Resting in the Arms
By Ainsley Wallace
Abby jogged the length of the hallway, stopping the odd familiar face to ask if they'd seen Kim Legaspi recently. People shook their heads and watched her jog by. Although she didn't understand why Dr. Weaver had been quite so anxious for her to go and fetch Dr. Legaspi, she knew from experience that Dr. Weaver never sent you on a fool's errand and that she wasn't big on being questioned. Especially in front of others.
So Abby jogged.
Kim's office was at the end of the hall as she remembered, but she knew before she knocked that she wasn't there. The light was off and when she tried the door, it was locked. She knocked anyway.
"Dr. Legaspi, it's Abby Lockhart from the ER," she called out. "Dr. Weaver sent me up to get you. It's very important that you come down to the ER." She waited, bouncing nervously from foot to foot, then rapped one more time for good measure. "Dr. Legaspi, are you there?"
There was no answer. And Abby blew out a frustrated breath. Where the hell could she be?
The psych ward.
The woman set off at a sprint.
"Hang another four units of blood," Elizabeth said "and Haleh, I need more suction, I can't see a blasted thing."
Chuny checked the supply and then looked up. "We've already given her all we have, Dr. Corday."
"Then go to the blood bank and get some more and get some packed red cells," Elizabeth said, "because this woman is bleeding out!" Chuny raced out the door.
Kerry glanced over at the monitors and then back down at Nancy's heart, which she held in her hands, coaxing it to pump, massaging it, almost talking to it, urging it to straighten up and do it's job. It was a strong heart, Kerry had noticed, the moment Elizabeth had spread Nancy's rib cage with that sickening bone breaking sound -- the heart was a good size, with strong tissue and almost no signs of cardiovascular disease. It was a heart that had exercised, that had not been fed a lot of fat. It was also a heart that was dying. Quickly.
"Bugger!" she said under her breath and Kerry saw that she had tried in vain to find a spot to position a clamp that would perhaps staunch the flow a little and allow her to find something, anything to sew up. The clamp slipped out of her bloody fingers and hit the floor.
"Another Satinksy clamp!" she barked and another clamp was in her hand and she was groping half-blind for Nancy's torn artery. Her eyes flicked over to meet Kerry's and their silent glances said all that was necessary.
"There!" she said suddenly and she pulled her hands out of Nancy's chest cavity to look at the monitor. Her pressure crept up a few points.
"All right, two oh silk, quickly now," she said, "and Haleh more suction, I have to see what I'm doing here."
Elizabeth bent over her work and Kerry craned her neck to see what the woman was doing. Quick, nimble stitches as if she was just binding it all together for the time being.
"Stop compressions," Elizabeth said and Kerry pulled her hands away. Everyone watched Nancy's heart. The monitor screamed.
"She's in a-fib, charge the cardiac paddles," Kerry said.
"I'm going to try to throw a few stitches in her vena cava, see if that might help," Elizabeth said and as she readied the silk, she glanced at Nancy's liver which looked like it had been shredded. She pursed her lips and dug in again, feeling for the artery to repair. Kerry tucked the two silver paddles onto either side of Nancy's trembling heart.
"Clear," Kerry shouted and Elizabeth withdrew.
Everyone waited. The monitor let out a sad whine.
"Asystole," Chuny said, hesitantly.
"Push another amp of epi," Kerry said, "and charge again."
Elizabeth worked quickly, desperately trying to find a length of vein that had not bee shredded by the force of hitting the cement divider.
"Clear!" Kerry yelled and she shocked Nancy's heart.
The whine continued.
Abby banged on the door of the psych ward to catch the attention of the attendant at the desk. She held up her ID and he buzzed her in. She raced to the desk.
"I'm looking for Dr. Legaspi," she said.
"Oh, she's been off for almost an hour now. She might have gone home."
Abby banged the desk with her hand. "No, she's still here, somewhere. Do you know anyplace she might be?"
"Did you try her office?"
Abby nodded and sighed. "Yeah, I did. Anyplace else?"
The clerk shook his head. "Sorry. If she's off her shift, she doesn't check in with me."
"Okay, thanks," Abby said and she turned and jogged away.
She got to the hall and looked up and down, thinking. Maybe she'd just stepped out to go to the bathroom or something, she thought and she's back in her office now. Yeah, that could be it. She sprinted in the direction of Kim's office, hoping to hell she found Dr. Legaspi soon because she'd run out of places to look and she really didn't want to have to go back downstairs and tell Dr. Weaver that she couldn't find her.
The monitor's whine continued, uninterrupted and Kerry wanted to throw something at it.
"How long since the last epi?" she asked.
"Two minutes," someone said.
"Charge again," she said and then, "clear!"
Nancy's heart lay there, perfectly still in a puddle of crimson blood and the screaming monitor shrieked as if it were mourning.
"Kerry," Elizabeth said, and she shook her head sadly. "There's nothing more I can do-- there's nothing left to sew up." She sighed. "I'm sorry."
Kerry took a deep breath and stepped back, handed Chuny the blood covered paddles and ripped off her blood soaked yellow gown. "Time of death 5:48 p.m.," she said.
