Author's Note: This is an AU, which takes place in modern times. It is my first story in modern times and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
A faint smell of toast, eggs and coffee lingered in the air, which like every morning conveyed that another day had just begun. The noise of the traffic sneaked inside, disturbing the peace and quiet of the room. An hour ago laughter, soft voices and the clacking of the cutlery against the plates had resounded in the now silent kitchen as its occupants had their daily breakfast, but now everything was quiet except for the noise of the cars and vehicles circulating outside.
A tiny humming voice, muffled by the sounds of humanity outside, approached from down the corridor until it became part of the kitchen. A young woman waltzed in and walked straight to the far end. Without stopping her humming she took out four slices from the bread basket and started to prepare her lunch for today. With slow movements she buttered the bread and then slipped a nice assortment of vegetables and ham between the slices. She was so intent on the task that she never heard somebody else coming into the kitchen; only when a voice sounded behind her did she realize that she wasn't alone. "Ready to start?"
She turned round with a big smile on her lips to the voice, as she clearly recognized it. The voice came from an older woman with a candid face and kind features. "More than ready, Mother. I'm excited but also a bit scared."
"You'll be fine, Louise."
"I hope so. It means a lot to me," the young woman replied as she ran her fingers through her short brown hair several times, a sign that showed that she was a nervous wreck. She kept thoughtful for a moment and then she added, "I'm so glad that I could get into the program... I'm certain that it was quite competitive and it was a total relief that they didn't mind that I couldn't do the interview face to face. I thought I had lost my chance when I realized I wouldn't be able to fly to the country. I'm surprised they agreed to interview me by telephone."
"That's because they know my girl's the best. You're good, Louise." The young woman smiled at the compliment, pleased and proud of hearing the praise from her lips. "And I'm so happy to have you here. I missed you."
"I'm happy to be home too," Louise admitted.
"Five years is such a long time."
"It's not that we haven't seen each other," Louise protested lightly, feeling that the older woman was exaggerating. "I spent ten days with you here last summer."
"But it's not the same. This is your home and the gap you left was too evident... at least for me."
"I know what you mean, Mother. I feel the same."
"And it's a shame you're not back for good," the woman let out in a pathetic voice.
Louise came closer to her and taking her hand, she squeezed it warmly. "I'm here now. That's what counts, isn't it? And let's not get ahead of ourselves. We have a long, long year ahead of us." She paused briefly and added in a soft voice, "You know this is something I need to do... I long to do."
The older woman nodded, but still she retorted, "You know, if you wanted, you could..."
"Please don't start with that!" Louise exclaimed, cutting her off. Regretting her gruffness, she hurried to apologize, "I'm sorry... but you're well aware of what I think about the matter and I'm not cut out for that."
"And you know what my opinion is, but I won't insist."
"I really thank you, honestly, but that's not for me," Louise replied, thus concluding the topic for the moment but fully aware that it would not be the last time it would come up.
"Did you talk to your sister last night?" the woman asked, tactfully changing a subject that was too uncomfortable for the two of them.
"Uh...no. I'll drop by her place sometime this week."
"She hasn't come and seen me for ages," the older woman complained morosely.
"You know what Theresa's like. And with her new job and Annie she must be very busy." Louise watched her solemn face and added, "I'll tell her to come and visit you, all right?"
"As you wish," came the unenthusiastic response. "So if it wasn't Theresa, who called last night?"
"Uh..." Louise fumbled for words, but knowing that she could not keep the truth from her, she blurted out her answer with an unhappy expression, "It was Frank."
"What on earth did he want from you?" the woman asked with obvious dislike.
"Nothing. We just talked."
"Talk about what?"
"Nothing special... just small talk. You know we're friends."
The woman shook her head as she muttered, "I will never understand it. It's..."
"Oh Marmee!!!" Louise exclaimed, using the nickname she had adopted for her long ago from the book her mother used to read to her before bedtime when she was still a small tyke. "Little Women" had been her all-time favorite and from time to time she still used that moniker. "Please, Marmee," she repeated in a softer tone, "don't pull that long face on me! You know I love you." And in a sudden and unexpected impulse she gave her a big bear hug and kissed her on the cheek, which made the woman laugh.
"Oh, Louise, you'll never change!" she let out among giggles.
"And why should I?" Louise replied, lifting her chin in a proud, mocking way.
"Yes, you're absolutely right."
Louise smiled at the woman. Talking about Frank was a sore topic for reasons she could actually understand but not share. She couldn't and didn't want to discuss him and before his name was mentioned again, she decided that a retreat now would be her best move. "I'd better go now. I don't want to be late on my first day."
"You still have plenty of time," the older woman replied and when she saw Louise take hold of a small helmet from one of the kitchen tops she exclaimed, "Don't tell me you're taking that thing!!!" Louise simply smiled to answer the question and the woman continued, "This is the big city and not the village you came from. Do you know how many car accidents there are every day here?"
"I have to admit that I don't, but I'm sure you're gonna enlighten me, aren't you?" Louise replied teasingly.
"I know you are and you also know that I've been cycling all my life, and I've always lived in this city but for the last five years. I'll be fine..." She inhaled deeply and added, "And now I gotta go." Once again she planted a kiss on the woman's cheek, and grabbing the helmet and the bag with the sandwiches, she headed for the door. "I'll see you tonight."
"And be good."
Louise stopped at the threshold and turning to her she said, "I'm always good, aren't I?"
The woman nodded with a smile and she simply muttered, "That's what I'm afraid of."
The alarm clock buzzed loudly, followed by a deep moan and a strong thump which deadened the disturbing sound at once. He slowly opened one eye and seeing the time flashing on the clock display screen, he let out a soft curse. He knew that he should have turned in earlier but the guys had hooked him for a drink the night before and what should have been a nice, quiet evening at home had wound up with him going back to his apartment at three o'clock in the morning. He usually did not drink but the beers he had indulged in last night were giving him a mild headache. With another moan he finally slid out of bed and staggered across the darkened room, almost stumbling on one of his shoes, which he had left scattered on the floor. He managed to reach his bathroom and his eyes squinted against the light as his hand turned the switch on. "Kid, my friend, you look terrible," he muttered to himself as he looked at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. His sandy hair was all tousled, his blue eyes were red-rimmed and his stubble made him look like a beggar. Without delay he put all his efforts in making himself presentable and half an hour later the man coming out of the bathroom bore just a vague resemblance to the one who had stepped in. With fresh clothes and a hot shower he felt like a new man even though he still had a headache and his weariness hadn't completely gone.
While the coffee pot brewed on the stove, Kid quickly tidied up his spacious bedroom. Last night's clothes were all scattered on the floor and the air inside was a bit stale. He picked up the garments to wash them later and opened the window for the fresh breeze to blow in. He didn't bother to make the bed. Like every morning he was in a hurry and all he had time for was a taste of his very first coffee, a pleasure that he would not renounce. His working days were long and hard, and these fifteen minutes sitting at the kitchen table by himself while savoring the strong flavor in his mouth was the best time of the day. Yet, in the quiet morning he always felt kind of cold and lonely in his impeccable kitchen. His apartment looked humongous, practically swallowing his figure like an enormous giant. He should have been sharing all this space with her, and instead of this deathly silence, the walls should have been witness of their quiet conversation, their laughter or simply the sounds of their daily life. Five years. She had been gone for five long years, but her memory always accompanied him every morning like an eternal ritual. The day she had dropped the bomb on him, he had been so shocked that he had been unable to react, and today he felt he was still in shock since that day five years ago. He still didn't know how he had been so blind about her, about their love and the moment she had stepped out of his life, he had started a long and painful road alone. His whole life had been filled by her and even when she had gone, everything around him had been a constant reminder of her and her absence. And to make matters worse, he had kept the apartment where they were supposed to have started their life together. Having sold his bachelor pad, he had felt forced to move in here and even though his intentions had been to sell it as soon as he could, five years had passed and here he was. The place was too big even for a couple, let alone for a single man, but she had taken an instant liking to it, and he had to admit that he had also imagined himself growing old with her between these four walls... The walls were still there but she was nowhere. He was still here alone, and he had been stuck with a mortgage which made him shiver whenever he saw the monthly payment on his bank statement.
Money was just money after all, and that was one of his least concerns. It was the gap... the loneliness he had been left with. In these five years he had attempted to fill that vacuum, but for some reason nothing had worked. It was as if she had left a deep-rooted mistrust in him and he got disappointed and apathetic at the first sign of trouble. Kid hated the person she had turned him into. All he wished was to be able to grab the reins of his own life and get back on track. It was foolish to think that he had been put on hold and could not walk straight without falling flat on his nose, but that was the way he felt.
Another morning. Another coffee. His daily ritual. Every time he told himself that he would get rid of the apartment and start over, but then a new day arrived and another coffee, and another week and another year, and probably an entire lifetime. Kid let out a sigh as he swallowed the last gulp of his coffee. Without any delay he rose to his feet, grabbed his briefcase and jacket and as he crossed the door, he told himself, "Enjoy your day, your pathetic, long day!"
