Title: Loose Ends
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Date in Calendar: 25 December 2005
Summary: "You don't know what to do with your hands again, whether you should touch her or just unlock the car door--but she knows, she knows what she wants, she pulls you close and your hands hook into her belt loops for balance, just like that."
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It's a four-hour drive to Iowa City.
You drive it alone--you got Luka to cover your shift, and you borrowed Neela's car. You follow the directions Susan gave you, handwritten illegible on the back of a phone bill.
She called you yesterday. You were fresh off a shift, and you were supposed to be at Luka's, but you stopped home to check your mail and the answering machine instead--it was bills, telemarketers, and a message from Susan. Hey, Abby, it's me. I know it's short notice, but I've got this holiday party thing happening on Sunday, nothing big. You should come. You can see the new house. Call me back.
It was 6:49 p.m. You found her number on the caller ID, and you called her back.
It's a week before Christmas. "Feliz Navidad," of all things, is playing when Chuck answers the door. "Hey," he says, bear-hugging you into the house. "Didn't you save my life once?" He takes your coat and points you toward the kitchen.
You leave your bottle of sparkling cider on the kitchen table, next to the beer and champagne.
Susan is in the living room, dancing away from you with Cosmo in her arms.
She didn't tell you she was leaving County. You had to hear it from Weaver--tenure, Iowa City, and Susan was already gone.
That night, after your shift, you went into the lounge and figured out her locker combination--just the numbers of her birthday, she was always so trusting. Her locker was empty, except for left-handed scissors and an old nametag. Susan was already gone.
The house is crowded. She is surrounded by people, people who laugh with her and want to hold the baby. She lets someone take Cosmo, and Cosmo smiles her smile.
That should be you. That should be you holding the baby--you bought her hamburgers and plain yogurt when she was pregnant, and held back her hair after every lunch.
She finds you in the kitchen, and she smiles. "You're here," she says.
"I'm here." You don't know what to do with your hands. "I said I would be."
"I know," she says. "But I thought you might--"
"No." You clasp your hands behind your back.
She looks down at the sink. She's not as blonde as she used to be. She's like the old snapshots that hung in the old lounge--dark lipstick, and almost brunette.
You ask, "Why did you call?"
"I thought you should be here," she says. She looks up at you, and her eyes are as green as ever. "I thought you might want to see the new house."
"I definitely do," you say, unclasping your hands. "I definitely want to see the new house."
She didn't tell you she was leaving, but then again, you didn't tell her anything before she left.
You stopped talking to her after those kids took you from the ambulance bay--didn't tell her you were sorry for what you said, didn't tell her it wasn't her fault.
She asked if you were okay, once, and you blew her off. You never thanked her for worrying.
People are coming and going. She introduces you, her hand against your back: "This is Abby Lockhart, from County General in Chicago."
And their eyes light up, again and again--you're a doctor, you're part of the club. They are cardiologists, surgeons, med students and residents at the University of Iowa Emergency Treatment Center. They want to know your specialty, and what you've published.
"Abby's an ER doc," Susan answers for you, her arm around your shoulder. "I taught her everything she knows."
"Poor thing," says a surgeon, with a laugh. They all laugh.
They do Secret Santa in the living room, and you stand back with Chuck and the other spouses, none of you involved. Cosmo is sleeping in Chuck's arms, and you stroke his baby cheek, wondering if he remembers you--you visited him in the nursery, and held him while Susan slept. He wrinkles his nose. Someone gives Susan a pair of handcuffs, part of an inside joke, and they all laugh again.
She's made friends. You knew she would. You never thought she would be lonely.
She didn't push you away when you kissed her, in the call room after a double shift.
You never talked about it, but when you went back to med school, you noticed how she never gave you praise.
You leave early--you have no reason to stay, not for gifts and cocktails--and she walks you out to your car, down the block.
"I'm glad you came," she says.
"The house looks really good," you say.
You don't know what to do with your hands again, whether you should touch her or just unlock the car door--but she knows, she knows what she wants, she pulls you close and your hands hook into her belt loops for balance, just like that. You haven't forgotten what it's like to kiss her, the way she tilts her head.
The backseat of Neela's car is cramped, and Susan barely has room to be beneath you, one of her legs between your own. It's like the sex you never had in the call room, the goodbye you never gave her. You help her pull her shirt off, and bend down to kiss her shoulder, her collarbone, anything she'll let you taste. She's lost the baby weight and then some. You miss the way she used to be.
You don't have a lot of time. You fuck her with your fingers, the way you hope she likes. She's quiet, all breath and whispers, but her body tells you all you need to know--her fingers tight around your free hand, her thighs squeezing together when she comes. She stares up at the ceiling, just breathing as you study her face. "Good job," she tells you, with that little smile.
And now it's your turn. She's slower than you--she watches you with eyes half-closed as her fingers slide lazy circles around your clit, something you forgot to do for her. You are louder than the softness of it, you are empty and you beg her to get inside you--and she does, slowly, you forgot how good she is at details. You let yourself lay against her, your face pressed to her shoulder. You are not usually this soft, and you love how she can change you.
She gives you a minute when it's over, tangling a hand in your hair. You close your eyes, kiss across her breasts, and sit up. "It's late, Abby," she says as you pull back your hair. "You should stay the night." You shake your head, but you let her play with the end of your makeshift ponytail, let her keep you there a little longer.
She pulls on her shirt and opens the door. You whisper her name, make her look at you one last time. "Thanks," you say, letting go of her hand as she leaves.
You sit in the driver's seat, curling your hair around your finger. Down the block, they're leaving Susan's house, the cardiologists and the surgeons and the students who've never kissed her.
She and Chuck are standing in the doorway, holding hands. She loves him, and you have Luka.
It's late, and you should go. It's a four-hour drive back, a little time to be alone.