Authors: Josephine Myles
Tags: #2010 Advent Calendar
, Dr. Berriman!”
Tom paused to stare at the perky receptionist. Did people actually say “Xmas” rather than “Christmas” these days? Well, Cheryl obviously did. In her flashing LED Rudolph earrings and Santa hat, she was a walking advert for all that was both tacky and cheerful about the season. She’d been wearing them for the past week, but at least on Christmas Eve they were somewhat more appropriate. If only he could get into the spirit of things by the simple expedient of donning tinsel and festive jewelry. Instead, he had the depressing prospect of spending tomorrow with a microwaveable turkey dinner for one and a rerun of
The Great Escape
“Ooh, Dr. B., what d’you think of the decorations now? That electrician fella got the lights working again. Don’t they look smashing?”
Tom glanced around the waiting area of High Wycombe’s Accident and Emergency department. There was the usual assortment of mismatched gilt streamers and clusters of gaudy plastic baubles he’d come to expect in NHS buildings around this time of year, now joined by a lonely string of flashing lights pinned to the polystyrene ceiling tiles. A spectacular light show it most surely was not.
But then, there in the center, perched on a stepladder like an angel on a tree, was the most attractive pair of legs he’d seen in a long time.
“Mmm, yes, very nice. Gorgeous.” And they were. Clad in blue overalls, the fabric baggy around the calves but growing ever closer-fitting up the thighs before stretching taut over the well-formed buttocks that crowned them. Yep, Tom was a man who knew how he liked his gluteus maximus, and these were just about perfect. It was a good thing the electrician had his top half stuck through the ceiling panel next to the strobing light fixture, because it’d almost certainly be a let-down compared to the long, muscular legs.
Tom blinked hard and forced his feet to move toward the staff room, wondering if Cheryl had followed his gaze. It wouldn’t do to out himself so quickly, would it? He’d only been here a fortnight, and anyhow, he preferred to keep his private life just that: private.
He thought of the all the out and proud nurses, and occasional doctors, he’d met over the years. There seemed to be so many of them these days. He envied their freedom. Coming to terms with his sexuality at the time when the media was full of headlines about the “gay plague” hadn’t been easy. He’d had nightmares about that AIDS gravestone in the TV public health warnings for years. It would tower over him from the end of his bed, and he’d lie there, frozen, waiting for it to come crashing down.
The staff room was mercifully empty of chattering nurses, and as he stirred three spoons of sugar into the dishwater coffee, he found himself wondering if moving back down here had been a mistake. Sure, the job was much more pleasant: he didn’t find himself having to battle to save the lives of youngsters who’d somehow managed to get themselves caught in the middle of a gang war like he did back in Manchester; but on the other hand, in a small town like this, he’d lost a certain anonymity. Besides the fact that he’d been to school here and could potentially be recognized by anyone at any time, there was only the one gay bar in town. He’d noticed the rainbow flag now adorning the window of the Dog and Sixpence—which when he’d left town had been a notorious biker’s pub—but hadn’t yet plucked up the courage to walk in there, despite not having had a shag in months.
His reverie about burly, leather-clad bikers was broken by a loud pop and flickering lights, followed by a muffled crashing sound and Cheryl’s shrill call for help.
Tom rushed out into the waiting area. A small crowd of onlookers had already formed. He saw the workman’s ladder lying across the main aisle in front of the reception desk. From the hole in the ceiling tiles, there hung a wire. It wasn’t doing anything as sinister as sparking, but he ordered the rubberneckers back to their seats for their own safety. A young nurse bent over the supine man in blue.
“What do we have?” Tom asked her, kneeling down on the other side of the man’s head.
“Electrical burns to his left hand, front, and back. He’s unconscious but breathing normally. I was about to check for spinal injury before moving him.”
“I’ll do that.” He was on the best side, with the man’s back to him. As his dispassionate fingers felt along the vertebrae and around the occipital and parietal bones, a less clinical part of his mind observed that the top half of the electrician was rather more impressive than he’d been expecting. Broad shoulders filled out the white T-shirt under the overalls, and his closely cropped hair revealed a finely shaped skull. The hair was soft under his fingers, salt and pepper with a white patch the size of a fifty pence coin behind his right ear. Funny, that. He remembered the overweight kid with the vitiligo at school. It had been in a similar spot, but it couldn’t be him. He’d be long gone from here, and anyway, despite his bulk, there was nothing overweight about this man.
“He’ll have a nasty contusion, no doubt, but he’s safe to move to a cubicle. I’ll be back to have a proper examination when he’s settled.”
checking in on one of his earlier patients, the redoubtable Mrs. Brown, who today claimed to have swallowed half a bottle of Toilet Duck—last week it was allegedly Persil Color laundry liquid—Tom swung by the cubicle containing his unlucky electrician. He shooed out the nurse and took a closer look at the patient. Even unconscious he was an attractive man, with strong bone structure, full lips, and silvery stubble thick on his cheeks. Tom distracted himself by examining the paperwork. Pulse, blood pressure, heart rate, breathing: all stable. Burn to left hand, second degree: washed and dressed. Patient’s name… no, surely not. But then again, he had that patch of white hair too.
A soft huff drew Tom’s focus from the name spelled out in bold, black ink. He looked up to meet a pair of blinking, gray-blue eyes.
“Vincent Draper.” It should have been a question, followed by a brief rundown of his current condition. Instead, it came out as an awed whisper. Last time he’d seen Vincent, he’d been a ball of blubber squeezed into a school uniform. Plastic-rimmed glasses—the cheap, NHS issue ones—had obscured his eyes, and a melancholic aura had set him even further apart from the rest of the grammar school lads. They’d picked on him mercilessly. Called him VD and made filthy jibes about his mum. They’d shoved him around, safe in the knowledge that VD didn’t have the guts to fight them off.
