- TWO -
"Three days, Chris, it's been three days that we've hardly spoken a word to each other." Ant buried her head in her arms.
Christopher Delaney, M.D., as he liked to tell people, looked at his ex-girlfriend slouched over the desk. "Ant, get up from there. If my supervisor saw that I not only took someone in his office with me, but left oil marks from your face all over his desk, I'd be in what people call the shit."
Ant looked up at him standing in his blue scrubs. "Have you been listening to anything I've said?"
"Yeah, yeah, you think Perry's older brother is hot," he told here as he ushered her out.
"What? No I don't. I didn't say that."
Chris only grinned as he pushed her outside the office. "You didn't have to."
Ant liked to visit Chris at the hospital where he interned to bitch about the state of her life. Whilst she usually used Perry's sympathetic ear for this, she was inclined to believe that Perry's ear may not be as sympathetic to her moaning about how much she disliked living in the same place as her beloved brother. And Perry loved her brother. A lot. She thought she would find an ally in Chris when it came to Dorian, but apparently not.
"What do you mean I didn't have to? I've only been saying how we've only exchanged pleasantries when Perry is there but otherwise ignored each other. And he does this backwards head nod thing to greet me as well. I mean what the hell is that?" Ant mimicked Dorian's greeting with her head. "Seriously, what is that?"
"Whatever Ant, it's obvious you find the guy attractive but don't want to." He began walking down the corridor towards the cafeteria, Ant in tow, scanning through the textbook he had retrieved from the doctor's office, shaking his head. "It doesn't make sense," he muttered.
"What doesn't make sense? And FYI that is so stupid to think that I'm stopping myself from finding someone attractive."
"Nothing, I've got a patient with vague symptoms, her blood test returned nothing, and I'm wondering whether I've missed something." He shut the book. "In any case, you're attracted to him, but you hate everything he stands for, so to negate the attraction you're focusing on all his negative traits, because you don't want to be hypocritical. Are you coming to the cafeteria with me?"
"No, I have to get back to work. And for the record, objectively, I can categorically admit that he is attractive, physically, but I just don't like him. He just rubs me up the wrong way." Ant stopped at the elevators and pushed the button as Chris kept walking.
"Mark my words," he told her, walking backwards, "I know you better than you know yourself." Then he turned around and disappeared around the corner. The doors of the elevator slid open and she stepped in. No, Chris had absolutely no idea about what he was talking about.
- o -
One thing Ant hated about working for a women's glossy was that she didn't get to do any "serious" journalism. All the articles in Modern Woman were special interest stories that were used to inform bored housewives, rather than challenge them with hard-hitting investigative or opinion pieces. The worse part about her job was that she wasn't the one doing any of the writing. She was a sub-editor.
The office was buzzing with chatter, phones ringing, and the clacks of fingers tap, tap, tapping on keyboards. She took a sip from her cup of coffee. She had a feeling she would be at the office late. Their deadline for the printers was two days away and she was still touching up an article on women who were compulsive liars, along with other smaller clips on beauty and fashion that would pepper the magazine.
She looked up at the clock. It was 6 in the evening. She continued to press on, underlining, highlighting, re-formatting, fixing grammar, ad nauseum. She scoffed - she could write better than this drivel, and, yet, here she was fixing the grammar of an authoress with an inflated sense of ego. Judy Janovich wrote a lot of commissioned pieces for Modern Woman and Ant often wondered what was so great about her; granted, she had good pitches, but the execution of her stories left a lot to be desired. It was probably because Judy was the niece of the editrix of the magazine. Speaking of the she-devil.
The editor-in-chief, Marianne d'Vaughn, was a tall, wiry woman, with a perfect blond bob and translucent white skin. "Are you done with Judy's article so that we can send it back to her to fix up?"
Ant plastered on a smile, "Almost there."
"We need that ASAP, we were meant to have run it last issue but it was riddled with problems."
Maybe you should stop commissioning her incompetent ass then. "Give me ten more minutes and it should be fine."
Marianne gave her a brief nod, but before she could walk away Ant stopped the older woman. "Marianne, one more thing."
"About next issue, do you think I could do a small article, or something, on how I think being carbon neutral is a fallacy to clear our conscience?"
