**Author's note: This story can be read as a stand alone, but you'll have more background information about certain events if you read Falling Forward, Falling Apart, and Anything, but Elementary.**
Dr. Harding sat at her small wooden desk. It was tucked unassumingly into the corner. A plush dark blue couch commanded attention in the room along with a pair of soft cream-colored chairs. She glanced at her calendar for the day. She had a few appointments scheduled and a couple of meetings. It was going to be busy. She took a swig of her coffee and prepared to conduct the crazy train that she was about to board.
Before she had a chance to read through her notes, her desk phone rang. She picked it up and said hello.
“Hi, Dr. Harding.” The voice on the other end responded. “It’s Caleb Wheeler.”
“Oh hi, Dr. Wheeler. What can I do for you?”
“I have…had… a patient I was hoping you could help.”
“So, you don’t need an immediate psych consult?”
“Did you give the patient my contact information?”
“I wanted to speak with you first. I am seeking your advice on how I can help her.”
“I’m flattered. I can certainly try, but without seeing the patient myself...it might be hard. “Was she a clinic patient or a hospital patient?”
“Both. She came into the clinic, but then I brought her to the hospital.”
“You brought her?”
“Yes. You know, the hospital is connected, so…”
“I do. Why did she go to the hospital?”
“Her boyfriend is a good for nothing, piece of shit, that’s why. I’m sorry for the language, but I want to kill the scumbag bastard. ”
“Okay, okay, easy does it. I can tell you’re angry. I can’t keep this confidential if you’re threatening to kill someone,” she said, knowing that Caleb wouldn’t hurt a fly. “What did he do?”
“Isn’t it obvious? He beat her. She was broken. She had severe bruising and a punctured lung. Not to mention the emotional toll it must have taken.”
“Caleb, I know you normally go above and beyond for your patients, but it sounds like you are more personally invested in this one?”
“The patient is a colleague of my sister if that’s what you mean, but I didn’t know her very well. I don’t feel that I treated her any differently. It’s not like I haven’t seen things in my career.”
“I’m not questioning your professionalism. I’m saying that I think you’re emotionally impacted.”
“Oh, no. I see what you’re doing, Sophia. We’re talking about her, not me.”
“Yes, but neither has to be mutually exclusive.”
“Right, but I’m pretty sure you’d have to charge me for that conversation.”
“Now, you are just deflecting.”
“I am. I’m a doctor. I’m immune from sharing my feelings. ”
Dr. Harding laughed to herself, if only that were true. “Even doctors need doctors, Caleb.”
“Fair, but really I’m fine. She’s the one who was hurt, not me.”
“Had you met her before she was your patient?”
“Yes, but only briefly. My sister and I were at the gas station one day, and we ran into her. I should have known something was off. She was upset. She had knocked over a rack of chips, and we helped her pick them up. Don’t tell her I told you about that. Anyway, she was quick to get back to him. I saw her once more after that when I was at my sister’s office. “
“I’m sensing that you’re blaming yourself.”
“I should have been more observant, yes.”
“Were her injuries visible?”
“See. Then you couldn’t have known. I think you’re feeling helpless because the situation was out of your control. You like to take control because when you do, you help people.”
I’m assuming she disclosed to you at the clinic?”
“What do you mean?”
“I was going about my day as always, when one of the nurses, Tina, sought me out because she was concerned about a patient. Tina showed me the patient’s chart and I saw that it was Jenny. When I went into the exam room, Jenny was clearly distressed but I didn’t know why. She had lost consciousness for a moment, but then came back around.”
“What was going through your mind?”
“I’m used to handling emergencies, obviously, but something felt different. While it’s not uncommon for patients to be uncomfortable during an exam, when I asked Jenny to take her suit jacket off she was very reluctant. It was a red flag, although, she ultimately complied with my request. In order to take her blood pressure, I pushed the sleeves of her blouse up, and that’s when I saw the bruises. The pained look on her face told me everything. She was already on edge though, so I didn’t say anything right away. I continued my exam. Then, she got upset because of me. I made her cry.”
“Caleb, you didn’t hurt her. Her scumbag bastard boyfriend did, remember?”
