For any regular readers of mine, you'll notice that this is a bit of a departure from the canon stories I usually write. I've had this AH story kicking around in my head for over a month now, and finally, there was nothing left to do but write it down. It was getting in the way of writing, sleeping, and from time to time, even speaking.
This is a work of fiction. I may not get everything spot-on with regard to primary care, testicular cancer, and in chapters to come, case law.
And of course, Twilight and it's characters are not mine! I just love them a whole hell of a lot.
Without further ado, I give you The Practice of Love... xxx, M
"There's pizza in the break room, Dr. Swan," Gianna called out as I dashed past reception.
"Not going to happen, Gianna. Thanks, though."
"Should I tell the rep you're busy?"
Why would she ask that? I was busy. "Who is it?" I groaned, a bit melodramatically. I supposed that I could pop my head in and at least say hi.
"Cialis," she called back. No, it was definitely not going to happen. Honestly, the ED reps made me uncomfortable. I know, I know, I was a doctor, for Pete's sake. And I had no problem standing in an exam room with a patient and talking about libidos and erections and stamina. But put me in a windowless room with a piece of pizza and a salesman dying to talk about how reliably he can make a man hard for hours on end, and I got a little squirmy.
No way was I talking to the Cialis rep today.
"I'm swamped, Gianna. Maybe you could ask Lauren to stop by."
"You got it, Dr. Swan."
Gianna stooped a little to squeeze my shoulder and smile reassuringly. She was our summer intern: impossibly tall, blond, beautiful and twenty-one. She could have been a fresh-faced supermodel, but instead, she'd been eyeing me wistfully for my first three weeks on the job. On my first day, she'd told me that she couldn't wait to be a physician, just like me. I thought about telling her that I was no role model. If anything, going about things the way I had should be a cautionary tale that gets told to first year students. But instead of getting into all that, I decided to simply respond with a smile. I just hoped she realized that my life was no episode of Private Practice.
I eyed the clock. This was supposed to be my lunch break, but I still had four patients waiting. I'd been running behind right from the start today, but that first patient hadn't been my fault. A little girl named Claire came in with a stomach bug, and promptly demonstrated how ill she was all over my favorite pair of shoes: Steve Madden ballet flats. No, not Louboutins or Jimmy Choos; I run back and forth in an office all day; four inch heels would never work, especially considering my lack of coordination.
It had been downhill from there, an unlucky combination of the office staff not being completely used to my quirks, missing charts and lab results, getting stuck on hold waiting for consults, and the list went on. As usual, it was hard to believe that much had happened in only four hours. But now, if I could just knock these next few visits out over my lunch break, I'd be back on track.
I paused in the hallway outside of reception to pull the remaining morning charts. No problem. I could do this, I reasoned to myself.
I was still a little stunned that Dr. Carlisle Cullen had trusted me with his practice after only three weeks. In the end, he'd left the decision up to me. He said he believed that I could easily handle things in his absence, but he would only go if I were comfortable being on my own. And while being in charge was somewhat disconcerting, after so many years having countless superiors in the hospital, I knew Carlisle had his emergency phone with him, and there were plenty of colleagues that I could consult with, if necessary.
And it was Dr. Cullen's anniversary. He hadn't had time off since his former partner, Dr. Alistair Eremite, had unexpectedly retired over six months ago. I knew he and his wife, Esme, hadn't been to the shore all summer. After all, one of the reasons I joined a small neighborhood family practice was for situations such as this: helping each other out, and having informal flexibility with scheduling. Being able to take time off for family was something Dr. Cullen said was a priority for him and I looked forward to taking advantage of the same benefit in the future.
Dr. Cullen had been in practice in this neighborhood for over twenty years. I'd reasoned that there was little damage I could do to his good name in three days. Yet, after four hours, I was desperately clinging to the hope that I'd been right. As I was flipping through the charts in front of me, Gianna swooshed by and dropped another chart off, in a slot without a corresponding room number.
"Gianna, what is this?"
"A chart, Dr. Swan."
I narrowed my eyes at her. "But there aren't any appointments scheduled for noon."
"Uh, yeah, it's a last minute, emergency kind of thing."
"I have patients in the other exam rooms."
"I put him in the lab. The tech's out for lunch, so you'll have privacy."
