He reaches for a frameless pair of glasses and puts them on with a single hand while grabbing my folder with the other. The action is so effortless and yet so meticulous at the same time. I find myself staring at his hands for a moment, noticing their incredible structure and size. His fingers have a certain elegance about them, like they can wield magic or something.
Well, he is a surgeon, so I guess that’s technically true on some level.
“Ramona Gallo,” he says as he looks at the first page of my form. The incredible depth of his voice sends a bolt of shivers down my spine, catching me off guard. I find myself wanting him to say my name again, and I think I’m even more surprised by that reaction.
I frown at myself, feeling like I need a good hard knock on the head to get my mind right. I’m in a doctor’s office, for crying out loud. Considering my history, this is the last place on Earth I should ever feel anything other than dread or disgust.
“You’re Italian?” he asks, but his attention is still on my form.
I nod my head as if he’s looking. “Uh, yes. Partially,” I say hoarsely. I need to clear my throat before speaking again. “My dad was Italian and my mom was Bajan.”
He turns his face toward me, an unusually curious expression showing through his perfect features.
“Was?” he asks.
It’s a simple question, but carries so much weight for me that I feel like I’ve been kicked in the gut with a pair of heavy metal boots. I feel myself struggling to swallow before I can say anything else.
“Yeah. They both passed away,” I simply offer.
A hollowness fills me as I sit still in the firm leather chair, trying hard to not let my emotions get the better of me.
His expression turns slightly somber as he continues to look at me. The look is unmistakable.
Great. He feels sorry for me. He feels the one thing I absolutely can’t stand and don’t want from anyone; pity.
“I’m sorry,” he offers.
“It’s okay,” I quickly say. There’s a slight hostility and a hint of anger in my voice when I say it, and I know I shouldn’t be so defensive with him about the topic. He doesn’t deserve my wrath. All he did was offer a polite and empathetic gesture.
That’s what you do when someone tells you they’ve lost someone, I internally scold myself. You empathize with them! It’s common courtesy, Roni. No big deal.
“I used to be really good friends with a Daniel Gallo way back in the day,” he says, smiling. “A marine. Really nice guy. You wouldn’t happen to know him, would you?”
My eyes widen at the mention of that name. It takes me a few seconds before I can answer. “Uh…y-yeah. Danny’s my, uh, my half-brother.”
He raises his eyebrows, seemingly just as surprised by the coincidence as I am.
“Is that so? I thought you looked a little like him,” he says. “I’ve known him a long time, but I had no idea he had another sister.”
He looks at me intently again, as if trying to really confirm our resemblance, his eyes sweeping over my figure and burning holes into my flesh. I shift in my chair, uncomfortable with his prolonged gaze.
“How is he?” he asks, finally breaking his stare.
I shrug. “I’m not exactly sure. We don’t really talk that often.”
More like ever. Danny hates my guts. And my mother’s. So does his sister, Jennifer. They always have. They’ve always blamed us for our father leaving them and their mother, and also for his death. Now that my mother’s gone, they put all that blame on me.
“I see,” he simply says. “Well if you get in touch with him, tell him Dexter Frost says, ‘hi’.”
I give a forced smile, betting everything I have that he’ll get in touch with Danny way before I ever will.
Dr. Frost flips through the pages of the form as I idly pick at the slightly chipped polish on my nails, trying to focus solely on the bubbling sounds of the aquarium instead of his gorgeous face.
His voice comes through again, easily distracting me from doing so.
“I see you have a history of cancer in your family. Is that how your mother passed?”
I answer him in an almost robotic manner. “Yes. Both my mother and her father died from cancer. So did my paternal grandfather.”
He nods. “I see. Again, you have my condolences. As an oncologist, I know how hard that can be.”
I’m not sure whether or not he knows about what happened, and I don’t know if Danny had told him, but he doesn’t ask me about my father—about our father—and I’m glad for that.
His voice comes through again. “What types?”
“I’m sorry?” I say, confused by his question.
“What types of cancer did your mother and grandfathers have?” he clarifies.
“Oh. Uh, breast cancer for my mother. Colon cancer for her father. Pancreatic for my paternal grandfather.”
“I see. How long has it been since each of them passed?”
I’m not sure if the question is medically related, but there seems to be a hint of simple curiosity behind it.
I decide to answer regardless of the question’s intent. “It’s been about six years for my mom. Her father died before I was born, and it’ll be a year exactly on Friday since my other grandfather’s passing.”
He continues to flip through the pages, with eyes so intense and focused, scanning each one carefully and intently.
He finally places the form on his desk and turns to fully face me with his hands intertwined on his desk again. A noticeable frown makes its way onto his lips.
“You have a considerable drug use history. Can you tell me a bit about that?”
I stiffen in my seat as soon as the words leave his mouth, and I feel a bout of shame quickly creep up on me, threatening to wash over me completely.
I guess I should have expected him to ask me about that since I did fill it out in the form, but talking about my past history with drug abuse—even with a professional physician—still makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable.
He’s just another stranger. It really shouldn’t matter what he thinks of me, and I certainly shouldn’t care if he does think less of me, but for some reason, I don’t want him to judge me or see me in such a negative light. I don’t know why, I just don’t.
“I…I just sort of went through this phase right after my mother died. I guess I was trying to cope with her loss,” I admit.
He nods, somewhat empathetically, but still has a serious look on his face with the frown still intact.
“I can understand that,” he says, “and I can imagine how hard it must have been for you. But you know that there are very serious risks and consequences that come with drug abuse. Especially when you mix so many together.”
His tone is starting to get a bit harsh, and I feel like I’m being scolded.
Great. First it’s Vito, and now it’s this guy.
He pauses for a moment, still looking at me with a gaze so intense that I have to look down at my hands to break the stare. My fingers are trembling, and I don’t know if it’s because he’s subtly telling me off or something else.
I hear him breathe out, possibly in a sigh.
“I’m not going to give you a lecture on drug abuse,” he says. “You seem like a smart person, and I wouldn’t be telling you anything you don’t already know. Plus, you haven’t indicated that you’re currently under any medication. I’m assuming that includes non-prescription and recreational drugs. Is my assumption correct?”
“Yes,” I whisper, suddenly feeling really low about myself. I really wish he didn’t know about my previous drug problem.
“Okay,” he nods. “I’m taking your word for it, but I want you to know right now and here that you’re not doing yourself any favors if you are still engaging in drug abuse.”
Jesus, I know that! Drop it already!
I’m becoming furious. It’s like he’s picking on me now. I want to voice my thoughts but I don’t. I hate feeling paranoid, but I’m beginning to think he’s demeaning me because of what I did. I may not have made the best choices, but he has no right to look down on me for them.
I swallow hard, feeling the onset of tears threatening to well in my eyes. I haven’t talked about my drug history with anyone before, on any occasion, and on any level. I never imagined doing so would be this hard, and he hasn’t even scratched the surface.
I bite my lip, physically refraining myself from verbally lashing out at him. My nostrils flare slightly, and I know I’m getting really angry. Gorgeous or not, if he so much as mentions anything about drugs one more time, I’m going to cuss the mess out of him and walk right out of this building.
There’s a long pause, and the awkward silence that ensues is broken only by the wispy sounds of flipping pages. My feet start tapping uncontrollably again, giving away my state of impatience, anger, and anxiety.
Is a consultation supposed to take this fucking long?
After a moment, he finally breaks the silence.
“So,” he begins, switching his attention back to me again and linking his long fingers through each other once more, “tell me what’s going on, Ramona.”