DISCLAIMER: I do not own them. Yet.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story has Sandy in it. However, it is not a Kerry/Sandy story.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILER: Up to Partly Cloudy, Chance of Rain.
"So we'll just meet at the restaurant at eight then?"
"Yeah, that works for me."
"Ok, I'll see you then."
"Have a good shift, mija."
"Sleep well, San. Bye."
I hang up the phone, relishing the warm feeling the word "mija" brings to my belly. She really cares for me. She makes me feel so good, I can hardly wait to see her tonight. We've been officially together for about six weeks, but I think it started as soon as I set eyes on her that night in the rain. I think meeting in a traumatic, dangerous situation gave us an immediate bond, and her fierce, dynamic personality attracted me on the spot. I care about her, and it's nice. Easy. We talk, spend time together, make love. No hard commitment, but a standing date for the weekend. Word has filtered around through the ER, and everyone has been pretty good about it. Randi wants to come out with us one night; she wants me to find her a girlfriend. I can't tell if she's serious, but I think all she'd have to do is walk in the door to GirlBar and they'd be lining up.
"Dr. Weaver, I have that insurance company on the line."
"Thanks Randi." I grab the chart that's pertinent to the call, and proceed to let them have an earful.
I'm just finishing when I look up to the bay doors and see something odd. It's a woman, and she's got a sizable backpack on her back. She's blonde, and tall, and willowy. She looks like Kim. I think I may be hallucinating.
But this woman looks terrible. Her sharp cheekbones are painfully defined, and dark circles are painted under her eyes.
The phone is still in my hand, and I hear that annoying sound the line makes when the handset is off the hook. The woman is standing right in front of me, and her haunted face is frozen. Blue eyes transfix me, and I don't move.
"Dr. Legaspi?" I hear Randi say. I whip my head around to see Randi staring at the woman.
"You see her?" It slips out of my mouth.
"She's standing right in front of you."
My stomach revolts then, and I feel like falling to the floor, falling through the floor. Inevitably I feel my head swiveling to the vision in front of me, and that face contorts in pain. "Kerry," she says.
She is shaking visibly now. "My brother--" and she stops, her body seeming to jerk in reaction to something I can't know or see.
And it hits me. Jason, he must be here, somewhere. "Where?"
"I don't know. I think in surgery." Her voice is uneven. "He was in a wreck, they brought him in last night."
In my mind I scan through the names I looked at when I came in an hour ago, but I don't remember seeing a Legaspi. It must have been late, then, and I am suddenly moving again. "Randi, can you call up to surgery and find out if there is a Jason Legaspi?"
"You got it." I think she was already dialing before I asked.
I come to stand in front of the woman whose face is as familiar to me as my own, despite its subtle changes. "Sweetie, what happened?" I reach my arm out to grip her bicep, and she takes a breath.
"I think he was going home from his girlfriend's. My folks called me and I got on a plane. I can't remember what time I left." Her skin is milky, and I can see the near hysteria that's looming over her.
"Dr. Weaver," Randi calls.
"Yeah," I answer.
"He's in with Romano, but they've been in there for a while." Kim stiffens at Romano's name. "Should be in recovery soon, sounds like. Multiple fractures and punctured lung."
"Page me if you need me," I quickly check my pocket for my pager, just in case. "I'm taking Kim upstairs."
I take Kim's arm and start pulling, then realize that backpack she's carrying is heavy. "We'll put your bag in the lounge, okay?"
Blindly we stumble to the empty room, and I help her pull the pack from her back. It flops on the floor strangely; I have no idea what's in it. "We'll just tuck it under the couch. Do you need anything from it?"
"I should get my cell phone, my parents have been calling."
"Are they coming?"
She swallows thickly. "If it's serious," she whispers.
"But you got on a plane as soon as you could."
"They said it sounded like he'd be okay, just some broken bones. Janine is here for him." She pauses as her lips start to tremble. "But he's the only brother I have left." Her voice cracks, and in my mind I am sucked back into a conversation we had a little more than a year ago, about a brother whose hand she held as he died on the side of the road. "He'll be okay, right?"
"Yes," I say firmly. I don't care if I'm lying. "Let's go see what we can find out." I hold out my hand, and she takes it. I hold it in the elevator, in the hall, in the waiting room. I don't let go.
She's sitting next to Janine, rubbing her back. The girl has been crying non-stop since we arrived an hour ago, even though Shirley was kind enough to come and let us know that the damage to Jason's lung had been repaired, and he'd get by with some broken ribs and a leg broken in three places. Aside from the typical concussion and other bruises and lacerations, he should be okay. Thank god for air bags and seat belts.
Kim is much more together now that she has someone else to focus on. I have a suspicion she felt out of control and helpless on her way here, but now she's the one getting Janine through this. I thought she'd fall apart when she heard that Jason would be fine, but she just slowly breathed in and out, and said, "Okay, good."
I've called Randi six times to make sure everything is running smoothly, but she promises me that it's dead quiet downstairs. My hand still clings to Kim's, and it feels nice. I compare it to the dark, smaller hand that has rested in mine for a while now, and I can't quite tell what I'm feeling. Or at least I don't want to admit it. I trace the bluish veins with my eyes, and want to caress them the way I did so many months ago. Sandy's hand is strong, almost muscular in its appearance. Her palm is squarish, her fingers long and powerful. Kim's hand is different, more tapered, graceful. It fits. Her fingers lace with mine, and tears prick the back of my eyes. But I push down the hurt, and try to think about nothing.
"Ah, the prodigal daughter returns." Robert's voice interrupts my trance, and he bounds into the waiting room. "I should have known you'd be here. Your brother's fine. Banged up pretty good. Put a few pins in here and there and he'll be good as new. Give or take six months." He looks down at our joined hands. "I thought you two broke up. Hmm. What will your little firefighter say, Dr. Weaver?"
I jerk slightly, irritated that he insists on bringing up the subject of the past, and of Sandy. Bastard. I don't say a word, just grip Kim's hand a little tighter.
If she processed anything he just said, Kim doesn't show it. "When can I see him?"
"Probably another hour, he'll be out of recovery by then. This has been fun, but I have bigger fish to fry. Kerry, do you want to tell me why you're shirking your duties as associate Chief of the ER? I thought you were driving your residents crazy double checking their efforts every ten minutes?"
I sigh. "They're fine, Robert. They know where to find me, and I'm keeping a tab on things." He had to mention the word "associate", didn't he. Bastard.
"See that you do. Don't want you to be demoted any further than you already have been, do you." He smiles a grin that does not reach his eyes, and I wonder what the hell I did to deserve this.
Oh, yes, now I remember. I screwed over my lover in the work place. I wish there was a way to pay for my mistake that would be complete, and I could just be finished. But there isn't, so I'm stuck.
Robert is gone, and Kim has turned to me. "What did he mean by all that?"
'All that', she says. I'll start with the easy part, maybe she'll forget about the other stuff. "I stepped down as chief last month. Mark and I are splitting duties now."
Her brow is creased. "Why?"
"There was a patient misdiagnosed while Chen was chief resident, and I'd lost my pager when I was here. The patient died. Chen was suspended, and I didn't exactly help her out much in the meeting. I went to Anspaugh and asked him to try and bring her back. He did. I took a demotion. That's it." I try to keep the bitterness from my voice, because it's really been fine. I stay out of Mark's face if possible, and he ignores me most of the time. Then I go home and Sandy holds me and kisses me, and I feel okay. But somehow I think I won't feel okay tonight.
Kim is still watching me, eyes dark. "What about the other thing?"
I consider playing dumb, but I don't want to waste my time since she'll get it out of me anyway. "Robert knows about us. Or at least that we were together."
"I told him I was a lesbian, he figured the rest out." I know I'm frowning. I didn't want to ever have this conversation.
"Why the hell did you tell him?"
I look at the wall. "I was trying to get him to do something, and it just came out."
I can almost hear the wheels turning in her head. "Trying to get him to do what?" She's prying, and I hear a tinge of the therapist voice creeping in.
"It doesn't matter now. It's over." I pull my hand from hers. This hurts.
"And what about the last thing?"
I can't believe I am doing this. I keep my eyes on the wall, trying to ignore the empty feeling in my stomach that hasn't been this deep for months. "I'm seeing someone."
"A fireman." Her voice is flat.
"No. Her name is Sandy."
I hear her expel a puff of air. I know she didn't expect me to come out. "You're seeing a woman?"
I feel so drained. I will my pager to go off. "Yes." My voice comes out small. I want to tell her that when we met, Sandy saved my life. How she makes me laugh, doesn't push, and never asks for more than I can give. That she welcomed me into her home and family for the holidays when I felt terribly alone. A tear drips from my eye, and I brush it away in a split second.
"Look at me."
I can hardly turn my head, but after a minute, I do.
She takes my hand again. "Thank you for being here with me. I needed you, and you came through."
A shudder passes through me. "You're welcome." Her hand presses mine. It fits.
I left her at the hospital. Spent a few hours going back and forth, checking on her and Jason and Janine. They all seemed okay, so I didn't feel like I needed to stay during my entire shift. I wanted to though. I didn't concentrate very well, but I lived, and didn't screw up any patient care. Fortunately.
I have to meet Sandy now, at Pasquale's. I don't know how I'm going to eat anything. I feel sick.
I drive up and park, suddenly relieved I had time to go home and shower. I don't want Kim's perfume to be on my clothes. Or on me. My pants are sleek and baggy, my top clingy. Kim loved this outfit. God, I feel like such a bitch.
I make my way into the restaurant. "Lopez, party of two?" I mention to the host.
"Right this way," and he leads me to the table.
Sandy's there, dark and lovely, smiling. I try to grin in return, but my mouth feels broken. She stands up to take my hand, and kisses me on the cheek. I close my eyes and want to weep.
"Hey, mija. What's up? You're late, and you're never late. Sit down." She already knows something is wrong. "I ordered some wine, is that okay?"
"Yes, fine." My voice is rough. I am a bad liar. "Did you sleep well?"
"Uh-huh." She peers at me intently, but manages to keep the gentle smile in her eyes. "You gonna tell me what's up or am I going to have to get you drunk to drag it out of you?"
I laugh a bit. "I had kind of a weird day."
"Weird. What kind of weird?"
I muster up some courage from a place that's running low on reserves. I am so tired. "Someone I haven't seen for a while came to the hospital today."
She nods her head once, encouraging me. But I don't think she wants to hear this, judging from the look on her face.
"It's a person who I cared very much for, and uh, I just feel..." I trail off. My throat is closing.
"Kerry, I know you have some kind of history with other people. I didn't think you were a virgin when we got together. You don't have to be shy."
"Yeah." I can't find my voice. God, Kim, why now? A few more months and I know I'd be better. You'd have faded from my mind, and I'd be in love with Sandy. I know I could love her. I just need more time.
