Of Past Regret And Present Doubt by Adeline (gossy16 )
Rating: PG (language).
Spoilers: Well... I don't think Susan returning is much of a spoiler
anymore, so, nope.
Song: "Draw Down The Stars" written and performed by Tom McRae.
Feedback: I'm craaaving for it... please! Here or via e-mail. Yes, that was me begging.
Disclaimer: The story is mine and that's pretty much all I own. 'Kay?
Notes: I know, lame title. But like I said a couple times before, I suck at titles. Get over it g. Also, I know there have been, and will be, a lot of stories on this topic, but just to make things clear right off the bat, I haven't read any similar to mine thus far. If I stole your idea, well... sowwy. ;] Again, this is a first-person narrative, from Susan's POV this time around. Last but not least, I cannot stress enough that this is, and will remain, a one-part story.
"Of Past Regret And Present Doubt" by Adeline (gossy16 )
I walk into this oh-so-familiar diner. Doc Magoo's, good old Magoo's. And the same old smells come flowing over me, and I wallow in them willfully. Some old faces have disappeared, and many new faces have otherwise appeared, but over those five years, almost, the smells of brewing coffee, warm salt, and burgers of all kinds have not changed one bit. I sit in a booth by the window as I am reminded of all the times I was sat in this very same spot. He is late. I am home.
He finally enters carrying something I can't quite make out. I flash him a heartfelt smile, and he smiles back, waving at me with his free hand. I am so happy to see him. Still the same old Mark Greene, I can tell. Have I ever been happier?
As he walks closer, I see it's a small white bundle he is carefully hugging close to his chest. Could be a... No, it can't. Yet my eyes are stuck to it like I had seen no such thing before. Because I haven't.
He notices this and chuckles lightly. "This is Ella, my daughter. Ella, this is Susan." Such are the first words he says. I wish I could respond to this, say something nice. But I am nothing short of awestruck, and as I look up from the little one for the first time, he sees the twirling chaos in my eyes. All this in a second. From his mild, bittersweet smile I can tell he is nervous. But he keeps on. "Elizabeth had to finish up a coloctomy, so I picked up the baby from Day Care." That's his way of telling me who his wife is and what she does. Two birds with one stone. Or two stabs with one sentence.
Her name doesn't sound familiar at all. But it is my fault, I should have kept touch.
"You sure didn't waste time!" I pretend to take things easy, for some strange reason I can't pinpoint.
He doesn't seem to take my remark in the joking tone I thought I intended it, but he attempts to cover it in a tone just below the one I just used as he counters. "Nor did I make any rash decisions."
And take that, Susan. You deserve it. A tense silence ensues, and for a moment, the only God-damned words that come to mind are 'Excellent fucking repartee.' But I quickly come to my senses, I know that he is referring to my departure. And I reckon that he is being unfair, but then again I was
also. I couldn't just suppose he would wait forever on the odd chance that I might be back to Chicago ever.
I shouldn't have.
Then he tries to smile again to relax the atmosphere, but his heart is not in it. So instead he takes on this melancholy look to utter the coup-de-grâce. "It's been over four years."
He just killed me, but he is not overly proud of what he has done. Unwillingly, I'm sure. Any lawyer would plead self-defense, and in the place of the judge I'd give them reason.
"I know." I kill him in turn, and I lower my head in shame, recoiling from what I have done.
In leaving I have killed us. And I know any jury would sentence me to a ruthless, loveless and hollow existence. I just know.
Coming back to the city
That I never quite leave,
Picture you by the ocean,
Picture me, coughing into my sleeve...
I was wrong. He has changed, he has changed a lot. Heck, I have changed some too. I guess I was wrong also to think his feelings for me, whatever they were back then, would remain unchanged. He's looking pensive. I can't remember a time I've seen him pensive like that. The times we spent together
we never used to think much. We didn't have to, because it was so easy to just be ourselves around each other and have a good time. But obviously that's changed as well.
As I am sipping my way through the same coffee black I always used to have, Ella starts fussing, and he rapidly soothes her by rocking her softly. How long have we been here? The clock behind the counter says seven minutes and some seconds. My head says forever, too long.
Then he speaks, in the voice I still love in spite of all. "Are you uncomfortable too?"
This takes me by surprise, and I am forced to answer like a 16-year-old would. "Kinda." And I smile a little smile in spite of myself.
