For disclaimers see part one


part 3


Lois Kay

Chapter Four

The first few days after returning to work, Hannah's stomach was tied in knots every time she walked down the hallway, stepped into the elevator or answered the phone, because she had been afraid of running into Rachel unexpectedly. The hospital was not huge, but big enough to be able to avoid a person and that was exactly what Hannah had in mind. And it seemed to work. After a few tense days, she was able to relax more and fall back into her usual routine. To her utter relief, she never did see Rachel, although she did have a few of the Doctor's patients on her floor. According to Gary, Rachel made her rounds very early in the morning, or in the late afternoon, after the day shift had been replaced by the evening crew. Hannah didn't mind at all. The longer she was able to postpone a confrontation with Rachel Kendrick, the better.

"Hannah, can you have a look at this order? I can't read it," Gary called when she passed the nurses' station.

"Sure, show me," Hannah answered, reaching out to grab the sheet of paper Gary held out to her. As soon as Hannah looked at the unreadable scribbles, a deep frown creased her forehead when she tried to decipher the words that seemed to flow together into a long, black smudge on the clean, creamy paper.

"I can make out a 'once a day' and 'IV', but that's about it. I can't even figure out the amount of milligrams," she muttered. "It could be 350, or 150, or 750. Is this for Stella Thompson?" Hannah looked at the top of the page, where Gary had put a label with the patient's name. "Alright, it's for Stella. I suppose he wants us to give her some antibiotics, but I really can't read it. I guess we'll have to call him. I really wish Doctor O'Brien could handle a pen as well as he can a scalpel, that would make our lives so much better."

If Hannah had looked up, she could have seen the startled look on Gary's face, but she was so engrossed in trying to translate the order, she didn't even hear him clear his throat.

She did feel a warm presence at her back, but did not pay attention to it, thinking it was probably one of the student nurses who was reading over her shoulder in an effort to help her out.

"Levaquin 750 mg IV, daily," a familiar voice sounded and Hannah froze. When her eyes slowly traveled up from the sheet of paper she was holding, her gaze met Gary's, who sent her an apologetic smile.

"Hello, Ra...Doctor Kendrick," he greeted, realizing just in time they were within earshot of another nurse and a student.

"Hello, Gary," Rachel's velvety voice answered and even without turning around to face the Doctor, Hannah could tell by the tone of her voice her face was sporting a very familiar smile. Involuntarily, Hannah held her breath. It was that little smile, that caused the corner of Rachel's eyes to crinkle and that created a dimple, only one, in her right cheek. How many times had Hannah touched that cute little spot, either with her fingers or her lips? More times than she could remember.

Hannah exhaled slowly and straightened her back, squaring her shoulders. More times than she wanted to remember.

"Doctor Kendrick," she greeted Rachel in a cool voice, while she turned around to face the other woman. "Thank you for the translation."

"You're welcome," Rachel softly answered, inwardly cringing when she met Hannah's icy cold stare.

You deserve this, Rachel, don't ever forget that. You deserve it.

"How's have you been doing? I mean, after your accident," Rachel tried, not ready to break eye-contact yet. Even though Hannah's eyes were cold and void of emotion, they were still the same color she remembered. The blue that still haunted her dreams every now and then. The blue she had searched for in the sky, countless times. And every time she had found it, recognition had been followed by a stab of pain. Over the years, a lot of things had changed, but her endless indulgence in this form of self-torture had always been the same.

"I...I'm fine... Doctor," Hannah managed to answer. It was almost impossible to tear her eyes away from the warm brown that seemed to pin her in place, making it hard to move, or to breathe even. "I guess I should thank you, for...taking care of me."

"No, you don't have to," Rachel answered softly. "But for what it's worth, if it's even worth're welcome."

Hannah didn't know whether she wanted to turn around and run, or stay where she was and try to make sense of the pain and sadness Rachel tried to hide, which was so clearly visible to her. The ambivalence had thrown her completely off guard and Hannah mentally slapped herself for her lack of control. But for the first time since her accident, she was able to get a good look at Doctor Rachel Kendrick and Hannah could not stop herself when her eyes took in the woman in front of her. Her thick, dark hair was as unruly as Hannah remembered; cutting it a lot shorter had not tamed it. Rachel, who was only an inch taller than Hannah, had lost some weight, she noticed, very aware of the fact that she had most likely gained what Rachel had lost.

Rachel's face had not changed at all. There were a few lines around her eyes that had not been there before, but her features were still soft and open. A face Hannah remembered well; every inch, each and every curve. The way the dark eyes twinkled, with gentle amusement, or burnt with a fire that, at one time, only Hannah had been able to ignite. The warmth they used to radiate when they followed Hannah around had disappeared. It had been replaced by a guarded look, as if Rachel tried to hide her real emotions.

More secrets, probably, Hannah decided, instinctively knowing that tapping into her anger would help her to tear her eyes away from Rachel Kendrick, which would allow her to turn around and go back to work.

"Well, anyway...thanks," she finally said in a voice that was barely a whisper. "I have a patient to see."

Before Rachel Kendrick could respond, Hannah had already turned around, heading towards the end of the hallway, entering a room and carefully closing the door behind her.

Only when it slowly dawned on her she was staring at an empty spot in the hallway, Rachel stepped into the nurses' station, in search of one of her patient's charts. She automatically grabbed the document from its numbered shelf and took a seat at one of the desks. She stared down at the dark-green cover, but the only thing she could see, were Hannah's eyes, capable of so much more than staring at her with cool detachment. A coldness that burned deeply into her already guilt-filled heart. The feeling made her miserable.