"Are you going to tell me anything that happened today, or will you let my imagination run away with me?"
She looks irritated. Hell, I'm irritated at myself, but my jaw doesn't want to move. "Um, her brother was hurt, and she came to town to visit him. Kim, that's her name." I'm glad I didn't stumble saying it.
"And you saw her."
"Did you spend any time with her?"
"Yeah." The word lurches from my throat unevenly. "I stayed with her for a little while."
"Kerry, what the fuck happened? Just say it, it's not going to kill me. I don't know any of the history between you two. Did you break up with her or was it the other way around? Can you fill in any of the blanks here?" She is angry, and I think a little scared.
Poor Sandy, she has no idea. I haven't told her anything. At all. About Kim, about what happened last year, about me. I've been pretending to be a blank slate for almost two months and the decision to play innocent is about to bite me in the ass.
"It ended. I wouldn't come out of the closet, I hurt her, she got fired. Sometimes I think it was my fault."
"What? When was this?"
"Last year. We've been apart for almost a year."
"And was there anyone else between her and meeting me?"
I shake my head.
"Fuck," she says, her eyes falling shut. "Kerry, why didn't you tell me anything about this? I used to wonder about your past, but you wouldn't say anything."
I think I'm crying now. My face feels wet, but I don't want to touch it in case I'm wrong. Sandy is surprised. In all the time I've known her I've never cried in front of her. Not even when I'd lose patient after patient at work, or when I'd come home to my answering machine for the 67th day in a row without a message from the woman I really believe is my mother. I have held her, wiped her sooty tears, cooed soft words in her ear. But I haven't let her see me.
"What the hell did this woman do to you to hurt you so bad?"
I think. Hard. The answer comes to me, and it stabs like a lance through my heart. "She loved me. That's all."
Dinner ended before we even got to the salad.
We may have broken up, but I'm not sure. We didn't say much, or I didn't.
"You call me when things are clearer, Kerry. I don't want to be someone you fall back on because you can't have your first choice, okay?" She was grim, though she still kissed me goodbye at the car. Her mouth was hot on mine, but my lips shivered as they touched hers. She stroked my hair once, and left.
I can't sleep. This is completely pointless, lying in bed and staring at the ceiling. My mind won't shut down, and I know I'll be awake all night. I have a shift at noon that I am really not looking forward to. That's less than nine hours from now. What the hell am I going to do for the next nine hours?
The familiar shadows of my room look darker tonight, as though they are hiding things I can't bear to see. Every sound of the house creaking unnerves me. A siren went screeching down the street a few minutes ago, sending the blood pumping faster through my veins.
I screwed up. Again. I have to let go of her. Kim, that is.
I refuse to allow myself the luxury of daydreaming about her, so instead I try and count breaths. It's not very relaxing.
The phone next to the bed starts ringing, and I don't even want to know who it is. But I pick up, because it's either Sandy or the hospital, and I have to face both of them at some point.
"Hello?" I sound completely normal.
My heart skips a beat, noise thundering in my ears. "Kim?"
There's a pause. "Am I interrupting anything?"
I almost snort in the phone. "No, no. What's wrong?"
Sniffling, she says, "Jason had a fever. I was worried, but it's gone down now." I close my eyes and imagine the softness of her skin as I wipe her tears.
"That's great. That's a good sign, Kim." I try to think of something reassuring to say, but my mind is stuck.
"Yes, sweetie?" I wince as the word falls from my tongue.
"Do you think I could stop by?"
I squirm in my bed and sit up. "Sure. I didn't even think to offer you a place to stay. I guess I thought you'd go to Christie's."
"I don't want to see Christie right now." Her voice is quiet. "So it's okay?"
"Of course. Do you need a ride from the hospital? I'll come get you." Shit, I sound desperate. Oh well, too late now, I already said it.
"No," she says, and stops. "I'm outside."
That halts my movement in getting out of bed. "Outside where?"
"Outside your door."
My mouth abruptly dries, and my stomach twists in anticipation. It's a little unpleasant, because I wasn't able to eat anything after getting home from the fiasco at Pasquale's. "Okay, I'm coming right now."
I keep the phone to my ear and listen to her breathe while I awkwardly pull on a robe. With the phone stuck between my shoulder and chin, somehow I make it down the stairs. I rotate my shoulders in a futile attempt to loosen them up, then swing the door open.
She's standing there, looking frozen, and our images match, each with a phone pressed to our ears. I manage to smile as I finally close the connection. "Come in."
She doesn't say anything, just steps around me to walk inside. I follow her as she slumps on the couch, backpack still strapped to her shoulders. She resembles a child sleepwalking in the middle of the night; eyes open, but totally unaware of her surroundings.
"Let me help you with that." I pull her jacket and the pack from her for the second time that day and drop them to the floor. Sitting next to her, I can't stop myself from taking her icy hands between mine and rubbing them. "You're cold. That wasn't a very heavy coat."
That rouses her a bit. "I forgot how cold it is this time of year." Her chin drops down dejectedly, and she stares at the coffee table.
After a few minutes of silence, I stop rubbing and ask, "Kim?"
"Do you want to go to sleep?"
She looks over at me, more lost than I've ever seen her. "Yeah," she says, then starts crying. She falls over to rest her head on my shoulder as the deluge begins, and I am so grateful to be holding her I start to cry myself. Nothing is the same between us except the way she makes me feel, deep down in a space I forgot was empty.
She starts to sob in earnest, worry, stress, exhaustion, and who knows what else breaking free. I pull her close, combing through her hair with one hand. She moans out her sorrow against my neck, clinging to me fiercely. Tears drip down my collarbone. Somehow I maneuver the both of us to lie down on the couch, and she pushes her legs between mine to get even closer.
As I lay there on my side, cradling her, I feel like I can breathe again for the first time in months. The knots in my neck seem to loosen, my back spreading wide as the tension dissipates. She nuzzles against me, mewling quietly, and I wrap a leg tightly around hers. "I'm here, Kim, I'm right here."
This morning I thought I'd be with Sandy tonight. I feel terrible, because I'd rather be here, a weeping Kim in my arms, than anywhere else.
Nothing will come of this embrace; she will sleep, and wake up embarrassed by her breakdown. We'll exchange pleasantries, she'll leave, and I'll go to work. It's more than I ever expected though. This reconnection warms me from the inside out, and the fact that I can help her when she needs me, just this once, is enough.
I close my eyes, inhale the scent I've dreamed of for so long, and drift away.
Something is buzzing. Jesus, that is annoying. I hope it stops soon. I'm so comfortable; I just want to sleep more.
Hair tickles my nose, and I realize the buzz isn't a buzz at all. It's a ring, probably from a cell phone. Not mine.
She's still holding on to me tightly, burrowing in. My robe is open, and her arms have snaked under my shirt around my back. The ringing sounds like it's coming directly from her. Maybe her phone is in her pocket.
I reach down, and sure enough, there it is. I flip it open and say, "Hello?"
"Kim?" an unfamiliar voice asks.
I nudge her with my elbow. "Kim. Wake up. Someone's on the phone for you."
Quietly she groans and lifts her head. "Who is it?" Her voice is gravelly, sexy.
"May I tell her who's calling?"
"Janine. Is she okay?"
"Yes, she's fine. Hang on." I hold the phone to her ear and whisper, "It's Janine."
She gasps a little and takes the phone. "Is everything okay?"
Immediately she sighs in relief. She listens for a while, and I savor these last moments as she rests in my embrace. My fingers trail up and down her back, following her spinal column.
"No, I'm okay. I'm sorry I scared you. I guess I slept longer than I thought I would. What time is it?"
Good question. I'm not wearing my glasses so I can't see the clock on the VCR.
"Okay, I'll be over there in a little while. I need a shower."
No you don't, Kim. You smell great.
"All right. Thanks. See you soon." She flips the phone closed.
Strangely, Kim doesn't pull away from me. She simply snuggles up to me again while she slides the phone back into her pocket. "She was worried. Didn't know when I'd be back to the hospital. Do you mind if I shower here?"
"No, not at all."
"Thanks." She rubs her face against my throat, and I don't quite know what to do. Is she still asleep? "We slept a long time," she adds.
"What time is it?"
My eyes widen. I don't think either of us has moved a muscle for seven hours.
"This feels strange." Her voice is muffled.
"It does." I rest my hand on her head and close my eyes.
"I didn't expect to come here last night, Kerry."
"I couldn't stay away though."
I don't know exactly what that means, so I keep quiet.
"You seem different now. About lots of things."
"So much happened after you left," I offer. This isn't as hard as I thought it would be, talking this way. It doesn't burn or sting. It feels comfortable.
"It's been that way for me, too. Moving was pretty hard."
"Are you happy in San Francisco?"
"Some days. I like what I'm doing but it's not... like... I don't know. It's not the same."
"But you're making a life for yourself?" I want her to be happy. I want to know that she's doing well.
"I'm trying, Ker. But it's hard."
"I know, Kim." I almost called her 'love'. I swallow. "I'm trying too."
"So you've found someone?"
I don't have an answer for that, so I reach for something that sounds appropriate. "I don't know." It comes out strangled. It's hard to think about Sandy when Kim is here with me.
"Are you in love with her?"
I change my mind: this does hurt, and it is uncomfortable. I pull back from Kim and sit up as far away from her as I can manage. "I don't think I can have this conversation with you, Kim."
"Kerry." She sits up and grabs my arm. "Just tell me."
Air catches in my throat and I almost choke. I shake my head, tears gathering in my eyes. This is too much. "Don't."
"Do you love her?" she demands.
"Not like--" flies out of my mouth, and I catch myself. "No." Fine, it's out there. I hate myself for not being able to love Sandy like I love Kim, but it's the truth. Sometimes I think the memory of what we had will never go away, and to have to compare every future affair to it is troubling. "But I care about her. Very much."
I look back at Kim, and god, how I want to kiss her. Her hair is a mess, the skin around her eyes swollen and puffy. I want to go back to how I woke up, holding her close and feeling safe and loved. But that's a lie. She doesn't love me. Not anymore.
Kim takes a huge breath and pushes it out. "I hate it in San Francisco, Ker. I hate my life. I imagined everything would be so perfect, but I don't fit there like I thought I would. It's the mecca of acceptance and openness that I had always wanted to be a part of, you know? Two years ago, I probably would have made a nest and never left. But there's something missing."
I nod my head. I know what she means, even though we aren't thinking of the same thing.
"Do you hear what I'm saying?"
I nod again. "Sure. You aren't happy. You'll figure it out, though. Give it time." I can't believe I just said that. It sounds so hollow.
"I'm saying what's missing from my life is you."
