"Morning, Dr. Weaver."
"Good morning, Randi. What've we got?"
"Been pretty quiet. Chen and Malucci are working up a headache in Exam 1."
"Are they that bored?"
"I wish. Doctor Dave's chasing zebras again."
Kerry sighed. "All right. Let me dump my stuff and I'll go referee the match."
"Thank God," muttered Randi, finally bothering to look up from her magazine. "Hey, nice shirt. That color's good on you."
"Um... thanks." Fighting a blush, Kerry ducked into the lounge and hung up her purse and coat, shrugging into a labcoat and draping her stethoscope around her neck.
She scrutinized her image in the small mirror that hung in her locker. Tugging at the collar, Kerry held the front of the shirt to her nose and breathed deeply. The scent set her thoughts singing.
The door banged open and her hand flew away as though it had been burnt.
"I'm telling you, I got a gut feeling on this. It's Behcet's, has to be."
"Malucci, you can't base your diagnosis on a single episode of aphthous stomatitis. Or your gut."
"No shit, Chen. Which is why we're waiting for my labs and consults to come back."
"Come back inconclusive, you mean."
"Hey!" Kerry snapped. Instantly both residents froze. "Time out. Malucci, you've got a Behcet's suspect?"
"Yeah. But Dr. Chen seems to disagree."
"Malucci, there are fewer than 15,000 confirmed cases in the entire US. Convince me."
"Okay. 23-year-old Caucasian female, G1P1. Presented at 0330 with a severe headache, been getting worse since last night, now has a stiff neck as well. Chronic fatigue for the past six months, which her OB attributed to postpartum depression. Pathognomonic -– all right," he amended at Chen's glare, "characteristic oral lesions. History of retinal vasculitis and recurrent erythema nodosum. Chem 20, CBC, lytes, UA, tox screen, CSF analysis, cross-table C-spine rads and head CT pending. Consults pending with Radiology, Rheumatology, Neuro, Ophtho and Derm."
Well. The boy might turn out to be a doctor after all. "Sounds like you've got your bases covered. Let me know what you come up with. And turf her over to Medicine when your secondary survey's complete."
A blank mask shuttered whatever he was going to say and slowly he turned to leave, lagging in Chen's brisker wake. "Malucci," Kerry called as he was bulling through the door.
"If it does turn out to be Behcet's, you can present it at next month's clinicopathological conference. Be a good case to write up for the JCP, too."
His face a rictus of astonishment, Malucci looked simultaneously pleased and appalled. But then the familiar grin blazed and he erupted into the hallway, whooping. Amused, Kerry shook her head.
The door swung inward again. Her stomach made a strange little leap and lodged somewhere in her throat.
"What was that about?" Kim asked, peering back down the corridor.
Casually moving so that the table was between them, Kerry busied herself with straightening a precarious stack of textbooks and journals that was threatening to landslide. "I think Malucci's caught another zebra. I swear, he's a magnet for every weird case we get in here."
"The headache? Jing-Mei must be kicking herself. She booted it to him after that possible triple A came in."
"Serves her right. They know they're not supposed to be cherry-picking." Kerry peered at Kim's face more closely; the shadows under the blue eyes were bruise-colored, the fine skin at the temples drawn nearly translucent. "When did you get paged?"
"Around 1:00. Psychosocial crisis. Frequent flyer with a seriously reduced capacity to manage stress. Saw her last month after she'd had an argument with her landlord about a raise in rent. This time I think she was just lonely, so she shotgunned Nyquil to precipitate hallucinations and then alerted EMS. I really need to have a talk with her outpatient therapist."
"Sorry," said Kerry, inadequately.
"All part of the service. But the next time two residents head off to a conference I'm going to go over the call schedule with a magnifying glass before agreeing to cover."
Kerry chuckled. "Probably a good idea. I missed you this morning," she added, dropping her voice.
"Missed you, too." Kim smiled blearily. "Getting routed out of my office sofa by Housekeeping somehow isn't as appealing as waking up with you. Even if the janitor doesn't snore quite as loudly."
"I don't snore. It's not much compared to the glamour of vending machine or cafeteria breakfasts," said Kerry, rummaging in her briefcase and unearthing a slim metal thermos and a small paper bag, "but I brought you some coffee and a couple croissants."
Despite her exhaustion Kim lighted up and dove for the thermos, chugging directly from it rather than bothering with the little cup that doubled as a cover.
The steaming liquid was nearly white. Kerry shuddered. "Not too much cream and sugar?"
"Hngh nnh. Perfect," said Kim around a flaky mouthful. "Will you marry me?"
"Why you don't weigh three hundred pounds, I'll never understand. You're off at 9:00?"
"Yep. In two hours, seven minutes and," Kim shook her watch into place, "forty-five seconds -– not that anyone's counting or anything -– my ass is out the door and heading straight to bed."
