Vital signs. This is what Brooke Tyler’s workday consisted of. One never-ending sequence of vital signs. Blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, “Please make yourself comfortable, the doctor will be with you shortly.” Her plan had always been to become a registered nurse, but then David died and she was suddenly a single mother on her own. Between Evan, Maddy and work there never seemed to be enough hours in the day. The idea of three more years of school seemed less and less possible as time went by.
The familiar faces of her coworkers smiled from doorways and break rooms as she walked back to the front of the office to retrieve the next patient’s chart. Though she knew their names and the names of many of their children and spouses, they were mostly strangers masquerading as acquaintances. Who really knew anyone in this world?
She paused at the end of the hall and gazed out from the fourth-story window. A sea of majestic oaks stretched east toward her home in a canopy of green. High above, clouds like white brush strokes were painted across the stretched canvas of blue sky. Even higher, a lonely jet left twin vapor trails in its wake.
She wondered what Mason was doing. Then she caught herself and wondered why. Strange.
A hand touched her elbow. She turned. “Oh, Dr. Diaz.”
With a full head of black hair, he was in his late sixties without a wrinkle on his ruddy face. “I left Evan’s prescription up front with Crystal. If his symptoms continue or if there are any side effects, be sure to let me know.”
“I will. Thanks. Mrs. Flannigan is waiting in room two. Her chart is on the door.”
He grimaced. “I appreciate the warning.”
According to the checklist, Evan was a classic Combined Type ADHD, displaying the hyperactive/impulsive symptoms, as well as exceeding the inattentive criteria. Still, she had her reservations. The internet wasn’t much help. Ritalin was either a miracle drug, a zombie potion, or a poor man’s cocaine, depending on the reviewer.
It was during times like these that the glaring hole David left in their lives was magnified. He had a knack for always knowing the right thing to do. She ached for his input. At least she had Blane to lean on. She walked back down the hall to the reception area.
Crystal Riley was a year younger than she was and recently divorced after fifteen years as the trophy wife of an abusive evangelical minister. She described her newfound freedom as how Piper Kerman must have felt when she walked out of prison. Her renaissance was gradual. First, black nail polish, then an eyebrow piercing. After four weeks of leave, she shocked the office by returning to work with an impressive new set of boobs. Most of the other women gossiped about Crystal but Brooke admired her independence and her lack of concern for what others were whispering about her.
She stood in the doorway. “Hey, Crystal, do you—”
“Oh God,” she rolled her eyes.
“What?” said Brooke.
“Sorry, hon. It’s not you. It’s just this song.”
The familiar double-claps and keys of Private Eyes filled the room.
“You don’t like Hall and Oates?”
Crystal pretended to gag.
“Why don’t you change the station?”
She shook her head — her once-brown Pentecostal bun now a platinum pixie cut — and pointed to the note taped above the radio.
“Doctor’s orders. 95 Beach FM, only. So I’m stuck with the ‘lite rock hits of the 70s, 80s and today.’” Her chair creaked as she leaned back and stretched. “FML, right?”
Private Eyes segued into Alanis Morrisette’s Ironic.
Brooke swayed a little. “This one isn’t too bad.”
“Compared to what?” Crystal curled her top lip. “A colonoscopy? Gimme Lizzy Hale over this Canadian bubblegum any day.”
Brooke smiled and raised her hands in surrender, marveling at the once docile little preacher’s wife for the thousandth time. “Dr. Diaz said he left a prescription for me.”
She pushed her chair back from her desk and rolled across the office. “I think I put it over here somewhere.”
As Brooke watched her thumb through a stack of papers, she noticed a barcode tattoo on the nape of her neck. “Crystal!” she whispered. “Is that a tattoo?”
The receptionist glanced at her, an almost-smile tugged at the corners of her lips as she reached back and touched her collar. “This? Yeah. I got it on Saturday. I have two more but… I’d have to show you in the bathroom.”
Brooke felt her face redden. “Are you seeing anyone?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Nothing serious. Why? Are you asking me out? I thought you were all hot and bothered over the handsome attorney off eHarmony or whatever.”
“I’m not asking for me, silly. I just know this guy who might be your type.”
“Yeah? How old?”
“Forty-eight, I think.”
She shook her head. “Too old.”
“But you’re almost forty.”
She looked around. “Do not say that again.”
Brooke smiled. “He’s got a lot of tattoos.”
“Really? What’s he do for a living?”
“He’s … um … he’s unemployed.”
“Great,” said Crystal. “Anything else? Some missing teeth, maybe?”
“He just got out of prison.”
She clapped her hands. “Awesome! Sounds like my soul mate, all right. Nice to know your opinion of me is so high.”
“He’s really cute.” It was only after the words were out that she realized they were true. “And he’s a sweetheart. My kids adore him.”
“Why was he in prison?”
She minimized. “Robbery.”
“Hmm. Dangerous. That might be interesting. Do you have a picture?”
Brooke shook her head, then glanced at the computer. “I don’t know, maybe. Can you pull up the Channel 7 News website?”
She rolled her chair back across the office and tapped on the keyboard. The Eyewitness News logo spun like a coin in the center of the Channel 7 homepage.
Brooke pointed to the tab that said Local. “Click here.” The Magic Mart story was the third from the top. “And right here.”
Mason’s face filled the screen, a deer in headlights.
“Yum,” said Crystal. “Look at those muscles. And that hair.”
Brooke laughed. “My daughter is responsible for that.”
They watched the video clip in silence. When it was over the receptionist reached over and touched her hand. “Those are your kids, aren’t they?”
“Oh my God, you must be so … I don’t know if I should say proud or scared.”
Brooke shrugged. “Both.”
Crystal glanced back at the screen. “Well, I would love to go out with your babysitter. If he’s interested. Show him my Instagram page, okay?”
A grandmother appeared at the window with a girl around Evan’s age. The conversation ended there. Brooke selected a chart from the top of the stack and went to the waiting room to call the next patient. “Malone?”
A thin regal woman with silver hair reached for her purse. On the way to the examination room she heard Crystal call to her from the front office.
“Hey Brooke? Don’t forget Evan’s prescription.”
©2018 Sticks & Stones by Malcolm Ivey
All rights reserved.