Kim turned off the engine, opened her door and nearly staggered backwards from the blast furnace of heat and humidity. God, what a city, she thought not for the first time since she'd moved to Chicago. If the heat doesn't kill you, the snow and cold will. She glanced up and checked the angry sky that was just beginning to churn and darken. There was going to be a storm - a dandy by the looks of it - but they'd get Kerry inside long before that was a problem.
By the time she'd gotten around to the other side of her Jetta, Luka had already opened the rear doors and was gently helping Kerry to slide out.
"You know Luka, you didn't have to take time away from your day off to come and do this," Kerry was saying. Kim rolled her eyes and opened the trunk to get out Kerry's wheelchair. Oh yes he did, she thought. I can lift you from the chair to the bed and back but up those front steps? Not a chance. Maybe in a fireman's carry in a real emergency, but she could pretty much guarantee that nobody was going to enjoy that. Luka helped Kerry shift around so he could pick her up. "I don't mind at all, Kerry," he said and scooped her into his arms as if she were a small child. A small child in a nightgown, a sweater and a bulky cast. "In fact, it's my pleasure." He shut the car door with his hip. "It's not very often I get to sweep a beautiful woman off her feet."
Kim stifled a smile as she set the wheelchair down on the sidewalk. That had shut her up. She made a mental note to ask Luka if he'd been brought up in a family full of sisters, or if they just grew them like him in Croatia.
She jogged ahead of them with Kerry's keys and got the front door open. A blessed breeze of cold air hit her and she thanked God for the earlier inspiration to come over here and turn on the central air before she went to pick Kerry up at County.
Luka and Kerry passed, her tiny arm slung around his neck, and then headed for the living room where Kim had the hospital bed set up.
"This is just ridiculous," Kerry was saying. "I don't need this! I'd be perfectly fine in my own bed."
Kim tagged along beside them, moving objects out of Luka's way, clearing a path for them. "Yeah, except your own bed is upstairs, Kerry and I don't see you managing those stairs for quite some time."
Kerry opened her mouth to argue, suddenly thought better of it and shut it quickly.
He set her gently down on the edge of the bed, then carefully swung her legs around. Kerry collapsed back into the pillows that Kim had arranged, clearly exhausted from the trip home. Her fatigue didn't stop her running apology to Luka, though.
"Here we've taken up your whole morning, Luka," she said, "and you and Abby probably had plans."
"Well, actually," he said as he lifted her cast to prop it on pillows, "Abby was doing laundry this morning."
"Oh," Kerry said. "Well, I'm still sorry we had to bother you to do this."
"Luka," Kim said, "can I offer you something to drink? I made some lemonade earlier."
"Sure, yes," he said, "that would be nice."
"Kerry, how about you?"
"Did I have lemonade in the freezer?" she asked, puzzled.
Kim shook her head. "I got a few groceries."
Again, a war of emotions on Kerry's face. "Yeah, I'll have a glass, thanks."
Luka followed Kim to the kitchen and leaned against the counter as she got out some glasses.
"So," he said. "Are you two going to be all right here?"
Kim laughed softly. "Do you mean will I be all right caring for her catheter, or do you mean will I kill her in her sleep?"
Luka laughed heartily but quietly. "She's not exactly - "
"In her right mind?" Kim offered.
Another deep chuckle. "I was going to say `herself,' but your description is good, too."
Kim got the pitcher from the fridge and poured lemonade into the glasses. "She's had a rough few months and then this ... it's not surprising that she's a little bent out of shape."
"Ah, is that a psychiatric term, `bent out of shape?'"
Kim smiled. "Actually it is. I'm proposing that it be in the next DSM, along with `crazy as a loon'."
She handed Luka his lemonade and they drank greedily.
"Many people don't realize that Kerry is a very passionate woman," Luka said. "They don't see past her exterior at work. She's a very complex person actually. I think even she hasn't made it through all the layers." He studied his ice cubes as if they were telling him secrets.
Kim cocked her head and looked at him. "I think you're right on all counts."
He lifted his eyes. "She was very much in love with you," he said, matter of factly.
A slow, sad smile grew on Kim's lips. "She talked to you about ... us?"
He nodded, gulped some more lemonade. "She didn't say a lot, but it was significant coming from her."
"It's been ... difficult," Kim said. "I'm not sure where we stand with each other anymore."
Luka drained his glass and crunched a tiny piece of ice. "Well," he said, "you're here, aren't you?"
Kim said nothing for a long moment, then nodded. "Yeah, I am."
