Chapter no 5

The Locked Door

My last patient leaves at nearly six, but I’m not even close to being done. I’ve still got a ton of paperwork to catch up on and phone calls to return. And sometimes I go back to the hospital to do a quick round on my surgical patients in the evening, but I might be too tired tonight. I’ll just call the nurses over there and ask for a run down.

My office is located way in the back of our practice. Philip snagged the larger office, but mine is large enough. And unlike his office with the leather couch and mahogany desk, I’ve got a simple wooden desk I bought online, with a small bookcase stuffed to the brim with every textbook I purchased since medical school. There are two wooden chairs set up in front of the desk in case I decide to bring a patient in here—an event that has yet to occur.

Philip peeks in my office and wags his eyebrows at me. He always looks like he’s on the verge of needing a haircut, but somehow he pulls it off. “You leaving soon, Nora?”


He flashes his teeth at me. “You work way too hard. You need to go out and have a little fun sometimes. Like me.”

I notice now that he’s changed out of his scrubs into a dress shirt and dark brown pants. “Are you going somewhere?”

He winks at me. “Hot date.”

“As long as it’s not with Harper.”

Philip throws back his head and laughs. “Not after the way you lectured me for like two weeks about not going near her. Anyway, she won’t shut up about that Sonny guy.”

“So who is the lucky lady? Anything serious?”

“Oh sure.” He grins. “I’m always on the lookout for the next ex-Mrs.


Philip got divorced a few years ago, and it was not amicable. And by that, I mean she slashed his tires once in our parking lot. I have no idea how they’re managing to co-parent their kid. He barely talks about it anymore,

except to say that she pretty much took him to the cleaners in the divorce. He deserved it after what he did to her.

“Anyway,” he says, “you should get out there more. Date some guys.” “No thank you.”

“I’m serious.” He raises his eyebrows. “I don’t think I’ve seen you go on a date once in all the time I’ve known you.”

That could be true, but I’m not about to admit it. “I had no idea you were so well-versed in my personal life.”

“It’s just strange. It’s not like you aren’t attractive.” I cough. “Gee, thanks.”

“We should go out this weekend,” he says. “You and me. Come on, it’ll be fun. We’ll go to a bar and I’ll be your wingman.”

I snort. “I don’t think it works that way.”

“No, it will be great. I’m good at scoping out which guys are the jerks.”

“Because you are one?”

He touches his nose. “Exactly.” “Sorry, not interested.”

“How come?” He narrows his eyes at me. “Seriously, Nora, what’s the deal? How come you never do anything besides work?”

“I like to work.” I lift a shoulder. “And actually, Philip, I would say my personal life is my business. Don’t you think so?”

“Okay, fine.” He raps on the side of the door with his fist. “Anyway, I just wanted you to know, even after all that hard work, I’m still winning.”

I lean back in my ergonomic leather chair. “What? No way.” “It’s true. I checked.”

I grit my teeth. “Check again. I’m pretty sure I’m ahead.”

Philip and I both love to operate. And we both also love to compete. So we have a yearly competition over who logs the most surgical cases. The winner gets bragging rights and a case of really good wine. Last year was the first year I was victorious, and I intend to win this year as well.

Actually, I intend to crush him. I’ve cut into far more people this year than he has. There’s no way he’s ahead.

I reach for my black cup to get a jolt of caffeine, which I’m going to need considering how early I got up this morning. The mug barely makes it

to my lips before I realize it’s empty. There are coffee grounds dried along the edges.

“You know,” Philip says, “you shouldn’t be drinking coffee this late. You’re going to be up all night. And that’s fine if you have a social life, but you’re probably going to just be lying awake in bed.”

“Thanks for the advice.” I drop the coffee mug back down on my desk. “I don’t suppose you’ll throw another pod in the machine for me and bring me another cup?”

“I think you’ve mistaken me for Harper.” He scoffs. “But I’ll rescue you by taking this cup back to the sink so you can forget about it. If there’s one thing you don’t need more of, it’s caffeine.”

I start to protest, but Philip has already grabbed my coffee cup and taken it away from me. As he leaves the room, I concede that he might be right. I probably have had enough caffeine for today. I lie awake too many nights.

Philip is right about something else—I never date. If I made an effort, I could be extremely attractive. I inherited my looks from my father, who was just handsome enough to get young women to let their guards down, but not so handsome as to attract undue attention. That’s exactly the amount of attractive I am. But with my jet black hair swept back behind my head and my potato sack scrubs, people don’t usually look twice. That’s purposeful.

A relationship is a bad idea. I’ve always had trouble getting close to men. And even if I did get close to someone, then what? Marriage? Children? And then…

Well, everyone knows what came next for my father.

No. It’s better this way. Like I said, I prefer to be alone.

I’ve been waiting for an abdominal CT result on one of my patients. The hospital was supposed to fax it over to our clinic, but I don’t see it scanned into the computer yet. I look around back, to see if Sheila is around, but she’s already taken off for the day. I head to the front to see if the fax is in the machine, and I’m surprised to see Harper is packing up her things.

I blink at her. “You’re still here?”

“Oh.” She puts her left hand protectively over a book on the desk in front of her. “I was just reading—”

I look down at the book on her desk. It’s a thick biology textbook. My heart leaps. “Harper! Did you enroll in a biology class?”

Little pink circles appear on each of her cheeks. “Yes. I’m trying it out.

I’m not doing a whole post-bacc program yet, but I thought I could try—”

“Harper!” I can’t help myself—I throw my arms around her shoulders. I am not much of a hugger—actually, I can’t stand casual physical affection and had to have a talk with Philip about it when I started here—but I’m so happy for her. Harper is made for a career in medicine. She’s been trying to figure out what to do with her life, and I’ve been gently nudging her in that direction. I’m thrilled she took my advice.

“It’s not a big deal,” she mumbles, although she’s smiling. “Don’t make a big deal out of it, okay?”

“I won’t,” I promise, although I’m still really excited for her. “What are you learning now in biology?”

“We’re learning about sexual reproduction in plants,” she says. “Did you know plants have sex? And believe it or not, it’s super boring. Not fun at all. Nobody would read plant erotica.”

I laugh. “Wait until you get to worm reproduction. It’s all downhill from here.”

Harper’s dimples pop as she tucks a strand of dark hair behind her ear. Unlike me, she usually wears her hair down, and the dark color complements her blue eyes. Blue eyes and dark hair. I can’t help but think that it’s the same combination my own father found especially alluring. The girl they found in our home, Mandy Johansson, had blue eyes and dark hair. So did almost all of his victims.

Every once in a while, I look at Harper and I see Mandy Johansson.

And I think I’m going to be sick.

But there’s nothing to worry about. My father is in prison.

“Anyway,” Harper says, “I better get going. I’m meeting Sonny for dinner tonight. We’re going to this great restaurant. I think he might… you know…”

Her eyes are shining. She thinks he’s going to propose.

“Oh, Harper!” I want to throw my arms around her yet again, but that would be very strange behavior for me. But this girl brings it out in me. I’ll never have children, but I feel something almost maternal towards her. “That’s incredible! I can’t wait to see the ring tomorrow!”

“Don’t jinx it,” she giggles.

Harper slings her purse onto her shoulder and takes off to go home and change before her fancy dinner with Sonny. I’m happy for her.

But there’s a tiny part of me that feels a twinge of jealousy. Harper deserves every happiness in the world, but I always get that twinge when somebody I know finds their other half and ties the knot. That will never happen for me. I have an unbelievable career—everything I ever wanted— and I made the decision a long time ago that it would be all I would ever have.

I don’t want to get greedy. Look what happened to my father.

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