Doctor’s Orders: Chapter Two
I step into the elevator twenty minutes later, walking as if in a daze. My Las Vegas one-night stand right here in Auburn Springs? And she’s a local? Just how crazy—no, perfect—is that?
When I woke up to find her gone from my hotel room almost a year ago, she left me with nothing but a thank you note—and a few love bites I couldn’t hide from my fellow doctors when I showed up at the conference later that morning. I honestly thought I’d never see her again and I had to remind myself that if she’s wanted to keep in touch she’d have left me her phone number. I did ask even though I knew what we had going was clearly temporary—just first names, no talk of what we did for a living or where we lived were just a few of the hints. And then there was the glaring fact that we were in Las Vegas. What happens in Sin City stays in Sin City, right?
Las Vegas was the first time I was able to relax since completing a three-year neurology residency program in Connecticut. It was grueling, with a schedule that barely afforded me enough time to do anything other than sleep and eat the moment I got home. Hell, even I didn’t have time to pay attention to poor Lanie who ended up spending more time with my roommate than with me. Don’t get me wrong. I love what I do, but residency was intense, complete with what seemed like 80-hour work weeks. I had no business thinking I could pull off a relationship when I was working up to twenty hours a day.
The Las Vegas Conference was my first time in three years to feel human again. No patients to see, no cases to solve, and no pager to tell me I was needed as soon as I’d closed my eyes for a nap. Ava spinning on her bar stool and her legs knocking the poor server’s tray filled with drinks was just the thing I needed to snap me back to the real world. Being around Ava felt as if someone had rewound the already-played mixtape of that part of my life and said, “okay, dude, let’s start over from the beginning.”
And that’s what we did. Just first names, no talk about work or anything else, just two people starting the evening with a blank slate. We figured we’d simply focus on enjoying the show first before she’d buy me a few drinks. Only we never got past that first drink.
Hearing her tell me she’d rather find out if my six-pack abs were real changed everything between us that night. Hours of flirting while watching Aerosmith perform their hits culminated in a kiss that transported us into my hotel room where we let go of everything. I just didn’t expect Ava to disappear before I could get her number.
But life has a way of throwing curveballs when you least expect it, like seeing Ava again tonight. And then there’s this moment, when the elevator doors suddenly stop closing halfway and Ava steps into view.
“Going down?” For a moment she almost steps back as I hold out my arm to halt the doors from closing again. Then she takes a deep breath and steps inside.
“I’m looking for the cafeteria,” she says as the doors slide close behind her.
“That would be in the lobby.”
“Lobby it is then,” she says. “You? Are you finished with your rounds? It’s pretty late, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is,” I reply, nodding. “How’s your mother?”
“She’s feeling better now that I’m here,” she replies as the elevator stops and the doors slide open to the lobby. “She’s sleeping right now so I figured I might as well find something to eat before my stomach wakes her up in the middle of the night.”
I hold the doors open to let her step out first. “Would you like some company?”
There’s a moment’s hesitation before she nods. “I’d love that.”
From Ava, I learn that her mother broke her hip while cleaning the roof gutters that morning. Ava had been in a meeting in New York when it happened and she just flew into Sacramento, rented a car and drove straight to Auburn Springs. She looks tired but that doesn’t detract from her beauty.
“Who’s her doctor?”
“Dr. Evans. I got to talk to him while I was on the plane,” Ava replies and I nod. “You know him?”
“He’s not in my department but I hear he’s an excellent doctor,” I reply. “And her surgeon?”
Relief washes over her features. “That’s good to know. She’s scheduled for surgery in the morning although I imagine I’ll get more details about the procedure then.”
“She’s in good hands, Ava,” I say, wishing I could hold her hand. Around us, the cafeteria is starting to get busy, the evening shift staff grabbing their coffee before heading to the floors.
”Thanks, Parker. Now I just need to figure out what happens after she gets back home,” she says. “She can’t be climbing ladders from here on but she’s just so stubborn. I’d hate to fly back to New York knowing she’s bound to do everything she’s not supposed to do.”
“I’m sure Dr. Evans will prescribe post-op rehabilitation before she can do that,” I say as Ava glares at me. “And definitely no climbing ladders either. Anyway, they can direct you to services who can provide someone to be with her during the day, help her adapt to her new normal.”
