Whoops, this one took a lot longer to finish than I anticipated! But I promised it would be ‘a good one’, and, well, as you can see by the title, I delivered! 😛 😉 Enjoy!
Asher surprised himself with how excited he was to see Ollie again. By all accounts, he should have been dreading it, shouldn’t he? But once Asher had got all his worrying out of his system in his journal (or, more accurately, a hastily-made word document on his computer), he allowed himself to stop dwelling on it as much as he could. What had happened had happened. There was nothing that could be done to change it now. He and Ollie just needed to talk things out once they’d both had some time to think it through.
Neither of them mentioned what had happened between them in their texts over the next couple of weeks. Asher felt like there was a sort of unspoken agreement between them — this was a conversation they needed to have in person. It could wait, he’d told himself.
But now that they were finally seeing each other again, it couldn’t really wait much longer.
Asher smiled as he approached the table where Ollie was waiting for him, out on the balcony of the coffee shop, just like last time. A strange sense of deja vu washed over him as he raised a hand in greeting and took a seat beside his friend.
“Hey.” Ollie smiled warmly at him. “Got your coffee again… And don’t try pulling that same shit you did last time!” He teased.
“I won’t.” Asher promised, pausing to take a sip. “So how was little miss Violet this weekend?” He continued, trying to ease into the conversation as well as he could.
“Adorable as always.” Ollie beamed proudly. “I took her to this trampoline park yesterday and she went crazy for it. We were there for like three hours.” He laughed heartily. “Almost embarrassing how quickly I got winded. But she’s like a little machine. Nothing stops her!”
“I’d love to meet her someday.” Asher replied seriously.
“You will. Once I’m out here for good.” Ollie paused, his smiling widening. “And speaking of which…” He paused yet again. “I have some news.”
Asher’s eyes widened. “You got the job?!”
The other man nodded happily. “Week after next, I’ll be moving out here for good.” He explained, still grinning. “I’m just gonna be renting a place for now. There’ll be plenty of time to look for a house once I’m out here.”
You could always move in with me, a small voice in the back of Asher’s mind wanted to say. Thankfully he was able to keep it silent. God, what the hell is wrong with me?
“That’s awesome!” Asher beamed, pushing the crazy thought out of his mind. “I can’t wait.”
“Me neither. Even Natalie’s excited.”
“Oh?” Asher couldn’t mask his surprise.
Ollie shrugged. “Well, it’s not like we hate each other or anything. And we both just want what’s best for Violet… and part of that’s having both parents around as much as we can, you know?”
There was a brief moment — so fleeting that he found himself almost wondering whether he’d imagined it — when Asher found himself overcome with a bizarre burst of what he could only describe as jealousy. Whether it was toward Natalie or Violet, he could not say, but either way, Asher hated it. Thankfully it was gone just as quickly as it came.
This time, his smile felt a little forced. “It’s gonna be so great for you.”
Ollie’s smile was warm. “Yeah… and great for us too.”
“Us?” Asher repeated.
There was a beat of silence. Ollie suddenly looked more flustered than Asher had ever seen him in his life. “Oh. I… I didn’t mean… Well, maybe I did a little. But… “
“Dude, slow down.” Asher couldn’t help but laugh. It was interesting being the one on the receiving end of the awkwardness, for a change. “Your word choice just, uh, threw me off a little bit.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” His friend sighed. “I know we haven’t gotten to really talk much about what happened, or what it might mean… But no matter where we go from here, I don’t regret it.”
Asher was torn between surprise and relief at these words. “Me neither. Sort of. I think.” Ah, there it was. Of course he couldn’t go a whole conversation without being the awkward one. He paused to take a breath. “What I mean is, I think we both needed it.” Asher continued, more calmly this time. “I just also think it was a little too fast… I don’t know what we were thinking.”
“Well, I do.” Ollie replied, smiling slightly. “But I get it. You’re right. When I said it’d be great for us, I really didn’t mean it like I wanted to just dive into trying to date or something. But… I’m also not completely eliminating that possibility either…” He looked almost embarrassed as he spoke.
