Featured Author: Elizabeth Camden
New York City
Dr. Katherine Schneider was a peacemaker and never could understand why people had to argue so much, especially since everyone in this conference room was on the same side. They all wanted to ensure New Yorkers had convenient and affordable dental care, so why the fuss? She folded her arms as Dr. Friedrich continued complaining about the clinic’s late-night hours.
“It’s not safe to keep the clinic open until midnight,” Dr. Friedrich insisted. “Ten o’clock is good enough.”
Katherine shook her head. “A lot of restaurant workers don’t get off until nine or ten at night. Staying open until midnight lets those people visit the dentist without having to take time off work.”
She was privileged to work in one of the most forward-thinking dental clinics in the country. The owner kept the clinic open until midnight to accommodate working people’s schedules and hired dentists who reflected the population of the city. Their office had dentists who were fluent in Chinese, German, and Russian. They also hired black and female dentists. By hiring dentists that patients felt comfortable with, at least one obstacle that made people reluctant to see a dentist had been removed. The clinic sat in the middle of the clean and well-lit Times Square, a respectable part of town where people could feel safe visiting at night.
Katherine’s parents back in Ohio worried incessantly about her late-night hours, but she was twenty-eight years old and navigated the city with ease. Six years after fleeing the burning humiliation of a mortifying heartbreak in Ohio, she had fulfilled her improbable dream of becoming a dentist. Her heart had mended, for nothing healed a wounded heart faster than a crush on another man, even if it was unrequited.
Dr. Friedrich continued arguing with Alvin, the other dentist who worked until midnight with Katherine. Personally, Katherine suspected Dr. Friedrich simply didn’t like working the late shift and hoped to start closing earlier, but it had been a long day and she was ready to head home. She shrugged out of her high-collared dental tunic and reached for her nip-waisted walking jacket.
Outside the window, Times Square dazzled with hundreds of street lamps and brightly-lit theater signs. The night air shimmered with excitement and lively music spilled from the restaurants that catered to affluent crowds indulging in late-night suppers after the theaters let out. Even at midnight Times Square blazed with radiant light and seemed like a world of enchantment.
“Good night,” she said. “As much as I’d like to stay and argue with you, my friend has arrived to escort me to the subway stop.”
Maybe it was a stretch to refer to Lieutenant Birch as her ‘friend,’ but what else should she call the policeman who’d met her after every single shift for the past two years to make sure she got home safely?
A chilly autumn wind snaked around her collar, causing a shiver. Or was the shiver from spotting Lieutenant Birch across the street, heading her way?
She hid a smile as he approached, admiring the chiseled set of his jaw and quiet intensity as he scanned the streets, always alert, always cool and unruffled. He attracted plenty of female attention whenever he walked her to the subway station.
He tipped his head in greeting. “Dr. Schneider.”
“Lieutenant Birch,” she replied, just as laconically.
More often than not, that was the extent of their conversation. A brief greeting, a five-minute walk to her subway stop, then an equally concise farewell. Sometimes she tried to pry a little more out of him, but he rarely gave her more than monosyllabic answers.
Was he merely shy? It was hard to believe a man who looked like Lieutenant Birch could be intimidated by a woman. He wasn’t much taller than she, but he had a lean, cut look that made him seem powerful. Maybe that wasn’t quite the right word. Dangerous? Lethal? None of these words quite captured his restrained sense of tightly-coiled energy. But he wasn’t truly dangerous… Lieutenant Birch was the definition of clean-cut respectability.
He cared about her. She couldn’t quite explain why, since he never tried to see her outside of these late-night walks to her subway stop. Would he never push for greater intimacy? Perhaps he was intimidated by her. Sometimes that happened with men who feared she might upstage them by flaunting her college degree or medical credentials, which was ridiculous. As a policeman who worked the overnight shift in downtown Manhattan, Lieutenant Birch surely had a wealth of experience that dwarfed her limited exposure to the world. Most of her life had been spent helping at her father’s dental clinic or in the isolated laboratory in college. Even after living in New York for two years, she still felt like a green girl from Ohio.
They ducked beneath the awning of a newsstand then around a café table of diners on their way to the Times Square station.
“Lieutenant, we’ve known each other for two years,” she said. “Don’t you think it’s time you started calling me Katherine?”
They walked for several paces before he finally replied. “You worked hard for that degree, and deserve to be called ‘doctor.’”
She also worked hard at trying to chisel through the wall of reserve he hid behind. She wanted him to see her as a woman, not a dentist in a shapeless white tunic.
“I still wish you’d call me Katherine,” she said as they arrived at the subway stop.
For the first time all evening, he turned to face her, speculation simmering behind his pale blue eyes. It almost looked like he was battling a smile on his firm, straight mouth.
He touched the brim of his cap. “Good night, Dr. Schneider.”
“Good night, Lieutenant Birch.”
Perhaps she would try again tomorrow night.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Schneider and Lieutenant Birch’s story continues in Elizabeth’s upcoming novel, While the City Sleeps – releasing February 2024 from Bethany House Publishers.
Her novels have won the RITA and Christy Award, and she lives in Florida with her husband who graciously tolerates her intimidating stockpile of books.
Connect with Elizabeth online at her website, Facebook, and Instagram.