Fifty or Sixty Years
Total Eclipse of the Heart
May 31-June 1, 2003
“Tears have been my meat, day and night. While they daily say to me, ‘Where now is your God?’
Now when I think about these things, I pour out my heart by myself.
For I went with the multitude and brought them into the house of God.
Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul and why are you so disquieted within me?
Just as the deer longs for the waterbrooks, so longs my soul after you, O Lord.”
Reading by the minister at Millicent Carter’s funeral: Foreign Affairs
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Though Millicent Carter passed away on the television series, I have chosen to keep her alive awhile longer. Incidentally, while I am not sure what translation was used for the television series, I have used the New International Version of the Bible in quoting the psalm above.
For the last three days Carter and Susan had seen each other only at shift change. For whatever reason Susan was working nights and Carter days. Romano was no where to be seen and for the past two days, neither was Weaver. Supervising the new triage center was taking precedent over seeing patients.
As they met in the lounge before he left, Susan grumbled, “I don’t know why I got stuck with nights. I’m the assistant chief. You’re only the new attending.”
Glancing toward the door to be sure no one was watching, Carter stole a kiss. “Don’t complain. I just finished the shift from hell. Every time I turned around someone was yelling, ‘Doctor Carter.’And at least half of my patients died.”
“See, I told you you’d be sick of hearing it within two weeks.”
Glancing at the door again, Carter snarled something unintelligible as he kissed her neck. “Do you always have to be right?”
“No, just 95% of the time,” she retorted flirtatiously.
Slipping his hand in to pull out the ring she wore on a chain tucked inside her shirt, he held it up as he countered, “Oh, so that’s how its going to be. I only get to be right 5% of the time.”
“If you work hard enough at it,” she said with a smirk.
Tucking the chain back inside, he despondently replied, “I’ll have to work harder than today. Nothing seemed to go right today.”
Noting the abrupt change in his tone, Susan became concerned. One look into his eyes told her his attempts at covering were not working and this was more than post-shift blues. She rubbed his arm as she inquired, “Carter, what happened?”
“I have a adolescent drowning victim who is decerebrating. Curtis’ little brother was brought back in. He’s been out defending his family’s honor. GSW to the right shoulder.”
“Trevor? The kid whose sister was paralyzed when the bookcase fell on her?”
“Oh God, their poor mother.”
“He doesn’t even have the staples out from last week. He attacked another banger with a scalpel and left AMA. I got stabbed in the process and blamed by Kerry for allowing it to happen.” Seeing the worry in her eyes, he shook his head, “It’s minor but the guy died. Oh, check the HIV and hepatitis results on Nelson somebody. They drew them in pathology. Then, we got in the mass suicides from the eclipse cult.”
“Yeah, I heard about it on the news.”
“Well, the one kid we got survived but only because I chose to treat her instead of her mother. The hospital only had three cyanide kits. I figured the kid didn’t have a choice. Weaver yelled at me for under-treating the mother. That’s when she finally decided to stop supervising the construction and start seeing patients. Apparently her newest attending is incompetent to run point. Which was good in a way because right after that we had the construction site accident and we really needed another doctor. The cath lab was backed up and we were too busy so my heart attack victim died. He died and I didn’t even get him a pen and paper so he could write a note to his wife and kids. I could have at least done that.”
“Carter, I’m sure you did the best you could.”
“Yeah, only my best wasn’t good enough! Jeez Susan, the guy had a wife and two little kids that weren’t even ten. I had to stand there and tell them that I tried but I couldn’t save him. And the worst part is I didn’t even get the guy a pen and paper. Such a simple request and I didn’t follow through; I didn’t realize how important it was. So I looked his wife and kids in the eyes and I lied; I told them that he asked me to tell them that he loved . . . loves them very much.”
“John, that wasn’t a lie.” Susan could see how exhausted and exasperated he was from the way he sighed as he ran his hand through his hair. “Look, John, I’m off for thirty-six hours following this shift. Try to get some sleep and we can spend some time together.”
He nodded. “You drive or take the El?”
“Took the El. You going back to my apartment or . . .”
“Home, Susan, I’m going home.” He put his labcoat and stethoscope in his locker and took out his bag. Susan nodded. “I’ll stop by your place on the way home and pack some clothes and pick you up for breakfast, if that’s okay?”
“That’s fine.” Then she added, “John, you’re a good doctor.”
He shook his head, “Not good enough.”
“Oh, Luka called.”
“Yeah. They’re short of doctors.”
He shrugged. “We’ll talk about it in the morning.”
Pratt stuck his head in the door and saw Susan kissing Carter softly. “Hey, Lewis. I need some help out here.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming. You know I can’t work until I’ve had my coffee.”
As Carter opened the door to leave, Pratt said, “See you, Dr. Carter. Nice knowing you.” Carter turned and looked at Pratt incomprehensibly; Pratt explained, “I start at Northwestern next week. Tonight’s it for me.”
Remembering Carter responded, “Um. That’s right. Good luck, Greg.”
“Yeah, you too.” Turning to Susan, Pratt asked, “Looks to me like coffee wasn’t all you were getting. Is there something going on with you two that I should know about?”
As Susan poured herself a cup of the hot liquid she answered, “Not that you should know about. Don’t you have patients to see?”
* * * * * *
Pratt was standing at the desk signing out to Jing Mei. He glanced up as Carter entered the admit area. Carter looked almost as bad as he had when he left yesterday. Jing Mei looked surprised to see him. “I thought you were off today.”
“I am. I’m just here to pick up Susan. Is she around?”
“In the lounge.”
Carter nodded and walked into the lounge. Turning to Jing Mei, Pratt commented, “There’s something going on with those two.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Yesterday as he was leaving, I saw them kissing in the lounge. And this morning, looking like hell, he shows up to pick her up for breakfast.”
“Well, they have been friends for a long time.”
“You and Carter have been friends for a long time too. I haven’t seen him kissing you in the lounge or picking you up for breakfast on his day off.”
“Well, that’s because he knows you would be jealous if he did.”
“Oh, he knows that does he?”
“Yes, he does,” she replied with a smile.
“What else does he know?”
Demurely she replied, “Only what I tell him.”
“And what have you told him?”
“You’ll have to ask him,” she grinned slyly.
His tone became serious, as he said, “No, somehow I get the feeling Carter is the kind of guy you can trust. I don’t think I’d get much information from him.”
“You’re right, he is the kind of guy you can trust.”
“But I thought he was with the nurse, Abby.”
“No, that’s over.”
At that moment Carter and Susan walked out of the lounge. Kissing Jing Mei, Pratt said, “See ya sweetness. I’ll call you later.”
Watching Greg exit, Jing Mei asked, “John, are you okay?”
Without slowing his steps toward the door he answered, “I’m fine, Deb.”
As he held the door for Susan, Jing Mei and Susan exchanged a knowing look. Jing Mei mouthed, ‘He needs you.’ Susan nodded once.
* * * * *
As they drove home Carter asked, “So, how was your shift?”
“Hectic but apparently not as bad as yours. Most of my patients survived. We lost Trevor though.”
“He came back in? What happened?”
“Brought back in with another GSW. This one to the left side, got the pulmonary vein, 1500 cc. initial output, I clamped the hilum but it didn’t help.”
“Oh, Nelson Wright’s labs were negative.”
“Your gangbanger, Nelson Wright. His HIV and hepatitis serology came back negative.”
“And your drowning victim, Heather Marks, regained consciousness and her lungs are improving. I think she’s going to be all right.”
“You’re kidding. Susan, she was decerebrating. The odds of that happening are . . . How is that possible?”
“Hey, once in a while, we witness a miracle,” she explained with a smile.
Raising his eyebrows he grinned wryly as Susan continued. “And your little girl with the cyanide poisoning is doing well. Her dad and step-mom showed up right after you left. They have been trying to get custody of her ever since Mom joined the cult and started talking about the end of the world. Problem was that Mom always sounded sane whenever she talked to DCFS or the judge.”
“Hell of a way to gain custody of your kid.”
“Speaking of kids, did you see the news?”
“Some lunatic slashed a pregnant woman open with a knife and ripped her baby out. Then she took it home and told her husband she had a baby while he was at work.”
“We got the mom in and sent her to surgery. Later, Pratt got an anonymous call from the lunatic’s husband. He had seen the story on the news. He was scared so he had hidden the baby in the alley on the north side of the hospital. We found him. Mother and baby are doing fine and they were even able to repair the uterus.”
As they entered the house from the garage, Carter commented, “Yeah, your shift was difficult but definitely better than mine. At least you had some good outcomes. You want some breakfast?”
“I’m exhausted. Just a bagel and some juice.”
“I think Corrine has some out and some strawberry cream cheese as well. At least, that’s what I had,” he commented as they headed into the dining room.
Gamma entered as Susan was fixing her plate. “Good morning. Unusual to see you two together these days.” She gave Susan a friendly pat on the shoulder.
“Yeah. I don’t mean to be rude Gamma but I’m beat. I think I’ll just take this upstairs and crawl into bed.”
“Of course dear,” she said with a smile. Turning her attention to her grandson she said, “John, there’s something important I need to speak with you about. It won’t take long, I promise.”
“Sure Gamma.” Placing his hand on Susan’s back, he said, “I’ll be up in a few minutes.”
“Take your time. I’m going to eat and soak in the tub for awhile. My feet are killing me; I never sat down once all shift.”
* * * * *
By the time Carter got upstairs Susan was asleep. Stripping down to his T-shirt and boxers, he crawled under the covers with her. She stirred slightly and opened her eyes. He apologized; “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“No, it’s okay. I like having you here.”
