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A Message from the Past
"Are you sure you cleaned out the supermarket, Kerry? Maybe you ought to go backyou may have left a few pieces of chicken." Courtney sat, sipping wine at Kerry's breakfast bar, watching with obvious amusement and affection, while Kerry Weaver unpacked what seemed to be mountains of chicken parts, stacking them neatly near the sink. Kerry cooked the same way she approached any other task that required precision: she was as skilled at preparing a meal as she was at suturing a cut. She even had the same look on her face: calm, competent and focused.
Kerry looked up at Courtney and waved a defenseless chicken leg at her girlfriend. "Do you want me to screw this up?"
Mischief sparkled in Courtney's eyes. "No, ma'am. But I wouldn't mind if you put down that raw bird for a couple of minutes and shared some wine with me."
Kerry checked the clock on the kitchen wall. "OK, but just one glass. I can't be expected to cook under the influence. We've got thirty people coming tonight and the last thing we need is food poisoning. I've got the night off from the ER; I'd rather not end up there as a patient." She scrubbed her hands, dried them, and poured herself a glass of wine. "This is goodwhere did you get it?"
"Just a holiday gift from the station manager. Actually, from one of his assistants. He never does his own shopping. She's pretty good at choosing wine, though. Herejust a little bit more." Kerry relaxed into Courtney's arms and they leaned back against the refrigerator, knocking down several magnets, along with Kerry's guest list. Courtney's warm breath on Kerry's neck sent anticipatory chills down her spine.
It was starting to look like the chicken would end up on the back burner, so to speak, when Henry woke up, loudly demanding attention. Courtney deftly took Kerry's wine glass. "Go get him you can trust me with this part of the meal, anyway."
It had become a running joke between the two women. Courtney Brown was perfectly capable of ruining a pot of boiling water. "Don't make me regret this, " Kerry called out, as she scooped Henry from his bed and carried him into the living room. Time goes by so fast, she thought. It wasn't that long ago that he was still sleeping in the crib that she and Sandy had so carefully picked out. And how Sandy had teased her about it all! Kerry had spent several evenings studying copies of Consumer Reports, reading about various safety features and possible hazards. But Kerry had been adamant about buying the best crib possible. It was currently stored in the basement: if everything continued the way it had been going, maybe someday? Kerry warmed at the thought of another baby, with Courtneybut it really was far too soon to broach that subject. They were still keeping their separate apartments, always conscious of that tired old joke about lesbians and U-Hauls on the second date.
It had actually been almost six months, and things were going so well that neither of them wanted to break the comfortable silence. They were both wary of how quickly things could go wrong.
Henry chose this moment to yank on a lock of Kerry's hair, bringing her back to the matter at hand. "OK, buddy, here you go" She deposited him into his playpen, where he could safely watch her working, without actually running the risk of being battered and deep-fried by accident. Courtney put her wine glass down and knelt beside him.
As she worked, Kerry enjoyed the easy camaraderie that Henry and Courtney shared.
Looking up from a game of peek-a-boo, Courtney called out, "Need any help?"
"No, I'm about finished with this first batch. So stay out of my way!"
Courtney pretended to whisper to Henry, "Your mom's a real strict lady, kiddo. We're gonna have to get her to loosen up a little."
Kerry stuck out her tongue at the two of themand was shocked when Henry mimicked her. "Now look what you've done!" Courtney collapsed in a fit of giggles.
Carefully turning the chicken with long-handled tongs, Kerry mentally went over her to-do list. Just as she was starting the dishwasher, the phone rang. "I've got it," she said.
"OK, right Henry? We'll keep playing 'throw all the stuffed animals at Aunt Courtney'."
"That's just great," Kerry picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Kerry? It's meKim. I just wanted to say hello."
Kerry stood holding the phone. Say something. Anything. "Hi."
"I'm here, in Chicago. Just for the day. Sohow are you?"
How am I? Let's see. You left without even saying goodbye. You turned my entire world upside down, and you didn't even leave a forwarding address. But somehow, I'm still grateful, because if not for you, I might still be living a lie.
"I'm fine, Kim."
"You're angry. You have a right to be, Kerry. Can we meet for coffee, or a drink?"
"I don't think so, Kim. It'scomplicated."
Courtney couldn't hear the words, but she knew from Kerry's voice that something was up. Handing Henry his stuffed bear, she came and stood near Kerry protectively.
Kim faltered a bit as she continued. "I saw you on television. You look great. You were great. I'm very proud of you."
Who are you, my mother? Proud of me? Jesus!
"Thank you. But my producer gets most of the credit. If not for her loving persistence, I wouldn't even have tried it." Kerry squeezed Courtney's arm affectionately.
"You're seeing her, aren't you?" Kim's tone became polite and a bit distant.
"Yesand as a matter of fact, she's here with me now."
"I see. I won't bother you, then. It sounds like you're busy."
Kerry sighed. Any real animosity she'd held onto melted away. Kim wasn't a threat, nor was she a temptation. She'd been a catalyst for change: something that the aloof Dr. Kerry Weaver had needed badly. Kerry realized that she owed a debt to Kim. Looking directly into Courtney's eyes, she answered, "Actually, we're planning a party for tonightjust some friends: people from the station, and a few from County. Why don't you join us?"
Courtney arched an eyebrow and walked off, back into the living room.
She's not pissed. That's good.
Kim sounded relieved. "That's great, Kerry. Wow, things have really turned around for you. Would it be OK if I bring a friend?"
"Of course. And KimI have a little boy now, Henry. I'd like very much for you to meet him."
"Aoh, of course, sure. Are you still in the same place?"
Kerry laughed. "Yes, but you wouldn't recognize it. It's been baby-proofed like you'd never believe. Why don't you plan on getting here a little early, so we can all talk?"
After she'd hung up the phone and started the next batch of chicken, she joined Courtney on the couch, searching her face for any signs of distress.
"Are you OK with this? Because it doesn't mean"
Courtney shifted Henry from Kerry's lap, silencing her with a quick, deep kiss.
"It's finego turn that chicken, babeburning bridges is OK, but burning fried chicken for thirty people is most definitely not."
"That's thirty-two, now."
"Kerry, it's not a big deal. Look, if you'd stayed with her, would we have met?"
"Well, possibly, I mean"
"Let me put this another way, so you can't twist it around. If she hadn't left, if you'd stayed with herwould we have eventually gotten together? Would I be here right now, and falling so hard for you that sometimes I can't concentrate on anything but you?"
Kerry was silent. Suddenly thoughts of Sandy had surfaced. Courtney read her expression and changed her tone. Reaching over, she shut off the stove and took Kerry in her arms.
"Don't be sad, please. I know this was hard, and I wish you'd never had to go through it. But we're talking about Kim, not Sandyand I really think I'd like to meet Kim. She saw something in you and responded to it. Something you couldn't look at head on, without her pushing you. I want to thank her for that, OK?"
Kerry nodded, arms still around Courtney. "I'd better feed him and see if I can't get him to go back to sleep for a while. That was a short nap." She turned her face up to Courtney's. "Can I trust you to turn that chicken in ten minutes?"
Courtney reached over and switched on the stove. "I'd say that was fairly safe. Heydo we have time for a nap before this place is full of people?"
Kerry tried her best to look stern. "Is that what you want to do? Sleep?"
Courtney picked up the tongs. "Sleep was actually the last thing on my mind."
"What a dirty mind you've got, Ms. Brown "
"Guilty as charged."
And that's one of the things I love about you, thought Kerry.
I love you. I just can't say it yet.
But I will. Soon.
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