Fifty or Sixty Years
Night: Brothers and Sisters
Remains of the Day
Carter got in his Jeep and drove towards Abby’s. On the way, he noticed a flower shop that was still open. He pulled into the parking lot and went inside. The lady at the counter asked, “Can I help you?”
“You wouldn’t happen to have any dried flowers, would you?”
“Wouldn’t you prefer fresh ones?”
“No, my friend likes them dried.”
“Well, I may have some, in the back. Not many people want those anymore.”
“Yeah, well, she’s different.”
The lady went to the back and returned with a small bouquet. “I’m afraid this is all I have. There’s a couple of silk ones mixed in.”
“No, this is fine,” he said as he handed her his credit card.
* * * * * *
Carter parked his Jeep and entered the building just as someone was leaving. Taking the stairs up to Abby’s apartment, he knocked on the door. He was not surprised to find Luka there. Nor was he surprised to find Abby standing with a beer in her hand . . . disappointed but not surprised. He suspected it but had not had any proof. He had not known how to ask her about it . . . not directly. Abby had been his sponsor. Six years she had been sober and now . . . maybe it was impossible to recover from an addiction.
‘I’m getting there, Carter.’
‘I can see that. Welcome home.’
He had turned and stalked off. He was angry . . . angry that she failed . . . angry that her failure reminded him of how easy it would be for him to fail. He had strictly followed his doctor’s orders concerning his medication this time. What if he got hooked again? What if Dr. Meien and Peter were wrong? What if Susan was wrong? He thought he had his life under control. What if he didn’t? Maybe he was fooling himself to think his life could ever be anything close to normal. The past few weeks . . . the past few months with Susan had given him hope . . . hope that he could have a family . . . a real family of his own. Perhaps he was foolish for even considering a life with Susan . . . with anyone. Susan deserved someone she could depend on . . . someone who was not going to screw up her life. Whatever happened with her and the cowboy, Susan had been badly hurt. Carter did not want to add to that. She was being so patient and understanding over this whole thing with Lucy. He absolutely could not complicate her life anymore than he already had.
He pulled the Jeep into the garage and went upstairs. Thankfully, Gamma was already asleep and Dad was not home waiting for him as he had expected. His back was really starting to bother him. He had been up longer than he should have today and he was scheduled for a full shift tomorrow. He should not have let Kerry talk him into that. He undressed and went into the bathroom. The bottle of morphine was sitting on the counter. His doctor had ordered it. He was tempted. No, he would try a hot bath first. He turned on the water and went back to his room. He picked up his cell to call Susan. Walking back into the bathroom, he laid the phone on the counter. She needed her sleep. He turned on the Jacuzzi and lowered himself into the water. Leaning his head back against the tub, he closed his eyes. Tomorrow he would schedule another appointment with Katz. His phone rang. He grabbed his towel to dry his hands and reached for it.
“Hey, Carter. Are you busy?”
“No, just relaxing in the tub.”
“Yeah, me too.” Silently she thought I wish we were together. “I hope you don’t mind me calling.”
“Did you go see Abby?”
His voice sounded flat as he said, “I saw her.”
“And . . .”
“Luka was there. He was installing new locks. They were having pizza and beer.”
“Was she okay about me not coming over?”
“Susan, I’m sorry. I forgot to even mention it.”
“But that’s the main reason you dropped by.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” Carter wanted to tell her about Abby but then he knew he shouldn’t. After all, there was a reason they called it Alcoholics Anonymous. “I felt like I was intruding. I didn’t stay that long. Actually, I never went in. I saw her and Luka having pizza and I just said, ‘welcome home,’ and left.”
“Oh, well, that’s okay. I’ll talk to her tomorrow.” There was something strange about his tone of voice, “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine. Just tired.”
“Yeah, me too. I really just called to say goodnight. I . . . I miss you.”
“I miss you, too.” Maybe it was unfair to tell her that but it was the truth. Carter had grown accustomed to having her around.
There was an awkward silence between them. “Well, I guess I’d better hang up. We both need some rest. By the way, how’s your back?”
“Carter. I know you’re lying. I saw you limping away from the El. Have you taken anything for the pain?”
“Not yet. It’s to early for Advil and I was trying to avoid the morphine.”
“Carter, that’s what got you into trouble before. You push too hard and . . .”
“All right. Susan, I just don’t want to have to go through this again.”
“Carter, Dr. Meien specifically said you should take the morphine at bedtime for at least a week after you started back to work. You need your rest and you can’t sleep if you’re in pain. If you don’t get enough rest your body doesn’t heal as quickly. You’re already pushing by starting back to work this soon.”
“All right. All right. You sound like, my . . .” the logical noun would be mother only Carter could never remember his mother sounding that concerned. “Like my high school coach,” he finished lamely. “I’m getting out of the tub and taking it right now.” He stood and wrapped a towel around himself and reached for a glass. Taking one tablet from the bottle he swallowed it. “There. Are you happy now?”
“John, I’m only doing this because I care. You became physically dependent, not psychologically. There is a difference.”
“Is there?” he asked as he sank back into the water.
“Carter, you’ve read the research.”
“I know. I’m just scared. What if . . . what if I have a relapse? What if I can’t stop taking this stuff? What if I’m already hooked again?”
“John, are you taking the prescribed dosage?”
“And you’re writing it down?”
“And you’re staying on the anti-inflammatories?”
“Carter, we’re going to get you through this. You are going to be okay.”
“That’s what you keep telling me.”
There was something about the way she pronounced his name . . . the way she dragged out the last syllable. He knew she cared but could not quite put her feelings into words. He had no words to describe his feelings right now, either. “Susan, I’m glad you called. I really do miss you.”
“I know. This time I’m really hanging up. We both need some sleep. See you at work tomorrow. And John . . .” she paused waiting for a response.
Softly she said, “I love you.”
He smiled. Did she have any idea how much he needed to believe that? “I love you too.”
* * * * * *
Susan hung up the phone and got ready for bed. The day had been more stressful than any day in a long time. There were so many emotions running through her mind. She put on some soft music and climbed into bed. Tomorrow was another day. Tomorrow things would look different.
* * * * * *Carter dressed for bed and sat for awhile writing in his journal. His mind was reeling from the day’s events; his thoughts were jumbled. He missed Susan; he missed Lucy. Thoughts about the patients that he had treated today kept running through his head. He could not stop thinking about Kynesha and how unfair life could be. Why was she dying when the two drug addicts who started the fire were going to live? He thought again of Abby and how she was drinking. He wanted to talk to her but, given that he was currently taking morphine . . . even if it was a prescription, did he have the right? He glanced at what he had written . . . all questions . . . rambling questions with no answers. He closed his eyes. He recalled his last visit with Dr. Katz. If there was a God, if there were angels, he could sure use some assistance right now. He had taken the morphine on an empty stomach and in a short time he began to feel the effects. He turned out the light and drifted into a dreamless sleep.
Morning of Brothers and Sisters and Following
Long Winding Road
Susan had just gotten home from work when the phone rang. It was Joe. Chloe had finally done it; she had tried to get high one too many times. She was gone. Suzie, what would happen to Suzie? Was Joe going to want her? She hung up the phone and stood looking out at the garden. She was numb. She knew there should be tears but she was numb.
She heard him walk into the room. ‘Susan, I heard you talking on the phone. Are you okay?’
She continued to stare out at the roses as she said, ‘It’s Chloe. She took too much this time. I have to go . . . for the funeral.’ He put his arms around her and she turned and buried her face in his chest.
‘What about Suzie? Is she okay?’ he asked.
‘Suzie’s with Joe for now but I don’t know if he wants to keep her
* * * * * *
Susan awoke with a start. Her heart was racing. It was only a dream. She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. Chloe was fine. She and Joe were happy. Susan had talked to her just last week. Suzie liked her new school and she was making new friend.
Susan glanced at the clock. Her alarm would go off in fifteen minutes. She closed her eyes. Chloe was happy. The dream was just a result of her own insecurities . . . clearly a reaction to the events of yesterday. She and Carter would get through this. This time, everything was going to work out. In a short time she would be sitting with him enjoying a cup of coffee.
