From Your Secret Admirer…
The customer drummed their fingers impatiently on the counter. They were late for work, but knew that if they didn't place the order with the florist's right at that moment then they never would. It seemed a foolish thing to do in some respects; sending roses on Valentine's Day, but it seemed an easier way to initiate a relationship than speaking face to face. There had been too many tries and failures in the past, but at least none of those times had ended up embarrassing - they'd always bottled out of telling Tash how they felt at the last moment.
This time though. This time there would be plenty of time for Tash to think of a response, and if she wasn't interested then no harm would have been done. Well, perhaps harm to an over-stretched bank balance, but it wouldn't be the humiliating experience it could be in person.
"You want to sign the card?" A spotty young man with greasy hair piped up from behind the counter.
"Er… yes…What should I say…?"
The query was more rhetorical than a request for assistance, and it was just as well, because none was forthcoming. The youth shrugged and tossed a small white card with a print of a rose towards his customer.
No words seemed capable of summing up the feelings that needed to be expressed. It was all too complicated to fit on such a minuscule piece of paper. Besides, the medical schools taught a lot of things; how to declare your love was not one of them. After several aborted attempts, and requests for new cards from the increasingly surly assistant the card was ready to be included with the bouquet.
It read, in untidy handwriting:
Signed with just their initial.
Jack looked up from his computer terminal where he was failing to complete a game of solitaire to see an attractive young woman in biker's leathers. He grinned gormlessly at her for a second before regaining his composure enough to ask her what she wanted.
She frowned, and indicated the massive bunch of roses she was carrying. "I'm supposed to deliver these to a Miss Tushara Bandara, Keller ward, Holby City Hospital".
Jack's mouth made a perfect 'o', as he noticed the flowers for the first time. "Well you want the main reception, this is the reception for the A&E department only".
She sighed, "Oh. Where's that then?" She fluttered her eyelashes at him. "Can you point me in the right direction please?"
Taking pity on the poor exhausted delivery girl, Jack stood up and put on his most charming smile. "Don't worry love, I'll take them up for you if you w…"
"Cool, thanks, cheers!" she called out, interrupting him, then turned and swiftly departed.
Behind him, Jack heard the unmistakable sound of sniggering. He turned round to see Patrick leaning against the doorway of the reception office. "She played you for a right fool, mate".
"Whaddaya mean by that?"
"Getting you to do her job for her, just by pouting a bit!"
"Nah, you're so wrong. I was helping out a damsel in distress. I made her day, you could see that. It is Valentine's Day, you have to make the ladies feel loved!" He winked over dramatically.
"Just another Hallmark holiday. Wouldn't see me going ga-ga over such a thing. And I tried the flowers thing once: didn't work".
"So you're not interested in any of the Valentine's rubbish then?"
"So you won't be wanting this then…" he held a cream envelope out and wafted it under Patrick's nose, "Came this morning, and is addressed to Dr Patrick Spiller care of Holby City Hospital Casualty Unit. Hand-written and about card shape if you ask me!"
"Give that here!" Patrick snapped, grabbing at the envelope and wrestling it free of Jack's grip. He glanced down at the handwriting, immediately recognising the scrawl, and stuffed it in his pocket. It was going to be something to be savoured in private, and not with the likes of Jack Vincent.
"Aren't you going to read it?"
Patrick smiled to himself as he walked off, calling out over his shoulder "Don't you have some flowers to deliver…?"
Tash Bandara strolled onto Keller ward looking outwardly to be the confident and professional surgeon that she was, but inside she was cringing. It wasn't that she was particularly upset about not having received any Valentine's cards. She'd got quite used to receiving only a gas bill and a menu for the local Indian take-a-way on February 14th ; it was the looks of patronising sympathy that she received from others that made the day unbearable.
She could tell, even before she got within earshot of the nurse's station, what Sandy, Chrissie and Kath were discussing simply by the tone of their voices and the extremely ostentatious bouquet of red roses on the desk. In a perfect world she would have turned on her heel and walked away, but they had spotted her and beckoned her over. Tash fixed a cordial smile in place and said good morning.
"Nice flowers" she said, trying to muster some enthusiasm. She guessed that they were Sandy's. Kath sported a wistful expression, as though she was remembering a time when someone paid her that sort of attention, Chrissie looked quite disinterested in them, but then Chrissie was known to have one or two unwanted admirers. Sandy on the other hand was grinning from ear to ear.
"Yeah, they're well nice! A dozen red roses, how romantic!"
