We pulled up at a little cafe about twenty minutes from the hospital. I vaguely recognised it as near to where Duffy's old flat was, and as we exited the car she proved me right.
"I live just over there" she said pointing down one of the back streets, "and I come in here occasionally when I got a bit of spare cash." She indicated the cafe. It wasn't much to look at, only about one notch up from a 'greasy spoon' but it advertised a decent breakfast range and I could feel my stomach rumbling at the thought. I locked the car and followed Duffy inside.
We sat at a table in the window, and as the waitress took our orders all I thought about was how appalling the general public's dress sense was as they flowed down the road. Then I realised that my own dress sense hadn't really changed in the past fifteen years and made a mental note that should I ever find myself back in the year 2000 I'd go shopping.
The question was would I ever find myself back 'home'? I had no idea how I ended up back in 1986 so how could I ever hope to reverse the situation. All I knew was that it must have something to do with my collapse in the gents. Perhaps this is was people mean by their life flashing before their eyes? Except my life wasn't flashing by, more like meandering rather slowly. And that wouldn't explain why I was in the mid-eighties and not back at my birth; unless there was something particularly special about today? I decided I'd have to probe Duffy for some more information, the date would help, but it would be difficult to explain just why I didn't already know it. I'd have to be subtler than that.
"Hell of a day at work wasn't it?" She looked up from the paper napkin she'd been playing with.
"I s'pose so. I didn't really get in on any of the action though." She didn’t sound bitter or anything, and I had to remind myself that in those days she was a very junior nurse who didn't often venture into resus. It didn't really tell me anything though.
"Lucky we don't get emergencies like that very often."
"There aren't that many people stupid enough to go round exporting chemical weaponry and the like." Chemical weaponry? A distant recollection bubbled to the surface. A container of some chemical had been spilt down at the docks and we'd later found out that an old friend of Baz's had been involved in shipping this chemical to the Middle East.
"We can't be sure that's what it was for."
"Baz seemed pretty certain, and she knew that Danny Bennet woman. She should know." By now the memories were surging back. We hadn't been able to identify the chemical as most chemical burns look pretty similar but Kuba, the porter, had recognised the smell (of all things!) and found out the name from some old patient notes. I didn't believe him at first and gave him a bit of a hard time.
"I thought the way you apologised to Kuba for not believing him was really nice. Did you really nick them flowers?" I laughed. I'd forgotten about that.
"A patient went home and left them. I just thought I'd put them to good use."
"I knew you wouldn't really steal." She blushed slightly, smiled, and went back to folding the napkin. As she did so I caught myself thinking how beautiful she is when she smiles, and wondering why I've never really noticed before.
I tried to shake thoughts of Duffy out of my head. I had to work out why I was where I was, or more accurately 'when'. What was special about the day of the container spill… then it came to me. A slow but distinct realisation that that was day that I'd taken Baz to breakfast and the day that she kissed me for the first time. It was the beginning of the relationship that would dominate my life for the next fifteen years, in one way or another. Except I wasn't at breakfast with Baz, I was at breakfast with Duffy. And what's more, I was enjoying myself regardless.
"Do you believe in life changing moments? You know, a split second decision that changes everything from then on?" I don't really know what made me ask her that, apart from the fact that that was what was on my mind.
"That's a bit deep for this time in the morning, innit?"
"Just wondering." I replied trying to sound casual.
"I don't think I'll ever understand you Charlie. I mean, you act like a bit of a joker half the time, the other half you're Mr Efficient Nurse and then you come out with something like that!"
"Is that how you see me? Really?"
"Well I hadn't really thought about 'til just now, but yeah. Not in a bad way or nothing though, just that we've never really sat down and talked before." A time before Duffy and I talked, it didn't seem right.
"No I suppose we haven't"
"But in answer to your question: yes I do. I think every decision you make makes some bearing on your life. Otherwise what would be the point in having free will to start with? But wouldn't it be good if when you got to a point in your life where things weren't going so great you could go back and change that decision, have a second chance. Course it'd all get a bit confusing after a while, wouldn't it!"
