STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Constant c Productions and Amblin Television in association with Warner Bros. Television, NBC and probably a slew of other people have prior claim. Anyone you don't recognize comes from my imagination.
RATINGS DISCLAIMER: Sex = a same sex relationship but otherwise PG, Violence = PG, Language = PG.
CONTINUITY DISCLAIMER: To be precise canon up to Rampage and then alternative universe. This is a segment of the Thing-verse, a chronological list can be found at the site.
BLAME DISCLAIMER: Sharon Bowers. I didn’t even watch the damn show until she started writing it.
FEEDBACK, COMMENTS AND FLAMES: Email at firstname.lastname@example.org
“This is so embarrassing.”
“Kim, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Isn’t Mercy closer to home?”
“Maybe a little.”
“Our emergency department is much better than Memorial’s emergency department.”
“Yeah, like that matters. I’m not exactly bleeding out here.”
“Better safe than sorry.”
I stare at her. “You are evil, Dr. Weaver.”
“If common sense won’t keep you away from the power tools maybe public humiliation will,” she says, pulling into the staff lot at Cook County Hospital.
After winning the battle over the wheelchair I find myself standing at the admit desk wishing I had lost the battle so I could sit down.
“What have we here?”
“Afternoon, Carter, Foster. Patient has a likely fracture of the left third finger, head lac and various scrapes and bruises to the arms and shoulders,” Kerry says. She doesn’t laugh but I can tell it’s close.
“Likely fracture?” I ask incredulously.
“Well,” Kerry allows. “Possible fracture.”
Carter nods and looks me over from head to toe, noticing the flamingo stance. “What about the ankle?”
“Rope burn.” Kerry pauses to allow both Carter and I to achieve maximum blush. “And possible sprain.”
Payback is going to be such a bitch.
“Well. Well, well. Well, well, well,” Carter is going to die a painful and protracted death. “As triage doctor it’s my duty to make sure that the patient has the best doctor available without tying up hospital assets unduly. Foster, she’s all yours. Curtain One.”
“Carter, I want a real doctor!”
“Dr. Legaspi, I have it on good and constant authority that psychiatrists are real doctors.”
“I must say, Dr. Legaspi, that I am touched by your confidence in my abilities. I’ve been checked out with all the machines that go ping, even the one with the pretty green wavy line.”
“Bite me, Foster.”
“Now, now. Doubtless that was the pain talking. Now, be good and I’ll give you a nice lollipop when we’re done.”
“Kerry,” I say, trying very hard not to whine, “Can’t you do this?”
“Nope. Hospital policy. I can’t treat you unless I’m the only physician available.”
“Stupid policy. Whose moronic idea is that?”
“Yours and mine when you pushed for same sex couples to have the same rights and responsibilities as married or common law employees and I backed you as a department head.”
“Oh,” I mutter. “Today equal rights suck. Tomorrow it will be a brilliant idea again.” I allow as they escort me to Curtain One.
“Now, let me do a check on the finger and make sure none of the -what’s the phrase- gooey bits are mooshed. Let me see your finger.”
“I thought it was your index finger?”
“Oh, sorry,” I say sweetly, extending the index finger as well. He makes a great show of examining it with a little more enthusiasm than I think is warranted.
“Seems to be attached. Care to tell me what happened? And I’m sure you want to be the one because Kerry looks fit to burst.”
“The back deck’s railing was loose.”
“And it collapsed?”
“No. I dismantled the section, replaced the rotten wood, put in some extra bracing and then was going to sand and stain the entire thing.”
“Sounds harmless,” Foster says. Behind me I can hear muffled giggling from the so-called love of my life.
“Yeah, well, I hit my finger with the hammer.”
“And the ankle?”
“Got tangled up in the cord for the electric sander while I was jumping around in severe pain.”
“And those scrapes?”
“When I fell off the deck and into the rose bushes.”
“And that’s how you bonked your head?”
“Jesus, Kerry, a little sympathy would be nice.”
“She dropped the first aid kit onto her head getting it out of the cupboard.”
“I see,” Foster says, quickly raising his clipboard so I can only hear the snicker and not see it.
“Dr. Foster, please keep in mind I’m one of your supervisors and your entire internship rests in my hands.”
“That sounds like coercion, Dr. Legaspi.”
“Well, in that case we’ll just skip the rest of my planned witty repartee. I’m going to have an X-ray shot of the finger because there might be a chip where you whacked it. That is, by the way, very impressive swelling. Anyway, whatever the film says I want it splinted for at least two days. Kerry, sorry if this puts a cramp in your love life.”
“That’s not funny. Kerry, stop laughing. Damnit, I’m driving myself to Mercy next time.”
“Next, while I have such a cool diagnostic instrument at my disposal I’m going to have a picture taken of your foot but I’m fairly sure that it’s going to be clear. Ice it and keep it elevated as much as possible. Finally, just let me put a quick stitch in your head, a Band-Aid to cover my rotten seamstress talents, give you your lolly and off you go to sand no more.”
“Fine, thank you,” I say, allowing the technician to shoot X-rays. I am stoic as Foster puts in the sutures using a blanket stitch and the dull needle usually reserved for elephants. I plot further revenge as he and Carter look at my X-rays.
“I can go now?” I ask, ripping the cellophane off the lollipop and sticking it into my mouth and ignoring the snickers. Fuck Freud anyway. “You didn’t use one of those Barney Band-Aids, did you?”
“Dr. Legaspi, I’m hurt. You think I’d do that? Kerry, see how she doubts me?”
“Tragic. Kim, do you honestly think Foster would put a Barney Band-Aid on your forehead.”
“Well, no,” I allow.
“Of course not. Not when Tinky-Winky suits you so much better.”
+++++“Finished with your patient, Dr. Foster?”
“Just. Why do doctors make the worst patients, John?”
“You’re the shrink, Foster, you figure it out. But, yes, we do.”
I shake my head and return to the front desk. I open my book to the dog-eared page and begin to read.
“What ya reading?”
“I can see that. What exactly.”
“Don’t you have filing or something to do?”
Randi pops a bubble and shrugs. “Yeah. So?”
I sigh. “Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a progressive, fatal neurological disease. ALS occurs when specific nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary movement gradually degenerate. Symptoms may include tripping and falling, loss of motor control in hands and arms, difficulty speaking, swallowing and/or breathing, persistent fatigue, and twitching and cramping.
“Shit! Is it contagious?”
“Nope. And it’s fairly rare and you’re the wrong demographic. If you were a middle aged man you might have more cause to worry.”
“And I’ve never heard of it?”
“Sure you have. Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”
“Oh.” There’s a series of slow, small bubble snaps. “So, what’s the cure?”
“Ah, Randi, therein lies the rub. There is no cure. There is no treatment for anything other than some of the symptoms. It is, effectively, a life sentence where your body becomes your prison and you’re reduced to depending on machines and people to help you eat and breathe and the most basic of human dignities for the few short years until you die.”
Randi stares at me and I realize that I sound a little scary.
“Sorry,” I say trying to focus on my book.
“Who the hell has it that you hate so much?”
