In the Other
Cristina had just put Diego back into his playpen when she heard the school bus out front. Squaring her shoulders, she went to the front door to greet the girls. Hoping she wouldn't scare them by being too different than their own mother.
"Hi Mommy!" Mallory flung her arms around her, before running upstairs. The sweetness of the gesture made Cristina briefly smile. She went into the kitchen and frowned. Would the other Cristina make after-school snacks? She snorted. I still don't understand why she has kids.
When she came out of the kitchen, with cookies and milk, the girls were in the study, and opening their school books. They'd changed out of their uniforms. She looked at Chloe, decked out in a pink hoodie, and realized whose bedroom was whose.
"Cookies!" Mallory's face lit up. "Thanks!"
"Thank you." Chloe smiled and took a plate.
Curious, Cristina looked over their shoulders at their homework assignments. She was impressed. Both girls were doing advanced work for their ages. She knew if they were her daughters, she'd be bragging about them all the time.
She heard Owen entering the house and froze. If anyone was going to detect a difference in her, it would be him. Apprehensively she watched from the shadows as he entered the living room. He reached down and picked up Diego, as the girls ran and wrapped their arms around him. Laughing, he hugged them back.
The sight of Owen felt like a punch to the stomach, so forceful that Cristina felt sick. He's so happy.
Moving quickly, she went into the bathroom and locked herself inside. She shakily sat down on the floor, leaned back against the door, and began to cry again.
"Cristina?" The other Owen knocked on the door. "You okay?"
She wiped the tears from her face. "I'm still feeling a little sick."
I want to go home. "No."
Silence. "Are you still mad at me?" Owen asked.
Oh crap, they're fighting too? "I'm not mad," Cristina answered carefully. "I'm really not feeling well."
"I could get you some ginger ale and toast?"
She rolled her eyes. No matter what, Owen liked to take care of her. And she knew he'd just pester her until she let him in. "Okay. Thank you."
Slowly, she stood up and left the room, taking a seat on the couch. She weakly smiled when Owen brought her food and ginger ale. He sat down next to her and snagged a piece of toast, before launching into a story from his day.
Cristina was mesmerized by how relaxed this Owen was. She was unable to stop looking at him. His beard had some white in it, his laugh lines were deeper, but this Owen honestly looked younger than her own. His face was animated as he chatted about his latest protégée.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" He grinned. "Do I have food in my beard?"
"No." She smiled softly. "I … I've got things on my mind."
He nodded, looking more serious. "Like the keynote address."
"Right," she nodded, trying to remember if she'd seen something about a speech online or on the laptop.
He touched her hand. "I'm sorry I was grouchy last night."
She nibbled her bottom lip. "It's ... okay."
"We really need to get our schedules synced better," he continued. "I don't like only seeing you for a couple of hours each day, if I'm lucky."
"Uh huh." she nodded.
"Do you think...?" He sighed. "Do you think you can talk to Dr Avery and give the keynote address at next year's conference? I know it's a big deal that he asked you, but ..."
"Dr Avery?" Cristina's face lit up. "Dr Harper Avery?"
"Yes, Harper Avery," he nodded, frowning at her reaction. "It makes me happy that he thinks so much of you, you know. You deserve to be the youngest recipient of the Harper Avery award ever."
She smiled. This other reality wasn't entirely bad.
In the Now
Cristina stayed in the bath for a long time, trying not to think of her family. She'd never gone so long without speaking with her kids. Even when she was away for business, they'd phone each other or Skype. Just remembering their faces brought tears to her eyes.
And she definitely missed her husband – the warm and happy Owen, who couldn't possibly cheat on her. She needed to tell him that he was more important than Harper Avery. She needed to show him that he was her partner in life, she was terribly lonely without him, and she never wanted him to be as … broken ... as the other Owen was.
Wearily, she wiped her eyes. She knew that something terrible had to have happened, for this Owen to stray. She was torn between wanting to know what had occurred, and not wanting to cause him any more pain.
When Cristina left the bathroom, she slightly smiled when she saw the bed. Someone had laid out fresh clothing for her – probably Owen. He would have known she preferred to wear his t-shirts when she didn't feel well. He'd chosen a particular one that was loose enough that she could comfortably get dressed with her sore shoulder.
