The Mouths of Babes
By Ainsley Wallace
She saw her the moment she was inside.
Kerry was sitting on the kitchen floor, half slumped against the big island in the center of the room, the phone set strewn across the floor nearby. She was hugging her sore ribs and taking heaving breaths. Kim sprinted the few yards between then and dropped to her knees.
"Oh, God, you're bleeding," she said, cradling Kerry's head in her hands. The gauze that covered the stitches on her forehead was stained with blood and a thin crimson trickle has escaped from under it, weaving its way down the side of her face, where it had dried some time ago.
"I hit my head when I fell, I think I opened the stitches," Kerry said and she started to cry again. She turned towards Kim and burrowed her way into the woman's arms. Kim held her tightly, dropping kisses on top of her head, until the sobs let up. Kerry struggled to sit up again, still shaking violently.
"Kerry, tell me what happened. Are you hurt?" Kim asked and she palpated Kerry's head, neck and shoulders, looking for signs of injury.
"I got out of bed and into the chair this afternoon. I was going to go to the bathroom to take out that damn catheter," she said. She steadied herself with a long breath. "I came to the kitchen first to get more water from the fridge because I'd drunk everything you left out for me."
Kim listened attentively as she checked Kerry's arms and wrists and then started feeling the bones in her legs. "What happened?"
"I sort of stood up on one leg but I lost my balance -- it's my bad leg and I'm kind of weak I guess and I don't know how it happened but the chair flipped over and took me with it. That's when I hit my head."
Kim examined her cast for cracks, and then glanced over to the fridge. Her chair was still there, on it's side, holding the fridge door open. Around it was a large puddle of urine.
"I tried and tried for hours to get back into it, but I couldn't, I just kept knocking the chair over," Kerry continued, still trying to strangle her sobs. "And then the catheter bag came loose and I couldn't get to the bathroom...I'm so sorry, Kim. I didn't want you to see me like this..."
"Shhh, it's all right. Don't think about that," Kim said, rubbing Kerry's arm tenderly. "How are your ribs?"
"They're sore, but no more than usual. I don't think I broke any others."
"You need an x-ray, Ker. You could've punctured a lung."
"No," Kerry said and she grabbed Kim's shirt. "No, please. Don't take me to the ER. Not like this."
"Kerry, it could affect your breathing."
"You can listen to my lungs," Kerry said. "My medical bag is in the closet by the front door. You can listen to them and then you'll see they're okay."
Kim's forehead was creased with indecision. "All right," she said finally, "but I swear, if I hear so much as a wheeze, I'm taking you in."
"When did this happen?" Kim asked.
"This afternoon sometime, I don't know when exactly."
Kim didn't have to look at her watch to know that it was at least one a.m., if not later. This poor woman had been laying in a pool of her own urine for somewhere close to twelve hours. God, stubborn, much? She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself.
"Okay," Kim said, "the first thing we need to do is get you up off this floor and into bed. And then I think you could probably do with some painkillers."
Kerry nodded miserably. "I must've given my cast a jolt when I fell because it's very sore."
'Very sore,' Kim thought as she moved across the kitchen, taking care not to tread in puddles of urine. From Kerry that meant, 'Hold the Percocet, where the hell's the morphine?'
Kim righted the chair and wheeled it over to where Kerry was slumped, trembling and crying. Kim hesitated then sat down beside her again and took her in her arms.
"It's all right," Kim said, rubbing one hand up and down her shaking back. "I'm here and we're gonna take care of this."
"I didn't want you to see me like this," Kerry sobbed, hiding her face against Kim's shirt. "I'm so sorry for what I said yesterday. I know I've been awful. It's just that it's so confusing to be around you again."
Kim rocked her gently, rhythmically stroking her back. "Shhh, Ker. It's okay. I know."
"I just --" she struggled out of Kim's arms to look at her. "I'm just so confused, Kim. A week ago you could hardly talk to me and now..." She waved a trembling hand at the chaos in the kitchen. "Now you're here and you're taking care of me like nothing had ever changed between us."
Kim nodded sadly. "I know. And you're right. It must make you wonder about my motivation." She gingerly turned Kerry around so that she could recline into her arms and then she pulled her close to her and began rocking her again.
"I was angry, Ker. I felt so betrayed when you didn't stand up for me."
"I know, Kim and I will always be sorry that I did that to you. I was such a coward."
"It's not important, anymore," Kim said, and she smoothed Kerry's bangs back off the stained gauze. "And I realize that now. I realized it the moment before that man attacked you. Here I thought I was all conflicted over you, you know? And I had tried to talk myself out of being in love with you. But he laid his hands on you and suddenly I realized that I was making everything too complicated. It was all very simple. In that split-second, I realized that nothing mattered but you." She caressed Kerry's one unblemished cheek. "Watching that happen to you and not being able to do anything was the most horrible thing that I've ever experienced. I thought he was going to kill you and I nearly went out of my mind."
Kerry watched her as she talked, felt some of the fear and shock draining from her body.
Kim manufactured a smile. "You're a hell of a lot of work, Weaver, but I love you anyway."
Kerry winced. "Kim, I don't know if --"
Kim laid a gentle finger on Kerry's lips. "I know. This isn't the time. You're hurt and in pain and you must be very confused right now. We don't have to decide anything now... we don't even have to talk about it just yet. I just needed you to know how I felt. That I was not here in some misplaced gesture of guilt or something. I'm here because I really want to be here. You need someone to take care of you and I want it to be me."
Kerry squeezed her eyes shut. "I hate this. I hate being so --"
"I know you do. But the reality is that you're just human, like the rest of us, Ker. No more, no less. Sometimes everybody needs a little support. So please let me help, okay?"
A long pause and Kim held her breath. Then Kerry nodded.
"And I'll try not to be quite so ...fascist," Kim said with a tiny smile.
"I can't stand the catheter anymore Kim," Kerry said and Kim thought she saw fear in her eyes. "Please take it out."
Kim nodded. "We'll do that when we wash you up, okay? And I'm pretty sure I can lift you back and forth to the toilet, so you can take care of yourself in the bathroom, how does that sound?"
Kerry smiled a little and for the second time that night, Kim's heart skipped a beat.
"All right," Kim said, helping Kerry to sit up. "Let's get you cleaned up."
