Fifty or Sixty Years
Welcome to the Family
May 15, 2003
As Jack Cater headed down the path toward the dock, he heard voices. Though he could clearly recognize one as his son's, he could not understand what they were saying. Mother had told him that John and Susan Lewis had taken the sailboat out on the lake. That had to be a good sign. When last he had spoken with his mother, she was dreadfully worried about John. For some reason, tonight she seemed less so. Though, she had expressed her concern over the outcome of the hearing tomorrow. This whole relationship with Abby Lockhart had turned into one long nightmare.
Jack heard laughter as he continued his trek toward the lake. Rounding the corner as he neared the boathouse, Jack saw them on the deck in the moonlight. Evidently they had not heard him approaching. Their heads were close together and he had his hands on her waist. One of her hands was on his shoulder and the other . . . Jack stepped back into the shadows, undecided as to what he should do. Clearly he had interrupted an intimate moment.
* * * * * *
"So, are you okay with all of this?"
"All of what?"
He sighed and gestured toward the house, "This . . . the mansion . . . the money . . . Gamma living with us . . . me?"
She laughed; "Well, I wanted the fairy-tale."
"Yeah, you know . . . the castle, the kingdom, the aging queen, the crown prince," she winked and moved her hand slightly, "the family jewels. I thought it was a package deal."
"No, it's all negotiable . . . except for the family jewels. The prince is rather attached to those." He grinned mischievously. "Seriously Susan, if there's any part of this that makes you uncomfortable . . . we don't have to live here."
"Carter, this has always been your home. I can't ask you to give that up."
"Susan, I want you to be happy."
"John, I am happy . . . with you. Besides, Gamma has already offered to let me redecorate."
"She offered to let you redecorate my house."
"John, don't be upset with her. It has been her home a lot longer than it has been yours. Now that I've thought about it, maybe it was her way of letting me know she was okay with . . . us."
"I'm not upset; I'm surprised. Gamma has always been very particular about how the house was decorated. First the family jewels . . . the ones in the safe . . . and now the house, she obviously realizes just how special you are."
"Well, she is trusting me with her favorite grandchild. Anyway, I have dreams of us raising a family here."
"Oh really." He smiled at the thought, then grew serious. "Susan, what if I turn out to be HIV positive?"
"Carter, you won't. I mean, the chances are slim, right."
"That's one reason I love you. You're always the optimist." He smiled faintly.
She took a deep breath. "Okay, even if you are I still love you and it won't change my commitment. For now, we'll take the necessary precautions but we won't let it ruin our plans. Look, I know how you feel; I went through that after Dix but everything turned out fine. My grandma always said, 'We'll cross that bridge if we come to it.' John, I'm too happy right now, I don't want to lose that."
He nodded, "I love you, Susan. I don't want to do anything to hurt you."
"John, I love you too and we're going to get through all of this, together . . . no matter what."
"So, does that mean you'll be wanting to wear this after all?" He slipped one hand in his pocket and removed the ring from its box. Taking her left hand in his he slipped the ring on her finger.
"I was beginning to think you had forgotten."
* * * * * *
From where he stood in the shadows, Jack had a clear view of what was happening on the deck. Susan's hands moved to John's neck and they continued talking in low tones, totally absorbed in one another. He caught a word or two but not enough to understand their conversation.
Jack had not intended to spy on them. John had been devastated by the suspension; a sailing trip with Susan Lewis had obviously changed his mood. Yet, not wanting to disturb the end of what had apparently been an enjoyable day, Jack remained motionless and quiet. He knew he should turn his head the other direction, yet he found he could not tear his eyes from his son. The possibility of losing his medical license had shaken John's world. Jack found himself hoping . . . praying that Susan Lewis could provide the encouragement that John needed to put his life back together. Certainly he and John's grandmother had failed to provide the support John needed. Although, this time they both had tried. Jack attributed his own failure to too many years of neglect. He was here tonight to try and remedy that.
Jack knew that John loved Susan Lewis; he as much as admitted it at Christmas. Besides, Jack could see it in John's eyes whenever he spoke of her. Jack watched as his son took Susan's hand between both of his. Susan spoke; Jack thought he heard the words 'beginning' and 'forgotten.' As John pulled her towards himself for a passionate kiss, Jack did turn his head. Hearing a thump and their footsteps on the dock, Jack stepped from the shadows and loudly cleared his throat.
Carter turned toward the noise as he leaned over to pick up one of Susan's bags. "Dad."
Jack spoke, "John." Susan watched as the older man and her fiancée exchanged rather formal hugs. Then turning to her, Jack extended his hand. "Dr. Lewis. Good to see you."
Susan nodded and shook his hand, "Good to see you too, Mr. Carter."
Carter shook his head and slipped his arm around Susan's waist, "What are you doing here?"
"Your grandmother told me that you and Dr. Lewis had taken the boat out this morning. I thought I would walk down to meet you."
"So Gamma told you? My news, our news." Carter was beaming.
"Son, the only thing your grandmother told me was that she had been exceedingly concerned about you but that you appeared in better spirits today and that you and Dr. Lewis had taken the Placebo out on the lake."
"Well, under the circumstances, Dad, I think you could refer to Susan a little less formally."
Carter kissed Susan's cheek. "Dad, Susan has agreed to become my wife."
Jack laughed and gave his son a pat on the back, "Well, congratulations. You're right, I think first names would be more appropriate." Turning to Susan he added, "Susan, welcome to the family." He placed his arm around her shoulders; "I couldn't be more pleased."
An astonished Susan replied, "Thank you, Jack," and returned his gesture.
Seeing the look on Susan's face, Carter laughed. "Dad, cast his vote for you at Christmas." Then went on to elaborate, "Susan and I sailed over to the marina, ran a few errands in town and made a purchase at Tiffany's,"
Susan held up her left hand as Carter gave his father a sly grin. Jack took her hand as he commented, "My son has exquisite taste." Noting the bracelet, he added, "The emeralds go with your eyes."
