"Fuuuuuck me." I groaned. My head ached like a chorus of jackhammers was fighting inside it. Maybe I'm too old for this shit.
"God you're so pathetic. And I have no sympathy for you at all, you freaking whore." Quinn didn't look like she felt much better than I did. But I guess we shouldn't complain too much.
One of the awesome things about being doctors, is when you get completely trashed, you can hook up IV fluids and get rid of the hangover before it even starts. Excellent. Unfortunately, I still had a killer headache, and I wasn't looking forward to my shift in the ER tonight. Not at all.
"I'm not pathetic. And stop calling me a whore!"
"You are and I won't. You're unbelievable, actually. I mean, if I weren't a lesbian I'd be all over you, but it still totally baffles me how women just throw themselves at you. You don't have to play up the doctor bit. You don't even have to freaking talk to them. Too bad you're pining away."
"Don't fucking start." My pager went off and I groaned. I stood and walked out of the tiny sleeping quarters, leaving Quinn to do whatever the hell she did. Sleep probably.
I was walking down the hall toward the front desk when I heard a commotion coming from one of the exam rooms. It's an ER, on Friday night, so it's not that big a shock to hear any kind of disturbance, so at first I ignored it.
Must be my lucky fucking day. The disturbance was coming from my next patient. Well, from her family anyway.
"Hello. I'm Dr. Stewart." Before I could even get another word out I was attacked by a woman not too much younger than myself, and vaguely familiar.
"You?! You're the doctor? Christ! Can we have someone that's actually graduated from medical school?! I know this is a ridiculous emergency room in a pitiful little town, but come on!"
This isn't the first time I've had to deal with this kind of attitude. But I was hoping to avoid it today. Fuck.
"Well, I'm sorry to disappoint, but I'm the pediatric specialist on call tonight. It looks like… Abbie, just needs a few stitches, and I can send a nurse in to do that if you prefer. Or you can wait a bit and maybe one of the real doctors can come talk to you. I think Dr. Cross graduated from NC State. I just went to Yale."
"You went to Yale and you're working here? Pathetic. Are you sure you graduated?"
"Well, you know what they say…. the person who graduates last in their class in medical school is still called a doctor." At that point, I was over it. I turned my attention to the little girl with curly blonde hair. For a moment I thought about Connor. Charlie's little boy that would probably have similar hair if it grew long enough. Except Connor has his mom's perfect blue eyes, and this little girl's are bright green and currently filled with tears. "What happened to your pretty little head Abbie?"
"I swear I'm going to sue someone. Someone is to blame for this!" The woman was ranting quietly, like she wasn't talking to anyone in particular. I just sighed.
"Are you her mother?"
"No. I'm her aunt. My sister's here to visit, and she left Abbie with me while she went to the coast for a couple days. She's going to shit a brick. Sorry Abs. I shouldn't have left her alone, but I stupidly thought she'd be safe for ten minutes while I talked to my… boss."
Holy fuck. It finally registered why she looked so familiar. Lauren Newcombe. She's filming a TV show here. Great. Just what I fucking need right now. She's this big star that the whole world seems to be in love with, and I'm just trying to get over this headache, take care of this little girl, and go back to sleep before all hell breaks loose.
"So what happened exactly Abbie?"
"Umm, I was supposed to wait in Aunt Ren's trailer, but it was soooo boring. I wasn't paying attention when I went out the door, and I tripped on the bottom step. I'm sorry." She looked at her aunt with those huge green eyes full of tears. Christ, I don't even know this little girl, and she's making me melt. Lord help me if I ever have a daughter. Edison's already got me wrapped around her little fingers.
"It's okay Abs. If I find out who left that pile of shit out there I will skin them alive." She turned her attention to me. "She fell into a pile of crap. Well, not literally crap, but old junk. I have no idea when her last tetanus shot was, and I can't get a hold of my sister to ask. There were some boards with nails sticking out of them, and some old paint cans. I just can't understand how that junk would end up right outside my door." She was distraught all of a sudden. Fuck beans.
