"There!" Kerry shoved the last of her charts into its rack and stood up with a groan, stretching her shoulders briefly before grabbing her crutch. "And good riddance."
Nothing like a gomer to shred the last of one's nerves at the end of a shift. This guy had monopolized the better part of three hours and required five people to change clothes twice. Had to be some kind of record. Just thinking about him made Kerry's skin crawl.
"Haleh, could you make sure Mr. Abner gets divested of his, ah, little guests before he goes up to Detox?" she asked, stopping by the Admit desk.
"Already being taken care of, Dr. Weaver."
"Not soon enough," Kerry muttered.
"Ummmhm. You out of here?"
"Yes, thank goodness. Mark's on in three; Malucci's senior until then."
"God help us."
Kerry laughed inwardly; Haleh had the most eloquent eye-roll. "Good night, Haleh," she called, taking her name off the board.
"Good night, Dr. Weaver."
The smell hit her about halfway across the lounge. "Gah!" Holding her sleeve over her nose, Kerry opened her locker and gingerly lifted out the ruin of the cashmere sweater she'd been wearing earlier.
Total loss. What the hell had she been thinking? That stain would never come out, and anyway she couldn't possibly look at it again without thinking of Mr. Abner's... inhabitants.
She found a stray plastic grocery bag, shoveled the sweater into it with the tip of her crutch and bundled the entire mess into the nearest trash bin.
"Y'know, I think that might have qualified as Hazardous Waste," drawled a welcome, if unexpected, voice.
Kerry eyed the tall blonde who was leaning against the doorway. "You've got to be kidding. At the rates HazMat charges we'd be overbudget for the rest of the year."
"Well, anyway, I think the sacrifice was worth it."
"Being vomited on twice by an alcoholic junkie infested with enough specimens to make an entomologist's career is worth what, exactly?"
Kim's curly head tilted, her lips pursed in frank appraisal. "Getting to see you in scrubs. You do know you're adorable in them, don't you?"
Kerry felt her face flush; for a ghastly second she was afraid she'd start hiccupping again. She covered her fluster with the automatic busy-ness of getting ready to go home, hanging up her stethoscope, dumping the contents of her labcoat pockets (when had she picked up a cracked sphygmanometer, two TicTacs and an empty -– she hoped -– urine tube?) and pulling on her coat, all the while acutely aware of the direct blue gaze. When she had finally regained her composure, she looked at her friend. "Why are you still here, anyway? I thought you were off hours ago."
Kim shrugged. "I came back. You took the El in, didn't you?"
"Ye-es." It was a little disconcerting to know that Kim was keeping such close track of her movements. Disconcerting, but nice.
"It's sleeting. Thought you might want a ride?"
Kerry smiled wryly and nodded. She followed Kim through the corridor, absently acknowledging her staff and turning a blind eye to the game of wheelchair hockey that was already heating up over by the elevators.
"Where are we going?"
"Then why are we heading south?"
"Because that's where I live."
"Where you live... ?"
"Don't worry. Hyde Park isn't exactly the 'hood."
"That's not what I meant. We're going to your place?"
"To talk, Kerry."
Kim shot her a sidelong glance. "Disappointed?"
She hesitated, just a hairsbreadth too long. "No."
The corners of that expressive mouth curved upwards, just a little. "Good."
Neither of them said anything further as Kim turned off South Lake Shore onto 49th and then Kenwood, into the driveway of a 1920s brownstone.
"Nice." Kerry whistled softly, then swore under her breath as she fumbled with her crutch; the Xterra had a long drop from the step rail to the ground, which she finally negotiated by balancing on her right leg and hopping down. Thankfully, Kim offered no assistance. "I didn't realize County paid its psych attendings so well."
Kim grinned. "You wouldn't think it to look at Carl DeRaad, would you? I had a bit of luck finding this. The previous owner died just before I moved to Chicago; her son lives in Tampa and was in a hurry to sell. A real estate agent friend of mine happened to hear about it, got the papers pushed through quickly, et voilà! Come on in." She loped up the front steps, unlocked the door and waved Kerry through with an exaggerated curtsey.