I rear back, the words slapping me in the face. The adrenaline that shoots through me makes me feel ill. This was not what I expected. "What?"
"I've been gone almost a year, Ker. Everything has changed, I think for both of us. But the one thing that I've been wishing I could have back, after all that's happened, is you."
I stare at her. I hear what she's saying, but I don't honestly believe she's saying it. "After everything I did to you, you can still say that? We didn't exactly part on good terms." To my surprise, anger floods through me. "You ran away from me, Kim, as fast as you could. I called you every day for weeks, till your phone was disconnected. I know I hurt you, let your career go down the toilet. I have been trying to get past that fact for the better part of a year."
That's the truth. Months of therapy, something I never thought I'd try, have helped immeasurably in letting go of the guilt I felt. It also helped me begin to accept a newly discovered element of myself that I'd been denying since the day I clapped eyes on Kim Legaspi.
"But you left town, determined to start a new life. I respect that, even though I didn't like it. How can you come back and say that you miss me? You weren't even planning on seeing me; it was only chance that brought us together."
Her face crumples. "Kerry, I'll tell you what I'm talking about. I told myself that I was having a wonderful time in San Francisco, that I was adjusting and getting to know new people who would eventually be my friends."
She wipes her nose on her sleeve, which is somehow endearing at this moment when I feel so many conflicting emotions about her.
"But you were still in my mind, my heart. I haven't had a relationship since I left here, Ker."
"What about Lori?" I snap. The fact of Lori hurt me as much as anything that went wrong in our relationship, and I haven't been able to forget about her.
My eyebrows fly up. "Lori? Your girlfriend, the woman I ran into at your apartment that morning I tried to give you my letter?"
Her eyes close, and she sighs. "Lori's my cousin."
I try to figure out a way to respond to this new piece of the puzzle appropriately. "Your cousin?" It sounds like an accusation.
"I wanted to hurt you." She looks devastated.
"It worked. Like a charm."
She shakes her head free of whatever fog has descended over her. "Ker, when I got the call about Jason, I could hardly think. My parents told me he was at County, and I was so grateful that you'd be here I could hardly breathe. All I wanted was to have you with me, because you could fix anything that went wrong." She takes my hand and grips it. "And you'd hold me up if I crumbled. You're the only one who can."
She lets out a sob, and despite my anger I want to hold her. "If Jason had... If it had been worse than it was, I don't know what I would have done. All I wanted was for you to hold my hand, Kerry. And you did. From the second I got there till it was okay. It was everything I needed. And it hurt to remember how good it feels to be with you."
She reaches out and wipes the tears that have been rolling down my face.
"We're different people than we were a year ago, Kerry. But just looking at you fills me up with something that I've been missing since the day I walked away."
I can't speak. I don't even know what to say. My mouth opens and closes silently, but nothing comes out.
Quietly, she says, "I still love you, Ker."
That breaks whatever barrier was holding back my emotions, because I start bawling hysterically. She isn't sure how to react until I lurch forward and hug her, latching on with more strength than I know I have. I bury my face into her shoulder and cry, still unable to believe I heard those words. Her hands smooth along my back, comforting me, but I know she is crying as well.
We sit for minutes, clinging and weeping, till I pull back. "I still love you too," I say, and realize it's the first time I've said those words aloud to her.
She leans forward, intent on my lips, and I am drawn to her desperately. But I put a hand on her shoulder and say, "Wait."
Immediately she stops, and straightens up. "Yes?"
"I can't just jump back into this so fast."
"Okay," she responds, and I wonder what's going through her mind. But she waits for me to explain, and that means a lot.
"This is complicated. You don't live here anymore, and I'm not ready to leave Chicago and move to San Francisco." I pause. "Right now, at least." This brings out a smile. "Plus, so much went wrong between us, Kim. I screwed up, and I've been trying to learn from my mistakes. I don't think we can just pick up where we left off. Too much has happened."
She nods, a somber look on her face.
"But I want to try." I smile, and stroke the soft skin of her face just the way I imagined doing yesterday.
Then she takes me in her arms, kisses my hair, and I am whole again. How something so simple can make me feel so deeply is beyond my comprehension, but I'm not in the mood to question it at the moment. I breathe, "I missed you so much, Kim."
"Missed you too, love." My face scrunches up as I try not to cry again when I hear that word. When I feel the touch of her lips against my temple, my world clicks into place. We can do this. It will be worth it.
We arrive at the hospital together a few minutes before noon, and I go with her to the fourth floor. I hold her hand, only vaguely nervous about doing so in plain view of my co-workers. What I am more worried about is that word will get back to Sandy before I have a chance to speak to her about what's happened. And what hasn't.
I am still reeling from what went on between Kim and myself just a little while ago. I drop her at Jason's room and smile at him and Janine, kissing Kim goodbye on the cheek. It is difficult to avoid her lips.
I survive much of my shift by doing mostly paperwork at the front desk. Randi is there, peering at me out of the corner of her eye. I spot her doing it more than once, but I remain silent out of pure self-preservation. She'd grill me relentlessly, and I can't handle that right now. I feel tender inside, and I'm not ready to talk about what's happening to me. But I know I have to, with Sandy. And soon.
From the lounge I ring up the station house and leave a message to call me, or come by if she wants to. Then I nervously munch on Wheat Thins back at the desk and try to breathe deeply.
When seven o'clock rolls around, Sandy strolls in. She wears a ready smile, but it falls immediately upon seeing me. I have no idea what she sees in my face, but it must tell her something.
"Hey," she says.
"Yeah, I wanted to talk to you."
She nods. She looks angry, like she did last night when she asked the waiter to take back the bottle of wine. 'We won't need it. We're leaving.' I am scared, because I have no idea what I am going to say.
"Can we go somewhere? I don't think I want to hear this in the middle of the ER," she says.
"Okay," I answer. "We'll be in the lounge." Randi pops her gum, and looks intently at me. I wonder if she ever mentioned Kim to Sandy, but I don't think she has.
In the lounge, I pace, while Sandy leans against my locker. "Kerry, I knew there was something going on with you after we met, but I assumed that if I was patient, you'd tell me eventually. I wish I could have heard the story under better circumstances."
"There was nothing 'going on' with me, Sandy."
"Bullshit. You were reeling from a bad break up with someone you still loved. I'm not blind, Kerry. I'm not stupid either. Are you going to tell me what's up? Because if you're just going to stand there I'm leaving."
"Kerry, I care about you. I know you care about me too, but you've rather conspicuously avoided the word 'love', and I'd like to know why. Right now."
I stop, resigned, and slump onto the couch. "I loved her. And I threw it away because I was scared."
Somehow that phrase softens Sandy's heart. She sits next to me. "Kerry, I know you loved her, I just want to know what is going on now. Please... Are we done here?" Her voice wavers slightly. "I need to know. It's okay if you still have feelings for her, mija. I could never ask you to forget anyone you loved. But if you don't think you are going to get over this, tell me."
She takes my hand, and I weigh the feel of it in mine. I gasp out a breath and grip her hand tightly. "I can't be with you, San." Jesus, I don't believe I just said that out loud. I look up at her, and the pain I see in her eyes burns me up inside. "But I want you to know something. I never, ever used you as a substitute. What we have," I stumble over the word, almost saying 'had' instead, "is special to me. You took me into your life so easily, and I have been happy. I hope you have, too."
Her lips are a thin line. "I was happy, mija. But I think I knew this would happen. I should have put a stop to it."
I shake my head. "You couldn't have known--"
"I did know, Kerry. I found a picture in your desk once." She stops as I sit up straighter in my seat. "A couple of them, actually. One of just her. She's blonde, right, with long curly hair?" I nod silently. "She was in a chair somewhere, reading. And another one of the two of you. I think she took it herself, holding the camera out, like this?" She holds her arm away from her, just the way Kim did the night she took the photo in question.
I know exactly which pictures she's talking about, and I feel like an idiot for leaving them in the desk drawer. One is of Kim alone, resting languidly with her legs over the armchair in her house, reading the JAMA. She got mad at me for taking that shot, but she looked so beautiful in the winter light I couldn't resist. The other one, that was after a very delectable dinner, and once we finished off a potent bottle of merlot we got goofy with the camera. I am glowing with happiness. So is Kim. I had that photo framed the day I got it back from the developer. Three weeks later I smashed the glass and shoved the picture in the back of the drawer. It only stayed there a day before I brought it back out again, and left it near the front, on top of the bills, so I could look at it whenever I wanted.
"I wasn't snooping. I only wanted a pen." She looks dejected.
"I know, San. I'm sorry. I should have said something." I look down at our joined hands. "I was still hurting though. I didn't want to think about it." I feel like there's nothing left to say, so I just sit, holding her hand.
I told Sandy some of what happened last year, and she didn't say much. She cried a little, so did I. Thank goodness my pager didn't go off, and no one came in to interrupt us. She kissed my cheek, and held me close for a while, and it felt very much like a goodbye.
"I'll call you soon, Kerry. Not now, though. Maybe in a week or two. I don't want to lose you, but I need some time." I was so relieved to hear her words. There was no yelling or screaming, not that I expected that any way. It was all very subdued; more sad than anything else.
She left about ten minutes ago, and I'm pulling myself together. I feel okay, but rotten inside for having to end a relationship with someone as lovely as Sandy. I don't do that very often, so it's a strange sensation.
The phone rings, and the display shows the front desk. Thankfully it's Frank; Randi must be off by now. "There's a call from Dr. Legaspi for you, looks like it's coming from a patient room upstairs."
"Thanks Frank. Send it through."
There are a few moments of silence. "Are you okay? You sound funny."
Sighing, I tell her, "I just had a talk with Sandy."
"Oh. A good talk or a bad talk?"
"Neither, really. But I'm not feeling very well right now." I take a deep breath. "I broke it off."
I hear her take in little gasp of surprise. "Wow. I mean, wow." I wonder if she's happy I moved so quickly, or if she's having second thoughts. It doesn't matter though; I was right to end it. "I'm so sorry, babe. I wish this was easier."
The word 'babe' reassures me somewhat. "Me too," I say, and wipe an errant tear from my cheek.
"Maybe we can talk later?" She sounds so hopeful, and the sweetness of her voice soothes me like a balm.
"Yeah. I'm doing a full twelve today, though. I won't be able to leave till midnight." A thought occurs to me. "Do you want to stay with me again? You don't have to, I just thought--"
"Yes. I'd love it. Are you sure it's okay?"
I smile at the hesitance. "I'm sure. Just come down before you leave and I'll give you a key." A memory of Kim giving me my own set of keys to her house streaks through my brain, but I try to ignore it. This isn't the same thing. Quite.
"Okay, thanks." She's quiet again, and I wait. In a low voice she says, "I can't wait to see you, Ker."
