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God Bless the Broken Road

By: Jamie Sommers   

Email: jamiesommers23@hotmail.com

Synopsis: Carter and Abby have a proper goodbye on his last day of work at the County General.

 

This story evolved from a beautiful song and a poor ending to a relationship that, I think, deserved a better goodbye. When the writers of ER came up with John Carter’s final episode they didn’t give he and Abby a proper farewell so I decided to do it myself. During the same time I fell in love with the Rascal Flatts song, God Bless the Broken Road and after listening to the words of the song I thought it would make a great basis for a Carby story. What started out as a goodbye story turned into an exceptionally long story about Carter and Abby’s broken road. Since it’s so long and I’m still typing, I decided to break it up into chapters, this being the first of many. I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

 

God Bless the Broken Road

 

Chapter One: I’ll Be Seeing You

 

 

“Hi this is Abby; leave a message after the beep.” 

 

Carter listened for the high pitched tone. That would be his queue to start speaking. He took a deep breath and wondered again why he was doing this. There was really no reason for him to call her.  They had said their goodbyes at County, but something had felt unresolved between them.  “Hey Abby…uh… it’s me, John. I know you’re not home yet but I thought I’d call and… uh…” he continued to stutter and to wonder why he was calling her when he was on his way to start his life with another woman. “I know we said goodbye at County but I wanted to tell you how much I’m going to mi.… I mean…” He suddenly thought twice about what he wanted to say. Did he really have the right to leave such an intimate message on her machine after all that has passed between them? He ran his hand through his hair and looked up towards the ceiling of the airport gift shop. “I’m sorry Abby. I know this is stupid. I mean you’re probably wondering why I’m calling you and trust me…” he chuckled a bit at himself, “I’m wondering the same thing.” To hell with it, he thought. “I just needed to tell you that I’m going to miss you.” Another thought suddenly hit him. What if she reads something into this message? “Not just you but… jeez…” He stammered, “I’m sorry. This is stupid.” He told himself that this was absolutely ridiculous and decided to end this slow torture he had just subjected himself to.  “Look, I’m gonna go. I shouldn’t have called. Take care and… you’re a great doctor Abby. I just wanted you to know how proud I am of everything you’ve achieved.” He cleared his throat and said, “Bye Abby.”

 

He picked through the magazine rack before deciding on two different ones. Just as he pulled his wallet out to pay for his purchase, his cell phone rang. He quickly put the money on the counter and thanked the cashier before answering his phone.  “Hello.”

 

“John?”

 

He could hear the ambulance in the background as he answered, “yeah?”

 

“It’s Abby.” 

 

“Uh…yeah… You didn’t have to return my call. I didn’t expect…” Wow, he thought, she was listening to him make a fool of himself on her answering machine the whole time.

 

“You called?” She toed the ground telling herself that she didn’t need a cigarette, but oh how she wanted one right now.

 

“Uh yeah… I left you a message on your machine.”  He wondered why she was calling if she hadn’t yet heard his message.

 

“Oh, what did you want?”

 

“I just wanted to say goodbye.”

 

“Oh sure…sure,” she had wanted to do the same thing, but for some reason she couldn’t seem to get the words out.

 

Their voices suddenly silenced as they both listened for the other to speak. The phone crackled in their ears as both of them breathed deeply.

 

“I’m sorry John. This is silly.” Abby scolded herself. “I shouldn’t have called.” She began to walk to the El as she continued. “It’s just that we really didn’t have an opportunity to talk before you left. I mean…you talked to the three of us,” she thought back to the conversation he had with Neala, Ray and herself. Carter had suggested that they write a letter to themselves regarding their residency. “Which was fine, but it just felt kind of…”

 

“Unresolved?” He asked knowingly.

 

“Well…” she sat on the bench at the platform of the train station and smiled to herself. “Yeah, a little.”

 

“I know.  That’s kind of why I called you too.” He admitted sheepishly to her.

 

They were silent for a moment as they both thought about what to say to one another.

 

“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to make it to your party earlier,” Abby said.

 

“Hey, no problem,” Carter walked towards a row of chairs and sat looking out the window at the airplanes making their way towards the runway.