“Bullshit,” she says, finally turning back to her computer and grabbing the foot tall stack of charts. “Hey, Foster, what’s the first line of that oath thingy you guys take?”
“Actually Randi that oath thingy was written over two thousand years ago and pretty much deals with how I’m supposed to start some sort of retirement fund for my old professors and not seduce anyone when I make a house call.”
I stare at the book, the words a bit blurry.
“Do no harm.”
“The oath, about treating people. Do no harm and use it for good. Spiderman stuff, really.”
I wait until it looks like I’m going to be waiting forever. “Yeah, what?”
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking of. Hey, that guy with the voice machine that was playing poker with Data and the other geniuses in the holodeck…”
“Yeah. That’s what he has, right?”
“Randi, you have the weirdest memory I have ever encountered. Yes, that’s right. Why?”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my short time at County is that Randi never says anything for no reason. But right now I don’t care enough to figure out the reason.
“Yo, Doc Foss. You going to the big barbeque?”
“Nah, didn’t make the cut,” she says without any rancour or anger. I wonder what it’s like to be so use to not “making the cut” and if she’s as nonchalant about it as she appears.
“How would you like to go with an incredibly handsome, intelligent and sensitive doctor?”
“Love to but Abby’s going with Dr. Kovac.”
“Ouch. How about me then?”
She regards me for a few minutes and then nods. “Okay, but I have to check something first.”
“No, your credit rating.”
“Why,” I ask the sky, “Is that always the first thing someone says when they see the swing?”
“Why is it crooked?”
“And why is that the second?”
“It’s a long story,” Kerry says, handing Foster a glass of lemonade, “Involving Kim and power tools.”
“Apparently,” Luka says, “Kim is not good with power tools.”
“So I’ve heard,” Foster says, snagging a hotdog. “And I was crushed when that particular stereotype was blown. Next you’ll be telling me that you don’t play softball.”
I throw another homemade patty on the grill, count to three slowly and then flip it as per my instructions. “Well, not since college.”
“Abby played softball,” Luka volunteers. “Her mother said she has great hands. No, a good arm.”
I swear, I don’t know he’s teasing us all or still clueless with American slang. “Is she now?” I drawl, my subconscious apparently deciding that he’s teasing and joining in. Abby begins to blush and Kerry swats my shoulder.
“What did I say about my trauma personnel?” Kerry asks.
“Don’t traumatize them,” Foster and I chorus.
Kerry looks nervous and I wrack my brain trying to figure out why. Maybe because she spent about two hours picking out the exact casual outfit and still wasn’t satisfied. Or maybe it’s seeing so many people invading her turf. Or maybe it’s just socializing with her co-workers. Or maybe it’s because we’re out of lemonade.
“I’m going to get the other pitcher of lemonade,” I tell her, exchanging the barbeque tongs for a kiss and get two whole steps before it hits me.
Or maybe it’s because she’s not sure how to act. And I, without thinking, just kissed her in our first real public display of affection aside from a quick peck once in the hospital cafeteria.
I glance behind me. No one is fainting or screaming. Even Dave seems oblivious although Foster gives me a wink. I look at Kerry and she smiles slightly. I can see the flash of terror dying and I’m glad she didn’t duck down to try and hide it from me. It takes a million baby steps to overcome a lifetime of programming. I hustle to the kitchen, grab the pitcher and head back.
And fnd a much more relaxed Kerry. I grin and she smiles for real and my world is back on its axis.
It’s strange. You watch Kim and Kerry at work, even if they think they’re alone, and you could never tell they’re lovers. Sure there’s little things that speak of a bond. Like Kim placing her hand on the small of Kerry’s back when they meet or Kerry holding a chart until Kim takes it rather than just passing it. An intensity to some of their conversations. But they don’t hug or kiss or hold hands or gaze longingly into each other’s eyes when at the hospital. Heck, Kim even leaves her office door open when they’re alone in it. Trust me because I’ve watched people watch, looking for an excuse.
“I’m going to get the other pitcher of lemonade,” Kim tells Kerry, handing her the barbeque tongs with a quick kiss. I’m watching so I see it, the sudden look of fear on Kerry’s face followed by the quick look around to gage reaction and then the slow relaxation when she sees that no one is making a big deal. And then Kim’s almost comic double take of worry and concern. I wink at her and she smiles before heading back to the house.
I turn to my date who has finally torn herself from the baby admiring clique. “Oh course I am. I am a psychiatrist after all. This is such an interesting group of people. Weird dynamics though.”
“That’s because it’s like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon sex.”
“Seriously, name two people and I can link them intimately.”
I look around the group and pick the two least likely. “Greene and Finch.”
“Green to Corday to Benton to Finch. Corday did her residency under Benton. Literally.”
“Ouch. Luka and Greene?”
She laughs. “Okay, maybe I was exaggerating. Let me think. Dr. Kovac sort of had a thing with Carol Hathoway who married Doug Ross who was Greene’s best friend. I don’t think Greene and Ross ever got it on though.” She gets that faraway look of someone trying a mental image on for size. “Eww, no, can’t see that at all.”
“Weaver and um, anyone?”
“If I’d known you were such a gossip I would talked to you sooner. Just Legs. She only lets most people get so close, ya know?”
“Okay, Romano and anyone?”
“Romano’s not here but he’s hit on everyone in a skirt at one time or another. Well, anyone that cleans up nice. So that would be Legs and Corday and Doyle and …”
“I get the idea. And he gets away with it?”
She looks at me as if I were from Pluto. “Of course he does. He’s a good ol’ boy and the boys look after their own. Didn’t you figure that out yet?”
“Yeah, I guess I had.”
There’s a sudden flash of motion and I look up at a very confused looking Luka awkwardly holding Ella Greene and watching Abby stride away from him towards the house. At the barbeque Kerry and Kim exchange quick glances before Kim takes off in Abby’s wake and Kerry hands the tongs to Carter.
“Whoo-hoo. Trouble in paradise,” Randi says quietly.
“Like I said. Interesting dynamics.”
I leave Kerry to deal with Luka and seek out Abby. It takes awhile to find her but eventually instinct leads to the basement stairs.
“You want to be alone?”
“No. No, I don’t think I do.”
“How about light?”
“No, I don’t think I want that either.”
I sit beside her on the step and look around, the only light from the crack underneath the door. I wait for her to speak and, eventually, she does.
“Did you know I use to be afraid of the dark?”
“A lot of kids are.”
“No, I mean even as an adult. Part of me still is.”
I’m formulating a response when she throws out a question.
“Who’s with me here?”
“Which Kim Legaspi? What hat are you wearing?”
“Oh. Right now Kim Legaspi the friend. Kim Legaspi, concerned homeowner is hovering around somewhere muttering about insurance and broken legs and dark stair steps.” I bump her knee with mine. “If you need another me just let me know. I usually have my psych hat in my back pocket.”
“I dunno. Kerry’s with him. He seemed a bit confused.”
“Yeah, well, probably,” she says, heaving a sigh without it sounding theatrical. “Confused.”
“You two haven’t talked seriously about kids, have you?”