I deserve this. I really deserve this, the mantra in her head continued. But the words, repeated so often during the last few years, did nothing to take away the dull throbbing pain inside her chest.

Some things would probably never change.


Hannah, who had escaped into a room at the end of the hallway, knew that, as soon as she would return to the nurses' station, Gary would give her an intensely inquisitive look. She had experienced that look before. He wouldn't say a thing, but the expression in his eyes would convey it all: Hannah Ingrid Jensen, you're a coward!

Hannah took a deep breath and sank down in one of the two chairs near the window. She leaned back and for a brief moment she closed her eyes, desperately trying to arrange her thoughts that had taken flight the moment Rachel had showed up so unexpectedly.

When she had turned around and walked off, Hannah wanted Rachel to think she was going to see to a patient, a convenient excuse to escape the Doctor's presence. Seeing Rachel so unexpectedly had rocked her to the her core, something she was not willing to admit. She needed some time to regain her composure. Inside, she was shaking. The brief confrontation with Rachel had left her utterly confused and Hannah could not help wondering why.

With a tired gesture, Hannah rubbed her eyes and, involuntarily, her fingers brushed the tiny scar above her eyes, a remnant of the small cut Rachel had sutured. Hannah exhaled slowly and tried to push down the feeling of nausea that suddenly erupted, deep down inside her stomach.

"Not now, Hannah. This is no time to get sick," she mumbled to herself, while getting up from the chair to enter the small bathroom. She quickly splashed some cold water in her face and immediately felt better. With a paper towel, she dried her hands and cheeks and when she looked up, she was met by her reflection in the mirror. Tired blue eyes in a pale face, unruly blond hair that desperately needed a cut. Hannah remembered that, in the past, Rachel had often referred to her as beautiful. She softly snorted and slowly shook her head.

"She needs to get her eyes checked," she mumbled. "But then, it's obvious she has changed her opinion about me anyway. She left."

The feelings of sadness and confusion were pushed aside by a new surge of anger, when Hannah remembered the days, weeks and months after Rachel's sudden, unexplained departure. The eyes in the mirror turned a few shades darker when the smoldering fire within was ignited with memories Hannah could not make herself to forget.

"You might have won this round, Rachel Kendrick," she whispered. "But next time we meet, I'll be more prepared."

With that, and a last look in the mirror, Hannah turned around and left the room, strengthened by her resolve to face Rachel Kendrick with dignity.


The next time though came faster than Hannah had anticipated. It was the very next day, a Friday. She had planned to leave work on time, so she could do some Christmas shopping, hoping to avoid the huge crowds, which she detested. Hannah usually knew exactly what she wanted and where to buy it. Her shopping was purposeful, fast and efficient, just the way she liked it. And even though Christmas had never been the same since the death of her parents, the holiday season still managed to spark of excitement, reminding Hannah of the time when she was a little girl.

With a smile, Hannah cast a look at her watch, seeing her shift only lasted another thirty minutes and then she would be off for two days.

"Ah, weekend," she sighed, closing the chart she had been working on. "What are your plans, Gary?"

Gary swivelled around in his chair and grinned when he noticed the twinkle in his friend's eyes. He was happy to see the barely veiled excitement in Hannah's eyes. It had been too long since he had seen her so relaxed.

"Jake threatened me with bodily harm if I don't join him on yet another shopping spree," he answered, rolling his eyes. "Of course his list of brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews is endless. Take my advice, Hannah, steer clear of eligible...," he quickly looked around to make sure they were alone. "...women, who have large families. It not only costs you a fortune, it also squeezes every ounce of energy out of your body, especially around Christmas time."

Hannah laughed heartily when she pictured a tired Gary being dragged across the mall by Jake and she nodded in understanding.

"Thanks for the warning, buddy," she answered warmly. "If I ever meet somebody... eligible...I'll make sure to ask for credentials."

"You do that," Gary laughed. "And don't say I didn't warn you."

"I'll remember that," Hannah answered with a chuckle, trying to push away the image of a dark-haired, brown-eyed woman she never thought would cross her path ever again. Until a few weeks ago. "Right now I only have to shop for a select few, which is fine with me."

"Oh really?" Gary smiled, scooting his chair closer. "What are you buying me?"

"A pound of modesty," Hannah promptly answered, grinning when Gary rolled his eyes. "But, maybe, if you're really nice, I..."

The ringing of the phone interrupted Hannah in mid-sentence and she nodded at Gary when he gestured towards the device on his desk. He politely answered and listened intently when the person on the other side of the connection spoke to him. A quick glance in Hannah's direction told the nurse she had to brace herself for some bad news. Hannah's first thoughts went to her grandmother, but it was as if Gary could read her mind, because he reached out to touch her hand and quickly shook his head. Hannah let out a sigh of relief and leaned back into her chair.

"It's Betty. For you," he added, handing Hannah the phone.

With frown, Hannah brought the device to her ear, suddenly aware of a nervous feeling in the pit of her stomach.

"Betty, hi. How are you?"

"I'm all right, Hannah, thanks. Listen, I wish we could chat a bit, but we' re real busy down here and I've a request. We're swamped here in the ER. Would you be willing to help us out? It's only for a few hours. Brenda's coming in earlier tonight, around seven, but until then we've got nobody. There was a pile-up on the I-40 and a bus was involved. There are a lot of people with injuries, most of them seem to be minor, but still..."

"In about ten minutes I'll give report to the evening shift. I'll come down immediately after that," Hannah interrupted her friend.

"Awesome! Thanks, Hannah, you' re a lifesaver."

"Are you sure, Hannah?" Gary asked when his friend handed him back the phone. "You look tired." And you might run into Rachel, he mentally added.