Elizabeth pulled off her gloves and threw them on the floor. "Bloody waste," she said, as she headed for the exit. "Why don't people wear their seatbelts?" The doors swung shut behind her.
Chuny and Haleh stood perfectly still, watching Kerry expectantly. The small woman stood there and stared at the body on the table for a long moment, then she seemed to suddenly take in the blood soaked gauze, tattered remains of clothing and empty needle barrels on the floor. She lifted her eyes to look at the two nurses.
"I want you to gather every sharp, every tube, every piece of equipment we used and bag it and take it to the suture room to do the inventory," she said, still not moving. "Get the rib spreader off her and cover her with fresh sheets, take out the IV's, everything," Kerry said. "Clean her up. And do it quickly."
Haleh and Chuny nodded and swept into motion, sensing the importance of Kerry's instructions. Kerry moved to the head of the table, yanking off cardiac leads as she went. She carefully removed the ventilator tube from Nancy's throat and gently closed the woman's mouth.
Abby saw her, at her office door, keys in one hand, wallet and a can of Coke in the other.
"Dr. Legaspi," Abby said, "I've been looking for you. Dr. Weaver wants you to come down to the ER right away."
Kim looked puzzled. "She does know I'm not on anymore, doesn't she?"
Abby tried to catch her breath. "I have a feeling she doesn't care, actually. She just said to get you and bring you down, now."
Kim jammed her keys back into her pocket and the two women rushed to the elevator.
Kerry was there when the doors opened, leaning heavily on her crutch, looking weary.
"Thank you, Abby," she said, when they got off.
Abby nodded and started to head off then paused. "Is there anything else I can do, Dr. Weaver?"
Kerry shook her head. "No, thank you, Abby. That's fine."
Kim grabbed Kerry's arm and there was concern in her eyes. "Kerry, what's the matter, why did you need me so quickly? Are you okay?"
Kerry sighed and tried to force a smile. Actually she felt like hell, but that was not why she had sent for Kim.
"Kim, come on and sit down with me for a minute," Kerry said, leading her towards one of the benches near the elevators. "I need to tell you something."
"What?" Kim asked, her heart picking up the pace now. "What is it, Ker?"
Kerry gently pulled her down onto the bench.
"There's been an accident," Kerry said. "Not long after you left to go upstairs, the paramedics brought in a woman who had been in a car accident on the Ryan Expressway. She'd hit an overpass at a very high speed."
Kim watched Kerry intently, confusion and concern mingling in her eyes.
"The woman was Nancy, Kim," Kerry said.
Kim blinked and felt her body go cold, but her voice sounded composed. "No, Kerry, there's a mistake, I think. She was here. I just talked to her a little over an hour ago. She had another appointment to get to."
Kerry said nothing, just watched Kim's face.
"It's not her, Ker. You're wrong."
"It is, Kim," Kerry said. "I saw her driver's license."
Kim opened her mouth, then seemed to lose track of what she was going to say. She closed it again.
"She was very badly hurt, Kim. She had serious internal injuries and she wasn't breathing on her own when the paramedics arrived." Kerry reached for Kim's hand. "We intubated her and I called for a surgical consult. Elizabeth Corday arrived and she checked Nancy's belly and we realized that she was bleeding internally. She went into V-fib and we couldn't shock her out of it because there wasn't enough blood in her system to fill her heart properly."
Kim's eyes had developed an eerie distant look, but Kerry plunged on. She had to finish this.
"Elizabeth performed a thoracotamy and I massaged her heart for almost twenty minutes, but
her aorta was so badly shredded from the impact that there was nothing there to repair. We tried shocking her with the cardiac paddles but
nothing worked, Kim. She was just too badly injured." Kerry squeezed her hand and forced the lump of tears in her own throat back down. "I'm so sorry, Kim. She died."
Kim's face did not change as Kerry uttered these words and Kerry, who had been prepared for tears, studied her carefully.
Kim's face did not change as Kerry uttered these words and Kerry, who had been prepared for tears, studied her carefully.
"Kim?" she said.
It took a huge effort for Kim to drag her gaze back to Kerry's face. "I need to see her," she said softly.
Kerry nodded and took her arm, leading her through the halls to the trauma room. Chuny and Haleh had cleaned away every trace of the flurry of activity that had unfolded in this room and all that remained was Nancy's still form, her black hair splayed across the white gurney, the pristine sheets tucked up to her pale shoulders.
Kim moved into the room slowly, as if sleep walking and she stood beside the stretcher looking down at Nancy, saying nothing. Kerry wheeled a stool over and gently coaxed Kim into a sitting position. She stood behind her, one hand on her shoulder, studying Nancy's still face.
"I didn't catch it," Kim said, quietly. "It was right there in front of me and I didn't catch it."
Kerry blinked to keep the tears away. "Didn't catch what, sweetie?"
"Today when she left, she told me that I'd been a good friend to her," Kim said. "She had planned it and she was saying goodbye and I didn't catch it."
"Kim," Kerry said and she rubbed her lover's arm tenderly. "You can't blame yourself. You were doing everything you could for her, like you do for all your patients."
Kim nodded sadly. "Yeah," she said, flatly. "And it wasn't enough, was it?"
