"Ladies," Dr. Eban said as he stepped just a bit too close to the table, causing Mallory and Rena to have to lean sideways. "How are we this evening?"
"Hey, Dr. Eban," Mallory said. "Fancy meeting you here."
"I'm a big fan of the lads' music," Dr. Eban said easily.
"They're very good," Sophie said, working too hard to keep her words from slurring.
"Aye," Rena said.
For a moment I was perplexed by the dynamics. No one was doing anything wrong. But I had no way of knowing what their outside-school lives meant to their in-school lives. I was about to jump in and introduce myself to get us all past the awkward silence that seemed to fall over the table, but Dr. Eban jumped in.
"Will you all be attending the service this Tuesday?" he asked.
Briefly, they seemed as perplexed by the question as I was, but Mallory caught on first.
"Oh! For the corpses?" she asked.
"Aye," Dr. Eban said.
"Definitely," Rena said. "I think it's important."
"Services for the corpses?" I asked.
"Aye," Rena said. "Every year there's a service for the corpses that we are privileged tae...work with. We're required tae attend during our first year, but most of us attend after that anyway. These are people who donated their bodies tae the medical school, and we honor them every year with a church service. Sometimes their families show up and we get tae thank them in person. Many medical schools have such an event."
"That's really lovely," I said.
"Aye," Mallory said. "The public is invited if you're interested. It's Tuesday at Greyfriars Kirk."
"I think I would enjoy that," I said. I was curiously intrigued. The church was an architectural masterpiece, and I'd visited the
neighboring graveyard a few times.
"Please join us," Rena said. It seemed she was about to introduce me to Dr. Eban, but he interjected another question before she could.
"Are you all pleased with your exam?" he asked, a happy uptick to his tone. Pointedly, he looked at Mallory first.
"I hope so," Mallory said with a smile.
"We'll see," Rena said. "But I feel good about everything."
Then everyone's attention turned to Sophie. Prompted by Rena's firm gaze in her direction, Sophie kept her back too straight as she said, "I hope so." But then, as if someone had unplugged her, she slumped. "But I don't hold out a lot of hope."
Rena closed her eyes and shook her head ever so slightly.
"Aye?" Dr. Eban said.
Without asking anyone, he reached around to an empty chair at an otherwise populated table and moved it into the small space between Rena and Mallory, causing all spaces to close up even more. We scooted and gave him room, but all of our knees were touching by the time he sat and leaned forward on his elbows, his concentration hard on Sophie.
I wanted so much for this moment not to happen. If Dr. Eban hadn't yet picked up on Sophie's state, I hoped he wouldn't hold anything she said against her.
"What has you concerned?" Dr. Eban asked.
"Everything," Sophie said with an all-encompassing hand gesture. "Every-damn-thing. I wasn't prepared for the test, Dr. Eban. Your exams are—"
"Dr. Eban," Rena interjected. "We're just blowing off a wee bit of steam tonight. Forgive us if we're emotional. You know how it is?"
"I do," Dr. Eban said. He turned back to Sophie. "You're a good student, lass. I'm sure you did fine."
I put my hand on Sophie's knee and squeezed. We weren't good enough friends for me to intervene in such a way, but I liked her enough as a person to jump in and at least try to keep her from continuing. Besides, her knee was practically fused to my own.
She looked at me, sending me another heavy blink. But then she returned my knowing smile.
"Thank you, Dr. Eban," she said as she looked at him again. "I'm sure I'll feel better about things tomorrow."
This excerpt ends on page 14 of the paperback edition.