"Here we go, Louise," she told herself as she put her old bike in motion. It was so pleasant to feel the morning air fill her lungs and touch her skin, but the deafening noise of the cars whizzing by her side dampened the effect. She surely was going to miss those quiet and lovely morning rides to her clinic. Traffic on the island was also heavy and in some areas it was absolutely hideous. Yet, she always managed to avoid the signs of humanity by taking hidden paths and crossing woods, parts that it was not advisable to go through, but she had always preferred to ride in those rather than face the chaotic and noisy traffic. Here, though, there was no alternative route to reach her destination and she had to meander through this jungle of tar, noise and smoke.
As Louise pedaled along, thoughts and memories crowded her head. It was simply unbelievable that just a few days ago she had been thousands of miles away in very different scenery and surrounded by a different atmosphere. Life really changed quickly. Even though this was the city that she had been born and grown up in, she still felt disoriented and unsettled in these surroundings. She had been told that it was simply the effects of jet lag in her body, but she knew it was more than that. When she had left five years ago, she had believed that she would never be able to live anywhere else. Yet, strangely enough after being away all this time she felt annoyed by many of the things she had always lived with, like the traffic. Of course she was happy to be back home, but she was going to miss having a simpler way of life... like the one she had led in the last five years.
Louise briskly continued swooshing among the crawling lines of cars, taxis and other vehicles. Her eyes never faltered and kept focused, watching everything around her carefully. The ride was quite stressful, but she'd rather do this any day than be squeezed in a subway car among hundreds of people like a sardine in a tin. And driving had never been her cup of tea. It was strenuous, polluting and even unnerving at times. No, she preferred to take her old bike, her faithful friend. Physical exercise in the morning made her feel invigorated and it was the first push to start the day with strength and renewed energy.
Kid took the elevator down to his building's garage and slowly walked to the usual place he parked his car. He grabbed his keyless remote and pressed the unlock button. The headlights of his blue BMW M6 convertible flashed and without any further delay he got in it. Like every morning as soon as he started the car, he switched on the radio, ready to listen to the news. And like every morning there was nothing new: an accident had taken place in the traffic circle, the conflicts continued in the Middle East and the crime rate in the city had increased once again.
As Kid drove on, he went over his agenda for the day in his head. Like every Monday he would be up to his ears in work and on top of it all, there was the extra pain in the neck, which his boss had skillfully dumped on him. A very nice jewel. In his boss's words "it was high time you took more responsibilities, Kid," and he had blathered on and on about how proud and pleased he was of having him as part of the team. Of course Kid had been unable to refuse and had accepted the job begrudgingly. He just hoped that this new addition would not make his days more difficult than they were. Maybe, he thought hopefully, he could see this new challenge as a step forward in his career. After all, it was his job where he focused all his energies and maybe that was why he had gained so much success in his young life.
Sometimes he felt there was nothing much for him apart from work. He hardly had any family left. His mother had died years ago and he had not heard a word from his father in ages... luckily, he added mentally. His older brother Jed was the only one left in the family who he saw from time to time. Jed was a restless soul and was more often than not drifting from one place to another, from one job to another. The last time Kid had heard from him he had been in Mexico, and that had been months ago. Most times Jed showed up it was when he got himself into trouble or needed money. So once the problem was solved or the money pocketed, he disappeared yet again. Kid knew that his brother was not a bad guy and there was a genuine deep affection between them; Jed was simply the kind of man that would never settle down and had a predisposition to trouble.
The news on the radio came to its end and a cheerful tune started to play as Kid pulled his car to a halt at the red traffic light. He whistled along and tapped on the steering wheel in time with the music as his head was busy with other thoughts. Despite his past history and apparent loneliness, he could not complain. He had good friends and his life was less empty because of them. They had been his biggest support when he had felt down in the dumps those years ago. Kid wondered where he would be today if they had not forced him to come out of the hole he had dug to hide himself. There was no way he could know and he did not want to think about those miserable times. Yeah, he could not complain. This was not the way he had envisioned he would be today, but that was how things had worked out for him.
The red light changed to green and an impatient motorist honked behind him, which made him realize that he could resume his driving. He lifted his extended hand over his head, conveying an apology for his distraction and turned his car right. He realized he was definitely still half asleep and needed another shot of strong coffee as soon as he got to the hospital. "You need to wake up, fool," he muttered to himself, unaware that in a few minutes an unexpected event would finally manage to wake him up... completely.
Louise left the bustle and hustle of the city center and rode into a much quieter area, a cluster of streets lined with houses on each side. As she reached the far end of the lane, she decided to take a short cut through the park. At this time of the day there weren't many people in sight, just a few doing their daily jogging and some others who had taken their dogs for a walk or to respond to nature's call. Louise breathed in deeply, relishing the smell of the flowers and trees, which was definitely a nice break from her incursion among the heavy traffic.
This morning ride was doing her good and her nerves had calmed down a bit. She knew it was stupid to feel this apprehensive and jittery. It was a new challenge, a new step and it was not as if she was a complete beginner in the field. She knew the ropes and had been working successfully for the last few years with its inherent ups and downs. Most importantly, she loved her job and was totally devoted to it. There was nothing to be afraid of, and this new stage in her life would help her in her next enterprise. That was the main reason why she had been so eager to get a position in the program. If she had been turned down, she'd have stayed and continued working at her old clinic, and would have had to seek suitable instruction in other ways.
Her bicycle reached the limits of the park and entered the road again. The traffic in this part was much less dense and she continued her riding, never noticing the car coming out from the intersecting street she was about to cross.
Kid cursed inwardly as he stopped at a traffic light for the umpteenth time. The morning seemed determined to make him late as he had come across all the red lights on his way. He felt a bit flushed despite the air conditioning being at full steam, so he pressed a small button on the right of the steering wheel and the top slowly folded up. Actually the airy breeze made him feel much better. Being the beginning of July, the day was balmy and sunny, a lovely one to spend somewhere else other than working and he wondered why it always rained and was miserable on his days off.
As the red light changed again, he quickly drove on. Not many cars were driving in this part of the city today, and he put his foot on the accelerator. The car picked up speed, without breaking the limit. Last week he had been late twice and he didn't want to repeat the story just at the beginning of the week. He dashed down the street, the wind waving his blonde hair. As he was reaching the end of the street and the crossing, his eyes quickly checked the time on the clock on the dashboard, a brief distraction that made him miss the stop and the cyclist in his way at the moment. Fortunately, he reacted instantly and slammed on the brake, making the car screech.
It was too late when Louise noticed the car and she could not do anything to stop in time. Her bicycle bumped against the car bodywork and she heavily fell onto the tar of the road, letting out a muffled cry. "Oh my God!!!" he cried out, his eyes wide as saucers and his heartbeat racing.
In a flash Kid shot out of his car and ran to the fallen cyclist, who he could clearly see was a woman. "Please don't be hurt," he whispered, reaching her side and gently checking his pulse and breathing. Disoriented and sore because of the fall, Louise noticed strong hands touching her and roughly she pushed them away as she rose back to her feet. When she turned to the person, she came face to face with a couple of blue eyes that were gazing at her with concern. "Are you all right, Ma'am?"
"Uh..." Lou started awkwardly, looking around herself. Her bike lay on the ground; its front tire was badly damaged and her right ankle hurt awfully. As she spied the blue car that had knocked her over behind the man, she realized that he was its driver and her anger burst. "What on earth were you trying to do? Kill me?"
"I'm sorry, but..."
"If you don't know how to drive, take the bus!!!" Louise ranted, not letting him finish his apology. "Who do you think you are? A blind Road Runner or just a clumsy and pathetic coyote?"
Her cocky and overpowering attitude was extremely irritating and he retorted in the same tone she was using. "And how the hell do you get off riding a bicycle so recklessly in this city and at this God damned time of the day?"
Louise could not believe what she was hearing and her anger soared by the minute. "Are you trying to say that this is all my fault? Look, Mister, it is you who ran that stop sign... you who almost ran me over... and now my bike is useless, I have sprained my ankle and I'll surely be late."
Her string of reasons managed to cool him down and admitting to himself that she was right, he added, "I'm sorry, Ma'am. Please let me help you. We can call an ambulance and if you let me, I can have a look... " The horns from cars and shouts of the people behind him cut his speech short and he realized that his car was causing a major gridlock. "Let me move my car out of the way first and then we can see to our ... matter." Kid smiled in her direction, but she remained serious, so without saying anything else, he walked back to his automobile.
Kid quickly started the engine and turned to the left where he found a parking space at the far end of the street perpendicular to the one where the incident had taken place. After locking his car, he quickly walked back to the spot, but the woman was not there anymore. Thinking that she might have moved out of the road to the sidewalk, he ran up and down the street and then he saw her hobbling down one of the alleys. She was limping while clumsily dragging her dented bike along. "Ma'am!" Kid called. "Ma'am!" Yet, she never answered and continued hobbling on and when she reached the end of the alley, she turned the corner and disappeared from his sight.
