Back In The Game
by Dubenko Junkie

"Meet me in my office at seven...what the hell was I thinking?" Dr. Dubenko muttered to himself as he entered his cluttered office. Bookshelves filled with picture frames, reference materials and various objects he had collected over the years dominated the front office. Piles of books and loose papers sat on the floor and in chairs scattered around the room.

"It's a totally fantastic'd be idiotic to pass it up. Oh that's just great, Lee. Tell the woman she's an idiot. That'll impress her," The curly-haired doctor continued to talk to himself as he flopped into the chair in front of his desk. Pushing several slides and his microscope to the side, he sighed, "Who am I kidding? She already thinks I'm the idiot. I'm starting to think she's right."

Looking at his watch, Dr. Lee Dubenko groaned and mentally ticked off the hours until he was supposed to meet with Abby Lockhart. Realizing that he was in for a long afternoon, Dubenko slumped down in his chair and picked up a stack of charts to review.


The shrill ringing of the phone startled Dubenko for a moment, lost as he was in his charting. He scanned his messy desktop looking for the phone before picking up the latest copy of Journal of the American College of Surgeons to reveal the still-ringing nuisance.

"Dr. Dubenko," he intoned flatly.

"Well, hello to you too, Papa. Nice to see that you've been working on your social skills," replied the softly amused voice of his daughter.

"Sophie! Hi, baby. How are you?" Dubenko's face brightened at the sound of her voice. It had been some time since they had last spoken.

"I'm good. Things are hectic as usual. I hate half my classes and the other half bore me to tears. Same old, same old. I just wanted to call and see how you were doing. How are you doing, Papa?" Concern was evident in her tone.

It took him a moment to realize why Sophie was calling. He glanced at his wall calendar. How could I have forgotten? He wondered to himself, "I'm doing alright, Soph. To be honest I hadn't even realized what today's date was. Work has been a bit harried now that I've taken over the Chief of Surgery position. Why I let the administration saddle me with that responsibility on top of sitting on the hospital's Ethics Committee, I don't know."

"Because you don't know how to say 'no', Papa. Not when it comes to your career. You never have been able to do that, you know." Sophie sighed before continuing. "I have to make this short Papa, if you're sure you're okay. You are, aren't you?"

Smirking to himself, Dubenko answered, "I'm fine Sophie. I promise. I'm the one who's supposed to worry about you, remember?"

"I'm not the one who routinely forgets to eat or check his mail. I get my hair cut on a regular basis...I'm also not the one who tends to keep everything bottled up inside, remember?" Sophie snorted.

"I thought we were keeping this short?"

"I love you Papa. Call me if you need to, okay?"

"I love you too," he grinned as he paused before adding, "Sophie Monster."

"Good bye, Papa." She was unable to hide the mild irritation at the childhood nickname. Hanging up the phone, Dubenko shook his head. The reason for Sophie's call led him to absentmindedly place the receiver back in the phone cradle and then put the medical journal back on top of the phone. Once again it blended into the chaos on the desk.

Had it been five years already? It used to be that time dragged on; now it was flying by faster than he could keep track. Dubenko opened the top drawer of his desk and picked up a plain silver wedding band. He still liked to wear it most days and missed the weight of it on his hand when he didn't. Placing it on his ring finger, the cold metal brought back a rush of memories.

Laughter, she was always laughing. She found amusement in everything. It was what had attracted him to her in the beginning. Her laughter and the never-ending frustration with their disaster of a Gross Anatomy instructor amused him. That guy was a med student's worst nightmare. She had taken to confiding to him as they sat in the back of the large lecture hall or as they stood over some poor individual who had donated their body to medical research. He never understood why she chose him to unleash her concerns and humorous insights on, not back then at any rate.

It took him nearly three months to work up the nerve to ask her out the first time. Stammering like a fool, he meekly asked her to have coffee with him. She said no, but that if he'd ask her to dinner she'd love to go out with him. He spent most of that first date nervously picking at his shirt pocket and listening to her talk-- about herself, their classmates, where she hoped to do her residency.