Luka grabbed Kerry's glass. "I'll bring this in to the patient, if you would pour me another glass."
He headed off to the living room while Kim got the pitcher out again and refilled his glass.
He was right. She was here. She wanted to be here, with Kerry, taking care of her. But that wasn't the problem now, was it?
She walked Luka to the door some time later, after he'd said his goodbyes to Kerry.
"Are you sure I can't drive you?" Kim said.
"No, I'm fine. I'll just hop on the El," he said.
"All right, if you're certain," Kim said. "Thanks a lot for the help today. We couldn't have done this without you."
"My pleasure," he said, with a genuine smile. He reached down and gave Kim a quick hug. "Take care and call if you need anything."
She let him out and watched him trot down the front steps, then she shut the door and leaned against it.
Well, she thought, and she just stood there, soaking in the familiarity of being in Kerry's house again. The faint smell of furniture polish and cinnamon - a pot pourri somewhere, maybe. A few of Kerry's coats neatly hung in the closet beside her. And the unmistakable feeling of Kerry in everything. She had thought she would never be here again, standing at this door again. Living together again, however briefly.
Some little voice in the back of her mind fluttered and fussed and let her know that it was a foolish and dangerous thing to let herself feel too good about this. She thought for a moment, and then told the voice to shut up, because she really wasn't interested.
Kerry was cradling her sore ribs and craning her neck to look around her living room when Kim reappeared.
"Where did all these flowers come from?" she asked.
"Well, let's see," Kim said, flopping down in a chair beside her bed. She pointed to the coffee table. "Those over there are from the doctors in the ER, and the bigger bunch beside it are from the nurses."
"That figures," Kerry said. "They couldn't even agree on one arrangement."
"The chrysanthemums are from Romano."
Kerry snorted. "You're kidding, right?"
Kim raised an eyebrow. "Do you think I would kid about Romano?"
"They look like hell. Did somebody drop them?"
Kim examined her nails. "Actually, I did. On your front steps. Twice."
"Oh no," Kim said. "Completely by accident. Although as a psychiatrist I feel compelled to point out the rather obvious psychological undertones in that situation."
"Uh hunh," Kerry said. "What about those roses over there? They're beautiful."
"Those are from Carter," Kim said as she got up and crossed the room. "And so is this." She lifted a large basket that was filled to overflowing with fruit, cheese, smoked sausages, pate, pickled artichoke hearts, a bottle of champagne and a number of other items. She brought it over for Kerry to look at. "The card said, `Dr. Weaver, save the champagne for last, Carter.'"
Kerry ran her fingers over everything and Kim thought she saw a swell of tears in her eyes.
She put the basket back and then stuck her hands in the back pockets of her shorts. "Listen, Ker, I hate to be the warden, but it's been a while since we drained your catheter."
"Yeah, about that," Kerry said and Kim saw it coming.
"No," Kim said. "We had a deal."
"But it's ridiculous. You can just put me in the chair and I can manage in the bathroom myself."
"No. Anspaugh said you are not to get out of that bed for three solid days, minimum. Count down the hours if you like. You can be on the catheter or on a bedpan, I don't care which, but you're not getting out of that bed."
"Do you treat your patients this way?" Kerry asked.
"Only when they're wrong and being stubborn about it," Kim said. "I'll go get a fresh nightgown for you then we'll empty it. Is there any nightgown in particular that you'd like?"
Kerry sighed and sunk into the pillows. For a second, Kim saw the depth of the sadness that was there and she lost her breath. And nearly her resolve.
"It doesn't matter," Kerry said. "They're all pretty much the same."
"Okay," Kim said and she headed for the stairs.
God this was going to be a long day.
Kim checked the level in the catheter bag, then drained it. She had a feeling Anspaugh was going to call and demand a status report and she intended to give a detailed one. She wasn't going to let him muscle Kerry back into the hospital on a technicality when Kerry so clearly wanted to be at home.
Kerry was subdued and curiously silent while Kim helped her to sit up and slip off her sweater and nightgown. She sat there on the edge of the bed, naked and exposed, slightly hunched as if she was trying to hide at least some part of herself from Kim.
Kim had to smother a gasp when she saw Kerry's bruises. Her biceps, her forearms, her legs, her torso ... every part of her seemed to be covered with furious purple and black bruises. The enormity of what Kerry had suffered hit her anew and made her chest tighten. She couldn't let Kerry see this so she slammed her best clinical face into place and tossed the old nightgown aside. The clean nightgown was a comfortable lived-in old flannel one and she carefully slipped it over Kerry's head and arms. She settled her back into place, fixed her pillows and covered her up. Kerry's face was without expression.