Kid shook his head as he started back to his car. "Crazy woman," he muttered. She had not even let him look at her sore ankle or help her. Kid hoped that she had not hit anything delicate in that fall, but there was nothing he could do right now. "This city is packed with crazy women. No wonder there are so many single men. How difficult can it be to find a nice girl?" Kid silently wondered and without one more thought to the woman and the incident, he drove away.
"You're late!" was the first thing Emily told him as soon as she saw him appear through the door of the OB/GYN clinic.
"I know, I know!" Kid grunted as he hurriedly dashed past her booth, without even sparing a glance in her direction.
"Hey!!!" the girl called in a loud voice, leaning her body over the counter. Kid stopped and walked back to her with a questioning expression. "Where are your manners, young man?" Emily scolded him, her arms akimbo. "No 'good-morning, Emily', no 'how are you, Emily?' Nothing! I may be just the receptionist, but that's no reason to give me the brush-off."
"Yes, you're right and I'm sorry," Kid apologized, hanging his head low and blushing hotly at being reprimanded like a schoolboy in front of all the patients in the crowded waiting room. He should know better than to cross Emily. She was a heck of a character when she was in a bad mood, but otherwise she was a sweet and lovely woman. She always had a welcoming smile on her face for everybody that came through the door and it was a charming sight to behold in a place where people weren't willing to go. Emily had worked in the clinic ever since Kid had first started his training.
Emily smirked, amused at his reaction. She loved embarrassing Kid, a particular game of hers. He really looked cute when he blushed like a sweet boy. "Ok, but don't let it happen again."
"No, Ma'am," he replied, his eyes twinkling with obvious merriment. They laughed together for a few moments and when they sobered, she asked, "So why are you late this morning?"
"You'd better not ask," Kid replied with a wry expression. He did not want to talk about his strange accident. That crazy woman had walked away and had not given him the chance to sort out the matter in a friendly way. It would not surprise him if sooner or later he would get served with a lawsuit. That woman must surely have written down his car plate number and would demand compensation for all the injuries she would claim he had inflicted on her. If she sued him, his insurance would go through the roof and he would probably have to waste time with a lawsuit he'd be better off spending at work. "Has Teaspoon asked after me?" he inquired, changing the subject to his second worry that morning.
"Yes, he did," Emily answered, and on seeing his grave expression, she added, "I told him that you'd called and were stuck in the middle of a massive traffic jam."
"You owe me big, boy," the woman quipped, winking at him.
Kid nodded, chuckling at her words. "I know I do. When you and Ike have a baby, you'll have the best medical care you can ever dream of. Then we'll be even."
"Ha, ha, very funny," she retorted ironically, furrowing her brow at the reference of a baby. "And Kid, I'd have to have a dozen children for all the times I've saved your backside. Then we will be even, but I'm not planning on taking care of the world's repopulation."
"Have a good day, Em," Kid simply said with a grin and continued on his way. He felt he was in his element in the hospital. It was his own natural habitat where he felt free and good with himself. He had wanted to become a doctor for as long as he remembered. There had never been a single doubt about it. When he entered medical school, he had never felt prouder than at that moment. His first idea had been to do his specialty in oncology, but in his second year a visit to the maternity ward at the local hospital had made him see the light and understand that he wanted to be part of the beginning of life into the world and not of the terrible ending. So that enlightening moment had made him change his course. After medical school, he had done his internship and residency in obstetrics and gynecology, and today he was a proud OB/GYN. Kid loved his job and would not change it for anything in this world.
He dashed along the corridor, greeting the patients and staff he came across. From down the passage a wide bright smile flashed before his eyes and he cringed at the sight of her. He did not feel like talking to her right now but there was no way he could dodge her as the woman walked straight up to him. "Hey, handsome. Did your alarm clock let you down this morning?"
"Morning, Samantha," he greeted her without much enthusiasm. "Excuse me for rushing but I'm already running too late."
Kid tried to dash past her, but she grabbed him by the arm, stopping his intentions. "I heard that you had a blast last night... You should've asked me to tag along and I assure you would have had much more fun... and I'd have made sure that you'd got up in time."
Samantha wiggled her eyebrows enticingly, which made Kid squirm awkwardly. "Uh... it was something I didn't plan. The guys just hooked me ... like always. And now if you'll excuse me, I need to be on my way." Samantha nodded, her bright smile never faltering. "See you later," he concluded as he removed her hand from his arm.
"You bet you will," the woman muttered while leering at his fleeting figure, and when he turned the corner of the corridor and disappeared from her sight, she sighed and went on her way.
Kid groaned inwardly as he quickly dashed into the elevator and pressed the button of the floor where he intended to stop. He absolutely hated this situation with Samantha and her advances. A few months ago they had dated for a few weeks but the relationship had not progressed the way Kid had wanted, and he had stopped things in time. Yet, Samantha had not had the same opinion and had almost thrown a tantrum when he had told her he wanted to break up with her. Samantha Edgars was a very attractive and exuberant woman, and of course like any man would he had felt a sudden physical attraction when she became part of the team; but when he got to know her better, he realized that there was not anything other than a purely physical relationship. Kid wanted something more and knew that he wasn't... wouldn't fall in love with her. After getting over her heartache, Samantha had started a campaign of attack against him and did not miss a chance to hit on him whenever they came across each other. More than once Kid had explained to her how things were between the two of them, but Samantha simply decided to ignore him and kept on going over the same thing tirelessly. Kid was running out of patience and swore to himself that he would never again start a romance with somebody from work. The situation was getting too awkward and lately Kid had opted for brushing her off. Apparently, his words and his efforts to make her understand were in vain; he just would not go on with the same old song every time she came up with her smutty comments. Hopefully she would end up catching the message and get tired of her senseless harassment.
The elevator came to a halt and its door opened with a soft ping. Kid shot out of it and quickly entered his office where he left his briefcase. As he was getting out of his jacket and into his white coat, some steps behind him caught his attention. Turning around he saw Jimmy Hickok, his colleague and best friend, leaning against the doorframe, a bemused smirk on his lips.
"A bad morning, is it?" Hickok quipped as he saw his friend's expression.
"You can't imagine how bad," Kid replied ruefully. "And to make matters worse, I had a lovely conversation with our femme fatale."
Jimmy laughed at the comment. "Samantha won't give up, will she?" Kid shook his head resignedly and his friend added, "You should make the most of it. All the sex you want and no strings attached. Man, I say, go for it. The lady's more than willing to satisfy a man, so why not?"
"Yeah, right," Kid replied sarcastically. "It's easy for you to say so, but you should be in my shoes. I just don't want to make the whole thing more complicated than it is already."
"Hey guys!!!" a voice came from behind the pair and they saw Cody appear with a goofy smile on his face. The blonde-haired man was in his third year of residency and by this time the following autumn he would be a fully-qualified doctor. Since he joined the team, Cody had become an indispensable part of it. He was a prankster and the official buffoon of the hospital and there wasn't a party that he didn't attend. "Late again, Kid?" Cody asked with a satisfied grin.
Kid made an unhappy gesture while he exclaimed, "Is there anybody who doesn't know?"
"I'm afraid not, my friend," Cody replied. "Mrs. Kaplowski wasn't very pleased about being stood up this morning and has been shouting from every corner how her favorite doctor hadn't been here for her appointment."
"Just great," Kid let out ironically. Yet, deep down he was glad to have missed his appointment with the aforementioned lady. She was a real pain in the neck and never seemed satisfied. Since she got pregnant, there was not a single day she did not call the clinic, asking about the most trivial matters and Kid had already had her in his office more than any other pregnant woman in his whole career.
"So what happened this time?" Jimmy asked breezily.
"I had an accident," Kid blurted out and on seeing the expression of horror on the other two doctors' faces, he proceeded to explain what had happened that morning.
"I'm in deep trouble, aren't I?" Kid questioned rhetorically simply voicing what he already knew.
"Maybe she just walked away and wants to forget about the matter," Cody offered.
"Do you think so?" Kid asked hopeful at his words.
"Naw... she'll sue you," the young blonde man retorted and both he and Jimmy burst out laughing while Kid made a bitter gesture. He did not appreciate his friends making fun of a problem that was worrying him more and more by the minute. Thinking that he might get into a laborious legal matter, just because of a momentary mistake, made him sigh bitterly.
"Don't fret, Kid," Hickok continued when he had sobered, he patted his friend on the shoulder encouragingly. "It can't be that bad. Maybe Cody is right. For all you know, she might just be a crazy woman with better things to do... because who in their right mind dares to use a bike in this city of ours?"
"Somebody who'd make a living by deliberately getting in the way of naive and unsuspecting motorists," Cody quipped, which gained him a glare from Hickok.