“We barely talk about serious things period. I know how he feels about American food, fashion and sports. He knows how I feel about the El, deadbeat husbands and WNBA.”
“I take it you’re on two different pages?”
“Whole different book some days.”
I put my hand on her shoulder and her body subconsciously shifts so I turn my intended shoulder rub to a briefer pat.
“Have you and Kerry talked about kids? Talked seriously?”
I pause. Kerry’s not here to consult so I make the call on my own. “Yes, we have.”
In for a penny. “And we haven’t come to a decision yet. Kerry’s ruled herself out as a birth mother and adoption is problematical. At least it is currently in this state. We haven’t quite got to the seriously looking into it stage but its something we both want to do in the future.”
“Why isn’t Kerry considering having them?”
“Her age is one factor.” I pause again. “And she doesn’t know much about her family’s medical history. It makes her nervous.”
“The old genetic crap shoot.”
“You know,” she continues and I can hear the smile if I can’t see it, “This would be much simpler if I were gay. I don’t suppose…?”
“Do not go there, Lockhart.”
“Malucci’s pretty sure you can turn anyone gay.”
“Did you ever read An Unquiet Mind?”
I’m a bit thrown by these rapid changes of subject but I know the book well. “By Jamison? Yeah, I read it in school.” I imagine Abby read it in an attempt to understand the unexplainable. Same reason my folks grabbed every book by Jane Rule they could find.
“The part where she’s first diagnosed and her doctor says,” Abby’s voice drops to mimic that of a male, “Of course you won’t have children.” Her voice returns to normal. “And she argued. I could never understand that. How could you potentially do that to a child?”
“The genetic crap shoot.”
“With loaded dice.”
We sit in companionable silence.
“Hey, can I ask you something?” I ask.
“What’s up with AlAnon? Isn’t it useless?”
“Are you nuts? Spouses and kids need a support group like that. Just because you’re not an alcoholic doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you. Sometimes more because you don’t have the excuse.”
“Ah.” I pause. “Abby, have you ever seen a therapist about your mom’s illness?”
There’s a silence that lasts so long that I think that there’ll be no answer. That she’ll shut me down like last time I asked but finally she just sighs. “Can you recommend anyone?”
“There’s a good guy at Mercy. I can set up a prelim on Monday if you want.”
“You can’t do it?”
“It would probably be easier on you if it were someone away from the hospital. Let him be your therapist and let us all concentrate on being your friend.”
“Thank you for not giving up.”
“That is in the job description.”
“Friend or shrink?”
“Both,” I say, giving her a one armed hug. She begins to chuckle. “What?”
“I was just thinking. You and me in the dark like this. If it were a schlock television show Kerry or Luka would walk in and catch us.”
“With our luck it would be both."
“With our luck it would be Dave.”
We laugh and then fall silent.
“Kim, can I ask you a personal question?”
“Sure,” I say before it occurs to me that maybe I shouldn’t.
“Why do you have a glow in the dark band aid on your forehead?”
“It’s my father.”
“Hand me a piece of pizza.”
I hand her my plate and the last remaining slice. She looks at it, looks at me, and then tears it in two. She grins and hands me the smaller piece.
“And you hate your dad?”
“Okay,” she says, clearly dropping the subject unless I want to carry it on. We munch pizza and sip beer and watch the braver of the stars try to cut through the urban glow. So far only the moon and Venus have made it.
I wait but she doesn’t continue. “Randi…?”
“You got some sauce there.”
“Here, I got it.”
Such a movie move. She leans forward, lips brushing mine and then I feel the tip of her tongue against me and she’s pulling back. I hope I don’t look as idiotic as I feel. ‘Cause I feel pretty idiotic.
“You should take me home. And then you should go to your home.”
“Okay,” I agree. “And can I see you again?”
“Every day at work.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know what you meant.”
“How did you find out?”
I stretch out an arm and pull her close so that her head rests lightly on my shoulder. “Abby pointed it out.”
The inner psych stirs.
“Oh?” I repeat. “You’re not going to ask how she knew it glowed in the dark?”
“I assume because you were together in the dark.”
Hello. This is either a sign of absolute trust and lack of jealousy or singular indifference and I wonder if I should ask her which. But, as Kerry often says, don’t ask a question you don’t want to know the answer to.
The inner psych flips on the neon bull’s-eye.
Kerry will never ask a question that she doesn’t want to know the answer to.
“Kerry, there is nothing going on between Abby Lockhart and me. There is nothing going on between me and anyone but you.”
“I know. But you know. I mean, it’s okay. I mean every relationship has its erotic element.”
I am getting fucking tired of having that damn book quoted at me. “I am tired of having that book quoted at me.”
“I’m sorry. I mean,” she falls silent and still and then continues. “Its not something we’ve actually talked about.”
“No,” I drawl. “Monogamy is the norm in a relationship so I just assumed.”
She is studiously avoiding looking at me. “Part of me, the scared part looking for the closet, thinks how far does this go? If I’ve already discovered in myself that I can step outside of the norm then how far can I or should I go? And what kind of limits I should expect or impose or if I should even think of limits. And how can I even suggest limits on you. What right do I have over your actions? I don’t know the rules.”
“The rules are what we decide, Kerry. And it should have occurred to me that we needed to talk about this.”
“It’s not something I’d ask of you.”
Inner psych is scratching her head in confusion. I’m trying to decide why the woman I love, the woman who loves me, that I’ve just given a ring to and just moved in with and am talking children with, is effectively giving me leave to have an affair. There are a lot of ‘I mean’ and stuttering but still this is what is happening. I swear if I live to be 95 and spend every minute of it with Kerry, which, by the way is my firm intent, I will never, ever understand her.
“You’re so beautiful,” she whispers to herself.
And I understand.
And I hear everything she doesn’t say. Or hasn’t said.
You are so beautiful. And I’m not.
You have a babe, Weaver. But you don’t when we talking about the BMW convertible.
Is it someone you want to seduce? When I invited Foster over suddenly.
You are so beautiful.
“Kerry, when was the last time you looked in a mirror?”
“Kim,” she says, tensing and twisting off me and onto her side but I follow until I’m spooned up behind her.
“Kerry,” I repeat, “When was the last time you looked in a mirror? Not to put on your makeup or check your collar or hair. When was the last time you looked at you?”
A pause so long that I thought she was going to continue to ignore me.
“Since I got the crutch.”
I wonder how someone so self assured and arrogant can have such a low self esteem. The inner psych hands me the textbook.
I tighten my grip and roll back onto my back taking her with me. I tighten some more but she doesn’t try to escape.
“Look,” I tell her. “Open your eyes.”
They slowly open and meet mine in the reflection. “Trust me?” I ask. She nods.
I stroke her hair away from her face, holding one strand up to the light. “What do you see?”
“I see autumn leaves and sunsets.” I stroke down her face and neck and stop at her shoulder. “What do you see?”
“I see your strength. I see shoulders that support you and all you love when needed.” I stroke down her arm to where they lay crossed stomach and pause on her stomach. “What do you see?”
“Too much cafeteria food.”
“I see my favourite pillow,” I say smiling. My hand moves to her hip and pauses. “What do you see?”
