The Little Theatre
Julia frowned at her beeper as she pulled into the physicians' parking lot at the hospital. It had already gone off three times since her call day had started barely thirty minutes before, at seven a.m. She hoped it wasn’t a harbinger of the weekend ahead of her. She sighed a breath of relief when she saw that the latest page was a message to call her friend Pam, rather than the more typical request to call the hospital’s emergency department. But why would she be calling so early on a Saturday morning?
After taking care of important email messages, checking the hospital computer for overnight admissions and printing the list of patients to see on morning rounds, Julia checked in with the unit secretary in the intensive care unit.
“Good morning, Jeanne. How’s Mrs. Benson doing today?”
Jeanne looked up from the monitor screen with its list of current patients. “Oh, hi, Dr. Fairchild. I hear she’s doing well. How’s call going so far?”
“Just great, but it’s early.” Julia crossed her fingers and rapped her knuckles on the wooden frame of the nurses’ station, just in case.
“I hope it stays that way for you. Let me get Mrs. Benson’s nurse for you. I overhead Larry tell the other nurse she’s probably ready to transfer to the step-down unit.” Jeanne walked to one of the private rooms and knocked lightly on the glass door as she slid it open. “Larry, Dr. Fairchild is here to see Mrs. Benson.”
A moment later, Larry, one of the specialized nurses working the twelve-hour day shift, briefed Julia on her patient’s status—vital signs were stable, no chest pain during the night, no rhythm abnormalities—as they walked into the room.
“Good morning, Mrs. Benson,” said Julia. “Your nurse tells me that you are doing very well today. How are you feeling?”
“Dr. Fairchild, I feel so much better today. My breathing is easier and I even slept a few hours. Do you know how bad my heart attack was? Is my heart going to be okay? Am I going to be able to go to San Francisco for Thanksgiving to see my son and his family?” She stopped talking to take a breath and a sip of water.
“Whoa! You are clearly more energetic today,” Julia said as she logged onto the bedside computer. “Let’s see what the tests say.” Julia scrolled through the screens showing the studies that had been done on Mrs. Benson. “The heart damage looks mild on the echocardiogram. The cardiologist’s note says you don’t need any more testing right now unless you have more pain.” Julia put her stethoscope in her ears. “If your heart sounds strong and your lungs are as clear as your nurse Larry said they were, I’ll transfer you to the cardiology floor.”
Mrs. Benson sat up straight and crossed her fingers while Julia listened carefully.
“Sounds good,” Julia announced, placing her stethoscope around her neck. “One more day in the hospital, then you should be able to go home tomorrow.”
“I would be a little afraid to go home alone today, but I’m sure I’ll feel well enough tomorrow. Now, what about Thanksgiving in San Francisco?”
“Right now that’s a maybe,” said Julia. “We’ll discuss it again in a couple of weeks when I see you in the office.” She wrote a brief note and the transfer orders in the electronic record before leaving the ICU to visit patients on other floors.
Julia dialed Pam’s number while she walked the short distance to the cardiology unit where three of her patients waited to be seen.
Pam answered with audible wheezing.
“I got your message,” said Julia. “What’s going on? Is your asthma acting up again?”
“Not any worse than usual on a cold morning. But that’s not why I called.”
“Okay, so what is going on?”
“I was worried you wouldn’t be able to call right back. The answering service said you were on call, and I know it can get crazy busy. Anyway, my sister Susie called me from Seattle. She’s visiting Mom and said she fell and broke her hip while Susie was outside doing a bit of yardwork. Now she’s beside herself and needs me to come up and help her manage Mom. You know how confused she gets sometimes. Mom, I mean, not Susie.” Pam paused for a moment and Julia heard the whoosh of her inhaler.
“Okay. Do you need me to feed your dog or something while you’re gone?” Julia had watched Pam’s Shetland collie at other times when her friend had to be out of town for a few days.
“Thanks, but not that. I’m going to take Princess with me. I need something even more important than that.”
“Pam, since when is anything more important than your dog?” Julia chuckled.
