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Laura Carter made a rare visit to Chicago three weeks after the
anniversary party. Luka hoped her presence would help John to escape
a depression that seemed to deepen as time passed. Carter took his
meds and went to see his therapist. Strangers would have assumed
everything was fine. Those who loved him knew otherwise.

Roland and Luka talked daily, sometimes in person, most times over
the telephone. "I don't know what to do." Luka said as the waiter
brought their coffee. "It's not as if he sits around the apartment
sighing and moping in the dark. He smiles at me, even laughs, but the
effort it takes is plain."

"Have you talked to someone?"

"Yes. I had to. I called my old therapist. I wanted to know what, if
anything, I could do to make John feel better. His advice was to sit
tight and let John tell me what he needs when he needs it. That's
easy for him to say. He doesn't have to live with someone he loves
who's hurting."

"I was afraid this would happen." Roland sighed and rubbed his
face. "When Bobby died, my wife did the same thing: part of her died
with him. I kept waiting for her to get over the acute sense of loss,
but so far it hasn't happened. She smiles and laughs and it's like
living with a ghost. I confess that John's behavior has me very
worried. When he was a child, he was like this: quiet, subdued. I
thought I was lucky to have such a well-behaved child. I had no idea
he was grievously hurt by my father's mistreatment."

"That's the word I was looking for, 'subdued'." Luka shook his
head. "I'm tip-toeing around the apartment afraid to look too
cheerful, afraid to try and cheer him up because I don't want him to
think I loved Katerina any less than he did." Luka admitted. "I feel
as if I'm deceiving him somehow. When he became angry at me the day
of our anniversary, I was relieved. That was the first time he'd
shown any signs of the John I used to know."

"I wish I could help you, son. I've been living as you are doing for
nearly thirty years. I love my wife dearly. I can't stand to see her
in pain but your therapist was right. Until Laura and John decide
it's time to move on, all we can do is sit tight and hope for the
best. How's Johnny's physical health?"

"That's got me worried too. He's lost weight he can't afford to do
without. He cooks good meals for the both of us but only pushes the
food around on his plate. When he does eat, it usually comes right
back up again. I'm scared, Roland and I don't care who knows it."

* * * * *

"John, you look terrible. Are you feeling okay?" The state of her
only remaining son had roused Laura from her usual detached air. The
two of them were strolling through the Chicago Museum of Art.

"I'm alright. My stomach has been acting up, but otherwise..." John
glanced away from a woman with a baby girl in a stroller after seeing
that it wasn't Kitten. He'd been haunting museums, shopping malls,
toys stores; hoping for a glimpse of his daughter. Sighing, John sat
down on a bench near Seurat's pointillist masterpiece "An Afternoon
on the Island of Grande Jatte."

"I read your story, John. Roland shipped me a copy. It's why I'm
here. I cried when I read it. I cried for the first time since...",
Laura paused to steady her voice. "Since I came back to his room and
he wasn't there." She didn't have to explain further.

"Mom? How did you and Dad survive it?" John had been feeling guilty
ever since Roland pointed out that his loss was permanent. Robert
Alexander Carter had died. Katerina was only "gone". She was alive
and, hopefully happy, with a new family to love her. Nevertheless,
John wept for her every night in the bathroom. He'd tried to cheer
himself up by imagining her new parents playing with her and caring
for her, but it didn't work. He couldn't feel any more grief if she
had actually died as his brother did.

"I don't know that we have." Laura admitted in her soft voice. "I
abandoned you and your sister. I ceased to be your father's wife. I
was walking around in a fog. After reading your story, I've decided
to do something about it. Something positive. John, you have to get
beyond this. I know you feel as if someone has wrenched your heart
out, but you've got to try for Luka's sake. He wrote me the loveliest
letter shortly before your wedding."

"He did?", John was curious. This was the first he'd heard of it.

"Yes. He told me that he'd talked with your father and asked my
doctors if it was okay to write me. That letter was the only thing
that gave me the strength to come to your wedding." Laura smiled at
her son. "He told me bluntly that I was throwing away two beautiful
children by refusing to get over the loss of my first child. He told
me about his family and the guilt that almost destroyed him. That's
when my long road to recovery started. God knows, I didn't want your
brother to die. Luka said I could comfort myself with that. He's
never forgotten that he made them stay behind in the apartment."
Laura shook her head.

