"Robbie?" The surprise is so obvious that it cuts through to his very soul and almost makes him hang up. Not just hang up, turn off the phone and change his number so that not only he can pretend it never happened, he can also prevent himself from doing it again.
"It's been years" It's a statement, but it feels like an accusation and it stings like he knew it would sting.
"I know. I thought of you on mom's birthday." A half-truth is better than a lie. He remembered her on that day, but he also remembers her every clinic duty he has to attach an IV bag to a sixteen year old with more alcohol than blood in their body. The only reason he stays away from the ER is because he knows rehydrating teenagers is the only thing he´d do all night.
"Is everything ok?"
"Yeah yeah fine, I just wanted to see how you were" I'm sorry, is what he wants to say. I'm sorry for walking out of your life. I'm sorry for leaving you alone. It was too much, I couldn't bear going through it all again.
"I'm fine." Chase wonders if the warm feeling in his stomach is relief for her wellbeing or fear. Every time he plays this conversation in his mind it stops here. No question he might ask are deemed appropriate by the little voice inside his head that keeps reminding him that he abandoned his baby sister in Melbourne. That while he fled to America, to reconstruct his life from the shambles and disappointment and to pretend that everything was ok, she was left with their happily remarried father and a vodka bottle for company.
He swallowed once and felt his throat closing up. He damned Adams for making him think of her, and the Alzheimer's patient, for bringing it all up in the first place. And the wife, specially the wife, for being so strong and supportive and there when he could not. The silence was getting uncomfortable, closing in on him and choking the little confidence and bravery that had initiated the stupid mad idea that he should call his sister. His hand was shaking despite the tight grip on the phone and his finger started edging toward the button that would end the long distance insanity.
"How's the medicine coming along?" The question and the tone surprised him so much it almost made him jump.
"Are you still doing the, what was it again? Diagnostics?" He was taken aback by the fact that the conversation hadn't come to a disastrous halt and that she seemed truly interested in his answer.
"Yeah, yeah, still am"
"Any cases of swine flu recently or is there some other farm animal I should worry about?" The comment made him smile and suddenly all the tension evaporated.
"We haven't had any, but I still only trust a sheep as far as I can throw one." He couldn't tell if the chuckle on the other side of the line was authentic or forced, but he realized that he didn't really care, idly wondering if she remembered him in the kitchen burning lamb steaks to a nice black crisp. She still used a baby booster, so he doubted it, but the memory was still fresh in his mind. "Finished a case today, Alzheimer patient overdosed on aspirin."
"How'd he manage that?" Chase heard movement from her side, a cupboard or maybe a fridge door opening.
"Turns out his wife put some in the water of her flower vases; he had a sore throat and drank the water, forgot he did and rerealized he had a sore throat. Bit of an endless cycle after that."
"Well, talking about coincidences: about a week ago a neighbor told me about adding aspirin to preserve flowers after they were cut. Never thought it could be life threatening."
"And how's it going on your side of the world?" The question had been asked without really thinking, but he needed to fill the silence and not think what could and should be talked about, because he knew that if he stopped to consider anything he would never open his mouth again.
But she responded. She talked about her job as an after school teacher, talked about her boyfriend whom she was living with, the baking sale the church next door had done a few days back. He told her about his colleagues in the hospital, about strange cases that only their team could crack, about his boss who was the best even though he was so mad that he once tried to hide a chicken in his office. A cat she had found in a dumpster that once nursed back to health had proved to be wild enough to be a Tasmanian devil's offspring, a shirt that had been completely ruined because one of Taub's daughters had decided she didn't want more porridge on the night he was babysitting as a special favor.
It was light, there were no confessions. He steered away from the topic of alcohol, she remained silent about blame. They pretended that they didn't not know anything about each other. It was nice, to make believe that they were not complete strangers. That he no longer knew if her favorite color was still orange, that she didn't know how many nameless women he took to bed every week. Their parents were not mentioned. At all.
"Robbie, it's getting kind of late over here and I really should get some groceries before Drake comes home from work. I don't even want to imagine what time it is over there." It was so late that he was considering taking a nap in the big comfortable recliner in the surgeon's lounge instead of wasting time going home. The call had lasted almost three hours.
"Let's just say it's late enough to be early." Was his reply. He toyed with the phone, not really wanting to hang up just yet.
"Hey, Rob? I,…" Her voice trailed off for a moment, and the panic rushed back into him like a wave. "I'm not going to lie, hearing from you was a bit of a surprise. But it was nice. I.., I really would like to call you again. Soon, that is."
"I can call you again next week, if you like." It was an offer he'd never dreamt of making. And it scared him, because he knew that sooner or later he'd have to apologize for everything. He´d have to face up for not being the man she needed him to be almost nine years ago.
"I'd like that." At that moment Chase knew he'd do it. Because it would allow him to be part of her life again. This time he could handle it.
Maybe next time he'd be able to recognize his own sister's voice.
I know Chase's sister is only mentioned in one episode, and I've got a never ending fight with a friend about whether she exists or not but I'd like to explore the potential she has and her relationship with her brother a bit more. This isn't planned as a one-shot, I'd like to add more chapters both from before this moment and after, but specially concerning season 8.
This chapter is based on the conversation at the end of episode 9, season 8 (Better Half)
Truth is, I haven't written in ages, so any comments are more than welcome.