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That had been a bit of a shock. So had being told she wasn't interested in him. Was she telling the truth? She'd certainly meant it at the time but, then, why had she radiated pure ice when he'd gone along with her suggestion that he date a bimbo like Christine Prescott? Why should she care? Perhaps she
did
care. Oliver finally relaxed just a little. He'd gone about this all the wrong way. Now what he needed was just a little patience. Women needed time. They liked to mull over alternatives, to think about potential repercussions and worry about them a bit. Maybe what Sophie Bennett needed was a real alternative to mull over. One that might—hopefully—be a little bit of a worry. Or an eye-opener. Like he had been subjected to during that weekend she'd been away.

It sounded like a plan. Oliver wasn't going to give up yet. No way. He smiled to himself. Quite a cheerful smile.

Almost jaunty.

 

CHAPTER SIX

Oliver Spencer
had been unusually jaunty all week.

He was smiling a lot. Not that he wasn't normally equable and pleasant but there was a new edge to it that everybody noticed.

'It can't be the weather, that's for sure,' Janet commented. Winter was setting in early with a series of southerlies that boded well for an excellent ski season on nearby Mt Hutt.

The fan heater was running full blast in the waiting room. Several miserable-looking people, who clearly hadn't had their, flu shots early enough this season, sat hunched, as far away from each other as possible. A toddler had pulled the old telephone from the toy basket and was shouting enthusiastically enough to make the flu sufferers wince.

'Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!
'Lo! Who's dare?'

'It's Wednesday,' Toni said, casting a slightly weary glance at the toddler. 'Hump day.'

'Hump day?' Sophie queried.

'The hump of the week,' Toni smiled. 'It's all downhill after Wednesday. Have you got a tutorial this afternoon?'

'Yes. Otitis media. Examination of ear canals and appropriate therapy.'

Josh was checking the appointment book. He picked up the first file in his in-basket and then paused. 'I've got an excellent journal article on that subject. Lots of lovely pictures. Shall I hunt it out for you?'

'Oh, yes, please. Have I got a patient yet, Toni?'

Toni nodded. Her smile seemed relieved. 'She's on the phone but I expect she'll finish her call soon.'

Sophie looked puzzled and took another glance into the waiting room.

'Ding,
ding!
Nobody's dare, Mummy!' the toddler exclaimed indignantly.

'She doesn't look too sick.' Sophie smiled.

Oliver came down the corridor. 'Keep warm, lots of rest and keep up the fluids, Mrs Broadbent. You should feel much better in a few days.'

'Are you quite sure I don't need any antibiotics, Doctor?' Mrs Broadbent sounded disappointed. 'It's such a dreadful cough.'

'It's just upper airway congestion from your cold, as I explained.' Oliver didn't sound the least bit annoyed at having to repeat himself. 'Your chest is perfectly clear.'

'If you say so, Doctor.' Mrs Broadbent sniffed ungraciously and went through the archway to appear on the other side of the counter.

Oliver let Janet out of the office area, before entering.

'Mr Smythe?' Janet called. 'You can go now. It's been twenty minutes since your flu shot. Are you still feeling OK?'

'My arm's bloody sore,.' Janet's patient grumbled loudly. 'And I'm late for the dentist now.'

Janet's soothing comment was lost as Toni spoke to Josh. 'Deborah has rung twice this morning already. I think she wants to make sure you don't forget about your usual lunch date.'

'God, no!' Josh's face creased with alarm. 'Tell her I'm unavailable, Toni.'

'For lunch?'

'For life.'

Oliver grinned. 'Friday night wasn't great, then, I take it?'

'Friday night was fine,' Josh said heavily. 'It was terrific until Debs said it.'

'Said what?' Sophie was amused by Josh's overdone hunted expression.

'The "M" word,' Josh intoned. His eyes widened in mock horror.

'Money?' quipped Oliver.

'No.' Josh looked at his partner solemnly. 'Marriage.'

Toni's smile looked rather satisfied. 'That's it for her, then,' she said crisply. 'Cross Debs off the list.'

Josh edged past Oliver, leaning over the counter briefly. 'June? You can come through now.' He glanced back at Toni. 'If she rings again, tell her I've skipped the country or died of flu or something.'

'Why don't you just tell her the truth?' Oliver suggested. 'You'll save everybody a lot of heartache if you're honest about it. Ask Sophie what she thinks about men who can't commit themselves. She's put me straight, I can tell you.'