"Well I'll get her a tetanus booster just to be safe, and I'll get her some antibiotics. Jack'll suture her up and you'll be good to go. Leave the stitches in for ten days, and keep them dry. If you have any questions you can call here or call her regular doctor. You can come back here to get the sutures out, or her regular doctor could do it. Actually, I'm sure there's a medic on set that could take them out." I smiled my best smile at her and she groaned.
"You know who I am." It wasn't a question, and she didn't look pleased.
"I recognized your face. Have a good evening. Abbie, be careful okay? If you get a headache or you start feeling dizzy or anything weird like that, tell your mom or your aunt immediately okay?" She nodded and Jack came in with the suture pack. I smiled at the little girl again, instantly lost in thoughts of Charlie and Connor. And Tom. Fucking Tom. God I wish I could hate him. But I don't. I can't. Because she loves him. And he loves her. And—
"Excuse me? Dr. Stewart?" I turned to the voice and grimaced slightly.
"Yes Miss Newcombe?"
"Please, call me Lauren. Or Ren. Umm, I just wanted to apologize, for snapping at you earlier. And insulting you. I promise I'm not normally such a bitch. I guess I just panicked a little. Or a lot."
"Believe me, I've heard much worse."
"Did you really go to Yale?"
"Yeah, for med school. I did my undergrad at Princeton."
"Wow. So where are your loyalties then? Tigers or Bulldogs?" She smiled her movie star smile and I instantly understood why the whole world was in love with her.
"I'll always be a Tiger really. But I had some good times in New Haven. A lot of them actually."
"You can remember them? Must not have been too good." She smirked and I smiled at her. "How'd you end up here? In North Carolina I mean."
"Oh I grew up here. I could have gone elsewhere after graduation—I didn't graduate last in my class, actually—but I guess I just wanted to come home for a while. Family and all that."
"Oh… your wife?" Wow. I guess subtle isn't a word she understands.
I chuckled. "Not married. No girlfriend either." One of the nurses snorted as she passed behind us in the hall. Lauren smirked.
"Well thanks, for taking care of Abbie. She's probably driving that poor nurse crazy. I should go rescue her. Thanks again."
The rest of the night was relatively quiet, and I tried to sleep. I couldn't get Lauren Newcombe out of my head though.
Word spread through the ER that she'd been there, and everyone assumed I had something going with her. Ridiculous. I mean, I've always been confident in myself, but come on! She's gorgeous, and a movie star. I've dated models, but Lauren Newcombe was out of my league. And I didn't mind admitting that.
I wasn't on duty when Abbie came back to have her stitches removed, so I didn't see her or Lauren again. I probably wouldn't have realized ten days had passed, or that they'd even come back to the hospital, except there was a note waiting for me the next morning when I came in.
I've felt really awful for being such a total bitch. Panic is hardly an excuse for rudeness. Will you have dinner with me so I can make it up to you? Thursday at 7? Call me. Ren. She signed her name so beautifully it looked like art.
I went to the doctor's lounge, which was surprisingly empty, and sat down to stare at the note ridiculously. Christ. I called Charlie. She's my best friend. She'd tell me what to do.
"Hayd? Is something wrong?" She sounded tired, and I wondered how much sleep little Connor was letting her get.
"Nothing's wrong Carebear. How are you? You sound tired?"
"I am a bit. It's my own fault. I should sleep when Connor does, but I just… I just watch him, ya know? He looks perfect, too perfect. If not for that little scar on his tiny little chest, I might forget everything."
"You need to take care of yourself Charlie. If you don't, you won't have enough left to take care of Connor."
"You and Thomas are so similar. He says the same thing." Her words were cutting and hard, but she didn't mean to hurt me. She never meant to hurt me.
"Charlie, I have a bit of a situation, and I need your opinion." I told her about meeting Lauren, and the note. I told her everything I felt about the whole situation.
"Number one, there is no one that is better than you. That woman would be lucky to have you, and if I ever hear that stupidity from you again, I'll slap your face. Second, I think you should go. She wasn't your patient, and she wasn't the legal guardian of your patient. And it's just dinner."
