I don't know why I ran to the gent's. It seemed like a good idea at the time, the only place that I could think of that Leona wouldn't be able to follow me. I should have realised that just because I didn't want her to follow me it didn't mean that she wasn't going to. I had to press my back up against the door to stop her from coming in after me. All the time all I could hear was her calling my name in that piercing Scottish accent of hers. "Char-lie, Char-lie, I love ya Char-lie" over and over as the pain ripped through my chest and sent me crashing to floor. It was the last sound that I heard before the pain got to be too much to bear and I passed out. Then everything became silent and the blackness took over.
I felt myself lying down, the faint red glow in my eyes suggesting the glare of the hospital's strip lighting blazing down on me. I screwed my eyes up a little tighter to block it out. I was too comfortable to move, to face the real world. Then it hit me. I was too comfortable. The memory of the pain in my chest flooded back, but now that's all it was, a memory. It didn't hurt at all. I always assumed that after a … a… whatever it was, a heart attack possibly, it would hurt a good deal more than it appeared to be hurting right now. I would have thought about it more but I heard a noise in the room with me so gingerly opened my eyes, squinting at the light.
"Didn't mean to wake you, sorry" said a familiar voice in a whisper, but for some reason it took me a second to place it.
"S'all right" I mumbled in return trying to sit up and look at least partly dignified. I rubbed my eyes and realised I had a throbbing headache.
"I did tell you it was going to be a bad day, you know. There's a lot more to this astrology lark than a lot of people think!" the voice continued in its unmistakable West Country drawl.
"You what?" My eyes were just about ready to focus on the blurry outline of a woman in a light blue dress. As they did so I realised that that woman was Duffy and she was unpinning her white nurse's cap from her hair. The rest of the room was also swimming into focus around me. I was lying on the sofa in the staff room, but not our present staff room, the one that had long since been gutted and rebuilt elsewhere. It was the staff room where the young junior nurse Duffin in her antiquated uniform belonged and where I certainly didn't. I must have looked every bit as baffled as I felt because Duffy stopped fussing with her hair and came over to me with a somewhat inquisitive look on her face.
"You look like you've seen a ghost, Charlie. You all right?" I have a sneaking suspicion that if I'd said 'no I'm not. I've just travelled backwards in time fifteen years' she might well have thought I was mad. So I didn't and just nodded that yes, I was fine.
"Well, shift's over. We can go have breakfast, then crawl into our bed's for a few hours before we have to be back here again tonight. What an exciting life we lead, eh?" She rolled her eyes, grinned and went back to the mirror to continue to fluff up her hair.
I fought the urge to lie back down and go to sleep again and instead found myself standing in front of my locker. I tugged the door open forgetting for a second that my old locker didn't jam the way my new one does, and surveyed the inside. My old flying jacket hung there innocent of the years of faithful service it would provide me with. I slipped off my white uniform coat and eased on the jacket. It fitted like a glove and I couldn't help but admire myself in the little mirror on the inside of the door.
That was when surprise number two happened. I hadn't just travelled back in time; I was actually younger. I ran my hand through my curly hair and laughed. I couldn't stop myself, it just happened. Only a few minutes ago I thought I was dying but now I was young again. I felt a pair of eye's burning into the back of my head and turned round to see Duffy staring at me as though I'd completely lost my mind. Well maybe I have.
"I'm starting to worry about you Charlie Fairhead."
Seeing as 'I'm young!' was the only thought running through my mind I decided it would probably be better not to say anything. I could just imagine Duffy backing away from me, with an expression somewhere between incredulous and downright scared. I didn't have time to think more about it though as the door was flung open and in walked two more very familiar faces.
"If someone points me in the general direction of my house and gives me a little shove I'm sure I'll be all right!" Megan was saying. The sight of her brought a huge grin to my face, though I noticed that she did look extremely tired.
"Oh come now Megan. Tonight's been no worse than any other night." Ewart replied. Now I really had seen a ghost and the grin froze, faded, and turned into pure disbelief. If at any point I had thought that I was trapped in some kind of elaborate practical joke now I couldn't doubt the fact that, however it had happened, I really was in the past.
"Oh and that's supposed to make me feel better is it? We had a major emergency today and we only just coped. And tonight and the next night it'll be just the same!"
"And we'll cope then too. We have to if we want to make the permanent night-shift a success." He looked at her as if daring her to disagree with him. She sighed.
"I know, I'm just tired and I want to go to bed." she said apologetically.
"See you at the next shift then Megan." he replied as she got her coat and bag from her locker. She waved goodbye to Duffy and myself and left the room. Meanwhile Ewart had begun pouring himself a cup of coffee. He turned round and looked at the two of us.
"Don't you two have homes to go to?" I have to admit I was still staring blankly at him at this point and the ability to reply completely escaped me. Luckily Duffy jumped in first.
"I don't know if I'd count my place as a home. But then seeing as I spend most of my waking hours in this place I don't reckon it matters much so long as I got a bed to sleep in."
"I don’t know why everybody sounds so down at the moment. Like I said before: we did good work here tonight. And we got some publicity for our cause, which is never a bad thing. Come on Charlie, restore my faith in this team!" He looked at me expectantly and my already blank mind went, well, blanker.
