Chapter 1: Coffee and a Chat
Alarm was ringing through her ears. She didn’t want to get up but, then again, there was a risk of her being late. Sunlight was peeping through her curtains, lighting up her room, which was filled of mementos from home. A picture frame that was made for her, a lamp from IKEA in her favourite colour both standing on an oak desk beside her bed. Her room was very tidy, as she hated for anything to be out of place. Her heart was aching for her mother. She missed her so much. Elea made her promise to call every few days to make sure that she was alright. She was so proud of her daughter. She wasn’t the type to brag about Asta’s talents to everyone. She didn’t spoil her by saying how clever and brilliant she was, that wasn’t Elea’s style.
Overprotective towards her daughter was to be expected as Asta’s father wasn’t around. Although Elea wished that the circumstances were different, she never wished for Asta not to have been born. She sent Asta some Icelandic food so that she wouldn’t get homesick. That feeling grew in her heart. She was homesick, making her miss her móðir even more.
Anyway she couldn’t sit and dwell on it. Work was calling. A week had passed since Asta arrived at St Jude’s and she was loving it. Nearly all the staff were pleasant towards her and didn’t care about her age. As she suspected, there was a small group of 3 individuals who were being bitches, saying that she was hiding behind Professor Gaskell and that she would be too scared to handle a big case on her own. She either ignored them or whipped out a sarcastic comeback. She had strong shoulders, inherited from Elea.
Asta pulled back the duvet and pushed herself off the warm, comfy bed. It was the last week of shadowing the Professor. She was a little worried about it, but the Professor said that, if she had any worries about anything, his door was always open for a chat and a cup of tea. He told her that she would begin as an F1, spending a couple of months in each department to help make up her mind about where she wanted to work in. Even though both her heart and mind were set on Neuro, she understood that she needed to try each ward just to make sure that she wasn’t setting herself up for disappointment.
Dragging back the curtains, Asta was blinded by the sun. It felt so warm and lovely on her skin. She decided to have a shower in order to fully wake herself up. In the bathroom, she looked at herself in the mirror. Her hair was sticking up in all directions and was as greasy as hell. Small bags appeared under her eyes.
Nothing a little makeup can’t fix.
As the cold water hit her body, making her jump and curse, her thoughts turned to the Professor. He made her feel very welcome at St Jude’s. He was firm but fair, just like Mrs Anders had said. He always asked for her opinion on medical cases and what would she do as a consultant. Even though she had been with him for a week, she could sense a good bond forming between them. She would make the most of the last week, as she was going to Nelson Ward to do cardiothoracics. She was looking forward to it as the Clinical Lead was a good friend of her mother’s.
The water washed away her worries about the day. Professor Gaskell told her that this week would be a little more challenging. She felt as if she could do anything. Her confidence was growing, and she was happier for it. Wrapping towels around her body and hair, she returned to the bedroom to pick an outfit. Yanking open the wardrobe doors, she examined her shirts, skirts, trousers and dresses. A pastel pink blouse with white lace caught her eye.
That would be perfect.
After thinking for a brief moment, she decided to wear black bootcut trousers and her ankle boots. Grabbing a brush and hair bobble and placing them on the side, a gust of warm air blew straight through her dampened locks. After water was removed entirely from her hair, she plaited it into a French plait chignon. Dousing it with hairspray, she went over to the mirror and applied light makeup. Light brown eyeshadow and mascara for the eyes, tinted lip balm for the mouth and a dash of liquid eyeliner to finish. She was ready. Looking at the clock, she rushed downstairs, put everything she needed in her bag, grabbed her helmet and coat, then set off in her moped.
“Good morning, Miss Sjersen.”
Asta was queuing at the cafe when John appeared behind her, his smooth voice purring in her ear. She turned to him and smiled. With him wearing a navy-blue trench coat, black suit with black tie and dark brown brogues, Asta felt a little light-headed. She shook the oncoming thoughts from her mind. He was her mentor and colleague. She thought it inappropriate to think of him in that way as he was 19 years her senior.
John, however, thought Asta looked gorgeous. With her hair and outfit just right, she was a dream in his eyes. Naturally, he had to be professional about it. He was one to have a strong working relationship with her before things got intimate. She represented something exciting and new in his life, which he relished. She was a breath of fresh air in the hospital and he would do his utmost best to help her achieve her potential.
“Good morning, Professor. How are you?”
The Icelandic burr was music to John’s ears. Asta was different and he liked that. She brought new ways of thinking, different perspectives and ideas. It would be hard for him to see her go to Nelson Ward as he had grown fond of her. He was hoping, in his heart of hearts, that she would take him up of his offer to join Neuro permanently.
“I’m alright, thank you. Today marks our last week together.”
“Indeed, but it won’t be forever.”
“Well, that highly depends on which department you decide to go to, Miss Sjersen.”
“Very true. Anyway, what would you like to drink? My treat.”
“I couldn’t possibly allow you to do that. What kind of gentleman would I be? I shall treat you.”
Asta could feel her cheeks burning up. She turned away before John could notice, focusing her sights on the drinks board.
“I insist, Professor. To say thank you for putting up with me.”
John feigned a hurt expression as he moved a little closer to Asta.
“You make yourself sound like a burden, Miss Sjersen. I can assure you that you haven’t been. Not in the slightest. However, if you’re insisting, I will have an espresso please. I’ll find us somewhere to sit."
While Asta was ordering the drinks, John scanned the room for a quiet spot for them to pass the time before their shift started. He found a corner where there were comfy sofas and a table between them. He placed his leather satchel beside him then went to help Asta with the drinks but, she was already on her way back, so he sat down. As she was coming towards him, John was curious about her full background. Although he knew a few things, he would like to know more. Her reasons for coming here, her interests and so on.
Asta sat on the opposite side, thinking that if she sat next to John, she would probably faint. She noted that John’s eyes were looking at her. Cheeks were tempted to blush again, but she overcame it. Passing the espresso over to John, she could tell that he wanted to ask her something. Something about his ocean blue eyes made her feel powerless in his thrall. She observed that he didn’t wear a wedding ring, but that could be for a multitude of reasons. She wasn’t one to pry, but she was curious.
“May I ask you something, Miss Sjersen?”
The velvet purring went straight through her body. She couldn’t understand why she was getting herself in a tizz. He was old enough to be her father. However, she was happy in the fact that he didn’t see her as a child, but as a young woman. It would be nice for her to go to other departments in order to show John that she could stand on her own two feet.
“Of course, Professor.”
“What made you decide to be a doctor?”
Thank goodness. An easy question.
Asta was quite reserved about her history. Her mother said that she should be open towards people. In the past, she was always bullied for being the smart one. It led her to becoming withdrawn from her peers and preferring her own company. John knew this and so he would gently push her out of her comfort zone.
“Well, a few people in my family have neurological problems and I wanted to help them as they were suffering so badly.”
“That is very understandable. I trust your parents are proud of you.”
“My mother is. She always rings me to see how I’m getting. Naturally, she is worried about me being away from home.”
The words struck a chord in John’s heart. He never had the parental support for his career. His mother wasn’t here, and neither was his father. His heart ached for his mother to be here, to give him support and affection. As for his father, he couldn’t care less. It was good that he was gone.
“What about your father?”
Her expression changed. With John, she felt like she couldn’t lie to him. It was something that she felt ashamed about. She never confronted the problem. There was nothing she could do to change it. John could see her face falling and started to regret asking the question.
“Forgive me, Miss Sjersen. I didn’t mean to cause offence.”
He smiled to let her know that he was sorry. He felt awful for broaching a subject that was clearly sensitive to her. He felt that the bond between them would start to break because of it.
“Don’t worry about it, Professor. It’s fine, really. I’ve never really talked about it with anyone. I feel humiliated about it."
John leaned forward towards Asta. She was relieved that the table was in the way otherwise, the following situation would have been very awkward.
“You have nothing to be ashamed for, Miss Sjersen. Whatever your father has done, you can’t change it. Why not talk to me about it? That’s what I’m here for.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course. It’s clear to me that you’ve kept it within yourself for some time. Sooner or later, it will consume you and lead you to dark places. It’s best to get it off your chest.”
Asta understood what he meant. It could twist her way of thinking, causing her to lash out. She was a little unsure about sharing her past with her mentor. But, like John said, that’s what he was there for.
“Whatever you tell me, it will be strictly confidential between us, unless of course, there’s a threat of you being in serious danger, in which case, I will have to inform the police. OK?”
Asta took a few deep breaths to steady her nerves. She relaxed her posture to make herself more comfortable.
“I don’t know who my father is. I was born óviðurkenndur. Illegitimate. A result of a one-night stand."
John’s face dropped. He had no idea. How could someone do that to her mother, to her? He could tell that her mother was a strong woman through the way Asta presented herself. To some extent, he could empathise with her. Even though he had a father, there was no love between them at all. As a child, he felt that there was just another man in his house. He was forced to call him Dad, but he didn’t feel that he wasn't one to him.
“I’m so sorry to hear that. Your mother must have been devastated.”
“She was 17 at the time, so near enough my age. When she told him, he said that he wanted nothing to do with her or the child, me. So she raised me with help from my grandparents, as she was going to college.”
“Your mother is a strong woman, Miss Sjersen. And so are you.”
“Thank you, Professor.”
A weight had been lifted off her shoulders. It was choking her from the inside. Now that she had shared it with someone, she would start being open to everyone if they felt that something was bothering her. There was so many things that she wanted to ask the Professor but felt that some of her questions were too personal. She took a sip from her drink, which was starting to go cold.
“I am glad you shared that with me, Miss Sjersen. On the subject of getting things out of the open, is there anything you want to ask me?”
Asta coughed as the mouthful of drink went down the wrong way. He wanted a question from her? What could she say to him? She really didn’t think it was her place to ask him about his personal life. To intrude on the workings of his mind.
Hypnotic sapphires were staring blankly at her. She felt a little uncomfortable, thinking that John wasn’t the type of man who was an open book. She would wait until she got to know him a bit better.
“No. Not at all, Professor.”
John glanced at his watch, it was 8:45. He finished the remnants of his cold espresso and placed on the table. Grabbing his satchel, he placed the strap across himself.
“Well, Miss Sjersen, it seems we must be on our way. Time is upon us.”
Asta followed suit and got her things together. As they both headed to the lift, John noticed that a part of Asta’s hair was over her eyes.
“Could you look at me please?”
As Asta turned to face him, he brushed the lock of hair to behind her ear. To Asta, it felt that time had stopped. Their faces were a hair’s breadth away from each other. She hoped that no one would push past her. Then again, she wouldn’t mind if they did. John was holding her face in his hand. His heart was feeling love for the first time. This young woman, his mentee made him feel the happiest he had ever been. Her skin, so soft and supple, like a juicy peach. As her cheeks went rose, he found himself tempted just to peck her on the cheek. There was something that prevented him from doing so. He felt that he would scare her away if he proceeded. Instead, he smiled at her and she reciprocated it.
The lift bell brought them back to reality. Both of their cheeks were flushed. They both laughed it off. John allowed Asta to enter the lift first, with him following behind. She pressed the button for Spetzler Ward. As the lift doors closed, John would make Asta’s last week a special one. He knew he would see her again and they could continue strengthening their bond. Until then, he would wait patiently for her to come back into his world again.
Chapter 2: Beating of the Heart
With Asta on her first rotation, John worries about her and calls an old friend for advice.
Butterflies swirled around in her stomach. Her first day nerves came back to haunt her. She told herself to relax as the Clinical lead was her mother’s best friend and her godmother. In one way, she was excited for her first rotation as it would show the Neuro Nasties (the group of bullies), that she can flourish without John’s help. But in another, she didn’t know what to expect. Ms Sturludóttir was a world-renowned cardiothoracic surgeon, so she was learning from the best. It was a windy day as the gales shook the rafters of the building. It was weird not having John around, but she would manage. She did find it a tad intimidating of him just popping out of nowhere and peering over her shoulder, but she knew it was just him checking to see if she was doing what she should be doing. She arrived early to work this morning as she didn’t want to make a bad impression towards Ms Sturludóttir. She was a little apprehensive, in case John made an unexpected appearance but she had a feeling that he would be busy, which was good.
As she made her way to the lift, she saw John waiting in the queue, Not wishing to repeat last week’s close encounter, she snuck by when his back was turned. However, he clocked her as soon as she pressed the lift button.
Asta brushed away her sheepishness, looking towards the Professor with a beaming smile.
John returned the smile and stood next to Asta whilst waiting for the lift. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that she was wearing a purple dress with a black studded belt around her waist, pairing with black heels. Her hair was in a bun, showing off a Maleficent - inspired cuff earing. Silence began to grow between them, partly due to their close encounter. Neither of them wanted it to happen again.
John hated the awkwardness between them. He wanted her to just say something, anything to let him know that she wasn’t disgusted or offended by what he did. He couldn’t see a reason why she would be, he just tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. He had this fear that he pushed her away. His mind was beginning to shut down because of it. The only way to put his mind at ease was to ask her.
“Miss Sjersen, about last week.”
“What about it?”
“I hope you didn’t think I was being too forward.”
“Not at all, Professor. At least you helped me to not become another patient by walking into something.”
Asta laughed at her little joke, with John joining in. He was relieved. He didn’t want them to be on bad terms throughout her working career.
Their carriage was here. The doors opened to grant them passage. Asta entered, with John appearing beside her.
“Where to, Miss Sjersen?”
“Nelson Ward, please.”
John pressed the button ‘3’ and stood back when the doors closed.
“Are you looking forward to cardiothoracics?”
“I am. It’s something different. It’s another tool to add to my belt.”
“True, but some of the cases aren’t half as exciting as Neuro.”
“Was that a subtle hint to join you, Professor?”
John gave a knowing smile. Although it was Asta’s decision, he couldn’t bear for her to join another ward. His mind paused and rewound. Why was he caring about her so much? She was just a mentee. Why did she matter to him? He didn’t know her that well. Why was he getting so involved? At the end of the day, the cycle of mentees, coming, learning, achieving and leaving would continue for eternity. It would be the same for Asta. Once surgeons and doctors take notice of her, they will offer her well paid jobs, here in Britain or overseas. What scared John the most was her leaving him behind and forgetting that he was the one who helped her.
“It’s lovely to see you again, Asta. You’ve grown so much.”
“Thank you. It’s lovely to see you too.”
Ms Sturludóttir and Asta were in Nelson staffroom, having cups of coffee in order to prepare them for the day. Viktoria had known Asta ever since she was a baby and looked after her while Elea was at college.
“Professor Gaskell has told me that you have great potential, Asta. He has high hopes for you.”
“Indeed he does.”
Asta knew that Viktoria would report back to the Professor regarding her progress, so she had to make sure that she did everything right. Of course, Viktoria told her not to worry if she made a mistake as it was all part of her learning. Excitement was radiating off her as Viktoria was giving her an opportunity to go into theatre with her and assist if need be. The first surgery was a triple bypass.
Viktoria had her raven black hair in a low chignon. She was about the same age as Asta’s mother, if not a bit older. She was thrilled at the prospect of teaching Asta all about cardiothoracics. Professor Gaskell, to her, was a mystery. He was a very private man but a good teacher. She knew many people who had thrived under him as he saw excellent potential. It was no wonder that he had Asta as a mentee.
Asta glanced at the clock. It was 8:50. Her heart was racing. She hadn’t been into theatre before, so she was very nervous. She would to learn to control her nerves as a shaky hand could have serious consequences. Viktoria got up and emptied her cold coffee down the sink, placing the vacant cup on the side.
“So, ready for your first time in surgery?”
Asta drank the last mouthfuls of her tea and put it in the washing up bowl.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.”
Asta followed Viktoria out of the staffroom and headed straight to theatre, her heart going ten to the dozen about her first experience.
Thoughts of her swirled around and around in his mind. Would she be alright? How would she get on? He paged her to find out if she was enjoying it but no reply. Ms Sturludóttir said that she would allow Asta to take part in half of her surgeries today. John tried to remain focused on his electives and treatment of patients. But he couldn’t stop thinking about her, even when she was with him. It was rare to find someone of Asta’s talent within the hospital. She was the only one who had it. It made her unique.
The only comfort he had was that Ms Sturludóttir would inform him of Asta’s progress, both personally and professionally. Then she would move on to Lister Ward, AAU, and she would come to him last to Spetzler Ward. He had to wait 9 months to see her again. Lying on his leather sofa that dwelled in his office, he looked at his pager to see if she had replied.
It was natural for him to worry as it was Asta’s first rotation, but he shouldn’t be doing it this much. Sighing deeply, he leant his head back on the arm. Never in a million years, would he ever think a young woman would affect him so, especially with intelligence beyond her years and bright personality. He had some overprotectiveness towards her. She was far too young for him and yet, he couldn’t help being intrigued by her. He tried to understand why he was feeling this way.
It wasn’t as if she dressed provocatively, with makeup applied with a trowel and saying not-so-subtle sexual innuendos. She was just a young woman, with an excellent taste in fashion and who had good manners. He did admit, that her beauty was unparalleled to anyone else. Her eyes were cerulean, like his own. The childlike innocence within her eyes always grabbed John’s attention.
Asta was similar to him in so many ways, the passion for the work, to try and do their best at everything they do. The quiet was driving him mad. He was just waiting for that one sound, that one thing to tell him that she was alright. He had an urge to go straight to Nelson and finding her in theatre. He couldn’t do that to her. She had to spread her wings and flourish on her own. It was killing him inside not knowing. Advice was what he needed, and he knew just the person to ask.
Cool air hit her as soon as she opened the theatre doors. Her cheeks were flushed, heart close to bursting out of her chest, adrenaline rushing through her body. She operated on the triple bypass patient, with Viktoria’s supervision. The operation was very successful. At first, she felt that it wasn’t time for her to operate on a patient, but Viktoria had great confidence in her abilities and that she would do fine under her guidance. She collapsed on the seat opposite her. Her Breathing was all over the place. Sweat was pouring off her, drenching her scrubs.
She looked a mess, but she didn’t care. She was over the moon. Her first major operation successfully completed. She couldn’t wait to tell the Professor. During the operation, her pager went off, but she left it as it would seem disrespectful to answer in the middle of operating on a patient. Reaching for the pager in her pocket, her hands were shaking from the rush. It showed that she had one message:
‘How is it going? PG.’
She would keep her reply to a minimum as she didn’t wish to bore him with every single detail.
‘Did operation successfully with Ms Sturludóttir’s supervision. A.’
She pressed the send button, relaxing deeply into the chair. She had a feeling that he would be a little concerned about her, with it being her first time on a different ward. She couldn’t wait for the rest of the surgeries. Now that the first one was over, she was a bit more at ease with what was to come. Viktoria came out of theatre, exhausted.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, Asta. I’m so pleased with you. First day here, and you’ve done a major operation. Well done. I’ll be sure to let Professor Gaskell know."
“I don’t know about you, but I could murder a sandwich.”
“Same here, I’m starving.”
Asta stood up, feeling much better after having a rest. After today, she would go straight home as she was going to be exhausted. She had her monthly mentor meeting with John in the morning, which would be interesting. As she headed towards the cafe, her pager buzzed. It was John.
‘So proud of you. Want to go for a drink to celebrate? PG’
She immediately paged him back saying that, although it was kind of him to offer, she would be going straight home after work. She wasn’t the type to go out on her own, especially at her age. She would have a drink with him when she was allowed to. Dropping her pager back in her pocket, her thoughts turned to what she would have to eat. She heard that they were doing bacon and sausage baps. Mouth-watering at the prospect of thick bacon and delicious sausage, she felt that her day couldn’t get any better.
“Henrik? It’s John.”
John! Glad to hear from you.
“You too, old friend. ”
How may I help you?
“You know, when I said that a newbie was coming to St Jude’s and I was scared of teaching them...”
“It turned out to be nothing to worry about. Oh Henrik, she is the most intelligent, kind, beautiful young woman that I have ever seen.”
What’s her name?
“Asta. Asta Sjersen. She’s from Iceland.”
Ah, a fellow Scandinavian. How delightful.
“She’s not like anyone else. She’s unique.”
Oh? How so?
16?! That’s a bit young, don’t you think?
“She’s a prodigy, Henrik. Her intelligence is higher than her peers. On her first day of rotation, she operated on a triple bypass patient.”
I must say, that is very impressive.
What is the problem, John?
“It’s just, I fear that I’m caring for her more deeply than I should.”
“Last week, there was a piece of hair over her eyes, so I told her to look at me and I placed it behind her ear. For that moment, I was tempted to kiss her on the cheek.”
And did you?
“Of course not. I just smiled. I just don’t want to hurt her, Henrik.”
I know, John. It’s the feeling of wanting to be loved but not knowing how to love in return.
“Exactly. I don’t know if what I feel for her is wrong.”
You’re human, John. Love is something everyone feels. It just that you haven’t been exposed to it ever since your mother passed away.
Asta is your mentee, so it’s natural for you to worry about her. Does she interest you?
“She’s a challenge, Henrik. She has excellent potential to make it to the big leagues.”
What you feel for her, John. Is it love?
“I don’t know. There’s something there. A spark, if you will.”
Does she know about your past?
“No. I daren’t tell her. Not yet.”
Professionalism is key to any working relationship. She’s young, John. She’s just starting out in life. Wait until she’s older and, if you still feel the same, talk to her.
“Alright. Thanks, Henrik.”
My pleasure, John. Good night.
“Good night, Henrik.”
Chapter 3: Seeing You Again
With Asta starting her second rotation, John meets with her to discuss her Cardio portfolio. He finds out that she was emotionally involved with a patient.
