We leave Vree in this installment and learn more about one of her nurses, Abigail Gentry. I based her looks on the illustration below. The hair in the illustration is curlier than how I described Abigail’s. I may need to add a new description when I sit down for my final draft. Oh well. Anyway, the day is still Monday and four days before Halloween in the story.
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Storms had a way of looking worse through windows.
It was a thought that Abigail Gentry would have turned into poetry a year ago, perhaps even a song played on her old Fender guitar. But thirty-three-year-old Abigail didn’t write or sing anymore. A lot had changed in her life this year. A lot for the better. But not all.
The Monday afternoon rain outside the three-story hospital drummed like a carwash rinse down the plate glass windows to Abigail’s left. The stormy October skylight over Ridgewood had darkened to a faux twilight that exaggerated the artificial lighting inside the anteroom of William Wentworth’s office, which made Abigail’s white uniform glow almost ghostlike against the black plush leather chair in which she sat.
She tapped trimmed and painted fingernails—glossy pink—against the large manila folder on her lap, the folder that contained her unsigned maternity leave papers. Betty Howard at personnel had sent her to the medical building’s third and top floor, saying that Mister Wentworth wanted to see her about her maternity leave.
Betty said she didn’t know.
Nurses didn’t get called to Wentworth’s office unless it was something big. Something bad, perhaps.
Layoffs—some of them permanent—had struck the hospital’s nursing staff last month, but Abigail knew the CEO didn’t personally hand out pink slips.
Her belly rumbled with hunger. She needed to eat more than tossed salad for lunch. But anything else brought bouts of nausea because of her pregnancy.
She tugged the hem of her skirt over her knees, crossed her short legs, picked a piece of lint from her white pantyhose, tugged her skirt’s hem again, and waited. Alone. In front of her CEO’s black, liver shaped, glass-topped desk. Except for a stack of manila folders at one end, Wentworth’s desk was spotless—unlike the desk in his inner office … or so she had heard.
At her right, Wentworth’s outer door opened and stirred her attention to her ex-husband Quinn Bettencourt entering the room. He paused upon seeing her, then crossed in front of her and plopped his gangly body in the matching chair between her and the stormy windows. He had changed out of his earlier attire of green surgeon’s scrubs and was now sharply dressed in a dark blue suit and solid green tie—the official colors of Ridgewood Mercy Hospital.
She scowled at Quinn’s boyish face easily masking his true age of forty-five. On the surface, it was a pleasant face, filled most of the time with a kindly expression until one looked deep into his ultramarine eyes where cynicism bubbled behind them.
“You here to see Wentworth?” he asked.
She chewed her bottom lip for a moment. Then, “Uh-huh. You?”
“It’s my three o’clock.” Quinn splayed his long legs and sighed. “Every Monday through Friday, like clockwork.”
“Are you always late for your meetings?”
His eyes traveled down her shapely calves, then darted to the closed door where Wentworth’s muffled voice drifted from the other side.
“Is he on the phone?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
“So, why does he have you here during our three o’clock?”
“I’m hoping it’s about my maternity leave.”
“That’s right. I hear congratulations are in order.” Quinn grinned wider on the left side of his face, which made him look like he was smirking. He pointed at her trim stomach, not yet showing her pregnancy.
“I’m happy for you and Dick,” he said.
“Daniel. His name is Daniel and you know it, you—” Abigail repressed the derogatory word from entering their CEO’s pristine meeting place. She folded her arms over her chest and waited for Wentworth’s entrance.
“My bad,” Quinn said. He brushed a hand along the side of his short and neatly trimmed brown hair—dyed, of course. “I don’t know why I get his name wrong. Must be he reminds me of a Dick.”
Abigail’s scowl fixed on his steely gaze and she hoped he saw the fire behind her green eyes.
He glanced at her stomach and said, “So, how long has the pudding been in the fridge?”
Abigail turned from him. “God, you’re disgusting.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Fine. How long has the bun been in the oven?”
“You’re a….” She bit her lip.
“I’d guess six weeks, which would explain that nauseas look on your face.” He glanced over her folded arms, at her breasts that pressed against her uniform top. “Feeling tender there, I bet.”
“You’re such an ass.” The derogatory word escaped her mouth easily this time.
She took her arms away from where her breasts were definitely tender and glanced down at her watch. Eleven minutes after three o’clock. Her workday was almost over, so she made mental notes of whether to cook tonight or have send out for dinner. Probably neither since the smells of food had been unkind to her lately. Babies can make such a fuss during pregnancy.
The inner office door opened and a portly but brisk William Wentworth entered.
Quinn sat up and Abigail sat at rigid attention as their CEO plopped into a large swivel chair behind the desk, cleared his throat and apologized for keeping them waiting. Sharply dressed in a beige suit, black shirt and silver tie, he peered eagerly at Abigail’s folder before meeting her gaze and bobbing his balding round head.
