Author's Note: It always has intrigued me what had happened between Mark and Steve, that they were having a bad relation, and that Steve was actually trouble.
So in this, I want to pick up the loose ends the series had left us with, and hopefully braid them together into something that makes sense. I will go back into Steve's childhood, which is surprisingly different from what one should think, seeing the tough cop of now, and we will see why Carol ran away.
This story is going to tell about Katherine's last weeks.
It's February 1989.
The ages are:
"Ey Steve, we'll meet at 'Jake's'. Come along?"
Steve straddled his motorbike and inserted the key. "No Tom. Not tonight."
"Hey, it's Pete's birthday!"
"Best wishes." Steve said, started his bike and drove off the lot, taking the turn sharply.
The traffic was the usual snarl at this time of day, but Steve weaved swiftly through the cars, leaving them standing in those endless rows.
Not that he was in a real hurry to get home. He knew it would just be the same old hassle again. His dad would just get his knickers in a bunch when he heard that he had passed up the chance to get out of the uniform and become a plainclothes detective.
And his dad would hear about it. In all probability he already had.
Steve sighed and sped up to catch the traffic light at something that with a little bit of good will and some imagination could be called yellow still.
It took him twenty minutes to get from Culver City to the Pacific Coast Highway, where he picked up some more speed, heading out towards Malibu.
He willfully shut off all thoughts about his dad and his crappy family life, and instead enjoyed the brisk February wind ruffling and tousling his hair.
This was good.
Maybe he should just go on, take a ride up the state, or right up to Alaska. He could go on for days on this road, and could get away as far as possible from it all.
And my luck, probably catch pneumonia, he thought wryly when it came into his mind how rainy Oregon is at this time of year.
His mind flashed him a picture of himself lying in a little country clinic's room, using one of those accursed inhalators. And he rolled his eyes when his mind spun the story on, letting his dad come into his room, with dark circles under the eyes after the long ride, and ask with mild reproach: "Steve, you went on a trip up the coast without your warmers? Would it have been too much to stop and pack some warm clothes? You know how susceptible you are to catching colds."
Alone the thought let him set his jaw tightly and his brows come down in a grouchy frown.
He usually liked to put the blame for his delicate health on his Californian origin, but truth was that his sister had a constitution like a horse.
All his family had a constitution like a horse. He couldn't remember any of them being ever seriously ill.
Until five years ago.
Until his mom had been diagnosed with cancer.
He gave a bold twist to his gas and overtook a couple of cars at an obstinate high speed.
But after a couple of moments he reined himself in and slowed down to his regular ten-miles-too-fast.
The times when he had let off steam with illegal racing were over.
He was a cop now.
And so he reached his parent's Malibu beachfront home without getting ticketed.
He jacked up his bike and loosened his red bandana on his way in through the gatehouse into the court yard.
He still couldn't believe that his mom had by her own hand removed all her beloved roses, and replaced them by simple, evergreen plants. Not that he was especially fond of roses, but he knew they had been his mom's pride and joy. When they had moved from their Brentwood home out here to the beach it had taken her months and years to make them bloom so richly like they had before.
And then she had spent hours and hours painting her flowers. With water and oil colors. And she had taken photos of them. They were filling huge tomes of leather bound photo albums now.
Last August she had taken them all out. Even the ramblers around the passage through the gatehouse.
He stomped up the stair and gripped the door knob. But instead of opening the door he stood for a moment, and took a deep breath, leaning his forehead against the cool stained glass.
Only when he felt that his jaw was relaxed he turned the knob and entered.
He took the five steps up into the living room with two strides and called: "Hi Mom, I'm home."
Carol, his sister came out of the kitchen, putting her finger to her lips. "Shh. She's sleeping."
Steve's shoulders sagged. "She still not feeling better?"
She shook her head. "On the couch." she just said, and returned to a viciously fizzling pot on the stove.
Steve sighed. Their mother had been fine and well for about eight months, after she has had her final chemo therapy last winter. But last night she had gone unusually early to bed. The family had tried not to worry, but when she didn't get up in the morning the worry was almost palpable.
She had insisted that it was just a bad headache, but after five years of dealing with this illness they all were highly attuned to her conditions.
He stepped into the small guest bathroom and washed his hands, a precaution that had become a habit, and then crossed the living room to where the well worn leather couch was standing in front of the open fire place.