My heart starts to pound in my chest, and I clench my fist. "I can't wait to see you either, Kimmie." I really can't. God, those feelings are still as strong as ever, even in the wake of my conversation with Sandy.
The door bursts open. It's Lydia. "We have a trauma coming in, ETA three minutes."
"I'll be right there. Kim, I've got to go."
"I'll see you later then. I'll be awake when you get home."
"Okay, love. See you soon." I hang up, and scoot out the door to ready trauma one. Less than five hours to go. Maybe the time will fly.
I drive home, exhausted yet exhilarated. Unfortunately it's nearly two instead of just after midnight, but I'm almost home. We got slammed after a dusting of snow coated the roads early this evening, which is sometimes worse than a full-fledged storm. At least then people know to stay off the roads. I'm very careful as I drive through the darkened streets, and note that there has only been about two inches of accumulation.
It's freezing when I get out of the car, but the dim light shining from my front window warms me. I'm not going inside an empty house tonight, so I pick up my pace as I climb the stairs.
I shake the snow off my hair once I'm in, and I'm greeted by the scents of wood smoke and possibly pizza. I peer into the living room, where a sputtering fire burns in the fireplace. Kim is asleep on the couch, and I grin when I see her back pack lying open on the floor. Now I know why it looked so oddly shaped when I shoved it under the lounge couch yesterday. Apparently Kim packed in a hurry; most of the clothes she brought are still on their hangers, and there are about half a dozen full size bottles of assorted hair care products in the bag as well. Two hard cover books and three pairs of shoes peek out at me, and I wonder what was going through Kim's mind when she threw in her Tevas. Probably wasn't thinking at all. Just wanted to get out of the house and to the airport as soon as possible.
I creep quietly to observe Kim as she rests, and smile at her boxer shorts and night shirt. The shorts are mine. I wondered where they went months ago, then forgot about them. It's good to see her wearing them again, and silently I question whether she brought them on purpose.
Her eyes open as I watch her, and she smiles sleepily. "Hi."
"Hey." I slide down the arm of the sofa and sit near her feet on one of the cushions. She throws her calves across my lap, and I rub the arch of one slender foot. "I'm sorry I'm so much later than I thought I'd be."
"It's okay. I left you some pizza in the fridge if you're hungry."
"Nah. Maybe I'll have it for breakfast." I waggle my eyebrows, and she laughs.
"Sounds good." Her foot caresses my thigh and I blush immediately. My attraction to her has not faded in all this time; in fact, I think it may be stronger than I remember. "How was your shift?" she asks.
I try to think about work instead of how good her skin feels under my hands. "Busy. Had a bunch of wrecks because of the snow. I think everyone forgot that tapping the breaks is better than punching them when driving in inclement weather. But no deaths."
"That's good news. You must be tired."
"Yeah." I am but I don't want to leave her presence. I don't think I have the guts to ask if she wants to sleep in my room. I also doubt I'd have the ability to resist her if she kissed me while we were in my bed, so it's better if she stays in the guest room.
"Hey, where'd you go?"
"Sorry, I was just thinking. I'm probably more tired than I thought." I run a blunt fingernail down the sole of Kim's foot, knowing I'm treading dangerous waters. I watch the motion of her throat as she swallows. "Do you want the guest room?"
She pulls her bottom lip between her teeth for a second, then answers. "Care if I just stay down here? I'm pretty comfy, and I like the fire."
I like it too. I wouldn't mind staying down here with her. "Not at all. But I should go up and try to get some sleep. And I woke you, so close your eyes and rest."
"Will you sit with me for just a little bit?" Kim asks.
I think 'absolutely not!' for a split second, then find myself nodding. "Sure, I'll be right back. I want to change my clothes."
Upstairs I feel sweat forming on my stomach as I pull a long sleeved, oversized night shirt on. I also don baggy pajama pants and wool socks. Don't want to make this any harder than it already is by showing flesh.
When I get downstairs, I see Kim walking back to the couch holding two steaming mugs of something.
"I made you some chamomile tea to help you relax. No sugar, no milk." I smile, and want to curl up against her by the fire and stay there forever. Instead, I take a seat sideways on the couch, and bend my knees to leave plenty of room for Kim. She places a mug on the coffee table, then hands me the other before she retakes her space. To my surprise, she takes my feet in her cool hands and places them across her lap. "You've been on your feet all day long, will you let me?"
I'm unable to come up with a valid excuse why she shouldn't rub my feet. 'I might spontaneously combust, then where would you be?' pops into my head, which most likely wouldn't go over well. So I say nothing as she removes my protective wool socks, and I sigh as she strokes my heel. Settling back against the arm of the couch, tea in hand, I feel wonderful.
With expert hands she massages my left foot, and I know I'm groaning. I'm also blushing furiously, since I can't seem to stop imagining her pressing those talented fingers elsewhere on my body. Sweating even worse than before, I lift my head and gaze at her with drooping eyes. She's examining my foot intently; apparently unaware of the affect she's having on me. I place my half empty mug on the floor.
Eventually she switches feet, and I grit my teeth as my head lolls back on my neck. I'm trying not to squirm, but it's getting progressively harder to stay still. Long, rhythmic sweeps of her fingers set a pulse deep between my legs that goes unanswered. When she presses a spot just beneath my toes, I gasp as my hips jerk. Instantly I yank my foot back and cover my eyes with one hand.
"What? Did I hurt you?"
Her plaintive whisper pisses me off; she has to realize what this is doing to me. "You know damn well you didn't hurt me."
Her hand pulls my arm away from my face, and I want to cry with need and confusion. She looks into my eyes, and I see understanding dawn. My pupils must be enormous.
"I-- I just wanted to make you feel good, Ker."
"You did." I'm calming down now, but it's tough since she's right up in my face. "Just a little too good, I think." I swallow. "I know you didn't mean to."
"We need to take things slow." It sounds like she's trying to convince herself.
I nod. "You still live in San Francisco, and I'm still here. Maybe that will be good for us for a while. We can talk, without any pressure."
"Oh." She sits back a bit from me, looking down at her hands. "Okay."
My interest is piqued. "Now you have to tell me."
"Um, it's just that, I mean, after you told me you broke it off with Sandy I made some calls to Mount Sinai and Northwestern Memorial."
A flash of excitement shoots through me. "About what?"
We sit silently for a minute, and I watch her as she glares at the coffee table. "Did you have any luck?"
My mouth drops open slightly. She could be back here in a matter of weeks. All I have to do is say the word. Instead of saying something, though, I decide a little action is necessary.
I tackle her. Thank god this couch is big enough that we don't both go rolling off. I wrap around her like a koala, my arms and legs fastening tightly. When she situates herself a little better in my grip, I feel an arm come around my back. "So that's okay?" she asks.
"Yep." I'm breathing fast, hardly able to imagine that this really is happening. She's coming back. I scrunch my eyes shut tight, and listen to the sound of her heart beating beneath my ear.
"You had me worried for a second. Thought you might have changed your mind."
I glance up at her. "I won't change my mind."
She sighs in relief. "Me neither."
As she strokes my back in a calm circular motion, my eyes grow heavy.
"Kim?" I mutter, half asleep.
"Do you mind if I sleep down here with you?"
"Don't mind a bit. I've been angling for it since you walked in the door."
Grinning, I relax into her loose embrace. "Heh."
"Maybe soon we can graduate to a bed," she whispers, pulling the blanket down over us.
"Soon," I say.
I wake gradually, swimming to consciousness in a pleasant haze. It's only after I try to move my head that I realize what an awkward position I'm in. Somehow I've torqued my body half on my back, half on my side, and my head is wedged into the corner of the couch. Kim is sprawled across me, her face pressed into my bare stomach. My shirt seems to be missing. Wonder how that happened.
I try to focus on anything more than two feet in front of me, and hold in a laugh when I notice Kim's legs bent at the knee, her shins resting against the other arm of the sofa. Those legs are too long for this position, but it doesn't appear to bother her very much.
I'm due in for another noon shift today, but I'm scheduled for only eight hours. I'm relieved. I'd like to spend more than ten minutes talking to Kim before passing out on her again. I guess it's around eight judging from the light coming in the room, but it looks much different than yesterday. It's that strange white glow that reflects when there's snow on the ground.
Snow. It was snowing last night when I got home.
I grin. I would like to walk in the snow with Kim very much. We didn't get much chance to last year.
I pet her head, grateful and content. She stirs faintly, then slides her hands up my sides and opens her mouth to lick the hollow below my sternum. That wakes me up instantly. I inhale sharply as she works her way up my chest fast, and can't bear to turn from the kiss that follows. It's open mouthed and deep, and from the way she's moving it feels like Kim is in the middle of a dream. A very good dream. This is the first touch of her lips I've felt in 10 months, and it's like our first kiss all over again. No, wait, our second. The first I wasn't paying enough attention. The second, now that one really cooked.
I groan in pleasure as she meshes her tongue with mine, flicking with purpose as she rocks against me. Then I feel it; there's wetness coming through her shorts. Oh shit. This isn't slow, this is way too fast.
I somehow pull my mouth from hers, but it kills me. "Kim, wake up." She whimpers my name, and I take her head in my hands. "Kim."
Her eyes pop open. She is definitely surprised to be where she is, doing what she's doing. "Uh, what?"
"Are you awake now?"
I breathe a sigh of relief. "Kiss me again, then."
Her mouth opens, and her eyes smile at me. She was dreaming, about me. I can't resist this. She kisses me, this time softly, but with great intensity. Her lips press against mine, her body melting, spreading and covering me completely. I am submerged, and I don't want to ever come up for air.
We lie together for a while, reacquainting ourselves with one another, but never crossing too far over the line. I come once, when it's too much to hold back as her mouth moves on my breast, her hand gripping my thigh. She comes too, quietly, and the rapture on her face makes my heart want to explode. I have missed her face, so much. I feel young and hopeful as we tangle together, learning our way again.
Time passes, and eventually she finds my wayward shirt on the floor and pulls it back over my head. "Morning," she says.
"Morning." I can't stop smiling.
"You have to work today?"
I nod. "Just 12 to 8."
"'Kay." She strokes a hand down my shirt and looks at the clock on the VCR. "It's only nine. Want to go out for breakfast?"
"I think it snowed. Don't know how much. I'll go see." I push up from the couch, sorry to leave the warm cocoon we've created under the blanket. It's chilly; I have to turn the heat up. Peeking out the side window, my jaw drops. "Um, I think we'll be taking the El today."
"What." She sits up.
"It snowed a lot."
"More than a foot, I'd say"
"Well, I guess I probably won't be going back to San Francisco tomorrow then."
I turn to her, the breath gone from my lungs. "You were going to leave tomorrow?"
