“That’s all I need for now, dear,” the old woman answered, opening the carton and taking a sip. “You’re always such a sweet girl to an old woman like me. Thank you.”
Zoey smiled kindly before leaving the room, wiping a hand across her forehead. She straightened the front of her uniform before moving on to the next room.
She liked her job as a nurse’s aide, but it was a tiring job. She had ten to fifteen patients each day that she had to watch over. Most of these patients were either old or recovering from injuries, so they needed help with normal daily tasks like eating and using the restroom. It was a good job for a young woman like herself. She was only twenty-one years old and the patients loved her fun-loving personality as she helped them.
Zoey whirled around at the sound of her name, her long brown ponytail whipping against her back as she did so.
“Yes, Mary?” she answered, walking up to the little nurse’s station where the Registered Nurse, Mary, sat looking over her clipboard.
“Did you get Mr. Gonzales’ vitals yet?” she asked in a stern, but not unkind voice. She looked at Zoey from over her glasses.
“Yes, ma’am,” Zoey said, fishing her notebook out of her pocket. She flipped it open. “His heart rate was normal, but his blood pressure was a bit high. One forty eight over seventy four.”
“Thank you, Zoey, I’ll get him his medication then.”
Zoey nodded and smiled before turning toward a low beeping sound that rang from down the hall. Zoey tried to hold in a sigh as she made her way toward the last door in the hall. The room belonged to one of her more difficult patients, an older man named Mr. Jenkins. He was usually alright to deal with but once in a while, he found something to complain about.
“Yes, Mr. Jenkins?” Zoey said, entering the dimly lit room.
Stern-faced Mr. Jenkins was sitting upright in his bed, a deep frown on his wrinkled face. “Where’s the doctor?”
Zoey tried to keep her face polite as she answered. “Dr. Anderson should be in soon. May I deliver a message to him for you when he arrives?”
“No,” Jenkins spat. “I want him here so I can speak with him.”
Zoey inhaled deeply through her nose. “Isn’t there anything I can do for you?” she asked sweetly. She didn’t want to trouble Dr. Anderson if it was something she could take care of. She would be mortified if one of her patients complained of a short supply of cereal bars or something to the doctor.
“There’s nothing a naive little nurse assistant could do,” Jenkins snapped, turning his head away from her childishly. “It’s about my medicine, which you would know nothing about.”
“Sorry, Mr. Jenkins,” Zoey apologized. “I’ll be sure to tell the doctor—”
“What about your medicine, Mr. Jenkins?” a deep and smooth voice asked.
Zoey flushed as Dr. Evan Anderson entered the room, looking large and handsome as he stood in front of the cruel man on the bed. He looked like a Greek sculpture with his light brown hair and angelic face.
“Took you long enough,” Jenkins muttered. Then louder, “I wanted to know what my medicine was for. No one around here tells me anything.”
Zoey wanted to argue, having heard the nurses explain his medication to him several times in the past few days, but Dr. Anderson patted her on the shoulder, as if sensing her displeasure.
Dr. Anderson lifted his clipboard up before flipping through the pages. “It says here that you’re taking medication for your high blood pressure, sir,” he said in a velvety voice. He smiled kindly at the man. “Does that sound familiar to you?”
Zoey balked as the sour man’s countenance completely changed and he almost smiled back. “That does ring a bell now that you mention it, Doctor. Thank you.”
“Is there anything else I can do for you then, sir?” he asked. Zoey couldn’t help but notice how Jenkins visibly relaxed, as if the doctor were singing him a lullaby.
“No, sir. Thank you.”
“Good. You take care then and don’t hesitate to call if you need anything else.” He nodded at Jenkins before turning to Zoey. “Zoey, could you please step out with me. I’d like a word with you.”
Zoey nodded, trying to get the heat in her face to lessen. She turned to Jenkins. “Please let me know if you need anything else, sir,” she said.
Jenkins hmphed at her, his kind demeanor fading just like that when the doctor’s back was turned. Zoey hardly noticed this time as she followed Dr. Anderson out of the room.
Zoey kept her eyes on the ground as she followed the tall man down the hall. He stopped when they were several feet away from any patient doors.
“Next time Mr. Jenkins is like that, don’t hesitate to have one of the nurses or me
speak to him,” he said when they stopped. “He’ll keep harassing you nurse’s aides until he feels he gets the attention he deserves from one of the higher ups.” He chuckled lightly.
“Thank you,” Zoey said, trying not to visibly react to his laugh.
“No problem,” he said. He raised an eyebrow. “I feel like you’ve been putting in quite a few extra hours these past few months. Most CNAs your age work part time since they’re in school at the same time. I hope your grades aren’t suffering too much from your time working here.”
“No, sir!” she said immediately. Both his eyebrows rose at her quick answer, so she flushed and looked down. “I mean, no, they aren’t, but, um. That’s because I’m actually not in school at the moment.”
