go to be kidding me! You don’t just ... announce that you want to date someone because your lawyer told you to! And I don’t want you to choose me like you’re the second coming or something. You’re not."
"Ouch." He puts a hand over his face. "I’m not saying this stuff like I planned."
"I like you," he repeats. It doesn’t help my blood pressure. "I - I really, genuinely like you. I mean ... I know more about you than any other woman alive. For instance ... you want to kill me right now and I know that because you’re three shades darker than usual and," he moves my silverware out of reach, "I know that you like me, too. We have fun, Cal. A lot of fun and we’re good together. And ... I don’t want to be a ... manwhore anymore."
"Then get a dog to keep you company at night!"
"I’M TRYING TO SAY SOMETHING IMPORTANT HERE!"
I look out the window because people are starting to stare. "I’m gonna kick your ass, Sloan."
"I don’t know what I’m doing, okay? Everything I learned about relationships I learned from watching Derek and Addison and we both know how that turned out. I don’t know how to pick out flowers or birthday presents. I have no clue what a woman likes for Christmas ... except my grandmother and she died last year and you don’t look like a Dreamsicle type ... but I’m willing to let you teach me. I think you CAN teach me. And - and I’m asking you to."
I think I would have fallen in the floor and died on the spot if George O’Malley had *ever* said something like that to me. It’s not so much the words Mark used ... it’s the way he said it. He has propositioned me, argued with me over politics and football, made me laugh until my sides ached by doing a strip tease to ‘It’s Raining Men’ (don’t ask) and remembered every detail I’ve told him about my family, but the way he asks me to help him does something to me. I think he means it.
And I’m not sure if I want him to mean it.
Or look at me like a kicked puppy.
I don’t melt completely until he clears his throat and I feel his foot against my leg. He digs the toe of his boot into my shin and I’m sure that’s his attempt at romance so I roll with it. Plus ... I’m pretty positive he’s wearing steel toed shoes and doesn’t realize that he’s bruising me. His eyes are too blue for his own good and he’s looking at me like I’ve got some kind of salvation for him. It’s beseeching. Sad, really. "Why in the hell would you pick me?" I ask.
"Because in a hospital full of ordinary women ... you stand out."
"Plus ... if you flaunt your girlfriend all over the hospital ... the nurses may give up the grudge and scrub in, right?"
"It wouldn’t hurt."
"I’m so moved."
"I’m not perfect." He reaches across the table and touches my cheek. "But I’m as close as I’ll ever be with you."
Whoever suddenly gave him a handbook to a woman’s heart needs to be shot.
And I want to pull the trigger.
We head into work after we eat. I’m technically supposed to be off, but I have patients to check up on. Since we’re in separate cars, Mark waits for me in the parking lot and walks inside with me. We wordlessly cross the lobby and I realize that neither of us has spoken since he announced he wasn’t perfect. Usually, he has said about ten things that warrant me smacking him by this time, but he’s not saying a word and I may as well have laryngitis for all the good my voice is doing me. The elevator is crowded when we step inside and Mark, in some random attempt at being a ‘boyfriend’, decides to take his jacket off and put it around my shoulders. Her also pulls it together and covers me pretty thoroughly, then puts his arm around me the way he did the day before.
When the lift clears out, I look up at him. "What are you doing?"
"You’re showing a lot of cleavage. I’m being the jealous type."
I sigh and shrug his jacket off, tossing it at him. "Ass."
"You looked cold?"
I’d like to think that I could make a man’s balls drop with my glare the way my mother can, but Mark seems immune. He grins at me and I smack him. It’s like old times. When the doors open again, he’s kissing me, I’m enjoying it, and someone clears their throat. We break apart and Mark starts to laugh, nodding at Erica as he winks at me. "I’ll see you for lunch?"
"Sure." I make quick work of straightening my purse strap and exit behind him.
Erica was going to step onto the elevator but she doesn’t. She catches my arm, right at my elbow, and it feels like fire. Her eyes are blue, too. A different shade than Mark’s and much, much bigger. My dad always says that eyes are the windows to the soul and as I look at her ... I think maybe hers is broken. Her soul, I mean. She’s sad. I can see it. And I don’t know if it’s because of me or not, but thinking that it is makes me feel horrible. And maybe a little hopeful.
"Did you go to his place after dinner?"
My hope is suddenly feeling a lot like happiness. I think maybe she really is jealous. Not *pretend* jealous. "No."
"I went home. Alone."
Her eyes move from my eyes to my mouth like she’s never seen me before and she wants to memorize every freckle, every line on my face. "Want to have dinner at my place? I put a roast in the crock pot this morning and I rented a couple of movies. It’ll be fun."
I nod at her. "Okay."
I can see a flash of something on her face. It looks like relief. I don't know why I care the way I do. I don't know why it matters and I could technically be reading more into it than what it is, but I can't deny that I'm happy to see that look there. Even if she doesn't have romantic feelings for me, even if she's only ever thought of me as a friend, she *cares* that I'm messing around with Sloan and it's been a long time since anyone cared if I drew another breath. I give her a big smile and say, "What movies did you rent?"
