Seeing Clearly - Part One
Posted on Monday, 17 March 2008
All the words were running together at this point. She blinked once. Twice. She pulled off her glasses, grabbing a Kleenex to wipe at imaginary smudges. Once she placed them back on her nose, she was disappointed to find that the words retained their nonsensical status. Stretching, she pushed herself away from her desk and stood up out of her chair. Her muscles, tight from sitting in the same position for the past three and a half hours, groaned. She stretched them with a long luxurious yawn.
As her mind started to pull itself away from the world of resonance Raman experiments, elements of her surroundings started to come to her: she was sitting in a room she'd only moved into two weeks ago, when her older sister Jane's boyfriend had moved in with her (Jane, not Mary), thereby forcing (more accurately, "guilting", as Jane and Charlie weren't really the 'forcing' type) Mary to move out.
Looking around her at the very PINK! room, she sighed. She had not yet had enough time to remove the offending teen boy band posters from the walls. Nor had she time to take all the stuffed animals and put them away into storage; they sat in a corner, staring at her forlornly whenever she looked in that direction. She had taken the bright pink sheets off her bed and replaced them with her nice serviceable navy blue and green plaid ones, which had gone considerably towards de-girlifying the room.
She could hear the sounds of overeager flirtations and outright drunkenness from the backyard outside below; she would have kept the window closed, but the day was just so incredibly warm and her second floor bedroom was absolutely sweltering and stuffy without circulation.
Her sisters, Lydia and Kitty, were having a party. Mary didn't want to begrudge them that; after all, they were still in college. And when all was said and done, this house was theirs. It was their lease, and she had been the one to impose. So they could do whatever they pleased. She had to grin and bear it, and find another option as soon as possible.
She was twenty-nine. And living in a house with four college students, all careless and unaware of (and apathetic to) what the future might bring.
But moving out wasn't really important. Not now, when her thesis was just one chapter away from being finished. When she finished her thesis, she'd start her postdoctoral position in the lab. And she'd have more money to spend on a place to live. And not have this huge cloud hanging over her head. There would be other clouds: finding a job, trying to get tenure, dealing with students...
But first things first, her stomach reminded her: she was hungry.
So the current task at hand was getting downstairs, getting food, and getting back up here without talking to people.
It wasn't that she disliked people. She just disliked how she felt after interacting with them. Mary had tried to talk with Lydia and Kitty's friends (to her sisters' embarrassment) before. It just didn't work; after a polite minute of introduction and head-nodding, her brain would immediately empty itself of all normal conversation topics, and instead imbue itself with anxieties regarding data and lab. She'd lose track of the conversation, and then, well, she'd headbob the rest of the way through. She had no regular conversation to make, because she didn't spend much time doing other things. It wasn't that these people were, in fact, boring. It was that she was.
Given that her thesis was due in two weeks, Mary had no problem whatsoever with being Very Dull Indeed.
Ok, so maybe they were a bit boring, too.
So she'd do her best to avoid the crowd. Taking a peek outside the window, Mary saw both her sisters outside. The sun was starting to set, which meant that the party would most likely move inside soon. So the time to go? Now.
Mary shoved herself away from her desk and checked her reflection in the mirror to make sure she looked all right. Just in case. She wasn't wearing a bra under the T-shirt, but nobody would really notice that. Her hair was a bit messy; she pulled the brown curls back and wound a rubber band around, hoping to capture and tame the beast. Presentable, she shrugged to herself.
She snuck down the stairs quietly, but she needn't have worried; the music coming in from the open windows around the house was loud. They wouldn't have even been able to hear a helicopter land on top of them.
The kitchen was a mess of discarded cups, plates, piles of trash that belonged in bags and empty bottles of alcohol. Mary didn't really care for the mess, but she didn't worry about it; Lydia and Kitty were always good about cleaning up after themselves. She opened the fridge and moved around a few six packs and bottles of white wine to assess the food situation.
Deciding that cooking in this mess was probably not a good idea, Mary grabbed a bag of carrots sticks, a bag of grapes, some cheese from the fridge, and broke off the heel off of the baguette she'd purchased the day before.
She'd cleared off a little section of counter so that she could fit the cutting board and started slicing off a bit of cheese when she heard the door to the kitchen squeak open. She cut faster.
Mary's hand slipped and the knife grazed her skin. She dropped the knife back onto the cutting board and examined her finger. The intruder walked into the room, and came to stand close to her, taking her hand in his, and examining it. Mary was breathless.
"I'm sorry," he said, concern and remorse clear in his strong deep voice.
Mary shrugged and looked up.
It was Will's Handsome Cousin. A man so gorgeous whose name she couldn't recall, she'd been that stupefied when she'd met him a few months ago.
Even surrounded by colleagues of the opposite sex, Mary had still not figured out how to easily converse on non-work-related topics. Especially with men. Handsome men. Of course, Will's Handsome Cousin was no mere mortal. The chiseled jaw, the winsome smile and that fatal dimple...speech was obviously not an option now, her brain told her. Mary managed to close her open mouth and shrug, doing her best to emit "non-idiot" vibes.
"Looks like you didn't break skin, though."
His mesmerizing green eyes were looking at her. Expecting an answer. Oh dear. Mary swallowed, wetting the inside of her dry mouth. "Yeah," she forced out. "So, ah. Is Will here?" she asked after their mutual acquaintance. Certain that Will's Handsome Cousin could sense her nerves, she pulled her hand out of his warm sure grasp and took a step back.
"We just arrived. I came in to get something to drink."
"I should say hi to Will, but, uh, I need to get back to my..." It was a strange moment to recall the advice one of her housemates once gave her, that she ought not to reveal her intimidating intelligence. "...stuff," she completed. Stuff. Stuff? Well, she could have done worse. She was, after all, being plagued with overwhelming, completely embarrassing attraction.
And while she'd dealt with it in the past, well, those past encounters had never gone very well. She'd never known what to say to a man like that. What did he want to talk about? What could she possibly say that could interest him? And moreover, how would she have a conversation with him without sounding like a complete nerd? Try a conversation, period?
Will's Handsome Cousin smiled at her. She was sure that he was more than a little confused by her reticence. And while she was used to the reaction, she couldn't help but feel the disappointment yet again. She could hear Lydia's voice in her head, Couldn't you try a little harder, Mary? Not again...
"Anyhow," she said stupidly. "I've got cheese," she gestured to the cutting board. "I've got it." She picked it up. She reached for her bread, her grapes. The carrots were too close to his seriously nice forearms, so she abandoned them. "And now I think I'll get going," she said, backing towards the door, still unable to break eye contact.
His eyes widened. "Watch out!" he extended a hand.
Too late, she noticed the abandoned beer bottle lying in her step in a puddle of guacamole. Shocked that her neurons could not seem to convey the message to her foot fast enough, she could do nothing but watch her foot make contact with the bottle.
There was a squish in the guacamole, and then the bottle twisted, twisting her ankle right on top of it, straight into the kitchen cabinets.
The cheese, bread, and grapes flew as she realized that she wasn't grabbing for support; she was stupidly flailing, foolishly hoping the generated air current would keep her up.
Will's Handsome Cousin tried to grab her.
And then her head hit the counter.
"I think she's waking up. Mary? You ok?"