After she got changed, she emerged from the bedroom. Her mother smiled as she finished setting the table. "Good timing!"
"Thank you for making supper," Cristina said as she took a seat. She smelled the air appreciatively, recognizing smells from her childhood. Her eyes stung as she was reminded how much she missed having her mother in her life.
"Now eat!" Helen placed a plate in front of her, then put down a plate for Owen, and one for herself. Owen slowly took his seat at the table and they began to eat.
"Hey Mom," Cristina said, trying to sound casual. "When was the last time that you had a full check-up?"
Helen shrugged. "I don't know. I suppose I should go yearly, but I've always been in very good health."
"I thought you were seeing someone because of your high blood pressure."
"Ah, he put me on Ramipril and now I'm fine. Nothing to worry about." Helen shrugged.
"But I do worry," Cristina said deliberately. "Have you had any dizziness? Do you ever feel faint?"
Owen raised his eyebrows at Cristina while Helen just chuckled. "My daughter the doctor. I'm fine."
"You know who thinks they're fine until their life changes forever? The patients we see after they've had a major stroke." Cristina put down her utensils. "Promise me that you'll get a full check-up as soon as you get back to LA."
"Cristina..." Her mother put down her own utensils. "Why are you asking me to do this?"
"I just survived a plane crash," Cristina hastily reminded her. "I'm ... reminded now how fleeting life can be." She glanced at Owen, who was staring at her in disbelief.
Helen smiled tenderly. "If it's that important to you, I will."
In the Other
After homework and supper, they went to the backyard. Cristina sat on the deck and watched as Owen played with Diego and Mallory.
Chloe sat down next to her with a cross-stitch project. She leaned over and examined the fabric.
"Look at those stitches," Cristina said, approvingly. "Very neat and tidy. You could be a great surgeon." The girl flushed and grinned with pleasure.
Cristina sat back and watched the other Owen. He embodied everything that her Owen could be – happy, open, fulfilled – and wasn't. The differences were staggering. It was like looking at two MRIs, and seeing how gravely wounded her husband was, how much it must hurt Owen to love her. The revelation was excruciating.
Cristina winced. Her husband had crushed her when he cheated on her. But she was well aware that he was deeply wounded himself. Instead of pushing him to talk, to release his pain, she distracted him with sex and played with Zola and sided with Teddy and basically hoped he could get over the abortion on his own. He'd betrayed her as a husband and she'd ... made many mistakes. She'd been self-centred and careless and inattentive. She was nowhere near the wife she could be.
"I think somebody is ready for his bath." Owen grinned as he carried Diego over. "Want me to do the honors?"
She smiled and nodded.
"Then you can read to me tonight!" Mallory slipped a small hand into hers, and led her to the living room. Chloe followed, folding up her fabric.
While Cristina settled down on the couch, Mallory pulled a book off of a shelf. She sat down next to her and handed her the book. Cristina smiled to see a book she'd loved in her own childhood. She opened the book to where there was a bookmark, and began to read aloud about a red-haired orphan and her misadventures in the fictional town of Avonlea.
In the Now
Propped up in the bed, Cristina read a book, while Helen and Owen took care of the dishes. Her mother came in to say good night, before retiring to the guest room.
Slowly, Owen entered the room and slid the doors shut behind him. Cristina looked at his defeated posture and decided she just couldn't be silent.
She drew in a deep breath. "What's wrong?" Cristina asked. "What did I do?"
"Now?" He unbuttoned his shirt and undid his cuffs.
"I really want to know," she told him sincerely, putting down her book. "Talk to me. What did I do earlier that made you angry?"
Stricken, he looked down and muttered. "You poured love and affection onto Zola."
"What's wrong with that?" She felt helpless. Did the other her hate children? "Why wouldn't I be nice to Meredith's daughter?"
He looked up at her, and she was shocked to see tears in his eyes. "You terminated your pregnancy because you wanted nothing to do with being a mother, and then you act maternal in front of me, every time that you see Zola. Do you not see how that hurts me?"
