Exhaustion thrummed through Megan Corning's body, a combination of too many grant applications and too few days off in the past months.
Knowing she didn't have time to be tired yet, Meg dug her fingers into her red-gold hair and told herself to focus on something else. Something positive, like the new office the Boston General Hospital administrators had given her just the week before.
She glanced around the room and grimaced. The walls were painted a classy ice-blue and hung with a handful of diplomas and accolades. The front cover of last March's Science magazine was smack in the center, announcing a "New Noninvasive Method for Prenatal Diagnosis." If her desk were a bed, it would've been a California king, and the rolling chair was real leather.
It all looked very impressive. Hell, what she'd done was impressive. But the wall art, added to the stark white padded chairs opposite her black metal desk, gave the decor a chilly feeling.
The room was so not her.
At least, it wasn't how she saw herself. She had a sneaking suspicion the austere furniture and harsh lighting were perfectly aligned with how too many of her co-workers saw her. Functional. Dependable. Lacking warmth.
And why is that?
She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples, knowing she'd created the image herself a decade earlier, on her father's orders that she tone down her reputation when he got her the job at Boston General.
Well, not orders, precisely. Call it a strong suggestion from Dad. Who also happened to be a Nobel Prize-winning scientist.
Tone down the dangerous stuff, Meg, Robert Corning had said in his resonant lecturer's voice. They already doubt your science, why give them an excuse to criticize your sense?
As much as she'd hated to admit it, he'd had a point. Her insistence on proving that a baby's cells could be found in the mother's bloodstream had already raised too many eyebrows. Her grades hadn't been the best, and her Ph.D. thesis had been long on theory, short on results.
Of necessity, she'd grown out the streaks in her hair, put her skis, parachutes and other toys into storage, and focused on figuring out how to test a baby's genetic makeup from a sample of the mother's blood.
They said it couldn't be done, but she'd managed it. She'd developed a blood test that was poised to revolutionize prenatal genetic analysis. Boston General Hospital and her cosponsor, Thrace University, would reap the rewards and Meg would be assured tenure. She'd be set for life--she'd have a job, a good salary, a whopping pension and a corner office.
"And it won't be black and white!" she said out loud.
A head popped around the open office door. "You need me, boss?"
"Um, no. I was talking to myself, actually." Meg grimaced when Jemma Smoltz, her patient coordinator and sometimes lab assistant, stepped into the room.
Short, dark hair framed Jemma's pixie-perfect face, and she wore flirty capri pants that showed off her slim ankles, one of which was tattooed with a pink rose.
She was twenty-six, tiny and feminine, and she made thirty-four-year-old, five-foot-ten Meg feel like a human water buffalo in comparison.
Less so these days, though, because Meg had been working out. She'd lost fifteen pounds since winter, and had her sights set on another ten.
Jemma grinned. "Daydreaming about that stud rock climbing instructor at your new gym?"
Meg rolled her eyes. "I never should have told you about Otto." But there was no harm in it, really. She was just window shopping, admiring the kind of active, muscle-bound hunk she'd always found attractive. "You should ask him out."
"Not on your life. He's too young for me. And besides--" Meg waved at the diplomas, the glossy magazine cover and the cool blue walls "--that's not my lifestyle anymore. I can't take off on a moment's notice to free climb God only knows where." Though there were sure days she wished she could. "I've got a lab. Responsibilities."
Jemma wrinkled her nose. "That doesn't mean you have to be boring."
"I'm not boring, I'm focused. There's a difference." Although some days, she worried that there wasn't any difference at all. That she wasn't pretending to be boring anymore--she'd actually become boring.
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November 15, 2011
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