Kid nodded his head, understanding what his friend meant. There were too many crooks and swindlers in this world, and with his bad luck lately he would not be surprised if he had got himself in a deep puddle of mud. If that woman knew what she was doing, that little distraction was going to cost him dear. "I just hope I'll never see her again... ever again!" he exclaimed raising his hands to the sky. Dreaming was free of charge and maybe his hopes would come true for this once... or maybe not.
Sitting on a bench on one side of the road, Louise grunted and groaned in a low voice. The day could not have started worse. Having an accident on her first day would not look good but it was not as if she had asked for it. Because of that clumsy man she was going to be late and still he had wanted her to hang around while he moved his impeccable car out of danger's way. Well, she did not have time to spare and had simply walked away. His summons had vaguely reached her but she wouldn't ... couldn't stop. Yet, she knew she hadn't acted as she should. Remembering how she had flown off the handle filled her with deep embarrassment and regret. Her fiery character had always been her main personal concern and even though she had made great progress in controlling it over the last couple of years, from time to time it made its explosive appearance. Of course it had been natural to react as she had on this occasion; she had got quite a scare when that car had almost run her over. However, despite everything she had to admit that she wasn't very proud of herself at this very moment.
Her ankle was hurting more than she had initially thought it would and as soon as she had found a bench, she had flopped down on it, exhausted and sore. As she was a cautious woman, she always carried a first aid kit with her, and taking it out of her knapsack, she opened it over her lap. From inside she got some ointment and a roll of bandages. After carefully pulling up her left jeans leg and rolling down her sock, she smeared the cream all over her ankle and tightly put the bandage round her leg. "That'll have to do," she told herself while she unrolled the leg of her jeans and pulled up her sock.
Luckily the hospital was not far and it would not take her long to reach it. Yet, when she rose to her feet, pain shot from her foot and she had to choke a scream. Her ankle was starting to swell and her skin felt too tender. The weight of her whole body over her left foot made her feel as if she was walking over fire. She had no alternative but to keep going and as best as she could, she started to hobble towards her destination, which would be much better if she did not have to push the dang bike along on top of everything else.
Sweating and puffing, Louise got to the entrance of the clinic twenty minutes later than she had intended. Her stunned eyes lifted to gaze at the high and massive building lifting before her. It was more impressive and threatening than she had thought. Here she was, skinny little Louise McCloud ready to be swallowed by this gigantic and cavernous place. Her nerves came back with full force even though she kept telling herself to calm down. This was just another step, another challenge, nothing else. Hadn't she had to travel thousands of miles almost overnight? Hadn't she faced problems and situations she hadn't had a clue about? Hadn't she learned to survive in a hostile environment? Didn't she have the biggest support she could have? Yeah, she had, and she would be able to pull this one off. She could do this and more.
Louise kept staring at the building with a flabbergasted expression. This was not the first time she laid eyes on it, but for some strange reason today it looked twice its size. She had even stayed in the hospital when she had had her tonsils removed at eight, but not even at that early age had the building inspired the apprehension she was actually feeling today.
Not wanting to waste any more time with her staring, she proceeded to meet her new environments. She chained her bike to one side, ignorant of how ridiculous her action was. Nobody would want to steal something that was completely useless now, but she still secured the chain around its frame anyway. With slow steps she walked to the ramp, next to the marble external stairs, leading to the main entrance. The ointment she had applied to her leg was taking an effect and her ankle did not hurt so much. Yet, her pace was far from being back to normal.
Louise finally managed to climb the ramp and crossed the entrance. She walked straight to the woman behind the counter in the waiting room.
"Good morning," she greeted with a wide smile. "Could you kindly tell me where I can find Doctor Hunter?"
Emily lifted her head and eyed the newcomer carefully. "Do you have an appointment with him?"
"Yeah, he's waiting for me. My name's Louise McCloud."
"Oh you're the new blood," Emily quickly quipped and noticing the odd expression in the other woman's countenance she realized she had talked without thinking. "Please forgive my boldness. It's just the jargon we use in these parts."
Louise smiled brightly as she replied to the lady. "Oh no offense taken. You're right. I'm the new blood, the new stuff."
"My name's Emily Metcalfe. And now let me show you where you can find Teas... I mean, Doctor Hunter." The young woman rounded the counter and pointed at the corridor opposite them that Lou had to take.
"Top floor?" Louise asked after Emily had finished giving her the directions.
"Yeah, right on the top. You know, all the big bosses are up in the high places to look down at us poor mortals." Louise laughed at the comment and Emily added, "But he is nice, very nice indeed."
"Thanks for the information, Emily. I gotta run now or I'll be kicked out before I even put a foot inside." She had forgotten about her sore ankle and as she proceeded to dash down the corridor, she let out a soft whimper and had to lean her hand on the wall to avoid falling down.
"I think you're not in any condition to be running anywhere," Emily remarked. "Are you all right?"
Louise nodded with a serious countenance. "Yeah, I'm fine. A car kind of ran me over this morning."
On hearing her words Emily opened her eyes with an expression of utter horror. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Oh yeah, totally," Lou replied, disregarding her concern. "Nothing happened. Only my ankle's bothering me. I already had a look at it and it's fine."
"Maybe you should have somebody check on you. You know... this is the right place and it's full of these strange men and women in white coats called doctors."
Louise laughed heartily at Emily's comment. She had the hunch that she would get along well with her and after her disastrous start that morning it was a hopeful sign that the first person she met in the clinic was somebody so kind and friendly.
A few people had gathered before Emily's booth and were impatiently glaring at her. "I'd better return to my cave... duty calls," she said as she started walking away. "Enjoy your first day and please avoid getting in the way of crazy, reckless drivers."
"Thank you!" Lou exclaimed and watched Emily calming down the impatient and unhappy patients. Without wasting a single more second Louise turned on her heels and resolutely marched in the direction the kind receptionist had shown her.
About ten minutes later Lou stood before the target door. The secretary had told her that Doctor Hunter was expecting her and she could let herself in immediately. Yet, Louise stood before the door, reading the plate on its surface like in a trance. "Dr Aloysius Hunter. Obstetrics and Gynecology. Head of Department." After running her eyes over it several times, she finally got a grip of herself and decided to knock. A muffled, hoarse "come in" reached her ears and she proceeded to turn the knob.
The first image she received on entering was surprising, to say the least. A middle-aged man was sitting behind an elegant big mahogany desk; a red-checked napkin stuck in his shirt collar which fell on his chest; a bowl of spaghetti with meat sauce in front of him. As soon as he noticed Louise's presence, his face creased into a surprised frown. "Uh... I thought you ... you were Agnes... my secretary." The woman did not say anything and just stood in the middle of the spacious office awkwardly. "I... I... usually get myself a strong breakfast... Good Jim from the cafeteria always gets me those delicatessen for my breakfast… the best meal of the day," he exclaimed clumsily. "But you won't breathe a word of this to the little woman, will you?"
"No... No, I won't," Louise agreed even though she was not sure to what and had no idea who the woman was.
"You see, she's constantly pounding me about my cholesterol levels... over and over again," he added with a comical expression.
Louise stifled the laughter bubbling in her throat and with a smile she said, "Maybe she's right."
"Oh... she definitely is but I'm just a man and the flesh is weak, isn't it?"
Louise simply shrugged her shoulders. "Maybe I should come back later when you've finished. Sorry to interrupt your breakfast."
"Oh no, please stay," he exclaimed, tugging the napkin off and rising to his feet. "You just appeared at the right moment as a God sent angel to stop me from committing a transgression in my low-saturated fat diet." Taking the bowl he crossed to the opposite corner where there was a little sink unit and left the bowl in it. "But please don't stand there and come closer." Louise walked up a few steps as he approached her. "And may I ask who you are, young lady?"
"I'm the person who was accepted for the obstetrics fellowship. We talked on the phone, Dr. Hunter."
At her words his eyes narrowed and his forehead creased. "Are you Doctor McCloud?"
"Doctor Louise McCloud?"
"Yes, that's right. That's me," she replied and on seeing his odd expression, she asked, "Is everything all right?"
Her question spurred him into action and he answered promptly. "Oh yeah.. yeah... everything's all right. It's just that ... I imagined you'd be ... uh... different. I expected you to be older and ... not so pretty."
Louise giggled at the sincerity in his comment, but his words did not actually surprise her. "Didn't you see my picture on my old clinic's website?"
"Oh that..." he retorted in a disregarding fashion. "That's just a load of ... uh... rubbish... We just need good doctors. What a person might look like, how old they are or what their personal situation is is totally irrelevant to me." Louise nodded, catching the hint behind his words. They stood in silence for a brief moment and it was the man who started again, "But please don't stand there; have a seat." He led her to the chair in front of his desk while he moved to the one he had previously been sitting on.
"Thank you, Dr. Hunter."
"Please just call me Teaspoon. Nobody calls me Doctor Hunter but my patients or ... my wife when she gets angry."