Her gaze doesn't waver. "I thought about it. Jason gets out of the hospital today, and Janine is staying with him. Plus I have a lot of things to do before I can come back, Ker. My house here is subleased through next month, and I'll have to break my lease in San Francisco unless I can find someone to take the apartment I have there."
"Right. I forgot about that." I had deliberately allowed everything slip to my mind that's less than pleasant to think about. We have lots to talk over, and up until now we haven't done much talking. Hugging, sleeping, kissing, yes, but talking, no. I can feel myself wanting to slip into our old pattern, but that can't happen. We'll never make it that way. "Well, maybe the day after tomorrow will be better, once some of the snow melts."
"Maybe." She's looking at me strangely, her head tilted. "Are you okay?"
The word 'yes' is about to slip out of my mouth when I stop it. I ponder our situation, which currently has no boundaries to mark where either of us stands. "Yes," I finally say after all, "and I'm glad you'll be around an extra day. It will give us a little more time together, to talk. About what we both want." There, that wasn't too hard.
Her smile is like sunshine cutting through the white light in the room. "Good. I need to talk to my connection at Mount Sinai again, but I'm feeling pretty positive about it."
I walk back to the couch, and sit close. "I wish you could come back to County."
"That would be nice, wouldn't it." She takes my hand. "But I think this may be better for you, Ker. For both of us. I won't have Romano breathing down my ass every minute of the day, and you won't have to worry about keeping home separate from work." She nods to herself. "That was a problem before."
I want to deny it, but she's right. "Yeah. It was. I made some huge mistakes."
"I did too, Ker. You don't have to take all the credit for breaking us up. I did my share."
I veer the conversation back to the hospital, wanting to straighten some things out. "Romano's the same giant prick he's always been. He's on me constantly, about every little thing. Even though I stepped down as Chief, he still manages to bust me on the smallest details." I feel long-standing anger frothing inside me, and I make a conscious effort to swallow it. I breathe in deeply, and exhale slowly to help calm myself. Rubbing my thumb along her wrist, I say quietly, "I was so afraid of him, Kim. Back when you were in trouble. I was ashamed. I thought he knew about us." That hurt to say aloud.
She grips my hand and says nothing. Waiting.
"I hate what I did that day, Kim. But I can tell you one thing. I won't deny you again, personally or professionally. I'm not ashamed anymore, of who I am, or who I love. It took a while, but I'm doing better."
Her eyebrows are raised, and I see that she's searching for something to say. "You've certainly done a lot of work since I left."
She sounds like Diane. "I started seeing a therapist about eight months ago. 'Work' is what she calls it, is that what you mean?"
"Yeah, that's it. Wow. I never thought I'd see the day." She grins. "I'm really proud of you, Ker." She starts to say something else, but cuts herself off quickly. I wonder what it was. "Well what else have you been up to? Your very quick thumbnail sketch the other day didn't tell me much."
I'll grill her about that hesitation later. Though I want to tell her about Sandy, I need a minute or two to gear myself up. "I'd like to shower first, then I'll make breakfast for us. I'll talk while I cook, how about that?"
"Ooh, will you make me scrambled eggs and bacon?" She's thrilled at the prospect.
"Yes, I will. Turkey bacon. Lower in fat."
"Spoil sport. I'll eat it anyway. Then maybe we can go sled riding!" She jumps up in excitement.
"You can sled ride, I'll drink hot chocolate and watch. But I would like to take a walk outside with you once they clear the sidewalk. It looks so beautiful out."
"Done. Get up there and shower. Time's a wastin'."
I made her breakfast, and told her about Sandy. It was awkward for me to explain my feelings for another woman to someone I'm in love with, but I got through it. Kim understood, and I think she was even grateful that Sandy had been there for me.
She loved the story of how we met. "How could she resist you, all gorgeous and heroic and soaking wet?"
I laughed, "Yeah, I looked like a drowned rat with blood up to my elbows and a bad hair cut."
Kim looked at me in a certain way she has, and I flushed. "I'll bet you looked beautiful."
I started to shake my head, but just turned back and spread some cream cheese on a bagel. "No, but thanks."
She stood up and wrapped her arms around my waist, using my shoulder as a pillow. "You look beautiful now."
I sighed, and kissed her cheek, and told her I loved her. It was a great morning.
We walked in the snow to the El, and she stopped down in the ER to say hi to everyone. As soon as I walked through the door I was pulled into a trauma, so I waved an apology and she just smiled and waved back.
She booked a flight for Saturday, and is going to have a chat with the head of psych at Mount Sinai tomorrow. She's coming back to visit in two weeks to look around for a new place. We talked about her taking her old house, but she'd have to commit to a two year lease, and we weren't sure if that was the best idea. It's a wonderful house, and we both love it. But if we eventually move in together, that house isn't practical for someone with a disability. I also think she wouldn't mind if we found something new for both of us. I could sell the townhouse pretty easily, and though it would be tough to leave, I'd do it. I'll worry about that later.
I know I'm getting ahead of myself, but in my mind I can't see Kim and I living apart for a long period of time. When she told me she was going to look for a place with a six month lease, I hid my relief. As far as I'm concerned, we'll know by then, for sure, about being together. Truthfully I know now, but having six months to theoretically live apart takes some of the pressure off.
I decide I want to have a quick visit with the crew upstairs before Jason is released. He's obviously doing well, but I want to just check up on all of them. I tell Randi where she can find me, and she nods.
Before I head for the elevator, she asks, "Are you and Sandy kaput?"
I press my lips together, unsure of how to respond. No use in putting her off, she'll find out soon enough. Randi became pretty friendly with Sandy during the times she came in looking for me. "Yeah. Yesterday."
"Because of Legaspi." It's not a question.
I don't want to say yes, but I do anyway.
"Figured. You've been crazy about her since the day you two met. Sandy didn't stand a chance."
I play with the top of my crutch, unexpectedly embarrassed at how transparent I must have been all those months ago. "You're right." I look up, dismissing my shyness. "I love her. I never stopped."
"You two back together?" Randi's smiling now. I get a mental picture of Randi as a high schooler pulling her gum out of her mouth in a long strand and twirling it around her finger. The look she's giving me now definitely would have accompanied such an action.
"We're working on it." I can't stop the grin that creeps across my face. I've been grinning all day in fact; that must have tipped Randi off. "Would you do me a favor at some point?"
She nods, and I can't quite believe I'm about to ask this. "Would you call Sandy and just see how she's doing? I'm sure she's fine, but I'll bet she'd love to hear from you. Just because we aren't together anymore doesn't mean you two can't be friends."
She sits up straighter in her chair, probably taken aback. "Yeah, okay. Sure."
"Thanks, Randi. I appreciate it."
Kim is helping Janine get Jason settled into his apartment, and we're having a late supper at Hyacinth. Kim's eyebrows almost flew off her forehead when I told her where I made the reservation. It's a lesbian owned restaurant that I'd been to once with Sandy, so I figured Kim might enjoy revisiting it, since I'm sure she's been there before. Populated almost solely by female customers on most nights, it's an extremely romantic place to take someone. And I want to order the chocolate fondue. For two.
I don't know what Kim is up to right now. Our reservation is for 9:30 and it's nearly nine now. I didn't think it would take that long to get Jason back into his place. But I'm about ready, and I check my make-up for the seventeenth time in ten minutes. I want to look good tonight while I take the woman I love out for a fancy dinner. I stuck with basic black in clothes, just in case I get nervous and spill anything. I never realized how clumsy I can be with food until I met Kim. Boot cut pants, tight black buttoned shirt, three buttons open. If I move right she'll be able to see my bra. So will everyone else, but I'm trying not to think about that. It's not a bad effect.
As I'm pulling black boots on, I hear the door open and slam. "Ker!" she yells.
"Up here!" I yell back.
"I'll be up in a sec!"
I have no idea what she's doing. It's not like she has anything dressy to change into, but she'll still look fantastic in some simple black pants and a tee shirt. She can always wear the blue blouse I have of hers shoved in the back of my closet.
One last check in the mirror and I head downstairs. I'm tempted to button up my shirt, but I don't. "Kimmie, we should go in a few minutes. Are you almost ready?"
"Yeah. I'll be right out." She's in the bathroom, probably changing.
"I hope you're hungry, because I plan on ordering everything on the menu." I flip through a copy of the Advocate that has mysteriously appeared on my coffee table sometime in the last five minutes. Nothing too earth shattering going on lately.
"Oh, I'm hungry, all right."
I glance up, and lose my breath in the next moment. She's definitely not wearing cotton pants and a tee shirt. Leather pants, black. Boots, black. A little tiny red top that's cut in a way that makes me suspect it's backless. I don't know how we're supposed to get through dinner tonight. Maybe we should've done more than just fool around this morning to help take some of the tension out of the air.
"Uh," I say. Shit.
She slinks up to me, doing a little turn in the middle of her trip. Yep. That shirt has no back. I should be embarrassed, because I'm blushing very badly.
"I like your shirt," she says, running a finger down my neck till it presses down on the top button that's fastened. "Maybe you should undo one more button." With a flick of her fingers, it's undone. So am I. "That's better. You ready?"
I open my mouth and manage to get a few words out. "Where the hell did you get that outfit?"
"The shirt's Janine's. I just bought the pants. That's why I'm so late. I wanted to look nice for you tonight."
God, she is wonderful. "Kim, you always look nice." I run a hand along her hip, caressing the leather that hugs her body so efficiently. "But these pants are amazing. You are amazing."
She blushes now, and leans in for a kiss. It's just a touch of her lips, but I am hot all over. "Maybe we should stay home," I mumble.
"Nope. I'm showing you off tonight. We'll be home soon enough. We can talk at the restaurant. You can tell me exactly how... slow... you want to take our relationship, okay?" Kim takes my lower lip between her teeth and sucks, which sends my blood rushing south.
I snake my tongue into her mouth and kiss her hard, yearning to untie the strap of her top. But I resist, and eventually pull away. It's a good thing I went for gloss instead of lipstick tonight.
"Let's go," I say. Was that my voice? Sounds like my I'm-hung-over-you-just-woke-me-up voice. Damn.
We make it to the restaurant at 9:28, and are seated immediately. I'm thrilled, because we have a prime corner table and I can watch everyone as they drool over my date. Heads turn as we stroll in, and I feel intense pride with Kim's hand on my hip. I am with the most gorgeous woman in the whole place.
Kim even pulls my chair out and seats me, kissing my ear before she takes her own place. She grins goofily as she flops in her seat. "I haven't been here in ages, Ker. But it's pretty much the same."
"I was only here once. The crowd is a little high maintenance, but the food is great."
"I don't know if they'd have let me in wearing jeans."
"I can assure you, they'd have let you in, love. But I'm sure everyone appreciates your leather pants. They're all probably wondering if you have a motorcycle parked out front."