Everything was perfect. No spelling errors, no mistakes, no confusion. It was all clear, well presented and well written. Her first portfolio and she passed with flying colours. It was apparent to John that she understood what was asked of her. He had a meeting with her at lunch to discuss it and her experience on Cardiothoracics. She had such a talented mind. It was unbelievable how someone so young could produce such high-quality work. Ms Sturludóttir was full of praise for her new student.
Henrik was right. Asta was only just starting in the world. She needed to find her feet before focusing on anything else. From the looks of it, John had a good feeling that she would do very well. She was on Lister Ward today, in the hands of Professor Robson. Eric Robson was a middle-aged man, divorced with 2 kids. His blond hair was slicked back, and he was very tall, which scared Asta a little. His piercing green eyes paralysed her. Even though his appearance was formidable, he had a pleasant and kind personality. He had obtained the results of Asta’s first portfolio from John and, like him, he was extremely impressed.
He was interested on Asta’s unique sense of style, which was clear when she arrived on Lister sporting two pastel purple plaits. He wasn’t one to judge. As long as Asta was comfortable and that it wouldn’t affect her work, he was happy for her to wear any colour in any style. He was quite laid back with all his students but could be firm if he had to. He learned that Viktoria allowed her to work with her in theatre, something he thought was a good idea.
The whole day would be full of back to back surgeries with breaks so that they both had time to recharge. Asta was very knowledgeable about the lung system. She knew how different illnesses affected different parts of the system. Her confidence was growing more and more, making her relaxed in her role. Staff saw Asta as an equal and treated her as such. She was overjoyed that she was finally getting the recognition that she deserved.
“Right, Miss Sjersen. Are you ready for the day?”
Asta was having a quick cup of tea before her shift started. Gulping down the warm tea, she slammed the cup on the side and met Professor Robson by the door.
“Yes, sir. Just to remind you, I have a meeting with Professor Gaskell at lunch.”
“That’s not a problem, Miss Sjersen. No doubt he would want to discuss your excellent portfolio.”
Asta’s cheeks turned red. She didn’t expect to get a high mark, especially since it was her first ever portfolio and that she was so nervous writing it.
Asta nodded, following Professor Robson to theatre. Her mind was wondering of all the possible surgeries what she would be doing. It would be 9 months before she would join Professor Gaskell. She couldn’t wait to work alongside him in theatre. The best was saved til last and she would enjoy every minute of it.
Sitting at his desk, portfolio at hand, coffee cup beside him, he was waiting for the owner of this highest quality, Distinction graded file. He rapt his fingers on the desk to give him something to do. Glancing at his watch, he was getting a little worried. Of course, there was a chance of her being slightly late if problems had occurred in theatre. As the long hand moved slowly towards 12, he feared that something had happened. Picking up the phone, he started to dial the number for the theatre when Asta came through with only a couple of minutes to spare.
“Just in time, Miss Sjersen. I feared that something had happened to you.”
“I’m alright, Professor. Just cleaned myself up.”
“Please, sit down.”
John indicated to the chair opposite him, so Asta sat herself down. John could tell that she was on edge.
“Relax, Miss Sjersen. This is an informal chat about your portfolio and checking to see how you’re getting on with your rotations, that’s all.”
Asta became less tense when the Professor said that it was informal. She kept thinking that she was still at medical school with all these meetings.
“Would you like a drink?”
“Yes please. I’ll have a tea.”
As John walked to the mini drink station in his office, Asta became aware of her surroundings. Everything was so tidy. Objects had their own places, just like in her bedroom. The desk was very grand. His tablet/computer was in the centre, a pot of pencils and files to the left, his cup of coffee on the right. She could tell the Professor was very organised.
“Here you are, Miss Sjersen.”
John passed over the mug of hot tea to Asta, who grabbed the handle, briefly touching his hand. Putting down the mug on the desk, Asta was ready for any criticism, if any, the Professor had to give her. She noticed that the Professor was wearing a black suit with a grey tie. It made him even more mysterious to her. Her mind was interested in what made him tick and what sort of man he was in private.
John fell back into his seat and opened the portfolio.
“I must say, Miss Sjersen. I am amazed. Your writing is very clear and concise. Your assessment feedbacks are full of praise and your reports are very detailed.”
“There is just one thing.”
Asta was surprised. The way he said it, it sounded bad.
“What’s that, Professor?”
“You had a patient die on the table and you became emotional as they were close to you in age.”
Asta muttered not a word. She knew that he had to find out sooner or later. It was the first time that someone died under her care. She felt hopeless, wishing that there was more she could have done.
“I tried to save her, but there was so much blood. I couldn’t see.”
Struggling not to cry, Asta turned away from the Professor, not wanting him to see her weakness. John’s heart went out to her. At the end of the day, she was still a young woman who hadn’t experienced this before. Giving her a box of tissues, he went around to her and kneeled beside her chair.
She turned to John, tears running her face.
“The loss of a patient, especially your first one, can be traumatic for anyone. I know that you did everything you could to save her. That’s all you can do, Asta. You can’t do anymore.”
Her voice was so wobbly as she tried to contain her emotions. John placed his arms around her and pulled her a little closer. Her head rested on his shoulder, which released all her anger and sadness. Rubbing her back to soothe her, John rocked her a little in order to calm her down.
“It’s alright, Asta. It’s alright.”
Five minutes had passed before Asta regained her composure. She gently pulled away from John and wiped away her tears. A tear stain was on his shoulder where her head had been.
“I’m sorry I ruined your jacket, Professor.”
“Think nothing of it. There’s no harm done.”
One thing that puzzled Asta was that the Professor called her by her first name. She gave him the benefit of the doubt. Slips of the tongue easily happen. She soon settled down and John moved back to his chair.
“Are you alright now?”
“Yes I am, thank you Professor.”
“Good. It is hard to maintain professionalism when dealing with emotional cases but, over time, it will be something that you will get used to.”
Asta smiled. She felt a lot better after opening her heart to the Professor. She knew that she would have to release her emotions somehow otherwise it could lead to destructive behaviour. She felt that she was a different person to who she had been on her first day.
“Now, how are you finding your rotation?”
“It’s been great. The staff have been so friendly and helpful. No day is the same, which is good, and I’ve been given good advice.”
“To be honest, I can’t wait to finish Lister and AAU so that I can be with you.”
“Yep. I know it’s well to have a variety to choose from, but Neuro deals with neurological disorders and the workings of the mind. To me, it’s very interesting and I want to help others who are going through what my family went through.”
John was very flattered by this. Passion was emanating strongly from her eyes. It touched him that Asta had this drive. If he was CEO, he would have her transferred to Neuro in a heartbeat, but rules were rules. She would have to finish Lister and AAU first.
“Be patient, Miss Sjersen. Neuro isn’t going anywhere.”
“Sorry, Professor. It’s just that I’m so looking forward to it.”
“It’s quite alright. To be frank, I can’t wait for you to join Neuro either.”
“No. I can see that you have the passion and drive to make it into the big leagues.”
Asta’s eyes twinkled at the sheer thought. The Professor actually thought that she could make consultant. Her cheeks turned a light red, highlighting her beauty to John.
“I don’t know what to say.”
John smiled. Asta could go the distance and make Clinical Lead one day. What she had was precious and John would protect it no matter what. He felt a deep connection between them, made stronger by their love for Neuro.
“It’s true. Miss Sjersen. If you keep making portfolios of this quality, I don’t see why not.”
Asta’s face fell a little. She felt like John was expecting a lot from her. She was scared of what would happen if she didn’t produce work to that quality.
“I’m not asking you to be perfect, Miss Sjersen. As long as you achieve somewhere between a Merit and Distinction, I’m happy.”
Asta was more cheerful. She was just human. No one could be perfect all the time. John knew that she would do her very best. If, for some reason, she didn’t, he would go through the portfolio with her and help her to understand what went wrong. He wanted her to know that small mistakes were acceptable.
“To finish up, do you have any questions, any concerns at all about anything?”
Asta pondered for a few minutes. Both her professional and personal lives were stable. She was one of those who had a good work ethic. She reminded John of himself when he was younger. Having all of the work done during the week so that he could relax on the weekends. Her mind was going through all the questions that she wanted to ask the Professor. What did he do in his spare time, his likes and dislikes, was he married, divorced or widowed, what made him go into Neurology. They were all getting muddled up, to the point where her brain couldn’t keep up.
“No, everything is fine, Professor.”
John was a little uneased on how quick Asta had answered. It sounded to him that she was hiding something.
“Are you sure? You know you can tell me anything.”
“I know, Professor. Everything is fine, honest.”
“Very well, but you know where I am if you need me. You may go.”
“Thank you, Professor.”
Asta gave John a brief smile before leaving to go back to Lister. It dawned on him that he had addressed Asta by her first name. He cursed himself for letting his professionalism slip for a brief moment. However, he did feel more closer to her when he did it. His mind was thinking all sorts about her. Henrik’s words were burnt into his head. He feared that he wouldn’t wait until Asta was older to tell her how he really felt. As long as he kept taking his medication, there was nothing for him to worry about. He wanted Asta to be with him in Neuro so badly but, at the same time, he was scared in case his mental health deteriorated for some reason and he brought her to harm. He had to take things steady for both his sake and for Asta’s.
Chapter 4: Primary Assessment
When Asta turns up late for her next rotation. the Clinical Lead puts her at ease. When she tells Asta that she wants her in a cross specialist case, Asta is over the moon. Excitement turns to surprise when she learns the identity of the other surgeon
Heart racing, breathing out of sync. She cursed the English traffic under her breath. Roadworks halted her way into work, so she had to take an alternative route, causing her to be late for her first day on AAU. She dreaded what the Clinical Lead would think of her, becoming worried that this act of lateness would taint the impression she would give. She rushed into the entrance, nearly colliding into John. John could see that she was getting flustered.
“Where’s the fire, Miss Sjersen?”
Asta panted so hard, she thought her lungs was going to collapse. She looked at John, her face flushed and perspiring lightly.
“Sorry, there were roadworks where I live and so I had to take the long way around, which has made me late and I’m worried what Ms Carrington will think.”
Asta walked to a chair and sat down, trying to get as much oxygen in her lungs as she could. John pulled up beside her, placing his satchel on the adjacent chair. Reaching deep into her bag, she lifted her water bottle out, opened the lid and gulped down the water, in the hope that it would cool her down. After she consumed a sufficient quantity, she screwed on the lid and placed it back into her bag.
“Why are you worried about Ms Carrington?”
“I’ve heard that she detests lateness and that F1s under her are put through so much stress and that…”
John rested his hand on Asta’s shoulder. He gazed into her eyes, which somehow managed to calm her down.
“Ms Carrington isn’t like that, at all. She’s not an ogre. She will understand, I promise you.”
John stood up and placed his satchel around him. Asta felt a lot better after resting and put her bag over her shoulder.
“Do you know where AAU is, Miss Sjersen?”
“I’m ashamed to say I don’t. I’ve been here long enough, I should do.”
“Don’t beat yourself up. You’re used to being on the second, third and fourth floors. Come on, I’ll take you there.”
“You will?! But don’t you have meetings or electives to go to?”
“They can wait. Getting you to your next rotation safely is priority.”
Her cheeks started to blush. She felt like she was being a bother. It was kind of the Professor to offer. The hospital was a huge place and she could get easily lost.
“Alright. Thank you.”
They both made their way to AAU, conversing about what they got up to at the weekend to pass the time. Asta was a little happy that she got a look into John’s private life. He told her that he and a group of friends went paintballing, and that he got hit the most. Seeing the welts on his arm, Asta thought that paintballing was a brutal sport, saying that she would never take part in it.
As they reached the double doors, her palms started to sweat. John put his key card against the door and let himself and Asta in. Asta saw Ms Carrington by the desk. She was a stout, short woman, with a pixie haircut that didn’t suit her at all and she dyed it the most horrendous colour, a shade of mustard yellow. Ermintrude was a Yorkshire lass and she wouldn’t take things lying down. She noticed that someone was glaring at her. She turned, walking to welcome her new student.
“Professor Gaskell, to what do we owe the honour?”
The broad Yorkshire accent echoed through Asta’s ears. Ermintrude looked at Asta, seeing that she was nervous, so she gave her a smile.
“Nothing special. I’ve just escorted Miss Sjersen to your department. She was a little anxious as she was late.”
Ermintrude noted that Asta was shaking a little. For someone so young, Ermintrude was astounded at her intellect. Asta had become well known throughout the hospital and most of the staff were quite excited of having a prodigy as a colleague.
“Oh, it’s nothing to worry about, my dear. The roadworks are dreadful, aren’t they?”
“They are, Ms Carrington.”
“I myself was late so it’s no trouble. I wasn’t going to stick you on waste duty. Better late than never, that’s what I always say.”
Ms Carrington gave out a hearty laugh. Asta was relieved that she wasn’t as harsh as people made her out to be. John was reassured that Asta would be in the best capable hands. Ermintrude had a wicked sense of humour, which would make Asta feel right at home.
“Right, I’ll leave Miss Sjersen to you. No rest for the wicked.”
“Good bye, Professor. And thank you.”
John began the long trek back to Neuro. He was getting excited as, after Asta had finished on AAU, she would be coming to him for the last few months of the year. Asta didn’t know it but he had a surprise in store for her.
Ermintrude and Asta were having a well-deserved cuppa in the staffroom. The morning was certainly eventful. There was an altercation between two women once they found out that they were both married to the same man, a patient was sick all over one of the F1s, which Asta found quite funny as the F1 in question was giving her grief, a patient was sent to the wrong ward and another was in as he tore a muscle doing ‘strenuous activity’. It took all of Asta’s and Ms Carrington’s professionalism to not burst out laughing when he was describing how he did it.
It was a gorgeous autumn day. The trees were all shades of reds, golds, oranges and yellows. Trees swaying in the wind. There was something soothing about the way the leaves spiralled down on to the ground. To feel crunching underneath her feet. She wondered whether Professor Gaskell liked walks in the forest during autumn time. She would ask him the next time she saw him, just out of interest.
Asta was awoken from her trance. She saw that Ms Carrington was looking at her.
“Yes, Ms Carrington?”
“You’re looking very wistfully at the window. Is everything alright?”
“Everything is alright, Ms Carrington."
“You’re not thinking about a certain Professor, are you?”
Even though Ms Carrington couldn’t see it, she could tell that Asta was blushing.
“Of course not. Why would you think that?”
“It’s the way you look at him. You look like a deer caught in the headlights."
“Well, it’s just that he’s a remarkable man who has done a lot in the field of neurology.”
“He interests you, doesn’t he?”
What is she, a mind reader?
“I suppose you could say that. He’s a mystery. Besides, our relationship is purely professional. That, and he’s old enough to be my father.”
“That’s fair enough. He seems very interested in you. Probably because you’re a prodigy.”
Asta felt a little narked that Ms Carrington read her like an open book. It would be inappropriate for her to enter a relationship with her mentor. She thought that she wasn’t his type. He could be a happily married man for all she knew, and she wouldn’t dare to ruin that. She was just happy the way she was. She was far too young to think about a relationship just yet. She didn’t dismiss the possibility though.
“May I call you Asta?”
“Of course you can.”
“Well, Asta, I have a special treat for you.”
Asta’s curiosity was piqued. She knew that Ms Carrington wasn’t the type to get her hopes up then dash them at the last minute. She wondered what it could be.
Ms Carrington nodded. She knew that Asta hadn’t done one before so now would be the right time to do so.
“There’s a cross-specialist case that needs operating on and I was wondering if you would like to scrub in with me.”
Asta’s eyes lit up in wonder. She didn’t know what it was, but it sounded like a good thing to put in her portfolio.
“What is a cross-specialist case?”
“It’s when a patient comes into one ward and has injuries that involves another ward. For example, a patient in Nelson would have cardiothoracic injuries but, if they also have neurological injuries, then a member from the Neuro team will assist a member of Cardio in theatre.”
“Ah, sounds amazing.”
“We start after lunch, so you wouldn’t be doubled over in hunger.”
The smell of fresh bread, bacon and egg was too good to resist, so she ordered one on brown bread, with a hot chocolate to drink. She waited for this all morning but, her stomach was doing backflips, so she knew that she had to try and keep it down. Her mind was thinking of who the other specialist would be. She hoped that it would be Ms Sturludóttir, as she would feel more at ease if it was. Biting in to the delicious sandwich, she felt the yolk burst into her mouth and the bacon pulling into two.
The sumptuous concoction of the two ingredients brought Asta great happiness, as it reminded her of what her mother did for breakfast back home. She wiped her mouth with a napkin to erase any eggy residue. It wouldn’t be a good look to turn up into theatre with literal egg on her face. After finishing her well-deserved meal, she felt a vibration in her pocket.
‘Meet me in theatre, M C.’
Asta checked her watch. The time was upon her. She made her way to theatre, bubbling over with excitement over her first cross specialist case.
Asta placed on her skull ridden surgical cap and went to the preparation area where she saw Ms Carrington washing herself. She didn’t see any signs of the other consultant. Then again, she was fairly early. Opening the door, she walked jauntily towards Ms Carrington, who gave her a smile.
“Looking forward to your first case?”
“I am but I’m slightly nervous.”
“You’ll be alright. I’m right beside you.”
“Thank you, that really helps.”
Washing her hands, Asta wondered what kind of case the patient was. She had a feeling that Ms Carrington was keeping the nature of it from her, to add to the suspense.
“So what kind of patient are we dealing with, Ms Carrington?”
“Our patient is from an RTA with an artic lorry, sustaining injuries to his esophagus, stomach and liver, which we will be dealing with.”
“Sounds good. And for the other specialist?”
As she was draining her arms of the water, she gave Ms Carrington a shocked expression. There was only one name that came to mind.
“That’s right. I thought it would be nice for him to see you in action and show him how far you’ve come. He would do his part after we’ve finished. He will be just observing. All you have to do is stay calm, alright?”
She didn’t show it but Asta felt that she was going to go off her feet. Her mentor, watching her in theatre. All she had to do was to prove to him that she was capable. It wasn’t like he was assessing her and marking her down if she did anything wrong. This would be an excellent opportunity to show him what she was made of. As the time for operation drew closer, the man himself appeared in his emerald green scrubs. It grabbed Asta’s attention, but she quickly looked away, not wanting him to call her out for it.
“Good afternoon, Ms Carrington, Miss Sjersen.”
Asta didn’t say anything. Her mind was getting caught up in what could happen. John saw this and moved closer to her to try and get her mind back to reality.
“Good afternoon, Miss Sjersen.”
The rich, smooth voice snapped Asta back to the present. John was merely centimetres away from her. She could feel his breath on her skin. Asta looked at him. Ms Carrington was right. She was a deer caught in his headlights. She had to be cautious for she didn’t know what he could do to her. She had to be professional. She smiled at him, putting her fears to the back of her mind.
“Good afternoon, Professor. What a pleasant surprise.”
“I had a feeling you would be pleased. I’m sure Ms Carrington has told you that even though I will be in theatre, I will just be observing until my time comes.”
“Excellent. I’m sure you will do brilliantly.”
“Thank you, Professor.”
The three of them got changed into scrubs. The patient was wheeled in under anaesthetic. Ms Carrington was on the left side on the table, with Asta opposite her.
John was on the sidelines, watching the operation from the screen. He knew that Asta would do everything in her power to save him. He feared that she would become too obsessed in saving patients that she would do anything, no matter the cost. The operation would show him whether or not she had that obsession in her. As instruments were lined up beside them, the two women were ready. Taking deep breaths, Asta was getting her nerves under control. She had all the time in the world.
Lying on the sofa in the staffroom, Ermintrude’s heart was full of dread. The patient had neglected to disclose that he had a heart condition, as well as Parkinson’s. She thought that Asta behaved impeccably. After they finished doing what they could, the reins were passed over to Professor Gaskell. Asta had asked permission if she could watch him in action. As they were finished for the day, she had said yes. As John was working on the nerves of the patient, he saw fibrous tumours all along it, as well as the nerve damage being worse than he thought. He asked someone to page her to see if she would allow Asta to assist him. She permitted it. They were still in there. It was unnecessary bother from them.
If the patient had disclosed it, things would have gone a lot smoother. Asta had been doing surgeries since this morning with one break. The poor girl was exhausted, but she knew that she couldn’t let John do it on his own. Glancing at her watch, it was getting on towards 10:00. Asta was dedicated to her job, that much was clear.
Ermintrude was content in the thought that her partner would be cooking and waiting for her to get home so that they could celebrate their wedding anniversary. She and Anna had been married for 25 years. They met on a conference and had been inseparable ever since. She didn’t know where Asta had heard it was their anniversary, but she had bought her a bottle of elderflower cordial (her favourite), a box of Lindor and a silver photo frame. Her message tone went off, so she jumped up from the sofa and picked up her phone. It was Anna:
‘Can’t wait to see you when you come back.
I’m cooking chicken stew and I have a surprise for you.
She went to the changing room and got her normal clothes on. She knew that Asta would be safe with John. They would make a good team if Asta went to Neuro. As she headed to the car park, she was pondering on what surprise Anna had for her. Whatever it was, she would love it.
Asta and John both opened the theatre doors, resting on the chairs. They had been in there for 6 hours. They managed to get all of the tumours off and repaired the damage. There were moments where they thought they had lost him, but he managed to pull through. Both were exhausted, but they pushed on. When they finished, it was 2:00 in the morning.
“I must say, Miss Sjersen, you did incredibly well. I bet you didn’t think you would assist me, did you?”
“I’m glad it’s over. There was a lot of unnecessary mither, but we got there in the end. We make a pretty good team.”
