Caught by the Tide Ch. 07byevanslily©
"My name's Luke Foster," he said without smiling, holding my gaze across Daniel's shoulder for one more second before turning abruptly to my sister. "I'm one of the consultant cardiothoracic surgeons here and I performed Gillian Ashmore's surgery. And you are...?"
"I'm her daughter, Sarah. And this is Graham, my husband--and that's Rebecca, my sister. With her--with--erm--"
But even as she struggled to find the right descriptive noun, Daniel let go of me, pushing me aside as he turned. "You?" he exclaimed, glaring angrily at Luke.
I watched in bewilderment as Luke stared back, catching just the merest flicker of shock in his eyes--and then it vanished. "Daniel," he said coolly before immediately returning his attention to Sarah. "Well, first of all, let me assure you that the operation went very well. I realise it must've been alarming to hear that something had gone wrong during the procedure this morning. Statistically, only about one in a--"
"You?" Daniel burst out again, seeming quite unable to contain himself. "They let a scumbag like you become a consultant?"
"Daniel!" It was Sarah's turn to looked shocked. "Please--I don't know how you two know each other--but--"
"Oh, you'd like to know how I know him, would you?" Daniel's face had flushed to the roots of his blond hair, his body tensing. "Would you like to know what he did?"
"Daniel!" Graham's tone was sharp. "Whatever history there might be between the two of you, this isn't the time or the place to be discussing it, okay? This man--" he gestured towards Luke "--whether you like it or not--has just saved my mother-in-law's life. And if you don't think you can keep it buttoned while he tells us about how Gilly's doing, then maybe you'd better go somewhere else. Okay?"
Baffled, I found myself gazing at them each in turn, at Graham who'd provided the voice of reason, at Daniel as he struggled to compose himself then at Luke, his face impassive. Had it not been for those breathtakingly familiar blue eyes I knew I would've struggled to recognise him, clad as he was in green surgical scrubs, a matching cap completely covering his hair. And though it was slowly dawning on me I could've guessed there was a remote possibility that Luke worked in a hospital in my home city, I still couldn't figure out how on earth he and Daniel knew each other.
Daniel gave a brief nod but was clearly simmering with rage, standing with legs astride, his arms hanging loosely by his sides as if readying himself for a fist fight.
"As I was saying," Luke went on quietly, continuing to focus on Sarah--why wouldn't he look at me? "it's actually very unusual for patients to have complications during angioplasty. But the one good thing about that is that if there are complications, we're in a good position to take action straightaway."
Feeling increasingly as though I was in the middle of an extremely bad dream, complete with a cast of characters that had no business being together in the same scene, I listened as he told us he'd carried out a triple coronary artery bypass graft operation, patiently describing what that had entailed--something about re-plumbing Mum's heart by using an artery from inside her chest and a vein from her leg. It sounded incredibly complicated--no, make that horrific--and I found my eyes filling with tears again as he went on to explain that a machine was doing my mother's breathing for her in order to reduce the workload on her newly-repaired heart.
"We'll keep her asleep through the night," he continued. "But provided she does well--and at the moment, I have no reason to suspect that she won't--we'll wake her up tomorrow morning and work towards getting her off the breathing machine." He hesitated. "Though I should make it clear that the next few hours are critical and although I don't anticipate any problems, I really can't make any promises at this stage. There are always risks with major surgery and your mother's condition is serious at the moment."
There was a pause while we all digested this news, Sarah the first one to speak. "Can we see her now?" she asked, the quiver in her voice betraying just how close she was to tears herself.
Luke nodded. "I'll go and see how they're getting on," he said, reaching out to touch her upper arm, the sight of the reassuring gesture making me ache with envy. I was growing desperate for him to look at me, to make some indication he was aware of my presence. But without so much as a glance in my direction, he gave Sarah another smile and headed for the double doors.
"I don't believe it," Daniel muttered furiously, the moment he was gone. "I don't fucking believe it--"
"What?" Graham demanded, turning to confront him. "For heaven's sake, Dan, what the hell was all that about?"
"What was all that about?" Daniel gave a bitter snort. "I'll tell you what that was about, shall I? That--was about Chloe."
"Chloe?" I gasped, startled. "What about Chloe?"
"Luke Foster." He stabbed a finger in the direction of the double doors. "He was the one, okay? He was the one!"
"The one--what?" Sarah asked, seeming bemused. "Daniel, you're not making any sense."
