Read Merry Jones - Elle Harrison 01 - The Trouble With Charlie Online

Authors: Merry Jones

Tags: #Mystery: Thriller - Paranormal - Philadelphia

Merry Jones - Elle Harrison 01 - The Trouble With Charlie (26 page)

BOOK: Merry Jones - Elle Harrison 01 - The Trouble With Charlie
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“But you said I don’t know because my mind didn’t record it.”

“Your conscious mind.”


“So, what do you think?”

Fine. It was fine. Except that acid roiled in my abdomen, burning my organs.

“Why don’t we begin. Relax, Elle.”

Relax? Seriously?

“Lean back against the cushions. Sink into them.”

I saw myself on the sofa, sitting in the neutral office, across from a man who couldn’t see colors. I tried to sink, felt the upholstery supporting my weight.

“Let the tension out of your scalp.”

My scalp? Was there tension in my scalp? I focused on it, tried to loosen it. The top of my head, the crown felt lighter. The upholstery held me up, hugged me.

“Now your neck, your shoulders, your back.”

Was he kidding? Nothing—not hours of massage could get the tension out of my neck and back. Did he think that his mere suggestion would? His voice was monotonous, toneless, steady. Did he really think he could hypnotize me?

“Your hips, your thighs, your calves.”

His voice was gentle, patient. Not hurried at all. But it wasn’t working. I was hearing everything, totally aware, not in a trance.

“Let go of any troubling thoughts. Let go of thinking altogether. Let your mind float to a place where you’re completely relaxed. Safe. Carefree. Completely at ease.”

Where would that be? Where had that ever been? The womb? I pictured my mother, rest her soul, sitting on the side of my bed, reading to me. Was childhood a place? Did it count? I saw my mother, her hair pulled back in a loose dark bun. Saw her show me the pictures on the page, “There once was a beautiful doll, Dears, the prettiest doll in the world. Her cheeks were so red and so white, Dears—”

I heard Dr. Schroeder’s voice and opened my eyes. Somehow, my nose was stuffed, my cheeks wet. I’d been crying? I was still on the sofa. Dr. Schroeder watched intently, still sitting in the armchair. He handed me the tissue box.

“Why am I crying?”

“You’ll remember everything we talked about. If you want to. You did very well.”

“Tell me.” I blew my nose. “What happened? I thought I remembered everything but I don’t.”

“You were quite easy to hypnotize, Elle. You went under right away.”

I did? “Did I say anything? About the murder? About Charlie?”

“Like I said, you’ll recall whatever you want to. Don’t you remember anything?”

Not a thing.

“You talked about your classroom. About your second graders. About wanting to get back to work.”

I did? I had no memory of it. But I missed my kids. Benjy. Audrey. Lily. Aiden. William.

“Mostly, though, you talked about Charlie and your marriage.”

About Charlie. Our marriage. What had I said? Why couldn’t I remember? Was the hypnosis session another memory hole? More localized amnesia? Had I uncovered another trauma? I had a million questions. But, oddly, I didn’t feel like asking them.

I was too relaxed. Almost at peace. Almost optimistic.

Dr. Schroeder glanced at his watch. It was 4:49. He stood, made our next appointment, and gave me a prescription as he walked me to the door.

I was outside before I realized that, damn, once again, I hadn’t told him about the pedophiles.

“A date? Tonight? You do? With who?” Becky screamed into the phone.

So much for not telling anyone. I hadn’t planned to tell her. But it slipped out when she called to tell me how my students
missed me, how the substitute was bumbling and pathetic, how Romeo and Juliet, the hamsters, might be expecting babies, how the art teacher was cheating on his partner with the music teacher. And, almost as an afterthought, how Sherry McBride had shown up at school.

“She what?”

“I’m sure it was her. I mean, I wasn’t there. I personally didn’t see her—”

“She came to school?” Good God. “Why?”

“You’re not going to like it. I mean I wasn’t even going to tell you. But then I decided you should know.”

“Duh, yes. I should know.” I ran a hand through my hair. Sherry McBride had gone to my school?

According to Becky, Sherry McBride—or someone Becky assumed was Sherry McBride because “who else could it have been?” had been at the school, looking for me. Had wandered through the hall, pretending to be a parent, asking Jack, a janitor, where my classroom was. Telling Jack that she had a child there. That he’d forgotten his lunch. Jack thought it odd that the woman didn’t know where her own son’s classroom was, so he asked her name.

“And that’s when she got weird.” Becky stopped.

“Weird?” Weird how?

I could hear Becky breathing. Considering how to phrase things. What to leave out. “Dammit, Becky, just tell me.”

“Okay, Elle. But don’t pay it any mind. I mean nobody believes any of it.”

“Any of what?” My voice was shrill, impatient.

Another hesitation. A big inhale. And then Becky let it out. “She told Jack that you’d had an affair with her husband. That you were unfit to teach. That you would corrupt the children. She called you names. I don’t have to repeat them, do I?”

No, she didn’t. Oh God. I slumped onto the bed. Leaned over my knees. The whole school must be buzzing about this.

“Jack—you know how he is, won’t take any shit from anybody—well, he finally escorted her out of the building and told her to stay off school property. And he told the office about her. So now we have tightened security. She won’t get in again.”

I tried to make sense of the incident. “Did she actually go into my classroom?”

