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Authors: Tami Hoag

Cold Cold Heart (6 page)

BOOK: Cold Cold Heart
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They sat in Dr. Dewar's cozy conference room—Dana, Dr. Dewar, and Lynda. Dr. Dewar preferred to call it her den, to give a less institutional impression, just as she preferred her patients to call her by her first name, so she seemed more like a friend than a physician. The office was furnished with comfortable oversize armchairs, a love seat, a coffee table. There were large, leafy plants near sliding glass doors that opened onto a small private garden courtyard.

Dana stared out the window. A steady, soft rain was falling from a drab gray sky. How did she feel about going home? She would be going back to the house she had grown up in. She felt like she would be expected to fit back into a life to which she no longer belonged. She worried her mother would expect her to fall into place like a missing puzzle piece, like nothing had ever happened or changed. But everything was different. Everything had changed.

She worried that people who had known her would look at her like she was a freak. She had been a story on the national news—the abducted newscaster, then the victim who killed the serial killer. People who had followed the story would know as many details about what she had endured as she did. How did she feel about going home to that? Apprehension and dread pressed down on her like an anvil.

“Dana?” Dr. Dewar prompted.

Dana pretended not to hear her.

Her mother tried to fill the awkward silence with awkward talk. “We're so excited to have Dana coming home. After everything she's been through, after all her hard work here, we'll finally have some time to be a family again, just be together, maybe take a vacation somewhere warm. It's a new beginning.”

Under the sugary enthusiasm, her mother had to be as anxious as Dana was. Dana could hear the edge of it in her mother's voice. She could smell it beneath the cloying layer of perfume her mother had
put on to mask any nervous perspiration. Lynda would be taking home her daughter, a virtual stranger.

“It
is
a new beginning,” Dr. Dewar said. “And, as exciting as that may be, it's normal to also be a little apprehensive about this transition,” she reminded them. “For both of you. There's going to be a period of adjustment. Don't make the mistake of setting unrealistic expectations. Don't put yourselves under that kind of pressure.”

“No,” Dana's mother said. “No pressure. No pressure at all. We'll take everything a day at a time. I just want to keep a positive outlook. We could have lost her. We're so lucky to still have her—”

“Don't talk about me like I can't hear you,” Dana said.

“I'm not talking about you like you can't hear me. I'm telling Dr. Dewar how I feel,” her mother said. “You can do the same. If you chose to participate, you wouldn't feel left out.”

In her mind, Dana frowned, though it was doubtful anyone noticed. Her face had been carved into a permanent frown.

“I'm just saying I feel lucky to have you alive and with us,” her mother said. “How do you feel?”

“I feel so lucky,” Dana said so flatly that her answer was probably construed as sarcasm, though she wasn't sure if that was how she had meant it or not.

Her mother looked away, upset.

Dr. Dewar broke the tension. “Dana, what are you going to do each day when you get home?”

Dana felt herself freeze for a second as the answer eluded her. She felt ambushed. No one had told her there would be a quiz.

“Breathe,” the doctor said softly.

Dana drew a breath and let it go.

“What are you going to do each day when you get home?”

“The same things I do here,” Dana said. “Follow my routines. Implement my strategies.”

“I've spoken at length with Dr. Burnette,” Dr. Dewar said. “Do you remember who that is, Dana?”

Dana concentrated on her phone, clicking through a series of commands, bringing the name
Burnette, Dr. Roberta
up from her contacts list. She read aloud the note she had made to go with the name. “Dr. Rob-erta Bur-nette is the thera-pist I will be working with when I get home. She received her under-grad-uate and doc-tor-ate degrees at Purdue Univer-sity.”

It frustrated her that she still stumbled over multisyllabic words when reading aloud. She recognized and understood the words, but there was still a slight disconnect getting them translated from visual recognition to speech. She looked up at Dr. Dewar to gauge her response.

The doctor arched an eyebrow, a smile tugging at one corner of her mouth. “Someone's been busy on the computer.”

“I have,” Dana said, missing the intended humor.

“Dana's always been a research fanatic,” her mother said. “She was born to be a reporter.”

“I'm glad you're back at it,” Dr. Dewar said. “Curiosity is a great sign. It tells me you're making strides to overcome your adynamia. You're rediscovering your passion for something.”

Dana said nothing. She had taken it as an assignment to find out about the new therapist. Research was work, not passion. Research was a strategy against being taken by surprise. But she kept that to herself. Adynamia—her apparent lack of motivation and enthusiasm—was her enemy. It was always the first topic of conversation in her evaluations, the stumbling block that impeded her from progressing toward normalcy.

