Fifty or Sixty Years
Forty-Eight Hours and Eternity
“So by the age of ten I had figured out how to scam meal off the neighbors so Eric and I could eat.”
Abby Lockhart to John Carter: The Visit“Must be fun to have two men interested in you.”
Maggie Wyzcenski to Abby Lockhart: Where the Heart Is“Abby, you don’t even know what you want. You play games like a schoolgirl who can have any boy and treats them all like crap.”
Luka Kovac to Abby Lockhart: The Longer You Stay
Carter and Susan resumed some semblance of friendship. They limited their time together to working hours: no dinners after work, no nights watching old movies, no trips to the museum or theater, no invitations to the charity balls, no late night phone conversations. They were coming back from coffee together one morning when Susan told him they had located Chloe in El Mirah.
“Upstate New York.”
“Chloe stayed in a motel there for two weeks.”
“Cops told you that?”
“Showed up on Joe’s credit card bill.”
“Her husband, or ex-husband. He’s driving up there.” Susan kept talking while Carter removed a fishhook from his patient. She knew he was listening. He was one of the few men she knew who was actually capable of multi-tasking. “Maybe I should too. God knows what she’s doing and Suzie needs to be in school. You know, Chloe could lose her in a heartbeat and we might not be so lucky next time.”
“You know, you could have her declared an unfit mother.” The possibility of the three of them becoming a family flashed through Carter’s mind. No, he knew that would never happen. He had made too many mistakes. He did not deserve anyone as wonderful as Susan. He would have to settle for . . . Abby was available . . . a drunk . . . but available.
“And Joe gets Suzie.”
“If he wants her.” For a brief second the scenes from Susan’s dreams flashed through her mind . . . Suzie riding the horse at the Carter estate . . . Suzie excitedly telling her that Rachel was taking her shopping for a new party dress because she had her uncle’s credit card. No, it was just a dream. It would never happen.
A short time later the fax from Mark had come and the one from Elizabeth. From the moment Carter started reading, Susan had a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. She tried to ignore it but it would not go away. She watched Carter carefully as he read, “lots of times I thought I should have chosen a different career or gone into private practice . . . something easier, less grinding, more lucrative. But since I’ve been gone, I realize that (outside of what I’m doing right now . . . sitting on this beach with my family) staying at County all those years, doing what we do on a daily basis, was the best choice I ever made.”
She could see how much Mark’s letter was affecting Carter as he cleared his throat and fought back the tears. They had all made that choice . . . to stay at County instead of choosing a more lucrative career. Carter did not even need a career. He had worked at County for nothing . . . he had given up his family to work at County. At least Mark had a family. Looking back over his life, Mark was pleased with his choices . . . and now his life was almost over. God, she was going to miss Mark.
Carter made a joke to cover his emotions. “I think that’s the Mai Tais talking.”
“Shut up, keep reading.”
Carter continued, “As for the friendship and camaraderie, well that’s another matter. In order to leave, I had to go the way I did. But I wouldn’t want any of you to think that that meant that I didn’t value each of you and the years that we worked together or that I didn’t have things of a more personal nature to say.” Carter paused, he knew Mark had personal things he would have said to Susan. Did he leave them unsaid? The thought that Mark’s last words before he left the hospital were to him flashed through Carter’s mind. “Most of you, I think, have an idea of what those things might be without me writing them down, but still.” Carter paused again, lost in his own thoughts, remembering his final conversation with Mark. The group was urging him to continue. “There’s just a couple of dots and then ‘Ella is laughing and waving for me. Rachel has found her shell.”
In the background he heard voices but his focus was on the papers in his hand. Carter swallowed and fought back tears as he tried to comprehend what he was reading. He felt Susan’s eyes watching him carefully and knew how these words would affect her . . . would affect them all but it would hit Susan hardest.
Susan never moved her eyes from Carter’s face. She swallowed as she observed his pained expression. “What? What is it?”
Carter sighed and grimaced. He did not want to read the words in his hand, did not want them to be true. “This is from Dr. Corday.”
Susan could read the look on his face; she saw the tears in his eyes. She knew what the letter said without him reading it. “Mark died this morning a 6:04 a.m.” Carter cleared his throat. He was blinking back tears as he tried to continue. “The sun was rising, his favorite time of day. I sent this on so that you might know he was thinking of you all and that he apprec . . . Carter’s voice cracked. “appreciated knowing you would remember him well.”
Time stood still for Susan. She knew Carter had stopped reading, that he had gotten down off the desk and handed the papers to Frank. She heard him say, “Post that on the floor, Frank.”
“The last part?”
“The whole thing.”
