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Blink of an Eye

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lying here in the darkness
I hear the sirens wail
Somebody going to emergency
Somebody's going to jail
If you find somebody to love in this world
You better hang on tooth and nail
The wolf is always at the door
-- Don Henley

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Tomorrow she would find out. Oh, to be back into the old routine, she thought. Rotating shifts, tired feet, take-out dinners. Carol couldn't wait. She missed her work at the hospital, since she'd been on probation, and would be so happy to be back, if it all worked out. She knew that she needed the challenge that work provided. Carol hoped that things would be back to normal. Well, as normal as things could be, anyway. Everyone had been fawning over her since the convenience store incident yesterday. Her friends from work kept calling her, making sure she wasn't alone, wasn't worried about anything. To make matters worse, her mother had insisted on staying with her. "Just in case," she had said.

"What, Ma, he's dead. He's not coming back."

"I know, I know. Just in case, though."

Carol was at the point where she thought her mother was going to drive her nuts. She came home from the store and there she was, sitting on the sofa with a frown on her face, arms crossed.

"Hi, Ma."

"Hi yourself."

Carol rolled her eyes. "What?"

"Nothing. You better check your messages."

Keeping her eyes on her as she walked over to the answering machine, Carol could almost guess who had called, just from her mother's reaction. She pushed the button, and listened.

"Hey, Carol. Just calling, checking up on you, to make sure you're okay. I'll be home tonight, give me a call when you get in. Talk to you later."

Carol smiled, provoking a hiss from her mother. "Does he never stop calling you? You don't call him back, do you?"

Funny. Even her mother recognized his voice. "Ma, he hardly ever calls me. And, if he does, yes, I call him back. We're friends."

"You don't need a friend like that."

Carol sighed and walked into her bedroom, closing the door behind her. She got undressed and put on some sweats and a sweatshirt. Flopping on the bed, she reached for the phone, dialing with a practiced finger.

"Hello?" He sounded sleepy, she wondered if she woke him up.

"Hey, you called?"

"Hey, hi, yeah. I was just...thinking about you last night...I wanted to see how you were."

Carol smiled, toying with the phone cord. "Doug, I'm fine. Really. How are you doing? How's your ankle?"

"Hurts like a son-of-a-bitch, even with 800 milligrams of ibuprofen. No more basketball for a while."

"What are you doing tonight? Did I wake you up?" Carol closed her eyes, picturing him lying in bed, the covers pulled all the way up, just the way he used to like it.

"No, I'm watching the Blackhawks. And the Bulls."

Oh, so he wasn't in bed; no television in his bedroom. Unless, of course, things had changed since the last time she was there. "Ah, the magic of the remote control."

"Picture-in-picture," he corrected her.

She could almost see him grinning. "Well, I'm fine. I'm tired, though, I'm going to eat and then I'm going to bed."

"Okay. You find out if you're reinstated tomorrow?" he asked quietly.

"Yeah, tomorrow."

"I'll see you tomorrow, then."

"Thanks for calling, for...checking up on me."

"Sure. See you."

"Bye." She carefully replaced the receiver.

"What did he want?" her mother yelled from the living room.

Carol closed her eyes and sighed, exasperated again.

*****

Things finally did get back to normal. She was working too hard, studying too little, and generally exhausting herself. Carol massaged the back of her neck. She was tense and tired, and her shift wasn't over for hours. Doug saw her do this and walked over to her.

"Hey," he said quietly.

"Hey, Doug."

"Listen, I was just about to go over to Doc's...do you want to join me, get a little lunch? My treat," he said, grinning, trying to persuade her.

"Nah, thanks anyway. I'll just grab something here."

"You sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. Maybe another day."

Doug nodded his head and walked into the lounge. He emerged a minute later with his jacket on. "I'll be back in an hour," he announced to no one in particular.

Carol noticed his sigh as he pushed the door open and sighed herself. Lydia raised an eyebrow and gave her a questioning look.

"What?" Carol asked.

"I might ask you the same thing."

"Nothing," Carol insisted. She couldn't confide in Lydia because, frankly, she couldn't put her finger on what the problem was. And, if it was what she suspected, well then, she definitely couldn't confide in Lydia -- or anyone. It was so difficult, sometimes, figuring him out. He'd waited for her at her house after that test and then left as soon as she sat down on the steps. And he'd been hovering.

Lydia looked at her pointedly, waiting a moment before interrupting her thoughts. "Open your eyes, Carol. He was frantic, that day."

Carol looked back blankly.

