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Indecision

by LaraLee

"So Iím not sure what to do about it now. She called and wants to go out again but . . . I donít know." John Gage shrugged, dropping the mop he had been using on Station 51ís day-room floor into a bucket and leaning against the handle.

His partner, Roy DeSoto, looked up from his efforts to scrub away a couple of scuff marks that had been left on the linoleum by a pair of firemanís boots as they hurried out of the kitchen area. Seeing the other man was taking a break, he stretched in an effort to ease the tightness that had begun to develop in his shoulder muscles and placed his own mop against a counter. Taking a position next to it, he studied Johnnyís perplexed, darkly attractive features.

"Okay, let me see if Iíve got this straight," Roy said, scratching his thinning light brown hair. "Margaret dropped you about 2 months ago and --"

"She didnít dump me! We just had . . . a few problems . . . and she thought itíd be better if we didnít see each other any more."

"Uh huh," Roy replied. Johnnyís trouble with women was a frequent topic of discussion between them and he could still recall the paramedicís frustration over Margaretís comments that he was "naïve, obsessive and didnít have the maturity" she was looking for when it came to dating someone. "But since then you started seeing Carrie."

"Yeah," Johnny said, his lips forming into a crooked smile. "Sheís a great girl. Witty, intelligent, pretty --"

"But now Margaretís called and wants to see you again."

Johnny nodded, his face losing its smile. Shrugging his shoulders, he said, "Thatís it in a nutshell. After playing the field for a while, sheís decided I wasnít so bad after all." His expression became thoughtful before he added, "You know . . . Carrieís sweet but Margaretís got a certain class about her that I like. She might be a little too opinionated but--"

"Donít do it Gage. Margaretís beautiful but a snob," Chet Kelly interrupted, leaving footprints across the freshly mopped floor as he walked toward the coffeepot and filled a cup.

Roy sighed and resumed his task. Now that Chet had entered the conversation, it would take on a whole new dimension.

Johnnyís shoulders dropped and he released his grasp of the rough wooden handle beneath his fingers. "Chet, just because she said you were . . ."

Chet took a sip from his cup. "Chauvinistic with Ďa male chemical imbalanceí is how I think she described me," Chet filled in, wiping away the coffee that clung to his mustache. "Carrieís the better choice there. Heck, if you dump her I just might try to pick her up myself."

Johnny shook his head and lifted the mop from its bucket. After running it through the ringer, he began wiping down the remaining tiles that lay between him and the doorway, saying, "Well, you were a little overbearing the night you doubled dated with Margaret and me." Pausing, he looked over at Kelly. "And youíve only met Carrie a couple of times so you donít know --"

"You missed spot over there, Roy," Chet interrupted, lifting a finger in the direction of the stove and taking a seat on top of the table.

Roy glowered at the fireman then swabbed against a stray track Chet had left on his way to the coffeepot. After years of marriage, Roy accepted the banter that existed between the single members of A Shiftís crew and their differing opinions when it came to what they looked for in a woman.

"I mightíve only met Carrie a few times but sheís totally cool," Chet went on, giving Johnny an admonishing gaze and gesturing with his free hand. "She wanted to see ĎHigh Plains Drifterí twice . . . most chicks would rather cry over Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand in ĎThe Way We Wereí than watch Clint Eastwood paint a town red and call it hell. That just goes to show ya--"

The Stationís alarm sounded and the three menís attention focused on the speaker mounted against the wall.

"Squad 51," the dispatcherís voice rang through the room, "woman down at the Oxford Hotel. 1711 Newport Street. Cross street 20th Avenue. One seven one one Newport Street. Time out 09:37."

Roy handed his mop to Chet.

"Here, maybe you can finish up," he said hurrying out to the squad that was parked in the stationís apparatus bay. Chet dropped the mop and followed them out of the day room to acknowledge the call.

"The Oxford Hotel," Johnny pondered, glancing at the map as they left the garage behind. "Thatís a pretty ritzy place."

"Yeah," Roy agreed, squinting against the sun that slanted across the truckís windshield as they drove westward. "It borders Carson City and the beach."

Pulling into the circular drive that bordered the Oxford and stopping in front of a sign that read "Valet Parking Only," the paramedics got out of the squad before the statuesque Oxford Hotel. Its five-story brick façade were a reminder of the cityís early days of the Twentieth Century. Although times may have changed, elegance and refinery were still what the hotel prided itself on.

"You guys part of the ambulance team?" a bellhop wearing a red uniform with black piping asked them as they climbed from the truck.

"Weíre paramedics with the fire department," Johnny responded lifting the oxygen tank from its compartment. "You know anything about whatís going on here?"

"Uh-uh," he answered with a shake of his head, taking the drug box from Roy and carrying it inside. "Suite 412 called a few minutes ago and said to expect an ambulance."

Approaching the elevator, another man wearing a gray suit with conservative tie caught up with the firemen and bellhop.

"Itís all right Doyle, Iíll handle this. Iím Sid Morrison, the manger on duty," he explained to the paramedics, taking the equipment the bellhop carried. "Rosalind Chambers has been a guest here the last few days but today she doesnít seem to be feeling well."

As the tiny elevator opened, a holdover from hotelís construction in the 1920s, Johnny entered then pressed the doors open with the oxygen tank while Roy and Sid hurried inside.

"What seems to be wrong with her?" Roy asked as they slowly climbed toward the fourth floor.

"Iím not exactly sure. She only mentioned that she wasnít feeling well and had called an ambulance," Sid answered, a chime signaling they had reached their destination. Lifting the drug box from where he had set it on the floor for the trip up, he led them down the hall toward a room at the far corner of the hotel. Dropping the kit outside the door, he shrugged and pulled from his pocket the keys that hung on a chain. "Please gentlemen, only if necessary. We like to provide our guests at the Oxford the utmost privacy . . . sometimes they're celebrities--"

Roy pushed Sid aside and knocked at the door. "Ms. Chambers," he called to whoever was inside, "weíre with the fire department."

"Itís unlocked," a soft feminine voice answered before sinking into a deep cough.

Turning the knob and pushing the door open, Roy stepped into an area that was larger than his family room at home with fresh flowers adorning the coffee table. On one of the roomís two sofas a woman lay huddled within a blanket, her attention vaguely focused on a daytime game show that was showing on the television.

"Iím sorry," she said, shivering against a chill and pulling the fluffy green robe she was wearing tighter against her as Roy knelt beside the couch, "but I donít think I can drive and a cab ride to a hospital doesnít sound too pleasant."

"Itís okay," Roy reassured her, sliding the sleeve of the robe back from her arm and taking her pulse while Johnny moved the coffee table away so they would have room to work. "When did this start?"

"I had a terrible cold just before I came to LA, but I was starting to feel better until last night. Now I ache all over."

Roy brushed a hand against her cheek and found it warm. "All right, you just take it easy. Johnny and I are here to take care of you."

The woman nodded as a thermometer was inserted between her lips. She could feel a tightening around her right arm as the two young men began to work around her.

"Rampart this is Squad 51," she heard one of them call into a radio, her eyes closing as she fought against the sleep that had been trying to claim her until she knew there was someone there to help her.

***

"51, start an IV, normal saline TKO and transport as soon as possible," Dr. Kelly Brackettís deep voice responded to Johnny Gage through Rampart General Hospitalís link to the paramedics in the field. Squad 51ís patient displayed all the symptoms of the Influenza A epidemic that had, in late November, hit the Los Angeles area. That coupled with signs of dehydration had left the patient serious but not critical.

"How are we doing when it comes to treatment rooms, Carol?" he asked the nurse standing beside him and making a history of the paramedicís transmission.

Carol stepped to the desk at the base station and scanned the sheet of rooms currently occupied. "One and two are still tied up with the traffic accident that came in earlier. Fourís got a cardiac and fiveís stitching up a guy who fell off his bike." Finishing with the list she looked up at the doctor. "But there isnít anyone waiting so I could set up three for you."

"Do it," he told her, beginning to walk toward the ambulance bay doors.

"You got it, Dr. Brackett."