* * * * * *
Carter awoke feeling rested. He had a long day in front of him but he felt confident he that could work things out. He was not going to let Paul Sobriki’s illness wreck his life. He’d had surgery and was following the doctor’s orders. The pain down his leg was much improved. No angels had made an appearance last night. Nonetheless, Carter had awakened with a renewed sense of optimism. He missed Lucy and he missed Susan. Maybe it was possible to love two women. Mark apparently did.
He wondered how Mark was doing. It was great that he and Rachel were having this time together. Yet, Carter did not understand why Elizabeth had not gone with him. Carter was glad he had stopped by to see Mark before he left. He and Mark had a good visit and it had given Carter a chance to thank him . . . for everything. Mark had even told him that he was glad that Carter and Susan were together. Carter wished he could do something to repay Mark for being his friend and mentor . . . for being his hero. More than anything, he wished that he could do something about Mark’s condition. Even if it meant losing Susan, he would rather see Mark recover. Well, he had enough problems of his own to solve without worrying about Mark’s. Carter had no power to change the situation; he had no miracles in his pocket. All he could do was try to keep the promises he had made to Mark.
As Carter signed in that morning, he shoved all thoughts of his personal life aside. He would have enough to deal with trying to supervise Gallant and Pratt. Pratt was going to be a problem; he could just feel it. There was something about the man’s attitude that grated on Carter. He was overconfident in his abilities. How much longer was he going to be at County? However long it was, it was too long as far as Carter was concerned.
Post Brothers and Sisters
Carter signed out his charts and looked at his watch. What was supposed to be a twelve- hour shift had turned into eighteen. He arched his back and walked to the lounge. All he could think about was getting home to call Susan. That thought startled him. Yesterday he had been mourning for Lucy and all day. Today, his thoughts had centered on Susan. Susan always tried to put a positive spin on everything and he had tried to do the same for her. Yet, the unspoken fear between them was that Suzie’s call meant Chloe was back on drugs. That thought only made him more concerned for Abby. He had tried to talk to Luka but Luka either did not want to see or did not care what Abby was doing to herself. He found it hard to believe that they had been together for over a year and Abby had never told him about her alcoholism.
He signed out and said his good-byes to everyone at the desk. Unfortunately, he would be back all to soon. As hard as he had tried to locate another doctor to cover for Susan the next two days, he had not been totally successful. He got in his Jeep and adjusted the seat to what he hoped was a more comfortable position. As much as he liked the Jeep, he found the seats in the Explorer more comfortable. A phone call to Peter earlier in the day had resulted in a new prescription, this one for Lodine EX. It was time for another dose but he needed to eat first. He had also gotten the standard lecture about not returning to work too soon, working shorter hours and getting more rest. How many times had he delivered that one to his own patients?
Once on the road, Carter’s mind wondered back to the day’s events. When talking to Luka had proved unfruitful, he tried talking to Abby. That had accomplished nothing either. As she so sweetly pointed out, she wasn’t shooting up; she had a beer. Her implication was clear; her addiction was not as bad as his. He knew how easy it was to fall into a trap . . .to think you had everything under control when you did not. He knew the kind of nightmares that came after an attack. Probably, that was when she started drinking again. Here he was talking to Abby when he felt like he was playing with fire.
Yes, he had read the research . . . from Sloan-Kettering, from Dartmouth, from Massachusetts General, and from TIRR. He had even studied Dr. Karen Sees’ research on administration of narcotics to control pain in known addicts. She advocated that abstinence was not the most appropriate course of treatment. But what if they were all wrong? Everyone he knew with an addiction could not stay clean. Why did he, or anyone else, think he was the exception?
He was worried about himself. He was worried about Abby. Six years . . . why had Luka not listened to him? Abby told Carter that he did not need to worry about her but somebody should worry. Then she said things were too complicated between them. God, he could not handle trying to sort out his feelings towards another woman. Maybe she was right. He had said he did not want to be her friend. He should leave it alone. He could not just be a friend to Abby. She was going to want more. He could not give her that. Things were complicated enough with Susan as it was.
He stopped for a traffic light. He would love to talk with Lucy about now . . . let her help him sort out his problems. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel; the light seemed to take forever. This day had been way to long and the incident with Pratt and Gallant had not helped. Carter liked Gallant. He had probably been too hard on him. He could understand the guy’s dilemma. At least Gallant had the courage to call him on it . . . to tell Carter not to confuse he and Pratt. However, the conversation with Romano had not gone as bad as he expected. Finally, the light turned green.
Two more traffic lights and a long, winding road towards home. Actually, the conversation with Romano had yielded some surprises. He tried to recall their exact conversation:
“You know, Dr. Carter, you have a lot of potential and I want to keep you at County. But between the illicit affairs and the stupidity of your students, I’m going to have to devise some sort of punishment. If the press gets a hold of this after yesterday’s revelation, they’ll eat us both alive.”* * * * * *
Carter stood in silence as Romano continued his ranting. If his years at County had taught him nothing else, he had learned rule number one was to be quiet until your superiors had completed their harangue. “I realize you probably came back to work too early. While I appreciate your dedication, I want you to take the time you need to complete your project. If you need a few more days . . .”
Carter interrupted; he was willing to take responsibility for his actions. “Dr. Romano, I can’t blame this incident on my recent injury or even on my personal life. I was with another patient. I know Pratt can be a problem and I should have been watching him more closely. I’ve spoken with Gallant and Pratt. I don’t think I’ll have any more problems with Gallant but I will have to pay more attention to Pratt. Fortunately, his rotation at County is almost over.”
“All right. There’s still the matter of what to do about your past indiscretion. I’ve been thinking that maybe you should pull a few extra shifts, not right away, of course. I want you completely recovered from your recent injury. However, sometime in the near future . . .”
“Anything is fine.”
“I’m not finished yet!” Shut up Carter; remember rule number one. Romano continued. “County General spent a large amount of time and money training you to be a surgeon but you opted to switch specialties. It seems a damn shame to let that knowledge and skill go to waste. Not to mention that covering ER takes away valuable time . . . time our surgeons could use more efficiently.” Carter realized Romano hated covering the ER but he had not anticipated Dr. Romano’s proposed solution to the problem. “I’ve been working on a new protocol for training ER docs. I think you could be my prototype.”
Carter stood quietly listening, having no idea where Romano was going with this speech. Prototype, it sounded like he was talking about a piece of machinery . . . a robot not a person. Carter tried to concentrate. “Carter, I know Peter Benton, and to some extent, Elizabeth Corday, have allowed you to assist with surgical procedures in ER and I know you’re good. I also realize that, most of the time, their surgical consult was merely a rubber stamp on your diagnosis. I’m also aware of the many times you started procedures before Benton arrived. However, legally you’re not certified as a surgeon, which means you cannot operate unsupervised. And while I trust you, I am tired of listening to Dale’s litany of complaints. Edson’s a fine surgeon but he’s arrogant and he has a heart of stone. Both attributes are typical of successful surgeons, I suppose. I don’t know . . . maybe that’s why you never really fit in up here. You’re not arrogant enough and, for whatever reason, you actually seem to care about your patients.”
Carter had tried to focus on what Romano was saying but now, he seemed to be rambling. Yes, Carter did care but no one had ever accused him of not being arrogant enough. What was it Romano had said next? “Edson’s only interest is in racking up enough procedures to start a private practice and make big bucks. You, however, appear to have a different agenda. I can’t change Edson so maybe I can fix you.”
Carter wanted to ask how he was broken but, in view of what a mess his life was at present, the question seemed ludicrous. Besides, Dr. Romano appeared in no mood for sarcasm. He gave Romano what he hoped was and interested expression.
Romano continued his diatribe. “Anyway, my proposal is this. You take extra shifts for the next two years or so. The time you’ve already spent doing procedures under Benton should count for something, I suppose. Cover the ER two or three times a week as a trauma resident. If you get something in that requires surgery, whether you’re working as an attending or a resident, I’ll be on call, or Donald will, to supervise you. Under no circumstances are you to operate without supervision. Then, assuming you pass the written part of your boards, you can become certified as a surgeon. All that time and money spent training you will finally pay off and I won’t have to keep listening to Dale Edson whine about you doing procedures for which he considers you unqualified. My hope is that by the time you’re taking over my position, we will have convinced County, and the universities we service, to add at two year trauma surgical rotation to the requirements for ER doctors in level one trauma centers. It will probably take from now till you become Chief of Staff to convince the good ol’ boy network it needs to change. Of course, if you’re the prototype we might be able to push it through sooner providing CFF delivers the funding.”