He smiled as she snuggled close to him. Placing one arm around her, he slipped his other arm under her pillow and found her hand as he explained, “I didn’t sleep well last night.”
Shifting slightly so she could see him, she asked, “Want to talk about it?”
“Later. Go back to sleep.”
Without a word she turned to her side and quickly dropped off to sleep again. Carter lay there, holding her, watching her. He had known when he laid down that sleep would not come; but having Susan nestled in his arms was infinitely better than laying in bed alone staring at the ceiling wondering where in the hell he fit in the grand scheme of things. His talk with Gamma this morning had not helped either. Logically he knew she was right; these decisions had to be made. No one lived forever and she was planning for the future . . . but his future not hers. She was planning for her demise.
He did not want to face this now . . . now when he was beginning a life with Susan. He did not want to deal with this today after the shift he had yesterday. He had tried to dissuade her.
“Gamma, can we talk about this tomorrow?”
“John, I may not have tomorrow.”
It was John Carter the grandson who answered. “Gamma, don’t say that.”
Her response reminded him that he was also a doctor. “John, you’re the one who gave me the diagnosis. You know as well as I do that my tomorrows are numbered.”
Again the grandson answered, “Gamma, you’re on medication. You’re symptoms have abated.”
She gently placed her hand over his, “John, I’ve made my peace with this and you should too. We all have to go sometime. I’m not afraid of dying. I may have ten days or I may have ten years but either way, I’ll rest easier knowing that you understand my wishes.”
Then she had laid it all out for him . . . her advanced directives, plans for her funeral, a copy of her revised will. Again Carter had shook his head. “Gamma it should be Dad, not me.”
She was firm. “No John. I want you in control of the foundation and I want you to have the majority vote in the company.”
“John, I can’t trust your father and I wouldn’t dare consider anyone else.”
“Gamma, the last few months . . . he’s changed.”
“Has he? Will it last? Or is he simply trying to assuage his guilt . . . make up for responsibilities he should have taken on years ago. John, I don’t have time to take that chance. I know you John. I’ve practically raised you. You have a good heart and I know you will make the right choices.”
“Gamma, you know I’ve never wanted this responsibility.”
“Which is precisely why I chose you. Had you sought it, I would have been suspicious of your motives.”
“Gamma, I’m a doctor . . . maybe not the best doctor but I’ve fought hard to keep that . . . please . . .”
“John, I know we’ve had our differences of opinion on this. I’m not asking you to give up your profession. I know that medicine is what you truly love. I’m not even asking you to run the company, just oversee it and see that it stays in the family. Giving you the majority of the stock will insure that. I also know you have a beautiful spirit and you will make sure the foundation money goes where it is most needed. With Susan’s help, I have no doubts that you can do both.”
“What if Susan doesn’t want the responsibility? Have you thought of that? It’s one thing to expect me to bow to your demands but I’ve grown up in this family. Susan hasn’t!”
“I have considered that possibility, John, and should that prove to be the case, I’ve made a provision for you to select anyone of your choosing. I have confidence in your judgment, John.”
“Gamma, please, don’t do this.” Glancing down at the paper in his hand he said, “Don’t make me ask this of Susan.”
Unwaveringly she looked at him with those grayish-brown eyes . . . eyes that could pierce his soul. Firmly she reiterated, “Jonathan Truman Carter, I’m not accepting a ‘no’ on this. I don’t have anyone else who understands . . . no one else I can trust.”
Carter sighed loudly. Susan stirred in her sleep and turned onto her stomach. His restlessness was probably disturbing her. Reaching for his robe, he quietly got out of bed, picked up the stack of things Gamma had given him to read and settled himself in a chair.
* * * * *
Susan awoke late in the afternoon. Glancing around she saw Carter asleep in a chair; his feet were propped on the ottoman. A stack of papers lay in the floor near him and a book lay open in his lap. She padded softly across the room, picked up the book and covered him with an afghan. Sitting down in the chair next to him she realized the book was a Bible. She had never thought of Carter as particularly religious. To find him reading the Bible seemed completely out of character, almost disturbing. She had known he was upset about his shift but apparently she had not realized how badly. The Bible was open to Psalm 42; she read the passage that was marked.
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.Susan sat in the chair contemplating the meaning of what she had read and wondering why John was reading it. She looked over at him, with his head leaning against the side of the wingback chair, sleeping peacefully now. She had known him for nine years but she still had so much to learn about this man to whom she had given her heart. She looked again at the passage. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long,
‘Where now is your God?’
These things I remember as I pour out my soul:
How I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God,
With shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.
Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me? . . .
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me - a prayer to the God of my life.
She recalled a few months ago when she had been so distraught after losing three patients in a row. How many had he lost yesterday? She knew he would talk about it eventually. He had grown up in a family where emotions, if they existed, were denied. Yet Carter had always worn his feelings on his sleeve. As a student he was constantly becoming emotionally involved with his patients. Susan had worried about him then but he appeared to have found a balance.
Susan smiled as she remembered him as a student. He was so obvious whenever he had a crush on someone. Why had she not realized how he felt about her sooner. As she pondered that she realized, Carter had a natural tendency to express his emotions; no doubt he had been a misfit in his family from the beginning. He had learned to hide his emotions when the occasion demanded. Susan had witnessed the reticent behavior displayed by Carter and his father. His demeanor was somewhat less aloof with his grandmother but formal nonetheless. His conduct towards his mother remained wary despite their long talks last spring and with good reason. The woman took little interest in her son. That is why Susan had not realized the intensity of his feelings for her. He was adept at covering with his sarcastic humor, with a brief word and a dismissive attitude, with an understatement or outright denial . . . sometimes hiding his emotions even from himself. Thus ‘nice’ meant something was more wonderful than he imagined. Conversely, ‘I’m fine’ translated to ‘I’m in too much pain to discuss at the moment.’ In a way Susan understood. Sometimes Susan hid her pain the same way but she usually had no trouble expressing her delight.
She looked again at the passage of scripture. Those same two questions jumped out at her. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? She recalled his response as they left the hospital this morning when Deb had asked if he was okay. ‘I’m fine.’ He was not fine; he was hurting but he kept walking and never looked back. He was not ready to discuss his feelings, not then.
Susan glanced down at the stack of papers on the floor and read the bold letters across the top page: ADVANCED DIRECTIVES. Of course Gamma had no way of knowing how awful Carter’s last shift had been. He seldom, if ever, discussed his work with his grandmother. He would have come home last night and covered through dinner, excused himself early and gone up to his room, ostensibly to read. Susan realized these decisions needed to be made but Gamma could not have chosen a worse time to discuss the prospect of Carter having to implement her DNR.
Placing the Bible on her chair, Susan rose, pushed his hair from his forehead and lightly brushed it with her lips. The pressure of his hands on her hips surprised her as he placed his feet on the floor and pulled her down into his lap and leaned his head against her shoulder. “I’m sorry John, I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“It’s okay. I was just dozing.”
He sighed heavily, “Um. There shouldn’t be but there is.” Carter leaned his head back against the chair and with his right hand tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as their eyes met. “I’ve just gotten my license back so that I can practice a profession that I love and I’m sitting here with the woman of my dreams and . . . ” he touched her ring with the fingers of his left hand. “And she has agreed to become my wife and I should be ecstatically happy but . . .” he stopped in mid-sentence and looked down at their hands.
“But you’re not,” Susan finished. “Is it something with me? With us?” Susan tried to squelch the sinking feeling in her stomach as she asked.
Immediately his hands went to her face and he locked his eyes on hers. “No, oh God no. Don’t ever think that. Susan, I love you. I’ve loved you . . . I’ve wanted you for . . . for years. I’ll always love you. Please, don’t ever think that. I’m happy with you. It’s . . .” he stammered. “It’s . . . I don’t know . . . I don’t know what it is . . . it’s everything . . . it’s me . . . it’s . . . I can’t explain it.”
As she placed her hands around his neck and met his intense look with one of her own, Susan felt his hands slip down to her shoulders. Starring steadfastly into those brown eyes she saw the confusion of intertwined emotions reflected there. “Carter, how many patients did you lose yesterday?”
“I don’t know.” He swallowed as he fought back tears. “I’ve . . . I’ve never lost so many in one day. After four, five if you count Trevor, I lost track.”
“But you saved Madeline.”
“Your young cyanide victim.”
“At the expense of her mother.”
“Carter, you made the right choice. You had limited resources and you had to make a quick decision. I would have done the same thing.”
“Weaver wouldn’t have.”
“Weaver wasn’t there.”
“No but Deb was and she disagreed with me. I overruled her.” He shook his head. “What gives me the right to play God?”
“Carter, you had to make a judgment call, you weren’t playing God.” He just looked at her, saying nothing. Susan continued. “And you kept Heather Marks alive; she has no sign of brain damage whatsoever.”
“I had nothing to do with restoring her normal brain function and you know it.”
“But she wouldn’t have had a chance of surviving if you had given up but you didn’t. Carter, you’re a good doctor.”
He shook his head. “Susan, good doctors don’t lose as many patients as I lost yesterday.”
Repeating the words he had used to comfort her last fall she said, “You didn’t kill them; they died. There is a difference you know.”
“Carter.” She kissed his forehead.
