He'd left the hospital before she had a chance to talk to him again and when she looked for Mark, he was gone as well. She walked past the Pedes ER, past the admit desk in a daze, wondering how her life could have changed so drastically in a matter of days.
Carol arrived home to an empty house, not really remembering how she'd gotten there. She wondered where he was. The answering machine held no messages. The house was cold. When was the last time they'd even been home?
She hung up her coat and collapsed into bed, tired, exhausted, afraid. There she spent most of the morning alternately brooding and crying, finally falling into a fitful sleep, awakening when she heard him come through the door. Holding her breath, waiting for him, she was so sure he'd walk into the bedroom to see her. But she listened to him climb the stairs and her heart was crushed as she realized he wasn't coming to bed. Falling back to her pillow, she listened carefully to the sound of running water. He was in the upstairs shower.
Oh, man, she thought. No doubt he was avoiding her. He hated using that shower. They'd talked a few months ago about redoing the bathrooms, and he wanted to tear out the stall shower that was in the upstairs bathroom and replace it with a redwood-lined one, similar to the one they used in that cottage last spring in Michigan. Doug felt that a bigger shower would be "fun for a change." Carol argued that it was a waste of money to redo the upstairs bathroom because they never used it. She had won out in the end, and now she thought of him upstairs, uncomfortable, his elbows smacking into the shower walls.
The shower stopped and she waited to hear descending footsteps. None. He'd probably sleep upstairs now, she concluded. That would be a first. They'd not slept apart any of the nights, or days, they were both home. Moving to get up, she groaned. Her whole body just ached. She felt like hell.
As she made her way through the living room, she saw an envelope stuffed with pictures which had been tossed aside on the sofa. She pulled one out. It was a picture of a little boy, maybe a year old. She didn't know anything about this patient, had no recollection of him. Turning it over, she read what someone, probably the mother, had written:
"Dear Dr. Ross -- How can we thank you enough for saving our little boy? You are a wonderful pediatrician and we thank God you were here the day we brought Jimmy to the hospital. We are forever indebted to you. With much admiration and heartfelt gratitude, Janice Petrillo."
Carol turned the picture over again. The boy was chin deep in birthday cake, crowing. Her hand dipped into the envelope again and again, bringing out pictures, letters, cards that one after the other revealed the care, the relief and the joy he'd given parents and children over the years.
Why had he kept all these things?
And what the hell had happened?
Carol walked back into the bedroom and cocooned within the white sheets and the big down comforter. He'd come down eventually, she thought. He always came around eventually. Sleep captured her again and by the time she awoke, he was gone.
Her world had been destroyed in a period of days, yet it felt like months had gone by. Had it just been a few days ago when she and Doug had argued upstairs, when he'd said things she'd never dreamed would come from his mouth, when they screamed words in voices which hadn't been used in what seemed like forever? Now alone, the quiet house echoed with his angry words.
Doug had come home that evening, a few nights ago, and made a roaring fire which became his backdrop for telling her about the unauthorized medicine, about Ricky Abbott and his pain, about Mark's anger and frustration. Carol had tried to understand his point of view, but honestly couldn't believe he didn't see his mistake, see how much he'd put at risk. Doug listened to her and just when she was hoping to discuss it further, he walked away, up the stairs, ignoring her.
Carol had followed him, not willing to let him stew angrily apart from her. He was in the finished bedroom, staring at the walls.
"Doug, don't walk away from me, I want to talk about this."
"If I wanted to talk to you right now, I'd still be downstairs."
She held out her hand. "Don't do this."
He looked at her, exasperated. "What do you want me to say? That I'm glad you think I screwed up?"
She raised her voice. "No, that's not what I'm saying, Doug. I just think you need to be more aware of how your actions affect other people."
He nodded curtly. "Thank you for the psychology lesson, Carol."
"Doug, c'mon," she replied impatiently.
He turned to her. "Haven't you ever done something against the rules to help a patient?"
Her voice now took on a cold quality that she knew he hated, but she didn't care. "Well, obviously, I was there with you and Josh McNeal."
"Something else, on your own."
Carol stopped in her tracks. That evening, the marijuana. For some reason, she couldn't bring herself to reveal it. "Doug...that's not the point."
