I stared at the pool of water flooding my bathroom and cursed aloud. The shit was getting real...
Taking a phone out of my ankle-drenched pants, I called my secretary, who just happened to be my right hand, and asked her to send someone to my apartment and fix the damn pump. Dealing with my pissed-to-the-bone neighbors from downstairs was the last thing I needed right now.
I picked up a razor swimming by my feet and put it next to the washstand. I was running late for work, but I couldn’t let my apartment suffer the same misfortune as the Titanic.
The stream of water running from the broken pump just had to intensify. “Fucking great…”
I took one of the towels and tried to tuck it into a hole that looked like it was getting bigger with every passing second. The truth was I had no idea how to fix pumps, and even being a plastic surgeon and seeing blood and flesh on a daily basis, I freaked out every time something in my apartment broke. Not because I couldn't organize a fart in a baked bean factory, rather because I didn’t have time to fix it. My new job in Washington, D.C. took most of my time.
At times, I felt like sending it all to hell and going back to Pittsburgh, where everything about my existence felt so much easier. Then I remembered about my dream to have a private plastic surgery clinic, put on glasses and gloves and smiled at the patient lying on the operating table, waiting for a surgical miracle to happen.
Just a few more days, I thought to myself. I needed to wait just a few more days to make my big dream come true.
About two years ago, an old friend of mine invited me to join in the team of surgeons in a hospital in Washington. I jumped at the opportunity, packed my bags, and left the city that had been my home for twenty-eight years.
To be honest, I still had trouble getting used to my new life. And the apartment I lived in wasn’t helping. Maybe it was just a stupid coincidence, but the place and misfortune were no doubt besties. The apartment was spacious and situated just a few blocks away from work, but luck clearly hated the place, and so did I. Every once in a while, another shit happened.
First, it was something small, like a hole burned in my shirt, ten minutes before leaving for work. I immediately remembered my sister’s words who once said that my wardrobe wouldn’t survive moving to Washington and away from Mom who always took care of everything and never once said that I was a big boy now and should have learnt how to use an iron. Instead, I made sure I had enough shirts for another lifetime or so.
Then it was an electric kettle breaking early in the morning and leaving me with no much-needed coffee. Needless to say, I forgot about the broken kettle right after I left the apartment, and the next ten mornings the story repeated. No amount of cursing would help me fix the damn thing. Finally, Emery - my secretary, realized that something was wrong with me. I barked in response to everything she was saying and never once cared to apologize. She bought two new kettles for me, because I couldn’t hold a scalpel in my hand and get shit done half asleep, or worse – pissed, or which was the worst of the worst – both half asleep and pissed.
Then, a few months later, when having a date with a sexy as hell brunette, my bed broke with a loud cracking sound just when I was about to come and, I swear, my tool had never experienced more shock. I was sure it would never work again, but thank God, my fears were not confirmed. I bought a new king-size bed and swore off bringing dates home.
But the real ‘fun’ started when my neighbors from downstairs decided to remodel their apartment. By day five I felt like jumping from the mere sound of a drill connecting with the wall. Earplugs didn’t help a damn thing. On the contrary – I didn’t hear my alarm clock going off and was like two hours late for work. That’s why I gave up fighting the noise and for another two weeks or so I woke up with the feeling that someone was trying to break into my apartment, because the fucking noise from downstairs was a real pain in the ass.
A new day didn’t promise any trouble, but knowing how much of a bitch my fate could be, anything was possible. And considering the amount of water on my bathroom floor, today was not my lucky day.
A loud knocking on the door interrupted my thoughts, and I rushed into the hallway, hoping to see a plumber standing behind the door. Then again, I remembered about my fate being a bitch…
“Mrs. Quin, what a pleasant surprise! What can I do for you?” I smiled as fucking politely as possible. But judging by my neighbor’s face, she didn’t give a shit about my good manners.
“Make sure you send me a check for my ruined bedroom walls.”
Apparently, the water leakage did a lot more harm than I expected.
“Do you even know how much time it took me to redecorate the room?”
I snorted. “Oh, trust me, I can give you the exact number of hours you spent redecorating it. I counted every second of them.” I thought there was no point in trying to keep this conversation on a safe side anymore.
Her face turned red.
“I’ll send you a bill, Mr. Burke. Have a nice day.”
