As nighttime came, San Jose St. Bonaventure’s Hospital fell completely silent. Neil was packing up his things after a long shift at the hospital that had left him with dark circles under his eyes. It was late and barely anyone was still at St. Bonaventure, so naturally, Neil assumed he was safe to leave. But as he grabbed his bag and began to leave, he heard it.
At first, he thought he had been imagining it. But as he walked down the halls, the voice became clearer and clearer.
“Loving you isn’t the right thing to do,
How can I, ever change things that I feel?
If I could, maybe I’d give you my world,
How can I, when you won’t take it from me?”
Neil stopped dead in his tracks, listening closer to the voice that was singing, and specifically the song. God, he thought he was dreaming, it was like listening to an angel. Who would still be here at this hour? Who was this woman singing with the most beautiful voice Neil had ever heard?
He followed the voice more, his once slow and exhausted pace speeding up into a stride. He could hear the song getting closer and closer, and was eager to find out this mysterious woman. Just as he turned the corner, he smashed right into her, the two of them colliding as the woman gasped and jumped back.
Claire Browne looked stared at him like a deer in headlights.
“Dr. Melendez… hi. I uhh- I didn’t think anyone else was here…” Claire stuttered, clearly embarrassed from being caught singing.
“No, it’s ok, I just didn’t think anyone was here this late… that was you singing?” The tone in his voice at this hour while talking to people normally would have been sharp and gruntled, but around Claire, his voice softened.
“Oh yeah. My mom used to sing and I always loved “Go Your Own Way,” but I normally don’t do it in front of people…” she blushed.
“Well, you sound… amazing,” He said, taken aghast by the fact that it was really Claire’s voice. He looked at her with a glimmer in his eye he didn’t quite realize was there just for Claire, an intense chemistry building up. Clearly, she noticed, and felt the tension, looking down and flipping her hair behind her shoulder. He noticed she did that every time he was with her, and smiled to himself, even though he wasn’t quite sure of the significance of it.
“Thank you,” she said, beaming with joy, “I’ve always loved that song, the meaning of the lyrics... but it sounds way better with a guitar for some accompaniment,” Claire laughed it off.
Here was the thing: Neil and Claire had just made up after he booted her off of his surgery, and now they were finally in a good place. Melendez never knew how badly he needed that. Since then, they had gotten a little closer, and he didn’t want to break that, and he was also more than okay with being close to Claire oddly enough. But there was also a shred of guilt eating at him that wanted to make it up to her. So he jumped at the chance when he remembered something he had stored away in a coat rack in his office.
“Hang on, stay right here, I’ll be back in a second.”
He darted back to his office and flung open his closet, grabbing what he was looking for and rushing back to Claire. He really did feel bad for booting her off of his team, so he was quite eager to make it up to her.
He came back to where Claire was standing and presented to her the wooden acoustic guitar he had stored in his office.
“Oh my god, this is amazing! Why is it here in your office?”
Neil shrugged and laughed, “I brought it in a year ago for a holiday office party, to play some tunes for people, and never ended up taking it back home. Want to give it a try?”
Claire nodded in excitement. He held his guitar in one hand and opened the door to an empty waiting room, gesturing for her to enter.
“After you, miss.”
Claire giggled and curtseyed, taking a seat in the room with him, instinctively putting her hand under the Purell dispenser before getting ready. Neil propped his guitar up, and he began to strum the chords.
Claire started back from the beginning, singing along to the guitar. Neil had learned the chords taking lessons as a kid, so he didn’t need to look at his hands. Besides, his eyes were focused on Claire, her smooth voice mesmerizing him as she swayed back and forth. There was something so intimate between them with the music. Even after the song ended, they just went back and played it again.
They went through the song about three times when Lim abruptly walked in with a smirk on her face.
“Oh hi, Dr. Lim! Sorry, we were ju- we were just playing a song,” Claire said after looking up from her intense eye contact with Neil, suddenly blushing and shifting around in her spot. Neil coughed, suddenly feeling very awkward. Lim stood there with raised eyebrows and smiled politely.
“No, it’s ok. Nice voice!” She broke the tension. Claire nodded in appreciation.
“Thank you. Well, I uh, better get going, but I will see you tomorrow.” With that, Claire walked out of the empty waiting room in a quick shuffle.
Neil’s lips tightened, and he looked away, feeling uncomfortable with Lim staring so intensely at him. He could already tell what she was going to say.
“I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not like that,” he huffed.
“Isn’t it? When was the last time you pulled that thing out again? Was it the Christmas party? No, but you didn’t end up playing, OH WAIT. It was your first date with Jessica!” She gasped matter-of-factly.
He playfully punched her, wanting desperately to get out of this conversation.
“Look, you’re one of my best friends, and I’ll back you no matter what. But I just want to make sure you know how you feel first before you go jumping into this thing with Claire.”
“What thing? Doctor Browne and I have always been on strictly professional terms I don’t see her as anything else.”
“Ouch, caught doubling down again! Nice try Neil, but I know you better than that,” she teased, “Just make sure you know what you’re doing. I don’t want to see either of your hearts broken.”
He paused for a minute before deciding to take a risk, and quietly responding with, “I will. Thanks.”
Audrey nodded in silent understanding and left. Shortly after that, Neil left too. But as he was walking to the parking lot, he couldn’t help but hum a certain song…
“Loving you isn’t the right thing to do,
how can I ever change things that I feel?...”
Maybe staying late wasn't so bad after all.