Stunned, Cristina's hand went to her mouth. Suddenly she understood why this Owen was so distant and their marriage was in ruins.
"It's bad enough that you never, ever, want to hear about my feelings about the abortion," he continued. "You have to rub it into my face that you are capable of being warm and loving with a child, you just didn't want to have my child. The child that I wanted and that I was willing to put my career on hold for."
Cristina's eyes filled with tears. This man wasn't her husband ... but he was Owen, and he was in pain, and he needed her.
"Just once, I want you to see how you keep hurting me," Owen said. "Walk away if you must ... choose being a surgeon over being a wife if that's what really makes you happy ... but ... know what you're doing to me."
Cristina flinched. Her own husband could've said some of those words to her. She looked at the devastated man in front of her, waiting for her to say something.
Shakily, she leaned forward. "I see you."
His eyes widened. She sensed that some memories were the same.
Tears ran down her face as she stood up and reached out with her good hand. "I see you."
His mouth trembled, as she placed her hand on his chest.
"I see your pain," she said, softly. She couldn't speak for the other Cristina, but she could vocalize her own feelings. "I'm so sorry."
Owen's composure cracked further. "Why?" He was devastated. "Why did you tell me you were pregnant if you weren't going to keep it?"
"I don't know!" Cristina's hand moved up to caress his face. "I am so sorry, Owen. I see your pain."
He framed her face with his shaking hands. "You have to let me talk about it. It's the only way I can heal."
"Okay." Her voice was hoarse. "I'll listen."
"I know I hurt you too," he told her, fervently. "It wasn't intentional. It was ... subconscious. I'm so sorry. I thought the choking was the worst thing I could ever do and I never meant to hurt you then ... or now ..."
Tears running down her face, she nodded.
"Don't hate me," Owen whispered. "Please."
"I don't hate you," Cristina said, leaning her forehead against his, wrapping her right arm around him. As he poured out his heart, she simply held him close and listened.
In the Other
After storytime, Owen put the girls to bed. Hesitantly, Cristina went into the master bedroom. Then she quickly started opening drawers. As soon as she found Owen's t-shirts, she grabbed one and changed into it, before sliding under the covers. Nervously, she laid there and tried to sleep.
The other Owen entered the room and undressed, before joining her under the covers. "You okay?" Owen asked. "You look anxious."
The kindness in his tone got to her. Tears welled up in her eyes.
"Hey…" He moved closer and gathered her in his arms. "What's wrong?"
She could only shake her head and cry. She wanted so badly to go home to her husband, to apologize to him, to start making things right. Instead she was trapped in another reality, having to pretend to be someone else.
"Shhh, shhh." Owen held her close and stroked her hair. She clung to him, accepting his comfort, as the tears continued to flow.
"I'm sorry if I'm putting too much pressure on you," he whispered. "I don't want to make you miserable."
She shook her head. "It's not you."
"Then what is it?"
Sighing, she leaned against him. He may not really be her husband, but he was offering warmth and support that she desperately needed.
"I … had a patient this week ..." she slowly said. "You know how patients tell you every single little detail about their private lives?"
"This woman … hurt someone very much … her husband. She knew she hurt him, but she didn't realize how much. And then her husband had a one-night stand with some … hoochie in a bar."
"She tried to forgive him but they were both hurt, and so she left. Then she realized what a terrible wife she was and how deeply she'd hurt him and she wanted to fight for her marriage but wasn't sure if she would ever have the opportunity."
"Okay." Owen stroked her hair. "So … why are you crying?"
Cristina blinked. "Um. Well … we seem to be arguing lately ..."
He tilted her chin, forcing her to look at him. "I will never cheat on you. We may be arguing but it's not that bad."
She reached up and touched his face, buying time while she tried to figure out what to say. She dimly recalled something from sessions with Dr Wyatt.
"Tell me your side of the story," she said to him. "Tell me what your perspective is on our argument."
Owen nodded. "Well, I'd just finished making reservations for our trip when you told me that Harper Avery called because he needed a speaker at the last minute. You'd already told him 'yes' without talking with me about it ... it made me feel like our family is some sort of accessory in your life, and that your reputation and your career come first. You made a decision that affects our family and you won't discuss it and I'm frustrated."