She shakes her head, eyes closing momentarily before she opens them again.
“I see your courage. Not even a challenge because you’ve defeated it.”
“Love is blind.”
“No, it just lets us look beyond the obvious. Look beyond all the walls and barbed wire and see the treasure they protect. I don’t love you in spite of your flaws. I love you because of them. Now, what do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you see the beautiful woman I love?”
She pauses, looking up at our reflection and then captures my hands in hers, lacing our fingers and bringing them to rest on her stomach. “I think I see her. If I squint.” But she’s smiling.
“So I can take the mirror down?”
Later I’m lying on my favourite pillow waiting for the pulse in Kerry’s thigh to return to normal.
“What are you thinking?” I ask.
“If I can justify having a fourth year resident empty bed pans.”
Not exactly the answer I was expecting. “And we are doing this because?”
“Universal balance. If I feel this good then someone needs to feel this bad. Otherwise we risk destroying the delicate balance and entropy and molecular decay and much bad.”
I laugh at Kerry’s use of slang English, crawling up so that we’re again face to face. “Back to the rules and rights subject.”
“Rule one, we don’t do anything to hurt the other or us. And if we’re not sure we talk, okay?”
“Rule two, we don’t own each other but we have equal responsibility in our relationship, in the us. Understand?”
“Rule three, no country music.”
She giggles and nods.
“Rule four, we don’t control our subconscious. We do control our actions.”
She nods and opens her mouth, undoubtedly to give me permission to take action on the US Olympic women soccer team if it would make me happy, when I cover her mouth with my hand. I feel a flick of tongue against my palm and her mouth curl into a smile.
“Listen to me, Kerry. As long as we’re together, which will be forever entropy be damned, I will be faithful. If you spend more than a half hour and two drinks with Kate and Christie you will likely hear stories about me when I was younger. And I did do things that weren’t exactly loving to the person I was supposed to be in love with. But our relationship, you, what we’re building here together, are the most important things in my universe. And that I would rather walk on glass than hurt you.”
I get a hug. Points for honesty, I guess. Then she stills again. “Kim…”
“Nope, you don’t have to make the same promise.”
“I don’t?” she asks, plainly confused.
“Nope, just think of Phoenix.”
“No, the bird. Because, Kerry Weaver, you ash is mine.”
“Good call, Doctor,” Kerry says. “Get a surgical consult down here.”
“Yes ma’am,” I say. I don’t think I’ve felt this proud since I recited the Gettysburg Address in my grade three assembly.
“And anytime you want to switch your residency from psychology to trauma just let me know. God knows I could use some good residents down here!” Kerry said, her voice rising so that the entire ER could hear the last sentence.
“I’m on that patient in Curtain Two right now, Chief!” Smart boy that Malucci, taking the hint so quickly.
“Well, hurry it up or his little guests will die of old age.”
She winks at me before she heads off to the lounge. I stop at the admit desk.
“She said I done good, Randi.”
“Way to go Foster. You want a Hallmark card or flowers whatthehelldoyouthinkyou’redoing!”
She reaches out, grabs the stethoscope from around my neck and rips it from me.
She glances around but we’re alone. “You were wearing your stethoscope with the ear pieces over your left shoulder.”
“That’s really weird Randi. I heard you say that I was wearing my stethoscope with the ear pieces over my left shoulder in a tone of voice usually reserved for… oh, accusing someone of spitting on nuns.”
“I can’t believe I’ve never noticed. Look, come here.”
I head behind the counter and sit in the indicated chair while Randi grabs a message pad and draws a line, dividing it into two columns.
“Okay, resident guy, I want you to show on this how the other doctors wear their stethoscopes. Ear piece over the left shoulder goes in the column marked left and ear piece over the right shoulder goes in the…”
“Column marked right? I have a medical degree, Randi. I can read.”
“Fine. Come back when you’re done.”
Two hours later I report in.
“Done. Well, everyone who’s come down to the ER.”
“Okay, who are the righties?”
“Greene, Benton, Romano, Weaver, Carter, Finch and Abby. I know she’s not a doctor but I threw her in too because she did do some med school.”
“Okay, who are the lefties?”
“Shorter list. Lewis, Corday and Chen. Malucci isn’t on the list because he wasn’t wearing one.”
“Probably left it with some dumb EMT as a souvenir. Now, do you see a relation between all this?”
“Well, obviously it’s not a gender thing because Kerry, Abby and Cleo wear it on the same side as the guys.”
She points over my shoulder and I turn to see Kim walking from Curtain Two. Stethoscope over her right shoulder.
“You’re saying Abby and Cleo are gay?”
“For Cleo we’ll just use the ten percent plus or minus and toss it.”
I refrain from calling her on Abby.
“Wonderful. Have you told this theory to anyone but me?”
“Good. Please don’t. Otherwise I’ll be seeing you professionally instead of socially.”
“You keep wearing your stethoscope over your left shoulder and you’ll be seeing Yosh socially.”
I stare up at my beautiful mirror, interrupted in the midst of making the bed when Kerry switched off the light. The mirror is now decorated with K+K 4EVR written with glow in the dark band aids. I’m never going to get the glue off.
“I figured if I couldn’t get them on your head anymore I might as well put them to good use.”
“Just remember, Kerry, payback is a bitch.”
She cups my face in her hands. “Kim dear, this is payback.”
“And that makes you immune?”
“Yes. Yes it does.”
“Well, when will it be over?”
“When I decide.”
“That’s not fair!”
“Suck it up, Legaspi and take it on the chin. And remember this next time the urge to decorate in reflective surfaces strikes.”
“Are you familiar with Lysistrada?”
“The play?” I nod and she pauses before smiling. “You couldn’t.”
“Yes I would.”
“No, I mean you could not.”
“That a dare?”
“That’s a statement of fact.”
“Pretty high opinion of yourself, Weaver.”
“Pretty realistic opinion of you, Legaspi.”
“Bite me, Kerry.”
“See, getting testy already and it hasn’t even been twelve hours without any.”
The absurdity of our conversation suddenly hits me and I laugh and hold out my arms in surrender.
“Mea culpa,” I say.
“Very much so your fault.”
“I don’t think you can plead both.”
She laughs and moves even closer, arms sliding around my waist and beginning to nuzzle my collarbone.
“Latin turns you on?” I ask.
“Depends on the speaker.”
“Meaning you. English, Latin, silence, doesn’t matter.”
“Trust me, you’re fluent. And Kim?”
“You’re off the hook.”
The emergency department is quiet. Weeknights are often quiet but this is beyond my experience. Little clumps of nurses are gathered by equipment carts ostensibly restocking but in fact gossiping. I’m working on my neurology textbook and my fourth cup of coffee, Kerry is working on the day’s charts and a diet cola while Randi works on her nails.
“County, this is dispatch. MVA enroute.”
Kerry grabs the microphone. “This is County. How many?”
“They’re still removing from the scene but we have at least three majors and some minors heading your way.”
She doesn’t bother to glance at the board. “Impossible. Isn’t there anyone else open?”
“Negative, County. You’re the closest open centre.”