She knew Carter picked up a chart and headed off to see a patient. He would do what he did best . . . get lost in his work. Later they would talk. Susan was vaguely aware of what others were saying and doing around her but she could not move. She was frozen in time, trying to comprehend the words Carter had read. Mark was gone; she would never see her friend again. There was so much between them that was left unsaid. Later, Carter would need to talk. Later, he would be there for her to lean on; later, he would listen as she poured out her heart. But for the moment, Susan could not force her body to respond to anything. After an eternity, she managed to move her head to look in the direction of those dreadful pages that Frank was posting on the board.
* * * * * *
Abby followed Carter. She wanted to talk; he did not. He was dismissive. “Not now, Abby. I’m a little busy.”
Carter tried desperately to focus on his patients. Always before he had been able to use work to block out his feelings. Work was his escape. Taking care of patients was the one thing he knew he did well. Now, he was having difficulty concentrating and second-guessing every decision. He had not had this much difficulty working after he was stabbed. Then, work was an escape; now it only reminded him of how much he missed Mark . . . of how much Susan would need him to lean on and he was not sure he could be there for her.
To make matters worse, one of Mark’s regular patients came in . . . the homeless guy that had been in the last day Mark worked. Pratt kept jabbering on about the man being DKA when he had not even run any tests. Then, they had the MVA. Susan was holding up better than he. She appeared to have everything with her patient under control. Carter hesitated on establishing the airway and the man came close to arresting. Romano had not been impressed with his performance; well, neither was Carter. For the first time in his career, Carter wanted to run home and stay. People were depending on him and he felt incompetent.
* * * * * *
Robert Romano finished reading the notice on the board in ER. Well, that was it. It was over. Poor Lizzy. That would explain why Carter appeared so distracted. Losing Mark Greene was like kicking the whole ER staff in the stomach or maybe the heart. He never really understood Greene’s style but he did hold the ER together. Much as Romano hated to admit it, Greene and Weaver made a good team. He had already spoken to Weaver about Greene’s successor but so far she had not taken his advice. Well, maybe it was time he applied a little pressure. Technically, Lewis was second in command but Romano knew the staff would look to Carter. Despite his hesitancy today, Carter was an excellent doctor. Carter had overcome worse hardships than losing a friend and mentor. He had the potential to lead, not to mention the money to fund whatever the hospital needed. Given a little time, Romano had no doubt that Carter would get his act together. Yes, he definitely needed to speak to Kerry today.
* * * * * *
“See you at the Lava Lounge, Dr. Carter?” Gallant asked.
“Couple of people going out for drinks. Don’t feel like doing much else.”
“Dr. Kovach, Dr. Lewis, Abby, Haleh.”
“Uh . . .yeah, maybe . . . I don’t know. I’ve got some dictations I need to finish.”
“Okay, if you change your mind.”
Carter waved. That’s all Abby needed . . . to go out and get smashed. Well, he would deal with that later. Deb would be on soon and Carter did not want her to be alone when she learned of Mark’s death. Pratt opened his match letter; three months had become an eternity. He glanced up and saw Deb reading the letter. Their eyes met. Putting down his charts, he turned to Frank. “Dr. Chen and I will be on the roof. Page if anything critical comes in.”
Carter walked to where Deb was standing. There were tears in her eyes as she said, “John, I can’t believe it. He was just here.”
“I know.” Putting his arm around her he said, “Come on.”
They rode the elevator to the top floor, then took the stairs up to the roof. “When did it come?”
“This morning. I read the fax. We thought is was just a letter from Dr. Greene, then . . . then I saw the second one . . . from Dr. Corday.”
“You have to wonder if it’s really worth it . . . all the sacrifices we make to work here.”
“Mark thought so.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Carter put his arm around her. He knew she was not only thinking of Mark but of Michael. “You came back.”
“But was it a good decision? Have I made any good decisions?”
“Deb, working here is a good decision. What you did for Michael was a good decision.”
“I hope so.” She sighed and turned her face toward his. “You know, you’re going to have to watch out for Weaver now. Mark was the buffer between her and the rest of the staff.”
“You’re chief resident, that job will fall on you.”
He smirked, “Yeah, and it’s your fault.”
She shook her head, “You know you always wanted the position . . . and you were disappointed when I got it and you didn’t.” The corner of his mouth turned up slightly and he cocked his head. “John, you were the better candidate. I’m not cut out for the position. I was in over my head. We both knew that.”
“Deb, you’re a good doctor. You just need to stay calm and think clearly in a crisis.”
“Something which has always come naturally for you.”
He shook his head and sighed, “Not always . . . not today.”
“John, you’ll be fine. Just remember to watch your back.”
