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Happily Ever All-Star 1

By´╝ÜSosie Frost

1

Rory

Toothpaste.

We had a love-hate relationship. Mostly hate these days.

Sure, the minty miracle kept me fresh as a daisy during the first day of my neurological fellowship with the Ironfield Rivets. And the astringent peppermint let me smile and talk to my patients as I restored the confidence I unceremoniously hurled into the toilet.

But…it had a darker side.

The pungent, stomach-twisting paste possessed a harsh scent, a shocking taste, a terrible grittiness, and a bubbling foam. Brushing my teeth became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Throw up. Hate myself. Stare at the toothpaste. Curse the ribbon of positive-pregnancy-test blue cutting through the middle of the gel. Brush teeth. Hold nose.

Why did I even bother sitting in my equipment-closet turned office? I should have evaluated the team from behind my newfound porcelain desk.

I couldn’t keep this up. Not only was I throwing up four times a day, the long-lasting-fresh-breath-crystals were getting lodged in my soft pallet. After the second time I sneezed out a burning foam, I got a little cranky. Well…crankier. At least my nose wouldn’t have any cavities, aside from the hole where my brain once resided.

The fellowship was the career opportunity of a lifetime, but it was a risk taking the gig after realizing I was pregnant.

My step-mother was right—wicked as she was. Dentistry was the easy money. Unfortunately, oral surgery didn’t dig deep enough into a person’s head. I was all about the brain.

Though lately, I’d spent more time with my legs stirrup’d to an OBGYN’s table than kicked back on my desk in the neurological center of Ironfield Regional.

Not today though.

Today, I was the doctor again.

Sure, my tests didn’t involve lube or speculums, but I held out hope. Neurology was an ever-evolving field. And I would have loved an epidural to subdue my last patient of the day.

Lachlan Reed.

The Rivets second-year tight-end might have had severe neurological problems, but hell if I could sit him down long enough to take the baseline test. The exam was designed to be completed in less than fifteen minutes. Thirty-five had passed. And twenty seconds.

Believe me, I was counting.

Somehow, Lachlan managed to tab out of the computer program, crash my system on a shady fantasy football site, chase a spider-turned-dust-bunny into the ductwork, and break my only non-flickering set of fluorescent lights on a wayward toss of a ball.

“Please…” I covered my face. “Please, Lachlan. It’s after five. I’m tired. I want to go home. Can you please just take the test?”

Lachlan grinned. Those dimples saved his ass. Scolding him was like kicking a puppy. I couldn’t punt him away. Instead, I grabbed the spritzer bottle on my desk. My office didn’t come with air conditioning in this August heat, but the ice water cooled me down. I flicked the nozzle into a steady stream and aimed for the Rivets’ most infuriating player.

“Hey!” He ducked from the mist. “Okay, okay. I’m sorry.”

“This is a timed test. It establishes a baseline evaluation of your cognitive abilities—if you have any.”

“I don’t know what you’re worried about. My head is fine.”

Like I hadn’t heard that before. The twenty players that tested before Lachlan attempted to convince me that they didn’t need the league mandated exam. The word concussion scared them—which was good. This game was violent, brutal, and it had hurt a lot of men. I didn’t take no for an answer. I sat them down and got their results.

This was important work. When—not if—they got hurt on the field, they could take the same test once more. We’d compare the data from both tests and assess if they’d sustained a concussion. A player could try to bluff his way back into the game, but the brain wouldn’t lie.

I checked my watch. “If it takes you more than twenty minutes to match some shapes and remember a simple series of numbers, I wouldn’t clear you to walk down Sesame Street, let alone play in a professional football game.”

Lachlan wasn’t listening. He spun his wedding ring across the desk. I slapped a hand over the gold band.

“Lachlan, focus!”

He reached for his ring. “Careful with that. You don’t know what I had to do to earn it.”

“I’ll give it back if you concentrate. Fifteen minutes. That’s all I ask.”

“Can’t you hook me up to some electrodes or something? Zap me with lightning?”

“I’m Doctor Merriweather, not Doctor Frankenstein. You aren’t permitted to attend training camp without completing this exam. Do you understand?”

He grumbled, but that got his attention. He started the test, but I stopped him before he clicked through the first series of questions.

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