The Oxford Hotel was only a few minutes from Rampart and he knew the ambulance carrying the patient would soon arrive. For a moment he paced the entryway, arms linked across his chest until he saw the clear reverse lights of an ambulance backing into a slot. A man of action with a minimal reserve of patience, Kel Brackett quickly stepped through the automatic doors of the hospital to meet the arriving patient.

"Letís get her in three," he said, helping to steer the stretcher through the hospital hallway as he questioned Roy about the condition of the victim during transport.

Once the attendants had the woman on the treatment room table, Kel eased back the blanket she was clutching close to her shoulders and face. Auburn hair had revealed itself as they hurried down the corridor but pulling the covering away, he paused. In the classic tradition of the red head, a face with a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of the nose then straying lightly across the cheeks was revealed. However, the milky skin that surrounded the freckles and heart shaped face with aristocratic features were a surprise to Kel. With a sharp intake of breath, he took a half step back from the table, looking at the hazel eyes that had opened to stare into the gray of his own.

"Kelly?" the woman whispered somewhat doubtfully.

With an ironic shake of his head, he bridged the gap between them. Running a hand through her short hair, he answered tenderly, "Yeah Roz, itís me."

"You know her, Doc?" Johnny asked, having joined those in the room.

"I . . . used to," Kel said, before beginning to bark out orders to the team of medical professionals that surrounded him and Rosalind Chambers.

***

Climbing into the squad, Roy could see the wheels of his partnerís mind spinning over what they had glimpsed in the treatment room. Not wanting to encourage any idle speculation there, Roy silently drove them toward the station.

However, Johnny couldnít remain quiet forever. When they were less than a mile from their destination, he suddenly sat up from where he had been slouched deep in thought.

"Hey Roy," he said, pushing back his dark bangs that had fallen against his forehead as they slowed to a stop. "Did you notice anything a little strange about Brackett in the treatment room?"

Roy felt himself cringe, peering up at the traffic light that hung above the street. Hitting it red meant that the next three between them and the station would also be ill timed. Roy briefly considered turning on the truckís lights and siren to proceed through it so that any conversation in this area wouldnít be prolonged. Deciding against it, he shrugged and looked over at his partner.

"The woman was probably an old friend of his he didnít expect to show up in Emergency."

Johnny frowned. "Maybe. But even when we had that accident involving --"

"I donít even want to think about that," Roy interrupted, seeing a green light and wishing the cars in front of them would move through it a little more quickly. "Iíll never forget the murder in his eyes when we rode in with her then beat it out of Rampart on another run."

Johnny spent a moment reflecting on the early days of the paramedic program in Los Angeles. When two unauthorized graduates of the fledgling project had treated the victims of an automobile accident after the nurse accompanying them had also been seriously injured. However, he quickly came to a conclusion that this incident was somehow unique from the previous one involving someone the doctor cared about.

"Nah," he said with a shake of his head. "I think this oneís different . . . thereís something more than friends there. The only other time Iíve seen Brackett like that is when itís a kid . . . I think he may have woman problems of his own."

Slowing at yet another red light, Roy added his own thoughts on what may exist between the chief of Rampartís emergency room and a patient. "Well, with Anne there, Iím sure weíll hear more about it."

Anne Smith was a nurse well known for spreading gossip among the hospital corridors. She had recently put Dr. Mike Morton through some uncomfortable moments after spreading rumors about his financial situation. Only a very stern lecture from the head nurse had put an end to it. Now, although she no longer tended to exaggerate what she saw or heard, she would soon be sharing with her friends Dr. Brackettís reaction to the woman which would lead to speculation in the break room and halls.

Johnny nodded in agreement then gave his watch a glance. "Speaking of women . . . I was thinking about giving Margaret a call when we got back to the station."

"Really," Roy said dryly, the flagpole of the station becoming visible in the distance before the squadís radio squawked to life.

"Squad 51. Woman in need of assistance. 13 Oneida Circle. Cross Street First Avenue. One three Oneida Circle. Time out 10:56."

Swinging the steering wheel around in a U turnís arc, Roy headed them back in the direction they had come from, listening to Johnny groan as he said in the microphone, "Squad 51, 10-4."

"If Shamrockís stuck in that tree again . . ."

Iíve been married too long, Roy thought, turning on the lights and siren. Right now, even Agnes OíMalleyís pain in the butt cat sounds better than listening to Johnny trying figure out who heís going to date.

***

Kel looked at the clock that sat on his desk -- its hands were rapidly reaching 7:00 p.m. Although his tour of duty in the ER had ended over an hour ago, it wasnít unusual for him to stay late catching up on paperwork. Tonight, however, he hadnít been concentrating on the files that lay stacked around him but something heíd putting off for as long as possible.

Taking a deep breath, he pushed himself away from the desk. Only a half-hour of the hospitalís standard visiting period remained. As the head of a department, he could probably bend the rules somewhat but it wasnít something he desired. The patient he felt required to see should rest and he didnít want to wake her later. He had prolonged making the visit long enough and it was time to face it.

Riding the elevator up to the third-floor, he reflected on a past that had come back to stare him in the face. Suddenly, it didnít seem like seven years had gone by since he had looked into angry hazel eyes that had finished an often-tumultuous relationship. Stepping out of the elevator, he made his way through the family members and staff who filled the corridors of the ward until he reached the room identified as 336. After a brief hesitation, he pushed the door open.

Rosalind Chambers lay sleeping on the bed of a private room. Moving quietly, he pulled a chair close and took her hand in his.

His touch disturbed her and her eyes fluttered open. "So I wasnít dreaming," she said looking at his dark wavy hair and strong handsome features before beginning to cough.

Kel stood and put an arm around her as she sat up against the convulsion racking her body. When the coughing subsided, he eased her back to the bed. "Take it easy. Youíve got a pretty bad case of the flu and you became dehydrated."

"Always the doctor," she replied, reaching for his hand and feeling his fingers circle her own. "I should have known this would be how Iíd see you again."

Kel placed his free hand against the face that was no longer warm with fever but still pale from illness. "What did you expect Roz?" he asked her. "It was the doctor in me that drove us apart so I guess itís fitting."

Rosalind emitted a wheezy chuckle before looking up at him with an undeniable seriousness. "Yeah, but you were someone that was hard to forget Kelly."

Sinking back into the chair but still holding her hand, he was reminded of the fact she was the only person who had ever used his given name. With everyone else, including his family, it had always been the nickname of Kel.

When they met she was an artist who gave private lessons, waiting for her break through debut, while he had been a young doctor taking a chance on the new practice of emergency medicine. Her leap into a showing at a renowned gallery had coincided with his own promotion to the head of Rampartís emergency department. It was then that things began to fall apart.

Kelly, he heard the memory of her voice whisper against the walls of his cranium, why canít you see the problem . . .

"You havenít asked why Iím back in LA," Rosalind said, breaking the silence that gripped the room.

Kel tore himself away from the ghosts of the past and focused on the present.

"Okay . . . Iíll bite," he said slowly, shrugging, "Why are you here? When you went back to New Mexico I thought it was for good."

"No," she responded gravely, her eyes becoming moist as she smiled weakly up at him. "I kept the condo here for when I had to travel to the west-coast. It was the home away from home. But since Bob and I separated, heís been living in it and California is where our divorce was filed." Coughing, her eyes sought out Kelís. When she caught her breath, she added, "It was final a few months ago but there were still a few loose ends. Easy enough since there werenít any kids but . . . and Iíve got a few pieces on exhibit at a gallery . . .."

He had known that upon her return to Santa Fe, she had married an old high school sweetheart after which he knew nothing more of her, even her art exhibits in the city escaping him after he decided to close that chapter of his life.

"Iím sorry Roz," he said, giving the hand that rested in his a squeeze. "I know it must be --"

Rosalind shook her head, removing her hand from his and reaching for the box of tissue that sat on the bedside table. "It was over long before it was final," she replied, before blowing her nose. "How Ďbout you? Anyone special?"

God, this must be the night for reminders of the women who used to be in my life, Kel thought wryly. Iím successful at so many things but relationships arenít one of them. His thoughts turned briefly to a nurse who had touched him in a way no other woman had. While unlike Rosalind, her presence remained with him; he felt she was another book he had shut before it was finished.