Carter shook his head. “I’m sorry, Dr. Romano but I don’t think I’m following all of this.”
“What are you not following? I want you to become a board certified trauma surgeon to prove how beneficial surgical skills are to ER docs! By the time you are taking over my position, I hope to make the two year surgical rotation a mandatory part of becoming an emergency physician in a trauma center. How is that difficult to understand?”
Carter swallowed, “I think it’s the part about me taking over your position, sir. I’m not even an attending, let alone a department head. I’m not the most likely candidate to succeed you.”
“I’m well aware of your status, Dr. Carter. I’ve already given Dr. Weaver a deadline for making you an attending. I’m not sure it will come with an appropriate increase in pay but I understand that has seldom been a problem.”
“Uh, no sir. My salary’s not an issue.”
“Good, we understand each other. How is your project coming by the way?”
“I’ve got quite a few more charts to review but there is definitely a pattern developing. However, I doubt that this will be concluded for several months.”
“I’ll call you next week and set up something.”
Carter stared at the garage door in front of him. He had been so engrossed in reliving his conversation, he hadn’t noticed the last fifteen minutes of his drive home. He pulled his Jeep into the garage and inspected the front bumper. There were no dents or blood. Apparently, he’d had a safe trip. He picked up his bag and went to the kitchen. Corrine had probably left something on the top shelf. He fixed himself a tray and picked up the portable phone from the hall. Then, he went upstairs to eat and call Susan.
Early Friday Morning; Post Brothers and Sisters
Caring for the Ones You Love
Carter looked at his watch. Six-thirty, he had a shift at seven. He still had time to make a couple of calls before he signed in. He really wanted to be with Susan in New York. She sounded so exhausted and distraught when he talked to her late last night. They both knew there was no way Kerry was going to let him off to be with her. With Mark and Susan gone, the E R was really short-staffed. Now, Elizabeth had gone to Hawaii to be with Mark. That left ER with no permanent trauma surgeons again. In light of that, Romano’s idea did make sense. He checked the schedule. Pratt was off. There is a God. At least Carter could concentrate on treating patients and not on supervising Pratt.
It was morning and Susan had been up all night. She was standing leaning against the rail, looking out over the water. She felt so alone, so helpless. Her sister was stable but her niece, her beloved Suzie was missing. So far the police had no clues. She was exhausted but she could not have slept, even if she had checked into a hotel like she had promised Carter. She had no idea where to go or what to do next. Carter had called her late last night when he got off. She wished he was here with her now but he was covering her shift this morning. Besides, his back was barely well from his recent surgery. Working was difficult enough. He did not need to be trying to squeeze in a trip to New York. If he had some time off, he needed to rest. Pushing too hard had gotten him in trouble before. She had talked with Officer Yokus again. She and Officer Boscorelli had worked overtime trying to find Suzie. Her cell phone rang.
“Carter.” God, it was good to hear his voice.
“Have they found her?”
“No. Chloe’s stable and the detectives want to talk to her but she’s so strung out on drugs that she’s not going to be any help.”
“Are you sure Suzie was with her? Maybe she’s with Chloe’s husband.”
“Chloe was very definite that Suzie had been with her. As a matter of fact, she didn’t even know Suzie was gone. She just kept saying that he broke her heart. Besides, we found Suzie’s things in the dump of a hotel room where they’d been staying. Oh Carter, none of this makes any sense and I’m so worried. Suzie’s only six years old and the longer she is missing, the less chance they have of finding her.”
“Are the police cooperating?”
“They didn’t seem to be at first but they are now. They’re looking for her stepfather in New Jersey. The officers assigned to the case are working overtime but this is a big city and they don’t have much to go on.”
“Susan, where are you staying? Did you get any sleep last night?”
“Uh, I’m headed back to the hospital right now.”
“Susan, you didn’t sleep at all did you?”
She didn’t want to admit it but Carter knew her too well. “Truthfully, no.”
“Did you even check into a hotel?” All Carter heard was silence and then a heavy sigh. He knew the answer. He also knew it would do no good to lecture her. In that respect, he and Susan were too much alike. If there were a crisis, they would push themselves to the limit. “Susan, where can I reach you if your cell phone dies?”
“Call Precinct 55. They’ll know where I am.”
“I’ll call you back as soon as I can. Susan,” he paused. “I love you.”
“I love you too, John.” Susan was not sure that Carter was telling the truth when he had said he loved her but right now it was what she needed to hear. If it were a lie . . . well, she would deal with that later. Right now, she needed to believe John Carter loved her and that he would be there for her to lean on.
* * * * * *
As soon as he hung up, he called his travel agent. “Katy, John Carter. I hate to call so early but I need a round trip ticket to New York today.”
“No problem, Dr. Carter. How soon do you want to leave and when do you want to return?”
“As close to noon as possible and preferably from Midway. I’m on duty until twelve. I have to be back for a shift at midnight.”
“Quick trip. I’ll get right on it. Is the card number I have on file okay?”
“Fine. You’ve got my cell number.”
* * * * * *
Glancing again at the time as he ended the conversation, Carter made one more call. “Dad.”
“John, it’s good to hear from you. I wanted to talk to you about the fellowship announcement. Can we meet for lunch?”
Carter had been so concerned about Susan that his conversation with the reporters had escaped his mind. No doubt that was what Dad wanted to discuss.
“Sorry, Dad. I know we need to talk but I have more pressing problems at the moment. I’m flying to New York for the day and I was wondering if I could use the townhouse for a few hours. I called you because Mom’s in Europe and I really don’t know how to get in touch with her.”
“Of course, I’ll call and let Theresa know you’re coming. A few hours, you said. That’s a quick trip, isn’t it son?” Jack Carter wondered what was going on in his son’s life now. The more time he spent with John, the more Jack realized how little he knew about him.
“Well, I’m just flying in to be with Susan, Susan Lewis. You met her over the holidays.”
“Yes, I remember. Your doctor friend? The one who’s been staying with you since your surgery.” Carter scratched his neck. Of course Dad knew Susan. She had been at the hospital and the house when Dad stopped by to see him after his surgery. Carter poured himself a cup of coffee as he talked. He needed to get more sleep.
“Yes. Anyway, her niece is missing and she is understandably upset. She flew to New York yesterday.”
Remembering his previous conversation with his mother, Jack replied, “I’m sorry to hear that; what about the girl’s parents? How old is she?”
“Six. Suzie’s one of the first babies I helped deliver. Her stepfather is missing and her mom’s a . . .” Carter wondered what his dad would think as he hesitantly finished his sentence. “ Her mom’s a . . . a drug addict. Susan’s really worried. The police don’t have much information.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
Surprised to get no reaction from his dad about Chloe’s drug addiction, Carter replied, “I don’t think so.”
“John, tell Susan she can stay at the house as long as she needs and that I’ll have a driver at her disposal. I’ll send my driver to pick you up in New York. Which airport?”
“I’m not sure yet. Katy’s making the reservations and calling me back. Look, Dad, I’ve got to go. I’m on in five minutes. Don’t worry, I’ll take a cab.”
“Nonsense, that’s why I pay the man. Katy Wisher?”
“Fine. I’ll have my secretary coordinate with Katy and make all the arrangements. Keep in touch.”
“Thanks. And Dad, about the announcement on Wednesday, I’m sorry if I embarrassed you and the family.”
“John,” he paused, “I think you handled the situation as well as you could under the circumstances. Don’t worry about it. We can talk later. Right now, you’d better focus on Susan. It sounds like she needs you.”
* * * * * *
Carter had finished his calls and was putting his things in his locker, when Dr. Weaver walked in. They had called a truce since their last confrontation.
“Carter, you’re here early.”
“I’m covering half of Susan’s shift.”
“Have you heard from her?”
“Early this morning. They found Chloe but not Suzie.”
“I see. Well, I’m glad you’re here. I needed to talk to you. What happened yesterday?”
Wary of Weaver’s intentions, he asked, “About what?”
“With Pratt and Gallant . . . cracking that patient’s chest . . . Romano said it was a mess.”
“He’s right; it was. I spoke with him about it and I talked to Gallant and Pratt.”
“And . . .”
