The Mouths of Babes
By Ainsley Wallace
Kerry heard Luka slip out of the house and close the door. He settled his frame into a lawn chair and gazed out at the early evening sky for a few moments.
"Kim says that dinner will be in about an hour and also that if you want some more pain medication, she can send it out."
Kerry chuckled, never taking her eyes off the horizon. "I'm fine," she said.
"She takes very good care of you," Luka remarked.
Kerry looked at her lap, suddenly. "Yes, she does," she said.
Luka noted the change in her and decided to let it go. For now, anyway. "It's going to be a beautiful sunset," he said.
Kerry nodded. "I've been watching it every night since we've come up here and I don't seem to get tired of it."
Luka looked around, saw what he was looking for and stood up. He grabbed the blanket that Kim had left for Kerry in case she got cool and he jogged across the deck and down towards the shore, where he laid it out, carefully smoothing down all the corners.
Kerry watched him jog back. He grabbed his Corona from the patio table, handed it to Kerry and said, "I think you should see the sunset from the beach, tonight."
Before she could say a word, he'd helped her stand on her good leg and had scooped her up and was striding across the sand towards the blanket.
"Luka, you don't have to..."
"It would be a tragedy not to see at least one sunset from here on the sand," he said, laying her down gently on the blanket. He sat down beside her, stretching his long legs out and leaning back on his hands. He looked around and nodded his approval. "Much better," he said, as he accepted his beer bottle back from her.
"What happened to Finn?" Kerry asked.
Luka took a pull on his beer. "He is chopping things to make a salad under Kim's supervision and there is even talk of her teaching him to make...what did she call it...a vinaigrette?"
"Oh, so he can stay for supper?"
"Yes, Kim told me she phoned his grandmother and everything is okay." He looked at Kerry. "Kim also told me about his mother and about your meeting with the matriarch herself."
"He's a good boy," Kerry said.
"He's certainly attached to you," Luka said.
She gave him a sideways glance. "I guess so, yeah. I think it's been sort of...well, actually sort of good for me to have him around. It's kept me from being so self-absorbed."
Luka laughed and looked down at his hands which were laced around the neck of his beer bottle. "Kids are especially good at that."
Kerry studied his face. Such a sweet man. Sweet and handsome and so haunted, still.
"So how are you really doing, Kerry?" he asked.
She arched a brow. "Don't tell me that you drove all the way up here just to check up on me?"
He shrugged and grinned. "Can't a friend check up on another friend?"
Kerry studied the sky for a while and let his question become rhetorical. Eventually she took a deep breath and spoke. "My ribs are healing well and as you can see the plastics guy did a great job. I'm still sore, but it's getting better. I have good days and bad days with the leg but overall it's improving." She picked up a handful of sand and let it trickle slowly out of her hand.
Luka sipped his beer. "What about your mood?"
She shrugged. "I've felt a little depressed here and there but Finn's helped a lot. It's nothing I can't handle."
Luka waited, watched her play with the sand. "And Kim?"
"Kim's fine, I guess," Kerry said. "She's getting a lot of work done on her publications."
"No, I meant, how are you and Kim?"
Kerry's eyes shot up to meet his and froze there for a long moment. "I honestly don't know," she said finally. "Mostly right now, I think I must be a great burden to her."
Luka looked up at the house then over at Kerry. "She looks very happy to me."
"I think she feels...an obligation to me."
"I'm sure she feels something, but I doubt it's an obligation."
Kerry snuck a peek at his profile, then returned her gaze to the slowly trickling sand.
"Kim doesn't strike me as the type of person who does things just because they are expected," he said. "She's a grown up, Kerry. If she's here, it's because she wants to be here, not because she feels guilty or whatever."
"She's missing a lot of work --"
"And is clearly enjoying herself here at the beach, with Finn. With you. She's had a few very stressful months, too, Kerry. Maybe she needed a vacation."
Kerry gave him a look that was at once hopeful and doubtful. She picked up another handful of soft, fine sand, while Luka sipped on his beer.
"Whatever the case, Kerry," he said, "she's here with you. And that's what matters." He looked out at the pink tinted sky. "Believe me, that's what matters."
The bonfire flames were dying down and Kerry could see that Finn's eyelids were drooping, too. He sat beside her lawn chair, on the sand and every so often, he leaned his head against her knee as he nodded off for the briefest moments. The headache she'd had since late afternoon had dulled a little and she laughed at herself for thinking that it hurt less when Finn was sleeping against her leg.
Kim and Luka were up at the house, doing the last of the dishes, and she could see them clearly through the huge windows overlooking the deck. It was still hot and Kim had left her bathing suit on and just wrapped an azure and black sarong around her waist at dinnertime. Kerry watched her now, breezing back and forth in the kitchen, laughing with Luka, looking so indescribably beautiful that Kerry's heart physically ached in her chest.
"Kerry?" Finn's quiet voice gently ended her reverie.
"Did you and Kim have a fight?"
He might as well have slapped her. "What do you mean?"
"Well, did you guys argue or break up or something?" He wiggled around to face her, kneeling in the sand.
"Oh," she said, "that kind of fight." She pursed her lips and thought, trying to see where this was going. "Well, kind of, I guess. A few months ago."
"Did you break up?"
Kerry sighed and debated whether or not to answer. One look at Finn's face and she knew there was no other option. She nodded.
"Aren't you going to make up again?" His words were packed with hurt and confusion and fear. His world was coming apart again and Kerry couldn't bear being the cause of that.
"I honestly don't know, Finn. Sometimes I hope we will, but I just don't know," Kerry said. She leaned forward and touched his face. "Why are you asking me this? How did you know we'd had an argument?"
"Well, because you're always so polite to each other, like you don't want to make the other mad. And I never see you kissing and hugging and stuff like that. So I figured you'd had a fight or something."
Kerry nodded. How could things be so clear to you when you were only nine?
"Does Kim want to get back together," he asked, "because I think she does."
"Why do you think that?" Kerry asked.