Kerry looked around curiously -– and felt her face go numb with shock.
Everywhere in the foyer and the room adjacent were statues and photographs and paintings and needlepoints of dogs. Little dog figurines covered every available square inch of the tables, which had dog-shaped carved legs. Brass poodles guarded a doorway, next to which sat a real stuffed bulldog wearing a beret at a rakish angle on its head. The effect was overwhelming and well beyond lunatic.
Not to mention seriously disturbing.
Could a person's private self be so profoundly different from the public one she projected? Granted, they were just getting to really know one another, but this was simply...
"Hideous, isn't it?" said Kim, startling her. "No wonder the guy wanted to get rid of the house -– he didn't want to have to deal with all this."
Feeling her heart start to beat normally again, Kerry nearly giggled with relief. "I was afraid I was going to have to be tactful." Her laughter escalated infectiously until both of them were whooping and clinging to each other.
Finally Kim wiped her eyes. "You should have seen the place before I unloaded the truckful of stuff on eBay. Come on, I'll show you around the more presentable parts."
She draped their coats over a convenient Borzoi statue and wrapped an arm lightly across Kerry's shoulders. Kerry, frozen for a split second, leaned into the caress and tucked her arm comfortably around Kim's waist; thus supported, she barely needed her crutch as they wandered about the beautiful old house.
It was easy to see where the previous owner's -– Kerry hesitated to call it taste -– left off and Kim's took over, especially in the study, a slightly long and narrow but high-ceilinged room with picture windows that overlooked Kenwood Park; this, Kim said, was where she spent most of her time. Kerry approved of the clean open spaces, the quietly expensive furniture (those were genuine Stickleys over by the leather sofa, she was certain), and the not-so-quietly-expensive toys: a sleek new computer perched on a corner of the desk, and the stereo system looked like something NASA might use to launch space shuttles.
Kerry made a beeline for the bookshelves that lined the near wall. Several sections of psychiatric texts and journals, naturally, but also gardening, history, music and lit crit, and -–
She beamed delightedly at Kim. "May I?" At her friend's nod, she carefully ran her finger down the tattered spine of "Winnie-the-Pooh." Kerry lifted it from the shelf and reverently leafed through the yellowing pages.
"It was my grandmother's," said Kim as she knelt before the fireplace to arrange logs; she touched a match to the gas jet starter, which quickly set the wood crackling. "Original edition. Not worth much, of course, because of its condition, but I've always adored it."
"It's wonderful." Reluctantly Kerry slid Pooh back into place. Looking up, she felt her breath catch.
The planes of Kim's face were thrown into high relief, painted by firelight with flickering gold and shadow; the sight was mesmerizing. Shaking herself mentally, Kerry walked over and sat on the floor beside Kim; setting her crutch aside, she leaned back against a heavy ottoman. "Were you very close?" she asked quietly.
"To my grandmother? Oh, yes. Nana was a hellraiser up until she died, when I was fifteen. She used to ride a motorcycle, a '48 Indian she'd restored. Somewhere, in one of the packing boxes upstairs, there's a picture of us on it."
"I'd like to see that sometime."
"I think that can be arranged." The blue eyes crinkled. "Are you hungry? Would you like anything to drink?"
"Hmm. It's a little late to eat, and besides, that last patient kind of ruined my appetite. Maybe some wine, though?"
"Sure. Right back." Kim rolled easily to her feet and left the room, returning a minute later with a bottle and two glasses in hand. "So what happened?"
Kerry began a graphic play-by-play on the gomer as Kim deftly levered open the bottle and poured, then handed a glass to Kerry.
