A Stand-Alone Romance
Dr. Ted Duffy has finally met a woman who makes him ache with desire. Too bad she’s dating his best friend of twenty years. This simple premise has momentous consequences for Ted in The Fall, a story that explores the bonds of friendship, the expectations of family, and the power of love to unite and divide. Ted is a third-generation pediatric oncologist in Boston. He is thirty-seven years old, married to his work, and considers his patients to be his kids. He and his friends spend summer weekends in Newport, Rhode Island, which is the only break Ted allows himself from the grind of his job. After a devastating loss at work, he leaves for Newport where he meets his friend’s new girlfriend, Caroline. Over that first weekend, Ted and Caroline fall in love. When they later act on their feelings, shock and disbelief ricochet through his tight-knit group of friends and family. A highly respected doctor, a beloved son and grandson, a loyal friend, Ted is stunned by his sudden free-fall from grace.
Dr. Ted Duffy moved through the busy halls of Children’s Hospital Boston, keeping his eyes down to discourage anyone from stopping him to chat. He didn’t want any delays. These things needed to be done quickly, the way you would pull off a Band-Aid. His heart had been heavy since he received Joey Gaither’s test results. The last round of chemo hadn’t worked, and there was nothing left to try, no magic potion that would save the twelve-year-old who had become so much more than a patient to Ted in the four years since they had discovered the tumor in Joey’s fibula.
He had known, of course. Before the test results arrived via e-mail that morning, Ted had known he wasn’t going to save Joey. But God how he had wanted to save this special kid who had so many plans, so many friends, so much to live for. They were all special, but a few managed to work their way past his determination to protect his heart from the never-ending catastrophe that surrounded him. Yes, there were a few he loved, and Joey was one of them.
Ted ran a weary hand through his thick blond hair and took a deep breath to steel himself for what he had to do.
John and Melinda Gaither were huddled together outside their son’s room. Melinda wept into John’s shirt, and he held his wife with tenderness that should have been used up by now. Ted had seen many a marriage self-destruct in the midst of a child’s critical illness and was relieved to realize the Gaither’s union wouldn’t be one of them.
Melinda looked up and saw Ted approaching them. “Dr. Duff,” she gasped. “Joey’s so bad today. What’s going on?”
“Let’s go to the lounge,” Ted said.
Melinda exchanged glances with her husband. They had been doing this too long to miss the signs.
Ted led them to the lounge, which was thankfully empty, and reached for Melinda’s hand.
She dissolved into tears. “It’s bad, isn’t it?”
John dropped his face into his hands.
“If there was anything else—”
“We know, Doc.” John wiped his face and reached for his wife’s hand. “We knew this last round of chemo was a long shot, but we were hoping for a miracle.”
“So was I.”
“How long do we have with him?” Melinda asked, her pretty face ravaged by grief and years of worry.
“His kidneys have failed, so not long.” The chemo had been aggressive, but rather than arresting the cancer, it had damaged Joey’s already weakened organs beyond repair.
Melinda sobbed quietly.
“Do you mind if I spend a few minutes with him?” Ted asked.
“Of course not,” John said.
Ted stood up.
“Ted?” Melinda said. “Thank you for all you did.”
“I just wish it could’ve been more.”
Joey’s room was filled with signed photos of his heroes—the Boston Red Sox. The Make-A-Wish Foundation had granted the boy’s fondest desire to meet the team’s all-star catcher, who had made Joey a part of the Red Sox family, even going so far as to allow him in the dugout during a few games the summer before. Yesterday, the halls of the hospital had buzzed with the news that the catcher, shortstop, and ace pitcher had been by to visit Joey.
The child was shrunken into the big hospital bed, his baldness concealed by a Red Sox hat.
Ted reached for Joey’s hand. He had ordered oxygen and morphine the night before. All they could do now was make him comfortable for whatever time he had left. Ted found it hard to reconcile the tiny body in the bed with the bright, dark-haired child he had once been, before he’d lost a leg and his childhood to cancer. But the cancer hadn’t infected his spirit. He had fought so hard and for so long that Ted knew he would always remember Joey’s special brand of courage.
He stirred and turned to look at Ted with chocolate-brown eyes heavy with medication and knowledge.
“Hey, buddy. Does anything hurt?”
Joey shook his head and reached for the oxygen mask covering his mouth and nose.
Ted helped him move it aside.
“No good, huh?” Joey asked. He had once asked Ted to tell him only the truth, and Ted had done his best to comply.
Joey’s fragile shoulders rose in a shrug. “Win some, lose some.”
“I really wanted to win this one.”
When he saw him struggling for air, Ted put the mask back over Joey’s face.
Joey took several deep breaths before he reached for the mask again. “Do something for me?”
“Anything.” Ted wanted to weep for all the things that would never be.
“Keep fighting. Someday you’ll win them all.”
“I promise,” Ted said, blinking back tears.
Joey nodded with satisfaction and squeezed Ted’s hand before he drifted back to sleep.
Ted kissed the child’s forehead. “Godspeed, buddy.”
John and Melinda waited in the hallway. Ted hugged them both. “Page me if you need anything.”
Since there was nothing more he could do, Ted left them to say goodbye to their son.
Ted wove his black Mercedes SL convertible through the heavy traffic leaving Boston on that Friday night in early July. He lived for his summer weekends in Newport, Rhode Island, where he shared a rental with his three best friends. A colleague who skied covered for Ted most summer weekends in exchange for the same courtesy during ski season.