"Finn? Finn! I'm going to drive you home now!" Kim's voice, rose over the night waves. Finn turned towards the sound and it struck Kerry yet again how much he looked like Kim. Her colouring, her eyes, delicate bones.
"I have to go," he said, getting wearily to his feet. "Thanks for letting me stay for dinner."
"Thanks for staying," Kerry said and she impulsively took his hand in hers and held it a moment. "You're quite a kid, Finn Ryan."
He grinned. "Goodness in our hearts, strength in our limbs and truth on our lips," he said.
Kerry's smile was tinted with puzzlement. "Where did you hear that?"
"My mom made me memorize it," he said. "It's the motto of Finn Mac Cool and the Fianna, the bravest warriors and finest poets in Ireland. She said it was a good motto to have."
"Goodness in our hearts, strength in our limbs..." Kerry began.
"And truth on our lips," Finn concluded. "I gotta go. Thanks for all the stuff today, Kerry. I had a really good time." He hugged her quickly and then raced across the sand to the house.
Kerry sat and stared blankly into the dying flames, her smile slowly fading.
Kim heard the quiet tapping on the glass of the front door and looked up from her notes. Finn's face was pressed to the glass, his hair tousled by the wind. She smiled and motioned for him to come in.
"Hi," he whispered as he closed the door behind him.
"You don't have to whisper, she's not asleep," Kim said. "She's just resting."
"Oh," he said and he looked pleased. "Is Luka gone now?"
Kim nodded. "He left at lunch time. But he said to tell you he's coming back in a few weeks so you can teach him more Frisbee tricks."
"Cool," Finn said. "He's really nice. I like him. He should have kids of his own."
Kim smiled and nodded. "You're right. He should."
"Is it okay if I go and see her now?"
"Actually, I'll go with you, to see if she needs anything."
Kerry was propped up on the bed, her leg supported by pillows. A magazine sat on her lap, ignored.
"Look who's here," Kim said as they entered the huge master bedroom.
"Hey, Finn," Kerry said and even Finn could hear the weariness in her voice.
"Hey," he said, crawling up onto the bed. "You're still not feeling very good, are you?"
"Oh, I'm just a little tired," Kerry said. Kim watched her while she spoke to the boy and noticed that she was managing to look both flushed and pale at the same time.
"How's the head?" Kim asked.
"I'll have some more ibuprofen if you're offering," she said.
Kim nodded and headed to the kitchen for meds and water to wash them down with.
"Finn, I'm really sorry but I don't think I'm feeling up to reading to you today. I'm sure I'll feel much better tomorrow and we can read then."
"I thought we could do something different today," he said, holding up volume one of Harry Potter. "How about I read to you?"
Kerry smiled. "That would be nice."
He bounced his way to the headboard and arranged some more pillows for himself, then reclined into them. He leaned towards Kerry so that she could see the pictures while he read.
"Chapter one, The Boy Who Lived," Finn read. "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Pr...Prr..."
"...Privet Drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you'd ex...exp...expect to be in...in.."
"...involved in anything strange...."
Kim stopped in the doorway, pills and glass in hand and smiled at the two of them, curled up side by side on the pillows, gazing intently at the book. She glanced at her watch. She was giving it two more hours and then she was going to begin her campaign to convince Kerry that she most likely had an infection at the point of her fracture and that she needed to go to the hospital to have the cast broken and the leg recast. And to probably have a great big dose of IV antibiotics. But she'd been through such hell for weeks and right now, lying in bed and having a little boy read Harry Potter to you was probably the best medicine of all. She summoned up a smile and headed into the bedroom.
The Beaver Point District Hospital was small. Very small. If this was not amply illustrated by the fact that the nurse at the front desk greeted each incoming patient with great familiarity and by name, it was further highlighted by the "emergency department," which consisted of, as far as Kerry could see, two ancient gurneys separated by a curtain and one small room with a large observation window for "traumas." Kerry figured the place probably had a defibrillator that ran on double A batteries, and she was suddenly very grateful that she just needed a new cast and a couple shots of antibiotics.
The wait was mercifully short though and within a few minutes Kerry was in a hospital gown in the "trauma" room -- since no one was using it and it afforded a little more privacy than a curtained of stretcher. Her blood was taken, her temperature, pulse and blood pressure checked and before she knew it, the doctor on call was breezing in. He turned out to be a family doctor from Chicago, on a locum, while the local doctor vacationed in Arizona, with his grandkids. Dr. Fisher looked youthful and athletic and he had a way of speaking and moving slowly and deliberately that made it seem that he was concentrating intently. He also seemed much more up to date than their surroundings, which made Kerry relax a little.
Kim sat at the head of Kerry's bed, watching Dr. Fisher maneuver the Stryker saw and ably remove Kerry's old cast. All three of them craned their necks to get a glimpse of Kerry's leg. The center of the wound was an angry red and the smell of diseased tissue wafted up.
"Yup, you've got yourself one heck of an infection," the young doctor said. "We'll treat this with a topical, then get you hooked up to some IV antibiotics and some anti-inflammatories to hopefully get that swelling down. We'll keep it splinted tonight and recast it tomorrow morning and in a day or two you'll be good as new." He scribbled on her chart as he spoke. "Then in two weeks, I'm going to get you to come back so we can x-ray it, see how the bone is healing. At that point, I'll be able to tell you whether or not your football playing days are over." He smiled an infectious, charming smile, but it was lost on Kerry.
"I don't want to stay overnight. Recast it now and I'll do the IV at home," she said and Kim could hear how dangerously close to tears Kerry was.
Kim's eyes swiveled back to the doctor, waiting for his response.
"Dr. Weaver," he said in a remarkably respectful tone, "these are the results of your labs and your vital signs." He handed her the chart to inspect. "Look particularly at your temperature and your white blood cells. You have a serious infection, ma'am, and you need to be observed overnight. Now would you send a patient with those symptoms home or would you admit them?"
He managed to sound concerned, sensible and deferent all at the same time and Kim had to bite her lip to keep from smiling. Beside her, Kerry flipped pages in her chart and read the lab results. Finally she shook her head wearily and handed him back the metal clipboard. "As much as I hate to say it, yes, this patient needs to be observed overnight. You're right."
