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Part XII: The Most Beautiful Sound I Ever Saw
I am seated in a plush chair in the waiting room of the professional offices of Christie Gless, Esq. Depending on what is unfolding behind the thick oak door on the other side of this room, we will either be mourning or celebrating this evening. I cannot imagine a more unlikely team than Christie and Kerry but surprisingly, they've been getting along like a house on fire since the start of their professional association.
Kerry's previous lawyer, a perfectly nice man named Richard Erskine, had in her words "folded like an old map" when confronted with her seemingly ironclad work contract. Given the verbal ammunition that had spewed from Robert's mouth when she'd resigned as Chief of the ED, Kerry had been livid at Richard's willingness to "bend over and take it in the shorts", another of her colourful expressions.
It was Kerry who'd suddenly decided to call Christie and I'd been too shocked to remind her that they didn't actually like each other. I'd been present at the initial meeting when Christie had asked Kerry why she'd thought to ask her to take the case. "I realized I needed a stone cold bitch and you were the first person who came to mind." Christie had actually been touched by her clear-eyed assessment and things had gone swimmingly from there.
It had taken County's legal department about half a second to realize that with my case as precedent, homophobic rhetoric from the acting Chief of Staff wouldn't be hard to prove. Two days ago they'd contacted Christie to talk about a settlement.
I twiddle my thumbs nervously, squirming in my seat until a disapproving look from Shirley quiets me. Shirley was the secretary for Christie's father and I'm sure that if Christie ever stays with someone long enough to have kids, she'll be secretary to them, too.
The door suddenly opens and Christie motions me inside. She does not betray the slightest hint at the outcome of her negotiations. I step forward and cross the room to sit beside Kerry, reaching out and grabbing her hand. Christie resumes her seat behind a massive desk and tilts back in her leather chair.
"Okay, Kim, here's the deal. County is offering to pay Kerry out for the remainder of her contract and to settle eighteen months' salary upon her in compensation. The board will give her a letter of apology and pay her legal fees."
Christie takes a deep breath.
"That's it for the settlement offer. Of course, if we go to trial for wrongful dismissal there could be a helluva lot more."
"That's utter bullshit, Chris. How is it that sonofabitch can systemically weed gays and lesbians from his department and keep getting away with it? Not to mention County continuing to pony up every time someone dares to point the finger."
Christie shrugs dismissively.
"Kim, you know this sort of thing happens all the time. County's stance will always be that despite his personality 'quirks', for whatever reason a first-rate surgeon continues to want to work for them. If they have to fork it over every once in a while, so be it. He brings a high level of prestige to the hospital and I guess they feel that balances out the crap he pulls."
"Doesn't my suit carry any weight?"
"If we go to court, absolutely. If we settle, who cares?"
Kerry has been passively listening to our exchange, loosely holding my hand. I turn toward her and tug on her fingers to get her attention.
"How do you feel about this, Ker?"
She observes me for long moments then suddenly drops her head. Her free hand reaches up to rub her forehead and for the very first time, I notice a scar. It is almost hidden, running parallel with her hairline, and her index and middle fingers trace the outline carefully. I am absolutely floored that I haven't noticed it until now. How many evenings have I consumed this woman from head to toe? How many mornings have I contemplated her beauty for hours on end? Yet here she sits, the most obvious reminder of how close I came to losing her etched across her skin and I have been oblivious. Or perhaps it is just denial.
I rise from my chair and crouch in front of her.
"Baby, whatever you want to do, you know I'll support you a hundred percent."
"Kim, no matter what I decide, Robert is going to win. If I take the offer, he gets away with another slap on the wrist. If I go to court, I win a huge amount of money. But either way I won't be working at County anymore."
"And that's not what you want ?"
"Of course that's not what I want."
I try to pull my hands from hers but she clutches them tighter.
"I love my job, Kim, and I would love to continue at County."
She pulls me closer until our faces are resting inches from one another.
"However, County is not the only hospital where I could enjoy working, Kim. I found that out when I shopped my resume around San Francisco. I don't have to put up with an unsupportive board of directors; I don't have to take intolerant crap from my Chief of Staff; hell, I don't even have to constantly fight an uphill battle for funding. You know why?"
I shake my head within the confines of her hands.
"Because you've shown me that I don't have to make my work a substitute for my life."
Her face breaks into the widest grin I can ever remember seeing and I feel tears threaten.
"But that is not the issue that's on the table today. The money would be nice but ultimately I don't give a damn about it. What I want to do is make sure that Dr. Robert Romano doesn't have the opportunity to subject anyone else to the shit that he put us through."
Kerry turns to Christie.
"Can you take back a counter offer?"
Christie is shaking her head in disbelief but she's listening.
"I want the board of County General to issue a hospital-wide memo apologizing for the lack of support provided to gays and lesbians. I want this memo to clearly state that prejudicial behaviour of any sort will not be tolerated. And I want it signed by the acting Chief of Staff."
Christie breaks into laughter and stands, reaching for her jacket. I pull Kerry out of her chair and into my arms to administer the most crushing hug I can muster. Christie gathers her briefcase and is about to exit her office when Kerry stops her.
"Hang on, Christie. On second thought, I also want that buyout and eighteen month settlement. No sense getting stupid."
I whoop with laughter, lifting Kerry off the floor with another exuberant hug. She grunts as the air leaves her lungs with a whoosh.
"Put me down, Kim! You nut!"
"We should celebrate, don't you think?"
"A little premature. How about we wait and see what Christie comes up with?"
"Uh-uh, I'm taking you out for a fancy schmancy dinner so don't you go all serious on me."
I tug Kerry's hand and we walk out of the office, past Shirley, past the doors of other offices in the building. We are outside now, walking towards the car, delightedly glancing at each other every couple feet. Kerry fishes the keys out of her purse and opens the door, about to slide behind the wheel.
"Dammit, I forgot my damn glasses on Christie's desk."
"Hang on, I'll get them."
I dash back in and grab the offending pair, grinning at Shirley as I leave. I step onto the sidewalk and immediately look to the car. Kerry is still standing by the driver's side, far enough away so that I cannot hear her but I don't need to. Her head is tilted back, red hair shot through with golden sunlight, and she is laughing.
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