Wasted Memories


AUTHOR: Samantha
EMAIL: dougandcarol_tlf@hotmail.com
CATEGORY: DR/CH
RATING: PG-15 (some language, referral to sexual situations)
SPOILERS: spoilers through... oh, lets say 'The Fastest Year.'
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Hey there. Its me. I know I haven’t really been spittin out too much fanfic lately, and I’d like to say its because I’ve been busy, but actually, I’m just lazy ;D This story was derived in kind of a weird way. It actually started out as a graphic I’d done, called ‘Wasted Memories’. One of my friends told me to write a fanfic to go with it, and since I’ve realized that she knows what she’s talking about, I did! So, I came up with this ‘little ditty’. Well... its was supposed to be a little ditty. But you know how it is... Anyway, its about Carol, and centered around these flashbacks she has of (duh!) Doug. It takes place in early April of Seson 6 (2000), Doug’s been gone for 14 months and the twins are about 6 months old. Thats basically it. The song used is ‘The Way We Were’ by Barbara Streisand. Thanks go to Jessica, for the idea and the support, and to Tara, just cuz. Well, I ‘know’ you didn’t come here to listen to me babble so, on with the fic!
SUMMARY: Carol comes across a box of Doug’s old things. She sifts through the items, each bringing back a memory of him she’d tucked away, and making the pain of missing him rise to the surface.



_________________
Memories light the corners of my mind
Misty watercolor memories
Of the way we were
________________

The rain started slowly and unannounced from the bleak, haggard looking April sky; a few drops hitting the half open window and running down the smooth glass in delicate rivers. It picked up momentum, bouncing off the metal window frame with a cocky “ping, ping, ping.” Then, hurling the luscious water droplets to the ground, the shower came to its full force and the cold rain pelted against Carol Hathaway’s kitchen window with the rhythm of a fleet of marching band drums. It was not the angry sound of the rainfall that woke her from her sleep, but the chilly spray of water she was being assaulted with.

It took Carol a moment to open her eyes. She lifted her head from her folded arms, straightened, and stretched from her hunched position over the kitchen table. A quick glance at her watch noted that she’d only been napping for a half hour. With a small groan for the pain shooting through her neck, Carol stood up, and, running her hands over her arms vigorously to ease the chill that had accumulated in the small kitchen, walked over to the window.

The rain was still coming down hard, so hard in fact, that Carol was having trouble seeing out the window through it’s thick, steady pulsing. With one last shiver, she reached out and pulled the window shut with a ‘bang’. Massaging her aching neck with one hand, she began picking up the remnants of the afternoon’s lunch. Half empty formula bottles mulling beside a forgotten jar of pablum, a soiled baby bib and Carol’s half eaten sandwich were all carried off to their respective places; the sink, the garbage, the laundry hamper, the refrigerator. Then a damp cloth was swiftly wiped over the counter to clear any remaining debris.

Carol wrung out the cloth over the sink and pondered her next task. She reluctantly swung open the fridge door and examined it’s contents. Making dinner for one was not the most exciting or rewarding job, and Carol often didn’t bother with her own meals. But tonight, she could feel the beginnings of hunger percolating in the pit of her stomach, and she knew that by the time she made herself something to eat, it would be very welcome. Again, Carol scanned the items inside her Gerber packed refrigerator. The only adult food was a small uncooked chicken sitting on top of a carton of milk and a box of baking soda, and a lonely bag of carrots. She sighed, closing the door, knowing that she’d end up settling for cereal.

In the distance, the quiet, unthreatening rumble of thunder echoed. Carol smiled to herself, thankful that her infant daughters, settled upstairs, were heavy sleepers. Abandoning her quest for a decent meal, she wearily made her way up the stairs and into the nursery. Pulling her unruly mass of dusky curls back with an elastic and securing the heap at the nape of her neck, she leaned over Kate’s crib. The baby was dosing peacefully, her blanket pressed softly against her plump, ruddy cheek as a comforting companion, the tiny fingers of the tiny hand delicately twirling the edge of it. Carol gently traced a finger along her daughter’s chin. Rapping her fingernails over the deep finish of the wood railing, she moved on to the next crib. Tess was, as her sister, sleeping soundly, her little chest rising and falling in synchronization with the breath fluttering from her perfect mouth.

They’d be up and energetic in less than an hour, Carol knew, and she was quite prepared to enjoy the quiet time to herself. She picked up a copy of “Where The Heart Is” and settled into the big wooden rocking chair in the corner of the nursery. But even before the book could be opened, an ear splitting crack of thunder roared mercilessly and the small house was plunged into darkness.

“Aw, dammit!” Carol spit out angrily as she leapt from her chair. Leaving the neglected novel on the seat of the rocker, she listened for the cries she was sure would follow such a loud interruption.

But the air remained deep and still and dark. Since the sun had set only an hour ago, and the furious clouds from the storm had draped the evening sky, Carol couldn’t see her hand in front of her face. After making quite sure that her twins were still, though miraculously, sleeping, she felt her way down the hall and to the linen closet. Groping in the dark for a few minutes, she finally came across the object of choice; a flashlight. Flicking the switch, Carol smiled gratefully as a thick beam of light was tossed out in front of her, illuminating the small closet space.

“Candles...” the word slipped from her mouth as she searched for the desired items. But poking through the baskets of cleaning supplies and shelves of bed sheets revealed not a single stick of wax.

Gripping the appreciated flashlight and the banister, Carol slunk down the staircase and to the basement door. There were ‘definitely’ candles in the storage closet down there. She remembered putting them there after the last power outage. She opened the large door that creaked in its begging for a drop of oil, and she groaned. The dark, murky basement just seemed to be waiting to enclose her into it’s sinister depths. She shivered at the way the thick blackness seemed to swallow the bottom of the steps. ‘Don’t be stupid’ Carol told herself, trying to squeeze out a laugh. But the beam of light faltered as her hand shook. A flash of lightening cut through the darkened house, surprising her, and nearly causing her to loose her balance.

But taking a deep breath and swallowing her jitters, she plunged quickly down the eerie stairs, leaving the door open so the twins could be heard. Carol was hasty in her spurt to the storage closet at the far end of the basement.