Ava sighs. “That’s the thing. We shouldn’t be hiring someone else to be with her. I should be with her.”
“You’re here right now.”
She sighs. “For now.”
We don’t talk for a few moments, her sandwich untouched in front of her. It’s as if we’re trying to catch our bearings. I know I am.
“Oh well,” Ava says, taking a deep breath. “Any more talk about my mom and I’ll be a nervous wreck before you know it. So what about you? Why Auburn Springs? I’m sure you probably had your pick of bigger and better places to practice medicine, but why here?”
I shrug. “Why not?”
“We’re a very small town, Parker. Our claim to fame is being a small town nestled in the Sierra Nevadas and the Yuba River. Gold mining town, Federalist Victorian homes for those who can afford the upkeep, antique stores, that kind of thing,” she says, her eyes narrowing as she studies me. “To be honest, I had you pegged for a city boy.”
I grin, her questions reminding me of how my friends had reacted when they found out I’d decided to move to a small town when I could have had a more promising career in a big city. God knows I had enough offers. But after spending the last three years in a grueling neurology residency program and before that, a year in internal medicine, I needed a break.
True, what salary Auburn Springs Medical Center offered was half what the other places dangled in front of me and I had to admit, they were all tempting. But Crawford, one of the original doctors who founded the hospital, had thrown in a percentage of the hospital profits into the hiring package. For a medical center nestled in one of the most beautiful places in the country where their new pediatric wing offered a natural environment for patients and families to heal, sure, it was a gamble. But when added to the prospect of being able to live a semblance of a normal life outside the hospital surrounded by nature and a close knit community, I signed on.
“Small towns have their advantages, as I’m sure you know,” I say.
Ava arches an eyebrow. “I must have been away from Auburn Springs too long. Care to remind me what they are again?”
I roll my eyes. “Surely you haven’t forgotten, Ava. For one thing, there’s the community. It’s tight-knit.”
She laughs. “Right. And where everyone knows your business. That’s okay with you?”
“Nothing wrong with that,” I say, pausing. “Or I think there’s nothing wrong with it.”
“Just you wait and see,” she says, chuckling. “Start dating someone or something and everyone will know. I mean, if you aren’t dating anyone already.”
She looks at me, surprised. “You’re not? Are you married?”
“Not that I know of.”
She shakes her head. “I’m sorry. That’s pretty forward of me.”
I shake my head. “Not really. It’s a small town, remember? Where everyone knows your business? So you might as well know mine,” I say, grinning. “What about you? Married?”
She shakes her head.
She shakes her head, her cheeks turning crimson. “Anyway, continue illuminating me about the pros of living in a small town again?”
I clear my throat. Her mother broke her hip and here I am, flirting. “There’s also the outdoors. You can’t beat it. Hiking, cycling, snowshoeing in the winter,” I continue. “And then there’s the river. I hear there are places to go for skinny dipping although I haven’t gone yet. Don’t really want to go by myself.”
Dimples appear on Ava’s cheeks as she chuckles. “I can only imagine your patients seeing their doctor butt naked. Not that they’d probably complain.”
“You mean they’d be too polite to complain?” I ask.
“Not if the view is good.”
This time it’s my turn to feel my cheeks heat up. But as the silence between us grows, I also have the feeling that our time together is ending. I want to tell her I want to see her again but I also know it’s the worst thing I could say to her given the reason why she’s really here.
“Thank you so much for sitting with me, Parker,” she says as she slips her uneaten sandwich back into its wrapper. “I think I’m going to eat this in Mom’s room instead.”
“I’m sorry for distracting you from your dinner.”
She shakes her head. “You don’t need to apologize, Parker. I needed the distraction.”
I reach into my coat pocket and pull out my card. I write down my cell phone number at the back and slide the card toward her. “If you need anything at all, Ava, I’m just a phone call away. Anything at all.”
As Ava reaches for the card, our fingers touch and my throat tightens and my belly clenches. Shit, I didn’t expect that.
As she turns the card over, her index finger tracing my cell phone number, I remember how that same finger once traced the outline of my abs.
“No rush, Ava,” I say, cleaning my throat and hoping I don’t sound too eager. Her mother broke her hip, for crying out loud. “Take your time.”