Resting in the Arms
By Ainsley Wallace
“…Things could be better,
Things could be worse,
This life can be charmed and cursed…”
Kim slouched a little further down in her seat, suppressed another sigh and tried to think of something she hated more than staff meetings.
Carl, who sat at the head of the long table, flipped through some pages, scratched himself a note in pencil and then looked up again. " And unfortunately, I have one other piece of bad news to deliver today. Richard Corelli, our third year resident is withdrawing from the residency program effective immediately."
Everyone around the table sat up a little straighter and looked around to see who had known this was going to happen.
Carl cleared his throat and eyed his notes as he spoke. "It's probably no secret that Richard had been struggling lately and after some time off he has decided not to return."
The mumbles and murmurs broke out around the table and Kim caught words like "rehab" and "breakdown." Kim threw her pen down onto her clipboard and shook her head. Dammit. Richard Corelli was one of the most promising residents they'd had since Kim had joined the department. A big lanky guy with gentle brown eyes and a soft voice, he'd had the office across from Kim when he'd first arrived and had invited himself over for a game of wastebasket-ball almost immediately. He was sensitive and smart and so concerned for his patients' well-being. And this place had chewed right through him in a little over two years.
"Now, I'd like to respect Richard's right to privacy here, so I'd ask you to act like the professionals you are and not to well, you know, make this grist for the gossip mill, all right?"
People nodded, but Kim's eyes were riveted to Carl's face.
"Is he all right, Carl?" she asked. "I mean, is he getting what he needs?"
Carl stared at her for a moment, startled by the quiet sound of her voice in this arena of moaning and pissing, then his face softened into a half smile. "Yeah, I think he is, Kim."
She nodded, her eyes distant.
"So, if you do the math, I think you can all see where that leaves us," Carl said. "We are now officially one attending and one resident short. Which means that I'm going to have to reschedule the next few months to cover Richard's shifts as well --"
Carl was drowned out by the collective groan.
"Jesus, Carl," a young bearded man at the end of the table said, "we're already doing an extra set of shifts as it is."
"I know, I know," Carl said, holding his hand up to signal for silence. "I'm talking to Dr. Romano about the funding situation and I'm trying to convince him that we have to step up our recruitment efforts. But until we hire somebody, we have to pick up the slack and cover, folks. That's all there is to it."
"Carl," a tall, black woman beside Kim said, "I have a suggestion. What if we were to cover the extra shifts by tacking half shifts onto our existing shifts. It makes for longer shifts but we'd keep the bulk of our down time more or less intact and the load gets spread out a little."
Carl scribbled notes on his agenda. "Thanks, Leslie, I'll give that some thought."
"I don't like that idea," someone said from across the table and Leslie turned towards Kim and rolled her eyes. "I'm already doing eight hours in this place and I don't--"
A frantic beeping filled the tiny room and everyone instantly looked down at their pagers.
"It's me," Kim said, getting to her feet, trying not to look relieved as she deciphered the message on the tiny screen. She pushed her chair in and grabbed her clipboard. "I'll get the highlights later," she said to Carl as she left. He nodded then turned his attention back to the remainder of his rioting staff.
She hit the elevator button and hugged her clipboard to her chest. Well, that was the last thing they needed -- more shifts. She sighed wearily and wondered if Carl was going to make it out of that conference room alive.
The insult of losing one of their own, coupled with extra work all round was not going to help. Between funding shortfalls, staffing shortages and frayed nerves from trying to hold personal and professional lives together, it was getting harder and harder to tell the patients in the psych ward from the staff. Some days the laminated ID card was the only real indicator of who exactly was supposed to be running the asylum.
The elevator chimed and woke her from her reverie. She got on and pushed G, then leaned against the wall, grabbing the moment's rest.
She knew that some part of it -- a rather large part actually -- was due to that fucking little twerp Romano and the petty dictatorship he was so busy building. Psych wasn't high profile, psych didn't attract huge research grants from pharmaceutical companies, and most of all, Carl didn't kiss Romano's ass, so Romano had little use for them. End of story. But this was ridiculous. They were getting to the point where patient care was being compromised. Romano had to do something. Didn't he?
In her really insecure moments, this was where she wondered what part she might have played in drawing Romano's wrath to the psych department. She would fret and fuss about this for a minute or two and then usually she made herself shrug it off and get back to what mattered most -- helping people who were ill and suffering.
That was, after all, why they were all supposed to be there, wasn't it?
The elevator doors opened and the chaos of the ER unfolded before her. She made her way to the admit desk, dodging gurneys, nurses and wheelchairs.
"Hi, Randi," she said when she reached the desk. "You've got a houseful today, I see."
Randi turned, snapping her gum and gave Kim an appraising look. "Hi, Dr. Legaspi," she said and she grabbed an armful of files from under the desk and dumped them in a pile on the counter. "Great blouse. Weren't you covering ER yesterday?"
"And the day before that, actually," Kim said with a smile. "I just can't get enough."
Randi stared at her, chewing furiously. "Apparently not."
"So, somebody paged me?"
"Uh, yeah, Dr. Weaver, I think," she said, surveying the desk, looking for the chart. "It's that lady with the hockey helmet again. Yeah, here it is."
Kim took the chart and nodded. "Poor Alice," she said, as she flipped the chart open and scanned Kerry's notes.
Randi's eyebrows shot up. "Poor Alice? That woman's a total nutbar. Nearly bit off Chuny's finger when she tried to help her off with one of her coats." Randi shook her head, heaved another pile of files to a different location. "I don't know how you do it, Dr. Legaspi. I sure as hell couldn't."
Kim smiled. "She's actually a really dear person when she's on her meds," she said, closing the chart. "And anyway I've always thought you had what it took to work with psych patients, Randi."