Dana felt the words
adynamic
and
bored
should be considered interchangeable. Eight months into rehab, she was bored and listless. As much as the frightened, apprehensive part of her wanted to cling to the routine and familiarity of this place, another part of her craved stimulus and wanted to move on to life beyond the walls of the Weidman Center. The internal conflict left her feeling impatient and irritable.

“Her office is only about half an hour from our house,” her mother said. “I can run you down there and go do my errands—”

“I can drive myself,” Dana said. “I have a car. I can drive a car.”

Her mother frowned. “I don't think that's a good idea, sweetheart—”

Dana shot her a hard look. “I don't care what you think.”

“Dana . . .”

“Lynda . . .”

“If the route isn't too complicated, it should be fine for Dana to drive herself,” Dr. Dewar said.

“See?” Dana said.

Her mother frowned harder.

“Go together the first few times,” Dewar said. “Then start with short drives close to home on your own.”

“I'm definitely going with you to start,” Lynda said firmly. “And that's the end of it.”

“I'm not sixteen,” Dana grumbled.

“No,” Dr. Dewar said. “You're not sixteen. You have a brain injury. Cut your mother some slack. She needs to see that you can do things for yourself, Dana. That's only fair.”

“I don't want to be fair,” Dana said without emotion. “I want to be normal.”

Her mother pressed a hand to her lips as tears welled up in her eyes. She looked away, out the window, not wanting to face the truth—that her daughter wasn't normal, that she might never be considered “normal” again.

“You have a new normal now,” Dr. Dewar said. “And you'll build a new normal every day. You've got a mountain to climb—both of you. And you do that one step at a time. There will be many days when you feel you're taking one step forward only to fall three steps back. You just have to keep trying. That's all you can do. Use the tools we gave you here at the center, and do the best you can every day.”

5

Dana was quiet
as they started the long car ride home through the rolling southern Indiana countryside. The rain had stopped, but swollen gray clouds still crowded the sky. Fall was sweeping down from the north on a blustery wind. The grass was still a vibrant green, but shades of red and orange rippled through the trees. The leaves on the white birch trees fluttered like golden spangles as they passed.

For a while she tried to look out the window at the countryside, but the dips and turns in the road upset her equilibrium, and nausea forced her eyes forward. She fidgeted in her seat, tugging on the shoulder strap.

“How long until we get there?” she asked, hoping the answer would be sooner rather than later.

Her mother sighed. “About an hour and a half.”

“Did I ask you that already?”

“That's okay, sweetie. I don't mind.”

“I don't mean to keep asking the same thing over and over.”

“I know you don't.”

“I'm sure it's really annoying. I would be annoyed if I had to listen to someone ask the same questions over and over.”

“It's all right, honey,” her mother said. “I don't care if you ask the same question a million times.”

“Of course, if someone asked me the same question over and over, I might not remember that they had asked already,” Dana pointed out. “So I guess that's the bright side.”

“That's one way of looking at it.”

“I should write down in my phone what I already asked so I can check to make sure I haven't already asked it.”

She pulled her iPhone out of the pouch of her oversize pink hoodie and flicked a finger across the screen to the notes icon and began to type.

QUESTIONS ASKED

3:17 PM Q: How long 2 home?

A:

She couldn't remember the answer.

Frustrated, she heaved a sigh. She felt stupid, though she knew she wasn't. She was intelligent, had always been an A student and an overachiever. The fact that her short-term memory came and went didn't make her less intelligent. It just made her feel that way—which made her think other people would feel the same way about her. They would think of her as brain-damaged. They wouldn't want to be around her because the idea made them uncomfortable. Everyone had loved Before Dana. No one would have chosen After Dana.

“Why didn't Roger come today?” she asked.

She looked at her mother, gauged the beat of silence, the deep breath, the way her hands tightened and relaxed on the steering wheel.

“Did I ask you that already too?”

The forced little smile. “It's okay.”

Dana looked down at her phone and typed.

3:26 PM Q: Y didn't Rgr come 2 get me?

“Roger wanted to come today,” her mother said, “but he had commitments.”

ANSWER: He didn't want to.

“Then he didn't really want to come, did he?” Dana said without emotion. “If he really wanted to come, he wouldn't have made other plans, would he?”

“That's not true, Dana,” her mother said. “Roger's running for reelection, and he's still running the business. He has a busy schedule that isn't always under his control. That doesn't mean you're not important to him.”