"We've got space set aside for emergencies in the morning and evening."
"But, he couldn't come in then."
I sighed, exasperated. First of all, what was Gianna, the intern, doing making appointments? And secondly, if this patient couldn't make it during the designated emergency timeslots, then either it wasn't an emergency, or he should have gone to the local hospital's emergency room.
"But, Dr. Swan, he's -"
I shushed Gianna with a wave of my hand, pulling this new, thick chart out of the waiting slot, examining the name and date of birth, and walking swiftly away. Her excuse didn't matter. It wouldn't change the fact that now there was a thirty-two year old male waiting for me in the lab, in a thin cotton gown. I could hardly ask him to leave.
I juggled all of the charts that were laid out on my desk, making a mental note to broach the topic of electronic charting when Dr. Cullen returned. Then I checked the on-line schedule. The patients held over from this morning were in for high cholesterol, a lingering cough, hypertension and hypothyroidism. But, under the thirty-two year-old's name, it simply said: emergency. A mystery emergency man. Great.
On an impulse, I decided to get this last minute appointment out of the way. If my acute visit times weren't convenient for this guy, well, this appointment time wasn't convenient for me. I'd have him in and out as quickly as possible. Then I wouldn't have it hanging over my head, making me angrier as the minutes ticked by.
I looked skeptically at his rather thick chart as I made my way to the lab, knowing that I should flip through it. But I didn't have the time, and if this was an acute case, there was a good chance there was no point. What good would it be to know he'd had his appendix out at twelve, if he stepped on a rusty nail this morning? Okay, okay, I know my old supervisors back at CHOP would have given me hell for a statement like that, but I wasn't in the mood.
I took a few seconds outside the door of the lab to make sure my skirt was straight, my hair was pushed behind my ears, and I mentally berated myself again for not getting out of that stream of vomit earlier in the morning. Luckily, I'd had my gym bag with me, so I had some substitute footwear. But I couldn't help feeling a bit sheepish about wearing track shoes with my navy linen skirt. I protectively tugged my white coat around my body and raised my hand to knock on the door. But before I could knock, my stomach nervously flip-flopped. Maybe I should have grabbed a bite of pizza.
I glanced at the chart in my hands, flipping quickly through the pages. I saw notes from physical, after physical, after physical, every six months for at least ten years. This man loved getting physicals. Hmm. According to Dr. Cullen's chart notes, this mystery guy was always in peak health. His heart rate hovered near fifty, his blood pressure was in the optimal range, and his weight hadn't changed by more than a pound in the past ten years. I didn't look in any detail after I noted all that, deciding it truly must have been some random accident that brought mystery man in today. According to the chart in my hands, I was about to come face to face with the picture of perfect health.
I tapped lightly on the door, forcing myself to knock loud enough for the man on the other side to hear. I was shy by nature, and it took some effort on my part to feel comfortable in the role of authority figure. It was something I'd been working on ever since my internship at CHOP.
I heard a deep male voice clear his throat on the other side of the door and I shivered in my track shoes. Huh, that was odd. I took one last look through the chart as I pushed the door open and stepped into the lab.
"You're not Carlisle."
Those three simple words evoked the sensation of raw silk running over my bare skin. The man's words were gently probing and authoritative, all at once. And velvety. Yes, that was the word: velvety.
I held my breath, waiting for my nerve endings to stop firing. In reality, the feeling passed the second he'd stopped speaking, but it left me feeling off-kilter. Maybe it was because we were meeting in the lab. Maybe because I skipped lunch?
I closed the man's chart. "No, Dr. Cullen is out of the office today. I'm his new associate, Dr. Swa -"
Oh. My. God.
In some distant part of my brain, I realized that I'd stopped walking, stopped talking, and was holding the door ajar, not have completely made it into the room. But, one glance at the mystery emergency man in front of me had made all coherent speech and muscle movement impossible. Both somatic and autonomic muscle movement, by the way. I was holding my breath again, and damn it if my heart hadn't stopped beating all together.
At first, all I saw were two piercing, emerald green eyes and a mop of messy just-been-fucked copper colored hair. On further inspection, I became certain that a nubby, white cotton gown had never done so much for a man. I could see the contours of his defined pecs, the long, lean musculature of his biceps, and his strong quads peaking out at the hem. Thin golden curls covered his legs. He even had attractive feet, and I wasn't necessarily into that kind of thing. And, I couldn't be sure, because maybe Ben, the lab tech, had used some sort of sunshine-scented cleanser in the lab, but I believed this man smelled mouthwatering.