 

“We kind of got a little busy there,” she finally gave up and dug through her pocket for a lighter and a cigarette.

 

“That has a tendency to happen at an ER,” he joked.

 

“Yeah I guess so,” she chuckled as she lit her cigarette.

 

“So…” Carter switched his cell phone to his other ear and continued making small talk. “So how’s Jack?”

 

“Who’s Jack?”

 

“Ummm…isn’t that his name?” Carter asked sheepishly.

 

“You mean Jake?”

 

“Oh sorry,” he closed his eyes and shook his head slowly at his mistake. “I knew that.”

 

“It’s okay and I’m not sure how he is.”

 

“Wait… I thought you two were…” he said with a suggestive tone to his voice.

 

“We were until I told him not to practice medicine in Chicago for me.” She breathed the smoke deeply in and then exhaled.

 

“You told him what?”

 

“He didn’t want to practice here anyway. I just didn’t want him to change his plans because of me.” She watched the white puff of smoke fade into the night air as she continued, “It’s not like we were getting married or anything.”

 

“Well yeah, but didn’t you…” he knew that she didn’t want a relationship at this point in her life, but he didn’t expect that he’d be happy about her telling Jake not to stay in Chicago. “I just thought you two were really hitting it off.”

 

“We were, but…”she left her sentence unfinished.

 

“Buuuuut?”

 

“I don’t know…” Abby watched the train open its doors in front of her. Without moving she said, “My train’s here.”

 

“Oh,” he said with disappointment in his voice.

 

“That’s okay. There’ll be another one.”

 

“Aren’t you getting on?” He hoped she wasn’t.

 

“Nope.” She watched as passengers unloaded from the train and smiled at a woman holding a young boy’s hand. “I don’t want to have to pay international rates to speak to you so we better do all our talking now,” Abby joked.

 

“That’s true. Even I think those prices are insane,” Carter chuckled then asked, “Hey Abby can I ask you a question?”

 

“Sure.”

 

“It’s kind of awkward.”

 

“That’s okay. Go ahead and ask.”

 

“Well I was wondering… Do you ever think about…” he paused for a moment, “…us?”

 

“Us?” She wondered if he meant their friendship or their former relationship. “I guess I do…sometimes. Uh…do you?” She began to babble before he could answer her question. “Of course you do or you wouldn’t have asked, or maybe you don’t and…”

 

“I do Abby,” he interrupted. “Especially now…tonight I mean.”

 

She waited a minute before admitting, “Yeah, me too. I mean I thought about us…you…me…God why am I rambling?”

 

They both began to laugh at their predicament.

 

“You know earlier I called your apartment, and I knew you weren’t there, but I just wanted to tell you… actually what I really wanted was to talk to you, but you weren’t there and I knew you wouldn’t be there and…” he laughed at himself and said, “now who’s rambling?”

 

He could hear Abby’s smile over the phone and took a deep breath before finally saying to her, “Look Abby. I just felt like we deserved a better goodbye than what we had.”

 

“Yeah, me too.” She smiled at his admission before making one herself, “You know, I wrote my letter right after you left tonight and I thought about you as I was doing it.”

 

“Oh yeah?”

 

“Yeah,” she smiled.

 

“What were you thinking about me?”

 

“It was kind of weird actually.”

 

“You thought I was weird?”

 

“No,” she giggled softly. “You weren’t weird, my thoughts were.”

 

“What was so weird about them?” he asked with curiosity in his voice.

 

“Well it wasn’t like one particular thought of you, it was kind of like a flashback of you and me…our friendship…our relationship…you know…us,” she said softly.

 

“Yeah I guess I do.” He remembered how thoughts of her plagued him to the point of his leaving a message on her machine. A sudden feeling of sadness seemed to overwhelm him as he realized that he wasn’t going to see her anymore.

 

Their relationship had dwindled since his coming back from Africa a few years ago, but he always knew that their friendship would last. He could never talk to anyone the way he could talk to Abby, not even Kem.

 

“You know…” He closed his eyes for a second before admitting, “I’m always gonna be your friend, Abby.”