He smirked, “Yeah, not watching my back has gotten me into trouble before.”
“I’m sorry . . . I shouldn’t have . . .”
“Deb, it’s okay. My therapist says when you begin to joke about something, it’s a sign your on your way to recovery.”
“Maybe I need to see your therapist.”
“May be.” They became silent as they leaned against the rail and looked out at the city lights. Carter kept his arm around her. Finally he spoke, “You know, Mark was chief resident when I first came here as a med student.”
“And we all learned to depend on him to be there through any crisis.”
“Yeah, and he never let us down.”
“Whether Weaver acknowledges it or not, everyone will depend on you now.”
He sighed. “I know. I’m not sure I’m ready for this.”
“John, you’re a good doctor. You do stay calm and think clearly in a crisis.” She smiled up at him. “You’re a good person and a good friend. You’re ready for this but if you start to feel overwhelmed, you know where to find me.”
Carter smiled, “We were so competitive when we were in med school. How did we become such good friends?”
“I don’t know. I thought you were cute but you were so smart, I hated you.”
“I was smart! You’re the one who kept me on my toes.” He paused, “Come to think of it, when did we become such good friends?”
Deb laughed, “I think it was somewhere around my fourteenth contraction, just before my water broke.”
“Or maybe the letters you wrote me in Atlanta.” He hesitated before asking, “You thought I was cute?”
“Yeah, for a white guy.”
She shook her head, “John, you know me better than that.”
He nodded and grinned impishly, “I thought you were cute too.”
“Fishing for compliments, are we?” Her bottom lip stuck out. “Now, I think you’re beautiful and any man would be lucky to have you.” He kissed her forehead just as her pager went off.
She sighed, “Well, back to the trenches.”
“Not me. I’m off.”
* * * * * *
Abby staggered out onto the porch and sat down, dangling her legs over the edge. She lit a cigarette. She really hated being out here alone. After her table dance, she had thought if she went outside Luka would follow her. However, when she announced she needed some air, he had not moved. Instead, he had answered Haleh’s questions about the scenery in Croatia. Like anyone really wanted to hear about that.
When she realized he was not going to follow her, Abby looked around to see who else was in the bar. It was not exactly overpopulated. Noticeably lacking were unattached males. Susan was monopolizing the bartender. So Abby had come outside alone. She could not figure Susan out. Susan had been dating Carter; then Abby heard rumors that they broke up. They might as well have after all they had not slept together. At least, that was what Susan said. But Carter was certainly pissed when he thought Susan had slept with Mark. A smirk appeared on Abby’s face as she thought about it.
Abby laughed to herself when she thought about the lie she had told Susan about Carter that Saturday. Susan actually believed her when Abby said Carter started a rumor about them sleeping together. Carter would never kiss and tell and he would certainly never tell if he hadn’t kissed. He preferred to keep his private life private. Not that it worked. Rumors abounded about him at County.
Lately Abby had heard rumors that Susan and Carter were back together. Neither Carter nor Susan gave any indication of exactly what was or was not going on between them. Though, if they were not together, it was the friendliest break-up in history. They were always having coffee together, talking between patients, leaving together . . . it was disgusting.
And what was the deal with Weaver singling out Susan to say she was sorry about Mark? Abby had heard they had been together years ago but Mark was married. She had hoped Susan might give something away when she toasted him but she hadn’t. Even drunk, Susan refused to talk about Mark. Still, Susan had spent a lot of time with Mark just before he left. Maybe that was the real reason Elizabeth had moved out. Wonder if Carter knew about that? Of course he did, that was why he was so angry that day at the seminar. Well, if Susan had been having an affair with Mark, it was over now. Mark Greene was dead. Abby would miss him.
Mark was one of the permanent fixtures in ER. Abby could not imagine what working there would be like now that it was final. She remembered the first day she had worked as a med student . . . the day Carol had been so mean to her . . . the day Mark had showed her around. She had been so close to finishing med school but then decided not to go back, even after Luka offered to pay her tuition. She said it was because she enjoyed nursing. Partly that was true. Partly, she could not work with two absolutely gorgeous men and not be able to date either, or both, of them. Of course, now everyone knew Carter did not exactly obey the rules. God, she was sick of hearing the nurses talk about how romantic it was that he funded a fellowship in honor of his lost love. She lit another cigarette.
Mom was always on her to quit smoking, telling her it was a nasty habit. When had she ever listened to Mom? Why should she listen to Mom? Mom was crazy, certifiably crazy. Mom was right about one thing though; having two guys interested in you at the same time was fun. It was so much fun watching them, manipulating them into hating each other. Then Susan came along and screwed it up. Would Carter have been more likely to date her if she had stayed in med school?