“Taking some time off?” he asked lightly, but something in his tone didn’t sound very light.
She fiddled with the little notebook in her hand. “Sort of,” she said slowly. The words began to spill out before she could stop them. “I do want to be a nurse someday but I’m really just trying to pay rent so I haven’t found the time to go back.”
He nodded. “Don’t give up on that dream,” he said. The tone he used made it sound like an order. “You seem like a smart girl and I think you’d make an excellent nurse. I’ve seen you with the patients around here. You’re sharp and a quick learner.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said, surprised by his words. She shook her head then, feeling guilty and suddenly feeling like she had to be honest with him. “I just don’t know if that will be possible anytime soon. Cost of living is pretty high nowadays.”
Zoey winced at her confession. It looked like Dr. Anderson wanted to press further but thought better of it and instead said, “I understand that perfectly,” he assured her. “However, you are still pretty young, so you definitely have time to go back to school. Just don’t rule it out completely, alright?”
Why does he care so much? Zoey wondered.
“I care about all my employees, Zoey.”
Zoey flushed, realizing she had asked the question out loud. She peeked up at the doctor and wanted to cry at the hard look on his face. He almost looked hurt.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she murmured, wishing she could crawl into a hole and die. She looked up in surprise when he set a firm hand on her shoulder.
“No harm done,” he assured her. “I should be the one to apologize, though. I’m looking out for you because I do care about my employees, but I can also tell that you are a kind person and a hard worker. Don’t waste either of those traits.”
Zoey squeezed her eyes shut at the praise. “That’s kind of you to say but—”
“But if you ever question my motives like that again…” he began sternly. He leaned toward her to whisper in her ear. “There will be severe consequences.”
Zoey’s eyes widened until the doctor chuckled.
“I’m just kidding,” he said with his signature pretty boy grin.
His eyes were a shade darker, however, so Zoey had to question whether or not he meant it.
Zoey’s hand tightened on the strap of her purse as she walked up the steps to the apartment she shared with her boyfriend, Sam. She couldn’t stop thinking about Dr. Anderson. Who did he think he was, anyway? Lecturing her like she was a child. But he was being so considerate. He wanted her to follow her dreams.
She tried to make his deep blue eyes disappear from her mind as she opened the door to her apartment.
“Hi,” she greeted softly as she entered the living room. Her nose wrinkled at the strong smell of alcohol. She swallowed thickly as she took in the sight of her boyfriend of two years on the couch.
Just a year ago, Sam Carmichael seemed to glow with promise. He had neat sandy brown hair and bright blue eyes. Now, his hair was messy and long and his blue eyes were dull. He looked up from his spot on the couch, dressed in black jeans and a white t-shirt. His eyes were narrowed.
“What took you so long?” he demanded.
Zoey looked down at her shoes. “Nothing,” she muttered, moving across the room and setting her bag and keys down on a nearby end table. She paused, debating whether to say something else, but Sam wasn’t looking at her and looked annoyed, so she just turned and wandered into the kitchen to make dinner.
About an hour later, they were eating cheesesteak sandwiches. Sam announced he was eating in front of the tv to watch the game, so Zoey sat alone at their little dining table in the kitchen. She sighed and ate slowly, exhausted from work and depressed at her boyfriend’s coldness.
They had been happy during their first year together and decided to move in together after their first anniversary. That had been a mistake. They just couldn’t handle the stress of having bills and fending for themselves, having both been living with their parents before moving in with each other. They both had to work full-time, her as a nurse’s aide and him as a landscaper. After a few months of that, they just drifted apart and he became more and more angry and mean.
Part of her wondered why he didn’t just break up with her. He didn’t seem to love her anymore. They hadn’t had sex in weeks and they barely spent any time together. They basically felt like roommates. She had debated breaking up with him several times before, but couldn’t bring herself to, wanting to try and make their relationship work.
Feeling like she was almost in a trance, Zoey stood and walked into the living room. She stood in the doorway and watched Sam for a minute before clearing her throat to get his attention. He froze mid-bite but didn’t turn, and then continued to eat, ignoring her.
Zoey swallowed before voicing a question she had been wanting to ask for the last year. “Do you love me?”
This time when Sam froze, he turned slowly to stare at her, his expression twisted into a sneer. “Why would you ask such a stupid question?” he spat. He dropped his half-eaten sandwich onto his plate.
“Just answer it,” Zoey murmured softly. “Please.”
Instead of relenting, Sam stood up to his full six-foot height and made his way over to her, pinning her with a narrow-eyed look. “Do you love me?” he demanded.
Zoey gulped and looked up at him from beneath her eyelashes. She was sure Sam would never harm her, but he still looked intimidating. When he wasn’t working or lazing around the house, he was at their local gym. His muscles flexed beneath his thin shirt.