By the time graduation rolled around, he was no longer that nervous, stammering guy who could never think of a thing to say. No, he was head over heels in love and ready to propose to her. He wasn't nervous at all when he got down on one knee in the middle of that restaurant where they'd had their first date. He wasn't nervous as he stood in the chapel with her and exchanged wedding vows.

They had a happy marriage. Both of them did well in their chosen specialties. He loved being a trauma surgeon, loved doing research on the latest medical techniques. He even enjoyed the frenetic disorder that came along with working in an ER. She preferred the less chaotic pace of family medicine. Her predictable schedule made it easy when Sophie came along.

A knock on the door brought Dubenko out of his reverie. He slipped the wedding band off his finger and placed it back in the desk drawer. Turning his head, he saw Dr. Lewis standing in the doorway.

Susan Lewis leaned against the doorframe as she addressed him. "I got your voicemail...what's up? Is one of my residents up to something stupid again? Carter didn't talk someone else in your department into doing something illegal, did he?"

"No, no. I, uh, just wanted to know if I could borrow Dr. Lockhart for a few hours." When the blonde doctor looked at him quizzically, Dubenko quickly explained about the previous day's body stuffing case and that he and Abby were going to write it up for publication.

"That's charming," Susan quipped, regarding the surprise condom full of cocaine that was found inside of a patient during surgery.

"Like finding a prize in the bottom of a Cracker Jack box. Never really know what you'll find." he smiled.

"I'll be sure to let you know if I ever find anything that interesting in my Cracker Jacks." Susan looked disgusted. "Sure, you can have Abby, on one condition: you have to tell me how you got her to agree to write a paper. I can't seem to get any of those guys interested in getting published."

"I more or less implied that she was stupid when she tried to say no." Dubenko shrugged sheepishly.

"Nice. Subtle insults. I can do subtle. I'm surprised that Abby didn't pop you one, though. She must like you." Dr. Lewis laughed as she left his office.

He shook his head thinking about the ER doctors and Dr. Lewis's confession. He doubted that subtle would work on the likes of Drs. Kovac and Pratt. As for Morris, who in his opinion was a lawsuit waiting to happen, nothing short of a defibrillator to the head would be enough to get his attention. "Good luck with that," he announced to the empty room. Personally I'd forgo the subtlety and focus on the insults.


Having spoken to Dr. Lewis about letting Abby end her shift a few hours early, Dr. Dubenko was beginning to feel anxious as the afternoon wore on. Now he was committed to spending time one on one with the brunette intern. His office. Alone. No interruptions.

"What the hell was I thinking?" he asked himself for the umpteenth time. Sighing, Dubenko shoved the pile of partially reviewed charts to the side. "You weren't thinking at all. Why in the world would Lockhart want to spend time with you? She's been dating a med student for Christ's sake. He's younger than you are, the general consensus amongst the staff is that he's a nice guy, and the nurses all seem to think he's the cutest thing on the surgical floor. And you talk to yourself. That'll win her over."

Dubenko stood up and wandered across his office to the bookcases that were placed against the far wall. A large silver picture frame sat on the middle shelf, propped up against several reams of paper. He picked up the photo, studying the image of a young couple huddled together over a book. We really did look good together, he thought as he smiled to himself.

"What do you think, Marti? Do I just write the 'totally fantastic' article and call it a day or do I keep my promise to Sophie and give this whole dating thing a shot? She's convinced that I'll never meet anyone and continue to just bury myself in my work. She's right. Smart girl, our daughter."

With his free hand, Dubenko took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I'm too old for this. I don't remember what to do. I never really did, even back then with you. I was a nervous, self-conscious geek who was more comfortable with my books than with people. Not much has changed, you know. I don't know how you used to do it, Marti. People were so easy for you. You'd walk into a room and they'd just gravitate towards you. You'd laugh, smile, make a new best friend before I could even open my mouth to say hello. God, I miss you."