Doug's tone turned sharp. "No, that's never the point. The point is there was medication within our hospital that could relieve the suffering of a child who is dying. To help his mother do something to help him when there is nothing she can do but sit and listen to him moan -- when-when he is wracked with pain and can't tell her how bad it is. The *point is* that no one was willing to help this woman and her dying kid, and no one wanted to help me help them. The *point is* that Mark chose to talk to Kerry instead of coming to me because politically, he's a fucking coward who can't be honest with me for a fucking minute. That's the fucking point."
Carol became angry then. "Don't talk to me like that, Doug."
He backed off then, turning away from her. "Well, I told you I didn't want to talk."
"Okay. Suit yourself." She threw up her hands and walked back downstairs. A bath, she thought, would soothe her. A retreat to the tub would help calm her, help her sleep. The tub was her refuge, her unwinding place.
It was someplace away from him and his harshness.
As she soaked, she thought about what he had done. Didn't he realize he'd broken the rules? Would he never realize? She shook her head, wondering how he'd ever gotten as far as he had in life with his cavalier attitude.
Carol remained submerged for quite a while and then glanced at the clock on the shelf above the towels. It was getting late, she needed to get to bed. She pulled the plug on the old tub and stepped out, grabbing a bath sheet from the hook behind the door. She dried herself and wrapped the towel around her body as she brushed her hair, removing a day's worth of tangles.
She spied his Valentine's Day present and sighed. He'd bought a box of dusting powder in her favorite scent: Obsession. She tore the plastic wrapper, and removed the rust-colored plastic case from the cardboard box. Opening the lid, she pressed her nail into the paper, ripping it. The scent came to her immediately. She pressed the puff into the powder, then lifted it up, gently shaking it to remove the excess.
As she was about to bring it to her shoulder, she looked up in the mirror and he was there, in the doorway behind her. She stared at him, unmoving, and he walked to her, standing only inches behind her, still watching her reflection. Her heart fluttered having him stand this close even after all the years they'd been together. Neither of them moved until he reached around and tugged on her towel causing it to fall away, exposing her.
Doug took the puff from her hand. Carol took a deep breath as she saw him staring at her naked form in the mirror. With his left hand he delicately lifted her hair off her shoulders.
She stood, transfixed. Was it less than an hour ago that he was furious? He'd always known how to get to her, how to arouse her until she couldn't think straight, but tonight something within her held back. She couldn't help it; she couldn't switch gears this quickly. As much as her body ached for him, in her heart, she felt unable to give herself to him after the words they'd spoken upstairs.
He stopped, pulled away and looked at her. He was stunned. "Carol?"
"No. I-I can't."
Of all the hurtful things that had transpired between them that evening, she knew this refusal would slash his heart, though she hadn't intended it to.
"If you say no, then I won't." His voice cracked. "Don't say no to me tonight." He kissed her neck softly. "Please, Carol. Don't." He held the puff suspended over her. "You're lovely." He lowered it to her skin and swept it across her shoulders, down one arm then up and over again to the other. "This smells beautiful on you. That's why I bought it." He dipped it into the powder again, then brushed it against her, swirling it, teasing the sensitized skin above her bottom, making her close her eyes, arousing her. She fell back to him, resting her head on his shoulder and he brought the puff around front to her stomach while his free hand rested on her hip, holding her to him.
She nodded despite herself.
He continued, kissing her neck, pulling her closer, barely touching her skin with the powder puff as he teased her stomach, her hips, her neck, and finally her breasts with it. He then turned her around, tossed the puff aside, and took her in his arms. He held her hair within his hands and brought her face to him, kissing her deeply. Carol collapsed into his embrace as he slowly guided her toward the bed, laying her down, kissing her once more before he stood up and removed his shirt.
As Doug undressed she watched him, her breath coming rapidly. He came back down to the bed and lay next to her, his eyes sought hers as his hands drew her close. Doug was desperate to win her over.
"I'm sorry. I love you. Carol?"
