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       Jacked, p.19

           Tina Reber

  I met Adam’s solemn eyes. “But then there are people like you to stop them and people like me to fix them. And we do the best we can, knowing that we can’t win them all.”

  He gazed at me for the longest moment; it was evident that something was troubling him. “Erin, I’m… Sorry, but I have to go.”

  His demeanor had changed so abruptly; I was confused by the sudden turn. But he grabbed his coat, looking lost, confused, and scattered, and hurried for my front door.

  Adam barely looked at me before he gripped the doorknob. “See you later,” he muttered and before I could stop him, he slipped out of my house.

  And then he was gone. The blustering wind and winter chilled ice crystals swirling in his wake, leaving me just as cold and barren as the dark February sky.

  I WAS GLAD Sarah had finally found other things to obsess about beyond my lack of a love life. Over the course of an emotionally trying solid week, her bubbly and excited, “Did he call yet?” daily questioning morphed into a somber, “Still no word?” with an extended bottom lip to show her solidarity.

  No, he didn’t call. He didn’t ask for my phone number before he ran out my front door and unless he had police officer ways of finding my cell number, all points indicated to him never calling.

  Believing I’d have a shot with someone so gorgeous—and locally famous as Adam was—well, let’s just say I was fairly certain he didn’t need my number. I’d be willing to bet women tossed their numbers at him daily and, if they got extremely desperate, they could always spray paint their phone numbers on the gigantic billboard advertising his television show that I’d discovered by accident yesterday near the underpass on Grant Avenue.

  I was such a sappy ass. I even turned my car around so I could gaze at the ginormous picture of him. Adam was front and center with the rest of his team flanking him on both sides, looking all badass and sexy in their ATTF uniforms.

  I parked in a space at the Dunkin’ Donuts across the street, staring at a freaking billboard, wondering if I ever crossed his mind. Lord knows I surely couldn’t get him out of mine. I couldn’t stop the tears once they started. Silent tears, my grandmother used to call them—the kind that fall when you think there’s no one who could possibly understand your sadness.

  The stress from trying to follow my dreams was taking its toll. I’d achieved becoming a doctor—it was a blur of years mixed with spirit-rending days as a resident, barely existing while studying incessantly, balancing everything on the delicate precipice between killing someone and curing them. I’d made my mark, proved my competence time and time again, and gained the respect of my superiors and mentors.

  But love? There was no pill or cure or pathology for that.

  After ten minutes of reminiscing over something I never quite had while staring at his enormous likeness, I wiped my face with the backs of my hands, feeling stupid, foolish, lonely, and once again, not good enough.

  Which is why on day six of Sarah’s incessant questioning and my feigned happiness, I found myself calling an old friend, Tommy Rizzotti.

  Six days of dwelling in my self-imposed misery spiral was enough. What I needed was to feel alive again. To at least feel desired, even if it was for meaningless sex. Tommy was my secret outlet when my limited array of personal pleasure products weren’t enough to bolster my failing self-esteem. He had dropped out of med school his second year, returning to Philly and his first love of music. He was tall and lean, with a tiny birthmark on his cheek that accentuated a gorgeous face. Tommy was the lead guitarist in a rock cover band that was quite popular within the local club scene. He also had the dirty-blond unkempt bed hair and dexterous fingers of a decent musician, which made him one hell of a desirable package. This he used to his advantage, and finding his bed empty was hit or miss. One thing was for certain, Tommy may be a man-whore but he was vigilant when it came to wearing condoms.

  And he was my man-whore standby.

  And man, did I need his services—badly.

  I felt sort of disgusted with myself that I’d have to resort to washing the residual hope of Detective Adam Trent away with a meaningless booty-call, but at least I wasn’t crying inside anymore.

  Tommy was unfortunately in Connecticut and wouldn’t be back until the afternoon. He had a local gig Friday night at ten, but was willing to get a quick pre-show fuck in before it at eight. It was either that or I’d have to wait until after the show and then his options for bed partners would quadruple.

