“Um, hi, um, Ollie?”
Ollie glanced up from the mound of blue card files he had been flicking through for the past couple of hours. He couldn’t stop the beam radiating from his face. His mouth curled upward, removing the previous frown he had been displaying. Of course, he always had a smile for patients and their families. But this smile had erupted before he could even decide which one to put on. It grew tenfold when the nervous flicker of lips opposite curved up into a returning grin.
“Jacob.” Ollie flopped the files onto the desk. “How can I help?”
Jacob scratched his short and, Ollie noted, perfectly manicured nails across the surface of the nurses’ station reception desk. Ollie stared at the hands that screamed all male
. Apart from the tended-to fingernails, Jacob’s hands were as masculine as they came. Thick, chunky, and scattered with dark hair that protruded from under his long-sleeved shirt, over the back of his thick-veined hand, and up to his knuckles. It wasn’t a grotesquely hairy hand. The man was no hobbit, regardless of what he’d called his fish, but Ollie could almost feel the touch of the silky smooth hairs, and he licked his lips involuntarily.
“Oh, I, er,” Jacob stammered.
Ollie’s grin grew to Cheshire-Cat levels. His hand barely covered it.
“Wondered if there were any cups about? For the machine?” Jacob waved a hand at the watercooler that was, indeed, absent of any of the plastic variety of cup.
“Right, yes, of course,” Ollie replied. “I’ll need to go get some from supplies. Can you hang tight for a couple of minutes?”
“Sure.” Jacob cleared his throat to rid the deep crackle, then laughed. “Thanks.”
“If you’re overly parched, I have a bottle under my desk you can use?” Ollie then offered up the sweetest smile he had probably ever given in his entire life. It seemed his face had overtaken his ability to categorize his choice of responsive lip curling. Jacob was beginning to have a category all to himself.
“Oh no, that’s okay.” Jacob backed away from the desk. “I can wait.”
“I promise I don’t have mouth cooties,” Ollie replied with a suggestive tilt of his head.
What am I doing?
That was not the sort of thing he should say to a patient’s father. Maybe to a stranger in a bar or club. Perhaps he could blame the recent lack of social life and the involuntary need to flirt, like his resolution had allowed, now seeped out in his place of work. He needed to get a grip on that. It wouldn’t bring him good fortune. Not here.
Jacob stumbled, almost hitting a passing bed being pushed by an orderly. The child within displayed a multitude of tubes sunk into his body, and Jacob grabbed the traveling mattress, offering up an apologetic hand to the little boy. The orderly didn’t stop for pleasantries, and Ollie knew that kid was heading somewhere he’d rather not. It didn’t help to curtail his tickled smirk at Jacob’s misfortune, though. Jacob blew out a concerted puff of air from rounded lips and stroked his super-silky hair from his face, the locks flowing between each of his fingers. The man could be in a medicated shampoo commercial. Not that he needed it—the guy clearly didn’t have dandruff. But Ollie doubted any of the football stars they used to endorse the product suffered from a flaky scalp either.
Ollie ripped his gaze from Jacob to address the incoming interruption. And probably for the first time that night, his smile faltered.
“Yes, Doctor?” Ollie replied in his all-professional tone. He even added a bit of height to the delivery. He needn’t have bothered. Dr. Rawlings was a good six foot three and he a mere five-ten.
Dr. Rawlings did his usual scan, glancing around the reception area. Ollie rolled his eyes while the doctor wasn’t looking. Jacob backed off toward his daughter’s room, and Ollie snapped out of his blatant ogling of the man when the doctor slapped a hand down on the counter and leaned forward.
“I need to see you.”
Ollie supposed the doctor could have been attempting a whisper, but his deep and vibrating voice simply came out a hushed baritone.
“Here I am.” Ollie smiled with his mouth, not his eyes.
“End of shift.” Dr. Rawlings either didn’t notice Ollie’s standoffishness or chose to ignore it. “Not my place. We’ll go to the Radisson.”
He tapped the desk and started to walk off.
“Er, Doctor?” Ollie called, leaning forward on the desk. “No.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I said, no
Ollie folded his arms across his chest, making his pen and timer flick up from his top pocket. He stood his ground, but the deep, penetrating dark eyes firing their lasers across the desk made Ollie sink back. He loosened his arms and couldn’t help the quick glance across the corridor to room one. Jacob had his back to him, standing by the door to his daughter’s room. Ollie was pretty sure that from there, he could hear every damn word. Closing his eyes, Ollie faced Dr. Rawlings and awaited the inevitable reply.
“That isn’t welcome this time, Oliver.”
“I’m busy. This
“Doing what, may I ask?” Dr. Rawlings’ brow furrowed as if he couldn’t believe that Ollie would have another life outside this hospital. And the occasional fraternizing with him. Not that he isn’t far wrong.
Ollie picked up the paper files on his desk and continued to idly flick through, avoiding looking directly into those eyes that had had him rooted to the spot and caving in numerous times before, until he realized that he could do this. It was the new him. The New Year’s resolution. He wouldn’t feel a goddamn thing. “I’m seeing my dad.”
