I was sitting down to revise something–and low-key beating my head against the wall, because it is rough–when I remembered how I actually started Anatomy of a Meet Cute. Originally, I started the story just for fun, so I didn’t worry about the logistics too much. After I had the first chapter written, I sent it off to my agent who, in turn, sent it off to my editor. Lo and behold, she liked it! The only problem was that the story didn’t work. Sam was originally about to start her residency, but after talking to an actual medical resident, I realized that there was no way they would know enough to make the rest of the story work. So, I made her a fellow and tweaked the plot to make it work, but I still think it’s fun, so I thought I’d share it with you!
“If there is a doctor or a nurse on board, will you please ring the call button?”
The soothing voice of the flight attendant glided across Sam’s consciousness, jolting her out of her early flight stupor. Pushing her sleep mask to the top of her head, she sat upright in her chair, stretching her spin to its full height so she could look around the plane. No one was ringing the call button. Shit.
Taking a deep breath, she raised a shaky hand and pressed the dreaded button above her seat. Nervous energy coursed through her as she tried to recall what her professor had said about medical emergencies and aviation. She had been warned that this type of thing would happen to her one day. Sam just thought she’d have a lot more actual doctoring under her belt when it did.
“Ma’am, are you a physician?” The flight attendant asked, his voice low and calm as if someone wasn’t somewhere on the plane experiencing a trauma.
“I’m in medical school. Will that work?”
The flight attendant’s flinch was almost imperceptible. “I think you are the closest we’ve got, so it’ll have to do. Would you come with me, please?”
Sam tried not to let the fear creeping through her skin make its way to her face as she mumbled apologies to her seatmates. Both of whom seemed to smile at her in the vaguely disinterested, but encouraging way that only a plane full of Los Angelenos making their way to the freezing wasteland that was San Francisco could. This was probably an average Tuesday to the Hollywood set, Sam thought as she climbed over a perfectly made-up woman’s handbag.
Snatching her sleep mask off of her head, she looked over her shoulder at the flight attendant as she began to walk down the aisle. “Can you tell me anything about the individual?”
“We have a gentleman in first-class, wearing dark sunglasses, who started behaving strangely just after takeoff. He keeps trying to take off his clothes, saying he is sweaty, then saying he needs help. We are about 25 minutes to San Francisco, the captain has already called ahead so medical attention will be waiting for him at the gate. We just need to make sure we can get him there in one piece.”
“Right,” Sam said, taking a deep breath. What she really wanted to say was, “Oh shit.” The flight attendant’s description wasn’t much for her to go on, but it would have to be enough since she decided to take her Hippocratic Oath seriously.
“Excuse me.” A passenger said, stopping the flight attendant as they neared the front of the plane. The attendant motioned for Sam to continue as he leaned in to listen to the passenger’s request.
Pushing the thin curtain that separated the economy cabin from first-class, Sam spotted the man almost immediately. Even wrestling with his jacket, it was impossible not to notice how good-looking he was. The man’s fine facial features twisted as he fussed with a zipper, the tawny color of his Asian features slightly flushed from exertion, the muscles in his sculpted shoulders flexing as he shook his arm free from one arm.
Pursing her lips, Sam reminded herself that this was someone in need. Ogling was wasting valuable time this man might need. Filling her lungs with air, Sam bent down next to the man, gently setting a hand on his arm. Twisting around in his seat, to look at her, the man snatched a pair of designer headphones off his head and lifted his sunglasses to look down at her. “Can I help you?”
Sam fought the urge to squirm and swallowed hard, and reminded herself that the flight attendants had put out this call because the individual in need was acting strangely. This man may not realize he needs help. “Hi sir, I’m just here to check on you. The flight attendants thought you may need some medical attention?”
Sam shifted uncomfortably under the intensity of his gaze, his eyes were a little puffy, but not bloodshot. She registered this as a good sign, trying to ignore the fact that the color was so dark they seemed more black than brown. That information wasn’t, strictly speaking, medically relevant.
“How are you feeling?” Sam asked, ignoring the heat rushing to her face and cursing her silly hair puffs. Of course, this man didn’t recognize her as a doctor. She wasn’t wearing scrubs, and thanks to God and a bit of melanin people often mistook her for younger than 31.
“I’m fine. I work in medicine. Why would I need one?”
Sam took a deep breath, giving the man a once over. If she had to guess, he was on a bad trip. The question was, what did he take? Fake Ambiene? Maybe a party drug?
“I see. Sir, did you consume anything before you boarded the plane?”
“No. I think you’re mistaken. I’m not in need of medical—”
“He took something right when we boarded. I saw it.” The elderly man next to him chimed in, causing the man’s head to whip around. Not helpful, Sam thought, suppressing the urge to glare at the older man. She was trying to establish trust and the truth with the patient, which she couldn’t do if he was going to tattle on Mr. Sexy Ambiene.
Rolling his eyes, the man said, “It was Advil. I have a headache?”
Doing her best to look sympathetic, Sam nodded, “It is possible to have an unusual reaction to—”
“What reaction do you think I’m having? The man asked, squinting at her, wrinkles crossing the fine smattering of freckles across his nose.
“Oh, no,” The flight attendant said, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Ma’am the—”
Sam’s head jerked up, just in time to catch a blonde man-bun scratching at the sleeve of his blazer and jerking around in his seat two rows up.
