The candle light burned in the room as Dave Malucci and his girlfriend of two months, Melanie Lewis, kissed. The couple was seated on the sofa in Dave's apartment, their arms around each other. Although they had only been together for two months, Dave was hopelessly in love with Melanie and prayed that she felt the same way.
"I love this perfume," he said, and kissed her neck. Melanie kissed him in return.
"Thank you." Dave began to push the strap of her dress down and kissed her shoulder. Melanie instantly stiffened and began to pull away. "Stop," she said, in a voice so soft that she could barely hear herself. Dave didn't hear her and continued to kiss her shoulder, and then her neck. Melanie pushed Dave away. "I said to stop!" Dave, surprised, stood up.
"I'm sorry, sweetie, I didn't hear you," he said. Melanie got up from the sofa and put her shoes on. "Are you leaving?"
"I'm not staying," Melanie said, as she picked up her purse. She walked to the door and opened it. Dave turned the light on and ran to the door. He closed it with his hand and Melanie glared at him. "Take your hand off the door now."
"Not until you tell me what I did that made you so upset," Dave said, a pleading look in his eyes. Melanie avoided looking into Dave's eyes. "Please, Melanie. I care about you. I love you." Melanie felt tears stinging her eyes. It was the first time that Dave had said that to her. She didn't want Dave to see her tears and she turned away from him.
"Just please let me go," she choked. "Please." Dave released his hand from the door and Melanie opened it. She walked out of his apartment without saying a word. Dave followed her to the elevator.
"Melanie, whatever it is, we can work this out. If I did something, I'm sorry," Dave said, begging Melanie to stay. The elevator door opened and Melanie entered.
"Good-bye, Dave," Melanie said, as the doors shut. Dave felt tears brimming in his eyes, but refused to cry.
"Fine. If that's what she wants, then it's over," he muttered to himself. Dave went back to his apartment and slammed the front door.
The next morning, Dave was in a foul mood. He didn't want to come to work at all, but figured being chewed out by Kerry Weaver was worse than taking the day off. He entered the doctors' lounge, opened his locker, threw his coat in and slammed it. Dave punched his locker when Susan Lewis walked in.
"I've often wanted to do that when mine gets stuck," Susan chimed. Dave turned around and glared at her.
"You should've told me about the little mind games that your cousin likes to play," he seethed. Susan was taken aback.
"Mind games? Dave, I'm not following." Dave walked to the door of the lounge.
"Yeah, she dumped me last night. I have no idea what the hell I did and she won't tell me!" Susan poured some coffee into a mug.
"Did you have an argument?" Dave shook his head.
"No, that's the thing. We never fight! I don't know what happened." Dave slid his fingers through his messy hair. "I introduced her to Callie. I thought we had something special...I...forget it. I bet she's done to this to all the guys she's dated." Susan frowned and shook her head.
"She hasn't dated much. She had one steady boyfriend and they broke up a few months ago," Susan said, and sat at the table to write out charts.
"Thanks for introducing us," Dave said. "I know you were trying to help. I appreciate that." He opened the door and began to walk out.
"Dave, wait a second," Susan called. Dave stopped and looked at her. "Let me talk to her. This isn't like Melanie at all." Dave shrugged his shoulders.
"If you want," he said, poorly disguising the lack of care in his voice. "I don't really care what she does." Dave walked off and Susan nodded.
"Yes, you do," she said, and picked up the phone.
A couple of hours later, Susan and Melanie met at Doc Magoo's, across the street from County General. Melanie looked around the diner.
"Are you sure that Dave isn't going to stop by?" Susan nodded and Melanie relaxed. "Good. I don't want to run into him."
"Why? What happened between you two?" Susan inquired. Melanie instantly looked uncomfortable.
"I don't want to talk about it, Susan. Can you just respect that?"
"I want to help you, Melanie. You're my best friend." Melanie laughed.
"Yeah, sure I am." Susan frowned.
"What happened to you?" Melanie glared at her cousin.
"Stay out of my personal life, okay? In fact, stay out of my life, period." Melanie stormed out of the diner and Susan looked after her.
"I can't stay out of your life. Not when you're hurting," Susan said, a look of worry across her face.
Susan sat on the roof of County General when the door opened. She spun around to find her good friend, Abby Lockhart, approaching.
"You scared me," Susan said. Abby sat next to her friend.
"I'm sorry, but I had to get out of there. Dave's in a bad mood." Abby turned to Susan. "It's male PMS, I swear." Susan smiled slightly and Abby could sense that her friend was upset about something. "Susan, what is it?"
"Melanie broke up with Dave, and she won't tell me why. When I talked to her, she said that she didn't want to tell me anything and she told me to stay out of her life." Susan wiped her eyes. "We've been close for so long. She's always been like a little sister to me."
"I'm so sorry," she said. "Maybe Melanie has a painful secret and she isn't ready to talk about it."
"I've thought of that," Susan said. She looked at Abby. "I want to help her."
"I know," Abby replied. "Do you have any idea what it could be?"
"Not a one," Susan admitted. "I don't know what happened. They were so happy together. I know that Melanie had a hard time after she and her ex-boyfriend broke up, but I really thought she was ready for a new relationship."
"Did she talk to you when she broke up with her ex-boyfriend?" Susan shook her head.
"No. In fact, she would change the subject any time I brought it up." Susan looked at Abby. "Something happened there. Something terrible."
"You don't know that for sure," Abby said. "But if I were you, I'd try to get Melanie to talk about what went on when she and her ex split up."