"I'm glad you agree," he said and he stood up. "I'm going to go and make arrangements for a bed for you, but I wonder if you would give some thought to your preferred course of treatment as far as antibiotics go. It's not my area of expertise and I could go and look it up, but I think I'd rather have your opinion."
Kerry nodded. "Ceftriaxone. One gram IV over six hours times four, not to exceed four grams per day. It's the best choice for this particular case."
"Why is that?"
"It's a broad spectrum antibiotic for gram-negatives. You can do a stain if you want, but I can tell you it's gram-negative."
He scribbled a note to himself and then hurried off to the admit desk to give instructions to the nurse.
Kerry looked over at Kim, who was smiling sympathetically at her.
"I know you don't want to stay," Kim said, pushing Kerry's bangs back up off her face. "But it's probably best."
Kerry looked away and nodded. Kim saw the pool of tears welling in her eyes and she sat down on the side of the bed and took Kerry's hand. Her touch released the floodgates and Kerry started to sob.
"I know, I know," Kim said softly. "But this is going to make you feel better, Ker and it will help your leg to heal. You just have to get through this little part and then you're going to feel better. You're just really sick right now and it's making you feel upset."
Kerry tried to meet Kim's eyes, but it made her cry harder. She wrapped her arms around herself to try to hold the tears in, to staunch the flood of hiccupping sobs that were escaping her.
Kim felt her own eyes begin to sting with tears at the sight of her. She reached over and gathered the tiny woman in her arms and held her tightly, her lips close to Kerry's ear, whispering soothing words, rocking her, riding out the waves of sobs.
"It's going to be all right, Kerry, I promise," Kim said, silently marveling at the heat rolling off Kerry's tiny frame. Her fever was still very high.
"No, it's not going to be all right," Kerry said, pulling herself away to look through her tears at Kim. "Look at my leg! Look at it, Kim! No matter how well the fracture heals, no matter how much physiotherapy I do for it, it's never going to be the same again! I'm 42 years old, I have the beginning stages of osteoporosis which is why it broke in the first goddam place, and no matter what I do, it's not ever going to be as strong as it was before. And Kim, that's my good leg! It was the strong one. It was the one that always helped to make up for the weaker one and now it's going to be useless."
"It's not going to be useless, Kerry," Kim said gently. "It's healing well and I'm sure that --"
"If it's not strong enough to compensate for my other leg, then it's useless to me. Don't you understand that?"
Kim stared at Kerry's flushed, tear stained face and realized she'd never seen her as afraid as she was this very moment.
"I think I'm starting to understand," Kim said.
Kerry sank back against the gurney, swiping at the tears on her face. She glanced over at Kim. Kim tried to smile and opened her arms again. Kerry hesitated, then burrowed her way back into them.
Kim held her tightly. It was all she could think to do.
There was a God, Kerry decided later that day, when the nurse wheeled her, and her IV pole, into her own -- private -- room. If she'd had to share a double or, heaven help us all, a quad, that would've been it. Cast or no cast, she'd have crawled back to the house on beach. She'd had about all she could take.
The nurse helped her to get up out of the chair and ease herself onto the bed, watching that nothing disturbed her splinted leg. She was the same nurse who had been working the desk of the ER when they'd arrived. Kerry wondered if she also cooked the meals and read the x-rays, since this place was so small.
"Now there you go, dear, watch you don't hit your leg on something, now," the older woman said. "You don't need that now, do you?"
Kerry shook her head as she lowered her leg gingerly down to the surface of the bed.
"My husband broke his leg a few years back," the nurse was saying as she fussed with Kerry's pillows and the rate of the IV drip. "Had to be in traction for weeks with the pulleys and weights and the whole nine yards. Well every single time someone came into the room, they would bump into the bed and he would just holler! He said it hurt something fierce." She laughed at the memory and Kerry began to sincerely wish she would leave.
"These antibiotics are going to fix you right up, Dr. Weaver, never you mind," she said. "You'll be up and around again in no time." She fluffed extra pillows and delicately propped Kerry's leg on the fluffy mound. "Now, supper has already been served, but I know I could rustle you up something down there. My friend Edna is in charge of the kitchen and she makes the best homemade soup you've ever tasted. I'll bet there's some leftover. Or I could fix you up a sandwich. How does that sound to you?"
Despite it all, Kerry was hungry and it was the only way she was going to get some supper. "That sounds lovely -- uh--"
"Anita. Anita Rawlings," she said with a big friendly smile.
Kerry nodded. "That would be wonderful, Anita. Thank you."
Anita started to leave, her crepe shoes making no sound, then she turned back and regarded Kerry again. "Now, will your partner be coming back later on? Because she's probably going to be hungry too and it would be no trouble at all to make her a little something at the same time."
"I'm sorry," Kerry said, puzzled. "My who?"
Anita's smile faded slightly. "Your partner? That lady who came in with you -- the one with that beautiful hair?"
"Oh," Kerry said. "No, she won't be coming back tonight."
Anita studied Kerry's expression for a moment. "I've said something wrong, now, haven't I? I'm afraid we're not very sophisticated here, after all it's just Beaver Point...is partner the wrong word to use? Should I have said...wife? Or maybe girlfriend?"
Kerry couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry. Two more minutes of this, though and she was fairly certain she would end up doing both at once.
"Well, I suppose all of those terms are correct, Anita, but Kim is not my partner. We're not...uh, together."
Light dawned on Anita's face and she nodded, the figurative light bulb going on. "Oh, I see," she said. "Well, I just thought...she filled out all your forms and then you know, the way she was... it's just that you seemed very close is all." She looked suddenly pensive. "You know...you seemed to make such a nice couple."
Kerry half-nodded, a wilting smile on her face.
"Well, I'll get you some supper," Anita said brightly. "You just sit tight, Dr. Weaver and if you need anything at all, just use your call button and Sandra or Gloria will be here in a jiffy."