And he was peering at me with a lopsided grin on his face.
"Dr. Swa?" he chuckled. The sound of his half laughter had my heart palpably thumping in my chest, and I felt an unmistakable twinge between my thighs. I also quickly realized that he was poking fun at me. Well, sure, mystery man must have stopped women in their tracks on a daily basis.
Move your legs and speak, Bella, I commanded myself. It was time to act like a physician. But I couldn't. Instead, the knowledge that my reaction had been very inappropriate popped into my head, about thirty seconds too late, in my estimation. Sure, at school and during my residency, I'd seen classmates ogle patients, hook-up with patients, even have relationships with them. And while this was strictly unethical, and against the rules, it was far from unheard of.
But I had never been so much as tempted. I prided myself in acting professionally while at work, and keeping my private life private. When I heard the rumors about classmates hooking up with someone they met at the clinic, it all sounded sordid and nauseating. I remembered confronting my friend Rose at CHOP just a couple years back.
"But Rose, it's just wrong," I argued over a cup of coffee.
"That's the best you've got Bella? It doesn't feel wrong. It feels pretty good," she said knocking back her iced caramel macchiato. Rose did everything extravagantly, even her coffee beverages.
"Can't you just wait until your rotation is over? Then he won't be your patient anymore. Problem solved."
"If no one finds out, then there's no problem," Rosalie said, daring me to act on the information.
To that I only shook my head. I certainly wouldn't report her, but that didn't mean someone else wouldn't notice. "You could get kicked out of the program, you know. It doesn't seem worth it, if you ask me."
"Just wait, Bella, one day you'll get yours, then you'll understand. It is, most definitely, worth it."
Royce dumped Rosalie well before she finished her cardio rotation. She still wasn't over it, over a year later. At the time, I'd figured it had actually been the other way around. Instead of me, she'd gotten hers.
But here I was. Was Mr. mystery emergency man mine? I didn't mean 'mine,' I just meant my opportunity to wrestle with emotions and ethics. This man was certainly not mine. Why couldn't I stop putting mystery man in the same sentence with the word 'mine'?
Mystery man cleared his throat and I jumped, like I'd been pleasantly shocked, and I felt that little twinge again. If I was being truthful, it was more than a little twinge.
And it was wrong. On so many levels.
I took a deep breath, smiled a strained smile, and looked the man in his beautiful face. Did I mention that he had a really strong jaw, and that when he smiled at me again, his teeth were movie-star straight and gleaming white?
"Err, sorry about that Mr…" I looked at his chart, "Mr. Masen. My name is Dr. Swan. You're a last minute addition to the schedule, and I don't usually see patients in the lab."
"Yeah, sorry about that," he smiled, looking like he'd been caught stealing cookies out of a jar. My heart fluttered again, and I reached my hand out and gripped the countertop.
Dazzling, he was dazzling. I could easily see how he'd gotten the appointment.
"I may have pulled some strings," he confessed, biting his bottom lip. Suddenly, I wished he were biting my bottom lip. And I wished he'd keep talking. His voice did more for me than my bullet had been doing lately.
This is wrong, DR. Swan! Now speak!
"Well, it seems you made it past both Gianna and Angela without a note as to why you're here." I looked over the nurse's notes. "As usual, your blood pressure, weight and temperature are all perfect. I don't see any signs of major trauma. So, what brings you in today?" Did I just giggle after I said that? Yes, I just giggled. Holy crap, get a hold of yourself, Bella.
But as I glanced back at mystery man, his demeanor had completely changed. His shoulders had fallen forward, his hands were clasped tightly together, and it looked like he might actually bite through his lip as he stared hard at the floor.
"Ifeltalump," he muttered.
"Excuse me, Mr. Masen?"
Mr. Masen looked up from the floor, a shell of the self-possessed man he'd been only seconds before. The light in his eyes looked fragile, and I could actually feel the fear rolling off of him in waves.
"I'm sure you've read my chart," he said, looking me straight in the eye.