Kim wrung out the facecloth and tenderly washed Kerry's back.
"Too hot?" she asked.
"Mmmm, no. It feels good." Kerry's voice sounded slack and relaxed. Kim glanced at her watch. Twenty minutes since she'd taken her painkillers. Good, they were starting to work. They'd washed her hair and found a clean nightgown, so now all that was left was a little bath.
She dragged the soapy cloth across Kerry's shoulders and neck, followed the curve of her spine down to the deep hollow above her buttocks, then rinsed the cloth out and wiped the same path again, slowly, deliberately.
She hadn't realized how much she'd missed Kerry's body until she'd shed her soiled nightgown and stretched out on the hospital bed. Their first somewhat clumsy fumblings together had quickly given way to long languid hours in bed as Kim explored every dip and curve of this soft and powerful body. All those months working beside her in the ER, she'd wondered what exactly lay beneath the billowing lab coat and the conservative blouses. And then that first night, Kim had undressed her and had thoroughly kissed every inch of skin she could, nibbling and caressing her belly, her shoulders, her breasts. She had lain there afterwards, holding Kerry in her arms, in awe of what she had uncovered. She had been totally and irretrievably lost from that moment on.
She toweled off Kerry's torso. "Okay, next side, please," she said and she helped Kerry turn over. She covered her from the hips up with another sheet, and turned her attention to washing her legs.
The incredible thing was that it seemed that Kerry had no idea how beautiful she was. Either that or she was determined to hide it because she acted oblivious to it, as if she sincerely believed she was awkward and unattractive. She wondered what a lifetime of limping and coping with a crutch had done to plant that last thought.
She checked the toes on Kerry's broken leg for colour. A little dusky, probably from swelling in the cast. They'd have to ice it when she finished.
She soaped up the facecloth again and then paused.
"Um, Kerry?" she asked. "Here's the facecloth, so you can wash your, uh..." Kim's mind searched for the right word. Pubes? Too clinical. Groin? Too athletic. Crotch? God, no.
Kerry opened her eyes. "Kim I'm so sore from everything, I honestly don't think I could bend enough to wash anything myself. Would you mind?"
"Uh, sure, I can do it." She summoned up a clinical detachment that didn't quite catch, and started with the inside of Kerry's thighs. She refreshed the cloth and tenderly scrubbed her pubic mound. A few gentle swipes at hidden parts, a quick rinse and she was ready for the towel. It was then that Kim realized she'd been holding her breath.
Oh well. She was entitled. It had been a long day.
She rearranged the sheets again, leaving Kerry's torso exposed and covering her legs and hips for warmth. More deliberate, soothing strokes across her stomach and her breasts with the hot facecloth and she could see Kerry physically relaxing.
It was probably not very widely known, Kim thought as she worked, how very much Kerry Weaver loved to have her belly kissed. Way down at the bottom of her belly, below the navel where the gentle curve bottoms out, there was this one particular spot that sent her into spasms of ecstacy. Kim rinsed the soap off and smiled to herself. She wondered if anyone else had ever discovered that spot and what exactly her ER colleagues would make of that fact. Now that would be a memo to remember.
She supported Kerry's arm against her hip while she washed it and had a sudden, unbidden recollection of being in bed with Kerry, naked, limbs intertwined. There were candles in the bedroom and Kim could see the snow falling through her bedroom window. Kerry, her cheeks flushed with arousal, had straddled her, near her waist, pressing her hot, moist center into Kim's belly. She sat there for a long time, pinning Kim to the bed, slowly grinding her hips while pushing Kim into a frenzy by caressing her breasts and gently tweaking her nipples.
It had been the look on her face that had made Kim pause. Hair damp from exertion, mouth slack with need, her jade-flecked eyes half-lidded, Kerry had literally glowed from within, had looked utterly radiant. Kim smiled again. That had been the first time that she'd made the very disciplined and starched Dr. Weaver howl when she came. Kim had also seen to it that it had not been the last time, either.
"What are you thinking?" Kerry asked sleepily.
Kim rinsed off her arm, drawing the cloth lightly across the bruises. "I'm thinking how glad I am that you called me."
Kerry watched her slyly for another moment. "Liar," she said.
Kim chuckled and washed the other arm.
"Really, what were you thinking?"
Kerry nodded, her tired eyes trained on Kim's face.
I was thinking about how incredibly beautiful you looked when we made love.
"Really, I was thinking that I'm grateful you called me." She wrung out the facecloth. "Okay, let me just get your nightgown and then I'll check to see if the soup is hot."
Kerry watched her head to the kitchen, the basin of water on her hip, and wondered what Kim had really been thinking about.
The clock alarm read 5:53 a.m. when the phone rang the next morning. Kerry had been awake for a little while and was really starting to feel the effects of yesterday's disastrous trip to the kitchen. She ached everywhere, shoulders, back, legs, but nowhere as much as where they had mended her splintered bones. It was a dull, pervasive, pounding pain that didn't seem to let up. It was definitely time for more Percocet. And of course, she had to pee, but Kim had only gotten to bed around three after she had finished cleaning up the kitchen floor, so another half hour's sleep was the least Kerry could do for her. The Percocet and bathroom could wait.
Of course the phone had changed all that. Three rings, a thump and a muffled curse, followed by Kim's voice, still husky with sleep.
"Hello?.... Yes, this is Dr. Weaver's residence..."
Kerry had known then that it was starting for the day. Yesterday, there had been twelve phone calls for her from the hospital, by noon. After that, she'd yanked the phone out of the wall. Let 'em deal with it themselves.
"No...No, she's not. Don't you know what time it is?"
Kerry smiled a little at the sound of Kim's voice. When she knew she was right, she didn't take any crap from anyone. Not even her.
"Then I suggest you contact the Acting Chief of Emergency Medicine...Oh really? Well, that sounds like something you should take up with Dr. Romano. I'll be he's at home. Good bye."
Kerry heard the phone hit the desk and winced. But then, that was one less problem she would have to deal with.
She heard rustling from the den and then Kim appeared in her trademark sleepwear -- t-shirt and nothing else -- with a pale blue blanket wrapped around her. She peeked to see if Kerry was awake. Kerry gave a little wave. "Was that for me?"