“Just that other people are
more
important,” Dana pointed out. “It doesn't matter. I don't like him anyway.”

Her mother's jaw dropped. “Dana! That's not true!”

“Lynda! I'm pretty sure it is.”

“You and Roger have always gotten along!”

“But I don't think I like him,” Dana insisted.

“I don't know why you'd think that. You just don't remember; that's all. He's been like a father to you since you were fourteen. He's been there for everything since your dad died—your school activities, graduation, college, moving you to Minneapolis. You don't remember any of that?”

Dana shrugged. Her memories of Roger Mercer were as adynamic as she was. They evoked no strong emotions in her. He was simply present in the pictures in her mind and the photographs on her phone. When she looked at those images, she couldn't say what she felt about him. But she knew she didn't like the man who had come to see her during her stay at the Weidman Center. He had shown up exactly once a month for a few hours on a Sunday. He had come out of duty and nothing else as far as Dana was
concerned. He didn't know what to say to her. He didn't want to look at her. He grabbed any excuse to leave the room—a phone call, a coffee run, the men's room, to check on the baseball game on the television in the visitors' lounge. Maybe he had been close to Before Dana, but he wanted nothing to do with After Dana.

She supposed she couldn't blame him. She would have preferred Before Dana as well, but she didn't have a choice.

“You're just tired,” her mother declared.

“Am I?”

“Like Dr. Dewar said: Leaving the center is a big step. It's a positive step, but it's stressful, too. You have a lot of emotions swirling around inside of you—good and bad.”

“Not really,” Dana lied. “I'm adynamic, remember? I don't have emotions.”

If her mother was going to say something, she swallowed the words back and kept her eyes on the road. One of the emotions Dana had just denied having bit her in the conscience. Guilt.

She
was
tired, physically and mentally. She
did
feel the stress of taking this step. The Weidman Center was a safe place. Everybody knew her there. Everyone knew what to expect from her and of her. They were all used to looking at her. They didn't know Before Dana. People back home
only
knew Before Dana. The idea of introducing them to After Dana made her sick to her stomach.

What would people in the real world know about flooding or adynamia or any of the other strange storms that went on in the mind of someone who had been damaged the way she had been damaged? Nothing. The only people who could understand it were people who had gone through it—and the loved ones who had shared the experience.

Like her mother.

“I'm sorry,” Dana murmured.

Her mother shook her head. Tears filled her eyes and choked her voice. “You don't have anything to be sorry for.”

Dana slid down in her seat and stared at the road ahead, uncomfortable with the notion of having to deal with her mother's emotions as well as her own.

“How long before we get home?” she asked.

Her mother sighed. “About an hour . . .”

*   *   *

S
HE COULD SEE THE
sunlight hitting the surface of the water far above her, diluting instantly as it tried to penetrate the depths. She swam toward it. Up. Up. Kicking. Reaching. But something held her back like an unseen arm across her chest. It pulled on her from behind, slowing her down, drawing her backward away from the light and the air and freedom.

Her composure burst like a balloon within her, like her lungs exploding, flooding her with ice-cold panic. In the next instant she broke the surface of consciousness, literally throwing herself into the present. She cried out as she struggled against the hold of the seat belt and shoulder strap. Her arms flung out before her, hands clawing at the dashboard of a car.


No! No!

“Dana! Dana!” Her mother's voice shouted her name frantically as the car swerved to the shoulder and stopped hard. “Dana, it's all right! It's all right, sweetheart!”

Still not fully in the present, Dana batted away the hand that reached toward her. She sucked in air in great choking gulps. Her pulse roared in her ears.

“Calm down. Calm down,” her mother said over and over, her voice trembling. “You're all right. It's all right. You're safe.”

Dana thought her heart would gallop out of her chest like a runaway horse. She could smell her own fear in the cold sweat that drenched her clothing. Her mind scrambled for the list of things to do to calm herself.

Slow your breathing.

Be conscious of your pulse.

Take stock of your surroundings.

Slowly the world began to come into focus. She was in a car. It was daylight. The radio was playing softly. They sat on the side of a road that bordered a neighborhood on one side and a wooded field on the other.

“You're all right, sweetheart,” her mother said again, reaching over to touch Dana's shoulder and stroke a hand down her arm. “You just had a bad dream. You're safe. We're almost home. You're all right.”

She sounded as if she was trying to calm a panicked animal.

She is
, Dana thought.

