Rating: M for Language and Mild Adult Theme
Rufus had a grueling day in the emergency room. It started with the attending physician yelling at him for an error made by a different medical student and it progressively got worse. The first patient he saw was a little girl with a Lego brick shoved up her nose. She was cooperative, even calm, as Rufus removed the piece but her mother was out of control, sobbing and shrieking until he was done. The next patient was a charming, elderly gentleman who came in complaining of vague symptoms and malaise. Rufus was taking his history when the man’s eyes rolled back and he became unresponsive. Rufus called a code and did chest compressions before the code team arrived. Sadly, their efforts were fruitless and Rufus had to choke back his tears when he and the attending gave the family the bad news. Next up was a patient suspected of seeking narcotics. When Rufus tried to explain that he was a medical student and could not give her any medication, she punched him in the face, resulting in a black eye. And before lunch, members of a nearby sorority came in with symptoms of food poisoning from eating raw cookie dough. One of the women tried to flirt with him and then threw up on his scrub suit and new tennis shoes. When he went to change, he decided to take a break for lunch and he found that the bento box Ellowyne made for him had been stolen so he had an energy drink and cookies from the nurses’ station. In the afternoon, he saw a man with a self-inflicted gunshot wound and another man who had an accident with a chain saw. A woman came in with complaints of abdominal pain and swelling. She had no idea that she was pregnant until she was in labor. The last patient of the day was a woman who tried on her best friend’s new engagement ring and could not remove it. After trying soap, petroleum jelly, and cooling off her hand, the ring remained stuck. Finally one of the doctors suggested cutting the ring and the engaged woman said she would rather have her friend’s finger cut off! After the problem with the ring had been resolved, Rufus was off duty. But as if to add insult to injury, when he went to the staff parking lot, he found that someone badly dinged the door of his red Subaru. He could barely wait until he got home.
When he got back to the apartment he shared with Ellowyne, he smelled drunken noodles, his favorite Thai dish, wafting through the hallway. From his texts, Ello knew he’d had a rough day and she greeted him with a kiss and a Scotch on the rocks. She asked, “Tough day, huh?”
“The worst. God, I hate this clerkship. There’s an unending stream of patients and you can’t take care of them in a timely fashion. And you don’t get a chance to get to know your patients. It’s almost like an assembly line. Patients come in, get released or transfer, and as soon as they’re out, someone else comes in. And the staff! After the alleged drug seeker punched me, the nursing staff called her a GOMER. Do you know what that means? It means, Get Out of My Emergency Room. Yeah, I’m pissed that she hit me but—I don’t know. Every person should be treated with respect, even the ones who are pretty obnoxious.”
Ellowyne looked at Rufus’ black eye and gently touched his face. “Honey, you have quite the shiner. Let me grab a washcloth and some ice. You lay down for a little bit while I finish supper.”
Rufus groaned. “Yes, doctor,” and stretched out on the couch. Sybil, their cat, jumped on his chest, kneading him and purring. “Sybil, are you trying to make me feel better or are you just an opportunist?”
About ten minutes later, Ellowyne was close to finishing cooking and called Rufus to the kitchen table. As she ladled drunken noodles onto their plates, he looked through his mail. There were a couple of bills, a catalog, the New England Journal of Medicine, and an envelope that looked suspiciously like an invitation. He stared at the sender’s name on the return address. Gwendolyn Wilde. He hadn’t heard that name in years. He opened it and found indeed that it was an invitation—to her wedding.
He asked, “Did you see this, Ello?”
“Yes. Uh, is that the girl?”
“Who broke my heart in college? Yeah. That’s her. And look. She’s marrying that ‘handsome’ man she said was more her type. And I’m invited. Oh, joy.” He sighed and shrugged. “She told me wasn’t attracted to me and that she’d rather be with Penn. I could have been okay about it but then she said, ‘even the homeliest doctors get dates plenty of dates.’ God that hurt!”
“That was rude and mean. I think you’re handsome. I love the way you look. You are catnip to me.” Just then, the cat rubbed Rufus’s leg and purred. “See? Sybil thinks you’re catnip, too!” Ellowyne stroked his hand. “So, do you think you’ll go?”
“Probably not. I haven’t kept in touch with her. I really don’t get why she even invited me. To make me feel like a loser like she did in college?”
“Maybe she’s offering an olive branch because of the way she treated you.”
“And maybe it’s just a gift grab.”
“Get them a gravy boat. Now, is this a plus one?”
Rufus looked at the invitation again. “You know, it is.” He smirked. “Hmm. If I go, who should I ask?”