"Very, and not cheap either…" Kath commented, "Someone certainly means business".
"The question is who…" Chrissie finished, staring with mild curiosity at Tash. The other two women followed her lead, and suddenly Tash was aware they were expecting her to provide the answer.
"Why are you all looking at me like that?"
"'Cause they're yours, of course!" Sandy pulled the card off the plastic fork that nestled between the rose's stems, "Here you go".
Tash looked down at it, vaguely put out that it had already been read by half the ward, but far more curious about who might have sent it. "For Tash…K" she read. "Doesn't give much away does it?"
She stared at the writing. It wasn't like any writing that she recognised, but inside her, something stirred at the thought of just who this mysterious 'K' might be. Not Kirstie Collins surely…
"So you don't know who it is then?" Sandy asked, sticking her bottom lip out in clear disappointment.
"Haven't a clue" Tash replied as casually as possible.
Kath peered at the doctor, a knowing grin appearing, although she tried to hide it. "You don't know any 'K's Tash? None?"
For one horrific moment, Tash wondered if Kath was actually going to mention Kirstie and put her in the unenviable position of answering a barrage of questions from Sandy. The very thought of Kirstie making such an openly romantic gesture toward her made her skin tingle, and she could feel warmth rushing to her cheeks. Any second one of the nurses would notice that she was blushing and then she'd never hear the end of it.
She responded in the only way she could, by diverting the attention elsewhere. "Only you Kath, is there something you want to tell me…?"
Sandy burst into uncontrollable giggles, while Chrissie managed to stay a little more restrained with a couple of small chuckles. Kath, however didn't know what to do, and so stood perfectly still with the exception of a slight opening and closing of her mouth as she floundered for a comeback.
It was a rare quiet moment in A&E when Patrick snuck off to the staff room for a mug of coffee and a chance to read his letter. It had been driving him insane since he'd received it, and for a couple of hours now he'd felt like it was burning a hole in his pocket. Even before he opened it, he was certain he could smell Holly's favourite perfume on it.
With one final glance around to make sure that no-one was spying on him, he tore open the envelope. Hoping that inside Holly would have written a lot more than in any of her three brief postcards, and might even have told him when she was coming home.
Ward rounds had been undemanding for a change and had allowed Tash the occasional moment to reflect on the card that now resided safely in her wallet, away from prying eyes. Or course, no amount of discretion on her part could combat the fact that there was an enormous bouquet of flowers sitting pride of place on the nurse's station desk. Tash had briefly pondered whether she should take them somewhere else, but seeing as the only other place she could think of was her locker, and they sure as hell weren't going to fit in there, they'd stayed on full view.
She had managed for the most part to remain dignified and calm about the unexpected gift. But her heart was doing somersaults. It had been almost a year since she'd last spoken to Kirstie, and even then, it was a slightly awkward conversation over the phone, rather than anything more intimate. But even though the sensible part of Tash had been repeating daily that Kirstie was out of her life, and had in all truthfulness never been in it the way Tash would have liked, another side of her kept hoping that wasn't the case.
She could look back over the times she'd spent with Kirstie, first at med. school, then later when they both worked in Holby and count a hundred times at least when they came closer that 'friends' would. They were just little things, a smile, or the way they caught each other's eye. A fleeting touch of her hand, a reassuring hug that lasted a moment too long. Tash wondered sometimes if she was going positively insane, but just as quickly dismissed that option. She knew that Kirstie loved her, even if Kirstie didn't, and was just waiting for her to work it out for herself.
And now it seemed like she had.
Tash allowed herself a discreet smile, before she returned to the staff room. She took her handbag from her locker, checking that it still contained her mobile phone, and set off for the roof for five minutes uninterrupted texting.
For all that Patrick loved being a doctor, and enjoyed the hustle and bustle of hospital life, there were times when he wished that - for just five minutes - the rest of the world would disappear. Now was certainly one of those times. No sooner had he opened the envelope and read the contents of the card within, he'd been interrupted by an unseemly display of affection between Josh and Colette as they'd entered the staff room without checking it wasn't already occupied.
He stormed out without saying a word, only to hear Josh voicing his concern that 'the poor bloke's all alone on Valentine's Day'. Which would have been quite humiliating enough without Colette adding 'yeah but what self-respecting woman would want him anyway?'.
