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Kasey waved toward Vincent Clark in the clinic hallway. A baby cried in the background. "Room three," she said. "Mrs. Gardner needs the second shot in her hepatitis B series."
Nine in the morning and already the small clinic's waiting room was full. A newborn needed his six-week examination; a toddler's allergies were flaring up with spring and the coming grass season; a teenage mother needed counseling on diet; a senior citizen's diabetes wasn't under control. On and on went the list, making Kasey wish she had forty-eight hours in her day.
Although today she welcomed the non-stop regimen and distractions.
"I'll get right on it," Vincent said, grabbing his laptop, flashing his killer smile.
She forced a phony grin, since smiling was the last thing she felt like doing. He deserved no less, and she didn't believe in dumping her foul mood on others. Charming, bright and sensitive, not to mention well groomed and fit, Vincent was everything Kasey looked for in a man, or used to, anyway. The catch was she wasn't her RN and assistant clinic administrator's type, because he was gay.
Besides, she'd given up on finding Mr. Right. Her last big love had told her he loved her one weekend and the next said that whatever he'd said last week he didn't feel any more. What was a girl supposed to do with that? In reality, men had never stuck around for her or her mother. Since good old Arnie had broken her heart two years ago, her motto had been to keep it superficial all the wayno investment; no pain. It wasn't everything she'd hoped for in life, but it would have to do.
Vincent patted her shoulder as he passed. They adored each other in a strictly platonic way, the perfect working situation, and he was a good friend, one she could depend on. Since she'd put so much time and energy into her job over the last few years, she could count her friends on two fingers, sad but factual. As an RN, she believed in facts.
Besides, she wasn't in the market for a partner, and had given up looking, especially now, since she'd gotten the horrible news about her birth father. What would be the point of getting involved with anyone for the long haul?
She dashed to her desk to look for the notes on the toddler she'd seen last week, and found six more patient messages.
What would Vincent think if he knew her prognosis? Maybe, if things ever slowed down today, she'd tell him. No. Not here. Not quickly over a cup of coffee in the lunch room. She'd need an entire night over drinks and dinner to work up the nerve to say what frightened her more than anything on earth. But she needed to tell somebody, and soon, or she'd explode, and she needed to build her support system. She definitely needed more than two friends, especially as one lived out of state.
She let out a quiet breath and picked up a note from her receptionist and read, "Facial laceration'", then grabbed her laptop and strode toward room one. As long as she was married to the community clinic, there'd be no chance of making new friends.
Laurette Meranvil was a name she hadn't seen before. After knocking, she opened the door and found a petite, brightly dressed woman sitting on the examination table, holding a cloth to her cheek. Kasey put her computer on the stand then reached for and shook the lady's free hand.
"I'm Kasey McGowan, the nurse practitioner. What seems to be the problem?"
"I cut my cheek on glass," the woman said with what Kasey had come to recognize as a Haitian accent.
Gingerly removing the cloth, Kasey discovered a jagged cut dangerously close to the woman's eye and extending out over her cheek. Fresh blood oozed with the release of pressure. She donned gloves and checked for obvious glass slivers in the wound but didn't find any.
"How did this happen?"
Kasey read the hesitation in the patient's eyes before the woman glanced at the floor. So often the truth went untold at the clinic. "I fell into a glass door."
Kasey ground her molars and hid her disbelief. Not that it couldn't happen, but It was more important to treat the wound, knowing she might never get to the truth.
Though she was trained to suture, this facial laceration would leave an ugly scar if not expertly handled. Kasey knew her limitations, and the woman deserved the best treatment possible.
"Ms. Meranvil, would you be able to stay at the clinic a bit longer while I have one of the plastic surgeons from the Mass General hospital stitch your wound?" She was aware that keloids could develop at the site of the scar, and because it was on the patient's face Kasey didn't want to take any chances of disfiguring the patient even more, so she wanted to bring in an expert.
Laurette drew her eyebrows together. "I cannot pay for special treatment."
"This is the community clinic, remember? There won't be an extra charge."
After a moment's thought, Laurette gave a serious-faced nod.
"Great. We'll take you to the treatment room and get the RN to clean your wound while we wait." Kasey carefully pressed the skin flap closed and put a sterile four-by-four over it to catch the slow flow of blood then discarded her gloves and entered a quick note into the computer. "The nurse will be right with you, but in the meantime keep light pressure on it," she said, signing off and grabbing the laptop on her way out.
