As Janice Wright sunk down in her seat in the last row of the large medical school lecture hall, she knew that there were thousands of people out there who would kill to be in her shoes. It was Jan’s first day of medical school at a university that was well known for placing its students in the residencies of their choice. The chances of getting the spot that Jan now occupied were slim and she knew there were a lot of other students out there more deserving of it than she was.
“Look to your left, look to your right,” the dean told the room full of bright-eyed, eager students. “In four years, these two people will be physicians.”
Jan sighed loudly as she tucked a loose strand of her straight brown hair behind her ear. She noticed there were several people in the class who had dressed up for the first day of class, but she was wearing a T-shirt that showed the outline of her small breasts, free from any kind of bra, and a pair of blue jeans that were ripped to shreds from five years of service. Jan wasn’t big on dressing up.
Jan glanced to her right, where her new roommate Cindy Knox was sitting and listening very intently. Jan wasn’t certain if Cindy had dressed up for today or if she always looked so perfect. Jan had only known her roommate for a couple of days, but she had a sinking feeling it was the latter. Cindy was a cheerleader type, with perfect blonde hair and a trim but shapely figure. And the girl was so sweet, she was nearly dripping sugar. Jan already had Cindy pegged as a future pediatrician.
“So you must ask yourself, what sort of doctor are you going to become?” the dean went on. Jan shifted in her seat. “The next four years are crucial in determining this, so please consider this question every time you study for an exam, see a new patient, or in the way you treat your fellow students.”
Jan sighed again and picked at a hole in her jeans. She already knew about “med student gunners,” as they were called. These were the med students who would supposedly stop at nothing for a grade. She had heard stories about students who ripped pages out of textbooks, concealed copies of old exams, or even fed their classmates incorrect information just to try to get ahead. She wasn’t afraid of gunners. She wasn’t afraid of anything.
“And now, I’m going to introduce you to a person you’re going to be seeing a lot of in the next semester,” the dean continued. “I’d like you to meet Dr. Andrew Callahan, your anatomy professor.”
Jan looked up for the first time the whole morning. She expected the dean to step aside, but instead she watched as he adjusted the microphone at the podium to be about three feet above the ground. She was confused. Oh my god, is our anatomy professor a midget? She craned her neck, searching for the midget who would be teaching them the inner mechanics of the body.
However, instead of a midget, a well proportioned man in his mid thirties with short black hair and a blue shirt and tie came to the center of the stage. He sat in a lightweight, nondescript wheelchair. He nodded his head at the dean, “Thanks, Norm.”
Jan folded her arms across her chest, staring at her new professor. She waited to hear what he had to say.
“Hello, everybody,” the professor said. “I’m Dr. Callahan and I’ll be teaching you gross anatomy this year. I’ve been teaching here for nearly ten years and I think this course gets better each year.” Dr. Callahan smiled disarmingly. “I know gross anatomy is supposed to be the bane of medical school, but it’s also something else.” He paused for effect: “It’s also a lot of fun.”
For the umpteenth time today, Jan found herself rolling her eyes.
When Dr. Callahan left the stage, the dean readjusted the microphone. He was smiling as wide as the anatomy professor had been, but there was none of the same warmth in his smile. “I think it’s interesting that Dr. Callahan said that anatomy is ‘fun’,” the dean commented. “Because no matter what he says, I think anyone would agree that anatomy is most decidedly not fun.” This little joke failed to get even a slight rise out of the audience. “But it says something about Dr. Callahan’s dedication to this course that he at least thinks it’s fun. You’re very lucky to have him as your teacher.”
“Why don’t they just shoot us and get it over with?” Jan muttered under her breath.
To her dismay, Cindy overheard her statement. “I think Dr. Callahan seems really nice,” she commented. “I’ve heard from upperclassmen that he’s an incredible teacher.”
“Whatever,” Jan muttered.
Cindy frowned. Jan could tell her roommate was hoping they’d be BFF’s, but that was never going to happen. They were too different. And moreover, there were things about Jan’s life that nobody could know. It kept her from getting too close to anyone.
“Also, Dr. Callahan has like three books published and he’s still so young,” Cindy added. “David’s anatomy professor is like eighty years old and he’s only published one book.”
Jan groaned inwardly. Cindy somehow managed to bring up her fiancé in every conversation they’d had since they first met. Her college boyfriend was going to some other med school about five-hundred miles away, so they were doing the long distance thing and it was apparently very hard on the poor couple. Boo hoo. Jan gave the relationship six more months, maybe seven. Cindy was too pretty and she was sure to get lonely during those late nights studying.