But he was...
And as I realised exactly what it was that linked Daniel and Luke, I went cold with shock. "Oh God," I breathed, my legs suddenly feeling rather weak. "Chloe's baby."
Sarah gave Daniel an incredulous look. "You're not serious?" she said, narrowing her gaze. She already knew the story--we all did. "He was the one that got Chloe pregnant? He's the one that--"
"--made her lose the baby?" Daniel finished grimly. "Yep. He's the one. Of course he is--how do you think he knew my name?"
I gazed back towards the double doors, aware of how heavily my heart was thudding in my chest. This couldn't be happening, I thought. It couldn't be real--I had to be dreaming...
Because it didn't equate to what I knew about Luke--at least, not the Luke I'd met ten days previously. The Luke I'd met had been capable and caring, tender and warm. Arrogant at times, certainly--but that probably went with the territory in his profession. But I found it hard to imagine he could ever have treated anyone as callously--as heartlessly--as he'd allegedly treated Chloe.
Though most of the pieces of the puzzle seemed to fit. When I'd asked Luke who'd damaged him so badly, when I'd asked him what she'd done, he'd said it wasn't so much what she'd done--it was what he'd done. He'd openly admitted to hurting her. But not physically. That piece of the puzzle didn't seem to fit at all.
"Dan, it was years ago," Graham said quietly. "You need to let it rest--no listen," he added, putting up his hand as Daniel gave another snort. "I'm being serious. Chloe's put it behind her and so must you."
"Yeah, right." Daniel blew out an exasperated sigh. "He's a surgeon, for fuck's sake. With responsibility for people's lives."
"What, you don't think anyone should have a second chance?" Sarah said, frowning at him. "That if you make a mistake, you should never be allowed to forget it? Remember, you don't even know for sure what happened that day."
"Are you saying my sister wasn't telling the truth?"
"No." Sarah shook her head. "I'm just pointing out that you only ever heard her side of the story--and you acted on it. And quite frankly--I've always thought what you and your mates did to him was almost as bad as what he was supposed to have done to Chloe. Two wrongs don't make a right, Daniel."
Daniel looked ready to explode. "Sarah, you don't have--"
"Shut up!" I hissed, seeing the doors to the intensive care unit swing open again. But it wasn't Luke. Two members of staff emerged pushing a now empty trolley, followed closely by Caitlin, the nurse who'd stopped to speak to me when they'd first brought my mother back from theatre.
"Hi there," she said with another warm smile as the staff with the trolley headed off down the hall. "You can come through to see her for a few minutes. But after that, I'll have to ask you to limit it to two visitors at a time, please. With all the equipment at the bedspace I'm afraid there's not really enough room for all of you at once."
We trooped after her along a short corridor, obediently washing our hands when requested to reduce the risk of introducing infection before following her into the ward. It seemed frantically busy after the relative calm of the general medical ward, several people clustered around the nurses' station, still others working between the row of five beds on the opposite wall . I'd found the technology on the coronary care unit overwhelming enough but the sight of all the monitors and machines surrounding each one of the seriously ill patients was shocking, the noise equally disconcerting--a cacophony of bleeps and alarms.
"Here we are," Caitlin said brightly, much to my relief leading us away from the bustle of the main ward into a side room. "As I said, it's a bit of a squeeze."
Squeeze was the right word. There was barely enough room for us to huddle around the bed, our collective eyes zooming to its occupant.
"It just looks like she's asleep," Sarah said after a moment, the note of relief obvious in her tone. "I know there's the tube there and everything, but her colour's good..." She trailed off, sounding rather tearful. I watched as Graham put his arms around her, stiffening as I felt an arm being slung around my own shoulders.
"You okay?" Daniel murmured.
I drew a shaky breath, ducking out from beneath him by dropping down into the chair conveniently positioned beside my mother's bed. "I'm fine," I lied, far from fine. Because to be truthful, all I really wanted to do was run. To run as fast as I could, away from that room, away from the sight of my mother propped up in that bed--to run until I could run no more.
This time I couldn't cry. I could feel the anguish building within me, could feel it rising into my chest, forming such a tight knot there it seemed hard to breathe. And although I could hear Caitlin talking now, quietly answering my sister's questions about the function of some of the items of equipment, I couldn't take in what she was saying, the feeling that this really was a nightmare intensifying by the second.
