Fifty or Sixty Years
Post On the Beach
Make Sure She’s Taken Care Of
“She’s my daughter; I want to make sure she’s taken care of.”
Mark Greene to his ex-wife. Dismissing his comment, Jenn leaves: Orion in the Sky“So that night you were uh . . . What can I say? I’m passionate. You spent the night together; I thought . . .”
John Carter to Susan Lewis: BygonesEveryone, including Dr. Romano, seems to be surprised to see Elizabeth Corday return to work, except Abby and Carter. In fact when Jing Mei Chen comments to Elizabeth, “I didn’t know you were back yet;” Carter answers, “First day.” Later, he appears very protective of Elizabeth, like there might be some friendship that exists outside of the hospital.
As the crowd dissipated, Carter walked over to Rachel. He was unaware that Susan was watching as he spoke. “Rachel, can I talk to you a minute.”
“Sure, Dr. Carter. What is it?”
“Your Dad was a good man and a good friend to me. I learned a lot from him. He stood by me when I went through some rough times. So if you ever need anything . . . you know . . . if you ever need an older man’s opinion or if you just want to talk about your Dad. I’m not exactly experienced at being a father . . . and I realize no one could ever take your Dad’s place . . . so I’m not offering to try. I just thought . . . you know . . . if you ever need anything.”
Rachel stood there expressionless. Carter was unsure whether she was still in shock or reverting to her sullen, stubborn teenage behavior that Mark and Jennifer had warned him about. They both had thought this a good idea, especially since Rachel and her stepfather did not get along at all, though Mark had been the one to suggest it. Now, Carter was not so sure. Yet he had promised Mark. Ignoring her lack of response he continued, “I talked to your mother and she said it was all right. Anyway, here’s my phone numbers and a pre-paid phone card. You can call . . . anytime.”
Carter tried to maintain eye contact, tried to read Rachel’s response. This was more difficult than he had anticipated. He stood there holding out the offered cards. When she made no response to take them, he smiled faintly and turned to leave.
“Dr. Carter.” He turned toward her. “I don’t understand. Why would you do that? Why do you care?” Her tone was sarcastic.
“Like I said, Rachel, your Dad was a really good friend. Mark told me one of the worst things about knowing he was dying was leaving you and Ella without a Dad. We talked before he died. I told him, I promised him, I would be there if you or Ella ever needed anything. But, if your not comfortable with it, don’t worry about it. No pressure, okay.”
“So this is like an obligation to my father . . . some sort of promise you made to a dying man? You don’t really care what happens to me.”
Carter hesitated as he searched for the right words. Looking directly into her eyes he said, “Rachel, I made this promise to your dad because he was a good friend and my mentor. But that’s not the only reason. I know what it’s like to go through your teen years with no parents. And I know what it’s like to hit bottom and feel that no one understands.”
“Yeah, well, why would you care what happens to me?” she challenged.
She stood there looking up at him with tears in her eyes. She looked so alone and helpless. Carter knew that look; he had seen it in the mirror. She could not understand why anyone would care about her. He stepped toward her and put his hand on her head. “Rachel, when you were little, your dad brought you up to the emergency room a lot. I watched you grow up. I saw how much he cared for you. And like I said, I know what it’s like to need your parents and not have them around.”
She nodded; his answer apparently satisfied her. Rachel’s voice softened as she asked, “Dr. Carter, did you lose both your parents?”
He shook his head, “They didn’t die but they were never around. They traveled most of the time for business . . . and pleasure. They were too busy to waste their time with a mixed up kid.”
She shrugged, “Mixed up kid, I guess that pretty much describes me.” Then, Rachel startled him by throwing both arms around him and sobbing into his chest. He put his arms around her and let her cry. Finally, she lifted her head and he handed her a handkerchief. As she wiped her tears and sniffled, she asked, “Is there a limit on how much I can call?”
Carter contemplated his answer. Mark had told him how manipulative Rachel had become. “Rachel, if you need me, I’ll be available. If it’s not an emergency and I’m busy, I may have to call you back. But I will get back to you; I won’t ignore you. ”
He offered her the cards again and, this time, she smiled as she took them. Now was the time to set up some ground rules. Carter added, “This is only for calls to me, not to be calling your friends. Understand.” She nodded. “I’m timing the calls. So if you run out of minutes, I can reactivate it. And, I want it understood that I’m not taking sides between you and your mother. I’m offering to listen and tell you about your Dad. But if you ever feel you have nowhere to turn, call me. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Dr. Carter. Thank you.”
Rachel turned and walked toward the waiting limousine. Behind her, Jenn looked toward Carter, he nodded and Jenn smiled. He sighed; it was going to be tough growing up without Mark. Jenn, always career minded, had appeared a little too happy when accepting Carter’s offer. He suspected Jenn would not be there for Rachel either. From what Mark had told him, he also realized it was virtually impossible to do this and not be placed in a position of taking sides between Rachel and Jenn. He hoped he was not doing something he was going to regret.
Carter waved as Rachel got in the limousine. Then, he looked back towards the gravesite and saw Susan standing there facing the casket. She looked so lonely and forlorn. She had hardly spoken since he picked her up this morning. As he walked toward Susan, Abby approached. “Carter, could I get a ride home?”
Lost in his thoughts of Susan, he did not immediately respond. Again Abby asked, “John, can you take me home?”
“Uh . . . I’m sorry Abby, what did you say?”
“I asked if you would mind taking me home?” She was irritated that she had to repeat her question.
Carter looked around and saw several people from the hospital still standing around talking, “I’m sorry, Abby. Could you get a ride with someone else? I want to stay here awhile.”
“I’d rather you didn’t. I . . . I think Susan needs me.”
“Oh. Fine, Carter. See you later,” she replied indignantly as she walked away.
“Yeah,” Carter said absentmindedly as he walked to where Susan was standing, staring at Mark’s casket. He put his hands on her shoulders.
Without turning around, Susan reached up and held both of his hands. She knew it would be Carter standing behind her. Softly he asked, “Susan, are you okay?” Even before he asked, he knew what her answer would be. It was a stupid question. How many times had he wanted to lash out at people when they had asked him the same question? Of course Susan was not okay. She had just lost her dearest friend. The one man in the entire world that she had truly loved. Carter knew she would never admit it. She probably had never admitted it to herself but Susan had loved Mark . . . and not just like a brother. Carter’s heart ached for her. He knew how it felt to lose someone you loved.