Mary felt her eyelids drift open, and slowly allowed her eyes to focus. When they refused, she reached to the side to find her glasses.
But there was no end table to the right of her bed. In fact, there was just air. Mary squinted and tried to take in her surroundings. This didn't feel like her bed; her bed was a full-size with smooth soft sheets. This was a twin-size with grumpy, stiff, starched sheets. And all around her, the lighting was harsh. She blinked, trying to soften the effects of the harsh lighting on her tired, perplexed retinas.
She wasn't home. "Where am I?" she grumbled, trying to sit up. That's when she noticed that she couldn't move much. Her hip throbbed, and her leg was suspended. She absently rubbed at her hip, surprised to find bandaging at the site.
And then it started coming back to her: the kitchen. A beer bottle. Guacamole on the floor. Slipping. Crack! Maybe a break in her ankle? Hitting her head. She reached for her forehead and nearly passed out when she saw the IV in her left arm. Oh, how she hated needles. She concentrated on the feel of her sister's hand to ground herself. "Lizzy, what's going on?"
She could hear the relief in Lizzy's voice. "For the most part, you're fine."
"That's nice," Mary said quietly. "Can I have my glasses?"
"They were broken in the fall. Do you have spares anywhere?"
Mary rubbed at the base of her skull. Man, her head hurt. She was startled when she encountered a patch of shaved hair, and an unexpected, bristly texture: stitches?
"Your spares?" Lizzy persisted, clearly a bit anxious.
Mary shook her head. "No, they were my last spares, actually. I lost one pair, then dissolved part of the lens on my other ones. I didn't have time to replace them, unfortunately," she said quietly. "Can I get an aspirin or something? My head is killing me."
"You were hit there pretty hard."
Mary turned to where she thought the voice was from. A doorway? A solid blue blur. Perhaps a doctor? "Hi."
The voice was somewhat familiar. "You're awake. That's good to see."
"I'm sorry; I can't see you. Do I know you?"
"Mary! It's-" Lizzy began.
"I'm Matt. I'll be checking in on you. How are you? Any dizziness?" he approached, pulling back her eyelids to examine her eyes.
She tried to focus on his features, but the light he flashed in her face did not aid her situation. "Oh. Well, a little bit. But I think that's because I don't have my glasses. My head hurts when I don't wear them," she shrugged uncomfortably. She shifted further down under her sheets.
"The X-ray came back fine, no fractures in your skull."
"Dad always did say you had the toughest one in the family," Lizzy teased.
"Still, I think I'd still like to schedule a CAT scan," Matt continued.
"A CAT scan?"
"You hit the base of your skull with the corner of the counter," Lizzy said.
Mary shook her head. "Ugh, let's not talk about what happened anymore, ok? It makes me feel queasy just recalling it."
"Anyhow, let's do the CAT scan to be safe," Matt persisted.
"I'm not sure if my insurance covers it," Mary sighed.
"Maybe not with the school, but your insurance with your family does, and you're having one," Lizzy warned.
"...Fine," Mary replied. "How long was I out for?"
"An little over an hour." Lizzy explained, "We wanted to keep you awake and conscious before, but you were in too much pain. So we took you here, and they took care of your ankle and hip and got you on some pain relievers. But now you can't go back to sleep. They want to make sure that nothing's wrong with your brain."
Matt continued: "You have a minor concussion, and since you don't have much mobility given your other injuries, we're going to keep you here for a day or so."
"And my ankle?" Mary gestured.
"Broken," Mary repeated. A broken ankle? From guacamole? "My hip?"
"Badly bruised, and cut up a bit. We, uh, extracted some glass shards and stitched you up."
She'd grown up with sisters who played all manners of sports. They got broken ankles, concussions, bruising, and cuts. And now she was here. Why? Because she couldn't stay away from the guacamole. And she couldn't have a normal conversation with a man. Mary wanted to die of embarrassment.
"This is all so stupid," Mary said, turning her head in an attempt to bury her face in her pillow.
"Don't!" Lizzy said comfortingly, soothingly rubbing the back of Mary's right hand. Mary felt the warmth, and could feel her sister trying to literally rub some sense into her. "Mary, it's not your fault. Stuff happens."
"I'm a klutz."
"Nobody expects to find guacamole on the floor, dear, let alone a beer bottle in it. That kitchen was a disaster zone. Lydia and Kitty are going out of their minds with guilt."
"It may have been a mess, but only I would break my ankle while slipping on it," Mary said with self-disgust. She was about to elaborate on the situation with Will's Handsome Cousin, and ask if the man had been put off completely, but decided to keep her humiliation to herself. "Anything else, Matt?"
"Do you need a prescription to get new glasses?"
"No," she winced as she inadvertently shifted her hips again. Matt fiddled with the IV drip. Mary shook her head free of painful thoughts and continued. "I think I still have a valid prescription. Lizzy, it should be in one of the shoe boxes in my closet."
Lizzy nodded. "I'll stop by and look for it tonight. Any urge to try new frames?"
"Anything that holds lenses is fine. And maybe getting another spare pair would be a good idea."
"I'm on it," Lizzy nodded. "Ah, Lydia and Kitty were hoping to see you too. Are you up for visitors?"
In reality, Mary was tired. But there was a firmness in Lizzy's voice; it sounded like her younger sisters absolutely needed to see her. Smothering her indecision, Mary turned to the blur of Matt at her right. "What do you say?"
"If you think you're up for it."
Of course, turn the question back to her. Force her make the decision for herself. "Sure, send them in," she said, infusing her voice with willingness.
Her older sister exited the room.
Mary stared at the haziness of the ceiling.
"Quite a nasty accident," Matt observed apologetically.
She liked the sound of his voice. Cultured, soothing, with a curl of humor. Even though she was glad he didn't seem to expect an intellectual conversation, she was a bit disappointed that he didn't speak in longer sentences. Or feel compelled at all to read from the phone book. She blushed at the thought, and was especially grateful for her sisters' entrance, however reluctantly she'd been in agreeing to meet with them.
"Mary! Ohmygosh, I'm so glad that you're all right!" Kitty rushed into the room. Her voice shook with horror and guilt. The staccato clicks of Lydia's heels on the hospital floor conveyed Lydia's own anxiety. Did anxious people always have strangely punctuated footfalls? However it happened, Mary felt it: her sisters were worried.
Afflicted with this show of guilt, Mary couldn't help wanting to put the two young women at ease. Mary held her arms up, stopping her sister from contact. "I'm all right. I'm still figuring out what hurts, so maybe we'll hold off the hug?" she asked, jokingly.
Kitty nodded. "Of course, silly me." Her laugh was high-pitched and awkward. It sounded familiar to Mary; it wasn't that different from her own high-pitched, awkward laugh.
"Things look good for now," Matt said. "Mary, I'll be by to check on you later. Keep the visit under five minutes, ladies."
Mary nodded, turning her attention back to her sisters.
Kitty rubbed her sister's arm gently, as Lydia took it up with the delicacy that was usually given to Sarovski crystal. Mary smiled at her sister's gentle contact. "Ohhhh man," Lydia shuddered as she inventoried the injuries, "Just let me know what you need. Fifty pounds of KitKats, Red Bull, those weird stupid Necco wafers that you love. Just name it. I'll get it to you."