Randi paused and looked at her. "Oh yeah? Really?"
"Really," Kim said. "I've seen you how well you manage Dr. Malucci."
Randi stared at her for a second then raised an eyebrow. "Do you think you could get me some good drugs to use on him?"
Kim laughed, gave her a wave and headed off to find Kerry.
She spotted her lover's fiery red hair through the window of Exam 2. She was sitting on the edge of a patient's bed, propped there by her crutch. The elderly lady in the bed had snowy hair and rheumy eyes that must have once been a deep cornflower blue. The woman was holding onto Kerry's hand and talking and Kerry was listening raptly, nodding every so often and occasionally laughing along with her. Kim stood at the window, clutching the chart and her clipboard to her chest and just watched for a while, a smile growing on her lips, oblivious to the traffic in the hallway. She could have stood there all day, wanted to, in fact, but Alice was waiting for her and was no doubt in a high state of panic. She rapped quietly on the glass. Kerry turned and the change in her expression when she spotted Kim made Kim's heart flip. That smile. And it was for her. For her and her alone.
Kerry said a few more words to the elderly patient and then hurried out to meet Kim.
"Hey," Kim said and she felt her smile growing just from the proximity to this wonderful woman.
"Hey yourself," Kerry said, shifting her weight to her good leg. "Sorry to drag you down here again."
"Don't be. You saved me from a staff meeting."
"Oh, well then you're welcome," Kerry said. "Any interesting developments on the sixth floor?"
Kim slouched against the wall. "We lost a resident."
"Lost as in missing or lost as in dead?"
"Maybe a bit of both. You know Corelli, the third year guy?"
Kerry's eyebrows shot up. "Oh, no. He was great with the patients. What happened to him?"
"It's all cloak and dagger at the moment but I think this place and all the demands just plain old did him in."
Kerry shook her head in disgust. "Of course it did. He actually cared about the patients."
Kim sighed. "I know. And naturally, this is going to mean more shifts for the rest of us."
"Well, honestly," Kerry said, fire suddenly in her eyes, "you are so understaffed up there, I don't know how you're covering as it is! Somebody's got to tell Romano --"
Kim laid a cool soft hand on top of Kerry's. "I know. Carl is doing his best."
"It's just ridiculous. Ridiculous and bad management because they're burning out good people." Kerry looked into Kim's eyes and searched them tenderly. "As it is I feel like we're hardly seeing each other. I hate that."
"I hate that, too," Kim said. "But we're both off tonight."
"Are we still on for dinner and a movie?" Kerry asked.
"Absolutely, although I think you should pick the movie this time, so that you don't hate it."
"I didn't hate 'Tomb Raider,' Kim," Kerry said. "I just didn't enjoy it quite as much as you did."
"Angelina Jolie in skimpy clothes with two semi-automatic pistols. What's not to enjoy?" She grinned at Kerry.
Kerry caught the mischief in Kim's eyes then relented. "Yeah, okay, I'll pick this time."
Kim straightened up. "So, Alice is back?"
"Is she ever," Kerry said, leading the way to Exam 4. "She must be off her meds. I phoned her group home and they hadn't seen her in four days. She's got herself wrapped up in four or five winter coats and won't let anyone near her to take them off so I couldn't even really examine her yet."
"Who brought her in?"
"Chicago PD found her in a park, noticed blood on her legs and brought her in despite her uh protests." Kerry pushed the door open and slipped inside, Kim right behind her.
Chuny stood beside the door, catching up on nursing notes. Kerry thanked her and she left, smiling and nodding at Kim.
Alice was across the room, as far away from the door as she could be, hunkered down in a corner, one of her coats over her head. Kim could hear the quiet weeping and see the outer layers of coats trembling.
Kerry waited while she took in all in, then she smiled sadly at Kim.
"Alice?" Kim called gently. "Alice, it's me. It's Dr. Legaspi. You told Dr. Weaver that you wanted her to get me and here I am."
The pile of coats in the corner was still for a moment. Kim moved closer, watching the woman carefully. "Hey, Alice, are you under all those coats? Come on out so that I can see that you're okay."
A hesitation, then the coat that covered her head slid to the ground. A white hockey helmet lifted up and turned, revealing the young woman's tearstained and filthy face.
Kim smiled. "There you are. Thanks for coming out of hiding." She sat down on a stool a few yards away from her.
"Dr. Leg-- Leg--" Alice stammered.
"It's me, Alice. I'm here and I'm not going to let anyone hurt you. You can come out now."
Alice stared at Kim for a moment, then slowly turned herself around until she was sitting on the floor, facing Kim.
"How are you, Alice?"
Kim nodded. "Your group home says that you haven't been there for a few days."
Alice glared at Kerry, who still stood at the door, then looked back at Kim. "It's not safe there anymore. They can't protect me from the sorcerers."
"I see. So you left?"
"Have you been taking your medicine?"
Alice shook her head. "If I took my medicine, they would find me again. I can't let that happen, you have to understand, I can't let that happen." Alice started rocking a little.
"It's okay, Alice, I understand," Kim said. "Are you hurt ?"
"No. I am not hurt."
Kim paused. "Are you bleeding, Alice?"
Kim paused. "Are you bleeding, Alice?"
"On your legs?"
"Are you bleeding anywhere else?" Kim asked.
Kim glanced back at Kerry. "Alice, Dr. Weaver needs to take a look at where you're bleeding to --"
"NO!" A shout that rang for a few seconds in the room.
"Alice, we've talked about this," Kim said. "Sometimes you have to trust me. You know I'm not going to hurt you."
"I know. I can tell that you have good magic."
"So will you let Dr. Weaver look at --"
Kim sighed. "How about me, then? Can I look at your legs? I need to make sure that you're all right."
