“You…want me to show you where it hurts?”
Oh, come on.
I folded my arms across my stout chest and regarded the girl sitting on the table across from me in the sterile, brightly lit examination room. She looked up at me with big, brown eyes, the slightest hint of a smile playing on her face.
Thing that annoys the shit out of me about girls her age: They’ve got no damn subtlety when it comes to flirting.
“Why don’t we start with you just telling me what’s been going on, Miss Hendricks?” I asked, keeping my voice stern and professional.
Jenny flipped her curly, bottle-blonde hair over one shoulder and began.
“Well, it happened last week at the gym on campus,” she said, her voice low and seductive, in an over-the-top way. “I was doing some squats, and I think I just went down too far, too fast.”
She shifted her weight from one side of her body to the other, the paper underneath her crinkling as she showed me the bare expanse of skin on the back of her leg, just below the bottoms of her way-too-short shorts.
“And it’s just so achy,” she said, affecting a pouty, Marilyn-Monroe-esque tone to her voice as she made a little frown.
Come on, kid, I thought. Take it down a damn notch.
I knew that I was a catch, and I wasn’t too humble to admit it. With my height, my muscular frame, and jaw cut out of granite, I was more than used to making the women fall over themselves just for a chance to get at me. But I wasn’t a college kid anymore—I had a career and a son, and that’s where my head was these days. Chasing horny college girls was about the lowest priority in my life.
I glanced up at the clock on the wall behind the girl, noting that I still had an hour left of the clinic time the board made me do once a week. For some reason, they think having me spend three hours a week listening to walk-ins complain about aches and pains and fatigue is a good use of the time of the best damn cardiac surgeon in this hospital—hell, the best damn cardiac surgeon in the city.
I walked over to the girl and glanced at where she was showing me. The area looked fine—no redness or swelling. Probably just a pulled muscle. That is, assuming this whole injury wasn’t just some pretense to get me alone in an examination room. Wouldn’t be the first girl who tried something like that.
“You can walk just fine?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” she said, springing out of her seat and onto her feet.
Then she made a little saunter across the room, her hands on her hips as she popped her ass from one side to the other, finishing with a sultry, playful look over her shoulder.
“See?” she asked.
I gave the girl a quick look-over. Pretty face, cute figure, almost certainly DTF. Back in my med school days I would’ve been all over a chick like this, especially one just throwing herself at me. But nowadays the idea of casual sex just bored the hell out of me.
“Probably just a hyperextension,” I said. “Bad form will do that. Take some Tylenol for the pain, avoid weights for a few days, and look up some videos for proper squat form on the Internet.”
“Oh,” she said, glancing down for a moment.
Not the answer she was hoping for, obviously.
“Isn’t there…anything else you’d recommend?” she asked, cutting the distance between the two of us down to a few feet, ending just a few inches deep into my personal bubble.
“We’ve got a great exercise department here at Beth Sinai,” I said. “Give them a call if the pain persists.”
“Anything else I can help you with?”
“Um, no,” she said, getting the hint and grabbing her things. “That’s it.”
With that, she scooped up her purse and hurried out of the room.
Another thing about girls that age: They never know how to react when a guy doesn’t fall for their very clumsy come-ons. Now that she was gone, I allowed myself a small chuckle at how ridiculous the whole situation was. But our hospital was only a few blocks from one of the NYU campuses in Manhattan, and apparently, I had something of a reputation among the pre-meds there. “Doctor Sexy-As-Shit,” they called me. Or so I heard.
I took a sip of my coffee, letting the hot, bitter brew linger on my palate for a moment, then hit the call button of the intercom.
“Annie?” I asked, calling the nurse up front. “Care to send in the next very valuable use of my time?”
“Actually,” said Annie. “You’re off the hook for the rest of your clinic duty for the day.”
“Oh, really?” I asked. “No more shameless coeds, or bored, rich housewives looking to get a Valium script?”
“Nope,” said Annie. “The board wants to see you.”
I raised an eyebrow, curious at what they’d want with me in the middle of the day.
“OK, then,” I said. “Let them know I’ll be right up.”