"Huh, no way. Death machines. Couldn't pay me enough to ride one. Convertible Mustang, maybe, but no Harleys, I don't care how sexy they are." She flips open her menu and takes a gander. "Besides, no one noticed my pants. Everyone in the place was checking out your rack."
My hand immediately flies to my chest. "What?" I sound panicked. I start to button that fourth button she undid.
"Don't touch that button, Weaver, or else. I want to spend this evening thinking about what's under there, and I'd like a little tease, okay?" She flutters her eyelashes, and I purse my lips. "Come on, babe, nothing wrong with showing off your assets a little. It's not like you look indecent or anything."
"Kim, you can see my bra. That seems indecent."
"Honey, look at the bar."
I glance over, while Kim orders a nice bottle of Josmeyer Riesling. Behind the bar there's a woman wearing an entirely sheer black shirt over a very skimpy bra. At least I'm good company.
"Okay." I pout a little, very self-conscious.
"Relax, Ker. You look wonderful. We'll have some wine. Maybe by the end of the night you'll unbutton the rest of the buttons."
I lean forward and watch her eyes drift to my cleavage. "Count on it." She flushes. Mission accomplished. I think we might be graduating to the bed tonight, unless something goes wildly wrong. Today makes three days; that's sort of taking it slow. I close my eyes and take a breath, trying to cool down. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.
"Huh?" I answer.
"I think I'm worried."
She inspects my expression closely. "About jumping in without testing the waters."
I nod. "Kind of."
"Maybe I should stay with Jason tonight."
"No!" I practically shout it. "I just, I'm afraid. I thought we could just talk about us for a few days, think about what we wanted." I reach across the table and stroke her hand. "But all I want is you, Kim. I don't know what else to say to clear the air. Maybe you should tell me what's going through your mind."
She tickles my palm with her fingertips. "Well, I couldn't have asked for more in coming back, Ker. I, I don't know what I expected. Nothing, I guess. I suppose I never imagined how far you'd have come in the past year. In my mind you were still the same, trapped in a shell and afraid to leave it." She looks down at the tablecloth. "I wish things had been different. We wouldn't have lost so much time."
"I wish that too, Kim."
"Earlier, when you said you were in therapy..."
She stops, hesitant to finish. "Go ahead, sweetie."
"I wished you had started earlier. When we were first together. I wanted to say something then, about finding you someone to talk to, but I thought you'd get upset and tell me to buzz off."
I smile gently. "I probably would have. And I don't know how much it would have helped. I didn't want to admit to anything then. It took you getting fired to get me to say it out loud."
Her eyes widen. "What happened?"
I remember that I haven't mentioned what happened with Romano, and I don't really want to talk about it. "I just realized that I had to own up to it. That's all."
Her voice is stern, her lips lengthening into thin lines in anger. "Don't you lie to me, Kerry."
The server arrives with our wine, and Kim is fuming. I taste the wine, and shoo the woman away. "Kim, it's really not important."
"Then it won't matter if you tell me, will it."
I look off at the bar, at the women standing alone and in pairs, chatting about who knows what. There's one I notice, a quiet one, who looks petrified to be there. Brown hair, glasses, a beer clutched in her hand. She isn't talking to anyone, she's just sitting. She is me, six months ago.
I turn back to Kim. "I came out to Romano the day you got fired and tried to convince him to hire you back."
She nods, expelling a breath she must have been holding. "I wondered what made him call me that night."
"He tried to get me to come back, but I refused. I could never figure out why he changed his mind. I used to imagine it was because of you, Kerry. But I didn't believe in you enough then." She takes a gulp of wine. "I believe in you now, though."
I smile at that, and trail a fingernail down her wrist.
"There's something else," she says. "What happened at the hospital was awful, and it took me a long time to be able to see past it. But there was more than one reason why I left."
This sounds serious, so I wait.
She has another swallow of wine. "I was afraid." I nod, encouraging. "I mean, terrified. I loved you so much, Kerry."
"Okay." I frown, trying to grasp her point.
"I was afraid because you were it, Ker. I didn't want anyone else to come after you. You were the end of the line. No more searching for me. I'd found what I was looking for. So I ran away."
I can't find my voice, and I'm replaying what she's just said to me over in my head to make sure I heard her right.
"Do you see now? You know that old cliché, be careful what you wish for. I got what I wanted, then freaked."
I swallow against a very dry throat, and out of the corner of my eye, I shake my head at the server to keep her away from the table. We need to finish this. "So being with me was scary."
"Yes! How did I respond when I was granted my heart's desire? I left. You gave me the perfect excuse, and I told myself you didn't love me, you didn't care about me. That you would never be good enough, because you wouldn't defend me when I needed you most."
Despite how long I've been dealing with what happened that day, the shame I felt for so long comes back in a wave. Some days I worry it's never going to go away.
She carries on, thankfully unaware of where my mind just went. "It took me forever to understand what you were going through. You said you were in therapy; well, so was I. I must have talked about you and what happened non-stop for the first ten sessions. I figured out a lot of what I was feeling under all the anger and humiliation. There was fear, tons of it. I'm tired of being afraid. I want to try again. No, not try. I want to be with you again. Permanently."
My mouth twitches. I didn't really expect her to lay it out so clearly this early on.
She sits back in her seat, taking a big breath. "There, I said it. We can go at whatever pace you like, Ker. But I'll tell you right now, you're the one."
I start crying. I can't help it.
"Oh, shit. I knew when you said slow you didn't just mean in bed. Come here, forget I said anything."
She moves around the table to kneel next to me. I sniffle and hug her close, shaking my head. "No, Kim. You're it for me too." I hear her sharp intake of breath, and suddenly we both have what we want. We're on even ground again. I can't express how good it feels to love someone who loves me back. I don't remember the last time this has happened. Maybe never. Not like this.
I feel her giggle, and pull back a little, smoothing a knuckle under my eyes. I hope my mascara isn't running.
"We must look awfully funny."
I lean forward and kiss her nose. "Maybe there will be an ugly fight later and everyone will forget all about the scene we're making."
Wiping the tear streaks from my cheeks, she says, "As long as we're not the ones doing the fighting." She stands and brushes off her pants, then bends down to give me a soft kiss.
She retakes her seat across from me, and both of us start to laugh. "I feel better," Kim admits.
"I'm also starving."
I already know what I'm having, so I push a menu in her direction. "Then pick something."
"What are you getting?"
"The lobster ravioli."
She looks up at me, eyes huge. "That sounds so good. If I get something else, can we share?"
I narrow my eyes at her. "Depends on what you get. That ravioli is worth killing for, so only if it's something amazing." Of course I'll share with her, I'm only teasing. But I still hope she chooses one of the dishes I have my eye on.
"How about the Indian pepper sea bass?"
"I'll take it." Immediately my eyes search out our poor waitress, who is hovering closely.
"Everything okay over here?" she asks.
"Peachy," I say. "We are definitely ready to order."
Between the two of us, we devoured salads, a basket of bread, sea bass and ravioli in record time. Along the way we decimated most of a bottle of wine, and we're waiting, not so patiently, for the fondue to arrive.
Her foot is sliding up my leg slowly, her eyes glassy and seductive. I want her very badly, and the wait to touch her bare skin is beautiful, excruciating torture. There's a motion at my side, and it is an effort to turn from her gaze. It's our server, whose knowing smile tells me our dance is patently obvious to the rest of the crowd. "Be careful ladies. Don't want to get busted by the cops for lewd activities, now."
I'd blush if I weren't feeling so damned sensational. I look over at the woman who has just placed the dessert in front of us and take my bottom lip between my teeth. "We'll try. But could you stay away from anyone as delectable as she is?" I nod toward Kim, who says, "Kerry! What's got into you?" as the waitress looks her over.
The woman turns back to me. "I think you're the dangerous one, Miss, if you don't mind me saying so." She winks at me, then heads over to another table.
My mouth drops a bit, and Kim cackles. "Mm, Ker, you've got yourself an admirer, haven't you. As long as she keeps her distance, we won't be getting into that fight we mentioned before."
With care I investigate the dipping fruit for our fondue, and it all looks wonderful. Strawberries, apples, pineapple chunks, cherries, and banana slices. A few ladyfingers are artfully arranged on the side to cut the sweetness as well.
With a raised eyebrow, I ask, "Wanna sit next to me?"
The only reply is a quick chair move and she's by my side. "You first."
She stabs a strawberry, a small one, luckily. I don't want to make a fool of myself trying to down anything too big in one bite. She dips the fruit slowly, dripping chocolate around it in a lovely pattern, then holds it up to my mouth. Her hand catches the excess, and I lean in and take the fruit, eyes nearly rolling back in my head as I taste the melding of flavors. God, this is so good. She licks the chocolate from her hand, and warmth cascades through the flesh between my thighs at her action. I dip a slice of pineapple, her favorite, and feed it to her. She actually moans aloud, attracting all sorts of interested looks from various tables. "Is that your mating call?" I ask.
She feeds me an apple next, and some chocolate drips down my chin. "You did that on purpose," I say indignantly.
"Of course. I need an excuse to clean you up." She leans in and kisses me, then her tongue swipes up the remaining mess while I start to pant. I'm happy the lights are dim, and hope that no one pays too much attention to us. "Me next," she says.
I spear a large strawberry, a wicked grin curving my mouth. I submerge the berry and shake it for a moment, then hold it out for her to bite. She does so, then leans toward me with the fruit still between her teeth so I can take a bite as well. She is reading my mind.
Our noses bump as we chew, mouths touching, breaths coming faster. Her tongue sneaks out and licks the corner of my lip, and I make a desperate sound before latching my mouth on to hers. I hardly realize what I'm doing, delving deep inside her, tasting strawberry and chocolate and her own sweet flavors. Grabbing her waist with a frantic hand, I kiss her with an urgency that would better serve me in a more private arena.
She yanks her face from mine, sucking air into her lungs. Wiping her mouth with the back of her wrist, she breathes, "Do you think we could get this stuff to go?"
"I'll see what I can do." Immediately I'm on my feet, heading for our server. I must look a sight; my lips feel swollen, and I have a suspicion that my eyes are a little wild. "Hi, do you think you could do me a favor?"
"You want me to pack up the rest of your dessert?"
I grimace a bit. "Yeah." Now I'm embarrassed. We just made out in a public restaurant. Oh my god.
"Honey, don't worry about it. Happens all the time. I'll be right over, and you two have fun tonight. Are you just starting out?"
A smile slowly spreads across my face, and a feeling of great joy and contentment erases my mortification. "No. Starting over."
I fumble with the keys twice before I'm able to fit them into the lock. Kim is behind me, breathing in my ear. One hand's on my ass, the other holds our leftover dessert. I'm tempted to just grab the chocolate and pour it all over her once we get in the door, but I refrain. She tosses the bag on the hall table and whips me around, grabbing me in a giant bear hug. Immediately her lips are at my neck, feeding ravenously. "I should put the stuff in the fridge," I choke out.
