Alex’s world stood still the day her father passed. After more than a year of living frozen in that moment, she decides to take the first steps out of her grief by enrolling in a paramedic program. It’s in one of her first classes that she meets Megan, a pretty but aloof medical student who has a few skeletons of her own in the proverbial closet. Can they work together to mend their broken hearts?
My latest novel, THE ORIGINS OF HEARTBREAK, is available now on Amazon. Read the first chapter below.
Megan Callahan stood nervously on the side of a small stage at the front of an ornately decorated church, waiting for her name to be called. It was late September and she was standing in line with a hundred and fifty other people, all waiting to receive their white coats as they began their second year of medical school.
She had spent the morning going through all of the technical details of starting a new school year — figuring out her class schedule and purchasing her textbooks in the college store — and it had all seemed pretty anti-climactic. She’d been working toward becoming a doctor for as long as she could remember, and this felt like nothing more than a new semester at the same school she’d been attending for the past five years.
She’d already completed her first year of medical school, and now she was known as an M2 — one more year of classes and then she would finally be doing the hospital rotations that she’d been waiting so long for. It felt so far away still, and yet with a set of spotlights beating down on the stage and making Megan’s brow moist, the significance of the white coat ceremony felt more real than ever.
She was two people away from the front of the line now, and very soon she would be walking across the stage. One of her professors would be putting a white coat on her shoulders, and by the end of this year she would be one step closer to becoming a real doctor, seeing patients and holding lives in her hands.
Megan was doing her best to pretend she wasn’t having a small panic attack about that, particularly because the student standing directly behind her—Ivy Chan—was an alpha dog through and through and she’d love any opportunity to observe weakness in Megan.
They had met in line at the bookstore on their very first day of medical school, and Megan made the mistake of trying to talk to her once she noticed that they were buying a lot of the same books.
“Are you a first-year med student, too?” Megan had asked.
“No, I’m just a really dumb third year,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “Looks like someone’s going to have trouble with evidence-based practice.”
Megan had opened her mouth to rebut, meaning to throw something out about her biology degree and how Northwestern had given her a solid understanding of the scientific method, thank you very much, but then the line moved forward and the girl marched away with her books. Megan had hoped that in a class of a hundred and fifty, their paths wouldn’t have to intersect again, but of course the universe couldn’t be that kind. Ivy had been a constant thorn in her side ever since.
Hearing her name called into a microphone made Megan’s heart give a little jump in her chest, and she ascended the stairs onto the stage. One of her favorite professors, Dr. Morrow, was holding out a white coat for her. As Megan turned around to put her arms through the sleeves, she scanned the audience, looking for her parents. They were out there, along with her younger brother, but the bright lights obscured them.
The twirling process of putting on the coat was a little awkward and disorienting, and then Dr. Morrow was guiding Megan on her way across the stage to shake hands with the dean.
“Ivy Chan,” the announcer called. Megan spared a glance backward and saw Ivy slipping gracefully into her coat.
Megan exited on the other side of the stage and went back to her place in the pews to wait for the rest of the class to finish getting their coats. Her nerves had dissipated the moment she felt the coat settling on her shoulders, and she couldn’t wait to go back to her apartment and check it out in the mirror, complete with a stethoscope looped around her neck. It was worth every bit of the last five years of work, staying up late and studying after everyone else went to sleep, burning the midnight oil to keep up on social events at her undergraduate sorority and still get her work done. There was still a lot of hard work left to do, but a little bit of recognition and a crisp white coat was nice, too.
After the ceremony finally drew to a close with Megan’s class reciting the Declaration of Geneva (I solemnly pledge to consecrate my life to the service of humanity…), they were all released to greet their parents and take them over to the student union for a reception. Megan found her family lingering outside of the doors of the church, and her folks immediately made a huge deal out of the coat, hugging her and inspecting the material. Her mother straightened her collar while Megan blushed and tried to lead them across the courtyard.
“You look like such a grown woman,” her mother said, her eyes tearful from the ceremony.
“You look like a marshmallow,” Megan’s teenaged brother, Finn, said.
“A marshmallow that has the power to save—or end—your life,” Megan shot back, but he paid no attention to her reply. He was looking longingly toward the student union, where a lot of people were headed.
“There’s food at this thing, right?” he asked.
Megan watched Ivy come out of the church alone and march across the courtyard with the same pompous posture she’d had when she walked across the stage. She wondered if Ivy had anyone in the audience watching her, but it was impossible to feel too sorry for her when she wore that perpetual scowl on her face that said she had the world’s most uncomfortable stick up her butt. Megan stopped watching her and said, “Yeah, let’s go—I’m starving.”
The four of them headed over to the reception, where there were hors d’oeuvres galore, from finger sandwiches to mini quiches to a chocolate fountain surrounded by fresh fruit. Finn split off from the rest of the family instantly, making a bee line for the dessert table, and Megan picked up three champagne glasses for herself and her parents.
Before she’d even taken a sip, though, her roommate, Chloe, came bounding over, practically skipping across the room and throwing her arm around Megan’s shoulder.
“Hi Mr. and Mrs. Callahan,” she exclaimed, then turned to Megan and did a little impromptu fashion show with her white jacket, twirling around and then bumping her shoulder against Megan’s. “How excited are you? I don’t think I’m ever going to take my white coat off.”
“I’ll probably take mine off to go to the grocery store and stuff like that,” Megan said with a small laugh.
Chloe was the most enthusiastic, bubbly person Megan had ever met. Half the time, she felt compelled to put her hands on Chloe’s shoulders just to keep her from floating away, and the other half of the time she wanted to install a zipper on her mouth.
“Oh, I won’t,” Chloe said with a half-serious grin. “I want everyone to know I’m a doctor.”
Then she threw her arms around Megan again, giving her a quick peck on the cheek, and dashed off to mingle with more people. Megan watched Chloe go over to Ivy, who was stacking a plate high with finger sandwiches, and Chloe greeted her with the same enthusiastic energy. Megan always expected Ivy to sprout quills like a porcupine whenever people approached her, but for some reason she didn’t have the same prickly response to bubbly Chloe that she had to everyone else.
My colleagues will be my sisters and brothers, Megan thought, remembering another line from the Declaration of Geneva. Then she thought, This is medical school.