Susan blushed, "Thank you, it was an engagement present."
"Well," Jack said as he picked up one of Susan's bags and headed up the path toward the house, "I would say this calls for a celebration."
Picking up Susan's other bag and taking her hand, Carter agreed, "Yes, I would say it does."
Susan listened as the two men conversed on the way to the house. "When did you get back?"
"Early this evening. I haven't been by the apartment yet."
"Have you had dinner? Corrine left ours in the refrigerator."
"Just a snack on the plane."
"I'm sure there's plenty; you could join us."
"Yes, I think I will."
"So, things went well in Madrid? I thought you expected to be gone longer."
"Things are going well but I'll have to go back next week . . . tie up a few lose ends."
"Why didn't you just stay?"
They had reached the door of the house and Jack stepped forward to open it. "I thought I might be needed here."
Carter stopped just inside the door. "Dad, I'm fine."
With that comment, the temperature in the air seemed to drop fifteen degrees. Nothing was said as they entered through the solarium, placed Susan's bags at the foot of the stairs, and walked toward the kitchen. Entering the kitchen, Susan said, "I think I can manage to work the microwave. You two sit down. It appears you have a lot of catching up to do."
Silently, John took out a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne and placed three flutes on the table. The two men sat across from each other at the kitchen table. So far, neither had spoken. Susan watched and listened as she busied herself about the kitchen. Jack appeared somewhat uncomfortable as he sat with his chin propped against one hand. Carter sat with his arms folded staring down at the table. Looking across at his son, Jack broke the silence, "John, the truth is, I flew home to be with you at the hearing tomorrow."
Carter took a deep breath and looked up, "Dad, you know how I feel about that."
Propping both elbows on the table he said, "I'm well aware of your feelings, John. I'm also aware of how much you love practicing medicine. I understand what is at stake here, son. I thought you could use my support."
Carter was polite but unwavering in his response. "Dad, I appreciate the thought but I have my attorneys, Susan, and the support of the hospital administration. I'm fine."
"John, I'm not here as the head of Carter Enterprises or even a board member of the Foundation. I'm here because you're my son. Your career is on the line and I want to be with you during the hearing."
"I should think you would be overjoyed that my career is on the line. You never wanted me to become a doctor."
"John, I was wrong. We all were."
"Dad, it's a little late for an apology. I would prefer to do this without you."
Susan felt as if she were listening to union negotiations rather than a discussion between a father and his son. Both sides were civil but neither was willing to give in. Susan noticed the disappointed look on Jack Carter's face and decided it was time to break the stalemate. "Carter, I don't understand. What's wrong with you father going with us tomorrow?"
Carter's reply was short. "Susan, stay out of it."
She walked toward the table and placed plates of food in front of them. Her voice was caring but firm as she said, "No, I won't stay out of it. You asked me to become your wife, to be part of this family. I think I have a right to know why you two are having a disagreement." She placed her hand on Carter's shoulder.
Ignoring her, Carter began to eat. "She has a point, John."
As he continued eating, Carter extended his hand as if to say, so tell her. Jack looked at Susan as he explained. "John is afraid that my presence at the hearing will influence the decision of the board. I play golf with three of the members and, as treasurer of the Foundation, my signature appears on the checks that funded many of the research projects and hospital improvements with which the members are involved."
Carter looked directly at his father as he adamantly added, "I would prefer to win or lose tomorrow based on my own merits . . . not because of my family name or Gamma's money."
Susan sat down with her own food as she commented, "Carter, I'm sure the medical board is well aware of who you are as well as the fact that you are currently serving as chairman of the Foundation."
Refusing to meet her eyes, Carter said, "Not any more. I tendered my letter of resignation last week."
"Why? Just a few weeks ago you told me how much you were beginning to enjoy that position."
Finally turning toward her he said firmly, "Susan, I've told you. I want to do this on my own."
"Why? You certainly didn't get into this situation on your own! Carter, you're appearing before the board tomorrow because Abby Lockhart forged your signature on medical documents."
Carter pushed back from the table. "Susan, I'm appearing before the board tomorrow because of a series of allegations that have been brought against me, most of which are true. I am an addict and I dated one of my med students. I took the drugs, Susan. I made the choice to date Lucy. Abby had nothing to do with that."
"Carter you are unquestionably not the first doctor that ever dated a med student. There may be an institutional policy against that but there is certainly no law against it. And you're a recovering addict not an addict." Though Susan knew the answer, she asked, "How long has it been since you used narcotics?"
"Susan, you know very well the last time I used narcotics; you kept track of my prescriptions."
"Exactly. Carter, you had surgery. I would defy any member of the medical board to go through what you went through without pain medication. To even suggest that someone should do that is barbaric. Carter, the only reason the medical board is reviewing any of this is because Abby forged your name. And as for whether or not your father being there is going to influence their decision, come on Carter. Do you seriously think that there is a member of that medical board who doesn't know who you are? If they didn't before, they do now. Carter, it's been in all the papers and on the news for weeks, along with all the other charges being brought against people at County."
Jack Carter sat wordlessly watching this exchange. He had come here tonight to show support for his son and now it appeared the only thing he had done was to instigate an argument between John and his fiancée. Jack pushed his plate back and ran his hands through his hair. Taking a deep breath, Carter leaned forward and put his head in his hands. Susan put her arm across Carter's shoulders. Her voice was soothing; "John, you can't deny your heritage. But Gamma's money and who your parents are have nothing to do with the fact that you are a good doctor. You're a good doctor who shows up every day and makes a difference in people's lives. You have spent your entire career taking care of an under-serviced population and at no cost to the County."
