Aaron had commandeered two chairs in the waiting room, and brought Lea a cup of coffee. It was positioned on the small table in between their chairs. He gestured to it with a tiny smile.
“Thanks, Glassy,” Lea said, picking it up gratefully once she’d sat down, and taking a long sip.
“Your relationship with Shaun is changing, isn’t it?” Aaron observed, jumping right in. “You’re starting to feel the same way about him as he does about you. I can see it. Am I right?”
“Yeah. But, hey, you know all about the human brain. You of all people wouldn’t miss something like that, I guess,” Lea admitted.
“I’m a neurosurgeon, not a psychologist,” Aaron told her. “But I don’t need to be a psychologist to sense that something is different between the two of you.”
“Yeah, you got me,” Lea agreed.
“Well, then, are you still with that Jack – John – Julian — ?”
“Jake,” Lea corrected him. “Yes. But I was planning to break up with him tonight after work. Then all this happened.”
“For Shaun?” Aaron queried. “You’re breaking up with Jake to be with Shaun? Does Shaun know that? Are you absolutely certain you’re ready to be in a relationship with him? The stakes are high. You could really hurt him.”
Once upon a time, Lea would have bristled at those observations and questions coming from Glassy.
But now she recognised that they were just two people who both cared deeply for the same extraordinary young man.
“Glassy,” she began, “Shaun could really hurt me, too. Do you realise that?”
“Yes, of course he could, but you haven’t had the challenges Shaun has — ” Aaron tried to explain.
“And Shaun hasn’t faced the challenges I have, either,” Lea countered. “Everyone’s got their own baggage.”
“That’s certainly true,” Aaron acknowledged.
Lea continued: “As for whether I’m breaking up with Jake in order to be with Shaun – yes, I am. And, as for whether Shaun knows I’m breaking up with Jake in order to be with him – yes, he does.”
“Didn’t you tell him that you would only ever be friends?” Aaron asked. “Shaun has taken that completely to heart. I’ve asked him if he thinks you two will ever be more, and he’s always said, ‘Lea only wants to be friends’. And it breaks my heart when he says that, because it’s so wrenching seeing him trying so hard to convince himself it’s enough.”
“As a wise young man once told me: ‘feelings can change’,” Lea said. “Glassy, I’m in, one hundred percent. I don’t want to watch Shaun go and be someone else’s everything. I got a taste of how devastating that feels last night – long story — ”
“Oh, I’ve got time to listen,” Aaron reassured her, smiling.
“I am afraid of relationships, but I’m so much more afraid I’ll regret never even having tried to be in one with him. I think that regret could destroy me. Life’s short, Glassy. Life is too damn short.”
“Don’t I know that,” Aaron groaned. “I feel like I’m supposed to ask you what your ‘intentions’ are with my son, or something along those lines,” he added, jokingly.
“Yeah, um, don’t do that, Glassy,” Lea warned, but she was smiling. “My intentions are good.”
“Maybe later, I could cover for you while you go break up with that boyfriend of yours,” Aaron mused. “If you’d like. Because Shaun will ask where you are.”
“Yes, he will,” Lea agreed.
“But before that, I’d really appreciate it if you gave me a rundown on why Shaun is a patient in this hospital today. I know you didn’t have much time to go into detail on the phone, other than to say he fell off a chair and hit his head. Did that happen here at work? Are Worker’s Comp arrangements being made?”
Lea sighed, and shook her head. So no-one had told Aaron what exactly had happened to his surrogate son.
Looked like it was gonna have to be her. And they probably had time to kill. Might as well shoot the breeze.
“Glassy, Dr. Han switched Shaun to Pathology. That’s why he’s here. Shaun was drinking his problems away. He fell off a barstool and hit his head on the floor.”
“What – the – fuck?!” Aaron half-shouted.
Lea nearly jumped at the unbridled rage in that question.
She understood – on some level – that he hadn’t gotten to be the Goddamn President of this hospital without yelling and cursing at more than a few people, and generally pissing them off, but it was still a shock to hear it at such close range.
“Glassy,” Lea cautioned, “People are staring. Maybe keep it down?”
“More detail, please, Lea. What the hell is going on in this sonovabitch joint since I went on leave?”
“I don’t have all the context, but it looks like this new Chief was hired after the fallout of that quarantine at Christmas last year. There were apparently a lot of issues with the way some events were handled during the quarantine. Hey, aren’t you on the Board still, Glassy? Why don’t you know about this already? Does your medical leave extend to the Board as well?”
Aaron snorted. “It’s just like Marcus Andrews – the current President – to keep me in the dark. Doesn’t want me to think he’s not up to the job.”
“Okay, well, obviously you have your own issues with the hospital President. Anyway, Shaun’s co-workers told me there’s this huge review going on, and that Shaun had... sort of told a patient that a medication she was taking could have contributed to her baby’s illnesses at birth. Mind you, this patient asked Shaun point-blank if that could be the case. He gave an honest response.”
“Right. And this Dr. Han took issue with that?”
“Dr. Han mentioned to Shaun’s attendings that he was thinking of shoving Shaun into Pathology in order to limit his face-to-face contact with patients, but it wasn’t for certain. So, I guess this morning it became certain.”
Aaron nodded. “So, Dr. Han thinks Shaun can’t communicate properly.”
“Yeah, that’s about right,” Lea confirmed.
“Which takes us up to here and now. Shaun is in the hospital with a head injury.”
Lea cued up Shaun’s voice mail message, and passed her phone to Aaron so he could listen. He pressed Play and put the phone to his ear.
Lea watched Aaron’s face carefully as he listened to the message, which switched variously among fury, disbelief, and sorrow. Then he handed Lea’s phone back to her.