“Within five minutes. The rigs will have to do an immediate turn around.”
“Fine,” she snaps. That means she won’t be able to co-opt the EMTs into assisting. “County out.”
She pauses for about three seconds. “Randi, start on the call list and see who you can get in. Call upstairs and see if you can get anyone down who can handle the minors. Foster, congratulations, I hereby authorize you to be trauma certified.”
“You can do that?”
“I just did.”
I swallow my fear and follow her out into the ambulance bay. Someone hands me a disposable shirt and I absently put it on. In the distance I can hear traffic but no sirens.
“Is it always this hard, the waiting?”
She smiles slightly. “Luka calls it waiting for the thunder.”
“My mother always said that if you heard the thunder it meant you hadn’t been hit by the lightning.”
She considers that but doesn’t have to answer because now we can hear them, the sirens in the distance. And suddenly the bay is full of ambulances with EMTs hurriedly unloading gurneys and the triage nurses moving from patient to patient.
“I have three reds and a yellow,” the nurse calls. Kerry is already at a patient, bent over a figure suffering from massive chest trauma and multiple head lacs. She looks up, staring through me and I feel a chill. I can see the confusion in her eyes but only for a second and then there’s almost a click as Dr. Weaver returns.
“Foster, take that one.”
“I’m not ready.”
She looks up at me over the patient. “Foster, it never happens when we know we’re ready. It happens and we have to prove ourselves ready.”
“Dr. Foster, you have a patient.”
And I don’t have a choice because she’s giving orders for her first patient and moving on to the next, another mass blood and glass.
Thank god it’s Abby. She sees the sheer terror, nods once and it’s enough to calm me.
“Good. Because I don’t think I could explain this to my girlfriend in light of recent conversations.”
I comply because I’m quickly past the point of logical speech and can only wonder exactly when the dream I was having turned into reality. There is an urgency and intensity to her hands and mouth that is neither romantic or tender, a touch or odour that is out of place but then I’ve died the little death and everything is moot except that she’s holding me when I return to the here and now.
“I want a shower.”
I blink and she’s gone, the en suite door closing. I wait a minute, listening for Kerry’s audible barometer. If she’s in a normal mood there will be music. If she’s in a good mood she’ll be singing along, her volume in direct proportion to her mood.
There is only the sound of running water.
“Okay,” I say to the mirror. “Something’s up.”
A quick glance at the clock radio reveals that it’s about two hours to my shift and about three hours after Kerry’s was supposed to have ended. Probable scenario is that ER was swamped, Kerry got away late, Kerry was hyped and overtired and I benefit from probably the best relaxation technique known to humankind.
I grab an oversized T-shirt and head for the kitchen. It’s still dark out and I have half an hour before I have to get up. An hour before I really have to get up. Time for some serious cuddling and maybe even some reciprocal relaxation techniques before I leave.
There’s a bottle of Glenfiddich on the coffee table. Possible scenario is that ER was busy, Kerry got away a bit late and had a drink and then came to bed.
Except, Kerry knows that I don’t like her drinking alone, there was no taste of alcohol on her and the seal is still intact on the bottle.
Screw theorizing. I push memory one on the phone.
“County. Emergency. What?”
“Randi, it’s Dr. Legaspi. Where you on last night?”
“Did Kerry get away late?”
“She okay? She got home, right?”
“She’s here it’s just… what time did she leave?”
There’s a thump as the receiver is set down and the sound of rummaging paper. “She got out about an hour and a half hour late,” Randi tells me. “And considering how insane, no offence, it was earlier that was a miracle and see if I cover Frank again. Give me the day shift anytime.”
“It was busy?” County averages about forty three thousand traumas per year which works to about seven a night. It’s busier on the weekend so the department would have been staffed for maybe four or five traumas over the night.
“MVA, a compact car met a mini van and we were the only department open in the area.”
“Damn. How many?”
“Family of four and family of five. And we didn’t loose one.”
I can hear a sense of pride in her voice. “But it was close?”
“Yeah. It was just her and Foster until Carter and Lewis made it in. She okay?”
“Yeah, Randi, she’ll be fine.”
“Good. Gotta go.”
“Wait, how’s Foster?”
She laughs. “Like a little boy after his first grownup roller coaster. He’s pretty hyped.”
“Thanks, Randi. See you later.”
The shower is still running which means she’s going to be in there until she uses up the hot water. Kerry’s tactile barometer. Despite my earlier assumption Kerry doesn’t take overly long showers unless she’s upset or worried about something and my sense of unease begins to grow. I press memory two on the phone, speak briefly and hang up before grabbing the pitcher of orange juice, a glass and the fruit bowl. I make it back to the bedroom just as the shower turns off. I wait patiently until the door opens and she comes nervously out of the bathroom.
“Hey, get over here.”
She nods and comes over, carefully setting the crutch in its place by the bedside table and sitting on the edge.
“Not good enough. Get over here.”
“You have to leave soon for work.”
“Nope. Pulled in two markers. Meyers is staying an extra half shift and Wise-Ass is coming in a half shift early. I am off today.”
“So get into bed.”
“And talk to me.”
I wait but she’s silent so I take the lead. “First you’re going to apologize for using me.”
She freezes but I simply put my hands on her waist and pull her onto me.
“Then I’m going to say nonsense.”
She wraps her arms over mine and squeezes.
“Then you’re going to protest that, yes, you did use me. And then I’ll try to make some joke about it, like how you can use me anytime if that’s how it feels. And then you’ll give a quirky little smile despite yourself and I’ll hug you tight and tell you to tell me what happened. And then you’ll tell me that you had nine traumas in an hour on what was supposed to be a five trauma night but you saved them all. And you came home when your shift was over and stared at a bottle of Scotch for nearly an hour but you couldn’t bring yourself to take a drink. And you didn’t want to wake me but finally… How am I doing?”
“Pretty good. I got cold and…”
“Needed to get warm.”
“I took a hot shower at the hospital.” And that explained the medicinal smell instead of the faint scent of apples and sandalwood that was Kerry. “But it didn’t work. So I thought maybe a drink and that would at least get the taste out of my mouth. The memory of the taste.”
“What did you taste, Kerry?”
I hug her even tighter. “Metallic and sharp? There and then gone?” She nods. “Adrenalin,” I say.
“I thought we were going to loose them all. I haven’t felt like that in a while. It was like God said here’s a jigsaw puzzle and you have one chance. Screw it up and someone dies.”
“But you saved them.”
“Yeah, we did,” she says. We lay there and the alarm goes off, a classical station that is the compromise between my alternative and Kerry’s classic rock first choices. I reach over and adjust the volume slide until the music is playing under our conversation.
“You’re staying home because I freaked?”
“I stayed home because you needed me.”
“I love my job, I care for my patients and enjoy working with 75% of the people at County. And they can all go to hell in a hand basket today because… just because. Any argument?”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Randi, have you seen Dr. Legaspi? I wanna go home soon.”
“Family emergency. Meyers and Wiseman are covering her shift. They don’t know that up on Psych?”
