Abby walks into the lounge to find Kim standing in middle of the room, eyes staring straight ahead, the glint of silver arcing through the air around her.
"What the hell are you doing now?"
"Juggling knives." Kim's voice is flat and serious, her gaze never straying. She's wearing a silver shirt that matches the glint in the air, and the way the fabric catches and reflects the light as she moves gives her torso a convincingly metallic sheen. Her short blond curls, staticky and loose, float in the air around her head, and it occurs to Abby as she watches her that this woman might truly be magic.
She shakes her head slightly and does her best to squelch the thought as soon as it rises.
"This is a really interesting idea," she says. "When people feel like pulling stupid stunts which might result in deep lacerations and rapid blood loss they should come do it in the emergency room and save everyone some trouble." Abby sits down on the edge of the couch and leans forward with her elbows on her knees, chin cupped in her open palms, and continues to watch the blades flash in a rapid circle in tandem with the small motions of Kim's hands. "One time on tv I saw a guy stop a fan with his tongue."
Kim smiles and bites her lip. Her shoulders shake slightly with laughter, and the rhythm begins to falter along with her air of mysteriousness and invincibility. She lets the knives fall into her open palms, takes a deep breath, and finally stands still.
"Wait a minute," Abby says, "let me see those."
Kim holds them up.
"They're butter knives!"
"Of course," Kim says. "I'm not stupid. I already told you that."
Bent on further dismantling the other woman's crumbling veneer of bright perfection, Abby asks her next question without blinking or missing a beat. "Were you surprised when you found out she was with another woman?"
Kim stares at her, her expression of bland friendliness quickly turning to one of surprise and anger. "That's none of your business, Abby!" she says, practically spitting the words. "Why do you even care? It has nothing to do with you!"
"I'm just trying to figure out what makes you tick, Kimmie. So I can more effectively defend myself."
Kim releases an exasperated huff of breath and sets the knives down on the table beside her. "Enough fighting," she says. Holding her arms out straight, palms up, she claps her hands loudly together, then moves her arms to her sides and shakes her sleeves vigorously. "See? No weapons."
Abby is reclining on the couch now, arms crossed in front of her, feet propped up on the edge of a yellow plastic mop bucket. "What about your pant legs."
Kim reaches down and pulls the slick, black fabric up to her knees, revealing the lovely definition of her sleek, well muscled calves, then lets it cascade back down to her ankles.
Abby shrugs and Kim drops ungracefully onto the other side of the couch.
"You know what I think?" Abby says.
"I'd take a guess, but the thought terrifies me." Kim's voice is sullen.
"I think you do all of these things, the smoke rings and juggling and magic tricks, to divert attention from yourself. So everyone will look at you, but not really see you. It's just another kind of trick. Smoke and mirrors. Slight of hand."
Kim looks at the other woman. Her eyes are still angry, but a smile plays dangerously across her lips. "One of my magician friends says that it's best to do tricks in the dark," she says. "Because then it's not about fooling people. Then you really have to believe in the magic."
"Hmmmmm." Abby narrows her eyes as if deep in thought. "So, were you surprised?"
Kim sighs heavily, realizing that she's once again failed to divert Abby's attention. "Yeah, Abby. I was surprised, ok? In fact, it might have been the biggest shock of my life. There, happy now?"
"Why would that make me happy? It's got nothing to do with me."
"Damn right." Kim says. "And don't you forget it."
Kim stays tense and staring at Abby for a few more moments, then relaxes back onto the couch. "Don't you have work to do or something?"
"Nope. My shift just ended."
"So you're hanging out with me...why? Because you enjoy my company?"
"Yeah. Is that ok?"
Kim looks nonplussed, still geared up for an argument. "I guess so."
"Just out of curiosity, Kim, how many 'magician friends' do you have, anyway?"
"A few..." Kim says vaguely, her expression evasive.
The door swings open and Kerry walks in, leaning heavily on her crutch and heading straight for her locker. She runs through the combination in a few, practiced flips of her wrist, hangs her lab coat and her stethoscope on a hook, pulls on her light jacket, then retraces her steps and settles onto the couch between the other two women, her crutch propped against her knees.