“Susan, I became a doctor because I wanted to help people . . . to make a difference. I wanted the world to be a better place because Jonathan Truman Carter the third was in it.” His right hand slid slowly down her back and he ran his left hand through his hair. “I had this other patient . . . a Buddhist nun. She had cancer. Her companion or protégé brought her in because she was dehydrated and in pain. I could fix that. That’s all she expected. She was dying and she knew it; she accepted it; she wasn’t afraid of it.”
Susan listened intently to Carter’s narrative. Somewhere in the middle of this narrative would be another clue to what was bothering him. Carter continued, “When I was examining her she reached up and touched my face and said something in Korean, I guess. Her companion translated, ‘So much sorrow.’ I don’t know, Susan, it was like she could see into my soul. The woman with her said she had met her when they were in prison together. The nun was there because she had been demonstrating for human rights in North Korea; other woman didn’t say why she was there, only that the nun had saved her. She died, peacefully at 2:16 p.m.”
“The time of the eclipse.”
“Um. Right after that Luka called and then my heart patient crashed. He wasn’t even forty years old and he died. I realized it could be me. It could be any one of us. We see it every day; people, who are way too young, die . . . often senselessly . . . needlessly. They don’t take care of themselves or someone shoots them or stabs them or poisons a six-year old with cyanide. There’s so much evil in the world and I don’t understand why. I want to do something about it. Something that will make a difference but what have I done? The nun had been in prison for demonstrating for human rights. What have I done? I’ve grown up sheltered and pampered in Chicago. I went to med school out of rebellion. Oh, I told myself it was to help people and that’s why I stayed at county but sometimes . . . sometimes I think I did it just to spite my family.”
“Carter, you’re one of the most compassionate people I know.”
“Susan, I’m not sure I have the courage to put myself at risk to save someone else. I’m not sure I could face death with that kind of acceptance.”
“Carter, you were stabbed.”
“Susan, I was reading a valentine. Sobriki stabbed me from behind. If I would have known it was coming, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to walk in that room. Even knowing that Lucy was gone, I fought to live with everything I had in me.”
“What about the smallpox scare? You put yourself at risk for Adam.”
“No, I was just angry. I had lost one patient and I had made a promise to Adam. I just didn’t want to fail. Susan, you wanted the fairytale . . . someone who would be willing to risk his life for you. I’m afraid you’ve gotten a coward. That day when I saw that drug addict holding a gun to Deb’s head, I wanted to move but I couldn’t.”
“Carter, if you would have tried to take that man down, a lot of people could have gotten hurt.”
“Luka wouldn’t have stood by and watched. He would have done something.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Yes, I do. Do you know he actually killed a guy the first time he went out with Abby?”
“They were attacked by a mugger with a lead pipe and Luka killed him. Bashed the guy’s head into the concrete. ”
“Eeww! And Abby went out with him after that!”
“That’s what I thought at first but . . . I don’t know. Maybe Luka just has more courage than I do. After all, he’s in Africa and I’m sitting comfortably in a mansion in Chicago.”
“Is that what this is about? Some macho competition with Luka?”
“No, it’s about . . . I don’t know . . . I can’t explain it. It’s about a dying man’s last thoughts being for his wife and children. It’s about a Buddhist nun having more courage than I do. It’s about trying to figure out why I have so much when others have so little. It’s about trying to find a purpose . . . a reason for my existence.”
“So what, you’re thinking of converting to Buddhism?”
“No, not Buddhism.” He paused, “I actually looked into it once in college. I took a course on living religions. But it doesn’t make sense to me. Buddhists believe you find salvation within yourself . . . that by ridding yourself of your passions you finally achieve Enlightenment. That’s why they believe in reincarnation . . . you have chance after chance until you finally get it right.” He shook his head. “I’ve made so many mistakes, I’d never get it right. Besides, I’m not very good at hiding my feelings, let alone ridding myself of passions. No, Christianity makes more sense to me.”
“The God of Christianity agrees with me. It’s like He says, ‘Your right, John Carter, you’re never going to get it right.’ But then, in His mercy, He adds, ‘But it’s okay, you don’t have to because I did it for you. I got it right. I came to earth, took on human form, paid the price that justice demanded for your mistakes . . . your sins and then rose from the dead to prove that I Am Who I claim to be.’ Jesus was a passionate man . . . a passionate God. All I have to do is have faith enough to believe.”
“Sounds simple enough when you put it that way. Do you believe it?”
Carter scoffed. “Gamma does. I’m not sure I have that much faith.” He sighed and bit his lower lip. “I guess that’s why she’s not afraid to face her death while I’m terrified, not just of facing my own death but of facing hers. I don’t know what I believe but it’s not just that. It’s that I don’t want to face the possibility of Gamma being gone. We’ve had our differences but she’s always been there when I really needed her. I’m terrified of the responsibility but if I turn her down, it will break her heart. I can’t do that; I can’t break my Gamma’s heart. I tried to tell her it should be Dad but she refuses to listen. She’s disappointed in him . . . as a son . . . as a father . . . she doesn’t trust him and she’s afraid she doesn’t have time to wait around to see if he’s really changed.”
“I don’t understand, Carter. What should be your dad?”
“She’s leaving it to me Susan.”
Remembering the paper in the floor she asked, “The decisions?”
He threw up his hands and gestured at his surroundings. “Everything . . . the castle . . . the kingdom . . . the foundation . . . controlling interest in the company! I always knew she would leave me something but I never expected all of it.” He ran his hands through his hair.
“She’s asking you to give up medicine?”
He shook his head. “No, she understands that I won’t do that but she thinks . . . I told her . . . I begged her not to ask . . . she wants you to . . .” He stopped, unable to finish his sentence.
“Is this the part where I need to sign a prenuptial agreement? Carter I don’t have a problem with that. I’m in love with you not your money.”
He laughed sardonically. “No, Susan, she trusts you, in some ways more than me. She listed you as one of the decision-makers on her advanced directives. She used the long form; most of it is spelled out . . . IVs, diuretics, and pain medications are okay but no ET tubes, no ventilators, no CPR . . . but heart medications, NG tubes, or antibiotics only if you agree with me that she needs them.” He bit his lower lip and lowered his eyes as he finished, “that she has a chance for a meaningful recovery. ”
He looked back up at her. “No, she’s right Susan. I don’t always think clearly where she’s concerned and I would . . . I will have difficulty letting go. She knows that. She has confidence in your judgment and so do I. I don’t have a problem with that. It’s the rest of it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“She said she thought with your help I could do it all.”
Susan again felt that insecure sinking feeling in her stomach. She had believed Carter was different . . . believed the money unimportant to him. Was his grandmother’s approval that essential that he would marry someone only to please her? Perhaps he was more like Dix than she thought. Abruptly she stood. “John, is that why you wanted to marry me? Because you needed your grandmother’s approval?”
Susan saw hurt and anger raging in those orbs; they darkened to a color she had never seen in his eyes . . . the color of black coffee. Shoving the ottoman out of his way, he stood, letting the afghan fall to the floor. “Jesus, Susan, no! I’m marrying you because I love you . . . because no one has ever looked at me the way you do . . . because whenever I’m with you I feel like there might be something about me that’s worth loving!” He ran both hands through his hair and shook his head as he looked down at the floor, “I asked Gamma, no I begged Gamma not to make me do this . . . not to ask you. I knew you wouldn’t understand! You didn’t grow up in this family.” He looked again at Susan and placed his hands on her shoulders. “You think I’m doing this . . . that I’m marrying you so that I get the money? Damn it, Susan! Don’t you understand? I’m stuck with the damn money no matter what!”
“John, I’m sorry. It’s just . . .”
Carter wrapped his arms around her. He was over his anger. Softly he said, “I know what Charlie Dixon did to you. But Susan, I’m not Charlie Dixon. I’m John Carter. I’ve lived with my grandmother’s disapproval before. I became a doctor remember.” Backing away and taking her face in his hands he added, “If you don’t want this responsibility, you don’t have to take it. Gamma has stipulated that I can choose someone else to help run the foundation. Our getting married doesn’t depend on that.”
Susan backed away from him, letting her hands fall at her sides as she tried to comprehend what Carter had just told her. “Gamma wants me to help you run the foundation?”
He bumped his fists together as he explained. “Susan, she loves you . . . she has faith in you and in us . . . as a couple . . . but you don’t have to accept the responsibility if you don’t want it.” He scoffed. “Hell, I don’t want it and I sure as hell don’t like the price I’m going to have to pay to get it. But I’m stuck with it.” Quietly he continued. “And I’m terrified . . . terrified that I don’t have what it takes to assume this responsibility.”
“Carter, will going to Africa help?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what will help because I really don’t know . . . I don’t know how to find the answer to my questions because I’m not sure I understand my questions. I feel like something is missing but I don’t know what I’m looking for.”
“You’re looking for your destiny . . . what you should do with the rest of your life . . . your reason for being. You said it earlier.”
He pursed his lips. “I know I want to be with you.”
“Carter, that’s not enough for you.”
“No, listen to me.” Susan reached for his hands and pulled him back down into the chair. She sat on the ottoman across from him. “John, I’ve always known you were ambitious . . . that you want achieve something great . . . make a difference in the world. I’ve never been that devoted to anything but I admire that about you. We both love medicine and helping people but with you it’s more . . . you see the big picture. You want to fix tomorrow; I just want to get through the shift. We view things differently but that doesn’t exclude me from being part of your life. You’re still searching for your direction . . . your purpose . . . your destiny; I’ve found mine.”
“I’m not following you.”
“Remember the dreams I’ve been telling you about?”
“The ones you keep saying you’re going to tell me about but you never do because we get sidetracked or distracted or I fall asleep.”
