You never wake up saying, "today, my world will be rocked." Or, if you do, then you just skip in to work all juiced up with world-rocking anticipation and then slip on some floor wax and go skating down the hall on your chest while the janitor curses at you for streaking the linoleum. In other words, a day like any other.
This morning when I woke up I thought, "today, I would like a taco salad." Unfortunately, the hospital cafeteria didn't have any taco salad, so I grabbed a piece of carrot cake instead, and while I was eating it I slipped on some floor wax and went skating down the hall on my chest and the janitor clucked his tongue at me for wasting good cake. I didn't have any indication of the world-rocking, though, till much later.
Dr. Cox found me after rounds. "Nellie, you and I need to have a little talk."
"Sure, Dr. Cox, whaddup?"
He was walking his usual clockwise route, past the pharmacy and the storage closet, down the corridor with the last-ditch exam rooms, Room Very Dark and Room Strangely Stinky. We stopped walking right before Room Strangely Stinky.
"That -- in there, today. What was that, exactly?"
I tried to imagine what he might be talking about. Instead I imagined horses, white horses, running free. "Um, when?"
"Dear lord, newbie, I know it was almost a whole entire hour ago, but you were awake when we set up that nice young man with his nice young morphine drip, were you not?"
"Oh, the sickle cell guy," I nodded. Seven foot tall, never played a game of basketball in his life. Really into model trains. I love model trains. "Did we get the results of the coag panel?"
Cox sighed, a long, heavy, oppressed sound, and he rested both hands on the top of his head. "No we did not. And seeing as you just ordered it, oh, twenty minutes ago, I think we can hang out for a while before we send the dogs in to tear up the poor schlubs working in the lab tonight, don't you?"
This is usually where I get bored. "Look, Dr. Cox," I said. "I really have to catch up on some charts, and I --"
"Park it!" Cox shouted, and pointed through the open door of the stinky exam room. I shuffled in obediently and found a chair.
Cox didn't sit. "Aren't you sitting?" I asked.
"Um, not right this minute, no, but I'll be sure to tell you just the very instant I decide to." Then he sat on the bed and covered his face with his hands.
"You all right, Dr. Cox?"
He looked up. His legs were spread and his scrubs were hiked up revealing a pair of unmatched tube socks poking up out of his sneakers. He rested his palms on the edge of the bed and leaned into his shoulders. "Ah, I don't know," he said, rolling his googly eyes.
Any admission of uncertainty from Dr. Cox always puts me on edge because I'm never sure if he's teasing me or not. If I assume he genuinely wants to talk, more often than not he recoils and laughs in my face. Sometimes he even has an audience ready to join in with the mocking. But we were in the stinky room, so I took a gamble this wasn't one of those times.
"Something about the patient?" I asked, trying to remember the guy's name. "Stretch?" That wasn't it.
"Eh, you did good in there, Gloria. You took a good history, you remembered your training, got him nicely tranq'ed up before asking any hard questions, and you accurately diagnosed his condition even before you ordered the tests. You didn't need me at all."
I parsed that for a minute. He was, what, resentful? Sad? Proud? Thirsty? "Dr. Cox," I said. "Do you know all your facial expressions look the same? I mean, there's range, but they're all basically variations on 'it's a shame I am too tired to kill you right now.'"
"It is a shame," he agreed, and then he laughed, and that was a brand-new facial expression and even his googly eyes were laughing. "I was proud of you in there," he said. "You've come a long way."
"Um, thank you," I said, gathering my pile of charts. "Anyway, I really do have --" I stood halfway up, but his I'm-too-tired-to-kill-you face told me to sit back down again, so I did.
Cox took a deep breath. "Listen. Clarice. This is not -- easy -- for me to say. In fact, it's so damned hard I don't know why I'm even trying, since I'll almost surely regret it. Come to think of it --" He trailed off.
Now I was intrigued. Very intrigued. "No, what?"
"You've turned into a competent doctor," Cox said. "You don't need me anymore. Okay?"
Sad! But yet fantastic! I clapped a hand over my mouth, and then realized that that was an incredibly girly thing to do and I let the hand fall to my lap. "No, that's not true. I need you. You're my mentor!"