"Almost ready to go, Babe?" Kim asks, smiling at her gently.
"Yeah, I just need to sit here for a minute," Kerry says, letting her eyes close.
"'Babe,'" Abby says. "That's so cute!"
"Zip it, Abby."
"Yes, ma'am. Sorry."
"Hey, by the way, great job with that kid today--the jumper. You have good instincts, dealing with children. You'd make a great mom." Kerry's voice as she says this is suddenly soft, almost shy. Kim is always amazed by how quickly she can turn the corner from bitchy to bashful. Kerry pats Abby on the knee.
"Thank you, Dr. Weaver."
"What were you two yelling about anyway," she asks. "I could hear you all the way from the admit desk."
"NOTHING," they say loudly, in unison.
Glancing from side to side, Kerry sees Abby smiling at Kim and Kim glaring at Abby and realizes she's caught in some sort of emotional cross-fire. She decides to ignore it. "Whatever," she says. "Let's go, Kim. I'm starving."
The door whips open and Randi sticks her head in. She takes in the sight of the three women sitting on the couch and smiles. "Wow, diva council in session. Hi, Dr. Legaspi."
Randi's posture shifts minutely as she switches into business mode. "Dr. Weaver there's been a drive-by shooting. Three victims, ETA 5 minutes. Kovac is taking care of setting up the trauma rooms, but the cops are here, and they're giving me the creeps. Will you talk to them?"
"Word is it's the mob." Randi's eyes widen in excitement.
Kerry sighs. "Ok, I'll be out in a second." Randi's head disappears.
"The mob?" Abby says, her voice incredulous.
"It's probably just a rumor, but the press will be all over it. And Luka will need the extra pair of hands."
"You really have to stay, Kerry?" They haven't spent time together in five days. Kim is sure that, after hearing Tommy's voice on the phone this morning, Kerry is at least suspicious if not outright angry, and she's anxious to clear the air, but Kerry nods, apologetic. Kim reaches behind her back, pulls out a plastic wrapped packet and holds it out to her. "PBJ on whole wheat. Eat it."
"Wow," Kerry says. "My favorite." She cranes her neck for a moment, brow furrowed, trying to see behind Kim's back, but she takes the offered sandwich. "Thanks."
"Dr. Weaver, do you need me to stay?"
"That's ok, Abby. I think we can handle it." She turns back to Kim, runs her fingers lightly through her shortened hair and traces a finger along the silver collar of her shirt. "You look really nice."
"Thanks," Kim says. When Abby sees the look on Kim's face, she averts her eyes.
Kerry pulls herself to her feet. "I hope I won't be too long, but I really have no idea."
Kim gestures toward Abby. "We'll go get ourselves a drink and wait for you. How about that?"
Kerry nods distractedly as she walks out the door, her mouth full of sandwich.
The two women, left alone again, eye each other from their opposite ends of the couch. "Truce?" Kim says.
Abby shrugs. "Yeah, sure. Why not."
"What are you drinking."
Kim has led them to an old lair of hers in the neighborhood of County General, a place dim and smoky enough to seem vaguely seedy, but also open and airy enough that when Kerry joins them later, she won't make them leave. Not immediately, at least. Kim waves over a waiter. "A gin and tonic and a club soda, please." Then turns back to Abby.
"So, how's your mom?"
Abby is sitting sideways in her chair and leaning against the dark wood-paneling behind her. Her legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles, her head thrown back and resting against the wall, the stretched cords of her neck pale beneath her dark profile, she exudes a studied air of both relaxation and boredom.
"Still nuts. But better than she used to be," she says without moving. "I never had a chance to say it before, but thank you."
"She did the work."
"That's what you people always say."
"And it's the truth."
"You didn't have to stay in touch with her, but you did."
Kim shrugs. "Do you two talk much?"
"Do you get up to visit her very often?"