"Christ, what is the matter with people?" Kim asked, trudging across the living room, blanket ends trailing behind her. "That was someone from finance who wanted to know if you could get him your budget projections for the fiscal year 2005 by this afternoon. I figured it could wait."
"It was like that most of the day yesterday."
"No," Kerry said. "Apparently I'm much more crucial to the operation of Cook County General than my paycheck would suggest."
"Well, that's going to stop. You need rest."
Kerry took in the tangled mane of hair, the slitty eyes and the dark circles. "Did you sleep at all?"
"No. Well, some. That couch isn't the greatest."
"You should sleep upstairs in my bedroom. You'd be more comfortable."
Kim was shaking her head even before Kerry finished. "No, I wouldn't be able to hear you from there," she said. Well, that and the fact that it would break my heart to sleep there without you, she thought. "How are you feeling?"
Kerry took a deep breath. "I'm sore." She lowered her voice apologetically. "And I need to go to the bathroom."
"Kerry, you should've woken me earlier," Kim said.
"You'd hardly gotten any sleep."
Kim waved her words away. "Let me just get some clothes on." She went back to the den and grabbed her clothes from where she'd flung them a few hours ago when she'd laid down. She had one leg in her jeans when the phone rang again.
"Oh for Christ's sake," she muttered.
Mid-afternoon and Kim poked her head into the living room.
"That was the physiotherapist," she said. "She told me about the exercises that you should be doing and she said that it was important that you start soon. I saw you had some weights in the closet -- do you want to do a little bit today?"
Kerry sighed and Kim noted the defeated expression. "Kim, I just can't. I'm sorry, but I just can't. Tomorrow maybe?"
Kim nodded. "Sure, no pressure." She'd learned a little something about dealing with Kerry the patient in the past few days. "I'll leave you alone to rest." She started to go.
"What are you doing?" Kerry asked suddenly.
"I'm working on that research paper I told you about."
A pause and Kim searched Kerry's face.
"Do you want me to get you a book, or maybe a journal? One came in the mail for you this morning."
"No, that's okay."
Kim waited. "Okay. Well, I'll get to work then. Shout if you need anything."
"Why don't you come and -- I mean, if you wanted to, you could work in here."
The smile grew by degrees until Kim positively beamed. "That would be nice. I'll get my stuff."
The phone rang without pause all afternoon and through dinner. Every so often, Kim had taken to picking it up, saying, "Dr. Weaver is not taking calls!" and slamming the receiver back down.
"Maybe I should take some of those calls," Kerry said, as they dawdled over their salads at dinner. "Some of them might be important."
Kim put down her fork and pinned her with a look. "They will cope without you, Kerry and if they can't, then they'll realize how much you do around that place."
Kerry sighed and picked at her dinner, one protective arm wrapped around her sore side. "We could just put the answering machine on," she suggested.
Kim stabbed a forkful of salad. "The phone still rings," she said in a tone that left little doubt as to how much she enjoyed the electronic trill she'd been hearing all day.
"Do you want to just unplug it?"
Kim shook her head as she chewed. "I hate to do that," she said. "Because someone besides maintenance or accounting or payroll may want to reach us."
They ate in silence for a while.
"You know, I've owned this house for four years and I don't think I've ever spent this much time in the living room," Kerry said, glancing around at the pale walls. "I've never noticed how few windows there are in here."
Kim nodded and sipped her wine. "Yeah, it's not very airy, is it?" She watched Kerry moving lettuce around with her fork. "Hey, Ker, are you okay? You've seemed pretty down today."
Kerry glanced at her, then shrugged. "I suppose it's normal, after an injury," she said. "I just ... well, I guess I just feel kind of discouraged. This stupid leg and my eye..." She ran her fingertips across the swollen orb, which could now open a crack. "I should be grateful," she said. "I know it could have been worse."
Kim listened intently, then pushed her dinner aside to move closer to Kerry. "Listen to me. Right now, it doesn't matter that it could have been worse. What matters is that you were attacked and badly beaten, Kerry. You have serious injuries and a long recovery ahead of you and you can't just sublimate everything and 'decide' to be okay with it. It doesn't work like that." She smiled sympathetically and ran a hand through Kerry's fiery hair. "It's hard as hell but that's the way it is."
Kerry sat there, reveling in Kim's touch. She allowed the tiniest smile. "Oh, God," she said in a strangled voice, "What have I done? I'm living with a psychiatrist!"
Kim laughed out loud.
Kerry pushed her way up out of the heavy mist of Percocet induced sleep to find trees rushing by the window at high speed. A moment of blinding disorientation and then the world snapped back into place when she realized she had been sleeping in a cozy nest of blankets and pillows in the back seat of Kim's pristine Jetta. Her broken limb was propped up high and there was a huge Ziploc bag of ice cubes draped over the cast to help fight the swelling that had been creeping up on her. She was laid out across the seat and actually found it remarkably comfortable. Witness the marvels of German engineering, she thought.
From where she was propped, she could see Kim's profile as she drove and Kerry just lay there for a while, gazing at her and trying to shake off the fog of sleep. She still wasn't sure if this was such a good idea but then since she was unable to make a decision as simple as what to eat next off her plate at dinner, Kerry wondered if she was really the best judge of anything right now.
Yesterday, Kim had come into the living room sometime before noon with all the necessary implements for a sponge bath.
"Hey, I want to bounce an idea off you," she said, laying down the basin of hot water on the coffee table. "I just got off the phone with a friend from college, Rachel Greer. She works in Washington as some sort of advisor to a senator." She helped Kerry to sit up and then to take off her nightgown. "Anyway," Kim said, "she built this summer house up on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan a few years ago. It's on this huge piece of beachfront property, out in the middle of nowhere, between two very small towns."
She slung an arm around Kerry's neck and helped lower her to the bed. "She says that we can have it for as long as we want."
"She's not using it?" Kerry asked and she could hear Kim wringing out the face cloth.
"Nope," Kim said. "She's trapped in DC for the whole summer working on some bill. Which isn't surprising. Rachel's career always was her single priority."
Kerry felt her muscles relaxing as the hot cloth moved back and forth across her body.
"I've only been there once, but as I remember, it's a fabulous place. A huge kitchen, hand-painted Italian tile floors, three big bedrooms, two full baths, one of which has a sauna, and get this...it's all on one floor."