Asta was trying very hard not to fall asleep. She had to get back home. Her eyes were lead weights and her feet were disobeying her mind’s commands. She and John made their way to the changing rooms. Asta knew that she smelled pretty bad, so she was going to have a shower.
John stood outside in the cold air, looking at the stars. Somehow, he found it very therapeutic. As a child, the stars gave him hope for a better future. Sound of the doors opening indicated to him that Asta was ready. She came up beside him, looking very worse for wear. The only thing he could do was ask.
“Can I offer to drive you home?”
Asta was stunned for a few moments. She didn’t want him to go of his way, just for her. She didn’t live that far so she would be alright.
“No, it’s alright Professor. I don’t live that far away. I’ll manage.”
“Forgive me for being blunt, but you haven’t stopped all day. You’re exhausted. Who knows what would happen if I let you drive off in the state you’re in. Please, for my peace of mind, let me take you home.”
Asta concurred with the Professor on that. She could get herself injured or worse, even killed.
“But, what about my moped?”
“I’ll pick you up for work. It will still be there. Then you can take it home.”
Asta was too tired to argue. It was generous for him to offer.
“OK. Thank you, Professor. Do you want any petrol money?”
“Don’t be silly. I live just a couple of miles down the road. It’s no trouble at all.”
As John and Asta walked to his car, Asta was surprised to find that it was a black Jaguar. It suited him. As she slid into the passenger seat, she was very impressed by the walnut interior and leather seats. The seats were so comfy and the car, so sleek. John got in opposite her, throwing his satchel on the back seat. Engine roaring into life, they set off for Asta’s house. John engaged Asta in conversation to try and keep her awake. He put the windows down as well.
After a while, they arrived at their destination. Turning the engine off, John leapt out to the car and rushed to the passenger door to help Asta out and escort her to the door. As they walked to the door, John saw that Asta looked more beautiful in the moonlight. Her house was down a back road, away from the main streets and lamps. She preferred it that way. The seclusion, the privacy. Unlocking the door, Asta went inside and John had a glimpse into her world. The interior was well maintained and very fashionable. From what he gathered, Asta lived here with her Aunt Hekla, a hippie. It was good that she had someone to keep her company. Asta turned around and stood by the doorway, glancing at John.
“Thank you for driving me home, Professor.”
“You’re very welcome, Miss Sjersen. Would you like to pick you up at, say. 8:30?”
“That would be wonderful. The coffee’s on me.”
“I’ll hold you to that.”
They both laughed. Now that John was close to her, she saw him in a different light. As a kind and generous man who would help his colleagues when and if needed be. They both bid each other good night. Making his way back to the car, John felt a sense of pride that Asta was doing exceptional at her work and portfolios. The day she came to Neuro would be just the thing he needed to distract him from his mental health worries. No one would stop him taking Asta to the top. He had this gnawing feeling that, as well as helping her be a success, he would also be her downfall if he couldn’t keep his mind stable.
Chapter 5: Workings of the Mind
It's Asta's birthday and she's looking forward to her first day on Neuro. But fear gets the better of her and she runs off, leaving John to persuade her to continue.
Sun rays were reflecting off her baby blue hair as she made her way to the entrance. Cold lingered in the air. Trees were shed of all their leaves, leaving them exposed to the bitter frost. Asta was in a joyous mood, as she skipped into the cafe, earning a few raised eyebrows by passers-by, but she didn’t care. There were two reasons for her euphoric mood: It was her birthday and her rotation on Spetzler Ward with Professor Gaskell. At last, her chance to shine was here. Tying her hair into two side buns, she decided on having a different hot drink, to warm herself up. A catchy tune popped up in her head, so she danced a little in the queue, humming the tune. She felt amazing.
“Having fun, Miss Sjersen?”
The soft Liverpudlian lilt stopped her in her tracks. She didn’t hear him coming, which creeped her out a little. John’s suit of the day was grey, with white shirt, a black tie and black brogues. She was a little embarrassed that John caught her out, but she didn’t mind. She was so happy.
“Sorry, Professor. I didn’t see you there.”
“May I ask why you’re so cheerful?”
Asta thought about telling him it was her birthday but she didn’t want to be made a fuss of.
“It’s such a beautiful day and that I’ll be working with you.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear it, Miss Sjersen.”
As she reached her place in the queue, she was about to place her order, but John beat her to it.
“I’ll have a latte please, and whatever Miss Sjersen wants.”
“Of course. Think of it as a welcome to Neuro treat.”
“Thank you, I’ll just have a bottle of water.”
Having obtained their drinks, they ambled towards the lift to go to Neuro. John was relieved that Asta was here at last. He couldn’t wait to show her the wonders of Neurology. So far, all of her portfolios have achieved excellent marks. If she passed this one, she would have an astonishing record. Excitement was bubbling inside of him. The next three months would be well worth the wait.
As they entered the lift, John noticed that Asta had her hair in a different style, which he loved. She was wearing a pale blue blouse with white lace and a black pencil skirt with heels. He was getting a little hot under the collar when he saw her curves being defined by the fabric. Sometimes he forgot that she was young. Thoughts kept coming into his mind, which he pushed away as they were very inappropriate. If the police could read minds, he would easily be arrested. Instead, he focused on the surgeries that he and Asta would perform together.
He would guide her and help her, rather than hinder her. To be around her, for him, was pure bliss. He reasoned that, because she was so similar to him, there was a greater connection between them. Seeing the passion and drive that Asta possessed, he was determined to help her in any way he could. He would be her support pillar if issues arose. Of course, like with all his mentees, he would have to be firm but fair. Teaching students was his most favourite thing to do. To help the future generation of doctors.
From what he had seen, Asta’s confidence had grown in theatre. Of course, along the way, there were a few mishaps but other than that, she was getting there. The operations she performed with fellow staff were two hours or under, which was good. The one that took longer was the RTA patient that they were working on with Ms Carrington. He was surprised at Asta’s level of stamina. He saw that she was used to short operations, so he applauded her for staying to the end.
When they entered Neuro, Asta went straight for the changing rooms to change into the mint green scrubs that were provided for her. When she returned, John was waiting for her by the reception desk. John thought the colour combination reminded him of a calm clear sea next to a meadow in spring. Asta could barely contain her joy. She felt like all her dreams were coming. She couldn’t have asked for a better teacher.
“I can’t wait to get started, Professor.”
“Your enthusiasm is welcome, Miss Sjersen. But try not to get too excited. We have to maintain professionalism.”
As soon as that was said, Asta calmed herself down. The Professor was right. It would be inappropriate if she was bouncing off the walls around patients. She would to try and contain herself.
“Alright, Miss Sjersen, today we have a patient with multiple tumours in her brain, so it will be our job to get them out. Shall we meet her?”
“Of course, Professor.”
Going towards Bay 3, Asta saw an elderly woman knitting a multi-coloured scarf, humming away to herself. She had her peppery hair in a long plait down to her chest. She wore an unbuttoned rainbow coloured cardigan with a light purple blouse. A patchwork skirt with a misshaped hem covered her varicose vein ridden legs right to her toes. Asta could tell that she would be quite the character.
She looked at him with green eyes that had seen the 2nd World War, the Blitz, Vietnam War, 5 kids and 8 grandchildren being born.
“Ah, Mr Gaskell. How delightful to see you. You look even more handsome than when I first saw you.”
“You’re too kind, Mrs Willows.”
“And who is this lovely young lady?”
“This here is Miss Sjersen. She will be with me for the next few months.”
Hilda reached out her hand towards Asta, who took it gently and shook it.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Sjersen.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Mrs Willows.”
John was surprised at how much Asta had grown. He knew a few students who clashed with patients and staff alike. Asta wasn’t one of them, which was refreshing to see. He found it tedious when one of his students behaved out of order and he had to have a meeting with them to find out why. Sometimes, they were cooperative. Other times, it was like trying to get blood out of a stone.
“Miss Sjersen and I will be operating on you today so do you have any queries or questions?”
“Not at all. I’m pleased that this young lady will be joining you. I’ve heard so much about you from Professor Gaskell, my dear."
Asta was stunned. She didn’t think the Professor would be the kind to talk about her to patients. It seemed that even the patients were surprised that she was working here at such a young age. Her cheeks flushed a little. It was nice to be appreciated.
“He told me that you’re very hardworking and determined. Always pleasant towards staff and patients. You’ll do well here.”
Her cheeks flushed even more. She wasn’t used to this much praise. John saw this and thought that she looked adorable.
“Now, now Mrs Willows. You’re embarrassing Miss Sjersen. “
“Sorry, my dear. But it is true. From what Professor Gaskell has told me, your portfolios up to now have been high quality. You have my congratulations.”
“Thank you, Mrs Willows.”
Asta could see that John wanted to talk through the operation with Mrs Willows so she finished the mini conversation as quickly as she could.
“About your operation, Mrs Willows.”
“We will be doing a craniotomy. An area of bone will be cut from your skull, which will give us an opening to work on your brain. Once the tumours are removed, the piece of bone will be put back and secured with tiny metal brackets. The scalp will be stitched over it.”
“Will the scars be seen? I don’t want people to look at them.”
Asta went closer to Mrs Willows, sitting down on her bed. She could see that she was a little frightened, so she would do her best to reassure her.
“Don’t worry, your hair will hide the scars.”
“Of course. However, if you still feel that people will see them, you can wear a hat instead.”
Hilda took Asta’s hand and held it so firmly that Asta thought that all the bones in her hand would break.
“Oh, thank you. You’ve put my mind at rest.”
John was touched that Asta was able to alleviate Hilda’s fears. It showed her level of empathy. Hopefully, it would be something that she would carry with her throughout her career. The feelings that she stirred in him made him feel euphoric and wonderful, that nothing would ever bring him down.
His bane was his mental health. He was terrified of it. The blame laid at his father’s door. It made John fear himself. So far, he managed to keep it under control. But, it could easily be unleashed. If he was taunted or put under extreme duress, his mind would go into the darkest of places. He would become mad and, at times, sadistic. The doctors gave him some hope in the form of antipsychotic medication. He was to take it twice a day to help him stay calm. He found that having Asta around helped too. She brightened up his day in the simplest ways, but they made a big difference to him.
“We would do a scan first of all, to see where the tumours are. If all goes well, we can operate this afternoon.”
“Sounds delightful, Professor. But I can’t help but feel nervous.”
Asta placed her hand on Mrs Willows’s shoulder. She could feel a slight shaking movement in her body.
“It’s natural to feel nervous. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last. Besides, you’re in good hands. Professor Gaskell is the best in his field. He’ll make sure that everything will turn out alright.”
“Indeed I will.”
“Thank you for your reassurance.”
Asta got off the bed, walking round to the front. She and John left Mrs Willows to her thoughts. Asta could understand why she was worried. Of course, no operation is without risk. Both her and John would do anything to minimise the risks and make sure that they were prepared in advance.
“Miss Sjersen, would you book Mrs Willows for a CT scan, please?”
“Of course, Professor.”
As Asta headed to reception to make the booking, John was intrigued of how she would perform in theatre. He had operated with her before, but she had Ms Carrington there. It would be interesting to see how she would fare on her own with him.
Washing her hands in the prep room, she couldn’t help but feel nervous. She began to have doubts about whether or not she was ready. All she had to do was to try and stay calm, but that was easier said than done. John hadn’t arrived yet as he was looking into something. Looking into the empty theatre, Asta knew that this would be the ultimate test for her to prove her worth and prove that she was indispensable.
She didn’t understand why she was feeling like this. She had been in theatre many times and she was always calm. Could it be that she was afraid of failing the Professor? She didn’t know. Asta was in two minds; to stay or to run off. The fear was getting too much for her. Leaving Professor Gaskell a message, she headed out and went straight for the garden.
Flinging doors wide open, John scoured the entire hospital for Asta. He ran down every corridor and every flight of stairs. Why would she go now?
Oh Asta. Where are you?
His mind was fraught with worry. Had she been taken, run over? Perhaps lying in a ditch somewhere? As thoughts raced through his head, he started to display signs of a panic attack. However, before he became immersed, he thought about the places that Asta was likely to go. There was the cafe, the staffroom and the gardens. Running to the staffroom, he flung the door wide, scaring the occupants inside. After interrogating them as to where Asta was, and not getting a satisfactory answer, he sprinted to the lift and pressed the button for the ground floor.
The lift was going as fast as it could, but John was getting impatient. He desperately wished it to go faster. Eventually he came to the ground floor. Jogging out, he scanned the cafe for two baby blue side buns but to no avail. The last place to look was the hospital gardens. If she wasn’t there, his world would collapse, and he would have to call the police. Strolling outside, he recognised her sitting on the bench.
Relieved that she was safe, he realised that something in her caused her to walk. He had to be quick as the operation started in 15 minutes. When he reached Asta, her legs were up to her chest, her head resting on the knees. He could hear muffled cries coming from her. Occupying the space next to her, he placed his arms around her, soothing her.
“Oh Asta, why did you run away?”
He wasn’t angry at her for leaving. Just worried that something had happened to her. His voice was a gentle breeze to her ears. Asta lifted her head, wiping the tears away with her sleeve.
“I was just so scared that I would fail you.”
“Why would you think that?”
“I wanted to prove my worth to you, to show you that I wanted to be a part of Neuro so badly.”
Burying her head into John’s shoulder, she sobbed even more.
“You will never fail me, Asta. The first operation on your own is always nerve wracking but you have nothing to fear. I will be right there with you.”
Lifting her head up, she looked at John with blurry eyes. John pulled down his hoodie sleeve and wiped the tears away.
“I have good expectations concerning my students, not impossible ones. You’re only human. There is no more I can ask of you than giving it your all. We will work together. That’s what being a team is all about. We support and help each other if either one of us experiences difficulties. You understand that, don’t you?”
Asta nodded. They were a team and would get through challenges together.
“Now, I believe there is a patient waiting for us. Shall we?”
Although her face was still red from crying, she gave Professor Gaskell a smile as they headed back to theatre. She was getting accustomed to John calling her by her first name. She didn’t mind anymore. She wouldn’t be on her own as John would be by her side, helping her to operate on the patient.
Blue lighting shone through the room like a wave of cerulean. The dinning of the instruments kept them company. John was gazing into the jelly-like mass, parts of it becoming see through as the lamp illuminated it.
Asta was on his left, gazing in awe at the mass, which provided the body with so many functions. John prodded the brain to get the tumours out. There was 4 in total. Luckily, they were all close to each other, which made the job easier. His feet tapped on the wheels of the chair as he asked for the extraction tools. The first tumour was in his line of sight.
He placed the ultrasonic aspirator into the jelly and proceeded to break up the tumour and suctioned up the pieces. Asta was astounded. He made it look so easy. He was a master at his craft. She knew that she was learning from the very best. After the pieces of the first tumour were placed in the kidney dish, John turned to Asta with a glint in his eye, which she thought was quite attractive.
“Would you like to take over, Miss Sjersen?”
“Why not? It would be an excellent thing for your portfolio.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course. It would be good practice for you. You have nothing to worry about. If anything goes wrong, I’m here to help you.”
Asta didn’t see it but she was sure that John was smiling underneath his mask. The opportunity was there for her to take.
“Alright. I’ll be happy to, Professor.”
John moved out of the chair and stood to one side, allowing Asta to occupy the seat. She couldn’t believe it. It was clear that John had faith in her for him to allow her to take over. She grabbed the tools she needed and proceeded to remove the other three tumours. She had done this many time on a fake skull, so it was a piece of cake. John was feeling proud as Asta had come very far to get here. He was behind her, just making sure that she was doing it correctly and that she wouldn’t damage the brain in any way.
Slamming her locker away for the day, Asta was on top of the world. The operation was a complete success, with Mrs Willows recovering well. As she placed her coat on, a knock came from the door.
“I hope I didn’t disturb you, Miss Sjersen.”
“Not at all, Professor.”
John leaned against the locker by the door. He was thinking of how gorgeously stunning Asta looked and wondered how strong the lockers were. The temptation was there, but he decided against it. He didn’t want Asta to think that he was being inappropriate.
“I have something for you.”
John took a neatly wrapped white box with blue ribbon out of his jacket pocket and gave it to Asta. Looking at the label, it said ‘Happy Birthday Asta, from PG.’
“How did you know?”
“I have my sources. I bumped into one of the nurses and she said it was your birthday. I’m surprised you didn’t say anything.”
The velvet purring was giving Asta goosebumps. She was flattered that John had thought of her.
“I didn’t want to be made a fuss of, that’s all.”
“I see. I hope you like it. I didn’t know whether or not you like that sort of thing.”
“I’m sure I will, thank you.”
Asta pulled the ribbon, dropping it on the bench. She opened the lid and her face changed to that of surprised. It was a silver, heart-shaped locket, with flower engraving on the front and back. The manufacturer’s mark indicated that it was real silver, which wasn’t cheap. She wondered how much it cost.
“Oh, Professor. It’s beautiful.”
“I’m glad you like it. I was wondering you could put a picture of your mother in there so that she’s close to you.”
“Thank you so much.”
Asta sprinted towards John and gave him a massive hug. John reciprocated and put his head on her shoulder. He could feel their hearts beating as one. His mind was racing ahead as always. He was getting a little warm under his shirt and was developing a light perspiration on his brow. He was hoping that nothing else was getting warm or else it could be very awkward. Asta let go of John and went back to her satchel, placing her gift in the main pocket. John’s cheeks were becoming tinged with red. She was the most precious being in his universe, but she didn’t know it, not yet. He would wait a few more years before he told her how she made him feel. John escorted Asta to the entrance.
As they parted ways, Asta was filled with happiness over John’s gift. She was a little shocked as she didn’t think that she meant that much to him. A card would have been sufficient, but a present? She was getting ahead of herself. A present from someone wasn’t an indicator of how much they liked you. However, she did think that it was very sweet.
John was in his car, heart beating ten to the dozen. The front window was open to allow air in to cool him down. Taking deep breaths, he was relieved that nothing went further between them. She meant everything to him. There was nothing wrong with being interested in Asta’s wellbeing. However, when that interest turns personal, all sorts of problems could arise from it.
He was determined to separate professional from personal. He could have banter with her, have a laugh, have a chat. Why does he have this need to take things further? Could it be, like Henrik said, that he was in love with her? It was possible. He didn’t know whether or not it was love as he had no clue how it felt to be in love. It would be best for him to bide his time and see where things with Asta would lead. That was the safest option.
Chapter 6: Dinner for Two
A chance meeting in a tearoom leads to Asta being propositioned. Is it weird to dine with your boss? Asta thinks so but she later finds another side to him.
The world was passing her by. Out the window, she saw ordinary people going about their ordinary lives. It was her day off, which was good as she hadn’t had one for a while. After her last portfolio was finished, John offered her a permanent place on Neuro, which she happily accepted. She was in a local tearoom, waiting for her order to arrive. The smells of bacon being cooked, combined with the sweetness of jam scones and fresh loaves, pleasured her nose. People were chattering about all sorts of things, from one woman discovering that her husband has left her for another man to a young family planning their next holiday. Asta saw that the cafe was fairly busy and very popular, judging by the number of customers that came in.
Her hair was in a long-undercut pixie, dyed icy blue. An Alice Cooper t- shirt was slim fitting, showing off her curves and developed chest. Ripped jeans fitted perfectly and, paired with pirate Doc Martens, it was a casual outfit that was comfortable to wear. A lot of things were on her mind, including John. She felt that something was a little off about him. Nothing sinister, but she guessed that he was hiding something. Of course, she wouldn’t never delve into John’s personal life unless he was in danger because of it. He was quite reserved but sociable. He didn’t seem to have any problems, unless they were all in the mind. The waitress came around with her order, which looked delicious, leaving Asta salivating at the mouth.
As the waitress returned to serve other customers, Asta thought that she looked kind of cute, reminding her of her first girlfriend. They met in medical school, with Asta adoring her brown hair, blue eyes and short height. Asta was having lunch in the canteen when Aimee came up to her, asking to join her as she didn’t want to sit on her own. Over time, they bonded over their love for rock music and reasons for becoming doctors. Aimee didn’t mind the 2 - year age gap between them as she respected Asta’s wishes. Like with any relationship, they had disagreements, but they always reconciled. However, it all came to an end when Asta found out Aimee was cheating on her with a sugar mama. It changed the way that Asta saw relationships, which made her decide to try dating a man instead for variety.
To start off, she didn’t come across any lads she thought could be the one. John changed that. She found him alluring, interesting and a little secretive. However, with him being her mentor, she couldn’t see a relationship occurring. The banter between them was at times flirtatious but never overboard. John was very supportive and helped her with any queries or questions that she had. His voice sounded like an angel, so soothing and warm. Sometimes, it made her giggle like a little schoolgirl.
Putting her thoughts to one side, she looked at what the waitress had brought her. Brown bloomer bread held thick rashers of mouth - watering bacon, sausages bursting with flavour and a runny egg on top. It looked so inviting. To drink, she had a hot chocolate, topped with fluffy marshmallows, rich whipped cream and a tempting flake.
Before she could dig in, something caught her eye. Turning towards the window, she saw John coming towards the tearoom, in jeans, a t-shirt, a blue blazer and boots. Lifting up the menu, she hoped that he wouldn’t see her. The bell ringing by the door confirmed her fears. She had to stay calm. For all she knew, he could be seeing his girlfriend. Why did she care about who he was meeting? It was his business. It was the not knowing that frustrated her the most.
If John wore a wedding ring, she would know that he had someone. But he didn’t give any hint about his relationship status, which intrigued her even more. The thudding of footsteps walking past her indicated that John failed to spot her. As she saw him going to the counter, she breathed a sigh of relief and could eat her lunch in peace. However, she couldn’t help but be curious about what John was ordering. It was hard to hear him over the chatter, but she got ‘a latte and a sandwich’. John must have known she was looking at him because, as he turned his head, their eyes locked.