The guilt saturated her voice, threatened to precipitate into large chunky obstructions in her vocal chords.
Mary smiled at her sisters, shaking her head. "I'm pretty sure they'll stop you at the door if you tried to bring all that stuff in here. But there is something I need you to do for me."
"I shouldn't even be doing this."
She recognized him by the sound of his voice. She was surprised at that. Mary attempted to push herself up on the bed, but winced as she once more stupidly realized that she was hurt. "Will!" Mary greeted her colleague with pleasure. Her very welcome visitor had interrupted a less than scintillating mental game of "count up the periodic table". She tried to sit up, and then growled as she once more realized she couldn't. She reached for her remote to adjust the bed.
Will Darcy entered the room, turned to put something down, and came forward to help adjust her pillows. "Lydia had warned me, but man..."
"Amazing, isn't it? I'm off guacamole for life now," Mary declared nonchalantly.
"Now that's just tragic," Will declared. "You have to rise above this. Get past the pain. Learn to dip again."
"I'm glad you're seeing humor in the situation."
"When I don't I want to die of embarrassment," Mary said. She opened her mouth to ask about his cousin, and how much of a loser he thought she was now, but withheld the inquiry. "So...did Lydia ask you...?"
"I was going to visit anyway, you know." Will replied, bending over to grab the box. "I took care of it. I printed it out, all three hundred pages. Color pages when needed. All available for your perusal. And..." he went back into the hall and brought in a bright blur of colors...flowers and balloons? "The group misses you."
"Aw, too nice!" Mary shook her head in frustration. The first time she got flowers and she couldn't even enjoy looking at them. They'd be wilted, and the balloons deflated, by the time she got her glasses. "Can you bring them closer?"
Will brought the flowers closer and Mary took in the ensemble, admiring the cheerful selection of tulips. She wanted to rub her nose against the soft satin petals, but figured that she'd hold back in front of her audience. She batted at the balloons playfully.
"And...Cathy sends her regards and a heavy dose of sympathy. She wanted to give me money to get you a bottle of Patron, but I told her that you likely weren't up for that yet."
Mary sighed. "She always told me to take more time off." Mary mentally congratulated herself once more on pursuing her doctorate under the guidance of Cathy de Bourgh, a brilliant, flavorful woman who still valued the importance of personal days and recognized the significance of personal crises. Mary had never exercised her vacation rights in the past six years, but she had been glad that she'd had the rights all the same. "Didn't you have time on the laser today?"
Will laughed. "Don't worry about it. I traded times with Charlotte."
Mary nodded. "And this wasn't too much of an inconvenience, I hope?"
"No; I already told you that I was coming to visit anyway," Will reassured her. "So, ah, how are you holding up? Lydia told me that they were getting you new glasses."
"Yes. It's not like I have mobility or anything, but it's really hard to just sit here. Without being able to see things well."
"Not very good without glasses, are you?"
"Legally blind," Mary sighed.
"So how are you passing the time?"
"Well, I caught up on some sleep. This morning, I turned on the TV for a while and listened to the news. But then the morning talk shows came on."
"Not really a fan of them?"
"Not really. They're really...perky. And then one of the shows had some sort of fashion show. It's not like I care, but, well, you know," Mary gestured to her face.
Will chuckled his understanding. It was strange, but Mary had never realized that cognition and understanding could be conveyed in anything aside from a head nod and vocal acknowledgment. "Have you had lots of visitors?" Will asked.
Mary shrugged. "My sisters. Lizzy's been by once every few hours, trying to entertain me, but I'm driving her crazy."
"That's...that's very good of her," Will observed quietly. "So she's gone now?"
"Yeah. She had classes." Mary tilted her head. She thought she caught something. "Hm."
Mary shook her head. "Something to think about, that's all."
"Good morning, Mary, how are you doing?"
Mary turned to the door, letting her brain process the voice of her visitor. She smiled triumphantly as she realized she could figure out his identity. "Ah, I'm doing better. Matt, right?"
"Will, this is..." Who was Matt? Her doctor? A resident? Nurse? "This is Matt," she stated simply.
"Uh, Ma-" Will started to move in his seat.
"It's nice to meet you, Will," Matt stepped forward to offer a hand.
"Will and I are in the same lab group." When she realized that Matt likely had no idea what she did for a living, she felt compelled to tack on a few more details. "I'm a biophysical chemist," she tried to explain, "at USC."
It was awkwardly handled, but she found that it was easier when she had no idea if Matt was making weird faces at her strange detail hopping. If only all conversations she had could be conducted thus. Up to this moment, she'd had no idea just how self conscious she felt when she knew that people were actually looking at her and expecting something. The revelation was more than a little annoying.
"Uh, ah, Matt. Good to meet you," Will said slowly. There was confusion in Will's voice. Though she didn't quite understand the situation herself, she was quick to reassure Will that, given what little experience she'd had with Matt, she didn't think he was a bad or sketchy person: "Matt's been taking care of me."
"All in a day's work," Matt said.
"Hm," Will said.
"What's so funny?" Mary asked.
"What?" She saw Will's blur of a face turn back towards her.
"I think you're laughing at something," Mary said, self-consciously, picking at the lint of her blanket.
"No, of course not," Will asserted.
Mary listened carefully, but didn't hear anything else in his voice other than pure innocence.
"Well, ah," Will's blur started shifting in its seat, "I have to get back to campus. Group meeting in an hour."
"Of course. Because I'm sure they've all heard about the accident by now, maybe you should tell everyone that I'm all right, well, mostly all right."
"I will. They'll want to see you."
Mary sighed. "Everybody does," she joked.
"Get better quick."
"I'll settle for seeing clearly again."
"Again, it was nice to meet you, Matt."
"Have a good day, Will," Matt said pleasantly.
"I have to say, Dad and I were very shocked when we got the phone call last night. It sounded so...strange, and when I heard about your hip and the glass..." Paula Bennet hissed her sympathy. "I'm just so glad that you're being taken care of."
Paula reached over to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her daughter's ear.
The tips of her hands were rough. Calluses, from her many years as principal cellist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Of course, it made sense. "I am. I'm doing fine here. It's..." Mary shook her head. "It's silly."
"It's not silly," Paula persisted.
Mary heard the small lilt in her mother's voice. And smiled. "Come on, Mom. I've had guacamole jokes non-stop for the past eighteen hours. You're more than allowed to jump in at any time."
Paula gave a small chuckle. "Oh, Mary, your father and I always knew you were destined for...interesting adventures."
Mary rolled her eyes.
"Though I have to say, without your glasses, you look so nice. Have you considered contacts?"
Once again confronted with yet another one of her mother's consultations, Mary turned her face towards the pillow. "Mom, you're embarrassing me."
"Too bad, you're a captive audience," Paula warned, and then continued more seriously. "You and Lizzy got my eyes. I can't help but be proud. You can see straight into your brain, they're so easy to read. It was frustrating at first; your father would always preempt my tantrums or outbursts. But I have to say, it did make raising you and Lizzy a lot easier. Sometimes, I think it's the only thing I gave you."
Mary let her mother take her chin by the callused fingers. How did her mother manage so controlled yet gentle a touch? Mary supposed, given that her mother played on a nearly 300-year-old Strad, Paula Bennet had to master the balance. And, Mary concluded, it was likely where she got her own ability to work so precisely with the laser systems in lab. "More than the eyes," she said gruffly.
