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Sophie nodded wearily. She had felt exactly the same way herself this morning. Or rather, she'd wondered why she'd bothered getting
into
bed, seeing as she hadn't had a wink of sleep. She'd been tortured by images of a cheerful-looking Oliver, a smug-looking Christine and gurgling little bundles that managed to look cheerful
and
smug.

She couldn't even remember precisely what the tutorial had been about yesterday afternoon. The expected antenatal subject had been postponed in favour of geriatric problems of various kinds. Sophie had gone off on a tangent then, too, imagining what her
own old age might be like. Lonely, probably, with maybe just a few cats for company. Like Toni...

'Sorry?' Sophie gave herself a mental shake. 'Did you say something, Toni?'

'Nothing worth repeating,' the practice manager told her gloomily. 'Did you get that message in your in-tray?'

'I haven't looked yet.' Sophie got up from the corner chair. 'I knew there was something I came in for.'

Toni answered the phone. 'Oh, hello, Mr Collins.' There was a long pause. 'Is that right?...
Have
you?... Goodness me!' Toni's pencil was hovering over the appointment book under Josh's name.

Catching Toni's eye, Sophie received a wink. She smiled and nodded. If anybody deserved a visit from Mr Collins this morning, Josh Cooper did. Sophie changed her mind as she saw Oliver hurry in through the front door. He looked even worse than she felt. His tie was crooked and he looked as though his chin hadn't had more than a very brief encounter with a razor. He also looked tired. Maybe a consultation with Mr Collins would perk him up a bit. Sophie tapped the name in the appointment book and then pointed to an empty space under Oliver's name. She raised her eyebrows questioningly at Toni. The practice manager looked at Oliver and frowned in concern as she continued talking smoothly.

'I'm sure you're right, Mr Collins, but you'll need to discuss it with one of the doctors. I'm really not qualified to...' Toni grimaced in frustration. 'Eleven o'clock,' she said firmly, clearly interrupting. 'Excuse me, Mr Collins, but my other phone's ringing.'

'Don't you dare send him in my direction,' Oliver muttered. He cast a rather haunted glance at Sophie. 'What are you doing?' he demanded.

'I'm reading the fax from the O and G consultant who admitted Pagan Ellis yesterday. Looks like they've managed to get her temperature down and the IV salbutamol infusion has settled the uterine activity.' Sophie couldn't help smiling. 'Apparently, she's booked herself in to use the hospital's water-birth facilities in November.'

'I told you she'd see sense eventually.'

'So you did.' Sophie smiled blithely at Oliver. 'I can't think what I found to worry about.'

Oliver's face darkened perceptibly at the hint of mockery in Sophie's tone. Toni turned from talking to the woman at the counter who was holding a protesting toddler.

'Sophie, you couldn't take young Benjamin's stitches out, could you? Ben's mum wants to get him to day care and can't wait until Janet arrives.'

'Sure.' Sophie smiled at the woman. The small boy now lay sideways in her arms, kicking his feet vigorously. If she were Ben's mother she'd probably be keen to get him to day care as well.

'Take him through to the treatment room, Jean,' Toni directed. 'Dr Bennett will be with you in just a minute.'

'I'd like a word when you're through,' Oliver told Sophie. 'I tried to call you last night.'

'Did you?' Sophie watched Ben's mother give up the struggle to hold her son. She grabbed his wrist the moment his feet touched the floor.

'Come
on,
Ben. Nobody's going to hurt you.'

I wouldn't bet on it, Sophie thought. But hopefully it wouldn't be her.

'You were on the phone,' Oliver said accusingly.

'Well, actually...' Sophie hesitated. She had taken her phone off the hook last night. Her father often chose a Wednesday to make his duty call and he was the last person Sophie had felt like talking to. Well, almost the last. She gave Oliver a quizzical glance. How many times had he tried to ring her? And what about? Did the fact that she'd forgotten to replace the receiver until this morning have anything to do with the shadows under Oliver's grey eyes? How ridiculous. Sophie smiled again.

'I expect it was about my assignment,' she suggested blithely. Ben's feet were disappearing through the door of the treatment room. Backwards. His mother must have a grip under both armpits by now. Sophie knew it was time to offer assistance. 'I'm sure we'll get a chance to talk later, Oliver.'

'You can count on it,' Oliver said darkly. 'I'll be in my office as soon as you've finished filling in for Janet.'