  Must be nice to be in such demand that you could schedule getting laid.

  Perhaps he was onto something; having your physical needs met without investing your heart and soul in the deal. It was actually a brilliant setup now that I’d spent some time analyzing it.

  Tommy and I never had that emotional connection that brought about jealousy; he liked to fuck and was always willing to take me in like a sad kitten in desperate need for a meal, which made our encounters safe and manageable for both parties. It helped that he was one hell of a nice guy with the tongue skills of a madman.

  I loved how Tommy managed to make the act of requesting meaningless sex over the phone as effortless as ordering Chinese take-out. “Yeah, hi. I’d like to order the number two sex combo platter with extra cock. Does that come with one or two finger penetration with the oral? Two? Excellent. No, hold the post-sex awkwardness. Oh, can I get an extra helping of CumOfSomeYoungGuy? Thirty-five minutes? Perfect.”

  These were the thoughts in my head as I drug my garbage can to my curb for its Friday morning pick-up, while contemplating whether or not I could pull off being a booty call for several men in between studying medical textbooks and reviewing toxicology studies. Would probably solve some of my tension issues without worrying that I might get hurt or have some asswipe do the foot-stomp on my heart.

  I needed to get to the hospital and then get on with my clandestine arrangements.

  “Yoohoo, Erin!”

  Across the street, the widow, Mrs. Shumway, was waiving to me, pulling the front of her beige wool coat over her sunken chest. That combined with her grape purple pants that were too big and quilted black winter boots made for quite the fashion statement.

  I put my plastic recycle bin next to my garbage can and waved back, noticing she was actually hailing me. I trotted across the street, avoiding the leftover snow and slushy puddles.

  “Morning,” she greeted, straining as she dragged her heavy-duty garbage can behind her. Even when he was in his eighties, that was a job that Mr. Shumway used to handle.

  Her bright smile was never quite the same after he passed, forever altered by an irreplaceable loss. “Morning, Mrs. Shumway. Can I give you a hand with that?”

  She cinched her coat tighter while I pulled her garbage to the curb. “Oh, thank you, dear. My hands aren’t as strong as they used to be. It sure is cold out this morning.”

  I didn’t need my medical degree to see the late stage Rheumatoid Arthritis crippling her. “Yes, it is. I heard we’re getting more snow tonight. I’m ready for spring.”

  Mrs. Shumway’s gaze turned distant. “Spring was always Frank’s favorite season.”

  I saw her slipping away to some fond memory, one that was bittersweet. “I’m off this weekend so don’t even think about trying to shovel on your own. I’ll be over as soon as it stops so don’t worry. Do you need anything at the store? I have to get to work soon but if I leave now I can run for you.”

  Her nurturing smile returned. “Oh, no, dear. That’s sweet of you but I have everything I need.”

  “Okay. Well, I don’t mean to be rude, but I should probably get going. I have a meeting this morning.”

  “Oh, then I won’t keep you. I was just wondering if you were happy with the handyman you hired the other day. I have some work that needs to be done and I’m not sure who to even call. There are so many crooks these days, all wanting to take advantage now that my husband is gone. Frank used to take care of all of the maintenance around here.” She waived a hand across her
snow-covered front lawn. “But the old house has seen better days.” She sighed, her weathered face turning quizzical. “Was he expensive?”

  I was completely confused, wondering which one of us was getting Alzheimer’s. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Mrs. Shumway. I didn’t hire anyone.”

  She frowned at me. “Well, you had a young man over there on a ladder a couple of days in a row. Fixed the loose shingles above your garage door on Tuesday and was tinkering around the place all morning on Wednesday. See my gutter?” She pointed and my eyes instinctively followed. “All that heavy snow is ripping mine off its hinges. If that comes down I’ll end up having to replace the whole thing and I can’t afford to do that. That’s going to cost a lot of money and I’m on a fixed income.”

  While she went on about her late husband’s measly pension, my brain fizzled, but sure enough, my gutter was fixed. So was the piece of vinyl siding that had pulled away near the roof peak and flapped against the house quite loudly every time the wind blew. What the hell? Why hadn’t I noticed?