"Yeah, yeah, quack quack. You don't." He stopped for a deep breath in through his nose. It looked very refreshing, so I took one too. "So, anyway. Bottom line -- I'm not gonna be hanging around you anymore. Yeah." He launched himself from the bed and stood up. "Have a nice life. Or whatever."
I stood up too. "Have a nice life? Isn't that a little melodramatic? I mean, we're still gonna be working at the same hospital, right? Just because I -- I mean, when I pass you at the nurses station I can still say yo, and you'll still call me a girl's name and I'll still make you...look at stuff, right?"
He didn't turn around. "No, Dr. Dorian," he said, and I got a little chilly when he used my name like that. "We will not. I...tolerated you because it was my job. Now that job is over. Ta." And he left the room and I didn't see him again anywhere all day.
After I finished with my last patient I went to chill out at the nurse's station. Carla had been off for a couple hours, but Turk was on a night shift and so she stuck around to taunt him and bring him snacks. There were snickerdoodles in a tupperware bowl, and I nibbled one idly while I waited for her to get off the phone.
"Hey, Carla, can you help me with something?"
She put the lid on the bowl of snickerdoodles. "These are Laverne's," she said. "Bambi, you know better than to take things that belong to people who can beat you up."
I put my half-eaten cookie on the desk. "I do," I admitted.
"Now, what's on your mind?"
"You know Dr. Cox better than anyone around here," I said. "You know, except for me, maybe."
Carla laughed. "I know Dr. Cox better than anyone around here including you, hotshot, but nice try. He tormenting you?"
I hoisted myself up onto the counter and swung my legs. "That's just it," I said. "He's not. And he called me Dr. Dorian. Carla -- I'm frightened. Hold me?"
"I'll pass," she said. "You smell like you've been in the weird stinky exam room all day."
I sniffed my arm. I thought it smelled nice, so I sniffed it again. Mmm, bactine and egg salad. "Then he broke up with me," I said. "Just up and went away, just like that."
"Poor Bambi," said Carla, still a safe distance away. "His boyfriend doesn't love him anymore." I swatted her. "Come on, are you serious about this? Dr. Cox doesn't consider it a full day unless he's stormed out on someone."
I shook my head. "I don't know," I said. "This felt different than the other times he's broken up with me." I replayed those words in my head and decided that was a joke I probably shouldn't be perpetuating on my own time. "I mean, the other times he told me he never wanted to see me again. He called me Dr. Dorian!"
Carla pursed her lips. "Uncharacteristic, but not terminal," she said. "Maybe he ran out of girl's names."
"He always falls back on 'newbie,'" I said.
Carla put a hand on my stinky knee. "You're not a newbie anymore," she said. And then Turk came wheeling down the corridor with two fists in the air, and Carla leaped over the nurse's station and went to give Turk some small kisses. I swung my legs and tried not to watch Turk stick his hand down the back of Carla's pants.
"What now?" asked the janitor. "Something wrong with the way I'm dressed today?"
I blinked and found him in my field of vision. "What? No, no, I was just, you know, zoning, just staring into space, not staring at anything in particular, just...blankness..."
"Right," he said. "So now I'm nothing. Now I don't even register. Well, that's the way it is with servants, you know. Speak when spoken to. I get it."
I didn't even have the energy to fight. "Right," I said. "Yes. That's precisely it."
"I knew it," he said, and he mopped away. But because I wasn't looking at Carla and Turk and because I wasn't looking at the janitor, I looked the other way, down the hall to the elevator bays where Dr. Cox was waiting with the Up button pushed. He turned around and saw me and I swear to god he took off like a purebred greyhound for the stairs. The elevator dinged and the doors opened and Cox was nowhere to be seen.
"This is weird," I said.
"Totally," agreed Turk, who was eating a snickerdoodle. I hopped down from the counter and set off after Dr. Cox. I caught up with him at the sixth floor landing and he was panting like he'd sprinted the whole way there. The look on his face said he was very much too tired to kill me, but if I'd kindly wait a moment for him to catch his breath he would be more than happy to oblige. I decided not to give him the opportunity.
"Look, Dr. Cox, this is totally insane," I said. "There's no reason for you to be avoiding me."
His big scary eyes got even googlier. "Avoiding you? Oh, honestly, Lillian, if I were avoiding you would we be standing here having this conversation?"