“I’m fine, Carter,” she replied flatly. He put his arms around her and she leaned back against him, wrapping her own arms around his. They stood there, not talking. Susan felt his lips against the top of her head. She felt so safe in his arms. She could not put her thoughts into words but she knew Carter did not expect her to. She sighed. She wanted to scream; ‘Of course I’m not fine. I just lost my oldest and dearest friend. I loved Mark. Maybe not like he loved me but I loved Mark. I never allowed myself to admit it before and now he’s gone. Five years ago, I left him because I was too afraid to admit that I loved him. I was too worried about Suzie and Chloe. I let life pass me by. Mark loved me then . . . and he loved me when I came back but he had settled for someone else . . . someone who deserted him when he needed her most.’
Carter continued to hold Susan, as she remained lost in thought. ‘Even after he told me he still loved me, even if I would have given him any encouragement, Mark would not break his vows to Elizabeth. He did not ask Elizabeth to go with him to Hawaii because he knew she really did not want to go. Oh, he said it was because he wanted time alone with Rachel but, the truth was, he wanted time with his whole family. Elizabeth did not want to suffer through watching him die. Did she not realize that when you love someone, truly love someone, you make sacrifices . . . you take the good times along with the bad? Had she not promised to do that in her wedding vows? Why had she not been faithful to her vows? Mark remained faithful to his. Eventually, Elizabeth went to Hawaii, but out of duty . . . not love. No, surely Elizabeth and Mark reconciled before he died.’ Susan wanted to believe that he had been happy or at least content in those last few hours.
A single tear trickled down Susan’s face as she recalled how she had once planned to ask Mark to accompany her to Hawaii. What might their life have been like if she had followed through on her plan? Yes, he might still have died with a brain tumor. Today she would have been the widow but they might have had five years of happiness. Mark was not the love of her life, but she could have been content with Mark. He was a good man; he would never have betrayed her. However, Susan had never loved Mark enough to sacrifice everything to be with him. Unlike with Carter, there would never have been any passion between them.
No one was like Carter. It had taken Susan awhile to realize it but Carter was always passionate. There were times when he held it in check, controlled it . . . tried to bury his passion, kept it hidden from those around him but it was always there . . . beneath the surface. Susan could see it in his eyes . . . those gorgeous chocolate brown eyes. There were times when they made love that his desire was urgent . . . frenzied and times when he was tender . . . gentle, almost reverent. But always, always he was passionate. Susan had never met a man like Carter. He would make almost any sacrifice for someone he cared about but Susan refused to let him sacrifice his happiness for hers. Carter had lost so much already . . . Lucy . . . the baby . . . and he had almost lost his career. Carter had tried hard to convince Susan that she was the woman of his dreams but Luka was right. Susan saw the way he looked at Abby. The past few weeks he had mourned for Lucy but now he seemed ready to move on . . . with Abby.
God, what was she doing? She was standing at Mark’s grave dreaming of making love to Carter. Had she not just told herself that she would have been faithful to Mark if she would have married him? Susan searched her heart. Yes, she would have. Once she had made a commitment, she would have stuck by it, regardless. She would have done her best to make Mark happy. Unlike Elizabeth, she would have stayed with Mark when he was dying. Had they gotten married, she would have had his children to remember him by. Instead, she was thirty-five years old and alone . . . alone like Kerry Weaver. No, at least Kerry had her beloved ER. Susan had nothing . . . nothing except the man who held her in his arms . . . but he was in love with another . . . he was in love with Abby.
Susan bit her lip. A few weeks ago, Carter had said he loved her but now Susan realized it was not true. Maybe he wanted it to be true but it was not. He had been confused about Lucy and he still cared for Abby, even if he refused to admit it. Perhaps the fact that he had been on the roof with Abby when Lucy was stabbed . . . perhaps that was the reason he kept trying to ignore his feelings about Abby. Yet, since he had finally faced the truth about Lucy, he had been spending more time with Abby. Carter insisted they were not dating but that was all the information he would share. Besides, Susan saw the way he looked at Luka. Carter despised the man. The first time she and Carter went out after Susan moved back to Chicago, Carter had mentioned that he and Luka had professional differences. And the dual . . . the dual was pure jealousy . . . like two bucks fighting for the same doe. Susan saw envy in Luka’s eyes every time he looked at Carter. Susan bit her lip again and closed her eyes. Carter was the most forgiving person she knew yet he held nothing but contempt for Luka Kovac.
Another tear trickled down Susan’s cheek, how she wished that she were the one Carter loved. Just for one night, Susan wanted Carter to hold her and tell her how much he loved her. She wanted to pretend, just for tonight, that she and John Carter were a couple again. After Susan realized she had lost Dix, Susan did not think she would ever love anyone again. She never wanted to be that vulnerable . . . never wanted to open herself up to that kind of hurt again. She had been a fool to think that he loved her. She had believed his lies . . . given in to his demands. There was something about him . . . Susan closed her eyes. She would not allow herself to dwell on that . . . that was the reason she came back to Chicago . . . that and those stupid dreams. Mark was dependable. Susan convinced herself that she loved Mark and came back to Chicago hoping to renew their relationship. She was just selfish enough to think Mark would have waited for her but Mark had moved on, settled for someone else. It was then she realized what she felt for Mark was friendship . . . deep loving friendship . . . more like what she would feel towards a brother, if she had a brother. She and Mark remained friends but since he was married, they could no longer stay as close as they once were. Or perhaps Susan had moved on too. Maybe when she realized things would never work out with Mark, Susan convinced herself she loved him merely as a friend. Another tear slipped down Susan’s cheek. Her emotions were so confused but what did it matter now? Mark was gone, forever.
Yet, for whatever reason, Susan had renewed her friendship with Carter. Susan was comfortable with Carter; he was fun but he had matured too. As Mark had predicted many years ago, Carter became an excellent physician. Susan had not planned to fall in love with Carter. It just happened. Mark had seen it before she did.
God, she wished Mark were here. Susan needed a friend to talk to. Now, the only friend she had was Carter and she could not tell him about her emotional turmoil . . . not when he was at the center of it. Susan had watched Mark suffer because he settled for his second choice. Susan might never have loved him passionately but, unlike Elizabeth, she would have never deserted him. Susan loved Carter too much to let him make the same mistake. Susan was not going to be the woman he settled for. He deserved to be with the woman of his dreams.
With Carter’s arms around her, Susan felt sheltered and protected. He was strong and she needed his strength. Her mind was a jumble of confusion, so many conflicting thoughts and feelings. There were few things of which Susan was certain. Yet, two things she knew beyond any doubt. Mark was gone and she missed him; Carter remained and she loved him. Carter and Abby belonged together but, just for tonight, Susan wanted to pretend he belonged to her. Susan knew if she asked him, Carter would stay with her tonight. That was the kind of man he was. He was always willing to sacrifice his own needs, shove aside his own feelings to help someone who was hurting. Susan realized she was being selfish but tonight she was hurting and she needed John Carter.
Susan felt Carter kiss her hair again as he reached up and rubbed her cheek with the back of his fingers. The sun was setting. “Susan, I think that they would like us to leave. They won’t finish burying the casket until everyone has left. We can come back later if you want.”