"You know," the words start coming out, again to my own surprise. "I'm really glad to see you, Mark. Really." Stop talking, idiot. "And I've been waiting for this." Shut up, moron, and give me back my brain. "But I... To be truthful, I never thought it would be like this." Will you quit it, already? "That you'd be married... with a baby... You know."
He lets all this sink in, now my rant is over. Then he nods slowly, understandingly it seems, and he just says yeah and trails off, before whatever else he was going to say escapes him after all. And after a short hesitation, he earnestly demands to know. "Why did you come back?"
I knew I had it coming, I guess I just forgot. Well, it's okay, I can answer this. "Well," I take in a deep breath. "Time passed, Suzy grew up. *Chloe* grew up. And Joe didn't take up drinking or hitting them." I say with what I believe to be a sly smile to lighten the mood. Mark picks up on it and manages a small sideways grin too. So I continue, feeling more at ease already. "They moved to the suburbs four months ago, and that's when I realized that they just don't need me anymore."
"And you're okay with this?" I think I am, but I'm glad he asks. It shows that at least he still cares a little about me.
"I guess so, yeah. I'm going to miss them, but I can always go visit for the holidays and stuff." My voice isn't so steady and I know my eyes betray uncertainty as I say this. It is still a new notion to me that I won't see them daily anymore, that I won't be such a big part of their lives anymore, that I won't be there at Suzy's next birthday party or that Chloe and I will no longer make fun of Jerry Springer's guests together. I prefer not to dwell on this, as I am not sure of how I feel about it. And I prefer not to be.
But I do know how I feel about being back here. This city is home, I am happy to be here, and I go on to refocus my storytelling - so to speak – on this particular aspect. "I thought," I look up from my hands on the warm coffee cup, to his eyes. "I thought, this is the perfect time for me to start living for myself again, you know?" I get from his pressing nod that he does know.
"I mean, for the last couple years, my main reason for living were people who, as it happens, were doing just fine without my help. And I guess I knew it, but I've always been stubborn," He knows this too. "and I think I just didn't want to accept it. Until they moved, last May, and I was left with no reason to stay there." I shrug my shoulders and offer what I hope to be the last clumsy smile of the night.
"How was Phoenix?" He asks. I grin. He missed me.
"Phoenix was... horrible!"
"That bad, huh?"
"Well it was hot. And then hotter in the Summer. More pollution, too." I explain only half-seriously as I am starting to enjoy our conversation more. "Awful hospitals, unfriendly staffs... And I must have moved a good half-dozen of times, but I just never felt home, you know?" I search his eyes and I find them. And in them, I find the comfort he always kept there for me. Then I finish with more confidence. "I missed *cold* Winters with snow and sleet, I missed Chicago, I missed County, I missed... you, Mark."
There, I said it.
He smiles the first genuine smile of the night at this, and it's relief that I read across his face. "I missed you too, Susan." I let out the long breath I had held in as I stopped talking just moments ago, and he chuckles as I do so. Then he rises to his feet, careful not to disturb the infant's sleep. "C'mon, hug it out!"
I join him wordlessly in the best one-sided hug I was ever given, and I rest my chin on his shoulder, my once favorite to cry on. "Welcome home, Susan" he says warmly, and I feel a tear rolling down my cheek onto the soft fabric of his shirt. Some habits you just never lose, I suppose.
I'm just starting to believe I could stay here forever, in his comforting and supportive embrace, the safest place I know. But he pulls away, and I get back to reality. He is remarried, and he has a baby... It's been over four years.
Like a snake-eating snake, you confuse me
Who's killer, who's captive, who's free?
In a city that kills by constriction
Throw your streets all around me, and squeeze...
"Yeah, um... yeah!" I put a strand of hair back behind my ear and I fiddle with it as I sit back down, distraught by my own states of mind.
"Met anyone out there?"
Huh. This catches me off-guard. Of course I haven't met anyone, I loved him. "Nope. I had a couple boyfriends but it didn't work out."
"Sorry." He interrupts, truly sorry.
"Yeah, I..." Alright, let's not beat about the bush. "I never really got over what you said, before I left."
I look down and away, afraid of how he might respond to this confession.
"But you left anyway."