"I… er…yeah…we…did…good?" Ewart's shoulder's sagged.
"I don't know why I bother!" He said shaking his head and heading for the door, steaming coffee in hand. "For God's sake, you two, you're young! Go out and enjoy yourselves for a few hours. Just here be here bright and early at eight." And then he vanished through the door. Duffy sunk into one of the armchairs, looking despondent.
"I remember going out. I used to do that regular, like. But now… you know I got dumped? He said it wasn't fair that I was always on nights. Said if I was serious, I'd rearrange my schedule to suit him. The nerve of it!"
"Doesn't sound fair." I tried to sympathise.
"Fair don't come into it. S'all right for you though, innit?"
"What do you mean?" She bit her lip and looked embarrassed, like she'd said something she hadn't meant to.
"Nothing," she got up again and headed for the door, "I'm going to get changed."
"Duffy!" I called after her, "what do you mean?" She turned back to and looked up at me with an expression of innocence that I haven't seen on her face in a very long time.
"Just that everyone knows that you and Baz are… sweet on each other." I bit hard on my lip to stop myself from bursting out laughing. It's been easy to forget that once upon a time the sensible, mature woman who's grown to be my best friend was actually barely more than a kid when we first met.
"You saying you're not?" she continued wide-eyed and disbelieving. I didn't know how to answer that one. Baz and I had flirted with each other for months before we finally got together. But then, on thinking about it, even when we were together we never exactly came out and admitted it. That wouldn't happen for a good many years to come. Strangely the urge to laugh passed.
"I have no idea how she feels about me." I replied diplomatically and, frankly, truthfully. Duffy looked at me knowingly so I thought I should clarify my position too.
"And I am not 'sweet on her'" I thought I'd better change the subject, "So do you fancy going out somewhere now?"
"To some special disco what's open at nine in the morning?" she said sarcastically.
"I was thinking for breakfast actually, my treat."
"You're on! I can't afford to be passing up free meals the state my bank balance is in." She laughed, and it was the sort of infectious laugh that had me chuckling away too.
I told Duffy that I'd meet her at my car and she went off to get changed out of her uniform. I strolled out of the staff room into the reception area. It all looked so different to what I've become used to. The walls were a strange beige-y colour that made the room look a lot darker than it is usually and the layout has even been changed since the fire that destroyed the place several years back, or should that be in several years to come? The year 2000's door was currently a wall so I headed instead for what I now think of as paediatric resus and left the hospital. Even the forecourt has changed and it was all rather disorientating. Well it was until I spotted her.
Parked in the staff bay was a bright yellow VW Beetle. More precisely my yellow Beetle. A completely ridiculous little car, granted, but she had a certain charm that you just don't get with more modern cars. And all right, so I'd feel a bit daft driving one around in my time, but now it felt natural. I went over and patted her on the bonnet before getting in. Then I spent a few minutes familiarising myself with the gear stick and the contents of the glove compartment and before I knew it Duffy was tapping on my window. I lent across and opened the door for her and caught a whiff of stale cigarette smoke emanating from the upholstery. It made me cough.
"You should give up them cigs Charlie. They won't do you no good." I made a gesture of screwing up the packet I'd found in my jacket pocket and tossing in onto the back seat. She laughed.
"I give you half an hour."
"And if I go for more than half an hour what do I get?" I asked in a tone that came out a lot flirtier than I'd meant it to. She obviously picked up on it too, blushed, avoided answering, and started fiddling with her seat belt. That passenger seat belt was always a bit dodgy. I never bothered to fix it though because as a young man who didn't know any better I found that reaching over to assist, gentlemanly assist of course, could help progress a date shall we say. I nearly reached over then but caught myself and gripped the steering wheel instead. Duffy sorted the belt out and sat up straight in her seat.
"Right, so where we going then?" I hadn't thought that far ahead. And to tell the truth that rather concerned me. Just of late I haven't been known for my impetuosity. Impetuosity can lead to things like getting shot.
I shrugged, "Your choice"
"OK… go out of the hospital and take a left. That's if you trust me?"
"Course I do" So I started the engine and reversed out of the parking space. As I did so saw a figure standing in the doorway to the department. It was Baz and she looked rather lost, glancing repeatedly at her watch. Almost as if someone had stood her up. She caught sight of my rather distinctive car and shot me a look that definitely started as confusion before graduating to annoyance. At that point I realised who'd stood her up, but I didn't have the chance to do anything about it, there were several cars on my tail. As I drove out of the hospital grounds I saw her turn and stomp back into the department.
"I think I promised to take Baz to breakfast…" Duffy's face fell. I could see that, even though she tried to hide it.
"Well if you want to go back for her… I can get the bus home like I planned to anyway. I don't mind." That's what she said, but her expression told a different story. I thought about it for a couple of seconds as we waited at the traffic lights and came to the conclusion that I could make it up to Baz another time. Besides it was too interesting getting to know the old Duffy again, the Duffy from before things started going wrong for her.
"It was just a casual arrangement, she'll be fine about it." Of course I had no idea if that was true but Baz had never been into exclusivity in her youth anyway. I tried not to feel too bad about it; after all, what harm could it possibly do?
Go to Part Two