Louise chuckled, feeling that she liked the man in front of her. From their conversations on the phone she had imagined that he was a stiff and serious man. Apparently he was somewhat eccentric, which she found very charming. "Teaspoon?"
"Yup, Teaspoon. It's an old nickname. But don't ask me to tell you where it comes from. It's a story not intended for innocent ears," he quipped, rolling his eyes in a dramatic way, which made Louise laugh.
"Then it's only right that you call me Louise... or Lou."
Teaspoon smiled at her. "Lou, I hope you feel happy and comfortable as part of our team. We're kind of familiar in these parts and it's my philosophy that working and sticking together is the key of success. This world of ours is going adrift because of this modern individualization thing, but this is my ship and it wouldn't stay afloat with just one man at the helm."
"I think you're absolutely right," Lou responded truthfully, looking at Teaspoon with genuine admiration.
The man nodded, totally satisfied by her answer. He would not have expected anything less from her. "And speaking of family, how's good Mary doing these days?"
At the mention of Marmee's name, Lou's forehead creased into a surprised frown. "Do you know her?"
"Oh yes. Good Mary. We used to go to the same school and have been friends ever since... That was like centuries ago, of course." Teaspoon noticed her expression and could practically hear the wheels inside her head turning. "But don't go thinking that me and her sharing a past has anything to do with your getting this post. You know, I'm just one in the selecting committee and I must say that we all liked what we saw and read in your report. And having such high-standard references doesn't hurt either... and you know I don't mean Mary's."
"I'm glad to know that," Louise replied. She would not like to learn that she had managed to get into the program because of a personal favor rather than for her assets.
"I expect you'll be fine here," Teaspoon continued. "You'll be working directly with one of our best and most committed doctors. I'm sure you'll get on well with him." Louise nodded and the man asked, "So, ready to start?"
"Absolutely," Lou responded with a wide smile.
"Good then," Teaspoon exclaimed as he emphatically thumped his palm on the surface of his desk and jumped to his feet. "Let me give you a tour around the premises and introduce you to the staff first. You need to get familiar with the surroundings. We can't have you getting lost, can we?"
Louise simply stood up after him and followed the man to the door. Teaspoon courteously stepped aside to let her go first and it was then that a thought came to her and she turned to him. "Teaspoon... I wonder if ... if you could do me a favor?"
"Sure. What is it?"
Louise fumbled for words and stuttered her request clumsily. "Would you mind being discreet about ... well... you know what?"
Teaspoon frowned at her bizarre petition, not understanding the reasoning behind her words. "Why so?"
"Well... I've been in this situation before and I know what it's like... the doubts, the smirks, the jokes... Actually, I don't care much about all that and I think that my personal affairs are nobody's concern but mine... but I'm dead tired of proving over and over again that I'm good... a good and devoted doctor... only that."
Teaspoon attentively heard her reasons, nodding at the same time. "I understand what you're saying and let me tell you that your secret is safe with me. Actually, nobody knows."
"Thank you," Louise replied, strangely blushing to the roots of her hair. She would hate to be misunderstood or to have people think that she was ashamed or something similar. It wasn't like that at all, but life had taught her that people still lived on prejudices. Last time it had taken her months and many efforts to gain people's trust. Now she would do things differently and hopefully she would not have any problems in that direction. "But Teaspoon... it's not so much a secret as something I want to keep to myself. I won't keep it forever, just for a while."
"As you wish, Ma'am," Teaspoon replied, smiling at her. "And now let's go on our tour." Louise nodded without uttering another word and both of them walked out of the room. Lou followed him, feeling that this was just the beginning of a fruitful and exciting new year in her life.
"Will you please stop looking at me like that?" Lou asked without turning her head to the man walking beside her. After being around him for just fifteen minutes she sensed she could be straightforward with him and even joke. He was the big boss but somehow he made her feel as if they were equals.
"Like what?" Teaspoon retorted, sending her a confused frown.
"As if I were some kind of freak," she replied, directing her amused eyes to him.
"I wasn't!" Teaspoon protested, his face showing a fake offended demeanor. "I was just..."
"Yes, you were," Lou insisted, cutting him off in mid-sentence. "But it's all right... I'm used to it."
Teaspoon decided to drop the subject. In fact, this young doctor intrigued him and the little he knew about her had actually woken his curiosity. Yet, he would not touch something that did not really concern him and opted for changing the direction of their conversation. "So Louise, when did you land?"
"On Friday? Just this Friday?" the man asked surprised and Lou nodded. "You must be quite disoriented then."
"Yes... I guess I am."
"And I gather you're gonna miss your life there."
"Absolutely," Louise agreed. "After living there for five years, it feels kind of strange being home again. But I'm sure I'll get settled in no time."
"I have no doubt about it." The man paused briefly and lowering his eyes to watch her hobbling gait, he asked, "How's that ankle of yours doing?"
Much to her chagrin, Louise had felt forced to tell him about her eventful morning. Teaspoon had looked at her with a disapproving countenance when she had explained that she had walked away from the accident scene and had not even written down the guy's plate number. Teaspoon had wanted to send her home to take care of her sprained ankle but she had flatly refused. "It's much better, thank you," Lou replied to his question, trying to walk as straight and steady as she could. "It's fine."
"It doesn't look fine from where I'm standing."
"Honestly, it's not bothering me so much."
"If you say so," the man decided not to insist even though he knew she was simply trying to convince both him and herself that she was fine.
They continued their expedition in silence. Teaspoon had already shown her part of the hospital, the maternity ward, the delivery and operating rooms and now they were back in the clinic. She really liked what she had seen so far. The hospital was perfectly equipped with all the modern technologies, nothing like her old clinic. More often than not she had suffered the consequences of the lack of means, resources and even staff. Lou and her other colleagues had had to struggle against adversity and shortage, but she had to admit to herself that she felt very proud that under those circumstances she had managed to do a good job. With time she had got used to working with that limited scope and she could not say she had been unhappy there. As she had told Teaspoon, she was already missing all that... her patients, her friends, her acquaintances, her family... The day she had said goodbye to all that, Lou had cried bitter tears even though it was something she had longed to do.
"I'll show you the staff room," Teaspoon finally said after a while. "Hopefully we'll catch a few of ours there."
Louise nodded as she followed him along the corridor. She had already been introduced to a bunch of people, nurses, orderlies, doctors, security personnel among others. From those Teaspoon had pointed out the ones she'd be working with more closely. One of them was Ike McSwain. He was the Chief of Anesthesiology and her first impression of him had been favorable. Ike seemed a shy and candid-looking man. They had barely exchanged a few words, but Lou sensed that she could get on well with this young doctor. Teaspoon had also introduced him to Buck Cross, the head of the pharmacy. By his physical features Louise could tell that his heritage was Native American and despite his serious demeanor, he seemed an honest and competent guy.
Lou kept walking after Teaspoon as he opened a door and slipped inside. As she stepped in after him, she found herself in a medium sized room where there was a bunch of people, all in white coats. Lou's eyes swept quickly around the room. There were a couple of sofas in the middle where two women were comfortably sitting while sipping their steaming cups of coffee. At the other side there was a long table surrounded by a large number of chairs. Piles of papers and books almost covered its surface, but at the moment there was nobody sitting at it. It was in the small kitchenette that three more people were; they were sitting on stools over some kind of counter that separated the kitchen area from the rest of the room.
"Morning, ladies and gentlemen," Teaspoon's gruff voice greeted the five people, who turned to say their hellos to the man too. "As you can see, my dears, today I am accompanied by a lovely lady," Teaspoon said with his usual pompous speech, winking at the young woman by his side. "This is Dr Louise McCloud... as you all know, she's joining our team starting today." He turned to Lou and introduced one by one the others present in the room. "And, darlin', these are Rachel Dunne and Emma Shannon, our charming nurse-midwives, and Dr Noah Dixon, Dr William Cody and Dr Samantha Edgars."
Louise politely tipped her head to them while saying in a soft tone, "Nice to meet you all."
"Welcome to our bunch, Dr McCloud," Noah replied with a sincere smile on his lips.
"It's just Louise," she added as her eyes traveled through the people around her. Bright smiles greeted her gaze as she stopped at each of them. Yet, when her eyes reached the woman Teaspoon had called Samantha, the warm feeling she had got from the others turned into coldness. The woman was smiling from ear to ear, almost splitting the corners of her mouth, but somehow her eyes told Louise a very different story. Lou could sense that the other woman was appraising her from head to toe and she could even tell what she was actually thinking. Her simple attire of jeans and her impeccably ironed white shirt seemed to be out of tune compared with the smart clothes that the rest of them, especially Samantha, were wearing. Louise felt the urge to chuckle at how ridiculous those ideas appeared to her, but she remained silent and serious.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Louise," Emma said as she stood up and came to shake hands with her. Rachel followed suit and while the three women exchanged some words, Lou could still feel Samantha's eyes boring on her. Eventually, the woman approached her after Cody and Noah. "You know, don't hesitate to ask for help in these first days. I'm fully aware how lost you can feel in a new environment, surrounded by new people and doing a new job."