That's right. I did. He ran all across the city to tell me that he loved me and ask me to stay, and I just left. I kissed him and then I watched his face fall and his heart break as the train pulled away. Told him I loved him, but I didn't hop off the wagon.
"Oh God, Mark, please don't do this." I plead in the self-pitying whiny voice I hate.
"No, no, I want to know." He insists. "I was good enough a reason for you to come back, but not for you to stay? Why?"
"Mark," I start defensively. "I didn't even *know* you had feelings for me... You weren't a factor in my decision, because I didn't know you wanted me to stay. And then it was too late." I explain solemnly. "You should have told me earlier, Mark. I would've listened, I would've considered it." That's true, I would have. But he didn't say anything. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"Well, I... was coward." He stutters. "I was just starting to realize how big a part of my life you were." He's looking down to his baby, and his tone sounds like an apology. "I was pretty confused myself, and then-"
And then, most eager to find out, I interrupt. "And then?"
"Then on your last day, after you left the hospital, Doug took me aside to talk and basically said that if I didn't take my chance with you I'd regret it all my life. And so I took his advice."
"Doug?" An escape. A way out from this emotionally draining and difficult talk. Yes, I'll have it, thank you. "How's he doing? Still working at County? Kill Weaver yet?"
Draw down the stars...
Draw down the stars...
What's in your heart?
Mark will have none of this and cuts me off. "Look, Susan, if you don't wanna have this conversation, that's fine." He pauses. "But there's... one thing I want you to know."
I surrender, ashamed. "Sure, go on."
He is taking the bigger breath now, and I am apprehensive of what he's going to tell me. "Well, here goes. I had a seizure down in the ER last year," I feel my eyes widen and my jaw drop as he speaks. And there's more to it. "And it turned out that I had a brain tumor."
"My God, Mark!" I cover my mouth with my right hand as I catch myself gasping.
"I was successfully operated in New York before New Year's," He continues, scaring me more with every word. "But the tumor came back stronger this Summer..."
I reach out to hold onto his hand laying on the table and give it a gentle, comforting squeeze.
"Chances are, I won't live through the year... I'd even be lucky to see Elizabeth's and my first-year wedding anniversary, they say." His voice and face betray no emotion. He just wanted me to know, nothing more, nothing less.
He felt that I should know. I don't know how that makes me feel. I sure am dumbstruck, and not thinking straight right now. I know that when I came here a half-hour ago, I was far from expecting a shocking revelation like this. I may have hoped for some 'shocking' revelations, but nothing like it. Not that kind at all. But this is what I got, and I was thoroughly unprepared. I look away out the window again while I feel tears building from my entire body and soul, and cold shivers are frantically going up and down my spine.
How am I seriously supposed to deal with this? I can't, I just can't. The thing is, I am scared to death at the thought of losing him, losing him for good.
"Oh, God, no..." All I can possibly manage is a desperate cry to a highly hypothetical higher power.
I don't know what to to say, and he has already said all he had to. Yet, we're still sitting here, across from each other, silent, like two idiots. I don't want to leave just yet. I don't want to leave him again at a time he needs me, and I won't.
This fluorescent night will divide us
And dissolve to a flickering screen
We all know each other's secrets
Things seen, and not seen...
"My glass was half-empty." That's me, out of nowhere, speaking again after we let the longest minutes go by in silence.
"What?" He asks with puzzlement.
"I guess, you know, when I got to be in charge of little Suzy... I was happy then. Things were difficult, and I had to work around my time schedule all the time, and I barely got any sleep at all... but I was happy, as happy as I've ever been." The thought makes me wistfully smile and I imagine
there's something of a small sparkle twinkling in my eyes as I recall those days. "When Chloe took her away, it was like... It was like a part of me was missing, I was just miserable. You remember that, do you?" Now the sparkle must be gone, and so is the smile.
"Yeah, and I was still not getting any sleep. I kept having dreams about Suzy where all those bad things happened and they were driving me insane. So, I decided to move closer to her, and I thought that would make me happy, because just the thought of it made me feel so much better."
He nods again.
"I pondered over it and everything it implied for a while, I weighed the pros and cons... But no matter what came out of it, the bottom line always was, the prospect of changing more diapers, feeding bottles in the middle of the night, and seeing regularly a baby I loved and cared so much about, getting to see her grow... It was all I needed to cheer me up whenever anything went wrong in my-"
He doesn't nod this time, and I immediately stop talking as soon as I realize what big a foot I've put into my mouth. He is just staring intently at his child, on the verge of crying.