Kerry's mind roared around in tail-chasing circles, trying to find something to say, something that would reach her, that would matter.
Kim's pale hand stretched out and stroked Nancy's dark hair, tenderly pushed it off her forehead. She ran the back of her hand across a tiny expanse of cheek that was not encrusted with fragments of exploded windshield and she sighed. "Oh, Nance," she said softly.
And then Kerry felt a change in the air, as if a thunderstorm had suddenly passed through the room. Kim stood up.
"I have to go," she said and she started walking away.
Kerry chased after her. "Kim, Kim, listen to me, I'm going to find someone to cover the last three hours of my shift and then I can take you home, okay?"
She was talking to Kim's back as the tall woman strode purposefully out of the ER area and towards the stairs.
"I'm fine, Kerry, it's okay," she said.
"The hell you're fine," Kerry said, struggling to keep up. "Kim, you're upset. Stop for a minute and talk to me, okay?"
"Really, I'm fine," Kim said. "I just need to get out of here for a while." She reached the bottom of the stairs and started to run up them, two at a time. "You should call her husband. His name is Craig Milburn."
Kerry considered trying to navigate the stairs, then gave that idea up before she'd even tried it. There's no way she'd keep up with her. "Kim!" she called. "Please just stop for a minute and talk to me! Please!"
The only response was the sound of Kim's shoes slapping the stone steps as she climbed.
Kerry blew out a frustrated breath and then smacked the banister with her crutch.
Luka had been happy to cover for her for the rest of the shift, but just as she was getting on her coat to go, a multivictim trauma rolled in and with Luka up to his elbows in GSW's, there was no way she could leave. Thankfully, Mark showed up for his shift almost a half an hour early and Kerry had her coat and purse and was sprinting for the parking lot before Mark had even found his stethoscope.
She'd phoned home four times since Kim had left, had left two messages, but had not yet been able to reach her.
Something was wrong. She knew it.
This was not the grief of losing a close friend that she'd seen in Kim tonight. It was more like the behaviour of someone who has been pushed and pushed and pushed and finally pushed just a little too far. She sat at a red light, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel, willing the traffic to move faster.
She had to get home.
She barely remembered to put the car in park before flinging the door open and hurtling through it onto the pavement. She crutched her way at a furious speed across the street, scanning up and down for Kim's Jetta. It was not there.
The house was dark and her heart was pounding by the time she got the door open and she raced in calling Kim's name. The empty house echoed hollowly back at her. She went room to room, not knowing what to expect, turning on lights and peering into every space where Kim could possibly be.
The answering machine was blinking but both messages were her own and for an agonizing minute, Kerry stood there with the phone in her hand, in danger of hyperventilating with fear.
Where was she?
Finally, she made herself go back to the living room, sit on the couch and slow her mind down. Her hip and leg ached while she sat there, considering possibilities.
Start at the hospital.
She phoned her office directly and left a message for her to call. Then she phoned the pysch ward, identified herself and asked for Dr. Legaspi.
"Oh, I'm sorry Dr. Weaver, but Dr. Legaspi is not on at the moment and she won't be in for a few days. If you want, you can leave a message on her voice --"
"What do you mean she won't be in for a few days?" Kerry said.
"Oh she phoned in a few hours ago. Some emergency I think. Said she wouldn't be in for the rest of the week."
Kerry's limbs went numb and she sat there, gripping the phone, trying to process this information. "All right, if she happens to call in again, would you tell her that I'm trying to reach her?"
The clerk agreed and rang off. A few moments later, Kerry remembered to hang up. She stared blankly at the small portable phone in her hands.
Oh, Jesus, Kim, where are you?
She'd only pulled off twice to cry.
Which didn't mean she'd only cried twice. Technically, she'd been crying without a break since she turned her Jetta into the northbound lane of the John F. Kennedy Expressway and put her foot to the floor. The rain swept landscape had blurred with the speed and with her tears and she'd been grateful not to have to see anything too clearly for a while. Northward, always north and the traffic had thinned and the highway had narrowed until it was just one lane in each direction and still she sobbed.
It was not the image of her mangled body that unhinged her. It was the memory of standing in the doorway of her office, just a few hours ago, hugging her, embracing her, feeling hopeful with her about the new meds -- that was what made her pull over to the shoulder more than once so that she could lean her head on the steering wheel and sob until she thought her heart might actually break.
The rest of the time she stared at the slick road, registering the curves and the other traffic in the part of her brain that did such things, the rest of her mind remembering Nancy, thinking of her gentle, funny spirit and cursing herself for letting her die.
The road stretched ahead of her like a dark shiny ribbon and Kim just drove.
Kerry bustled along the sidewalk, not even noticing the rain. She'd checked the 24 hour diner and coffee shop in the neighbourhood where they sometimes had breakfast and she'd gone into Kim's favourite Starbucks and even quizzed one of the clerks. The nearby video store and the little pub that had the fabulous selection of single malt Scotch and now she was on her way back to Kim's house and a vice was tightening around her stomach.
She scaled the steps and burst into the house, quietly praying that Kim might have returned during her absence, but the house was as still as when she'd left it. She tore off her trench coat and threw it on the floor and headed back to the living room, mentally checking off possibilities.