Paula was triumphant at her daughter's admission, and secretly glad Mary couldn't see just how happy she was at that small concession. And she wisely knew to take a step back, and let Mary process the situation for herself; Mary was never all that sentimental. Paula smoothed her daughter's wrinkled forehead, and took in the dark circles under her tired eyes. "Well, I should get going, so that you can rest a bit more."
"I must have slept away 75% of the time I've been here so far," Mary complained.
"You have a lot of sleep to catch up on. Your sisters say that your hours are too long and too strange."
"But Mom, I need to edit my thesis."
"No, Mary, no. Sleep now. You can go back to your unhealthy habits after you're checked out of the hospital. But until you're released, I insist that you rest. Think of it as the last deep breath of air before the long last sprint."
She sounded so reasonable, Mary couldn't deny her. "Uh, I'll take a short nap. And then I'll start," she said meekly. "...is that all right, Mom?"
Paula smiled, bending forward to kiss her daughter on the forehead, "Yes, Mary, that sounds all right with me."
"So the question is, are you reading it, or are you sleeping under it?"
Mary turned her head away from the page that was two inches in front of her face and turned towards the door. Her brain flipped over itself, trying to focus her eyes on her visitor. She closed her eyes and reached up to rub her temples.
It'd been a terrible setup; she'd tried reading propped up, but then her arms got tired. So she'd instead reclined her bed, dug her elbows into the bed at her side, and tried it this way. It tired her arms as well, but at a slower pace.
"Haha, very funny," Mary replied.
Friendly Matt had returned. "You're looking better."
Mary put the paper down in her lap and smiled. "I'm feeling better," she replied succinctly. "Though I haven't found a comfortable position yet."
"Maybe you just need some pillow adjustments," he said, as he started adjusting the pillows behind her back.
Mary couldn't help but observe that as well as sounding quite nice, Matt also smelled quite nice too. Soapy. And kind of familiar. She wanted to turn her head to look at him, really look at him, but up that close? No, that wouldn't be awkward at all, she sarcastically told herself. She kept her gaze at the blurriness of the painting on the wall.
"What are you doing?" he asked, pulling away to stand over her.
"Editing my thesis," Mary sighed.
"So what happens when you want to make a mark on your manuscript?"
"Well so far, I've been perfect," Mary observed wryly. "Or, close enough," she said.
Matt settled in the chair beside her, a chair that she'd only convinced her visiting father to vacate a half hour ago.
"You don't have to watch over me. When I get dizzy I'll stop," she said. "Besides, knowing my family, I'll be getting another visitor in another hour or two."
"Are the visitors exhausting you?"
"Uh, no!" Mary said, guiltily. "But...ah..."
"We can restrict visits."
"They mean well."
"Everybody does. You can be tired of hovering," Matt observed.
"Well, it's not all bad," Mary admitted. "I don't think I've ever stopped to listen before. To them," she said. "Oh that sounds terrible."
"No, it doesn't," Matt observed. "It sounds like you needed a break from your daily grind. And that you're enjoying what time you have been getting with your guests. Especially as, I'm guessing, you've likely been focusing on your thesis a lot lately."
"Just a bit," Mary said. She didn't want to admit to him that before she had the excuse of her thesis, well, she hadn't been all that great at listening either. But now, well, she knew. And was getting better. But was getting tired while she was trying. "But really, Matt, you don't have to stay."
"Do you want me to leave?"
Mary fingered the stack of pages in her hands. And contemplated how long she'd have before the next visit. And wondered how terrible a person she was for being much more comfortable with the idea of wasting a stranger's time than spending more time with her hovering, worrying family, and trying to make up decades of neglect. "Uh. You've got work to do."
Matt continued. "Well, as it turns out, I'm about to go on break. And you've piqued my pity."
"Well isn't that fabulous," Mary said sarcastically. "Go have some coffee."
Matt laughed, reached over, took the pile of papers from her hand. "I'll even try to be helpful. I'll read to you and you can tell me what to mark. Now where did you leave off?"
Mary's astonishment must have been clear on her face.
"It's only fifteen minutes," he said. "Let's see how it goes."
Part Two (Conclusion)
Posted on Wednesday, 26 March 2008
"So...how is Matt?"
Mary frowned. "I don't like that question."
"It's an innocent question," Lizzy replied, as she stole a spoonful of Mary's chocolate pudding.
"...delivered in a non-innocent tone," Mary completed exasperatedly.
"It just seems that you've been spending a lot of time with him."
"Of course I have," Mary replied defensively. "He's my doctor. Or nurse. Or whatever. Would you rather have him neglect his duties?"
"Duties? Lydia said that, when she came to visit you earlier, she found Matt reading to you."
"Reading my thesis," Mary elaborated. "So maybe that's a bit above and beyond, but he found me trying to edit the thing on my own, took pity on me, and helped me out. It's not like he was reading sonnets or anything." She was disconcerted to feel herself blushing. Realizing that her sister could likely read the embarrassment in her eyes, Mary kept her gaze on her sheets.
"I think the thesis is likely more effective than sonnets," Lizzy observed amusedly. "How on Earth did you get a copy of your thesis here anyway?"
"Will printed it out and brought it over."
"Will came to visit?"
"Sure. Of course he did," Mary replied.
"I didn't know that the two of you were that...close."
If Mary didn't know any better, she would have thought that Lizzy sounded a bit...curious.
"Well, I asked him to. And he's a good guy. He also brought those," Mary gestured the balloons and flowers.
When Lizzy remained silent, Mary smiled. "You're really surprised."
"It's just that he doesn't seem the kind of guy who'd, you know, be so considerate."
Well, it certainly sounds like she's interested in him. Mary chewed on that thought slowly, sure that she was wrong in her conjecture. After all, she wasn't that great at reading people, and well, without glasses, she was likely worse. But still... "What kind of guy does he seem to you?"
"Oh, you know...nerdy tool." Lizzy said. "Your glasses will be ready in two days."
Clearly, Lizzy wanted to move on from the conversation topic. "Two days?" Mary asked, tired at the thought of waiting for that long.
"That's on rush. They wanted to put it off until next week!"
"If you'd had a contacts prescription..."
"Well, I guess I didn't have the foresight," Mary sighed.
"So now you don't have the eyesight," Lizzy joked.
Mary shook her head. "That was terrible."
"Maybe it was, but you're still smiling," Lizzy said. "You look better."
"My hip and head hurt less. Overall, shifting around doesn't sting as much, so I'm guessing the cuts and bruises are not as bad as they were. But I still hate my ankle."
"Aww, sweetie. And your pride? How is it?"
"Slowly rebuilding itself. When I don't think about it. How were classes?"
"Same old, same old," Lizzy mused absently. "I wish I hadn't waited so long to go back. School feels so awkward now."
Her sister had spent five years out in the real world, making disgusting amounts of money on Wall Street before opting to obtain her MBA at UCLA, moving back just this past autumn. "Are you having a good time?" Mary asked, worriedly.
"It's good, and of course I want my MBA, but, you know..."
"Yeah, you want to get on with your life," Mary observed quietly.
Lizzy took Mary's hand. "When you put it that way, it makes a lot of sense, why you're pushing yourself so hard."