The rare, humidity-free night made it comfortable to have the top down, and the rush of fresh air was a welcome relief from the stagnancy of the hospital. After eighty hours of tending to sick kids that week, he welcomed the normalcy of traffic, of people rushing to get where they were going, oblivious to the epic battles being waged by cancer-stricken children. It was just as well they didn’t know. On days like this, it was almost more than he could bear.
He received word from a nurse on the ward that Joey died at six o’clock. After that, Ted had moved quickly to brief his colleague on the status of his other patients so he could get out of there for the weekend.
When he left Interstate 93 and merged onto Route 24, the traffic finally let up, and he let the powerful car loose. Only when he crossed the Sakonnet River Bridge to Aquidneck Island did he begin to relax. He loved the view from the old bridge and was sorry he had missed the best of the sunset. The deep pinks and purples that remained reflected off the flat-calm water.
He hit more traffic in Portsmouth and Middletown as he made his way south on Route 114. The island, a popular summer tourist destination, was home to one of the guys who rented with Ted. Smitty, now a stockbroker in New York, took every Friday off all summer to get to his hometown as early in the day as possible. He usually shared the ride with Chip, a dermatologist in the city, and Chip’s longtime girlfriend, Elise. Rounding out the group was Parker, known in the media as “The Prince” because of his billionaire real estate developer father, James King. Despite his lineage, however, Parker was a hard-working divorce attorney in Boston who often rode to Newport with Ted. He had called earlier in the day to say he was taking a half-day and would meet Ted at the house.
The four men had been friends since their sophomore year at Princeton when they had shared adjoining dorm rooms. They had seen each other through failed relationships, professional ups and downs, the deaths of several parents, and Smitty’s spectacular divorce, which Parker had handled with great delight. None of them had liked Smitty’s wife, Cherie, and were thrilled to see her go—no one more so than Smitty. Of the three, Ted considered Smitty his best friend. While he was close to Chip and Parker, he talked to Smitty most often.
Ted was always the last to arrive in Newport, since cutting out early wasn’t usually an option for him. Tearing himself away for two days a week all summer was something he had gotten better at in the five summers they had been renting the house. He often wondered if he would have stuck with pediatric oncology without these weekends to look forward to. Between medical school, his internship, residency, and fellowship, followed by the first few years at Children’s, he had been on the verge of burn out when Smitty suggested they spend summer weekends together.
The traffic in downtown Newport was heavy and typical for a July Friday. As he inched along America’s Cup Avenue, Ted received a few appreciative glances from women on the bustling sidewalk. He was never sure if they were checking out him or the car, but once they saw the empty passenger seat they inevitably took a second look at the driver. His mother often accused him of being married to his work, so she would love to see him fill that seat with any of the pretty girls who gave him the eye from the sidewalk.
At the light on the corner of America’s Cup and Lower Thames, he was approached by a group of girls out for a bachelorette party. They would have jumped into the car had he given them the slightest bit of encouragement. Instead, he said, “Not tonight, girls,” and took a right onto Lower Thames. A few minutes later, he finally pulled up to the large house on Wellington Avenue, overlooking King Park and Newport Harbor.
Ted grabbed the bag he had packed that morning from the trunk of the car and used his key to let himself into the dark house. No doubt the others were out at one of the waterfront bars they frequented. Ted could have joined them and most Friday nights he would have. Tonight he was grateful for the silence. He flipped on a light to find the dining room table littered with beer cans, the remnants of a poker game, and an ashtray filled to overflowing with cigar stubs. Ted chuckled, knowing the house was cleaned after every weekend and marveling at how quickly his friends had brought disorder to the place.
Strict rules governed these weekends at the house. Any of them could bring a girlfriend whenever he wanted to. If they were unable to make it to Newport for a weekend, they could give their room away to a short list of mutual friends. No one wanted to arrive after a long workweek to a house full of people they didn’t know.
Ted never brought anyone with him, if for no other reason than he couldn’t be bothered entertaining a guest. Also, inviting a date on a weekend getaway usually gave her the impression he was interested in something serious, which he wasn’t. He was thirty-seven years old, and his mother was right—he was married to his work. For now, that was fine with him. The kids at the hospital were his family, and they required all his energy.
He grabbed two beers from the fridge and headed upstairs to his room on the third floor. Ted laughed at the loud snoring coming from Smitty’s room on the second floor. No doubt Smitty had been drinking since noon and was down for the count until morning. Despite his strapping size, he had a well-earned reputation as a lightweight when it came to alcohol.
Ted had won the best room in the house by default. His friends considered his job the most stressful and had given him the top-floor room so he could decompress in relative peace. Attached to his room was a sweeping deck overlooking Newport Harbor that everyone used, but they were mindful of Ted’s privacy.
He left his bag in the corner of the big bedroom and took the beers onto the dark deck. The Newport Bridge was lit up in the distance, and the harbor sparkled with hundreds of lights from boats at anchor. As he drank the first beer and took in the tranquil scene, it sunk in that Joey was really gone. He hadn’t allowed it in until that moment when he was finally alone in the place where he felt the most at ease. Here it was possible to grieve, to mourn for what had been, for what would never be, and for his inability to save the boy.
Dropping his head onto the arm he rested on the rail surrounding the deck, he gave into the tears that had threatened since he said goodbye to Joey earlier in the day. He let it all out and almost had a heart attack several minutes later when a hand landed on his shoulder.