By Jane Converse, ©1965
Love … or loyalty? Such choices had never been a problem for Elaine Forrester. The lovely nurse’s keen sense of integrity had always guided her professional—and her personal—life … But then, she had never been truly in love. Until now. And now was when Jay Lowell, her dearest friend, needed her most. He was gravely ill, a victim of chronic nephritis. He wanted her near him. He needed her—and her love. How could she give up everything she so passionately hungered for, in exchange for a future that promised only despair? How could she deny the insistent urgings of the young doctor whom she loved…and the yearnings of her own heart?
“I gather Iva’s going to be a long while getting her face on, or whatever it is women do to hold up the works when a man’s starving.”
“Whatever he may have thought, the doorway to the linen room was not the place to express it.” “I like to believe that on my wards the carrying of bedpans has been elevated to a fine art.”
Elaine Forrester is a poor parentless waif (mom died of cancer, dad’s a drunk) struggling through nursing school when she meets doctor-in-training Jay Lowell. He’s a nice guy—and incredibly wealthy to boot—and he takes her out to dinner and pays for her tuition. He’s in love with her, but as nice as he is, to Elaine “he could never be more than an adored older brother.” But he doesn’t give up, hanging around “as an Eskimo in the frozen North looks for the first break in the ice,” hoping her frigid heart might melt.
No such luck. Instead, he comes down with kidney disease, which is slowly killing him. He’s had to drop out of med school, and now he sits around his enormous ranch outside of Reno and snarls at everyone who comes to see him. Which is really only Elaine, who shows up daily to pat his hand soothingly. It’s a miserable relationship built on guilt and bickering, so naturally Elaine tries to convince Jay that she’s in love with him and they ought to be married right away. But now he refuses her, saying she should be getting on with her life instead of hanging around with an invalid.
Enter Dr. Norm Beatty. He’s dating Elaine’s scandalous roommate, Iva. Sleek, sophisticated, and not the most dedicated nurse you’ll ever find, Iva spends evenings hanging out at the casinos to pick up gentlemen to pay for her dinner and straggling in the next day all strung out and hung over. Norm stops by the apartment to pick up Iva, and Elaine, in her most unflattering housecoat, her hair unbrushed and not a speck of makeup on, is obliged to keep the man company while Iva lets the final coat of varnish dry. They exchange some legitimately amusing banter, and it seems he still likes her even if she isn’t dressed to the nines. The next time he shows up on her doorstep, Iva isn’t home and he’s carrying a mess of dead fish. She invites him in, and it isn’t long before Elaine and Norm get carried away while she’s showing him how to work the garbage disposal. While the bluegill is frying on the stove, he proposes—but she just can’t drop Jay.
The rest of the book is a back-and-forth about what to do, what to do? It’s fairly predictable; you can practically see the bull’s eye on Jay’s back. The writing is interesting in places, especially when Iva comes on the scene or when Elaine and Norm are bantering. But when the couple of interest hooks up, even sort of, one-third through the book, it doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for further interesting developments. So while this book isn’t a complete waste of time, there’s just not a lot to say about it.