Marianne sighed, "I told you Antoinette, we can't run those kinds of articles in the magazine. If you want you could write about what being carbon neutral is, but nothing too provocative. If you're willing to be impartial." Marianne quirked an elegant brow upwards. "Are you?"
Ant couldn't answer.
Marianne already knew the answer anyway. She was fond of the younger woman and saw lots of potential, but her refusal to compromise her beliefs for a good story was her weakness. Writers couldn't lend their opinions too strongly without polarising readers. The important thing about a good article for her magazine was truth not opinion. "Besides," she continued, "that's too hard-hitting for your first piece, you need something a bit smaller."
"But you never give me the chance."
"Antoinette, I know you're a good writer, but to get published in this magazine you need to compromise, alternately you could leave and write somewhere else, but you can't get somewhere else without decent clips, are you with me?"
Ant knew all this, she had been given this spiel every month she failed to pitch a successful story idea. "I know, Marianne, but -"
"If you can pitch me a story by the end of the month that I like, we'll run it, no problems, the month after. But to succeed in the game you have to play by the rules. Find a story that's not too provocative and we can go from there."
Marianne gave a brief nod. "Oh, and Ant," she began before walking away, "I want Judy's story in ten minutes."
"I know, you'll get it." Ant watched her editor retreat to her office. She couldn't do it, though, she knew what stories Marianne was after, and she couldn't bring herself to write a story she found devoid of, well, meaning. She picked up Judy's article and snorted, a piece on women who compulsively lied - talk about being anti-provocative. She didn't know what the purpose of the article was. It was so vanilla, and so achingly mediocre. She was no modern day Faulkner herself but she knew she could do better, but she couldn't bring herself to write about something so borderline-tabloid. She'd find a story by the end of the month without compromising any of her thoughts, she knew she'd be able to. Her musings were interrupted by the phone ringing on her desk.
"Ant, it's Perry, what do you want for dinner?"
Ant sat the phone between her ear and her shoulder as she continued to copy-edit the article, "I think I'll just pick something up on the way home. It's going to be a late night tonight."
"Ant, you know that's not healthy. I'll just leave something out for you. Ok?"
Ant grinned, Perry was more of a mother to her than her own biological mother. "Ok, thanks Perry, but I've got to hang up, I have so many things to do."
"Sure, sure, when are you going to get home do you think?"
She glanced at her watch, "I don't know, maybe around 9 or 9:30."
She heard the other girl sigh, "Take care ok? The subway on a week night can be a very not cool place to be."
"Yes mum, am I good to go?"
"I'll see you when you get back."
"Ok, bye, peace."
Perry tapped the phone against her palm in thought after she hung up, as a plan began to form in her head. With a wicked grin she placed the phone back in its cradle, then she sought her brother out so she could send him on a quick retrieval mission.
- o -
Dorian had been trapped, not even any of his COs could corner him the way his sister did and make him drive all the way to downtown Manhattan, in a haze of drowsiness, to pick up her flatmate. The worse part was when she did those damn puppy dog eyes and made him guilty for not being around all the time. So, as he often did with some of her ridiculous demands, he acquiesced and pried himself from the countless DVDs he had missed whilst he was away. When he asked his dear sister why she didn't pick Ant up herself she cited a sore wrist. She had then went on to emphasise how dangerous it was for young women to be taking the subway so late at night, attempting to appeal to the knight-in-shining armour complex that she knew he had. That damn girl knew him too well.
People regarded the handsome Sargeant as they walked past him. He was leaning against the hood of his prized possession: a glossy black 1969 Lamborghini Muira convertible, which he had lovingly finished restoring before embarking on his last tour. Needless to say he made an impressive display in front of the Hewison building where Ant's offices were held, and she was more than shocked to find him - of all people - waiting for her there. He watched her face morph from surprise to skepticism upon seeing him when she walked out of the revolving doors of the building. She looked around her as if to check that he wasn't waiting for someone else. The curious looks some of her fellow - female - workers were giving her when she walked up to meet him did not go unnoticed by her.
"Are you waiting for me?"
Well, she felt like an idiot. "Oh, sorry, didn't mean to be presumptuous."