Standing, he said, "Iíd better go. You need to get some sleep."

"Kelly," she said, her voice holding a plaintive note. "I get out of here tomorrow and planned to stay through the week. Maybe . . ."

"Yeah Roz," he responded, bending over to kiss her cheek. The pleading in her eyes and tone had fanned a flame that he had long thought extinguished. "Weíll see each other when youíre feeling better."

***

Johnny and Roy stood in the locker room, changing into their civilian clothes after completing their duty at the station.

Buttoning his plaid shirt, Roy felt a morbid sense of curiosity take him over as he said, "You didnít say if you got a chance to call Margaret."

Johnny nodded, trading his uniform trousers for a pair of well-worn jeans. Settling the faded Leviís against his trim waist and beginning to button their fly, he replied, "Yeah, I talked to her yesterday and weíre going to have dinner tonight."

Roy shook his head and picked up his jacket, closing his locker. After a shift spent listening to Chet explain Margaretís shortcomings while extolling the virtues of Carrie, Roy wasnít convinced that his partner might not be making a mistake when it came to seeing Margaret again.

"What about Carrie?" Roy asked, sliding his arms into his leather coat and preparing to leave. His wife, Joanne, had some early Christmas shopping planned for the morning while their children were in school. The sooner he got home meant the sooner they finished the shopping, after which he might be able to spend a few quiet moments with Joanne before two young children descended on them.

Johnny gave one of his characteristic lopsided grins, before pulling a brown V-neck sweater over his head. "I talked to her after you turned in last night."

Roy paused, looking back at his partner. "And?"

"Weíre trying to plan something for when Iím off on Sunday."

"Donít do it Gage," Chet said, poking his head around the locker door he was changing behind. "You of all people should know that you donít try to juggle two women."

"Yeah. And from what Chetís told us . . . Margaretís trouble with a capital T," Marco Lopez added from where he sat on a bench tying his tennis shoes.

Johnny shook his head, his lips forming into a slight smile. "Guys, Margaretís got plenty of good qualities . . . she just tends to be more . . . liberated than Carrie."

"Uh huh," Chet replied with a knowing nod of his head. "Sheís got looks, glamour, money and a personality like the Bride of Frankenstein."

"Carrie does sound like sheís a little more down to earth," Marco concurred.

Johnny stepped toward the firemen on the opposite side of the room, ready to do battle when it came to the women currently in his life. "Chet, Marco . . . you donít know either of them. Theyíre both --"

"Iíll see ya tomorrow," Roy interrupted, leaving them discuss Gageís current dating dilemma.

***

Kel sat finishing dinner with Dr. Joe Early in a diner that was near the hospital. Joeís gray hair, soft brown eyes and gentle nature was a sharp contrast to the sometimes-hotheaded younger man. Still, they had become close friends when the older doctor decided to join the emergency team.

"All right Kel, I have to ask," Joe said, stirring the last of his French fries in the smear of ketchup on his plate then pushing them into his mouth. After rinsing them down with a swallow from his beer, he went on, "I heard something about your being familiar with an influenza patient that was brought in yesterday."

Kel thought about it, remembering that a nurse who was prone to idle gossip had been present when he had treated Rosalind. "Anne."

"Uh huh," Joe nodded, dropping his napkin in his now empty plate and pushing it back a few inches. "She hasnít started exaggerating anything yet but your seeming to know the woman, and the fact that you were . . . uh . . . shall we say out of character, is a hot topic of discussion in the lounge. Did you know her?"

Kel shook his head, making a mental note to ask the nursing supervisor to remind Anne that not everything she saw was something that should be discussed outside the treatment room. "Maybe my sometimes questionable bedside manner is improving," Kel said lightly.

Joeís expression at the statement revealed a bland look of disbelief. Although Kelís dealings with patients and staff had greatly improved over the years, they still fell under his sometimes-gruff voice and disposition. "I donít believe you."

Kel reached for the cup of coffee that sat across from him. With a sigh he took a sip of it then looked at Joe. If there were already rumors going around, he might as well be honest with his friend.

"Yeah Joe, I know her. We used to be . . . involved . . . but it was a long time ago."

Joe nodded in understanding. Settling back in the booth, he studied the other doctor. There was shyness along with a fleeting uncertainty in his usually strong appearance. It was rare that Kel would display his vulnerable side. "And now youíre thinking about seeing her again."

Kel offered him an ironic smile. "Iím not just thinking about it. Roz is in town for the week and Iím going to see her. Iíd like to talk to her again . . . to maybe . . ."

Joe leaned his arms against the table. "Thatís fine Kel, but what about Dixie?"

"What about Dix?" Kel asked, straightening in his seat at the reference to Rampart Emergencyís head nurse. "Itís been years since we saw each other and--"

"I know," Joe interjected. "There hasnít been anything there for quite a while but you have to admit that the two of you have an unusual sort of relationship."

"Weíre friends Joe. It doesnít mean --"

"Hear me out," Joe replied, hearing the defensive tone and lifting a hand to silence his friend. "Iím well aware of the fact that whatever existed between you and Dixie is in the past. But you still see each other . . . dinner, movies, Monday Night Football . . . everything you did as a couple you still do together." Joe paused, watching Kelís reaction to his words then added, "In all this time, neither of you have broken from the mold and gone out with someone else."

Kel leaned back against the thin cushion of the booth, thinking over what Joe had said. When their romance had ended there had been a brief period when he and Dixie were uncomfortable with each other outside the hospital environment. Eventually, however, they had fallen back into the familiar routine of doing things together that they both enjoyed.

We were friends first, then lovers. And it was always so much easier just being friends, Kel reflected, thinking of the two women and how different they were. In every way they were complete opposites.

At 5í9," Rosalind was nearly as tall as he was with a lithe figure, short fiery red hair, translucent complexion and full lips that could easily curve into a pout when she didnít get her way. When combined with her honey-smooth voice, she could take her unconventional good looks to a level that often had even him forgetting his hardheaded nature. Dixieís small stature and fuller figure were a sharp contrast to Rosalindís. Still, with an oval face; long dark blond hair; deep blue eyes; skin that tanned easily in the California sun; and a mouth that could take on the most radiant smile he had ever seen, she was classically attractive and in his eyes beautiful.

They also came from strikingly different backgrounds. Rosalind had grown up an only child which had led to her being somewhat pampered by her doting parents. Her entrepreneurial father had struck it rich when the seemingly worthless tracts of land he had purchased in the New Mexico desert during a recession yielded oil. He had been willing to indulge her interest in exploring a career in art, only asking that she earn her spending money by teaching on the side. Her mother, having grown up surrounded by the writers and artists who had retreated to Santa Fe, worked diligently to see that her daughter was accepted into the finest college, calling on old friends and sparing no expense. In the end it had all paid off when Rosalind became a successful and accepted member of the artistic community.

Dixieís childhood was far from the echelons of Santa Feís high society. Her father had died after suffering a brief and unexpected illness when she was in her early teens. Her mother, who had never worked a day outside the home she had tended to for almost twenty years, suddenly found herself trying to find employment in the small western town they lived in. Sometimes balancing two jobs, Miranda McCall had struggled to ensure that Dixie and her older brother had grown up in a loving home. She also never wavered from her dedication to send both her children to college. When her daughter chose the path of nursing, Miranda couldnít have been happier. Even with a scholarship, it had meant long hours of hard work for both of them before Dixie held the coveted diploma in her hand.

The hardships of her childhood had led Dixie to be a scrapper with a deeper understanding of the human spirit. It was one of the many qualities that made her an excellent nurse: no nonsense, tough when dealing with difficult doctors and patients but sympathetic to the blows life could throw out. She had a drive to succeed in the medical field that matched his own, only it was tinged with a humanity he knew he lacked. For that and so much more, she would always be special to him.

Sinking deeper into the booth, Kel thought, Lest we forget . . . Iím not involved with either of them. Oh God . . . women! Where do I always go wrong with them?

