Liz sighed. Someone like Hugh, who was so used to having gorgeous supermodels with sky-high confidence, hanging around him constantly, well, he’d never get the kind of insecurities ordinary women like her felt constantly. And then there were her terrific, perfect sisters.
The next instant, Liz felt like she was judging Hugh a little harshly. Hugh was a sensitive and perceptive man. There was a good chance he’d get exactly what she was going through. So, she replied, “Well, my older sister is Hollywood’s sweetheart and overall Miss Gorgeous, Anne Davis. And she’s not just beautiful, but she’s also a go-getter and good at everything she does. I mean everything. I mean, if she weren’t my sister and I didn’t know firsthand what a sweetheart she is, then I’d be like melting with envy. My other sister is Katherine Davis, you know, the one who wrote the Pulitzer-winning book on human trafficking. Not only is she scarily competent at everything she does, but she’s probably the prettiest lawyer you’d ever meet.”
Liz placed down her fork and sat back. Hugh nodded, “Go on, I think I get what you’re trying to say.”
Liz nodded, “So yeah, there’s the fact that those two are about as perfect as any woman could be, you know. And I sorta grew up in their shadow. I feel like a traitor saying these things, Hugh. Because they were terrific big sisters to me. They saved our family in a lot of ways. They’ve always been very loving and loyal, you know. So, I don’t know. It’s complicated. And it’s definitely not their fault, although I feel like I’m making it sound like it is.”
Liz realized she must have looked very downcast, because Hugh reached for her hand and rubbed it reassuringly, the simple, tender gesture sending a thrill down her body. Her head felt heavy with a confusing mix of emotions, so she patted his hand and disengaging hers, continued, “My sisters, as great as they are and as much as they’ve gone through, well, still, they were already teenagers by the time my Dad had to stop working due to an injury. They grew up in a happy, wealthy home. Me, on the other hand? I was seven when my father became permanently disabled and went from being a hotshot District Attorney to being bedridden for the rest of his life. Our family went through a terrible time when the goons he was trying to put behind bars, came after our family instead. My mother went from being a happy housewife and a charismatic member of the community to being a worried shut-in constantly worrying about money or my Dad’s health. It was a hard time, Hugh. It was horrible, actually. Suddenly, the joyful family I knew was gone and I guess I was little and nobody really explained to me what was happening and I’ve been wrecked by anxiety constantly since. One of the reasons I went into medicine was to be able to help my Dad, you know? Fortunately, by then, my sisters were settled in their careers and they helped my Dad and Mom and me a ton. But I guess the number on my confidence was done. To this day, I’m constantly waiting for the sky to fall. I also feel like I just don’t measure up to my sisters. And I’ve never been particularly charming either. So, yeah, that’s how someone seemingly well-adjusted like me is actually pretty much just a giant ball of anxiety shoved into a tiny, fake-calm exterior.”
Liz finally looked up to see Hugh looking at her with what looked like pity. She glanced away, ashamed to have said what she had.
Hugh had listened with mounting concern as Liz had begun speaking about the childhood trauma she and her family had gone through. It explained so many things, he mused. It was a wonder really, he told himself, that the beautiful woman in front of him had accomplished as much as she had and continued to live each day courageously, expecting very little in return.
Hugh wasn’t quite sure what he should do next. What he wanted to do was take her in his arms and crush her to his chest, and comfort her for the rest of his life. But he was afraid of making any kind of physical contact. He’d reached for her hand a few minutes ago, and she’d gently rebuffed him.
So, he said softly, “Look at me, Liz. Please?”
When Liz looked up, he said, “I knew the moment we met that you were no ordinary woman. But hearing what you’ve said today, I really cannot think of any other woman I know who’s as strong as you are. I mean Kelly is great, and a fighter. But Kelly hasn’t been through a fraction of what you have, as much as I love my big sister. I’m so proud to be your friend, Liz. I hope you know that.”
To his relief, Liz smiled up at him, but it was a sad, wan smile, observed Hugh. He continued, “In hindsight, Liz, my question was extremely rude. Please, can you forgive me? I’m so sorry to have made you remember and recount what is without doubt a very traumatic childhood memory. Can you forgive me? Truly, had I known, I would never have asked. It’s completely natural for you to feel anxious. I mean, I know I’d have been a wreck and unable to function at all. But here you are, waking up each day and helping people, soothing them constantly. You’re an amazing woman, Liz! The bravest one I know!”
Liz looked like she was trying hard to contain the tears that were threatening to break free. Hugh silently passed her his handkerchief. Liz took it and dabbed her eyes. She managed a smile as she returned it, “You’re very kind, Hugh. I’ve had a lot of love in my life, to be fair. I’ve only narrated the worst here, and I feel like I need to set the record straight. My sisters and my Mom and even my Dad did their best to make me feel loved. They’ve all always doted on me. I mean, I’ve always been the baby of the family, you know? My sisters are a good decade older than me.”
Hugh nodded, “I get it. I’m the youngest in my family too. But even so, Liz, it’s something of a miracle that you’ve turned out to be as sane, normal, and well-adjusted as you have. Barring the self-doubt, I mean.” Hugh shook his head. He debated whether he should continue. He decided they’d been sufficiently vulnerable in front of one another to hear a few good things in return too, so he said, “I mean no offence, Liz, so please don’t get angry. But, if you ask me, or really, anyone you know, they’ll all tell you it’s Whitman who’s punching above his weight, and definitely not the other way around.”
Hugh was delighted to see that Liz smiled broadly, “Is this really about me, Hugh? Or, is it just you and Dr. Whitman and some sort of a not-that-friendly rivalry? Because if you ask me, going by what the nurses and doctors at the hospital say, it’s a close thing, but I think they rate you a little bit higher than poor Dr. Whitman.
Hugh made a face. He could see that Liz still didn’t quite see it that way, that she deserved someone way better than Whitman. But he let it go. He was just glad that she’d smiled again.
He reacted without thinking, “Yuck,” and was overjoyed to hear Liz laugh. He changed the subject, “Do you like chocolate?” When Liz nodded, he added, “Then, how about we get dessert at a place dedicated to all things chocolate and everything nauseatingly sweet?”
Liz said enthusiastically, “Let’s!” Hugh smiled happily at her.
‘The CEO’s Favorite Doctor: A Wholesome Romantic Comedy’ by Bhakti Mathew