Fifty or Sixty Years
Post One Can Only Hope
November 7, 2002
“We agreed to stay in costume . . .”
“. . . Are you serious or are you kidding? Do you even know what I’ve been dealing with down here?”
Conversation between Abby Lockhart and John Carter: Hopeless Wound“Hey, your breadmaker is still in the box.”
Eric Wyzcenski to Abby Lockhart: One Can Only HopeJohn Carter slices a loaf of bread to make toast in Gamma’s kitchen.
The Fastest Year“Chen knows . . . Where do you think I got the condoms?”
Abby Lockhart to John Carter: Chaos Theory“There are a lot of empty beds at the house.”
“What happened some of the kitchen staff quit?
Conversation between John Carter and Abby Lockhart: BygonesAfter Susan kisses Carter following the dual, he licks his lips.
Secrets and Lies
Jing Mei sat in the table sipping her herb tea. Not many customers frequented the all night bakery at this hour of the morning. The shop was empty except for the kid behind the counter busily doing his homework. As she watched him, she thought how difficult it must be to attend classes after working so late. On the other hand, was it any different than what she did in college or med school or now? Keeping such long hours and working under such emotionally charged conditions made rational decisions difficult. Certainly the choice she made, or almost made, tonight was not rational. Fortunately they were interrupted. As she hurried away from the apartment, she impulsively entered the lighted shop. She could have had better tea at home but she needed the immediate presence of another person. Actually, she needed companionship, conversation, someone with whom to share her thoughts but there are not many people one can call at two-thirty in the morning to talk. The jangling of the bell on the shop door disturbed her musings. She looked up. “John?”
He was surprised, “Deb. What are you doing here at this hour? A little far from home aren’t you?”
“I was uh . . . visiting a friend and needed some tea before I went home.”
Ignoring his question, she replied, “And what brings you out at this time of night?”
“Oh, I was hungry and we needed some bread. All Abby has is from the grocery store.” Turning to the teen behind the counter he said, “I’ll take a loaf of whole wheat and two dozen oatmeal chocolate-chocolate chip cookies. Oh, and a decaf mocha latte` with some Hershey’s7 syrup.”
“Missing Corrine’s cooking?”
“Yeah, kind of. Abby doesn’t have much time for that and I . . .”
“Can’t cook.” She smiled coyly. “And in need of a chocolate fix,” she commented. “How are things with Abby?”
Paying for his purchases, he sat down and offered her a cookie. “Things with Abby are . . . fine.”
She took a bite of cookie and said, “Mm. Why don’t I believe that?”
“Why wouldn’t you?”
“Come on John, this is me you’re talking to. I’ve known you too long. You can’t play that game with me.”
“Answering a question with a question.’
‘Why not? You never answered my question.’
“What question was that?”
“You know what question.”
“Deb, who were you visiting and what did he do to upset you?”
“I didn’t say I was upset.”
“No, but it’s not like you to be sitting alone in a bakery, sipping lousy tea, at this hour, so far from your apartment.”
“John, you know me too well.”
“Well, I was there for the birth of your firstborn.”
“Touché, Dr. Carter. All right, I’ll tell you. But first, you have to tell me why you’re here.”
“Abby and I had an argument.”
“I don’t like bread from the grocery store. Corrine always baked ours. I bought Abby a breadmaker. You know, one of those where you just dump everything in and the machine does all the work. She never even opened the box to look at it. Tonight when I asked her about it, Abby said she wasn’t my servant, she never made bread and she was not about to start. I said I’d do it. She said I was being ridiculous . . . that I was spoiled . . . that I should learn to eat regular bread like the common people. When I started to open the box to read the directions she threatened to go out and get drunk. That’s when I walked out.”
“Like the common people, huh? And she’s going to punish you by getting drunk?”
He sighed. In his anger, Carter had said more than he intended. “Deb, Abby . . . Abby has a drinking problem.”
“Oh. But she . . .”
“I know. I’m worried about her but I shouldn’t have told you.”
“John, I won’t say anything.” She put her hand over his as she asked, “John, are you sure things are working with you and Abby?”
“We had an argument, Deb. Everyone does that.”
“John, not everyone threatens self-destructive behavior in order to win an argument.”
He bit his lip and looked down. “I know that. That’s the reason I walked out.”
“John, I’ve seen some changes in you since you two got together.”
“Well, of course . . . there are bound to be changes . . . when you’re in a relationship.”
She knew it would sound petty to anyone else but John would know what she meant. “John, you went to boarding school. You grew up wearing suits and ties. Even during med school, you always dressed so professional. You’re as comfortable in a suit or a tux as you are in jeans. Now, you never dress up; all you wear to work is scrubs.”
“I’m doing my own laundry; it’s easier.”
“Or maybe you’re trying to live down to the common people’s standards.”
Carter raised his head; offended that Deb would make such a remark. “Deb, I’ve never felt like that. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the whole idea of social classes. People aren’t all that different no matter how much money they have or don’t have. You should know how I feel about that.”
“I know how you feel, John. But does your girlfriend?” Carter shrugged and looked back down at his cup. Jing Mei continued, “You know, you could send your laundry out or move back to the mansion? Then you could have your bread and Abby wouldn’t have to do anything but be your girlfriend.”
Raising his head again, Carter scoffed. “The mansion . . . you’ve been around Susan too much.”
Deb laughed, “Seriously John, wouldn’t it be easier than keeping up two places?”
“Gamma’s not fond of Abby and Abby’s not comfortable at the house.”
“That makes it hard on you, running back and forth to check on Gamma.”