"Every e-mail I get from so-and-so about some promotion, big move, engagement, pregnancy..." Mary shrugged. "I knew about it when signed on. School isn't so bad. I make my own hours, and I don't have to wear a suit to work," she mused. "I'm guessing that business school doesn't have that same free spirit kind of feeling."
"Not quite, but at least I don't have to wake up at three in the morning anymore to go and trade stocks halfway around the world in a country I'll likely never go to," Lizzy toyed with Mary's fingertips. "And I get to be here, with you guys. And that's just wonderful."
Lizzy settled down next to Mary on the end, and entwined their hands. Mary turned to her sister, and smiled into her curls. "I'm glad you're back home, Lizzy."
"How's my favorite patient?"
Mary couldn't help smiling as she turned towards the door of her room. And in those first five nanoseconds, she realized that Lizzy, that terribly annoying woman, may have had a disconcerting point: strangely, Mary had missed Matt. She cleared her throat, gesturing to her upright posture, and the no-longer suspended ankle. "Better. I sit."
It was completely typical, she supposed. Patients probably got attached to doctors and nurses all the time. After all, Matt was literally making her feel better. And gratitude, she was sure, was easily confused with fondness, and maybe even attraction. She'd never had to be hospitalized before. Maybe this was bound to happen to her, anytime, all the time.
And when one took into the account that he was generous enough to spend a whole half-hour of his break time with her, reading her thesis aloud in that nice mellow voice...
Acknowledging the weird attraction didn't make it any easier to deal with, but Mary was glad that, at the very least, she had no idea what Matt looked like, or how he was responding to her awkward comments. It was easier to dismiss him or at least distance him, in her mind.
Keep it impersonal, Mary.
"You sit with quite a bit of elegance. I must say, you sit as if you've been sitting all your life," Matt commented wryly as he checked her charts.
Mary grinned; he was so very good at putting her at ease. "What time is it?" she asked.
"A little past one a.m."
Mary sighed. "They keep you busy, don't they?"
Matt chuckled. "A bit. What are you doing up?"
"A morning person, I am not. A night owl, however..."
"So how far have you gotten? Any more exciting insights into membrane-bound α-synuclein structure?"
"You actually paid attention!"
"It's hard for me not to when I'm actually reading it aloud."
She found herself asking the question before she could stop. "Do you have a background in chemistry? I noticed you didn't stumble over certain words earlier."
"I know some chemists."
When it seemed he wasn't about to elaborate, she simply replied, "Oh."
"Um, that's it. Just 'oh'."
"No, it's not," Matt replied. "It sounded like 'oh' with a question that never got asked."
He was a sly one.
"It's just..." Mary started meekly. "...ok, so I'm not an expert on the human language here," she disclaimed, shut up, shut up, Mary, "but when one makes a statement like that, doesn't he usually provide some extraneous information regarding the mentioned people?"
He was going to make her go through with this? What kind of weird conversation was this, anyway? Mary reconsidered the situation even as she elaborated. "Like are these people good friends? Relatives? A, er, girlfriend, maybe? Vengeful exes?" Mary blurted out, surprised and half-mortified that the words had actually come out of her mouth. "Come on, Matt," she covered up her embarrassment, trying to make it sound as blasť as possible. "I'm bored out of my mind, and I have a very active imagination." The excuse was so contrived and only 65% true. She'd also clearly gone crazy. What was going on with her?
"Or you're simply too tired to hold your papers up anymore."
"That too," Mary replied. He didn't answer her question, after he made her ask it! The stupid man. Well, she wasn't going to bring it up again. No, the first time was hard enough.
"It's good that you're tired, because it'll make what I'm about to suggest sound nicer. I've brought you something."
Mary did shook her head, sure the wiring from her ears to her brain had been messed up: "You've brought me something?"
"Something I want for you to listen to."
"Something you want for me to listen to?"
"Are you just going to repeat everything I say?"
"No, I'm not going to-what is it?" Mary asked. He extended a hand, on which rested a device. It looked like- "A discman?"
"Put the headphones on." They were looped around his arm.
Mary shrugged, and carefully took the headphones and put them on. Nice headphones. The squishy, expensive kind that only rich music enthusiasts and dedicated audiophiles had. Matt bent forward to check her stitches. "You're healing nicely," his voice came through, muffled.
"I'm a model patient," Mary said, sitting up straighter, trying to sound placid at his nearness, and distracting herself by examining the device closely, and then pressing the "play" button. "Ok, I hear music."
He was saying something. She pressed pause. "Hm?"
"It's the overture to La Nozze di Figaro."
"Fat ladies opera?"
"Do they sound fat?"
"I can't tell, they haven't sung yet."
Matt laughed. "Just listen to it. I thought it'd be something different for you to try."
"Is this a favorite opera? Will you do nasty things like take away my pain medication if I dislike it?"
"Only for the Wagner. I figured we'd start with a baby step."
Mary nodded, toying absently with the raised lettering of the brandname across the top of the portable player.
"I read your science," Matt began.
"You didn't have to," Mary defended herself. "You chose to. I tried to give you an exit strategy..."
"...and you don't have to do this. I just figure, if or when you get bored, why not?"
Mary considered the device.
Matt stepped back from the bed. "Well, I'm off now. I put the rest of the opera on your end table, right here."
"There's more than one disc?"
Matt laughed as he started walking towards the exit. "Oh, and Mary?"
Mary turned to the door.
"No girlfriend. No vengeful exes. Good night."
"So then there I was, with two pounds of lettuce...Mary?"
Mary shook her head. "I'm sorry, Lizzy."
"Is your head hurting?" Lizzy asked, with a soothing hand to Mary's temples.
"Is there something wrong?"
Mary sighed. "...No."
Mary shook her head. "I'm fine."
She could feel her sister's assessing gaze, and the decision to hunker down and wait was so clear Mary could have sworn she heard the click in Lizzy's brain. And she was surprised that, though they'd been apart for nearly five years on separate coasts, some things didn't change.
After a minute of the quiet scrutiny, Mary gave it up: "Fine. I'm going to ask you a question. You can't tell anybody about this. I mean anybody. Not Jane, not Lydia, not Kitty, not even Mom. I. Will. Kill. You. If. You. Do."
"Sure thing, but Mary, what on Earth is the matter?"
"Swear," Mary leveled at her sister.
"I swear, I won't tell a soul."
"Ok, so Matt..."
She could see Lizzy's eyes glimmer with sharp interest. "...Matt?" To give her credit, Lizzy strived to keep her reply as nonchalant as possible. "What about him?"
"Well, that's the thing." Mary swallowed past her dry throat. "What's...what's wrong with him?"
"Why do you think there's something wrong with Matt?"
"It's just...it's weird."
"Mmm. Weird," Lizzy repeated.
Mary shifted in her seat uncomfortably. "You know what? Forget it."
"No, Mary, stop. What's going on?"
"It's just...he stopped by yesterday night. Late night. I mean, he was on shift and probably making a round. But..."
"Well, he was really nice to me."
"The audacity!" Lizzy deadpanned.
Mary glared at her, but she sighed when she realized it was quite frustrating to glare at someone without seeing the effects of the glare. "He gave me this opera to listen to. And I think it's his discman. See?" Mary gestured.
