Alright, so this was originally intended to be a really long oneshot, but it was three thousand words around the halfway point, so I decided to do a two to three parter. I'm gonna get crackin' on the rest of it, don't worry, Rachel won't let me not finish it.
Dedicated to Rachel - who is sickeningly in love with this fic.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
She could have cried,
But she didn't have time,
She had a baby to feed,
A pink blanket to find,
To rock their little one to sleep,
She could have laid in bed for hours,
Giving misery the power,
But she didn't have time.
-Terri Clark's 'She Didn't Have Time';
It was July of 1997 and Susan Lewis was standing on her porch in the hot summer sun. Tears were streaming down her face as she held her screaming daughter, "Dix, don't leave." She pleaded.
"I'm not what you need." He repeated the words her mother and sister had tried to convince her of.
"Dix, what about AJ?" Susan swiped at her tears.
"I'm leaving." Dix climbed in his truck, pulling out of the driveway and zooming down the road, leaving nothing but a couple of broken hearts and a trail of dust.
"Mama! Mama! Mama!" Alexis Jayde Lewis stood on her mother's bed, bouncing up and down.
"AJ, Mama wants to sleep." Susan mumbled, turning on her side.
"But it's Saturday." AJ sat down on Susan's stomach, legs on either side, "I got t-ball."
"Five minutes Alex. Then Mommy will get up and we'll have waffles and Mommy will get coffee in an IV and we'll go to t-ball." Susan reasoned, eyes still closed.
"Mommy." AJ whined, bouncing on Susan's stomach.
"Alexis." Susan replied.
"Get uuuup." AJ pleaded.
"Alright, I'm up." Susan opened her eyes and tickled the four and a half year old's stomach.
"Mommy!" AJ giggled, her curly blond hair falling into her face.
"Alexis!" Susan giggled and kissed the little girls forehead. Susan put AJ on the floor and threw the covers back, standing up and stretching. She felt old, it wasn't the easiest job in the world, being a single mother and a ER doctor. She turned off her alarm clock, unsure of why she even set it anymore. AJ was an early riser, something she must've inherited from Dix. Susan shook the thoughts of her ex out of her head and focused on her daughter.
"Mommy can we have waffles AND eggs?" AJ asked, bouncing from one foot to the other in her Pocahontas pajama set -a hand-me-down from her big cousin Susie.
"Sure Baby." Susan said, AJ took her hand and pulled her down the stairs and into the kitchen.
"I have the rumblies in my tummy." AJ explained, "So I need a SUPER big breakfast."
"Oh, really?" Susan asked and picked AJ up,sitting her on the counter.
"Uh-huh." AJ nodded, her blue eyes sparkled, "I'd eat a WHOLE JAR of Pooh's honey."
"No way." Susan gasped, letting her jaw drop to amuse her daughter.
"Yes way." AJ giggled.
"Well then we better feed the rumblies." Susan said and tickled her daughter's stomach.
"Can I help?" AJ asked as Susan pulled out the waffle maker.
"Sure. Want to help me mix the batter?" Susan asked and AJ nodded, "Okay." Susan got out the ingredients, measuring each and letting AJ dump them into the mixing bowl. Susan got out the beaters and with Susan's guiding hand, Alexis mixed the ingredients together and poured them into the waffle iron.
AJ watched her mother make scrambled eggs and dip some onto their plates. She tilted her head to the side, "Mama?"
"Wassup Buttercup?" Susan asked as she seasoned her eggs.
"Can I have chocolate milk?" AJ asked and Susan nodded, "I'll get it."
"Carefully. It's heavy." Susan warned as AJ jumped off the counter and got the gallon jug from the fridge. AJ put the jug on the table and grabbed her orange plastic cup from the dishwasher.
"You want some help?" Susan asked, putting down a couple slices of toast.
