Things in Common
A strong north wind lifts white capped waves across the lake. Even in her light t-shirt and shorts, Kim is sweaty and hot from her run, but it's cold enough that when she pauses now to stare out across the deeply textured surface of the water, she immediately feels the chill. The weather is supposed to turn today, to become sunny and more like spring, but so far it hasn't, and she hasn't been able to settle comfortably into her stride. Something feels off. She sits on the cement sidewalk beneath the spreading branches of a maple tree, its tiny, new, bright-green leaves incandescent as jewels against the dark gray sky, and begins tugging on her laces to tighten them, doubting this will do any good.
She called Kerry last night on a whim, knowing before she picked up the phone that she was likely to regret it, and now she does. She doesn't want to push too hard; she knows that trust will come slowly, that it can't be forced. She went over all of this last night with Christy, who she called as soon as she hung up the phone from calling Kerry, knowing all the time that if Kerry knew her personal life were being discussed with this woman she openly dislikes, she'd be furious. Christy made her promise that from now on, if she felt the inclination to make foolish phone calls, she would opt for safety and dial Christy's number instead.
It's only recently that Kim has been able to have this kind of conversation with Christy again, that she's been able to assume they have an easy, comfortable friendship. Kim had always had a hunch that, of the two of them, Christy was the one more invested in their friendship, and when she moved away, it had been apparent to both of them that Christy was hurt by the separation but Kim was not. What happened between them when Kim moved back was an enormous mistake. They had both been on the rebound--again, and Kim had been disappointed to find out that Kerry was already seriously involved with another woman, but that was no excuse. If one of her patients were to tell her that they had fallen into bed with their best friend for no better reason than that she had just gotten a cute hair cut and they were both lonely, Kim might gently suggest that their behavior had been overly impulsive. In her notes she might even write the word "reckless." But when faced with this behavior in her own life, she had thought "pathetic, Kim, pathetic," and she knew that most of the people around her had agreed.
She stands up now and flexes her ankles to stretch her tight calves, then takes off again. The wind hits her in the face and presses the thin cotton of her t-shirt to the long lines of her torso. She has so thoroughly chastised herself for her slip with Christy that she doesn't feel the need to get into it again, but she does worry that telling Kerry any of the details of her personal life might be off-putting to her. What little she'd told her of San Francisco had already made her apprehensive. Kerry isn't the type to sleep around, and in the last five years, while Kim continued with her series of sexual misadventures and proved many times over her talent for ruining friendships, Kerry had formed a meaningful, committed relationship.
Kim continues on down the path now, still breathing hard and not finding a comfortable stride or pace. The traffic on Lake Shore Drive is light at this time of day, and the loudest sound around her is the rhythmic slap of her own feet on the pavement. She tries to focus completely on that sound and banish unsettling thoughts from her mind. When the sun sends a few slanting rays through a break in the low-hanging clouds, she sees them doubly reflected, to her right glinting brightly off the surface of the water, to her left in the dark glass of tall buildings.
Abby doesn't like the way things are going, the general tilt of the day, which, moving into night now, continues to be not toward open conflict but toward underlying tension and stress. There have been no major traumas since the beginning of her shift, but there have been an unending stream of annoying minor medical complaints which tend to cause more problems for the nurses than the doctors--to leave her with a feeling of being rushes and harried but never satisfied. And it's giving her a big, fat headache.
A man behind her snaps his fingers and says, "Nurse! Nurse!"
Abby keeps her back turned and continues to fill out the form she's been working on for the last 20 minutes, her own way of taking a break. She's keeping her eye on the clock. Less than two hours now until she's off at nine.
He says it louder. "Nurse! I need some help here."
Dr. Weaver, sitting on a stool beside a tray of instruments near by, looks up from her task of cleaning the scratches and suturing the deep bites of a pet shop clerk who was attacked that afternoon by a run-away rhesus monkey. "Abby, can you..." She nods her head in the direction of the man's insistent voice.