Kerry struggled to look at Kim. "Why is that important?"
"Because you would have full access to the house in your chair or on crutches. And we could get you into the bathtub."
Kerry's eyebrows shot up. All the hand-painted tiles in the world suddenly paled compared to the notion of an hour's soak in a real bathtub.
"This place sounds like a palace," Kerry said, still looking for the catch. "She had this built and never uses it?"
Kim wrung out the cloth and rinsed Kerry's buttocks and the back of her legs.
"Yes, well, that's vintage Rachel. Money's not an object. She wasn't just born with a silver spoon in her mouth. I think there may have been a full place setting."
Kerry chuckled. "So you just phoned her up and said, hey, can I have your beach house?"
"I was a little more subtle than that," Kim said. "Although not much. Rachel kind of owes me and I knew she'd be happy to give us the place."
"She kind of owes you?" Kerry said. "I'd like to hear about that sometime."
"Well you'll have to wait, because I like to be just a little drunk when I tell that one."
Kerry nodded. "I look forward to it, then."
"So, what do you think?" Kim said. Maybe a change of scene might be good, you know, get out someplace with a great view, more windows and fresh air?"
Kerry tried to figure out what she thought and kept coming back to one unavoidable truth --it just didn't matter. She didn't care one way or the other because no matter what they decided, tomorrow morning the sun would come up and she would still have this cast, this pain and the inescapable feeling that she'd been used as a punching bag.
"Sounds great," she said, and she tried to summon up the image of the bathtub again.
Luka had obligingly dropped by to cart Kerry back down the steps and deposit her in the pillow-lined back seat. He'd helped Kim pack the trunk and then they'd driven him to the hospital to drop him off for his shift. Ten minutes later, they were off, leaving the city behind in its envelope of early summer humidity and smog.
Kerry scanned the landscape outside the car for signs that they might be near civilization. There were none. She figured that she'd slept for at least two hours, so they must be getting close to their destination by now. She watched the trees and fields passing by -- it was so green and lush here -- and then she turned her gaze on Kim again, tracing the graceful curve of her neck with her eyes. Kim had haphazardly swept her curls up and tied them there this morning and Kerry was astounded that it could look so good. A strong urge to lean forward and touch her hair gripped her and she had to push it back down.
There was something playing on the CD player that caught Kerry's attention. It sounded familiar to her. A piano and two women whose voices sounded like they were dancing with each other. She cocked her head and tried to hear the words.
"...rather you be mean, than love and lie,
I'd rather hear the truth and have to say goodbye,
I'd rather take a blow, at least then I would know,
But baby don't you break my heart slow..."
Kim reached forward suddenly and abruptly snapped the CD player off. Kerry glanced over at her, saw the tension in her shoulders.
She waited a beat. "You don't like that CD?" Kerry asked.
Kim glanced over her shoulder. "I didn't know you were awake. How are you doing back there?"
"I'm fine," she said. "Just a little thirsty. Is there more water?"
Kim handed back another bottle of water. Kerry cracked the cap and drank.
"So," Kerry said. "How much longer?"
"Less than an hour, I'd say. How are you holding up? Do you want to stop?"
"No, I can make it the rest of the way." She caught a glimpse of sand and water through some pines. God, she hoped this was a good idea. "Kim, are you certain that it's not a problem for you to away from work for so long?"
Kim wore sunglasses but Kerry got the distinct feeling that she was rolling her eyes at the question just the same.
"We've been over this already. Between the six weeks of vacation time I'm owed and the time that Carl negotiated for me, I'm probably not going to work a shift before Labour Day." She chuckled. "Carl said the ink wasn't even dry on his request for paid leave for me when Romano's office phoned to say that it had been approved."
Kerry smiled. "Good. You could use the time off, too."
"And I've got that research study to write up, plus that offer for a chapter in that textbook on ER psych assessment models," Kim said. "Which is great because I think, given the year I've had, it's particularly important to publish something to try to cement my position a bit."
Kerry nodded and watched road signs whisk by the window, and made a conscious effort to stop asking herself why in the world Kim was doing this.
They pulled into a long gravel driveway just as an older man in jeans and a work shirt was stepping away from the front door of the house and heading for the big red pick up truck that was parked in the drive. He spotted the navy blue Jetta and veered over to meet them.
"Welcome!" he said when Kim turned off the car and opened her door. "You must be Kim," he said, extending a very tanned hand in Kim's direction. "I'm Roger Fairbanks. I take care of the place for Rachel. She called and told us to expect you." He had an easy open face and soft brown eyes.
"Hi, Roger," Kim said. "That's my friend Kerry back there." She motioned to her backseat passenger. Roger bent down to look in and tipped his cap and smiled. "Pleasure to meet you, Kerry." Kerry gave him a half-hearted wave and noted that he had not so much as flinched when he'd seen her face. Definitely a gentleman.
"Well, listen, let's get you and your things inside," Roger said. He followed Kim around to the trunk. "The missus and I came over last night to open the place up and all. We made up the beds and got everything turned on and working, so you shouldn't have any problems." He pulled the heaviest bags from the trunk and set them down on the driveway. "Now would you like me to give you a hand getting your friend inside?"
Kim smiled and shook her head. "Thanks, we'll manage."
Roger nodded, hefted four bags and set off for the house.
Kim unfolded Kerry's wheelchair and then helped her slide out of the backseat and down into the chair. She could feel the tension in Kerry's body as she lowered her into the chair.
"Ker, are you okay?" she asked as she secured the leg support that would keep Kerry's cast elevated.
Kerry rubbed her forehead and Kim thought she could see a slight tremor in her hand.
"I'm fine," Kerry said. "My leg is just...sore."
Kim nodded, her lips drawn into a thin line. "All right, let me just get you inside and I'll unpack your painkillers."
They slowly made their way up the driveway to the huge, sprawling house.
Kim had been right -- it was spectacular. The entire front wall of the living room was glass: huge floor to ceiling windows and French doors that left you with the impression that you were outside, on the beach. Lake Michigan sparkled in the mid-day sun less than fifty yards away. Kim opened two of the doors that led to the deck and Kerry thought she'd never smelled anything so incredibly refreshing in her life.
