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First pages

Chapter 1

Contrary to what my mother always taught me, it’s not really necessary to wear clean underwear in case you get in an accident. If you end up at the morgue, chances are said underwear will be soiled anyway. The brand-name and type are much more important, something Mom would probably agree with.

“You have to document everything,” Nikki declared. “The fact that this guy died wearing nothing but black BVDs will become public record when the autopsy report is released.”

After she finished noting his personal effects, Nikki set down her clipboard to pull off his briefs. She discarded them into a bin next to the autopsy table as I tried to focus my eyes somewhere other than where the BVDs used to be. “All of their clothing goes into that container,” Nikki stated. “It’s given to the next of kin by the funeral home. Be careful if you find any money—once I found several hundred dollars inside a patient’s bra. I always announce to the room when I find cash so no one can accuse me later of stealing it.”

Nikki, the experienced pathology tech who was training me, appeared to be in her late 20s, with short dyed black hair. We met as I waited outside the fridge before my “trial autopsy,” standing nervously in my scrubs and slippers, my blonde locks encased in a hairnet.

She had told me in a smoker’s voice, deep and gravelly, “Now listen. Before we go in there, I want you to be aware of something: what’s done is done, the past is the past; whatever you see in there already happened, and you had nothing to do with it.”

“I know.”

“Do you?” She studied me over the top of her goggles.

I nodded.

Did you eat a good breakfast this morning?”

“Yes…” I couldn’t decide if she was making conversation or if a deeper meaning existed behind her inquiry.

“You might not want to do that anymore. At least for a few days, until you’re used to it. You never know what you’ll see in there.”

“Okay,” I said. The eggs my mom made me that morning suddenly felt heavy in my stomach.

“I’m a coffee drinker myself, but you might want to hold back on that too for a few days. You’ll be nervous as is and you don’t want your hands to be shaking so badly you can’t wield a scalpel.”

I nodded again. The way Nikki kept stressing the ‘few days’ part made it seem like what I was about to see in there would only have a temporary effect, as if, after those few days, everything in my life would go back to normal. I certainly hoped that was true.

“You’re lucky… this will be an easy one today. My first autopsy was liquefied, and I got it all over my scrubs. You haven’t lived until you’ve had decomp drip on you.” I swallowed audibly. Nikki continued unabated, “And Dr. Hart’s the path on this one. You’ll like him; he’s much easier than Dr. Duncan. Dr. Duncan will make you do the cutting…” She paused as she glanced at me. “Eventually. When you’re more experienced. Speaking of which, have you ever been around a dead body?”

“I watched a cadaver get cut open in college,” I said. I shoved the thought of how I nearly fainted when they unveiled the corpse out of my mind.

“That’s good. Although the goal of a cadaver-cutting is to see the gross anatomy of a human, whereas the goal for an autopsy is to decide on a COD: cause of death. This one is a 40-something John, who probably died of a drug overdose.”

“His name is…was, John?”

She furrowed her brow. “As in John Doe. Unidentified. As of yet. But that’s part of our job: we give them a COD, and if need, be, a name and a family that will take care of them after we do.”

“Take care?” I hated how tiny my voice sounded. Wouldn’t it have been a bit too late for that?

“You know, provide a proper resting place, whether it’s a burial or cremation. Wrap up their affairs. That sort of thing.”

“Right.” My fingers fumbled as I tried to tie the back of my apron.

Nikki walked behind me and yanked the ribbons from my hands. “If at any time you get upset in there, remember it’s your job to speak for the deceased: you have to answer the questions that they can’t. That’s our job.” She finished off the knot.

“Okay.” I turned back toward her and smoothed down a wrinkle in the paper garment.

She tilted her head and gave me a long look. It was almost as if her gaze penetrated beneath my scrubs and under my skin to take stock of my innards. My fingers itched to continue fidgeting with my apron, but I held them tightly at my side. After what seemed like an hour, Nikki finally gave me a nod.

“You’ll be alright.”

