This Side of Forever

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Romance

Chapter 1 (v.1) - Chapter 1

Submitted: January 29, 2019

Reads: 154

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Submitted: January 29, 2019

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Venie smoothed the edges of her cream-colored pencil skirt as the elevator dinged, announcing her arrival onto the third floor. Her matching heels which highlighted her well-toned, honey-colored calves, clicked along Olympia Medical Center’s Seashell White tiled floor. Eying the pictures of the hospital’s past and current award-winning surgeons on the Oxford Blue walls, she mused to herself, I should be on these walls.

She came to a stop in the middle of the expansive room at a circular receptionist desk, bogged down with manila file folders. A squat woman in purple scrubs with round, purple, wire-framed glasses dangling precariously off the tip of her nose, sat with the phone receiver tucked between her right shoulder and ear, nodding every few seconds. The woman had yet to say a word to whoever was on the other end and Venie could tell it was not a pleasant phone call by the way the receptionist grimaced in time with her nods. The receptionist, whose name badge clipped to the otherwise nonfunctional pocket of her scrubs read Mrs. Sally Bold, held up a manicured finger to Venie, a strained smile on her face, and mouthed “one moment please.”
Venie looked down at her own nails, chipped and uneven. She couldn’t remember the last time she went for a manicure. She clasped her hands behind her back, eying Mrs. Bold, who just ended her call and was furiously scribbling on a yellow message pad. Outside of the scratching of Mrs. Bold’s pen and the barely there hum of the elevator, the room was quiet. The waiting area, a small section to the right of Mrs. Bold’s desk filled with five empty rows of chairs with Oxford blue soft cushions encased in polished beechwood frames that glistened in the sunlight pouring in from the floor-to-ceiling windows that lined the wall behind them, was empty.

It’d never be empty like this at Black Hollow Falls, Venie thought.  

“Sorry about that dear. Just one more moment or I’ll forget what I’m writing. You’d think we’d have a more efficient system in 2015, but old school is reliable, just like me” Mrs. Bold let out a girlish giggle, which seemed odd coming out of her heavily lined, gingerbread-colored face framed by silver, shoulder length hair, pinned on one side with a purple hair clip.
“No problem. Take your time.” Venie shifted her weight between her feet, attempting to relieve the fire-like pain licking at the balls of her feet, cursing herself for wearing heels for the first time in years without practicing at least a week before. She could not wait until she could slip on the sensible flats she had stowed away in her tan leather shoulder bag.

“Okay dear. How may I help you?”
“My name is —”

“Dr. Venie Beauregard,” a familiar honeyed voice sounded behind her.

A nervous smile crept on Venie’s bare, full lips. It had been five years since she heard that voice and she wasn’t sure she was quite yet prepared to face its owner.
“Dr. Venie Beauregard?” Mrs. Bold’s eyes, like two pieces of fire-lit coal, widened as she gave Venie an appraising look.
“Yes?” Venie raised an eyebrow at her.
“Oh, why of course! I was just expecting — “
“A man?” Venie cut her off with a dismissive laugh. “My father wanted a boy.”

“And he kept having children until he got one, too.” the voice added with a slight chuckle. “Not going to face me, Ven?”

Venie blew a small, inaudible breath upsetting the chocolate, springy coils of her bang brushing her naturally arched eyebrows. She adjusted her rust-colored silk blouse and turned around with an uncomfortable, toothy smile pasted on her stiff face.

“Dr. Celine Waters. Long time.”

“Quite,” Celine folded her arms, stark white lab coat over her blood red, knee-length shift dress. “So I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when I see you standing here in my waiting room on my surgical floor.”

Her waiting room? Her surgical floor?

Mrs. Bold let out a cough, then cleared her throat.

“Is there a problem Mrs. Bold?” Celine diverted her cat-like eyes,  enclosed in long, lashes, to the receptionist.

“Oh no, Dr. Waters.” Mrs. Bold giggled while shuffling papers that probably did not need to be rearranged on her desk. “I just had no idea you were Chief of Surgery.”

Nice one.

“I am the head of neuro and that should be enough.” Celine huffed, throwing silky straight tresses of freshly flat ironed sandy blonde hair over her shoulder that grazed the upper curve of her shoulder blade. With pursed coral painted lips, as if in deep thought, she turned back to Venie. “So what brings you here?”

The question was posed so casually Venie almost forgot the space of five years filled with unmade phone calls and bad blood between them. “I have a meeting with Chief Bronte.”

“A meeting with the chief? Should I be concerned?”

“I can’t imagine why you would be.”

“Well, let me help you out.” Celine cooed, placing her hands in the pockets of her lab coat while closing the already too small gap between them. “You are a neurosurgeon. You are having a meeting with my chief in my hospital. I am the head of neuro so whatever meeting you have with the chief has to do with my department. Is that clear enough for you?”

Same old Celine.

“Crystal.”

“While I don’t want to interrupt what seems to be a lovely reunion,” Mrs. Bold smiled. “Your meeting with Chief Bronte will be starting soon. Ready for me to show you to his office?”