Asher nodded in agreement. “We’ve definitely gotta back things up a little. But I don’t wanna totally rule out that possibility either.” A small smile came to his lips. “So… what if you focus on the move and getting settled out here for now? We keep hanging out, obviously. But just casual. No pressure or expectations. And we’ll just… see what happens?” He suggested.
“Works for me.” The relief was apparent in Ollie’s smile. Maybe he’d been dreading this conversation just as much as Asher had.
“Wow, that went a hell of a lot better than I was expecting.” Asher admitted, chuckling.
The other man laughed appreciatively. “Same. And speaking of hanging out, my flight isn’t til three, so I was thinking–”
Asher missed the rest of Ollie’s sentence. It was drowned out by the loud buzzing of his phone in his pocket. “Sorry, just a sec.” Asher pulled out his phone, and was surprised to see the name of one of his colleagues appear on the screen.
“Cassandra?” He answered, wondering why she’d be calling him at nine o’clock in the morning.
“Hi Asher. Sorry to bug you.” The moment she spoke, Asher could guess exactly the reason she’d called. She sounded horrible — like a tired, 80-year-old chain smoker, rather than the bubbly and eccentric 40-something doctor he knew so well.
“Uh oh… You sound terrible.” Asher felt a twisting in his stomach, knowing what was coming. So much for hanging out with Ollie today.
Cassandra sighed. “I feel terrible too. Mercury’s in Retrograde.” She croaked.
“Mercury’s in Retrograde.” She repeated more slowly, though he’d understood her perfectly well the first time. “It always messes with my chakras. And this time, it’s really done a number on me.”
“I see…” Asher almost wanted to laugh. He should’ve known. For someone who went to Medical School, Cassandra certainly liked to put just as much stock into weird spiritual sorts of medicine (sometimes even bordering on the occult) as she did into science. “And… I take it you were supposed to work today…?”
“Eleven to seven.” She confirmed. “I’m sorry it’s such short notice. I should’ve known this was coming…” She paused, letting out a series of terrible hacking coughs. “If you can’t cover it, I understand. I can figure it out.”
“No, no, it’s fine.” Asher assured her, hoping he did a good enough job hiding his disappointment. “I’ll call the hospital and let them know.”
“Thanks! I owe you big time.”
“Feel better.” Asher hung up before she even had the chance to reply.
One look at Ollie’s face told him he’d figured out what was going on. “You’ve gotta work?”
He nodded. “I’m sorry. This sorta thing almost never happens. But she really sounded awful.”
“I get it. Don’t worry about it.” Ollie smiled. “And we’ll have plenty of time to hang out in a couple weeks, right?”
Asher returned his smile. It was official — Ollie was really coming back. For good. “Yeah… We will.”
The knowledge that Ollie was now permanently back in his life helped keep Asher going through an otherwise long and pretty boring shift. Kennedy was the charge nurse that afternoon, so at least he had a friendly face to keep him company through the monotony.
It was about two hours before the end of his shift when Kennedy practically skipped up to him, beaming. “We’ve finally got a good one!” She cried excitedly.
Asher eyed her skeptically. “Define ‘a good one’.”
“Motorcycle accident… The driver’s pretty banged up, from the sounds of it. The ambulance should be here any minute.”
“That’s a ‘good’ one?” He shook his head. “Sounds pretty damn stressful to me.” There was always a heightened sense of pressure when dealing with trauma patients, rather than the run-of-the-mill ER visitors he more often dealt with.
Kennedy did not lose her smile. “Well first-off, he’s conscious and pretty stable, from what they told me. So don’t freak out yet.” She assured him. “And secondly… Just wait til you see who it is!”
He simply stared at her. “Uh… what?”
“It’s a celebrity!” She was practically jumping up and down. “We haven’t had any famous patients since Lawson Duquette’s heart attack a couple years ago.”
Asher chuckled. “My mom’s been a Hollywood costume designer longer than I’ve been alive. Lawson used to come to our house for dinner every couple months when I was a kid. They were good friends.”
“Wait, seriously? How come you never told me?!”
