Authors: Audrey Claire
Stacy’s voice came from overhead, and Annie backed off the porch to her house and down the walk a bit. She cleared the roof over the porch so the upper windows came into view. Stacy waved from an upstairs window.
“Come on in. The door is unlocked.”
Annie scanned the quiet street around them. Both houses on either side of Stacy’s lay in total stillness. She knew the one neighbor on the left worked downtown, and the other, an older man who had worked in the military for thirty-five years might not be awake yet.
She opened the door to Stacy’s house, and a whiff of potpourri and bacon assaulted her nose. Annie wasn’t a fan of the flowery scent, but the bacon smelled heavenly. Her stomach growled. Stacy’s poodle sniffed Annie’s shoe, and Annie waved Muffin away. Thank goodness the dog, which seemed to be pretty tall for a poodle in her opinion, wandered off seconds later. Not much of a watchdog.
“Come on up. I’m just getting dressed,” Stacy called.
Annie hesitated. She had visited Stacy on several previous occasions, but she had never ascended to the second floor. Seeing Stacy in her underwear didn’t appeal. They weren’t
close. When curiosity got the better of her, she took Stacy up on the offer.
Passing several rooms on the way to the stairs, Annie glanced into what Stacy called her library room. The woman loved reading so much she dedicated a space to all her books. What would have been the living room didn’t include a couch or a coffee table. One armchair with a matching ottoman accompanied a small side table and floor lamp.
Each wall held up row upon row of shelves. In addition to the sides of the room, every available space was filled with more bookcases. Stacy left just enough room for squeezing among the aisles to get to the books. From what her friend told her, Stacy’s collection was all romance and nothing else. Annie had no idea so many romance novels even existed in the world, and she had come to understand why Stacy never stopped asking her to write them. Stacy was addicted.
On the second floor, rustling and soft bangs led Annie to Stacy’s room. Stacy had already dressed in a retro styled polka dot romper. She bent over a chest, digging through piles of clothing.
“What are you doing?” Annie asked.
“Oh nothing, throwing out some stuff.” Stacy straightened, and when she did, she reached up to her hair, patted it, and then searched through it as if she expected to find hidden treasure.
To keep herself from laughing, Annie glanced away. Her gaze settled on an open doorway, which led to a closet. Annie gaped.
“You’ve noticed my secret indulgence,” Stacy quipped, and swept her hand through the air with a flourish. “This is where the magic happens, Annie. I’m not ashamed to admit I wear hair pieces and wigs.”
Everyone already knew, but Annie declined to comment.
Here was another spot filled with Stacy’s personality. The closet appeared to be used exclusively for Stacy’s wigs and hairpieces, her makeup, and her jewelry. A vanity mirror and desk sat against the far wall. Around it were hooks for holding wigs. Another spot displayed Stacy’s jewelry. She liked a lot of the costume kind, so many pieces hung from hooks drilled into the wall.
“We could have a costume party with all you have in here,” Annie quipped.
Stacy laughed. “I guess we could. Do you want to try on some wigs? I bet you would look great with red hair, Annie.”
Annie stiffened. “Maybe next time. I thought I smelled the stove downstairs. You didn’t leave it on by accident, did you?”
“No, I’m cooking bacon in the oven. We can go down and have breakfast together. I’m finished up here.”
Annie followed her down the stairs. “You cook bacon in the oven?”
“I know it’s weird, but I don’t like being popped when it’s frying. It scares me, and needless to say hot grease hurts.”
“True. I will have to give it a try. I never thought of cooking it in the oven.” Annie started thinking she should cook with the oven and get more writing in during that time.
“A murder in our neighborhood,” Stacy said when they were in the kitchen. She’d switched the conversation in a heartbeat, which wasn’t unusual for her. “And Paul of all people. Who would want to hurt those gorgeous legs?”
Annie snorted. “I think it was more than his legs they were after when it happened.”
Stacy nodded, touching a hand to her throat. She missed Annie’s humor as her eyes glazed over. “Did you hear, Annie? He was strangled. I saw it. There was a bruise on his neck like from a belt or something. It was about this wide.”
She held up her hands to demonstrate against her own neck. Annie swallowed several times. She imagined the difficulty breathing was a figment of her imagination. “Did the police say who they thought did it?”