Abby saw Carter’s Jeep drive by. She watched as he circled the block again and again. Abby had tried to talk to him right after he read the letter from Mark. But Carter had said he did not want to talk. Abby bet he would have wanted to talk if Susan had asked. He was always talking to Susan. Abby heard bits and pieces. He and Susan frequently discussed their family problems. That was probably the real reason Carter was in New York. Susan had gone to look for her niece and, no doubt, Carter followed. Abby remembered her trip to Oklahoma; she should have taken advantage of that situation. Instead she was hung up on trying to make Luka understand and of course taking care of Mom. Taking care of Mom; Mom was always in the way, screwing up her life. Abby took another long drag on her cigarette.
Abby had not heard Susan invite Carter to go with them tonight but apparently, she had. Or maybe he heard from Haleh or Gallant. Well, wouldn’t he be surprised when he came in and saw Susan flirting with the cute bar guy. That could definitely be advantageous.
* * * * * *
Carter circled the block again and found a place to park. As he descended the stairs, he saw Susan sitting and flirting with the bartender. A pang of jealousy arose within in him. He bit his lip. Why shouldn’t she flirt with the bartender? After all, she wasn’t dating anyone. He looked around; the place was tacky, not at all what he would expect from Susan. He noticed Weaver with her friend. Good, he thought. He was hoping Abby had not come. “You picked this place?”
Great! Abby was outside, drunk, no doubt and Susan obviously did not want him around. He walked outside on the porch and saw Abby sitting there.
* * * * * *
Susan watched as Carter walked out on the porch. Without realizing it, a sigh escaped from her lips.
“Is he the reason you’re getting drunk?”
“Your old boyfriend . . . the guy in the leather jacket.”
Susan turned to the bartender. “I didn’t say he was my old boyfriend.”
He smiled, “You didn’t have to.”
“Oh God!” Susan covered her face with her hands. “Is it that obvious?”
“It’s written all over your face. Want to talk about it.”
“What are you? First you want to monitor my drinking. Now you’re a psychiatrist?”
“Psych major . . . bartender . . . it’s all pretty much the same. So what happened?”
Susan shrugged. “He’s in love with Abby. I care about him and I want to see him happy.”
“Abby, that’s your friend who has downed five of those already and could still manage to dance on the table.”
“Umm. That’s the one.”
“He’s not in love with her.”
“Oh, right. That’s why he went outside to find her, because he’s not in love with her.”
He shook his head. “He was glaring at me all the way down the stairs. If looks could kill, I’d be dead by now.”
“Oh, you’re just full of cliches.”
“Seriously, he was jealous because you were flirting with me. He only went outside to find Abby because you told him he should.”
“Oh right. And I’m not a doctor, I’m a ballet dancer,” Susan replied sarcastically.
“Am I what?”
“A ballet dancer?”
Susan rolled her eyes. “Just make me another one, okay?”
“Whatever you say, doctor.”
* * * * * *
Carter opened the door and stepped out onto the porch. Okay Susan, he thought, I’m out here with Abby. Now what? He leaned against the post.
“John Carter makes an appearance.”
“Abigail Lockhart sits alone.”
“It’s a nice jacket. Is it new?”
Should I say it was a present from Susan in another life? Probably not. “What, you have ESP?”
“No, your car is right there. I saw you circle the building . . . twice.”
“Thanks for yelling out directions.”
“Well, I didn’t want to encourage you. I don’t think you should be hanging out in bars.”
“You got me there.” Great, she’s drunk. Now what? Careful John, this could blow up in your face.
“Great letter though. I especially enjoyed the surprise ending.”
He took a deep breath and sat down next to her. “I didn’t write it.” Good, he thought, stick to sarcasm, it’s safer.
“Well, that’s the last time we let you read out loud.”
“Umm. You just missed my table dance.”
“Well, I’ll have to stick around for the second show.” Susan is inside flirting with the bartender. We aren’t dating; I have no right to be jealous. But what now Susan? I’m out here with Abby, where you wanted me. What now, he wondered. Carter realized he had no right to feel hurt or angry with Susan but he was both.
“How many lives do you think?”
The question caught him off guard. “What?”
“How many lives do you think he saved?”
She was asking about Mark. “Oh. It’s hard to say. One a shift, on average, I guess . . . five shifts a week over ten years . . . two or three thousand people.”
“Yeah. Forget Superman; I’ll take Mark Greene any day.”
Okay, Susan, two can play this game. “If I knew you felt that way, I’d have shaved my head a long time ago.” Happy Susan, I’m flirting with her?