Lizzy put on the headphones. After a few seconds, she commented: "Mozart. Nice."
"Yes, it's nice. Very nice of him. He wanted me to have something to do, in case I got bored."
Mary rolled her eyes. "I knew this would happen. Can we be serious here?"
Lizzy sighed. "I just think that it was really sweet, what he did."
"I know it's considerate."
"So you don't like that Matt's so considerate."
"It's just..." Mary slapped her palms back on the blanket, "You know, I can't tell, but I think we're flirting."
Lizzy laughed. "You think? Don't you know?"
Mary rolled her eyes as she picked at her blanket. At the rate she'd been going, the blanket was going to be completely lint-free by the end of her tenure here. "Well, it makes more sense if we're not flirting, and that he's just a nice guy. I mean, what kind of guy trolls hospitals looking for dates, you know? It sounds kind of...desperate."
Lizzy laughed brightly, then cleared her throat. "That's a pretty snap judgment."
Mary shrugged. "I'm full of them."
"So, say the guy's nice."
"If the guy's nice, then...I'm making really lame attempts at flirting with him and just completely embarrassing myself. And he's just flirting back out of pity. Or not. Maybe it's just in my head, the whole flirting thing," Mary sighed. "I get tired just thinking about this. There's a reason why I don't date. Or get like this."
Lizzy settled on the edge of the mattress and put an arm around her sister's shoulders.
"I hate men," Mary muttered.
Lizzy chuckled. "They're not all bad."
Mary looked up at her sister with a raised brow. "Hello? George Wickham back in high school?"
"I'm just saying that even the best of us get fooled," Mary dug herself out of her hole.
Lizzy sighed. "Yeah, he wasn't really a great guy, was he?"
"But I'm just saying, what if Matt is interested?"
Mary slumped over into her blanket. "Well, that's even worse than the pity flirting."
"Yes, because that only means that he'll get to know me."
"You make that sound like a bad thing."
Mary tapped her fingers absently on the discman, sure that she'd said enough. But Lizzy again waited until she cracked: "You don't see me when I'm with him. We laugh. I make him laugh. And not in that laughing at me way."
She could hear Lizzy's lips peel back in a smile. And she couldn't help smiling herself. "I like how he laughs. I mean, I can't see it, but it just feels like he laughs like his whole body is laughing, and that just makes me feel really good. Ha. I sound crazy."
"You sound crazy about him," Lizzy observed.
Mary groaned. "I don't want to be. And it's silly. I just met him, and well, it's not like we're...you know out on a date or anything. I mean, he stops by and checks on me."
"You could do worse. There's no harm in, you know, asking him to dinner when you're getting out of here. He's quite handsome, you know."
"You're not helping me here," Mary muttered. "I'm just saying. I'm different around him. And if we talk more, he'll probably want more of that."
Lizzy pulled at her sister's shoulders. "Come on, sit up. I want to tell you something, and I want to look you in the eye when I tell you this, and not your hair."
Mary allowed herself to be pulled up. She turned to her sister exasperatedly. "...Well?"
"Matt seems to be a pretty nice guy, and I'm pretty sure that he is interested in you. And if you relax a bit, I bet he'd like you even more."
"You can't guarantee that he'll like what he sees."
"No, I can't."
"Hm, that doesn't sound very fun," Mary said.
"Maybe not, but I think he's worth taking a chance on."
Mary remained silent.
"You don't have to say anything funny, or fancy, Mary. You just have to be yourself. If he can't appreciate that, then..."
...then he's just yet another one. Mary sighed. She was getting too old, too tired for this.
Lizzy rubbed Mary's shoulder reassuringly. "Just think about it."
Lizzy wouldn't have understood. None of her sisters did.
It's not like Mary hadn't tried before. A few dates here and there, a few strange conversations on the phone or via e-mail, awkward dinners, and well, it was done. She didn't think she was picky, but she was well aware that she, herself, didn't present all that appealing a package.
But she was content with herself, and that was the hardest thing to process in it all! Mary was set in her ways, and 85% of the time, she was all right with it.
Mary didn't have Lizzy's brilliant business mind, Jane's talent with the piano, Kitty's mastery with words, or Lydia's amazing negotiation skills. But she did know how many hours there were in a day, and how to use them. Mary managed her time down to the last second, sure to be making the most of every moment she was awake and aware.
She worked so hard for her life, her commitment. Not like her sisters, who made it all seem so effortless, who walked around dazzling everybody with their confidence, and their diverse interests: Lizzy loved pottery, Jane was a black-belt, Kitty was an amazing dancer, and Lydia had an enthusiasm for cycling. They had political opinions, which they expressed freely and intelligently. They read.
Mary did none of those things. She worked, and she slept. Occasionally, she ate.
She didn't have time to dawdle on "does he or doesn't he?" speculations and she guessed, had she never been given all this disposable time, she would never have dwelt on it all to this level.
"Hey, Matt," she said with a small smile.
"Looks like I interrupted something serious."
Mary shrugged. "How are you?"
"I'm doing pretty well. It's gorgeous outside. I took my dog out for a good run this morning."
"You have a dog?"
"Yeah, a sloppy St. Bernard named Grover. What?"
"Nothing. I just had this weird sense of deja vu."
"How's your head?" Matt asked, concerned.
Mary shook her head. "I'm fine. Pretty sure I'm fine. Minimal headaches now." Mary turned to the end table, and eyed the discman guiltily. "I haven't had a chance to listen to the opera yet."
"Ha. I just left you nine hours ago. I think I can forgive you."
Mary nodded. It was hard to deny the appeal of just giving it a shot when the guy seemed so open and relaxed. And made her feel that way too.
"You seem a bit out of it this morning," Matt observed.
"Maybe I am a bit. But you now, whatever."
"You don't have to listen, you know," he said quietly. "I didn't mean to put this pressure on you."
"No, it's not that, it's just, you know, stuff."
"Well, uh, I have to keep making my rounds. I guess I'll see you later, then?"
As he turned to the door, she could have smacked herself for being so awkward and distant with him. "Matt," she blurted.
"I...I am going to try to listen to the opera."
He was silent. Mary wished she could have seen how he was reacting. At length, he replied. "Good. I'll stop by and see how you're doing on it later, then."
"And I just didn't see any quenching."
"None. I worked the data up, and it's the exact same, with and without the nitrotyrosine there."
"Well that makes no sense..." Mary muttered.
"Tell me about it," Will sighed. "Three weeks of setup for this. This project is never going to finish."
Mary put a comforting hand on his arm. "It'll be ok. Maybe we can look over the data and get something useful out of the anisotropy studies." When Will didn't say anything, Mary laughed. "I know you hate anisotropy, but believe you me, we'll find something useful in this."
Will chuckled. "Thanks. You're looking better."
"I'm feeling better. Less pain, and everything that is a good sign. Lizzy put in the order for glasses yesterday. They should be ready tomorrow, and Matt says that it looks like I'll be able to get out then."
"Well, that's good news."
"Yeah," Mary said.
"I know it's not paradise here, but tell me that you just rested for a bit."
Mary smiled. "Definitely not a picnic, but yeah. It's been all right. Not saying that I could get used to this. But it's been...different."
"I'm sure it has. La Nozze di Figaro?" Will picked up the case on the end table.
"Sure, why not?" Mary shrugged.