“How about I give you a tour of the hospital that ends with the chief’s office? I’m sure I’m needed in this meeting anyway.” Celine wheedled with gnat-like insistence, still so close to Venie that the aroma of hazelnut dripping from her breath colonized space within Venie’s nostrils.

“Ah ah ah,” Mrs. Bold wagged her finger as she came around from behind her desk. “I was given strict orders to deliver her to the chief.”

Bless this woman.

“If you would just —”

“Dr. Waters! Are you trying to stop me from doing my job? I have orders and I’m sure if you were invited to this meeting, you would have been given some too.” Mrs. Bold pushed her way between Venie and Celine, hands on her plump hips.

“Fine. Meet me in the cafeteria for lunch at noon, Venie. We have so much to catch up on.” Celine settled in a tone that indicated it was anything but fine, turned on her velvety black pumps and sashayed away.

“I’m not even sure I’ll still be here at noon,” Venie called out after her.

And I’m almost certain I do not want to have lunch with you.

“Lunch. Cafeteria. Noon.” Celine ordered, not looking back and disappeared around the corner.

“I guess I’m going to lunch with Celine Waters.” Venie sighed.

Mrs. Bold patted Venie’s arm in a grandmotherly way, looking up the five-inch difference from her five foot even frame into Venie’s hazel eyes. “If everything the chief says about you is true, I’m sure you can handle Dr. Waters. Just follow me dear. He’s expecting you.”

Venie followed Mrs. Bold’s scurrying frame down a labyrinth of hallways she’d likely not remember how to navigate. Before she had a chance to gain her bearings, Mrs. Bold stopped in front of a black framed, frosted glass door emblazoned with Zeno Bronte’s name in gold letters.

“Chief Bronte,” Mrs. Bold knocked. “Dr. Beauregard is here.”

“Let her in. You can go back to your post, Sally. Thanks.” Chief Bronte’s disembodied, modulated voice informed.

Mrs. Bold squeezed Venie’s elbows reassuringly before returning back the way they came.

Letting out a breath, Venie twisted the shiny, black metal handle and crossed the threshold into a brightly lit office. Zeno Bronte sat at an overstated mahogany desk, conspicuously empty of anything other than a computer and a file folder, in the center of the beige carpeted room in front of floor-to-ceiling windows that displayed the skyline of downtown Olympia in the near distance. His pearly white smile shined, only secondary to the dandelion colored walls.

“Dr. Venie Beauregard,” his white smile widened, contrasting handsomely with his chocolate skin. He stood, adjusting his deep blue suit jacket, and motioned for Venie to sit in one of two black leather armchairs sitting in front of his desk. “You’ve been hiding from me. What has it been? Five? Six years?”

Venie accepted the seat, crossing her legs at the ankle and folding her hands in her lap. “Five years, sir. And I couldn’t have been hiding so well because here I am.”

“Here you are and we can’t be any more fortunate to have you.”

“Why do I feel like you’re counting on an acceptance I haven’t given you yet?”

“Well, you can’t accept what you haven’t been asked, right?”

“But you will ask.” Venie arched an eyebrow.

“Straight shooter, huh?” Chief Bronte laughed, fingering his neatly lined salt-and-pepper goatee. “I only ask when I’m sure the answer will be yes.”

“What makes you so sure?”

Zeno steepled his fingers, resting his elbows on the armrests of his black leather desk chair, eyebrows scrunched together. “Given our history, I’m actually not sure. I’ve asked you something once before and I was surprised when you said no.”

“Let us not live in the past, Chief. You asked me here for something and it must be important.  Otherwise, you wouldn’t have had the Chief at Black Hollow Falls clear my schedule this week as a personal favor to you. Just ask.”

“Like I said, straight shooter. Alright. I need your assistance on a case.” Zeno slides the file across the desk to Venie, who just stares at it.

“You have the best neurosurgeons in Connecticut — no — in the tristate area and you’re requesting me for a case?”

“It is true I have some of the better neurosurgeons in the area, but I do not have the best. The best neurosurgeon in the tristate area is sitting in my office right now thinking of a way to tell me no without even reviewing the case.” His hazel eyes bore into Venie and she was sure he could read every thought racing through her brain.

Still ignoring the folder, Venie weighed her options. There was a time in her life when she wanted nothing more than to work under the tutelage of Zeno Bronte. Times have changed though and so had she. Working here now, even if just for this one case, means a lot more than just realizing an old dream. It also meant facing old demons she put to rest. Or, at least, old demons she has been ignoring.

“What about Dr. Waters?”

A cloud quickly passed over Zeno’s face before it was replaced with his winning smile. The average person would not have noticed, but Venie made note of it and tucked it away for later.

“What about her?”

“She is the head of neuro.”

“And I am Chief of Surgery. I think that trumps Waters. Besides, what I have in mind for this patient, Waters would never — could never do.”

“What exactly are you proposing?”

“An experimental procedure that only one neurosurgeon in this world can do, and I think you know who I’m talking about.”

“Experimental?” Venie uncrossed and recrossed her ankles. “And you think I’m the surgeon for the job?”

“I know you’re the one. You created this procedure.”