While Kim and Roger carried in various suitcases and boxes, Kerry wheeled herself carefully around the place. A well-appointed kitchen decorated with terra cotta accents, two big bedrooms off the massive living room and a huge master bedroom with a king size bed, a desk and computer in one corner and a full sitting area with an overstuffed couch. She rolled into the master bath and peeked into the sauna, then caught sight of the huge Jacuzzi tub. She thought she might cry. To be able to soak away even a few of her aches and pains would be too wonderful for words.
She glanced at the toilet and hesitated. She had to go, but she'd better wait for Kim to give her a hand. The last thing she needed today was another daredevil flip out of this cursed chair. She propelled herself back towards the living room to find Kim.
"Okay, are you sure you're going to be all right?" Kim asked for what Kerry thought might be the sixth time.
"Kim, the town is forty minutes away," Kerry said, shading her eyes with her hand to look up at her. "You have to do drug store, grocery store, post office. You won't be gone more than two hours. How much trouble could I possibly get into in that time?"
Kim had a sudden image of Kerry's broken body lying on the floor of her kitchen, doubled over in pain. It made her stomach clench.
"I know," she said. "I just worry."
"Well, don't. I'll be fine," Kerry said, waving her hand to dismiss the tall woman.
"All right. Last chance for any special requests."
"A new right leg," Kerry said, settling back into the pillows Kim had put out on the deck chair.
"I'll see what I can do," Kim said and she kissed the top of Kerry's head before slipping back into the house.
She stuck her head back out. "Yes?"
"This is really nice," Kerry said. "Thank you."
Kim smiled. "Anytime, Kerry."
Kerry heard the door slide shut and she let out a long sigh.
Roger's "missus" had sent along roast beef sandwiches, cookies, fruit and a pitcher of iced tea and after unpacking a little, they'd lunched on the deck, enthusiastically gobbling up the entire contents of the basket. Then Kim had set Kerry up in the shade in a deck chair laden with pillows. Now, with a full belly and a sufficient high serum level of oxycodone and acetaminophen, Kerry knew there was a nap not too far off.
She heard the faint sound of Kim's car starting and backing out of the driveway and she asked herself for the millionth time since they'd left this morning, if this had been a smart choice. She knew she couldn't completely take care of herself right now and she knew that Kim sincerely wanted to help, whatever her motivations. What she didn't know was how long she could keep from giving in, from letting herself start to need Kim again, like she had months ago. It had been the first time in her life that she had trusted someone so quickly and deeply and she still stung from how it had turned out. She couldn't let it happen again, couldn't let herself slide into the comfortable intimacy that Kim offered.
There was a fresh breeze blowing off the lake and she could hear the waves down at the shore. She ached everywhere and felt weak with exhaustion but she did have to admit that this beat the hell out of her living room.
Kerry remembered that Kim had kissed her before she'd left. She smiled a little.
She closed her eyes and let herself drift.
Faint footsteps on the faded wood of the deck and a then a long shadow fell across her. Kerry thought about opening her eyes.
She nearly jumped out of her clothes.
"Jesus!" she exclaimed and then her eyes fell on the boy standing a few feet away, watching her uncertainly. "Oh, I'm sorry...you scared me. I guess I was falling asleep."
"Sorry," the boy said and even from this far away she could see that he had the most serious eyes she had ever seen on a child. He was slight and couldn't have been more than eight. He wore no shirt and his blue and red striped shorts hung low on his small tanned hips.
"I was walking on the beach and I saw you and I thought maybe Rachel was here," he said, wide gray-blue eyes trained on her face.
Oh God, Kerry thought, I'm scaring him because I look like Frankenstein's older sister.
"You know Rachel?" Kerry asked.
He nodded, blonde cowlick bobbing up and down.
"Well, she's not actually here, but we're friends of hers and she's letting us stay here at her house for a while." She stuck out her hand. "I'm Kerry."
He crossed the distance between them and politely shook her hand. "My name is Finn," he said. "Well, actually that's my nickname but everybody calls me that. Even my teachers. Only my grandma calls me by my real name."
"Francis." He made a face.
"Ah," Kerry said. "I can see why you'd prefer Finn."
He stood there a moment, his face unreadable.
"Can I ask you something?" he said.
"What happened to your leg?"
"I broke it," Kerry said.
He searched her face then saw that she was teasing. "I know that," he said with the slightest smile. "I mean, how did you break it?"
"I had an accident and two big men who were trying to help me kind of fell on me. Then it broke."
He nodded slowly, taking in every word.
"That's what happened to my face, too," she said. "It looks bad but it's just stitches and stuff."
He peered more carefully at her cast, while Kerry studied his profile. A full mouth, thin patrician nose and a dusting of freckles.
"Nobody signed your cast," he said. "How come? Didn't your friends want to sign it?"
"Actually, I didn't really have time to let them, before we left."
He pondered this, then met her gaze again. "Does it hurt?"
"Sometimes," she replied. "Hey, can I ask you a question?"
"Sure." He plopped himself down on the edge of a lawn chair.
"How old are you?"
"Nine and a half," he said. "I'm going to be ten in September."
Smallish for his age. But so beautiful. Kerry wondered if he got teased.
"Where do you live?" she asked.
"Well, I used to live in Chicago and during school I live in Connecticut, but right now, I live over there." He turned and pointed down the beach and Kerry could make out an enormous summer home about a half-mile away. "I'm staying with my Gran for summer vacation because my Dad has to work a lot."
"I see," Kerry said. "What about your Mom?"
"She died," he said and it was as if the sun had suddenly gone out.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Kerry said softly.
He shrugged, concentrated as a scraped knee. "She died right after Christmas last year. She had been really sad a lot and then one day, she killed herself."
Kerry's blood ran cold and she struggled to find the right words. "Wow," she said, "that sounds pretty rough."
He nodded, balancing on the edge of the chair.
"Can I ask you something else?" he said.
"Are you a lesbian?"
Kerry's mouth fell open. "How do you even know that word?"
He chuckled at her. "Everybody knows that word," he said.
She stared at him.
"So, are you?"
"Well, yes, actually, I am," Kerry said, "but I'm wondering why you would ask that?"
"Because Rachel is a lesbian and I figured since you were her friend, you probably were one too."
"I see." Kerry watched him swing his feet back and forth, then stop to scratch a mosquito bite. "So I guess you know what lesbian means, then."