"Comic book ones. You've been on me to watch those and I never have."
"Not 'Electra'. Please say not 'Electra'."
"Not 'Electra'. Although 'Daredevil' is on my coffee table as we speak."
"Ahhh, see ... I'm the only person in the world who paid to see that twice." I watch her laugh. She doesn't do that enough and she told me once before it was because she didn't like her teeth. I like that she doesn't think about that with me. There's no pursing of the lips into a thin line to keep from emoting. She just goes with it.
"If it sucks ... I'm telling you."
"If it sucks ... I'll give you back your four dollars for it."
"I bought popcorn, too."
"Yeah, that never sucks. So, seven-thirty?"
She nods at me.
We go our separate ways and I turn to watch her before she rounds the corner. Not classically pretty, Erica Hahn just has a *way* about her that makes you take notice. It's the strong line of her jaw, the confident ramrod length of her spine. It's the way she commands the attention of interns who want to learn something from Miss Cardio. She walks as hard as she talks and that can be pretty impressive. She turns and looks back at me and I feel like a kid who just got caught cheating on a test. I start walking fast and run straight into the wall.
I can hear her laughing at the other end of the hallway and it doesn't piss me off ... I join her and decide that I'm going to walk hard, too.
I set four bones. God, I love athletes. They can be just as clumsy as they are graceful and every time I make a grown man cry ... I see George's face. Maybe I'm not as over that whole thing as I'd like to think, but it still feels damn good to picture him whimpering on the exam table while I wrench his femur around. No, I'm not evil ... I give the big, strapping lugs pain medication and flirt with them until they don't care anymore, but something in my chest roars when it hears the snapping and feels those bones move. Sometimes, when I set a bone, I feel like I could move mountains. I'm not doing brain surgery ... I'm rebuilding the frame that holds the soul together ... and I think I love that more than the internal doctors could ever love what they do.
After bone number four is taken care of I head to the cafeteria because Mark has paged me. When I get there he's sitting at the center most table and he whistles loudly when I start to get in line. I can feel every eye on us as he points to the tray beside him to show that he has picked something up for me. I grit my teeth hard enough to pop my jaw when I join him and he makes the sweeping gesture. He gets up, kisses me (with tongue), pulls out my seat, and then slides me up to the table with a bump of his hip. He may as well print fliers, hire a skywriter, and take out a full page ad.
"What are you doing?" I ask him when he sits beside me.
"If you eat fast enough ... you." He gives my thigh a playful squeeze and I count to ten.
"You're trying too hard. It makes you transparent."
"Trying too hard would have been buying you flowers and a fuzzy teddy bear." He smiles at me. "So ... which bone did that guy break in his arm earlier that caused him to become a two year old?"
I laugh. "You heard that, huh?"
"I'm pretty sure the top floor heard him."
"That was actually just a finger, but it's bad enough to need surgery this afternoon."
"All that for a finger?" He shakes his head. "Think you can find and remove his man card while you got him under?"
"I'm pretty sure he already did." I take a bite of the salad Mark bought for me. I was technically craving a sandwich, but the fact that he remembered no onions and to add black olives is pretty damn nice. I happen to glance up as I savor a particularly juicy olive and see that I'm getting death stares from the nurse's table. I can't help myself, I smile and raise a brow in a clear challenge, then lean toward Mark and say, "Did you say something about eating faster?"
He smirks knowingly and puts his fork down. "I'm finished."
"I'm finished, too."
The smile fades when he looks at my largely untouched salad. "You sure?"
He carries both of our trays to the kitchen and puts his arm around me. I'd rather he hold my hand which is my own issue. I used to watch the girls and boys hold hands in high school and wonder why no one wanted to hold mine. I spent hours lying on my bed staring at my hand and wondering what was wrong with it. I'd twine my own fingers and close my eyes and pretend that it was someone else. My hands were okay then and they're more than okay now but I feel my palm itch as he tightens his arm around me and kisses my head. I should feel good right about now ... but I don't.
That changes in about t-minus three seconds. The on call room door is barely shut and locked before he's lifting me up the wall and devouring my neck. Have I mentioned that Mark is very, very good in bed? Or ... against walls ... in the floor ... in the shower ... in the car ... hell, he's even got me off without actually being there ... just ... with me thinking about him. When he pulls the tie on my scrub pants and his hand moves over my belly ... I am very, very glad that I agreed to work on my day off.
He gets me off with his fingers and I watch through hooded eyes as he drops me back against the bed and slips his pants down just far enough to slide the condom on. There's something dangerously sexy about only exposing the necessary parts. He slides my pants to mid thigh, just like his, then pulls both my legs over one of his shoulders and thrusts hard. I cry out and so does he. As I grip the edge of the mattress and buck upward, he grasps my thighs hard enough to bruise me. It feels *good*. When he comes a while later ... he knows that I didn't. He doesn't stop to take off the condom ... he spreads my legs, one over each shoulder now ... and lowers his head. I'm done before he can do little more than breath on me and he eases a finger into me to feel me contract around him. He likes to feel what he caused.
I can't say I mind.