“Will do, Doc.”
I grabbed my briefcase and headed out, my mood lifting as soon as I stepped out of that harshly lit, depressing little room. I weaved my way through the bustling hall leading to the elevator bank, the staff on duty giving their “hellos,” the nurses giving their usual flirtatious smiles.
Once I arrived at the elevators, I took another sip of my coffee and looked over the railing above the main lobby. The scene was a frenzy of activity, with doctors and patients zipping here and there, the city outside visible through the hospital’s tall glass façade.
I shook my head. Meeting with the board was better than having to deal with the rest of my clinic hours, but not by much. More likely than not they just wanted a recap of any highlights of the last week. They liked to consider themselves a “hands-on” sort of board, but I considered them micromanagers who needed to get out of the way and let me do my job.
After a quick elevator ride up to the top floor, I stepped out into the elegant, dramatically appointed lobby of the office floor for the hospital high-ups. The space was done up in dark, rich wood and low, moody lighting.
“Afternoon, Kelsey,” I said, stepping up to the wide sweep of the floor’s front desk.
“Afternoon, Dr. Rex,” she said. “They’re ready for you.”
“Wonderful,” I said. “Any idea what they want?”
“You know they don’t tell me a damn thing,” she said, flashing me a knowing smile.
“Never hurts to ask,” I said.
With that, I headed down the hallway and toward the massive dark cherry wood doors that led to the board’s meeting room. I gave a quick rap, and a voice called out from within.
“Come on in, Dr. Rex.”
I opened the door and stepped in. The room was dominated by a massive table of glossy wood, with the floor-to-ceiling windows behind it looking out over Lower Manhattan. Seated on the opposite side to the door were Lionel Hart, Wendy Mallory, and Earl Jessup, the three members of the board. I slid into the high-backed, dark red chair across from where they sat.
“Have a seat, Doctor,” said Lionel Hart, a silver-haired, slim man in an elegant suit, the head of the board and my mentor back in my residency days.
Lionel was as old-fashioned as it gets, and his taste in clothes and décor reflected this.
“To what do I owe this honor?” I said, a little bit of a playful, smart-assey tone to my voice. “Brought me up to tell me you’re bumping my clinic hours to a full day per week?”
“Lucky for you, no,” said Wendy Mallory, a heavy-set woman with narrow eyes and a head of immaculately-styled dark hair. “Thought that might not be a bad idea.”
“You know why we give you those clinic hours?” asked Earl Jessup, a tall, reedy man with a chrome-dome head and a face like a pug.
I opened my mouth to say something sarcastic, but thought better of it. Instead, I repeated what they’d told me time and time again whenever I complained about clinic hours.
“To make sure I don’t become too disconnected from the patients we treat. To see them as living, breathing people and not just surgical challenges.”
“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” said Lionel, clasping his hands together and letting a big smile form on his wrinkled face.
“OK then,” I said. “No reprieve from my clinic hours. Then what’s this little meeting all about? Not that I don’t enjoy our quality time together.”
The board shared a look, and Lionel spoke right after.
“As you know, the retirement of Dr. Whitehead has left the position of chief of cardiac surgery vacant.”
“Of course I know,” I said. “I’ve only been gunning for his spot since you all slapped that retirement watch on his wrist and sent him off to greener pastures in Florida.”
“And your enthusiasm for the position has been…noted,” said Earl.
“And we’ve brought you here to let you know that we’ve narrowed the candidates for the position down to you and one other doctor.”
“Fuck yeah!” I shot out.
The three members of the board raised their eyebrows all in the same way, at the same time.
“Uh, sorry,” I said. “But wait, it’s down to me and someone else? Forgive me for sounding a little cocky, but I’m the best cardiac surgeon in this place. Who’s the other candidate?”
“Richter Delahunt,” said Wendy.
I was happy as hell that I wasn’t taking a sip of my coffee right then, because it would’ve gotten sprayed all over the damn conference room table.
“‘Richter Delahunt’?” I asked incredulously. “He doesn’t know a damn aortic valve from his as—I mean a hole in the ground! You guys know what his nickname in med school was, right?”