In a fit of near panic that he might start to cry in front of an audience, he'd set off to the only spot in the whole hospital complex that allowed for solitude; the roof of Wyvern Wing. That particular roof was both the tallest and the hardest to get to and so rarely used for smoking like some of the other buildings were. He rested against the white painted railings that ran along its edge and stared out over the hospital grounds. It seemed that everywhere he looked he could see couples arriving or leaving together, or just enjoying a quick rendezvous.
Pulling the now crumpled card from his back trouser pocket he looked down at the grinning fluffy teddies dancing on the cover and groaned. "Why do you even bother getting your hopes up Spiller?".
"Talking to yourself? That's the first sign of madness you know…"
He whirled around to see the slim figure of Tash Bandara smiling at him. He couldn't say he knew her very well, but the staff of A&E dealt with most departments of the hospital and he'd run across the surgical registrar on a number of occasions in the past.
"What do you want?" he barked at her, angry to be interrupted yet again.
"I just came up here for a bit of privacy, no need to bite my head off. Besides doesn't A&E have it's own roof?" She'd meant it light hearted-ly but the scowl that had possession of Patrick's features showed that he clearly wasn't in the mood.
"Fine, I'm going".
"Patrick, hang on, it's a big roof - there's no need to leave on my account. I'll only be five minutes anyway, I just have to write a quick message". She held up her petite mobile phone and waved it at him.
"Some soppy Valentine's message to your boy…" he stopped as he did a mental check of his facts and briefly wondered if the rumours he'd heard were true. "… er, loved one?"
"Perhaps". She grinned. She couldn't stop herself. She had already decided that she would both thank Kirstie for the flowers and invite her for a drink, maybe a meal, maybe something more…
"Yeah, well, good luck". Patrick sneered, walking toward her, on his way to the fire escape door.
Tash stuck her arm out to bar him from going past. "Hey, answer me one thing, yeah? How can a man wandering around holding what appears to be a valentine's card be so down on the whole concept of romance?"
"It's not a Valentine". He held it out for her to look at. At first glance that's exactly what it looked like. Too overly fuzzy bears were holding hands and seemed to be doing the 'twist'. A banner across the top read: Freunde für immer!
"What's the problem?"
"Freunde für immer" he read in a bad German accent, "Means 'friends for ever' or something. Friends." He opened the card and read Holly's untidy writing, "Hey Patrick, didn't want you to feel left out today. Hugs and kisses, Holly."
"Sweet!" he repeated clearly disgusted, "She sent this because she felt sorry for me - And if you tell anyone I'll… I'll…"
"You'll what?!" she laughed, "OK Patrick, it'll go no further than me. Promise. But if you ask me…"
"Which I haven't"
"…she needn't have sent you anything" Tash continued undeterred. "She's in Germany, hundreds of miles away, you haven't seen her for how long, and yet she's still bothered to send you a card, timed it so it arrives on Valentines Day. And she's written her address and phone number inside" she said as she peered over Patrick's arm to look at the inside.
Patrick looked at her quizzically. "So?"
"So, I reckon this is a hint. She wants you to get in touch. She wants you to make the move. This…" she took the card off him and wafted it in front of his face, "…is just the incentive".
"You really think so?" he asked, his voice softer and with a twinge of hopefulness.
"Yeah". She thought about her own flowers. It was the same thing; Kirstie was using them to test the water, so to speak, the same way as Patrick's Holly was using the card. She was probably sitting by the phone waiting for Patrick's call, in the same way that Tash rather hoped Kirstie would be.
"Hmm". The longer he allowed his brain to entertain the idea, the more it made sense. Holly wasn't likely to declare her love suddenly, not after being absent from his life for the best part of a year. No, this was more her style. Something a bit jokey but with serious undertones. She was trying to sound him out, see if he would get in touch. He felt his scowl lifting. "You think I should call her?"
"I think an SPR should be able to make that sort of decision for himself, don't you?" He nodded gently and finished his journey to the door, swiftly vanishing down the metal steps inside. Tash shook her head to herself, "Thanks Tash, Oh that's alright Patrick" she muttered as she started pressing the keys on her phone.
As Tash carefully typed in her message, she wondered if it would be better to actually phone Kirstie and talk to her in person. It would be so lovely to hear her voice again after so long, but then there was something to be said for the more tentative approach. She finished her message and re read it:
Hi Kirst How r u? thanx 4 the flowers. Maybe we cud meet soon? Call me. Love tash
It wasn't exactly a literary masterpiece, but then compared to Kirstie's effort it'd do. Selecting Kirstie's mobile number, and realising in a moment of sadness that it was the only contact number she had for her, Tash sent the message, crossed her fingers, and walked back to the ward.