Abby pauses for a moment, mustering both her patience and her sarcasm, then turns to the man. "What can I do for you, sir?"
Kerry has been on since 7 am and by now she knows, even though she hasn't had the opportunity to look, that the sun has already set. Working long hours is a normal part of her job, and since she worked in the primate lab during med-school, and during her childhood in Africa had often observed monkeys in their natural habitat, the clerk's scratches and bites are at least distracting and of personal interest. But still, today she is restless and anxious to get away.
Frank yells to her from across the hall. "Dr. Weaver? Phone for you."
"Take a message, Frank. I'm busy."
"It's Dr. Legaspi."
Kerry gives the pet shop clerk a quick glance of apology as she stands and moves away. "Ok, I'll take it in the lounge."
Frank presses a button to transfer the call as he watch Dr. Weaver's slight figure disappear through the lounge door. "What the hell is going on with those two?" he mumbles.
"Doesn't take a genius," Abby murmurs on her way past, pushing the man in his wheelchair toward the men's room as Frank glowers his disapproval.
Kerry is relieved to find the lounge empty. When she returned Kim's call earlier in the evening, Kim wasn't home, so she left a message letting her know that she was stuck at work. She doesn't give herself time to switch out of busy doctor mode when she picks up the phone now. And she doesn't let on she knows who is on the other end of the line.
"Hello. This is Kerry Weaver."
There's a silence of several seconds on the other end. "Hi Kerry. Thanks for taking my call. I hope you're not too busy."
"Oh, hi Kim. Uhmmm, no, nothing serious--just stitching up some monkey bites." Kerry grimaces at her own attempt to keep things light.
"What a coincidence. Me too." Kim chuckles softly. "Will you be able to get away before sunrise?"
"Yeah, Luka has the flu and I'm covering, but I should be able to get out of here around 9."
"Oh, that's not so bad."
They let that thought hang there for a minute between them.
"So," Kerry says, "I understand if you're too tired, but I was thinking drinks or a late dinner?"
"Dinner sounds wonderful. I'm starving. Did you drive today or take the el?"
"I'm not too far away. Why don't I just swing by? Shall we say 9 o'clock, Doc Magoo's?"
When Kerry bangs into the lounge, finally done for the evening, its already past nine, and she's going to be late again. She hates being late. She glances in the mirror inside her locker door as she gathers her things to leave, and pauses in dismay as she realizes she's wearing scrubs and has nothing to change into.
Abby walks in the door, glances in Kerry's direction, then moves toward her own locker, already thinking about a cigarette and cup of coffee before her el ride home.
"Abby, give me your shirt." Kerry says abruptly, without thinking.
Abby freezes. "Excuse me?"
"A kid puked on me this morning, and now I've got nothing to wear," Kerry explains, then changes her previous command to a polite request. "So, uhmm, can I please borrow your shirt?"
"You mean this shirt?" Abby points a bent finger at her own chest. "The one I'm wearing?"
"Yeah," Kerry says sheepishly, feeling suddenly foolish.
Abby makes a snap decision to think of this as her own contribution to the continued peace of the ER. And a favor for a friend who deserves at least a modicum of happiness. "Sure, Dr. Weaver."
Before Kerry can suggest finding a more private location, Abby turns to her locker again and shrugs out of her black turtle neck, flinging it over her shoulder in Kerry's direction. Kerry quickly pulls off her pale blue top and pitches it to Abby, and they make the switch.
When Abby turns around, Dr. Weaver is smoothing the shirt down around her waist. "You look nice," she says, realizing that Kerry does, in fact, look great in black--that the dark color brings out the storminess in her eyes.
"Thanks, Abby." Kerry smiles sincerely at the younger woman, understanding that this was an odd request, and awkward, and that Abby made it easy for her.
"Anytime," Abby says. She turns to leave. "See you later, Dr. Weaver."