“Those are the ones.” Seeing that he was listening, she went on. “Well, I started having them in Arizona, not long after I started dating Dix. There was always this guy, usually on a black horse, whose face I could never see. And usually there was a stable and more horses and kids, lots of kids. One of them was Suzie and sometimes Rachel was in my dream. At first I thought the guy was Dix but the stable was not the Dixon’s and the scenery was way too green to be Arizona. Anyway, I’d been having this same dream over and over and . . . it sounds silly.” She bit her lip. She had Carter’s complete attention.
“Well, it’s part of the reason I came back to Chicago. I knew, somehow I knew, that it took place in Chicago and I guess that I finally realized that the guy wasn’t Dix. Sometimes Mark was in my dream but I never saw him so I’m not really sure it was Mark Greene. Anyway, I had the dream the first night I stayed here . . . on the sofa . . . at Christmas. And I had one similar to it that second night we were together at my apartment. Suzie was in that one and Rachel . . . and I was leaning on the fence. The guy . . . the guy must have been her uncle because he was going to pay for her a new dress. But I never saw his face. You said my subconscious was trying to tell me something, remember?”
Carter had no idea exactly where this was going but he was intrigued. “I remember.”
Susan was not sure he would believe her. Sometimes she did not believe it herself. “John, the stable was yours. I realized that as soon as I saw it that morning when we rode up on Godiva. It was just like I had dreamed it . . . the stone and cedar . . . the white fence around the exercise yard. I have no idea how I dreamed something so vividly without having seen it, unless maybe Carol wrote me about it.”
Carter propped his elbows on his knees and his chin on his hands as he sat for a moment in thought. Susan began to get nervous. He was going to think she was crazy or that she was making this up. Finally he looked up and said, “Susan, Carol’s never been here. My parents had another house in town for awhile, in Oak Park. That’s where she and Anna met my grandmother. Abby Keaton was here once but we never went to the stables, we cut down a Christmas tree in the woods. Abby Lockhart came for Grandpa’s funeral but we were at the house the whole time. The only people from the hospital who have seen the stables, besides you, are Peter, Deb and Gallant. Gallant brought the ducks out here the night I found out about Mark. Deb and I went riding a couple of times while I was on suspension.”
“You don’t believe me?”
He shook his head. “No, I believe you. But I’m thinking maybe it wasn’t your subconscious . . . maybe it was . . . something else.”
“Some Guiding Force . . . like God?”
“Carter, I don’t have any better explanation.”
“Did you ever see the guy’s face?”
“One night I did.”
“You think I’m crazy . . . or that I’m making this up . . . or that I’m reading way to much into some silly dreams?”
“No, I don’t. Tell me.”
“It was that night or maybe early in the morning after Mark’s funeral. I wasn’t at the stables this time, I was sitting on a bench beside the pool and I heard him coming up behind me and this time I saw his face. He was hiding something behind his back and he sat down and took my hand and said, ‘Penny for your thoughts.’”
“You dreamed that and you never said anything?”
“I thought it was just wishful thinking. I mean, we weren’t exactly dating then.”
“We’d just slept together.”
“I know but . . .”
“You were afraid?”
“Was that all of it . . . your dream?”
Susan shook her head. “Well, after you sat down, I said ‘I was remembering that first night you brought me here . . . the night you admitted you’d had a crush on me. And, I was wondering if you were going to leave me alone all night.’ And you said, ‘Never, I was looking for something.’ And I asked, ‘What?’ Then you shook your head and asked if I remembered what I told you that day after the seminar? Then you said . . .”
Carter interrupted, “That I should tell her that I’m desperately in love with her and can’t live a moment without her.” He leaned over and kissed her and pulled her back into his lap. “In your dream, what happened next?”
“You dropped down on one knee and then I woke up and I heard the door click as you locked it on your way out.”
He shook his head. “I should have stuck around for breakfast.” He kissed her softly again.
“Carter, I’ve found my place. It’s with you. You’re still searching. If going to Africa will help you figure it out, I’m okay with that.”
His words contradicted what Susan saw in his eyes. She ran her hand through his hair and watched him intently as he said, “Susan, we just got engaged. It wouldn’t be fair for me to run off now.”
Sliding her hand down to his cheek as she said, “Carter, I won’t pretend that I’m thrilled with you running off to some third-world country but I understand. You’re still trying to figure out where you fit what your purpose is. I know where I belong and I’ll be here waiting when you get back. It’s only two weeks, right?”
He nodded. “Two weeks.”
Susan knew the answer before she asked. “You didn’t reschedule your vacation yet, did you?”
“I never had a chance to talk to Weaver. Are you sure?”
“Look, we want to have a family and if we’re going to do that, we’re going to need to get started on our honeymoon. My biological clock is ticking. You’re considering finishing your surgical residency. I’ll be even less thrilled about you running off after we start having babies. And we both know it may be harder for you to take off once you go back to being a junior resident.”
“Susan, I really don’t even know what I’m searching for. How can I go off looking for answers if I don’t even understand the questions?”
She smiled, “Carter, you’ll figure it out.”
“You’re really okay with me going?”
“I’m a big girl Carter. I’ve managed to take care of myself since I graduated high school, I think I can manage for a couple more weeks. Consider it my birthday present. Anyway, I was having a hard time trying to decide what to give the man who has everything.” She gestured and rolled her eyes around the room as she spoke.
“Speaking of hard times, I was hoping for something a little more personal,” he grinned.
“But . . .”
“Well, you get that too.”
You’ve Got Mail
“I looked him dead in the eye and said, ‘That might fly with your Hollywood chippies, Mr. President, but I am a lady.’”
“And what did he do?”
“He took his hand off my rear and apologized.”
“And that was it?”
“Then, I slept with him.”
Conversation between Millicent Carter and Carol Hathaway: Ground Zero
Subject: Safe arrival - Midnight, June 3 - Kisangani
Arrived safely. The flight was long and tiring even in business class. However, I was able to visit with Barb for about an hour at the airport in Paris. Mom had other plans. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her or my nephew. He’s about year older than Suzie. Of course I spent most of the time telling her about you. She said that she couldn’t believe her baby brother is finally getting married. Some days, I can’t either. The flight from Kinshasa to Kisangani was even less comfortable. We sat on the floor of a small cargo plane, packed in with medical supplies and assorted antiquated prostheses. It is unbelievably hot and muggy here. To say that conditions are primitive doesn’t even begin to describe the living conditions. It was pouring rain tonight when I arrived; I’m not really sure what day it is. There are few permanent structures; some patients appear to be housed in tents. Male staff and volunteers are housed in a one-room dorm. Everyone sleeps on cots; the lucky ones have mosquito netting. I’m one of the lucky ones. Basics like electricity and clean water are considered a luxury. Haven’t seen Luka though it seems his popularity with the women extends even to the Southern Hemisphere. Will write more tomorrow. Tonight I just want to sleep.
Subject: Safe Arrival - 5 p.m., June 3 - Chicago
Glad to know you arrived safely. Sorry to hear that it is so hot. I hope you never want me to go there. I had enough heat in Arizona. I miss you already and am counting the days until you return. However, covering your shifts and planning our wedding is keeping me busy. I’m glad to hear you got to see your sister and nephew. I hope they will be able to come for our wedding.
Speaking of which, Gamma has me occupied with making a guest list for our engagement party. I told her we wanted to keep it small and simple. She agreed. Is there anyone in particular that you want to invite? I assumed the ER staff. What about your fraternity brothers? If you don’t mind, I thought I would invite Chuck. Is there anyone else from the hospital I should include? I also wasn’t sure what to do about Abby? She is doing well and should be out of the treatment center soon.
Love always, Susan
Subject: Day 1 - 10 p.m., June 4 - Kisangani
Days here begin just before dawn and end whenever the last patient is treated. Today I was allowed to sleep late but assured by Angelique (the resident physician) that I will not have that luxury tomorrow. She is from Bombay and seems great. She’s been here six years. However, I’m still wondering why one would leave one third-world country to practice medicine in another. I haven’t had the nerve to ask.
There are two hundred patients in the hospital here, staffed by four doctors including me. Charles is from France. Haven’t met the surgeon yet. The patients are kept in six wards and cared for by five nurses; most of the patient care is provided by the family. Only the sickest who have a chance of recovery are given a bed. This morning I worked with a nurse, Gillian, a volunteer from Montreal. This afternoon I worked with only a translator. I guess they decided I wasn’t going to kill anybody. Not speaking the language is extremely frustrating. I studied Latin in high school and Italian in college so occasionally I pick up a root word. I was so angry with my mother for deserting me and going to Paris that I absolutely refused to learn French. Now, I’m wishing I wasn’t so stubborn. However, my non-verbal communication skills are improving.
The food here is tasteless and refrigeration is scarce. Most drinks are served at room temperature (in other words - warm). The mosquito netting doesn’t work as well as I had hoped. But at least it stopped raining.
Luka took a vaccination team to Matenda three days ago and has not yet returned. I get the feeling there is something going on between he and Gillian but I may be wrong.
Antibiotics are limited. They still use chloramphenicol; since the mortality rate is so high from diseases, no one worries about bone marrow depression. Lab equipment is limited to two antiquated microscopes and a centrifuge. Most diagnoses are made using only my eyes, hands and a stethoscope. The good news is there’s no triple charting and no insurance forms to worry about. Of course the trade-off is that there is no health care system.