“I ‘have’ to do some spring cleaning,” she resolved, mumbling to herself as she picked through boxes and containers of old clothes and bedraggled books. “And where are those damn candles?” Finally, while digging through a box of her mother’s tattered recipe books, her fingers felt something long and firm and cylinder shaped. With a triumphant “Ah ha!” Carol pulled the bright pink candle from its hiding place. But after searching through the rest of the box and finding no other candles from the bundle, she was mildly disappointed and confused. “One candle?” she shook her head. “That’s all you’re gonna give me?!” Sighing, Carol trudged out of the closet and shut the door. She spied a pile of boxes stacked in the deepest corner of the little basement, and decided to try her luck with them. There had to be candles ‘somewhere’.

Her flashlight was beginning to dwindle in strength, so before poking through the next round of old junk, she found a match and lit the lone candle. Placing it into a cracked mug and sitting the mug on a shelf beside her, Carol smiled at how much light it gave off. She nodded her appreciation to her new companion, the little dancing flame, and bent to her knees in front of the boxes, sitting on her heels. Most of them were labeled things like ‘Summer Hats’ or ‘Shoes’, but before she could start to dig through them, a particular box caught her eye. She dragged it closer to her, dropping the small affair in front of her knees. Carol bit her lip as a rush of tingles shivered up her spine and settled themselves at the back of her neck. She blew the dust off the top of the box and gently traced a finger over it’s label; ‘D. Ross.’

________________
Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind
Smiles we gave to one another
For the way we were.
____________________________

Thunder sounded from somewhere above her, the roar somewhat muffled to her ears in the cozy basement, but Carol could feel the rumble deep in her chest and knew the storm was still raging outside.

The cardboard flaps were loose, held together by a single strip of tape that she easily peeled off. Slowly, uncertainly, Carol unfolded the flaps and peered inside. She sifted carefully through the items, free and scrambled haphazardly in the box. There was a few articles of clothing, a loose pile of papers of different sizes, some pictures and a half pack of gum. She couldn’t help but laugh at the half ass way Doug had of packing. It looked like he’d simply dumped his bottom drawer into the box. He’d probably forgotten it in his haste to leave Chicago.

Carol went through the items with a tentative smile playing on her lips. She wasn’t really sure if she wanted to be looking through his things. She’d worked for so long to push the memories, the thoughts of him, into the depths of her mind, where they wouldn’t patronize, wouldn’t depress, wouldn’t remind her of things she’d never have. But she was held in front of the box by some concealed force, willing her hands to search through these objects. Carol sighed and let her fingers brush over one of his T-shirts. The soft material felt like butter against her skin. Hesitantly, she lifted the shirt out of the box, and couldn’t resist holding it to her face. The fabric was so worn it was practically translucent. But it was for this reason it was so fine, almost comforting. She held it gently to her cheek and closed her eyes. With his shirt pressed closely to her nose, the smell of him was so strong, the embrace of the material could almost be mistaken for his own hand against her skin. The ineluctable scent of his cologne wafted through her gently, bringing the aching longing for him with it. Carol swallowed the lump forming in her throat and fought the nasty tears that stung her eyes. She pulled Doug’s shirt away from her face and held it in front of her. It was one of his very favorites. It was light grey and had a small basketball logo under the left shoulder. Carol starred at the simple crest, then reached out and ran her hand over it’s raised surface...

(--Flashback--)

“Carol, you home?” Doug’s deep, rumbling voice echoed off the walls of the small house.

“In here!” She called to him as she sliced the sharp knife into the turkey breast.

“Hey...” he drawled happily as he sauntered into the kitchen.

“Hey yourself,” Carol tried to smile as she turned to face him.

“Whatcha makin?”

She felt his arms encircle her waist casually as he smiled down at her. “Uh... turkey stir fry, I think. Good day at work?”

“Yeah,” his grin widened. “No dead kids.”

Carol put her knife down and tapped his chest with her knuckles. “Well that’s always good...”

Doug ticked his head to the side and studied her carefully. “Something wrong?”

She looked down to their feet so that he wouldn’t see the persistent tears pooled in the corner of her eyes. “Ms. Brown from the agency called me this morning,” she said in a whisper. “Tatianna died.”

“Oh, Carol...” In one, swift motion Doug had pulled her into his arms. She couldn’t keep the tears from falling as he held her, stroking her hair, like he’d done the first time Carol had lost the little girl.

“I know... I know, I shouldn’t be so shocked... I haven’t seen her in almost three years.”

“Its ok, Carol,” he soothed gently as she sobbed out the words.

“And she wasn’t even supposed to live that long! I just– I wish I could have been there with her... I wish–,"

“I know, I know. But that’s not your fault. You tried.”

“I should have visited her more often...”

“Carol,” he said, cupping her chin with his hand and holding her face near to his own. “You did the best you could. I’m sure Tatianna knew that too. Now, when is the funeral?”

“Um...” Carol swallowed. “Friday. Friday morning.”

“Do you want to go?”

She thought for a moment, then nodded up at him.

“Ok then.” Doug pulled her close again. “Its ok. Its gonna be ok,” he mumbled softly.

Carol nodded into his shirt, letting her renewed tears fall onto him, feeling the soft cotton of his shirt against her face. It was that shirt he always wore, one of his favorites. It was light grey and had a small basketball logo under the left shoulder. Carol starred at the simple crest, then reached out and ran her hand over it’s raised surface...

(--end flashback--)

Clearing her throat and running her hand swiftly across her eyes, Carol put the shirt back into the box. ‘Don’t do this, Carol’, she scolded herself. ‘Its not worth it.’ But the unseen force that held her in place was strong, deeply rooted, and it propelled her onwards.

Pulling out a stack of pictures, she leaned back on her heels and flipped through them. There were some of Doug and Mark at the hospital; laughing in the lounge, playing on the basketball court, grinning at the admit desk with Jerry and Elizabeth. There were a few of the other staff members at County; Chunni and Lydia at a Christmas party, Anna and Carter smiling absurdly at the camera, Peter and Jeanie looking engrossed in their chart reviews. But the pictures Carol couldn’t help but pause over were the ones of she and Doug. They were the last in the pack, but set out against the others by their rough, worn edges and fraying corners. Smiling, she picked up the first one. It was a slightly out of focus shot of a flurry of moving arms and legs, Carol’s surprised face, and Doug’s grin...

