Today's Reading

A couple of months earlier, Sophie and Rena had come into The Cracked Spine, the rare book and manuscript shop that I'd traveled halfway around the world to work at. They'd brought in some old medical books that had been in Rena's family for decades. Rena's father had given her the books with the hope she could sell them and use the money to help with her own medical school tuition.

An Atlas of Illustrations of Clinical Medicine, Surgery and Pathology was made of up twenty-five books, all of them filled with colorful, gruesome pictures that depicted the many things that could go wrong on and in the human body. The books had been  printed in the early 1900s by the New Sydal Society, with hand-drawn illustrations. My boss Edwin's eyes had filled with tears when he'd seen them; he'd swooned.

"Lass," he'd said. "These were from the time of the Industrial Revolution, when we didn't even know how much we were learning until later when we could look back and be utterly amazed at ourselves. These are the most beautiful things I've seen in a long, long while."

He'd pored over the books for days, dreamily. I'd thought that perhaps he'd had more than a few moments over the years when he wished he'd turned his biology degree into something medical, instead of founding and cultivating the most amazing rare and used book and manuscript shop in Scotland.

Edwin had given Rena slightly more than the books were worth. He couldn't decide what to do with them. He wouldn't resell them, but would either keep them for himself or donate them to a library, or perhaps to the University of Edinburgh Medical School. Edwin liked those sorts of happy endings. Someday, Rena might walk past a display case and look upon the books that had helped her and so many others before her learn the most respected of professions.

I found the medical books interesting, particularly when I could manage to look past the stomach-curdling images and let myself be amazed by the knowledge, work, and sheer will of patience that had gone into creating them. I knew that some of Edwin's most beloved treasures weren't the most expensive ones. I suspected he'd keep the books for himself.

Sophie bounced herself away from the sink but then leaned, in a weird slow-motion movement, back into it again.

"I need tae tell you something," she said as she grabbed my arm.


She glanced toward the door and then at the empty stalls. "You can't tell Rena."

"Um, okay," I said.

"I think I'm in trouble. I'm not having a good semester. And that test today; I'm sure I failed," she said.

"Oh, Sophie, I'm sure you're going to be fine. You've been brilliant so far. You're just...Well, you'll feel better tomorrow. Maybe not in the morning, but by the afternoon." I gave her a smile, but I didn't think she saw it.

She and Rena 'had' been brilliant, attaining notoriety at the University of Edinburgh Medical School as two of its top students.
They'd both come from Glasgow, started college twice, once when they were both eighteen and then again at twenty-five. Their first time, they'd flunked out. After a successful second run at undergrad, they'd begun medical school when they were thirty. Friends since they were younger, Sophie and Rena had made a pact to go through life together. They were an unbeatable team.

"No, no." She waved off my words. "Medical school is really, really hard, Delaney."

"I know, but I'm sure...Hey, let's not worry about that tonight. When will you know the grade on this test you took today?"

"Should be posted by Sunday."

"All right. I'll come over and we'll look at it together if that would help. Or you can come over to my house. Whatever is easier.
I'm sure it will be fine, Sophie. You've had a fair amount to drink, and maybe that's causing some undue emotions."

She looked at me with glassy eyes, blinking heavily again. "I hope you're right."

"I know I am. Come on."

But before I could get her away from the sink again, the bathroom door opened, bringing Rena and Mallory into the already cramped space.

"There you are!" Rena said as she glanced back and forth between Sophie and me. "Everything okay?"

"Yep. We were just heading back out," I said.

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