Kerry sank back into the pillows and watched her hurry down the hall, presumably towards the kitchen. She rolled her head to one side, spotted the call button and wondered if it was too early to ask for Percocet. A lot of it.
Kim glanced out the front windows and saw that nothing had changed. The rain hammered down on the deck relentlessly. It had been raining since before dawn and the steady drum roll that beat down on the roof showed no sign of even slowing.
Twilight had descended inside the house, even though it was only early afternoon and Kim and Finn sat across from each other at the dining room table, huddled in the glow of the hanging lamp.
Finn absently picked up a cheese doodle from the small pile in front of him and munched on it while he considered the cards in his hand.
"I'll take two," he said to Kim and he slid the discarded cards across the table to her, face down. She dealt herself three new cards, then slid two more back across to him.
"Five," he said, and five greasy orange cheese snacks joined the mound in the middle of the table.
Kim raised an eyebrow at him. "You're such a bluffer, Finn Ryan and I'm not falling for that again," she said. "I'll see your five, and raise you five more, you little shark."
Finn smirked at her and anteed up.
"Okay, what do I do now?" he asked.
"You can raise the bet or you can call," Kim said.
"Okay. I call."
Kim spread her cards out on the tabletop. "Full house," she said with a smile.
Finn leaned forward and inspected them, then nodded.
"What have you got, pardner?" Kim asked.
He put his cards down on the table, exposing a number of face cards. All of the same suit. "What do you call that one with all the king and queen guys when they're all like hearts or something?"
"Son of a --"
"What? Is that bad?"
Kim laughed. "No, it's not bad. It's called a royal flush."
"Is that higher?" he asked hopefully.
Kim shook her head in amazement. "Oh yeah, it's higher."
Finn grinned triumphantly and pulled the mound of snacks towards himself.
Just then, Kerry's bedroom door opened and she wheeled herself out towards the living room.
Kim and Finn both grabbed a fistful of discarded playing cards.
"Okay, so, uh, do you have any fours?" Kim said.
"No. Go fish."
Kim found a card amidst the cheese doodles and picked it up. "Hey Ker, did you have a good nap?"
"As a matter of fact, I did," Kerry said, "and for the record, you two can just knock it off because I know you've been teaching him to play poker since I was in the hospital."
Kim and Finn exchanged guilty looks.
"Oh come on, Kerry, it's not like I'm taking him to Vegas and teaching him to count cards."
"I'm sure that will be next," Kerry said, rolling up to the dining room table.
"What's counting cards?" Finn asked. "How do you do that?"
"See?" Kerry said.
Kim rolled her eyes. "I can tell you're feeling better," she said.
"And," Kerry continued, ignoring Kim completely, "I'm sure his grandmother would be delighted to know that the fallen women next door are now teaching her grandson to gamble."
Finn looked back and forth between them. "Who fell? Did somebody fall?"
"All right, if you're so strongly opposed to card games, what do you suggest we play?" Kim asked.
"There's a whole cupboard full of games behind you there, in the sideboard. See what's there," Kerry said.
"All righty." Kim turned her chair around, opened the cupboard door and peered in. "Snakes and Ladders?" she said.
"Boring!" Finn said.
"Okay, how about Trivial Pursuit?"
"What's that?" Finn asked.
"Never mind, I don't think it's really your thing, they don't have a section on Celtic mythology," Kim said. She rummaged deeper. "Oh, wait a minute, how about chess?"
"Oh, chess!" Kerry said. "That's a good idea."
Kim chuckled at Kerry as she laid out the board and opened the box of chess pieces. "I thought you might approve."
"Finn, do you know how to play?" Kerry asked.
Finn averted his eyes, suddenly quiet. "I don't want to play," he said softly.
"It's not that hard, really," Kerry said, "once you know how the men move. We could play on the same side at first."
"I don't want to play," he said again.
Kim paused, black bishop in hand, and looked up at Finn. There was something in his tone.
"Oh come on," Kerry said. "It's really a great game."
"Ker," Kim said quietly, her eyes on Finn.
"You know, if you haven't tried it, you don't --"
"I said I don't want to play!" Finn shouted. Hot tears sprang to his eyes and he jumped to his feet. "It's a stupid game and I hate it! I'm never going to play it again!" He ran across the living room and out onto the deck before Kerry could find her voice.
Kerry looked over at Kim, her mouth open in shock. "What just happened? What did I say? Did I say something wrong?"
Kim stood up to peer out at the tiny figure sitting on the steps down to the patio, huddling in the rain. "I think we hit a landmine," she said.
Kerry wheeled herself towards the door. "He's upset. I should talk to him."
"No, Kerry, wait. It's pouring, you'll get your cast wet. Let me go."
Kim stepped soundlessly through the door, pulling on her sweatshirt hood as she went. She made her way across the deck to the steps and sat down near Finn without saying a word.
The lake was the colour of wet cement, the sky not much brighter and rain pelted down without respite. She wondered if maybe she should have just worn her bathing suit to come out here.
"I'm sorry," Finn said and he sniffed.
"Sorry?" Kim asked. "For what?"
"I was rude," he said. "I shouldn't have yelled."
"Sometimes when people are angry, they yell."
Finn wiped his nose on his t-shirt sleeve. "It's just -- I don't like to play chess anymore."
Kim nodded. "Yeah, I got that. And that's okay. You don't have to if you don't want to." She studied his face, felt rain trickling down her legs and waited.
"It makes me sad."
"I see," Kim said. "Tell you what -- I promise that we won't try to make you play okay?"
"Okay." He peeked at Kim's face. "Is Kerry mad?"
"Oh, for heaven's sake, no! No one's mad at you, Finn."
"Gran gets really mad if I yell," he said. "She says it's bad manners. I'm not supposed to be rude."
Or run or play or make a mess or mourn or do any of the things that kids are supposed to do, Kim thought. "Well, we're not mad, so don't worry about that, okay? If you didn't want to play, then we're glad you told us." She slicked his wet bangs back off his forehead. "Kerry and I didn't mean to make you sad, though. We didn't know that chess made you sad."
