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When I’m done, Kendra compliments my technique, placing her hand on my shoulder as I strip off my gloves and toss them in the trash.
“Usually Dr. Russell is picky about sutures. You did a good job.”
I half-laugh, half-grunt. “Yeah? And what about the rest of it?”
She laughs. “Let’s just say it was fun while it lasted, right?”
I’m eating alone in the lounge like a loser. I have an untouched bag of pretzels and an apple. I’m trying to force a sandwich into my mouth, but it’s too dry. My body is using all my fluids for tear production. Every bite is a struggle. What I really want to do is sling the stupid sandwich against the wall—or better yet, at Dr. Russell’s head.
“There she is!” someone calls from the doorway, and I glance up to see a group of surgical assistants walk into the lunchroom. We always eat lunch together. They’re my work friends, the people who laughed when I drew the devil horns on Dr. Russell.
“You survived your first day!” Erika says with a big smile and two thumbs up.
Before I can protest, she and the rest of the group gather around and claim the remaining spots at my table. They think this is a celebration when it’s actually a pity party. If there were a record playing, I’d scratch it.
“Yup, and I won’t survive another,” I say, all gloom and doom.
“Oh, c’mon, don’t be dramatic!” Megan says, shoving my shoulder playfully. Megan and Erika work on the dermatology floor, assisting their doctors with mole biopsies and laser hair removal. They are both moisturized and cheerful, and they routinely leave the hospital by 3:00 PM. Megan told me last week that she felt too well-rested. I hate them more than I like them.
“We’re taking you out for a celebratory drink tonight!” Erika declares like it’s a done deal.
“No.” I shake my head. “Honestly, I’m not in the mood, not after the morning I’ve had.”
“Aw, c’mon. It can’t be that bad. You knew Dr. Russell was going to be tough, but if anyone can handle him, it’s you—”
My hand shoots up, displaying the universal sign for Shut the hell up, but then I spot Patricia in the doorway, scanning the room. She doesn’t eat in here; she eats at her desk so she can flip through her knitting magazines. I know this because I pay careful attention to her. It’s important to be on Patricia’s good side.
When she sees me across the room, she nods and cuts a path straight for me.
I imagine what she’s about to say. Most likely, Dr. Russell has given her a note he’d like her to read in front of the entire lunchroom. Yes, it says here you’re incompetent and a huge disappointment.
I push my sandwich away and squeeze my eyes closed.
“I’ve been looking for you everywhere,” Patricia says, puffing out an annoyed breath.
Then there’s a loud splat. I blink my eyes open and realize it was the sound of a manila folder hitting the table in front of me.
“This is for Dr. Russell’s surgery on Wednesday.”
I release a bitter, sad laugh then attempt to hand it back to her. “Oh, I won’t need this.”
She doesn’t accept it. “I know Dr. Lopez didn’t have you go over patient files like this, but Dr. Russell insists his surgical assistants know his cases as well as he does.”
She misunderstands. “It’s not that. I just don’t think I’m going to be on his team come Wednesday.”
Her wise gray eyes assess me over the rims of her glasses. It’s clear she thinks I have a few screws loose. “Well, he was the one who just asked me to pass this along to you. If you’re planning on quitting, better go let him know now so he can arrange to have a resident assist him on Wednesday.”
My mouth is a fly trap.
“He gave you this file just now?”
She nods slowly.
“After the surgery?”
“Now? And he said to hand it to me? Bailey Jennings?”
She reaches forward and thumps me on the forehead. “Yes. Now stop asking stupid questions.”
Then she turns and walks out of the lunchroom, muttering under her breath.
My tablemates stare at me in shock.
Erika throws her hands up. “SEE! YOU DID IT!”
Megan claps. “This is cause for celebration! Drinks tonight, on me!”
I’m so shocked, I don’t even have enough sense to turn them down.
Josie, unsurprisingly, screams into the phone when I tell her I’m going out with friends and I’ll be home a little later than usual.
“What are you going to wear?” Her voice carries clear across the locker room. People shoot me strange looks.
“Uh…” I look down at the clothes I wore to work this morning. “Nothing fancy. That black blouse you hate.”
She groans. “Just please don’t button it all the way to your neck. I swear to God—”
“I didn’t, jeez!” I hurry and undo the top two buttons, glad she can’t see me through the phone. “Do you think I’m a total loser?”
“And the jeans?”
“They’re the tight ones you bought me with my credit card without my permission.”
“Oh thank God. Shoes?”
“Tennis shoes,” I murmur shamefully. “With thick wool socks.”
She sighs deeply. “Why do you insist on sabotaging yourself?”
I glance down and clap my heels together like Dorothy.
“They’re also obnoxious. I’m going to burn them when you get home.”
“Hey! They aren’t that bad. And you better be asleep when I get home. It might be late.”
She marches on, ignoring me. “Your hair is in a ponytail, isn’t it?”
“Can you take it down?”
“Makeup? Please tell me you put some mascara on this morning.”
“No. I was rushed, but I keep some stuff in my locker. I’ll put it on if it’ll make you feel better.”
“Bailey!” Erika calls my name from across the locker room. “Are you almost ready? We want to try to catch the end of happy hour.”
I shoot her a thumbs-up. “Josie, I gotta go.”
“Okay, fine, but you better talk to a guy! Any guy! The bartender! The bus boy—”
I hang up on her and grab for my makeup bag, telling Erika I just need a few minutes. I swipe on mascara, blend a little blush onto my cheeks, and dab on some Chapstick. I look remarkably more human when we walk into the bar across the street from New England Medical Center.
Smooth Tony’s is an institution around the hospital. It has stood the test of time, a small faded bungalow shoved in the middle of skyscrapers, and best of all, Smooth Tony himself still mans the bar every night. Erika and Megan are on a first-name basis with him, and he knows their preferred drinks without them having to order.
“What about you, blondie?” he asks me as he slides full cocktails their way.
I stare at the bottles of liquor lined up behind him, trying to remember the name of a drink…any drink.
“Uh, I think I need a second.”
“We’re going to go snag a booth before they’re all taken!” Erika says, and I’m left alone, searching in vain for a drink menu.
“Still thinking it over?” Tony asks after he helps another customer.
I frown. “What’d you make my friends? Maybe I’ll just have one of those.”
I scrunch my nose. “Sounds boring.”
He laughs, and it’s deep and hearty. “Tell you what: why don’t I just make you something and if you don’t like it, we’ll try something else.”
I climb up onto a stool and shoot him an appreciative smile. “Yes. Thank you. That sounds perfect.”