Pam laughed. “Well, nothing is, really, but I do have a huge favor to ask. I promised Drake I would go with him to that theatre fundraiser tonight. And now I can’t go. He’s the master of ceremonies and needs someone to help work the crowd and talk up the need for refurbishing the building. The theatre restoration committee has a goal of raising two million dollars and this is the kickoff event. Could you go in my place? Please?”
Well, that was awkward! Julia would do anything to help Pam, but what would Alex think of her going with someone else? Julia and Alex had been dating for a few months, and he was on the board of directors for the theatre so had already invited her himself. And she’d declined.
“Do you remember that I wasn’t going to go with Alex because I’m on call and never know when I am going to be called away to the ICU or the emergency department? So Alex is going alone. Isn’t there someone else who could take your place as Drake’s date tonight? What about your friend, Lexie?”
“I understand about you and Alex. I talked with Drake and he called Alex and Alex said he’s okay with you going with Drake this time. You would only need to stay a couple of hours. Please, Julia. Drake really needs you. I need you.” Her voice trembled.
Julia considered the request for a moment before replying. “Okay, Pam. I’ll do it. I’m in support of the project anyway. I suppose I have to go fancy.”
“Julia, thanks! Yes, it’s fancy. Wear one of those gorgeous outfits that you always find for the hospital’s holiday gala. You’ll look perfect. Drake said he could pick you up at six thirty. Now I’ve gotta get on the road to Mom’s house before Susie commits hara-kiri. I’ll call you tomorrow to see how it went.” And she was gone.
Julia stared at the silent phone, smiling, and shook her head as she finally replaced the receiver in the cradle at the nurses' station. She never knew what kind of predicament Pam was going to get her into next. At least she liked Drake well enough, and she enjoyed dressing up now and then. She hoped the beeper would be quiet for the event, or maybe she could sweet-talk one of her partners into covering calls for a couple of hours.
It was early afternoon before Julia finished seeing all the patients. She signed charts in medical records, read electrocardiograms in the cardiology unit, and reviewed lab and x-ray reports of the inpatients before heading home to eat a quick lunch and toss laundry into the washing machine.
Her home office answering machine was beeping and flashing the number “3” as she entered. The first message was from Pam, informing her that she would try paging her. The second one was a hang-up. A robocall, probably. The third caller was Alex, asking her to call him when she got home.
She thought back to Pam’s call earlier. Pam was her closest friend, though they hadn’t known each other until they met at a chamber of commerce “After Hours” event three years earlier that had been hosted by her hospital, St. Jerome Medical Center. Julia had attended only because her boss, the vice president for the medical group, had asked her to be present as one of the leaders within the organization. She and Pam had hit it off during their chat as they discovered several common interests.
Pam Stewart was the human resources vice president at ESCO, Emerson Sons and Company—the local pulp and paper mill. She had grown up in Parkview, gone to the bigger of the two high schools in town, and pledged to Kappa Kappa Gamma at the University of Washington. The sorority pledging had thrilled her mom, but not Pam. She eventually moved into the dorms instead. She graduated with degrees in business and psychology. Despite her stated plan to live and work in a big city when she was a grown-up, she was lured back to her hometown by the area’s largest employer and seemed content.
Pam was fun to be around and liked to do many of the same things that Julia enjoyed. She was tall and lithe, blonde, a little kooky, and single. Having grown up in Parkview, she had a ton of local knowledge and seemed to know something about practically every person in the town of about 38,000. Her mom had been widowed at a young age and remarried an older man from Seattle. After he died she stayed there, having developed a network of friends, in addition to the convenience of having Pam’s older sister Susie living close by.
Julia had followed a similar course. She had grown up with five brothers and sisters on a small farm ten miles down the highway. At the age of seven she knew she wanted to be a doctor so she could help people. At 5 foot 6 inches with a mop of brown hair, sparkly blue eyes and high cheekbones, she looked every bit like her Finnish ancestors. She was blessed (cursed?) with a stubborn streak that the Finns call sisu. She’d had to overcome her parents’ arguments that she didn’t know what she was getting into and that she would find it hard to have a family and be a doctor. She went to medical school anyway and completed a challenging internal medicine residency. She had planned to do a fellowship in gastroenterology, but her grandma became ill and pleaded with her to come back to Parkview. “You’ll like it,” she had said in her Finn-glish accent. Julia promised to try it for six months, although her grandma died before she was able to see Julia keep her promise.
