Disclaimer: All characters copyright their legal owners.
Story: It's known in the "ER" world that Dr. John Truman Carter had an older brother, Bobby, who died of leukemia as a child. In an early season, Carter said that he also had a sister, who's never been mentioned again. It's generally assumed that this is a continuity error, but this story explores why the Carter family doesn't discuss its youngest member.
Kerry thought there was something familiar about the woman at the desk. She was tall and lithe, had straight dark hair, fair skin, and fine features. She moved in a certain way that Kerry recognized, cocked her head at an angle, and shifted from foot to foot in a way that was quite puzzling; it was an attitude, a form she saw every day, yet she knew she'd never laid eyes on the woman.
"Fill out these forms and wait in chairs..." Jerry repeated, thrusting a clipboard at her.
"I'm not a patient. I'm supposed to meet John Carter here. If you're not going to help me, I'll need to speak to your supervisor..." There was something in her tone that suggested she didn't suffer fools gladly.
"Is there a problem, Jerry?" Kerry asked with the slight undertone that told him to knock off whatever he was doing.
The woman turned with a steely glare, which relaxed into a curious gaze, as she frankly looked Kerry up and down.
"Oh, is this a friend of yours, Dr. Weaver?" Jerry asked.
"I'm Kerry Weaver, Chief of Emergency Medicine." She held out her hand and the woman took it in a firm, cool grip. She held it for a fraction of a second longer than a formal introduction warranted, then smiled.
"I'm Barbara Carter. It's not a medical matter. I'm here to meet my brother. He told me to come by at the end of his shift. If he's busy, I understand, but I'd like to get word to him that I'm here."
"I didn't know Dr. Carter had a sister..." Jerry interjected.
Barbara stepped away from the desk, effectively dismissing him. Kerry tried to mask her surprise. She had a vague recollection of Carter mentioning a sister years ago. He'd told her about his brother Bobby, who'd died when they were children, and she'd met his parents and his grandmother. She tried to stay out of her staff's personal lives, but she had always liked Carter, and had missed him after he moved out of her basement.
"Switzerland..." Kerry dredged up from somewhere. "You were in school?"
"That's right," Barbara replied. "I was there for a few years. Off to boarding school at a tender age as part of the Carter family diaspora...our Johnny kept track of me." While her tone was sarcastic, some warmth slipped into the last phrase. "How's he doing?"
"Very well," Kerry replied. Barbara studied her, as though she expected more. Kerry wondered how much Carter had told his sister about his attack, addiction, rehab and recovery. There was a Carter cousin, Kerry knew, in a nursing home, brain damaged from drug abuse. Carter didn't talk about him either. Would the big brother have told the little sister everything? What did they talk (or not talk) about? "Would you like to wait for John in the lounge?" she asked.
"Is the hospital food as bad as it is everywhere else?" Barbara asked. "I'm famished and even if it's made of sawdust and autopsy leftovers, I could eat it if it's between two slices of bread. Would you point me there?" She aimed a persuasive Carter smile at Kerry, who had to admit she was a stunner. She and her brother shared the same eyes, high forehead and almost delicate manner. While Carter was definitely masculine, his sister had an androgynous quality that fascinated Kerry. Barbara wore her hair short and tousled, and she ran her long-fingered hand through it as she heaved an exaggerated sigh.
"I'll do you one better," Kerry offered. "I'm off now, too. When Dr. Carter is finished, let him know we're at Magoo's, Jerry. It is better than the cafeteria, though not by much," she added to Barbara.
"Have you got your pager, Dr. Weaver?" Jerry inquired. Kerry flinched and instinctively reached for her belt. It was there.
* * *
"I'll have the chopped salad," Barbara told the waitress. "My father recommends it." Barbara fiddled with her watch. "I forgot to set it back," she told Kerry. "I'm still on New York time."
"What do you do there?" Kerry inquired, mentally adding "and with whom?"
"I'm finishing up my degree," Barbara told her. She looked at Kerry as though expecting some kind of challenge. "I'm going for my CSW at the New School."
"That's wonderful," Kerry told her. "Are you going to move back here to practice? County does have some staff positions for social workers if you're here on a job search."