“No, but that detective in charge, I’m not sure I have much confidence in him. I mean he’s been on the job for a million years and a day. We don’t get this kind of heinous crime in our neck of the woods, Annie. Why would Detective Lawson even know how to deal with it?”
“I’m sure he’s had plenty of training.”
“Sure,” Stacy agreed, “twenty years ago when they didn’t know to check for fingerprints and the like.”
Annie chuckled. “Twenty years ago, huh?”
Stacy waved her hand. “You know what I mean. I suppose this will give you plenty to work on for your books. Oh why couldn’t it be a romance instead?”
“I would have preferred to stumble upon a random romance on the street.”
Stacy’s face flamed, and Annie rushed to apologize.
“I’m sorry, Stacy. I didn’t mean to poke fun at your theories. I get a little arrogant when it comes to mysteries and crime. You write one book, and you think you’re an expert.”
“Don’t worry about it, sweetheart. I understand. To be honest, I would put my money on you solving this case faster than the police. Plus, you’ve written a whole lot more than one book.”
Annie thanked her. “I’m not qualified to solve a murder. I don’t even want to think about who could have done it. Surely, no one who lives around here. It must have been someone from somewhere else, maybe someone who knew Paul in his regular life.”
“Perhaps. Let’s get breakfast made so we can eat.”
Stacy whipped up scrambled eggs with sharp cheese, onions, and green peppers added in. She removed the bacon from the oven and popped in a pan of biscuits from the can. Soon they were fluffed up and piping hot.
When Annie received her plate, she stood to rinse off her silverware and wiped them with a napkin while Stacy was distracted with something else. She slathered butter on two biscuits and made a sandwich of bacon and eggs with one. The other, she halved and added honey to each side.
“This all looks so delicious, Stacy. Thank you for inviting me.”
“No problem, Annie. You’re welcome any time. I admit I’ve done it for selfish reasons today. I wanted to discuss the murder. I still can’t believe it’s happened so close to home.”
“You didn’t hear or see anything last night?”
“No, I wish I did. Maybe I could have stopped whoever did it.”
Annie shivered. “You wouldn’t have gone outside?”
“Heavens, no, but I’ve got a big mouth.” Stacy laughed. “I would have screamed loud enough to wake the neighborhood. I guarantee you.”
Annie laughed. “I believe you.”
“I’ve got something for you, Annie. Are you ready?”
Annie looked at her friend, frowning. “Sure, what is it?”
Stacy threw one arm into the air and slapped a hand over her chest with the other. She squeezed her eyes shut and recited in a voice loud enough to twang Annie’s ear drums.
“Caught in the flames of apprehension and grief, Isabelle dared to dream of a better, bolder life.”
Annie blinked and waited. Stacy said nothing.
“Oh, was that it?”
“Yes, you can use it if you want. I made it up, and I don’t need any recognition at all if you use it in one of your books.”
Annie had no idea where she would use such a phrase. She also understood by “I need no recognition” Stacy meant she expected a mention on the dedication page.
“Thank you for your generosity, Stacy. I’ll make a note of it and keep you in mind.”
in the tiny office as she sat on the couch. If a serious case of claustrophobia were added to her issues, she might be ready to climb the walls. The psychiatrist’s office was well-appointed with soft lighting and comforting colors, but the woman hadn’t bothered with the luxury of space. Perhaps clients were hard to come by, and this was all she could afford. Annie found it surprising given the hourly fees.
Dr. Verville strode into the room and shut the door. “Sorry about that. I needed a file, and my secretary had trouble finding it.”
Her name didn’t match her description. Dressed casually in simple slacks and a cream short-sleeved blouse, she tucked a lock of plain dark hair behind her ear and took her seat across from Annie.
The doctor pulled a laptop onto her legs, and Annie considered how she should approach this visit. A significant portion of one of the books she planned required the heroine to visit a psychiatrist. Annie recalled talking to a child psychiatrist many years ago, but she believed the experience would be different as an adult.
Now, how do I hide the reasons I’m here today but also learn something I can use in my book?
“So, Annie, tell me about your name.”