Finn watched the water trickling down his bare arms. "My mom taught me to play chess when I was little. We played it all the time together. I was getting pretty good at it too and she said that we could maybe enter a tournament for kids and everything and I was really excited, but --"
Kim held her breath and waited. She couldn't tell his tears from the raindrops running down his cheeks.
"But then she killed herself."
Kim put a hand on his back. "You must have felt pretty scared and sad," she said.
He hugged himself and rocked a little, tears coming harder. "And lonely," he said. "She left me all alone, Kim! She didn't -- she never even thought about me!"
He reached for Kim and she pulled the small boy into her lap, encircled him with her arms.
"Sometimes I wish she would've taken me with her," he said, face pressed to Kim's chest. "At least then I wouldn't always feel so a-alone."
Kim rocked him and let him cry.
The rain poured down without end.
Kim lowered the newspaper she was reading just enough to peer over at Kerry. The petite redhead was still staring down the beach, towards the Ryan house, with a worried expression on her face.
"Kerry, I'm sure he's fine," Kim said, lowering the paper to her lap.
"He usually drops by now," Kerry said, scanning the beach. "I hope he's okay." She turned to look at Kim. "Are you sure he was all right when you dropped him off last night?"
Kim suppressed a sigh. "I told you, Ker, he was calm and very tired. He needed a good sleep and dry clothes more than anything."
"But was he okay?"
Kim folded the paper and put it down on the table. "Kerry, he's not going to be okay for quite some time. He's nine years old and he's just beginning to mourn the death of his mother. It's going to take a while to work through that." Kim glanced up the beach at the Ryan estate. "Especially while he's still in the clutches of that banshee who is disguised as his grandmother."
Kerry smiled absently at Kim's choice of words, then looked out at the water and sighed. "Maybe we should call."
Kim thought about banging her head on the table. "He'll come when he wants to come. He may even still be asleep. He was really exhausted last night."
Kerry let her head fall back in exasperation and looked up at the sky. It looked bluer and cleaner than before, as if yesterday's torrential rain had washed away the signs of wear that had been there.
"We're not doing enough," Kerry said.
Kim put her newspaper back down. "We're doing everything we can, Kerry. He doesn't belong to us. There's only so much we can do."
Kerry stared out at the water again and was silent. Kim waited, then picked up her newspaper. She had just started to roll her eyes at George W.'s most recent foreign policy debacle when she felt Kerry's eyes on her again. She lowered the paper.
"I just think we could be doing more," Kerry said softly.
Kim reached across the table and took Kerry's hand in hers. "I know you do," she said. "But I think that --"
"Morning, ladies!" Roger's voice rang out across the deck and both women turned. He was already climbing up the steps of the deck, the waves and breeze having drowned out the sound of his arrival.
"Good morning, Roger," Kim said with a smile. "To what do we owe the pleasure?"
Roger's reply was lost as Kim felt Kerry's hand slip quickly out from under her own. Startled, she turned to look at Kerry, whose face was impassive.
"...so I'll just climb up and a have a look if you don't mind." Roger was gesturing towards the roof.
"Sure, go ahead," Kerry said. "Can we offer you some coffee?"
"Thank you kindly ma'am, that would be lovely," he said. "I'll just go and get the ladder off the truck." He headed back the way he came.
Kim got up and started clearing the dishes.
"I'm going to sit out a while longer," Kerry said.
Kim nodded. "Sure," she said and headed for the house.
Kerry sat on the deck watching Roger clamber up and down the ladder carrying pieces of eaves trough. She scanned the beach for Finn and wondered if he was okay. "Kim tells me that you have a regular visitor," Roger said as he stretched his tape measure across a piece of white plastic trough.
"Yeah, do you know Finn?" Kerry asked.
"Well, we mostly know about him. His family is pretty big news around here."
"They're pretty wealthy, aren't they?"
Roger nodded. "Oh my, yes," he said. "Mr. Ryan, Finn's grandfather, manufactures plastics. There's a huge family fortune, I imagine." He marked a spot on the trough with his pencil. "Poor little guy, though," he continued, "what with his mom taking her life and all."
"Yeah, he's told us about that," Kerry said. "He said it was almost two years ago."
Roger took off his cap and scratched his forehead. "Yeah, that'd be about right. Sad, sad thing. Threw herself in front of one of those el trains you have in Chicago. Such a pretty young thing, too. Finn favours her."
Kerry watched him saw a long piece of trough that was propped on two sawhorses.
"Do you know Mrs. Ryan, his grandmother?" Kerry asked.
"Again, only be reputation," he said. "My wife works at the bakery in town and she said she's come in a few times. Very specific about what she wants, but polite and all."
Kerry raised an eyebrow. That was one description, she supposed.
"So now both of you girls are doctors, I'm told," he said, rooting around in his toolbox.
"That's right," Kerry said.
"Are you both psychiatrists?"
"No, just Kim. I work in the emergency room."
"Well now," Roger said as he stood up with a power saw in his hands. "So if I was planning on having a heart attack, or cutting off my thumb..."
"Then I'd be the person you'd want to see," Kerry said. "Although I do advise against either of those activities."
Roger chuckled and searched around for his carpenter's pencil again, eventually finding it behind his ear.
"How long have you two been together?" he said, motioning towards the house with his head.
Kerry felt a hot blush that had nothing to do with the sun.
"Pardon?" she said for lack of any alternative.
"You and Kim," he said with a big, friendly smile. "I'm wondering how long you two have been together?"
Kerry stared at him blankly, mental doors slamming decisively shut.
"Uh, actually, we're-- we're not a couple, Roger," she said. "Why -- what would make you think that -- that we were a couple?"
The colour was draining out of Roger's face as Kerry stuttered and stammered.
"I'm very sorry, Kerry," he said. "I just went and presumed that if you girls were friends of Rachel's -- I didn't mean to -- well, gosh, Kerry, my apologies."
Kerry started to speak, then thought better of it. "Don't worry about it, Roger. It's not a problem." She started to wheel herself towards the door. "Excuse me, I've got to get out of the sun for a while."