Ellowyne laughed and made a face. “You better be nice to me or I’ll never make Thai food again!”
He grinned and said, “Okay, okay. You win. I think I have a three-day weekend then. And it might be fun to meet up with some of my college friends. Can you clear your schedule?”
“I think so. I do my presentation in my qualitative methods course a couple of days before the wedding so I won’t have that hanging over my head. And a weekend away from the ivory tower might be just what the doctor ordered.”
Rufus grinned. “Would that doctor be a future MD like me or an aspiring PhD like you?”
“Watch it buddy. You keep picking on me and I won’t give you any of the cocoanut sorbet I got today.”
“I give up! Woman, you are not my equal. You are my superior.”
“Don’t forget that!”
When they got to bed around 11:00, Rufus had trouble falling asleep. Memories of Gwendolyn swam through his head. was restless and could not stop thinking about her. She shattered his heart and threw it on the floor, leaving tiny shards that unexpectedly cut him long after she rejected him. He thought about happier days, to the time when they first met at State. They were in the same orientation group the week before their freshman year began and were paired together as orientation buddies. Rufus could not believe his luck. Gwen was the prettiest girl he’d ever known and he was immediately smitten. She had a soft but clear voice, an eclectic style, and a sense of vulnerability that made him want to protect her. As their semester went on, Gwen introduced Rufus to three of her sorority sisters: Amber, Prudence, and Lizette. They had several classes together and frequently studied with each other. By the end of the first semester, Rufus befriended Liz, Pru, and Amber—and he realized his feelings for Gwendolyn had morphed into love. The three friends tried gently to dissuade him because they knew Gwen wasn’t romantically interested in him and they didn’t want him to get hurt. But in the end, he was hurt anyway. Badly.
In her junior year, Gwen met Penn, who recently graduated from State. They only had a few dates but she thought that he might be the ‘one’. In the meantime, Rufus changed his major to pre-med with a minor in neuroscience. He was so focused on his studies that he didn’t notice that Gwen was seeing someone. When he was done with finals, he asked Gwen to meet him at a coffee house close to the campus. He decided to tell her how he felt about her. He told her that he loved her but she seemed uncomfortable. She had to tell him that she loved him as a friend, nothing more. She also said that she simply wasn’t attracted to him and found Penn more attractive. Gwen tried to tell him gently that he would someday find someone else, she said that even the homeliest doctors manage to get dates. Rufus was mortified and did not speak to her the rest of the time they both were at State.
From that point on, He threw himself into his studies. He didn’t date anyone in college—he didn’t have the time nor the inclination. He was accepted to the medical school of his choice, which was about a four-hour drive from State. He would have happily gone to a med school even further away from State—and Gwendolyn and Penn—but this one was the best. And then he met Ellowyne.
Still unable to sleep, Rufus looked at Ellowyne, who was sleeping soundly. The moonlight danced on her flawless skin and he gently brushed her cheek. He thought about the first time they met and he remembered their conversation verbatim. He met her at The Hub, a popular coffee house near the campus. It was crowded and she tried in vain to find an empty table. Finally she saw a man about her age who was engrossed in a thick, important looking text and she asked him if she could share his table. Without even looking at her, he muttered, “Sure. I‘m leaving soon anyway.” and she put her hot cocoa and backpack down.
Eventually, Rufus looked at his tablemate. She was reading and taking notes on several scholarly journals, Feminist Review and Women’s Studies Quarterly. His interest piqued, he asked, “Are you in gender studies?”
“Good observation,” she replied curtly. Little did Rufus know that Ellowyne expected him to respond the same way nearly every other man did about her academic aspirations. Some belittled her interest and called her names like ‘feminazi’ or worse. Others told her she was too pretty to be a feminist and others assumed she had to be stupid because of her pretty face and blonde hair. She even tried to go without makeup and wear thick black horn rims so she’d discourage unwanted male attention but was told she was cute in a hipster way. She absolutely expected Rufus to make an inane remark like most of the men she met.
Instead, he said, “You know, the field of gender studies is almost more important today than in the past. It sounds like a great field of study and I wish I knew more.” Then he looked at her. smiled, and extended his hand. “By the way, I’m Rufus Rutter.”
Ellowyne shook his hand. “It’s nice to meet you. So, Rufus Rutter, what do you study? Are you a neuroscience student?”
“I started out with a neuroscience major in undergrad but I didn’t like the grunt work. We were expected to put rats or mice in stressful situations, kill them and the control group to see if there were differences in the brains between the two groups. I’m too much of a wuss to kill any animal so I switched my major to pre-med and minored in neuroscience. I’m a first year med student, hoping to be a neurosurgeon or neurologist. And you?”