Susan shook her head and turned toward him. Avoiding his eyes, she said, “No, just take me home. John, I don’t want to be alone, not tonight.”
* * * * * *
Putting his right arm around Susan’s shoulders and holding her left hand in his, Carter guided Susan back to the limousine where Alger was waiting. Carter had anticipated Susan not wanting to be by herself tonight. He also knew it was really Mark, not him, that she wanted to be with. The thought of Susan wanting to
be with Mark did not bother him. Carter had always known Susan loved Mark more than she wanted to admit, possibly more than she had realized, until today. Now, Mark was gone from all their lives. Carter would miss his friend and mentor but he and his colleagues would console each other. Elizabeth would miss her husband; Rachel and Ella would miss their father. However, friends and family would gather around them and offer support. Susan would miss her dearest friend and the love that she had never known but she had no one except Carter to comfort her. Carter would be there to hold her and let her grieve for as long as Susan needed him.
Carter was not exactly sure what Susan meant when she said she did not want to be alone tonight but he had his suspicions. He had come prepared for anything. If she needed a friend, if she needed a lover, if she needed to pretend she was with Mark, it really did not matter. He would be there whatever she needed. If she wanted to live out her last fantasies of Mark . . . well, it would not be the first time a woman had used his body for her own pleasure. He helped Susan into the car and slipped his arm around her. She leaned her head on his shoulder. He rubbed his cheek against her head and looked out the window as they drove out of the cemetery. At least this time, he was making his own decision. At least this time, it would be with the woman he loved. He closed his eyes. If she did not love him . . . well, tonight he could pretend that she did.
* * * * * *
Carter lay in the moonlight, watching Susan sleep. He was tired but he refused to give in to his need for sleep. He wanted to savor every moment of his last night with Susan. He smiled slightly at the irony. Susan loved Mark. Carter was sure she had been thinking of Mark the whole time they were making love. He wondered if somewhere his mentor was watching. Mark’s death had given Carter one last opportunity to make love to the woman they both cherished.
Carter and Susan had spoken very little since the funeral. Words had seemed out of place, unnecessary. They had both known what would happen tonight . . . why Carter had stayed. When they entered her apartment, Susan had turned on one lamp and the stereo. Carter removed his coat and loosened his tie. Then he helped Susan with her jacket.
He wrapped his arms around her. It felt so good to have her in his arms again. She reached up and put her hands around his neck like she had the day of the seminar and pulled him into a passionate kiss. They separated and with his eyes he asked the question; she smiled and gave a slight nod of her head. Immediately their hands were occupied . . . loosening shirts and unbuttoning buttons. Again he pulled her to him. He found the hooks of her bra and allowed his hands to roam to familiar places as he planted soft kisses on her neck. He felt her tongue teasing his earlobe. He opened his eyes as she pulled away. She took his hand and led him to her bedroom.
Except for the moonlight coming in through the window, the room was dark. They had taken their time; Carter had no desire for this night to end and neither, it seemed, had Susan. She had kept her eyes closed almost the entire time but he had kept his open . . . watching . . . watching her response to his touch . . . watching as his hands tried to memorize every curve, every crevice. He heard her open the drawer of her nightstand and rip open the package before she handed it to him. He had tried his best to fulfill her every fantasy. They had slept for a couple of hours and repeated the process. Slept again and repeated it again. Each time they were united, he felt as if his heart would burst with the love he felt for her. As long as he lived, Carter knew there would never be another woman he loved as much as he loved Susan. He wished she felt the same about him but she deserved better.
Now, Susan was sleeping soundly but Carter was awake and watching. He looked at the clock. It would be daylight soon. If he did not leave now, he was not sure he ever could. He leaned over and softly kissed her cheek. Then, quietly, he gathered his clothes and carried them into the next room to dress. He tiptoed to the door of her room for one last look before he left. Susan smiled in her sleep and sighed a contented sigh.
She was sitting on the bench beside the pool. She heard someone approaching from behind. She turned. This time she saw his face. One hand was behind his back, hiding something. He sat down beside her and took her hand. ‘Penny for your thoughts?’
‘I was remembering that first night you brought me here . . . the night you admitted you’d had a crush on me.’ He smiled sheepishly as she continued. ‘And, I was wondering if you were going to leave me alone all night.’
He shook his head. ‘Never, I was looking for something.’
He shook his head again as if to say, ‘Not yet.’
‘Remember what you told me that day after the seminar?’
Susan ducked her head. ‘That it wasn’t there for me.’
Again he shook his head. ‘That I should tell her . . . tell her that I am desperately in love with
her and can’t live a moment without her.’
Susan watched in amazement as he slipped off the bench and dropped to one knee in front of her.
Susan awoke with a start. Carter was no longer beside her. She heard the lock on her door click; she knew he had slipped out of the apartment and he would not return. It was only a dream but her dream . . . not his.
The day had been frustrating from the moment Carter awoke. The weather was warm and humid, not the kind of day for the air conditioning to malfunction. He had spent the morning trying to find someone who could repair the unit today. Gamma was not feeling well and the heat only made her more miserable. Then he ran over a nail and had to change a tire on the way to work. Fortunately, he had packed an extra shirt. His plan was to ask Susan if she wanted to go to a movie or out to eat after work. They had not spent much time together lately and he realized that they would never be more than friends but he missed her company.
Arriving at work was no better. They were short several nurses because of some conference. Then there was the incident with Abby and the fire extinguisher. Adding to his frustration was the fact that no matter what he did today, Carter felt useless. A few weeks ago Dr. Weaver had told him that with Mark gone, the staff would look to him to lead. Well, she was wrong. Every time he had tried to do anything today, someone was contradicting him or telling him that he was not needed. Now, Gallant had interrupted a trauma and insisted that Carter needed to examine two children. Gallant was polite but persistent. Even the med students were telling him what to do.
Carter was irritated at Gallant for insisting that he check on two sick children. They had a busload of senior citizens with multiple injuries complicated by pre-existing health problems. Standing there looking at the little boy and girl in front of him, he knew Gallant’s assessment was correct. These children needed immediate attention. No, these children needed attention hours ago. Carter liked emergency medicine because it was challenging but eight years of training had not prepared him for the challenge before him.
“Could you lift up her shirt?”
“When did the rash start?”
“How long have you been waiting?”
Carter heard himself asking the questions but he was not sure the answers were registering. His mind was racing, feverishly going over the last public health poster he had glanced at and casually tossed aside. He told Gallant to get masks on the kids and frantically raced to the lounge to find the poster. If his diagnosis was correct, there probably was not a doctor in the hospital, possibly not one in the city, who had treated this disease.
