Queen of Hearts
by Martin, Kimmery

"A debut novel that pulses with humor and empathy and explores the heart's capacity for forgiveness... Zadie Anson and Emma Colley have been best friends since their early twenties, when they first began navigating serious romantic relationships amid the intensity of medical school. Now they're happily married wives and mothers with successful careers-Zadie as a pediatric cardiologist and Emma as a trauma surgeon. Their lives in Charlotte, North Carolina are chaotic but fulfilling, until the return of a former colleague unearths a secret one of them has been harboring for years. As chief resident, Nick Xenokostas was the center of Zadie's life-both professionally and personally-during a tragic chain of events during her third year of medical school that she has long since put behind her. Nick's unexpected reappearance during a time of new professional crisis shocks both women into a deeper look at the difficult choices they made at the beginning of their careers. As it becomes evident that Emma must have known more than she revealed about circumstances that nearly derailed both their lives, Zadie begins to question everything she thought she knew about her closest friend"-

Kimmery Martin is an emergency medicine doctor, born and raised in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. A lifelong literary nerd, she reviews books, interviews authors, and works extensively with the library foundation in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she resides with her husband and three young children. The Queen of Hearts is her first novel.

Martin's debut novel, about pediatric cardiologist Zadie Anson and trauma surgeon Emma Colley, is a medical drama executed with just the right balance of intensity, plot twists, tragedy, and humor. Martin's switch between the points of view of Zadie and Emma, who have been friends since camp during their high-school years, allows for two distinctive personalities to be spotlighted without overshadowing each other. Zadie and Emma remained friends through medical college and are now both in Charlotte, North Carolina, balancing their roles as doctors, wives, and moms. The novel zooms in on the reentry in their lives of Dr. Nick Xenokostas and leads to a revisiting of the past. Along the way, Martin raises interesting questions about betrayal and forgiveness, and, in using a then-and-now time line, offers an unusual perspective on these themes. Though the story is definitely a page-turner, Martin's humorous scenes of parenting failures, evocative settings, and realistic re-creation of the urgency of medical situations make this a remarkably absorbing read as well. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

A secret from two doctors' pasts may put what they cherish most under the knife: their friendship. Emma, a trauma surgeon, and Zadie, a pediatric cardiologist, have survived big and small things together: medical school, breakups, horrifying stomach bugs, losing patients, and the deaths of loved ones. Since they first met at summer camp, the two seemingly opposite women have been best friends: Emma is the unapproachable, perfectly maintained counterpart to warm, trustworthy Zadie. Over the years, Zadie and Emma have grown together as doctors, mothers, and friends—sometimes knowing the other's heart better than their own. Written from both women's points of view, the novel oscillates between a crucial year from medical school and the present. In their third year of med school, the women experience a tragedy that upends their lives in ways they cannot begin to fathom. The unforeseen consequences ripple out to the present when their former chief resident, Nick Xenokostas, re-enters their lives. Zadie and Nick's complicated relationship forces the women to grapple with a potentially friendship-ending secret. A former emergency room physician, Martin distills medical jargon into digestible metaphors and sets scenes as carefully as her characters scrub for surgery. The dialogue is on the casual side because Martin uses all-caps and some phonetic writing ("Whereygoing?"), but if it sometimes falters, the plot and characters make up for it. When the secret (or secrets) is disclosed toward the end, an unexpected but logical twist adds another layer of grief to the revelation. A book about female friendships that unapologetically wears its heart on its sleeve. Copyright Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

Meetings Are the Enemy of Progress

Zadie, Present Day, North Carolina

Almost a hundred years before I was born, a man named Samuel Langhorne Clemens-better known to most of us as Mark Twain-said this about the human heart: You can't reason with your heart; it has its own laws, and thumps about things which the intellect scorns. This is entirely true, as far as I'm concerned, and I should know: I've devoted my professional life to the study of hearts, to their intricate, indefatigable machinery, and to their endless propensity to go awry.

