Joy Leeds stared at the ceiling of the operating room, listening to the hum of equipment. She heard the voice of the little girl, the one on dialysis on the next table, speaking faintly to a nurse as he administered anesthesia.
“You ready, Joy?” the nurse asked once the girl was unconscious.
“Okay, I want you to count backward from a hundred,” he said as he injected the medication into her IV.
She made it to zero with only a slight lethargy, and the nurse started over, increasing the dosage. The third time was the charm.
Joy opened her eyes to the bright lights of the recovery room with a dull ache in her abdomen. She sat up and noticed Doctor Gamil Hassan, the hospital’s Chief of Surgery, standing at the doorway. He stroked his closely-cropped beard as he stepped inside.
“Mind if I do a quick exam?” he asked.
She lay back and slid her gown up above her waist. Hassan placed one hand on her abdomen and the other under her back. She took a few deep breaths as he pressed his hands together.
“Your kidneys have grown back already,” he said. “Much faster than your heart did.”
She pushed her gown back into place and sat up.
“How’s the girl?” she asked.
“Still sleeping,” he replied, “but the operation went well. She’ll be home by the end of the week.”
Joy smiled and hopped out of bed.
“In that case,” she said, “I should get back to work.”
“Actually, you should go home and get some rest,” Hassan said. “I’ve already cleared your schedule for the day.”
“Well, if you insist,” she replied. “Thanks, Doc.”
“Take care,” he said, and stepped out of the room.
She threw on her scrubs and headed down to the women’s locker room, where she changed into her street clothes. She draped her studded leather jacket over her shoulders and turned for the door. Doctor Megan Dodson, a tall redhead in her thirties who worked under Hassan, stood in her path, arms crossed.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“Home,” Joy replied. “Doc gave me the afternoon off.”
Dodson stepped forward.
“Look, I don’t know what kind of arrangement you have with Doctor Hassan,” she said, “but it’s not going to fly in the real world. If you ever hope to be a doctor someday, you’re going to have to learn that.”
“Uh huh,” Joy replied. “Can I go now? I’m supposed to be resting at home. Doctor’s orders.”
Dodson sighed and stepped aside. Joy strolled out of the locker room and left the building with a smirk on her face.
The entrance to the Valhalla Club took the form of an ornate stone archway carved with images of gods and monsters. Pounding music blared from within. Joy twisted one of her lip rings around as she waited in line to get inside.
“Joy!” a girl’s voice shouted.
Joy glanced down the sidewalk as Melinda Akerley, a short woman with a green Mohawk and tattoos covering both arms, ran toward her in platform boots. She gave Joy a quick peck on the lips and squeezed into the line beside her.
“I didn’t think you were going to make it,” Melinda said. “Thought you were stuck with Doctor Frankenstein all night.”
“He let me off early,” Joy said. “Only cost me my kidneys.”
“Sweet,” Melinda said.
The line moved forward and the bouncer let them inside, where the lights were dim and the crowd was packed wall to wall. A power metal band was playing onstage; a blonde woman with a nearly operative voice sang the lyrics without a microphone.
Melinda grabbed Joy’s hand and dragged her into the mosh pit.
Joy awoke in a Melinda’s bed with a pair of arms wrapped around her waist. Glancing at the clock on the nightstand, Joy sat bolt upright and clambered out of bed.
“Shit, shit, shit,” she muttered, searching the floor for her clothes.
“What’s going on?” Melinda asked groggily.
“I’m late,” Joy replied. “My shift starts in twenty minutes.”
“Just call in sick,” Melinda said.
“It’s a hospital, Mindy,” Joy said. “I can’t just bail whenever I feel like it.”
She held a shirt up by the window to get a better look but it wasn’t hers. She tossed it into Melinda’s hamper and continued looking.
“I seriously don’t understand how you’re able to function in society,” Joy said as she stepped in a pile of dirty socks.
“It may not be obvious to a layman,” Melinda said, “but I have a very sophisticated and subtle system. You’re looking in the wrong spot, by the way.”
She leaned down over the side of the bed and tossed a pair of leather pants to Joy, followed by a sleeveless top with red and black stripes. Joy got dressed and checked her cellphone: the battery was dead.
She opened the door and Poe, Melinda’s pale grey pit bull, bounded into the room. She dodged to one side and the dog leaped up onto the bed.
“Aw, who’s a good boy?” Melinda said, hugging him. “Did you miss me?”