"Think your ass might want some company later on?"
Up went an eyebrow. "Only my ass? If I weren't so tired the rest of me might be offended."
"Then I'll just have to make it up to the rest of you."
"You're going to have to work really hard. Matter of fact, the rest of me is feeling pretty darned neglected right now."
"Is that so? I have it on good, incontrovertible authority that the rest of you feels pretty darned nice." A leer tugged at Kerry's lips. She took a step closer. "So why don't you go home and get some sleep after you finish out your shift -– " her eyes darted past Kim's shoulder " -– and let me know if you think she requires hospitalization."
Kim frowned slightly. "If I think who requires hospitalization?"
"Morning Dr. Weaver, Dr. Legaspi."
"Good morning, Abby." Her mouth was pasty-dry, making swallowing difficult. "Your psychosocial crisis patient. From last night."
"You... had expressed some concern about the quality of her outpatient care."
The sculpted face was utterly closed and impossible to read, once more tinged nearly gray with fatigue. "I'm sure she'll be fine. Excuse me, I have a ton of paperwork to catch up on."
"Kim!" It came out shrilly; her peripheral vision caught Abby's glance over. "Kim," she tried again, "that offer still stands. We could talk about it, later. If you'd like."
There was an interminable pause. Kim, chin tucked and head angled, simply stared at her. Kerry could not look away, pinned by the glacial blue gaze that seemed to be the only thing keeping her on her feet. She nearly stumbled when Kim finally spoke.
"You know what, Kerry? I appreciate the gesture but I'm going to have to decline. I'll see you around."
"Okay," said Kerry as the door whispered closed.
"Everything all right?"
She turned sharply. The nurse was looking quizzically at her, hands suspended from their determinedly-not-listening stage business. "Everything's fine. You're going to be late for your shift, Abby."
Her voice was clear and steady, betraying no sign of the cold writhing coils of dread and remorse that gripped her bowels.
"Under the desk. Worried about cockroaches running off with your doughnuts again?"
"No, just the one gigantic bug that's crawled up Weaver's ass."
"You're not kidding. I heard she sent home two students and an intern for dress code violations and then rescheduled them on Saturday graveyard to make up the time they missed."
"That's nothing. I heard she had Infection Control culture the mop water because she didn't think Maintenance was using enough quat in it."
"Jesus. What the hell's she still doing here? Her shift was over hours ago."
"She always stays late."
"Not like this, not for a while, anyway. Didn't you notice? Last few months it's almost been like she has a life."
"Weaver? No way. Who'd date her?"
"Some uptight masochistic do-gooder Yuppie type."
"Nah, I bet she goes for boy toys. You know, young and impressionable, with a mommy complex."
"You guys are dreaming. That woman –- and I use the term advisedly –- hasn't gotten laid since the Reagan administration. There's probably cobwebs in the carpeting."
"Yo, shut it, here she comes."
"Thank the Lord, looks like she's finally leaving."
"Probably going home to hang upside down and think up more shit for us to do on slow nights."
"You got that right. Is it wrong to pray for casualties? Nothing really serious, just a couple minor lacerations, maybe a nice little nonfatal MVA?"
"Is there some compelling reason for everyone to be congregating around the Admit desk?"
"Just reviewing some charts before I go on duty, Kerry." "Compiling those inventory reports you wanted, Dr. Weaver." "Dealing with a real bad insect problem, Dr. Weaver."
"Again? Get Maintenance down here to spray if it's that serious."
"Don't think that'll be necessary. Matter of fact I think the problem's going to resolve itself pretty shortly."
"Right. Well... good night."
" 'Night, Dr. Weaver."
Kerry made one last circuit of her domain and tried not to notice the nearly palpable lessening of tension, like a collective sigh, as she pushed through the ambulance bay doors.
Juggling briefcase, umbrella and crutch made unlocking and opening her door slightly more eventful than usual but the heavy click as it closed behind her still echoed too loudly.
Despite the CD she'd left playing and the random lamps turned on throughout the house, there was no disguising the lack of movement, of scent, of the small messes and other traces of human activity. Even her tenant was gone, away for the weekend. The very air seemed weighted, an invisible blanket settling over everything with a hush.
Dropping her things and shedding her dripping coat, Kerry shivered until the heat from the radiators penetrated her chilled skin. She cranked the stereo to an uncomfortable volume and sang along with Tina Turner to rend the smothering quiet. Leaving her clothes in a limp pile on the floor in defiance of the meticulous order of her bedroom, she tugged on knit pants and a disheveled oversized sweater, thankfully wiggled her feet into fuzzy slippers and scuffed to the kitchen.
Kerry poked desultorily through the refrigerator but nothing appealed to her. On a shelf inside the door stood a half empty bottle of Chardonnay; wresting out the stopper, she poured most of the contents into a glass.