And then that last time… that last time things had gone too far.
Tom gulped, trying to ignore the hot shame that threatened to engulf him. It was just dilated capillaries. He could bend them to his will. He stared down at the clipboard, holding it in front of him like a shield.
“What happened?” the man croaked, seeming not to have heard Tom’s whisper.
“You appear to have had an electric shock. You’ve sustained a second-degree burn to your hand, but otherwise everything seems fine. Any aches or pains?” Proud of the way his bedside manner had returned, Tom risked a brief glance up at Vincent, whose brows contracted quizzically.
” Vincent’s eyes dropped to Tom’s badge, and it was too late to try and conceal it. “No way! Tom Berriman! What on earth are you doing back in this dump?”
Tom gestured down at his green scrubs, too stunned to come up with a better answer.
“Yeah, I heard you went off to medical school. Fair play to you, mate. You’ve done well for yourself.”
Vincent’s smile seemed genuine, and Tom’s shoulders started to relax.
“And what about you? I didn’t recognize you at first.” Tom watched Vincent push himself up, wincing as he put the weight on his injured hand but managing to get to a sitting position with his legs dangling off the bed. Although he tried really bloody hard not to ogle him, Tom wasn’t convinced he’d succeeded.
“Oh yeah, I was still fat when you last saw me, wasn’t I? You’re looking great, though. I could tell it was you straight away.” Vincent’s gaze swept down Tom’s body and up again.
If that wasn’t a once over, Tom didn’t know what was. But he must be mistaken, must just be seriously in need of a good seeing to if he was starting to fantasize that this great hunk of a man would be interested in him. Scrubs, foam-rubber clogs, and a receding hairline just weren’t a sexy combination. He started the standard list of questions for electrical shock victims and asked Vincent to flex his fingers, noting the wedding band on his ring finger. Yeah, he was bound to be married. The best ones always were.
“You’re a lucky man, Vincent. Apart from the burn, everything seems to be in perfect working order.”
“Please, call me Vince.”
Vincent—no, Vince—gave him another winning smile that Tom couldn’t help answering with one of his own. He should get out of there, really. The nurses could deal with the rest, but something kept him rooted to the spot.
“So… it was good to see you again, Vince.”
“Likewise.” Vince beamed. “Never dreamed I’d ever clap eyes on you again. Listen, what time do you get off work?”
Tom gaped. For a moment he couldn’t remember what shift pattern he was currently on. “Uh, eight thirty.”
“Perfect. I’ll be busy at ten, but how about a drink down the Bell first? We can catch up on the last couple of decades.”
Tom found himself agreeing to meet Vince, then took his chance to escape when the nurse hustled in and began tutting at Vince for having dared to sit up so soon after his shock. The last he heard, Vince was roaring with laughter and telling her it would take more than a low voltage arc flash to keep him down.
After his shift, while pulling his clothes from his locker, panic washed over Tom. This was a huge mistake, surely? Okay, Tom had never been the ringleader, but Vince must remember how Tom’s friends had teased him… and worse. Was this some kind of trap? Was he going to get to the pub, only to be set upon by a gang of muscle-bound thugs, desperate to avenge their friend? Not that Vince would need to call in any help; the man was clearly capable of trouncing Tom all by himself. Tom looked down at his long, skinny limbs and delicate fingers. He wouldn’t stand a chance.
But his feet refused to listen to his brain, and carried him off into danger, his whole body thrilling with nerves.
leaned back in the booth and studied Tom while he placed his order at the bar. It was amazing how little time seemed to have touched him; he still had that same rangy physique and those intense brown eyes and rich hair, now with a streak of gray at each temple. They made Tom look so bloody distinguished, far too good for the likes of him. He’d been a right fool to have arranged this drink; it wasn’t like they’d have anything much in common these days, a simple electrician and some hotshot doctor. Still, it was Tom Berriman, the golden boy who had spent his schooldays oblivious to the helpless way Vince lusted after him like a dog with its tongue hanging out.
And then it had been such a startling coincidence, after that shock. It had been enough to make him believe in destiny for an awestruck moment and ask Tom out. Vince touched his wedding ring as his thoughts turned to Justin, wondering if he’d led him to this moment, if Justin’s spirit really was watching over him like a guardian angel, still clad in that shimmery white dress and feather boa he used to love. It was either that, or Vince really was starting to go a bit soft in the head.
Actually, come to think of it, it was amazing how much Justin had resembled Tom. Okay, not the glitzy outfits for sure, but the lanky build and coloring were the same all right. Just went to show, didn’t it? Vince had always figured that he was attracted to a certain “type,” but maybe it was more that he’d been attracted to Tom, and by default to anyone who looked a bit like him. And come to think of it, maybe he had a kink for doctors and nurses. Justin had always looked edible dressed up for work at the hospice, even if he did constantly bitch about how his nurse’s uniform made his arse look flatter than a pancake.
Vince rose to meet Tom, and bloody hell if he wasn’t a whole six inches taller than the bloke these days. He held out a hand, even though he was itching to give Tom a bear hug. That’d be one sure-fire way to send him running to the hills, though.
“Glad you could make it,” Vince said, ordering himself to drop Tom’s hand before he gave himself away.
“I nearly didn’t.”
Vince forced a laugh and offered him a get-out clause. “I suppose there’s not meant to be any fraternizing with the patients, then. Shame. I bet it’s a great way to meet new people.”
Tom’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “It would be, if you had a thing for the sick and injured.”
“You mean you don’t? Wrong line of work to be in then, mate. You’d have been better off being a plumber or something.”
Tom pursed his lips. “True. At least pipes don’t threaten to sue you for breaking their ribs after you’ve just saved their life.”