  “Hmm. My dad must have fixed it.” But why didn’t he call to tell me? And when the heck did he have time? Between the hours of work and sleep, he was running my mom back and forth to the hospital. Maybe Chris or Nate had been by. It would be theirs to manage soon enough.

  She squinted and shook her head. “Wasn’t your father, Erin. It was a younger man, your age. Quite strapping, too. I wish these people would at least put a sign or something on their work trucks. You know, Frank and I lived on this street for fifty-nine years and they may not think that people are keeping watch, but I see everything that goes on around here. I’m home all day and television these days stinks. Nothing but talk show rubbish. Who is your baby’s daddy and idiots who need a swift kick in the ass. How am I supposed to know if someone is here to fix things or to rob one of us? Would be nice to know. Just because he looked all clean cut doesn’t mean he’s not up to no good. They say it’s always the ones you don’t suspect that—”

  My inner filter kicked in; the surge of information caused my nerves to spring. “He was in a truck?”

  She nodded. “Yes. A shiny black one. The one day I saw he had the letters ‘ATTF’ on his coat but I couldn’t find it in the phone book. I looked under home repair and construction too.”

  I swear I could hear the blood rushing through my body after my heart skipped a very long beat.

  I TYPED MY password into the computer system, doing my best to replace my muddled thoughts with some sense of focus. I’d worked on three patients that coded, one stabbing victim, diagnosed a mysterious rash that turned out to be a severe allergic reaction to an ingredient in the patient’s breakfast cereal, and kept some woman from overdosing.

  You’d think that caseload would have been enough of a distraction.

  It wasn’t.

  I’d repaired complex human anatomy, had brought back a few people from the brink of death, but for the life of me could not figure out why Adam had been at my house without letting me know. Why would he even come around if he didn’t want to see me? And not just once but several times, according to my observant neighbor.

  “Erin. Here, take this.”

  I looked up from the screen to see Sherry holding out a gel ice pack. “Thanks.”

  “She didn’t break the skin, did she?”

  I gave her my cheek, letting her inspect my injury.

  “Jeez,” she sighed. “It’s swollen but thankfully there’s no open wound. What the hell happened?”

  I held the ice pack under my eye, hoping it would help dull the throbbing. “Heroin overdose. We pushed Narcan and Robert was bagging her when she came to. She completely freaked out. Took five of us to subdue her.”

  Doctor Miriam Vonore’s annoyed throat clearing was hard to ignore.

  “Doctor Novak, I understand that your intern had issues intubating the coding patient,” she said, her condescension and disapproval making my head throb even worse. We’d worked on him right before the overdose came in. “If you can’t intubate, it’s better to manually ventilate. You should know that.”

  My guard immediately went up, but I couldn’t let her see my defenses. I’d allowed the attendings to treat me like I was an ignorant dumb shit when I was a resident; I’d be damned to let any of them think they could get away with talking to me like that now. Enough was enough. And so much for her asking if I was all right after being kicked in the face.

  “I’m well versed in airway, Doctor. The patient was combative, which made it more difficult, but Doctor Reyes was able to intubate him on her second try.” I turned my gaze her way, giving her just a smidgen of my attention. She was lucky that she got that much. The woman was worse than that arrogant Doctor House from television. “I was right there supervising her technique, gave correction, and did not see a need to intervene any further. Besides, isn’t that why we have interns? So they can learn just like we all did?”

  Doctor Vonore’s saggy jowls puckered. “The patient needed someone with more expertise in airway. Because of the delay, he’s going to suffer.”

  I fought rolling my eyes, especially since she was trying to make something out of nothing.

  My desk chair rolled a few inches when I stood up. “My patient’s care was my top priority. As their attending, it was my call and I made the decision to allow the intern to try again. The patient’s welfare was never compromised.”