Oh shit. I hadn't really read his chart. I didn't say anything, hoping that he'd fill the silence and give me the information I needed. Guilt crept up my spine, and I fought the urge to apologize and run out of the room. This visit was going worse than any I'd had since I'd been a third year newbie back at the U.
"After the initial diagnoses, the surgery, chemo, radiation, everything, I've been rigorous about doing a self-check each month. Always the fifteenth, always in the shower. And this morning, I felt a lump. First time ever… well, since the first time I mean."
The words came tumbling out of the man's mouth, quick, as if he were confessing to something he'd done wrong. He ended with a large gulp, his Adam's apple bobbing in his throat, his one hand clenched in a fist, the other tugging at the hem of his cotton gown.
"Testicular cancer," I murmured, finally understanding. And like that, all inappropriate thoughts disappeared. There was simply a scared patient sitting in front of me: someone that needed my help.
"What?" he asked. My words seemed to have brought him back from wherever he'd gone.
Say something knowledgeable, Bella.
"How old where you when you were first diagnosed?"
I did some quick math. "The chances of metastasis to the other testicle after thirteen years -"
"You're talking about statistics, doctor," he cut in. "I'm not a statistic." He opened his mouth to say something else, but then seemed to think better of it.
"Of course… So, the lump, as you say, wasn't there last month?"
"Is it painful? Is your testicle swollen? Have you noticed any pain in your abdomen or scrotum?"
"Back pain? Shortness of breath?"
"No," he sighed, and I could sense that he was becoming impatient. But if this man was afraid that his cancer had returned, I owed him a thorough intake. After all, I should do something right during this visit.
"Night sweats? Fatigue? Weight loss?" I continued, glancing up at him. He shook his head in the negative. The fear in his eyes made me shiver, and I mentally berated myself yet again for not looking deeper into his chart. I wondered just how bad the cancer had been.
"Any change in libido? Pain with ejaculation?"
Mr. Masen coughed, like I'd surprised him. "Uh… no," he mumbled. "Not exactly."
Mr. Masen's emotions shifted again, from fear to discomfort, and he redirected his gaze to the door, as if now, he was the one contemplating a quick getaway. "No Pain. And libido, well, no, it's nothing, nothing like that." He took a deep breath and then looked me in the eye, with a gaze that was begging for help, for a hand to hold him up, for someone to take away his fear. "So, where do we go from here, Dr. Swan? Ultrasound, blood work?"
"Take a deep breath, Mr. Masen. Let's take this one step at a time. I'll just wash up and do a quick exam. Further testing may not even be warranted."
Mr. Masen's eyes searched mine, and I gave my best, reassuring smile. I hoped he was just being overly cautious and that it was nothing. He was obviously extremely thorough: monthly self-exams, physicals every six months, and judging by his body and physical health, I imagined he exercised daily and had an extremely healthy diet. I clicked through the differential diagnoses in my head. There were other things it could be. I was so absorbed in my thoughts, that it wasn't until I had my hands under the water that I was knocked out of my professional safety zone.
I was about to have my hands on this beautiful man's ball sack. Immediately, the physician within corrected me, I was about to palpate a patient's scrotum. Somehow, the distinction didn't help any. The woman within me started melting into a puddle on the floor, while the physician within me wished she could slap that puddle across the face.
When I'd washed my hands long enough to make them practically raw, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and silently repeated the mantra I'd been using as an affirmation ever since I was out of med school.
You're a real doctor now, Bella Swan. You can do this.
I know, I know. It wasn't the most profound mantra. But it meant a lot to me. My whole life, I'd always had the feeling that I was pretending. Some things I really did pretend at… like I pretended I had a good relationship, which led to pretending I had a stable marriage. But this was no time to re-hash my relationship with James. I wasn't pretending anything, now. I had a scared man whose testicle I had to … palpate. It took a second to force myself to use the correct medical terminology. I would not think of it as fondling. Oh Jesus, I just thought of it as fondling.
I heard the man shift behind me, standing up, I think. "I figured Carlisle would see me. Gianna didn't say anything about another doctor when I made the appointment." No, she hadn't said anything to me either, mystery man, not to me either.
"Dr. Cullen, I mean, Carlisle, is out of town."
"Fuck! I missed their anniversary."