"I know. We've talked about it.", John said softly.

"Yes, but did you really listen to what he said?" Laura asked. "He
loves you very much. The only way he could do that was to put his
past and the part he played in it behind him once and for all. Tell
me, do you feel like you are 'second best'?"


"Well, think what that means. Luka let his family go. The grief is
still there. The love he felt for them is still there, but he's put
it in perspective by accepting what he did and why he did it. You've
got to do the same. Johnny, we all know you would never have touched
those drugs if you'd known the full consequences of your actions, yet
you did become an addict."Laura paused and touched his face. "Do you
think *I* would have tried twice to kill myself if I'd been thinking
clearly? I was punishing your father and you and your sister for
having the courage to go on with your lives. I was stupid enough to
believe your doing so meant you didn't really love or miss Alex."

"I did wonder how Luka manages to seem so happy." John admitted

"He's not. He's worried about you, even afraid for you. One look at
him, if your eyes were truly open and you'd have seen that for
yourself. You don't exist in a vacuum John. Your grief is hurting him
deeply. I know you are trying to act as if nothing is wrong but
you're not fooling anyone.

John nodded and took her hand. He knew she was right.

* * * * *

John seemed better after spending time with his mother. Luka and
Laura had talked only once. She thanked him for helping her and told
him she'd done her best to return the favor. John and his husband
talked and John agreed to try harder. Nevertheless, Luka was still
worried. One afternoon, he suddenly remembered there was someone who
might be able to arrange what John really needed; a chance to hold
Katerina once more and say a proper good-bye. He shut the door to the
lounge and picked up the phone.

Laurencia Carlton after being narrowly defeated five years ago in a
bid for the head of Chicago's council of aldermen had finally
succeeded in achieving the position. When her secretary told her who
was on the phone, she cut short a meeting and picked up. "Luka, it's
great to hear from you. Thanks again for all of your help during the
election." She grinned remembering John's enthusiastic efforts to get
all of County's employees to vote for her. The ER budget increases
had actually done the trick but the personable Dr. Carter had helped
to sway quite a few "undecideds". "What can I do for you?"

Luka smiled and told the story omitting nothing.

"Have you reviewed the case with the agency?"

"No. Quite frankly, we both assumed we were turned down because of
our relationship."

"If that's the case, both of you could sue on the grounds of

"No we couldn't. That wouldn't be good for our daughter. No, we've
both accepted the decision. All I want is some way for John to be
able to have an opportunity to say good-bye to our little girl. I
know deep down if he can see she's happy it will allow him to make
peace with losing her. I also know her records are sealed as far as
we're concerned, but you must know someone who could arrange for a
check-up or something that could get her back to County. The visit
would be supervised, but at least he'll get the chance to hold her
once more."

"Luka, I don't know if even *I'm* that good. But I'll see what I can
do." I'm not making any promises. Let me make a few phone calls."

"Thanks, Laurencia. Now I owe you."

* * * * *

As usual, Laurencia Carlton didn't waste any time. Her friendship
with John and Luka had garnered support from several highly-placed
gay and lesbian Cooke County employees. She picked up the phone and
dialed an enthusiastic supporter who happened to be the chief clerk
to a family court judge who, in turn, owed his position on the state
bench to several "friends" of Laurencia's.

She quickly explained the situation and Luka's modest request. She
knew she could trust both men to remain silent regarding the extent
of their relationship with the baby girl and each other. A ten-minute
supervised visit would not be too traumatic for a child who was still
months away from her first birthday. The legal aide agreed and
promised to get his boss to review Katerina's file.

Harvey "the Milkman" Rosenbaum only required twenty minutes with his
boss, Judge Waterston, before being told to have Katerina's case file
sent to their office. The only information withheld would be the
current whereabouts and new surname for the little girl. Everything
else: notes from the social workers, medical records, all of John and
Luka's documentation would be made available.