Joy waved goodbye and hurried out of the apartment. Downstairs, she crossed the street and headed down into a metro station. She caught her train just as it was about to pull away.
Joy kept her head down as she crept through the hospital halls and slipped into the locker room. She spent a few minutes in the shower, then threw on some scrubs and gargled some mouthwash. Looking both ways at the doorway, she hurried to the elevator and rode it up a few floors.
“Where the hell have you been?” Doctor Dodson asked, standing in the hallway with her hands on her hips. “You’re half an hour late.”
“Twenty minutes, tops,” Joy replied, stepping out of the elevator. “There was… traffic.”
“Bullshit,” Dodson said. “I think you were out drinking all night and now you’re hungover.”
“I don’t get hangovers,” Joy said.
“Then you have even less of an excuse,” Dodson said. “I’m going to have to write you up for this.”
“Oh, come on!” Joy said, and glanced past her. “Doc, help me out here, will you?”
Doctor Hassan approached the women and glanced from one to the other.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“She was thirty minutes late,” Dodson said.
“Twenty,” Joy said.
“Either way, she wasn’t here on time,” Dodson said. “She needs to be reprimanded.”
Hassan crossed his arms.
“Oh, I think we can forgive it just this once,” he said. “Wouldn’t you agree, Megan?”
“You can’t keep letting her get away with this kind of thing,” she said. “Sooner or later, your leniency is going to cost someone their life.”
She glared at Joy and stormed off down the hallway. Joy looked up at Hassan and smiled sheepishly.
“She’s right, you know,” he said. “Overly dramatic, perhaps, but still right.”
“I know,” Joy said, nodding. “Sorry.”
“Just try not to let it happen again,” he said. “You only have a few more weeks left on my rotation. Your next supervisor may not be so understanding.”
“Even if I’m still… you know, donating?” she asked.
“Well… we’ll see,” he replied. “But I can’t make any promises, so I don’t want you to get too used to this, okay?”
“Got it, Doc,” she said.
“Good,” he said. “Now, off you go.”
She hurried down the hall to begin her rounds.
After lunch, Joy visited Dylan Watts, a patient suffering from cirrhosis of the liver. He was a young man, around Joy’s age, with long dark hair and a neatly-trimmed beard. He was scheduled to receive Joy’s liver tomorrow.
“You’ve been visiting me a lot lately,” he said as she sat beside him. “People are going to talk.”
“It’s all part of the educational experience,” she said.
“Oh yeah?” he asked. “What are you learning right now?”
“Bedside manner,” she replied, smiling.
“So you’ll get a bad grade if I’m not happy?” he asked.
“Something like that,” she replied.
“I’ll have to keep that in mind,” he said with a wink.
She glanced away and tugged lightly on a lip ring.
“What’s your story, anyway?” he asked. “Why do you want to become a doctor?”
“I… guess I just want to help people,” she replied. “I’ve been given a gift. I can’t get sick or injured. It seems only fair that I give something back.”
“You want to feel like you’ve earned your power,” he said.
“Exactly,” she replied.
“Most people would’ve just put on a mask and fought crime,” he said.
“Not my style,” she said. “I’d just get in the way, anyway. I can do more good here.”
“Well, for what it’s worth, I think you made the right choice,” he said.
She smiled and glanced at her watch.
“I should get back to my rounds,” she said, standing from her seat. “I’ll come by again before the operation to see how you’re doing.”
“I’ll be waiting,” he said.
“See you around, Dylan,” she said, and stepped out of the room.
She took a deep breath, glanced back once, and then hurried up the hall.
Joy headed home at six and plugged her cellphone into the charger on the way to the bathroom. By the time she got out of the shower, the phone was ringing. The call display read “MELINDA”.
“Hey,” Joy said. “What’s up?”
“My friend Jackie’s throwing a party tonight,” Melinda replied. “It’s going to be insane. You’ve got to come.”
“I don’t know,” Joy said. “I’ve got a big operation tomorrow.”
“You always do,” Melinda said. “Come on, you won’t have time for fun once you’re out of school. You need to make these years count, while you’re still young.”
“You’re such a bad influence,” Joy said.
“The worst, I know,” Melinda replied. “So… you in?”
“Fine,” she said, “but I’m only staying for a little while.”
“Awesome,” Melinda said. “I’m downstairs right now. Buzz me up and I’ll help you get ready.”
Joy rolled her eyes and pressed the button by the door.