I wondered who Mr. Masen was to my boss. If he knew about Dr. Cullen's wedding anniversary, they must have been very close. Maybe he was the doctor's son-in-law? Carlisle mentioned that he had a daughter about my age. When I turned around, I glanced at Mr. Masen's ring finger… just to investigate my hunch, of course. No ring. Not a son-in-law.
"This should only take a minute Mr. Masen. Could you -"
"I'm sorry, Dr. Swan, but please, hearing you say 'Mr. Masen' sets my teeth on edge. Edward. Call me Edward."
"Sure… Edward." I could not call him Edward. Because, when I said Edward, I had trouble breathing. I'd need to breathe if I was going to perform this exam. When had uttering a first name become so intimate and off-putting? Stop it, Swan!
"So, I know you've done this before." The words seemed to come out of my mouth of their own volition.
I blinked hard. Our eyes connected, and I could swear I saw his eyes twinkle in wry amusement. But his lips were pressed together in a straight, solemn line. This was all wrong.
"Too many times, but this will be my first time with a woman... doctor." I swore I could detect a note of sarcasm in his smooth voice.
"Would you be more comfortable if I had the nurse observe?" I realized that maybe I should have asked this earlier.
"Angela?" he laughed. "No. This is fine, Dr. Swan."
Well, if he didn't want Angela around, what could I do? Pull in Gianna or the Cialis rep? Hardly.
"Could you lift your gown please?"
I was holding my breath… again. There, a penis. I'd seen penises before. Admittedly, not half as many as some women my age had. But I'd never seen one, in person, that was so…
Quickly, before my mind could add very complimentary and very inappropriate adjectives, I made sure to look mystery man straight in the eye. See, I was just a doctor and he was my patient. "Could you hold your penis to the side, Mr. Ma-, I mean, Edward?"
He complied, staring at the wall behind me. He had large hands, long fingers and were his nails manicured?
"Which testicle?" I asked, mentally kicking myself, because if I'd read the chart, I would have known.
And without giving myself a chance to think further, I took him firmly in my hand. I didn't hesitate, you had to convey confidence and be straightforward and calm with any type of genital exam. I rolled his testicle steadily between my fingers, searching for some irregularity, hoping that mystery man was over-reacting.
I knew it didn't work this way, but still, I wondered how a man like this could have cancer. He was the picture of health. Seriously, I wondered what he did for a living, because he could easily be plastered across the cover of one of those men's fitness magazines. Hell, he could be plastered across the cover of GQ. I would have purchased a copy.
And, as if on cue, Edward Masen decided to make a run for Playgirl. Holy crow. No, I had never seen a penis like this before. I could say that with some certainty. Damn.
To my credit, I didn't gasp, or hold my breath, or even pause while examining his left testicle, while his penis begged for my attention. It was just a normal, physiological response. A very impressive physiological response. And my normal, physiological response was to blush. Beet red. You could have fried eggs on my cheeks.
I let my hair fall over my face a little and hoped that hid my reaction to his… reaction.
I knew I should say something to let him know this was just a normal, every day occurrence for an experienced doc like me. "What do you do for a living, Edward?" I hoped that he didn't notice that my voice had cracked.
"I, uh -"
But then my hand froze and I caught my breath. Edward immediately stopped what he was saying.
There, on the external, anterior surface of his testicle was a small, hard, well… lump. A mass. Just like he said.
"You feel it?" he asked, in little more than a whisper. That note of scared-shitless dread was back in his voice. Suddenly, the steel rod in his hand shrunk to a semi.
"Is it tender to the touch?" I was all doctor now. To be honest, I'd never palpated testicular cancer. But I knew what to look for: a mass that was hard, fixed, painless, irregular. Damn! Damn times four.
I looked up into Edward Masen's face, beautiful and crushed. He'd also hoped he'd been wrong.
"Well, you were right. There's something there. I'll write you a script for an ultrasound. Could you stop by Qwest today?"
"Absolutely." Edward dropped his penis and his gown, and fell back into the lab chair in defeat. I stepped back to the sink to quickly rinse my hands.
"And Ben, our tech, should be back any minute. Could you hang out here so he could draw some blood?" I asked, turning back toward my patient.
Edward simply nodded, and eyed the neat pile folded clothing on the countertop. His gray boxer briefs were on top. To his body's credit, I hadn't noticed the underwear until just that moment.