He just shrugged. “Never came up. And if you think that’s good, you’d lose your shit if I told you who my best friend’s mom was growing up.” He grinned at her for a moment. “But the point is, I’m pretty much immune to being star-struck, sorry.”
“Ah, but this one’s not an actor!” Kennedy’s grin returned. Clearly she was enjoying this strange quasi-guessing game.
Unfortunately, Asher was ready for her. “And my dad’s a record producer.” He smirked teasingly. “I wasn’t kidding about being immune.”
Kennedy seemed completely unfazed. “He’s not a singer either though! You’ll see…”
As though on cue, the distinct sound of a stretcher rolling down the hall reached their ears. Kennedy immediately beckoned over Kayleigh and Brian, whom Asher assumed were being assigned to the patient as well.
A paramedic Asher had not met before approached the trio. “Dr. Rosebrook?”
“Janelle.” She introduced herself curtly as the stretcher finally came into view over her shoulder. The EMTs had begun wheeling it toward one of the available rooms. “We already called ahead with most of the information.” She dove right in without any further introduction. “Single vehicle collision involving a thirty-two year old male, who was thrown headfirst from a motorcycle. He was wearing a helmet at the time of the collision.”
Janelle rattled off the information quickly as the stretcher drew even closer. Asher’s eyes flicked toward it as the patient lying on it finally came into view. Across from him, Janelle continued speaking. “Patient is conscious and able to answer simple questions, but is in a clear state of emotional distress. Heart rate and blood pressure are…”
It was as though someone had pressed the ‘mute’ button on the entire world. One moment, Asher was listening to the paramedic’s report on the patient, and the next… Absolute silence. He took a few steps forward, his body completely numb.
In an instant, it had become impossible to focus on anything but the sudden pounding of his own heart in his chest.
And the pair of painfully familiar green eyes that stared up at him from the stretcher.
It felt like he was floating as he followed into the empty exam room. The EMTs had already begun hooking the patient up to a monitor and, now that the stretcher was no longer in motion, there was no mistaking who it was that looked back up at him.
“Landon?” When he finally remembered how to speak, Asher’s voice was a hoarse whisper.
The other man’s wide, fearful eyes studied his face for a moment and, at the same time, Asher found himself doing the same. Even after years of seeing him on TV, seeing Landon’s handsome face in person was enough to take his breath away… Though it pained him to have to see it like this.
At last, Landon spoke. “Oh my God… Asher? Is that you?”
Before he had the chance to reply, Kayleigh and Brian had entered the room, quickly trading places with the EMTs.
“Mr. Littlehale? I’m Kayleigh, this is Brian, and I’m sure Dr. Rosebrook’s already introduced himself.” The young woman said cheerfully. “We’re going to be taking care of you today, alright?”
“Dr. Rosebrook…?” Landon whispered, echoing her words as he looked up into Asher’s eyes once more.
There was a flurry of motion on the edges of Asher’s vision as Brian and Kayleigh got to work taking new vital signs. But all the while, he remained completely rooted to the spot, just as unable to move as Landon was, despite not being held by any restraints of his own. It was like he was paralyzed.
Asher had spent years resigned to the fact that he would never see Landon in person again. But now… Goddamn it, why does it have to be like THIS?!
It felt like an eternity had passed before one of the nurses seemed to notice his complete lack of speech or movement. “Hey, Dr. Rosebrook, are you okay?” Brian asked quietly. “I know he’s some hot-shot football star, but we’ve gotta focus.” His lips stretched into a smile. “You never really struck me as much of a sports fan anyway.”
Something about the young man’s words managed to snap his mind back to reality, though his eyes remained glued on Landon’s face. “Y-yeah, sorry. Um l-lets call down to radiology f-for a… a, uh…”
“A CT scan?” Brian offered.
Asher nodded, finally tearing his gaze away from those piercing green eyes. “Let’s get a blood sample too.” He hated having to ask for it, but checking BAC was standard in this type of scenario. Would Landon have really done something like that though? He pushed the panicked thought from his mind. “I’ve um… I’ve gotta step out for just a minute, but I’ll be right back.” He tried his best to force himself back into a state of calm. “Check his vitals again in a few minutes. M-make sure he’s still coherent and ch-check… check for signs of a concussion. And… And I’ll… I’ll be right back.”