Reluctantly, his mind turned to the demise of both relationships.

Their time together had always been precious but with his expanded duties at the hospital it became more rare. Once Rosalind had achieved recognition, she had wanted a man by her side when her art began to be displayed. His presence sipping champagne at a new gallery was no longer guaranteed with his growing responsibilities of patient care, paperwork, supervising the interns, and everything else that was now a part of his doctorís life. The final straw had come when he arrived at a reception thirty minutes before its finish; his tie askew, his hair tousled from the set of scrubs he had pulled over his head in his rush to leave the hospital. They had rode home in silence but when they reached her condominium, her grievances were made clear and they had argued for the last time.

"Kelly, why canít you see the problem? You spend more time being a doctor than you do being a companion," she had finally told him, her usual pouting expression replaced by one that revealed raw hostility. "I donít need a doctor but someone who can be there for me."

With Dixie, it had all been very different. She had accepted his unpredictable schedule as par for the course-- it was something she understood given her own position. Still, she had a strong will and stubborn streak that had the sum of their equation roughly totaling equals. At the hospital, he could handle the nurse who took him on when it came to a difference of opinion but when the coin was turned to the private side of their lives, they were both less willing to reach a compromise. What might begin as a simple disagreement, always had the potential of becoming a full-blown argument. Eventually Kel had found himself walking away from the fights, preferring to take it up again when they were both calmer. Until the day Dixie hadnít let him walk back into her life after an especially heated dispute that had begun at the hospital over an orderlyís conduct and followed them home to her apartment.

"We canít go on like this," she had told him when he later attempted to reestablish some common ground between them. Her husky voice was cool, but in her eyes he saw a glimmer of tears and the end of their romance.

Kel hadnít realized he had closed his eyes in thought until he opened them to find Joe Early looking at him speculatively.

"Iím sorry Joe," he said, with a shake of his head to clear it of its memories. "What was your point?"

"Dixie. You should tell her that youíre going to see this woman from the past."

Accustomed to being in control in moments of crisis, Kel felt a wave of indecision pass over him when it came to seeing Rosalind. Maybe it would be better to let sleeping dogs lie when it came to both her and Dixie.

Reaching for his wallet, he decided to end the discussion. "Iíve gotta get back to the hospital," he said, pulling out his credit card. "Iím running out of time to review the quarterly budget administration sent down."

***

Whistling, Johnny finished tying on his boots then stood to tuck his uniform shirt into his trousers.

Brushing his teeth, having overslept after his son had kept he and Joanne up most of the night with a stomachache, Roy studied the mirrorís reflection of his partner. Johnny was obviously in a good mood.

Before Roy had a chance to comment on it, Johnny came up next to him and grinned, saying, "You know Roy, Iíd forgotten how good looking Margaret is and smart too. Man, a guy can spend a whole evening with her just talking about things."

"I take it dinner went well then?"

"Yeah," Johnny answered. He lost his smile as he leaned closer to the mirror and pushed at his hair. He wore it over his ears and slightly above his collar to comply with regulations. "She did say that I needed a hair cut though."

Roy sighed, putting away his toothbrush and turned toward his locker to stow away his shaving kit, hearing Johnny follow him.

"Do you think I need a hair cut?"

"Yeah Gage, you do," Mike Stoker said, walking in from where he had been cleaning the locker roomís toilets. The quiet engineerís presence was usually not known until he suddenly appeared on the scene.

"Thanks Mike, I value your opinion," Johnny replied with a bit of sarcasm.

Stoker shrugged and took a seat on the bench. Having spent his last shift listening to Gageís current female dilemma, he was ready to hear more.

Johnny frowned, giving the engineer a look that suggested he was intruding on a private conversation. When Stoker only cocked his head in the paramedicís direction, Johnny decided to ignore his presence and continue.

"But other than that, it was a great evening. I think weíre going to --"

He stopped as the door opened and Captain Stanleyís head poked around it.

"John, youíve got a phone call," the Captain said, joining them.

"Thanks Cap, Iíll be right there."

The captainís lanky features became amused as he informed the paramedic of the identity of the caller. "Pal, itís Carrie."

"Carrie! Oh my God! I forgot weíre trying to . . .." A startled Johnny rushed out of the room; the rest of what he said was lost as the door closed behind him.

The three married members of Station 51ís A shift stood shaking their heads in unison.

"You know, itís really not so bad being married," Captain Stanley commented. "I donít think Iíd ever go back to the single life."

"Uh huh," Roy replied. "You know who youíre gonna see on your day off and what sheís got in store for you."

"Iíll second that," Mike said, standing.

Laughing together, they filed out of the room to begin their duty as firemen.

***

Kel finished bandaging a teenage girlís arm then patted her shoulder.

"Youíre a trooper Maureen," he told her with a smile. "There arenít too many people who could have come through this without biting my head off or screaming at the top of their lungs."

The girl swallowed, her mouth attempting to form a smile that got lost it in a grimace of pain. Gingerly, she lifted her uninjured hand toward the dressing on the right side of her face. "Do you think it will leave a scar?" she weakly asked him.

Kel shook his head. "I donít think so, but weíll have to keep an eye on it and your arm as they heal." Taking her hand away from her face, he gave it a squeeze then ordered the nurse present to administer a mild sedative and allow Maureen to rest until she was discharged.

The girlís mother stood at the back the room. She had remained strong while comforting her daughter during the long process of sewing together the wounds on her face and arm but now that it was over, the tears she had held back were beginning to roll down her cheeks.

"Will she be all right?" the woman asked the doctor as he came up to her.

"She should be. Sheís got quite a few stitches but there doesnít appear to be any nerve or tendon damage," Kel reassured her. "And since the dog belonged to a family friend, weíve got its vaccination record. Thereís no risk of rabies. Infection is the biggest danger right now."

The woman nodded, wiping at her eyes with a tissue. "Everybody knows Seymour can be temperamental but I never expected him to attack Moe . . . when she was just playing badminton with the other kids."

Kel felt the slightest wave of anger pass over him. A young girl may have possibly been scarred for life because of someoneís pet whose disposition should have kept it away from others. The motherís sob, however, left him sympathetic to her plight. It wasnít her fault and there was no need for him to be indignant with her. Over the years, Dixie had taught him that those close-by were not necessarily the targets for his frustration when it came to the extenuating human factor that played a role in the practice of emergency medicine.

"Why donít you grab a cup of coffee down the hall?" he gently told her. "Betty will stay with Maureen and if she needs anything sheíll get you. Iíll be back to check on her and then she can go home."

The woman smiled gratefully, telling her daughter that she would be back shortly. Seeing Maureenís sleepy nod, she hurried from the room to get a grip on her own emotions.

Finishing with the patientís chart, Kel set it aside and left. Walking down the hall toward the nursesí station, he saw Johnny and Roy standing around it. As he drew closer, he heard the word "Cowboys" along with "Cosell" followed by the sound of all too familiar feminine laughter. The paramedics were discussing Monday nightís football game with Dixie.

Dixie shared his love of football and they would frequently watch the games together, even if it meant only catching glimpses on the television in the break room when they were working. They also shared a mutual distaste for Howard Cosell and his opinionated commentary during what was considered the NFLís game of the week. However, she had spent a long weekend with a friend who was a nurse in neighboring San Diego and had returned to Los Angeles late Tuesday. Suddenly, given what had transpired early in the week, he wished she had been home to watch football with him.

Maybe I wouldnít have committed myself to revisiting Rosalind, he thought dryly as he came up even with the desk. Still, it was a book that he had chosen to once again reopen.

"I know," Dixie said to Roy. "Not only does he have bad delivery but anybody who takes the lead at half-time is the best team in the NFL. I loved it when the Packers pulled ahead later and were the Ďoutstandingí NFC team."

The three of them laughed then noticed Kel standing with them.

"Hi," Dixie said looking up at him with one of her beautiful smiles.

"Hey Doc," Roy and Johnny chimed in, simultaneously asking who he currently liked to go to the Super Bowl.

"The Vikings, of course," Kel replied with a grin, his residency spent in the frigid temperatures of Minnesota leading him to respect both the team and the fans that supported it.

