Vegas was outraged, but, in Ethan’s opinion, for all the wrong reasons.
“What do you mean you ‘lost the note’?”
“I mean that I don’t know where it is— and can’t be bothered looking for it,” said Ethan, “probably fell out in my locker or something.”
He shrugged and dumped the ramen noodles into the drainer over the sink. It was one of those nice weeks where Vegas and Ethan’s schedules synched up. They made an effort to cook on their rare early nights in, which Ethan usually enjoyed despite the fact that neither of them were very good at it.
“I had to find out about the flowers from Ashley,” Vegas griped, taking two eggs out of the fridge, “one would think to give £500 worth of orchids to their bestest friend, but no. Big sister Vegas gets nothing.”
“I was going to give them to you,” said Ethan, “but Lim was there. I knew he didn’t like me but ugh.”
“Not even gossip,” sighed Vegas, with single minded determination, “did he really say he was ‘mad with regret’?”
Ethan checked on the soup stock, which was starting to bubble promisingly. Thank god for prepackaged ingredients. He licked the spoon.
“Do you think I drive Ollie ‘mad with regret’?” Vegas mused, “I hope so.”
“Ollie writes you essays and poetry.”
“Yeah, via three thousand texts,” said Vegas, “handwriting is classy. Was he hot?”
“Not hot enough to be saying things like ‘mad with regret’.”
“Can we please focus?” said Ethan, “they’re banning me from the ER for three months. Three months. I have so many stupid HR sensitivity training stuff to do as well! There are tests and everything!”
Ethan rarely ranted, but he had spent all day being forcibly pleasant and pretending to be oblivious to the side-glances and raised eyebrows. He was also hungry.
Vegas was poking the little display on their waterless steamer, not looking up. Ethan separated the noodles into two big bowls.
“What are they gonna do, make Lou switch? She’s basically just cardiovasc, so that leaves Neeharika unless we’ve hired any new Healers I don’t know about.”
Ethan unhooked the big spoon and began ladling the soup onto the noodles.
“So the plan looks like 1.5 Healers for a level one trauma centre. What could possibly go wrong. And two weeks mandatory leave. They were all ‘we are worried about you’ — as if it wasn’t just a way to save face after all that drama on Sunday. They wanted me out by tomorrow but Caroe put her foot down.”
Vegas groaned and dumped all the spring onions onto her ramen.
“I love you, but stop complaining about your punishment vacation.”
Ethan stuck his lip out, tamping down on a frisson of irritation at the lack of sympathy.
“It’s not a vacation,” he mumbled, going in to pinch some spring onions and getting jabbed with chopsticks for his trouble.
“Sorry, but you got off so easy,” said Vegas, flipping open the lid of the cooker to retrieve their eggs, “two weeks paid leave…it’s paid, right?”
“Dunno,” said Ethan, “better be.”
“Right,” said Vegas, “two weeks leave and no night calls. Cry me a river.”
“I’m needed in the ER—” Ethan protested.
“You passed out in-theatre,” said Vegas, dropping the eggs into a bowl with an air of finality.
She brandished it at Ethan.
Ethan rolled his eyes, but took the eggs.
“I hate peeling, I can never get the egg shells off my fingers after,” he complained, helping Vegas take the bowls and sauces to the little dining table.
The apartment wasn’t big, but it was spacious enough that the kitchen area was separate to the living room. It would be even bigger if they hadn’t partitioned off half of the living space for a second bedroom, but as it was, they could still host pizza nights and have four people playing on the VR mat at the same time.
Outside the window, the night was blurry with lights and rain.
“You should have listened to me,” said Vegas, lips thin, “you were already so close but you insisted — and look what happened. This is your own fault.”
“She wouldn’t have made it to the OR!” said Ethan, frustrated, “you’re all acting like I’m running around recklessly with —”
“Well, it was reckless,” Vegas snapped, sitting down with a scrape from the chair, “I should have stopped you when your control was getting shaky, but I trusted you when you said you were fine.”
“Hey, you’re the one who called me after my hours,” said Ethan.
Vegas’ eyes flashed.
“Correct. And I will never do it again.”