He put the photograph back on the bookcase and shook his head. He could hear her soft voice even now--'Lee, stop thinking, you think too much, let that brain of yours take a break while you actually do something.' She must have said that to him a hundred times in the past. Sophie insisted that her mother wouldn't want him to be alone, that she'd want him to move on and find someone to love again. Instead he'd spent the last five years alone, steeped in his research, his career and focusing on raising his daughter. But if you were here I wouldn't be alone, would I, Marti? The irony keeps me awake at night. I know what she means, though. And Sophie's right. He just couldn't bring himself to move on, to say goodbye.

"I shouldn't have to...I shouldn't have to." His voice rough with emotion, Dubenko leaned forward to rest his head against the bookcase and closed his eyes. He struggled to fight back the tears that were welling up. Snippets of conversations ran through his mind. Images tumbled forth and memories overwhelmed him.

She loved the water. When they were coming up with their lists of potential hospital matches, she confessed that she had only considered the east coast. Martina was ecstatic when they both matched at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. They would often make the three-hour drive down to the Tidewater area when the weather was warm. So many summer afternoons were spent on the strand at Virginia Beach. They'd come home sunburned and exhausted more often than not, but Marti couldn't be kept away.

They had a two-story colonial in Richmond that had been painstakingly restored to its original state. "Everything but the kitchen," she insisted that room be kept modern when he jokingly asked about a wood burning stove and removing the dishwasher. When they were home, she could always be found in the kitchen. She loved to cook everything from scratch. On her days off from the hospital she'd prepare a dozen different meals and freeze them. That was her domain, the heart and hearth of their home, their family.

That morning Marti had been in the kitchen making a list for the grocery store when he breezed through on his way to work. Sophie was yelling about a ride to school, she was running late and she refused to take the bus. The dog was whining at the back door to go out. He unlocked the door and let Sophie's overgrown lap dog into the yard, and kissed Marti on the cheek and told Sophie she had exactly five seconds to get in the car. He didn't lock the back door before leaving. He didn't lock the door. The goddamned door.

Wiping his face on the sleeve of his blue surgical gown, Dubenko put his glasses back on, "Marti...I'm so sorry. Sometimes I think that if I hadn't been in such a hurry, if that morning had gone any differently, you'd still be here. I, I don't know. I just don't know..." He trailed off as his pager beeped.

The display read "911" followed by the ER's code. He made his way to the elevator bank, putting all other thoughts out of his mind for the moment. Maybe, if he was lucky, he'd spend the afternoon in surgery and he wouldn't have to think about the state of his personal life.


"Hey! We need a rapid infuser in here! The patient is gonna need blood--get a move on people!" Dr. Greg Pratt bellowed in Trauma One.

Dubenko walked in and surveyed the scene before him. "What have we got today, folks? Knife, gun, scissors or other inanimate object heretofore unrecognized as a weapon?"

Pulling on a pair of gloves as he stepped around a nurse setting up an IV, Dubenko finally got a good look at the patient. Female, mid to late thirties by his best guess, her neck and collarbone covered in mottled bruises as if she'd been strangled. That didn't explain all the blood, however. It was her face, or what was left of it, that was the cause of the dark red gore smeared all over the place.

Pratt rattled off the patient's stats for Dubenko's benefit, adding that "skull facture" didn't do justice to the crushed bones on the right side of her head. "EMTs that brought her in said someone repeatedly rammed her face-first into a marble countertop in a bakery downtown. How's that for customer service?" The third year resident sounded bitterly disgusted.

As he looked at the woman on the gurney, Dubenko had to bite back the bile that rose in his throat. Normally he was able to keep a detached air of indifference to the horrors he witnessed in the emergency room. It was a skill well honed after years of fixing the terrible things that happened to the innocent and not so innocent alike. Simply part of his job: ignore the violence and cruelty that caused the problem, repair the damage when possible and move on to the next case. That was all there was to it.

Normally. Not today. Not when he had been thinking about Marti only minutes before. Not when the patient fit the same vague physical description as his wife. Petite in stature, but curvaceous...long dark hair, tanned skin and from what he could see of her face, soft rounded features. Then there was the blood and the bruises.