“She never went in, no. Jack realized she wasn’t really a parent before she could get inside.”

Well, at least she hadn’t disturbed the kids. But why would Sherry McBride want to go to my classroom? What had she planned to do? Was she dangerous? My stomach burned. I wondered if I had an ulcer.

“Listen, Elle. You should get a restraining order against that woman. She’s psycho.”

Probably I should. Yes. I’d talk to Susan about it. Stalking me was bad. But going to my classroom? No. That was too much. Way beyond too much.

“Sorry, Elle. But I had to tell you—”

“Don’t be sorry. Yes, you had to.”

Silence. “So. How are you doing?”

How was I doing? I meant simply to say, “Fine,” or “Not bad,” but when I opened my mouth, what came out was, “I have a dinner date.”

And Becky screeched. “A date? Tonight? You do? Who is he?”

And, for the moment, the conversation shifted from Sherry McBride.

I could almost hear her mouth drop.

“His name is Joel.”

“But where—when did you meet him?”

I told her I’d met him the night we’d gone to Jeremy’s.

“But no—you left early. And alone—and you never said anything about meeting somebody.”

I reminded her that Charlie died that night. Meeting somebody hadn’t been on my mind.

“So what’s he like?”

I sat up in bed and told Becky a little about Joel. Not about the rush I felt when I was with him. Or the jolt of physical contact. But about his magic tricks. How he’d given me the rose.

Becky gave advice. “Okay. This is your first date. Whatever you do, don’t talk about your marriage or your separation. And, oh God, don’t mention Charlie’s murder. Or that you’re a suspect—keep it light. Talk movies, music. You know. Ask him his job. His opinions. Make him do the talking—but then, do NOT pull an Elle. Pay attention to him.”

Becky went on, an expert on first dates. She’d had hundreds, maybe thousands of them.

“And wear some makeup, Elle. Give yourself an edge.”

An edge? Like in a competition?

“And don’t forget our deal. Call me the minute you get home. The minute he leaves. Don’t make me worry that you’ve gone out with Joel the Ripper.”

She kept on giving advice, imparting wisdom as if I’d never been on a date before. As if I were her kid sister or child.

But I let her talk, knowing she meant well, was trying to ease my way back into the singles world.

Two minutes after we hung up, before I’d even left the bedroom, Jen called.

“You have a date? You didn’t tell me? Why didn’t you call?” She went on, barraging me. “Where are you going? What are you wearing? Make sure you put on mascara. And eye shadow. Highlight your features. Why don’t I come over and help you get ready?”

It wasn’t the prom, I told her. It was just dinner. Down the street at Rembrandt’s.

“Rembrandt’s? Kind of pricey for a casual date.” Jen always noted price tags. “Becky said he works in Center City. What
does he do? And has he been married? Any kids? Be careful, Elle. For all you know, the guy’s an FCA.” Fucking Con Artist. “Or he has a wife and kids and is stepping out.”

“Thanks, Jen. I appreciate your confidence in my judgment.”

“I’m just saying. You don’t know who he is, so be careful. Ask questions. Find stuff out.”

I told her I wasn’t marrying him; I was having a meal.

“You never know, Elle. Keep your eyes and your options open.”

I said it was my first date ever, since Charlie. I wasn’t thinking ahead. Had no long-range goals.

Jen backed off. But only momentarily. “Well, whatever you do, don’t sleep with him. Not tonight. Not even next time. Make him work for it.”

Really? Work for it?

She continued warning me about the pitfalls of sexual relations in a postmarriage world. She’d heard horror stories. Men our age were no better than boys in high school. My phone beeped; I was getting another call. The screen said: Susan Cummings.

Becky must have told her. Oh dear. I braced myself, took a deep breath.

And told Jen I had to take the call.

“I was just about to call you.” I was ready with an agenda, hoping to avoid getting scolded about my date by distracting her, telling her about Sherry McBride, asking her to get a restraining order. But I didn’t have a chance to tell or ask her anything. Susan got right to business, didn’t even bother to say hello.

“How was the shrink?”

The shrink? She wasn’t calling about Joel?

“Good. Fine.”

“What does ‘good, fine’ mean?”

Apparently, Becky hadn’t called her. Susan didn’t seem to know about my date.

“It means we’re working on my issues.”

“But are you making progress? And don’t tell me it takes time. I know that.”

What did she expect? An instant cure? I left the bedroom, walked downstairs to the table in the hall where I’d left my bag. “He prescribed some pills that might help.” I took the vial out, opened it. Took out an oblong white tablet. Swallowed it without water. Thought for a nanosecond. Swallowed another. Jump-starting the effects.

“Pills? What kind of pills?”

“The antianxiety kind.” Why did she need to know the name?

“And they’re supposed to bring back your memory?”

“I don’t know, Susan.” Lord, she could be abrasive. I walked back upstairs. “He’s also hypnotizing me. He’s doing everything he can to help me remember things.” Went into my bedroom. “But it’s been just two days. Not enough time.”

She let out a loud, frustrated breath, no doubt pushing hair out of her eyes. Pursing her lips. Impatient.

“Come on, Susan. Realistically, you didn’t expect my amnesia to disappear in two fifty-minute sessions.” I opened my closet, glanced at my drab selection of tired, mostly two-years-ago-styled clothes.

BOOK: Merry Jones - Elle Harrison 01 - The Trouble With Charlie
5.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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