Johnny shook his head, grinning. "Sorry Doc, but I think theyíve got about a snowballís chance in . . . well . . . Palm Springs of making it."

Roy and Dixie nodded their agreement.

"I know, but thereís always hope that a snowball might not melt in hell," Kel kidded them.

The paramedics laughed, picking up the supplies they had stopped by the hospital for. Although they respected and generally liked the doctor, it wasnít often he entered into a joke with them.

"We better get back to work," Roy said, heading for the exit with Johnny beside him.

"See ya Dix. Doc," Johnny called back to them over his shoulder.

Once they were safely out of earshot, Kel leaned in closer to Dixie and said, "Welcome back."

"Thanks. It was nice to get away for a few days but itís good to be home. Did I miss anything here?"

Seeing her smile up at him from where she sat behind the desk, he remembered Joeís urging him to tell her about Rosalind. It was something that had left him debating himself and only looking at her now was he able to reach a decision. Joe was right. If for no other reason than her continuing friendship, Dixie deserved to hear from him who Rosalind was and what she had meant to him. It shouldnít be something that she learned of through the hospital grapevine.

"Dix, do you want to have dinner tonight and catch up on whatís been going on?" he asked her.

"Sure. Iíve been craving Mexican food. How does Jose Mandragonís sound to you?"

"Thatís fine," Kel nodded. "Iíll meet you there about 7:00."

***

Jose Mandragonís Mexican Cantina lay between what were considered acceptable and non-acceptable neighborhoods. It was a family-run establishment with chipped Formica covering the tabletops, where none of the dishes matched and the imitation leather covering the chairs sprouted stuffing. However, the restaurant made up for its lack of décor by providing excellent food and service, along with a recipe for margaritas that rivaled the cityís most exclusive clubs. It also gave sports enthusiasts a television above the bar that was tuned to whatever event may be available. Taking a seat at a nearby table, Kel and Dixie found they were being treated to the world of boxing -- something neither of them had an interest in. She found two men stepping into a ring with the sole purpose of beating the living daylights out of each other distasteful, while he looked on it as only a higher level of bar room brawling. When all was said and done the participants usually needed their skulls x-rayed and sutured.

Over dinner they talked casually about what Dixie considered "a little girl-talk and shopping" in San Diego, his latest losing go round against the tennis pro at the club he belonged to, and the humorous aspects of what he had experienced at the hospital while she was away. When they finished eating Kel became quiet, stirring at the remains of lettuce and tomato sprinkled against the green chili leftover on his plate.

"Youíve got something on your mind," Dixie said after a prolonged period of silence, picking up her margarita glass and taking a sip from it. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Kel felt himself release a heavy sigh before he set aside the fork he had been pushing around his plate. It was time to speak seriously of what had come to pass in her absence. Pushing the plate away, he picked up his own drink and took a healthy swallow of it.

It didnít give him the bolster of courage he had hoped it would and he found it difficult to find the words he needed to say. "Dix . . . did you hear anything about . . . about an influenza patient I had?"

"Mmm hmm," she answered with a smile. "A couple of the nurses were talking about it when I came into the break room this morning. But since Anne was there and she knows my low tolerance for that sort of thing, they shut up. I put it down to the gossip she likes to feed her friends. Iíll have a talk with her about it . . . and Lucinda since she seems to be a willing listener."

Kel shook his head; vaguely wishing Dixieís practical mind hadnít questioned what she had overheard, that she accepted it as nothing more than a rumor. Itíd be easier that way -- Iíd have an appropriate lead in to what she might think.

Reaching across the table, he took her hand away from the stem of the glass it rested against and laced her fingers within his own.

Dixie was surprised by his touch and arched a puzzled eyebrow toward him.

"Dix," he said, meeting her questioning eyes, "I do know the patient. Her name is Rosalind Chambers and . . . a long time ago . . . I was in love with her."

Dixieís face briefly reflected astonishment at his admission then became accepting. A faint shadow of her dazzling smile playing across her mouth, she said, "I remember you mentioning her."

Kel watched her hand withdraw from his so it could wrap around her glass and lift it to her lips.

Setting it down, she sat back in her chair and shrugged. "We both have a past Kel, you know that. Yours just decided to make an appearance."

Kel felt his teeth clench against what he had to say next then found the will to tell her. "Dix, you are my best friend and I love you for it. But seeing Roz again . . . knowing that sheís here . . . I want to spend some time with her . . . to maybe . ."

Dixie bit the inside of her lip. In all this time there had never been another woman with whom she had to compete with for his attention. She found herself fighting against jealousy and hurt. Although their relationship was now that of purely friends, she had never stopped relishing time spent with Kel; there was no one else sheíd rather be with and suspected the feeling was mutual. There was also the buried hope at the back of her mind that someday they could work things out. To once again be more than friends but without the arguments that had led him to walk away from her.

Thatís my own fault, she reminded herself, remembering words between them that had been said in anger. I closed the door and canít blame him for not wanting to open it again. I always thought he presented a challenge when we disagreed but they were really loverís quarrels and neither of us would ever back down. We were both too hard headed to compromise then.

Straightening in her chair, she brought herself back to the present and pushed away the emotions she felt. Holding her hand out to him, her palm open, she said, "Kel, you have every right to do what you want."

Kel rested his hand in hers, not for the first time finding himself a beneficiary of her empathetic nature. For him, it had always extended itself well beyond the hospital.

Looking into the depths of her blue eyes, he found himself once again indecisive about the path he chosen to see Rosalind again. Long ago, Dixie had placed something over his heart that could never be erased by another woman and the last thing he ever wanted to do was hurt her. Her friendship alone meant too much.

"God Dixie, I wish things could be--"

Dixie tore herself away from his gaze to look at her watch. "Itís getting late and I need to go home." Taking in the crowd waiting by the door of the restaurant, she added, "And Iím pretty sure Jose and his crew are ready for us to get out of here so they can seat somebody else."

Kel chuckled, rising from his chair then stepping around the table to help her into her coat. After her arms had slid inside it, he turned her to face him and on impulse kissed the top of her head.

"I love you Dix," he murmured before linking his arm within hers to walk toward the busy register to pay for their dinner.

Watching him hand over the check and the necessary bills, Dixie stood slightly behind him and said softly, in a voice that couldnít be heard above the roar of the crowd, "I love you too, Kel. God help me but I do."

"Did you say something?" he asked as he ushered her through the crush of people at the door and began to walk her across the street.

"Just thanks for dinner," she answered as they reached her car.

***

Roy stepped out of the treatment room with Kel. The paramedics had brought in their fourth influenza patient in a week that wasnít quite over. The man in his mid-forties wasnít critical but had been reading a great deal into his congested head, muscle aches, chills and fever. It had taken Kel more time to reassure him that he wasnít dying than to treat him.

"When do you think this is going to end?" Roy asked the doctor.

"The flu season tends to be at its peak from November through March, so weíve still got a while to go. LA just seems to be getting hit unusually hard right now. Probably all of southern California. Dixie mentioned it when she got back from San Diego. Must be . . .."

Kel fell silent, hardly hearing Royís response as they walked toward the base station. The heavy number of influenza patients had brought more to him than those just seeking treatment. Rosalind had called that morning to say she was feeling better and asked if heíd like to have dinner. Listening to her silky voice through the receiver, he had agreed and found himself looking forward to it -- until he saw who was sitting behind the desk at the station. Although they were on the same duty schedule, Dixie had spent most of the morning in a meeting with the nursing supervisor to discuss the departmentís needs when it came to staffing the various shifts.

"Hi Roy," Dixie said, looking up and smiling from where she was bent over a chart. As her eyes circled around to see who else had approached, her smile faltered, then she added brightly, "Kel."

"Hey Dix," Roy told her, looking up and down the hall. "Have you seen that partner of mine anywhere? Heís supposed to be picking me up."

"I think I saw him follow Lucinda into the break room for a cup of coffee," she replied before favoring Kel with a conspiratorial look. Johnnyís attention to the single nurses at Rampart was something that they found privately amusing.

