I can't believe I haven't posted this one here. Hope you all enjoy it if you haven't already read it. I'll add chapters as I have time. :)
"Well, we'll just take a look," Beth told the anxious mom as she took the otoscope from where it was hooked on the wall and placed it to the little girl's ear, peering inside. "Probably just a little ear infection."
The patient had a slight fever, sinus drainage, and pain in the ear for a week. She was a regular patient here at King County's only clinic during the six months Beth had worked there. The girl was sick so often that Beth suggested a daily vitamin regimen to try and boost her immune system, even going so far as to buying the pills with her own money and giving them to the girl's mom, saying they were free through the clinic. Whether she took them or not was anyone's guess as she continued to be sick.
She, Sophia, was a small girl with a tiny frame and short dirty blonde hair, shy but warming up to Beth with each visit. She was ten years old but acted much older than her age, an 'old soul' as Beth's mother, Annette, would call her. She had allergies, asthma, and eczema. Beth reiterated at each visit the importance that no one should smoke around her, and the girl's mother swore no one did. The reek of second-hand smoke they both were perfumed in told Beth a different story.
Carol, the mom, was a bit tougher to break. She was obviously still untrusting of Beth. In her late-thirties to early-forties, if Beth had to guess, and was as jumpy as a cat in a lightning storm. She tried hard to hide the tell-tale signs of abuse with long sleeves or sunglasses or poorly applied make-up, but they did not escape Beth's keen eye. She never found a bit of evidence of abuse on the girl. However, if she had, she would have had to report it to child protective services. Hell of a lot of good that would do, Beth scoffed inwardly, but it was still what would need to be done.
"Yep, just as I thought, a little pus behind the eardrum." Beth pulled back, throwing the cover to the otoscope into the trash and replacing the scope on the wall. She patted Sophia on the knee, giving her a wink. The cutest smile escaped Sophia's face before she bowed her head to her lap, where the worn-out doll she always carried sat upright with her fabric legs crossed.
Turning to Carol, she spoke casually, "We can do one of two things: Antibiotics, or wait it out." The overuse of medication was turning into a real problem, and since they were not dealing with anything major, something that would most likely clear up on its own since it is viral to begin with, Beth tried to find alternate solutions in such cases. "We'd just treat the pain and discomfort. Of course, if it isn't cleared up in about a week, we will do antibiotics, but for now, it's up to you mom."
"Well, umm…" Carol looked uncertain, fiddling with the sunglasses in her hand; her short, silver hair rounded her head attractively. She looked tired, Beth surmised, and not just from lack of sleep, but from the constant strain of being in, what Beth guessed to be, an abusive relationship; the kind of relationship that weighed on your mind as well as your body...the kind of marriage that made it difficult to just put one foot in front of the other.
Beth knew they had no insurance and very little money. Luckily, Sophia received state funded medical care, leaving her able to obtain much needed services from the clinic. Beth knew what was running through Carol's mind: either shell out more money she did not have for a prescription, with her husband probably disapproving of that choice, or waiting to see if things cleared up on their own, inevitably prolonging Sophia's suffering, making her feel like a bad parent. Beth decided to make the decision for Carol.
"Why don't we just wait it out? I think she will be better in a day or two, but call me in four days if she is not and I will send over a script for amoxicillin to the pharmacy."
Carol looked visibly relieved; a scant smile, much like her daughter's, spread across her pretty face. "Okay, doc. That sounds good."
Beth walked them out to the counter, handing off the chart to the nurse who sat behind an outdated computer. "Here ya go, Sasha."
"Thanks, Beth." The nurse had worked at the clinic for years and knew it better than any of the other three staff members. "See ya next time, Carol. Take care of that cold, Sophia," she told them.
Walking them to the door, she gave Carol instructions on what to do to aide Sophia's fever and pain. "Now remember, call me if you have any questions or need anything." She said this at the end of every visit, the underlying meaning not missing either woman.
Beth had seen plenty of domestic abuse cases in her days as an ER doctor in one of New York City's largest hospitals, but here it was different - more personal, she supposed. She wanted so badly to help everyone, which is why she became a doctor to begin with but knew there was only so much she could do. Carol was an adult, and her marriage to what was probably an abusive man was none of Beth's concern. Despite these facts, she wanted nothing more than to show that man a lesson or two on how to treat his wife.