“Fine.” Dr. Rawlings, unperturbed, tucked his hands into his chino pockets. “That’s fine. We can do that first.”
” Ollie widened his eyes. “And first
“Yes. I’ll drop you there. I can go to the coffee place around the corner. I have some charity work I need to catch up on, and you’ll be, what, an hour?”
Ollie snorted in utter contempt. He shook his head violently, and his eyes shuttered closed, so he was unable to see the doctor’s next reaction.
“No,” Ollie said again with more conviction this time. “No, Elliot
.” He gritted his teeth, bold enough to utter the first name here. “I don’t want a time limit as to when I can see my father. I don’t want you to wait around the corner like some shameful pay-for-play. And I don’t want to go the bloody Radisson. It’s sleazy. You’re
sleazy.” Ollie waved a hand across the desk, moving it up and down the doctor’s tall and muscular frame he knew intimately well yet had no desire to ever see again. His voice rose as he spoke, but he no longer cared.
” Dr. Rawlings warned, making a quick scan of the ward.
” Ollie barked through clenched teeth. “My name here is Ollie
. Everyone calls me Ollie. The only person who is allowed to call me Oliver is my father!” He stomped out from behind the front desk and around the side to head off toward the supply cupboard. “Well, when he isn’t calling me Tilly, that is.”
“Right.” Dr. Rawlings had his hands on his hips. “I see you’re being this way again. We’ll talk later.”
Ollie wanted to scream, but instead he listened out for the slap of dress shoes on the linoleum floor and the swing of the exit doors before scratching his nails through his closely cropped blond hair. If he had hair like Jacob’s, he would be yanking it right now to get some cathartic release. But he didn’t, so he took a deep breath and slapped his ID badge on the reader to the supply cupboard. It buzzed, turned green, and Ollie shoved open the door. Finding the box of plastic cups in the corner, he grabbed a couple of the piled tubes and grumbled his way back up the corridor.
Jacob stood waiting at the water machine. His smile said it all. He had heard.
His opinion had changed, and he now awaited the cups to grab some water and never venture from his daughter’s room for the entire night shift. That was fine. Ollie had far too much work to do to waste it chatting with someone he wouldn’t ever see again after his daughter’s discharge in forty-eight hours.
“Thanks.” Jacob held out a hand for Ollie to pass him the cups. “I’ll put the rest in for you, if you have things to get on with?”
And there it is. Bugger off, Ollie, you disgusting prostituting specimen of a man. I can’t believe I wasted my precious time here with my daughter talking to someone who sleeps their way to the top.
It wasn’t like that, but Jacob wouldn’t know. No one would understand. Ollie
had a hard time understanding why he’d let it happen. All the women around the hospital would slap him on the back with a “well-done.” He didn’t want that either. And he certainly didn’t want that look from Jacob. Because that hurts.
“Dr. Rawlings and I.” Ollie had started before he even realized his mouth was speaking. He tucked the tower of cups to his chest, cradling them like a protective barrier. “We had a sort of thing. It’s totally over, though. Like, totally.”
“So I heard,” Jacob replied, and the nod indicated that he didn’t believe a word Ollie had uttered and chose to believe his ears.
Ollie squeezed past Jacob to the watercooler and began tucking the tower of cups into the holder. It didn’t require as much brute force as Ollie was giving it, and he was sure he’d cracked a few of them in the process. He made a mental note to fill the paper towels too, just so the nurses wouldn’t have to clean up when the inevitable spill happened. He was then momentarily stunned when Jacob curled a hand around his and tugged him away. A few of the cups fell to the floor with a clap
“People make mistakes, Ollie.” Jacob began tucking the cups into the tube more cleanly. “You’ve met mine, remember.”
Ollie breathed out a laugh. He crouched and gathered up the spillage. As he stood, he handed them to Jacob to ease into the holder.
“I mean, Daisy isn’t a mistake,” Jacob rushed out. “I love Daisy with all my heart.” He swallowed. “She was an accident, yes. But never a mistake. Becky was the mistake. I sometimes think this is all my fault. My penance.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Ollie blurted and quickly bit his lip. One thing never to do was give his own opinions on things he didn’t know the full story on. But there was something about Jacob that screamed a decent sort and being treated so unfairly. Ollie’s overprotective nature spilled out, unannounced. “What I can honestly tell you from all my years being in a hospital is that illness is completely unprejudiced. It doesn’t care who it attacks.”
Jacob nodded, his smile solemn. He appeared stacked with guilt. Ollie didn’t know how to assure him that, no matter what he did with his life, Daisy’s hole in her heart would have been there regardless. Just like his sister’s cancer had.
Ollie filled a cup with water and handed it to Jacob. He took it with gratitude and downed the lot in one gulp. The hospital’s air-conditioning often made people parched. Jacob refilled the cup and swished the contents before taking a slower sip this time. Ollie knew he needed to back away, but his overwhelming desire to hear more kept him rooted to the spot.
“If you don’t mind me saying…” Jacob lifted his eyes from staring at the swirling water. “I’m sure you can do better than him.”
C F White