Barb said she would not think of missing our wedding and might even come for our party. About our engagement party: you should be aware that Gamma considers anything under a hundred to be small. Other than the ER staff the only hospital personnel you should include are Weaver and Anspaugh. You can find the addresses of the Stonewall Brigade in the Rolodex on my desk, along with Peter and Cleo’s. Matt and Justin are married but Tom is recently divorced so don’t invite Mary. Chris and Josh are still single and Jake is gay. His partner’s name is Brad something; it’s written next to Jake’s address. I have no problem with you including Chuck. About Abby . . . I’ll defer to your judgement. I would just as soon she not be there but I know you two are still friends. I guess we should invite Mom but I doubt she will come. It might be just as well since Dad and Barbara will be there.
Well I’d better end this. It’s late and I’m still jet lagged. Will write more tomorrow.
Subject: Feeling Guilty on Your Birthday - 2:30 p.m., June 4 - Chicago
I feel horrible. Here I am enjoying the sunshine and 67 degree weather, planning a party and a wedding while you are spending your birthday working in miserable conditions. I can’t imagine practicing medicine without labs, x-rays, etc.
I was able to take the whole day off because Pratt has decided to stay at County. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. Anyway Deb seems happy about it. I still have trouble seeing them together long-term but she seems happy enough at the moment. Since I have the whole day, I plan to do some shopping later as soon as I send this.
I rescheduled our appointment with Rev. Caldwell for the week after you get home. You’re right; he seems nice. He also said as of right now that the last two weeks in October and all of November remain open. Gamma has promised to keep the guest list under 75 although she insists we have to include all of the members of the foundation board.
I talked to Abby again today. She should be out of the treatment center by the middle of the month. She is still pissed that Luka ran off to Africa while she’s stuck in mandatory treatment. Her hearing with the state nursing board is at the end of July so she will probably be too busy with her attorney to come to our party. Anyway, I haven’t told her about our engagement so Deb is still the only one who knows. I didn’t say anything about Luka and the nurse from Canada either. Though given his behavior this past year, she shouldn’t be surprised.
Went up to see Robert this morning. He is recovering but seems despondent. Given the circumstances, I guess it would be difficult not to be. Alderman Bright was in again today and spent a lot of time with Weaver. There is something strange there and I still have my reservations about the way his assistant died.
I love you and miss you. It’s lonely sleeping without you. I wish I could be there with you at least for an hour or so to celebrate your birthday properly.
Love always, Susan
Subject: Feeling Guilty - Midnight, June 5 - Kisangani
Don’t feel guilty. I chose to come here and I don’t expect you to want to do everything I do. Besides, I’d rather be doing what I’m doing than discussing menus and guest lists with Gamma. We’ll celebrate my birthday properly next year.
Pratt’s not so bad. He may turn into a good doctor yet. I know what you mean about he and Deb, but if she’s happy, what can I say? Give Romano my best. Whatever you do be careful. Weaver always puts her own ambitions before anything else.
Yesterday I saw my first case of polio. No lab equipment so they diagnosis it by symptoms - bladder paresis, tripod sign and head drop sign. I can’t begin to describe my feelings. There was nothing to do but send the boy home with his father. And the way the man looked at me. He was not impressed with this white man’s medicine.
However, the parents and families of the patients we can help are intensely grateful. All I did was prescribe an antibiotic for a boy with pneumonia and his mother grabbed my hand to say thank you. I felt so humbled. I’d done nothing extraordinary to deserve her gratitude. My feelings were short lived however. My next patient was dead. According to her husband she had AIDS. He had been waiting for hours but didn’t bother to tell anyone how sick she was. He knew it was hopeless. He just didn’t know where else to go.
The kids here would break your heart. They have nothing in the way of material wealth and little to eat. There is never enough vaccine or the right kind of medication to go around. Even the pain medication is rationed. Yet they all have a smile or a wink for the doctor who wishes he had more to offer than sub-standard treatment and sympathy. 75% never see their second birthday. I have this urge to pack them all up and bring them home.
Subject: Bringing kids home and Graduation - 11 p.m, June 5 - Chicago
I wouldn’t mind if you brought a few home but I’ll bet their parents would. Sounds like the parents there love their kids.
Attended Gallant’s graduation today. You were right; he did graduate with honors and in now officially Dr. Gallant. However, like another young doctor I once knew, he missed the ceremony. He had a patient who was dying from liver failure and no available transplant. Her husband is in Iraq and she had no other family. Gallant refused to leave her bedside; he held her hand till the very end. Then spent another four hours tracking down her husband’s commanding officer.
His parents and sister had flown in for the ceremony. They were disappointed at first but seemed to understand when he told them why he wasn’t there. Afterwards I took them all, including Harkins, out to dinner. I think you would like them. I hope you don’t mind; I used your American Express. All my cards are maxed out at the moment. I spent most of your birthday shopping for a dress for the party and ended up buying a wedding gown as well. Of course new dresses require new shoes and proper undergarments. I stopped at the shoe department and then proceeded to the lingerie department. That got me thinking about you coming home and, well, I spent way too much money there. Fortunately Dominique remembered me and didn’t give me any trouble about using your card. Anyway, I hope you’re not angry with me.
Love and kisses, Susan
* * * * * *
Late Afternoon of June 7, 2003
Susan was standing at the admit desk trying keep her mind on writing orders for a boy with a broken arm, when she heard a familiar voice coming from the triage window. “Excuse me, I’m Millicent Carter and I’d like to speak with Dr. Susan Lewis, please.”
Carrying her chart with her she walked toward the window, Susan said, “Mrs. Carter. I’ll be with you in just a minute. I need to finish these orders.”
“Take your time, dear, I’m in no rush.”
Turning to Chuny, Susan asked, “Would you mind getting a chair for Mrs. Carter and putting her in an exam room while I finish this up.”
“You don’t want a gown?”
“No, I don’t think so. If she needs a chart, I’ll start it.”
Chuny escorted Millicent Carter to Exam 2 while Susan hurriedly finished writing and handed the chart to Haleh. Entering the room she said, “I’ve got it Chuny. I’ll call if I need help.”
“Sure.” Walking back out to the desk, Chuny looked at Haleh. “What is that about?”
“Looks to me like Dr. Lewis finally got into Gamma’s good graces.”
“Maybe that’s not all Dr. Lewis got into.”
Overhearing this, Weaver spoke up, “Ladies, don’t you have patients to see. Look at the board, I hardly think you have time to be standing around gossiping. Besides, with Carter out of town, Mrs. Carter probably has no one to consult for a second medical opinion. Dr. Lewis has treated her before.”
Chuny and Haleh exchanged knowing looks.
* * * * *
Inside the exam room, Susan closed the blinds and sat down in front of Millicent Carter. Forcing herself to remain calm, she asked, “This isn’t a medical visit is it?”
“Heavens no,” the matriarch replied cheerfully. Millicent Carter was busy trying to find something in her purse and did not appear to notice the look of relief that crossed Susan’s face. “I have been by the bridal shop looking at invitations for your engagement party and I wanted you to look at these. They are the perfect size and very similar to the wedding invitations that you said you liked the other day. They have invitations and thank you notes that match. But I wasn’t sure, they do have a touch more color than the ones you were considering.”
Relieved, Susan looked at the creamy white cards that Millicent had pulled from her purse. They were embossed with tiny powder-pink roses and pale green tinted the leaves. “Oh, Gamma, I love these. This is exactly what I had in mind. You know, Carter is always bringing me roses.”
“I know dear. He’s quite the romantic, like his grandfather.” Rummaging in her purse again, Millicent produced an envelope from American Express. It was addressed to Dr. Susan Lewis. “Before I forget, this came to the house today. I’m fairly certain it’s the credit card John ordered with your name on it.”
“Oh thanks, I’ve only used his once. Of course, I haven’t even begun to put down deposits for the wedding. We’re splitting the cost,” she explained self-consciously.
Millicent smiled, “I assumed you would but you don’t owe me an explanation. My grandson is a grown man. Whatever personal financial arrangements the two of you make have nothing to do with me.”
Susan opened the envelope and held up the card. “I guess I’d better ask him what the limit is in my next e-mail. I don’t want to overspend.”
Reassuringly Millicent answered, “It’s black dear.” Seeing that Susan had no idea what she meant, the older lady clarified, “Black American Express Cards don’t have limits.”
Staring at the card in her hand she said, “Oh.”
“Susan,” Millicent added reassuringly, “If John didn’t trust you, he wouldn’t have put your name on the account.”
Susan smiled faintly, “I guess not.” She was having trouble getting her mind to wrap around the idea of a credit card with no limits.
“By the way, I noticed the rather formal way you addressed me in front of the nurses. You and John haven’t told your co-workers yet, have you?”
“No, we thought we would wait until the party. It’s only been a few weeks since Abby’s miscarriage and almost everyone here . . .”
“Assumed it was John’s. I understand. Give the rumors a chance to die down and let people become accustomed to seeing the two of you together again.” Susan nodded. “You know, I never cared for that woman. I was so relieved to learn that John had finally come to his senses.”
Susan smiled and placed her hand on Millicent’s. “You know, Gamma, there was a time when I didn’t think you were fond of me either.”
“I owe you an apology.”
“No, no that’s not what I meant.”
“I do, Susan.” Millicent squeezed her hand. “Truman hadn’t been gone that long and I was touchy about everything and a bit crankier than usual. I’m sorry. I like you Susan and I would like you even if my grandson were not marrying you. There’s something about you that reminds me of myself when I was younger. And speaking of my grandson, have you heard from him in the last two days?”