Almost on their own, her small shoulders lifted slowly in a shrug.
“What?” Sam roared, slamming his hand against the wall beside her head, making Zoey yelp and jump.
“I-I don’t know!” she squeaked.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” he yelled, slamming his hand against the wall twice more.
Tears filled Zoey’s eyes. She was afraid. Sam was usually quiet. He rarely yelled, even as hostile as he had been lately.
“I-I don’t know,” she repeated, quietly this time. She rushed to get the words out, knowing the same answer would only anger him further. “I just — we haven’t been hanging out very much. We-we don’t make love or anything. You don’t kiss me… or hug me. You can barely even look at me!” She gasped in mortification at the end when she felt tears streaming down her face. She rubbed them away roughly.
Sam was staring at her with his blue eyes pinched into slits. They looked like icicles. His breathing was labored, his fingers curled into fists that were shaking at his sides. His nostrils flared. They just stared at each other for several moments, Sam’s eyes thin and cold, Zoey’s wide and pleading. Finally, Sam pulled his lips back to reveal his teeth and said, “Get out.”
Zoey froze. “What?”
“Get out,” Sam repeated, more forcefully this time.
Zoey’s eyes widened briefly before narrowing as well. Her voice didn’t even shake as she responded. “I was just about to leave.” She pretended not to notice Sam’s shocked expression as she pushed past him into the bedroom they shared. She immediately threw the closet door open and began to throw things into a large duffle bag.
Sam stomped around behind her as she dashed between each room in the house, grabbing her most important possessions. Keys, wallet, important documents, photo album, her grandmother’s china, laptop. She was amazed that it all fit in her overstuffed duffle. She was thankful that she didn’t own many clothes — just a week’s worth of work clothes and a few street clothes.
She tried to ignore Sam, even though he was yelling at her, telling her what a terrible girlfriend she had been, ranting about her ugliness and annoying habits. Several times, she wanted to throw some harsh words at him but refrained She just continued to throw stuff in her bag.
When she was finally done and was dragging her bag toward the door, she stopped and looked back at Sam.
“You’ll be fine paying rent alone?” she demanded.
He shrugged. “I make way more than you do,” he said before a smirk spread across his face. “I could always have Jake move in.”
Zoey grimaced. She didn’t like Sam’s best friend, Jake, who worked with him as a landscaper. Jake was lazy and never treated her well. Sam knew it and brought him over often anyway.
“Bye, Sam,” she said curtly, turning to leave.
She did, turning and trying to hide her surprise at the look on his face. His lips were pressed together, and his eyes were actually a little sad. For a second, he looked like the eighteen-year-old she had fallen in love with. The look was gone and replaced with anger just as quickly.
“Don’t—” he began, but immediately cut off and shook his head. “Don’t be stupid out there. Stupid girl like you could never take care of herself.”
A strange mixture of anger and gratitude swirled within Zoey. He was always doing that, calling her stupid and pointing out her mistakes but in a way, it showed that he cared about her at least a little.
She fixed a passive look on her face before saying, “Take care of yourself.” And then she was out the door, shutting it firmly behind her.
Zoey stood in front of the door for a couple minutes, the cool autumn air biting against her arms. She shivered, the reality of what had just happened slamming against her like a wall of bricks. One sob escaped her lips and she choked the rest down before dragging her large bag down the steps and to her car.
Dr. Evan Anderson inhaled deeply as he pushed open the glass doors of his practice and stepped out into the cool evening air. The day had been trying, but thankfully it was Friday and he had the weekend to recover.
He was opening the door of his Mercedes when he caught something red out of the corner of his eye. It was Zoey Lu’s old beat-up car. He had seen her walking to and from the car on several occasions, concerned that the thing was on its last legs. He raised an eyebrow as he wandered over to it. It had been parked on the far side of the rehab lot, as if it were being hidden. He looked surprised as he approached and saw familiar long brown hair in the driver’s seat. He quickened his pace.
Zoey had her hands on the steering wheel and was leaning her head against them, her shoulders rising and falling. He slowed his steps slightly. Was she crying?
He stood by the driver side window for a couple moments, hoping she would see him instead of him having to rap his knuckles against the window. Eventually he did just that, immediately regretting it when Zoey jumped up, nearly hitting her head on the ceiling. She stared at him with wide, red-rimmed eyes.
The doctor tried not to show his concern and instead, smiled and waved. Zoey waved back, scrubbing her hand against her face before rolling down her window by hand.
“Dr. Anderson!” she gasped, her voice thick. She cleared it with a blush. “Hi. I was just on my way home…” She averted her gaze then, making him frown.