He waved at her, and she sheepishly waved back. She wanted the ground to swallow her up. After his order was taken, John strolled towards Asta and asked if the seat opposite her was occupied. She felt like saying that it was, but looking into his eyes, she couldn’t turn him away. Saying no, he sat opposite her. He gave her a beaming smile, which was surrounded by dark stubble. Asta looked away as she didn’t wish to stare.
“Fancy seeing you in here, Miss Sjersen.”
“We’re not at work, Professor.”
“Of course, Asta. Likewise, call me John.”
Asta could feel her face burning up. It felt weird calling the Professor by his first name. He looked quite dashing in casual wear. The sleeves of the blazer brought his toned arms into focus. She was getting a little perspired, so she used a napkin to dab her forehead.
“Are you alright, Asta? You look a little flushed.”
“Yes, I’m alright. Just a little hot.”
“It is quite warm.”
Saying that, John removed his blazer and flung it over the back of his chair. Asta took a sip of her drink, being thankful that the whipped cream hid her bashfulness. She was quite surprised that a man of John’s age had a fine physique. Her mind began to go to the next level and conjured images of John naked, which she shot down immediately. If she allowed her mind free rein in what she thought, she would faint on the floor.
“So, what brings you here, John?”
“Well, this is my usual haunt when I’m not running around like a headless chicken preparing for meetings and such like. You?”
“I haven’t tried this tearoom before and a friend recommended it to me.”
The waitress came over with John’s order; thick bacon and sausage on a brown sandwich with a vanilla latte. They both tucked into their meal, savouring every mouthful.
John’s thoughts focused on how beautiful Asta was in her outfit. Her hair was quirky but just right, her figure captivated him, and he found that her eyes were innocent and gorgeous. He imagined a life with her, a happy, fulfilling marriage. He knew that one day, he would have to tell her about his mental health, hoping that she would understand. He also wanted to know Asta more intimately, for her to give him the love he craved so much. Of course, he wouldn’t force her. They would do it whenever they both felt that the time was right.
The thing that surprised him the most was that she thought like someone much older. He could have conversations with her that she would understand on a complex level. He didn’t have to explain what things meant to her. It astounded him that, as well as being his equal physically, Asta was also his intellectual equal. The sun surrounded her in a halo, making her so beautiful and radiant, reflecting off her porcelain skin.
There was nothing wrong with falling in love with someone younger than you. John knew that Asta would want to go out clubbing at her age, which was fine by him. He knew that she had friends the same age, so she wouldn’t be alone. There were other things that they could do; long walks, cooking together, shopping, going out for meals. Why shouldn’t he fall in love with her? He was the same as any other man. He wanted someone to share his life with. Asta represented the happiness, love and affection that he deserved. Finishing off their meals, they put their plates to one side.
“May I ask you something, Asta?”
“Of course you can.”
“I was wondering if you would like to dine with me this evening?”
Asta didn’t know what to say. She was honoured that John wanted her company, although she was a little worried about going out with him. But, it would be a good opportunity for them to know each other more.
“I would love to, John.”
John’s face lit up. He would have understood if she refused. His heart was skipping beats. He couldn’t wait to spend time with her. The spark between them shone even brighter. He was so excited. Having been deprived of love for a very long time, he was keen to discover the concept of it and what it meant to be loved.
“That’s wonderful. There’s an Italian restaurant that I know. The food is exquisite and all for a very good price.”
“Excellent. Shall I pick you up at 6:00?”
“That would be great, thank you.”
He didn’t show it, but he was a bag of nerves. He was thrusting himself into a situation that he had no experience in. Not that he cared in the slightest. He would be dining with the woman of his dreams, someone that he had a great relationship with and who he considered more than a friend. The way he felt for her was unlike anything he had known before. It was powerful, it was brilliant, it made him feel so close to her. John thought to himself that, if he took baby steps towards their relationship, he wouldn’t frighten her off.
“Do you want anything for it, John?”
“Not at all, Asta. It’s my treat to say thank you for all your hard work.”
“Well, can I buy the first round of drinks? I don’t feel comfortable for you paying for everything.”
“That’s alright, Asta. Of course you may."
As they became more lost in the perfect moment, a buzzer interrupted them. It was from Hekla.
‘Are you making tearoom permanent home? :D
Can you get me some eggs, flour and icing sugar once you're finished?
The cake won’t bake itself.
Asta let out a little chuckle. Her aunt had a habit of messaging at inconvenient times. She had promised Asta that they would make Skúffukaka, a brownie with coconut on top, which was her favourite.
Her laughter filled John with joy. It was a beautiful sound, like a choir singing heavenly songs. He was a little curious about who the sender was. A negative voice taunted him, saying it was Asta’s partner. It became louder and louder, worrying John. It berated him for falling in love with someone so young and that she would use him to get what she wants.
“That’s a lie.”
Hearing the concern in her tone, John realised that she heard him. He started to withdraw, fearing that she would think that he had gone mad.
“Are you alright, John?”
“I’m fine, really.”
Reaching out her hand across the table, she held John’s hand, stroking it for reassurance.
“Is there something worrying you?”
His heart melted. It had been so long since anyone showed any real concern for him. It showed John that Asta cared about him much more than anyone else could. He didn’t feel confident enough to tell her about his mental health issues.
“It’s none of my business, but I was wondering who was messaging you?”
“It’s ok. It was just Aunt Hekla. Asking me to get some groceries to make brownies.”
“Interesting. I didn’t know you could cook.”
“I’m a very passionate baker. I enjoy doing it, as it is an easy way to destress.”
“I bet some people come to mind when you’re kneading the dough.”
John was more relaxed now that he uncovered the identity of the mysterious messenger. He had to find a way to not overthink things and let the negativity win. His mind was filled with questions, such as ‘Why did he care whether or not Asta was taken?’ and ‘Why was he getting overexcited about her?’, to name a few. Was this the feeling of love, the emotion that was elusive to him? That, somehow, Asta managed to spark in him? Love was alien to him, but he was willing to get a better understanding of it.
“I best go, before she sends out a search party.”
As she stood up, John saw that her silhouette was getting curvier, the most definition apparent at hips and her upper body. A slight sweat formed upon his brow, in which he dabbed with the napkin found beside his plate.
“Would you like my number, John? Just in case.”
“Oh, um sure. If that’s alright.”
Grabbing a pen from her bag, she wrote her number on a napkin and passed it to John. At first, he was hesitant to take it but, after a second’s deliberation, he folded it neatly and placed it in his pocket. He reassured himself that he was human, just like the rest of them and that he had a right to love as well.
“I’ll see you at 6, Asta.”
“It’s a date.”
Walking off to procure items for her aunt, Asta gave John a smile before heading out the door. John was dumbfounded. Was he taking her on a date? He supposed in one sense, that it was. He did want to know more about her. In another sense, it wasn’t, as it wasn’t a romantic date, just them going out as friends. He hadn’t been out with a woman before, so it would be an interesting experience. As it was Asta, John hoped that it would be memorable for all the right reasons.
Scanning through all of her outfits, she tried to find something suitable. It had been a while since she last went out with someone, so she was happily looking forward to it. Eventually she found a burgundy pencil skirt, a white lace blouse and black ankle strap heels with black tights. It was formal enough for a restaurant but not too much. The scent of apple filled the air as she took a shower.
Water flowing over her body, her thoughts turned to the evening. She was a little apprehensive as she was dining with her superior. He had a friendly rapport with her, as he had with many colleagues. In the back of her mind, she had this feeling that it was more than that. Could it be that John was falling in love with her? She didn’t dismiss the possibility, she just didn’t know what to make of it.
Asta felt like that she wasn’t John’s type, but the signs were there. Their flirtatious banter, the laughs together, the support. Was there something more to their relationship? She cursed herself for thinking such things. Now wasn’t the time for childish fantasies. However, she did admit that he captured her attention with the sharp suits and velvet purring. Drying herself with a warm towel, she made her way to the bedroom when she heard a message beep. She walked over to her bedside cabinet and picked up her phone, checking to see who it was. It was John.
‘On way to your house.
Will be there in 15 mins.
Throwing the towel onto the bed, she took her time getting dressed. Applying her makeup, she decided to go for neutral tones for subtlety. A nude lipstick for the mouth, a light brown eyeshadow and a glittery black eyeliner for definition and a bit of sparkle.
Descending the staircase whilst taking care not to trip, she grabbed her bag and threw it over her shoulder. Looking in the mirror to make sure that she was presentable, the sound of the doorbell made her jump a little. There was no going back now.
Heels clicking towards the door, her nerves were starting to get the better of her. She didn’t know why though, it was just a meal out. Turning the handle, she opened the door slowly to give her time to compose herself. It was a gorgeous night, not too hot and not too cold.
Staring into the darkness, she saw John standing on the step. Asta was surprised at what he was wearing. A black blouse with sleeves rolled up, showing his muscular arms. A white tie was clasped around his neck, with the end being hidden by the black waistcoat. Black trousers defined his slim calves with a leather belt cinching in his waist. Midnight brogues were polished to the highest shine that, if Asta got close enough, she would see her reflection. The outside light accentuated his cheekbones and jawline, making her develop a rosiness in her face. She wondered on how earth John’s parents could make such a handsome being.
John could feel his face burning up. Her outfit looked stunning on her, reflecting on how she presented herself to the world. It was age appropriate for her, with her hair adding the special touch of individuality, which he adored. He knew that Asta would stand out from the pack, he could see it from the way she approached cases and diagnoses. She wasn’t a maverick by any means, just someone who thought outside the box.
Neither knew what else to say. Shyness had both in its thrall. The redness in their cheeks became very apparent. Eventually, one had to say something, otherwise they would stay there all night.
“You look beautiful.”
“Thank you. I’ll just go and grab my jacket.”
As Asta went back inside, John was slightly confused. He wasn’t usually this tongue-tied around women. He thought that, if he had more experience, it would have been a piece of cake. Anyway, he had more important things to dwell on, namely the meal with Asta. He had been to the restaurant many times and always left feeling satisfied. All he had to do was to enjoy the night and the ambience with a fellow colleague and friend, not letting his negative thoughts affect the evening.
Shoulders being cloaked by a dusty grey jacket, Asta stepped outside the house and locked the door as Hekla wouldn’t be back until tomorrow morning as she was working nights. John led Asta to his car, opening the door for her. He caught the scent of apple as Asta sat herself onto the passenger seat. It was a gorgeous smell that reminded him of the apple pies his mother used to make at weekends. He had a feeling that, if his mother was still alive, she and Asta would have gotten on brilliantly.
Closing the door, he made his way to the driver’s side, the excitement starting to come to the surface. However, he had to be cool and calm as he didn’t want to give Asta the wrong impression. Entering the car, he noticed that Asta was admiring him, as her sapphiric eyes were examining his body.
“You look very dashing.”
“You’re too kind.”
They both laughed light-heartedly as they setted off to the restaurant. Asta had a good feeling that the night would be a great success.
Ornate lights lit up the restaurant in a burst of light. The design was gorgeous, with bouquets of roses in every corner of the room. Venetian architecture impressed her the most. It was like she stepped into a fantasy. With her eyes lit up in wonder, John could see that she was astounded. Red velvet carpet had a grand gold pattern within it, making Asta think that this was fine dining. Humbled by the fact that John had chosen this place for their meal, Asta decided to enjoy the moment as it was unlikely that she would go to a place like this again. The choice of companion for her was excellent, as they would have a good laugh together. Waiting for a waiter to guide them to the table, John knew that the evening would be very special indeed.
A young, blonde girl came to where John was stood. He called out to Asta, who followed him and the waitress to the table. They were placed on the left side next to the window. It was quite secluded, giving them some privacy. Leaning towards the window, Asta could see the stars shining in the raven sky with the moonlight casting a shadow over the trees.
It turned them into mythical figures in the glow. Once they sat down, both were a little surprised of how close to each other they were. Neither minded, of course. Music from the accordion echoed throughout the area, transporting the diners to Italy, creating an atmosphere of romance and passion. Asta hoped that John wouldn’t get too passionate, otherwise she would have to say something. She knew he wouldn’t, but it was best to be aware.
“It’s a beautiful place, John. I feel a little out of sorts.”
“Nonsense, Asta. You look wonderful. You fit just right here.”
Glancing around, Asta could see that some of the women were wearing cocktail dresses with extravagant jewellery which, no doubt, would have cost a pretty penny. Being in close proximity to her boss made her a little flustered. She thought that John was quite reserved, that he wasn’t very sociable with others. Tonight showed her another side of John; the romantic, sweet and dashing man who reduced her to have the blush capacity of a tomato.
“What would you like to drink, Asta?”
Asta found that the drinks were on the back of the menu. She couldn’t believe the prices. She knew that Clinical Leads were paid more but she couldn’t help but feel bad. No one had treated her to dinner before. She shouldn’t be thinking about the money side of things, she should be enjoying the evening.
“I’ll have a lemonade, please.”
The waitress sprang out of nowhere, giving Asta a fright. She swore in Icelandic, under her breath. John couldn’t help but stifle a laugh.
“Would you like any drinks, sir?”
“Yes, I’ll have a lemonade and a brandy, please.”
“Of course, sir.”
As the waitress went on her way to get the drinks, Asta gave her a chilling stare.
“I’m sure she didn’t mean to frighten you, Asta.”
“Even so, I don’t like to be scared like that. I prefer to see people in front of me.”
“I see. Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions, just to know more about you?”
“Of course. Fire away.”
Pondering on what questions to ask, John decided that he wouldn’t ask too personal ones, as it would make her feel uncomfortable. Eventually he came up with two questions.
“Have you ever been in a relationship before?"
“Yes, I have. In medical school.”
“What was it like?”
“It was interesting. We bonded really well. We went out on many dates and walks. There were a few arguments, but we reconciled. She cheated on me though.”
John’s mind paused for a minute. Did he hear her right?
Asta could tell from John’s expression that he was a little surprised at her dating preferences.
“Yes, I dated a girl. Her cheating made me look at relationships a different way. So, I thought, why not try dating a man for a change?”
John was a little shaken by this revelation, but he accepted it. It didn’t change the way he felt about her. He was open about it. Most of his friends were LGBT so he saw no difference between him and Asta. He now understood the context of the jibes that the Neuro Nasties called Asta, which left her crying in his office the other week. The one thing he had zero tolerance for was bullying. He would have a word with them on Monday.
“You’re very quiet, John. Are you alright?”
“Forgive me, I didn’t mean to be rude. It’s just that I didn’t expect it. Of course, I don’t have any qualms against it. Whoever you date is your own business.”
“I’m glad. Even if you did, you wouldn’t be the first.”
“No. I’ve had a lot of hatred over the last couple of years, people saying that what I am isn’t normal, that I can’t love two sexes, that it’s ‘just a phase.’”
“I’m sorry to hear that. I take it that’s the reason for your dry sense of humour?”
“Mostly, yes. Also the fact that Icelanders do develop an acerbic wit and dark humour too.”
“Thank you for sharing that with me.”
“You’re welcome. May I ask you a question?”
Asta’s mind was bombarded with potential questions that she could ask him. Some of them were very personal, so she wouldn’t ask them. After a while of sorting through the questions, none really stood out. She thought to ask him the same question.
“Have you been in a relationship, John?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“May I ask why? If you don’t want to, you don’t have to answer.”
John was speechless. He supposed he could tell her a little bit about his past, as it might help lift the weight from his shoulders.
“My father was a cruel man. He used to beat my mother and I. My mother left him, so I had no one to protect me. He deprived me of love and affection, so much so, that I don’t know what love feels like.”
John knew that he told a small lie about his mother, but he didn’t want to share the real story, not yet.
“John, I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”
“It’s alright, Asta. I’ve managed. I do hope of meeting someone who will help me discover what love is and who I can share my life with.”
“Does anyone spring to mind?”
You do, Asta.
“No, not yet. But in time, hopefully.”
The waitress arrived with their drinks; a lemonade with ice for Asta, and a Cognac for John. John sipped the amber liquid, burning his throat. Asta was worried as John had to drive her back home.
“Don’t worry, Asta. I’m just having the one.”
He raised his glass in a toast. Asta met him in the middle.
“Here’s to a great evening.”
Clinking glasses, they both simultaneously looked at the menu to see what there is to eat. To Asta, there was no one in the world who she would rather share this night with than John.
Euphoria rushed through her as she collapsed on the bed. She had no idea that John could be so funny, telling her stories about his escapades in his youth. The evening was so magical like a dream. The food, like John said, was to die for. Her lasagne was the best one that she ever tasted. The Bechamel sauce was the highlight of the meal. Both her and John decided to share pudding as, if they had one each, they wouldn’t have enjoyed the meal.
They had a white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake. It was placed in between them, and a spoon handed to them. John allowed her to have the first piece. Scooping up the end bit, she put in in her mouth and savoured the taste. The creaminess of the cheesecake made her feel very indulgent, complimenting the sharpness of the raspberries. It was so luscious that she felt joy when eating it. Before John had his piece, he looked at Asta in a way that she could only describe as flirtatious and slightly unnerving. After dinner, Asta paid for the drinks and John paid for the rest of the meal.
The conversation in the car was very interesting as John told her the reasons behind some of the patients’ injuries that they will be working on Monday. As they reached Asta’s house, John offered to escort her to the door, but she said that she would be alright. They parted ways with a brief hug. As John drove off, Asta waved goodbye and he waved back.
Throwing her pyjamas on herself, Asta felt amazing, even though her face was red as a rose. Warmth was bubbling away inside her, a feeling that she hadn’t felt in a while. At least, she understood why John was so reserved. Her heart went out to him. She couldn’t wait to see him again on Monday. Asta hoped that an opportunity would arise for them to dine again, this time at her house. She was glad that the evening helped to ease her nerves, especially with John there. She promised herself that she would help him as much as he helped her.
Chapter 7: Letting You Go
When Asta tells him of a job offer in Scotland, John is adamant that she should go. However, when an unexpected event causes her to question her priorities, he has to convince her that it's worth it.
Howling winds bombarded the hospital, unleashing its force throughout many corridors. Its ally was cold, sharp rain that left the target a drowned rat. The scent of coffee lingered throughout the staffroom as she sat down to have a well-deserved cuppa. She was amazed at how far she had come. A consultant, at 20 years old. Never in her wildest dreams would she ever thought of getting the position. John told her that she was the best candidate for the role.
Asta remembered it like it was yesterday. She recalled how her hands were shaking so bad that it wasn’t any wonder she didn’t collapse. The interview panel consisted of Mrs Anders, John and the Chair of Governors. Even though she was dying on the inside, she never showed it in her demeanour. It uplifted her mood when Mrs Anders said that she was the calmest interviewee that they had. Feeling relieved, she left the room with a slight spring in her step. Looking back, she didn’t know why she was so frightened. When John told that she got it, she was so elevated, she could have happily kissed him. However, she didn’t think it suitable for the moment, so she hugged him instead. It was all but a distant memory now.
The last 3 years haven’t been a walk in the park. There were times that she didn’t feel worthy enough to be a consultant, but John’s support and encouragement helped her to carry on. It was her duty to help patients and give them the best care possible. The morning went quite well. She and John had operated on a patient who had fluid on the brain. Never had she seen so much fluid draining from someone’s head. She saw a glimmer in John’s cyan eyes. Was it pride for her or something else, she wasn’t sure. She regarded him as a very close friend, who supported her through the worst of times and encouraged her through the good. She let her platinum silver braids dangle over the side of the armchair.
She cared a lot about John, even more so since he told her about his father. She told him that if he wanted to vent or just to have someone to talk to, she would be there for him. So far, he hadn’t taken her up on her offer. She thought it was because he was coping well. But a part of her wondered whether he was frightened to tell her. She wouldn’t judge him at all. There were times in medical school where her mental health suffered. She would hate herself if she allowed anything bad to happen to him. The creak of the door signalled someone in and, lo and behold, it was the man himself.
“Good morning, Asta.”
John was in his green scrubs. Hair slightly tousled, a full beard growing, velvet purring in full force. Asta’s bashfulness began to come to the fore. He walked behind the sofa, in desperate need of a cuppa. As he turned to see her lying within the cosy confines of the sofa, his thoughts remarked on how peaceful and angelic she looked. He couldn’t keep doing this, not telling her how he feels about her. It was starting to drive him mad. He wanted Asta to know so badly but he was afraid of scaring her. There were times when he had nightmares in which he indulged in his primal lust, only to wake up shivering and crying. He would never dream of acting that way towards her, ever. He was repulsed at himself for thinking like that. He just wanted to be happy. It wasn’t a crime to be loved. She was the only one he could connect with, both intellectually and physically.
“Good morning, John. How are you?”
“I’m alright thank you. Yourself?”
“I’m great thanks. Mrs Anders called me into her office before.”
“Oh, what for?”
“She told me that there was a neuro position open in a hospital in Glasgow.”
John couldn’t speak. Glasgow?! The sheer thought of her being miles away from him was unbearable. He was getting ahead of himself. She didn’t say that she would take the position. He was hoping that she wasn’t interested.
“What did you say?”
“I just said that it sounded good. It would be an amazing opportunity and it would probably help to advance my career.”
Asta’s words rang true to John. He had no right to stop her from advancing her career prospects just because he didn’t want to lose her. It would be good for her. Besides it wouldn’t be forever.
“I think you should go for it.”
Turning her face towards John, Asta was very surprised.
“Really. You’re young, Asta. You have your whole life in front of you.”
“I’ll tell her at lunch. Thank you, John.”
