There are fewer things I love more about my job than collapsing into my bed exhausted from a hard day’s worth of work. My residency at the Massachusetts General Hospital provided me with that satisfaction easily; I was also provided with a way to escape from the reality of my non-existent social life in exchange for helping people in need. Still, tonight I was feeling restless and lonely, despite having been surrounded by other residents all day. And grimy. And I needed a hair cut, I thought absently as I pushed my messy curls out of my face and into a mostly broken clip. It was time to admit that I was working too many days in a row and that it was starting to get to me.
I decided to forgo checking the mail and head straight to bed. I shared a flat just off Harvard’s campus, a small two-bedroom that I only saw for a few minutes before collapsing into a coma, most of the time. I could feel the pull of a hot shower as I opened the door to my flat, unconsciously calculating how many hours I had been up. I had settled on twenty-six when I realized I wasn’t alone in the kitchen. Geillis Duncan, my flatmate and one of my best friends, was standing over the sink eating from a bowl of strawberries while sorting through a large stack of our mail. Mail I had definitely ignored for far too long, I realized guiltily. She looked up and gave me a wild smile, taking in my disheveled scrubs and knotted hair. “Good evening, deary,” she greeted me in her light yet sultry voice.
I smiled back as she tossed her shiny long red hair over her shoulder, showing off her sharp cheeks and pale skin. “Hello, Gilly,” I responded. Unlike me, she looked flawless in a pinstripe business suit, which apparently included a vest, and matching heels. I rarely saw my flatmate these days, between my hours and her jobs, something that pained me a bit of course, but did she really have to show me up like this? Not that she dressed this way for my irritation, but rather she felt that male students were easier to take down if they thought she was some bimbo who got by on just her looks. I didn’t understand how any man could look into her green eyes and not see the constant calculating.
We had met several years ago in undergrad - we had been paired up as roommates and campus buddies due to both of us being international students that had started at Harvard at the same time. It wasn’t long before she became one of my closest friends, though I was the first to admit that even years later, I didn’t entirely trust her.
“How was work?” she asked in a strangely perky voice. She moved my stack of mail towards the end of the counter and pulled hers closer to her, placing two large envelopes at the bottom of her stack.
I put my jacket and purse on the wall hooks, then walked to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of water and offered it to Geillis before pulling out one for me as well. “Work was…..exhausting,” I replied, leaning against the fridge. “But good. I know I say this every new rotation, but Jesus H.R. Christ I am glad to be off the ER.” I had moved on to pediatrics neonatal, which I honestly didn’t care for either, but it was almost done and was my last rotation for this round. I was going to have to declare a specialty soon too and decide if I was going to find a fellowship. I took a swig from the bottle and asked, “How was teaching today?”
Geillis smiled, eating another strawberry. She was a political science major, working on her doctorate while TA’ing for the hardest professor in the department, or so she said. She also had a side job that wasn’t quite legal, but I didn’t press for details. She didn’t bring drugs into our apartment, I had never had to get her out of jail, and so I didn’t need any further details. Plus I knew it was just a means to an end; her true passion was political history and law. She wanted to change the world.
“Undergrads are obnoxious, and now that midterms are coming up they’re all sweet talking me up.” She giggled a little, a sound I knew as her taking way too much enjoyment in watching her students squirm. She opened a few envelops, separating her mail into further stacks.
“What are those?” I asked, gesturing to the envelops she tried to hide.
She grabbed them and then hesitating before looking back up at me. “I think they’re something you aren’t going to like,” she replied honestly, before handing one over.