He shook his head and pushed himself off the hood. "I am, who else would I be waiting for exactly? Come on, get in." He pulled the passenger seat door open for her and Ant reluctantly entered. He shut the door after her and made his way to the driver's side. She could be normal and nice. He was driving her home after all. When he entered she turned and smile.
"Thanks for picking me up, you didn't have to. I know Perry put you up to this."
He gave her a brief nod to acknowledge her thanks and started the engine. "She worries."
Ant didn't know how to respond and so sat there silently as he pulled out of the parking space. He leant over and turned the radio on, and pushed in a disc that was hanging from the mouth of the player. Soon, Sam and Dave filled the car and she couldn't help but grin.
"You were the one who put on Al Green the other night?"
He flashed her a looked before turning back to the front. "Yeah, I like old school soul, Motown, Stax, Memphis type stuff."
Common ground, this was good. "Me too. I had thought it was uncharacteristic of Perry to put on Al Green."
His mouth hitched upwards slightly. "You like Sam and Dave?"
"Um, yeah, is 'When something is wrong with my baby' on here?"
He nodded without turning to her. "It should be the second song after this one."
She went to lean over to change the track, but realised that it wasn't Perry she was with and so stopped herself. She looked up to him, "Can I?"
"Yeah, sure, that's my favourite Sam and Dave song."
She scanned to the right position and the familiar opening bars of the song filled the car.
She sat back in the leather seat, content. She could lose herself in music like this. She leant her head on the leather seat and began mouthing the words, lost in her little world as she watched the city outside the window pass her. Dorian sneaked a look to her; she had a pleasant expression on her face. He brought his attention back to driving. The soft movement of her lips miming the lyrics was a little distracting, and he gripped the gear stick a little tighter. She was a funny one. Since their pseudo-confrontation his first night there, she seemed to consciously avoid him.
"My mum used to put on Sam and Dave when she got home late from work," she said suddenly.
"Where did she work?"
Ant looked at Dorian with a small smile, "She was a maid." He nodded, knowing that she didn't expect him to respond. The song finished and moved in to the next one, 'You ain't no big thing baby.' It seemed to lift her spirits because she started to tap her foot. "What other CDs do you have?"
"In my car?" He asked; she nodded an affirmative. "I think I have a mix that I compiled in the glove compartment. You can put it on if you want."
She opened the glove compartment and found the CD. She read the tracklist written on it with a small smile, and with each song she read her mouth grew wider. "This is a good mix, you start off with some Otis, throw in a little bit of Wilson Pickett." She faced him, "Impressive."
"I made it for an ex-girlfriend of mine; but even after listening to that CD she still wasn't sold on the whole soul music thing."
"It's all slow jams," she observed, as she ejected the Sam and Dave CD and played his mix.
He seemed to smile to himself before he answered, "I made it as a soundtrack for when we were engaging in certain bedroom activities."
She shook her head, "You like it slow and sexy, huh?" She hadn't meant for it to come out so flirtatious and she bit her tongue. He didn't turn to her and kept his face passive, looking straight ahead.
"Depends on what I feel like, but I do like a lazy Sunday afternoon screw if that's what you mean."
She hadn't anticipated his answer and her heart seemed to have skipped a beat. "To be honest I really don't know what I mean, but I'll keep that in mind."
A small smile etched itself on his face, and the rest of the drive back to the apartment was spent in a thoughtful silence listening to the music.
- o -
The first thing Perry said when the duo walked in was, "Did Chris contact you?"
Dorian didn't react and went straight to the couch to resume the DVD he had been watching, but he kept his ear peeled anyway, as he was a gossip.
Ant furrowed her brows and shook her head, "No, why?"
"He didn't say. He tried to contact you but said your cell was turned off."
"My battery died during the day."
"I think you should call him, he sounded pretty distressed on the phone."
Ant frowned, "Thanks," then she picked up the landline as Perry settled next to her brother.
"There's chicken in the fridge," Perry called out when Ant walked in to the kitchen to allow herself some privacy.
Ant dialled Chris's number; she listened absently to what the TV playing - Ironman, she was pretty sure - as she thought about what Chris could need so urgently. When he finally picked up her focus was drawn to his weary greeting.
"Chris, it's me, what's up? My battery died." She rummaged through the fridge and found the chicken, and started to fix herself a sandwhich.
Ant was confused. "Lupus?"
