Krys Stevens is the best trauma doctor at Lakeside Hospital. She runs the ER like a finely choreographed dance, she has coworkers she calls friends, and she’s a superstar at the free clinic where she volunteers. What more could an ambitious young doctor want? One day, a patient arrives in the ER intubated with a ballpoint pen and changes everything – that’s how Krys meets Darcy, a former combat medic and a woman after her own heart.
My latest novel, LOVE TRAUMA, is available now on Amazon. Read the first chapter below.
Graduation day was a warm May afternoon and for about an hour, Krys Stevens was able to ignore the pager clipped to her hip.
That was pretty rare for her. She’d been working in the emergency department of Lakeside Hospital for almost five years and she could count on one hand the number of times she requested a day off. She always jumped to answer every page and took any extra shifts she could because there was nowhere in the world she’d rather be than in the ER, saving lives.
But today the hospital would have to get by without Krys Stevens because she was here to watch her friends become doctors.
She found a seat near the bottom of the bleachers of Northwestern’s stadium, where she might be able to catch the attention of Megan, Ivy and Chloe as they walked across the stage set up in the center of the football field. There were thousands of other people there, proud parents and friends, but Krys wanted the girls to know she’d come to support them. They were an eclectic bunch, worming their way into her life by force at times, but she had grown to love them by now.
Krys was in her seat and ready for the ceremony to start by eleven-fifteen, and she had about forty-five minutes to kill. Fortunately for her, she’d planned to get some work done while she waited. She had a rolled-up medical journal tucked under her arm along with the graduation program she’d been handed at the stadium entrance, but first she had a few emails to catch up on.
That was one thing about the ER that she’d never gotten used to – no matter how efficiently she triaged and treated her patients, the paperwork never stopped piling up. The possibility of coming out to support her friends and then getting some work done while everyone else crossed the stage was appealing in more ways than one.
She was just tapping out a reply on her phone to Russell, her boss at the free clinic where she moonlighted, when she heard someone shout, “Krys! Hey, Krys Stevens!”
She looked up – it might be like finding a needle in a haystack to locate the source of her name in a crowd of thousands. But then a couple of hands went up and she saw some familiar faces. There was Alex – Megan’s fiancée – and Dr. Thomas from the pediatrics department standing up and waving to her from a few rows over.
Krys waved back and Alex cupped her hands around her mouth to shout, “Come sit with us!”
Krys looked longingly down at her medical journal – The Annals of Emergency Medicine, which she’d been intending to read for weeks now – and then tucked it under her arm and picked her way across the rows of bleachers to them.
“Hi,” she said as she slid into a seat at the end of the row.
“We thought you’d be working, or else we would have invited you to come with us,” Dr. Thomas said.
She was wearing a flowing floral dress and she looked exactly the same as she did in the hospital, minus the white coat and stethoscope.
Alex, on the other hand, looked like a whole new woman without her navy paramedic’s uniform. Krys saw her on a daily basis in the ER and she hardly recognized the girl with the carefully curled hair and the feminine-cut blouse sitting in front of her. Then again, Krys didn’t look much like herself today, either.
She’d foregone her usual utilitarian ponytail, for one thing, and she felt out of sorts without her hospital scrubs.
“I’m glad you came,” Alex said. “It’ll mean a lot to the girls. Have you met Megan’s parents?”
She gestured further down the bleachers to a woman who was unmistakably Megan’s mom, complete with fiery red hair and delicate freckles across the bridge of her nose. Beside her sat a man with a warm smile and his arm around his wife’s shoulders. Krys reached down the row to them, shaking their hands over Alex and Lily’s laps.
“Are Ivy and Chloe’s parents here?” she asked.
“Yeah, but they drove separately and we haven’t been able to locate them,” Alex said. “It’s okay – we’ll catch up with them at the reception afterward. Are you sticking around for that?”
She was talking about the cocktail hour that the university was putting on after the graduation was over. Krys was planning to attend it and make an immediate beeline for Ivy, Chloe and Megan so she could congratulate them, then get back into the action for a night shift at the free clinic. Instead of admitting all this, though, she said, “Yeah, for a little while.”
“Good,” Alex said. “You need to get away from the hospital more often.”
Krys rolled her eyes good-naturedly, and when Alex turned her attention back to her future in-laws, she wondered if it would be rude to go back to her emails. Plus there was an intriguing article about cystic fibrosis that she’d been meaning to read…
“Did you bring a medical journal to a graduation ceremony?” Dr. Thomas asked, as if she were reading Krys’s mind. Then she swiped the journal out of Krys’s lap to confirm her suspicions. “Seriously?”
“We’re here to support Chloe Barnes, Megan Callahan, and Ivy Chan,” Krys pointed out. “What are you planning to do while everyone from D through Z walks across the stage, Dr. Thomas?”
