“I’m worried about Bristol’s hearing.” Mrs. Wonks was speaking so quietly, Rosie began to worry about her own.

“Do his ears hurt him?” Rosie asked.

“I don’t know,” Mrs. Wonks admitted.

“Does he complain of soreness or pain?”

“No, but he’s so little. Maybe he doesn’t have the words for it. Children with hearing loss often have difficulty with speech acquisition, you know.”

Rosie did know. “Do you notice him pulling at them?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why are you covering his ears with your hands, Mrs. Wonks? Does that soothe Bristol?”

“I don’t want him to hear us talking about him.” Mrs. Wonks tightened her earmuff vise. “I don’t want to hurt his feelings.”

“But you brought him in today because you’re worried about his hearing.”

“That’s correct.”

“Then why cover his ears?”

“Just in case.”

Rosie took a deep breath. “What makes you think he’s having trouble hearing?”

“When I ask him to put away his LEGOs or finish his milk at dinner or clear his place or go put his shoes on, he doesn’t.”

“Ahh.” The ER had ill equipped Rosie to ask her next question gently. “What makes you think, Mrs. Wonks, that the reason he doesn’t do those things is because he can’t hear you?”

“He doesn’t even look up.” Mrs. Wonks held both hands open before her to mime such a preponderance of evidence. “It’s not like he says no or has a tantrum. He doesn’t even look at me.”

“Does he hear you when you ask if he wants an hour of screen time?”

“I think he guesses what I’ve said because I have his device in my hand.”

“Does he hear you when you ask if he wants to go out for ice cream?”

“He does but—”

“Bristol’s three, Mrs. Wonks. Unfortunately, it’s perfectly normal for him to refuse to do things he’s disinclined to do.”

“He’s not refusing.”

“He really might be.”

“Pretending not to hear me would be lying.” Mrs. Wonks removed her hands from her son’s ears. “And Bristol does not lie to his mommy and daddy.”

“What?” said Bristol. “Huh?”

Rosie gave him a hearing test. To the shock of only Mrs. Wonks, Bristol’s ears were in perfect working condition.

They’d been in Seattle nine months, and Rosie still wasn’t convinced this counted as practicing medicine. Her mistake had been seeded during panicked Wisconsin midnights, which had demanded any job rather than the right job. She’d been surprised to have gotten it, in fact. Her ER skill set—triage, diagnosis, mild grace under extreme pressure—seemed like it wouldn’t be much use to the group of three very nice family physicians—Howie, James, and Elizabeth—who welcomed her in and demanded, mostly, extreme grace under mild pressure. The practice was run by Yvonne, receptionist/organizer/miracle-worker, a woman who had more children than Rosie (six) and more grandchildren than seemed possible (fifteen) though, as she said to Rosie, “Do the math. It’ll terrify you.”

The four doctors were equal partners, kept equal hours, did equal amounts of voluminous paperwork, attended conferences and taught workshops together, and shared companionably in all the other tasks that went into maintaining a small practice. Elizabeth was quiet and pleasant, kind without being sugary, politely inquiring after one’s weekend without diving into anyone’s business. She came in, saw patients, exchanged small talk in the break room, and went home to a life her partners knew nothing about. Rosie adored her. She adored James even more. He was not quiet. He scuba dived in her life. But in exchange, he let her live vicariously through his: James and his husband happy-houred or fine-dined most nights after work. They went to the opera and the theatre and over to friends’ houses. They slept in on weekends and ate leisurely brunches while reading newspapers and books and exchanging philosophical ideas. They generally lived the life of childless newlyweds that seemed to Rosie a fantasy on par with anything you’d see at the movies. If you ever got to go to the movies. Which she did not.

It was Howie who was the problem. Howie insisted on holding a meeting every Monday morning just in case any problems had arisen over the weekend. Howie outlawed paper down to the Post-it note so they could say their practice was green. He made everyone take home two thousand Band-Aids one weekend to marker on their URL so he could hand them out on Halloween. He guilted them into posting short, deep thoughts to a Twitter feed to show rival practices they were a force of cleverness. It was Howie who wanted them to call patients’ parents “Mom.” He wanted Rosie to be in charge of staff-appreciation breakfast and finding someone to update their website. He wanted Rosie to get Yvonne a gift from the practice to go with her holiday bonus. He wanted Rosie to go to Thailand for three months to staff a refugee clinic so he could list on their website that their doctors were sought after for volunteer work and international aid.

Howie wanted to run a practice that could claim to accommodate employees’ families so he agreed, when Rosie was hired, to the flextime that was the only way she could get five children out of the house every morning. Though the office opened at nine, she didn’t see patients until ten. Though the other doctors saw their last patient of the day at four thirty, she saw hers at five thirty, which, as an added bonus, meant clients with jobs could also receive medical care. Howie agreed to this arrangement so as to seem like he cared about working parents, but he scheduled Monday Morning Meeting at eight thirty anyway and was surprised when Rosie failed most Mondays to get there in time.