Annie’s mouth dropped open. “Huh?” That one came out of nowhere. She hadn’t expected it, but she should have. After all, everyone made a comment when they learned her first name. She made sure not to allow many to learn it. Those pesky official documents existed unfortunately, like the ones for the psychiatrist.
The woman smiled and waited. “Your name?”
No getting out of it. She cleared her throat. “Well, there’s not much to tell really. My first name, as you read from my paperwork, is Happy.”
“Happy Annie Holloway, that’s an interesting moniker. Do you like it?”
This wasn’t helpful at all. “No.”
“How did you get the name? Were you named after a relative? Who gave it to you?”
Annie ground her teeth.
Note to self, psychiatrists have a sixth sense for getting to the heart of a matter.
“My father thought it would be great to name me Happy. He was wrong.”
“You could have changed it once you reached adulthood.”
Annie clutched her hands together and leaned forward. “Is there a reason you’re harping on my name? I thought we would discuss other stuff like…”
She had no idea what other subjects they could talk about in her life unless she was prepared to lie. Too late, she realized just how much attention Dr. Verville gave to the survey she asked Annie to fill out ahead of time. Annie had come ill-prepared. On some level, she suspected she had done it on purpose.
The doctor set her computer aside. “Annie, several of your answers mentioned your dad and not in a positive light. One statement in particular made me think there’s something much more involved regarding him. I like your name, and I thought we would start on a lighter note, but perhaps that’s not the case.”
“I keep the name Happy because I have a notion that if I change it, I will change, too.”
“In what way?”
“To be like him. It can be hereditary.”
Annie’s lips sealed of their own accord. She couldn’t say. Of course she knew she had a problem, if one wanted to give her mental stability such a mild description. She was self-diagnosed as having borderline obsessive-compulsive disorder. Up until now, she could deal with it. Not once had she ever let it hold her back from all she enjoyed in her life.
Annie thought that was the extent of the issues, but sitting here, hardly beginning to discuss her family and herself, a sense of foreboding came over her. If she admitted the truth then what? Jane had overcome their dark past, and Annie let everyone think she did, too. Reality was different, and only Jane knew how different.
“Insanity,” she mumbled at last. “My father is in prison for murdering my mother and—”
“I’m very sorry to hear that.”
“You were about to say something else?”
“He also…” She tapped a finger on her leg. Embarrassment brought heat to her face. “Jane and I…as kids…”
“I understand. You believe he is insane?”
“He is, but he failed to get the insanity plea to pass. Jane and I testified against him. She was twelve at the time, and I was ten. We saw it. So you see, I know it doesn’t make any sense, but I keep the name Happy because if I don’t, I might become like him. I know the name doesn’t make the woman. It’s just the way it is for me, doctor.”
“And are you happy, Annie?”
“I’m the happiest person I know. I’m living my dream, and I don’t let my past stop me.”
“That’s wonderful. Many people find it hard to move past a traumatic experience. You should be proud of what you’ve accomplished.”
A load of tension melted from Annie’s shoulders. She didn’t know what she had expected, but Dr. Verville helped her to feel more comfortable, not judged at all. They chatted as if they were, if not friends then close acquaintances. Annie needed to recall this atmosphere so she could write it into her book.
She leaned back and crossed one leg over the other. Her thighs decided to duke it out, so she uncrossed them again. “Well, since I’m here, I guess I’ll just tell you, I might be OCD.”
“Oh?” The laptop returned to the doctor’s lap, and she typed a few notes. Annie took a mental picture.
“Yes, I wash my hands a lot.”
“That doesn’t constitute OCD.”
“I can’t touch the sink even with a nail without washing my hands. My head swims with the amount of bleach spray I used on a daily basis. I have a routine about using gloves, like using rubber bands on the ends and replacing them after each session. That can get expensive, but I make sure to budget for it. I check that the doors are locked multiple times at night and after I leave the house. I check regularly that my bank cards haven’t crawled out of my purse and wandered off, and I carry a ridiculous amount of items in my purse, which probably don’t need to be in there. This list goes on.”
Annie pulled in a huge breath and blew it out. The relief of telling the doctor all that was like a confessional.
“Is there anything else?” The doctor’s tone remained even and encouraging.
“Wasn’t it enough?”
