Common Ground

AUTHOR: Michelle W.
SPOILERS: Season 6, After the scene where Mark talks to Carter in “Such Sweet Sorrow.”
DISCLAIMER: Written for enjoyment of ER fans.
SUMMARY: Whether it's a "chance" meeting or a Godsend, readers won't be able to deny that Dr. Carter and a runaway teen, Nathan, have some "common ground."

Mark left the room and Carter was alone again with his thoughts. He shoved the referral list in his pocket. He suddenly recalled DeRaad, asking him to come back and talk to him. At least DeRaad didn’t make a flippant remark about reading “the annals” to put oneself to sleep. Carter’s heart was still aching from what happened with the patient with the sulfa allergy. Chances are sleep would be pretty difficult tonight, too. “Maybe I should have asked Deb to look after one of them,” he kept thinking to himself. Deb, or Jing Mei, whoever she was. She knew he was troubled. The others, well, could be convinced there was really no problem. Deb saw through the front. Carter sighed. He didn’t care what Deb knew. No, she could not convince the others. No one else needed to know. “There’s nothing anyone can do!” Carter mumbled aloud.

He felt frozen. Not cold. Paralyzed. Almost absent from this place. Kerry would be asking for him before too long. Just relax, he told himself. Dave came in with the obvious announcement – and a surprise.

“Hi. Kerry, uh, asked me to come find you. You should probably be aware that Carol’s gone – she took a plane out to Seattle. John?”


“Did you hear anything I just said?”

“I just need a few more minutes. I’m coming.”

Then Dave was gone. Just like that. No, there was no way Kerry would accept this. She would see the fear. It had come too close to the surface. Carter got up and went to his locker, grabbing his coat and knapsack.

“Gotta go – gotta get out of here!”

He scribbled a note and brought it to the admit desk. Kerry was nowhere in sight. “I am needed at home. I will be back to make up the time,” was the text of the note he handed to the clerk.

At the El station, walking to the waiting area, Carter passed a young man smoking. He stood about 5-foot-9 and was wearing a black leather coat, dark green khaki pants and a Bulls cap. He looked like he could still be a teenager. Carter wouldn’t have bothered to notice, except that their eyes met briefly. He didn’t recognize the boy, but the expression in his eyes looked familiar. When Carter boarded his train, the boy stayed behind.

“Gee, I thought I was depressed.” Nathan thought to himself as he watched a man, probably at least 12 years older, board the El. Their eyes had met briefly as the man had passed by. During that moment, Nathan sensed that the man was more than just tired. Oh, he definitely knew what that felt like. Nathan was honest with himself. He was still reeling, his soul still raw from dealing with Jeffrey’s death. Jeffrey had been his best friend since sixth grade. Everyone encouraged Nathan to dwell on the good memories and to move on, to look out for himself. But those kinds of comments stung. If the situation were reversed, Jeffrey would have never focused on “looking out for himself.”

Meanwhile, Millicent Carter saw her grandson return home. “Hello John, I didn’t think I’d see you this early in the evening. We’re just about to go out to dinner. Would you like to come?”

“Gamma that’s really sweet of you, but I think I’ll pass. I’m pretty beat.”

“Are you sure it’s good for you to be alone so much? Is there someone you can invite over?”

“I’m not seeing anyone.”

Gamma crossed her arms in exasperation. “Who said anything about a woman?! I mean, any of your friends are welcome here.”

“Okay Gamma. Thanks.” Man, I need a cigarette now, he thought. He flipped on the television to scan the channels. “A Chicago parent issues a desparate plea to her estranged son,” said a newscaster on Channel 8. Then the boy’s mother appeared to issue her statement. “Nathan will be 16 in two weeks. I know he thinks he has nowhere to turn. I want him to know his family cares. Come home, son. Anyone who has seen him, please help.” Carter’s jaw dropped in surprise when he saw the image of the boy’s school picture displayed across the screen. After hearing the description of the boy, he was almost sure it was the boy he had seen at the El Station. Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that their paths had crossed. Maybe there was something he could do. After all, Gamma was right. He shouldn’t be alone so much. He didn’t think anything good would come out of his being home alone that night, either. He went upstairs to change into something warmer before heading out. The spring evening had started to turn chilly.

Jing Mei Chen hadn’t seen Carter for hours. When she asked Dave if he had seen him, he just shrugged.

“I thought I did,” he muttered. “I’m not sure it was really him.”

She found Kerry as she was exiting one of the exam rooms.

Chen asked her straight out. “Did Carter go home?”

“Yeah, he said something about making up the time later. I really wished he would have told me in person. He just left a note.”

“Can I see it?”

“It doesn’t say much.”

Chen decided she would try to explain herself a little more. “It’s just, I’m worried about him. Mark said he would talk to him, but I don’t know how that went.”

Kerry fished the note out of her pocket.

Chen sighed as she read it. “This just doesn’t make any sense.”

Noticing Kerry’s puzzled expression, Chen added, “He lied to me. He told me his patient had hives; but I think he was lying. Something else happened.”

“Is the patient okay?” Kerry inquired.

“Yes, Oh Kerry, I’m sorry – I’m just thinking out loud. I just think he could be lying in the note, too.”

“You don’t think he went home?”

“Well, that part’s probably true.”

“Why don’t you call and check? Then if you don’t reach him, you can come talk to me.” In truth, Kerry didn’t understand why Dr. Chen was making such a big deal out of the situation. She was especially surprised to hear her accuse Carter of lying.

Nathan hadn’t boarded the El yet. He wasn’t sure where he wanted to go. “Hurry up and decide,” he encouraged himself. Angie, his ex-girlfriend, had been paging him for the past 2 hours. He supposed he better go find a phone in the part of town he already knew. Still, he had to watch out for the cops. They could be looking for him.

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