"I know what a zoo the ER can be," Hannah sighed, raking her hand through her hair. "Besides, it's only for a few hours."

But more than a few hours later, Hannah was still helping her former co-workers in the ER. Betty had not exaggerated, they had been swamped. People with minor injuries were waiting in the triage area, some more patient than others, while the more seriously injured were either treated on the spot, or diverted to other hospitals in the area.

Hannah had lost track of how many patients she had seen. All she knew was that the stream of people needing her help seemed to be endless.

"How are you holding up, sweetie?" Betty asked when she passed Hannah in the hallway.

"I'll live," Hannah sighed. "I think the adrenaline keeps me going, though. My feet are killing me."

"I'm sorry, Hannah," Betty answered,

"Don't be," Hannah shrugged. "I'm glad I was around to help you out."

"So am I," the charge nurse's voice sounded behind them. "Hannah or Betty. The Doc needs help in room 3."

"I'll go," Hannah answered, knowing her friend was already caught up in a case.

"Thanks, Hannah," Betty smiled.

Before Hannah could ask either Betty or the charge nurse which doctor was in need of help, they had both disappeared and, with a tired gesture, Hannah rubbed her eyes. She knew Rachel was around somewhere, because she had seen the doctor run past her on numerous occasions. And even though their eyes had met briefly, Rachel had not acknowledged Hannah's presence, something that had stung, even though the nurse had quickly pushed away that feeling. It was too complicated to wonder why being ignored by Rachel had hurt her feelings.

"All right, Hannah, room 3," she mumbled to herself, making her way to the room opposite the nurse's station; the nerve center of the ER.

"Holler when you need anything, Hannah," Jane, the secretary called out, just before the nurse pushed open the door to the room.

Hannah nodded and sent Jane a small smile. After taking a deep breath, she stepped into the room, while her tired blue eyes took in the sight in front of her.

Rachel Kendrick was cradling a phone between her neck and shoulder, while her free hands were busy wiping away blood from an elderly man's forehead. The patient seemed to be unconscious and for a split second, Hannah was thrown back in time.

Take e deep breath, Hannah, you can do this, she told herself. Be a professional and do your job.

"Did you need help with something, Doctor Kendrick?"

Rachel almost dropped the phone and cast Hannah a look that was a mixture of shock, disbelief and insecurity.

"Um...yes, I do, as a matter of fact. I need another pair of hands here."

Without responding, Hannah stepped closer to the stretcher and quietly continued the clean-up job Rachel Kendrick had started. The Doctor immediately pulled away her hands and involuntarily took a step back.

"Yes, as soon as possible would be nice," she sighed into the telephone, trying not to roll her eyes. "I know it's busy, believe me," she continued in a tired voice. "But I really need a, he's unresponsive....yes, he's breathing on his own, no, no ventilator...just an IV...isn't it possible to...?...All right, all right, thirty minutes sounds wonderful. Thank you."

Rachel broke the connection and tried hard not to slam the phone down on its cradle that was mounted to the wall. She was beyond tired and knew her patience was wearing thin. It was obvious the tech in Radiology was overwhelmed and she could not blame the poor girl.

"Hannah, this is Sam Ferguson. He's the driver of the bus and when he was brought in, he was unresponsive. His vital signs are stable, but I'm worried about his head. I have reason to believe he was on blood thinners and we both know a closed head wound could be real bad news for him."

Rachel reached out to grab a clean sponge gauze, but dropped it on the floor and she softly muttered a curse.

"I'm in serious need of some fresh coffee," she mumbled, not realizing Hannah picked up on those words.

"When is the last time you had anything to eat or drink?" Hannah asked gruffly, without looking up from her task.

Rachel, having not expected any question or remark from Hannah at all, needed a moment to regain her composure. Her dark eyes rested on the top of Hannah's bent head, while she desperately searched for an intelligent answer.

"Um...I can't remember," she answered softly, stepping closer to the stretcher to grab her patient's wrist in order to feel his pulse.

Hannah looked up and for a moment she allowed her gaze to linger on the dark-haired doctor. Rachel seemed tired. Her face was pale and drawn and there were dark circles underneath her eyes. She seemed small and vulnerable in her light-blue scrubs, smaller than Hannah remembered her to be. Her gaze softened and when Rachel suddenly looked up, straight into her eyes, her heart skipped a beat and she quickly cast down her eyes.

"What about you?" a soft voice sounded.

"What do you mean?" Hannah answered, staring at her busy hands, glad she had an excuse to not have to look up.

"When is the last time you had something to eat or drink?"

Hannah frowned while trying to remember. She was so tired it was hard to think. She had skipped a few meals and could not remember when she had her last drink.

" had breakfast," she answered slowly, immediately hearing Rachel softly snort. That response almost made her smile and Hannah didn't know whether she should be angry with herself for that, or to just accept things the way they were.

"You are as pathetic as I am," Rachel remarked with atouch of humor in her voice. "It's a miracle we're still standing."

"The secret is in the shoes," Hannah quipped, taken back by her own words. She had not meant to have a light conversation with Rachel Kendrick. Not after everything that had happened.

Rachel's familiar chuckle caused an ache in Hannah's heart and she had to swallow hard to get rid of the lump that had suddenly appeared in her throat. Her eyes were still focused on the cut in her patient's forehead, so she missed the sudden pain in a pair of brown eyes that were hungrily taking in the blond nurse's features.

Hannah could feel Rachel's eyes burning on her skin, but she refused to look up. She knew she couldn't bear an emotional confrontation, not even a silent one. She was too tired. And there was too much to think about.

Hannah's eyes flew to the monitor the patient was hooked up to, when, all of a sudden, the alarm sounded.

