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“Oh! Did someone make banana bread?” Shelly asks from the doorway. She turns and shouts down the hall. “Hey, Larry, there’s banana bread in here!”
Within minutes, coworkers are crowded around me like vultures. I watch them eat my bread, soaking in every emphatic moan and groan.
“Bailey, this is something else,” Larry says with a little shimmy of his shoulders.
Their praise is nice, but it’s not what I wanted. Dr. Russell should be licking his chops right now but instead he turned the tables around on me.
I don’t need to like you.
Who says that to someone?!
A psychopath, that’s who. Everyone wants to be liked. Including him.
I know it.
I don’t see Dr. Russell again until he walks into the operating room. He confers with the anesthesiologist, checks in with the device rep, and then heads straight for me. I’m already holding up his gown, waiting for him, sterile gloves and mask in place. Every strand of my hair is tucked beneath my pink scrub cap—the one I didn’t have time to grab on Monday.
He notices it and shakes his head as he steps into the gown.
“What?” I ask.
I don’t think he’s a fan of pink. He better pray he doesn’t have a princess-loving daughter someday.
I reach in to tie the gown at his back. Just like the last time, it feels slightly more intimate than it should. It’s the proximity. I’m inches away from his butt, and though I’m not proud of myself, I do glance down. It’s great. Firm.
It’s just him and me today—no secondary surgeon making me cry—so I stand across from him at the operating table. I can’t decide which position is better. On Monday, I was keenly aware of his every move, careful not to accidently bump into him as I worked. Now, I have a better view of the parts of him that could easily soften a heart: his startling blue eyes, tall frame, and black hair just barely visible beneath his navy scrub cap. His olive skin tone looks nice even under the harsh glare of these fluorescent lights. I think to myself that he could be such a heartbreaker at the exact moment he snaps an order at the device rep. Oh right, that isn’t a Casanova standing across from me; it’s Dr. Beep Boop Robot. I’m not even sure there’s a heart beating beneath those scrubs.
His gaze shoots up to me. Apparently, I’m not observing him as surreptitiously as I thought. “Are you paying attention to the surgery?” he asks, annoyed.
It’s technically not a lie. Sure, I was kind of ogling him, but it was in the context of the surgery itself. I’m still getting used to the fact that I get to observe someone like him from this proximity. It’s a heady experience.
“Tell me what instrument I’ll need next.”
I smirk under my mask. “The prism lumbar curette, 13.75 inches.”
He’s too practiced to reveal any note of surprise, but I swear I just gained a tiny modicum of his respect. I want to run around the room with my hand outstretched, collecting high fives. Instead, I check to confirm the retractor is still placed correctly, remembering his speech in his office. Just show up on time and do a good job. It’s more important to gain his respect than his affection, and if that’s the case, at least I know where I stand.
Except there’s still one thing gnawing at me.
I hand him the curette and then speak gently. “I have to know—why’d you give me a second chance after I was late on Monday? I seem to remember you saying very sternly that I would only get one shot at this.”
For a moment, he’s quiet as he continues working. The sounds of surgery surround us: the rhythmic beeps from the pulse oximeter, the dull hum of the Bair Hugger blowing warm air on the patient’s legs, the conversations taking place around us.
“You’re reading too much into it,” he says, pausing. “I need a slightly larger curette. Is there one in the kit?”
I find one and swap it with the one he’s holding.
“Am I? Reading too much into it?”
“You came highly recommended,” he continues, satisfied with the new tool. “I didn’t have any other options. Now if you’re done with the chitchat, I need to focus.”
It’s a tactic; he doesn’t need to focus any more than he already is. Dr. Lopez chatted his way through every procedure he ever did, and I know Dr. Russell is a better surgeon than most. He could probably operate with his eyes closed, so if he says he needs to focus, in reality, he just doesn’t want to finish the conversation.
I spend the rest of the surgery thinking over what I learned in his office earlier. If Dr. Russell would rather respect someone than like them, it’s obvious he would prefer the same for himself, as if he were a king choosing to be feared rather than loved. There’s something sad about that. It’s got to be a lonely existence to walk around terrifying everyone, not to mention, a part of me wonders if it’s a defense mechanism.
I know it shouldn’t matter. I should leave well enough alone. He was very clear with me in his office…but I can’t seem to drop it. I want to know more. Maybe before I wouldn’t have cared, but he turned down my banana bread, dammit. He said he didn’t want to be my friend! I need answers.
I decide the best person to ask is Patricia. She’s worked for him for years. She has to know more about him than anyone else in the hospital. I find her sitting at her desk at lunch. There’s a mug of tea, a small Caesar salad, and a fresh edition of Creative Knitting spread out in front of her. She doesn’t even bother looking up from the pages as we skate through the usual small talk: hi, how are you, how’s your day going. Finally, I get to the heart of the conversation.
“So you’re pretty close with Dr. Russell, huh?” I ask, lifting my leg to sit on the edge of her desk.
She clears her throat in distaste and I immediately move. Okay, we aren’t there yet. Noted.
“I mean, you’ve been with him since he started here, right?”
She snorts. “I’m the only one who could put up with him.”
“So you admit he’s difficult to work for?”
“Damn near impossible.”
“But that has to be an act. He’s not actually that mean in real life, is he?”
How can he be? Who has the energy to tackle world domination every single day of their life?
“I’ll just say this…” She flips a page of her magazine and points down. “The harder the shell, the softer the heart.”
Wow. Patricia. Who knew she had such a way with words? It sounds like something that should be printed on an inspirational poster or something. Then I glance down and see she has, in fact, stolen the phrase right off an embroidered pillow in her magazine.
“So you think he’s a softie deep down?”
She glances up at me over the brim of her glasses. “He’s gotta be, don’t you think? To do what he does for these kids day in and day out? Not to mention the stuff he’s got going on with that grant.”
She shakes her head. “You’ll have to ask him about it. I don’t know all the details.”
Then she pointedly returns her attention to her magazine and goes right back to reading, so I thank her and make myself scarce.
I can’t stop thinking about her assessment as I eat lunch. It’s true: Dr. Russell usually operates on three children a week, which means he’s already impacted hundreds of lives in his short career.
He can’t be all bad.
He can’t be the villain everyone thinks he is.
There’s a text from Cooper waiting for me when I check my phone in the locker room after work.
Cooper: Hey Bailey! What’s up?
He sent it hours ago when I was still in surgery. I feel bad for making him wait so long for a reply.
Bailey: Just getting off work, sorry! I’m good, just exhausted, ha.
Cooper: Yeah, I bet. Those surgeons run you guys into the ground.
Bailey: It’s not so bad :) I like my job.
Cooper: What about your doctor? Is he nice? I’ve worked with some terrible ones.