“The patient was intubated, Pratt was setting up the vent, and the patient was stable when I left to check on another patient. Abby was with them but, apparently, she left after I did. She’s been a little off her game lately. Mr. Stanley arrested and one of them should have come to get me. In fact, Gallant started to and he yelled for Abby but when Pratt cracked the patient’s chest, he didn’t know what to do.”
“You mean he didn’t know the procedure. Carter, he’s third year; he’s not expected to know that yet!”
Carter knew Weaver really liked Gallant and with good reason. He followed directions and he was a good student. “No, I mean, he didn’t know whether to stay and assist Pratt or go for help. He opted to stay. It was Pratt who didn’t know the procedure.” Carter was drained; he had spent the better part of eighteen hours yesterday trying to deal with Pratt. He got off around midnight and then spent an hour on the phone with Susan. He knew he wasn’t getting the rest his doctors had ordered but what else could he do? Wearily he added, “Kerry, he had directions laying on the patient’s chest and didn’t even know the names of the clamps. We’re really going to have to watch him. He’s going to be more trouble than Malluchi.”
“Well, we only have him for three months.”
“Yeah, well, it’s going to be a long three months.”
“You said Abby was off her game. What do you mean, exactly?”
Carter did not want to betray Abby but neither did he want to endanger patients. On the other hand, this was his fault more than hers. It was his responsibility to supervise junior residents and students. Abby had said it was only one beer. Carter doubted that but he did not have proof. Cautiously he replied, “She seemed a little slow, like maybe she didn’t get enough rest. Nothing major, that I know of.”
“Okay, well, I’ll keep an eye on her. Let me know if you think it’s a real problem. You look a little tired yourself.”
“Yeah well, I’m only on till noon.” He did not bother to add that he was flying to New York as soon as his shift was over and would be returning in less than twelve hours. He would sleep on the plane.
* * * * * *
As Jack Carter concluded his conversation with his son, he phoned his secretary and began issuing orders. Marsha had worked for him for over ten years. She was accustomed to his early morning calls and he knew he could depend on her to complete whatever task he assigned . . . from purchasing gifts for John, to arranging corporate meetings. Jack noticed the hesitancy in John’s voice as he said the missing girl’s mother was a drug addict. He wished he knew how to let John know that he did not think of him that way . . . wished he had been there when his son had needed his help . . . wished he knew how to tell John how pleased he was with his recovery. Jack had deserted John when his brother died; not that he had ever been a model parent. His job required him to travel but, after Bobby died, he seemed to avoid Chicago as much a possible. He told himself he did it because of Eleanor. His first thought had been to convince her to come back. Yet, the longer he stayed away the easier it was to avoid facing the problem. Jack did not want to be reminded of his loss either.
Jack doubted that John realized it but he had always been the favorite grandchild. Whether by inheritance or because they practically raised him, John seemed to have acquired an equal number of endearing and cantankerous traits from both Jack’s parents. Even before Bobby died, the senior Carters had hoped John would take over the family business and there was a time when Jack had agreed with them. Yet, Jack respected his son for having the courage to plot his own course, something he had never had the mettle to do. John might have his mother’s dark hair and eyes but his personality was all Carter.
From the reports Jack received regularly from his friends on the hospital board, John was an excellent doctor. Despite his problem with drugs, everyone on the board fully expected John to be running County General someday. Anspaugh had been extremely upset when John switched from surgery to emergency medicine. He even called Jack to ask him to intervene. Jack had refused; saying that John had always followed his own path. Jack had no idea that John had agreed to take the position without pay. After the incident with Chase, Jack got another call from Donald. Jack knew his son well enough to know he was too hurt and angry to accept any money from the family, not to mention stubborn. No, stubborn did not exactly describe John . . . determined and tenacious that described John . . . characteristics John inherited from his grandmother, no doubt. So, Donald Anspaugh helped arrange for Jack to anonymously donate enough money to County General to pay John’s salary. It was not the amount John was accustomed to having but, at least, he had not starved. It must have been quite an adjustment going from an unlimited budget to living on $28,500 minus taxes. Though John’s salary had increased over the years, the amount was penury compared to what he could have had he chosen to live off his trust fund. Yet, not once did John complain or come to him for money. Once again, Jack found himself taking pride in John’s accomplishments.
Jack did not possess the fortitude to do what John found so easy . . . stand up to Truman and Millicent Carter. John had the nerve to tell them exactly what they could do with their money and the forbearance to live with the consequences of his actions. In doing that, John had earned something Jack had always longed for, their respect. Ultimately, John’s actions brought him closer to his grandparents. Jack could hear it in Dad’s voice the last time they talked. He saw it in his mother’s eyes whenever she looked at her grandson. It was so obvious that it was John she turned to at his father’s funeral. Only recently John had agreed to accept money from his trust again; even now the amount he spent was minimal. Jack admired his son’s decision to live life on his own terms. He only wished he knew how to let John know how he felt.
Jack knew how much John loved medicine; he had been willing to give up a fortune to pursue his career. Yet, two days ago, John put his career on the line when he admitted he had broken the rules and fallen in love with his student. Jack was never more proud of his son than the day the Knight Fellowship was announced. John had been in a difficult situation and had handled it very well. Lucy Knight must have been very special for John to risk so much after her death. No wonder he had had a problem with drugs. Not only had John come close to losing his own life, he had lost his child and the woman he loved. Jack knew how that felt. As always, John managed his problems all on his own. What choice had he had? No one in the family had ever been around to support John in a crisis.
Now it appeared, John had fallen in love again. Sighing, as he remembered the many times he had failed John, Jack picked up the phone and began making calls. It was not much but he would do what he could to help.
* * * * * *
As he signed in Friday morning, Bosco was called into the Captain’s office. “Bosco, I just got a call from the Chief and he just got a call from the Mayors - Guliani and Bloomberg. Where are we on finding that little girl, the doctor’s niece?”
“Basically, we’ve got almost nothing. We’ve been to the hotel room where she and her mother were staying. We’ve dusted for prints and are running them for any matches. So far, nothing. We’ve got people out now, rounding up the addicts in the area where we found the mom and we’re still looking for the missing husband. He’s a cop in New Jersey and no one in his precinct has any idea where the good officer disappeared. Why all the interest in this case from higher up?”
“It seems the boyfriend is John Truman Carter, III.”
“Carter as in Carter Enterprises.”
“Whose boyfriend? Mom’s? Chief, she’s an addict! Street scum.”
“Not mom’s, the aunt’s . . . the doctor from Chicago. Both mayors got a call from Jack, Jr. early this morning. J.T. Three is on his way in from Chicago and wants an update.”
“Great, that’s all we need. Dr. Lewis refuses to leave the station, she hasn’t slept since she arrived and she’s on the verge of hysteria. Now, we have a spoiled rich kid on his way to tell us how to do our job.”
“We’re trying, Boss, we’re trying. We want to find this kid too.”
“Look, Bosco, I don’t know what this guy is like but I do know that Jack, Jr. has been very generous with NYPD, even before Nine-Eleven.”
“And that should make a difference in how much we care?”
“No, every kid’s important. I’m just saying, be nice. This guy’s family is influential. That kind of trouble I don’t need.”
“Chief, I’m always nice.”
* * * * * *
Mid-morning, Chicago time, Carter took a short break and phoned Gamma. “Gamma, I talked to Susan again this morning. They still haven’t found Suzie. I’m flying to New York for a few hours to be with her. When she left yesterday, she didn’t take time to pack a bag. Could you and Alger get some things together? I don’t need much because I’m coming back tonight. I have a shift at midnight.”
“How long is Susan staying?”
“I don’t know. I guess until she finds Suzie. I called Dad; he said we could stay at the townhouse. I’ve got a patient so I have to go. My flight leaves at twelve forty-five. Have Alger drop my bag at the desk before noon.”
“John, take care of yourself and give Susan my love.”
“I will, Gamma. I promise.”
* * * * * *
The flight to New York was uneventful. Carter slept most of the way. The most difficult part of the trip was lying to the security people when they asked if he had packed his own bag. He knew he was not a good liar but for some reason, they believed him. Arriving in New York late in the afternoon, he wondered how he was supposed to recognize Dad’s driver. He had rushed so much all day, he had never thought about it. Carter was about to get in a cab, when a short, dark haired man approached him with a Carter Enterprises emblem on his jacket. “Dr. John Carter?”
The man smiled. He had a slight Italian accent when he spoke. “I’m Antonio. Your father said you wouldn’t be hard to recognize. He was right. You do look like a younger, shorter version of him. These your bags?”