“If I’d been up to the ward I’d have asked at the ward. Luckily I can save myself the trip and ask you because you know everything,” I explain. Another burst of nervous energy hits and suddenly I don’t want to leave. “Okay, fifth wind just hit. What you got?”
“Let’s see, what we got for a psych greenie keener that’s been on for about ten hours and still thinks he can handle stuff because he’s so hyped on adrenalin that he bounces when he walks?”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“Okay, how about a low level trauma with a twist of, er, twisted.”
“Such tact. Zing me and the patient in one sentence.”
“It’s a gift, Doc Foss. Okay, how do you feel about a tattoo?”
“Yours or mine? Simple ‘mom’ or a yakuza masterpiece? I need some guidelines here.”
She stares at me blankly before shaking her head, dismissing my questions as irrelevant because, really, they are. And I can tell that I’m getting a bit goofy and resolve to book out. Soon. Really.
“Like a ‘I did it myself with a dirty needle and a pot of India ink and now I have a killer infection’?”
“I can handle that. Thanks.”
“No problem. Hey, Doc Foss?”
“What does yours say?”
I laugh. “You’ll have to know me better to find out and a lot better to see it.”
She rolls her eyes and turns back to her magazine.
After fifteen minutes of lecturing the lad on the dangers of tattooing without proper training or equipment and cleaning the infection with the stingiest stuff I have I send him off. Youth mystify me, even when I was young.
I wonder if I should have told him that he’d misspelled anarchy.
“Randi, did you page me?”
“Nope. I paged the on call shrink for a psych consult for Curtain Six.”
“The on call shrink sent me down to see if it was worth of his effort.”
She grins. “Don’t you love being low man on the stick? So, what’s the problem?”
“I looked at the patient and then the chart. Curtain Six is currently dead. Curtain Six was called about fifteen minutes before we were paged. Curtain Six has, according to the chart, absolutely no history of any mental or emotional problems when they were alive and certainly none now. So why, Randi, was psych paged for a consult on a corpse?”
“Meyers and Wise-Ass never look at the charts.”
“Okay, Trauma Two is a thirteen year old girl who’s sixteen year old boyfriend arranged an abortion with, near as the docs figure, some goon, a coat hanger and a bottle of tequila. Her mother brought her in when she started haemorrhaging and then nearly killed the girl ripping out the IVs when she found out why.”
“Randi, I’m supposed to be learning here.”
She just stares at me until I nod. Some things just aren’t learning experiences.
“Okay, who decided on this little ploy?”
“Nobody, but we do it a lot when Legs isn’t the attending on call. Page the goofball to consult a corpse or someone who’s unconscious or one of the temp nurses and then page Legs for the real consult.”
“Does Weaver know this? Does Kim?”
“No and you’re not going to tell them. Hospital policy is we page the on call. And we follow policy. If the Chief knew she’d make us stop. If Legs knew she’d either have to tell the Chief or keep it from her and we ain’t doing anything to screw them up. And you’re going to forget this conversation ever happened or I’m going to have to not go to dinner with you on Friday.”
“We’re going to dinner on Friday?”
“Yeah, somewhere nice.”
“Somewhere really, really nice.”
“I think I can manage that.”
“Good. Pick me up at eight. Now go away.”
I head back to the elevator bank, slightly confused by the recent turn of events. I’ve been in contact with several of my classmates and I know I have a good gig. County sees a huge amount of trauma each year and the psychiatric and trauma departments seem to get along pretty well. I mean, it’s not like I’m in the same boat as Derek who, six months into his first year residency has yet to see a patient as anything other than an observer.
The sound of plastic smashing into concrete at the pay phones draws my attention to Abby Lockhart.
Her eyes focus on me. “Dr. Foster.”
“Nurse Abby. You look like shit.”
“Thank you, you silver tongued devil you,” she says, shoving some more quarters into the phone. “No wonder Randi’s dating you.”
“Yeah but I think you’re the only one that doesn’t know it.” She punches some buttons and listens intently before again smashing the receiver into the wall again.
“Abby, I have a break coming up if you’d like to take a breather. Grab a drink at McGoos or something.”
“I would love to have a drink right now. Nothing would make me happier. Except maybe reaching my sponsor or finding a meeting.”
“Well, what I had in mind was an electric kettle, a pouch of instant hot chocolate with dehydrated marshmallows.”
With supreme care she hangs up the phone.
“That sounds okay.”
“Plus the Therapeutic Leporidae Device”
She stares at me mutely before nodding abruptly. “Better than angel fish. Lead on, McDuff.”
I leave Trauma Two, take two steps and manage to grab a wall before it hits me. I hear my name from a great distance and feel hands guiding me around the corner and into an exam room.
“Jesus, John, how can a parent do that? How can a mother do that?”
He hands me a dixie cup of water and shrugs. Clearly there’s no answer to that so, clearly, he doesn’t bother to answer. We sit in silence until the world settles a bit. I can see why Kerry likes him; he knows when to shut up.
“You see where Abby went?” he asks finally. There’s a layer of concern beyond the friendship and puppy love we all know he has towards her.
“No, you want me to have Randi page her as I go by?”
He shakes his head. “Nah. She’s probably just grabbing a smoke.”
I nod and head for upstairs, already mulling my newest problem over. It occupies my thoughts all the way up the psych floor. A murmur of voices from Foster’s office catches my attention and I glance in to see he and Abby.
“Must be serious if you broke out the hot chocolate and the bunny,” I say.
Foster glances up first, face serious and then lightening. “I’m trying very hard to paraphrase Shakespeare’s quote about savage beasts and make it sound terribly funny and witty. Can I offer you some hot chocolate, Dr. Legaspi?”
“Thanks, that would be great, ” I say. “And it’s ‘savage breast’, Foster.”
“Ah. Then maybe I’ll just forget about it. I’m bound to say something that will get Luka, Kerry or Randi mad at me. Did you know that I’m dating Randi?”
“I’ve known for weeks. You really should try to keep up with the gossip, Foster.” I sip the hot chocolate. “So what brought savage beasts into the conversation? Because Rocket’s the least savage beast I’ve met.”
“I’m not sure,” Foster said, frowning slightly. “We were talking about parents and children and doctors and stuff. Seemed appropriate at the time.”
A thought bounced around my head and then popped out. “Weren’t you in med school when we met, Abby?”
Wrong thing to say apparently as Foster shoots me a ‘way to go Einstein’ look and Abby scratches the rabbit’s ears with great intent.
“I don’t have to be a doctor to help people,” Abby informs Rocket’s left ear.
“No. Healers come in all forms,” Foster says.
“Abby’s a healer,” I agree.
“Wait, aren’t all doctors healers?”
Foster merely shakes his head so I answer. “There was this advanced class in med school. People would kill to get into it. But you had to have a certain recommendation from one of the first year professors. Everyone knew that there was a recommendation but none of the students knew what it was.”
“But, of course, you found out,” Abby says with a slight smile.
“Of course I did. Only ‘healers’ got in, not ‘fixers’.”
She looks thoughtful. “You two are healers,” she finally says.
“And you want to be like us when you grow up?”