"Thank you... uh..."
"It's Samantha," the woman continued, her smile as wide as if it had gotten frozen on her face. Suddenly, the tone of her voice changed from soft to high-pitched. "But look at her, Emma. Isn't she charming with her little knapsack as if she were a schoolgirl?"
The men shifted uncomfortably at the ill-intentioned comment while Emma and Rachel openly glared at the woman in silence. They all knew that Samantha was not a bad girl; actually, she was a good colleague, who was always helpful and hard-working. Yet, they also knew that she had the tendency to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Besides, since she had learned that a woman would be working side by side with the man she had the hots for, she had not bothered to hide her total discontent about it.
"Louise," Rachel piped in skillfully, "why don't I show you where you can leave your things and get your scrubs?"
The blonde woman led her to a door in the same area which opened to a small dressing room for the ladies. Rachel showed her a locker that already had her name on its metal door. Lou left her bag there and donned the white coat she found inside.
"I'm sorry for Samantha's off-the-cuff comment," Rachel started with the utmost tact. "Sometimes she just blurts out the first thought that comes to her mind. She probably didn't mean anything by it but..."
"It's all right, Rachel. I don't mind," Lou replied. "I'm not one of those who care about trifles."
At her words the blonde woman smiled, visibly relieved. "Well, at least you're lucky Cody hasn't opened his trap. He's harmless most of the time but the poor guy has a gift for putting his foot in it without even being aware of it. You'd split your sides if I told you what he told my Teaspoon the first day he came," Rachel said among giggles.
"Oh, Teaspoon is your husband?"
"My husband? " Rachel repeated hesitantly and then added as an afterthought, "Well, we're not married legally but we practically are husband and wife apart from all the legal paperwork." She paused momentarily and after a beat she continued, "Teaspoon has been married before... six times and it never worked for him, so he's more than reluctant to get hitched again. He says that as soon as 'I do' comes out of his mouth, bad luck falls on him like a ton of bricks."
"When we first started, nobody would have bet a single cent we'd last... you know, because of our age difference and strong characters. But here we are six years later and still counting. And... well, as long as we're happy and together, I don't really care about anything else."
Louise eyed the woman attentively and when she finished, she blurted out, "But you do want to get married anyways."
Her bold statement surprised Rachel, who started to stammer nervously, "No!... I mean... I don't ... I..." She paused to inhale and then she asked, "How did you know?"
Louise smiled awkwardly, wondering whether her direct words had offended the woman. She had just met her and should have kept her opinions to herself, especially when she had no idea what she was actually talking about. "Some people say I have like a sixth sense for judging people's characters," she explained with a crooked smile. "I don't know about that. In any case, I just think that if you didn't care about marriage, you wouldn't have bothered to clarify that you and Teaspoon aren't actually married." Rachel was staring at the young woman with a serious face and feeling uncomfortable, Louise added, "I hope I haven't offended you with my straightforward comment."
Her last words made Rachel react and snapped her out of the stunned state she had fallen into. "Oh no... of course not. I guess you're right. You just surprised me." It was true. She had never admitted it to anyone, not even to herself, that she really wished Teaspoon would ask her to marry him. It was probably a silly notion for a woman her age. She wasn't young or innocent anymore and she had stopped believing in fairy tales and Prince Charming long ago. Rachel had been married once before, but she had become a young widow when her husband had been killed by a drunk driver, just four months after their wedding. Rachel had believed that with him her romantic dreams had died as well. The men that had followed had just been a distraction to entertain her broken soul... until Teaspoon had come into her life. Their romance and later living arrangements had seemed fine to her, but now that Lou had stated what she already knew, her wishes became more evident. If Teaspoon and she finally tied the knot, she would be able to make her dream of having a family a reality. Yet, she knew that he wouldn't willingly propose and she wouldn't dare to force him to do something that he obviously didn't want to.
"I can be too straightforward at times," Louise continued. "I'm afraid you got yourself another big mouth."
"It wasn't you," Rachel replied in all honesty. "It was me who started it all by talking about my personal affairs." She paused briefly and then added, "I think I'm gonna like having you around. Your open sincerity, though striking, is kind of refreshing. Some people should learn from you." Lou felt her cheeks burn at the compliment the woman had paid her. Rachel looked up and down her figure, now clad in the white coat and said, "Samantha was somehow right. Even dressed as a doctor you look so young."
Louise sighed unhappily. "Yes, I know." Even though she had crossed the threshold of her thirties a few years ago, people always believed she could not be older than twenty-five, which was the second problem she had to fight in this profession. Some people tended to mistrust doctors who were young and Lou had had to constantly struggle against another obstacle on her way.
"Oh come on, cheer up!" Rachel exclaimed, aware of the hidden meaning behind her unhappy face. "You should be proud to look that good and fresh and well... you can always grow a good mustache ... or buy a fake one."
Lou had to laugh at the comment. She actually did not care much about her looks. Right now her main concern was to learn as much as possible and not let down those who had put all their confidence and faith in her.
"And now," Rachel continued checking the watch pinned on the front of her blouse, "time to go back to work. And I guess you still need to meet your 'mentor', don't you?" Lou simply nodded and without another word the two women got left the dressing room. When they stepped back into the common area, only Teaspoon was left. The rest had already gone to their duties and after conveying her welcoming wishes to Lou once again, Rachel also walked out.
A few seconds later Teaspoon and Louise continued their particular tour. "I wonder where this boy is," the man mumbled to himself. The young woman stared at him with curiosity and he added with a smile, "Your tutor... you know, at my age all these young men just seem like babies to me."
"You're not so old."
"Nice try, Lou. But, you know, you don't need to butter me up... you're already on my ship," Teaspoon remarked in a mocking way.
Louise let out a peal of laughter at the comment and then added, "You know, it's not my custom to use lies for my own convenience. " The remark was done in jest, but at the same time it bore an undercurrent of truth, which didn't go unnoticed by the older doctor.
"I imagine so," Teaspoon replied, nodding simultaneously and as he shifted his eyes ahead of him, he exclaimed out of the blue, "Oh there he is!!!" Louise followed the direction of his gaze and saw two men clad in white coats coming from down the corridor. One of them was a tall dark-haired man and the other one had fairish hair and was a few inches shorter. "Should have imagined those two would be together. They're like Laurel and Hardy... as thick as thieves."
Teaspoon called them even though the young doctors had already seen them. As they approached, Kid's expression changed from smiling to serious as he caught sight of the woman who was walking alongside his boss. "Gentlemen, let me introduce you to Dr Louise McCloud... she's the lady who will be doing the fellowship in obstetrics this year." The man turned to Lou and introduced the two men to her. "And these are Dr Hickok and your direct supevisor, Dr Kydd."
Lou shook hands with Jimmy while exchanging greetings and then turned to Kid to do the same. She noticed that the man had an odd expression while staring at her, and Lou simply said, "You know, somehow you look familiar to me. Have we by any chance met before? I have a hunch that we have."
"Uh..." Kid hesitated, his eyes doing their best to avoid her intent gaze but when Lou finally caught sight of his clear blue eyes, realization hit her.
"Oh!" she exclaimed with wide eyes as she brought her hand over her mouth. "You're the guy with that monstrous car!"
Jimmy and Teaspoon exchanged questioning glances and the older man asked, "Don't tell me Kid is the one who ran you over!"
At his comment Kid felt that what she had apparently been telling was not strictly the truth and spoke before she could answer. "I didn't run her over. Actually, she bumped against my car... that's all."
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Jimmy and Teaspoon burst out laughing raucously while the other two doctors remained in uncomfortable silence. "Gosh Kid, you have nothing to worry about losing your post here... We aren't planning to let you go anytime. It's understandable that you might not like this new 'tutoring' job I dropped on you but.... son, trying to do her in is a bit too much."
This new comment made the pair crack up once again. Kid did not bother to reply or deny Teaspoon's words. There was nothing he could do and soon everybody would know about his slip, which would make him the butt of the staff's wisecracks for weeks. It was something that he had learned to accept as part of the spirit of the clinic.
"Well, Teaspoon," Jimmy said when they both sobered, "What do you say about leaving these two alone to solve their issues? Kid might want some compensation from her for denting his car's bodywork."
"You just read my mind, son," the older man replied, a smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth. "You two, have a good day."
Lou hardly had time to react and convey her thanks to Teaspoon when she found herself in the sole company of the man who had almost killed her that morning and who ironically she would be working with for the next twelve months. She turned to look at him and he quickly said, "I'm so sorry, Ma'am... I'm..." Lou kept a serious face and Kid added, "I went back for you but you were already gone."
"I know," she admitted curtly. "I couldn't spare any more time."
"Are you all right?" he asked again, trying to find a way to pull down the ice wall that seemed to keep them apart.
"Fine... other than my sore ankle I'm perfectly fine."
"You sure?" Maybe I should have a look at that ankle of yours and ..."