"They should have the results to me within twenty-four hours. But, Edward, if it is cancer, you caught it quickly, thanks to your diligence. Let's not think the worst until we get the results."
"You'll call me as soon as you know?"
He managed a weak smile that didn't meet his eyes. "Thanks, doctor."
"Of course. I'll speak with you tomorrow." I opened his chart. "Is this the best number to reach you at?
"No, I'll leave my assistant's number with Gianna. Lauren will be able to track me down and patch you through, no matter what."
"Sure. Take it easy today, and we'll deal with the results tomorrow."
Edward nodded absently, blinking rapidly.
"Do you have someone that could help you get through the next twenty-four hours?"
Edward turned his eyes on me again, and suddenly, I needed a seat too. I didn't need to read his chart. The haunted look I saw there let me know that he'd really been through it last time. In my four short years as a physician, I'd seen the eyes of so many people that were facing death. It would sound poetic, or something, to say they all looked the same. But they didn't. Some were determined, and you could see evidence of the vitality there that would help them fight. Some were resigned and at peace, ready to go gently into that good night. But others, when faced with their own mortality, were scared, shaken to their core. Edward fell into this last category. The intensity of his fear chilled me to the bone.
"I do," he replied under his breath. But, I had gut feeling that he wasn't telling the whole truth and I reached out to grab his hand. He clutched me as if I were a life raft he was holding onto for dear life. Electric warmth shot up my arm, and my skin tingled and I blushed all over again. But now, I was more annoyed at my body than anything else, and tried my best to ignore the inappropriate sensations, instead, giving my undivided attention to my patient.
"Edward, I have a good idea that the reason you're so thorough, is so you could catch things early, in the eventuality that something like this happened. You did just what you set out to do. And actions like yours indicate that you're the type of person that likes to face things head on. As your doctor while Carlisle is out of town, I can help you with that. That's what I'm here for."
I squeezed Edward's hand, and he returned a genuine smile. The crazed light in his eyes had faded to a pleasantly warm flicker.
"If you need to talk today, you could always call the office. I could have reception patch you through." What the hell did I just promise? I still had four other patients waiting, and a more than full afternoon. Why was I saying that I'd prioritize his call? That wasn't exactly what a primary care doctor was there for. But I knew that if Edward took me up on my offer, I would do just that. What in the world would reception think?
"Thank you, Dr. Swan, but I think it will be enough to hear your voice tomorrow."
I should have been relieved, but I wasn't. Actually, I felt a little rejected. I squeezed Edward's hand again, before letting it go and standing to my feet. The sting of the cool, recycled office air was irritating in comparison with the feel of Edward's warm palm against mine.
"Carlisle thinks he's quite lucky to have found you, you know," Edward said out of the blue. The compliment took me by surprise.
"Really? Umm, thanks." My cheeks were getting warm all over again, and it seemed it was my turn to look at the floor.
"Where did you go to school?"
"The University of Washington," I mumbled, unused to discussing myself in the exam room. I glanced up at Edward and his emerald eyes were twinkling again, unexpectedly. He stood quickly to his feet, and his chest was suddenly level with my eyes. I had to crane my neck in order to look at his face. The space between us crackled with electric heat. I'd have to tell Gianna to turn up the air, I thought to myself.
And I had to go. I had people waiting, and I imagined my lunch break must have been just about over. I took a few hasty steps backwards, toward the door.
"Is there anything else?" I asked, searching for the doorknob behind me.
"No," Edward practically laughed. "That's the most dramatic lunch break I've had in ages. I couldn't imagine what else I could possibly add to that unlikely fifteen minutes."
I giggled again. Fucking giggled.
It had only been fifteen minutes. I felt like I'd been in there for fifteen hours.
I managed a polite smile. My cheeks were calming down, and I think I was able to look at Edward Masen in a manner I hoped seemed professional, rather than unhinged.
I held out my hand, the hand that had held his testicle, and my palm itched in anticipation. "Well, it was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Masen. I'll talk with you tomorrow."
He took my hand in his, and there it was again. Lightening shot up my arm, from the point of contact. I dropped his hand like it had been a live wire. Edward took a step back, coming flush with the countertop.
Did he feel that too?
With another quick smile, I turned and left the lab, not trusting my mind to bring a coherent string of words to my lips. I walked quickly to the front office, writing a lab rec. on the way.