“She’s getting out more and I don’t mind.”
“So you rented a two-bedroom apartment. Abby was moving into a new apartment, why didn’t you just move in with her? I mean, you are sleeping with her, aren’t you?”
“I . . . we . . . it just didn’t seem . . . I didn’t think,” he stammered. Finally ending with, “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know if you’re sleeping with her?”
“I don’t know why we didn’t move in together.”
“Are you in love with her?”
“I care about Abby, yes.”
“That wasn’t what I asked?”
“My relationship with Abby is . . . we’re fine. We still have a few kinks to work out but we’re going to be okay.”
“Are you trying to convince me or yourself? I’m not buying it, John. You and Abby are from two different worlds.”
“There are other things too. You don’t laugh and joke anymore.”
“Sure I do.”
Firmly she replied, “No, you don’t. You were much happier when you were with Susan.”
“Technically, Susan and I were from two different worlds. Deb, face it. Not many people grew up in the same world you and I did. And most of the ones that did are . . . ”
“Snobs,” she finished. Carter nodded. “Yeah, I know, John. But Susan seemed to fit in your world and vise versa. The whole thing just didn’t seem to be an issue, for either of you.”
“And when I was with Susan, you gave me a hard time about her age.”
“Well, I shouldn’t have. You two were good together.”
“Well, we’re not together anymore.”
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
“Okay.” She sipped her tea and Carter assumed he was off the hook. He was wrong. “So, how is the sex with Abby?”
“Subtle, aren’t we? Deb, you know I don’t kiss and tell.” She kept waiting for an answer. “The sex is fine.”
She smiled, “Hmm. The sex is fine; your relationship is fine. Hence the need for the chocolate fix.”
“You read that article?”
“Um. I don’t recall you eating so much chocolate when you were with Susan.”
She smiled demurely. “Deb. I’m not having this conversation. Besides, you haven’t answered my question and you promised.”
“Pie crust promise . . . easily made; easily broken. Take me home?” She reached for her coat.
“Only if you answer my question.” He stood and held her chair for her. Then helped her with her coat.
“You wouldn’t want me to have to ride the El alone at this time of the morning?”
He gave her a look. Then held the door and helped her into the Jeep.
As he got in on the other side she said, “I went home with Pratt tonight.”
“Do you know another one?”
“Why do you think?” Carter just waited. She shook her head. “I got threatened again today and I was feeling vulnerable. Pratt was sympathetic and one thing led to another and we ended up at his apartment.”
“So you guys . . .”
“No. Fortunately, his brother or roommate or someone came home yelling about winning the lottery. He didn’t seem too bright. Anyway, I grabbed my things and left and ended up at the all night bakery.”
“Deb, you could do better than that.”
“You know me better than that. What’s wrong with Gallant? He’s a decent guy.”
“He’s younger than me.”
“So is Pratt.”
“Gallant’s a student.”
“It’s been done before.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“Deb, I’m just saying you deserve better.”
“So do you.”
“I thought you and Abby were friends . . . drinking buddies.”
“John, you were my friend first.”
“So, you rank your friends?”
“No, well, yeah . . . maybe. I’ve known you longer and I know you better. John, I’ve seen what you’ve been through and Susan was good for you. When you were with her it was like the old John Carter was back.”
“The arrogant, competitive guy you hated in med school?”
“No, the sweet, fun-loving, sensitive guy who was everyone’s friend. Since you’ve been with Abby, neither Susan nor I see you much, except at work, if then.”
“Susan and I are still friends. It’s just, since I’m with Abby, things are a little awkward with Susan?”
“John, Abby monopolizes your time. When you were with Susan, you could still see your friends. How long has it been since you’ve been anywhere with Peter? For that matter, how long has it been since you and Abby went to dinner at a nice restaurant, or attended the theater, or the symphony, or spent the afternoon wandering around the art museum? We used to bump into each other occasionally. Maybe I was wrong but I thought you enjoyed those things.”
“Deb . . .”
He stopped in front of her apartment on Lakeshore. “Look John, I’m just saying you should give this a lot of thought before you do anything to make this relationship permanent. You and I have been friends for a long time and I don’t want to see you hurt, again.” The doorman opened her car door.
“Deb . . . thanks.”
“Yeah, you too.” He watched as she walked into the building and then turned to wave good-bye.
* * * * * *
He thought about driving back to the apartment; but instead he found himself heading home . . . home to the mansion. Deb was right; things were not going as well as he had hoped with he and Abby. There were times when he missed going out with his friends but Abby was so insecure. She went out with Deb and Susan but he was never included in the group. Abby made it clear that it was strictly a girls club. Heaven forbid that he go anywhere with Deb or Susan alone . . . or even to a ball game with Peter for that matter. The only places he was allowed to go alone were work or Gamma’s.
Deb had been right about that too. Taking care of two places was difficult and Carter did not check on Gamma as often as he would like. Gamma made it clear that she did not care for Abby at all. There was something about Abby that Gamma did not trust and, although Gamma had no other memory lapses, she could never remember Abby’s name. Gamma never actually said what she did not like about Abby but Carter suspected the gold-digger alarm was going off. Abby was not particularly fond of Gamma either and she despised the whole Carter social scene. Well, that was difficult to handle. Yet, over the years Carter had come to accept it. However, Abby had no aversion to spending the Carter money. Not that he had spent all that much on her really. Still, he had heard no complaints about his buying furniture for her apartment as well as his. No, Abby bought the furniture for both apartments; he merely paid for it.