We don't bask in the smooth, sweet afterglow of making love because what we do is fuck. Hard, frenzied, panting, gasping, undulating fucking that leaves us both sweaty and gulping for air.
I can't say I mind that either.
I bloomed very late. I was still a virgin on my twenty first birthday. No one threw me a party at college. No one even knew it was my birthday except Admissions and they weren't announcing it. I sat on the computer that night, listening to the thump of the headboard in the dorm room next to mine and I decided that my virginity was something I would shed as a present to myself. I got up, got dressed in a too tight skirt and barely there shirt that belonged to my roommate, and cashed in my v-card to a guy who was five inches shorter than me and drunk enough to not listen when I told him it hurt or that his gear shifter was digging into my thigh.
The blood in my panties when I got home felt like a badge of courage, but I didn't have sex again for nearly a year. That time ... it mattered a little more. His name was Carlos and he called me 'mi corazon' when he got off. He taught me about orgasms, kink, and yeah, that straight jacket I mentioned was his and he should have been wearing it all along because the bastard was crazy as hell, but I can't regret our months together. I went into that relationship like a lamb and came out like a tiger. I knew what my body was capable of after that and I became a one girl sexual revolution.
I like sex.
I like dirty, raunchy sex that leaves you wondering if you actually just did those thing and what Hell will be like because you're definitely going after that. I like dangerous sex where the thrill of getting caught or falling or drowning yourself because you're almost over your head in the ocean, is in the back of your mind, but you don't heed it. I like casual sex with no strings and no promises of a call later on. And I liked married sex. I did. I liked discovering new things about my husband because I was going to spend the rest of my life with him and needed to know it all.
And I like sex with Mark.
Even though we don't bask.
He makes me feel beautiful and wanted and like I'm the center of his world right then. As I watch him take the condom off and throw it away ... I wonder if we'll get to the point in our relationship where he doesn't need one. I wonder if he really will stop being a manwhore and make me the last name on his Date and Tell list because part of me wants him to. Part of me wants to wear his taming like a tiara and flaunt it like I did something truly outstanding. I want to brandish our monogamy like a sword of fidelity and stick it into the heart of the hospital, throw down the gauntlet and say, 'He's mine’.
But I can't do that.
Even as he helps me to my feet, pulls up my pants, and ties the string in a neat bow ... I know why we're here. He needs me to save his career and to be the dutiful girlfriend, which I haven't said I would do, but I'm obviously acting like it anyway ... so there you go. He kisses me again and I grimace, pulling away. He knows I don't like to kiss him after he's gone down on me, but he always does it anyway.
He runs his fingers through my curls and gets stuck halfway through. He laughs and pulls his hand loose. "I like your hair straight better. I like it when it's smooth."
"I'll keep that in mind." Like I mentioned before, I retired my flat iron after Erica told me the curls were prettier.
He asks me to go to Joe's after work, but I tell him I have plans with Erica and he takes it in stride.
I sit on the bed after he leaves the room and look at the ends of my hair. I need a trim, but that's not what I'm thinking.
With Mark ... I'm straight. With Erica ... I'm curly. It's like I'm living two lives where my identities are starting to clash.
The problem is ... my curls are natural and my hair is not straight.
I buy a bottle of wine on the way to Erica's. She likes red so I get the most expensive that the liquor store has and buy myself some beer. I probably won't drink it, but wine goes straight to my head and I need a clear head for a while. She lives in a nice, big house that is nestled in a nice, big subdivision. I've only seen it once and I was technically too drunk to do more than stumble to the bathroom, but I remember where it is. I remember because the O'Malley family lives three doors down.
I ring the bell and glance that way. Erica has a wooded lot that sits well off the main road and you can't see any neighbors at all, but I still look. I miss Louise. I miss Sunday brunch at her place. I miss family.
The door opens and Erica looks shocked to see me. I wonder if I got the dinner day mixed up. I'm sure she said tonight. "Hey," I say with uncertainty. I wait for her to open the storm door and hold out the bottle of wine. "I'm a little early. Sorry."
She accepts it, looking bewildered. "You came."
"You invited me." I tilt my head to one side, studying her. She's not smiling and I'm freezing in the rain. "Are you gonna invite me in now?"
"Oh!" She steps back, holding the door open with her foot as she motions for my coat. "Sorry. I - I thought - never mind."
I let her take my leather jacket and hang it on a hook behind the door. "You thought what?"
"You and Sloan? Hot new couple alert. I thought you'd be with him."
I can't reply because a fuzzy little red Pomeranian tumbles down the stairs and into the living room. Its nails click for purchase on the hardwood as it spots me and starts to yap. The thing is too tiny to create such a ruckus and when it finally tears toward me, I bend down and let it leap into my arms. "Who is this?" I ask, grinning as it proceeds to lick my hands and struggle to reach my face. "So cute!"
"What the hell?" she says and she’s clearly stunned. "That little shit has never licked me."
"His name is little shit? Could be why."
She makes a face at me. "That's Buddha and he hates me."
I stand with the dog in my arms and he presses his wet nose against my chin. "Buddha, huh? Feeling Zen when you named him?"