Jack looked up. Obviously Susan knew more about this than Jack anticipated. "John, I assure you that I have not communicated with anyone on the state medical board or tried to influence them in any way whatsoever. I understand how difficult it is to be heir to the Carter name and fortune. Son, I've always admired your independence. I came here tonight to offer my support, as your father, nothing more. I certainly never intended to cause a disagreement between you and Susan."
Jack stood, as if to leave. John kept his head in his hands. Susan stood. Keeping one hand on John's shoulders, she reached for Jack's hand. "Jack, wait."
Jack stopped; John looked up. She had the full attention of both men. "Jack, I know the relationship between you and John has not always been close. And John, I understand your need to be judged on your own merits. But if the board members are going to be influenced by the Carter name, there is nothing you can do to prevent that. Your father's presence or absence at the hearing will not make a difference to anyone but you and Jack. Carter, your name and your family's wealth have nothing to do with what your father is asking. I know he hasn't always been there when you needed him but Carter, he's here now. And he is offering to go with you, to support you, as your father and I don't think you have any right to deny him that privilege."
Carter's expression did not change as he asked, "Are you finished?"
Susan picked up her plate and walked toward the kitchen, "I've said what I have to say. It's your decision."
Carter looked at his father and smiled, "You're right. She is a lot like Gamma."
Jack laughed, "Yes, she is."
"What does that mean?"
Carter got up and walked to where Susan was standing and slipped his arm around her. "It means that you should sit back down and finish your dinner and that you are not afraid to voice your opinion, especially when you know you are right." He kissed her cheek.
"As a member of this family, I'm sure it is a trait that you will find invaluable," Jack added.
Following Susan back to the table, Carter suggested, "Dad, if you are going with us tomorrow, you might as well spend the night."
"Thank you. You know I'm not all that hungry. If you'll excuse me, I think I'll just pour myself a glass of milk and go up to bed. Jet lag is getting to me. I've been up for more hours than I care to count."
Carter looked at his dad and realized the toll this had taken on him. Their disagreement had not helped. "Dad, there's some Levobid in the medicine cabinet in my bathroom."
He nodded, "Thanks."
Susan looked at him questioningly. "Carter?"
"Another one of the Carter hidden talents, I guess. Whenever we're nervous or upset. Don't worry, I haven't taken any, though I probably could have used it a couple of days ago."
Susan recalled Deb saying that Carter had been vomiting all day. She gave him a hug. Being a recovering addict came with more than one set of problems. Then she remembered, "Oh Carter, I promised I would call Deb and let her know how you were. She was worried."
"Going to tell her our news?"
Susan gave him a playful smile, "Any reason why I shouldn't."
"None that I can think of. Do you think she'll be surprised?"
"I think she'll say that it's about time."
Footsteps After Midnight
"I know we've had our disagreements about your career but I can see now that medicine is what you love."
Millicent Carter to her grandson: Under Control
"You called him away from a union negotiation. He'll have a strike on his hands at midnight if he doesn't settle it."
John Carter to Millicent Carter: Brother's Keeper
"What school are you in?"
"Western and Beinville."
"Um hum. I'm getting my law degree simultaneously. My parents didn't want me to go to med school."
"I know that feeling."
Conversation between John Carter and Grace: If I Should Fall From Grace.
Millicent Carter heard the familiar steps of her grandson as he walked quietly past her door and down the stairs. She listened for the click of the terrace doors. She lay there a few minutes debating whether she should follow him. John had always been Millicent's favorite grandchild. Oh, she loved the others but there was always something special about John. Millicent recalled how hurt her husband had been when he learned his eldest had named his first son after Eleanor's father. She had to smile as she thought about it. Bobby's death aside, perhaps God knew that the second son should be the one to carry the family name. Even as a little boy, he was so much like Truman . . . determined to succeed without any help, no matter what the task . . . always scheming to have his own way . . . yet always willing to sacrifice his own happiness for others. That was why John was her favorite; Millicent had watched her husband spend a lifetime struggling with those same conflicting personality traits.
Tonight, Millicent was extremely worried about John. He had survived so many heartaches, so many difficulties. Millicent was not sure how much more he could take before he broke. Medicine was John's life . . . he had fought so hard to be a doctor . . . it was the one thing he truly loved . . . if he lost that . . ." She slipped out of bed and reached for her robe. As she picked up her cane, Millicent heard another set of footsteps. Instead of leaving her room, the matriarch walked over to the window and looked out.
Below, near the pool, she saw John, leaning against a tree and smoking. In a short time his fiancée came up and placed her hand on his arm. She said something to him. He shook his head and threw the cigarette on the ground, smothering it with his foot. Susan stood in front of him and moved her hands to his face, kissing him softly on the lips. His hands went around her waist and he leaned his forehead against hers. Her arms went around his neck. Millicent continued to watch as they talked. Susan never took her eyes from him, carefully watching his facial expressions as he spoke. The white haired lady stood at her window for perhaps twenty minutes as they talked. Although she could not hear their conversation, Millicent was comforted by what she observed. Finally, John shrugged as he said something. Susan made another comment; he answered her and gave her a little kiss. Susan said something else and one corner of his mouth turned up as he smiled. When he leaned down to kiss her again, Millicent placed her cane back in its usual spot, removed her robe and moved slowly under the covers.
Millicent was not particularly fond of them living together before they were married. Even though she told herself that he was a grown man, it went against her moral code. Nonetheless, she would rest peacefully now knowing that Susan was with him. Mentally she chided herself; she should have realized; her grandson had someone besides his grandmother who was concerned and cared as much. Her love was different from what Millicent felt but just as strong. No matter what happened tomorrow, John would have Susan at his side.
* * * * * *
Susan awakened to find she was alone in bed. Looking around the room she noticed John's robe and slippers were missing. How would she ever locate him in this huge house? Susan was putting on her own robe when she noticed John's lighter was missing from the dresser. In deference to his grandmother, he never smoked in the house; she found her sandals and quietly walked downstairs.