As if on cue, the paramedic in question emerged and joined them at the desk.

"Howís the flu victim Doc?" Johnny asked.

"Heíll be fine," Kel answered, stepping over the paramedic monitor out of habit to check on any activity that might be taking place there. Seeing none, he turned back to the desk with a slight curve to his lips. "He just needs to go home and get some rest. The usual routine when youíve got influenza. Iím just hoping heíll forget about the other ailments he thinks he has."

"Yeah, he did think he was gonna die and --"

Rushing up to the desk, Mike Morton, Rampartís most gifted resident in emergency medicine, interrupted.

"Dix, Iíve got a gunshot wound the police just called in and are transporting. It doesnít sound too serious but can you give me a hand?"

"Sure Dr. Morton, Iíll be right there," she answered, standing as he hurried away. "Well gentlemen, duty calls."

Flashing the men around her a grin, she prepared to leave. It was only when her eyes met the doctorís that she briefly hesitated. Johnny caught the look that passed between them before Kelís hand brushed against her shoulder to assist her through the space between him and the hall.

It wasnít unusual to see the doctor lightly touch the nurse but after the conversation he had been privy to in the lounge, Johnny found himself wondering about some things that concerned Dr. Brackett.

***

Back at the station, Johnny quietly helped Roy prepare the carrots and potatoes that were part of the nightís dinner.

"Hey Roy," he finally said.

"Uh huh," Roy responded. He had a gut instinct that something had been eating at Johnny throughout the afternoon but had waited for him to bring it up.

"You know, I think Brackettís got bigger woman problems than I thought," the younger man said, stopping his peeling of a potato and popping a slice that Roy had recently cut from a carrot into his mouth.

"What?"

"You know, that influenza patient he knew," Johnny replied around the carrot that was filling his mouth.

Roy placed his knife on the cutting board and turned to face his partner. "You were talking to Anne in the break room."

Johnny swallowed and shook his head. "Nah, you know I donít go in for gossip. I just overheard her and Lucinda talking. Brackett did go to see the patient later and I think he knows her."

Roy sighed in exasperation. "He was probably just checking on her condition."

"Yeah . . . sure. But he did spend quite a while with her and now Iím wondering how Dix fits into the picture."

"Dixie . . . picture? Johnny, what are you taking about?"

It was Johnnyís turn to exhibit frustration. "Roy, where have you been all these years? Dix and the doctor were once an item, at least thatís what Iíve heard, and they still seem pretty close. The way they looked at each other today --"  

"Huh? Youíve lost me. I didnít notice anything unusual about them today. And you know as well as I do that the fact they used to see each other is only part of Rampartís lore that people like Anne --"

"I know, I know," Johnny hurriedly conceded. "But until today I really hadnít thought about the way they sometimes look at each other . . . kind of fond of each other."

Roy shook his head. "Johnny," he said sternly, "if you bring Dixie into anything Anne is saying about Dr. Brackett, then it could lead to somebody really being hurt. We donít know anything about Dix and the Doc . . . past or present. Itís always just been hospital gossip."

"Donít worry Roy, this is just between you and I," Johnny said, his voice holding a tinge of hurt that his partner would even consider that he would add anything to the hospitalís rumor mill.

Picking up the knife he had set aside, Roy began to slice a waiting potato. Smiling in effort to lighten the mood, he looked over at Johnny and commented, "Besides, Iíd think you have too many women problems of your own to be worrying about anything with Brackett."

Johnny shrugged, going back to his peeling. After a few ticks of the clock, he nodded. "Yeah. I guess thatís why Iíd rather think about Brackett right now."

"Have you heard anything from Margaret since you had dinner the other night?"

"Uh huh. She called but after we talked for a while she wanted to know if Iíd got a hair cut and a new suit. I donít remember her saying anything about my needing a new suit."

Roy looked over Johnnyís tousled hair that hadnít changed since Margaret had suggested several days ago that it should be cut. "I take it the answer was no."

"Yeah, it didnít seem to make her too happy," Johnny answered morosely until a thought struck him and he perked up. "But I talked to Carrie too. It sounds like the weather is going to be bad on Sunday so weíre going to catch a movie then sheís going to fix dinner. She makes great lasagna."

"Sounds good but what about Margaret? Isnít she going to wonder how youíre spending your day off?"

Johnnyís features lost their cooked grin and he shrugged. "Man, Iím thinking I might be better off with Margaret out of my life . . . sheís a little too demanding for a man such as myself."

"A wise decision Gage," a needling voice rose from behind them.

Turning, Johnny saw Chet and Marco standing near the day roomís table. "Chet, didnít your mother ever teach you not to eavesdrop?"

"We werenít eavesdropping, just checking on how dinner is coming along. What is it anyway?" Chet asked lifting the lid of the pot that sat simmering on the stove and sniffing at it.

"Vegetable beef soup," Roy answered defensively. Although Joanne was an excellent cook, his own efforts generally fell quite flat when it came to cooking for the station.

"Madre de Diós," Marco muttered just under his breath, "save us from DeSotoís cooking."

Replacing the lid, Chet commented off-handily, "Hmm . . . it doesnít smell half bad." Pulling a chair from the table, he took a seat in it and studied Johnny from beneath his heavy dark eyebrows. "Seriously Gage, I think youíre better off forgetting about Margaret the Nazi. That womanís got more issues than even I care to think about."

"Since when are you an expert on women?" Johnny replied, once again setting aside the potato heíd been peeling. Roy silently picked it up and began to finish it. At this rate they would never finish starting dinner.

Chet ignored him, continuing on with his own train of thought. "But, in the event you decide to choose her over Carrie, I may just have to be there to pick the poor girl up."

"Forget it Chet."

Roy listened with half an ear as Marco joined into the discussion. It was something that would continue for sometime and he was rather relieved that his role was now only that of an innocent bystander. Dropping the last of the vegetables into the bubbling broth, he inhaled the aroma steaming from it then spooned some out to taste. Adding a dash of pepper, he thought, Maybe Jo has finally given me a recipe that will work.

***

That night Kel met Rosalind in her suite at the Oxford. He had forgotten that her tastes tended toward the more opulent as he took in the subtle yet distinctive class of the room. They had decided on dinner at a nearby restaurant that was quiet and sedate, wasting little time before going to it.

Over a white linen tablecloth and china, Kel found himself reminded of what had always attracted him to her. She was a delightful conversationalist, with a great deal of knowledge when it came to music and the arts. Her upbringing and career had also led to her acquaintance with numerous people who were recognized by name. He enjoyed her stories of brushing shoulders with the rich and famous from New York to Paris. Their time together passed pleasantly as they caught up on how they had each spent the time that had elapsed.

"Would you like to come in for a drink?" she asked sliding a key into the doorís lock after he had walked her up to her hotel room.

Kel shook his head. "I would but Iíve gotta be at the hospital early tomorrow."

Rosalind smiled faintly, opening the door. "I understand," she said. Standing in the doorway, she looked at him then kissed his cheek. "I had a wonderful time tonight Kelly."

"So did I, Roz," he replied, his hands settling against the slight swell of her hips as he returned the gesture of affection.

"Iím leaving on Sunday but Iíd like to see you again while Iím here." Her features became soft as she gazed at the tall, handsome man who grasped her lightly. She had felt comfortable sharing with him the details of her recent divorce, how the last seven years had brought her success but very little happiness, and everything else that had currently led her back to LA. All of it was coupled with a feeling that she may be stepping back in time with a man she had once shared a great deal of passion with. Then she had never doubted that he loved her but they each had goals the other couldnít help to fulfill. Maybe now that they were both established, they could start over from the distance that would soon separate them. Her arms crept there way around his shoulders until they held him in their circle. "Kelly, you were one of the better things that ever happened to me. Please, can we see each other again . . . maybe Saturday night?"

While her lip hadnít curved into the pout he remembered all too well, he found himself unable to resist the waif like quality of her charm. It was something that had always reached out to his softer instincts and even after all these years still performed its magic on him.

Running a hand across her freckled cheek, he pressed his lips quickly against hers. "Yeah Roz, we can go out Saturday. Iíll call you tomorrow to work out the details."