He would not let go; he kissed her face, her hair, her shoulders, and then softly, her breasts, quietly imploring her to forgive him. She basked in his attention as he began making love to her with his hands, with his mouth. His fingertips traced her curves, from the slender turn of her jaw, down her neck to the outer swell of her breast. Carol was on fire, the pounding between her legs causing her to moan as he brought his hand down to meet it, to soothe it. She wriggled under his touch and as he stroked her, he gently parted her mouth with his, kissing her softly.
So greedy now, she returned his tenderness with her own tempestuous assault as her body demanded more from him. She rolled on top of him, and then it was her hands holding him, her lips branding his skin, making him moan, wanting more. She leaned over him and dragged her nipples across his chest as her hands moved downward to the hardness he had pressed against her thigh. Carol straddled his leg, needing contact, and he moved it up, putting pressure where she wanted it, feeling her wetness against his thigh, making him impatient for her. She rocked against him, trying to relieve the tension, and he took her hips in his hands and nudged her body until it was over his, spreading her legs widely. Doug stroked her again, and she moaned in response to his movement, her body heaved under his touch.
Doug watched as her face took on a hedonistic look. "Do you wanna come first? What do you want? I'll do anything you want."
Carol didn't want to wait. "Now."
"Here you go, sweetheart," he whispered, and his fingers continued their gently spin while his free hand pulled at her nipples, one after the other, teasing her as she begged him not to stop any of it. Her voice was hoarse with passion and she finally pleaded with him to move faster, harder, and then she quivered against his hand, arching away from him, throwing her head wildly back and she surrendered to her climax, moaning loudly, wringing every bit of pleasure she could from his hands.
"Can we make love tonight, Carol? Can I have you?"
Carol opened her arms to him and leaned down to embrace him and as Doug kissed her again, he rolled her over, covering her with his body until she could feel him pushing against her wet opening, and she softly whimpered in reaction to him, always sweetly overwhelmed by his hungry passion.
She felt him enter her and her arms drew him closer. "Tell me how it feels," he whispered, and she could tell that he was delighted by her response as he pushed ever deeper, seeking to please her.
"Like I want you forever. Like I can't ever get enough of you," she answered sweetly and closed her eyes while he took control of her again.
Her body was electrified by him; every movement, every thrust of his hips sent shivers through her. She wrapped her legs around his waist and melted into him, gratified by the feel of his breath against her skin, by the words that began to pour out of him.
She drew his head to hers and softly said, "I want to feel you come, Doug." Almost immediately, she felt him tense within her embrace and he drove deeply into her until he came, his then-raspy voice declaring his love for her, the joy of being her lover.
They were tangled together for a while until he rolled onto his side, taking her with him.
Carol smiled and stroked his brow, then ran her hands over his hair. "Are you still angry?"
"I'm not angry at you, I should never have taken it out on you. I'm sorry I lost it. I'm angry at Mark and Kerry. C'mere."
Carol nodded quietly then, not wanting to resurrect the argument. Finally, she cuddled against him and fell asleep.
When she woke up, he was gone. And then that evening, and into the next day, the nightmare of Ricky and Joi lasted through every waking hour.
So, here she was after what felt like the longest few days of her life, in an empty house, trying to deal with the aftermath of his actions alone, not knowing where he was at, just knowing he'd come home and gone out. Time to distract herself, she thought, with mundane things. The plants needed watering, she thought absent-mindedly. Did he pay the gas bill like he'd promised to? The rest of the day was spent walking around aimlessly thinking. Worrying about him.
Carol picked up the phone and dialed Mark's number. He answered after the third ring.
"Hey, Mark? It's Carol."
"Carol, hi, what's up?"
"I was...looking for Doug, Is he there with you?"
"No, I haven't seen him since early this morning. Has he been home at all?"
"Yeah, he came home around 9:30, 10, but he went out again sometime after lunch. I was just hoping he was...with you," she explained.
"No. If-if he calls or anything, I'll let you know, okay?" Mark reassured her.
"Sure," she answered.
"Hey, how are you...are you okay?"
"Sure. Sure, Mark, I'm fine. I'll talk to you later."
She hung up. Where was he? She had a panicked thought that he'd already left and walked to the upstairs bedroom where he kept his suit carrier. It was still hanging up in the back of the closet. Carol took a deep breath and realized that she was over-reacting; wherever he was, he'd not be gone long.