"No, the family can't stand two black sheep in health care professions," Barbara told her lightly. "The shock of John going to medical school hasn't nearly worn off. But at least he's straight and may one day reproduce and perpetuate the Carter name, so he's allowed to live in the state of Illinois." Kerry felt a bolt of anger run through her.
"What kind of parents are they?" she asked. "Parents should
cherish their children. They lost one, almost lost another and they shun the
third? That's ridiculous." She put her hand over Barbara's. Barbara looked
surprised, but didn't move away. She tried to keep up her detached air, but
let it drop, and gave Kerry a look that was painfully sad.
"Did yours?" the younger woman asked. "Cherish you?"
"They did," Kerry admitted. "I don't know how they would have reacted if I'd come out while they were still alive. They were...quite religious. But I hope, at least based on the way they loved me when I was growing up, that they would have come to understand. I just can't see them turning their backs on me."
"Well, John didn't," Barbara said. "Even in the years when everyone hated me, especially when I hated myself, he kept reaching out. He did that."
"What did I do now?" Carter put his hand on Barbara's shoulder and gave her a gentle shake. "It's good to see you," he told her. "Thanks for coming back."
"Oh, I can make it through the big day," she said to him. "My birthday," she told Kerry. "I turn 30 tomorrow, and the trust that was established for the grandchildren expires, and they'll have to hold their noses and give me control over my income. Though if I know Gamma, she'll be fighting it tooth and nail. She'll say I'm mentally deficient or invoke some kind of morality clause. How is the old harridan, anyway?"
"She's walking again, with assistance," Carter said. "She hates her physical therapist. I'm staying with her. Mom is there sometimes. Dad's pretty much missing in action."
"Come to New York and see me," Barbara said.
"I should, shouldn't I?" John replied. Kerry felt as though she were witnessing something quite sad and private, and wasn't sure she should be hearing it.
Barbara tossed her head back and set her jaw. Carter looked like he wanted to hug her. The two of them looked so determined to be brave, though neither of them would ever dream of asking for help. We have that much in common, Kerry thought. She wanted to do something for them.
"Can I invite you both to my house for a drink? To your birthday, Barbara. And Carter, to you seeing your sister again. That's worth celebrating, isn't it?" She rarely entertained. Her overnights were usually at the other woman's house. But Carter was special. She'd sometimes wondered, before she came out, whether her warm feelings for him were a bit of a crush, but she couldn't imagine going to bed with him. His sister on the other hand...
No, she told herself. This is a young woman in pain. She's got a lot going on and it's selfish of me to start thinking...
"Oh Kerry, that is the nicest offer I've had since I got here," Barbara said. "Come on, John, we're going to drink your boss's liquor!"
* * *
John asked for tea when they got to her place. Kerry was relieved. He was still on probation, and if he'd decided to have a drink, she would have had to be the Boss and get medieval on his ass. That was why she wasn't friends with anyone on her staff, she reminded herself. You can't compromise your authority; they might take advantage... well, she wasn't in recovery, so she could have a drink or two. And Barbara joined her in a screwdriver. She bit her tongue when Barbara began to rummage through her CDs. She hated people touching her things.
"Oh! You have quite a collection...Grace Jones! Melissa Ferrick! Hole! I love it..." Barbara said, selecting "Live Through This."
"Go on, take everything, take everything I want you to..." she sang in a ragged voice. She looked at Kerry. "I love this record. It got me through some bad times..."
"I got credit in the straight world...I lost a leg, I lost an eye..." Kerry quoted back at her. She'd spent her own nights blasting that album into her brain, using headphones so the neighbors wouldn't complain.
"Oh, look at John," Barbara said, surprised. Carter had slumped sideways on the couch, gently snoring.
"He just worked a double," Kerry told her. "Sometimes the lack of sleep creeps up on you, and you're out cold, wherever you are."
Barbara looked at him with a tenderness Kerry doubted she'd have shown if he were awake.
"Have you got a blanket or something?" Barbara slipped his shoes off and they eased him into a reclining position. With a deep sigh, Carter relaxed into slumber. Kerry turned off the light and felt Barbara brush against her. She rested her hand lightly on Kerry's back, and followed her into the other room.
"I have an extra blanket here," she said, pulling open her dresser.