Silence from the pile of filthy coats in the corner. "Yes."
"Yes? I can look at your legs?"
Kim turned and motioned for Kerry to toss her a pair of gloves. Kerry did and Kim slipped them on as she crossed the distance to Alice. She crouched down and spoke quietly to her for a moment, then helped Alice slowly to her feet. She removed three of her coats and then helped her up onto the gurney, where Alice sat, with her legs dangling over the side.
Alice's pants had once been a beige colour but were now a colourless shade of grime, but Kim could see immediately from the darkened patches that a significant amount of blood had soaked into the pants. Kerry passed her a pair of paramedic scissors and Kim began cutting her way up Alice's pant leg, speaking soothingly to her all the while. She pulled the fabric away to reveal a swollen bloody mess on each thigh. The blood didn't quite conceal the intricate geometric form which had been carved into her skin. Kim instructed her stomach to be still.
"Alice," she said, concentrating to keep her voice calm, "who did this to you?"
"I did," Alice said and she watched Kim's face, eyes eerily unblinking.
"You did this to yourself?" Kim repeated.
Alice nodded. "It makes me invisible so that they can't find me." She started to hum a strange tune, bobbing her head in time with it.
Kim heard a quiet rap at the door. Chuny slipped in and spoke quietly to Kerry. Kerry motioned Kim over.
"There's a GSW trauma coming in and I have to cover it," Kerry said. "I'll send Carter in to disinfect and suture and bandage."
Kim nodded. "Chuny can you prepare 3 migs of Droperidol, please? She's going to need to be calmer for Carter to work on her."
Chuny nodded and hurried off to get the meds.
Kerry glanced over at Alice. "She just won't stay on the meds, will she?"
Kim shook her head as she stripped off her bloody gloves. "No. She has really bad reactions to every one we've tried. It's been hell for her." Kim looked at the woman in the helmet sitting ramrod straight on the gurney. "You know, every time I see her, I can't help but think 'There, but for the grace of God' "
Kerry looked at Kim. "What do you mean?"
Kim smiled sadly. "The first time I met Alice, I noticed that we had the same birthday. Same year and everything. And then I thought her name was familiar, so I checked. Before she became ill, she was the principal cellist with the Chicago Symphony."
Kerry's face fell and she gazed over at Alice again, then she squeezed Kim's hand. "I'll see you at seven."
"I can't wait," Kim said, holding onto Kerry's hand for just a moment.
Kerry smiled and rushed down the hall to prepare for the incoming trauma.
Kim took a deep breath and turned back to face Alice.
"All right, Alice, we're going to take care of your legs and I'm going to give you some medicine to make you feel better. Is that all right with you?"
Alice eyed her suspiciously. "Are you going to give it to me?"
Kim nodded. "I can give it to you if you like."
Kim rolled the stool closer to Alice's gurney and sat down. "And when the nurse comes, I'm going to see if we can get some music for you to listen to while we clean up your legs."
Alice reached out a stiff hand towards Kim and Kim took it gently. "I would like Bartok, please," Alice said.
Kim smiled at her and patted her hand. "We'll see what we can do."
Kim glanced at her watch as she hurried down the hall towards the psych unit. Cleaning Alice up had taken a while, although Carter, bless his heart, had been gentle and patient and understanding. For her part, she had mainly held Alice's hand through the whole thing, but in fact, that was the only reason that they'd been able to do anything at all to her without a massive dose of Haldol and four point restraints. But now Alice had been safely admitted, her shift was over almost an hour ago and although she was a little late to meet Kerry, she was on her way home.
Kerry. She smiled as she punched her code into the psych security system and pulled open the door. Just the thought of her was enough to send Kim's fragile heart soaring these days. It was just so good. Good like it had never been with anyone else. No games, no masks, no jockeying for position -- just Kerry, who was always entirely herself. She'd been Kim's constant lately, the sanest, warmest, most exciting, most satisfying part of her life and even just the prospect of sitting beside her in a movie theatre tonight, holding her hand, made a big goofy grin come to Kim's face. She rushed into her office to grab her coat and her briefcase shaking her head at herself. It was like being a teenager again.
She was hustling past the main desk when she spotted Leslie, her coat on, bag at her feet, signing charts. Leslie looked up as Kim flew past.
"You didn't read your email, did you?" Leslie said.
Kim screeched to a halt. "I've been in the ER for the past couple of hours," she said. "What did I miss?"
Leslie pursed her lips. "Let's remember that I'm the messenger, okay?"
Kim's shoulders fell. "What?"
"You're covering half a shift for Richard tonight."
"Tonight?" Kim hadn't wanted to sound as hysterical as she did, but it was somehow out of her control.
Leslie nodded nervously. "As a matter of fact, you're on right now."
Kim drew in a long breath and let it out in a huff. "How did this happen? Why didn't someone --"
"Tell you? Well, Carl sent you an e-mail," Leslie said, scribbling her signature on another form. "And as for your former question, I think Carl was going to do it himself but one of his kids got sick or broke an arm or something and he had to leave."
Kim rubbed her forehead wearily.
"I'm sorry, sweetness, I would take it from you but I've got tickets to a play tonight," Leslie said. She handed the pile of forms to the clerk at the desk. "Any other time, I'd help you out."
"No, that's all right," Kim said, "go, have a life."
Leslie grabbed her bag and headed for the door, patting Kim's arm as she went by. "I'll see you tomorrow," she said.
Kim nodded. "Yeah, have a good time." She sighed and began retracing her steps back to her office.
Kerry made the last two changes to the spreadsheet, saved it, then shut the program down. Another item off the list, she thought, and where the hell is Kim anyway, we're going to be late for the movie.