After he isolated the children and their parents, he ran to find Susan. Not only would Susan listen to him but she also had the authority that he did not have. She could issue the order to lock down the emergency department.
* * * * * *
Susan stood beside Carter looking through the window into the suture room where he had isolated his patients. Her mind did not want to comprehend what she saw, did not want to believe what Carter was telling her. There had not been a case of smallpox in Chicago since the forties. Carter was standing there showing her the poster, reading off all the major criteria. For a brief moment she flashed back to the conversation she and Carter had on the roof the first time he kissed her. She could hear him saying, ‘Just goes to teach you never to doubt my diagnoses.’
Carter was an excellent doctor. Sometimes he joked about his photographic memory but he actually did remember almost everything he read. He was right; these kids had all the symptoms of smallpox. While Susan tried to decipher Kerry’s three-hundred-plus page Emergency Response Manual, Carter began locking down the ER. Luka adamantly insisted that Carter’s diagnosis was wrong; Carter stood his ground. He was right and there was no way he was going to back down, not even when Deb sided with Luka. As Susan listened, she realized Carter’s problems with Luka went beyond jealousy over Abby. Carter had tried to tell Susan that but she had never believed him. Again her mind replayed the scene on the roof. ‘Just goes to teach you never to doubt my diagnoses.’ God, did Carter always have to be right? ‘Please God,’ she prayed, ‘this time let him be wrong.’
Things only got worse. Deb picked up the chart and realized that she had treated the kids last Tuesday and now she had a fever. Luka kept arguing that they were over reacting. Susan’s mind was reeling; she did not want this responsibility. This would happen on a day when Weaver was out. Then Carter looked straight at her and calmly said, “Susan, you’ve got to come up with a plan, like now.”
His words, his voice, his eyes had a calming effect. Susan’s mind cleared and she began issuing orders. She knew Carter agreed with her plan, even before he began to nod his head. It was almost like she could see what he was thinking. Susan had only had that kind of communication with one other person . . . Mark. Then Abby asked, “What about the kids?”
One look in Carter’s eyes and Susan knew he understood her thoughts. God, he had the most expressive eyes. Susan took a breath; she had to focus. She did not want to tell him that he would be the one to treat the kids. Yet, Carter was the logical choice. He had already been exposed; he was the most knowledgeable physician available. He probably would be better at making the necessary command decisions than Susan but he did not have the authority to do so.
Susan watched as Carter glanced around at the staff and then back at her. For one brief moment Susan looked into his deep brown eyes and saw the myriad of emotions Carter was experiencing: fear, dread, resignation, acceptance, and finally determination. Then, with a slight nod of his head, his eyes told her, ‘It’s okay Susan. You don’t have to make the choice. I’ll go. This is why I became a doctor.’
Susan felt like she was sentencing her best friend, the man that she loved, to death. She realized that was one of the reasons she loved him; he was willing to do whatever was necessary to help someone else, even if it meant sacrificing himself. He did not know she loved him. Since their last break-up, Susan had done everything she could to convince him that all she felt towards him was friendship and that he should pursue a relationship with Abby. Deb insisted that he had yet to make a move with Abby, and Susan was beginning to doubt that he would. Maybe she had been wrong about his feelings towards Abby. Susan closed her eyes briefly. She had to focus; now was not the time to analyze their relationship. She took a deep breath, she could not think about this now. Susan had a crisis to manage. “Nobody panics. Nobody starts any rumors. This is just routine.”
* * * * * *
Even as she began issuing orders and trying to keep the patients, as well as the staff, calm, Susan’s mind kept wandering back to the events of the summer, especially Carter’s birthday. Since Mark’s death, something was missing from the ER. It was like the life had gone out of it. The staff came to work and did their jobs but there was no joy in it, no socializing after hours. The only person who seemed remotely happy was Abby. Well, perhaps happy was not exactly the word for it. Wickedly, gleeful might be a better description. At first, Susan had assumed that Carter had finally made his move but never told her about it. He appeared content enough on the outside and certainly took good care of his patients but one look in his eyes, told Susan there was something missing. If he and Abby were together, he was doing a good job of covering. Yet, Abby kept dropping hints to Susan that something was going on. Even though Deb kept telling Susan that she was wrong about John and Abby, Susan had been surprised when he asked her to go sailing and out to dinner on his birthday.
He was so excited when he asked her, that there was no way Susan could turn him down. Susan was so shocked by his invitation that she never asked why he had not invited Abby. Afterwards, Carter told her it was the closest thing he’d had to a birthday party since he was eight. Despite having everything money could buy, Carter’s life must have been miserable when he was growing up.
The party was actually his grandmother’s idea. She and his dad suggested he invite a few friends for dinner at Spiaggia overlooking the lake. The restaurant was obviously Mrs. Carter’s choice not her grandson’s. No doubt Carter would have chosen somewhere less pretentious. Yet it had been fun. Even the waiters wore tuxedos.
Carter and Susan happened to be off June 4, so he had invited Susan to join him, Peter, Cleo and Reese for a day of sailing before dinner with Dad and Gamma. The weather was perfect and Carter was an expert sailor. Susan enjoyed watching him interact with Reese. He was so patient as he answered Reese’s questions and there were many. Carter kept him in his lap much of the day, letting Reese think he was sailing the boat. When they had arrived back at Carter’s to change for dinner, Reese was one happily exhausted little boy. At the time, Susan recalled thinking that Peter and Carter must spend more time together than she realized. Reese appeared perfectly at home with Sam and Maria, both of whom could communicate with him, though not as expertly as Carter; Carter communicated with Reese as well as Peter. Even Cleo was impressed. The man was born to be a father; all he needed was a wife. Susan recalled thinking that she would love to have his children.
After that, Susan spent the next six weeks warring within herself, alternately telling herself that he would be happier with Abby and then trying to get enough courage to tell Carter how she felt. Every time she thought she had the nerve, Abby would say or do something that made Susan think she should keep her feelings to herself and not complicate Carter’s life. Susan watched them closely at work. Carter and Abby were always flirting. On the other hand, Abby spent almost as much time flirting with Luka. Carter no longer seemed to notice or if he noticed, he appeared not to care. Of course, there also were days when Carter flirted with Susan and Deb. Flirting came naturally to Carter. Susan doubted that Carter was always aware of what he was doing. Still, Susan could not shake the feeling that Carter was unhappy. There were times when she caught a glimpse of sadness in his eyes. Susan would give anything to make that go away, even if it meant seeing him with Abby. After all, Abby was not such a bad person, was she? She could be fun and there were times when Susan liked her, almost.
Coming back to the present, Susan shook her head. She had to keep her mind alert and deal with the crisis at hand. She absolutely could not think about the fact that she may have sentenced Carter to death or, at least, a long recovery from a severely disfiguring disease. She refused to think how more scars would affect his already fragile self-image. Suddenly she realized that Dr. Torres from the city health department was speaking to her. ‘Focus, Susan, focus,’ she told herself. ‘You have to stay focused. Take care of the crisis at hand.’