“You too, Mrs. Quin.” For a second, I thought to leave all the taps in the apartment open and let the water avenge the noisy hell I’d been living in for the past couple of weeks, but then my common sense stopped me. After all, I didn’t have another place to move to, not right now anyway, so I’d better pay the damn bill.
I shut the door behind my angry neighbor and signed. Too bad nice days felt like unwelcome guests at my life party.
I had to wait for almost thirty more minutes before the plumber showed up and fixed the pump. I paid him for his work and asked for his phone number, just in case I have another water leakage in the place. Then I got dressed in a pair of jeans and a shirt and went to my about to be opened clinic.
The place was almost ready to see its first patient. Just a few more things needed to be done before next Monday’s grand opening party.
“Stanley, you really need to call your sister,” Emery said, bringing me a cup of steaming coffee. The woman was a real gift from heaven. If she didn’t have a husband and three kids, I swear, I would marry her.
“I will. As soon as I’m done with my coffee.” I smiled and took the cup from the tray.
“You seem to be enjoying a short break before the big day.”
“I would have enjoyed it if bad luck gave me a break.”
“Speaking of bad luck… Mike’s parents are coming to visit us this weekend, so I will most likely need to stay at home to play a perfect wife game, God help me. Do you think you can handle finishing the last preparations before the opening day without me?”
“Sure,” I said as enthusiastically as possible.
“Right…” She gave me a doubtful look. “Anyway, I’ll keep in touch, so if anything urgent happens, call me, okay?”
I nodded in response. Emery and I both knew that without her, I was like a lost dog, sitting on the sidewalk and watching people passing by with my eyes full of unhidden misery. When in a surgery, I was a pro, but when it came to finding a pen in my own office, I was as hopeless as my attempts to learn how to use an iron.
Emery – on the contrary – knew everything about everything. Even the color of the flowers I sent my last date. Well, technically, she sent them, and I didn’t even bother to ask if those were roses or something else. Not that I didn’t care about the girl I truly enjoyed spending time with, but the patient on the operating table was going to bleed to death if I answered her call. That’s why I asked Emery to send her flowers and a note with my apologies for ignoring her.
She waited patiently for me to finish my coffee, took the tray with the empty cup away and said, “Now, take a phone and call Crystal. She said if you don’t call her back within an hour, she will never call you her brother again.”
I smiled. It was so much like her.
I loved my little sister. I knew she would never waste her breath on blind threats and if she wanted to talk to me, I’d better find a moment to comply with her wish. No flowers would ever save my ass if I dared to ignore her.
For almost a year, she’d been happily married to one of my best friends, Liam. And I, in turn, couldn’t be happier for her. She deserved to be happy, and considering Liam was the only man she ever wanted and needed in her life, I didn’t have a choice but to accept him as my brother-in-law.
I dialed Crystal’s number and waited for her to pick up the phone.
“What’s up, man?” Liam said into the handset.
I looked at my phone, checking if the number I dialed was correct. “Where’s Crystal?” I asked worriedly. “Is she all right?” It didn’t matter how old she was, I never stopped worrying about her. Even the fact that she was a married woman now didn’t change how I felt about protecting her.
Liam chuckled. “Better than ever. Actually… We have some news for you.”
I heard Crystal saying something in the background.
“Good news I hope?”
“Wait, I’m switching to a speakerphone,” Liam replied.
“We are having a baby!” My sister shouted.
“A baby, big brother, A BABY! An adorable little creature who, in most cases, makes a woman want to call you right after the labor is over, because she’s sure she would never be able to wear a bikini again without surgical help.”
I knew how much she loved kids and how obsessed she was with the idea of having her own little troublemakers.
“You knocked her up?” I asked, knowing that Liam could still hear me.
He laughed. “Crystal and I are married, remember? Isn’t it enough to get your permission to have a baby?”
“God, I think I need more time to get used to the idea of my little sister being married to someone I know so well.”
He laughed even harder. “I thought you were happy for us.”
“I am happy, guys. I’m just kidding.” No matter how much I knew about Liam’s past and his numerous love adventures, I knew he loved my sister too much to betray her trust.
“So I thought.”
“Do you know if it’s a girl or a boy?”
“Not yet,” Crystal said. “I’m having my first ultrasound in a couple of weeks. Hope they tell me it’s a girl.”
“Hope they tell you it’s a boy,” Liam corrected. “I have no idea how to bring up girls.”
It was my turn to laugh. “Hope you get what you really deserve, man.”