 

“Yeah, I know,” she gulped as she said, “I’m always going to be yours too, John.”

 

He smiled as he thought of the time they had let the air out of her ex-husband’s tires after they ran into him at one of the Carter family’s charity events. “You’re my best friend Abby.” His eyes filled with tears as the announcement for his flight sounded over the intercom.

 

Her throat thickened as she said, “You’re mine too Carter. I’m gonna miss you a lot you know,” she wiped her eyes and forced a smile. “And you better visit.”

 

“Yeah,” he blinked the tears back as he said, “I will. And Abby…” he stood up and walked slowly to the gate. “I’ll gladly pay the international rates anytime you want to talk.”

 

“Carter, I’m really happy for you and Kem. I hope everything works out for you. I really do.” She wasn’t sure if she was saying it to convince him or herself.

 

He watched as people continued to board the plane, wanting time to stop just for a moment. “It’s funny isn’t it?”

 

“What’s that?” she pulled another cigarette out of her pocket and lit it.

 

“I’m getting ready to fly half-way around the world to be with Kem and all I want to do right now is sit here and talk with you.” He wondered for a moment if he was doing the right thing by admitting that to her.

 

“Oh,” she said softly.

 

“I know you and I can’t go back in time, but sometimes I just…” he looked out the window at the plane he was about to board and took a deep breath. “I just wish…” he wasn’t sure how to finish his thought without causing them both a lot of pain. “Abby I’m so sorry for hurting you the way that I did. You deserved better than just a letter.”

 

“Don’t John. We both made mistakes, okay? It wasn’t just you, ya know?”

 

“Yeah, I guess we both kind of screwed up, huh?” He heard the final boarding call for his flight and took a deep breath. “That’s my flight Abby.” He sighed. “I have to go.”

 

“Oh…Okay.”

 

He could hear the pain in her voice and he hated himself for causing it. “I’m sorry Abby. I’m so sorry.”

 

“Don’t be silly. You’ve got to go.”

 

“Yeah,” he said softly. “I’ve got to go.”

 

“Take care of yourself Carter,” she sniffled. “Have a safe flight and give Kem my best.”

 

“I will.” He handed the steward his boarding pass and said, “Bye Abby.” 

 

His heart ached as he hung up his cell phone. As he walked down the tunnel towards the entrance of his flight, he asked himself if he was doing the right thing. He knew that he loved Kem and he knew that he wanted…needed to try and make a life with her, but he also knew that a part of him would always Abby. The last time he left for Africa she begged him not to go, but this time he knew she would never ask him to stay.

 

He found his seat and handed his carry on to the stewardess before sitting down. As he looked out the window he thought back to the first day he and Abby’s relationship went from being coworkers to being friends.