(--Flashback--)

“Wrench.”

Silently, Carol handed Doug the socket wrench from the tool box in front of her. From her cross legged position beside the large frame, all she could see of him was a tuft of greyish brown hair sticking up from the edge of the bedpost. He was lying under the bed, shuffling around in the tight space, the occasional clanking sound rising from beneath it.

“Scalpel.”

Carol reached for the instrument, then raised her eyebrows with a sarcastic smirk. “Ha ha, very funny ‘Dr. Ross’.”

“Sorry,” she could hear the impish grin in his voice. “I couldn’t resist. Will you hand me the seven bolt screwdriver?”

“Remind me again why we’re doing this?” Carol asked as she passed the screwdriver under the bed.

“As a favor to Mark’s Uncle Roger. For letting us use the cottage. Besides, this bed frame really needed some repairs, it was about to fall apart! There are loose screws all over the place, the welding is coming apart, and the supports are breaking.”

Carol let out a giggle. “You sure we didn’t cause that?”

“Hmph,” she heard a chuckle rise up from under the heavy mattresses. “Not ‘that’ sure.”

“Well then,” Carol grinned, “You’d better get it fixed.”

“Yep, I think I’ve almost got it...”

With those words spoken, a loud crack was heard through the room, followed by a creaky, splitting sound.

“What is that?!” Doug’s worried voice asked.

Carol looked around frantically, finally spotting the point of destruction. The bed frame was splitting, a large crack forming in it’s middle.

“Oh God, Doug, get out of there! The bed’s going to collapse ontop of–,”

Another, louder splitting sound rang through the air and two huge, thick mattresses fell to the floor where Doug was inconveniently lying.

“Oh Shit, Doug!” Carol jumped up and tried lifting at the pile. “Doug, can you hear me?!”

“Ooomph” was the muffled answer.

“Are– are you ok?” Carol straightened and stopped tugging at the bed.

Another “Ooomph.”

A smile slowly spread across her face as Carol realized the power she wielded. She dragged the mattresses only a few inches backwards, so that Doug’s face popped out.

He wrinkled his nose, sneezed and made a face.“Is that the best you can do?”

“Can’t you lift the mattress off by yourself?” This prompted another face from Doug. Carol grinned wildly.

“You mean, a big strong doctor like you can’t muster up enough strength to lift this tiny old thing?”

“That’d be because I’m stuck,” Doug enunciated slowly. His limbs were pressed tightly to the floor. He wasn’t in any danger, but, he couldn’t move.

Carol shook her head and laughed. “I have GOT to take a picture of this!”

“You’re gonna get it! I swear Carol, I’ll get you back...” Doug couldn’t keep from chuckling as she bounded happily out of the bedroom.

“Oh yeah?” Carol asked wickedly as she returned with a Polaroid camera. “Just how do you plan to do that? You’re stuck under a bed, remember?” She carefully sauntered over to the collapsed heap, twirling her camera on it’s string. Then, being careful where she balanced her weight, she climbed on top of the bed.

“Ah! You’re gonna kill me!” Doug protested with a grunt.

“Nope, just gonna take your picture!” she raised her eyebrows and stretched out so that her head was parallel to Doug’s. Slowly lifting the instant camera to her face, she balanced herself on the edge of the mattresses. “Say cheese!”

Doug’s arms suddenly shot out from under the bed, grabbed the shoulders of his photographer, and pulled her down. The picture was snapped just as Carol toppled over with a surprised squeal.

She landed with a soft thud, sprawled beside Doug’s upper torso on the floor, laughing hysterically. Her head was beside his, only backwards and upside down, her feet up against the wall, one arm across Doug’s chest, the other clutching her Polaroid camera.

“You monster! I thought you were stuck!” Carol wacked him playfully as she laughed.

“I was,” he chuckled and grabbed her hand.

“We, uh, ‘really’ have to fix the bed now!” her laughter quieted as she looked at him.

Doug nodded, smirking still, and turned his head to Carol so that their noses touched gently. Carol lifted her head, turning so that her mouth was pressed against his own, one last giggle escaping from her lips.

Beside them, on the floor, the Polaroid developed. It was a slightly out of focus shot of a flurry of moving arms and legs, Carol’s surprised face, and Doug’s grin...

(--end flashback--)

Laughing softly, Carol gazed almost wistfully at the photograph for a moment longer. Then she placed the stack of pictures back in the box. Rustling through the slew of other papers and knickknacks, she picked up a pack of gum. The wrapper was wrinkled and torn, deep creases settled in the light, slippery, sliver paper, half of the sticks of gum missing. She tossed the package from hand to hand thoughtfully, speculating just how old the candy was. With a daring flip of the crinkly paper, she pulled out a stick of the stuff and popped it in her mouth. It took a good few minutes before the hard texture was mulled into the soft mass of sugar that Carol recognized as gum. She smirked a little as she chewed, wondering if Doug had any other moldy pieces of food lying about anywhere.

She reached back into the sea of hard and soft and sickeningly familiar objects, looking for something else to make her laugh.

Suddenly, a sharp, precise pain shot through her finger and she jerked her hand out of the box with a startled cry. Holding her hand close to her face in the dim candle light, Carol watched as a rich, slender drop of crimson blood appeared on the tip of her index finger and ran smoothly down the pale skin. Her brow furrowed as she produced a tissue from her pocket and dabbed at the blood. Then, poking carefully through the box, she searched for the culprit.

Pulling out a small shot glass with a large crack in it’s rim, Carol nodded. This was certainly the cause of her wound. The edges were sharp and jagged, nasty and ready to violate a supple canvas of flesh. She began to reason how it must have broken in the box, with all the jostling it must have gone through... until she pulled her hand away, and remembered. A single bead of her blood was trickling slowly down the smooth, clear glass, leaving a thin trail of scarlet...