"So this is your room," Barbara said, sitting on the bed. "I'll bet you don't bring too many people in here. Not that I mean you don't get any...just that you come off as a very private person."
"Is that a euphemism for 'not well liked'?" Kerry asked. She didn't wait for an answer, but took the blanket to Carter, and draped it over his sleeping form. Barbara was lying on the bed when she came back in, still fully dressed. Kerry wasn't sure what that meant. Lying on the bed was good. Blouse still buttoned was not. At least she had taken her shoes off before putting her feet on the quilt.
"I suppose I should ask if you have a girlfriend," Barbara began.
"I'm not sure if I could tell you," Kerry replied, sitting uncertainly on the edge of the bed. "I've been seeing someone, a firefighter..."
"They're hot..." Barbara said appreciatively. "We don't have so many women firefighters in New York."
"Well, I call her, and she accuses me of being too possessive and needy; then when I don't call, she says I don't pay enough attention to her. Outside of the bedroom, I don't understand one damn thing in the relationship."
"Well, it sounds like you don't have a relationship outside the bedroom, said the newly minted social worker," Barbara deadpanned.
"Please. My first was a psychiatrist..." Kerry said with a wince.
"The point of the matter being," Barbara continued. "I'm not seeing anyone right now, but if you ARE..."
"Oh," Kerry said. "Thanks for clarifying that. If I had to choose, I would say, no, I'm not seeing anyone." She prayed that Sandy wouldn't decide they were on again and stop by.
"My brother always thought you were hot," Barbara announced. Kerry was shocked. "I thought he had a crush on you, and when I called him on it, he got all dignified, you know, the way he does when you totally bust him." Kerry laughed. Carter thought she was hot?
"And what does Carter's sister think?" Kerry asked.
"You're definitely hot. But it's more than that," Barbara said. "There's a goodness to you. When you got mad, about the way my parents treat me, all of a sudden I got the sense I could trust you. That you're strong, and fearless."
"I wish I were," Kerry said, turning away. Barbara sat up and put her arms around Kerry from behind. "I've done some rotten things in my life, I haven't been as good a friend as I could have," Kerry told her. "I'm a good doctor, and until quite recently, that's all I could really count on about myself."
"And I spent a lot of years showing what a bad girl I could be," Barbara said. "I threw away money, and friends, and education, and well, you name it..." She shook her head, and Kerry leaned back and touched her cheek to Barbara's.
"It's all right, honey," she told her. "You can't undo the mistakes."
"That's right, but you can learn from them." Barbara began to unbutton Kerry's blouse. "You say, I can stop hurting people, and find a way to love them. You can stop saying, I'm a freak, and say, I've been given this gift, to appreciate the curve of a woman's breast." She gently cupped Kerry's in her hands. "Mmmm. And you can be thankful when the touch of your hand on a woman's skin sends the most amazing thrill through your body."
"And the two of you look at each other and you know each other, and you take care of each other," Kerry finished for her.
They didn't talk much after that, but Kerry and Barbara found ways to communicate.
* * *
When John woke, it took him a minute to figure out where he was. He didn't
see his sister or Kerry, and wondered if it was too early to wake them up and
get breakfast. He stretched, feeling his back go into a spasm from spending
the night on the sofa. He wondered if Kerry had any Advil. Her bedroom door
was closed, and he gave a light knock. He thought he heard a mumble that could
be "come in," and opened the door. He quickly shut it, then slowly
re-opened it. Kerry was still asleep, one arm thrown over his sister, who snuggled
between Kerry's breasts. Barbara stirred and muttered something, and Kerry pulled
her closer, kissing her hair. He closed the door once more.
He stretched out carefully on the couch again, trying not to jar his back. Barbara and Kerry. Kerry and Barbara. Once he got over the shock, he decided it was kind of cool.
When he'd lived with her, he'd got an idea of how closed off Kerry was, how much of her life revolved around the ER. He thought she was probably quite lonely. When he found out she was gay, he had hoped she might finally find someone. Just as he'd hoped his sister would when she came out to him.
Maybe Barbara would come back to Chicago. He'd like that. They hadn't lived in the same town since they were kids. He missed having a sister.
He wished they'd wake up. He was starving.