"I'd rather not talk about it, if you don't mind."
"Ok. How's John?"
Abby swivels her head around to look at Kim now, and takes a few seconds to answer. "To be honest, Kim, I can't just chat with you about my life without feeling like I'm being psychoanalyzed. I'm sorry, but it makes me feel really paranoid and defensive." She straightens in her chair and turns to face Kim, pulls a pack of cigarettes out of her black leather hand-bag and shakes one out. "So let's talk about you."
"That's proven to be a much safer subject."
"More fun, anyway."
"Glad you think so." The waiter comes and deposits their drinks. As Kim squeezes juice from a lime wedge into her glass and stirs, she watches Abby light the cigarette. Noticing the hitch in her breath as she holds the smoke in her lungs, then the long sigh of release, she thinks a single word: addict.
"So how's the psych business treating you?" Abby asks, trying hard not to watch Kim lick the lime juice off her fingers.
"I do alright for myself."
"Private practice, right?"
"Yeah. I charge top dollar for the service of dolling out anti-depressants to rich people who think their lives suck so I can do some free sessions with people who really need it."
"That's pretty harsh, isn't it? 'Rich people who think their lives suck...'"
Kim has a quick flash of John Carter and regrets having been so flip. "More specifically, I've managed to get myself a pretty serious following at city hall."
"Getting mixed up in Chicago politics. Wow. Juggling knives is nothing. You're even braver than I thought."
"Not politics. Politicians. And brave might not be as true a word as greedy. I also have a good working relationship with the Chicago PD. I get referrals from them."
"Talking down jumpers, soothing the nerves of burnt out cops, stuff like that?"
Kim sighs. "It's not that interesting, and I really shouldn't talk about it."
"Seems like we're running out of topics."
Kim glances up at Abby, then takes a long pull from her drink. "So...did you know her?"
She doesn't have to explain who she means. Abby knows immediately, as if their conversation in the lounge had never ended. She gives Kim a long look, then shakes her head warily. "Let's talk some more about you."
"Did you know her?" Kim says, more demand in her voice this time.
Abby sighs and relents. "Not very well. We talked sometimes at work, and once or twice socially."
"You spent time with Sandy and Kerry outside of work?"
"Just a few times, at parties. With lots of other people. But we always seemed to end up talking."
"What was she like?"
Abby tips her head for a moment, thinking. "She was strong. And stubborn. Self-confident to a fault."
"Sounds familiar. They had a good relationship, though?"
"Why don't you ask her about this?"
"It's proving to be a difficult subject to broach."
"Good old Dr. Weaver. 'Inscrutable' is one of the two words most commonly used to describe her."
"What's the other one?"
"They seemed to have a pretty good thing together, yeah," Abby continues, "but I honestly didn't have much of a chance to observe. Everyone wondered what they had in common, other than the tough, bitchy thing, but then they wonder the same thing about the two of you."
Kim raises a single eyebrow.
"Sandy could be very friendly, though--outgoing, and some of that seemed to rub off on Weaver, at least for awhile. She seemed pretty happy at first. But they had their share of hard times. The miscarriage was really hard on both of them."
"Miscarriage?" Kim repeats, eyes wide, a tone of alarm in her voice. "They were planning to have kids? Sandy got pregnant?"
"Oh my God, she hasn't told you." Abby visibly blanches. "I should definitely not be talking to you about this. I'm pretty sure this is the kind of thing you go to hell for."
"It wasn't Sandy."
Kim is quiet for a moment, absorbing the implication of this statement.
"Kerry was pregnant."
Abby just nods.
"And she lost the baby."
"Good God," Kim breaths, dragging her fingers through her hair. "How many pieces are there to pick up?"
Abby takes a long drink of her club soda and wipes her mouth with her hand. "Why don't you try starting with when she was a kid and her own mother ditched her?"
"I'll assume that's a rhetorical question." Kim thunks one of her bony elbows down on the table top, props her chin on a balled fist, and stares grimly at a beam of light that streaks through the blue cloud of smoke just behind Abby's shoulder.
