A Surefire Plan
"It can't fail, I guarantee it." Carlos jumped up and walked to the bulletin board in the resident's hall. "See, the patients come in, get registered here, get their blood drawn here, and they're in our data base." He walked along the board, illustrating with his finger as he gestured and sought a nodding approval from his audience.
"Only you would think of this."
"Don't tell me you don't think this is a good idea, Rosenthal."
"Let's just say it would probably close the hospital down if anyone found out." Dan crossed his arms. "But you're right, it is a good idea."
"You have to do it quietly." Franklin was intrigued.
"Of course, and the hospital doesn't have to know." Carlos glanced at Dan.
"Why not, though?" Dan's mind was churning. "Why not keep them in the loop? This way, everyone is happy. Oh my, look who's back from the dead! James, join us!"
James had stopped off at Memorial on his home from ULS. His stuffed mailbox, a testimony to his absent days, cried for attention. He had not seen any other resident for over a week.
"I thought you would all be home by now. Late case?"
"All finished for the day, but Carlos is telling us about his business proposal."
"Actually James, you should be very interested in it."
"Let's hear it." James said with resignation. Somehow, he knew it had to do with sex.
Carlos lifted both hands in the air and pointed to the ceiling. "A blood bank dating service!"
The confused look of James fueled Carlos' animation. "James, it's a surefire plan!"
"Couples are going to meet in the blood bank?"
"In a sense. We're going to utilize the database of blood bank donors to create a dating service. Think about it. What's the one thing everyone fears about dating a stranger?" Carlos opened his arms to the audience. "Do they have AIDS? Do they have some weird disease? Everyone who donates blood has to get tested for AIDS and hepatitis and if they're positive, the unit of blood is rejected and they're barred from donating. If they're negative, they remain in our donor bank database. It's foolproof! They can donate every two months and get tested each time. Who wouldn't want to date someone who's been cleared of these diseases?" Carlos kept his arms extended, waiting for the applause.
In some twisted way, it did make sense to James. "But how are you going to get past the patient confidentiality issues?"
"We have them sign a waiver, giving approval to be included in this service. Of course, we would never share it with anyone outside the hospital."
"Maybe you should, Carlos." Dan got up and joined Carlos at the bulletin board. "If we combined our database with other donor centers', think of the size of our service area. We could go international!"
"Ah so! Maybe even to the Philippines. Even James could get a date." The room erupted into laughter over Carlos' comment. James laughed while his heart ached. In the three years he had been at St. Louis, he was dateless. At first, simply feeling his way through a different culture overwhelmed any desire to seek a relationship. As the days progressed to months, the demands of the research lab served as a continual reminder that these priorities took precedence. His life revolved around the assimilation of endless information while balancing the idiosyncrasies of each attending. The flirtations of a histotech and an unspoken longing for a beautiful resident were wanting substitutes for genuine warmth.
"I gotta go, guys, see you in the morning." Franklin waved and headed for the elevator.
"You know he would be the first in line to sign up for the service, " Dan snickered as he waved goodbye. "He's always so paranoid about the women he dates."
Dan nodded. "James! You decided to pay us a visit on your vacation. We miss your loud voice!"
"Good to see you too, Dan. Just catching up on my mail and making sure I stay out of Haas' way."
"You're going to have to face her sooner or later. Maybe you should try to clear the air with her."
"Maybe you should clear out of the program." Carlos added. "Deetan, you impress me! You humiliated Haas, never thought I'd see the day."
It was useless to reason with Carlos. Dan made an excellent point. Maybe he should speak to her.
"Dan, how do you think I should do this?"
Dan paced the hall, his eyes roaming the empty offices. "You need to be subtle, careful. She won't go for the apology. She needs to be seen as the best." Dan smiled. "Carlos, we need another surefire plan!"
"I'm only good once a night." Carlos winked.
"Big help you are. James, let me think about this and I'll get back to you."
James was grateful for Dan's offer. "Please call me when you think of something."
Dan and Carlos both left the resident's hall. It was 8PM, the cafeteria closed an hour ago and James still did not have dinner. He fished around his desk for an energy bar, anything to appease the gnawing in his stomach, which announced its growing displeasure with a growl.
"Didn't think anyone would be here this late."
"I stopped by to pick up my mail. What are you doing here?"
"I was in the library photocopying some journals."
"Have you eaten?"
"No...D'Angelo's?" Her smile was irresistible.
"I'll meet you there."
James' heart pounded at a quicker pace than his rapid gait to his car. D'Angelo's was tucked away in a part of the city affectionately known as Dog Town to the locals. When he arrived in St. Louis, James assumed he would be eating Southern cooking, catfish, and grits, and indeed, the hospital cafeteria regularly featured this menu. Upon querying the locals, he was surprised to learn that many recognized Italian food as the best culinary cuisine offerings of the city. Dog Town earned its nickname at the turn of century, when St. Louis was home to the Olympics in 1904. The athletes were housed in different parts of the city and the Koreans were housed in their now infamous surroundings. When neighborhood dogs began to disappear, it was suspected the Koreans were eating them. The charge was never proven but the moniker stuck. This story replayed whenever he ate in Dog Town. He dodged the inevitable query of whether he was Korean on at least every visit.
Deanna sat in a secluded booth in the back of the restaurant when James arrived. The solitary candle, housed in a small red glass, cast a soft glow on her face. She smiled as James approached.
"I just got here." Deanna smiled and glanced out the window and red and yellow hues of leaves that swirled by. "Fall is my favorite time of year. I have to remind myself it's fall and not the spring."
Deanna sensed James' confusion. "Remember, the seasons are opposite in Brazil."