Though she was trying to sound casual about her inquiry, Susan knew this was the true reason for Gamma’s visit. Millicent Carter was worried. Susan was too, though she hoped she would not let that show. She had been having difficulty keeping her mind on her shift all day. Millicent continued, “ He has been so regular with his e-mails that I became concerned. Of course, I realize if he’s busy, he might not communicate with me but I thought he . . .”
Trying to hide her own concern Susan responded, “No, I haven’t heard anything either but I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about. He’s probably just busy or tired and didn’t have time to write. I’m sure the alliance doesn’t send medical teams into areas that are dangerous.”
Millicent sighed, “He may be a grown man but I still worry about him. The political situation there is anything but stable.” Regaining her composure, so as not to upset Susan, she went on, “You’re probably right. John becomes extremely focused on his work at times and . . .” Again Millicent paused; she did not want to criticize John to his fiancée.”
“It’s okay, Gamma. I’m well aware of how focused Carter is when he’s working. It’s one of the things I admire about him.” She gave Millicent’s hand a squeeze. “I promise, I’ll phone you the minute I hear anything. But I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.”
“You’re staying in town again tonight then?”
“I still have some packing and sorting to do. Unless, you don’t want to be alone?”
Millicent stood to leave. “Susan, I live with a house full of people. I’m never alone. However, if you leave a message tonight with Henry, please call back in the morning. Henry’s not the most reliable these days.”
“I know.” Susan laughed.
“There’s a joke there somewhere, isn’t there?”
“Only that I left a message with Henry when Carter first acted interested in me and Carter never got the message.”
“So, the reason it took you two so long to get together is all Henry’s fault,” Millicent retorted with a gleam in her eye that reminded Susan of John.
“I promise, I’ll call Gamma but I’m sure everything is fine.”
As Susan opened the door for Millicent to leave, the older woman said, “Thank you for taking the time to see me Dr. Lewis. I’ll be sure to tell John how helpful you’ve been.”
“Any time, Mrs. Carter.”
As she watched Millicent Carter leave, Susan only wished she were certain of Carter’s safety.
* * * * *
Subject: Credit Card - Noon, June 8 - Kisangani
Sorry I haven’t been in touch for a couple of days. The phone lines don’t always work.
You’re right. Parents here do love their children. They seem to understand what precious gift life is. They often carry them for miles to obtain medical treatment. Unfortunately, many times they are told to go home and love them for the little time they have left. I wish I could do more.
So, Gallant and Harkins . . . give Gallant my congratulations and tell him I’m sorry I missed meeting his family, especially his sister. Perhaps next time she comes they can come out to the house. I still owe Gallant some riding lessons.
About my credit card, I promise not to be angry if you promise not to make me wait till our honeymoon to see the new lingerie;~) After all, you did purchase it on my birthday.
I’m starting to feel more at home in my surroundings and growing accustomed to the heat. I’m living on a diet consisting mostly of coconut and bananas. At least they have flavor, which is more than I can say for the mush they serve here at mealtime. Meat of any kind is a rarity and I’m afraid to ask what it might be. The jungle isn’t exactly over run with an abundance of cows and chickens. I’m thinking of becoming a vegetarian. I might even consider staying indefinitely but the thought of seeing your new undies sounds enticing ;~)
Subject: Staying there - 6 a.m., June 8 - Chicago
Don’t even think about it.
Subject: Staying there - 6 p.m., June 8 - Kisangani
What! No love? Am I in trouble?
Subject: Trouble - Noon, June 8 - Chicago
Only if you don’t come home.
IM to S_Lewis@aol.com
Subject: Coming Home - 8 p.m., June 8 - Kisangani
You never answered my question.
IM to JTCarterIII@aol.com
IM to S_Lewis@aol.com
The one about the lingerie.
IM to JTCarterIII@aol.com
IM to S_Lewis@aol.com
Yeah but you don’t want me to change. So, do I get to see it before the honeymoon or not?
IM to JTCarterIII@aol.com
Come home and find out.
IM to S_Lewis@aol.com
I give up. You win. God I miss you.
IM to JTCarter@aol.com
I miss you too. I can’t believe are on line at the same time.
IM to S_Lewis@aol.com
IM to JTCarter@aol.com
Unfortunately I’m at work and an ambulance just pulled up. Multi-vehicle MVA. Gotta go. I love you.
IM to S_Lewis@aol.com
I love you too.
Subject: Day 6 - 2 a.m., June 10 - Kisangani
I’m writing this by lamplight and battery power. I don’t know when I will be able to send this. There is one power line coming into the hospital and the Mai Mai cut it every few weeks. Luka arrived tonight with a Land Cruiser full of wounded. For a minute I thought we were going to try doing surgery by lamplight. However, the hospital has a back-up generator. The only problem was that we only had four hours of fuel. The generator kicked in and they turned out all the lights except in the OR suite. OR suite - that’s an oxymoron. You wouldn’t believe how obsolete the equipment is. Imagine treating a trauma or doing surgery with only a BP cuff and an ancient cardiac monitor. Everything here is recycled from gloves to lap-pads. AIDS is rampant and universal precautions are a joke. I’m trying to use gloves without holes but . . . well, we may have to hold off on that baby-making a while longer. ET tubes are nonexistent - Ambu bags only. Necks are stabilized with sandbags. We have one old autoclave. Everything that can be boiled is.
My patient was a GSW, one bullet that did more damage than I’ve ever seen. It entered the right axilla, traversed the thorax, dropping a lung, traversed across the belly and ended up in the left thigh and still had enough force to break the femur. The other three patients were less severe but with only four hours of electricity, choices had to be made. My patient got the short-straw. By the time we started surgery on him (three-and a-half hours later) he’d suffered prolonged hypotension. We had repaired the duodenum, liver, and spleen, removed a wedge of lung and repaired the renal vein when the lights went out. We still needed to repair the diaphragm and run the bowel. With no lights the best we could do was to tape him together and wait until daylight. Just as we finished taping, he went into DIC and arrested. I have never been more frustrated. He needed more volume and we were out of blood. I’d already donated a little over a unit and he was oozing everywhere. I might not have been able to save him in Chicago either but at least there I would have had the proper equipment available to try. He couldn’t have been more than nineteen.
Afterwards I found Luka sitting in the cafeteria complacently smoking a cigarette. His look told me he found watching this sheltered Chicago millionaire struggling vainly to save the life of an African profoundly amusing. He had just informed me that he was heading back to the clinic at Matenda tomorrow when Gillian walked in. Luka could not keep his eyes off her. She carried a bottle of gin, a cold Pepsi and two glasses. Suddenly, I felt like a fifth wheel. She poured a generous amount of gin with a splash of Pepsi in one glass and a generous amount of Pepsi with a splash of gin in the other. She drank the first and handed the second to me, commenting that she thought I might be upset about losing my patient. I was torn between wanting to drink it or wanting to hold the cold glass against my head. She packed up her gin, left the Pepsi and stood as she informed us that she was going to bed and she hoped she didn’t have to sleep alone. All the while, Luka is still smugly puffing away.
After she left he looked at me and said, “How’s Susan?”
I assured him that nothing had happened with Gillian and me. He asked, “So you don’t mind if I . . .” I wanted to tell him that I hadn’t slept with his girlfriend while he was still dating her. I wasn’t the one who has bedded everything in a skirt this past year. Not that I’m sorry that Abby and I aren’t together. I’m not, I wish I would have never dated her. If I didn’t think you knew that I wouldn’t be writing this. But I kept my thoughts to myself and just told him to knock himself out. I’m not sure I will ever understand Luka.
God Susan, I miss you so much tonight. I hope you know I would never even consider doing something like that and hurting you. If I could change the events of this past year, I would. I wish I would have been brave enough or impulsive enough or secure enough to tell you how I felt last June. I hope you realize how much it means to me that I can tell you anything and you will at least try to understand. I’m still not sure why I came or what it is I’m looking for or what I’m trying to prove. Whatever it is, I haven’t found it yet. One thing I have found is the woman of my dreams. Just knowing that you are back in Chicago waiting is keeping me going. Luka may stay on for awhile but I’ll be home in eight days.
Love always, John
Subject: Phone lines - Midnight June 9 - Chicago
I’m writing this as I sit here hoping to hear from you again soon. At least this time, I’m not so worried. I assume the phone lines are down. I spent a couple of hours after I got off work sorting and packing what needs to be moved to the house. My lease is up at the end of the summer so we have until then to decide what we want to do about keeping a place in town. I thought it might be convenient with the hours you’ll be working if you finish your surgical residency. Of course, you may want to keep your apartment instead. Anyway, we don’t have to decide that for awhile.
Besides the fact that I miss you, I’ll be glad when you return and can take over your duties as chief resident again. I’m tired of playing referee for Greg and Mikey. They got into it again today. Pratt was convinced the patient was a drug addict but Gallant was just as adamant that she wasn’t. Gallant said her children looked too well cared for to belong to a drug addict. The neighbor who called the ambulance said her husband took off about a month ago. She’s working and has two small kids that the neighbor keeps while she works. Neighbor also said she has some sort of intestinal virus about a week ago but kept working. She presented with delirium, nausea, vomiting, sinus tach and BP of 210/60. Pratt argued that the kids look good because the neighbor takes care of them and the husband probably walked out because he got fed up with her drug habit. Gallant insisted that the stress of working and taking care of two small kids and a virus threw her into a thyroid storm. You should have seen our new doctor’s face when the tox screen came back negative and Pratt had to agree that the thyroid panel Gallant had ordered was not a waste of County’s resources. I couldn’t help but think that Stella would have been proud.