"I didn't name him. I just got stuck with him." She reaches out to touch his head and he growls menacingly, showing stubby little teeth that would probably do less damage than a paper cut. "Fucker."
I give him a kiss on the head and set him down. Erica yelps when he races around me and then bites her bare foot. He takes off up the stairs and I laugh when I hear him fall in the hallway. "You're right ... he hates you."
She examines her toe and shakes her head. "I need to steal a lethal injection from the hospital and put him out of my misery."
"That's just mean." I breathe deep and my mouth starts to water. "Unless you're uninviting me ... I'm starving and I haven't had real food in *forever*."
"I'd never uninvite you." She nods for me to follow her into the kitchen.
Its beautiful. The white cabinets are covered in what looks like wainscoting. The walls are done the same way and the wood has been distressed to make it look old. I can tell right away that she likes to cook. Over the oversized island is a large rack and well used pots and pans are dangling from it. The gourmet oven is twice the size of a conventional one and the refrigerator is hidden behind a cabinet that I never would have noticed if she hadn't opened it. She motions for the six pack of beer I carried in and puts it inside, then she washes her hands and opens the lid on the crock pot.
I feel like I've died and gone to heaven.
I wash my hands as well and set about making the salad she had obviously been working on when I arrived. It's small, clearly meant for one, so I tear up more lettuce and add it to the bowl. While I do that, I say, "Just because Mark is in the picture ... that doesn't move you out of it."
"I don't like him."
"He's not that bad."
"Every nurse in the hospital would say otherwise, but I don't want to talk about him." She turns, holding up a fork that has roast on it. I watch her blow on it and when she feeds it to me, I close my eyes. My taste buds start to dance. "Oh my GOD! That is so good!"
"My mother didn't give me much growing up, but she did leave me her recipes."
I swallow while she goes back to cooking. She's never said much about her family except that her parents died together. I know she's an only child, too. "Your mom was a good cook, then."
"She was okay when she wasn't drunk."
I'm torn between asking more and leaving it at that. What can I say ... I'm nosey. "Did she drink a lot?"
"Oh, you know, only if morning, noon, and night is a lot. My dad, too. They were partiers."
I notice that she adds a couple of rolls to the two she had laid out on a pan and I realize that she honestly thought that I wasn't going to show. She had genuinely not expected to see me. That makes me sad ... to think of her in this big, cozy house sitting alone at the oversized kitchen table with nothing but a hateful dog to notice her. I know what that feels like. Without the dog. "I'm sorry."
"Everything." I finish the salad and dry my hands on a paper towel. I move to stand next to her at the stove and watch her stir brown gravy. "I'm not going anywhere. Mark doesn't change the you're the best friend I've ever had and ... I'm not going anywhere. I'm here."
Her chin actually trembles. I see it before she can look away. She absently runs water into a cup and adds a little to the gravy before she says, "Thank God for that. Because I'm used to you and I don't like people."
"We still have that in common."
She doesn't talk about her family again that night. When the credits eventually roll on 'Daredevil', she hits me with a pillow. "That was so bad! I cooked for you and that's how you repay me?"
"Hey, you rented it. Not me." I grab the pillow and smash it into her face. "Be warned ... I've watched it enough to know all the super power moves."
"You don't need a movie for that. You were born with it, Break and Shake."
"Break and Shake!? Is that honestly the best you can do?"
"Hey, I'm tired. Leave me alone."
I glance back at the television and gasp when I see the time. It's nearly one in the morning and we both have to work the next day. "Shit. Time flies. I should get going."
"It's pouring rain. You want to sleep in the guest room? I've got two to choose from."
I am exhausted so I don't think twice about saying yes. I've also got an overnight bag in the car because I was going to go see Mark. I leave it outside, though, and follow her upstairs. Buddha comes running when he hears us and he has a chew toy in his mouth that is bigger than he is. He bounces up and down with it and I grab one end, tugging upward. He stays attached to it, dangling like a soap on a rope, while he shakes his head back and forth. Erica watches the exchange with her mouth hanging open.
"What?" I ask, the dog still hanging off the ground and snarling playfully.
"She used to --- he likes that. His, uh, owner used to play with him like that."
"Well, maybe you should give him back to her."
"She died." Erica is still looking at the dog. "Four years ago. I promised to take care of him."
I lift up the rope and cradle Buddha in my arms. He tugs at the frayed edges, chewing intently. "Did he belong to your mother?"
"No." When she looks back at me she does that thing again ... that thing where she looks at my lips, my nose, everything. "He belonged to my ... best friend. She passed away."
"Oh! I apologize. I didn't mean to pry."
"You didn't." She points down the hallway. "There are fresh towels in the bathroom if you want to take a shower and there's an extra blanket in the bureau if you get cold. Looks like the dog is sleeping with you."
The way she says it makes me think that she's referring to Mark. She says goodnight and heads across the hall. I put Buddha on the floor and he abandons his chew toy in favor of trailing me to the bathroom. He sits patiently and watches me wash my face and rinse my mouth. I'm talking to him softly when we step into the hallway and light from the bathroom illuminates a photo on the wall. It's an eight by ten framed in black and Erica has her head on a woman's shoulder. That woman is holding a very puppy sized Buddha, who has a lock of her long, brown hair in his mouth. She's laughing at his antics while Erica gazes at the camera with an ear to ear grin.