Susan stood with her hand on the handle of the terrace door watching him as he kicked against the ground and then leaned against the tree. She recalled her conversations with Gamma and with John about his smoking. Yet, for almost two days he had not lit one cigarette. Susan thought she was beginning to recognize a pattern; he smoked when he thought about taking drugs.
Susan took a deep breath and opened the door. Apparently he did not hear her approaching because he kept his back against the tree. She touched his arm. "Contemplating suicide?"
"You're killing yourself, slowly."
He glanced at the cigarette, "Oh."
"You know, death by lung cancer isn't exactly painless."
He dropped the cigarette to the ground and extinguished it with his shoe. Susan moved in front of him and placing her hands on his face pulled him down for a kiss. "You know I love you and we will get through this."
He put his hands around her waist and leaned his forehead against hers as he sighed. "I know."
Susan placed her arms around his neck. "I'm not leaving you, John, no matter what."
"Have you thought about what you will do if things don't go well tomorrow?"
"My attorney says that we can file a lawsuit against the medical board and file charges for forgery against Abby."
"But you don't want to do that?" Now it made sense; John had been upset earlier with the options his attorney had suggested. Typically Carter, he was blaming himself . . . more willing to live with the consequences of his bad choices than to blame anyone else. His bad choice had been to become involved with Abby.
"Not really. What she did was wrong but I don't want to see her hurt. She's a good nurse when she's sober and she needs her job. Besides, it's not as if I don't have options."
"I could rescind my resignation and make a full time career of running the Carter Foundation. I don't think the board is going to accept it anyway. And I have a standing offer to assume command of Carter Enterprises."
"But you don't want to do either of those?"
"Susan, I have never wanted to do either of those. I've spent my life fighting against doing either of those."
"Not that I doubt your abilities but would you even know how to run the company?"
"Technically, I'm qualified. Officially my degree from Northwestern is business economics with a minors in business institutions and biological science. I also have an MBA from U of I."
"You did that in addition to your medical degree?"
"My family thought medicine was a phase, remember? They insisted I have something to fall back on when I grew tired of it and came to my senses. It was a compromise with my dad and grandfather so they would pay for my education."
"You did all of that and graduated with honors."
"From med school. My other grades were nothing exceptional. I wouldn't have been able to keep up with it at all, except that my fraternity brothers pulled me through."
"You cheated?" Susan was incredulous at the idea; it was so typically un-Carter.
"No, I didn't cheat," he assured her. "But they understood my situation and how badly I wanted to become a doctor. The ones that were business majors frequently copied their notes on outside reading assignments and passed them along. If we had group projects, they did most of the work, especially if I had an exam or paper due for one of my medical classes."
"The Stonewall Brigade of Sigma Nu."
"Yeah, they graduated with honors. I graduated. My GPA was only 3.4."
"On a four point scale?"
"It's a good thing you have the family business to fall back on. With grades that low, probably no one else would want you," she said with a touch of sarcasm. Carter raised his eyebrows and cocked his head sideways. "Seriously, do you feel competent to run the family business?"
"I've read the annual reports and I have a vague idea of what Carter Enterprises does but I have no clue about how to handle union negotiations."
"Who is CEO now?"
"Since Grandpa died . . . Dad. He's putting in some long hours running the business and managing the family trusts. That's one reason he's against my resigning from the foundation. He doesn't want to do that too. Of course, even if I agree to accept the position, he wouldn't retire immediately."
"What about the rest of the family? How would they react to you stepping into an executive position?"
"Well, it's not like they really have a choice. Gamma controls the majority of the stock so her vote is the one that counts." He took deep breath as he wondered how to explain his complicated family relationships to Susan. "To be honest, Dad's brothers have been known to put in some long hours when necessary but they don't have the work ethic that Dad has. They would much rather spend money than earn it. As for Dad's sisters . . . they saw college as a place to find a husband while their husbands married primarily for money."
"Guess Gamma's gold-digger alarms weren't working?"
"That's probably the reason she began installing them."
"What about your cousins or your sister?"
"Are you trying to give away my only job offer?"
"No, I'm just trying to understand what you may be facing."
"You want to know how likely it is that there will be a family squabble in the board room. Well, as much as I hate to admit it, everyone knows that I was always Grandpa's first choice. They also know that I have never wanted the position. Doug is more interested in collecting ex-wives than working; A.C. finally landed a decent role in a Broadway musical. Barbara is a free spirit who married a wealthy Frenchman and has no intention of living in the states. Elliot prefers adventure to working. Last I heard he was somewhere in the Himalayas, planning another trip up K-10. Steve has a very successful interior design business in San Francisco and Chase lives in an institution. The rest are still in college. However, the one thing that they are all interested in is keeping the money flowing. They will agree to whatever it takes to do that."
"So, you are seriously considering taking over the family business?"
"No, I'm seriously considering moving to a third-world country and setting up a medical clinic in a remote location where no one would notice or care that I am practicing medicine without a license."
"You're not serious!"
"Susan, until this thing is settled, I can't even volunteer with any of the legitimate relief organizations."
"So your trip is cancelled?"
He shrugged, "The official letter said, 'Postponed indefinitely.'"
"I'm sorry. I know how much going meant to you. I don't think you should give up just yet. You may have to make some difficult choices but, Carter, you know you're a good doctor. You shouldn't give up the career you love without a fight."
"Susan, right now the only thing I know is that whatever I do, I want you with me." He kissed her lightly.
"You'll get no argument from me about that, John Carter." Carter gave her a crooked grin as he leaned down and kissed her again. As they ended their kiss, Susan said, "Why don't we go back in. You need some rest before the hearing."
He nodded and began walking toward the house. "Susan, I don't think I can sleep and I don't think we should risk . . ."
"Well, you know what they say, 'Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.'"
He shook his head and chuckled, "Susan, I think that's absence."