Two alarm clocks jolted Joy awake and she rushed through her morning routine on just a few hours’ sleep. She’d slipped out of the party at two in the morning and headed straight home, but it was wasn’t early enough.
She made it to the hospital with minutes to spare and clocked in for the day. She set off on her rounds, visiting various patients and shadowing a resident on a few procedures. Eventually, she returned to Dylan’s room and took a seat.
“Do you party a lot?” he asked.
“Uh, sometimes,” she replied. “Why?”
“I’m just wondering how well I’ll be able to handle my liquor with your liver,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
“You better be careful,” she said. “You’ll end up right back here where you started.”
“It’d be so worth it,” he said. “Plus I’d get to see you again.”
She rolled her eyes and said, “Trust me, I’m not worth dying over.”
“I don’t know,” he said; “I can think of worse ways to go.”
“If you keep talking like that,” she said, “I might just have to hang onto this liver.”
“But then it’ll be even more awkward when I try to ask you out,” he said.
She paused, leaned back.
“If you’re trying to make me blush, it’s not going to work,” she said. “I’m immune to teasing.”
“I’m serious,” he said, sitting up. “When I get out of here, I’d really like to take you to dinner. I may not look like much right now, but I promise I clean up well.”
“Well, don’t get too clean,” she said. “I like my partners a little rough around the edges.”
“So that’s a ‘yes’, then?” he asked.
She shrugged and said, “Sure, why not?”
A throat cleared behind her and she glanced back over her shoulder. Doctor Hassan stood in the doorway, arms crossed. Joy stood from her chair and turned to face him.
“It’s time,” he said.
“Okay, Doc,” she said, and glanced at Dylan. “I’ll see you downstairs.”
Dylan smiled and she headed for the door, nodding at Hassan on her way out. She idly rested her hand on her upper abdomen as she headed for the elevator.
Joy awoke in the recovery room and climbed out of bed. She crept across the room and peered out into the hallway, leaning against the doorframe.
She spotted Hassan standing just out of earshot, talking to the two nurses who always assisted him on these transplants. When he noticed Joy watching, he nodded to the nurses and headed in her direction.
“You should be in bed,” he said, guiding her back into the room.
“I just wanted to check on Dylan,” she said. “What room is he in?”
Hassan sighed and took a seat on the edge of the bed.
“Mr. Watts,” he said, hesitating, “didn’t make it.”
Joy stepped back and muttered, “What?”
Hassan rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“There were complications during the operation,” he said. “The transplant seemed successful at first, but after a few minutes, his body began to reject it. We reinserted his original liver, but that seemed to only make things worse. We tried our best to stabilize him, but nothing worked.”
Joy staggered to the bed and sat beside Hassan.
“I killed him,” she said, staring at her hands. “I went out drinking last night. I must have contaminated the liver or something.”
Hassan shook his head.
“Your liver was perfectly healthy,” he said. “Your ability saw to that. Mr. Watts had the best possible odds, under the circumstances. Nothing you’ve done could have changed that.”
“Then why did he die?” she asked.
“We may never know,” Hassan replied. “This kind of spontaneous rejection is rare, and hard to predict. If anyone’s to blame for this, it’s me. The patient probably had some underlying condition that I missed.”
“But you can’t be sure,” she said.
“Well, I…” he said, and trailed off. “Yes, Megan?”
Doctor Dodson stood in the doorway, eyeing Joy and Hassan warily.
“The board wants to speak with you,” she said.
“I’ll be right up, thanks,” he replied.
He took a deep breath and stood from the bed.
“Are you in trouble?” Joy asked.
“Usually,” he replied, half-smirking. “Are you on call this weekend?”
She shook her head.
“Good,” he said. “I want you to go home and forget about this place for a couple days. Drink, dance, sleep; whatever you need to do to clear your head. Start fresh on Monday. Can you do that?”
“I can try,” she said.
“Then I’ll see you next week,” he said.
“Bye,” she replied, and watched him leave.
Dodson glared at her for a moment before following Hassan. Joy sat in silence for several minutes, frozen in place. When she closed her eyes, she could see Dylan’s smile.
She jumped off the bed and ran downstairs to the locker room. She threw her clothes on and kept running until she was several blocks away from the hospital. She headed into a metro station and hopped onto the first train that stopped.