"Dr. Swan." She looked at me critically and a slow smile spread over her face. "So, you met Edward, huh?"
"This is for Mr. Masen. Please make sure he gets it on his way out. And get this rec. to Ben, and let him know that Mr. Masen is waiting in the lab for a draw. And Gianna?"
She raised an eyebrow, not buying my all-business approach for one second.
"I have a feeling I know how Mr. Masen got his emergency appointment at twelve noon in our lab. And while I'm here, I don't care if Brad Pitt waltzes through those doors. No one gets a non-existent appointment without express permission from Dr. Cullen or I. I don't appreciate being surprised."
"But… but, he's -"
"No 'buts' Gianna."
"Whatever you say, Dr. Swan."
I went back to my office and picked up my next chart, thinking Brad Pitt didn't have a thing on Edward Masen. And then I prayed a little, silent prayer that it hadn't been a tumor that I'd felt on his scrotum.
After that, I tried valiantly to force all thoughts of mystery man, Edward Masen, out of my head. Guilt plagued me every time my brain conjured up the picture of his twinkling green eyes and his messy copper hair. But the image would pop into my head unbidden at the most inconvenient times, stopping my train of thought, or stopping me in the middle of a sentence. It only got worse as the day wore on. In fact, as the afternoon turned to evening, and I worked to get the last few patients out the door, it took all of my willpower to keep that disarming lunchtime visit from replaying itself constantly in my mind.
His voice. His eyes. His chest. That sexy half-smile. And then, when his hand touched mine, the fire that roared to life under my skin: like it had been there all along, but only Edward Masen had the match to light it. But, I would not think about the exam… that's where I drew the line, and I put all my energy into holding that line. I knew, however, that even if I didn't go there, my feelings were still very, very wrong. Like the drug addict that would do everything except heroin; they were still a drug addict. I would not let Edward Masen become my heroin.
I glanced at the clock. It was 7:54 p.m., and I was finishing up the charts for the day. I'd vowed never to leave an unfinished chart before returning home, but that vow was becoming harder and harder to keep. To make matters worse, I kept bouncing from the charts in front of me to my office email, until I realized what I was doing. I was subconsciously waiting for Mr. Masen's ultrasound report. I was anxious to see the results. Then I'd have to call him with said results.
In fact, I may have been finished with the charts piled up on my desk a while ago if I hadn't done some confirmatory research on testicular cancer. I also went back and reviewed Edward's medical history in detail, to see what he'd gone through when he was nineteen. He'd had Stage III testicular cancer, had his right testicle removed, and had undergone both radiation and chemotherapy. Even with a case as advanced as that though, my research confirmed that the chances of it migrating to his left testicle at this point were somewhere below five percent.
After I read that, I breathed a sigh of relief, but Edward's voice echoed in my head. "I'm not a statistic."
He was right. Those five percent were out there somewhere. One of them could have been the man in my office.
I checked my email again, but there was nothing from the lab. I felt certain Edward would have gone to the lab immediately. But I suppose I'd have to wait until tomorrow.
Just then, my cell phone buzzed. I'd switched it from silent to vibrate after the last patient had cleared out. I pulled it from my pocket and glanced at the screen to see who was calling. For the first time since lunch, I smiled without feeling guilty, and flipped the phone open.
"It's been a while since you called me baby," a deep voice chuckled. I felt my smile fading a little, wondering if what he'd said was true. "When are you coming home, Bells? I'm trying to keep dinner warm, but this steak's gonna be on par with cardboard pretty soon."
"Hey, Jake. I'm just finishing up. How's Ness?"
"She's watching iCarly."
"iCarly? Jake, she's four, not fourteen."
"She's mature beyond her years. What can I tell you, Bella? Maybe I'll read her some… Tennyson before bed."
Tennyson? Jake must have found the name on the spine of a book in my bookcase. I was pretty sure he didn't read anything except Car and Driver Magazine.
"Can you put her on, Jake?"
"Does that mean you're going to be a while?"
"No, I just want to talk to my baby."
I heard Jake walking into the living room with the phone, and the sound of Miranda Cosgrove singing in the background grew louder. The fact that I knew it was Miranda Cosgrove convinced me that Ness was watching too much T.V. I'd have to put some restrictions in place.