 

Walking in to the autopsy room the first time was an assault on my senses. At first, when the body still lay sealed in the black plastic bag, the scent of cleaning solution, tinged with another chemical-y smell, which I learned later was a preservation fluid, overwhelmed the vast room. As Nikki unzipped the bag, another, more unpleasant odor which I could only describe as a ‘musty locker room smell’ filled my nostrils. I steeled my knees, which were threatening to become rubber bands, and reminded myself of my rudimentary medical training and how cool I’d thought the cadaver was back then. After I’d gotten over my initial fear of fainting, of course.

The decedent was a large man with a red beard. Gravity had pooled the blood beneath him so that his upper body was light-yellowish and the hips and sides of the thighs were reddish-purple. A cloud of foam, frozen in time, extended from his open mouth. I’d learn later that this “foam cone” was characteristic of an opiate overdose.

A forensic photographer squeezed past me, snapping photos of the remains from every angle. “How’s it going?” he asked me in between shots. “First day?”

I nodded, stepping back while Dr. Hart walked the length of the body, completing his initial observations as the photographer chatted with Nikki about their plans for the weekend. Dr. Hart lifted up the corpse’s arms as if trying to shake hands and then opened the eyelids and peered into them before wiping his gloved hands on the sheet. He grabbed a towel and rubbed the decedent’s face so it no longer looked like he was crying. He nodded at Nikki who stuck a syringe in each eye for a fluid sample. The eyes, waterless now, were locked in an open stare.

Because the decedent was nearly three hundred pounds, it took both Nikki and Dr. Hart to lift him halfway up so the forensic photographer could take pictures of his back. Nikki tilted her head toward a gray rectangle no bigger than a brick. “Lexi, can you grab that block over there?”

Relieved to have a duty to fulfill, I placed it on the autopsy table so that when they eased the body down, his head was elevated.

“Right. Let’s get at it, then.” Dr. Hart grabbed one of the many tools that lay on a silver tray as Nikki pressed ‘play’ on the nearby stereo. The soothing melodies of Enya emanated from the plastic covered speakers as Dr. Hart began. He placed the scalpel at John Doe’s right shoulder and cut a deep incision toward the center of his chest. He did the same on the other side, and then extended the line down to his belly button. There was barely any blood, as John’s heart had ceased to pump. “Shears.”

I scrutinized the equipment next to the sink, noting a tool similar to the one my dad used to prune the boxwood in front of our house. I gingerly picked the shears up and handed them to Dr. Hart, who then used them to open the breastplate, cracking each rib in turn. The sound of snapping ribs is not much different from the crunch a branch makes under your foot, but the echo it made in the cavernous autopsy room would take some getting used to.

Nikki must have noticed me cringe because she edged a bit closer to say, “You have to be a little forceful: a dead body is literally stiff and very unyielding.”

I nodded.

“Bowls.” Dr. Hart, I was beginning to learn, was a man of few words.

Nikki gestured toward a stack of stainless steel basins sitting beside the sink. “Your job is to hold out an appropriate sized bowl for each organ. These bigger ones are for the liver, the medium sized for kidneys, the smaller for the heart.” As an example, she grabbed a small one and Dr. Hart placed the heart inside. Nikki then took the contents from the bowl and put it on the scale, a hanging one similar to a grocery store’s. In fact, as I glanced around the room—in lieu of staring into John Doe’s open cavity—a lot of the equipment seemed rather mundane, like something I’d see in my mom’s kitchen. There was the bright yellow colander placed in the sink for draining the organs, the ladle on the countertop that Nikki used to scoop out some of Mr. Doe’s more liquefied remains, the assortment of bread knives on the silver tray at Dr. Hart’s workstation. The same brand of dishwasher that we had at home sat in between the autopsy table where we were stationed and the empty one next to us.

“Are you going to slice it open?” Nikki asked Dr. Hart. I nearly cringed at the use of it in regards to Mr. Doe, but then realized that they couldn’t be referring to him. After all, he’d already been “sliced open.” Nikki held out the heart toward Dr. Hart. I stifled an inappropriate giggle as I realized the pathologist’s last name and the organ Nikki was holding were homonyms.

Did I really almost laugh in the middle of an autopsy?

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Dr. Hart replied. To my relief, he was not looking at me, but replying to Nikki’s inquiry. “Just take some samples of the organs.”