"Thank you, Abby," Susan said. "For being here, for being such a great friend."
"You're welcome," Abby said. "You're one of the first real friends I've ever had."
"And Carter, too," Susan said, and smiled. Abby looked at the door that led back to the ER.
"So, are we brave enough to face Dr. Dave?"
"Sure, why not?" Susan put her arm around Abby and they walked back to the ER.
The doorbell of Susan's apartment buzzed late the following evening. She opened it and found Melanie there.
"Hi," Susan said, surprised to see her cousin. "Come in."
"Thanks," Melanie replied quietly, as she entered the apartment. Susan closed the door and motioned to the sofa.
"Sit down," she said. Melanie sat on the sofa and looked at Susan.
"I needed to talk to someone," she began. Susan sat next to her cousin.
"Melanie, you can always talk to me," Susan said. "I mean it. Always." Melanie nodded and ran her fingers through her hair.
"I know, Sus, but this isn't easy for me," Melanie wrung her hands together. "When Greg and I broke up...it wasn't pretty. He had verbally abused me, and I had enough and told him. That night...for the first time, he became physically abusive. He pushed me down...and got on top of me." Tears fell from Melanie's eyes. "He hurt me."
"Oh my -- Melanie, did he -- " Susan began, but Melanie interrupted her.
"No, thank God, he didn't rape me. I fought him off and escaped with a few bruises. But the emotional scars are the worst." Melanie got up and paced around the living room. "I still have nightmares now, six months later. I still wake up at night thinking he's going to attack me."
"Have you thought about talking to a counselor? I can recommend someone at County," Susan offered.
"I'm not sure," Melanie said. "It's easy to talk to you, but you're my cousin and best friend. I don't know if I could talk to a stranger." Susan stood up and walked over to Melanie.
"Is this why you ended your relationship with Dave?" Melanie nodded. "He loves you, Mel. He wants to help you."
"I hurt him, Sus. You had to see the look on his face when I left. I broke his heart." Melanie sat on the sofa again and put her head in her hands. "I don't know what to do. I really care for Dave, but when we get close, I'm terrified. All of the memories of that night with Greg come flooding back." Susan sat next to Melanie and hugged her.
"You have to tell him," she said. "He loves you and he is so confused about why you broke up with him." Melanie looked up at Susan.
"I really think I'm in love with him too," she admitted. "He's an amazing dad to Callie, and he treats me better than I ever imagined. I don't want to lose him." Melanie wiped her eyes. "But what if this is too much for him? What if he can't handle what I tell him?"
"He'll be able to handle it," Susan said. "I've known Dave for a few months now and he is a good guy. I wouldn't have fixed you up with him if I didn't believe that." Melanie smiled and hugged Susan.
"I love you," she said. "I'm so sorry about what I said before."
"It's forgotten," Susan said. "Just promise me that you'll think about seeing a counselor, okay? And you'll talk to Dave?"
"I promise," Melanie said, and Susan hugged her again, wanting to protect her from her pain.
Dave stepped out of the elevator the next day and was surprised to see Melanie waiting outside his apartment. His anger forgotten, he approached her.
"Hi," he said quietly. "I didn't expect to see you."
"I wanted to talk to you, if you have time," Melanie said softly. "It's important." Dave put the key in the lock and opened the door.
"Come in," he answered, holding the door open for Melanie. She entered the apartment and turned to Dave.
"I wanted to apologize about the other night and explain why I acted the way I did," she began. She walked to the coffee table and picked up a framed photo of her and Dave. "I love this photo."
"So do I," Dave replied. "And I love the woman in the photo too." Melanie sat on the sofa, still holding the frame.
"My ex-boyfriend Greg had verbally abused me. He said that I was stupid and fat and ugly and that I was lucky to have him because no one else would love me." Dave quietly sat next to Melanie, wanting to touch her but feeling it was best to let her continue. "I finally had enough and told him that I wouldn't be his doormat anymore. It was over. The night that I broke up with him, for the first time he became physically abusive towards me."
"What happened?" Dave asked tensely.
"He pushed me onto the sofa and held me down. I thought he was going to rape me, and I was determined to stop him." Melanie laughed halfheartedly. "My dad telling me to take self-defense actually was a good idea. I fought Greg off. He hit me and I ended up with a bruise on my cheek, but he didn't hurt me again. I ran out of his apartment and he didn't follow me. I meant nothing to him." Dave wrapped his arms around Melanie.
"I'm so sorry," he said. "I'm sorry that I wasn't there to protect you." Melanie hugged Dave.
"You didn't even know me then," she said. "You couldn't have done anything."
"Does your family know?" Dave asked.
"I told Susan last night," Melanie replied. "She said I should see a counselor." Dave nodded.
"Yeah, there are some great counselors at County," he said. "If you want, I'll go with you." Melanie, surprised, looked at Dave.
"You'd do that?" Dave leaned in and kissed Melanie very softly on the lips.
"Melanie Lewis, I love you, and I will do anything for you," Dave answered. "I will never hurt you."
"I know you won't," Melanie replied. She studied Dave's face, his caring eyes, and placed her hand on his face. "I love you, too." Dave wrapped his arms around Melanie again, and they lay back on his sofa. Dave stroked Melanie's hair.
"It's going to be okay," he said. "I will always be here for you." Dave kissed Melanie's hair and she stroked his arm.
"Thank you," she said, and snuggled closer to Dave. They remained in each other's arms all night long, more committed to each other than ever before.