I wonder what other people my age are doing at this very moment.
Scrolling through Tinder?
Hitting the town with their squad?
I don’t have a squad.
I have a little sister. She’s squashed against me on the couch so we can both see my computer screen. Reruns of Grey’s Anatomy play out in high definition. Dr. McDreamy’s hair is thick and shiny. I want to run my finger across the screen, but I resist.
On my face is green sludge. It’s supposed to be a homemade face mask. Josie whipped it up a few minutes ago and swore to me that when we wipe it off, we’ll look like movie stars. I’m pretty sure she’s wrong, and worse, she might have wasted our last avocado. I was going to slice it onto some rice and call that a well-balanced dinner. Looks like I’ll have to get creative.
Two doctors start tearing off each other’s scrubs on my computer screen. They’re about to get it on, and I hold up my hand to cover Josie’s eyes.
“You’re too young to be watching this.”
It’s a joke. We’ve already watched a million episodes and at least half a million raunchy sex scenes.
Josie swats my hand away and turns up the volume. Our living room is now filled with moans and groans. Maybe I’m not such a good guardian.
“Are your friends at school allowed to watch shows like this?” I ask, suddenly racked with guilt. We should be watching nature documentaries on PBS, penguins waddling around on snow accompanied by the soothing sound of Morgan Freeman’s voice.
“Are you kidding?” she asks, not taking her eyes off the screen. “People at my school are doing stuff like this.”
I’m horrified by the idea of fourteen-year-olds partaking in any physical activity beyond holding hands.
“Promise me you won’t touch a boy until you’re eighteen.”
She rolls her eyes and holds up her pinky. I wrap my own around it, and just like that, we have a pact. I can breathe easier now.
Once the credits roll, I stand up to wash my face, hoping at the very least this weird concoction hasn’t caused me to break out in an angry rash. I have work in the morning and I’d rather not be the laughing stock of the hospital.
Josie trails after me and hogs half the sink.
“Is it really like that? Are doctors all over each other in the on-call room?”
“I’ve already told you—that stuff never happens.”
I meet her gaze in the mirror and pass her the towel after I pat my face dry. No angry boils yet. That’s a good sign.
“Right, okay, maybe not the really crazy stuff, but I bet you’ve caught people making out in the supply closet once or twice.”
“What about having sex in the locker room?”
“Stolen glances in the operating room?” she asks, her tone growing desperate.
“Josie, Grey’s Anatomy is a television show—scripted drama, pretend love. Don’t read too much into it.”
She sighs, deeply annoyed. “What about the surgeons?” She drops the towel and turns toward me. Her hands grip my arms and I can’t break free. She’s surprisingly strong for someone so scrawny. “Are any of them even half as cute as Dr. McDreamy?”
“Most of them are old men. Gray hair, mustaches, bellies like Santa Claus. You’ve seen my boss.”
I pry her hands off me and then head to the kitchen. We’re low on pretty much everything, but I don’t get paid until Tuesday. Tuna fish sandwiches it is…again.
“Ugh, seriously? No one is even remotely good-looking?!”
I’m distracted because I’m currently in a fight with the can opener, so I don’t think before I answer her. “There is one…”
She leaps across the kitchen, yanks the can of tuna out of my hand, and stares up at me with wide, expectant eyes. “Who?”
“I don’t know his name.”
“What does he look like?”
“Tall. Brown hair.” I shrug.
Devastatingly handsome is the key phrase I’m leaving out. Arrogant and jerk are another two words I’m better off not saying.
I’m being evasive on purpose because my sister is a little precocious and a whole lot scary. Within three seconds, she has my computer open on the couch and is scrolling through the Staff tab on the hospital’s website. I know from late-night stalking that it’s organized alphabetically, which is why she yells from the other room, “What’s his last name?”
I cough to cover up another lie. “I can’t recall.”
I pop two pieces of bread in the toaster and get out the mayonnaise, wondering how long it will take her to find him without my help.
“BAILEY, what department?!”
I continue ignoring her. Her fingers are really flying in there. The keys are probably popping off my laptop.