While Antonio placed Carter’s bags in the trunk, Carter phoned Susan. “Susan?”
“Oh Carter. They found a little girl that they thought might be Suzie. She was at the morgue but it wasn’t. I feel so bad because I was so happy it was another little girl. I’m happy because another child is dead.” Susan was crying and talking so fast that he had trouble understanding her.
“Susan, Susan. Slow down . . . you’re babbling. Where are you now?”
“I’m at the precinct. Precinct 55.”
“Precinct 55.” Glancing at Antonio as he closed the door. “I’ll be there in a few minutes. Try to calm down, okay.”
“You’re in New York?”
“I just landed. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
* * * * * *
Bosco and Yokus were just exiting the station, when a limousine pulled up in front. Bosco, elbowed Yokus and said, “Hey, Faith. I’ll bet that’s our guy.”
“J.T. Three. Great,” he said unenthusiastically.
“Why is everyone telling me that?”
Carter exited the limousine then leaned his head in to talk to Antonio.
“Would you like me to wait, sir?”
“I’m really not sure how long I’ll be. Just circle and I’ll call you. No sense blocking traffic. I’m sure this place is just as busy as County’s ambulance bay.”
Bosco looked the man over. He was young, maybe thirty. At least six feet tall and had dark hair. He was wearing an expensive wool overcoat and a plaid wool scarf. The dark charcoal gray suit underneath was probably Armani. The wind caught his tie as he turned toward them, revealing a deep purple lining. Bosco had met Jack Carter once at a benefit for the victims of Nine-Eleven. The family resemblance was striking, same slender build, same slender nose. No doubt about it, this was the heir to the Carter family fortune. Bosco elbowed Faith and nodded.
“Excuse me. Are you John T. Carter, III?”
Carter was surprised when the police officer addressed him by name. “Yes, I am.”
“I’m Officer Yokus and this is my partner, Officer Boscorelli. We’re the officers in charge of Dr. Lewis’ missing niece. We got a phone call that you were coming.”
“From Dr. Lewis . . . I thought she was here?”
The man was clearly puzzled by her statement. “From the Chief of Police, who got a call from the Mayor, actually from both mayors.” explained Bosco.
Carter could hear the irritation in the officer’s voice. “But how? Oh, my father,” Carter replied answering his own question. “Sorry. I had no idea Dad would pull something like that.”
Sensing his embarrassment, Faith replied, “It’s no problem. If you go right inside to the desk and ask for the Captain, he’ll fill you in on our progress. We’re on our way to check out another lead.”
“Look, I’m sure you know your job. I mainly came to check on Susan . . . Dr. Lewis. She didn’t sound well over the phone.”
“She’s not. She has barely eaten and hasn’t slept at all since she arrived. She refuses to leave the station.”
Carter smiled faintly as he said, “And no doubt is hindering you from doing your job or, at least, getting on your nerves.” Carter scratched his neck. Bosco raised his eyebrows at Carter’s comment and nodded slightly as Carter continued, “I understand. We have the same problem in ER”
Bosco was surprised at this piece of information. He assumed the guy would not have an actual job. “You’re a doctor?”
“Hum um. Susan and I work together at County General. I can’t promise anything because Susan can be stubborn but I’ll try to get her to leave for a couple of hours.” Reaching in his pocket he pulled out a card and wrote on the back. “My cell phone’s the second number and this is the address and phone number of my parents’. That’s where we’ll be staying . . . assuming I can get Susan to leave.”
Carter nodded and proceeded inside the station. As Bosco and Yokus got in the car, Bosco said, ‘Gee! Did you see that guy’s silk tie? Polo . . . Ralph Lauren . . . Purple Label. His tie probably cost more than my last suit. And get a load of this address . . . Park Avenue.”
“Bosco, he seemed nice. The guy can’t help it if he was born rich.”
“He’s nice or he’s a really good actor.”
“Come on Bosco. We’ve been at this long enough to see through most lies. I think Dr. Carter is a really nice guy.”
“Faith, admit it. You’re just impressed by his good looks and dark eyes. May I remind you that you are a married woman.”
“Hey, I’m married, not dead. Okay? Just drive.”
* * * * * *
Carter entered the station and saw Susan sitting dejectedly on a bench sipping coffee. She looked up as he approached. “I can’t believe you came?”
He sat down on the bench and put his arm around her shoulders. “When I said I was available if you needed anything, that’s what I meant.” Susan leaned her head on his shoulder and he pressed his lips against her hair.
“The officers just left. They wouldn’t take me with them this time.”
“I know, I spoke to them.”
“How did you know who they were?”
“Actually, they recognized me. Dad called.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Long story, it’s not important. We need to get you somewhere so you can rest.”
“Carter, I can’t leave.”
“Susan, I gave the officers my card. They have your cell number, my cell number and the number of my parents’ townhouse, which is where I’m taking you. I’m not arguing about this. You’ve been awake for what . . . thirty-six hours? You need some rest.”
“Carter, I don’t know my way around New York very well. What if I can’t find a cab?”
“Susan, you’re tried and you’re not making sense. Besides, I have a limo and a driver out front. Dad has arranged for you to stay at the townhouse and have a driver for as long as you need.”
“You’re mother’s going to love that.”
“My mother is in Europe, indefinitely.”
“But what if they find Suzie?”
“When they find Suzie, they’ll call. Suzie’s going to need her aunt. You can’t take care of her if you don’t get some sleep.”
The police captain had been watching and had overheard enough of the conversation to know that the young man must be Jack Carter’s son. Obviously, he was encouraging Dr. Lewis to get some badly needed rest. Identifying that body had taken a toll on her. He stepped over and introduced himself. Carter stood and shook the man’s hand. Then the captain said, “Dr. Lewis, I promise the minute we hear anything, anything at all, we’ll call. But your friend is right, you do need some rest.” Carter gave the captain the necessary phone numbers and phoned Antonio.
As soon as they were settled in the limousine, Susan burst into tears. “Carter, it was awful. I’ve seen lots of kids die but this little girl . . . she’d been dead for awhile. I . . . I was so afraid it was Suzie and when it wasn’t, I wanted to laugh and shout for joy. Someone lost their child and I’m happy . . . I’m happy. What kind of a person am I that I’m happy someone lost a child?”
Carter put his arm around her shoulders. “Susan, you’re not a bad person and I know you’re not happy someone lost their child. Your just glad it wasn’t Suzie.”
Susan nodded as she pursed her lips. “God, Carter. Why didn’t I see the signs? Why didn’t I know Chloe was using again? Why couldn’t I admit she had a problem? I know it’s a disease but I can’t take this anymore. You know what the officer said?”
Carter waited, knowing Susan would tell him. “She said pedophilia is a disease too but you don’t want a child molester raising a child. Why can’t Chloe see that she’s not just hurting herself? She’s hurting everyone around her. What happened to the sister that I admired? What if Suzie . . .” Susan was unable to finish her sentence.
Carter sat there with his arms around her, telling her it would be okay when he had no way of guaranteeing that. Finally Susan looked up and said, “Carter, I can’t keep doing this. I can’t go through this again. It’s tearing me up inside. My sister is a damn drug addict and I want her out of my life! I want her out of Suzie’s life!”
Carter bit his lower lip and said softly, “I know. I know, Susan, I know.” She closed her eyes and laid her head against his chest. There was no way he ever wanted to put Susan through this kind of hell. It was difficult enough watching her go through it for Chloe.
* * * * * *
They arrived at the townhouse and Carter introduced Susan to the staff. It had been awhile since he had been there but fortunately, his parents tended to keep household employees for long periods of time. Theresa warmed some clam chowder and Susan ate a few bites. “Carter, I can’t eat anymore.”
“Why don’t you go upstairs and lie down.”
“I can’t. What if they call?”
“I’ll wake you.”
“When did you last sleep?”
“I slept on the plane. I’m fine. I haven’t been awake for over thirty-six hours.”
She shook her head. “Carter, I can’t.”
“Susan,” he pleaded, “I can only stay a few hours. I have a shift at midnight and I didn’t have a choice on the return flight. I’ll listen for the phone and you get some sleep. If Suzie needs treatment, you’re the one who is going to need to make decisions. You can’t do that unless you get some sleep. I promise to wake you immediately if I hear anything and I’ll take you back to the station when I leave for the airport. Please.”