"She had Lupus. I lost her."
"Who?" She buttered the bread and placed strips of chicken on it, before topping it off with some mustard.
"The patient from today, the reason I went to get that textbook from my supervisor's office - I lost her. My diagnosis came too late." There was silence. She swore she could hear his heart cracking over the phone.
"Chris?" She prodded gently.
"It was my fault. I should have been more vigilant, done more diagnostic tests, anything. But it's so hard to tell, you know?" More silence. "It was my fault," he repeated again, dejected.
"Chris it's not your fault, if you couldn't have known... then," but she didn't know how to finish her sentence and chose a different tact: "You're a good doctor Chris, things like this happen, you knew this when you signed up."
"I just... it's difficult to accept that you were in the position to help someone but didn't."
"Couldn't," Ant corrected him gently.
"Lupus can be treated Ant, 9 out of 10 people with Lupus end up living long lives. I just don't know how I could have missed it."
"Maybe you should sleep on this."
He scoffed. "If I can. She didn't have the damn butterfly rash."
Ant swallowed, knowing whatever she said wouldn't be of help, not to mention she had no idea what he was referring to. "Chris," she began firmly, "go to bed and I'll see you tomorrow, ok?"
"I feel guilty."
"You can't blame yourself for every patient you lose. Just believe enough that you're a good doctor, and you'll save more lives than you won't."
"Angela Barthes," he began, "her name was Angela Barthes."
"I'm sure she knows you did what you could."
There was a pause, before he said finally, "But did I really do all I could have? Fact is, right now she's lying in a bodysuit in the morgue."
She was about to allay his anxiety with some soothing words but she was met with a click and the dialtone. She looked down at the phone in her hand and sighed. She put the phone back in the dock, plate with her sandwich in the other hand, then sat down at the table to have her dinner. Perry leant over the back of the couch to look at her.
"What did Chris want?"
"He lost his first patient today."
Perry's face fell, ever the empath, "Is he ok?"
"The first one's always the hardest," Dorian interjected, without turning from what he was watching.
Ant stopped mid-bite. This was really none of his business. "I hardly think you're much of an authority on this."
He turned around and held her eyes, "The first kill's always the hardest to get over."
"He didn't kill her, his diagnosis was late. There's a difference."
He snorted, "Is there really?" He turned back to the movie.
Bastard. "Yes, he treats people; in your line of work, however, you go out with the express intention of killing them." She had the urge to throw her plate at him. Just when she thought that he had displayed a shred of humanity during the ride home, he undermined it by making a callous contribution to a conversation no one asked him to participate in. So tactless.
Perry looked at her brother and shook her head, "I love you, but you're such an ass sometimes." He only shrugged and kept watching. "Seriously Dorian, that was uncalled for."
"It's true. After this patient, this Chris guy - who I'm assuming is a doctor - will be able to handle death easier."
"Is that how it is for you? Easy deaths? Not everyone views death as a casualty statistic," Ant spat.
"Death is indiscriminate, it doesn't care who is dying and who is there to cause or prevent it - it will happen. The less personal you take it, the better you're able to live with it." It was his casual indifference towards death, to Chris, to proferring his opinion that no one asked him for, that ticked Ant off.
"That may be the case for you, but not everyone has been indoctrinated to be so cold and ruthless." Ant stood up. "I'm going to my room." She walked away and the sound of her door slamming was heard not long after.
"So this the way it's going to be, then, is it? You're going to keep baiting her because you get a kick from watching people get pissed off at you?"
"Perry, the problem with civilians is that they believe everything is either morally wrong or right." He kept his eyes glued to the screen as he spoke evenly, "Death - especially in professions that are constantly surrounded by it - is amoral."
The blond girl shook her head and turned back to the screen. "You don't have to be an ass about it, " she muttered. "And I don't agree with you, by the way."
"I don't expect you to. You're a civilian."
"At a time in your life you were one too, Dorian."
An empty pause ensued before he spoke again, "And for the record, Recon Marines are trained to observe. Engaging the enemy is rare. I've killed far less people than the average ER doctor has."
Perry thought better than to continue this conversation with Dorian. He could be obstinate and she had no energy to argue with him. Living with her best friend and brother was not as fun as she had thought it would be.
- o -