She glanced at her watch, then realized she really didn't care if they went to a movie. Hell, she didn't even care if they had dinner -- she'd had a glass of wine while she'd worked on the budgets and scheduling and she figured she could live happily until tomorrow morning on nothing more than that, if only Kim were here.
They'd both been working so much lately. Well, now that she thought about it, Kim had been the one with the lion's share of extra shifts and overtime. Kerry had, in reality, been working a little bit less these past few months. Or maybe it was that she'd just been working smarter, slamming the door on unnecessary demands, cutting back when possible and delegating whatever she felt she could. Whatever it was, she was leaving the hospital more quickly after her shift and she was making free time magically appear so that she could spend it with Kim. Her priorities had been drastically reshuffled in spite of her and frankly, it all came down to Kim.
She loved her in a way that she had never loved anyone before in her life. And after a few more glasses of this wine, she might even be persuaded to admit that she needed her. But that was just too scary to think about while she was this sober. She checked her watch again and was surprised to find that it was not much later than when she'd last checked.
The phone rang. She grabbed her crutch and made her way to the phone. The caller ID flashed Kim's extension at the hospital. Kerry knew suddenly they weren't going to be having dinner or going to a movie.
"Shit," she said before she picked up the receiver.
Kerry heard the front door slam over the drone of the reporter on CNN and then two heartbeats later, Kim was standing in the door to the living room, her coat still on, her briefcase and bag in hand.
"I am so sorry," she said and Kerry suddenly realized that she might very well be on the verge of tears.
Kerry flicked off the TV. "Kim, it's all right, it happens."
"No, it's not all right," Kim said. "We've hardly had an hour alone together in the last two weeks and tonight was supposed to be special and I messed it up."
Kerry struggled to her feet, grabbed her crutch and made her way over to the distraught woman standing in the doorway.
"You didn't mess anything up," she said, sliding Kim's coat off her shoulders. "It was a scheduling thing, couldn't be helped. The important thing is that you're home now. Have you had dinner?"
"Does a Butterfinger count?"
Kerry rolled her eyes as she crutched her way to the closet by the front door. "There is some leftover quiche from yesterday, do you want me to heat some up for you?" she asked as she hung Kim's coat up on a hook.
"No, I'm not really hungry," Kim said and when Kerry returned to the living room, Kim was sitting on the couch, slipping off her shoes.
"You should eat something," Kerry said, sitting down beside her and slipping a tender hand around her waist.
Kim leaned into her and closed her eyes, sighing deeply. "I'm fine," she said.
"Long day, huh?" Kerry said.
"You don't know the half of it," Kim replied.
Kerry sat back and opened her arms to Kim. "Come here," she said. "Tell me about it."
Kim smiled and crawled into Kerry's arms, sprawling across her lap, resting her head on Kerry's shoulder.
"You tell me about yours, first," Kim said, "because I'm tired of thinking about mine."
"It wasn't too bad, actually," Kerry said, running her free hand through Kim's long, curly hair. "Which is to say that I don't think I had to speak to Romano once."
A chuckle from Kim. "A great day would be a day that he came in on a gurney, D.O.A."
Kerry smiled. "Malucci kept the nonsense to a minimum and Elizabeth Corday nearly spoke civilly to me."
"She's still got her knickers in a twist?" Kim asked and then she had to stifle a yawn.
"Yeah," Kerry said. "I really thought that she'd have let it go by now. I mean, it's been what, five months since Mark's evaluation?"
"Mmmm. At least that."
"I had one patient today who was just fascinating," Kerry said. "Remember when you came down to consult on Alice? Do you remember the old lady I was talking with?"
"Mmm hmm," Kim said. "She had lovely eyes."
"She did, didn't she? Well, it turns out that she was born in Zimbabwe -- of course back then it would have been Rhodesia -- and she grew up on a farm a few hours from Harare. She spent almost her whole life there. She trained in Johannesburg to be a nurse, then moved back to Rhodesia where she tried to set up a hospital in a really remote rural area. None of the residents had even seen a white person, and here was this tiny white woman in trousers, striding around getting them to build a hut for her hospital "
Kerry voice trailed off as she suddenly realized that something in the room had just changed. She paused and listened and there it was -- the subtle change in the rhythm of Kim's breathing. She peered down at her face. Kim's eyes were closed, her long eyelashes still against her cheek, her jaw slack in repose. Kerry smiled and traced the line of Kim's face with the back of her fingers.
She kissed her forehead then sat back, savouring the warmth of her lover sleeping in her arms.
Kerry glanced up at the board, then the clock and then slipped her stethoscope from around her neck and stuffed it into the pocket of her lab coat.
"Randi, I'm going for lunch," she said, stepping out from behind the desk and heading down the hall. "Don't page me unless it's important."
"Yes, ma'am," Randi said and she saluted to Kerry's receding back. Randi glanced over at Abby who was busy typing at a computer terminal. "You know where she's going, don't you?"
Abby tapped a few more keys then paused. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"Weaver. You know where she's going?"
Abby scanned the screen carefully. "It sounded to me like she was going to lunch."
Randi shot her a look and snapped her gum impatiently. "You do know that she and Legaspi are an item, don't you?"
Abby resumed typing. "Yes, Randi, even I, lowliest branch on the grapevine, got that memo." She regarded the gum-chewing desk clerk for a moment. "Although I really don't think either of them would like to be referred to as 'an item.'"
"Item, shmitem," Randi said, shuffling some charts on the counter. "All I know is that those two have been getting it on for a lot longer than anyone here knows."
Abby stopped typing. "Getting it on?" she said.
"You know what I mean."
"I know that Weaver would clean your clock if she heard you talking about this," Abby said.
Randi shrugged and stared pensively down the hallway where Kerry had just disappeared. "And anyway, I don't care what anybody else says. I think they're cute."
