What Kim likes best about running is that it sets her mind free--she just lets her thoughts drift, and usually, even if she starts out feeling vaguely negative, by the end of the run, everything's turned positive: warm, and calm and fine. She knows it's the effect of the endorphins, that running ten miles has not, in fact, solved all of her problems, but still, it's an interesting testament to how closely the mind and body are related: it gives her a more positive outlook, and that in itself, she knows, can be a powerful tool for change. Sometimes things really are better if you simply think they are.
But today she doesn't feel positive, she feels possessed. The exertion of the run has unhinged her mind as usual, and now she can't quiet the voices that reside there, replaying snippets of conversation she's had in the past few weeks: bad risk...not necessarily...trust me again?... a real player, but so beautiful... make you feel better?...I hate you...nothing real to lose...fun while it lasted ...how did you manage?...stupid question ...not necessarily...broke my heart...only joking...where else have you been?...I meant what I said.
"And I heard you." Kim shakes her head when she realizes she's actually spoken the words, and not even in a whisper, but loudly. She glances around, but no one in the park seems to have noticed. Or else, Kim tells herself, they think I'm crazy and they're averting their eyes.
After a few days of warm rain, the park's many flower gardens have become a damp riot of color, and the tree leaves' shade of light spring green has darkened toward summer. As Kim runs, she turns her head from side to side and tries to focus on the small details she loves about the city. To her left, an old woman in sneakers and a red striped dress stoops down to adjust the bows in her poodle's hair. To her right, a squirrel emerges from a barrel marked "glass bottles only" with a half-eaten bagel in its mouth.
When she feels her mind veering again, she tries to send it sailing safely out across the lake's shimmering water, but the tall buildings of downtown Chicago bear down on her and crowd her mind. "Only joking," Abby's voice insists from somewhere behind her. "Not necessarily," Kerry's voice seems to respond. As Kim tries to decide which she finds more cutting, Abby's relentless sarcasm or Kerry's non-committal vagueness, she gives up on banishing the voices, and tries to control them, instead, steering them in a less threatening direction: nice song...belong to the circus?...holding hands...serious closet smoker...in this light...don't even run with scissors. She begins to smile, and her pace quickens as the voices ramble on: what a coincidence...exotic details...shop clerk vs. run-away rhesus...really are magic...juggle knives?...nice song... all your women...feels so good...I was wrong...trust me again? ...I hate you...broke my heart...sounds exhausting...juggle knives?...all your women...I meant what I said.
Kim stops suddenly and, breathing hard, bends down over her knees. A few yards away, a scruffy brown dog dragging its own leash takes a break from its snuffling and trotting and peeing to stand still and watch her. When she stares back at it and waves her hand, it dashes off again.
Kerry told her yesterday that her schedule was jammed for the next 5 days and she wouldn't be able to fit her in. She ended the conversation with, "I'll call you."
Back to square one, Kim thinks. My life is a mess. Her dead lover was a hero. Why would she want me?
"God damn it," she whispers to the voices in her head, "I heard you."
Abby hears the soft thump of the crutch on the floor, but decides to let it pass her by without looking. Then it stops just a few feet away.
"Abby," Kerry says. "Do you mind some company, or would you rather be alone."
Jesus, she thinks, I can't get away from these two. "Have a seat, Dr. Weaver."
Kerry sets her paper cup on the table, then slides all the way into the booth, rests her left leg across the length of the bench, and leans back against the wall and window with a sigh.
"You know, it'd be ok if you called me 'Kerry' sometimes. If you want to."
"Ok." Abby says noncommittally. "Rough day, huh?"
"You can say that again." Kerry stretches her arms out in from of her, laces her fingers, and pulls until there's the sound of popping joints. "That hit and run--how can some people live with themselves?"
Abby shrugs. When she sees Kerry eyeing the newspaper in front of her, she shoves the crossword across the table. "Here," she says. "You can have it."
Kerry chuckles and pushes it back. "No thanks," she says. "It's yours."