I open the door a little and see another photo. This one shows the same woman, color gone from her face, her head completely bald, and Buddha is in her lap. Despite the fact that she is obviously ill, her smile lights up the photo like a ray of hope. Perfect teeth, flawless skin, sparkling green eyes and an IV in the back if her hand. Erica's not smiling in that one. She's looking at the woman like she misses her already ... like she's already lost to her for good. I felt that way when Addison moved. I took her to the airport and I stood in the parking lot watching planes leave until I was sure she was in the air all the way. Part of me thought that she would change her mind and come rushing back out with her luggage in tow.
I'm lucky that I can still talk to her.
And now I realize why Erica clings to friendship with both hands. It can be so fleeting.
I make a promise to myself that I will try to live up to the standard of the woman who died.
I've already got the dog hooked.
As the weeks go by I learn to juggle a boyfriend and a best friend who despise each other. He stops dogging her and complaining about how much time I spend with her and she stops flaring her nostrils like she smells something rotten if I mention him. Mark still doesn't hold my hand and when he squeezes me around the shoulders in a sloppy one armed hug ... I feel like one of the guys. He gives me a necklace with a teardrop heart on it and we take a weekend trip to Canada, where we pose for photos in one of those tiny little booths.
He hangs them in his locker, four poses in all. We look like a happy totem pole, all smiles, tongues sticking out, his two fingers raised behind my head like horns, and then us sharing a kiss. We have a good time in Canada. He doesn't grumble when I want to shop for souvenirs and holds my purse while I try on a shirt for myself. We wind up making out in the dressing room and he buys it for me because, as he puts it, it will remind him of getting a splinter in his ass every time he sees it.
Things slowly change with Mark after that. It's almost like putting our photos in his locker solidifies something for him. He clears out space in his dresser at the Archfield for my things and every time I sleep over he keeps my dirty clothes, has them cleaned, and then he puts them in that drawer. Before long, he moves them to the closet because the drawer is full and I have to wrestle with him to take some of it back to Cristina's. That's when he tells me he's looking at apartments. He stops shy of asking me to move in with him. This is probably due in large part to the fact that I look like a deer frozen in head lights, but I agree to give him my opinion on a couple of places.
He chooses a place in a swanky high-rise in the heart of Seattle. It has two bedrooms, a kitchen to make Chef Ramsey cry because it's THAT nice, and a view of Seattle Grace that more than makes up for the extortion that masquerades as rent. It's expensive. Very expensive, but still less than the Archfield, and he tells me the day after he signs the lease that he needs me to help him pick furniture. I haven't chosen furniture since I bought a bean bag in college, but I like that he needs me. He says that a lot now. He needs my input, my help, my opinion. He needs me.
I help him choose a leather sectional that blends in with the marble fireplace and when he walks through the bedroom suites and points at a four poster, I tell him the sleigh bed is nicer and he pays the extra thousand dollars for that one instead. Like I said, something changed. I'm suddenly valued for more than my body.
The nurses began scrubbing in with him again right after he asked me to date him. I don't think the status of our relationship mattered as much as Webber's meeting with them all, but they came around. Mark is up to his elbows in lipo, tits, and ass all day and he eats, sleeps, and breathes medicine. He publishes a paper in a medical journal and his bio says that he's in a relationship with an 'amazing woman'. He grins when he shows it to me and I grin for days after that.
Erica and I go to Oregon for a four day weekend, to a spa that one of her patients told her about. We get waxed, detoxed, mud bathed, and wrapped, then we sit around at night bitching because we're too relaxed to give a shit that we're bored. I laugh so much with her that my sides ache when I get back.
And then my heart aches worse.
Because Cristina tells me that Mark took a nurse out to dinner and she saw them in the on call room the next day. If anyone other than Cristina had told me ... I would have laughed, then hit them. I see violent shades of red as I stalk into the hospital to find him. Granted, there are no promises between us and he never said that we would last past the threat of a lawsuit, but he saw what George did to me. He offered to kill him and make it look like a cross dressing experiment gone wrong. He let me cry on his shoulder until I had nothing left to give and I refuse to cry now.
I find him talking to Derek and so help me God ... I want to take the pen from Derek's jacket and ram it through Mark's eye and into his brain. Then I want to break Derek's arms so he can't operate on him to repair the damage. Shepherd sees me coming and says something to Mark, who turns and watches me approach. He looks at me like I'm the most beautiful woman alive, but it just makes me feel dirty now.
I break up with him and he is too shocked to speak at all. He doesn't deny anything and he stands there looking at me like *I* am the one who did something to him. I make sure he knows that he is a womanizing piece of shit who I never want to speak to again ... and then I stalk out of the hospital leaving him with his mouth hanging open in front of everyone who was working on the fourth floor.