Joy climbed the stairs to the sidewalk across from Melinda’s building and slipped inside behind a man with an armful of groceries. She hurried upstairs and knocked on Melinda’s door. She heard barking and the door opened a crack.
“Hey, how’s it going?” Melinda asked, stooping to hold Poe back.
“Not so great,” Joy replied. “Mind if I come in?”
“Not at all,” Melinda said.
She stepped back, dragging the dog with her, and Joy stepped inside. Melinda released Poe, and he padded over to Joy. She scratched behind his ears and he licked her hand.
“So, what happened?” Melinda asked.
Joy crossed the living room and slumped onto the couch. Poe climbed up beside her and rested his head in her lap. She closed her eyes and told Melinda everything.
“I’m so sorry,” Melinda said, squeezing Joy’s hand. “Listen, if there’s anything I can do, you just name it, okay?”
“Actually, I could really use a drink,” Joy said.
“I don’t know,” Melinda said. “Three nights in a row is a bit much for me.”
She stared at Joy with a straight face for about three seconds, and then snorted.
“Kidding,” she said. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Joy sat at the bar in the Valhalla Club, tossing back drinks at a steady clip. While Melinda was out in the crowd having fun, Joy was just trying to stay drunk for more than a few minutes at a time.
“Another,” Joy said, holding up her glass.
The bartender hesitated, glancing over Joy’s shoulder. A middle-aged man with shaggy blond hair leaned in beside her and placed a hand over her glass.
“I think you’ve had enough, love,” he said in a British accent.
“Enough,” she repeated bitterly. “There’s no such thing, for me.”
She stood from her seat and dug her wallet out of her pocket.
“It’s on the house,” the man said.
“You sure?” Joy asked. “I drank a lot.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “You look like you could use a break.”
“Thanks,” she said, forcing a smile.
She put her wallet away and pushed through the crowd. As she reached the door, something tugged on her arm. She glanced back and found Melinda behind her.
“Leaving already?” she asked.
“I’m sorry,” Joy replied. “This was a bad idea.”
“I’ll go grab my coat,” Melinda said. “You can hang out at my place for the night.”
Joy shook her head.
“I think I just need some time alone,” she said.
“Well, if you insist,” Melinda said. “Give me a call when you’re feeling better, all right?”
“I will,” Joy said, and stepped out into the cool winter air.
After lying awake for half the night, Joy turned to reading medical textbooks in hopes of putting herself to sleep. Instead, she ended up with a refreshed understanding of clinical microbiology as the sun crept down her wall and across the floor.
She finally began to doze off around mid-morning, and was almost immediately awakened by a knock on her door. She climbed out of bed and staggered through the living room. Standing in the hallway, a bald man with a week’s growth of grey hair on his upper lip smiled at her.
“Good morning,” he said. “Are you Joy Leeds?”
“Yeah,” she said, leaning against the doorframe.
“My name is Benjamin Gifford,” he said. “I’m on the hospital’s Board of Directors. I was wondering if I could have a word with you.”
“It’s Saturday morning,” she replied.
“I realize that,” he said, “but I’d really like to get this settled as soon as possible. It concerns the death of a patient, one Dylan Watts.”
Joy glanced at her hands and said, “You should ask Doctor Hassan about that.”
“We did,” Gifford said. “There were… holes in his account. When he declined to fill them, we were forced to suspend him without pay.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Joy snapped, standing up straight. “He’s one of the best surgeons in the country!”
“That may be,” Gifford said, “but until we know the full extent of what happened yesterday, we can’t allow him to continue practicing medicine in our hospital. So if there’s anything you can tell us that might shed light on this incident….”
“What exactly is it that you’re trying to find out?” she asked.
“Specifically?” he said. “We want to know where the liver came from.”
Joy blinked and said, “Sorry, can’t help you there.”
“Okay,” he said, marking something down on his clipboard. “Thank you for your time.”
He stepped back and turned for the stairs.
“What happens if you can’t figure this out?” she asked.
He paused and glanced back.
“Best case scenario?” he said. “Doctor Hassan gets hit with a malpractice suit, he wins due to lack of evidence, but his reputation is tarnished for the rest of his life. That’s assuming he hasn’t done anything illegal.”
“And if he has?” she asked.
“Then he may be facing a police investigation,” Gifford replied. “Good day, Miss Leeds.”
She watched him walk to the end of the hall and step into the stairwell. Retreating back inside, she dialled Hassan’s home number and recounted her conversation with Gifford.
“You did well,” Hassan said. “Thank you.”