Abby's head jerks up at the sound of her laugher, and when she sees the tiny smile on her face, she feels the world tilt crazily on its axis. Struggling to make conversation, she points at Kerry's loaded down brief case. "Looks like you're not quite done for the day?"
Kerry nods. "I'm working on a report for the budget committee meeting next week. I'm going away for a few days, and work goes with me."
"Business or pleasure?" Abby asks, curious in spite of herself.
"Family commitment," Kerry says shortly.
Abby nods, resisting the urge to raise an inquisitive eyebrow. Family?
"Abby, I've been wanting to tell you..." Her voice trails off.
"Tell me what?" Abby prompts.
"...when Kim came back here...since she's been around the hospital again..." she falters.
Abby nods in encouragement. It's still so hard for her, she thinks, to talk about herself.
"I know she was pretty nervous. After what happened before. About what people would think. And your being friendly to her--not just being friendly, but going out of your way to be friendly, well, I think it has really been helpful. I just wanted to say thank you. I'm sure she appreciates it, and so do I."
"You don't have to say thank you, Dr. Weaver."
Kerry cocks her head and smiles at her again.
"See? It's not so hard, is it?"
Kerry chuckles when she sees the other woman's discomfort, which only serves to make matters worse. Abby fights the urge to reach for a cigarette, and, after a moment of indecision, reaches for the crossword instead. Her eyes scan across the page. "Eight letter word for joint." she says. "Starts with a 'j.'"
Kerry tilts her head, thinking. Her fingers jerk as she counts letters in her head. "Juncture?"
"Hmmmm. It fits...."
As Abby pencils in the letters, Kerry sighs again, closes her eyes, rests her head against the window, and lets her tight shoulders settle slightly.
Struck by the ER chief's unusual public display of...well, of humanness--fragility, almost, Abby looks closely at the other woman, her auburn hair framing her pale, lightly freckled face, her slim shoulders and scarred neck. She thinks of Kim--she can't help it--thinks of how different they are. Kim on the roof-top with a rose in her hand, Kim in a t-shirt and jeans, juggling oranges. Why is it, she wonders, that some people naturally invite casual attention, while others naturally repel it? It's not about beauty, she thinks, or at least not only about beauty....
She suddenly realizes that she's staring blankly at Kerry's face as she ponders, and that Kerry's eyes have opened, a stillness and intensity in her green gaze as she watches Abby watch her.
Kerry sees awareness return to Abby's face. "What's next?" she says, their eyes still locked.
"What's the next clue?"
"Oh, right." Feeling caught and confused, Abby frowns down at the puzzle for a moment, then tosses the paper onto the table. "Actually, I need to get going."
"Yeah, me too." Kerry shifts out of her posture of rest, her spine stiffening, her face settling back into its usual mask of sternness.
Abby is the first on her feet. "Have a nice trip, Dr. Weaver."
"Thanks, Abby. See you in a few days."
Kerry hears the door close as she works to balance bag, coat and crutch. She glances out the window and sees Abby, her hands thrust in the pockets of her leather jacket, dark, disheveled hair reflecting the light from the restaurant's neon sign in bright, uneven streaks. She watches her pause at the curb then hurry to cross the street.
Surrounded by the distinctive sounds and scents of the coffee shop, the whir of the grinder, the hiss and whine of steam jets heating pans of milk, the bitterness of coffee, sweet richness of chocolate and pastries and cream, they sit in their usual tight circle beneath a softly bushy potted fern, a busy Chicago street scene visible through the plate glass windows in the front of the shop. On the marble table top before them rest three frothy, cinnamon-darkened cappuccinos in pink flowered China cups on gold-rimmed saucers.
Kate lifts her cup and takes a dainty sip. "I'm glad you've finally decided to join us, Kim," she says. "You've been MIA for awhile now--I was beginning to worry."
"Weaver." Christie says the name.
"Yeah, and it's like she's in high school again. She's been complaining to me because she won't 'put out.'"
"I did not say that, Christie. It's not about sex."
Kate and Christie both cross their arms and look at her.
"Ok, well, it's not just about sex. It's about trust and balance and emotional intimacy."
"That sounds like a break-up line." Kate says. "How many times have you used it?"