"I see …" Cristina blinked. "That … makes me sound kind of … cold."
His thumb caressed her cheek. "You're not cold. But you kind of … have trouble balancing career and home life sometimes."
Fresh tears filled her eyes. That was so true in her own reality.
"Look, in the grand scheme of things, it's only a vacation," Owen told her. "I just want to know that the kids and I are a big part of your life and it would be nice if you were more compromising. I know I'm being stubborn about this but it's important to me."
"Okay ..." She considered her next words. How could she make a decision when this wasn't really her life? "Can we sleep on this?"
"Absolutely." He leaned closer and kissed her. His fingers caressed her neck, invitingly. "Unless you don't want to sleep just yet ..."
For a moment, Cristina was tempted. It had been so long since she'd been with a playful and eager Owen … but this wasn't her husband. She drew back a little.
"I'm sorry," she said. "It's been a long day and-"
"-and we're both tired," he finished. "We can sleep in tomorrow and be rested for later..."
"Sounds good." She smiled at him. "You're a good husband, you know that?"
"It helps to have a fantastic wife." Owen kissed her one more time, before rolling over to turn off the light. As he settled down on his pillow, he turned to face her one more time.
"How was Diego today?" Owen yawned. "He must've liked having you home."
"He was good. We, uh, had fun together." She lightly coughed. "Who would have ever thought that we'd end up like this? With three children."
He chuckled. "I was definitely surprised when I found you that day, angry that you weren't pregnant."
She lifted her head. "Really?"
"Uh huh. I really didn't know that you were trying. Having a baby was one of your best ideas ever."
Surprised, she turned to stare at the ceiling. She realized that she was never going to understand the other Cristina and the choices she'd made. And she found that it really didn't matter.
Cristina smiled in the dim light. She had to admit, those different choices had led to three children that a mother could be proud of. They didn't feel like they were her children, they didn't make her long for a baby, but they were smart and very charming. It wasn't like they were runny-nosed brats headed for juvenile delinquency and dropping out of school.
But the other me had better not be in my body, getting it pregnant, she thought.
"We should go shopping tomorrow," Owen yawned again. "Chloe needs new shoes for camp."
"Uh huh." She closed her eyes, her heart yearning for her own husband. If only our problems were as simple as a vacation...
In the Now
They were both drained, after Owen was done speaking. Cristina hadn't understood some of what he talked about, like holding her hand and screaming at a birthday party and Teddy laughing with the other Cristina behind his back. But he looked relieved to have poured his heart out to her.
As he got ready for bed, Cristina went into the bathroom one more time. Closing the door after her, she faced the mirror.
"I'm not judging you about the abortion," she told her reflection. "I get that children aren't for everyone, I never thought I'd have three."
Cristina cleared her throat. "I just don't understand how it went so wrong. He's not perfect, but you have a good husband. You could be a really great team if you worked for it. Don't just move to Minnesota without him."
She pointed to her reflection. "And if you're in my body, you'd better not be shipping my kids off to boarding school."
Cristina yawned as she left the bathroom. Sleepily, she got into the bed, as Owen finished changing his clothes. By habit, she reached over and lifted up the blanket on his side of the bed.
He froze in place, surprised. Mentally, she chided herself, for not thinking that they probably weren't sharing a bed. She looked at him … and saw a flicker of hope in his eyes.
Cristina shrugged and patted the bed. He smiled slightly, before slipping under the covers. She reached out and squeezed his shoulder, reassuringly, before drifting off to sleep.
She moved through the grey mists again. There was nothing to show her the way, but she sensed she was going where she belonged.
A figure stepped out of the mist. She looked at the other her, and they nodded at each other, before moving on.
In the Other
Cristina slowly woke up, wrapped up in Owen's arms. She blinked, trying to remember what felt like a dream. There had been a thick fog and she had been lost in it. And her mother had been there.
"Good morning!" Mallory ran into the room. "Can we have French toast?"
Owen mumbled and pulled Cristina closer. "Can you give us a few moments?"
"Okay!" She ran out of the room.
Cristina turned and looked at Owen. She had the feeling that there was something she needed to say to him.