"Whatever. It got you to laugh. You can lay with your head on my shoulder for a change and I'll tell you about my dreams."
"Are they good dreams?"
"Very good dreams."
"That sounds . . . nice."
Christians and Lions
Although Carter's attorney had reminded Carter repeatedly that the meeting with the Illinois State Medical Board was a hearing and not a trial, it still felt like one, especially since the hearing was to be held in one of the county court buildings. There was little conversation on the trip into town. Jack drove and Carter and Susan sat in the back. He was nervous and had thrown up what little breakfast he had eaten. Susan sensed his need for solitude; yet she never once let go of his hand. Periodically she would lean toward him and whisper something to him. What she said was not registering but that she was there gave him strength. His only response was a sigh and a brief nod.
The hearing was on the fourth floor. As they stepped from the elevator they saw Peter Benton standing looking out a window at the end of the hallway. No one else was in sight. Nervously Carter looked around for his attorneys. Glancing at Susan he commented, "This is scheduled to start in ten minutes. I thought they would have been here by now."
Benton turned at the sound of Carter's voice. He smiled and walked toward them. "Carter, how are you man?"
Wanly returning Benton's smile he said, "Feeling a little like a Christian at the moment. Have you seen my attorneys? I don't want to face the lions alone."
"Yes, as a matter of fact. They asked me to wait for you. They've already started."
Panicked, Carter replied, "I'm late?"
"No. Kovac arrived with Abby Lockhart and her attorney about ten minutes ago. She said she wanted to testify but was anxious to get it over with so they agreed to start early. The board felt it would be better for her to testify without you present."
"So they can see if our stories mesh?" Peter nodded. "Can they do that?"
"Apparently they can. Anyway, Mr. Stern asked if I would have you all wait in the hall until Abby is finished."
Carter bumped his fists together. "Great."
"Son, if Abby tells the truth that could only help your case."
"Yeah, if she tells the truth."
Carter leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes as Susan slipped her arm around his waist.
* * * * * *
Inside the meeting room, Luka sat listening and watching as Abby nervously answered questions from the members of the medical board as well as Carter's attorney. Now and then he would glance over at Dr. Romano and the nursing director. He could only imagine what must be going on inside their minds.
"Ms. Lockhart, exactly what is your relationship to Dr. Carter?"
"We . . . we're friends . . . well we were friends. We work in the same department at County General."
"It is our understanding that you have some information regarding how Dr. Carter's signature came to be on an unauthorized request for Eric Wyzcenski's medical records."
"Uh, yes, I do."
"Would you care to share that information with us?"
"Well, I put it there."
"You forged Dr. Carter's name?"
"I wouldn't exactly say that I forged it. I signed his name as the treating physician."
"Was Dr. Carter aware that you signed his name?"
"No, not at first."
"Was Dr. Carter treating Eric Wyzcenski?"
"Uh no, not exactly."
"What do you mean by 'not exactly.' Was Dr. Carter treating the patient or not?"
"Dr. Carter wasn't treating the patient."
"Had Dr. Carter asked you to obtain a copy of Eric Wyzcenski's medical records?"
"So you wanted the records and you sent the request?"
"When did Dr. Carter become aware that you had signed his name on the form?"
"When I showed him the medical records after the MP's showed up looking for Eric."
"And what was Dr. Carter's reaction?"
"He said we could get into a lot of trouble for doing that and that he had no right to look at the records."
"Did he look at the records?"
"Only long enough to see that his name was on the bottom of the form. I told him what the records said."
"So you are saying that you forged Dr. Carter's signature, without his knowledge to obtain medical records for a patient."
"The patient was my brother."
"Was your brother aware that you were requesting his medical records?"
"So you forged Eric Wyzcenski's signature also."
"I was concerned about my brother's health. He was exhibiting symptoms of bipolar disease."
"Ms. Lockhart, did you forge both of the signatures on the documents requesting Eric Wyzcenski's medical records?"
Abby looked down and mumbled her answer. The chairman of the medical board looked at her as he said, "I'm sorry Ms. Lockhart but could you repeat your answer loud enough that we can hear?"
"Yes, I forged the signatures but I was only . . ."
One of the board members interrupted, "This hearing is not concerned with why you did it. You may save your explanations for the nursing board."
Looking up from his notes, another of the board members asked, "Ms. Lockhart, has Dr. Carter offered you any money or material goods or made any promises to you in return for your testimony today?"
"Could you explain that please."
"Dr. Carter offered to assume financial responsibility for the child I was carrying."
"Was he the father?"
"When did he make that offer?"
"The same day he obtained the notice of his suspension."
At that, Carter's attorney stood. "Ms. Lockhart. Isn't it true that the two of you were dating when you became pregnant?"
"Yes, but Carter wasn't the father and he knew that."
"When Dr. Carter learned that you were pregnant, didn't he propose marriage to you?"
"Either he did or he didn't."
"He said that if I wanted to keep the baby that we could get married."
"When did he propose to you?"
"I don't remember exactly."
"Ms. Lockhart, didn't Dr. Carter propose marriage to you before he received notice of his suspension? And wasn't your pregnancy the reason for his proposal?"
"I guess. I don't know exactly when he got the notice."
Holding up a copy of the letter, Mr. Stern asked, "In fact didn't he propose on the morning of February thirteenth, the day before the date on this letter notifying Dr. Carter of his suspension and this hearing? Didn't he suggest that the two of you get married as soon as he learned you were pregnant?"
Irritably she responded. "All right, yes. That's when he first mentioned it."
"So Dr. Carter's marriage proposal and his offer to assume financial responsibility for the child you were carrying had more to do with the fact that you two were dating and nothing at all to do with the fact that he asked you to testify?"
Abby became angry. "How do I know what his motivations were? I told him from the first that the baby wasn't his. I told him I could not testify because I was keeping the baby and I needed my job. He didn't. Everyone in Chicago knows John Carter comes from one of the wealthiest families in the state . . . maybe in the country for all I know!"
