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Here To Be Swallowed Up

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Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” - Louise Erdich, The Painting Drum



Claire Beauchamp was a tightly wound woman if there ever was one- like a jack in the box that never sprung. Her circle of friends was small and she loved them as much as she could bear to. She built her life with some insulation between herself and the rest of the world.

She worked with dedication and steadiness which had all but guaranteed her the position of chief resident. She had turned it down, wanting to focus on the medicine and not the paperwork. One of her close friends Joe Abernathy ended up with the spot. She did not envy the administrative headaches he had to put up with. Her mentor, Dr. Hildegarde, agreed with her decision to turn it down. She knew Claire was meant for blood and stitches, not ink and delegation.

When it came to life outside of work, Claire could admit, to only herself, she was a bit of a mess. Other than Joe, she had two friends. One was Gillian, a mischievous nurse she came to love working with, and the other was Louise, her eccentric roommate. But she couldn’t say Joe, Gillian, or Louise knew her all that well. Claire had walls that rivaled the Chinese. But her friends didn’t complain. Much.

When it came to her love life, she found herself in relationships with men who were never any good for her. Her most recent and longest-standing affair was with Frank. Frank is a married man. Claire broke it off a year ago but there have been nights where she’s gotten just lonely enough to call him up. Every morning after she swears it will never happen again.

This was one such morning. Frank, not having to work on Saturdays, did not set an alarm and Claire’s phone had died. She woke up, stumbled to the bathroom, came out to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee, and felt like hell had frozen over as she looked at the time on the microwave. Claire was never late for her job. She could still make it on time. If she hurried. She ran to Frank’s room to gather her things. As she did this, someone pounded on the front door. She froze.

“Frank!? I’m back early but I can’t find my keys again!” Oh, god. Claire knew that could only mean one thing. It was his wife. Claire shook Frank awake none too gently.

“Hey, wanna have another-” Frank murmured sleepily but was then cut off.

“Fraaank?” The voice from behind the door sounded.

“Shit, hide.” Frank said to Claire. She looked at him with wide, incredulous eyes. This could not be happening. Frank pulled on his boxers and undershirt and went to get the door. He turned around and saw she hadn’t moved. “Hide!” He demanded. So she did. She hid in the wardrobe, unable to believe that this was her life.

“Coming, love!” Frank called out as she slotted herself into place, hating herself.

She could hear Frank greet his wife and she complained that all she wanted was a shower and to take a nap in their bed. Shit. She was never going to get out of here.

“Why don’t we stay out here? For a little while?” Frank suggested. His wife responded confused. Why would they do that? Claire was asking herself the same question. How was that going to help? Then it dawned on her again. She had to leave now! She was going to be late!

“Oh, fuck this.” Claire whispered, peeling herself out of the wardrobe. She opened the window in the bedroom and gathered her things, gulping as she did so. She put one foot out and then another. She hated heights. It was only the second floor but still. She could definitely injure herself and then what would she do? Luckily there was a bit of roof for her to step out onto. As her ass hung out the window, she cursed again, louder now.

“You need help there, lass?” A low Scottish brogue called out to her from on the street. She squeezed her eyes shut out of embarrassment. Of course, there had to be someone to witness this. She then risked looking down. He was a right fit specimen of a man as far as she could tell from up above.

“Oh, hello. I swear I’m not a cat burglar.” She laughed nervously, trying to maintain purchase on the window sill.

“Didn’t reckon you were, no. But it does look like you need a bit o’ help.” He seemed friendly enough but that was what made her hackles rise. Claire didn’t just trust in the kindness of others.

“If you’re trying to, I don’t know, cop a feel…”

“Woah, nay. Just trying to help you out with what looks like a sticky situation. Trust me, I’ll catch ya, I’m a fireman.” He replied, sounding honestly shocked.

“Fine, fireman. Catch me but if I catch your hands anywhere they shouldn’t be squeezing, I’ll cut your right testicle off. Trust me, I’ll cut ya, I’m a surgeon.” He had the gall to laugh.

“Just fall, ya crazy lass.” He said. She sighed. You’ve really done it now, Claire. She says to herself. She debates with herself.

“Why is the window open?” Claire hears Frank’s wife ask and with that, she panics and falls into the arms of a waiting stranger. He barely even reacts as he catches her as if it’s not that big of a deal.