We thump for all sorts of reasons. Some are beautiful and life-affirming. Some are misguided, recognizable to everyone but you as catastrophically stupid. We thump for the unsuitable stoner in our college biochem class, with his easy, wicked grin. We thump when somebody we don't like gets their comeuppance. We thump at cruelty and danger.

I've never spent much time revisiting the past, having thought I'd reached a settled spot in life where most of my wildly inappropriate thumping was behind me. Even if I wanted to look backward, I'd slogged through the last two decades unglued by sleep deprivation-first by my medical training and then by an onslaught of babies-so my recall of some of those years has been washed as smooth as sand.

But there are some things I don't want to remember. Emma and I have an unspoken agreement regarding our third year of medical school: we don't bring it up. Maybe even more than me, Emma has good reason to avoid those topics, and if there's one characteristic you'd assign to my closest friend within a nanosecond of meeting her, it's self-discipline.

So I was completely dismantled when Emma texted me she wanted to talk about it.

I cast a sneaky glance at the phone screen in my lap, reading the text three times to be sure. It didnÕt change. The screen dimmed and I fumbled to keep it lit, somehow managing to dislodge the phone from my lap so it hit the wooden floor with a clunk. As I retrieved it and shoved it into my bag, ten pairs of judgmental eyeballs swiveled my way. Who would have the effrontery to read texts during an important meeting? At the head of the table, the speaker, Caroline Cooper (alma mater: Georgia, plus Vanderbilt Law School), gave me a frosty look.

"Zadie? You with us?" Clearly rhetorical. My friend Betsy Packard (Duke University) threw me a surreptitious wink as Caroline forged ahead without a pause for me to answer. "Okay . . . we need to evaluate the metrics so we're optimally positioned for next year. Let's leverage our assets." Caroline flipped her blond pageboy. She was wiry and lean, with the grizzled look of too much tennis. "Yes, Jennifer, did you have a question?"

Jennifer Grosset (B-school, UVA) cleared her throat. "I understand we need to incentivize, but it seems to me the mission-critical thing here is to bring the teachers online. I'm wondering if there's a good strategic alliance there."

Holy smoke. This was what happened when a bunch of highly educated bankers and lawyers took time off to raise their kids. You couldn't get five seconds into a preschool meeting without the need for a bizspeak translator. Same thing in my cardiology practice: the hospital execs and the docs who ran the office were all so deeply steeped in corporate culture that hours could go by without anyone clearly stating anything. Everything was "actionable" and "recontextualized" and "pursuant" to everything else.

In my opinion, meetings are the enemy of progress.

Everyone around the table was nodding about the alliance issue with the teachers. This was politically tricky, though, and a babble of heated voices sprang up. Caroline pitched her voice above the din: "Simmer down, y'all. Let's do a little crowdsourcing."

More nodding.

I shivered. Everyone looked cold, since they were all dressed skimpily and the AC was jacked up to arctic level in deference to the scorching temperature outdoors. Fashion-wise, the women fell into one of two camps. The first group looked like they'd just come from exercising, although they all had neat hair and no one smelled bad. It was considered socially acceptable to wear spandex workout gear around town to morning school meetings and whatnot, as long as you were under a size six, maximum, and had a nice ass.

The second group was beautifully pulled together. They sported gold-plated sandals, chiffon halters, Herms bracelets, skintight jeggings, and metallic aviators pushed onto perfectly coiffed blond manes.

As the discussion veered toward teacher gifts, I felt my phone vibrating in my bag.

Unable to resist, I slid it out. Emma again. Can you stop by before work tmw? Need to talk about Nick.

My heart started to hammer, an anxious, involuntary little tachycardia. We all have a Nick in our pasts: a seemingly ordinary person who, through some mysterious subatomic combination of chemistry and personality, was capable of reaching inside you and exposing some luminescent core you didn't know you possessed. This kind of person could make you greater than you'd have been alone.

But he could also make you terrible.