On the odd chance that Kim might have gone to her house, Kerry had made a flying trip across the city to check, daring some foolish Chicago PD to try to stop her for speeding. She'd also begun calling Kim's cell phone every fifteen minutes, which, she admitted, was of limited use. Kim hated being handcuffed to a phone, found it intrusive and annoying, as well as a sign of the deterioration of society as a whole. Consequently, she rarely carried it with her, and when she did, it was as likely as not to be turned on.
Kerry phoned again anyway. No answer.
She rang off and sat there with the phone in her hand. She was running out of ideas, it was getting late, the weather was bad and if she relaxed the iron tight grip she had on her emotions for even a second, she was going to lose it entirely.
She made herself breathe.
Okay. Next idea. She rummaged through the little drawer of the antique table where Kim kept the phone and found an address book. She flipped it open and ran her finger down a page, then dialed.
"Hi, Christie," Kerry said, "this is Kerry Weaver, I'm sorry to bother you so late "
It was the light that attracted her. She'd been driving through miles and miles of heavily wooded and rural areas where the only light besides her own headlights was the blue glow from the dash of the car. Suddenly, things cleared out and there, on the horizon was a beacon -- a gas station with a diner. There were intensely white spotlights over the gas pumps but it was the light from the diner that pulled her in and made her stop. It was golden, somehow, like honey. Warm and sweet.
She pulled off and negotiated the potholes in the gravel parking area, coming to rest not far from the front door. A single 18 wheeler was parked on the other side of the diner, but Kim saw that there was room for several more.
She got out of the car and sucked in the cold air. It had stopped raining, or maybe she'd just driven out of the rain, she didn't know. She could've been driving for days by now. She really had no idea.
She reached back into the car for her wallet and her jacket and then made her way to the entrance.
The diner smelled of coffee and bacon and toast and it was larger than it looked from outside. There was a big L-shaped counter and behind it, Kim could see through to the kitchen. A man with a trucker's cap sat alone at a table by the window, reading the paper and nursing his coffee; his empty plate having been pushed aside to make room for the news.
At the far end of the long counter was a compact woman with deep auburn curls that had been piled on top of her head. She wore tight jeans, a form fitting white t-shirt and there was a pristine cook's apron tied around her waist. She was consolidating half-empty ketchup bottles and refilling empty ones. She looked up when Kim came in and she smiled at her.
Kim made her way to the counter and put her jacket down on a red leatherette stool. The woman took a last drag on her cigarette, stubbed it out and then walked to where Kim stood.
"What can I getcha, honey?" she said and her eyes passed over Kim's injuries without pausing or flinching.
"Just a cup of coffee for now," Kim said. "And uh, is there a washroom I could use?"
The woman nodded with her head. "End of the counter and turn left," she said.
Kim thanked her and set off.
She exited the stall and came face to face with herself in the mirror. "Jesus," she said and one hand reflexively came up and touched the bruises and her slightly swollen, discoloured nose. Added to that now were two puffy, red-rimmed and lifeless eyes and suddenly Kim found herself wanting to cry for a whole new set of reasons.
She washed her hands and then splashed cold water on her face, over and over, trying to soothe her tired eyes. She dried her face with rough paper towels, ran a half-hearted hand through her hair and then winced at the pounding headache that had surfaced when she'd stopped driving.
She sighed and headed back to the restaurant.
She glanced at the glass display case near the cash register and saw candy bars, gum and Tums, but no aspirin and found herself wanting to cry at that. Okay, she thought to herself, get a grip, now. Just get a little bit of a grip.
She managed to make it , on unsteady legs, back to the stool where she'd left her coat. As she sat down, the waitress appeared with a steaming cup of coffee and a little ceramic pot of fresh cream. "There you go, hon," she said, "I just made it fresh so you're safe." She winked and smiled, then disappeared back to her ketchup bottles.
Kim heard a chair scrape the floor and turned to see the truck driver in the corner standing up and collecting his newspaper. He made his way slowly towards the cash register.
"Franny, you outdid yourself as usual," he said, peeling bills of a small wad and laying them on the counter.
"Nobody appreciates my omelets like you, Norm," she said, ringing it up and handing him change. "I wish you'd drop by more."
"If I get that new run to Chicago, I just might be able to," he said. He put some bills on the counter for her. "You say hi to Bobby for me."
"I will," she said, and she tucked the tip into her pocket. "Drive safe now, Norm."
"Always do," the man said as he slipped through the door and into the night air.
Fran peered down the counter at Kim, who was rubbing her forehead and debated for a moment, then dug her beaten up old purse out from under the counter. She made her way to the sink, poured a glass of cold water and set it down in front of the startled blonde woman.
"I've only got aspirin," Fran said as she searched her purse, "no Tylenol or anything like that. Is that okay?"
Kim couldn't find words for a moment, then she nodded. "Aspirin would be great," she said.
Fran located the small bottle and handed it to Kim, watched her shake out three and down them with water.
Kim forced a smile. "Thanks very much. It's kind of you."
The woman dropped the bottle back in her purse and continued to study Kim. Kim couldn't quite meet her gaze.