Deb was right about the way he dressed now, too. Abby appeared to have an aversion to dresses or eveningwear of any kind. The dressiest thing she owned was the black slacks and jacket she wore to Mark’s and Grandpa’s funeral. Well, if you excluded the pink bridesmaid’s dress that remained in her closet. They had argued about that too. When he helped her move, Carter had suggested a shopping trip. Abby jumped at the chance but the plan had not worked as he had anticipated. Abby refused to look at dresses. It was not a question of money; it was that Abby detested wearing any clothing remotely resembling a dress. Carter suspected it was somehow related to her resentment of Maggie. Maggie liked to see Abby in dresses. Twice recently Maggie had sent Abby a dress that she designed. Carter thought they were pretty but Abby had thrown them both in the trash.
Well, there was the nurse’s uniform at Halloween but that was an exception. Carter thought about Halloween; he had felt totally stupid that day when no one else came to work in costume. Later when the victims of the fire came in, his costume seemed inappropriate, felt disrespectful. Halloween aside, Carter had to admit he was as comfortable in a suit and tie as he was in scrubs, or jeans. Yet, Abby did not like it. She insisted on dressing casual and said it made her feel inferior if he wore a suit so he capitulated.
Carter enjoyed dressing up and going out to dinner, or the theater, or dancing. It was not something he wanted to do every night but, every now and then, it was fun. Well, they had gone dancing tonight hadn’t they . . . line dancing. Not exactly Carter’s style, though he had tried. Carter thought the evening was going well. What was it Eric’s girlfriend had said? Something about them being comfortable together with being showy. Well, that was one way to describe their relationship. Lackluster was another.
Since they had to work tomorrow, he and Abby had left Eric and his girlfriend at the Navy Pier and gone back to the apartment fairly early. That was when they had tonight’s argument. Was it so terrible that he preferred homemade bread for his sandwiches? At first they argued. Then, Abby started yelling. Finally, she stalked off and slammed the bedroom door, taking a six pack of beer with her.. Carter totally lost his appetite and his stomach was in knots. He walked out and had driven around for a couple of hours until he calmed down. He was beginning to feel hungry again when he had seen the bakery. Even though it was an odd meeting, he had enjoyed talking to Deb. He missed his friends. He especially missed Susan.
Deb was right about so many things. Was she right a few months ago when she said he was attracted to older women? Was he looking for someone to replace his mother? Was it because his first sexual experience had been with someone older . . . much older? Was that why he was happier with Susan? Carter had dated several women who were older than him. Was he looking for someone to replace his mother? God, that would be sick. No, he had grown accustomed to his mother’s behavior. Besides, most of his life, Gamma had been there to take his mother’s place. When Gamma was not there, Corrine was. As for the other, well he had finally worked through his feelings about being abused. Anyway, there was not that much difference in Abby and Susan’s ages.
Thinking back over the women he had dated, Carter counted just as many who were his age or younger. He had been happy with Lucy and Lucy was five years younger. His feelings for Susan had been anything but filial. They had shared everything . . . feelings, problems, opinions, hopes and dreams for the future. They laughed and had fun together; even in the midst of problems, Susan could make him smile. They never had trouble communicating. Carter had to admit he was happier with Susan.
He would never tell Deb but she was right about the sex too. With Abby it was sex; with Susan it was never just sex . . . it was always making love . . . even the last two times with Susan . . . it felt like making love.
What else had Deb said? You and Abby are from different worlds. It wasn’t that Carter minded living in Abby’s world. After all, he had chosen to work at County in an effort to escape his world. He wanted people to think of him as a regular guy. That was why he had hidden the fact that his family was wealthy from Anna. He wanted Anna to get to know him for who he was and not pass judgment because of his money. Yes, he was ashamed of how his family had acquired most of the money. After years of him resenting it and being embarrassed by it, he and Gamma had finally discussed that at length. What he had learned, when he had shut up long enough to listen, had surprised him. All of the money was not obtained by immoral means. And there were some things about having money he enjoyed and wanted to share with Abby.
His relationship with Abby was turbulent at best. Sometimes she had no problem at all spending his money and other times she was positively belligerent at the mere suggestion of him buying something. Carter never knew how Abby would react; there was no apparent pattern. Chaos ruled. Then there were those not so subtle, snide remarks about the fact that he did not have to work. One thing was certain, Abby never wanted to consider even visiting his world. Carter could not understand what he was doing wrong. This issue of different worlds had not even come up with Susan or Lucy. Okay, he was relatively poor when he was with Lucy. Still, she had not seemed to care about the money one way or another. Susan appeared to enjoy attending the New Years dance. No she had enjoyed it; she said it was a little like being Cinderella at the ball. As he thought about that night, Carter unconsciously licked his upper lip. Carter expected to make adjustments in any relationship but, at present, if felt like he was doing all of the adjusting. He knew when he and Abby started dating that her life had been hard growing up and coping with Maggie had to be difficult. Yet, somehow he felt there should be a point where you quit feeling sorry for yourself and took some responsibility for finding your own happiness.
Carter pulled into the garage and glanced at his watch. It was almost four a.m. and he had to be back at the hospital by eight. Quietly, he slipped into the house and up the stairs to his room. Just as he got in bed, his cell phone rang. He thought he had turned it off. He sighed, it was Abby.
“John, where are you?”
“I’m at home in bed,” he replied flatly.
She was irritated at his answer. “No you’re not! I called your apartment and you didn’t answer. I’m in bed waiting for you and you are definitely not here!”
