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Part I: Lord of Hours
I stand above her.
In the twilight of our time together, I half convinced myself that was true on all sorts of levels. Everything's different now and not just because of what's happened.
I carefully search her face, expecting some sign of recognition, of welcome, of anything. Just the smallest sliver, that's all I need. Please God.
Her breathing is low and even, her face expressionless. I can't stand to see her like this.
When I cast my mind back to the furthest reaches of our beginning, I see how easily and carelessly we started. Careless the exact opposite of what I feel. I honestly believed that when the time came, I could step away and look on our relationship as a pleasant interlude. As if I hadn't come to love her stronger and deeper than anyone else in my life, in spite of everything she withheld. Not because she didn't love me in return. Because she'd never been so deeply in love and simply didn't know what to do with the weight of that fact.
The whys and wherefores of our ultimate demise are known only to us and neither one is blameless. And in an odd way that is a good thing because we are on equal footing, something that wasn't always true during our affair.
When we start over, and we will start over, it will be terribly important that we're equals. I will forgive us, she will forgive herself and we will move forward together. And if it takes longer and we move slower, that's fine. I can wait.
It was Abby that called me. At first I couldn't understand what she was saying. Not literally, of course. I thought there was a problem with Maggie and I was touched that she would track me down. It took awhile for her news to sink in and my mind occupied itself by chasing its tail, trying to figure out how she knew about Kerry and me. When I finally realized what she was telling me, I retreated into silence. How could I possibly express the jumble of disbelief, terror and regret rushing through me? Of all the scenarios I had secretly envisioned about our reunion, this was the last thing I expected.
I mumbled ineffectual nonsense until we hung up and then I got Janice to cancel all my appointments. I browbeat Dr. Dakin into a generous leave of absence, despite the fact that I'd only been on staff for little over a month. Countless hours later I landed in Chicago. The ride to County was the longest forty minutes of my life.
"You really piss me off, Kerry, you know that?"
Her silence stretches before me and I know that for the foreseeable future, my life will be marked in quiet beeps and mechanical exhales.
"I had everything figured out, put you in your proper place, and look what you had to go and do."
I am leaning against the far wall, not quite looking at her because to look at her is to acknowledge that this is really happening. And I can't do that, not yet.
"The weird thing is, Kerry, all the way over here I've had the overwhelming urge to start a family. I've always wanted children and I'm tired of waiting for Ms. Right. And I realize that I don't have to wait anymore because I want to have a family with you."
Releasing these thoughts into the air gives me the courage to push myself away from the wall and stand at the foot of her bed. I reach down, over every protest shouting in my brain, and force myself to pick up her chart. A quick glance at the monitors, chart re-hung and I finally will my eyes to settle on her motionless form. I immediately shatter but outwardly there is no sign. No sound, no tears, only this limitless and jagged ache that clenches my stomach and constricts my breathing. There is a stool near the head of her bed and I carefully lower myself onto it, my hand reaching out to steady myself.
I whisper, "Please Kerry, please stay with me." And that is when I cannot stop myself and a torrent of emotion washes down my cheeks.
I sit like this, staring, her limp hand cool to my touch. I sit like this for a long time.
I was the first person to return to her house after the accident. I dropped my bag in the front hall and tiredly looked around. Nothing had changed which surprised me because I knew that everything had changed. I shed boots and coat and gloves and headed for the thermostat. I decided that I should eat and after I carefully checked the contents of her overstocked fridge I decided that I wasn't hungry.
I carried my bag upstairs, hesitating on the landing. The guest room or the master bedroom? As if I had a choice. I sat on the edge of her bed and yawned and then tipped back and stretched out over its surface. The bathroom light was on and it took me a full minute to remember why.
When I return from the cafeteria, John is checking on her. Not in an official capacity, that's Corday's job. He holds her wrist, ostensibly taking her pulse, but the minutes stretch on and I know he is lost.
She is a sensitive and compassionate physician. She runs the ER with the precision of a Swiss timepiece. Her dealings with her colleagues and subordinates are brusque and filled with misunderstandings. The dichotomy frequently left me helpless with laughter. Witnessing her tenderly dealing with a patient, only to scramble to the Admit Desk and tear Frank a new one, is a priceless memory.
I approach and gently rest a hand on John's shaking shoulder. He does not turn, simply wipes his eyes and stands there, waiting. Like the rest of us. Like me.
I wasn't sure I'd be able to clean up in the bathroom. Even knowing what to expect didn't prepare me for the blood. There was a thick pool lazily winding from the edge of the vanity to the shower door. The rest of the bathroom looked strangely pristine, as if the paramedics had miraculously managed to levitate Kerry onto a stretcher, belying their frantic efforts to resuscitate her.
These are such simple things: a little water on cold tile, hurrying to finish dressing, a moment's inattention. She'd cracked her forehead on the sharp edge of the sink, reeling back and hitting the floor. I imagined the sound in my head as I grabbed some towels and threw them in the sink. It took seven minutes to wipe the tiles but I worked for another half an hour on the grout. I was going to wash the towels but I knew I would never be able to touch them again so they hit the trash. It was only after I'd collapsed back on the bed that I realized Kerry's blood had soaked into the knees of my jeans. I lurched back into the bathroom but my earlier lack of appetite only resulted in dry heaves and a headache that never really went away.
Waiting is not the worst. I know this because I held my father in my arms while he was dying. It's what comes after that rends and pierces and leaves a path of destruction. Right now I am concentrating on my bewilderment. No matter the sure and certain knowledge of what is happening, my brain pounds in a rhythm of deny, deny, deny. If I refuse to believe, it will not be true and this comforts me.
I spent the morning in her study, calmly rifling through her books and personal papers. There was nothing as obvious as a diary. Thwarted, I hauled out photo albums from her time in Africa, her student days. Landscapes and people I did not know but not one picture of her. As if she never existed. The thought scared me and shaken, I turned my attention to her desk. Letters, at least twenty of them, each one addressed to me. I couldn't bring myself to read them but I brought them to the hospital. I decided that she could read them to me during her convalescence.
I've been sitting in this damn chair for hours, reading a magazine. No magazine is worth poring over for hours, I know that much. I glance up and see her green eyes staring at me. Confused, I drop my gaze to the pages in my lap. When I look up again she is still staring at me. I let loose the magazine and jump to my feet. I take her hand and it is warm to my touch; my fingers cover her pulse and I smile as I feel the steady rhythm. She continues to stare at me and I lift a hand and gently stroke the side of her face.
"Welcome back to the world, Kerry, I knew that hard head would be good for something."
She blinks then and when she speaks, it's soft and pained.
This one word is all it takes for me to start bawling like a baby. She reaches up and brushes at my cheeks with her fingers but her efforts are wasted. Her hand drops back to the sheets and she lets me cry while I stand above her.
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