"That day--the day of the accident--the fire.... County was the closest trauma center, and they brought all those kids to us. A few of them were in bad shape--burns and smoke inhalation, but they all survived. She was already gone, though. They lost her on site. I thought of it as a small, small blessing, that she didn't have to watch her die or feel like she should have been able to save her. It was a terrible day. When the news came down...." Abby shakes her head, remembering.
Kim runs an unsteady hand through her hair. Abby notices the tremor and guesses what she's thinking.
"It's hard, isn't it? not to see the faces of everyone you love in a situation like that?"
Kim just nods.
"We were swamped--it was one of the craziest days I've ever seen. You know how some days just feel really busy, but other days feel frantic?"
"She tried to stay and work till the end of her shift, to help out. She was clearly in so much pain, I could barely look at her, but she held it together. Then Sandy's sister came, and she lost it."
Abby gazes at her half-smoked cigarette with a thoughtful expression, then stubs it out in the ash tray. "You know, Kim, she's not like you." She says this calmly, a simple statement. Kim gives her a questioning look, brow furrowed.
"It might seem to be an obvious thing to say, and you're the mental health expert here so maybe I shouldn't have to tell you, but I'm not sure you realize it." She swirls her glass and the ice jangles. "I mean, I know things were hard for you, with Romano and all. It was an awful situation, and totally unfair--I can't even imagine what it would feel like to be falsely accused of being a child molester," as she says this, her mind stumbles over the thought, her voice over the words. She looks at Kim and shakes her head helplessly, knowing she can't apologize for the state of the entire world.
Understanding her hesitation, Kim tips her head, giving her permission to continue.
"But even then, even when things were that bad, even while you were being treated like a criminal instead of the really great doctor you are, did you ever think you wouldn't be ok? That you wouldn't be able to find other people who would accept you? Have you ever felt like you don't have enough friends--or any? When you two broke up, did it ever cross your mind that you might have to spend the rest of your life alone? Do you ever have those kinds of fears? Because my guess is, and I admit that I'm totally guessing here--but my guess is that those are fears she has lived with her whole life. Loneliness and rejection. People staring at her, and not because she's beautiful. You're so perfect." Abby says the word like an insult. "You run marathons, for Christ sake, and she's a gimp. You probably think you can have anyone you want, and it's usually probably true. You can be reckless and take stupid risks and everything turns out fine, because most people will forgive you, and even if they don't, there's always someone else who'll give you a chance. Well, things aren't that easy for other people."
"'Other people.'" Kim repeats. "Are you talking about Kerry or yourself?"
Abby doesn't falter as Kim attempts to change directions. "Ok, sure, let's talk about me for a minute. What did you think you were doing--touching my hair, touching my cheek, pulling roses out of thin air for my amusement." Abby mimics these actions with her own hands. "What was that about, anyway? Did you think that you could flirt with me and have fun toying with me, and then what? maybe steal a few kisses on the roof? Or did you actually think we'd end up in bed together? What were you thinking, Kim?"
Kim sits impassively through the verbal assault, her face revealing nothing. "I'm sorry, Abby, if I made you uncomfortable. I apologize."
Abby just shakes her head. "You're not going to admit to anything, are you?"
"Is it possible you might be overreacting?" Abby matches her glare for glare as they sit in silence. Kim tries a different tactic. "Listen, I love Kerry very much, and I appreciate your looking out for her. Even if you're trying to protect her from me. Which you really don't have to do."
"I'm trying to protect myself."
Kim remains calm, the expression on her face compassionate, sincere. "Protect yourself from what, Abby? From me or from your own feelings?"
Abby looks away, her tone turning suddenly conversational. "I ran into her the other day at Doc Magoo's--Weaver. She thanked me for being your friend."
"Why are you afraid of me?"
"She said I should call her 'Kerry.'" Abby chuckles at the sound of the name on her own lips.
"What's the real story here?"
"She said it was hard for you to come back to the hospital."
"What is this really about?"