Inside, the pain in his heart had become unbearable. Why in the name of God did he tell her to go for it? Maybe, in the back of his mind, he knew he couldn’t force her to stay. What kind of mentor would he be if he didn’t allow her to spread her wings. His heart would yearn for her terribly, but it was for the best.
“Anyway. I believe we’re teaming up for Mrs Gulliford’s nerve damage.”
“We are. Would you like to take the lead, Asta?”
“If you don’t mind.”
John loved the way she smiled. His body was tingling under her gaze. They were unstoppable in theatre. They supported each other to the extent that they would meet for a coffee every day to discuss how their lives were going and come up with any solutions if they had any problems. Asta lifted herself up from the warm confines of the sofa and placed her mug in the sink. All John wanted to do was to be near her, to feel her breath on his face, to hear her heartbeat against his. He knew he had to tell her before it was too late. He couldn’t bear the thought of her not knowing how he really felt about her.
It was just thinking about the best time to tell her. In theatre would be inappropriate, especially with a patient on the table. He thought of perhaps taking her for a drink and maybe a meal and then, when the moment was right, he would divulge to her his love. Yes, that would be perfect. A sweet intimate meal between them, to be in each other’s pleasurable company. He felt a slight throbbing in his trousers. He quickly put those thoughts to rest, not wanting to dwell on it further. He didn’t wish to embarrass her. He was in a good place mentally, despite having a breakdown yesterday as he was over occupied with the thought that he would hurt her and that she would reject him if he said he loved her.
Despite telling himself the contrary, that he wouldn’t hurt her and that she would understand his mental instability, he almost went insane until Asta called, asking if he wanted to meet for breakfast. Deep down, he thanked the stars that she called him to bring him to reality.
The Icelandic melody broke through his trance. Asta was waiting by the door, raring to go.
“As I’ll ever be.”
Opening the door, the two of them made their way to theatre, John hoping that the right time to declare his love would be soon.
Theatre was dimly lit by the blue lights, making the room feel like the experiment room for a mad scientist operating on his latest work. Asta was operating on the left arm while John took the right. Her heart went out to Mrs Gulliford. She and her significant other were travelling down for her daughter’s wedding in Cornwall, when a car swerved to the opposite side on the road, flipped their car and skidded into a ditch. Her partner went to Cardiac to be treated by Ms Sturludóttir and they had her. It was a miracle that Minnie only escaped with nerve damage and nothing more serious.
The nerves glistened in the luminescence of the lamp. No one dared to speak as one wrong move could have dire consequences. John looked over the table to Asta deeply in concentration. A hole would be left in his heart if she left but he knew she would be in good hands as he had a good friend working in Glasgow. If Asta was going where he thought she was going, she would be safe there.
“Everything going alright, Miss Sjersen?”
“Yes, thank you. And you?”
“Getting there. It seems to be more extensive damage on this one.”
“I will do my best.”
“I know you will.”
John’s eyes met hers. Her faith in him was unshakable. Many times he confided in her about him not believing in himself. Her words made him realise that he had a duty to do and that his role was important like the rest of the staff. It cemented the feelings of love and devotion he had for Asta. He burned the image of her working next to him in his mind, for he didn’t know how long she would be gone for.
“Right, I’ve finished this one, Professor. Would it be alright if I left? I have a meeting with Mrs Anders.”
“Of course you can.”
The voice in his head was screaming to tell her to stay. He wanted to make every moment with her count as after today may be the last time he would ever see her. As the voice became louder and louder, John was getting terrified to the point when he began shaking violently. The stress and worry about losing her was causing him to have a severe panic attack. As the instruments clattered on the floor, John collapsed, convulsing severely. His breathing was going haywire. Asta rushed to his side and asked one of the nurses to get Mrs Anders. She had to try and keep him calm. The sound of bursting doors signalled that help had arrived. Mrs Anders went on the opposite side of John. Looking at Asta, she could see that she was scared stiff.
“What happened, Asta?”
“I... I don’t know. I finished operating on the patient and asked him if it was alright if I left as I had a meeting. Next thing I know, he’s on the floor. I don’t know what to do.”
“It’s alright, Asta. You did well to call me. John has never had this before.”
“No. Luckily I have experience in this.”
Mrs Anders got out a bottle of Valium and a syringe. She punctured the top with the needle and extracted 5ml of the clear liquid.
“Is that to calm him down?”
“That’s right. His body is producing too much adrenaline so it’s to calm his heart.”
As Mrs Anders plunged the needle into John’s wrists, Asta was keeping him steady. As a trolley was wheeling in to take John to a private room to recover, he stopped shaking, leading Asta to breathe a sigh of relief. They placed him onto the trolley and took him to a room. As they lifted him onto the bed, Mrs Anders saw that Asta was crying.
“Oh Asta. Come here.”
Asta did as she was told and gave Mrs Anders a hug, stifling her cries in her blouse.
“Shhh, Asta. It’s alright. He’s ok now.”
“I thought he was having a heart attack. I felt so helpless.”
“No you weren’t helpless, Asta. You haven’t seen it before.”
Asta let go of Mrs Anders and sat beside John’s bedside. She placed her hand on top of his and circled her fingers around his palm, holding it tentatively.
“You care about him, don’t you Asta?”
Asta stared at her, eyes still red from crying. Her silence told everything Helena needed to know.
“I worry about him, Helena. What if he has more of these? As a close friend, I have to be here to help.”
“Do you? You and I both know that John wants you to spread your wings.”
“The decision is yours, Asta. But I know what John would say.”
Helena left Asta alone with John, telling her that the position was still open and that she had the rest of the week to make her mind up. Seeing John asleep made her even more worried. She knew not what ailed his mind, but she knew it was bad. She realised that John cared about her more deeply than he was showing. She felt the same but was afraid of telling him. The words escaped her. She didn’t want it to sound like a schoolgirl crush but then again, she had to be honest. Just as she summoned enough courage to tell him, he moved his head towards her.
“John are you ok?”
The blue jewels staring at her made her heart melt. Her head was urging her to kiss but she didn’t wish to seem forward. He looked so adorable with his brown locks resting on the pillow.
“You had a severe panic attack. I didn’t know what to do so I called Mrs Anders and she injected you with Valium to calm down your heart. I was so scared, John. I thought I was losing you.”
John’s eyes opened with shock. She was terrified of losing him? He didn’t know what to think. He never thought that Asta cared more for him than just at colleague level. He observed that her eyes were slightly red from crying. He had overheard some of her conversation with Helena. Inside, he was severely emotional as no one ever gave a thought about him until now.
He reached out his hand, cradling her face. Asta found it hard to pull away from his gaze. He moved forward to meet hers. It was like the encounter by the lift all over again. This time there was nothing to interrupt them.
“Have you given more thought about Glasgow?”
“I’m not sure now. I’m worried in case you have another attack.”
“You shouldn’t decline an opportunity for my sake, Asta. I will be fine, honestly. You go, it will be an amazing experience.”
“Are you sure?”
Asta smiled. John had colleagues and friends who would keep an eye on him to make sure that he didn’t have another panic attack.
“Do you know where the job is?”
“It’s at a hospital called St Shelagh’s.”
John smirked a little. That was where she was. He had nothing to worry about.
“Why the curiosity?”
“An old friend of mine works there as Head of the Neuro Department. She’s a pleasure to work with and a bit eccentric but I’m certain that the two of you will get on fine.”
“Alright. I have some time before assisting on a case with Miss Carrington. I’ll talk to Mrs Anders before then.”
John let go of Asta and lifted himself out of bed. He felt much better now he knew that Asta would enjoy every minute of the experience and the growth she would develop.
“You alright to go back to work?”
“Of course. I best make the most of working with you.”
They both smiled. It wouldn’t be forever, but they would both miss each other dearly.
“Asta, there’s something I want to tell you.”
John felt the courage surging from within. He might not see her for the rest of the day. He thought that if he told her now rather than later, she could tell him how she felt rather than him not knowing.
He took deep breaths, looking lovingly into her eyes. His hands cupped her face loosely. He drew closer to her until his lips were cm apart from hers. His heart was becoming full of the amount of love he had for her. He was ready to kiss her passionately, to feel her hands over his body, to hold and caress her.
He cursed himself as the words failed him. He had to show some spine. It was now or never at all. He was finding it difficult as he had never declared love for someone. He knew what to say but he didn’t know how to say it.
“I, um, love... Y.”
Asta’s pocket was vibrating. She picked up her pager. It was from Ermintrude:
‘When finished with lover boy, ;)
come to my office so we can discuss plan for case.
John had the urge to throw the pager against the wall, a suitable punishment for making its presence known during a precious and intimate moment.
“It’s Miss Carrington. She wants me to meet her to discuss Mr Henry’s operation. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Alright. I’ll see you later.”
As Asta walked off to see Ermintrude, John loudly swore at the Fates for taking the opportunity away from him. He felt that he would never be able to tell her if he couldn’t find the right moment. Then he realised that if Asta took the job, that would mean a leaving party, which would be the chance he was waiting for.
Pulling open the locker, she stuffed her mint scrubs inside and changed into her casual clothes. Dark jeans and a burgundy top were her choice today. Gold studded leather ankle boots were her favourite as they were so comfortable. She was just getting over the excitement that happened in Mrs Anders’ office. She told her that she was going for the job, reassured that John would be looked after. Mrs Anders told her that she was delighted that she was taking it and that she would arrange a leaving party for her at Benny’s. Her mind was occupied by what John was trying to say but, as he stumbled his words, she struggled to understand him. Hopefully, if she saw him again, he would have a chance to tell her what was on his mind.
Balloons, little orbs of happiness filled every corner of Benny’s. The colour scheme was multicoloured to reflect Asta’s hair of many colours. Tables were decorated with streamers and coloured confetti. The place was heaving due to the many people invited as they all thought very highly of her. Ermintrude and Viktoria were putting the finishing touches to the place, making it as memorable and special for her as they could. Ermintrude was held aloft by a stool, which commenced creaking due to her frame as she leaned over to pin the last balloon to the wall.
Viktoria was watching her in case of the chance that she would fall. As it was pinned, Ermintrude looked back to look upon her work. The act of leaning back to admire threw her weight to the back of the stool. It gave way from under her and she toppled onto Viktoria, resulting in surprise and curse word from both parties. Eric saw the whole scenario and was killing himself laughing. After Ermintrude managed to get herself up, she stormed towards Eric with a face like thunder and picked up a straw.
“If you don’t shut up laughing, this straw’ll be going where the sun don’t shine.”
Eric could see that she was being serious, so he did as he was told. Viktoria grabbed the table to lift herself from the floor. She felt as if a boulder had fell on her and she was right. She had half a mind to tell Ermintrude to join weight watchers as it wouldn’t be good for her heart to carry all the excess fat. After they all had a drink to keep the peace, John appeared and was amazed of his colleagues’ dedication to make this a special night. Ermintrude saw him first and was surprised that Asta wasn’t with him.
“Alright, John? Where’s the young lass?”
“She’s just finishing off her rounds and Helena’s bringing her.”
“That’s good. Will you tell her then?”
John was slightly confused. He didn’t divulge anything about Asta to Ermintrude.
“You being in love with her.”
“How did yo...?!”
“Nothing gets past me, lad. It’s written all your face.”
John had no idea that he could be so easily read. He thought he had maintained a poker face throughout all of his time here. Obviously, he was so excited to devote his love to one person for once, that it could be seen in his demeanour, but he didn’t mind that. His phone buzzed. He took it from his pocket. It was a message from Helena.
‘On our way now. About 10 minutes away.
Make sure that everything is ready.
He understood what he needed to know. Scanning the room, everything was ready for her. They just had to wait for the lady herself.
“Right, everyone. Asta is on her way. When she comes, Viktoria if you could turn off the lights and Eric if you can be lookout.”
Viktoria and Eric got into position as everyone in Benny’s waited patiently for Helena’s car to turn up. It seemed like ages but finally Eric saw the Bentley turning up in the car park and went to tell everyone. Viktoria switched off the lights and everything became shrouded in darkness. The sound of clattering heels drew closer and closer.
“Why is it so dark in here, Helena? I can’t see anything.”
On that prompt, Viktoria switched the lights back on.
Asta jumped up with shock. She was so happy to see all her colleagues here. Most of them came up to hug her and wish her well. She noticed John looking at her and smiled at him. She knew that this was gonna be a great night.
The cool night air was welcoming to her. She hadn’t realised how stuffy pubs could be. She was sitting in the beer garden with Alice Cooper’s ‘Hell is living without you’ playing in the background, slightly muffled by the walls. Gazing upon the stars, she couldn’t believe how far she had come. From a shy 16-year-old to a confident, talented consultant. She would miss her colleagues terribly, but she would miss John the most. Her mother was overjoyed when she told her about the job. Even though she was excited about it, she didn’t know what to expect or what John’s friend would be like.
“May I join you?”
She turned and saw John leaning against the trellis with dark jeans, a blue open with the first two buttons undone, sleeves rolled up. He looked quite the sight.
“Of course. “
John sat beside her, placing his brandy on the arm of the chair.
“It’s a beautiful night.”
Time started to pass between them as neither knew what to say.
“You wanted to tell me something, John?"
“Yes. I did.”
He cupped her hands in his and moved closer to her.
“I want to say that you are amazing. Not just as a friend but a colleague too. You’ve helped me so many times, Asta. All of which I’m indebted to you.”
John was trying to stop himself from breaking out into this long speech. He decided to just come out with it.
“I love you, Asta.”
“I love you too, John.”
He stared at her in wonder. She felt the same?! His heart soared with delight. He was on his way to having a loving caring relationship with her. He was so happy that he kissed her hand so gently. Asta moved her face closer to John so that their lips were barely touching. John inched forward, planting his lips on hers. His hand went behind her neck whilst the other was draped around her waist. Asta placed one hand on his shoulder and one on his back, pulling him closer to her. They didn’t care what was happening in the pub. All that mattered was the love they had for one another and their commitment to making their life together the best they could.
Chapter 8: Highland Fling
Along with her new flatmates, Asta starts her placement at St Shelagh's. However, when a night out leaves her hungover, she finds herself in the sights of Miss MacMillan.
Continuous droning of the engines, kids crying and screaming, the person next to her never shutting up about her wealthy background and how all her children went to esteemed universities. Asta wished that this journey was over. Even though the flight to Glasgow was short, it felt so tedious. The only thing stopping her from going crazy was John’s heartfelt message:
‘I know you will be there or nearly there by now. I just want to say good luck on your job. You’ll ace it. I will miss you terribly, Asta.
There are times where I want you here with me. But you are a young woman now. You know your own mind. You’ll make this a huge success. Every day I think of you and it makes me smile to know you’re making your mark on the world.
Take care, my love and I will see you soon.
Her heart was touched by his abundance of faith for her. Knowing that he believed in her gave her the determination to make this job work. The view of Glasgow Cathedral from the sky began to submerge from the clouds. The seatbelt sign flashed above her. She buckled up and prepared herself for landing. As she flew over the castle, her stomach was in knots as it further cemented the realisation that this was her home.
Collapsing on the bed, she allowed the mattress to embrace her weary and tired body. She was sharing a flat with 3 other St Shelagh nurses; Leah, Alex and Christian. All were interested by Asta as her accent was something that they had never heard before. They were intrigued by her culture and traditions as she was with theirs. They were friendly and welcoming, offering to show her the clubs and pubs of Glasgow. Asta thought it rude not to take them up on their offer so they all agreed to go out tonight. She vowed to enjoy a drink but not to get drunk in the spirit of her ancestors.
They decided to hold an icebreaker so that everyone could get to know each other better. The facts that she obtained about her fellow peers included: Leah was raised by hippies therefore she had an open-minded outlook on life as well as dabbling in drugs and ambiguous mushrooms, Alex is non-binary, preferring they/them and Christian was adopted. Asta didn’t understand the concept of non-binary but Alex told her that they were more than happy to explain to her.
As they all got dolled up to go out, Asta got a message from John:
‘Hope you got there safely. Remember that Miss MacMillan expects you at her office at 9:00 am sharp so that she can show you around. Have a great time and I’ll see you soon.
Asta set herself a reminder on her phone. The last thing she wanted was to be late for her first day. She had a feeling that Miss MacMillan wouldn’t stand for it. A knock on the door indicated to her that the others were ready. She did one last check in the mirror, fastened her purse and made her way downstairs, looking forward to submerse herself into Glasgow’s nightlife.
Her head throbbed out of sync. Muscles too relaxed for her to even move. She felt that the room was moving. As she tried to piece together the events of the previous night, she could taste acid in her mouth. She recalled that she was sick in her bathroom and that Alex looked after her by giving her water and staying to make sure that she was alright. She lifted up her head gently, fearing her neck would break under the weight.
Blurry-eyed, she looked at her clock.
Her eyes widened. John’s text flashed through her mind.
Rushing to the bathroom, she saw herself in the mirror. She thanked Odin that the flat was only 10 minutes’ walk away from the hospital. Her hair was sticking up in all directions, her makeup was smudged, and she looked as if she had been dragged through a hedge backwards. She needed to pull herself together otherwise she would feel the unforgiving gaze of the Blonde Bulldozer as she was known around the wards.
She ripped off her sweaty alcohol ridden garments and sorted out some fresh clean clothes. Hopping into the shower, she turned the temperature to the coldest setting, attempting to wake up her sleepy body. Asta felt the smells being washed away, making her feel cleansed and refreshed like a newborn babe. Her outfit of choice consisted of black trousers teamed with a buckle belt. A baby pink blouse with lace around the cuffs and collar already laid out on the bed, black heels next to the edge of the bed.
She removed the towel that was draped across her petite frame. Dressing herself, her eyes became fixed on the clock, counting down the minutes. It was near 8:45. She knew she had to be quick. Flying down the stairs and into the kitchen, she grabbed her badge adorned satchel and coat and left, making sure to close the door behind her. Glancing at her phone, she had 10 minutes to get there and possibly getting a coffee and popping a couple of paracetamols as she had a monster of a hangover. She had no idea that she was such a lightweight.
Walking down the street she saw that Alex, Leah and Christian were waiting for her. She was touched by this gesture as she thought they would have gone on without her.
“Are you alright, Asta?”
“As I can be. Thanks for your help last night, Alex.”
“No problem. I’ve been in that situation before and my mates helped me so it’s only fair.”
Leah came towards Asta just to make sure that she was alert and awake for the day so that Miss Macmillan wouldn’t notice.
“Right, let’s get a move on. I don’t think either of us would want to be late.”
Heading towards the hospital, the quartet made small talk to pass the time. Asta learnt that Leah was on Paeds, Christian was on Religa and Alex was on A&E. She would be on Muraszko, the domain of Miss Macmillan. John mentioned that she was a bit quirky but very down to earth. After a short while, they came to the entrance of St Shelagh’s. Asta was taken aback as it was much bigger than St Jude’s.
It looked very modern and up to date. Looking at her phone she had 5 minutes to grab a coffee and head to the second floor. As she entered the reception, she could see that the queue was very short, so she had nothing to worry about. In the distance she saw a woman wearing a beige trench coat. The woman gave her a side glance and smiled. Asta moved closer, intrigued by the woman, not romantically of course but by curiosity.
The woman had short blonde hair with a slight quiff. Underneath her coat was a blue flower adorned blouse and a pencil skirt with tights and heels. Asta didn’t know whether or not to say hello. Eventually, the woman came over to where Asta was standing. She felt a hard lump in her throat.
“Miss Sjersen, I presume?”
Asta nodded. She noted that there was a faint Scottish lilt in the voice, indicating that she was probably born here but moved elsewhere for education.
“There’s no need to look so worried. You’re on time.”
“The one and only. But please, call me Roxanna.”
“Of course. Likewise, call me Asta.”
“Alright then, Asta. Shall we head up?”
Asta followed Roxanna to the lift, filled with slight excitement about working with her new colleague. She covertly smiled as they both headed up.
“John, it’s Roxanna.”
Rox! How are you?
“I’m fine thank you. Yourself?”
I’m alright. Busy as usual. How’s David?
“He’s wonderful thank you. He’s gone to a conference in Berlin for 3 weeks. Something about new technology for neurosurgery.”
You didn’t fancy going?
“No. Conferences aren’t my thing. Far too boring for me. I prefer to do surgery than go to that bore show.”
Ha-ha, same old Rox. How are you finding her?
“She’s very interesting. Passionate about her work, which is what I like to see.”
Good. That’s good. She is very clever for her age.
“You’ve told me that she was a prodigy many times, John.”
I know. I just miss her, you know.
“Oh, something between you two?”
Haven’t I told you? Asta and I are together.
“Professor Gaskell, I had no idea you were up for dating young women!”
Well she’s wise beyond her years and she feels the same way about me.
“Have you told her about your past?”
A little. I explained a little bit about my father and my mother. I told her a little white lie about my mother. I told Asta that she left. I didn’t want to explain the real reason, not yet.
“You can’t keep to yourself, John. You have to tell her the truth.”
But what if she fears me because of it. I don’t want to lose her, Rox.
“You’ll drive her even further apart if you keep lying to her.”
I know, Rox. I know. But I don’t know how she will react.
“Are you going to tell her about your father’s death?”
I can’t, Rox. I want to, but I can’t! She’ll think I need locking up and the key thrown away.
“She doesn’t seem that type of person.”
*Sigh* It’s just me being paranoid, Rox. I’m sure she will understand.
“I’m certain she will, John. But you need to tell her sooner rather than later.”
I will. Thanks, Rox.
“No problem. Anyway, I best go. Asta and I are doing surgery.”
Look after her for me, will you?
“I will. Take care, John.”
You too, Rox.