I liked the Lillian but the rest didn't seem to make any sense. "What? Yes. Because I chased you down. You're not, like -- you don't have stealth mode or anything, you're just avoiding me."
He sighed and pulled himself up to his full height. "First off, I do indeed have stealth mode, I just choose not to use it. Second off -- yes. Okay. I was avoiding you. There. You got me. Now let's play hide and seek, what do you say? I'll hide. Count to nine million and then come find me, 'kay?" He pushed at the sixth floor door but it was locked, and I stepped in front of him to block the stairs.
"No," I said. "I want you to tell me what's going on."
"Nothing," he said, drawing out the word and shaking his head as if I'd asked the stupidest question in creation. "This. Newbie. You and me." He flashed his hands back and forth between us a couple times before letting them flutter at his sides. "This -- whatever it is. It's over. Time to move on. It's been real, do be sure to send a card at Christmas, blah blah blah. Over."
I remembered what Carla had said. "I'm not a newbie anymore," I said. "And that means our relationship has to change, maybe. But we're pals, right?"
Dr. Cox laughed, a familiar and comforting sinister laugh. "Oh, oh, no no no, little princess. We're not pals. I am a doctor. You...work here too. For a while we had an interesting sort of rapport that mostly involved you driving me batshit insane, but that era is blessedly over and we can move on toward a more enlightened future in which I don't have to see you. Ever. Again."
"Dude, you're nuts," I said. "Seriously. Did something happen at home, or..."
He laughed again and clapped his hands with a little bit of maniacal glee. "Very good, Betsy! Put that psych rotation to work! That's what I like to see."
The truth was, I'd been putting everything I'd learned in all my psych classes to work all day, and still couldn't come up with a satisfactory explanation for Dr. Cox's behaviour. "I'm just saying, maybe it's not about me?" I tried. "Something else in your life's been, I don't know, maybe there's a woman, or, Dr. Kelso maybe did something, or maybe a family member..."
He rubbed his face hard. "Fine," he said. "Just stop...naming things. You want to know what's going on?"
I wondered if I did. He looked scared and enormous, all thick-necked and barrel-chested in his blue t-shirt and scrubs pants that were still a little too short. "I do," I said.
"This," he said, doing that hand thing back and forth between us again. "This. Do you have any idea what this does to me? Oh, don't answer that, Kelly, I know you don't. You just think about yourself, your needs. You come to me when you've got questions or when you're just too damned lazy to solve your own problems, and then at the end of the day you go out with your little friends and you've never once stopped to think about all the endless, droning, torturous hours I've spent babysitting you and just what kind of hideous toll that might be taking on my life. And, I mean, sure, I understand that to you I'm some sort of superhero and I probably don't have any feelings or any needs of my own, and granted, next to you I really am basically a superhero, I mean, at least as far as the fact that I'm miles more intelligent and miles more attractive and a far better doctor than you could ever hope to be, but just for a minute, if you would be so kind as to pretend that I'm a human being, that'd be pretty much dandy, and then maybe you'd realize that you've taken two years of my life that, oh, I'm really never gonna get back."
It hit me like the proverbial truck. "I didn't realize it was such a chore for you," I said through my teeth. "I guess I just thought --"
"No, you didn't," he said, crossing his arms over his massive chest. "You didn't think."
"Okay," I agreed, feeling smaller every minute, imagining Cox there with a huge rubber mallet just pounding me deeper into the floor with every word.
"So you see now why I'm just so damned thrilled that you're finally ready to fly on your own two fuzzy little wings and I can get back to continuing my own slow march toward death unfettered by your insipid, interminable questions."
"Sure," I said, two inches tall and squeaky. "I'll stay out of your way if that's what you really want."
He nodded. "You've made me the happiest girl at the prom. You can go away now." So I did.
My shift was over, but I was so weirded out from my conversation with Dr. Cox that I wasn't ready to go home. Turk was still in surgery so I went up to watch him for a while, but even the usually delightful bowel resection didn't cheer me up. I kept replaying the conversation over and over in my mind, trying to figure out what I was missing or where I'd gone wrong along the way. Sometimes when I replayed it I wore a funny hat, and sometimes Dr. Cox was an alien from Alpha Centauri sent to frighten the children of Earth into submission, and sometimes I was his ex-wife Jordan and those times the conversation almost made sense. Then I tried it where he was Jordan, but that one was creepy and ended with us having sex in the stinky room, and then I couldn't shake the image even when I replaced him with Elliott, Todd, Turk, and the janitor. After the janitor one I went to the bathroom to wash my hands and face a lot.