For the next hour, as Dr. Hart extracted the internal vitals one by one, Nikki showed me how to take them to the scale and record the weight of each in John Doe’s chart. Finally Dr. Hart removed the last organ, the bladder. In John Doe’s case, it was full when he left this world.

“Feel this,” Nikki said, holding it out to me.

It resembled—and felt like—an overfilled water balloon. “Cool,” I stated involuntarily.

I could see Nikki’s eyes crinkle in the outer corners as a smile formed beneath her mask.

“I’m thinking it’s a pretty clear overdose at this point,” Dr. Hart said. He held up John Doe’s arm. “Look at these track marks.” Both Nikki and I obligingly bent forward. Having never seen the evidence of severe drug use before, I reached out with a latex covered hand to touch one of the small holes crisscrossing Mr. Doe’s forearm. Dr. Hart nodded at me before dropping the arm. “But of course we’ll have to wait for the toxicology results.”

The photographer raised his camera and took one last picture of Mr. Doe’s arms. He put his equipment away and then tossed a paper towel at the garbage, exclaiming, “Darn,” loudly after he missed.

“Autopsy concluded, 4:30 pm.” Dr. Hart snapped off his gloves. “Can you handle the closing?” he asked Nikki before walking over to the sink.

“Of course,” Nikki said. “I’ll show Lexi here how to do it.”

Dr. Hart undid the ties on his mask as he turned to me, revealing five o’clock shadow on the lower half of his face. “Good job today, Alexandra. You can head out when you’re done in here.” He held my gaze for a moment before asking, “I’ll see you Monday morning?”

I nodded.

“Excellent.” He clasped me on the shoulder with his ungloved hand.

“Nice to meet you, Lexi,” the photographer called as he and Dr. Hart exited the autopsy suite. I felt bad that I’d never caught his name.

“So now we take samples from the organs.” Nikki placed John Doe’s heart on a cutting board. She picked up one of the knives and sliced a piece off the heart, plunking it into a labeled jar of formalin. She did the same to the kidney, and then held the knife toward me. “Wanna do the liver? This one’s easy. Sometimes you get ones that are super fatty—especially if the person was a drinker.”

“Umm, no, that’s okay. I’ll just watch you this time.”

She shrugged and then began to hack at the liver.

After she’d taken a chunk from each body part, she handed them to me. I placed the organs back into John Doe using my knowledge of fetal pigs as a guide to figure out what part went where.

“What about these?” I asked when there were no more parts to hand over, gesturing toward the various remains to the side of the cutting board.

Nikki grabbed a black garbage bag. “They go in here.”

I assumed it would end up in a biohazard container, but to my surprise, after we placed the leftovers into the trash bag, Nikki put it inside John Doe before sewing his chest back together with a giant needle.

I eyed the body critically. Because his ribs were broken, the chest part stuck out a bit. “Does this happen to everybody?” I had pictured something… different at the end of the autopsy, something more dignified than a Frankenstein stitch stretching across his torso, concealing the trash bag lodged in his abdominal cavity.

“Pretty much. It’s the funeral home’s job to make him look presentable.” Nikki stated matter-of-factly. “We’ll keep those jars,” she nodded toward them, “for a couple of years, just in case a question comes up, but as for John Doe, we’re done now.” She rolled a silver gurney next to Mr. Doe and then turned to a large black man who was now at the sink in the autopsy station adjacent to ours. “Hey, Elijah, will you help us with this one?”

He came over to stand beside Nikki. “A heavy one, huh? Man, take a look at those track marks.”

“Yeah. Hey, have you met Lexi?”

Elijah extended his hand toward me. “Welcome Lexi.” He gave me the once-over after we shook hands. “First day, huh?”

“Is it that easy to tell?” I replied.

“Yeah. Newbies around here are literally greenies. Get it? Green?”

I nodded.

Elijah positioned himself on Mr. Doe’s left side. “Lexi, can you lift his legs?”