She halfheartedly ate a sandwich for dinner and poured herself a cold glass of milk to wash it down. It was 7:30 in the evening. Carol wanted desperately to talk to someone, to hash things out and vent her emotions, but in reality, didn't have anyone to call. She couldn't discuss this with Doug, even if he were home, nor Mark; none of her friends would understand what she'd been through over the past few days. There was no one to talk to, yet she was desperate to bare her soul. With Doug gone, off somewhere, she felt more alone than ever.
For a moment, Carol had considered calling her mother. Helen and Doug had hammered out a truce of sorts and perhaps her mother would help to ease the hurt, validate that Carol had made the right decision. Her hand reached for the phone but stopped in mid-air. No. Helen would not understand, she would be furious that Doug had put an end to her job at the clinic, that he would leave her, and hurt her, once more. No. Not her mother.
She was exhausted. Wearily, she trudged back to her bedroom where she washed her face, brushed her teeth and climbed back into the unmade bed. She wanted to sleep, but her mind was spinning, so she picked up her novel, switched off the lamp and clicked on the small reading light she'd gotten at Barnes and Noble just a few months ago. She smiled. It was at Doug's insistence. He always complained that her light kept him up, and when she promised "Just one more page," he'd shake his head, knowing she would read late into the night. She'd bought the light so she wouldn't disturb his sleep.
After 15 minutes she decided it was hopeless. She was reading the same page over and over, her mind not allowing her to concentrate. Then, she remembered: Her journal. The pages she'd used to write about things she couldn't share with anyone. Wow, she thought, when was the last time she'd written in it? Must have been almost two years ago.
Carol pulled the covers back and went up the steps into the now-shrinking attic. When they had roughed-out the extra bedroom upstairs, they sacrificed attic space and they'd moved almost everything down into the basement. Everything but her chest. She opened it and there it lay, as faithful as ever. She picked it up once again and walked down the stairs to find a pen.
Carol began writing. Some of the words were sharp and biting, others sad. Most of them filled with anguish and fear.
She was so engrossed that she didn't hear the front door open and was startled when he walked through bedroom door. She closed the notebook and put it on top of her night table, turning her attention back to him. He didn't look at her, however, but tossed his wallet and keys on her dresser and undressed. Carol held her breath as he laid next to her. She heard him sigh, then he turned to her.
His eyes searched hers and he extended his hand, touching her hair.
Holding her arms out for him, she remembered with some trepidation the last time they'd made love after incredible turmoil: In Michigan last May. She wondered briefly if he'd act the same, if his hurt would flood their love-making. But here he was, holding her so gently that she was overwhelmed by his love and began crying, talking incoherently, and it was her pain, her fury and rage and, in the end, her fright which needed to be tamed. He held her and rocked her, saying, "Shh, Carol. No more. No more." And then, finally, they both fell silent, shrinking back within themselves, pretending nothing had happened at all while they made love.
He'd fallen asleep holding her that night, but the next morning she awoke again to an empty bed. Carol used the bathroom, then pulled on some sweatpants and a sweatshirt. She padded out of the bedroom and heard him on the telephone. He glanced up, seeing her approach him, then turned his attention to the phone again. She walked over to pour herself a cup of coffee.
"You want me to top you off?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said, smiling. "I'm on hold, hang on."
She refilled his cup, handed it over and sat across from him.
He snapped to attention as the voice on the other line spoke again. "Yeah, still here. Okay. Fine. I'll pick them up. Thanks. Bye."
He hung up the phone and sipped from his cup.
"Good morning," he said. "You're up early."
"Yeah. How are you today?"
"I'm tired," he smiled. "You?"
"Okay. Who did you call?"
He leaned back in his chair. "The airline. Seattle." It was a whisper.
"Oh." She looked into her cup, seeking something in the murky liquid that she couldn't find in his face. What was it, she wondered? "Going soon?"
"Yeah. They made the reservation, arranged for tickets. I'm leaving this afternoon."
"Oh." Carol looked up at him. "I'll be...at work. I...can't take you to the airport."
"That's okay. A limo's coming."
"Um hmm." She swallowed hard. "Are you...coming back?"