The smell of fresh bread with mouth-watering sausages tempted Asta. It was too good to resist. Roxanna was impressed by how thorough she was with her examinations of patients and how confident she was in surgery. As she sat down with her well-deserved meal, her pager buzzed in her hoodie pocket. It was from Roxanna:
‘Fancy a drink after work? I’m buying.
Would love to get to know you more.
Asta was a little surprised at the message but she wasn’t one to turn down an offer from a fellow colleague, so she replied yes. Her thoughts turned to John back home. She was missing him dearly but knew that she had to make the decision to go. No doubt he was getting on with his work as usual. Her heart went out to him in regard to his past.
Child abuse, in her eyes, was a despicable crime. She couldn’t fathom out why someone would hurt their own child. She wondered that when John’s mother left, why didn’t she take him with her?
Naturally, she must have had her reasons.
Perhaps she thought that John was strong enough to look after himself. The herbs and spices from the sausage was making her mouth water. She held the sandwich to her mouth, licking her lips and proceeded to take a bite. As she bit into the meaty goodness, she saw Alex in the corner of her eye coming towards her.
“Is there anyone sitting here, Asta?”
Asta swallowed the mouthful before she could reply.
“No, of course. Please.”
She beckoned Alex to take the seat opposite her. They slid into the comfy chair and relaxed their body. Asta could tell that they were rushed off their feet, judging by the tired expression and flushed cheeks.
“How was your shift, Alex?”
“Busy. We had an RTA involving an arctic and a bus. Most of the patients at the back had mostly minor injuries but the driver and the people at the front were more serious.”
“Are they ok?”
“The driver is critical and in ITU with severe trauma to the chest and abdomen. It’s touch and go with him. The other patients had broken bones, dislocated shoulders and facial injuries. One poor woman had a shattered pelvis. The driver took most of the brunt.”
“Hopefully he will pull through.”
“Hopefully. His wife is having a baby soon. It would be devastating for her if she was to lose him now. Anyway, how was your morning with the Blonde Bulldozer?”
“It was very good. Why call her the Blonde Bulldozer?”
“Because if you get in her way when she’s mad, she’ll run you down.”
Asta demolished the rest of her meal while Alex was checking her phone. She found their appearance quite striking. Their hair was jet black with a vibrant pink dip dye placed into a bun. Dark kohl eyeliner highlighted the emerald colour of their eyes. She noted the numerous piercings in the ears, some of which had been taking out due to health and safety reasons. Their face was adorned with spider bite piercings on the lips as well as their right eyebrow and nose. Asta felt that Alex got stopped a lot at airport security. It was good that most of the studs were clear so that no one could see them.
“So, when you started here, how did people feel when you said that you were non-binary?”
“Many of the staff accepted it, which was good. But there were instances when some colleagues and patients kept using he and she instead of my actual pronouns, which bothered me. They continued to do so even after I corrected them. Eventually, the Clinical Lead had to report them to the police. Along with myself, Mrs Dalton held a meeting in which I explained about it and that I wouldn’t stand for people not using the correct pronouns. After that, people were cool about it.”
“That’s good that you educated them so that they know.”
“Mrs Dalton has been very supportive of me. She helped me get through it all.”
“That’s great. I’ll stand up for you if needs be.”
“Thanks Asta. I really appreciate it.”
The air suddenly became saturated with high pitched ringing as all pagers were going off to let staff know to get back to work. Some went straight back to the wards, others waited a while to finish off dregs of coffee and last bites of sandwiches. Asta and Alex parted ways and headed back to their respective wards.
Relaxing into the comfort of the sofa, his everyday thoughts were occupied with her. How she was getting on with her colleagues, how she was flourishing under Roxanna’s tutelage. He felt that a part of him was missing and she had it with her. Roxanna was right. He needed to tell Asta the truth. But the fear of her rejecting him was too powerful. Asta was the cure to his unstable mind. He would do anything to keep her from harm.
He realised that his love for her was borderline obsession, but he couldn’t help that. Ever since the incident with his father, the notion to be loved was his main goal in life, the fuel that kept him going. At first, he had polyamorous relationships with numerous others. His partners smothered him with the love he craved. However he wanted more. He began to stalk them, begging them to love him endlessly. It got too much for them and they rejected him. It worsened his mental state even further, causing him to lash out and have blackouts. After that, he vowed to be monogamous. He scared every woman away with his obsession. All except Asta.
She touched his heart in a way that he never felt with his previous partners. The love that she had within her was pure, an aphrodisiac that curb his desire and leave him in a euphoric state of pleasure. He knew that his feelings will make him become possessive of her, but, as long as he didn’t do rash, he should be alright. The fact that she loved him back made him want her more. If she rejected him, who knew what he would do to her. The sheer thought of him harming made him sick. He would care for her and help her, no matter what. He saw other males as a threat to their happiness.
If any of them dared to come for her, he would happily show them their place. A smile formed across his lips as he imagined Asta having fun with her friends as well as working with them. The pride he had for her was immense. Fellow colleagues keep asking him on how she was doing and whether or not he heard from her. John understood that Asta needed a few days to find her feet and settle in. He thought of calling her at the weekend to see how she was getting on and to hear her voice again after what seemed to him to be an eternity.
The night sky was quite cloudy, which Roxanna found a bit odd as there were no clouds during the day. She was a little apprehensive about her meeting with Asta, but she was sure that it will go down well. Her caramel coat covered her sleek figure to protect her from the cold. Her mind was split into two: on the one hand, she was cursing herself for having a drink with someone she only met but, on the other hand, it would be nice to know each other.
To Roxanna, Asta was quite attractive. There was no harm in flirting, just a bit of fun. She had been with David since she was at university. But her heart belonged to another. She was too shy to admit to him how she truly felt. The boy with hazel eyes. He was a man now, more handsome and polite as ever. How she missed his Swedish dialect. She kept thinking to herself that it wasn’t meant to be.
However, she couldn’t stop herself from dreaming of a life with him. In the distance, she could hear the roar of a moped. At last, her friend was arriving. Warmth filled her heart. There was something about Asta that she liked. Perhaps it was her cheery disposition towards patients and staff. Or maybe it was the fact she was passionate about her work like John said. As the roar moved closer and closer, she could feel butterflies inside her. Although she loved David, the conferences and overtime that he did left her feeling lonely and lost.
Never in her wildest dreams would she dream of cheating on him. She just wanted companionship. She couldn’t remember the last time that she and David had quality time together. She wanted to go to the opera and museums, but David was always so busy. Days off, if he had any, was spent sleeping to recharge his batteries. She had gotten used to it over the years, but she wanted some excitement in her life.
She worried about John as both she and Henrik knew what John was capable of. Asta didn’t know what she was getting herself into with him. His possessiveness, his obsession. She knew that Asta understood his past but not the full extent of his insanity. She would look out for her and keep an eye in case John stepped out of line. The moped and its rider were only seconds away. Roxanna took a deep breath and reassured herself that everything would be alright. Pulling alongside her and switching the moped off, Asta removed her helmet. Her makeup was done beautifully, and her eyes glimmered in the moonlight. Roxanna could feel her cheeks reddening.
“Good evening, Roxanna.”
“Good evening, Asta. How are you?”
“I’m alright thanks.”
As Asta stepped off her moped, Roxanna could see that her eyes were locked onto hers more than usual. At the back of her mind, a voice was chiding her for behaving like this towards a younger woman. But she didn’t care. She would tread with caution as she didn’t wish to give Asta the wrong impression. They both walked towards the entrance of Shelby’s with Roxanna holding the door open for Asta to get through.
After placing their order at the bar, Roxanna with a glass of rose and Asta a lemonade with Roxanna insisting that she paid, they both found a little quiet corner for privacy. Sitting opposite each other, Asta felt a little awkward of having a drink with her boss but there was no harm in it. The drinks were brought to the table. Asta stirred her drink with the straw as she had no clue how to start the conversation.
“So, how are you finding Glasgow, Asta?”
“It’s been wonderful thank you. The people I’ve met have been so friendly.”
Roxanna moved her hand slightly and placed on top of Asta’s. Asta looked deep into Roxanna’s meadow green eyes, which were warm and comforting. She found herself blushing.
“If you need anything at all, Asta. Any help at all. Just ask, ok?”
“Um … ok. Thanks.”
Asta took a sip of the cool lemonade in order to calm her nerves. It had been a while since a woman flirted with her. She noticed that Roxanna wasn’t wearing a wedding ring, but she overheard her talking about someone called David. From the sound of it, they were together. Maybe things weren’t working out.
“I must say, Roxanna. The shade of your blouse really brings out the colour of your eyes.”
“Why, thank you.”
Asta loosened her hand a little and wrapped her fingers around Roxanna’s.
“You have a beautiful smile, Asta.”
“Oh? You think so?”
As the evening went on, jokes and funny stories were told, and both started to know quite a lot about each other. Roxanna realised that John was a very lucky man in having Asta. The contact between them got slightly intimate when Asta told her about her father and Roxanna placed her arm around her. The subjects of conversation changed from hilarious causes of injury of some patients to favourite holiday destinations. Time ticked away but neither of them minded. Eventually, it was 11:30 when they finished. The cool night air welcomed them as they stepped out.
“Thank you for a wonderful evening, Roxanna.”
“Same to you, Asta.”
“You know I’m with John, don’t you?”
“I didn’t mind you flirting with me, not at all.”
“It’s quite alright, Asta.”
“It’s been a while, that’s all.”
“I understand. It’s been a while for me too.”
“Oh, you’re …?”
“Yes. I’m married now but it’s nice to have a bit of fun.”
“I meant what I said, if you ever need anything.”
“I know and thank you.”
Putting her helmet back on, Asta placed her purse into the compartment under her seat.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Roxanna.”
“About this evening, Asta.”
“Would you like to take it further?”
Asta was dumbfounded. She did find Roxanna to be a kind and attractive woman but alas, she was already taken.
“No, if that’s alright. I would like us to remain friends.”
“I understand. Perhaps in another life.”
Roxanna respected her decision. She would never force Asta into a situation where she was uncomfortable. Friends would be just right for her. At least she would have someone to talk to and to go out with. She wouldn’t be on her own anymore. Asta turned the keys and the moped spluttered into life.
“Asta, before you go.”
Turning her head to Roxanna, Asta leant forward, with Roxanna meeting her in the middle, planting a kiss on her lips. Shock swept through Asta’s body as Roxanna cradled her head. Moving back, both of them smiled. It wasn’t worth hurting the ones they love to be with one another. But at least they knew how much they cared about each other.
“Good night, Roxanna.”
“Good night, Asta. Drive safely.”
Asta took off into the night, leaving Roxanna standing at the entrance. A tear fell from her eye. She quickly brushed it aside, knowing that there will never be any bad blood between them because of it.
Chapter 9: The Four Musketeers
A eventful insight into the shifts of Alex, Christian, Leah and Asta.
Drinking her third coffee of the day, she wished that the shift would end. She entered the flat at 4:00am this morning, a result of the night’s drunken escapades. It was her own fault. Earlier that day, she had broken up with her boyfriend as he started to become controlling and, knowing what her mother suffered at the hands of her father, she decided to leave before it got too serious. As she made herself comfortable on the sofa, a repeated ring disturbed the peace. It was a page from Ms McGann. Her heart sank as she knew what it was for. She had acted unprofessionally in front of a patient’s mother. The mother in question had been haughty and acted as if she was God’s gift to everything, she clearly couldn’t see beyond her rose-tinted optimism that her daughter needed an operation after being run over by a car.
According to the mother’s friend who came with her to the hospital, the car had reversed into the girl, knocking her over then kept going. The driver was on his phone, so he got a severe tongue lashing from the mother, who had left her daughter unsupervised while dealing with one of her many lovers. The driver had retorted, claiming that she should be taking better care of the girl to which the mother had replied that she was free of any blame. Leah felt sorry for the poor police officer who got the statements.
The girl needed an operation on her heart and her abdomen as internal bleeding was suspected. As the girl was 15 and below the age of consent, Leah asked the mother to consent the operation to which the mother had refused as she believed her daughter was in a fit state. Many times Leah had tried to explain that without the operation, the girl would die. The mother’s obstructive behaviour and offhand comments proved too much for Leah. It had all come to a head when the frustrated doctor reacted by shoving the mother with some force into the office and forced her to look at the x rays of her child.
Leah’s bedside manner flew out the window as she advised the woman that she should stop looking up her own arse, face the reality that her child’s condition could be potentially fatal and to start acting like a proper mother. According to neighbours, she had a different man every day which caused resentment between the mother and daughter. Admittedly, she was harsh to the woman, but she needed to hear some home truths. Eventually it sank in and the woman consented. Leah left and operated alongside Ms McGann, and together they saved the girl’s life.
She was to be kept for a few days just to make sure that she was ok. Sighing, she got up and headed to Ms McGann’s office. She dreaded seeing her as she was sharp and intolerant of unprofessional conduct. Brushing her long ginger fringe from out of her eyes, she took deep breaths. She could handle anything that Ms McGann would say. The woman had to face facts.
Leah came out of the office, red-faced and upset. Ms McGann’s shouting couldn’t stop ringing in her ears. However, she did allow Leah to explain her reasons. While she conceded that obtaining the woman’s consent was important, Leah shouldn’t have allowed her emotions to cloud her judgment. It was a waiting game to see whether or not the woman would follow up her complaint and Leah would have to seek legal advice.
Her job was on the line because of her temper. She punched the wall then burst into tears. How could she have been so stupid? After letting her emotions out, Leah brushed away the tears and acted like nothing had happened. She made her way back to the ward, uncertain of her future.
The heart was a sight to behold, beating away in the light. On the table, under anaesthetic. A light sweat began to form on his brow. It was his first time taking the lead in an operation. The patient needed a double bypass due to his unhealthy lifestyle and lack of exercise. He had to be kept in for a few days prior to this as he had suffered three heart attacks in the space of an hour. The patient’s family had been difficult to deal with as blame was being pointed in all directions; the sisters for not looking after him, the son for causing trouble and undue stress and the husband for constant nagging. Not to mention that tensions increased when the patient’s first wife arrived. She was the only one who cared about him, as all others cared about the massive goldmine he was sitting on.
In all fairness, Christian wasn’t in the mood to deal with this as earlier that morning, he discovered that his birth mother wanted to contact him. He went through various emotions before calming down and resting his head on the staff room table. Why, after all these years would she contact now? It was clear to him that she didn’t want him. Then again, he would give her the benefit of the doubt. He didn’t know the circumstances of why she gave him up. He had placed her number in his phone before going into surgery with Miss O’Leary.
He took deep breaths. He would not allow his feelings to get the better of him. He was in the process of harvesting bypass grafts from the radial arteries. After he finished, Miss O’Leary placed devices in the patient to stabilise the heart. As they both began to suture one end of the vein grafts to the coronary arteries, Miss O’ Leary became amazed at Christian’s level of concentration. Even though she couldn’t see it, he could feel the sweat dampening his raven black bun and falling down his neck. The feel of it made him shiver a little. The patient deserved to live. Not just to spite the relatives but to see the happiness of his wife’s face.
Before the operation, the patient confided in Christian that he was getting sick and tired of the whole matter and that he was going to back to his first wife as he was a fool to let her go. They were going to move to Barbados for retirement and far away from those ‘money grabbing leeches’. He wasn’t going to tell them that they were going. Christian felt happy for the man, giving his first marriage another go.
The patient told Christian that he got with his husband after he had joined Alcoholics Anonymous to deal with his drinking problem. He felt that the husband understood him. It was a whirlwind romance with them getting married within a few weeks of them first dating. It was a marriage built on lies and lack of trust, not to mention a few traits of financial abuse. How could he have been so blind? He had betrayed his wife for a gold digger. When he told her that he regretted his marriage to Head Money Leech (his private nickname for his husband) and what an utter fool he had been to leave her.
He would completely understand if she wouldn’t take him back. His wife told him that she would always be by his side The wife knew that he wasn’t himself back then and he just wanted the comfort that she couldn’t give at the time as she was occupied with their son getting into trouble with the police. She understood and was willing to take him back to start afresh. She went with him to the operating theatre and waited in the corridor for him to get out. The others were outside the hospital praying for misfortune.
However, unbeknownst to them, the patient had met with his solicitor and changed his will so that if anything did happen to him, his wife would get the fortune instead of those fuckers. Seeing the wife giving her husband another chance, it resonated that perhaps he should give his birth mother the same opportunity. A chance for them to start again. The operation was a complete success. After he came out of theatre, his wife accompanied him to the recovery room.
Her face was the first he saw when he woke up, which said a lot about his husband. Christian smiled as the wife and patient embraced just as the others flew past him to express their ‘happiness’ that he pulled through. Walking down the corridor to the ward, Christian pulled out his phone and dialled the number.
Moving their stethoscope around the patient’s chest, Alex was looking for any unusual sounds that could suggest something abnormal. With information gained from the patient’s friend, Alex knew that they couldn’t dismiss anything. The two of them were metal welders for a company. As the patient was working on a piece of metal, the machine broke down and sent a piece of shrapnel in his chest. Alex was certain that the patient had internal bleeding and that every minute counted. He was rushed into theatre with Alex and Dr McCready operating.
As the light shone on where the shrapnel had entered the chest, Alex knew that they had to act quickly as the wound was starting to fester. The smell was off putting but it had to be done. Alex extracted the shrapnel using the magnet. The heart was sutured using dissolvable stitches and the chest was closed. The patient would need to stay in for a few days just to make sure. As Alex escorted the patient to a side room to recover, a man in a suit started to behave disruptively, asking if the patient was ok and demanding to see him.
Alex calmly explained that the patient had just gotten out of surgery, but the man didn’t want to hear it and pushed his way through. His volatility worsened, asking the patient how much for hush money as the company was very successful and a lawsuit would destroy everything. Apparently, according to the friend, the machine broke down as it hadn’t been safety checked for about 5 years and the boss didn’t bother to tell them. The patient dismissed the manager, telling him that he will take him for every penny he has. Storming out, the manager said that the patient will hear from his lawyer.
Alex noticed that the manager gave him a dirty look, like they were something that he scraped off his shoe. They couldn’t care less. He deserved what was coming to him as he was liable. Alex asked one of the nurses to place half hour observations on the patient to make sure that all was going well. They checked their phone and found a message from their mother. She said that she and their father missed them so much since they moved to Glasgow and wondered if they could come down for a few days for a catch up. Alex loved the idea of it.
Their parents lived in a small town on the outskirts of London. It was a place where everyone knew everyone and for Alex, a place where people accepted them for who they were. The support the townspeople gave to them made them so appreciated and comfortable. They texted back, saying that they would love to come home and see their friends and neighbours. In all fairness, they did have bouts of homesickness, so it would be good for them. They messaged the landlady to tell her that they would be away for a few days. All they had to do when they got back to the flat was to try and figure where they put their suitcases.
Spices and herbs saturated the air. It was her turn to cook tonight. Her creation was homemade chicken curry with garlic naan bread and basmati rice. It was her day off, so she went shopping to obtain the necessary ingredients. Elea had taught her to bake ever since she was young. It was in her blood and she enjoyed every minute. Asta was in a cheerful mood as John had called moments before. He kept asking her questions which was to be expected as he was worried. They got chatting about different things like the weather and what they got up to work.
John suggested that they should go out to dinner with Roxanna and another friend of his in Glasgow. She happily replied, saying that she would love to and couldn’t wait to see him again. John told her that he couldn’t stop thinking about her and that he missed her terribly. It touched Asta’s heart that he thought of her every day. She confided that she thought about him too. John ended the call, stating that he was working late into the night as he just had a couple come in that had been involved with a collision with a car towing a cattle trailer.
Asta wished him luck with the operations and bid him farewell. Adding the homemade sauce to the chicken, she heard the door go and welcomed the three home. Both Alex and Christian were very chirpy while Leah had a face on her like thunder. Christian helped to get the plates out while Alex headed to their room to pack. Leah stormed to her room and slammed the door. When asked, Christian said that Leah had to go to a GMC hearing.
He explained briefly what happened, saying that Leah was likely to lose her job. Knowing that Leah would want to be left alone, Asta decided to plate hers up and place in the microwave so she could have it later on once she calmed down. Placing the plates on the side, Christian grabbed some lemonade from the fridge and poured it into 3 glasses. Alex came into the kitchen as Christian called them in for a drink. They drank theirs straight down as they were so thirsty. Both Christian and Alex began to salivate as the smell of Asta’s creation tantalised their nose.
Alex put the rice in the microwave while Christian set the table. Giving everyone an equal portion of rice, Asta then dished out the creamy curry. As soon as one plate had enough, Alex took his away then Christian, taking the soft, pillowy naan bread from the tray. Asta took hers and sat at the table with others. They talked about their day and funny things that had happened. During this, Asta became slightly concerned for Leah. If she lost her job, that would be it. Leah was very passionate and strong-minded about her work. If she wasn’t a doctor, she couldn’t become anything else.
Being a doctor was her calling. After a while, she came out of her room, eyes red from crying. She remarked how gorgeous the curry looked and warmed hers up. The three told her how they would support her throughout the whole thing and that she wasn’t alone. She thanked them for it, saying that it meant a lot. As long as she had them by her side, she would be alright.
Chapter 10: Double Date
The three university friends meet again for the first time and Henrik is introduced to Asta. As the four go on a date, there is romantic tension between two of them.
He was getting restless. The kid in front would not shut up. Spoilt brat. His madness manifested in small bursts such as manic chuckling, rapping his fingers on the arm rest and his eyes widening. The images he conjured up were grotesque, inhumane and vile. Numerous scenarios that could potentially happen could instantly become a reality. Henrik could sense that John’s grip was slowly dwindling.