Jan herself was free from the burden of any sort of relationship. She neither expected nor wanted to find romance during med school. She had one singular goal over the next four years: to become a doctor.
And nobody was coming between her and that goal. Nobody.
The first anatomy lab was held the next afternoon. Cindy came home carrying an armful of textbooks and spent the night studying the muscles of the back in preparation for their first lab. Jan didn’t study at all. She figured that she and Cindy were lab partners, so if Cindy knew the dissection, she wouldn’t have to. Besides, it made her tired enough watching Cindy study.
Cindy tagged along with Jan for lunch, so they arrived at the lab at the same time. Jan was dressed in green scrub pants and an old T-shirt with a hole in the sleeve, and her dark brown hair was tied with a rubber band into a messy ponytail. Cindy was wearing navy blue scrubs that looked like they had been freshly pressed. Her hair was pinned immaculately behind her head. And Jan was fairly sure she was wearing make-up. Who are you trying to impress? The dead people?
“Have you ever been near a dead body?” Cindy asked as the two girls entered the anatomy lab. Immediately the stench of formaldehyde filled her nostrils and a rush of cold air made goose pimples rise up on her bare arms. Or maybe it wasn’t the cold hair so much as the sight of 30-odd dead bodies all at once.
“Yeah, I guess,” Jan said. The truth was that she hadn’t even been so close to a dead body before. She didn’t want to let on that she was feeling more than a bit nervous.
“I guess it will be okay,” Cindy said, taking a deep breath.
If she passes out, I’m not catching her. Then again, there would be a whole line of male students who she was certain would be happy to come to Cindy’s rescue.
They were assigned to body #9. All the cadavers had labels on them and Jan navigated her way through the room to get to the one with the large printed 9 hanging off the side. The body was still wrapped in plastic and by the looks of Cindy, she knew she was going to have to be the one to do the unwrapping.
“I think I need to sit down,” Cindy said, taking a gulp of air.
Jan knew the concerned thing to do at this point would have been to get Cindy a chair, but she was sick of babysitting her overly anxious roommate. She suspected the only reason they were lab partners was that Cindy had requested for them to be together, in hopes of getting to know each other better.
“Would you like a stool?”
Jan blinked and turned in the direction of the male voice talking to Cindy. She saw a good looking boy dragging a stool over as he rested an uninvited hand on Cindy’s back. Jan crinkled her nose in disgust. “Thank you so much,” Cindy said weakly as she settled into the seat.
“My name is Jake,” the boy said, holding out his hand to Cindy. She took it and Jan could see her thoughts of David The Fiance flying out the window. “If you’re assigned to #9, I think I’m your lab partner.”
“I’m Cindy,” she said. “And this is Jan.”
Jake turned in Jan’s direction and she could see his eyes make a beeline for her braless chest. “Nice to meet you, Jan,” he said.
“Yeah,” she muttered. “Wonderful.”
The nice part about having Jake here was that he threw the plastic off the male body without a second thought, sparing either of the girls from that trauma. Jan had planned to use the school’s dissection equipment, but she noticed that Jake had brought his own dissection kit with a shining new scalpel inside. “Do you want me to make the first incision?” Jake asked.
Jan looked down at the body, which was gray and rubbery. It didn’t look real. It felt a little like they were dissecting a fake corpse. Yet she still felt anxious at the thought of sticking a scalpel through the skin. “Yeah, go ahead.”
Jake slid the scalpel blade through the skin of the cadaver’s back with dexterity that seemed practiced, even though it was their first day in the lab. Jan didn’t want to admit it, but she was impressed. Cindy complimented him and he murmured something about wanting to be a plastic surgeon.
Just what the world needs, Jan thought. More good looking, cocky, plastic surgeons.
“What do you want to name him?” Jake asked casually, as he continued to slice through the skin.
“ Name him?” Jan repeated.
Jake shrugged. “Yeah, everyone names their cadaver. What do you want to call him? How about Pete?”
“How about he’s a human being who has a name of his own,” Jan shot back. “We don’t have any right to ‘name’ him.”
“Jan…” Cindy murmured.
Jan gritted her teeth, “You’re naming him over my dead body.”
“Christ, calm down,” Jake muttered.
Jake’s comment was meant to be patronizing. She hadn’t realized how worked up she was until she looked down at her hands and noticed they were shaking. She took a few steps away from the table and breathed deeply, trying to calm herself. Jan wasn’t perfect, but she respected life, whereas Jake clearly only saw this lab as a means to becoming a plastic surgeon. This was going to be one long semester.
“Now how are you going to learn anything from all the way back there, Dr. Wright?”