She sounded drunk. He was tired and he could not deal with this tonight. His efforts to help Abby stay sober were definitely failing. She drank when she was happy or said she was. He could never tell if Abby was happy. She drank when she was sad . . . when she felt sorry for herself . . . when she was angry. He rubbed his hand through his hair and sighed, “Abby, I needed to check on Gamma. I’m spending the night here at the house.”
“What about me. I’m here alone, worrying about Eric,” she whimpered
“Abby, he’ll find his way home tonight.”
“You don’t care. You don’t care about me or my family,” she grumbled.
Carter took a deep breath and thought; no, I don’t care . . . that’s why I bought tickets, flew to Oklahoma, paid your mother’s motel bill, rented a car and drove all the way back on my weekend off when I could have gone to a ball game and gotten laid. Carefully controlling his emotions he replied, “Abby, I do care. But it’s late and I’m tired. If Eric is having problems, we can deal with it tomorrow. One more day can’t make much difference. Look, I have to be up early. I’m not having this discussion tonight.”
“Oh, of course you’re not. You’re so self-centered. All you care about is John Carter . . . oh, and maybe Gamma and her precious money.”
He took another deep breath and tried to count to ten. They were back to the issue of money again. One minute she was angry or making fun of him because he had money and the next, she was asking how much he was worth or spending it. There was no way to win and there was positively no use arguing when she was like this. “Abby, I’m hanging up. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
“Did you get your homemade bread?”
Ignoring her sarcasm, he said, “Good night Abby.”
Carter hung up the phone. This time he made sure it was off. Within two minutes his pager went off. It was Abby. He ignored it. It went off again. He turned it on vibrate and buried it under a pillow.
He wanted things to work with Abby; he really did. At the moment he was not sure why and he certainly did not think it was worth it. Life was much less of a roller coaster ride with Susan. He missed Susan. Grabbing an extra pillow, he snuggled against it and fell asleep thinking of her.
* * * * * *
Two days later, Deb caught Susan in the lounge. “Hey Susan, are you busy tonight?”
“No, want to go out?”
“Umm. I was thinking about it, just the two of us.”
“A date? Chen, I’m straight. Maybe you should ask Weaver.”
Deb rolled her eyes and smiled, “Susan, I don’t date blondes. Seriously, I wanted to talk to you, without Abby around.”
“I’m worried . . . about John.”
Deb’s back was to the door but Susan looked up as Abby burst into the room and said, “MVA arriving in two.”
“Be right there Abby.” To Chen she added, “Yeah, Deb I’d be interested in reading that article. Maybe you can drop it by sometime later tonight.”
Sensing she was out of the loop, Abby asked, “Did I miss something?”
“What to you mean?” Deb asked as she took the gown and gloves Abby offered.
“It just seems like you two were involved in a conversation you didn’t want me to hear.”
“Just one that wouldn’t interest you,” Susan tried to cover as they walked to the ambulance bay. “Deb found an article about a case I had recently that didn’t go as well as I’d hoped.”
“One I worked on?” Abby asked. Before Susan had time to respond, two ambulances pulled in with sirens still blaring.
Abby accompanied the ambulatory patient into Exam One. As they busied themselves with the other two patients, Jing Mei caught Susan’s eye and mouthed, ‘saved by the siren.’ Susan rolled her eyes and nodded. Then they both disappeared into the trauma rooms.
* * * * * *
Following their shift, Jing Mei and Susan decided the best place to talk uninterrupted was Jing Mei’s apartment. As she stood looking out the window at the window at Lake Michigan, Susan said, “Nice view.”
Jing Mei handed her a glass of wine as she said, “You could have had a view like this if you had stayed with John.”
“Yeah, well. That’s not going to happen. He’s with Abby now.” Susan sipped the wine. “Besides, he prefers living at the mansion. It’s his now you know.”
“No, I didn’t. Though it doesn’t surprise me. John’s always been his grandparent’s favorite, even when they weren’t speaking. Makes me wonder though.”
“Why he’s trying so hard with Abby, apparently she hates the mansion.”
“Simple, he loves her.”
“Um, I don’t think so.” Jing Mei sipped her wine and curled up on the sofa. “What happened with you two?”
Susan turned towards her. “Is this why you asked me over? To discuss my failed relationships?”
“Susan, I’m not meaning to bring up an uncomfortable subject. I’m just concerned about John. I don’t think he’s very happy with Abby.”
“Of course he is.”
“No, he’s not. I ran into him accidentally the other night right after they had an argument. I got the distinct impression that things aren’t going well.”
“So what am I supposed to do, sit around and wait, hoping things will fall apart with Abby?”
“Do you love him?”
“That’s not a fair question.” Susan was still standing and she looked back out at the lake.
Turning again toward Jing Mei, she said “Deb, Carter’s in love with Abby. He has been for a long time. I came along and distracted him for awhile but it’s not me he wants.”
“Are you sure?”
“Why do people keep asking me that?” Susan asked as she sat on the opposite end of the sofa.
“Who else asked?”
“The bartender at the Lava Lounge . . . Haleh.”
“The night Mark died. I was flirting with him. He said Carter was glaring at him.”
“Maybe he was.”
“Yeah, well, he spent the night with Abby.” Susan shrugged and gulped her wine.
“The bartender?” Jing Mei asked hopefully.
Susan rolled her eyes, “Carter.”
Surprised, Jing Mei asked, “John told you that?”
“No, Abby told me. She called a couple of days later to let me know.”
“Hum. That’s interesting.”
“Well, during the quarantine they got together.”
“Yeah, don’t remind me. So?”
“It struck me as odd that Abby came to me for condoms. We keep them in the supply closet and hand them out all the time. Why did she have to ask me for condoms? It was like she was bragging or something.”