"Oh sure. It means that you want to get married to women instead of men and that you have sex with them and stuff."
Kerry nodded. That did pretty much cover it.
"Anyway, I have to go," Finn said and he got to his feet. "I've got schoolwork to do."
"Schoolwork? Isn't it summer vacation now?"
He padded across the deck, towards the beach. "Not for me," he said. "It was nice to meet you Kerry. I hope your leg feels better."
"Nice to meet you, too, Finn," Kerry said and she shaded her eyes to watch him stride through the sand. "Hey Finn!" she called after him. He turned and looked back. "How did you get your nickname?"
"From Finn Mac Cool," he shouted back.
"Finn Mac Cool, " he repeated, "the Irish hero."
"I've never heard of him," Kerry said.
Finn threw up his hands in mock exasperation and then walked away shaking his sun-bleached head.
Kerry followed him with her eyes, most of the way home.
Kim arrived back, breathless, trying very hard not to let on that she was worried, only to find Kerry asleep on the front deck, her glass of ice water untouched. Kim smiled as she draped a towel over Kerry's legs where the sun had begun to touch them. She stood there a moment longer, studying the sleeping woman. The cuts on her face were healing nicely, no sign of infection -- the guy from plastics had done a good job. The swelling around her eye was greatly diminished, but the bruising remained and it looked horrible -- it was like being back in that sterile hallway with that crazy giant. The healing had started but it was going to be a while before all external traces of that day were gone.
She did look peaceful, though, stretched out in the deck chair, her face relaxed in sleep. And, Kim thought, she's safe and she's here. That's all I can ask for.
She tiptoed back into the house, to start some serious unpacking.
Tantalizing whiffs of barbeque smoke wafted past as she dug her bare toes into the cooling sand. The sunset, which was going on behind the east-facing house, was being reflected in the eastern sky in glorious oranges and golds. She took a long sip from her wine glass and congratulated herself again for finding such an excellent Shiraz in such a small town.
Kim turned and looked at Kerry. "This is great," she said.
Kerry peered up over the top of the laptop that was balanced on her thighs. "What's great?"
"This!" Kim said, spreading her arms wide to take in the house, the sand, the water, the sky.
Kerry nodded. "Yes, it is," she said, and she glanced back down at what she was reading on Kim's computer.
"I'm telling you Kerry, this place is good for the soul," Kim said.
"How many glasses of wine have you had?" Kerry called back without looking up.
"One, and I'm not going to let you bait me," Kim said. "This is exactly what we need. Exactly what you need."
"That sounds remarkably like a professional opinion."
Kim didn't reply for the longest while. Kerry finally realized it and looked up.
"I'm worried about you," Kim said.
Kerry looked at her. Kim was standing there, one hand on her perfectly sculpted hips, in a tank top that was just a little too big for her and which gave the most delightful glimpses of the black sports bra underneath. She was wearing baggy madras shorts and they somehow made her legs look even longer, even more perfectly shaped. Her hair was pulled back into a messy ponytail and she was watching Kerry with the sweetest expression Kerry thought she had ever seen -- one part concern and three parts love, those cornflower eyes soft with sympathy.
Kerry wanted to speak, but found she couldn't.
How could I have ever doubted, she thought. How could I not be in love with this woman?
Kim ambled back to the deck checked the meat on the grill and then settled into the lawn chair beside Kerry. "I am, you know," Kim said, sipping her wine and studying Kerry's distant expression.
"I know you are," Kerry said and it was hard to look straight at her, hard to meet those searching eyes.
"You've been through a serious trauma and you've got a long recovery ahead. At some point, you've got to feel the aftereffects."
Kerry gave her a half-hearted smile.
"I just -- I want you to talk about it with me, okay? And I'm not trying to be your psychiatrist. I'm just trying to be your friend." She smiled and reached over to squeeze Kerry's hand. Kerry wanted to grab it and hold it and keep it, but she didn't.
"So what are you reading that's so darned interesting?" Kim asked, peering at the laptop screen.
"I am reading about Finn Mac Cool, legendary protector of Ireland, great warrior, seer and poet," Kerry replied scrolling down the screen.
"I didn't know you were interested in Celtic mythology," Kim said.
"I wasn't until today," Kerry said. "Here, listen to this: 'Finn, meaning fair-haired or beautiful, was the leader of the Fianna, the military elite of ancient Ireland, responsible for guarding the high king. Finn instituted a code of honour among the Fianna, imploring them to be models of chivalry and justice. Some say that it is Finn's code that was the inspiration for King Arthur's knights of the round table. The most enduring myth about Finn Mac Cool is that he did not die at all, but is only sleeping in a hidden cave, waiting to awaken and defend Ireland in her hour of need."
Kerry looked up triumphantly.
"Quite a guy, this Finn," Kim said.
"As a matter of fact, he was," Kerry said. "Although kind of small for his age and definitely too small for a warrior. But he certainly was forthright. And he did have poet's eyes, I suppose."
Kim gave her a puzzled look. "I'm not following Ker."
Kerry described her visit with the Lake Michigan Finn, ending with his mother's death.
"Oh, poor little guy," Kim said, shaking her head. "My God, what sort of message do you get about yourself and the world when your mother kills herself?"
"I know," Kerry said, staring out at the water. "It breaks my heart to think about it."
"So why the intensive research?"
Kerry closed the computer and deposited it on the deck beside her chair. "Are you kidding? I got one-upped by a nine-year-old boy today. I want to be prepared in case he comes back."
Kim tossed her head back and laughed.
The pain and fatigue started to catch up with Kerry during dinner, so that by the time she and Kim had lingered over coffee and watched the last glow disappear from the sky, Kim could see it in the pallor of her face and the dullness of her eyes. She rolled Kerry back into the house and wordlessly fetched her painkillers.
"How about we put off that big bath until tomorrow?" Kim asked softly.
Kerry nodded, not trusting her voice.
Kim helped her to the bathroom, into a nightshirt and into bed. She left her with a book and the bedside table lamp on, while she went and cleaned up the kitchen and had a bath herself.
She sat in the tub for a long time, letting the hot water soothe her tired muscles and silence her restless mind. No thoughts, no worries for nearly twenty minutes. Now this was a good drug, she thought as she toweled herself off.