Foster receives an evil look for that comment. “You got it half right, Dr. Foster. Thanks for the bunny and chocolate but I’d better get back to work.”
“So,” Foster finally asks. “Which half?”
I look at the bunny and the mugs of hot chocolate with fake marshmallows. “I don’t think it was the grow up part.”
“And then, the prison matron shows up. You sure you don’t want to borrow the tape, Foster?”
“No, Dave, far be it for me to risk damaging it and thereby destroying your women in prison porn collection,” I say, resolving to try and not take my break the same time as Doctor Dave again.
“Its okay, I got doubles of them. And you know how it is with chick convicts,” he says, winking and leering at the same time, “a little girl on girl… Randi!”
I turn and see Randi over my shoulder, her fact frozen and expressionless and behind me I hear Malucci mutter a quick goodbye.
“Phone call for you. You can take it in here.”
And she’s gone.
Puzzled I pick up the phone. “Foster, here.”
“William. I’ll be in town tonight. I need to talk to you.”
Typical. I consider blowing him off but don’t. “I get off at six. I’ll meet you at the hotel at six thirty,” I say and hang up. I can be taciturn and demanding too. I head out to the floor, stopping by the admit desk.
“Randi, I have to cancel tonight. My--”
“Yeah sure, whatever.”
“Its fine, Doctor Foster. If you’ll excuse me I have work to do.”
Positive that something is wrong but knowing a civil conversation is about three hours of cooling down away I simply nod and take off.
“Are you sure about this?”
“What? Going to a club or asking Abby along?”
I wave my hand in an all-exclusive circle. “Both.”
“Trust me,” Kerry says and I feel a chill of fear. “She’s been moping around and you’ve been this caged cat all week. It will do everyone good to get out.
I look at the admit desk where the subject of our conversation is deep in discussion with Randi. Who looks like she’s either about to clock someone or shoot someone.
“Okay,” I say, “but I think our little party is about to get bigger.”
Two hours, three drinks and a lot of gossip later I’m still wondering how the subject is going to be raised. Randi, nursing her fourth beer and still maintaining her gum, pauses long enough to blow a large bubble while giving Abby the once over.
There’s a loud pop and the bubble disappears. “So, you and Luka broke up?”
Abby looks amused, Kerry looks embarrassed and I try for the neutral look.
“Yeah, how could you tell?”
“He’s all dark and broody.”
“And this differs how?” I hear myself say. Randi and Abby laugh outright and even Kerry smiles slightly.
“Okay, good point,” Randi amends. “He’s all darker, broodier and angsty. What did you tell the poor guy?”
“That he wasn’t pretty enough or special enough.”
There’s a three count of stunned silence before all four of us burst into giggles.
“No, really, what did you say?” Randi insists
Abby sighs and swirls the wedge of lime around in her glass of cola. “That I wasn’t what he was looking for in the long term and the short term was over.”
We think that over. “Ya should have used the pretty-special line. That would have blown him right out of angst and into self righteous pissed off,” Randi tells her. “I’m for another beer, what can I get you all?”
I ask for another Rickard’s Red, the only reason I frequent the place, and Kerry declines, excusing herself to go to the facilities.
They say that old married couples can communicate with near telepathic ability but Kerry still relies on the old kick to the ankle.
“So,” I say brightly.
“Did she kick you?”
“Who? Kerry? No, of course not.”
“You’re a pretty lousy liar for a physiatrist, Stretch.”
“You don’t like it?”
“Oh no, it was the astounding originality of the nickname that took me aback.”
“Why did she kick you?”
“Doubtless because she’s both your and Luka’s supervisor and she’s mildly concerned that she may have to rework the schedules to give you guys some space.”
I try to judge the throbbing in my ankle. “Maybe a bit more than mildly,” I allow.
“And you’re doing this instead of her because?”
“Because, Short Stuff,” I say, drawling out the nickname and earning a slight smile, “I’m supposed to be better at discreet and diplomatic talks than she is. Do you annoy your therapist with this avoidance tendency?”
“All the time. He’s says that it’s a defence mechanism that I use to delay or ignore uncomfortable questions thereby avoiding deep or intimate relationships be it romantic or platonic.”
She sips her cola and swirls the lime slice.
Patience is a virtue but I’m tempted to use Kerry’s telepathic communication on Abby’s shin when she finally breaks.
“Maybe a little space for a week or so. As break-ups go it was fairly civil. She doesn’t have to worry about me taking a scalpel to him.”
I grin at the mental sight. “So, for me, what happened?”
“We had that serious talk about something other than the El and the chances of Chicago getting a WNBA franchise.”
“How did he take it?”
“We both agree that if the El were safer and more organized more people would use it. He seems to think that the fact that Chicago supports the Bulls means that there’s a ready market for a franchise but I think that the Bulls’ popularity is actually hindering it.”
She finally sighs. “He wants kids, his kids, our kids. The effin Croatian dream apparently. I can’t give him that.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
She swallows a mouthful of cola as if it were laced with rum. I never noticed that you drink soft drinks differently than alcoholic drinks. “Same thing, Stretch. So he might as well move on to someone who can.”
“You love him?”
“Yeah, but not enough to convince him to accept alternatives. And too much to live with him and watch his dream die.”
I pause, weighing our friendship and finally deciding I do have the right to ask what we’ve both been skirting around. “You don’t know that your kids would be affected.”
She looks at me. “No. But I know how it feels to worry that they might be. And I won’t go through that again. Or put someone through my childhood or Maggie’s life. So subject closed, Stretch. Here’s Randi.”
“I was a bit confused about why you sent that letter in the New Year.”
“It was just a letter. I sent one to most of my friends and other relatives.”
He nods once, abruptly. “It’s the most information you’ve volunteered to me since you were nine years old.”
“Yeah, well, maybe, I dunno.”
A wisp of amusement flashes across his face and I’m reminded of how much David looked like him. It’s like seeing a ghost.
”And to think you were captain of the debating squad.”
I laugh. “Debate wasn’t a big thing at that school. It was just the most non-lethal way to get a letter sweater.”
“This is wonderful,” Randi pronounced, taking great care over every syllable.
“What is?” I ask. I’ve had a few beers, somewhere between Randi who is at the almost giddy stage and Kerry who is still cold sober.
“Inviting along an ex-alcoholic. Automatic designated driver.”
Some cola manages to make its way through Abby’s nasal passages and we all spend the next few minutes sacrificing our napkins and trying hard not to laugh.
“Why are you here, Randi?” Abby asks. “On a Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody but I’d have thought you’d have a hot date with Foster.”
“Only hot date I’m likely to show that SOB is one with hot pokers and a fricking hammer.”
“Wow, bathroom calls,” Abby says.
“Wait for me,” Kerry says.
“So, Randi,” I ask through gritted teeth. “What’s up with you and Foster?”
Next time I’m wearing my hiking boots.
I bang on the door for five minutes, variously giving inquiring neighbours the evil eye and pleading with the piece of wood to open so I can explain.
“What are you doing?”
I turn and see Randi standing behind me. She’s kinda wobbly and fuzzy sounding. “You were out.”
“Brilliant, Einstien. Now, what are you doing here?”