(--flashback--)

The ceiling needed painting. The pale beige paint was chipping off in more places than one, in the corners, along the edge, but mostly around the drab lightbulb hanging in the middle of the large ceiling.

Carol sighed as she starred up at it, absently twirling a strand of already twirling hair. She batted at her pillow and turned to look at the clock; 3:47. Glancing beside her at the empty bed, she tried to push any threads of worry out of her mind. ‘You know where he is,’ she told herself. ‘You KNOW where he is.’

Suddenly, Carol heard the door open and close and quiet, but offbeat footsteps trudge down the hallway. She closed her eyes, in relief and wariness. When she opened them again, there was a dark figure standing in the doorway. He slunk into the room, shrugging out of his clothes as he neared the bed.

“You’rrrrre awake,” his deep voice slurred as he spoke.

“You’re drunk.” Carol retorted.

“Na,” he smirked. “Na’ really. Me ‘an the guys, we jusss’, ya know...”

She turned away from him and pulled the sheet over her shoulder. “Whatever, Doug. I don’t want to hear it.”

“Heyyyy now...” he climbed on the bed, one hand on her arm, the other brushing her hair away. She felt his lips on the back of her neck, caressing her shoulder, the alcohol on his breath drenching the air around them.

“Doug...” Carol shrugged him off and buried herself deeper under the covers.

But he was persistent. “Com’n Carol...”

“Doug, leave me alone...” she pushed him away with a bat of her elbow. “It– its late.”

“Fine then,” he huffed gruffly and promptly retracted his arms. Doug cleared his throat, slid off the bed, and plodded out of the room.

Carol sighed deeply, throwing away the blankets and sweeping her feet over the side of the bed. “Come on, Doug!” she called, sitting on the edge. “Just come back to bed and go to sleep! I have to work tomorrow...”

When he didn’t answer, she hopped off the bed, slipped on one of his T-shirts and followed him into the kitchen.

He had the fridge door wide open and was rustling through it noisily.

“What are you doing?” was her cold inquiry.

“I’m hungry,” he grunted.

“Can’t you wait until morning? Just come back to bed.”

“I’m hungry!” he repeated, throwing her a steely glance. But finding nothing of appeal in the refrigerator, he turned and opened the bar. Extracting a shot glass and slim bottle of vodka, he started clumsily pouring the clear fluid.

A fierce anger boiled up inside of Carol as she watched. Suddenly, she reached out and jerked the shot glass out of his hands, the cool, wet liquid sloshing onto her shirt.

“Hey, what’re ya doin?” he cried angrily, confusion registering on his face.

“You need to go to bed,” she hissed, just as he made a grab for the glass. But he was awkward in his fuddled stupor and it slipped from his grasp, crashing to the floor.

Their eyes locked for a lingering moment. Then, with his hand to his forehead, Doug turned away. Carol bent down slowly, biting her lip to keep the sob that ached to escape at bay, and picked up the damaged shot glass. She gave a small cry of pain as the sharp edge sliced her finger. She pulled her hand away from the glass. A single bead of her blood was trickling slowly down the smooth, clear glass, leaving a thin trail of scarlet...

(--end flashback--)

Carol’s hand slowly reached up and clasped over her mouth, pleading with the painful slices of deceit and anger and turmoil to stay within the confines of her deepest internal tombs, where she’d banished them long ago. She closed her eyes against the memory, the image of shattered glass and the smell of alcohol dancing in the front of her mind.

After shaking her head slightly to compose herself, she wiped the blood off in one quick swipe of her thumb. She wondered fleetingly why Doug had ever kept it at all, for all those years none the less. It was far from being usable and not really a nice thing to look at. Setting the broken glass on the shelf, beside the mug, Carol made a mental note to throw it out later. Her scrawny pink candle was giving her it’s all, burning with determination, little droplets of wax tumbling steadily down it’s sides like solid perspiration.

Unsteadily, she went back to hunting through the box. Under another one of his shirts, she unearthed a rusty pair of sunglasses. Carol held them up out of the box and opened the frames. They creaked when they moved, and she laughed at their tattered condition. The lenses were big and dark and masculine, with a rusted metal frame that looked deceivingly sturdy. She gently rubbed at the filthy lenses with the tail of her shirt, then held the glasses up to the light and peered through. With a small smile, she slipped them onto her face...

(--flash back--)

The radio was blaring, a Michael Jackson song blasting through the jeep, the base thumping almost in time to the bumps on the road. Carol smiled as she watched Doug out of the corner of her eye; a contented grin plastered on his face, his fingers tapping the steering wheel in time to the music, his hair blowing carelessly in the wind from the half- opened car window. He turned away from the road for a moment and winked at her from behind his sunglasses.

Rolling her eyes slightly, she reached out and tapped the glasses. “Why’re you wearin these things anyway?”

“What?!” Doug shouted over the music.

“I said,” she laughed and raised her voice, “Why are you wearing sunglasses?”

“These?” he ticked his head, flicked at the glasses and turned down the music.

“Yeah. It’s not sunny. Not in the least bit.” Despite the hopes for good weather for their excursion, the sky was overcast and cloudy, and a damp humidity threatened to break the sky into an unwelcome rain.

“I’m being optimistic.” He shrugged lightly, smiling, and patted her knee.

Carol gave a shake of her head and went back to looking out the window. The scraggly deciduous trees lining the dirt road flew by quickly with Doug’s heavy foot.

“Maybe we should have just gone to the movies...” she countered.

“Whatd’ya mean? This is gonna be great!”

“Its going to ‘rain’.”

“Aw, it doesn’t matter. This place is gorgeous, you have to see it.”

“Our lunch is going to get soggy!”

Doug laughed and shook his head. “Then we’ll stop at McDonald’s. Don’t worry! This is your day OFF, remember?”

“Yeah, yeah. I just don’t see why we have to spend it getting wet. Its going to rain.”

“It is NOT going to rain.”

“Its going to rain.”

“Nope.” Doug grinned and stopped the car suddenly.

“Doug! What are you doing?!” Carol sat up and looked at him quizzically.

“We’re here.”

“What?! We’re on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.”

