“She’s busy and asked me to give you the good news and get you checked out.”

“Fuck,” I mumbled. She foiled my plans. I sighed, “So I’m good to go?”

“It’s going to take about four to six weeks to heal. You can tape them to relieve some of the pain if you’d liked.”

“I know. It’s not the first time I’ve cracked a rib.”

“Here’s the paperwork with instructions and make sure to follow up with your family doctor in a week or so.”

“Got it,” I said, as I grabbed the paperwork from his hand.

Grabbing my shirt, I stalked out of the room to find Izzy. The doctor brushed me off and I was pissed.

Chapter 1

Summer

Human life seemed to be worthless to most people, that’s what I learned during my time as an emergency room physician.

I wanted to help people for as long as I could remember. My mom said I raided the medicine cabinet to fix my Cabbage Patch kids as a little girl.

Each day as I stood over my patients, trying to revive their lifeless bodies, my education and training felt meaningless. Medicine is still referred to as a practice. It hasn’t perfected and even with today’s advances in medicine, not everything can be fixed.

It’s a hard fact that I don’t always want to accept, but have no choice.

The hardest part of my job, the thing I dread most is informing a family that we were unable to save their loved one, despite our best efforts.

Those words left my mouth twice today and it had been soul crushing.

“Call it, Dr. Greco,” Dr. Patel said, as he stood next to the gurney.

I couldn’t stop myself from pushing down again. Sweat trickled down my cheeks, as a lump had formed in my throat. Maybe if I pushed one more time, I could get his heart to beat again.

“I can’t. Just give me a couple more minutes.” I pushed with such force I knew that a few ribs had cracked under my palm.

His life hadn’t even begun and I would be the one that called his time of death.

“Mia.” Dr. Patel placed his hands mine, snapping my mental focus – to save the boy’s life. “He’s gone. You’ve been working on him for over thirty minutes. His injuries are too grave. Call it or I will.”

Dr. Patel had been by my side today and knew the devastation that we were unable to repair – two car accidents, a gunshot victim, and the little blond haired angel in front of me – a victim of a hit and run driver.

How could someone hit a child and leave him in the street to die?

A child… a goddamn innocent little boy.

I looked at Dr. Patel and was struck by the weariness on his face. His eyes were bloodshot, the tiny creases around them looked deeper with big dark circles. I could see that the day had taken a toll on him too. I wasn’t alone in my despair.

I rested my palms against the boy’s chest and felt the silence within, there was no life left to save. “Time of death: seven-twenty-one P.M.” I closed my eyes and took a couple slow, steady breaths before I removed my hands. I wanted to run to the bathroom and throw up.

A third life I couldn’t save.

“I’ll go tell his parents, Mia. You’ve done enough today,” Patel said, placing his hand on my shoulder, giving it a tiny squeeze.

“Thank you, Eric.”

I usually argued with him. I wanted to be the one to talk with the families and help console them, but today, I had nothing. He patted my shoulder before leaving me with the boy that would never age or have the opportunity to experience all the joys in life.

I collapsed in the chair against the wall, pulling out my ponytail; I let my hair fall free. Placing my head in my hands, I ran my fingers through my hair as I tried to collect my thoughts.

More patients needed me, but I just needed a moment to myself. I couldn’t take another loss; I didn’t have anything left to give. Each time I lost someone, a small piece of my heart died.

Light footsteps broke my moment of serenity as I questioned my decision to work in an emergency room instead of an office practice like most of my classmates.

“Sorry to interrupt, Dr. Greco, I need to prep the body for the family to say their goodbyes,” the nurse said, as she grabbed a damp cloth to wipe down his bloodied face.

“It’s okay. I have patients to see. I just needed a moment to myself.”

She gave me a weak smile before beginning to clean the body. I couldn’t watch. I couldn’t take the sounds of the cries and utter grief that would fill this room. It took everything I had to climb to my feet and pull myself together. The ER had an endless stream of people.

I had one hour left until I could go home and crawl in bed.

I thought about moving back to Minnesota after I finished my internship, but Florida had become a part of me. I wanted to wear sandals year round, feel the sunshine on my face, and watch the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico from my beachfront home. I couldn’t go back – snow and I never got along.