The bottom line, as far as I could tell, was that Dr. Cox didn't like me. That he never had liked me, and that for two years he'd just been doing his job so well he'd fooled all of us. Every available fact supported that theory but I didn't buy it. Two years was a long time, and I knew him better than that. "He does like me!" I said, raising a fist in the air.
"That's nice," sighed Ted, the hospital's attorney. "I have a set of daily affirmation tapes that like me. I almost never need to take lithium anymore, except on work days."
"Fantastic," I said. Turk's surgery let out and I gave my boy some props on his bowel resection and we knocked fists but it felt empty without Dr. Cox.
I followed Turk into the locker room and watched him change. "Carla and I are gonna go grab some beers," Turk said. "When do you get off?"
"I got off at ten," I said. "I'm just, you know, chillin'."
Turk peered at me. "Here?"
I shrugged. "Chillin's chillin', man. Don't matter where."
"Um, I would beg to differ," said Turk, zipping up his sweatshirt. "This place is not conducive to any sort of chilling. This place is the anti-chill."
I looked at the floor. "You speak the truth," I said. "I do find myself unable to chill."
"You look bleak, my man," Turk said. "Come get a brewski, we'll mack on the ladies, Carla will kick our asses at the pool table and you'll feel better."
We ambled down the hall toward the elevator, past the surgical scrub room where Ted was still standing and muttering to himself. "They do like me," he whispered. "I am an integral part of society and I am appreciated." His sigh was so low and so sad that I could hear the rats in the hospital walls scurrying off to be with their families and loved ones.
"I'm worried about Dr. Cox," I said to Turk.
"You ever worry about how much you obsess over that man?" Turk asked. "Cause that might be worth some consideration, if you know what I'm saying. I've known you for almost ten years, and I swear, JD, I ain't never seen you so wrapped up in another person as you are with Dr. Cox. Even that girl in college, you know --"
I let my brain take a little vacation back to Hampstead Hall when Lisa Chen finally kissed me after I'd been stalking her for only two and a half years. "Mmm, Lisa Chen," I said. "She was hot. I wonder where she is now."
"The Yucatan peninsula," said Turk sagely. The elevator doors opened on the Todd, snorting.
"You could tan my peninsula," snorted the Todd.
"Seriously, man," Turk said. "Dr. Cox is not your father, he's not your girlfriend, hell, he ain't even your mentor anymore. He's just a guy. The sooner you realize that, the better."
We were almost to Turk's car when I saw a bulky shadowy figure sitting on the bicycle rack, swinging its legs and showing off a pair of mismatched tube socks. "You guys go," I said to Carla and Turk. "I'll see you later."
"JD, you're just gonna piss him off," said Carla. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
I thought about Lisa Chen and the two years I'd spent following her around campus. "I'm sure," I said. "Latah, playas."
"Don't stay out too late, man," Turk said. "It's past midnight and I don't want to have to haul your ass out of bed tomorrow."
"Fear not," I said, and I waved goodbye and crossed the pavement to where Dr. Cox was sitting alone in the dark. He was not entirely thrilled to see me.
"Jesus Christ, Samantha. We are not in the hospital anymore. This is the world out here. Do you get that? The world, where I am under no legal or moral obligation to talk to you."
"I don't care," I said, scooting up to sit on the bike rack beside him. "I've been doing a lot of thinking about us. And I've got some stuff I want to say."
Dr. Cox let out a long, caricatured sigh. "As long as I don't have to listen," he said. "You talk. I'll sing songs from operettas in my head."
"Look," I said. "For whatever reason, you're important to me. Your approval means a lot to me, and so does your friendship, and I'm not ready to give it up just because I properly diagnosed sickle cell anemia."
"And what reason might that be, newbie? Come on now, you said you've been doing a lot of thinking, let's see if the mouse on the wheel in your brain made it all the way to the tasty cheese."