"No. I can do it." AJ's voice full of independence, she unscrewed the cap and climbed up in the wooden chair, lifting the jug, she went to fill her cup, the cup tipped over and milk went everywhere, "NOO!"
"Crap." Susan mumbled.
"I'm sorry Mama." AJ sobbed.
"It's okay Baby." Susan righted the now half-empty jug and picked up her daughter. AJ buried her head in Susan's neck and cried, "Hey! No tears Alexis Jayde. It's no big deal." Susan tipped the milk over and let the rest of it spill, "See. No big deal."
AJ laughed, "Love you Mama."
"Love you too Baby."
An hour later, they were dressed and in the car on their way to the ball park. AJ sat in her car seat, "Mama?"
"Yeah?" Susan glanced in her rear view.
"Aunt Chloe and Susie is comin' right?" She asked, pulling at her knee socks.
"Yep." Susan nodded.
"And Susie and I can get fudgesicles afterward, right?" AJ asked, referring to their Saturday tradition, game days ended with the cousins splitting the chocolatey treat on the swings while Chloe and Susan caught up.
When they arrived at the park, AJ ran off to meet her team for stretches. Susan found a spot on the metal bleachers, warm beneath her. She slipped on her sunglasses and waited for her sister and niece to show up. AJ waved at her from the field where they were running around the diamond. Susan smiled and waved back.
"Aunt Susan." Susie called from the fence, running up the steps. Susie was now six years old and nearly up to Susan's shoulder, the miniature version of her mother.
"Hey Sus." Susan smiled, hugging the little girl.
"Hey Sis." Chloe walked up the bleachers.
"Hey Chlo'." Susan smiled as her sister sat next to her.
The game began and the Lewis woman sat hip to hip in the sweltering Arizona heat. AJ came to bat and they all cheered, Susan's voice above the rest, "Go AJ!"
She beamed with pride as AJ hit the ball and it went straight between second and third. AJ shot off around the bases, sliding into third. Earlier in the game a little girl had done the same act and started sobbing, AJ just stood, beaming with pride as the other player frowned, kicking the dirt.
"WOOOHOO ALEX!" Susie cheered and Susan laughed at her niece.
The game had ended after a couple innings, the kids were wore out and the sun was too hot to keep them on the field. AJ waved goodbye to her friends and ran over to her family.
"Hey Kiddo! Good game." Chloe gave her a high five.
"Yeah." Susie nodded, "Someday you'll be playing LOB ball and give me a run for my money."
"Come here." Susan picked her daughter up, "You did great kiddo. So great, this may require two fudgesicles."
"Two!?" AJ's jaw dropped, she wrapped her arms tightly around Susan's neck, "Thank you Mommy!"
So off they set, across the park to find the ice cream man.
The next day, Susan had to work. She sat at the admit desk, tapping out a rhythm with her pen on the clipboard. An oscillating fan was in the corner and every few seconds, Susan got a brief gust of wind.
"Susan." The chief of ER walked over to her.
"Hey Jane." Susan smiled, signing her name to another chart and tossing it to the ever growing pile.
"You're from Chicago, right?" Jane asked.
"Uh.. yeah." Susan looked at her, curiously.
"Look, there is a JAHCO conference there this weekend and I need someone to go." Jane told her, Jane was very un-Kerry Weaver -always willing to help out one of her doctors.
"No... I mean... isn't Daryl supposed to go?" Susan asked, her heart racing ninety miles an hour.
"He was, but his kid has a bad case of chicken pox." Jane explained, "His wife hasn't had them. So he's taking care of her."
"I can't... I mean, there's no way I can get a sitter for AJ by then." Susan lied, Chloe would take AJ if need be.
"Look, take AJ with you. It's a room at the Drake, all expenses paid. There's a daycare at the hotel." Jane offered, "It'd be good for you Susan, get out of the desert for awhile."
"I don't know." Susan made a face.