Kim glanced at her watch. "It's almost time for your next dose of Percocet. Would you like me to get it?"
Kerry shook her head.
"Are you sure?" Kim asked. "You've hardly taken any. You're well under the maximum dose."
"No, that's fine," Kerry said and Kim had that sudden feeling that she was alone in the room again.
"All right," she said. "Well, I'll let you rest. I'll be in the next room if you want anything, okay? Just holler."
There was no reply.
Kim waited a few seconds and then quietly left.
Six o'clock found Kim sitting at the kitchen table, where she'd been all afternoon, labouring over the same paragraph she'd started at two. Her thoughts were scattered and confused. Her mind bounced around like some sugared-up little kid from work, to Kerry, to what Luka had said, through the past six months and usually back to Kerry again. When she saw the time, she sighed, tossed her pen on the heap of work she'd spread all over the table and decided she should rustle up some dinner.
She found her way around Kerry's kitchen easily. Every pan, every spatula, every bowl was exactly where she knew it would be and that cozy almost home feeling enveloped her again.
She chopped a green pepper into chunks, then some mushrooms and a pair of scallions. She'd cooked quite a few meals here, some with Kerry and some alone, trying to time the completion of the latter with Kerry's unpredictable time of arrival from work. Usually they'd eat in the dining room with the lights low and candles lit, a sultry John Coltrane CD playing in the background. By the end of the meal they were sated by the food but so hungry for each other that the foreplay started while they were clearing dishes. She smiled at the memory of one truly remarkable night when they hadn't made it to Kerry's bedroom at all.
But that was then.
She beat some eggs, grated some cheese and within fifteen minutes, she was placing two steaming fluffy omelets onto plates. She put Kerry's plate on a bed tray, with cutlery, a napkin and a big glass of milk then carefully maneuvered her way into the living room.
"Here you go," Kim said, settling the tray around Kerry's legs. "I'll bring you your antibiotics and your anti-inflammatories in a minute. Is there anything else you want?"
Kerry shook her head. "No, this is fine, thanks."
Kim returned to the kitchen where she counted out the pills and grabbed her own plate and glass. By then, Kerry was nibbling at the edge of her omelet. "It's good," she said.
"Great," Kim said, handing Kerry the small pile of pills. "I'm glad you like it."
She plopped down into the chair beside Kerry's bed and balanced her plate on her knees. Suddenly, she felt Kerry's eyes on her. She looked up.
"What?" she said.
Kerry looked away. "No, it's nothing, never mind."
"No, Kerry, what is it? What were you going to say?"
Kerry steeled herself. "I think I need a little more time alone."
"Alone?" Kim repeated.
"Like, right now?" Kim asked, eyes wide.
"Oh," Kim said and she glanced down at her plate. "So, you'd like me to leave you alone?"
"If you don't mind," Kerry said and there was no expression on her face.
Kim took a deep breath. "All right. If that's what you'd like." She picked up her plate, grabbed her glass and headed for the kitchen. "Call if you need anything," she said over her shoulder.
She plunked her plate down on the table and then looked at her milk for a long moment. With a little shake of her head, she put the glass back in the fridge and grabbed the bottle of white wine from the door. She poured a large glass and sat down to eat her dinner.
She ate, mechanically forking pieces of egg and cheese into her mouth and chewing, tasting nothing, staring into the middle distance, thinking.
She was not going to let herself get pushed away this easily.
She listened to Charlie Parker and his pals jamming softly while she did the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen. When she returned to the living room, Kerry was staring into the retreating darkness.
"Hey," Kim said, leaning on the bed, "you know a bath might make you feel better."
Kerry rolled her head to look at her. "The tub is upstairs."
"I didn't mean a tub bath. I meant a sponge bath," Kim said. "I was thinking I could bring a basin and we could wash your hair, too if you wanted." She reached out a hand to touch the disheveled red tresses and Kerry drew away slightly.
"I'm fine," Kerry said.
Kim pulled together a calm tone. "Ker, it's really no trouble and I think it would make you feel better."
"I'm too tired for it tonight," Kerry said. "In fact, I was thinking of turning in soon."
Kim nodded and bit her lip. "Are you sure you don't want to have just a little wash?"
Kerry shook her head. "If you'd just get me my pain killers, I'd be fine."
Kim reluctantly fetched the pills and some water, then stood there watching while Kerry took them. She did look exhausted, Kim thought. Maybe a good sleep was what she needed.