 

~~~

 

John Carter sat at the familiar booth in Doc Magoo’s diner waiting for his aversion meeting to start at 9:00pm.  He ordered a cup of coffee and lit a cigarette while opening a section of the newspaper.  As he took his first sip of coffee he wondered what he was doing sitting in this diner, staring at the very place that had started him on his path of destruction, County General.  He didn’t blame the hospital, or anyone on the staff. He didn’t blame Paul Sobrieki, or his physicians that continued to prescribe him narcotics, months after his attack.  He didn’t even blame himself for his addiction. It was just something that happened to him and now he had to deal with the consequences of it.

 

He felt a hint of humiliation when he recognized the nurse walking through the rain to the diner. Abby. He didn’t blame her either, but he was grateful for what she did for him and he did wonder about her. He folded his newspaper as she ordered her coffee and he called out to her, “Hey.”

 

She recognized his voice instantly and turned toward him. “Hey,” she wondered aloud, “you back already?”

 

“No. Not for another week.”

 

She wondered if he was just looking for a familiar face after being gone for so long. “What’re you… just hanging out?” She smiled as she walked towards him.

 

“I have an aversion meeting at nine.”

 

With her hands in her pocket she said, “You look much better.”

 

He looked into her face and nodded saying, “thank you,” in a humbled tone. He instantly remembered to comment on her haircut. He noticed it at the meeting this morning and he really wanted to tell her, “Hey, I like your hair.”

 

Abby pushed a lock of her hair behind her ear in a slightly embarrassed gesture. “Thank you.”

 

Carter noticed that she was wearing purple scrubs and asked, “Those are some nice scrubs. You picking up some extra shifts?”

 

“No,” Abby wondered for a split second on how to answer the question. Opting for the truth she stated, “I was suspended.”

 

Carter took a drag off of his cigarette and said, “Ya didn’t kill anybody did ya?”

 

“No. I wanted to,” she thought about Richard and it amazed her how the mere thought of him caused such disgust.

 

John looked at her with a questioning eye and she explained before he could ask. “My ex-husband was supposed to pay my tuition. He didn’t pay it so um…” she said with a slightly embarrassed look upon her face.

 

Carter nodded in sympathy, “Ouch.”

 

She continued, “So I’m on the bench for awhile. Though, it certainly didn’t seem like that today.”  The waitress came up behind Abby with her cup of coffee and handed it to her. “Oh thank you.”

 

Carter quickly offered to pay for it causing Abby to politely decline, but after a small debate, Carter coming up the victor, Abby finally accepted his gift of caffeine.

 

“Hey, sit down,” John moved his paper to the seat of his booth and continued. “It’s the least I could do after acting like a complete jerk.”

 

Abby knew what he was talking about, but said “when,” anyway.

 

“Three months ago.”  He looked her squarely in the eyes and said, “You know you mighta saved my life. If you hadn’t stopped me when you did, I could be dead now.” There was silence for a moment, then John smiled coyly and said, “I’m working on my steps here.”

 

Abby smiled at his boyish grin and replied, “You’re up to nine already.” A bit surprised at how far he’s come in his recovery.

 

He didn’t have the heart to tell her that he may have skipped some of them, “Um...more or less.”

 

She knew the importance of being relieved of guilt and said, “I forgive you.”

 

Conversations like these were never easy for Abby. She tried to avoid this type of closeness at all costs, but for some reason she felt like she shared something with Carter. Something was there between them, something that hadn’t been there before, so she allowed herself to relax and let her guard down for once. She reached for his lit cigarette and apologized for needing the nicotine fix. She had given it up years before, but for some reason she started it up again whenever she worked in the ER.

 

John noticed the stress in her demeanor and asked, “Long day?”

 

“Yeah.” Abby thought about the hellish day she had today. “Twenty-two week old preemie survived almost nine hours. I just finished the death kit.”

 

That was a bad day, Carter thought. Am` I really ready for this? “Wow.”

 

Once again Abby found herself opening up to him, “I don’t know why I do this. Sometimes I think I should go be an accountant or something.”

 

“That’s an option.”

 

“Yeah,” Abby joked, “If I could balance a checkbook.”

 

“What about you?” Abby asked him about his day.

 

“A lot of waiting. A lot of meetings.” He answered.

 

“Yeah, ya get kinda meeting’d out.” She answered with a hint of experience.

 

John looked at her and nodded in agreement.

 

Abby gave him a grin and waited for him to ask her about her past addiction. She was surprised when he didn’t so she confronted him, “Aren’tcha gonna ask?”

 

“What?” Carter asked.

 

“What I was doing there this morning?”

 

He was curious, but he didn’t want to pry into her personal life. “You only go for one reason. I figured I’d keep going and eventually you’d stand up and share.”

 

She took another puff on his cigarette and confessed. “It’s not that interesting.” She looked directly into his eyes and said, “I’m a drunk.”

 

“How long have you been sober?”

 

“Almost five years,” she answered with pride.

 

Hey, he thought to himself… “So you could sponsor somebody?”

 

“Yeah I guess.”

 

“Have you?”

 

“No,” she answered matter of factly.

 

“Because…uh…I’m supposed to find a sponsor…”

 

She nodded yes to him, not quite getting his point.

 

He gave her a sheepish look and asked with his eyes if she would be his.

 

She laughed a bit at him before saying, “Don’t look at me.”

 

“No?” He shook his head hoping…

 

“No. I’m barely holding my own life together now. Trust me…”

 

Not taking no for an answer he continued in his quest. “Cause it would be great to have someone at the hospital, and since you did sorta start me on my road to recovery…”

 

“And men and women aren’t supposed to sponsor each another,” she interrupted.

 