He took a breath, looking back down at Landon once more. “Landon, I’ve gotta go do something real quick.” Somehow it was easier to steady his voice this time. “Kayleigh and Brian are just gonna ask you a few questions. Don’t try to move or anything, okay? Not unless they say to.”
“Yeah… Yeah, okay.” Landon’s voice was shaking slightly. Whether from fear or something else, Asher didn’t know.
He headed back into the hallway, suddenly so strangely calm. I’ve gotta focus and act quickly. Landon’s counting on me. Asher reminded himself. He couldn’t let his own shock or emotions get the better of him right now.
Luckily, it was easy to find the person he was looking for. And even luckier, she seemed to have just finished up with a patient.
“Dr. Danielson!” He called out. There was no time to be petty right now.
She nodded curtly. “What’s up, Asher?” Was it his imagination, or did she sound almost… concerned? Was the look on his face really that obvious?
“I have a patient I need you to take over for me.” Asher explained, still feeling that strange sense of calm that had washed over him as soon as he left the room. “He’s someone I know personally, and I just… can’t treat him.” He hated feeling as though he were admitting some sort of failure… Especially to Gwen, of all people. “I mean, I’m perfectly capable, but you know what I mean. Ethically, I can’t do it.”
“I get it, kid. Family member?”
Despite his current emotional state, he still bristled slightly at being called ‘kid’. But at least she was willing to take over for him. “He’s… an old friend.”
The way Gwen looked at him made him wonder whether she’d read correctly into his hesitation. Thankfully, she didn’t comment on it. “Alright, let’s walk and talk. Let me know what we’re working with here.”
Asher gave her all the details he could remember as they headed back down the hallway. If Gwen recognized Landon’s face or name, she made no indication of it when Asher mentioned it, or when they finally reached his room.
Asher did not miss the way Landon’s eyes lit up with what seemed like relief when he arrived back at his bedside. Landon lifted his head, and turned it slightly in his direction, despite Asher’s previous urging that he remain still.
“I’m back.” Asher forced a smile. “How’re you holding up?”
“Okay, I guess.” Landon replied weakly. “But also kinda terrified.” He confessed. “It all happened so fast. I don’t really remember what happened…” Landon paused before continuing. “And then I thought I was dreaming or something when I saw you. But it’s really you, isn’t it?” For the first time, he smiled.
“In the flesh.” Asher tried his best not to lose his own smile. “Landon, listen. This is Dr. Danielson. She’s gonna take over for me and make sure you’re okay.”
Landon’s face fell instantly. “What? Where are you going?” There was an edge of panic to his voice.
“I’m sorry.” Asher replied seriously. “Trust me, I really, really wanna help you, but I can’t. I’m not really allowed to…” He tried to explain. “But Dr. Danielson’s amazing. She’ll take good care of you. And I promise I’ll stop by when my shift’s over to see how you’re doing.”
For a moment, it looked like Landon was going to argue, but he didn’t. “Okay…”
There was the briefest instant when Asher wanted nothing more than to reach out and squeeze Landon’s hand or stroke his cheek… Anything to comfort him. But he didn’t. He couldn’t.
So instead, he gave what he hoped was an encouraging smile before stepping aside, letting Gwen take over.
He lingered for about a minute or so as she introduced herself and started going over a few simple questions… But those were quickly followed by the questions he’d been dreading. The ones he knew he would have been too afraid to ask for himself.
Asher made a beeline for the door as Gwen moved to the foot of Landon’s bed. I’ve gotta get out of here.
“Can you feel anything if I do this?” Asher heard her ask as he increased his pace, too terrified to hear the answer.
But he wasn’t fast enough.
“No… I can’t.” Landon replied softly.
“What about now?”
This time, Landon’s voice was almost impossible to make out… But Asher still managed to, no matter how much he wished he couldn’t.
“No.” Landon whispered as Asher finally closed the door behind him. “I… I don’t feel anything…”