I push open the door to the surgery theatre and take a deep breath. I love my job as a neurosurgeon but sometimes the reality of what we have to deal with catches up with us.
Tonight a fifteen year-old African American boy was brought to the ER with a gun shot wound to the head. The cliché would be that he was shot by another gang but no. He’s a gifted musician who plays with the New York Youth Symphony and wants to study at Juilliard, has good grades and was only picking up his sister from a friend ’s house tonight. Except that he rang the wrong bell.
I did what I could to repair the damage but I’m not sure he’ll ever be able to play the trumpet as well as he did or attend Juilliard.
“Good job in there,” my primary nurse says, pressing my arm.
I remove my surgery gloves and throw them in the trash before removing my gown. Last, I remove my cap. I want to let my hair loose, but here is not the place.
A young nurse I don’t know comes in. “Oh Dr Foster, Professor Mullen wants a word with you. In his office.”
She disappears, and I turn to the sink to wash my hands.
“Any idea what he wants?” Rachel asks.
“I’m hoping it’s about the funding I’ve asked for so that we can have better post-surgery care for the patients who can’t afford it, but I doubt it somehow.”
She chuckles. “Yeah, they’re not about that here. It’s all about profit.”
She isn’t wrong there. It wasn’t always that way. There was a time, long before me, where Memorial was at the very edge of patient post-surgery care for every one. I know that because my mother, who worked as neurosurgeon here, spearheaded the programme. But that was twenty years ago.
“Wish me luck.” I pull my white coat over my scrubs and shove my cap in my pocket.
Rachel winks. “Mullens likes you.”
That is true. Professor Mullens likes me, which isn’t the case for everyone in this building. But before I find out what he wants, I have parents I need to speak to about their son and its chances of achieving his dreams.
I always take my time with loved ones of my patients after surgery. I can’t promise them anything but I can answer their question and helps them face their fears.
And while talking to Tyreese’s distraught parents, it dawns on me that he would be the perfect candidate for my programme. His parents are a middle-class family with a decent enough health coverage but it’s unlikely to be enough to cover what their son will need if he is to have a chance at living his life as close to what it was before.
Twenty minutes later, I make my way to Professor Mullen’s office, determined to state my case once again and tell him as I have the perfect candidate.
Lynn, his PA, is gone so I knock on the door until I heard say “Come in.”
Professor Mullens is behind his massive desk, his metal-rimmed glasses perched on his nose, his bald head the colour of dark honey shining under the overhead lighting.
“Dr Foster, thank you for coming by. Sit down, please. How was surgery?”
I wince and look at my hands. “Well, but that young man’s life is shot. He’d be the perfect candidate for the programme I have in mind…”
He stops me with his hand, his eyes sad behind his glasses. ”I don’t have time to discuss this now. And at least, he’s alive. No thanks to you. You should be proud Dr Foster.”
He’s right but I feel like tonight it’s not enough. “Yes, Sir.”
He sits back in his chair and crosses his hands on his lap. “The reason I called you is that I need you to see a patient tomorrow morning.”
“I’ve got a full schedule tomorrow, I….”
He raises his hand again to stop me. “I know and I’ve asked Lynn to make sure your schedule is cleared for a couple of hours.” He picks up his pen and pressed his lips together. “The thing is the patient doesn’t want to be treated by Dr Collins and asked expressly for you.”
“Me?” I say pointing at my chest. “But Collins, Dr Collins, I mean, is the head of neurosurgery.”
He shrugs. “I know, but she’s met with him before, and let’s say she doesn’t like him.”
That doesn’t surprise me. Collins lacks not just a good bedside manner but simple manners. It’s his way or the highway, and he doesn’t take kindly to people making suggestions.
Mullens looks at his watch. “She’ll be in one of the rooms in the private ward at eight tomorrow morning. Now, we have to be very discreet with this patient. If she needs to be admitted because she has something serious, she’ll stay there, and the personnel attending to her will be restricted. Basically, we’ve been told that we have to keep this visit and any other under wraps.”
I sit back. Great. First I’m going to piss off my boss and I’ll also have to deal with a diva.
“Okay. Can I ask who it is?”
His jaw moves back and forth. “Wilhelmina Zeller.”
My mouth opens, but no sound comes out.
Wilhelmina Zeller is the New York socialite by excellence. The woman is in the New York papers at least once a week, photographed at either the opening of an art gallery, a fundraiser, or having lunch with some other famous socialite. She is New York royalty, but apart from that, I don’t know much about her.
Mullens watches me wearily. “You understand the need for discretion.”
I nod. “I’ll do my best to make sure she’s seen by as few people as possible while she’s here.”
He taps his hands on the surface of his desk, signifying the end of the meeting.
“Good. Please keep whatever she has confidential. Only me and the people handling her care should have access to her file, understood?”
I stand up and walk to the door.
I turn around. “Yes, Professor.”
“If Collins is being an ass to you or anyone else, please let me know immediately. I told him to butt out of this one, but you know how he is.”