“Maternity leave. An early one at that, I hear.” He held out a pudgy hand and waited for Abigail to hand him the folder.
“Dan and I want to make sure there are no complications with this pregnancy,” she said when he opened her folder.
The room stilled. Quinn coughed. Abigail almost looked pleased to see her ex pull at the Windsor knot of his tie.
“Well, naturally I would like to see you back, healthy, as soon as possible,” Wentworth said. His brown eyes danced nervously at Quinn for a moment before he settled again on Abigail. “But considering our recent layoffs…”
“If that’s going to be a problem, sir, I understand should you want me to wait.”
“Layoffs,” he said, as though the word troubled him. He squinted at her for a moment. Then he pulled a manila folder from atop his pile, opened it, and turned to the last page of the papers inside.
Abigail swallowed. Her stomach rumbled and she wished she hadn’t passed on the grilled cheese sandwich for lunch. Whatever she was here for, this was it. She took in a breath and held it.
“Linda Thomas is retiring,” Wentworth said briskly. “Are you aware of this?”
“Yes, sir.” Her attention snapped back to him. “At the end of the year.”
“Sooner. She and her husband are packing this very minute. I tried to get her to stay longer, but her husband found a place in Fayetteville, Arkansas, their dream home. They had to act fast or chance losing it.”
He patted the papers with his left hand. “I’m losing nurses left and right,” he said. He bobbed his head three times at Quinn before he looked again at Abigail.
“You’re an excellent nurse,” he said, “and an outstanding team player. And despite the irreconcilable differences you listed between you and Quinn when you divorced, you have always been professional here at the hospital.”
He paused and Quinn sat forward, suddenly interested.
He’s going to lay me off, she thought. Once the baby is born, I’ll be recovering while standing in the unemployment line.
“You’re young,” Wentworth continued, “but that isn’t a limitation for the job.” He slid the folder and its small stack of papers in her direction. “Should you be so willing, Abigail, I think you’re the best candidate to fill Linda’s shoes in the OR.”
Quinn made a whooshing sound, as though he too had been holding his breath. Abigail was speechless.
“I’ll give you all the time you need,” Wentworth said, “including three months’ vacation after the baby’s delivery … completely paid, of course.”
There was a moment of rain swashing the windows. Abigail finally said, “The OR? Me?” She sat forward, took the folder to her lap, and skimmed the paperwork of her promotion. There were twenty-five pages of legalese. Contract agreements bound nurses all through their careers, but this contract seemed to contain more pages than necessary.
As though he had read her mind, Wentworth said, “It’s a bit wordy, but the standard employment agreement for all nurses hired to an upper staff position: Everything that will transpire during the term of employment, the start date, a description of your duties, who you’ll directly report to.” He looked at Quinn. “Treat her well, Dr. Bettencourt. Leave the divorce outside the hospital.”
“Yes, sir,” Quinn said. He looked and sounded stunned. He shifted his body away from Abigail, crossed his legs, and added, “Of course.”
“You too,” Wentworth said to Abigail. He produced a fountain pen from his desk. “If you’ll just sign and date on the last page, you can begin your new job as soon as you’re back from your leave of absence.”
For a moment, Abigail could not picture herself part of the OR staff. This only happened to intelligent, quick-to-learn nurses.
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Wentworth said, as though he had read her mind. “You’re a topnotch nurse, Abigail.”
She nodded. He was right. She opened Wentworth’s pen and signed and dated the last page. Then she returned the contract and pen and sat back in her chair. A fog filled her mind—a good fog filled with visions of her future.
Wentworth slid the contract to Quinn, who frowned at it for a moment before he signed below Abigail’s name. The CEO followed their signatures with his before he stood, looking pleased.
Abigail stumbled upright, shook Wentworth’s awaiting hand and thanked him.
“The first year will be probation,” he said, bursting her visions of success. “But I know you’ll do us proud.”
“Yes, sir, I’ll certainly do my best,” she said.
Wentworth turned to Quinn. “No three o’clock today. I have some errands to run.”
“Of course.” Quinn stood and addressed Abigail. “Congratulations. I look forward to working with you.”
She didn’t miss the faintest flicker of distress that appeared for a moment in his eyes. Then it was gone.
“Three o’clock tomorrow?” he asked as he turned to Wentworth.
“Yes.” Wentworth turned and retreated to his inner office. When the door closed, Quinn headed for the exit.
Abigail resided in her thoughts for a moment before she stumbled past her chair and followed Quinn into the hallway. There, she paused at a corridor window that mirrored her image back to her, the rain behind it washing down with a constant certainty. She straightened her skirt and ignored the weight of a new obligation upon her, coupled by the sour sickness caused by being pregnant. After all, she reasoned, reflections have a way of looking worse through stormy windows.
To be continued