Kim pauses just inside the door of Doc Magoo's and takes in the scene before her: same old red vinyl booths and glowing jukebox, same old stained coffee pots on the counter and tall glass display case for pie. She scans the crowd for familiar faces, and spots one in a familiar position in a booth near the door. Going to the counter first to buy a cup of black coffee, she walks over to the table now where Abby is slouched over her own steaming cup, along with a half eaten plate of cooling French fries and the Tribune opened crookedly to the comics page. She's frowning and peering intently at the crossword, cigarette in one hand, pencil nub in the other.
Kim stops at the end of the table. "Can I bum one of those?" She points to the pack of cigarettes on the table top.
"Sure." Abby shakes one out and holds it up. "Uhmm, care to have a seat?"
"Thanks. Don't mind if I do." Kim slides into the booth across from Abby, produces a book of paper matches from behind her ear as if by magic, lights one with a flourish and breaths her cigarette to life.
"Soooo," Abby starts off casually, leaning back and tucking her pencil behind her ear along with a lock of unruly hair, "what brings you back to County, Dr. Legaspi?"
Kim meets the other woman's eyes through the gray haze of smoke and gives her a warm smile. "Since we don't work together any more, Abby, why don't you just call me Kim?"
Abby nods and waits for an answer to her question.
Kim realizes she's failed in her attempt to redirect the conversation, so tries a different tactic. "Why don't you tell me why I'm back? What does the rumor mill say?"
"Excuse me for saying so, Kim," Abby says, smiling, and putting heavy emphasis on the name, "but that is such a shrink thing to do--answering a question with a question."
Kim laughs quietly. "I suppose that's true." She takes a long drag on her cigarette, tilts her head back, forms an O with her mouth, and blows a row of three perfect smoke rings.
"Wow," Abby says, watching the circles dissipate in mid-air and shaking her head in admiration. "You're not just a closet smoker, you're a serious closet smoker."
Kim dips her head and smiles. "Not really. In med-school I was, but not anymore." She taps her cigarette delicately over the Coca-Cola ash tray. "So, what's new in your life, Abby?"
Abby scrolls her mind back to when she had last seen Kim, and does a quick mental review of what was happening back then.
"Well, Luka and I got married, and then we had the twins, but things didn't work out." She touches her hand to her mouth for a moment, as if in grief. "Luka won custody because of my family history of mental illness, so now the boys are with their grandma in Croatia. Luka wanted them to learn the language and culture, but it's still so dangerous there--I worry about them every day..."
Kim's brow has furrowed and her eyes have gone wide in sympathy and dismay. Abby can no longer contain her laughter.
"Wait a minute..." Kim says, her eyes narrowing now in suspicion.
Abby takes a quick, final drag on her cigarette, then stubs it out. In just the last few minutes, she realizes, her headache has completely leaked away. "Maggie told me you were pretty gullible..." she says.
Kim's face stills and her eyes darken as she ponders the implications of this statement, and Abby begins to laugh even harder.
Before Kim has a chance to sort through all that's just been said for both the significance of the lies and for any small kernels of truth, the door opens behind her and from the look on Abby's face, she can tell that Kerry has walked in.
Kerry's gaze sweeps the diner, searching for the head of blond curls, and then she hesitates in surprise when she sees her sitting opposite Abby.
Kim waves with one hand while discretely grinding out her cigarette and sliding back the ash tray with the other, and Kerry heads in their direction. Abby notices that the jeans she's wearing, fashionably faded Levis, one ripped knee partially patched with a miniature Arizona state flag, look strikingly similar to Susan's, but she doesn't say a word.
"Hi, Kim, Abby," Kerry says, looking from one to the other.
Kim smiles, Abby mouths "hello," and Kim says, "have a seat, Kerry. Join us."
Kerry pauses for another long moment, then slides into the booth next to Abby, across from Kim.
"So, what's the topic of discussion here?" Kerry says, trying hard to sound less annoyed and suspicious than she feels.