She finds herself staring into his eyes, they’re green and hypnotizing. He’s staring back at her, too though.

“Hi there.” Claire finally says. “You can put me down.”

“Oh, right. Of course.” He snaps out of it and puts her on the ground. Claire sets about picking up all the stuff from her purse that she dropped upon hearing Frank’s wife’s voice. “I’m Jamie.”

“Oh, Claire. Nice to meet you.” She says quickly.

“Now I know you said you weren’t a cat burglar but I just have to ask. Why were you hanging out the window?” Jamie asks with a crooked smile on his face. Claire immediately blushes.

“I don’t really have time to explain the whole thing…” She trails off, knowing she needs to skedaddle but she doesn’t want to leave this affable Jamie’s side.

“Just give me the highlights.” He presses jovially.

“Ah. Well. His wife came home. Figured hiding in the wardrobe wouldn’t cut it for too long.” Claire expects his smile to drop and for judgment to color his features, she’s preparing herself for it when he just laughs.

“Well I certainly won’t forget you soon, Doctor Claire. Hope you have a better rest of your day.”

“Yeah, you too.” She replies lamely, feeling stupid for a girl who usually always has a quip on her tongue. He smiles and walks away but turns around.

“By the way, I think you should leave him. You’re too pretty for a guy like him.” He smirks and leaves. She stands there for a minute before remembering, again, that she really needs to get a move on.

 

She’s four minutes late. She’s berating herself as she comes in. Gillian sees her first. Thank god Gillian is on and not one of the nurses she can’t stand.

“Good god. What happened to you? I was going to send out a search party.” Gillian says as she approaches.

“Have rounds started?” Claire says anxiously.

“Not yet. But Mother Hildegarde has noticed your absence already.” Gillian always called Dr. Hildegarde that. Even to her face. “But she went to clear up some lab mix up. Now tell me. What happened to make the Great Claire Beauchamp late?” Gillian is eyeing her like she’s suspicious.

“Frank’s wife came home.” Claire groaned.

“What? She caught you?!” Gillian gasped.

“No! I jumped out the window and was caught by a very handsome firefighter who I drooled all over like an idiot and that’s why I’m late.”

“Tell me more about the hot firefighter.” Gillian egged on. She’s saved from having to answer by Joe.

“Lady Jane.” Joe approaches, a suspicious but playful look in his eye.

“Morning, Joe.” Claire says, raising an eyebrow, daring him to ask the question.

“LJ, when are you going to settle down with a nice man?” He asks, as if he knows she spent another night with Frank.

“I do not need a man, Dr. Abernathy. It’s 2020 and I get by just fine.” She insists.

“Yeah, yeah. All I’m saying is you deserve to be treated well. Anyways Mr. Poe had slightly elevated blood pressure overnight and Mrs. Breit was extremely irritable all night. With that, I leave you my charts. I am going to go sleep. Finally.” Joe salutes them and leaves.

Claire goes through the charts, checking for anything immediate then she begins her preliminary rounds. She does have to argue with Mrs. Breit over when she can be released and Mr. Cane tries to get her to kiss him, the dirty old man. But other than that, it’s a fairly uneventful bout of rounds. She returns to the nurses station where she orders labs and  finishes charting. She has time to go get coffee before it’s time for rounds with Dr. Hildegarde.

She’s coming back from coffee when she sees him rounding the corner. Claire squeaks and throws herself into a supply closet before he can see her. It’s Jamie, her redheaded firefighting savior from this morning. Why is he here? Claire curses internally. She gives it a minute or two before she quietly and slowly opens the door. She checks the hallway but he’s not there, thankfully.  She takes the next several corners very carefully, making sure he’s not there. Claire makes it back to the nurses’ station just in time for Dr. Hildegarde to grace the floor with her presence.

“Morning, doctors. Shall we begin rounds?” Dr. Hildegarde doesn’t wait for an answer before gliding to the first patient’s door. Claire worries the entire time she’s on rounds that she’ll see her auburn-haired hero but as they go through each patient, her mind focuses in on the work. By the time, they’re on their last patient she’s not even thinking about him.

“Good morning, Mr. Fraser. How are you feeling?” Dr. Hildegarde asks a man who appears to be in his 60s and a tad bit grumpy.