Ethan blinked, taken aback.
“…I just mean that I came straight out of a three hour op -“
“And told me you were fine!”
“I was fine,” said Ethan, dragging one hand down his face, “I just got a shock when the clamps came off, it’s hard to pull back when I’m tired. Everyone has been overreacting – it’s never happened before. I’m here just fine, aren’t I?”
Vegas glared at him, busying her hands by tying her hair up.
“You’re so fucking immature sometimes,” she said at last, “I forget because you’re usually so well behaved, but then you remind me.”
Ethan resisted the urge to fold his arms. Instead he took it out on the sesame seed grinder.
“You could be less patronising about it,” he muttered.
Reaching over, he ground some sesame seeds into Vegas’ bowl too. Then Ethan put down the grinder, and began peeling the eggs in silence.
He could feel Vegas watching him.
“It was sheer luck that nothing worse happened,” she said eventually, “to you or the patient.”
Ethan kept peeling the egg.
“If someone decided to operate while drunk—”
“How is that even remotely similar?” said Ethan, expression scrunched up, insulted, “I was—”
“—not in a state to do your job safely? Made a conscious choice to keep going when you knew you were inhibited? You might as well have been drunk by the time you’re Red anyway!”
Ethan dropped the egg into her bowl without bothering to slice it. He angrily began peeling the second egg.
“Thanks,” said Vegas, picking up her chopsticks, “anyway, as I was saying — they’d have their licence suspended, probably fired…not taken off night shifts and sent on a punishment vacation. You get special treatment and you know it.”
“Fine,” said Ethan, tired of being lectured, “I’m sorry for whinging.”
Vegas chewed her noodles, contemplating. She swallowed.
“Are you sorry for not stepping down when I told you to?”
“I’m not sorry for saving her life,” said Ethan stubbornly, slicing his boiled egg in half and finally getting started on his dinner.
The ramen broth was still piping, and he took a large spoonful of it with a grateful exhale. Neither he nor Vegas had had time to go buy any new protein, so there was no chashu, but the miracles of modern artificial flavouring meant the soup still tasted great despite never having met a pig.
“We saved her life,” Vegas corrected, “don’t be a dickhead.”
“You know what I meant,” said Ethan, rubbing his eye, “we. Team effort. I’m sorry. I am! Stop looking at me like that.”
Vegas knocked his foot with her own beneath the table.
“Like you’re my mum.”
“I am your mum.”
“Piss off, you’re four years older than me.”
“Don’t you take that tone with me, young man.”
Ethan took a noisy slurp of his noodles.
“I’m taking credit for her lungs.”
“I’m sure they were the most beautiful lungs ever to be regenerated.”
“You’d think Dr Lim would at least acknowledge,” said Ethan, unable to keep his saltiness at bay, “it wasn’t easy, you know. I felt like my heart was going to crawl out of my mouth.”
“And then you passed out,” said Vegas, “poor Dr Lim probably saw his entire career flashing before his eyes.”
“I fell over,” said Ethan.
His spoon hit the bottom of his bowl and Ethan set it aside.
“I’m just… I’m needed in the ER. This feels like it’s going to do more harm than good. That’s all.”
“They’re scared you’re going to die on the job,” said Vegas bluntly, “can you blame them? I’m scared.”
“It’s the first time I’ve —”
“Only takes the one time,” said Vegas, “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me straight away. I found out from Holly!”
“I was asleep—”
Vegas slapped down her chopsticks.
“They kept asking me why I had called you in despite the hours, why I didn’t stand you down once you were Red, the condition of…you’re not the only one who got blow-back from all this.”
Ethan felt a spike of guilt in his chest, and something must have flashed across his face because Vegas deflated in her chair.
“They didn’t…? I mean it was my decision… I can go talk with—”
“Oh, nothing like that,” said Vegas, letting out an explosive sigh, “all I’m saying is, you got off light. Don’t complain where people can hear you.”
Ethan rolled his neck.
“Okay,” he said, eager for a topic change, “I’m sorry.”
“A break would be nice anyway,” said Vegas, gathering up their bowls and cutlery, “you know everyone thinks you’re crazy for voluntarily doing ER hours, right?”