Gamma and I have tentatively selected invitations for both the party and the wedding. I would like to wait until you see them before I place the final order but the party invitations need to be ordered ASAP. We also have narrowed the guest list for the party down to ninety. I think that’s the best I can do. My family is small but yours is huge. Gamma is having so much fun planning this that I don’t want to spoil it for her.
Well, need to get some sleep. I have an early shift.
Love you and miss you,
Subject: Day 10 - 10 p.m., June 13 - Kisangani
The phone lines are back up and the electricity is back on. Glad to know you weren’t so worried this time. Although I must admit, it’s nice to know I have someone at home, besides Gamma, who cares enough to worry. However, if Gamma’s really going to invite the whole Carter Clan to our party, you may run screaming into the woods and never return.
Also, it’s nice to know you’ll be glad to have me home, even if it’s only because you want your chief resident back. Wish I could have seen Pratt’s face. However, I’m not surprised that he’s staying. Somehow I always thought he’d make a good County doctor.
About our invitations and any other party/wedding plans you need to make. Whatever you want is fine with me as long as I’m the groom and there are no lilies.
Things here are relatively normal today. I guess I’m growing accustomed to the routine. Two new doctors arrived from the U.S. today - David Thorpe and Paul O’Brien. They were complaining of the heat and hoping for a shower before they got started. I couldn’t resist telling them that we actually have a bit of a breeze today. You should have seen the look on their faces. Probably the same look I had when I first arrived.
Thorpe and O’Brien brought vaccine with them - MMR, DPT, and polio. Tomorrow I’m taking a vaccination team to Matenda. There are no phones or electricity there so it will be a few days before you hear from me again. So don’t worry this time.
Luka is still there. Gillian jumped at the chance to go; it’s been a few days since she has seen Luka. Hope Luka appreciates the fact that I asked Gillian to go with me and not Jeff. At least one of us will get laid tomorrow night.
I miss you and not just the sex. I miss hearing your voice and your laughter and seeing you smile. I miss the sparkle in your emerald green eyes. Maybe that’s what I was supposed to learn on this trip . . . how much I would miss you if you were ever gone.
I love you,
Subject: Not Worrying - 9 p.m., June 13 - Chicago
Okay, first, my eyes aren’t that green. Who are you dating? And second, how am I not supposed to worry? You are going somewhere that there are no phones and no electricity, no way to communicate with the outside world. Luka brought back wounded. There must be fighting going on there somewhere close by. You had better come home all in one piece or I’m going to kill you myself! Work is not the only reason I want you back. Don’t forget I’m sleeping with my chief resident. I love you.
To: S_Lewis@aol.com m>
Subject: Not Worrying - 6 a.m., June 14 - Kisangani
Okay, when was the last time you stared into your eyes? They are too the exact color of thinly cut emeralds. Get out your necklace and look. I went to a lot of trouble to pick out stones that precisely matched your eyes. Second, I’m not dating anyone; I’m engaged. Third, and this is important so let me see if I have it straight. You love me so much that if I get hurt you’re going to kill me. That makes a lot of sense. Good to know I’m planning to spend the rest of my life (however short it may be) with such a, levelheaded, rational, sane, sensible, sympathetic, kind, considerate, caring, compassionate, loving person. Don’t worry. We wear these little badges with red crosses on them. Everyone loves the doctors. Gotta go. Charles is ready to leave.
Susan was reading her e-mail when she noticed Carter was on line. Quickly she scanned what he had just sent and replied before he had a chance to log-off.
IM to: JTCarterIII@aol.com - 10 p.m., June 13 - Chicago
Carter, you’re incorrigible, not invincible.
IM to JTCarterIII@aol.com - 10:01 p.m., June 13 - Chicago
Also slightly colorblind, you would have had less trouble matching my eyes if you had bought jade. Be careful. I love you and I’ve already bought my wedding dress.
Carter was about to close down his laptop when he saw a message from Susan. Another quickly followed. They could wait another minute for him to reply.
IM to S_Lewis@aol.com - 6:02 a.m., June 14 - Kisangani
Carter? I’m in trouble again. And I’m colorblind. Damn! The jade was cheaper but I liked the emeralds better with the diamonds :-)
IM to JTCarterIII@aol.com - 10:03 p.m., June 13 - Chicago
Like you’re so budget-conscious; but I like them better too. John, I love you. Please, be careful.
IM to S_Lewis@aol.com - 6:04 a.m., June 14 - Kisangani
I love you too. Next time I’ll buy jade. Susan, I’ll be careful and don’t worry; you’ll get to wear your dress.
IM to JTCarterIII@aol.com - 10:04 p.m., June 13 - Chicago
You don’t have to buy me anything, just come home.
IM to S_Lewis@aol.com 6:05 a.m., June 14 - Kisangani
I will. Gotta go; Patrique is honking.
As Carter climbed into the SUV, Patrique asked with a grin, “E-mailing your girlfriend again?”
“Fiancée,” Carter corrected. “But yeah.”
From the back seat Gillian inquired, “Fiancée, so when’s the wedding?” That might explain why he appeared so disinterested as well as some of the comments Luka had made about Dr. Carter. Evidently, John Carter had not only stolen Luka’s girlfriend but he was marrying her as well.
“Uh, I don’t know. We haven’t set a date yet. Sometime this fall.”
Gillian recalled the conversation she and Luka had when Luka first told her Dr. Carter was coming.
“So your friend is coming to help out for two weeks?”
“He’s not exactly my friend but he says he’s coming.”
“Not your friend but you called him and now you have your doubts about whether he will come?”
“We work together at the same hospital but Carter . . . Carter’s an insider and I’ve always felt like an outsider,” Luka explained.
“Hospital politics. It’s the same no matter what country, I suppose.”
“It’s a bit more complex than that,” Luka added with a grim smile. “Carter . . . Carter seems to understand women better than I.”
Somehow Gillian had found that hard to believe. “Women or one woman in particular?”
“No more talking tonight Gillian,” he had replied as he silenced her with a kiss.
“Haven’t set a date yet. How long have you been engaged?” Gillian asked.
“A month. You two had been engaged a little over two weeks and she let you run off to the jungle?”
Carter shrugged. “She trusts me. I’ve never given her a reason not to. I don’t plan to.”
“So you two have been dating a long time?”
Carter laughed, “Which time?” Shaking his head and smiling he elaborated, “Susan and I work together. We’ve known each other for nine years. I first met her when I was a med student.”
“So you went to school together.”
“No, she was a resident at the time. There were rules, I didn’t think I stood a chance . . . then one day . . . or rather one night . . . I did.” He smiled broadly.
“So, you prefer older women?” Charles teased.
“Not necessarily but I prefer Susan above all others.”
The look in his eyes as he said that told Gillian that if Luka hoped to get Susan back, he would have quite a battle. Whatever this Susan was like, John Carter was definitely in love with her. A man that much in love probably would not give up easily. Gillian turned her head and looked out the window.
She had lain in the dark a few nights ago wondering which of them would open the door to her room and take her up on her offer. Though Luka refused to say any more about the subject, Gillian knew he was in love with someone else. What they had between them was not love. Not on Luka’s part anyway, as for Gillian . . . well, she remained undecided. Luka struck her as a man who, like herself, had seen a lot of pain. She could see it in his eyes. Yet, there was also something sultry about Luka’s eyes that drew Gillian toward him.
John Carter had expressive eyes as well and he was cute. His roguish smile told Gillian he was probably an accomplished lover. If John Carter took her up on her offer, not only would Gillian enjoy herself, but she also might be doing Luka a favor by driving a wedge between Dr. Carter and the woman Luka loved. However, if Luka came . . . well . . . there was always a chance that she might make Luka forget the woman he loved. Gillian had to admit she was not disappointed when it was Luka that opened the door.
Gillian glanced at the dark haired doctor, who was now staring out the window at the devastation that surrounded them and talking to Patrique. She had wondered about his motives for inviting her on this trip. Now she understood; he was doing Luka a favor.
* * * * * *
Subject: Matenda - 11 p.m, June 14
Conditions here are a little like being at a primitive scout camp . . . a couple of wooden buildings with screens and makeshift tents. There were almost two hundred people lined up when we arrived and more kept coming throughout the day. Even without phones, they have an impressive communication system. When I asked what they were waiting for, Luka answered, “You,” with a self-satisfied grin.
Somehow they had spread the word that a doctor was arriving with vaccine and medical supplies. So, they traveled miles and stood patiently in line for hours in order to receive attention. My suspicion is that follow-up calls are unnecessary because these parents are conscientious enough to make sure their child is in line for sequential vaccinations. But for one little boy in line today it was too late. I diagnosed a case of pertussis and have nothing but amp or amoxicillin with which to treat him. I asked Gillian to tell the father that we would try to make him feel better. Luka told the father we could make him well. We could but I don’t have the right antibiotics. That precious little boy is going to die because I don’t have $10 worth of erythromycin.
I don’t understand the rational for offering false hope. The boy is going to die. In this case, the amoxicillin is doing more for the doctor than for the patient. The doctor can sleep tonight because he can tell himself that he did what he could. The problem is that this doctor doesn’t believe his own lies. When I tried to talk to Luka about it, he self-righteously replied, “We vaccinated 200 children today. When was the last time you saved 200 people in one afternoon?”
Perhaps that’s why Luka and I don’t get along; we each have a different outlook on life. We are both here doing the same job. Luka looks at the global picture - the needs of the many - do what it takes to save the most lives - but I’m frustrated by the lack of supplies necessary to save the individual. He’s feels good because he saved 200 lives today and I feel terrible because I have one patient that is dying and I don’t have the necessary supplies to prevent it. Before I left you told me that I look at the big picture . . . that I try to fix tomorrow. Maybe I do, sometimes, but tonight I just wish I could fix one little boy.