"Have you listened to it yet?"
"I started, but then Jane dropped in. Ironically, the one time I have a chance to try new things I just can't seem to carve out the chunk of time to do it in! Have you ever listened to it?"
"Yeah, my cousin Rick's an opera buff; he dragged me out some years back. Great music. Very light and silly plotline."
"I scanned the libretto a little while back. It looks like it."
"I think you'd like Mozart. His music's got a clean, structured feel to it, and it feels light, but very...rational."
"I didn't realize you were such the music enthusiast."
"Rick and I hang out a lot. And Mom made me take piano lessons when I was younger. I liked Mozart the best."
"Really? I'm more a fan of Debussy myself."
Mary smiled, turning to the door. "Lizzy?"
"Yeah, I'm here. Hey, Will."
"Mozart?" Lizzy asked, archly. Poor Will, Mary mused. She knew that tone. And even as she was sad that she had absolutely nothing to contribute to further conversation, she appreciated this opportunity to...check something. "I feel very...bull in a China shop with Mozart some times," Lizzy continued.
"He's not a tea cup," Will defended.
"I don't know, to me, he feels like a bit of a priss at times," Lizzy mused.
"Are you just saying that to goad me or do you really believe that?" Will asked.
While she was certainly interested in where the conversation was going, Mary was also somewhat relieved when she heard a cell phone start vibrating.
Lizzy straightened up and dug through her purse. After a glance at the caller ID, she hissed her annoyance. "Sorry, Mary, I've got to take this. I'll be right back."
Mary waited until Lizzy left the room before she turned to Will. "How could I not see this before?"
"Here I thought you were educated, eloquent. But with women, you're no better than an eight-year-old boy!"
Mary raised a brow.
Will remained silent.
"You know, she only picks on people she finds interesting. She usually rolls her eyes and ignores the ones that she dismisses completely."
"Well isn't that a comfort," Will replied sarcastically.
"You shouldn't take her opinions personally. Sometimes, she really is just trying to poke at you," Mary shrugged. "And, I'd just like to observe that if you, you know, stopped trying to impress her with your opinions and actually asked her out, she might say yes."
"She's a woman. Not the Sphinx. Why all the window dressing? Save some time and have it over with." She was tempted to tell Will that her sister was likely to say yes, but well, she'd done enough.
"Oh, Mary, if you only knew..." Will muttered.
Mary shook her head. "Maybe I don't know, but still. I know it'd be easier than this painful awkward stuff you're trying with her."
"I'm not trying anything with her."
"Trying what?" Lizzy reentered the room.
Mary felt Will's deathglare of warning, and shook her head. "Nothing. I was just telling Will about an experiment he ought to try."
It was around 2 a.m. when he stopped by, but she was waiting and ready.
Mary smiled wryly as she turned away from the page of her thesis. "You can drop the flirtatious pretences. I figured it out."
Matt stepped into the room and took a seat in the chair. "Oh, you have, have you?"
Mary smiled as she clicked her pen absently. "Yes, it doesn't take a genius. I'm the only patient here under fifty and you're lonely."
"You're underestimating how foxy some of these patients are," Matt observed. "Well, you seem a bit sharper than you were earlier."
"I had a good day," Mary said.
"Well, that's very good news. What happened?"
"Oh, I figured out a few things. And I listened to your opera."
Mary threw her hands up in the air. "Well, it was frustrating while I was trying to follow along in the libretto, but once I gave up and just listened, it was really great." Mary tapped her fingers against the blanket. "I can't explain why I like it. I tried. Something about how bright the music feels, and how it made me smile. And the structure. And...stuff," Mary fumbled.
"You don't need to understand why you like it," Matt mused. "I certainly wasn't expecting an essay answer."
Mary blushed. "I guess I was surprised. Because I thought I needed to know what was going on to enjoy it. Or even, like, the details of why I was enjoying it."
Matt settled in the chair by her side. "Understanding's overrated. If you get caught up in what's happening and what will happen, you forget to enjoy the simple moment."
Mary smiled vaguely. "Yes, I guess that's one way to put it. So, how was your day?"
"A bit busy. I wanted to stop by earlier, but I couldn't. I was worried you'd already be asleep."
"Asleep? When I had to read chapter seven?" she gestured to the pile on her lap.
"Of course, who can sleep when there is information to be read on," he grabbed the pile from her lap, and read the title of the chapter, "'the effect of calcium ions on membrane-bound α-synuclein'?"
"My research does have the potential to cure Parkinson's, you know."
"I don't doubt it."
Mary laughed. "That's also something I forget, when I'm trying to align the laser, or working up data."
"See? Your experience with the opera is already broadening your horizons."
"Aren't you proud?" Mary said.
"Couldn't be prouder," Matt declared. "With that in mind, I brought you something new."
"I'm not sure if I'm ready for the Wagner yet."
"As if. At least a year, maybe two before I try that on you. La Traviata," he placed the case at her end table. "This one's not as comedic, but it's just as beautiful to listen to."
Mary nodded, trying to hide the thrill "a year or two" had on her spine. "All right, but...well, I'm getting discharged tomorrow."
"No worries if you don't get to it. I'll be around when you leave, so I can take it back then if you don't get around to it."
Or I can hold on to it, and maybe I could give it back to you later. Over coffee, maybe?
"Are you ready to reenter the real world?"
Mary shrugged. "I was really impatient in the beginning, but now, well. Sure, it took a little getting used to, but..." she smiled to herself. "I've been having fun listening in, catching up, whatnot."
"Good to hear."
Do you think we could go out for dinner after I'm out of here?
"What do you do here, Matt?"
He was startled by the question.
Mary blushed, but persevered. Really, it was simple. Ask questions, get answers. Find out more about him. She dreaded having him leave her, having this end. "I know it was abrupt, it's just, well, are you a resident? Whatever it's called: an attending? Intern?"
"Well, I just started my fellowship here a few months ago. I specialize in endocrinology. But, ah...well, I was around when you came in."
"Where did you do your residency?"
"And med school?"
"Washington in St Louis."
"Which place was your favorite?"
"Well, all things considered, I miss my home the most, back in Chicago."
"I went to Northwestern for graduate school," Mary replied shakly. "I like Chicago too," she said, shyly. She cleared her throat. "Of course, Evanston isn't downtown, but I went into the city on occasion. I grew up here, and went to USC for undergrad, so I've only lived here and Evanston, but...it's nice out there."
"What was your favorite part of Chicago?"
Mary blanched. "Well, I didn't really form an attachment to a particular place, but I can tell you my favorite time of year: right around November, when the weather's getting colder and after they've put up Christmas decorations. Having grown up here in So. Cal., well, Christmas doesn't have a real special atmosphere of its own, not the way it does out in cities like Chicago, or, I bet, New York City. "
"You have a point, there," Matt sighed.
"But I bet, if you enjoy opera and classical music the way I think you do, you're really reaping the benefits of being by the Los Angeles Opera and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. When you're not working, that is."
"It's hard, but every once in a while, I can sneak out and enjoy."
My mother plays for the Philharmonic and she can probably get us some really awesome seats. Would you like to come with me?
"Have you gone?"
"Not since they moved into the new concert hall, no. When I was younger, I'd go with my sisters every once in a while. But lately, no. I...I haven't had the time. But I hear the hall is amazing. The acoustics are supposed to be quite good," she observed.