"It's none of my business and you can tell me to go to hell and trust me you won't be the first," she said, "but are you all right? I mean, you don't look so good, honey."
Kim pulled in a deep breath, every muscle tensing to try to contain the tears. "It's been -- uh, kind of a hard day," she managed to get out. She tried to sip her coffee, saw that her hand was trembling and she lowered the cup back to the saucer.
A warm, work-worn hand covered hers and Kim looked up into wide, understanding eyes, felt pulled in and comforted.
"You probably haven't eaten," Fran said. "I can fix you almost anything you like, but I don't recommend the chili. My husband makes it and it's not for those with a weak constitution."
Kim was shaking her head. "No, no, I'm fine, really, I--"
"Honey," Fran said, and she squeezed Kim's hand. "You're not fine. You're not fine at all."
Kim stopped and stared at the woman, at her generously made up eyes that had little life lines spreading from the ends.
"You're right," Kim said, lifelessly. "I'm not."
Fran smiled at her, like she was congratulating a small child who had recited her lesson correctly. "How about some soup? Chicken noodle and I make it myself from scratch. Never seen the inside of a can."
"Sure," Kim said and immediately Fran was gone into the kitchen, emerging a few moments later with a bowl of hot soup and a handful of crackers. She placed it in front of Kim, grabbed a soup spoon from the caddy behind her, and handed it to her.
"Bon Appetit, as they say," Fran said and she ambled back down to her ketchup bottles and began again the sluggish process of draining them. She paused after a while to light a cigarette which she left burning at the far end of the counter.
The soup was filled with vegetables and egg noodles and chunks of tasty chicken and after her first bite, Kim realized she was ravenous and she ate it without pausing. She looked up and Fran was wandering back in her direction.
"How'd you find that? One of these ornery bastards today said I put too much garlic in it," she said. "Like he was the fucking food editor for the Tribune."
Kim chuckled. "No, the garlic was just right."
Fran glanced at the empty bowl and then up at Kim. "How about another? You could use to put on a few pounds, you know."
Kim nodded. "I'd love another," she said. "And do you think I could have a coke?"
"Coming right up," Fran said and her smile was a satisfied one, the smile of someone who had figured out the right thing to do and had done it well. "Oh, I'm Frances by the way. This is my place. Me and my husband."
"Kim," Kim said, extending her hand to shake Frances's.
A few moments later, Kim was digging into her second bowl of soup and Fran had sat herself down on a stool behind the counter.
"You from Chicago?" Fran asked.
"Where are you going to?"
Kim paused. "Nowhere, really. I -- I was just driving."
Fran nodded as if this answer made perfect sense to her. "Got somebody back in Chicago waiting up for you?"
Kim froze, spoon half way to her mouth. She nodded.
"Do they know where you are? That you're okay and all?"
Kim lowered her spoon back into the soup and shook her head.
Fran took a sip of her own coffee and then put the cup back down. "Well, they're probably sick out of their minds with worry right about now. If you want to call 'em, you're welcome to use my phone."
Kim sat there, plumbing her own empty depths. "I -- I can't," she said. "I don't even know why, but I -- just can't right now."
"You know, ordinarily a woman comes in here at this time of night, by herself, looking the way you do and the first thing I want to say is 'Whoever he is, honey, he ain't worth it.' But I don't get that feeling from you."
Kim smiled shyly and sipped her coke. "It wasn't an abusive boyfriend who did this to me," she said.
Fran's carefully plucked eyebrows raised. "You're not going to try to feed me some line about how it was the bathroom door or the basement stairs, are you?"
Kim shook her head. "No, it really was an accident. It happened at work. I was -- well, I was head-butted, basically."
Fran's eyebrows climbed higher. "That sounds like one hell of a crazy place you work at."
Kim nodded with the slightest smile. "Crazy is a good word for it."
Fran regarded her for a long time without speaking. "But that's not why you're upset, is it? The shiner and all. It's something else."
Kim's body tensed as the tide of tears rose again. "My -- a very good friend of mine died today."
Fran's eyes widened. "Oh Christ Jesus, Kim, I'm so sorry. Oh, that's just terrible." The older woman wrung her hands and cast about for the right thing to say. "Was it sudden, or had she been sick? It wasn't the cancer, was it?"
Kim shook her head. "She killed herself," she said softly.
Fran sat there, immobile. "Well, Christ, doesn't that just --" She got up and headed to the fridge, pulled out a couple of beer bottles, came around the counter and sat down on the stool next to Kim's. She cracked a beer and handed it to Kim, then opened the other for herself.
"I don't know what to say, honey. I mean, there is nothing to say, is there?" Fran took a swig of her beer. "God, a good friend is harder to find than a good man. No matter how you lose one, it's a tragedy, but this .God."
Kim sat there, the cold beer chilling her hands.
Fran watched her for a minute. "You sure there isn't somebody I could call for you? I'll even talk to him, if you want, you know, if you don't feel like talking right now, just so that he would know you're safe."
"She," Kim said, wearily.
"She," Kim said, wearily.
"So that she would know I'm safe," Kim said. "My partner is a woman, Fran. Her name is Kerry."