"I told you I'm fine. And for your information, I'm a doctor myself... so I have a certain idea of what I'm talking about," Lou retorted a bit too gruffly despite herself. She usually was not so rude and bad-mannered, but this unexpected finding had really thrown her and her bad character had made her appearance.
The pair relapsed into uncomfortable silence. Lou was cursing herself for behaving like a hysterical woman to the man she would be working with on a daily basis. This was not the best way to start off and she knew she needed to find the words to apologize and soften her behavior but for some reason she could not come up with anything without appearing like a fool.
On his part Kid was debating with himself how to voice what had been worrying him all morning, and in the end he simply blurted out the question that was bugging him. "So Dr McCloud, what are you going to do now?" Louise sent him a confused glance and Kid added, "You know... about our little ... business."
"You mean whether I intend to sue you?"
"Uh... well... yeah."
"I imagine that if I did, I wouldn't have a very easy year here, would I?"
"What if I wasn't your supervisor?"
Louise shook her head and after a brief pause she said, "Let me tell you it's not my style to solve my issues that way."
Kid smiled relieved at her words and he added, "And let me tell you that it's not my style to retaliate against my colleagues. I don't usually mix my personal matters with work."
For a few minutes they stared at each other and then Lou burst out laughing, which gained her a strange look from the young man. "Oh Gosh, this situation is so ridiculous and grotesque that it cracks me up."
"I guess you're right," Kid agreed, admitting the absurdity of all that and laughing alongside her. When they both sobered, he added, "How about you and me start from scratch and forget what happened this morning?"
"I think that's an excellent idea, Dr Kydd."
Kid stretched his arm towards her as he said, "How do you do, Dr McCloud? It's a real pleasure to make your acquaintance."
Lou slapped his hand away, casting him a teasing smile. "You already met me... and it's simply Lou." She eyed his ID card dangling from his white coat breast pocket and her forehead creased into a frown as she read his name below his photograph. "KID Kydd?" she asked, not bothering to hide her amusement from him.
"For your information, Simply Lou, K.I.D are my initials," he exclaimed. "I just don't use my first name. Folks just call me Kid... and you can do so as well."
"Thank you," Lou replied, grateful that despite the morning's "event" they had managed to get through that. Dr. Kydd... or Kid as he had dubbed himself, seemed a decent guy and if her intuition didn't let her down this time, she sensed that she was gonna enjoy working with this young doctor.
"So Lou, what do you say if we get started and get down to some work?"
"That's what I'm here for, isn't it? And without a single word the two doctors continued walking down the corridor, ready for a long day ahead of them.
Morning flew by as Louise immersed herself in the daily life of the clinic. Kid seemed like a competent and good doctor, which did not correspond with the very first impression she had got from him. He had shown her how her routine would be from now on. She would be assisting him in his daily duties, which included examining patients in his office in the clinic, performing different surgical operations, monitoring normal and high-risk pregnancies and naturally assisting the mothers in childbirth. Today she had stayed in Kid's office while he received his patients. Her first day was much better than she had actually thought after the disastrous beginning and with each passing minute she was more and more sure that she had made the right decision when she had applied for this program to complete her training. Watching Kid treat his patients showed her that he was the kind of doctor and supervisor she'd feel happy working with. He was surprisingly tender and caring with the ladies coming to see him. From among the professionals Lou had met over the years she had to admit that she had never come across a man or a woman who could be so thoughtful in the job. She herself had lost her temper and patience at times and compared to him she could call herself hard, so Lou made a mental note to learn how to perform like him. No wonder the patients seemed so thrilled with their young doctor.
As Kid examined his patients, he kept pointing out different aspects that he thought were relevant for Lou to know. Louise wasn't completely green in this field. As a family doctor, she had treated pregnancies in her old clinic but in their last stages the future mamas always went to the hospital in the capital city. Louise was excited to go through all the phases and above all, she could not wait to assist in the delivery of babies. When she had been a student at medical school quite a few years ago, she had been present for the birth of a child and she had been absolutely delighted and thought that she had never seen something so beautiful.
Before she knew it, Kid bid good-bye to his last patient and they were breaking for lunch to continue later in the afternoon. When he finished locking his office door, he turned to Lou. "We usually have lunch at the cafeteria... the food is decent, so if you want to join us..."
"Thanks, but I intend to head out now." Kid sent her a questioning glance and Louise added, "I need to see to my bike... There's a garage not far from here. I don't think it'll take me too long. It's just the back tire that needs changing."
Kid cringed as she mentioned their incident that morning and he promptly said, "Please let me take you in my car to wherever you want to go."
"You don't have to. I can..."
"We'll go more quickly that way and I guess your ankle won't be very grateful if you force it to walk more than it can or should."
"If you insist..." Lou finally gave in.
"And of course I'll bear the expense of the repair... it's the least I can do."
About ten minutes later Lou had retrieved her bicycle from where she had left it and the two young doctors walked up to Kid's parking space. He unlocked the car and opened up the top. He planned to load the bike in the back of the car, but as he compared his smooth, perfect leather seats and her dilapidated bike... its frame rusty on some parts and its tires encrusted with soil and dirt, his face creased with concern. Lou noticed his hesitancy and said, "Honestly, you don't need to do this."
"I want to," Kid insisted stubbornly. "And it's not a problem, really." He walked to the back part of the car and opening the trunk he took out a couple of blankets. "We'll use these to cover the seats," he said, handing her one of them.
"Wow, you are really well-equipped for the war," Lou commented teasingly.
"Uh... yes... I guess," Kid muttered, lowering his face and focusing his attention on covering his back seats, so that she could not see the color rising to his cheeks. Her comment had made him bring back to mind what he had last used those blankets for. It had been when he and Samantha had first started. They had been on their way to a conference up north. Since it was a long drive, Samantha had brought the blankets with her in case she wanted to get some sleep in the back of the car while he drove but they had wound up being used in a very different way. Samantha had hit on him shortly after they had set off, and they had stopped at one side of the road to give way to their physical instincts in some woods off the beaten track. The blankets were never returned to their owner and now were simply a memory of something that should never have happened. He usually did not fall into a physical relationship so quickly but after his break up he had not been quite himself and had been too vulnerable. Besides, when a hot woman like Samantha Edgars offered herself so bluntly, what man could say no to her? Of course Kid now regretted giving in to his instincts and maybe if he had tried to get to know her better before starting anything, he wouldn't have her bugging him constantly now. "Uh... I'm actually not that bad," Kid muttered uncomfortably, feeling that with her remark Lou had guessed the story behind the blankets.
Louise frowned at him, not understanding his last words, but she opted for not saying anything. She simply spread the blanket and let it drop on the seats. Kid, then, lifted the bike and placed it over the covered seats as carefully as he could and making sure that it did not touch the leather on the backs of the front seats. Louise watched him curiously and with a teasing smile on her lips. As he looked up, he spied her amused expression. "What's so funny?" he asked and Louise blushed at being caught red-handed and like usual she simply blurted out what was in her mind, "You seem very attached to your car." Kid shrugged his shoulders in indifference and the young woman continued, "It's kind of paradoxical that many doctors, professionals who are supposed to care for the welfare of mankind have these flashy, annoying cars, which are like malignant tumors for our already weakened world."
"That's not very nice to say," Kid retorted a bit irritated. "I'm a good doctor and what if I got myself a good, reliable car? I work very long hours and I think I deserve a treat. It's not a crime."
"That depends on how you look at it."
"So what's your idea? Should I throw myself in the middle of thousands of cars on a rickety bike like you do? Roads were made for motorists and not for cyclists."
After his sharp speech and to his utter surprise, Lou burst out cackling. "I'm sorry," she said after noticing his stunned expression. "I'm not laughing at you... it's just that it's the second time that we've fought over transportation in just a few hours. Maybe we should make a deal and get ourselves a bus pass instead."
Her words made him grin sheepishly, admitting to himself she was right. "Yeah... it's true. I'm not a bus person, though, and you ..."
"What about me?"
"Are you always so blunt and direct?" Kid asked teasingly, ignoring her question.
"I'm afraid so. And if we are going to work together, you'll have to cope with my small peeves... which may not be so small and not so few."
"And you'll have to put up with mine," he replied as he rounded the car to open the passenger door for her. "I hope you can put up with just a ride in my... what did you call it? ... oh yeah... in my monstrous car."
Lou grinned, aware that he was teasing her, and slipped into the car. "I think I'll survive... just this once," she said as she fastened the seat belt over her body, casting a glance at his profile next to her. The contact of the smooth leather with her body really felt great and she had to admit to herself that despite her own ideas, she was going to enjoy the ride in this luxurious car. Who wouldn't? Yet, she didn't want to give him the satisfaction to see he was somewhat right. So she kept her face neutral as he started the car and drove off.
"Good then," Kid replied. "And now show me where that garage is."
