Save It For A Rainy Day
by Mosca

I'd had no idea that emergency rooms got that quiet. I'd heard so much about the noise and the confusion: everyone who heard that my first rotation was in the E.R. reiterated it. They'd forgotten, or suppressed, the downtime hours. It was my second day, and I was learning all about them.

There was a lounge I was allowed to use, but it was full of residents. They all seemed to have known each other forever, and not to have time for the transience of a third-year. I'd found an abandoned gurney in one of the off-limits construction areas and was hiding behind a large sheet of plastic. If Dr. Pratt wanted, he could assign me some scut work, but he'd have to find me first.

I'd set out to catch up on medical journals, but my brain was so glutted with new practical knowledge that I couldn't follow the articles. I was glad to have brought a magazine for my lunch break.

"You're not asleep," someone said, pushing back the plastic sheet. I looked up from my magazine. It was one of the nurses: the white one with the dark hair and the permanent expression of mild irritation. "Chen asked me to go find the new med student and wake her up, but... you're up."

"If I went to sleep now," I said, "I'd be unconscious for days. The coffee'd wear off, and I'd be finished."

"I'm impressed," she said. "Most people don't learn that until their first year of residency."

"You've seen a lot of us come and go, I guess," I said.

"A few," she said. She peered over my shoulder. "What're you reading?"

"The New Yorker," I said guiltily. "It's got one by David Sedaris in it, and--"

"He's funny," she said. "He's good."

"I don't get much time to read for the fun of it," I said.

She made what looked like an earnest attempt at a smile. "That's my current excuse for not finishing medical school," she said.

"You were going to be a doctor, then?" I said, hoping not to sound like the sort who looked down on nurses.

"I was about where you are now when I dropped out," she said. "Third year."

"Why'd you quit, then? If you don't mind me asking."

"I'm halfway through Life of Pi and I can't put it down long enough to pass my rotations."

I laughed. "No, for real."

"My ex-husband stopped paying my tuition, and I... never went back," she said. "I... got used to the idea of being a nurse forever, I guess."

"That's a shame," I said.

"I thought I'd regret it, but the weird thing is, I never have."

"I can't imagine it. Quitting now." I wasn't sure why, but it was the truth: I couldn't see myself as anything other than a student. I'd been so serious about my studies for so long that I'd never learned how to be anything else. I hadn't so much decided to become a doctor as chosen to spend four more years in the insular safety of university.

This reminded me that if I didn't report to Dr. Chen promptly, my medical career might end sooner than planned. "What did Dr. Chen need me to do?" I said.

"Oh," the nurse said. "Yeah. That's why I'm here. Um... something that, by now, she's already made someone else do, and which you can completely avoid by staying here and talking to me."

It all made sense now. She wasn't talking to me to be friendly and helpful, but becasue she was avoiding everyone else. I felt slightly used, but not enough so to resent her company. She was the first person at Cook County General to be nice to me without the implication that she was gearing up to ask me out for drinks and a shag. I patted the spot next to me on the gurney, and she sat.

"This is awful," I said.

"Sorry," she said.

"No, what I mean is-- I think someone told me your name the day before yesterday, but--"

"I'm Abby," she said.

"Abby," I repeated. It was a name that turned down at the corners.

"Ask me something," she said.

"What do you mean?"

"Justify my being here," she said. "Ask me a question."

"About medicine?"

"If that's all you've got."

I desperately wanted to have something non-medical to ask. "There is the one thing," I said. "But I'm not sure I ought to--"

"It's not going to get back to anyone," she said.

I took a deep breath. Intellectually, I knew that Abby would like me better for having the nerve to ask. "Is this the sort of place where... everyone sleeps with everyone else?"

"Pratt all over you again?" she said.

I wrinkled my nose.

"Not your type, huh?" she said.

"Even if I did fancy him, I-- I-- I wouldn't want to get between him and Chen."

"Honestly?" she said. "I don't think there's all that much there to get between."

"Still, I-- it's Dr. Gallant, too, and I-- I'd heard stories about departments where-- and I don't want to fail my rotation just because--"

"You don't put out?"

"You could put it that way," I said.

She took my hand. I felt a snap of static electricity and a shiver I couldn't ascribe to anything. "Listen to me," she said. "If you ever have a problem with Pratt-- or with anyone else-- you come to me, and I will take care of it."

"I just don't understand... why they're paying me so much attention," I said.