Kath accosted Tash as she returned to Keller, looking flustered and slightly depressed. "Mr Griffin has been looking for you. He said it wasn't too urgent but he looked tense".
"Oh right. Where is he, d'you know?"
"He said he'd be in his office for the next hour" Kath answered, "Sorry can't stop I have a million things to do at the moment".
Tash thanked her as the Sister retreated down the corridor, and turned to go to Ric's office. As she arrived at the pine door she knocked politely and waited for him to answer.
She pushed the door open and stepped inside, letting it swing closed behind her. One look at his face showed that Kath hadn't been exaggerating when she'd said that he looked tense. His brow was furrowed and as he acknowledged Tash with a small smile and nod, he ran his hand over his hair to the back of his neck and seemed to start massaging it.
"You wanted to see me?"
"Er… Oh yes. Sit down, please".
She sat opposite him, placing her handbag, which she hadn't had an opportunity to put back in the staff room, on the floor. "Are you alright? You looked stressed".
Normally stress in hospitals is caused by either a pile of paperwork or a tricky operation. Actually, it was usually the first, but as Tash surveyed Ric's desk, she saw that for once it was relatively clear. She felt herself start to worry out of sympathy for him. He was probably having trouble with one of his ex's, or his nine children.
"Me? I'm fine" he replied unconvincingly.
"Sure?" She leant a little across his desk, her hands clasped in front of her in preparation to play the sympathising junior to her boss's angst.
"Yes?" she smiled warmly at him, encouraging him to continue.
He seemed reluctant to continue further. Instead he managed to force what appeared to be a nervous smile, and placed his right hand over hers, squeezing gently. Tash was shocked at the movement, but didn't know what else to do but leave it there.
He cleared his throat, "I just wanted to ask you if you liked the roses?"
Patrick poked his mobile phone, trying read the number Holly had written in her card, and dial it at the same time. He stood outside the A&E department, just around the corner from the entrance, his heart beating faster than he thought could possibly be healthy. He finished keying in the numbers and held the small blue mobile to his ear, facing away from the traffic to shield him from the noise. It was only when he heard the faint click that signified that it had been picked up the he realised he didn't know what he was going to say.
"Er, Holly. It's me, Patrick. I got your card, and just wanted to say thanks…"
"The roses…" she repeated, her voice trailing off and a terrible feeling stirring in the pit of her stomach, like the churning of a washing machine on full spin. She pulled her hands out from under Ric's and reached down to her handbag, retrieved her wallet and slid of the card from amongst the card and loyalty cards. "It's an 'R'?" she whispered, more to herself than to him.
"I hoped you'd like them, and I rather hoped you'd have guessed they were from me".
She couldn't even look him in the eyes. She cursed herself for getting it wrong, then cursed him for having such lousy writing, then for not just writing his name. Then suddenly it dawned on her that if he sent them, Kirstie didn't. The spin cycle in her stomach stopped momentarily before whizzing around in the other direction.
"Who did you think they were from?" Ric asked, as Tash continued to stare at the card, her mind reeling from the combination of this sudden revelation and the panic about the text message that couldn't be un-sent.
"I wasn't sure" she lied. She had been at the point of being certain but it wouldn't help the situation to tell him that. At last, she dared to look him in the eyes. "I should thank you, they were lovely".
"I know roses aren't very imaginative but I wanted to make my intentions clear". Tash's eyes widened but she refrained from saying what was on her mind; that he'd made his intentions anything but clear.
"Your intentions? Romantically…?" she sent a short prayer skyward in her mind that he'd say no. Of course he didn't.
"Yes. I can't be the only one who's noticed the attraction between us Tash. We understand each other, we get on so well…"
"Ric, I think you've misread the situation. Seriously misread it actually".
"Look, Tash if your just concerned about my, er, reputation, four ex-wives really isn't as bad as it sounds, I just haven't met the right woman yet. Well, not until I met you."
"I'm not the right woman Ric. Not for you. And you're not right for me either".
He shrugged disbelievingly, "Why not? If it's because I'm your boss, I can assure you that I'd keep our personal and professional lives separate".
"It's not that" she sighed. "I'm a lesbian. I don't date men, any men". She didn't like having to apologise for who she was, but the stunned and hurt expression that graced Ric's features made her feel like apologising for even existing. "I'm sorry. I honestly thought you realised. It's never been a secret around here".