“Jing Mei, they haven’t exactly hidden their relationship. Look Deb, I care about Carter and I just want to see him happy. If Abby makes him happy, I’m okay with that.”
“The thing is Susan, I don’t think their relationship is all that happy. John’s trying really hard because he wants a relationship but its not working. Abby’s not into it, not totally.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, three days after she asked me for condoms she was asking me if it was possible to die from boredom.”
“Come on, Susan. I’m just saying that if I were beginning a new relationship with a guy that I really cared about and I happened to by confined to a small space with him twenty-four/seven for two weeks, I wouldn’t be bored?”
Susan pondered that a moment, thoughts of making love to John flashed through her mind. “No, I think I could find a few things to do to occupy my time, especially if the guy was Carter.”
“My point exactly. Susan, she’s only going to hurt him.”
Susan bit her lip and looked out the window. Jing Mei could see she was fighting tears. “Well, maybe she’s someone he has to get out of his system.”
“And you’ll be there to pick him up when he falls?”
“That’s me, good old dependable Susan.”
“You love him that much?”
Susan took a deep breath and finally said, “Yeah, Deb. I do.”
Jing Mei put her hand on Susan’s. “John’s crazy if he chooses Abby and loses you.”
Post Tell Me Where It Hurts
“If you’re not depressed or ashamed, you’re just angry . . . “
“Oh, I know. You are always so good and I’m so bad. I’m such a mess and you’re so understanding. I don’t want help. I don’t want to be pitied. I don’t want to be saved.”
Conversation between Luka Kovac and Abby Lockhart: The Longer You Stay“Happy Abby, always looking on the bright side.”
Susan Lewis to Abby Lockhart: Hopeless Wound
Susan sat staring at her dinner. She felt so alone. Even Kerry Weaver had someone and now she and Sandy were expecting a baby. Susan’s parents had warned her. Did they not tell her if she became a doctor she would have no life? Why had she chosen medicine? All she had done today was pronounce people dead. It certainly did not take much talent to do that. She should have gotten off the train and married Mark. At least she now she would be a widow instead of a lonely old maid.
She missed Suzie and worried about her. Susan had tried for a week now to get in touch with Joe or Chloe but had been unsuccessful. She nibbled at her food. Why did she bother to watch her weight? Nobody cared how fat she got. She tried to call Deb but she was not home. She should just take a bath and crawl in bed. God, she missed Carter. Not just the sex, she missed his friendship. Though with Carter it was never sex; it was always making love. Even the nights when she knew he was only consoling her after Mark’s death, it still felt like love. Deb said he was unhappy with Abby but Susan was almost sure he was happy. Although she would like to believe that Chen was right.
Susan finished her dinner and carried her dishes to the sink. Turning out the light, she went to her bedroom, found a worn flannel nightgown, crawled into bed and pulled up the covers. She thought about Carter again. Impulsively she picked up the phone and called his cell. It rang one time and she hung up. She should not be calling him. He was with Abby and they were happy. Well, Carter was happy. To be honest, Abby never looked happy . . . not for long anyway. Abby could always find the dark side of anything. Then, who was Susan that she should talk? She was certainly depressed tonight.
* * * * * *
Abby was finally sleeping. Together they had poured the bottle of wine down the sink. Then she had crawled into bed and cried on his shoulder till she fell asleep. Carter had not wanted to believe that Eric was bipolar too. No one deserved to have to deal with two in their family. After the MPs hauled off her brother, Carter had not wanted to get into how angry he was with Abby for forging his signature. Obviously she was too upset to discuss it tonight. Eventually they would have to talk about it. He was not willing to risk his medical career; he had worked too hard to get it back. He felt sorry for Abby but there were times when he wondered how much he could take.
His cell phone rang. He reached for it but it stopped. He checked the caller ID. Slipping out of bed, he walked into the living room and returned the call. The phone rang twice before she answered, “Carter?”
“Susan, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Why did you call?”
“I . . . I punched your number by mistake.”
“Liar. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing Carter, I said I’m fine.”
“No you’re not fine or you wouldn’t have called at this time of night. What’s wrong?”
Susan knew how persistent Carter could be, so she told him the truth. “I had a really crappy day and I needed to talk to someone.”
“I’ll be right over.”
“Carter, you’re with Abby aren’t you?”
“She’s asleep. I’ll leave her a note.”
The idea of him coming from Abby’s bed to visit her was not appealing. “Carter, don’t. It was a momentary weakness. I’m fine now.”
Cater was insistent. “Susan, I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.” Carter hung up the phone and grabbed his jacket. Abby had been clinging to him until he had never even gotten undressed for bed. Quickly he scribbled a note and left it on the table. Then he headed down the stairs and over to Susan’s. To be honest, he needed someone to talk to as well.
* * * * * *
Arriving at Susan’s he buzzed her apartment. Susan quickly spit the toothpaste out of her mouth and said, “Carter?”
“You’re expecting someone else?”
“Come on up.” She fluffed her hair and started to put on lipstick then decided against it. She did not want to look like she was trying to seduce him. She glanced at herself in the mirror. Who was she kidding? She was wearing ugly pants and a baggy sweatshirt. Not exactly her most attractive outfit; on the other hand, it seemed to fit her mood. She went to the door and opened it as he ascended the last two steps.
“I killed three patients today,” she blurted out as he reached her door.
He put his hands on her shoulders and looked directly at her, “You killed them or they died? There is a difference you know.”