"Now that you mention it, she used it on me," Christie pauses for a beat. "Twice."
Kate just raises her eyebrows.
"That's not even true, Christie."
A petite woman in a gray business suit walks in, black leather briefcase tucked beneath her arm. Her gaze sweeps across the room as if she's looking for someone, but lingers on their table for a fraction of a second before moving on.
"Checked us out."
"Yeah, I saw."
"She was definitely looking at me."
"In your dreams."
"I could do better."
"Then why don't you?"
Kim puts her hands up between the two as if to physically restrain them. "Can we cut the bitchy repartee, just for one day? I'm in crisis here!"
"Please, dear, share with us."
They both look at her expectantly.
"I feel like I'm competing with a ghost, and all I know about the woman is that she was a hero," Kim blurts out.
"Ok. Thanks for that."
"And this would be whom?"
"Weaver's dead lover." Christie fills in the blanks. "They were together for four years. Been in the ground for barely seven months now. Body's not even cold."
"Oh, my. Sounds like we have a situation on our hands."
"A little respect for the dead, Christie, if you don't mind?"
Christie rolls her eyes. "Yeah, right."
"I need more information," Kim mutters, as she shreds her napkin. "I can't assess how deeply this is going to affect our relationship until I have more information."
"Spoken like a true disciple of the scientific method," Kate says, her tone of voice softer than the words.
"I'm serious, I practically had an anxiety attack in the park this morning."
Christie sees the worry in Kim's eyes. "Relax, Kimmie, she loves you. It's written all over her face."
"You've been witness to this?"
"I ran into them in the park the other day."
Kate waits for the rest of the story.
"I behaved myself."
"Wow," Kate says. "I am just totally out of the loop, here."
"There is no 'loop.'"
Christie shakes her head. "Come on, Kim. There's always a loop."
"Jesus, why do I even bother with you two?"
"Ok," Kate claps her hands together lightly to focus the conversation. "So what do you think you should do? I'm sure you've already thought it out--your options, the pros and cons. Fill us in."
"Hang on a sec." Kim fishes in her bag, pulls out a tattered scrap of paper, and squints at it for a moment before she plunges her hand into her bag again and comes up with a tortoise-shell case, snaps it open, and carefully removes a pair of wire rim glasses.
Kate visibly startles and leans in as Kim sets the glasses on her nose.
"Oh my God, Kim! Glasses? When in the world did this happen? Do I know nothing about your life anymore?"
"This is so cute. She made a list."
"Hush, you two. I'm sharing." Kim clears her throat. "Option 1. Wait it out."
"Pro," Kate says, settling back into the task at hand. "Requires no effort whatsoever."
"That's not really true," Christie counters. "It requires patience."
They both look at Kim.
"I can be patient."
Kim sighs. "Option 2. Confront her."
"Pro," Christie says immediately. "You might get some action."
"Con," Kate takes her cue. "Too scary."
"She's not scary," Christie says with a dismissive wave of her hand.
"Enough! The real con is that I might push her further away by forcing the issue. And if she were any further away, I don't think I could even see her."
"That bad, huh?"
"Yeah. She cut me loose for the next five days. Said don't even bother calling."
"Ouch. No wonder you're panicking."
"Option 3. Find another source."
"Source of what?"
"Oh, right." Christie narrows her eyes in thought. "Pro," she says. "It's sneaky, and sneaky means 'fun.'"
Cons," Kate counters, and ticks them off on her fingers. "Violation of trust. Possibility of misunderstandings caused by false information."
Kim nods. "That's all I have so far." She crumples the paper into a wad and rolls it between the palms of her hands until it's a tiny, flaking ball, then sets it carefully on the table top.
Kate and Christy watch the process in silence.
"Honestly, Kim, are you sure you are really ready for this?" Christie says gently.
"Commitment. Because that's what we're talking about here, right? Commitment?"
"Yes," Kim says. "I'm ready."
They sit in silence for another protracted moment.
"Really?" Kate says quietly, touching her hand.
Kim draws in a long breath, holds it, then lets it out slowly. "Yes," she says. "Really."