"Damn it, his SAT's are dropping," Rachel mumbled, increasing the flow of oxygen that gently flowed into the patient's nose. "He needs a scan now. Let me call their supervisor."

With that, Rachel turned around and yanked the phone out of its cradle, determination written all over her face.


"I don't know how to thank you, Hannah," John Oakley, ER's charge nurse sighed when he sank down next to the blonde who was sitting on a low coach in the break room. "You were a tremendous help. Have you ever considered coming back to us?"

Hannah cast a look aside and smiled when she noticed the mischievous look on his dark-skinned face.

"I love you guys dearly, John, you know that," she answered, patting him on the knee. "But I'm done here. Too much...of too much," she grimaced. "I know, that didn't really sound like a logical explanation, but it feels like my brain has shut down...about two hours ago," she added with a sigh.

"Mine would have done that eight hours ago," John grinned. "You're a trooper, sweetie, and I'm really sorry we had to do this to you. But I'm grateful just the same. Will you be all right driving home?"

Hannah nodded and yawned behind her hand. Hours ago she had been tired, now she had past the point of exhaustion and all she could think about was taking a shower and going to bed.

"I'll be fine, John, don't worry. I guess I'd better get going though, before I fall asleep in here."

"You're welcome to," John smiled, patting Hannah's shoulder before he got back to his feet again. "A lot of residents swear by this couch."

"I know," Hannah groaned when pushing herself up from her comfortable seat. "But I have a nice bed at home and I can hear it calling my name." Hannah sent John a tired smile and walked towards the door. "See you later, John. Tell Mandy I said 'hi'."

"I will," John promised, wondering how his pregnant wife was doing. "If I ever get to go home today, that is."

After a last wave, Hannah stepped into the hallway and was immediately surrounded by the noise of the ER. Crying children, ringing telephones, raised voices coming from the room where they usually treated addicts and drunks, carts being pushed or pulled across the floor...Shaking her head, Hannah slowly walked towards the exit, realizing she was happy with the floor she worked on. She knew rude, loud patients could be anywhere, but at least the noise level on her floor permitted her to hear herself think.

"Going home?" a familiar voice suddenly sounded beside her and Hannah almost jumped. She had not noticed Rachel and again she was taken aback by her own reaction, wondering if the Doctor would notice her flushed state.

"Um...yes, finally," Hannah answered softly.

"You must be tired," Rachel remarked and Hannah could hear the warmth and concern in her voice. "Are you off tomorrow?"

"Oh, yeah," Hannah sighed in contentment. "What about you?" she asked before she could stop herself.

Rachel nodded and stuffed her hands in the pockets of her slacks. Only then Hannah noticed she had changed out of her scrubs.

"No call, for two whole days," she smiled. "Are you parked in the main parking garage? Do you mind if I walk with you?" she asked softly when Hannah nodded.

Tell her 'no'! Tell her to go to Hell and leave me alone. Tell her you won't have anything to do with her. Tell her you have no time for insensitive, cold-hearted exes...

"Sure," Hannah responded so softly, Rachel almost missed the whispered answer.

In silence, they left the noisy ER behind them and, with appreciation, Hannah breathed in the crisp evening air. She had worked for more than fifteen hours and had she not been that tired, she would have been tempted to take a walk around the campus.

"It's a beautiful night," Rachel spoke, not able to hide the melancholy in her voice. How many times had Hannah dragged her away from her books to get a breath of fresh air under a star-filled sky? It seemed a lifetime ago and yet, right now, Rachel felt like it had only been yesterday. So close and yet, so far beyond her reach.

"It is," Hannah admitted, remembering a first, hesitant kiss on a warm, summer night, on the bank of Lake Tenkiller. The moment would have been absolutely perfect, had it not been for the mosquitos that had been out in what had seemed like entire swarms.

Hannah suppressed a sigh and tried to ignore the heaviness that settled in her chest. It was a long time ago. She had been so young and naive. So many things had happened since. So much hurt and sadness...

In silence, they walked into the parking garage, both women deep in thought and only when the door of the elevator closed behind them, Rachel spoke again.

"Which floor, Hannah?"

"Three," Hannah answered, still a little absent-minded. She always parked on the same floor. That way she could remember where she had parked her car and she didn't have to search for it, something that, in the past, had happened on different occasions.

With tired eyes, she watched Rachel push the button and lean against the wall of the elevator. Why was Rachel being so polite and friendly? And why did she, Hannah, respond the way she did, instead of ignoring the Doctor or just telling her what she thought of her exactly?

And what is that, Hannah? What do you think about her? You've had several chances to tell her how you feel, but you let it go. Why?It's not like she deserves any kindness or sympathy from you. Or have you already forgottenhow much pain and misery she put you through? The endless , sleepless nights? The hope that, maybe, just maybe, it was all a bad dream and Rachel would come back to you? What about the tears you shed for her, Hannah? Do you remember the pain?

"Hannah," Rachel spoke, while the concern in her dark-brown eyes was clearly visible. "Hannah!"

Hannah jerked her head up and, with a dazed look in her eyes, she stared at the woman in front of her.

"W...what?" she stammered, realizing Rachel must have been talking to her.

"It's the third floor. We need to get out here."

Rachel watched as Hannah slowly nodded and quietly stepped out of the elevator, trying not to shiver when a blast of cold air suddenly hit her.

"Are you all right? Are you sure you can drive?" Rachel asked with a frown.

"I'm fine, really," Hannah answered. "I was...I zoned out there for a moment, that's all. I know I can drive."

"Just be careful," Rachel urged, aware of her growing concern about Hannah. Maybe she should follow her, to make sure the blonde would make it home safely.