I held the thick envelope, my name “Claire Beauchamp” printed in fancy script on the front. The return address didn’t look familiar, but I opened it anyways. I don’t know if it was the exhaustion of the long day, but it took me far too long to process what I was looking at. An ivory and lace invitation sat in my hands and read:
Mr. And Mrs. Matthew Travers
Request the pleasure of your company
At the marriage of their daughter
Sandra Travers to Franklin Randall
Son of Mr. And Mrs. Jonathan Randall
At Northside Farm, Horsley
On Seventeenth, June, 2019
My heart felt like it was sinking and speeding up at the same time. My scrubs felt too hot and itchy against my skin. I knew this day would come eventually - how often did I stare at the pictures of Frank and Sandy on Facebook and Instagram and feel the tiniest bit of jealousy, even though I had ended it with Frank years ago?
I turned it over in my hand, as if the back would hold some deceptively brilliant idea of what to do. In my panic haze, I noticed the envelope and RSVP were addressed directly to me - not to Geillis and me. I pointed this out to her, my brain unable to grasp much else.
“Oh, well….yes,” she said, holding out a second heavy ivory envelope addressed to her specifically. “I got a plus one as well.”
The double invitations felt like a weird insult. By sending us both an invitation with plus ones, I couldn’t just bring Gilly as my “date.” I also knew Frank well enough to know it wasn’t an intentional insult, but most likely the opposite. He felt like he was doing me a favor and extending yet another olive branch in our strained friendship.
“I can’t not go to this, can I, Gilly?” I asked. She lifted an eyebrow as she ate yet another strawberry, but didn’t respond immediately.
“You don’t owe Frank much,” she said slowly, “but proper etiquette dictates that you should consider going to the wedding of the man whose heart you broke, if he so kindly requests.”
I groaned loudly in response. She had a point - I valued the friendship Frank and I had forged after our messy breakup way too much to immediately decline without thinking about it. “Do you want to go?” She and Frank had not been close friends, but rather cordial for my benefit. Frank really was being sweet by inviting her for my comfort. Or for the gift.
Geillis shrugged. I couldn’t read the expression on her face, though it was clearly conflicted. After a few moments of thought, she put down her bottle of water and leaned passed me, opening the cabinet door next to my head. “We are going to need whiskey to discuss this.” She smiled, pouring doubles into tumblers. She handed me a glass, then directed me toward our living room while carrying the bottle.
I kicked off my shoes as I flopped into my favorite chair, my feet swing off the arm like I was a child. I took a large swig of the whiskey, waiting for Geillis to continue.
Instead, she watched me in silence for a few minutes, as if waiting to see how I would react. The whiskey warmed my chest, releasing some of the tension in my body. I let my hair down, my curls taking a life of their own. Married. My Frank was getting married. And a small part of me I wasn’t ready to deal with was crushed that it wasn’t to me.
“The wedding is in north England, aye?” I nodded in response. Geillis sipped her whiskey, then said, “Frank is your ex, which is a good excuse not to go, or,” she crossed her legs and leaned back, “this wedding is a good reason for both of us to go home for a long vacation.” I scoffed, shaking my head, but she continued before I could respond. “We go to this wedding, dance and drink the night away, we run around England and Scotland and maybe France, we have a few summer flings, and we come back ready to get back to business. The wedding is at end of term for me; you will be on break applying for fellowships. We could easily sublease the apartment to summer students or put it on airbnb and go visit our families and the homeland for a few weeks.”
She was right, I realized. And I could see in her eyes that she was trying to hide how much she wanted this, in case I really didn’t want to go to the wedding. I felt a surge of appreciation at her loyalty despite her obvious homesickness. But she was right - the wedding was a perfect excuse to also spend time with Uncle Lamb, my surrogate father. It was also an opportunity to visit a few hospitals and set up interviews for potential fellowships. I missed England, just as much as I knew she missed Scotland.
“Okay,” I conceded, draining my glass. “I’ll think it over. And I’ll give Uncle Lamb a call to see if he minds having two guests in his flat for the summer.”
“You don’t have to bring a date you know,” Geillis said, not looking at me. “That just means we can find some fun lads there. Maybe a couple of groomsmen.”
I raised an eyebrow at that and refilled my glass, getting up off the chair. “That is for tomorrow’s worry. Right now I have a date with a handsome pillow.”