Jan jumped slightly and looked down into the face of their anatomy professor, Dr. Andrew Callahan. She hadn’t realized from across the lecture hall how strikingly blue his eyes were, in contrast to his jet black hair. She judged him to be in his mid-thirties, although there was something very youthful about his appearance. Unlike the rest of the people in the room, he wasn’t wearing scrubs--he was still dressed in his shirt and tie that he had worn in lecture that morning. She noticed that his legs were motionless in the chair and that there was a belt that tied his ankles to the back of the footrest. Spinal cord injury, she guessed. She suspected he wasn’t able to even stand up and she wondered how he was going to be able to help them if he couldn’t get his hands dirty.
“I, uh…” Jan stammered.
Dr. Callahan cocked his head at her. “So Dr. Wright, can you tell me the three muscles that make up the erector spinae?”
Jan drew a blank. She had only glanced at the textbook prior to the dissection and she was certain she couldn’t remember the answer to his question. “I… I don’t know.”
He raised his black eyebrows. “Not even a guess?”
Jan’s face turned slightly red. She might have read the dissection manual more careful if she knew Dr. Callahan planned on quizzing her about it. Then again, maybe she wouldn’t have.
Dr. Callahan turned his attention to Jake: “Do you know the answer, Dr. Masterson?”
Jake didn’t even take his eyes off the cadaver as he answered the question: “Iliocostalis, longissimus, and spinalis.”
“Excellent, Dr. Masterson,” Dr. Callahan said. He looked over at the two girls, “The mnemonic is I Love Sex. Or if you’d prefer, I Love School. Depending on which you love more, I guess.”
Jake snickered at that, but Jan couldn’t help but roll her eyes. Why did men have to relate everything to sex? It was so immature. She would have expected better from her professor.
Dr. Callahan was looking Jan in the eyes with his startling blue gaze. “Next time you’ll read ahead, right Janice?” he said.
Jan nodded, although she had absolutely no intention of doing so.
The first anatomy quiz took place on the second week. Jan had only been attending roughly half of the lectures and less than half of the anatomy labs, and she was only vaguely aware that they had a quiz at all. She might have missed it altogether if not for Cindy pouring over the books every night. Unfortunately, despite her roommate’s diligent studying, Cindy still didn’t seem to have a better idea of what she was doing in lab than Jan did.
“Aren’t you going to study for the quiz at all?” Cindy asked one night. Cindy had just put down her textbook and was about to make her nightly call to her fiance. Jan had noticed that these phone calls had become a little shorter every night.
Jan shrugged, “It’s just a quiz. It doesn’t count for much.”
“Yeah, but…” Cindy frowned. “You never study. Aren’t you worried about failing?”
“I study,” Jan said. “You aren’t around me every moment of the day, you know.”
In actuality, Cindy was right. Jan never studied. And when she went to class, she rarely paid attention to what Dr. Callahan was talking about, even though she realized he was a great lecturer. She wasn’t terribly interested in anatomy and didn’t really want to put much time or effort into studying it.
As a result, the F she received on her first quiz was deserved. Jan found the graded exam in her mailbox two days after the test. She was impressed at how quickly Dr. Callahan had managed to grade the exam, although not particularly surprised. The few times she had left the building on the late side, she had noticed the lights were still on in the professor’s office. Clearly, he didn’t have much of a life outside of his work.
After that quiz, Jan couldn’t help but notice that Dr. Callahan was spending more time at their table during the anatomy labs, and even more so after her second quiz came back with a similar grade. Jake had already distinguished himself as one of the best students in the class and she had no doubt in her mind that he had received an A on the quizzes. Jan had learned to despise Jake, who spent half of the lab time hitting on Cindy and the other half of the time showing off to Dr. Callahan. Although Dr. Callahan seemed impressed with Jake, he seemed just as concerned about Jan.
“You realize you just cut through the phrenic nerve,” Dr. Callahan observed as he watched her.
Jake, who was working on the other side of the cadaver, said, “Jan cuts through everything. She thinks it’s all fascia.”
Jan nearly reached out and strangled him for making her look bad in front of Dr. Callahan. Goddamn Jake… everything came so easy to him.
Thankfully, the professor ignored her partner’s remark. “What field are you interested in, Dr. Wright?” he asked.
“Surgery,” she replied without hesitation.
Jan looked up sharply when she heard Jake snort from the other side of the table. Goddamn Jake. And the worst thing was, he’d probably live out his whole life being that same arrogant asshole and never learn any humility.
Dr. Callahan waited for her after lab that day. She still hadn’t seen him wearing scrubs during lab, but he was willing to roll up his sleeves and put on a pair of gloves when he needed to, although he remained fairly hands-off. Even though the tables were low, Jan wondered how he was able to see the body so well from the vantage point of his wheelchair, but somehow he could always see exactly what she was doing. Or rather, what she was doing wrong.