With that he turned on his heal and headed toward the elevator, intrigued with seeing her again but struggling with the doubt both his mind and heart felt.

***

Saturday brought a busy day to Rampartís emergency room. Although the weekends tended to be more hectic than Monday through Friday, this day was unusually chaotic. An early morning fire at an apartment complex had led to a large number of casualties in need of attention after which the hours of the day were followed by a suicide attempt, fighting neighbors who felt the need to use weapons, and the delivery of a premature infant. There were also patients waiting whose ailments were not as severe.

Dixie was cleaning up treatment room five after finishing with yet another influenza victim, this one bordering on pneumonia. The elderly woman had put off seeing her doctor until her son had arrived for a visit and insisted she go to the emergency room.

Finishing with the patientís chart, Kel closed it then went to help Dixie. Although he knew his assistance wasnít necessary, it was something he often did when working with her. Picking up the unused vials and instruments, he let out a sudden yelp. "Damn!"

Dixie dropped the oxygen tubing she held into the wastebasket and took a step toward him, just in time for the hand he was giving an involuntary shake to spatter her uniform with blood.

"Are you all right?" she asked, reaching for him.

"Yeah. I just cut myself," he answered, drawing his hand toward him and curling his fingers instinctively against the bleeding palm.

"Let me see," she told him, taking his hand in hers. Straightening his fingers, she looked at the thin inch of flesh that had been sliced open. "You didnít cut yourself on anything that was used on the patient, did you?"

Kel shook his head, marveling at what he considered a stupid mistake. "No. It was a scalpel that had stuck through itís wrapping." He glared at the offending instrument then looked back at her. There was dark sprinkling against the white of her uniform top and he recognized it as his blood. "Iím sorry Dix," he told her, his free hand reaching out to wipe it away.

Dixie felt his fingers brush against her chest in attempt to erase what he probably considered his own carelessness. "Itís all right," she said, looking up at him with one of the reassuring smiles that worked so well with patients. "Iíve become quite adept at getting stains out of my uniforms."

"I know," Kel replied with a wink then looked down at the bloody hand she held.

She examined the wound saying, "Why donít you take a seat on the table and Iíll see if I can get this cleaned up without any of the other doctors knowing that you can sometimes be a klutz."

Kel grinned and hoisted himself onto the examining table.

Dixie carefully wiped away the diminishing flow of blood to reveal a shallow incision. They decided stitches werenít required, the only necessary treatment being antibiotic cream and a Band-Aide.

"There you go, Doctor," Dixie told him, pressing the adhesive ends of the bandage against his palm. "I think itís safe to return you to duty. No one needs to know about this but you and I."

"Thanks, Dix," he said gratefully, hopping down from the table.

His sudden movement did not give her a chance to step back and he bumped against her as his feet hit the floor. She was caught off guard and he reached out to steady her as she tried to regain her balance. Grasping her forearms, he found her standing close. He could smell the antiseptic fragrance of soap combined with the slight almond scent of the lotion she used in an effort to try keep her hands from becoming dry due to their frequent washing. Although both were something he had come to associate with Dixie, today they also served as a reminder of the woman she was.

Fingering the clasp that held her long dark blond hair away from her face, he whispered, "Rae."

Dixie swallowed and looked up at him. It had been years since he had used his pet name for her and she found herself responding, "D."

***

It had all began quite simply in the early part of their romantic adventure together -- when they were testing the ground that lay beyond just being friends.

She was running late to meet him for a movie and not taking time to change, she had worn her uniform. After the film, Kel had walked her up to her apartment. Leaning against the doorís frame, seeming almost reluctant to leave, he had run his index finger over her nametag.

"What does the R stand for in Dixie R. McCall?" he asked.

Dixie smiled. "Ray, only spelled R-A-E. It was my grandfatherís name."

Kel placed a hand against her cheek. "Rae, I like that." He pressed his lips against hers in a lingering kiss. "Rae."

"Donít you dare start calling me that," she admonished him when they drew apart, playfully slapping at him.

Kel stepped away from her, grinning. "Rae."

She followed him into the hall, saying, "Okay, two can play at this game. What does the D stand for in Kelly D. Brackett?"

Kel grabbed her hands and kissed her again. "Youíll just have to see if you can find that one out," he teased her, beginning to walk down the hall. "Goodnight Rae."

Dixie heaved a sigh of frustration then called out after him, "Well, then goodnight D since you wonít tell me what it stands for."

Kelís laughter as he entered the stair well echoed back to her. Her face held a soft glow as she stepped back inside her apartment and closed the door.

It would take several weeks for her to learn that the D was for David. Kelly was an old family moniker from his father and David was simply a name his mother liked. But Rae and D would often be the labels used in the quiet moments Kelly Brackett and Dixie McCall spent away from Rampart -- before they once again became only friends.

***

Kel saw the brief confusion that passed over Dixieís face at his reference to what once was and heard the nickname only she had used. Although he found it difficult to admit, Rosalindís reappearance and the time spent with her had led him to reconsider what was also close at hand. Through no fault of Dixieís, there too the past had been dredged up.

"Iím sorry," he said still holding her arm, his hand stroking the hair that hung between her shoulder blades. "I shouldnít have said that. Itís just that . . ."

Dixie felt the bandage on his hand catch in her hair along with his slight jerk to untangle it. It broke the mood and she stepped away from him, nodding.

"Yeah, I know. But we probably better get back to work," she replied, glancing over his shoulder. "Anne could walk through that door at any time and thereíd be a whole new story about you going around. Not to mention me."

Although Dixie had lowered her eyes, he hadnít missed the momentary wistfulness in them.

"Dix," he muttered, his teeth clenching as his hand strayed once again over the blotches his blood had left on the stark whiteness of her uniform. Somehow, it seemed to be a defining symbol for the fence he found himself straddling between the past and the present.

However, she was right about the time and place. Dropping a hand against the small of her back, he guided her around the treatment table then held the door open for her so they could return to the hospital floor.

***

Kel turned over his wrist so he could look at his watch as he handed the keys over to the valet. He was over an hour late and counting. Folding his arms against his chest he impatiently waited for the elevator to descend to the ground floor, then rode it up and sprinted down the corridor to room 412.

It didnít take long for Rosalind to respond to his knock at the door. Wearing a form-fitting teal dress that accentuated her short red hair and eyes, she was beautiful but sulking.

"Youíre late," she said, stepping aside to allow him in. "What was it this time?"

Her words and tone had a ring to them that Kel remembered all too well. It wasnít a pleasant memory.

"Iím sorry Roz, but there was a pile up on a freeway. Seventeen people injured and nine of them were transported to Rampart," Kel told her, sinking down onto one of the overstuffed sofas. "I tried to call you before I left the hospital but the line was busy."

"I was talking to my mother since Iíd just about given up on you."

I should have guessed, Kel thought, leaning his head back against the soft fabric that threatened to envelope him, and closed his eyes. In moments of frustration, Rosalindís mother had always been her support line. But then again, there youíre not so different from Dixie. She sometimes needed her mom too but . . ."

Rosalind sat down next to him on the edge of the sofa. Although the black pinstripe suit looked good on him, his tie was loose in the collar of the white shirt and his dark hair was mussed with dark circles of fatigue rimming his eyes. His jaw was also beginning to reveal a five oíclock shadow that she had always associated with him skipping shaving in the morning so he could get to the hospital, hoping that heíd have time for it later. Settling back against a cushion, she sighed heavily. "I guess some things never change."

"What do you mean?" he asked, his voice tired.

Taking his hand, she answered, "I guess I just hoped that by now you might not be so tied to your work. That maybe it could be different this time."

Kel shook his head, his body moving until it formed into a line against hers. "Iím sorry Roz, but that wonít ever change until the day Iím ready to retire to private practice . . . and thatís a long way off."

"I know that. Itís what you always said. But you canít blame me for wishing it was different," Rosalind said, her features loosing their brooding as she stood and went to the closet for her wrap. Going back to where he sat, she held her hand out to him to pull him from the couch, feeling a Band-Aide graze her palm. "Come on. Letís go to Bistro le Delice before you fall asleep."