“Oh. They said a man in sunglasses needed help.” Sam felt the heat in her face kick up a notch and knew that no amount of poolside tan and melanin was going to save her from the visible humiliation flooding her face.
“And you thought it was me?” Mr. Sexy Not Ambiene looked incredulous.
“Well, you were struggling with you—”
“It’s here!” Man bun whispered to the terrified-looking woman across from him.
Taking a deep breath, Sam stood abruptly as Mr. Sexy Not Ambiene leaned into the aisle to get a good look at the guy, then looked up at her as if she were less useful than a box of weasels. Whatever, the good-looking dude could be offended, right now she had an actual patient. In fact, her very first real patient needed her. Giving the man a curt wave, she said, “My apologies.”
Taking two quick strides towards the Man Bun, who had started buckling and unbuckling his belt, Sam dredged up her very best calming voice again and said, “Hello sir, how are you feeling?”
The man looked up at her wildly, horror written on his face. “Can you see it?”
“Can you tell me what you are seeing?” Sam asked, hoping to get a sense of what the man was experiencing so she could start to think through calming him down.
“My face is pixelated. My whole body is.” He had the nerve to look at her as if she were completely stupid for not seeing it. And Sam felt a little stupid, hallucinations could be caused by anything, and she was no closer to calming the man down than she had been when she was talking to Mr. Sexy Not Ambiene.
“Sir, can you tell me if you ate or drank anything out of the ordinary before boarding the plane?”
The man looked up at her and winked, before adding “Why should I tell you?”
Gross. Sam sighed, placing her hand on the back of the man’s chair and giving his gold and black brocade blazer a once over. He looked like the kind of nightclub promoter who lied about having a private jet to impress bumpkins from out of state.
“Okay sir, I want to help you but,” Sam paused as a seatbelt unbuckled. The man wiggled his eyebrows, then seemed to remember that his skin was loading slowly and began pressing on his arms in short, jerky bursts.
“Sir. Can you please tell us what you ingested? You are not in trouble.”
Sam turned to see Sexy Mr. Ambiene standing directly over her shoulder, looking put upon in one of those magical, black t-shirts that managed to hug his chest, but not look tight.
“What are you doing?” Sam asked before she could stop herself.
“My job. We talked about this like three seconds ago.”
Just her luck, Sam thought. She would have two delusional people on one flight. “Could you please sit down?” Sam hissed, running out of patience. This guy was not helping. If anything he was making the patient more antsy and she was just starting to establish…well nothing, but he was still in her way.
“I’m a doc-tor.” The guy said like she was a little dense.
“Then why didn’t you ring the call button?”
“Noise-canceling headphones.” Mr. Sexy Ambiene said, pointing to where the headphones hung his neck.
“Is he a Fed?” Man Bun interrupted their conversation, loudly addressing his question to Sam. This was not how she imagined helping someone in need on a plane.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have begun our descent into San Francisco. The flight attendants will be coming through the cabin shortly to collect any remaining service items. If you could please help us out by…” Sam, Dr. Sexy Not Ambiene, and the Man Bun all stopped to listen to the announcement, as if someone had hit pause on the entire bizarre scenario.
“Is that God?” Man Bun asked as soon as the attendant uttered their final thank you.
“No, sir.” Both Sam and Dr. Ambiene said at the same time. Sam sighed, looking down at the man, and over at the new doctor, who audibly winced. What was she doing here? She should just let the actual medical doctor deal with the hallucinating club kid. Looking back at the other doctor, Sam watched as he scrubbed his hand down the back of his close-cropped black hair and prepared to come clean about being a first-year intern.
“You know what—” Sam began at the same time Dr. Sexy Not Ambiene began to speak.
For a moment, the pair blinked at one another. Sam watched as the guy exhaled, a half-smile tracing the left side of his face. “I interrupted you just now. I’m sorry for that, and for butting in. This guy is all yours. Let me know if I can help.”
With that Dr. Sexy exhaled, pulled his shoulders back, and turned around to go back to his seat, leaving Sam slightly stunned.
“I just need my face to load.” The man bun whispered, snapping Sam out of her trance and back into the very real present.
Looking from the man to Dr. Sexy, Sam made a snap judgment. “Uh, doctor?” Watching him turn around, Sam tried to ignore the tired expression on his face as he rested a hand on the back of his seat.
“Yeah?” He said, a barely masked irritation riding his tone. Sam almost changed her mind. Almost. The Hippocratic Oath said do not harm, didn’t it? She couldn’t lose her nerve now.
“I could use your help. I am not a doctor,” Sam flailed her hands and rushed to finish as his eyebrows shot toward his hairline as if she might be as high as the man she was trying to help. “Not like that, yet. I mean. I’m a doctor, but I’m an intern. Or, I will be one on Monday. I’m not one yet.”
Dr. Sexy Not Ambiene took a deep and seriously put upon breath, before exhaling an, “Oh.” Rubbing his eyes, he straightened up again and walked back towards her. Giving her a once over, he gestured to the man and said, “Proceed.”
Somehow, Sam had expected him to be less professorial and more, you know, helpful.
Hope you enjoy this look at a very rough draft of
The Delivery Room Anatomy of a Meet Cute!