I pursed my lips. I actually hadn't done that part of the homework, but I was a doctor and I was trained to think on my feet. "Maybe because you're a good doctor," I said. "You don't mince words, you don't care what people think, you do what you want. You do what you think is right. I admire that."
"Oh, gosh, Cecile," he screwed up his face into a shit-eating grin. "You just make my heart go pitty-pat."
"Stop," I said. I was tired of this, I wanted a new game. "For whatever reason, I know I'm important to you too. So why don't we just cut the crap and you tell me what meaningless catastrophe in your empty life caused you to get your knickers in a twist and piss all over me today."
"Feisty!" he cheered. "I like that in a girl. And if we just gloss right on over that bit about my so-called 'empty life' and go straight to the part where I piss all over you, that'd be just puppies and roses."
I grabbed him by an arm which was thick and surprisingly hard. "Don't you get tired of this show?" I asked. "I mean, seriously, it must be exhausting having to put on such an elaborate performance any time you get asked a personal question. Wouldn't it be easier just to say what was bugging you? In the interest of not wasting precious years of your life, and so on."
"Fine," he said. He looked straight at me, his scary eyes burning holes in my skull. "The truth is, you nailed it. My life is empty. Aside from this place, where, incidentally, I am not only a good doctor but I just might be the very best doctor in the unit, I have absolutely nothing. My friends hate me. My back is starting to spasm, which means I can't bench 220 anymore even though I could six months ago, which means I'm getting older and once that starts, well, it just doesn't stop, does it? Carla's throwing her life away on that showboating jockstrap and at the end of every day I go home to an empty apartment and watch reruns of Taxi. In fact, I spend more time with Andy Kaufman than just about anybody else and newbie? Turns out Latka's not really my type. So that leaves you."
I felt a strange sensation in my chest, a sort of spreading coolness mixed with nausea, and an even more inexplicable sensation a little lower down in my special area. "That leaves me...what? Sir?"
Cox snorted. "Relax, there, Buffy. I'm not gonna take away your precious flower or beg your father for a loan on a starter home."
The weird chestal and groinal feelings got weirder and twitchier and my face felt hot. "I don't follow?" I creaked.
"JD," Cox said. "Dr. Dorian. I'm not proud of this, in fact, I'd do just about anything to make it all go away, but it seems that I've developed a kind of affection for you that leads to a lot of sleepless nights and choking of the old weasel."
I just about choked myself. I raised my hands to my mouth like a girl and promptly fell backwards off the bike rack and landed soundly on the pavement with a thump. I lay there for a minute, looking up at the stars. "Oh," I said, finally.
"So you see, there, newbie, why it's really for the best that we just part ways here and go off to seek our respective fortunes. Because it turns out that through some sick twist of psychology I find our breed of banter arousing, and I'm just not interested in being aroused anymore. Since this is clearly a road to ruin, what with you and your party girlfriends and your high-fives and non-arthritic joints and ligaments, I thought I'd spare myself any further unnecessary torment."
I looked at the stars some more. Dr. Cox, a big queenie fruit. I would not have guessed. I wondered if Carla knew. I wondered if Jordan knew. I wondered why I couldn't stop staring at his round, tight ass up there on the bike rack, and why this time in the fantasy it was Dr. Cox who threw me down on the bed in the stinky exam room and called me a girl's name and made me climax in a shower of comets and unicorns and fireworks. I pulled myself to my feet and walked around the bike rack so I was staring Cox right in his scary googly eyes, which weren't so scary anymore. Which were actually kind of beautiful, and sad.
"Um," I said. "I mean. I obviously have some kind of strange fascination with you as well. I didn't think it was the sort of fascination that had to do with the underpants area, but I...may have been wrong."
His nostrils flared. "Please don't do this," he said. "I am not kidding."
"Neither am I," I said. "I don't -- I mean, I honestly don't know. What's going on with us. With me. But I feel like it'd be stupid not to find out."
"Noooo," he shook his head wildly. "No, Mabel, it would be stupid to find out. Really astonishingly very stupid. Stupider than that nervous kid with the stupid polo shirts. Really beyond stupid."
So I kissed him. I reached up and took his big Dr. Cox shoulders in both hands and leaned in and kissed him and he pushed me away and spat a little bit on my mouth.
"Dr. Cox --"
"I'm going home now," he said, hopping down from the bike rack. "If you have any sense at all, you'll do the same, and we will never speak of this again."