“I think the gowns you make us wear just isn’t right of ya.” A distinctly Scottish voice comes from the man.

“Oh, he’s just a curmudgeon. Ignore him doctors. Heaven knows I do. I’m Ellen.” Her accent matches her husband’s. How many Scots can you run into in a day in London? Claire wonders just as the door opens.

“Sorry, got a bit turned around.” Claire’s heart drops down to her stomach at the voice. It’s him. It’s Jamie. She doesn’t turn around to confirm because she’s hoping to make herself look small among the small crowd of doctors. Perhaps he wouldn’t notice her. He comes around the bed and joins the patient’s wife, handing her a coffee. Claire imagines they might be his parents. This day just keeps getting worse.

And worse. Because they’ve just made eye contact and from his surprised expression that morphs into a smirk, he definitely recognized her. Doctor Hildegarde continues the briefing. Brian Fraser is sixty two and has just arrived for his stent placement operation that takes place tonight. Dr. Hildegarde calls on Claire to answer a question or two Ellen (who’s studiously taking notes) has. Claire manages a coherent exterior and answer but on the inside, she’s freaking out and trying very hard not to look at Jamie.

“Alright, I’ll have Dr. Beauchamp keep an eye on you and she’ll be able to answer any more questions you come up with. I’ll see you in there, Mr. Fraser.” Dr. Hildegarde says, assigning Claire the father of the man who witnessed the fact that she’s a complete mess. Dr. Hildegarde begins to exit and Claire quickly moves to follow her. She makes it out the door when she feels a hand on her arm.

“Actually, Dr. Beauchamp, I was wondering if I may have a word with you.” Jamie says casually. Dr. Hildegarde has turned around.

“I-uh-well, you see, so many patients-” Claire bumbles, very unlike her. Dr. Hildegarde gives her an odd look.

“Of course, Dr. Beauchamp will be happy to listen to you.” Dr. Hildegarde asserts. Claire grimaces. Dr. Hildegarde walks away and Claire watches her as though she has sealed her doom. When she turns back to Jamie, he’s leaned against the wall, one ankle crossed over the other, with a raised eyebrow.

“So a surgeon, huh?” Jamie says jovially.

“I believe I gave you that piece of information when we met, yes.” Claire remarks, immediately regretting being the one to bring up how they met first. She grimaces again and starts her spiel she’d been thinking up since he walked in the room. “Listen, I know you don’t have a great first impression of me. And you know that my personal life is a mess. But I’m a great surgeon. And a great doctor. And I think getting me kicked off your dad’s case would be a mistake. There are other doctors who are certainly competent. But I think you want the best for your dad. And I’m it. I’m the best when it comes to this. I’ll be nothing but a consummate professional. When I walk in those doors, I leave the Claire you met earlier outside. In here, I’m a machine with great bedside manner. So I understand if your first instinct isn’t to trust me but I’m asking you to let me continue with your father’s case.”

“Well, that’s all well and good, Claire. But I’m hoping one of those things won’t be entirely true.” Jamie is smiling like he got a great kick out of her speech.

“And what’s that?” Claire asks, slightly nervous.

“I’m hoping you’ll be slightly less of a consummate professional.” Jamie tells her. She narrows her eyes.

“What does that mean?”

“Go on a date with me.” He says, big smile taking up most of his face, eyes crinkling.

“Go on a… A date!? Are you… I’m your father’s surgeon.” She whispers angrily. She’s not sure why she’s so annoyed. But it just seems like such a callous thing to do and she oddly thought he was better than it.

“Listen. My father is a mostly healthy man. This is a fairly regular procedure. At least that’s what I’ve been told and what I’ve concluded from my research. I’m not hard-hearted man. I love my father. But you’re the best. I trust that. I never even thought to get you kicked off the case. I have… I have a sense of people, Dr. Beauchamp, and I trust that you are a great surgeon. I trust that you are a good surgeon and after you’re finished with my father’s surgery, after he’s recovering well, I’d like to take you out on a date.”

“Well.. when you put it like that…” She’s about to say no when she thinks about Frank. And all the other awful men she has seemed to attract. There was something different about Jamie. “Ask me again when your father is discharged. Then I’ll give you my answer.” With that, she turned on her heel, determined to put that red-headed man out of her mind, a Herculean task as it may be. She has patients to see after all.