The toast pops up just as I hear her audible intake of breath.
“I FOUND HIM!”
My stomach drops.
“Dr. Matthew C. Russell!” She starts scrolling through his bio quickly. “Medical school at UT Southwestern. Residency at UCLA. Fellowship in complex spine and another in pediatric scoliosis, yada yada. Who cares?! I don’t know what half those words mean. Are there more pictures of him other than this headshot? Maybe ones from a beach vacation?”
“I don’t know. That name doesn’t ring a bell. Dr. Russell, you said? That might be him. Who cares.” I’m utilizing my very best acting skills to throw her off the scent. Then, I try a second method: distraction. “Your sandwich is ready!”
She drags the laptop into the kitchen and takes a spot at the table across from me, a small smirk in place. I eat on my own, munching in silence. Meanwhile, Josie’s sandwich goes untouched. Her eyes are narrowed at the screen as she scrolls and types away. She’s a private detective desperate for a new lead. I half-expect her to whip out a magnifying glass and grow a mustache.
“He doesn’t have any social media accounts, which is extremely annoying. I checked the UT Southwestern alumni page, but they don’t post pictures.”
“Why does it matter? Eat your food.”
She levels me with an annoyed glare, holding eye contact as she takes a massive bite of her sandwich, and then she gets back to the mission at hand with her cheeks puffed up like a chipmunk.
I know why my sister has latched onto Dr. Russell like this. In the six years since I’ve taken guardianship of her, I haven’t been on many dates. I haven’t been interested in guys in general. Romance has taken the back seat in my life—no, worse: romance has become those aluminum cans trailing by strings behind my car. My lips have not felt human contact in so long I can’t quite remember how kissing works. Do you just stick your tongue in and go for it? Hopefully it’s like riding a bike or I’m screwed.
Josie has been worried about me for a while.
Just last week she told me she felt bad that I’ve had to give up so much of my life for her.
Of course, I protested.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I love having you here. You know that.”
“You’ve sacrificed a lot for me.”
“Oh c’mon. No I haven’t.”
“You don’t have any friends.”
“I have Ms. Murphy next door.”
“She’s an old coot who wears crystals around her neck.”
“I don’t appreciate you calling my very best friend an old coot.”
She doesn’t pause to laugh. “You had to quit college because of me.”
“Big deal. I love the job I have now.”
“And you never go out.”
“The last time you went on a date, I was still a preteen.”
“Surely that can’t be…”
I didn’t finish my thought because she wasn’t kidding. It really has been that long.
The truth is I have had to sacrifice a lot of things to take care of Josie. For all intents and purposes, I live the life of a single mom. My days are consumed with tasks like laundry, cooking, and cleaning. I have to make sure Josie is staying on top of her grades and getting to school on time while also not growing out of her jeans so quickly she has to walk down the halls at school in high-waters. I don’t go out to bars on Friday nights. I don’t give myself the opportunity to meet people. I work and I save every penny I earn so one day I’ll be able to afford a down payment on a house and move us out of this hovel we’ve squeezed into for the last few years.
Still, lack of romantic relationships aside, it’s not a bad life. In fact, it’s a pretty great one.
Josie just doesn’t see it that way.
She turns the computer around so I’m forced to see the image of Dr. Russell she’s blown up to epic proportions. I refuse to give in to her demands to acknowledge his hotness. Instead, I go cross-eyed and stick out my tongue in the hopes of making her laugh.
Her sigh tells me she thinks I’m deeply hopeless. “If you had an ounce of courage you would march up to this doctor and ask him out on a date tomorrow morning.”
Ha ha ha. I laugh at that idea all the way through the rest of dinner, and while I do the dishes, and after as I drag a canvas bag filled with our dirty clothes to the laundromat down the street, and as I sit in front of those ancient machines watching them swirl around and around.
Josie has no idea what she’s talking about.
Dr. Russell doesn’t know I exist. We’ve never talked. He’s the youngest, most hotshot surgeon at the hospital, and he has a reputation for being the most aggressive, rude doctor in all the land.
I’d be better off trying to pin down Dr. McDreamy than attempting to date him.