“I can tell by your expression and your body language, you gained some relief in sharing your challenges. If there are more, it may help to talk about them.”
“I’m scared of chicken.”
“Scared of it?”
Annie’s tension returned, and she squeezed one hand into a fist. “You can get E. coli from raw chicken.”
“Yes, and there are simple steps to combat this.”
“True. My head knows it, but it takes me an hour to decide to cook chicken in particular. I won’t give it up. It’s my favorite food, but I have to get my mind ready in order to handle it. Then I wash my hands at least ten times during and after.”
The doctor took more notes and nodded her head. “Working with chicken for you sounds like it’s tied to the OCD.”
“Yes, so how do I fix it?”
The doctor smiled. “Well, there are several methods we could use to approach the problem, one being you could practice not following your routines. You would keep this up until the habit breaks.”
Panic stirred in Annie’s chest. She pressed a hand to it and tried to calm the racing that had started up from the suggestion. “You mean don’t wash my hands?”
“No, E. coli is a real concern. I meant not washing your hands ten times for starters.”
Annie swallowed. She almost felt like walking out of the room and finding the nearest bathroom.
“How does that make you feel, Annie?”
“Like you’re talking nonsense,” she admitted.
“How about tackling one of your lesser habits like the bank cards. How do you check to see that they haven’t wandered off as you put it?”
“I stick my finger through the gap between the zipper and the side of the purse. When I’m out of the house, I open my wallet to see if the cards are there.”
“So how about this? You resist sticking your finger in the gap, and you don’t check your wallet more than one time while you’re out.”
Annie’s other fist curled on her lap. A bead of sweat broke out on her upper lip. She tapped her foot and tried to imagine following through with the doctor’s suggestions. Pulling it off seemed impossible.
“I don’t believe that will work for me.”
Annie expected the doctor to be offended having her toss the solutions to Annie’s issues back at her. She sensed no such sentiments. Either the doctor had thick skin, or she would make a fantastic poker player.
“Annie, we can take things at a slower pace. You can keep a journal, which we can discuss each time you visit me.”
“Each time?” Annie hadn’t intended to come more than once.
“Yes, conversely, we can try medication. There are some on the market, which actually help reduce symptoms of OCD.”
Annie groaned. “So you’re saying I was right? I do have it?”
Annie rubbed her forehead.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes when we suffer traumatic experiences, we can feel out of control. The subconscious mind seeks ways to bring that control back into our lives, and we develop certain habits that help to make us feel better.”
Annie recalled washing her hands after finding the body. For a moment, she considered talking to the doctor about discovering Paul and how it had taken her straight back to the past and seeing her mother’s lifeless eyes. Her mind crawled in reverse away from that subject. She wasn’t ready.
“Well, I suppose I could come back,” she said. Determination to get past her fears had brought her this far in life. If she talked to the doctor, maybe her fear wouldn’t come to pass. “But I’m not taking medication.”
“Okay, will you consider the journal?”
“Sure. I’m a writer. It’s what I do.”
They discussed various other exercises Annie might be willing to do in order to work through her problems, along with discussing everything with the doctor. Annie set goals of what she would like to accomplish during the sessions, and when her time lapsed, she took her leave.
In the parking lot, she sat still for a few minutes going over the session in her head. Then she pulled out her cell phone and opened an app for typing notes. Like a demon, she clicked away, transcribing all she had learned while talking to Dr. Verville. Her heroine at the therapist’s office would be great.
When she was done, Annie chewed her lip and skimmed what she had written. A knot formed in her belly. Was she really going to do this? Face the past? A part of her wanted to call the doctor and cancel the appointment for a follow-up visit she had made.
An alternative popped into her head. What if she modified her usual self-therapy? Annie maintained it was writing that helped her get all the negative feelings out. What if she took it one step further and tried to solve Paul’s case? Finding a murderer and getting him off the street might ease her fears. If nothing else, it could give her a sense of power and control.
“I’ll do it,” she muttered, grinning. “I’m not the kind of woman that takes anything lying down anyway.”
Excitement coursed through her veins as she started the car and pulled out of the parking lot. For now, she would also take that extra step and continue talking to the doctor. Two weapons were better than one.