Kerry pushed the wheels hard, propelling the chair at quite a clip across the living room.
"Hey, hey!" Kim called from the dining room table. "There's a speed limit in here, lady!"
Kerry slammed to a stop. "Do I look like a lesbian?"
Kim cocked her head, a puzzled expression on her face. "I beg your pardon?"
"I mean, is there something about me that tells people that I'm a lesbian? Was I the last to know? Because it seems to be evident to everyone else."
Kim shifted in her chair to face Kerry. "Okay, you're going to have to tell me what we're talking about here."
"First it was Finn and then that nurse and now Roger. Everyone just seems to assume that we're lesbians."
"Okay," Kim said slowly. "But Kerry -- we are lesbians."
"I know but everyone just assumes that we are."
"So you're saying that you'd rather that people not know that you're a lesbian?"
Kerry's eyes locked on Kim's and froze.
"I didn't say that."
"Not in as many words, but it's what you meant, isn't it?"
"Don't put words in my mouth."
"All right," Kim said, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms, "what did you mean?"
"I meant that I don't want people to...I mean it's none of their business. It's private."
"Private?" Kim asked. "Or secret? Because there's a big difference."
Kerry paused long enough for Kim to know that she'd hit a nerve. "I just don't want it to be the first thing people know about me."
Kim arched an eyebrow at her. "Then don't make it that way. You're the only one who can influence that."
Kim saw Kerry's eyes flash.
"That's not the point," Kerry said and the tone of voice was one that Kim had heard her use with delinquent residents in the ER. "What I'm saying is that if I was one of those very masculine looking women with a crew cut and tattoos, then I would --"
"Hold it, hold it," Kim said. "Are you suggesting that someone who chooses to look like that is less --"
"I'm saying," Kerry said over her, "that it would be more obvious to everyone that that person was a lesbian, whereas you and I --"
"What if I cut my hair, Kerry? Huh? What if I cut my hair and got a great big labrys tattoo on my arm and started wearing flannel shirts and big black boots? You wouldn't find me attractive then, would you? Would you even speak to me?"
"Kim, don't be ridiculous," Kerry said. "You would never do something like that."
"And so that's why you're willing to be seen with me, is it? Because I don't look like some bad 1950's stereotype of a bull dyke? Is that it? Because I have an acceptable haircut and because I choose to wear feminine clothes, you can be seen with me and feel safe because no one will think that you're a lesbian. Am I right?"
"Kim you're being --"
"Kerry do you have any idea how it makes me feel when you pull your hand away from mine like you just did out there?" Kim said. "It makes me think you're ashamed of me."
"Kim, I don't think you're seeing what I'm saying," Kerry said, but her voice was shaking.
"No," Kim said, "I think I'm seeing exactly what you're saying Kerry and I'm realizing what an idiot I've been to think that anything had changed." She got up and slammed the computer shut. "God, I just can't talk about this anymore. I'm going out for a walk."
She strode purposefully across the living room, and disappeared out the front door, slamming it behind her.
Kerry slumped in her wheelchair.
Kim sat in the sand, hugging her knees to her chest, staring out at the lake, seeing nothing. She'd walked for several hours at least before she even thought about turning back and she'd stopped and sat down long before Rachel's house came into sight. Judging from the sun, it was close to suppertime, but she sat there anyway, unwilling and unable to face Kerry again quite yet.
My God, how stupid could a person be? How many times did she need to have it thrown back in her face before she would learn? A few emotional scenes, she let you hold her hand once or twice and POW! You're right back where you were when this all started -- an overgrown love sick teenager who sings along to stupid love songs and starts thinking about happily ever after.
She shook her head angrily. She was supposed to be too smart for this. She was supposed to be able to see things like this coming and avoid it, like any rational adult would do. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me four times, I must be Kim Legaspi.
She cried for a while and it did absolutely no good, as she'd known it would. Because despite the fact that her head told her that she had to put as much distance between herself and Kerry Weaver as she possibly could, she knew that what she needed and what she wanted were two very different things. Logic and self-preservation told her that she needed a clean break, maybe a job in a different place and a lot of time and miles between her and the confused woman in the cast. But that wasn't what she wanted. What she wanted was that stubborn little bossy redhead with the flashing eyes. She wanted the Kerry she'd fallen in love with, the one who laughed and whose smile transformed Kim's day, who touched her with such gentleness and passion, who made herself vulnerable and gave herself so willingly to Kim. Oh, she knew what she wanted all right, she wanted Kerry -- in her life, in her arms, in her bed, in her dreams and in her future.
The water lapped at the sandy shore and Kim stared, unseeing, at the waves.
She knew what her heart wanted.
But maybe it just wasn't possible to have it.
It was after dinnertime when Kim returned to the house. They had the briefest of conversations, Kerry mainly reassuring herself that Kim was unhurt before quickly retreating to her bedroom, a somewhat fearful look on her face. Fine, Kim thought, I didn't want to discuss it anymore either. She reached into the cupboard, hauled out the first bottle she laid her hand on, grabbed a glass and stalked right back out the front door.
She walked all the way down to the shore, planting herself heavily in the sand. She glanced at the label of the bottle. Booker's Bourbon. She laughed as she unscrewed the lid and poured herself a generous portion. Leave it to Rachel to buy a $70 bottle of bourbon when the rest of the world made due with Jimmy Beam.
She gulped a mouthful and it burned its way down her throat and lit a comforting fire in her belly.
This is perfect, she thought, leaning back on her hands. I can sit here and watch the sky turn colours, drink my bourbon and she'll be fast asleep when I go back up to the house. And with any luck, she mused as she took another gulp of the healing amber liquid, I'll be so hammered by then that it won't matter if she is up.
The voice was timid, but it made her wheel around. Finn stood several yards away, halfway between the shore and the house.
"Hey, Finn," she said.
He approached, a puzzled look on his face, those cornflower blue eyes concerned. "Why are you sitting down here?" He turned and looked towards the house. "And where's Kerry?"