“Whatever. One of them was a nun. Frank said he didn’t want to stand next to me because God was going to strike me with lightening.”
“Frank’s an idiot. Obviously, he was wrong. You’re still here.” He flashed that famous Carter smile and the corners of her mouth turned up in response. “What happened?” he asked as he closed the door behind them and guided her to the sofa casually putting his arm around her as they sat down.
“She came in because she fractured her radius and she had a stroke and died. She was cold when I found her.”
“How old was she?”
He shook his head, “Susan, it’s not at all uncommon for eighty-seven year old people to die. She probably threw a clot from the fracture. It’s rare but it happens.”
“Carter, she was a nun!”
“Susan, taking vows does not guarantee eternal life. We all have to die sometime. Anyway, I’m sure she’s in a much better place now and wouldn’t want to come back.”
“I hope so,” she replied dejectedly.
Trying hard to get her out of the dumps, Carter said, “Hey, I killed a clown once.”
“You did not.”
“I did. Well, I didn’t kill him but he was my patient and he died. Just like the nun was your patient. Susan, sometimes we do everything right and people still die.”
“I know. It’s just . . .Carter, I lost three in a row.”
“Tell me about the second one.”
“He came in with a swollen scrotum and died with a heart attack. He had a mass in his scrotum but I don’t think that’s what was causing the swelling.”
“Right-sided heart failure?”
“Yeah, we tried to resuscitate him but nothing worked. He was so fat, Malik had to do CPR.”
“It was probably too late. Fluid overload due to insufficient profusion to the kidneys causing generalized edema most notable in dependent parts such as the ankles and scrotum. Often the patient is overweight, has high cholesterol, and underlying coronary artery disease. Renal failure resulted in increased BUN and creatinine levels as well as an electrolyte imbalance. Increase in potassium led to cardiac arrhythmias which decreased profusion and worsened the fluid overload,” Carter recited.
“You sound like a textbook, Professor Carter. His cholesterol was 650; BUN was 140, creatinine 27 and potassium was 5.6. When did you get to be so smart?”
“I had great teachers.”
Susan rolled her eyes. “Well, today the teacher made a mistake. I should have made the diagnosis as soon as I saw him.”
“And done what? What would you have done differently? Susan, it was a vicious cycle. What drugs could you have given that you didn’t?”
“Another 100 mg. of Lasix, IV bolus.”
“Susan, the guy was in renal failure. Anyway, you might have reduced the edema to some extent but you couldn’t have prevented the heart attack. The guy needed a new heart.”
“So I should have started dialysis and gotten him on the transplant list.”
“Dialysis might have prolonged his life but not necessarily. Besides, you can’t dialyze the guy in the middle of an MI. No matter what you did, he probably would have died from the infarction. Even if you would have dialyzed him and gotten him on the transplant list, he wouldn’t have been a prime candidate for transplant . . . not with his increased cholesterol and excess weight, especially if the scrotal mass was malignant. We’re doctors Susan, not miracle workers.”
“So, short of a few major medical miracles, this guy had no hope?”
“I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know. What got you so upset about this case?”
“Nathan walked in just a Malik was disconnecting everything and made some comment. I said I was having a bad day, then Nathan looked at the dead guy and said, ‘Not as bad as his.’”
Carter sighed. “Nathan’s having trouble facing his own mortality. I understand that it’s difficult having a progressively degenerative neurological disease but he’s expecting every patient to want to fight to live as hard as he does. Every patient doesn’t want that.”
“Yeah, he talked another patient into a risky procedure today, my third fatality . . . old guy. He had pancreatic cancer and was not responding to treatment. He had already had two stints in the common duct. He presented with intense pain, fever and hypotension. He was ready to sign a DNR and have hospice take over; he wanted to die in his Barcalounger watching a football game.”
“Not a bad way to go.”
“Yeah, well, Nathan got psych involved and together they talked him into a Whipple.”
“That’s at least a six hour procedure. What did Corday recommend?”
“She was against it. However, by the time Nathan finished, the guy and his family were insisting on the surgery. He didn’t wake up; he wasn’t triggering the vent. Elizabeth had just talked to the family when I left tonight.”
“So now the family gets to make the decision.”
“That’s tough. I had to talk a wife through that not long ago. It was really hard on the kids.”
“The case with Pratt?”
“Yeah. With Pratt, it’s arrogance. He doesn’t want to lose. With Nathan, it’s political. He’s fighting for stem-cell research. What is it with these new students and young doctors? Have we gotten old and jaded?”
“Carter, I don’t think you’re jaded. I think you were concerned for your patients and their families. You tried to avoid keeping a brain-dead patient on a vent. You didn’t want to give a dying girl false hope. You wanted to help her face reality and spare her needless suffering.”
“Do you know he even gave Alison flowers?”
“My alpha-one, anti-trypsin patient . . . Nathan gave her flowers? She thought it was because he cared. He didn’t do it because he cared about her personally; he did it because he was pushing his own agenda. He kept babbling on about how stem cell research is going to put doctors out of business . . . that every time a woman goes in for in vitro fertilization there are extra blastocysts that are thrown away. I’m all for medical miracles but Susan, you’ve read the research. Stem cells aren’t as promising as once hoped. Eventually it may work for some diseases but it’s a long way off. Anyway, it’s not going to help Alison.”
“I’m not sure I could do that.”
“Donate my fertilized eggs to research. I think I would implant them all.”
“That’s not always healthy.”
“Not all at once, Carter. They can be frozen.”
His tone was soft, almost wistful, as he said, “You really want children, don’t you?”