Earl sighed and closed his eyes.
“That’s right!” I said, laughing internally. “And we called him that because he couldn’t make a damn incision without screwing it up somehow.”
“His med school reputation notwithstanding,” said Lionel, “he’s become one of our most skilled surgeons.”
Especially skilled at the art of kissing ass, I thought.
“Well, this is good news. Kind of,” I said. “What’s the next step?”
“Next step,” said Wendy, “is that you keep doing your job and wait for us to make a decision. We just wanted to let you know we’re ready to fill the spot and you’re in the running.”
“Just something to keep in mind the next time you want to complain about clinic hours,” said Earl.
“Hell,” I said. “I’ll take ten more a week if that’s what it takes.”
“Good to hear your enthusiasm,” said Wendy.”
Then a strange silence fell onto the room.
“Can Dr. Rex and I have the room, please?” asked Lionel.
Wendy and Earl got up to leave without saying another word. The door opened and shut behind me, and then it was just Lionel and me.
“Come here, son,” said Lionel, stepping out of his seat and taking a place looking out of the windows.
I got up out of my chair and stood next to him.
“How long has it been since things, ah, fell apart between you and Kendra?”
I winced at the name. Kendra was my ex-wife and the mother of Hunter, my son.
“Hunter’s a little over five, and she left when he was a year old.”
“Four years, then,” said Lionel, his eyes on the cityscape.
I crinkled my eyebrows.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because…” said Lionel, walking over to the conference table, resting his hands on it, and drumming his fingers in thought. “…There are some other considerations that we’re looking at when deciding who we want for this position.”
“What kind of other considerations?”
“Well, you know that you have something of a reputation here at the hospital as quite the ladies’ man.”
“Still?” I asked. “Come on, you know that those days are behind me. I haven’t been, you know, getting up to that sort of shit for years.”
“Yes, but reputations are hard to shake. And, personally, when I’m thinking about who I imagine as the chief cardiac surgeon, I don’t picture a, ah, swinging bachelor. Even a bachelor who seems to have reformed his ways.”
“What are you saying?” I asked.
“I’m saying, if you want to be a serious contender for this role, you’re going to need to show me that you’re serious about other matters in your life.”
“Like starting a family.”
Lionel nodded slightly, a small smile forming on his lips.
“This is all very unofficial, of course. We can’t put something like this in the requirements for the position. But…well, you’ve been working under my wing for years, Connor. I know how brilliant of a doctor you are. I’m ready to see you take the next step in your career, but I can’t in good conscience give you the spot if you’re still trying to put your house in order.”
“Got it,” I said, still processing just what he was saying.
“Go out there, find a nice woman. Let her make an honest man out of you. Until then, you’ll find that moving up in the world is something that’s going to be just out of your reach. At least, as long as you’re working at my hospital.”
I turned and left. I couldn’t believe what Lionel had just told me. He was a little cagey with the details, but he’d more-or-less just said that I had to get engaged if I wanted the promotion. I knew he was old-fashioned, and I knew that he didn’t have the highest opinions of bachelors, but this was a little much, even for him.
Back down on my floor, I strode out of the elevator and toward my office, my white doctor’s coat flowing out from behind me like a cape.
“Dr. Rex!” called out Annie as I blew past the receptionist’s desk.
“You’ve got one more patient. I think.”
“Someone said that she had an appointment with you, that she was an old friend of yours, and you’d told her that you’d squeeze her in today.”
“What?” I asked, incredulous.
“She said you’d be happy to see her.”
“And you just let her in?”
“She, um, wouldn’t really take ‘no’ for an answer. Said the two of you went way back and it’d be fine.”
Part of me wanted to scold Annie for being so lax with my appointments, but my curiosity had gotten the better of me. I wanted to know just who was waiting for me.
Back at my office I pulled open the door. The slender, very shapely figure of a woman was seated in one of my chairs.
“Connor,” she said, speaking in a voice that I hadn’t heard in years. “Long time, no see.”
My jaw dropped when I realized just who it was.