If someone had told me when I was twenty-four that I'd be witness to many violent deaths that year, I would not have been surprised. I expected it, even desired it, with an anticipation that mirrored my general outlook on life: happy, heedless, and thirsty to learn. But if my omniscient adviser had gone on to tell me that I'd be the cause of one of the deaths, I'd have been dumbfounded. That kind of trauma was inconceivable to me.

I was thirty-six now. Although I was still happy and still possessed a wide-eyed, inquisitive nature, I was much more aware of how every moment had an infinitely complex number of options, and in turn, an infinitely complex number of outcomes. We think it's the big actions that shape us-the choice to pursue medical school over business school, turning down a date with one guy in favor of another, the regrettable decision to have an affair. But in reality, all of those things come about from the unconscious and barely considered actions that shape a life: blowing off studying one night to watch TV. Laughing at a lame joke to make someone feel better. Allowing more eye contact than necessary with a man you knew to be no good. It's the innumerable smaller choices that snowball into larger vectors, or, put another way: it's the choices we make when we ignore our scornful intellects and follow our thumping hearts.

Before I could text Emma back, there was a tap at the conference room door, which opened to reveal the gray head of Margery Blitstein, director of the Weekday Preschool. ÒPardon me for the interruption, ladies,Ó she said. ÒCould I steal you for a minute, Zadie?Ó

"Of course," I said pleasantly, feeling my stomach clench up. This could not be good. Please, please, don't let Delaney have bitten anyone, please.

"I'm afraid Delaney has bitten someone," Margery said as soon as the door had shut behind us. "Again. I'm terribly sorry, Zadie, but you know that our handbook specifies that if the biting is an ongoing problem unresolved by redirection and positive reinforcement, we have to ask the parents of the biter to remove the child. I sincerely hope you understand that we at the preschool feel tremendous love for Delaney, and for all of our children, but I think we've reached the point where we need to try something a little more actionable." (Et tu, Margery?)

"I . . . of course," I said weakly. "I am so sorry. I can't imagine why . . . Ah, who did she bite?"

"I regret to say that it was Sumner Cooper. Again."

Oh hell.

"Is there anything going on at home?" asked Margery kindly. "Any changes or potentially upsetting events for Delaney?"

"No! I mean, no, nothing. Everything's fine."

Margery Blitstein stopped walking and patted me on the shoulder. "Zadie," she said, "I've known you since Rowan, your oldest, was a baby-that's what, eight or nine years ago? Parenting four children isn't easy, but I know what a wonderful mother you are. And I know by reputation what a wonderful doctor you are. This is no reflection on you. Sometimes children bite. This will pass."

"Thank you, Margery," I mumbled. "Ah, when you say the child needs to be removed, what kind of time frame are we talking about?"

"Well, I am certainly not suggesting that Delaney has to stay out forever. Why don't you take a few days, a week maybe, and let's think outside the box here about ways to handle this?"

So Delaney was being suspended. From preschool. Wonderful. I mentally reviewed everything I had coming up in the next few days that was incompatible with having a three-year-old biter in tow, which of course was pretty much everything. I worked at my pediatric cardiology practice every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and the rest of my time seemed to be spent juggling the schedules of my four children. In theory, that didn't sound difficult, but in reality, each child added an exponential level of complexity, so that we'd had to plaster an entire wall of the playroom at home with a whiteboard covered in Venn diagrams and annotations about the logistics of everyone's soccer, ballet, field hockey, and guitar lessons. I made a mental note to find help in the mornings: my college-age nanny, Nina, only worked early mornings and late afternoons.

We reached Margery's office. I could hear Delaney giggling inside, probably playing with Margery's assistant, Clare. Sure enough, as we entered, I could see that Delaney was utterly unfazed by her disgrace. "Hi, beloved dear!" she called out in delight as she caught sight of me.

I knelt down. "Delaney," I hissed quietly as Margery murmured something to Clare in the background, "why did you bite Sumner?"