“Ah, but that’s were you’re wrong.” He raised his eyebrows mischievously, took the cooler of food from the back seat and hopped out of the jeep.

“Where the hell are you taking me Doug?” she asked uncertainly as he opened her door, took her hand and led her into the forest of trees.

“To the lake, I told you.”

“This is not a lake. This is a FOREST.”

“Wrong again!” Doug seemed delighted in her confusion, and cheerful laughter rumbled from his throat as they wove through bushes and trees. They came up to a thick grove of elms and he pushed a big branch back, then pulled her through quickly.

“What the– ” Carol exclaimed. But her mouth dropped open as they stepped into a clearing. It was a secluded area, only a few yards both ways. The trees hung low over a crisp, blue lake alive with motion as a small waterfall tumbled into it noisily. The water was sparkling over the silvery quartz of the rockbed and the lush greenery that grew around the lake was filled with little pink, yellow and violet flowers.

“Oh Doug...” Carol said softly, the trickling sound of the waterfall echoing around them. “Its beautiful.”

“I thought you’d like it.” He smiled warmly and draped his arm around her shoulders. “Now, this has gotta be better than the movies, right?”

“I suppose....” she grinned back at him and leaned into his shoulder. Suddenly, something wet landed on the tip of her nose. Then on her forehead. And before she could look up, the sky opened up and rain began to pour down on them furiously.

Carol squealed and clung to Doug’s arm as they were drenched, their clothes soaked in mere seconds.

“Looks like you were right!” He shouted over the pounding of the rain. But they were both laughing madly, letting the water drip off their faces freely. Carol reached up and circled her arms around Doug’s neck. He smiled down at her and brushed the wet hair from her forehead. Standing on her tiptoes, she lifted her face to his and kissed him, closing her eyes to the sweet taste of rain on his skin. He reciprocated tenderly; the feel of his lips on hers and the rain falling on her face leaving her breathless. Reluctantly she pulled back, letting the scent of rain mixed with his cologne fall around her.

“I can barely see you!” she told him, squinting through the thick cascade of water.

“Here,” Doug pulled off his sunglasses. “I knew these’d come in handy.” With a small smile, he slipped them onto her face...

(--end flashback--)

The memory was so fresh and vivid in her mind that Carol could feel the mist of promised rainfall in the thick musty air of her basement. She could smell the water, the free scent of flowers and trees and rain, and it filled her with languish. She yearned desperately to be back at the lake, wrapped tightly in his arms, oblivious to the rain falling around them. In that moment the longing for Doug was so strong and real that it hurt, a splitting pain deep in her chest. She was sure that she’d break right in two if she couldn’t touch him, couldn’t feel his fingers combing through her hair, or hear his thick voice speaking her name in that tenderly gruff tone.

“Doug...,” she whispered, shaking her head, hoping that speaking his name would somehow ease the severity of her pain. If there was one thing, one simple feeling or emotion or passion that could be unearthed from the memories, it was that of love. As much as it hurt her, as much as it brought back deep impressions of abandonement, Carol couldn’t deny the fact that she loved him. Seeing him, even if it was only in the eye of her mind, was so painfully tremendous that it opened every emotion she’d so carefully bitten back for a year and a half.

She wished she would have talked to him the last time he’d called. But, as usual, she’d been stubborn and let the machine answer it. She’d sat eagerly beside the little black sony answering machine, knowing that it was he who was calling, hoping that he’d leave a message and she’d get to hear him. Carol sat there the entire time he was talking,bathing in the sound of his voice, drinking in his words...

(--flash back--)

Carol glanced anxiously at the clock perched comfortably on the wall above the microwave. The long hand was pointing to the 5, the short hand targeting the 12. It was five o’clock, and it was Saturday.

She glared at the slick white telephone lying silently on the kitchen counter, awaiting the call that came every Saturday at precisely five o’clock, without fail. It was around this time every week that the nervous butterflies crept into her stomach, confronting the excited chills of happiness that always started to run through her. It was around this time that she’d put the twins to bed, and spend the wait heavily contemplating whether or not to answer the call.

It had not been a particularly good day. She’d been vomited on twice at work, had her hair pulled by a malicious 5 year old, given a lecture to the new desk clerk about losing phone messages, and to top it all off, Kate was developing a sneeze. She was anxious to talk to Doug, and she knew that he’d provide the comfort she was longing for. But it was also because of this that she knew she wouldn’t, couldn’t talk to him. Being willingly and readily comforted by a man who was on the other side of the country made her vulnerable. This was not a state she wished to be in. In Carol’s point of view, talking to him opened doors she really didn’t want to enter.

“Not today, at least,” she found herself saying as she nervously toyed with the hem of her shirt.

The phone rang. Carol jumped at the sharp sound and rushed to the phone. But as her fingers grabbed the smooth white plastic, she reeled and let go. Summoning all of her self-control, she collapsed stiffly into a table chair, sat on her hands, scrunched her eyes closed, bit her lip, and waited for the answering machine to pick up.

With a rattle and a beep, it came to life. After the short answering message playing Carol’s crisp introduction, Doug’s familiar voice penetrated the kitchen. Carol sucked in her breath and sat back.

“Uh, hi Carol... its- its Doug. I, uh, I was just, well, its five o’clock. I guess you’re not in... so, um... how are my girls doing? Did Tess’s rash go away? I was just thinking about them... I got the pictures you sent in the mail. They’re really growing fast, Carol. God... I miss them. I was thinking maybe I’d come up next weekend. It seems like forever since I’ve seen them. Uh, well, tell Tess and Kate that I love ‘em. And I-uh... I... hope everything is going okay for you at work and all that. Well... Goodbye.”

The machine clicked off and Carol got to her feet with a smile. God... he hated answering machines, and she felt bad for making him mumble into hers like he did. But she always could find a little humor in his lack of answering machine eloquence.

Bending down over the little black box, she rewound the message. Then, with a breezy sigh she pressed play. Doug’s voice came again, his choppy words penetrating the gloom that settled inside her all too frequently. Carol stood there and closed her eyes, bathing in the sound of his voice, drinking in his words...

(--end flashback--)

She’d played that message so many times she’d memorized every word, every uncomfortable grunt, every jagged breath.