* * * * * *
Carter entered the suture room where he had isolated Bree and Adam. Despite his objections, Abby came with him. His mind was reeling as he tried desperately to recall every word he had read about small pox. His concern was not only for the two patients in the room but for all the people with whom they had come in contact. The CDC would need lists of where they had been and everyone with whom they had come in contact over the past few weeks. Carter understood the concept of ring vaccinations . . . vaccinating in concentric circles beginning with those who had been in immediate contact with the victims and continuing outward to the contacts of those who had been in contact with the victims. Carter also realized that in today’s mobile society that number could be large.
Despite the fact President Bush proposed spending over $500 million to produce enough vaccine to vaccinate every American, the legislation required to fund that request remained stalled in Congress. Currently the CDC had some 15 million doses stockpiled, however a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine stated that current inventories might not be adequate to control an outbreak. Even if funding were approved today, estimates of how long it would take to produce enough vaccine for the whole United States ranged from two to three years. In addition, the article also pointed out that if the vaccine were available, small pox had the potential to spread much faster than the health care system’s ability to vaccinate. The article concluded that preventive vaccination was the only way to control a possible outbreak and that the potential risks of such a program were minimal compared to the benefits; estimated mortality rates were less than one half percent.
Nevertheless, Carter’s immediate concern was treating his two small patients, a fact that Abby politely reminded him after he had bombarded the parents with a series of questions. Mortality rates were high, perhaps as high as 50% and higher with the very young and the elderly. God, they had an ER full of senior citizens with pre-existing conditions.
Carter took a deep breath. ‘Slow down, Carter. Focus. You have to focus,’ he told himself. Treatment consisted of supportive care. He would treat the symptoms as they emerged and give antibiotics to prevent secondary infection. Even with excellent medical care the chances of losing one or both of these kids were high.
Bree developed respiratory problems and had to be intubated. That done and having better isolated their area, Carter had checked in with Susan and learned the city health department had arrived and CDC was on their way. He and Abby were putting on gowns again when Abby asked how long they might be confined. Carter estimated a few days, commenting they might have to spend the night together. Then he asked, “You afraid?”
“What of getting small pox or waking up next to you?” she replied with a smirk.
Okay, so Abby was still interested. Carter was unsure how he should or how he wanted to respond. Susan had repeatedly made it clear that she was only interested in friendship. Yet, Carter remained undecided about pursuing a relationship with Abby. Letting the matter drop, he went to check on his patients. Adam appeared fine at the moment but Bree’s sats dropped and she went into V-fib. He yelled at Abby to, “Get Lewis.”
Instead, Abby yelled for Pratt. Carter was in over his head and he knew it. Perhaps there was no doctor available with more knowledge but he needed someone with more experience, not less. If nothing else, he needed confidence and having Susan near gave him that.
They tried for forty minutes but it was hopeless. Throughout the resuscitation, Pratt had persisted in making useless suggestions that only upset Bree’s mother. Carter had lost one patient but he had another that remained. If he was going to treat Adam, Adam’s parents needed to have confidence in Carter’s competence as a physician. Pratt was undermining that.
Taking Pratt into the next room Carter verbally dressed him down, telling Pratt that he did not have time to explain everything to him. If he kept up with his reading, Pratt should already know the protocol for resuscitating a patient. Carter had to admit he was relived to learn that Pratt had fever. Confining Pratt to
isolation would keep him out of Carter’s way. There was enough tension without having to put up with
As they were bagging Bree’s body, her mother leaned over to kiss her. Carter watched; with no thought for her own safety, Mrs. Turner kissed her daughter for the last time. She had so much love for her daughter but pulled away from her husband’s touch. She blamed him for Bree’s death. Carter followed Mr. Turner into Adam’s room. The health department officials were there, taking the necessary samples. He tried to console Mr. Turner but to no avail; the man blamed himself for his daughter’s death. Carter walked over to Adam. “How’s your breathing?”
Adam shrugged and looked at his dad, “Dad?”
“Was she scared?”
“Bree, when it happened?”
Carter saw the look on Craig Turner’s face. The man had no idea how to answer his son’s question. Carter answered for him; “She was asleep.”
“Am I next?” Again Adam was addressing his dad.
Automatically the man answered, “No.”
Instead of answering, Mr. Turner glanced at Carter. He was afraid to make that promise. So was Carter but these people needed hope. Adam had just watched his sister die; Craig Turner had lost a child and blamed himself. Carter knew how they felt. With more confidence than he felt, he again answered for Adam’s father. “I promise.”
A few hours later, Adam developed respiratory distress. Adam’s fear complicated an already serious situation. Carter wanted to shove a gag in Abby’s mouth as she said, “Okay, you’re going to go to sleep now Adam.”
Quickly Carter added reassuringly, “Not like with Bree. Just for a little while.”
This time Carter had the pedi-kit ready but there were too many lesions . . . his upper airway was too swollen to pass the tube. He looked at Adam’s neck. If he performed a crike, he would have to cut through the lesions. That would cause more complications. The incision needed to be made lower; Adam needed a formal tracheotomy. Carter continued bagging and Abby went for help. Carter hoped Susan would be able to get a surgeon to perform the procedure. Instead of talking to Susan, Abby spoke with Luka. He told her to tell Carter to do the best he could. Frustrated, Carter told Abby to call Romano. Carter explained the situation. Carter realized before he suggested it that bringing Adam upstairs was not an option. He was hoping to force Romano into some sort of compromise. Romano confirmed that moving Adam to surgery would infect the whole hospital. “Then why don’t you come down yourself?”
“That’s easier said than done.” Romano was frustrated also. He liked to be in control and at the moment, his hospital was under control of Dr. Lutz and the CDC. Romano was not pleased. He was, however, confident in Carter’s abilities. If Romano made the man sufficiently angry, he had no doubts that Dr. Carter was stubborn enough to succeed. Carter’s anger at a situation often spurred him into action.
“Look, I need some help.”
“Well, I’ll see what I can work out but under the circumstances, you may be on your own.”
“Just get your ass down here!” Before the words left his mouth, Carter knew help was not coming; he was on his own.
“Sats are dropping.”
“All right. Prep the neck.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
No, Carter was not sure but what choice did he have? Adam needed a trach and Carter was the only available doctor. Romano’s idea of requiring surgical training for ER doctors sounded more appealing all the time. Unfortunately, it had been five years since Carter had performed this procedure and Abby was not a surgical nurse. He heard Abby explaining to the Turners that Dr. Carter knew what he was doing. He only wished Dr. Carter were as confident.