He scooped all the egg shells into one hand and followed her into the kitchen. He dumped it in the compost bin and stuck his hand beneath the electronic tap, which blasted it with warm air.
Vegas bumped him with her hip. To Ethan’s relief, she was smiling.
“You sound like such a robot,” she said, “ice cream?”
Ethan grabbed the largest spoon in the drawer, and proffered Vegas the second largest spoon.
“Yes,” he said.
“Don’t look so bummed,” said Vegas, pulling out a half empty tub of strawberry ice cream from their freezer, “when are you off on leave?”
“Friday’s last day,” said Ethan, “few things couldn’t be moved with Ivy.”
They both settled onto the couch, which swallowed them lovingly in. It was the first piece of furniture that Ethan had bought for the flat, and the fabric cover was a little worn at the seams. There was a brief fight over the burrito blanket (a Christmas present three years ago), which Vegas won. Ethan used the distraction to pop open the ice cream lid and excavate a giant mouthful.
“By the time you’re back, everyone would have forgotten why you went on leave in the first place,” said Vegas.
“I hate the gossip,” Ethan said through his brain freeze, “flowers didn’t help. You should have seen Lim’s face.”
He wrapped his limbs around the biggest cushion they owned and buried his face into the fabric. It took a few solid moments for the cold stabbing sensation to subside. He groaned, chastened by karma.
“Well I mean,” she said around her spoon, “typical right? Takes half a village to save a life but the healer gets all the glory.”
Ethan gave her the finger, face still hidden.
“I’m sure it’ll have already blown over by tomorrow,” said Vegas, patting Ethan reassuringly on the head.
She could not have been more wrong.
“Wow,” said Ethan through gritted teeth, “Ollie must be spending his entire life savings on these flowers, Vegas.”
His best friend hadn’t stopped laughing, a high pitched cross between snickering and hyena-cackles. They were drawing looks, and Ethan elbowed her hard to shut her up. It didn’t work.
Brooke also seemed unconvinced.
“They’re addressed to you.”
“Is there a note?” asked Vegas, turning the bouquet of cream and blue roses this way and that; ruffling three thousand layers of tissue paper in her search.
“Ooh la la!”
Ethan felt his face go red in anticipation and he lunged for the envelope.
Vegas shoved the flowers bloom-first into his face and darted to the other side of the desk. He spluttered, submerged in what felt like an entire bottle of perfume.
“Dear Ethan,” she read in a terrible plummy accent, “oh, we’re on first name terms, are we? That’s forward—”
“I shan’t, I deserve this. You deserve this.”
Ethan tried to make a grab for Vegas but between the flowers and Brooke, he could only listen with horror as Vegas proceeded with her dramatic reading. She cleared her throat.
“Perhaps orchids were a little impersonal,” she read, “I really am sorry. I was an ass. You met me at my worst and I can’t stop thinking about — oh my god, Ethan, who is this guy? I love it.”
Vegas had to pause, wheezing like a faulty bypass machine. Ethan’s entire face felt hot with embarrassment. Brooke’s bright eyed delight was not helping things. She looked riveted.
“I fucking hate you,” said Ethan, still holding the roses and half sitting on the table he had attempted to vault over to reach his ex-best friend.
Vegas was now standing on a chair, out of reach.
“Please give me a chance to apologise; or at least be put out of my misery. Javier.”
Ethan considered doing a swan dive off the table. Perhaps he would knock himself out and not have to listen to Vegas scream with laughter.
“Oh my gosh,” Brooke echoed, “he sounds—”
“Like a twat? Melodramatic?” suggested Ethan.
“— totally gone for you!” Brooke concluded, clapping her hands together.
“Not one of the options,” said Ethan peevishly.
“He left his number,” said Vegas, who was still atop the chair.
Ethan turned to glare at her, then felt a jolt of horror because she had her phone out. Abandoning the flowers and his dignity, Ethan climbed onto the desk.
“Vegas, yes,” said Vegas.
She jumped down from the chair just as Ethan got to her height, skipping across the room with her phone aloft.
“Don’t message him,” Ethan shouted, “it’ll just make it worse!”
