“Go catch a football,” she says to me in a cold, distant voice that makes me recoil. If anyone else had talked to me that way I would have told them to go fuck themselves, but with Claire, I’m at a loss for words. The sting of it hurts more than I want to admit.

Claire sits the man up and maneuvers herself behind him, bends him over slightly and wraps her arms around his chest in a bear hug. She squeezes and slightly lifts him despite the big size difference. Something, not sure exactly what it is, shoots from his throat onto the ground and he starts to puke. Claire is unfazed by the vomit as others around him take a step back, their faces contorted with disgust.

When he’s done puking, his eyes open and he gasps for air. I can see the relief on his face. His skin turns back to its normal shade of slightly sunburned.

Claire sits with him until the paramedics arrive shortly after. Someone must have called when they saw the guy choking. She explains to paramedics what happened. She seems to know one of the female EMTs who checks on the water boy. He doesn’t go to the hospital, and Claire doesn’t look at me even once as she follows the medic outside.

The party dies down. I continue to sit at the bottom of the stairs, forcing people to go around me until finally the place is mostly empty except for a handful of stragglers who will probably stay the night. The echoes of tonight’s game victory ring in my head as well as the defeat of Claire’s rejection. Finally, when it’s nearly three in the morning, I go back to my room and pass out in my bed.1ClaireThis is it. The first day of running my own clinic. It’s been a difficult road to get to this point. Eight years of my life with my nose between the pages of books. Countless graveyard shifts in different ERs. Most of that time I lived on ramen noodles and Red Bulls while still trying to maintain my gym routine. I swear, with the hours and schedules I’ve had leading up to this point, I could have very well ended up in worse shape than my patients. But it was all worth it in the end. This was the goal all along. Not only will I be running my own clinic, but it’s the Hope Center in Chicago. There’s been so much buzz leading up to the opening of this place. It’s a pay-what-you-can clinic where they’ll treat anyone and everyone regardless of who they are or what they can afford. And better yet, it’s not government run so there won’t be a bunch of red tape and politics to get around. There’s some sort of wealthy backer who is going to make my job a whole lot easier. It’s my dream job and I can’t wait for the doors to open for the first time today.

This opening will be one of the biggest and most important events I ever attend, so I decide to buy a new dress. It’s been a long time since I’ve bought any item of clothing that didn’t come from a medical supply store. Curve-hugging scrubs are about as sexy as I get. Well, not today.

I head into the city, using directions to get to Neiman Marcus. It’s a Pretty Woman moment—minus the prostitution. The clerks look at me in my sweatpants and ratty tennis shoes like I might be there to rob them. I try on everything until I find the dress that fits like it was tailor made for my body. A green, form-fitting dress that’s a little sexy because it’s off the shoulders, but also appropriate for the occasion since the hem rests just below the knees. Even the clerks take notice when I step out of the dressing room. One of the women even gasps.

“Honey, that’s the one. You were born for that dress,” she says.

Even with the jaw-dropping price tag, I know she’s right. This is the kind of dress that will get the attention of the Hope Center board. They will see a strong, powerful, confident woman and know they picked the right person for this job. There’s no way I will be forgettable now.

While I’m here, I get a makeover at their luxury makeup counter. I tell the girl doing my makeup about my event, and she calls one of her hair stylist friends who is able to squeeze me in today to get my hair done. I suppose I should have thought about all of this prior to the day of the event, but my world revolves around medicine and helping people. More often than not, me and my needs are the last thing on my mind.


Tags: Penny Wylder Romance
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