“Don’t worry about it,” he said with a dejected little boy attitude.

 

She chuckled with relief and said, “Thanks.”

 

But he wasn’t giving up quite yet. “Come on.” He tried to quilt her into it with one last desperate effort. “You’re not gonna make me ask a perfect stranger are you? The only person I met at the meeting was the coffee guy.”

 

She couldn’t help but feel bad for him. She was the one that turned him in and she did know how to work the steps, she convinced herself that it was okay to help. “Okay. Okay… I will work the steps with you until you find a permanent sponsor.”

 

“Fair enough,” John said, but what he was really thinking was, thank God. He honestly didn’t want to ask a total stranger to help him sort his life out.

 

She wasn’t quite sure on what to do to help him until she noticed the cigarette that had gone from being his to being hers. “I’ll start by setting a good example.” She put the butt out in the ashtray and said, “Besides… I don’t think coffee and cigarettes are gonna do it for me tonight.”  She picked up the menu and looked it over before deciding on a hot fudge sundae. “Would you like one?” She asked him.

 

“Mmmm mmmph,” He declined. “I have enough vices.”

 

“No, I think part of the rules is that you should splurge with me.” If he could guilt her into being his sponsor she figured she should be able to guilt him into something chocolate.

 

He chuckled at her and said, “Is that how it works?”

 

Abby smiled at him and nodded, yes.

 

John grabbed a menu and handed it to Abby telling her that since she made up the rule, she should pick out what he’s eating too. He watched her peruse the menu before finally opting for a banana split and he found himself grateful that she had walked into Doc Magoo’s.

 

“Well you certainly know how to indulge.” He waggled his eyebrows at her and said, “I can tell we’re going to be here a lot.”

 

They placed their order with the waitress and sat in silence for a moment, not knowing what to say to each other.

 

Abby had heard a few things about him after his departure, but for the most part the staff didn’t really talk about him much. If anyone mentioned his name, they would immediately get that sorrowful look in their eyes and quickly end the conversation. “So… are you originally from Chicago?” She thought perhaps she should get to know more about him since she was going to be sponsoring him for the time being.

 

“Uh…yeah. My family has been a prominent part of the community for generations.”

 

Abby tried to hide her giggle behind her hand.

 

He smiled as he asked her, “What are you laughing at?”

 

“I don’t know…” she shrugged her shoulders. “Most people say, yeah I’ve lived here all my life or I was born here. I never heard someone say their family has been a prominent part of the community before.”

 

Carter looked down at the pack of cigarettes he had on the table and asked Abby, “Do you mind if I…”

 

“No. Go ahead,” she shook her head and considered asking him if she could bum another one, but quickly put the thought out of her head.

 

He lit the cigarette and tried to think of a way to explain his family. “Well, if you were to ask my family that question, that’s how they’d answer it.”

 

“Seriously?” Abby asked with a surprised look on her face.

 

“Yup.” Carter had never been too comfortable with telling people about his family’s riches, but for some reason he didn’t think twice about telling Abby.

 

“Why’s that?”

 

“Because they’ve made a lot of donations to different establishments in Chicago…”

 

“Donations?” Abby squinted as she asked, “What do you mean by donations?”

 

“I mean money. They give away a lot of money to different companies.”

 

“What kind of companies? Like hospitals and stuff?”

 

“No. Well, not no. I mean Gamma’s donated to clinics and things over the years, but mostly it’s like theaters, museums… They make donations to help keep the arts alive in the Chicago area.”

 

“And that’s what makes them a prominent part of the community?”

 

“Yeah. Pretty much.”

 

“That’s kind of cool.”

 

“I guess.” Carter looked up at the waitress as she brought them their desserts.

 

“Oh yeah,” Abby moaned as she took her first bite. “This is exactly what I needed.”

 

Carter smiled while watching her enjoy the treat.

 

“Mmmmm,” Abby closed her eyes and reveled in every bite of ice cream. “Is this heaven or what?”

 

He smiled as he closed his mouth over his spoon. “This is pretty good too.  Want a bite?”

 

“Sure,” she took her spoon and dug it into his ice cream making sure she got pineapple topping and a chunk of banana.

 

“Ooooh this is gooooood.”

 

“Told ya.”

 

“I’ve got to get that next time.”

 

They sat and talked about nothing in particular until it was time for John to head to his meeting.

 

“So,” Abby asked as she walked him out, “how was your first time sharing?”

 

“Sharing? You mean the banana split?”

 

“No,” she chuckled. “I mean, how did it go the first time you shared at a meeting?”

 

“Oh,” he toed at the pebbles in the parking lot. “I uh…” he looked up, sideways, everywhere but at her.

 

“Carter? You have shared right?” She asked him accusingly.

 

He took a deep breath and said, “No, but I was planning on it.”

 

“When?”

 

“I don’t know… soon I guess.”

 

“Well what’s the problem?”

 

“There’s no problem,” he started walking her towards the El.

 

“Then why haven’t you done it yet?”

 

“Look,” he stopped her by placing his hand on her shoulder. “I don’t really know those people. It’s a little hard telling strangers about a very private matter. You of all people should understand that.”

 

She did. Too well. “I tell you what, there’s a meeting by my house at ten o’clock, why don’t we stop by my house so I can change and I’ll go with you.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Why, what?”

 

“Why do you want to go with me?” He expected the staff at County to question his every move, but he thought she was different. “You just went to one this morning.  Don’t you trust me?” He said dejectedly.

 

She smiled softly and shrugged one shoulder, “Just thought you’d like to see a friendly face.”

 

For the first time in a year, John Carter felt like there was something to be happy about.

 