Taking a deep breath, he made the initial incision. Carter had never performed a trach on anyone so young. The thyroid isthmus was huge . . . the thymus was larger than he had anticipated. Had he forgotten that much anatomy? Somewhere in the back of his mind, Carter recalled that the thymus increases in size until the completion of puberty and then gradually shrinks. “Give me another Kelly, give me four by fours and keep suctioning.”
There was so much blood, he could not see the tracheal rings. Abby asked him something, “No, I want you to keep this field clean so I can see what I’m doing! Give me some four by fours.”
Frantically he worked. Carter had promised Adam would not die. He was determined to keep that promise no matter the cost. Carter’s respiration and heart rates were inversely proportional to Adam’s. Abby said something about switching the tank and Carter agreed. This had to work; he had promised. Nervously Carter stamped his feet, willing the small tube to enter the opening he had sliced in Adam’s trachea. Adam’s heart stopped. Abby began CPR. Carter was unable to see or breathe. Perspiration and fog were impairing his endeavor. “You know what. Pull off my mask!”
“Pull off my goggles . . . my mask; I can’t see, I can’t breathe!”
Carter was unwavering in his resolve. Adam would live or Carter would die trying. “Do it! I don’t care!” He was not going to lose another patient. Abby continued CPR. Carter felt, rather than saw, the tube slip into place. “There, there . . . there, there, there.”
He grabbed the bag from Craig Turner’s hand and connected it to the trach. As Adam’s heart rate began to rise, Carter’s began to slow. He had done it. Carter drew a deep breath. He had kept his promise; Adam would live.
The procedure had taken less than fifteen minutes from start to finish but to Carter it felt like an eternity. Adam remained sedated as Carter secured the tracheal tube and cleaned the operative site. Though he wished he could assure the Turners that their son was out of danger, he knew that was not the case. As gently as he could, Carter explained that there was still a risk of organ failure. He was concerned about the parents as well. Carter glanced into the next room where Mr. Turner sat beside his daughter’s body. His hands were folded as if in deep thought or silent prayer. Looking at Mrs. Turner, Carter inquired, “How are you holding up?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“How about your husband?”
“You’d have to ask him,” she replied tersely.
Carter finished his task, smiled grimly and sighed heavily as he left the room. He sat down on the Gurney next to Abby. She was consulting a medical book. He pulled off his gloves and rubbed his head. Bobby’s death had ripped his family apart. He hated to see that happen to this family but he had no idea how to intervene to prevent it. Abby was saying something.
“The good news is it’s not the hemorrhagic form, which is 98% fatal.
“Well, that’s a relief.” He propped his chin against his hands. Lucy would have known how to intervene. She was good at that.
“Do you think it would have made a difference?”
“If I’d gotten to them sooner.”
Now, Abby was feeling guilty. There was too much of that going around. He was about to reassure her when Gallant opened the door and said, “Abby, Dr. Lewis needs you.” Carter nodded for her to go on.
“Really nice save, Carter.”
He pursed his lips. Perhaps he had made a difference for the moment but was it enough to hold this family together. Carter propped his chin on his hands again. The Turners looked like a nice family and Adam seemed to be a good kid. He was ten; the same age Carter had been when Bobby died. Carter went back into the other room, ostensibly to check on Adam. Actually, he wanted an excuse to speak with Mrs. Turner again. Perhaps if he shared his experience it would prevent them from losing what they had left.
She listened attentively but Carter had no chance to evaluate her response. Their conversation was cut short by the pandemonium that was taking place just outside Adam’s room.
“What is going on out there?”
“I don’t know.”
Carter walked hurriedly toward the admit desk. A riot was in progress; clearly the situation was out of control. Something needed to be done and quickly. Deb should be safe. She and Pratt were quarantined in Exam Four. He crouched behind the admit desk next to Jerry. “Where’s Abby?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why aren’t we doing something to stop this?”
“She was in Curtain Three with the city health officials and the doctor from CDC.”
A man came flying over the desk and crashed onto the floor in front of Carter. Someone had to gain control of the situation before anyone was seriously injured. Carter grabbed the overhead microphone, climbed onto the admit desk and held the mike aloft near the ceiling speakers creating a shrill feedback. As he had hoped, the whine gained everyone’s attention. The bedlam ceased. Carter gasped. “Uh . . . This morning a little five-year-old girl came in here with a rash that looked like small pox. She died quickly. Her older brother is still critical. We don’t know what it is and we don’t know how they got it. But it’s here and it needs to be contained.” He paused to catch is breath. “This is not about denying your civil rights. This is about protecting you. If we let you go, you could carry the disease home to your own families. So please, stay here. Help us and we’ll all get through this.”
Carter stepped down. Luka gave him a pat on the back. He glanced at Susan and Abby standing together. They had entered the admit area while he was speaking. He nodded. Susan mouthed, “Thank you.” He gave her a faint smile and walked back to check on his patient.
* * * * * *
The room was hot, unbearably hot and Carter was drenched with perspiration, partly from the heat and partly from nervousness. It had been a long time since he felt so emotionally drained. They were discussing what they planned to do when they left when David Torres entered. He confirmed that they were dealing with an orthopox but not necessarily small pox. To lessen exposure and until they determined exactly what they were dealing with, Carter and Abby were to be confined to the isolation area for an indefinite period of time.
Carter was miserably hot. Abby insisted he take his temperature . . . it was ninety-nine. She walked to the supply cabinet and returned with an icepack. Abby slipped the ice pack around his neck and stood in front of him, awkwardly and seductively holding it in place. Carter sensed her fear. Their eyes met. She looked so vulnerable, so frightened. She wanted his reassurance that they were going to get through this. Her eyes mirrored his own apprehension about their situation. “Worst of this is over right?” Their eyes remained locked. “Tell me we’re going to be okay.”
Carter kept his hands on the Gurney. Yet, he found himself unable to resist her temptation. Uneasily he leaned over and kissed her lips. He backed off to observe her reaction. He stood as she moved her hands to his
shoulders and allowed the icepack to slip. Apprehensively placing his hands at her waist, Carter kissed her again. Then he said, “We’re going to be okay.” As if he was trying to convince himself, he repeated, “We’re going to be okay.”
Afterwards, reflecting on his actions, Carter was uncertain why he did it. Yes, at one time he thought he was in love with Abby. Now he realized that if he pursued a relationship with Abby he would be settling for something less than what he desired. Perhaps, as he so often did, he was fulfilling his own need to come to the rescue of someone in distress . . . to do whatever was necessary to make the situation better. No matter his reason, the fact remained; he had kissed her softly on the lips, assuring her of something for which he had no guarantee . . . that they would be okay. Then, straightening, he had kissed her again. She had allowed the icepack fall as she rubbed his shoulders in response to his kiss.