Sophie looked away from her colleagues quickly. 'Mrs Chaplin? Would you like to bring Samantha through now?'

The toddler grabbed the phone and clutched it to her chest.
'No!'
she shrieked.
'Ding! Ding!
It's Daddy!'

One of the flu patients groaned audibly. Josh ushered his patient down the corridor. Oliver was shaking his head. 'Tangled webs,' he muttered sadly.

'Yes.', Toni sniffed delicately. 'And I'm the spider who's left to deal with the flies.'

'Let him sort out his own problems,' Oliver advised. 'Maybe then he'll make a fresh start. Like me. Life's quite simple when you sort out what it is you really want.'

'Hmm.' Toni was looking at Oliver curiously. 'You look like you have something new in your life.'

'I'm going away for the weekend,' Oliver announced. 'Hanmer Springs. Hot pools, forest walks, great food. I can't wait.'

Sophie was now standing in the archway, trying to concentrate on Mrs Chaplin's struggle with parting her daughter from the telephone. Samantha was getting alarmingly red in the face.

'You can bring the telephone with you, Samantha,' she offered. 'Maybe Daddy will ring you in my office.' She had missed Toni's comment on Oliver's enthusiastic announcement. Now he was speaking again.

'Would I go somewhere that romantic alone?' He was grinning suggestively at Toni but his eyes moved to catch Sophie, who had been unable to stop herself staring as she waited for her patient. Samantha was now dragging the phone along by the receiver, its curly cord stretched straight by the weight of the phone bumping along behind. It collided with the feet of the flu sufferer who had already been heard to groan. The man slumped back in his seat, covering his face with his hands.

'How 'bout you, Sophie?' Oliver asked brightly. 'Got any trips to Auckland planned?'

'No.' Sophie's response was curt. She could see Toni watching Oliver with a faintly stunned expression. Sophie moved away hurriedly. She wasn't interested in Oliver Spencer's plans for the weekend. Neither was she remotely interested in finding out the identity of his proposed companion. She could guess that easily enough. It wasn't jealousy she was feeling. That dull ache in her chest was probably just disappointment that Oliver was able to forget his physical attraction to her and transfer his attentions with such ease. Oliver Spencer was reverting to type. Publicly. No wonder Toni was looking stunned. She already had to deal with the fallout from one playboy's social calendar. Now she might have to deal with two.

It wasn't Sophie's problem, thank goodness. Right now she only needed to deal with Samantha Chaplin's glue ear and her mother's conviction that it was causing all her behavioural difficulties. The rest of the morning seemed to be taken up with feminine worries. Elderly Mrs Smithers had stress incontinence. Nineteen-year-old Claire was embarrassed by a nasty dose of thrush, and two women came in for their regular Pap smears. As the only female GP at St David's, Sophie knew she was likely to get more than her share of such cases, but that was fine by her. She would choose to see a female GP herself under similar circumstances.

Sophie's last task for the morning was to write out a promised prescription for some more antibiotic eyedrops for Toni who was using them as part of her post-eye-surgery care programme. The practice manager was already on her lunch-break so Sophie took the prescription down to the staffroom.

'I hope you haven't run out. I meant to do this first thing,' Sophie apologised. 'How is your eye?'

'No problems at all.' Toni tapped the lens over her left eye. 'I've had this lens changed to plain glass and I can see brilliantly. I'm going to book in for getting my other eye done as soon as possible.' She reached for the prescription. 'Thanks a lot, Sophie. I'll get this filled when I go down to the bank.' She smiled at Sophie. 'Have you got time for a coffee? I haven't asked but I've been dying to know how things are going with you and Greg.'

'They're not.' Sophie shrugged lightly and reached for a coffee-mug. 'Greg's found another woman.'

'What?' Toni looked aghast. 'How could he? What a creep!'

'I wouldn't say that exactly.' Sophie couldn't help but feel comforted by Toni's outrage on her behalf.

'I would,' Toni declared. 'Men are all the same, aren't they? And they have the nerve to blame women when things go wrong.'

Sophie thought of Oliver's proposed weekend away. She was about to concede that Toni might well have a point when Josh entered the staffroom, closely followed by Oliver.

'How could you do it to me, Toni?' Josh demanded sternly.

Toni gave Sophie a conspiratorial smile. 'Do what, Josh?' she asked innocently.