When I get to Erica's house ... she opens the door, takes one look at me, and opens her arms. I cry hysterically on her shoulder, so hard in fact that I have to run to the bathroom and puke. She doesn't say 'I told you so'. She doesn't say anything at all as she holds my hair back and massages my shoulders while I heave hard enough to pull every muscle in my body. I didn't realize it until right then ... I needed Mark just as much as he claimed to need me.
And my heart was broken.
For two weeks, Erica and Cristina formed an unholy alliance where they called a truce with one another to watch my back at all times. They didn't let Mark get close enough to me for me to hear his voice and Erica took me to have my cellphone number changed after she counted over one hundred text messages from Mark where he claimed his innocence and begged me to talk to him. After fourteen days ... I finally looked at him. He had grown a full beard and he had circles under his eyes. He hair needed gel and his body needed sleep so I let him tell me in person that he had not cheated.
I didn't believe him.
On the sixteenth day ... my mother called me at four in the morning. She was sobbing, frantic, and broken when she told me that my father had suffered a massive heart attack and was in ICU at Miami General. I was sleeping in Erica's guestroom again and she heard me run down the hallway, frantically searching for my shoes. Buddha's barking was as spastic as I felt when I told her what happened and he chased me all over the living room as I tracked down my purse.
Erica made me sit down on the couch and drink some juice while she called the airport. When she booked two flight first class to leave in two hours ... I knew she was going with me. She threw her things together and we drove to Cristina's in silence. I held the dog on my lap and after I explained what happened to Cristina ... she didn't argue about dog sitting or say a word when Buddha bit her priceless surgeon hand.
She didn't have to tell me what she was thinking either.
Cristina didn't want me to join the Dead Dad's Club.
Erica packed for me as well and we got the airport in plenty of time. I called my brother for an update and found out that Daddy was sitting up in bed and talking so I breathed a little easier on the plane ride.
And slept with my head on Erica's shoulder after she gave me a Xanax.
My dad is strong as an ox and just an ornery as my mother would say. He was teasing the nurses when I got there and I was so happy to see him smiling and laughing that I was able to ignore all the equipment hooked up to him and fall into his arms. I threatened him through my tears and he told me I shouldn't have come. Like wild horses could have kept me away. When I turned to introduce Erica ... I saw that she was flipping through his chart, her bottom lip between her teeth. My heart fell until she looked at me and winked.
She introduced herself, shaking my dad's hand. "Mr. Torres, I'm Erica Hahn. It's nice to meet you."
"Ahh, the infamous Dr. Hahn," he replied pouring on the charm. "My lovely daughter has been singing your praises for months."
Erica grins at me and glances down at the chart again. "Looks like they found clogging in your arteries. Tell mw, Mr. Torres, what's your diet like?"
"What diet!?" He wrinkled his nose. "And you can't ask me personal questions unless you call me Santos."
"Santos." Erica chuckled. "Give me an idea of what you regularly eat."
"I'm Cuban. I eat everything."
I take his hand and look up at her. "Fried foods. Anything fried. Pickles, Twinkies, Oreo cookies ... even fried ice cream"
"How Southern are you people?" Erica chuckles, looking amused.
"My mom is Georgia born and raised and has the accent to prove it," I reply, then nod at the chart. "How bad is it?"
"He needs a double bypass after a couple of days on antibiotics." She holds the chart out to me but I shake my head. I want to be a daughter and not a doctor.
"Will you do it?" I ask her. "I - I want the best."
I trust her. Completely and wholly .... I trust her.
I won't regret it.
My mother was Miss Teen Georgia and Miss Georgia Peach. She looks sort of like a peach so it's fitting. Fried foods have caught up with her as well and she's just chunky enough to be considered obese by medical standards. If she was a little taller, she'd be fine, but she's only five four and she's got a good fifty pounds on me. She makes up for the extra pounds by expertly applying makeup and teasing her short, dyed brown hair, into a perfectly coiffed and slightly too large pseudo beehive. She's classically pretty in that 'refined southern belle' kind of way that makes older men notice her and younger men fall over themselves to do her bidding. Plus she has three looks that she can give you when she's pissed. Those three looks will make you say "oh crap', 'oh shit', and 'oh my fucking God she's going to kill me' depending on what you've done to earn it. She's small in height, but not in attitude where it counts.
When she strolls into the room, dressed in pants that are probably capris, but look like ankle pants on her ... I'm so happy to see her that I give a girly squeal and rush to her. I have to bend down to hug her properly, but I'd gladly crawl on my knees through glass to feel her arms around me for ten seconds. She hangs on for longer than that and then tells me I've gotten skinny.
When I introduce Erica ... she decides that she is too skinny as well and threatens us with fried chicken, apple pie, and an assortment of other goodies that I can't wait to eat. Just like my dad, Mom refuses to let Erica address her formally and makes her call her Lori Anne. The way my mother says it, with her slow Valdosta Georgia tongue ... it sounds like Law-rie Ain. And if Erica minds that Law-rie Ain speaks so slowly that it takes her fifteen minutes to tell her how nice it is to meet her ... she doesn't show it.
