“Natalie! Nat-a-lie. Earth to Natalie!”

I shake myself out of my stupor just in time to avoid a collision with my closest friend, Dr. Lindsey Brooks.

She works in the hospital’s OB/GYN department. Though we graduated medical school together, she’s already an attending because her residency was only four years. Now she spends her days delivering babies and playing the superhero. Instead of red and blue Superman spandex, she wears bubblegum pink scrubs. Her hair is naturally pale blonde, and even now—after a full day at work—it’s pulled up into a high sleek ponytail that swishes when she walks. She gives off the perpetual hyperactive energy of someone who’s had too much caffeine. On paper, we shouldn’t be friends, and yet we’re soulmates.

“I was coming to find you.” She looks deeply concerned. “Someone said they saw you hiding behind a plant down in the lobby.”

“What?” I try to sound incredulous. “No. That wasn’t me.”

To save me from further embarrassment, she pretends to believe me.

“What are you still doing here?”

I shrug and glance away, feeling defensive. “I wanted to come check on my patients.”

“Seriously? They give you a weekend off and you aren’t even going to take it? You should be getting ready right now, dolling yourself up.” She glances down at my clothes. “Tell me you aren’t going to wear your scrubs to the ceremony.”

Honestly, I thought about it, but I still act deeply affronted by her accusation. “Of course not. I have a dress and heels in my bag.”

It’s the same dress I wore to my college graduation, my white coat ceremony, my medical school graduation, and now my graduation from residency. I thought about ordering a new dress the other day, but I was on call and it slipped my mind. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with Ol’ Faithful. It’s simple and black and sleeveless. It hugs my figure and cuts off below my knees. It’s acceptable for any occasion. I’ll probably be buried in it.

“I really wish I could be there tonight,” Lindsey says, looping her arm around my shoulders.

I see right through her. She’s acting chummy, but really, she’s maneuvering me away from the BICU knowing I might turn around and find my way back there if she doesn’t force me away.

Lindsey’s on call tonight. She tried to get one of the other attendings to swap shifts with her, but no one was available. Good friend that she is, she’s been beating herself up about it all week.

“Linds, it’s fine. Noah will be there.”

She frowns. “Just Noah? Your parents didn’t fly in?”

“I didn’t even tell them about it. It’s not a big deal.”

She narrows her eyes reproachfully. “It is, Natalie. It’s a very big deal.”

It doesn’t feel that way. It’s just one more step on the way to my end goal: Dr. Natalie Martin, premier burn surgeon, best in the world. Natalie, the surgeon general is calling again, asking for advice! will be a thing I hear often. This whole ceremony isn’t necessary. I’d prefer if they just handed me a Xeroxed certificate during rounds, stamped my forehead with a gold star, and let me get on with my work.

“If nothing else, you’ve paid for this night, so enjoy it. Have a drink for me.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

She forces me into a hug—oh God, make it stop—before she has to run to check on a laboring mom. Down in a stall in the lobby bathroom, I take extra care with my white coat, sliding it off and folding it up neatly, brushing a stray piece of lint off the collar before I rip off my hospital-issued navy scrubs.

Once it’s tugged on over my head, I realize my dress is tighter around the bust than it used to be, but it still fits fine. I take my hair down from my ponytail and know without looking in a mirror that the medium-length brown strands are curly (genetics) and crinkled (ponytail holder), so I smooth it into a low knot at the base of my neck and call it a day.

I don’t worry about makeup. Lindsey curses my olive skin and dark lashes, swearing she’d swap her features for mine any day. I don’t think much about it, honestly, but it is nice to not have to worry about smeared eyeliner or caked-on foundation when I spend my days in a burn unit that’s heated to a balmy 85 degrees to keep the patients comfortable.

My tennis shoes are replaced by slightly outdated chunky black heels—the only pair I own—and then I’m out the door of the hospital, opting to walk the few blocks from the Beacon Hill University Medical Branch complex to the hotel on Charles Street. I’m glad I didn’t wait for a cab or an Uber as downtown Boston is bustling with after-work traffic and Beacon Street is barely moving. The sidewalk is busy too, but I can easily slip around tourists meandering slowly on the red and black patchwork bricks. I’m a fast walker, even in heels. On the last day of June, the weather outside is as perfect as it gets in Boston. Even though it’s well into the evening, the sun is still hanging in there, painting the sky in Starburst shades of pink and orange and yellow. I’d almost appreciate my summer evening stroll if I weren’t getting urgent texts from my brother.

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