"Oh, gosh, Mark, I'm so sorry, I'm an idiot." I stammer apologetically, smacking a hand to my forehead.
"No," He looks up to me with bloodshoot eyes that break my heart, and prompts me to continue. "No, do go on, I want to hear what you're telling me."
"Well, okay..." I gather my spirits and try to resume the story of Why I Left. "I hated having to leave all you guys, but all I saw was that I would *finally* be getting my chance to be happy, you know? When you asked me to stay, I wanted to, and I had a strong feeling I should, but that could have meant putting that chance in jeopardy, and I didn't want to risk that. See, I was coward too."
He looks up, and smiles very briefly. "But you weren't happy there, huh?"
"I was in the beginning, I must say. The first couple months were great. But I quickly realized something else was missing, something as important to me as little Suzy. And it was you. Everyone, really, but especially you, Mark. You were the missing half of my glass." And I grin sheepishly as I
finish my recount.
"Thank you." He just says, before Ella starts fidgeting once more and he cooes to her in a soothing voice. "Shh, baby, shh... Go back to sleep..."
He remains silent for a second and takes a sip of his coffee. "Doug resigned at County two and a half years ago."
"What happened?" I ask surprised.
"He got in trouble with Weaver and Romano over a kid with ALD he helped die. And that was the last straw, he got himself a job in Seattle and packed."
"I see." I nod, regretting not having kept in touch. "Romano?"
He's amused. "New chief of staff. You'll meet him soon enough."
"Alright..." I say warily. "How about Carol?"
"Carol," He announces solemnly "had Doug's twins on Thanksgiving the year before last, and went to be with him last year, in May. And the Ross family now lives happily ever after, right by Lake Washington."
Oh my God. "Oh my God, that's so good for them! I'm glad they worked things out." But I can't believe I missed all this. How much would a phone call have been every once in awhile? I guess I was just too wrapped in my own misfortunes. Shoot!
"Yeah, they're getting married on Christmas Eve. Didn't you get an invitation?" He asks good-intentioned.
"No..." I am taken aback, badly. "No, I didn't get one." But can I blame them, really? I gave them all the reasons to believe I'd forgotten them, and up until minutes ago I knew nothing of their lives after I left. What kind of a friend does that make me? Not much of a friend anymore, I guess.
"Ah, it's okay." I wave off his confusion with a gesture of my hand. "I don't blame them. How's good old Carter?" I change subjects. Surely John must lead a brilliant career by now.
"Carter..." Mark sighs, and I fear the worst. "Was attacked by a patient last year, and went down a downward spiral from there..."
"Wow." Carter? Downward spiral? I am at a loss for words, for thoughts. Complete disbelief just cleared my mind of everything.
"Yeah..." Mark confirms, accompanying his words by a meaningful glance. "I'll let him explain things to you, if he feels up to it. But he got help and he's been back on track for a year."
I nod positively. Good to know.
"He's been coveting the position you got but his previous worries ruined his chances. So he helped Chen with her application."
"Chen? Deb Chen?" The least I can say is that surprises are coming in waves tonight. I am purely astounded.
"Yup, and she likes to be called Jing-Mei now... You'll get used to it." He adds on a lighter note.
"Well," I start, stutter-shook. "Is there anything else specific I should know about?"
"Uh, well... Peter's got a son. Carter's cousin OD'd on heroin. Scotty Anspaugh passed away. Jeanie remarried, adopted a baby with AIDS and resigned. Carter's student was killed. And obviously, new people arrived."
Jesus Christ! I can't believe all this happened while I was gone. It all sounds more like a bad television drama to me than real life. But lo and behold, this is real life. I'm gonna have to believe it, and face the facts.
I never thought it would be this hard. But this is my new shot at happiness. And it didn't start great, but I will make efforts.
Draw down the stars...
Draw down the stars...
What's in your heart?
"What?" I jerk my head up and notice for the first time the waitress standing beside our table.
"Your coffee's cold." Mark says.
"Oh, right, thanks. I'll have another one." The young lady scribbles my order on a notepad and walks away.
"Is anything wrong?" Mark questions me.
