Authors: Caroline Anderson
âDon't beat yourself up,' her mother advised, reading her mind again. âYou didn't know, and if he chose not to tell youâ¦'
âBut he still hasn't, so I still don't really know. She might just have been out shopping. They might be bone idle and useless at housework.'
But she knew that wasn't the answer.
Fortunately, because he had the rest of the weekend off, James was able to get the bedroom sorted out so his mother could come and stay when he was next on call.
Well, sorted was perhaps a little generous, he thought, staring gloomily at it late on Sunday night. He'd given it a quick coat of paint over the top of the existing wallpaper just to freshen it up, but apart from that he hadn't had time to do more than wipe down the woodwork with a damp cloth, vacuum the elderly carpet and make the bed.
Oh, well, he thought tiredly, at least the bed was a comfortable one. They'd had it in London, bought it so their friends and relations could come to stay at a time when things had been looking good.
He switched off the light, walked out and closed the door.
He'd done all he could for now. It needed some serious attention in the future, but it would do for the short term and get over the problem of unsettling the children.
He dropped them off with the childminder on Monday morning, and walked into the ward to discover that Stephen Symes had started to feel pins and needles in his right hand and was feeling dizzy.
It could have been anythingâmaybe a few tiny clots from the femoral artery repair he'd had to doâbut he had a hideous sinking feeling that it was more metastases, this time in his brain.
Well, at least it would be quick, he thought heavily as they did the ward round and checked their post-ops who'd been in over the weekend. They were all doing well, and while he was waiting for Mr Symes to come back from the scanner, he discharged two of the patients and filled out the paperwork. By the time he'd finished, Mr Symes was back, so he went to talk to him.
âIs there any news?' he asked James instantly, and he shook his head.
âNot that I know. They'll contact us later. You got missed in the ward round so I thought I'd come and check up on youâhow's the tummy?' he asked.
âA bit tender, but much better than it was. I've stopped feeling sick and things are starting to go through me again, so I suppose I should look on the bright side, but it's a bit hard with everything else caving in all around me.'
âI'm sure. I'm glad it's made you more comfortable, though. That's good. Mind if I have a look?'
He shook his head, so James turned back the bedclothes and examined the wound. Neat, clean, healing well, and looking on the bright side, as he'd said, his bowel symptoms were relieved for now. Not so the liver. The yellowish tinge to his skin was a little worse, and the whites of his eyes were also starting to show the effects of the bilirubin in his system.
And then there were the neurological symptomsâ¦
âWill Dr Croft be coming to give me the results of the scan, do you know?' the man asked as James covered him again.
âI expect so. I'll ask him to keep me informed.' He paused and met his eyes. âIt may be nothing, you know. Don't borrow trouble.'
He smiled wearily. âNo. I've been feeling a little light-headed and woozy off and on for weeks. I thought it was because I wasn't keeping much down or eating very much, but I doubt it. Is there any way I can get the results before my wife gets here for visiting at three?'
âI'll chase it up,' James promised, and, leaving him, he went back to the nursing station and got the switchboard to page Guy.
âAny news on Symes?'
âYesâI was just coming up. Not good, I'm afraid.'
James sighed. He'd thought as much. âOK. I'll be on the ward.'
âI'll come and find you before I tell him, show you the photos.'
Guy took a few minutes, and in that time James chased up some lab results for another patient and requested a nasogastric tube to aspirate a nauseous patient in under observation for query appendix with a very atypical presentation.
He'd just finished writing up the notes when Guy arrived at his elbow and snapped the film onto the light box. âThere you go. Three of the little bastards,' he said softly, pointing out the small white blobs on the plate.
âWill you do anything?'
He shrugged. âWe could give him radiotherapy, but it needs a head mask to hold him in the same position every time and he struggled with the scanner, apparently. A bit claustrophobicâand the mask is worse, as you know. I'll talk to him, see how he feels. He might think it's not worth the hassle, given the odds. I don't need to elaborate, I take it?'
James shook his head and took a nice, slow breath. âNo. It's all utterly familiar.'
Guy cocked his head on one side and studied him searchingly, so that he felt like a bug under a microscope. âAre you OK with this? Do you want me to handle it alone?'
âNo, and no,' James said frankly, and Guy gave a wry, understanding smile and laughed without humour.
âLet's go and tell him, then.'
âI gather Stephen Symes has got brain mets.'
Kate studied him for anything further, but there wasn't a flicker. He could have been utterly indifferent, but she just knew he wasn't. âHow sad,' she prompted.
There was a flicker then, a tiny one, gone before she could analyse it. âYou think? In his shoes I'd welcome it. At least it'll get it over with.'
Kate sighed inwardly. She'd have to see if she could get some information out of Guy. So far he'd been disappointingly unforthcoming, but she didn't want to come right out and ask James where his wife was and what had happened to her. She had a horrible feeling she knew the answer.
âClinic this afternoon,' she said, changing the subject. âThere's a teenage girl with vomiting, weight loss and a small mass in the upper abdomen. I was going to see her, but I'm busy with follow-ups on patients I really want to see, and I'm feeling generous, so I'll let you have herâsee what you make of it. You might want to do a gastroscopy. And if you have any difficultiesâif you feel I need to see herâ¦'
âIs that likely?' he asked, and she had to convince herself to let go. She liked to see the kids herself.
âProbably not. But just in case. There's also a patient with Crohn's who might need surgery tomorrow, and I'll give you a few others. I know you're more than capable. Have you had lunch?'