“Be supportive,” she said with an amused grin. “And we’re not in the hospital – call me Lily.”
“Only if you give back the journal,” Krys said. The prospect of wasting two whole hours that she could be using for professional development made her want to break out in hives. Dr. Thomas – err, Lily – handed back the journal and Krys flipped it open, finding the article she wanted. Then she passed it back to Lily. “Have you read this? It’s about treating respiratory distress in the ER – I figured it might be useful for the next time Malik comes in.”
A shadow fell briefly over Lily’s face, and then she smiled.
“Let me check it out,” she said. She and Krys had both spent a lot of time with their young CF patient, and he was everyone’s favorite patient when he came in for his breathing treatments. Lily gave Krys a side-eye, then closed the journal and slipped it into her purse, saying, “after the ceremony. You’re here to support your friends, so be present in the moment, hon.”
The idea made Krys feel itchy, but Lily had a point.
After a few minutes, the crowd settled down and the first few bars of Pomp and Circumstance could be heard over the speakers. As the music grew louder, everyone stood and the graduates began filing onto the field, taking seats in the white folding chairs that were set up in front of the stage.
Krys and her group cheered when they saw the girls come out – Megan and Chloe with bejeweled and decorated mortarboards, and Ivy holding her chin high, her posture impeccable. Their backs were to the audience but Krys clapped loudly for them and laughed when Alex let out a whoop for Megan.
“Chloe starts her residency with me next week,” Lily said as they spotted her. “She’s going to make a great pediatrician.”
“They’re all going to be good clinicians,” Krys said. Then she laughed and added, “Ivy practically bullied me into being her mentor, so I guess we don’t have to worry about them taking an active role in their careers.”
The football field slowly transformed into a sea of purple and black robes. Ivy and Megan were two of the most decorated graduates, with multiple honor cords hanging from their necks, and Chloe used her charm to bribe the other graduates to sit down out of order so that she could squeeze Ivy’s hand throughout the ceremony.
It was about two hours long, and Lily had been right about the medical journal. Even though Krys only knew three faces in the crowd, she felt proud and invigorated to watch over a hundred and fifty new doctors receive their diplomas.
Hell, it made her want to race back to the ER as soon as she could to pour out that prideful energy on her patients.
Beside her, Lily clapped for each and every student that walked across the stage, and their whole group stood and cheered loudly as Chloe, then Megan, then Ivy received their diplomas. They were able to locate Ivy’s family sitting at the bottom of the bleachers near the field because while she was shaking the dean’s hand, her brother stood up and screamed, “Congratulations, big sis!”
Ivy scowled at him for embarrassing her and Krys couldn’t help smiling. It must be both a blessing and a curse to have siblings who took pride in humbling you during your most significant moments.
After the ceremony was over, Krys went with Lily, Alex and Megan’s parents to the reception. There was an enormous white tent set up on the lawn not far from the stadium, with refreshments stations set up beneath it, along with quite a few tables dressed in fine white linens. The five of them got drinks and then sat down to wait for the graduates to pour in.
Krys checked her pager, more out of habit than for any other reason. She wasn’t on call today and she wasn’t due back at the hospital for another sixteen hours, but she never truly forgot the weight of the little black pager that lived forever on her hip. As she was getting ready for the ceremony this morning, she’d stood in front of the mirror in her bathroom and looked at herself in the navy dress pants and flowing summer blouse she’d chosen, and she felt naked until she clipped the pager to her waistband.
“Didn’t you request the whole day off?” Lily asked when she noticed Krys glancing at her hip.
“I did,” Krys said. “But you know how things can be in an emergency department. They can get overwhelmed easily and sometimes they call me to fill in even when I’m not on call.”
“Do you ever stop working?” Lily asked as she sipped on her glass of chardonnay.
Krys had opted for an iced tea with lemon, just in case. She smiled and said, “Not if I can help it.”
Lily gave her a slightly disappointed look that reminded Krys of her mother, then said, “Don’t burn yourself out, girl.”
Krys was saved from the lecture as the graduates arrived at the reception. A sea of purple robes invaded the tent as everyone spread out, locating their loved ones and enjoying the celebration. Megan made it to the table first, greeting Alex with a kiss and then hugging her parents. Krys spotted Ivy and Chloe entering the tent hand-in-hand, but they went to round up their own parents before joining the group.
“I wish your brother could have been here,” Megan’s mom was saying.
“It’s fine,” Megan said. “He’s in college now – I don’t blame him for not wanting to come home for this.”
“You only graduate from medical school once,” her mom objected, and then she let the subject slide and said, “You looked so beautiful crossing the stage, honey.”
