“Yes! Yes!” I spun around from the kitchen table where the mail lay strewn about. My fingers shook as they gripped the letter I had been waiting to get for as long as I could remember. “Mom! I got it!”
“Really?” My mom jogged into the kitchen and stopped in front of me. “Oh my God! Let me read it.”
I handed her the letter and wrapped my arms around myself as I picked at my lip. I had just graduated a month before after ten long years at NYU. There were only two more steps remaining before I would be a full-fledged doctor. A surgeon.
Chills ran through me as my mother looked up with tears in her eyes.
“Baby, I’m so proud of you. All the sacrifices that you’ve made and the friendships you’ve lost. It’s all worth it. Look what you’ve done.” She moved toward me and wrapped me in a tight hug as we shared a brief sob session.
I had given up a lot. Far too much.
Being twenty-eight with a deadbeat boyfriend and no prospects of marriage or children were just part of the cost of the path I’d chosen. It was lonely but made up for in moments of success, much like the one I was experiencing. It was far overdue.
“We should celebrate.” I moved back and let out a soft chuckle. “I need to call Steph and let her know that I got my residency letter. I’ll be working right up the road for the next three years.”
“Aren’t you calling Dex? Did you guys break up again?” She put her hand on her hip, and I swore that she thought I was a child.
“No. We’re still together. I’ll tell him later. I’m going to invite Steph to come with us to dinner. That okay?” I moved toward the guest bedroom in my mom’s small house as my heart fluttered. I was one step closer to my dream.
“Yep. Can’t do anything without your bestie. I swear you guys will always be inseparable.”
We’d never had much money, but we didn’t need it. We were laid back and not at all materialistic. Besides, a poor childhood prepared me well for being broke for most of my twenties. Things weren’t going to change much either. My student loan costs were astronomical. They should have named a wing of the medical school after me. The residency wasn’t going to pay much, but it would be enough to cover my rent at the apartment with Stephanie. If I needed additional income, I’d get a sugar daddy or another job.
“You wish,” I mumbled to myself as I plopped down onto the edge of the bed. Steph’s number was at the top of my recent calls, as it should be. I didn’t have too many friends in life, but she was all I could handle most days anyway. The girl had more energy than one might consider healthy.
“Hey! Where are you? It’s boring as hell here when you’re gone.” She sounded like she was bouncing around. I just prayed there wasn’t a guy beneath her. The woman had no shame.
“I’m at my mom’s house. Just picking up my mail.”
“What are you doing? Do I even want to know?” I pressed my fingers to my forehead and prepared to grimace.
“Trying out a new dance DVD. Get over here and let’s boogie-oogie-oogie.”
“Right. Not happening.” I laughed, unable to help myself. “Get dressed and meet us at the burger place just beside the med building. Mom’s taking me to dinner. I figure you might want some food too.”
“Yeah, all right. I was getting these moves down far too fast anyway. It’s boring when you were made to move.”
I rolled my eyes and stood up. “So, I got the letter from St. Mark’s Hospital. They’ve agreed to the matching for my residency.”
“What? Oh my God, Liz. That’s great news!” Her laugh was full of joy, and it forced a smile onto my face.
“You need to check for yours. It should be in.” I walked back toward the kitchen and got a glass of water.
“I’ll call my mom when I get in the car. Nothing came here, but nothing ever does. I still don’t understand why we had to get an apartment in the worst part of town. We’re going to get mugged or kidnapped. That’s why we have no mail. The mailman is scared shitless of this neighborhood.”
“All right. Enough out of you, drama major. See you soon.” I ended the call as she continued to complain about the apartment. We’d been friends since grade school and had no need to be anything other than ourselves around each other.
Stephanie had a million options as to what to study in college, but she’d chosen medicine alongside me. It had always been my dream to save lives in the ER, but some part of me couldn’t help but wonder if she simply wanted to be wherever I was, no matter what that meant for her. It was comforting. I was an only child, and Steph was as close as I got to having a sibling.
My mom poked her head into the kitchen. “You ready?”
“Yes. More than ready. I’m thinking that burger place beside the college that I love so much.” I walked into the living room and gave her a crooked smile as she groaned.
“I hate that place. Let’s go somewhere nice. You deserve a really good dinner. This is big news, so we need a big celebration.” She smiled and opened the door, patting my back as I walked through in front of her.
“Mom. Money is tight. We don’t need to blow the phone bill on a steak. Seriously.” I walked down the dilapidated stairs that needed to be replaced yesterday and turned, making sure to watch her in case the whole damn platform fell.
“Money will always be tight, but one day, my baby girl is going to pay everything off and live the life I’ve always wanted for her. Right? Give me hope.” She winked at me and stopped by her side of the car as her expression tightened. “I’m so proud of you. Your daddy would be too. You know that, right?”