"Said you were nervous, and I made it easier by being so 'nice' to you."
"Abby, why are you so angry?"
"She feels protective of you. It's ridiculous..."
"Do you really think you can tell every goddamn thing there is to know about me just by looking at me?"
Kim's voice is still quiet, but now it's also rough with hostility. She's leaning forward and staring directly across the table, her glare as dark and venomous as it is freezing cold.
Abby imagines she can hear the delicate snap of over-taxed nerves as Kim loses her temper. Everything before this was friendly banter, she thinks. This is fighting. She strikes a match, breaths another cigarette to life and exhales the smoke so that it drifts slowly across the table toward Kim.
"So what's she like in bed?"
"Ok, we're done here." Kim places her palms flat on the table top and pushes herself to her feet, but then just stands there unmoving.
"Because I've noticed that she's pretty good with her hands...."
"If you decide you want to deal with that anger of yours, Abby, let me know, and I'll give you a referral."
"Great avoidance, shrink."
Kim hesitates, then sits down again. For a second, she holds her head in her hands. "I don't want to argue. Can we please not argue?"
"Why is it so important to you that we get along?"
Kim thinks of what Kerry said in the park, the clatter of the paper kite in the wind, the still-frame image of Abby that flashed through her mind. She holds out her hand, fingers parted. Abby passes her the lit cigarette and fishes another one out for herself. Kim settles the cigarette between her lips, then strikes a match and holds it up. Abby leans into the flame, inhaling.
"When she comes undone in my arms, it's the most wonderful feeling in the world," Kim says as she shakes the match and it sputters out. "She's the most extraordinary person I've ever met. I tried to forget about her, but I couldn't. And then I thought I'd lost her forever."
"Wow." Abby says, looking genuinely abashed. "Ok. That's honesty."
"Yeah, Abby, surprise--I have real feelings. And you know what? They're not always good."
Abby shakes her head. "That's not what I said."
"I know what you said," Kim says with quiet intensity. "I heard you."
She taps the cigarette over the silver ash tray, trying to still a lingering tremor in her hand, then continues.
"You want a little bit of insight into what it's like to be me? Ok, yeah, it's true, I was nervous coming back to County. As a matter of fact, that first day you saw me, I was so scared my legs were shaking. I knew everyone was staring at me--and not because I'm beautiful." She shoots Abby an angry look. "I felt so defeated by everything that happened there. Everything." She takes a quick drag from her cigarette, blows a single, perfect smoke ring, then fans it to pieces with her own hand. "I guess it's my way of capturing back a little bit of power in a situation like that."
Abby gives her a questioning look.
"Oh." She says. "That's very flattering. Thank you."
"Abby, I think you know it wasn't entirely insincere.... And at first, you really didn't seem to mind."
Abby holds up a hand to stop her. "Kim, I don't mean this to sound unfriendly. I swear to you, I am not homophobic. I am really not afraid of you in any way, and I'm not afraid of that part of myself. But don't touch me."
"I mean it. Do not touch me."
"I like you both too much...." Abby says quietly, and let's the rest of the thought remain unspoken. She looks up and meets Kim's eyes, and for a moment Kim sees undisguised emotion there, anger and pride, but more than that, fear, and real caring.
"Do you feel sorry for her?" Kim asks. The unvoiced question is obvious to them both: Do you feel sorry for yourself?
Abby answer comes without hesitation. "No, Kim, I respect her."
"Fair enough," Kim says, holding up her hands in surrender. "Then that's one thing we can agree on." She leans back in her chair and crosses her arms.
Uneasy silence descends and they stare at each other for almost a full minute.
"Is there anything else you want to yell at me about?" Kim finally says.
"No, I think that's about it."
"'Cause we might as well get it all out right now."
"I think I'm done."
"She is beautiful, you know," Kim says quietly. "Kerry."
They stare at each other for a few more seconds, then both look around the bar, searching for something else to focus on. Kim settles on a slender brunette sitting on a bar stool, light glinting off the silver chain around her neck. Abby settles on the liquor bottles behind the bar.
