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I’m aware that this is where conversation should take place. Dr. Russell ought to ask questions in the hopes of getting to know me: where I’m from, how long I’ve been working at NEMC, if I’d be willing to accept a job with him.
Dr. Lopez clears his throat.
“Bailey had the chance to watch your surgery this morning.”
His eyes narrow at something over Dr. Lopez’s shoulder. “What a fucking mess. I’ve permanently banned Newton reps from my OR.”
“And the patient?” I ask. “How is he doing?”
A glimmer of surprise hits Dr. Russell’s pale eyes, and when he glances back toward me, it feels like he’s actually seeing me for the first time. “He’s fine, recovering quickly, but then that’s the good thing about kids—their bodies are resilient.”
This is something, an actual conversation, but it’s over before it even begins when Dr. Goddard walks up behind Dr. Russell and grasps his shoulders tightly, trying to shake him off balance.
“Matty boy, I didn’t think we’d see you here tonight. No drink?”
Dr. Russell shakes him off and rolls out his neck. If he had them, his hackles would be raised.
Dr. Goddard doesn’t seem to care that none of us are happy to have him here. He reaches out and rudely tugs on the arm of a passing waiter. “Get my pal a Jack and Coke, will you?”
The waiter nods. “Right away, sir.”
Dr. Goddard turns back to us, his slimy gaze landing on me. What I’m sure he assumes is a seductive smile unfurls across his mouth. “And who is this delicate creature?”
What. The. Hell.
I lift my chin and narrow my gaze. “Bailey Jennings. I’m a surgical assistant at the hospital.”
His eyes widen with recognition and then he does a slow perusal of my dress. Dammit, I knew it was too tight. Appreciation colors his eyes as he finally makes his way back to my face. “Pity that position on my team didn’t end up working out, though maybe I could shuffle some things around…”
The end of his sentence is left unsaid: now that I realize I’d like to sleep with you.
The waiter scurries back over with a Jack and Coke and the water Dr. Russell originally requested. He accepts both with a thank you, keeps the water, and drops the Jack and Coke on a nearby cocktail table. A little bit of the drink laps over the edge.
“Aw, c’mon. We were going to make a toast for our pal here,” Dr. Goddard groans.
Dr. Russell tucks his hand in his pocket and sips his water with all the confidence in the world. “I don’t drink the night before surgeries.”
Dr. Goddard throws me a teasing wink. “My colleague here is such a bore, but I assure you, I’m no bore. What do you think, Bailey? Still looking for a new position?”
His words make it clear that the position is in fact underneath him.
If I were closer, I’d oh-so-subtly dig my heel into his foot.
I’m about to tell him I’d rather clean toilets at a truck stop for a living but Dr. Lopez clears his throat and steps forward, nearly cutting off Dr. Goddard’s view of me. “Actually, Bailey here is going to be working with Dr. Russell starting on Monday.”
“I’m going to—”
We speak simultaneously, and then Dr. Russell snaps his attention to me, his eyes filled with accusation as if I was the one who just announced we’d be working together.
My mouth drops open. “I—no. I’m not sure—”
Dr. Lopez is quick to continue. “The minor details haven’t been quite hammered out. It’s a new development. Dr. Goddard, would you mind coming with me? My wife has been asking about you all night and I know she’ll be sad if she doesn’t get to say hello.”
Dr. Goddard lights up at the idea that someone actually requested his presence, and he’s all too glad to be led away.
I’m left standing with Dr. Russell and cursing Dr. Lopez in my head.
“I don’t know why he said that,” I say, fidgeting on my heels and wishing a waiter would pass by so I could grab a glass of champagne and drown myself in it.
His dark brows are furrowed in confusion. “Have I unknowingly offered you a position?”
“No. No.” I rub my hand up and down my forearm. “Dr. Lopez is just trying to ensure I find a new position before he leaves, and for some reason, he thinks we would work well together.”
He grunts and looks away. “That’d be a first.”
He’s no doubt referring to the scores of surgical assistants that have come before me.
“Believe me, I’m not convinced it’s a good idea. Like Dr. Lopez said, I watched your surgery—you were brutal to that device rep.”
“You think I should have let him off easier?” He lets out a bitter laugh. “The toxicology report showed my patient had lethal levels of cobalt in his blood. He was being poisoned by the very thing that was supposed to be healing him. You think I was brutal?”
His eyes are two hot flames.
I take a small step back.
I didn’t know it was that bad. I didn’t know the hardware was poisoning him.
“Brutal wasn’t the right word,” I admit, voice quivering.
He shakes his head, clearly done with me. “Do me a favor and tell Dr. Lopez this won’t work out. You’ll need to find another surgeon to work for.”
He turns and is about to walk away when I reach out and grab his arm to stop him. In an instant, my fear is doused with a nice, healthy dose of rage at the idea of him rejecting me. ME!
I’d laugh if I weren’t seeing red.
“Are you kidding? Do you realize I’m the best surgical assistant Dr. Lopez has ever had? You’d be lucky to have me working for you, and yes, maybe I misspoke a moment ago, but that doesn’t mean I was wrong. You ARE brutal, and you know it. You can’t keep a good team around you because you stomp around like you’re the second coming of Christ. I’ve had to listen to all your surgical assistants as they wallowed and wept, and I always thought they were embellishing just how terrible you are, but it turns out they were right.” I realize I’m still gripping his arm, and I jerk back as if he’s a hot stove. His suit jacket is rumpled from my hand, but he doesn’t care. His attention is riveted on me like it’s never been before. My tone turns hard and unyielding. “And don’t worry, I’ll tell Dr. Lopez this won’t work out, but come Monday morning when you walk into that operating room, you’re going to look to your left and wish you had a surgical assistant as good as me standing beside you.” I laugh and shake my head like he’s the biggest disappointment I’ve ever seen. “Have a good night, Dr. Russell.”
Then I curve around and accidentally (on purpose) bump my shoulder into him before seeing myself out.
“Hey, you,” I snap at a waiter on his phone just outside the door. “Are those the coconut shrimp?”
He nods dumbly, eyes wide at being caught slacking on the job.
“Give them to me.”
He’s scared. He looks around for a manager, but it’s just us.
“You heard me. Stuff them in my purse—now!”
And that’s how I leave Dr. Lopez’s retirement party toting two dozen coconut shrimp. Josie and I devour every last one in our pajamas while Grey’s reruns play in succession.
No one has ever talked to me like Bailey did last night, not a colleague, not another attending at the hospital, and definitely not a surgical assistant. Admittedly, at first, I was blown away that she’d have the nerve to use that tone with me, but shock and embarrassment gave way to a healthy dose of interest, and oddly enough, a small dose of respect. I can’t get her speech out of my head. I should have paid more attention to her before she stormed out. I remember her being small compared to Dr. Lopez. I remember the feel of her delicate hand clenched on my bicep. Most importantly, I remember her sharp words.