"Later. I need your hands on me now."
That's fine with me. "Okay." She sort of drags me to the stairs, turns me, then hoists me up. My crutch smacks to the ground, forgotten.
"Put your legs around me."
"I'm too heavy," I whine.
Lifting me with ease, probably assisted by some conveniently pumping adrenaline, she says, "Do it." I follow instructions, and soon we're halfway up the stairs. She's a lot stronger than she looks. I find the tie to her shirt and quickly yank it, amazed when I pull the shirt right out from between us and toss it over the banister. Unerringly my hand finds her breast, and I gasp as I enjoy the weight of it, the texture of the pebbling nipple against my palm. "Ungh," she grunts as I pull on it slightly, then she drops to her knees, catching us both with one arm. I land in a remarkably uncomfortable position, one stair digging into my neck, another one pressing into my lower back, but she's between my legs, so I can work from here. I latch my mouth onto her other breast, smoothing my hands down the sleek skin of her back.
She pulls away from me, gritting her teeth, then rips open my shirt. It was already halfway unbuttoned, but I hear the pop of the tiny pearls ricocheting off the walls. I snicker as she descends on me. "What's so funny?" she growls as she unsnaps my bra with one hand.
"I haven't had to mend a shirt since you left. I missed sewing my buttons back on. I missed you." She looks down at me, and I run my hands up into her soft hair.
"Missed you too, Kerry. Every day, every night." She leans down and kisses me long and slow, like we have all the time in the world. Her hands move across my skin gently while I tangle my fingers into her curls. I can't get enough; I could kiss her all night.
Then I feel her hand sneak down the waist of my pants, and I know kissing won't be enough.
"Upstairs," I gasp, and she pulls me to my feet. Since my crutch is downstairs, I wrap an arm around her middle as she walks me to the bedroom.
It's only the second time we've made love here, and I'm happy to welcome her back into my bed. She lays me down and covers me, pressing her hand back between my legs as I squirm. "Want you so bad," I groan, nearly beyond words. Then my pants are off, and she's kneeling beside the bed, mouth between my thighs. I spread as wide as I can, wishing I could pull her all the way inside, to share the same skin. Her fingers steal into me, stretching me, filling me up. Her tongue is fluttering, and when the pressure within overwhelms me I shatter, crying her name into the stillness of the room. I'm trying to catch my breath, and reach down to grasp her hair. "Up," I beg, "Up here."
Fingers still inside me, she crawls up my body and kisses me while my muscles continue to contract around her. I hate to feel her hand slide away from me, so instead I concentrate on kissing her senseless. I roll us over so I'm on top, and sit up to straddle her.
She giggles as I make eyes at her while I unzip her fly. "Mm, I think you should wear these every day," I say. My words are slow and gravelly, my tongue thick with desire in anticipation of getting into these pants. "Lift up," I say, and her hips oblige me. But the pants are snug - they don't want to come off. "Shit," I mutter, and she tries to help by wiggling her ass around in the air and scooting back on the bed. It doesn't help. "I've changed my mind. Maybe not every day," I say. Finally I fold them over and pull them off till they're completely inside out. I must look very proud as I hold them up, because she laughs and applauds.
"Good job. Now come down here and make love to me."
"Yes ma'am," I reply.
I slide my hands up her flanks, licking my lips. "Turn over."
"Huh?" She looks confused, off balance. Good.
"Over." I kneel over her body as she flips, feeling predatory and energized. My fingers whisper down her back, and she squirms beneath my touch. I tongue her shoulder blades, then creep down her back slowly with my mouth, nipping and dragging my teeth with light pressure. When I slide the tip of my tongue down the cleft of her rear, she squeals and shoves her hips into the mattress.
I press my hand down between her thighs from behind and grin as her legs part, easing the way for my fingers. Her arms are bent above her head, wrists slipped through the spaces of the headboard to rest against the wall. I watch the play of muscles along her spine and skim my breasts over her, my nipples still hard with desire. She's fucking my hand with vigor, keening her pleasure noisily. But I still want more. With a free hand I move one of her legs to the side, then slip down to maneuver my head in the space between her body and the bed. She shrieks when my tongue touches her clit, my fingers shoving deep inside her. My own legs clench together as I listen to her moaning. The seductive movement of her body breaks my will and I press a hand between my legs. I come instantly, mouth open against her, breathing her scent, drinking her in.
I think she lifts up on her arms a little as her weight shifts above me. "Oh god," she groans, and I imagine her looking down between her breasts at me lapping at her. She's right there on the edge, and I finally grasp her hips with my hands and slide my tongue deep inside her. She thrusts against me, snapping taut finally, while the wavering motion around my tongue goes on and on. She is an earthquake, shaking apart and collapsing without thought. Since I'm holding her bottom up slightly, she doesn't smother me. She's a limp, quivering mass of flesh, and damn if I don't feel proud of myself.
The fragrance of sex permeates the room, and for the moment, I am satisfied. I pull my head out from underneath her and climb up to flop against her, kissing her cheek.
"Kerry," she whispers.
"That was good."
My body vibrates with silent laughter. "It was."
"Really." Her eyes are closed. I think she may drop off to sleep.
I stroke her hair and snuggle my body under her arm, pulling the comforter over us from the side of the bed. It doesn't really cover both of us, but I'll keep her warm.
Twenty minutes later, she was awake, streaking down the stairs naked to bring up the rest of the fondue. She came back upstairs after warming the chocolate, and we proceeded to make a complete mess of my bedspread. I thought about laying a towel down for about two seconds, then figured there was no way it could be avoided. I need a new comforter anyway, and this one gave its life for a noble cause. Maybe the strawberry juice stains will come out.
I have the day off today, so I'm going to take her up to Mount Sinai to see if this job she's looking into is the real thing. It sounds promising. Her reputation has always been extremely good, and being fired by Romano last year seemed to elevate her to martyred status among physicians all over the city.
I'm glad she's not going in until two, so we have a little more time to rest. I slept hard, wrapped in her arms, and when my alarm clock went off at five thirty I was incredibly disoriented. At first I got out of bed and headed for the shower, thinking I had to go in to work. It was only after I stood under the shower for a few minutes that I realized I'd forgotten to turn off my alarm. I'm surprised I haven't heard it the past two days while sleeping on the couch with Kim, but it's set to play the radio at a low volume. It doesn't take much to wake me these days.
I have a late shift tomorrow, after I take Kim to the airport. Carter took my morning after a short conversation with Randi yesterday that I'm quite pleased I wasn't a part of. I don't even want to know what she told him.
I just towel dried my hair and slipped back into bed, grateful to get back under the covers. The heat hasn't kicked on enough this morning, and even though my shower was warm I'm chilled. I lay on my side, running my eyes over the inviting figuring slumbering next to me. My hand is cold, and I breathe softly into my palm before placing it on the back of her neck. The immediacy of her body heat is almost shocking; it was always a surprise when we were first together. It had been so long since I'd slept next to another person that when I'd roll over and encounter a hot-blooded woman, it would steal my breath. In truth I know her skin is no warmer than any one else's, but under my hand she feels like fire. I rest my thumb on a small, raised vein that runs down the back of her skull, feeling the blood thrumming through her body. I think my heartbeat gradually slows to match it, my breathing settling into a more relaxed cadence.
At last her back rises a bit, and she emits a contented sigh. "Mmm," she mutters, eyes still closed. But I see the hint of a smile creeping out as she sucks her bottom lip between her teeth. Her hand slides up to her face, and she inhales. "Mmm," she repeats, and I chuckle quietly.
"Hi," she mumbles, and turns under my hand to face me. "What time is it?"
"God, Ker, that's the middle of the night. What are you doing awake?"
A lazy smile unfurls across her mouth. "You haven't changed a bit."
"Neither have you. You're still the most beautiful woman I've ever seen."
Her lips part, and she gets that little frown line between her eyebrows she gets when she's trying not to cry. She even sniffles once, then pulls me down to kiss her mouth. We mesh together, lips and tongues tangling. She holds me close and buries her face into my neck. When her leg slides between mine, I wrap my good leg around her hips. I think our being together again overwhelms her, so I want to make her as secure as I can. It feels good to be so needed, wanted. Loved.
She takes a big breath after a few minutes and kisses my ear. "Sorry," she whispers.
"It's okay. I like holding you."
"Can we just stay here forever?"
I want to keep the real world at bay for the moment, so I reply, "Yes."
She makes a blissful little sound, and says, "Good. Ker, can you tell me something?"
"Why is your hair wet?"
I start to laugh. "I thought I had to work today. Got all the way into the shower before I remembered I was off."
"You goof. I guess you didn't get much sleep last night then, did you."
"That wasn't my fault."
"You're the one who ordered the fondue."
"Well, you're the one who spread chocolate all over yourself."
She appears to ponder that fact. "True. Thank goodness you were here to help me clean up."
"In fact, I'm still kinda sticky. Want to take another shower with me?"
"Only if you promise after we get dry we can come back here, pull the covers over our heads and go back to sleep."
"Definitely. I'm still sleepy, too."
"Okay then." We get up, and I turn back to the bed, eyeing the sheets. "I'll be right in, you go ahead."
"Don't be long," she calls from the bathroom.
Quickly I strip the bed and drag the pile of sheets and the comforter to the washer. Shoving the mess in, I remember not to start filling it until after we shower. Kim would have had my head if she walked into a cold shower; that happened once before and I've never forgotten it. I pull spare bedclothes down from the shelf and make quick work of the bed, already looking forward to slipping back under the covers. It only takes a few minutes, then I'm stepping into a steamy shower with my lover.
"What were you doing?"
"I changed the sheets."
She shoots me the eyebrow. "You realize we're only going to mess them up again as soon as we're done in here."
My mouth curls in a devious smile. "By the time I'm finished with you, you'll be so exhausted you won't even be able to think about doing anything but sleeping in that bed."
"Is that a threat?"
"More like a promise."
Kim has a job at Sinai. I can't believe it was that easy. Apparently Carl DeRaad tried to help Kim out last year when she left, and Dr. Alexander was gung-ho for her until she moved to San Francisco. They've been short a psych resident and attending since last month, so Kim had some negotiating leverage for salary as well. She'll do very nicely, well enough to afford an apartment in a good neighborhood if she wants to. A neighborhood like mine, in fact.
She stopped off to see Jason and tell him her news, and to say goodbye for a while. Since I'm home alone, I decided to do a little internet surfing to help find Kim an apartment. One with a very short lease. A sublet, even. The way I feel right now, I want Kim to move in and never leave, but I know that it will be better for her to have her own space. It will be better for me as well, but I'm having a hard time convincing myself of that. The sensation of physically yearning for her presence has returned in a powerful way, and I haven't felt it since our time together.