Thankful for the end of her shift, she shook off the foul mood that Carol and Sophia's visit had brought, she climbed into her '86 CJ Jeep. She loved this vehicle. It had belonged to her father, Hershel, ever since Beth could remember and when she turned sixteen her father passed it onto her, much to her older brother Shawn's discontent. She drove the hell out of that Jeep and then regrettably stored it in her father's barn when she moved to New York when she began college. After moving back to town a few months ago, she was thankful she had kept it. Living here in the backwoods of Georgia, you needed a rugged, reliable vehicle, and four-wheel-drive was of great importance. More than once a week, she was called out to a home in the mountains or along some washed out two-track to see a homebound patient, so she relied on the Jeep to get her where she needed to be.
Today she was glad in her choice to keep the top off the jeep just a few days longer as the cool fall breeze whipped past her windshield. She drove a bit too fast, with the radio blaring Foo Fighters a bit too loud, down the dirt road leading to her father's farm. This was why she moved back: she had had enough of the city life, the faceless, impersonal feeling of a large city, something at one time she desired. After growing up in King County, a very small rural farming community, she needed to get out, to get away. Experience life on her own, on her own terms. Oh, how she'd wanted that with all her naive seventeen-year-old heart. Her parents encouraged her, wanting her to chase her dreams of becoming a doctor, even if that dream was over eight hundred miles away. So, fresh out of high school, with a full scholarship to NYU School of Medicine, she packed up one suitcase and traveled north to start a new life, one where no one knew her name. Looking back now, she wondered how she ever went through with it, having never stepped foot out of Georgia up until that point. 'Bravery mixed with stupidity,' she theorized. She wished she could have a portion of that teenage valor back again; uncertainty resounded deep in her heart more days than not.
After she finished college and her residency and secured a job, she could no longer stifle the urge that crept up her backbone to be back at home, to be there to help her aging parents, to be an aunt to her sister, Maggie and brother-in-laws' two children. She wanted to be a regular presence in Molly and Michael's life, not just an occasional visit at Christmas or summer vacation.
She missed helping her big brother, Shawn. She had learned a lot from him; hanging out at his small shop in town, fixing cars. Now he had expanded to a five-bay mechanic's garage, Shawn's Automotive. She didn't miss fixing cars so much, but she missed the time spent with her big brother. On top of that were the countless friends and extended family, most of whom still lived in the area.
She'd longed to drive, as she was now, down this dirt road, gravel flying out from her 32's, hair being blown into a tousled mess. Then one day, during their weekly phone calls, Hershel had mentioned a job as a lead doctor had opened up at the clinic. She snatched up the opportunity.
"Hey there, baby girl," Hershel greeted Beth as she climbed up her parents' porch steps after parking her Jeep next to his ancient Ford.
"Hey, Daddy." He was sitting in his normal spot in a rocker on the porch, enjoying the day's weather. Retired from Veterinary Medicine, he was now a man leisure and enjoyed every second of it.
"How was work today?"
"Oh, just fine. The flu seasons startin' up already." She climbed the steps and placed a kiss to the top of her father's head. "So you be sure to take those vitamins and wash your hands."
"Yes, Dr. Greene," he sassed.
She swatted playfully at his arm, "Mama inside?"
"Sure is. Stayin' for dinner?" Beth made it a point to stop out to her parent's house a few times a week and have dinner. The time spent with her parents was as much for them as it was for herself. Her absence magnified the importance of what family meant to her. That was one thing she was not unsure about; the time she spent with her family. Beth had been gone twelve years. She knew she would never leave King County again.
She wasn't planning on staying since she'd had a long day, but the smell of fried chicken wafted through the screen door and her stomach grumbled with hunger, reminding her that she'd skipped lunch. "Ya know I will never turn down one of Mama's meals."
Stuffed to the brim and feeling every bit of her twelve-hour shift at the clinic, Beth parked her jeep adjacent to the lean-to next to her house. It was only half full of wood. She sighed loudly; one more thing to add to the to-do list: split and stack wood. She trudged to the back door, unlocked it and entered through the kitchen. Immediately the room wrapped her in its warmth. The darkness enveloped her like a heavy blanket and she stood for a moment allowing the obscurity of nightfall to surround her.
