Joel looked at himself in the only full-length mirror in his apartment, smoothing out the creases on his pants legs. He rarely wore a suit jacket and he didn’t like the way it looked while he was sitting in his chair. But this was a formal occasion that called for formal dress.
Kyra was still brushing her teeth and she came into the bedroom in her bathrobe, her toothbrush still in her mouth. She looked him up and down. “God, you look great,” she commented.
He made a face. “Great enough to save my job?”
“Stop worrying. They won’t fire you.” Kyra went back into the bathroom to spit out the foam that had accumulated in her mouth. He was impressed by her calm attitude about the status of her own job. He knew her own career was in jeopardy, yet he had never seen Kyra look so happy and relaxed. Maybe a nice long break was just what she needed.
In his own reflection, Joel could plainly see the worry in his eyes. When Doug Howard had asked him to appear before the hospital discipline committee, there was little doubt in his mind that he was in serious trouble. Funny how one indiscretion could destroy an entire career.
Kyra emerged from the bathroom again, this time free of her tooth brush. She bent down in front of him and undid the knot on his tie without asking. All of Joel’s ties were pre-tied, but he knew the knots became loose after a period of time. He held still as Kyra’s skilled hands pulled the tie into a perfect knot. “There,” she said. “Now you look devastatingly handsome.”
A few weeks ago, Joel might have felt threatened by needing someone else to help him with his ties, but all he felt now was a rush of affection. As he watched Kyra getting dressed, he could see a woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He remembered how six years ago, he had been contemplating popping the question. They had only been together again for two weeks, yet thoughts of marriage were invading his mind once again. We’re meant to be together, he realized.
Maybe I should just go ahead and ask her already…
Instead, he leaned forward and kissed her lips gently. “Thank you,” he said.
Sex was still something of a challenge for them. As Joel had suspected, he was having a lot of trouble staying hard enough long enough for them to have intercourse. He had made an appointment with his doctor with the intention of trying out some medications, but Kyra assured him there was no rush. After all, he still had his mouth and she promised him that she was quite satisfied. Unless she was faking those screams, he tended to believe her.
But their relationship was much more than just sex. He had forgotten how nice it was just to wake up next to her in the morning, her warm body pressed against him as she sleepily tried to keep him from escaping from bed. They were different people than they had been six years ago, but their feelings for each other hadn’t changed at all.
I won’t let her get away this time.
I’m not going to fuck this up.
He hadn’t even realized that he was staring at her until she interrupted his thoughts. “What?” she said.
He blinked and shifted his weight in his chair. Too soon, he reminded himself. “Nothing. I, uh… I better get going.”
Ann wore her best suit to the hearing before the hospital discipline committee, one that had previously been reserved only for interviews. She pulled her hair back into a tight, professional-looking bun behind her head, then examined herself in the bathroom mirror. She thought she looked good, but she knew it likely wouldn’t be enough to keep her in medical school.
Ann’s roommate Lori was pulling on her white coat hastily as Ann entered the hallway. Ann felt a flash of jealousy that quickly turned into anger. A few days earlier, Lori had confessed that she had been the one who had told Dr. Howard about the affair. I swear I wasn’t trying to hurt you, Ann, Lori had said, I thought it would help you… and Dr. Dergan would get what he deserves. Somehow it hadn’t worked out that way though.
Lori’s face flushed crimson when she laid eyes on Ann. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Do… do you want me to come with you?”
Ann shook her head no. She didn’t trust herself to speak because she thought she’d either scream at Lori or break down crying. She pulled on a simple black suitjacket and left the apartment without saying another word.
The discipline committee meeting was held in a board room on the top floor of the hospital. There were three committee members seated at a long mahogany table in the center of the room. Dr. Howard was present as well and there was no mistaking the animosity in his gaze when he looked at Ann. Dr. Howard clearly held Joel in very high esteem and seemed to think that she was some sort of vixen who was out to destroy him.
