The mob of creatures waved signs and circled him leaving no room for escape. No matter how he turned, he saw another sign.
College debts. Medical school loans. Maxed credit cards. Condo rental. Car repairs. Money for his dream house and dream life.
A deep voice roared. His father? “You must pay the debts. You must pay the debts.”
The squeaky voices of the creatures added to the cacophony. They twisted the ends of their Dali-like mustaches.
From a distance, his mother’s voice cried her own demands. “Michael, when will I see grandchildren? You know how badly I want little ones to hug.”
Help! The word remained frozen.
* * *
Michael West bolted upright and stared at the clock. Almost seven. He rubbed his eyes. Not the weekend. Not his city walk-up where he’d collapsed after a day in surgery and a night on call. He would be late for his first day as junior partner of
surgical practice. He threw back the covers and dashed to the bathroom. Grandvue
As he showered, remnants of the nightmare circled in his thoughts. “Sorry, Mom,” he whispered. “No grandchildren for years. Until the mountain of debts became a molehill he couldn’t take a wife.
With a towel around his waist, he shaved and charged into the bedroom. In five years he could recycle those debts. Then he would be ready to give the woman he selected the things he believed she deserved. He dressed in new gray slacks, a starched white shirt, tie and a black summer weight jacket, grabbed his medical bag and strode from the apartment to his car.
Though he wished for time to eat a hearty breakfast, on the way to the hospital, he stopped at a deli for an egg and cheese bagel and a huge coffee. Ten minutes later he sat in the doctor’s parking lot and ate like a starving man.
After stuffing the remains in the take-out bag, he slid from the sedan and brushed crumbs from his clothes. He scanned the lot. New car added to his list of wants. His fuel-economy sedan looked like a waif among the luxury sedans and sporty models. He strode toward the entrance.
“Michael, slow down.” The senior partner of the surgical practice waved.
Michael waited for Dr. Probst. “Good morning, sir. I didn’t expect to see you here so early.”
The gray-haired man smiled. “Always the first. Good to see you’ve the same habit. Three cases on the schedule. First one’s at nine.”
“Will I assist?”
“Eager to get your hands in?”
Michael grinned. “Sure am, sir.”
Dr. Probst chuckled. “How well I remember those days. Before we head to the OR, we’ll make rounds. I’ll show you the surgical unit.”
“Sounds good.” Though he had visited the hospital when he’d been recruited, he hadn’t been impressed with the unit.
“We’ve a new nurse manager. Young, efficient. Has performed miracles during her five months in charge. She’s cracked down on the staff. You’ll like her.”
Michael studied the older man. Was he being set up? Not going to happen. Casual affairs were his speed. He thought about the nurse manager he’d met when the guys in the practice had wined and dined him. She’d been old, steely-eyed and a thin-lipped smile making him think young doctors were to be trained like puppies. Young might mean any woman under sixty. If the new nurse manager was attractive and would be interested in a fling in the company of a man with a five year plan, he might give her a try.
They rode the elevator from the basement to the second floor. When he saw the nurse at the counter with a phone in her left hand and her right poised over a keyboard, he halted and fought the urge to run.
“No.” He groaned. “Impossible.”
“Something wrong?” Dr. Probst asked.
Michael cleared his throat. Don’t be an ass. “I never expected to see…” Help! His inner voice shouted the final word of his nightmare.
“Zelda, come and meet the new addition to our group.”
Michael sucked in a breath. The bane of his youthful existence left the computer and sauntered toward them.
His throat constricted. His gut churned. “You work here?” Duh. Could his foot fit any tighter in his mouth? Why else was she dressed in a white uniform? And the lab coat spelled administration. He took a second look. The uniform fit her slender body to perfection.
Dr. Probst beamed. “Guess you know each other. Zelda is our miracle nurse manager.”
Figured she’d find a way to plague him. He didn’t like the ideas swarming like gnats in his thoughts. He batted them away. Sure, Zelda was attractive and probably efficient but she was a cyclone centered on destructing Michael West MD. Like visions seen by a drowning man, incidents flooded him. She had swamped his high school romance with Allie and sent depth charges into his summer fling with Bette.
Every time Zelda entered his space strange events occurred. He tripped over invisible cracks in the sidewalk, dropped drinks and plates of food. In her presence, he was an accident primed to happen.
His gaze focused on her. Boy had she changed. Short curly brown hair, bright blue eyes, slender figure with tantalizing curves. An urge to taste her kissable lips made him take a step toward her.
Whoa. This is Zelda. Not a chance. He enjoyed living. His hands fisted and he tore his attention from her to his partner’s briefing on the recovering patients and the ones awaiting surgery.
Zelda added comments, reported changes in conditions and mentioned existing or pending problems. Michael realized she ignored him more effectively than he did her. Still, he knew plans for destructing his life stirred like a rising volcano in her head. They always had.
“Mrs. Greene’s going home today,” Dr. Probst said. “She’s to come to the office in a week for staple removal.” He turned to Michael. “Write a prescription for a pain med and antibiotics, same as she’s taking here. All the info is on her chart.”
Michael went to the computer and entered his password. He pulled up Mrs. Greene’s chart. He checked her meds and copied them to an electronic prescription. Once done he sent the script to her listed pharmacy. He finished the instruction sheet and closed the chart.
Dr. Probst laughed. “Took you less than five minutes. One of the reasons we took you on. You can teach these old dogs some tricks.”
Zelda laughed. “Aren’t computers great? No more huge stacks of paper to worry about.”
No more paper airplanes. Where had that thought come from? Then he remembered Zelda’s many missives sailed over the fence from her yard to his. He hid a smile as an idea of how to head her off and keep their interactions on a strictly professional level.
He grabbed a piece of scrap paper and quickly wrote.
Dear Zelda, So glad to hear you’re doing so well in your chosen profession. Let’s work to keep our relationship strictly professional. Unless you need to talk to me about a patient, ignore me. Your former neighbor, Michael.
He quickly folded the paper into an airplane. Should he? Naw. He’d leave it in her office. If he sent the paper plane sailing toward her now, who knows what disaster would occur.
After rounds and charts, Michael followed the older man toward the stairs. At the door of Zelda’s office, he paused and sent the paper flying to land on her desk.
Dr. Probst arched a brow. “Something brewing between you two?”
“We used to be neighbors.”
“Aha, the girl next door.
. More like the pest, the whirlwind, the terminator of relationships. He wasn’t about to explain his tangled past with Zelda. He opened the stairwell door.
A voluptuous redhead exited. “Dr. Probst, good morning.”
Her throaty voice plus the stacked body sent Michael’s blood rushing south. He smiled.
“Morning,” the older doctor said. “Gianna Hall, meet Michael West, our new partner.”
“Pleased to meet you, Dr. West.”
Her smile showed interest and made promises he’d like to see kept. “Same here.” He might have lingered but surgery called. “I’m sure I’ll see you around.”
She ran her tongue over her lower lip. “I’ll make sure you do.”
Michael caught up to his partner. “She seemed nice.”
“She is. Gianna is the Clinical Psychologist for the Mental Health Unit.”
Now he knew where to find her. Michael smiled.