"Look, Susan. You haven't taken more than a week off since you got here. You have the vacation time. Go home. Leave tomorrow and drive. Clear your head. MAYBE even meet a cute guy in Chicago and let him buy you a slice of that world famous pizza."
"Jane.." Susan sighed, she looked down at her shoes for a moment, "Alright."
"Thank you." Jane handed her a packet of materials.
Susan sighed, running a hand through her hair and staring down at her shoes. In truth, she had missed Chicago - a lot. She often thought of moving back... moving home, but AJ's life was in Arizona and it felt wrong to up root the little girl. Just as her mind drifted to the man she used to call her best friend, the ambulance bay doors busted open.
"Susan." The EMT called and Susan rushed over, "Meet Laura. Laura is seven and had LOC at recess and fell off the monkey bars."
"Hi Laura. I'm Dr. Lewis, we're gonna take care of you Sweetheart." Susan smiled at her and listened to the EMT run down Laura's statistics.
As they entered the trauma room and moved Laura from one gurney to another, the last thought on her mind was the life she had left behind.
That night, Susan and AJ were over at Chloe's house for dinner. AJ and Susie ran around in the backyard and the mothers kept an eye on them through the window above the sink. Susan snapped the ends off green beans Chloe had bought at the farmers market, "Am I crazy for going back?"
"Sus, it's just for a week." Chloe reminded her.
"I just... I left and I never looked back." Susan sighed, tossing the ends of the beans into the Wal-mart bag.
"Ya know what I think?" Chloe asked, draining her spaghetti noodles.
"What's that?" Susan asked, her head tilted in a curious manner.
"I think you're afraid of running into Mark." Chloe raised her eye brows as she shook the colander.
"You're nuts." Susan rolled her eyes, "I'm not afraid of running into Mark."
"Uh-huh." Chloe said unconvinced.
"I'm not afraid of running into Mark... I mean... there are thousands upon thousands of people in Chicago... my odds of running into Mark are like slim to none." Susan said, chewing on a raw green bean.
"Right. I'm sure." Chloe said, taking the bowl of green beans from Susan, "But isn't it a medical conference and Mark works in a ER IN Chicago."
"We're goin' to Chicago?" AJ raised an eyebrow quizzically as Susan shoved clothes into AJ's suitcase.
"Yeah." Susan smiled, "Remember the stories Mommy told you about where she used to work?"
"Uh-huh... you and that bald guy put that thing on that one guys leg." AJ giggled.
"Mark and I put a cast on Carter's leg." Susan chuckled at the memory.
"Mommy?" AJ kicked her heels against the edge of her toddler bed.
"Yeah?" Susan folded a pair of jeans and stuck them in the bag.
"Tell me 'bout Mark." AJ requested.
"Why?" Susan asked.
"Cause I heard you and Aunt Chloe talkin' 'bout him.... he sounds like... never mind." AJ shook her head.
Susan stopped her folding and knelt on the carpeted floor, her eyes meeting AJ's, "Like what?"
"Like a daddy." AJ sniffled and picked at her sheets.
Some days Susan hated Charles 'Dix' Dixon and today was one of them. Susan scooped AJ up in her arms and sat down in the rocking chair in the corner. AJ cried quietly, "What started this?"
"All the kids on my t-ball team have daddies." AJ wiped at her tears, "They come to all their games. And Tyler from piano lessons? Her daddy comes to all our 'citals."
"You know, Kid." Susan readjusted AJ in her arms, "You have a daddy. He made some stupid choices and I'm really mad at him for missing out on what a great kid you are. But, Alexis, you know what?"
"What?" AJ wiped her nose on her shirt and Susan let it go.
"You have more love that any kid in the world." Susan kissed her forehead, "Cause not only do you have me, but you have Aunt Chloe and Susie and you know I love you-"
"More than all the tea in China." AJ finished.
"Exactly." Susan kissed her nose.
"Will you still tell me about Mark?" AJ asked.
