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He groans like he’s in pain as he redirects his gaze out the windshield. “My name is Matt. I don’t know why you insist on—”
“Okay, okay.” I’m quick to appease him. “Matt.”
He sighs. “Say it again, slower.”
Instead, I turn on the radio, set it to a country station, and blast the volume as loud as I can without permanently damaging our hearing. There’s no more possibility of conversation for the remainder of the drive because a cowboy is singing about his achy breaky heart at max decibels.
His house is in a fancy neighborhood, but it’s not an obnoxious stucco mansion with 45 bathrooms. It’s a modern one-story farmhouse with white brick, large windows, and a glossy black front door. I lead him straight to it, much the same way I led him through the parking lot at the chapel (protecting my face), and when we reach the welcome mat, I wipe my hands clean and step back.
“All right. Well, good luck. See ya!”
He drops his head to the front door and makes no move to enter.
“Okay fine, let me just unlock this door and…there, now go inside.”
I poke him in the back with my finger, but it’s clear he has no intention of moving from his stoop. I could leave him there, but it’s getting colder by the minute and I don’t necessarily want his death on my conscience.
So that’s how I find myself in Dr. Russell’s—I mean, Matt’s (!)—house, helping him down the hallway to his bedroom.
His arm hangs across my shoulders and I drag him forward like he’s a wounded soldier. My legs are shaking from the weight. Every room we pass, I try to stop.
“No, no.” He shakes his head. “That’s my office. Keep going. That’s a bathroom. I can’t sleep in there.”
“You’re about to sleep right here if you don’t help me out a little. I swear you’re dragging your feet on purpose.”
Finally, we make it to the end of the hall and I kick open the door to his bedroom. I’m expecting it to be in complete disarray just like his office, but instead, it’s artfully decorated. Neat and tidy. His king-sized bed has white sheets and a fluffy gray comforter. Four oversized black and white framed maps hang on one wall. There’s a plant in the corner that looks as if he waters it regularly. I half-expected him to sleep standing up, next to the power station he plugs himself into every night. The fact that he has such a warm, welcoming bedroom does weird things to my heart.
I need to get out of here.
“Do you think you can handle it from here?”
His hand drags along my shoulders and the nape of my neck as he steps away from me. He turns and meets my gaze. “Wait. You’ve been running from me all evening. Just stay for a second.”
We’re standing a few feet apart in his bedroom, staring at one another.
I’m aware of every breath I take.
“I need to go home.”
He shakes his head. “Don’t. Stay here. I won’t try anything, I swear.”
His brows pinch together in earnest, like he really means what he’s promising.
I laugh like he’s just suggested something absolutely preposterous. “You’re very drunk and you have no idea what you’re saying right now.”
Truly, he won’t remember any of this in the morning. I doubt he even realizes who I am at the moment.
He grunts bitterly and turns toward the bed. He plops down to sit on the edge and drops his head into his hands.
“I know what you think I am—evil. A man who shouts at you in the OR for every little mistake. Maybe that’s true. Maybe I’m not a good man.” He glances back up at me, and the moonlight filtering through his window catches the sharp contours of his face, the parts of him that intimidate me the most. “I had a wife. Did you know that?”
My heart races, trying to keep up with his erratic subject changes. He’s inviting me to stay the night one minute then opening up to me about his marriage the next. I should turn and bolt, but my feet stay rooted in place. There’s no way I’ll leave when he’s willing to offer up information his sober mind keeps tucked away.
He nods and looks away. “We got married young, right out of college. Victoria was with me through medical school and part of residency. She liked the idea of being a doctor’s wife, but not the reality of it. I was busy working 80 hours a week. She felt neglected.”
I stay perfectly silent, waiting for him to continue.
He shakes his head and drags his hands through his hair. “She left me and she was gone for eight days and the only thing I noticed was that there was more space in our closet. The next time I saw her, I asked her if she got rid of some of her shoes. I can still remember her wistful laugh.”
It’s strange. I can’t imagine him with a wife, even now. Before tonight, he was two-dimensional to me. He existed as a surgeon and nothing else. Now, seeing him in this room, hearing him talk about his past, I’m suddenly confronted with the idea that there’s a heart beating beneath that suit, that maybe he has wants and desires that extend past the operating room.
I sense that he’s waiting for me to condemn him for his divorce, so I sigh and take a tiny step forward. “You aren’t evil just because you have a failed marriage under your belt. You were in residency—it was probably a hard time for the both of you.”
“Maybe, but she’s remarried and pregnant now,” he says, the words coming out twisted and pained. “She’s going to have a family and in all the years since our divorce, I haven’t even had a serious relationship.”
“That’s because you’re married to your job.”
His eyes sweep up to me and he doesn’t hesitate before replying, “Yeah, well maybe that’s not enough anymore.”
And then he collapses back on his bed with a heavy thud.
I stand immobile, waiting for him to snap back to consciousness, but no, he is good and dead to the world.
Oh good grief.
The lower half of his body is hanging off the bed, and he’s still wearing his wool coat and suit. I’m worried he’s going to throw up in his sleep and die. I should let him—it would serve him right for putting me in this predicament in the first place. I look around as if trying to decide what to do, but there’s really only one thing to do, the only decent thing: leave now and shoot up a prayer that he makes it through the night.
I heave a reluctant sigh then step forward to take off his shoes. As I unknot the laces, I talk out loud, telling him things I’d never have the courage to say if he were awake.
“I hate you for doing this to me. This was supposed to be a fun night. I could be back at that wedding right now, dancing with Cooper and having the time of my life. Sure, I absolutely hate dancing, and yes, I’m not really that into him, but who knows—weddings do funny things to people.
“Also, how dare you ask me to sleep here with you?! What if I didn’t have enough sense to realize you weren’t being serious? You could really get a girl’s hopes up saying things like that!”
Once his shoes are on the floor, I heave his legs up onto the bed and assess the results. His body is bent at an awkward angle. He’s probably not that comfortable in his suit, but there is no way I’m undressing him. Also, with his weight on top of them, I can’t exactly draw the blankets down. His coat should keep him warm enough. I button it up, just to be sure.
After I’m sure he won’t roll off the bed, I head to his kitchen and pilfer a mixing bowl and a glass from his cabinets. I fill the cup with water and set it beside the bowl on his nightstand. Then, I think better of it and find a bucket in his garage so I can plop it onto the floor beside his bed. If he gets sick, I am not cleaning it up.
“I don’t think you’re evil, necessarily, though you are married to your job, which is probably why your wife left you. I don’t really blame her. She probably was neglected. Patricia tells me you sometimes sleep in your office at work. I bet in your residency days you slept at the hospital more often than not.”