I got behind Mr. Doe and Nikki placed her hands underneath his shoulders. “On the count of three, we’re going to move him to the gurney. One…” I grasped the body’s ankles. They felt smooth and cold underneath my gloves. “Two, three…”

I tried picking up the hefty Mr. Doe as Nikki and Elijah both put their hands in the air. I let go of his legs; they thudded against the steel of the autopsy table and then my companions’ laughter filled the room.

“We’re just messin’ with you—you don’t really have to pick him up… watch this.” Nikki put the silver gurney behind the table and then pushed a button. The slender silver tray that John Doe was on slid off the table and onto the gurney with only little guidance from Elijah.

“Just a little initiation we do around here sometimes,” Elijah said as I wiped my gloved hands on my apron.

“I see,” I said, for lack of anything else to say.

“At least we didn’t do what they did to me for my first one,” Nikki said as she straightened the white plastic cover over Mr. Doe.

“What was that?” I asked.

“A resident was actually in the body bag, lying in wait.” Nikki gestured at the autopsy table. “When I unzipped it, he sat up. I was scared shitless.”

“What did you do?” I could see myself running straight for the locker room and then out the main door.

Elijah grinned. “What else? She punched him in the face.”

“It was a totally natural fight or flight reaction,” Nikki added. “Dr. Duncan agreed with me. Although I felt bad that was my first impression. The resident eventually dropped out, but I’m still here.”

“And that was the end of that hazing ritual. You got off light,” Elijah told me.

I nodded again. I hadn’t expected quite so much joking around in the autopsy suite.

“Well, Lexi, now that’s over with, I’m going to officially welcome you.” He held out his hand and once again, Elijah and I shook gloves. “And hey, don’t worry … you’ll get used to the smell after a few days.” He gave us a wave of his hand before returning to the other sink.

“Now what?” I asked Nikki.

“We’ll wheel Mr. Doe here back into the cooler and then wait for the toxicology results before confirming the ruling of accidental death from overdose. The dental records, or worst case, DNA will hopefully give him an ID and then the family will have their funeral home of choice come pick him up. It’s not like you see on TV, though—it takes at least a month for the tests to come back.”

“What if he doesn’t get an ID?”

Nikki gestured for me to help her wheel the body over to a series of white doors in the corner. “After 90 days, sometimes the bodies go to the mortuary school so they can practice embalming it, or else it will become a cadaver for biology classes. After that, it gets cremated. If no one collects the remains, it will be buried in a mass ceremony that is held for all unclaimed bodies for that year.”

“Oh,” I said as Nikki opened one of the doors. She pressed a button on the gurney to align John Doe’s tray with an opening and I helped guide the tray into the “fridge.”

As we cleaned up the autopsy space, I couldn’t help but glance back at the white doors. Nikki had stressed that one of the most important parts of our job was the identification of the body. John Doe might have—allegedly—been a heroin addict, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t have family or friends worrying about his whereabouts. I hoped the DNA test would be able to reveal John Doe’s true identity and give his loved ones some peace. Until then, he would remain a guest in our freezer.

 

“What’d you think?” Nikki asked after we’d showered. There were two separate stalls in the locker room, and Nikki raised her voice to be heard through the curtain.

“It wasn’t that much different from when we cut up the cadaver in school,” I replied, truthfully, peeling off my hairnet and shaking out my long hair. I’d actually expected it to be a lot more gruesome than it was. The shock at seeing a dead body being cut open only lasted a few minutes, and then, to me, it just seemed intriguing—a chance to see what I’d spent the last four years reading about literally in the flesh. It was akin to the time my best friend Amy made me watch a dirty movie with her: at first I was completely traumatized and turned my head away, but as the movie kept playing, I became almost immune to the naked body parts and sounds and then it wasn’t nearly so disturbing.

“What did you major in?” Nikki inquired as I folded up my discarded apron. I heard her open the curtain and then saw her Doc Martens appear outside the changing cubicle.

“Biology—pre-med,” I exited my own stall. Nikki was dressed in a black collared dress. Her short sleeves now revealed arms covered in tattoos. One arm’s theme seemed to be exotic flowers in shades of orange and red, and the other was decorated with pirate paraphernalia: flags, bones, and skulls.

“You planned on being a doctor? What happened?”Nikki tossed her apron and ball of scrubs into a bio-waste container.