"You're new," she said. "You're cute."

My cheeks burned, and I shook my head. "I'm not," I said. "I mean, I-- I can't be. It's-- it's complicated in Indian families. A man has to be from the right background, everyone's parents have to agree-- I've never really been on a date, and now-- I don't know what to do with all of it."

She observed me silently for a few moments, pursing her lips. Then, she said, "Are you a virgin?"

I might have stomped away right then, at the echo of that word. I hated the spin of derision that people put on it once I'd started university, the implication that I was too pretty, too smart to sit in the innocents' corner with the men who still played Magic: The Gathering. I was twenty-four years old, and I'd never had sex. It was ridiculous that this lack of experience negated all of the experiences I had had.

I cast my eyes downward and smiled wryly. "I've hardly even been kissed."

"Hardly?" she said.

"You know, at parties and things, but--" I said-- "I suppose the heart of the matter is, I've never kissed back."

"That's the tough part, isn't it?" she said. And with neither warning nor permission, she turned on the gurney and kissed my cheek. I should have been revolted, horrified, the way I should have been if it had been Pratt kissing me. But I felt none of that, only the desire to take her invitation to kiss me back. It seemed safer that she was a woman, like this was only practice.

I pulled my legs up onto the gurney and knelt for a long ten seconds, pressing my weight into my numbing calves. And for the first time, I kissed back.

When she parted my lips with her tongue, it was gentle. She was only exploring. I wanted to know what I was doing, because I felt like I couldn't keep up. I wished for remedial kissing lessons. She didn't seem repulsed, though; the more I worried, the harder she kissed.

Her lips felt like chocolate melting in my mouth, and she tasted like cigarettes and Diet Coke. I wondered if every subsequent kiss, with every partner I might choose, would taste like that: if she would set the standard forever.

She kissed my lips until they were sore, then started kissing my neck: sucking the skin into her mouth, grazing me with her teeth. It was an accident when I dug my fingernails into her back, but she said "Mmm," like it felt good. I scraped a trail down to the waistband of her pants. Then, afraid that she might expect me to take control, I rejoined my lips with hers. Our nipples brushed, and a tingle ran up into my shoulders. She must have felt the same thing, because she moved closer, until she was practically sitting on my legs. Her scrub bottoms rubbed against my khakis and rustled.

I felt warm everywhere but my feet, which were pins and needles. I tried to free them from under me, but she mistook that for some kind of signal. She crept her dry hands under my blouse and unhooked my bra. And I turned to stone.

When I stopped kissing her, the cool air felt like an intrusion. "Is something wrong?" she said.

"I don't know," I said. "I think it might be--"

"Too much, too soon?" she said.

"Do you think you could... take a rain check?"

"A rain check?" she laughed. "A rain check. Why not? Just... let me know when you want to cash it in." She kissed me on the forehead, then righted her scrubs and finger-combed her hair like all three were part of the same motion. "I'll tell Chen I had trouble finding you, and you're on your way," she said.

"Thanks," I said.

I was alone in my hiding place with a pair of raw lips and a pair of sound-asleep feet. The straps of my bra dangled on my shoulders. I reached awkwardly behind myself to hook it back on.

I wanted to believe that she was going to make good on this. I imagined myself brushing past her in a few days: time and leading her to a quiet corner where I would not be the least bit afraid. I feared that after a few hours I wouldn't be so certain of wanting her: not wanting her to be "my first," but among my experiences.

I went back to the admit desk; Pratt dumped a chart in my arms and told me to take a history. I spent the rest of the afternoon practicing the routine of asking those intrusive health questions. There are methods of eliciting full answers without frightening people, and patients don't realize that those methods are learned. When I stammered, and they looked at me oddly, I thought of Abby, and of the questions I wanted to ask: How old were you when you had your first kiss? Did her name sound like the person that she was? Do you still taste Diet Coke whenever you think of her?

She caught my eye and smiled at me as I left the hospital for the evening. I'd been suppressing my shyness for hours, asking patients about their bowel regularity, and all the awkwardness rushed back into my cheeks. I forgot to smile back.

I walked halfway to the L station and realized I wouldn't be able to stand the ride: everyone watching each other and pretending not to watch. I spent most of the money in my wallet on a taxi to Hyde Park. In my dorm room, I lay on my back, knowing that this was a rare chance to sleep, my eyes too dry to keep closed. Sucking on my lips, the phantoms of her hands on my breasts.


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