He forced himself to focus on the activity in the room and continued his assessment. If the ER doctors could stabilize the patient would his surgical team be able to save her? Was brain damage caused not only from the blunt force trauma but oxygen depravation as well?

Dubenko began running scenarios through in his mind. Which steps to take? What procedures to perform and the outcome of each action? Best case and worst case, what were the patient's chances for recovery?

His train of thought was abruptly halted as the high-pitched tones of the monitors sounded. The patient had flat-lined. Chest compressions. No pulse, shoot her full of epi and shock her with the defibrillator. Again. Still no pulse, pupils fixed and dilated. Dr. Pratt shook his head and called time of death. Game over, do not pass go and do not collect two hundred dollars.

The room that was only moments ago a center of activity stood almost still. Disappointment and frustration were nearly tangible, hanging in the air around them. This too, was part of the job. Another unpleasantness that Dubenko had learned to hold at arms length. You couldn't save them all.

Suddenly, he couldn't get out of the room fast enough. Without the distraction of the patient's needs to focus on his thoughts had retuned to the last time he had seen the familiar sight of a woman, strangled and bloodied.

Without a word, Dubenko pulled off his gloves and brushed passed the nurses and interns, bumped into Dr. Pratt and shoved open the trauma room doors. He couldn't breathe in there. He wanted to scream. He heard but ignored Pratt's startled insult. His only goal was to get out of the ER and away from that patient. No. Not a patient anymore, not even a person. A corpse. That's all she was now. Whoever she had been was gone. Just like his wife.

Dubenko slipped inside the waiting elevator and, once the doors slid closed, collapsed against the far wall. He hadn't reacted like that in years. In fact, he had only felt the overwhelming urge to flee a trauma once after Marti had died. It was then that he decided to leave Virginia. Had he really thought that by accepting a position in another hospital, another state, he could escape what had happened?

No, he told himself. He wasn't running away. Just starting over. Sophie was away at college, and with her gone the house was far too large and lonely. Advancing his career was his motivation. He never would have made Chief of Surgery had he stayed at the University Medical Center. Too many tenured old timers were on staff. He was just the young hot shot with all the skill and talent. He made them look good. Chicago was the right decision. He rationalized the reason for his unease. It was Sophie's phone call, today's date, thinking about Marti and being anxious about this evening.

Still, he couldn't help but think about the woman in Trauma One. Couldn't stop his memory from recalling what had happened five years ago. He checked his watch--another reminder. Marti had given him the watch for his fortieth birthday. Walking from the elevators back to his office, Dubenko's sense of unrest fell away as he recalled that birthday.

The staff at VCU Medical Center had made a big deal out of his turning forty. "No longer one of the kids, Lee!" the senior resident had teased. "Guess we'll be on the lookout for a new young show off, eh?" Dubenko smiled and took the gentle ribbing with a grain of salt, just as he had all day. The nurses had somehow gotten a hold of a set of black scrubs and insisted he wear them. Someone had filled his office with the usual crepe paper and balloons. And his colleagues had all written him prescriptions for Viagra.

Marti had nearly laughed herself sick when she found out about that last little present. "Do tell them that I said 'Thanks, but not necessary', Lee," she managed to choke out while wiping tears from her eyes. She had wanted to have a party for him at home, but he managed to talk Marti and Sophie into just the three of them celebrating together. He claimed that a 12-hour shift full of old man jokes and over the hill references were more than enough torment for one day.

Sophie had baked a triple layered chocolate monstrosity covered in gray icing and then continued to decorate the cake with as many candles as she could fit on top. She pretended to be insulted when her father commented on her lack of basic math skills but set the candles blazing anyway. Between the melted wax and the amount of food coloring in the icing, the cake turned out to be all but inedible.

Later that evening, after Sophie had disappeared into her room to study, Marti had curled up next to him on the living room sofa. She handed him a small brightly wrapped package and kissed the corner of his mouth as she whispered, "Happy birthday, Lee. This year I figured you had enough books, journal subscriptions and other things to clutter up your office. I hope you like it." After opening the box and studying the large face of the silver watch, Marti had reached over and flipped the watch in his hands so that he could read an inscription on the back 'for those who love, time is eternity'. He smiled, recognizing the obscure quote, "Henry Van Dyke."


"Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity." You got that right, he thought to himself as he recalled the entirety of the quote.

Still feeling somewhat restless and wanting to shake the inner turmoil that had been dredged up, Dubenko wandered around his office aimlessly. It was nearly seven o'clock and Lockhart would be there any minute. Realizing that he wanted to get out of his office, out of the hospital and that he wasn't going to be able to concentrate on writing a paper let alone trying to get to know Abby if he couldn't put today's events behind him, Lee decided that the best thing to do was to work in a neutral environment. Maybe over dinner. Something casual, he thought. Low key and simple, burgers and fries at Ike Ryan's. Perfect.

He went over to the heavily burdened coat rack that stood in the corner of his office and opted to get out of the blue scrubs he'd been wearing since early morning. Sifting through the various articles of clothing that he'd left accumulating on the coat rack since he'd started at County, Dubenko settled on dark slacks that weren't wrinkled and a stripped button-down shirt that was. He solved the problem of the unsightly shirt with a trick he used to fall back on in college. He pulled a sweater overtop of it.

Still no sign of Lockhart. Instead of continuing to pace around the office he sat down at the cluttered desk for a second time that day, intending to get some work done while he waited. The charts needing review held little appeal at the moment, but there was a bit of research he had been fooling with in his spare time that had shown some promise. He cleared off the space directly in front of him and pulled his microscope over. Turning it on and adjusting the slide already set on the stage Dubenko quickly became absorbed in the tiny world the stereoscope presented to him.


He heard Dr. Lockhart in his outer office. By her footsteps it seemed that she was hesitating about whether or not to come further inside. Trying to think of the best way to inform her of the slight change of plans, Dubenko continued to sit at his desk not really seeing what was on the slide he had been studying.

When she finally walked into his office proper, Dubenko greeted her without looking up. "There you are. Come in." Great, now I sound like I'm chastising her for being a few minutes late.

"I pulled the chart..." Abby started to say as she walked closer to his desk.

Don't let her sit down; I don't want to work in here. Standing up abruptly, Dubenko turned to face Abby. "Are you hungry? I thought we could have a working dinner."

As he walked over to the coat rack Dubenko noticed the look of surprise on Lockhart's face. Does she have something against food too, or is it just me?

"I'm really not that hungry," Abby tried to argue.

He carried on as if he hadn't heard her. He was not about to stay in this office any longer. Glancing at the photograph of Marti and himself that was sitting on the bookcase to his right, Dubenko pulled on his caramel colored coat.

"Here, you can borrow my coat. It's cold outside." Before Abby could protest any further he helped her into one of his spare coats. It was too big for her of course, but it was warm. Compliment her; you remember how to do that don't you? Say something flattering. "Looks good on you."

Looks good on you? Lee, you idiot, she looks like a little kid playing dress up.


Abby didn't say much as they walked towards Ike Ryan's. The bar was across the way from the hospital and most of the staff frequented the place. The food was tolerable and the atmosphere not unpleasant.

"So I was thinking that I would start by gathering some data on the prevalence of body stuffing in Chicago?" Abby looked up at him as she made the statement sound more like a question.

Dubenko was too busy looking for a place to sit to answer her. Pointing, he guided her towards an empty table in the back. His thoughts focused not on the paper, butjust ordering their meal, he turned to the bartender, "Two mineral waters please. A couple of burgers--Medium okay?" He looked at Abby for confirmation.


He repeated the order as he helped Abby remove her coat and pulled out a chair for her. "Yeah, two medium burgers and um, we'll share a basket of fries." He smiled at Abby as if to confirm.

"You got it." The bartender hurried off to fill their order.