"Well, fine then, she's the one we should call, isn't she?" and she regarded Kim with a frank, open face.
Kim leaned her forearms on the counter and stared at her beer bottle. "Yes, she is."
Fran watched Kim not rushing to the phone and her eyes narrowed. "Why are you running away from her then?"
Kim's head snapped up and she stared at Fran. "I'm not running away," she said. "I think I just needed some time to think."
Fran raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Well, let's see you're about three hours from home and your partner doesn't know where you are your best friend died today and instead of being home, letting your girlfriend console you, you're sitting in a diner, half way to Lake Superior." She leveled her sights on Kim. "If that's not running away, honey, you tell me what is."
Kim let her head sink into her hands. "I was supposed to help her."
"Who were you supposed to help?" Fran asked, peering at her.
"Nancy, my friend. She came to me and asked me to help her and I let her down," Kim said. She ran a thumb over the beer label.
Fran's eyes narrowed. "How were you supposed to help her?" she asked.
Kim sighed. "I'm a psychiatrist. She was very depressed and she asked me to treat her." Kim finally raised her eyes and looked at Fran. "I should've had her hospitalized or-- or -- just put on an involuntary hold, or something. I should've found a way to stop her from doing this."
Fran raised an eyebrow. "You know, that's the problem with you doctors -- you're all so convinced that you're God," she said. "You couldn't have prevented her from doing this, Kim."
Kim shook her head, her disheveled curls dancing as she did. "No, Frances, she would have been safe in the hospital. There would have been people to watch her around the clock, to keep her safe. She'd be alive now if I'd done that."
"Maybe, but for how long?"
Kim's eyes snapped up and met the older woman's.
"It has generally been my observation that people who really want to kill themselves somehow manage to succeed," Fran said. "I mean, she was determined enough this time that she fooled you, right?"
Kim's shoulders sagged and she pictured Nancy's empty body laying in the trauma room, such a useless shell now. She turned and looked at Fran.
"She was counting on me to help her, Fran. I was supposed to be able to do something about this and I didn't." She took a swig of her beer. "I let her die."
Fran considered Kim for a long moment, then took a sip from her beer. "You know, as much as I'd like to think that I'm not old enough to be your mother, the fact of the matter is that I probably am. Fifty sailed by so quickly I hardly remember the goddam view. But anyway, since I am old enough to be your mother, let me give you some motherly advice." She leaned closer. "Call your girlfriend and tell her where you are and that you're safe. Then get back into that expensive German car of yours and get your ass back to her, where it belongs."
Kim mustered an imitation of a smile. "Thanks for the advice, Fran, but I -- I just can't," she said.
She chuckled, mirthlessly. "I think some part of me thinks that if I just stay here, then Nancy's really not dead and I don't have to face that." She took another pull on her beer. "That and I'm too ashamed to face Kerry right now."
Kim smiled sheepishly. "Because I ran away. Again."
Fran nodded wisely and sighed. "You know, I'm sure they pay you well at that psychiatrist's job of yours, but I have to wonder who in the hell would want to do that kind of job," she said. "All these people coming to you all the time, needing your help, making demands " Kim watched her while she took a thoughtful sip from her long-necked bottle. "When the fact of the matter is that you really can't help a single one of them."
Kim's eyes fastened on Fran's face. "What do you mean?"
"Well, see, you're sitting here tonight beating yourself up because you couldn't help your friend. But the truth is that it's not about you, honey. It's about her. You can do all the helping in the world, you can be the Mother fucking Theresa of helping, but it's no good if she won't accept it."
Kim blinked and stared at Fran.
"I mean, it stands to reason this sort of thing is going to happen from time to time, someone who just cannot or will not accept help from someone, you know, who won't just let other people give them something. And actually, when you consider how much harder it is to receive than it is to give, it should probably happen even more often."
Kim sat stock still, her mind whirling. Kerry, in the lounge. She'd tried to tell her.
Why do you always make it so hard to give you anything?
Kim grabbed Fran's arm. "I need to use your phone."
Fran pointed towards the cash register. "It's right over there, honey. Help yourself."
Kim hurried across the diner and grabbed the receiver, furiously pushing buttons and listening. Kerry's house -- no answer. Her house -- busy signal. She glanced at her watch. Shit. She couldn't wait.
She raced back to where Fran sat, smiling wisely, and she snatched her jacket up. "I don't mean to be rude, Fran, but I have get home," she said, fumbling with her wallet. She put some bills down on the counter, then smiled at the little woman. "You've been a big help to me. Thank you."
Fran nodded and waved her beer bottle towards the door. "Go! Go! But drive safely!" she said.
Kim nodded and headed for the door. Fran's voice stopped her in her tracks.
"Wait, wait, you've left way too much here," she said, holding the bills Kim had set down for her.
"The extra is for the therapy," Kim said and she flew out the door into the night air.
Fran sat on the stool and watched Kim get into her Jetta, rev the engine and peel out of the parking lot. The auburn haired woman took a swig of beer and smiled.
She pulled into the first spot she saw, leaped from the car and ran down the street towards her house, where she could see that at least some of the lights were on, beckoning her down the sidewalk. She took the stairs in one leap, dropped her keys, and cursed as she felt around on the cement for them. Back in hand now, rattling musically as she pushed the door open and she was yelling for Kerry before she was even through the door.