I acquiesce quietly but promise myself I won’t do it. It would just make my life a little bit more of a living hell, given that Collins can’t stand the sight of me. Why? I don’t know, although I guess it has to do with the fact that I went to John Hopkins as a resident when he didn’t. Rumor has it that his application was denied.
I walk back and collapse in my chair. I want to say why me but I’m pleased that this patient asked for me.
I look at my watch. I’ve got another hour to do before I can go home to my boy. I start tidying up my desk, which is a mess of files and articles when my phone rings. I smile at the face on the screen.
“How’s my favorite daughter?”
I chuckle. It’s an old joke between us; I’m not only his only daughter but also his only child. “I’m good.”
“Yeah? You don’t sound so good?”
Dad can always tell when something bothers me. He mastered the ability to read my moods early on as he was the one taking care of me while Mom worked long hours.
“I’m okay. Just had a tough surgery. That’s all.”
And a strange request.
“Sorry, darling. How’s Joshie?”
I can’t help the smile at my Dad’s nickname for Josh. My heart soars at his name. There is no love like the one you have for a child. “He’s good. Growing too fast, though.”
My baby has just turned fourteen months and is getting stronger and more handsome by the day.
Just like his daddy.
No, I won’t think of him. Not today. I refocus on what my dad is saying instead.
“We can’t wait to see him again. When are you coming to LA? You know, if you lived in California, Carly and I would be happy to look after him whenever you needed help.”
I press my lips together. I don’t have many disagreements with my father, but this is one of them. He wants me in California with him and his partner while I want to stay in New York.
“There are good hospitals in California, Hannah. And maybe they’d be happy to fund that care programme you want to develop.”
Not what I needed to hear after the day I had.
Thankfully, my pager alerts me that I’m needed in the ER, so I don’t have to have another pointless argument with him about that. “Got to go, Dad. I’m being paged.”
“Wait! I wanted to tell you something.”
He clears his throat. This is so unlike my father, I start wondering if something is wrong. “I… I asked Carly to marry me.”
Air leaves my lung in a whoosh and my heart squeezes painfully.
I should be happy. I really should.
My Dad loves Carly. The woman he spent the last fifteen years with. I love Carly. I really do. But my throat has closed up and I can’t speak.
I make myself walk to the door and lock it. I start walking along the corridor; I can see the reception for the surgery ward in the distance. A man is standing at the desk with his back to me. He looks familiar.
“Yes, sorry Dad. Did she say yes?” I pinch my eyes closed. Maybe she said no and won’t take my Mom’s place.
Fuck. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be happy for my father? He too lost my mom twenty years ago. But unlike me, he is moving on. And that’s… painful.
He chuckles. “She did, although she made me wait for it. Apparently I took my time.”
I want to make a joke but I can’t. “Good for her. I got to go, dad.”
“Let’s FaceTime soon. We want to see Josh before he’s a little man.”
I don’t miss the bitter tone in my father’s voice. My heart squeezes. “Sure. Let’s try on Thursday. I’m being called into the ER, Dad, got to go. Bye!”
As I walk into the surgery reception to reach the elevators, the tall man who was speaking to our receptionist turns around, and I come to an abrupt stop. My heart stutters in my chest and my mouth is as dry as the desert. My heart is beating so erratically in my chest; I wonder if I’m having a heart attack.
It can’t be. It can’t be him.
Jake Chapman is in my surgery ward.
And it’s like no time has passed. No, not true. He’s even more devastatingly handsome than he was two years ago.
The same deep blue eyes. The ones Josh inherited from him. That silky dark brown hair with that strand that falls over his forehead. The broad shoulders encased in what looks like the softest woollen dark blue coat I’ve ever seen.
I don’t know if I want to throw myself at him or slap his beautiful face. But what I know is that I hate him.
“Hannah.” His voice glides on my skin like a caress, and I pull my shoulders back. I will not be caught by his charm again.
“What are you doing here?” I whisper-shout.
He takes a step forward, and I take one back. I can’t let him get close to me. I just can’t. He had me and he left me. And I still can’t believe, even if I got the most beautiful thing out of what happened between us, that he’d use me like that, that he could cause me so much pain. The boy who reassured and kissed me in that closet.
But he’s not that anymore and he doesn’t deserve anything from me.
“Can we talk?”
Over my dead body but his eyes haven’t left mine and I see fear that fleets through them. It’s over in a flash as he regains control.
Jake Chapman isn’t someone who gets fearful often from what I’ve learned about him online. Not that I’ve been looking him up on purpose, but when you’re one of America’s most eligible bachelors and running one of the highest valued tech companies around, you’re a hard man to avoid. But I’ve done my best. Only catching glimpses. I swear.
My beeper buzzes again. I glance at it and raise my hands. “I got to go, there’s an emer—”
“Foster, what the fuck are you still doing here? Now isn’t the time for social calls!”
Dr. Collins’s voice booms in the large reception area, making the few people moving about stop, stare, and for some cower. Yep, he’s that kind of man. A bully and an ass through and through. Wilhelmina Zeller couldn’t be more right.
But for once, I’m not mad at him. Hell, I could kiss him right now for saving me from Jake Chapman.
(c) 2024 Celline Chancelier. All Rights Reserved.