The kitchen was placed at the back of the small cabin and led into a beautifully rugged log-walled living space with a stone fireplace. A vaulted ceiling opened to the loft bedroom space. It was built ages ago and when she was looking for a home to purchase after moving back, she knew not to look any further after finding this one. This one was meant to become her home.
The cabin was only a few miles further out in the country than her parent's farm. Hershel and Annette would love nothing more than to have her living at home again, but they understood she was an adult and needed her own space. She mostly just wanted to be left alone, which is probably why the cabin in the middle of nowhere was so appealing. She loved her job and helping the people of her hometown, but it required her to be on her toes all day. It didn't matter if she didn't feel like talking or if she had a headache, or if she was overwhelmed by the number of patients versus the lack of resources the small town had to offer them. It shouldn't matter, anyway. The patient's needs came first, but by the end of the day, some days, she didn't want to talk or see anyone outside of her family, a side effect of living in an overpopulated city for far too long. She was a small town girl at heart.
And yet, by moving back she replaced one stack of problems for another. In the city, she had every medicine, every test, everything she needed that a physician would need, but she lacked true quality time with her patients. The drugs and violence made her job dangerous. She was constantly watching over her shoulder. Here, she was safe, she was helping her people, but the town lacked resources. In King County, drugs and violence were an issue, as with any town, but not to the magnification that they were in New York City.
Beth went straight to the bathroom and shrugged out of her navy blue scrubs and stepped under the showerhead, allowing steaming hot water to pour over her face, attempting to wash away the racing thoughts that often kept her awake at night.
"What do we have today?" Beth asked Sasha, from behind the counter. Sasha only motioned to the waiting room with a pushed out hand. They had a waiting room full of sniffling, coughing, ragged looking patients.
"This virus is sure gettin' 'round," Sasha told Beth, handing her the first patient folder of the day. The other doctor, Tyreese Williams, or Dr. Ty as the patients affectionately called him, wouldn't be in until noon as he was checking on their housebound patients. Beth took a deep breath, accepting of what would no doubt be another long day, and took the file from Sasha, calling out the patient's name.
By five, when the clinic was supposed to shut down for the day, Beth had seen over 75 patients and the waiting room was still full. At some point, Beth was unsure when, Maggie had stopped in and taken over Sasha's post, leaving Sasha able to do her job of ushering patients in and assessing their situations.
"When'd you get here?" Beth asked when she saw Maggie sitting at the front desk, typing away at the keyboard and simultaneously talking on the phone. She held up a finger to Beth, shushing her. "Uh-huh, I understand, but technically the clinic is closed for the day. We can fit you in tomorrow at 10:30." Maggie paused, listening to the person on the other end of the line, then spoke again, "Okay, yes. We will see you tomorrow then." Maggie replaced the phone to the receiver to the cradle. "I got here a couple of hours ago. I stopped in to see you, cause I don't ever get to see you," Maggie eyed her pointedly, and Beth felt every bit the little sister, "when Sasha cornered me, begging for mercy."
"The kids with Glenn?"
"You know you don't haveta do this." Though they desperately needed her help.
"When you gonna hire someone just to work reception?" Maggie asked, not waiting for an answer before going on. "You know I don't mind helpin' out. I love staying home with the kids but it's nice to get away from diapers and peanut butter sandwiches and runny noses…" On cue, a child sneezed from the waiting room. The sisters shared a much needed laugh, "Well, at least I don't have to wipe that particular nose."
"Thanks for your help, sis. It should start slowing down now, go lock the door and switch the open sign to closed!"
"Your next patient is waiting," Sasha said from somewhere behind her. "Room two." The clinic had four patient rooms, Beth was bidding with the town to add more. The powers that be, however, were resistant to spending money on the expansion the clinic desperately needed.
Taking the patient's folder from the slot on the door of room two, she read the name on the tab and grinned. Knocking twice, she entered the small space. It held a cot, one folding chair, and a small cupboard that they had to keep locked. People would walk away with anything these days. The floor was a white speckled linoleum that Beth guessed to be older than herself.
"Hello. What brings you to the clinic today?" She asked the patient, pulling her stethoscope from around her neck, placing it to the exposed skin left visible by his partially unbuttoned shirt.