She turned off the lights in the living room then wished her a good night.
Kerry mumbled a reply and Kim paused at the door, Kerry's name on her lips, suddenly wanting to cry.
She stayed there for a while, then went to make up her bed.
Kerry lay in the darkness, listening to the thunderstorm that was pounding the heavens. She'd slept for a few hours but now the Percocet had worn off and her leg was aching viciously. She doubted sleep was going to come again before dawn, not without some chemical help and she was damned if she was going to call for Kim. So she lay there listening to thunder and trying not to think about the pain.
This had turned out to be even worse than she'd thought it would, stuck here in such close quarters, having to hear the sound of her voice and listen to the rhythm of her footsteps all day. Worst of all was that every time Kerry so much as glanced at her, all she could see was the look that Kim had given her when she'd spotted her in the hallway, a hundred years ago. Was it contempt? Disgust? Impatience? Maybe some combination of all of those.
To have her here now, acting like this, like she actually cared whether Kerry lived or died. It made her sick with embarrassment.
Somewhere nearby, in an adjacent room, there was a rustle of covers and a tiny whimper. Kerry held her breath and listened past the sound of pelting rain. The whimper again and mumbled words. Fear and hurt and panic. Kim was having a nightmare.
Kerry remembered a particularly bad one she'd had, one of the first nights they'd been together. She had woken Kerry with her tossing and her muted cries and then she had suddenly gasped and sat up, breathless. Kerry had held her, had felt Kim's heart pounding against Kerry's breasts, had stroked her head until she lay down again and went back to sleep. In the morning, neither of them had spoken of it - Kerry wondered if Kim even remembered it.
A long roll of thunder and then a hoarse cry of fear from the other room. Kerry reflexively sat up, started to go to her, then chuckled at her own stupidity and lay back. She wasn't going far on these legs. She listened, stomach tight, for the next whimper, but none came. Instead, a whisper of blankets and then the quietest of footsteps.
Kerry watched the door to her office at the far end of the living room, saw a shadow appear there. It tiptoed silently across the room and as it passed by the sliding glass door, lightning flashed and lit the figure, spotlighting her tousled mane of hair. She was wearing a t-shirt and nothing else and Kerry watched her progress towards the kitchen. What had she ever been thinking, letting herself get involved with someone like Kim? Or more to the point, what could she have thought someone like Kim would ever see in her? Kim was so beautiful it took her breath away and even with hammering pain in her leg and this goddamn catheter stuck in her, the simple sight of her walking across her living room partly naked made Kerry wet. She had been out of her league from the start and she should have known it.
"Can't sleep?" Kerry asked and Kim leaped.
"Jesus, Kerry!" she said, one hand on her chest. "You scared me half to death."
"Sorry," Kerry said.
"How long have you been awake?"
"Need something for the pain?"
Kerry sighed. "Yeah, I guess so."
She listened to the quiet clinking of glasses in the kitchen for a while. Kim returned with two glasses and a vial of pills. She handed Kerry one glass and shook out the pills for her.
Kerry popped them in her mouth and swallowed. "What's this obsession you have with milk suddenly?"
Kim curled up in a chair and wrapped a throw from the couch around her legs. "Calcium for your leg," she said. "But I did give you chocolate this time."
Kerry shrugged and took another sip.
"So what was the nightmare about?" she asked.
The silence spoke volumes.
"How did you know I had a nightmare?"
"I heard you. And I know what your nightmares sound like."
"Yeah, I suppose you do, " Kim said.
"So? What was it about?"
Kim sipped her chocolate milk and debated lying. Finally she sighed. "It was about the other day in the hallway. When you were attacked."
"A little post-traumatic stress, probably. I wouldn't be surprised if you had some aftershocks, too."
Kerry looked into the darkness and was silent. Lightning lit the room suddenly making everything look flat and lifeless.
After a while, Kim said, "I don't know if this is the best time, but I think we need to talk."
"Yes, I think we do, too."
Kim sat up a little. "You do?"
"Yes. I think it's time I make myself clear. I really don't need anyone taking care of me."
"Trust me, Ker, you've been making that point more than clear for a couple of days now."
"All right, then you can leave in the morning."
Kim put her glass down and sat straight up. "Pardon?"
"I have a broken leg, I'm not a quadriplegic. This is ridiculous. Everyone's overreacting."