I have two brothers. Joel is a three years older and Jasper is ten years younger, but at twenty four ... he has the mindset of a four year old. It wasn't always that way. I can remember him being a normal little boy with big boy dreams, but all of that changed when he was in a boating accident. We don't know if it was the impact with another boat or that he was without oxygen for so long under water that damaged his brain so much, but either way, the boy that came out of the ocean that day was changed. He had to learn to speak again, to walk again, to use the bathroom and feed himself. He still has trouble with all of the above, but he smiles at you ... and none of that matters.
I've never brought a friend home to meet him. It's not that I'm ashamed, never that, it's just that I've never had many friends to bring home. Erica knows about him. I never told anyone else though. Not even Addison. When Jasper bursts through the door and sees me ... he nearly trips over his feet to get to me. He's six two and if you let him ... he'll try to climb into your lap. His hair is dark brown and cut close to his head for low maintenance and he will sit and rub his head for hours after a fresh buzz cut. And he'll run a brush through mine for as long as I'll let him.
He calls me Lee because Callie is too much for him. He shouts it now, pulling his slower leg behind him as he rushes for me. He could knock me flat on my back before I know what's hit me so I brace for impact. Two hundred and thirty pounds worth of sweet, kissing, hugging impact later and I still nearly bust my ass. He keeps me from falling with a boisterous "Oops!" and then he's hugging me and patting my back hard enough to rattle my lungs. He plants a wet kiss on my forehead and say. "Hi, Lee! Miss you."
His words are slow and because I know how hard he worked to learn them ... I know that he has no other choice but to speak his heart because everything else is just too hard. "Hey, Jasper. I missed you too, Buddy."
"Buddy," he repeats and points at me. "Buddy too."
He turns then and sees Erica.
I hold my breath.
Jasper stumbles forward with his hand outstretched. "Hi, lady. Hi."
"Hi, Jasper," she replies. "I'm Erica."
"Eri." He clasps her hand in both of his, then touches her hair. "Yellow."
"That's right." She lets him stroke her hair and smiles up at him. She doesn't bat an eye when he pulls a Barbie doll out of his backpack and digs around for a brush. He doesn't want to brush the doll's hair. He wants to brush hers and she let's him, sitting down on a chair with her back to him as he pulls the tiny doll brush though her hair over and over again.
I'm jealous of my brother.
I want to be him.
My parents have money. Make no mistake about it. My mother comes from old Southern money with roots so deep that the fruit is endless. My father, before he retired, was the go to music producer for hot new talent. That's how he met my mother. She was singing backup for a record label he worked with in Nashville and he fell hard. Her family hated his Cuban blood and his family hated her strength, but they worked out perfectly. Out of both my siblings ... I am the only one who looks one hundred percent Cuban. It made for interesting racial taunts in school.
Like I've established, I've never really brought anyone home. I not ashamed of my brother or my mother's tacky doll collection, but I am ashamed of the money my parents throw around like confetti on New Years. I hate it. I've always hated it. When Dad bought me a BMW for my sixteenth birthday ... I cried until he traded it for a beat up Camaro. I went to college on a scholarship, refusing to let them pay. And for the most part, I can pretend the money doesn't exist, but when I take Erica into the family house and she whistles with amazement ... I'm horrified. I don't want her to be amazed. I want her to hate it like I do.
I glance at her nervously and say, "It's not all that."
She nods. "Good. I was going to say that it may be the tackiest foyer I've ever seen. What the hell is that?"
She's pointing at a suit of armor that has been welded into slightly perverted and obviously aroused tin man. "My brother Joel thinks he's an artist."
I laugh. "Dude is right."
I give her the grand tour and put her in a purple room that has an amazing view of the ocean. If she leaves the sliding glass doors open to the balcony she can listen to the waves all night. Her room is right next to mine. It's connected by a big bathroom that has a a round garden tub with whirlpool jets that I can't wait to turn on at full speed. We decided to stay for a week, possibly two. Erica cleared it with Webber.
I need the break.
I call through the bathroom to ask if she's hungry. She is so we eat leftovers, fried of course, then I suggest that we change and go to the beach. I don't wear a bikini. I just ... don't and she didn't pack a suit so we put on shorts and head down to the water. It's a perfect, sunny Miami day.
"Your family is amazing," she tells me, stopping to pick up a seashell.
I watch her turn it over in her fingers and smooth the pad of her thumb against the ridges. "Thanks. Uh ... what are you doing?"
"I've never been to the beach before."
I gasp. "How is that humanly possible?"
"Well, I grew up in the Midwest and we didn't have money for vacations. I went to school in the Midwest and didn't set eyes on the ocean until I moved to Seattle."
"Holy shit! Why didn't you say so?" I grab her arm and pull her back to the house.
We go buy bathing suits and sun block for her because her legs are already red from what little exposure they had, and then I unhook the two person jet ski from the dock and take her on the ride of a lifetime. We jump waves, I fling her off, she shoves me off, she flips us over when she attempts it and I can forget that my dad is resting in the ICU and that she will operate on him in less than forty eight hours. I forget that my boyfriend cheated or that my heart is still burning from that.
I'm seventeen again.