“Thank you, mommy,” Megan said. Then she turned to Krys, pulling her into an unexpected embrace. Krys flushed for a moment – she wasn’t used to being part of a group like this and it always took her off-guard when these girls treated her as more than just a coworker. By the time Megan released her, she’d gotten her color under control again and Megan said, “I’m so glad you came, Krys.”
“I am, too,” she answered. “How does it feel to be a doctor?”
“Amazing,” Megan said. She grabbed Alex’s hand and said, “Now I have everything I ever wanted.”
“Barf,” Ivy interjected as she led Chloe and their parents over to join the group. “Get a room.”
Megan laughed and kissed Alex’s hand, where a sparkling diamond ring circled her finger, and then they all pulled a second table over, joining the two so everyone could sit together. Ivy and Chloe introduced their parents to the group and Krys was amused at how much they mirrored the girls.
Ivy’s family – except for her rambunctious brother – was stoic and reserved like Ivy had been when Krys first met her. Meanwhile, Chloe’s mom, dad, and teenage sister were all very expressive, hugging her and jumping right into the conversation with vigor. That was going to make an interesting family dynamic if one day they all became in-laws.
“What do you two think?” Lily asked the new arrivals Krys’s question. “How does it feel?”
“Terrifying,” Chloe said with a nervous laugh. “I’m allowed to practice medicine all by myself now. I can’t believe it.”
“I’ll be right by your side,” Lily said. “You’ll do fine.”
“Of course you will,” Ivy agreed. “And I can’t wait to do some cutting.”
“Surgeons,” Krys said. “You’re all alike. What about you, Megan? Where are you doing your residency?”
“At the coroner’s office,” she said. “I’ve been keeping in touch with Dr. Markovich ever since our medical school rotations and he agreed to mentor me on top of the usual residency. Although that might have to happen in my sleep for the first couple of months because I don’t know when I’ll find the time.” She linked her arm in Alex’s and added, “Wedding planning is way more work than we were expecting.”
“I offered to plan it for you two,” her mother said. “I did warn you.”
“And we appreciate the offer, but we want to have our wedding,” Megan said with a smile. “Not yours.”
“July, right?” Krys asked.
She’d been surprised and honored when she received their Save the Date in her hospital mailbox, and that was another date she’d been happy to request time off work for, although she suddenly realized that her RSVP card had gotten buried under a pile of medical journals in her apartment.
“Yep,” Alex said, giving Megan a quick kiss on the cheek. “And you better not show up stag.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Krys asked. She hadn’t even begun to consider the possibility of bringing a date. The idea seemed preposterous, in fact. When would she have the time to find someone?
Megan put on an act of hardship, ticking off all the reasons why Krys should bring a date. “It throws off the caterers and the seating arrangements will be a mess. Everything we order, from party favors to linens, seems to come in even numbers…”
“You’re just trying to couple everyone up because you’re in love,” Krys said.
“And what’s wrong with that?” Megan asked, putting her arm around Alex. “Everyone should be so lucky.”
“Seriously, you’re nauseating,” Ivy said, but she scooted her chair a little closer to Chloe’s and slid her hand more covertly into her girlfriend’s beneath the table.
The conversation turned to Ivy and Chloe’s plans next. They’d finally decided after half a year of bouncing back and forth between their two apartments that it was time to take the plunge and move in together, and their families were going to help them relocate while they were in town this weekend.
Ivy was just discussing the challenges of moving in together and beginning a rigorous surgical residency all in the same week when Krys felt her phone vibrating in the pocket of her pants.
“I’m sorry,” she said, excusing herself from the table. She didn’t get many phone calls. Her parents called from Denver once a week, but never on a Saturday afternoon, so that meant only one thing – either the hospital or the clinic needed her. She could feel her heart rate increasing already.
It turned out to be Russell, asking if she could come in and cover the free clinic after one of the other doctors got called in to work an extra shift at his day job. Krys said she’d be happy to, and then she went back to the table to say goodbye to the new graduates.
“I’m sorry to bow out, but I’ve got some patients waiting for me at the free clinic,” she said, trying to ignore the disapproving look Lily was giving her. “Congratulations, everyone. It was so good to see you
graduate, and I’m proud of all of you.”
Megan, Ivy and Chloe had come a long way since Krys met them in the early years of their medical education, and she had no doubt they’d go on to become fine doctors. As such, she knew they would understand why she needed to leave.
They all said goodbye, and then Krys headed out of the tent. Behind her, she heard Ivy saying, “It just made sense to move in together, although I do have a study carrel reserved at the library in case I need to get away to catch up on my reading.”
Krys smirked and just before she got out of earshot, she heard Chloe quip, “We haven’t even moved in together yet and she’s already making plans to escape.”