Hannah looked up and for a brief moment Rachel could see a mixture of pain, anguish and confusion in those tired blue eyes. It made her want to reach out and pull Hannah into the safety of her arms, to hold her and comfort her. The desire was so great, Rachel had to stuff her hands back into her pockets, while an intense pain, that was almost physical, rocked her to her core.

And what a lot of comfort that would be, the mocking voice in the back of her head spoke. Who says she wants to have anything to do with you? It was you who left her, without explanation. It's a miracle she hasn't called you on it yet, but that will be a matter of time. Mark my words...

"Rachel," Hannah spoke slowly, searching for the right words. "I do appreciate your...concern, but...isn't a little late to be worrying about me?" she asked, not aware of the bitterness in her voice.

Taking a deep breath, Rachel let the wave of guilt and pain wash over her, before lowering her eyes and exhaling slowly. She needed to stay in control of her emotions. She knew Hannah was as tired as she was, but she wanted to do this right. It could well be her first and last chance.

"I've always worried about you," she finally answered in a low voice.

A pair of blue eyes suddenly flashed with anger, before Hannah averted her gaze, determined to not lose her temper.

"You had a...unique way of showing that."

Rachel slowly nodded and took her time to respond to Hannah's sarcastic words.

"You have every right in the world to say that," she replied after a brief silence. "And if our roles were reversed, I wonder if I could be as composed and graceful as you are right now. But, Hannah, there are some things I need to explain and," Rachel paused when Hannah snorted and again she was the recipient of an angry flash from those blue eyes that once had been so warm and inviting. Rachel swallowed hard, willing away the memory. She could dwell on that later. Right now, she knew she had to tread lightly and cautiously.

"There are a lot of things I need to explain and there are a lot of things I want...I need to talk to you about, but I understand if you'd refuse. The only thing I ask of you is to give it some thought. If you decide you don't want to talk to me, I promise I'll try to accept that."

Hannah could feel her heart pound in her chest and she wondered if Rachel could actually hear it. She felt torn in two. Part of her wanted to be angry with Rachel and deny her the need to talk. But another part of Hannah was both curious and eager to let Rachel explain what had happened. Why she had left without an explanation. Why, all of a sudden, she had returned.

"I'll think about it," Hannah finally answered in a voice that was hoarse with emotion. She looked up and again she was struck by the raw, naked pain in Rachel's eyes. It awakened the urge to reach out and brush away a strand of dark hair that dangled across the Doctor's forehead. Clenching her car-keys into her fist, Hannah willed her hand to stay where it was, while she slowly started to turn, to walk to her car.

"Thank you, Hannah," Rachel spoke and Hannah nodded, refusing to look up again. She did not want Rachel to see the tears in her eyes that slowly made their way down her cheeks.


Chapter five

"Hannah, sweetie, are you sure you want to go shopping today? You don't look all that rested, if you ask me," Gertrude remarked, lovingly ruffling her granddaughter's hair.

"If I don't do it today, I'll never do it," Hannah answered with a sigh. "You know how well shopping and I go together."

"Not at all," Gertrude answered dryly. "It must be a birth defect, because you sure didn't inherit the 'eeww-shopping' gene from me."

Hannah almost snorted coffee through her nose and shot her grandmother an accusing look when she wiped the tears from her eyes and blew her nose. Leave it to her grandmother to make her laugh just when she took a sip of hot coffee. Hannah had to admit to herself that, during the last few years she had not been laughing much. But then, she didn't think there had been many reasons to laugh. First, completely unexpectedly, Rachel had left her, which had wounded her deeply, leaving her confused and broken-hearted. And if that had not been enough hurt, not long after Rachel's disappearance, her parents had died when their car was run off the road by a drunk driver. The first year after those two events, Hannah had spent in a haze of pain and confusion. Her whole world had changed so quickly and so definitely, it had been hard to grasp. Only when Gertrude had suffered a stroke, Hannah had been shocked out of her numb state of mind, because her grandmother had needed her. Tapping into a strength she didn't know she possessed, Hannah had pulled herself together and had been there for Gertrude, every step of the way, from the first, critical night in the hospital, to the day she had left the rehabilitation center and Hannah had moved in with her. They had become each other's best friends and their close-knit relationship was something they both cherished.

"Do you want to come with me, Gran?" Hannah asked as she stood up to put her coffee mug in the dishwasher.

"No, honey, but thanks for asking. I'll do my shopping on the internet."

Hannah chuckled, knowing how much her grandmother enjoyed the computer class she had enrolled in, not in the least because the teacher was a cute young IT student she loved to embarrass.

"Well, I do mine the old-fashioned way," Hannah smiled, while kissing her grandmother's cheek. "I'll be back in time for supper."

"Make sure you get some lunch," Gertrude warned. "You look tired and after that long shift yesterday, you need some extra protein."

"I'll try to remember, Gran," Hannah smiled, grabbing her purse and keys from the kitchen table and making her way to the door. "I'll see you later."

"Bye, baby. Have fun," Gertrude waved. "Don't spend your entire inheritance."

"Not today," Hannah smiled. "Stay out of trouble."

"As if," Gertrude snorted, but her blue eyes twinkled. "Bye, sweetie."

Hannah blew her grandmother a kiss and closed the door behind her, relieved to be out of reach from those intelligent, piercing eyes. Gertrude had already mentioned Hannah looked tired and the last thing Hannah wanted was her grandmother interrogating her about the amount of sleep she managed to get, because it had not been much.

After she had taken a quick shower the previous evening, Hannah had slid between the sheets, intent on falling asleep immediately, but that had not happened. It had taken hours for her to fall asleep. Time and time again, her conversation with Rachel had played through her head and no matter how hard she had tried, she could not get rid of the image of the pain in Rachel's eyes. Or the carefully veiled anguish in the soft, low voice.