'Book Mr Collins in for my 2.30 appointment. It's Oliver's turn again, isn't it? I saw Mr Collins last week when he had that headache and was convinced he had a subdural haematoma.'

'Was that before or after the suspicious lymph node that turned out to be a boil?' Oliver grinned.

'It's your punishment,' Toni told Josh calmly. 'He rang just after I got an earful from Deborah on how she wasn't going to stand for jumped-up secretaries who were obviously trying to block contact between people who had important business to discuss.'

'Oh, God. Sorry, Swampy.' Josh looked contrite. 'OK. I won't complain about Mr Collins.' He sat down and grinned at Oliver. 'That is,' he added, 'unless he's carrying another jam jar.'

'The last one's still in the fridge.' Sophie stared disapprovingly at Oliver. 'I've never seen anything so disgusting. Janet reckons it's a bio-hazard and it's time you did something about it.'

'Right.' Oliver opened the fridge, grabbed the jam jar and dropped it into the open rubbish bin on the floor. 'Consider it done.'

Janet entered the room just as the jar landed with an impressive thud. Her eyebrows shot up. 'What was that?'

'Mr Collins's jam jar.' Sophie sounded just as surprised as Janet.

'You can't do that,' Janet told Oliver. 'It's a bio-hazard. From what I saw before the mould took over, it probably needs a lead casing.'

'Hardly.' Oliver laughed. 'And there's plenty more where that came from.'

'I'm sure there is,' Toni said dryly. 'Maybe Josh will get a replacement this afternoon.'

'What
was
it?' Sophie felt compelled to ask.

'Some sort of a toadstool,' Oliver responded. His dark grey eyes were dancing with amusement. 'Mr Collins found it growing in his veggie garden. He reckons it's tainting his cabbages and causing his problems with excessive flatulence.'

'Oh, please!' Janet was peeling the lid from her pot of yoghurt. 'I'm about to eat.'

'It's all right for you,' Josh said plaintively. 'I've got a 2.30 appointment with him.'

'Serves you right,' Oliver declared. 'Maybe Toni will forgive you for making her deal with the dreadful Deborah.' He winked at Toni. 'Put Mr Collins in the side room. It's a lot smaller than Josh's office.' He pointed a warning finger in Josh's direction. 'Just be careful not to light any matches.'

Sophie had to laugh. It was more than she would have done when she'd first arrived at St David's. The idea that dealing with the more difficult patients like Mr Collins could be seen as having entertainment value had been a little unnerving at first. Over the months, however, Sophie had come to understand the shared bond between the staff that might provide amusement privately at a patient's expense but allowed them to offer their patient the attention and interest he demanded without it becoming a tiresome burden. It was usually Oliver who could see the funny side first. In fact, it had been his sense of humour that had attracted Sophie before anything else.

Sophie's smile faded rapidly. She tipped out the rest of her coffee. 'I'm going to be late for this tutorial if I don't get moving. I'll see you all later.'

The tutorial on otoscopy was extremely worthwhile. Sophie had already had three occasions on which to use her new-found level of skills by Friday morning. Her second to last patient for the morning was an eight-year-old girl who'd had recurrent ear infections since infancy.

Sophie angled the speculum of her otoscope carefully upwards and forwards, having seen the junction of the posterior canal wall skin and the eardrum. She remembered the tutor describing the lateral process of the malleus as looking like a knuckle or a flexed knee and commenting that it was by far the most useful and reliable landmark on the eardrum. Sophie identified it with satisfaction and then ran through the rest of the six landmarks as she found them.

'Are you good at popping your ears, Katy?' Sophie queried. 'By pinching your nose and blowing hard?'

'I think so.'

'Good girl. Try it for me now.' Sophie watched to see whether a bulging of the eardrum would signify good Eustachian tubal function. It didn't.

'Right.' Sophie removed the speculum from the girl's ear. 'There's no sign of an active infection but the drums are looking very dull. We'll do a tympanogram and compare that to the one we did last month. Do you think you're having any trouble hearing the teacher at school at the moment, Katy?'

'No.'

'She never hears me when I tell her to tidy her room,' Katy's mother declared with a smile. 'She's as deaf as a post then.'

'I'll just go and get the tympanometer,' Sophie told them. 'Back in a minute.'

She went to the treatment room to collect the piece of equipment she needed. Janet was hanging up her wall phone. 'Fifteen recalls for repeat blood tests,' she sighed. 'Now I've got to start on all the preschool vaccinations coming up.'

BOOK: Unknown
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