The days-open wine was flat and acrid, quarreling uneasily with her grumbling stomach and leaving a sour aftertaste that matched her mood. She was debating whether or not it was worth the trouble of getting up to fetch the Laphroaig from the living room when the phone rang.
Telemarketers, most likely, at this time of the evening. She let the machine pick up.
"Hi, Kerry. Frank said you left the hospital over an hour ago, so if you're home -– "
She nearly dislocated her shoulder lunging for the receiver. "Hi." Quickly she found the stereo remote and thumbed the volume down.
"I haven't seen you at work."
"Had some time off and then I got sick."
"Nothing serious, I hope? Are you -– "
"It's no big deal."
Kerry's heart was pounding, first from sheer pathetic relief at hearing Kim's voice and now from rising trepidation at the uncharacteristic terseness that was making conversation about as free-flowing and lively as tapdancing in mud. "That's good."
"You could have called, you know."
"I... I didn't think you'd want to talk to me."
"So instead of having a rational discussion like adults you decide that the best way to deal with the situation is to sweep it into a tidy heap in a dark corner and ignore it."
"I know. I'm sorry." Frantically she scrambled to fill the elongating silence but no words came, stifled by the roaring in her ears.
Finally Kim sighed. "No, Kerry, I'm sorry. I love you but I can't do this any more. I think it would be best if we didn't see each other for a while."
Kerry stared at the phone still in her hand; it was bleeping irritatingly. Slamming it back into its cradle was inane but gave her a stab of satisfaction nonetheless.
Pieces of their strained conversation reiterated and chased one another contrapuntally until her head fairly rang. The crawling tightness at the back of her scalp along with an ominous pulsing behind her eyes signaled the beginnings of a migraine, the crowning eruption of the mental and emotional indigestion that had been simmering all day.
She had no idea what to do, knew only that Kim's absence was as agonizing as a traumatic amputation.
Swallowing the last of the wine, Kerry seized upon the one thing Kim had said that gave her hope: She loves me.
Pushing herself into a standing position, she waited, annoyed, for the spasm in her hip to subside, then hobbled back to her bedroom to change again. At the entranceway, too impatient to bother sorting her things into a smaller bag, she hefted her briefcase to her shoulder and stepped outside. Immediately fat heavy raindrops slanted under her umbrella, pelting her face and hair. Oh, just perfect. Grimly she slogged on.
Just then Kim's face appeared in the window, surprise evident even when slightly distorted through vintage glass. The door opened and she leaned against the jamb, arms crossed. Her expression would have been forbidding were it not for the bloodshot, watery eyes and reddened, swollen nose; the studiedly detached attitude was somewhat spoiled by a robust bout of sneezing.
"I hab a code," Kim said unnecessarily, fishing in the pocket of her sweats for a tissue and honking noisily and productively into it. "Ugh. That's better."
"Maybe I shouldn't have come." Kerry started to back away.
"Wait. You're soaked."
"I'll be fine, it's not that far -– "
"Kerry. Just come in."
Her heart skipped but she tamped down the flutter of hope. She followed Kim inside.
In the utility room Kim reached into the still-tumbling dryer and pulled out a large fluffy towel. Meekly Kerry allowed Kim to take her coat, rub dry her hair, then wrap her in the towel, which was wonderfully warm and smelled appealingly of fresh laundry. "There." Kim surveyed the result and gave her a crooked little smile, then propelled her into the kitchen.
"Sit," said Kim as though to a prodigal child, hauling one of the chairs out from the table. Kerry sat.
Warmth seeped into the numbness, permeating her with a druglike torpor. She was distantly aware of a comforting clatter and bustle but mostly she was content to simply be there.
A delicious scent brought her fully awake. Kim stood before her holding out a large mug of hot chocolate. Kerry wrapped both hands around it and sipped gratefully. Its heat and dark smooth sweetness were soothing. The hefty shot of Godiva liqueur didn't hurt, either.
Sitting opposite her and nursing her own mug, Kim regarded her coolly. "Why are you here, Kerry?"
God, that look. Anger, tears, even violence would have been easier to take. Kerry swallowed, the chocolate's sweetness turning to bile in her throat. "This was a mistake. Sorry to bother you, Kim; I'd better go." With an effort she pushed her chair back from the table and started to hoist herself up.
"Running away again? Why am I not surprised?"
The almost clinical detachment with its undercurrent of bitterness made her gut roil. "That's not fair, I feel so terrible and I wanted to apologize -– "
"You feel terrible. Kerry, when Abby walked into the lounge the other day, you panicked. Your primal, instinctual response managed to humiliate, belittle, marginalize, deny and dismiss me in the space of thirty seconds and you feel terrible?"