~~~

 

John looked out the window of the airplane and smiled as warm memories of Abby flooded through him. He had found an instant camaraderie with her. Something just clicked between them since they saw one another across the room at that fateful AA meeting. He knew now, firsthand, why men and women shouldn’t sponsor one another. “God how I loved her,” he whispered to himself harshly.

 

There were times in his life that he wondered about his drug addiction and whether or not it was a curse or a gift. Without it, would he and Abby have fallen in love? Would their love have been able to endure, had there not been an underlying question of trust?

 

He continued to question things in his life. Should he really be running to the arms of another woman when his thoughts kept drifting back to someone else? Maybe his thoughts would dwell more towards Kem once he got closer to her?

 

Carter threw his head back against the headrest of his seat. “What’s taking so long?” He said to no one in particular.

 

“I’m sorry, Sir,” the passing stewardess answered him. “We should be on our way any minute.”

 

John was startled by the woman’s response to his rhetorical question. “Oh…uh…thanks.”  He took out one of the magazines he had purchased in the gift shop, and began thumbing through it, stopping on an article about a new diabetes drug. He read the first paragraph over and over again in a lame attempt to get his mind off of the uneasy feeling he had in the pit of his stomach.  Slamming it closed, he shoved it into the pocket on the back of the seat in front of him. He suddenly questioned if his leaving was the right thing to do. Maybe, he thought, that’s why we haven’t left yet. A split second later the plane began moving down the tarmac. Guess that answers my question, he thought to himself.

 

The rumble of the thunder started immediately, lightning following shortly thereafter. As the plane got closer to the runway, the storm outside got louder and the rain got heavier.

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We’ve just been given word that there’s a pretty bad storm heading our way. The weather service said it should pass over us fairly quickly. We should be on our way as soon as it lightens up.”

 

“This is ridiculous.” One of the passengers began to complain. “All of this because of some rain? Can’t they fly over the storm or something?”

 

“It’s regulations ma’am. Once the flights are cancelled you have to be removed from the plane. Please go to the ticket counter and present them with your ticket to receive your hotel and meal vouchers. Again please accept our apologies.”

 

John followed the group of passengers and looked at the lines that were beginning to form. He pulled out his cell phone and called Kem to give her an update on his flight. He arranged for a new flight to Frankfurt the next afternoon and a connecting flight from Germany to Africa. With meal and hotel vouchers in hand he walked through the airport and wondered what to do with the next 12 hours.