"What if it was more?" I wasn't even exactly sure what I was asking.
"I love you Hayden. I will always love you. I will always want the best for you. I know I hurt you. I hurt you every day and I hate it. I welcome the one that's right for you, the one you're meant to be in love with forever. But I won't go easy on anyone. You know that. If this chick's someone special, that's great—but don't expect me to go easy on her just because she's famous."
"You've downright tortured all of Will's girlfriends. I'd expect nothing less. Besides, anyone that's going to be with me for any length of time will have to accept you with a quickness. You're married to someone else, but that doesn't change how much I love you Charlie."
"I hope you never love me any less Hayd. Just… differently."
"Ditto baby bear. Hey, I gotta go. I'll call you soon. Please rest. Seriously. If you get too much more run-down, Tom'll be calling me to fix you. Please don't put me through that."
"He's your best friend Hayden."
"So are you. And he doesn't need the added stress of worrying about you not taking care of yourself."
"We'll see you soon though, right?" She was on the verge of tears, I could hear it, and once she started crying I'd be lost. She could have demanded anything.
"Very soon. I promise. I love you Carebear."
"I love you too. So much. Be safe. Hospitals are dangerous."
I called the number Lauren had written on the card, and it went to her voice mail. It didn't occur to me until later that it was kind of a big deal that she'd given me her private cell number. After playing phone tag for most of the day, I finally got to talk to her that afternoon. We made plans and she texted me the address. Again, at the time, I thought nothing of her giving me her home address.
Thursday I drove to the address she'd given me, not really sure what to find. What I found was a small log cabin-looking house with a lawn that Charlie would flip for. Flowers of every color were blooming everywhere.
She came out the front door and stood on the porch. I don't know what I expected, but she took my breath away. The first thing I noticed after I pealed my eyes from her beautiful smile, was her feet. Barefoot. So hot. I was gawking. I could feel myself gawking, but I couldn't make myself stop.
"Umm, everything okay?"
"God you're beautiful." Oops. That was out loud. Fuuuck. So much for playing it cool. Oh God, she blushed. It shouldn't have been a big deal. I'd made lots of girls blush. But Christ… Lauren….
"Umm, thanks. Umm… come on in."
It was total habit for me to compare every girl I dated to Charlie. I'd done it so long, I barely realized I was doing it anymore. So when I entered the comfortable little house, my first thought was how much Charlie would like it. I followed Lauren down a short hallway, into a small kitchen with a wall of windows overlooking the bay. The sun was setting across the water, and the exploded Easter egg effect made Lauren's white cotton dress stand out even more than her sun-kissed skin did. She took my breath away.
But she was being fidgety. I've taken pleasure in making hot girls nervous since I was 15 years old, but seeing Lauren Newcombe squirm was something entirely… different. "Umm, I figured we could eat outside on the back porch, if you don't mind. It's early enough that the bugs aren't terrible. God, that's hard to get used to. I don't know how everyone here can stand it."
"What? The bugs?" I couldn't help but chuckle when she shuddered at the word 'bug.'
"Yeah. It's disgusting. Ugh. I have no problem admitting I'm a city girl." She led the way to the back porch, and I chuckled. She narrowed her eyes at me.
"Sorry. I'm not laughing at you. I'm just… surprised." I pointed at the table and she blushed. She'd set the table beautifully, like a picture from a magazine. But the food was from a restaurant down the road. Charlie never would have done that—asked someone to dinner and then bought it form somewhere.
"Yeah, well, I can't cook much more than macaroni and cheese and omelets. I could have taken you out, but it's kind of hard to have conversations in public restaurants. Don't get me wrong, the people here are really great. People don't just come up to the house, and when I do go out to dinner or shopping or something, I don' get hounded. But it's the looks and the whispers. I shouldn't complain. I wouldn't have a job if not for fans."
"Yeah, but I imagine it's still annoying. It's your job. Just like being a doctor is my job. When I'm off, I don't want a hundred calls from friends of friends who want me to rush over and diagnose their bratty kids. I'm sure it's the same with you. When you're not working, you want the option of relaxing and having a normal life."
