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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Looking for something? Start here!

Butterscotch Blues: a short story

Owen Swain had been working at this office for three weeks, and it had only taken him a day to realize that it was not going to be everything he thought it was. He had expected hands-on surgeries, a supportive mentor and getting one step closer to his dream of being a dentist himself. Instead he had gotten Dr. Martin and her lack of compassion. When he had first stepped into the office, he had walked up to her with a bright smile, excitement and nerves mingling within him as he introduced himself. 

She had regarded him with a strange look, nodded stiffly and pointed to a desk. “You’ll start there. I have an appointment in a few minutes, and I don’t have the time to finish organizing the notes from the previous patient. So pick that up for me, will you?”

And with that she was gone. At that moment he had almost given up on the experience completely. But, as he sat down at the dentist’s desk, an older woman poked her head around the corner with a sweet smile.

“Hello there, you must be Owen! I’m Mrs. Winshire, the receptionist. Let me know if I can help you with anything, alright?”

He hadn’t realized it then, but this woman would be the reason that he came to enjoy coming to his internship every day.

One day, as Owen stepped inside the building, moving past the patients in the waiting room, he caught sight of Mrs. Winshire’s desk, decorated with streamers, a vase of flowers and a card with those words on it. Just seeing them made Owen’s stomach twist. He had almost forgotten.

Mrs. Winshire looked up from her computer screen, where she was engaged in checking in a mother while her child stuck their hand into the bowl of candy she kept on the edge of her desk. Upon seeing him, her face lit up. “Owen, good morning!”

“Good morning, Mrs. Winshire.”

She quickly finished up with the patient, and as they walked away, she motioned him over, her excited demeanor making Owen smile despite himself. As he came up to her desk, she pulled out a smaller bowl of candies, setting it before him. Rather than contain a mix of colorful wrappers, this one was filled with strictly golden ones. Butterscotches.

Owen sighed, putting on a scolding tone that far from matched the smile on his face. “You know, offering candy at a dentist’s office is probably counterproductive.”

“Or it’s genius.”

Or it’s genius.”

The woman laughed, and Owen’s smile turned bittersweet as he remembered that this would be the last day of butterscotch bowls and playful banter. Despite this, though, he meant it when he said, “Congrats on retirement, Mrs. Winshire.”

Mrs. Winshire’s smile, which was before sharp with mischief, seemed to soften. Her eyes filled with concern, as if she could tell that deep down, it broke him to have to put his worst fear into reality.

“Owen-”

Just then, Dr. Martin stepped out into the receptionist area, her eyes scanning the room like an owl’s. When they landed on Owen, they narrowed, and she crossed her arms. 

“Last I checked, you were here to work, not to fraternize.”

Owen took the opportunity to escape Mrs. Winshire’s confrontation, walking over to the dentist. “Sorry, Dr. Martin.”

“Sorry doesn’t cut it.” She motioned to the back, where another impossibly high stack of papers awaited him. “If you have time to chat, then I expect all of that to be organized before lunch. Get on it.”

Owen headed to the back office as Dr. Martin disappeared into one of the exam rooms, fighting back a groan as he sat in front of all of the paperwork. This was going to be a long day.

As lunch rolled around, he filed away the final sheet of paper and fell back in the chair with a sigh. That was half of the day already gone. 

Dr. Martin walking in shook him out of his thoughts, and he braced himself for the usual scolding. Probably something about sitting around when there was work to be done.

However, to his surprise, she simply crossed her arms, eyes angled slightly downward as she said. “We’re going to do something for Mrs. Winshire after we close. I figured you’d want to know.”

Before he could respond, she had disappeared again, leaving him alone with his thoughts.

After that, the day seemed to pass by with incredible speed. He was forced to work through his lunch, a new wave of notes finding their way onto the desk, and then when he had finally received his break, the office had gained a sudden rush of patients. Their levity only came upon closing, locking the front door.

And that was when the staff’s night finally began.

The office was quickly transformed from a professional establishment to party central, streamers hanging from the ceiling lights, balloons tied to chairs and the main attraction, a large sheet cake, set out on a table and flanked on either side by bowls of punch.

Owen took a deep breath, and then put on a smile as he joined the rest of the staff as they cheered.

“Congrats on your retirement!”

—-

The rest of the night was filled with disco music and talking, and Mrs. Winshire was constantly surrounded by her colleagues, laughing along with them. Owen watched this all from a slight ways away, observing the way they interacted. Even Dr. Martin, who everyone knew as a no-nonsense woman, was mingling with the others with a soft smile. Mrs. Winshire really was the light of this office.

As he looked away, he made eye contact with Mrs. Winshire, who was watching him with a slightly worried expression. It seemed that she hadn’t forgotten about this morning.

It was only a few moments later that the two found themselves somewhat away from the group, punch cups in hand as they sat in silence.

Mrs. Winshire was the first to break it, turning to look at Owen with an understanding smile. “You’re going to be just fine.”

Owen took a sharp inhale of breath, as if he had been struck. There it was.

Another moment of silence passed, before he spoke up, gripping the punch cup tightly.

“You’re the only good thing about this place … I don’t know how I’m going to get through the rest of this internship without you.”

Mrs. Winshire smiled sadly and put a hand on Owen’s shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. “I know that you’re going to do great things, Owen. Don’t let yourself believe otherwise.”

Owen sighed, and gave a resigned nod, looking away. There was another moment of silence between the two, before Mrs. Winshire suddenly gasped, straightening up. “I almost forgot! I have something for you.”

The elderly woman rushed out of the room, and a few moments later she returned with a small, wrapped box, holding it out to him.

He stared at it, surprised into silence for a few seconds, before shaking himself out of his stupor. “Oh, Mrs. Winshire, I don’t have anything for you ….”

“Just take it. And don’t open it until after I leave for the day, understand?”

Owen considered whether to accept the gift for another moment before taking it with a nod. “Thank you, Mrs. Winshire.”

She gave him a sweet smile, and after giving his shoulder another squeeze, she stepped back into the common room, leaving Owen to ponder the unexpected gift cradled in his hands.

Quicker than he would have liked, the party, and with it, Mrs. Winshire’s last day, reached its end. Owen had volunteered to stay late to help clean up the office, and so he was able to catch a last glance at his true mentor from this experience. Mrs. Winshire caught his eye, and gave him a smile with a mischievous look in her eyes before giving a final wave and a “goodbye” and stepping out into the night.

The clean up was quick, luckily for Owen, and soon he found himself sitting in his car, staring at the box in his hand. He pried the top open, and was greeted with the bright sheen of butterscotch wrappers, filling the box up to the rim. On top of it sat a note that simply read: “Make sure that I’m your first patient, Dr. Owen.”

Owen pulled out one of the candies, tears welling in his eyes as he laughed to himself. Mrs. Winshire had once been his only reason for staying. But now, as he unwrapped the wrapper and popped the candy into his mouth, he realized she was his reason to keep going, as well. 

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