Taking off his coat, Dubenko stammered out the first thing that came to mind. "Um, are...are you from here...originally?" Cause well gee Abby, I'm obviously from planet Socially Inept, in fact I was hailed as their ruler before coming to Earth. He mentally chided himself for sounding like an awkward teenager on his first date. Apt description really, it's not so far from the truth of the matter considering that I haven't been on a first date in what, more than twenty years? "Pardon me?" Her tone revealed that she was caught off guard by the question. "I, I don't know, I thought I detected a hint of Minnesotan in your accent." He sat down as he stammered the explanation. Marti never completely lost her accent either, though she tried. I loved listening to her talk late at night when she was tired and she couldn't hide it. He played with the case file Abby had brought with her before sliding it out of the way. "I grew up mostly in St. Paul, but I've lived all over the place. Anyway..." She pushed up her sleeves and pulled the file back in front of her and continued. "In terms of the paper..."

She doesn't give up, does she? "Introduction, case summary, discussion. That's all there is to it." He punctuated each step by tapping his interlaced fingers against the tabletop. And I'm rudely interrupting her. Such a charmer, aren't you Dr. Dubenko? He searched for something, anything other than the paper to discuss. Come on Lee; just ask her a question that has nothing to do with medicine or research.

Falling back on old nervous habits, he stuttered, "Do you, do you like foreign films?"

Abby smiled at him and he recognized the look as one of her trademark responses tohis overtures of friendship. I guess that answers my question. Doesn't like foreign films. Or maybe she just doesn't like the thought of seeing a film with me. God, did I just ask her out to a movie? I was just trying to make conversation. Maybe Sophie has a point about needing to work on my social skills. He thought to imself, frantically for something to say to Abby, realizing that this was not going well and she looked annoyed at his personal questions.

"I guess they do take some getting used to. Not everyone can follow subtitles and the action on the screen at the same time, information overload I guess, trying to process two different types of visual input at the same time doesn't come naturally to everyone. But dubbed films, I don't know, they just don't have the same appeal to them. Mismatched voices and not being able to hear the original actor's inflections and feelings conveyed as intended pulls me right out of the movie watching experience." Shut up Lee, you're rambling. Drink your water and shut up.

Abby made a noncommittal noise and quirked an eyebrow at him. "I guess so..."

This was such a bad idea. Why in the world did I listen to Sophie about dating advice? She's nineteen and as far as I know hasn't had a date since her senior prom. Would she even tell me if she had a date? A boyfriend? Do I really even want to know about any of that? No, no I don't. My baby girl and dating are two things that I want to keep completely separate.

Abby looked at him oddly due to his prolonged silence. "Are you okay?"

No, Abby, I'm not. I'm so lost and confused here that it's not even funny. I'm making a fool out of myself and for what? To ensure that today is completely horrible in every way possible? "Hmm? Yeah, I'm's just been a long day. Sorry for zoning out on you, Lockhart."


"So..." he echoed.

Abby tapped the case file, "The paper?"

Dubenko shook his head, "Sorry, yes, the paper. Like I said before, it's pretty straightforward. Introduction, case summary, discussion. Let's see those files you pulled." Making up his mind to cut his losses, he settled into work mode and flipped through the files, scanned the pages. "There's some good stuff in here. Do you know what the current statistics on body stuffing are? It's a growing trend that was nearly unheard of a few years ago." Please, let a giant fissure in the floor open and swallow me whole.

The bartender brought the burgers and fries just as Dubenko started to scribble a brief outline on the back of the file folder. He and Abby ate in semi-awkward silence, each lost in their own thoughts.

Dubenko merely wanted the night to end. At least I can honestly tell Sophie I tried, he mused as he finished his burger.


He tossed both of the long winter coats into the passenger seat before getting into his car. Dubenko and Lockhart had managed to pull together a solid piece that they would submit to The Annals of Emergancy Medicine. She was going to type it up and bring it to him to proofread in the morning. As he adjusted the rearview mirror, he sighed. At least there's one more article out there with my name on it. I don't even remember how many this makes.

He turned the radio on as he drove home, hitting the random button on the CD player, not too particular about what he listened to tonight. Dubenko was willing to bet that people would be surprised at his rather eclectic tastes in music. He owed most of the credit to his teenaged daughter, Sophie. She was in the habit of sending him mixed CDs instead of the typical letters or e-mail. "Life should have a sound track, don't you think, Papa?" She asked him that often.