"... so the guy's stoned out of his head and lurching around Exam 2 half-naked, which was not a pretty sight -– this is excellent, by the way; Syrah, right? -– offering to 'do' me for twenty bucks. Security finally shows up and restrains him, the intern's trying to get blood for labs without actually touching him but the only veins he's got that aren't scarred or collapsed are in his feet, which are foul beyond belief, and the student's in the corner leaning over the trash can trying to look like he's not about to puke." She took another sip of the deep-bodied red, enjoying its earthy, fruity finish.
Kim snorted, nearly inhaling her own mouthful of wine. "Please don't tell me you turfed him over to Psych. I don't think I could handle that first thing Monday morning."
"What, you mean you didn't get my page?" Kerry said innocently.
"Oh, you're so funny. Good thing you're also very, very cute. You win the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Award."
"What's my prize?"
In answer, Kim leaned in and kissed her, lingering with just the barest pressure. "Mmm... it's even better when you help."
Kerry sat up slowly. Both of them were breathing hard. The imprint of Kim's lips burned on hers; she felt almost drunk, her head swirling pleasantly. Finally she opened her eyes -– to see Kim regarding her intently, with an unreadable expression.
"Well, there's that, at least."
Instantly the headiness evaporated and Kerry forcibly refrained from crossing her arms in front of her. "What?"
"Do you know, one of the things I find so damned fascinating about you is the dichotomy between what you want and how you go about convincing yourself that you don't want or need it."
"I'm not your patient, Kim. And you know what, I really don't feel like being dissected for your private entertainment. Good night," Kerry said, starting to get up. But the long day had taken its toll on her body and her hip rebelled by refusing to extend. "Dammit!" she snarled, hunching awkwardly as pain shot through the offending joint, radiating down her leg and up her back.
It was the tone of voice more than the outstretched hand that stopped her. That, and the suddenly vulnerable look on Kim's face. Evidently she'd scared her friend.
"I'm sorry, Kerry. I didn't mean it like that. It's a spinal reflex - Meddling 101."
"You probably aced it in grade school," Kerry grumbled, trying to find a comfortable position.
"In diapers, according to my mother. Here." Kim scooted around behind Kerry, essentially cradling the smaller woman and taking the pressure off her hip; Kerry gave an involuntarily sigh as the pain immediately lessened. "Do you need anything? Aspirin? Ibuprofen? Double shot of Macallan?"
"Don't try to be nice to me, Legaspi, I'm still mad at you." But she made no effort to free herself, instead marveling at how well their bodies seemed to fit together. A warm, slightly spicy hint of perfume enveloped her and she watched, fascinated, as the pulse in the hollow of the throat bounded against the delicate skin there.
Kerry smiled into Kim's neck. "You move and I'll smack ya one with the crutch."
"I thought you were just saying I was too inhibited to allow myself to fulfill my desires."
"Is that what I said?"
"That was the subtext of what you meant, wasn't it?"
"God save me from smart women."
They sat still for a long time, listening to each other breathe, to the pops and hisses from the fire.
"So what did you mean?"
"Well, for one thing, this is probably the first time you haven't recoiled when I've touched you."
"I don't -– " Kerry protested automatically, then thought back over the events of the evening. "Do I?"
"Actually, yes, you do. But then you responded to that kiss like a small nuclear meltdown. I think you're a little confused."
"Kim, we've been through this already. I've done a lot of thinking about us, and what I want from this relationship. I know it'll take some time for me to adjust but I'm trying my best to -– "
"Shhhhh." The slender but deceptively strong arms tightened about her. "I don't doubt your sincerity, Kerry, and I certainly don't doubt your capacity for passion. It just needs to be... redirected a bit."
"Hrmph. And what would you suggest, Doctor?"
"You've given me an idea. How about a course of psychophysiosexual therapy?"
Kerry snickered. "There's no such thing!"
"How do you know? Maybe I'm a pioneer in the field."
"The Kim Legaspi Sexual Orientation Realignment Method?"
"Bad acronym; JAMA would never accept it. We could try, um, Sexuality Newly Oriented and Realigned by Kim Legaspi."