Five years later she was glad she had landed in her home area and frequently told her patients that she was still on her six-month trial. Julia figured that her grandma was smiling down on her from Heaven, pleased with her decision. Grandma had been correct that Julia would end up enjoying her practice of medicine in Parkview. Every now and then Julia felt wistful and wondered what it would have been like to be a doctor in a big city, but she knew she would miss the patients who had become like part of her family. The only thing missing in her life was starting her own family. She only hoped her parents’ argument about the difficulty of blending being a doctor and having a family would turn out wrong. Alex, at least so far, had seemed to accept her crazy schedule as a doctor. She sighed and called Alex after checking on her laundry.
“Hello, Julia. Knight in shining armor at your service,” Alex said glibly.
Julia laughed. “Sounds interesting. Do I have the wrong number?”
“I hope not. I couldn’t say that to just anyone who calls.”
“I hope not! What’s up?”
“I just wanted to check with you on this shindig tonight. I’m planning to go even though I’d rather not. It’s hard to get out of it with me being on the board of directors. I hope you don’t mind that I told Drake you could sub for Pam even though you bailed on me.”
She cringed at the word bailed. The last thing she wanted was to jeopardize their relationship. “I hope that Drake and Pam didn’t pressure you to be okay with that. You know I would have loved to go with you, and the only reason I declined,” she strategically used declined versus bailed, “was because I’m on call. Remember?”
“I know, and your presence will be an asset. If you get called away, it will only reinforce your dedication to your profession. And so be it. Anything you can do to promote the need for renovating the little theatre at the gala will help to get some of these people to open their wallets. People do think a lot of you, you know.” He laid out his case as if he were talking to a jury at the end of a trial.
“But will people think I ditched you if I show up with Drake? I wouldn’t want people to talk.”
“No problem. I’ll make it clear that we are still an item, and that you are there on behalf of those supporting the cause.”
“Hm. You are so noble and kind. And you know I’m a sucker for that kind of flattery. As for being on call, Jason agreed to cover me for a few hours. I can return the favor some other weekend.”
“That’s great. I’m looking forward to seeing you and counting the money at the end of the evening. By the way, Drake said to tell you that he’ll have to meet you there instead. He forgot that he had to do something so he can’t pick you up. Shall I give you a ride?”
“Thanks for the offer, but no. I’ll want to have my own car in case I really do have to leave early. I’ll see you there. Is six thirty okay?”
“That would be good. Definitely no later than that. It’ll give you some time to chat up a few folks and loosen some pocketbooks before dinner starts at eight o’clock. Looking forward to seeing you, Beautiful.”
“Same here. Bye.”
Alex Gibson was an attorney, a transplant from the big city of Hartford, where he had grown tired of the corporate world. He’d told Julia he had found his way to Parkview several years earlier through a friend’s recommendation and loved the small town with its quirks, interesting people, and plenty of general legal work to keep him busy. Julia had met him three months earlier at a benefit for the local homeless shelter. They had been dating pretty much steadily since that time.
He was involved in several community humanitarian organizations in addition to the project to restore the city’s original performing arts theatre. Julia had been attracted to his kind heart and integrity in addition to his chiseled good looks with a cleft chin. Thick sandy blond hair with a touch of gray and dark blue-gray eyes didn’t hurt either. Most importantly, as an attorney he, too, occasionally found that his career impacted his private plans. This made him more comfortable with the fact that she was a physician and dedicated to her craft. She couldn’t say that about all men. That kind of guy was indeed rare in a smaller community like Parkview.
While Julia liked spending time with Alex, she was still gun-shy after her Paris rendezvous with an earlier beau, Josh Larson. She had fantasized a romantic vacation seeing Paris as his guest the previous spring, but it was not to be. The death of his partner early in her visit, with Josh having been considered a prime suspect, put a major damper on the fun. To top it off he had admitted on the last day of her visit that he had started seeing someone else. Julia had been crushed. It reinforced her worry that she would never meet the right man who loved and appreciated her and could manage the crazy personal life of a dedicated physician. Her relationship with Alex was in the very early stages but she gave herself permission to be optimistic that it might develop into something special. And long-lasting.