  Doctor Jeremy Bond, tall, dark, and whistling happily, came around the corner, scrawling on a med chart. “Has anyone seen a leather notebook? It’s dark brown.”

  Sherry slipped it off a workstation. “You mean this?”

  “Yes,” he said, relieved. “Thank you.”

  “No problem, One-Shot,” Sherry teased.

  His glare was amusing. “You all will never let me live this one down, will you?”

  A resounding chorus of “Never!” echoed from the far reaches of the department.

  I was glad for the playful distraction, although Miriam was far from amused. I could see her frustration growing from being ignored. “You should never have told them you got your wife pregnant on your honeymoon,” I said to him. “You can’t give them ammunition like that.”

  Sherry pegged me with a knowing glance, one that said ‘if you would have dated him when he asked, you could have been the one who got pregnant on your honeymoon.’

  “Dayum, Novak. What happened to your face?” Jeremy asked.

  “Heroin OD,” Sherry said. She nudged my hand. “Ice. Face. Now. Doctors. I swear. You make the worst patients.”

  “Good news.” He patted my shoulder. “Mr. Trujillo’s surgery went well. You and your team did a great job.” He nodded at Miriam. “Doctor.”

  I set my ice pack down, thanked Doctor Bond, and enjoying my moment of righteous indignation. I’d also owe Doctor Bond a favor or two for that save, but it would be worth it, seeing Miriam’s maw gape like a confused fish. I turned my pleasantness back on her. “Unless you have any other constructive input, I have patients to attend to.”

  “This hospital doesn’t need a malpractice suit. Remember that.” She turned on a final huff and stormed away, probably a little self-satisfied she got the last word in again. She was always looking for a reason to make my life hell. Bitch! That sentiment was followed by a string of mental expletives. That woman had been riding my ass since day one, and my contempt for her ran as deep as hers did for me. Maybe even deeper.

  That was it. My mind was made up. As soon as I left work I’d run home, shower, find some makeup to cover up the bruise blooming under my eye, and let Tommy have his way with my body. Hopefully he won’t stare at my face while he’s doing his thing between my legs. And while I was on a roll, screw Detective Adam Trent and his fickle bullshit, too.

  When did I shave my pits last? Will I have time to stop for food and make it to Tommy’s place by eight? Eating before I get there without brushing my teeth—yuck. Bad idea. I’ll just shower and primp and then head over to his…

  My pager chimed, vibrating from the pocket of my medical coat. The number displayed was for the ICU.

  I slipped my cell back into my pocket after returning the page. Everything in my chest tightened, cutting off my ability to breathe.

  I ran to the elevator, pushing the button several times, but it was taking too long. I sprinted down the hallway, slamming my shoulder into the door to the stairwell. I ran both flights of stairs up to the third floor.

  The antiseptic smell of the ICU overpowered me, burning my nose as I jogged down the tiled hall. My sneakers squeaked on the floor with each step, breaking the relative quiet of the intensive care unit.

  My father was leaning hard on the metal doorframe outside my uncle’s room, looking as though he’d just had the wind knocked out of him. He had on a pale yellow long-sleeved medical gown covering the front of his body that was falling off his shoulders, exposing his street clothing underneath, and blue latex medical gloves that were protocol for all ICU visitors. He noticed me over his arm and slowly straightened; his face so sullen and anguished that it was almost unbearable to witness.

  Dad held my face after he hugged me. “What happened? You’re hurt.”

  I shook my head. “It’s nothing. A patient—” My words cut off when the pool of tears dripped down his cheeks.

  His entire body shook as he wept in my arms. I tried to be his strength but my own was waning fast.

  My cousin Nate slipped around the curtain shielding the view of my uncle, exposing a sliver of an elderly man clad in all black. He read from the book held in his hands. Daylight from the window glinted off the beaded rosary dangling from his fingers.

  Nate’s wife Andrea hurried behind him. Both passed me, stopping only a few feet from the doorway. Nate covered his eyes and broke down into choking tears.

  My own anguish roiled, sending a blaze of anguish throughout my chest and up into my throat.

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