"You should go some time, it's incredible."
The air was tense. She wished...she wished she could do something. Break the tension. Maybe you can come with me. "Maybe I will," she said.
"Well," Matt pushed back and started standing up off the chair. "It's been a long day. And you're sure to have a long one tomorrow...well, later today, getting back home and settled in."
"Sure," Mary said quietly, hiding her disappointment in herself, and in the situation.
"I'll see you tomorrow?"
"Great. Night, Mary!"
She waited until he was out of the room before she smacked herself on the forehead.
"We're really looking forward to having you home, Mary," Kitty said earnestly. "And the kitchen is spotless. Beyond spotless. And Lydia! She's made twelve dozen of those chocolate and raspberry cookies that you like!"
Mary grinned. "It sounds great."
Kitty grabbed her sister's hand. "You ok? I just thought you'd be a little bit more, you know, chipper. Or something."
"Just thinking over something I have to do," Mary muttered.
"That's our Mary with her to-do lists. I understand why you put together the lists, but I don't understand why you worry about them all the time," Kitty replied.
Mary frowned. "I don't worry all the time."
Kitty laughed. "Of course you do. It's one of those annoying, yet lovable traits of yours."
Mary rolled her eyes.
Kitty sighed. "You worry about it until you suck it up and get it over with. Regardless of the result, you're always much happier to cross the things off the list."
"I am not."
"Remember that time when you had to do those measurements in that detergent thing that you were pretty sure that wasn't going to work?"
"You mean the bicelle project?" Mary turned to her sister. "How do you remember these things?"
Kitty laughed, reaching a hand out to tidy her sister's hair. "Mary, your research is important to you. Why wouldn't I pay attention?"
Mary processed the thought slowly, savoring it like a fine rich dark chocolate.
"Anyway, I remember the day you finished those measurements; you hadn't even worked up the data yet but you were delirious that it was over with; you joined us for margaritas that night, remember?"
Strangely, Mary did. And she recalled the triumph she'd felt. "Those results ended up being a publication in Nature," she said.
"Exactly! So I guess what I'm trying to say is," Kitty said, "Whatever you're dreading, just do it. Whatever will happen is going to happen. And who knows, you might get pleasantly surprised for your efforts."
She didn't know what she was hoping for more: that she'd see him so that she could take the bull by the horns, or that she'd not see him ever again, and just avoid the whole ordeal.
She was still deciding when he showed up anyway.
"Good morning, Mary."
Well, there wasn't much choice in the matter now, was there? The carpe diem stuff it was.
After he came into the room, she turned to him confusedly. "You okay?"
"Why wouldn't I be?"
Mary shrugged. She couldn't explain how she could tell by the sound of his footfall how things were going. She just...knew. "Just something. Anyway, do you have time to sit? There's something I'd like to say to you, before it's too late."
"Good, because there's something I want to say to you too."
"Well we don't have long. Lizzy's going to be here any minute. So come on. I'd like to do this now," while I can't see. She gestured to the chair at her side. "Sit down!" She blushed when she realized she was sounding too imperious, too urgent. "Uh, only if you want to."
Matt laughed. "Sure."
She waited impatiently for Matt to sit, and once he was situated, she ambled on: "I'd like to go first, if you don't mind."
"Uh, sure. You can go first."
"You can't interrupt me. I worked this out, and if you interrupt me I'll lose my place."
Matt gestured for her to continue.
"My name is Mary Bennet. I'm twenty-nine years old and I live with four college students. I've been working towards a Ph.D. in chemistry for the past five years. I love science because it soothes me to be able to put a number or law on things. I dress terribly, cook horribly, and don't do any athletics. I recently found out that I like music. That's not a guarantee, but I enjoy it more than I thought I would. I also found out that I like people, which sounds weird, but you'll have to get to know me more to understand how big of an admission that is. I can't put numbers on people, so they still scare me. And above everything else, you scare me. Because I like you." She took a deep breath. "Matt, would you like to catch a meal with me some time?"
He was silent. Mary kept her internal cringe to herself.
"...Yes," he replied at length.
"Yes?" she asked.
"Of course," he said, reaching over and taking her hand. "But I think we ought to talk-"
And just as quickly as she'd grown to appreciate her sisters more, she immediately found them annoying. "Hey Lizzy!" Mary let go of Matt's hands, turning to her sister.
She could hear the grin in Lizzy's voice. "Hey, you two! How are you doing?"
"Pretty good," Matt replied.
"Yeah. Pretty good," Mary replied. "Got those glasses?"
Lizzy smiled. "Yeah. Right here," she said, reaching into her bag and pulling out a small case. "Ready to see again?"
Mary thought she could see things pretty clearly already. But, she sighed, she couldn't stay like this forever. "Yes."
Lizzy extended a hand with the case towards Mary.
Matt intercepted the case. "I'm holding you to the deal," he said, pointing a cautionary finger towards her. "I didn't get a chance to explain-"
"I know," Mary laughed, taking his hand in hers, and placing a reassuring clasp upon it. "Don't worry: I won't change my mind, Rick."
Mary snapped the case up from "Matt's" hand before he dropped the glasses. Sure, they were in a case, but she wasn't taking any more chances. She could hear Lizzy laugh loudly in the background.
She opened the case with delight. "Finally!" She unfolded the ear pieces and pulled the glasses towards her face, to rest on her nose and ears. She counted to ten, waiting for her eyes to adjust to focusing on the blanket, even as she smiled to herself over Lizzy and Rick's confusion.
She looked up to see her sister doubled over laughing at the corner of her bed, and Rick/Matt, Will's Handsome Cousin, looking completely stunned but grinning all the same. And what do you know? Her heart picked up a bit, but she was all right with it.
"You knew?" Lizzy asked, eyes glittering with frank admiration and approval.
Mary laughed. "I was temporarily blind, but not temporarily stupid."
It was an exaggeration, of course; she hadn't known who he was from the start, but well, she had been left with skads of time to process, mull, and speculate. While she'd known Matt wasn't entirely what he seemed from the get-go, she hadn't been willing to actually suspect the scenario; it'd just seemed to wild, too romantic.
Then he'd mentioned Grover, and it was done. It'd taken her all day to recall where, exactly, she'd heard the name Grover, and when she had realized, she'd been completely flummoxed and flattered. And completely excited.
In later retellings, Lizzy and Rick always blamed Will; he was never good at keeping secrets. Will happily accepted the blame, because when his wife told the story, she'd go on to admit that it was through his visits with Mary that her own opinion changed.
Mary and Richmond Matthew Fitzwilliam went on their first date a day after Mary was discharged from the hospital. They went to the Philharmonic, and heard Shostakovich. In time, she learned to call him Rick again, though he seemed to be perfectly fine with Matt.
Mary marked That Guacamole Incident with grave significance: she'd found two lifelong passions in that hospital stay, and was happy to continue to develop her interests in both. She still worked too hard, but she made sure to take a break every once in a while and take in a concert, an album, or even just a half minute of a sonata if she had to. She eventually expanded her scope started listening to "that noisy jazz stuff", to Matt's consternation. He needn't have worried, though: above all, what Mary most loved to listen to were the voices of her friends, family, and husband.