Liz looked at her watch and said, “Listen, my shift ends in a few minutes. Will you be okay? Do you need anything? Should I stay?”
Hugh made an attempt at a smile, but Liz could see he was struggling. He said, “I’ll be fine. Go, get some rest!”
Liz sat back, “How good are you with women’s fashion?”
Hugh raised an eyebrow, “Why? What do you have in mind?”
Liz brought out her iPad, “How about you help me select a few dresses that might indicate to Dr. Whitman that I’ve noticed you noticing me, and that I’m actually considering it?”
“Deal!” grinned Hugh.
Liz promptly loaded up her favorite online shopping portal. They spent a good hour surfing and selecting. They butted heads a few times, but by the end of her shopping spree, Liz had ordered four new dresses, two coats, two pairs of heels, and a brand-new perfume.
Liz gave Hugh a big smile and a mock-punch of the arm, “That was fun! Thanks for helping me empty my wallet, Hugh!”
Hugh grinned, “That was awesome, wasn’t it? You’ll really will thank me later!”
Liz looked at her watch, “Okay, off I go now. You’ll be okay?”
Hugh smiled, “I’m fine. This was fun. Good night, Doc!”
The next day, Hugh was wolfing down his breakfast, when there was a soft knock on the door. He smiled when he saw Liz entering the room, a tentative smile on her face.
Liz moved closer to his bed, “Good morning, Hugh.” She handed him an envelope, saying, “I asked Dr. Whitman if I could be the one to deliver all your results to you.”
Hugh took the envelope, feeling a slight trepidation. He opened it to see his test results inside.
“Does it say what I think it means?” Hugh asked, trying to stop himself from celebrating a little too early.
Liz’s eyes warmed as she spoke, “It says exactly that, Hugh! You’re all good. You can go home. The fainting was due to going without food the whole of the day before, and then drinking on an empty stomach, coupled with the stress you were naturally feeling. Nothing other than that. You’ll need to come for a check-up next month, just to be sure. And I’ve written down the name of the medicine for your trachardia, which, by the way, is really, really mild. So, according to all your tests, you’re fine!”
Hugh exhaled and regarded Liz steadily, “Thank you, Liz. For everything. I hope it all goes well for you here, with Dr. Whitman, I mean.”
For a moment, Hugh wondered if she hadn’t heard him. She’d turned away at his words, busying herself with fluffing his pillow and pouring out some water for him in a cup. But, a few moments later, she cleared her throat and replied, “Oh, I don’t think that will matter anymore, Hugh. Dr. Whitman might be unavailable, going by the gossip at the reception.”
Hugh raised his eyebrows and Liz shrugged, “Nothing. He was just caught kissing one of the new doctors, here. Dr. Lisa Parker. So. It’s just so much ado about nothing.”
Hugh watched her carefully. Her cool, collected act wasn’t about to fool him, he told himself. She refused to look him in the eye, and the color in her cheeks had risen with every passing word. Liz, in fact, was very clearly very affected by the gossip. He patted the arm of the chair next to his bed and said, “Sit. Please.”
Liz sighed and sat down. Hugh said, “Do you really like this guy?”
Liz wouldn’t look at him but she nodded. Hugh went on, “Well, then, the first thing to do is to figure out if there actually is anything to the rumor. People talk. Doesn’t mean it’s always true.”
Liz finally looked at him and Hugh could see the effort it took for her to keep her gaze neutral as she said in a hopeful voice, “Just as a matter of clinical interest, how does one find out something like that?”
To Liz’s relief, Hugh wasn’t taking it as a joke. She found herself feeling a little grateful that she could actually talk about it with someone. She’d been on pins and needles ever since she’d heard the rumor. It was comforting to be able to talk about it without being teased.
“Well, the best person to talk to would be the one who started the rumor or told you about it first. Just be casual. You know, like, it’s just an interesting tidbit you want to know about so you can pass it on ever so helpfully to someone else.”
To Hugh’s delight, that made Liz smile a little. She leaned forward, an elbow resting on the arm chair and her hand crooked under her chin. She said, “Go on. This is fascinating. I’m getting an idea about why you’re so successful at work. This is a very methodical, and a very scary, way of thinking.”
Hugh grinned, “Exactly. Kind of like something I’d do if a competitor were planting rumors. You know, go to the immediate source where the rumor started.”
“Okay, so I need to talk to Gladys then. She’s the one who spent over an hour going on about just how steamy the kiss was, and how long it went on for, and how Dr. Parker’s lips looked swollen for hours later.” Liz stopped and Hugh could see why. She looked like she was going to be sick.