A few minutes later he pulled over before a small garage. Kid got out of the car and went round to the other side to politely open the door for her, but she had already eased out of it and was ready to unload the bike by herself. "Let me give you a hand," Kid offered and she nodded in silence.
They were about to take the bicycle out of the car when a voice came from behind them. "My, my, look who's here... none other than Louise McCloud in the flesh."
Kid turned round alongside Lou and saw a stout man dressed in greasy coveralls who was wiping his work-roughened hands in a worn-out rag. Louise smiled brightly as soon as she caught sight of him. "Ben, I'm so glad to see you."
"I didn't know you were back in town, honey."
"I got back this weekend."
"So are you done looking for adventures in the wilderness?"
Louise laughed at his question. For a man like Ben who had practically never left his neighborhood in his fifty years of life, anywhere beyond the limits of his everyday surroundings was regarded as a mysterious land of the unknown. "More or less," she replied without getting into much detail.
"I imagine your old lady must be as pleased as punch." Lou nodded and the man asked, "So tell me, what brings you here today... apart from having the pleasure of my company?"
"I had a minor mishap this morning and my back tire got a bit dented."
Ben looked over his wire-rimmed glasses at the young man who was taking out the bicycle out of a very luxurious car. His presence surprised Ben but instead of commenting anything about him, he exclaimed, "Louise, don't tell me you're still riding that piece of junk. You should get rid of that useless rusty jumble of iron and get yourself a decent one."
"I think he's right, Lou," Kid piped in, grinning when she threw him a murderous glance.
"Nobody asked for your opinion... and that goes for the two of you," Lou retorted, slightly annoyed and as she noticed the two men eying each other, she added, "Ben, this is Dr. Kydd, a colleague from the hospital." The men shook hands and the young woman turned to the mechanic once again, "So are you gonna fix my bike or shall I go somewhere else?"
"For Pete's sake, don't sulk, girl," Ben retorted. "I'll have a look at that antique of yours." The man grabbed the bike from Kid and dragged it inside his garage.
"I'll be back in a sec," Louise told her colleague and followed the man into the place. The young doctor leaned his body against his car as he watched her scurry away. She still had a slight limp, he noticed. His eyes traveled from her ankle upwards and without being aware of it, he found himself admiring the way her hips swayed as she made her way inside and disappeared from his sight. Kid had to admit that she wasn't bad-looking. Although petite and small, Lou really filled those jeans of hers nicely. Of course she wasn't like Samantha at all, but somehow she had a fresh beauty that most women he knew lacked. Her face without any make up on and with her hair cut short was actually very pretty. Kid shook his head as he realized what he was doing. He shouldn't care whether she looked like a shining Hollywood star or an ogre. She was simply a colleague and that was all he should mind. Of course having a lovely face to behold every day wouldn't harm him... rather the opposite, it would be a pleasure. His mother used to tell him that beauty was something more than fine features or an attractive figure. Kid knew that she had been absolutely right and if he had heeded her wise words, he wouldn't have made so many mistakes with the women who had been part of his life. After the last few fiascoes, he told himself that he should be more selective, shouldn't fall for the first pretty face he came across and more importantly, he should forget about finding his match among the women working with him.
In that moment Lou came out of the garage and walked towards him. "Ben's gonna change the tire and oil the whole thing. It'll be ready in twenty minutes. You needn't wait for me. You can go and ... thank you for the lift."
"I don't mind hanging around and that way I can take you back... and you know, the expense is on me."
"You sure?" Lou asked and Kid simply nodded. They relapsed into silence and after a few seconds she added, "You hungry?"
"I guess I am."
Lou then fished for her knapsack that she had left on the floor of the car and once in her hands she unfastened it and produced a little recycled paper bag she had packed with her lunch that morning. "I have a couple of sandwiches and some fruit. Care to share them with me?"
"Sure," he replied and as he spotted a vending machine on the corner, he said, "I'll buy some drinks then. What would you like?"
"Just water for me."
"You sure you want bottled water and add to the destruction of the world with all that waste?"
Louise stuck her tongue out at Kid in mock offense as she said, "I'll be sure to recycle the bottle… don't worry."
Kid quickly got a bottle of water for her and a can of ice tea for him from the machine. As he walked back to where Lou stood he said, "At least we could have our lunch while sitting comfortably. Come on, get in the car."
"You sure you want to run the risk of getting your spotless car full of breadcrumbs?"
"You hush and get in," Kid retorted, grinning amused and opened the door for her. When they were both seated, Lou handed him a sandwich and took the bottle of water that he extended to her. Kid was the first to take a bite from his sandwich and as he chewed and swallowed it, he exclaimed, "This is really good... really good. What's in it?"
"Nothing special. Chicken, some lettuce, egg..." Kid sent her a dubious look and she added, "The bread is the magical ingredient... it's homemade."
"You bake bread too?" Kid asked with a surprised expression.
"Who me? I can barely boil an egg... much less bake anything," Lou replied among giggles. "My family did."
"I see. They spoil you rotten, don't they?"
"Actually, I'm very fortunate," Lou stated, her face getting a melancholic air.
Kid looked at her, expecting her to open up and tell him more about who she called her family, but Louise shut up and turned her attention to her sandwich, which she practically devoured in a few bites. He smiled and for a moment he kept staring at her like in a trance. It was when she casually caught a glimpse of him and threw him a withering look that Kid turned away from her and concentrated on his own food.
"Thank you," Kid said after a long silent spell while they finished their lunch. Lou simply smiled in acknowledgment and when the food was gone and they had nothing to entertain them, the young man turned to her and asked, "So Lou, what's your story?"
"Yes, you know... where you come from, what brought you here..."
Lou paused for a second to gather her thoughts and after some slight hesitancy she started, "Actually, I grew up in this city... I went to medical school and did all my training here. As a matter of fact, I started my residency in the hospital in the north district..."
"No, in pediatrics.... my original vocation, but I had to quit."
"Well," Lou replied hesitantly, "for personal reasons I had to move to Guam..."
"Guam? But that's in..."
"Yes, exactly 7,953 miles away and over twelve hours by plane." Kid nodded, wondering what could possibly have happened for her to quit her residency and go to live to the other side of the world, but Lou did not elaborate and continued in another direction. "I had to stop my training and applied for a post in the program provided by the National Health Service corps and ... well... I've been working as a family doctor at a small clinic on the north of the island for five years."
"Wow!" Kid exclaimed, visibly impressed by her account. "And how's life there?"
"It's nice. I had some problems at the beginning and it took me a while to completely settle down and get used to the differences, but once I did, it was as if I had lived there my whole life. People are really warm and kind, and the island is beautiful. Of course, the clinic was undermanned and we had several deficiencies in the equipment and such. Days were long and hard. As the only practitioner there I had to see between forty and seventy patients a day. "
"My, that's stressful," Kid exclaimed horrified. He often complained about his own workload and he apparently did not have to see half as many patients she had seen while she was there. Kid had to admit that he tended to be a moaner... he had actually become one since "she" had jilted him. Before that, he had been quite a happy camper, but he didn't know why, in the last years he only seemed to notice the negative side of everything.
"Yeah, it was," Lou replied to his comment, "but it was really inspiring to look backwards at the end of the day and see how many people you had managed to help. I loved it there and I would do it again ... no doubt about it."
"But now you're here."
"Yes, I am."
"Why obstetrics? Why now?"
"Well, after completing this year I have plans in sight... This training will absolutely help me to deal with the cases I'm liable to find in the future."
"You mean you have an offer... maybe in another clinic?"
"Uh... yeah... more or less," Louise replied vaguely and on seeing his expression, she added, "Don't be so curious, Dr Kydd. I'll tell you everything in good time. You know what they say, curiosity killed the cat." Kid chuckled at her words but could not help but wonder why she had to be so secretive about her future working plans. If she had contacts, nobody would think it strange. Kid decided not to insist. She was entitled to keep her privacy and he had no right to demand an explanation from her. "And now it's your turn," Lou's voice snapped him out of his thoughts.
"Yes... what's your story?"
Kid loosened his tie and undid the last button of his shirt, feeling stifled as the July sun fell directly on him. "It's the typical story. Nothing as exciting as your adventures overseas... I grew up in Virginia, got my license there but came all the way here following a girlfriend. The girlfriend is now out of the picture but I'm still here."
"I see ... then you're actually an old-fashioned romantic," Lou replied in a teasing tone. "A rare specimen. I have been told that your type was extinct, but apparently there is still at least one hidden behind a doctor's white coat."
Kid chuckled, joining in her playful tone and said, "Not so romantic as I used to be, I'm afraid."
Louise was about to keep up the banter but the conversation was cut short as Ben howled, announcing that she could pick up her now-renewed bike. Lou quickly got out of the car and walked towards the garage. Kid remained seated in his automobile and as she ambled forward, he couldn't help but once again stare at the swaying movement of her hips and think how nice she looked.
Author's Note: Thanks to Ellie and Jessica for betaing this story for me, and also the LJ girls for their constant encouragement.