“And you’re sure it won’t be a problem?” Phyllis softly drummed her fingers against the dark wood of the bedside table. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to go out with Ronan—quite the opposite actually, but there was a part of her that was hesitant, almost nervous about taking that step. She didn’t like this feeling, the reservation, the hesitancy, the constant second guessing. Her strength and confidence was always in her ability to be strong and steadfast in what she wanted, now she found herself questioning what she thought, what she knew, and worst of all, what she felt.
The voice on the other end of the phone suddenly reminded her that she was in the midst of a conversation. “Yes, well thank you..so much. I’ll see you this evening.” She ended the call, and turned back towards her daughter who sat staring at her in her seat. “Mommy has a date,” she said softly, smiling as Grace showed her a gummy smile. “Mommy must have lost her mind,” she groaned.
Ronan stood in front of the mirror, holding the shirt in front of him and staring at it intently. He sighed. This was a pointless endeavor. He’d repeated the same process with five different shirts and each one looked exactly the same. It was fabric with buttons.
“Is there something I can help you with?” The soft voice seemed to appear out of nowhere and Ronan spun around quickly, surprised by the sudden interruption. “Oh.” His cheeks flushed a bit, hoping she hadn’t been watching him too long. He shook his head, feeling stupid and silly and laying the shirt back over the rack. “Sorry,” he muttered, “I just..I wasn’t expecting to see you here.” He stepped forward, awkwardness overwhelming the moment as he extended his arms and sighed with relief as she stepped into the hug. “It’s good to see you though. How are you?”
Chloe pulled away, relieved that the moment was still somewhat salvageable. “I’m good. Really good,” she smiled. “What about you?” Her eyes danced a bit as she glanced over at the shirt that lay draped over the rack. “Looks like you’re trying to decide on some new wardrobe items? Don’t tell me you’re looking to reinvent yourself…create a new image?”
“Not exactly,” he scoffed. “I uh…I was just looking for something to wear tonight. I have a…a thing.”
Her eyebrows shot up and her eyes immediately brightened. “A thing?” She grinned, the smile almost immediately spreading across her whole face. “As in a date kind of thing?”
“Chloe…” He shook his head, trying to downplay it as much as possible. The last thing he needed was to make this some kind of big deal and to turn what was supposed to be a simple dinner between friends into some weighted three ring circus. “It’s no big deal. It’s just a friendly dinner.”
“Friendly dinner, huh? A friendly dinner that you’re buying a new outfit for? No way. I know you…and you do not buy clothes for just anyone. So tell me, who’s the lucky lady?”
“Don’t do that,” he warned. “I told you it’s not like that and I mean it. It’s just a dinner…it’s not anything serious.” He looked at her, his eyes now staring into hers. “I mean it Chloe, please…don’t’ make a big deal out of this.”
Chloe stood silent for a moment. This did seem different. Ronan was decidedly serious about this, but not in a way that suggested he wasn’t happy or excited—almost in a way that suggested that he already cared too much to chance screwing this up. “Alright,” she relented, “No more teasing..cross my heart, but will you please tell me who this mystery date is? I’d like to know who has you in such a strange state.”
Ronan sighed. “It’s Phyllis, okay? I’m taking Phyllis out to dinner.”
“You know, we’ve really got to come up with a name for you.” Ashley walked into the room, pushing the lunch tray. “I don’t like the whole John Doe thing..it’s terribly impersonal.”
He smiled. “Wish I could help you out with that.” Lifting the lid off the lunch tray, he grimaced. “Nothing like hospital meat loaf”.
“I smuggled you some extra ketchup packets,” she grinned, reaching into her pockets and retrieving the contraband. “Hopefully that will at least make it edible.”
The noise at the door caused them both to turn towards it. A young woman stepped inside.
“Hi,” she said meekly, obviously uncomfortable stepping into the room. “I’m sorry. They told me to come to the nurse’s station, but there wasn’t anyone there.”
“No. No. It’s fine.” Ashley stood with a smile. “This is Madison. She’s one of the Certified Nursing Assistants that we’ve hired to join our staff. She’ll be helping us on the floor three days a week and she’ll be primarily working with the patients in this bay.” She turned towards Madison. “Madison, this is…” She paused, “Well, right now we’re going with John Doe, but we’re trying to come up with something better than that.”
Madison nodded. “Right,” she said quietly. “I heard about this. Some of the other interns were talking about it in the lounge.”
“Ah, I’m popular,” he grinned.
“Very,” Ashley noted.
“Well, it’s very nice to meet you,” Madison said sweetly, stepping closer to the bed and extending her hand.
He extended his and paused, his eyes widening, every muscle in his body suddenly tense. His heart rate and breathing increased causing the machines to sound. Ashley stood, immediately reaching for the call button.
“Wait.” His hand covered hers quickly. “Wait. I’m okay.”
She stopped, noting his calm demeanor.
“Alright.” She took the chart from the bed, making a quick notation. “What’s going on? What was that about?”
He turned towards Madison, his eyes wide and full of questions. “That smell…”
“Oh,” Her hand covered her mouth quickly as she looked over at Ashley. “I’m so sorry. I totally forgot. You gave me the sheet and everything.” Her voice trembled as she spoke.
Ashley approached her, now smelling the perfume. “Oh,” she said quietly. “It’s alright. It’s just some of the patients have allergies and we don’t want anyone to have any reactions. That’s all, but it’s okay. It was just a mistake.” She put her hand on her shoulder. “You’re not in trouble. It’s your first day. It’ll take some time to learn all the different procedures.”
“That’s not it,” he said, his voice louder this time. “I know that smell. What is it? What’s the perfume?”
“It’s Scarlett Mist by Jabot,” she said quietly. “My boyfriend gave it to me for Christmas. Why?”
“You said you knew the smell?” Ashley looked at him, suddenly understanding his reaction. “Does it trigger anything—any memories?”
He sat quietly. “I know it,” he said quietly, “and I miss it. I really, really miss it.”