359 The conference in Portland 1

Thursday

8:58 AM

Liz made her way into a large conference hall.

She is exhausted and excited at the same time.

Let's start with exhausted… Liz was supposed to arrive on the previous evening, get a good night's sleep in the hotel where the conference is being held, and after breakfast to come here. However, Max was super-clingy and convinced her to sleep in Seattle and that on Thursday morning she can go to Portland with his private jet.

"You can sleep in the plane, and have breakfast… and I will be your bolster." Max used his best puppy-eyed look while talking.

Liz tried to reason with him, even though she knew that her willpower is not strong enough. "Max, it will be too early for me to wake up and for the rest of the day I will be unable to function."

"With a private jet, the airport will be a breeze. I don't know how I will survive one night without you. Don't make it two nights…", he whined until she gave in.

Of course, Liz wanted to sleep with Max as well and it sounded like a great idea until she realized that she needs to wake up super-early, head to the airport, take one and a half hours long flight and reach her hotel by 9 AM when the conference starts. The only thing that keeps her going now is the cup of coffee in her hand which she grabbed at the entrance.

The second thing is excitement. On Monday evening, she got confirmation that she will get to deliver a presentation at this conference! Her presentation got a slot for Friday morning and she will have fifteen minutes to talk about the latest updates to the neurosurgery wing at the Franciscan Medical Center and how they are being utilized. And then there is a fifteen-minute long buffer for any questions from the audience. Any unused time at the end becomes a break.

"Thank you Max!", Liz exclaimed after she read the email for the third time.

Max was confused. "Why are you thanking me?" 

"You helped me secure all those donations at the fundraiser. Thanks to that I have an opportunity to talk in front of my colleagues."

"I will take it." Max didn't want the credits, that is all on Liz, but he took all hugs and kisses that came with it.

After the initial excitement wore off, the reality hit Liz: "Oh, my God! I need to deliver a presentation in front of my colleagues! In four days! I don't know where to start!"

"Is this your first presentation?", Max asked, unsure why is Liz on the verge of hyperventilating.

"I spoke in front of the crowd during my school days… but this is my first time since I started working!"

Liz realized that Max is right. Why is she getting so worked up over this? The real show will be at the symposium of neurosurgeons in Las Vegas… in five months… IF she is invited. She still needs to work on that. Ah, she was back to nervous!

Wednesday afternoon, Liz spent at the Alpha Group, in Max's office. She arrived for lunchtime and between his meetings, Max was listening to Liz's presentation and he gave her tips. Hunter also listened once.

The mood in the Alpha group HQ was good, and Liz was pleased that Irene kept a low profile. Since their incident on Monday, Irene didn't make any waves. On Wednesday morning, at the meeting of Max with other directors, Irene was professional when she gave her status, and she didn't try to get close to Max.

After work, Liz practiced with Max until Max gave her a thumbs up and she was satisfied. Liz was touched by his patience and care. She was unable to refuse his request to stay for the night in Seattle, especially because he arranged a private jet for her. Max is awesome.

Back to the present…

Liz was happy she managed to keep her things in the room and to arrive in time for the first talk.

Dr. Kaviraj was in attendance, several tables away from Liz. And Liz greeted her before going to her seat.

Liz was seated at the table with five other people. All of them are surgeons and she is noticeably the youngest person at the table. Well, there is nothing new about that. Liz calculated that in about ten years (or more) she will find some people around her age at these events because juniors usually stay behind while seniors get to enjoy these company-paid outings.

Liz glanced around and noticed that Isaac would blend in with this crowd well. But if Isaac is here, he would probably be the host and the main speaker on several topics. Her father is awesome like that.

The speakers took turns. Some topics were more interesting than the others and Liz did her best to listen attentively.

Everyone received a booklet with the schedule, and there was a space to make notes and sheets to provide feedback.

One of the people at Liz's table is Dr. Donovan, a man in his late forties. He is a vascular surgeon, local to the area. When he introduced himself, he said that he works at the General Hospital in Portland and he made sure everyone knows that his hospital is sponsoring this event.

"You are giving a presentation tomorrow morning?", Dr. Donovan asked Liz during one of the breaks between speakers, when he compared the name on her nametag with the one in the schedule for the next day.

Liz's lips stretched into a smile. "Yes. I am nervous, it's my first time."

"It will be fine. Just imagine that you are talking to an empty room.", Dr. Donovan tried to comfort her.

Liz remembered that Max advised her to imagine that everyone is wearing brown sacks instead of clothes.

"When you think that your audience is silly, everything is better.", Max told her.

"Is that what you do?"

"I used to do something like that…" Max had no intention to admit that he would imagine that his audience is naked.

Liz was pulled out of her thoughts at the sound of a woman's voice that was laced with mockery. "First time?"

Liz looked at the woman in her late fifties and she saw that Dr. Pescu's expression is matching her voice. Dr. Pescu is a neurosurgeon and Liz knows that she is getting a scornful look because of her age.

"Yes. First time. I wonder if you remember yours.", Liz responded, returning the sarcasm.

Dr. Pescu's eyes flashed. "Young and rude. Why do some hospitals send their staff that is still green behind ears, is beyond me."

"If that is what you think, many things are beyond you, Dr. Pescu. I am a senior neurosurgeon." Liz enjoyed the surprise in the woman's expression. "You probably have more experience than me in terms of time, but what counts are skills. Some people work as surgeons for thirty years and are unable to leave their mark, while some can achieve greatness in six months."

Dr. Pescu snorted and looked toward the speaker that got on the stage.

Liz counted this as a victory, especially because Dr. Pescu ignored her after that. Liz knows that no matter what she says, she will not change Dr. Pescu's opinion and the most she can do is to keep a distance between them.

For Liz, the morning passed between daydreaming about Max, nervousness about her presentation (the next day), listening to speakers and comparing their content delivery to her upcoming presentation, and fighting her urge to sleep off right there at the table.

At noon, they had one and a half hours long break for lunch.

Lunch was provided in the restaurant of the hotel. They only needed to show their nametag that every participant of the conference has, and to pick one of the three options for lunch: chicken, beef, or vegetarian.

Liz saw that Dr. Kaviraj is already seated with a number of people who are unknown to Liz, and they are chatting in a lively atmosphere. It seems that over time, people make acquaintances in the same field. Liz wondered if ten years from now she will have a group of friends like that. Probably.

Liz was not in the mood to socialize. She found an unoccupied table in the corner and ordered a meal that comes with chicken. Her goal was to gobble up food quickly and go to her room. With any luck, she can take a nap before the conference resumes. Even half an hour of rest sounds heavenly. 

Liz checked her phone while waiting for the waiter to bring her food. There were a number of messages from 'My handsome boyfriend' (aka Max) and Liz smiled while reading them.

Liz was lost in longing when a voice was heard by her side...

"Dr. Williams… Do you mind if I join you?" 

Liz paused and looked up in slow motion. That voice is familiar.

When their eyes met, Liz inhaled more than necessary. "Dr. Snow…"

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