She left the bathroom, her hair still piled on top of her head, tightly wrapped in a thick terry robe. Kerry hadn't moved and the book she'd left for her hadn't been touched. Kim checked her expression and saw that she looked miserable.
"Kerry? Are you still in pain? Do you need more painkillers?" she asked softly, sitting down on the side of the bed.
Kerry didn't look at her, but Kim could see the tears slowly collecting in her eyes.
"Kerry, what's the matter? Talk to me," Kim said.
Kerry fiddled with the edge of the sheets. "Nothing's the matter, I'm just -- " She looked helplessly at Kim and shrugged. "I don't know what's the matter. I just keep wanting to cry."
"Oh, honey, I'm so sorry, come here," Kim said and she reached her arms out for the tiny red head. Kerry leaned into Kim and burrowed against her shoulder, holding onto her tightly. "It's just the trip and everything catching up with you. All the driving and moving around. You just need a good long sleep." She pressed her cheek to the top of Kerry's head and rested it there.
Kerry huddled in Kim's arms until Kim could feel the physical tension leaving her body. At last Kim pulled back a little to look at her face. "Do you want to go to sleep now?"
Kerry nodded, her eyes red and puffy. "Yeah," she said, "I should."
Kim rearranged the pillows and helped Kerry lie down and get settled, then turned out the light. "I'll leave the door to both our rooms open so that if you call for me, I'll hear you, all right?"
Kerry nodded in the half-light.
Kim smiled. "Night, Ker. Sleep well."
She padded around the quiet house, locking doors and turning out the lights. She was taking one last look at the stars when she heard Kerry's voice.
She retraced her steps to the bedroom.
"Kerry?" she asked and she felt for the light switch.
"Would you sit with me for a while longer?" Kerry said. "Just -- just for a little while?"
Kim's expression blossomed into a smile, which she tried to tame. "Sure," she said, heading for the bed. "I can do that."
She crawled up onto the huge bed, nestled herself against Kerry and settled herself into the pillows. "Here, just lie back," she said, guiding Kerry's head so that it rested against her ribs. Kerry shifted into place and laid a hand on Kim's leg.
Kim drew her fingers slowly through Kerry's silky hair and Kerry sighed.
Kim smiled to herself.
The breeze coming off Lake Michigan was just cool enough to take the sting out of the steadily climbing sun and Kerry sat with her eyes closed and her face turned into the sweet wind, letting it wash over her. It wasn't enough to erase the hangover of pain that soaked through her, but it helped. The water and the breeze and the peace... they all sort of helped.
She cast a glance back into the house, saw Kim busy at the stove and she wondered if she was possibly going to be able to keep anything down. Maybe just some coffee. Or fruit. But not milk. No more milk. She couldn't face another glass.
Roger, in an attempt to provide them with absolutely everything they could possibly need, had arranged to have the Chicago Tribune delivered to them and this morning's edition sat beside her on the table, screaming its usual mix of local, national and international bad news.
She was scanning an article on the latest catastrophic plan for O'Hare when she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. She looked up, squinting in spite of her sunglasses.
Down at the shore, a small figure in bright blue Hawaiian shorts and a white t-shirt was trudging through the sand, a knapsack slung across one shoulder.
She watched him come, head down, taking quick steps, oblivious to everything around him.
Just then, Kim stepped out onto the deck with their plates. She followed Kerry's gaze. "Ah," she said, "can I assume that this is the legendary Finn, himself?"
Kerry nodded, still watching him carefully. "That's him."
"My God, Kerry, you didn't say he was so..."
"Beautiful?" Kerry supplied.
Kim put the plates down on the table. "Yeah. He's gorgeous."
He was almost within earshot and for the first time he looked up to find both women watching him from the deck. He stopped dead, his gaze shifting nervously from one to the other.
"Hi," he said and it was a question.
"Hi!" Kerry called. "Come on up, we were just having breakfast."
He took a few uncertain steps, close enough for Kim to see the bottomless blue in his eyes and then he hesitated. Manners reared their ugly heads.
"I should come back after you've eaten," he said and he started to turn.
"Have you had breakfast?" Kim asked.
He nodded. "I ate with Gran. At five."
Kerry stole a look at her watch. "Well that was over three hours ago. You must be starving by now. Why don't you come and have a little snack with us."
Another pause while he checked for potential etiquette violations and then he smiled. He climbed the steps to the deck.
"Hi, I'm Finn," he said and he stuck out his hand to Kim.
Kerry saw Kim's eyes widen slightly before she smiled and shook his hand with utter seriousness. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Finn. I'm Kim." She studied him for a moment while they shook hands and then she shot a look at Kerry, who just shrugged and smiled. "Listen, you just pull up a chair for yourself and I'll go fix you a plate. Do you like scrambled eggs?"
Finn nodded eagerly as he dragged a third chair to the patio table and sat down, depositing his knapsack on the deck beside him.
"Boy, you get up pretty early in the morning," Kerry said.
Finn nodded. "Gran gets up then. She says when you get old you can't sleep so well."
"Is it just you and your Gran over there?"
"And Estelle. She's the cook and housekeeper and everything. Sometimes my grandpa comes for the weekend, but he's pretty busy. He has a lot of factories and he needs to work a lot."
Kerry nodded. "Are there any kids your age around here?"
Finn shook his head sadly. "No. There's hardly anybody under a hundred here -- well, except for you guys. The Wallaces have a granddaughter but she's a teenager." His expression let Kerry know that he'd sooner pal around with boy-eating dinosaurs than a teenage girl.
Kim reappeared with a tray bearing another plate of breakfast, two glasses of chocolate milk and two mugs of steaming coffee. Finn's eyes lit up, but he said nothing while Kim place drinks and plates around the table.
"I hope chocolate milk is okay," she said and Finn nodded eagerly.
"Thank you," he said as his plate was put in front of him.
He waited until the two women had fixed their coffees and started to eat their eggs before picking up his fork.
"How's your leg feel today, Kerry?" he asked after downing a few mouthfuls of egg.
"It's a little sore," Kerry said.
Kim did a double take. What happened to the patented Weaver litany of 'I'm fine, I'm fine?' She decided to hold her tongue and eat her English muffin. Maybe this little guy was a seer.
"How long do you have to have your cast?"