"Ms. Lockhart, after he received notification of this hearing, did Dr. Carter offer you money in return for your testimony?"
"Not exactly but that's what he implied."
"What exactly did he say?"
"He was angry. He kept waving the letter in my face and telling me that he wanted me to tell the state medical board what I had done. I told him that I couldn't because I needed my job and I could not afford to lose my license. He said I should have thought of that before I forged his signature. I told him I needed my job because I was keeping the baby. Then he offered to assume financial responsibility for the baby even if we didn't get married."
"What was your response?"
"I don't remember exactly."
"Didn't you ask Dr. Carter if he was trying to bribe you?"
"I may have, yes."
"What was his response?"
Abby ducked her head and lowered her voice as she answered. "He said he thought the state nursing board would understand that I was concerned about my brother and that he offered to help because he still . . . considered us friends." Abby's glanced up and saw Luka watching her. Her voice was barely above a whisper as she said, "He told me he hated to see any woman have an . . ." Abby bit her lip and looked down at her hands. " . . . have an abortion if she really did not want one. He said he was not offering me a bribe but he was asking me to tell the truth."
The chairman of the board asked, "And has Dr. Carter assumed responsibility for your child?"
"No, I . . . I had a miscarriage."
The chairman looked at Abby. "I'm sorry for your loss."
Still avoiding Luka's gaze, she responded, "Thank you."
Glancing at the rest of the board, the chairman added, "If there are no more questions . . ." There was a general shaking of heads among the board members. "Ms. Lockhart, thank you for your testimony. You may be excused."
Luka stood but said nothing as Abby approached him. Then he silently escorted her from the room. Her attorney remained inside.
* * * * * *
Carter and Susan looked toward the door as Luka and Abby came out of the room. Carter's emotions were in such turmoil that he did not trust himself to speak. He glanced at Susan and squeezed her hand. Susan understood; she spoke. "Abby, thank you."
"Don't thank me. It wasn't my idea," she replied sharply.
As Susan spoke Carter met Luka's eyes. Carter was unsure of what he expected to see there but whatever he had expected, it was not there. Luka nodded and Carter returned the gesture. Then Luka silently guided Abby toward the elevator.
Carter continued to stare at the elevator doors after they closed; he wondered exactly what Abby had said. In a few minutes someone Carter did not recognize emerged from the room; he assumed that was Abby's attorney. Dr. Weaver, the nursing director and Carter's attorneys followed her. Closely behind his attorneys were Doctors Romano and Anspaugh. Dr. Weaver nodded to him. "John."
Mr. Stern motioned toward a small conference room. "John, we need to talk." The lawyer glanced at Susan and then questioningly back toward Carter. "In here."
Refusing to let go of Susan's hand, Carter said, "I don't have any secrets from Susan."
The attorney nodded, "Okay, fine."
Without hesitation, Jack Carter followed the group into the room as Romano and Anspaugh greeted Peter Benton. Once the door was closed, Earl Stern said, "John, they want blood and urine samples for a tox screen."
Carter sighed and nodded, "Who gets to watch me pee this time?"
"The president of the medical board."
Dejectedly Carter answered, "Fine."
Angered at the idea, Jack asked, "Earl, is this necessary? Hasn't my son suffered enough humiliation?"
"Son, is it really worth this?"
"Dad, I'm a doctor. I've made some mistakes but I'm willing to do whatever it takes to keep my license."
Jack shook his head in disbelief. Looking at his assistant, Stern spoke. "We'll need to have someone accompany you to the lab. Someone who understands how the procedure should be done and can insure that it is done correctly. You can be sure that the board will send someone to supervise as well."
Susan spoke. "I could go."
Tightening his grip on her hand, Carter interjected, "No, Susan. I need you here."
"Peter?" she suggested.
Carter nodded. Stern continued, "I think they are satisfied with your doctors' depositions regarding your surgery and use of narcotics to control the pain. They may have a few questions for Dr. Benton but I doubt it. There is another matter however. During Ms. Lockhart's testimony Dr. Dickerson raised the idea that perhaps you offered Ms. Lockhart money or made certain promises in return for her testimony."
Carter bit his lip and shook his head. Would this nightmare ever end?
"We established that your marriage proposal was made in response to her pregnancy and prior to your notification of this hearing."
Jack Carter was shocked by this revelation. He had no idea that Abby was pregnant or that John had intended to marry her. He looked at his son and at Susan who continued to hold John's hand. Evidently Susan was aware of the situation for her expression never changed. He had to wonder whether his son was going to be inextricably linked to Abigail Lockhart forever.
Ignoring Jack's response, Stern elaborated, "However, I think Dickerson may be on a fishing expedition, trying to prove that your offer to assume financial responsibility for the child on the day you received the notification was a bribe."
Fully aware of what his father was thinking, Carter glanced at his Dad. He started to explain but decided now was not the time. For the present it was better to let his Dad think he had fathered the child than to try and justify his actions. They had two hours; he would speak with him before the hearing resumed. So he simply said, "Dad, she had a miscarriage."
Jack's relief was audible. Realizing that Jack apparently did not know all of the details, Stern went on. "John, I know your family and I know you. The Carters are known throughout the state for their generosity. I realize you were acting out of your own generous spirit but we need to establish a pattern of behavior. Should Dickerson continue this line of questioning, we need to be able to demonstrate that such an offer was not out of character for you and had nothing to do with you asking Ms. Lockhart to testify. If Dickerson can discredit her testimony then we are no better off than when we started. In fact, our case may be weakened. Of course we do have the testimony of the handwriting experts and that went very well following Ms. Lockhart's testimony. We have a two-hour recess following the specimen collection. John, I'll need you and Susan to work on a list of everything you have given Abby and everything that you have given to anyone not related to you in the last three or four years. Jack, I'll need you to track down records, checks, credit card receipts, correspondence etc., anything that could substantiate John's list. After he supervises the testing, Carson can go back to the office and get copies of the scholarship agreements and the adoption records. If necessary, I want to be able to prove to the board that you were acting out of the goodness of your heart and not offering a bribe."