“I know, but I pushed her into saying it was him. I poked and prodded.”
He had selected the couch, so Dr. Harding sat in the chair opposite him. A pen and paper were in her hands. She was always careful not to take too many notes so the patients wouldn’t feel uncomfortable, but just enough so she could help them.
“What brings you here today, Detective?”
“I’m tired of asking questions every day, so I thought I’d give you a chance. I’m kidding, of course. It’s pretty simple, really. If I don’t talk to you, then my boss won’t let me return to work.”
“How do you feel about that?”
“I’m just jumping through the hoops. I’m going through the motions, if you know what I mean.”
“I understand. Is this your first time in therapy?”
“Yes. I guess you could say I’m a therapy virgin. Oh, wait. Please, don’t write that down. That wasn’t very professional of me. I know what you’re thinking. You already have me pegged as some crazy guy.”
“I think no such thing.”
“That’s a relief.”
“What do you want to talk about?”
“I was put on leave because my daughter was arrested. There, can I just get a note giving me the green light to go back to work?”
“Unfortunately, that’s not how this works, detective.”
“Please, call me Jim.”
“Okay, Jim, why was your daughter arrested?”
“She…well…you probably heard on the news about the girl who was left for dead in a barn by some mean girls. Thankfully, the girl was found alive, but still.”
“Yes, I’ve heard.” In fact it was on the news for a long time, but Dr. Harding knew better than to mention that.
“My daughter was one of the mean girls. She wasn’t the ring leader though. She was peer pressured into doing what her friends did. My wife, her mother, had died when she was young, and it’s just been the two of us. I must have screwed her up.” He said as he choked on his words. “How did I let my baby become a monster?”
“I’m hearing a lot of emotion. Let’s unpack what you said. It sounds like you are struggling with your daughter’s actions. You’re making excuses and downplaying them.
“I’m not doing that.”
“You’re getting defensive. Jim, I’m not judging you. I’m just trying to determine what you’re feeling.”
“What my daughter did was unfathomable, and yes, I’m having a hard time dealing with it.”
“We can work with that. I also think you are still grieving the death of your wife and your daughter probably is too.”
“No, I mean of course I still miss her, but I’m not grieving anymore. It happened a while ago. As for Abagail, she might still be grieving.”
“Why is it okay for her to still be grieving and not you?”
“I don’t know.”
“I think you should give yourself permission to still grieve.”
“It’s been too long.”
“Grief doesn’t have a time table. You will always be grieving, but I can help you lessen the sting. I think you put all of your energy into raising Abigail and as a result, you didn’t get to grieve fully.”
“You’re right. I boxed it up because she needed me.”
“She did and she still does, but now it’s time for you to help yourself.”
“Also, it sounds like you’re blaming yourself for what Abagail did.”
“I raised her didn’t, I? I must be to blame.”
“Sure you raised her, but that doesn’t mean that you are responsible for every decision she makes.”
The line was silent. “Caleb, are you still there?”
“I’m here.” He let out a sigh.
“Yes, because I’m not the victim, remember?”
“Oh, that’s right, Dr. Puts on a Brave Face and Pretends He’s not Upset. “Let me ask you this, how well have you been sleeping?”
“You got me. I don’t sleep very well.”
“You feel guilty?”
“You exposed her secret?”
“Caleb, you helped her.”
“Why doesn’t it feel like that?”
“Sometimes helping someone is doing what you know is best for them even if it makes them and you uncomfortable. What if you hadn’t noticed or hadn’t cared enough? If her secret hadn’t come out, what would have happened?”
“He would still be beating her.”
“Yes, and she would have ended up dead. You saved her.”
“I wouldn’t go that far.”
“I would. It’s true. You saved her. It might be in a different way than what you are used to, but it doesn’t mean that you didn’t.”
“Why don’t you come down to my office, say Wednesday at 3:00, and we’ll discuss this more, but I think we’re getting somewhere.”
“Does this mean you’re going to charge me?”
She chuckled. “No, I’ll give you professional courtesy.”
“It’s not real therapy then, right?”
“Nice try. See you?”
