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The Apartment

An excerpt from

The Apartment

Chapter 1

“No Dad, I really don’t feel like having deer steaks again tonight. Why don’t you just throw them in the freezer? I’ll cook them this weekend.”

The pretty brunette rolled her eyes, tired of having the same conversation at least once a week. Her father hunted anything for which he could get a license, which meant that their deep freeze was stocked to overflowing with every form of wild game imaginable.

She tapped her pen impatiently on her desk, glancing furtively around her workstation as she listened to the voice on the other end of the phone. She hated drawing attention to herself, and getting caught arguing about dinner with her father while at work always embarrassed her. Just then, a loud beep sounded, and she was happy to see that the front desk was paging her.

“Hold on a sec, Dad—other line.” She left him rambling on about the shelf life of venison and quickly switched lines, hoping for an excuse to get off the phone. “Yes?”

“You have a chart up, Lily,” a female voice replied in a short, clipped tone.

“Thanks, Kim. I’ll be right there.”

“Don’t be too long. You know how much Dr. Wilde hates for this family to wait.” A loud click signaled that Kim, the consistently rude receptionist, had already hung up, leaving Lily frowning down at the phone. That’s why I said I’d be right there.

Remembering that her father was still on hold, she sighed loudly before pressing the flashing button. “Listen, Dad, I need to go. I’ve got a patient. I’m going to the gym after work, so I’ll figure out something else to make when I get home. I should be there no later than six.” She set the receiver back in its cradle before he could interrupt her again. Lily loved her father very much, but there were times when he worked her last nerve.

She made her way quickly from the nurses’ station to the front office, wondering who had gotten Kim’s panties in a twist. There were only a few families in town that Dr. Wilde ever cared about having to wait, so Lily could never resist trying to guess who it might be this time. Was it the judge’s wife? The mayor’s sister?

She sincerely hoped not. Every time the mayor’s sister was there she had to listen to a whole new round of excuses for why she needed another STD test and free samples of Plan B. Normally, Lily would find that responsible, but she knew that it wouldn’t be as necessary if the mayor’s sister didn’t also continually refuse her offers of free condoms.

When she reached the different racks where the charts were stacked in order of doctor and appointment time, Lily saw the bright red sticker on the corner of the chart—the unmistakable code in the office for VIP. Needing two hands to lift the thick chart, Lily flipped it open to reveal whose ass she was supposed to start kissing: Maggie Foster.

Much better than the Mayor’s sister!

Maggie Foster was something of a local celebrity, even if the trashy romance paperbacks she wrote made the elderly people in town shake their heads in disapproval. She hadn’t quite become a household name yet, but she had already sold enough books to make a living. Lily had bought all four of them as soon as they’d hit the bookstore and devoured them immediately upon arriving home. The girl wrote excellent smut.

However, that’s not what put that little red sticker on her chart. Maggie had achieved red sticker status more than twelve years earlier, on the day she married Richard Foster’s son. Richard Foster had the largest family practice in all of Mercer County, and since she was always on the lookout for more referrals, Dr. Natalie Wilde never missed an opportunity to brown nose.

Lily propped open the door to the waiting room with her hip, searching with her eyes until they landed on a strikingly beautiful raven-haired woman who was talking quietly with her head bent toward someone seated next to her. “Maggie?” The woman in question stopped and looked up, smiling brightly. She stood eagerly, motioning for the other woman beside her to follow.

“That was fast!” she exclaimed once the door closed behind them. “How have you been, Lily?”

“Oh, you know… same old, same old.” It never failed to amaze her that someone as well known as Maggie Foster actually remembered her name. Since talking about herself always made her feel awkward, Lily quickly deflected the attention back to the patient. “C’mon, let’s get you weighed.”

“Ugh, do we have to?” Maggie pretended to pout as she kicked off her shoes and shrugged out of her jacket, then hesitated momentarily before pulling off her sweater and standing on the large scale. As Lily watched the digital readout and noted the result in Maggie’s chart, the quiet woman who had been all but forgotten behind them finally spoke up.

“Jeez, Maggie, why don’t you take off all your clothes? I’m sure you could deduct at least a pound or two for those socks.” Her snarky comment was followed by a playful giggle.

“Hey, shut it! I need all the help I can get right now.” She turned back to Lily and made a grave face. “Okay, what’s the damage?”

Easily adopting Maggie’s dry sense of humor, Lily frowned. “Two pounds since last month’s visit. If you keep this up we’ll need to get a bigger scale.”

“I know.” Maggie tried to hold her dour expression, but she couldn’t keep the radiant smile from breaking out across her face. “Isn’t it glorious?”

Lily smiled back, ushering the two women into an exam room. While she checked Maggie’s temperature with a digital thermometer in her ear, the other woman sitting off to the side cleared her throat loudly.

“I’m sorry, Lily,” Maggie said, finally taking the hint. “This is Emma, my husband’s sister. She was kind enough to keep me company today since Eric is out of town until tomorrow.”