"Well, one way or the other I'll need to get...stuff. Take care of the car...."
She nodded, waiting for more, but he was quiet then. "Your Rolodex was open yesterday. You went out after your nap. Where'd you go?"
"I had something to do."
She sensed his unwillingness to reveal this to her and felt slighted. Was he once again compelled to keep the truth from her?
"I went to...talk to someone."
"Mark?" she asked, already knowing Doug hadn't been there.
"Oh. Who?" Her heart was pounding, growing in her throat, the old panic threatened to drown her. "Doug...I don't know why you're being so secretive, but right now, I just need you to be honest. Because...I'm just...a little mixed up right now." She could not look at his face.
"Carol...." He shook his head. "I was...I didn't really want to say." He cleared his throat and looked up at her. "I went to Mary Kolowski's office. I needed someone to talk to."
"You saw Mary?" she asked quietly.
"Yeah. Where did you think I'd be? Where did you think I was?"
"I don't know what to think anymore. Why'd you go there?"
He ducked his head. "I needed to talk."
"And you couldn't talk to me?"
Doug sighed. "I just...I had a lot of things to sort out and I thought it would be best to see her."
"What did she say?"
Doug shrugged his shoulders, not willing to disclose the content of their conversation. "She didn't say much. I talked, mostly."
Carol nodded, heart pounding. "Doug -- do you really have to go?"
"Carol...you know how it is. The medical community is big here, but in a way it's small, close-knit. Word travels, I'll never get a job in any other E.R. in Chicago."
"You could go into private practice," she suggested.
"I thought about it." He was quiet and looked out the window. "I'd hate it."
"I know," she said softly, nodding her agreement.
"I don't have a choice. I have to do this. And I want you to come with me." He reached out to her. "Why can't you come with me?"
Carol looked, but did not take his hand. "I don't know. All I know is I'm terrified thinking of being without you." She started crying again. Doug stood up quickly and went to her, gathered her up into his arms and held her tightly.
He murmured into her hair. "Carol, come with me. Please. I'll make you happy, I know we'll be happy out there."
"I can't. You don't know much about the job, you don't even know if you'll like living out there...Doug, you know, you lied to me, you've destroyed everything. This is where I belong."
Doug bowed his head to hers. "I need you with me, Carol. I don't want to be there by myself. You belong with me."
Carol tried to compose herself. She pulled away and looked at him. "What are we going to do?"
He shook his head. "I dunno."
Thinking a minute, she dried her tears and tried to be pragmatic. "We don't have to make any decisions now, we can just...just give it some time, you know, just kind of a trial...see how you're doing out there...just be...." She shook her head, removing herself from his arms.
Her words, her intent hit him at once. "A trial *what*? Do you mean that you...we...?" He could not finish.
Not wanting to be the one to define the parameters, Carol remained quiet.
"Carol?" He bent down to gain her attention. "Will we...can I...come see you sometimes, on weekends? Call you?" No answer. "Carol?"
Still unable to look at him, she folded her arms, moving away. "Doug, can we just give it time?"
He was so confused, not wanting to give up the tenuous thread that held them together. "What do you mean?"
Now, finally, her eyes met his. "I mean see how it is, you know...apart?"
He exhaled as though all life had left his body and then backed away from her, staring at her.
She spoke quickly. "We don't have to make any decisions now, Doug."
Now it was his eyes that were evasive. "Sure. No. I guess we don't. You, um, you...let me know.... I'm gonna pack."
There was no more he could say and he retreated before heading upstairs. And Carol was so sad, knowing how much it hurt him because that same hurt was within her own heart.
He brought his suit carrier back downstairs and disappeared into the bedroom. Carol walked in behind him to get ready for work. She felt him watching her as she took the sweats off, as she walked to the bathroom to shower. She was almost hoping he'd follow her, but he didn't.
When she emerged from the shower, she saw his toilet kit, toothbrush, and razor lined up on the countertop. By the time she'd put on her make-up, he'd filled the suit carrier and two large suitcases with clothes and the closet was picked through. Carol walked past him and got dressed in her scrubs, then braided her hair.
She was ready and turned to him.
"I'm going to be late," she said, walking until she was very close to him.