As if to illustrate my point, my cell phone rang. I groaned and pulled it from my pocket to ignore the call. I blanched. "I'm sorry. I need to take this. Do you mind?"
"No of course not. I'll go grab the wine, unless… are you on call?"
I pressed the answer button and shook my head at Lauren before answering. "Hello? What's wrong?"
"I'm sorry Hayd. She's freaking out and he's crying and I don't know what to do." Tom sounded like he was about to fall apart.
"Calm down Tom. What the hell is going on?"
"Con's been crying non-stop for an hour. Literally. And he won't eat and he's got a fever, but I can't tell if the fever's just a temperature spike from crying so much, or what. Charlie's nearly comatose Hayden. I don't know what to do. She hasn't slept in like 3 days, unless you count the five minute naps she takes when Connor finally sleeps. She won't let anyone else do anything and I'm at my wit's fucking end. Tori's threatening to hospitalize her. I'm so sorry to bother you."
"Fuck. It's not a bother. It's just a date. What was Connor's temperature?"
"99.9 last time I checked, but he's still crying."
"Have you given him any meds?"
"No, I just managed to get Charlie to let me hold him. You've held my son more than I have." I grinned despite Tom's panic. It was totally true. Charlie thought I could do no wrong when it came to Connor, but poor Tom…
"Give him some Tylenol and try to prop him up in his swing. He may have an ear infection, or he could be teething. If he doesn't stop crying in twenty minutes, call me back. And let me talk to Charlie." Lauren came out with a chilled bottle of wine and two glasses. She had a worried expression marring her perfect face, and I smiled reassuringly at her. Tom handed the phone to Charlie and I focused back on her.
"Hayden?" My heart broke. She sounded like she did when I told her Tom was engaged to Nessa. Broken and dead.
"God, baby, what did you do?" She sniffled. "Charlie, baby, you have got to stop doing this. I won't fight Tori this time Charlotte. I'll fucking help her hold you down. Don't you love me baby? Please don't make me do that." I glanced at Lauren and she smiled slightly. She touched my shoulder lightly and went back inside. I think my heart kind of spluttered when she touched me, but it's hard to tell if you're heart's exploding because of the model-actress you want to be inside, or if it's breaking because of the woman you love killing herself slowly.
"I'll never speak to you again." Her words cut me deeper than a scalpel.
She started crying and the phone fell. I could hear Connor in the background, but his wailing was getting better. Tom picked the phone up and I heard some rustling and murmuring. "Hayd, she's cried herself to sleep. Con's getting a little better, and I'm sure he'll be out soon too. Go back to you date. I'll call you tomorrow."
"I'll call you later tonight to check on everyone. How are you? Do you need me to come help you?" I completely forgot Lauren and dinner, and the wild sex I wanted to have with her. I couldn't think of anything but Charlie, again.
"We'll be okay. When are you off again though? She'd really like to see you. And you won't believe how much Con's grown."
"I'm actually off til Sunday night. I'll come by tomorrow. But don't tell her. She'll worry herself getting shit ready for me."
I groaned and stuffed my phone back in my pocket. Lauren came back out, but I didn't hear her. She touched my shoulder and I jumped. "Sorry. I didn't mean to startle you. Are you okay?"
"Oh, yeah, sure. Sorry."
I laughed. "No, worse. Family."
I spent the next three hours eating take-out and talking with Lauren like I'd known her my whole life. She didn't seem like a stranger. She didn't seem like an actress that was too good for me. Actually, she did seem to be better than me, but she didn't seem to think that. I told her all about Charlie and Tom. Everything. Which shocked the hell out of me, even as I was spilling my guts. I told her about the hospital dramas, and she made me blush when she called me out on sleeping with all the nurses. She talked about modeling, and filming the show. She talked about being treated like an idiot her whole life, despite graduating early from high school and going to NYU while her modeling star was rising.
"So you're going to see Charlie tomorrow?"