“I thought football season was over, like… two weeks ago?” While Lily was uncomfortable talking about herself, she was actually quite good at getting others to open up. Besides, she knew that Maggie loved to talk, especially about her husband.

“It was, but the team needs to stay in shape during the off-season, not to mention the other clients he takes on during the rest of the year. He’s stuck out in California right now looking at a torn rotator cuff.”

Eric Foster was a physical therapist for the Chicago Bears. After a knee injury permanently benched him before his freshman year of college was over, he combined his love of sports and a familial inclination for medicine to find the best of both worlds. He and Maggie were college sweethearts, and they got married about thirty seconds after graduation. After moving around the country for a few years, he was thrilled when he finally landed the position he’d wanted more than anything, always hoping to stay close to his hometown. They lived in Chicago year-round now, but happily made the three-hour drive home to Aledo as often as possible.

As she checked Maggie’s blood pressure, Lily turned her attention to the newcomer with the sandy blonde pixie cut. She was pretty and polished, with expensive highlights in her hair and designer clothes that Lily couldn’t have afforded with an entire paycheck, but something about the warmth of her smile made Lily feel at ease. She decided to return the favor and finally include her in the conversation.

“So, Emma… I don’t remember seeing you in here before. You aren’t a patient of Dr. Wilde’s? I thought all of the Foster women came here.” The town of Aledo, Illinois was small, and Lily worked at the largest private OB/GYN around. They had also recently added a young gynecologist to the staff, which had nearly doubled their clientele.

It didn’t hurt that Dr. Jason Adams, or Jason as he preferred to be called, was extremely easy on the eyes, either. The rate of lonely single women scheduling pelvic exams had skyrocketed over the last few months.

“No,” Emma replied. “Just my mom and Maggie here. I don’t get back to town as often as she does, so I have a doctor in Chicago.”

“Emma’s husband, Brandon, owns his own construction company in the city, and Emma is a freelance interior designer,” Maggie explained. “Really, Emma, you only go for your annual exam. There’s no reason you can’t make it here once a year.” Maggie looked back to Lily. “I’ve been trying to get her to switch for months. Dr. Wilde is worth the trip.”

“Well, I’m sure she’d love to hear that,” Lily said with a smile and a quick nod. She sat down at the small table and made a few more notes in Maggie’s chart. “Alright, how have you been feeling?”

“Great!” Maggie answered with a beaming smile. “Really great, actually. Better than I thought I’d be.”

“No more morning sickness?”

“No, not for weeks now.” Maggie shook her head as she replied, causing her long, silky tresses to fall in shiny black waves around her shoulders. Lily couldn’t help wondering what ungodly expensive endangered animal placenta it took to keep her hair that lustrous.

“Are you having any trouble with your Lovenox injections?” Lily scribbled on the sheet as she spoke, never looking up from the paper.

“No, that’s old hat now. There’s still some bruising on my belly once in a while, but I’m getting the hang of it.”

“How many weeks is it now?”

“Fourteen,” Maggie replied. “I’ve never made it past ten before,” she added in a small whisper. Lily looked up in time to see her wipe a small tear from the corner of her eye. “I’m scared. I’ve been holding my breath for so long now. I’m afraid to relax and make any plans.”

Lily couldn’t stop herself from leaning forward and covering Maggie’s hand with her own. “I don’t blame you for worrying, but fourteen weeks is a very good sign. And this is the first time we’ve tried the injections. They greatly increase the possibility of a full-term pregnancy for women with your condition.”

“It’s just so damn frustrating!” She was crying freely now. “It’s so hard to keep from getting bitter whenever I see so many women having an easy time of it. Don’t even get me started on that fucking show Teen Mom!” Lily handed her a tissue and she wiped her eyes. “I can’t ever just be happy about it. Every time I conceive I have to wonder how long it will be before my body decides to starve it off.”

Lily wrapped her arms around Maggie and hugged her tightly. “I’d tell you to just be positive, but I think if someone told me that, I’d slap them.” Maggie laughed through another sob before pulling away and composing herself.

“Thank you. I hate hearing that, too.” She wiped her eyes again. “I’m sorry, Lily. My damn hormones are all over the place lately. I cry at the drop of a hat.”

“Hey, I’m around pregnant women all day. It’s an occupational hazard.”

“It doesn’t help that we have the added stress of helping my mom plan a huge party,” Emma piped up from behind them. “That’s why I’m back home for a few days. It’s my dad’s 60th birthday and she wanted to throw him a massive celebration.”

“Well, that sounds like fun,” Lily said with a smile.

“That’s what you’d think,” Maggie jumped in, rolling her eyes. “It was supposed to be a nice, respectable dinner at the house. But Barbara kept adding more and more people to the guest list. It’s getting absolutely ridiculous!”

“My mom just hates to leave anybody important out,” Emma explained. “I can understand that, since my dad has so many colleagues through his practice, but what I don’t understand is how delusional she’s being about the sheer size of this thing. I begged her to book a hall and hire a caterer when I saw the final head count, but she’s determined to do it all at home.”