I shrugged on a jean jacket over my sequined tank top. “Sometimes plans change.” I placed my own scrubs in the same container and headed out into the Chicago sunshine.

 

As I pulled open the heavy door to leave the morgue, the Chicago summer air wafted in, bringing with it the stench of melting asphalt. I had changed from my work gear into going-out clothes, but I had to shed the jean jacket in the heat. I kept my work-friendly Keds on and carried my sandals by their straps in the hand that wasn’t supporting my jacket and workbag. I was meeting my best friend and her boyfriend at a pub across the street from their high-rise in Little Italy. It was only a short walk from the morgue, but I was even more grateful for my sensible shoe choice after I noticed how stiff my legs were from standing all day.

A quick peek into the unfamiliar window confirmed Amy was already seated at a high top table across from the bar. Once inside the pub, I waved to her. Even from that distance I could see her wrinkle her nose at me.

“Did you shower?” she called from across the bar.

I nodded as I settled into a chair across from her. Amy was nursing something pink in a whiskey glass. I know she would have preferred to burn off steam in a high-class martini bar where her favorite drink would have been served in the proper glassware and cost upwards of $15. But her live-in boyfriend Linus declared last weekend that he was tired of overpaying for watered-down cocktails downtown. He found a place close to their apartment that served craft beer which also happened to be down the street from the Medical District. And so, after my first day of work, I found myself at Cliff’s, an old English style pub with a nearly all brick interior mixed with patched dark vinyl seating. Reclaimed (or else maybe they were original?) wood beams crisscrossed the copper tiled-ceiling and pictures of dogs playing cards and metal beer signs decorated the walls.

“How was work?” Amy asked

“It wasn’t that bad. I assisted an autopsy on a John Doe.”

“Gross.”

I shrugged, getting the sense that I wouldn’t be able to go into further detail with her. It seemed to me that somehow I should be changed by what I saw earlier today, that I shouldn’t be sitting in a pub across from my best friend, who was purposefully ignoring my brush with death. But it felt like an ordinary Friday night. “How’s work going with you?”

“Great,” Amy replied, leaning forward. “I discovered I’m fifth in the country for my VCD.” Amy was a medical equipment representative, specifically for vacuum constriction devices used to help with erectile dysfunction. I had to hide my smirk at the thought of tiny, half-Asian Amy pushing male-enhancement paraphernalia, but she does it only for legit doctor’s offices and clinics. She proceeded to tell me in detail of a lunch she gave for an urologist, stirring up fresh memories of John Doe and his full bladder.

I took a sip of my beer, not intentionally tuning her out, but turning around to check out tonight’s scene at Cliff’s. It was early still, but the bar was starting to fill up with people ready to take advantage of the Happy Hour specials. We were far enough away from the Financial District to avoid what I called the Button-Downs: guys in expensive designer suits and coordinating tie/shirt combos. Cliff’s patrons were mostly dressed in Casual Friday appropriate polos and Dockers. The table next to us was full of guys with wire-framed glasses wearing light-colored jeans; they were probably grad students at the University of Illinois Chicago.

“Anyway…” Amy said pointedly. I looked up, sensing her diatribe about her workday was finally coming to an end. “What do you think?”

I raised my eyebrows as I contemplated asking what she was talking about and thus admitting I hadn’t been listening.

She pushed a slip of paper toward me. “The flyer is over there if you want more details.” She waved her finger at a space behind her, where I saw an ad posted to the brick wall. Only one slip of contact details was missing—Amy had torn off the one directly in the middle. From a distance, the paper resembled a grinning Jack-O-Lantern.

In lieu of a reply, I got up to take a look at it. Apparently the apartment right above the bar was up for rent. I pretended as if I were interested, lingering a little longer than necessary at the flyer on the wall. There was only one picture of the apartment—it featured what I supposed was the living room in black-and-white. It was hard to approximate the square-footage from the sheet of paper, but it seemed to depict a large, desolate living space.

“What do you think?” Amy repeated when I sat back down.

I shrugged. “It looks okay.”

“Okay? I thought you were dying to move out of your parents’ house.”