“Yeah but I don’t want to do it alone. I’d take Suzie in a heartbeat but raising a child alone is difficult.”
“You’ll find someone,” he added reassuringly.
“Yeah, well, I’m not getting any younger.” There was a moment of awkward silence. Not wanting to make Carter uncomfortable, Susan asked, “How’s she doing?”
“Who?” He hoped she was not referring to Abby. Carter was unsure he could discuss that subject with Susan or that he should discuss that subject with Susan.
“You’re A-One-AT patient.”
Relieved, Carter sighed. He had not said anything to Susan about going up to check on Alison but she knew him well enough to know he had. “She’s not doing well. She’s depressed again and she’s nowhere close to the top of the UNOS list. She’s suffocating Susan, slowly, painfully suffocating . . . and Nathan hasn’t even been to see her. Her dad is there though. He’s not ready to give up. I seriously thought of sending a chaplain up to talk with them.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“I wasn’t sure if I should interfere again. Allison’s dad wasn’t that thrilled about my visit. I’m the enemy . . . the doctor who wants to give up the fight.”
“Carter, you’re not the enemy. The disease is the enemy; sometimes the only way to win is to admit defeat. The fact that you’re still worried about her ought to tell you something about how much you care for your patient. Maybe you should call the chaplain; she could always send him away if she wasn’t interested.”
He shrugged, “Yeah, I guess.” Turning towards her, he asked, “Why did we become doctors again?”
This conversation was becoming more depressing than Susan could handle. Recalling Abby’s comment from so long ago, she answered sarcastically, “So we could be dismissive and condescending.” She got up and walked toward the kitchen, “You want something to drink? Coke maybe?”
Carter chuckled, “Right, I got an A-plus in that course.” He stood and followed her. “Coke’s fine.” While Susan was getting Cokes from the pantry, Carter took two glasses from the cabinet and began to fill them with ice.
As he did, he experienced a brief moment of deja vu as he recalled happier times with Susan. No, he told himself. He would not go there. He had made a commitment to Abby. Besides, Susan deserved someone better. His reflections were interrupted by Susan asking, “So was your day as bad as mine?”
He took the Coke she offered and began to fill the glasses as he sat down at the dining table. Susan sat in the chair across from him. “Almost. But I didn’t kill anyone,” he added with a smirk, knowing Susan had already recovered from her funk. Shoving a glass toward her, he continued, “I had this patient come in . . . a young Asian woman. She had OD’d on barbiturates and alcohol. She was pregnant with her boss’s child. It was their second. He is using her to produce children for he and his wife.”
“I got Chen to translate for me. Then we found out she spoke English. We tried to send her to a women’s shelter but she refused.”
“He sends money to her family in China . . . money they badly need and, in return, she is the couple’s live-in nanny and prostitute. Her older child doesn’t know she is his mother.”
“So she didn’t go to the shelter because she doesn’t want to lose her older child.”
“That’s sick.” Susan took a drink of Coke and tried to think of a way to change the subject again. She thought of asking about Abby but in view of the fact her brother was arrested by the MPs today, she thought better of it. Finally she said, “Kerry is pregnant.”
“Yeah, she and Sandy are having a baby.”
“The fireman . . . uh firewoman . . .uh fireperson?”
Susan chuckled at his stammering, “Yeah, they seem really excited.”
“Well, that explains Weaver’s moodiness.” He smiled as he shook his head. “I always wanted a mother, this kid is going to have two.”
“Yeah, but no dad.”
“Still into conventional families, huh?” he teased.
“I keep hoping.”
He put his hand over hers as he said, “Susan you’ll find someone.”
Susan squeezed his hand and came close to saying, I already did. Fortunately, Carter’s cell phone rang and he let go of her hand as he answered it. “Abby?”
“John, where are you?” Her voice was loud enough for Susan to hear. She sounded upset.
“Uh, I’m at Susan’s. I left you a note.”
“You promised you weren’t going anywhere! You lied! You left my bed and went to Susan’s.”
“Abby, Abby, calm down. Susan and I were talking.”
“Oh right! It’s two in the morning. I’m supposed to believe that.”
“Abby, I’ll be right there.”
“You’d better be!” Carter looked embarrassed as he hung up the phone. “Abby’s upset. They arrested her brother today. He was AWOL. It looks like he is bipolar.”
Susan was genuinely sympathetic as she said, “I heard. That’s got to be tough on Abby.”
“Yeah. Look Susan, I’m sorry but I’d better leave.” He stood and walked to the living area to retrieve his jacket.
“Carter, I’m the one who should apologize. You and Abby have enough problems without me adding mine. I’m sorry I called.”
He smiled faintly and said, “Susan, I’m not. After all, that’s what friends are for, right. You would do the same thing for me.”
“Yeah.” Susan returned his smile and opened the door for him. As she stood leaning against the door she said, “Carter, tell Abby if there’s anything I can do to let me know.”
“I will. Get some sleep. Tomorrow has got to be better.” He gave her a pat on the shoulder and walked down the stairs. Susan watched him until he was out the front door. Then she closed her door and locked it. She wondered if Abby knew just how lucky she was to have the most wonderful man in the world in love with her. She turned out the lights and changed back into her ratty nightgown. Carter had said she would find someone but it was him that she wanted. Sometimes settling for his friendship was more than she could handle but tonight it was what she had needed. Susan wanted him to be happy. Carter was happy with Abby, wasn’t he? After tonight Susan was not sure. She knew Abby was upset about her brother and understandably so but her tone with Carter was positively uncompromising. Pulling the covers up around her, Susan cried herself to sleep.