“I’m Ellowyne Wilde, first year PhD student in gender studies, hoping to teach at the college level.”
He was dumbfounded. Wilde? WILDE? That was Gwendolyn’s last name! Was Ellowyne a sister, a cousin, or something? Trying his best to sound casual and uninterested he said, “I did my undergrad at State and I, um, knew a young woman named Gwendolyn Wilde. Any relation?”
Ellowyne shook her head. “I don’t have any sisters and none of my cousins went to State. My family is pretty small. It’s only my father, grandmother, little brother, and me. They live out in San Francisco. It’s a great place to live and I’d like to move back when I finish my program. But for now, I’m here because it’s got a kick-ass gender studies program.”
Rufus was relieved. No relation. He could relax and enjoy this conversation. He asked, “Have you decided on your topic for study?”
“Not yet. There are so many amazing fields out there. One of the topics I’ve mulling over is looking at heterosexual love through a feminist lens”.
“From the biological perspective, falling in love is associated with areas in the brain that cause the release of dopamine. Drugs and chocolate also stimulate activation of the brain’s ‘pleasure center’.”
Ellowyne took a sip of her cocoa. “Chocolate? Really?”
“Absolutely. And studies suggest that skin-to-skin contact with someone you love increases oxytocin, which brings about a deeper sense of love. So I guess we can say that love is nothing more than hormones.”
Ellowyne laughed. “Interesting! You know, I think I’d like to know you better, Rufus Rutter.”
They put away their books and talked until closing time. They exchanged phone numbers and became Facebook friends. He walked her to her car and was struck by an almost irresistible urge to kiss her. But he didn’t, at least not the first time they met. Soon they were meeting several times a week, texting each other daily, and thinking about each other constantly. He remembered their first kiss, the first time they said “I love you” and the first time they made love. That was when he gave her a silver necklace with the chemical symbol of oxytocin, which she wore almost every day. Eventually they moved in together. Sometimes they discussed marriage, but decided to not get engaged while they were both still in school.
Rufus gazed at his beloved Ellowyne, who was still asleep. He gently lifted Sybil from her usual perch between their pillows to the space by their feet. He stroked Ellowyne’s cheek and kissed her lightly so not to disturb her. She was indeed a beautiful woman but she wasn’t a trophy to display to other his peers. He loved her for her brilliance much more than her beauty. It’s funny, he thought. We both had issues with the way we look. Rufus was self-conscious about his appearance until Ellowyne told him she loved the way he looked. She was often dismissed because she was pretty but he helped bolster her confidence to ignore anyone who didn’t take her seriously. They believed in each other and were a team. And while he was hopelessly infatuated with Gwen and put her on a pedestal, what he had with Ellowyne was real, healthy, and reciprocated. His mind and soul at rest, he snuggled against her and quickly fell asleep.
Several weeks later, Rufus was done with the clerkship from Hell and he’d start a new one the next Monday. Ellowyne finished her presentation and made progress on her next paper. Both were delighted and relieved to have a weekend off with no school obligations whatsoever. The wedding was a lavish, elegant affair, complete with a string quartet and an opera-quality soloist. The meal was exquisite and the champagne flowed freely. Rufus introduced Ellowyne to Amber, the maid of honor, and the bridesmaids, Prudence and Lizette. Then Gwen and Penn came over to greet them.
Rufus extended his hand to Penn and congratulated the newlyweds. Gwen looked a little uneasy, and she blurted out, “I am so sorry I was mean to you. I said things that were unkind and I hope you can forgive me.”
He hugged her the way a brother would and said, “Hey it’s all okay. I put you on a pedestal and didn’t listen when you tried to tell me my feelings were unrequited. I’m sure that was tough for you.”
Gwen relaxed. “I‘m glad you both came. I invited you to my wedding so I could apologize to you.” She grinned. “Well, that and the gravy boat!” Everyone laughed. “And Rufus, thank you for being gracious.”
“Thank you, Gwen,” he said as he gently kissed her cheek in a most brotherly way. “I wish nothing but happiness in your lives together.”
“And the same to you,” Penn said, shaking Rufus’ hand again.
The evening was enjoyable, with free-flowing champagne, a delicious meal, and dancing well into the night. At the end, Rufus and Ellowyne exchanged pleasantries with his college friends and walked back to their hotel room. Ellowyne said, “I think Penn thought we were married or engaged or something.”
“Yeah, I got that impression too.” Rufus pulled a small box out of his jacket pocket. “Maybe we need to rethink our time table.”