“Jan,” he said as he took her aside, concern in his blue eyes, “I just want you to know that if you need it, there’s help available for you. There are a lot of second year or graduate students I can recommend who would be happy to spend extra time with you in lab.”
Jan felt her face turning red. They hadn’t even had their first big exam yet and already she had set herself aside as someone who needed remedial help.
“And of course,” Dr. Callahan continued, “I’m always available for questions.”
I’ll bet, Jan thought. Dr. Callahan was great at playing the part of the concerned professor. It was easy to be a caring teacher when he had no life outside of the medical school. No wife, no girlfriend, no kids, nada.
She guessed that his disability had something to do with it. She imagined that he was probably a lot more shy about meeting women, knowing that they were going to have to get used to the fact that he was in a wheelchair. And it wasn’t like anatomy professors got tons of action—the scent of formaldehyde alone was undoubtedly a huge turn-off. She guessed it was probably easier for him to stay a bachelor than it was to attempt to enter the world of online dating and set-ups by friends.
It was so perfect, she couldn’t have planned it any better herself.
When Jan Wright was a junior in high school, she found herself in serious danger of failing trigonometry. They hadn’t yet begun college applications, but at sixteen years old, Jan could already see all her dreams going down the toilet. Every time she saw the red pen marks all over her exams, she felt her stomach turn.
Mr. Berne was her trigonometry teacher. He was a short, balding, overweight, middle-aged man. He was married, probably to a short, overweight, middle-aged woman. He left a post-it on Jan’s midterm exam (with her spectacular grade of 38 out of a 100), saying, “See me after class.”
Those were the days before Jan was bold enough to sport T-shirts with provocative slogans. She wore her dark hair long, covering her face, with drab, bulky sweaters to hide her blossoming breasts. Trigonometry was the last class of the day, so after the other students filed out of the room, Jan was left alone with Mr. Berne.
She approached his desk, hugging her textbook to her chest. He sat atop his desk in a gesture that she guessed was supposed to seem casual and friendly. He smelled like sweat and she could see a line of moisture on his brow. “Janice, I’ve noticed you’re struggling a little bit in the class,” he said.
“I guess so,” she said quietly, hanging her head.
“Is there anything in particular that you’re having trouble with?” Mr. Berne asked.
Everything, Jan wanted to say. “I don’t know.”
“I’d like to try to help you, Janice,” he said, “but I feel like you’re not making any effort. I hate to tell you this, but if you don’t bring up your grades significantly, I… I’m going to have to fail you.”
His words were like a slap in the face. She felt tears spring to her eyes and there was nothing she could do to stop them from rolling down her cheeks. Mr. Berne, looking very uncomfortable, patted her shoulder in a “there, there” gesture. It wasn’t enough. She collapsed against his desk, sobbing into her hands. She felt his arm slide around her shoulders and then…
It was hard to say who initiated the kiss. Later on, Mr. Berne tried to say it was her, but she was pretty sure it had been him. No matter what else happened, Jan had added some excitement to his gray little life. After all, how many other short, overweight, balding, middle-aged teachers got have sex on their desk with 16 year old girls?
Before Mr. Berne, Jan had never even kissed a boy before. She had a few very mild crushes on boys, but nothing to write home about. There were times when she thought she might be a lesbian, although she realized she didn’t have much interest in girls either. But her relationship with Mr. Berne was never about love—she never had an ounce of feelings for him, aside from perhaps some pity. It was simply the way out of a bad situation.
Jan’s next exam came back with a 42 circled in red ink. She was shocked when she saw it. When class came to an end, she brought the exam up to Mr. Berne, shook her head, and said, “What’s this?”
“Jan,” he said, trying to smile, “I can’t falsify your grades just because of our relationship. It wouldn’t be right.”
She had thought she’d be more nervous, but her hands were steady as she slammed the paper down on his desk. “You know what I think isn’t right?” she said. “Statutory rape.”
The color drained from Mr. Berne’s face. “Jan, you wouldn’t… I mean, I’m a married man…”
She didn’t even have to say anything. He knew by looking at her face that she was dead serious. Jan got an A in trigonometry that semester.
Jan tried her best in school, but she recognized that her best wasn’t always good enough. And in those situations, there was always a professor willing to compromise his morals a little bit for a chance to make it with a student. Some were more resistant, some honestly believed that she had feelings for them. One or two pathetic losers even cried when she threatened to turn them in. But eventually, every single one of them gave her what she wanted.
And so would Dr. Andrew Callahan, even though he didn’t know it yet.
To be continued...