The first time Tera saw Richard, she knew immediately she was going to hate his guts.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. The first time she saw him, she stared in dumbfounded awe at his good looks. It wasn’t until he got to talking that she hated him.
As a part of the nursing course she was in, Tera had registered to study and do some hands-on stuff with a doctor named Richard Pyre. Sounded awesome! She knew nothing about the guy, other than he was supposed to be brilliant. She’d googled him and found a picture of him on a beach somewhere. Immediately, every other contestant was ruled out. Though he was 31 and she was 22, the ever important Dayum quality came in. It was a joke in her medical group of buddies. There was height, weight, eye color, etc., and Dayum. That’s the ever-rare trait where you look at someone and stare and have nothing other to say then damn, that’s a good-looking man! Nine years different? Who cares! As long as she was there to learn, she might as well learn from someone extremely intelligent and good looking. I mean, why not?
And then she met him, and she realized why not.
She was early to meet him. It was a common thing for her to get everywhere early. Her dad liked to say, “I’ll be late when I’m dead!” She’d picked up on the habit. After running close on a few important meetings, she liked to give herself a twenty or thirty minute head start in case anything went wrong. She’d already swung by and grabbed a coffee from a nearby store that she liked. Decaf only—caffeine gave her jitters. She was the rarest breed of college student: one that never drank caffeinated drinks. She still liked the taste, though.
In retrospect, she really should’ve been wearing more professional clothes. She hadn’t thought that she’d need any for the first day of just meeting him, so she was wearing some short athletic shorts and a sweatshirt. Casual wear. Comfortable wear. She herself was adorable. She was a petite gal, but her form was still impeccable. One weird dude had called her Tinkerbell once as a terrible attempt to flirt with her, but she sorta saw it. She was shapely, small, and cute. She had sharp features from her dad’s French side, and she liked to wear her blond hair cropped. So, to be fair, she did look a lot like Tinkerbell.
So, there she was walking through the hospital halls to find this Richard Pyre guy, excited and innocent, when he found her. He wasn’t so much a man as he was a tornado. He came whirling out of a room without looking. She tried in vain to protect the decaffeinated coffee, but it was entirely too late. Despite her best efforts, the door slammed into it, the top flew off, and coffee went everywhere.
“Oh, what the hell!” protested the man.
“Watch where you’re going, mate!” Tera hissed in immediate response, coffee dripping down her face. She wore glasses because her contacts felt like death. She whipped them off, and by the time she got them cleaned off and back on, she got a better look at the man she’d just told off. He was tall, taller than her by a long shot. He was muscular in the perfect way, like he went to the gym and kept in peak physical condition but wasn’t one of those meatheads. He looked like a diver: lean, fit, and powerful. Even under his pressed white jacket, it was immediately obvious. He was darker colored. She couldn’t quite place what he was, race-wise. Maybe the reason for the confusion was his glaciar-blue eyes that seemed to stare right through her, making her feel somehow quite stupid for having brought a coffee to a hospital.
Richard Pyre. The doctor she was supposed to make a good impression on.
He stared at her. “Who are you?” he asked.
“Come now. You don’t have to act stupid. I think you’re genuinely stupid. Who are you?”
A spark of anger blossomed in Tera’s chest. “I’m Tera Stone. I’m a nurse that’s supposed to shadow you.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Doesn’t ring a bell.”
“I have my papers right here—” she started.
“I don’t think any intern of mine would show up late, wearing those clothes, and spilling coffee everywhere.”
She scowled. Damn. She’d fallen into his trap. “First, I’m not late. I was just supposed to meet you here today, so yes, I’m wearing comfortable clothes. And you’re the one that spilled my drink.” She neglected to mention that she wasn’t some lowly intern. She was almost a senior. She’d start practicing in a matter of months.
Richard studied her. “Huh. You’re a spunky little thing, aren’t you?’
She brushed her coffee off her favorite hoodie. “You might say that.”
He let out a deep sigh and rubbed his temples, like her existence was the cause of great stress for him. “Fine. Fine, fine, fine. Get rid of your drink and come along. You’re supposed to help today. I don’t know where you got the idea you were supposed to just stand around.”