"Screw the conference," she blurted out. "I promised we'd have a family vacation, we'll have one."
He grinned. "I was thinking, we could all go to Massachusetts instead. You can give your speech and then we can go driving up the coast for a week?"
She shook her head. "No speech. I'll put my career on hold for a week and we'll take our trip as agreed. As long as I don't have to sleep in a tent."
His eyes twinkled. "I booked us some cabins."
Cristina chuckled. "How about next year, we'll go to New Zealand like you've always wanted to? I'll take two weeks off of work if we'll stay in nice hotels. No cottages or tents."
He kissed her. "I like that."
She reached up and touched his face. "I love you."
Smiling, he kissed her again, his beard scratchy against her face. "I love you too."
"Ew." Chloe entered the room, with Diego toddling behind her.
Laughing, Cristina sat up. "That's why you're supposed to knock." She held out her arms and Diego climbed up into her embrace. "Hello little dude." Yawning, Chloe sat down next to her and leaned against her.
Mallory stuck her head in. "Now can we have breakfast?"
Owen groaned and sat up. "Sure. Who wants cereal?"
"French toast!" Their younger daughter jumped on the bed. "Cereal is boring!"
"Cereal is awesome!" Cristina kissed the top of Diego's head and chuckled. She looked at her family, gathered on the bed, and tilted her head. Again she felt like she was forgetting something, something that happened in a dream. Something that reminded her that she was enriched by her family, not burdened by them.
"You okay?" Owen was watching her closely.
"I'm good," she smiled. "Let's go have breakfast."
In the Now
The ache in her shoulder woke Cristina up. Groggily, she sat up. Her heart leaped to see Owen sleeping soundly beside her.
She blinked. She had the sensation of wanting to tell Owen something, something that might have happened in a dream.
Minding her shoulder, she inched closer to Owen until she was lying next to him. Gently, she rubbed his chest until he woke up. He smiled a little and pulled her closer. "How's your shoulder?"
"It's feeling a bit better." She curled up against him. "Owen … would you be willing to move to Minnesota?"
"I would." His eyes flickered with hope.
"Okay." She drew in a deep breath. "I want to save our marriage."
He tightened his arm around her. "I want that too."
"We can be an awesome team, you and I." She gripped his t-shirt. "I am so sorry for how I avoided talking about everything. I am so sorry I cut you out of the decision making. I'm so sorry that I hurt you."
"Cristina…" He kissed her forehead. "I'm sorry for being an ass. For not talking, either. Then blowing up. And cheating."
"I'm going to be a better wife and partner," she promised him. "And we've got to find another therapist. A good one."
"We'll keep searching until we find the right one." He sighed. "I love you. I have to talk about everything that happened, but always know that I love you."
"I'll listen to everything you say," she vowed. "And I have some things that you need to hear, even if you don't want to. But know that I love you and I want us to make this work."
"Okay." Shyly, he kissed her, his beard scratching her face. They were interrupted by a knocking on the door.
Cristina sat up. "Come in, Mom." She smiled as her mother entered the room, carrying a cup of tea. "Thank you."
"I'll start warming up a hot pack." Owen leaped out of the bed.
"And I'll get you a breakfast tray," Helen said.
"No, no, sit," Cristina said. She patted the bed next to her. "I have something I want to tell you."
Smiling, her mother sat down.
"I really appreciate you coming here," Cristina told her. "You put your life on hold to take care of me and I'm grateful."
"You're welcome." Helen patted her cheek. "Now go freshen up while I get your food."
Chuckling, Cristina slid out of bed and went into the bathroom. She glanced up at the mirror and paused. Again there was the sensation of forgetting a dream. She frowned at her reflection and didn't know why. She looked the same as always – who was she expecting to see?
When she returned to the bedroom, Owen was waiting, with the hot pack and her breakfast tray. She couldn't take her eyes off of him as he helped her get settled again – something about him seemed lighter, as if a heavy weight had been lifted off of his shoulders.
"We're going to make this work, aren't we?" Cristina asked.
He smiled before briefly touching her face. "Yes. We are."
"Good." She took his hand. "That's what I really want."