The lyrics of the current song changed of his direction thoughts, "Cause I'm broken when I'm lonesome And I don't feel right when you're gone away You're gone away; You don't feel me here anymore." He didn't hear the rest of Seether's song; instead Lee Dubenko heard the sounds of his world crashing in around him.

He had taken Sophie to school that morning, lectured her about getting up on time instead of making everyone else late and informed her that if she couldn't handle that she would indeed be taking the bus or walking from then on forward. The sullen fourteen-year-old reluctantly agreed as she tried to tame the wild curly hair that she had inherited from her father. "And your mother wants you to come home right after school, Soph. Don't give her any grief about it, okay?" he had asked as she got out of the car. Her response was muttered and all he could make out was, "Lame."

By midday he had long forgotten Sophie's bout of bad attitude from that morning owing to a particularly grueling shift. He wound up performing two operations back to back, which tried even his patience and endurance. Surgical specialties were known to be arduous at times, but even the best surgeons needed some down time. He was in the middle of repairing a ruptured bowel when a nurse stuck her head in the operating room. "Dr. Dubenko, I have a phone call for you." She sounded odd, nervous perhaps about interrupting the procedure.

"Take a message. I'm sort of in the middle of things, if you hadn't noticed." He was tired and his manner and tone suffered for it.

"I really think you ought to take this's your daughter."

Another attending that had been observing offered to take over the procedure. He disappeared into the scrub room and pulled off his gloves and surgical mask. The nurse transferred Sophie's call to him in there.

"Sophie, I really don't have time for--"

"Papa?" she interrupted, her voice sounding small and unsure. She was crying.

Alarm set in immediately, "What's wrong baby? Are you okay?" he asked, his mind racing, searching for any possible reason for Sophie to have called like this.

"Papa, you need to come home."

"I'll be home in a little while, Soph, my shift doesn't end until--"

"No, Papa. You need to come home." Her voice had gone oddly flat and that worried him more than her crying.

"Sophie, let me talk to your mother--"

Again he was interrupted but this time his daughter merely sobbed.

Dubenko pulled into his driveway with the memory of his daughter's sobs echoing in his ears. He sat in there in his car, biting his bottom lip, his grip knuckle-white on the steering wheel. Just stop thinking about it, Lee. Remembering doesn't change what happened. He sighed. And forgetting won't bring her back.


Inside the house, Dubenko sank into the living room sofa. He hadn't bothered to turn on any lights. He didn't want to look at the pictures he kept scattered around the large room. Pictures that let him remember all the happiness he had in his life. Pictures that reminded him of what he'd lost.

I lost the love of my life, hell for a little while there I think I even lost my mind. And Sophie—he leaned his head against the back of the couch and closed his eyes. Warm tears slowly ran down the sides of his face. Dubenko ignored the tickling sensation as the tears entered his ears, focused instead on yet more memories. Try as he might, he never could recall just how he managed to leave the hospital after Sophie's phone call or how he made the drive home that night. What he did remember was vivid.

He pulled into the driveway crowded with emergency vehicles and police cars, lights flashed but the sirens were silent. He made his way across the lawn to the front door. Dread rose in his chest and fear sat heavy in the pit of his stomach as he entered the house.

He didn't recognize the people milling about in the foyer and he just stood there for a moment, steeling himself against what was to come. Sophie was sitting on the sofa, her head down and her hands in her lap. Her dog was at her feet as if he were standing guard. A plainclothes police officer was trying to talk to her to no avail.

"Sophie baby?" he barely recognized his own voice it was so strained. Before he had time to say anything else, Sophie had bolted across the room and into his arms. Her whole body shook as he held her. "Papa, I'm sorry Papa. I'm sorry," she sobbed repeatedly.

"Dr. Dubenko?" The officer that had been sitting next to Sophie arlier addressed him, but Dubenko's attention was caught by a different voice coming from the back of the house.