"Mama!" she cheered.
"Ness, how are you?"
"Good. I miss you at work." She exaggerated the emotion in her voice and I ate it up.
"I miss you too, baby."
"I not a baby!"
"I missed my big girl while I was at work."
"You comin' home, mama? Today, I eat food, and I go'ed to the park and I played…" Nessie's voice faded and became more garbled.
"Soon, sweetie. I'm just packing up now," I replied.
"See ya' soon, sweetie," she giggled. Lately, she'd been picking up so many words. I don't think I'd heard her say sweetie before. It was charming.
"Did you just call me sweetie?" I laughed, in that singsong voice you only use with your kid.
"And now you're calling me sweetie?" Jake chuckled. "I'll have to make cardboard steak more often." You could never tell when Ness was going to pass off the phone.
"I'll be home soon, Jake."
"Good deal. See you then. Later, Bells."
As I clicked the phone closed, however, my stomach fell to the floor. All of this time I'd been feeling guilty because it was unethical to be sexually attracted to a patient. Not once had I felt guilty because of Jake. I slammed Edward's chart closed with unnecessary force, and threw it onto my completed pile, even though it would simply show up on my desk tomorrow, along with the results of the ultrasound. But still, it felt satisfying to toss it away.
I dumped the other unfinished charts into a new pile: my new 'I'd get to them tomorrow' pile. I needed to get home to my little girl and my boyfriend. The man was taking care of my daughter and had made me dinner. I took him for granted too often.
I threw my bag over my shoulder, and collected the plastic bag with the vomit shoes, figuring I'd throw them into the dumpster after I left. I sighed. I hated shopping and it would be a hassle to purchase another pair. Maybe I could find them on-line.
Once outside in the muggy August air, I fumbled with the lock and the alarm system. The streets of the Fairmount neighborhood were dark, lined with cherry trees and quiet brownstones, families sequestered quietly inside. A few beads of sweat immediately broke out on my brow. I actually hated this time of year in Philly. The air was so thick and warm that it seemed to have the ability to suffocate, pressing in on you from all sides, still, heavy and uncomfortable. My clothing was always damp and clingy, and my hairline was always moist. Most people high-tailed it out of Philly in August, if they could.
It was this time of year when I'd first moved to Philadelphia with Nessie and Jake. On nights like these, after Nessie was asleep, Jake and I would crawl out of the bedroom window of our cramped, third-floor West Philly apartment. We'd drink Coronas with lime, and talk about how different Philly was from our home back in Western Washington. Philly seemed so scary back then: big, dirty, and imposing. But with Jake and Nessie there, it was still home.
And with Jake next to me on the roof, holding me close, I felt safe. Safer then I'd felt in so many years. Even on the most stifling August nights, I put up with his body heat, because of the soothing effect that his unconditional and cautious love had on me. And after a couple beers, I'd climb back inside, study up for the next day, and wait for Nessie to wake up for her one a.m. feeding.
Back outside of my office, I was shaken from my daydream, when I heard a pair of heavy footsteps coming down the street. Just because Fairmount was pretty and residential, that didn't mean it didn't have its share of crime. Only a week ago, the pharmacy down the street was held up at gunpoint, the assailants looking for Oxycontin. Ever since then, we'd cautioned the staff not to leave alone at night. Yet, here I was.
I slipped around the corner of the building to throw out my shoes with the uncanny feeling that someone was eyeing me from behind. I tried to tell myself that it was all in my head. Ever since James, I tended to be a skittish mess when I was alone. But just to be on the safe side, I mentally rehearsed the eyeball, groin, foot maneuver I'd been taught in self-defense class.
The footsteps came to a stop in front of the office and my heart began to race, trying its damndest to pound right out of my chest. I wondered if I should take off down the smaller deserted side street, or run toward the owner of the footsteps, onto the much busier Fairmount Avenue. I could wave down a passing car, if I had to. Or maybe I should just call 911. I gripped the phone in my pocket.
"Isabella?" a female voice called out. My breath caught in my throat for the umpteenth time that day, but for a very different reason. I knew the voice well, and I steeled myself before turning and walking slowly toward its owner.
The first thing I saw was a shock of red hair.
"Victoria. What are you doing here?"
A/N: So, what do you think?