Still playing his words in her head, Carol turned back to her box. A bright red christmas ball was nestled between a striped tie and a package of golf balls. She placed the ball in the palm of her hand. The candle reflected off the shiny metalic paint, causing the light to dance with phantasmal color. Carol watched in wonder as the rich red flame flickered in the ball, almost making in glow...

(--flashback--)

“Carol!”

Carol groaned, her eyes still closed lazily. She could feel his warm breath tickling her forehead, and fought a smile.

“Wake up, hon. C’mon Carol,” he whispered into her ear.

“I’m sleepy, Doug,” she whined, but a small giggle escaped her lips.

“Ah...” Doug smiled and kissed her sweetly. “You ‘are’ awake.” Carol opened her eyes and smiled back at him, then burrowed deeper under the warm blankets and curled up against his chest. “Carol!” he scolded.

She laughed from her cozy nest. “You are such a big kid!”

“Well, we didn’t fight so hard to get the day off, just to spend it lying in bed! Let’s get downstairs!”

Sighing with defeat, Carol pulled herself upright. “Merry Christmas, Doug,” she said with a drowsy grin.

“Merry Christmas. Now, get up!” He took her hand and jumped from the bed, pulling her with him.

“Wait, wait, Doug! Let me at least get my robe!” She grabbed the worn terrycloth housecoat off the back of the bedroom door as he pulled her quickly out of the room and down the stairs. “Oh God, its freezing down here,” she exclaimed, pulling her robe tightly around her shoulders. The air held that certain, nippy crispness that only tingled one’s skin on Christmas morning. Carol could remember feeling that same biting cold every Christmas morning since she was a little girl. The frigid twinge always gave her a good feeling, a recollection of excitedly opening presents with her sisters and singing carols with her aunts and uncles; some of the best times of her childhood.

“Yep,” Doug agreed, flicking at the thermostat dial on the wall as Carol shoved her hands into her pockets. “Cold as all hell.” He rapped on the dial a few more times, then, shrugging his shoulders in defeat, took her hand again. “I think the heater’s broken.”

“Oh great.”

“Ah, its ok. I’ll make coffee.”

“Coffee won’t keep us from freezing to death!”

“No,” Doug grinned, ”But this might.” He took her face in his hands and kissed her explosively. Carol sighed happily as the warm sensation travelled through her. Who needed mistletoe? Or heaters for that matter...

“You sure are in a good mood!” She stated, smiling.

“Its Christmas!” He said, leading her into the living room. “And we have a tree. And presents. And stockings. And coffee.”

Bright sunlight was streaming in through the window in thick shafts, accentuating the diamond-like twinkles of the snow and icicles hanging from the roof. They stood in front of the big tree, decked in garland and colored balls and tinsel and little lights. It was a real tree, a big evergreen with branches so full they’d used more than a dozen boxes of ornaments in decorating. Boxes wrapped in colored paper were piled underneath it, waiting patiently to be opened.

“I can’t believe I let you convince me to get such a huge tree,” Carol smiled as she stooped to fix a drooping strand of garland.

“Oh, come on. You love it just as much as I do!” Doug tilted his head, taunting her good-naturedly.

She stepped back from the tree, taking in the twinkling lights and sparkling tinsel. “Yeah,” she admitted, “I haven’t had a tree like this since I was a kid.”

“I don’t think I ever had a tree...” he studied it for a moment, trying to remember. “No... no wait, I think we had a white one. Plastic. But it melted because the lights were too strong.”

“Oh God,” Carol shook her head, laughing. “How traumatic.”

“It was! After that we had to put presents under my dad’s big reclining chair.” He laughed as he disappeared into the kitchen. “I’m not sure if thats a good memory, or a bad one!”

Carol shivered again and flopped onto the sofa, still gazing at the pretty Christmas tree. She felt happy, genuinely and thoroughly contented. The feeling warmed her.

Doug returned moments later with an afghan and two cups of dark, steaming liquid. He handed one to Carol and sat beside her, wrapping the thick blanket around them both. Carol brought the hot mug to her lips and let the smooth fluid warm her mouth.

“Hey! This isn’t coffee!” she exclaimed as the shockingly sweet chocolate flavor assaulted her taste buds.

“Nup. Its cocoa. I thought it would be appropriate.” He sipped his own drink sparingly.

“I... uh, think you put little too much sugar in it,” Carol tired to keep a straight face, but failed and burst out laughing.

“Hey! At least its hot, alright?” Doug pouted, feigning offense.

“Yeah,” she giggled, “at least.” Her laughter faded and the room fell comfortably silent. Carol looked from Doug, to the tree, to the presents lying under it. As much as she tried to push it away, one thought persistently crept into her mind. Something was... missing.

“Carol?” Doug asked, ticking his head to the side. “You ok?”

She starred intently into her cocoa, watching as the dark liquid swirled in little whirlpools, concentrating on the soothing warmth the mug emitted, letting it seep into her hands. “Yeah, I’m fine... I was just... thinking.”

“About what?”

“I dunno... its just...” She looked up at Doug, his beautiful, deep brown eyes dancing with the sheer joy of being with her, but etched with concern. “Do you think that we’ll have a baby by next Christmas?”

“Oh, God... I don’t know Carol. Its possible...”

“But– but don’t you think it would be so great to have a little person to open these presents? To see his eyes light up when he sees them? To take him out to the sliding hill with his brand-new sled?”

Doug chuckled and gently stroked her hair. “I think that would be wonderful. But, if this ‘is’ our last Christmas of ‘just the two of us’ we should probably enjoy it.”

Carol hesitated, then smiled. “Yeah, you’re right. Whatdya say we open some presents?”

Doug nodded. “So what did you get me?”

“Go see for yourself!” Carol laughed, pointing to the pile under the tree.

After starting a flickering fire in the fireplace to warm up the room, they settled on the floor. The tree was so large that they could almost sit up under the branches without grazing their heads on the leafy limbs. Looking up, they could see into the branches, the little lights twinkling with color, making the whole thing glow with a magic that only presents itself on the holidays.

“Open this one first,” Doug commanded excitedly, handing her a large green and red box with a white bow.