“So, what do we do now?” she asked.
“Now, you hang up and stay as far away from me as possible,” he replied.
“What?” she said. “Why?”
“You have a long career ahead of you, Miss Leeds,” he said. “I won’t see it cut short by my own mistakes.”
“What mistakes?” she snapped. “You saved lives!”
“And now I’m saving yours,” he said. “Goodbye, Joy.”
The tension was palpable in the surgery department when Joy arrived for her shift Monday morning. The nurses, the residents, and her fellow students were all on edge. The only person who seemed unperturbed was Dodson, who greeted Joy with a smile.
“Good morning, Miss Leeds,” Dodson said. “I trust you had a good weekend. I certainly did. I got a promotion.”
“Congratulations,” Joy muttered, stepping past Dodson.
The doctor put her arm out in front of Joy and leaned toward her.
“I know you’re accustomed to a certain degree of favoritism here,” she said, “but until Doctor Hassan is reinstated—if he’s reinstated—your free ride is over. No showing up late. No leaving early. And no piercings.”
“But… I can’t just take these out,” Joy said. “They—”
“They’re a safety hazard,” Dodson said. “And they’re unprofessional. Remove them, or I’ll remove you from this rotation.”
Joy crossed her arms and glared at Dodson. The surgeon eyed the student dispassionately and held out her hand, palm up.
“I’m not going to ask again,” Dodson said.
Joy stared for a moment longer and then sighed. One by one, she removed both lip rings, her septum piercing, three eyebrow rings, and all but two earrings, and placed each item in Dodson’s hand. Joy’s face tingled for a moment as the holes closed in on themselves. Dodson’s eyes widened.
“What?” Joy snapped.
“Nothing,” Dodson replied, dumping the piercings into her coat pocket. “Go on, you have work to do.”
Joy brushed past Dodson and headed down the hall. Ducking into the stairwell, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, balling up her fists until her heart stopped pounding. She reached up and touched her face; she felt naked.
When she stepped back into the hallway, Dodson was gone. A doctor and a pair of nurses rushed by with a patient on a gurney, heading for the operating room. The doctor motioned for Joy to follow, and she spent the next couple hours assisting on her first appendectomy.
At the end of her shift, Joy headed upstairs and stood outside the room where Dylan had stayed just a few days earlier. The room was now occupied by a young Chinese couple, about to bring a new life into the world.
Joy tore herself away from the door and rode an elevator down to the locker room, where she found her piercings in a plastic bag. She looked at herself in the mirror and sighed; she knew she would probably have to change her appearance eventually, but she hated the thought of letting Dodson win.
Heading out of the locker room, she heard voices, and ducked back. Dodson was standing in the hallway, a few doors down, speaking with Benjamin Gifford. Joy leaned close to the doorway and listened.
“—parents are starting to ask questions,” Gifford said. “Have you found anything yet?”
“I’ve been going over Hassan’s notes,” she said, “but his handwriting is atrocious. It’s taking longer than I expected.”
“What about the Leeds girl?” Gifford asked. “She seemed evasive when I spoke with her. Have you managed to get anything out of her?”
Dodson scoffed and said, “She trusts me less than she trusts you.”
“Well, keep trying,” Gifford said. “We need to settle this before it becomes a major scandal.”
“Understood,” Dodson replied. “I’ll be in touch.”
One pair of footsteps headed off down the hall, while the other drew closer. Joy pressed herself against the wall and held her breath. In the corner of her eye, she saw Dodson pass by the doorway, heading for the elevator.
When the coast was clear, Joy hurried out of the building and started walking down the sidewalk. She took out her cellphone and dialled Hassan’s number. It rang half a dozen times and went to voicemail. She hung up without leaving a message.
Her phone started ringing; it was Melinda. Joy stared down at the call display for a long moment, and then sighed. She stuffed the phone back into her pocket and descended into the metro station.
Joy kept her head down for the rest of the week. On Friday morning, she stepped off the elevator and was greeted by Dodson, standing in the hallway looking irate as ever.
“There you are,” she said. “I’ve been looking all over.”
“I just got here,” Joy said, glancing at her watch. “And I’m five minutes early.”
“Whatever,” Dodson said, waving dismissively. “You assisted Doctor Hassan on cardiac surgery last month, right?”
“Uh, sort of,” Joy replied. “Why?”
“I’m doing a triple bypass this morning and could use an extra pair of hands,” Dodson said. “Interested?”