James forgot that Deanna grew up in Brazil. She had no accent, no mannerisms that hinted she grew up anywhere else but in the States. "In the Philippines, there are only two seasons, hot and hotter." James replied.
"Same in Brazil. Guess I was used to it there but when I went to school in Switzerland, it was a shock!"
James was surprised by the admission. "When were you in Switzerland?"
"Most of my teen years. My dad was appointed ambassador to Switzerland so we moved when I was 14 and remained there until I left for college in Boston."
"You stayed in Boston for college and medical school, right?"
"I did. It was the first time I lived in America. I loved it. Still do!" Her eyes lit up.
"America is so different from the Philippines. I'm still adjusting to the changes."
"What's the biggest change?"
"It's so big, everything's so big! Cities, supermarkets, cars...people. Lots of fat, fat people!"
They both laughed. It was the first time James felt the shackles of the residency loosen.
"Are you ready to order?" The waiter politely stood next to the table, until the break in the conversation.
"No carbs for me, too many fat people!" Deanna puffed her cheeks and blew it out, laughing as she exhaled.
"May I offer you something from our wine selections?"
James looked over at Deanna who raised her right eyebrow as she smiled. "I feel like champagne, how about you, James?"
"Do you have something special for us?"
The waiter smiled as he looked into both of their eyes. "I have just the bottle." Within a few minutes, he returned, held the bottle out for inspection, and been given approval, popped the cork. As he poured the glasses, he smiled and whispered. "A very special champagne...for a very special couple."
James blushed at the mention of couple. He quickly lifted his napkin to his cheeks, hoping it would obscure Deanna's view. She raised her filled glass. "To pushing glass!"
"Pushing glass!" Their glasses clinked. The bubbles tickled his tounge as James imbibed the potion.
"I would like to visit the Philippines someday." Deanna held her glass at an angle, watching the bubbles rise.
"It's probably just as humid as Brazil, not as big, though. There's a big Spanish influence."
"Like the Portuguese influence in Brazil."
"Until I met you, I didn't know there were Jewish people in Brazil."
Deanna nodded. "A lot more than you would ever imagine. Actually, all over South America."
"I would never have thought that."
"I would never have thought there were so many Chinese in the Philippines. You know there are a lot of Japanese and Chinese in Brazil, especially Sao Paolo."
James had heard that. "Yes, in Peru also. Wasn't the president Japanese?"
"Yes. My father knew him very well. Growing up, I had a lot of Chinese friends."
"Me too." They both laughed. James warmed to her revelation.
The polite waiter reappeared from the shadows. "May I tell you of our specials this evening?" They both nodded. The waiter rambled on for a few seconds. James stared at Deanna as she twirled a brown lock of hair between her fingers, listening to her ask the waiter details of the various dishes. The champagne in his empty stomach made his head spin.
"What do you think, James?"
James had not heard a word. "Yes...yes...that's sounds wonderful. I'll have the same."
"Excellent choices." The waiter gathered the menus from them. "I can see you are enjoying your champagne." A knowing look passed between James and the waiter.
"Have you spoken to Haas?"
James shook his head.
"It's a sad situation, James. It's obviously a misunderstanding but Haas doesn't view it that way."
"I know she wants me out of the program. Dan said he would think of something I could say to her. What do you think?"
Deanna pursed her lips and stared at the glowing candle. "It's a tough call. I have a pretty good relationship with her, let me feel her out and see if I can put in a good word for you."
"Would you, Deanna? I would appreciate that."
"It will work out, James." Deanna reached across the table and grasped his hand.
James stared at their entwined hands. He fought to maintain his composure but knew he was losing. His ears were filled with blood, his veins dilated by the alcohol. He could feel his head moving, rhythmically following his pounding heartbeat. It was only a few seconds, but he had lost concept of time. He spoke but had no recollection of what he said. Their entwined hands dissolved the frustrations of the past weeks. It anchored his soul into the only reality that made any sense for him.
"What are your favorite sounds, James?" Her words were melodic, soothing.
"What do you mean?" he whispered.
"I like to collect sounds...they bring back memories for me, take me to special places...with special people."
James was intrigued. "Tell me some."
Deanna closed her eyes and lifted her head, throwing back her hair. "The gurgle of a baby...the crackle of a campfire...the heartbeat of my mother as I lay against her chest."
It was perfect.
"Let me try." James closed his eyes and let his thoughts drift to home, thousands of miles away. He was in the kitchen. A lavish spread of food lay before him, surrounded by flowers. The smell of noodles and pork filled his nostrils. He sat at the table and looked around. Something was missing. And then, he heard it. "The sound of my father's slippers as he comes to the dinner table!" James opened his eyes to find Deanna smiling at him.
"You miss him, don't you?"
James swallowed and nodded.
"We're very blessed to have our families." Deanna closed her eyes, as if she were praying.
Their dinners soon arrived, a delicious dish for which James had absolutely no idea. It mattered little. As they dined, the recent events of the past two weeks provided the gist for a lively conversation. Restaurant patrons politely passed as their laughter filled the emptying restaurant.
"Will there be anything else?"
Deanna looked up at the waiter and then scanned the vacant restaurant. "Oh my goodness, what time is it?"
"I'm sorry, Deanna. I completely lost track of time."
"I'm glad." Her smile reassured him.
James snatched the bill from the waiter. "I'll take care of this."
"Dr. Deetan, you may have forgotten that I am your superior. When you're out in practice, you can return the favor." Deanna handed her credit card to the waiter, over James' outstretched arm.
Deanna lifted her finger to her lips and smiled. "Next time, we'll plan a special dinner at my place." Her eyes twinkled, reflecting the flickering candle flame.
"A surefire plan." James whispered to himself.
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