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In which Nora Stuart, MD, has just been hit by a van from Beantown Bug Killers and now lies in the hospital, assuming she’s died.


How will my dog cope with this?

My soul, it seemed, wasn’t ready to leave just yet, still hung up on the concerns of the material world.

Poor Boomer, the Dog of Dogs, my sweet little hundred-pound puppy who protected me and came into the bathroom when I showered to stand guard just in case someone broke in, Boomer who loved me with all his giant heart, who would put his head on my leg, who asked for nothing other than an ear scratch, who was afraid of pigeons but adored ducks… No one would love him the way I did. He’d be sad and confused for the rest of his life.

I knew I shouldn’t have waited for stupid Bobby! And why the hell was I the one getting the pizza? Why hadn’t I stood up for myself and told beautiful, snotty Jabrielle to go her damn self? She was a resident! I was a fully vested doctor, thank you!

But I hadn’t, and now I was dead.

I hope we can still go with open casket.

I had often envisioned my funeral, me lying against the rose-colored satin looking utterly stunning, the sadder songs of U2 and Ed Sheeran playing gently in the background while my friends wept and laughed over their precious memories of me. Closed casket was not part of the scenario, hit by Beantown Bug Killers or not. I wondered if my face was smooshed in. Eesh.

I have nothing to wear to my funeral.

Granted, in life I’d been a clothes whore, at least during the past fifteen years or so. But for my funeral, I wanted something special. The navy-blue-and-white polka-dotted Brooks Brothers dress I’d been eyeing, or that pink floral Kate Spade. But maybe that would be too festive.

I’ll never meet Daniel Radcliffe now.

It had always been a long shot, I knew that, but I’d imagined stalking him after he did a show on Broadway, waiting by the side door, our eyes meeting, his inimitable smile, going out for a drink, sharing our favorite moments from Harry Potter, me finding out that he, too, hated the destruction of Hogwarts and agreed that Ron was nowhere near worthy of Hermione. Now, with me dead, it definitely wasn’t gonna happen.

True, no one was acting like I was dead, but I was fairly certain I was. Maybe they just hadn’t noticed yet. I guessed this ER wasn’t quite the be-all and end-all of modern medicine, was it? I thought I’d heard the words “dislocated patella” and “ortho consult” and “trauma alert.” I was pretty sure I’d seen the tunnel of light, but my spirit was tuning in and out.

What was that beeping? It was really hurting my head.

I’d read about this kind of thing happening. Out-of-body experiences. The soul lingering a little while before heading for the afterlife. Did I know anyone who’d greet me from heaven? My dad, maybe, if he was dead? That mean-ass grandmother of mine who used to tell me I was fat? I hoped she wasn’t there. Who else? Maybe that sweet patient who’d died of pancreatic cancer during my fellowship. God, I had loved her. My first fatality.

“So she’s your girlfriend?” someone asked. I knew that voice. Jabrielle. Couldn’t miss that hint of sneer.

“Yeah.” Bobby.

Was he about to start sobbing? Wait, did Bobby have to call the code on me? Or had be been hysterical, calling my name, having to be dragged out by two burly orderlies? Either way, the poor, poor man. Dang, I wished I remembered! I guess I’d shown up a little late to my own death. Which did seem to happen a lot in the movies.

The beeping was persistent and annoying.

“How long have you been together?” Jabrielle again.

“Oh, a little more than a year. It’s funny, though. I was gonna break up with her this weekend.” A pause. “She’s not in the best shape anyway.” Gentle laughter.

I almost smiled.

Wait. What?

Did Bobby just break up with me?

I was barely even cold! Did he—Was he—

“So what will you do?” Jabrielle asked.

“It would be pretty shitty to dump her now, I guess.”

A female purr. “Well, when you’re a free man, give me a call.”

“Wish I didn’t have to wait so long.”

Are you even kidding me?

No. No, no. I was dead. I didn’t care about these things. Soon, I’d be floating up to the stars or something.

But just in case, I decided to try to open my eyes.

Oh, shit. I wasn’t dead. I was in the ER. That beeping sound was the heart monitor, nice and regular, 78 beats per minute, O2 sat 98 percent, BP 130/89, a little high, but given the pain, not unexpected.