“You want my help?” Joy asked.
“I can find someone else if you don’t think you can handle it,” she said.
“No, no, I can handle it,” Joy said. “What do you need me to do?”
“Follow me,” Dodson said.
She led Joy upstairs to a room occupied by a frail-looking man in his sixties with a breathing tube feeding into his nose. He smiled when they entered.
“Uh oh,” he said. “It must be really bad news if they have to send two beautiful women to soften the blow.”
“Everything’s fine, Harold,” Dodson said. “I just wanted to introduce you to someone before we take you down to surgery.”
Joy stepped forward and extended her hand to the man.
“I’m Joy,” she said.
He looked her up and down and said, “You certainly are.”
“Miss Leeds is a third-year medical student,” Dodson said. “She’ll be assisting on your operation, if you’re comfortable with that.”
“You know what you’re doing, sweetheart?” Harold asked Joy.
“Top of my class,” she said.
He smiled and said, “Sounds good to me.”
“Someone will be up for you shortly,” Dodson said, and leaned down to squeeze his shoulder. “Don’t worry, you’ll be back on your feet in no time.”
“I feel healthier already,” he said with a wink.
Dodson smiled and headed for the door. Joy followed her into the hallway.
“Last chance to back out,” Dodson said.
Joy crossed her arms and shook her head.
“Good,” Dodson said, heading for the elevator. “Let’s go.”
The operation lasted six hours, during which Joy saw a side of Dodson she hadn’t realized existed. The doctor, it turned out, had a sharp sense of humor, frequently easing the tension with a lighthearted anecdote or a well-placed one-liner.
The procedure went smoothly; no complications or delays. At the end, they closed Harold up and wheeled him out of the operating room. Dodson stayed behind, standing with her eyes closed, breathing slowly.
“She does this every time,” a nurse whispered, guiding Joy to the door. “Best leave her to it.”
Joy nodded and stepped out into the hallway. She headed down to the cafeteria for a very late lunch, then began her afternoon rounds.
At six, she changed and made her way down to the metro station. As she stood at the edge of the platform waiting for her train, a shock of red hair appeared in the corner of her eye. Dodson stood beside her, staring down at the tracks.
“Listen,” Dodson said, “if Doctor Hassan was pressuring you into doing something you didn’t want to do, that’s not your fault. You’re young, and it can be hard to say no to someone in a position of authority. But you should know that there’s no shame in speaking up.”
Joy cocked her head to one side and said, “What exactly do you think we were doing?”
“Honestly, I don’t even know,” Dodson replied. “I mean, I thought I did, but now… well, this town is full of surprises….”
Over the edge of the platform, a large man with rippling muscles marched along the tracks, pulling a train behind him by a massive chain slung over his shoulder. He nodded at the women and brought the train to a halt. The doors slid open.
“This is my ride,” Joy said.
“Okay,” Dodson said. “See you Monday.”
“Bye,” Joy said, and stepped onto the train.
“You did well today,” Dodson said as the doors closed.
Joy tried to process Dodson’s words as she rode the train back to her neighborhood and climbed the stairs out of the station. When she reached the top, a dog started barking.
She glanced around and found Melinda standing on the sidewalk a few metres away with her arms crossed and Poe straining against his leash.
“Oh my God,” Melinda muttered. “What happened to your face?”
“Doctor Dodson happened,” she said.
“Shit,” Melinda said, stepping forward. “You look so… weird.”
Joy glanced away and said, “What are you doing in this part of town, anyway?”
“Ask Poe,” Melinda said. “I just go wherever he drags me.”
The dog barked and wagged his tail. Joy put her hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow.
“Fine, you caught me,” Melinda said. “But I wouldn’t have had to prowl around like this if you picked up your phone once in a while.”
“I told you I needed to be alone for a while,” Joy said.
“Yeah, but I figured you meant, like, a day,” Melinda said. “A weekend, tops. I didn’t expect you to drop off the face of the Earth.”
“I’m sorry,” Joy said. “It’s just, with everything that’s been going on at the hospital since… since last Friday, it’s not a good idea for me to be going out all the time. And you know how bad I am at saying no to you.”
“I have trained you well,” Melinda said. “But I thought you liked going out.”
“I do,” Joy said. “I just can’t handle the late weeknights anymore. I have responsibilities now, and it’s time I start taking them seriously.”
