Chapter 3: Beauty and the Home Visit

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The next morning, Rob packed his doctor's bag, hid the empty can of Red Bull beneath a fresh pile of straw, and prepared to set off on rounds. 

Back in Seattle, where Rob had completed his medical residency and was closing in on the end of a two-year surgical fellowship, rounds meant moving from hospital room to hospital room in an efficient manner as possible. 

Here, Rob was forced to wander over hill and dale to see patients in their far-flung homes, and if he managed to treat three sick people before nightfall, that was a good day. Not everybody was willing or able to get to the clinic days he'd been trying out, so Rob had to hoof it.

He'd waited for Maggie, who often accompanied him when his rounds took him far enough out of town to worry about wolves or ruffians. The over-protective Hans had made the arrangement soon after Rob had begun seeing patients, as the woodcutter's daughter had a family history with wolves and was enough of a ruffian herself to keep anything with claws or a knife at bay.

Maggie made her living delivering baskets of food to forest-dwelling shut-ins, and their routes overlapped often enough so that Rob's patients didn't take her much out of her way. Rob insisted on paying for her time, even after they became a couple. In a land without GPS, Rob appreciated any help he could get in staying on the right path.

But Maggie hadn't shown up this morning, and Rob didn't know whether to feel relieved or worried. Either way, he was on his own today, and he'd just have to catch up with Maggie later.

"Frog!" Rob called out. "Frog, are you there?"

A hunchbacked man with eyes set too far apart opened the back door that led to Rob's courtyard. "Yes, m'lord?"

"First of all," Rob said, "You don't need to call me 'lord.' Remember? Rob is fine. Or doctor, even. I'm not a lord."

"Yes, m'lord," Frog said.

Rob had met Frog not long after taking possession of his townhouse. He'd come home late one evening expecting to hear the animals signing out for their suppers, but instead they were quiet and content. Frog had snuck in to feed them, clean up their beds, and fall dead asleep in the empty stall next to the donkey. 

The young, misshapen man wasn't much to look at—he claimed to have been born under a witch's curse, a common explanation for birth defects in this world—but he was kind, great with the animals, and didn't appear to have much in the way of a home. Rob had hired him on when he awoke the next morning.

Rob slung his medical bag over his shoulder and thought about the can of Red Bull he'd hidden. "Second, I'm heading out to see patients. While I'm gone, please leave that new pile of straw alone, okay?"

Frog's mouth, which could stretch wide enough to swallow a dinner plate, curled in confusion. "It looks like fine straw to me, m'lord."

"It's not. I mean, it is, but it needs to dry out first."

"Seems plenty dry, m'lord."

Rob took a breath, thinking of all the other places he should have hidden the can. Under his bed, or inside a cupboard? But then Maggie or Hans would have found it, and he wasn't prepared for those kinds of questions. Maybe the can of Red Bull had just been an aberration, Rob thought. A one-off. Nothing to worry about and never to be repeated. Like Zev. Or himself, for that matter.

But Rob was too old to believe in that kind of fairy tale.

"Just leave the straw alone for now," Rob said. "I'll be back tonight."

Rob took off, hiking to the outskirts of the small, medieval city, and allowing his mind to wander. When Rob used to ride the exercise bike at the hospital's small but functional gym, he'd always have headphones in, listening to music or podcasts or whatever sporting event the TV was stuck on. But his ears had been headphone free since he'd arrived here, and that gave him a lot more time to think about his patients, to daydream about cheeseburgers, and to remember how he'd gotten here in the first place.

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