Abby put her hand on his cheek and turned his face toward her. “Are you okay?”
Oh God, she is waiting for me to kiss her. What have I gotten myself into? And she’s drunk. “Come on,” he stood and took her hands.
“Come on what?”
“Let’s get out of here.”
“And ditch our friends,” she asked coyly.
“I think . . . that they’ll get over it.” You need to get to a meeting, he thought and I need to get you sober. I can’t deal with a drunk Abby Lockhart. Anyway, Susan doesn’t want me here. Hell, she never even invited me. Gallant did.
Flirtatiously she said, “Okay. You know, I have a free Tiki mask in there.”
“I’ll buy you another one.” She thinks I’m coming on to her. Maybe I am. Well, I’ve done it for less noble reasons. Whatever it takes to get her back in the program, he told himself.
“Where are we going?”
“I know a place, on Franklin?”
“The titty bar?”
“Well, oh! The tattoo parlor?”
“Where we going?”
“Nope. Whoops! No, no thank you, no, no, no.” I want to leave with you, Abby thought, but I have no intentions of going to a meeting. However, if I play my cards right . . . this could definitely work to my advantage.
“Come on, there’s a meeting that starts at one.”
“Well, that’s great. Go on ahead, I’ll catch up.”
“Come on, Abby. When’s the last time that you went?”
“What do you think?”
“Well, then what’s it going to hurt?”
“Well, it’ll kill my buzz for starters.”
“Come on Abby. One step at a time.”
“I was your sponsor, remember? Besides you’re screwing it up.”
“I’m screwing it up?”
Finally, after much discussion, Carter picking her up, and Abby biting him, Abby allowed Carter to convince her to go for coffee. She pretended to put up a fight but she knew he would not give up; John Carter did not like to lose.
Oblivious to Abby manipulations, Carter spent the night sitting at Magoo’s, talking, listening, trying to keep the conversation light until she consumed enough coffee to make her sober. At last, she admitted she began drinking before Brian beat her up. Great, Abby was the master of self-pity. Finally he said, “Then, I’ve got just enough time to drop you at a meeting.”
Still, she refused. Her plan was to spend the night with Carter, not attend a meeting. So far, her plan had worked. They were leaving when Deb had arrived to tell him about Greene’s homeless guy. Abby appeared surprised.
“You’re on at seven?” John Carter is so easy to manipulate she thought. He has always been a sucker for the damsel in distress.
“I’ve done it before.” When I was much younger, he added silently. Abby left and he followed Deb to the hospital. Twelve more hours before he could collapse. However, twelve turned into sixteen. The homeless guy shifted in and out of consciousness . . . and in and out of lucidity . . . the only thing he was consistent about was his refusal of heroics and his belief that Carter was Mark Greene.
* * * * * *
The day seemed to stretch on forever. Carter lost in rock, paper, and scissors to Deb and had to rescue Pratt who did not understand Italian. Well, Carter could not fault the guy for that. Not everyone was fluent in several languages. Then Pratt asked him to recommend him to Northwestern. As much as he hated the thought of working with Pratt, he knew County needed doctors, so he refused. He did however, pay off his debt on Pratt’s earlier bet. Pratt’s diagnosis had been correct. Finally, he headed to the lounge for lunch of peanut M & M’s7 and to work on charts.
Susan was there, crying. She stood as he entered and said, “I shouldn’t have sat down. If I don’t sit down, I won’t cry.”
Carter was not sure what to do. “You have to sit down eventually.”
Susan had poured a cup of coffee and was holding it. “Yeah. Can’t I just pretend he moved to the south Pacific and lived happily ever after?”
“In a way he did.” He wanted to take her in his arms and comfort her but he knew he had no right. She was angry . . . angry that she had saved one patient and had lost Mark. Not that she was unconcerned about the little girl, Carter knew she was concerned. He had overheard her talking to Romano about the case and knew Susan gone upstairs to check on her after surgery. He swallowed. “Well, we save who we can, right?”
“It has to make more sense than that.”
How many times had Carter made that same statement? How many times had Carter asked himself the same questions? Susan was not only angry; she wanted answers. She was looking for a reason . . . and someone to vent her anger toward. Carter had learned through experience, there are no answers to the questions of why one person survived and another died. He knew all he could do was give it his best and pray for a miracle. The rest was up to . . . did he believe in God? Susan should know that. She worked in ER and saw people die every day . . . but they were not people with whom Susan was close. Carter had lost so many that he cared about. “You looking for a reason?”
“I miss him already.”
Carter’s heart broke as he listened to her talk about being gone five years and expecting things to stay the same. “I thought he’d always, always be here.”