"I don't want anything touched in here, I don't want the body moved until everything has been photographed and I've finished my job. Is that understood?" The woman's voice was commanding but not unkind. Medical examiner, he dully noted somewhere in the back of his mind.

"Dr. Dubenko? Sir?"

"Papa, I'm so sorry. I know I was supposed to come home right away."

"Based on her body temperature I'd place the time of death around mid morning..."

"Papa, I didn't know what to do..."

"No sign of forcible entry. The kid says the back door was open when she came home."

"Son of a bitch probably walked right in..."

"Papa..." "Doctor..." "...Body bag..." "Looks like she put up one hell of a struggle..."

Voices ran together, pieces of conversation penetrated the haze he was in as Dubenko made his way toward the kitchen. He stood in the doorway and watched in detached fascination as a petite woman with short blonde hair directed several uniformed policemen who were gathering evidence. She was bent over a still form on the floor, talking as she placed bags over the hands of the body.

Fascination turned to horror in an instant as Dubenko realized what he was seeing. He must have made some sort of noise that garnered the medical examiner's attention because she sat up and turned towards him, revealing Marti's bruised and battered form.

She lay in a pool of dark red blood, long congealed into a sticky mass that matted her long hair. Her face was unnaturally slack and pale. Dark purple bruises covered her throat, broken blood vessels visible just under the skin.

In the days and weeks that followed the results of the forensic tests and police investigation were fruitless. As best as anyone had been able to determine, Marti Dubenko was the victim of a home invasion gone bad. It was surmised that an opportunistic vagrant noticed the open back door and empty driveway and saw an easy heist in the making. With Marti's habit of keeping her car in the garage it looked as if no one was home.

It looked like the intruder panicked when he realized that the home was occupied and tried to strangle Marti. During the struggle she must have hit her head on the corner of the granite countertop, causing the fatal injury. The coward who had attacked her simply fled.


Bright light caused Dubenko to groan and roll over on the sofa where he had fallen asleep the night before. He barely caught himself before falling to the floor. From where he lay he had an ninterrupted view of the framed photographs sitting on an end table.

A baby picture of Sophie made him smile. She was all curls and smiles back then, he thought to himself, back before she knew how annoying that curly mop of hair would be. I think she's still holding a grudge against her DNA for that.

There was a shot of Marti sitting on the beach watching the ocean with a gentle smile on her face. She didn't even realize I had taken her picture. I never understood how she could just sit there for hours watching the waves. Then again, she never understood how I could sit at a desk hunched over a stack of research all day. What a pair we were.

"What a pair we were," he repeated out loud as he reached for the photo. "You know Marti, there's a beach here too. The shore of Lake Michigan is nothing like Virginia Beach, but I think you would have liked it here." He studied her image for a long moment before returning the frame to the end table. But she isn't here. She never will be. It's been five years--aren't you tired of being alone? She'd never understand that any more than you understood her need to be near the ocean. She wouldn't want you to be alone and you know it.

He knew full well what Marti would say to him. She'd accuse him of taking the easy way out. She didn't let him get away with it when they were younger; he had never been good at social interaction so he avoided it by burying himself in his books. Now he was using her memory in much the same way.

Dubenko arched one eyebrow and tilted his head towards Marti's picture. "Maybe you're right Marti. Maybe it's time to let you go. I can't keep doing this to myself, it hurts too much."

Standing, he picked up the picture once more and carried it to the desk that sat against the far wall. He ran his fingers over the image of her face "I love you, Martina Dubenko. You were the best thing that ever happened to me." He opened the top drawer of the desk and set the picture facedown. Goodbye, beautiful.


Later that afternoon Lee Dubenko was sitting in the sand watching the glassy lake water as he pulled out his cell phone. "Hi Sophie, it's Papa. Want to hear something funny? I had this date last night..." He smiled at the sound of his daughter's laughter on the other end of the line as he told her about the painfully awkward dinner he shared with Abby Lockhart.

"God, Papa. You are so lame."

Yes, Sophie. Yes I am. But I'm working on it.


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