He looked down at her and stroked her cheek. "You gonna be okay?"
Carol laid her head on his shoulder, burrowing there. "Are you?"
He put his arms around her, sinking slightly into her. "No."
"Carol...." he began, but she interrupted.
"Have a good flight." Then she pulled his head to hers and kissed him for what seemed like forever, her hands caressing the back of his neck while she felt the strength of his arms around her.
"I love you, Doug," she whispered.
"I love you, too." He held her. He wouldn't let go of her.
"I need to go to work."
"I love you, Carol," he said, his voice thick with emotion.
"I know." With that, she tore herself away from him right before the tears began streaming down her cheeks, and she walked briskly out of the room, feeling his eyes on her back.
It was uncharacteristically quiet at work that day. Only Lily and Lydia pulled her aside to talk, and she did so only briefly, blinking back tears. Carol didn't want to discuss Doug with anyone and was glad Weaver and Mark were in meetings all day. She went through the motions, avoiding the darkened room of the Pediatric ER where Doug's dream had reached fruition and then had spoiled all in the space of less than one year.
Her shift was over in a flash and she mechanically made her way through the lounge, out the door and to the El train. It started on the ride home; it grew at the front porch; by the time she opened the door and walked in, the emptiness and loneliness hit her with a force greater than she'd ever imagined. The house was quiet. It seemed barren. Her footsteps almost seemed to echo in the hallway.
When Carol walked into the bedroom she saw he'd made their bed for probably the first time in his life. Everything that she'd left out remained, though: Her sweats were in a ball by the bathroom door, her hairbrush and perfume were on the dresser.
Even her journal was on the night stand where she left it. She sat on the bed and then curled up to her pillow. Her hand reached for the notebook and she opened it to the last few pages and read.
"Of all the things I thought I'd be prepared for, I know I could never have prepared myself for this. But, if I look back, maybe I had in some way been expecting this day my whole life. Until recently I had always been afraid I would give my heart to someone, but I would end up alone. Before, I always held something back, something in reserve, a part of me I could retreat to, a place to escape hurt and betrayal. Was I a fool for giving it all away to him?
"Yes, because now the hurt is worse than anything I could have imagined. No, because he loved me so completely, so totally.
"Oh, God. Doug is leaving. He says he has to go and part of me can't forgive that. How can he leave me now, leave me alone? He has made me as happy as I've ever been in my life and I gave myself to him more than I ever had with any person. Ever. Now, he's leaving and he's taking my whole heart with him. He promised he'd never leave and now he is. When he asked me to come with him, I was frozen, so unsure. How can I go when he's so self-destructive, when everything is up in the air?
"He knows me better than anyone ever has and he says he loves me better than anyone could. But, I don't know if I feel that right now. If he loves me, how can he leave me? Why can't he stay? And why did he lie to me? Why did he lie to Mark, to his best friend? Doesn't he see how destructive his actions were? Can't he see how he's given me more love and more happiness than I have ever had in my life, and now he is taking that away with him, leaving me with nothing?
"I don't understand why he has to go, I'll never understand it. It feels like he's running away. And yet, if he really feels he has to leave, how can I hold him back? What if it's the right thing for him, even if we have to sacrifice "us"?
"There are so many feelings to sort out. I have so many regrets. I will be incredibly lonely without him. When I think about what I am about to lose, having him be a part of my life, it's unbearable. And, perhaps my greatest loss will be what I never got to have: The baby I fell in love with in my mind. I had it all planned out: Big brown eyes, large as saucers with eyelashes as long as you could imagine. I remember the nights Doug would lightly lay his hand on me and rub my stomach so softly and tell me to get ready, that wonderful things were going to happen. He'd promise that we would fulfill our dream. I've lost that, too, any chance of being mother to his baby. It will sadden me forever.
"Oh, God. I love him. I love him. I am so afraid of losing him."
Then, as she turned the page, approaching the end of her writing, she saw it; his familiar, distinctive hand, written boldly, confidently at the bottom.
"My sweet Carol -- Know that I have always loved you. And I will never stop loving you. I will love you forever."
And then, in one wrenching outburst, she collapsed over herself, sobbing into her hands, crying out for him, calling his name.