Susan rolled her eyes, "Aunt Chloe put you up to this, didn't she?"
"No." AJ shook her head.
"Okay, one quick story and then you have to go to sleep, cause we're leaving early tomorrow." Susan told her.
"Okay. I promise." AJ grinned, holding out her pinkie. Susan shook pinkies with her and tucked her in. She turned on the nightlight and sat on the edge of the bed, brushing the hair from AJ's face and tracing circles on her ear.
"Let's see." Susan thought, "Okay. I have one. A long, long, long time ago. In the year nineteen ninety-five..." Susan paused dramatically, "There was a girl. She worked as hard as Cinderella in a place called County General Hospital."
AJ giggled and then immediately quieted, she traced her finger across her mouth in a zipping motion and listened.
"The girl had, had a bad week. A fight with her sister, a colicky niece and a really, really big blow out with her best friend, the Prince of County General Hospital." Susan explained as AJ closed her eyes, "The Prince was a tall gangly fellow, his hair was thin and growing more bald every day, but the Prince was the lowly Resident's best friend."
"And no matter how many times they fought, he was still her friend." AJ mumbled sleepily.
"Exactly." Susan chuckled, "So, when the lowly Resident had a fight with the red haired dragon, the Prince came into save her with an extra pepperoni pizza."
They rolled into Chicago at seven the following evening. AJ slept in the backseat; barbie doll shades on and her curly sun bleached hair everywhere. Susan hummed along with The Beatles song that played on the radio. As the skyline came into view, Susan decided it was something AJ needed to see, "AJ. Alexis..."
"Mmm. What mommy?" Her little hands rubbed at her eyes.
"We're here." Susan smiled, "See. That's Chicago."
"Whoa." AJ gasped, "It's ginormous."
"This is where Mommy and Aunt Chloe grew up." Susan explained, "Susie was born here too."
"Was I?" AJ asked.
"No, Baby. You were born in Phoenix." Susan explained.
"Because that's where we lived."
"That's not an answer." AJ kicked her feet against the passenger seat.
"Well that's the best one I got."
"But Mommy, why can't I go with you?" AJ asked. They stood in the daycare facility the hotel had provided and Alexis stared up at her mother with tear filled eyes.
"Cause, Baby, Mommy's gotta go to a meeting for doctors." Susan explained, "I'll come and get you in a few hours and we'll go get lunch."
"But I want to go with you now!" Alexis stomped her feet and tears pooled in her eyes.
"I know, AJ," Susan knelt and kissed her cheek, "I'm just going to be a few rooms away. You have fun with the other kids."
"Do I really gotta?" She mumbled and wrapped her arms tightly around Susan's neck.
"Yep." Susan nodded, "You really gotta."
"Big fat bummer!"
"Susan?" A voice came from behind her and she turned slowly, looking her past in the face. Susan's eyes trailed over his body; he was still tall, gangly, his glasses slid down on his nose in the summer heat, and his head was slightly more bald than the last time she had seen him.
She blinked several times, her mouth going dry, "M..Mark?"
"Ohhhh." AJ spoke with sass only a four year old could manage, "You're Mark!"
"And who are you?" Mark asked with a chuckle, "Not Little Susie."
"Nooooope!" She shook her head, her blond hair whipping around as she extended her hand, "AJ, Mister, put 'er there."
"Well," Mark spoke, shaking her hand, "She's definitely yours. Those eyes couldn't come from anyone else."
"Mark," Susan's head dropped to the right, "How..."
"I know you, Susan." He reminded her, standing back up. They stood toe-to-toe for a moment, "And Carol talks."
"She's worse than Doug."
"Doug?" Alexis made a face, "Is that that man you told me about Mommy? Doctor Microphone?"
Mark's shoulders shook with silent laughter. There should have been a million questions and a thousand awkward moments, but at that moment all he could think about was having his best friend back. His best friend whom he had missed so much for the past five years.