Most of the time Harry liked being a small town doctor. Being the only doctor meant that everyone turned to him with their problems. Although sometimes it felt that he was never off duty, he cared about them all and never turned anyone away. He liked feeling useful.
However, there was one thing about it he hated: the gossip. He'd found this out the hard way, when he'd been seeing Sarah. Everyone had their opinions about her and although they never spoke directly to him about them, it was hard not to overhear sometimes. Sarah always just laughed it off and when she was here Harry had found it easy to laugh along with her. The same couldn't be said when she disappeared and the talk intensified.
At least there had been work to keep him busy. His receptionist and nurse were inveterate gossips, even with patients too ill to chat. But they'd seen how Harry had felt when Sarah had abandoned him, and refused to be drawn on their opinions when others had asked.
When Sarah returned, he hadn't been expecting it at all. He'd been packing up at the end of a long day and assumed the knock at the door was the nurse saying goodbye before she left.
"Hello, Harry," Sarah said, as if she'd never been away. Although she was smiling her face had a touch of nervousness in it.
He dropped heavily onto his chair, a tight grip on the papers he'd been putting into his briefcase.
Her smile faltered as she came in and perched on the visitor's chair. "I'd tell you where I've been but you wouldn't believe me."
He shook his head, still not quite believing she was here after seven months. She hardly looked any different, aside from the length of her hair. He'd been used to her disappearing for days, and sometimes weeks, for an article. But this time had been different. The last he'd heard she'd gone to some sort of scientific meeting. He hadn't been sure what it was all about: on the phone she'd been so het up about it she hadn't been making much sense. Then it was as if she'd vanished off the face of the Earth.
Although he'd done some investigating himself, even her aunt had no idea where she was. Of course, her aunt was in America for a year so it may have been a while since Sarah had spoken to her. The rest of the town were convinced he was better off without her, as they were keen to tell him. At length. It had taken a while before he'd managed to convince himself of that. Or at least he thought he had. Her sudden re-appearance told him otherwise.
"I missed you," she said softly.
"Did you?" His tone was a little harsher than he'd intended.
"I'm sorry." She reached out a hand to his arm, but he moved it away, belatedly dropping the papers on his desk, not noticing the creases where he'd held tightly to them. She returned her hands to her lap, looking around the room. "Nothing's changed here at all." She sounded wistful.
He shook his head again, although she was right in many respects.
"I wanted to call." Although he wondered about that, given that she'd fixed her gaze on the calendar above his desk. He, on the other hand, couldn't take his eyes off her. She looked sad, he thought, as if she'd lost something amazing. He half-hoped that something was him. Half-hoped it wasn't. "But I couldn't get to a phone." She turned her gaze to meet his, all of a sudden. "Do you believe me?"
Something in him wanted to. But those seven months had made him wiser and he was no longer as sure about her stories as he used to be.
Her hands twisted around each other and she studied them for a moment before resting them back in her lap. "I had the most wonderful time, but it ended and now..." She sighed. "I don't even have a job. I didn't tell the magazine where I was. I didn't tell anyone where I was. I didn't know I wasn't going to be around for a while until...."
There was something in her expression that made him ache to comfort her, but he stifled it and kept perfectly still. He didn't want to give her the impression she was forgiven. He didn't know yet if he could forgive her still-unexplained absence.
"Harry." She fixed him with a piercing stare. "Can I have a second chance?"
She was really hard to say no to. But he had to, or she'd end up breaking his heart again. "I don't know." He found himself looking at her red and white trainers.
She stood, then, and and he did too, out of habit, finding himself meeting her gaze once more, which now turned business-like. "If you change your mind you know where to find me." She had her hand on the door handle before saying, over her shoulder, "But don't wait too long." She gave him a significant look, before opening the door and walking through it.
The pang in Harry's heart wouldn't let her walk out without doing anything to stop her. He ran after her. "Sarah!"
She stopped, halfway across the waiting room, devoid of patients, and turned to face him, the hopeful expression on her face only there for a second.
He ignored the receptionist, who was typing industriously, but not so loud she couldn't hear what they were saying. "Will you stay this time?"
She shook her head. "I can't promise that, Harry." She at least looked sad about it. "I'm still a journalist, if I get another job. And the Doctor said he'd come back."
He frowned, pretty sure he was the doctor.
"At least I'm honest." She took a step towards him. Without thinking, he mirrored her actions. "I do love you, Harry. I don't think I knew it until I couldn't just phone you whenever I wanted."
It was the straw the broke the camel's back and he couldn't resist her any more. He closed the gap between them and kissed her. It was probably something straight out of a romance novel, but he couldn't bring himself to care. Sarah was back and that was all that mattered. For now.