* * * * * *
As Carter drove back to the apartment, he contemplated his relationship with Abby. It was difficult not to compare it to what he had shared with Susan. He and Susan had been through some difficult times together, Gamma’s illness, the car accident, his mother’s return, Mickey’s death, Suzie’s disappearance . . . Mark’s death. With Susan he knew what to expect. They were there for each other. With Abby, he never knew. One minute she was sweet and seductive; the next, she was a raging bitch or worse, she was withdrawn, depressed and drinking. He kept thinking if he could just break down the walls, somewhere inside was a person who could love him. Yet, there were times when he was not sure he was strong enough to do that. He parked his Jeep and went in the back door. She must have been waiting for him to open the door. He ducked just as a beer bottle crashed beside his head. “Abby. What are you doing?”
“What’s it look like I’m doing? I’m getting drunk.”
Together they had poured the wine down the drain before they went to bed. He kept his voice soft and tried to sound non-threatening as he asked, “You went out and bought beer? Isn’t that kind of dangerous to be walking on the streets alone this time of night?”
She did not answer his question. “Like you care. You said you weren’t going anywhere, then you went to Susan’s!”
“Abby, you were asleep. I left you a note. We were just talking. She lost three patients today and she needed to talk things over with a colleague.”
“Oh right, I forgot. You two are doctors; I’m only a nurse.”
“Abby, you know Susan and I don’t feel that way.”
“Umm. Susan and you . . . now there’s an interesting phrase. What was it Susan and you were doing again?” she asked sarcastically.
Carter sighed, “Abby, it wasn’t like that. We were just talking. Susan had a rough day and she needed to talk about it, to convince herself that she had done nothing wrong.”
“Oh, so you were consoling her,” she said almost as if she understood.
“Umm. I’ve seen you console people Carter. I get the picture. Susan sobbing on your shoulder; you with both your arms wrapped around her, kissing her hair.”
Great he thought. We are back to sarcasm. “Abby, we talked. We talked and we had something to drink.”
“So, you’ll drink with Susan but not with me.”
He started to remind her that Susan was not an alcoholic but decided against it. Instead he said simply, “We had Cokes7, plain. All we did is discuss our patients and analyze our care, Abby. Nothing more.”
“Oh, and my brother’s problems aren’t as bad. Me, having to put up with another crazy person in my family is not as bad. You said you weren’t going anywhere! You lied!”
He stepped toward her. Softly he said, “Abby, I’m here now.”
Another beer bottle came crashing toward him. This one was full. Fortunately, her aim was lousy. Carter ran his hands through his hair, unsure of what to do. He glanced into the kitchen. There counter was covered with canned goods and boxes of cereal. One cabinet door was open. There was a bottle of wine, a bottle of Jack Daniels, and another six pack of beer sitting at the back of the top shelf. A half empty bottle of wine sat on the table. She had seemed so upset earlier, Carter had not thought to check the cabinets. Now he realized the whole scene had been staged for his benefit. The glass of wine on the table, the open bottle on the counter, her dramatic description of how she took so long to pour the wine in the glass and finally, how she sat looking at it but did not drink it. She followed his gaze. He turned and looked at her, uncertain of what to say. Abby broke the silence, “Yeah Carter. I bought it earlier and hid it. I knew you would do this. I knew you wouldn’t stick around. I knew you would run from my bed to Susan’s. So I hid a few supplies. I’m drunk and it’s your fault.”
Carter ran his hands through his hair again. There was no way to reason with her at the moment. He walked towards her and gently put his hands on her shoulders and calmly asked, “Abby. How much have you had to drink?”
“What do you care?”
“Abby, I worry about you. How much have you had to drink?”
“No, you’re not worried. You want to fix me. Well, I’m fine, Carter. I’m not broken!”
Carter was exasperated but he kept his tone level. She did not want his help; he would just back off and wait for the car wreck. “Okay, fine Abby. I have a shift in the morning. I need some sleep. Do you plan to keep drinking or are you going to bed?”
“I haven’t decided,” she said as she drained another bottle of beer. How could she do that? The stuff was not even cold.
He walked into the bedroom and returned with a pillow and a blanket.
“I thought you were going to bed.”
“I am,” he replied as he turned out the lights in the living area and stretched out on the sofa.
“Uh, Carter. I may be drunk but the bed’s in there.”
“I’m aware of that. Abby, I’m not sleeping with you when you’re drunk. I’m tired and I need some sleep. If you want to keep drinking, could you please turn out the lights in the kitchen and do it quietly.”
“I can’t believe this. You’re just going to go to bed and leave me up drinking by myself.”
“Abby, what do you want me to do?”
“Leave! I want you to leave.”
Calmly he replied, “I did that already and you got angry.” He stood up and walked toward her. She backed away.
“Carter, I swear if you touch me, I’ll scream.”
He held up his hands and backed over to the sofa and sat down again. “Okay, Abby. I’m not touching you but I’m not leaving either. I’m going to sleep. We’ll talk in the morning, when you’re sober.”
“Fine.” Abby picked up a half empty bottle of wine and stumbled into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her. Carter got up and turned out the rest of the lights. Shaking his head, he lay back down and closed his eyes. He wanted a relationship that worked. He was trying desperately to make this one succeed but at the moment he was failing miserably.
* * * * * *
They had not talked. Instead they had ignored it . . . gone on to work . . . gone on with their lives like the problem did not exist. It was difficult to discuss a problem when only one person was willing to talk. Maybe they could talk at Christmas. They could visit Dad in Boston and have some time alone. A change of scenery might be just what they needed.