“Hello, Zoey,” he said, tilting his head to the side to get a better look at her flushed face. “Have you been sitting here since your shift ended three hours ago? Is something wrong? You look a bit ill.” He knew she wasn’t, of course, but didn’t want to force an answer from her.
“No! I’m not ill,’ she exclaimed quickly. She shook her head as if to clear it, long brown hair whipping about. “I’m sorry. I’ll get out of here right away.” She moved to put her seatbelt on, her hands shaking as she did the buckle.
“You didn’t answer my question,” he protested. He put a hand on the car, as if she might drive off at any second. “Have you been sitting here in your car for the last three hours?”
Zoey stared at him with wide eyes. She opened and shut her mouth a few times, hesitating, her breathing labored. Finally, she shook her head. She looked up at him when the silence stretched on and immediately averted her gaze at the hardened look on his face. It was too similar to the one he had given her when she had questioned his motives just hours earlier.
Dr. Anderson took a deep breath. “I really don’t appreciate being lied to, Zoey,” he told her, sounding like a stern father. He bent down so he was level with her eyes. He waited for her to peek at him before continuing. “It seems like you’re going through a tough time right now, though, so I’m not too upset. Won’t you tell me what’s wrong? I only want to help if I can.”
He watched as Zoey pressed her lips together tightly, looking like she wanted to spill the contents of her entire soul out onto him but was holding back. When she finally spoke, her voice was so soft he had to lean in closer to understand her. “My boyfriend and I broke up.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said sincerely. “Do you want to talk about it?”
She didn’t really want to, but she found herself doing just that. She even started at the beginning, describing how her relationship with Sam had been great when they started dating right out of high school. She described moving across the country with him so he could work as a landscaper with one of his childhood friends. Then how they worked so much and just drifted and how Sam became more cruel and distant as time went on. She ended by telling him about the fight just an hour before and how she packed her stuff and left.
Dr. Anderson listened attentively, nodding at the appropriate times. His expression was unreadable, not that Zoey had been paying much attention. She was too emotional from telling the story. She had begun to cry about halfway through and the doctor put a comforting hand on her shoulder and rubbed it gently. He badly wanted to wrap his arms around her and hold her against him while she cried, but settled for the gentle rubs.
After a couple moments, she sniffled, rubbing at her eyes before giving him a tentative smile. “Th-thank you for listening,” she croaked out. “You must think I’m such a baby.”
“Not at all,” he assured her, moving his hand up to brush a stray strand of hair from her forehead. He pulled his hand away quickly, surprised by his actions. “So, what are you going to do now? Your family lives across the country. Do you have anywhere to stay?”
Zoey blushed. “I was thinking of finding a cheap hotel somewhere and then driving to my parents’ house tomorrow. I don’t have any friends here, so that’s kind of my only option.” Her eyes widened as she realized what she said. “I was going to let you know. I wasn’t just going to disappear without letting you guys know! That’s partially why I’m here.”
“I don’t know if driving there is a good idea,” Dr. Anderson said disapprovingly. He eyed her car warily. “I’m not sure your car could make it out of the state, let alone across the whole country.”
Her lips tightened once more at his words. “I’ll figure something out,” she said, though she didn’t sound very confident.
Dr. Anderson pursed his lips. The words came out as he thought of them. “I have two extra rooms in my house,” he started, watching her eyes widen exponentially as he spoke. “You’re welcome to come stay with me until you figure something safe out.”
Zoey’s entire face turned red. “I-I couldn’t do that!” she sputtered out in a panic. She shook her head again and restarted. “I mean, thank you so much. That’s really, really kind of you but I couldn’t intrude. I don’t know you very well and I have some money saved up. I’ll be okay.”
Dr. Anderson was already shaking his head before she was done. “It’s no trouble at all,” he told her. He chuckled then. “You’d be doing me a favor really. Those rooms are just going to waste, and I never have people over. It would be nice to have a guest, even for a short while. I’m sure I won’t even know you’re there.” The last part was a complete lie. He would be very much aware of Ms. Zoey’s presence, but he tried not to convey that.
Zoey’s mind was spinning as she tried to comprehend what was happening. She couldn’t believe her boss and crush was inviting her to stay at his house. She wanted to but had to remind herself that she didn’t really know him that well. Part of her thought, so what? He was a doctor and she knew firsthand from working with him that he was responsible and respectful.
“Just for a night,” she told him finally. “Thank you. I won’t be a burden for longer than that, though. I promise to be out of your hair by tomorrow.”
“You’ll stay as long as you need to,” Dr. Anderson argued. His tone was firm.
“Which will be one night,” Zoey said again.
Dr. Anderson nodded. “If that’s all you need, then of course I won’t stop you from leaving.”
She nodded then looked up at him with wide eyes. “Thank you so much, Dr. Anderson.” Her voice was so sweet and genuine that his heart melted in his chest.
“You’re very welcome,” he said, and he meant it.