Abby sat, open-mouthed, and watched Randi flounce off to the other end of the desk to answer a ringing phone. Cute, Abby thought. Oh, what she would pay to see Kerry Weaver's face as someone told her that the staff thought that the fact that she and Dr. Legaspi were 'getting it on' was 'cute.'
Providing of course you could find someone sufficiently suicidal to tell her these things.
Abby smiled to herself and started to type again.
Kerry rapped on Kim's office door and waited for Kim's shouted "Come in," before she opened it and entered. Kim looked up from her deskful of charts, reports and forms and smiled when she saw Kerry. Kerry caught sight of the bags under Kim's eyes that make up was not quite concealing this morning.
"Hi," Kim said and she got up and greeted Kerry with a kiss and a longish hug. "What are you doing up here?"
"You didn't wake me when you got up," Kerry said, taking Kim's hand and holding it.
"Your shift didn't start until nine," Kim said, dragging her index finger slowly across Kerry's palm. "I thought you'd enjoy the sleep." Kerry nodded, but Kim could see that it was clearly not in agreement. "What?" Kim asked.
"It's nothing," Kerry said. "I mean, I just -- I wish you'd woken me up so that -- you know, it would've been nice to see you before you left for work."
Kim searched Kerry's eyes, saw the flicker of apprehension lurking deep below the surface. She cupped the tiny woman's face in her hand. "I'm sorry. Next time I'll know better."
Kerry looked away, suddenly awkward. "Anyway, I thought I'd come up to see if you were free for lunch."
Kim glanced back at her desk, her eyes measuring the paperwork that waited there. She sighed. "I don't know, Ker. I've got a lot of paper to get through and I have a session at two with a patient. I was going to just grab something later."
"Grab something?" Kerry said. "The way you 'grabbed dinner' last night? Or the way you 'grabbed breakfast' this morning? Because unless I'm wrong, and I don't think I am, the lack of any dirty dishes in the sink this morning means you haven't had breakfast today, right?"
Kim looked sheepish. "Not exactly."
"Then you shouldn't skip lunch," Kerry said, grabbing her by the arm. "Come on. Cafeteria, half an hour, my treat. You can even get french fries or some other artery clogging food and I won't lecture."
"I think you just did," Kim said.
"Oh will you just come on "
"You already apologized," Kerry said. "Twice, I think."
"I feel awful," Kim said. "First I stand you up for our date and then I fall asleep while you're telling me about your day."
Kerry speared her salad. "You can make it up to me by rescheduling our date."
Kim brightened. "Okay."
"How about tomorrow night? I'm off at five."
"Let me check the new schedule, okay? Carl was just getting it finalized today."
Kerry watched Kim nibble her way through her tuna sandwich. "You look tired, you know," Kerry said.
Kim nodded. "I know. I think I need to --"
The insistent beeping of her pager cut her off. She slipped it off her belt and peered at the readout.
"ER," she said. "I'll have to go in a minute."
"Eat some more of your lunch first," Kerry said. "You can't function if you don't eat something."
Kim nodded while she chewed. "I feel like if I could just get a couple of days off, maybe catch up on my rest --"
"Eat a few decent meals," Kerry put in.
"Yes, eat a few decent meals. I feel like if I could just do that then I wouldn't feel so run down all the time. It's like there's a never ending stream of patients and only so many hours in a day."
Kerry listened carefully, pushing a piece of lettuce around with her fork. "Why don't you ask Carl for a little time? It sounds like you need it."
Kim sighed and fingered her Coke can. "Now that Richard's gone and we're two bodies short, that's hardly an option."
"Well that's Carl's problem, not yours, Kim. He's the chief and it's up to him to staff his department. It's also his responsibility to see to the welfare of the doctors who work under him," Kerry said. She sipped her grapefruit juice and leveled her gaze at Kim. "You're no good to anybody if you get sick from over work, Kim."
Kim sighed again and crossed her arms and Kerry felt the frustration rolling off her in waves. "I know that and I'm trying to strike some sort of balance, but can't you see that the situation is --"
More electronic beeps from her pager.
Kim rolled her eyes as she reached for the offending small black beeper. She glanced at the readout. "Goddammit, I'm coming!" she said and she thumped it down on the table.
Kerry watched and said nothing.
"I have to go," Kim said and she forced an apologetic smile. She drained her Coke and grabbed what was left of her sandwich.
Kerry had to override her sudden urge to grab Kim's hand and hold her there.
Kim wiped her mouth with her napkin. "I'll catch up with your later, okay?"
Kerry nodded and watched her wind her way through the cafeteria tables to the exit. She put her fork down and rested her chin in one hand, watching the door where Kim had just left and trying to still the demon voices at the back of her mind who were slowly awakening.
Kim tossed the last bite of her lunch into a garbage can, stuck her clipboard under her arm so that she could wipe her mouth with a tissue, and strode down the hall to Exam 3. Dr. Chen was there, sitting with a man in his forties in a hospital gown. He sat on the edge of the bed, his legs dangling over the side. His right arm was wrapped in a tensor bandage and was in a sling and he was talking. Even before she opened the door, Kim could see that the man was agitated, gesturing with his good arm and fidgeting constantly. She poked her head in. "Dr. Chen? You paged me?"
Chen turned and smiled at Kim, then excused herself from the gentleman sitting on the bed. She ushered Kim into the hall.
"Thanks for coming," Chen said. "This is Raymond Carlson, age 47. Paramedics brought him in after he suffered a fall from the roof of his house. We've checked him out from top to bottom and frankly, he was very lucky and only sprained his arm. Should've been much worse."
Kim nodded. "Which bring us to what Mr. Carlson was doing on the roof. Ordinarily, I'd guess cleaning the eaves troughs, but since you paged me, I'm going to go with trying to fly."