“It’s good to miss him. It’s missing him that keeps him here.”
She burst into tears again. “Yeah.”
Finally, he could resist his impulse no longer; Carter could not bear sitting there while Susan was crying. Closing his chart he stood and walked to her, wrapping his arms around her. She clung to him. She found comfort in whatever he said, telling him he should write for Hallmark7. He responded, “I have hidden talents.”
He could feel her smile over his shoulder. She caught his double entendre. Kerry interrupted but still Susan clung to his hand. Carter wished . . . no those days were past. Susan walked out and he went back to his M & M’s7 and charts.
* * * * * *
As Kerry opened the door and saw Carter with his arms wrapped around Susan, fleeting thoughts of being in Carter’s arms passed through her mind. Carter had moved in not long after Ellis had broken her heart. On more than one occasion, Carter had come in to find her crying. There were nights that Carter had wrapped her in his arms . . . had let her cry on his shoulder . . . had told her Ellis was a fool for letting her go. She had realized then that Carter was attracted to her and there were times when she encouraged it . . . even enjoyed it. He was always so gentle, so understanding. He could see right through her gruff exterior. Yet at work, he maintained a professional relationship. And how had she repaid him? She betrayed him . . .told him to move out . . . all but promised him the chief residency and then gave it to Chen.
Weaver walked over to Mark’s locker and opened it as she exchanged a few brief words with Carter. Robert was right of course. She had not handled the situation with Carter and the drugs as well as she should. She should have paid more attention . . . should have noticed the physical and emotional pain and done something to help him. She knew he had no real family support but it was too much effort to offer hers. It was easier to believe his lies. Kerry had known all along that Carter was lying; his medication was not providing adequate pain relief. He had returned to work too soon. She should have persisted; she should have been there for him like he had been for her. Instead she disregarded his problems and focused on her own agenda. When she could no longer ignore the situation, she had been more concerned about protecting her career and her department than in helping Carter. Even now, it took Robert talking to her before she would say anything to Carter.
Kerry had not appreciated Mark either. She had asked for his help in protesting when Romano became chief of staff and then betrayed him too. Again she was concerned about protecting her career. She had even gotten a promotion from that action. Kerry would never admit it but Robert was right. Mark frequently ran interference between her and the staff. She had never let him know how much she appreciated him. It had been Mark’s ER and everyone knew she took it from him. Yet, he continued to do his job, faithfully and quietly. He might try to work around her authority but he never preempted it. Kerry Weaver hated to acknowledge it but she needed Carter’s help. There was no way she could run this department alone. The staff tolerated her but no one liked her. Well, perhaps Carter . . . no, not even Carter. That was impossible after the way she had treated him. Yet, she also knew that, despite her past betrayals, Carter would not let her down.
Taking a deep breath, she said, “Heard you had some trouble with Romano yesterday.” When Robert first mentioned it to her, she was half hoping he was angry enough with Carter to discipline him in some way. As a person she liked Carter and while he had never done anything to undermine her authority, Kerry was wary of this newfound respect and alliance he and Romano apparently had formed. Nonetheless she needed Carter’s support if she was going to maintain control of this department.
“He was right. I took too long making a decision.”
“Well, you don’t have that luxury anymore.”
“Never really thought I did.”
She paused. She could not bring herself to make him an attending, not yet. She had some pride. She wanted Romano to think she had come to the decision on her own, not that he had forced her into it.
“Mark’s gone. That means you’ve been here longer than any other doctor.” The unspoken inference was that Carter had been there longer than Kerry.
Carter looked up. Where was she going with this?
Kerry continued, “People will look to you to step in and fill the void.”
“Yes, it is.” Kerry leaned her head against the door of Mark’s locker. “I can’t do this. Will you do this?”
That was the Kerry he had known . . . and missed. He nodded, “Um hum.”
She mumbled, “Thank you” and limped out. Carter had assumed she meant she was unable to clean out Mark’s locker. That was what she wanted him to think but to herself, Kerry conceded the double meaning of her words. She could not run the emergency department without Carter.
Carter folded his chart and walked to the locker. He pried Dr. Greene’s name off the locker and began putting things in the box. As he did, fragments of conversations with Mark passed through his mind.
‘What happened to your student?’He looked at Mark’s stethoscope. Without hesitation, Carter placed his own in the box and paused as he held Mark’s in his hands. What was that lesson he had learned as a kid at church so long ago . . . something about Elijah’s mantle being passed to Elisha?
‘She got bored.’
’We’re not here to entertain.’
‘I was supposed to inspire those students but I don’t think I did a very good job.’
‘Inspire them, how?’