And Bobby was fondling a piece of Jabrielle’s hair.

“Do you mind?” I said, my voice croaking.

They jumped apart.

“Hey! You’re awake! Take it easy, hon, you’re gonna be okay.” Bobby took my hand—ow, my shoulder!—and smiled reassuringly. He did have the prettiest blue eyes. “You were hit by a car.”

“Beantown Bug Killers,” Jabrielle added.

“Did I die?”

Bobby smirked. “You have a concussion—we scanned you, but you’re fine. Bruised kidneys, broken clavicle and a patellar dislocation, which we reduced…we had to sedate you for that. You’re splinted, and we’re waiting on ortho to check you out. Can you feel your toes?”

Everything hurt. My back, my head, my shoulder, my knee. I was one giant throb of pain. But whatever they’d given me made it so I didn’t really care.

I guess my tunnel of light had been the CAT scan.

“I want another doctor,” I said.

“Hon, don’t be that way.”

“Bite me. You were flirting over my corpse.” I pulled my hand free. Ow.

He rolled his eyes. “You weren’t dead, Nora.”

Fury blotted out the pain for a second. “Well, I thought I was. Get out. Both of you. Don’t be surprised if I file a complaint for unprofessional conduct. And call Gus to walk Boomer.”

The tug of the sedation or concussion pulled me back under, and before the door had closed, I was asleep again.


When I woke up, I was in a regular hospital room, Bobby asleep in the chair beside me. Some weary white carnations were in a vase next to me, their edges brown. If that wasn’t a metaphor for our relationship, I didn’t know what was. I sensed that moving would be very painful, so I breathed carefully and took stock.

My left arm was in a sling. A brace of some kind was on my right leg. My back hurt, my abdomen ached, and my head throbbed, little flashes of light in my peripheral vision with every heartbeat.

But I was alive. Apparently, the concussion and drugs had given me that out-of-body feeling.

Bobby stirred, never a good sleeper. Opened his eyes. “Hey. How you feeling?”


“Do you remember what happened?”

“Hit by a van.”

“That’s right. You were crossing the street, and you got hit. Besides the patellar dislocation, your left clavicle is broken, and you’ve got fractures in the sixth and seventh ribs on the left. Pretty good concussion, too. The trauma team admitted you for a night or two.”

“Did you call Gus?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah.” He was quiet for a moment, then leaned forward. “I’m sorry about Jabrielle.”

Surprisingly, my throat tightened, and tears welled in my eyes, slipping down my temples into my hair. “At least you made it easy,” I whispered.

“Made what easy?”

“Breaking up. I can’t really overlook you hitting on another woman when I’m bruised and battered in the ER, can I?”

He looked ashamed. “I really am sorry. That wasn’t classy at all.”


“Roseline came by. I called her. She’s upstairs on L and D, but she’ll come down later.”


We were quiet for a few minutes.

Once, I thought I’d marry Bobby Byrne. Once, I thought he’d be lucky to have me. But somewhere in the midst of our year and change together—after the Big Bad Event—I got lost. What was once a bright and shiny penny had become dirty and dull and useless, and it was high time I admitted it.

Bobby hadn’t loved me for a long time.

I was going to need help for the next few weeks. Concussions were serious business, and with my injured arm and leg, I had mobility concerns. I’d need help, and I wasn’t about to stay with Bobby.

Problem was, we lived together. Roseline was a newlywed; otherwise, I’d stay with her. Other friends…no.

“I want to go home,” I said.

“Sure. Tomorrow. I’ll take a few days off.”

“I meant home. To the island.”

Bobby blinked. “Oh.”

Strangely enough, I wanted my mother. I wanted the pine trees and rocky shores. I wanted to sleep in the room I hadn’t slept in for fifteen years.

I wanted to see my sister.

Yes. I’d go home, as one does after a brush with death. I’d take a leave of absence from the practice and go back to Scupper Island, make amends with my mother, spend some time with my niece, wait for my sister to come back and…well…reassess. I might not have died, but it was close enough. I had another chance. I could do better.

“And I’m bringing Boomer,” I added.

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