***

Humming tunelessly, Johnny closed his locker and grinned at Roy. "See ya Tuesday."

"Big plans for the your days off?" Roy cautiously asked.

Johnny nonchalantly leaned against the wall. "Iím gonna go home and grab a couple more hours of sleep then Iím going to take Carrie to see ĎThe Way We Were.í Sheís heard itís pretty good and I like Redford. How Ďbout you?"

Before Roy could answer, Chet piped up from across the room, "Gage, ĎThe Way We Were?í If youíre going to a movie you should see --"

"Not today Chet. Itís Carrieís pick since sheís fixing dinner," Johnny interrupted, walking out the door with Roy.

As they left the station, Roy paused and looked at his partner. "What about Margaret? Seeing her tomorrow?"

He shook his head, burying his hands in the pockets of his jacket. "Uh-uh. I talked to her last night and told her I didnít think things were working out there. I mean anybody whose biggest hang-up is my hair and clothes . . .." Shrugging, he began to once again walk across the parking lot. "She took it pretty well."

Roy smiled in understanding as they approached their respective vehicles. "Have a good time."

Unlocking his Land Rover, Johnny looked back at his partner. "Hey, you never said. What are you doing?"

"Joanneís got a Ďhoney doí list about a mile long since her motherís coming for Thanksgiving; then thereís gymnastic practice; homework; maybe some football if I have time . . . you know, the usual."

"Canít wait to hear about it," Johnny replied, climbing behind the wheel and giving Roy a wave good-bye. Thank God, Iím single, he thought as he drove out of the parking area. Itís a whole lot easier when all you have to think about is a movie and dinner.

***

The early morning sky was overcast and the air held the chill of the fall rain that would soon come. Pulling into the circular drive of the Oxford Hotel, Kel found the weather fitting. It was time to say good-bye to a past that he would never again reopen.

Rosalind stood beside her Cadillac as the bellhop loaded her luggage into the trunk and Kel felt himself smile. She would always be someone he remembered fondly: attractive, intelligent, successful and with a great deal to offer a companion. However, last night had brought about a more serious discussion of where his life stood and they both found themselves still holding a separate set of desires.

"Kelly," Rosalind said, her hands stretching out to him as he approached her. "I didnít think you were going make it."

Kel grasped her fingers wrapped in leather driving gloves. "Iím running a little late . . . as usual."

"Iím glad you made it. Theyíre calling for snow in the mountains between here and Santa Fe so Iím ready to go."

Kel hugged her, then ran a hand through her short hair. "It was good to see you again Roz."

"You too," she replied, standing back from him and looking into his gray eyes. "I hope everything works out for you Kelly." Her eyes lowered to the blacktop and her full lips took a downward curve as she added, "Especially with whoever she is that seems to have a better understanding of you, your career and what you want than I do."

"Roz, there isnít anyone. Itís just that you and I . . . "

Roz looked at his startled expression and put it down to her womanís intuition sometimes having an insight that he lacked. "You never said her name or acknowledged her presence but I know sheís there. I think I always did."

The valet was holding the car door open for her, and she glanced at him to signal that his assistance was no longer necessary. When he was gone, she placed a deep kiss against Kelís mouth then got into her car.

"Good-bye, Kelly," she said settling into the leather seat.

"Drive carefully, Roz," he responded, closing the door. He stood and watched until her car faded from sight then went to his own waiting Jaguar. Although his heart really wasnít there, it was time for him to begin his day as a doctor at Rampart Emergency.

***

Dixie had caught Kelís mood early in the morning; he was more short-tempered than usual, gruff, and somewhat withdrawn when it came to the usual banter that passed within the hospital. She wasnít surprised when he left as soon as his shift ended, telling her that he was going to get some "fresh air." Knowing his favorite escape from the hospital and the city that surrounded it; she removed her nursing cap, releasing her hair from the clasp that held it, then changed into the gray slacks and red blouse she had worn to work then followed him out.

The beachfront parking lot was virtually deserted when she drove her station wagon into the slot next to Kelís car. Through the mist that was beginning to cloud the windshield, she could see him standing alone at the end of the dilapidated pier that was a part of this particular stretch of sand and ocean. Without hesitation, she left the warmth of the station wagonís interior to walk toward him.

Kel heard the click of heals against the weathered boards of the landing and turned in their direction. Seeing Dixie pull her long black coat closely around herself, he felt himself sigh then turned back to the waves that were beating against the shore until he felt her stop beside him. Together they stood silently observing the dark clouds that were gathering over the Pacific.

"Sheís gone Dix," Kel eventually said, his tone bitter. "I can never get it right when it comes to women."

"No, thatís not it," Dixie stated with a shake of her head and placed a hand over the one he had resting against the railing. Her own feelings aside when it came to the woman she had never met, she felt a sympathy for him when it came to the loss he was experiencing.

"But Dix, donít you think --"

She looked up at him, her features rueful. "Uh-uh. Iím sorry it didnít work out Kel, but you just have your own agenda there and know what you want. "

"Meaning that Iím a stubborn, difficult man who spends too much time at the office."

"Maybe . . . but you can also be the most . . .," she began only to find herself stopping. It was her own feelings for him she was thinking of and it wasnít something she felt should be brought up now.

Kel saw Dixie shiver and moved to stand behind her, wrapping his arms around her for warmth. The flu was going around and sheíd been exposed to it more than once -- he didnít like the thought of her becoming yet another victim of it. Feeling her short frame relax, its gentle feminine curves resting within his grasp, also led to a decision he had been struggling with. A bookmark had been placed within a chapter of his life and he found himself wanting to thumb through the pages again.

"Dix," he murmured close to her ear, "maybe itís just simply a case of wanting more of whatís close beside me."

Dixie felt herself lean against him, her back coming to rest against his chest within his enfolding embrace. Somehow it all felt right and she allowed herself to accept if for what she saw it as -- comfort after weathering a storm together.

Kel turned her to face him. Evenings spent in elegant surroundings with Rosalind had led to him briefly wonder how long it had been since he and Dixie had dinner where tablecloths, numerous pieces of flatware, and printed china were part of the decorum.

"Would you like to have a date tonight?" he asked reaching for a lock of her hair that was blowing in the wind to hold it between his thumb and forefinger, before dropping it to run a hand lovingly against the smooth plain of her face. "We could go some place nice and then we could see a movie. ĎHigh Plains Drifterí is supposed to be pretty good."

Dixieís arms slid beneath his jacket where her hands linked around the narrow circumference of his waist. Looking down at her in the dayís fading light, Kel saw her dark blue eyes briefly shimmer with an emotion he hadnít witnessed in years and her mouth had formed into one of itís beautiful smiles.

"I saw that when I was in San Diego but I wouldnít mind having something to eat at Jose Mandragonís and catching the last of todayís football game," she answered.

"Youíre on," he said, dropping an arm around her shoulders and beginning to walk with her toward the land side end of the pier. "But I owe you Dix."

"For what?" she questioned him as they began to cross the stretch of white sand that separated them from the parking lot. Dixie was eager to leave the drizzle that had begun to fall and was heading toward a shortcut that would take them out of the rain.

"Just for being Dixie R. McCall," he answered reaching out a hand to stop her as she began to climb up the short dune that led to the pavement.

Dixie turned back, wiping away the damp strands of hair that had fallen against her eyes, and blinked against what she saw. Kel stood at the bottom with his arms held out to her and she slid down the loose embankment. He caught her, holding her close and pressing his lips to hers.

"Rae," she heard him whisper, "is it too late?"

"No D," she responded, her fingers caressing the stubble of beard that was appearing on his face, "itís not too late. Letís get out of the rain and go someplace we can talk."

Taking his hand, she began to lead him up the sandy incline with her.

 

*Authorís note: There are several people I have to thank for this one. AJM, for being a sounding board throughout. You provided a source of encouragement when it came to my picking up writing fan fiction again. Audrey, for your thoughts and input. Alexandra and Lynn, you guys are great, as always! Without all of you, I donít think the story here would have gone much further than wandering through my mind. J

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