‘To our passion.’
‘Carter, you come here every day. Sometimes you’re really cookin’ and sometimes you’re not. But you’re here every day, doing your job. One day, you’ll look up and maybe . . . ah . . . ten years will have passed. It’ll be the sum total of all you’ve done that counts. Not the passion.’
Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?’
‘Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,’ Elisha replied.
‘You have asked a difficult thingijah said, ‘yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours.’
As they were walking along anlking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, ‘My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!’ And Elisha saw him no more . . . He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan River (Bible B II Kings 2:9-13).
Carter rubbed his thumb over the diaphragm. Was he ready for this? Could he ever fill the void left by Mark Greene? He held the stethoscope a moment longer, then placed it around his neck.
Not long after that, the guy with the shotgun blast came in. Abby was on. She said she had gone to a meeting . . . said she did it for him. She needed to do it for herself but at least she went. This time Carter stayed focused on the patient. The guy’s face was blown to bits. He was in pain and thrashing around. Finally he was sedated. It was a difficult intubation but with Susan and Gallant’s help, Carter pulled it off. Gallant had wanted to leave but hung in there when Carter told him to. As soon as the guy was intubated, Carter sent Gallant outside. Susan looked at him, “Nice work, John.”
He wished . . . no, she did not mean that. He looked up at her and mouthed, “I know.” Would he ever lose this feeling of connection between them? Leaving the patient with Susan, Carter went to check on Gallant.
Carter found him sitting on the curb in the ambulance bay with his head down. Gallant looked up, “Sometimes I don’t think I can do this.”
Thoughts of another young med student making a similar statement flashed through Carter’s mind. Then he said, “You know, there’s two kinds of doctors. There’s the kind that get rid of their feelings and the kind that hold on to them. If your going to hold on to your feelings, your going to get sick once in awhile. It’s part of it.” He walked over and sat on the curb beside Gallant as he continued. “You know, people come in here and they’re sick . . . and they’re bleeding . . . sometimes they’re dying . . . and they need our help. And helping them is more important than how we feel.” He gave Gallant a pat on the back and then stood. Turning back to him, Carter added, “But hell, I’ve been doing this for eight years and I still get sick.”
As he returned to the ER, Carter saw Susan at the desk. She had sent their patient upstairs and notified the appropriate specialties. Referring to Gallant, she asked, “How’s he doing?”
“Oh, he’ll be all right. How are you?”
“Ask me tomorrow?”
They both turned and walked in opposite directions. Before he went to check on his homeless guy, Carter turned and saw Susan stopping to adjust the letter on the bulletin board. As he opened the door of the Suture Room, Lydia informed him the man might need fluids soon. Carter politely refused to issue the order. Instead he said, “10 mg. boluses of morphine.” No sense in prolonging the man’s misery.
The man noticed him and spoke. “I heard you were gone.”
“Nah, I’m still here.”
“Good. You know I don’t like nobody else helpin’ me.”
The man thought he was Mark Green. “I know.”
“You’ve always treated me like a man.”
Mark always treated everyone that way. “Just try to relax.”
The alarm sounded and frightened the man. Carter reassured him and turned it off. “I’m scared.”
“There’s no reason to be. Everything’s okay.”
The man was frightened; he knew he was dying. Carter knew almost nothing about him except that he did not want to die alone. Well, children were not the only one’s who needed someone to hold them as they took their last breath. Carter took the man’s hand and sat down beside him. “I’ll stay right here.”
Propping up his elbow, he leaned his head over and began to dose. The past two days had seemed like an eternity.
A short time later Lydia came in. “Carter, Carter. Wake up.”
“What? Oh, I guess I dozed off.”
“I’m not surprised. Heard you’ve had a long day.”
“How long have I been sleeping?”
“I’m not sure. An hour maybe.”
The man had stopped breathing but he was still warm. Letting go of the man’s hand, Carter turned off the monitor and removed the nasal cannula. Time of death 22:56.
Carter stood and stretched. He was exhausted. He lost track of how long he had been at the hospital. It seemed like a lifetime. So much had happened in the last forty-eight hours. He walked to the desk and signed out. “Frank, get someone to take care of the body in six.”
“That’s the plan.”
However, Carter knew he was not going home. Not yet, anyway. First, he would check on Susan. After staying out all night last night drinking, he was amazed that she was able to function at all today. He recalled the last trauma they had treated . . . shotgun to the face . . . he could hear her saying, ‘Nice work, John.’ He shook his head. She meant it as a compliment . . . nothing else . . . those days were over. He stopped by the supply closet and put a few things in a bag. Then, went to his locker. He made a couple of quick stops on the way to her apartment and parked in front. He had not called. He was tempted to use his key and surprise her. On the other hand, he might be the one surprised; she could have company. He buzzed her apartment.