Hugh grabbed a can of fruit juice from the row of unopened cans on the table near his bed. He pushed the can in front of her and said, “Drink. You look a little pale.”
Liz looked like she was about to refuse, but seemingly changed her mind at the last minute. She pulled the tab’s ring and took a long swig. She welcomed the taste of the sweet lemonade. It revived her a little.
She seemed to be lost in thought for a few moments. Hugh stayed silent. She finally glanced at Hugh and said, “I think I’m going to let this go, Hugh. This simply isn’t my style, you know. I’d be constantly worrying that Gladys will turn around and ask me pointblank if the reason I’m asking so many questions is because I’m the one interested in Dr. Whitman myself. If she asked me that, my blushing alone would confirm her suspicions. I’m simply no good at subterfuge like this.”
Hugh squinted, “If it’s going to be that hard, then yeah, we need to figure something else out.”
Liz gazed at him, “‘We’? Why are you helping me, Hugh? Am I some kind of a pro bono slash charity project for you?”
Hugh snorted, “Not at all!” He said in a more sober voice, “I don’t know why, myself, Liz. But I think it could be because I see something similar in the both of us. No, don’t smile. Outwardly, I agree, we’re about as alike as chalk and cheese. But in the things that count, I think you’ll be surprised to see just how similar we are. You know, slightly more straightlaced and no-nonsense than the people around us, a little bit nerdy. And definitely not used to people falling all over themselves to be with us. So maybe, I might be living a little vicariously through you. You know, like I didn’t get my happy ending. But maybe if you do, it’ll sorta give me hope that there’s something better for me out there too. And then there’s the fact that my trachardia would never have been found had you not pushed for a test for me.”
Liz looked away. Hugh couldn’t be sure if she was offended or that she was a little overcome. To his confusion, when Liz glanced back at him, she had a tiny smile full of mischief. She said, “I kinda find it hard to believe you’re all that straightlaced, Hugh. And that you haven’t had women falling all over themselves to be with you. I mean, isn’t that one of the perks of being as rich as you are?”
Hugh shrugged, “I was quite the nerd, growing up. Just ask Kelly. How do you think she began bullying me as much as she does? It’s because I was a little too oblivious most of the time, and too often, she’d have to come to my help, which has given her a permanent superiority complex around me. But yeah, truthfully, if women were being friendly, I’d just assume they were being friendly with everyone. I guess, looking back, the only reason Savannah and I got together as quickly as we did was because there was nothing subtle about her interest in me. She literally told me that she liked me ‘that way’ and if I wanted to hook up. I was so grateful when she did, because by then, I’d begun believing I’d be alone for the rest of my life. And since she prevented that seemingly awful fate for me, at least at that time, I suppose I put her on a pedestal. I guess so much of what’s happened between her and I lately is, in some ways, equally my fault too. I refused to see her failings. She must have felt the pressure of that, of having to constantly match up to the ideal in my head. And she was right about one thing. I was away a lot. She was left alone too often for too long.”
Hugh took a deep breath and continued, “I don’t forgive what she did. I don’t think I ever will. But I do think I owe a bit of culpability in what has gone down. Doesn’t mean I’ll ever forgive her or Damon. But I think it’ll make it easier to forget all of this.”
Liz nodded. She was blown away by the maturity Hugh had shown in the last few minutes. In the last 24 hours or so, she found herself rapidly revising her opinion about him. This was no spoilt, rude, clueless man-child. Liz felt ashamed to think about how quickly she’d judged him before. He was, Liz realized with a start, an astonishingly sensitive and perceptive man.
She said aloud, “I agree with everything you just said. Really level-headed thinking, Hugh. With that kind of maturity and clarity of mind, there’s no way you won’t attract a like-minded woman someday soon.”
Hugh smiled weakly, “Thanks, but I won’t be holding my breath. Now, coming back to you, let’s brainstorm a bit, if that’s okay? Preparation is everything. We go to battle armed and ready, huh?”
Liz nodded, but she felt a little unsure. If Adam Whitman wasn’t interested in her, she couldn’t really make him, could she? She wished she had Hugh’s determination. As things stood, she could think of pushing herself to say something to Dr. Whitman only if she could find out for sure that he hadn’t, in fact, cozied up with Dr. Parker. Still, she thought, Hugh was right. Nothing was set in stone until they could find out more.
Hugh was saying, “Now, tell me, how does this Dr. Parker look like?”
‘The CEO’s Favorite Doctor: A Wholesome Romantic Comedy’ by Bhakti Mathew