"She's inside," Kim said, suddenly feeling embarrassed for no particular reason. "I think she's, uh -- laying down."
Finn nodded and covered the rest of the distance between them. He plopped himself down and played with the sand.
"How are you doing today?" she asked.
He shrugged. "I'm okay. Kind of tired, but..." He lifted his eyes to meet hers. "I kind of feel a little better, I think."
"Well that's good," Kim said. At least someone is feeling better around here. Such resilience people had. It never failed to amaze her. Maybe she'd even get over Kerry one day. She started to slug back another shot of bourbon, then paused and made herself sip. "Kerry was kind of worried when you didn't come over this morning," she said.
"Gran made me stay. She was worried I would get a cold from being wet. It took me all day to convince her I was fine."
"What's that?" he asked, pointing at the bottle that sat beside Kim in the sand.
"That is very expensive bourbon," Kim said. She held her glass out for him to sniff.
Finn wrinkled his nose. "That smells awful," he said.
Kim nodded. "Yes it does. And that is only one of its many charms." She drained her glass and then poured herself more.
"How does Kerry feel today?" Finn asked, leaning back on his hands and stretching his legs out in front of him.
"Kerry," Kim said. "Well. I think Kerry feels pretty good today. Her leg anyway."
Finn nodded and they sat together without talking for a long moment.
"Why did you and Kerry break up?"
Kim sat bolt upright and gave him a look. "You know it's really creepy how you do that."
"Do what?" He sat up, too, interested.
"How you -- how you always know exactly what question --" She sighed. "You'd make a good psychiatrist, you know that?"
"Yeah, either that or an Inquisitor," she said, under her breath.
"So why did you?"
"Why did I what?"
He sighed. "Why did you and Kerry break up?"
Kim leaned back on her hands again and let out a long sigh. "Finn, it's complicated."
She regarded his sweet face and serious blue eyes. No, he hadn't been a baby since the day his mother had stepped off the platform of the el. He'd had his own little personal hell for the past two years. Maybe that's why he was so sensitive to other people's pain. She sipped her drink, then put the glass down in the sand.
"Sometimes, Finn, when a person first starts to realize that she's gay, it takes a little while for her to get used to it. There's a lot of stuff that you need to think about and ...just get used to. And because you have usually learned that being gay is 'bad,' sometimes it takes a longer time for that person to unlearn that and to realize that it's okay that they're gay. That they are okay."
Finn's eyes were riveted to her face and he listened attentively.
"By the way," Kim said, "you probably shouldn't share this little talk with your Gran, because no doubt she'd forbid you from ever coming over here again."
He cocked his head and gave her a look. "I'm not that stupid," he said.
Kim chuckled. "I know. It was just a friendly reminder."
"So you're saying that you broke up with Kerry because she thought being gay was bad?"
Kim's glass stopped halfway to her lips. Why did that sound so irrational coming out of his mouth, when it made so much sense in her own head?
"Well, no, that's not exactly it, Finn, I --"
"Was it because she wasn't getting used to being gay fast enough?"
"Well, no..." Kim said and she sat there holding her glass and trying to get her thoughts straight. Because actually that was precisely what the problem was, wasn't it? Kerry wasn't as far down the road of embracing her new identity as Kim was. And it was hard on Kim to have to double back and wait all the time. She took another gulp, put the glass down and took a deep breath.
"You see, Finn, one of the things about being in a relationship with another person is that stuff that affects one person also affects the other."
"Like when my mom was sick with her depression and it would make my dad and me really sad. Like that?"
Kim nodded. "Yeah, exactly like that."
The puzzled look crept back into those serious blue eyes. "But my dad didn't break up with my mom because she was sick. Even though it made him sad."
"But this is different," Kim said.
Kim looked at him and searched her insides. "It's different because Kerry's feeling bad about being gay really affects me. It reminds me of when I felt that way, and I hated feeling like that. It also makes me feel like,..., like she's ashamed of me because I'm gay. And that hurts, too. Can you understand that, Finn?"
He nodded. "That doesn't sound too nice for you," he said. He made designs in the sand with his finger, then wiped them away. "It's just that you guys seem really happy together sometimes."
"Yeah," Kim said, nodding. "Sometimes we were really happy."
"Maybe she just needs more time to get used to it, you know to being gay and everything."
Kim looked down at him and chuckled. I am discussing my love life with a nine year old, she thought. And he is making more sense than I have for months.
Finn met her eyes. "What?" he said.
She shook her head and smiled. "Nothing. I was just thinking that you're pretty wise for your age."
He shrugged. "I do a lot of homework," he said.
Kim laughed out loud.
"Do you still...you know, love her?" Finn asked.
Time stopped on the beach and stood still for a tiny eternity.
"Yeah," Kim said. "I do."
"Well then I think you should wait for her," Finn said, turning back to drawing in the sand.
Kim watched him for a long time.
"You know what I think?" she said, finally.
"I think that you are the last of the great romantics," she said.
He made a face. "Romantic? What's that?"
"A romantic is someone who is sweet and sensitive and noble, like Finn Mac Cool. Somebody who really believes in happy endings."
"I like happy endings," he said. "But I like it best if there's a lot of shooting first."
Kim laughed. "Come on. That's all the serious talk I can stand for now. Let's go collect some driftwood for a fire and then we'll go tell Kerry that you're here. She'll be glad to see you."
They got up and ambled up the beach towards the house.
Kim zipped up her laptop case and jammed the rest of her notes in a side pocket. Everything she could possibly need at the editorial meeting was packed and ready to go, and still she was dragging her feet.
The early hour wasn't helping. In order to make her twelve o'clock appointment with the editor of the ER Psychiatry book, she needed to be on the road by seven a.m, which meant getting up at an what was, in her opinion, an obscene hour. She wasn't particularly looking forward to the drive, they were predicting a hot and muggy day in the city and to top it all off, she felt nervous leaving Kerry. Which made absolutely no sense, because Kerry was feeling well, Finn had been hired as a "sitter" for the day and between them, they had the phone number of Finn's Gran, Estelle, Roger and his wife, the fire department, Kim's cell phone, the local ambulance service and the Beaver Point District Hospital. Between the two of them, Finn and Kerry were ready to handle anything short of a tidal wave. And hell, the unflappable Dr. Weaver could probably take out her own appendix with what she carried around in that damned medical bag.