“Susan, it’s John. Can I come up?”
“Sure. Use your key.”
He took the stairs two at a time and unlocked her door. Sticking his head in he asked, “You don’t have company do you?”
“No, just my friend Jack Daniels. Why?”
“Oh, I noticed you flirting with the bartender last night. I thought . . .”
“Carter, I was drunk.”
“I’m trying out Abby Lockhart’s cure for a hangover? Jack Daniels and Coke.”
Carter laughed ruefully. “Is it working?”
“No, my head still hurts and I’m drunk . . . again.”
Carter nodded. “Well, I guess it’s a good thing I make house calls. I think I have just what you need.”
He shook his head and laughed, “Maybe later. When you’re sober.”
“I don’t think I’m going to be sober anytime soon. In fact, I think I’m going to be sick.”
She ran towards the bathroom. Carter followed. He put his packages on the counter and wet a cloth with cool water. As he handed it to her, she said, “I can’t handle this much alcohol.”
“So I noticed,” he said with a smirk.
“You don’t have to gloat about it,” she replied caustically. Looking at the packages on the counter Susan asked, “What’s in the bags?”
“Doug Ross’s magical mixture. The perfect cure for what ails you.”
“How’d you know?”
He shrugged. “I had a hunch and I noticed the size of those drinks you were putting away last night.”
“The sacrificial virgins?”
“That’s what they were called?”
“Umm. Supposed to contain enough alcohol to make you forget you’re about to be thrown into a volcano. All day today, I felt like the volcano was going off in my head.”
“How many did you have?”
“After two, I lost count.”
Carter took hold of her hand and pulled her to her feet. Susan leaned on the counter and reached for her toothbrush. Carter picked up the sacks, went back into the living room and sat down to wait for her. Looking slightly better, Susan came and sat on the sofa across from him. “Feeling better?”
She shook her head, “Not really.”
He dumped the contents of one of the bags on the table and knelt in front of her. “Roll up your sleeve” Susan shoved the sleeve of her sweatshirt up above her elbow as Carter prepared to start the IV.
“I can’t believe you did this.”
“Hey, what are friends for? A liter of D-5-W and a banana bag and you should be good as new,” he said as he taped the IV cath in place.
There were tears in her eyes as she asked, “How many times did we see Mark do this for Doug?”
Carter shook his head, “Too, many. It’s a wonder the man still has a liver.” Handing her the IV bag, he added. “Here hold this.”
“What am I supposed to do, hold the bag above my head till it’s empty?”
“I’ll be right back.” He went into her bedroom and returned with a wire coathanger. Bending it to form a hook, he placed the hanger over the nearest lampshade and took the IV bag from her.
“Where’d you learn that?”
“Boy Scouts. Be prepared.”
“Carter, be prepared is the Girl Scout motto. You weren’t really a Boy Scout?”
“Okay, I dropped out but I was a Cub Scout. Earned my wolf badge.”
“They give badges for that!”
“Susan, it is Cub Scouts. You know cubs . . . bobcats, bear cubs, wolf cubs. We learned to tie knots, chop wood, build campfires, handle knives . . .”
He shrugged, “Okay, so I didn’t learn that one very well.”
Susan smiled and shook her head. “Your sense of humor is sick.”
“And yours isn’t? I come over to make you feel better and this is the abuse I get.”
Susan rolled her eyes. “Whatever! What’s in the other bag?”
“Nourishment and mindless drivel.” He reached in the bag and pulled out a can of chicken soup, a package of microwave popcorn, a huge box of junior mints and a handful of DVD’s.
Taking the DVD’s from him, Susan read, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Animal House, Caddyshack. ” She nodded, “Mindless drivel.”
Shrugging again, he said, “If you want to totally escape reality, I also brought Star Wars and E.T. ”
“No, I think Caddyshack should do it. I like the groundhog or chipmunk or whatever that furry thing is.”
“On that note, I’ll go make popcorn.”
Carter returned in a few minutes with a bowl of soup for Susan, popcorn and Cokes. He set up the DVD and seated himself on the sofa next to her. She leaned her head on his shoulder as he put his arm around her. Turning to him she said, “You know, with all these fluids, you’re going to have to stop the movie so I can go pee.”
“That’s the idea, Dr. Lewis. Flush the alcohol out of your system.”
“Guess I shouldn’t have listened to Abby Lockhart.”
“John, I’m glad you came by. I didn’t want to be alone tonight.”
He smiled and kissed her forehead. “Me either.”