Her hands are small, and nimble. They slice men open and rearrange them inside.
Three years is enough time for a lot of things. It's enough time to get used to it, though the day you realized you were used to it was almost worse than all the days you woke up and wished you were dead. It's enough time to get off the heavy narcotics and the booze (self-prescribed) and onto the antidepressants (not). It's enough time to start feeling like a halfway normal human being again (halfway), to start figuring out who the hell you are now, who you're going to be for the rest of your goddamn difficult life, and to decide that 'miserable bastard in a wheelchair' isn't it.
You can do a lot of hard work in three years. In your other life, you'd always taken the easy way if you could get it. You'd always found the shortcut, the least effort required for if not the best, then the most comfortable result. Now there isn't any easy way of anything, so you do the work, because that's all there is.
Something gets you through. Maybe you'd done just enough growing up, just before. Or maybe you've got something to prove.
Three years is more than enough time to stop hating someone, and if it's enough for that, it's got to be enough time to stop loving her, too.
The invitation comes out of the blue. You hold it and stare at it and turn it over, shaking your head.
Surprise Going Away Party!
Back to England, for a surgical fellowship, and then for good.
Handwritten at the bottom,
You hate to travel, and avoid it as much as you can. Yet another mundane activity that's become a giant pain in the ass. Everyone around you is either bitching and grumbling about nothing, or effortlessly, luxuriously bored.
There's not a moment of the trip you don't wonder why you're making it, why you don't stop and turn around.
Closure, a voice in your head says.
Another voice, with a counterargument: Bullshit.
That one sounds suspiciously familiar. No pressure. Sure.
You're convinced this is one of the top five dumbest things you've ever done, and god knows that's a competitive field.
Coming back is surreal. Like reverse amnesia. You remember everything, but nothing remembers you. When the cab pulls up outside Ike Ryan's, you're hours late. You're not sure you'll actually go through with it until the moment you push through the door.
And then that's it, then you're there.
One by one, familiar faces notice you leaning against the bar. You make brief, awkward eye contact with some of them. She's got her back to you, and you're grateful for the grace period. It's Morris who says something, nudges her, and she turns.
She's not drunk, but she's got a flushed, happy buzz, you can tell. She's cradling the bowl of a wine glass. When she sees you she nearly spills it as her wrist goes slack.
You grip the bar, shift your weight, desperately seeking stability.
"Hey. Not crashing. I have an, uh...I was invited, so..."
And then she's wrapped around you, her forehead pressed against your chest.
Everyone is staring.
For an instant you hate her again, and wish you hadn't come.
For an instant.
She won't stop looking at you in this disorienting, unfamiliar way, with a kind of shy amazement and pride that throws you off balance in a way you hadn't anticipated. She says it so quietly, "I'm so happy to see you," and her hand rests on the table an inch from yours.
Three years, so sure you were free and clear. Twenty minutes later, and oh shit, oh hell.
You stare at her fingernails, smooth and blunt and immaculate, the cuticles ragged from scrubbing. She puts people back together.
You have to remind yourself: not everything can be repaired.
You talk about nothing, all the stupid, boring, everyday whatever. You trade innocuous questions, you fill in some of each other's blanks. She tells you about her new job in London. You tell her about getting ready to finish your residency in New Orleans. She tries to circle around to serious things, but you steer the conversation away, irritated. That's not why you came, it wasn't to...
It was just...
She draws away, excuses herself. What the hell are you even doing here?
Abby slides into the booth.
"So how's it going?"
"I hate you, Lockhart."
"Seriously. You suck."
"'Cause it looked like it was going well..."
And it is, that's the cruel joke of it. It's going well.
That's good, that's what you wanted, though, right? Closure.
It's nearly two, and the two of you are outside, waiting for your cab. When it comes you'll get in, and she'll stand there on the sidewalk and watch you disappear.
You try to explain yourself.
"This isn't-- Look. We're not going to be friends again. This was just...so the last time we saw each other wouldn't be the last time we saw each other."
"Oh." It's like something inside her collapses.
Jesus. What a jerk. What a liar you are.
"Don't do that," she says.
"Don't say my name like that if you don't mean it."
Closure is for people you're never going to see again.
"What if I do?"
The cab pulls up to the curb.
Her small, dark hands are trembling. Her palms are soft on your face.
She opens people up and tries so hard to fix them, she tries so hard.
You're not the only one with scars.
"Everything's different now."
"Everything's...not like it should have been. I never wanted you to see me like this."
You're not sure what's happening, what the hell impossible thing is happening, but she's shaking her head, she's clutching your sleeve. "Oh...
"You have no idea how I see you."
Your face is pressed against her ribs. Her sure, nimble fingers are curled at the back of your neck. You breathe, the two of you, and in that moment is the world, the future, is everything.
In every moment like that, is enough.