Once back at her desk, she found her coworker sorting another stack of patient messages.
"Vincent, can you clean the wound in room one, give her a tetanus shot, and move her to the procedure room? I've got to make a call to see who's taking plastics call this month." As a nearby training hospital, Tufts regularly sent medical students to volunteer at the clinic, but this wound called for extra special care.
She went straight to her desk and dialed the long-memorized number of the massive teaching hospital. It supported the everett neighborhood community clinic by supplying residents on call in various specialties as needed. After going through the usual chain of command, Kasey reached the department of surgery and was promised a second-year plastics fellowship doctor would be at the clinic within the hour. Just when she'd gotten used to last month's doctor, a bubbly young woman, May rolled around and she'd have to readjust to yet another face and name and, most importantly, personality. But that was the name of the game when operating a community clinic with a limited budget that got scrutinized with a magnifying glass each month by the trustees. She took what she was given and smiled gratefully. Fortunately, the hospital thrived on the extra experience for their interns, residents and doctor specialists in training.
After hanging up the phone and on her way to see another patient, Kasey peeked in on Laurette, noting Vincent had done a fine job of cleaning and dressing the wound. The patient rested on the gurney, staring at the ceiling, the head of the bed partially elevated.
"Can I get you some water?" Kasey asked.
The woman nodded. "yes, thank you."
If only Kasey were a mind reader, a skill not taught in the Master's in Nursing program, maybe she could find out how the accident had really happened. Once the young woman took the water and sipped, she closed her eyes, sending the message loud and clear: I'm not talking about it. So Kasey quietly left the procedure room.
As the other examination rooms filled up, Kasey became involved with patient care, physicals and treatments, and an hour and a half later she glanced at her watch and stole a moment to get back to the nursing station.
Just about to call again, a shadow covered her desk.
She glanced up to find deep blue masculine eyes staring at her from beneath brown brows, and the hair on her neck prickled. The strikingly serious eyes studied her as if she'd come from another planet. Dark brown hair swept back from a high forehead and curled just beneath his earlobes suggesting a professional haircut hadn't found a date on his calendar in a couple of months. A day's growth of red-tinged beard covered the man's sharp jaw.
"You have a patient for me?" The quiet baritone voice sent more chills down her arms, throwing her off track and making her a little ticked off as he hadn't bothered to introduce himself yet.
Needing to look away, Kasey glanced over the man's shoulder at Vincent who, in his usual playful way, watched wide-eyed, biting his knuckle over the hunk, and she tried not to roll her eyes. Vincent was a sucker for a handsome face, and with this man Vincent's assessment was right on target. Too bad the doctor's impatient expression ruined the effect.
"Oh, um, yes, I do have a patient for you. That is if you're the resident from Plastic Surgery."
To be honest, she'd expected someone younger, more in keeping with the thirdand fourth-year residents who'd normally been sent to the clinic, not a man who looked as if he'd been practicing medicine for a decade and had early signs of gray sprinkled at his temples to prove it.
He gave a slow nod, his haunting eyes as steady as a surgeon's hands, making her feel edgy. She didn't need any help with that edgy feeling today.
"I'm Jared Finch," he said.
Snap out of it, girl. "Hi, I'm Kasey, and over there is my co-worker, Vincent."
Vincent beamed, more gums than teeth showing. "Hi, thanks for coming."
"Just doing my job," he said, nodding hello to Vincent before turning back to Kasey. "Are you in charge?"
Unable to break away from his gaze, she fought the hitch in her breath and mentally kicked herself for falling apart. He was just a man. A doctor. She'd seen plenty of handsome men in her life, just not here in her clinic. And this man, in ten seconds flat, seemed to have absconded with her composure. She wanted to grab a rubber reflex hammer and pound some sense into her head.
"Yes. I'm the nurse practitioner and I run the clinic. Thanks so much for coming, Dr.
Finch." He reached for a quick handshake, though his felt barely alive, and she shook once then let go. Even lackluster, the fraction of a moment's connection had left her off balance. He came for the patient, give him the information. Right. She looked through the mess on her desk, found the note, and handed it to him. Clutching the laptop that had Laurette Meranvil's information on it tightly to her chest and feeling fortified, she stood. "Let me show you the patient."