I'll grant her that that actually made sense in a funny sort of way. But was my life really going so badly that I needed another chance? I was doing the job that I always wanted to do, though it does leave me thoroughly knackered and is certainly not getting any easier as time goes by. I'm happily married, I think. I'd be even happier though if I saw Baz for more than two days a week of course, and the same applies to Louis. I love him dearly but I probably haven't been the best of fathers if I'm completely honest with my self. I'm exhausted a lot of the time, but I can never sleep properly, I eat junk, drink too much. Maybe my life isn't all that great. And I'm now getting the chance to change it, to wipe out fifteen years of drink abuse, depression and fights with Baz.
I've always an affinity with Duffy, and have grown to care about her as though she were family. On occasion I've wondered if there could have been more between us but I just didn't notice her when we first met and after that there was always Baz or later Andrew to come between us. I've got a second chance, a chance to see if I would have been happier with Duffy and much as I feel for Baz I can't pass this up.
"You think I'm barmy don't you?"
"For what I just said. You must think I'm mad."
"I don't think you're mad at all, besides I asked didn't I?" Just then our meals arrived. They looked delicious.
"I told you they do great food here." she said triumphantly.
"I'll have to come back then."
"Well you know where I am if you ever need a dining partner…"
"That I do." I agreed and started to eat. Duffy beamed.
The meal progressed in a cheerful and relaxed manner. We discussed all sorts, though Duffy did most of the talking as every mention of what was going on at the hospital, or in the world in general, required a concerted effort of remembrance from me. Nevertheless it was fun, I don't think I've enjoyed myself quite so much over a meal in ages. I was rather disappointed when we finished our last mouthfuls and our last sips of tea.
"I think they'll throw us out if we don't get a move on." Duffy whispered conspiratorially. I nodded in agreement, we'd already been there for nearly an hour. We went to till and I paid, chuffed that it was so cheap until I remembered how much less I was earning. Then we walked back onto the street and I headed for the car.
"See you tonight then Charlie" Duffy called out, making no movement towards the car.
"Aren't you getting in?"
"I only live over there, there's no point driving, besides you'll never find a space."
"Oh… I'll walk you to your door then." I dropped the car keys back into my pocket and came up beside her.
"How very chivalrous of you." She grinned. I held out my arm and she locked her own arm around it. The walk to her front door took hardly any time at all and when we stopped outside she gave my arm a little squeeze before letting go of it.
"Thanks for breakfast Charlie. I enjoyed it."
"The food or the company?" I joked.
"Both" She replied seriously.
"Well it was my pleasure."
"Sure you wouldn't have rather been with Baz?" Her expression clouded over momentarily.
"What makes you ask that?" I replied frowning.
"I've seen the way you are together. And she's prettier than me, and cleverer than me and has a whole great career ahead of her…"
"She's not any prettier or cleverer, you're just different to each other. You're a damn good nurse too, you'll go far I'm sure. Don't sell yourself short Duffy." I don't think she was jealous of Baz, more lacking confidence in herself. I wish I could've told her more of what I knew about her, about how strong she'd prove to be.
"I'm not, not really. I just think sometimes that I don't really know where I'm going."
"What if I could tell you that everything will be all right? Maybe not perfect, but all right."
"I'd say you were a liar. But I'd say thank you for trying. I'd better get inside before the neighbours curtains start twitching." But she didn't move, instead she stood for a second looking rather shy and I pondered whether that was a sign that she was expecting a goodbye kiss. Well as James Bond once said, you only live twice.
I took a step towards her and she moved closer to me and all of a sudden I could feel her lips on mine. We kissed gently at first then more passionately and it was wonderful. After what felt like an eternity we reluctantly broke apart.
"See you tonight then Charlie" She said as she walked up the steps, leaving my senses reeling.
"Yeah, see you tonight Duffy." I called out after her and stood, quite possibly with a silly expression on my face as she disappeared from view.
As I turned to leave the dull throb of the headache I'd had since I woke up escalated into a searing pain, stabbing through my temples and burning my eyes. I staggered a few steps forward and then collapsed.
Go to Part Three