The stitches Ben had needed above his eye, thanks to the jousting tournament with heavy sticks which he had instigated at day care, were quite tricky to remove. Sophie tried bribing him with a teddy-bear-shaped biscuit but, having endured the tweak of the first stitch coming out, Ben had every intention of keeping the other three.

Sophie considered asking Oliver to help but decided against it instantly. The thought of disturbing Josh was just as unappealing. Finally, she called Toni, who expertly positioned herself on a chair, the toddler on her lap, his arms crossed and his hands held firmly by Toni.

'That's great.' Sophie nodded approvingly. 'If you just steady his head, Jean, this will only take a second or two.'

It took long enough for Toni to receive a couple of bruises to her shins and for her to have told Ben all about the secret supply of sweets she kept in the office. It also took long enough for the waiting room to get quite full. Sophie gave two people flu shots, took a blood sample for a digoxin level and then smiled as Ruby Murdock came into the treatment room. Ruby was wearing a bright pink tracksuit and white trainers.

'I've just come for my BP check and to have my weight done,' she told Sophie. 'I wasn't expecting to see you, dear.'

'I'm being Janet for a while', Sophie explained. 'She's a bit late this morning. 'You're looking great, Ruby.'

'I've lost seven kilos,' Ruby said proudly. 'I walked over here this morning. It took thirty minutes.'

'Good on you.' Sophie wrapped the BP cuff around Ruby's arm. 'How's the asthma?'

'Much better. In fact, I feel much better generally.'

'That's great.' Sophie listened for a moment, then removed her stethoscope. 'Your BP's down a bit, too. How's Felicity?'

'Good.' Ruby smiled at Sophie. 'She's taken up yoga. I look after Laura for her on Tuesday afternoons. She says it's just what she needs. I've got someone in to help me with the housework and I'm getting all my food through the weight clinic. I think things are improving all round, really.'

'I'm so pleased,' Sophie said warmly. 'Keep it up. I'll just do a quick blood sugar and cholesterol check while you're here, too.'

Sophie was labelling the blood sample a minute later when Janet finally arrived.

'I'm so sorry I'm late,' she apologised. 'You're going to be rushing all morning to catch up with your own appointments now.'

'Not to worry.' Sophie smiled. 'My first is Mrs Wentworth. She's usually late and then goes to sleep in the corner. I don't think I ever rush as much as you do. I feel like I've done a day's work already. How do you stand the pace?'

Janet grinned. 'It's a breeze compared to being at home with two children. Just wait. You'll find out what real work is one day.'

Sophie's smile was wistful. Would she? Would she ever have to cope with the challenge of juggling a career with motherhood? Which one would be more fulfilling in the long run? Probably motherhood. Sophie suppressed a sigh. What had happened to that wonderful determination to focus on her career? Her fragile mood was in danger of cracking again and it sounded as if she might not be the only one having difficulties. Sharing an anxious glance with Janet, Sophie stared at the door. She could hear Josh's quiet but unmistakably angry voice. He was standing outside the treatment room door, presumably talking to Toni.

'I said there's no way I'm seeing him. I'm the senior partner here, Toni. If I say Oliver sees him, then Oliver sees him.'

Janet followed Sophie into the main office. 'It's my fault for being late,' she said mournfully. 'I've caused all sorts of problems, haven't I?'

'It's not you causing the problems around here,' Toni responded crisply. She was rubbing Mr Collins's name out from Josh's column. Sophie sensed her hesitating under Oliver's name. St David's junior partner had been quite clear about his own instructions regarding this patient.

What the hell? Sophie decided. 'I'll see Mr Collins,' she told Toni.

Toni's jaw dropped. 'Are you kidding?'

'No.' If she didn't see Mr Collins, she would have to go and talk to Oliver. Right now, Mr Collins seemed a far more attractive option. He looked quite benign, really, sitting in the far corner of the waiting room. Almost completely bald, he had just a ring of white fluff beneath a very red scalp. Mr Collins was fat, and when he stood up to follow Sophie she discovered that his shiny head came only to her shoulder. Mr Collins looked exactly like a leprechaun. The most alarming thing about the elderly gentleman was the very large paper bag he was carrying.

'It won't be difficult for you, lassie.' The volume of Mr Collins's voice was out of all proportion to his height. He parked the bag beside his chair in Sophie's consulting room. 'It's a UTI,' he bellowed. He peered short-sightedly at Sophie. 'Are you a nurse?'

'No, I'm a doctor. I'm a GP registrar.'