Two days later, the file arrived and was personally delivered into
Judge Waterston's hands. He spent the better part of an evening
reading every scrap of paper contained in the three immense accordion
portfolios. It was clear to him after reviewing the information that
Ross suspected John, and probably Luka, were HIV-positive. A hastily-
written note on a sheet containing John's HIV test results indicated
the author suspected the document was a newly-created forgery. If
their health had been mis-represented as cause to deny custody and
reason to refuse their adoption petition, John and Luka stood a
pretty good chance of having the case re-opened and this decision

The tricky part would be investigating this matter without revealing
the source of his information. It would be tricky, but it would be
possible. The judge called Laurencia at home. "If you had to trust
someone at Cooke County General with a matter of life and death, who
would it be?"

"I'm assuming someone besides our two doctors?" Laurencia understood
the request. "That's easy, the Chief of Staff."

"Thank you, Laurencia.", the judge hung up.

"What was that all about?", David Carlton wanted to know.

"A favor I'm doing for a couple of friends of ours." Laurencia sighed
as he massaged the small of her back.

"Need any help?"

"Not yet, but when and if I do, I'll come running."

Judge Waterston was a cautious man. He'd read the glowing appraisals
of John and Luka and decided to set them aside. A child's welfare was
at stake and personal prejudices of any sort would only get in the
way. He waited a week before arranging to meet with Rocket Romano.
The two men met at a gentleman's club one evening. Seated in one of
the private rooms with brandy and cigars, Judge Waterston explained
the reason for their meeting.

"It seems there might be a cover-up going on at your hospital, Dr.
Romano. If this is true, you could be shut down. At the least you,
and all of the senior staff would be fired and barred from

"I think you had better have some cast iron proof.", Romano said

"It has been brought to my attention that two of your physicians may
be covering up their health status vis. a vis. AIDS. Their test
results may have been falsified with or without the knowledge of
their supervisor who is required to sign off on them."

"Which two?"

"Dr.s Kovac and Carter."

"What led your office to this suspicion?"

Judge Waterston explained about the appearance of the test results
when compared to documentation dated from a similar time period.

Romano snorted. "Imbeciles. It's those imbeciles from Child Welfare

"How in the name of ...", the judge was amazed.

"Who else has been poking their noses into the relevant files
recently? If those jerks had bothered to ask *me* about this matter,
I could have told them that every man-jack working in that department
has new-looking test results." Romano explained why. "Listen, I'm no

epidemiologist, but it behooves us to maintain blood samples from our
front-line staff dating from when they were hired. The two physicians
in question have been on the payroll for over six years, John Carter
for nearly ten.

"HIV tests are conducted every three months for all staff at County.
Results for the Trauma and Surgical departments are compiled in-
house. If any of the staff who are most likely to come in contact
with the blood of patients are HIV-positive we want to know
immediately. All other test samples are processed by independent
labs. The turn-around time is less than three days. There *are* HIV-
positive staff working at County; none of whom are permitted level-
one contact with patients.", Romano was livid.

"These samples are still in existence?"

"Hell yes. The profile of this damn disease is not completely known.
This new strain which required re-testing of all of our samples, will
probably not be the last. In the interests of patient safety, not to
mention research, we'd be idiots to discard potentially life-saving
epidemiological data. Find yourself a lab, Judge and have the samples
tested again. No one is covering up a damn thing at County."

"So you are certain, Dr. Carter's recent bout of pneumonia had
nothing to do with AIDS?"

"Damn right. I examined his chart. One of my doctors collapsed on the
job. I had no desire for the little twerp to institute a workman's
comp claim. You bet I read his file. Common-or-garden variety
pneumonia probably brought on by overwork and roaming around in the
snow looking for abandoned babies."

"Thank you, Dr. Romano." The judge was pleased to see that here was
someone who was level-headed *and* not subject to coercion under any
circumstances. Romano was about as cuddly as a chain-saw. His
comments about both John and Luka had been fair but lacked the
effusive glow of their other colleagues.

* * * * *

A written, but informal request from Judge Waterston's office was all
it took. John and Luka's blood samples were sent to an independent
lab, identified only by serial numbers and dates. The lab was located
in Alaska. The chances of anyone knowing the two doctors there, let
alone recognizing their identity from two strings of random numerals,
was almost zero. In less than two weeks the results came back. Both
samples belonged to individuals who were HIV-negative. Now the only
issue remaining was the fact that both parents in this petition were
male. The judge realized ancient prejudices were not easily overcome
without a truck-load of facts. He set about devising means for these
facts to be obtained.
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