Chief of Surgery Walter Brown hated Wednesdays. Well, not every Wednesday, just the one Wednesday of the year that was blocked for annual budget review with each surgical department.
Walter walked across the room and poured himself a glass of water from the carafe that was perpetually filled with fresh ice cold water. He sent up a silent prayer of thanks to his assistant Steph and turned on his heel to see Doctor Elias Miller slumped in the chair by the large desk and Doctor Molly Carter sitting ramrod straight beside him.
An annual review with each department usually took about 45 minutes per pair. An hour if one of their cases was particularly interesting, but with Miller and Carter, who headed up Paediatric Surgery, the review was coming into the third hour and they still hadn’t even gotten to the overspend portion of the review.
Molly, or Carter as Miller liked to call her, had a folder for every topic and so far had demonstrated a keen understanding of how this was supposed to work, despite only being promoted to co department head nine months ago, and not even being present for some of the cases they were discussing. He was more and more impressed with her every time she walked into his office, even when it was to chew him out for not approving some request or another.
He let his eyes fall on Miller again and wondered if this partnership would last. They seemed to be working well together, part of him wondered if it was too well, and often presumed they used each other’s surnames as a way of keeping up a professional barrier which was common enough in the hospital. Though Steph had let slip that Doctor Carter was in a relationship with someone outside of the hospital.
Brown sipped the water again, refilled the glass and returned to his seat. Carter looked up and closed the folder she had open then reached for another.
“Should we cover the expenditure?” she said as if they hadn’t been sitting in this office for too long. She looked as fresh as she did when she walked in. Her dirty blonde hair hung loose to her shoulders which was different to the ponytail she usually wore when she was preparing for surgery.
“Ugh,” Miller groaned and Walter was sure if he had been standing he would have stamped his foot too.
“I noticed neither of you responded to the email about the charity event on Friday,” Walter said and sipped his drink slowly, almost taking perverse pleasure in the first look of panic he saw flash across Carter’s face.
“The masquerade thing at the museum?” Miller said with a scoff of undisguised disgust.
“The charity event for the hospital. It’s one of the biggest drives of the year and definitely helps keep us open.”
“So we can just buy a ticket and not go?” Miller said with a half sneer.
“No. You need to turn up. And spend money, woo our donors, tell them about the success stories we have, thanks to their previous donations.”
“Sir,” Miller began and sat up a little straighter. “I’m not sure if you’ve seen my payslip, but it’s not exactly overflowing.”
Walter smiled tightly. “It can afford a ticket to the event, and a few drinks.”
“But it’s a masquerade ball!” Miller complained. “Besides,” he continued with a sideways glance at Carter. “I think we’ll be out of town.”
Brown lifted an eyebrow and looked over at Carter who looked at her hands connected on her lap in a clear attempt to stay out of the exchange.
“I don’t believe I’ve seen a conference request on my desk. So would this trip be a personal trip?” he said knowing full well Carter wouldn’t let that notion pass without correction.
“No!” she said immediately and Walter held back the urge to smile. “We’ll be there sir.”
“Great.” He sat forward and opened his binder again to flip to the budget section. “Shall we?”
Carter rifled through the binders in front of her to find the right one then flipped it open and looked up expectantly. Brown smiled and looked at Miller who was barely holding his eye roll back though he may as well let it free with the sour expression on his face.
Two hours later when they finally finished the review Carter and Miller left the room and walked to the elevator in silence. As the doors closed and Carter pressed the button for the surgical floor Miller turned to face her with his hands on his hips. She knew he wouldn’t wait to get to their shared office before saying something.
“Really? We’ll go? Just like that?” His voice was a little higher than normal, matched in height only by his eyebrows.
“Go or don’t, Miller, whatever,” she said with one shoulder shrugging indifferently.
“You just told Brown I’d be there.”
“And if you didn’t go that would be the first time in your medical career that you weren’t where you were supposed to be?”
Miller slumped against the side wall of the elevator but straightened up and moved to her side when the doors opened and other doctors came in. They weren’t alone again until they stepped into their office and Miller didn’t wait a second longer to continue his tirade.
“Bad enough they try to control what we operate on, but now they are trying to control what we do with our free time,” he grumbled as he dropped into his seat.
“It’s a ball Miller, not hard labour in a gulag!”
“You want to go to this thing?” he said with a look of askance on his face and she rolled her eyes.
“I want to stay on Brown’s good side. I want to be able to work without added scrutiny.”
“You want to get dressed up and mingle with all the city bigwigs,” he said with a smirk
Carter rolled her eyes again and moved to the cabinets to start filing away the binders she had used during the review.
“Will the ball cut into your big plans at the weekend? Or a solo adventure you had planned?” she said without looking up but Miller didn’t miss the teasing tone in her voice.
“So you just don’t want to take donations, do you?”
“No!” He sat up a little straighter and waved his hand in exasperation as if swatting away a buzzard. “I know we need donations to keep running this hospital-”
“You just don’t want to have to do your part in earning them?”
“Miller, honestly, it doesn’t matter if you go or not.”
Miller paused and frowned as he looked at her with squinted eyes as she crossed the room back to the rack and picked up her coat.
“You’re gonna go?” he asked though in his head it was more of a statement than a question.
“Yes. I am.”
“With or without me?” Again, another question he only heard as a statement.
Carter paused as she pulled on her coat, her hands gripped her lapels and she slowly looked up at him with one of her eyebrows arched in amusement and the corner of her lips curved in a half smile.
“I’m going with someone else, Miller. Your presence at the ball is immaterial.”
“You’re going with…who?” He leaned back in his chair and picked up a pencil to twirl as he watched her fix her coat. “Brown?”
Carter smiled sweetly and shook her head. “No.” She reached for her bag. “Someone who doesn’t work in the hospital.”
Miller fake gasped and rested a hand in the middle of his chest as if in shock. “There are people who don’t work for the hospital?”
Carter chuckled. “I’m at the university all day tomorrow,” she said as she walked towards the door.
“I’m in court on Friday, testifying on the Daniel’s case.”
“Do you have your statement notes?” she said and turned back in the doorway to look at him.
“Yeah, here, somewhere…” he said with a vague gesture to the haphazardly piled stacks of files and folders behind him.
“You know you need your notes. Don’t try to rely on that crappy memory of yours again.”
“Crappy?” he scoffed and looked up to the ceiling at the pockmarked tile from previous pencil impalements.
“Goodnight Miller,” she said over her shoulder. “See you Friday if you decide to come.”
She heard him scoff as she walked out of the room but didn’t delay in her retreat from the office. He could stew there for the rest of the night for all she cared about right now. Instead she had a mission, one that needed to succeed if she had a chance of turning up to the ball with a date.