“Hey, aren’t you supposed to play for my team?” He said, offended.
“Nope. In this particular case, I’m team Crystal.”
“Better tell me, are you guys coming to my clinic opening party? Oh, wait, is Crystal allowed to travel by plane?”
She spoke again, “I’m feeling great, and I would never miss watching your big dream come true. So, yes, we will be there on Monday. Elizabeth, Kameron and Jeff are coming too.”
“Good. I’ve missed you all like hell.”
It was Liam’s turn to laugh at me. “Just don’t tell me Washington is lacking pretty female patients dying to spend extra time with the famous Dr. Stanley Burke.”
“No, but I’m missing my pack.”
“We miss you too, big brother,” Crystal said. “But on Monday night, we will rock your pitiful life, I promise you that.”
Smiling, I said, “Can’t wait.”
We talked for a few more minutes, and then Emery said I needed to sign for another delivery, so I ended the call and got back to my duties.
Plastic Surgery Clinic of Stanley Burke had been my dream for as long as I could remember. I studied like crazy and worked my ass off to make it come true. And now, walking down the hall that led to my newly equipped surgery room, I couldn’t but admit that it was worth it.
Medicine was my life. I always knew who I wanted to be when growing up, and I never regretted my choice. It wasn’t just about making women’s tits bigger. It was more like creating a new piece of art. Each and every one of my patients mattered. I respected their decisions to change certain parts of their bodies, but never once did I agree to perform an operation just because someone didn’t like the shape of their ears. I studied every case precisely, thinking about every small detail of the future operation and its result. I didn’t just want my patients to be happy with it, I wanted it to be perfect in every meaning of the word, look both good and as natural as possible.
The rest of the day was busy, but not eventful. Emery and I went through my schedule for the next week; there were a few operations that needed to be well planned. Then I met with the staff of my clinic and told them more about the opening day. There were about twenty people working for me now and I felt like a kindergartener, responsible for everything they were going to do while in the clinic. Some of them I knew from the hospital I worked in before opening my own clinic, others were complete strangers, but with good recommendations. I hoped we would make a perfect team.
I was about to go home and order something delicious from my favorite Italian restaurant, when Emery showed up in my office.
“Do you have any plans for tonight?” She asked.
I shrugged. “Nothing interesting. Why?”
“I thought maybe I would give your stomach a break from ordered food and spoil you with something home-made. What do you say?”
“Uh, you know me so well. Do you really believe I can say ‘no’ to such a tempting invitation?”
She smiled. “I’ll call Mike and tell him to put one more plate on the table. The kids will be happy to see you.”
“Are they still angry at me for playing Santa for Christmas?”
Emery laughed. “Maybe just a little.”
“I should have thought twice before accepting your invitation.” The amount of work wouldn’t let me take even a few days off to visit my family in Pittsburgh, so I had to stay in Washington. Emery said there was no way I would spend Christmas Eve alone, so I ended up playing Santa at her place. At times, I felt like I was her fourth child who couldn’t find a sock without her help. She was just a few years older than me, and technically couldn’t be my mom, but I appreciated her concern. Especially when it came to my food allowance.
“Don’t be ridiculous. You did a great job,” she said.
“Yeah, until Jesse pulled my fake beard and Paul and Kelly started crying, because my whole Santa thing was as fake as my beard.”
“Hope next time, you will do better.”
“Next time? God forbid. I swore off role games, remember?”
“No role games tonight, I promise.”
“Okay, then. I’m in.”
“Only one warning… My sister is staying with us for the weekend. And she’s… Well, never mind. I’m sure you two will get along well together.”
I didn’t know much about Emery’s sister. For some inexplicable reason, she didn’t like talking about her. Either because their relationship left much to be desired, or because there was something she wouldn’t tell me about her. The only thing that I knew about Ivy Ryan is that she loved drawing.
Emery and I arrived at her place around seven in the evening. She lived in a cottage in Petworth that reminded me of the neighborhood where my parents and I used to live before they moved to the lake house not far away from Pittsburgh, and I – to Washington. Crystal hated the idea of living alone in a big house, but Liam’s presence significantly improved her mood. Now both of them lived there.
“Hey, Doc,” Jesse – Emery’s eldest son said.
His mother gave him a disapproving look. “For you, he’s Mr. Burke.”
“Right, I forgot. Hey, Mr. Doc.”