I nodded, not sure I trusted myself to talk around the hot lump of sadness that rose up sharply and lodged itself in my throat. My father should have been there, but his heart wasn’t willing to outlast his fast-paced life. He was the reason I wanted to become a doctor. No girl should have to bury her father from a misdiagnosis. I would make sure that didn’t happen on my shift, or I’d die trying.
After getting in the car, I buckled up and turned on the radio. I might have only been a few years from thirty, but when I was with my mother, it felt like I was fifteen again. I loved it. She did too.
“So a burger for the newest resident of St. Mark’s Hospital?” She reached over and squeezed my arm gently before turning on the car and backing out.
“That sounds delicious.” I pulled out my phone and let out a sigh. “I should text Dex.”
“You should. He’s a great boy, Elizabeth. He’s been hanging around you and Stephanie far longer than any man would be expected to. You know he’s going to ask you to marry him soon.”
“Ugh. No.” I ran my fingers through my long chestnut hair and dropped the phone in the cup holder next to me.
“What? Why? He’s so good looking.”
“Yes, and he knows it. He’s been in love with himself since we were in high school and he lost all that weight. I almost wish he was still fatty Jack.”
“Elizabeth. Don’t call him that. He hated that back in high school, and he hates it now.” My mom gave me a sideways look as I smirked.
“He’s a great guy, but not the guy for me. I should have broken up with him ten years ago, but I’m just not sure I can now. We’ve been together too long.”
“Yeah, but if it’s not right, then—”
“Wait. You’re confusing me. You just said he was the one for me, and now you’re giving me an out? You need meds. I’ll examine you when we get to the restaurant or ask Steph to do it.”
“Neither of you is touching me. You might fool all those people at NYU, but I know you both far too well.” She pulled into the parking lot of the burger place and turned to look at me. “Honestly, let him go or invite him in. Dating off and on for ten years is a waste of both of your lives.”
I nodded and jumped as the car beside us honked loudly. Stephanie waved at me and pointed at Jack before giving me a shit-eating grin. She’d brought him on purpose. I’d have to kick her in the shin over it later.
We got out of the car and walked to the restaurant as the warm wind of autumn blew across us. Jack reached out and grabbed my arm, pulling me back toward him.
“Just a minute.” He looked over at my mother and Steph. “We’ll be right in. I just want to congratulate my girl.”
I pressed my hands to his strong chest as he turned his attention back to me. “I was going to call.”
“No, you weren’t.” He leaned down and brushed his lips by mine. “But it’s okay. You’re modest, and you hate attention. I get it. I, on the other hand, love attention and have been getting none lately.”
“I know.” I forced a smile and lifted to my toes, kissing his lips once more in hopes that we could go inside soon. He was handsome in a frat-boy way, but his personality drained me within ten minutes of being near him.
“Spend the night with me tonight. You haven’t been in my bed for a month.” He ran his hands over my cheeks and pulled me up for another long kiss. I closed my eyes and imagined him to be anyone but who he was. Sadness and guilt tightened around my insides as I forced my eyes open. I couldn’t keep doing this just to spare his feelings. I couldn’t do it just so I wouldn’t be completely alone at night. It was getting ridiculous.
“Not tonight. I want to visit my advisor, and you know she keeps late hours.” I hugged him and moved back. “Come on. I’ll stay the night soon. I promise.”
“I’m going to hold you to it.” He playfully slapped my butt, and I stifled a growl. There had to be a better match for him. I wanted to desire him, wanted to feel uncontrollably turned on by his sexy voice and dark eyes, but it just wasn’t going to happen for me. I’d watched him grow up, and for some odd reason, that killed my desire to want him sexually. I’d been forcing myself for the last few years to sleep with him, but now that I was done with school, maybe it was time for a change—for both of us.
We ate dinner and laughed the entire time, thanks to Stephanie and all of her crazy stories she told when anyone was paying attention. The girl didn’t know a stranger, and if it hadn’t been for her, we would never have been invited anywhere in college. She was in the center of everything and just happened to drag me along, often against my will.
My meeting with my advisor wasn’t until early the next morning, but no one needed to know that. Besides, no one but Dex would care.
Stephanie let out a yelp, and I glanced up from my burger to see her face light up as she read something on her phone.
“Oh my God, Liz. I got in too. I’ll be at St. Mark’s with you. Oh my God.” She jumped up and almost knocked the table over as she moved around my mother and wrapped me in an awkward hug. I was used to them and simply turned and gave her a tight squeeze.
“That’s great news! Looks like we won’t have to split up after all.” I grinned at her.
“And we can check out all the hot doctors together.” She wagged her eyebrows before moving back and shrugging. “Sorry, Jack. You should’ve gone the doctor route. Accountants just aren’t that sexy.”
“This one is.” He brushed his hand down his chest and gave me a saucy look. “Right, baby?”
“Right. So hot.” I shoved three fries in my mouth and avoided my mother’s hard stare. It would be time to go soon, and I couldn’t pray hard enough for it to hurry the hell up so I could escape this nagging guilt.