Joel had already arrived. He looked devastatingly handsome in his gray suit, and for a moment, Ann wondered if it hadn’t all been worth it. He didn’t look at Ann at all, instead choosing to stare directly ahead at the wall. She could see by the way he shifted in his chair how nervous he was, although she was the one who deserved to be nervous.
“Now that Miss Lowell has arrived, let’s get the meeting started,” Dr. Howard said.
Ann quietly slid into a seat next to Joel. She crossed her legs under the table and gripped the armrests of the chair until her knuckles turned white.
“Let’s quickly review the facts, as we know them,” Howard began. “Miss Lowell was a medical student working on the team of Dr. Dergan, one of our finest physicians. During the course of their time working together, they had inappropriate relations, which we have reason to believe influenced Dr. Dergan’s evaluation in her clerkship.” His eyes bore into her. “My belief is that it was Miss Lowell’s intention to influence Dr. Dergan when she began the affair.”
“Is this true, Miss Lowell?” one of the committee members asked her.
“No!” she cried. “It’s not true at all! I really liked Dr. Dergan and it just… happened.”
Howard flashed the committee members a look, as if to say, Do you really believe that?
A second committee member turned his attention to Joel. “What do you have to say to these charges, Dr. Dergan?”
Joel’s reply was calm and terse: “I admit that Miss Lowell and I exhibited inappropriate behavior, but it in no way influenced the evaluation I gave her.”
“Dr. Dergan’s services at this hospital have been invaluable,” Dr. Howard spoke up. “He is extremely well respected and a phenomenal physician.”
“We’ve heard similar praise of Dr. Dergan,” another committee member spoke up.
“My recommendation is for Miss Lowell to be expelled,” Howard said. “She clearly manipulated Dr. Dergan’s… disability as a way to improve her grade in the clerkship. I think that an example needs to be made.”
Ann could see the committee members nodding their heads in agreement. Her stomach sank. This was it… four years of pre-med, the MCATs, then two years of medical school, all to have it end right here in this room. Her dream of becoming a surgeon was officially over. She felt tears rising in her eyes, but she pushed them back as she had taught herself to do. She would cry later, alone.
“I can’t allow you to do that,” Joel spoke up.
Ann looked up sharply at him.
“If you need to make an example of somebody,” he said, “make an example of me. I resign.”
Dr. Howard looked as if he was going to choke. “Joel, you don’t have to—”
Even Ann felt a protest rising to her lips: “Dr. Dergan, don’t do this for me…”
But there was resolve in Joel’s eyes. “My mind is made up,” he said. He looked over at Dr. Howard, “I’ll have a letter of resignation ready for you by this afternoon.”
Ann was stunned. She had expected that she might be expelled, but she had never expected this. She felt overwhelmed with guilt—she never wanted to destroy Joel’s career. “I don’t want you to leave, Dr. Dergan,” Ann pleaded. “I… I couldn’t live with myself...”
“Listen to the girl,” Dr. Howard said through his teeth. “What the hell are you doing, Joel?”
“I’m not happy here,” Joel said. He was facing the committee members when he spoke, but he seemed to be speaking to himself as much as anyone. “I don’t enjoy my job. I worked too hard to become a doctor to let myself end up like this.”
“So what are you going to do?” Dr. Howard snapped. “Go on welfare?”
Joel shot the older physician a dirty look. “Are those my only options? Staying here or going on welfare?” He folded his arms across his chest. “What is it, Doug? You think no one else would hire me because I’m a quadriplegic?”
Dr. Howard’s face turned very red, “That’s not what I’m saying at all, Joel. I just…”
“No, that’s exactly what you’re saying,” Joel shrugged. “I don’t blame you… I’ve thought the same thing myself. I thought it this morning when I was terrified that I was going to lose my job over this mess. A job I don’t even want.”
Joel faced the committee again. “Please,” he said, “I want you to give this girl another chance. She’s one of the brightest and most dedicated students I’ve ever had. She’s going to be a great doctor someday.”
One of the committee members nodded. “We’ll certainly take your opinion into consideration, Dr. Dergan. And we’ll expect your resignation by the end of the day.”
To be continued...