She managed to wrench her keys out and shut the door and then Kerry was there at the head of the hallway, looking tired and old and so wrung out and Kim realized that she had never loved her as much as she did this very minute. She bounded the three steps to her arms and suddenly Kerry was sobbing and sobbing, her back heaving with the effort of it and she was trying to speak but couldn't form words over the volume of her own tears.
Kim crushed her tiny body to her own and buried her face in Kerry's neck, her own hot tears flowing now, saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," over and over again. Kerry's crutch clattered to the ground as she raised both arms to encircle Kim's neck, to hang onto her and a moment later her knees gave out and Kim gently lowered both of them to the tile floor.
Kerry took Kim's face in her hands, tears running freely down both their faces. "I didn't know where -- you were -- and I thought -- you -- were hurt --" Kerry said, hiccupping over the wrenching sobs that continued to rip their way out of her. "I thought you -- I thought --"
"Shhh, shhh," Kim said and she pulled Kerry's head to her chest and rocked her. "I'm here now, I'm fine. I'm not hurt. I'm fine."
"I didn't know what to do," Kerry moaned and Kim's acid tears caught in her throat at the pain in Kerry's voice. She lifted Kerry's head with one hand so that she could look at her eyes, and she wiped tears off the redhead's cheek with the other.
"I was stupid, Kerry," she said. "I was -- I was out of mind after I saw -- after Nancy. And I did what I always do. I ran away. I didn't think I had the right to ask you for what you keep trying to give me -- your comfort, your support. Your love." Kim kissed Kerry's forehead and her cheek, then looked her straight in the eye again. "But I think I know now how stupid that is. How hurtful. And I promise I will never run away from you again."
Kerry nodded, puddles of tears pooling again in her eyes. She searched Kim's eyes for a long moment. "Thank God you're home," she said and she gathered Kim into her arms and held her tightly.
Night had not yet given way to dawn and Kim lay in bed, staring into the half-darkness, remembering Nancy -- the specific shape and tilt of her smile, her insatiable need to be a smartass. She thought about the day that Nancy's mother had died and Kim had driven her all the way back to Florida to claim her body and arrange for the funeral. Midnight study sessions, coffee houses, PMS and bad dates -- they'd dragged each other through it all. More than anything, though, Kim kept thinking of her wedding day and how she and Craig had held each other out on that dance floor, as if they were the only two people left in the world. She remembered standing on the side-lines, watching them, hoping that some day she would find a woman who would make her feel like that -- who could make the rest of the world just drop away.
Kim felt Kerry's body close by in the half-light, Kerry's breasts warm and soft against her back. Even as she felt the familiar cramping in her chest, the squeezing pain of trying to hold back yet more tears, Kim rolled over in their bed and turned to Kerry who was not only awake, but waiting for her.
"I need you," Kim said and the quiet tears came again.
Kerry smiled sadly and nodded, spreading her arms for Kim to come and lay in. Kim pulled herself closer, lay her head somewhere between Kerry's breast and shoulder and she surrendered herself to the warmth and strength that this tiny woman had to give.
It was like coming home.
Kim's office door was open and when she looked up from her charts, she could see two nurses trying to hang a fold out tissue paper turkey from a smoke detector in the hallway. They weren't having a lot of luck. Each time they thought they had managed to hang it, the casing of the smoke detector would fall off and clatter to the floor and they would have to begin again.
Thanksgiving, Kim decided, made people do strange things.
She and Kerry weren't going to make a big deal of it -- both of them were scheduled to work a few shifts over the weekend, anyways, and Kim was thinking that maybe it would be nice to go out someplace for a really good meal. Treat themselves. After all, they both had a lot to be thankful for this year.
Kim turned her attention back to her charts and was writing prescription orders when her pen ran out of ink. She tossed it into the wastepaper basket and yanked a drawer open to search for a new one.
Her eyes fell on the letter and she paused.
She didn't know what drew her back to it, time and time again, but as surely as she knew she'd read it at least a thousand times in the days since Nancy had died, she knew she would read it again today.
She slipped it out of its resting spot and stared at the handwriting on the envelope, at the postmark. She'd mailed it the day she'd driven into the overpass. It had arrived three days later.
Kim opened it, smoothed the paper and let her eyes run over Nancy's artistic script.
My dearest Kim,
If you're reading this and I'm no longer alive, then you're probably really pissed at me. (Of course if you're reading this and I am still alive, I'm going to be really pissed.)
I'm sorry, Kim. I don't have the words to tell you how sorry -- I just don't know how to do it. I am so very, very sorry -- and still words are insufficient.
I don't know if you can understand -- I feel a certain responsibility to explain it to you, to help you to see why it couldn't be any other way. Sure, I know that this depression will get better (or so you say, at least, but I trust you more than anyone.) But then the next one will come and it will be deeper and longer and blacker than the last one and I just don't know how a person is supposed to face that. Because even if I manage to walk through this particular dark night, there will always be a worse one, waiting to come. We both know the prognosis, Kim.