Julia glared at her pager when it beeped, breaking her reverie. The medical floor needed her, fortunately, instead of the emergency department. After taking care of the orders for a patient who needed intravenous medication, she searched her closet for the right attire for the evening. She settled on a shimmery, charcoal-gray, floor-length skirt paired with a three-quarter-sleeved, black velvet top with a deep V-neck and wide, black satin collar. She would add a bold, silver pendant and small diamond earrings to complete the sophisticated ensemble.
Julia arrived at the Hotel Montpelier just as Drake drove up. She took advantage of his simultaneous presence to make a proper entrance to the celebration in the Hotel’s grand ballroom. It had recently been refurbished to its original grandeur from the early 1920s. She admired the beauty of the ceilings with their art deco design, recently uncovered by the removal of a false ceiling from a previous upgrade. The beautiful wood floor with exquisite inlaid mosaics shone from a recent floor polishing. The cherry and mahogany woodwork glistened in the light from the elegant crystal chandeliers which had also been hidden until now.
Julia and Drake were greeted by some of the other members of the restoration committee. Drake was the designated master of ceremonies while Julia’s primary duty was to personally welcome as many of the potential donors as possible and say a few words in support of the project. He certainly looked the part tonight in a well-cut, black velvet tuxedo. His dark hair was touched with silver—just enough to give him a classy look. He stood tall and proud as he walked through the crowd, nodding to some and saying a word or two to other attendees.
Julia searched the assembled festival attendees for familiar faces as Drake gently guided her to an older man and woman. He placed his hand at the small of her back as he addressed the wealthy couple. “Julia, I’d like to introduce Mr. and Mrs. George Oglethorpe. They have been longtime supporters of the theatre.”
Julia stepped forward a half-step and extended her hand. “I’m Julia Fairchild. I’m honored to meet you. I love our theatre, too.”
The woman’s face brightened as she recognized the name. “Of course! Dr. Fairchild. Call me Anna. I’ve heard a lot of good things about you.” She took Julia’s hand in both of hers. “You’re so young and pretty for a doctor.”
Julia reddened. She felt a little mousey most days, but conceded to herself that she did clean up nicely for such events. “Thank you. I was blessed with good genes. How long have you and your husband lived in Parkview?”
“My goodness. Forever. Right out of college, anyway. George heard about the paper mill here looking for mechanical engineers and applied right away.” She smiled proudly at him. “We love the town and were never inclined to leave once we settled in. Isn’t that right, dear?” Her husband nodded between sips of his drink. “Are you from here?”
“Not from Parkview. I was raised on a small farm fifteen miles down the highway. My grandma persuaded me to come home and here I am.” Julia felt her eyes well up as she recalled warm memories of time spent with her grandparents. “Thank you for your support of our lovely theatre. The restoration committee will be sharing the plans for the renovation during the program.”
Julia felt Drake’s arm around her waist as he interceded. “Thank you for coming this evening. Please excuse us. I see someone who is clamoring to talk with Dr. Fairchild before the dinner starts.”
Drake took Julia’s arm and as they turned around they almost bumped into Gregory Lantz and his wife, Sandy, who had been standing right behind them. “Greg! So good to see you here tonight. Thanks for coming.” They exchanged nods and handshakes. “Julia is standing in for Karen tonight. She’s also supporting the project.” Julia smiled and nodded. Aside from the perfunctory smiles Julia sensed a tension between the men, and she moved a step away from Drake to better observe them both.
Greg stirred his gin and tonic vigorously. “I’ve talked with some of the members of the board at the bank, but I don’t have a definite commitment yet for a donation. I think we can come through for fifty thousand dollars. But nothing close to the million dollars that everyone seems to think the bank can donate.”
“Greg, any amount would be great. I understand it’s been a little tough with the new bank still getting started.” Drake Ashford was the president of the older, long-established Parkview National Bank. He was aware that despite heavy advertising and promotions, the new River City Community Bank was not yet meeting expectations. He was also acutely sensitive to the loss of some of his own banking clients to the new bank, where Greg was vice president.
