Noah: The hospital won’t crumble if you’re gone for a weekend. C’mon, hurry up and you can still get a drink before the cocktail hour ends.

Noah: The cocktail hour is almost over. If you don’t get here soon, I’m eating your dinner and accepting all the awards and accolades they’re planning to give you. You’ve been warned.

Natalie: I’m on my way! Don’t eat my food!

I hurry inside and garner a few curious looks. My dress and heels say I’m heading to a swanky party, but my backpack says I need to hurry home and study for high school geometry.

I glance around the lobby of the upscale hotel lit with a dozen twinkling chandeliers, trying to find anyone I recognize from the hospital, but it’s too crowded with tourists in sensible shoes. The lobby has a dozen offshoots, and there are too many possibilities to know in which direction I should head. I ask the concierge to point me toward all the nerds with stethoscopes (or something like that), and she smiles and sends me down a side hallway. Following her directions, I reach a small antechamber outside a banquet room. There’s a cocktail bar set up in the corner, and that’s where people are hovering. Thank God. My fellow graduating residents and their invited guests as well as some staff from the hospital mix and mingle with their drinks. I sigh with relief, comfortable now that I know I’m not late.

In total, it’s a small group. There were only three other fifth-year general surgery residents in the BHUMB program, all men, all a few years older than me. At twenty-eight, I should be in the middle of my residency, not completely done with it, and my age hasn’t gone unnoticed in the program. Neither has my aptitude for surgery. My first few years were tough. Proving myself was a battle I wasn’t sure I’d win in the end, but here I stand, feeling like an equal in a room full of brainiacs.

My brother is among them. An attending in the plastic surgery department at BHUMB, he’s the one who pushed me into medicine in the first place.

He’s standing in a circle of doctors, looking far more put together than I do. I’ve always thought Noah looked like a moody French model. He should be backlit by the Eiffel Tower, smoking a cigarette and complaining about lazy Americans. His cheekbones are sharply cut and his eyebrows are as dark as mine. His hair could use a trim on top, but I might be in the minority with that line of thinking. He sees me and grins, cutting through the crowd to get to me. Ignoring all proper protocol, he loops his arm around my shoulders and crushes me against him. At 5’7”, I’m no pipsqueak, but he still towers over me.

“Noah, let go!”

This is highly unprofessional. My colleagues and mentors at the hospital are all in attendance, no doubt witnessing his teasing. I should be extremely annoyed, but I’m not. I can’t help it—I’m smiling, happy to have the praise of a big brother I’ve always worshipped.

“You did it,” he says, releasing me and holding me at arm’s length. His dark eyes crinkle at the edges, and without missing a beat, he takes the backpack from my shoulder and loops it onto his. “Come on, you deserve a drink.”

I’m happy Noah could make it tonight, especially since our parents live overseas. Nowadays, they rarely make it over to the States. Our dad is a photojournalist, born and raised in France. He met our mom while he was on assignment in Spain, and they both moved to America shortly after. My brother and I are American citizens, and though we sound like we grew up here, we never stayed in one place for very long. Our dad was always on the move, and my mom, brother, and I trailed after him, hardly able to keep up.

We traveled from school to school, country to country, suffering through stints of private tutors, but mostly we had to keep on top of our studies on our own. We both graduated from high school and college early. When Noah settled in Boston for medical school, I followed him a few years later, and we’ve both lived here ever since. We’re all the family we need.

Noah passes me a glass of champagne from the bar and starts to toast my achievements.

I roll my eyes and tell him to stop, feeling uncomfortable, as I always do in these situations. I belong in the OR, not in a swanky hotel sipping bubbly champagne. My feet are killing me in these heels, and I’m probably not wearing the right bra for this dress. Most of the women in attendance have gone all out with their hair and makeup, and I self-consciously brush a few loose tendrils away from my face.

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