“It occurred to me that you might be thinking that I broke our date because Malucci let slip that you had a criminal record--“
“I went to prison, Foster,” she says harshly, pushing by me and unlocking her door.
“--and that you had served time and that you also thought that I was some shallow punk ass kid that would do something like that.”
“You’re saying it doesn’t matter?”
She’s drunk and this is clearly a sore point and I’m walking on ice thinner than a sheet of paper. “Of course it ‘matters’. But it doesn’t make a difference. It’s who you are and where you came from but I am, hopefully anyway, dating the person who’s standing in front of me right now.”
“So you and Dave weren’t discussing me?” The door is open and she’s half way in and if it closes before I’ve cleared this up I know I’ve lost something.
“Dave was discussing some cinematic master piece called Prison Girls Behind Bars and In Jail. A truly redundant title but as the subject matter--”
“So if Dave didn’t tell you how did you know?”
“Frank. He made some comment the day after the barbeque about the front desk having an ex-cop and an ex-con. I told him if he didn’t want prozac in his donut he’d keep his comments to himself.
“So why did I get the brush off?”
“My dad asked to see me.”
She looks as startled at the idea as I know I did six hours ago. She looks back toward the elevator where my father is standing. He nods at her.
“So, I wasn’t brushing you off. Believe me?”
“Well, you’re either telling the truth or you’ve gone to a lot of effort to con someone into wearing a Halloween costume. I’ve had a bit too many beers to make a call on it though.”
“Fair enough. See you Monday?”
“We work at the same place, Foster.”
“Yeah, guess we do. Good night, Randi,” I say, hesitantly backing away a bit. My father has already called for the elevator and I hear the ding and whoosh as the car arrives.
“Night, Foster.” I head away. With the nagging feeling of something left undone.
“Randi?” I stop and turn, looking back along the hallway to where she stands in the doorway. Behind me I hear the elevator door ping as it starts to close and the thump as my father sticks his foot in the doorway.
“Are you sober enough to remember something in the morning?”
She looks faintly disgusted at me. “It was only a few beers, Foster. What is it?”
And I loose my nerve. “Sweet dreams?”
She nods once before closing the door.
“An interesting young lady,” my father says cautiously. I wonder how much he overheard and figure all of it. “Who is she?”
I consider all the answers to that question and the answer is the one that eluded me mere moments ago.
“The woman I’m going to marry.”
The bedroom is dark and warm and so very safe. I give a passing thought to the relationship troubles of my friends before selfishly glorying in the success of mine. God, it’s good to be me.
“And that’s why they broke up? Because Abby’s afraid that her kids will be bi-polar?”
“Pretty much. Oh, that reminds me. She knows that we’re thinking about having kids. It came up the day of the barbeque. Hope you don’t mind.”
“No, that’s fine. Abby is discrete,” she answers. There’s a pause and I feel her chest rise and fall sharply.
“So, have you thought about it?" she asks and there was something in her tone of voice which should have warned me but I blithely answer before it clicks in.
"We have lots of time."
She looks at me and then quickly down but not before I see the conflict. I wait patiently.
"Kim?" she asks tentatively and I can see her stealing herself to cross some line and I realize the line is the scar in our relationship. The one that makes us so hesitant to argue or push each other because the fear of reopening the scar is too great.
"You have lots of time. I don't."
"What do you mean," I ask although it's slowly starting to sink in.
"I'm nearly 45, Kim. If the baby were born today I'd be retiring when he was starting university. I'd be in my seventies at least before he started his family. I'm going to start losing more and more mobility as I get older. I don't want that to be the only memory of me."
I feel, pretty much, like shit.
"Why didn't--" I begin but she shushes me with her fingertips.
"I didn't want to pressure you. But I don't want the choice to slip by."
I take her hand from my mouth, kissing her palm gently. "I'm sorry."
"I don't want to pressure you," she repeats. "But I don't want to be my parents."
I can't answer her right now and she knows that. She accepts that. But I can hold her tight and so I do.
“Bad day, nurse Abby?”
“Just need some bunny time, Foster,” she says, grabbing the rabbit and slouching into a chair.
“Stroke the bunny and answer the question, those are the rules.”
“No problem. You and Randi are okay?”
“I ask the questions but yeah. A slight misunderstanding and we’re good. Or we will be when we have a chance to talk some more.”
“Ask away, Foster.”
“Okay, answer this question straight up and honestly without hesitating or I’ll take the bunny away.”
She smiles warily, cuddles Rocket a bit closer and nods.
“Why did you quit med school?”
“Because everyone told me I’d be a good doctor.” She looks faintly surprised at her answer.
I think that over. “Well, don’t you think you’d be a good doctor? Do you want to be a doctor?”
Her face goes blank. She stands, hands me Rocket and leaves. I stare at the door.
My intercom buzzes and I realize I’ve been staring at the door for about five minutes.
“Dr. Foster speaking.”
“I have a cousin who used to work at the stock yards.”
“That’s nice, Randi.”
“No, actually, it’s pretty lousy. Very noisy and stinks.”
“Okay,” I ask, hoping that she catches the bewilderment in my voice before I have to ask outright.
“Did you know that they use to slaughter the steers by smacking them really hard between the eyes with a frigging big hammer.”
“They still do that?” I ask, slightly bewildered at the conversation.
“Nah, they got a lot of flack.”
I wait patiently but the phone is silent. “Randi?” I prompt.
“What were you and Abby talking about?”
I tell her the basics and decide it’s time to ask outright. “Why? What’s up?”
“Abby looks like she was just smacked really hard between the eyes with a frigging big hammer.”
“Damn, I’ll be right down.”
The emergency department is only lightly chaotic and the admit desk miraculously quiet. Randi merely points to the lounge.
I find Abby there, staring into her locker. She’s got the neatest locker in the joint. A small box on the top shelf, toiletry items and two gym bags.
“You know, I spent so much of my life being in charge that I react badly when people try to take over.”
“They push, you pull.”
“Yeah,” she says, pulling down the box and dumping them onto the table. She begins to divide them into two piles. I’m not prying but it’s pretty easy to see that one pile is all bills and the other are from a Chicago area law firm.
“Ask me, Foster.”
I’m confused. I did just ask her if she was okay when Randi speaks from behind me.
“Abby, you wanna be a doctor?”
“Yeah, Randi, I do.”
“Well, the hours suck, the patients are usually ungrateful slobs, the administration thinks that slavery is still legal and your co-workers are clueless idiots.”
“Yeah. I know,” Abby says, putting one pile of letters into her pocket and the rest back into the box and locker.
“You gotta go to med school forever, mortgage your soul to the banks to pay for it and be in debt until you’re ready to retire.”
She’s exaggerating. God, I hope she’s exaggerating.
“I know, Randi.”
“And you still wanna be a doctor?”
Abby grins. “Hell, yes. Randi, can you book me out on personal business for the rest of my shift? Thanks, Foster.”
I get a quick kiss and she’s gone.
“What did I do, Randi?”
“You done good, Foss.”
“Yeah, but if you could tell me so I could do it again?”
“Nah, that takes the charm out of it.”