"Kerry, listen to me. They had to put your leg back together like Humpty Dumpty. You cannot put any weight on it for several more weeks, not to mention the threat of swelling and infection. You're so frail and battered that I doubt you could get yourself into that wheelchair on your own, let alone lift yourself onto the toilet without help. Your clothes and the bathtub are upstairs, you can't go get your prescriptions and since changing your nightgown exhausts you, I seriously doubt you're going to be able to cook. On top of that, and remember I am speaking professionally now, you're still in shock, you're in pain and I'd bet my next two paychecks that you're starting to slide into a depression. Now what part of that do you think is an over reaction?"
Kerry glared at her in the darkness and Kim could actually feel it. "Are you through?" Kerry asked.
Kim sank back into her chair, blowing out a frustrated breath. "For now."
"All right. None of you know what you're talking about, not you, not Anspaugh, not Luka. I am not an idiot. I know how to treat this leg, I know how to dose myself and I know how to drain and change a catheter, not that I need one. You're all gravely underestimating me. I've coped with much worse than this for most of my life. I don't need your help."
Kim rubbed her forehead wearily and wished there was something else in this milk besides chocolate syrup. She took a long breath and let it out slowly.
"Kerry," she said, her voice as soft and unthreatening as she could make it with her heart hammering in her chest, "it's not such a terrible thing to need some help."
"All I need is to be left alone," Kerry said.
"Kerry, come on - "
"Kim, I appreciate that you see things differently, but it's my leg, my life, my responsibility. I'd like you to leave in the morning."
Kim sat there in the darkness, mouth open.
"You're not serious," she said when she finally located her voice.
"I am serious," Kerry replied. "I just want to be by myself."
Kim shook her head in disbelief. "Do you really hate me that much Kerry?" she asked.
"I don't hate you."
"Could've fooled me."
"This isn't about you. I just want to be alone right now."
"What about Luka or Abby? Or maybe Carter?" Kim said. "If you don't want me around, maybe one of them could drop in on you, spend the night ..."
Kerry shook her head vehemently. "No. I can manage. I'll be fine."
Kim threw up her hands. "Fine. If that's what you want, then fine," she said. "Cause I can't fight with you anymore and I sure as hell can't stand around and watch you do this to yourself because, although you might not want to hear this right now, Kerry, I do care about you."
She grabbed her glass and strode through the living room shadows to Kerry's den, where she'd made her bed.
Kerry watched her go, watched the light from outside cast shadows down her long naked legs and hated herself.
Kim lay on her sofa, a pillow scrunched under her head and Stephen King's latest hardcover in her hands. She was staring at page 57 and had been doing so for over an hour now. She couldn't seem to stay focused quite long enough to get to page 58.
Most of the day had been that way. When she'd gotten home that morning, she'd embarked on a furious round of housecleaning, scrubbing surfaces and restoring order to books, mail, bills and cupboards. It had taken her twice as long as usual to complete each task, because usually partway through, she found herself involved in some passionate internal debate, sometimes with Kerry, sometimes with her own better nature. Then she'd suddenly realize that she was standing in the bathroom with rubber gloves and a toilet brush, talking to herself and she'd give herself a mental shake and hunker down to work again.
And so it went.
By suppertime, she'd picked up the phone a dozen times - to call Anspaugh, to call Luka, even to call Kerry although she was pretty sure that Kerry didn't really want to talk to her.
She knew she shouldn't have left her alone but even after a daylong argument with herself, she hadn't been able to come up with any alternatives. Kerry was, after all, a grown up (present behaviour excepted, she thought) and she had a right to make decisions for herself, even if they were stupid, self-destructive decisions. And there was not a single thing Kim could do about it.
She tackled page 57 again, convinced that this was the time she was going to get through it.
She was asleep in ten minutes.
It was well after midnight when the phone rang. Kim sat up quickly, dropping her book with a heavy thud. She glanced around frantically for the phone, disoriented from sleep and fatigue, finally found it on the coffee table under the newspaper.
A strange silence, punctuated by gasps and quiet noises.
"Hello!" Kim said again. "Who is this?"
A sob echoed in Kim's ear and even through miles of fiber optic cables, she recognized the voice.
"Kerry?" she said and she was on her feet, pacing. "Kerry, is that you? What's the matter, babe?"
Uncontrollable crying on the other end. Kim's stomach seized. "Kerry, I need you to talk to me. What happened? Are you all right?"
Laboured breathing and strangled sobs. "I - I - fell."
Kim's heart leaped into her mouth. "Oh God," she said. "Oh God. I'll be right there. Don't move. Don't do anything."
She threw down the phone and raced to her front door, jammed her feet into a pair of sneakers, grabbed her keys and flew out the door.