Once she had managed to doze off she had been plagued by dreams that had been fueled by memories she had tried to forget. And even after getting up that morning, the feeling one of the dreams had given her, still made her feel uncomfortable. It puzzled Hannah. All of a sudden she was almost haunted by images she had managed to push away from conscious thought for a long time.

Until now. Until Rachel had unexpectedly resurfaced.

Hannah sighed when she started the engine of her grandmother's silver colored Buick. Life sure had become complicated in a hurry. First the accident, which basically was forcing her to go out and buy a new car, something she was still postponing and secondly...Hannah sighed again, while slowly letting the car roll down the driveway. Secondly, there was Rachel.

Rachel Kendrick, once Hannah's world and future, a ghost from the past, who, all of a sudden, returned into her life and mercilessly confronted Hannah with fears and feelings she had suppressed and never dealt with. Until now.

Hannah knew too much about psychology and was too honest to herself notto see the years after Rachel's disappearance had basically been spent in denial.

"You just pushed it all away," she mumbled to herself. "Way to go, Hannah! If you'd have done something with it, maybe you wouldn't have acted like an idiot the moment Rachel showed up. You can't let her think you've been pining for her."

Yeah, Hannah, you should show her the notches on your bedpost, a mocking voice in the back of her mind sounded. She'd be impressed.

"What notches?" Hannah sighed. "It's not like I had time to hurl myself into the dating scene."

That's bull! the voice answered. You had your chances. Remember that cute girl at the pharmacy? And what about that curly-haired granddaughter of Granny's friend? And all those girls Gary tried to set you up with?

"I was busy, I didn't have time," Hannah mumbled. She shook her head and let out a deep sigh. "Listen to me, I'm having a conversation with myself. I'm definitely going crazy."

Don't change the subject. Admit it, Hannah, Rachel might have been out of sight, but she's never been out of your heart.

"Then maybe it's time to deal with that, for once and for all," Hannah spoke angrily. "Rachel Kendrick is past tense and maybe...just maybe, I should have that talk with her. Just to find out why she ran. I'm sure when I know all the ins- and outs, I'll be able to continue my life, without her being in the background all the time!"

Feeling a little better about herself after these words, Hannah consciously ignored the voice in the back of her head and concentrated on the busy traffic. It was obvious to her that a lot of people had the same idea about doing some early Christmas shopping; the huge parking area surrounding Quail Springs Mall was buzzing with activity. Hopeful drivers were slowly driving up and down the aisles, eagerly looking for a vacant spot. A quick look at the narrow field of grass between the road and the parking area, showed Hannah a lot of drivers had given up the hope to park close to the Mall's entrance. They had simply driven their vehicles up on the grass, using it as a makeshift parking area.

"Looks promising," Hannah mumbled. "What was I thinking? Next year I'll do my Christmas shopping in the summer. Or even better, I'll buy everybody a book, from"

With a groan of frustration, Hannah steered the car into a spot located in a corner that seemed at least half a mile away from the entrance to the mall. There was a bitterly cold wind and Hannah knew she would be chilled to the bone by the time she was able to step inside the building.

"At least it's not raining," she mumbled, casting a concerned look at the slate-grey sky. "I really should go and pick out a new car, so I don't need to drive this...this," she cast a look at the old, silver-colored Buick and wrinkled her nose. "So I don't need to drive this Titanic anymore. I'd like to be able to squeeze a vehicle in a smaller area."

A passerby cast Hannah a puzzled look and she sent the elderly man a sweet smile. He probably thought she was nuts and Hannah could not blame him.

"I really should quit talking to myself," she mumbled, softly snorting when she realized she had done it again. "Way to go, Hannah. If I'm crazy now, how will I be after I've done my shopping in this madhouse?"

As soon as the blonde entered the mall, she tried to ignore the throngs of people who were milling about, looking for that one Christmas bargain. In her mind, Hannah had a list and she knew exactly what to buy and where. The only problem was getting there, since people were everywhere, which made it hard sometimes to quickly walk from one store to another.

Have patience, Hannah. You knew this would happen. Just think about the moment you'll be in that monstrous car again, on your way home, with all your shopping done...

That thought actually perked her up a little and with an indulgent smile she accepted the apologies of a young mother who had just run her baby stroller into Hannah's shinbones.

"Don't worry about it," Hannah reassured her, trying to not bend down and rub her painful shins. "I'm fine, honest. It was nothing."

From the corner of her eye, Hannah noticed the colorful display of a toy store and with a friendly nod she left the embarrassed young mother to pick up a toy for her friend, Betty Palmer's two year old. She knew the little boy loved the Weebles and she was set on getting him a 'Weeble bus'.

Even though the toy store was crowded with parents and children, Hannah noticed, to her relief, there was a little more space to move around and she gratefully walked towards the aisle for toddlers.

As her eyes were scanning the colorful items on the shelves, the echo of a conversation, a long time ago, unexpectedly reached her ears.

Oh, yes, I'd love to. I'd like to have at least three, but if they all look like you, I want six, Rachel's voice penetrated her subconscious so suddenly, Hannah gasped for breath.

It had been one of the many conversations she had tried very hard to forget. They had been part of a future she once had lived for, until all those hopes and dreams had violently been uprooted and carelessly tossed aside.

Hannah swallowed hard, rapidly blinking to prevent the tears, that were stinging her eyes, from falling. With the back of her hand, she rubbed her eyes, trying to dodge a toddler who came running around the corner on unsteady legs. While Hannah quickly stepped to the right, the toddler headed for the left and unceremoniously crashed into Hannah's legs, landing on the floor with an audible thump.