Only this time I'm not all Emo and shit.
This time ... I'm me.
"Tell me about growing up here," Erica says.
We are roasting marshmallows on the beach, over a small bonfire that I built with driftwood. The moon is so big over the water that I swear I could poke it with my skewer. "What do you want to know?"
"How you could hate it." She looks out over the water and her eyes reflect the moon just like the ocean. "I've never seen a place more beautiful than this. It's peaceful."
"I don't hate it. I just hate the money."
"You wouldn't hate the money if you had grown up hungry."
"I thought your mom loved to cook."
"You can't cook what you don't have. We always had liquor, though."
"Wanna tell me about it?"
Her eyes meet mine. "Yeah. I do."
"My mother was very young when she got pregnant with me so she gave me to her sister and her husband when I was born. They couldn't have kids and I don't have to question why. They weren't fit to raise a dog, but they were all I had. My biological mother overdosed when I was thirteen and it didn't really matter to me because I saw her once a year, but that was kinda when I decided that I didn't like people. Because that one time a year that I saw her ... she always said she was coming back for me and I always believed her." She's let her marshmallow burn to nothing, but she doesn't notice. She leaves the stick in the fire anyway. "All I had was school and books so I read all the time and graduated early and got the hell out of dodge. I never looked back. My parents died my junior year of college. One of them had a cigarette in the bed and they were drunk, maybe even stoned, and they burned to death. I had finals ... I didn't go to the funeral."
I've never seen her cry. I've seen the hint of it. I've seen her lip quiver and her chin tremble and her blue eyes swim so much that it threatens a downpour, but when she sobs over the telling of her life ... those tears cut me like a razor blade. I leave the piece of driftwood that I'm sitting on and join her on hers. My arm goes around her and she tries to laugh it off, but can't. "I'm sorry," I whisper. "I'm so sorry."
"You didn't do it." She wipes her cheeks and takes a deep breath. "But you undo it a little more every day. Just by being you."
She leans her head against mine and we watch the fire send up lightning bug embers as it crackles slowly to death.
She would be my undoing, too.
My mother is glued to my father. She spends the night at the hospital even though she can't stay in ICU. My dad tries to make her leave, but she refuses. Jasper spends the night with my brother and his wife. We make plans to have lunch the next day because Joel wants to meet Erica and decide for himself if she's competent to operate. I threaten him before we hang up to mind his manners, but I may as well piss in the wind and try to catch it in a colander. He's rude. He says its because he's an artist.
Erica holds her own with him, though, and I think she impresses him. Jasper can't remember her name and calls her 'yellow'. It fits. She's like sunlight to me.
We spend the entire day with my dad and my mom goes home to shower. I know she'll cook, too, because that's what she does. I offer to take Jasper home with us but he chooses Joel again so he can play with Trevor and Savannah, our niece and nephew. We stay until my mom gets back and then we head home and sure enough Mom has made a feast. We stuff ourselves to the gills and take another walk on the beach.
Erica takes my hand. "I'll take good care of your dad."
"I know you will." I squeeze it and she tightens her grip. Our fingers are not twined. I've held hands with Addison this way after Jamie Carr's baby died. It's supposed to be a reassuring, friendly gesture, but I feel like she's holding onto my heart and I don't understand it.
I'm not gay.
She has never said that she's gay.
I don't know what I'm doing.
Just as I knew she would, Erica keeps her word. She performs my father's surgery and meets my family in a waiting room to tell us that she was able to clear out the buildup. I look at her hands while she talks. She gestures, showing my mother how an artery works and I know what her skin feels like. I know the strength in her grip. She may have operated on my dad's heart ... but I think she blueprinted mine.
She'll keep him under sedation until the next morning and by then ... my world will have changed. I just don’t know it yet.
My mother stays with my Dad again. Just. In. Case. We leave her smoothing back his thinning hair and whispering softly to him. Jasper is staying with his nurse so that she can take him on a field trip the next day and once again we have the house to ourselves. We stay inside because a tropical storm is blowing in, bringing with it enough wind and rain to make the shutters on the house bang noisily until I scale the side of the house to secure it. Erica hangs onto my ankle as if it can do some good and then she helps me off the railing I was standing on. She's close to me, my breasts rub against hers when I slide to the deck and her hands linger on my hips.
The sun has vanished behind storm clouds, but he hair is glowing like a halo of spun silk and I reach up, letting my fingers slide though the long part over her shoulder. It feels like silk, too.
I don’t think either one of us are breathing.
The only thing that happens is that she tightens her grip on my hips, digging into the cloth of my dress. We’re getting soaked in the rain and the wind is blowing hard enough to make us sway ... or maybe it’s not the wind at all. I lick my lips, tasting the rainwater and she does the same thing.
Time is standing still ... I know it is.
I lean forward and kiss her.
It’s hesitant until she pulls me closer and her hands move to my waist, then my back.
Our tongues touch, our breathing is ragged, and my legs are so weak I don’t know if I’ll walk again.
She pulls back first and looks at me ... a question on her face that I feel through my entire body.
Together we walk into the house ... this time our fingers are laced.