"We're not too sure yet," Kerry said. "We have to see how it heals, but it's probably going to be a few months."
His face fell. "You won't be able to go swimming all summer. My friend, Kevin in Connecticut, he had a broken arm and he couldn't swim when he had his cast."
Kerry nodded. "Yeah, I'll have to stay out of the water for a while."
He polished off his last strawberry and eyed his slice of cantaloupe. "That's awful," he said. "Your whole summer vacation." Something hit him then and he looked from Kim to Kerry and back again. "You're on vacation, right? I mean, are you gonna stay for a while here?"
The two women looked at each other.
"Well, actually," Kim said, "we're not too sure. We decided to come up here after Kerry got hurt so that she had a quiet place to rest and get better. We hadn't really decided how long we would stay."
"Is Rachel coming this summer?" he asked.
"I don't think she can make it this summer," Kim said. "She's pretty busy with her job right now."
"She's really nice," Finn said. "Some of the people at this beach yell if you walk in front of their place, but she didn't. And her girlfriend Laura was really nice. She played Frisbee with me sometimes."
Kerry saw the barely perceptible arch to Kim's eyebrow. "You've met Laura?" she asked.
He nodded, his mouth full of cantaloupe.
"Isn't that great," she said, and speared her scrambled eggs.
Kerry felt the temperature drop twenty degrees.
"So do you guys work in Washington, like Rachel?" Finn asked after he had wiped his mouth with his napkin.
"No," Kerry said. "We work in Chicago. We're doctors."
His eyes widened slightly at this news but it was impossible to tell whether in delight or dismay. "Really?"
"Yeah," Kim said. "Kerry is a doctor in the emergency room, so she takes care of people who have had accidents or who get really sick all of a sudden. And I'm a psychiatrist. I treat with people who--"
"I know what a psychiatrist does," he said quietly, eyes on his plate.
Kerry and Kim exchanged a look.
"So, Finn," Kerry said. "Yesterday you said you have schoolwork even though it's summer vacation. How come?"
He took a big breath, as if the explanation was going to require exertion. "Well, I told you my mom died, right?"
"Well, before she died, my mom and dad used to fight a lot about what school I should go to. She wanted me to go to the school in our neighbourhood and my dad and my Gran wanted me to go to the private school that my dad went to. It's called the Blackburn Academy and it's pretty hard. Anyway, after my mom died I started getting really bad report cards and my dad said I would do better if he switched me to Blackburn."
He paused, studied his chocolate milk as if he'd never seen the liquid before. "I'm not getting very good grades there, either," he said.
Kerry regarded him sympathetically. "What grade are you in?"
"I'm starting fifth grade in September."
"So your dad and your Gran want you to do extra work this summer to catch up?"
The three were silent for a long moment.
"Well that stinks," Kerry said. "In fact, that stinks worse than having a cast."
A giggle bubbled up and burst out of Finn. "It does," he said, laughing full out. "It stinks way worse."
His delight at her comment was infectious and Kim and Kerry laughed along with him.
"Oh," Finn said suddenly. "I forgot. I brought you a present."
He reached down to retrieve a weather-beaten green canvas knapsack, rummaged around and pulled out an oddly shaped red plastic contraption with a slightly crushed silver bow attached. He handed it to Kerry.
She turned it over in her hands, examining it carefully. It was made of red Lego pieces, with lots of hinges. She looked up at Finn.
"It's beautiful, Finn, but I'm afraid I don't know what it is."
He grinned. "Squeeze the part at the end -- the handle."
She squeezed and the contraption came to life, springing out of its coiled form and reaching all the way across the table to Kim, who jumped a little.
"See? It's a reaching and grabbing thing. So you can get stuff without getting out of your wheelchair." He was beaming and Kerry stared at him, soaking up the glee.
"It's fabulous," she said. "Thank you, Finn."
"You're welcome," he said and he just couldn't quite turn the smile off. "Hey, see if you can grab the salt shaker!"
Kerry made a half dozen aborted attempts and nearly knocked over her glass of milk before she finally snagged the plastic shaker and retrieved it to her side of the table. Finn applauded her then checked his watch, which Kerry noticed had some Star Wars character on it.
"Oh, boy," he said, getting to his feet. "I'd better go. Gran said that I wasn't supposed to stay too long because it would tire you out."
"She doesn't look too tired to me," Kim said with a smile. "You tell your Gran that we like your visits and if Kerry is too tired, we'll send you home, okay?"
His smile grew slowly as he processed this information. "Okay," he said to Kim. "I'll tell her." He gathered up his knapsack.
"Thanks for the reaching and grabbing tool," Kerry said. "I think I'm going to get some real use out of it."
A slight blush. "You're welcome." He turned to Kim. "It was very nice to meet you, Kim and you make really great scrambled eggs."
Kim laughed. "Well thanks. It was great to meet you, too, Finn. I hope we'll see you again."
He grinned and skipped down the stairs, racing towards the water, then coming to a dead stop a few strides later. He whipped around, knapsack swinging with him. "Thank you for breakfast!" he called back at them. The two women waved and then he was off again, tanned legs pumping hard, running down the beach.
Kim got up and started clearing off the dirty dishes.
"So, tell me about Rachel," Kerry said.
Kim stopped moving and got a hard look in her eyes. "Not much to tell really."
"No?" Kerry said. "Because when Finn brought her up, it seemed liked there was something there."
"It's nothing, Kerry. We were together for a while, then we weren't, end of story."
"I'm sorry, I didn't realize that this was a sore point with you," Kerry said.
Kim deftly avoided Kerry's gaze and continued stacking plates. "Just because I don't feel like talking about it doesn't make it a sore point."
"But there must be a reason that you don't feel like talking about it," Kerry said.
"It's ancient history."
"It sure didn't look like ancient history at breakfast," Kerry shot back.
Kim kept her eyes on the tabletop. "It's also not really your business."
"That never seems to stop you."
Their eyes locked and Kerry couldn't quite make herself take those words back.
"Why are you doing this?" Kim asked and Kerry saw the hurt in her eyes. She searched for an answer, an apology, something. Nothing came in time.
Kim shook her head and picked up an armful of dishes. "Look, I have cleaning up to do," she said. She strode off across the deck towards the house.
Kerry hung her head and swore at herself under her breath.
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