Her mouth opened and closed like a fish. She had no response, but she was going to think of quite a few things to say to the moron that had told her no, no! Just wear whatever! He won’t mind! You’re just meeting him. That’s all. She swallowed her pride. Hold on. She was going to be commissioned with this guy for at least a while. Maybe she should try to be nice. First impressions aren’t always accurate. She followed him and dumped her $4 coffee in the trash. “Where are we going?” she asked in a chipper tone, trying to right the wrong foot they were started on.
“Please don’t talk.”
She snapped her mouth shut. Well, go screw yourself. To be completely honest, maybe some of her initial anger at this Richard guy was just a little bit of jealousy. It’s possible! The guy was borderline famous for his work, and as one professional to another, she had to admit he’d gone great work. There was a reason she was shadowing him at 31 years old instead of some 50 years old. He was a prodigy.
He went from room to room, talking to several patients. He ordered her to stay outside the room each time. She tried to eavesdrop on the first few to little success. She was starting to regret signing on to do this. Tera watched the way the rest of the staff treated Richard. There was respect there, but a kind of respect that demanded privacy. Do your thing over there, and I’ll do mine over here. She didn’t get the feeling that he was well liked. He seemed to be brash and unemotional. Tera was the exact opposite. If there was someone upset, she’d do her damnedest to make them feel better. Nurses were some of the nicest people in the world, and she liked to think that she fell into that category as well. She was friendly and sweet. She genuinely cared about other people. This Richard guy seemed like a machine, moving from room to room, delivering often bad news without even the vaguest hint of humanity.
One particular room that they came to, he paused outside.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, by this point determined to make him like her whether he wanted to or not.
He didn’t even seem to hear her. “What?”
“What’s wrong?” she repeated.
“Just that you’re bothering me,” he replied. “I’m thinking.”
She scowled. He gave her a tight-lipped smile and went into the room. Tera wandered off to investigate the other nurses to see if they were, also, robots. Not just robots. Jerk robots.
She walked up to one, who grinned at her and welcomed her happily. “You must be the new study!”
Tera smiled. “Yep! Happy to be here!”
The nurse’s expression suddenly got pained. “You got Richard, didn’t you?”
“Yeah…” She left her statement purposefully open-ended to see where the nurse would go with it.
“Boy,” she said, “That man… Mmm! Cold-hearted sonnobitch half the time, a puppy the other!”
“Wait, really? I haven’t seen the puppy side.”
“Oh, don’t you let him get to you. That’s what he does. He pushes people’s buttons. But sure, he’s got a good side.” She suddenly pointed at the room he’d vanished into. “C’mere, sweetie. I’ll show you.”
She walked Tera towards the room. “This poor little boy. His name’s Alex. You know the kind of cancer you get better from?”
“That ain’t the kind he got, and the boy won’t take his meds. He hates ‘em. The only one of us who can get him to take them is Richard. Look,” she whispered, and gently pushed open the door.
It was a regular hospital room, with a bed and TV and serving tray. It smelled of sadness. There was a boy laying on the bed, a sickly child that couldn’t have been more than eight or nine. Tera’s heart dropped like a stone. He looked like a skeleton, with IV’s in him and clean sheets all around. His arms were folded across his chest in defiance with a pronounced scowl on his face. Richard was crouching beside him, talking very quietly in the boy’s ear. Tera was too far away to hear what he was saying, but she felt better all the way over where she was standing. His eyes were gentle and caring, so harsh only a moment before. He kept whispering into the boy’s ear, telling him something. Slowly but surely, a smile crept across his face as he joked with the kid. The kid wasn’t having any of it at first. He was having a temper tantrum, and he clearly wasn’t interested in being taken out of it. But slowly, without his permission, he started to radiate with a boyish grin. Finally, he unfolded his arms and went in for the hug with Richard.
Richard looked surprised by this. As a medical professional, you generally aren’t supposed to do things like hug small children unless they start it. He cradled the boy’s weak frame like a father. Tera almost felt like she was intruding on a holy moment. He whispered one more thing to the child, which coaxed a genuine laugh.
“Take your medicine, big guy,” he urged him. “Will you do that for me?”
The kid nodded vigorously.
“You’re gonna be big and strong one day if you take your medicine,” Richard told him. He gave him one last smile and turned to Tera. For a brief moment, before he fully registered that she was there, she saw a deep and incurable sorrow in his piercing blue eyes. He hid it quickly and brushed past her.
“I thought I told you to wait outside,” he told her.