Wincing in sympathy for the little girl, this time Hannah did rub her shins, while she cast a concerned look at the child, who was scrambling back to her feet, with a happy grin on her face.

"No tears, huh?" Hannah spoke, duly impressed. "You're a tough one."

"Weebles," the girl laughed, pointed at the shelf behind Hannah.

"Oh, another wobbly weeble fan," Hannah smiled, reaching out to push the little girl's hair away from her forehead. The moment she touched her, a strong feeling of foreboding took possession of her and again the memory of yet another conversation made its way back into her conscious mind.

I don't like the idea of little kids wearing dog-tags. They could seriously hurt themselves while playing. Nope, I'd sew labels with their names and stuff in their clothes..."

"Where are your parents, little one?" she mumbled, moistening her, suddenly dry lips.

Holding her breath and with trembling fingers, Hannah reached for the back of the girl's jacket, carefully folding the fabric. Immediately, a white label, sown into the clothing caught her eyes.

"Oh, Lord, have mercy," Hannah breathed while her eyes scanned the bold printed letters. She let go of the fabric as if she had burnt her fingers and quickly took a step back, ready to bolt.

Just as she was about to turn around, a little hand grabbed her jeans, just below the knee and gave the denim an impatient tug.


Hannah swallowed hard when her eyes met a pair of troubled brown ones that rapidly became moist when the little girl realized she had lost her mother.

"Oh, no! No, no, no, no, no" Hannah responded, when she saw the pout and the quivering bottom lip. "You can't cry now, Missy. We'll have to find your Mommy. Come here."

Without hesitation, but with a heavy heart, Hannah lifted the toddler into her arms intent on heading for the customer service area. But, as soon as she rounded the corner, she suddenly stood eye-to-eye with Rachel Kendrick.

The look on the Doctor's face was one of near-panic, which only intensified when she noticed the child in Hannah's arms. Her dark eyes looked huge in her suddenly pale face.

"Mommy!" the toddler cried happily, reaching out both arms towards her mother, who quickly grabbed her before she jumped out of Hannah's firm grip.

"Nicky!" Rachel responded, moistening her dry lips, while her eyes took in the blonde in front of her. She stared into the familiar blue of Hannah's eyes, expecting to find anger, but all she could see was confusion and pain that lanced straight through her heart.

Oh, Hannah, I didn't want you to find out this way, Not like this...

"Mommy?" Hannah repeated after a short, tense silence. Her voice was strained with emotion and no matter how much she wanted to turn around and walk away, the look of anguish in Rachel's eyes made it hard for her to move. So, she waited.

"I...It's not...Well, it's exactly what it seems like, at least...I guess it does," Rachel tried to find the right words, afraid to run Hannah off. She shifted Nicky to her other hip and took a deep breath, trying to regain her composure.

"I remember...someone...telling me once, that," Hannah paused and slowly exhaled. "Telling me...she...would never be so stupid as to lose her child in a crowd. What happened...Doctor?"

Rachel almost cringed at the tone in the blonde's voice and for a moment she felt like a small, rebuked child.

"I guess I faced reality," she finally answered. "And I'll make sure never to make silly statements like that again. Obviously, I didn't know what I was talking about."

"Obviously," Hannah answered softly, remembering Rachel's sense of responsibility, a character trait that made her disappearance even harder to understand.

Hannah sighed and rubbed her forehead, wondering how long she would be able to look at Rachel and her little girl without bursting into tears. Had they not dreamt about starting a family one day? Together? Hannah had no idea why Rachel had left her and their plans for the future, but, at the moment, the reality of Rachel's choices brutally stared her in the face. It hurt more than she ever could have imagined.

"Hannah, this is not what it seems like, honestly," Rachel tried again, desperately wanting the nurse to know the truth, but knowing Hannah and Nicky running into each other had given the blonde an impression that would not be easy to erase.

"Would you...please, let me explain?" Rachel tried, unconsciously holding her breath while she waited for an answer.

"Is there anything to explain?" Hannah asked, averting the soulful brown eyes by staring at the colorful toys that surrounded them.

"Yes, there is," Rachel answered in a hoarse voice. "There's a lot to explain."

"Why would I believe you?" Hannah asked in a low, but bitter voice.

"Have I ever lied to you?" Rachel dared with an audible quiver in her voice.

Hannah looked up and for a brief moment allowed the anger to show, before she cast down her eyes and let out a shuddering breath.

You once said you loved me...

Rachel caught herself when she reached out a hand, yearning to touch the other woman, as she had done so many times before. She quickly withdrew, before she could make a fool out of herself and decided to wait for Hannah's response, intent on accepting it, no matter how hard it would be.

"I guess it makes a difference whether you were on the giving or receiving end of that note you wrote me, the day you left," Hannah finally responded, not missing the hardly visible flinch in Rachel's face.

"I guess that's true," Rachel softly answered, trying to swallow away the lump in her throat. She knew the hurt she had inflicted on Hannah ran deep, but there was a difference between knowing something and actually witnessing it. The responsibility for the blonde's pain weighed heavily on her shoulders and, like so many times before, Rachel wondered if she had made the right choices.

It's not like you can change any of them, Rachel, you hurt her, deeply. Now, deal with the past and hope for the best.

For Rachel, the best would be having a civilized conversation with Hannah in which she would have the chance to explain a few things. That was the least she could do. Hannah deserved that, but would she accept it, too? From experience, Rachel knew that Hannah could be very stubborn. That, in combination with her tendency to withdraw into herself, sometimes made it hard to approach her.