"I don't know, it's just..." I am as confused as can be. "I *knew* things would be different when I came back. I mean, some changes are to be expected, that's normal. But I, I didn't expect all of those, and I just didn't expect so many of them... And I know I shouldn't have broken all contact with you, or anyone else... I guess I was too excited to bother in the beginning, and then, I just never found the right time..."
He watches me as I take from her hands the cup the waitress is bringing me, and I shrug my shoulders as if to signify I have nothing more to say.
The waitress disappears and Mark speaks up. "Some things haven't changed, Susan, some things never do."
"Hmph," I snort my unconvinction. "Like what?"
A smile is tugging at the corner of his mouth. "Like you. You haven't changed at all."
I snort again. "I don't know whether that's a good or a bad thing."
"A good thing. It's a very good thing."
"Really?" I raise an eyebrow. "You do know I still love you, right?"
"And you think that's a good thing?" Is this Bizarro World? How do I get out?
There's the bittersweet smile again. "It's always been you, Susan." He furtively looks away and his eyes are wet when I see them again. Why is he doing this? "You know, I thought... I truly believed I loved Jennifer. And before you came back, I truly believed I loved Elizabeth. My daughters are the most precious things on Earth, and I'd lay down my life for them."
I listen intensely. I love to hear this and I hate to hear it all at the same time.
"And I don't plan on leaving my family now. I care about them as much as one can be cared about, and I wouldn't hurt them for the world... But I often wondered, 'What if Susan had stayed? Where would I be now?' I tried to shut out those thoughts, but they kept getting at me. And then I thought,
'What the Hell, I'm gonna die anyway-"
"Mark..." I want to interrupt, but I have nothing to say. So, I let him finish.
"All this to say that, no matter how guilty I feel about it, how... ashamed, low... This is who I am, and I love you."
"Oh, no Mark," I shake my head in denial. "You don't."
"I do, Susan." He insists. "I do... I always have, but it was so much more convenient to just ignore it. Since the first time I found out about the tumor, I've wanted to see you again. I wanted answers to all the what-if's. I know I won't be getting them now, and I don't care. All that matters is, you're here. And I hope you will be till the end. Hey, you may even get to see the Doug and Carol's girls at my funeral!"
His attempt at humor falls flat. I'm not in the mood for a laugh, especially not about this. "That's not funny, Mark." One more tear slips out.
"So what now?" I ask.
"Nothing, now. Our chance was years ago and we missed it. I still love you and you love me back, now. That's our happy ending."
I just nod along, taking in his words of wisdom with as rational a mind as I possibly can. "That's our ending." I repeat hopelessly.
Ella wakes up and starts crying, rather loudly. We've been sitting here for almost an hour and she is hungry. Mark raises her head to his lips and kisses it lovingly.
"I should get going." He tells me while he proceeds to stand up. "See you at work on Monday." He turns his back and walks to the door, whispering to the child words I can still hear distinctly.
"Shhh, come on, baby. Let's go get Mommy and head home."
And then he disappears out the door. I watch him through the window, but he doesn't look back once. Then the waitress comes into view again. I ask for the check, and I leave shortly after I've paid it. I decide to walk to my hotel, I want to bathe in the Chicago air for some time before closing this chapter and turning the page.
Draw down the stars...
Draw down the stars...
What's in your heart?
Passing by the hospital builds up a ball in my stomach. Only my heart is bleeding, they don't heal that. I reach the hotel too soon for my taste. Why did I have to take one so close to work? There's a couple hugging in the lobby. He is very tall, and she is pretty short. They look so different, but they seem happy and in love, as if they had just made up after a fight. They could have been Mark and me, if only we had tried. I wish them the best from the bottom of my heart.
My room is number 1227. I lay on top of the bed as soon as I am inside, but I know I won't sleep tonight. Maybe they're right, when they say you can't go home. But somehow I'm glad I did, in spite of all the ache I am - and will be - put through.
It was the right thing. I want to have this certainty tonight, I want to believe it with all my might. Because I fear that by tomorrow morning, it will just be another on the long list of regrets I have. I fear I won't remember why I came back here or why I want to stay. Tonight I want to be sure.
It was the right thing.
So, that's it. How did I do? :)
(Note to Lubies: it is indeed Luby that Susan spots in the hotel lobby w)