Lydia patiently explained. "The first thing we heard was that there was 'a nurse' in a hostage situation, and we really didn't think much of it. But when they gave the location, Doug started getting nervous. He must have called your house five or six times, maybe more. Then the police called, said there was a 'Nurse Hathaway' giving medical treatment. They said the paramedics knew you, they wanted to know if you were working." Lydia stopped a moment, then continued quietly. "Carol, he was out of his mind."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In a New York Minute
Everything can change
In a New York Minute
Things can get pretty strange
In a New York Minute
Everything can change
In a New York Minute

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

At first, when he heard the rumors, it hadn't really seemed possible. She was on probation, she was probably asleep, he'd surmised. Carol always liked to sleep in. It was just a coincidence, he told himself. Still, he went into the lounge and dialed her number.

"Hey, say what you have to after the beep."

She was probably in the shower, he thought. And so, his day began.

"Dr. Ross, Dr. Rafar on three."

His Carol.

"Hey, Doug, you coming?"

Panic slowly seeped in, lining his stomach, making him jumpy.

"Doug, did you page me?"

What if they hurt her?

"Doug, we have a possible fracture in four."

The thought of someone taking a fist to Carol made him sick.

"Hey, Dr. Ross, barfing two-year-old in one."

What if one of them...?

"You want a blood gas?"

She was so soft, so gentle.

"Doug, those films are ready."

The epitome of a woman.

"Doug, you want some Amoxil samples?"

There was gunfire?

"Doug, kid wheezing in three."

Please, please, let her be safe.

"Burn in five, looks like hot water. Want me to call DCFS?"

No matter how hard he tried, he could not dismiss the horrible thoughts plaguing him.

"Doug?"

"Yeah...Kerry." Doug looked up, disoriented at first.

"Got a minute?" Kerry asked gently.

"What is it?"

Kerry gestured with her head, silently asking Doug to come with her.

"Kerry...please?" He had such apprehension in his eyes, she noticed.

Kerry smiled, rushing to reassure him. "It's Carol. She's okay. The paramedics are bringing the gunman in, Carol's assisting."

Doug stared as if he didn't comprehend at first. "She's okay? She's not hurt, we're sure?"

"Yes, Doug," Kerry nodded. "We're sure."

"Okay."

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And in these days
When darkness falls early
And people rush home
To the ones they love
You better take a fool's advice
And take care of your own
One day they're here;
Next day, they're gone

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He didn't believe she was safe, not until he saw her, hair flying, performing CPR on top of a gurney. His first concern was for her, he spit the words out with no regard to the patient. But she ignored him and directed everyone's movements.

The trauma was difficult and Doug tried his best to stay focused on the patient, but Carol was acting as though she doubted him, second-guessed him. Barking orders, she tried to push him out of the way. He asserted himself, though, and took control of the situation, concentrating intensely until he heard something in her voice that made him pause. She was soothing this guy, this killer, and the look on her face was unmistakable; it was a look he'd seen in her eyes as she tended to him so long ago. Stroking this guy's hair, speaking softly to him. Doug was stunned, but went back to work, struggling to ignore the gnawing feeling in his stomach.

"Please," she uttered softly, willing Doug to save him.

Things looked bleak, but when Carol left the room, Doug asked Kerry not to give up yet. "It's important to Carol," he'd explained. Carol walked back in and realized after a time that the effort was futile. They worked, though, until Carol placed her hand upon Doug's, stopping his efforts, sending a spark to his own heart. She was taking charge one last time, giving them permission to stop. Calling the time of death on her own.

Doug limped down the hallway, emotionally drained. He had some notes to finish, things to wrap up. He took a break from walking and leaned on the water fountain. He saw her out of the corner of his eye, her face was gray, the color of her sweater. Looking at it, he saw the bloodstains for the first time. He moved out of her way so she could drink.

"Are you all right?" he asked, afraid of what she might tell him. It was during a time like this that he hated the physical distance they maintained. He wanted to feel her close to him, hold her face, look into her eyes to see what was left over from her ordeal today.

Carol smiled. "Well, it's been a busy day, but...."

"Hey, are you all right?"

She sought to reassure him. And herself. "Yeah, I'm fine." They stared at each other for a moment.

How could he tell her he'd been terrified today? "When we first heard that you were in there, the police didn't tell us anything, we didn't know what was going on...." He smiled briefly. "Are you sure you're okay?"

She nodded, smiling.

"Okay," he replied quietly, returning her smile. He turned to walk away, looking back once more.

"Um, Doug?"

Doug faced her.

"I'm really sorry about what happened in there. I didn't mean to --"

Doug waved her off. "I don't care about in there, doesn't matter. I'm just glad you're okay."

Carol smiled again as he went off down the hall, recognizing his thinly-masked concern.

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I pulled my coat around my shoulders
And took a walk down through the park
The leaves were falling all around me
The groaning city in the gathering dark
On some solitary rock
A desperate lover left his mark,
"Baby, I've changed. Please come back."