After the second kiss, Abby had pulled away saying she needed to check on Adam. He let her go and did not follow. He needed time to sort through his feelings to try to understand the ramifications of what he had done. They were both afraid, in a stressful situation. Carter had understood the risk he was taking when he told Abby to remove his mask and goggles. If the situation presented itself, he would make the same decision again. Yet he had no desire to die. He glanced through the window at Susan. Again and again she had told him she was only interested in his friendship . . . she cared for him but only as a friend. She did not share his feelings. Sometimes he suspected that she had somewhat stronger feelings but he also realized she was protecting herself . . . protecting herself from becoming too involved with him. Not that he could blame her. One drug addict was enough in anyone’s life. If he pursued a relationship with Abby, could he make it work? Did he want it to work? Perhaps if Abby had him to lean on, she could stop drinking again. Maybe they could lean on each other. Yet he could not silence the voice of in the back of his mind that was telling him not to become involved in a co-dependent relationship.
Note from the Author: From this point on, this story contains some spoilers from Season 9. However, I have not followed Season 9 as closely as I followed Season 8, nor have I specifically identified all of the spoilers. So it is possible to read this story without totally spoiling Season 9. Nonetheless, if you live outside the United States and have not yet seen Season 9, you proceed at your own risk.
Post Chaos Theory
Swept Away by a Tornado
I want to help you but not because I’m a nice guy or because I’m worried about you but because I want to be with you.”
“You mean fix me.”
“You mean fix me so that I’m good enough.”
“No, I want it to work.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not broken.”
Conversation between Carter and Abby: Chaos Theory
The exam by the CDC was taking forever. Carter had seen the schedule and knew Susan would be arriving any minute. He was hoping to talk with her. Several times in the last few days he had tried to phone her but had only gotten her machine. Evidently she was either ignoring him or had never listened to his messages because she had never returned his calls. Regardless of the events of the past two weeks, his relationship with Abby remained undefined and he felt a nagging guilt that he had somehow betrayed Susan. He kept telling himself that Susan had made it plain that there was nothing between them except friendship; he realized he should move on - look for happiness elsewhere. Carter was lonely - thirty-two and still looking for a relationship that worked. He was tired of short-term relationships. He wanted someone with whom he could spend the rest of his life. There was something about Abby that drew him to her; yet it did not feel like love or, at least, it did not feel like what Carter thought love should feel like. Since their conversation about Abby’s drinking a few days ago, things had been strained between he and Abby. He wanted to help Abby but she was defensive, informing him that he was only trying to ‘fix her’ and that she was ‘not broken.’ Carter realized that maintaining a relationship was difficult enough without adding alcohol to the mix. Perhaps if he talked to Abby again, he could make her understand. However, Carter needed to see Susan one more time to be sure things were over before he pursued a permanent relationship with Abby.
At last, the exam was over. Carter glanced through the widow but did not see Susan. Quickly saying goodbye to Deb he proceeded to the admit desk where, he noted, that Susan was also headed. She looked gorgeous . . . skin tanned . . . hair sun-streaked. Obviously she had not been sitting around worrying about him or waiting for his call. She greeted him cheerily, “Hey, you survived.”
“Hi. You look . . . tanned.”
She gave him a friendly tap with her fist as she flippantly replied, “I went to Barbados. Sorry. I had two weeks. What else was I supposed to do?”
His smile belied his feelings as he said, “Barbados.”
What else indeed, thought Carter? Well, he had his answer; Susan was definitely not interested. Okay, so Abby was a possibility but unless they got some things settled it would never work. He would talk to her today. Carter needed to know where this relationship or whatever that existed between he and Abby was headed.
* * * * * *
Susan turned to the computer and logged on. She had been dreading her first meeting with Carter ever since her phone call with Deb. She had cried when Deb had told her that he had finally gotten together with Abby. Susan took a deep breath as she recalled the surprise visitor she had the day after the evacuation.
It was almost noon by the time Susan awoke. The day of the evacuation had been one long nightmare. Losing a patient during the evacuation; Romano’s horrible misfortune; Chen, Pratt, and Stan confined in one room with a fever of unknown origin; Carter and Abby confined to another. Susan was worried most about Carter. Typical of Carter, he had knowingly exposed himself to a potentially fatal illness to save a patient’s life. His seemingly infinite capacity for compassion was
one of the reasons she loved him. Now he would surely get together with Abby. What else were they going to do confined to ER together for two weeks?
Carter was not yet running a fever and he was the first to be vaccinated but still . . . removing his goggles and mask with an airborne virus. What was he thinking? Susan knew exactly what he was thinking. He was not going to lose another child to this illness. He was not going to be responsible for the Turners losing both of their children. The ringing of the telephone had startled Susan but not as much as hearing the voice on the other end of the line.
“This is Millicent Carter. I was in town and wondered if I might stop by and take you to lunch. I’m concerned about my grandson and I wanted to speak with you.”
No doubt the elderly lady was worried. Susan felt obligated to do whatever she could to alleviate her fears. It was the least she could do for John. “Certainly we can have lunch Mrs. Carter but didn’t Carter, uh John, call you?”
“Yes, he did. However, you know John. Whenever he tells me anything he feels he has to protect me by putting a soft spin on what he’s saying. I’m not nearly as fragile as he thinks and I have a few questions that I want answered. I know I can trust you to be honest. Wear something nice dear, I’ve made reservations at Dominique’s for twelve-thirty.”
Amazingly Susan had showered and dressed in less than thirty minutes. Alger arrived promptly at twelve-fifteen to escort her down to the Towncar where Millicent Carter awaited. Eating at Dominique’s brought back memories of being there with Carter and of his kiss when he brought her home. Susan tried in vain to shove the memories from her mind. However, lunch had been friendly. Susan had tried to answer all of Mrs. Carter’s questions honestly without alarming her. Nonetheless, the woman had a rather disarming way of getting to the truth. Finally she looked Susan in the eye and said, “Dr. Lewis, just how serious is this disease and how great are my grandson’s chances of contracting it?”
Taking a deep breath Susan responded as gently as possible. “Mrs. Carter, the disease is potentially fatal. It is a variant of monkey pox, which usually is more serious in young children and the elderly. As I’m sure you have heard on the news, one of Carter’s patients died and both of his patients were children. However, this is a variant of monkey pox so we are not sure how serious this disease is.”
“Have their been fatalities reported among people John’s age?”
“Not in the states.”
Something about this woman made it almost impossible to lie to her. “Yes.”
“I see. However, the vaccine he has been given is for small pox.”
“Yes, the diseases are closely related and the vaccination should provide immunity for both.”
“And of course John used proper precautions when treating his patients?” The look on Susan’s face must have given her away for Mrs. Carter pointedly asked, “Susan Lewis, exactly what did my grandson do that has increased his risk?”