Kim took a last long drink of her coffee. She knew they'd be fine, it was just... well, maybe it was just that she didn't want to go. Lord knows twelve hours ago she'd been more than ready to get in her car and never look back. But by the time they'd had the bonfire with Finn last night, she and Kerry had been speaking civilly to each other and by bedtime, they'd both clumsily apologized for any number of things said. Kim had lain awake for a long time, thinking about what Finn had said about waiting for Kerry and something about it resonated deeply within her. As the room had lightened in the hours just before dawn, Kim had found herself slamming into the same question over and over again: If you don't love her, why on earth have you been here taking care of her since her accident? Clearly, there was something there. But was it enough?
Kim shook the thoughts out of her head and grabbed her laptop case and car keys. She made her way to the kitchen, where Finn was loading the dishwasher under Kerry's supervision. He had toast crumbs all over his t-shirt and a chocolate milk moustache.
"Okay, I have to get going," she said, sliding her wallet and id into another pocket of the case. "I can't see how I'd be any later than seven thirty or eight."
"Well, take your time," Kerry said. "Just drive safe."
"You're sure you two are going to be all right?" Kim asked.
Finn smiled broadly. "I've got things under control Kim. Don't worry."
She suppressed the smile that sprang up. "All right, then. Well, you two have a good day. I'll see you tonight."
Kerry wheeled herself along behind Kim, to the front door. "I mean it Kim, drive safely. It's a lot of miles to cover in one day."
"I will," Kim said and she studied the tiny woman in the chair. There was something different this morning. A sparkle that hadn't been there before. Maybe she was finally starting to feel better. "I will. See you."
Finn closed the door behind her and then wheeled to look at Kerry.
"All right," Kerry said, with a smile, "we've got a lot to do! Let's go!"
The pair hurried back to the kitchen.
Kim glanced at the glowing blue numbers on the dashboard clock. Not much longer until she'd be home, which was especially good since there was a nasty bit of weather moving in. Late afternoon when the temperature and humidity simply could not get any higher, a breeze started to stir and Kim had spotted bruise coloured clouds hugging the horizon. There was going to be a thunderstorm in the next hour, but hopefully she'd be home by then.
Home. She had to chuckle at that. The house of an ex-lover who dumped her for a man, where another ex-lover of questionable current status who required nursing care waited with a nine-year-old warrior-poet-seer borrowed from the mansion down the beach.
Oh, well. Normal sounded boring anyway.
The meeting had gone marvelously. Not only had her editor treated her to lunch at a wonderful little bistro, but he had loved the drafts that Kim had sent him. All of his suggestions had been ones that Kim herself had already considered, so the small changes he suggested would be little work. Before they wrapped up, he had even begun floating around other potential offers for her to think about, since he said her writing style was informative, yet readable. She smiled a little as she thought about it. She'd nearly turned down this project in the first place because she didn't think that she could write well enough. Who knew?
The sky was the colour of pewter now and even though the sun would not set for another couple of hours, Kim had to put on her headlights. The wind had picked up considerably and when she caught glimpses of the water she could see creamy whitecaps on the surface of the lake.
She cast an eye towards the passenger seat where a large bouquet of cut flowers sat. She'd bought them impulsively, on her way back to the parking lot where she'd left her car. She'd been walking along letting random thoughts breeze through her head when she had a fleeting thought of returning to the beach house and to Kerry and she'd had the most tender little thrill run through her. Kerry was there, waiting for her and Kim was going to go to her. Something about it set her heart singing and the next thing she knew, she was in a florist's buying these flowers.
She had a sudden, unbidden memory of the bouquet she'd brought Kerry when she was hospitalized at County and how Kerry had refused even to see her. Kim loosened the vice grip she had on the steering wheel and let out a long sigh. That's okay, she thought, sometimes when you decide to wait, it takes a long time. You just have to keep waiting. It just required patience.
Beside the flowers was a long, narrow paper bag that held a bottle of wine. A bottle of 1995 Chateau Cheval Blanc St. Emilion to be precise. It had put her back a few dollars but it was going to be worth it. On the spur of the moment and before she'd headed over to Kerry's to perform one last little errand, she'd dropped by the wine shop she usually frequented for a quick browse and had stumbled across this little gem. It was going to make for a very special meal. Kim smiled. Maybe even tonight.
And now she sped along the deserted highway, pacing herself against the oncoming storm and wondering how Kerry and Finn were.
The first fat raindrops hit the windshield moments before she turned into the drive. They splattered on the ground and the Jetta and on Kim as she gathered her things up and sprinted to the house.
She unlocked the door and pushed it open, a gust of wind shoving her inside.
She got the door shut, put down the armful of flowers, wine and computer and wrestled her hair back into a manageable shape. Then she paused and gazed into the living room, puzzled.
No lamps were lit and she could see straight through the living room to the lake which was churning and frothing in the storm. The furniture had been pushed back and there was a warm glow coming from the room that bore no resemblance to incandescent lights. She took a couple tentative steps forward and peered into the room.
The sofas, chairs and end tables had been pushed away to form a space in the middle of the room, near the windows which overlooked the deck. A plaid blanket was laid out on the floor and there were a dozen fat candles burning at the head of it. Two places had been set, good china and silver, complete with champagne flutes and what looked like linen napkins. There was a wicker picnic basket nearby and a bottle of champagne, resting in a large bowl of ice. And around the room, in little clusters that made a continuous curving path of light, were tiny votive candles, flickering merrily.
Kim stood there with her mouth open, trying to process the scene. A moment later, she looked up and Kerry was there, beside her, smiling uncertainly.
Kim looked down at her, blinking, trying to find words. "Did you -- Is this --?"
Kerry reached out and took Kim's hand. "Welcome home," she said softly.
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