“I don’t know what to do, doctor.” My baby is in prison, and I’m home alone without work to keep me busy.”
“You’ve got a lot going on.”
“Have you had any contact with your daughter?”
“I’ve talked to her on the phone, and she just cries. I haven’t visited her because I don’t know that I can see her in prison. Is that bad?”
“No, you have to take care of yourself too. We can discuss that topic again later if you do decide to visit her. You can write her letters too.”
“I suppose I could. Am I a bad father?”
“No, of course you’re not.”
“Is it okay that I still love her?”
“Definitely, she will always be your baby no matter what decisions she makes.”
“True. Okay, I’ve talked now. Do I get my green light, yet?”
“Not yet, but you’re making progress. Let’s schedule another appointment.”
Dr. Harding got out of her car and walked into her house. Her two daughters came running and gave her big hugs followed by her husband. She could smell dinner in the oven and she smiled. Her day had been draining, and it was hard not to feel the pain of her patients, but she hoped she helped them see the light at the end of the tunnel just as her family was her light at the end of a long day.
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What an interesting series! I saw your note about the other stories that give a little more background. I'll definitely check those out! You created such an accurately therapeutic atmosphere here. As the reader, I could feel myself getting settled into her morning routine, ready to dive right in. What a professional and reasonable doctor to doctor dialogue! I think that was my favorite part. :) You, as Dr. Harding, also gave some great advice about grief. Well done! :) Thank you for sharing this...
Thank you! I’m really glad you enjoyed it and I appreciate the feedback! 😊
I really liked it! You have lots of wonderful dialogue. My only critique would be to add some sort of movement to help picture the characters as they talk. Like hands waving and stuff. Because you have a little bit of description, and then alllll that dialogue and then there isn't really anything after that. But other than that little thing, I would say wonderful job. I liked how professional it seemed and I feel like either personal experience or a LOT of research has gone into this.
Thank you! I appreciate your feedback! I agree. I had started this story a little while ago for the dialogue only prompt lol, and while I tweaked it, I could have added more descriptions/movement. I haven't personally experienced the issues in my story, but I used the knowledge that I've gained from college and my career to influence the story. I'm glad it had the desired effect.
Oh, if this was a dialogue only prompt then you did a wonderful job I didn't check the prompt when I clicked on the story. Anyways! Awesome job!
Thank you. Lol no, I had started it for the dialogue prompt but then used my story for a different prompt. 😂
Oh, I see. xD
Hi Kate! As a child of a therapist I really loved this piece. Specifically, I love how you focused on the intense dialogue. While I think some details about the actions of the characters would be nice, I felt that your dialogue captured enough of them to make me aware of how I would imagine them to move their bodies. I also love how you made the dialogue unique to each character. It’s a technique I am still attempting to master. I recently dove head first into sci-fi for the first time with my piece, “Near Death Experience” and I’d value any...
Your kind words mean a lot. I always value your opinion. Thank you! In hindsight, I do think I shouldn’t have been so dialogue heavy too. I’ll be sure to check out Near Death Experience!
Love this! The story and dialogue flowed so well. It was literally page turner (even though there aren't pages to turn).
I've always struggled writing so much dialogue in a story, but you pulled it off spectacularly! The last paragraph you could practically feel her relaxing as she got home. Well done!
Kate - I liked your take on starting with darkness and ending in light. It is nice to read a story which did not take the cues literally. I liked the image you painted of the meeting at the gas station. The girl knocking over the chips is so visual as well as emotionally telling. As you can see, the image really stuck with me. You also did a great job of making the two conversations sound different even though one of the characters is the same. The first doctor-doctor convo used a lot of technical terms, which set a good tone, and made ...
Thank you! I appreciate the feedback! Yes, I agree, and I will be sure to add more descriptions/dialogue tags next time. 😄
This was a great story, Kate! I loved Dr. Harding's character and the scene with her coming home to her family at the end of the day. She's a true hero, helping others deal with their emotional issues and see things clearly. I have not read the other stories mentioned at the beginning, but I'll check them out. Well done on this one!!
This is brilliant story! You've done an amazing job!