I never felt that with Sandy. In fact, I'd forgotten what it felt like to want someone so badly it hurts. That was probably some kind of defense mechanism, one that kept me sane during those first months alone. With Sandy, I smiled all the time. She was so wonderful to be with, always teasing me in the sweetest way, but never hurtful. Despite both of our volatile personalities, we rarely argued. I enjoyed the time I spent with her, but when I'd leave for my own home, or when she'd leave mine, I was fine. Evenings when she worked, I'd worry about her safety and look forward to getting together, but I don't remember ever sitting on her doorstep waiting for her to come home.
I did that with Kim. More than once.
Logically, I know that feeling will fade with time, but the way I feel now, I simply can't imagine it.
I've found a few places to show Kim that will be available at the end of the month, so I print them out into a little pile. I'm downstairs in my office, searching for a folder to put them in so they won't get crumpled in her backpack, when I hear the door slam.
"I'm home!" Kim shouts.
I almost start crying. I'm frozen at the bottom of the stairs when I realize how blessed I am. It's hard for me to handle feeling so much emotion; I'm not used to it. Breathing deeply, I try to get control of myself. I'm suddenly frightened by the depth of my love for her, and for a split second understand why she ran away from me.
Then I see her standing at the top of the stairs, and my fear disappears as quickly as it arrived. She's haloed by the light from the kitchen, the ends of her blonde hair glowing. "What are you doing down there? I brought kung-pao from George's!"
I clear my throat. "I was just getting a folder."
She must sense my hesitation. "Is everything all right? You look funny."
"No, I'm fine. Everything is fine." I make my way up the stairs, and come out to see a huge spread of take out across the kitchen island.
She's opening some kind of Sam Adams specialty brew, and asks, "Want a beer? Or something else?"
"Beer is great. Thanks." I sidle up to her and lay my head on her shoulder. "Jason doing okay?"
"He's fine. Thrilled about me coming back. Even more thrilled that we're back together. He adores you."
"Really? He hardly knows me."
"He knows what I was like when we were apart. I complained to him a lot. He's happy he won't have to hear me moan and groan about how miserable I am in San Francisco."
I can't seem to let go of her, so I just accept it. "I'm still surprised you didn't enjoy it there, Kim. It seems like you'd really fit there."
"Under different circumstances, I think I could. Just not now." Her brow furrows, and I decide that's enough of that topic.
"What did you bring me?"
"Mm, lots of stuff. Kung pao, rice, lo mein, cashew chicken, green beans in black bean sauce, veggies in lobster sauce."
"Aw, honey, didn't you get anything for yourself?"
She giggles. "Very funny. What do you want to start with?"
"A little bit of everything. It all sounds wonderful."
We scoop out tons of food onto plates and sit at the kitchen table. She tells me that Jason is thinking of asking Janine to marry him. The accident put things into perspective for him, and now he doesn't want to waste any more time. I take her hand after she says that, and she grips mine tightly.
We still have tons of food left, so I seal everything and put it in the fridge when we're done. It will remind me of Kim after she's gone. I'm trying not to think about leaving her at the airport tomorrow. What if she changes her mind? What if she gets to her home in the city, looks around, and realizes that she doesn't want to leave just yet?
"Huh?" I don't know how long I have been staring into the open refrigerator.
"You look worried."
"No, I'm okay."
"You've been standing there over a minute. Remember, we're supposed to be talking to each other, not hiding things."
I don't want to admit I have doubts, but there's no way out of it. I won't start those old patterns again. "I'm afraid once you leave again you won't come back." I raise my hand to keep her denials in check. "I know it's irrational, you've said you love me and you're excited you're coming back. But in my mind I just keep seeing you get home to your place and deciding it's not so bad."
Nodding her head, Kim turns and hops up to sit on the island. I wait, closing the door to the fridge and leaning against it.
Finally, she gazes down at me from her perch and responds, "It seems crazy, doesn't it? I know I've turned your life upside down in the past three days. But when I saw you, was around you for a little while, all the feelings I'd been pushing away came rushing back and just spilled out of me. You make me happy, Ker. I've been unhappy for so long that I don't think I could've gone any more slowly." She gives me a smile that's almost apologetic.
I hear everything she's saying and I bob my head, willing myself to believe her.
She jumps down from the countertop and looks intently into my eyes. "Is there anything I can do to make you feel like I am really coming home, to you, here, in Chicago?"
"I don't know." I feel lost.
"You tell me if anything pops into your head, and I'll do it." She puts her hands on my shoulders. "I mean it, Ker. Anything."
She leads me into the living room and sits me down on the couch. Her eyes go wide a second later, and I see an idea forming. "How about this." Her hands go around the back of her neck, and it looks like she's unfastening her necklace.
"No, Kim. I don't think--" She's already up and out of her seat, draping the tiny St. Dominic medal around my neck.
"You keep this for me, and you can give it back to me when I come home, okay?"
I'm shaking my head. "I can't keep this, Kim. It was your father's. I wouldn't feel right wearing it. I know you're coming back. I trust you, I do."
"Kerry, wear that and think of me. I know you'll take good care of it." She reclines against the back of the couch and rests her warm hand on my cheek.
Remarkably, I feel better as I sense the delicate weight of the necklace on my chest. I want to give something to her. "Then you take this." I unhook the soft, braided leather band from my wrist. I've worn it on and off for years; a boy I treated long ago made it for me. I just barely was able to save his life in the ER one afternoon, and he came back to the hospital a few weeks later to give it to me. I nearly broke down in tears for some reason, and we hugged for a long time. Sometimes when you feel lost, a stranger can come along and make everything all right again, even for just a few minutes. I needed that boy as much as he needed me, and I never forgot him. Kim knows that story, so she understands what the bracelet means to me.
She blinks furiously as I fasten it around her narrow wrist, sighing as I run my fingers along the fine bones of her hand. "Okay?" I ask.
"Okay." She taps her fingertips against mine, then circles them lightly on my tingling palm. "Maybe in a few weeks we can go to the observatory," she says as she lifts her hand to play with the medal around my neck. "I haven't been there in a long time."
We went to the Hancock Observatory once, but it was before I knew we were dating. We looked at the city and the stars, and we stood very close, our arms touching. I can still hear the timbre of her voice as she told me how her father had taught her the constellations when she was a very small girl, but that he'd died. I remember how my heart squeezed inside my chest, and it didn't seem odd to me then that I wanted to take her in my arms and hold her and tell her everything would be all right.
She showed me the medal around her neck, because Dominic was the patron saint of astronomers. Her father wore the medal till he died, and he wanted his only daughter to have it.
I almost lose myself in the memory, but when I refocus my eyes, she's there, looking at me with hope. "I'd like that. We'll plan for it once you move home."
She nodded. "Good." Leaning forward, she wraps me up in her long arms, and says, "Don't you worry, Ker. Everything will be all right."
I smile. "Funny. I was just thinking the same thing."
I lean on Kim's shoulder as we wait in some chairs by the security checkpoint. I'm tired, and so is she. We were up most of the night making love. It was tinged with sadness, the knowledge of her imminent departure coloring every caress. But it was tender, and breathtaking, and wonderful. Neither of us could eat much breakfast this morning, so we silently sat together at our old coffee shop and drank mochas, feet tangled together under the table.
We deliberately got to the airport early to have some time to relax as well as we could. This may have been a mistake. I want to beg her to stay another day, so I bite my lip and center my mind on the fabric of her sleeve. It's soft, warmed by her body heat, and my stomach clenches when I think about walking back to my car, alone.
"Kerry, don't." She's on the verge of crying.
"I'm not. It's fine."
She's shaking now, her head dropping down, and I immediately tear up when I see the pain twisting her features. She grabs me and hugs me frantically. "I don't want to go back without you."
I have no response. I just hold tight, and let my tears seep into her sweater. She'll take a little piece of me with her, which comforts me somehow. This has to be as hard for her as it is for me; probably more so. She'll be leaving her new life behind, has to give notice, pack her things, say goodbye to friends. "You'll be so busy packing you won't have time to miss me. I'll call you every day."
"You'd better." She's crying harder. This is worse than I thought it would be.
"I promise. It's only a little while. We've been apart for almost a whole year, this will be a snap."
"Yeah, but I don't want to go," she whines. She's beyond reason, so there's nothing to do but wait it out. She hiccups, her body jerking against mine. We rock back and forth while the seconds tick by.
I watch the digital clock on the wall as she gradually quiets, gauging how together she'll be by the time she has to go.
"I'm sorry," she sniffs, wiping her nose with her hand. I reach into my pocket and pull out a Kleenex to clean her up. I came prepared, but I thought I'd be the one who'd need the tissues.
"It's okay, Kim. We'll be together soon." She smiles, her eyes glassy and bloodshot. "Oh, babe, I love you so much." I want to kiss her lips, but I'm nervous with so many people around.
"I love you too," she whimpers, and a few more tears streak down her cheeks. That overrules my hesitation, and I lean forward to kiss her gently, sliding my tongue into her mouth briefly before pulling back. That seems to brighten her up, eyes appraising me with wonder and pleasure. I grin, shrugging slightly. "One more?" she asks, and before my paranoia has a chance to return, I press my lips to hers. We fit ourselves together, her hand playing with the short hairs on the back of my neck. Goosebumps rise, and my sadness fades when I think about how lucky I am to be able to kiss the woman I love goodbye in a crowded airport. We end it by sliding into another hug, and again I check the time on my watch over her shoulder.
"You should go," I say.
We stand, and I take her hand as she slips into the line for the metal detector. I want to buy a ticket to somewhere, anywhere, just so I can sit with her at the gate. God, I'm shaking. I bite my bottom lip to hold it all in.
"It's only two weeks," she says quickly, as we near the front of the line. I wish, for once, that the line were longer.
"I know." In my mind's eye I see the day when I will come back to this place and pick her up. She'll grab me and swing me around, and I'll laugh and cry at the same time. It's going to be a long two weeks. "Maybe ten days would be better."
She laughs, but it sounds forlorn. "You might be right." She turns and smiles at me, eyes shining. "Okay, this is it. I love you." We hug again, and I grit my teeth. She kisses me, once, twice, and a shiver runs through me when she pulls away.
"Love you too." I stand aside as she goes through security, but our eyes are glued to one another the whole time.
When she's finally through she turns back to wave. "Miss you!"
"See you soon!" I call. I feel like shouting 'I love you' over and over as she walks almost sideways down the corridor, trying to watch me. She nears a corner, blows me a kiss, then she's gone.
"Bye." I say to the empty space in front of me. Two weeks. It will be worth it.
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