"Caitlin?" My head jerked up at the sound of Luke's voice. He was peering round the door. "I'm going to grab a quick coffee. Who's the intensivist on this evening--is it Rob?"
"Can you tell him I'll be back to talk to him in say--" he glanced up at the clock on the wall "--twenty minutes?"
She shot him a smile. "No problem. I think we'll manage."
He grinned back, the familiar sight somehow adding to the pressure in my chest. "I'm sure you will." And to my dismay he walked away.
I found myself squashing down an almost irresistible urge to shout after him, to beg him to come back--to at least make some acknowledgement of my existence. What the hell was going on? Why wouldn't he make eye contact with me? Was he trying to protect me? To protect himself? Or--and suddenly I was struck by an even more disturbing thought--was it possible he didn't remember who I was...?
"Well..." Breaking into my thoughts, Caitlin's voice sounded curiously distant though she was standing only a yard or so away from me. "I hate to ask you this as I know it's only been a few minutes but could two of you go and wait out in the relatives' room now? Arrange to take turns between you?"
I turned to find Sarah looking at me with pleading eyes. It was obvious she wanted to stay. "No--no problem," I managed, relieved to have the opportunity to flee. "Daniel and me--we'll go." And without waiting for him to agree, I leapt out of the chair and headed for the door.
I was halfway across the ward by the time he caught up with me. "Becca, I should give Mum a quick call--let her know what's happening," he said as we turned into the corridor, already pulling his mobile phone out of his pocket. "I s'pose I'll have to go outside--but I promise I won't be long."
"It's fine," I said, on auto-pilot now. "Take as long as you want."
But as he strode ahead of me, breaking into a jog as he reached the end of the corridor, my legs turned to jelly, forcing me to stop.
"Oh God," I groaned, watching helplessly as the doors swung closed behind him, aware of the oddest buzzing noise in my head. "Oh God--please no--" But I knew what was coming, knew it was inevitable, my skin growing clammy as the hot wave of nausea washed over me, the buzzing noise reaching a crescendo...
"Whoa!" I heard the voice in my ear just as the darkness swept in, feeling strong arms folding around me. "It's me--I've got you. Down we go..." And holding me tightly, Luke sank with me to the floor, kneeling behind me as my bottom hit the tiles. "We have to stop meeting like this."
I didn't answer. I couldn't answer, feeling horribly sick, everything--the walls, the floor, the doors--swirling around me in a dizzying blur. And as I closed my eyes in a desperate attempt to make it stop, I felt him scoot backwards, lowering me further still until my head was in his lap.
"Your breathing's too shallow," he observed, his fingertips warm on my neck as he sought my pulse. "Come on. Big deep breaths now."
"Ssh-ssh, not now. Breathe."
I did as I was bid, forcing myself to repeatedly inhale then exhale, the effort seeming to take all my concentration, opening my eyes only when I felt him lay the back of his hand across my forehead, presumably to check my temperature this time. "I'm okay," I murmured irritably, relieved to discover the world wasn't spinning anymore. "I'm sorry. I think I'll be all right now." But when I tried to lift my head, pushing against his hand, Luke pushed me straight back down again.
"Don't even think about moving. You're not going anywhere until I say you can."
"But--" It occurred to me I was lying full length in the middle of the corridor and though there didn't seem to be anyone around right now, the thought someone might see me there was mortifying. "I'm okay, really. I just--"
"--fainted," he finished grimly, smoothing the hair back from my face. "I noticed."
"I didn't actually faint," I protested as he leaned over me, wincing as he used his thumbs to push at the skin beneath my eyes, inspecting the insides of my eyelids. What now--did he think I was anaemic?
"Becks, I very nearly didn't catch you. Trust me--you fainted, babe."
Becks... Who'd have thought I'd be so relieved to hear that particular abbreviation of my name? "I'm fine," I muttered, pushing away his hands as unexpected tears prickled my eyes. "Let me get up."
"I don't think so. Your blood pressure just fell through the floor. There's no way I'm letting you get back up again until I'm sure I know why."
"Well, I'm definitely not pregnant, before you--" And then I stopped as his eyes narrowed, the memory of Daniel's reaction on first seeing Luke all coming back in a rush.
Chloe's baby... He's the one...
"Good to know," he said after a slight pause that left me in no doubt he'd been able to read my thoughts. "Not that it would've mattered if you were, I guess. Not now anyway."