That’s what I had been telling Amy, thinking that would be the normal reaction of an adult who still lived with her parents. I’d been on a few apartment hunting missions right after we graduated, but I’d always found fault with the ones I’d toured: too expensive, too small, too far away from work, too smelling of curry. Or at least that’s what I reported to Amy, coupled with the fact that I didn’t have a job. But now that I had one, the truth was I couldn’t picture working at the morgue all day and then going home to an empty apartment.

“And it’s right across the street.” Amy grabbed the slip of paper that still lay next to my beer. “I’m going to call them.” She dug in her purse and whipped out a small blue phone.

“You got a cell phone?” I asked in awe. In the early 2000s, cell phones were usually reserved for doctors and drug dealers.

“Duh, work pays for it.” She started punching in numbers. “Hello? I’m calling about the apartment?” She tilted her head as she listened to whatever the person on the other end was saying.

I sighed and cast my eyes around the room again as I sipped my drink. It would be easier to blow off whatever appointment Amy was about to make than to explain to her why I wasn’t ready to move out of my parents’ house. My eyes traveled over to the bar. I narrowed my eyes in an attempt to get a better look at the bartender in the dim light.

“Okay, thanks.” Amy hit the END button on her phone and set it down. “Tomorrow morning at ten,” she told me. “We’re his first showing. Apparently he just put the flyer up today. But you’d better act fast—these kinds of places don’t last long around here. I guess it’s a good thing Linus wanted to come here after all—”

I began to cough as my swallow of beer went down the wrong tube. “Amy,” I hissed when I could talk again.

“What?” she asked conspicuously.

“The bartender...”

She put her hands on the bar to give her leverage to spin her barstool around.

“Wait,” I said between my teeth, grabbing her arm and stopping her mid-swirl.

“What?”

“It’s HIM.”

“Who?”

“Christian Holmes.”

“Who?” she repeated, thankfully turning the stool forward again. She tried not-so-subtly to look over her shoulder, a feat not easily performed in a bar stool after a few pink drinks.

“From high school,” I added.

This time she jerked her head as if she were shaking out her hair and succeeded in getting a glimpse of him. “Oh, yeah. He was so hot. Wonder what he’s doing here?”

“Bartending, obviously.”

“Hmm. Didn’t he graduate near the top of his class?”

“I think so.”

She curled her lip. “Why is he tending bar then?”

“Duh, he must be here only on the weekends when he’s not getting his PhD in Astrophysics.”

“Oh please, Lex. He’s probably poor and still living in his parents’ house like you and most of our friends.”

This time I deliberately pretended I didn’t hear her dig about me. “Not Christian Holmes. He’s probably a lawyer or a doctor and just working here to pay off his loans.”

She studied me as I studied him, narrowing her eyes. “Lex, quit ogling him.”

“I’m not ogling.”

“You are.”

I dragged my eyes back to her. “What?”

She shook her head at me. “Some things never change.”

I silently agreed.

As Amy was chiding me, I spotted Linus walking into Cliff’s. People always said that Linus and I could be brother and sister with our blonde hair and blue eyes, although my real brother Mitch, when he was alive, had floppy brown hair and hazel eyes. I would have waved to Linus but I didn’t want to call attention to myself, lest Christian Holmes noticed. Thankfully Linus spotted us right away and headed to our table. Amy greeted him with a long kiss as I stole another look at Christian Holmes. He was dressed in a simple black T-shirt and no longer sported the Leo-from-Titanic haircut I fell in love with in high school. Although it was still parted in the center, his hair was now longer and more unruly. He turned back toward me as I quickly glanced away, pretending to be focused on my companions, who were still making out. But Christian was concentrating on the liquor bottles in front of him, so I lifted my head to continue my study of him, squinting my eyes to see his face better. The boyish glint of his eyes was still there, but now there were a few light creases surrounding them and his upper lip was shaded a little darker than the rest of his face. It was as though someone had laid a transparency over the boy I had barely known’s profile and then tried to color a handsome man over it. As he poured a drink, someone across from him shouted something, and I saw the crinkles beside his eyes deepen.

“Hey, Lexi.” Linus was staring at me.

“What?”

“For the second time, how was your first day of work?”