'Bit young, aren't you?' Mr Collins shouted. 'Never mind. I know what I'm on about. A UTI is a urinary tract infection.'

'Yes, I know.' Sophie leaned over her desk. 'Are you wearing a hearing aid, Mr Collins?'

'What? Speak up, girl. I'm a bit deaf.'

'Have you turned on your hearing aid?' Sophie asked loudly.

Mr Collins fiddled with his ear and then peered at Sophie. 'Say that again, lassie. I'm turned on now.'

Sophie closed her eyes briefly at the thought, then she spoke slowly and clearly. 'What makes you think you might have a urinary tract infection, Mr Collins?'

'I don't
think.
I know.' Mr Collins shook his head despairingly. 'You just write me a prescription, young lady. A broad-spectrum antibiotic, I think. Let's try some Bactrim. I had a bit of a skin reaction to the Amoxil I had last time.'

'I can't prescribe antibiotics unless you need them, Mr Collins,' Sophie stated firmly. 'What are your symptoms?'

'What?'

'Are you running a temperature? Do you have pain on passing urine? Do you—?'

'Pain? Of course I've got pain.' Mr Collins glared at Sophie. 'It's the cysts.'

'Pardon?' Sophie blinked in surprise.

'Are you deaf as well, lassie?
Cysts!'
Mr Collins boomed. 'In my piddle. See?' With a rapid yank, he reached into the paper bag, lifted a two-litre plastic milk container filled with yellowish fluid and plonked it onto Sophie's desk. She shrank backwards.

'I brought a sample.' Mr Collins's chin jutted proudly. 'I always bring a sample.'

'Hmmm.' Sophie eyed the container. She bit her lip hard and tried to keep her face straight. 'How long did it take to collect this sample, Mr Collins?'

'Not long,' he responded airily. 'Couple of days.' He picked up the bottle by the handle and shook it briskly. Sophie cringed, hoping fervently that the lid was screwed on tightly. 'Look at that!' Mr Collins crowed in delight. 'Cysts. Millions of the little buggers.'

Sophie caught a glimpse of the disturbed sediment before she shut her eyes again. 'Did you rinse the container before you started collecting your sample, Mr Collins?'

'I gave it a bit of a swirl.' Sophie could sense that her patient was peering at her again. 'Are you tired, girl? Not up to the job, eh? Perhaps I'd better see one of the proper doctors.'

Sophie opened her eyes smartly. 'I'm fine,' she said firmly. 'Tell me, Mr Collins, did your pain on passing urine start before or after you began using this container?'

'After.' Mr Collins leered at Sophie. 'It was a bit of a tight fit, you know.'

'Leave it with me,' Sophie told him carefully. 'We'll test it and I'll get back to you if you need to take some antibiotics.'

She had to get herself a glass of water. Either that or bury her face in a cushion and shriek with laughter. Gingerly, Sophie transferred the impressive sample of Mr Collins's urine to the staffroom. She hadn't expected to find anyone in there but the courier, Ross, was downing a drink of water.

'I needed that,' he told Sophie. 'High-pressure job, this.' He looked at the milk container Sophie was holding and his expression changed. He looked at his empty glass and hurriedly put it into the sink.

'Hi, Ross. How's the back?' Sophie opened the sample fridge but there was no room for the large bottle. She closed it again.

'Great, thanks, Doc.' Ross watched Sophie deliberate over where to put her burden. 'Can I tell you something?'

'Sure.' Sophie eyed the rubbish bin longingly.

'I'm just bursting to tell someone.' Ross had a grin that stretched from ear to ear. 'I'm going to be a father.'

'Really? Congratulations.' Sophie wondered if it might be something in the air.

'It's fantastic, isn't it? Not that we're married yet, but that doesn't matter these days, does it?'

'Not at all, Ross.' Definitely something in the air, Sophie decided. She discounted the possibility of leaving the bottle on the bench.

'We'll be inviting you to the wedding, of course, Doc.'

Sophie forgot the bottle. 'Really? That's sweet of you, Ross, but—'

'We'll be inviting all the St David's staff. After all, it would never have happened if we hadn't met here.'

Sophie eyed the air-conditioning unit. Surely not. 'I had no idea,' she said distractedly.

'It's nearly a year ago now,' Ross told her happily. 'I was running in with a parcel for Doc Spencer and I flattened her. She took quite a tumble down the ramp.'

'Oh, dear.'

'It was her first day on the job, too. She was really upset.'

BOOK: Unknown
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