“Okay, I get it,” Melinda said. “Your time is more valuable than mine. I’m just a lowly tattooist who sleeps half the morning and never does anything worthwhile.”
“You know that’s not what I meant,” Joy said, taking Melinda’s hand. “I just don’t have your endurance. My body may restore itself, but my mind needs rest. It’s about time I accepted that.”
“So you’re saying… partying is my superpower?” Melinda asked.
“Something like that,” she said.
“In that case, I guess I can forgive you,” Melinda said.
“Thanks,” Joy said. “So, what do you say we hit up Valhalla tonight?”
“Actually,” Melinda replied, “I was thinking we could stay in. Maybe watch a movie or something.”
Joy smiled and said, “Even better.”
Joy ran into Benjamin Gifford on her way through the hospital lobby Monday morning. He smiled, nodded, and continued on his way out of the building.
Unsettled, she hurried down to the locker room and then up to the surgery department. As the elevator doors opened, she spotted Doctor Hassan at the end of the hallway, disappearing around the corner.
She ran down the hall, dodging nurses and doctors along the way, and took a left turn. She caught up to Hassan outside his office, and leaned against the wall for a moment to catch her breath.
“Hey, Doc,” she said. “Long time no see.”
“Yes,” he said, stepping into the office. “I’m sorry for being so… unavailable lately. I thought it best if I kept my distance. I hope you can forgive me.”
“You left me alone with Dodson,” Joy said, following him inside. “That’s a lot to forgive.”
“Megan’s not so bad,” he said. “I think the two of you could get along quite well if you put a little effort into it.”
“Yeah, well, we’ll see,” Joy said. “I’m just glad you’re back.”
“Oh, I’m afraid you have the wrong idea,” he said. “I’m not coming back to work. I’m resigning.”
“You mean they’re firing you,” she said.
“Essentially, yes,” he replied.
“But why?” she asked.
Hassan leaned back against his desk and stroked his beard.
“I told them the truth,” he said. “Part of it, anyway.”
Joy stepped forward and said, “What part?”
“I told them I met someone,” he said. “Someone with the power to heal themself of any injury, to regrow any limb, any organ. I told them this person agreed to work with me as a donor, providing me with organs for patients too far down the waiting list to be saved through proper channels. The Board had no choice but to ask for my resignation. It was the best way to keep all this contained.”
“Where’d Gifford go?” Joy said, heading for the door. “I’m not letting you throw yourself under the bus for me.”
Hassan’s put his hand on her shoulder, and she stopped.
“The damage is already done,” he said. “If you tell them the whole truth, you’ll be sacrificing yourself for nothing.”
She turned back to face him.
“It’s not fair,” she said. “We were helping people.”
“And we will continue to do so,” he said. “One way or another.”
He stepped back over to his desk and picked up a cardboard box filled with his belongings. He walked slowly to the door and turned around.
“I’ve been here a long time,” he said. “I’m due for a change of pace.”
“Where will you go?” she asked.
“Victory City has plenty of hospitals,” he said, “and I have many connections. I’ll find something.”
“Well, good luck,” she said, stepping into the hallway. “And if you ever need some more… donations, you know where to find me.”
Hassan winked and said, “Take care, Joy.”
He closed the door and headed off down the hallway. She lingered outside the office for a minute or two before following his footsteps. As she rounded the corner, she found herself standing face to face with Dodson.
“Come with me,” the doctor said.
Joy followed Dodson upstairs to Harold’s room, where the old man sat in bed playing cards with a young boy.
“He looks much better,” Joy said.
“For now,” Dodson said. “Sooner or later, he’s going to have another heart attack, and it’ll be his last.”
Dodson nodded at the boy.
“He lost his parents in a car accident last year,” she said. “Harold and his wife are all that kid has left.”
“Is there anything we can do?” Joy asked.
“Harold’s on the waiting list for a heart transplant,” Dodson replied. “At this point, all we can do is buy him time and hope for the best.”
Joy glanced away and said, “What if there was another way?”
“Well, I’m certainly open to alternatives,” Dodson said, smiling faintly. “Anyway, you should get back to your rounds.”
“Okay,” Joy said, and headed up the hall.
“Oh, one more thing, Miss Leeds,” Dodson said.
“Yeah?” Joy said, glancing back over her shoulder.
“I think you could probably get away with one or two piercings,” Dodson said. “But no more than three, okay?”
Joy nodded and said, “Thanks, Doc.”