Chen's eyes widened slightly. "Yeah, how did you know?"
Kim shrugged. "He has the look of an amateur skydiver."
Chen chuckled, then handed Kim the chart. "Well, your skydiver was diagnosed as bipolar many years ago, and has been faithful with his meds but his wife says that lately he's been getting pretty bad."
Kim flipped through the chart quickly. "That happens. He's probably started rapid cycling. We'll need to change his meds," Kim said. "But first, I need to talk to Mr. Carlson. Is his wife here?"
"She and their daughter are waiting in chairs."
Kim nodded. "I'll need to talk to them later," she said.
"Okay," Chen said. "Let me know when you're done."
"Sure thing." Kim turned and opened the door to Exam 3. "Mr. Carlson? Hi there. I'm Dr. Legaspi and I wonder if we could talk for a few minutes "
Kerry leaned against the admit desk and cast an eye on the board before opening the chart she held and beginning to write down her orders. As soon as she finished this, she was going to go looking for Malucci because she hadn't seen him in over an hour and that made her nervous. As she wrote, the mention of Kim's name floated over the din of the waiting area and the noises from curtains. It made Kerry look up.
" because I don't think she's a natural blonde," Haleh said to Chen, her elbows propped on the counter, her gaze directed at chairs.
Chen glanced up, then returned to her chart. "I don't care if it's natural or not. I would kill for that hair."
Behind them, at the other counter, Kerry craned her neck to see where they were looking. She spotted Kim sitting with a middle aged woman and a teenage girl, talking.
"Well, I would look ridiculous with that hair, but honey, I would take her legs in a minute," Haleh said.
Chen looked up again. "She is a beautiful woman."
Haleh shook her head. "You know, a woman who looks like that, you wouldn't think that she'd have any trouble finding men "
Randi bustled past, caught both women's eyes and very obviously pointed behind them with a disgusted look on her face, before hurrying off with an armload of forms.
Haleh and Chen turned slowly.
Kerry stood motionless, staring at them.
Chen lowered her eyes and bolted, grabbing two urine samples from the counter as she went.
Haleh's mouth was moving but she was having trouble forcing the words into sentences. "Dr. Weaver, I -- I -- I didn't know that you were there."
"Apparently," Kerry said softly. She lowered her gaze to her chart, and took a breath, then looked up again. "Mr. Stivick in Curtain 2 needs a catheter. Can you take care of that?"
She closed the chart and held it out. Haleh watched her for another heartbeat, then she took the chart and scurried off to Curtain 2.
Kerry leaned against the desk and sighed. It just never got easier, did it?
Kim spotted Carter at the desk hunting and pecking on the computer keyboard. An hour with a suicidal twenty year old boy, but it had been worth it. She slipped in beside Carter and pulled up a stool.
"I saw your kid," she said. "Michael Lynch."
"Lynch? That's the alcohol poisoning and all the ibuprofen?"
Kim rubbed her forehead. She wouldn't have minded some ibuprophen herself. "He's still pretty groggy, but I did get him to tell me that he was trying to kill himself."
Carter stopped typing and looked at Kim. "He nearly did. His blood alcohol was scary."
"Well, as it turns out, he was only drinking to get his courage up. He thought that a whole bottle of Advil would kill him."
Carter nodded and crossed his arms. "So are you going to admit him?"
Kim rubbed her eyes and stifled a yawn. "Yeah, I can hold him for a few days and hopefully during that time we can get him to talk about it enough to realize he needs some counseling."
"Talk about what?"
"The fact that he's gay and terrified."
Carter stared at her. "How do you know that?"
Kim smiled a little. "He told me."
Carter grinned and shook his head. "I've got to hand it to you Dr. Legaspi. You work fast."
Kim scooped up her clipboard. "I have to Carter. I've got too much to do and too little time to do it. I'll see you later."
She'd only gotten a few feet when she heard Kerry's voice. She turned and saw the tiny woman crutching her way down the hall after her.
"When are you off?" Kerry said.
Kim checked her watch. "In another half hour or so. Hey, have you got any Advil I could have?"
"Yeah, I'll get you some," Kerry said, turning to head back to the admit desk. "Headache?"
Kim pinched the bridge of her nose and winced. "Yeah, a bad one."
"Well, listen, I get off in an hour and a half and I was thinking, maybe we could--"
"Hey there, gorgeous," a voice close by them said.
They both turned and Kim's face lit up. "Oh my God, Nancy? What are you doing here?" she said and she bounded forward to hug the smiling woman.
"Looking for you, idiot," Nancy said as she hugged her. "Your clerk told me you were down here healing the unwashed masses."
Kerry stepped back to watch the two women embrace and she felt herself smiling along with them as they greeted each other happily. Nancy was almost as tall as Kim and her dark hair was styled in a neat little bob. Her make up was minimal but flattering and Kerry could see right away that she had an open, friendly face. She wore a tailored suit under a long black coat and the contrast of her fair skin against the deep midnight of the coat made her blue eyes shine.
Kim held her at arm's length. "God, you've lost some weight, haven't you?"
"Yeah, it's probably because you cancelled our last two dinner dates."
Kim rolled her eyes. "You cancelled the one before that."
Nancy shrugged. "I know. Life intervenes." She looked Kim up and down. "And you look fabulous, as usual. You witch."
Kim laughed as she touched Kerry's arm. "Nancy, I'd like you to meet Kerry Weaver. Kerry this is my friend Nancy Elliot. She's a psychiatrist over at the state hospital. We did our residencies together."
Kerry and Nancy shook hands.
"So you're Kerry Weaver," Nancy said and Kerry looked straight into eyes that were as warm and probing as Kim's. "Kim has told me a lot about you, Kerry. It's a real pleasure to finally meet you."