Carol took the package and started to carefully unwrap it, first tugging off the bow and ribbon, and then peeling away the paper. “You sure wrapped this well,” she commented.

“Are you kidding?” Doug grinned. “The only thing I can wrap is a sprained foot in an ace bandage. I got it done in the gift centre in the mall.”

“I should have known.” Carol laughed with him and finished taking off the wrapping paper. “Oh Doug! This is what I wanted!” She pulled a brand new, shiny toaster oven out of the box, a wide smile stretching across her face. “How did you know?”

“You only told me 20 times,” he teased, shrugging.

“Was I that obvious?” she blushed.

“No,” he shook his head. “I just... you know, you kept saying how the toaster always burnt the bread...”

Carol plodded into the kitchen, her new toaster oven in tow.

“Don’t you want to open the rest of the gifts?” Doug got up, following her.

“Not right now. I want to make toast!”

“Do you even know how to put that thing together?”

“Can’t be too hard!” She set the contraption on the counter and plugged it in. “There. Nothing to it.”

“You sure its working?” Doug asked, skeptical.

“Just give it a minute to warm up. I’ll get the bread.” She rummaged through the cupboard and pulled out a loaf.

“Carol? What’s that smell?” his brow furrowed as the scent of smoke wafted through the air.

“I– I don’t know. I haven’t put the bread in yet!” She set down her bread and quickly opened the toaster oven door. Billows of thick grey smoke poured out, stinging her eyes. “Something’s burning! Get the fire exting–!”

Doug had alread lunged for the fire extinguisher behind the sink. With a grunt he released the plug and white foam sprayed out with a vengeance. They stood there, stricken, in front of the smelly mess as the smoke cleared. Then, silently, Carol reached through the collapsing foam, into the little oven, and rooted around for a moment. Then, with her mouth hanging open, she pulled out the remains of a small piece of paper. Holding the dripping thing in front of his face with one hand, the other firmly planted on her hip, she shook her head in astonishment.

“Doug, you left the receipt inside.”

His eyes grew wide with her cool statement. “Oh God, Oh Carol...” he looked from the charred machine to Carol’s bemused expression. “I’m really sorry...”

His face was so pitifully woeful that any anger or disappointment Carol could feel was washed away. She looked up at him, a smile slowly spreading across her face. “Guess we’ll have to settle for burnt toast this time, huh?”

With that, Doug smiled too. “I’ll get you a new one as soon as the stores open on Monday.”

Carol nodded, threw a towel over the sticky, goey mess, and jammed the two pieces of bread into her old toaster. After a moment, they popped up, black as night.

Giggling a sigh, she placed the toast on a plate and followed Doug back to the sofa. The fire was burning nicely, glowing a wonderfully cozy heat, settling the room with a comfortable atmosphere. Carol and Doug nestled into the plush sofa, abandoning their earlier present opening plight. He took her hand and she let her head drop to rest on his shoulder as she crunched on her blackened toast.

“Been a pretty good Christmas so far, huh?” Doug asked softly, his thumb absently rubbing over her knuckles.

“Considering we’ve only been up for 15 minutes, yeah,” she smiled. “Mark and Rachel are coming over for dinner, right?”

“Yep,” Doug nodded. “They’re bringing the turkey. God, Mark trying to cook a turkey... I think we’d better have a backup plan.”

“Well, there’s always Magoo’s!” Carol laughed. Just then, a small red ball fell from the lower branches of the Christmas tree and rolled across the floor, settling near her feet. She stooped to pick it up and placed the ball in the palm of her hand. The fire reflected off the shiny metalic paint, causing the light to dance with phantasmal color. Carol watched in wonder as the rich red flame flickered in the ball, almost making it glow...

(--end flashback--)

Carol sighed with gravity for the lost feelings of contentment she’d felt back then. It had been little more than a year ago, and yet, it felt like a lifetime away. She couldn’t help but wonder if those sure and steady feelings of security were nothing but an illusion, a falsified picture Doug had welcomed her into. And then she’d have to ponder whether she was ever really happy at all. But when she thought back to those times, even though she seldom did, the sheer happiness she felt in remembering was enough to convince her otherwise.

Their ‘Christmas wish’ had come true that year. The next Christmas, there were two brand new baby girls to share the holidays with. But with the additions to the ‘family’ they’d also lost one member. Carol remembered last Christmas well. She’d been up all night with the newborn twins, Kate with a cold, Tess with colic. The next morning was spent in a flurry of feedings and clothing and crying. When she’d hoped for a baby to spend Christmas morning with, she hadn’t once imagined that it would turn out like it had.

There were many times in a week, in a day, in an hour that these despairing thoughts would plague her, and the depression that always loomed in a dark, clouded aura set in. Carol often wondered if she’d be unhappy the rest of her life. She knew that she was supposed to be experiencing the joys of motherhood, and felt horribly selfish and guilty that she was still so discontent. She loved her children, there was no denying that, but she ached to have a gentle hand to smooth back her hair and reassure her when it became too much.

The only thing that kept her from running to Seattle was the threads of anger that still clung to her battered heart, and the solid pride that had presented itself the moment Doug had announced that he was leaving. It had taken her awhile to figure out why exactly she was angry with him. In her head, she knew that he couldn’t have stayed at County. She even knew that she could have gone with him. But the betrayal she felt had initially clouded her judgment. It had seemed that, just when she’d finally allowed herself to trust him, when she’d finally accepted the fact that he’d changed- that he was going to stay with her, that they’d get married and have a baby and have the life she’d always wanted with him- he left. It looked to her like he was abandoning every promise he’d ever made to her, just as he’d done before. But with time and loneliness also comes understanding. The months apart had left her heart heavy, but her mind clear. She knew that she had little reason to be mad at him. Outwardly, she still pretended to be angry and hurt by never speaking about him to anyone. It was easier this way. She could avoid the awful questions. But inside... she was dying.

Carol placed the little red Christmas ornament she’d been clutching very tightly back in the box. She took a deep breath and ran her hands over her cheeks to wipe away the tears that had so sneakily found their way from the curdled mix of emotions of her insides.

