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He chuckles and shakes his head. “I don’t think you caught any of that, did you? Bailey, I’m retiring.”
I sound it out slowly in my mind. Reeeettttiiiirrriiinnnggg.
The word spins me around like a whirlpool, which makes sense because that was the brand of washer and dryer I was considering.
“Retiring? From what, golf?” I sound hopeful. It’s a possibility. He sometimes complains about his lower back after he plays too many rounds.
“No. No.” He stands and walks to his window so he can stare out at the sprawling metropolis below. I swear I hear his bones creak as he walks. He’s always been old, but since when is he old? “I’ve been due to retire for a few years now and I’ve put it off, but Laurie has had enough. She wants to spend more time with our grandchildren and travel while we still can. What’s the use of socking away all this savings if we aren’t even going to use it?” he jokes, reciting the argument he’s probably heard on repeat for the last few years.
“Can’t you delay it just a little longer?” I ask, pleading. “You’ve only been practicing for what, thirty years?”
“It’ll be forty next month.”
FORTY?! Jesus. Get the man a cane already.
I’m shaking my head and my hands aren’t under my butt anymore—they’re tugging at the collar of my scrubs, trying to give my airway an easier go of it.
This can’t happen. I just need him to stay long enough for me to grow my nest egg into a nest chicken. I need that down payment for a house, dammit—and if not that, at least enough for Josie and me to move into a slightly bigger, nicer hovel, one with a reliable dishwasher and a shower that doesn’t spurt brown poop water onto my head after a hard rain.
He sighs and turns back to face me. “I knew you’d react this way. We’re a good team, Bailey, and rest assured, I’m not going to leave you without options.”
I perk up, my panic attack momentarily taking a back seat. “Options?”
Maybe he’s going to write me a check. Maybe he feels bad for abandoning me like this. Maybe he’s always thought of me as the daughter he’s never had (he has three very lovely daughters) and he’s going to name me as a beneficiary in his will. That’s when I remind myself that he’s retiring, not dying. Jesus.
He nods. “Yes. Options. There are four other spinal surgeons at this hospital.”
“Yes…” I confirm slowly, my brain still having a hard time catching up.
“So all we need to do is hook you up with one of them. I’ve put in a good word around the office. They’d be crazy to turn you away.”
Images of each of the four other physicians pop up like little thought bubbles. There’s Dr. Goddard, who is perpetually red-faced and puffy. He only hires young, pretty females. His nurses look like they’ve all competed in the Miss USA pageant. I pop his bubble.
Dr. Richards is okay, a little stuffy and boring, but I wouldn’t have to worry about him hitting on me. He’s closest to Dr. Lopez in age and has a good reputation around the hospital. He’s a definite possibility.
Dr. Smoot (yes, that’s his real name) is another good choice, though I’ve never once heard him speak. He’s extremely thin, skeletal even, and apparently only listens to classical music while he operates. He also only takes on geriatric cases. Talk about a good time. Old geezers splayed out on the operating table while Beethoven blasts overhead. Still, I can’t be picky, because the last remaining surgeon, Dr. Russell, is not an option at all.
I know his current surgical assistant, Kirt, and I knew the last one he had too. Oh, and the one before that and the one before that. I ate with every single one of them in the employee lounge. I became friendly with them, listened to their woes, nodded and frowned as they described the horrors of working for a surgeon like Dr. Russell. I watched them cry, grown men and women blubbering like their lives were ending all because of something he said to them during surgery.
I won’t do it. I will never work for him.
“Let’s start with Dr. Richards and go from there,” I say reluctantly. He nods and moves away from the window, and I finally work up the courage to ask the question I’ve been avoiding. “How long until you leave?”
“A few weeks.”
I was prepared for him to say months. He’s worked here for forty years and he’s going to try to phase himself out in a few short weeks?
“What about your cases?” I ask incredulously.
“Haven’t you noticed I’ve stopped taking on new patients? I only have a handful of surgeries left.”
No, I’ve been busy crumbling under the weight of life.
“Laurie wants me out by Halloween at the latest. She wants to travel a bit and go see the grandkids over the holidays.”
How wonderful. Dr. Lopez will be carving pumpkins and decorating gingerbread houses, and I’ll be left here alone, without a new washer and dryer set.
“What if none of them want me on their team?” I ask, embarrassed that my bottom lip is wobbling just a little.
He shakes his head and rounds his desk. “Not possible. Let’s go. Dr. Richards should be in his office. No time like the present.”
Dr. Richards has a big coffee stain on the lapel of his white coat. His office is decorated with furniture from the 70s. Fitting, because I think that era was the last time he had a full head of hair.
We plead my case and he grimaces.
“Oh, wish I could help out, but I already have Marlene and Chris. They’ve been with me for nearly a year now, and Dr. Lopez, you know more than anyone that I can’t overlook that kind of loyalty.”
That’s what Dr. Richards says.
A big, fat no.
So we try Dr. Smoot. He’s playing classical music in his office while he finishes paperwork. His skin is so pale and his office is so dark, I’m not totally convinced he’s not a vampire.
After we lay out the situation for him, he slides off his glasses, folds them carefully in his hands, and then looks at us with a thin-lipped sneer. “Unfortunately, I’m not in need of a surgical assistant right now. Have you tried Dr. Richards?”
Yes, we’ve tried Dr. Richards, you pale, pale man!
I want to storm out of his office, but instead I thank him for his time and tell him I’m available if he is ever looking for an assistant. He smiles and I swear to God the man has overdeveloped canines. A shiver runs down my spine and I’m actually glad he doesn’t need me because I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable working for the undead.
“All right then,” I say, mock cheer clouding my face as I turn to Dr. Lopez in the hallway. My smile feels so tight, I know I’m not doing it right. My teeth are showing, but my lips aren’t tilted up. “Last one, right? Should we try Dr. Goddard?”
At first, he wasn’t even an option, but the pickings are getting slim, and it’s either him or…
I refuse to finish that thought.
Dr. Goddard’s office is filled with a chrome coffee table and fancy leather armchairs. There’s a large framed photo of him and the rest of his platinum blond brood smiling on a beach in coordinating white outfits. It would seem wholesome if not for the equally large framed photo of a red Porsche hanging beside it.
Dr. Goddard gives me a casual once-over when we walk in, and upon realizing I am A) female and B) under 75, his eyes light up.
“Dr. Lopez, what can I do for you?”
He can do nothing.
“Aw man, wish I could help,” he groans. “But I’m all set with my staff at the moment.”
Not even my boobs (the ones he keeps staring at) can convince him to give me a position. The fact is: none of the other surgeons are hiring. They have employees they like and a good team around them. I get it. A good, trained team makes for seamless, successful surgeries.
I was a part of a team like that just this morning. Now? I’m on the outside looking in, just a lowly surgical assistant without a surgeon.
“There’s still one last option, Bailey,” Dr. Lopez says after we leave Dr. Goddard’s office.