"What?" And then I realised what he meant. He'd seen me in Daniel's arms... "No--it's not what--"
"When did you last eat?"
Thrown by the sharpness of the question, I gazed up at him, casting my mind back over the long afternoon of waiting, to the time I'd spent at my sister's house and finally, all the way back to my alarm going off that morning. He wasn't going to like my answer at all. "Yesterday," I admitted in a small voice.
"Rebecca!" Luke swore under his breath then sighed heavily. "Right." I felt his hands sliding beneath my shoulders, lifting me slightly before moving in behind me, supporting me with his knees as he began easing me upright. "Steady now."
"Wh-where are we going?" I stammered, rather unsettled to find his body effectively spooning my own, the warmth of his skin radiating through his scrubs and straight through my own cotton shirt.
"Down to the restaurant to get you fed."
"But I can't--"
"I hope to God you're not planning on arguing." His voice was right in my ear again as he lifted me to my feet, his hands firmly seizing my waist. "One more word from you and I'll call the porters. I'll have you shipped down to Accident and Emergency and get you admitted for the night."
I twisted my head to give him a horrified glance. "You--" I began before stopping abruptly, disconcerted to find his face scant inches from mine. "You wouldn't?" I finished lamely.
"Oh, wouldn't I?" he murmured, still holding my gaze, his eyes suddenly seeming to darken. "Don't bet on it."
And as I stared back, my heart already starting to race, I was sure he was going to kiss me...
"What the hell...?"
I jumped at the sound of Daniel's voice, jerking my head back around to discover he was standing at the end of the hallway, a look of utter disgust contorting his expression. "Daniel--" I faltered, feeling Luke's hands tighten at my waist. "I--"
"Get your hands off my fiancée."
I stared at him in horror, appalled to hear the venom dripping from every word. "What? Daniel--"
"Certainly," Luke interrupted, his tone icily smooth. "Though I think you should know that she just fainted, right here in the corridor. So I'd rather not let her go until you come down here and take her from me, given there's a more than slight chance she'll do it again."
Daniel frowned, clearly not sure whether Luke was serious. "You passed out?" he asked, staring at me.
"Nearly," I murmured, still unwilling to admit that I had. "But I'm fine now."
"Becca!" He marched forwards, seizing my shoulders as he arrived in front of us, snatching me none too gently from Luke's grasp. "For heaven's sake--"
"You need to start taking better care of her," I heard Luke say somewhere behind me, the cold note remaining in his voice. "She needs something to eat and a cup of hot sweet tea. I know the tea's a bit of a cliché but it'll do the trick nicely. There's a restaurant down on the ground floor."
"Right," Daniel muttered angrily, already steering me towards the doors. He was holding me so tightly I couldn't turn around, his fingertips biting into the tops of my arms.
"Oh and Rebecca?"
Daniel stopped, releasing his grip just enough to allow me to peer back over my shoulder.
"Those stitches." Luke gestured towards me then pointed at his own right arm. "They need to come out." And after giving me one last look, he walked away, turning left to re-enter the ward.
I managed to wrench myself free the moment we were outside the unit, the effort taking almost the last of my reserves. "How dare you?" I exclaimed, Daniel visibly flinching at the ferocity with which my words were spoken. "How could you say that to him?"
"Becca, that man should never have been allowed to become a surgeon. He's scum. He--"
"He saved my mother's life. He saved--" I'd been about to say 'my life too' but Daniel didn't know that, did he? "Look, if he hadn't been there just now, I'd probably still be lying on the floor," I finished instead. "I'd probably have--"
And then I stopped, realising I didn't want to argue the point any longer. Because there was no point in arguing the point. It wasn't the reason I was upset.
He threw me a puzzled glance. "What?"
"Nothing. But Daniel--" I drew a deep breath, closing my eyes briefly. It was time to do what I should've done days ago. "We need to talk. We need to talk--but I need to eat. Let's go down to the restaurant."
"Are you okay, Becky?"
Hearing the soft Scottish brogue, I looked up to see Caitlin standing in the doorway of the side room, gazing at me with concern. I attempted a smile, glancing briefly at my mother's face before turning back to Caitlin. "I'm fine," I said, as brightly as I could manage. But then what was I supposed to say? Actually, I feel terrible. I think this may have been the worst day of my life. Which was quite something, really. There'd been a lot of bad days just lately, each one seemingly worse than the last.