Carter closed down his laptop with a sigh. He would send this off to Susan when he got back to Kisangani. He turned down the lantern next to his cot and adjusted the mosquito netting. He was exhausted but he could not sleep. He kept thinking of the cruel irony and the face of that little boy’s father. John Carter, multimillionaire, did not have $10 worth of antibiotics. How was he going to face that man tomorrow?
Willie Nelson singing interrupted his thoughts. He turned up the lantern and went outside to see what was going on. Luka was dancing with Gillian, apparently enjoying himself. Well, Carter had done one thing right today. A sudden blast behind Carter made him jump. Instinctively, Carter turned toward the sound. Someone yelled and shoved him down. Then he heard a scream of someone in pain. Without hesitation he ran in the direction of the scream. He scooped up the little girl; she was missing a foot. There would be no sleep tonight.
* * * * * *
Mid-afternoon June 15, 2003
Millicent Carter awoke from her afternoon nap with a strange sense of foreboding. She had experienced such a feeling few times in her life. Each time she had prayed and each time devastating news soon followed. Though she had no way of knowing for sure, she had comforted herself that her prayers had kept the news from being as horrible as it could have been, until the last time.
The first was when she was a new bride and Truman’s plane was shot down in the air raid that accompanied the invasion of Normandy. Truman had been lucky, or perhaps he had a guardian angel. In either case, he was rescued by members of the French Resistance and hidden from the Germans.
The second was almost a quarter of a century later when her baby brother Everett’s plane was shot down over North Vietnam. He was beaten and tortured for days, dragged from village to village, and imprisoned for almost five years but, unlike so many pilots, he had survived mentally as well as physically.
The third was Valentine’s Day, 2000. She could still hear the trembling in Dr. Weaver’s voice when she had called to give them the news.
“I’m Dr. Kerry Weaver, John’s supervisor at County General. I . . . I’m sorry to have to tell you this . . . especially by phone . . . but John . . . John has been seriously injured.”
“Seriously injured, how?”
“He was stabbed by a psychotic patient.”
Millicent gasped, “Dear God. Is he . . .”
“He’s in surgery now but his condition is critical. Is there any family in Chicago that we can call?”
“No. No, there’s no one. His grandfather and I will be on the next available flight. Dr. Weaver, do what ever is necessary but don’t let my grandson die.”
Millicent remembered the frustration of trying to get a flight out of Aspen during a snowstorm. All she could think of was that Johnny, like Bobby, was there alone. It was two days before they could get back to Chicago and a week before she located Jack and Eleanor. Truman was furious when he learned that they had deviated from their scheduled itinerary and not informed anyone of their plans. Even then they did not come home right away. They had believed John when he had stoically told them that he was fine. Of course, he was not fine; he had nearly lost a kidney, had peritonitis, had possibly suffered nerve damage and was in severe pain. Yet, they had believed what they wanted to believe and John had said what he had to say to protect himself emotionally. He was afraid they would disappoint him so he told them not to come. It took Truman losing his temper before they finally got on a plane and came back to Chicago. After they arrived Eleanor only stayed fifteen minutes. As she recalled the incident, Millicent prayed, ‘God help me but I can never forgive that woman.’
Turning over in bed now, Millicent thought of the fourth time she had this feeling - August 5, 2001. Truman had decided not to go into work that morning. Instead they had stayed in bed and enjoyed a leisurely brunch. He had done some work in the office at home for a couple of hours and then found her in the library. Without a word he had taken the grant proposal in her hand and laid it aside. Then he took her hand and led her upstairs. They had made love that afternoon. Millicent sighed and closed her eyes as she recalled. Fifty-nine years she had been married to that man and his touch never ceased to arouse her. Oh, they did not make love as often as they had when they were first married. The desire might be there but the energy was not. Yet, they had slowed down together - slowed the frequency as well as the pace. If anything, their lovemaking had become more tender over the years. Millicent could count on one hand the number of times they had made love over the years that she had not been completely satisfied.
The night before she married, her mother had taken her aside for a mother-daughter chat. Mother explained that sex was something men enjoyed and women endured . . . the price women paid because Eve offered Adam the apple . . . the cross they bore in order bear children. Naturally Millicent was a virgin on their wedding night and Truman had been so patient and gentle. Yet, what she experienced that night was hardly a cross to be borne. She never asked Truman why he was so experienced. She never wanted to know. She only knew that the man was an amazing lover and a firm believer that she should find the experience as pleasurable as he did.
As long as they were married, he only strayed once, with a young secretary half his age. Millicent knew it would not last; after all, she was a hippie, not all Truman’s type. Still it hurt. Millicent was angry but she was not about to break up her family. Instead, she vowed to get revenge, let Jonathan Truman Carter find out what it felt like to know that the person you trusted found pleasure in another’s arms. Of course, she had realized she would have to be careful with her choice of lovers. Millicent was not really interested in any emotional entanglements or in embarrassing her family. She was just out to prove her point and make her husband sorry for his behavior.
Her opportunity came on a visit to the White House. What better way to get back at Truman than to have a fling with another Harvard man, one who had money and power? The President was well known for his dallying but the affair would be short and discrete. Actually, the tryst involved one rendezvous at the White House and one at Hyannisport. It was the second one that Millicent’s husband had interrupted. That was all it took to make Jonathan Truman Carter, Sr. see the error of his ways. A man of few words, her husband commented, ‘I suppose I deserved that. However, I would appreciate if you would no longer address me by any form of my first name, particularly when we are in the bedroom.’ Of course Jack had called and wanted to see her again but Millicent made it clear she was not at all interested. Instead she suggested that Marilyn Monroe might be more his type. Shortly thereafter, the Carters became staunch Republicans.
Millicent sighed as she recalled her last afternoon with Truman; she missed her lover and her friend. While she was napping afterwards, he had gone out to mow the yard. A sudden sense of dread had awakened from her from her nap much like the one that had awakened her this afternoon. Had Millicent realized that Truman had a heart problem or that they would never be together again, she would have forgone the pleasure. It would have been worth it to have her friend with her another year. Still, it was an exquisite bittersweet memory that she would always cherish.
Again Millicent sighed heavily. Why had John thought it necessary to run off to Africa? He was in danger and there was little she could do about it. However, she would do what she could. She longed to see John and Susan have the kind of relationship that she and Truman had shared. Sitting up on the side of the bed, she rang for Alger, then reached for the phone.
Alger arrived as she was concluding her conversation. “Alger, I’m going into town. I’ll be ready to leave in thirty minutes.”
“Begging your pardon, Mrs. Carter but it’s very hot this afternoon.”
“Not near as hot here as where my grandson is at the moment. Has the air conditioner gone out on the Towncar?” she asked curtly.
“Well, then, I expect you to meet me downstairs in thirty minutes.”
As Alger walked down the stairs he could not help but wonder at the Carter family dynamics. Mrs. Carter had seven grandsons and four granddaughters. Yet whenever she referred to her grandson, everyone knew she meant Dr. John Carter. In spite of her blustery demands and her formidable unapproachable demeanor, the woman held a special place in her heart for her husband’s namesake. Though, given how seldom the other grandchildren came around, Alger suspected his name had little to do with the affection afforded Dr. Carter by his grandmother.
* * * * *
June 16, 2003
Susan sat up in bed suddenly. She was shaking and perspiring profusely; her heart was pounding. She consoled herself that it was only a dream. Yet, it had seemed so real. She could see him kneeling . . . see his tousled dark hair . . . see his scruffy unshaven face . . . saw him squinting up at the sun. He was praying . . . no, not praying. People do not pray with their hands behind their head. There had been men with guns. Oh God, she remembered now. One of them had the muzzle of a gun pointed at his head.
She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. It was only a dream. She glanced at the clock on the nightstand - three a.m. What time was it in Matenda or Kisangani or wherever John was? Having no idea where she was headed, Susan slipped out of bed and found her robe and slippers. When Gamma had shown up at the hospital and invited Susan to join her for dinner, Susan had decided to spend the night at the mansion. She missed John and had worried about him all day. She had thought that spending the night here, in their bed, would make her feel closer to him . . . less lonely. Now the vast emptiness of the bed only served to intensify her feelings of loneliness.
Susan padded softly out of the room and past Millicent’s bedroom on her way to the stairs. She paused when she thought she heard her name. She heard it again. “Susan, Susan is that you?”
Susan peeked into the bedroom. “I’m sorry, Gamma. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“You didn’t wake me dear. Come in.”
Susan entered the dimly lit room and saw that Millicent was propped up in bed reading. Laying her book aside, Millicent patted to a spot on her bed. “Come sit with me.” As Susan sat down the elderly lady commented, “You’re worried about him too.”
Susan nodded as Millicent continued. “I’ve been worried all day but at this distance there is little we can do but pray.”
Susan looked down at her hands. “Gamma, it’s been so long since I said a real prayer, I’m sure God has forgotten who I am.”
Millicent took a deep breath and placed a hand over Susan’s as she offered her a reassuring smile. “Nonsense, my dear. We may forget Him but He never forgets us. Rev. Caldwell reminded me of that this afternoon when I stopped by and asked him to pray with me.”
It was then that Susan noticed the book Gamma was reading was a Bible, the same one that Carter had been reading before he left. It was open to Psalm 23. Susan read the underlined passage, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.’