He dropped his head into his hand to hide his face.
"Ric? Say something".
Slowly he brought his head back up, rubbing his temples as he did so. "I feel so stupid".
"There's no need to feel stupid. It was an honest mistake, and I'm flattered, really I am".
"I've embarrassed us both. And that was precisely what I was trying to avoid. I'm really sorry".
"No I am".
He held his hands in the air in a 'surrender' motion. "Look, this apology session could go on all day at this rate. Shall we just not say anymore about it". He pleaded silently to her with his eyes.
"Deal". She smiled tentatively. "Do you want the flowers back, maybe you could give them to someone else?"
"No, you keep them, or give them to someone deserving."
With their conversation rapidly drying up Tash made her excuses and left. She turned the corner from Ric's office door and pressed her forehead into the cool plaster of the wall, breathing deeply to regain her composure. She didn't know which was worse; the awkwardness from the misunderstanding with Ric, or the knowledge that she'd just sent an unsolicited text message to Kirstie. Maybe Patrick was right with his cynicism about Valentine's day.
Tash pulled herself away from the prop of the wall as she heard footsteps approaching her.
"You alright Tash?"
"I'll live. What about you? You looked rushed off your feet".
"We've had a few admission's up from Casualty, could you check them out when you've got a minute?"
"Sure, I'll do it now" she replied, walking alongside Kath and being glad for the distraction. "So have you and Simon got plans for this evening?"
Kath shook her head. "Simon's on a fishing trip with some old mates of his. He won't be back until Sunday. He got me a card though".
"How long have you been married now?"
"Nearly twenty seven years, he usually makes more of an effort, but things have been difficult recently, with him losing his job and everything".
"I see." It seemed to Tash, on the rare times she'd spoken to Simon, that he had a blatant disregard for his wife's feelings. It sounded suspiciously like Kath's assertions about what he was usually like were more designed to save face than to accurately portray the truth. "Well, you don't fancy giving my flowers a home do you? I came by bus this morning, and there's no way I'll get them home on that".
"Oh no Tash they're yours".
"Honestly Kath, if you don't want them I'll just put them in the bin. They were sent to me by mistake anyway".
"Really? Well that would be a terrible waste. They are beautiful".
"They are. You enjoy them Kath".
As Tash left Kath's side to go an see the new patients she was glad that at least she'd made one person happy that day, she just wished it could have been Kirstie.
Patrick pulled his jacket on, and checked for the umpteenth time that Holly's card was still in his pocket. He smiled to himself, as he slammed his locker shut and headed out of the Casualty department, passing through reception.
"Night Patrick, see you tomorrow" Jack called.
"Not likely". Patrick called back, "Three day weekend. I will not grace this place with my presence until Monday morning!"
The thought of the impending weekend was enough for an uncharacteristically broad smile to appear on his lips as he strode briskly out down the wide entrance corridor, and toward the staff car park to his Alpha Romeo. As he was unlocking his door he saw Tash coming into the car park on the way to her own vehicle.
"Hey, You were right you know. Cheers".
Once she'd realised that he was talking to her, Tash walked up to him, and he noticed that her earlier smile had turned into a dejected pout. "Glad it worked out".
"It more than worked out. You got it spot on, she was hoping I'd get in touch and due to my irresistible charm I've wangled a couple of days off to go over to see her, I'm just off to pack my suitcase now. Germany here I come!"
"I'm sure Germany won't know what's hit it".
"What's up? You were full of the joys of spring earlier?"
Patrick was just trying to decide whether he could be bothered to press the question, seeing as he had so much travelling ahead on him, when he was saved by the sound of Tash's mobile phone.
"Excuse me". She pulled it from her bag and saw the little screen had lit up and proudly proclaimed Kirstie calling. She took a deep breath "Hello?"
Patrick watched as her expression changed from downright scared to happy once more.
"It's so nice to hear from you too Kirstie… I'm fine, you?… really, that's great… the flowers, um, well, you'll laugh when I tell you… no, I understand… I'd love to meet up… yeah I know it… yeah, nine 'o'clock, I'll be there… Bye then".
"You look happier".
"I've got a date," Tash replied, almost not daring to believe that it was true after the events of the day.
"Congratulations. But if I don't get going, I won't make it to Germany before tomorrow. And I don't intend to spend Valentine's Day alone, especially not when there's a gorgeous woman out there waiting for me".
"Ditto" Tash said, grinning, "Have a happy Valentine's Day Patrick".
"Yeah, you too!"