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She was somewhere, he knew she was. He could sense that she was hidden and if he worked hard enough, if he searched long enough, he would find her somehow. But he couldn't find her. He looked everywhere in that store, behind the counter, in the cooler, but the lights were out, and he was crashing into everything, tearing the place apart, screaming her name. Finally, she appeared, and blood was everywhere, on the floor, on her sweater, on her blue gloves. She didn't resist as he pulled one glove off, then the other, as he eased the sweater off of her, throwing it in the trash, not wanting to see it on her again. Removing the vestiges of yet another man. She didn't resist as he fell to his knees and hugged her legs, his hands working their way up her thighs, nor did she fight him as he stood up and took her in his arms. I'm here, Carol, he said, though she remained strangely indifferent.

They were in her bedroom, then, on opposite sides of her bed. He walked to her, extending his arms, waiting for her to embrace him, but she looked past him, never acknowledging him, acting as if he didn't exist. He held her body to his, and kissed her neck, waiting to hear her moan, though she remained silent. Reaching around, removing her bra, he assured her that she was safe now, with him. Staring at her, he took his shirt off to feel her naked skin next to his. You're with me now, Carol. Leave everything else behind. Bending his head, he kissed her breasts, sought her nipples, waited for her to arch into him, to press her sensitive flesh to his lips. He waited for her hands to cradle his head, to pull him closer, but she did none of this. His kisses, his gentle touch, nothing moved her. She was impassive. He laid her back on her bed and as he removed the rest of her clothes, she stared at the ceiling. Unzipping his jeans, stroking her thighs, climbing on top of her, spreading her legs, he asked if he could please make love to her, just this once, and then, when she looked at him, she called him "Duncan."

The throbbing woke him. His ankle was aching and he had a hard time shifting in bed due to the pain. Reaching for his cane, he realized it had fallen and leaned over the side of the bed to get it. Doug pulled himself up and into the bathroom for some medicine. He'd been dreaming. He could tell. About her again. The dreams were always different, but the end result was the same as she did something to turn him away.

Even in his dreams, he couldn't make love to her anymore.

*****

Carol could see through the window of Doc Magoo's. He was sitting by himself at the counter reading the Tribune. She walked in and laid a hand on his back. "Can I join you?" she asked.

"I thought you didn't want to come," he said, turning around in surprise.

"I changed my mind," she stated simply.

"Do you wanna get a booth?"

"Okay," she agreed.

They moved over to a booth and then remained silent for a few minutes, neither really knowing what to say. She spoke, finally, squeezing his hand, then quickly letting go.

"Are you all right?"

"Me? I'm fine. I was worried about you."

"No, Doug, I'm okay, really."

"Okay. I'll stop worrying, then." He smiled and was going to say something else, but he was interrupted by the waitress.

"Hey, Dr. Ross, what'll it be?"

"Uh, Carol, what do you want?"

"Cheeseburger, fries, Coke."

"I'll have the same, thanks."

"Sure thing, I'll bring your drinks right away." She walked off and they were left looking out the window. They were silent again. Awkward, together, with no one else from the hospital around to act as a buffer for them.

The waitress came back and handed their drinks to them. Doug waited until she left and then asked, "So...were you scared?"

Carol looked up slowly. "Yeah. I was. I was really scared."

"We all were, too, until we heard," he agreed. He took a sip and played with the moisture on the outside of the glass, avoiding her eyes. "Did he...they...hurt you?" It was almost a whisper.

"No, Doug. No. They didn't. They hurt lots of other people in the store, though."

"Hmm." Doug pondered this, wondering whether to ask what was really on his mind. "That guy -- Duncan. You seemed to...care about him, somehow."

Carol smiled and took a sip. "In a way, yeah. He did something awful, something that went so out of control. It was as if he started out wanting beauty in his life, but something happened and he gave up any hope of finding it." Glancing up, shaking her head, she said, "That doesn't make sense, does it? I don't really know how to explain it, Doug."

Doug nodded. "I'm sorry he didn't make it."

"Yeah, me too." Carol paused and then tilted her head and grinned. "Doug...you know, I've missed you."

Doug looked back at her, hopefully. Cautiously. "What do you mean?"

"I've missed this. Your friendship. It's nice, having you to talk to again." Her smile was warm.

He nodded, knowingly. "Yeah. I...I'm glad to have you to...talk to again, too." With that, he smiled and raised his glass to toast their friendship as he tucked his hopes back into his heart.

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What the head makes cloudy
The heart makes very clear
The days were so much brighter
In the time when she was here
But I know there's somebody somewhere
Make these dark clouds disappear
Until that day, I have to believe,
I believe
I believe

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The end