Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of working with Louisa Heaton in creating a scenario for our two-book series ‘Reunited at St Barnabas’s Hospital’. Louisa and I decided that we wanted to follow patients through from when they first entered the hospital until they left, and so Louisa’s book – the first in the duo – is set in the Surgical Neurology Unit, while mine follows on from that, and is set in the Neurological Rehab Unit.
So to whet your appetite, here’s an excerpt from my book, which is the second in the duo. And don’t forget to check out Louisa’s book, ‘Twins for the Neurosurgeon’, as well!
Second chance at forever!
In this Reunited at St Barnabas’s Hospital story, Dr Gil has adapted to a slower-paced life and his partial memory loss, following his traumatic brain injury. But when Dr Clemmie arrives at his rehabilitation centre, he can’t shake the feeling he’s met this captivating yet cautious doctor before…
It was a brisk uphill walk from Richmond Station, and Dr Clemmie Francis was a little out of breath by the time she got to St Barnabas’s Hospital. The large modern building sparkled in the sunshine, and Clemmie turned left at the main entrance as she’d been instructed, walking towards the older building that stood next door.
The neurological rehab unit was an example of a previous reincarnation of Barney’s. Grand in quite a different way, with high arched windows and fancy brickwork, that would have been a state-of-the-art example of a modern hospital in Queen Victoria’s reign.
Clemmie was a little early, so she crossed the road and sat down on a bench that was placed on the border of Richmond Park. She imagined that the windows of the neurological rehab unit afforded a magnificent view of the park, and that it would be possible to see for miles from the top floor of the building. A smile found its way from her heart to her lips. Seeing for miles was exactly what she wanted to do.
For too long now, she’d taken each day as it came, facing each new challenge as it presented itself. It had been a matter of self-preservation, a way to ignore a future that seemed to hold only jarring reverberations from the past. But slowly she’d made a new start. Found a place to live, scraped old paper from the walls and made it home. Found a new job, at a neurological rehab unit attached to a central London hospital. She’d been determined to shine, and she had.
And now she was on a fast track to promotion. The head of the unit was due to retire in six months, and Clemmie would be his successor. Spending six weeks here at Barney’s, which was recognised as one of the best neurological rehab units in the country, was an opportunity to learn and prepare herself for her new role.
Clemmie filled her lungs with air. The future really did seem to be waiting for her, sparkling in the early morning sun. She took a moment to appreciate the feeling of anticipation, and then got to her feet. Turning up early on your first day was never a bad thing, and she just couldn’t wait any longer.
The entrance of the older building gleamed in quite a different way from the main hospital complex. No vast sheets of glass or shimmering automatic doors. Here the pace seemed a little slower and quieter, and it was the polished wood of the lobby that caught the light. Beyond that, a large, bright space, where Clemmie could see a woman sitting behind a reception counter.
‘Dr Clemmie Francis. I’m here for the director of the unit…’ Clemmie handed over the letter from her hospital’s administrator, who had dealt with her placement here at Barneys, and which instructed her to be here at nine this morning.
‘Ah! Yes, we’re expecting you.’ The receptionist grinned. ‘You wouldn’t believe how many people have turned up here this morning instead of where they’re supposed to be. You’re in the right place though. I’ll give Dr Alexander a call. Sit down right there.’
Dr Alexander? A name from the past, which even now had the power to send shivers of agitation down Clemmie’s spine. She turned, obediently walking over to the seat that the receptionist had indicated and sitting down.
It was nothing. How many Dr Alexanders were there in this world? More than one, clearly, and this one would probably be middle-aged and avuncular, if the welcoming style of the reception area was anything to go by. Or a woman, maybe…
Clemmie took a deep breath, going through all the reasons that this couldn’t be the Dr Gil Alexander that she knew…scrap that, the one she’d met seven years ago, had a brief fling with, and clearly hadn’t known at all. He’d be somewhere in the fast lane, getting his kicks from emergency medicine. That, or sitting back in a comfortable leather seat with private patients hanging on his every word. Maybe back in Australia…
Enough. Wherever Gil Alexander was, he was part of her past now. She’d moved on and she didn’t need to wonder about him every time something happened to remind her of that mistake. The first domino to fall in a succession of others that had brought her world crashing down.
‘You’ll be with us for a while…?’ The receptionist’s voice came to her rescue and diverted her attention.
‘Yes, six weeks. I work at the Princess Victoria Hospital in north London.’
‘Ah. Nice.’ The receptionist shot her a blank look. ‘You’ll like it at Barney’s, everyone’s very friendly. And if there’s anything you need, just come and ask me. I’m Maggie.’
‘Thanks…’ There was one thing. ‘Could you tell me where the ladies’ is, please?’
‘Back there, turn left and the lockers and the ladies’ room are right in front of you.’ Maggie jerked her thumb, pointing behind her. ‘If you want to pop there now, Gil said he’d be five minutes.’
Dr Alexander. Gil. Dr Gil Alexander. Shock must have impaired Clemmie’s reasoning ability because she was already on her feet and halfway over to the door that the receptionist had indicated before she put it all together. And even then she was groping for some reason not to believe it. Maybe this Dr Alexander was Dr Gillian Alexander… No, Maggie had said he.
By the time she got to the washbasin in the ladies’ room, her hands were shaking, and she turned on the cold tap, dangling her fingers in the stream of water.
A warm summer, much like this year’s. Sticky heat. Sweat. Gil doing things with her body that she couldn’t forget, however hard she tried. She’d met him at a two-week conference and liked him…a lot. Fallen into bed with him with embarrassing speed, and then believed him when he’d said that he couldn’t wait to see her again. That business with the photo booth, where they’d had their pictures taken and written their telephone numbers on the back, had been just cruel. He’d never called her and when Clemmie had called him, excited to hear the sound of his voice, he hadn’t picked up. She’d been embarrassed and belittled, as well as hurt.
She stared at her reflection in the mirror above the basin. What if he recognised her?
What if he didn’t? That could cut both ways: it would be a blow to her pride, but it would make things easier. She could pretend that it had never happened. If he started to make her nervous she could employ the old interview trick of imagining him naked…
Which wasn’t going to work. Imagining someone naked was supposed to empower you. The Gil she’d known was far more powerful naked than he was clothed.
Imagine him as a liar. Someone who breaks his promises.