I grabbed him by one big muscled arm again and pulled him toward me. "If we're not gonna speak of it again, what can it hurt to just see? You know?"
His eyes were wild. "It could hurt me, okay? Do you get that? Because I thought I already spelled it out but if you need the remedial version I'd be happy to put together a little presentation with puppets and flash cards and maybe a catchy jingle so you'll be sure to remember all the salient points. Did I not mention that I've wasted two years of my life on this? And while this might be a fun little kinky experiment for you before you go back to your Barbie dolls and frat parties, this is my life we're playing around with here, and if you don't mind, Dr. Dorian, I'd really rather not set out to purposefully ask the universe to crap all over me, since it seems to do a fine job of it all by its lonesome."
Something clicked. I didn't let go of his arm. "So that's what you meant when you said I didn't think about your needs! Right? Did I get it?"
He sighed. "Gold star, newbie," he said, but his heart wasn't in it.
"Well fuck off," I said. "I spent two years of my life trying to impress you, you know," I said. "And I haven't gotten much in the way of fringe benefits either. Well, aside from the fact that I've learned a lot about medicine. And, um, how to talk to patients. And how to deal with Dr. Kelso. And the best places to hide food I don't want people to steal. And -- yeah, so. Fine. Fine. I got a lot from you. But I pay you back in my own way!"
"And what way is that?" he asked, in that same defeated tone.
"I -- I'm a credit to your teaching," I said, feeling like an asshole. "You know. In the hospital."
"Scrum-diddily-umptious," he said.
The twitching in my chest and my man parts was back with a vengeance. I hadn't felt this nervous since Sarah Klugman trounced me at debate camp and then threw me down behind the co-ed showers. I cut my scalp on a rock and I got bitten by a spider. It was the best night of my life, until maybe now. Dr. Cox was staring down at me weakly, but he still looked scrum-diddly-umptious himself, from his broad arthritic shoulders to the sizeable round bulge at the fly of his jeans.
"Listen," I said. "You say I'm ready to take my own patients, to make my own decisions, so let me make this one. You may think I'm going to hurt you, and one or both of us might totally end up getting hurt, but we can't use that as an excuse not to try. You say your life's so empty -- that's why, Perry. You're too afraid to go after what you want."
The color came back to his face, along with the familiar spastic fury. "Don't call me Perry, Claudia," he said. "Not ever."
"Then don't call me Dr. Dorian," I said. Then I heard myself and pursed my lips and thought about it and realized I meant what I said. "It makes me feel strange. It's less intimate."
"You are a fruitcake," Cox laughed, an almost friendly seething laugh as opposed to the standard psychotic seething laugh I was so used to. "You do understand that you have some very debilitating mental deficiencies, don't you?"
"I do," I nodded, and then I took his head in both hands and kissed him again and this time he kissed me back. We sank to the ground and leaned against the concrete base of the bike rack and he slid his hands up under my shirt and tweaked my man-nipples and I was most assuredly aroused and also surprisingly okay with it.
He pulled back. "I have wanted to do that for a while," he said, tipping his head to one side, sizing me up. "Somewhat anticlimactic."
I tugged his shirt from the waistband of his jeans and ran a hand across his abs and was moderately embarassed that his gut was flatter and harder than mine. "I don't...get a lot of time to work out," I said. "I do mostly cardio."
"That's it, Delilah," he said, kissing me again. "Aerobicize away those unsightly pounds and inches."
It was almost 2 am and there was no one in the back parking lot. Even the ambulance bay was quiet, and most of the lights in the hospital were off, a quiet Wednesday night. The air was warm and clear and the stars were out and I wanted to impress Dr. Cox more than I ever had before. "Dr. Cox -- " I whispered, loosing his fly and tugging his jeans down over his hips.
"Shh," he said. "Don't worry." He shoved his face under my shirt, kissing up my chest, chewing on a nipple and letting out a low growl. "You're not gonna disappoint me. You've already made me prouder than I can say. You're a damned good doctor, JD. I mean, Cheryl."
I felt like I was going to fly apart with glee. I said the first thing that came to mind. "You have a fantastic body."
"I know," he said. "I assure you your world will be rocked."
My world was already rocked.