Inwardly, Rachel cringed, Hannah was a great listener, but trying to get her to open up, could provide a challenge. But deep down inside, Rachel knew she simply had to try. Somehow, she had to find out if there was anything left from the bond they had once shared. She knew she was grasping at straws, especially now, with Hannah's eyes traveling between Nicky and her. The longer she would wait to explain the situation, the stronger Hannah's belief in her infidelity.

"She's not mine," Rachel suddenly stated, immediately seeing Hannah's eyebrows rise, while her eyes bore into her own.

"She's not?" Hannah echoed in a cool voice. "The resemblance is uncanny and she did call you 'Mommy', didn't she?"

Rachel sighed and tried not to fidget under Hannah's scrutinizing look. The last thing she wanted was Hannah to think she was not in control of her nerves.

"She..." Rachel cleared her throat to get rid of the hoarseness in her voice. "Nicky is my daughter. I adopted her," she added in a soft voice. She paused when Hannah opened her mouth, ready to reply, but, after a brief silence, closed it again, looking at Rachel with a mixture of curiosity and disbelief.

"To make a long story short; Nicky is Randy's daughter," Rachel explained, watching the expression on Hannah's face. She was fascinated with the rapid changes in the expressive blue eyes, reflecting Hannah's moods and feelings so easily. Seamlessly they went from suspicion to surprise to disbelief to careful acceptance. But only because Rachel had known the blonde so well, she was aware of the tiny little spark as well; a silent expression of amusement.

"Randy," Hannah echoed, her voice soft. "Your brother."

"My brother," Rachel nodded, unconsciously resting her cheek on Nicky's soft hair. The toddler had put her head on her mother's shoulder, content to be held safely in her arms. "It's a long story," she continued. "And I'd...I would like to tell you about it, but...not here."

Hannah bit her bottom lip, understanding what Rachel was asking of her, but she was not sure if she could handle a one-on-one conversation with the Doctor. She was still in too much turmoil and knew she needed to make sense of all the emotions that were raging through her system.

Rachel picked up on her hesitance and, trying not to show her disappointment, she mustered up a smile.

"I understand," she nodded in a hoarse voice. "It's a lot take in. I'm sorry."

Those last words were spoken with so much pain and remorse, Hannah realized Rachel was referring to much more than the present situation. And, even though a little voice in the back of her mind whispered :"You'd better be sorry and no, I'm sure you don't understand'," Hannah did not speak those words aloud, because, deep down inside, compassion stirred.

Hannah! the voice almost yelled at her, what are you doing? Please, don't tell me you're starting to feel sorry for her. Come on, Hannah, get a grip!

"You're right," Hannah finally spoke in a soft voice. "This is not the right place."

For a brief moment, Hannah's eyes met Rachel's and in them, the Doctor read what Hannah had not yet said. She slowly nodded while forcing back tears of disappointment, grief and tension.

"And now is not the right time," she spoke in voice that was hoarse with emotion. "I do understand that."

"Thank you," Hannah answered, wondering if she could make it back to the car without bursting out in tears. A little nervous, she raked her fingers through her hair, a gesture that was painfully familiar to Rachel.

Hannah knew she had to get out of the store and out of the mall. She needed physical distance between Rachel and herself. She needed to think. Her thoughts were a whirlwind of fragments, evoking a turmoil of emotions she could not make sense of. Not with a pair of familiar, soulful brown eyes staring at her with a look that, surprisingly enough, tugged on her heartstrings. And not with a cute, lively toddler, who was the spitting image of her adopted mother sending her shy smiles from Rachel's arms.

"I...I need to go," she stammered, not able to look the Doctor in the eyes.

Rachel could only nod, not trusting her voice, since her throat was painfully constricted.

"I'll...I'll see you around, I guess," Hannah mumbled, before turning around and heading for the exit.

Biting her lip, Rachel watched her walk off, wishing she had been able to say something, anything, that would have delayed Hannah's departure.

"Hannah," she suddenly called out, surprising the blonde and herself by that unexpected action.

The nurse turned around, not sure whether to return to Rachel and her daughter, or to keep walking. The conflicting emotions were clearly visible and Rachel quickly crossed the distance between them.

"Hannah, I want to give you this," Rachel explained quickly, holding out a business card. "I meant what I said in the parking garage; if you don't want to talk, I'll try to accept that. But...," she paused and took a deep breath, hoping Hannah would not misinterpret her words. "In case you do want to talk, my address and phone number are on the card. You're welcome to contact me at any time, day or night," Rachel added with a small smile.

Rachel sounded so genuine, Hannah could not help answering the smile with one of her own. It was a brief smile, but to Rachel's exhilaration, it reached the blue of Hannah's eyes, giving it a depth that tore through her heart, causing a bitter-sweet pain. It reminded her of all those moments in the past, she had lost herself in a warm, blue haze. They were part of the many memories that, unbeknownst to Hannah, had kept Rachel going, all those years. But right now, Hannah's smile was a gift Rachel accepted wholeheartedly.

Hannah's eyes traveled to the card that Rachel was still holding out to her. When she reached out her hand to grasp it, her fingers touched Rachel's and caused a flood of new emotions.

"I'll think about it," she nodded, before turning around again and walking away.

Rachel stared at her until she had disappeared into the crowd and Nicky impatiently tugged her arm.

"Mommy? Hannah gone?"

"Yes, baby, she's gone," Rachel sighed, the sadness in her expressive brown eyes mirrored in her daughter's. She kissed Nicky's soft cheek and smiled when a pair of chubby arms tightly wrapped around her neck. "But maybe, just maybe, she'll accept, Nicky. Maybe she'll want to talk, one day."


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To be continued in part 4

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