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Part III: Happy Home
"Don't you dare!" I bark, pulling her keys out of the ignition and hurriedly throwing open my door. I race around to her side and take her elbow as she gingerly steps onto the curb.
"You really piss me off, Kerry, you know that?"
She stops in mid-crutch and looks up at me, her eyes narrowing thoughtfully.
"I've heard you say that before."
I blush but I don't let up.
"Please don't try and act like nothing's happened."
We engage in a staring contest for several moments until one of us finally blinks. I'm astonished that it's her but I cover it well.
"I'm not an invalid."
"I'm not saying you are. I just need you to take it easy for the next while, until you're back up to speed."
She nods brusquely and lets me place an arm around her shoulders while I guide her with my other hand. We manage the steps and she waits patiently as I open the door.
"Do you remember our first morning together?"
My heart beats rapidly in my throat and I turn to face her.
"Of course I remember."
"Awkward, huh? For me anyway. The sex was damn near terrific and I just wanted to get the hell away from you."
She smiles gently and reaches up to touch the side of my face.
"And then I had the worst day well, as it turns out, that wasn't my worst day was it?"
She smiles ruefully and shakes her head to dispel that train of thought.
"I was shell shocked and I still don't have any memory of driving home that night. Or getting on the EL. I think I rode the damn train for over an hour before I remembered to get off. And I just wandered. Two o'clock in the morning and there I was, stumping my way across half of Chicago without a thought in my head. I finally decided I should go home and I knew I couldn't because if I did, I would still be there."
She says it derisively and I physically pull my arms in tighter to my sides. I will not guide her through this moment, I will not.
"You were literally the first person I thought of and it scared the hell out of me. How dumb is that?"
"People run from love all the time, Ker. I should know."
She shoots me a piercing look and waits but I just shrug and push the door open. I help her with her coat and she eyes me while I kick out of my shoes.
"I'm going to go upstairs and get into some jammies, okay?"
"Do you need some help?"
"I'll be fine."
She raises a hand to stop my inevitable response.
"Honest, if I need you I'll call, okay?"
I smile and head for the kitchen. As soon as I hear her tentative steps on the stair, I sneak back and observe her progress. When she has almost reached the top I quickly duck back, knowing she has sensed my presence, but she doesn't comment.
I set the kettle to boil and rummage through the cupboards, assembling cups and saucers. Kerry takes fresh-squeezed lemon and the selection process is a rigorous exercise that sticks with me months later. I had no idea that juice lemons and zest lemons met different criteria. Thankfully I'd done the grocery shopping the day before and my acquisitions are sitting on the counter, awaiting her approval.
I head into the living room and start the fire. It feels like old times and for a moment I forget everything that came after. For a moment.
The kettle whistles at me impatiently and I shout up the stairs as I pass. I bring the steeping cups into the living room and set them on the coffee table. There has been no sound since she went to change and I pause in my work.
I scramble up from the sofa, taking the stairs two at a time and rushing into her bedroom. The bathroom light is on and that is where I find her, curled into a ball next to the shower. She is crying so hard she can't catch her breath and when I move toward her, she cringes and shrinks even smaller.
"Kerry, come on, let me hold you."
She wipes her nose on her sleeve and stares at me with mournful eyes. I let her work out what I've said but she shows no sign of letting me closer.
"You're okay, baby, you're going to be just fine. I shouldn't have let you come up here. It was stupid and I'm sorry."
Tears start to trickle down her cheeks and my gut twists.
"What, baby? What do you need? You name it, I'll get it for you."
"Please don't give up on me. I'll try harder, okay? Please don't leave again."
The icy cold that pervades me has nothing to do with the cool of the tile floor. I feel the hair rise at the back of my neck and my mouth goes dry. Shit, now is not the time to go blank, Legaspi.
Kerry is waiting, watching me carefully while a thousand thoughts sketch across my face. I take a deep breath and test the water.
"I honestly don't know what's going to happen, Kerry. When I was sitting in your hospital room, bargaining with every God I could think of, I knew exactly what I wanted to say to you when you finally woke up."
"And now I realize that you're not the same person I fell in love with."
Her smile is swift and sure as she reaches a hand toward me. I grasp it in my own.
"That's a good place to begin, don't you think?" she asks.
"The best place, Kerry."
For both of us.
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