“With our help, of course,” Maggie chuckled. “We’ve been up to our elbows in fruit tarts and finger sandwiches and decorating every surface imaginable since dawn.”

“That sounds really hectic,” Lily sympathized.

“I was actually eager to join Maggie today when she asked me to come with her. We both needed a few hours away from the madness that our house is becoming.” Emma looked at Lily and smirked. “How pathetic is it when a trip to the gyno sounds like a vacation?”

“Hey! This is not just some run-of-the-mill pap smear!” Maggie feigned offense. “This is a baby checkup!”

“Yes, dear.”

They both broke out laughing before Emma turned back to Lily and explained. “I promised her I’d play Eric’s stand-in today. That is totally how he would blow her off.”

Walking toward the door, Lily smiled back at the two women. “Alright, I’m all done here, so Dr. Wilde should be in to see you shortly.”

“Take care, Lily,” Maggie called after her as she left the room.

While she was putting the chart in the slot next to the door, she heard Emma’s voice again. “Okay, you were right. She’s amazing. Damn, now I guess I have to switch doctors.”

“Pay up,” she heard Maggie mumble. Lily smiled to herself as she walked back to the nurses’ station, wondering what it might have been like to have a sister.

“Hey Lily, what are you smiling about?” A familiar voice cut through her musings. She looked up to see the friendly face of Becky Daniels staring back at her.

“Oh, I was just thinking about how nice the Fosters are.” She glanced up at the rack on the wall and saw that it was quickly filling with more patient charts. “Shit! Becky, would you do me a favor?”

“What do you need?”

“Could you please go find Dr. Wilde? I was just about to, but I really need to start these other patients before we get completely backed up.”

“I’d love to, but Jason and Dr. Wilde are off together having another ‘long lunch.’” She actually made the air quotes as she said the words.

“What?” Lily gasped.

“You didn’t know they were screwing?”

“Huh?” Lily asked distractedly. “Well no, I didn’t, but that’s not really surprising. She’s always been the town cougar. I knew it wouldn’t be long when I saw how much younger he was.” Jason was still in his early thirties and looked even younger, while Natalie was a cosmetically-enhanced forty-five. “No, what’s completely pissing me off right now is that I have a red chart up and she’s off somewhere polishing his knob!”

“Shit! Forget the charts. I’ll start them. Go page her right now. If she gets here and sees that—”

“She’s gonna have a massive shit fit,” Lily finished.

“Exactly. Now go!” Just then the back door opened and a throaty laugh could be heard down the hall. Becky let out a breath. “Oh, thank God, that’s her.”

“Thank you again for lunch, Dr. Adams. It was very… enlightening.”

Lily walked quickly toward the flirty, purring banter. She rounded the corner just in time to see an attractive platinum blonde lean in and brush something off the shoulder of a rugged man with bright blue eyes. For a moment she thought it looked like a leaf, but then decided that she didn’t really have time to care.

Jason saw her coming toward them and wiped the smile off his face, all business once again. “Yes, well, don’t mention it, Dr. Wilde. It’s just my way of saying… uh, thank you… for helping me get settled in around here.”

“Excuse me, Doctor?” Lily interrupted. The woman straightened up quickly and turned around. There was no confusion over who was being spoken to; unlike Jason, Natalie expected to be addressed by her title. According to her, she had worked hard her entire life and paid a fortune to earn that title. Lily didn’t mind; she actually preferred the honesty. She would happily take Natalie’s blatant pride over Jason’s false modesty any day.

“Yes, Lily?” Natalie absentmindedly reached up and smoothed her hair, mentally getting back into gear for work. Lily ignored the small blades of grass that fell to the floor as she did so.

“I just wanted to make sure that you knew there was a red chart up in Room 4.”

“Oh! How long?” She glanced down at her watch that cost more than Lily made in a year.

“Less than five minutes.”

Natalie wasted no time, shoving her coat and purse in Lily’s hands. “Be a dear and stick those in my office, would you?”

“Sure thing.” When Natalie passed her, Lily noticed a small green leaf sticking out of the back of her hair. “Hold on,” she warned. Knowing that Natalie would be mortified if any patients saw her so disheveled, Lily bit the bullet and plucked the offending leaf from her hair.

Natalie blushed but recovered quickly. “Thanks. We had lunch at the new greenhouse in the park. I must have brushed against a branch.” And with that she was gone, off to impress another red sticker.

“Hey, what are you doing tonight?” Becky asked when Lily finally returned to her desk.

“Gym, then home.”

“Lily, that’s what you do almost every night! You never go out. Why don’t you come out with me and Jared later? We’re going to grab a few drinks.”

“I can’t. It’s a weeknight. I really need to get home and make dinner. Maybe some other time, though.”

But they both knew that there would never be another time. Becky had been asking her for years to hang out, and Lily always had some reason not to.