His mother was lying tucked in under a colorful quilt. Not the warmest, Steve noted with a touch of relief. It was still very present in his mind how it had been nearly impossible to keep his mother warm when she was feeling very ill.
But he also noticed that no book was lying on the table, nor any of her various needle works. Just a cup of tea.
He leaned down and breathed a light kiss on her head, barely feeling the soft new hair on his lips.
It had started to grow back in summer, and was now just beginning to curl.
He sat down on the coffee table and took her hand in his. "I'm sorry Mom. I didn't mean to disturb you."
She opened her eyes and gave him a look full of love and gentle reproach. "You aren't disturbing."
She gave his hand a light squeeze, and then held hers out to let him help her sit up.
He watched her closely as she tucked her feet by her side, but couldn't detect any sign of her swaying or feeling dizzy in any kind.
"The head better?" he asked softly.
"I'm fine." she said convincingly.
But Steve couldn't be fooled easily. He gave her a look and said pointedly: "You are letting Carol cook dinner."
"Well, the girl will have to learn it one day." she said with a smile, but rolled her eyes a bit.
From the kitchen came a lot of ominous noises that Steve knew must make his mother cringe inwardly.
"She will want to have her own family one day. Rather sooner than later."
Steve looked up. "Did she see that sluggard Hilton again?"
"Yes she has, and it is good for her."
Steve's temper flared. "No it isn't! He's just a no-good and..."
"Steven." his mother interrupted gently but firmly, and he fell duly silent.
"Your sister needs Bruce. She's been staying home with me all this time now, and she needs a getaway once in a while."
"You are talking like it is a burden to take care of you." he griped.
She reached for his hand and gave it a light squeeze. "It is, Sweetheart. And if it is Bruce she needs to stay centered, then be it. If he isn't good for her she will notice that in her own time."
"Yeah when?" Steve blustered. "In a couple years when he has boozed through her money and she has a bunch of hungry children to take care of?"
His mother just sat with that peerless mild expression on her face.
Steve's shoulders sagged and he leaned over to kiss her cheek. "Sorry Mom."
He knew that she would love to have a couple of grandchildren, and even though he was thirty seven, and his sister thirty one, there were no children to be expected any time soon.
She gave him a gentle smile and asked softly: "So what about that sweet girl Joanna? When will you see her again?"
Steve sighed and muttered a non committing reply as he got up.
"I'll go take a shower." he said. "Anything I can bring you before I go?"
"No thank you, Sweetheart." She pushed the quilt back and put her feet on the floor. "I'll go and see if your sister needs some help."
She stood up, and Steve noticed pleased that she moved swiftly and with ease.
Relieved that his mother was feeling better he took the stair down to where he had set up his camp when he had moved back in with his parents, four years ago.
The first floor of the house was huge, but hardly ever used because there wasn't enough light coming in. Even the room Steve was using as his bedroom was always slightly dim, because the deck upstairs blocked out the light.
And the living room, which he was crossing now with his long strides, could hardly be used without artificial light at all.
So the Sloans had mostly used this floor for their famous parties.
He entered his bedroom and put his keys on the night case right next to the door. He opened the French door wide, letting the cool night air in, and flopped back on his bed.
His tall, king sized bed. It was one of the few pieces of furniture he owned. When he had signed the contract with the Eagin racing team he had rented his first own apartment, and in a display of confidence to get to meet plenty pit babes, had bought this spacey play ground.
Overconfident, as it had turned out.
He sighed and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands.
And Joanna won't be lying in this bed either.
But well, he sat up with verve, that doesn't matter now.
He just didn't have a mind for girls and relationships right now. Today had shown that his mother wasn't out of the woods yet.
He slapped his thighs and stood up.
Dressed in a fresh pair of Jeans and sweater, his hair still damp, Steve went back upstairs, the heels of his boots clicking on the wooden steps.
His father had come home too, and was sitting at his tall desk right next to the entrance.
"Hey Dad." he replied in passing.
"Steve. How did the interview go?"
He rolled his eyes, and blew under his wet bangs. Then he turned around. "How come you already know about it?"
His father gave him a pointed look over the rims of his reading glasses. "Well, you don't want to stay a beat cop for the rest of your life, do you?"