“All right. But you have to wake me when you leave. I am going back to the station.”
Carter led her upstairs to one of the guest bedrooms. As she took off her shoes, she noticed the bag and looked at him questioningly. “I had Gamma pack a few things for you. I didn’t know how long you might be staying.”
“Lay down. I’ll rub your back.”
As Carter rubbed her back, Susan closed her eyes and gradually relaxed. When her breathing became regular and she turned to her side, Carter knew she was asleep. He walked quietly downstairs and into the kitchen. Pouring himself a cup of coffee, he went into the living area and sat down. Placing the phones on a table close by, he gazed out the window at the trees in Central Park. What was he going to do now? Could he guarantee that he would never relapse? He thought about Abby; six years she had been sober and now this. He thought about Chase. What if he relapsed and ended up like Chase . . . in a home . . . stuck somewhere between a vegetable and a lab rat . . . alert enough to realize he was unable to make his body do what he wanted? He could not put Susan through that. Wouldn’t it be better to end things now and save their friendship? Taking a sip of coffee, he stared at the three phones on the table. He set his coffee next to the assortment and placed his head in his hands. Silently he said what he hoped was a prayer. ‘God let Suzie be safe. My life is such a mess and I don’t want to hurt anyone else, especially not Susan.’
Post Brothers and Sisters
“It’s amazing the drugs kids can get a hold of these days.”
Susan Lewis to John Carter: Damage is Done
Carter was still staring out at Central Park, slowly sipping his third cup of coffee. On a table before him lay three phones: his parents’, his cell and Susan’s cell. Ever so often he would glance at them, willing them to ring. He had been sitting like that for almost two hours waiting for word about Suzie and trying to sort out his life. He finally found that someone that he and Lucy had talked about so long ago. He recalled their conversation on the roof:
‘Oh, I’m not the one to ask how to have a lasting relationship.’
‘Never had a lasting relationship. Not that I don’t want to . . . find that someone . . . just haven’t.’
But he had found someone. He had found Lucy and for one wonderful month, life had been perfect. Yet, his track record with women was lousy; his life was in chaos. If Lucy had lived, could they have made it last? Lucy understood that marriage was a mystery to him. Maybe, with her help and understanding, he could have made it work. With a child on the way, he certainly would have tried. He liked to think that they could have but he was not sure. He would never know. A psychotic patient, an eight-inch butcher knife and his own arrogance had ended his chance for happiness with Lucy. Now he had found another someone . . . the woman of his dreams . . . Susan . . . but could he make it work with Susan?
As he sipped his coffee, he tried to analyze his relationships. Maybe if he did that, he could figure out how to make it work . . . how to have what his grandparents had. High school relationships did not count, he decided. Everyone was clueless in high school. He had a couple of girlfriends as an undergrad, but nothing serious. He was too busy trying to complete a major and two minors. He decided his first real relationship was Harper. That was also when he realized how difficult it was to have a purely physical relationship, maybe impossible. He had fallen for Harper, only to have her turn on him. No, that was unfair. If he had not been so competitive and arrogant, things might have turned out differently.
There was Anna but that was over before it got started. He shook his head at the irony; Anna had gone back to her boyfriend, the drug addict. He had really fallen for Abby Keaton. He was so naive to think she could have been interested in anything other than a fling with a young resident. How could he have been so stupid? It was obvious what she wanted; she practically attacked him with that first kiss. She had made her intentions clear from the beginning; he absolutely did not want to listen.
At first he was very attracted to Roxanne. There were so many things about her he liked: her blond hair, her husky voice, and her straightforward no nonsense approach to life. The sex was good, not like with Susan, but good. She was intelligent, had a great sense of humor, and she was ambitious . . . maybe too ambitious. Trying to sell insurance to his patients was taking ambition a bit too far. He could never have trusted his heart to someone that cold. Besides, she had never understood his dedication and concern for his patients at all. Perhaps that was why he found himself involved with so many women from the hospital. At least they had some idea of how he felt about the people who came to him for help. He had to admit that was one of the reasons he was attracted to Lucy . . . and Susan.
Then, there was Elaine. Maybe he could attribute that to adolescent sexual fantasy. He had been what . . . sixteen, seventeen when she and Doug got married. She looked gorgeous and he remembered thinking how lucky Doug was to be able to have sex with her every night. Then, one day, there she was in the ER . . . his patient. She had been more than willing to participate in his fantasy. Looking back, he realized, even from the beginning, it was just sex for her . . . reassurance that she was still attractive. It was not love on his part either. It was doomed from the start; try explaining that relationship at a Carter family reunion. The last two times they had been together, he knew it was over. But it was not just sex for him; he cared for her and was concerned about Elaine. He knew she needed him. She needed to know that her scars were not repulsive to him; she needed to know that the implant looked and felt normal. No, it was not him Elaine had needed; it was a man, any man. As he kissed her goodbye for the last time, he had told her what she needed to hear . . . that her next lover would never be able to tell she’d had a mastectomy unless she told him.
Carter remembered thinking at the time that it was sad, truly sad, that her whole sense of selfworth was wrapped up in her physical appearance. Now he realized he had not fully understood how she felt. Now he had his own set of scars and he knew how frightening it can be wondering if another person will be repulsed by your body. Susan had understood and had assured him it didn’t matter . . . and it hadn’t. They had not been together long but, since that first time; it had not bothered him for Susan to see him naked. Logically he knew that, if they lived long enough, everyone got old and wrinkled. Physical appearances were bound to change over time. He had watched the little old couples that came into the ER. Somehow physical appearances never seemed to matter to couples who were really in love.
Yet it was not the physical scars he was worried about her accepting. It was the emotional ones. Emotionally he was a disaster. Carter had become so adept at burying his emotions that he hid them even from himself. Gradually he was working on that . . . trying to face his feelings and learn to cope with them in healthy ways. Having grown up in a family where outward appearances were more important than feelings, where disabled cousins were tucked neatly away in expensive long-term care facilities, admitting his feelings was a difficult thing to learn. Carter understood that unless he learned to admit and cope with his feelings they would ensnare him and sabotage any possibility of developing the kind of relationship he so desperately desired.
Though he had not realized it at the time, Carter now knew that the greater part of his trepidation with Susan was because he had felt he was betraying Lucy . . .something he had promised never to do. Yet, that was ridiculous. Lucy was gone and she would never have expected that kind of loyalty. Lucy was a realist; she knew sometimes you took the hand you were given and played the game as best you could. Carter shook his head at his own analogy. Life was not simply a game to be won or lost; there had to be some greater purpose. Was there a God who had a Master Plan? If there was a God, where did he, Jonathan T. Carter, III fit in the grande scheme of things?
Carter loved Lucy and he missed her but she would never expect him to remain alone forever. Had the situation been reversed, he would not have expected it either. Besides, he now realized what had attracted him to Lucy to begin with. She was so much like the woman of his dreams . . . the one he thought he could never have . . . the one he would probably never have.
He loved Lucy and he loved Susan . . . but was it enough? Did Susan truly love him? Would she turn away from him when she realized the events of his life had left him not only physically disfigured but emotionally flawed as well. That first night they were together, he had believed that Susan loved him. He wanted to believe she did. She had gone through his recent surgery with him and she was willing to give him a chance to work through his feelings about Lucy. Was her love strong enough to last if he had a relapse? If he loved her, was it fair to risk putting her through that? Could he guarantee that he would never put her through the same hell Chloe was putting her through? He was struggling to get his life together but would he ever truly do that? Susan had endured enough; she deserved better.
He and Lucy were not together long. What if he was incapable of a long-term commitment? Perhaps he did not want one. No, that was untrue. He did want a family. He might not deserve one but he wanted one. However, Lucy was right. Marriage remained a mystery to him. In spite of the conversations he’d had with Gamma since Grandpa died, Carter was unsure he knew how to make a marriage work. Marriage . . . Doug Ross had fought so hard against commitment and now he and Carol were married and had three kids with another one due any day. From Carol’s note last Christmas, they sounded happy. Unlike Doug, all Carter had ever wanted was a permanent relationship . . . a wife and a houseful of kids. Carter sighed. Perhaps, it was not meant to be. What right did he have to expect Susan, or any woman, to commit to spending a lifetime with him?
The phone ringing interrupted his thoughts. It was his. Picking it up he said, “John Carter.”