“There’s at least one bit in there that I’d say is purely between you and Shaun, so I’m not going to comment on that. But the rest of it – why didn’t Shaun come to me? Why didn’t he ask me for help?”
“You’ve kinda got your own issues going on right now, Glassy. Shaun probably thought he’d be burdening you,” Lea reminded him.
“How – many – times do I have to tell that boy – he is not a burden,” Aaron muttered, frustrated.
“Well, when you figure out the magic number, will you let me know, please?” Lea asked, trying for a bit of levity.
Aaron sighed. “In all honesty, I haven’t been the best mentor to him lately. Maybe that’s the real reason.”
“I think Shaun knows deep down that there are always going to be challenges he will need to face alone if he’s to grow and learn, though. But it’s hard. Harder, for him.”
Aaron nodded. “Sometimes I wonder if I’ve made his life tougher when I could have made it easier. Maybe I made the wrong things easier.”
“Well, also, Shaun... he’s a little naive. He was afraid this would happen – he told me Han might send him to Pathology; actually, he used the word ‘forced’ – but this morning, he seemed much more optimistic that it was all going to work out fine, that Han only needed to see what he’s capable of, and there’d be no way he’d send him to Pathology,” Lea elaborated.
“Do you know if Shaun’s attendings had any idea this decision was going to be made?” Aaron asked.
“They were aware the idea was germinating, but I guess they assumed Han would ask their opinions before he went ahead and did it. Dr. Melendez is so angry. He was looking for Shaun and couldn’t find him. Now we’ve worked out that Han dismissed Shaun for the rest of the day without telling anyone. I could tell that Dr. Lim doesn’t like Han. I haven’t met Dr. Melendez.”
“I know Neil professionally,” Aaron said, “He is an exceptionally gifted surgeon. He is not the most diplomatic communicator.”
“Hey, I know a guy he should meet,” Lea chuckled.
“Neil put Shaun through hell when he started his residency. He was ignorant. He’s better now,” Aaron continued.
“Lucky for him that he changed his tune,” Aaron added, darkly. “I wanted to pummel him in those early days. I wasn’t sure Shaun would make it.”
“Yeah, that’s an assumption a lot of people seem to make about Shaun, isn’t it?” Lea commented, dryly.
“Did Shaun mention who his manager would be? Maybe I ought to intervene from that angle — ”
“Do you want my advice?” Lea asked. “Because I’d like to give you some.”
Aaron shrugged, but he didn’t say ‘no’.
“Well, I’ve decided, you’re getting it regardless,” Lea said.
“I expect nothing less from you, Lea,” Aaron muttered.
“I’m gonna choose to take that as a compliment. My advice is: don’t get in the middle of Shaun and his bosses. Old and new. I can’t tell you how embarrassed I’d be if someone tried to do that for me. I’d feel infantilised. Lacking agency. If you intervene, I think you’ll just reinforce the idea that Han might be right: that Shaun can’t advocate for himself. That he can’t fight. You love him, Glassy, but treating him like an incompetent child is not how you should show it.”
Aaron stayed silent for several long moments. His face remained impassive; Lea wasn’t sure if he was going to lash out, or —
“You’re right,” Aaron admitted.
“You don’t have to look so miserable about it, Glassy,” Lea kidded.
“You’re right. When I treated Shaun like he couldn’t think for himself, I nearly lost him. He ran to you. When I couldn’t work out how to be a friend instead of a mentor, or a father figure, I nearly lost him. He ran to you. Over and over, I have let him down. I have raged at him when he’s only wanted the best for me. I have not been a safe place to land. I have not been someone he can talk to anymore. And he runs – always runs – to you. Because he knows he can. The two of you run to one another.”
Lea wasn’t sure if she was supposed to interject or offer her opinion; she decided to wait and see what else Glassy had to say.
“Lea, I’ve treated you poorly – probably because I’ve seen you as this usurper, or heartbreaker. I want to apologise for that, now — ”
“It’s okay, Glassy,” Lea interrupted. “I haven’t been particularly forgiving of you, either. Apology accepted. But I’m sorry, too.”
“Apology accepted,” Aaron said.
“Do you want to keep talking?” Lea asked. “You look like you have a lot of emotion to let out. I’m listening. If you want.”
“Yes, I do. I’ve thought for a long time that the most unstable relationship Shaun has is the one he shares with you, Lea. But I understand it now. The most unstable relationship he has is the one he shares with me. I am not consistent. I ask for his help, and I reject it when it’s offered. Hell, I don’t even have to ask for it. It’s just there – he’s just there.”
“That’s who he is. Against all odds, that’s who he grew up to be. The kind of person that lets the girl who broke his heart crash on his floor for a month, no questions asked. The kind of person who brings a dead pet fish to work and has it autopsied because he can’t fathom that that same girl might have killed it. The kind of person who lives platonically with the girl he desperately loves, in the apartment she wanted so badly. The kind of person who doesn’t ask for more than that girl’s willing to give. The kind of person who, without complaint, shoves his feelings back in a box for the sake of that girl’s happiness and comfort, at the expense of his own. He is an exceptional human being. A lot of that is down to you, Glassy.”
“A lot of it’s down to his younger brother Steve, actually,” Aaron added. “Ask Shaun to tell you about him sometime. What that kid could have been. How Shaun would be if he’d had Steve for longer. If he still had him.”
“I will. One day.”
“I’m going to see if I can get an update on Shaun’s condition. These chairs are so uncomfortable. I have to move around. Do you want to come for a walk, Lea?”
“Do you even have to ask, Glassy?” Lea replied, rhetorically.
She seized her lukewarm coffee, drank the rest of it, and got to her feet. Then she helped Aaron up, too.