I smiled and high-fived the kid. He was ten, but I swear, sometimes I felt like he could assist me during my operations, considering how many books he had read about different kinds of surgeries. His mother didn’t approve of his reading choices, thinking he was too young for medical books, but I told her to give him a break. When I was his age, I could spend hours sitting in a library, reading medical dictionaries and textbooks.
“Uncle Stan!” Kelly ran up to me and jumped into my open arms. Being a middle child, she thought no one ever paid any attention to what she was doing, because her parents were either too busy lecturing Jesse about his behavior – not that he ever listened to their lectures – or taking care of her little brother, Paul.
“Well, hello there, princess. How have you been doing?”
“I’ve made a lilac cake for you. Wanna see it?”
“Mmm, lilac cake? Sounds delicious.”
“I want a piece too,” Paul said. He was two and looked so much like his mother: with big blue eyes that contrasted with his dark-brown hair. Jesse and Kelly, on the contrary, took most of their features from their father. Their eyes were of a light shade of brown, combined with a bush of sandy hair.
“Give Stanley a break, kids,” Mike said, coming to greet me.
“It’s okay. I can handle them.”
Mike chuckled. “Never say it out loud. If they think you can handle them, they will do their best to prove you gave yourself too much credit.”
Kelly spoke again, “I promised to give him a piece of my lilac cake.”
“Oh, right.” I put her down; she took me by the hand and pulled me upstairs.
“Don’t eat too much lilac cake, Stan. Leave some space in your stomach for Emery’s lasagna,” Mike said. “I’d better go help her make it.”
And so, Kelly got my full attention. Jesse and Paul stayed in the living room to watch a cartoon.
The girl and I came to one of the bedrooms, and she told me to wait there while she ‘warms up’ the cake. I nodded and sat on a small couch near the window. She disappeared behind the door.
I looked around the room and saw a small suitcase standing near the bed. I thought for a moment…
Damn, it must have been Ivy’s room where Kelly told me to wait for her.
I stood up and was about to leave the room, hoping its owner wouldn’t get angry for my unexpected ‘break in’, when the door to the bathroom opened, and a girl in her mid-twenties walked into the bedroom. She walked to the mirror way too fast, and I didn’t get a chance to see her face. As if she didn’t notice my presence, she took a hairbrush and started combing her long blonde hair. Though I wasn’t sure about the color, her hair was still wet after the shower.
However, it was her body that I couldn’t take my eyes off…
She was wearing a set of black lingerie that left so little for my imagination. I felt like all the air had been knocked out of my lungs. Around five feet and three inches, she wasn’t of Victoria’s Secret Angels standards, but what I could see in front of me looked even better, with just enough curves in the right places to drive any sane man crazy. Drops of water glistened on her back and I suddenly wanted to come closer and swipe them with my palms and let them rest on her ivory skin a little longer than needed. All the inappropriate thoughts started to flood my mind, making me daydream of all the naughty things she and I could do in this very room.
All of a sudden, she asked, “How old are you Dr. Burke?” She had a creamy voice that reminded me of a feather touching your skin with its softness.
“Um… Thirty-one. Why?”
“Well, I’m sure a man your age has seen enough half-naked women not to stare at one of them as if it were the first time he saw nothing but lingerie to cover a woman’s body. And considering what you do for a living, lingerie rarely stands in your way to a good view.”
She was still with her back to me, and I didn’t see her face, but I knew that she was smiling at that moment. Too bad from where I was standing I couldn’t see her reflection in the mirror.
“How do you know my name?” I asked, still too stunned to think straight. My eyes took their time to run up her legs and then stopped at a perfectly shaped ass. I was not even a bit ashamed of staring at it so openly. After all, I was a plastic surgeon. I could always use my professional interest as an excuse.
“I didn’t need you to introduce yourself to know that it was you.” She put the hairbrush on a vanity table and reached for the robe hanging on a nearby chair. She put it on and I immediately regretted the change of the view. “Your cologne,” she said, still facing the mirror. “I can feel its notes every time my sister comes back from work. Light and watery, with citrus accords and lime.” She paused and took a deep intake breath. “I like the combination.”
“Are you a perfumer?”
“No. But I have a good sense of smell. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to get changed for dinner.”
“Of course.” I gave her one more look and left the room, a bit disappointed to not see her face. But she was going to join us for dinner, and I couldn’t wait for it to begin.
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