"So you even arranged for it?" Steve put his hands on his hip and his chin jutted belligerently out. "I don't want to be assigned. Why not wait and see where I might get promoted to?"
"You can get promotions from detective upwards." his father pointed out, clearly not seeing Steve's point.
He sighed and turned around to go on, and feeling the need for fresh air he approached the deck door.
"Steve, you sure don't want to go out with your hair still wet?" his dad said with gentle, doctorly reproach. "The wind is terribly chilly tonight."
Steve took a deep breath.
"Oh and by the way," his dad went on, "you haven't been wearing your helmet again. - Steve, I really cannot approve of your not wearing any protective gear. But a helmet," he paused in exasperation and went on more calmly again: "Son, I see so many terrible injuries from motorcycle accidents. You just have no chance when you are unprotected. There is no crush zone around you."
"I'm a good driver." Steve muttered, and took a turn towards the kitchen instead.
His mom was standing at the stove and stirred vigorously in a pot, and his sister was standing by to watch.
Steve took a Bud from the fridge, and cast his sister a frown. "Carol, I thought you were cooking."
"I was." she gave back. "But the sauce was totally clotty and lumpy."
Steve sighed, and set his beer on the counter. "You can go and set the table. Mom, you sit down now."
"It's okay, Son. I'm fine."
"That is fine." Steve said, and nudged her gently aside. "Then you can stay here and see that I'm doing everything right."
He took the wire whisk from her hand and went on beating, while he checked the steaks with a practiced touch.
His mother smiled. She knew that her son was grown up, and that he had survived on his own for six years. But it was just too temptingly easy to see him as her boy again.
Steve was satisfied with the doneness of the steaks, and removed the huge skillet with a swift motion from the flame. He tore off some tin foil, wrapped the steaks up to let them sit for some moments, and then dipped a spoon into the sauce to let his Mom taste it.
"A little more thyme maybe." she judged, and sprinkled it in.
Steve stirred, and then nudged her gently towards the door. "Now you sit down. I can handle this."
His mother didn't sit down.
She helped Carol to set the table instead, and five minutes later the whole family was gathered around the tall round table.
"Daddy," Carol said, holding out her plate to her brother to get it filled, "you know what I was thinking?"
"Tell me Darling."
"I don't want to go back into advertising. I thought I should train as a nurse. Mom says I've got what it takes."
"I'm sure of that." Mark said appreciatively, eying the crooked little potatoes that looked like they had been peeled with a couple of strikes with a machete. Then he went on: "That's a great idea, Carol. - But say, why don't you start med school, and go for doctor? I'm sure I can get you in this year right alright."
He cast her an eager, expectant look, ready to jump up and get the ball rolling.
Carol sighed. "No Dad, I really made my mind up on this."
"But why would you limit yourself right from the beginning?" Mark tried brightly to make his point. "Darling you are such a smart kid. I'm sure you would get through med school with flying colors."
Steve rolled his eyes. "Dad, she would be forty before she could get anywhere near practicing."
"So? Where's the problem? I told you I even had a student who graduated from med school at the age of fifty-six. And as far as I know she's still practicing in the clinic in her home town."
"Fine Dad." Carol put in. "But I just don't see it. I'm glad I left college behind me."
Mark was unperturbed. "Ya maybe you need a little gentle prodding here and there." he allowed. "But that doesn't mean you would do bad in school. I'm here Darling, I can help you with your studies."
"Dad!" Carol said with growing frustration, "I want to be a nurse, and not a doctor."
Mark waved her objection aside, still eager to sell his idea. "You just need to see what it's like. Tell you what, I'm gonna take you with me. You can follow me around, and see what it's like."
"Dad! I know what it's like. My dad is a doctor, remember?"
Mark chuckled good-naturedly. "Yes I know. But I promise you it will be different when you are there to actually train. Oh it's gonna be exciting. I'm gonna let you sample the various departments, and ..."
"Dad!" Carol exclaimed exasperated.
"Darling, you will see..."
Steve stood up with so much verve, that his chair nearly toppled back. "She doesn't want to be a doctor, father." he blustered, his eyes almost black in the shadow of his minatorial frown, "And neither do I."
He snatched up his plate and beer, and stalked out on the deck, and to really get away from it all, down the stair to his porch.