Kerry struggled to regroup. "Uh. Thank you."
"So what are you doing here?" Kim asked, her arms crossed over her clipboard.
"Well, I was just in the neighbourhood
Kim gave her a look.
Kim gave her a look.
"Actually," Nancy said, some of the laughter suddenly gone out of her eyes, "I was hoping we could talk."
"Sure. I'm off in a half hour. Why don't I meet you over at Doc Magoo's for a coffee?"
Nancy nodded. "Sounds great. I'll see you there." She looked at Kerry, those piercing eyes drilling into her. "It was nice to meet you, Kerry." She motioned towards Kim with a jerk of her head. "You're very good for her, you know." She smiled and walked away, her black coat billowing behind her.
The two women watched her go. "She seems nice," Kerry said.
Kim nodded. "She's great. We really dragged each other through our residencies. She's one of those people who are so grounded and compassionate, that you feel better just being around them, you know?" Kim looked at the hallway where she'd disappeared. "We've only been in touch by email for the past three months or so and I've missed seeing her."
Kerry watched Kim's face. "Really?"
"Yeah. We've helped each other through a lot over the years," Kim said.
Kerry shifted her weight onto her crutch. "Is she -- I mean were you two --?"
Kim watched Kerry intently, waiting for the rest of the question. Then it hit her. "Oh no, no, not at all," she said. "Nancy is straight. And happily married to a really nice guy named Craig for almost five years now."
Kerry fought the blush that was creeping up. "Oh, okay, well, you know, I just wondered "
Kim chuckled and touched Kerry's hand. "I didn't sleep with everyone I went to college with."
Kerry regarded her seriously, then a hint of a smile cracked through. "Well that's good to know."
"Anyway, what was it that you wanted to talk to me about?"
Kerry shifted her weight again. "Nothing important. I just wondered if you'd wait for me to finish my shift so we could drive home together. I took the El this morning."
Kim smiled. "Of course I will. I'll come find you after I talk with Nancy."
"Okay." A bigger smile now from Kerry and Kim could see the anticipation in it.
"Can I get that Advil now?" Kim asked.
"Advil," Kerry said. "Right. Come on."
Doc's was full with the suppertime crowd, but Kim spotted Nancy, her coat and jacket off, sitting in a booth with a cup and saucer before her, staring out the steamy window into the falling twilight. Kim shrugged off her coat as she made her way to the table and caught the harried waitress' eye before she sat down.
Kim plopped herself on the bench across from Nancy and impulsively reached out to squeeze her hand.
"You have no idea how great it is to see you today," Kim said, tossing her coat onto the seat beside her.
Nancy smiled but it didn't completely make it to her eyes. "It's good to see you, too, Kimmie."
Kim's smile faded slightly. She'd been through a year of medical school and four years of residency with this woman. She knew how to read her face and today, she didn't like what she saw there.
The waitress pulled up to the table with a cup for Kim and a refill for Nancy. "You want something to eat?" she asked.
Nancy shook her head. Kim asked for a Danish and the young woman disappeared again.
"So," Kim said, stirring milk into her coffee. "You said you wanted to talk."
Nancy looked out the window again at the dying light which was stabbed occasionally by the strobe of an ambulance. She looked back at Kim and Kim was startled by the sadness she saw in her friend's eyes. "I'd like to see you for a while," Nancy said.
Kim's eyebrows arched. "See me?" she repeated. "I don't understand --"
"Professionally," Nancy said.
Kim stopped stirring. "Nance, what's the matter?"
Nancy touched the edge of her saucer with delicate fingers, then sat back in her seat. "I'm crashing and burning, Kim. I'm going down like a plane on fire and there doesn't seem to be anything I can do to stop it."
Kim sat back and her hands fell into her lap. "Nancy, I'm so sorry, I -- I didn't know."
Nancy shrugged and those mischievous eyes twinkled. "Of course you didn't. I doubt Craig even knows." She picked microscopic lint off the sleeve of her blouse. "Well, he probably knows something. He'd probably say I was being pre-menstrual all thirty one days of the month. But he doesn't know how bad it's gotten."
Kim made herself take a breath. "How bad has it gotten?"
Nancy looked like she was about to speak, then suddenly she pulled back. She took a long drink of her coffee, put the cup back and sighed. "Yesterday, I was driving to work. I had a late shift so the freeway was relatively empty and I was cruising along at sixty, sixty five. And I suddenly thought, you know, it would just be so easy. Just a quick turn of the wheel and it would be over. One concrete median at that speed and all of my problems would become irrelevant." She looked up from the table at Kim. "And then I thought I'd better come and see you."
Kim didn't move for a moment, then she slid across the table and took both of Nancy's hands in hers. "I'm very glad you came to see me, Nance."
Nancy's blue eyes were welling with tears and she impatiently wiped them away. "Okay," she said, clearing her throat and trying to find her voice. "Let's go through the inventory, shall we?" She ticked the items off on her fingertips. "I can't seem to sleep and when I do sleep I can't stay asleep. I have had no interest in food for months and even less in sex, which as you can imagine is delighting Craig."
Kim smiled sympathetically.
"I can't concentrate to save my life, I can't remember something ten seconds after I've heard it, and I'm so exhausted that I --" Her voice cracked and she covered her mouth with one hand, as though she could hold her tears back that way. She rallied again and cleared her throat one more time. "Twice a day, I go into my office, I close the door and I cry. For no reason. I just cry." She fiddled with her saucer. "And then I see more patients."
The waitress whipped past just then, dropping a fork and plate with a huge Danish on it in front of Kim. Kim pushed them aside and studied Nancy's face.
"How long?" she asked.