"Yeah. I haven't seen either of them for nearly two weeks, and that's a lot for us." I don't actually know what possessed me to utter the next words that came from my mouth, but once I started I couldn't take it back. "I really like you Lauren. More than I've liked anyone in a long time. Since Charlie. But I've dated a lot of women since I was with Charlie, and none of them could stand to play second fiddle to her…" I lost steam, not sure where I was going with it anymore.
"I'm not blind Hayden, nor am I stupid. I invited you to dinner because you look good in your scrubs and you earned the right to wear them. But I didn't think I'd like you as much as I do. Honestly, I kind of expected a quick fuck and that would be the end of it. I don't know where you were going with that, but for the record I won't play second fiddle to Charlie either. I mean, if we were to do the whole dating thing, I'd be a fool to expect you to stop caring about her, or even to stop loving her. But, given time, I'd hope you'd stop being in love with her. Why else would you want to stay with me? And for the record, I have a crazy life. There's a reason I'm single. I've yet to meet anyone in the business that I wanted to be with, and most guys not in the business don't understand that sometimes my job is, in fact, to pretend to have sex with hot guys. Is that a problem for you?"
I'll be honest, my mind was kind of lingering on the quick fuck. It took me a minute to respond, and the response came with a smirk. I understand your job requires you to pretend to have sex with attractive men. As long as you're coming home to me, baby I don't care who you torture on set."
She laughed. A lot. Then she sobered. "Cocky doesn't impress me, for the record. And I have an early call tomorrow, so…. You have to leave."
I frowned. "You're kicking me out?" I pouted and she laughed again. "Well… fine. When can I see you again?"
"That depends. Are you going to wait three days to call so you don't look pathetic?"
"Ren, seriously? Look at me. Does it look like I've ever had to make an effort for someone before? You're on the short list. So obviously I'm not well versed in dating game playing. I'll be at Tom and Charlie's all day tomorrow, but I can be back here tomorrow night if you're willing to see me again."
That's how it started. Lauren and I dated for two years before I proposed. She suffered through Charlie needing to be coddled while Connor was a baby, and I suffered through her film schedule. She was just as cocky as I was, so we were evenly matched from the start. Lauren fell in love with connor the second she held him in her arms, so naturally Charlie adored her. That's not to say she didn't put her through the ringer, of course. Charlie went from sweetheart to total raging bitch, directing all of her venom at Lauren, more times than I can remember. And every time, Lauren shot it right back at her. No one had ever actually stood up to Charlie like that, at least not without being catty.
I'd never been more nervous than I was when I asked Ren to marry me. She'd just signed a contract extension to film one more season of her show, and she'd signed endorsement deals for a major make-up company and a designer shoe company. She had scripts being sent to her regularly, and she was at another peak in her career. I'd just taken a position at a prestigious private research hospital, and it came with normal regular hours that left me with too much time alone because of Ren's schedule. That was when I knew she was the one. Yeah I'd been in love with her for a while, but it was those nights alone that made me realize I wanted her forever.
We married at a plantation on the bay, at sunset. Tom was my best man, and Charlie was a bridesmaid. She'd nearly stressed herself into the hospital again, trying to lose the baby weight after she had Camille, but everything worked out okay. Thatcher's very pregnant wife went into labor at the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding, but he made it back in time for the ceremony. Ren's niece Abbie was a junior bridesmaid, which was explained to me as someone not old enough to be a real bridesmaid but I wasn't supposed to tell her that.
Having Ren now, I look at Charlie differently. She got her wish though. I didn't love her any less. Just differently. And I didn't even mind it. I went out with Ren that first night because I wanted another distraction from wishing Charlie had loved me just a little more. It took me a long time to understand that isn't how it works. But now, I couldn't ask for a better life than I have.
Lauren gave me the greatest gift she could have ever given me when she gave birth to our daughter Annabelle four months after our first anniversary. Having a daughter put a lot of things in perspective, and when I thought too much about all the things I used to do, I'd get a little nauseated.
But one thing's for certain. The women in my life make me thankful that I'm me. Every day.