"Abby's been sharing some of the more exotic details of her personal life," Kim says, eyebrows arched, face an unreadable mask. Abby shoots her a look of alarm, fearing immediate retribution. Kerry tilts her head and looks from one woman to the other with an expression of open curiosity. Kim decides to leave them both hanging. "Excuse me for a minute," she says, as she gets up and heads off across the room.
Kerry and Abby, left so suddenly alone and sitting close, each feel the other become uncomfortably aware of their proximity. The word "exotic" still hangs in the air, but Kerry decides to let it drift away.
"Thanks again for the shirt," she says, feeling oddly tongue-tied and awkward with this woman she works with almost every day. She can't help but notice that, below the pervasive odor of cigarette smoke, Abby smells like antiseptic and harsh detergent while she herself smells faintly of Abby's perfume.
"Don't mention it," Abby says quietly. "Nice jeans, too."
Kerry glances down at herself, as if she doesn't quite remember what she's wearing. "Uh, thanks." The two exchange a brief and tiny conspiratorial smile, then falter into silence. They both glance toward Kim now, her long back bent over the juke box, her hair falling down around her face lit by the machine's soft blue glow, then Abby directs all of her attention to the bottom of her coffee cup while Kerry snags one of Abby's cold fries without asking, and nervously munches.
"Chrysanthemum," she says suddenly.
"Huh?" Abby swivels her head around, confused.
"3 Across: Royal flower of Japan," Kerry says, jerking her chin toward the paper and crossword puzzle. "Chrysanthemum."
"Right," Abby says, disentangling the pencil from her hair. She begins to print the word into the small squares, then hesitates as the puzzle's letters conflict and collide.
Kerry observes in silence for a moment, noting Abby's confusion. "Uhmmm, actually there's an 'h,'" she says gently.
"An 'h': c-H-r..."
"Oh, of course. Thanks Dr. Weaver." Abby flips over the pencil and begins to erase, feeling like a slow student being coached and corrected by a stern teacher who's trying hard to be kind. She can feel her headache returning, her jaw muscles tightening again.
The juke box begins to play a new song, and Kerry's head snaps up. For a moment she's transported back five years. MORE than five years, she reminds herself, and then she realizes, it was this booth. She's sitting in the same exact spot.
Kim saunters over, head down, looking at Kerry with a sly half smile. Kerry smiles back, and reaches for Kim's hand as she sits down again. "Nice song."
"Yeah, I like it."
Abby notices the look that passes between the two women and their fingers interlaced on the table top. She downs the last sip of her cold coffee, and grabs the paper and her coat from where it's wadded up on the seat beside her. "Nice talking to you both," she says. "Gotta go."
"Are you sure?"
Kim and Kerry speak simultaneously, and then look from Abby to each other and back again.
"Yeah, I'm sure," Abby says, and slides out of the booth as Kerry moves to let her pass.
"I'm glad I ran into you, Abby," Kim says with a tone of even friendliness which makes Abby think a single word: fake.
"Yeah, Dr. Legaspi, I'll see you 'round." She gives Kerry a little wave, fighting her sudden urge to tease her with a wink, then heads out the door.
"She's nice." Kim says. "I hope you're kind to her."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Kerry says, immediately defensive, trying to pull her hand away.
"Whoa, hey," Kim says gently as she holds on tight. "Tell me about your day. Monkey bites?"
Kerry smiles and relaxes. "Pet shop clerk vs. run-away rhesus. I'm sure it sounds more interesting than it was. But then again, I wasn't there for the actual confrontation--I only saw the aftermath. Lots of blood." She pauses, and her tone becomes more serious. "To be honest," she says, "I've been looking forward to talking to you since this morning," she glances up at Kim's face. "For awhile I was afraid I wouldn't be able to. But now I'm here. And I'm happy. That's the real story of my day."
Kim is impressed by Kerry's honesty. It gives her hope. "What a coincidence," she says. "Me too."