Nancy avoided her eyes again, looked down at her lap and shrugged. "I don't know. Since the summer anyway." Then she shook her head and let out a frustrated sigh. "It's ridiculous. I keep telling myself to just pull myself together, you know? I'm a strong person, I should be able to suck it up and just get through this." She looked at Kim with pleading eyes. "It's been years since this has happened, Kimmie. Years. I thought I was through with this."
Kim studied her eyes. "So why aren't you talking to your regular doc? Why me?"
Nancy smiled sadly. "Because you know me and I don't have to spend precious energy convincing you that my mother was insane because you've met her." She sucked in a shaky breath. "And because I know you're good. And because I'm scared to death but I trust you."
Kim leaned forward and gently pinned Nancy with her gaze. "You realize I'm not going to just gloss over something that's wrong or treat you with kid gloves because you're my friend, right?"
Nancy smiled. "I would expect nothing less than that from you, Kim."
Kim reached across and took her hands again. "We've been friends way too long to bullshit each other, Nance, so I'll be straight with you."
"You know as well as I do that you are in the midst of a serious depression here. This isn't something you can get through on sheer will, because Lord knows if anyone could do that, it's you."
Nancy chuckled through her tears.
"It's an illness, Nance. It's not your fault. It's not due to weakness. It's due to faulty brain chemistry. If you want to lay a blame somewhere, blame your mother for giving you these damn genes."
Nancy sniffed. "I blame her for everything else, I might as well blame her for this."
Kim smiled, dug around in her coat pocket and found a clean tissue. She handed it to Nancy.
After she'd wiped her eyes and nose, she sighed wearily and sat back. "I guess I always knew deep down that there would be more depressions." She ran a hand through her hair and it fell magically back into place. "I guess I just thought that I was doing all the right things, you know? Taking care of myself and trying to stay healthy and everything."
"So what do you think did it?" Kim asked.
Nancy cast a glance out at the throng of diners. "Work," she said. "Same old thing in state funded hospitals so much fun, so little time." Her smile was bittersweet.
"It just never stops. Except no, you know, that's not it. It's that no one ever gets better. I try and try and some days Kim, I swear I sweat blood to help those people. And they just don't get healed."
Kim nodded, with pursed lips. "I know. It's discouraging sometimes." She touched the fork which sat in front of her. "Any way you could get some time off?"
Nancy snorted. "Oh yeah. I'll just tell my department chief that I'm taking a few weeks off to find myself. I'm sure he'd love to try to cover the 700 patients we have with one less doctor." Her expression faded suddenly and she grabbed Kim's hand. "Kimmie, I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be such a pain in the ass I'm just-- I'm just --"
Kim patted her hand. "You're just not quite yourself right now. And we're going to start on that right now." Kim dug around in her coat pocket and pulled out her prescription pad. "Have you got a pen?"
Nancy chuckled as she located a pen in her coat. "Do you always carry your prescription pad with you?"
Kim gave her a look. "I just got off my shift, give me a break."
She scribbled on the small pad while Nancy watched.
"What did your last doctor give you?" Kim asked.
"Zoloft," Nancy said, making a face. "I thought it was shit. Made me so edgy."
"Okay, well that was before the newest stuff, which is much faster acting, as you know." Kim signed the prescription and ripped the page off.
"Take the Effexor in the morning, and we'll go with the time released kind so you don't have to fuss with it all day. We'll try 75 mg for a week and then bump you up gradually. At night, take 150 mg of the Serzone and that will offset the edginess from the Effexor. Start the Serzone tonight."
Nancy nodded and put the script in her purse.
Kim was scribbling on another little page now. "I want to see you tomorrow at five thirty --I get off at five and I'll be in my office."
Nancy eyes filled up again and she nodded.
"Now, this," Kim said ripping off the page, "is a list of phone numbers. My house, my office, my pager, my cell, Kerry's house, her pager and her cell." Kim handed her the page and gave her a piercing look. "If you have any suicidal thoughts, or even if you just experience suicidal ideation, or if you decide you'd like someone to bring you a chocolate sundae in the middle of the night, you are going to call these numbers and find me, got it?"
"I don't care where you are or what time of day or night it is, you are going to drag your ass to a phone and dial. Are we clear?"
Nancy nodded again.
"And I want you to talk to Craig. Tonight. Just enough so that he knows what's going on with you," Kim said. "You need his support but he can't help if you keep him in the dark."
Nancy nodded reluctantly then said, "One thing ?"
"Are you this much of a bitch with all your patients?"
Kim smiled and shook her head. "Just the ones I care about."
Nancy looked at her hands in her lap. "Thanks, Kimmie," she said, her voice hoarse with tears.
"For you, anything," Kim said. "Now can you get that filled on your own, or would you like me to bring you to the pharmacy?"
"I'll do it," Nancy said, slipping the list of numbers into her purse. "I don't want to keep you from your lady love."
Kim waved her words away and watched Nancy put her suit jacket on. "You know, you look good, Legaspi. Tired and too thin, but good."
Kim laughed a little. "Thanks. I think."
Nancy straightened her jacket and buttoned the top button. "I'm not so far gone that I don't recognize when you're in love."
Kim felt her neck get pink.
"Except there's something different this time " Nancy said, pausing as she counted out money for the bill.
"Different? What do you mean?"
Nancy cocked her head and pursed her lips. "I think it's the first time that I've seen you in love and " She trailed off.
"And happy at the same time," Nancy said.
Kim blinked and her mind reeled through possibilities. She looked over at Nancy, a stunned expression on her face. "Oh, God I think you have something there."
Nancy smirked and slid out of the booth, dragging her black coat with her. "I may be mentally ill, but I'm still one hell of a psychiatrist. Come on, walk me to my car."
Kim sat there for a moment, lost in thought, then snapped to. She grabbed her coat and followed.
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