“Can you come over?”
“Uh, I’m a little busy right now.”
“Too busy for me? Too busy to help out a friend.”
“Abby, can it wait?” Remembering she had moved back to her apartment, he asked, “Are you okay? Is Brian back?”
“I haven’t heard from Brian. But it can’t wait. I need you, now.” She sounded adamant.
“Abby is something wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, Carter. I just need you to come over to my apartment, now,” she whined.
“I can’t come right now.”
“I’m not in Chicago. Abby, are you drinking again?”
“So what if I am? It’s my life, my choice.”
“Abby, you need to get to a meeting.”
“No, I need a friend to come over and have a drink with me.”
“Have you called your sponsor?”
“Don’t have a sponsor . . . don’t need a sponsor. Need a drinking buddy. That’s why I called.”
She was beginning to slur her words. “Abby, even if I were in Chicago, I wouldn’t be your drinking buddy.”
“Where are you?”
“At my parents house, in New York.”
“Oh, and you’re so close to your parents. Trying to help Mummy and Daddy patch things up?” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm.
Carter rubbed his forehead. No doubt Abby had read the recent gossip column about his parents. There were a lot of disadvantages to being a member of one of Chicago’s more prominent families. “Abby, how much have you had to drink?”
“Why should you care?”
“I care because you’re my friend.”
“Am I? I thought Susan was your friend. Oh wait, Susan is your girlfriend . . . your girlfriend that you don’t sleep with. If you came over, I could be your friend and the girl you sleep with. I could be your girlfriend that you sleep with.”
“Abby, please. Don’t do this.”
“Don’t what, John? Don’t try to seduce you? What are you afraid of, John? Afraid I might try to have phone sex with you? Oh John,” she purred, “you are so hot!”
“Abby, stop it. You’re drunk and I don’t want to have phone sex with you.”
“Would you, if I was sober?” she cooed.
Carter was beginning to get a little frustrated with this conversation. Obviously Abby was drunk and just as obviously, there was nothing he could do about it from halfway across the country. “Abby, I told you, I’m a little busy right now.”
“Oh that’s right, you’re in New York. You never told me why you’re in New York. Why are you in New York?”
Carter sighed. He was not going to discuss his personal life with Abby. “It’s a family emergency.”
“What! Did the stock market crash? Are the Carter millions up in smoke? Is little Johnny Carter going to have to learn to live in poverty like the rest of us? Oh wait. I know. Mummy and Daddy had a big argument over the property settlement and little Johnny has to referee.”
Carter took a deep breath. He really did not want to deal with this right now? “Abby, is there someone else you can call, someone else who understands the problem and can help you?”
“My problem, my problem? Oh, you mean my drinking problem. I’m not having any problem drinking at all. As a matter of fact, I’m drinking just fine but maybe I could call Luka. Luka understands my problem. I’m lonely. I called you first but you can’t come. Family emergency . . . big Carter family emergency. I’ll call Luka. He understands my problem. Luka will fix my problem.”
Abby was out of control and Luka was only going to make it worse. Carter sighed. “Abby. Abby, please. Don’t call Luka. Make some coffee and I’ll come over just as soon as my plane lands. I should be there by ten.”
“Don’t want coffee . . . want company . . . want Luka. Good-bye, John Carter.” He heard the phone click. He briefly considered calling Luka to try to talk to him again but immediately dismissed the idea when he looked up to see Susan standing in the doorway.
“When did you wake up?”
“A few minutes ago. I take it that wasn’t the police.” Something about her tone of voice sounded irritated. Carter wondered how much of the conversation she had heard?
“Uh, no, they haven’t called. Want something to eat or drink?”
“Yeah, I guess. When does your flight leave?”
“Two hours. Getting through security takes awhile but we’ve got time for you to eat before we leave.”
There was no one in the kitchen. Susan sat down at the table and Carter opened the refrigerator. “Want some chowder or a roast beef sandwich?”
“Clam chowder is fine.” Carter put some chowder in a bowl and put it in the microwave.
“So, that was Abby.”
“Uh, yeah. She . . .she wanted me to stop by to talk or something.”
“So I heard.”
“Susan, how long were you standing there?” Carter was half hoping she would ask why he was so worried about Abby’s drinking. He knew he should not tell her but he also knew he would be unable to lie to her either.
“Long enough to know that you didn’t tell her you were in New York with me. Long enough to know that you’re going straight to her apartment when your plane lands. Long enough to know you didn’t want her to call Luka.”
“Susan, Abby’s just a friend. Nothing more.” he assured her.
“I was just your friend.”
He shook his head. “That was your choice, not mine,” he added with a smile. “Abby’s got some problems and she needs some help.”
“Right. Luka can’t help her?”
“I think Luka may be part of the problem.”
“Sure you’re not just jealous?”
The microwave beeped. Carter set the chowder on the table and handed Susan a diet Coke. Sitting down next to her and putting his arm across the back of her chair, he said, “Susan, I didn’t fly to New York for five hours to discuss Abby. I came here to take care of you.”
Susan could feel his eyes as he looked directly at her. She looked up, “Carter, I’m not trying to start an argument. I was there for Mark when he needed a friend and you understood . . . eventually.” She smiled faintly and he cocked his head and gave her that sheepish grin.
“Well, I got angry first.”
“I’m not angry. It’s just . . .”
He leaned over and kissed her forehead. “I know. You’re tired and worried.”
She closed her eyes and nodded. A lone tear trickled down her cheek. Reaching up with his thumb, Carter brushed it away.
* * * * * *
Carter dropped Susan off at the police station and kissed her good-bye. He told her to call as soon as she heard anything and made her promise to go back to his parents’ to sleep tonight. He knew when he said it she would only do that if Suzie were with her. Nonetheless, he had felt obligated to try . . . kind of like those things parents feel obligated to say to their children even when they know the kids are not paying attention. Carter tried to remember if his parents had ever done that. Well, he had seen it on TV. What was that show, Seventh Heaven? Maybe what Carter wanted was pure fantasy. Did families like the Camdens exist in the real world? For that matter, did Rev. Caldwell have a family? The man had conducted three funerals at Carter’s request and Carter had no idea if the man had children. He realized his mind was racing, racing from one senseless topic to another. He needed sleep. Luckily, his ticket was first class. Usually screaming kids were in coach.
* * * * * *
Airport security took forever. Then the flight was delayed. He had slept for awhile on the plane. Fortunately, he hadn’t had to go to baggage claim. By the time he got a cab it was eleven-thirty. He had to go directly to the hospital. He had tried to phone Abby to explain but, when Luka answered the phone, he hung up. Evidently, she found the company she wanted. As soon as he signed in he poured himself a cup of coffee and opened one of the Pop-Tarts he found in his bag. His back hurt. It was time for another Lodine and he needed food. He kept his cell phone with him, hoping Susan would call. He almost drove Randi crazy asking if there had been any calls for him. When Randi left, he pestered Frank. There had been a steady stream of patients the whole shift but nothing major: a couple of bar fights, two minor MVAs, one drive-by victim with a bullet in the leg, innumerable kids with ear infections or vomiting and diarrhea, and Pablo was in with an upper respiratory infection. He was finishing with Pablo when he saw Susan at the desk. She was asking Frank where he was. Then she saw him. Her eyes were red and swollen. Her hair was a mess. She was not wearing any make-up. She was still wearing the same clothes she had on when she left. She looked worse than Abby had when she first arrived and Abby had arrived with a bad hangover.
Carter never took his eyes from Susan as he asked, “Abby, can you finish this up?” Not waiting for an answer, he handed Pablo’s chart to her. Something was terribly wrong.
Following his gaze, Abby took the chart and said icily, “You’re welcome, Dr. Carter.”
“Uh thanks.” He waved his hand at her as he walked toward Susan. She collapsed in his arms as he led her to the lounge. “Susan,” he was afraid to ask the obvious question.
Susan was sobbing into his chest. “She’s gone. They found her but she’s gone. She was all right but Chloe disappeared with her again.”
“So she’s alive?”
“She was. I was at the hospital and saw her. I wanted to bring her back with me but Chloe took her and left. Carter, I have no idea where they went or where to look so I came here.”
“Let’s get you home.”
Susan nodded and sat down to wait while Carter signed out and put his things in his locker. As they were walking out the door, Kerry Weaver called, “Carter, did you call all those UA cultures?”