He shook his head.
âNeither have I. Why don't we go down now and grab something on our way to the clinic?'
For a moment she thought he was going to refuse, but then he shrugged. âSure,' he said, and scrubbed his hand through his hair. It fell straight back down again, and she had a sudden urge to lift it out of the way, to run her fingers through it and see if it felt as soft and silky as it looked.
Crazy. He was a colleague. Her locum registrarâwhich made her his boss, for goodness' sake! She couldn't go fantasising about running her fingers through his hair.
Or kissing that firm, unsmiling mouth, or any of the hundred and one other inappropriate things she'd been thinking about ever since Saturday morning when she'd seen him in his lovely, rundown house in those washed-out charcoal jeans and a pale blue jumper that had matched his eyes and looked soft enough to stroke.
She glanced again at his hair as they sat down with their sandwiches and coffee, and smiled.
âIs the job getting to you, or were you painting over the weekend?'
He frowned, then before she could stop herself she lifted a hand to his hair and tested the offending lock between finger and thumb. Oh, yes. Soft. So soft, except for the crisp little strands of white.
âAh. Painting,' he said with a crooked grin, making her heart lurch, and she snatched her hand back.
No! She couldn't let him get to her. She didn't do relationships, and she certainly didn't do casual sex, so there was no point torturing herself with the thought. No matter how suddenly appealingâ¦
âI needed to get the spare room sorted so my mother can stay when I'm on call,' he went on, fingering the strand she'd touched. âHence the skip, as you so rightly surmised, and the paintâwhich I seem to be wearing. I'm not exactly gifted in the DIY department. Well, the house department generally,' he qualified, torturing her again with that reluctant grin. âGive me a nice messy RTA victim with massive internal injuries over decorating any day.'
She chuckled. âI love decorating,' she confessed. âI find it relaxing and therapeutic.'
One eyebrow quirked sceptically. âProbably because you're better at it than I am. I get paint everywhere except where I'm meant to, and I always get the ceiling colour on the walls and the walls on the ceiling.'
âRemind me not to let you loose on my barn, then,' she said with a laugh. âI don't need paint splodged on my beams.'
âYou've got a barn?'
She nodded. âWell, part of one. On my parents' farm,' she added, wondering why she was revealing things about herself that she wouldn't normally discuss at work, but for some reason her tongue kept on rolling. âWe converted it and split it into two units, and I've got one half and the other half is a holiday cottage-cum-guest accommodation.'
He cocked his head on one side. âDo you know, I would have put you in a modern penthouse flat,' he said thoughtfully, and she found a smile from somewhere.
âBeen there, done that,' she said lightly, trying not think about it, but while they were on the subject, she wondered yet again why he was in a house that needed so much work when she would have expected him to own something much better. Something, for instance, that went with the furniture in his house and the BMW on the drive.
Unless his wife had left him and taken him to the cleaners? She pushed a bit.
âI would have put you in a rather smart executive house in a quiet leafy avenue,' she returned, testing him out, and his face went carefully blank.
âBeen there, done that,' he said in an echo of her words, and she decided not to push any more for now. There'd be plenty of time to find out more about himâand, anyway, it was irrelevant. On a need-to-know basis, she didn't.
So she'd keep her nose out, and so long as he turned up and did his job, his private life was none of her business.
Just like hers was none of his.
Tracy Farthing, the fifteen-year-old with the vomiting and weight loss, was interesting. His first reaction had been, Oh, no, not another one. But once he'd looked at her, his gut instinct made him consider less obvious possibilities.
He examined her, and could feel a diffuse but very definite mass in her abdomen, just where her stomach would be. He helped her up off the examination couch and sat down again opposite her and her mother, running the various possibilities through his head.
âSoâwhat do you think, Doctor?' her mother asked, looking worried.
As well she might.
âI'm not sure. I want to run some tests, take some bloods and see if anything significant emerges from the results. We know from the urine sample you brought in that you're not pregnant.'
âWell, of course she's not pregnant!' her mother said indignantly, but he noticed that Tracy's shoulders dropped a fraction, as if she was relieved, and he just smiled.
âMrs Farthing, it's in no way a value judgementâa pregnancy test is routine in any woman between puberty and the menopause to eliminate the possibility,' he explained, and watched her subside, mollified. âHaving done that, we can then proceed to all the other possibilities.'
And then he noticed the girl's hair. It might have been the way she'd slept on it, or dried it, but it seemed thinner on the left side, more sparse. That wouldn't fit, though, unlessâand as he glanced down at the notes, he noticed out of the corner of his eye that her hand had crept up and she was fiddling with it. Her left hand.
âDo you do that a lot?' he asked, and she nodded, looking embarrassed and lowering her hand quickly.
âOh, she's always fiddling with her hair,' her mother said a little impatiently. âShe's done it for years. Why?'
âJust curious. Tracy, I think I'd like to have a look into your stomach,' he told her. âThere's a very simple procedure called a gastroscopy, where we numb the back of your throat and ask you to swallow a tube that's connected to a special camera, so we can see inside without having to give you an operation. It's painless, a little bit unpleasant and takes about five minutes, but there are no side-effects and it'll give us answers very quickly. I'd like to do it now, if you're willing? It could save an awful lot of time.'
She gave her mother a worried look. âMum?'
Her mother shrugged. âTracy, it's not my body, I can't tell you what to do.'