Carter nodded. Handing his father his keys he said, "All my financial records are locked in the top drawer of the my file in the study. Personal taxes and donations are in the one below. There may be a few thank you notes scattered in the top left drawer of my desk."
"What about the bill of sale for the horses?" Jack inquired. He was well aware that his son had withdrawn close to a quarter of a million from his trust fund to buy the horses. He had not withdrawn half that much for all of Susan's emeralds. Carter shook his head, "Dad the horses belong to me."
"But you did purchase Midnight primarily for Marty and Godiva for Susan."
"Dad, I think that's a stretch."
Stern interrupted, "Bring them and let me think about that a minute."
As Jack left, Stern turned back to Carter. "John as soon as you get your list made, I'll fax it to the office so we can have typed copies to present each board member. Carson you need to speak with Dr. Benton." The attorney hesitated and glanced at Susan as he added, "There is one more thing. John, they may ask questions about your relationship to Lucy and to Abby. I can object if they are too personal but there is no judge present to make a ruling. Keep your answers simple, answer as truthfully as you can but don't elaborate."
Carter nodded. Was there no end to the embarrassment he had caused himself? Turning to Susan he said, "Are you sure you want to sit through this?"
"John, I'm well aware of your relationship with Lucy and Abby. I'll leave if you want me to but if you're only trying to protect me, don't. I'm a big girl. I can handle this."
Relieved he said, "I don't want to do this alone."
Susan gave him an encouraging smile, "You don't have to." Then, giving him a friendly shove she added, "Now, go pee in the jar so we can start on this list."
* * * * * *
Carter had no time to discuss his marriage proposal to Abby with his father before the hearing resumed. Nor was he able to interpret the look on his father's face as he nervously tried to answer Dickerson's question about why he would propose marriage to a woman he knew was carrying another man's child. He could not say that he was categorically opposed to abortion or that he was in love with Abby. All he could think of at the time was that Abby was killing her baby and he did not want to be part of it; he was willing to do almost anything to stop her. Even as he was struggling to explain, he saw Susan reach for his father's hand and say something to which Jack responded with nod of acknowledgment. Susan understood but would his father?
When Dickerson suggested the possibility of bribery, Earl Stern had presented the board with a well-documented list proving Carter's generosity. Carter had to bite his tongue to keep from agreeing when Dickerson commented that 'it's easy to be generous when you don't have to work for the money.' However, Stern rebutted that comment by calling Dr. Anspaugh to testify concerning the long hours Carter worked and the source of Carter's salary. When the hearing was over Carter felt as if he had stripped naked and paraded in public; there were few secrets left in his life. However, after deliberating for little less than an hour, the board retroactively reinstated his license leaving only his past probation for drug addiction to blemish his record. He could still practice medicine.
Carter was in a daze for the first few minutes following the board's decision. He was vaguely aware of people congratulating him and shaking his hand. Anspaugh gave him a pat on the back. The one person he was very much aware of was Susan. Her arm remained gently but securely around his waist as he made what he hoped were appropriate responses to those who spoke to him. At last the crowd dissipated and Carter began to focus clearly on what was happening. Peter Benton gave him a self-conscious hug. "Hey man, you made it."
"Yep. Thanks for coming Peter."
Peter shrugged. "I'd like to stick around and celebrate but . . ."
"I know, you have patients to see."
"Actually no, I took the day off but Reese has a T-ball game at six."
"T-ball, really? I'm probably going to take Susan out to celebrate tonight but fax me his schedule, I'd like to come sometime."
Had the comment come from anyone else, Benton would have considered it just a polite response but coming from John Carter, Peter knew he meant it. If Benton forgot to fax the schedule, he would be receiving a call from Carter to remind him and some evening when no one expected it, Reese would look up to see Uncle John cheering in the stands. So he answered, "Yeah, I'll do that. See ya, man."
Robert Romano hesitated briefly allowing Benton time to walk away before approaching Carter. "Well, Doctor Carter at least one of us still has their job. I suppose I should congratulate you but quite frankly, I'm too pissed. You're poor judgment regarding girlfriends has been playing havoc with my schedule . . . still is. Now I'm short a nurse. Anyway, I'll see you in the morning at nine. You too, Dr. Lewis." Before Carter could respond, Romano added, "Oh, I spoke to Lizzy. It seems County is still looking for surgeons. Evidently that new guy, Fast Eddie, can't quite cut it. Under the present circumstances I can't promise anything, but Corday thinks Anspaugh would still consider letting you complete your surgical residency. You should speak with her about it."
"Thanks, I will and I'll be there at nine."
"Good, you still owe me four months on your contract as chief resident. By the way, I'm obviously in no position to recommend you for Chief of Staff but I can offer you an attending position, effective immediately, if your interested."
Surprised at this turn of events, Carter responded, "Yes, thanks."
As an afterthought Romano added, "Oh, and you might want to consider giving yourself a raise." Stepping into the elevator Romano looked toward Susan, "You know your boyfriend here made a perfect score on his emergency boards. I'd give my left arm to see him do that in surgery."
Standing in the hallway as the doors closed Susan said, "Was he serious?"
"About his left arm or my score?"
"Your score of course."
Carter shook his head visibly unimpressed with his performance. "No, I missed three."
"Three, on which part?"
"The whole thing."
"Five hundred questions and you only missed three?"
Realizing Susan was impressed Carter shrugged; "I had good teachers. How many did you miss?"
"I'm not discussing this with you."
Impishly he said, "I'll take that to mean you missed more than three."