“Uh, fine. Probable overdose.”

“So you managed not to faint or throw up?”

“Gross,” Amy interjected as I nodded at Linus.

“Are you going back on Monday?” he asked.

I tore my eyes away from Christian to nod again at Linus.

“Well, I’m glad everything went okay. Welcome to the Having-a-Job Club.” Linus glanced at the bar. “Who are you gawking at anyway?”

Amy angled her head behind her, but thankfully didn’t turn around again as Linus’s gaze wandered the room. “Christian Holmes,” she replied.

“Who?”

“From high school,” she repeated. “Lex had a massive thing for him.”

“How did you know I liked him?” At the time, I had done my best to keep my crush a secret, despite filling my notebooks with swirling signatures, alternating between “Lexi Holmes,” or “The Mrs. Alexandra Holmes” whenever I was bored in class.

“First of all, I’m not blind. You drooled over him back then just the same as you’re doing now. And secondly, you told me that night in college after Derick’s frat party when you were wasted.” She said the last part in a sing-song voice.

“Ugh. Don’t remind me. I got so sick the next morning.”

“The vomit-comet definitely struck that night,” Amy agreed, taking another sip of her drink.

“Hey, Amy, how was your lunch?” Linus, as always, came to my rescue. They spent the next half an hour catching up on their workdays. I returned to observing Christian Holmes serve his customers and noting the sardonic curl to his lip disappeared whenever he spoke or smiled. I imagined the day when those green eyes would be fixed on me, his head tilted in my direction, the description of my day at work causing him to break out into that famous grin.

Or not. I mean, Christian’s probably not be the type of guy that would beam at autopsy descriptions. I’d have to concoct an amusing story, maybe about a lost puppy or a rainbow that suddenly appeared on my way to work. I’m sure I’d be able to come up with something to force away that lip curl. In my head, anyway, as I didn’t ever plan on approaching him.

As if she could hear my thoughts, Amy’s harsh voice ripped me out of my revelry. “Don’t do it, Lex,”

“What?” I focused on my companions.

“Don’t turn Christian into another Captain,” Amy replied.

“What are you talking about?” I sat my glass down with a clunk.

“Who’s the Captain?” Linus asked.

Amy narrowed her eyes at me, ignoring her boyfriend of seven years. “I hope for Christian’s sake he doesn’t break his neck when he falls from the pedestal you have him on.”

“What pedestal?” Linus asked.

“It’s not like that…” I replied.

Amy finally acknowledged Linus’s inquiries. “The pedestal Lex always puts her crushes on.”

Truth be told, I had never actually spoken two words to Christian Holmes, unless you count “Toa-soh-cah” as more than one word. As the only sophomore in the junior-level Trigonometry class, I had the brief pleasure of sitting right in front of him for a few weeks. Once, when he was passing homework forward, I caught the words written across his paper and must have said them out loud.

“You know,” he replied as I turned around in time to see a dimple play in and out of his cheek. “Tangent: opposite over adjacent, sine: opposite over hypotenuse, cosine: adjacent over hypotenuse.”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Like her character Addy in Thrown for a Curve, Kit has a practically useless degree in marine biology. A teacher by profession and at heart, she loves to impart little-known facts and dares you to walk away from one of her "light-hearted" chick-lit books without learning at least one new thing. Kit's female leads are all intelligent, strong, and stand fine on their own... but then again, a Prince Charming waiting in the background is always appreciated. As long as he puts the toilet seat down.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I was showing a movie in my biology class and they featured a corpse in it. I got to wondering what it would be like to be a pathologist, and hence Lexi's job was born. My 20 year high school reunion is also looming, and I thought about stalking my old crush. Instead, he became Christian Holmes.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
It wasn't easy getting a cover for a Chick-Lit novel that also features the morgue. My first go around wasn't too successful: Lexi kept looking like a serial killer and even my writing partner commented that she looked like a female Dexter! I think MuseMariah from 99designs did an excellent job!
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
All the research! While it was massively interesting (I got to attend a real autopsy!) sometimes I felt I couldn't write 100 words without looking something up. I wanted it to be as realistic as possible while still being light- not to gory but not too fluffy either.

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