Placing his hand on John’s shoulder, he hoped that the touch would help bring John back to reality. It took a while for John to register it as he was partially succumbed. Looking at Henrik, he gave a relieved expression as he hated letting himself get into that state. He had both Henrik and Roxanna to help him out. Once in his insane state, he was detached from the world around him. Rox and Henrik developed individual techniques to bring him round.
Roxanna would play ‘Moonlight Shadow’ whether it was on her phone or in the car. It was his mother’s favourite song. Henrik would either touch John’s shoulder or talk to him gently. Most of the time, the techniques did work. Alas, other times it didn’t, and the police had to be called to restrain him for sedation. Both of them were astounded when it took 8 men to subdue him. Henrik began to tap on the table as he was feeling anxious.
A different environment presented new challenges and new stimuli, but he was one to adapt as best he could. He also had friends beside him, which helped immensely. Intrigued by what Asta was like, he looked out of the window, deep in thought. John was calm now. As Henrik looked towards him, his concern grew. He had known John a long time since university. His past, his fears. Henrik and Roxanna were witness to them all. In one way, he was glad that John was getting somewhere with his life. However, he feared that, in one of his episodes, John could do serious harm to Asta.
He was a little pissed off that John hadn’t confided in Asta about his mental health. He knew from experience that not confiding in anyone could have severe consequences. When his mother committed suicide when he was young, he tried to move on and bottled it up. John later found him submersed in a pond near the university as he couldn’t cope with it. After that, he had an excellent counsellor who helped him deal with his feelings. He was a lot better for it now. Most of his guilty feelings came from leaving Maja with child and moving to England for medical school.
At the time, he thought it was for the best. But he never stopped thinking about her or their child. Many a time he thought of hopping on to the plane to see her and talk to her. He was ashamed of leaving her alone to deal with the consequences of their loving relationship. The last time he heard of her, Maja was married to Nils Johanssen, who had no qualms about raising their son Fredrik as his own. He felt spineless and weak. He should have raised Fredrik and provided for him and Maja with love and support. Sadly, his father was determined for him to have an excellent start in life and to not let that blemish his career. Henrik couldn’t believe his father. He loved Maja with all his heart and hated the fact that his father paid her to never contact him again.
He recalled how he planned to see her as her mother had called him. Alas, he never made it as his father discovered what he was doing and severely beat him for it to the point where he had to go to hospital. Anders threatened Henrik that, if he ever tried anything like that again, he would disinherit him, leaving him with nothing. He hoped that John would never make the same mistake he had if he and Asta were in those circumstances. He still had Maja’s phone number and would give her a call once they have landed to see how she was.
Surrounded by a crowd of people, Roxanna and Asta were waiting in Arrivals for John and Henrik. Asta could barely contain her excitement as it had been months since she last saw John. Eventually, in the distance, she saw John and a tall, slim man with dark curls and glasses, who seemed to be rushing forward, leaving John behind. He brushed past them both leaving Asta a bit confused.
“Is he alright, Roxanna?”
“He is. It’s just that he gets easily overwhelmed sometimes with being in a different environment.”
“He’ll be alright. He just needs a quiet space.”
John appeared behind them, giving Asta a kiss on the cheek and Roxanna a hug. As Asta turned around, they embraced one another. Once pleasantries were over, their mission was to find Henrik. It would be easier to find him as his features were very distinct. They searched outside and around the reception area. As they had no success there, they looked in the coffee and souvenir shops, but to no avail. They surmised that the only place he could be was the men’s bathroom as it was nice and quiet. John dashed towards the men’s while Asta and Roxanna waited. After an hour and a half, John came out with Henrik behind him, looking weary.
The four went to Roxanna’s car to pack their suitcases in and to drop them off at their hotel for the few days that they were there. Both men had rooms next to one another, more for Henrik’s sake as he didn’t like being alone in a different country. Once they checked in, Asta and Roxanna took them on a tour, with Roxanna comforting Henrik and John holding hands with Asta. Shopping districts, coffee shops and pubs weren’t left unturned. Slowly, Henrik became accustomed to the environment and began to open up more. He started by properly introducing himself to Asta.
After a while of walking around and John complaining the cobbles are doing havoc to his feet, Asta took them to her favourite tearoom which was quiet and that served excellent food. As they sat down, Asta noticed that Henrik was tapping his fingers on the table in a repetitive manner. She deduced that he did this to distract himself from the sensory overload emanating from the new environment, which was understandable. They ordered coffees and slices of delicious, melt-in-the-mouth cakes. Roxanna told Asta of their escapades at uni, Henrik’s first relationship with a man and the pranks that were played on John. While Roxanna told John how Asta was doing at St Shelagh’s, Henrik zoned out a little to reminisce about the boy he met. They met in class where they paired up for an exercise. As John and Henrik would disrupt the class by telling teachers that they were wrong, the teacher paired John with Roxanna and Henrik with Sam. As the sunlight hit Sam’s blonde hair at the right angle, Henrik thought that he was very striking with green eyes, chiselled jaw, and a melodic voice.
The exercise was fairly easy as it was problem solving. Henrik was a little awkward towards Sam, as he had never met him before. Sam knew some of the difficulties that Henrik was facing as he had a sister with the same thing. Sam clearly explained the problem and what steps to take to solve it to Henrik, pausing to allow Henrik to take in what he had said. Sam was fairly open, indicating to Henrik that, if there was something he wasn’t sure of, he could ask him questions. Over time, Henrik learnt how to solve the problem with Sam’s guidance. He enjoyed spending time with someone who had the patience to explain things to him. After class, he asked Sam if they could study together in the library.
Sam happily accepted. Over time, both of them enjoyed the other’s company. Their friendship developed too, as when Henrik confided into Sam about his mother’s suicide, whilst in Sam’s room for studying. Sam gave him a hug. Henrik couldn’t remember the last time someone hugged him, so he didn’t know what to do. He wrapped his arms around Sam, pulling him closer. With his head resting on Sam’s shoulder, he burst into tears, letting every emotion out of him. As Sam stroked his hair, he felt a calmness and peace within himself.
Looking up, he saw that Sam’s face was inches away from his. Inside his heart, he had no idea what he was feeling. He was ever so grateful to Sam with his patience and support. He thought to best try it and see what the reaction would be. As he came towards him, Sam’s face met him in the middle. With their eyes locking, they were stuck in a stalemate. Both were too shy to make the first move. After a while, Henrik bit the bullet and placed his lips softly on the cheek. As he pulled back, he waited to see if Sam would reciprocate.
A few minutes passed. Sam cradled Henrik’s face and gently pulled him forward, their lips touching. Arms wrapped around each other, to them, nothing else mattered. Collapsing on the bed with Sam on top, their hands explored each other, and their heads nuzzled into the other’s shoulders. Henrik, for once in his life, felt happy and loved by someone. They dated for many months, until Sam got an internship in Germany. Henrik encouraged him to go for it and gave Sam his number to call whenever he wanted to talk. They shared one last kiss at the airport before Henrik waved goodbye. They still keep in contact and meet up for lunch. Both have grown since then, so it was decided that they would remain friends.
A tap on his head awoke Henrik from his halcyonic reminiscence. Roxanna held his hand, telling him that it was time to go. When walking John and Henrik back to the hotel, Roxanna told Henrik what they were discussing. She mentioned that they were going to a Chinese restaurant that evening for a ‘double date.’ If only Roxanna knew how he felt about her. After Sam left, he was inconsolable. She kept reaching out to him, even when he turned her away. Some days, he wouldn’t go to class as he was that depressed so she gave him photocopies of her work so that he didn’t miss out.
She had been there for him and he was so grateful for that. He hated to think what would have happened if she didn’t. The idea of a double date appealed to him, as it meant being in Roxanna’s company and learning more about Asta. Of course, he was apprehensive of doing anything romantic towards her as she was married. However, there was nothing against engaging in subtle flirting with her. The torch he carried for Roxanna shined brighter every time he was near her. It would be intriguing to see what she wore as she always looked like a goddess. He also was very fond of Chinese food, which was an added bonus. He knew that he could never have her as her heart belonged to someone else. He couldn’t wait to see where the night would lead.
The evening was slightly cool, so Roxanna put a lemon coloured jacket over her shoulders. She wore a knee length cream lace dress with sleeves finishing at the elbow. Her makeup was natural, but she added gold eyeliner for a bit of colour. She could hear Asta singing in Icelandic in the shower. As it would have been pointless for her to go home after work as the meeting place was Asta’s flat, she took her evening clothes with her. She borrowed Asta’s makeup as she had more variety than her own. She was sitting at Asta’s vanity, making sure that she didn’t look a mess.
It had been a while since she last saw John and Henrik. Henrik, most of all. Now that he was here, her feelings for him flared up again. She dismissed, thinking to herself that she was a grown woman, not some schoolgirl with a crush. Looking in the mirror, her mind turned to the ups and downs of her life. For the most part of it, she had no regrets, apart from one. She and Henrik did have a brief relationship but it all ended with David’s arrival. They drifted apart after university, talking to each other rarely. But the feelings they still carried never went away. On the bed, she could see Asta’s choice of eveningwear.
She had a deep burgundy playsuit with lace covering her shoulders and her back. Roxanna thought that, just by looking at the heels that Asta would be wearing, she could easily use them as a defence weapon, should the need arise. Hopefully, there wouldn’t be such an occasion to use them.
“Everything alright, Roxanna?”
Roxanna turned to the door to see Asta wrapped in a towel, slightly shivering.
“Yes, thank you, Asta. I’m just thinking.”
Asta took her clothes from off the bed and went behind a Japanese inspired folding screen for privacy. She rarely used it when she was alone, but she didn’t want to make Roxanna feel uncomfortable with her dressing. Roxanna understood. She herself wouldn’t feel comfortable if someone else was in her bedroom.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Oh, just certain things. Regrets mainly.”
Asta popped her head around the screen, her mint coloured hair sticking to her face.
“Oh, what about?”
“Past loves, that kind of thing.”
“Ah, I see. Would you like to talk about it? I completely understand if you don’t want to.”
“No but thank you. I just need time to try and figure it all out.”
Asta walked out wearing her outfit and placed her towel in the wash basket. Roxanna moved herself to the bed, so that Asta could get ready. After 15 minutes, she was ready. As they both walked towards the door, the bell rang. Perfect timing. Asta opened the door and saw John and Henrik looking very casual. Henrik was slowly developing a beard which Roxanna thought made him look very handsome indeed. He was wearing a dark blouse with sleeves rolled up, showing off his slender arms. He wore jeans and trainers to complete the look. As long as he was comfortable, the rest didn’t matter.
John, in Asta’s eyes, looked absolutely gorgeous. He was wearing a black shirt, dark skinny jeans and brown boots. His smile showed his vampiric-like teeth and his hair was tousled just right. Asta linked her arm around John’s and Roxanna did the same with Henrik. The four then headed out into the night, all excited for the event that waited for them.
Asian music filled the room, transporting customers to the East, making them feel relaxed and content. Henrik was also basking in the contentment. It made him feel calm and not worried about his anxieties. Roxanna saw peace emanating from him, like the weight of the world had been released off his shoulders. Looking at her wedding ring, she was constantly reminded of the vows she had taken and sitting next to her was the man who could have been. She was torn between her heart and her head. But that would be for another time.
Now, she was in his company and she would make the most of it. John and Asta were subtly flirting, gazing into each other’s eyes and involved some light touching. Henrik wished that he and Roxanna were like that, but it would be too awkward. However, both knew that Asta had the right to know about John’s mental health so that if something did happen, she would try and help him rather than running off.
John didn’t know it but both of them were staring him down, wondering when he was going to tell her. Even though Henrik had only known her for only hours, he treated her like an old friend. Asta excused herself to go to the little girl’s room. This gave Henrik and Roxanna the chance to give John a pep talk. John turned his head and was slightly annoyed.
“What seems to be the problem?”
“You know what the problem is, John.”
Henrik was concerned, as was Roxanna. Granted, John had little control over his outbursts but neither would forgive him if he hurt her, so it was best to be open.
“Look, I’ve told you both time and time again. I’ll tell her when the time was right.”
John was getting irked. He knew that they had his and Asta’s best interests at heart, but he was his own man. Reaching into his satchel beside him, he took out a bottle of pills and took two out.
“You keeping on top of them, John?”
He put the pills in his mouth and took a swig of water. He noticed that Asta was on her way back, so he hid the pills in his bag. The evening was fun filled. Anecdotes of their time at uni, funny incidents at work, as well as general things passed the time as they were waiting for food. John placed his arm around Asta and brought her closer. She rested her head on his shoulders. Looking at her, John knew that this was the fresh start that he had been waiting for his whole life. The chance to finally be happy.
Deep in the back of his mind, he knew that his mental health would be an obstacle. He would have a chat with her when they were alone, for privacy. Henrik had never seen Roxanna laugh so much. Her smile was so genuine, it made him fall in love with her even more. Alas, David was his best friend and would never take Roxanna away from him. To him, she would always be his one and only. Maja had moved on with her life. It was time for him to do the same. Walking back to the hotel, he tentatively wrapped his fingers around Roxanna’s hand.
As they moved closer, he could feel her hand enclosing his. Asta and John were too far ahead from them to notice. In fairness, Henrik didn’t mind. It was nice to have some time alone. Not a word was said during the walk, both lost in their own thoughts. Henrik saw white flakes falling on his clothes. He looked up and smiled. His mother loved when it snowed. It made it more magical and the evening more special. Feet moving in sync, they reached the hotel. Henrik didn’t want the night to end. As they both turned to each other to wish the other goodnight, Henrik had the urge to kiss her and hold her in his arms. But he lacked spine, so he just bid her goodnight. He hoped for one day, he would be able to tell Roxanna how he truly felt. Until then, it was his secret and his alone.
Chapter 11: It was only Just A Dream
When a relative of John's turns up at the hospital, John pulls Asta from the case to keep his secret safe. However when his mental health begins to falter, leading to an outburst on the ward, the unfolding events leaves one person heartbroken
A cool breeze made its presence known throughout the dark corridors and the bustling wards. Icicles began to form outside the windows. Scotland was known for its winters, snow covering the land like a thick blanket of white. Asta had to wear her thick coat and beanie hat as it was so cold. If it wasn’t for hot drinks, she would have been a human popsicle by now. She was making her fifth cup of tea and a cup of coffee for John. He was staying with her for their first Christmas together. He was staying in her room as she had a double bed. Naturally, they wouldn’t do anything of amorous nature as it would be too soon for either of them.
John was helping her pick up Roxanna’s surgeries as she was on annual leave as it was due. It was the first time they worked together since Asta left St Jude’s. He was so proud to see how far she had come to be here. Just as she was pouring the water out the kettle, the man himself came in.
“Brrr, it’s absolutely freezing.”
The dulcet tone warmed Asta’s heart as the sound vibrated through her. John threw himself down onto the sofa. Both he and Asta had spent all morning whittling down the list of the surgeries that was as long as his arm. He was utterly exhausted. As it was close to lunchtime, he could have a well-deserved break.
“We are in Scotland, John.”
Asta said with slight sarcasm. John glared at her for a brief moment, then proceeded to stick his tongue out, mockingly. It was good to have a laugh with colleagues as sometimes, the work was overwhelming. It had been 4 months since the dinner date with Henrik and Roxanna with John feeling that his relationship with Asta was going from strength to strength. He was thinking of taking Asta out for a drink after work at Shelby’s. It would be nice to catch up with her and all that happened in their lives. He knew that a friend of hers, Leah was struck off after she behaved unprofessionally with a patient’s relative. According to Mr O’Dowd, the CEO of the hospital, who Asta was chatting to when they worked together on a case, Leah showed no remorse in behaving how she did and that she verbally abused a member of the board when they said that she shouldn’t have been involved.
Asta brought the cups of tea over and gave John his mug. The afternoon list of patients was more manageable. Together, they would be able to complete all of them in half the time. As the clock was ticking away, both sat silent, enjoying the peace and quiet. It was very rare that they had time to themselves. After a while, lunch break had finished so they placed the mugs in the sink and went out onto the ward. The first case was a patient had suspected nerve damage after a lorry driver hit her as he was arguing with his girlfriend on the phone and didn’t see her.
Celeste Hathaway was on her way to work when the lorry ploughed into her. Her blonde-grey hair was stained with blood and she couldn’t move. The paramedics were amazed that she wasn’t unconscious. She was a gentle and kind woman, who had been widowed from the past 10 years since her husband passed away from a terminal illness. She missed him every day but was finding the strength to move on. She sat up wearing a neck brace, smiling when Asta approached. She had heard from her friend that Asta had the best professional manner that she had ever seen and was so kind. When she saw John, she was overjoyed as she hadn’t seen him since he was young.
When he heard his name coming from Celeste, it halted him in his tracks. His eyes widened in a mixture of surprise and shock. Asta gave John a puzzling look, confused as to why he was behaving like this.
“John? It’s me. Your Aunt Celeste.”
His heart was beating wildly. He hadn’t seen her in years. His father never liked her as she always stuck her nose in other people’s affairs when it didn’t concern her. John always got on with her. She could ruin everything. He turned sharply and headed to the men’s bathroom, thinking about what to do.
Resting his head on his hands, he locked himself in the cubicle. Celeste was his mother’s sister. She could reveal to Asta the truth about his mother, his mental health worries and the true reason around his father’s death. She had a hand ready to knock the foundations of his relationship with Asta down. He didn’t know what to do. If he said something, Asta would be suspicious. He needed to approach this carefully. Thoughts were whirling around in his head when a knock interrupted his thoughts.
“John, are you ok? It’s Asta.”
Pulling back the shutter, he opened the door and walked out the cubicle. His face to Asta told her that he was uncomfortable with Celeste being here.
“John, are you alright? If Ms Hathaway has caused you offence or brings back bad memories, I could take her case for you.”
That was the worst scenario. He needed to keep Asta and Celeste separate for as long as he could. It was the only option.
“No, no. It’s alright, Asta. I’ll take her case. You work on Mr Phelan. I’ll be alright.”
“Yeah, it was just that she looks like my mother.”
“Aah. I see. Alright then.”
She placed her hand on his shoulder and pecked a kiss on his cheek and left, leaving him alone in the bathroom. He hated lying to her, but it was for her own good. To be honest, he didn’t know why he was like this. He was tired of trying to keep her in the dark. It was the fear of losing her that made him this way. He made his way to Celeste and had a look at her notes. Celeste was a little confused as she thought Asta was her consultant. She saw her walking to another patient and had a feeling that John was behind it. Celeste knew that John and Asta were together as Asta briefly mentioned it before.
“Why is Miss Sjersen with another patient? I was under the impression that she was my consultant.”
“We decided to swap cases, so I can keep an eye on you.”
“Whatever do you mean, dear?”
The look on John’s face said it all. Celeste knew what he meant.
“You mean you haven’t told her?”
John leaned closer to Celeste, staring at her coldly. His eyes unnerved her a little as they were emotionless, unfeeling.
“No, and I prefer to keep it that way. So keep your mouth shut.”
The tone was cold, harsh and brusque, like a dagger of ice plunged itself into her mind. Celeste understood that John’s upbringing hadn’t been a good one. The fact that he killed his own father showed how much he was traumatised, both mentally and physically.
“You can’t hide it forever, John.”
John could feel the anger rising inside him. Why are these people telling him what he already knew? He was sick and tired of it. Visions of Celeste being battered and bruised developed in his mind. It frightened him, making him think that he would be the one who would do that to her. Asta could see the fear in his eyes. Something was plaguing him. She walked over to see that he was alright.
“John are you ok?”
“Are you sure?”
She placed her hand on his arm to comfort him. She felt him shivering as if a cold chill went up his spine.
“I SAID I’M FINE!”
He recoiled from Asta’s touch, leaving her shaking slightly as John’s voice bellowed throughout the ward. Realising what just occurred and seeing Asta’s expression, John rushed out of the ward, leaving both Asta and Celeste bewildered.
In his office, sheltered from the world, John curled himself up in the corner, rocking back and forth whilst bawling his emotions out. He loved Asta with all his heart. She didn’t deserve to be balked at by him. The stress of keeping his secret was not doing his mental health any good. The visions were becoming more vivid, almost real. He was so scared, he daren’t sleep. Celeste was right. He couldn’t hide it forever. He just had to bite the bullet and tell her. On the ward however, events were unfolding.
Asta tried her best to focus on the task at hand. The variety of emotions that she was feeling made it difficult. Why didn’t he tell her before? Why did he lie? The glaring lights of the theatre were making her feel hot under the collar. She felt so betrayed. They promised to tell each other everything, yet he kept this from her. Celeste told her because she was worried about him. She had no idea about him killing his father and his mother’s suicide. She couldn’t believe the fact that he was in and out of psychiatric wards until he was 30. The thing that made her angry the most was that he didn’t tell her face to face.
She had to put her emotions to one side as the most important thing right now was the patient’s surgery. Surprisingly, the nerve damage that Mr Phelan had was moderate, so it could easily be fixed. She noticed that her pager kept buzzing every 10 minutes. She asked one of the nurses to turn it off as it was distracting. She guessed that it was from John. He was the last person she wanted to talk to. She asked for more light, so she could graft the nerve correctly in his arm. All that mattered was the patient’s health. Silence was needed as she daren’t get a stitch wrong or else there would be serious consequences. Just as she was finishing the last stitch the phone rang. Startled by the sudden noise, she dropped the stitch. One of the nurses answered the phone, prompting a red eyed glare from Asta.
“Who is it?!”
She snapped. Instantly regretting her tone of voice, she shook her thoughts away and apologised to the nurse for her behaviour.
“It’s Professor Gaskell, Miss Sjersen.”