“…what’s happening in here? Whoa, are those real flowers?”
Paul had appeared at the mailroom entrance. He looked from Vegas to Ethan. Sophie was behind him, three coffees in hand. A few other people peered curiously through the glass wall as they passed.
Ethan climbed down from the table with a curse.
“Doctor Faulkner has an admirer,” sang Brooke, “his name’s Javier.”
“What!” exclaimed Sophie, looking tremendously put out.
“Come talk to me in person you coward,” Vegas narrated each word she tapped her phone screen, “also, send flowers to the entire ER because it’s a team effort. RUDE to single out. God save the nurses…five exclamation marks.”
“Amen,” chorused Brooke, Sophie and Paul automatically.
Ethan threw up his hands.
“Why?” he groaned, “why would you text him?”
“I want to see if he’ll keep sending flowers,” said Vegas.
“So you want to bankrupt him,” Ethan said.
“…Is Ethan dating a florist? When did this happen? I wasn’t here yesterday,” said Paul, “I feel like — wait.”
“Isn’t Javier that ponce who helicoptered his sister out two days ago? Or am I thinking of another Javier.”
“That’s the one,” said Ethan miserably.
He thumbed one of the blue roses; the petal was powder soft, and he shuddered to think how much time and money went into growing something that was going to wilt away within a few days.
“How many Javiers do you know?” said Vegas, raising one eyebrow.
“Was he good looking?” Brooke demanded.
“Uh,” said Paul, “I guess he was alright? Blonde.”
Paul, thought Ethan dryly, was a good chap — but very, very straight.
Vegas wandered over and tucked the card into Ethan’s top pocket. She tried to pinch his cheek, and Ethan ducked, swatting her away.
“Aww, you’re all red,” she cooed.
“With humiliation,” said Ethan, trying for dead pan but likely failing, “this is workplace bullying. At least block his number before he can —”
Right on cue, Vegas’ phone began to vibrate in her hand like an angry hive of bees.
Incoming call, it said in cheerful sans serif.
Ethan grabbed the phone, cat-eared cover and all, and slapped the red decline button before Vegas could react. Then he rapidly navigated the call log and blocked the number.
On second thoughts, he pulled the card out of his pocket and double checked the phone number written there, just in case he had hung up on some consultant by accident. It matched. Ethan deleted the texts for good measure.
“You’re not going to call, or message, or anything,” said Ethan, holding the phone above his head.
He wasn’t much taller than Vegas but he was tall enough to make it count.
“Give it,” Vegas whined.
“I shan’t,” said Ethan, because turnabout’s fair play.
“Boy, I will whoop yo’ ass—”
Paul, who was the tallest person in the room, calmly took the phone and returned it to Vegas, who stuck her tongue out in glee. Ethan gave Paul the stink eye. The ICU nurse just shrugged.
“I’m serious, though,” said Ethan, poking Vegas in the shoulder, “just ignore him. He’ll go away if no one acknowledges his existence.”
“Yes, we should all ignore him,” agreed Sophie, who was examining the bouquet critically.
“You’re no fun,” groused Vegas, but obligingly put her phone away.
She stretched, yawning like a cat and showing off her tonsils.
“Right, I’ve got to find my trainee,” she said.
She gave Ethan the two fingered eye to eye ‘I’m watching you’ gesture.
“Your only op is at three so I fully expect you to be gone before six. Soph, keep an eye on him.”
“Piss off,” said Ethan, collapsing into the nearest chair.
Ethan was waiting to scrub in for the surgery that afternoon when Holly nudged his shoulder.
“Look at this,” she said, and held up her phone.
Ethan caught a glimpse of a group chat and a line of emojis, before Holly full-screened a photo thumbnail. It took a minute for Ethan to recognise the mail room, because the whole place was overflowing with roses. It was like someone had set off an explosion of paper and ribbons.
“It was addressed to the ER, and trauma,” said Holly, “must have cost a fortune.”
“…that’s nice?” Ethan tried.
“Ashley says Paul heard that Brooke said you’re dating a florist.”
“Oh,” said Ethan, “bugger.”
© Frances Wren 2020, all rights reserved.
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