The air in the room became dense and Venie lightly tugged at the collar of her blouse, which seemed to be choking her. “You can’t possibly mean — how do you even know about it? It’s private information.”

“I am a powerful man and advancement in medical technology is hardly a secret. The hallways of every hospital have ears and eyes.”

Venie pursed her lips. When she came here this morning, she had no idea what Zeno could possibly want with her and of all the possible things that did cross her mind, it was not this. The procedure, her procedure, was a passion project. It was never meant for anyone else and now the chief surgeon of the premiere hospital in the tristate area wants her to try it out on a patient.

“I don’t think I can. This hasn’t been tested or approved, compassionate use from the FDA would be required. It is a lot of hoops to jump through. Hoops that would take more than a week.”

“I’m well aware of the constraints. This facility has the means to make all of that a streamlined process. The only thing we do not have is you.”

“Are you trying to poach me from Black Hollow Falls chief?”

“Would it change your mind if I told you I was?”

“No. I’m happy and thriving where I am.” Venie folded her arms across her chest.

“Are you really, Venie? I may call you Venie, right?” Zeno stood up from his chair, walked around to the front of the desk, and perched on the edge directly in front of Venie. “I have word from your chief that you only perform one surgery a week, and, even then, you mostly supervise another surgeon during an operation. You’re withdrawn, quiet, isolated. Still brilliant like the North Star, but not shining how you used to. I have the ability to make you more than the North Star, Venie. I can make you the sun. It starts with this case.”

For a moment, Venie felt that familiar tug in her gut when the excitement of possibility seeps in, sort of like riding a rollercoaster and teetering at the top right before that first drop. The hope that the drop will feel as good as the anticipation of diving right in.

This impossible dream ended. It ended five years ago.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t accept.”

“Give me one good reason why.”

“I believe I gave you plenty Dr. Bronte. Do we really need to go through them again?”

“Okay, okay, okay.” Zeno held up his hands in surrender. “It’s just — nevermind.”

Venie sighed. She was going to regret this. “It’s just what?”
“No, no, no. You said no. I should respect that. You’re not the surgeon I thought you were. Maybe you never were.” Zeno clasped his hands behind his back as he walked behind his desk and sat down. He tossed the folder aside. “I guess we’re done here.”

“I guess we are.” Venie stood up, smoothing her skirt, and walked toward the door. “I am sorry. I just — I can’t.”

“Mhm.”

Venie stood at the door, her back to Zeno, hand resting on the doorknob.

The hallways of every hospital have ears and eyes.

“Will this be reported back to my chief?” Venie asked without turning around.

“Will what exactly be reported? That you’ve given up? That the amazing, young surgeon who I once knew is seemingly gone forever? What? I can’t imagine what you’re worried about. From the way it sounds, you’re done anyway.”

Venie turned around, left hand on her hip and her bag dangling from her right hand. “Look, sir, I am sorry that I am telling you no and I wish I could help you. I do. I would really appreciate it, though, if you didn’t speak to me like that. It’s not fair.”

“You know what’s not fair? That you can say no without even opening the file. That you are throwing away talent and innovation because you’re afraid. And I don’t even think this is about the highly experimental nature of the procedure, the limited testing, or the FDA. You’re light has gone out. What happened to you these past five years?”

Venie took a step closer, frustration threatening to leak out of her eyes. Nothing and everything happened, but none of it is his business. “I — you — ugh — nothing has happened. Nothing. This is just me knowing what I want and this is not it.”

Zeno looked up, pity drenching his hazel eyes, and then shrugged. “Okay.”

Okay?

Venie quickly stomped over to his desk, snatched up the discarded file, and made a beeline back to the door.

“I’m glad you see things my way.” Zeno beamed.

“This is not me saying yes,” Venie pointed a finger in his direction. “I’m just going to review the case. No promises so don’t get all smug and braggy sir. This is just a courtesy.”

“Understood, Dr. Beauregard. A review is all I ask.”

“Is it really though, sir? Is that really all you’re asking for now? It certainly didn’t sound like that before.”

“That’s what you do, huh? Things get rough or scary and you run from the challenge? You ran five years ago and you’re running now. I just wish I knew what you were running from. You have so much potential you are wasting.”

“Honestly, and respectfully, that’s not something I care to discuss with you. I have the file. I will review. Is there anything else I can answer for you, sir?” Venie shoved the file in her bag.

“There is one more thing,” Zeno folded his hands above his desk and Venie sucked in a breath. “I’ve learned a small bit about your procedure from the limited information I could procure and I know, you’re not saying you’re agreeing to do this, but can you explain just one thing to me?”

Venie inclined her head. She thought she could make it out of there without answering any questions about her procedure, her project, her biggest regret. “Okay.”

“What exactly is the Digital Beyond?”

“A mistake,” Venie answered. Without waiting for a reply, she turned the knob and walked out with the file sticking out of her bag like a ticking bomb of regret. She didn’t know how or when, but she knew it was going to explode. Hopefully, she’d be prepared to handle the casualties this time.

 


© Copyright 2019 T. M. Edmonds. All rights reserved.

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