“Nope, sorry. I’m off.” He had his arm around Susan, her head was on his shoulder and they kept walking.
“Carter, you’re not off until I say you’re off.”
He stopped and whispered to Susan, “Go on, I’ll handle this. I’ll be out in a minute.” Mechanically, Susan walked out, sat on the bench in the ambulance bay and stared off into space.
Carter turned to face Kerry. “Dr. Weaver, unlike you, I have a life. Someone I care about is hurting, I’ve finished my shift, I’ve signed off on all my charts and I’m leaving. Pratt’s here for three more hours. I suggest you save yourself some headaches and have him make the calls. That way the patients get the right antibiotics, hopefully, and you won’t have to baby-sit him the rest of his shift.”
“Carter, I don’t like the schedule you’ve been keeping. You’re taking way too much time with this collaboration.”
“Kerry, if you don’t like my schedule, take it up with Romano. Susan’s upset and I’m taking her home. We won’t be back until Wednesday.” He turned and walked out, leaving an angry and frustrated Kerry Weaver staring after him.
Carter found Susan sitting on the bench in a daze. He reached for her hand. “Hey, your place or mine,” he asked as he pulled her to her feet.
“Carter, I’m in no mood for . . .”
“Sorry, Susan. I didn’t mean it like that. I don’t expect . . . not today. I know you’re exhausted and upset. I just wanted to know where you want me to take you. I know you don’t like to be alone when you’ve had a rough time.”
She nodded and gave him a weak smile. “My place, I guess. If Suzie needs to reach me, that’s where she would call. She doesn’t know my new cell number.”
Carter nodded and put his arm around her as they walked to the parking garage.
Post Brothers and Sisters
We’ve Been Here Before
Wednesday when Susan returned to work, Luka found her in the lounge. “Could I speak with you a moment, Susan? Privately.”
“Sure Luka. What’s up?”
“It’s about Carter.”
“What about Carter?”
“I know you’re his friend or maybe, his girlfriend . . . I’m not sure . . . but I think you should know he’s been spending a lot of time talking to Abby and it really upsets her.”
“Luka, I don’t understand what you’re trying to tell me.”
“I think you were right that day at the seminar. I think Carter still has feelings for Abby and maybe she cares for him too. Obviously, I’m not what she wanted.”
“And why are you telling me this?”
“I like you, Susan. You’re a nice person and I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“And you think Carter is going to hurt me?”
“Well, he hurt Abby. She thought he was interested in her and he started dating you.”
“So now you think he’s going to do the same thing to me. Is that it?”
“While you were gone, he talked to her several times. I think he’s too concerned about her to be just a friend. I thought you should know.”
“Okay. So now I know,” she answered sarcastically.
Susan turned and walked out of the lounge and straight to the restroom. She needed a few minutes alone. She bit her lip. Carter would not do this to her, would he? He said he loved her. He came to New York when she needed him. He had stayed at her apartment since she came back. They had not made love for awhile but the last two days . . . well, that was her choice. He had not tried to force her. He said he understood and before that, he had surgery. On the other hand, she was the one who gave him her key and waited for him wearing only her lingerie. What else was the guy to do? No, . . . no, he had told her he loved her. If he loved her, he would want . . . still, she remembered the call from Abby that he had gotten in New York. He never really explained what that was about.
Susan shut the door to the stall and tears began streaming down her cheeks as she leaned against the door. But all those things he had said to her . . . well, he was not the first guy whose line she had believed. No, . . . Luka was wrong. This was Carter; she had known him a long time. He was not the kind of guy to lead her on, only to hurt her, was he? Had he gone to Abby’s that night? Susan had been so concerned about Suzie, she had forgotten all about that . . . until Luka talked to her today. She had done it again . . . fallen for someone who . . . no Carter was different. He had told her when he was confused about Lucy. He had been honest with her, hadn’t he?
What if he was just as confused about Abby? Maybe they had rushed into this. Perhaps she had assumed too much. How could a guy say no when you give him your key and tell him you will be waiting? And that note she had written . . . assuming this was the long-term relationship he wanted . . . oh, she was such a fool. She was older than he; he wanted a family . . . something she might not be able to give him. Abby was younger . . . maybe he thought she was prettier too. She could give him the family he wanted. What was she thinking? Yet the next night Carter had been waiting for her with flowers and candles and soft music. Susan had never spent such a romantic evening not having sex with a guy. Then later when they had made love . . . and it was love, not sex, love . . . making love was . . . incredible. He understood her need to know how he felt. All those things he told her . . . he meant them didn’t he? How could she be sure?
But what about the dreams . . . no she was reading way too much into those silly dreams. The dreams were her own wishful thinking. They meant nothing.
Susan dried her tears with some paper and blew her nose. She had to get herself together. She was a big girl; she was strong; she could handle this. Maybe he did need some time to sort out his feelings for Abby. Carter was too polite, too caring to want to hurt her. He was the kind of guy who would go along with what Susan wanted simply because he was too polite and too caring to tell her he wanted Abby. After all, he had admitted that he had been interested in Abby before Susan moved back to Chicago. He had been through so much; he deserved to be happy.
Susan unlocked the door and walked to the sink. She washed her face and ran her fingers through her hair. Her eyes were puffy but, if she applied a little more make-up, no one would notice.
* * * * * *
That evening when they got off work, Carter took Susan to dinner at a Chinese place not far from her apartment. Carter noticed she was unusually quiet throughout dinner. “Susan, is something wrong?”
“No, I’m just tired. First day back and all.”
“Yeah, your eyes do look a little puffy,” he said with concern. “Well, maybe there’s something in your fortune cookie to cheer you up.”
“Maybe.” She gave him a feeble smile and opened her cookie. Taking out the fortune she read, “Things aren’t always what they seem. Beware of handsome strangers.”
“Well, I’m glad I’ve known you for so long. That sounds ominous. At least you don’t have to beware of me.”
Carter became worried when she did not make the obvious comment. Normally she would have made some remark about him thinking he was handsome. Something like, ‘It’s not the length of time I’ve known you Carter. It’s that you’re not handsome that makes you safe.’ Instead she sounded almost sad when she replied, “No, I guess not. What’s yours say?”
“Time to explore new possibilities.”
“It sounds more hopeful than mine.”
Something was definitely wrong. “Susan, it’s a fortune cookie. You don’t really believe it’s some kind of sign, do you?”
“No, of course not. It’s just, my life is a mess right now.”
“Hey, Chloe and Suzie are going to turn up soon. We can hire a private investigator if you want.”
“No, the police are looking.”
“At least you’ve still got me.” He smiled faintly.
“Yeah, I’ve still got you,” she replied with absolutely no enthusiasm.
Her tone of voice worried him. “Susan . . . is something else bothering you?”
“Carter, I . . . I think I need some time to myself. Maybe you should stay at your place for awhile. Since I came back from New York, I’ve . . . I’ve got a lot on my mind.”
Carter sighed. He had known this was coming. Susan could not cope with the possibility of him having a relapse and he was unable to promise it would never happen. “We’ve been here before, haven’t we?” He looked down at his plate.
“What do you mean?”
“The let’s be friends speech.”
“Carter . . .” she could see his disappointment but it was for his own good. He would see that eventually.
“It’s okay, Susan. I understand. I’ll back off. I don’t want anything to ruin our friendship.”
“Carter, I really do care about you.”
“I know. Hey,” he smiled, “let’s get you home. You’re tired and we both have an early shift tomorrow.” He left money on the table and helped Susan with her chair.
They rode to the apartment in silence. Carter could not bring himself to look at her. He kept both hands on the steering wheel and stared at the road ahead. He did not want her to see how hurt he was. He recalled the apartment fire the day before she got the call about Suzie. Carter could hear her saying, ‘Damn drug addicts. Some days, I think the world would be better off if we gave them all an overdose and got rid of them.’
He remembered how upset she was in New York . . . remembered her comments about wanting Chloe out of her life. Susan was better off without him. He never wanted to put her through that. He walked her to the door and gave her a goodnight kiss. That was a mistake because the next thing he knew, he was saying, “Sure you won’t change your mind?”
“Carter, just go.” There were tears in her eyes. “This is hard enough as it is.”
He looked down at his feet and nodded. Then he turned and walked away.
Susan closed the door and fell against it crying.