"She seems happy, lately." Abby breaks the silence this time.
Kim's blue gaze swings back and settles on her face again. "Really?"
"Yeah. She smiled the other day. At me. It was the second time this month--I'm sure that's a record. And then she laughed. It made me wonder..."
Abby smiles and shakes her head, as if at her own foolishness.
"Come on, wonder what?"
Her voice is quiet. "If you really are magic."
The last remnants of anger drain from Kim's face, replaced by her usual look of calm self-assurance. She leans across the table again, and recaptures the other woman's gaze with her own, staring into the pensive depths of the soft brown eyes. "Abby," she says, speaking clearly and slowly, as if to a slow child, "there's no such thing as magic."
"I know that," Abby says quickly.
Kim leans back now, crosses her arms and smiles. "Then why did you ask?"
"I was only joking."
"A psychiatrist who does magic tricks. What sort of head trip is that supposed to be, anyway?"
Kim shrugs. "Kids usually like it."
"Great, what does that say about me?"
"I dunno." Kim studies the cigarette in her hand, then tilts her head to the side and gives Abby her most charming, crooked smile. "Do you really think I'm a 'great doctor'?"
"Of course she does. She's not stupid." Abby and Kim both jump at the sound of her voice as she steps up to the table. Kerry sets her things on the floor, takes the burning stub of cigarette out of Kim's fingers, crushes it firmly into the ash tray, pulls a chair over from the next table, and settles in between them. As she sits, she rests a hand lightly for a moment on both their shoulders.
"So, what have you two been chatting about?"
"Nothing," they say in unison, glancing at each other then looking quickly away.
Kerry throws a piercing look from Kim to Abby and back again. "You're not in the FBI are you?"
Kim smiles. "Nope."
"Ok, good. Cause I was just talking to those guys, and they really are jerks." She leans back and puts her hands behind her head in a posture of deliberate relaxation. "I could use a drink."
"What would you like, Babe?"
Kim stands and moves off toward the bar.
Kerry leans into the table again, and Abby watches her take off her glasses, set them on the table top, and rub her eyes with the heels of her hands. "How was your trip, Kerry," she asks shyly.
Kerry's gaze snaps up to Abby's face, and Abby feels herself flinching. Kerry's eyes soften, and she puts her glasses on again. "Good." She nods her head sharply as if convincing herself. "Yeah, it was good. Um, if you don't mind not mentioning it..." she nods her head in the direction of the bar.
"Oh, uh, sure." Abby has the disconcerting realization that they've both taken her into their confidence.
"Everything ok with you two?"
"Yeah, fine." Abby straightens in her chair and stubs out her cigarette self-consciously. "I should get going."
"You can stay if you want."
"Really. It's ok."
"Thanks." Abby smiles and stands. "Maybe next time. See you at work, Kerry." She can feel Kerry following her with her eyes as she walks away from the table without looking back. She does a quick scan of the place and sees Kim leaning sideways against the bar, waiting for the bartender to hand over Kerry's drink.
Kim doesn't seem to notice her approach, so Abby steps close and waves a hand through her peripheral vision to get her attention. Kim turns to face her.
Seeing her standing there in the bluish, smoky light, her pale face framed by paler hair, her sleek silver shirt showing off both the softness and sharpness of her body, Abby can't help but be struck again by how beautiful she is. She remembers the surge of power she'd felt on the roof top, standing this close to her, and realizes the feeling is gone now: she's succeeded in pushing her away. She thrusts her hands into her pockets. "Uhm, I'm heading out."
"Ok, Abby." Kim gives her a half smile, and her hand reaches out to touch Abby's arm, but when she sees the look on Abby's face, her hand freezes in mid-air and her smile fades.
"Nice talking to you," Abby mumbles, refusing to meet her eyes.
Kim nods shortly. "Yeah. See you."
Abby ducks her head and turns away and wonders if Kim is watching her as she moves through the dim light of the bar, out the door and into the cool air and sodium orange glow of the Chicago night.