My work had become my life, especially in the summer months when my parents went back home. They were snowbirds and came to Florida to enjoy the sunshine and warm weather when the deep freeze hit up North. They’d been gone a month as spring arrived back home. The quietness of my life had become almost deafening when I wasn’t at the hospital. Today I was thankful I didn’t have to go home and put on a cheery smile for them.

I felt needed here. I had something to contribute, something that many people didn’t. The local population was poor and I wanted to help. It had become my calling. I spent my free time helping at the free clinic in town, and helped raise money for the homeless youth that plagued the county.

I stayed for the clinic, where I volunteered, and the chance to make a difference.

Chapter 2

My muscles revolted with each kick, every single one screamed for me to stop, but I couldn’t. I worked too damn hard to get to this point in my life to give up now. Sometimes I questioned my sanity for waking up at three in the morning to work out for hours at the gym, but my body had to be strong and I had to be ready to win my next fight.

“Pansy ass,” Rob yelled. “Harder. Your ribs have been healed for weeks. Show me what you’re made of already, Mike.”

He egged me on and did everything in the world to piss me off. Rob had been my trainer for two years. Most days, like today, I wanted to knock his fucking lights out, but I knew his methods were right in the end.

“Your sister hits harder than you,” he teased with a shit-eating grin on his face.

My sister, Izzy, is where the friend-trainer line crossed with Rob and I. They dated for a short time. When Izzy dumped him, I didn’t think we’d continue working together. In typical Rob fashion he brushed it off and moved on to the next notch in his bedpost.

“Cocksucker,” I said, hitting the target in his hand hard enough to cause Rob to stagger backward.

“Better,” he said, as he regained his stance. “Ten more minutes and then we’ll call it a day.”

My drive to be the champion was so strong that I could almost taste the next victory. I wanted to show my family that I had talent and the ability even though at times, at least in the beginning, their support had been questionable until recently.

I won my first two matches and with each victory their support grew and my pop finally started


to believe. When my ma said he was bragging to his friends, I knew I had him.

I grew up watching the fights with my pop and his buddies. They yelled at the television and made side bets. He liked to call my fighting career a hobby, but I needed to show him that it was more than that. I was meant to be the champion.

Wanting the gym all to myself when I trained, I paid the owner to wait until six in the morning to open the doors. He liked the idea of the publicity my victory and career would bring to his small town gym in the middle bum fuck Florida and it didn’t hurt that he was Rob’s brother either.

“’Bodies” by Drowning Pool started and it gave me the last push of motivation I needed. Sweat dripped from my brows and stung my eyes. Doing a roundhouse kick, I almost missed the target, nearly hitting Rob in the head.

“Maniac. I’ll knock you on your ass if you do that again.”

“In your fucking dreams, buddy,” I laughed before landing a solid blow.

My forearms burned, my thighs trembled, but I wouldn’t quit.

I had this shit.

“Time,” Rob said, putting the targets down.

“I could go another hour,” I said.

I knew that shit was a lie

I ran for an hour before I walked in this morning, my legs were shaking to the point of weakness.

“Sure you could, tiger.” He laughed, holding his stomach. “Your muscles need to rest and recoup. We don’t want to overdo it with the match coming up.”

“Thank Christ,” I mumbled under my breath.

“What did you say?” He cocked his eyebrow as he crossed his arms.

“Nothing.”

“Why do you seem so fucking pissy today, Mike? Couldn’t get it up last night?”

“That would seem like a fuckin’ blessing right now.” I sat on the bench to give my legs a break as I pulled the tape off my hands. “Tammy. What a fucking pain in my ass.”

“I told you she’s a crazy bitch. Stop thinking with your dick so much and use what brain is left in that thick head of yours.”

I snorted. That had been the funniest damn thing to come out his mouth in a long time – he sure as fuck wasn’t Dr. Ruth. “When did you become a relationship expert? Your shit isn’t all together in the ladies department, Rob.”

“Maybe not, but I told you Tammy was a hot mess. She’s got the cling thing going on and is crazy to fuckin’ boot.”

“Crazy is an understatement, man.” I shook my head. I had a silent debate with myself on if I wanted to share the details of the entire fucked up situation. “I went to her place last night to get a piece of ass.”

“And?” He leaned against the wall and listened.

“And the crazy bitch had a scrapbook on her coffee table. Do you know what the cover was?”

He started to laugh as he pulled his lips in his mouth to stop from breaking out into hysterics.

“You do, don’t you?” I glared at him.

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