She shrugged off her mother's touch, irritated by it, irritated and embarrassed by the situation. She pulled her hood up, wanting to close herself off.

“You had a bad dream.”

“Yes.”

“It's over now. You're all right. We're almost home, sweetheart,” her mother said, reaching out again to touch her.

Dana shied away, crowding herself against the car door, scowling. “Just go. Let's go. Don't make such a big deal.”

Lynda sat back behind the wheel and sighed, then put the car in gear and eased back onto the road.

“Are things starting to look familiar?” she asked.

“I guess,” Dana murmured, looking at the houses as they turned into a neighborhood.

Lovely brick houses of complementary styles sat on large landscaped lots. Pumpkins and mums and happy scarecrows decorated front steps and front yards. Ghosts of memories slipped through Dana's mind. She had been the little girl in pigtails riding her pink
bike down the street. She had been the girl walking the dog, the teenager sitting with her friends on the park bench, talking fashion and boys. All that seemed like something from a movie, from someone else's life.

They turned onto a cul-de-sac lined with vehicles—three of them news vans wrapped in advertising for their stations, satellite dishes perched on the roofs.

“Oh no,” Lynda muttered under her breath.

Dana felt her mother tense. It didn't occur to her why. It didn't occur to her that she would be considered news. She knew she had been a headline in Minneapolis in January, but she had spent the last nine months—her entire After Dana life—in hospitals living with medical staff and other brain-injured patients with little connection to or interest in the rest of the world.

Her attention was on the bouquet of pink balloons that adorned a copper mailbox at the end of the street. The house beyond that mailbox was home—a large brick house with blue shutters and interesting rooflines and a yard to showcase the talents of Mercer-Nolan Landscape Design.

They pulled into the driveway, drawing alongside a black Mercedes SUV with a red, white, and blue sticker in the back window:
REELECT MERCE
R/STATE SENATE
. The front door of the house swung open and Roger came out to meet them followed by a younger man Dana didn't recognize.

Roger looked like a man an ad agency would choose to star in a commercial for real estate or home insurance—tall, handsome, with dark hair swept back and Clark Kent glasses. His smile was broad and white. He came around the hood of the car and opened Dana's door.

“Welcome home, sweetheart!” he said cheerfully, leaning toward her. “How was your drive down?”

“I don't know,” Dana said. She stared down at the clasp of her seat belt, momentarily stumped as to how to open it. “I wasn't there.”

“She fell asleep,” her mother qualified, reaching over the console with impatient hands to unfasten the belt.

“What are those people doing here?” Lynda snapped, her irritation directed at her husband. “They have no business being here now.”

“I don't control the media, Lynda.”

“How did they find out Dana was coming home?”

“I don't know,” he answered with sarcasm. “Maybe a dozen pink balloons tied to the mailbox isn't a good way to keep a secret.”

“Can you fight later?” Dana asked. “I want to get out of the car.”

Roger offered her a hand to help her out of the vehicle. She straightened slowly as she got out, stiff and achy from the long ride, but she let go of Roger's hand quickly, nevertheless.

She cut a glance at the other man, who stood behind her stepfather. He looked to be in his thirties, with a blocky build and a doughy face. He was buttoned up and professional in a jacket and tie, his thin brown hair combed flat to his head. He stared at her with carefully concealed shock. Dana could see it in his eyes and instantly disliked him for it.

“Who is he?” she asked bluntly, tugging the edges of her hood forward.

Roger glanced over his shoulder. “Wesley Stevens. He's helping run my campaign.”

“Why is he here?”

Roger forced a laugh. “So many questions!” He moved to hug her. “Welcome home, sweetheart.”

Dana stepped back against the car, frowning. “You already said that. Don't touch me. I don't like to be touched.”

His frown was fleeting, and he quickly turned around even as his eyes darted to the left, looking for witnesses. “I'm sorry, honey. I just want to give you a hug. I'm happy to have you home. We've missed you!”

“Then you should have come to visit me more,” Dana said with simple logic.

“I wish I could have.”

“How does it feel to have your stepdaughter home, Senator? How does it feel to be home, Dana?”

Dana turned toward the source of the questions. The reporter was standing at the end of the drive maybe a dozen feet behind her mother's car—a petite blonde with a professional smile that wavered badly as Dana faced her.

“How does it feel to be home?” she asked again.

Dana stared at her. They were about the same size. The reporter's hair was cut in a shoulder-length bob, just as Dana's had been before it had been shorn off in the hospital. Her blue wool blazer could have come straight from Dana's own closet.

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