I can't do that to myself anymore and I certainly can't keep doing it to Craig -- he's been there every horrible step of the way, helping, listening, caring for me, doing more than any husband should have to do. He needs a life and he'll never have one while he feel he needs to stand around and watch me drown in this tar pit.
I'm too tired, too old, too wrung out to even try anymore. Even with you and Craig holding my hands.
And that's why I'm writing this letter to you, Kim. I don't want you to think that you failed me somehow and to torture yourself with thoughts of what you might have said or done.
Know this -- since I made this decision, I feel calm, at peace with myself for the first time in a very long time. I know in my heart that this is what I want, that this is what's right for me. We're starting to let terminal AIDS patients and cancer patients end their lives with dignity -- why not me?
And know this, also -- you are a gifted and amazing psychiatrist, Kim. You have always dazzled me with your insight, your dedication, your empathy -- I have admired you more than I can say.
I have also treasured your friendship more than you can possibly know and my only regret in leaving this world is that you might think you failed me.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Move forward Kim and never lose sight of that part of you that is magical and divine and that can channel healing to those poor souls who need it so badly.
And let Kerry take care of you from time to time, because I'm sorry to tell you Kim, you're human, just like the rest of us.
I will be forever in your debt, my dear, dear friend.
All my love,
Kim sighed deeply as she folded the pages up and slid them back into the envelope. Why did she need to keep reading it like this? Did she expect it to say something different one of these times? Was there some answer that would finally satisfy her hidden in between the neat lines of blue ink? Kim shook her head at herself and slipped the letter back into the drawer.
God, she missed her.
Her pager trilled and she glanced down at its tiny screen.
She grabbed her clipboard.
The ER was a little bit of a tomb, Kim thought as she made her way past the exam rooms to the admit desk. No trauma, only two people in exam rooms and nobody in curtains. Wow. This was too good to last.
Randi was at the desk, furiously chewing her gum and studying what looked like the sports section.
"Hi, Randi," Kim said. "Somebody paged me?"
Randi lowered the paper. "Oh, hi, Dr. Legaspi, yeah, that would be me."
Kim raised an eyebrow. "You?"
Randi nodded. "Yeah. Me."
Kim looked blankly at her.
Randi cocked a hand on her hip. "Well, it's a slow day, okay?"
Kim chuckled. "Okay. So what do you need me for?"
"Well, I heard through the grapevine -- well, from Frank, really, that you have this killer system for the ER football pool. He says your system is paying off big time and he said that it would be right up my alley." She watched Kim expectantly.
"He did, did he?" Kim said. "Well, it's not a really complicated system. I supposed I could let you in on it."
Randi nearly squealed with excitement, then she froze. "I don't have to know anything about football, do I? 'Cause I don't."
"Don't have to know a thing."
"Okay, so what do I do?" she asked, grabbing a pen and the sports page.
"Step one," Kim said. "Take all the pairs of teams that are playing this weekend and find out what colour their uniforms are."
Randi snapped her gum. "This doesn't sound very scientific."
"I didn't say it was scientific," Kim said. "But I will tell you that I bought a DVD player with the money from the pool I won two weeks ago."
Randi's eyes widened. "Okay. Get colours. Then what?"
"Then come find me, I'll show you the next step."
Randi nodded. "You got it." She scurried off after Malucci. "Hey, Dave, come here, I need to ask you a sports question."
Kim chuckled to herself and watched her charge after Malucci, then spotted Kerry rubbing something off the board.
"Dr. Weaver," she called in a friendly tone.
Kerry turned and spotted her at the desk. Her smile radiated. "Dr. Legaspi," she said, crutching her way over to see her. "Did somebody page you?" Kerry asked, looking around for a potential psych consult.
"Well, actually, Randi did, but that was on a matter unrelated to psychiatry," Kim said.
One of Kerry's eyebrows spiked. "Yeah, okay, this sounds like something you better not tell me."
"Agreed," Kim said, "but since I have you here "
"I was thinking about the fact that we aren't really getting much of a holiday this weekend."
Kerry nodded. "I guess we're not, are we?"
"But I happened to notice that we're both off Thursday, Friday and Saturday next week."
"And?" Kerry was starting to smile.
"And I was wondering if maybe you would make reservations at that lodge you took me to last month. Maybe get some champagne and spend some time in bed and well, just maybe recreate the whole experience."
Kerry's beamed at her. "I would love to do that. I'll call today."
Kim reached over and gave Kerry's arm a quick squeeze. "Thanks."
"What brought this to mind?" Kerry asked, shifting her crutch.
Kim thought for a moment, then shrugged. "I guess I'm just feeling a little needy."
Kerry smiled and said nothing.
"I gotta go," Kim said. "I'm up to my ass in chart reviews."
Kerry nodded. "We still on for supper?" she said as Kim turned to walk away.
"Wild horses couldn't keep me from it," Kim said over her shoulder.
Kerry watched her walk down the hall, the stark fluorescent lights making her golden hair shine and glow as she passed under each one. She remembered suddenly how Kim had said that she was never going to run away from her again and Kerry had known the moment that she'd said it that it was truth. That no matter what happened, no matter what foul winds came and blew her off course, she knew that Kim would always come home.
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