Making no reply, Susan punched the elevator button. Carter's father interrupted them. "John."
"Dad, I'm sorry. I wanted to explain about Abby but . . ."
"You don't owe me an explanation. The woman is out of your life. Let it go." He patted his son on the shoulder; still embarrassed about the situation Carter ducked his head. Seemingly oblivious to his son's discomfort, Jack continued, "Look John, I've got to get to the airport. I'm picking up Barbara in an hour. I'll make dinner reservations for say eight-thirty . . . some place nice. We still owe your fiancée a celebratory glass of champagne." As the trio stepped onto the elevator, he added, "Maybe you could invite your friend Peter and his wife."
Stunned by his father's lack of response to his behavior, Carter hesitated before answering. "Uh no, Reese has a ball game."
"Well, just family then," he said as the three stepped off the elevator. Handing John the keys to the Explorer, Jack hailed a cab.
Carter glanced at Susan, then answered. "Yeah, fine. Phone me with details," he called after his father.
Arm in arm the remaining pair proceeded to the parking garage. Looking sideways at her fiancée Susan asked with a sly grin, "Well, Doctor Carter, what shall we do until eight-thirty?"
He smiled at her. "I don't think being addressed as Doctor Carter has sounded so good since the day I graduated."
Susan laughed, "Give yourself two weeks back at County, Doctor and you'll be sick of it."
"Never. I fought to hard to earn it and I've fought even harder to keep it. I'll never grow tired of hearing it."
They paused at the side of the car. Susan put her hands on his cheeks. "I love you."
He stepped closer to her, trapping her against the back door as her hands slid down to his shoulders. Their eyes met. "I'll never grow tired of hearing that either. I've waited all my life to hear someone say those words to me." Unconsciously he licked his lips as he brushed hers with his thumb. "I never really thought they would come from your lips," he whispered as he kissed her softly.
Realizing this was neither the time nor the place for what he was feeling, Carter abruptly moved to open her door. Taking her cue, she slid in. Without a word he closed it, walked around to his side and got in. He had made that mistake with Abby . . . gone from emotional highs and lows straight to bed . . . without ever taking time to just enjoy being together. Well, probably it was impossible to enjoy being with Abby; she lived under a black cloud. He loved Susan, passionately, and there would be time for that . . . later . . . tonight . . . after dinner. He liked the fact that he could talk to Susan about anything. There were other times when he and Susan could relax and have fun together; even when they were not lovers they had shared that. The past three days they had been caught up in an emotional whirlwind but he did not want their friendship to be tossed aside in the uproar.
Susan watched silently as Carter started the engine and pulled out of the parking garage. That soft kiss had ignited a fire within her. Had he really never thought that he would hear those words from her lips? She could not begin to sort through the tangle of emotions that she had experienced in the past seventy-two hours. Susan had no doubt Carter was experiencing the same turmoil. After paying the parking attendant, he reached for her hand rubbing his thumb across her engagement ring. She smiled, "You never really said what you want to do with the rest of our afternoon."
"Well, uh . . . I don't know . . . exactly." He stammered and wondered if she would understand. "Look, I . . . I know we have a lot to talk about and plans to make . . . decisions that need to be made but . . . would you mind if . . . if we took the rest of the afternoon off . . . maybe take in a museum or . . . or something . . . and try to . . ."
Susan's face lit up as she looked at him out of the corner of her eye and finished, "regain some of that adolescent sexual tension?" He sighed with relief. She did understand. "We could check out the rides at the Navy pier." she suggested.
Glancing down at their clothes, he replied, "We're a little overdressed for that. On the other hand, there's a vendor close to the Ferris wheel that sells hot dogs with sauerkraut and spicy mustard. I could do with a couple of those right now."
Giving him a mischievous smirk Susan said, "I could go for a hot dog. But I usually prefer something sweeter that sauerkraut."
Pretending he had no idea what she meant he asked innocently, "Pickle relish?"
"Whipped cream and chocolate sauce."
"They let you take that on the Ferris wheel?" he asked. Susan smiled and raised her eyebrows. Carter winked; "Don't suppose you know how to get chocolate sauce out of gray wool do you?"
"We could stop by my apartment and change." Impishly she added, "You know, the last time the chief resident spent the night there he left a pair of jeans and tennis shoes."
Playing along with her game he asked, "You think they'd fit me?"
"They might, he is about your size."
Carter realized they were no longer discussing his pants. "Oh really. Does he spend the night at your place often?"
"Not often enough."
"So he's good in bed. Should I be jealous?"
"Um, he's good but I don't think you should be jealous. I'm considering tossing him aside for County's newest attending."
"Sleeping with him too?"
"Not yet, but I plan to."
"Well, in that case, I think we should also stop by the hospital and pick up his lab results."
* * * * * *
Jerry was at the desk when they arrived at County. "Dr. Lewis. Dr. Carter, what brings you here? I didn't think you two were on until tomorrow."
"We're not. Just stopping by to pick up lab results on one of my patients, Jerry," Susan explained.
"Yeah, which one?"
"Harry Truman." Carter stifled a laugh and headed toward the lounge.
"Harry Truman? Like the president?" he asked flipping through a stack of lab slips. "Here they are. Oh, STD panel and viral load. Both negative. You get stuck?"
Jerry's back was to Carter but Susan could see Carter laughing silently as he pushed open the door.
"Suffers from delusions of grandeur," she said emphatically.
"Should I send them up to psych?"
"No, I didn't admit him. He's harmless enough," she answered as she entered the lounge.
The lounge was empty. As soon as the door closed, Carter captured her and said, "Delusions of grandeur?"
"Well, I don't want him to get a big head."
"Oh you don't, do you? Susan Lewis you are so . . ."
"Much in love with you." She silenced him with a quick kiss. Then grabbing his arm she said, "Let's get out of here, Doctor Carter, before someone puts us to work."