Asta conceded. He really wanted to talk to her. She had a duty to her patient and that was paramount.
“Could you tell him that I’m busy and that I will talk to him later.”
The nurse relayed Asta’s message, then put the phone down. Asta found her stitch and proceeded to finish off her work. She was happy with the way things were going. She left the theatre, allowing the team to take Celeste to recovery. She needed a drink of some sort. It was too early to have alcohol, so coffee would have to do. Closing the door behind her, she sat down in the corridor. With the emotions getting the better, she broke down, her sobs echoing throughout.
Tiredness weighed her body down. That morphine was powerful stuff. She felt comfortable in her sleepy state. In all fairness, it was the best sleep she had in years since her partner passed away. She had never felt so relaxed.
“Hello, Aunt. How are you feeling?”
Celeste summoned enough energy to lift her head to see John at the end of the bed. He came beside her and sat on the bed.
“A bit sleepy, but alright.”
Suddenly, her eyes began to water, and she sobbed quietly.
“Oh, John. I’m so sorry.”
“Hey, don’t cry. What are you sorry about?”
He took her hand and stroked it, trying to ease her worry.
“I had to. She was so worried about you.”
It dawned on John what had happened. His eyes widened in shock. He pulled away from the bed and stared at her viciously.
“Y-You told her?!”
Celeste nodded. She knew what he had said before, but the poor girl was scared for him. She deserved to know. John’s mood instantly switched. The rage became apparent in his demeanour.
“Do you realise what you have done?! You ruined everything!”
Celeste pushed herself up, so she could look at him properly.
“Well, you weren’t going to tell her. Someone had to!”
“IT WAS A LOVING RELATIONSHIP. FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE, I WAS HAPPY AND NOW IT’S GONE ALL OUT THE FUCKING WINDOW!”
Hit with the revelation that his world with Asta was crumbling all around him, he became overwhelmed with emotion. He had to find Asta and explain to her. Placing his hand on the door, he turned sharply to Celeste.
“I hope you’re proud of yourself. You better hope it’s not too late to fix this.”
John marched off, leaving Celeste to cope with her guilt alone.
Throwing her scrubs into the locker, she slammed the door shut. Her anger at John was still present. With mental health being the most important thing, she couldn’t comprehend why he would hide it from her. Maybe he thought that she would run a mile after learning that he was mentally unbalanced. Did he really know her to think such a thing?
Throwing her jacket over her, she locked her medical belongings away and headed for the entrance. She prayed to Odin that she didn’t meet John on the way out as she wasn’t in the mood. She walked casually to the lift, knowing that a glass of rose would be waiting for her when she got home. She deserved it after the day she had. As she pushed the button, ‘Cosmic Love’ was ringing in her bag. She knew that the caller was Roxanna. She would talk to her later as she wasn’t in the mood. She remembered that John wasn’t working overtime, so she couldn’t avoid him that way.
She hoped that he was finishing some paperwork in his office. As the lift opened its doors to the ground floor, her worst fears came true. John was waiting for her. Dressed in a long grey coat and wearing black leather gloves, he looked striking in the light by the door. It reminded her of the first time she saw him. The butterflies in the stomach.
His strikingly defined jawline, the smoothness of his voice. She could disregard the lies away and start again. No matter how much she wanted to, she couldn’t do that. It was clear that John had a lack of trust in her. He didn’t open to her, which was so painful, she felt it in her heart. She was uncertain as whether they would move past this. As if he knew that she was standing there, he turned, looking quite sheepish.
“Hello Asta. I’ve been trying to get a hold of you.”
The urge to shout and scream at him was borderline tempting, but what good would it do? They were adults, not children, so it would be discussed in a calm and peaceful manner.
“Sorry, I had a busy day.”
She moved to the entrance where it was cooler as she could feel her face burning up. John followed behind, leaning against the railing. He was close to her but not too close that she couldn’t breathe. He knew that she was upset about what Celeste had told her. He hoped that she would give him a chance to explain.
“Why didn’t you tell me the truth, John? About your mother and your father? Your mental health?”
“I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t think you would be able to handle it.”
As the words left his mouth, he immediately regretted it.
“So you’re saying that I wouldn’t be able to cope?”
“Yes. I didn’t want to place the burden of looking after me on you.”
Asta couldn’t believe what he was saying. He wasn’t a burden at all.
“Why would you think that?! I love you, John.”
“I thought you wouldn’t accept me.”
Asta’s face became twisted with disgust. How dare he make all the presumptions about her when he clearly knew that she wasn’t like that?
“I think it’s very clear that you don’t know me at all. How can you say I wouldn’t accept you when I helped you with any worries you had?”
“I-I just thought...”
“Well, you thought wrong.”
The upset became known. Her heart wasn’t something to be played around with. She had friends who had mental health issues and she accepted and helped them with it when they told her.
“I am getting help.”
John had never seen Asta behave like this before. It was crystal clear that the revelation cut her deep. Her voice was sharp and unforgiving. Asta couldn’t look at him. This was betrayal in its finest form.
“Asta. Trust me when I say I’m getting help.”
John’s face fell as she moved away from him. She could feel her voice wavering, but she had to be strong. Both of them could feel their eyes watering.
“How can I trust you anymore when you lied to me?”
She pulled her jacket closer to her body as the air was getting a bite to it.
“Maybe we rushed this, John.”
“Asta, please. Don’t say that.”
Tears were falling continuously down John’s face.
“I just think we’re too different, John. I’m sorry.”
Asta walked off into the night with tears in her eyes, leaving John shouting her name by the entrance.
Chapter 12: Listen to Your Heart
When Roxanna returns from annual leave, she discovers that John and Asta have broken up. So, with the help of Henrik, she plans to bring them back together. But will this help her with her own unresolved feelings?
The clock was the only noise he could hear in the never-ending silence. Counting down endless minutes, listening to the hand ticking by. He couldn’t sleep, as too much plagued his mind. Tossing and turning, nothing worked; he couldn’t get comfortable. How could he have been such a fool? Numerous attempts had been made to contact her but to no avail. He had really blown it this time. Celeste, Roxanna and Henrik were all right. He should have told her the truth, but fear had him in its strong iron grip.
His world with her was falling out of his reach, disappearing far beyond him. Without her, his life meant nothing. He couldn’t change it now, as he fully believed that Asta wasn’t coming back. The heartache he was experiencing brought tears to his eyes. He was so lost, so empty without his beloved. Dragging himself from his bed, he went downstairs to get a glass of water with his footsteps thudding down the wooden blocks. He felt like he couldn’t go on without her, that he had no purpose. He wouldn’t give up, but he also didn’t know how to move forward.
All he wanted was for her to be protected from the truth, for her not to fear him. He had been very unrealistic in regard to the relationship. How could he have expected her to know what he was thinking? He didn’t know what time it was. To be honest, he didn’t care. The taps squeaked as he turned them on to fill his glass. There was no light in his heart, only wretchedness, despair and loss. He could feel the darkness creeping in, draining him of his mental strength. How he wished she would answer him, talk to him to sort things out. But he understood her anger. He knew full well that she wasn’t like what he accused her of being. What possessed him to jump to conclusions? He got too defensive about it, a matter that couldn’t be helped.
The anger that he himself felt about the situation manifested itself by him throwing the glass at the wall, breaking the container into pieces and spilling the water on to the floor. His mind couldn’t take it anymore. Eyes flooded with tears, he broke down, mourning the loss of his love. He gradually sat on the floor, holding his knees against his chest. He could feel his pyjamas bottoms getting drenched by his tears. He knew that attempts to fully recover from this was futile. His pride and stupidity had ruined a beautiful and loving relationship. Maybe it was fate. That he was destined to be forever alone, no matter how hard he tried to fight against it. Perhaps, it was time to stop fighting.
Snow gracefully landed in the car park. The trees were virtually covered from trunk to tip in the white blanket. Roxanna had to be careful finding a parking space as the bloody gritters didn’t put salt in the parking bays. She was adamant that she wasn’t going to hit a car. As she was reversing into a space next to John’s car, she could feel the wheels slipping and the rear end was starting to slide into the front of John’s Jaguar.
She forced the gear stick into first and started again, cursing under her breath. She saw a figure on her right, wearing a beanie, gloves and a baby blue trench coat. Roxanna smiled when she knew it was Asta. Putting the window down, she switched the engine off.
Hearing her name being mentioned, she went over to Roxanna’s car, delighted to see her friend again.
“Hello, Roxanna. Did you enjoy your leave?”
“I did, it was so nice to have a break.”
Asta understood. Having to face painstaking decisions and death every day can take its toll. She didn’t know whether or not she would tell Roxanna about her and John splitting up as she wasn’t up to talking about it. As soon as staff enter St Shelagh’s, their emotions concerning anything going on personally are left at the door. She had to carry on as normal.
“Everything alright with John?”
She tucked a piece of stray hair behind her ear. She didn’t know what to say to her. Roxanna had never seen Asta so quiet before.
The gentle voice awoke her from her zombie like mind. She knew that she wasn’t in the right frame of mind. All she kept thinking about was John. Had she been too harsh on him? As she had a week to mull it over, she did regret some of the things that she said. She had no clue what she could do.
“Yes, everything is fine.”
“Are you sure?”
Roxanna was certain that everything was not fine. Had he hurt her? Her maternal instincts were kicking in. Asta nodded but Roxanna could see her eyes watering. She started up the engine and managed to park the car without hassle. Opening the door, she could see that Asta was on the verge of crying. Locking the car, she put her arm around Asta.
“Come on, I’ll get us a hot drink and then you can tell me all about it, ok?”
Asta couldn’t think straight so she went along with all of Roxanna’s suggestions. The maternal tone managed to calm her down a little, but she was still vulnerable. Roxanna kept a strong hold on her as it was possible that she would collapse. Going through the entrance, she could feel Asta shivering with emotion. Whatever happened must have been bad. She placed Asta in the small corner of the cafe, away from prying eyes as she thought unwanted attention would be the last thing she needed. As she waited in the queue for the drinks, she kept glancing towards Asta, to make sure that she was alright.
She had an inkling what had happened, but she wanted Asta to tell her in her own words. She got to the cashier and asked for a double espresso for her with a fully loaded hot chocolate for Asta. Sensing something in the air, she turned to the entrance and saw John enter. He never looked up to notice her. He pressed the button for the lift. His demeanour was that of a man who had given up, who had the world on his shoulders. It manifested physically in him with bags under his eyes, stubble forming and his hair slightly dishevelled.
He had a large coffee in one hand, indicating that he hadn’t slept well. Her maternal instincts told her to go over there and have it out with him. She would do so gladly, but it probably would make things worse. Besides, she wanted to hear what Asta had to say. Taking the drinks away, she made her way towards Asta, who was looking where John was standing. It was like she was wishing for him to turn around to see her, to stop pretending that nothing had happened. When the lift came, John promptly entered, not fulfilling Asta’s wish.
As the door began to close, his back remained turned, as if he didn’t want to see her. Her heart broke even more. Eyes stinging from the previous emotional release, she tried her very best to keep it in, but she lacked the strength. Seeing the loaded hot chocolate in front of her, her mood lifted, albeit a little. She picked the mug and lifted towards her mouth, taking a sip of the hot liquid as it burnt her tongue. She felt the cream plant itself onto her nose, so she wiped it off with a napkin.
“What happened between you and John, Asta?”
Taking deep breaths in order to stop her becoming an emotional wreck, Asta made herself more comfortable in the chair.
“Last week, a relative of John’s came in as a patient. His Aunt Celeste. Initially, we were working on the case together but then he assigned me to another patient instead. He had an outburst in the ward, Rox. I saw fear in his eyes. He ran straight to the office.”
“I see. Then what?”
“I was worried about him, so I asked Celeste what was going on with him and she told me the truth.”
She could feel herself going into another emotional release, but she had to keep it at bay, lest Roxanna thought that she would break down over the simplest of things.
“She told me that his mother committed suicide due to her husband’s abusive and violent behaviour. John suffered under his hands for 3 years, so he snapped and killed him. And that John had been in and out of psych wards for the last 20 years."
Roxanna understood her shock. She hadn’t believed it either when John first told her and Henrik. He told them when they were on a trip to Switzerland for a skiing trip to celebrate the end of first year exams. Whilst the teachers and the rest of the students went out for a meal, the three opted for a night in as it was cold, and Henrik was laid up, as he twisted his ankle when snowboarding.
Neither Henrik or Roxanna could have anticipated what John would tell them. After John told them, they understood the reason for his behaviour. Why he was afraid of forging relationships with other people, why he went on downward spirals within multiple partners in a toxic polyamorous relationship. To them, it explained everything. Asta noticed that Roxanna wasn’t as shocked as she thought she would be. It hit her.
“You knew about John?”
“I did. He told Henrik and I at university.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“John was adamant that he would tell you so that you could hear it first-hand. However, it seems that he didn’t in the end. He only wanted to protect you from what he is. When his mind wavers, he can become very violent.”
Roxanna could see that she was putting the fear of God in Asta, which she didn’t want to do at all. She wasn’t one to mince words, but it was best that Asta knew what he was like.
“Yes but he is taking antipsychotics for it.”
Asta nodded. As long as he was taking his meds, he would remain on a normal level. In all fairness, her love for him was turning into fear. There was a threat of him attacking her if he didn’t take his meds. Even though Roxanna had no intention to, she had unwittingly planted a seed of doubt in Asta’s mind.
“We can sort this out, Asta.”
“Have you tried talking to him?”
“I-I can’t. I don’t know what to say.”
Roxanna could see that Asta was tired of it all. She would try and make her shift more bearable. She was thinking that a day of surgeries would help take her mind off things.
“Would you like to do surgeries with me today, Asta?”
“Do you mind?”
“Not at all. With the list I’ve got, I could use all the help I can get.”
“Alright. I’ll be happy to.”
A smile beamed across Asta’s face. The colour forming in her cheeks made her feel a little better. A distraction is what she needed from all this. There was nothing that made her smile than doing what she did best; saving the lives of patients. After the drinks were consumed, Roxanna and Asta made their way to the lift to tackle the surgeries head on.
RING RING, RING RING
“Henrik, It’s Roxanna.”
Aah, yes. How can I help, Roxanna?
“I need your help.”
Oh, what for?
“John and Asta have split up.”
Good heavens, that’s dreadful.
“She’s upset that John didn’t tell her himself about his mental illness. Frankly, I don’t blame her.”
“I was wondering if you could talk to John, make him come around and lift his spirits. When I saw him at the lift, he looked like he had the whole world on his shoulders.”
Very well. I trust you will talk to Asta?
Good luck, Roxanna.
“Thanks, Henrik. You too. Take care.”
Thank you. I’ll call later on to update you on the matter.
The light shone brightly in theatre. Asta was peering over Roxanna’s shoulder, getting a glance at the jelly mass that dwelled within the patient’s head. The patient in question had two tumours that were affecting their mobility. As one of them was in a delicate and tricky place, Roxanna opted to do it as Asta wasn’t exactly in the right frame of mind. She wanted her to extract the other one as it was in a better position and more easier to do.
Although her mind should be focused on the job in hand, she couldn’t stop thinking about him. What words could she say to him? That she understood what he went through? It sounded insensitive and it wasn’t even true. She struggled to put herself in his shoes as she had no experience in it. Maybe it was something telling her not to be with him. Self-doubt plagued her mind. Was she even good enough for him? Her heart ached for him, but her head was telling her a different story.
Roxanna’s voice brought her back to reality. She knew that what happened with John had affected Asta deeply, but she had to concentrate.
“Are you alright? You seem distracted.”
“I’m fine, sorry. Just a lot on my mind.”
“I know it’s hard, Asta but try and focus. We have a duty to do here.”
Asta fully understood where Roxanna was coming from. If she let her thoughts distract her from the operation, it could have dire consequences. Shaking the thoughts from her mind, she was ready to do her job. The smell of burning flesh was off putting but Asta had to persevere through it.
Roxanna held the enemy aloft as she was in awe of the sheer size of it. Asta couldn’t believe her eyes. Placing the enemy’s corpse into the kidney dish, Roxanna stepped aside to allow Asta to work on the last one. It was a simple and easy task. As she sat on the chair, her mind switched into surgical mode. Nothing else mattered except for the person in front of her. She grabbed the tools and began her work.
His body was surrounded by the leathery confines of the sofa. Today was not going well. Aside from what was happening with Asta, he had to deal with a patient’s very difficult and violent relative who clacked him in the nose, the new F1s who had a hangover from the night before, and that he was running low on his medication, which wouldn’t be in the pharmacy until next Tuesday. He only had enough to last until next Monday.
It was one of the days when he didn’t want to get out of bed. He felt safe in his office, away from the pressures and stresses of work. He wouldn’t do it every time, he just needed a time out. One of the things he was taught to do to calm himself down was to mediate. Pushing himself, he swung his legs around and crossed them over. Posture upright, he inhaled and exhaled deeply, allowing the breaths to clear his mind and reduce his stress levels.
Easing himself into the calm, happy space in his mind, he relaxed, loosening all his muscles in his body. He could feel the tension and stress draining away from him. After a while, his mind was starting to become clear. He could focus on the things that truly mattered, namely Asta and his work. He realised that what he did was wrong and that the foundation of any relationship is based on trust and honesty, which weren’t the qualities he possessed at the moment. There was still hope for him, but it couldn’t be guaranteed that Asta would have him back.
He wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t. After his shift was finished, he would try to find her and talk to her about their relationship. But he didn’t know how to go about it. The anger in her eyes that night was something he thought that he would never see. The hatred that emanated from her; it frightened him. Knowing that he was the cause of her anger and hatred, he was even more determined to give their relationship another go. As he started to settle back into his relaxed state of mind, the opening chords of ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ shook the air. A little vexed that his peacefulness was disturbed, he went over to his satchel and took out his phone, the source of the music. As he glanced at the screen, the caller ID surprised him.
It was Henrik.
A chill was still present in the air. The stars began to show as the sun faded away to rest for another day. There was peace within the stars, never worried about the human concept of love and all its follies. Asta was waiting for John but was unsure that he would ever come. She and Roxanna had a chat about John, wondering what she would do next. After a lengthy discussion, they both agreed that Asta would give John the benefit of the doubt and work with him on their relationship. She told her to be outside the entrance at 8:30pm.
She hoped that it wouldn’t be too long as she could feel her bones starting to freeze. Glancing at her watch, the time was nearly upon her. She scanned the area around her, but she saw no one. Just as she was about to go home, she felt a light touch on her hand. Looking to her left, she noticed John standing next to her.
“What are you doing here? I thought you were working overtime.”
John moved closer, interlocking his fingers with hers. In the distance, Roxanna and Henrik were watching events unfold. Both had their fingers crossed that everything would go smoothly. Henrik noticed that Roxanna was looking wistfully at the two. In her mind, she saw her and Henrik in the position, but she knew that it would never happen. What was she thinking? It could happen, but she was tried to marriage.
She knew what fear was like. Being rejected, not knowing if Henrik felt the same. It was something that she couldn’t bear thinking about. She could not hear the words of the two lovers, but their movements spoke volumes. Henrik saw that Roxanna was on the verge of tears, dreaming of a life that she could have had if she had been brave enough to tell him how she felt. He placed his arm around her and pulled her close, resting his head on hers.
“I’m sorry for my behaviour, Asta. It was extremely foolish of me to think that you wouldn’t be upset by it. But I’m willing to give it another try, if you’ll have me. And help me with my issues.”
“I would love to, John. However, from now on, I would like you to be honest and truthful to me and I will do the same for you.”
“Of course, I fully understand.”
Caressing her face, John was content in the fact that she would assist him in making the relationship the most loving, honest and caring that he would ever had. How he missed being close to her, looking into her innocent eyes, hearing the melody of her voice. Asta missed being around him too. The warmth of his breath, the gentle hold, the velvet purring. She saw that she had been unreasonably unfair on him in regard to his mental health as she didn’t give him a chance to explain himself.
“I also wish to apologise for my behaviour towards you, John. I should have given you a chance to tell your side of the story, but I was caught in my emotions, which clouded my judgement. I’m sorry.”
“All is forgiven, my love. I don’t blame you for feeling the way you did. What say you to a drink and starting afresh?”
“I would love to.”
John took her in his arms, kissing her passionately and reigniting the dormant flame that resided in him for so long. He never wanted to let her go. He wanted more of her love, her passion to set him free from his inability to form healthy relationships. As her kisses flew over his neck and face, he could feel himself getting a little excited. He wanted it all so much, but he didn’t wish to rush things with her. For now, cuddling would have to suffice, but he didn’t mind that.
Taking her hand, they walked off into the night, both more in love with the other than ever before. Roxanna and Henrik were proud that their handiwork resulted in a happy ending. Roxanna looked up at Henrik and was surprised how more handsome he looked as the moonlight highlighted the sharp features he possessed. The chance to kiss him was open there and then. As she moved closer to him, she heard her internal voice chastising her for feeling this way and accusing her of betraying her vows.
“Are you alright, Roxanna?”
“I’m fine, thank you Henrik.”
Henrik had a sneaky suspicion that all was not well with his friend, so he embraced her. Roxanna was taken aback by the gesture but appreciated it all the same. She could feel their heart beating in sync. It wasn’t passionate kissing, but it was a start. She didn’t want to let go but embracing someone too long may indicate to Henrik that she was clingy. It felt so comfortable, so safe. After a while, Henrik released his hold. He and Roxanna bade each other goodnight. Walking back to her car, she felt quite content with all that happened. It would take a while for her to summon the courage. She could feel the opportunity inching closer. Hopefully, he would feel the same and that they too could have a relationship like John and Asta’s.