"SNORKL?" Kerry sputtered, then burst out laughing.
"Hey, it's memorable and catchy. Can't you just see the ads? 'Always SNORKL with a partner,' or 'Never go SNORKLing without proper training and equipment.'"
"There can be, if you like."
"Sorry, I just got this image in my head."
She felt Kim shake with silent laughter. "I think we'd better start you out in the shallow end where you won't need equipment yet."
"Fine. Hey!" said Kerry as Kim scooted out from behind her.
"No interrupting the scientific genius at work. Here," said Kim, patting the thick woolen hearth rug in invitation, "lie down, on your stomach."
Instinctively she reared back, just a little. "Why?"
"Kerry, trust me, okay? Please lie down."
Kerry stared at Kim. "What are you going to do?" she asked, even as she slowly complied.
"Something I've been wanting to do for a long, long time. Now just relax."
"Oh... oh God... that's so good... oh, my God, don't stop... yes, right there... Ouch!"
"You don't sound sorry."
"It's a polite untruth. One of the foundations of civilized society. Kerry, your back is a complete mess. The entire right side of your body is one gigantic knot," said Kim, grunting a little as she kneaded a particularly rigid spot under the shoulder blade.
"Believe me, I know. I'm supposed to go for PT once a week, but..."
"But... something always comes up?"
"Well, you get used to it, and it just seems selfish to -– "
"To take care of yourself? Kerry, sometimes just watching you move makes my back hurt. How can you possibly give your best to your patients if you continually neglect your own well-being?"
"How did you get to be so good at this, anyway? I think you missed your calling," Kerry murmured as the magical hands shifted position and unerringly sought out the sources of tension in her neck.
"You're evading the question."
"Damned right I am. Although -– nngh! -– I can see where you might get a lot more results this way than with traditional counseling."
Kim sighed. "All right. I used to date a chiropractor. It didn't last very long -– I think she was jealous because she couldn't get into med or DO school -– but I picked up a lot of, um, techniques."
Kim worked in silence for a while. "That's a little better; at least your muscles no longer feel like they've been carved out of wood. But you really should be getting regular therapy."
"Of course," said Kim, lightly.
"Only if you promise to sexually harass me on the job."
"Don't be ridiculous. That would require moving, which I seem to be incapable of at the moment."
More silence, punctuated by the occasional huff of effort and a corresponding kitten-like mewl of pleasure.
"Kerry? Kerry, honey, I don't think you should fall asleep on the floor."
" 'm not asleep. They've gone and changed the gravitational constant on me."
"I think I'd better take you home."
That brought her wide awake. Kim was now stretched out beside her, head propped up on hand, watching her. For how long? Kerry rolled over onto her side, facing Kim, mirroring her posture. "Do you want me to leave?"
"No." Kim smiled ruefully. "Yes."
"Now who's conflicted?"
"You're tired, and I don't want there to be any chance that you'll regret being taken advantage of when you're not at your best. And I'm egotistical enough to want you at your best, with your eyes wide open and your mind free of the distractions of the day. Besides," she said, quirking an eyebrow, "I strongly suspect that you're a morning person, and I'm going to need a great deal of preparation before I'll be able to handle that."
"Anybody ever mention that you talk too damned much?"
"Only five times before lunch. You've got the next couple of days off, right?"
"Yes, I'm not on until Sunday night."
"Come play with me tomorrow, then. There's a Postmodern exhibit at the Art Institute, if you haven't seen it already, and we can have dinner at the Berghoff and then head over to Lyric, I can get us tickets for 'Tosca' -– mmph..."
Kerry finally came up for air. "So there is a way to get you to shut up," she said softly, taking advantage of Kim's surprise and pinning the taller woman on her back to kiss her again.
Not that Kim was exactly struggling to resist. "I knew I was in trouble from the first time I saw you."
"So was I. I just wish I'd known it at the time." Kerry sighed, then moved to let Kim stand and help her up. "Take me home."
"You got it, Trouble."