"I can't been seen by the staff to be behaving in an unprofessional manner -– "
"Unprofessional," Kim repeated incredulously. "For all Abby knew or cared, we could have been talking about breeding mutant Pseudomonas in the microwave. Jesus Christ, Kerry, what, did you think I would just rip your clothes off and take you then and there in the middle of the lounge?"
A small spark of heat flared up in the midst of her panic. "Well, it's not like you haven't ambushed me in the lounge before."
"Touché." The corner of Kim's mouth quirked. "Though you've never had a problem with the physical aspect of making love with a woman. What you haven't begun to examine are the greater implications that you might be gay. I don't think I've ever known anyone so completely compartmentalized."
"So we can't be together unless I announce to the world that I'm a -– that I'm gay?"
"This has nothing to do with your coming out, Kerry. That's your decision, and your right, and if and when you decide to do it I'll be right there to support you. I'm talking about simple, fundamental self-knowledge and acceptance. Not to mention respect, speaking not just as a lover but as a friend and a colleague."
It was getting hard to breathe. "I should go," said Kerry hoarsely, tears threatening to spill over. Bracing against the table, she clambered with some difficulty to her feet.
Kim frowned, obviously noticing her wince, so she tried not to lean too heavily on her crutch as she gathered her things. "It's late. Why don't you stay?"
"I didn't bring -– I don't have anything with me and I'm on tomorrow morning -– "
"Kerry, it's fucking freezing outside. Your stuff's still here, borrow whatever else you need. Just stay, okay?"
Anxiously she searched Kim's face. No overt sign of either forgiveness or invitation, only a watchful resignation.
For now, it was enough.
She tumbled into bed and stretched. The relief it afforded her overstrained hip made her groan. Her voice sounded too loud so she swallowed it, turning on her side to face away from the door.
Kerry heard Kim enter the room after a careful interval, knew from the sounds every movement she made in her nightly routine, felt her slide under the covers, and quelled the hunger for the embrace that would never come.
Though she couldn't see Kim, she was keenly aware of the deliberately measured breathing and the uncharacteristic stillness that fairly shouted tension; aware, too, of the scrupulous distance between them that was wide enough to remain cool to the touch of a surreptitious hand. Drained as she was, it was a long time before she succumbed to sleep.
A muffled snort riffed her hair. "Shit." Kim rolled over on her back and settled Kerry more snugly against her. "This doesn't mean that I'm not still mad at you, Weaver." But there was rueful laughter in the voice, and when Kerry dared a peek the sleepy blue eyes were smiling.
She wanted nothing more than to stay right where she was -– for hours, for days, forever -– but a glance at the alarm clock kickstarted her conscience. Dammit.
Reluctantly she untangled herself and slid out from beneath the covers, shivering briefly as she tucked her feet into fuzzy slippers. The duvet-covered mound on the bed didn't move.
"It's way too early to be vertical," murmured the mound.
"Just going to start some coffee and get the paper."
" 'kay. Then get your ass back in here."
And just like that, Kerry was suddenly, idiotically happy. She leaned over, twitched aside a blanket and kissed the tip of Kim's nose. "You just want your human pillow."
"Well, yes. Got a problem with that?"
"Yes?" A touch of wariness undercut the drowsy voice.
"I know we have a lot to talk about and work through but... are we okay?"
Kim gave her a wry smile. "We'll keep telling ourselves that, shall we? Hurry."
Kerry hastily visited the bathroom. On her way to the kitchen, she rooted through what she privately called Kim's Breakup Lost and Found, a box of odds and ends that had been left behind by various exes. Finding a dusky blue cardigan, she pulled it on over her camisole; it was comfortable and warm, if amusingly mismatched with the red plaid flannel pajama bottoms she'd dug up last night.
Humming, Kerry sniffed appreciatively at the aroma released by the burr grinder. As the coffee machine gurgled through its cycle, she surveyed the kitchen. Kim was rarely messy, exactly, but there was more clutter than usual. Kerry busied herself, ridiculously satisfied by the small actions of cleaning things and putting them into their proper places.
A partly full glass of water stood on the table. There was a smudge of lipstick on the rim. Picking up the glass, she carefully fitted her lips to the impression of Kim's.
The coffeemaker burped, startling her. Kerry emptied the glass into the sink and shoved it into the dishwasher, then poured herself a cup of coffee to let it cool a little on the counter. Bracing for the chill outside, she hurried to the curb.
Two men were coming up the street. She immediately marked them as cops; even dressed in civilian clothes and trying to be inconspicuous, there was no mistaking the flick-flick-flick watchfulness of their eyes. Idly she wondered what they might be doing in the neighborhood so early in the morning.
As she bent to pick up the newspaper, their purposeful strides halted before her.
"Dr. Legaspi?" the taller of them asked.
Her gut clenched. "No."