"Well," the man spoke casually, the paper on the bench underneath him crinkled loudly as he leaned back. "You did." She made eye contact with him, just as he snatched her wrist in his fist, pulling her to him. "Where you been, Doc?" he asked just before crushing his mouth to hers, knocking her stethoscope to the floor. She couldn't help but surrender to the pull of his lips. A few men had shown interest in Beth since she had moved back to town, but none were quite as persistent as Deputy Shane Walsh.
His caring, charismatic persona matched his handsome good looks, all of which Beth found hard to resist. He also had a quick temper and possessive side. Combine that with both their work schedules, they found it hard to see each other longer than a few minutes here or there. Dating seemed like a bad idea.
Although his warm, strong arms felt good wrapped around her body, she regrettably untangled herself from his grasp. "I have been here. Ya know that." Shane was a good man, but he had a jealous streak as wide as the Mississippi, and Beth did not have time for such games.
"I miss you." The look on his ridiculously handsome face told her he was sincere. They had discussions, mostly via text, that led her to believe he was more serious about her than she was about him. Unfortunately, she felt strong lust as well as a liking for Shane, but not a whole lot more. She tried to let him down easily, but he was persistent and Beth could not help but feel a little flattered.
"I'm sorry Shane." And she truly was. "It's just so busy here. I hardly have time to think."
He nodded, but she doubted what she said sunk in. He dropped his arm from where he held her around the shoulders to her waist. "You know you have fun when we're together." He grazed kisses from her collarbone up to just behind her ear, making her eyes unconsciously roll back in her head. What he said was true enough, but it just wasn't the right time even if his lips on her skin felt, well...amazing.
"Shane…I…" His hand traveled down to her behind, pulling her up and into him, nestling her into the V of his legs. "I haveta go…"
"Can I see ya' tonight?" His deep voice was muffled by his kisses.
She was tempted to say yes, every bone in her body screamed it, but she knew that would be a bad idea.
"I'll be here late…then I'm going to Maggie's." Shane's teeth nipped her earlobe; she needed to step away from him. She wasn't some teenager ruled by hormones. She was a grown woman, at work no less! As the seconds ticked by it was becoming harder and harder to pull away. Taking a deep breath, she finally pushed him back and stepped away. "You should go." She bent to pick her stethoscope up off the floor and straightened her backbone, pulling herself up to her full height, hoping to look professional, like she had it all together.
He tried to hide the hurt he felt, but she saw it in his chestnut eyes. "I'm sorry, Shane. We've talked about this before. It's jus' not a good idea."
He nodded his head in a way that told her he did not agree, even though he was shaking his head in the affirmative. He stood in front of her; there weren't many other places to stand in the small room. Roughly he placed his hand behind her neck and pulled her face up to his, once again covering her lips with his, then abruptly pulled back, and asked, "If it ain't a good idea, why does it feel so right?"
"It doesn't feel right, Shane. It just feels good. There is a difference." Rip the bandaid off all at once, don't prolong the pain.
She felt smaller by the second, as he slammed open the door and strode down the hall.
Sasha barely dodged him as she walked down the same hallway. "You okay?" she asked Beth.
"Yes," she said, in a voice that sounded calmer than she felt. "Who's the next patient?"
And so the week went on. Lots of sicknesses, which meant long days. It was finally Friday and Beth was looking forward to a weekend of sleeping in and doing chores around the house. Shane apparently had taken the hint and had stayed away from her, even going so far as to not wave at her when they crossed paths on the main street that ran through town, where on one end was the Sheriff's office, the other end was the clinic. Such was life in a small town.
It was well past dark when she parked her jeep in its normal spot in her driveway. The weather had turned cold and damp, the wind howled through the surrounding trees, whipping her hair around her face. It was an effort to put one foot in front of the other as she walked to her back door when she heard shuffling on the small porch, stopping her in her tracks. A dark figure stood on the top step. At that moment she wished she had listened to her father when he suggested she put a motion detector light above the door.
She reached into her bag for the can of mace she carried with her when she lived in the city, never bothering to take it out once she got back to Georgia. Holding it out, she yelled, "Stop!"
The figure did stop, but a chuckle carried through the crisp night air. This jackass has the nerve to laugh? But the image of herself, standing in scrubs, holding out a can of mace was probably humorous to a criminal. The chuckle, though, had a familiar rumble to it.
"Who are you?" she questioned, squinting her eyes against the dark.
"Beth, it's me, Daryl."