The Doctor

By: Nikki Sloane

ONE



NASHVILLE IN THE SUMMER wasn’t for the faint of heart—the heat and humidity were oppressive. Preston had invited our friends over to hang out by his dad’s pool, and when we ran out of beer in the cooler, I volunteered to get the other case from the fridge in the garage. I did it because I needed a break from everyone.

Preston Lowe and I had been together for more than three years and had started dating the summer before our junior year of high school. Since then, we’d done almost everything together. All the school dances. Family vacations. Our first year of college. Hell, our senior class even voted us ‘Most Likely to Marry Their High School Sweetheart.’

I’d loved him so much, I’d given him my virginity.

But . . .

Preston had changed. I didn’t know if there was a turning point, or a single event that made him different, but he wasn’t the sweet, caring guy I’d known. We’d gotten comfortable with each other—maybe too comfortable. He’d tell me anything, including when he thought I looked like I wasn’t ‘trying’ anymore, or acting like a bitch.

It was June now, and we were both home from Vanderbilt University, but I saw my boyfriend less this summer than I did when we were at school. We had jobs, sure. But today he made it clear he was more interested in hanging out with our high school friends than he was with me.

God. We’d been best friends, and now we didn’t really talk anymore. No deep conversations, or playful teasing, or anything. Preston only called me when he was horny. That’s what I’d become to him.

Cassidy Shepard—Preston’s release valve.

I tucked my phone into my swimsuit top and played my favorite song by Joven as I walked through the house to the garage on the far side of the home. I opened the door and padded down the two steps into the cavernous garage, not bothering with the overhead light. The cement floor was cold on the soles of my bare feet, but the music was awesome, and in the dark space, I tried to let go of my annoyance with Preston. Maybe I was just in a bad mood and needed to shake it off.

I did that.

Literally.

I closed my eyes and danced to the song playing from between my boobs, not caring about the grimy floor, or how I was cold in my damp swimsuit. I tried not to care about anything, and it kind of worked. I swayed my hips to the music. I put my hands in the air and waved them around and couldn’t stop the idiotic smile from warming my lips.

It felt good to dance like a fool, lit only by the light coming from the open door to the kitchen. Since I knew every word by heart, I sang along and, as I hit the chorus, I really let go. I swiveled around, swinging my hips as I belted out the lyrics—

A startled sound choked off in my throat as I jerked to a stop.

Dr. Lowe stood in the doorway, and judging by his expression, he’d been there awhile.

I was surprised to see him for a number of reasons, but the biggest was Preston’s father was a trauma surgeon at Davidson County Hospital. He was usually on-call and wasn’t around much. He was always there for the things that mattered, like birthdays and graduation, but most of the time, Preston and I were alone in the house.

Why had his father kept such a big home when his son went off to college? It was strange. Dr. Lowe barely used it.

Preston’s dad looked younger than he was, at least in his face. There were faint lines at the sides of his eyes that hinted he was forty, but the lines made him look smart. Distinguished. His dark brown hair and short beard were threaded with a few strands of silver, and the afternoon sunlight coming from the nearby window highlighted the gray. It was a good look.

In the series of pictures we’d taken before our senior prom, there was a shot of Preston and his dad, and my friends drooled over Dr. Lowe. I’d made fun of them, but I understood. My boyfriend’s dad wasn’t just attractive—he was fucking hot.

But rather than smile at him like I usually did, I went wooden.

Was it possible to die of embarrassment? My knees turned soft, but my spine snapped straight and my face flushed to a thousand degrees. I dropped my gaze to the cement floor and tucked a lock of my long, dark hair behind my ear, trying to play it off like he hadn’t just caught me dancing and singing like a crazy idiot.

“Uh . . .” I stammered. I dug the phone out of my top and shut the music off. “I was just getting another case of beer for the—” Shit! What was I doing? Preston’s friend Mike was the only one of us who was twenty-one. “I meant Coke.”

It was the worst ‘save’ in the history of ‘saves,’ and all Dr. Lowe did was chuckle. It was a deep, pleasant sound that filled the spacious garage. It drew my gaze up to him. He had his hands resting casually on the sides of the door frame, and his expression was faint amusement.