Something about the matron’s demeanor made Susan feel like a guilty teenager. Looking down, Susan softly admitted, “He removed his goggles and mask while performing a tracheotomy on one of his patients.”
“I see. And how long does a small pox vaccination last?”
“We aren’t sure, probably ten years, possibly there is some residual resistance for a longer period of time. The disease has been eliminated and vaccinations ceased in the seventies so no one really knows for sure. Why?”
“Because John was vaccinated as a child.”
Susan did not wish to contradict the older woman but she had asked Susan to tell her the truth. “Mrs. Carter, routine vaccinations were stopped sometime around the early to mid-seventies.”
“Routine vaccinations yes. John was young and I doubt he even remembers it. However, not long after the Vietnam war ended, Jack and I took the children with us to Bangkok while we finalized plans for an orphanage we were setting up for the Amer-Asian children. There were so many of them. That must have been sometime in 1974. Anyway, the pediatrician insisted that we vaccinate all three children before taking them to a third world country. We had not been home two weeks when John developed chicken pox. Gave me quite a scare.” At that the lady smiled. “I had such a time trying to keep him from scratching. He did have one or two scars as I recall, quite near the site of his small pox vaccination.”
Susan had not been at all sure that his vaccination would provide any protection after that length of time. However, if thinking that it would gave Mrs. Carter peace of mind, Susan was not going to contradict her. “Well, that’s good to know. I’m sure with two vaccinations, Carter should be fine.”
“You know Susan, I’ve missed seeing you out at the house. It’s been over a month. You and John are still seeing each other?”
“Mrs. Carter, John and I will always be friends.”
“Nothing more? I’m sorry, you’ll have to excuse an old lady for prying.”
Susan was well aware of Millicent Carter’s ploy. The matriarch was quite adept at using her age to her advantage. “I think Carter, uh John is interested in someone else.”
“Oh, I see. Is this someone at the hospital?”
“Yes, Abby Lockhart.”
“The nurse mentioned on the news? The one with whom he is quarantined?”
“I see.” With that Mrs. Carter had placed her hand over Susan’s. “You know dear, there are times when I’m not sure my grandson knows his own mind. Perhaps this Abby Lockhart person is just someone he needs to get out of his system.” She pursed her lips as Susan had seen Carter do so many times before she continued. “So, what are you doing while my grandson is confined at County General?”
If she had told the truth, Susan would have had to say that she was going to be home worrying about Carter and fretting over what he might be doing with Abby. However she managed to lie, although not very convincingly for Mrs. Carter appeared to see right through her. “I’m not sure. I have two weeks off.”
“Hum, I see.” She cocked her head and raised her eyebrows, yet another Carter mannerism. “You know what you need? You need a vacation - a meaningless fling with some handsome stranger. I think I know just the place. Perhaps by the time you return, my grandson will be over his infatuation with this Abigail Lockhart.”
Something about the way Mrs. Carter said Abby’s name reminded Susan of the way one might say putrid smell. Susan had no idea whether Mrs. Carter had ever met Abby but it was clear that the matriarch had already formed a negative opinion of her.
Still standing at the computer, Susan turned her head and watched as Carter walked out the door and out of her life into Abby’s. Obviously the infatuation was not over. For ten days Susan had lain on the beach in the sun trying to forget John Carter. There had been plenty of handsome strangers but no flings - meaningless or otherwise. Instead Susan spent her nights sleeping in the Carters’ cottage dreaming of John . . . John holding her in his arms . . . John making love to her . . . John handing her a tiny curly haired bundle wrapped in pink and saying, ‘Susan, she’s perfect . . . absolutely perfect. See, look at her hands.’
Susan shook her head. John Carter had moved on. “I’m sorry Kerry, you were saying.”
“I said I have some administrative duties to take care of upstairs so you are in charge.”
* * * * * *
Carter walked out of the hospital that morning. It was not even seven o’clock and already it was hot. He saw Abby standing with the Turners and watched as Adam and his family left. The family looked as if they were getting along better; he hoped so. Carter had not been able to save Bree but he had saved Adam. At least when it came to medicine he was competent. When it came to relationships . . . well, that was a different story.
Carter knew he should go home, see Gamma and reassure her that he was all right. She had been worried about him and that could not be good for her health. He had already phoned her and he would go home but later. First, he needed to get some things settled between he and Abby. Two weeks . . . two weeks they had shared a room, they had sex and still their relationship remained undefined. The sex was . . . well it was sex and it had been a long time since . . . since he was with Susan. Yet it was not like with Susan; nothing would ever be like being with Susan. He would have to settle for something less and learn to quit comparing.
He had tried to talk to Abby about the drinking. Stan’s admission seemed like the perfect opportunity. She had only gotten angry and avoided him for the next two days. Given that they were confined to such a small area that was difficult to accomplish but Abby had managed. Carter had used that time to reexamine his own motives for pursuing a relationship with Abby. He cared about her but love . . . he had thought he understood love after his talks with Gamma. Perhaps he would never understand love.
Commitment . . . commitment Carter understood. If he made a commitment to Abby he would do his best to stick by it. But what if Susan . . . no, he told himself; Susan would not change her mind. After her flippant comments this morning, he was sure of it. She had repeatedly made it clear that her feelings for him were nothing more than friendship. If she had wanted it to be anything more, she had the perfect opportunity on his birthday. There had been a few times since then that he thought there were sparks . . . that feeling of electricity between them but Susan always backed off. He understood and he did not blame her. He was an addict; his family was dysfunctional. Somewhere there was a man who could give Susan all the things that he could not . . . all of the things she deserved. Besides, if he and Abby developed a relationship . . . well she needed someone to help her through this and Abby had been the one that turned him in . . . started him on the road to recovery. He owed her that much. Anyway, he was lonely. If he tried hard enough, he could make it work.
Even though Carter was starving, he and Abby had driven down to the lake. She wanted to take a walk. He had agreed, thinking this would give them time to talk. If this were going to work, they had to communicate. It was a weekday and early yet, so the shore was devoid of people. As they walked along, Carter tried to explain his feelings; Abby either did not understand or was uninterested. He was still trying to explain when he realized she had stripped naked and gone for a swim. He laughed and shook his head in amazement, “The tornado. Definitely the tornado.”
He stood there for a moment watching, contemplating. Then, glancing around to be sure no one was looking, he stripped down to his boxers and dove in headfirst. He knew he was getting in too deep and would probably be sorry later but . . . what the hell! Life was short, right? It was not what he wanted; it would never be what he wanted. Carter realized he could never have what he wanted. He was settling for something less than what he had hoped. Yet, with enough effort, their relationship could work. Anyway, Abby needed help staying sober. If nothing else came of this, that alone would be worth a try. Wouldn’t it?