Greg bristled. “Actually, we’re meeting our numbers and seeing new business every day. I’d think you would have noticed already.” He smirked.
“We’ve noticed a little change, but we’re prepared to handle it.” Drake took a large swallow of his scotch. “Please excuse us. I have some other people to greet. Talk to you later, Greg.” Drake and Julia moved away.
“That man really annoys me,” Drake said under his breath. “He’s so naive. He doesn’t see how Jay is using him. He’s just a yes man. But I guess it makes him feel important.”
“What do you mean?” Julia asked, nodding and smiling at some of the faces she recognized. She knew he referred to Jay Morrison, recently divorced and head of the new bank. She felt Drake’s hand shaking as he maneuvered her through the crowd.
“I’ll tell you later. Too many ears here.” He surveyed the guests nearby. “Let’s see…there’s Warren Pontell and his lovely wife, Sarah. He’s talked about making a major contribution. His wife was a theatre actress in her younger days. And they have money to burn.” He turned to Julia and wiggled his eyebrows, à la Groucho Marx.
Drake and Julia chatted with the Pontells for a few minutes, using the time to emphasize the benefits of the smaller venue of the little theatre. It was designed to be an intimate stage setting with seating for about 150 people. Until recently the area had been used for storage and was marginally functional for stage events in its current state.
Julia had found herself daydreaming but tuned back in when she heard Mr. Pontell say, “We’d like to donate fifty thousand dollars for the little theatre. Perhaps you can find a way to let us have something to say about naming it.” He grinned broadly as his wife beamed.
“Warren, that’s wonderful!” said Drake. “I’ll talk with the board of directors about naming opportunities. Let me get back to you on details for your donation. Thank you.”
Now grinning, Drake gently guided Julia toward Adam Johns, an influential man in the local union hierarchy, and his wife. He had started working at ESCO Paper Company right out of high school and had worked his way up from the labor pool to an electrician apprenticeship and then to a journeyman electrician. His constituents considered him to be fair and honest. He had an unofficial status in the union as a leader, although he didn’t have an elected or paid position as such.
Adam tugged at the neck of his dress shirt and pulled at the bottom of his dark blue waistcoat. The jacket gaped over his generous girth. He looked uncomfortable in his tuxedo. Julia was sure her mother would have said something like “putting perfume on a goat,” but most likely his wife had insisted he dress up for this occasion. He certainly looked impressive at his height of six foot three.
“Mr. and Mrs. Johns, good evening,” said Drake as he offered his hand. “Do you know Dr. Julia Fairchild? She’s helping to support the theatre restoration project, as we all are.”
“We sure do,” said Adam, returning the handshake. “Dr. Fairchild, you took care of my mom several years back. She was pretty sick but you got her well and she’s fine now. Thanks to you. In fact, she’s going on a cruise through the Panama Canal with her church group this coming week. She’s always wanted to go on that trip.”
“You’re welcome, Mr. Johns. I do remember your mom—Violette, I believe? She’s a lovely lady with a lot of spunk.” Julia shook his hand before turning to his wife. “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Johns.”
Mr. Johns turned back to Drake. “Mr. Ashford, some of the guys at the mill want to know if you had talked with our union officials yet about the stock trading going on with our pension funds. And if you know anything, they hope you can tell them. And call me Adam. My wife is Linda.”
“Yes, Adam. I talked with a Scott Sowders in Portland. He’s looking into whether those trading fees can be traced back to any individuals. May I call you when I know something more?”
“Sure. You can call me at ESCO. The operator knows how to reach me. Thanks a lot, Mr. Ashford.”
“You can call me Drake, please. I’ll call you soon and we’ll go from there. Thanks again for being here tonight.”
“Hey. It’s an alright party. My wife is always trying to get me to gussy up. It’s more fun than I thought it would be.” He grinned and saluted with his cocktail.
Julia saw the auctioneer heading their way and alerted Drake. “I’ll check my lipstick while you talk with him. Where are we sitting?”
“Main table,” he said, pointing to the center of the long side of the room. He scowled. “Unfortunately, it appears we’re seated next to Jay Morrison, of all people.”