Brightly: "I don't know, Mom."

"Delaney. This is not okay."

"Well . . . maybe I bited her because she is so bad."

I said, "Sumner is not bad. She is a nice little friend."

"She is bad. She breaked up my puzzle even though I telled her not to."

"Okay, we are going to have plenty of time to talk about this at home." Plenty of time. "Let's tell Mrs. Beaufort and Mrs. Blitstein thank you for taking care of you."

"Okay! Fank you, honey dears!"

After apologizing again, we headed for the parking lot. I checked my cell phone: shoot. Missed call from Emma. As I was contemplating returning it, the phone rang: Drew, my husband.

"Hello, beautiful wife," he said.

I was suspicious. "Are you working late tonight?"

A slight pause. "Um, yes," he said. "I'm flying to New York for the day. Can you hold down the fort?"

"I always hold down the fort," I pointed out. "I'm a fort-holding specialist."

He sighed. "I know," he said. "I'm sorry." Another silence, then: "I told the boys I'd hit balls with them after their lesson today."

The quietness of his tone strangled any irritation I might have felt. Drew was a frequent victim of his managing director's whims when it came to last-minute travel for their private equity business. He'd never complain to me about how much he minded canceling a promise to our little sons, but he didn't have to: I knew how to read all his inflections.

"You know what?" I said buoyantly. "I will distract them with my own fearsome tennis skills. Don't worry for a second about it."

His voice recovered. "That would be spectacular," he said, refraining from pointing out that I was more inept on the tennis court than a bilateral arm amputee. "Let's plan on me taking them out this weekend, okay?"

I told him I loved him and hung up. I glanced at my watch. I had an hour and a half, which was the perfect amount of time to knock out the shopping I had to do. I'd bring the vampire with me, and we would have a serious discussion about things.

For once Delaney did not fight as she was buckled into her car seat. She was uncharacteristically quiet as I lit into her, babbling about consequences and limits and privileges. I realized that much of this was over Delaney's head, but maybe venting would calm me down enough to come up with a plan. I raged all the way to the Target parking lot, finally winding down as I unbuckled Delaney.


"Yes. What?"

In a tiny voice: "Are we still in love?"

I looked at Delaney. Her fat cheeks were drooping with guilt and fear, and her great big eyes blinked, dislodging two perfect diamonds of tears. Her little shoulders shook as she fought not to cry. Finally unable to hold it back, she buried her face in her small hands and tried to stifle her sobs.

My irritation melted. A penitent toddler could conquer the hardest heart. I scooped Delaney up, letting my littlest child bury her wet face in my chest. Chubby arms and legs wound themselves around my torso.

"I'm sorry, darling honey. I'm sorry," cried Delaney. "I didn't meant to do it!"

"It's okay, baby," I said, stroking her heaving little back. "We are still in love."

Seven oÕclock in the morning was a ridiculous hour to have a conversation with anyone, at least in my opinion, but it qualified as late morning for Emma. She arrived at work by six most days, but she had negotiated a late start on Tuesdays. She also received two days off every other week, which for her meant an unprecedented amount of leisure time. But then again, Emma has always been a workaholic, so I wasnÕt even sure she appreciated it.

I was an early riser too, but not by choice. A few years back, one of my female partners and I had managed to achieve a utopian ideal never before seen in my old-school, male-dominated cardiology practice: job sharing. During the three days a week I worked, I sometimes started early: at least once a week, I needed to be in the OR myself to perform echocardiograms on the little congenital heart patients. And of course, on my two days "off," I often awoke even earlier to find myself wedged to the edge of the bed by a highly energetic twenty-five-pound intruder who'd crept in during the night. Even though I was amped to find out what Emma had discovered about Nick, I couldn't suppress a yawn.

After my big kids-eight-year-old Rowan and six-year-old twins Eli and Finn-left for early care at school, I made my way to the car, Delaney hopping in sparky little circles around my feeble trudge. "Mom, is this a skipping?"

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