For reasons unknown to even herself, Carol had been avoiding the last item in the box. It was a small wooden plaque, painted white, with a piece of embroidered cloth tacked to the front. The cloth had a small, simple pearly dove stitched on one corner, and a few lines or verses written in the center. Turning the plaque over in her hands, Carol saw where Doug’s mother had signed “With Love, Sarah” in a black calligraphy pen. She ran her hand over the smoothness of the sanded wood. It was scuffed slightly in places, like it had been around for awhile.

She bit her lip and turned the plaque back around, so that she could read the words. But the light from the candle was dimming, and she had to stand up to get a better light. When the flame was near enough, she could make out the words.

“Fear not, for I am with you.”                -Isaiah 43:5

It was a bible verse. In all the years Carol had known Doug Ross, never once had she seen him read a bible. Reading the verse again, she had to choke back another wave of tears.

“Fear not, for I am with you.”

A burning anger quickly rose into her throat. All the reasoning and rational conclusions she’d made were blown away and only one thought pounded in her head. ‘It was a lie.’

“No, Doug, you are not,” she found herself whispering, her voice cracking with wild emotion and anger. “You’re not with me. I’m doing this all alone. And I am scared.” With a choked sob and shaking hands, the plaque was hurled at the tattered carboard box at her feet, the corner chipping off and bouncing across the cement floor. It was a lie. Everything he’d ever told her was a lie, every promise he’d whispered, every time he’d told her he loved her. He wasn’t with her. She needed him, their baby girls needed him, and he wasn’t there.

She had all these memories of him, memories of happy times, memories of painful times. But every memory, every look he’d given, every time she’d tasted his kiss, were etched strongly and permanently into her mind. These memories were wasted, useless. She would never, could never be with him. They would never amount to anything– he was gone. They were only meant to taunt her with the happiness she’d once felt.

Carol couldn’t stop the anguished sobs from erupting angrily from the depths of her soul. She stood limply over the box and wept, crossing her arms to the cold chill that had suddenly become apparent in the musty basement. A deep rumble of thunder echoed from the forgotten storm, and it snapped Carol back into reality. She covered her mouth with her hand, closed her eyes, and swallowed her sobs. With certain purpose, she went to the storage closet and extracted a role of thick tape. Bending over the ‘D. Ross’ on the box, she thrust the scattered objects back inside it, pausing only fleetingly when her fingers brushed over the soft material of the basketball shirt. She pulled the flaps closed and began to tightly wrap the tape around and around its cardboard walls. With one last bitter sob, she pushed the box into the darkest corner of the basement, and the little pink candle that had burned for so long flickered out.

Another crack of thunder, this one much louder, rattled the house. Right on cue, two sets of cries cut through the air. Carol closed her eyes and sighed. Then, with one last glance into the dark corner that held her memories of Douglas Ross, she trudged up the basement stairs.

_____________________
Memories may be beautiful, and yet
What's too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget.
____________________

Carol reached into the crib and lifted a howling Kate into her arms. Then, standing above the next crib, Tess, who’s cries had diminished to a few soft whimpers, was quieted with a few gentle words and a reassuring pat on the stomach.

Settling into the rocking chair, she prepared for a long hour of sitting with Kate as she cried. The baby was stubborn, and when she was frightened, it took a lot to reassure her. Slowly, Carol started rocking. She let the gentle swinging motion calm her frazzled emotions as well as her crying infant.

“Its alright, Katie,” she whispered, lifting the baby up so that her head rested on Carol’s shoulder. She gently ran her hand in tiny circles over Kate’s sleeper-clothed back. “Its only a storm. It’ll end soon... It’ll end soon...”

The baby smelled of talcum powder, the sweet scent almost a comfort as Carol rocked her. Her cries were diminishing slowly.

Another clap of thunder blasted the quieting room with the loud noise, and Kate began to shriek again. “Aw, its ok baby. I’m here. I’m right here.” The verse from the plaque popped into her head, and before she could stop herself, she was whispering the comforting words to her daughter.

“Fear not, for I am with you.”

Swallowing the lump in her throat, Carol lifted the baby girl off of her shoulder and into the crook of her arm, so she could see the tiny face. Kate was getting more relaxed, only small, soft whimpers escaping her tiny, perfect lips.

The realization hit her like a flash of lightening. Her lips... they were just like Doug’s. Exactly like them. These were Doug’s children. As much as she battled the fact that he would never be their ‘father’, he did make them. All those memories she had couldn’t really have been wasted. Those very memories brought her these children to love. These two helpless baby girls that would be with her for the rest of her life, that would never leave her, never lead her on. She was a mother, their mother, and if bearing years of memories of a man she’d never be with gave her that title, then wasted was not the word.

Carol stood up slowly and placed a sleeping Kate back into her crib. Then, taking the discarded flashlight from its position beside the rocking chair, she made her way back down the basement stairs. Crawling into the dark corner, she extracted the box. Unearthing a jack knife from a toolbox, Carol ripped away the thick tape and pulled the box open almost frantically. Knowing exactly what she wanted, she pulled out the old T-shirt with the small basketball logo below the shoulder. Then, taking off her own long-sleeved blouse, she slipped the shirt over her head. That same wonderful aroma filled her with the most amazing sense of peace as the delicate material passed over her face.

With a newfound resolve, Carol stood back from the box, relinquishing the soft feel of the worn shirt and smell of Doug’s cologne.

She’d always thought that she could sort out her feelings- whether they’d be anger or resentment or forgiveness- of the situation she was in with Doug when the dust settled. But the dust had settled, and she wasn’t any surer now than she’d been when he first left.

She’d never been able to find the proper place for her memories either. Stuffed in a dark corner wasn’t the right one. But if one thing was certain, if there was one thing that she could hold onto, it was that she did have memories. And maybe they were just that. Not wasted, not useless, not painful or wonderful, not meant to be ignored. Just memories.

__________________
So it's the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were
___________________

Yep, thats all folks! Now, I want to hear what you thought! E-mail me at dougandcarol_tlf@hotmail.com.
If you wanna check out the graphic that goes with this fic, you can go to: www.dougcarol.8m.com/rockett4wm.jpg




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